Breakfasts of late have not strayed far from Cold Brew and Hoddeok. I've been watching my stash of Bran Muffins warily, given their depleting inventory and contradicting availability of freezer space. I finally defrosted one quarter of my purchase from Red Bean Waffle House, concluding a distinct, sweet custardy-ness sandwiched between comparatively thin layers of oil-based batter. (I'd be lying if I said reheating didn't entail greasy fumes filling the air.)
More of my post-Black Friday purchases arrived: The Bodum Bistro is more finnicky than I had pictured, with plastic parts offering minimal tolerance for locking and detaching. Yet, it served its purpose as a speedy, economic solution for bean grinding.
The year cannot possibly end without reference to the one and only GOT7 - my religion, in other words.
I relished the moments where my fingers could glaze across the pages of Jinyoung's charismatic beauty, where my eyes could familiarize themselves with the contents of the tmrw magazine that arrived unexpectedly before Christmas.
Appearances of the group were rare in physical format. The tangible qualities of the photobook were the closest I would get to any form of interaction for the time being. I don't mind at all the absence of physical albums, as it spares me the dreaded international shipping costs, but would love nothing more than reunion of the septet - be it in digital song format or performance special.
While majority of the workplace opted for time off, I remained positioned before my laptop. Departures from my desk comprised only of errands and paramedical checkups.
An itch began to form from the moment I laid eyes on a promotional infographic for the KW region. Over a year had passed since my last visit - far longer than I expected given the relatively similar travel time as North York and Markham.
The post had included few details beyond the promise of an exhilarating weekend with both paid and free events. I took to conducting my own research as the party settled on an appropriate date. Some events had ended, while others appeared too dull to justify the additional mileage. Eventually, I settled on the Wonders of Winter exhibit in Waterloo, tacking on stops before and after as my heart desired.
Our first stop was Waterloo Brewing. Situated conveniently off Conestoga Parkway, it seemed only fitting to pay a visit to the home of the boar given that our proximity. I succeeded in obtaining four cans of the seasonal Festbier (offered only in LCBO locations in Kitchener and Guelph) and restocking some old favourites.
The Maple Spiced Pecan Old Ale was a fall exclusive, or so I was told, and had indeed made its comeback to the brewery earlier in the year. Its notes were supposedly akin to the Signature Collection, a stout series incorporating more sweetness than preferred.
The Taproom was shuttered in response to the new provincial guidelines. "We don't make enough." admitted the member of staff. In-store shopping was still permitted, though restricted to a maximum capacity of three patrons.
Our brief stay was welcomed with samples of a Gingerbread Warmer, a small batch creation concocted in-house for enjoyment on tap. The plastic cup contained no more than three tablespoons, yet introduced a slow, steady embers to form from within, radiating to the edges of the ribcage. Bonus cans of Waterloo IPA and Dark were gifted due to dented can conditions (and failure to pass QC for retail).
Smile Tiger was up next.
A placeholder for a local coffee shop had been inserted into the itinerary for a mid-afternoon refuel, and in review of its lasting impression from last time and a Buy 2 Get 1 Free Boxing Dale offer, the stop was too difficult to resist.
We took to a small Drip Coffee, Peppermint White Mocha, Pretzel, and Pecan Tart, along with 12 oz. bags of Sunday Sun, Heaven Hammer, and the coveted Thunder Peel. Muffins would have been my first choice, though the abundance of fruit flies entrapped within the display case were definite grounds for swerving. The Pretzel was on the thinner side, with a crunchy, slightly glazed exterior and overall savoury profile that paired well with the subtle sweetness of the mocha.
News of West Coast snowfall drifted towards our attention in the days leading up to the holiday from family and friends. Meanwhile, a green Christmas was predicted for Ontario, with previously fallen precipitation receding steadily.
I again refrained from vacation requests over the two-week ̶s̶h̶u̶t̶d̶o̶w̶n̶ slowdown period, for restrictions had been enforced and dangers of travel were intensified once more.
The days leading up to the holiday were filled with fatigued fingers from endless dishwashing and an overload of sweet treats on the kitchen table. Needless to say, there was little work completed during this time - neglected duties that I shall either experience the wrath of with the coming of the new year, or not at all.
Variety of sustenance was limited in the 36 hours leading up to the grand supper.
Egg and potato salad was constructed to combat a vacant, pre-feast fridge. Two week-old Yukon Golds and a portion of Little Gems were blanched and combined with soft-boiled eggs, scallions, Miracle Whip, and a healthy squeeze of wasabi. Sandy sugar cookies occupied whatever stomach space remained.
My involvement with the spread had been minimal. Beyond a rapid chopping of vegetables and reserving two of seven soft-boiled eggs, there was little effort requested of me. I could sit this one out, thankfully.
My efforts were concentrated into preparation of the side dishes instead.
A tray of sweet red and yellow bell peppers and the prettier Little Gems had been tossed in olive oil, Himalayan pink sea salt, garlic powder, and black pepper, prepared for roasting alongside the turkey. Alas, given the 12-pound bird's low-and-slow cooking process, thirty minutes at 325 F was simply insufficient in rendering fork-tender potatoes.
Not to be exempt from our annual assortment were zucchini cooked in butter (and this time, garlic powder as well) and a fruit cocktail salad topped with egg. Blanched baby carrots were also provided for casual munching.
Unlike the procrastinative nature of many smaller name bubble tea chains, CoCo is proactive in announcing their limited time specials. Knowing myself, I tend to act as I see circumstances unveil, and was keen to obtain their new holiday duo at the sight of its announcement. Needless to say, I hadn't read thoroughly enough to process that its official release would be two days later.
The following week, I undertook the mild winter trek. Cycling would have likely proved faster, but unexpected patches of compacted ice would have posed dangerous conditions for inexperienced riders (ahem, myself).
Neither of the drinks could be customized for ice and sugar levels; the same would apply to the ever-dreaded topping of whipped cream. By the time I had reached home though, majority of the volumized garnish had disintegrated, yielding overly milky beverages. The Grinch Matcha was a bland matcha latte with chewy bits of strawberry jam at its depths. Not particularly memorable, it was a downgraded knockoff of the Strawberry Matcha Lattes I had crafted long before the pandemic.
Black Forest Chocolate was the more preferable of the two. The harmony of chocolate and strawberry was unmistakable, yet again fell victim to poor execution. It was with disappointment that I learned of the concoction's cherry-less ingredient list, despite its celebrated name.
I took matters into my own hands shortly after, combining my go-to strawberry jam with melted Surfin, milk, and a dusting of cocoa powder.
An resolved craving for pajeon led to the impromptu order of Arirang. The dinner bundle would comprise of: Jjajangmyeon, Tangsuyuk, and Haemul Paejon (Seafood Onion Pancake).
A first bite into the pajeon delivered sadness: it was neither as fragrant nor crunchy as Maangchi's recipe had provided. That said, I had neither the energy, time, nor constituents to produce a version deemed satisfactory.
On the other hand, the Tangsuyuk was quite enjoyable: crunchy with a wispy thin layer of breading and an appetite-stimulating, sweet-sour sauce for dipping (or pouring) as one saw fit. I was less appreciative of the barely cooked carrots though.
The Jjajangmyeon also took us by surprise, offering a flavourful sauce with sizable chunks of pork (not ground!) and even zucchini bits. Admittedly, the noodles could use room for improvement - soggy and starchy they were, adopting cohesiveness and fragility. Refrigerating the noodles for later consumption earned them some structure, but broken strands were inevitable.
With Winter Solstice around the corner, the days are looking brighter, literally. Staring out my window in the early evening reveals darkness still, but the ever-evolving sunset scenery brings hope.
And so we have arrived at the week before Christmas.
Workflows are slowing, accruals are hastily accelerated, and staff are excitedly preparing for their time off. I once again opt out of a holiday vacation, for there is, really, nothing to do and nowhere to go. Dreadfully missed trips to Vancity can yet be executed with good feeling; moreover, I quite enjoy working without pinging disruptions.
Treacherous winds continued long after POLAR, causing incremental damage to our already ailing flag over the course of the week. Its eventual demise was witnessed on Friday morning, just as the gusts dissipated and a snowy premonition was forecast for the upcoming twenty-hour period.
Creations of the week included:
1) Copycat Cranberry Bliss Bars
Earlier in the month came contemplation of my next baking endeavour: Nanaimo Bars or a homemade rendition of Starbucks' Cranberry Bliss Bar. Poll results favoured the latter; eager responses requested relaying of the final formula upon seeing success.
A cursory review of the franchise's famed seasonal treat informed of a blondie base, synthetic orange flavouring, and, as expected, a malleable, oil-based top layer. The list continued into stabilizers, chemical compounds, and commercial preservatives for the obvious intents of prolonged shelf life and store-ability. Given that the creation wasn't new by any means though, the ingredient list had been adapted for the standard consumer by a handful of online sources.
Rather than aimless scans of each, I sought guidance from the almighty SK. "Infinitely adaptable" - her recipe had read; I proceeded to take her words literally and incorporated the flavourings from the very first Google Search result.
Orange extract was apparently non-negotiable, prompting procurement of Watkins Pure Orange Extract. The addition indeed proved vital in both the blondie base and cream cheese frosting: its inclusion was noticeable, leaving a distinct tingle on the tongue following consumption. Several other recipes had noted it as "optional", but I'd disagree with that remark. The same would apply to orange zest - definitely not optional. Ginger powder, on the hand, was less important and could be substituted with cinnamon for the same subtle spicy warmth if desired.
Treacherous high winds had nixed arrangements from the evening prior, and rightfully so given the corresponding safety hazards for drivers and pedestrians alike. A splendid Sunday surprise welcomed me the next morning, strictly speaking in the sense of shortbread.
Issho Bakery's Holiday Shortbread Box was a cookie lover's dream. Neatly nestled within the white paper box was the most festive assortment one could ask for.
Fruit & Nut Biscotti: Thinner than your typical coffee-dipping biscuit, Issho's version spanned no more than one centimetre in thickness, and proved proportionally brittle. The walnuts were mere slivers, while the apricot and chocolate were packed tightly, offering a subtle crunch with each bite. Admittedly, they were less suitable for dipping into a caffeinated beverage due to its delicate composition. That said, they were nonetheless enjoyed alongside one's cup of morning joe, serving to provide a touch of sustenance with a lingering citrus aftertaste.
The slim appearance further instigated possibility of a mechanical bread or pastry slicer in the production process, for biscotti is sliced and baked twice, making thick cuts more preferable for maintaining intactness. Less rigidity in the loaf would pose difficulty in maintaining narrow, uniform sections.
Brown Butter Shortbread: Absolutely toothsome with a thorough infusion of woody spice, these chunky rounds were enjoyed best by those appreciative of full-bodied, holiday flavours. Specks of brown butter brought about an undeniably nuttiness; herby notes of rosemary followed, while a zesty zing would cling to the tongue after the last bite.
Chocolate Shortbread: Seemingly identical to the Brown Butter Shortbread in terms of visuals (thickness, coarse sugar coating, circular form), its profile was anything but similar. The stump-like discs were noticeably less dense, even threatening fragmentation under the pressure of firm digits. For the first time ever, I would taste a mild fluffiness in a shortbread cookie. The texture was foreign, yet not unwelcome. Fine cocoa nibs contributed crunch, while mintiness would befall midway through consumption and persist well after the final crumb was devoured.
Ginger Snap: Since last year's dive into gingerbread cookies, I was eager to not make them again. Our household is accustomed to the molasses-free editions, normally associated with the components of a gingerbread house. The centrepiece of Ginger Snaps was very much to my liking, for gingery, citrusy, and snappy they were. The potent properties may not be to the preference of all, but I rest assured that even the most spice-adverse entity can appreciate the harmonious amalgamation of spice and snap.
Matcha Snowball: Snowballs are a classic Christmas treat, yet one that is rarely executed well. Without insight, they can emerge starchy, bland, and unattractively sweet. My dabbling in Sunday Baking's recipes had enabled acquaintance with a nutty, crunchy specimen for easy eating, but the experience was reinvented entirely with Issho. Beyond the inclusion of almond powder were small bits of white sesame - impressively aromatic and oozing of depth. It was a revolutionary addition that promptly rid my memory of any predecessors without it. I swore to incorporate the ingredient into my next batch going forward.
Around the 4 PM mark, we began the trip downtown. Winter's early sunset painted a lovely blue-lilac gradient about us as we inched along the Gardiner, accompanied by countless other vehicles.
Parking was a mission in itself, as transit-opposed thrill-seekers shall come to learn. While having conducted extensive research the evenings prior, our first choice was unavailable. A backup plan entailed a loop along the city's many one-way, streetcar-supporting streets and into the underground lot of Radisson Blu.
By the time we emerged above ground, the sun had descended. What remained was a receding lining of tangerine, vibrancy gradually suppressed by a sombre navy. The gusty bursts felt along the waterfront proceeded to question our outfit choices, and why scarves and down coats had been shed. By daytime temperatures I had been misled.
The Harbourfront Centre Rink had been reconfigured from the imperfect rhombus of the Natrel Pond to an odd-shaped, half-hollow/half-filled figure 8 before the Harbourfront Centre Concert Stage.
Ample space was found along the west side of the concert stage, with a small section to the right separated for skating lessons. An abundance of benches had been arranged along the rink's perimeter for storage and ease of shoe swapping. The primary issue lay with the layout: the loop was compact to start, then converged to a narrow U between the stage and Ann Tindal Park. The lack of width posed a hazard for experienced and new skaters alike, for reduced surface area equated to greater pressure. These deep ridges, in conjunction with slow speeds and the underlying foundation (ie. the ground)'s naturally occurring slope changes, made half of the trail largely unenjoyable. The ice had been formed around trees; despite gymnastic pads wrapped around for safety, the grade difference and non-uniform state of matter offered another obstacle to weave around.
We resided in this space for approximately one hour, mainly to satisfy my skating itch as my partner for the day had lost familiarity with her hockey skates. As the toes began to cramp, our minds wandered to the topic of food. My historic log of the Waterfront District had not escaped me, and I was quick to point out the Queen's Quay Terminal building to satisfy our needs.
Across from the Goodman Pub and Kitchen - amazingly still standing - was Joe Bird, and behind it Pie Bar.
And so concludes yet another week of chaos - unforeseen and unwelcome, with perhaps the only premonitions being building tensions from the client side.
I struggled to find periods of calmness throughout the week. Despite the lack of virtual meetings, the days were not devoid of tasks demanding my constant attention. Departing my in-home office for longer than my allocated lunch period was unthinkable. Yet, my desires to realize culinary concepts far surpassed the resurfacing need for rest and burnout prevention.
Creations of the week included:
1) Chestnut Chiffon Cake
Wanoka's cloud-like creation resounded in my memory: springy, porous sponge and an airy piping of whipped cream. I set out to relive the experience, dabbling into oil-based formulas for the first time since pancakes.
My preference for butter has been made known on this space; being a mix of fat and solids, it tends to result in denser, more substantial slices. On the contrary, oil is entirely liquid in nature, claiming lighter properties due to difference in density.
I resorted to Sunday's roster of artful bakery formations for a guideline, then began the experiment, substituting ground chestnut for mugwort powder.
Of 146g of finely pulsed chestnut, 10g was incorporated into the batter. The remainder was mixed with icing sugar and milk - alternately added to test consistency - (and lastly rum!) to obtain a pipe-able cream topping.
Unlike my really rushed Houjicha Roll Cake base, this time I took heed to stabilize the egg whites properly. Furthermore, the cake was cooled upside down to prevent shrinkage.
For the past two weeks, I've been more occupied by life than work. Or maybe it's the overflow of one into another and vice versa, for the frequency of meetings have increased and so have the urgent pre-vacation requests.
From a handful of mid-day sanity breaks arose later log-offs. Solace was found in the first batch of my Black Friday acquisitions.
While having opted for the more budget-friendly variation of the ring, its efficacy is not to be undermined. I've only barely begun my journey through the various ring-based stability exercises on the Internet; next up for experimentation shall be the Stability Ball.
I had filed for a day off in the earlier half of the week, utilizing it for appointments in the east end of the GTA. With traffic volumes back to pre-pandemic levels and local congestion unwavering, there was time to accompany little else besides the roundtrip and a few detours along the way.
The Thai ahgase had relayed remarks of positivity towards the limited edition Justin Bieber Timbits capsule collection, prompting my own venture to the Canadian coffee shop. Having heard news of the star's collaboration quickly selling out downtown, I was quick to verify availability through the Tim Hortons app. On the mobile platform, I learned of the product's steeper price point versus regular Timbits, as well as the inability to mix flavours in carrier packs. With each priced at ninety-eight cents per piece, it seemed only reasonable to select the 10-pack box for $3.19.
"10 Assorted Timbiebs" the item read, yet my arrival would reveal a box containing only two of the three flavours. I pushed open the doors once more and, at confirming availability of the spread, requested a more balanced assortment. The asking didn't entail any fond gazes, nor any substitutions with the product in hand. The box was retrieved from my hands and promptly tossed into the trash without a millisecond's hesitation. My new box was then handed to me, handle slightly wet.
Each of the three flavours sported the franchise's signature glaze followed by crunchy bits reminiscent of space matter. They were sweet, obnoxiously so, and likely not worth procuring more than once.
Branded merchandise was also available at my store of choice. The toque, waistbag, and tote were priced at $29.99 each, which is not bad at all in comparison to concert goods or tickets.
We stopped next at Taste Casserole Rice for supper takeout, then Aromaz. The bakery had seemingly just undergone sanitization, as the inside reeked of disinfectant. Unpleasant was this odour, especially when patrons had waltzed in expecting the cozy fragrance of freshly-baked bread.
With endless wails in opposition of any activity bearing even vaguest association with exercise, I promised a "safe" itinerary for the lover of stars and pigs.
We would engage not in boxing nor hiking, and instead be given a rare opportunity to dress nicely for the occasion.
Extensive amounts of walking would not take place, nor would perspiration-inducing pursuits. The date served not only as a breather for my partner-in-crime, but a chance for me to formulate an ostentatious and utterly impractical ensemble. It would pair alongside my new contact prescription trial and the very last pair of falsies in my possession - box coated with neglect, lash glue firmed beyond salvage.
The additional effort furthered my lack of punctuality, leading to a departure delayed just under sixty minutes. By the time I had arrived at her humble abode, it was nearing early afternoon. Lunch at Hub would take place around the 2:30 PM mark, in an essentially deserted dining hall.
Having stepped foot into the establishment for the first time in months (no, years!), the revised layout was taken note of immediately. My go-to seating by the window had been expropriated for preparation for takeout orders. The sole member of waitstaff was spotted sitting at one of the large tables preparing wasabi in to-go containers.
We were guided towards a lengthy table at the north end of the restaurant. Laminated menus soon followed; eliminated were the hardcover scrapbook-style booklets.
Our request for hot water was responded to with lidless paper cups, while utensils adopting unanimously disposable format. I had no issues with this approach, though it would have been appreciated if a separate dish was provided for emptied soy sauce packets. For the duration of our meal, they either remained on the edge of our plastic plates or laid atop our only napkin on the table.
I was quick to suggest revisiting of my longtime favourites.
First to arrive was the Hub Tower. While the lover of stars and pigs found it typically average, my impressions did not align. The combination of fresh mango, salmon, and tuna was splendid; ripe avocado could also be enjoyed in small quantities, just as I prefer. It was admittedly more watery than previous iterations, yet nonetheless delicious.
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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.