It's been a long short week - the exemplary oxymoron. ̶P̶r̶i̶m̶a̶r̶i̶l̶y̶ Wholly owed to the unexpected undertakings of the four-day pre-Easter weekend, I suffered a tremendous amount of fatigue, perhaps even greater than I thought possible. With the passing of every call, every email, and every meeting, and every assignment, my contact with sanity grew frailer, till it withered down to but a fine hair-like strand.
My sole release was an escape to obtain lunch takeout. Weather conditions welcoming and clouds minimally present, I switched my status to "Away" and bolted out the door for sustenance acquisition. But virtual barriers are flexible - movable, so to speak - and failed in obstructing incoming messages amidst the period of personal commitment.
The journey to Square One was relatively calm (read: accompanied by minimal traffic volumes). Meal components had been pre-ordered via Ritual to improve efficiency, should an urgent email prompt a reluctant immediate return. To my dismay, however, preparatory work hadn't commenced until my arrival. In addition to the specified wait time, the ordeal involved some ten minutes more of idling about the empty food court, absorbing the cooking fumes of stalls in operation.
It wasn't as if I had received a promotion either; the entire assortment was the equivalent of a Summit Garden supper set for three. Both the Chicken and Shrimp Pad Thais were obnoxiously spicy, albeit the mild rating that had been declared. Neither the Pineapple Rose Soda nor Passion Fruit Lychee Soda bore even the slightest resemblance to the Oakville location, and could easily be described as flat water - something along the lines of a two-day-old SodaStream creation. The Bangkok Meatballs served to redeem the meal, but not drastically. A microscopic portion for $5.95 plus tax, the meaty morsels sported identical toppings to the Pad Thai boxes and offered fire-exempt flavour. The Classic Peanut sauce was, thankfully, completely mild and tolerable.
To soothe our quivering tongues, I suggested popping back into the mall for ice cream. Differing preferences led me to make two stops: Super Kid at Laura Secord, then Maple Walnut and Brownie at Purdys.
I reached out to orangecane well in advance of the Easter long weekend. What ensued was the mention of Issho Bakery's Easter Box and, more importantly, an adventure proposal for fresh air.
Exhaustion from the previous day of errands had delayed our schedule, traffic calming speed bump-style. It was around lunchtime when we finally met, so it seemed only reasonable to acquire sustenance prior to the journey east. At this time, I was gifted a delectable hexad of Brown Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies, encased within her signature brown bags; instead of "Jinyoung's Wife" though, I had earned an additional title, founded on the basis of my newfound affection for VICTON's adorable maniac.
Takeout was secured at Roywoods, a name formerly seen only in passing within Union Station's York Concourse. Orangecane had opted for the Jerk Pork Sandwich, a saucy compilation of tomato, shredded lettuce, and not-so-mild meat that I was invited to sample.
My own Oxtail Plate was quite the substantial portion, more so than McKoy's and even more generous than Rainbow. The rice and peas was delicious, topped with just enough of the braising liquid to render it supple, while the segments of oxtail were mild yet absolutely flavourful. I, in particular, appreciated the variety of fleshy finds and collagen-containing crevices. Included in the set was a small container of steamed veggies: a good mix of string beans, cauliflower, and broccoli that was unfortunately coated heavily in pepper. Suffice to say that any leftovers were taken home and doused in hot water afterwards.
As I raised up my napkin in defeat and sluggishly slid my fork to the side, orangecane jumped up and excitedly announced our next course: the Strawberry and Cream Chiffon Sando. In spite of my repetitive declinations, it was deemed an item to be shared. Moka pot Americanos now stationed by our sides, the sandwich was bisected and forks plunged.
Striking was the sturdiness of the chiffon cake, which I had presumed to be structurally frail. It wasn't as airy as I imagined, nor as moist. Encased within was a whipped cream filling with diced fresh strawberries, far sweeter than my taste buds could sustain yet a suitable counterpart to the otherwise bland carrier of a cake. Quite possibly the highlight were the toppings: fresh strawberry slices and a quenelle of (could it be?) Chantilly cream dusted with (again, could it be?) freeze-dried strawberry powder.
The skies persisted a drab grey, emanating a "stay-at-home-and-slaze*" aura. By mid-afternoon, we finally mustered up determination to propel ourselves back into the outdoors.
* slaze = to sleep or laze about
My suggestion of Altona Forest proved closer than Google Maps' prediction. Within thirty-or-so minutes, I was instructed off the highway and into a predominantly residential neighbourhood. The distinctly suburban qualities of the area strayed from my initial impressions. Suspicions were only further raised upon parking in the tiny dirt lot, a bit more upon entering the area, reaching maximum anxiety at the sight of decayed shrubbery along a narrowing path.
With the arrival of long weekends is the customary congestion heading north on the 400. With the exception of minor impediment along the connecting sections of highway, traffic was minimal on the 401. There seemed a surge in slow drivers along Yonge St., but thankfully enough space along the narrower sections of the arterial to loop around those with the potential of endangering my punctual facade. I remained on time, and was welcomed into the exercise area promptly after the inaudible blast of the temperature gun.
It was officially the last class prior to the province-wide "Emergency Brake" lockdown, where memberships and existing class counts would be frozen until the lifting of pertinent restrictions.
We commenced with an anaylsis of existing conditions: incredibly stiff neck and shoulders after a dreary four days of working till the hours of 10 or 11 PM. With the intention of lengthening excessively contracted muscles, I was guided through a series of stretches for the back and neck. Amongst these was a particularly effective stretch which involved gently pivoting to loosen the head of the neck muscles while sitting cross-legged. I was also introduced to smooth massage balls for the sake of release.
Inching towards one end of the Carriage, a familiar bar pull-down exercise was revisited for strengthening of back muscles. The last rep involved a five-second hold.
The first part of class placed greater emphasis on stretching than strengthening, given the overall burden on the body. Mentioned throughout this portion were the scapula and spine, as well as their connectivity/relationship.
Moving onto the Stability Chair was, admittedly, an exhilarating moment. The contraption enabled exercises for both the upper and lower body using tension spring-affixed pedals.
The first exercise involved standing with one foot on the Reformer Box attachment, and the other on the moving platform. While bending and straightening the supporting leg, the pelvis was to remain level. It was harder than it seemed, and served to strengthen via isolating specific muscle(s)/muscle groups. A variation of this entailed standing with the supporting leg bent for the entire duration, but bending and straightening the leg on the platform while maintaing a level pelvis. Significantly easier on my "good" side, the routine summoned awareness towards my prominent biomechanical nonuniformity. Due to flat feet, this also served as an ankle and inner thigh strengthener, along with the Pilates' fundamental of core engagement. Impressive quad strength was noted given the lack of soreness in the stabilizing leg(s).
The second exercise was reminiscent of blogilates' infamous Candlestick Dipper for the obliques. Eliminating the Box attachment, I was instructed to sit on the Chair with one leg positioned 90 degrees to the body and the other outstretched; pointed toes or sole flat did not matter as long as I remained in contact with the ground, as this was to reduce risk of toppling should balance be lost mid-move. Similar to the Candlestick Dipper, the arms were outstretched in airplane mode in the starting position. One arm would be stretched over body, with the palm of the other arm would press down on tension spring-attached platform. The position would be held for a brief moment before returning to the starting position.
Core routines proceeded on the Reformer. A significant advancement from the previous three sessions, a deflated ball was utilized to prompt core engagement - the critical "imprint". The series incorporated a medley of familiar positions, but with equipment to maintain form: hundreds hand positioning with tension cords, elevated ("pilates stance") crunches and tabletop knee outs with the deflated ball.
Daydreamers live a life of luxury. And I declare this without animosity, but rather matter-of-factly.
For to dream is a gift: Having the capacity to imagine beyond the duties laid before you is a blessing.
I often struggle with deeply rooted perceptions of guilt, that to pause is to waste, that not doing equates to lack of responsibility. Thus, days are often maximized to the point of exhaustion. It unconsciously starts with a simple errand run, then branches into arranges to facilitate the daily operations of those surrounding.
Being aware of one's "default program" is merely the first step, while coming to one's senses amidst operation of said program is the grueling challenge at hand.
Creations of the week were exceptionally few, for work assignments have swallowed me whole.
1) Leftover Soup
The name says it all! Basa fillet chunks and sweet corn kernels were added to a Cream of Mushroom-based broth, into which bean sprouts were later added, ultimately dyeing it a dismal grey.
2) Lavender Pound Cake Minis
Stemming from a desire for some form of a fluffy sponge, I was instantly intrigued by Sunday Baking's newest video. Not being the fondest of Earl Grey - nor the additional step of acquiring ready-to-brew tea packets - I opted for a lavender-milk take (as we had just run out of cream).
With the exception of a few noticeably large air pockets around the midsection, the pound cake minis emerged with a perfectly crisp crust and plush, aromatic interior. Just short of two tablespoons of the exquisitely scented buds have been incorporated, yet the fragrance yield was fantastic. Sifting my cake flour in advance ought to have eliminated nonuniformity in the cross sections, but I shall admit to omitting this step in the name of time.
The flour-batter method, though, is a definite keeper. I cannot quite comprehend the science behind it (just yet), but the promise of a tender, moist crumb is sufficient in persuading me to adhere to it.
I commenced these weekly updates without the vaguest idea of their duration. The intent was to document happenings throughout the pandemic, at a local, municipal, and federal level, perhaps one day utilizing these sources as points of reference. Yet, without my knowledge, these 7-day recaps evolved into stories of the standard work-from-home employee, overtaking the daily activities we had once known.
We've arrived at the 52nd week mark: precisely one year of COVID-19 being designated a global pandemic.
I had hoped to look back at this period of hardship, extracting the lessons that could propel humanity to sageness. But I guess we can't do that, at least not yet.
The current phase of life has far exceeded the stage of acceptance. Masking is a generally accepted practice, along with commercial grade sanitizers and Lysol at every goods and service outpost. Canadians have made grand leaps by way of virtual queuing, simplified online shopping, and automated systems, however there are countless gaps that remain.
It is with optimism that I gaze at the path before me:
Do you wonder, do you wonder, do you wonder like I do? I do, a lot. But in anticipation instead of fear.
Creations of the week included:
1) Whole Wheat Bread
Having finally depleted the 5 kg bag of plain bread flour to ever grace our tiled floors, I moved onto the whole wheat edition secured just prior to the second wave of the virus.
Substituting in a 1:1 ratio using Bake from Happy Kids' Honey Sandwich Bread formula, the yield comprised of two lofty, golden loaves. Slightly dense, largely bland, wonderfully airy, and spectacularly craggy, the slices paired best with some form of topping - be it margarine, Apricot-Honey Ricotta Spread, or peanut butter.
2) Potato Salad with ketchup, mayo, wasabi, dill and garlic powder
3) Mixed Stir Fry of Bean Sprouts, Seafood Mushrooms, Carrots, Pork, Carrots, and Sweet Potato
A wise man once declared the conversations most worth participation were those comprising of conflicting stances, for it is because of these differences that a broader perspective can be achieved.
I wholly agree with this approach, consistently seeking feedback on everything from gifted baking experiments to reactions to dismal workplace encounters. The odd dilemma surfaces from time to time, and it is then that I purposely consult those with differing guiding compasses.
For two straight days, I was overcome with indecisiveness - a rarity, if I do say so myself - cast into a neverending loop of "should I?"s. The matter at hand were pilates classes, strictly offered in 10- or 20-class packages. ochungg had denied my rationale and earnest beseeching, leaving me to be tormented in a typhoon of turbulent thoughts.
The definite answer emerged shortly after. It had been harnessed within all along, yet triggered only upon hearing my own advice thrown before me.
I set out around noon on a breezy Saturday morning. It was a later start to my schedule than desired, leading me to settle on McWrap munching en route (not that I'd recommend this act in any shape or form). Pulling into the first stop of Pacific Mall, my mouth fell agape seeing the coiling queue of eager mall-goers. I quickly pulled into a spot and jumped in line.
Thankfully, the outdoor situation lasted no more than nine minutes in total. Soon, I found myself within the sheltered space, hand sanitizer awaiting my peeling hands and cracked digits yet again.
Most of the K-Beauty stores had been eliminated: Tony Moly, Missha, and several similar shops were no more; ARITAUM and Multi Brand, on the other hand, stood strong amidst the pandemic.
The main purpose of the detour was to obtain a phin from Dak Lak coffee. As luck would have it, not only was the product unavailable, I was further informed that the points card had been discontinued. That said, blank cards were visible in the store drawer; redemption of points collected to date would also be honoured. I took to a Thai Iced Tea before departing for Sum Pilates.
Travel time was surprisingly short from Pacific Mall, despite traversing along local roads. Normally, travelling west from Markham into Thornhill is quite grueling, however traffic volumes seemed to have decreased since my previous (pre-COVID) visit.
Sum Pilates was located on the second floor of a predominantly Persian commercial complex. Its exterior was quite unassuming and there was no signage indicating the studio's existence. At street level were several eateries and a Persian grocery store, where many had begun to queue for entry at my time of arrival.
Instead of mindlessly rolling forward in the car, I opted to park near Symposium and trek over. Upon closer inspection, the building numbers were clearly labelled, and, once inside 8131, a directory was available.
Two flights of stairs led up to a narrow hallway housing a handful of doors. Most were closed, instigating curiosity in those roaming past; the closest to the entrance was a doctor's office, not too unfamiliar from the medical building I grew up running the hallways of. The concept was highly similar to Meadowvale Professional Centre in terms of age of facility, layout, and amount of penetrable illumination, and could have potentially been constructed around same era given that these design elements had remained consistent. It remains unverified whether an elevator was present, raising the concern of accessibility. (The Meadowvale Professional Centre featured two at each end.)
The dark brown doors were devoid of decorations, with the exception of the "M" and "W" outside the men's and women's washrooms. Sum Pilates was an outlier with a knitted pink logo, mailbox, and business card holder, making it easy to distinguish Unit 204 amongst the mundane. With a jingle from the bells looped around the door knob, I made my - for once very punctual - entrance.
I was immediately welcomed by the member of staff positioned behind the desk. My jacket was directed in the direction of a coat rack, and my attention towards the registration paperwork. In the absence of an English version, I was guided through the Korean contract with real-time translation. It asked basic personal information, contact details, goals of sessions, preferred session slots, and listed conditions of entering into the program. The process was straightforward and, to my surprise, featured far fewer fine lines than franchises such as Crunch or Goodlife.
In-facility washrooms were unavailable - as with any medical complex - and thus I was provided the passcode for the shared stalls several doors down. Existing the establishment wasn't of great concern to me, though the absence of a changeroom was admittedly annoying.
Following the first round of documentation, outdoor shoes were removed and situated on a rack by the door. I was then guided inside the facility; in the smaller of two rooms, the initial assessment commenced. I relayed my concerns surrounding poor biomechanics, noting the aspects most likely to affect and/or impede mobility. Interestingly enough, I was not inquired regarding the cause of such injuries, whether they were inherent or accident-associated, or whether I had undergone any prior forms of treatment. There was also no discussion regarding involvement in other sports or exercise routines, or even my existing level of physical activity. Instead of comprehending the past, the approach seemed to review existing conditions, inform the client of his or her physical deviations from the "neutral" state (preach awareness), and emphasize working towards the objectives identified (or rather, "assigned").
The period of assessment was comparatively quick relative to those of physiotherapeutic nature, yet it appeared adequate in identifying areas of concern and improvement. Some known problems were reiterated, while a few new discoveries emerged.
We commenced with breathing techniques on a foam roller, graduating to a partial dead bug - a true testament of core control. Next were a series of leg/thigh, back, and arm exercises, all executed on one of the many reformers. Intriguing it was to perform exercises for the entire body while remaining on the same apparatus; the only variants were the addition of a block for sitting and altering the position of one's body. Embedded into the lower compartment of the machine were a series of springs. This introduction of tension is a personal preference for regaining and building strength, as free weights are more likely to result in injury in the case of misalignment and fatigue.
Question time was limited at the conclusion of the first fifty-five-minute session, as I was swiftly ushered out of the space to enable preparations for the next class. Clutching my belongings, I dashed out to retrieve my shoes from the rack; a vibrant bottle of Lysol spray passed me by in the process.
Payment occurred and the next classes were scheduled.
Hillcrest Mall was the subsequent - and final - stop of the day. Nearing the shopping centre, I was made aware of the Street Eats event being held in the Indigo parking lot. It was a great initiative to reduce volumes within enclosed areas while promoting spending and economic recovery, though less ideal for those searching for a space on the asphalt lot.
I fulfilled my sole duty of bread acquisition at Saint Germain, then rustled back to the car for the leisurely consumption of a hot dog bun. Truthfully, it was more bun than dog. The same applies to the Pineapple Bun (and the frighteningly turquoise-tinted Matcha Red Bean Bun).
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.
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.