These Days are Scorchers

It's really hot. I mean really, really hot. Today it was 34 degrees! This is very unusal for the Vancouver area, especially to have this kind of heat for a week now. It's so hot that I'm happy to go to work at my air-conditioned office!

One of the best ways to beat the heat is bubble tea. We went over to Bubble World on North Road, and got a couple of our favourites: green tea ice cream slush with pearls and fresh mango slush without pearls. They really have great bubble tea here--the tapioca pearls are soft and nicely caramel-palm-sugar flavoured, and the beverages and delicious and icy.

Bubble World (Coquitlam) on Urbanspoon

A Little Knitting

I haven't posted a while about knitting, but I've got my hands full! Again, another scarf, but this time it's with very thin, fingerling blend of wool/silk. It will be a long go. Sometimes I wonder why I take on impossible projects like this!

Stormy Weather

Last night we had a huge thunderstorm with hail, and violent rain. There were flashes of lightning in the sky and the thunder was quakingly loud. We're not used to this kind of weather on the west coast, so it was quite a treat. There was this amazingly colour saturated sky: bright oranges and fierce reds that filled the night. These are really poor pictures, but you can see some of the colours especially at 9 o'clock at night!

First Bento

One of my favorite recent discoveries are Bento Boxes for lunches. They are compact, cute, and a great way to save lunch money. It also provides a great method for portion control. Probably the best website out there is Just Bento, which has great tips about getting started, pictures of delicious bento boxes, and recipes. There is also a flickr group for bento boxed lunches.

This is my first bento lunch. It's brown rice with spinach cooked with sorrel on the bottom tier, and on the top tier there's baked tofu with sesame and blanched broccoli. I cooked the night before. Ther's something about eating and cooking healthy food--it makes you feel so good.

Oh yeh, I showed my co-worker's my bento box and I think I've converted them as well. They're planning to visit Daiso this weekend!


On Saturday I went to Daiso, a Japanese "dollar"store in Richmond, and got things. Everything was two dollars each!

Assorted bowls and plate

Two bento boxes, one red, one blue. You can see the blue one disassembled into its parts.

Bento accessories: rice ball moulds, and tiny animal sauce containers. Cute!

First of the Morning

I usually get up pretty early for work, but I rarely have time for a nice breakfast. But today I had blueberries with vanilla yoghurt, a couple of mini banana blueberry whole wheat muffins I baked last night, and orange juice.

It was lovely.

Pho 99 - Coquitlam

The number 2

I grew up in Thailand and some of my best memories were of eating street food from roadside vendors. There were fresh, spicy northern Thai sausages, grilled beef balls, deep fried chicken, and so many other kinds of food that could be bought for only a few cents. I adored Thai-style noodle soups, or kwaytao, which would be served off on the side of the street among plastic tables and chairs.

When our family first immigrated to Vancouver there was barely a Thai community, and we were always disappointed in Thai restaurants around the area because it wasn’t authentic. I think that’s why we never went to Thai restaurants; even now, the occasion is pretty rare. But we discovered Vietnamese pho, which reminded us so much of the Thai noodle soup dishes. Of course, pho is totally different—in Thailand, the more common kind of stock is pork or chicken, while the Vietnamese pho soup base is beef. But the rice noodles were the same, and the flavours were familiar and comforting.

I can’t say I’m a pho expert or anything, but I like my broth to be clear, a deep brown, simply tasting of beef and spices, but without any added sugary sweetness. I like the noodles to be cooked just right, not to soggy, to rest in the broth without adding any cloudiness to the clear liquid. I’m a soup girl, and to me, the broth is the most perfect thing in the dish. But I notice that when I go to Vietnamese restaurants, so many people leave the broth in their dish after they’ve eaten the noodles and meat. There they are, bowls upon bowls of untouched broth! Why is that?

One of the local Vietnamese restaurants we frequent is Pho 99, in the little mall on the corner of North Road and Lougheed. Let’s get it straight: this place won’t be winning any awards for ambiance, d├ęcor, or service anytime soon. The atmosphere is utilitarian, with chipped tables, scratched chairs, and not the cleanest tile floors. The walls have tacky and colourful wall decorations made from Styrofoam and plastic ferns, and the bathroom is kind of gross. Plus, the service is severely basic; if you’re lucky you’ll get a server that smiles, otherwise you’ll get ones that carry on conversations with other people while you’re trying to talk to them, or you’ll get a sullen one. It’s best not to be high maintenance here—requests for water, or extra lime, or anything will frustrate you. It’s best to keep your head down and focus on the food.

As for the food, it’s really good. And so affordable! The pho here is (most of the time) consistently delicious, with a nice broth and generous additions of meat (except for beef balls, that is). There have been a couple of times when the meat didn’t seem that fresh, or when the soup came not piping hot, but those occasions are extremely rare. I don’t know whether they use MSG or not, but I don’t leave feeling thirsty at all. The pho, of course, always comes with fresh bean sprouts and chili and lime/lemon; sometimes it comes with Vietnamese basil, sometimes not. The prices are reasonable: the small size is $5.65 and the large is $6.65.

This time, got #2 small, which is raw eye round steak (which cooks in the hot broth), and beef balls (a measly 2 half-pieces). My husband got #1, which is just with the eye round steak.

I forgot to mention the condiments: at the side of your table you have the hoisin sauce, fish sauce, sriracha sauce, salt, and pepper but the best thing about this restaurant is their chili oil. The chili oils I’m used to just have two ingredients: chili and oil, but this one has the addition of lemongrass, among other ingredients. Put a dollop in your pho, the bowl becomes a beautifully aromatic, spicy masterpiece. It’s gorgeous. I’m used to spicy foods, but the chilli oil doesn’t seem that spicy to me. It’s the best condiment ever.

My darling chili oil!
You are not going to get the best service here, but they have a good bowl of savory noodle soup (also, their rolls and grilled meat are pretty good too) for a really great price.
Pho 99 Vietnamese Noodle House on Urbanspoon

Rustic Noro Scarf

Another scarf, using my leftovers from the first Noro (from Brooklyn Tweed) and a couple of new Noro Silk Garden balls of yarn. I enjoyed the 1x1 rib of the first Noro, but wanted to knit something even more simple and mindless; plus I do enjoy the garter stitch tremendously, like going back to your old toy box and playing with legos once again.

The beauty, colours, and the texture of Silk Garden does all the work. It’s just row upon row of garter stitches, but the end result is a fuzzy, artisanal, colourful creation.

Our Cherry Season

ahh! blurry photo

We went to the store today and bought about 4 pounds of cherries, which were on sale for only $1.97 per pound. The first couple of pounds were eagerly and quickly consumed after dinner.

They were fresh, firm as they should be, and a deep, dark red. I really love the sensation of biting cherries.

They are in season over here, and will be for a few weeks.


Rain and Tea

It's been raining here in Vancouver for the past few days--the skies are a dark grey, the air has turned cool and you can really smell the fresh, wet earth. After a week of hot summer weather, the change has been pretty welcome.

I love to drink tea anytime, but on days and night like this there is nothing more comforting than a hot mug of tea in your hands.

My favorite is this Japanese green tea from Yamamotoyama, green tea with brown rice. The roasted rice gives a really nutty warm flavor to the tea, and it smells earthy and divine. It makes a good cup. Don't you love the green packaging and design?

Yan's Garden Restaurant

From top right: Shrimp Dumplings with Chives, Har Gao, Steamed Spareribs, Sui Mai

We live in Burnaby (a suburb of Vancouver), on the edge of Coquitlam and New Westminster, in a gastronomically diverse part of town. Anyway, within walking distance there are about 3 Chinese restaurants nearby (all of which weirdly have the word ‘garden’ in them): North Garden on North Road, Yan’s Garden on Lougheed Highway, and Mui Garden on North Road. Of these three we prefer North Garden and Yan’s Garden; while the food isn’t spectacular, it’s quite good and convenient for us. This past Saturday my husband Shane and I went for Dim Sum at Yan’s Garden, which is by far the biggest and ‘fanciest’ of the three.

The restaurant has a ‘Chinese Banquet’ feel, with large round tables and white tablecloths. The restaurant is divided into two rooms, one of which is large and bright, with many windows and even stain-glass panes; the other section seems always dark and a bit dreary with blinds always drawn closed, and probably only used when the restaurant is at capacity. When you walk in there is a large lobby area with aquarium fish opposite the front door, and crabs and lobster tanks along one wall.

Not fond of crowds or waiting, we arrive at around 10am, which is generally a good time for dim sum because you get a good table, the food is plenty and the service is generally better. Upon sitting, the server asks us what kind of tea we want, and as always, we reply ‘Jasmine’ (ok, I like jasmine tea, but what other kinds do they have? I ways feel panicky when they ask me that question so abruptly). What is great about weekends (and holidays) at Yan’s is that they always have dim sum carts, old-school style. There are also servers carrying trays of not-so-popular dishes, ensuring freshness, and there is also a small dim sum menu that you can order other dishes from. If you go to Yan’s on weekdays, you’ll just get a paper form to fill out to indicate what dishes you want to order. I like going on weekends—there’s a pretty good atmosphere—lot of families, couples, and usually a table or two of Chinese old men or women, reading Chinese newspapers at the table.

Moments from sitting down a silver cart rolls over with steamed goods—right off the bat we get the Har Gau (shrimp dumplings), Sui Mai (pork dumplings), shrimp dumplings with chives, and steamed pork spareribs. The dumplings were pretty good, especially the plump, crunchy shrimp. The steamed spareribs were really delicious—tender, flavorful. I was surprised by this because I’ve had pretty tough, gristly spareribs at a lot of dim sum restaurants, but this was so delicious. Next came rice rolls with Chinese-doughnut inside—there isn’t a lot of flavor in this dish, but the contrast between deep fried doughy goodness and the soft, pliant rice roll was great. When another cart came we got the steamed sticky rice parcels (2 to a basket), and that was filled with ground pork and Chinese sausage which is one of my favorite things. The rice could have had more embedded flavors in it, but it was good and warm and filling.

Rice Rolls with Chinese Donut and Sticky Rice Parcels

For dessert we shared the deep-fried Sesame Balls, with sweet and nutty black sesame paste inside. It was one of the better sesame balls I’ve had. The balls were perfect size (about 2 inches in diameter), and the crust was crunchy and chewy inside. The worst part was seeing the puddle of oil left on the plate though. It’s a bit sickening to think about the amount of oil you just consumed.

We ordered 7 dishes total, each dish being only $2.95 each. There are three tiers of pricing here from $2.95 to $5.75 (on the special dishes), and it’s very reasonable. Plus, the price of each thing you ordered is written on the order form, unlike a lot of other dim sum places, so you know how much you’re spending and can keep track. Oh yes, they charge $1.30 for the tea, which is a bit unusual, I guess. Service is standard and a little indifferent, but I think you’ve got to forgive a lot when you go to cheap Asian restaurants.

We left while the restaurant started to seriously fill up. We were stuffed and happy.

Yan's Garden on Urbanspoon

The Keep Yourself Warm Scarf

A few days ago we had a couple of friends over for lunch. They had just returned from a year in South Africa and were preparing to do a post-doc in Nova Scotia, so this was their going away meal. On the menu was:

- Mushroom and vermicelli soup (featuring Cloud Ear, Shitake, Enoki, King Oyster and Oyster type mushrooms in a clear chicken broth)

- Turkey meatballs (flavored with Bai Krapow, or Thai Holy Basil, Ginger, Garlic, Shallots, and Nam Pla, or Fish Sauce)

- Thai red curry (with Kabocha squash, button mushrooms, zucchini, and snap peas)

- Cucumber, Tomato and Mint salad

- Steamed Thai Jasmine rice

- Marlborough Apple Pie

- Lemon Pound cake (they had brought this from Solly’s Bagelry in Kits)

I hadn’t cooked this much food in a long time, so it was pretty good to exercise those culinary muscles. Everything turned out well. I especially like the addition of the squash to the curry, because it lent the spicy sauce a mellow sweetness. And while the Bai Krapow is usually used stir-fried with a meat (like Pad Krapow, a really popular Thai dish), it worked well in the meatballs. I just wish the Bai Krapow is more readily available in the Van area!

For our friends' going away presents I gave them two wool scarves, as they were heading east to harsher winters. T. got the Noro scarf, M. got a blue-green scarf that I had just finished knitting that very day (so no blocking for this one).


Yarn: Berroco Ultra Alpaca (50% Super Fine Alpaca, 50% Peruvian Highland Wool) This one is soft and thick and easy on the hands. Very durable too—I must have done this scarf 2-3 times over. The scarf look 1 ¼ balls, so I have enough left over for a hat or something….

Pattern: This is a really good stitch with beautiful drape. Slip first stitch, yo & k2tog, repeat, knit last stitch. It creates a uniform mesh-like pattern with lots of movement and drape.

Result: A soft scarf to wrap yourself in on cold blustery days. I would recommend garter stitch ends as the bottom part ended up curling a bit. I made a huge mistake in this one (a BIG hole in the stitch), but I used extra wool to patch it up when I was done.