July 2, 2013

  • Adieu

    With sincere thanks to Xanga and all those xangans who G and I have met virtually and in person.

    Moving forward AppsScraps may be found here.




June 6, 2013

  • Fireworks!

    1) fireworks rehearsal last night at 2215hrs in preparation for Canada Day Celebrations, July 1st ... taken from our balcony. The lights up on the right hand corner are the lights on Grouse Mountain ski runs. That is Canada Place Pier in the foreground

    G and I are early-to-bed; early-to-rise lads - we are usually in bed reading by 2130hrs and certainly well on our way to lala land by 2200hrs (usually rising around 0500hrs). Despite the fact that up here it stays light at this time of year till 2200hrs easily, we were awoken last night with fireworks! Out in Burrard Inlet they were doing a rehearsal of the Canada Day fireworks. Very cool!

    2) so pretty; 3) and here is the last remnants of the sun going down over Harbour Centre

    4) Close up of Harbour Centre ... there is revolving restaurant up there that we've yet to try

    5) from sunsets ... to sunrises ... here's the view of the sun rising around 0500hrs on Tuesday this week looking northeast up Burrard Inlet

    We love living on the water and I must admit I am obsessive about watching the ships come in and out of port. Fortunately, there is a wonderfully obsessive iPad app (and website) called Marine Traffic that allows you to track in real time every ship globally - and, in my case - in the port of Vancouver. It's crazy fun and so reminiscent to my teenage years when I used to cycle to Pearson International Airport and spend hours and hours and hours watching the planes land and take off and record every plane.

    Meanwhile on the cooking front, I made a batch of roasted beets (I love beets) Moroccan-style for a summery salad appetizer that included avocado cream and pumpkin salsa. Following this we served a sous vide chicken with baby carrots, zucchinis and potatoes along with microgreens and a cilantro oil G prepared. Delicious!

    6) ingredients for the appetizer; 7) the secret is roasting the beets in water with a mixture of these spices - cardamon, anise, peppercorns, cumin and cardomain seeds

    8 & 9) for the salsa, grind roasted pumpkin seeds, panko, lemon zest

    10) drizzle in olive oil and season; 11) for the avocado cream, blend an avocado, salt & pepper and creme fresh with a touch of lemon juice

    12) the result is oh-so-heavenly


    13) the appetizer pulled together and plated with sea salt

    14) the main course - such a summery plate!; 15) we also made halibut cakes to serve with the left over beets and a salad on Monday

    16) last night I sous vided (is that a word?) beef tenderloin for an hour at 57.5 Celsius and then G used the torch to finish it; 17) the result with a quick jus that G whipped up


     18) back in July 2002, after finishing my first half Ironman race, I cruised to Alaska. In Juneau I bought G this wee ivory owl that now graces the Irish moss and boxwood out on the patio of the condo. My guess is that I shouldn't have this piece of art outdoors nor in a garden but .... oh well!

May 27, 2013

  • Patio Lanterns

    1) a view of the North shore Mountains from our patio at dusk

    Of course, every Canadian knows "Patio Lanterns" is the quintessential summer patio song by none other than Mr. Kim Mitchell. Summer is in full swing here in Vancouver and we've decked our itsy-bitsy patio with a view with lanterns as well .... though we've not yet played the song.

    2) happy buddha brings luck to our boxwood; 3) we've room but for 2 chairs on the balcony up in the sky

    I bought Mourad Lahlou's excellent 2011 cookbook, New Moroccan, and have been busy immersing myself in all things Moroccan (though much of his approach is, indeed, french/modern takes on traditional Moroccan dishes). On the weekend I made a braised artichokes with cipollini onions, pistachios and cumin broth and am busy here now finishing off a batch of what will be - in a month's time - preserved lemon. Next on my list will be those so yummy mini crumpet-like beghrirs, but I have to first buy an ebelskiver pan rather than risk my poor shaky hand dropping out the batter on our cast iron skillet. 

    4) the artichokes turned out lovely but I would tweak the cumin broth next time as I'm not sure I like the taste; 5) getting ready to preserve

    6) here they are .... let them sit over night to soften before; 7) filling in a few more lemons and covering in fresh lemon juice

    There is a very famous brunch place just around the corner from us called Cafe Medina. If you are a Vancouverite you will visit Cafe Medina at least once (eating there is akin to climbing the Grouse Grind and sort of makes you a 'real' Vancouverite); if you are a tourist you'll probably find yourself making your way to their door as well. It is an institution. Cafe Medina is known for its lines (people stand out in all sorts of weather waiting for a spot inside), its lavender coffee, its cassoulet and its Belgium waffles. Of course, not to be outdone - and figuring we can do this classic meal as good if not better than the Medina folks - we decided last night to take up the challenge. And damn, were we successful! We started with spot prawns because ... well, just because ... and they are in season. We made our snap version of duck cassoulet (using *gasp* canned cannellini beans), I manned the Nepresso and made the lavender coffee and we had Belgium waffles in the freezer from last week. All in all a supreme success (*pats on back*) and why do Cafe Medina when we've got B&G.    


    8) jalapeno-butter fresh BC spot prawns were our appetizer last night (did you know that some 90% of the BC spot prawn catch does to Japan for sushi?); 9) bacon, duck confit and french sausage for the cassoulet

    10) simmer for 40 minutes or so then; 11) top with breadcrumbs and bake till ooey gooey

    12) serve with some micro-greens and a perfectly fried sunny side up egg ... heaven!


May 21, 2013

  • The Okanagan


    1) on the Crowsnest Highway heading back to YVR from Osoyoos

    If you drive, oh, four hours east of Vancouver up over the Coquihalla Pass, through the horror that is Merritt (the Country Music Capital of Canada; reason alone to avoid this place) and onwards over the over the Cascade mountain range, you will end up in one of Canada's fruit and wine baskets - the Okanagan Valley.  The Okanagan is also home of Canada's only desert, a pocket desert as it's called, just outside the town of Osoyoos where sagebrush and catcai grow and the weather is dry and warm and sunny. Strange huh? But wonderfully so.

    As Blee has been visiting this past week we spent time wandering this area and partaking of (far too) many winery tours and tastings. The Okanagan has over 100 wineries spread out over some 4,000 hectares. Wine-making here dates back to the 1850s but large-scale wineries only took hold in 1975 when the Ooysoos Indian Band opened Inkameep (now Nk'Mip Cellars). On this trip we visited:

    • Mission Hill (home of the stunningly gorgeous and delicious Terrace Restaurant which was voted one of the Top Five Winery Restaurants in the World by Travel & Leisure Magazine). We would agree - dinner here was fabulous with unparalleled service, and, considering the prices we're used to paying for good meals, insanely affordable. Dinner for 3 including 3 courses, 2 glasses of wine each, coffee, tax and tip will run you CAD$100/person. Go visit if you can! The actual estate is also breath-taking. Mission Hill is also noted for its wine-maker, John Simes, and specifically for winning the prestigious Averys Trophy for Best Chardonnay in the World. Go figure.
    • Nk'Mip Cellars and the must visit Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Centre. The estate has a great patio restaurant to boot.
    • Painted Rock (their Red Icon is well-worth stocking up on and cellaring)
    • Innisiklin
    • Burrowing Owl
    • Hester Creek
    • Blasted Church (their Hatsfield's Fuse [white] continues to be one of our favourites and you must go visit their website as - hands down - they have the best marketing team going)
    • Church & State (their 2009 Syrah won Wine Access' Wine of the Year)

    If you get the chance to pick up any of these in your travels, you'll be happy you did.

    2) Mission Hill Winery in Kelowna


    3) mmmm Pinot Noir; 4) the entrance to the winery and restaurant


    5) the view from the Terrace down to Kelowna ... isn't that gorgeous


    6) here's the restaurant; 7) the entrance into the tour room


    8) the place setting; 9) I tried their white wine flight


    10) amuse from the chef for us, goose liver pate; 11) Blee is enjoying the dinner


    12) G had foie gras to start; 13) I had asparagus salad with dungeness crab and quail egg


    14) Blee had BC spot prawns; 15) G had duck on quinoa

    16) I had lamb shank and breaded sweetbreads, also on a quinoa; 17) we had several cheeses before dessert


    18) the restaurant at night; 19) the wine groves as twilight settles in

    20) a paddle wheeler in Kelowna; 21) we had laksa at Mad Mango in Kelowna


    22) the laksa was delicious though not quite as good as what we had in Langkawi; 23) onward to Painted Rock


    24) Painted Rock had the most non-descript tasting room (and probably the best informed and best tasting we had!); 25) in Okanagan Falls we stopped for ice cream in the infamous Tickleberry's

    26) which has all sorts of ice cream; 27) heading into Blasted Church

    28) the pool at Blasted Church is solely for the use of its owners and has; 29) Ogopogo (the famous sea monster that hides within Lake Okanagan

    30 & 31) arriving in Osoyoos


    32) the view from the ismus that separates the two parts of the town

    33 & 34) the sun sets on the hills outside out hotel in Osoyoos

    35) the next morning we're off to Nk'Mip Desert Culture Centre; 36) a welcome from the coyote

    37) we start hiking; 38) a burrowing owl at the centre

    39) G and Blee head out; 40) and stop to view .....

    41) an ospray nest and 42) one in flight!

    43) Ponderosa pines!; 44) ... and yes, they have rattlesnakes here!

    45) a birdie in the pines; 46) the wee flowers along the trail

    47) the view from the Cheiftan's lookout looking west to Lake Okanagan

    48) Okanagans have lived here for thousands of years and drew pictographs on the rocks; 49) how is your Interior Salish (aka Okanagan)?

    50) Saskatoon berries!; 51) we see our destination ... the reconstructed Okanagan village

    52 & 53) we're arrived

    54 & 55) wandering the Nk'Mip winery

    56 & 57) more of the Nk'Mip winery

    58) here is the winery and resort taken with my telephoto lens from the ismus in Osoyoos

    59 & 60) Burrowing Owl Winery Estate

    61 & 62) Blee wanders the vines at Burrowing Owl

    63) the vines spread out as far as the eye can see; 64) onwards to Church and State Wine

    65) Blee returns with her choice at Church and State; 66) inside Church and State the wine settles in french oak

    67 & 68) wandering the waterfront promenade in Osoyoos

    69) it's 27C and folks are out water-skiing; 70) cactus right downtown

    71 & 72) the famous - and scared - Spotted Lake on the road to Richter Pass ... its waters are special and healing

    73) Spotted Lake, which during the summer becomes truly spotted ... google it and you'll see what I mean ... it's actually unbelievable

    74) just over Richter Passa

    75) driving up from Osoyoos to Richter Pass

    76) OMG, we're home and we better start drinking!

    Last week to celebrate Blee's visit, we donned our executive chef wear and cooked a lovely meal.


    77) Blee and I prepare to cook; 78) we serve up G's famous tortellini with brown butter sauce and carrot foam

    78) we make a sous vide NY strip served with new potatoes and asparagus with green olive salsa and Parmesan cream; 79) Blee prepares dessert using our new torch


    80) a caramelized pineapple with crispy bacon and homemade vanilla bean ice cream

    In other news, I'm back from a week in Saskatchewan visiting Regina, Saskatoon and Lloyd, where, yes, there was snow. We've added a professional waffle maker; an induction cooktop and a welder's torch to our kitchen gadgets ... all of which are being well used. I never thunk in a million years I'd be such a fan of waffles. Blee and I made Belgium Liege-style last night. These are actually a yeast-risen waffle more like a bread dough than what North Americans usually think of - a batter - and they are filled with Belgium pearl sugar. I've also got to visiting the new Revolver coffee house by our place in Vancouver. Why? Good coffee brewed fresh, always, with a price point (nearing CAD$5/coffee) that limits the hordes of students that frequent Bean Around the World or JJ Bean. This is a coffee connoisseur's place that I'm sure even Voltaire would approve of. It is unique in that it provides you the opportunity to try a "Brew Flight" (one coffee brewed three different ways) or a "Coffee Flight" (three different coffees brewed one way). Do visit! 

    And (yeah?!) cruise ship season has begun!

    81 & 82) our wonderful waffles

    83) flying over a still frozen North Saskatchewan River; 84) and back over the Rockies to Vancouver


    85) the new torch ... it flames things at about 5000 degrees F; 86) the new induction cooktop

    85) Revolver; 86) the map on their wall of coffee regions

    87) they have about 20 different methods to brew your coffee; 88) we tried a brew flight this morning - same coffee prepared 3 different ways

    89) in come the ships (and the tourists), taken from our condo here 


April 20, 2013

  • Hopgoods Foodliner

    1) enter if you dare

    I've been in Toronto this week and met up with the cousins last night to try what EnRoute Magazine deemed one of Canada's Top 10 New Restaurants for 2012 - Hopgoods Foodliner. You can read the glowing reviews of this place here. Hopgoods' is rated as number 6. But if this has been deemed the sixth best new restaurant in Canada, oh my gawd, the culinary scene in Canada is in a sorry state. 

    The bottom line measure of any restaurant is whether or not you'll return. Period. But why would one return to this locale on Roncy Ave? Can I find one reason? For the far-too-loud music? No. For the fact they open at 6pm and do not permit the convenience of sitting at the tiny bar if you happen to arrive early and want a drink? No. For the fact they do not take American Express (incidentally the only card I use)? No. For the umpteen waiters who attend our table with varying degrees of disdain? No. For the food maybe then? Hmmmm ... Chef Geoff Hopgood serves up 'down East comfort food'. But do I want hand plucked Gaspe shrimp buried under a forest of accoutrement that tastes muddy (at best)? Or perhaps his crispy squid (which isn't) served with potato puffs in a sauce reminiscent of standard Chinese restaurant fare? Or a wee ramekin of his grandma's hot crab dip with (wait for it) Triscuits at $15 that was (sadly) the highlight in a series of mediocre dishes. 

    2) the cousins at coffee before dinner; 3) the restaurant

    4) cocktail time; foreground my bourbon/St Germain, background Blee's "Penicillin" (tasted like medicine); 5) the (in)famous Gaspe shrimp

    But I digress. Back to the point, would I return? Hell no. Would I recommend it? Hell no.

    'nuf said.

    We skipped dessert and headed, rather, to my Toronto home-away-from-home (even when I lived there) the King Edward Hotel to recline in the ever-so-lovely Consort Bar for nightcaps and desserts. The Consort Bar remains one of my most favourite places in the City of Toronto. Whiling away an afternoon there as the streetcars trundle by on King Street East with the dutiful staff attending to your needs with discretion and professionalism is perfection personified.

    6) my summer scone with fruit and Chantilly cream at Consort Bar; 7) the cousins pose

April 12, 2013

  • West Coast Railway Heritage Park

    1) a panoramic view of the Squamish River that I walk each morning

    Okay, I have to admit I thoroughly enjoy driving the Sea to Sky Highway from West Vancouver to Squamish. It's hair-thin ribbon of highway that weaves along the coastline with the mountains on one side and the sheer drop of what, at times, must be near a kilometre to Howe Sound on the other is exhilarating and terrifying simultaneously.  On this visit, my annual trek to volunteer, I also enjoyed a visit to the West Coast Railway Heritage Park, which was actually (surprisingly!) a lot of fun. Walking along the Squamish River early this morning I even saw a bald eagle trying to fish for salmon. I have got to remember to bring my good camera up with me when I do this romp.


    2) interesting that the count seems to be falling year over year with some spikes; 3) oh my, memories of my rock climbing days (daze) on weekends in Milton at Rattlesnake Point and Wednesday nights at Gravity in Hamilton!


    4) camp; 5) the flowers were well up


    6) more of camp; 7) I want a hat like this!


    8) the old Squamish Station (now a tea house and gift shop)


    9) the roundhouse; 10) you can take a mini rail journey around the park ... twice even if you want!


    11) "Spans the World? hmmmm how did these old steam locomotives do that me wonders?; 12) these wheels were nearly as high as I am 192cm


    13) hey! I didn't get service ware like this on the Canadian!; 14) they served afternoon tea to me complete with Welsh cakes that were SO good!


March 30, 2013

  • The Canadian

    1) here's the train route we followed (in red)

    "The Canadian' is one of those iconic railway legends that rail gurus want to try. It is the flagship train that Via Rail runs from Toronto, north of Superior to Winnipeg, then across the Prairies to Edmonton, and from there through the Rockies and across the Continental Divide to Vancouver. The trip from Toronto to Vancouver takes 5 days and you can take your accommodations in anything from an economy seat to a 2-person private cabin (complete with private washroom and all meals included).

    G and I have long talked of taking the over-the-Rockies section of this train - from Edmonton to Vancouver - and we've just returned from that very journey. We can check this one off our bucket list. Hooray!

    We flew out to Edmonton on Thursday afternoon and spent the night at the Fairmont Hotel MacDonald, the historic hotel built back in 1915, a decade after Alberta entered Confederation. The stay was nice but staff let the ball drop with regard to turn-down, morning newspaper, and platinum guest amenity which I will certainly be following up on. Rather then dine out, we ate in-room and watched March Madness. Like all Fairmonts, again, this one proved they do know how to do in-room food that is actually far above what is usually served. Bravo Fairmont. And in a moment of well-that's-kinda-neat, when we arrived at the Fairmont in the taxi there was a swarm of hockey fans milling about the entrance. We ended up having our taxi's doors opened by two Columbus Blue Jacket team members (who were playing the Edmonton Oilers Thursday night) that were keen to escape the hockey whores.

    2) our room at Fairmont; 3) the view down onto the North Saskatechewan River from the hotel

    I don't know if you've ever visited Edmonton but it continues a dreary, dreadful place and, oil aside, I can't imagine that near on 800K people willingly call what is essentially one big hicktown their home. The stretch along the North Saskatchewan River, one of Canada's largest urban parks actually, is passable and the city does have a stunning new Art Gallery of Alberta building that one hopes will add some culture and perspective to move it city to some new level. In what must, however, be the height of irony, Edmonton ranked as the best city in Canada in a Quality of Life analysis done by the firm Numbeo last year. Worst, it ranked number three in the world! So, I give you that piece of information to provide a fair perspective. Go figure.

    On Friday, we took a taxi over to the Edmonton Via Rail station - near the now ghostlike City Centre Airport - only to discover the train was delayed (somewhere outside of Biggar, SK). While we were supposed to leave at 7:20AM, the anticipated arrival into Edmonton was not expected until 11:30AM which, on calling Via Rail, was subsequently changed to 1:30PM then back to 12:30PM. And so, at 6-blessed thirty am we decided to walk back towards town to grab some breakfast at a McDonalds we saw driving in. From there we crashed for a spell in a day room at the Nova Chateau Hotel & Suites (near the ghostlike airport) and about as upscale as its name suggested. We ate lunch there and walked back to the station only to arrive just as the train was pulling in. Yay!

    4) do you see me there? ... walking toward G and the Via station ... why doesn't Edmonton have sidewalks out here!; 5) ever hopeful a train may appear

    6) we bought this very interesting chocolate at Bernard Calebaut .... the habanero salt was HOT; 7) ... and then the train backed it's way into the station with the Park Car (with observation deck) leading the way

    So, it was "all aboard" and by 1:40PM we were on our way. We settled into our cabin, enjoyed lunch with new friends Vicky and her young granddaughter, Creesha (about 8 or 9 years old) - they had flown down from Fort Chipewyan, which sits on the shores of Lake Athabasca in the very, very far north of Alberta near the Northwest Territory border - and sat mesmerized as the Prairies turned to rolling hills and then just outside of Hinton, AB, into the Rockies. Just after dinner we made a stop in Jasper, AB and were able to get off the train and wander about for about 20 minutes. Back on board, our cabin steward, Chris, converted our room from its sitting room configuration to our sleeping quarters (bunk beds actually) and we climbed in and let the rock of the rails coax us to sleep.

    8) our cabin was on the Mackenzie Manor car; 9) two chairs available during the day

    10) across from the chairs, a small sink and it it's left a toilet; 11) wow! I thought this was a fascinating fact and achievement

    12) if you're overweight, you're going to have troubles negotiating the very tight passage; 13) time zones for all of Canada in the Park Car

    14) going up to the observation deck; 15) the cocktail lounge on the Park Car

    16) it has very pretty etched glass windows

    17) crossing over to car 139 (the train was about 500m long all toll); 18) G heads back into our car

    19) the view from the back of the train from the Park Car; 20) our beds for the night are made up

    21) there is full-on dining with menus and everything; 22) we brought a bottle on board

    23) each car also has a full shower you can use and they provide a shower kit with soap, shampoo, towel and face cloth; 24) up I go onto my bunk

    25) here's the dining car; 26) up in the observation deck ... this Quebec couple lived up here I think and did that horrible thing of leaving their junk on their seats to 'save' their spot (dreadful manners and they and several other hoarders should have been evicted!)

    27) into Vancouver, G watches the city roll past; 28) here I am in bed ready to read

    29 & 30) it's amazing what you see ... our window was sort of a live tv through the journey

    31 & 32) complete with the occasion commercials as freight trains passed

    33) taking a peek between cars

    This morning we awoke early and saw the full moon on the waters of the Thompson River and were soon fast in the Fraser Canyon as it weaves it way south and west from Kamloops. Past Hell's Gate - where the Fraser River is forced through a gorge barely 115feet wide - we entered the Fraser Valley and passed through Chilliwack, Mission and Abbortsford before crossing the mighty Fraser near the Palluto Bridge in New Westminster to continue into the city. By noon were were home, walking from Pacific Central after a wondrous journey that, while we'd not do again, are happy to have experienced. If you are considering the journey, do try it! Traveling either way Van-Edm or as we did Edm-Van is highly recommended. Travel for 2 in a cabin for 2 complete with all meals included will run you CAD$1600.

    34 & 35) heading west out of Edmonton - flat and snow

    36 & 37) and then gentle hills start up

    38) at Hinton, AB, you're into the Rockies

    39) with huge granite rock mountains; 40) I can see the front of the train in this shot

    41 & 42) the view at dinner ... just outside Jasper ... it was very pretty and we saw elk and mountain goats

    43) bet that water is cold!

    44) here we are in Jasper; 45) G takes a stroll up towards the front of the train

    46) Mt Robson?; 47) folks anxious to get back on after our stop in Jasper

    48) Goodbye Jasper!

    49) here's a ladder to nowhere; 50) in the Thompson River we came across this wreck ... eek!

    51 & 52) Hell's Gate ... very narrow

    53) the Fraser is narrow, fast and angry here; 54) a CN freight on the other side of the river heads East

    55 & 56) in the Cascade Mountain range now

    57) the Fraser is wider now and a little gentler

    58 & 59) and then boom, you're out in the Fraser River Valley

    60 & 61) the river is wide and quiet with neat trees along the shore

    62) mud car convention?; 63) Mission, BC

    64) fishing for salmon; 65) just outside Chilliwack

    66) in North Surrey all types of industry - car wreckage here; 67) wood mill there

    68 & 69) the new (and old) Port Mann Bridge famous for the ice bombs that formed on it this February when it opened

    70 & 71) the Patullo Bridge ... it is here that we crossed the Fraser

    72 & 73) over we go ... with Surrey on the right; New West on the left

    74) the front of the train is in New West while we're still out in the middle of the Fraser; 75) Skytrain sighting! ... we're home for sure

    76) Vancouver!; 77) arrived at 12:10

    78) bye bye Canadian; 79) hello home!


March 17, 2013

  • Modernist Cuisine

    1) homemade ravioli stuffed with carrot, ricotta and thyme and served with a brown butter sauce, carrot capellini and carrot foam (made using soy lecithin)

    And so, some food posts.

    G and I are avowed molecular cuisine whores I do admit, and we've been thoroughly blessed to try some pretty stunning molecular cuisine restaurants globally. The Fat Duck, the now-closed El Bulli and Noma aside, we've chowed down at L2O (Chicago); Diva and the Met (here in Vancouver); Tapas Molecular Bar (Tokyo); the now-defunct Rain (in Toronto); El Pujol (in Mexico City); Aronia de Takezawa (in Tokyo). All, magnificent. About three weeks ago we moved ourselves to the next level by investing in a sous vide machine and purchased the stunning new cookbook, Modernist Cuisine at Home by chefs Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young and Maxime Bilet. Modernist Cuisine is the lesser of the two tomes these guys have published, the holy grail being their 5 volume, CAD$500 boxed set (which we hope to one day own) titled Modernist Cuisine (billed as the most important cookbook of the 21st century). The sous vide machine, while costing us just over CAD$500 has been a revelation. Sous vide, which means, en francais, "under vacuum" is a method of cooking food sealed in airtight plastic bags in a water bath for longer than normal cooking times—72 hours in some cases—at an accurately regulated temperature much lower than normally used for cooking, typically around 55 °C (131 °F) to 60 °C (140 °F). We've been busy trying all sorts of meals using this wondrous machine, including; a bacon mayonnaise (using the sous vide to 'cook' your egg yolks results in a much more stable mayo); braised short ribs (that we did, in fact, cook for some 72 hours!); pork (more on this attempt later this week); and steak (heavenly). 

    Amid adventures with the sous vide, we've been cooking up a storm as you'll see from the pictures attached herein.

    2 & 3) the Sous Vide Supreme machine

    4) our Modernist Cuisine at Home bible (I cannot more highly recommend this book); 5) butterflied pork loin that I have just brined in milk, apple juice, salt and sugar

    6) the pork will brine for 12 hours and then I'll sous vide it tomorrow for dinner; 7) I have also set to 'dry age' a New York strip loin using, yes, fish sauce (about 3/4 tsp ... it will sit in this for 3 days then will sit for a further 3 days in cheesecloth before being sous vided and then seared)

    8) G's homemade fettuccine; 9) the mix of kale and Swiss chard is prepared for a clam fettuccine pasta I made tonight

    10) in the pan is Fresno chili, onions, pancetta, olive oil, white wine and the clams; 11) the resulting dish was fabulous

     (as an aside) 12 & 13) if you are a fan of the Showcase tv series, Continuum, you'd love living at our condo ... why? ... it's filmed here. Here are shots from last weekend of the crew filming on the roof of the parking garage below us; and on this past Wednesday, the crew took over our common room up on the 42nd floor to film

    14) G was busy tonight practicing Beethoven's Fur Elise and the ridiculously difficult Chopin Fantasie Impromptu. Not to be outdone (and with thanks to G) I have 4 bars of Satie's oh-so-lovely, Gymnopedie I down pat; 15) scallops with a corn `succotash` I made last weekend

    16) here is the oh-my-god marvellous beef short rib I made sous vide, served with a red wine reduction and potato mash (which I also sous vided - the heat treatment prior to cooking gelatinizes the starch and stabilizes the starch granules - you have Jeffrey Steingarten and chef/god Heston Blumenthal to thank for this discovery); 17) here is the ricotta, thyme and carrot filling for our ravioli

    18 & 19) we have a very affordable ravioli, hand-cranked machine that produces amazing ravioli

    20) last night, I made a prosciutto-wrapped salmon served on a fennel, endive, asparagus, radish and snap pea salad with a warm sun dried tomato, caper and olive oil dressing

    And, to close, the decision`s been made, and the brackets are out for this year`s NCAA College Basketball tournament (see here) ... so you can guess what I`ll be doing the next few weeks, eh! My world will stop; work will stop; life will be watching basketball. Go Gongaza Go; Go Oregon; and noting my folks are down at the condo, Go FGCU (and congrats for making it into the championship rounds for the first time ever). 


March 16, 2013

  • Campeche


    1) Campeche is a picturesque city with a real colonial Spanish 'feel'

    We would return in an instant to Campeche City! Campeche is the capital city (population about 220,000) of Campeche State. Founded by Spanish conquistadors in 1540 atop - it should be noted - a pre-existing Mayan city known as Canpech. As a port city, it was continually under attack by marauding pirates and buccaneers - Francis Drake attacked here; John Hawkins attacked here; Cornelis Jol (aka Peg Leg) attacked here. Fed up, the Spanish in 1686 hired French engineer Louis Bouchard de Becour to weave all the defensive systems that surrounded the city into a wall. Since then, Campeche has been a walled city with four main gates to access it and two forts, one of which, San Miguel now houses the city's anthropological museum.

    It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and all of the buildings inside the walled city have been painted to their original, colourful glory. The city is very tourist friendly and easily walkable.

    We drove in from Hacienda Uayamon a couple times while there. On our first visit, we parked just outside the old walled city. Upon returning to the car, we found a parking ticket, which strangely had no parking ticket fine noted. Upon inquiring about this with our concierge back the the hacienda, it was recommended to simply ignore it but to certainly mention it to the car rental agency upon returning the car to the airport. Okay, duly noted.

    The day before we left, we decided to drive back into town for lunch to try Le Pigua, a noted seafood restaurant. On route about 10kms outside of town we were stopped at a military checkpoint.

    (as an aside, military checkpoints into and out of Mexican towns is normal (in so far as being stopped by soldiers is normal, I guess) and we came across many, many of these during our trip)

    The soldiers, complete with semi-automatic assault rifles, asked us to pull the car off the road and I duly obliged thinking, 'uh-oh!' "Placas, placas!" they kept saying. Seems our car's license plates were gone. The city, in an effort to get folks to pay parking tickets, actually removes plates when the ticket is issued (not a bad idea really). Initially there was sort-of standoff as I plead ignorance and they seemed at a loss as to what to do. Imagine being on a deserted country road with three soldiers in full kit and guns and you'll get a sense of the predicament. I tried ringing the emergency number of the rental agency to no avail. And, so, as can happen in Mexico there ensued a waiting game with the soldiers saying our car was not going anywhere, and me (disconcerted for sure) being okay to wait and see. Fate interceded at that moment when the maintenance supervisor at the hacienda happened to be driving into the city to visit the hacienda's second property - the beautiful Hacienda Puerta Campeche. He interceded on our behalf, bless him, with the soldiers agreeing we could follow him - car placas-less and all -  to City Hall where we navigated the bureaucratic-heavy process of paying the fine (about CAD$10) and getting the plates back. 

    As I said in a letter to the hacienda manager and Starwood subsequently, there are moments when a citizen of a country is given an opportunity to illustrate the true heart of his/her nation. We were witness to one of these that day and Rafael demonstrated the true heart of a Mexican and Mexico. I also want to make it clear that at no time did we feel intimidated or threatened by the soldiers. They also were thoroughly professional and we all had a good laugh after returning from the city and passing back through the same checkpoint upon our return to the hacienda .... this time with plaquas!

    2) the streets in the old walled city are brightly painted with cute curio shops; 3) the top of the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción pops up over the centre of the walled city

    4) a peek inside a courtyard; 5) so pretty


    5 & 6) we stopped for lunch at the Hacienda Puerta Campeche


    7 & 8) it has such a beautiful pool woven in amid the rooms


    9) I love this angle and the colours


    10) Hola! dude; 11) the entrance out from the sea gate


    12) here's the back end of the cathedral; 13) into the museum we go


    14) here's the gate with the very modern (circa 1960s) City Hall building in the background

    15) we ate here on the balcony overlooking Parque de la Independencia; 16) with the cathedral looming over us


    17) we saw more VW bugs here than anywhere we've ever been, interestingly, when driving, all leave the hood over the rear engine open and up (probably because it's so warm in Campeche); 18) more streets


    19 & 20) inside the cathedral with very pretty modern stained glass windows


    21) I'm still not sure what this building was on the main square downtown ... next visit must find out

March 7, 2013

  • Hacienda Uayamon

    1) Hacienda Uayamon

    To recover from our adventures, we retreated for 3 nights to one of the Luxury Collection hotels, the stunning Hacienda Uayamon (pronounced Y-ah-men) located about 20 miles south of Campeche. This utterly unique hacienda has but 12 villas, that's it. These twelve villas are served by an army of fine Mexican staff who maintain a stunning pool; a spa (with one of the best massage therapists I've ever had); grounds of utter beauty and a restaurant on par with many of the finest in North America. It is in every sense of the word, pampering, and should you ever have the opportunity to visit, do it!

    Originally built in 1700, Hacienda Uayamon was a going concern at the turn of the last century when a local bigwig -  Rafael Carvalho Iturbide - ran the site as a farm, ranch and dye factory. Lovingly restored, the site has morphed the original buildings into the various components of the resort - the on-site hospital now houses 2 villas; the original mechanical room is the resort's pool; a original chapel on site has remained ruin to great effect.

    2) the entrance to the hacienda; 3) love the in-the-country tractor sign

    4) the hallway that connected our room to the bathroom; 5) our bathroom

    6) the massive tub; 7) the lovely bedroom area

    8) our little hacienda, called Guarumbo; 9) our little patio that you accessed from the connecting hallway

    10) the big beautiful acai tree at the entrance; 11) twilight settles on the pool

    12) the (sigh) oh-so-beautiful pool which we had all to ourselves

    13) gecko alert in our room; 14) the hospital, now converted to two haciendas

    15 & 16) the ruins of the chapel

    17) G heads to the main building walking past the spa (the red building on right); 18) the vast reflecting pool

    19) standing at the entrance to the resort; 20) the old store rooms

    21) wandering among the ruins; 22) another shot of the pool (I'm actually standing in the kiddie pool)

    23) breakfasts were fabulous; 24) with a view out onto the entrance

    25) G inspects for bats (there are many that live amid the ruins and they would fly out (usually as we sat down for dinner here each night)); 26) the greens are lovely

    27 & 28) G heads home

    29) detail at the pool; 30) detail in the old chapel

    31) amid the ruins; 32) a birdie on the column at the pool

    33) beautiful blue bird outside out hacienda; 34) dinner time on the patio (it was SO nice)


    35) the old chimney; 36) creepy jesus in the old chapel

    37) our hacienda (with the dirt cheap flowers we bought in town on Valentine's Day; 38) the ruins again looking into the pool

    39) me at the far end of the reflecting pool