Shovelling soreness have more or less remained stagnant, as I'd rarely bother to suit up for the occasion had I nowhere to go.
Every winter, without fail, I suffer from dry, cracked skin and peeling cuticles. The parched status of my hands only worsens with COVID's mandatory sanitization processes at every store entrance.
Shovelling soreness have more or less remained stagnant, as I'd rarely bother to suit up for the occasion had I nowhere to go.
In spite of longer hours spent indoors, involuntarily stationed at my desk for hours upon hours, dryness prevails as my lifelong seasonal worriment. Much like rain boots, I contemplate their acquisition of a humidifier, only to banish such thoughts in the name of economic efficiency. Instead, I resort to constant hydration: water of all temperatures and soothing Chinese almond date tea (杏仁蜜棗茶).
A clear driveway paved the way for our regular grocery and takeout runs, in quite the literal sense. Roasted Duck, Cha Siu, Roast Pork, Braised Pig's Tongue, and Roasted Ribs were obtained from Sam Woo's successor of Magic BBQ for familial commemoration.
Pizza subscriptions emerged as another alternative to food delivery. Extended to include GTA addresses, I opted to test the theory of General Assembly's monthly service with a four-pack selection: Pineapple Crush (Pizza of the Month), Mila Margherita, Truffle Queen, and Loving Cup.
Six- and eight-pack options were also offered to cater towards larger families (or more frequent pizza cravings). Meat-containing varieties were exceptionally few; many were either vegetarian or "plant-based".
My package arrived as promised between the hours of 9 AM and 6 PM, with the vacuum-sealed pizzas nestled snugly between insulating ice packs.
Instructions were straightforward: Bake at 475 F, then broil to finish. Yet, the results didn't entirely align with the image in mind. Adhering precisely to the steps made for a soggy centre, while adding extra time lead to sheer burntness. The crusts were frankly far thinner than anticipated, and toppings exceptionally few.
Upon entering a New Year, we are often graced with words of advice, usually centred around the common themes of being humble, selfless, and considerate. Yet, too soon are these concepts forgotten by majority of the population.
To merely be alive, healthy and breathing, is a blessing in itself, yet time and time again am I reminded of innate human greed. For what reason(s) does a hollow longing draw benefit? Why is reality so clear, and so obscure at the same time?
The GTA has received two heavy rounds of snowfall this past week, accounting for a grand total of 50 cm (and more in the norther regions); more is anticipated, unsurprisingly.
My body regrets engaging in the arduous manual labour, with sprained wrists and and aching muscles reminding me of my physical limitations. However, avoidance is not an option, especially not when access to food is on the line. It is with gratefulness that I regard the climate thus far, for any conditions above -30 degrees is a delight to my cracking fingers.
Creations of the week included:
1) Steamed Taro and Black Sesame Buns
Using previously made taro-coconut milk paste and plain ground toasted black sesame seeds, two variations of steamed baos were born. The dough was sought from Bake for Happy Kids, naturally, and emerged perfectly plush: they were absolutely fluffy, even with my unscripted addition of coconut milk.
To replicate the material properties of a bamboo steamer, a tea towel was secured about the lid to maintain smooth, plump surfaces free from condensation. This additional step also assisted in keeping wrinkly, greyish surface tints at bay.
Due to inept wrapping skills - tangyuan déjà vu - the fillings were enclosed in the upper third of the bun, causing crack propagation during the steaming process. In hindsight, considering the path of heat permeation, I should have opted to situate the filling within the lower third instead. The sesame filling, unaltered with the exception of softened butter, was far too crumbly and bland, though the taro paste - too sweet on its own - served nicely in this composition.
2) Taco-Style Pork w/ California blend mixed veggies served over Chorizos La Abuela tortilla
Omitting chili powder and red pepper flakes for a milder mix of garlic powder, ginger powder, and paprika ensured a consumption process free of runny noses.
With a plethora of restrictions in place, the vast majority of businesses, as well as all three tiers of government, have shifted towards digital resources for communication with the general public. And given the rate at which region-specific policies evolve, these updates demand timeliness along with a greater degree of clarity. The initiatives were undoubtedly expedited due to the coronavirus pandemic, but their benefits extend beyond battling social distancing measures: efficiency, regularity, and accessibility have emerged from the birth of online queues, electronic check-in processes, and flexible retail experiences.
Searching for a COVID-safe pastime is made simpler in the realm of research, yet also more challenging in the face of layered restrictions. Conservation areas that were open amidst the stay-at-home order were extremely few, with those offering washroom amenities even fewer. The centres weren't staffed, thus calls seeking confirmation weren't answered.
Through process of elimination, I was left with none other than Albion Hills to return to. Venturing further from home, beyond the TRCA jurisdictions, was another option, yet with greater distance comes greater fear - a fear of no available washrooms.
My previous encounter with the conservation area had left me bug-bitten, drained, and disgusted; naturally, I was reluctant to return to Albion Hills for my first winter hike. Cross-country skiing and tobogganing were seemingly two other family favourite park activities, yet with rental areas closed and unstaffed, we resorted to hiking the Black Loop - the only trail open during the winter months.
Similar to the 40-degree-plus undertaking, we commenced the day at McDonald's, where bathrooms graciously remained open. A lunch of Egg Salad-Kale Whole Wheat Sandwich was had before we drove off.
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New Year's Day on the Western calendar prompts reflection of the past year, however Lunar New Year is anything but. Memories accumulated depict boisterous celebrations, vibrancy from every possible corner, and, undoubtedly the most pivotal aspect of a cultural celebration, scrumptious spreads of traditional dishes. Leading up to the day is a frenzy of preparatory activities, namely cleaning the house to welcome incoming good fortune; it is ̶o̶f̶t̶e̶n̶t̶i̶m̶e̶s̶ ̶ invariably my responsibility, and this year was no exception.
Glimmering gold and regal red, embellished with splashes of yellow, pink, and green chromatically characterize the event's decorations. Contrary to the stark gaudiness of New Year countdown sparkles and streamers, Chinese New Year has always felt more structured in comparison. In recent years, the celebration has been commonly renamed to Lunar New Year for the sake of inclusivity; that said, CNY persists as the personal reference of choice.
As opposed to our annual market visit tradition (whose streak was regrettably broken last year) and usual stopover at Summit Garden, the pandemic imposed modifications to the regular festivities.
Dining in was swapped for takeout and the market visit was eliminated. Several virtual livestreams were announced to enable celebrations from the comfort of one's home, though it would be an understatement to say that such provisions simply fell short of the spirit supply.
Out & About #691 | Week #47 Quarantine Update Feat. Matcha Swirl Mochi Brownies + Black Sesame Kek Lapis
Songwriters have commonly cited personal experiences as their major source of inspiration. Or, if you're a "people watcher", then impersonal experiences count too.
I've never been one to excel in creative production, nor do I possess the dexterity for fine arts. Seldom do I empathize, but often do I make grand attempts to alleviate the worries of those within my circle of concern.
Greater attempts were made to connect with others in a meaningful manner, with items of discussion proving more thought-provoking than initially perceived.
"How do I know if a source is reliable?"
To be honest, there isn't one that is. However we may try, a bias will remain, whether it be the news reports circling our local and regional COVID statistics or articles based upon scientific research. One can opt to increase the sample size for improved accuracy, yet the fact is that there is no way to survey a society in its entirety. And, in that regard, we fail to see all of reality, no matter how real it may feel.
Creations of the week included:
1) Matcha Swirl Mochi Brownies
Adapted from Sunday Baking's mindblowing Mochi Brownie - which earned me overwhelming praise even during the first attempt - half of the batter was transformed grassy with the substitution of matcha powder in place of cocoa.
The results were equally fabulous, though I did regret rolling my mochi too thin, as it was barely detectable in the cross-section. Opting for a square pan instead of the loaf tin used in the last run, the layers were thinner, emerging slightly chewy rather than dense and fudgy. The baking time hadn't been reduced despite the reduction in thickness, thus yielding a drier finish. The top remained crackly nonetheless, and the moisture wasn't a factor unsalvagable via a closed system container.
Given the stunning appearance of the dessert, along with positive feedback received, I'll likely be revisiting the formula at some point in the future, with some QC tweaks.
2) Mochi Truffles
An undeniable improvement from the previous week's attempt at Condensed Milk Truffles, swapping out Cooking Tree's recipe for more reliable alternatives enabled the realization of silky, scrumptious bites encased within a thin, chewy casing. In light of poor scaling, there was insufficient mochi to cover the bulk of the truffles, though this can easily be remediated with proper planning.
3) Soy Braised Eggs / 滷水蛋
I found myself browsing dinner ideas during a weekday breather, as there is little else that constitutes constructive breathers in the work-from-home reality. I landed upon a tedious, two-hour (at the very minimum!) procedure for Taiwanese Braised Pork Rice. Delicious as it appeared, I was not about to surrender several hours of my time for a dish that would likely be devoured in under twenty-four hours.
Many have likened the arrival of 2021 to that of change and new beginnings - a departure from the restrictions imposed by the previous year.
I had expressed remorse towards lost opportunities, slithered away involuntarily under the given circumstances. Looking back, it seems that new opportunities had emerged instead; amongst them were: breadmaking, DIY hair colour treatment, and virtual choreography learning, activities that would have otherwise remained unattempted with a standard work schedule and active social circle.
A recent conversation with the Thai ahgase sparked memories of airport encounters, had they proven fruitful or futile. In response to my bitterness regarding a lost ASTRO high-touch chance, she made me realize that, had I purchased those concert tickets, I wouldn't have bothered with the airport excursion. And had I not endured the painstaking wait that fateful snowy morning, we would not be acquaintances today.
With this in mind, I officially commence New Year preparations - Chinese New Year, that is.
And I shall gladly pre-celebrate with homemade Matcha 年糕 (nian gao), which was not made by me, for the record.)
Resolutions commencing from January 1st are overrated. When vision-shrouding thrills subside, reality dawns upon us once more, ̶a̶l̶l̶o̶w̶i̶n̶g̶ prompting us to act purposefully, constructively.
Recounting the past several days are perils of inefficiency at work, munching on more Bokksu snacks, and heavy precipitation resulting in the dreaded snow removal process that is shovelling.
Within the first few months of the pandemic's arrival last year, it was brought to my attention that distancing restrictions imposed actually brought about a great deal of relief. Those that thrived on moments of self-reflection were exempt from their dreaded gatherings, while those that thrived on social interactions were exempt from FOMO repercussions. For better or for worse, there arose the freedom for selective communication. And while one could reap its benefits by escaping unfavourable situations and potentially eliminating toxic relationships, the theory cannot be applied so simply in the virtual workplace.
It is through gritted teeth and a hanging head that the existing situation remains relatively unchanged as far as Ontarians are aware. Yet, it is my personal hope that those who hadn't been particularly skillful in the department of communication have adapted accordingly in the past eight months, and that those who haven't shall summon an effort from this point on. Technology exists to ease our day-to-day activities, rather than preclude opportunities for efficiency.
Creations of the week included:
1) Steamed Tofu w/ Scallion Garlic Soy Sauce
2) Steamed Salmon Steak
3) Steamed Lap Cheong Buns / 臘腸卷
The incarnation of this classic dim sum plate stemmed from the unexpected acquisition of lap cheong (臘腸), otherwise known as preserved Chinese sausage. The description read fiery, thus the vacuum-sealed package had originally been reserved for chorizo-like usages, likely to be consumed alongside tortillas from St. Jacobs.
However, the household supply of groceries was gradually being depleted. An absence of yogurt was witnessed, followed closely by milk, bread, whipping cream (yes, this is essential), and eggs. Ingredients were minimal for the construction of the suitable breakfast item, yet flour was aplenty.
I set out to craft the buns one chilly morning, combining the yeasty foundation of one source with the method of another. The dough was, surprisingly, easy to work with, requiring little to no dusting of flour and elongating in the desired worm-like shape.
Given the fears of the supposedly spicy five-pack, I separately prepared an equal count of Honey Garlic Smokies. These were admittedly less delicious in their tough, sinewy casing and better suited for buttery milk buns bearing a glorious egg wash sheen.
I'll also admit to the exaggerated - and glaringly obvious - meat-to-bun ratio. Though, with both sausages being of relatively mild nature (it wasn't spicy after all!), this mattered less on an overall tasting note.
Particularly worthy of mention are the layers boasted by the dough itself - the sole element wholly indicative of my efforts.
In the past, I despised change. By no means do I encourage it in all its forms on a continual basis, but, suffice to say, I view it with less aversion.
There once was a certain irrationality about altering an existing system, one that functioned fine as is, though could have incorporated greater flexibility (not that I'd ever admit). It was with time that I adopted a desire for evolution - to contemplate possibilities beyond those presented in hopes of providing upgrades in efficiency and efficacy.
For this reason, it puzzles me that there are those opting to reverse the process, oversimplifying matters with no visible benefit to society while in complete disregard of accessible, proven information. As I formed this sentence, a few select individuals emerged in my mind, as several ought to have for any given reader; it's a common flaw to filter the facts that fail to align with the subjective ideal state.
Over the years, I've moderated the Blast with Sensory details. Beginning with over-mixed sweet potato cookies (I gag.) to the crafting of fanboards - bare of any knowledge on electrical wiring - to the recipes I now scale and adapt as needed, the Hero's Journey has fostered judgement, as well as its appropriate placement in varying circumstances.
Needless to say: It's an ongoing process.
1) Savoury Shallot Bun
As I munched on my final few Garden Spring Onion Pop-Pan Crackers, the idea of a savoury bun began to cultivate in my mind, rather abstractly I may add. These thoughts receded shortly afterwards as I grew distracted with 炒米餅 recipes, yet resurfaced at the sight of rotting shallots in the pantry.
Working June-style, I managed to salvage a small portion of the bulbs - an amount just decent enough for infusing into hot oil as my Pantry Quiche was setting. Some asymmetrical sections of luncheon meat had also been set aside during this process, diced finely, then pan-fried until crispy.
The new year starts with more food. More chocolate, more leftovers, and more cooking.
Weight gain is inevitable over the holiday season, and especially this one with majority of the population's relatively sedentary work-from-home lives. I started with leftover roll cake from NYE, which paired wonderfully with cold brew and cold frothed milk. It was no Irish Coffee, but a decent drink nonetheless.
Creations of the week (and a half) included:
1) Sablé Cookies w/ Chocolate Ganache
Cookie cravings rang loud and clear the moment the household was devoid of the dainty, buttery biscuits. Relishing in the orangecane's trademark Santa sugar cookie didn't help either. I consequently set out in the name of creation; running low on my preferred pick and with Président cultured butter on hand, the opportunity to attempt sablé was naturally declared.
Inspired by the admirable Sunday Baking, I followed the formula closely...until I forgot the vanilla. Its taste was subpar to the Lactania edition, but undeniably more buttery in terms of fragrance. While this may be owed to a horribly sticky dough (even after chilling!) and a perceptibly high amount of flour for dusting, the experience did not warrant the extra effort nor the steep premium. Conclusive findings aligned with Sunday in that cultured butter ought be used where possible, independent of brand and origin.
The original intention had been to populate the pieces with pandan and ube fillings, yet the plan had been scrapped when the mixtures failed to coagulate overnight. Melding chocolate couvertures and heavy cream to form a classic, tried-and-true chocolate ganache, I antsily began sandwiching the cookies as the mixture came to room temperature.
This impatience earned me relatively flat squares, leaving much flavour to be desired. Half of the cookies were assembled some few hours later, resulting in noticeably greater height and overall improved profile.
2) Nama Choco / 生チョコ
Influenced by the gradually descending Valentine's spirit filling the d̶e̶p̶a̶r̶t̶m̶e̶n̶t̶ ̶s̶t̶o̶r̶e̶ air (and with immense hatred towards overbearing soft centre truffles), the search began for a Nama Chocolate recipe - a cult favourite in Japan. The foundation was no more than a 2:1 ratio of chocolate and heavy cream, with the only downsides being mandatory refrigeration and inescapable breakouts.
3) Lemon-Rose Braised Chicken Drumsticks
It was an odd combination, even if I do say so myself. Seeing success in a soy-star anise braise, I opted to experiment with lemon and rose this time around. The juice of a shriveling lemon, rose cooking wine, dried rose buds, and even cinnamon sticks lent a lightly savoury tone with prominent citrusy kick. In the absence of dark soy sauce, light soy sauce was supplemented with an extra dash of sea salt; light brown sugar was supplemented with molasses.
4) Coconut Chili Basa Stew
Pictured while being consumed in conjunction with the above, the stewed basa dish materialized out of need to relieve the freezer of bulky packaging. Pan-fried scallions and a knobby nugget of ginger established a fiery framework, into which a pinch of chili powder, fennel seeds, and and heaping tablespoon of paprika were added. Coconut milk assisted in moderating the flames, though the broth was ultimately too gingery yet very anti-inflammatory.
5) Black Sesame Coconut Milk Jelly that oddly turned into a three-layer concoction
Happy New Year!
Another 365 (+1) days have passed us by, and we've arrived at yet another period of sappy recaps. (But is there even anything to recap?) The last nine months have likely been as vague for me as any other human requiring to interact with the outside world, with the COVID virus and its prominent, indefinite presence.
A time of reflection comes with each year's end, but rather than recounting those that rouse regret and resentment, the approach ought be constructive. Too soon have I noticed those on the interweb bidding riddance to the year of 2020; optimism should be carried forward, but not without comprehensive review of the year's happenings.
Over the course of the pandemic, the global community has been stretched with no expected end in sight. Majority of occupations were shifted to that of a virtual working environment, with the exception of the essential services that support our lives silently in the background. And the non-essentials, some of which I shall not deny contempt of, dissolved - either out of lack of need or lack of financial support. The shift towards electronic processes for municipal and provincial services were well overdue, yet materialized only in the wake of a crisis.
But, as a civilization, we are dynamic creatures, adaptable and resilient in the face of change. The show must go on.
I'll admit it:
I missed experiencing work life in the flesh, whether it entailed office-bound overtime or not.
I missed the opportunities to engage with members of my social circle, whether we were on tight terms or not.
I missed outings that didn't involve running back to the house because I had forgotten a mask.
I missed the potential trip to see GOT7's domestic anniversary concert.
Most importantly, I missed the daily activities we took for granted. Every instance was a privilege, from every step to every living breath. Mere survival is already an opportunity. COVID couldn't depict more clearly that having health is having wealth.
Throughout these "trying times", I blamed not once the incarnation of such a lethal bug. In a society employing the survival of the fittest, our fate alters only with the actions we choose to execute, irrelevant of third-party stimulants. We, as a species, are given two options: live to learn, or learn to live.
From here, the only way is up, up the knowledge chain on a quest to conquer coronavirus and re-instate the activities we loved and will love again.
Who Am I?
Formerly an avid owner of several interest-based portals, Random Thoughts of a Quirky Blogger presents precisely the elements expected. From experiments in the kitchen to miscellaneous musings, from IGOT7 reflections to developments in transportation infrastructure, it's all consolidated here. Welcome to the raw, unfiltered side of Quirky Aesthetics.