Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Wow, Postcrossing has reached another milestone! Four million people worldwide have sent and received postcards - over four million postcards now have been mailed all over the world, that is just amazing! For those of you who aren't familiar with the site, you can check out one of my blog posts about Postcrossing from last year. If you love getting mail and seeing all sorts of different views from around the world, Postcrossing might be a fun new project for you!
Those pictures posted above are from Tuesday afternoon when I went out for a walk and mailed some postcards for Postcrossing along the way. I didn't notice what awful shape this particular mailbox happened to be in until I got back and checked the photos. It just happened to be the one that I stumbled upon on my walk - all rusty and covered with graffiti. Ah well. Regardless, those postcards are being sent to various areas of the world as I type this! If you'd like to catch a glimpse of my entire postcard collection, I have all of them scanned and available for view on my Flickr page - check it out! And feel free to add me as a contact while you're there, I always add everyone back!
This is one of my newest cards, a beautiful tree card from Germany!
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
There is a new sushi place in Hamilton called Spring Sushi that we really wanted to try - the website and menu looked pretty awesome and it is an all-you-can-eat restaurant (they have options for a regular dinner that isn't all-you-can-eat as well). Also, our favorite sushi restaurant happened to change management recently and while the new restaurant is still good, they eliminated their all-you-can-eat menu. So, it would be great to find a new restaurant to replace to old one!
We were happily surprised that there were quite a few vegetarian options...plus, they were all clearly marked on a menu with a little leaf beside the item. This made ordering very efficient for us! We ordered a ton of food, clearly, as it was all-you-can-eat! We decided to get some fancy alcoholic beverages as well. Of course, I got a pina colada, as it reminds me of when we went on our cruise, and I like to be reminded of those times as much as possible ;)
Paul really liked those mushrooms. On the menu, "Fried Mushroom with Butter". I'm not a huge mushroom person (although I want to like mushrooms more since they are so good for you!) but I actually enjoyed these. The miso soup was really yummy, one of the best ones I have had at a restaurant. Out of the sushi rolls we ordered, we got the kappa maki (cucumber roll), vegetable tempura roll (wasn't quite as good), yam tempura roll (YUM!), and the tempura onion roll (YUM!). We also ordered inari sushi (need I say it again....YUM!) and edamame.
Dessert was also included in the price! I ordered a tiramisu which arrived in this cute little bowl. Paul got a deep-fried banana which was definitely interesting! All in all, we had such a fun experience and the food was super good! We will definitely be going back here again!
A cool decorated dividing wall between various dining areas, it was all origami!
Speaking of sushi....for my sister's birthday, I am also going out for sushi tonight since that is what she wanted to do! Going for sushi, and then going to Dave & Buster's! Yay! It also means that I get to go for sushi twice in one week. Good times!!
Monday, March 29, 2010
Yesterday was one of those rare occasions where Paul and I both had the entire day to spend together, so we went to a brand new sushi restaurant for dinner (pics coming soon!). On the way home, Paul wanted to stop in the Chapters bookstore (one of the biggest bookstore chains in Canada) to just walk around and take a look. We are both usually the type of people these days who order all of our books online, so it would be fun to actually look at some books in person for a change!
Of course I went to two of my favorite sections - the knitting/needlecraft section, and the vegetarian cookbooks section. I took this picture because I realized how it is amazing that Vegetarianism is becoming much more in the mainstream these days. I have been a Vegetarian since I was maybe 1 or 2 years old when my parents decided to become Vegetarian and raise both my sister and myself that way, and I don't remember anyone else being a Vegetarian as I was growing up. It was definitely not very common at all back in the 80s, so I am happy to now meet other people who don't eat meat quite regularly!
I was thinking in the bookstore how back when I was growing up, you would be lucky to find a couple of books in the bookstore devoted to Vegetarian Cooking, let alone an entire section! Quite a few of those cookbooks were solely devoted to Vegan cooking as well!
Friday, March 26, 2010
I had the day off work on Wednesday and was in a baking sort of mood, and I was inspired by the Rich Maple Frosting recipe on VeganBaking.net. After a quick trip to the grocery store for ingredients, I was ready to bake some cupcakes!
The recipe for the cupcake itself is the Maple Cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. This cookbook is a must-have for anyone who is Vegan or wants to explore Vegan cooking - every recipe I have tried so far from this book has produced beautiful, delicious cupcakes of all different flavors! I took their advice and tried substituting some of the all-purpose flour for whole wheat pastry flour with great results.
The Rich Maple Frosting recipe is the one that I linked above from VeganBaking.net. The frosting was a bit tricky to make - I'm not sure if I did it properly since you had to heat the maple syrup and agave nectar over the stove and get it to a certain temperature... and then after refrigerating it for an hour, you had to blend it with margarine/vegetable shortening. After doing this, the icing was quite runny, which it said may happen, and if it does, to refrigerate it. No amount of refrigerating seemed to harden the frosting enough! Not only that, but I found the recipe to be way too sweet for my liking. It seemed to over-power the flavor of the cupcake and I found myself wiping off most of the icing...and I really didn't put too much frosting on these cupcakes to begin with.
With that said, Paul absolutely loved the cupcakes and wants me to make more! He said that the Maple Frosting was perfect. I have lots of leftover frosting so he may even use it as a topping for pancakes or waffles...or I will just have to make some more cupcakes for the icing. I guess it is all just personal preference!
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Two new KitKat bars to tell you about! Paul and I sat down to try out these new and very interesting Japanese Kit Kats. The first one is called Royal Milk Tea KitKat. This one is a white chocolate bar with a flavored crunchy KitKat center. I really like the packaging for this one, especially the cute British guard on the side of the box that says the slogan, "Have a break, have a KitKat." Interesting that there is still so much written in English on a Japanese product!
Paul says: I taste more white chocolate than tea but has a nice and milky flavor. 3.5/5
Lauren says: Interesting taste - very strong tea flavor on the first bite which went away and turned to a milky white chocolate taste. 3/5
The next one is a Ginger Ale KitKat bar. We were both pretty skeptical as to how this one would taste. Upon opening the package, we discovered that the KitKat bars were indeed colored like Ginger Ale - an off-white with a yellowish tinge.
Paul says: I am very surprised! It is surprisingly good! Would eat this one again. 4/5
Lauren says: Pretty darn good. It captures the flavor of Ginger Ale right down to the fizziness...it just seems to pop! 3.5/5
I purchased these KitKat bars at a Japanese candy store at Pacific Mall in Markham, Ontario, Canada.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Athena Creates at Etsy makes a fabulous product that everyone should have around the house, the Bird-E Towel, also known as an un-paper towel! These reusable, washable towels are the environmentally-friendly alternative to using paper towels around the house! You just use them in place of your paper towels and throw them in with your other laundry to wash when necessary. To make things even better, these towels don't leave behind any nasty bits of paper towel when you are cleaning your home.
These are made out of 100% unbleached cotton. This means that no toxins are released into the environment during the manufacturer's bleaching process. Also, from Athena Creates' page:
What's the problem with paper towels?? The main problem is that the paper towels that most people use are made from virgin tree pulp. That means that trees are cut down and harvested for something that you are going to use ONE time. And then it gets thrown away...adding to the landfill problem. Oh and to make it even worse for the environment, they bleach the pulp releasing toxic chemicals into our environment. (For something that is used one time?!?)You will also save money in the long run since you won't have to keep buying those huge rolls of paper towels! So, do yourself a favor and pick some of these up - they are a fantastic handmade product! You can get a set of 13 from her shop for $12.00, and larger sets are available as well.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Here is a limited edition Pocky - Winter Chocolate Pocky. Some chocolates and candy are marketed as "limited edition" here in Canada and it appears that the same goes for chocolates in Japan! The English on the packaging says "Enjoy our seasonal winter Pocky made only of the finest chocolate."
This limited-time-only winter chocolate Pocky tastes delicious, just as all of the other chocolate varieties of Pocky do as well. This is a thicker Pocky than the regular one and the texture of the Pocky resembles powdered chocolate. It tastes delicious and I would pick this one up again if I was in the mood for some chocolate (which I always am!). 3 1/2 out of 5.
I bought this at Sweet Tooth Candy Emporium at the Scarborough Town Centre in Scarborough, Ontario.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
When I was closing up my Etsy Shop, I completed a couple of trades with some members of Etsy so that I could trade off some of the final items left in my shop and receive some awesome handmade goodies in return! I wanted to show off these great trades and feature these awesome Etsy sellers on my blog!
The first is Small Time Shopping, who makes these cute little animal stickers! She makes a whole variety of different stickers, including the I <3 Squid sticker pictured above. I received a cute carrot, cupcakes, dogs, turtles, squids, and more! The shop also supports Senior Pet Rescue so you're also doing a good deed by purchasing items from this shop!
The other shop that I received some goodies from is Clean Jellybean and I got some yummy smelling soaps! So far, I have tried the Coconut Cake Soap pictured above and it is super decadent smelling! I could eat this soap it smells so good! But of course, I won't, since it is soap ^_^ It lathers really well and it is one of my favorites! It is also Vegan.
Now that my Etsy Shop is closed, I won't be able to do trades any longer...but of course, I will still be buying many things from Etsy! Hooray!
Thursday, March 18, 2010
I have participated in the "Coffee, Cappuccino or Hot Chocolate" tag in the Postcrossing forums twice now and have received two lovely gifts of coffee and cappuccino! Basically, you "tag" the person above you in the forum thread, which means that you send them a package in the mail of instant coffee/cappuccino/hot chocolate powder from your country, and then someone "tags" you in the thread and they send you something!
The first gift I received was from one of my favorite countries, Japan! I received an instant Nescafe "Home Cafe" coffee packet, a "Coffee Drip Bag" that looks like a coffee that comes in a form of tea bag that you pour the water into and it makes the coffee for you in your mug! I also received two "Blendy Stick" powders in "Cafe Au Lait" and "Matcha Au Lait". Can't wait to try out these new instant coffee drinks!
I also received a package from Italy with two different varieties of coffee - one is a Nescafe Classic that tastes very similar to the Nescafe that we have here, except it is in convenient travel pouches, and the other is a Splendid Buongiorno Cappuccino that I have not tried yet that looks awesome!
I can't wait to try out all of these new coffees and cappuccinos! Ah, I love getting mail from all around the world! Such fun!
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
I love coffee. I drink it daily, if not a couple of cups (at least!). I also really enjoy tea and have been trying to drink a bit of tea in place of my daily coffee. Recently, I've had a couple of different people tell me about Yerba Mate and how it is a great alternative to coffee or tea and has a lot of health benefits.
The picture above is a growing Yerba Mate tree. If you are interested in reading more about the culture surrounding Yerba Mate, the growth and consumption of this brewed beverage, you should visit the Wikipedia page as it has loads of information!
In my search of Yerba Mate, I headed over to the closest Whole Foods Market (in Oakville, Ontario) where I found a whopping *two* different varieties. I was hoping that there would be a bit more of a selection, but perhaps because it is still a very niche beverage, they don't sell that much of it. I settled on the "Magical Mint Maté" by Guayaki. Their website lists it as "Pure Empower Mint" (they must have changed the name recently).
It is 100% Organic and Certified Fair Trade. The Yerba Mate comes packaged in individual tea bags just as tea does, and you steep it from 5-10 minutes depending on how strong you like it.
The verdict? I actually really enjoy this! I think that if you are a tea drinker, you will really like it. In this particular flavor, it has a real woodsy-grassy type of taste to it, which is offset by a mild minty flavor that actually tastes really yummy (and it is probably a bit better for the breath than having coffee-breath!)
From the Guayaki website:
Yerba mate was discovered centuries ago by the indigenous people in South America and has been revered as the “drink of the gods” and consumed to enhance, vitality, clarity, and well-being. With 24 vitamins and minerals, 15 amino acids, 11 polyphenols, caffeine, and is high in antioxidants, yerba mate triumphs as nature’s most balanced stimulant.
Of the six commonly used stimulants in the world--yerba mate, coffee, tea, kola nut, cocoa, and guarana--yerba mate is the healthiest, delivering both energy and nutrition.
Sounds good to me! I will definitely be purchasing more Yerba Mate, and hopefully I will come across some more varieties in my shopping and my travels!
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
I bought these Japanese candies because I am in love with Rilakkuma (Relax Bear) - I think that he is just one of the most adorable characters in the world! I have a collection of Relax Bear toys, craft books, you name it. As cute as Relax Bear is, I was expecting equally good tasting candies!
These Rilakkuma treats were definitely NOT tasty at all! They have these strange strawberry aroma and flavor, but then you crunch into it and it tastes like you are crunching on fake strawberry-flavored styrofoam. It sort of reminds me of breakfast cereal gone wrong. The little pink pellets have the shape and size of Fruity Pebbles cereal and sort of look like the image on the plastic container in the third picture. I'm not sure who would really enjoy these candies, and I'm sure that most people, like me, bought it based on the cute character on the container. Blasted advertising!
I give this candy 0.5 out of 5 ... the only reason it didn't get a 0 out of 5 is because I can at least keep the plastic Rilakkuma container that the candies came in!
I bought these candies at Pacific Mall in Markham, Ontario.
Edit: Before throwing away the uneaten candies, I just noticed that there is a cute picture of Little Bear eating strawberries inside the container as well! I may have to raise it to a 1 out of 5 because I got a sticker out of it, too!
Monday, March 15, 2010
Here is the Cookie Plus KitKat from Japan. In this package, you get 10 mini KitKat bars (or 8+2 extra as the box says). I have seen a few varieties of Cookie Plus KitKats out there, and this one claims to have the flavor of those crunchy vanilla cookies like you see in the vanilla Oreo-type sandwich cookies.
The KitKats inside the package actually look quite cute as the inside of the package is decorated with clovers and hearts, and each KitKat bar has its own little wrapper. These KitKat bars definitely don't disappoint - you have the typical chocolate coating and the crunchy interior. They don't taste too much differently than a regular KitKat bar, except there is a hint of an additional cookie crunch. They have the right amount of sweetness - a little bit less than your typical chocolate bar, and the crunchy texture is just right!
I would definitely pick these KitKats up again. They aren't mind-blowing or anything, but a pleasant chocolate-y experience! 4 out of 5.
I bought these KitKat bars at Pacific Mall in Markham, Ontario.
This recipe is from the weekend, a vegan stir-fry recipe called Stir-Fried Beans and Greens. This one was perfect as I had loads of veggies in the fridge, as well as the few ingredients that make up the stir-fry oil/sauce. This recipe is adapted from the original at the Fat Free Vegan Website.
Stir-Fried Beans and Greens
8oz snow peas, cut into halves
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 red or yellow pepper, sliced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 jalapeno chili, finely chopped
1-2 tsp sesame oil
3 cups thinly sliced bok choy
1-15oz can black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained
2 tbsp tamari soy sauce
1 tsp black bean sauce
cooked brown rice (3-4 cups)
2 tsp toasted sesame seeds
Stir fry the snow peas, onion, pepper, garlic, chili in sesame oil for 5 minutes. Stir in bok choy and cook over medium heat until wilted, 2 minutes. Stir in black-eyed peas and stir-fry until hot, about 5 minutes. Stir in soy sauce and black bean sauce. Serve over rice or noodles and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Friday, March 12, 2010
Here is my first Pocky review! Pocky is a very popular Japanese treat and you can find the more basic flavors (chocolate, strawberry) in some grocery stores here. It is a crunchy stick coated with chocolate or another flavor. This is a specialty flavor, Chocolate Crush Pocky. You get six individual packages in this container.
I will be reviewing this one on my own because Paul doesn't care for chocolate treats all that much...on the other hand, I LOVE chocolate! The Chocolate Crush Pocky is better than the regular chocolate Pocky because there are little bits of crumbled chocolate cookie on the pocky stick as well, all covered in chocolate. Yummmmm! This definitely won't disappoint chocolate or Pocky lovers out there! 4 out of 5.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Last night I tried a new recipe for our 5-year anniversary special dinner (see yesterday's blog post), a Cauliflower-Lentil Curry. Let me tell you, this dinner was fantastic! A must try for any fans of Indian cuisine, or anyone who is itching to try something new.
This recipe is adapted from Martha Stewart Living magazine. With that said, to veganize it, just use vegetable stock instead of chicken broth. I would also skip the first step entirely. I tried adding the topping cucumber-onion-lime combo and I really didn't feel as though it worked for the dish. On its own, it might work as some sort of side salad, but it added a vinegary taste to the meal that really didn't go well with it.
Typically, with some Indian dishes, as delicious as they are can feel quite heavy. This cauliflower lentil curry, however, didn't feel heavy at all! The flavors in the spices came together really well and it didn't taste too spicy to me. The potatoes, cauliflower, and the red lentils are a match made in heaven! This dish is incredibly healthy with tons of veggies and the lentils, and I served it topped over brown rice.
I would definitely give this one a shot but save yourself the time and don't bother preparing the cucumber-onion mixture ahead of time - the cauliflower/lentil part of things stands great all on its own!
To view the entire recipe, please visit the Martha Stewart website.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Happy 5th Anniversary to my sweetie! Paul and I celebrate five years of being together today! As a complete surprise to him, I crocheted him this afghan as an anniversary present. I wanted to make him something that would last forever and that could be in our family forever! We both enjoy neutral shades of browns and grays, so I know it will match our decor no matter where we live in the future.
I made this afghan really big - it is still folded over in the second image even - I wanted something that we could both cuddle up underneath. It is made with Marble Chunky and the afghan is just made in a basic double crochet. I actually made this blanket in two weeks, believe it or not, and it was difficult to work on it because I had to wait until Paul wasn't around!
Paul totally loves the gift, hooray! I hope that you enjoyed viewing the afghan, too!
First of all, this is my 200th post to this blog! Yay! I can't believe I have written this many posts...with so many yet to come!
Here is our dinner from last night - a wonderfully delicious and easy to make vegan recipe, Baja Vegetable Wraps. You can make this as non-spicy or as spicy as you'd like by adding hot sauce, although we didn't feel as though it needed any additional spicing as it was flavorful enough! Tons of veggies in this one, no oil, and keeps great in the fridge to be used as left-overs for later in the week!
This recipe has been adapted from the one originally posted on The Healthy Vegan Kitchen.
Baja Vegetable Wraps
1 onion, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 tbsp garlic, minced
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 1/2 cups Napa cabbage, sliced
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp dried oregano
1 can diced tomatoes, strained
2 cups chopped fresh spinach
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup salsa
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
hot sauce to taste
6-8 whole wheat tortillas
1. In a large pot, heat the vegetable broth and add the onion, pepper and garlic. Cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the green onions, cabbage, soy sauce, chili powder and oregano to the pot and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomatoes, spinach, beans, and salsa and cook for 5 more minutes. Remove from heat and add the cilantro.
2. Serve the mixture in a whole wheat wrap and enjoy!
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
I have had the last couple of days off work which finally gives me the chance to play the brand new game that Paul bought for us, Endless Ocean 2: Blue World. This is the type of game that you can start playing and look at the clock and realize that hours have passed without knowing it! Similarly to the first game, Endless Ocean, you are able to go scuba diving in beautiful underwater environments and encounter all sorts of interesting creatures. You are also able to learn about all of the different fish and creatures that you meet along your journey. The graphics are beautiful and provide a very realistic underwater experience.
You are able to follow the main storyline of the game or branch off to complete side quests, such as completing diving tours for customers, taking particular photographs of sea life for magazines, or teaching your dolphin new tricks. I also like that you can just swim around and take in the beauty of the underwater worlds if you choose. So far, I have visited tropical areas in the south Pacific, underwater sea wrecks in the Aegean Sea and frigid arctic regions of the Canadian North, as well as a large aquarium in Japan.
I also enjoy searching for lost treasure and ancient coins underwater using the tracking device. Later, you are able to get these pieces examined and they are tracked in a book where you can view the collection. You are able to sell these pieces to earn money for new equipment or items to decorate the private island where you live.
This game also seems slightly more intense than the last game when you encounter dangerous creatures - you have a "Pulsar" tool to fend off these dangerous sharks if you become under attack, and the Pulsar tool can also heal injured fish.
I'm definitely hooked to playing this game, and to anyone who owns a Nintendo Wii, I would highly recommend picking this one up!
Monday, March 8, 2010
Another maple flavored treat from Japan! This time it is Creamy Maple Pucca made by Meiji. Pucca can be described as a baked wafer candy with a flavored center - in this case, maple!
Paul: Anything maple is good. The best goldfish cracker I ever had! 3.5 out of 5.
Lauren: The maple flavor is totally spot on, and I love the chewy texture of the maple! I would totally buy these again. 4 out of 5.
I bought these at a Japanese candy store in Pacific Mall in Markham, Ontario.
Saturday, March 6, 2010
I purchased a box of Giant Maple Pretz to try - what is interesting about this Japanese snack is that it has "Canada" written across the top and the box is written much like other Canadian products, with one side in English and one side in French.
Pretz is a stick-shaped Japanese snack that is kind of like a pretzel combined with a cracker. I find it to taste a bit more like a cracker than a pretzel. As it turns out, various flavors of Pretz are made for different countries in Japan and are imported and only sold in that country. Canadian Maple Syrup flavor is sold here (although I have only seen it for sale in Asian grocery stores and Japanese stores), and there are other flavors like Pineapple that is only sold in Hawaii, and Coconut that is only sold in Guam and Saipan.
The maple pretz are individually wrapped with two giant Pretz sticks in each individual package. These are much larger than the typical size of Pocky or Pretz - at least twice as big!
As for the review:
Paul: Anything maple is good. 4 out of 5.
Lauren: This snack has the right amount of sweetness and a great cracker crunch. These are definitely addictive - good thing there are so many in this giant package of Pretz! A yummy maple flavor. 4 out of 5.
I bought these at "Oriental Supermarket" at Alton Towers, on McCowan near Steeles in Scarborough, ON.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
This is my first post in an ongoing series of Japanese Snacks postings that I will be doing! My fiance, Paul and I will be rating all of the Japanese sweets that we come across. I'll also let you know where I buy the tasty (or not so tasty!) treats so you could possibly try it out for yourself!
For those of you who don't know, Japan has a variety of...let's just say "interesting" flavors of KitKat bars. They are definitely very different from the generic chocolate ones that we have in Canada and the US! Sometimes we will get a white chocolate or peanut butter one to try, but they tend to stick to the conventional chocolate flavors.
This one is the "Kinako Ohagi" KitKat bar. Kinako ohagi is a Japanese treat made of sweet rice and azuki bean, covered with a soybean powder. This KitKat has the original chocolate coating, but a taste of kinako ohagi in the wafer crunch.
I bought this chocolate bar at a store in the Pacific Mall in Markham, Ontario. Now for our ratings:
Paul: It was a pleasant experience. 3 1/2 out of 5.
Lauren: If I wouldn't have known the flavor in advance, it sort of tasted like peanut butter and chocolate to me. But there was also a sweet taste to it as well. I would buy this one again! 4 out of 5.