Category Archives: by success rating

Adventure on the cheap – Vancouver and the Lower Mainland by public transit part I

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I’ve been lazy. I haven’t updated in ages. I’m back with pretty pictures, so I hope you’ll forgive me. ūüėČ

With the longer days and springier weather lately, I’ve spent more time exploring. I wanted to write a post about six of the most awesome places I’ve visited by bus in the last three and a half years. I’ll bring it to you in two parts.

1) Horseshoe Bay

Horseshoe Bay is in the far northwest corner of Metro Vancouver, but it only takes one bus to get there from downtown.¬†There is¬†a ferry terminal and a little town with ice cream, restaurants and tourist shops, as well as docks that are accessible to the public. It’s a serene place, and it has great views of the islands and mountains of Howe Sound.

The ferries take foot passengers, you can go as far as Nanaimo on Vancouver Island without needing a car.

2) Grouse Mountain

This one takes a lot of hiking, or something like $40 (or whatever they are charging these days) for a gondola ticket, but oh is it worth it. ¬†I’m still pretty ¬†blown away that I live in a place where you can take public transit to the base of a mountain, spend the day hiking, then catch the bus back home.

The bus goes to the base of Grouse Mountain, where there’s a Starbucks and the start of the gondola. There is also the option to hike the Grouse Grind. Since I’m so cheap, I choose the Grouse Grind because two and a half hours of physical torture is still more appealing to me than buying a ticket for the gondola. The sign at the base says that the average hiker will take an hour and a half, but I’m way above average apparently.

I’ve done the Grouse Grind three times, and I always spend the first half cursing myself. There is a point where it gets easier, or at least when my body has gotten into the rhythm and I feel so pleased with myself that I decide I don’t need to do any more exercise for the next month. After lots of climbing and stomping and heaving (over 3000 stairs), ¬†the trail ends at the foot of the restaurant and gift shop complex. This is when I get to turn around, look at Vancouver and the Island, and realize it was definitely worth it.

They’ve found a way to capitalize the heck out of that mountain, because along with the multiple gift shops and multiple restaurants, there is also a grizzly bear enclosure, wolf enclosure, lumberjack shows, windmill tour, helicopter tours and probably some other stuff that I’m missing. The bears, wolves and lumberjacks are free.

Hiking back down is actually not permitted. I’m not sure if that’s a way to capitalize off ¬†of the moochy hikers who took a free peek at the grizzlies, or if ‘s is a safety issue (the Grouse Grind can get pretty competitive). The ticket down was $10 last time I was there, but after the hike up I’m always more than eager to take the easy way down.

3. Burnaby Mountain

‘Another mountain,’ you say? That’s right, and this one is much less of a pain in the ass.

The eastern part of Burnaby Mountain is taken up by SFU, and the much smaller western part is a restaurant and park. Getting to the western part takes about 15 minutes from the nearest bus stop, but there is a fair amount of incline. You will probably be sweaty by the time you get to the top, so if you’re going to the restaurant it may be better to drive.

For a place that is so beautiful and relatively accessible, Burnaby Mountain is not too busy. The park on top has totem poles, flower beds and views facing west (towards Vancouver), north (towards Burrard Inlet, North Vancouver and Belcarra) and south (towards Burnaby and the ocean).

In case you’re a map nerd like me:

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Frogurt!

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Cost:  under 50 cents (for a teabag and sugar) plus some almost-expired yogurt
Success: 5/5

My Mom visited last weekend, and I had some Greek Yogurt in the fridge for her. She wasn’t able to eat it all before she left, and I forgot about it until the day it was set to expire.

I thought I might make a curry with it, but there was just so much left. Then I had a brainwave – I’d make frozen yogurt! That would also take care of the strawberries we got while she was here.

I jumped a little when I saw how mouldy the strawberries were. Blech. So I threw those out and searched around my place for something else fruitlike or fruit-esque. There were some oranges and an apple, but I figured there was good reason I had never heard of apple or orange yogurt. I spent some time weighing the pros and cons of using a fruit-flavoured tea bag, then decided to go wild and give it a try.

I brewed a small amount of tea, about equal to the amount of yogurt that was left. I added maybe 1/3 as much sugar as yogurt. I’m not really one to measure things when I’m cooking. Sometimes my free-spirited cooking philosophy leads to exciting new culinary flavours, and sometimes it just doesn’t.

This recipe was loosely based on a frozen yogurt popsicle recipe I made last year.

I mixed everything together in the chopper attachment for my kitchen wand. I LOVE that kitchen wand. (Sponsor me Cuisinart?) I stuck it in a Saskatchewan tupperware and into the freezer.

Some hours later, I sampled some. It was awesome! The tea flavour was mild but very nice, and it had a flavour and texture not to wildly different from store-bought frozen yogurt. In the photo above it looks pretty runny, but it was not all frozen at that point.

Toilet paper the old-fashioned way

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Cost: Free!
Success: 5/5

Toilet paper is kind of a waste if you think about it. With its bleached brightness and quilted layers of softness, it comes across as pretty pompous for the crappy* job it has. If toilet paper were a person, it would wear a sequined gown to the bottle depot, or a diamond-necklace to McDonalds. It only makes sense to kick toilet paper off of its high horse by using a more frugal alternative.

From what I have read, wiping one’s butt with catalogues used to be a luxury. And what’s good enough for my dad and grandparents on the farm in Saskatchewan is good enough for me!

I get four free papers a week, and that makes more toilet paper than I can possibly go through.

To make the rolls, I started ripping the newspapers sideways. As long as you rip with the grain, they should tear into neat strips. I used my toilet paper roll to measure the width. ¬†I taped each new length of newspaper down so the roll wouldn’t unravel.

The result is something practical and also fun to read, in case you get bored.

*Hehe! Pun!

PS: April Fool’s!!

Making cheese!

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Cost: $1.70
Success:  3/5

Making my own butter got me pretty excited about the other things I could make on my own. The next thing on my list was cheese! I followed this article on Wikihow, which produces a cheese that looks absolutely nothing like the one in their photo.

What excited me most is that I could make the cheese using things I had around the house anyway; whole milk, butter, sugar, salt and lemon juice. The process was simple. I boiled the milk with some butter and sugar. Once it was bubbling, I put in a bit of lemon juice, then let it sit on the burner contemplating its fate. The acid in the lemon juice separates the curds from the whey, so when I poured it through the dish towel above a strainer, I had little clumps of cheese!

It smells very good at this point.

I let the water drain…

And was left with a miniscule amount of cheese! For scale, this is a teaspoon.

I mixed in a bunch of salt to give it some character, then put it in the fridge.

It was similar to feta, but softer. It was not as smooth as cream cheese or as disgusting as goat cheese. It mostly tastes like lemon. I could have also used vinegar to separate the curds from the whey. I imagine that would have been disgusting!

I made myself some potatoes with onions and garden herbs, and put the cheese on top with liberal amounts of salt. It was not really that exciting or tasty.

I’m curious what would happen if I used heavy cream instead…

Living in an Amish paradise…

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Cost: Around $2
Success: 4/5 (The butter was great, but not much cheaper.)

When I found out I could easily make butter in a canning jar, I was pretty excited. I have a bunch of unused canning jars from my brief stint in perfume-making (honestly, can I stick to anything???) and the only other thing I needed was some heavy cream. The idea is that you put the cream into a canning  jar and  shake until something happens. On the site it said this would take about 25 minutes. In practice, it was closer to 45.

I shook and I shook and I shook. I updated my Facebook status with my phone using only one hand. That was tricky. I wandered around. Sometimes I felt like I was using a shake-weight, and I probably was getting a similar workout. The mixture got foamier, which I later realized was the ‘whipping cream’ stage. I had to pour out some liquid (conveniently, into my coffee) so the cream had enough room to move around.

I called my Mom to ask for her expertise, because my Mom knows almost everything. She told me about the time my sister’s first husband was making whipping cream and he whipped too long and ended up with butter. While I was shaking and talking to her, suddenly there was a thump, and my solids had separated from the liquids!

It’s a magical moment when that happens. After oh-so-much shaking, there is one final shake where the fats clump on one side of the jar, separating from the liquids. From there on, it’s only a couple more minutes of shaking and draining until you have some lovely butter!

It was soft, and I easily mixed in some herbs (which were in full effect a few days later, after the flavour had worked in.).

I wanted to give it another try with my hand mixer. I filled the cup about 3/8 of the way. That’s the number my Mom gave me, and she was right on. Any more and it would have flown out when I mixed it.

There was a little incident when I absent-mindedly let go of the cup though. Whoopsie!

I mixed for about five minutes, then poured it into a canning jar and shook for a short while until it started to clump. The result was a much harder butter. I mixed it with some salt.

After refrigerating, both butters were hard. On the first day, the butter didn’t have any character, and it was obvious that I was eating pure fat. Once the flavours sunk in, it tasted like fresh store-bought butter.

After two weeks, the unsalted butter started to smell funny. I’m not sure if this is because it didn’t have any salt to keep it fresh, or because there was a bit of old liquid still in the jar.

Jen’s quest for free samples – Burt’s Bees edition

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Cost: Freeeee
Success: 4/5

Quite a few years ago, I signed up for something called BzzAgent. The idea is that people try out products sent to them by BzzAgent and spread word of mouth about the products. The word of mouth doesn’t have to be good – it just has to be honest. Generally the companies behind the campaigns have a lot of faith in their products, so they tend to be good.

I think BzzAgent had me of their ‘slacker list’ for a while because I signed up for an e-book campaign, then didn’t read and review it. I was kind of surprised they would re-appear with such a generous campaign. I filled out the survey, found out I was eligible, and not too long later I got a surprisingly generous parcel with two full-sized bottles and several little samples of moisturizer to give to my friends. The cleanser and moisturizer are worth about $45 together – score! All I have to do is tell people about my experience, which I’m doing right now. (Sneaky, eh??)

So I went into this with high hopes. Both skincare products boast as 99% natural, and neither contains fragrance. I am surprised and intrigued by the lack of parabens, because any cosmetic that contains water (as these do) needs a preservative (you wouldn’t believe how quickly germies breed in water). From skimming the list it looks like phenoxyethanol is used as a preservative, which has a moderate toxicity score according to the¬†Cosmetics Database. ¬†It gets score of 3-4 , while parabens get about 5/10. I would recommend that anyone who’s concerned about the safety of their cosmetics take a look through the Cosmetics Database and evaluate each ingredient – including the natural ones. There are natural ingredients that are dangerous as well. If you are curious, the Cosmetics Database gives the moisturizing cream a toxicity score of 3/10, which is pretty good I guess.

I started using the facial cleanser and moisturizer about a month ago. I found the cleanser very oily, and I had to rub my face with a wash cloth after I left the shower. The moisturizer is quite nice. It has a pleasant natural smell. ¬†It’s light and makes my skin fairly smooth. Sometimes it almost seems like it makes my skin shinier rather than more moisturized.

My skin changes throughout the month, so there are times I’m more prone to acne than others. I think it may have contributed to slightly more acne than usual.

Overall it was okay, but I wouldn’t buy it for myself. I prefer the stuff I usually use – 9 to 5 cleansing lotion from Lush, and a Vichy moisturizer, which leaves my skin glowing in an oh-so-healthy European way (when I remember to use it).

I do appreciate the effort, though. It’s harder and more expensive to formulate an effective cosmetic without using the regular junk, and hopefully Burt’s Bees will perfect the formula over the years.

BzzAgent wants me to include this: