Monthly Archives: March 2013

Araxi

Meal. Of. The. Week.
Or Month.
Or Year? Ok, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but this dinner was utterly sublime.

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A few years ago, Araxi was good. Now it’s great. Exceptional. Extraordinary. And, dare I say it, even better than last night’s Rimrock Café.

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The housemade bread was served with olive oil and butter, a really rich (but magnificent!) combo.

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Eve, Mom, and I strategized our meal with the utmost care: two shared small plates, and two large.

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Butternut squash soup with a touch of curry oil – just enough to taste, but not overwhelm.

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Our second appetizer was a beet salad with fresh mozzarella and candied pecans.

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Main dish no. 1: Arctic Char on roasted rapini, fingerling potatoes, dijon maple dressing, and potato foam.

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And… no. 2: Parmesan Polenta with butternut squash, roasted seasonal vegetables, tapenade, and romesco sauce.

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Finally, the four of us couldn’t resist the restaurant’s signature truffle fries, and truffley they were.

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Brace yourselves. It’s time for dessert. There were a few appealing options on the menu but none quite lived up to the sound of ‘Valrhona Chocolate Fondant: warm chocolate cake with salted caramel ice cream.’

Tangent: the consensus is that we really should have had two sticky toffee puddings last night rather than one of those and a chocolate cake – disappointing. As a result, Mom ventured forth a brave suggestion: two of the chocolate fondant. It was definitely the right decision.

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This cake. Mom even went as far as saying it may be one the best chocolate desserts she’s ever tasted. Eve wants it piped into her veins via IV.

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As though we hadn’t had enough to eat, our server brought a few little treats to round off the meal. The shortcake and chocolate cookie were good, but the financiers were easily the highlight. Moist and mildly sweet, they were delightful.

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Before leaving, we just had to take a look at the Araxi cookbook. What if it had the instructions for the butternut squash soup? Or better yet, that molten chocolate cake recipe?

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Well, it did. So, naturally, a copy came home with us, autographed to my sister and I by the chef and all!

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To Abby and Eve – Always eat well and hug a farmer.

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Rimrock Café

A couple trips to Whistler ago, we hit gold. We discovered the Rimrock Café. A casually sophisticated spot, this restaurant serves creative cuisine with distinctive and divine flavor combinations.

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The fluffy bread slices… that I somehow refrained from eating.

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My appetizer: sautéed wild mushroom salad with freshly made shoestring potatoes.

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Expecting sizable portions, Eve, Mom, and I split this delicious doozy of a main: salmon with goat cheese (who’da thunk it?), arctic char with porcini rub and wild mushrooms, and seared ahi tuna with wasabi butter, all served with fresh seasonal vegetables.

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The fish was hard to beat… but not impossible.

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This sticky toffee pudding is one of the few desserts that is as good as (or in this case better than) chocolate. Its mapley caramel character blew away the chocolate-hazelnut competition: not an everyday occurrence.

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Dad: “Guys, you can’t lick the plate!”

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Cows Ice Cream

Whenever my family finds itself at Whistler, we make a point of going to Cows. Cows is a small Canadian ice cream company that makes insanely good frozen treats, as well as tremendously funny bovine paraphernalia.

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They even make their own waffle cones right in store.

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Inside the shop, everything in sight is cow-themed, including the menu.

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It was a tough decision, but I finally decided on Moo Henry. Chocolate and oozing toffee, plus chunks of fudge and a few peanuts? Mmm!

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My mother opted for Wowie Cowie and Chocolate Monster… in one of those freshly cooked ice cream vessels.

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Remember how I mentioned bovine merch? How could I resist? Although ‘Gangnam Cow’ and ‘Moomoolemon’ were tempting, ultimately ‘keep calm and graze on’ was the winner.

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A Jaunt in Vancouver

The globetrotter that I am this spring, I’m spending spring break in Canada. Although the purpose of this transpacific trip was to ski at Whistler, my sister and I took a day off to explore Vancouver with Mom, and pick up Dad from the airport!

The first leg of the excursion was the scenic Sea-to-Sky highway, taking us from mountain to metropolis.

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Once in Vancouver, we headed straight for Granville Island, the site of an extensive daily public market.

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In order to get there, we had to take a very cute little ferry across the creek.

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Mom & Eve head down the dock.

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A rather aesthetically pleasing bridge & a charming sign.

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The market was set up inside the refurbished industrial shed.

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There were all kinds of berries (not local, unfortunately)…

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… and cute carrots …

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… and the most incredible maple syrup glazed salmon bites!

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I know they don’t look that enticing from the exterior of the glass case. In fact, we almost didn’t purchase any! On a bit of a whim, deciding to be adventurous, we bought the minimum amount – 50 g, 3 pieces. Thank goodness we were hungry, because a single bite was more than enough to convince us we had to have more. The salmon salesman hardly seemed surprised when we returned minutes later, requesting a large container of his produce.

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Of course, no food-buying expedition would be complete without a few morsels of cheese – preferably local, or at least Canadian. So far, I’ve only sampled the BC brie and the Quebecois curds. As delicious as they were, I have high hopes for the Okanagan goat.

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Don’t these look insane? This market was full of delicious looking cookies, cakes, and pastries. Unfortunately, it’s Passover. Meaning that cinnamon sensations and all other baked beauties are chametz, and thus trayf. Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy to resist.

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Photogenic salads and tapas for dinner!

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Then there was the matter of dessert.

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All in all, we had the making of a very good dinner.

But first, there was lunch to see to. And a hungry Dad, just off a 9-hour flight from Tokyo.

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We passed this unexpected piece of street art on our way down to Fisherman’s Wharf, the site of the seafood place we’d picked out for lunch.

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A little surprised to find a fish & chips shack instead of a bonafide restaurant, we were hardly phased. After all, the chef shops at the Granville Market!

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This family’s staple beverage: seltzer.

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In this situation, I didn’t really have a choice. It was fish & chips & a teeny bit of flour or no fresh cod or salmon at all! There was no question, really.

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I definitely made the right choice. It was fresh and flavorful and not to be missed!

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Sweet Arabic Eats

One of the most exciting aspects of travel is the food, and especially the sweets. Naturally, upon arriving in Dubai, I had to investigate.

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Wandering around in the older part of town, we came across Strange General Trading. It sounded like the perfect place to pinpoint some local treats.

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Sesame halva, or as it is called in the UAE, helwa. The store owners gave us samples of this chewy candy. Unlike the tahini-based confections I was used to, this helwa was flour-based and kind of gelatinous. It was good, but I have to admit, I’m still a die-hard tahini loyalist!

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Much of the Dubai I saw felt sort of overly grandiose and ersatz. But not ‘Strange General Trading.’ It was us and the locals.

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Strange General Trading had quite the saffron selection, one sachet of which had to come home with me.

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Later in the trip, during our desert excursion, I sampled a sweet that seemed to be a sort of dough puff coated in sugary syrup. I don’t know what they’re called but they certainly were delicious!

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Dried dates are good, but everything is better when covered in chocolate.

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After the concert, hungry musicians flocked to tables of baklava and other nutty confections.

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Of course, I couldn’t go home empty handed. So, I carefully stowed a box of tahini halva (4 different kinds!) from Strange General Trading in the middle of my lime green suitcase.

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Half of it disappeared the night I returned. It was a hit – the best halva I’ve ever tasted!

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Spectacular Sakura

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It’s truly spring in Tokyo. Sakura are everywhere: in every park, down every back street, lining every avenue. Today, I played hooky from school and went out to admire the blossoms before whisking off on a plane to Canada that night. A easy, breezy walk away, Aoyama Bochi (Aoyama Cemetary) has some of the prettiest blooms. I couldn’t stop snapping pictures, so here are a few favorites:

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Even though it was a sleepy Friday morning, I was not the only enamored flower admirer with a camera.

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Ohanami, or flower-viewing, is a spring tradition. The Bochi is a popular spot, with picnickers flooding its pathways every weekend. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to get it all (or almost all) to myself.

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Sakura season is ephemeral. The cherry blossoms bloom and then disappear within two weeks, leaving behind piles of petals for a few more days before those, too, vanish to make room for more summery specimens.

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My sister loves the photo. (She insisted I include it in my sakura-sum-up.)

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Wandering away from the Bochi, I passed my favorite art museum in the city: the National Art Center, Tokyo. It brings in exhibits from major galleries around the world and is less than a hop, skip, and a jump from home. With an architect for a mother, I can’t help but absolutely adore the space’s sleek silhouette and dramatic interior.

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The current exhibit: California Design – 1930~1965. I had to see it. With furniture, objects, and even swimsuits from that period, the show was enthralling. I have already promised to return with my mother and sister before it closes in June. If you’re in Tokyo and appreciate classy design, I highly recommend it!

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All in all, it was sunny, splendid day!

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Dubai Pt.2

When the festival finally began, rehearsals were intense, lasting into the late afternoon. But, of course, that didn’t mean there was time to explore.

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One afternoon, all 300 of us went out into the desert for dune bashing and dinner.

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Our driver, a badass.

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Since my sister mentioned the idea a while back, I have wanted to go to a place where all you can see is sand, 360º. This was one of those places.

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The car next to us, well, wasn’t in the best shape. Confidence instilling.

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Soon enough, the tire pressure had been lowered and the 40 4WDs were ready to hit the dunes. It turned out to be quite fun, if a little sickening…

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Anyways, onwards and upwards. Literally.

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Dubai is home to the world’s tallest building. The Buj Khalifa. 828 m.

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Come all the way to Dubai and stay on the ground the entire time? I think not.

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The views were unmatched.

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It felt like being in an airplane!

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Dubai Pt.1

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Last week, I travelled to Dubai for an International Honor Choir Festival. My first visit to the middle east, the trip was full of new sights, sounds, and tastes.

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We arrived in the city at 5 am on a sleepy red-eye flight. When the sun came up, we went exploring. It was another world out there! Different language, culture, landscape. Between buildings, in sidewalk cracks, there was nothing but sand. No weeds, no dirts, no grass, no nothing. It floored me. Dubai was really a cluster of constructions plopped down in the middle of the desert.

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This Emirate is famous for its extravagant malls. We even managed to find a Japanese food vendor. (Needless to say, no sampling took place.)

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The metro stations were sleek and modern.

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The hummus with dinner that night was smooth and flavorful, the pita puffed and perfectly fluffy.

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The next morning, we set out for the older section of the city.

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The gold markets were a sight to behold!

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As were the spice souks.

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The dry, bright weather of Dubai was a breath of fresh air. Who doesn’t love summer?

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An Oversized Oreo

This cake looks just like an oreo an tastes like one, too. Two layers of not-too-sweet chocolate cake with a thick, creamy layer of vanilla buttercream between them. Mmm, mmm, mmm.

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Along with the cake pop pan, my mother brought back another kitchenware impulse buy: a set of cookie-shaped cake pans.

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I originally made this cake for a friend’s half birthday (I missed her real one!) but when she was home sick, I had no choice but to find another audience. Luckily we honor choir singers had a 90 minute bus ride in store. The perfect time to enjoy a slice of chocolate cookie-cake. It was a hit, so I have promised to replicate this cake for the birthday girl!

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This recipe was adapted from the one on the cake pan box. While having these items makes for a cool looking cake, I’m sure it’ll be equally delicious made in any other accoutrement.

For the cake, you’ll need…

  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 220 g bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 3/4 cups (scant) sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • a generous 2 tbsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC (350ºF) and grease the pans. If you are using pans with flat bottoms, I recommend lining the bases with circles of wax paper.

2. Melt the chocolate and butter together in a double boiler over gentle heat, stirring until blended smoothly

3. Sift and whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt.

4. In another bowl, beat together the eggs, sugar, and vanilla. Then the chocolate mixture, and finally the dry mixture.

5. Divide and spread the batter evenly into the two pans. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out of center with a few crumbs on it.

And for the icing…

  • 4 1/2 cups (560 g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 185 g unsalted butter
  • 3 1/2 tbsp skim milk (you may or may not need to add a little more to adjust the texture)
  • vanilla!
  • a pinch of salt

Sift the sugar and mix all of the ingredients. If the icing feels too stiff, simply add a touch more milk. This buttercream is divine! The sugar-butter ratio works beautifully and makes for a smooth and sweet interlude to crumbly chocolate cake.

Assembly: Wait about 10-15 minutes before taking the cakes out of their pans. Put one layer down, smooth all of the buttercream frosting out evenly across the top, and lay down the second cake. Voila!

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Salsita and Singing

Last night, after a lengthy but enjoyable day of singing, my musical friends and I indulged in a marvelous mexican meal. Following the all-day choral festival, we honor choir members had an additional rehearsal for our concert this evening.

I absolutely adore singing, especially in large well balance choirs of talented musicians. The sound is simply incredible. Hands down, the center of a choir is my favorite place to listen to music. There, the strength of the fortes and the hush of the pianissimos are practically palpable. Every time, it amazes me that eighty different voices of different timbres, textures, and tones can produce a such unified, striking sound.

Our concert program for tonight includes music from classical style to gospel, 18th c. to contemporary. The whole set is splendid but, of course, I have a few favorites. Morten Lauridsen’s Dirait-on is stunning. It makes me swoon inside every time. On the other end of the spectrum, Giedrius Svilainis’ Vox Populi has a gorgeous forte fanfare of huge chords followed by a dance of intertwining and rhythmic vocal lines. The Sounding Sea, by Eric Barnum is something else entirely. A piece with wonderful text painting, it truly evokes the ocean. Listening until the very end is a must. It’s magical.

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A birds-eye view of last year’s group.

Alright, without further ado, back to the food.

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Located in Hiroo, Tokyo, Salsita is a mexican restaurant I’ve been meaning to try.

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A fairly small establishment, Salsita is a B1 restaurant with a cozy atmosphere.

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We started with chips and guacamole, an appetizer one of my friends who’s been to Salsita swears by. They did not disappoint.

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We also split these tortille vessel creations. I honestly don’t really remember what was in them, but whatever it was, it sure tasted good!

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We enjoyed Salsita’s festive placemats.

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I had enchiladas for my main. They were a bit spicy, but it’s basically impossible to go wrong with any dish where melted cheese is the main event.

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At the end of the evening, we grabbed ice cream before heading home. (Sorry, no picture, it disappeared too fast!)

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How better to end a night ended than with a little choir dress baking?

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