Mid-Week Tangent: Cake-ploration Continues

Last week I wrote about my quest to find the perfect cake. I seem unable to let it go. When I was picking up my (decidedly un-perfect) slice of chocolate decadence cake last week (chocolate mousse masquerading as frosting *shudder*), I noticed a very fine looking cake: vanilla salted caramel. It looked amazing, but chocolate is my first love, so I went with it. I should’ve trusted my instincts.

Sunday night, I persuaded my better half to swing by that same bakery** on our way home, even though it is not really on our way home. As I stood in line, I had a minor panic attack when it appeared that there were no slices left. Thankfully, my better half stayed calm and was able to locate several slices sharing a platter with another cake. Crisis averted. You think I am exaggerating, but it should be clear that I take my cake seriously.

Behold. In all her glory. Bad lighting care of my extreme sense of urgency around consuming her.

I am pleased to announce that this cake was ten times better than its long lost chocolate cousin. Although the thick layers of filling you see were still a mousse, it was somehow more acceptable in caramel form. It could also be that the mousse was studded by little pockets of salted caramel perfection. I am even willing to forgive that the outer ‘frosting’ was caramel cream and not my beloved buttercream. I cannot believe that I am willing to say this, but it’s because the vanilla cake layers were so delightfully moist and flavourful that, when combined with the filling, I didn’t feel the need for copious amounts of sweet frosting. I don’t even know who I am anymore.

Suffice it to say, I have not yet found the elusive perfect cake but I can safely say I have found a damn good standby that, thankfully, is not within easy walking distance.*

*Although I did walk 2.5 km home with the slice of chocolate cake last week. I didn’t go on the walk specifically for the cake, but at the end of the day I walked 5 km and returned with a slice of cake. That’s commitment. However, this vanilla salted caramel cake is worth the 5km walk. Easily.

**If you’re in Vancouver, this cake can be found at Trafiq on Main Street.

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Real-Talk Thursdays: I want the toll fees back

I am not naturally a morning person. I like to wake up at a reasonable hour and slowly start my day, not be jolted from depths of deep slumber at an ungodly hour only to rush out the door in under 25 minutes. It is not my happy place. I sometimes envy morning people but, truthfully, most often I think there is something seriously wrong with them.

What does this have to do with toll fees? Well, recently one of our major suburban-to-urban commuter bridges removed a long-standing toll fee. Hurrah for money back in our pockets! Right? After a couple weeks of experiencing the post-toll-fee world, I’m not so sure my answer is yes. When the tolls were first removed, I complained that the traffic would be so much worse, but in my heart I didn’t really believe it. Would people really avoid the most direct route to work just to save $6 a day? As it turns out, yes, yes they would. And they have been, daily, flocking to my highway and my bridge and ruining my peaceful morning commute.

I left at 5:10 am the other morning (!!!!!). I mean, good God, that is early. Normally, at that time I would fly downtown, probably arriving in around 35 minutes.  It took me 46 minutes.  That is 11 minutes longer. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is 31% longer. I also tend to judge the quality of my early, early (EARLY) morning commutes by the number of times I have to come to a full stop on the highway due to traffic volume.  If I stop zero times it is a fantastic day, 1 time is okay, 2 times is getting to be a bit much and anything more than that is a travesty. The other morning I came to 2 full stops. That’s normal for 6 am traffic, but not 5:10 am traffic. For the love of everything good in this world, there should be some reward for getting one’s ass out of bed and on the road that early and that reward should be smooth sailing!

Yes, I realize it is banal and utterly first-world problem territory to be complaining about traffic. First and foremost, I don’t care, because an unpleasant side effect of my early mornings is a sharp spike in my grumpiness. Secondly, I am actually not complaining about the traffic, but rather the removal of the toll fee that evidently kept traffic at bay for years.  I will gladly pay the government $137 per month for the great joy of a smooth morning commute. It is a small price to pay for my peace of mind, general attitude, and the extra 20 minutes of sleep I would get on the daily.

The very least the government could have done was postpone the toll removal until October 1st, at which point I would be completely oblivious to the effects thanks to my cushy, new, temporary city digs. It’s true what they say: timing is everything.

Quest for Gelato Perfection: All Summer and No Perfection

Well, that was an unexpectedly long departure from blogging. I was away for an extended long weekend and planned poorly for this week’s posts. Never fear, though, I am back with my final installment of this Summer’s quest for gelato perfection. And I left the granddaddy of local gelaterias for last. I wish I could say that I planned it that way but this, too, was opportunity gelato.  I also wish I could say I went and saved the best for last (cue sappy Vanessa Williams to accompany), but sadly that was also not the case.

After a summer of trying desperately to find the best gelato, what I’ve come to believe is that nothing will ever taste as good as what I ate in Italy. It’s possible that the gelato there is leaps and bounds better, but it’s equally possible that its deliciousness was heightened by the fact that I was, you know, in Italy, surrounded by vast countrysides of vineyards and historic castles and whatnot. Yeah, that could be it. Still, here we go with this latest experience.

Where: Bella Gelateria (Marinaside location)

What: I ordered the Amarena Cherry and Wickedly Burnt Caramel. My better half ordered the classic salted caramel.

Salted Caramel
Cherry and Wickedly Burnt Caramel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What stood out: First, I have to get this off my chest. I have mentioned several times how I despise gelato shops in which gelato is hidden from view in charmless stainless steel bins. I don’t know why it irks me so, but it does. Only once have I been blown away by the contents of those bins. This was not that time.

Second, and a bit of a sidenote, some advice for those less wise than me: gelato does not make a great pre-concert choice. We stopped for gelato en route to the Guns n’ Roses concert and, though it seems obvious now, I didn’t question whether a giant bowl of gelato would make an ideal pre-show snack. It does not.

In terms of the gelato itself, I can say that the texture was lovely. It was velvety. It commenced melting the second it hit the warm air outside, as one would expect from gelato. It was served properly with a spade and not in scoops.

When it comes to the flavours, I was tremendously disappointed. They were fine. But here’s the thing: this gelateria is widely acclaimed as the best gelato in the city of Vancouver and supposedly the best outside of Italy. The location near my office regularly has a long line (upwards of 45 minutes!) wrapping around the block. If I had waited 45 minutes for this gelato, I’d have been pissed. I do not want to wait 45 minutes for gelato that is “fine”.

The Salted Caramel was nice enough, and was clearly the winner of the three flavours, but I’ve come to believe that salted caramel is one of those flavours that is hard to mess up.

The Amarena Cherry was a grave disappointment. Perhaps this is the one area where Italy legitimately has a leg up because I’m certain their cherries actually taste like cherries, whereas anything cherry-flavoured here seems far too subtle and/or overly sweet. I have decided that, aside from Dolce Gelato in White Rock, I am through ordering cherry flavoured gelato here. It is dead to me.

Now let me unleash my bitterness about the over promising and under delivering Wickedly Burnt Caramel. This flavour is living a lie. It is decidedly not burnt, and presents its consumer with nothing even remotely wicked. My boyfriend described it best when he said it was “caramel lite”, as in it had the most subtle hint of caramel flavour possible for such a boldly named gelato. It was the biggest disappointment of the evening.

My final conclusion on Bella Gelateria is twofold: 1. This place is overhyped to the extreme and 2. Location may matter for this gelateria. We may have chosen a dud, but then again, part of multi-location eateries is meant to be their consistency. Make it good everywhere or don’t make it at all, I say.

I’m sad to end this summer’s quest with such a lacklustre finale. However, I still have hope for finding brilliant gelato next year, or at least visiting my Kelowna discovery many, many times when we make our move to Vernon. Until then, may you find your own gelato perfection and, if and when you do, please loop me in!

 

Mid-Week Tangent: Battle of the Fort Langley Gelato Part I

Unbeknownst to me until last weekend, I have not one but two gelato shops right in my own backyard (not literally, of course, although that would be a pretty fantastic backyard).  Now that I’ve kicked off my summer gelato challenge , I think I am hyperaware of gelato shops everywhere I go, sort of like when you buy a new car and then you start to see the same model everywhere you look.  What I was most excited by is that there are duelling gelato shops.  While not quite directly across the street from one another, they’re pretty close and I think that gives this gelato-off a very West Side Story vibe. I’m excited to see which gelato shop reigns supreme.

We checked out the interior of both shops this past weekend before choosing where to taste first.  I admit, I may already be biased against one of the shops. Bucking all gelato trends, they’ve opted not to display their gelato. While I’m usually supportive of bucking trends, part of the delight of gelato is being able to scan the flavours in their glass case. I’m not sure how I feel about sight-unseen gelato. But we’ll get to their products next week. For now, let’s take a look at our first Fort Langley gelato experience.

Reminder: I am not a food blogger. My goal is shoot as fast as possible to commence eating. But kudos to me for actually taking a picture before eating half of it…unlike the last two weeks.

Where: Maria’s Gelato, Fort Langley 

What I Had:  For some reason, though I typically select the most sickeningly sweet and rich dessert options, when selecting gelato I love me some fruit flavours.  It’s inexplicable to me. That’s my Cherry Mania on the left there, and my boyfriend’s (wiser) choice of coffee and salted butter caramel. I also sampled the peach gelato.

As a sidenote, I was disappointed in the lack of really interesting flavours. Aside from the pistachio and rosewater and strachiatella, most flavours were completely standard fair, lacking that Italian flair that I’m ultimately seeking in my quest for gelato perfection.

What stood out:  I had lower expectations for this place. For once, I did my research before checking out a gelato shop. The things I do for this blog! At any rate, I read countless reviews of tiny portion sizes, high prices, and rude service. I didn’t find any to be fair reviews.

As you can see from the photo above, these are fairly standard gelato serving sizes. My own theory is that customers are comparing to ice cream shops where double-scoops are often the size of your head.  It’s not ice cream. This is how gelato works. As for prices, I felt they were comparable to other shops at $5-7ish, depending on how much you ordered. Maybe it’s because when I lived downtown all the ‘artisan’ ice cream shops charged an arm and a leg for ice cream, but I’m not phased by that sort of price tag. Lastly, service was fine. It was pretty empty when we went, though, so perhaps when it’s busy service goes downhill. But I also have pretty low expectations for service. If I were scooping gelato on the daily, you’d better bet I’d have trouble being pleasant when customers want to sample every flavour under the sun and suffer from analysis paralysis when it comes time to place an order.

Okay, enough about the boring stuff, let’s get on to the taste! I’ll start with the worst of the day: the peach gelato. Granted, I had the world’s smallest sample, but the artificial peach flavour was noticeable nonetheless.  Perhaps since peaches are out of season, they are supplementing with artificial flavours…I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, but something tells me I’m being overly optimistic on this one.

The cherry mania and coffee were both fine.  Flavour-wise, they were about what I was expecting.  The cherries were delightfully tart but the base was otherwise a fairly typical vanilla.  To me, coffee ice cream is coffee ice cream. I’ve yet to had one that blew my mind, so I’d say this one was perfectly fine. But I’m looking for perfect not perfectly fine with this gelato challenge.

The salted butter caramel, on the other hand, was a flavour explosion, so much so that I immediately regretted ordering only one flavour (seriously, why did I only order one flavour???). If you don’t like the flavour of butter, you will hate this gelato. If you’re like me, though, and have a mild butter addiction, this flavour is the only way to go. It is so rich and so over-the-top bold in its buttery-ness that you will be swooning. I may have eaten more of this flavour than my boyfriend. How he so willingly shares sweets is beyond me.

My biggest letdown at Maria’s wasn’t the flavour profiles, though. I need to talk texture and creaminess.  In the end, I would classify this gelato as more akin to ice cream.  It was still a bit airier than gelato, and lacked the rich creaminess that I was craving. For ice cream, it was good, but it didn’t have that velvety, easily-melting, supremely smooth quality for which I love, love, love gelato.

Overall, I’d say that I had a positive experience at Maria’s, but more as a destination for solid ice cream than gelato. I can’t wait to see whether the other Fort Langley gelato offerings blow my mind. But for that, you’ll have to wait until next week.

Mid-Week Tangent: the quest for gelato perfection begins

I still dream of Italian gelato on the regular. I have zero regrets for eating up to three a day while on vacation last year. In fact, I regret not having eaten more of it. Since then, gelato has been notably absent from my life. Sure, on the odd occasion, I’ll buy a store-bought brand but, let’s be honest, there’s rarely a discernible difference between store-bought gelato and ice cream.  In my heart, I long to find the perfect gelato a little bit closer to home.

This weekend I tasted some damn good gelato, which got me wondering if I am missing out on all sorts of hidden gelato gems in and around this city.  And so, I’ve decided that I will boldly dedicate my summer to finding great gelato here, in and around Vancouver. Okay, I’m not actually going to devote my entire summer. My waistline certainly doesn’t need that, plus I’ll eventually be working again. It’s more like if I see a gelato place, I am going to try it. That’s half-assed dedication at its best!  Along the way, I will document the good, the bad and the ugly.

Today I’ll start with the best find I’ve found so far. Granted, I’ve eaten minimal gelato so far in the city. I used to live by Mario’s Gelati so I went there on occasion. Despite what many others think about it, I don’t like their gelato (gasp!). I find its texture to be quite grainy with ice crystals when what I want is silky creaminess. I blame mass production. I’ve also gone to the locally famed La Casa Gelato, which now boasts 238 flavours. I haven’t been in at least a decade, at which time they had a paltry 120 flavours I think, but I remember not being blown away and thinking their fame had more to do with quantity and gimmicky flavours (wasabi gelato? really?) than quality.  But there are so many more places to taste. And taste I shall.

As I mentioned, this weekend I found some brilliant gelato. It had all the hallmarks I personally look for: intensely creamy, boldly flavoured, interesting flavour selection, and made on the premises.

It looked better before I ate half of it and before it started to melt in the sun. What you can gather from this picture is that I lack the self control to wait even 30 seconds before starting to devour gelato. Truth.

Where: Dolce Gelato, White Rock

What I Had: A firm believer in never having just one flavour, I opted for Foresta Nera (vanilla with chocolate, nuts and booze-soaked cherries) and Meringa (heavenly meringue gelato, with massive meringue shards and chocolate).

What stood out:  Oh my god, I could have eaten those meringue pieces forever. I have no idea how they stay crisp in a sea of dairy, but they do and it is wonderful. The cherries in the foresta nera were heavenly as well, incredibly flavourful. I shouldn’t have to say things like ‘they tasted like real cherries’, but most cherries in ice cream bear little resemblance to real fruit so I will explicitly proclaim that these tasted like legit cherries!!!!  I had a hard time selecting flavours here as there were so many that looked unique and delicious.  In particular, I’m sad that I didn’t get to try the Casatta (candied orange peel, nuts, chocolate and orange liqueur) because it looked amazing and like something I would have seen in Italy.  I opted against it because candied orange usually isn’t my jam, but in hindsight I think I may have missed out on something different and delightful.  In other words, I will return and I will devour more flavours.

Until next time, here’s hoping you find a place to get your gelato on.*

*and if you know of a place in my general ‘hood, please send me recommendations!

Monday Musings: Rain, Rain & More Rain

I know, I know, it’s so perfectly banal to speak of the weather, and I choose to live in Vancouver, where one can expect season upon season of above-average rainfall.  Still, it’s putting a serious damper (pun fully intended) on my desire to get outside. Think I’m exaggerating? This year, it rained 28 out of 31 days in October. I don’t know about you, but that seems fairly excessive. Come on Mother Nature, cut us a break!

If any of you happen to live in a generally grey and gloomy locale, you may echo my sentiments here: the grey and the rain really start to get you down after a while.  You might find that your motivation starts to dip. You might even start to play the “I’ll-just-wait-until-the-weather-gets-a-bit-better-before-I-go-for-a-run” game…except it never stops raining and, as a result, you never seem to go for that run.  I have no answers to this vicious circle of laziness.  None. I just know I struggle with workout motivation when we have particularly monsoon-like years here in Vancouver.

Yup.
Yup.

Instead of solutions for coping with dreary weather, I present you with my unfiltered thoughts on working out in the rain after several weeks of seemingly endless showers:

  1. I get that rain is good for the planet, but seriously can we just get a few consecutive days of blue sky?!?
  2. For the love of God, why has no one invented waterproof workout gear that BREATHES?!?!
  3. Would it be so bad to stop working out until the sun comes back? I mean, what’s a little winter weight?

Ah, that feels a little better. Sometimes you just need to vent. And, who knows, maybe the weather gods will hear my cries for sunshine. Also, if anyone lives in a sunnier and warmer destination and is open to a perfectly delightful (and temporary) houseguest, just say the word. I will bring lots of wine.

Throwback Thursdays: Local Hill Run Edition

Sometimes when I drive home from the Grouse Grind, I pass Cleveland Dam and fondly miss one of my favourite, local, (relatively) easy hill runs. So for those of you who are able bodied enough to run, live in the Vancouver area, and looking for a very adaptable hill run, here’s one of my faves.

screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-7-48-13-am

Starting Point: Behind Park Royal, West Vancouver

Turnaround Point: Cleveland Dam, North Vancouver

Distance: As shown, the return distance is 11.73 km, making it an easy short run.  But it can easily be extended by starting at the western edge of Ambleside Park, adding an additional 3 km or by running past Cleveland Dam to the base of Grouse Mountain for an additional 138 m of elevation gain and an additional 4 km of distance.  You can also do some repeats within the cap canyon trail itself for extra elevation and distance.  See? Flexible!

Elevation Profile (basic route):

screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-7-46-23-am

 

 

Why I recommend it:  If you’re just starting to run hills for training, this is a great, gentle grade with only a couple short sections that would classify as moderate grade. In other words, you won’t feel like you want to die very often. This, of course, is all relative to your fitness level.  Other plusses:

  • Once you get into the forest behind Capilano Suspension Bridge, you’ll enjoy the benefits of the tree canopy, making even a hot day feel cool.
  • While popular, it’s not uber popular so you won’t feel like you’re dodging people right, left and centre.
  • The trail isn’t technical so even the most clumsy (i.e. me) can safely navigate the terrain.
  • As mentioned above, it’s highly customizable to add (or subtract, for that matter) distance and elevation gain.
  • There’s both water and washrooms at Cleveland Dam, excellent for days you drink a litre of water before starting your run.
  • The view at the top is pretty damn nice
img_8111
Evidence of aforementioned view.

So there you go, a ready-made running route for your hill training needs. Please enjoy it for me as I fear it will be quite some time before I make it out there.