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.

Blog

Blog humour 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.

alone time

Alone time … with no pants

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. Check out my previous musings on Japan Part 1: Culture.

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

Japan's 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

Calpis Water from Japan

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

Royal Milk Tea, served hot or cold in Japan

Royal Milk Tea, served hot or cold in Japan 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.

Ramen

Noodle restaurants at the Ramen Museum,  Shin-Yokahama, Japan

Noodle restaurants at the Ramen Museum, Shin-Yokahama, Japan

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.

Uni

Fresh uni (sea urchin) in Japan

Fresh uni (sea urchin) in a box in Japan 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

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

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!

Katsu don

Pork katsudon (Japanese fried pork cutlet on a bed of rice and egg)

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

Pork katsu don 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 katsu don 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 katsu don 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, Japan

Temple in Kyoto, Japan

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.

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.

Outside Shibuyu Station, Japan

Outside Shibuyu Station, Japan

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 favourite Japanese dishes.

English project at Kamakura, Japan

English project at Kamakura, Japan

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 to Toronto.

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 Toronto.

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 in Toronto 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 Toronto or the GTA?

5 Aussie foods to try

If you happen to find yourself in Australia for a holiday, long-term stay or a big fat life change, here’s a helpful list of things you should try at least once.

The list is a collection from my own observations as a Canuck of some exciting Aussie foods that are a little different from the typical Canadian/North American diet. Not everything made the list: noble shout outs to damper bread (an Australian soda bread that’s best served warm with heaps of delicious Australian butter), the multitude of yummy treats like melting moments, Iced Vo Vos (sounds dirty but it’s not), Monte Carlos, and the patriotic ANZAC biscuit, meat pies, bircher muesli and of course crocodile. For a more, ahem, exotic listing of Australian foods to eat, check out CNN’s travel blog “Australian food: 40 dishes locals like to call their own”.

  1. Vegemite

    Vegemite ... yummy  salt bomb

    Vegemite … yummy umami salt bomb
    Image: Kraft foods

    So my first description of what Vegemite tastes like, might not have done it justice but I think for a non-Australian who hasn’t grown up on the stuff, it was pretty accurate. There’s a definite umami flavour happening and chef, traveller and good geek Ben Starr writes a great post on describing the taste from another non-Australian. I liked Vegemite when I first tasted it. Despite the majority of items on this list being sweet, I tend to favour more savoury/salty foods. I would have it for breakfast on buttered toast and pair it with another piece of buttered toast but this one was topped with strawberry jam. The combination of salty, sweet and buttery was an awesome way to start your day and to top it with a perfectly brewed cup of tea … well I could have eaten that for breakfast for the rest of my life. No problem. I mean no worries, mate! I told a coworker about my salty-sweet morning breakfast and she looked at me in horror. I’m not sure if I committed some sort of national incident but other Australians that I’ve shared this with don’t see the genius of the dish and only tend to pair it with other savoury items like cheese, tomatoes, scrambled or poached eggs. All good choices to pair with Vegemite, but I still think my dish is a winner.

  2. Tim Tams

    A package of the most delicious biscuit in the world, Tim Tam. Image courtesy of Arnott’s

    The original – Tim Tams. Image: Arnott’s

    Two chocolate biscuits covered in chocolate and sandwiched between a delicious chocolate cream make this biscuit and Australian icon. Read about the Tim Tam Slamprevious post on how to enjoy these delightfully decadent treats.

  3. Lamingtons

    Lamington Image: wikipedia.org

    Lamington
    Image: wikipedia.org

    Named after the wife of a Governor of Queensland, Lady Lamington, these delicate little cakes are made from a vanilla sponge cake, coated in a layer of chocolate, then a layer of shredded coconut. Variations include strawberry jam or cream-filled or my personal fav both with jam and cream. When we first arrived in Brisbane,we ate so many of these that we haven’t been able to touch them since, but since writing about them now, I think I might make a trip to the grocery store and pick some up. They’re perfect with a cup of tea or coffee as an afternoon treat.

  4. Kangaroo and kanga bangas

    Kangaroo Image: Lindsey Lumsden

    Australia’s national animal: Kangaroo
    Image: Lindsey Lumsden

    I previously wrote about kangaroo. It’s flavourful and best served medium rare, maybe crusted with dukkah (a dry rub consisting of nuts, usually sesame seeds, pistachios, cumin, etc) and paired with a great glass of cab sauv or merlot. If chowing down on a kangaroo fillet isn’t your thing but you still want to try it as a dare, cross it off your bucket list, whatever the reason, then try it as a banga! Kanga Bangas (aka kangaroo bangers, as in sausages) is a pretty decent way to ease yourself into trying the national animal of Australia. Familiar enough to put you at ease but exhilarating at the same time because you’re eating kangaroo!

  5. Dairy

    Delicious creamy Australian dairy

    Delicious creamy Australian dairy
    Image: thewellnesswarrior.com.au

    Australian and New Zealand cream, yoghurt, and butter is delicious. I haven’t visited the UK in a long time and can’t remember how good their dairy was but I know it’s up there. The cows, the grass that the cows eat (if they even eat grass), the process – I’m not sure what it is that makes Australian dairy taste so good. Like their English counterparts, they have a ton of variety that we just don’t see every day in Canada. Regular thickened cream, light thickened cream, extra light thickened cream, pure cream, double cream, dollop cream, cooking cream, double thick custard, pouring custard (yes, they sell eggnog-like containers of pouring custard all year long!), and a super thick sour cream. I needed cream for an Alfredo sauce one night after work and stood in front of the dairy case looking and acting like a mouth breather. How hard could it be to pick a cream? I finally put my half Italian pride on the side and asked a lady next to me. My Canadian accent must have thrown her because it looked like she took a moment to figure out what I had just asked. At least I hope it was my accent and not the fact that I was asking what cream I should be cooking with. That would have been awwwwkwaaard.

What are you up for tasting? Anything you would add to the list?

Falling Back to Earth : Cai Guo-Qiang

I don’t consider myself an “artsy” person. The closest I’ve come to being artistic was when I was 11 years old and painted a picture of a flower for my parents. I was very proud of it. They must have been equally proud because they hung the painting in the laundry room, where all fine art pieces are displayed. I like art. I think. I like art for the reasons why other snooty people like art – it makes me sound like I’m smart, cultured, sophisticated, a lover of all the finer things in life and more in touch with the world. I’m a self-actualized human being sitting proud at the top of Maslow’s pyramid where creativity, morality, and lack of prejudice reign supreme. Yup, that’s the most honest and unbiased description of myself I’ve ever heard. I appreciate art for the skill that goes into each piece. The blood, sweat, tears and years of torture involved in an artist’s life. I spend way too much time trying to decide what my iPhone wallpaper is going to be so I can absolutely sympathize with artists on the labour of love aspect.

Cai Guo-Qiang's "Heritage 2013" at Brisbane's GOMA

Cai Guo-Qiang’s “Heritage 2013” at Brisbane’s GOMA

Contemporary art has never really been my thing. I went to an exhibit once at the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) but was drawn more to the old masters where in my opinion, antiquity brings credibility. But on my last visit to the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, I walked through Cai Guo Qiang’s (pronounced Tsai Gwo Chang) art piece, called Heritage 2013, which depicts 99 life-sized models of animals from around the world gathered around a drinking pond. Check out the video on Cai Guo-Qiang’s amazing exhibit Falling Back to Earth and hear from some of the top art experts about his work.

It was something that I’ve never seen before and something that I don’t know if I’ll ever see again. It was surreal to walk around the pond and see the meticulous detail that went in to all 99 animals. This was definitely something that I couldn’t replicate and I admit I was impressed.

Cai Guo-Qiang’s exhibition, Falling Back to Earth is on display at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) running until May 11 2014.

The Tim Tam Slam: How to be Australian

Of all the Australian foods that I’ve enjoyed while living here for the past two years, by far the best is the iconic Australian biscuit, the Tim Tam.

tim tams biscuits

A package of the most delicious biscuit in the world, Tim Tam. Image courtesy of Arnott’s

I’m not a chocolate lover at all but I will make the exception for a Tim Tam.Tim Tams are cookies made of two chocolate biscuits, filled with a chocolate cream, and coated in chocolate. One in every two households in Australia have a pack of Tim Tams on hand, which translates to Australians consuming over 400 million biscuits each year. According to the manufacturer Arnott’s, the biscuits were named after a winning horse in the Kentucky Derby in 1958. It’s so Australiana that it’s probably part of the citizenship test.

No one really knows the origin of the slam, but it’s probably started by some bored kids (or adults, I don’t judge) playing with their food. The closest thing I can think of to a Canadian/North American version would be the Oreo dunk but even that’s stretching it. There’s really nothing like a Tim Tam and certainly the slam.

How to do the The Tim Tam Slam  (aka the Tim Tam Suck, Tim Tam Explosion and Tim Tam Bomb)

  1. Get a Tim Tam. Any flavour will do but the purest in me will only do the slam with the original variety. My favourite non-slam Tim Tam is white chocolate. I don’t think it’s available in Canada yet, but here’s a list of retailers in Canada that sell the delicious original flavour biscuits).
  2. Get a cup of hot tea or coffee. You can also drink it with hot chocolate or Milo, which is malted beverage (Ovalatine is a good substitute) but make sure it’s hot.
  3. Bite off diagonal corners of the biscuit.
  4. Use those ends of the biscuit as a straw and suck up the hot liquid through the biscuit.
  5. Slam it! Once you can feel the liquid has made its way through the biscuit, slam that delicious biscuit in your mouth fast! You just tasted the best thing in your life, my friend. You’re welcome. You have to move quickly or the biscuit will start to disintegrate and then you’ve ruined it and will have to start over. It’s the most devastating thing in the world to drop a biscuit in your tea and spend the rest of the time fishing out the chunks.

Hate reading? Here’s a video on how to do the slam

Thank you Australia!

In praise of singing in cars

Brisbane is a commuter’s paradise.

Its smaller population and small town vibe allow for an easy and short commute. Driving into the city in the mad rush of the mornings is an easy 20 minute drive. Yup. 20 minutes.

Let me put that in Toronto, Mississauga, and Brampton terms. That would be like driving from the corner of Bathurst and Bloor to Yonge-Dundas Square. In Mississauga, it’s the equivalent of starting at Burnhamthorpe and Hwy 10 and making your way to the QEW. And from Brampton’s corner of Steels and Hwy 10 to Bovaird. Congratulations! You made it to the QEW in 20 minutes but you now have to battle the traffic with the rest of the cogs heading downtown which could put another 30-40 minutes on your drive time depending on your final destination. I might be giving the benefit of the doubt to some of these, but you get the idea. Time is precious and you can’t travel very far during morning rush hour.

Don’t get me wrong. A short commute is ideal and there’s plenty of research showing a correlation between commute times and physical health and your relationships with loved ones. The negative impact commuting has on environmental issues like pollution, CO2 emissions, etc., all point to the solution that we should be using more public transportation, carpooling, walking or biking to get to work. But there’s something to be said about the alone time you have when it’s just you – and only you – in the car and faced with a 20 minute or more drive ahead of you. Taking public transit, carpooling, walking or biking just doesn’t cut it. You need the feeling that no one is watching, no distractions from other people, no eavesdropping, nothing. Just you, your car, a cup of tea/coffee from Tim’s, a cup holder, and the stereo.

Here’s why commuting to work is awesome by yourself if you have a long enough drive (and a car).

Pondering life’s mysteries.

Should you try Nepalese food? What is Nepalese food? Do you really like pad thai or do you think it’s weird to have peanuts with noodles? Why does everyone like garlic? Why are the other drivers idiots? Why is Two and a Half Men so popular when it’s not funny? Why aren’t I a millionaire? All these questions can be answered during your drive to work.

Career coaching.

The time commuting to and from work was usually when I thought about my career journey, where I pictured myself working in two, five and ten years, how I could have handled a work situation better, female leaders I admired, how/when/where to network, etc.. This sometimes turned into a negative tangent about colleagues, their skills and abilities, and I’ll admit some colourful language was used to describe these things. However it was a valuable learning lesson for me to stop all those negative feelings and it’s still a work in progress. It’s very easy to blame everyone else for why things went wrong but the challenge is to find your part in it and how to approach it next time so that the end result is successful. Did you effectively get your message across? Though they’re colleagues, did you make sure you knew your audience and how best to communicate to them? Did you make sure they understood what you were saying? Instead of getting uptight about others, I looked at it as an area where I could improve.

Checking out other people and what they’re doing.

Everyone’s curious and does it. What are people eating for breakfast? By looking at their wardrobe (and car) you could guess where they worked and the title they held. But this has the potential to be harmful to your health because we’ve all seen it: the nose picker. As I mentioned before, you need the sense of being alone for self-discovery and alone time, but that does not mean discovering that the huge cranial booger needs to be immediately removed in the middle of the Gardiner. Cars have windows, people. Others can see you and all your grossness. Leave personal grooming and disgusting habits for the privacy of your bathroom. I really can’t stress that enough. Even seeing women putting on eyeliner and mascara irritates me. Don’t get me started on plucking eyebrows in public. Don’t.

Singing.

Now this is the reward for driving by yourself. You could probably do it with others in the car but they’d have to be your partner/best friend/parent/child under the age of whatever it is before they learn to talk back. And there’s really no going back once you’ve open this can of talent on a work colleague. Belting out your version of Adele, Beyoncé, or any of the top 40 hits, is cathartic, empowering and boosts your mood. Awkward Moments has a story about what happens when someone sees you singing like no one’s watching.

Remember this? Don’t lie … you know you rocked out to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Image courtesy of Collection of Awesome.

Is there a perfect amount of commuting time that facilitates and aids self-discovery, mental health, and the self-indulgence of singing at the top of your lungs to your favourite songs? For the last two years, I’ve walked to work which took no more than 10 minutes. That’s just enough time in the hot sun when it’s 8am and the temperature has already reached 28 C degrees. Make-up ruined? Check. Hair a big ball of frizz? Check. Look like a hot mess? Check and double check.

Make-up ruined? Check. Hair a big ball of frizz? Check. Look like a hot mess? Check and double check.

I’ve decided for me the ideal car ride to work is around the 20-35 minute mark. That’s just enough time to solve all of life’s mysteries for one day, sing about five to ten really good songs but not be in the car for an excessive amount of time. There’s evidence that anything longer will make you miserable and it’s even worse if you take public transit.

What’s your ideal commute time and what do you do to pass the time while idling in traffic?