Thursday, September 30, 2010

Happy Birthday, October

There's beauty all around us.

We just have to keep our eyes open...

....or get up really early.

Have a wonderful fall!


Monday, September 27, 2010

Dining out: Salsa & Agave

The Erickson Building
When I get together with my friend Michele, it's usually on a Monday night and involves a walk along one seawall or another, then dinner. It's a combination which is probably counterproductive to fitness, but certainly works wonders for friendship. Walking is a lot like living, I guess - it's so much easier when you have good friends to keep you company.

So today we walked along False Creek, right up to the Erickson building, and then down Pacific Boulevard to the Salsa & Agave Mexican Grill, which is a rather atypical Yaletown restaurant: cozy and casual, with a reasonably priced menu (most expensive item = $13).

Earlier reviews describe a small place with only eight tables. This must have been their first location, which is still open during the day for lunch and take-out orders. For dinner, walk a few doors down and you'll find yourself at the new Salsa & Agave, which is still small but with a few more tables, beautiful dark-red decor, interesting wall art and lamps dangling down from the high ceiling.

It was our first time to try this place so it took us a while to decide what to order. Fortunately we were served almost at once with a complimentary pottery bowl of tortilla chips and a smaller one of salsa, so we could munch as we perused the menu.

It's the only menu I've encountered where I wanted to try everything - maybe because all the dishes sound so rich, meaty, and flavourful.

In the end, Michele had a glass of mango nectar and the enchiladas with rice and beans: a generous plateful for $12. I had the lengua (ox tongue) tacos. For the less adventurous, there are more conventional taco fillings, e.g. chicken, pork, and sausage. I have to say that the tongue is my favourite part of the cow - when it's cooked well, that is, and this dish did not disappoint. The chunks of tongue were tender and tasty, served on soft tacos with minced onion and cilantro, a lime wedge, and a smoky-spicy dipping sauce on the side.

Good thing we had to walk a few blocks back to the car.

On my second visit to Salsa & Agave, I tried:

Sopa Azteca: broth spiced up with chipotle and swimming with tortilla strips, chunks of avocado, stringy cheese and sour cream...

...and more tacos: filled with chorizo and pastor (pork in spicy sauce)


Sunday, September 26, 2010

WOTS up?

I spent my afternoon at the Word on the Street (WOTS) festival in downtown Vancouver. Part of the time I volunteered at the Ricepaper booth, and the rest of the time I wandered around, chatted with the Langara Publishing students at the Pacific Rim booth next door, picked up a few back issues I haven't read yet, and of course, took some pictures.

What more appropriate setting for the Word on the Street festival than Vancouver Public Library's Central Branch?
The BC Mags pavilion

No, folks, the magazine is not made of ricepaper. It's a metaphor, okay?

Patricia L, managing editor, chatting up passersby

Magazine cover come to life: Tetsuro Shigematsu
Apparently, even superheroes read.
Yet another colourful character. Never a dull moment at WOTS!


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Last Hurrah Chicken Salad

Autumn certainly didn't wait too long to make itself felt this year. This has been a week of damp, chilly days. But today the sun broke out, and hoping I'll get to have a lunch time picnic, I made this Sesame Chicken Salad. My last hurrah for the summer.

Sesame Chicken Salad

1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, cooked and diced
(You can either use some leftover rotisserie chicken, or bring 4 cups of water to a rolling boil with some sliced onion, peppercorns and a bay leaf. Pop in the chicken, clap on the lid, and let boil for 30 seconds. Then remove the pot from the heat and keep the lid on for at least 30 minutes. The breast will come out fully cooked but still tender.)

1 tablespoon sesame seeds
(I like to use black sesame seeds - they're so much more dramatic.)

3-4 dried shitake mushrooms, reconstituted in some hot water and diced

1 green onion, sliced

2-3 tablespoons mayonnaise

a few drops of sesame oil
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all the ingredients together and serve with melba toast and/or a green salad.


Friday, September 24, 2010

There's a time for everything

There is a certain Bible verse that is timeless in itself, although it speaks to us about time:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die...a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance...a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away...a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.

This verse helps me a lot when I'm tempted by worries or regrets - or when I feel myself being pulled in all directions or running around trying to do ten different things.

The very construction of the verse evokes the ebb and flow of the ocean tide, as if to remind the reader that everything comes full circle in its own time, and the waters will always return to wash the shore clean.

And yet - we are human beings, not millions of lifeless, anonymous grains of sand that make up the waiting seashore. Sure, it's easy to shrug our shoulders and say, "Hey, that's life." Is it? Or is there something more we can do to make it different, make it better - for ourselves, for other people?

I think this verse is meant to remind us that we are called not to passive acceptance of life’s ups and downs, but to intelligent and free decisions about how to respond to the circumstances in which we find ourselves every day.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Home away from home

I spent this past weekend at Whistler - not to play, unfortunately, but to work. Though I did get some beautiful shots of the mountains and of the village.

And I got to stay at The Sun Dial, a posh boutique hotel just off the Village Stroll, steps away from the Peak 2 Peak gondola.

The two-bedroom suite I shared with my colleague was just as big, if not bigger, than your standard Vancouver condo. It even had a fully equipped kitchen. I guess most people can't wait to leave their kitchens behind when they go out of town. I, on the other hand, have discovered that having a home away from home with a kitchen to putter around in makes me a happy camper.

Our kitchen at The Sun Dial featured this long, tall, marble-topped iron piece that doubles up beautifully as a work island and dining table. I'm not a fan of high chairs in restaurants (not for adults, anyway) but I think they add a cosy and companionable element at home when they're drawn up to an island like this.

Family and friends can sit and watch you cook, or help out by chopping veggies or grating cheese. The marble top can be wiped clean and set for dinner in seconds, and meals can be served straight from the stove. What a simple and beautiful solution for today's small spaces and busy lifestyles.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Climb every mountain

They don't call the 99 north of Vancouver the Sea to Sky Highway for nothing. It slices its way through the mountains, sometimes running along the water, other times through gorges, always with breath-taking views at every twist and turn. It only gets better as you go higher and higher and start catching glimpses of mountain lakes as clear as glass, rough and tumble rivers, and snowy peaks thrusting mightily to the sky.

Funny thing about mountains. As you leave the city behind and start climbing, everything shrinks to its proper proportion, including yourself, and you get a fresh new perspective of the world you live in.

I first noticed this phenomenon when I lived in North Vancouver a few years ago. Every day after work I would take the bus over the Lion's Gate Bridge, and I would watch as the buildings downtown got smaller and farther away. Going home up the mountain was almost like a mini-retreat I got to do every day: a time to get refreshed and energized for the next day of work in the busy world.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Mom always told me....

...that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  And nobody understands this principle better than the English.

A complete English breakfast will keep you going until dinner time.

I find it a wee bit ironic that I, a resident of British Columbia, had to go to Montreal to have a traditional English breakfast.   But every bite was definitely worth the journey.

Traditional English Breakfast at The Burgundy Lion in Montreal.  Clockwise from top left: scrambled eggs,  kippers, crumpets, tomato, mushrooms, sausages, bacon.  Centre: bowl of baked beans.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Funky building, downtown Vancouver

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Reach out and ask someone

Reader's Digest asks readers, "Have you ever been enlightened by a conversation with a stranger?" Here's my answer.

Walking home from the bus stop late one evening, I passed by a young woman standing on the street corner. She stopped me and asked me where she could catch the next bus. I pointed out the stop up the street, but something in her face or in her voice made me look at her more closely and ask, "Are you okay?"

She said, "No," and burst into tears.

During the long wait for the next bus, we paced up and down the sidewalk as she told me her story. She was from another city and had just left her abusive boyfriend. She was staying with a friend and was on her way to see another friend who might be willing to loan her some cash. She was unemployed and didn't even have enough change for the bus fare.

I checked my purse but had only a few quarters myself. When the bus came, she managed to convince the driver to let her on, and I watched her ride away, wishing I could have helped her out with more than just some directions and a handful of coins. Then I realized that maybe I had given her something that she needed even more than money: a listening ear, a friendly voice, and a warm hand just when everything seemed cold, dark, and hopeless. I think about her a lot, and pray that wherever she is now, she's doing okay. 


Friday, September 10, 2010

On the eve of 9/11

Where were you the morning of September 11, 2001? No doubt you still remember exactly what you were doing when you learned about what was unfolding in New York City that day.

I was on my way to work, and on the bus I heard the first uneasy murmurs. Something about a plane crashing into a tower. I didn't know what kind of plane, which tower. At the time I was living in Langley, British Columbia: an area of long, green hills, fields, orchards, and horse-dotted paddocks. So, country bumpkin that I was, I imagined a crop duster flying into a water tower or grain silo.

Photo credit:
When I got to downtown Vancouver I passed a man yelling into his phone, "Mom, I'm okay!  I'm not in New York!"  People clustered around TV monitors in shop windows and building lobbies, or around radios with the volume turned way up. And so I learned the awful truth: two commercial jets had crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre. Where my dad had bought my mom a watch years ago. Where a friend of mine had visited just months before, and wondered idly what would happen if a building of this magnitude had to be evacuated in the event of an emergency. Where two of my relatives - one on each side of the family - went to work everyday.

I didn't get any work done that day, nor any sleep that night. I don't suppose a lot of people did.

We learned later that my family members were both safe - for different reasons, they were both late coming in to work that Monday morning. But a client of my father's was in New York on business that week, and on September 11 he was assigned to work in an office in one of the towers. He was never heard from again.

I saw a documentary on television last year, all about the World Trade Centre, from its inception by the Rockefeller brothers, through the saga of its construction, and the charming and breath-taking sidebar story of Philippe Petit's epic walk across a tightrope strung between the towers, 400 meters above the that fateful morning when the towers came crashing down. I wept during that part.

I thank God my family was kept safe during that horrible time. I get worried now, when I see the words "bomb" and "New York" in the same headline - as they did a few months ago. I pray, especially at this time of year, for the people who never came home from work that day, and for their families.

I think there is much need for healing and forgiveness. I don't think building a mosque near the 9/11 site is the most appropriate way to do it. And I definitely don't think that any Koran-burning is called for, either.

I know there are no easy answers. Maybe in the end we will all understand each other, and maybe then we will stop putting each other through so much fear and pain.

In the meantime, we do what we can, and we carry on.


Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Farewell, Summer: Hello, Hot Suppers!

So the bad news is, summer is practically over. Goodbye, blazing hot sun and long golden afternoons. Our blueberry bush is bare, and the first of the leaves are starting to turn.

Sunset in Vancouver

The good news is, with the onset of early twilights, crisp evenings, and rainwashed skies, hot meals are suddenly palatable again. Hello, comfort food!

I'm reading a book called Chow: a fascinating, heart-warming, and mouth-watering combination of history, family, and food. Author Janice Wong shares her parents' recipes for simple and delicious Chinese dishes that any home cook can put together quite easily.

Thanks to this book I'm starting to realize that nobody does comfort food like the Chinese.... succulent roast chicken, chewy-tender noodles, plump dumplings, dim sum treats that are meant to delight the heart as well as tickle the palette.

This chicken rice recipe from
Chow is simple and hearty, reminiscent of the arroz caldo of my childhood, with the tasty addition of Chinese sausage. Perfect for dinner on a cold day after a hard day's work.

Chicken Rice/Gai Fun

4 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
1 cup long-grain rice
lop cheung (Chinese sausage), cut into six pieces
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, for stir-frying
2 green onions, sliced
3 whole slices of ginger (you can leave the skin on)

Marinade for chicken:
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
2 tablespoons sherry
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Stir the marinade ingredients together in a bowl and mix in the chicken. Marinate for at least one hour (overnight is best).

Pour the rice into a medium-sized pot with a tight-fitting lid. (When choosing the pot, keep in mind that the volume of rice will double in size when cooked.) Wash the rice with cold running water. Swish your fingers through the rice and pour off the cloudy water. Do this at least three times, until the water runs clear. Add 1 and 1/4 cups of cold water and let the rice stand for half an hour. Wong advises that this step will ensure that the rice cooks evenly.

Cook the rice over high heat, uncovered, for about two minutes, until the water comes to a rolling boil. 

Lower the heat to medium, put the lid on the pot, and continue cooking the rice until the water and bubbles disappear, and the surface of the rice is pocked with small holes.

Lop cheung
While the rice is cooking, heat the cooking oil in a wok or skillet and stir-fry the chicken for three minutes. Reduce the heat, cover, and cook for five minutes more. If needed, add a bit of water at the end to deglaze.

Pour the chicken, gravy, and the sausage slices over the pocked rice. Cover and simmer for twenty minutes. Mix thoroughly and sprinkle with green onions before serving.

Don't forget your vegetables: serve with steamed gai lan, bok choi, or spinach.

A sprinkling of green onion adds brightness and flavour.


Monday, September 06, 2010

TaiwanFest 2010

The last party on Granville Street before it resumes function as a normal street again. Watch out for the buses starting tomorrow, September 7.

Puppet Show

Can't stay they didn't warn you....

We decided to forego the stinky tofu and had the Popcorn Chicken as an appetizer.

These deep-fried squids were exceptionally good: crisp and light on the outside, sweet and tender on the inside.

Main course: Taiwanese sausage on a "bun" of sticky rice.
Dessert, anyone?


Thrifty Buttermilk Pancakes

I woke up this morning craving buttermilk pancakes. The fact that I had no buttermilk in the fridge didn't faze me. The thrifty cook can easily make her own buttermilk - see the recipe below for the instructions.
Thrifty Buttermilk Pancakes
Timesaver tip: If you use a 2-cup measuring cup, you can mix the rest of the ingredients right in, and save yourself a whole lot of clean-up.
Place 1 tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice in a liquid measuring cup and top up with milk to make 1 cup. Give it a stir, and in 5 minutes - presto, you have buttermilk.

When the buttermilk is ready, add 1 cup of sifted flour, half a cup at a time. Mix with a fork. Along with the second half-cup, add 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Finally, add an egg and 1 tablespoon of melted butter. The batter will be a bit thick and gloppy at first, but as soon as you add the baking soda, it will start to bubble and lighten up. Mix well but don't overbeat.

Heat up a small non-stick pan and add a drop or two of oil or a teensy pat of butter. Pour in enough batter to make the size of pancake that you want. I try to keep my pancakes medium-sized so they are easy to flip.

Once bubbles start to form on the surface, take a peek underneath and if there are nice, golden-brown patches, flip it over to cook the other side.

Serve with your favourite breakfast sides, or enjoy them on their own, drizzled with maple syrup.

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