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travel: the delights of waikiki

aloha!
once again, i must hang my head in shame and apologize for my absence. i was away for 9 days, but the rest of it has just been real life and a giant black hole of stress sucking my inspiration.  but this morning, i’ve committed myself to posting my hawaii roundup before i head off to seattle for the night.

november saw me return to waikiki for the 5th time.  but this trip wasn’t about sightseeing or anything important… it was about getting some sun and relaxing with my husband.  …and special guest appearances by my bro & his buddy and the puss & her family.  all around, it was a great time.

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we stayed at the aqua bamboo, which was new for me.  it was actually my first time not staying at a beachfront property right on waikiki beach.  for those familiar with the area, the bamboo is on kuhio, pretty much in line with the surfrider.  so it’s not far to the beach… lets say a 5 minute walk (2 blocks), but i will still stand by my preference of staying beachfront.
the hotel itself was good… cheap and cheerful as they say… nothing fancy, but absolutely fine for a week stay.  the hotel had an adorable little pool and the world’s tiniest hot tub, which was a factor in choosing the hotel, but at the end of it all we never actually made it in to either.

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i did enjoy that the bamboo had a very affordable massage place that was poolside.  my husband i both had a 50 minute massage for just under $80 including tax & tip.  a great bargain.  and boy did it ever feel good after that hike to diamond head.

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ah the diamond head hike… its turned into a must do for me.  you know… i must punish my body for so many mai tais.  somehow it makes me feel better. this trip, i literally woke my hangover up, did the 45 minute walk to diamond head, then did the hike and back and then ate a giant burger and then swam in the ocean,  then went for a massage.
overall, i’d say it was a hawaii win.  cured my hangover, thats for sure.

so, beverages will come in their own post, because in hawaii, there is no shortage of happy hour and tropical delights… but this one is all about the food.

hawaii’s food is a unique style of cuisine that defines melting pot.  it has strong influences from asia, polynesia, north america and when its mixed in with the traditional foods native to the area, you get things you can’t find anywhere else.  my husband’s favourite is loco moco.
basically loco moco is rice, a hamburger patty, 2 fried eggs done any style and smothered in gravy.  for breakfast. and its delicious.

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you know how they say; when in rome…?  well, when in hawaii, you’d best eat some loco moco.  and my husband did.  5 times.  lol.  he was on a mission to sample the local favourite at as many places as possible… and his verdict was that every place did it a little different, but at the end of the day, it was all delicious.  some places had a homemade gravy, sometimes adding mushrooms and/or onions… some places garnished with chopped green onions… some places put the gravy on top of the eggs, others eggs last.  some burger patties were clearly frozen from a box, others were hand formed and fresh.  but the base for all of them never changed… this delicious hawaiian style white rice.  i’m not too sure how they make their rice taste so good, but it sure does.  and for me, it’s one of my LOVES about hawaii, is that i can get this yummy sticky almost sushi style rice with my breakfasts.

so while my husband was eating his weight in loco moco, i was eating things like this:

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and i can’t forget the magic of this…

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ahhhh pancakes in hawaii.  another random thing to be in love with, but i never ever order pancakes at home. i just don’t care for them much. but in hawaii its a different animal.  topped with things like pineapple, coconut, macadamia nuts and other local treats… and then smothered in coconut syrup instead of maple?  oh man, put a fork in me, i am DONE.

and let us not forget the papaya that much accompany every breakfast no matter what your main of choice is:

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yup, thats the stuff.

another island favourite is “pupus” which as far as i can tell is just hawaiian for appetizer.  which makes for hilarious (warning: may only be hilarious after several mai tais) jokes about needing to “take a wicked appetizer”.  haha.
anyhoo…. we had a lot of pupus.  because happy hour is cheap!  and if you do it right, you don’t really need a proper dinner.
one of my favourite destinations for pupus in waikiki is hula grill in the outrigger waikiki on the beach.  its upstairs from duke’s and often overlooked in favour of dukes.  but here’s the thing.  the decor is just as awesome upstairs, the food is pretty much the same and the drinks are waaaaay cheaper during happy hour.  so the hula grill is where you’ll often find me at happy hour…. eating things like: kahlua pork potstickers and ceviche and crab & mac nut stuffed won tons…

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and my personal favourites: crispy pork belly bao

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and the honey chicken lollypops which were ridiculously sticky sweet goodness.

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and at the end of a several hour long happy hour… we weren’t much worse for the wear financially.

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then there’s downstairs.  duke’s.  what can you say? if you’ve gone to waikiki, you’ve gone to dukes.  you just… have to.  yes, its loud and crazy and filled to the brim with pasty tourists and there’s children… but it’s dead centre in waikiki beach and makes a wicked mai tai and has good food and live music and, well, it’s just fun.

i am particularly in love with their salad bar.  there’s not a lot of good salad in waikiki, and dukes scratches my itch for fresh crispy lettuce and tons of good toppings so that i can construct my picky girl salad of choice.
but the fish entrees should never be overlooked.  you get the list from the server of whats in season and fresh right now and you choose from one of 4 preparations that they offer and chow down.  the fish entrees are always well cooked, perfectly seasoned and just fucking delicious.

we had the following: mine is the opah with mac nut crust and butter caper sauce (i just drooled typing that)
SAUTÉED MAC NUT AND HERB CRUSTED – Lightly dusted in parmesan cheese & bread crumbs, topped with lemon and caper butter

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and my husband dinned on the ono done duke’s style…
BAKED “DUKE’S STYLE” – Baked in a garlic, lemon and sweet basil glaze

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both were giant portions of fish so fresh, it may have been swimming yesterday… and at a fair market price.  plus it includes salad bar. did i mention the salad bar?

my last category for hawaiian eats is pop ups, food carts & beach shacks.  yes, food is everywhere in waikiki.  on two occasions this last trip, my husband and i grabbed some fish tacos & pork tacos from the food hut right on waikiki beach beside the surfrider and deemed it one of the best deals around.  $19 got us 4 giant tacos and a house brewed iced tea with pineapple juice in it to share.  not too shabby.

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a few days into our trip, on the way back from the beach to the hotel, we were surprised by a pop up market of sorts… except it was all food stands.  it wasn’t selling groceries, like our markets here, but selling fresh baked delights and pad thai and poke and even empanadas and dim sum treats.  so we stocked up and went back to our balcony with some local beers and made our own happy hour.

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last, but certainly not least… once can not forget that hawaii knows its food trucks.  possibly the best one i’ve ever seen… the malasadas truck.  leonards is famous for its malasadas which are basically like a big round dounut rolled in sugar and sometimes stuffed with creme or fruit filling.  they’re DELICIOUS.  and leonards is the king.  buuuuut we didn’t quite make it to leonards proper, so we were thrilled to stumble across their food truck on the way to sandy beach one day.

so while we did this:

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we also go to eat this:

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a clear win win situation.

and off course, on our quest to enjoy this beach:

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we also got to enjoy this shrimp shack on the north shore.

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there’s a lot of shrimp options, and generally we go to giovanni’s, but this one lured us in with their option to have local shrimp, while a lot of stands have switched to the cheaper and inferior thailand shrimp.  the difference slapped you in the face.  these were almost like my beloved spot prawns.  sooooo worth the half hour wait.  (this place was BUSY – also a good sign)

and of course, i had to have my coconut… and this time i also may have had a corn on the cob at the roadside pit stop…

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mmmhmmm.  and thats how i do hawaii.
oh, but before i wrap up, i’d like to give a surprising honorable mention to buba gump’s shrimp.  yes, it is a chain theme restaurant and generally that goes against my better instincts, but my husband loves it and he actually sold me on it with this:

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thats a pound and a half of hot fresh cooked peel & eats with half caijun spice and half butter and garlic.  ya, we slayed those in a few minutes flat.  they were messy and buttery and so fucking delicious.

but then we followed it up with some shrimp tacos…

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and the calamari that they swore was the best ever and you know, it actually was like top 5 in my life and i’ve eaten a LOT of fried squid in my day.

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theirs had half squid, half rock shrimp and also deep fried red peppers and pepperoncini peppers.  well played bubba gumps, well played.

and so, i leave you with my last view of hawaii for this trip… diamondhead from my brothers suite on the 33rd floor of the sheraton.  yes, it was a grand time had in hawaii, and yes, i’ll be back as soon as i can.

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food & travel: eastern europe

well hello!  now that my jet-lag has subsided and things are back to normal… here it is… my long-awaited food of eastern europe blog post!
it seemed a natural choice that my wrap up of this trip would be all about the food… but what i didn’t realize was exactly how many pictures of food i took… and sorting through them was a bit of a task.
and trust, i did take pictures of every single thing i ate… but this is the greatest hits, so to speak.

we started our fine culinary journey in prague.
our very first night was spent at a traditional czech restaurant that featured the classics of their culture… this was part of the included meals with contiki and really a lot of fun and delicious!
we started with some appetizers:

 

stuffed tomato, asparagus in ham… lettuce.  a nice light start given the meat extravaganza that would follow soon…
and the soup. it was a really tasty potato soup. light and well seasoned. and while part of me was a tad disappointed it wasn’t goulash, i realized when the main came that it was for the best.

we feasted on duck, sausage, ham and roast pork. and two kinds of dumplings (bread & potato) and it perched on two kinds of cabbage (red & white).
ridiculous amounts of meat & carbs. not a green vegetable in sight. welcome to eastern europe.

we finished off with crepes & coffee.

and enjoyed the entertainment…

day two in prague brought us more delights…
and i finally got my goulash and dumplings.
and we also had table pretzels (do not be fooled, they are not free) and maybe my favourite thing of the afternoon – svařák – a czech hot mulled wine that worked wonders for fighting the chill in the air.

 

i really must unravel the secrets of svařák for this winter… i see recipes online and i think its worth experimenting with because it is a delight.  after this meal, i grabbed a cup to go from a vendor and wandered through the fog across charles bridge.  this is the stuff dreams are made of, kids.

but all good things must… change scenery?  sure!  off to vienna!
one of my favourite meals of the trip was our first night in vienna.  it wasn’t fancy or rich or anything crazy, it was just very well cooked and featured fine ingredients.

our starter was a delicate leek & potato soup and our main was a braised beef with mashed potatoes and carrots.
dessert was a decadent chocolate lava cake.
wins all around!

   

but my most favourite culinary moment on this trip was definitely the schnitzel.

i was so excited to eat schnitzel in vienna… and so when i asked my contiki tour director for her suggestion, she sent me without hesitation to figlmuller for what is considered to be the best in city.  (man, i LOVE having an expert to ask these things!)

and behold… the mother of all schnitzels.
with a side of the most unique potato salad i’ve ever had, topped with lamb’s lettuce.  amazing.

see… look how happy this made me…

the most amazing thing about this meal?
i actually somehow managed to eat the entire schnitzel.  i have no idea how, but i can only take it down to sheer willpower and the fact that my new tour friends were cheering me on.
and also because it was so delicious and the thought of wasting it made me unbearably sad.
the potato salad was sacrificed.  while delicious, something had to give.

after a brief wander around gorgeous vienna, my companions and i had one more vienna specialty to take down.
so again, on the advice of our awesome tour director, we headed to cafe leopold hawelka for an apple streusel and an espresso.

oh wow.  this was an amazing experience on its own.
i’m not the biggest apple lover, but this was a pretty special little treat.  wonderfully balanced, not sweet and not full of mushy fruit.  when you taste it, you know why they say the best in world comes from austria.

and of course, i couldn’t leave vienna without one last specialty product… the world famous sacher torte.
i’ll be honest.  at this point i wasn’t sure i’d ever be able to cram anything else into my body…
so i bought 2 sacher tortes and packed them lovingly for home.  gave one to my mom and my husband and i devoured the other.  it did not disappoint.  its hard to describe… so just think of the best chocolate cake you’ve ever eaten and then times that by 10.  and add a layer of apricot jam.  and you have the magic that is sacher torte.
plus it comes in a fancy wooden box.

last, but most certainly not least… our final stop was when the contiki bus rolled into the gorgeous city of budapest.
where i once again was on the trail of goulash.

our first night we spent on a dinner cruise down the danube and there’s just no words for how stunning this evening was.  the food was an excellent buffet of local eats and the scenery was indescribable.

my last full day in budapest was spent wandering the city after a tour of the parliament buildings… and naturally i was powerless to resist a mid-morning snack in the form of pastry stuffed with cottage cheese.
seriously, budapest knows the power of the cottage cheese.  it’s in a lot of food. and i approve.

after snacks, we moved on to check out the food markets… i could do a whole post on the wonders of the market, but since this is a pretty picture heavy post already, i’m going to give you my two favourites.
a streusel stuffed with cottage cheese and apricots warm from the oven… and kremes.

  

kremes are an emotional throwback for me.  i used to work in a slovakian bakery when i was about 19 years old and we served up all sorts of proper eastern europe treats that i’ve never seen since.  until this trip.
kremes used to be my favourite dessert we made and i sold them by the sheet pan for $2 a square for about 2 years of my life.  and i’ve never seen them since.  so this was pretty cool to see them in their natural habitat so to speak.

anyways, after a trip to the famous szechenyi baths for a few hours of sweet sweet relaxation, we had worked up a bit of an appetite.
what could possibly be left to try that you can’t find at home?  langos!

basically you’re looking at a giant piece of deep fried dough (think a savory beaver tail for the canadians) and its then topped with sour cream, TONS of raw chopped garlic and a mountain of cold cheese.

the result is nothing short of magic….
this was something i had never heard of until this trip. so thank you jen, our contiki tour manager extraordinaire!  because its not easy to show me a food i’ve never heard of before.  especially one thats so clearly up my alley. (hello deep-fried + bread + cheese)

all in all, the food of eastern europe wowed me.  it was at times, what i expected, and at other times it caught me off guard.
i’m so excited and grateful for all the authentic cuisine that i had access to and truly commend contiki on their great work with sourcing great restaurants and being at the ready to point us towards unique specialty items.
as far as culinary world travels go, this was unforgettable and just so unique.
when i first saw the schnitzel come out of the kitchen in vienna… or my first taste of the hungarian paprika in the goulash… and the delight of seeing kremes in the market…

i loved this trip.  and i’d return in a heartbeat if given the possibility.
now… to the gym to work off all those langos, lol!

food & travel: beaches turks & caicos

caribbean food is some of my absolutely favourite on earth.
it’s spicy and lively.  it’s always prepared with care and love and passion.  it makes the most of the local foods and doesn’t waste anything.  and more than anything, its just so different from the food you get in vancouver.

in canada, if you want good caribbean food, you have to head to toronto.  and indeed, every time i’m in toronto, the first place i hit up for food is a jamaican place.  you simply can’t get that level of authenticity out west.
yes, i have enjoyed many a fine meal at the reef in vancouver… but it’s just not quite the same.  but don’t get me wrong, the reef is a great bandaid for my caribbean food itch.

my absolute dream plate?  jerk chicken or pork… curried goat… conch in some form… rice & peas (that’s rice and beans, but they call beans peas in the caribbean)… and festival.
i am happy to report, i ate this on my very first night in turks.
and there is a picture… but it wasn’t on my camera, so i’m waiting for my friend to email it to me.  so when it comes, i’ll stick it in right here.

the locals in turks like to joke that the only thing that comes from turks is conch.  which is pretty much true.  almost everything is imported except the conch.  it reminded me very much of the bahamas in that respect.

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there’s a LOT of conch in turks.
and i mean… a LOT.

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no no no.  like A LOT!

Caicos Conch Farm

yup.  thats the conch farm.
a few of my coworkers worked there for their sandals foundation project.

conch is a hideously ugly thing in an absolutely beautiful shell.

in terms of taste… well, i like it.
a lot actually.
it’s kind of like a scallop in terms of flavour and in texture it tends to be quite rubbery, so the preparation and proper cutting and cooking is key to its enjoyment.

the first night i had it in a stewed form… the second night in a ceviche type salad (i couldn’t tell if it was pre-cooked, but i think it was) and then on my last night i had a traditional conch chowder that was a delight.

to no one’s surprise, the jerk chicken at beaches was exceptional.
there was a lovely restaurant that had a jerk bbq as part of their lunch buffet.  i ate there twice.  it was amazing.
and the view wasn’t so bad either…

and since that shot above is super washed out, this is the very past that lady’s shoulder.

and now for your epic fail portion of the blog…
i totally took two pictures of my jerk chicken and BOTH of them are blurry.
because i am the worst apparently.  food blogger fail. but here they are anyways.

ya, so basically that was lunch.  a big old slab of jerk chicken fresh off the bbq and smothered with hot jerk sauce… a slice of flank steak marinated in garlic & chili… and a tiny salad so i can technically say i ate something other than just meat.

and all the while, i enjoyed this view from my seat in the restaurant…

ya, i know.  rough life, right?

the only other time i had the presence of mind to take food pictures was our last night at schooners, which was a seafood place right beside the beach.
for my appie i had the seared scallops on a corn puree with a little seaweed salad on top and some sort of preserved fruit…

it was pretty yummy although the scallops were more steamed than seared.  in fact they didn’t have any crust or color to them at all, as you can probably see.

then i had a bowl of the conch chowder… which i didn’t take a picture of because it just looked like a bowl of chowder.  not cream based though, the classic recipe is something like this:

CONCH CHOWDER

INGREDIENTS:

Olive Oil – 2 Tbsp
Conch Meat, chopped – 1 pound
Garlic – 2 Tbsp
Onions, diced ½” – 1 ½ cups
Celery, diced ½” – ½ cup
Tomato paste – 3 Tbsp
Chicken Broth – 1 quart
Thyme, fresh – 2 tsp
Oregano, fresh – 1 tsp
Carrots, diced ½” – ½ cup
Clam juice – 2 cups
Potatoes, diced 1 – ½ cups
Tomatoes, diced 1 – ½ cups
Salt and Pepper to taste

PREPARATION:

Place the oil in a pot and heat until very hot.
Add the conch meat and sear for 1 to 2 minutes.
Add the garlic, onions, celery, carrots, and potatoes and sauté for 2 minutes.
Add all the remaining ingredients, mix well and bring to a boil.
Simmer until the potatoes are tender.
Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve hot with croutons or crackers

and then for my main i had a seafood risotto.
it was ridiculously rich and i’m pretty sure it had oodles of butter, cream & cheese in lieu of actually following a proper risotto method… but hey, what can you do except eat it?

it was really tasty and among my table of 12 people, agreed to be the best main course served up.
but yes, helloooooo richness.

all in all i was pretty happy with the food choices at beaches.  i wish i had more freedom to explore the a la carte restaurants and more time of course, but 3 of our 4 dinners were buffets as part of our evening activities, so we didn’t have much say in those.
the breakfasts were underwhelming, but the all inclusive breakfast buffet never wows me.  the best they had to offer was the omelet station and their chocolate croissants were appropriately sinful.
i was also pleased to see an actual espresso coffee machine in the french village cafe to get my americano in the morning.  they also made a damn fine iced coffee.  and actually the plain regular coffee was quite good too.  jamaican blue mountain coffee is just so delicious.
overall better than the food choices i’ve seen at other all inclusives and i definitely give the thumbs up for incorporating the local cuisine into the offerings.

restaurants: tap and barrel

last week after a kayaking session, me and the ladies ventured into the new creekside/olympic village restaurant; Tap and Barrel.
this place has a lot going for it. the location is pretty choice… the patio and restaurant gorgeous. and they are really putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to local cuisine and beverages.

the name comes from the fact that all their beers are on tap and their wines in barrels. making the whole endevour pretty environmentally responsible by cutting out all those heavy glass bottles.
and all those beers and wines are from BC. which is definitely no sacrifice as we all know. and they’re not just local beers & wines, they’re solid choices.
like, pretty much its exactly what i’d hand pick for my (fictitious) restaurant or in my fridge at home.

the food menu is pretty awesome too.
a good mix of fun/gimmicky unhealthy eats like the “epic bacon strip trio” and the “PB&J Burger” but balanced out with some awesome sounding salads and healthier choices.

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big downside of the food menu – the prices.
i know vancouver has been steadily getting out of control with their pricing, but this place is a little off the charts. or maybe i’m just so suburb conditioned…
but the aforementioned bacon strip trio is a whopping $7. for 3 strips of bacon.
that is tough to justify in my opinion.

the burgers all hang out around the $15 price range… and i’m not sure when we accepted that a beer should cost $7 a pint, but its happened. wine was around $9 for a small glass and $13 for a 9oz.
also, $9 desserts? really?

however, i can say that i was pretty pleased with the quality of everything we sampled.
the bacon strip trio was fun to order once, but i wouldn’t recommend it and would never order it again. way too much money and it really wasn’t as exciting as i’d hoped. the bacon was a bit overcooked for my tastes.

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the pretzel however was one of the best i’ve ever had. absolutely delicious.

i had the BLAT chicken sandwich. the standout on that was the bacon. not in strip form, but more like a delightful pork confit. there was damn near half an avocado on that thing and the fries were really tasty.
my cohorts both had beef burgers which they deemed to be delightful as well.

really, the only big issues for us was a major glitch in the service.
our server was delightful and friendly… but i’m not sure if she forgot to put in our order or if there was a kitchen issue or what… but it took almost an hour to get our appetizers and about an hour and a half to get our meals.

i definitely cut them some slack because they just opened 1 week prior and i know new establishments have a steep learning curve, but it was a little trying.

one member of our party ordered half an hour after us and her meal came and she had finished eating before our mains showed. thats a problem.
also a problem was the manager coming over to pay us lip service. again, super nice and friendly and apologetic, like the server… but don’t tell us that they’re “just putting the tops on our burgers” if thats not whats happening.
if that was the case, they would have hit my table 3 minutes later. not another 25 minutes later.

at the end of the day, they took care of our entire bill, which was a great gesture and definitely made it all good in my book. so i don’t hold a gruge against them. it was just exasperating because it was after 10pm when we got our food and we were absolutely starving.

anyways, i’m looking forward to trying this place again in the future and seeing what its l;ike in a few months once they’ve made all their tweaks.

food: breakfast

i have long complained of a lack of decent breakfast in the suburbs.
it seems to me there is only 2 choices.
either is greasy and disgusting like IHOP or a greasy spoon… or its a chain restaurant like milestones or browns or whatever and so painfully uninspired.

i crave the breakfasts of the city.
vancouver is a breakfast city.
every saturday and sunday, restaurants are packed to the brim and lined up outside with devotees.

there is no room in the vancouver breakfast scene for a mediocre offering.
it simply would not survive.

vancouver-ites crave healthy options.
we’re more fruit than greasy hashbrowns.
turkey sausage options is a must.  turkey bacon is so 2005.
and if your eggs aren’t free range, then you have some explaining to do.
salmon finds its way into everything, beyond the west coast special smoked salmon benny… its in omlettes and other applications that we see as so normal, but tourists find quirky.

yes, vancouver loves its breakfasts.
and yes, we are snobs about it.
the coffee must be from fair trade organic beans… and if its not french pressed, well, it’ll do… if thats all you have.
are your potatoes local?  they’re in season, you know.
is the bacon house cured with no nitrates?  and what farm are the pigs raised on?  is it within 100 miles of here?

i joke, but not really.
we are a city of food snobs.  but i can’t fault us for it.
we expect the best quality when dining out and don’t settle for anything less.
and i think if more people thought about their food that way, we’d be in a better place as a society.
respect for food translates into respect for yourself.
it stands to reason that if you have standards about what you’re eating, you won’t find yourself scarfing fast food or junk food.  you’ll take the time to think about the chemical cocktail of what you’re actually consuming.

but as usual, i digress.

until recently, whenever i wanted breakfast out, it always ended in frustration.
like i said off the top, its all either super unhealthy or super lame.
option 3 is chinese.  there is some spectacular dim sum around my area.  but again, super unhealthy.  i honestly can’t eat it anymore, it just makes me ill, no matter how good it is on the way down, it culminates in the rest of the day being miserable and full of regret.

breakfast is also tough for me because i’m not really an egg lover.
the idea of an egg on its own… like sunny side up, is gross to me.
eggs done up, like an omelette… okay…
eggs smothered in hollandaise sauce?  well, now i’m interested.  but i still like them poached hard so the yolk doesn’t dilute my delicious sauce.
as well, since i ditched the bread, eggs are even less interesting.  i mean, wasn’t the best part sopping up the runny yolk with your toast?

basically my breakfast of choice was often toast, meat and fruit.  not a big potato lover, especially when its those “breakfast french fries”.  if its deep fried, its not a hash brown, okay?

to me, my favourite breakfast ever is in waikiki.  at the Kani Ka Pila Grille poolside at the outrigger reef on the beach.
i ate here almost every morning for 10 days and bitterly regretted the days i chose other destinations.

the devil that tempted me most here was the coconut toast.
try to imagine… as a (now recovered) carb fiend and a coconut obsessed girl, this was my perfect breakfast.
in fact i was quite certain i could happily live off this and only this until the end of days.

she is a thing of beauty.
the empty being that is white bread… but hawaiian white bread.  which has a lovely inherent sweetness in it…
slathered in coconut oil and coated with fresh coconut and then grilled face down on the flat top.
the result is chewy and sweet and bready and crunchy and so aarggsaiuffhauouilsagbndsNGDKSJBN

i was obsessed.

my other breakfast obsession at this place was their banana pancakes.
weird, because i’m not a real banana lover.  nor am i a pancake lover.
but its safe to say that the hot macadamia nut syrup was the clincher.

naturally, the fact that everything was served with a luscious piece of papaya was just icing on the cake.
i adore the tropical fruit in hawaii.
(you know as opposed to all those other things in hawaii i just hate, lol)

anyways… back to local.

i have finally stumbled upon a suitable option right here, only a few blocks from my house.
the place in question is Cora’s and they call themselves breakfast enthusiasts.  which i dig.

but most of all, i dig that there’s nothing deep fried in the whole joint.
and that everything comes with an absolute mountain of fruit.
i love that there’s a fruit cocktail of the day that changes constantly.
i love the slight quebec twist on all the foods, heavy on the crepes.
i just straight up love this place.

the only negatives about it is that i find the wheat-free options few and far between.
i’ve resorted to modifying items, like getting a benny without the english muffins…
this is the mushroom & brie benny.  but i like the asparagus one too.

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but sometimes i get tired of modifying menus.
so i just cheat on my no-wheat and regret it later.
this is one of my other faves.
its delicious lean sausages wrapped in cheese & buckwheat crepes.

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i can never finish this meal.  i get through 2 sausages and half my fruit and pack up the rest for the next day.  two breakfasts in one, and not an egg in sight.

thanks cora’s for making me believe the suburb breakfast can make the cut.

travel: countdowns and big ideas

i’m a person that loves my countdowns.
i generally know exactly how many days until i have to do anything that i care about.
and right now, i have 3 travel countdowns.
and this is exciting to me.

turks & caicos: 53 days
italy: 72 days
honolulu: 124 days

ya, i accidentally booked us a trip to hawaii in november.
well, to be fair, i had $300 in free travel as a reward for selling a crapload of hawaii last month… and there was a travel agent promo code for discounted flights… soooo… it was basically so cheap i couldn’t say no.
so we’re headed back to paradise for a quick 7 night stay at the end of november.

that will probably be our last vacation until vegas in may for our 5th wedding anniversary.
which will be a full week of all out awesome. vegas style.

but it also means that i’m now set dreaming about other 2013 trips…
currently i have 3 viable options that i’m courting.

option a: scandinavian countries.
my husband’s background is finnish, so he’s dying to see the motherland of saunas and pickled fish.  and i really want to see iceland and denmark and sweden… so we’ll probably take 2 weeks or so and hop around to some of those fun countries.
option b:  heading back to the caribbean and do the island hopping down there.
option c: eastern europe.  prague, germany and maybe even russia.

but these are plans that my husband can’t yet process because first we have to go on this italian trip and pay for said italian trip.  which is fair.
so, one step at a time.
(which is clearly a challenging mindset for me)

but back to the tasks at hand.
we booked italy so long ago that it felt like september would never come.
but its starting to get real.  and close.
our final payments on the tour are due mid-august.  and then we’re paid up in full and just need to save spending money.

the next step will be reading through all the information and deciding what we’re going to do in our spare time in each city.
as i’ve said before, i really want to go in with a plan to make sure that we don’t miss anything important, since in all reality, this is a one in a lifetime trip.
not to say i definitely would never return to italy, but there’s a million other places i want to see on this planet, so its unlikely we would return in the near future.  so i have to plan to git’r’done on this trip.

i feel like i’m trying to process so much information that its overwhelming me and i’m putting it off a bit.
so maybe my pet project for this week will be breaking it into bite-sized pieces.
one city at a time.

but rome in particular is daunting.  i have 3 books dedicated to just rome.  and they are not small books.
the options of what to see are endless.  its a massive city that we could probably spend the length of our vacation just there and still have sights unseen.
and trying to decide what to see in 4 days… ya.  tough and overwhelming.
what some people list as “must-see”, others will say “don’t bother”…
and one person’s “highlight” is anothers “tourist trap”
so its stressing me out a bit.

what i have confirmed is that we have a 48 hour hop on/hop off bus pass.  which will serve as transportation around most of the big city sights.
and we have a food tour booked for our second day.

after much deliberation, i decided to book us with  Eating Italy Food Tours.
my choice was based largely on the consistently excellent reviews on trip advisor. out of 283 reviews, it received 271 excellent and 12 very good and not a single rating below that.  which is pretty much unheard of.
and also the fact that it is a walking based tour focused on local food and small businesses.

there’s certainly no shortage of foodie options in rome, but this one really caught my eye.
so, i contacted them and they offered me a little agent discount, so i committed.
and now i’m quite excited about it.
we visit multiple places and get food at each one. and the tour is 12 people max.

The Best Foods in Rome– In your hometown you know exactly where to go to find the best food around. In a city as big as Rome, uncovering those hidden culinary gems can be a challenge, if you don’t have some local insight. Our guided Real Taste of Rome Food Tour takes you to seven local favorites in one of Rome’s most delicious and historic neighborhoods, away from crowds. Ten mouth-watering food tastings, enough for a very hearty lunch, are savored on every tour. The secrets to preparing each dish are revealed and you get to meet the colorful local people who have been perfecting these recipes for generations. Food tasting stops include a historic outdoor market, an authentic Roman pastry shop, Rome’s most famous gourmet market, one of the best trattorias in the city, an award winning pizza shop, and a gelateria that has been making gelato from scratch for 98 years. All food tastings are included in the ticket price.

Genuine Historic & Cultural Experience– We like to say this is “more than a food tour” because we will not just fill your bellies but we’ll also give you plenty of food for thought. Between tastings, you experience what “real life in Rome” is like as you stroll through this non-touristy, traditional Roman neighborhood. Our knowledgeable and entertaining guides will dazzle you with fascinating stories that take you deep into Rome’s rich culture and often untold history. We visit remarkable sites from throughout Roman history- from the time of Julius Caesar, to the period under Mussolini, up to modern day including the birthplace of Rome’s most notorious Mafia gang. Some of the treasured locations visited include ancient architectural wonders, beautiful piazzas, awe-inspiring pyramids, and a hidden urban oasis.

Delicious food specialties are served on the Real Taste of Rome Food Tour (subject to change):

  • Barberini – This legendary pastry shop making edible works of art since 1945.
  • Volpetti – Rome’s #1 gourmet food shop for over 40 years.They have over 150 kinds of Italian cheeses!
  • Famous Testaccio Fresh Food Market Over 70 family-owned fresh food market stands. We use these wonderfully fresh ingredients to build our own bruschetta and make a mozzarella di buffala Caprese salad
  • Dess’Art – Costanza makes the very best cannoli in Rome, but don’t just take our word for it.
  • Flavio al Velavevodetto – In all of Rome voted top 10 Roman restaurants. You will not find a better Roman dining experience in the city.
  • 00100 Pizza – Stefano is the Picasso of Rome’s famous fried rice croquet called Suppli’. We will taste his lastest masterpiece- “The Genovese”
  • Da Bucatino – Considered a local Roman institution. When you serve some of the best Roman pasta dishes in the city for over nine decades, we feel safe calling them an institution.
  • Giolitti da 1914 – For nearly a century this famous gelateria has been making some of Rome’s best gelato the old-fashioned way

so, needless to say, this is hugely exciting to me.
obviously as a food lover, the cuisine was a very big part of our choice to vacation in italy.
but i had been a little discouraged by tales of less than stellar eating options in many of the major italian cities.
so this tour will at least start us on a high note, and they also send you away with a guide of their recommended restaurants in rome including the top 10 pizza places.
which will also give us a little guidance for our next few days there.

and honestly… i can’t wait for this:

restaurants: the mac shack

ever since i first heard whisperings on twitter about the mac shack, i’ve been planning a visit.
in fact as one of their first followers, i even earned myself a free meal (sadly, it expired before i could use it)
and as a life long mac & cheese addict, this just seemed like the best restaurant ever.

all they serve pretty much is mac & cheese.
this, my friends, is a magical idea.

i snatched up a groupon for this place that was soon set to expire, so on sunday, my husband and i made the almost 1 hour drive to kerrisdale to chow down.

the upside of this drive is that it allowed time to contemplate the menu offerings and decide on a mac & cheese.
i was happy to see a gluten free option on the menu, but wasn’t sure i was going to order it until i found out what they used… i’m not a massive lover of the rice pasta, which tends to be mushy and corn pasta is pretty good, but can sometimes have a texture issue too.
but then when i arrived, i was rewarded with quinoa pasta. a most excellent choice.

i went with the quinoa pasta with goat cheese and double-smoked bacon added.
my husband decided to stick with a more traditional offering for his first go and ordered the 4 cheese with good old fashioned white flour pasta.

the results were the following:

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and yes, it was as good as it looked.
both dishes had pasta cooked to perfection and velvety cream sauce and enough cheese for add good flavour and gooey goodness, but not enough to make it too heavy.

my bacon was nicely cooked, not crunchy and cooked to all hell.
and the goat cheese on top was lovely.

we ordered the ultimate size, which it says feeds 1-2 people and thats about right.
i got to this point and then packed it up for leftovers.

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and i gotta say, it was even better the next day.
my husband agreed that his was better as well.

so, i paid $21 for my groupon and ended up shelling out an extra $2.48 upon ordering.
we had 2 meals each out of it plus a salad and a boylan’s root beer each.
and also “bread dippers” which i could have definitely lived without, but we were short by $1 to make our groupon value, so we figured, why not.

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fine work mac shack.
i’ll be back most definitely.

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