Ark Whistler Retreat

So I haven’t done a home-cooked meal review yet, mostly because I’m hardly home for dinner– and when I am, I’m so hungry I commit the Ultimate Food Blogger’s Sin and just eat the food without taking pictures or notes (shame on me). Early in May, though, I had the pleasure of going on a retreat with my church fellowship, and so I took advantage of the large amounts of beautifully plated food, and decided to write about it as my first home-cooking post.

That being said, because of some extenuating circumstances (I was too hungry, I couldn’t find my camera because it was hidden under a pile of blankets, et cetera et cetera), I wasn’t able to take pictures of all the food from our weekend in Whistler, so what I’m about to write about is really just a glimpse of what we enjoyed…

Anyways, most of my church group (21 of us) made it up to Whistler on the 1st weekend of May for a retreat, where we learned, grew and bonded with one another. One way we did this was by preparing meals, in teams of around 4, for the rest of the group. Our Friday night dinner was made by Kelvin, Joy, Felix and Michael, and I for one was super appreciative that they cooked up such a storm, even after a tiring drive. First, we were served French Onion Soup, which was finished with a toasted baguette with Swiss cheese. This slow-cooked soup was chock-full of onions and spices that were in a light but nevertheless flavourful broth. French Onion is one of my favourites, so I definitely enjoyed this (I had thirds).

The rest of our meal was served cafeteria style, so that everyone could get their food quickly.For our main, they had prepared Chicken Linguine with Bechamel-Red Sauce, and for the side they made a Roasted Vegetable Medley, which included a colourful array of asparagus, yellow and orange peppers and carrots. The chicken was surprisingly moist, while the linguine was prepared al dente, and didn’t get clumpy while in the serving dish.As if this wasn’t enough food, their team also cooked up a delicious Apple Crumble for us to enjoy later that night.

This dessert was slightly crunchy from the toasted oats, while the granny smith apples had baked into a nice texture. This was the first time I tried apple crumble (weird, because I love apple desserts), and it was pretty much everything I imagined it to be.

 

 

Saturday’s breakfast at 9am was made by Judith, Kirstie, Josh and Angie. Presented to us when we walked downstairs was a selection of Bagels (sesame, everything, blueberry), along with paired toppings of nutella + strawberry, peanut butter + bananas, and cream cheese + honey. My personal favourite was the unconventional cream cheese + honey combination– the honey adds a little bit of sweetness, and cuts the heaviness of the cream cheese to make for a very mildly flavoured bagel. They also put out Greek Yogurt and Granola, for those of us who needed a little extra fibre 😛

Now our second lunch is where I failed a little, only managing to capture 2 shots of our self-serve taco bar. Prepared by Rosy, Jelissa, Timothy and Julianna, they set out all the fixins for a Tex-Mex Wrap and Burrito Bar: beef, beans, and an assortment of veggies. They also made some Panko-Breaded Chicken and Bacon-Wrapped Chicken (not pictured), which I actually ate on the side because my wrap was already too full from everything else I put in it! For sides, there was a big bowl of homemade guacamole and tortilla chips, as well as an enormous fruit salad, consisting of pears, green apples, mandarins, strawberries, green and red grapes. This was definitely a very filling meal, giving us a ton of energy for the rest of the day’s activities.

Our second and final dinner was made by Andy, Briony, Nathaniel and Kristen. For starters, there was a creamy Cream of Mushroom Soup and a Spinach and Strawberry Salad. The soup wasn’t what I expected at all, even though Andy’s gourmet-ness is well documented– I thought we’d just be having a flat of Campbell’s soup, which wouldn’t have been terrible– but I was pleasantly surprised by the homemade version. This soup had a ton of sliced mushrooms in it (none of the little cube bits you’d get in canned soup), as well as a bit of green onions. As you know by now, I’m a huge fan of mushrooms, so of course I loved the soup (plus, it was soup. Who doesn’t like soup?!). The spinach and strawberry salad was drizzled with a light vinaigrette, which let all the flavours shine through; I liked the sweet and vinegary mix.

The night before, the team had marinated the Honey Miso Grilled Chicken Thighs (pictured is a blurry picture of Andy marinating the chicken, and the final product), which meant that it was bursting with flavour when we munched on them for dinner. They ended up barbecuing the chicken on the grill at the house, giving it a nice blackened skin and smoky flavour. For our sides, we had a choice of three:

Mashed Potatoes, Spanish Rice and Chili Corn. The mash had a good amount of pepper and spices (as well as butter) in it, and went well with the chicken.This was my first time eating Spanish rice, and I liked the different take on rice (I usually have it plain, or fried up Asian-style). The chili corn was my favourite, though– mixed with some Sriracha sauce, the corn looked deceptively plain. I liked the slowly permeating heat that complemented the sweetness of the corn.

The next morning, my team (Janet, Kenny, Jeffrey and Mitchell) woke up bright and early to cook up a storm (I wasn’t able to take any pictures though, simply because we were too busy). We decided on Waffles, Bacon and Sausages. Let me just say that cooking bacon is the worst thing ever. I have nothing against eating bacon, but I just don’t like having to deal with the splatter and grease and bacony-smelling clothing that results from it. Anyways. The lodge we rented came with a double Belgian-style waffle maker, and this definitely helped us save time. We ended up running out of batter after 12 or so waffles, so we decided to divide them up into fours; we also had some leftover bagels, so we just warmed those up again. For toppings, we had bought some frozen mixed berries, but we also chopped up some fresh strawberries, bananas and green apples, and for garnishes we provided chocolate chips and cinnamon. I definitely had a fun time making the food, even though our team was pretty pooped afterwards (the car ride back to Vancouver was all too short for my much-needed nap).

So in the end, we left Whistler with content stomachs, happy smiles and renewed spirits, and for that, I would like to thank everyone who was there who made it such a special time, and especially those who organized the event. I hope that everyone is able to experience something like this in their lifetime, be it with their extended family, their church group, or their friends– serving each other, in a world where most people only serve themselves, is a surprisingly great way to bond.

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Phnom Penh 金邊小館

Hello again! I hope you’ve all had a wonderful week, even though the next long weekend we have to look forward to in Canada is about a month from now. To help tie you over, here’s a food post (because food makes everything better)!

Because of finals, we couldn’t celebrate Jess’ birthday with her last month, so we decided to do it this month. I was pleasantly surprised with Jess’ restaurant choice in Phnom Penh Cambodian food, as I had heard very good things about both the food and service there. So without further ado, here’s Jess’ birthday post!

I was quite shocked when David and I drove by and saw a few groups of people waiting outside the restaurant for seats. I knew the restaurant was popular, but I had never been, despite passing all the time when my mom and I go grocery shopping in Chinatown. Inside, the restaurant was just as crowded, with all the tables and the waiting area packed full of people. In fact, it was so busy that we (Jess, Angie, Hui, Su, Pickles, Dolph, Jeri, David, Darek, Chan and I) had to wait a while before being seated, even though we had a reservation.

Jess had ordered in advance 3 of the #71 Marinated Thit Bo (Marinated Butter Beef), so these arrived soon after we sat down. Served with their house special sauce, and a ton cilantro and fried garlic, this was a really great appetizer to start off our dinner. The beef was mostly raw with a little cooked strip, and was quite tender. Although the beef wasn’t very buttery, it certainly wasn’t lacking in flavour, as the tangy, vinegary sauce coupled with the toppings made for a very impactful bite.

Jess ordered the Deep Fried Chicken Wings beforehand as well. Served with a lemon-pepper dipping sauce, these super crispy wings were brought over fresh from the kitchen. In terms of flavouring, I detected a slight lemongrass hit in addition to the garlic, chili peppers and other spices that were plated with the wings. It’s pretty hard to screw up chicken wings, and I’m glad to say that Phnom Penh didn’t fall into that sad, sad category. Our group demolished nearly all 4 plates, so I think it’s safe to say that we enjoyed them. My only complaint about this was that there were a lot of wing tips mixed in with the wingettes and drumettes, so that the plates were deceptively full.

Our sole rice dish was the #35 Com Bo Luc Lac (Filet Beef Luc Lac on Rice). This was served with a side of vegetables (a cucumber is missing because Chan stole it before I could take a picture) and a perfectly fried, sunny-side-up egg. Our general consensus was that this plate, while good, was nothing spectacular; in fact, some thought that it was a little too hyped up. I liked the slight sweetness of the sauce; when mixed together with a generous portion of tender beef and egg, there was just enough flavour, and nothing was too overwhelming.

For our soup, we had the #46 Phnom Penh Hot+Sour Soup with Prawns. This was a far cry from the starch thickened tofu, bamboo shoot and wood-ear mushroom soups I’ve been accustomed to. Instead, this was a broth characterized more by its tartness than spiciness. In addition to the prawns, there were also tomatoes, and (surprisingly) pineapple chunks. It was seasoned with mint and a variety of spices, including lemongrass. Darek commented that the pineapples made it a little too sweet for his taste, and I have to say I agree. Overall, I thought that this soup was pretty interesting (I’ve never had such a sour soup before), and while it tasted good, I wish it were more spicy, as there was barely any heat to it.

Next up was the #72 Hao Chien Trieu Chau (Fried Oyster Cake), which was a large pancake-like dish made with oysters and topped with cilantro. I liked that the edges of the pancake were crisp and that there were a lot of oysters; Dolph and others, though, thought that it was a little bit “snotty” in the middle (as in, it was goopy and thick). This was probably due to the large amount of oil used to fry up the pancake, making it, as Darek dubbed it, perfect hangover food. In general, we thought that this tasted as it should.

One of the last dishes to be served was the #81 Cary Ga Nam Vang (Curry Chicken Hot Pot). There was no absence of coconut flavour or heat in this curry, making it a very tasty dish. There were a lot of ingredients in the pot, including onions and yams– I was surprised that they used yams instead of potatoes in the curry, but it certainly provided a different texture to the dish. We actually ordered a side of plain rice to go with the curry so that we could enjoy more of the sauce! Finally, we had the requisite veggie dish in the #90 Cai Lan Xao (Sauteed Gai Lan). We thought this was pretty standard, albeit a little on the oily side. The gai lan was cooked just right, retaining a healthy crunch.

Overall, I thought that our meal was pretty decent, although some things were a little too oily for my taste. The service was more than adequate, considering how busy the place was, and also that it’s family-run. My favourite touch is that the restaurant turns off all the lights when they bring out the birthday cake, and the servers (along with many other patrons) sing happy birthday to the birthday person– it makes for a very warm and friendly environment that I would definitely go to again, even if it’s slightly out of the way. I can definitely see why Phnom Penh is so popular!

Phnom Penh 金邊小館
244 East Georgia Street
Vancouver, BC

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