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food: vancouver christmas market

well… when i first drafted this post, it was december 17th.  and christmas was almost upon us.
now, it has come and gone.
excuses excuses, but december was a particularly trying month for me for various reasons and lots of things fell by the wayside.  this post/blog being one of them.
to be honest, i also didn’t travel anywhere nor did i cook barely at all.  i certainly ate, but not much in the way of preparation…

but, resolutions abound in the new year… so i’m going to finish this post and then post some more.

for the last couple years, vancouver has played host to its own german-style christmas market.
and if there’s one thing i really enjoy, its a cup of hot mulled wine while wandering around eating and shopping for knick knacks.
so this was pretty much right up my alley.

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first off, kudos to these guys and the city of vancouver for treating us like adults and letting us wander with alcohol.
you could buy your hot mulled wine and/or a beer and wander freely inside the market.  not penned in to a beer garden looking longingly past the plastic fencing forced to choose between the drink and the market itself.
this was a vast improvement over many other events vancouver is home to, simply for that reason alone.  alcohol should not mean segregation.

i also was a huge fan of the mug deposit system.
instead of drinking your beverage from a disposable plastic or styrofoam cup, you received a real ceramic mug for the deposit price of $2.  then, if you wanted to keep your mug, you could… or you could return it for your twoonie back after you were done refilling as needed.
another great idea.  i wish other events would take heed and do the same with beer gardens and get rid of all those wasted plastic cups.

basically what i’m saying, is that this market took some of europe’s best ideas from their markets and instituted them.  which really, if you’re going to refer to yourself as a german christmas market, you’d better represent.

so, to show support for this idea, we immediately went into the lineup to get a mulled wine.

anyways… on to the food.
there were many choices, in fact, the stands were weighed heavily towards food over goods… which was just fine with us.

first stop… schnitzel.

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sorry for the overexposed picture, it was dark and flash was the only way to go.
anyways… the schnitzel itself was pretty damn good.  we waited about 25 minutes for it and received a lovely golden crisp piece of pork with a light panko coating.  served with a pita bread, potato salad, lemon wedge & a pickle.

overall… solid.  we ate it and liked it, but really, i think vienna has ruined me for schnitzel.
when it comes from the deep fryer its just not the same as the frying pan full of butter… and the potato salad was out of a costco bucket and sprinkled with dried dill.  don’t get me wrong, i’ve eaten my share of costco potato salad, but i guess i hoped for something a little more homemade.

next up was the spätzle!

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i was really looking forward to this…
after another 25 minute line up, we finally had our cheesy pasta-y goodness in hand and barely stopped to breathe.

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the smell coming off this stand is so amazing, it should be illegal.  essentially this fella above just continuously tosses the noodles in excessive amounts of clarified butter, bacon and onions in a giant wok-style cast iron frying pan.  have you ever just fried pasta in clarified butter until its cooked?  ya.  you should do that.  because it was pretty much my heaven.

throw in some bacon and fried onions and you’ve got a winner.
but seriously… so much butter.  i watched that dude use pounds of butter in the time i was in line.
then he scooped out a portion, smothered it in cheese and topped it with fried onions.  yup.

because we’d been smart and shared all our meals so far, we figured it was high time for a bratwurst.

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so for our last food stop of the evening, we hit up the brat stand and after a 30 minute line (see a pattern there?  we need more food stands!) we were rewarded handsomely with a lovely sausage on a crunchy soft roll smothered in sauerkraut and golden caramelized onions.

here’s a testament to how good that thing was… i hate onions and kauerkraut and i ate it all without picking it off.  it just seemed like one of those “when in rome…” kinda things.

bellies full, we grabbed a beer and wandered around to see the crafts.  overall we didn’t see too much that interested us… the one place with tons of cool looking stuff was in a building and the lineup was ridiculous to get in, and frankly i just didn’t have it in me to wait in yet another line, so we moved on.

we picked up an ornament for the mother in law and my husband purchased some alpaca socks (which he LOVES) and then we called it a night.
overall, it was a lovely way to spend an evening and i hope next year they expand the market because after the long line just to enter and then the continuous lines inside, i think a lot of people get frustrated.

but i’m happy to see the city giving these kind of events licensing and space and hope this is a tradition for many years to come.

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vancouver: im on a boat

i love boats.
and i love being on the water, in the water and just generally around water.

last summer i went kayaking for the first time with my girlfriend based on a groupon that was for the rental place by my house at rocky point.
it was something i’d always wanted to do… and while i’ve paddled many a canoe, i had never done this.
so we took our lesson that had dryland training and then some time in the water.
we were taught all the safety stuff and need-to-knows about being in a boat… and then our stroke was corrected and perfected.  it was fun and a lovely way to spend an afternoon and i vowed to do it again.

fast forward to one year later.  i still haven’t been back.
so thanks to the gentle pushing of groupon, we decided to do a 2 hour rental in false creek.

it was an absolutely gorgeous night and we paddled around the base of false creek until the sun was setting.
it was utter vancouver perfection.

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so, needless to say, this lit a bit of a fire under us.
while the scenery was gorgeous in false creek and the views of vancouver absolutely stunning… the water was completely disgusting.
and there was a lot of boat traffic.  dragonboats, outrigger canoes, other kayaks, the aquabus, various motorboats and even a giant paddlewheeler dinner cruise boat.

so we decided that next time we’d stick to the serene waters of the burrard inlet by rocky point.
and we didn’t wait long this time…
that weekend, we reserved boats and spent two hours exploring the coastline of the inlet, letting our fingers trail in the water and watching the seals.
it was calm and every bit as beautiful as being downtown, but with less stress and water traffic.

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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.

drinks: canada cup of beer 2012

ah summer saturday.
the perfect day for some outdoor beer drinking.
and what better place to partake in said outdoor beer drinking than at an event called the canada cup of beer?

as a beer hound, i enjoy a solid beer festival.
but honestly, i actually wasn’t going to attend this one this year.
i’ve been to the canada cup of beer before and while i had always found it to be fun times, the locations always put me off.
they always seemed to be in pretty unfriendly transit locations like UBC.
this year was at swangard, which was a little better – walking distance from patterson station… but still, not ideal.
no one lives in burnaby.  all my friends are either downtown or coquitlam.  so its one of those “everyone has to travel to get there” locations.

but, our minds changed when both myself and moonbeam won tickets from the shore 104 radio station.
and then we came upon some other ticket comps as well.
so all in, we had tickets for all our friends and some to spare.  and how can you say no to that?

so we assembled a mighty team and headed out on probably the most picture perfect day weather-wise that we’ve had this summer to drink a lot of beer out of tiny cups.

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the event itself is pretty well run, but really suffers from low attendance.
which is good news for patrons, because line ups at the booths are short or non existent… but i can’t imagine it does much for the sustainability of the event itself.

in all, i knew 22 people that attended.  and none of them paid for their tickets, as they came from some sort of media related comps.  but i think with an event like this, for a lot of the breweries, they’re not necessarily looking to make money per-say, its more a marketing opportunity to get their product out to their exact target demo.

in terms of marketing, this sort of event is a must-do for any craft brewer.
right now the market is absolutely flooded with craft breweries.  you can stand in the beer section for ages trying to decide, but at the end of the day, because most are big UNKNOWNS, they usually get passed over in favour for a more reliable option.
with the disappearance of single beer sales at bc liquor stores, most people are pretty unwilling to take a chance on a whole 6 pack if they know nothing about the brewery.  so sampling is really the best way to get your product out.

i would say this holds true 10-fold for fruit beers.
the fruit beer is so hot for this summer from the bc breweries.
without a doubt, this is the beer trend of 2012 summer.
howe sound’s 4-way fruit ale, granville island’s raspberry, dead frog’s mandarin, phillips’ blueberry, tin whistle’s peach, fernie’s huckleberry… and the list goes on.

but the thing is… fruit beers are either great or they’re fucking terrible.
and while you may get me to take a chance on a single big bottle of beer… its unlikely i’m going to buy a whole 6 pack of one i’ve never tried.
case in point; dead frog’s mandarin beer.  dead frog is hit or miss for me.  i’ve enjoyed some of their products and been really disappointed with others.  so while i was intrigued, i wasn’t willing to make a $13 gamble on it.
but on saturday, i tried it for free, liked it, and would probably buy a 6-pack of it now.

another example comes from unibroue.  i have had some really bad experiences with their beers.  i find them totally offensive to my palate and when people leave them at my house, they go straight down the sink.
about a month ago, i started to soften my stance, based on my friend’s strong endorsement of their Blanche de Chambly.
i tried it in a bar (again – didn’t have to commit to the 6-pack) and actually quite enjoyed it.
but the rest of their product line is still getting the stink eye from me.
on saturday, i decided to try their Éphémère Apple.  (see – fruit beers – told you!) and found it to be quite a delight.
so purely through the powers of sampling, i was sold back on a product i’d vehemently avoided and often trash talked.

the world of sampling also is a business maker for the up and coming breweries.
all of us agreed that the favourite beers of the day came courtesy of Parallel 49 brewery.
a company that not a single one of us had ever heard of before.  and we all left with business cards and promises to visit and drink much of their product.

their fruit offering is the seed spitter watermelon ale.  and i can admit, it left our group divided.
myself and the other ladies absolutely loved it.  the men were about 60/40 on it.  some really liked it and others thought it was gross.

their booth was also by far the most popular at the festival.  their secret; a great product, friendly staff and not charging.
they freely admitted they didn’t care about getting tokens for the beer, they just wanted people to try it.
and i don’t think there was a single person in attendance that didn’t try at least one of their beers.
this, is a marketing success, so kudos to them.

all in all, the day was pretty solid.
great weather & great people.  no lines, pretty much free beer… and real washrooms – no porta potties!
the only real downer on the organization was that you couldn’t smoke inside and they didn’t allow ins and outs.  so all along the outskirts, people were forced to power smoke in hopes of finishing before security came by.  which is just silly.  i don’t know why they wouldn’t have just made a little fenced smoking pen or allowed the smokers to leave and come back.  so stupid.
its the same as venues not allowing in and outs for concerts.  all you’ve done is pushed the smokers into the bathrooms.  which is kinda gross, as anyone that frequents the commodore ballroom knows.
because i can tell you that at an outdoor beer festival, people are going to smoke whether you allow them to or not.

anyways… fun times were had by all, i discovered some rad new beers and i got to work on my tan.
so i give the canada cup of beer a hells yes!

garden: patio style

i love my outdoor space.
i don’t have very much of it, although my patio is large for condo standards, it’s still just a patio.
but i make do with what i have to work with and try to squeeze in every last bit of space into something functional.

and as such, i don’t feel i have much time for flowers.
i just really don’t care that much.
i’m a plant girl.  i like the green.
but i’ve been making an effort to incorporate a little colour this year.
and these are some of the fruits of my labour.


what i really enjoy is growing the “useful” plants.
herbs and vegetables and fruits and things i can eat.

this years herb garden is coming along nicely, although i think i’ve gone overboard on the basil.
somehow i’ve ended up with 5 pots of basil.
so clearly, pesto is imminent.

but this year i’ve also go some rosemary, thyme and tarragon.

and then i get into the really useful plants.
in the past i’ve always tried to grow tomatoes.  but this year i’m just accepting defeat and not wasting my money.  tomatoes just do not want to grow on my patio.

but in turn, i’m trying a few new things.
like dwarf zucchini plants that i can grow in a pot.  and yellow wax beans.  and kale.

and then of course, the good old standby – strawberries.
i’ve had my strawberry plants for 4 years now and they’re still going strong.

in fact, if this is the only yield from my patio this year…
well, i’m okay with it.

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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