Work marriage celebration dinner

Tonight, I organized a dinner for my team to celebrate one of our colleague’s upcoming wedding. We toasted to his nuptials over many shared plates of Northern Indian food and endless garlic naan. He’s generally someone who is very open and friendly and loves to share, and it’s been really clear to me over the last few months exactly how excited for his wedding he really is.

It’s a funny thing, listening to people talk about their weddings. Usually, if we have to be gendered about this, it’s the woman who tends to talk about the details of the wedding, the pains and pleasures of coordinating such a big event. But in this case, my (male) colleague is the ultimate sharer; he’s been giving us endless wedding updates along the way, especially around things that he’s passionate about, from the obvious (food) to the far less obvious (the types of tables and even the plates they’re going to eat on!). It’s sweet and adorable to see a man so interested in the details of his big day. It definitely is not something I am used to hearing.

Seafood aftermath on my face

After three straight days of very indulgent seafood eating, I woke up this morning in my bed in New York wondering why my face felt so rough. My cheeks felt flaky, rough, and borderline scale-like, and I noticed a few zits my my cheeks, chin, and forehead. I was wondering if the high level of iodine in the lobster, mussels, and clams were getting to me… and by getting to me, I mean showing up as little mean presents on my face.

I suppose this is what I get for getting completely engrossed in the incredibly fresh and local seafood of New Brunswick and PEI. My face will have to suffer for the next few days as I exfoliate and mask it and allow it to recover from the seafood I probably ate way too much of, but it was all worth it.

It’s a good thing that makeup exists; no one at work will notice this.

Canadian Potato Museum

One of the quirkiest places that we visited on this trip was the Canadian Potato Museum in Prince Edward Island on Friday. Although Canada is not the largest producer of potatoes in the world (that goes to China, then to Russia, which collectively both produce 110 million tonnes. Canada harvests about five million tonnes, which makes it the 12th or 13th largest producer in the world of potatoes. According to the museum information, Prince Edward Island produces about one-third of Canada’s potatoes, which means that if PEI were a country and not a province, it would rank in the top 30 potato producers in the world. In per capita potato production terms, Belarus leads the world with 900 kilograms of potatoes per person. China harvests 55. Canada ranks 6th with about 150, while PEI, with a population of about 150,000 people with a harvest of about 1.5 million tons, stands at 10,000 kilograms per person, which leads us to why the potato museum is located here.

It’s funny to see how the perception of potatoes has changed over time. Once upon a time, potatoes were seen as potentially poisonous, so people avoided them at all costs, especially those with money. But over time, they started seeing how nutritious they were, basically being able to provide quite a large profile of vitamins and nutrients to those on a budget. They were even marketed as the “complete food” and at a small cost, too, even a “health food” by some advertisements. The sad thing about this is that in today’s day and age when carbs are being villainized, so too are potatoes given that they are seen as an “empty” carb or starch, providing only a fraction of the nutrients that say, a sweet potato or yam can provide. ¬†Most diets that advise to maximize amount of nutrients and vitamins per calorie suggest avoiding potatoes altogether. So much for the “health food” spin of the humble potato.

We left the potato museum with some freshly fried French fries made from one of 77 locally grown potato varieties of P.E.I. They were fresh and delicious, sweet and savory, with a smooth, creamy mouthfeel. These could easily have been some of the most enjoyable French fries we’ve eaten.

 

Haskap berries

I was thinking more about the haskap berries that we learned about while at the honey wine farm on Thursday and thinking about their similarities to huckleberries, which we were able to try in dessert forms while in the Montana/Idaho/Wyoming area last summer. Haskap’s flavor profile has been likened to a cross between a raspberry, blueberry, and a black currant. Huckleberries are likened to a slightly tarter version of a blueberry.

While both berry types are high in antioxidants, haskap berries can be cultivated (though it does seem to be difficult), whereas huckleberries refuse to be cultivated and must grow in the wild. Both are very delicate berries, with the haskap being oblong and the huckleberry being round, and given how soft they are, they are nearly impossible to ship and sell in markets, resulting in the majority of their uses being in the frozen/blended/jam/wine/syrup form. Even when in season in the Montana area, it is rare to see huckleberries in the produce aisles of grocery stores, and instead, they are sold by weight in the frozen aisles. Both are quite expensive to purchase even frozen; I believe that Charles from the honey wine farm said they would go for about $16-18 CAD/pound, which means they’re more expensive than buying lobster, shellfish, or steak in many instances!

Charles said that even if haskap berries were able to sustain long transport and be sold in local markets and grocery stores that he doesn’t think they would sell well because it’s a little known fruit, which means most people would not want to buy them. People tend to buy what they know. The funny thing is that when I’m at the market and I see a fruit I do not recognize, I am quite the opposite: I immediately want to know what it is and what it tastes like, and so I’ll usually buy it. But unfortunately because I live in New York, that occasion happens quite rarely. It happens more when I am traveling to other countries and see things I may not recognize. If it’s fruit, how bad could it possibly be?

Lobster catching in P.E.I.

One of the reasons we’ve been looking forward to visiting New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island was that this region of the world is famous for its seafood, particularly P.E.I. mussels, steamer clams, and of course, the much coveted lobster. When envisioning this trip, I imagined eating lobster and mussels every day while here. While that’s indulgent, it can’t get any fresher than it is here, and since it’s local, it’ll be far, far cheaper than eating it back in New York, where frankly, it never tastes as good, and it’s always so expensive for so little. It also helps that the U.S. dollar is currently quite strong against the Canadian dollar.

Originally, I’d signed us up for a lobster catching tour on Thursday evening, but because of the torrential rains, the boat trip got cancelled. We were lucky to be able to reschedule to the afternoon tour today, and somehow, the skies remained blue for us to board the boat. The tour guide and boat owner actually conducts the tour on his own fiberglass lobster-catching work boat, and while he educates us on the boat excursion about the lobster catching industry (which is the top fishing industry in PEI), he also talks about conservation, the laws around fishing, and the life of lobsters. I had no idea how expensive lobster catching licenses in the PEI area were (as of now, they range anywhere from $900,000 to over $1 million!). Mark said that today, his license is probably worth about $900K, and it will likely only grow in value. And there’s a government regulated set number of licenses that exist that cannot change; that means that once a lobster fisherman decides to retire, that’s the only time a new person can get a lobster catching license in this province.

Lobster season happens twice a year in PEI, from May to June, then again from August through November. And of the many thousands of eggs a female lobster lays, only about 10 percent of them end up surviving to adulthood; that means that even less than 10 percent make it to full adulthood so that they’ll be ready for my belly.

The funniest thing about knowing how expensive and coveted lobsters are today is that once, they were considered food for the low-class; people used to take lobster meat, grind it up, and spread it on their lawns as plant fertilizer. The world has evolved quite a bit since then. There’s certainly no shortage of lobster in this region of the world now.

I’ll be honest: I always imagined doing a lobster catching tour so that we could actually catch the lobsters to then cook on the boat, but it doesn’t look like this region offers opportunities like that.. It’s even possible no place is like that anymore given how heavily regulated the lobster fishing industry is. I knew that going into this. Here, we were educated on the general process, taken out to see the crab and lobster traps out on the water, and then served prepared lobsters for us.

The lobster lunch is served PEI-style, which means it’s served cold, cooked in salt water, then chilled in an ice bath. I’d never eaten lobster cold, but this lobster was probably one of the tastiest lobsters I’ve ever eaten in my life. I usually think the claw meat is the inferior meat to the tail (since everyone wants the tail meat), but for these PEI lobsters… I wouldn’t say that at all. I actually enjoyed the claw meat just as much as the tail meat. It had amazing texture, not rubbery at all – succulent is the best word to describe it. And the meat was savory yet sweet at the same time. Every bite was like a little song in my mouth. Chris raved about the claw meat and just how delicious this lobster was, even as he struggled to suck all the meat out of the little tentacle-like legs.

There’s certainly a glory in globalization in that we can eat things like lobster, grapes, mangoes, and other exotic delicacies year round, even when they are out of season and not grown in our local cities and towns. But there’s a purer glory in experiencing local foods in local areas the local way. Today’s magic and delight was about the latter.

 

Honey wine tasting in PEI

We really didn’t fare well with the weather this trip. We were told that in the weeks leading up to the last two days, it has been hot and humid, reaching record high temperatures and giving this part of Canada endless sunny skies, yet today, it was mostly stormy and rainy weather; the sun could not be seen even a bit. The gorgeous green I was greatly anticipating in Prince Edward Island was an unfortunate blur today.

Luckily for us, a number of things on our to-do list included indoor activities, such as a visit to Island Honey Wine, a husband-and-wife owned self-sustaining farm, which makes use of everything they farm, from plants, animals, to honey. They just opened in 2017 and already have quite the local following. They make mead, which is a type of wine made from fermented honey, they grow lavender, they farm sheep, they use the wool from the sheep to make yarn and knit scarves and clothing; they really do everything here.

I think this was the very first time I tried mead, and I loved it immediately. We tried five types: wildflower, haskap (a “super berry” from Hokkaido with five times the amount of antioxidants as a wild blueberry), lavender, apple cider, and nectar sweet mead. They were all sweet, but not to the same level of ice wine, which Canada is also famous for. They all have just the right amount of sweetness where it’s somewhere between having a sip of something delightful, but not quite at the level of “dessert” that would make me think of ice wine.

We had a really fun chat with the husband of the duo, Charles. We talked about haskap berries, running a farm and making wine, food and flavors, what flavors and scents pair well with one another, travel, among other topics. He seemed to enjoy the questions we were asking him and a couple times, commented on our levels of curiosity and asked if we worked in marketing (which, we actually do) to raise questions such as, potential use cases for these fermented wines – in cocktails, in cooking, in what other applications? “I just love talking to the two of you! I could go on all day — you’re so curious!” he exclaimed.

We laughed, and Chris said, “It’s good to be curious; shows you want to learn more about the world. There’s always new things out there to learn that you don’t know about.”

I suppose that’s the way you gauge if someone is really interested; if they ask you questions to demonstrate their curiosity about a given topic. If someone asks questions, it probably means they’re actively thinking about it and want to know more and more.

And if someone doesn’t ask any questions, they’re probably not curious at all and are probably boring… or just bored of you, both of which would be a problem. This applies to far more than just honey wine tasting.¬†

We ended up buying three bottles, plus a jar of haskap jam. Clearly, we were impressed. And now we have to deal with checking a bag. But it will all be worth it in the end.

Travel delays

After hearing that a fellow colleague’s flight from New York City to Montreal was cancelled due to weather conditions this morning, I was a bit concerned about our flight to Toronto, from which we would connect to continue onward to Moncton, New Brunswick, today. Our Toronto flight was only delayed by about 15 minutes, but in the end, our Toronto to Moncton flight ended up being delayed over five hours. Toronto airport was on ‘red alert,’ likely due to the on-and-off torrential rain they were experiencing, and we were just sad in the airport, doing work with the free Wi-Fi in the lounge, wondering if we’d even make it to New Brunswick tonight.

It’s always funny when you plan a trip envisioning things to go a certain way, and then your plans completely get derailed. I’d originally planned for us to have dinner at this Malaysian restaurant just two minutes away from our hotel, but that was completely smashed, as they close at 8:30pm. Oh, and the torrential rain this entire region is experiencing could easily mean that the frolicking amongst the green pastures of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island could end up never happening, and instead we’ll be stuck only doing indoor activities even though we’re at the peak of summer in Canada, which is supposed to be the best time to come here.

At least there will still be local mussels, clams, and lobster to eat indoors. That will be our saving grace.

life updates to share during a casual catch-up

A former colleague from two companies ago reached out to me over LinkedIn last week after I had posted that there were open positions at my current office, so we met up for a coffee and tea break at Madison Square Park this afternoon to chat through what he was looking for, why he might be interested in my company and our open role, and why he wanted to leave.

I honestly still couldn’t believe he was there. He had changed roles and levels many times since I left, but I found that place to be the epitome of everything I cannot stand about career and job life in today’s day and age: substituting activity for achievement, people pushing paper without any purpose other than a paycheck, a glorification of the completely mediocre due to politics and favoritism. We discussed this and of course, as conversation continued, we talked about updates on our own lives since then: I got married! I changed jobs twice! He got married AND had two kids! He moved from Queens to Long Island! He owns a house with a front AND backyard! I moved from the Upper East to the Upper West Side!

Whenever I catch up with a colleague after a long time of not seeing them, it’s always these same high-level updates we tend to share, these so-called “milestones” in human life: marriage, children, house or no house status. What if I suddenly just said, hey, I’m doing volunteering for foster care children! Or, by the way, my brother died from suicide, so this is how I view life now?

How deep is a casual catch-up really supposed to be, or is it really just meant to be superficial since the ultimate motive is that one person wants something from the other? I’m honestly not sure.

When you get too comfortable during a job interview

After over ten years of working full-time, I can say that I’ve seen quite a number of interesting interviews, both from an interviewer as well as interviewee standpoint. I’ve been in interviews where the interviewee has been extremely arrogant or insecure. I’ve seen candidates do hand stands and discuss why they preferred crunchy versus smooth peanut butter. I’ve been interviewed by stone-faced people and those who want to make it seem like the interview is more of a casual chat rather than a situation during which they’re being evaluated. I’ve also felt like at one time, I was being hit on during an interview. But what I’ve never seen is a candidate who felt so comfortable chatting with me that she would ask me what office gossip I have to share or ask if the room we were in was bugged because she’d previously been in rooms that were bugged, and words she shared privately were being exposed. This actually happened this afternoon as we were interviewing a potential candidate for an open role on our team.

I realize that in 2018, especially in a city like New York, we’re really in an employees’ market when it comes to hiring and retaining talent. Now is actually a really good time to be looking for a new job. But if you are feeling so comfortable during an interview that you would actually ask about office gossip, regardless of whether you are joking or not, which introduces questions about the toxic culture you could potentially bring into an organization, don’t you kind of think you’re crossing a line?

Dreamy cream scones

With a short trip coming up that will have us leaving on Wednesday, I’ve been taking a quick inventory of all the things we need to finish in our fridge. One of those perishable items included a cup of heavy cream. One cup of heavy cream is perfect for one batch of scones, for which I already had all the ingredients for. I can’t even remember the last time I made scones, but I really love them — not the hard, heavy American-style ones, but the light, airy British ones that are a bit crisp on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. America’s Test Kitchen recipes are always keepers for me, so I went back to my tried and true recipe for their cream scones and added mixed dried berries to it. I kneaded the dough a bit, laid it out, and poked out the scones with my fluted biscuit cutter. They came out just as pretty and tasty as I remember from the last time I made them… which was years ago — much too long ago. They’re so easy and fast to make that it’s a shame I don’t make them at least once or twice a year. I’m definitely changing this now.