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Earnestly Good Ice Cream

Earnest Ice Cream 2

Earnest Ice Cream takes the business of making good ice cream seriously. Their tagline after all is “Seriously Good”, and in each glass pint the ingredients are seasonal and often inspired by the diverse cultures in their East Van hood. From Strawberry Basil to Cardamon and Mexican Chocolate, every hand labelled jar packs a punch. Just over a year ago their name began popping up amongst locavores who’d gotten hooked on their ice cream at farmers markets and artisan stores around town. I first bumped into a pint of their Pumpkin Pie on a rainy autumn morning at the Winter Farmers Market. It’s been a guilty affair since. I could return their jars for a $1 refund, but why when they double as a compact flower vase?

I don’t know about you, but ice cream is my happy place. So, it came as the perfect summer’s treat to hear that Earnest Ice Cream was finally opening their very own ice cream parlour. I arrived at last Thursday’s inaugural launch 5 mins after their 5pm opening time to find they were already in full swing. Those that were seated with ice cream in hand, also guarded several pints at their table. By 5:15, the line was out the door. I whisked up a scoop of their Whiskey Hazelnut and didn’t think twice about picking up an extra pint for the road.  As founders Ben and Erica say, “a world without ice cream? it would be awful, and sad to think about.” Well, lucky for us, we don’t have to.

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The little red truck that could

PazzaRella Truck

Pizzas are a dime a dozen in this city. My stomach rumbled for a slice, and not the $3 variety of a pie and pop combo. I stumbled down to PazzaRella food truck in Victory Square, to see for myself what a food truck with a wood-fired dome oven would serve me up.  (*Hint – keep your peepers open for the red truck with a chimney). With a set-up like that, these folks don’t mess around. Their Neapolitan style pies are as close to Naples as you’ll get without a plane ticket.

Wood Fired Pizza

As Canada’s first wood-fired pizza truck, they make a mean pie with limited space. Their concept is straightforward – use what’s fresh, and keep the ingredient list minimal. Observing the Vera Pizza Napoletana tradition, they use only Caputo flour from Naples, San Marzano tomatoes (long heirloom tomatoes from Italy) and Fior-di-latte (fresh mozzarella). The dough consists of just 4 ingredients – flour, water, yeast and sea salt. No rolling pins required here, since the dough must be hand-stretched. They’ve also mastered the perfect cooking time of just 90 seconds at 750F.  Just long enough to produce a thin and soft crust, with a slightly wet centre that’s easily foldable.

PazzaRella Sign

The Neapolitan pizza craze has swept Vancouverites off their feet like a modern day Casanova. People flock like pilgrims to the hot spots in town like Via Tevere, which often has a line-up of at least 10 deep before their doors even open.  Even amidst the multitude of choices, PazzaRella stands out, offering a substantial 10 inch pie for $10 or less.  The menu is basic, anchored with staples like a classic margherita, proscuitto and arugula, and salami pizza, plus a roster of weekly specials.

Smoked salmon pizza

I couldn’t resist the wild smoked salmon pizza special. After a 90 second blast on the hot stone surface, the crust was ready. It was quickly assembled with a light cream sauce as the base, topped with slices of wild smoked salmon, fior di latte, fresh arugula and drizzled with a pesto olive oil and delivered piping hot.

Neapolitan style pizza is best served straight from oven to plate. Save the take-out for Pizza Hut. The serving is generous for one, and conservative for two. The crust was light and soft with just enough chewiness to the bite. While not a traditional combination, the smoked salmon and arugula made for a fresh West Coast spin. The only thing missing might be a sprinkle of capers and extra olive oil on the side to mop the crust up with. You would never guess that something this good was made from the back of a truck.

PazzaRella Truck Back

“Christmas cookies and happy hearts, this is how the holiday starts…”

Christmas cookies

Christmas is about rituals. I am that person that attempts to send 2 dozen hand-written Christmas cards around the globe. They never make it in the mail box until the 22nd, and every year, I vow to start earlier. I look for the Christmas tree guy to set-up shop in the empty lot up my street, and try to haul the heftiest noble fir home, only to find that I can barely get it through the door. I wrestle the tree to sit in its stand; much to the chagrin of my parents who beg me to choose a “smaller tree” every year. You get the picture, I’m a slave to re-creating the “Martha Stewart” magic of the season.

My kitchen turns into a cookie factory at Christmas. Over the course of a night or two, I’ll churn out hundreds of cookies from gingersnaps to shortbread. I tuck them tightly into glass jars before sealing them with a ribbon and a label.

I prefer savoury to sweet, which is why I’m a fan of shortbread that makes good with cheese and herbs. Here’s a tried and true recipe for Rosemary Parmesan Shortbread. The fragrance of the rosemary really comes through, while the confectioner’s sugar adds just the amount of sweetness to cut through the sharpness of the parmesan.

While the cards never make it on time, the cookies always do.

shortbread

Rosemary Parmesan Shortbread 

Recipe courtesy of Food Network

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup finely grated parmesan
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp water (if needed)

1) Put the flour, sugar, rosemary, salt and parmesan into the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine.

2) Add the butter and pulse until a soft dough forms; the dough should hold together when squeezed with your hands. If not add water and pulse until combined.

3) Spread a large piece of plastic wrap and spread the dough onto it. Using the plastic wrap as a guide, form the dough into a loose log along 1 edge of the long side of the sheet.

4) Roll the log, twisting the plastic gathered at the ends in opposite direction until the dough is tight and compact; about 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Chill in the refrigerator until firm, about an hour.

5) Preheat over to 375F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Slice the dough log into 1/3 inch thick slices and arrange onto the baking sheet, about an inch apart.

6) Bake until the edges just begin to brown, about 12-14 mins.

7) Cool the shortbread on the pan for 5 mins. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Store the shortbread in airtight containers at room temperature.

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Always take a Wildebeest by the horns

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With a $161.28 bill, it may look like a feast was ordered for four, but really just for two gluttons who took Wildebeest by the horns. As the name suggests, anticipate both rustic and gamey fare on a carnivore heavy menu. There is a small selection of seafood, but let’s be honest, you didn’t come here for the halibut. It’s nose to tail dining, a trend long lauded on the global food scene (think The Black Hoof in Toronto, or St. John’s in London), but our West Coast menus have been slow to embrace.

The meats are sourced from local farms, as are the seasonal vegetables. The dishes are meant to be served family-style, which made it tough to differentiate between starters and the mains, or at least that was my excuse for rattling off half the menu. Regardless, prepare yourself for a rich undertaking. The waitress raised an incredulous eyebrow after I placed an order of foie gras poutine, bone marrow, lamb tartare, veal sweetbreads, beef tongue and pork jowl. This was after a bowl of smoked castelvetrano olives and truffle popcorn and before a warm chocolate lava cake and apple sorbet.

The buttery bone marrow was simply roasted with a dash of sea salt. So good, it’s since inspired me to seek out my own version at home. Here, tartare is served with a spin, using lamb instead of steak, along with pickled onions, nasturtium emulsion and herb croutons. Poutine, a classic guilty pleasure, was made even more criminal topped with foie gras. To be honest, I can’t elaborate on the beef tongue or the pork jowl, probably because the veal sweetbread put me over the edge. In spite of it all, I couldn’t pass up the apple sorbet with vanilla grapefruit crème anglaise, granola and finished with an egg yolk – it didn’t disappoint.

My ordering was ambitious, excessive even. Dare I say, I was satiated to the point of  nausea. The cab ride home was dicey. I kept it together though, since my conscience couldn’t let me regurgitate a meal of such epic proportions.

Wildebeest | 120 West Hastings | Dinner 5 – midnight | Brunch 10 -2 Sat & Sun

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Hawaii (Part III) Hang Ten

No trip to Hawaii would be complete without an attempt to hang ten. We found Brother, our surf instructor in a little beach hut just outside the Waikiki Outrigger Hotel. In his mid 40s, bronzed like cocoa, bearing a pot belly, he appeared an unsuspecting instructor. Without wasting a minute, he got us suited up, giving us a crash course on the basics before taking us in the water to test our moxie.

Little did I know that the hardest part of surfing was not the balancing act.  With a little push and the right timing, finding balance on the board took little effort. Half the battle was the paddling back to our starting point, which seemed to take triple the time it took to ride the 3o second wave. Between waves, Brother revealed that he was a former pro-surfer, who used to compete in California. Every once in a while we’d see a sinewy old man skim past us. Brother would give him a shout-out. He told us later that the man, who is in his 80′s, has been around since Brother was a kid, and is still riding the waves in his twilight years. Brother no longer competes. He teaches surfing Monday to Friday, and in between trains his nephew, a former pro-baseball player, to surf. His life is simple, but content.  He beams with pride as he tells me he has repeat customers from Australia who look him up every time they’re back on the island.

No sooner had I stripped off my wet suit, I was already itching to get back on the board. Brother chuckled and said, he’d didn’t know about me, but he’d be having breakfast. He told me I could return after lunch if I really wanted a second go, but his prescription was simply to relax.  If not today, he warned us our arms would be fatigued by tomorrow. Of course he was right. Nonetheless, we found ourselves back a few days later for round two of hang ten the Hawaiian way.

Hawaii (Part II): Culinary Redux

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I’ve since learnt that the zoo is only a hop, skip, away from Kapahulu street, which houses many a Hawaiian institution, including The Rainbow Drive-In, where the price of a hamburger was just $0.25 back in 1961. Prices haven’t changed much after 50 years, and you can still get a hamburger for $2. It’s also touted as an old haunt of President Obama’s student days. Further along the strip, you’ll come across Bailey’s Antiques and Aloha Shirts, an authentic Hawaiian shirt shop, where you will find vintage styles for $3000 dollars, or modern replicas for $3.99 and everything in between. Its walls are packed with rails and rails of Hawaiian shirts. Anthony Bourdain featured the shop on his show No Reservations, and was corralled into purchasing a $800 vintage Hawaiian number.

Tucked away on a side street is one of the best original shaved ice stands, Waiolas. You will be greeted by multiple flavours of syrup drizzled over a generous mountain of shaved ice. Just the thing on a hot day, and pretty hard to resist when topped with condensed milk. A few blocks down you’ll hit Leonard’s, a Portuguese bakery, where they are famous for their malasadas, which is described as “a donut without the hole”.  Best savoured when fresh and piping hot, either sprinkled with lillikoi or plain sugar, or stuffed with guava and coconut custards.

Rounding your way back on the other side of Kapahulu street, a pit stop at Ono’s is a must. A little mom and pop shop, it serves up traditional Hawaiian comfort food. The combination plate will give you a generous portion of pork lau lau, pork wrapped in taro leaf and slow cooked for hours, served with a side of rice, a dash of sea salt, raw onion, taro paste and hot chili sauce. Dead simple food, but deliciously comforting.

Because the locals have had to endure so many tourists, they may initially appear a little weary, but greeted with a smile and curious conversation they open up easily. We found Art behind the bar at the Side Street Inn, a local dive where chefs frequent after their long shifts, a place to shoot the shit over a beer.  Spicy Chicken (battered, marinated boneless chicken, deep-fried then dipped in the house spicy sauce), fresh Ahi Tuna Poke and “Side Style Fried Rice” (a salivating concoction of char sui, portuguese sausage, bacon, peas, carrots and green onion) are must-haves amongst other local pub fare.

Surging with adrenaline after our flight, my friend and I decided to walk all the way to the famed Side Street Inn, on a quiet Monday night from the main strip. A little ambitious to say the least, we made it there just before midnight. Finding the place hidden in an alley, we walked in to see a bunch of guys just staring at two girls who were clearly out of place. A little hesitant, we took a seat at the bar, where we were greeted by Art, who found humour in two lost tourists, and after warning us not to make the ‘Long March” back, he helped us successfully navigate the late night menu. I decided to consult Art with my list of researched restaurants, with every name I threw out, he chuckled unabashedly. Apparently my research was filled with tourist traps, he mocked my “taco Tuesday” joint and shrimp trucks. In pity, he offered up a few of his favourites, amongst them, the aforementioned Ono’s before sending us safely on our way in a cab.

Hawaii (Part I): Lost and Found

Honolulu holds a place in my heart. It’s the first place I traveled to while still in my mother’s womb, and up to the age of six,  our little family of three visited frequently. While Waikiki may be garish, my childhood memories of it aren’t. When I think of Waikiki, I think of my uncle and aunt jogging along the board walk, going about their daily routine. Both of them have since passed, and my most recent visit to Honolulu after over two decades was a study in retrieving lost and found memories.

Much of Honolulu hasn’t changed in over two decades. The architecture remains frozen in the “Tropical Modernist” style of the 50′s and 60′s post-war boom. Prior to Hawaii’s statehood in 1959, many young Modernist architects arrived on the island to find a solution to adapt the current design style of the era to the tropical climates of island life.  Today, the concrete masses of a bygone time are encroached by high-rises lining the strip, and hotels clamoring for real estate on the beach. It remains rampant with Japanese tourists. Macadamian nuts are still the souvenir de jour.

It’s impossible to know what is a memory from the age of six and below, or just fabricated fragments from stories and old photos. But, there are things that will always stick out, like the pool in my uncle and aunt’s apartment, which appeared so much larger as a child, but upon inspection now, it seemed fairly standard, almost small. I recall the zoo, and of course as child, it held no geographical context in my mind. I didn’t visit the zoo on this visit, but I passed its periphery many a time, and now I know its relevance on a map. It didn’t stop me from wondering whether the giraffes and elephants were still there though.

Regional Assembly of Text

If you stumbled across a stationary shop named “The Regional Assembly of Text“, you better be armed with an instrument, preferably one that wields the written word with a hefty salute before you march in.  Lucky for those devoted pen pals, this aptly named stationary store supplies just the apparatus to tackle the task.

The first Thursday of every month, The Regional Assembly of Text hosts a Letter Writing Club.  Ardent letter writers diligently queue up at this neighbourhood stationary store, eagerly awaiting the doors to unlock, ready to stake a seat at one of over a dozen vintage typewriters neatly assembled on a long table.  Tea and biscuits sit next to a generous supply of complimentary paper and envelopes.

A concentrated hush hoovers over the room.  With heads hunkered down, the only movement are fingers furiously tapping away.  Those that didn’t arrive early enough to snag a typewriter are stuck with good old fashion pen and paper.  They can’t help but steal furtive glances in the direction of the cacophonous symphony of sound, hoping they may entreat someone to relinquish their seat, so that they may finally trade in their pen for a mightier tool.

I spent one fine evening tapping out letters to friends around the globe.  Nothing really beats a handwritten, or in this case hand-typed letter.  There is no backspace or delete.  If you make a mistake, it sticks (although I cheat, and try to remedy my errors by unsuccessfully typing over them…).  There is something sacred about the art of letter writing, which is swiftly being diminished in an era of instant gratification.  Lost is the sense of anticipation that comes with delivering a postcard, a note, or a letter, and with it the anticipation of awaiting a response.

While I’m no less dependent on email, letter writing is one of my finer vices that I hope to defend. If you’re ever seeking inspiration for a letter to pen, visit Letters of Note. It’s a fanciful collection of letters, telegrams, memos, and postcards of fascinating correspondence between known and unknown individuals.

The Regional Assembly of Text, 3934 Main Street, Vancouver, BC.

Letter Writing Club – First Thursday of every month. All supplies provided.

In Pictures: South China

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Myths & Misadventures: South China


“Since China launched its reform and opening-up policy 30 years ago, Foshan has experienced a rapid and continued socio-economic growth. At present, she is dedicated to building a prosperous and harmonious city and a modern metropolis of profound culture and distinctive industry.” – Foreword, Guide for Foreigners in Foshan, 2010

I picked up a”Guide for Foreigners in Foshan” during a recent visit to South China, at one of the purported 5 star hotels we resided in. I, along with 13 of my extended family members, mostly comprised of septuagenarian aunts plus 2 uncles, and 4 cousins, were on a family sojourn to trace the roots of my paternal great grandfather. Foshan, was just one of the cities we passed on our 7 day bus tour of South China’s Guangdong Province.

There are no blue skies in South China. Even on a sunny day, the region is covered in a haze of brown smog. While “beautiful” isn’t the first word that comes to mind, “industrious” is. Everywhere you look, the region is eager to display what the process of “rapid and continued socio-economic growth” appears to be. What it looked like was a country impatiently building up their idea of a “modern metropolis”. Along the highway, derelict stone houses stand next to vast expanses of farmland, lined with the occasional palm tree. Tall cranes hoover like storks in a koi pond, while scaffolding surrounds the skeleton of the newest 50 storey plus high-rise. It’s all very disconcerting, and the dichotomies are stark.

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