I eat: Osteria La Buca

Now-a-days, Instagram is my go-to to find where all the cool kids are eating. When I see a drool-worthy picture, I immediately go to Yelp and bookmark if highly rated. So what was it that attracted me to Osteria La Buca?

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THIS.

Cacio e pepe. And it did not disappoint. Creamy, cheesy, peppery goodness.

We also ordered another pasta and pizza.

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nero spaghetti – clams, squid, shrimp, tomato, chilis

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calzone – mozzarella, ricotta, pecorino, spicy tomato sauce, broccolini

The nero spaghetti was good, but the cacio e pepe was clearly our favorite pasta. The texture of both pastas was perfect.

I love broccolini, but it typically adds a slight bitterness to a dish. Combine that with burnt pizza dough and you have a calzone that’s somewhat off putting.

All in all, this was good meal that we scarfed down in under 45 mins.

When you spend more time on the road to the restaurant than in the restaurant itself… #soLA

Verdict: 3.5/5
Osteria La Buca
5210 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90038

O Canada!

My first trip of 2017 was to the beautiful Canadian Rockies: Banff/Lake Louise. Banff has been on my radar for quite some time now. I actually intended to visit during summer so I could hike and canoe on Lake Moraine, but when I found out that there are a couple of popular ski resorts in the Banff area (included in the Mountain Collective Pass btw), I decided to stop waiting and persuaded CT to go.

The plan:

  • Fly into Calgary + 1 night
  • Drive to Banff/Lake Louise + 4 nights

The activities:

  • Peyto Lake lookout
  • Ice skating on Lake Louise
  • Ice Magic Festival
  • Banff Snow Days
  • Banff’s Big Taste
  • Snowboarding
  • Snowmobiling

Prior to boarding our Air Canada flight, we relaxed in the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge at LAX. I’ve never actually been in a lounge before – it was always rush to the airport and wait by the gate. The lounge offered free beverages (middle-shelf alcohol and wine included), free food, clean bathrooms, comfy chairs. sweeeeeeet!

The flight to Calgary was about 3 hours + 1 hour for the time change. I had the window seat and was excited to see what Calgary looked like from the air and all I saw was…

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brown.

We breezed through Customs, grabbed our luggage, picked up our rental and headed into the city where we booked an AirBnB for the night.

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The location of the condo was fantastic. It was walking distance from bars, coffee shops, stores, restaurants. We even walked to dinner at Ox and Angela!

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stuffed squid in its own ink / salt cod and potatoe croquetta / jamon croquetta / paella

The paella, which I was most excited for, turned out to be most disappointing. Such a shame! The rice was overly salty while the calamari had absolutely no flavor. It was as if the calamari was an afterthought, just sprinkled on top instead of being incorporated into the dish. Everything else was really good, especially the jamon croquettes (not pictured). CT was not a big fan of the stuffed squid. I enjoyed them; they reminded me of the Vietnamese stuffed squid that I LOVE.

After dinner, we went to get ice cream. Because… I’m always down for ice cream. Even in 30 degree weather!

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The next day, we checked out and brunched at OEB.

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super cute decor!

I picked this place because of their expansive menu, which, for someone as indecisive as myself, doesn’t quiet make sense. It turned out to be surprisingly easy for me to order. My eyes honed in on two words: truffle and cheesecake.

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“gold digga” / “sweet dreams are made of these”

Underneath the beautifully poached egg of the “Gold Digga” were duck fat fried potatoes, pork belly, cheese curds and black truffle, all smothered in Hollandaise. To satisfy our sweet tooth, we ordered the “Sweet Dreams Are Made Of These”, which is essentially a slice of NY cheesecake sandwiched between two pieces of french toast.

After this delicious meal, we rolled ourselves out and headed to Lake Louise. I’m not sure how I managed to keep myself awake during the 2 hour trip there. I’m a notorious car napper. Maybe it was because of the beautiful scenery…

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We stopped in Lake Louise to rent snowshoes. I had planned to hike to Peyto Lake lookout and from my research, I knew we would be walking in snow. I just wasn’t sure how deep it would be so I wanted to play it safe. Plus, now I could say that I’ve snowshoed!

Peyto Lake, the infamous wolf headed lake, is about a 40-50 min drive north of Lake Louise on Hwy 93 (Icefields Parkway). As you can see (below), in contrast to the Trans-Canada Highway (above), Icefields Parkway is not regularly plowed or maintained. The road was labeled as being in “poor condition” while we were there. If you’re planning to travel on the Icefields Parkway during winter, I would strongly suggest inquiring about snow tires. I’d also like to note that cell service is spotty at best in this area so plan accordingly.

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{Bow Summit And Peyto Lake Lookout In Winter } – this website was a great resource for me while planning this hike. I was able to recognize the trail head and the trail to the lookout based on the pictures posted.

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start of the trail: walk past the wooden washroom…

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then walk past the trees and turn right…

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continue up the road…

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you’ll pass a speed limit sign on your left, which could be covered depending on the amount of snow (this pic was taken looking down to the start of the trail) …

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continue until you see this sign…

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follow the path to the right and you will find…

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Gorgeous, right?!

If we didn’t have to return our snowshoes by 5pm, we would have hiked around the area. Instead we just lingered a bit to each our packed lunch.

Back in Lake Louise, we essentially traded our snowshoes for ice skates

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bucket list: ice skate on lake louise √

Again, gorgeous right?!?!

I loooooove ice skating, but ice skating on natural ice, surrounded by beautiful views, with snow falling was just unreal.

We happened to be in Lake Louise during the annual Ice Magic Festival so we decided to check out the sculptures after ice skating.

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The festival is held outside Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, between the hotel and the actual lake. The first time we visited (after ice skating), the participants had just started working on the sculptures. We came back to see the finished products a couple of days later. Here are just a few of the amazing creations!

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Afterwards, we drove to Banff, checked into our hotel, Fox Hotel & Suites, and ended the day with a nice dinner at Three Ravens Restaurant.

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amuse bouche; smoked elk tartare with dehydrated bison; green eggs and ham duck breast; beef tenderloin; tonka bean creme brulee

Three Ravens is one of the more upscale restaurants in Banff. It is located in the corner of a large dining hall (cafeteria) on the 4th floor of the Banff Centre. With tall glass windows overlooking Banff, I’m sure the view is amazing. Unfortunately, we had dinner at 8PM, well after sunset.

The food and service were excellent. My duck and CT’s steak were cooked to perfection! I was less impressed with the creme brulee, but overall, it was a great meal. I would definitely recommend if you’re looking for a nice evening out in Banff.

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We spent the next couple of days snowboarding at two popular ski resorts in the Banff area: Sunshine Village and Lake Louise. My personal favorite is Lake Louise, but here are my general observations of both…

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Sunshine:

Pros (1) more runs (more variety), (2) better/more snow

Cons (1) more flat areas, (2) must take loooong gondola ride from base to mid mountain lifts

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Lake Louise:

Pros (1) longer runs, (2) consistent weather, (3) easier access from base (lifts or gondola take you mid mountain)

Cons (1) Farther drive from Banff (additional 30-40 mins)

So, Peyto Lake was gorgeous. Ice skating on Lake Louise was amazing. Snowboarding was fun. But what was the highlight of this trip?

Snowmobile tour. Hands down.

We woke up early and took a 2 hour bus ride to Panorama, BC for a full day snowmobile tour with Toby Creek Adventures.

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After checking in and gearing up, we met outside to pick our snowmobiles.

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I ended up being the first one in the group, which gave me a lot of anxiety. Given that this was my first time on a snowmobile, I was afraid that I would slow every one down! Thankfully, this was not the case. We did about 4-5 laps around a practice course and I quickly got the hang of accelerating and turning.

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And then we were off!

We rode up the mountain, stopped a few times to check out the beautiful views and got a brief lesson on avalanche control.

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Our destination was Paradise Mine/Basin, an old mining town located at about 8000 ft. elevation. When we arrived, we warmed up in small cabin with some hot chocolate and cookies.

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And then it was play time!!!!

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Our guide showed us the perimeter of the designated play area (the basin) and then we had about 40 mins to ride around. It could have been more or less, I’m not exactly sure, I was having way too much fun to keep track of time. I can assure you that there was definitely enough time to ride your heart out.

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The feeling of flying downhill was exhilarating. Also a bit scary, not gonna lie. But I never felt unsafe! However, we did hear about an accident in another group: a lady, who was riding as a passenger, fell off of the snowmobile. It didn’t seem too serious since she didn’t need medical attention. When I booked the tour, I contemplated whether to book two drivers or driver/passenger. Obviously, I ended up booking two drivers and I’m so glad I did because (1) riding as a passenger would have been boring and (2) either of us would have probably fallen off given how fast we were going off the hills.

Our tour included lunch which consisted of burgers or hot dogs. Nothing fancy, just enough fuel to get us back down the mountain. We took a different route descending and stopped for a short hike to a frozen waterfall.

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smith falls

I actually wasn’t expecting to see this waterfall. The site that I booked the tour through didn’t mention it or maybe I just didn’t pay attention, but it was a nice surprise. And a good prelude to the following day.

Our last dinner in Banff was at Block Kitchen + Bar. To be honest, I was hesitant to dine here at first. As evidenced from the menu, I would classify this restaurant as Asian fusion and my experiences with these kinds of restaurants have not been good. But I gotta say, Block Kitchen was GOOD. I legit could not stop eating the curry!

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asian lettuce wraps with duck / panang curry with prawns / red devil calamari

The dishes were so well executed and the flavors seemingly so authentic that we had to ask, who the heck is the Chef? We were told that Chef Stephane Prevost lived in Japan for a number of years and Asian influences helped refine his cooking style.

It would have been a great last night of our trip if I had developed some kind of stomach illness during the middle of the night. I highly doubt it was food poisoning since CT did not experience the same symptoms. But interesting enough, he did have some stomach pains a couple nights before. Maybe our stomach pains were related. Maybe not. Who knows? All I knew was that I wanted to die.

I had planned to hike to the waterfalls of Johnston Canyon the next morning and I was determined to not let my stomach pains get in the way. So I sucked it up and we made the short hike to the lower falls.

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The path was icy at times. I had bought Yaktrax specifically for this trip but was too lazy to put them on. Instead, I just walked slowly and carefully with my winter boots.

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The trail continues onto the upper falls, but I only had enough strength for the short hike to the lower falls. When we got back to the car, I immediately knocked out and napped all the way back to Calgary.

We were on our way to a quick meal before heading to the airport when we passed the Peace bridge. Of course we had to stop for a quick photo op with this amazing piece of architecture.

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This trip was everything I had hoped it would be (minus the stomach illness). And it made me miss the whole trip planning process. CT had a great time as well so I can proudly say that in terms of trip planning, I still got it! I can’t wait to plan our next trip.

Verdicts:
Ox and Angela, 3.5/5
Village Ice Cream, 4/5
OEB, 5/5
Three Ravens Restaurant, 4/5
Block Kitchen + Bar, 4/5
Noodle World Restaurant, 3.5/5

Black Bean Chili

This winter has been especially cold and rainy. During times like these, I gravitate towards noodle soups or just soups in general, stews, and chilis. You know, the comforting stuff! I found this particular recipe in a Cooking Light magazine, which is extra points in my book. Yummy AND “light”? YAAAAAAS.

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I made some tweaks to the recipe, but nothing substantial. I like my chili thicker so I eliminated the water. Also swapped one can of black beans for one can of diced tomatoes because tomatoes > beans. I mean, I know this is called black bean chili, but come on, FOUR cans of black beans?! WHY?

Oh, and a word of caution… When I first made this chili, I interpreted “3 canned chipotle chilis in adobo sauce” as 3 cans of chipotle chilis instead of 3 chipotle chilis. Oops. Don’t make the same mistake as I did. I love spicy foods but that was almost unbearable! I use 1 can now 😊

2016

2016 was a roller coaster. There were many highs (my promotion) and just as many lows (my toxic relationship with T). But overall, it was a good year. A year of growth, personally and professionally. Before I welcome 2017, let me reflect on all that happened in 2016…

I furnished my place…

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I received two awards at work: employee of the quarter and team of the quarter. Also got promoted! 💵 😁

I traveled to…

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I completed some amazing hikes…

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I cooked up some new recipes and made some oldies but goodies…

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Looking back, I really can’t complain. It’s been a good year and I look forward to even bigger and better things in 2017. Bring it on beeeeetches!

xoxo, kc