Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Final Appeal

It's just today and tomorrow, and then you can kiss my moustache goodbye.

And then I can kiss my family again.

It's not too late to donate to Movember. At last count, I was in fourth place in my team's standings: I'd like to be in the top three. Think you can help?

I know I can count on you! Together, let's change the face of men's health.

And remember: I'm giving away a PDF copy of my book, Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary, to three of my sponsors (I'd love to include my anonymous sponsors, but I don't know how to reach you!).

Thanks to all who have helped out so far. Let's not lose the momentum!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Beer

A few years ago, Coca-Cola introduced a vanilla-flavoured Coke, and it was delicious. And when I drank it, I was reminded of rum. Drinking this soda was like drinking a Rum & Coke, without the alcohol. I was really disappointed when they discontinued it in Canada.

Whether Coca-Cola knew that this soft drink had hints of a hard drink, I may never know. But it was brilliant, whether intended or not. I love the flavour of rum.

Which brings me to this week's beer review.
Innis & Gunn
Rum Cask Oak Aged Beer
Edinburgh, Scotland
LCBO: $3.30/330mL
7.4% alc/vol
I have tried the traditional Innis & Gunn ale, which is aged in whisky barrels, offers delicious toffee and herb flavours. The Rum Cask version is equally delicious, but offers different flavours.

The colour is distinct from the original ale: the Rum Cask version shows a burnt reddish-caramel colour. On the nose, I first thought that the bottle was off. The aroma was strong and a little skunky. But it quickly opened up with oak, then figs and dates. This is a great beer for a winters day (whenever we get one, that is).

On the palate, I was immediately hit with vanilla, and that's what got me thinking of—you guessed it—Vanilla Coke. This ale has a slight sweetness that brought me back to almost a decade ago, when I fell in love with Coca-Cola again. Backing up the vanilla were flavours of clove and cinnamon. Though the finish was short, it was pleasant, making me want to follow my mouthful with another sip.

But let me be clear. This is not a sweet beer. There is no cloying quality to it. The sweetness is only perceived through the mixture of the rum and vanilla flavours. If you expect a sweet beer, you will be disappointed.

And believe me, this beer does not disappoint.

The brilliance of Innis & Gunn is their oak-aged ales, mixing with flavours of whatever liquor the barrel held before it was used for beer. This technique gives the beer a warmth that works well.

Despite the high alcohol level, it does not carry through to the overall flavour of the beer. Not much. That is, the alcohol does not detract; rather, it mixes with the oak, the spices, and the vanilla to make a beer that is quite enjoyable.

So give it a try. Especially, if you miss Vanilla Coke.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

We're Not Sports Fans

This is an actual conversation that Lori and I had on Friday. It all made sense to me today.

Lori: Is it Superbowl Sunday this weekend?
Me: No, I don't think so. I think that's in January, sometime after New Year's.
Lori, remarking at the colossal tower of potato chips and cola, prominently displayed at the entrance to our local Loblaws: There's some football game going on this weekend. Look at that display.
Me, noticing the football theme in the support columns of the tower: Well, it's the American Thanksgiving weekend. You know how the Yanks love their football. We seem to be following them in their holidays. We got sucked into their stupid Black Friday. I bet there are college games going on.
Lori: Yeah, maybe.
Me: Aren't you glad you married a guy who doesn't spend his whole weekend watching sports, having his buddies over, screaming at the TV, filling our mouths with junk food and swilling cheap beer?
Lori: Yeah, I suppose.

I swear, I did listen to the news on CBC Radio almost all day yesterday. I watched a little news on TV before I went to sleep. But it wasn't until I woke up this morning and heard the top story that I put it all together.

Today is Grey Cup Sunday. The biggest football day in Canada. It's our Superbowl.

And all I can say is "huh."

If you're a fan, enjoy the game against whoever and whoever, wherever. Oh yeah, the logo says "Vancouver." I hope there aren't any riots this time. Or was that another sport?

Happy Sunday.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Photo Friday: Cosmic Effect

Late last Friday, up in the starry sky, I gazed up and witnessed a phenomenon that happens maybe only once in a thousand lifetimes. Out amongst the neighbouring stars, a spacial rift opened, tore a hole in the fabric of the cosmos. And from it emerged an alien world, like a child exiting the womb.

A new planet, a new world, was born.

Or maybe, just maybe, I shot a photo through a paper towel roll with my iPhone and applied some special effects.

We may never know.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Taking It Up A Notch

There's only one week left in Movember, and my 'stache is pretty much complete. All that's left is for it to thicken up. But it won't go that long.

No, come December 1st, I'm shaving this puppy off. Because it looks cheesy, it's itchy, and my girls don't like it. Not one of them. In fact, they are reluctant to get kisses. They certainly won't take a kiss without complaining, saying that I'm scratching them like a Brillo pad.

And so I've gone to great sacrifices in growing my mo'.

It's also been a while since I've received a donation, and so I'm making another plea. And, to sweeten the deal, I'm going to try and make it worth your while.

Everyone who makes a donation to my Movember page will be entered in a draw for a PDF copy of my book, Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary. On December 1st, with a clean-shaven face, I will randomly pick three of you. It'll be my way of saying thanks for changing the face of men's health.

If you've already donated to my Mo Space, relax. You'll be in the draw too. Unless, of course, you make an anonymous donation. I can't trace you then.

So dig deep into your pockets. Make a donation. It's a small sacrifice.

It's not like no one will want to kiss you for doing it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

First Aid, My Kind of Way

If they offered CPR courses like this in my neighbourhood, I'd sign up. Again, and again, and again.

I also think it's important to learn how to save someone from choking:

Why don't we have ads like this in Canada?

Just thought I'd share. You're welcome.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Reviewing Under the Influence

I wrote parts of Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary while I was in a pub or at home, enjoying a few drinks. I know that some of you who have read my novel will think, yeah, I can see that. It all makes sense now. That explains a lot.

Well, screw you!

Today, I'm going to give you a review of a beer that I was actually drinking—am actually drinking—while writing this post. And, halfway through this beer, I'm feeling it.*

Mill St. Brewery Barley Wine Extra Strong Beer
500 mL; 11.5% alc/vol
Available at LCBO: $11.95

 This Toronto-based brewery is one of my favourites. I almost always keep some of their Tankhouse Ale in my refrigerator, I've sampled almost every beer they've put out, and I can't wait for them to open their brew pub in Ottawa, sometime in the new year. So when I saw this limited-edition ale in my local LCBO, I had to try it.

I'll admit it: the 11.5% alcohol content made me a bit nervous (the LCBO Web site claims it's only 10.3%, but that's still very high for beer). At that level, it is in the range of a wine—as it's label calls itself. But make no mistake: this is definitely a beer, and it packs a punch without putting all of that alcohol on your palate.

What drew me to this beer in the liquor store was the shape of the bottle. It's stoppered, has a steel-grey glass that has some weight (even empty, as I later found), and the bottle is shaped slightly like it is meant to hold some hooch. In a way, I guess it does. Good hooch.

The colour of this winter ale is a caramel brown, with highlights of red. There was a yeasty smell on the nose, but not at all unpleasant. Almost like freshly baked bread.

When I first tasted the beer, I tasted toffee; but as it opened, it mellowed to a creamy honey flavour. There were also distinct notes of grapefruit and a bit of orange zest. As it finished on the palate, I felt traces of tannins on the roof of my mouth. Not as strong as you'd get with a wine, but they were there. Almost like weak orange pekoe tea.

I liked this beer, but I've got to tell you: one bottle, and I'm not going anywhere. After two pints, and you'd have to call a taxi to get home—if you're out—or plan on staying in for the evening.

Writing this post while sipping at my one bottle, I'm feeling the buzz.

I'm also feeling that I want more of this stuff. So run out and get some.

Before I beat you to it.

Right after I sober up!

* Photos were shot before I got into this beer. Were processed afterwards, so I guess I'm in better shape than I thought!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Photo Friday: Gothic

Really, I haven't abandoned my D-SLR. But my smart phone camera is so much better than the one-megapixel camera in my old phone. Using Camera+, I've been able to apply layer upon layer to get all kinds of cool effects. Like this.

Lori has ordered an iPhone 4S, which has an even better camera than this one. I think I foresee a competition.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Brain Freeze

I miss my great aunt, Mae. My Aunt Mae, or Auntie Mae, or—as we affectionately called her—Annie Mae.

Annie Mae was my mother's mother's sister. For most of her life, she lived in Montreal, but she never missed an opportunity to come to Ottawa to visit her nieces, my mom and my Aunt Joyce. And, of course, she visited with her great nieces and nephews—my sisters, my brother, and my cousins. And me.

One of the things we loved the most about Annie Mae, apart from the amazing fudge she'd bring or make during her stay, was her twisted sense of humour (no jokes were censored) and her quirky expressions: budado for potato; bunker for kitchen counters; affie-gans for afghan sweaters. Whenever she said any of these, it was all we could do to surpress our snickers.

I'll also never forget a conversation she and I had, once, when I was in my teens. It was winter, and I was heading out, either to head to school or to meet with a friend. I put my boots on, zipped up my jacket, and headed for the door. As I reached the door, Annie Mae called out to me.

"Put a touque on," she said.
"I'm good," I replied. "It's not that cold out." Also, I thought but didn't say, it's not cool to wear headgear.
"You'll freeze your brain," Annie Mae warned.
"Yes, you'll freeze your brain. I read about it in the newspaper. These kids were skiing and they weren't wearing hats. Halfway down the slope, they dropped dead. Their brains were frozen."

I didn't know if this was that twisted sense of humour of hers, going into overdrive. I left the house, without a touque.

And my brain didn't freeze.

But if you want to wear a touque this winter and make it look like you're exposing your grey matter to the cold, here's one way to do it:

I miss you, Annie Mae. I think you would have loved this hat.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tiny Planets

The cool photo apps for my iPhone never cease to amaze me.

In September, I told you about ColorSplash, a photo app that allows you to quickly change a photo to black and white, and then return selected portions of that photo back to colour. It's a great app to have when you want to draw the focus of your photo to specific subjects. For example, I visited the National War Memorial, downtown, on Friday, for Remembrance Day. And I wanted to focus on the poppies that adorned the wreathes that were laid to honour and remember our fallen soldiers. It made the image more powerful to be in black and white, but to have the poppies still red.

A couple of weekends ago, I was introduced to another photo app, but this one does amazing things to your photos. It's called Tiny Planet Photos.

This app wraps images into a circle that gives the impression that the world in which your subject is located is very small. The subjects are distorted, but depending on your composition you can get some pretty stunning results.

I found that the best photos to use are ones that have a clearly defined horizon with subjects that are placed both above and below that horizon line. For example, I took a photo that I shot of San Gimignano, Tuscany...

... and got this:

The app recommends that for best results, you use photos with a landscape orientation, but I took this portrait-oriented photo of New York City...

... and the app produced this effect:

You can also set up the photo to give the appearance that you're looking down a pipe or a gun barrel. To see more of my Tiny Planet photos, check out my photos on Flickr.

So if you love photo apps, this is one that I highly recommend. Have fun!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Too Cold For Beer?

Now that November is approaching the halfway mark, it's time that we start thinking about preparing for the cold weather. Actually, it's beyond that time, but with the unusually warm weather we've enjoyed in Ottawa this month, sometimes it's hard to think about snow, even though we can be under a foot or so of it at this time of the year.

When it comes to beer, we sometimes think of one with a good full body. Something that will give us comfort in this cooler climate. And that's why this weekend, I tried a winter ale. St. Peter's Winter Ale. 

Only, I screwed it up. I'll tell you why in a second, but here are my initial tasting notes.

St. Peter's Winter Ale (Strong Ale): $3.95 for a 500 ml bottle at the LCBO; 6.5% alcohol/volume.
  • Colour: cola brown; slight highlights of red
  • Nose: light herbs and yeast; not much to pick up
  • Taste: slight tones of rye bread; not much spice
  • Body: light; not what I'd expect from a winter ale, but easy-drinking; slightly sweet finish; no alcohol overtones (that's a good thing!)
I was a little disappointed by the apparent lack of flavours. Although it wasn't bad, it wasn't great. It was very easy-drinking; too easy-drinking.
And then it dawned on me: this is an English ale, a real ale. The problem with this beer wasn't how it was made, it was how I had served it. The bottle had been in the refrigerator all day. The beer was cold. Too cold.

Before I finished my first pint, I removed my second bottle of the ale from the fridge and let it warm at room temperature. But sadly, when I opened and consumed the second bottle, it was still too cold, even though it had sat for an hour before I poured it in my glass.

And so, the next day, I returned to the LCBO and bought more, but didn't refrigerate it at all before opening it. And it was like having a different beer. The body was fuller, the aromas more intense, with added hints of chocolate. On the palate, the rye bread was more pronounced, with more flavours of hops thrown in.

This was a great beer.

I imagine that the LCBO won't have this ale in stock for long, so I suggest you grab some soon. But do yourself a favour. Don't put it in your fridge. Drink it at room temperature.

After all, it's getting cold enough outside.

If there's condensation on the bottle, it's way to cold!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Beer Review: Ghosttown Stout

Last week, I reviewed a luscious beer made by a friend of mine when he owned a microbrewery in the Ottawa area. I enjoyed sharing my impressions of his Imperial Stout with you, but there was just one small problem.

It's no longer available in stores.

What was the point in enticing you to a beer that you won't be able to get your hands on?

Well, this time I'm going to review a beer that is currently available at the LCBO; whether you want to get it after this review is entirely up to you, but at least you'll have that option.

With Hallowe'en just behind us, it's no surprise that the label of this beer caught my attention. Two cat-like eyes peering through blackness. An eerie green glow on the lower half of the label. And its name: Ghosttown Stout.

Brewed by Brasseur de Montréal, which started in 2008 by Denise Mérineau and Marc-André Gauvreau in the Griffintown district of Montréal—a name that is carried on another of their labels—Ghosttown Stout is an absinth-flavoured beer with a unique flavour. Here are my tasting notes:

  • Reddish-brown in colour, almost like root beer, with a café-au-lait head.
  • The nose held hints of mint and chocolate, almost like an After Eight mint; a sweetness that almost seemed like root beer.
  • On the palate, black licorice and espresso, with strong alcohol overtones.
  • A long, strong finish of grassy herbs.
At 6.6% alcohol, this stout packs a punch; and even though Perry's beer was headier at 9%, Ghosttown tasted stronger because the flavour of alcohol was more prevalent. Though I bought two 341ml bottles, I decided that one bottle was enough for a sitting.

As much as I like stout, I'm not sure how I feel about one that is absinth-flavoured. I've never had absinth before, so I'm at a disadvantage in describing it. Perhaps that's the black licorice that I tasted and the strong alcohol finish. Unfortunately, I'm neither a fan of black licorice nor of strong alcohol (whisky excepted). So this wasn't my favourite stout.

It was interesting, none the less, and it does make me curious to try other beers by these brewers. If you like stout and want to try something different, give it a try, but buy one to start off. At $2.95 a bottle, it's certainly worth a shot.

At least, it's not enough to spook you.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Where In Ottawa: November

Update: With record-breaking speed, the photo has been identified. Congratulations to Jakkii Musgrave, who posted her comment only 4 minutes after the contest was officially announced. The photo is of the statue that sits (literally) outside St. Andrew's church, at Wellington and Kent.

Because the contest was brought to an end so suddenly, I don't have my photos of the full statue or the church on hand to post them. Instead, I'll use them for this week's Wordless Wednesday.

Where In Ottawa returns next month (first Monday in December).

It's that time once again.

Think you know Ottawa? Prove it! Here is this month's photo.

If you think you know where this photo was shot, leave your answer as a comment in this blog post—tweeting me may get a "yes" or "no," but you don't win if you don't leave your answer in this post.

The first person who correctly identifies this location will win a PDF copy of the final version of my novel, Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary. Yes, I have finally finished the final version: some minor changes, one character has been removed from the original story, and there's a different ending. Very exciting.

 That's it. There are no other rules. So get to it!

And good luck.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Photo Friday: Three-Day Growth

I've been working on my moustache for only three days. So far it's looking pretty much as I expected.


Unbearable to look at? You can always go to last week's Photo Friday. I agree: it's prettier!

Luckily, I'm growing it for a good cause.

November is Male Health Awareness Month, and I'm participating in Movember, growing a moustache and raising money towards prostate cancer research. So far, I've had a few generous supporters; but I need more. Many more.

If you haven't done so already, please go to My Mo Page and give what you can.

And I'll keep providing updates. As many as you can bear to look at!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

It's Movember, Baby!

I won't grow a moustache for just anyone, you know.

I look absolutely hideous in a moustache, so I'm only growing it for a very good cause. And you can help.

Movember is an event to raise awareness of men's health issues; in particular, prostate cancer. So, like many Canadians and other men from around the world, I'm growing a 'stache to raise money to fight this disease. Will you help me?

Please show your support by clicking this link and making a donation to my Mo Space. In exchange, I'll give you weekly updates on my progress--that is, all the cheesy photos you can handle. And I warn you: I don't look pretty with a moustache! We're talking Grade A cheesy!

Thanks so much!