Saturday, June 30, 2012

Schneider Meat Pies?

Saturday June 30, 10:59 a.m.

Yup, it's getting steamy out there; typical for the last day of June. We will definitely need that new AC online by the time my brother and his family get there tonight.

I was taking a look at my analytics for Blogger and found out that there were a couple of inquiries about Schneiders Meat Pies...most likely from Meat Pie Lover. The Schneiders stuff is all frozen so it can be bought anywhere at a Metro or other major supermarket so that shouldn't be a problem at all.

That was one of the things I missed back in Japan. Of all the wonderful different dishes which have arrived in my adopted home, meat pies haven't been one of them. Although they can be ordered online via an enterprising young fellow there, they aren't readily available unfortunately at the supermarkets. I'm not sure if that scandal involving garbage-filled gyoza hitting Western Japan a few years had anything to do with it, but then again, "Sweeney Todd" with Johnny Depp did make it out with little ill effect. Frankly, I was thoroughly unimpressed with that so-called musical.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Brought Home the Bagels

Friday June 29, 4:24 p.m.

Yup, went down to St. Lawrence Market and picked up another dozen of those bagels there. Pretty darn hot in the GTA today. I think we're in the low 30s but the Humidex is probably hovering around 40 degrees. Instead of the Carousel Bakery, I decided to have my lunch downstairs in the basement. I tried out the Chicken Souvlaki in a Bun with a Coke served at a place called Yianni's Kitchen. Pretty good for $7. There's a lot of stuff I would love to take home with me but unless I brought down a fully-iced chest, I just can't take the chance.

Before I left for downtown, I had received a surprise call from The Anime Chamberlain, the quietly ousted member of The Court. The lad was just a bit too opinionated for The King over the years. I hadn't heard from the fellow in a few months so I thought I was on the outs with him as well, but he re-made contact. It's possible we might meet for dinner on the 2nd.

The kids are out for the summer as of today, a fact I was reminded when I got on the Eglinton 34. Just a few stops away from my area, a whole swarm of elementary school kids amassed on the bus with a couple of harried teachers. Luckily, I was able to survive the experience for a few minutes.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Quiet Week....except in Little Italy

Thursday June 28, 8:25 p.m.

I've only had to teach the one day on Monday, subbing for a pretty amiable teacher. The classes were all good except for a couple of potential troublemakers although I think I was able to calm both of them down to a certain extent. Since then, it's been back to a monastic existence at home. I got word from that president of the translation company. He told me that I did indeed pass but there were a few issues with my test. Not particularly surprised by that assessment; hopefully, the problems were minor enough so that I can get some sort of assignment. I'm pretty sure that I won't be getting any classes until after the Canada Day holiday since tomorrow is the last day before the weekend begins and Friday only has morning classes.

In the meantime, the parentals and I got ourselves a new LG air conditioner for the condo since heat and the elderly don't mix well. We took the drive down to the nearest Home Depot and grabbed that sucker. Just in time, too, since we'll be looking at a scorching Canada Day weekend.

Meanwhile, Little Italy here in Toronto is probably having the 2nd-largest party it'll have this year, since Team Italy beat Germany at the Euro Cup earlier this afternoon. I can only imagine what it'll be like if they beat Spain on Sunday. Downtown Toronto will definitely be a no-go zone on Canada Day because of the potential traffic snarls due to any win by either side, and because of the Gay Pride parade. But The Anime Court should be able to bypass all that since the big Ribfest is taking place at Centennial Park near 427 and Eglinton, and my brother's BBQ thing will be at his place in Richmond Hill.

Kinda thinking about heading downtown tomorrow to pick up some bagels from the St. Lawrence Market again. But I'm also thinking about Summerhill Market near its eponymous subway station on the Yonge Line. Actually, I received an anonymous comment from someone concerning an earlier entry about my love for meat pies. I did some digging and found out about Summerhill Market at Summerhill and Mt. Pleasant which seems to be the place for good ol' homemade meat pies. It will be a scorcher tomorrow but I just want to enjoy some solo time without having to hear my parents bicker.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

More Anime, More Food

Deep-Fried Bread and Soy Milk Soup
Tuesday June 26, 4:23 p.m.

Sunday was another outing with The Anime King. As the title says, we had the usual grabfest of food and anime. We first went for a brunch of sorts at a branch of Asian Legend at Leslie and Finch which is an upscale looking restaurant specializing in Northern Chinese cuisine.

Pretty heavy on the carbs and protein as we had warm soy milk soup and deep-fried bread. Nothing different about the soy milk; just different containers. I've always liked the Chinese version since it's sweetened as compared to the Japanese variety which comes out as bland as its cousin, tofu. As for the bread, it made for some good dunkin'.

Deceptively heavy
Then, there was the Green Onion Egg Pancake which was a good mite denser than the usual omelette. I'd say it was closer to Japanese tamagoyaki than the French egg dish. With the soup, bread and egg, the two of us were quite stuffed by the end...and there wasn't the slightest bit of meat in the meal.

"Farewell, Mother Earth..."
Of course, the highlight of the day was watching The King's latest dearly acquired Blu-Ray....the reboot of the Space Cruiser Yamato series, "Yamato 2199". Ahhhh....the days of running home after junior high school to catch the latest episode of "Star Blazers"and wondering if the ship would fire off the dreaded Wave Motion Gun.

The campaigning for the new version in Japan has been interesting: selected theatres all over the country have been showing double episodes which end up in DVDs for purchase a couple of months later, completely bypassing the television. I guess the production company can make some more money that way, but I just wonder if it had been too difficult getting sponsors for any television broadcast.

But then again, The King surmised that this new series has been marketed for that very niche of niches: old-time Yamato fans (that would be me). However, I was slightly more optimistic in that there are some younger types out there who may have thought the original series a tad too primitive in design but would potentially accept a Yamato that was battle-ready for the 21st-century. Let there be no doubt, though. This is a reboot. It starts all over again with the Iscandar Mission. The characters look glossier and cuddlier than their relatively rough-hewn counterparts in 1974, and there are actually more women on the ship now (how Yuki Mori managed to survive one year on a space boat of randy men with her modesty intact is beyond me)....including a seemingly tsundere accountant. But the basic story hasn't changed and the music from the original series has returned, except for your typical modern J-ballad at the end. The rousing Yamato March, though, has been added only as an extra on the Blu-Ray and isn't part of the episode which I find odd. Overall, though, I'm gonna be looking forward to those regular visits to the King's basement.

Dinner was at Casa Manila, a Phillipine restaurant just across from the Westin Prince Hotel near Don Mills & York Mills. Our timing getting there was excellent since as soon as we got in, the skies just opened up on Toronto for the next hour. The King and some of the Anime Court like going there for the famed dessert of halo-halo which I was also introduced to.

Yup, we both had a meal that a dietitian would despise. First off, we shared some deep-fried pork. Pretty darn fatty.

Then, there was the Garlic Chicken which I liked even better. The sauce was the key point here. The garlic infused the meat completely but the taste wasn't overpowering at all. I felt less guilty eating this.

And finally, there was the halo-halo, the raison d'etre for the visit to Casa Manila. You can't see it here but there was a small island of shaved ice floating in an ocean of condensed milk while covered in all sorts of toppings such as purple taro potato, sweet beans and fruits. It made for a fine counterpoint to the previous meat dishes.

The restaurant was quite empty for most of our time there, and it was heavily air-conditioned. At one point, I wondered about the wisdom of ordering halo-halo when it felt so frosty inside. Still, I enjoyed it and will wait to have it again during a much hotter day.

Next week, though, it will get foodie-crazy. My brother's family is coming over for dinner on the 30th. Then, The Anime Court has its annual trip to the big RibFest at Centennial Park on Canada Day, followed by my visit to my brother's place for BBQ. And then on the holiday Monday, I see The Dancer and her husband for lunch down at Brookfield Place.

This is the opening that has been set aside on the Blu-Ray. All you Yamato fans...try not to get that lump in your throat.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Another Gig?

Monday June 25, 8:37 p.m.

Back on Friday, I took the bus down to Vic Park Station and then walked a bit south of the main street of Danforth Ave. to meet someone at the 2nd floor balcony of the Loblaws Superstore at about 2 p.m. Apparently an old friend of mine in Japan who I helped translate a rental agreement a few years ago decided to repay the favour by recommending me to another friend of his who is operating a small translation firm right here in Toronto.

The fellow was a pretty amiable fellow: kinda reminded me of a mix between Bill Murray and Bill Pullman. Before our meeting, we'd a few exchanges via e-mail. I wasn't too sure about whether I was capable enough to do professional translating, but he reassured me that I probably have the chops for it. But he made it quite clear to me that speed AND accuracy will be needed.

I did a test of sorts for him via a file containing five different short passages from different categories for me to translate into English from Japanese. So I spent a few hours on that on Saturday night...not too bad, but I do hope that I don't get a request to translate patent claims on chemical processes anytime soon.

I've been doing my fair share of substitute teaching lately but it's also nice to have another thing on the side.

Friday, June 22, 2012

I Feel A Draft

courtesy of letalbostaalkinsby
from Flickr
Friday June 22, 8:48 p.m.

Well, they could take me out of Canada for a couple of decades, but they couldn't take the Canada out of me, boy. Friday night, and I'm watching the annual NHL Draft from Pittsburgh. Not exactly on tenterhooks to see which kids are being pulled in by whatever NHL club, but I was curious to see who the Toronto Maple Leafs would select with their pick. Well, welcome to the team, Morgan Rielly! Hope you survive!

For me, it isn't so much who's picked in the draft. Rather, it's what happens on the side. I kinda see the draft as a bit of a Jenga game. Take this kid and then see how the other teams react via trades. And sure enough, the Islanders and Penguins did some of their own pulling of pieces to jockey for good picks.

Now, we can truly take a vacation from ice hockey....for 2 months, that is.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Heat Wave

courtesy of evinoryan88
from Flickr
Wednesday June 20, 8:26 p.m.

You know when news shows, including CP24, start playing either "A Tropical Heat Wave" or "Hot, Hot, Hot", the temperature is gonna be hitting the high 30s Celsius. And so, I felt my first heat wave in Toronto in almost 2 decades. For a guy who was used to just feeling cold during Xmas visits to the old hometown from Japan, getting back into the heat and humidity here was interesting....and nostalgic.

I was getting this in the Kanto area every year from July to September since the mid-90s to last Summer. In a way, Japan thoroughly heatproofed me for today. Over there, walking outside in the concrete jungle of Tokyo where the heat blasting back at you from the sidewalk and glass toughened up everyone residing there. For years, I walked through seas of humidity while wearing shirt, tie, undershirt and dark slacks. Kept my energy levels up through lots of pit stops at vending machines, and ingesting eel-on-rice and cold noodles.

courtesy of Blue Lotus
from Flickr
So, getting outside after my class at the school, it didn't feel too bad at all. Generally, humidity levels in Toronto are somewhat lower than those in Tokyo. Had curry rice for dinner tonight so that should help my stamina.

But we in Canada's largest city need not feel alone obviously. 90% of Ontario is feeling our pain, and Japan's largest city has entered a pocket of high temperatures after Typhoon No. 4 swept through the area a couple of days ago. For us, though, we just have one more day of this, and then things get a lot more reasonable.

However, there is one vital difference between our situation here in the GTA and that of Tokyo. Here in Toronto, our usage of electricity is naturally up but apparently Ontario Hydro can handle it, but since last year's nuclear disaster in Fukushima, it's gonna be another wait-and-see whether TEPCO can handle the demand for air conditioning.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Ghostbusters 3

courtesy of mrogen
from Flickr
Tuesday June 19, 11:32 a.m.

Over the weekend, I accidentally came across the 1981 comedy "Stripes" with two-thirds of who would become The Ghostbusters, Bill Murray and Harold Ramis. It was fun to see again, and I started thinking that perhaps that movie, more than "Ghostbusters", was the SCTV-Saturday Night Live collaboration that everyone had been hoping for.

But it got me thinking about "Ghostbusters", and about any future franchise films. I remember catching the original 1984 film at a theatre some months after its premiere (when a first-run movie could last for nearly a year). The theatre was almost empty so that may have been a contributing factor, but I just thought that it wasn't quite as funny as had been advertised. Sure, there were some fine deadpan lines by Murray ("This man has no dick."), but basically I found it more amusing than laugh-out-loud funny. And the effects were great...for that time. Furthermore, that song by Ray Parker Jr. was the 10th man of the baseball team, and the soundtrack really fit the movie. On the Wikipedia account of the movie, it was noted that 20% of the take was due to "Who ya gonna call?" I guess for me what kinda had me increasing my appreciation for "Ghostbusters"over the decades was that it did have a heart. All of the characters were likeable and believable....despite their choice of career.

"Ghostbusters 2" didn't work out as well for me. And in fact, I think it pretty much did in the franchise. Basically, the script threw just about everyone in the cast back to their loser beginnings so that they had to claw their way back up....repetition may be fine for Japanese movie franchises, but not for Hollywood. And the scoring suddenly decided to go all faux-John Williams which did not fit something that was not all that epic.

Several months ago, it had been announced that "Ghostbusters 3" was a go for liftoff, but now it seems to be in cinematic purgatory. And that's with Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis back at it. Doesn't bode well. I came across from one fellow on the Net who exhorted the powers-that-be to stop the insanity and pull the plug on any third movie since the first two were good. Sorry to say to the guy, but I think "Ghostbusters 2" kibboshed the franchise without having to worry about the quality of any 2nd sequel.

For me, I would like to see "Ghostbusters 3". But re-booted. And as much as that word gets people's eyes rolling nowadays, I think any hope for another re-appearance of Venkman, Stantz, Spengler and Geddemore really depends on it. Murray has pretty much yawned the franchise off as a teenage dalliance, while frankly Ramis and Aykroyd are starting to look more like the guys their characters are trying to bust. Get a new crew and update it. Noone's ever gonna be able to imitate Bill Murray but why not get a cast of characters with their own funny take on ghostbusting? For some reason, Chris Rock, Will Farrell and even Masi Oka come to mind. A clean cast slate for a still-fun idea.

Anyways, let me throw in the video for fun.


courtesy of pjhuang1
from Flickr
Tuesday June 19, 11:13 a.m.

It used to be that typhoon season was more of a Late Summer-Early Fall phenomenon in Japan. But since the Earth has been entering a wacky weather era of late, that season has now been bumped up to start from Late Spring. On NHK News this morning, the regular 9 p.m. broadcast went on for 2 hours, half of which was totally devoted to the machinations of Typhoon No. 4. And she's a beauty. She's been tossing the Kinki and Kanto areas for the past several hours.

The usual scenes of commuters having their umbrellas murdered by just opening them up have been shown, along with the de rigueur live broadcasts from JR Shinjuku Station and a Kanagawa seashore by reporters who got the short end of the microphone. Had a nostalgic thrill when it was announced that my old subway line, The Tozai Line which runs from the western end of Tokyo all the way into Chiba Prefecture, had to suspend operations since the winds were going over 20 m/s.  I used to hear and experience those suspensions a fair bit since I lived by Minami-Gyotoku Station in Ichikawa City which is part of the exposed section of the line.

The other typhoon I personally experienced today was a logistical one. One of the higher-ups at my school initially assigned me to sub for one teacher yesteday when she had originally meant to have me there for the entire week. I had this cold feeling about something not being quite right when I finished the classes yesterday, and sure enough I got the call from her a half-hour into the morning schedule, basically apologizing and asking whether I would be able to sub for Wednesday and Thursday mornings. I took the high road and didn't snark about the error; just said that there would be no problems. Luckily, there was a free substitute teacher at the school so the morning is covered as is the afternoon for today. But frankly, I'm not a big fan of sub teachers having to fill in for pretty heavy classes right from the first day of the course.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

BBQ Saturday

Sunday May 17, 11:08 a.m.

I guess it's that time of year....a time of old friends and grilling meat. Went over to The Dancer's house yesterday for good ol' fashioned BBQ. My parents used to do them way back when in one of the many parks in the Don Valley, right next to the Parkway, but I guess the tradition, along with them, has been retired.

Her husband wasn't too sure on the calculations so we may have ended up devouring half-pound burgers. Not that any of us complained. Plus, his young son was able to put it all away so they couldn't have been all that heavy. The Entrepreneur and his young family also came by, so it was about as family as a get-together as it could get. As usual, for a bunch of us in our 40s, we did a lot of reminiscing and catching up on stuff. The Dancer's husband and I are big ramen fans so we've decided to find some day to try out Toronto's latest and perhaps greatest ramen shop, Kinton on Baldwin St.

The Dancer and her family live in the Yonge-Lawrence Village area. It's kinda like a very large smalltown main street area....quite a different look and feel for this section of The World's Longest Street compared to the somewhat seedier downtown section. Would love to live there but like anywhere in Toronto these days, I'd have to give up an arm, a leg and several organs just to get a look-in.

It was a nice afternoon get-together but I had to get on home since I had Mr. Moriya, my biweekly Skype student from Japan.

It's Father's Day, so the parentals and I had breakfast at the Golden Arches. I hadn't had a Sausage McMuffin in nearly 6 months, but my old pal still slid down easily. I had been planning to meet up with The Anime King, but decided to put it off til next Sunday since perhaps Mom might be making something special for dinner, and it wouldn't look too good if I'd decide "abandon"Dad on this day.

Speaking of my fellow foodie, The King reminded me that the second big Ribfest of the season will be getting underway during the Canada Day weekend. I may invite my old student, The Siberian, to join us. Summerlicious is not too far away either.

Friday, June 15, 2012


The most minimalist eye chart I've ever seen.
Or it could be the calling card for Quince.
Friday June 15, 8:21 p.m.

I went uptown later that Wednesday since I was to meet Egg and his wife up at Yonge and Eglinton at 6. However, I got there at about 3. There was a Jays game at The Rogers Centre at 1:10 that afternoon, and the last thing I needed was to travel up during rush hour AND be with a drunk (lots of beef sold) and surly (the Jays lost...again) mob on the Yonge Line.

I took a small break at the local Tim Hortons on the east side of Yonge before browsing at a couple of bookstores for a couple of hours. Did BMV for an hour....browsed through a lot of Marvel Comics and some movie books there before crossing the street and checking out the local Indigos.

I was about to cross the street to meet Egg and his wife at the southwest corner of Eglinton & Yonge, when the couple actually intercepted me just by accident on the northwest corner. It had been a few weeks since I met the Egg, but well over a year since I'd met the wife. She griped about her work again. Apparently, her company suffered one of its first cases of karoshi, the Japanese term for "death by overwork" not too long ago. Oh, the irony.

In any case, we made our dinner venue Quince, just south of the main intersection, across from The Art Shoppe. I'd been there with them before. Good food and service. We started off with a number of appetizers, including one lone Spring Roll, poutine (at Quince, it should be called La Poutine), and frites with aioli (apparently, it's not good form to call it "fries with fancy mayo"). It was all good.

Mmmm, mmmmm....good!
My main course was the Steak Frites. It was a fine and juicy medium-rare hunk of beef with nicely caramelized onions no top and crispy, sorry, the side. I definitely had my share of potato that night.

The three of us had a good talk on TV and movies, not surprising since both are big telly fans and Egg is one of the big managers at Cineplex. Yup, "The Avengers"is the movie to beat this year. I am looking forward to the Toronto Film Festival. I haven't been to one since its fortunes went way up. Now, it's one of the world's cinematic events, and I would finally like to partake in a bit of celeb-gazing. Will have to stake out my post near the Bell Lightbox.

Yes, amazingly enough, I still had room
for dessert.
I finished my feast with an Almond Tart with a combination of custard and berry sauces. Also had copious amounts of coffee. I definitely overdid it on the caffeine that day with the three cups at Quince, the iced coffee at Tim Hortons, the Coke with my Chicken Parmigiana and the breakfast cup that morning.

Not sure when I will be able to meet the Eggs again since both are very busy folks. Our dinner meetings may end up being seasonal affairs.

To finish off, I took the Eglinton 34C home. We had a real character driving our bus. Even though, the computer dutifully announced the various stop names, he just insisted on calling out the names by himself in a huge barker's voice. He also loudly offered to let people off before an intersection if the stop was after it. And he even made a Usain Bolt-like dash for the Tim Hortons near my stop for a quick coffee. Got some applause from the passengers when he made it back in less than a minute. It was obvious that he and a number of them were quite familiar with each other, and the atmosphere was almost very cordial....something that I haven't seen on a TTC bus in decades, especially considering the virtual civil war that almost ensued between commuters and drivers a few years ago. Apparently, he was in quite a happy mood since he would be switching to a new route from next week. Of course, his regulars were saddened by this news but wished him well. One even suggested that he take the Woodbine 91 which actually crosses the 34 near that Tim Hortons. I can vouch for that passenger's choice. I used to take the 91 on my way to junior high school decades ago, and it is one of the easiest and most relaxing routes. I remember that that route also had a bit of a happy eccentric driving that bus, too, in the mornings. Kept making birdcalls and announcements in strange voices. He even intentionally drove his bus onto the curb for a few metres when he saw a very pretty young lady sashaying on the sidewalk there.

At this point, I can only hope that that sort of whimsy can infuse itself into more urban situations here. Perhaps then, Toronto can start climbing itself up a bit more.

Downtown Part 2

Friday June 15, 8:06 p.m.

Continuing on my little recce of downtown Toronto, I went up Spadina from Queen West. Chinatown hasn't changed all that much in the last 20 years; those two big somewhat superfluous centres are still there. In all the many times, I've visited the two places, they've never been all that busy and there are always several empty spaces inside.

In the Dragon City lobby, there were a number of folks watching Euro 2012 there, too. Just when I thought that the Chinese were getting really keen into soccer, I saw the sign on the door promoting the daily raffle prize for whoever picks the winning teams of the day.


Just like any popular ramen joint in Japan...
I'd been planning just to walk up Spadina to College when I decided to make a detour onto Baldwin St. Egg had told me that he and the missus had gone to Toronto's newest and currently hottest ramen restaurant, Kinton on Baldwin. It had opened just a few weeks ago, but it looks like word-of-mouth has spread like wildfire. I had almost forgotten about that cluster of restaurants just to the east of Huron and Baldwin, and Kinton is right in the thick of it. I saw a couple looking for something as I was approaching the cluster; I knew they must've been looking for ramen. And sure enough, hubby is right there at the back of the line. This week's NOW Magazine reviewed the place, and it got top marks. The cat's out of the bag now. It reminds me whenever a hot new ramen joint is discovered in Tokyo. Expect 1-hour lineups. But I'll make it there someday. I'll talk to Jim and The Anime King about it this weekend.

Downtown Part 1

Nice day to be walking in Old Toronto
Friday June 15, 7:40 p.m.

Back on Monday night, I got that call from my old friend, Egg, asking if we could get together for dinner. Never one to turn down a dinner invitation, we set it up for Wednesday night. And so, based on that, I decided to expand things by heading downtown earlier in the morning to St. Lawrence Market. I went for the Montreal bagels but of course stayed for the Chicken Parmagiana Sandwich with Hot Peppers. I have to say that the weather cooperated magnificently.

Just one tiny example of foodie goodness at the Market:
Chicken Parmagiana Sandwich
There's the lovely creature to the right of me here. Bought this at the Carousel Bakery with a Coke inside the St. Lawrence Market for a total of $8.35...nope, not the most inexpensive lunch but even in my current austerity mode, I can splurge once in a while for some good eating. I'm gonna have to widen my foodie horizons a bit more next time. There was a good-looking place in the basement which served some hearty all-day breakfasts, and back up on the ground floor, there was a fish n' chip place as well. I did get my dozen bagels for $5.50....not bad at all.

Believe it or not, this isn't a video game.

I then tried to walk off the calories. Took a dip into Brookfield Place (formerly BCE Place) just west of The Hockey Hall of Fame. The food court in the basement has been bustling as of late because of Euro 2012. Dozens of folks have been noshing and viewing the games on screens. I'm not a huge soccer fan...except when the World Cup is on...and apparently now Euro 2012. I think this was the Denmark-Portugal game. Even in the esoteric confines of this building, people were pretty whooped up when Portugal got its first goal.

Nah, don't see Justin or Katy...wait
a minute, The Village People?!
Continued the walk through downtown. I went onto Queen West and passed by the CP24 complex. The construction guys were working like gangbusters getting that stage set up for Sunday's MuchMusic Video Awards. Of course, being Wednesday, it was way too early to make any celeb sightings.

My old friend...
Of course, being in Queen West means that I have to drop by The Silver Snail, my old university haunt. I think when "The Big Bang Theory"first brought in its comic book store, the producers must have had The Snail in mind. Mind you, the real thing has more character (and characters). It's too bad that it will be moving soon, though.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Eel and Liver

Beef Liver Sashimi
courtesy of shinnygogo
from Flickr

Grilled Eel on Rice
courtesy of ksuyin
from Flickr
Tuesday June 12, 8:33 p.m.

Beef Liver sashimi, or rebasashi in the Japanese vernacular, is frankly something that I gag at. Not to the levels that Arthur Fonzarelli reacted when he came across the stuff on a special episode of "Happy Days", (yes, I was indeed alive at that time) but liver, even in its cooked form, has been my culinary enemy since birth. So, you can imagine my feelings about the raw stuff. It's a family thing. My parents just scrunched up their faces when they saw the dish on NHK as its fans gleefully let the stuff slide down their throats like so many giant leeches.

However, that glee will soon be gone in another 2 or 3 weeks. As of July 1, raw liver will no longer be served at any eating establishment because of the government's fears over food poisoning. A number of food poisoning incidents at restaurants in the recent past sparked the ban. There are nothing like news reports showing food alongside microscopic photos of virulent bacteria to get the bureaucrats drafting new policy. Now, as I've said, I'm no fan of liver but I'm always a little antsy when it comes to Big Brother telling us what to eat and what not to eat, and so I do feel a little sorry for those folks who love rebasashi now that what they look forward to at an izakaya will no longer be there. Of course, they can buy beef liver at the supermarket and prepare it, but there's a difference getting a professionally-cooked steak and throwing a supermarket T-Bone on the pan. According to the NHK report, one restaurant has been trying out a substitute using konnyaku (devils-tongue jelly), but the reporter said that although it has the texture, the taste is just not the same.

Then, there are the current trials and tribulations about the eel industry. Eel (unagi) is something that I do love: grilled and covered with sweet-savory sauce and placed on a bed of rice. But in recent years, the industry has been suffering somewhat in terms of supplies. So, the prices have had to go up, and some restaurants that specialize in eel have had to bite the bullet and provide alternatives to hold the bottom line. One place is serving butadon (pork on rice) with the slices of tender pork slathered in the same sauce used for the eel. So far, so good. But this situation along with the one involving beef liver is perhaps speaking to a sea change in Japanese food culture.

The Flying Wallenda

courtesy of Partridge Road
from Flickr
Tuesday June 12, 8:17 p.m.

Well, I guess all that is needed now is for Nik Wallenda to get on that highwire. The logistical hurdles have apparently been all overcome. It's just stringing that wire across Niagara Falls and hoping that the weather will hold up. It's looking good on that latter point: nothing but sun for the next several days, but knowing weather in this part of the country, anything can happen.

Nik's been ticked though since the sponsoring major American network, ABC, has insisted that he wear a harness, something that he's never done. And as a professional highwire walker, this must be akin to the first NHL players being forced to wear helmets. But I can understand the network's position, too. Imagine having to watch the star of your show falling to his death on live TV and the angry aftermath. And as has been made clear, the Wallendas are not infallible. Can't take the chance. However, the promotion has been going full speed ahead. I saw Nik on "The View" this morning and he assisted one of the hosts go across a rope some 18 inches above the floor.

The big show is set for 9 p.m. on Friday. Not sure if Japan has gotten much wind about this, but it will be happening at 10 a.m. Saturday JST so it would be an ideal time for the folks there to catch it. My students, though, weren't too aware of Nik which kinda short-circuited my warmup. Should be must-see TV. Euro 2012 during the day and Nik at night.

The one funny observation about Nik Wallenda is that he kinda looks like a fitter, nicer Mayor Rob Ford.

The Sad State of Chinese Takeout

courtesy of blissweddingsmarket
of Flickr
Tuesday June 12, 7:59 p.m.

Perhaps it's a case of sepia-and-rose-coloured glasses informing my memories of Chinese takeout but I think things had been a whole lot better before I went off to Japan 17 years ago. Now, Chinese takeout is nowhere as healthy as any take-away salad, but for an old foodie like me, the decades-old culinary institution of taking home Deep-Fried Butterfly Shrimp, Sweet n' Sour Chicken, and Chow Mein in those white cardboard boxes with tiny plastic packets of soy sauce and mustard was as dependable as death and taxes. My family could always trust the local Chinese restaurant for a good plentiful dinner.

But since I got back home for good, my family has taken out from three different Chinese restaurants that specialize (supposedly) in takeout, and have been disappointed each time. It's almost mindblowing how small the amounts of noodles and Sweet n' Sour Chicken are now. And the so-called sauce for Lemon Chicken Soo Guy looks and feels like flat Mellow Yellow (I'm being polite about the comparison, by the way). I gently suggested to my mother that perhaps a bit of cornstarch water could help thicken it up, but she absolutely refused to turn on the stove, since she got the takeout to avoid cooking on a hot day in the first place.

It's kinda ironic since the quality of sitdown Chinese restaurants has generally improved by a good margin over the past few decades. Back when I was a kid here, the menu for both the sitdown and takeout menus were indistinguishable, but now good dim sum is not difficult at all, soup dumplings can be had easily, and a lot of other scrumptious dishes can also be noshed on at any Chinese restaurant. Now, a lot of my Chinese friends here in Toronto would scoff at my love for the so-called Americanized Chinese stuff like Sweet n' Sour and plain ol' Chow Mein, but I had always appreciated the choice for the best of two worlds. Now it looks like one world is literally shriveling up. Maybe it's the growing prices of ingredients or perhaps there isn't as much pride in making that mess of chicken balls anymore.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Mildly Bad Day

Monday June 11, 10:16 p.m.

Had one more lesson with that morning class that I'd been teaching all last week. Didn't quite come off as well as expected, part of the reason being that I had a student suddenly show up in the last week of the session. As the regular teacher put it when I met her during lunch break today, the school is also a business. Students shouldn't be allowed to audit during the final week, but if they insist, the administration's hands are tied. But as it was, there was enough goodwill from last week so that I was able to get out of it with my skin intact. As far as I know, I'm done for the rest of the week.

It was 3H weather in the GTA today: hot, hazy and humid. Plus, there was a smog alert to scare the asthmatics and allergy-prone commuters. Still, I decided to walk down over to the St. Lawrence Market to see if I could pick up some Montreal bagels for the parents. But I found out the hard way that the place is closed on Sundays and Mondays. Well, there's always Wednesday. On the walk back to Union Station, I went through the basement of Brookfield (formerly BCE) Place; saw a lot of folks in the upscale food court there watching multiple monitors of the France-England game in Euro 2012. Yup, Toronto may be a full continent away from the soccer pitches of Europe, but there's plenty of passion for football.

Got a couple of calls from old friends today. First I spoke with The Wild Guy; it's been a few weeks since I met him and The Egg for lunch. I'd thought that I would have one chance to have lunch with him this week but he turned me down since he has to take care of a lot of business before he and his family take off for Osaka for a short vacation. Then, The Egg himself called up tonight. Not surprisingly, he's been having a really busy time of it since he manages the 2nd-largest theatre complex in the country. Great money for him, but oh, the hours. In any case, I'm gonna see him and his wife for dinner in the Yonge-Eglinton area on Wednesday night.

The big news in Japan has been that psycho killer in Osaka who had gone on a killing spree a few days ago. He killed two with a knife and stabbed several others....sounds ominously like the Eaton Centre attacks. And the motive behind his massacre is not new, but it is pathetic. He couldn't come to kill himself so he decided to kill others so that he could get capital punishment and have someone else do it for him. And I know he's probably a nutjob just for the fact that he stared right at the camera lens as he was being driven into police headquarters; most people have some sense of shame and remorse and hide their faces. Not this guy....looked like a deer in headlights.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Zen Restaurant

Sunday June 10, 11:23 p.m.

Getting hot out there. Looking at a 35-degree Humidex today. Nice to stay at home in relatively cooler surroundings.

Looks like Canada is feeling pretty sad sportswise. Our hope for a Canadian Triple Crown winner was dashed rather suddenly when the horse I'll Have Another was retired to stud due to tendonitis, thus destroying any chance of getting into The Belmont Stakes after winning The Kentucky Derby and The Preakness. And of course The Blue Jays managed to lose again in Atlanta...rather makes those commercials of them look pretty ridiculous. At this point, I'd say that the team shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a playoff spot. Finally, our only potential saviour for team sports in this city, The Toronto Marlies got swept in the American Hockey League's Calder Cup; just seems like the team had the plug pulled on them after they had gotten through the semi-finals. If there were a god looking over our city, her name would be Lucy Van Pelt and she would have a very big football.

Anyways, our family went out last night to Zen, that Japanese restaurant in the heart of Scarberia. Not too cool with its location in the middle of a dingy strip mall but since we were in and out of there before the sun went down, we were OK. Just read their blurb on their website taking a potshot at ersatz Japanese eateries which just go for profit instead of any Japanese authenticity; they make a good point but they also put a big target on themselves by stating that at least Zen knows about the basics of Japanese culture.

Well, an arrow got shot and hit a bulls-ear last night when the waitress had forgotten to bring the o-shibori (hot towels) for us, which would be something akin to a capital crime in Japan. When they were finally brought over, they were indeed toasty hot but in the words of my niece, they smelled "yucky"....time to change the detergent? Still, the food was good and plentiful. I certainly got a lot of tempura on my plate: four shrimp and a good heaping of deep-fried veggies. Wouldn't get quite that much in an equivalent tempura place in Tokyo.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Good to enjoy a weekend

Saturday June 9, 11:51 a.m.

It's getting pretty hot and humid out there...not surprising since we're going into Summer in another couple of weeks. After a week of straight teaching, I'm grateful for the next couple of days off. Not that I haven't enjoyed being back on the saddle again; my kids are a fine bunch, all three classes' worth of them. It's looking like it'll just be a stay-at-home weekend which I'm quite happy with. But my brother's family have called us out for dinner at a Japanese restaurant nearby. You might think that's a little strange considering my family background, but sushi isn't exactly an everyday dish for Japanese.

The Anime King called me up a few nights ago to say that he did get the "Yamato 2199"discs. Any Canadian fans of the ol' "Star Blazers"series will probably be slavering like Pavlovian dogs on reading this. He said that the animation is obviously a whole lot slicker than that for the original 1973 series but the old tropes are still there including the original sound effects on the vessel itself.

But there has been one important update. The Yamato now has quite more than one woman as crew. It's always been a source of some mirth that lone female crewmember Yuki Mori (aka Nova on "Star Blazers") managed to keep her chastity intact throughout the one-year voyage to and from Iscandar despite looking like Gwyneth Paltrow and being surrounded by a whole bunch of young men. I mean, did Earth Command chemically castrate these guys before setting off? The even stranger thing is that included within the sapphic increase accountant. Yup, no matter how dire the situation is, that beancounter has to be there to count the number of missiles fired at Gamelan battleships.

Anyways, you can take a look at his blog:

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Week of Work

Friday June 8, 7:25 p.m.

Hard to believe but I actually did my first week of sustained work since I got back home 6 months ago. A bit tough at first getting used to the new students but by today, I was starting to get some compliments and even requests for me to stay on from the kids themselves. Nice to be needed. As it turns out, I will be working Monday morning at least. Those 5:15 a.m. wake-up calls are not all that easy.

Obviously, the nice thing is that I'm getting paid again. I can actually approach an ATM nonchalantly without feeling like a terrified acolyte bowing in front of an angry god. Still, I'm not exactly doing any major shopping sprees. But I do appreciate a full weekend.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Got Their Men...and Woman

courtesy of Sublight Monster
from Flickr
Monday June 4, 9:48 p.m.

After a week of horror, the cops finally caught the criminals:

Luka Magnotta, the Body Parts murderer
Christopher Husbands, the Eaton Centre shooter

Naoko Kikuchi

For those in Toronto and Canada, the first two names should be fairly familiar by this time. But who is this Naoko Kikuchi? Well, she was one of the three at-large Aum Shinrikyo members who helped perpetrate the 1995 sarin attacks in the Tokyo subway system. After 17 years on the run, she was finally caught in an apartment in Sagamihara City, Kanagawa Prefecture last night. Some months earlier, one of her other compatriots, Makoto Hirata, had also been arrested, which now leaves just 54-year-old Katsuya Takahashi as the sole Aum member left on the lam. For years and years, I'd been seeing that poster with all three on subway station malls to such an extent that they looked like permanent decorations. Now it looks like the chapter may be coming to a close. As for the big guy himself, the self-proclaimed guru Shoko Asahara, he's still lingering on Death Row, years after being convicted of masterminding some of the most heinous crimes on Japanese soil.

As for Magnotta and Husbands, I'm hoping for eventual justice.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Public Enemy No. 1

courtesy of clumsy time
from Flickr
Sunday June 3, 7:49 a.m.

Probably every blog or tweet about Toronto in the last 12 hours has mentioned about what happened at The Eaton Centre last night at around 6:30 p.m. My family was just pulling out of the restaurant to head home when I turned on the radio and heard about this shooting. Apparently, it had happened just when we had left home for dinner.

Even when I was living in Japan, I'd heard about some of the ugliness that had occurred at Toronto's largest shopping mall: swarmings, the Kreba shooting in 2007, and the usual teenage idiocies. And so when I heard this breaking news on the radio, I figured that this must be pretty bad. And sure enough, it was. One dead, seven injured although the one kid hit by a bullet seems to be getting out of the woods. But Chief Bill Blair of the police and Mayor Rob Ford sounded shaken during their respective interviews which speak of the gravity of the situation.

Make no doubt about it. Whether or not this was an act of a gang member getting revenge or just a nutjob enacting a fantasy, he/she is Public Enemy No. 1....problem is, there doesn't seem to be any good description of him/her, and with the ensuing panic, it's going to be tough to find this person. But he/she has to be found. Otherwise, Torontonians will go down into a further level of urban fear. Or worse, we'll fatalistically form another shell of cynicism about life in a North American city.

It's been a bad week for crime. Psychopathic porn star killer, psychotic face cannibals and indiscriminate spree shooter.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Take the TTC....please!

Friday June 1, 11:22 p.m.

courtesy of magnetboy1
from Flickr
We got piled on with torrents of rain and the high only got up to 13 degrees C in the GTA.. But that wasn't the disaster. First off, for some bizarro reason, my Vic Park bus suddenly got ordered NOT to enter the bus bay area at the station, so there were a few minutes of uncertainty, very loudly voiced by the commuters on board, as the driver ignored all questions (probably because even he couldn't answer them) and made a roundabout turn to get us to the main entrance. Then, when we got to the subway platform, the first subway completely bypassed us though it was in full operation. And by the time we did catch the next one, I saw TTC personnel and the cops having a discussion on the platform. I was wondering if that psychopath Luka Magnotta had ended up hiding out in the station somewhere.

And then of course, there was the flood. I got out of my training session at about 3:30 and dove into St. Patrick Station to hear the announcement that an entire swath of line ranging from Bloor to Osgoode Stations was now cut off due to a major flood down at Union Station. Unfortunately, some of the flood included raw sewage so the station ended up masquerading as the world's largest toilet. So there were tons of commuters waiting to go up north, although I was lucky to have walked further down the platform where there were not as many folks hogging the platform. Then I took the Bloor Line over two stations and got on the Yonge Line which was now turning back up from that station. The rest of the commute was pretty sweet. As I overheard one lady say back at St. Patrick at 3:30, "It's really bad now. Can you imagine what it will be like at 5 p.m.?"

And sure enough, when I turned on CP24 when I got home, I just saw one heck of a lineup on Bloor & Yonge waiting for shuttle buses. It was a major mess for rush hour.

But my title there is perhaps a tad harsh on the TTC. After all, last Thursday's kerfuffle was due to a suicidal student, and today's was a force of nature. If anything, current and past administrations at City Hall are really to blame for today's commuting horror. Years of deteriorating infrastructure downtown finally showed what can happen if not taken care of.

However, I now have to ask myself, considering that I will be teaching everyday next week, what the odds are of getting into another TTC tumult.