Brotherly combat – Round 3 – 2017

The bell rings announcing another battle of the cutting boards. 1 year after the infamous tie of summer 2016, we are both sharpening our knives for redemption. The amateur chopping of vegetables, the nervous chatter and the blissfully loud music announces another edition of the culinary combat.

My appetizer

This was the third annual cook off between myself (Nick) and my little brother (Jojo). We had been improving our games the entire off season in preparation for this event.

It was a blazing hot summer night in Sudbury Ontario. The star-studded, 3 person crowd was buzzing with excitement like a swarm of bees. The theme for this clash was Canada. Pretty broad right?

This was a 4 round cook-off. We included an extra dish in order to push ourselves over our limitations. These rounds included specific challenges as well, carefully selected by the judging committee.

Round 1 – 4 ingredients or less.

We had to muster up a tiny appetizer or amuse-bouche with the use of only 4 mere ingredients.

Nick: I made a pretty good dish with only 4 ingredients. The trick is to use the ingredients in multiple ways. Mushroom caps with truffle Parmesan cream and fresh oregano. The plate was met with adequate remarks. There wasn’t mushroom for improvement. (I’m sorry.)

Jojo: Joel made a green curry Thai salad with pear. The taste amazing, and trans-formative but the plate was simply a little to big for the judges liking.

Though I have the memory of a plank of wood, I recall that I took this round.

Round 2 – Canadian classic appetizer

This dish had to be a representation of Canadian classic ingredients or meals. This was challenging because of the clear lack of culinary identity in Canadian cuisine. Nonetheless, we did our best and I think our meals came out pretty good.

Nick: I made my take of a poutine. I used thin sweet potatoes, made a stout and pork belly gravy. I added grilled crab and the “crispy porkbelly”.

*Note: I was not vegetarian at the time. This dish was not my finest work, although the sauce was luscious and great.

Jojo: Jojo courageously took the challenge of preparing a classic french cold soup called the vichyssoise. Usually a cream based soup made with boiled potatoes and leaks, traditionally served cold. He completely transformed it to represent “Canadianity”. He made a blackberry, mint and scallop vichyssoise, that impress the soup out of me. Fantastic display of creativity, and research.

Jojo took this round after quite a long discussion in the judges corner.

Round 3 – Canadian colors

This dish had to be visually appealing and use colors that represents the Canadian landscape or spirit. This challenge was hard, but is a challenge supposed to be easy?

Nick: I felt ambitious and tried to cook something I had never touched before. Duck. I tried to cook a magnificently tough duck leg, in under 40 minutes. What a mistake. It was partnered with a cinnamon beet purée. Overall, the idea was there, the execution was not.

Jojo: He made for a steak dish with charred broccoli and cranberry sauce. Not his best effort either.

We both failed to execute our dishes, so no one won this round.

Final Round – Specific Province or Territory

We needed to cook a dessert that used traditional ingredients from a specific territory or province.

We drew our respective region from the hat. Anticipation building. I pick my the name and I get, the Yukon. Not ideal, to say the least, but I was going to make it happen. Jojo picked Newfoundland. Each of us had some thinking to do.

Nick: I had to roll (baking pun) with my sub par baking skills. So I made a custard tart with fresh lacerated berries to represent their abundance in the Yukon. I have never celebrated so hard after taking baked goods out of the flaming hot oven.

Jojo: He made a raisin crumble with Newfoundland rum. His flavors were off the chart.

The coveted dessert round did not disappoint. Seemed like a tight race to the finish line. Until the judges decided, that I won the final decision.

Clearly our most intense battle yet, the result could of went either way. In the end, the judges get an interesting meal.

This is how we survived the night in Edmonton, without a place to sleep.

If you’ve read some of the stories from the blog, you have probably noted how my friends and I are unconventional in our decision making. I don’t know why we think the way we do, but it makes for some interesting stories, I guess. I can picture myself at 80 years old, sitting on a park bench, reciting stories from the “good ol’ days” to whoever is listening; like Forrest Gump.

4 am in the Denny’s

This story is brought to you by a lack of money in our bank accounts, the spirit of adventure, and Denny’s all day breakfast.

It is the glorious summer of 2017. We have just endured the 3 day journey trapped in the confines of the VIA Rail explorer train from Sudbury to Edmonton, explored the deep wilderness of Banff national park, and barely survived the Calgary Stampede. Unfortunately, it was time to say goodbye to half of the travelling squad, as they were making their way back to Ontario. It was also farewell to the province of Alberta.

The two of us that remained felt the gloom take over, as we watched the rental car take our friends away. They had left us in the middle of an Edmonton suburb, with bags on our back, and no where to go. We had a train scheduled for 10 am that morning, so we saw no sense in getting a good night sleep at a hotel. By that point, the trip consisted of ramen noodles and sleeping in tents, so why stop that now?

We seriously had no idea where to go, so we regrouped at a local grocery store to discuss our options. We had to survive the night in Edmonton, until our train the next morning, and the option of checking into a hotel room was out of the question. We contemplated hitting the town, enjoying ourselves, but had nowhere to store our 80 pounds of bags and camping equipment. Finally we decided we needed a shower, so we used our trusty GoodLife fitness passes to enter a 24/7 gym. That bought us a few hours of steam room, a quick workout and a shower. The hands on the clock showed midnight, and we had nearly run out of ideas.

We decided there was only one place that we could find shelter, water, booze and delicious all night breakfast — Denny’s diner. The place was rocking the moment we sat down with our enormous bags at a booth near the crane machine. I order an omelet of some sorts and a coffee with Baileys. The clock hit 4 am, as we were running out of things to talk about, and had ordered our 7th orange juice so they would not kick us out. The game plan transitioned to a series of sleeping shifts of 30 minutes.

We adopted the Denny’s as our home ’till about 6 in the morning. We then took a cab to the train station and slept under the stars leaning on the VIA Rail doors, just waiting for them to open up.

After that incredibly long night, we were well on our way to Vancouver, guided by the winding railroad.

(Did you know it only took 10 years to build the railway across Canada? Absolutely insane.)

https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/railway-history

Never enter abandoned houses, the terrifying tale of our close encounter

This story began with an idea, that evolved into a mistake.

I want to begin this story by thanking everyone for the wonderful support I’ve been receiving for my last two stories.  In the spirit of the theme of ridiculous tales and mistakes from my life, here is the story of my friends and I’s life-threatening experience, going a little off course, coming back from a road hockey tournament in Ottawa.  This one is pretty ridiculous. So buckle up.

We were 8 young adults on the way to our annual road hockey tournament in the nation’s Capital. This was a tradition dating 4 years and it was always promised by the organizers to be the best weekend ever.  The promise was always fulfilled. This weekend was no different.

These 3 days filled with concerts, aggressive ball hockey on the soft asphalt and questionable hotel etiquette.  But that’s not where the story is.  This terrifying tale begins on the ride home.

My friends and I were desperately trying to extend our best weekend ever, so on the way back from Ottawa, we decided to take the scenic route. We veer right from the Trans-Canada highway, hoping to cross the provincial border to la belle province of Québec. This small trail leads us to a strange ferry that transported cars from one side of the Ottawa river to the other. It’s hard to describe but it sort of looked like a parking lot bouncing off the shores of the river with the help of a long copper cable.

It was a Sunday afternoon, we had school the next day.  This was a 6-hour drive. To no surprise, our adventurous spirit won against our reason, so we drove the Nissan Pathfinder onto the platform, and let the river take us to the other side.

We ended up in a variety of strange little towns that were really not what I expected.  It was like the platform brought us to the past. Old worn down buildings, it looked like a ghost town.  This drive was definitely a weird one. But it was about to get weirder.

Someone had the brilliant idea to inspect an old abandoned farm like Scooby-Doo and the mystery gang.  We proceed to park our car, jump a short fence and walk through the field towards the broken down home and barn. Yes, this is trespassing, I am sorry.

What we found was pretty shocking.  The house was exactly what we expected, broken down, full of ancient furniture and features.  But behind the house, a pile of what looked like dog bones caught our eye. I can honestly tell you, I had the weirdest feeling while being there.  Like something was going to happen. That did not stop us from entering the barn.

One of my friends yells out a “CAWKAWW”, meaning we were in trouble.  It was instant panic.  We had spotted people at our car, blocking the road and slowly walking towards us. I could hear one of my friends (who shall not be named) in the back of me whispering “I’m going book it, I’m going to run”. We convince him to walk with us towards the visitors.  In the back of my mind, I was still thinking, please don’t run, I am so slow.  We get close to our new friends, and we got a good look at them.

The first guy was an older gentleman in his sixties.  He was wearing alligator skin boots, a purple silk tuxedo with a bowtie, and a cape.  To top it all off, he was also wearing a fedora with a red feather.  Clearly an intimidating outfit.  He had a strange entourage behind him composed of what looked like his son, and 2 tall women standing in the back of a pickup truck. Before I can get any word out, the man in the purple suit says this “You know someone died in that house before.” He told the tale of a taxi driver from Montreal who took a woman hostage and drove all the way to this house to make his demands.  He got shot down by the police in that very house. He explained how that was his land and was apparently a buffalo farm. With no buffalo’s in sight, this was very confusing.

He topped it all off with the fact that he has access to many higher-ups in some motorcycle gang.

I try explaining to the man in a panic, that we were only stretching our legs. To no avail.  He kept passive-aggressively suggesting that this might of been our last day on this planet, in the calmest voice possible.  This made it even more terrifying.

These are some direct quotes from this encounter:

“You know it’s like the deep south around here, like Alabama.  You step on someone’s property, who knows what might happen.”

“You guys are lucky it was me who found you and not my neighbor down the road. He’s done some crazy stuff. He would do anything for me, ANYTHING.”

Yes, we outnumbered them and probably could have easily run away. But what he was saying froze us.  Eventually, we got out of there with no physical injuries.  But the image remains, of the crazy man with the purple suit and the alligator boots.  If I could just stop one person from trespassing into an abandoned house, this story will have done its job.

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Why did I buy a 1984 Camper Van?

You know that old saying “this mistake had to be made.” Well I will be perfectly honest, my friends and I could have went on without buying this camper van.

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What you are about to read, is the reason my friends second guess my brilliant eureka ideas.  I want to clarify, we were young, ambitious and could not bother analyzing any decisions before they were made.  What an amazing time in our youth.  This is the story of our failed road trip to the east coast, and the purchase of a 1984, potentially stolen, rancid, nonfunctional Dodge Ram van off Kijiji.  This is my attempt to do this story justice.

The year is 2016, my friends and I are in our first year of University and we were clearly in need of a new adventure.  I had been casually scouting the Kijiji car pages for quite some time, and finally, this gorgeous piece of machinery caught my eye.  Fully equipped with a kitchen, professional stereo system, room for 12, Woodstock 99 stickers and a flag with a smiley face on it. This thing was perfect. Or so I thought.

I consulted the group and we all agreed that this was a reasonable idea for a group of university students with no mechanical experience and barely any money.  We pooled together 1300$ for the van and sent our prestigious offer.  Without hesitation, the seller agreed to the price.  This was suspicious, but the team was oblivious to reason.  Excitement and adrenaline took over our cognition. The van had to be driven up to us from Southern Ontario, about a 5-hour drive from Sudbury. The seller was kind enough to bring it over to us, free of charge.

The day came when we spotted that beautiful red pile of rust whistling down highway 69 towards our meeting point.  To this day, I have never felt a rush quite like that one.  My first thought: I’m home. The seller immediately steps out of the van, followed by his friend in a small sedan.  He introduces himself as AJ and gives us a quick tour of the van.  Our original plan was to have a friend’s coworker, who was a mechanic, take a peek at the vehicle.  He was on his lunch break and decided not to inspect the vehicle.  Instead, we got one of our friends to pose as a mechanic and inspect the car!  To be fair, he did know more about mechanics than any of us. He gives us the thumbs up, and we buy it.

The second we hand over the envelope with the money, AJ rushes to this friends car to leave.  I notice and rush out towards him, to simply ask him for a receipt and the ownership.   He assures me it’s in the glove box and peels out like The Rock in fast and furious.  We tried to keep our composure until he was gone.  The instant he was out of sight, we erupted of joy.  Hugs here, high fives, we are f***ing van owners.

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Anyone reading this story can most likely predict what happens next.  We put the key in the ignition, turn it and the van does not start.  It was like we took off the goggles that made everything look perfect, and we could see clear as day.  First of all, the van smelled like 3 generations of smoking cigarettes and weed concentrated into this tin can of a van.  The speakers were stolen, as they read “property of Belleville rentals, not for sale”.  The van was equipped with an aftermarket, homemade kitchen that had the propane tank strapped to the bottom of the van. The Woodstock stickers and the smiley face flag were present as promised.  This was a disaster. But we still had hope.

Finally, we get the machine moving, our spirits are rising up once again.  We change the battery, we bring the van to a mechanic, we are back on track.  We are planning renovations for the interior, getting quotes from suppliers, visualizing our trip. When all of a sudden we realize, we need to change the ownership.  AJ did not leave the ownership nor the receipt in the glove compartment.  What was in the glove compartment was the receipt from the previous owner, before AJ.

He had bought the van 2 weeks prior, for 200$.

This man had played us like a fiddle. How can he sleep at night? Either way, we had a massive issue.  We were in possession of a van that wasn’t our own, with no receipt, and it barely ran. I tried contacting AJ to at least get the official documents we needed to become the owners of the van. To no surprise, he disappeared off the face of the earth.

The van ended up being a very interesting decoration in my friend’s backyard for a while.  We later sold it for 400$, to someone in need of a fixing project.  As for AJ, I did end up finding him.  Using the power of the internet and his plenty of fish account. The moral of the story should be clear.  Buy a van off Kijiji, makes for a hell of a story.

Please share your own misadventures with Kijiji in the comment section! Please share and like the blog post as well.

How I Survived Riding the Cross Canada Passenger Train

My mother always told me to explore one’s own country, before stepping out into the world. Coming from Canada, it’s tough to traverse all of its untamed surfaces. Luckily for me, the Canadian train company Via rail offered to citizens from the age of 18-25, the chance to ride across the country for the month of July. This coveted Willy Wonka-like  ticket cost 150 Canadian dollars and its purpose was to commemorate Canada’s 150th anniversary. Immediately, my travel companions and I hopped on board. After several hours of phone calls, relentless emails and soothing elevator on-hold music, we secured four tickets to scavenge the great Canadian railroad.

The volume of interest generated was insurmountable for the company and the train carts were rapidly filled to the overhead compartments with young freight hoppers. For a group of twenty-year-olds, this was like the hatch-lings first flight from the nest. Excitement and wanderlust coursed through our veins as we approached the underwhelming hut facing the train tracks in the heart of the rural northern Canadian town’s industrial park. As dawn approaches, our enthusiasm is at its peak. Eyes baggy from lack of slumber, we jumped on board the passenger vessel like it was the train to Hogwarts, and we headed west in search of gold. Our first destination was the scenic town of Banff, in the heart of the northern rocky mountains. Hiking the hazardous rocky top of Pharaoh’s peak was our goal. Three days later was our expected time of arrival.

We were still 3 moons away from reaching our target. After an hour, desperation loomed over us. The thought of three full days on this mechanical bastille covering three Canadian provinces and close to three thousand kilometers ( 1864.114 miles) crushed our spirits. What happened next, caught us off guard. As we gazed towards Lake Superior’s glistening whitecaps and rolled through the repetitive lush Boreal forest of North-Western Ontario, there was a mutual unspoken agreement within the confines of the train. If we were to be stuck in here, we would enjoy our time. These three days turned into an adult summer camp on rails. The comradery between young passengers and the Via rail crew was like something only seen in movies. Stops were made in small secluded railroad communities like Hornepayne.

The large group of strangers turned into traveling companions rushed towards the local watering holes to reward their relentless patience with a cold brewed beverage. We would return to the vehicle bearing alcoholic souvenirs from our short one hour visits to these boondocks. At night, we would sneak over to the complimentary glass bubble train cart. This wagon was equipped with heavily cushioned seats and a glass casing roof that pierced through the night sky. The wagon was raised slightly above the rest, giving a scenic view of the night sky, untouched by the detrimental light pollution. Also visible was the tail of the train, confidently winding through the evening. The intoxicating sounds of the train whistle, the laughter of the young new friends and a poor rendition of the Canadian national anthem serenades us through the night. We head back to our seats to find out they were all taken.  The train employee presented us the option of sleeping sitting at the dining cart dinner tables, or stay up for the night, waiting for seats to clear up.  We settled with crashing in the bubble dome.

The warm sun rays beating down on our hungover faces wakes us up for another day on the rails. To my surprise, a sea of golden grain fields dominates the landscape. We were in the Canadian prairies. There’s an old saying that says, if you lose your dog in the prairies, you can watch him run away for a day. Let’s just say the rumors are true. Our clan sets up for another evening in the dome, when the train is forced to stop for the night. Our disappointment was brief. The night sky was painted by a fantastic thunderstorm. Lightning was striking at an incredible rate, using the flatlands as its canvas. It was a spectacular and memorable light show that left everyone in the glass bubble in complete disbelief. Before my train adventure, if I could skip the travel and arrive at the destination, I would of. No longer, I’ve learned that the journey can be more enjoyable than the destination. This ride was off the rails.

If I have one piece of advice for anyone jumping on a similar adventure, pack a ridiculous amount of food, and do not forget the spirit revitalizer (alcohol). Since the train is not equipped with refrigeration, nor with a kitchen open for passengers, I’ve made up my grocery list of key items that you will not regret having for the 3 day journey.

Grocery list

  1. 2 reusable water bottles. At least one of them needs to be opaque.
  2. Several packets of dried oatmeal.  (They do offer free hot water on the train.)
  3. 1 750 mL bottle of Pimm’s. (I find this spirit is relatively independent, meaning it does not necessarily need ice. It also has a lower alcohol percentage, meaning a smoother finish from those water bottles.)
  4. Several cups of dried ramen noodles with vegetable seasoning.
  5. Inno’s food coconut clusters. (These are ridiculously delicious and they fill you up.)  

6.  Many Cliff protein bars.

7. Basic toiletries.

8. Several hours of new music, podcasts, or downloaded episodes.

9. 2 good books.

10. A comfortable neck pillow. (VERY IMPORTANT)

11. Sense of adventure, patience, and courtesy towards others.

This is how you conquer the grill as a vegetarian

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Where I’m from, springtime is the boost of morale that every Canadian desperately needs after the everlasting dreary winter.  Spring means a few things, that weird smell born from the melting snow and the awakening of the earth, the unnecessary wearing of shorts and of course, barbecues.

As a vegetarian going through his first spring, I feared I would miss out on this fantastic tradition.  It’s really hard to get a satisfying taste of the charcoal, eating simply vegetables.  So I decided to design a recipe that captures the taste of the grill, the feel of springtime and a vegetable dish that stands up to any grilled meat dish.

What you will need

  • 2 large eggplants
  • 2 tablespoons of plant-based butter
  • 1 tsp of ginger
  • juice and zest from half a lime
  • 1 full lime
  • salt, pepper
  • fresh cilantro
  • crushed up sunflower seeds
  • Greek yogurt
  • hot sauce

How you will do it

  1. In a bowl, mix the cold butter with the grated ginger, lime zest, and juice.
  2. Cut the eggplants in halves.  Top with the compound butter.
  3. Add the lime to the grill, as well as the eggplant.
  4. After about 5 minutes on each side, they should be ready.
  5. Squeeze the grilled lime onto the eggplant.  Top with cilantro, and crushed seeds.
  6. Combine Greek yogurt with hot sauce, lime juice, and cilantro to make a dipping sauce.
  7. Enjoy!

The secret to vegetarian late night food

Too often enough, at the dawn of a night of ravenous drinking and dancing, I end up hungry.

I am assuming this is the case for a lot of young adults celebrating one of life’s simplest pleasure, the devil’s sweet nectar.  It is clear that a post-alcohol hankering is a scientific fact. Many culinary establishments have begun serving food late night that appeals to the most intoxicated of minds.  The all-day breakfast specials come to mind, the 24/7 drive-thrus at fast food restaurants, and in my hometown, Peppi Panini and their signature 11pm-3am hours and famous panini pressed sandwiches.

Before converting to the vegetarian diet, my tipsy escapades were nothing but gravy.  I never had issues with finding a dish that could most satisfy my current state of inebriation and my night owl schedule.  Then everything changed.  I was having an immense amount of trouble with late night snacks in general. I was sick of having the stale Mcdonald’s fries every time.  I had to design a recipe that satisfied my cravings.  So here it is.

I just want to clarify that this recipe does not promote alcohol abuse, it is simply a way to avoid jealousy late at night when your friends are glowing with the radiance of culinary satisfaction.  This dish is QUICK, easy to make, and most importantly, delicious.

These are my quick noodles with spicy peanut sauce.

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What you’ll need

1 pack of average rice noodles (I like a thicker noodle to take on the sauce.)

2 tbsp of peanut butter

1 tsp rice vinegar

1 tsp soy sauce

3 drops of fish sauce

1 tsp of hot sauce

1 clove garlic

1/2 a cup crushed peanuts

1 tsp of sesame oil (Vegetable oil if you don’t have any)

1 chopped green onion (optional)

How you’ll do it

  1. Soak the noodles in hot water until they are soft.
  2. In a pan or a wok, add all the elements into the pan and cook until you get a golden brown sauce.
  3. Add 1 tablespoon of water if the sauce seems to thick.
  4. Finally, add the noodles to the sauce, and cook for 2 minutes, while tossing.
  5. Top with peanuts and onions.

This is so simple to make and you will be sure to go to sleep satisfied.  Enjoy!

Jack climbed the bean stock for these breakfast beans

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This is one of my favorite things to eat for breakfast and at any time of the day or night.

My girlfriend and I struggle with breakfast food, as we had to break out of the bacon and eggs routine.  We stopped eating crepes with ham and brie, so we needed another breakfast meal that let us wake up on the right foot, ready to conquer the day.

Reminiscing about childhood meals is my main fountain of inspiration.  I didn’t have to think too hard to figure out who was the morning hero in my brunch spread.  It was beans.  It has always been beans, never doubted it for a second. The kind of beans that were brought to you 10 minutes after your hungry man breakfast plate arrived at the table.  I always had such admiration for that underrated unsung hero of the morning feast.  I dipped my toast in it, throw them in my homefries or simply just eat them with my spoon.

What people do not realize, is that first of all, the craftsmanship and time that goes into making a dish of this caliber are insurmountable for students and people with a busy schedule. Secondly, they simply contain meat products.  So I decided to create my own version, that takes way less time and effort, and that has the same level of flavor. This recipe immediately became a staple in my house. SO here it is, change it up with the recipe.

These beans are sweet, sticky, salty and they’ll go well with anything you pair them with for breakfast. They go perfectly with a nice rye toast.

Breakfast refried beans

What you will need

1 can of white beans

1 tsp of dijon mustard

1 tbsp of molasses

1 tbsp maple syrup

salt, pepper

1/2 an onion

1 clove garlic

1 dash olive oil

chili flakes

How will you do it?

  1. In a saucepan, add the olive oil and cook down the onion and garlic.  Add the chili flakes in the oil.
  2. Rinse the beans in water, then add to the pan.
  3. After that, add the maple syrup, the molasses, and the mustard. Add 1/2 a cup of water.
  4. Cook on medium heat for about 15-20 minutes.
  5. Serve with toast and fruit!