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March 2005 Archives

March 18, 2005

Random Question #1: When Playing Minesweeper...

... are you most frustrated when...

a) ... you accidentally click on the wrong square, losing the game?
b) ... you are forced into a situation where you have to guess, and choose the wrong square, losing the game?
c) ... you make a mistake of logic, losing the game?
d) ... you realize that you don't have Minesweeper installed on your computer and thus can't waste your time in this most frustrating of ways?

March 20, 2005

One New Recipe

I have a fair to middling number of cookbooks. Nothing like my Aunt, who has rooms full of cookbooks, but still, more than just a couple of them. I tend to opt for books that are more instructional than recipe collections. I like food porn with high gloss photos, too, but I mostly don't buy them. I also have a subscription to Cook's Illustrated.

In any case, with this collection being what it is, I still find myself ignoring it, and either not cooking at all, or making the same old things all the time. So my goal is to try at least one new recipe every week.

Last week, I made pasta with Cherry Tomatoes from the March/April Cook's. The sauce was lovely. It involves halving and baking the cherry tomatoes to concentrate the flavour, then tossing the pasta in the tomatoes. I didn't, however, find it very saucy. It was more like pasta and tomatoes in oil than a sauce. I think it would be improved by running half of the tomatoes through the blender to create more of a sauce. Of course, that would require owning a blender which, currently, I do not. So, perhaps in the future. The flavours were lovely, though.

This week, on the recommendation of my brother, I tried the Chicken Teriyaki recipe from the April issue. Where there's a March/April and April issue, I do not know.

I started off badly when I realized that the recipe called for chicken thighs with skin on, while I bought boneless, skinless ones. But that's okay, really, since this was more about the sauce than the chicken, anyway, and taking the skin off reduces the calories by a hell of a lot. I also couldn't find any 'Mirin', which is a type of Japanese rice wine, so I bought Sake, instead. The Cook's writer does specifically address the choice, indicating mirin was better but what I can find is better than what I can't. I'll check out one of the asian supermarkets later to see if I can find it there.

I put the chicken under the broiler and started the sauce, while I threw some asparagus into a pan to grill and sliced some mushrooms for a saute. Too many things going on at once, and I overcooked the chicken a bit. It was nice and roasty though, so the flavour was good. The sauce took a lot longer than the recipe suggested to reduce down and thicken, but my oh my, it was good. Tasty with a nice fresh flavour that you just don't get in most overly sweet teriyaki sauces.


Relevent Links:
Cook's Illustrated

March 21, 2005

Adega Restaurante

For last Friday night, I needed a place for dinner before a show we were seeing later at Club279. I'd been given the task of picking the restaurant by another Chowhound and was visibly wilting under the pressure. With my other, less knowledgeable friends almost any restaurant I pick ends up being better than their chain place usual but this was something more challenging.


The club is right up the street from the Canon theatre, so I trolled through some of the recent recommendations threads for people going to see Wicked. 'Been there, done that' dismissed a lot of the recommendations, but one struck me as some place new for me to try. I made reservations for Adega at 7:30.

When I arrived, I was seated immediately to wait for the arrival of the other chowhound. While the waiter offered a drink, there was no particular pressure in the direction of alcohol, and he was fine with just bringing me a bottle of still water for the table.

The meal opened with the serving of a plate of bread, olives and olive oil. The olives were a bit spicy, and I imagine them to have been very, very good olives, but frankly, I don't much care for olives, so I only had one. The bread on the other hand was much more interesting. There were two kinds, one a light, fluffy loaf that was good, but not particularly interesting. The other was a heavy, darkly roasted loaf, with a thick crust and a sweet, nutty flavour to the bread. That bread was absolutely wonderful and it took much of my powers of self-restraint to keep from eating it all before my dining companion arrived.

With her arrival, there came the listing of the specials. The waiter had some trouble remembering all the little details, but considering how detailed they were, and with four of them to remember, that's not surprising. I opted to order my entree off the menu, but chose the soup of the day, a potato and saffron soup, to start. The other hound chose the bisque from the regular menu as her starter.

My soup was good and well-flavoured, and served nice and hot. Lukewarm soup is one of my restaurant pet peeves, so I appreciated that aspect of it especially. It had swirls of chive cream as a garnish, which were overpowered by the saffron flavour of the soup itself, and actually looked a bit icky once the swirl was broken up into bits, so didn't add much to the experience.

For mains, I ordered the grilled tiger shrimp in piri piri, while she ordered the grilled calamari. The tiger shrimp came with 4 very nicely grilled, and very, very large tiger shrimp served on top of a bed of steamed (properly steamed, not overcooked at all) vegetables and roasted potatoes. The shrimp were succulent and the piri piri sauce was spicy and flavourful. It's not as good as the smokey citrussy piri piri at Chiado, but then what is?

I tried a bit of the Calamari, as well. It had been beautifully presented, curled up like a head of hair. The vinagarette dressing was tasty and a bit sweet without being overwhelmingly puckery or oversugared - and I find one of the two problems with most calamari dressings I encounter.

The dessert menu looked interesting but in the interests of time and waistlines, we passed on it in favour of the cheque which came promptly. With no alcohol, but two litres of bottled water, taxes and tip, the dinner for two came to $90.

As an added note, we were seated in the main room at a table removed enough from other occupied tables to have some privacy, but there were several booths tucked into alcoves where there would be even more privacy. Plus the wine cellar has a party table in it (for 20, I think), and they were seating a group down there while we were there. So lots of different options for the experience depending on what level of intimacy you want to create for your group.

Chowhound Dinner: Pura Vida

This month's Chowhound dinner was at Pura Vida Costa Rican restaurant, at the corner of Bloor and Landsdowne. Pura Vida, from what I gathered in my 11 hours in Costa Rica is the unofficial Costa Rican motto. They use it as a greeting, a rallying cry and a way of life.

Kathleen had helpfully stopped by earlier in the day to make arrangments, which was fortunate as they apparently had to make special plans to have an English speaking waitress available that evening. She was pleasantly accommodating and although English was clearly her second language very helpful and able to explain most things - except why the bread was described as 'naked' on the menu. She made recommendations and accommodations throughout the meal.

The group started with a couple of appetizers to share. Fried plantain with cheese was yummy, and nicely presented, returned to the skin of the plaintain. The naked wheat bread, which turned out to be fully dressed was like bruschetta on acid. Instead of watery tomato and basil, it was covered with a sweet and spicy salsa, melted cheese and jalapeno peppers. The bread itself was thick and tasty. We also ordered a plate of the house Nachos, which came, as the menu described them, 'a lot of goodies'. Covered in a sauce, cheese, and bits of many other things, the nachos were served in a pie plate that contained only some of the mess. The best part about it was that the tortilla chips being used were obviously freshly made. Some of them sogged under the pressure of the mountains of sauce above, which was unfortunate.

We each ordered our own entrees, and there were a few orders for rice dishes, one enchilada and two of the 'married plates', which we determined probably referred to a homestyle meal. The rice dishes certainly looked good and came with a generous amount of seafood.

The 'casado' with fish came with some lovely black beans, a healthy serving of some seasoned white rice, a bit of a salsa styled salad, some potato stew with a lovely flavour of cumin, and a fairly generous piece of white fish, pan fried with simple spicing. It was fairly plain food, nothing fance, no elaborate presentation, but the lack of adornment really let the quality of the ingredients shine through. The fish, while thinly filleted was moist and juicy and flavourful on its own merits. The rice was nicely flavoured, despite looking like plain white rice. The unexpected potato stew was rich and interesting. This very large entree was $9.

When dessert came we opted for some pie and some tres leches cake. The tres leches cake was very sweet. Too sweet for some of the hounds. It was cake, soaked in condensed milk, covered in a milky cream and plated with more condensed milk. I thought it tasty, but the piece they served, which looked small was far more than I would have wanted to eat on my own. The pie was said to be pineapple, but seemed to be apple when it arrived. The filling was nondescript and tasted mostly of cinnamon while the crust was thick and mealy, all in all, not great pie. The fact that we were never entirely certain whether it was, in fact, pineapple or apple was not a great sign.

There was a great deal of confusion when the bill came, as some items had been included twice, and others not at all. I'm not entirely certain we had it all sorted out when we left, as we seemed to all think we owed much more than the actual bill.

Getting to Pura Vida couldn't be much simpler, there's a subway station (Landsdowne) mere feet away, and only a few feet beyond that is a Green P parking lot.

The restaurant is very plain and utilitarian, dominated by a large projection screen for television. They run karaoke on it sometimes, football or boxing others, and Spanish language television still other times. This isn't a fine dining establishment by any stretch of the imagination, but the food is flavourful, generous, and inexpensive. It's a real chowfind.


Restaurant Info:
Pura Vida
685 Lansdowne
Toronto
416-915-0097


Relevent Links:
Chowhound's Toronto / Ontario board
Ask about joining future Chowhound Dinners - email the organisor.
Original Chowhound Post

March 24, 2005

Winninated!

One of the most important aspects of the Toastmasters experience is evaluation. Every formal speaker receives both written and verbal evaluations for their speech from another member, to help them improve their skills. But providing the evaluations is also a skill. The goal is to be positive, and supportive, while still offering concrete ideas on how to improve, and it's a tough task to listen to the speech, do your analysis and provide your evaluation, all in a span of minutes.

Every spring, Toastmasters has a contest set for Evaluation. Like the other contests (International Speech, Humourous Speaking and Table Topics), you start by winning your clubs nomination, then go to an area contest, amongst 4-6 clubs, the winner of that goes to a division contest (amongst 8-10 areas), while the winner of division goes to district (our district is all of Ontario except the Northwest, and East).

The Evaluation Contest is an interesting structure. They have a single speaker from outside the Area go up and give an original 5-7 minute speech. Often these are speeches that the speaker is planning to use in the International Speech competition for their own Area. Then the Evaluation contestants leave the room. They have five minutes to make whatever notes they might like on the speech, then their notes are taken away. One by one, they return to the speaking room and present their evaluations. Judges in the room judge the evaluations.

Last night was the Area 1 contest and I was there competing on behalf of the Big Blue Toasters. I pretty much knew I'd make it out of my club, because I had to cajole other people into even competing. But our area is full of pretty enthusiastic clubs, so knew I'd be in tough for competition there. I'm proud to say I won the competition (and the big tacky trophy that goes with), which means I will be competing in the Division B contest on the 31st. I don't hold out much hope for winning Division, but I've never competed in these contests before, so I'm pretty excited just to get the chance to move up one more level.


Relevent Links:
Toastmasters International
Toastmasters District 60

March 27, 2005

Recipes of the week

I tried two new recipes tonight, one for wheat berry and chick pea stew, the other for a tandoori chicken, both from the Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook.

Wheat berries being what they are, that required a couple of hours to cook, and I needed to get the marinade going on the chicken, so I did all the prep when I got up this morning to be sure I'd actually get it done in a reasonable amount of time. My usual cooking practice is to vastly underestimate the time for mise en place, thus leaving me to eat dinner at approximately 10PM.

The stew has a vegetable stock base, with mirepoix veggies, garlic and the chipotle chillies and you simmer the wheat berries for twoish hours to soften them up. It's a little spicier than most things I eat, but most people would think it quite mild, probably. I dosed it with some of the plain yogurt left over from the marinade to calm it down a little.

The chicken is not bad, but hardly tandoori. The lack of a tandoori oven in my house might have something to do with that. It's got a nice mustardy sauce with cumin, and I added a bit of tarragaon, as well, primarily to dress up the colour a bit, since it was so hideously babyshit brown to start with. Low calorie though, since there's no fat anywhere in it except what little is left in the chicken after you take all the visible fat off.

I also made the roasted asparagus again, and this time successfully managed not to burn it. Yay for that!


Culinary Advice Note: when you're chopping chipotle en adobo, and you accidentally dunk your finger in it, don't lick your finger off. Because that would be stupid. And painful.

March 28, 2005

People who can't read shouldn't write

Have you heard of freecycling? It's a gifting concept managed by mailing list, where people who have things they no longer want give them away instead of throwing them away or trying to sell them.

I have a whole bunch of stuff in my house that I want to get rid of, some of it that might be worth a few bucks if I were to sell it, but most of it would go for a dollar or two at a garage sale. I decided to post the whole shebang on freecycle and offer it to people who could come pick it up on Wednesday night; specifying the time of pick-up was to keep me from having to endlessly negotiate pick-up times with people.

I gave a few details about the items in my post (like that the computer doesn't work and isn't fixable, but has parts that are salvageable), to ask for items by lot number, and that I wanted people who could pick-up Wednesday evening. I got a lot of email back about the items, and oh so very many of them assumed the computer would work or offered to pick things up on Monday or right away or whenever I wanted. I said I wanted pick-ups Wednesday night between 8 and 11, that's what I wanted. I also got lots that said things like 'can I have the CD stuff' when I posted four separate lots of CD related items. Did they want some of them? All of them? That's why I wanted requests by Lot number.

Because finding my house is tricky, I *need* people who can follow instructions. It's not that hard to find, exactly, but I live in half of a semi-detached, and a lot of people don't seem to be able to tell the difference between 61 (my house) and 61A (the other half). Plus, I live in the basement, and use a different doorbell from my landlady, who will be in bed by the time these people start coming over and will be very aggravated if she gets woken up repeatedly by them. So I need to know that they'll read those instructions and follow them, as well.

In the end, that's basically what it came down to in making the choices between the 30 or so people who wanted some of the items. Which of them had sent me email messages that reflected that they had read my instructions?


Relevent links:
Freecycle
Freecycle Toronto

March 29, 2005

Random Question #2: You're tapping away...

You're tapping away at a forum post or email or somesuch in an application with no spellcheck. You want to use a word, but don't know how to spell it. Do you:

A) Use a different word that you do know how to spell.
B) Look up the word in an online dictionary.
C) Look up the word in a real world dictionary.
D) Open an program that does have spell check and type the word in there to check the spelling.
E) Never have this problem because you're such a good speller.

March 31, 2005

Loser

I competed in the division contest for Evaluation tonight, and I didn't even place, which was a serious disappointment.

On the other hand, if the speeches that won the speech side of the contest are an indicator of the quality of the judging happening there tonight, not placing is probably a sign that I gave the best evaluation of the night.

The winning speech told a long, drawn out, and ultimately quite boring story all in the third person. 'The man did this, the man did that, blah blah blah.' And then at the end it turns out that the SPEAKER WAS THAT MAN! WOW! I never saw that coming! Who'd've thunk it!

It's the thing I dislike most about Toastmasters competitions. Tired cliches and cheesy framing devices get rewarded. Speeches that are interesting and different get left behind, and instead another rant on the subject of believing in yourself and making your dreams come true gets voted through. The reality is, these speeches are the ones most likely to win the next level of the contests, as well, because this is a problem at every level of the competition, but ugh, it drives me crazy. If there was an original idea expressed in any of the winning speeches, I didn't hear it.

And no, I'm not just bitter. Don't get me wrong, I'm bitter, all right, but I'm not *just* bitter. I've disliked these aspects of TM since long before I ever competed in a contest.

About March 2005

This page contains all entries posted to acho que não in March 2005. They are listed from oldest to newest.

February 2005 is the previous archive.

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