Where oh where was this little bird gone?

This little bird was busy with:

a) a friend visiting from Ontario

b) a contract

c) housework

d) all of the above

 

The answer, ladies and gentlemen, is D!!!

 

It’s been a good past few weeks. Alice and I had a friend visit from Ontario, and we toured Vancouver with her. We even went to Vancouver Island for a quick peek. Apparently my friend lives for the saying of “it’s the journey, not the destination” because the thing she was most excited about was the ferry ride there and back 😛  The island itself looked quite beautiful, from the little we got to see it, and I would love to go back for a few weeks to actually travel across the island. And go snorkeling with the seals! (Lack of money, and insistence that it’s winter and the water would be too bloody cold, prevented that from happening this trip).

 

Managed to win a very nice contract that lasted a bit over a week; I was reviewing a company’s GAMSAT practice quizzes. Oh memories of when I was studying Nanotechnology Engineering (which in general are not quite so fond, after all, there is a reason I switched programs :/).

 

Housework is always time consuming, but I got to attempt making a homemade pho soup, which was fun. It actually turned out decently – not nearly the best I’ve had, but something hinting at that greatness I would like to eventually achieve.

 

Now, however, the contract is ended, the friend is gone, so it’s back into the usual. Forgot to keep applying to contract while working on the other contract, so I won’t have much to do for a while until I find more work…sigh.

 

Well, there’s always League of Legends! And Mass Effect. I might write more on these later.

 

Sincerely,

Sebastien Rocheleau

 

Advertisements

Hypocrisy of Sick Days

“If you’re sick, stay home and rest.”

A simple statement, and one that makes an immense amount of sense. Fact of life: anyone can get sick. Some people invariably tend to get sick more then others; this can be the result of genes, lifestyle, diet, and likely other reasons I’m not thinking of at the moment.

Alice stayed home sick yesterday; she was throwing up, had a fever, and quite a nasty cough. She ended up staying home to rest today as well, as she’s not feeling much better and wasn’t even sure she’d be able to make the transit trip without throwing up on the skyrail, let alone last through the day.

And she’s feeling horrible guilty about it.

Wait, what? Something isn’t right here; she’s obviously sick, and it is logical that she stay home to rest, isn’t it?

Officially, people will tell you yes. But have you ever felt that hegemony that you’re never really sick enough to warrant missing work? That only weak, undedicated people miss work due to illness? That if you’re sick, you should stay home, but that now really isn’t a good time to be sick, as there is so much work to be done?

I have. It exists at all levels of jobs, but I’ve found it to the worst in minimum wage jobs – the jobs where, although you technically can call in sick, the managers are always very unhappy when you do (or maybe I just had a bad manager – I recognize my own experiences might not be universal).

Please don’t misunderstand me; her company, this time, has been exemplary in that she hasn’t previously felt that pressure; they honestly seem to care about the health and well-being of their employees. But she has before, while working for other companies. And today, even if her company seems to recognize the  logic of staying home to rest when she is sick, she still has that sense of guilt at missing work.

Work can generally wait, people. Very rarely is it actually a matter of life or death.

Gaaah, I do so find it frustrating!

Frying Up Some Colour!

You have mastered ground beef! And now you’re tired of it, always on its own. Or you’ve developed scurvy from the lack of vitamin C in your diet. Whatever the reason, it is time to add some colour to your stir fry!

Different colours in vegetables tend to correspond to different combinations of nutrients and other phytochemicals. As such, one easy way to try and have a more balanced diet is to include a large amount of them, of varying colours.

Pan frying vegetables is easy enough to do; the key idea is to neither overcook them nor undercook them.

Whatever vegetables you want to add, here are the things to keep in mind:

Slicing and Dicing

You want to cut the vegetables into fairly even pieces, so that they will all cook at about the same rate. Smaller and thinner pieces cook faster, while with larger pieces you sometimes have to be careful to make sure the pieces are cooked through.

Timing

Take a look at your vegetables.

Is it onion, ginger, or garlic? These three fall into the category of fried seasoning. Most of the time, you will be adding these to the pan first, frying them up in some oil. For onions, you want to cook them until they are somewhat translucent; I personally like browning them slightly, as I find it makes them more flavourful.

Is it hard and crunchy, like carrots, celery, and cauliflower? If so, you will want to add the vegetables to your pan earlier during the cooking process, so that they have time to soften up.

Is it somewhat crunchy, like red peppers, or broccoli? If so, you will want to add it later in the process, closer to the end, but with still enough time to soften them up a bit.

Is it delicate/have a high water content, such as spinach or chives? These you will usually want to add near the end, as they soften quite quickly.

Is it a high starch item, such as potatoes, yams, and squash? These take considerable time to cook if frying in the pan. I will often soften them up by steaming them first. Boiling or baking will also work.

So there you go!

Next time you fry up some ground beef for tacos, or some such, try frying up some onions and garlic first, and then adding the meat.

If you want an actual stir-fry, cook up some onions, garlic, ginger, ground beef, celery, red peppers, and chives, with a bit of soy sauce for flavouring, and have it with a side of white rice! The more practice you get frying up a variety of vegetables, the better you will become at understanding how long each type of vegetable needs to cook in order to be the perfect medium between crunchy and soft.

So let’s start simple: Basic Ground Beef

I talk about ground beef, but feel free to substitute other ground meats instead; cooked pork will be of a white colour (I usually cook it until there is a bit of brown as well, just to be safe), and ground chicken/turkey will also be of a white colour when it is cooked.

While steak can be eaten rare, I will emphasize that ground beef needs to be thoroughly cooked to be safe to eat; you will know it is properly cooked when you do not see any pink.

Start by heating up your pan or wok (I personally am a big fan of flat-bottomed woks, as they are very versatile pieces of equipment) to medium heat. Not sure what medium heat is? For most ovens, I would say it’s turning the knob on the stove-top so that’s it’s pointing directly downwards; if there are numbers that go from 1 to 9 around the dial, turning it to 5 is probably medium. I say probably because no two ovens are equal, and you may discover that the dial needs to be turned a bit higher or lower.

If you’re only cooking ground beef, feel free to just add it all in. “Wait”, you might say, “shouldn’t I add oil?” You can, but I generally find that there is enough fat in the ground beef that you don’t really need to add any extra at the beginning. Feel free to do so, however, if you want.

Now stir the ground beef semi-constantly. For those who want a time, maybe every 5 seconds? The goal is to prevent the ground beef at the bottom from burning, and to make sure all of the ground beef is being cooked at about the same pace. When stirring, make sure that the beef from the bottom and the top is being mixed together constantly, across the entire pan.

Keep cooking and stirring the ground beef. You will notice the pink of the raw beef turning a brownish-colour when being cooked; this is what you want. The ground beef will be cooked when you cannot see any pink anymore. Because the pieces of ground beef are so small, a cooked outside pretty much equates a cooked inside.

Next is to get the ground beef out of the pan; one simple option is just tilting the pan over the bowl you are placing the beef into, and then pushing the beef out using a spatula or spoon (or whatever else you want to use). An option here is to try and leave behind as much of the fat in the bottom of the pan as you can; the fat can then be poured into an empty food container (glass jar, aluminum can, pretty much anything) and once it has solidified can be thrown out.

And voila! You now know the basics to cooking ground beef! A very simple use of this is to mix the ground beef with some rice, add a little bit of ketchup, and voila! (this is one of my favourite lazy meals that my mother would make when we were kids, and she just didn’t have time to make anything more complex). Tacos, either hard or soft shelled, are another good use; just grate some cheese, thinly slice some lettuce, and open a jar of salsa, and you have the makings of tacos!

Where can you go from here?

Well, first of all you can add seasoning. When the beef looks to be about 50% cooked, try adding some salt, pepper, or any of various herbs and spices. I won’t go into depth about various herbs here, but feel free to experiment! If you’re cooking the ground beef for tacos, maybe add some cumin or chilli powder. Thyme and oregano are good spices if you want more of an Italian flavour, maybe to go with some pasta and tomato sauce. Feel free to experiment with the amount, and the variety; that is how you will learn!

Maybe you find it a bit too dry?  Try adding a bit of soy sauce, a bit of ketchup, or a bit of whatever sauce you have on hand to the ground beef as you are cooking it, when the beef is around 75% cooked (I’ll talk more about sauces you can easily make at home later). If you want the sauce and juices thicker, sprinkle the ground beef with a bit of flour and then mix it all together; the flour will thicken the juices around the beef, therefore helping coat the beef with more of it.

Sizzling Success!

Learning how to pan-fry food is one of the skills I consider most important in cooking. It’s not just a matter of throwing everything into a pan, swishing it around for several minutes, and then taking it out; instead, it’s a strategic game plan of heating the pan, and then adding the ingredients into the pan in the right order so that everything is properly cooked without being overcooked. Maybe it’s just me, but I like the vegetables in my stir-fries to still have a little bit of crunch to them!

Heating the Pan:

I’m still learning the proper way to heat pans, it seems. Watching this video on heating a stainless steel pan seems like a good piece of advice, if you have a stainless steel pan. Tefflon non-stick pans should not be overheated, and only used on low to medium heat. Cast iron pans can also be a lot of fun to use, and are slower to heat up and cool down, helping to prevent temperature spikes – BUT make sure to take the time to properly season your cast iron pan!

Stirring Tools:

This is actually important to mention: BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU USE WHEN STIRRING THE CONTENTS OF A PAN! Metal tools can be good, but you have to be careful not to scratch the pan: never use metal tools with a non-stick pan, as you do not want to scratch the non-stick coating! In general, I see no problems with just using plastic or silicone tools, especially for your average cook.

Recipes VS Cooking

One of the topics I wish to discuss is the difference I perceive between following recipes and cooking. Do not misunderstand me, there is nothing wrong with using recipes; they are quite useful, and allow someone to attempt dishes they may never have been exposed to before. However, learning how to cook is about a lot more than simply following recipes.

Learning how to cook involves learning why you do certain steps in a recipe. Being told to fry the chopped onion for 3 to 4 minutes on medium heat is only really useful if you know what the end result is supposed to look like, and not all stovetop burners heat to the same temperature when set to medium.

My other major complaint with a recipe approach to cooking is the waste of ingredients that tends to occur. You’ll buy what you need, use part of it for the recipe, and suddenly you’re left with all these ingredients you don’t know what to do with. This is a cycle we want to avoid!

In my blog, I don’t just want to share recipes; I want to help people learn how to cook. Cooking can be a lot of fun, and a very satisfying experience.

And hey, as my dad put it to me back in high school, knowing how to whip up a tasty meal is never a bad thing when there’s a girl you’re trying to impress. And the opposite holds true too (and half opposite – girl impressing girl, or guy impressing guy).

What I’ll be Sharing

I think it will be a good idea if I start organizing this blog a bit more. So far, I’ve mostly been writing whatever – and that’s not bad. However, I want to organize it a bit more.  I think I’ll try and have the following categories:

Cooking

Gaming

Restaurant Reviews

Tourist Blog

Creative Writing

Random Rants

An eclectic mix, I realize, but hey, it’s me, people should expect it!

Time to Rewind

Hello non-existent reader audience,

My goal when I started this blog was to write something here several times a week.  Clearly this has failed. Whether it is because I did not yet have the proper work discipline to commit to it, or that I let myself become too busy with other projects, it did not happen.

However, it is never too late to set things right. Zilean has used his chronoshift, and I am once again aiming to make this blog work. Oh, and also try and figure out how to get more readers. Ah social media – how complex a tool you can be.

Sebastien

A Busy Little Bee is Me

Yes, I realize the grammar of the title is wrong, but I enjoyed the end rhyme.

These past two weeks have been a lot of fun, and very instructive.

First of all, writing is difficult. Not the writing per say, though that certainly can be a challenge, but rather the selling yourself to potential clients. There are a few clients I am waiting to hear back from, including one very promising lead of a job translating between French and English, but so far I have made most of my money writing for a general article mill company. Although the rate per article is low, selecting articles that can be properly researched and written quickly makes it a fairly reasonable source of income at the moment.

The fish in the Vancouver area is excellent. So far we have purchased lingcod and sole from a fishmonger at the local market.  The lingcod was absolutely fantastic, easy to cook and prepare, with a very meaty texture; we cooked it by covering it in bread crumbs and pan frying it in sesame oil. The sole I will be preparing tonight, using a baked lemon sole recipe. I will also be preparing a black rice risotto to go with it, along with some pan-fried burdock root.  These are all new recipes, so it will be interesting to see how it turns out, but I expect it to be delicious.

Last weekend we visited the Vancouver Aquarium, and it is an experience I strongly recommend. The layout of the aquarium is excellent, with areas for the various animals. My favourite of the outdoor animals was likely the lone sea otter in one tank, which was continuously spinning around in the water while grooming itself. The indoor exhibits were also a lot of fun; the tropical area completely astounded me with how well it was done. There is a section of it that you can actually walk through, with various birds, butterflies and apparently sloths (we never saw any) all moving through the trees around you.

This weekend we plan on hiking up Grouse Mountain, a trail nicknamed the Grouse Grind. We expect it to take us two hours; it will be interesting to see how well we will manage it.

A Squirrel’s Eye View

It was our second weekend in Vancouver, and with the nice weather we were having we decided we wanted to do something outdoors.  Capilano Suspension Bridge was the outing we decided upon, and with my trusty smartphone in hand to help get us there, we were quickly on our way.

Of note, getting there was quite easy.  After an intial Skytrain ride from New Westminster to Waterfront Station, it was just a short walk to the front of Canada Place, from which we were able to catch a free shuttle to Capilano.  The shuttle was certainly…interesting, using old park benches, screwed into the floor of the bus, as seating.  Not the most comfortable of seats, but they did the trick during the 20-30 minute drive.  The driver was friendly, giving a quick touristic description of the surroundings as we drove by.  I did feel bad for some customers that had to be turned down, all the seats on the bus being filled, but the driver made certain the company would be contacted so that another shuttle could be sent.

Capilano Suspension Bridge was beautiful.  I’d never seen trees as wide, or as tall, as the Douglas Firs that grew in the park.  The Western Red Cedar and the Western Hemlock were also very beautiful, and nearly as big, and a tour guide provided interesting information about the importance and uses of the various trees.  I would have loved it if some of the Red Cedar Tea they talked about had been offered to try.

The main suspension bridge itself was fun; walking on a moving bridge is a very different experience then walking on the standard static bridges we primarily use today.  However, my favourite attractions were the suspended walkways and the cliffwalk.

The suspended walkways are a series of suspension bridges installed on average several meters above the ground.  Attached using a compression ring system, rather then by drilling the tree, they offer a very different view of the forest.  A squirrel’s eye view, as our tour guide put it.

The cliffwalk was another fun attraction; it’s a walkway attached to a sheer cliff wall, likely a hundred feet above the ground.  Vertigo was felt a lot more strongly here then on the other bridges, so perhaps not what I would recommend for people afraid of heights.

Capilano Suspension Bridge turned out to be smaller then we expected, and we managed to tour the park in a few hours.  It was an afternoon filled with beautiful, breathtaking scenery, and we definitely recommend it to anyone who has yet to visit it.