Thursday, March 30, 2023

Beer O'Clock: Ah Stout

It was something that my mom would only get for us every once an awhile, as a special treat to take with us in our lunch bags as we headed off to school. Though a single package contained two mini cakes, she would give us only one, each.

(At the time, there were only three of us: did she keep the fourth cake for herself?)

I loved the Ah Caramel! cakes, made by Vachon. The combination of chocolate and caramel on a white sponge did for me then what cheese and bacon on a burger do for me today.

I can't remember the last time that I tasted an Ah Caramel! cake. Did DW and I buy a box, once, to give to our own kids as a treat in their school lunchbox?

But I'm now reminded of these cakes as I take a sip in a special stout that I found in my local LCBO.

Ah Stout Chocolate Caramel Cupcake Stout (5.9% ABV; 25 IBUs)
Sawdust City Brewing Company
Gravenhurst ON

Appearance: deep mahogany-brown with garnet highlights and a latte-coloured foam head that settles to a tight lace.

Nose: dark cocoa hits the nostrils straight away and a sugary sweetness of butterscotch.

Palate: the chocolate and caramel mix and mingle immediately. There's a sweetness that covers the tongue but a dry cocoa that hits the back of the throat and gives this stout a well-balanced, medium finish.

Overall impression: while this is a tasty and complex stout, I'm not quite taken back to my childhood school lunches. I remember the cakes to be overwhelmingly sweet, and for little cakes they sure were filling. In Sawdust City's take on this treat, they've certainly nailed the chocolate and caramel but I don't find it cloying—trust me, for a stout, that's a good thing to not be. The cocoa that I feel at the back of my throat doesn't jive with my memories of the Vachon cake but for this stout, again, that's a good thing. The cocoa tempers the sweetness and gives it a more palatable brew.

I'd take this stout over the cake any day.

Beer O'Clock rating: 🍺🍺 +.5

While this stout no longer seems to appear on Sawdust City's beer lineup, you may still find some cans at your local LCBO. Snap it up while you can.


Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Ad-Hoc Cooking

It was a meal based on me not paying much attention. And it was delicious.

I was under the weather when I woke up on Sunday morning. Since the pandemic started, I get nervous if I exhibit two or more symptoms of anything, and I awoke with a sore throat and sinus congestion. I rested in bed until about 10:30 and then came down to the kitchen to have some herbal tea and fruit juice. With the sore throat, I was reluctant to eat but DW insisted I have some of the oven-baked pancake that she made.

For the rest of the day, neither DW nor I had much energy to do anything, so we binge-watched YouTube videos, gathering information and making notes for our upcoming vacation, later in the year. We ran videos on our family-room TV and we scrolled through other videos on our smartphones.

I often see obscure videos pop up on my YouTube home page, and I sometimes stop scrolling when I see food. So when I saw a slender slab of pork tenderloin on my small screen, I paused.

I never have the volume turned up on my phone. I receive notifications through my smart watch, which vibrates when I have an incoming call, when I receive an e-mail message, or other essential messages (social media notifications are not essential). So when this cooking video started playing, I had no audio.

The subtitles were in German, so I didn't focus on them. It would take me too long to figure out what was being said and I'd miss the visuals of what they were doing. The cook took a butcher's knife and made an incision down the length of the pork, butterflying it. They created a rub using various spices and coated the tenderloin inside and out.

Next, they sliced and sautéed white onions, and my mouth started watering. But when they added white mushrooms, my interest started to wane.

I don't eat fungus.

They also added garlic, so I kept watching. When everything in the pan was cooked, they set it aside and started preparing potatoes for roasting by peeling them and cutting them into wedges. They seasoned the potatoes with what looked like paprika, salt, and pepper, and mixed them with olive oil.


They then took the onion and mushroom mixture and placed it in the splayed tenderloin, covering it with what looked to be white cheddar cheese. When it was ready to go, they took several rashers of bacon, laid them next to one another, placed the strip of pork on top, and wrapped the bacon around the pork as they rolled it into a tight log.

When they placed it in the oven, I had seen enough and closed my YouTube app.

DW and I had just purchased some pork tenderloin, the day before, as it was on sale at Farm Boy. We were planning to used it through the week, and I now knew how we were going to prepare it.

We continued looking through YouTube on the TV, watching more of Europe and making notes of the cities we were going to make a priority. And as the afternoon moved on, my cold seemed to improve (I had swallowed several cold and sinus tablets, and had used a significant amount of tissues) and I started to rally as dinnertime approached.

I told DW that I was going to cook the pork tenderloin and that I knew what I was going to do with it.

"Trust me," I said. That made DW leery.

First, I took an onion from our pantry and sliced it thinly. I made her my sous-chef, getting her to caramelize them and then add garlic and spinach until the green leaves were reduced.

While she worked on the onions, I split the tenderloin open and seasoned it only with pepper and a tiny bit of salt. I wasn't going to place a rub on the pork. Not this time. When the onions and spinach mixture was ready, I placed it in the opened strip of tenderloin, I cubed some feta cheese and sprinkled it across the veggie mixture.

I laid out strips of bacon like I had seen and wrapped it around the pork, sealing it all in parchment paper and then tin foil. I placed the roll on a baking sheet and put it in a 400°C oven, setting the timer for 20 minutes.

Next, I cut up some baby potatoes and seasoned them with a Montreal steak spice, mixing it with olive oil. When the 20-minute timer sounded, I added the potatoes to the baking sheet, with the pork tenderloin, and set another timer; this time, for 10 minutes.

When the timer went off, I took the backing sheet out, unwrapped it to expose the tenderloin but still capture the juices, turned the potatoes, and set everything back in the oven for another 20 minutes.

It turned out quite well, though I had to take the potatoes out when the alarm sounded and put the pork back in for another 10 minutes, until the bacon had started to crisp.

In truth, I could have added more salt to the pork, but I would rather have too little and have to add it after than to have added too much from the start. DW loved it, though we agreed that next time, we'd try it with some sort of rub.

I followed no recipe, other than to get a visual of how to split open the tenderloin, how to stuff it, and how to wrap it. Some ingredients were copied, some were omitted, and others were substituted. It was an improvised dinner and it actually worked.

DW said she wanted to add this dish to our repertoire, and that's high praise, indeed!

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Has Spring Sprung?

The snowbanks are still tall but they're shrinking every day.

And even though it snowed just this past Saturday, you'd barely know it today. I did get out and shovel my driveway, late in the day, because the snow seemed to want to stay there and I hate any accumulation. Yet, none of my neighbours seemed to head out with their shovels and by mid-Sunday, there wasn't any snow in their driveways.

I'm obsessed with my driveway.

I know that March hasn't come to an end, yet, and that we could march out like a lion. We're known for getting snow in April. And although I've made an appointment to swap out my winter tires for summer ones, I'm wondering if the 11th is too early this year.

Last year, on the final week of April—just a few days before the CN Cycle for CHEO 2022 was held—we had a snow storm. The snow didn't last and all but melted as it landed, but I was worried.

Thankfully, we had a great day to ride, and my fingers are crossed that we luck out this year.

But now, I'm wondering if I can stop counting the number of times that I've headed out to shovel the driveway. At the beginning of the snow season, for fun, I thought I would keep a tally of every time I had to put my shovel to use. And the winter of 2022-2023 seemed to have a lot of snow.

To date, I've done it 55 times. Had DW and I not gone to Mexico, in January, I would have had an extra three or four ticks on the blackboard.

I'm now wondering when I should erase the board. Would I be jinxing myself if I did it before the end of the month? Should I wait until the summer tires are on the Niro?

Fifty-five seems like a lot and the remaining snow on my lawn can attest to that summation. Is it more than normal? Maybe I should count next season and compare.

(Clearly, I don't have enough hobbies.)

Happy Tuesday!

Monday, March 27, 2023


It's not a solution but in a way, it's better.

On Friday, I complained about how I had been editing my latest video and complaining about how my software, Pinnacle Studio, was glitchy and had been messing with my ability to produce a video without some glaring errors. Video footage would appear upside down. It would freeze the action while keeping the audio running (I'm thinking of spots in my Korea video, my Tay River kayaking adventure, and my Akumal Bay snorkelling adventure).

In my latest project, everything seemed to run smoothly. As with every video, I run the timeline before I export it to an MP4 format and make minor changes or try to fix any glitch that pops up. This video ran without a hitch so I started the export process.

It wasn't until toward the end that I encountered a problem. I explained my woes in my last blog post. For hours, I tried to determine the cause of the glitch. The source clip was fine. There was nothing else running in any of the other channels that could interfere with it.

I tried rebuilding that section, cut-by-cut, but that didn't work. The error showed up in the same spot.

I showed the problem to DW and told her all of the ways in which I tried to fix the issue, and she had nothing else to offer in way of a solution. She told me that she knows the developer who works on Pinnacle and she could show my issue to him, but that would take time.

I wanted to release my video of Portugal's Douro Valley by the weekend. To that end, I needed a workaround.

At first, I thought my temporary solution was akin to putting a band aid over a blister—it doesn't fix the blister but hides it and keeps it from getting worse. The grey screen with a giant 'replay' logo looked awful, so I needed to cover it up.

The error happened when I was tasting some port wine and describing it. In the video clips that lead up to the glitch, I'm sitting in front of the camera and the point of view doesn't change. So I added some still photos of the wine glasses that are super-imposed over the spoiled footage. I exported the project, and it worked.

No more grey screen.

In a way, the workaround is better than a solution of keeping the camera on me. First, you don't have to look at me for as long. Also, the photos are closeups of the port we were tasting, with vineyards in the background, and the sun setting behind the hills.

They are vertically oriented photos but they beat a grey screen any day.

I've uploaded the final video to YouTube: give yourself a break and have a look.

If you like the video, give it a Thumbs Up and subscribe to my channel. I've finally surpassed 100 subscribers and am now looking to double that number as soon as possible.

Happy Monday!

Friday, March 24, 2023

Unhealthy Obsession

All sense of time evaporates.

I set myself a goal for an evening: just get this task done and call it a night. But either the task takes far less time than I had anticipated and I give myself a fresh goal, or the task encounters a snag and I won't stop until I've solved the issue. And sometimes, the task just takes longer than I had planned and I keep going until it's done.

I'm talking about editing my videos.

I'm grateful to DW, who gave me a free copy of Pinnacle Studio when I started creating videos to share on my YouTube channel. She works for the company that creates the software and she is entitled to a free download of each release.

The program is robust and I can do a lot with my video but it's also quirky, cumbersome, and downright glitchy. Sometimes, the seemingly simplest task takes the most about of time. And sometimes, the program will do something to a video clip that I can't explain or find the root problem. I'll work for hours to try and solve the issue—sometimes, to no avail—and I'll just get tired and accept the glitch for the sake of completing my project.

But that glitch will drive me nuts.

Take, for example, my video of Porto. For a second, one scene is upside-down. This clip was taken on DW's iPhone and for some reason was imported upside-down. When I viewed the source file, it appeared right-side up, but as soon as I dragged it into the timeline, the image was flipped.

I was able to isolate the clip and perform a 180-degree rotation, and that appeared fine in the timeline. But as soon as I compiled the video to export as an MP4 file, the clip was completely upside-down again.

I went back into the project and rotated it again, and compiled the video once more, and the clip was right-side up. Except for the first second.

I learned that in that segment, the cross-fade effect to transition from the previous clip to the upside-down clip flipped the image. I would have to remove the transition to solve the problem but in doing so, I'd have a hard break from one scene to the next.

I weighted the options and in the end, I decided that a second of a glitchy clip was better than a hard cut and start between different scenes. I hate that glitch but it's there, and has been seen more than a thousand times already.

Later, I experimented with a similar issue (it seems that almost all of the video clips that DW shot with her iPhone, while in Portugal, are upside-down) and discovered that if I flipped a video clip and then rendered it, on its own, to an MP4 video (from a MOV file), I could then import that MP4 clip into a timeline and it would appear right-side up.

When I was working on the latest video project, there was a scene that was crucial to the video but, unfortunately, it was captured on DW's iPhone. The scene was essential, as it captured me tasting two amazing port wines from a vineyard where we had stomped on grapes, in Portugal's Douro Valley.

I flipped the clip (say that quickly, three times!) and exported it to an MP4 file and then imported into this video, and it ran smoothly. But because the clip was almost five minutes long, in which I pause between words, linger with a mouthful of the fortified wine, or sit back and relax, I did a lot of cutting.

Watching the timeline playback, it looked great. I was happy.

Oh, and I should say that at this point, it was after midnight on a weeknight. DW had long earlier gone to bed.

But I had set myself the task of getting to the end of the video and, by gosh, I was going to finish.

As I watched the video render, frame by frame, I was happy with the video. In my personal opinion, it was my best video to date. The story was unfolding well and no issues seemed to present themselves that would make me want to go back and change anything.

Until I reached the scene where I'm drinking the port wine. It started out fine, with all the cuts, but as it approached the halfway point, the screen went grey and a giant circle with an arrow that looked like a Replay symbol appeared for about 10 seconds before the video resumed with me talking and nursing a glass of tawny.

I nearly screamed out loud but it was after 1 am.

I went back in the project, ran the timeline, and all seemed fine. I checked each clip segment and the properties showed nothing unusual. I chalked it up to a rendering glitch and tried again.

The issue happened again at the same spot.

I heard DW get up to use the washroom and then she called down to me. "Are you still up?"

It was nearly two in the morning. I had to get ready for work in a handful of hours. I shut down the computer, turned off all of the lights, and headed upstairs.

"I need a better program than Pinnacle," I told DW.

"You need to set boundaries," she replied. "You've become obsessed with your videos. It's unhealthy. You need rest."

"I would have been done hours ago if the program wasn't so glitchy. I need to look into a better editing tool."

"You had better finish this project first. If you move to another app, you'll have to start all over again. Now go to sleep."

I was a wreck the next day. It's a wonder that I got through all of my meetings, including a one-on-one with my boss.

It's true: my video editing has become an unhealthy obsession. It takes me tens of hours to put together 15 minutes of video. Once I start working on a project, I find it hard to tear myself away.

I need to set hard stops when I'm working on a video. No more than two or three hours at a time, and no work beyond 10 pm.

There's no one anxiously awaiting my next video. I've only just reached 100 subscribers (thank you to those of you who have supported my channel!). This was supposed to be a hobby but it takes more of my time than my writing ever has.

I meant to have the video ready to share today. But since Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, I've decided to slow down. Pace myself.

And until I find a replacement to Pinnacle, I'll work on my project until I fix all of the glitches. With any luck that'll happen in time for me to share the video on Monday.

Wish me good luck. And restful evenings.