Monday, May 31, 2010

Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes


This evening, after cooking an amazing peanut sauce stir-fry dinner with Paul, I noticed that we really didn't have any sweets in the house.  So, I grabbed my Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World cookbook and baked up these delicious cupcakes.  They are chocolate dairy-free cupcakes with vanilla buttercream frosting (also dairy-free).  Let me tell you, like all of the other cupcakes I have baked from that particular cookbook, they are heavenly!  Just the right amount of chocolate-y taste that pairs wonderfully with the vanilla frosting. 

These two cupcakes were quickly devoured by Paul and myself, and you can see my Rilakkuma mug full of coffee in the background.  A super yummy dessert that really didn't take all that long to make!

For the recipes, I strongly advise that you pick up a copy of the Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World book...but if you're interested in trying this recipe out before buying the book, the recipe is posted up at Chow.com.  Here are direct links to the cupcake recipe and the frosting recipe.  Enjoy!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

First Pepper Sightings!


It has been a couple of weeks since I planted my vegetable container garden and with all of the heat and sun we've been having lately, everything is growing incredibly well!  The key during these hot days is to water, water, water!  Watering more than once a day can be a little bit difficult at times where I'm working long hours, so sometimes I will make sure that the plants get a good soaking in the morning.


I was outside watering the plants this morning when...check it out!  The peppers are growing!  One plant has a few tiny hot banana peppers emerging, and the image below shows a yellow bell pepper beginning to grow!  I don't think that I had anything growing this early on at this time last year.


Hopefully these are all good signs of the veggies to come!  So far, we have also been able to pick some fresh arugula and spinach from the garden, as well as basil and garlic chives.  The cilantro is ready to be picked as well, now I just have to make some yummy cilantro rice or fresh salsa!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Live Mocha - Online Language Learning Site


Since my night school Japanese class ended in April, I've been doing a lot of searching around online to find good learning tools for continuing my Japanese studies.  Yesterday, I reviewed Smart.fm and today is Live Mocha.

Live Mocha is a community-oriented way to learn languages, which is fantastic because learning languages doesn't just involve reading and writing, it involves speaking, too!  When you sign up, you have instant access to members from all over the world who may be fluent in the language you wish to learn, and might be trying to learn your native language.

You complete various lessons that include listening to a particular word or sentence, reading it, or typing it.  At the end of each lesson, you are encouraged to type a paragraph that relates to the lesson and submit an audio recording of a paragraph that you read aloud.  Then, members are able to help you learn the language by critiquing your submissions and helping you fix up your mistakes.

You are also encouraged to help out others who might be learning your native language.  I am able to read English written submissions and listen to the English audio submissions and provide some help or corrections to the assignments.  In order to study beyond the first course, you must help out other members of the Live Mocha community.  You also get points based on how many people you help out, and how much you are learning.

There is also an option to create flash cards of the lessons that you learned, or to create new flash cards.  Other members of Live Mocha share flash cards as well, so you can always view their creations and add them to your page.

I have completed two lessons of Japanese 101 and it has been great so far!  Some criticisms of the site - you are not allowed full access to optional quizzes and reading assignments unless you pay a flat rate fee for the year.  Since I really like the site but I'm not in love with it, I am not inclined to pay any additional fees.  I wish that the Japanese lessons did not rely so heavily on Romaji (Romanized version of Japanese for foreigners).  It is great for beginners and you are able to see the Kanji/Kana versions of the words and sentences, but only in certain sections and in the flash-card mode.  Sometimes you can only see the Romaji and I wish there was an option to always view the Kanji and Kana as I am trying to get away from relying so heavily on the Romaji.


If you're interested in learning any aspects of any language (they have TONS of different language courses!), be sure to check out Live Mocha - it's free to join and there are lots of native or fluent speakers willing to help you out!  If you end up joining, be sure to add me as a friend!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Smart.fm - The World's Sharpest Learning Tool


Smart.fm is a wonderful website that helps you learn and memorize information on all sorts of topics.  It is primarily used as a tool to help you to learn different languages, especially Japanese.  I found it while researching various methods to study Japanese and it has helped greatly when it comes to studying Hiragana and Katakana.

You can select various "goals" on the website - whether it be to learn various aspects of a language, geography (countries or capital cities of countries), or even studying obscure words in the English language or the human brain anatomy.  There are all sorts of topics and this application will definitely help you with your memorization!

Let's take, for instance, Japanese Hiragana.  You choose to study this topic and begin to learn using the "iKnow" application that you use to study everything on the site.  You can choose to study 5 or 10 items at a time.  The program slowly shows you the new Hiragana symbols, one at a time, while going back to the ones you just learned intermittently to refresh.  Over time, you will study these Hiragana over again mixed in with new ones.

The application only lets you learn so much at once, where you are forced to take a break for a day or two...or even a week!  This allows the information to go from your short term memory to your long term memory.

Even if you aren't interested in learning a language, you can choose from all sorts of topics across the board - there are thousands of user-generated topics.  Hey, this site is even great for those of you who are looking to kill some time and learn something in the process.  There is even an iPhone app for smart.fm so you can learn on the go!

If you end up checking out the site, please feel free to add me as a friend by going to my profile!  Let me know what you think of the site!


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Happy 30th Birthday, Pac-Man!


I'm sure that by now most of you have noticed the amazing Pac-Man logo on Google's homepage to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Pac-Man!  The image is a playable game of Pac-man around the Google logo.  Let me tell you, the game has definitely hooked a lot of people that I work with, and I'm sure that workplace productivity went waaaaay down when Google launched this on their home page!

If you hit the "Insert Coin" button a second time, it brings up Ms. Pac-Man for two player co-operative game play!  Sweeeeet.

I'm really happy that Google's logo has managed to remind the general population just how much fun the simple game of Pacman really is.  We have the game downloaded to our Wii and we play it all the time!  It is a great game to just pick up when you have a few minutes now and then and becomes quite addictive!

Be sure to visit the Official Pacman 30th Anniversary website to join in on all of the fun and festivities.  If you're concerned about the Google logo changing anytime soon and want to be able to play the special game all the time, feel free to visit this website where a link has been set up that has the game available all the time online, as well as for download.  (In time, it will most likely show up on the Google image logo archive called Google Doodles.)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

FO: Noro Striped Scarf


Check it out - a beautiful Noro Striped Scarf, my most recent finished knitting project!  I just love this scarf - it is easily the most beautiful scarf I have ever created!  It is made using two different colorways of Noro wool, interchanged to create a striping pattern.  Since the yarn naturally changes color on its own, both shades of yarn gradually change colors throughout the scarf.  It was really fun to knit because I was unsure which colors would be striping next!  No matter what happened, the colors always seemed to match really well with one another.


The pattern is extremely easy, even for a beginner knitter.  You can find the pattern for this scarf on the Brooklyn Tweed blog.  It is essentially just a 1x1 ribbing stitch with a slipped stitch edging so the scarf would easily lay flat.  It was a very mindless knitting experience, which made it very easy to watch TV (I'm hooked on watching Dexter...just started the Season 2 DVDs...so good!).  It was a very quick knit to stitch, but was very entertaining as the colors changed as I knitted along.


I used 4 skeins of NoroYuzen (2 of each color) to make the scarf in two different colorways:  02 Blues/Purple/Coral and 05 Pinks/Greens/Orange.  Even though it is Spring and quickly turning to Summer, I'm trying to find any excuse to wear this scarf...but at the very worst, I will have an awesome scarf waiting for me to wear when the Fall weather arrives!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Veggie Garden 2010: Seedlings are Planted!


Welcome to my vegetable garden of 2010!  The typical weekend to plant vegetables here in Canada is the May 24th/Victoria Day long weekend, but since I'm working that weekend (and love to avoid the garden centres at this time since they are so busy!) I decided to plant everything today!  As with last season's veggie garden, I don't have any ground to dig into so everything that I plant is suited for container gardening.



Since I learned a lot from last year - what was a success and what wasn't - I decided to branch out with the successful plants and try a few new things!  One thing that I learned - anything that I started from seed just didn't grow very well.  I think this was due to the fact that I didn't start the seeds indoors or early enough, and they just didn't grow properly.  I went strictly with vegetable plant seedlings this year as they are a bit more durable and I was able to find a good variety this year.

I went to Grobe's Nursery in Breslau, Ontario for my plants.  It is located just past Cambridge and Kitchener, before you reach Guelph.  It was about an hour's drive away, but the variety of vegetables seemed to exceed anything that I could find locally in Brantford (if you know of a great place around here though, please let me know!).  Grobe's had a fantastic variety of vegetables, herbs, and heirloom tomatoes!


The potted vegetable plants that I'm growing are:  Hot Banana Pepper, Yellow Bell Pepper, Red Chili Pepper, Arugula, Spinach, Green Beans, Green Onions (Bunching), and tomatoes (listed below).  The herbs that I am growing are:  Basil - Thai, Basil - Lettuce Leaf, Cilantro, Lavender - Boysenberry Ruffles, Garlic Chives.  Let's hope that the herbs make it this year - I seem to have terrible luck in growing herbs for some reason - they always wither away and die on me.  I'm not sure if it is from too much sun / too much water / too little water ... and I'm not sure whether or not I should keep them outside or bring them indoors!  I don't have a lot of light indoors, so I have always kept them outside in the full sun.


I am growing five different varieties of tomatoes, including some heirloom varieties, and all suited to container gardening.

Better Bush Tomato - Bush type plant produces good yields of flavorful 4" red tomatoes. Tomatoes are very sweet and meaty and have the "real tomato taste". This variety has a strong central stem capable of supporting 48" height with very little need for staking. One of the finest bush varieties on the market.

Tumbler Cherry TomatoA superior variety for hanging baskets and containers! Tumbler has a graceful, cascading habit. Prolific plants produce up to 6 lbs. (2.7 kg) of cherry-type tomatoes, 1.25 in. (3-cm) in diameter. Extra-early! This variety is very sweet and tasty.

Note - apparently you are able to grow this type of tomato in a hanging basket and they cascade downwards - I am just growing it in a regular ol' pot.  :)

Snow White Cherry Tomato - Very pretty cherry tomato that matures to a cream color. Plants are highly productive and the fruits are sweet. The ivory-cream color persists throughout the fruit when cut.

New Big Dwarf Tomato -  Plants 2 1/2 to 3 ft. tall, compact with stout central stem, ideal for growing in pots or other containers but they still need a stake. Good yield of pink beefsteaks of medium size, flattened fruit, 5-6 oz, oustanding flavor, sweet and meaty.

Tiny Tim Tomato -  Tiny Tim is an excellent tomato for growing in containers and does well in even the smallest of pots. They look beautiful in hanging baskets and are perfect for small patios. They usually grow only 12 inches tall so no staking is needed. Let them cascade over a hanging basket and they look wonderful. Fruit is juicy and has very good sweet/tart tomato flavors.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Rock Climbing at Climber's Rock


Climber's Rock is a rock climbing facility in Burlington, Ontario and it is awesome!  I tried rock climbing once about ten years ago, and it was just one small wall with no training at all, you just climbed...so I finally went all out for the full rock climbing experience!  Climber's Rock has tons of walls to climb at all different skill levels, plus areas for bouldering and lead climbing.


Rock climbing provides a fantastic workout and the exercise will help to build strength and muscles throughout your arms, legs, shoulders, hands - it is a full body workout!  My sister attended the introductory course with me, which was about an hour in length and gave you all of the basic training to learn how to do indoor rock climbing.  You learned how to properly put a harness on, tie a figure eight knot in the rope, fasten yourself to the rope, and how to belay.  Belaying is when you hold the rope below while your partner climbs the wall.  You help your climber safely return back to the ground when they are finished climbing.


There was a huge bouldering wall that wrapped around the whole left side of the gym.  You need a lot of strength to climb these walls that simulate boulders.  Many of them are slanted so you have to practically hang upside down at times!  Since the walls are lower to the ground, you don't need to wear a harness - you just put a large gym mat below where you're climbing and make sure that someone is spotting you.  My sister and I attempted to climb some of the easier sections and still found it to be pretty difficult!


My sister and I mostly stuck to the easier walls (rated 5.5-5.7) and some of them we still found to be pretty challenging.  Thankfully, my arms don't hurt too much today - I thought that they might from all of the climbing!  All in all, we had a great work-out and it was a lot of fun to challenge ourselves that way!  I am not really very comfortable with heights but it felt good to work outside of my own comfort zone and it was very rewarding to reach the top of the walls!  I'm sure we will be back soon for some more climbing!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Japanese Snacks: Collon - Oddly Named But Tasty!





Collon - an oddly named Japanese candy that probably didn't translate very well into English...do I really want to eat something called "Collon", which sounds a little too similar to the human body part?  Well, do yourself a favor and give Collon a shot - it is delicious!  The three flavors that I tried above are Chocolate Collon, Cream Collon and Green Tea Collon.  It is basically a crispy wafer snack with a creamy filling, depending on which flavor you try.  I really like all three of these - sometimes I find that the green tea Japanese candies can be a bit iffy, but I really enjoyed the mild green tea flavor of the snack.  I purchased these at various locations around Toronto, including Asian grocery stores and candy stores.  8/10 for all three snacks!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Japanese Snacks: Three New Kit Kats


Here are three new Kit Kat bars that I've enjoyed over the past little while!  I enjoyed all of them - although I've yet to meet a Kit Kat that I didn't like!  I'm sure there are some crazy Japanese flavors of Kit Kat bars that are a bit on the gross side, but thankfully I haven't though any of them are yucky yet.

This first one is the Sparkling Strawberry Kit Kat.  There are a bunch of strawberry Kit Kats and this one definitely tasted a bit different than the regular Strawberry one that I've tried.  This one had the "Sparkling" aspect of it, which I believe was some sort of fizziness added to it.  It really didn't taste too fizzy, but a tad on the sour side of things.  It was still good, but it wasn't fantastic or as good as the regular Strawberry one.  It seemed to have that fake Strawberry flavor to it, with a tinge of sourness.  I'd give it a 6/10.


Here is the Milk Coffee Kit Kat.  I had to look this one up online to find out what the flavor was - the cherry blossoms threw me off, I thought maybe it was some sort of cherry blossom-tea-beverage flavored Kit Kat.  Low and behold, this one is a Milk Coffee Kit Kat and doesn't have much to do with cherry blossoms, except for the fact that maybe it is cherry blossom season right now!  I found that it didn't taste that much like coffee at all, I guess you could taste more of the milky aspect to it.  Personally, I really like the taste of coffee so I would rather that it had a stronger coffee flavor.  All in all, it was still a really tasty Kit Kat bar that I would consider buying again.  7/10.


White Chocolate Kit Kat - you can probably imagine how this one tastes!  It has a smooth creamy white chocolate taste with a Kit Kat crunch that you would expect from this chocolate bar.  Of course, it tasted great!  Nothing special or amazing, just your typical white chocolate bar, which is super yummy.  7.5/10.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Japanese Snacks: Lion Soda Candy


Lion Candy is a Japanese company that makes candies and has an absolutely adorable website.  I recently purchased three different flavors of hard soda flavored candies by Lion.   The one that you see pictured above is the Marble Soda Candy.  It has a flavor that tastes like cotton candy or bubble gum.  In Japan, they make bottles of soda that have a marble in the top, and you push the marble down into the neck of the bottle (also known as "Ramune").  When the beverage passes through the marble when you drink it, the drink fizzes up.  These drinks are super yummy and I can find them in some stores here in Canada, as well as at certain Japanese restaurants on occasion.



Here is the Lion Cream Soda Candy.  In Japan, cream soda flavor tastes differently than it does here in Canada/US, as it refers to melon cream soda.  Like the Marble Soda candy, this one had a pleasant fizziness to it, as well as a creamy filling!



And finally, here is the Lion Cola Candy.  It tastes just like cola - like you would expect cola to taste in a fizzy hard candy.  Yum!  The flavor is great and I love how the candy fizzes on your tongue.

I give all three of these candies a 7/10 - great if you love fizzy hard candies that taste like carbonated beverages!  I personally prefer chewy gummy candies to hard candies, hence the rating... but it's all just personal preference!  I purchased these candies at the Sweet Tooth store in the Scarborough Town Centre in Scarborough, Ontario.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Blue Dog Coffee Roasters in Brantford


Blue Dog Coffee Roasters is located in Brantford, Ontario and serves up one delicious cuppa' coffee!  The coffee house is a warm and inviting environment that has downstairs and upstairs seating, as well as places to sit outside on the patio.  Blue Dog is located inside a historic home in the Brant Avenue Heritage District of Brantford.  There are a large variety of different coffee and tea beverages, as well as fruit smoothies.  You can also enjoy breakfast, lunch, dinner or desserts there, as there are many salads, soups, and sandwiches to choose from.  There are also some freshly baked cookies, muffins, scones, and other sweet treats.


At Blue Dog, they source out premium beans from local co-operatives that pay fair wages to individual farmers.  I purchased some coffee beans while I was there - the Costa Rican fair trade coffee, which was their "coffee of the month".

I also enjoyed an iced coffee made with soy milk while I was there, as well as the Mediterranean flat bread (feta, sun-dried tomatoes, red onion and black olives).  As a vegetarian, I am pleased with the variety of vegetarian options on the menu.  While I purchased a coffee rather than tea, I did notice a variety of different tea and beverages made from tea on the menu.

If you find yourself in Brantford, Ontario or live nearby, be sure to check out the Blue Dog Coffee Roasters for a delicious brewed cup of coffee!  If you're also looking for live music, they host an open mic night once a month, so check out their website for more details!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Japanese Snacks: Hi-Chew and Puccho Treats



Hi-Chew (also known as Hi-Chu) is a chewy, fruit-flavored candy sold in Japan by Morianga.  It is a stick of several candies individually wrapped.  They come in a variety of yummy (or not-so-yummy!) flavors that often change by the season!  These are kind of similar to the Starburst candies that are sold here, but they're a bit better, in my opinion!

There are the typical flavors of Hi-Chew that you tend to see more often - I can even find some at select Shopper's Drug Mart locations where there is a larger Asian population (ie. Scarborough, Toronto).  These flavors of Hi-Chew that I have found recently are a little out of the ordinary!

Pictured above is the Ichigo Strawberry Daifuku Hi-Chew.  Ichigo Daifuku is a traditional Japanese sweet offered in the winter, and this is a limited edition Hi-Chew candy offered during the winter!  These candies are supposed to taste like strawberry, mochi sticky rice, and red bean paste.  I actually really enjoyed this candy - it had a strawberry taste to it, but there was a little something extra - I'm guessing the taste of the red bean paste!  I rate this one a 7 / 10.


Here is the White Peach Hi-Chew, another limited edition candy.  This one seemed really tempting, but I was a bit disappointed with it.  I didn't totally hate it, but it really didn't taste that great!  Paul totally hated it though, saying that it tasted like a peach that had gone bad, or like a peach that someone had farted on.  Those were his exact words.  He's going to laugh knowing that I actually wrote that in my blog!  I rate this one 4 / 10.


Here's an interesting flavor - Durian Fruit Hi-Chew.  Personally, I have never tasted a Durian fruit, although I would like to give it a try!  This candy really didn't taste like much of anything to me - I found it to be sweet, but quite bland.  Maybe that's because I don't know what a durian is supposed to taste like.  5 / 10.


American Cherry Hi-Chew - I don't know what makes this one stand out as "American Cherry" vs. a regular flavor of cherry candy, but I enjoyed it.  It had a pleasant cherry flavor, tastes like most cherry candies do.  Nothing terribly special though.  7 / 10.


UPDATE - Found out the flavor of this one - it is the POM Juice Hi-Chew!  Thanks to a friend on my Flickr account for helping me!  It was really yummy!  I'd buy this one again.  8 / 10.


Here is another brand of chewy candy from Japan called Puccho, made by Mikakuto.  The two flavors of Puccho I have tried are the one pictured above and the one pictured below.  I actually enjoyed both of these Puccho candies much better than Hi-Chew!  The first one is White Soda, which was a chewy tasty candy that tasted sort of like Sprite, and it even had a fizzy center!  Wow!  Tasted just like a white soda would if it were a candy...which it is!  9 / 10


Watermelon Puccho - this one is probably my favorite chewy Japanese candy of all!  The color of the candy is just like a watermelon - green on the outside and pink on the inside.  It is a delicious burst of watermelon flavored candy!  Loved it!  9.5 / 10