Sugar sugar: Quaker’s Corn Bran Squares, Nature’s Path Oaty Bites

I like cereal. I wouldn’t say I’m big on it because I don’t try a whole lot of different stuff, but there is always a box or two on my shelf, and I eat it everyday. I try to explore a little bit, but many of the normal cereals out there are so crappy and sweet and contain all this shit in it, so I am limited to mostly organic stuff that is low in sugar. I think cereal is the kind of food where a lot of people have their favorites and stick with it for quite a while anyway.

Corn Bran Squares

When I was a kid Kellogg’s Corn Pops was one of my favorite breakfast cereals. It didn’t matter that they were so damn sugary they gave me headaches, I just “gotta have my pops”. These days, most cereals out there are way too sweet for me. I just opened a box of Nature’s Path’s Oaty Bites, for example, (because I have tried a lot of their products and liked them, dammit), and the sugariness of it was just too much to bear. It was like super honey overload, except it was sugar cane and not honey they had used as the sweetener. I ended up giving the box to someone (a poor grad student) at work the next day. (She didn’t find it overly sweet, and is apparently enjoying it.)

Surprisingly, at the same amount of sugar per serving (6g, the high end for me, my typical for a breakfast cereal is about 3g) is Quaker’s much less sweet Corn Bran Squares. I like the flavor of corn, but Corn Pops are just out of the question now, and plain puffed corn cereal is really bland. These Corn Bran Squares were a pleasant surprise.

Being your typical cereal fare, there was a pretty unexpected 5g of fibre per serving… from the bran I am guessing. That’s more fibre than a lot of the pricier “healthy, whole grain” organic stuff out there. The squares are hollow inside, but thick-walled and puffy, and crunchy. The taste is a bit reminiscent of Corn Pops. It is still quite sweet, but not so much I can’t handle, and you can definitely tell that the corn flavor is there. They’re really good to snack on without milk because of their nice, large size, not like loose flaked-cereal. An awesome alternative to Corn Pops (which have no fibre, more than twice the amount of sugar (14g), and contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oil).

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Coffee | Take 5 Cafe

Where I work, there is Starbucks, Second Cup, and Tim Hortons located within one building. You’d think that is a lot of choices but given that I don’t coffee from the latter two, there really isn’t anywhere else to go. At about a 5 minute walk, Starbucks is the second closest. Second Cup takes about 3 minutes and Tim Horton’s about 8. This morning, I walked out into the cold clammy Vancouver rain to Starbucks (my building is not directly connected to where the coffee is), to get my usual – a grande Americano, double, no room. (Their Americano I can take because it is not bitter or acidic. It is the only thing from Starbucks I drink, because I can’t stand their drip brew.)

Today I went at my usual time – when it is most quiet (although this particular location has never screwed up my orders even when busy). The usual gang I am used to seeing is there, but then suddenly the person preparing my drink is an unfamiliar face, whom I take to be a new barista girl. Hmm. She is quite nice, and asked me whether I wanted room. I had already said it, but that’s ok – no room please. In a few moments she hands me my Americano, sitting in the sleeve (because I am a wimp). I picked up the cup and immediate knew something was weird. I took a sip. It was cold! COLD! Not ice cold, but like coffee-that’s-been-sitting-for-a-day cold! WAH?! GAH! GACK! ACK!

Now, I am quite used to Starbucks’ branch-to-branch, day-to-day, barista-to-barista inconsistencies with my Americano’s. Sometimes, it is not very hot, other times it is. Some days, I suspect they give me an extra shot. Some days “no room” means only half a cup. Doesn’t really matter, since it’s not the greatest stuff anyway, and the deviation from the norm is usually not that much. It will have to do in this Bux-monopolized world.

But not COLD coffee. Not my first, vital morning cup of joe, not on a clammy day like this. That barista must have had skin so thick she couldn’t tell that the cup of coffee she was holding all that time was not at all hot! So I gave it back, she nicely apologized and gave me the “no idea what happened there” explanation, and quickly made me a normal one.

I never expect anything awesome from Starbucks, but I never had something this … scary, either.

Which brings me to a Bux-related story. The other day at Metrotown, I almost lined up for Starbucks. Thank goodness I didn’t and instead tried an Americano from the newest branch of Take 5 Cafe there. I wasn’t expecting too much – but it was really great. Not over roasted, not bitter, only very very slightly acidic, and had a good body. I even like it better than Caffe Artigiano’s, which I find slightly more acidic. Take 5’s Americano is the one to beat!

take5

Take 5 Cafe (various locations in Vancouver, soon opening on West 4th!)

Cucumbers from the sea. 冬菇髮菜煮海參

OK, so they might not be the prettiest looking sea creatures around, even if you weren’t gonna eat them. But Cucumaria echinata, the common sea cucumber, are believed to have immense healing properties, and even aphrodisiac powers (just look at that … er, beautiful … shape). And according to Sinden’s group at ICL, who recently published their study in PLoS Pathogens, the sea cucumber produces a lectin that may even block malaria transmission. (And no, I didn’t just present a journal club on it ;-D.) The Chinese call sea cucumbers “海參“, which literally translates into “sea ginseng”. It is often sold in a dehydrated form. The Japanese take the intestines of sea cucumbers and ferment them into a delicacy known as konowata. Whether or not you believe in its nutritional benefits, it can’t possibly be bad for you, being mostly protein and virtually fat free. 

Now, whether you want to eat it is a different story. Sea cucumbers have a gelatinous, chewy, rubbery texture. It is not so much slimey as it is slippery. Whatever you call it – I guess it’s not the kind of mouthfeel for everyone. I happen to like gelatinous, slimey foods (thus my love for uni, jelly fish, tapioca pearls, okra… just to name a few). It’s a combination of personal taste and what you grew up with. I was never the kind of child who shunned foods, neither were my parents. Growing up at the Chinese dining table, I ate everything from pork intestines to chicken hearts to fish eyes to… maybe I’ll stop here. Anyway, a sea cucumber? Bwah! That’s nothing!

Sea cucumbers are usually braised in some tastey liquid for a period of time, because they contain little flavor in and of themselves. In Chinese cuisine it is often found in a soup. If you buy dehydrated sea cucumbers you will have to rehydrate them in water for a bit, and suppposedly that is not a simple task because it takes long and the sea cucumbers could actually disintegrate and taste weird if soaked too long. But you can find fresh, whole sea cucumbers at your local Asian supermarket, and they can prepare it and cut it up for you so you get just the “flesh”, like so:

Sea cucumbers

The darker and less “flimsy” they are, the better. This is how I was taught to prepare them: 

1. First brown some garlic cloves, fresh ginger slices, and green onions in a bit of oil.
2. Once those cook for a bit, add a bit of chicken broth and about 2T of oyster sauce or abalone sauce, and some shitake mushrooms. You could also add some shredded barbeque pork here, the flavor goes well with sea cucumbers, but this is not necessary.
3. If you have some, add a bit of pre-soaked 髮菜 fat choy” (AKA black moss) to the mix. (It was a Chinese New Year thing, so what precious little fat choy we was allowed!)
4. Wait for that to cook for a minute or two, and put in the whole sea cucumber (you can also first cut them into slices if you like). The sea cucumber should sit in the braising liquid but not be totally immersed in it.
5. Cook this at medium-high heat for about 10 minutes, then reduce to a low heat, so that the liquid is barely simmering. Cover, and let simmer another 20 minutes or so. (If your sea cucumber starts disintegrating before this, reduce the heat and cooking time.)
6. Top with some green onions, and serve with the braising liquid:

sea cucumber

Mix the Bakery

Mix

Ever since it opened in 2003, Mix the Bakery has been continuously voted one of the best Vancouver bakeries. It’s a modest, modern little bakery right next to Burgoo on West 1oth: I have passed by several times, I have even gone inside all googly-eyed, but haven’t tried anything from there. So, being in the neighbourhood a few days ago, I went in, bought a Parisienne baguette (their “Parisienne” is made with whole wheat, their “Rustic” is white), and left.

Ah, thankfully (?), posts at the Lab of Edibles are never this simple. The story is just beginning. As I headed out the door with the 2 feet long baguette, I briefly surveyed all the food people were eating – pretty darn delicious looking salads, hot soups, and grilled sandwiches. I was expecting more of a full-on bakery where they just sell a lot of bread and cakes, and not much of a hot-sandwiches and soups kind of cafe-style fare. So, after walking back to my car (which was, of course, not a moment before my hungrily tearing off a giant piece of the baguette and munching on it on the street like some starved grad student), putting my baguette in the trunk (lest some salivating passersby might break in to steal this wondrous creation), I decided to go back for lunch (despite having made plans to eat elsewhere).

Inside Mix

I am so glad I did. Like a lot of bakery/cafe’s, Mix is pretty small. There’s all the breads and goods displayed on one side of the shop and seats lining the other. There are about 5 tables and a bar by the window, so it fits about 20. It was lunch time, and the place was packed. I managed to get the little round table right next to the door. I ordered a small Tuscany Tomato Soup, which came with two slices of bread (I was told they were the house Campesino and sourdough, but I don’t think either was a sourdough). I asked for the bread to be toasted, and they told me it would take a little while because they had quite the lineup of sandwhiches waiting to be grilled, but the food actually arrived pretty quickly. It came on a little metal plate:

Tuscan Tomato soup

Both slices of bread were delicious. The one on the bottom that you can’t see here had these beautiful large, irregular airy holes. The one on the top tasted a bit like potatos. The tomato soup was awesome too – hearty, creamy, and with strong but well balanced spices. This cost about $3.50. I was looking around and their sandwiches were pretty big; their chicken salad also looked nice and fresh.

They also have these great looking cakes, cookies and sweets:

Mix Cakes

And of course, who can forget that Parisienne baguette sitting in the trunk? I ate about two-thirds of it that night. It’s definitely one of the best baguettes I’ve had in this city – the crust was crisp and fine, the crumb was soft but not overly so, and overall both combine to give a very nice chewiness. And the bread kind of dissolves in your mouth slowly but surely. I don’t really know how else to describe it. It was just really really good bread.

Mix Baguette

The staff here are friendly and helpful, and pretty happy to explain the food and breads to you. I am definitely going back soon to try out their other breads, soups and sandwiches.

– 

Mix the Bakery
4430 W. 10th avenue, Vancouver (Right next to Burgoo. Near UBC.)
604.221.4145

Coco Chilli 椰子屋

Tucked away in a little mall near the east end of Richmond’s “Food Street” (Alexandra Rd), Coco Chilli (椰子屋) is a charming little restaurant that is easy to just pass by (despite their very yellow sign). Malaysian? Indonesian? Thai? Vietnamese? They have a bit of everything, thus I file them under that umbrella term of “Southeast Asian”.

Lunch menu features a large selection of fried rice, rice noodle in soup, dry noodle, curries, with various meats, tofu, or seafood. There are also your typical snacks like spring rolls, fried scallops (no salad rolls though, too bad!), and some drinks like fresh mango slurpees (which is often on special for $2). The dinner menu is also quite extensive, but doesn’t feature the single portions or a lot of the noodle items that they have for  lunch. Dinner here is best enjoyed with a big group as their dishes are large and served family-style.

They make good 炒通菜 (fried Kang Kong, AKA water spinach, or ong choi). It is literally dripping in oil, but very tasty. Definitely a must try.

My favorite is their 香茅雞檬 (lemon grass chicken with dry rice vermicelli), pictured here with a seafood tofu noodle soup and some (*yawn*) fried rice. It is nothing extraordinary, but it’s tastey and a nice portion size, and the 檬 (dry vermicelli) is pretty good. 

cimg1140.jpg

Coco Chilli 椰子屋
Good for lunch, or big group dinners. Cash and debit only.
180-8611 Alexandra Rd, Richmond

Mount Royal Bagel Factory

Mount Royal

I’ve noticed that a Jewish church around my workplace gets bagels delivered from the Mount Royal Bagel Factory. I thought this bakery must make some awesome bagels, for the church to be ordering from so far away (there are other closer Kosher bakeries, I believe, maybe they don’t make good bagels).

So I decided to give their bagels a try. As per usual with my Bagel Quest, I went for the plain ones. They’re cute looking-  very puffy, fat, and round, with a small little hole in the center. Certainly not “artisan” looking like Siegel’s or Solly’s. And sweet! I mean, literally. Mount Royal’s bagels smell sweet, taste pretty sweet, feel even sweeter. As in, they are sticky. Never have I touched such a sticky bagel. Must be the malt they used. These are pretty dense, heavy bagels. The crust was not extremely thick, but sufficient. The inside was a bit doughy for my taste. I didn’t like that they were so darn sticky, and I also found them a little too moist. They were decent bagels though, and definitely much better upon toasting (perhaps because that dries them out a bit). Not as good as Siegel’s or Solly’s, IMHO. But maybe because they were packaged and not fresh.

mount royal

Mount Royal Bagel Factory
701 Queensbury Avenue, North Vancouver
Tel:604-904-1116

媽媽的冬菇瑤柱節瓜 revisited: Fuzzy Melon STEAK?!

Should you happen to come across fuzzy melon that is short and small, you can cook them whole. Your grandfather loved to stuff them with shredded fresh crab meat.“-Mom

This is usually how my mother makes my favorite fuzzy melon with shitake and conpoy. Typically the melons are large and long, like a very fat, long cucumber, so you cut them up into little rounds before braising them. But you can eat them like a melon steak, if you can find some little ones that are short and small – shorter than a typical zucchini. (According to Mother, even if you had a giant pot that is large enough, you cannot do this with the big melons, it will not absorb the flavors.)

They look rather funny whole like that, do they not? I have never eaten them this way, but they turned out great – kind of “meaty” for a vegetable, and retained all the juices inside. Definitely delish, and a whole new eating experience with one of my favorite classic dishes from home.

Fuzzy Melon