Tuesday, 17 February 2015

As Pablo Picasso Said, "Youth Has No Age."

Oh, Canada!!! You have been-by far-my biggest group of readers lately and I want to say a BIG 'Thank you' to you!!! Perhaps it's only fitting since I'm back home?!? I was very blessed to spend my 33rd birthday here surrounded by my friends and family. I believe that the last birthday I spent here was my 30th, but I can't remember...And that's old age interfering with my memory for you, HAHAHA! I have to say that I'm enjoying my 30s sooo much that I would like to stay at this interval! My life is not perfect at all, but I feel a deep contentment with who I am and the strength to move from behind a facade that I was always expected to uphold. I love my culture and my family, but there were expectations and obligations that were a burden which prevented me from expressing my individuality and real desires in life and I no longer allow myself to adhere or prescribe to those ideologies, and life has never been so amazing!

With my birthday (at the end of January), also comes a lot of other birthdays (uncles, dad, friends)! My uncle is on the 23rd and we celebrated with a party at his home and a game of 'Cards Against Humanity.' Now, if you know this game, no doubt you have an opinion about it, but can I just say one thing? It's the most awful game to play with your 64-year-old father when what he comes up with is...Well, let's just say he shocked me. I laughed, cried, cringed and felt anger, but maybe that's the whole point.

Then came all of the dinners and birthday celebrations, and along with those came an obscene amount of food shots because, let's face it, life isn't worth celebrating if you're not EATING!!! Yeah, that's my philosophy 'bout life, lol!

So among one of my group of friends, there are THREE birthdays in January (as you can see from the pic), and there were THREE cakes, because one just isn't enough...Obviously! Canada's newest PR (Permanent Resident), "New PR," is the funny guy in the background. He's German, so it's nice to see he has a sense of humor. *Chuckles*
The ladies together for a shot (from left to right): My standard-driving buddy, the Hungarian Traveller, me, my sister, my longtime friend and another lover of travelling, let's call her The Go-Getter, and then my fellow educator and another traveller, let's call her The Mentor (her partner is the New PR!).
 My father usually chooses a place he'd like to go for his birthday dinner, and so this year we went to The Tasting Room (Richmond Street). Instead of ordering the sampler of wines (which he didn't see), he went with a Californian...Understandable since on that snowy, FREEZING night we all would have preferred to be IN California instead of southewestern Ontario, IN the snowbelt! 
 Londonlicious (http://www.londonlicious.ca/) was going on when we went to The Tasting Room. If you don't know what Londonlicious is, and I assume most people don't, a variety of restaurants participate to offer lunch and dinner sets for anywhere from $15-$40 (CAD). It's a great and affordable way to try out some AMAZING spots in the city while not spending a fortune. I didn't know it was on when we went, but I ordered the set because I wanted a main course not available on their REGULAR menu. Appetizer: pork pot stickers, or what we call gyoza in Japanese (the Japanese took the recipe from the Chinese-GOT TO give credit where credit is due!). 
 My dad's appetizer: shrimp tempura with wasabi mayonnaise all skewered into half of a lemon.
 My father's entrée: seafood pasta. I was stuck between this and the risotto that I ordered!
 My sister's entrée: steak and loaded mashed potatoes. Her meal was pretty darn good!
 My entrée: seafood risotto.
My dessert: cremè caramel. I LOVE cremè caramel, but I was SO FULL that I needed my sister to help me eat it and I still took it home because we couldn't finish it between the two of us!

I LIKED The Tasting Room. I went there years and years ago with an ex, but I remember it being more like the name: a place where you could taste and sample smaller servings of more than one item. With the exception of the wine menu, I didn't see ANY options where portions would be smaller and diners could have more than one item (whether appetizers, mains or desserts). I would also like to add that if you do NOT like fish or seafood then BEWARE because 90% of the dishes contain fish or seafood. Lastly, while the flavours were good, I've eaten at better spots in the city and for the price point, I was disappointed. My dish was tasty, but honestly, there were too many mussels crowding my bowl and by the time I was through, I had a HUGE serving bowl full of shells. In fact, so did my dad and I tasted his pasta and both of our dishes had an overwhelming flavour of mussels. I LOVE mussels, but it was too overpowering. I won't be returning here, unfortunately. The cremè caramel, however, was EXQUISITE!!!

Don't worry! The eating didn't stop there! We also tried out a newer Korean restaurant right next door to us called...Gangnam Style BBQ Restaurant (https://www.facebook.com/Gangnamstylebbq). Are you thinking what I'm thinking??? HEY! SEXY LADY! Op! Op! Op! Op! Gangnam Style!!! Not referring to those lyrics for any other reason except they're the only English ones I can think of. I'm going to assume y'all know what I'm referring to, but if not, here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bZkp7q19f0. I LOVE Korean food, especially Chapchae and Dolsot Bibimbap!!! I love all of the pickled condiments that are offered and I *heart* kimchi!!! Ohhh, yeah!!! My sister, dad and I went here after a doctor's appointment on his actual birthday (unplanned dinner outing), and while it was pretty good, I still prefer the food at Kimchi House (https://plus.google.com/107685105829618013050/about?gl=ca&hl=en) on Oxford Street West just before Proudfoot Lane. However, I need to commend the waiter/chef/cashier/etc. for running around the restaurant and getting it ALL done on his own!!! SUPERSTAR in my book! Not only was he getting everything done in a timely fashion, but wasn't he just the nicest guy ever?!? YES, he was!!! The service made this place fantastic!

 LOVE the pickles!!!
 My sister ordered bulgogi (grilled marinated beef). In Japan we tend to prepare bulgogi on the bbq (with Korean marinade, but a Japanese style bbq).
 My dad ordered seafood kimchi soup with udon noodles which turned out to be a bit too spicy for him.
 OHHH, YEAH! That's my dolsot bibimbap!!! It's rice, veggies, meat and an egg all put in a hot iron pot and you mix it to cook the egg and then add UBER spicy red sauce (gochujang)! Delish!!!
The pickle dish up close. I could JUST eat the pickles and be happy...Weird???

I then went out for a birthday brunch with the gang at The Church Key (Richmond Street), as I'd heard incredible things about their brunch! The unique thing about brunch at The Church Key is that it changes every week. It's a set price ($25CAD), but includes your coffee and a basket of freshly baked goodies and then your large main course. On that increasingly SNOWY, WHITEOUT-like day, I arrived early and perused the menu:

 
 All by my lonesome, but not lonely :)
The menu that week!
 The pastries, although clearly not ALL of the pastries, hehehe!
 I tried to sneak in shots of the other pastry baskets without much success-I'm sorry!
 Sorry for the blurry snapshots! Not sure WHY most pictures were so bad :(
This was the kebab!!! Look at the size of that!!!
 My steak omelette! It was SOOO good!
The steak inside my omelette!
 The cordon bleu! Look at the crackling on that piggy!
Hail! Hail! The gang's all here!!! Except for a few lovely ladies, of course ;)
Side note: the blonde lady on the end (across from me) and I may have gone out dancing until the wee hours the night before, gotten a wee bit tipsy and then gone to Prince Albert's [Diner] for a wee bit of greasy food (reminiscing of the days when we'd do that weekly as undergrad students, hahaha!). That pic is of one of my ALL-TIME favourite foods: POUTINE!!! With some malt vinegar, this was one of the highlights of the night ;)  P.S. I'm not a fan of Prince Albert's Diner mostly because the food isn't actually all that great (but who can tell when they're drunk), and the manager is CONSTANTLY yelling and got a sour look on his face. Yes, dealing with a bunch of young, drunk people isn't fun, but then don't do it. Alternatively, hire someone else to do it or even maybe try to crack a smile. I swear guy's got some pent up rage going on...Not a place I enjoy going really, and let's face it, Sammy Souvlaki's poutine is still the best I've tried in London. The service at Sammy's is better and the prices are cheaper ;)  https://plus.google.com/103446714155591155138/about?gl=ca&hl=en

Although I was told that this wasn't the BEST brunch menu that The Church Key has put out, it was pretty interesting to me and this week's looks very unique! I might take my dad there because of the gumbo dish (he loves Cajun-style gumbo and it's really tough to find here!): http://www.thechurchkey.ca/menu-sundaybrunch.html.

Eating (A LOT) didn't stop with outings and I haven't even mentioned the coffee/cake dates and the ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT lunch at Mandarin Restaurant that I had with girlfriends on my actual birthday to celebrate (http://www.mandarinrestaurant.com/home). I'm not a big fan of Mandarin, but every once in awhile when I'm feeling like Americanized-Chinese food, I'll order some Cantonese chow mein because theirs is good!

Not only did I eat out at restaurants, I attended a dinner party held by another Japanese halfie I know. She's half Japanese, half Syrian (her mom is Japanese and her dad is Syrian). Growing up in the Middle East, she is fluent in Arabic, Japanese and English, and as if that isn't enough of a mix, she married an Egyptian man. Arabic food was on the menu and I gorged myself, trying to be as discreet about it as possible...IF that was possible!!! Because we weren't the only guests, I didn't take a picture of the spread, but we were given a take-away container of some of our favourites! Also, she had provided a spread for me and my friend "Robbie" (a girl) when we'd visited during the day earlier that week, but you'll see from the coffee date photos that dinner would have been overwhelming, and it was: we barely had place to put our plates on the table! SOOO incredibly delicious! I want my halfie friend to teach me how to make kibbeh!!!!!!!!

 The spread at morning coffee, part I
 The spread at morning coffee, part II
Take-away from the dinner party!!! Robbie helped out by making Pakistani-style kofta and it was spicy and tasty!!! LOVED ALL of the food at dinner that night! :D

Oh, but it doesn't end there! I also went out to the Italian chain restaurant, East Side Mario's (South West location, Wonderland Road and Southdale Road: http://www.eastsidemarios.com/). My friend, let's call him the "Sports Writer," loves burgers and fries and thankfully East Side Mario's serves that! So while I ate pasta, he had a burger and fries. We hadn't chatted in a long time, so we ended up chatting for a loooong time. I love catching up with him! We met in high school, but didn't become close friends until we were at the University of Western Ontario, and we've never looked back! I'd also like to mention here that he's part of the wedding party that's taking place in Greece!!! Oh, yeah! Bridesmaids!!! LOL! So while we were eating (I forgot to take a picture of my pasta), I thought I'd forgo dessert, but then I saw deep fried pizza dough. Ugh, wha??? I'll let the pictures do the talking:

 Yeah, that LOOKS small, but it was a pretty big serving! Look at the Sports Writer's chocolate sundae in the background!
It came with caramel dipping sauce, which looks small, but it's so deceiving since it was a large dish. I couldn't even eat all of it and took it home to my dad :)

If we didn't eat out enough, I made sure we had plenty to eat and last month I tried a new shepherd's pie recipe from Canadian Living (magazine) and it was very good (although I prefer my mom's recipe), and I also made stuffed vegetables (Italian, not Arabic, style):

 The veggie and meat mix cooked
 The potato and cauliflower mash on top (I could have just eaten this mash combo it was THAT delicious! I need a new synonym for delicious!!!). This is before it went into the oven.
 After the "Saucy Shepherd's Pie" came out of the oven ;)
 Stuffed veggies: green peppers, yellow zucchini and eggplant/aubergine. This doesn't look all that appetizing, does it?
 My dad opted for the stuffed eggplant first :)
I went for the smaller yellow zucchini.

And because that wasn't enough, I baked banana bread, three loaves of it, lol, as I tried to perfect the recipe. The first time I made it with some cuties I babysat:

This was the kids' loaf! I sent it ALL home with parents except for the first piece which I tasted (hence the bite marks you can see), to ensure it was edible before sending it out into the big, bad world!
The perfected recipe (third loaf), sans chocolate chunks (I don't like chocolate!). It's AMAZING!!! Can't take all the credit though! Here's the link for the recipe, but please note that I do NOT like chocolate or nuts, so I don't add either to my recipe. Also, I do NOT have Coeliac disease, but just wanted to try something different: http://slimpalate.com/banana-bread-paleo-grain-free-gluten-free/

The continuous celebrations and eating out were a constant reminder of my birthday, but perhaps it was okay that it was like it was on steroids this year! I mean I've not done anything incredible in my life and I'm certainly not special, but being 33 years young and very happy with who I am, what I have and what I've done and just as importantly, who I'm not, what I don't have/need and what I haven't (yet?) done, is an accomplishment to me.