Sandy Chen

That I’m not! I’m a huge fan of Persian food, and being a fan, I thought it would be cool and wise to try and make some of my favourite dishes, considering eating out all the time would be costly and harsh on the budget, girl’s got a mortgage you know, so every penny counts!

Today, I decided it was the perfect time to make ground beef kabab (a.k.a kabab koobideh in Farsi). I had bought these flat metal skewers that looked like a sword. The objective is to press the meat around the skewers.

The result: an epic fail! Ground beef kept falling apart from the skewer when we started cooking it on the b.b.q. You wouldn’t think pressing ground beed around a flat metal skewer would be difficult, but damn, it takes mad skillz!

Thank goodness I had some marinated b.b.q.chicken on the go as well, otherwise, the boys (Ryan and Leo) and I would have been left hungry tonight.

So based on tonight’s disaster, I think we’ll put Persian off to the side for a little while. Let’s move on to something less exotic, maybe chicken pot pie, or meat loaf…mind you, I’m Chinese, and grew up eating mostly Chinese food, so chicken pot pie and meat loaf is super exotic to me, but the white boy at home (Ryan) has made a special request, so I guess I’ll have to find good recipes for it. If you know of one, please feel free to pass it along!

Saturday January 16th was our grand excursion to Niagara region for the Ice Wine Festival. Ryan and I were joined by our friends Leo, Ian and Pochuen. We woke up pretty early as there was quite the packed itinerary ahead of us. By 9:30am, we were already at Ian and Pochen’s place to pick them up. Before heading on the highway though, we stopped by timmies for a breakfast. By 10:00am we were fed, and ready to go.

Our first stop is Tawse, ok, so maybe my snarky remark from my previous post of them being hoity toity was a bit harsh, but that was because back in November when Ryan and I went, we walked in, and walked out immediately without a tasting, because they were busy, and the people that were tasting the wines were just obnoxiously snobby, topped by looking at the pricey list of the wines they were selling, all this gave off the impression of it being a hoity toity place. So I stand corrected, not as snobby as I thought, and that’s because the staff members are actually very friendly, and extremely informative, so shame on the visitors for being such snooty brats. We arrived at Tawse at 11am, however, the ice wine discovery event was not fully set up yet, so to buy some time, one of the staff members warmed us up by offering us both white and red wines from their regular tasting list. A little side note, although for the next three weekends it is the Ice Wine Festival, those who wish to have a tastings of the winery’s white or red wines are more than welcome to do so. I won’t get into too much details of each of the wines I tried, because that’d take too long, however, those that made an impact to my taste buds will definitely be mentioned. At 11:30, they were ready for us. we were each given a sample of their Gewurztraminer ice wine paired with foie gras with cracker topped with some sort of a vegetable jam. The ice wine was pretty good, the foie gras was absolutely delicious.

Our next stop, we headed over to Calamus Estate Winery. Back in June was when we first visited the winery, Calamus Estate was a unplanned visit, but now it has become one of our top places today. The winery’s website statement is “Very rustic, very scenic, and very good wine!” and I agree! We started off with the winery’s white and red wine, because Ryan and I had raved about their wine so much to our friends, there was no way we were going to let them leave without trying some. Mind you, I have to say that the red wines are more of Calmus’ forte, as I’m not a fan of their white wines. The verdict: 2007 Cabernet Franc was the favourite. After tasting we proceeded upstairs for the main event. By far the best “bang for your buck”. Calamus definitely went all out on their wine tastings and food pairings. They produced three ice wines, and sure enough, they busted all three ice wines out, and had food pairings for each wine. First was their Vidal ice wine, paired with crackers and a semi-soft cheese. Next was the Riesling ice wine paired with pate on artisan bread. Lastly we had the Cabernet Franc ice wine paired with dark chocolate cups filled with chocolate mouse. The stand out was definitely the Riesling ice wine as it was very crisp and fresh, and had hints of green apple, super delish!

If you’re a fan of cool architeture then Flat Rock Cellars will definitely make you giddy. Flat Rock Cellars is for the hip, modern and fun folks. Everything from their eco-friendly facility to their trendy packaging seriously begs for the younger generation to take notice. Pay attention people, wine is not for the old haggardy folks anymore! Flat Rock Cellars is more known for their Pinot Noir. Personally I’m not a fan of Pinot Noir, so I wasn’t overly excited by their tastings. The boys tried a couple of samples, but we quickly moved on to the main event. We handed in our pass tickets, and within a couple of minutes, we were served a glass of their Sweet Revenge Vidal ice wine along with a serving of ice wine glazed pulled-pork slider. Yum yum yum is all I can say!

Hernder, now there’s a winery that’s a little bit hard to pronounce, and a little bit off the map. Grab a free tour map of the Niagara region wineries, and you won’t find Hernder on there. We only knew of Hernder based on the fact that their event description was delicious enough to catch our eyes. Hernder is located on “A quiet country road, the gentle swell of vineyards beneath the brow of the Niagara Escarpment; turn down the lane, through a unique wooden covered bridge up to an immense, perfectly restored 1867 Victorian barn”. This is the winery that no one knows about, and this is definitely the hidden gem that everyone should go and experience for yourself! Can’t say we were overly impressed by their Vidal ice wine paired with their ice wine marinated chicken with apricot, however, we were quickly distracted by their regular line up of white and red wines. Most people probably wouldn’t give two shits about Hernder’s wine if it were placed in the LCBO. The bottle labels are uber tacky, and the price of the wines are listed at a shocking bargain basement range. What they lack severely in packaging they definitely make up for in the taste. Now mind you, we generally like reds better, so hence you’ll hear me talking about reds more often, but I will make a notable mention of their Green Tea Gewurztraminer, very neat concept to infuse green tea into the gewurztraminer, it’s definitely a cool beverage to have on a hot summer day. Now back to the reds, wow, is all I can say. I can’t speak for my friends, but I definitely had a boner when I had the Cabernet Franc! Perhaps Hernder is not well known for their wine because they have a larger focus on their Vinegar products, so we have been told.

By far the shortest stop, based on our collective experience and wine preferences, we all agreed that Chateau des Charmes has a collection of less than impressive wines, but we stop anyways, because it’s a pretty chateau, and we’ve never had their ice wine, so we were willing to give it a chance. The Vidal ice wine was pretty decent, and the hand made ice cream was good too.

Ice wine and the name Inniskillin pretty much go hand in hand. You can pretty much say Inniskillin helped create an international market and demand for Canadian ice wines, so therefore, I suppose Inniskillin has every right to charge an exorbitant amount on their ice wine. Pochuen and I didn’t feel like “wasting” a ticket on the event that paired their Vidal ice wine with a piece of shortbread cookie, which we saw a few people had left on the tables barely touche, so we left the boys and headed over to the other building, which we received samples of Vidal ice wine on its own sans shortbread, without the need for an event ticket.

Since the boys used their tickets and the ladies didn’t, we popped by Reif Estate winery. Pocheun and I wanted to visit Reif mainly for their food pairing, and by this time, we were getting hungry as well. Their Vidal ice wine was paired with spit roasted pork served on a mini-brioche with apple icewine sauce…yah, I know, enough said!

As a bonus round, we stopped by Strewn because Pocheun and I were heavily drooling over the food pairing of their creamy chowder. This was 4:15 in the afternoon, 45 minutes left before the wineries close up shop for the day. So I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised when we walked in and the staffs told us they were completely out of chowder…but we were still a little bummed out, because as we stood there, we could smell the lingering scent of the chowder mocking us. Feeling rather sympathetic towards us, the tasting staff busted out every single ice wine they had and started bombarding us with samples. By this time, we have had so many different samples previously that now everything just blended together. But no matter, he poured us wine, so therefore, we must drink!

That pretty much concluded our day of ice wine tasting. For dinner, we went to The Old Winery Restaurant. The food was delicious, the atmosphere was warm, the service was top notch. Even though we claimed we were all “wined” out, we couldn’t resist ordering a bottle to go with our dinner!

This weekend kicks off the Ice Wine Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake. I’ve developed a fancy for wine about 5 years ago, but what really sparked my passion for wine was when Ryan (the guy who claims that he takes cares of me and puts a roof over my head, but seriously, it’s the other way around) and I spent a weekend back in June 09′, because we had a free night’s stay at White Oaks Resort and Spa. We thought it would be the perfect opportunity to do wine tastings and tours. I learned more about wine during that weekend than having drinking it for 5 years.

If you’ve ever considered doing a wine tasting tour, I highly recommend it. If you have the opportunity to do so, take your bike and ride along the Niagara river, stop by wineries such as Reif, Peller Estates, and Inniskillin for a wine sample. Trust me, there’s nothing more fun than riding your bike up and down the Niagara river slightly tipsy!

Keep in mind, ice wine is not for everyone, because of it’s high sugar content, it’s super sweet. Ryan doesn’t like ice wine as much as I do, but he does enjoy a small glass of the Cabernet Franc, as it’s not as sweet as the Riesling or Vidal.

So this Saturday, we will head over to Niagara-on-the-Lake with our friends Ian, Pochuen, and Leo. We’re each getting a discovery pass, which gives you access to 6 participating wineries. This includes a glass of their ice wine with food pairing.

Our itinerary this Saturday is as follows:

Tawse A very hoity toity winery with the equally hoity toity price per bottle to match, this makes me curious as to how great they really are

Calamus Back in June 09′, we stumbled upon this winery by chance, and immediately fell in love with the winery. The tasting takes place in a rustic barn house, where the owner themselves will greet you and chinwag with you. Intimate setting, great wine, great atmosphere.

Flat Rock Cellars The winery is built purely based on the idea of “Environmental Sustainability”. Every part of the building is designed with preserving the environment as much as possible. Very cool, and the view is amazing too!

Hernder Can’t say I know much about the winery, however, their food and wine pairing description had us sold “Sweet ‘n’ Sassy: Enjoy a succulent sampling – a breast of Chicken encrusted, lightly seasoned and engulfed in our very own Icewine Reduction – topped with an apricot marinated in our 1996 Vidal Icewine. Pair this with our award winning 2007 Vidal Icewine – then try our Sparkling Riesling! Sweet ‘n’ Sassy!”

Chateau des Charmes It’s got the word Chateau in it, enough said.

and finally

Inniskillin They’re world renowned for their ice wine, so the destination is simply a must.

I’ll definitely be taking notes, and sharing with you our trip once we get back.

And of course, have a DD, because drinking and driving makes you nothing but a huge douchebag.

Ok, so I know a few people reading this will gasp and shake their head at the fact that I skipped rehearsals tonight with my sketch troupe Asiansploitation to go for a facial and manicure at Elmcrest College. Sorry for not admitting it earlier troupe mates, but I really needed the pampering.

The fact of the matter is, not everyone can afford facials at a starting rate of $70 for a basic treatment. If you’re a vain diva like myself, but on a tight budget, you too can spoil yourself like the rich girls do by getting it done at a student clinic.

There are many clinics around the area, do a google search and you’ll find places like Elmcrest College. Keep in mind that student clinics’ atmosphere is definitely not as serene as “La Super Expensive Day Spa”, you’re in a room with other student estheticians and clients, but they do their best with providing a serene atmosphere by dimming the lights and playing tranquil music. What they lack in atmosphere, they definitely make up in attention and care. These are students, therefore, what would normally be a 30 minute manicure would probably take around 45 minutes. My student esthetician Brittany was a sweetheart, she was extremely attentive, and she was really awesome. All clinics are supervised by the college instructors, so you’re definitely in good hands.

Going to student clinics you’ll save at least 50% than what you’d pay in a regular spa. What made it even more awesome tonight, was the fact that this week was “Friends and Family” week, therefore, all treatments were half off. $20 for a facial and manicure, not too shabby I say!

For those of you that are just visiting for the first time, I’m Sandy Chen. Some of you know me, some of you don’t. As I continue to blog, you’ll no doubt get to know me better.

But today, I want to make a personal declaration. A declaration for myself to embark on the quest of becoming a little more of a nerd than at the moment.

My inspiration for this quest mainly comes from two people: Jack Chen and Andrew Currie. Jack is my brother. He’s THE nerd in my family. He’s a geneticist who loves comic books, anime, along with slapping pieces of computer parts together in order to make himself a PC. Andrew Currie is a good friend of mine whom I first met through The Second City. Andrew was my conservatory program teacher, and we quickly became friends. He’s also the director for my sketch comedy troupe Asiansploitation (we’re uber awesome by the way). Andrew is a hard core mobile phone junkie, a Linux lover, as well as a crusader for all forms of “open-source”, whether it be software, unlocked phones, etc…if you’re interested in getting to know Andrew Currie better, visit his website http://openattitude.com

I’ve always found Jack and Andrew’s nerdy disposition extremely appealing. Being nerdy is the new hotness I say! I do not wish to be on of those people who’s terrified of double clicking on any desktop icon. Trust me, I know a lot of people who are petrified of testing things around on their PC because they are scared it’s going to blow up on them.

So what do I need to do to become a next level nerd? I’m not certain. For starters, I imagine navigating around my blog site and becoming familiar with it might be a good start. Being Andrew’s friend means being convinced that I should purge my laptop of Windows and use Linux instead, so that’s the next step, happening in February.

Other things I’d like to get nerdy about: mobile phones (I’m just a wannabe junkie, but I think I’d like to get closer to the level that Andrew’s at, I don’t think I’ll be at his level, but half is good enough for me), designing my own website, eventually customize my own PC (my current one is ok, was put together by Jack, but it’s a few years old, so it’s time to think about an upgrade), and just anything and everything!

So, please feel free to get connected with me and share with me your path on how you became a nerd, I’m interested!

So here’s the dilemma, I would very much like to upgrade my excel skills, and I’m willing to invest in a “dummies” book to help me along the way, however, I’m not sure if I should pick up the Microsoft Excel 2003 or Microsoft Excel 2007.

The problem is this: I have Excel 2003 at home, so if I’m practicing, I’d be practicing at home, therefore, 2003 would seem the logical thing to learn. That being said, my employer has Excel 2007. I don’t know too in-depth as to how much a of difference 2003 vs 2007 is, so I don’t know if by learning 2003, I can easily transfer those learned skills onto 2007, or if 2007 is a completely different language. So far, the basics seem the same to me, just that 2007 has got a “prettier” look to it. I’m not looking to become an uber advanced user of Excel, but I’d like to become proficient in it enough that I could perform cool little tricks on it, let’s say, for standards sake, I’d like to become and intermediate to advanced user of Excel.

If anyone out there has experience with both, and could help me out in making a decision, that would be super!

Most people I know wants to start their New Year off on the right foot, with resolutions such as “I want to loose some weight”, or “I want to quit smoking”. I too have the same resolutions, for example, my resolution is to actually start blogging, and make use of my own website, perhaps get adventurous and eventually move my wordpress.com site to wordpress.org and self host out of sandychen.ca, I figure since I’m already paying for sandychen.ca, then I ought to really make use of it instead of letting it just sit there and collect cyber dust.

So far, I guess if you’re a resolutions type of person, then you’d say I’ve started off my New Year totally on the wrong foot. For starters, I drank more booze in one weekend (first weekend of the New Year, might I add) than the month of December 09′ alone. I’ve never been much of a drinker in my early days of post secondary school, but I guess I’m a late bloomer. Recently, I’ve developed a liking to few great glasses of wine or a few pints of smooth delicious beer (or some Soho with gingerale) mind you, not to the point where I’m totally trashed that I end up puking and punching the ceiling tiles beliving that I’m one of the Super Mario Bros., but enough to give me a very happy buzz.

So is this a New Year off on the wrong foot? Maybe, maybe not.  One thing I do know, I would really like another glass of wine.


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