A Pale Canadian has moved!

Hey everyone!

Wanted to give two updates:

1) I’m back in Toronto, Canada (yip, yip, yippeeee!!!)

2) A Pale Canadian has moved to a new location. You can check me out at the fancy new site … APaleCanadian.com

Thanks to everyone who read, commented, shared and enjoyed my thoughts on stuff.

Hope to see everyone there!

Amanda

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Stay tuned

This blog,  A Pale Canadian, was born from a class assignment. But now the assignment has come and gone, the class is wrapping up and marks will soon be assessed.

Image: moderncommonplacebook.com

Image: moderncommonplacebook.com

There were a few stumbles. Some topics did well; some didn’t. Some topics I’d handle differently; examining them from other angles, that sort of thing. Writing is tough. A lot of hard work, effort and energy goes into not only maintaining a blog but consistently coming up with engaging content and in an easily accessible (and likeable) writing style; something that I’m just beginning to get the hang of it.

I can honestly say that I have thoroughly enjoyed my first blogging experience. The blogging community has been extremely supportive through likes, comments and sharing. I’ve tried to reciprocate not just because they liked my stuff but because they’re putting in just as much effort, sweat and tears, into their digital babies and creating some really quality stuff.

I hope you have enjoyed reading A Pale Canadian over the last ten weeks. Hopefully you found some humour in the adventures (and frustrations) I’ve had while living in Australia. Soon those adventures will be of returning back to Toronto and rediscovering the city all over again. Perhaps A Pale Canadian will change its core theme and take on new features and cover things other than what it’s like to live in a particular city. Seems more sustainable, non? Time will tell.

Your feedback is always helpful and appreciated.

The question now posed to me is “will I continue with the blog?”

The answer?

Stay tuned …

Alone time

For the next few days, it’s just going to me and my proverbial shadow. I love my guy but I can’t express how super excited I am to be on my own for a few days. Sure there are things that I’m going to hate – taking out the garbage (I don’t like stinky things), doing all the cleaning (let’s face it, I pretty much do all the cleaning anyway with the exception of the aforementioned garbage and vacuuming, so no real net loss there), and oh yeah, I’ll miss my guy but I’m super stoked about some alone time with this sexy beast (aka me).

Top five things I’m looking forward to:

  1. Naps without the guilt
    It’s pretty easy to take naps with your partner, especially if you’re kid-free. But at times people can get all judge-y. “Really? You’re falling asleep again? You just woke up from a two hour nap!” Don’t put your societal pressures on me, man! If I want to nap four times a day, I’ll do it! In the words of pro-napper Beyonce, “I’m a grown woman. I can do whatever I want” and what I want to be not so sleepy so I’m off for another mid-afternoon nappy-poo. Besides, there’s nothing on TV right now so really it’s a matter of effective time management.
  2. No more hiding the Downton Abbey box set 
    For the most part, we pretty much agree on what we watch during primetime TV hours. If he wants to watch something all Star Treky, that’s when I find myself getting sleepy and napping. See? In every situation, napping just works! I know there are some shows that he doesn’t want to watch but that lure me in like a sucker. Downton Abbey is one. I got hooked on it last Christmas when I was sick and a work colleague gave me the box set of all three seasons. I’m now into season four, I think. I don’t really know. All I know (SPOILER ALERT!!) is that the middle sister (the one no one likes) is pregnant.
  3. Tuna, again?
    Yup, I like tuna. It’s a very versatile protein. Tuna with cucumbers, capers and dill. Pasta puttanesca (tuna with capers, olives, tomatoes and red pepper flakes), tuna melts with fancy cheeses, vitello tonnato (veal cutlet with a tuna sauce) and tuna onigiri (rice balls filled with a tuna filling). They’re all freaking delicious and don’t cause a lot of mess, which brings me full circle to trying to not cause the garbage to fill up too quickly so that I don’t have to take it out.
  4. Big ol’ bed
    This is an obvious one. It’s going to take a few days but I’ll gradually take over the entire bed. My guy use to have a tendency of falling asleep with his arms over his head and in the middle of the night, as his body realized his arms had no blood flow, his arms would fall to his side and smack me in the face in the process. That sucked a lot.
  5. No pants
    That’s right. If I don’t have to leave the house or if I’m not expecting anyone, the pants aren’t going on at all. It’s a lot easier when the temperature is 30 C but everyone knows pants suck and they’re one of the first things to go when you know you’ll be by yourself. Ahhh freedom!!

 

Travel Japan: Food

This is in no way a comprehensive list of all things yummy in Japan. This is merely a rambling of some of the tasty food we ate when we recently visited. Coming from Toronto, a city as multicultural as you can get, most of this stuff wasn’t new to us but I was amazed by the quality, style of preparation and in some cases the availability and convenience of the dishes.

Let’s start off with foods at your local convenience store. You would never think of stopping in your local 7-Eleven for sushi, a cheeseburger, or fresh three cheese ravioli with mushroom cream sauce. The very least you’d get is a sloppy sandwich with sandwich meat of a questionable expiration date, soggy bread and gross tomatoes. Maybe you’d opt for a bag of Doritos or instant noodles. Either way, this is the extent of convenience store gourmet food in North America. Not in Japan. They’re jam packed with ready to eat and heat n’ serve delicious, fresh ingredients and dishes.

Onigiri with 1-2-3 system of unwrapping to keep nori crisp

Onigiri with 1-2-3 system of unwrapping to keep nori crisp Image: TheAtlantic.com

Take for example Onigiri which is rice balls usually filled with delicious goodness from raw or cooked fish, egg or red bean paste and surrounded with crisp nori. My favourites were the ones in special ‘peel-by-numbers’ wrapper which kept the nori crisp. So simple, yet you’d be hard pressed to find something as fresh and nutritious as this in a convenience store in North America. Here’s a detailed recipe on how to make Onigiri from Japanese Cooking 101 if you’re interested. I plan to make these this weekend!

Calpis Water Image: Rakuten.com

Calpis Water. Get on this Coca-Cola North America!
Image: Rakuten.com

Technically I didn’t discover this next item at a convenience store but it’s a very popular local beverage especially during Cherry Blossom season. Calpis Water, a non-carbonated drink made from milk and lactic acid, was discovered by Kaiun Mishima when he travelled to Mongolia in 1902 and saw locals drinking a type of sour milk. The drink seemed to aid his own digestive problems and when he returned to Japan, he brought the drink that is now so very popular. Sounds weird, right? Fermented lactic acid drink? Certainly nothing that I’d want to drink but it’s delicious and sweet and only now I realize how good it is for you. I guess the sweetness made me think that it was completely void of any nutritional value but the company claims the fermented lactic can aid in digestion. Either way, it’s yummy.

Royal Milk Tea, served hot or cold. Image: Rakuten.com

Royal Milk Tea, served hot or cold.
Image: Rakuten.com

Japan can get pretty chilly in the winter and there’s nothing better to warm you up while you’re waiting for the Shinkansen than a hot tea or coffee. All over Japan you’ll find vending machines that sell hot beverages. One that I fell in love with is royal milk tea. I’m not sure why North America beverage manufacturers haven’t got on board with milky tea, either served hot or cold. There’s tons of ready-to-serve iced coffee drinks in North America but no tea! Screw coffee!! Coffee is gross. Let’s get moving on this multinational beverage companies … Coca-Cola, I’m looking at you! You have the market locked up in Japan, let’s branch out to North America for all those tea drinkers. A refreshingly cold or warming milky tea is just what the Canadian public want. Timmy’s serves already brewed hot tea. I’m not saying … but I am saying. Get. On. It. Now.

Noodle restaurants at the Ramen Museum,  Shin-Yokahama

Noodle restaurants at the Ramen Museum, Shin-Yokahama

Though the ramen noodle originated in China, Japan has made it one of its own. We visited the Ramen Noodle Museum in Shin-Yokohama, which in my opinion is just a trumped-up spot for a few ramen restaurants with a gift shop attached to it. No one really should go for the gift shop; they should go for the choice of nine restaurants all serving their style of unique ramen dishes all fashioned around a WWII Japanese setting. Fresh ramen is soooo much tastier than the instant stuff. Japanese ramen shops take great pride in their noodles and especially their broths which are cooked for hours and can never be replicated by the freeze-dried, powered stuff. We went to the Sumire noodle shop known for their rich, flavourful miso noodles and broth. Very cool and very tasty place to try a lot of ramen dishes all in one spot.

Fresh uni (sea urchin)  Image: SeriousEats.com

Fresh uni (sea urchin) in a box
Image: SeriousEats.com

We’ve always wanted to try uni (aka sea urchin) but it never failed that when we were at a sushi restaurant and saw it on the menu it was always in the off-season. This time we were in luck and we tried it three times. The first time we tried it at a sushi train in Osaka. It was one of the foulest experiences I’ve had in my life. It tasted like dirty garbage sea water with rotting fish and it had staying power. No amount of sake would take that away. When we met up with friends in Tokyo, they saw it on the menu and thought we should try it. We told them how uninterested we were in ever tasting it again but they assured us that it didn’t taste like that normally and that you get what you pay for (we got our first serving pretty cheap). Convincing us to try it again, we tasted such a delicate flavour and texture. Everything was different from our first experience. I would highly recommend trying uni but remember: you get what you pay for. Quality is everything with uni. It’s not a flavour for everyone but definitely worth a try.

Sukiyaki (Japanese hot pot) just like Mama-San served Image: Japanese Homecooking

Sukiyaki (Japanese hot pot) just like Mama-San served
Image: Japanese Homecooking

We were very fortunate to have a home cooked meal prepared by my brother-in-law’s mother-in-law (if that makes sense). We called her Mama-San and she made us sukiyaki, a hot-pot filled with love. Cabbage, tofu, sliced beef, enoki mushrooms, noodles, were spooned into our dishes that had a freshly cracked and beaten egg in it. When the fragrant hot broth and ingredients hit the egg, it became this velvety-smooth mixture of pure deliciousness. When we walked in to their house all you could smell was the aroma of the dashi-based broth with a hint of sweetness from the sake, mirin and sugar. It was heaven. Arigatō Mama-San!

Pork katsudon (fried pork cutlet on a bed of rice) Image: Crizzfood.com

Pork katsudon (fried pork cutlet on a bed of rice and egg)
Image: Crizzfood.com

Pork katsudon wasn’t anything new for us but it is just delicious and needs a proper shout out. For those who aren’t familiar with the dish, it’s a fried piece of pork (or chicken) cutlet, served over a bowl of rice with an egg. The katsudon I’ve had in Canada was will a fried egg with a runny yolk so that you can incorporate the yolk with the rice and the bit of katsudon sauce creating something epic. In Japan we had it served two ways: with the sautéed chicken breast it was served just barely cooked and then pretty much raw with the deep-fried pork cutlet. Depends on how comfortable you are with consuming raw eggs. Nothing hard to do, nothing too complex, just simple delicious food that kept me full for over eight hours of walking around Osaka.

For a really comprehensive list of yummy Japanese dishes, check out Japan Talk’s “101 Kinds of Japanese Foods”.

 

Travel Japan: Culture

Just returned from a two week trip to Japan visiting family. We stayed in Kyoto, Tokyo and Osaka with a smattering of day trips like Hiroshima, Enoshima, and Kamakura sprinkled in for good measure.

Temple in Kyoto

I love Japan. I love the abundance of temples and shrines throughout the country. I love the dichotomy between the stoic and imperial history and the flash and energy of the big cities.

Outside Shibuyu Station

I love the courteousness and politeness and how clean everything is. I love how when we looked confused at a train station, someone would come up to us and offer help. Even when we were trying to figure out what to eat, someone approached us and ask if we needed help. When we explained our dilemma, they suggested we try a local delicacy, takoyaki, a fried ball of yummy diced octopus served with a kind of BBQ sauce and mayo and topped with finely shaved bonito flakes and told us how to get to their favourite spot for it. Very helpful indeed.

We weren’t surprised with the number of people who approached us. We knew were weren’t confused on which train to take next but it’s the graciousness and helpfulness of the Japanese that makes them so lovely. That and many people want to practice their English with other English speakers, so we amused them by asking them more questions. We were very impressed with how well they spoke English. Maybe it was my pale Canadian pallor or my blonde curly hair, but I was a popular target for a girls’ school English project at one of the temples in Kamakura. We were approached twice by groups of girls who asked us questions like how long we’d been in Japan, where we’d been, if we watched the Olympics and our favorite Japanese dishes.

English project at Kamakura

English project at Kamakura

In 2019, Japan will host the Rugby World Cup and of course in 2020, Tokyo will host the Summer Olympics and Paralympics. As such, there’s a big push for students and public service workers to learn English in time for the Olympics. Major train stations and cultural destinations have or are undergoing renovations, and while some signs are in both Kanji and English, there’s still room for improvement. I can’t tell you how many times I picked up a brochure or looked at a map that had English headings only to be dejected to see that all the content was in Kanji! Arrrggghhh!

Stay tuned for the next post Japan Part 2: Food where guess what I’ll talk about? That’s right! Some of the yummy, delicious, weird and wonderful food of Japan.

Friends

You know those people who know everything about you (the good, the bad, and the drunken/crying ugly), love you despite your faults, sing out loud in cars with you during road trips or just a quick jaunt up to the grocery store for an ice cream and Doritos run, tell you when you’re being petty, stupid or wicked smart, have your back and are there for you when you need to talk to them, even when it’s 1am?

Your friends. The ones you’ve known for years and it’s just assumed they’ll be there for every major milestone. But life happens, boyfriends come along, families take priority, and babies are born. The once a day check in is in reality a hopefully once a week coffee catch up and texts to fill the void. Maybe, just maybe, if baby sitters can be arranged and husbands pacified, a weeknight dinner can be arranged.

Now try to imagine all of the above but with 14 hours’ time difference and the distance of the entire Pacific Ocean thrown into the mix. Getting schedules to coordinate for Skype calls can be a little tricky. “Oh, you’ve got skating lessons at that time? Sure, we can catch up another time”. “Oh, family obligations that day too? No problem, I’m good with any time”. “You’ve just put in 12 hours at work. Yup, totally understand. We’ll catch up next weekend”.

Life happens.

But no matter how long it’s been since you last caught up, when you do finally get together no one misses a beat. I returned to Canada for a few days last year and made the point to catch up with all my friends. It’s as though I never moved to the other side of the world. It took a few sessions to get fully caught up, but having that time with your friends to be the goofy, caring, sarcastic bitch – the multi-dimensional you! – the only place where that aspect of yourself is accepted, is such a cathartic and nurturing place to be and I missed it dearly.

I’ll be heading home soon and one of the very first things I’ll do is set up a time for my friends. The ones who have seen me in my highest and lowest moments, the ones who have been there for me through the thick and thin, the ones who know all the inside jokes, the ones who have shared some of the best experiences and memories in my life. My best friends.

Getting pumped about Toronto

It’s begun. I’ve started a countdown to our glorious return to Toronto. Lists are being made, clothes and household items are being sorted into keep/donate/sell/burn piles, and the frantic thoughts of whether we have all our things sorted to move back have settled in nicely and act like a nice warm hug full of crazy. Australia has been lovely and beautiful and we’ll miss it dearly, especially all the friends we met here, but I feel it’s time to head back home.

I’m going to ignore the insanity and frustration that goes with moving house, let alone moving house to another country. My mind is focused on the most important thing about moving back to the GTA.

Food.

  • Tim Horton’s
    Tim Horton's tea and my favourite doughnut Image: CampusDish.com

    Tim Horton’s tea and my favourite doughnut
    Image: CampusDish.com

    A true Canadian classic. I’m not a coffee drinker but I can totally get behind Tim Horton’s steeped tea. I like tea that I can sip right away and don’t have to wait for. I’m a busy person with busy person things to do and don’t have time to wait for my tea to steep. And why am I paying for hot water and tea that I have to steep myself? If I wanted to steep my own tea, I’d do that in my kitchen for free. Pffffff. That’s just how I roll. I like Timmy’s because they steep it for me and put way more sugar in it than I normally would at home but hey, when in Rome! Did I mention I love doughnuts! I love doughnuts! I was extremely sad to hear that Timmy’s would be retiring some classics. One of them was my Dad’s favourite and I sent him a condolence card and a listing of all the local stores that still carried the remaining few. For his sake, I hope doughnuts freeze well.

  • California Sandwiches
    A delicious California Sandwich Image: CaliforniaSandwiches.com

    A delicious California Sandwich
    Image: CaliforniaSandwiches.com

    There was a California Sandwiches location near the place I use to work and every now and then I would treat myself to a veal with cheese on a Friday. The only thing stopping me from eating there five days a week was my neurotic, evil brain making me think that I was going to become their Norm from Cheers and as soon as I walked into the restaurant, people would think “geez, she’s here again? Gross.” Luckily for my pants (which never split) and my self-esteem, that didn’t happen. I tried to wean myself off of these delicious foil-wrapped, fried sandwiches (sorry, “sangwiches”) and suffered through salad after salad and tuna with cucumbers or tuna with olives until I broke the habit. Salad and tuna sucks compared to California Sandwiches. To explain what a CS is to someone who has never tried the delicious breaded and fried veal (chicken, steak, eggplant, meatball, sausage or veggie) cutlet, smothered in a delicious tomato sauce and topped with provolone cheese, sweet or hot peppers, sautéed onions or mushrooms, it might sound a little basic and maybe even boring. But when you get every component right, from the crispy coating of the tender veal cutlet, the right acidity and sweetness of the tomato sauce, the right amount of hot peppers that won’t put you out of commission for a day and team it with gooey cheese (and a Brio)… its heaven. I can’t talk about this anymore. I’ve got a few more months before I can reward myself with one of these and this is torture.

  • Fuzzy Peaches and Swedish Berries
    Maynards' Fuzzy Peaches Image: FanPop.com

    Maynards’ Fuzzy Peaches
    Image: FanPop.com

    I’m more of a savoury foods person but every once in a while I’ll crave something ridiculously sweet. Something like Maynards’ Fuzzy Peaches or Swedish Berries. I have and will eat an entire bag of Swedish Berries. If you put money on it, well then challenge accepted. I’m hoping to finish an entire bag of Fuzzy Peaches but will have to work my way up to it. That’s my Olympic dream.

  • Poutine
    Gourmet poutine Image: ChowTrek.com

    Gourmet poutine
    Image: ChowTrek.com

    It’s not an everyday meal option for the GTA like it is in Montreal, but it’s a damn good one if you can get your hands on it. For those of you who aren’t familiar with poutine, it’s French fries with gravy and cheese curds. Again, it doesn’t sound that appetizing but done right and it’s amazing. When we left for Australia it had already cemented its place on trendy menus with luscious, high-end ingredients like butter-poached lobster and foie gras. We hacked out our very own version using frozen McCain Super Fries, instant St. Hubert Gravy and real cheese curds we found at Loblaws. Ghetto? Oh, you know it! I’m not going to say it was one of our proudest moments, and we ate it without making eye contact with each other but it satiated that salty, squeaky cheesy, gravy on carbs craving. Yummers!

  • Loblaws
    President's Choice Decadent Chocolate Chip Cookie

    A classic: President’s Choice Decadent Chocolate Chip Cookie, Image: Shalomlife.com

    I dig food. I dig good food. I dig making good food from scratch. I dig not paying a lot of money to make good food that I dig. I could go to the trendy gourmet supermarkets and pay 30-50% more for the same item but I’d rather go to a place where I know I can find affordably-priced items, right next to some bargain gems. Enter Loblaws. Oh how I’ve missed your flyers, Insider’s Report and commercials! You had me when I first tasted a Decadent Chocolate Chip Cookie and saw Dave Nichols and his “Memories of …” commercials. I’m looking forward to meandering up and down your wide, neatly arranged aisles, taking my time to check out your frozen hors d’oeuvres, classic President’s Choice products and your new PC Black Label lineup. I might rent a space on the second level and camp out but don’t worry, it’s cool … I’m not weird.

Oh, right. So I forgot my family and friends might read this so for sure you guys are number one and up there on my list of priorities. Family and friends outrank food and I am absolutely not saying that to get a My Super Sweet 16 kind of welcome home party. That would be lame (but secretly I’m really hoping for one).

What foods do you adore from the GTA?