Fantasia Festival 2019: Harpoon (2019)

Harpoon (2019)

Harpoon

Director: Rob Grant

Cast: Munro Chambers, Christopher Gray, Emily Tyra, Brett Gelman

Harpoon is a 2019 Canadian dark comedy horror film about three friends who need to set aside their differences to survive being stranded when the yacht breaks down in the middle of the ocean.

Harpoon starts in a fairly dark comedy way introducing its film with a snarky narrator (Brett Gelman). Jonah (Munro Chambers) is a young man who recently lost his parents and needs to clean out their place when his best friend Richard (Christopher Gray) drops by and beats him up, suspecting that him and his girlfriend Sasha (Emily Tyra) had hooked up. After realizing it was all a mix-up which involved getting him a harpoon for his gift, he makes it up to them by going out to sea with his yacht. As issues arise between them, the yacht also breaks down, leaving them stranded in the middle of the waters with no help and not a lot of useful things to keep them alive except others company and more secrets to dig into.

Mostly set on the yacht and in the water, Harpoon is something of a one location film. It opens at Jonah’s home but quickly shifts over to the yacht and the waters. The film is shot in Belize and the overhead shots of the yacht constantly shows the isolation of the location. Harpoon utilizes its space, or lack thereof, on the yacht proficiently and its water around it as well to structure its scenes and consequences. As expected in one location, three people can be many especially when it is three best friends with grudges and suspicions trying to survive. The trajectory isn’t exactly unpredictable but the narrator, done by Brett Gelman adds a lot of substance to the story especially as they are aware to get the story paced tightly but the narrator will fill in the gaps of what the viewer needs to know to give the characters and situation more depth. At the same time, it helps to relieve some of the tension as he brings in the dark comedy of overlooking the situation. Its a nifty addition that adds quite a bit of fun to it all and Brett Gelman is a fantastic choice at getting this job done.

The film is reliant on the three characters being like onions, peeled layer after layer to keep having more to discover. Munro Chambers, Christopher Gray and Emily Tyra do a great job at delivering their roles as the situation get worse on the yacht and the secrets and tensions start building. All three of them have their own traits that balance out this friendship but because each of them have their own little secrets and their own motives, the whole situation ends up having a lot of depth. It turns into a game of trust and wondering when the next thing will be revealed and the tables turn again. The film is rather over the top deliberately in parts and it helps justify some of the overacting here. Fact is, while acting-wise all three do a great job, the characters are more in depth in terms of Jonah and Sasha perhaps because more of the past involves their mishaps and emotional hardships while Richard’s character in comparison is less complex and feels less fleshed out.

Harpoon has its obvious issues. There is some leaps of imagination here and there are gaps in the story, especially when pulling in the idea of survival based on an Edgar Allan Poe story. A lot of common sense probably needs to be tossed out the window to accept their actions but desperate measures, right? However, the tone right from the beginning with the narrator and the contrast with the tension in the reality of the situation makes for a lot of dark humor that lands really well. Its not for the squeamish though since it does have a decent amount of blood and violence. The title Harpoon is really probably just a metaphor or the start of things breaking down for their situation. Bottomline, Harpoon has its issues but its easily looked over due to a well-executed and sharp script. Whether its the one location, the characters and its blend of dark comedy and horror suspense elements, this movie is worth a look.

Hiking: Mont Chapman (Stokes, Quebec)

The next hike went back to probably one of the most popular areas in Quebec and pretty well-known for its nature and that’s the Eastern Townships. After some research, we landed on finding this location called Mont Chapman. Its one of the farther hiking trails in Eastern Townships as we headed into a smaller country road that lead to a little parking lot in the middle of nowhere, with actually a few cars as the starting point for the hike.

Mont Chapman

The part that we did is the Boucle du Mont Chapman which goes around. We ended up doing the entire loop (and some more…I’ll talk about that later). Its pretty much a loop to the summit and back. With the shorter distance and the height of the summit, the elevation went up fairly quickly and it was almost a constant sloped trek, which is one of the bigger challenges of the path especially going upwards. We took the 4.9 km path upwards and did the 3.3 km downwards.

The path was pretty well maintained. There are a lot of little stones and twigs sticking out of the path through which can be hidden by all the fallen leaves. That is the only issue but its all about being observant. At the same time, there are some efforts to put planks to cross over little streams and some steps were made out of the terrain to help the process. There are some rocky steps as well. If not, in the little streams area, there are little rocks to walk over to stay a little more dry. It has to do with the weather still be cooler and more rainy this spring, I think. There were also some unique things like walking between boulders to get to the other side or on the down path, there’s some boulders to climb down from, as expected as the return trip is shorter distance, making it a steeper downhill trek.

And then, the view at the summit had a few angles, here it is:

Mont Chapman

Its a pretty hard track to be honest and it probably has to do with the fact that we expected it to be milder than it turned out to be. The issue with expectations, right? Either way, it was listed as an intermediary path, I believe but at times it did have some difficult moments. Setting that aside, my biggest issue was that we went the 4.9km path up where you follow the orange and white indicators on the trees, but going down, we had to follow the red and white indicators and man, was that confusing. Why I said that we ended up doing more than the total was because in between, we had to try three paths and each headed back to the fork, taking us over an hour to figure out where to go while walking up some really steep paths up and down to come to the conclusion to go back to the summit and take the path back and realized there was a sign at another angle in the distance that gave you the right path to follow. A lot of issues for my ankles (almost twisted it a few times on the downward jumps or hidden protruding rocks) on this one hike that I had to use some the trusty KT Tape and we had bought recently. That’s one of my complaints about this track, the unclear signage. While a part of the path has some work being done and didn’t have an alternate route so we checked that it was still just muddy but safe so kept going through the area to get to the other side since it was so close to the summit.

On the more positive side, this was the hike that got us ready for some harder trails. While we were both fed up of the trail on the way back and it was a tad painful (for my ankle specifically), there is a good amount of satisfaction to toughing it out and getting through it at the same time, having a good idea that we’ve really improved our preparedness over the years that we still had water left and food to sustain our energy. Not to mention, we had also got some pasta salads in the cooler at the car as a reward.

This was a rough one. 
Can’t say the view was a huge reward since it was also bug-infested. Insect repellant is a must on this trail.
We are hoping to squeeze in one or two more hikes before event season starts up in July. 😉

Wine Recap – May 2019

Welcome to the next Wine Recap! Last month was a bit lighter with one that already showed up in a previous post and one that is a repeat from a previous wine recap. Let’s check it out!

Val Caudalies – Cidre de Glace Reserve 2016

Producer: Val Caudalies Inc.
Alcohol Content: 10%
Location: Quebec, Canada
Taste Tag: Fruity and Extra Sweet

We’re big fans of ice ciders during any season. This one was one that we picked up at the Bonsecours Market (if I remember correctly) after going to an event in the area earlier this year. Its been sitting around for a while but never quite made it with any meals. Fruity and sweet would be how I would describe this one. It has some depth especially since it has this smoky accent to it, which is an element of certain ice ciders that we tend to prefer. Reserve are usually more selected and limited for ice ciders and has a more well-rounded taste and a little sweeter due to the process duration and it appealed to our preferences quite a bit.

Petale de Rose 2017

Petale de Rose

Producer: Régine Sumeire
Alcohol Content: 13.5%
Location: Provence, France
Taste Tag: Fruity and Light

You can see the full Battle of Ingredients post HERE.

Petale de Rose is a more dry rosé wine which has be baffled why it would be considered light. Although, it can’t be said to be too intense either. It does have those fruity elements. I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of this one in terms of rosé wines however, it had some pretty decent ending notes. Rosé wines are always a bit hard to find a perfect one and the shift from one year to the next sometimes makes quite some change as well in its taste.

Batch: 1904 Cider

Batch: 1904

Producer: Brickworks Ciderhouse
Alcohol Content: 5%
Location: Ontario, Canada
Taste Tag: Dry & Aromatic

Brickworks Ciderhouse Batch: 1904 is a return selection here. I personally like their Queen Street one (forgot the actual name of it) but this one is pretty decent. Its a bit drier than the ciders I usually drink but this time around, it seems more to my taste as well. These ones are fairly light and perfect for the busy times and also just getting a taste rather than some a lot heavier. Plus, ciders are really great as the weather warms up. Anyways, this one actually worked out better than the last time I had it HERE (a year ago, it would seem).

That’s it for this Wine Recap!
Have you tried anything new lately? 

My Weekly Adventures: Let the Gardening Begin!

And May has come to an end! Man, this year is flying by. Its hard to imagine that we are almost at the half year mark. I’m not sure how to recap the last half of the month, probably in frequent garden oriented content. As mentioned before, Gardening updates might just stick to these updates now since I don’t really have too much on the schedule once festival seasons start and such (depending on situation and work, of course) so to keep things interesting, I’ll be tracking some other stuff in this segment starting with this Adventures post. 🙂

Gardening Hauls (over 2 weekends)

1st Haul: Geranium Citronella, Green Lettuce, Kale, Foliage, Monarda, English Lavender, Cabbage, Phlox

The first haul was quite disorganized. The main thing was that I wanted to go but had a lot of unformed ideas and unset plans on the whole landscaping aspect. Plus, the weather was still a bit too chilly for vegetables be in ground, without risk of losing the crop so I stuck with some safe choices and perennials. You may notice that I picked up cabbage when I had completely planned on getting brussel sprouts and only realized when I got home that it was the wrong thing. Oh well, guess that’s my experimental crop for this year.

2nd Haul: Marigold, Snapdragons, Phlox, Campanula, English Lavender, Thyme, Sedum, Aster

On Victoria Day, after some debate and discussion with the husband to clear my mind a little, we decided to go back with a solid plan on how to take care of the the bee garden plans I had wanted to do. We settled on where to plant it and how to set it up and then what flowers to get along with getting the final pieces to my mosquito repellant container garden as well.

3rd Haul: Eggplant, Cherry Tomato, Cucumber, Zucchini, Red Bell Pepper, Green Bell Pepper, Carmen Pepper

The weekend after, we went again for (probably not the final) time to get the vegetable plants. We decided since the last visit to get a hanging tomato plant (which might not be hanging anymore after some observation) and a bunch of other ones: the husband’s must-have is cucumbers and peppers, my must-have is zucchini and decided to try another variety of eggplant, hoping that its the type that I like.

Battle of Ingredients

Chicken Skewers

We finally got back to Battle of Ingredients with the whole gang and trying out our new barbecue. The husband was the grill master while Phoebe and I got all the food prep done. You can check out the recap post and some of the marinade and recipes HERE.

Ottawa Day Trip & Haul

Ottawa marathon weekend happened last weekend. While I don’t go with my friend to help with the racing anymore, my husband and I do head down to check up and hang out on the Saturday before his 5K and 10K race in the morning and leave in early afternoon. We also go because Eddie Bauer usually has great sales to replenish some hiking gear. This year, I ended up being the big purchaser and getting some new long hiking pants. I only had capris, which made the last hiking a bit complicated as I had to go in my jeans. We stopped at LCBO to pick up some Ontario Ciders and the husband wanted to get more Hard Root Beer. I went to Disney Store because to add another Disney plush to my collection. While there was a heavy debate between Timon (The Lion King) and Steamboat Mickey, the latter won the debate mostly because its price tag matched its size and Steamboat Mickey adds to my Mickey collection. I should do an Instagram post of all my Mickey plushes. We also went to the running convention to get some tape and ended up picking up KT Tape. The husband needs it for hiking while I need it for running. One of the main reasons that my running season hasn’t started yet. After that for the final visit is always T&T Supermarket to get some hot food for dinner, get some fun snacks and pick some cute stuff. We tried out this very interesting concept of heat-conducting hot pot sort of cup noodles. I’ve seen it in TV series before so was interested about how it works. It works fine except they only have extreme spicy varieties so we ate two pieces, had a bowl of ice cream to wash away the burning heat in our mouths and threw it out. If you like spicy things, its pretty cool though just to watch the process and then have this cool eating experience.

Gardening Update

Bee Garden

Bee Garden

The bee-friendly garden has gone next to the vegetable garden. Its a good spot because its next to the blueberry and the echinacea which are also bee-friendly plants that was already there. We left some space for all the perennials to grow into place while leaving room to swap around the annuals every year as I like to other bee-friendly flowers. I still have some grass and weed removal to maintain this space but I’ll get around to it soon.

Container Gardening

Cabbage & Marigold

Since I got the cabbage with not a whole lot of knowledge, I did some quick research and found that it companions well with marigolds so hence, these containers are now all over my garden. The hope is that the cabbage will grow well and have enough room. If not, it’ll be leaves I guess and beautiful flowers. I do have some cabbage going in ground so we can see which works where better.

Much of the same as last year. I have some lettuce in hanging basket and some hanging off the back patio. This year, we are changing up the garden as well so where I put my kale is where I’ll have more container gardening while also opening up a raised garden.

That’s the update for now! I’ll be doing more gardening to finish getting everything planting this weekend.

Restaurant: Yunnan Rice Noodles

YUNNAN RICE NOODLES

Not going to say too much about this restaurant visit but a new(ish) restaurant opened up on the South Shore of Montreal and I went with my friend to check it out. I’ve never had this Yunnan Rice Noodles which is quite unique in how its presented especially the traditional rice noodle variety. I will do a recap post on the experience very soon (probably next week)!

Cute Kitty Pic

Kitty Cat

That’s it for this adventures post!
What have you been up to?

Hiking: Gatineau Park -Sugarbush Trail/Waterfall Trail (Gatineau, Canada)

Hiking season has officially started for us! At the point that this post is going out, most national parks and provincial parks around us should be open. It wasn’t quite the case the previous week when we went to Gatineau Park as they were in a transition phase and only certain trails were open.

The first stop we made was at the information center at Gatineau Park. In that area, the only path open was the Sugarbush Trail. We ended up doing that one as a warm-up since we were already there before heading to the next area.

Sugarbush Trail

Sugarbush Trail

The Sugarbush Trail is one of the winter hiking trails at Gatineau Park. It runs for 1.9 km all around. Its a fairly flat trail with just the normal nature scenery like a mild walk in the forest. Its a good place to warm-up especially since its our first hike just to warm up the legs. There are a few little things to see but it also is quite packed with people. We weren’t sure if its because its an easy trail or the fact that it was the one at the Visitor Centre and people just went because they were already there. Whatever the reason, good warm-up but not really something challenging either.

Moving on to the next trail..this time at P6 of Gatineau Park running through Mackenzie King Estate is the Waterfall Trail.

Window to the Forest

P6 is the parking at the Mackenzie King Estate which we also haven’t been to before so it was an adventure to also see the parts of it that were open. I didn’t really take any pictures of it other than this Window To the Forest one.

We had to cut through the Gardens to reach the Waterfall Trail.  Here’s a few pictures of the the constant running creeks along the way, which is exactly the type of hiking trail that I like because water sounds are about the most soothing in the entire world (at least to me). There is a little bit of elevation here as well but it is fairly gradual.

Waterfall Trail Gatineau Park

The trail starts in its first part with a creek running alongside. As we we walk further on, its a fairly tame experience. The forest is calm and quiet.

As we head into the second part crossing towards the waterfalls area, we need to traverse through a tunnel which is pretty much a giant pipe. Cue in all the horror films that I’ve seen before where it was in some dark passageway. This one is done pretty well however because it has a nice wooden pathway inside.

Gatineau Park

Waterfall Trail Gatineau Park

On the other side of the tunnel, the ground elevation still is fairly gradual in change but there are more of the little drops in water throughout. Its one of those parts that are particularly  nice to see. The water is still more of a creek winding to the waterfall, which marks the end of the trail. You can see it below.

Waterfall Trail Gatineau Park

Waterfalls are a my thing for sure. Its one of the reasons a lot of the times, our trails have some kind of waterfall for my likes or some peak of the mountain view. The waterfall isn’t exactly the biggest we’ve seen but then its also quite surprising that hidden in the woods behind the Mackenzie King Estate is this beautiful walk in the park. You can’t say that Mackenzie King didn’t know how to enjoy life back in the days, right?

That’s it for our first official hike recap at Gatineau Park. 
My guess is that we’ll go back to Gatineau Park later in the summer to check out another trail.
Or at least until the summer trails officially kick in because when we went it was still the winter trails which were quite limited. 

Parc de la Chute-Montmorency (Quebec, Canada)

To celebrate the end of a crazy work phase for myself, we decided to head out of town. Its about two weeks earlier than our normal start of travelling/hiking destinations as most national parks or hiking trails aren’t open yet or doesn’t quite open until Victoria Day. After much debate, I found out that Parc de la Chute-Montmorency had opened in early May which worked perfectly, plus, I hadn’t gone since at least 20 years ago (or more) and my husband had actually never been before and I felt he should go to see it at least once in his life.

Parc de la Chute-Montmorency

Located in the outskirts of Quebec City, Parc de la Chute-Montmorency is a completely different experience outside of going on a tour, which is how I went the first time years ago. Going by ourselves, there are still things still not quite completely open yet like paths and such due to the early season but there are a lot of places to still go. You can choose to take the cable car down to the lower level and there the boardwalk is open to a certain degree until the long wooden staircase, where that is closed access to a part because of the unmelted snow probably. However, you can choose to not take the cable car (like ourselves), and walk the upper path through the overhead suspension bridge over the waterfalls and then to the other side which had a small trail into the forest, various observation points and the long winding 487 steps staircase to get a better angle on the Montmorency Falls, as well as a large field with an orchard to relax.

La Promenade de la Falaise

Promenade de la Falaise

Walking from the manor, you first go through the boardwalk trail to the suspension bridge. There this beautiful easy walking spot which has some stairs and leads to the first observation deck which is a highlight spotm Le Belvedere de la Baronne. 

La Belvedere de la baronne

Suspension Bridge

Chute Montmorency

Walking across the suspension bridge, its quite the experience to look out into the beautiful scenery around it. One looking down the 83 meter waterfall and then to the other side with some nice view on the water coming down to the falls as well as a good look at the long panaromic staircase we were about to tackle from afar.

Parc de la Chute Montmorency

The other side of the Park

Parc de la Chute Montmorency

Once you cross the bridge, there’s an area in the back to look back. Its nice to see the bridge in full as well as the starting point of where the falls start.

From the Panoramic Staircase

Parc de la Chute Montmorency

While 487 stairs is a pretty big task to take on as a starting location, we still decided to take it one flight of stairs at a time. Its not so bad to descend as expected especially because each observation point or open deck really gave such a different angle to the falls. Its a majestic scene to take in to the say the absolute least. Of course, if you were in the season where the stairs can access the boardwalk below, this is what the boardwalk looks like. There were people on it so I can only guess that it was open from the other side if you took the cable car down. Of course, perhaps at this point, it might be open on both sides as the weather gets better.

Parc de la Chute Montmorency

Its been decades since I’ve been back and for a returning trip, it was definitely worth it because this is one of Quebec’s landmarks. Its a beautiful natural beauty and in the park behind, there are also some historical elements as well to look at. We didn’t manage to check out the actual hiking trails which should be 2 other ones, one that is open now called Le Sentier des Resurgences (2.5km round-trip) and also one that opens in July 31st (I would expect) as its called Le Sentier du 31 juillet (1km round-trip). Of course, for the more adventurous types, the season also opens later on for Via Ferrata and Ziplining which should be really cool to do across and around the waterfalls.

That’s it for this trip recap for Parc de la Chute Montmorency!

Have you been here before?

Restaurant: Brasserie Elements (Brossard, Canada)

Next up in the food adventures is a long-awaited Friday date night at a restaurant that we’ve been thinking of checking out for a while which has been only opened in the last few years called Brasserie Elements.

Brasserie Elements is for 18 and over as it is focused on its beers and cocktails while it has quite a limited but interesting menu also. You need to be aware of which days the kitchen closes at what time.

Elements Menu

I apologize that the menu is only in French but just to show you the limited choices. You can find the menu on their website. Either way, its to get an idea.

Let’s check out what we got!

Drinks

Elements Blonde Beer

Avril Sour

Avril Sour

When you go to a brasserie, it wouldn’t be right to not order some kind of drink. The husband likes beers to went ahead to try their house brew blonde beer. I had a sip (because I’m not a huge beer fan) and thought it was pretty decent. Its smooth and pretty good. I had a few items on the cocktail list that I was interested in but essentially got sold on the Avril Sour which is like an Amaretto Sour except it uses a Quebec-made almond-nut liqueur. its small and delicate and tastes really good. With any sours, its always good to keep them well-portioned mostly because its pretty acidic and sometimes the different liqueurs can be too much when the quantity is too much, which is why I’m pretty happy with their flavors, the balance and the size of the drink.

Appetizer

Smoked BBQ Chicken Wings

Smoked BBQ Chicken Wings with peanuts and green onions

There were two things that caught my eye in the menu right from the get-go and one of those were this Smoked BBQ chicken wings with peanuts and green onions. They tasted really good. On top of that, I like the concept that they really promote the whole finger food thing so yeah, its casual and fun because there is no elegant way to eat wings without wasting a ton of meat. At least I’m not skilled that way.

Main Meal

Burger Elements

Burger Elements

The husband had the Burger Elements which has roasted shishitos, crispy shallots, cheese sauce infused with beer (not sure how to translate that). He really enjoyed it a lot but there was something in it that we couldn’t quite pinpoint.

Pulled Pork Sandwich

Pulled Pork Sandwich

I’m a huge fan of pulled pork sandwiches so chances are if they have that as an option, I’m going to choose it. This one had a lot of stuff in it or just very leaky coleslaw along with a good amount of pulled pork and with smoked BBQ sauce. It tasted absolutely fantastic even if it was a completely messy experience. I do say that the coleslaw was a bit too generous which made me not be able to finish up the also very generous portion of fries which was comparable to a mountain.

Overall

Brasserie Elements is a pretty nice place. Its laid back and casual which works very well with the menu it gives and all the kinds of beers that you can try. There’s a good selection of beers from all over and very unique ones that you probably won’t find everywhere. Other than that, the food menu is also pretty good with appetizers, main meals as well as desserts. For a brasserie, they had pretty decent service as the waitress is very attentive to make sure that we were satisfied with our food and drinks and anything else that we needed. However, with a brasserie experience comes a bit more of a noisier atmosphere. The music however was really good, at least to our tastes and the place was split a little bit more in half so the more drinking side definitely felt like they had more speakers than say the more restaurant side. Maybe it wasn’t deliberate but it definitely worked for the better for our preferences.

Restaurant: ChuChai (Montreal, Canada)

A random Friday evening outing and a sudden change of plans due to the original spontaneous restaurant visit my friend and I chose had a huge line-up lead us to go check out ChuChai, or according to my friend who had gone a few times before a few years back, a more hip and lounge version of it. I didn’t take any pictures of the decor but you can check out their site HERE.

ChuChai is a Thai restaurant with vegetarian and vegan foods, although to me, I think the menu is pretty much vegan as a lot of stuff worked for me. I’ve never been to a vegan restaurant before and its a nice feeling to know that I can eat everything on the menu even with my lactose intolerance. Of course, with any benefit you get, there is always a premium to be paid for the atmosphere and the vegan angle so just something to think about, for myself, it was pretty much expected.

ChuChai

Appetizers/Tapas

Spring Rolls (1pc – $8)

I’m a huge fan of Spring Rolls. I actually had learned how to do them from my best friend before but then its been years since I’ve done these. However, I always prefer them over the deep fried versions. ChuChai does a good one. It has a nice bite and its wrapped really firmly. The peanut sauce has a little spicy kick to it that really compliments the roll well. The roll does seem to also be a bigger piece than other restaurants.

Main Meal

Chu Chai

Royal Pad Thai

Vegan shrimp and vegan duck makes its appearance in this dish. Its been a while since I’ve had any vegetarian or vegan versions of anything. I do think that the vegan duck is better than the vegan shrimp in terms of how genuine in texture. But then, it was a decent taste so seeing as I don’t really go to vegan restaurant to go eat meat and have the meat taste because in my mind, its not about that. The Royal Pad Thai was alright. The noodles were done well and it wasn’t too much sauce and just right. Its a Pad Thai and it tasted like one.

Vegan Duck with Spinach

My friend took the Vegan Duck with Spinach and ordered a bowl of steamed rice to go with it. I had a little taste of it. The vegan duck is really great. The texture and the taste was pretty good. The spinach is also decent. My only deal, also a preference issue, was that the dish itself was really salty. Of course, with a bowl of rice, this might just work really well.

A little something aside from my personal preference is that the presentation for all of the dishes (appetizers, main meals & desserts) were done really well and matched the atmosphere and class that the restaurant itself presented itself as.

Dessert

Fried Banana with Maple Syrup

The dessert menu has a lot of nice little things to it that I would consider trying out. Of course, the one with the most representation is Fried Bananas with Maple Syrup. It tastes the asian dessert and adds a little Canadian twist to it. To be honest, the fried bananas were fantastic. Probably the best part of this entire meal.

Overall…

ChuChai is a decent restaurant. It targets a certain audience that appreciates a nice atmosphere and ambiance and raises the level of how we’d normally view Asian cuisine in general, in this case, Thai food and then giving it a nice little twist of vegetarian and vegan specialty. I won’t say its a challenge to make vegetarian food tasty because its doable and I’ve been to other restaurants that have done it well but vegan food has the impression (from those that haven’t had it before or less frequently) of being a lot of healthy and not so good food so its nice to see restaurants such of these pop up where it not only benefits those with allergies (like myself) but also provide a place to enjoy some good food. In terms of food and creativity and ambiance, ChuChai is a good choice. For my own standards, I think the food is still fairly basic and for that, the premium paid for the vegan angle is a bit on the higher side. If you were to ask whether I’d go back. Maybe, mostly to try out some of the other desserts and some of the tapas/appetizers/soup (they have a lemongrass one which caught my eye).

Additional discussion: The question (which I’m not vegan so don’t know how to answer): would it matter so much to someone who is permanently converted to vegan or is vegan in their eating habits from the start whether there is vegan meat on the menu? Or is it more for the normal person going in for a vegan experience to have an easier point of entry into this type of eating lifestyle?

Hiking: Reserve Naturelle Montagnes Vertes

Its been something like over 2 months probably since we’ve gone out for a hike. It had to do with a lot of different reasons for both of us. It definitely wasn’t for the lack of desire, I can tell you that much. A part of it had to do with the extreme heat we had over the summer. When we had time it was either too hot or too busy (with events and other stuff). We’ve actually been doing a fair bit of research on hiking so we had a few place in mind when we wanted to go this past Sunday (aka yesterday, if you are reading day of release).

Reserve Naturelle Montagnes Vertes

My husband found this Reserve Naturelle Montagnes Vertes via some friends on Instagram and told me about it. If you all don’t know, while nothing else is a big concern for us, the biggest one of them all is the road work galore going on everywhere in the city. Even my little town on the suburbs has roadwork. Its honestly a little annoying. However, this one headed away from the Montreal island and into the Eastern Townships area.

For some of you looking for a decent hike, let’s say, this location is pretty cool. From the moment you start entering the path heading to the natural reserve, its a fun time. We actually saw a deer on the way in. We stopped so that it could frolick back into the forest. Its was an impressive thing. We do a fair amount of road trips and deers aren’t exactly a rare creature in our forests but we’ve never actually seen one on the side of the road. Second reason this place is cool is because its less than two hours to get there by car plus there are three trails which pretty much level up in difficulty (I would guess) by length. The Decouverte (aka discovery) is more of a flat forest walk that passes by a marshland. We ended our trip diverging onto the Decouverte trail to pass by that one. However, we did the estimated 3.5 hour hike on the Etang trail which leads to a lake called Lac Fullerton. Its really nice there and you could see mooses swimming in the pond if you are lucky. We didn’t see anything but it was gorgeous. If you are feeling confident and are experienced, then you can do the 6 hour Sommets (Summit) trail. We obviously weren’t since over 2 months of not hiking makes us quite rusty. Plus, I was breaking in some new hiking shoes so not exactly feeling that ambitious either.

Here’s a few of the parts of the trail. I love it because it passes through a lot of water, little creeks and such.

Reserve Naturelle Montagnes Vertes

Reserve Naturelle Montagnes Vertes

Reserve Naturelle des Montagnes Vertes

reserve naturelle montagnes vertes

Reserve Naturelle Montagnes Vertes

Reserve Naturelle Montagnes Vertes

Reserve Naturelle Montagnes Vertes

This hiking trail is pretty good. One of our criteria for hiking is a quiet location where its not frequented a lot. This location literally is like a little stop station with maybe 4 car spots if everyone parks properly. Suffice to saw, we saw nothing other than insects and chipmunks and frogs and such. There were mostly the same type of flowers because those are things I take pictures of on hiking trails. The times for the hike are pretty accurate too. We took about 4 hours to walk it mostly because at one part, it gets a tad confusing and we doubled back to double check the trail and find where we had to go again. The second thing is how natural it is. This one has a really narrow path in a lot of spots to not interfere with the growth of the plants and such. Its why finding the track at times was hard because it has rules of how to respect the natural reserve and not disturb the environment there like not stepping into puddles and going off the path.

We absolutely loved this spot. It reminded us a lot of one of the trails in Saguenay Lac St. Jean where we went into a fairly deserted but challenging trail that we vowed to go back on day when we are in better shape to finish it and get to the top. We were 1 or 2 kms short the first time but due to time and lack of energy for the upward climb, we decided to head back. Hopefully we will get back next year or something for it. However, for this one, we are thinking of going back to do the Summit trail eventually however, as I was getting stuff together for this post, the part is entering into hunting season in a few days so will be closed. If you do plan on going, this summer, its best to check how their schedule is.

As for us, we’ll be heading out hiking again soon. We should have a few more hikes before winter arrives.

Restaurant: Congee Queen (Thornhill, Ontario, Canada)

I always talk about Asian cuisine after going to Toronto. Its usually the closest place with good Chinese cuisine in particular since to be honest, Montreal has a lot of great restaurants but Chinese cuisine itself is a bit lacking. Its why I tend to avoid it whenever given the option. Sad, because I do truly love Chinese food. I mean, its not hard to imagine seeing as I am Chinese and my mom makes about the best Chinese food in town or its my best friend who also is a master in the kitchen.

Not surprising that the rare time that we all end up in Toronto for a wedding, we meet up for a dinner the night before to hang out. We never do double dates much seeing as we all have funky work schedules and commitments so this was a great time to catch up and have fun.

We lived at the Courtyard Marriott in Thornhill and right next door was the flagship store of Congee Queen. Let’s check it out!

Congee Queen

Congee Queen

Dinner Selections

Congee Queen

Crab Meat & Vegetarian Shark Fin served with Conpoy Rice in Chicken Broth

My best friend was the one who ordered this meal. She wanted to give this a try mostly for the vegetarian shark fin. It actually had a really  nice flavor. The textures are all there and the chicken broth was nice. I was originally worried that it would be too strong like on the salty side as broth sometimes tends to be, but it wasn’t like that.

Congee Queen

General Tao Chicken Rice

My husband mostly focused on eating this meal. General Tao is very much non-traditional Chinese food however, I don’t usually fuss over these things. My husband thought it was good although he did end up not eating all the huge pieces of chili peppers because those were really intense.

Congee Queen

Snow Pea Leaves with King Mushroom

One of my choices for the evening was this snow pea tips with oyster mushrooms. I think my description is the correct one but the one in the description is the one that is shown on the menu in case you ever want to get it at this restaurant. The season for snow pea tips is a little bit past so it was expected that they were more old in texture so it was more stiff and chewy. The mushrooms are always a nice alternative. I actually eat more of these types of mushrooms in Goodfood boxes and I really like them a lot. This veggie plate is a win. If we had it back in April when the snow pea tips were in season, then it would have been perfect.

Congee Queen

Pork Rib with Onion on Sizzling Hot Plate

The second dish that I picked was pork ribs. This is a pretty traditional dish at least for myself when we went to Chinese restaurants when I was younger. I don’t go to Chinese restaurants as much mostly because Montreal cuisine isn’t great but Toronto is a different story so I was excited to see how they would prepare this. This one was okay. I think we all agreed that it tasted okay but it was nothing too fancy and felt a little overpriced.

Congee Queen

Fried Eggplant, Minced Pork with Spicy Sauce

My best friend’s second choice was this dish which is an uber traditional Chinese dish. I was pretty full so I didn’t eat a whole lot of this one but it was fairly good. I’m not a huge eggplant eater but I do appreciate its health properties so I try to eat it more often and learn to appreciate it. This one was slightly spicy also.

Congee Queen had some pretty delicious meal. It does some cool dishes and sometime switches up some traditional meals to something of of a fusion of sorts. I do think that for the experience, it is a little bit more pricier than I would want to pay. I don’t mind so much paying for good food if there is something original but for the portion size and the price of some of the very common dishes, it definitely felt not exactly equal. Luckily, I am visiting and I don’t like Montreal chinese food so I didn’t mind it so much.

With that said, I am aware that for a congee restaurant, I didn’t have congee. We did have dinner but next time, if I was going for brunch or lunch, then that would absolutely make an appearance. Suffice to say, despite little things, Congee Queen is a place that I would go again when I head down to Toronto again.