Categories
Food General Reviews

“Celery is an Insult to Human Dignity”

A while ago, I came across a diatribe against celery written by Mallory Ortberg that I could have written (I mean by this, that I feel as strongly about celery as the writer does, not that I could deliver as captivating and successful an attack on this horrid and depraved little vegetable as she does); it captures my feelings about celery, but could easily apply to many (most) vegetables 😛

Some gems from it include:

“Celery eater Martha Rose Shulman writes: “I’m a big fan of celery, both raw and cooked, as the main ingredient or as one of several featured ingredients in a dish,” and then proceeds to instruct her readers on how to cook and eat the thing, as if celery were capable of being eaten and digested, when everyone knows it just rolls around in the mouth, becoming more and more fibrous, until one is obliged to spit it out in a napkin.”

And in response to another writer’s claim that celery makes for a great main ingredient in a risotto because it stands up to the creamy rice Ortberg writes:

“Celery has two forms: a stiff and watery stalk that splinters into a thousand tangled splinters, or a brown and flaccid, steaming mush-corpse bristling with tender hairs. Creamy rice does not need to be “stood up to,” creamy rice is pleasant and inoffensive. Celery tastes like bundles of floss that have achieved sentience through anger and banded together to jam themselves permanently into your teeth.”

And the coup de grâce:

“Celery is an insult to human dignity.”

You can find the whole article here.

Categories
Adventure Reviews

Grace Cathedral, San Francisco

If you’re visiting San Francisco, Grace Cathedral should definitely be on your list of places to visit.

Grace Cathedral at night, San Francisco

Grace Cathedral at night, San Francisco

It’s breathtaking at night and the ‘Gates of Paradise’ or ‘Ghiberti Doors’ are exquisite.

'Gates of Paradise' or 'Ghiberti Doors' in San Francisco

Grace Cathedral, San Francisco

To be fair, the gates are a replica. The original gates were in Florence at the Florence baptistery. However, were you to go to Florence today to see the doors, you would be looking upon a replica too, as the orignal doors are now stored away in a protected and controlled environment.

Here are some close-ups of sections of the doors:

Close-up of Ghiberti doors, San Francisco

Close-up of Ghiberti Doors, Grace Cathedral, San Francisco

Grace Cathedral at night, San Francisco

Grace Cathedral is also famous for its labyrinth. It’s as beautiful inside as it is on the outside, and I found it strangely calming to sit inside the cathedral for a while, after a long day out in the city. It’s very cool and quiet inside, and I found myself unsurprisingly, in a contemplative mood.

After visiting the Cathedral, I would also recommend walking over to the famous hotel across the street: the Fairmont San Francisco. This is where the United Nations Charter was first drafted, in the hotel’s Garden Room.

Categories
Adventure General Reviews

An Island Paradise 5 Minutes from Downtown Toronto?

The Toronto Islands are surprisingly beautiful, all things considered. I’ve been before, several years ago, but it was only on a recent trip there for the first time in years, that I realized how picturesque the islands are! Obviously, they’ve got nothing on any island in the Caribbean, but for a beach in a busy metropolitan centre, it’s pretty gorgeous. Far more peaceful than the beach in Chicago, and more beautiful than the beaches on Sentosa Island in Singapore for instance, by several orders of magnitude.

I think Toronto residents often don’t get to enjoy the beaches on the Islands as much as they could and should.

Don’t believe me? See for yourself.

Best beach in Toronto

Toronto Islands

We even managed to stay long enough to enjoy a beautiful sunset:

Beautiful beach on Toronto's Centre Island

Categories
Adventure Food General Reviews

Culinary Adventure in Toronto Part I (Or How to Eat like a Scheherazade)

Last week I was to meet an old friend for dinner. He said I could pick the restaurant and because I really wanted to try some place new, I spent hours researching restaurants in Toronto. I wanted to find a great place that served something unusual, something that was relatively new to me.

You see, I’ve been feeling more than a little restless lately; these past few months, I haven’t been traveling as much as I usually. One great way I’ve found to satisfy my wanderlust when I cannot afford to spend time traveling, is to try out a restaurant that serves food from some interesting part of the world. This ‘coping mechanism’ is particularly effective if the restaurant serves cuisine from a part of the world that I haven’t visited yet.

So I googled and yelped away and finally decided on a Persian restaurant called The Pomegranate. It is, oddly enough, situated in Little Italy. I rang the restaurant the next day and managed to get a dinner reservation for the same night.

The restaurant itself was cozy and the decor was somewhat cute. I have to be honest though, it wasn’t anywhere as nice as the review on blogto.com led me to believe. Some of the furnishings and fixtures were bordering on shabby and it wasn’t half as gorgeous or interesting as I expected it to be, given its Persian association. It reminded me a little bit of the scores of Indian restaurants I’ve seen, with kitschy Indian decor; in short it looked like it was trying far too hard to be what it thought westerners wanted it to be.

When the food arrived though, I forgot all about the decor. It was delicious! I should point out in no uncertain terms here, that I have never been to Iran, nor have I ever had ‘persian’ or Iranian food anywhere except in India. Also, I use the term ‘Persian’ to describe the food and the restaurant because this is how the restaurant owners have chosen to describe the place and the food. The term is fraught with political, cultural and historical connotations and tensions, but this post isn’t the place to go into all of this, and I am certainly not informed enough on the issues involved to wax eloquent on it, so I have decided to simply stick with the term that the restaurant owners have chosen.

Getting back to the food, I had the fesenjaan (they had a vegetarian version with mushrooms). It came with a generous serving of rice and salad (of course I didn’t touch the salad 😉 )

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Described as a stew of walnuts and pomegranate syrup, the fesenjaan was flavouful and creamy with a detectable but subdued nutty flavour. One of the reviews of the restaurant I came across described this dish as syrupy (and the menu hinted at this by describing it as a stew of pomegranate syrup) and I must admit I almost didn’t order it because of this, but in fact it wasn’t syrupy. It was delicately sweet and in terms of texture and consistency resembled a typical mughlai sauce/gravy (which of course entirely makes sense as mughlai food was deeply influenced by Persian cuisine). So it was more like a sweetened shahi paneer or butter chicken than it was like a syrup.

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In conclusion, I recommend the place. It’s cute, the servers are friendly, the food is good and the decor is pleasant and cosy enough- it’s just not breathtaking or as unique as it could be.

Categories
Food General Reviews

Macaroons at Dusk

I wouldn’t say that I am tremendously fond of macaroons. I mean I like them, sure, but I’ve never woken up in the middle of the night and wanted one. I have woken up in the middle of the night craving all sorts of other foods. Some of the things I have had midnight cravings for include:

1. Chocolate

2. Chocolate Ice Cream with Fudge on Top

3. Chocolate Fudge

4. Fish Tacos

5. Re-fried Beans

6. Yummy Thin Crust Pizza

7. Fish Curry (and this is an umbrella term I am using to refer to about 6 kinds of fish curry)

I could literally go on for hours, and this is just what I craved over the last week or ten days.

But, I’ve never ever craved a macaroon. My point is, I was never into macaroons, that is until recently. The other day, a friend brought me some assorted macaroons as a gift and since then, I’ve developed a taste for them. It isn’t that I’ve never had them before, it’s that these were particularly delicious macaroons. Unlike chocolate, which I enjoy eating even when it’s of average quality, I only like macaroons if they’re particularly well made, and these were yummy! They were from MoRoCo, a little chocolate-themed store and restaurant in the Yorkville area of Toronto. Go here for their website.

The macaroons were light and airy and I loved all the different flavours they had.

They made the most delightful little snack last evening along with a ginger-white chocolate cookie. You see, I set them on my bedside table late in the afternoon, and my plan was to take a break from working to eat them, when I was done reading this important chapter of an important book for my even more important dissertation.

Colourful macarons and a ginger chocolate cookie

It turned out to be a rather engaging chapter, and I kept on reading. Evening had turned to dusk before I realized I hadn’t eaten them yet. (This, by the way, is proof of the fact that I am only reasonably fond of macaroons, whereas I am unreasonably obsessed with chocolate. I’ve never left uneaten chocolate by my bedside and forgotten about it. That’s unheard of! If I did that and it became known to my family and/or friends, everyone who loved me would be very worried about me indeed.)

Macarons at dusk

I needed a drink at this point, so I made myself a colourful drink (fresh, pulpy watermelon juice) to go with the snack:

Fresh watermelon juice

Needless to say, I had a nice, rewarding study break. I did of course also dig into some of those truffles I made yesterday as well 🙂

Categories
Adventure Reviews

More Panama: Pirates in Portobelo

In a previous post about Panama I wrote about Isla Grande- this beautiful island in the Caribbean. When it was time to leave Isla Grande, we took a boat to the coast (to La Guaira) and then got on an another quintessentially Panamanian bus to Portobelo. Portobelo is a picturesque, sleepy, colourful (literally) town in Colon Province. See how brightly coloured the houses are:

It’s also full of adorable little dogs:

But what it’s really famous for are the following:

– The Black Christ

– Gold; and

– Pirates

1. The Black Christ

A famous statue of the black christ or El Cristo Negro is housed in a church called Iglesia de San Felipe in Portobelo.

Inside the Iglesia de San Felipe in Portobelo
Inside the Iglesia de San Felipe in Portobelo

Legend has it that the statue of the black christ was carved in Spain and was being taken to Colombia, but the crew decided to leave it behind in Portobelo because it was bringing them bad luck. Portobelo is now the site of an annual festival called the Black Christ Festival.

2. Gold

Apparently, one third of all the gold in the world passed through Portobelo. All this gold was processed in this spanish customs house built in 1630:

Spanish Custom House, Portobello
Customs house Portobelo.
Close-up of Spanish Customs House, Portobello
Close-up of Spanish Customs House, Portobelo
Angled Profile of Spanish Customs House, Portobello
Angled Profile of Spanish Customs House, Portobelo

3. Pirates

Because there was gold, obviously there were pirates! Apparently, Portobelo was attacked repeatedly by pirates. The most famous one to attack and sack the town was Captain Morgan! As a result, the Spanish fortified the port. The beautiful forts are now in ruins.

A fort called Batteria Santiago in Portobello, Panama.
Batteria Santiago, Portobelo, Panama.
Cannons in Batteria Santiago, Portobello, Panama.
Cannons lined up and ready to fire! Batteria Santiago, Portobelo, Panama.

Now, I’ve seen plenty of forts in India and Europe, but I found two things to be particularly striking about these forts. First, dead coral was used in the walls!

Coral used in building Forts, Portobello, Panama
Coral Forts, Portobelo, Panama
Close-up of coral in the walls of forts, Portobello, Panama.
Close-up of coral in the walls of forts, Portobello, Panama
Close-up of coral in the walls of forts, Portobello, Panama
Close up of walls of a fort (Batteria Santiago) in Portobelo

The other thing that was absolutely magical about these forts was the unparalleled beauty of the Caribbean; I’ve never seen a more gorgeous backdrop to a fort in my life! Here are some of the vistas I am talking about:

Ocean-view from Batteria Santiago, Portobello, Panama
View from Batteria Santiago, Portobelo, Panama
Vie of the caribbean, Portobello, Panama
Caribbean waters, Portobelo, Panama
Caribbean waters, Portobello, Panama
Ocean-view from Batteria Santiago, Portobelo, Panama

What made the forts absolutely gorgeous in my eyes was the contrast between the coral and the Caribbean blue-green; the ocean was such a striking and wonderful backdrop to the textured off-white of the coral walls of the forts.

I can honestly say that Portobelo is one of the cutest, prettiest, sleepiest little towns that I have ever been to. As I said, it was indeed full of beautiful colours.

Categories
Chocolate Food Reviews

The Best Ice Cream Money Can Buy: the Most Superlative-Filled Rant About Ice Cream Ever to be Written.

Normally, my posts are about things I make at home like chocolate, fish curry and body butter; I like using fresh ingredients and where possible homemade ones. So for instance, when I made chocolate brazil nut truffles, I made the brazil nut butter for the filling at home. Today, however, I am doing something entirely different. I am going to write about an unhealthy, commercially made, probably very-processed and nevertheless utterly delicious food, namely: Denali Extreme Maximum Fudge Moose Tracks.

This is not to be confused with ‘Denali Extreme Moose Tracks’. Oh no, these are two entirely different things- like apples and chocolate. If you like chocolate and are prone to excess, go that extra mile for the ‘extreme maximum fudge’ version, it IS worth the effort.

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This ice cream is FULL of chunks of chocolate and this chocolate has a slight salty taste to it that balances its sweetness oh so perfectly. Mmmm.

In the photo below, that chocolate chunk you see is actually a giant rock of chocolate. Apart from the little bit of ice cream you see stuck to its surface, the rest of what is in that bowl is solid chocolate! When I saw that chunk I squealed in delight, it was like finding pirate treasure, except better. If it had been treasure I would have had to convert that treasure into money and then traveled to an American grocery store to buy this ice cream and then dug in the tub with a spoon for chocolate, whereas now, I had a big chunk right here on my plate!

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And another example of this wondrous chocalatey stuff:

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Whoops, I just realized I ruined this photograph with my thumb. This is what happens when one takes photographs whilst simultaneously squealing.

And a shot of the inside of a half eaten tub of the stuff:

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It’s absolute incredible that this ice cream isn’t available everywhere. It’s even difficult to find in the US. The only places that I have found it in so far are Kroger and Meijer. If I haven’t said this before, here it is: this ice cream is unparalleled in its chocolateyness and really is my favourite kind of ice cream ( just a clarification, gelato is a whole different thing, I am talking about ice cream here). So if it’s available in your grocery store, I say go ahead and try it! But, be warned, that stuff is probably stronger than you are and isn’t for the faint of heart.

It came to a point where I was eating scoops and scoops of this stuff with Sanders dark chocolate fudge on top. I knew it was going to make me obscenely fat, but I felt like I couldn’t stop! In fact, recently, scientists at the Oregon Research Institute have claimed that in some ways one’s reaction to ice cream can be like that of an addict’s to her drug of choice. Reportedly, their studies show that people who eat a lot of junk food can be experiencing cravings similar to what dependent drug users experience. They used Haagen Dazs in their study as a sample of high-sugar junk food.

So kidding aside, I recommend moderation! If you eat it in small, controlled portions, at regulated times, you will enjoy it’s deliciousness in all it’s glory. Don’t go down the dark path that I have gone down multiple times, eating sickeningly large quantities of the stuff and then feeling sick- both metaphorically and literally.

Categories
Adventure Chocolate Food Reviews

Wonderful Chocolate Truffles in the Mid-West

I don’t want to sound like a pompous ass or anything. Really, I don’t.

You’re wondering why I am leading with this. You’ll know in a second.

So here goes: I’ve been to Switzerland more times than I can remember, lived in Germany and traveled around in Austria, France and Italy. And of course, I’ve eaten tonnes of chocolate in all these places. They are all known for making delicious chocolate, and I’ve had some exquisite chocolate in most of them. However, if you asked me where I’ve had the best chocolate truffles in the world, I’d have to say, and I promise that I am not doing this for shock value, the mid-west. Yes, you read that correctly, in the mid-west, of America. And no, I don’t mean Chicago. No, I mean non-urban, super-polite, sickeningly nice, mid-west America.

Where in the mid-west? Well, unfortunately, the place which sells these delicious truffles is sort of inconveniently located. It’s on the way from Ann Arbor to Chicago. It’s this little place called “The Chocolate Garden”. Here are the store’s contact details:

2691 Friday Road

Coloma, MI 49038-9712,

(269) 468-9866

To be fair, there are a few things wrong with the place. First, the name is awful because it’s utterly unimaginative. Second, the store itself isn’t particularly nicely done up or anything. Third, the truffles aren’t cheap- at least they’re not cheap if you’re a poor grad student. They’re about 3$ a piece. But, they are GOOD!

One upside is that the store is by a vineyard. We arrived there around sunset the second time we stopped there, and it’s was a beautiful sight.

Sunset glow on the vineyard
Driveway leading to the store; an abandoned barn.

I should have prefaced this review with something, so as not to be misleading you. So let me qualify the statement now. It’s perfectly possible that I am building this up precisely because I found these truffles in an unassuming store in the unassuming mid-west. Maybe the story, the whole process of finding it off the highway, wandering in with low expectations and then having my mind-blown (quite metaphorically of course), made the truffles more flavourful to my tongue. I love stories you see. More than anything in the world, quite possibly even as much as I love chocolate (if you’re thinking I contradicted myself here, I did no such thing you little nit-picker, you! Chocolate is not of this world, it is divine. As for cats, they’re ueber intelligent alien-super-beings). And it wouldn’t be quite as delightful a story if I’d found these truffles in a store in Geneva, or somewhere in Belgium. So, maybe they aren’t, objectively speaking, if one can ever be objective about such things, the best truffles I’ve had. But they were darned good, and if you’re driving by, you should stop by.