Last year, we witnessed the Thanksgiving weekend Pie-Thru and deemed the farm's market's Apple Pie inferior than that of homemade renditions (albeit soggy bottoms executed the first time around).
The year before that, I discovered the Strawberry Rhubarb Pie that I loved so dearly to be tacky and wholly disappointing. But, of course, we weren't about to go a year without Apple Cider.
Having being reminded of Thanksgiving long weekend's pending arrival, I proposed a visit to The Apple Factory at my earliest opportunity. In advance of the celebratory holiday, the wagon of decorations had yet to emerge. A handful of scarecrows and the market's signature smiling pumpkins greeted us instead.
Apples obtained from the grocery - and not just one, mind you! - had been dismal. Bruised on their surface, rotting from its core, or a combination of both, up to 70% of these purchases were discarded. While I do not declare myself an avid enjoyer of apples, I do enjoy the aromatic, floral qualities of seasonal produce.
Long ago did I request my 48-hour mid-week leave. Emails were monitored occasionally during this period, with Thursday evening revealing a 9:30 AM meeting for discussions that would likely bleed into lunchtime.
I slept fitfully the night prior, following a relatively early return from Junny's marvelous performance. An early awakening enabled construction of Marbled Banana Bread.
For once, I had executed the recipe perfectly, inclusive of the confusing and particular flour-folding procedure! Immediate worries were extended to the repetitive mixing process, for gluten formation was the last element I would hope for.
The loaf emerged delicious, sturdier than the six (or seven) banana edition with distinctive, cozy spices and irrefutable chocolatey-ness.
Quarrels over banana consumption and storage delayed final inputs into a work writeup, therefore also impacting my scheduled departure. The sleepy polar bear was advised to acquire a Vietnamese Ice Coffee (V2) from Yum's Kitchen in the interim. At 2:20 PM, we made our way downtown, energized by the potency of the drink.
The last trip to the ROM, beyond school field trips, had been undertaken in 2016 while maximizing a student discount.
Having verified the museum's operating hours in advance, we made a quick round through the gift shop first, as it would be the first attraction, if I may denote it as such, to shutter at 4 PM.
My two-year concert hiatus has finally terminated, graced with the present of a very special Korean-Canadian solo artist.
Over the years, I've observed my affection to reside less with idols and their overdone concepts and broken melodies. Instead, I've turned to calmer tracks, placing emphasis on sound, delivery, and lyric over merely performance. Moreover, the idols that I fell in love with - and still love to this day - have respectively evolved into musicians and artists in their own right, taking an active approach to the creative process.
I first discovered Junny through ØFFSHORE, a production crew that Jay B has pursued for musical interests outside of GOT7. His soothing yet stunning vocals captivated me almost instantaneously, and I began to follow his releases bit by bit, growing progressively fond of the tracks. His earlier albums are less familiar to me, for the nostalgia EP was the deciding duo for me. (Beyond the title track, my favourite is actually solo with Lullaboy.)
Slipping into comfy attire (complete with hi-vis jacket for visibility!) and not-so-comfy platforms in preparation for the GA crowd, I proceeded to assemble my standard roster of concert items. At quarter past one, I would begin navigating to Clarkson station; the GO Train whisked me to Union in just under forty minutes.
The venture marked my first solo trip since June. Within this period, several updates had been made to Union Station:
Exiting on street level, I found blue skies, off-duty labourers, and homelessness awaiting me.
Trodding up the concrete stairs, I proceeded northbound to King and Bay, where I would board the King streetcar towards the venue.
But, of course, the 504 was a short turn that concluded at Church Street. Alighting the next one while catching upon Woo Young Woo led me to missing my stop, then trekking back to Queen from Dundas and Broadview.
At 3:42 PM, I joined the lineup at 10th place. Shortly afterwards, a fellow ahgase spotted from her fifth place position and approached me to catch up on recent happenings. We griped about career and financial difficulties - topics that the barely-legal Gen Z species surrounding us could hardly identify with.
"Join me in apple hell!" I evilly declared to my birthday buddy as I unveiled my third apple creation.
Apple picking tends to bring about an excess of the fruit in the household. Naturally, I set out to optimize the freshness of my Ginger Golds immediately after my return. Three were peeled and cored for eating. Several more were cut in thin slices or chunks for dessert-making uses.
1) Apple Jam
I commenced with the least intimidating of creations: Apple Jam. Aiming to construct a viscous compote by altering my go-to breadmaker jam recipe, I took to combining 648 grams of roughly diced, skin-on apples, brown sugar in place of granulated, and seasonal spices of cinnamon, nutmeg, and a dash of pumpkin pie mix in the machine.
The sugar content has been upped in recent years, increasing from 0.8 to 1.0 cup. Lemon juice was also scaled up to 1/3 from 1/4 cup. In place of pectin is gelatin, for it is budget-friendly albeit more inconsistent in terms of delivering stability. As the resulting consistency was still too runny for my liking, I continued to heat the mixture over the stove, gradually drizzling in a glutinous rice flour slurry while whisking vigorously to prevent lumps.
2) Apple Crumble Cake
Apple Crumble Cake followed. Adapted from Sunday Baking's Blueberry Crumble Cake, I proceeded to assemble the cake batter and increase the ingredient amounts by 50%.
1.5x output would bring me to 1.5 of an egg, though I omitted the hassle of finding a use for the remaining halve and merely plopped it into the batter. Initially thick and rather difficult to spread about the pan, I worried that the apple layer would hinder its rise. Thankfully, the cake emerged fluffy and no issues raised.
The apple slices had been allowed to rest in hot water for a few minutes before straining and resting. This par-cooking method is intended to help the slices retain structure while still acquiring a fork-tender softness through the baking process. I'll be honest: I didn't measure the water quantity, nor take its temperature. The less scientific alternative was quicker, and yielded acceptable results all the same.
The crumble was crumbly, while the apples soft without being mushy. In retrospect, a light dusting of coarse sugar or thorough toss in spicy, brown sugar could have contributed the coveted harvest flavours. Apple slices failing to make their way on top of the cake were tossed in the aforementioned solution and slowly dehydrated alongside the cake.
3) Apple Mousse Cake
What started as a well thought-out plan for apple jam-enhanced baked cheesecake ended in travesty. The diminishing quantity of cream cheese in the household hadn't occurred to me, not even when I spent forty minutes outside Loblaws in wait of a prescription fulfillment.
With two tubs of yogurt expired and moulded (and insufficient time to craft a custard), I resorted to my only source of dairy: 473 ml of whipping cream. The crust had been prepared in accordance to a formula for New York Cheesecake - baked instead of chilled in the fridge for improved structural integrity.
Read Part 1 HERE !
Notorious for signing up for every single loyalty program in existence, my subscription to Gong Cha's text notifications was no exception. Just days before our apple-picking venture came the announcement of a BOGO offer at the franchise's newest outpost on Hoover Park Drive. Naturally, I couldn't resist slotting the spot into the schedule.
I darted inwards for the bathroom, assuming the absent queue to persist as constant. Two stalls could be found towards the back of the bubble tea joint. Lacquered in glossy black with red accents, the individual stall was worth noting as the cleanest indoor plumbing facilities of the day.
Emerging from the narrow corridor, we found a lineup snaking about the cashier. Swiftly stepping into place, we began to evaluate the options for the promotion.
"I'll get the Oreo Coffee Milk Tea." announced the sleepy polar bear. "It sounds interesting."
"It sounds very you." I remarked, wincing slightly at its presumably creamy profile.
As we neared the order counter, I gestured towards one of four LED screens. "Your Oreo Coffee Milk Tea isn't part of the promo."
We opted for a Grass Jelly Wintermelon Milk Tea as an alternative to the tried-and-true 2J Brown Sugar Oolong Milk Tea (with tapioca removed) and revisiting the 3J Earl Grey Milk Tea after many years of not enjoying it.
Behind the POS system was an evidently experienced member of staff. She responded quickly and confirmed details for clarity before passing on the sticker-affixed cups to other members of the team. It would appear that there were dedicated personnel for tapioca-brewing (as per usual), slush-making, and tea-shaking.
Approximately twenty minutes passed and we remained in wait. One of two drinks had emerged within a reasonable time frame, yet the other was nowhere to be seen. Summoning the attention of the cashier, she was quick to devise a backup plan for the lost sticker and interjected the drink-constructing lineup with our missing halve.
Both drinks had been requested at 30% sugar, however the Wintermelon Milk Tea was undeniably sweeter. The 3J Earl Grey Milk Tea earned the fondness of neither of us; it comprised of a tacky consistency with strange, underlying notes of mintiness. And being generally averse to tapioca, we avoided the drink for most of the drive, reaching for the comparatively tastier alternative instead.
Not quite supper time, I proposed detouring through Main St. Unionville for a brisk walk. Within that period, we could contemplate returning to the west end for supper, or investing in a local eatery.
Braving the chilly air and dimming skies, we strode about the compact BIA, taking note of pottery painting classes as a future endeavour and exploring the pre-closing selection at Old Firehall Confectionery.
After browsing several touristy establishments, I led the way to the homey but dilapidated exterior of Uncle Tetsu/H Café. Its occupant had changed once again, though its product spectrum remained relatively similar to its precedessors.
Since graduation from academic, Labour Day long weekend held little signficance beyond announcing the end of summer and surge in traffic congestion. I suppose it would also coincide with the CNE's final days of operation and the looming reduction of daylight (Do we still have Daylight Savings?).
The sleepy polar bear inquired of proposals for the three-day rest period, to which I responded with ease. We settled for the second option, a typically autumn venture of apple picking. Frankly, I had been surprised to find that farms had opened for fruit picking this early in the season. Though, we later discovered the downside of early September visits.
The itinerary was prepared by none other than myself, who compiled the geographic coordinate-based list in Google Maps in a matter of minutes. First on the list was LCBO. Seeing as we would be headed northeast anyway, the addition seemed only fitting. Knowledge acquired from Japan Festival had piqued my curiosity on the exclusives offered at the Hwy 7/Woodbine location, which was supposedly one of the few stores in Ontario that received limited-time selections from Japan (and Korea).
Forever fashionably late, we departed approximately forty-five minutes later than planned - my fault, of course - and made our arrival around noon. The skies were grey, with not a streak of sun in sight. In spite of the dreary weather though, we found the overall cooler temperatures and absence of humidity to be far more desirable than the previous day's heat and storminess. Positioned by the entrance was a sampling station for Corona seltzers and Tempo Gin. Having consumed breakfast several hours prior, I regarded the offer warily. In contrast was the reaction of the sleepy polar bear, which was excitement and approval of the relatively mild canned beverages. The staff member observed our expressions carefully, noting my lack of fondness for the seltzers and marking her findings on a paper pad. The seltzers tasted synthetic and reeked of aspartame, even when the faux sweetener hadn't been listed in the ingredient list; Tempo Gin was far better in comparison, though my preference lay with the more carbonated choice of beer.
Sparkling Choya, Chocolat Nigori Sake, and limited edition Premium Ume Shu from Izumi were acquired at this stop. The bottles were unloaded from the cart and costs totalled on the screen, earning a look of bewilderment from my helper.
If my work schedule is tumultuous and unceasing, then my internal state of mind can only be more chaotic.
For seemingly every challenging task, there is an even more grueling hurdle.
I've come to realize a distinct weight loss over the past few months. While originally thought to be temporary and ensuing as a result of poor eating habits, fluctuations in the scale have been minimal. The combined effects of fatigue, restlessness, stress, and anxiety are evident. Physical strain - cramped hamstrings and chest pain, to name a few - and emotional pressures have surged from extenuating circumstances, none of which could have fallen within my realm of control even if I tried. 120% of efforts were exerted in vain, for one cannot reason with the world. Society is discovered to live on rotating about the axis of each individual's selfishness and lack of consideration for unity. One could say that I've lost faith in humanity, yet, as third-party spectators never fail to point out, "I care too much to stop trying".
The mindset is both a blessing and a curse: a drive to constantly find new ways to perform better, all while succumbing to the thoughts and beliefs of others and losing yourself in the midst of it, unconsciously.
This short-term fieldwork assignment has taught me plenty. It was more than mere education by ways of municipal priorities and sidewalk remediation. Throughout this project, I've had the opportunity to witness unyielding stubbornness, a typical element of small town culture, as well as the interconnecting implications of certain actions. Certified within the company was the boundless gluttony of those who have tasted profit, and the drastic actions taken to ensure consistent flow of such profit for personal gain. And while I tried my very best in handling a daily routine occupied by work, timely conflict resolution, and weariness, my actions were responded to with laziness, lack of consideration, and further pressures to "do more", to do "better".
It would be a lie to say that feelings of inadequacy weren't experienced thoroughly.
After parting ways with my birthday buddy, I dashed home for accessory and footwear swaps. Dinner with the sleepy polar bear would take place shortly, at a restaurant recommended by another July baby.
While not entirely convinced that the restaurant itself demanded business casual attire, I complied with steakhouse-appropriate dress code anyway.
Pulling into the asphalt lot just as the skies were about to dim, dampness cloaked the plaza, and greyness reduced clarity. Only a handful of streetlights had been installed.
We entered the premises to find a smoky haze filling the compact space, and were then informed of a thirty minute wait. The tables were tightly packed within the space, giving way to food fumes and noise pollution.
"That's it. My knit cardigan is going into wash. My hair will need to be washed again." I thought, as we hovered about the waiting area.
I had been provided the recommendation of the Tenderloin 8 oz. from the Steaks on Stone section. In spite of the drizzle of Argentinean Chimichurri, the dish was confirmed to be entirely mild, much to my relief. Opting to halt all menu investigations, I took to this item and looked no further. At being unable to find Prime Rib, the sleepy polar bear began to express distress. Some quick Googling led us to learn that the ribeye was "cut from the most tender part of the rib", allowing me to convince the sleepy polar bear in seeking out this alternative.
Some twenty-ish minutes later, the middle-aged hostess guided us towards our table, an undeniably cramped two-seater with peeled faux leather chairs, a sauce-stained median on one side, and a splendid view of the kitchen/dining floor access swing door. Mind you, the fumes and noise levels only intensified.
On our table resided two sets of napkin-wrapped utensils, but not a single menu in sight. We relayed our requests to the first server to approach our table, who repeatedly our orders somewhat absentmindedly while scribbling shorthands on his paper pad. The smoky, disordered steakhouse offered four choices of sides: Blackstone Fries, Mashed Potatoes, Grilled Veggies, and Caesar Salad. Given that two sides were included in each order, we each took to a different combination to maximize our sample size.
The single earring-donning server declared that it would be possible to have gravy served on the side instead of poured atop the Mashed Potatoes, though less probable with the Caesar Salad, given that "the restaurant is very busy", implying pre-tossed batches of semi-wilted lettuce.
Highly anticipated was our CNE excursion.
The sleepy polar bear was, for the most part, excited for the wacky (but not too wacky) food items, while I was most keen on the Sky Ride.
The entire party comprised of four, and we had agreed to assemble on the fair grounds in the early afternoon.
Admittedly, I was rather anxious: my digestive system had not been faring well, and I was less than excited to stimulate any unpleasant repercussions in the presence of hot, sweaty masses and lineups for dingy public bathrooms. A proper lunch was proposed in the west side of the GTA prior to departing.
Yum's Kitchen, which my birthday buddy and I had been eyeing for quite some time, finally opened its doors in the Deer Run plaza to many excited patrons.
The interior was unlike any other banh mi establishment, with modern looking décor, an open kitchen area, and even seating! A quick scan revealed sea urchin-like light fixtures hung from the ceiling, marble tabletops and emerald couches on the dining floor, and even neon lights positioned before a couch (a photo zone, clearly). Its layout was atypical of eateries serving casual Vietnamese cuisine, for normally are they grab-and-go establishments with little to no space for dining in. Adopting this format enabled Yum's Kitchen to operate as both a takeout spot and catch-up space for small gatherings.
Having perused the menu beforehand, we immediately took to the order counter - one of us inquisitive and the other decisive.
The restaurant appeared to be led by an operational manager, passionate to deliver quality food inspired by a Vietnamese upbringing, and a commercial manager with entrepreneurial drive and honed business tactics. My budding inquiries would be answered by the former, who not only elaborated on the slightly spicy properties of the satay-slathered Yum's Special (No. 13) but also reassured that all banh mis were served without spice, and heat was only added where requested (thank goodness!!).
I pointed in favour of the Vietnamese Classic Banh Mi (No. 12), while the sleepy polar bear opted for the Beef Stew Banh Mi (No. 03). At the time of order placement, it was declared that all banh mi ingredients were prepared in-house, from the baguettes to the cold cuts, and that nearly all sandwich varieties included pâté, an element that is often included in exceptionally stingy amounts.
There was a swap in cashier personnel midway, and the commercial manager took to handling the payment/administrative portion of the transaction. She posed the question of "for here or to go?", to which we exchanged glances and agreed on dining within. Out of concern for portion sizes, I quickly followed up to clarify whether takeout containers would be provided, and was informed that, due to limited staff for washing dishes, all orders would be served in to-go boxes with plastic bags provided upon request. Drinks were sealed to render them portable and kid-safe. I also learned of their loyalty program, where each dollar would equate to one point.
Our orders arrived in under ten minutes.
The Vietnamese Classic consisted of cold cuts (with ridiculously tough edges), an abundance of pâté, cilantro, thinly sliced cucumber, and julienned carrots. Personally, I could have used more pickling and more cucumbers. The cilantro was not as fresh as Nguyet Minh either. That said, the baguette was uniformly browned and not crackly/crumbly (read: could be consumed with dignity) like the longstanding establishments within Mississauga Chinese Centre. Its edges were on the dry side, albeit crunchy. Despite plentiful, the pâté was not very flavourful.
The sleepy polar bear's Beef Stew Banh Mi embraced a standalone soup format with two baguette rolls. Within the cilantro-topped, tomato base stew were chunks of extremely tender brisket. A mild kick lingered on my tongue, but not enough to halt me from dipping the likes of my toasted banh mi into the stew to curb dryness.
The meal was surprisingly economic given the efforts invested into furnishing the interior. Moreover, it filled the void for banh mi on the west side of the city.
Two years of going virtual later, majority - if not all - gatherings and events have resumed since the second quarter of 2022. Japan Festival Canada is no exception, and its two-day return to Celebration Square was one brimming with tremendous anticipation.
As with essentially every year past, mercury levels were brutal. It was unbearably hot, and even more so with lineups beyond areas of shade.
I, after four and a half weeks of being subjected to UV rays in the wild, had grown more accustomed to the outdoor conditions than the sleepy polar bear. Opting for linen bottoms and a strapless top (and my go-to neck fan), I was prepared to even out my farmer's tan at long last.
The ensemble would be completed with my Ars x Coco baseball cap. But even after roughly twenty minutes of frustration, I was unable to locate it. (It wasn't until the end of the day that I finally spotted it, tucked away in the backseat cupholder of the sleepy polar bear's vehicle, under the declaration that it had been a "Blue Jays" hat left by a different passenger. THE NERVE!!!)
We arrived around the 12 PM mark, at which point lineups were lengthiest before the food vendors. Multiple spin-the-wheel attractions were found across the sponsor booths. These queues were shorter in comparison, thus sparked my interest. (Because, after all, I'm a sucker for free merch - regardless of whether I have an immediate use for it or not.)
At the Nippon Express booth, I received a plastic cutlery set inclusive of a bottle opener, while the sleepy polar bear received a pen-highlighter hybrid.
We then ventured towards the instax booth, where staff with iPads assisted guests with the newest model, now equipped with a device for drawing frames and embellishments. The event-specific Polaroid with orangecane was one of my favourite souvenirs from the 2018 experience; it was only reasonable that snapshots were acquired for this year's visit.
Stopping at the Canon booth, I spotted an entity all too reminiscent of Rainforest Café's mascot, Cha Cha Tree Frog. It was not him, though the similarities had me set on winning the tote. When it came to our turn to spin the wheel, we, unfortunately (in my eyes anyway), both emerged with seeds as part of an eco initiative. I grimaced while the sleepy polar bear stuffed the seeds away in the backpack of ever-augmenting weight.
It was also at this booth that we spotted an owl! - living, breathing, and attached to its trainer.
View the full album HERE !
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.