Catching Up – Bits and Bobs

Throughout the past few days I’ve thought of small things here and there – none worth a full entry in and of itself that I wanted to share.

Tuesday night, I decided to make something I hadn’t made in a while – ma po tofu. This is a Sichuan style Chinese dish that tends to be ma la. This is something unique, I think, to Sichuan style cooking. Instead of just being spicy hot, it also, thanks to Sichuan peppercorns, gives a numbing sensation. If you’d like to try making it, I got the recipe from here. I also added some Sichuan pepper oil as well as some fresh Thai chilies since I like it extra spicy. It came out really good – one of those meals that you continue to eat even after you’re full because it tastes so good.


Wednesday night, Daegan and I went out to dinner at Afghan Cuisine – a kebab spot across the street from home. As it’s the closest restaurant to us it’s something of a go-to for us when I’m not only feeling too lazy to cook, I’m too lazy to travel any further than across the street from our building. The food is really quite tasty though.  After that Daegan offered to show me where he’s been finding all of these bottles and other relics from the 1930’s that he’s been coming home with. I couldn’t miss that and so after we ate, we headed to the ravine.  On the way we passed our neighbourhood’s allotment gardens. At this stage in the growing season they’re quite beautiful and lush.


There are plots on both sides of the road here – so many beautiful gardens. If I didn’t travel so much I would love to have a spot here.  I haven’t even managed to get to the community garden and help out – maybe next year.  A couple of summers ago when we lived on the other side of town I had a great container garden on the roof of our landlord’s garage along with a small herb garden on the fire escape. We grew a few different greens, Thai chilies, green peppers, tomatoes, oregano, Italian and Thai basil. I was having a stressful time at work and it was a great place to go relax. Some days I wouldn’t even walk in the door from work, I’d just go straight up on the roof and water my plants and harvest. By the end it looked pretty good:


In this apartment, grapes grew all over our front porch and at the end of the summer I harvested enough to make several jars of jam – enough for ourselves and to share with our friends and landlord.


I only just remembered it’s been a while since I’ve made jam – that may happen again really soon, actually.

Anyway, so Daegan and I wandered in to the ravine and though we’re literally a 10-15 minute drive from the heart of the city, you wouldn’t be able to tell.  At first you could see our building above everything:


But before long we were in the dark depths of the ravine where by that time of night we needed a flashlight to look at some of his findings.  The further we descended in to the ravine, the less we heard of the traffic and city sounds and the more cicadas and crickets we heard.  Finally at the bottom we found his spot where 80 year old bottles literally were just lying on the ground, revealed by rains.  We grabbed a few and headed back up the hill, arriving home just after dark.

Last week I restarted tracking all sorts of metrics about my life.  I did it for a while and then let it slide. Like many folks, I’m using a fitness watch to track steps and workouts. I also use Rescuetime to track my productivity – it has apps on my phone and computers that tracks what I do and classifies the activity as anything from very distracting to very productive. I can then target a certain level of productivity or aim to limit distracting activities. Then I pull it all together with which connects to those along with my (music listening history), Twitter and Instagram activity, weather, mood (as I record on a scale from 1 to 5) and a few tags I added myself like if I’m sleeping over 7 hours in a night or how much coffee I drank.  With a little bit of data it hasn’t come up with any really surprising correlation but this is kind of fun:

Screenshot 2017-09-02 at 19.09.56

Some of it is obvious – When I’m in meetings at work, I spend less time sending emails. The correlation between virtual ride workouts and emails is an interesting one.  By the way if you’re curious and want to give it a try they have a 1 month free trial and if you use my referral link you get an extra free month. (And full disclosure, I get $2 off my next bill). Anyway, the referrer link is here.

Why am I tracking coffee consumption you ask? Friends of mine know I do this every now and again. My coffee consumption slowly rises and before I know it I’m drinking six cups a day – which makes me really hungry and I gain weight as a result. I also am noticing as I reduce (I’m back down to 1-2 cups/day) that I sleep better (duh) but also seem to be much more focused at work (surprising!).  I’m not terribly concerned about my weight from an aesthetic standpoint but from an athletic one it’s a bit annoying. When I run (I am waiting for orthotics before I restart that), I am slower when I’m heavier. When I cycle, I am slower and it takes more effort to ride, and when I do virtual races, I am also slower.

Speaking of virtual racing, I’m back in to that again. After a few weeks off Zwift while I toured and then as I trained to get back in to shape for it, I did my first race on Thursday night.  For those who don’t know what Zwift is, it’s a multiplayer online game. I put my bike on a trainer which turns it in to a stationary bike. The trainer can vary resistance in response to instructions from my computer. So Zwift creates a virtual environment where multiple people can ride and race together. In it there is scenery, flats, and big hills. When you come to a hill it gets harder to pedal as it would on a real road, and when you go downhill it gets easier.  Throughout the week there are races where people compete against one another in various classes on a pre-determined course.  Thursday night’s race was about 23 miles long – a bit over an hour’s cycling for me. The scenery was interesting, taking me through a volcano, hills, and along the ocean.


What I never understood about cycling as a sport was all of the strategy that is involved. How hard do I pedal, for example? If I pedal too hard early on I won’t have anything left at the end. Do I let that guy pass me or catch him? How about that guy taking it easy riding in my draft? Do I try to outrun him so he doesn’t leech off my effort?  When do I start riding really hard at the end to outrun that same guy who never did get off my tail? It’s fun and made even more fun by the fact that I always have loud energetic music blaring in my headphones to keep my cadence up.

For the curious, I came in fifth out of 8 in my class.  Not great but not last this time – I’m improving!

Meanwhile, in Hindi/Urdu learning, that’s going pretty well. I went to see my Hindi teacher for the first time in over two months. It went surprisingly well – all of the work I’ve been doing reviewing here and there, watching TV, and writing to various pen pals seems to have helped keep it fresh in my mind. And of course my rule of “Speak Urdu to people out in the world if someone else does it first” is pretty good. Last night, after picking up a few books at the library, I went to a nearby parking lot where a man sells produce out of his van. I saw he had bananas and so I went to buy some. I was pleased to be able to do the entire transaction in Urdu then wish him a happy Eid (“Eid Mubarak”) as the next day (today) would be Eid.  In the end, he charged me $1 for two big bunches of organic bananas – an excellent price.

So what will I be working on over the next month? Likely improving my work productivity, reducing my coffee (and maybe my weight – I want to get faster!). Something that definitely won’t help with that goal is that I’m likely to have to go to Louisiana in a few weeks for 1-2 weeks to do some work at a client site.  I have to admit, since the last election I like going down there even less. There’s a reason we immigrated here in 2004 and it was the trend toward this. At the same time, I know that while there’s a lot on the surface I dislike about visiting the US – and particularly the south, that’s only the surface.  I’ll definitely be looking for things to love about being there as I have done before and have no doubt I’ll find it.  At the same time I’ll likely find lots of delicious food and fewer exercise opportunities. So there’s that too. *laughing*.

As for tomorrow, after a trip to the farmers market today in which I picked up a bunch of fresh local peaches, I’m going to make a bunch of ginger-peach jam. The plan is to make enough not just for us but to share with some of the newcomer families I’ve met through our giving Chromebooks to Syrian Refugees. Every time I visit them they share such delicious food with me that I want to return the favour. So the day will start with a trip to the grocery store for some sugar then over to Canadian Tire for jars and pectin before I get in the kitchen and make this happen. There is something so satisfying about making jam. It is quite easy to do and yet it usually turns out delicious and makes fruit last so much longer. Some time ago I opened a jar of strawberry-habanero jam I’d made 3-4 years ago and it was just as delicious as it was when I canned it. (And it made an amazing vinaigrette dressing if I may say so myself.

As for the rest of the weekend, here’s to leaving it open to rest, relaxation, and likely watching the occasional plane from the airshow happening on the other side of town streak across the skies outside our window.


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