Thursday, May 1, 2014

Happy Places

We have enjoyed some new sights and tastes on this trip.  In all the visits we have made to Vancouver we have only this week finally visited the little Bloedel Conservatory.  My goodness it is a lovely place filled with lovely exotic plants and small tropical birds, as well as a good number of parrots, nestled inside a tall geodesic styled dome.  There is something inspiring in seeing bunches of bananas and figs growing right here in the city.  The blooming cacti with their deep red flowers and the Chinese lollypop plants with their neon waxy yellow spikes make a person feel cheery just looking at them.

We really enjoyed the parrots.  There is noisy roof repair work going on that is subduing their excitement somewhat, but one fellow, a pale pink parrot named Kramer, was really wound up. haha He knows several phrases and can screech with the best of them.  He loves to be called by name and responds with very polite hellos and how are you's and goodbye's.  I also enjoyed seeing some tiny birds...so tiny with their neon coloured feathers, that it is difficult to believe something so tiny can even exist.  Unfortunately there were very few identifying signs for the smaller birds so I don't know what breed most of them are, but they are not shy when they want to eat from the feeders.  The staff keep the place scrupulously clean so there was no danger of stepping in something ugly despite the number of free flying birds.  It was humid and relaxing in that conservatory, with the bonus that, while there were a couple of tour buses delivering visitors, it is still pre-tourist season here and we had ample space to walk around and to stop and enjoy favourite plants.

Having a full suite to stay in has saved us a fair amount of money on meals, although the competition for restaurants is so stiff now that we have found few of our favourite places have raised their prices over the past year.  Groceries are even more expensive than at home, but we are only a block away from a good organic market and a nice little chain grocery, pharmacy etc.  This trip we are doing daily marketing for 2 meals per day and eating out once a day at most.  It is a good balance for me between making healthy meals for my diabetes and being able to enjoy a good restaurant meal quite a bit more often than usual, just for this one week. (and yes, I have been tracking my blood pressure every day and it has stayed low despite an influx of sodium compared to how little I ingest at home)

There is a small Greek taverna around the corner and they keep their sodium to a minimum, so I really enjoyed my Athenian chicken there...half a chicken, rice pilaf, roast potatoes, carrots, Greek salad and pita for sixteen dollars, beautifully cooked and presented.  Taki's Taverna on Davie prepares a lovely meal and we prefer it to the less expensive, giant portions of the popular Stepho's just down the block.  Stefo's is a great place for students and others on a tight budget.  When our son was in university we went there often, but Taki's food is a lot better for us.  My husband had a lamb shank that was such a large portion he could hardly eat it all...but somehow he did! haha  Half of mine came home with me for the next day's lunch

A new favourite place is Banana Leaf on Denman Street.  It is a small Vancouver chain of Malaysian restaurants, decorated with many culinary awards of excellence.  We can see why.  We ordered the luncheon sized sampler for eighteen dollars each. So much food arrived at our table that we had enough to bring home to give our son a complete dinner that evening.  The first thing to arrive at the table was a huge bowl of salad for each of us....complete meals in themselves: they contained fresh papaya and pineapple, assorted greens, red pepper ever so slightly sauteed, crushed peanuts, grated coconut and swirled in a light lemon grass vinegrette.  The next appetizer course consisted of 2 veggie spring rolls (just a bit too greasy for me) stuffed with green beans, jicama root, celery, carrot and cabbage, with a side of sweet chili sauce, as well as roti canai, layered and flaky with a mild curry sauce for dipping.  We were feeling a tad full at this point, but the main dishes were about to arrive: a cup each of jasmine rice, sambal green beans (stir fried and crunchy with small shrimp, tomato in chili, garlic, onion, lemongrass, with a tad of coconut milk), Redang beef curry (amazingly tender stewed beef in coconut gravy and mild spices) and a seafood mixture with okra and peppers, prawns, whitefish and lime leaves in spicy broth).  At this point we were feeling rather full and my entire diabetic carb counting had gone completely out the window, but there was dessert still to come: fried bananas placed end to end in a long narrow white ceramic plate, with a large scoop of iced cream set between them and a fresh cranberry and mint leaf garnish.  I will say happily that I ate no iced cream and not so happily that I threw all common sense to the wind for the first time in the past 5 months and ate the entire fried banana. The batter on the banana was soft and melty rather than the usual crispy batter I don't care for and I went ahead and dipped it liberally in the surrounding caramel sauce decorating the plate!!  For a first "cheat" on my diabetic diet, I certainly picked one that was worth every spicy, melty, creamy, delicious mouthful.  My heart is probably still reeling from all that coconut cream and the prawns but it will recover today, I am sure.  The 3 kilometer walk and all the stairs I climbed back at the hotel after my meal, certainly kept my blood sugar way down, no spikes and no numbers higher than acceptable range.  I actually think God was protecting me from my own stupidity after I ingested between 8 and 10 carb units instead of my allowed maximum of 3 units at lunch.  I went a little crazy.  I don't care and it won't happen again for a long time because I scared myself so badly once the meal was over and I had a kilometer walk mostly up hill afterward to reflect on what I had just done.  I also felt fat during the next few hours, so for supper I had 2 carb units, 2 oz of protein, a teaspoon of fats and a salad with no dressing and called it good. I have to behave myself now after such a blowout.  But oooh, it did feel good......

Our Indian meal a few days ago was fine, but there was so much salt in every dish I could barely finish anything I put on my plate, despite the joy of low carbs.  India House buffet on Main was okay, but not great.  Some of the dishes on the vegetarian buffet table were quite good but the naan was left sitting too long under the heat lamps and some of it was too tough and brittle to eat.  The sauce on my butter chicken, all half dozen small pieces of meat that I paid an additional five dollars for, was too thick and tasted like its base was a can of commercial tomato soup.  The sodium content was so high I actually scraped most of the sauce off those few chunks of meat.  For a total price of sixteen dollars it was acceptable, other than the high sodium, but I wouldn't bother returning.  However, my husband's lamb dish was one of the best he has ever tasted and my son raved about the bean dish that featured large kidney beans in a delicious gravy.  If I didn't have sodium concerns I know I would have enjoyed it more.  The food wasn't bad, it just wasn't great.

On our first evening here we went to the grubbiest little Thai restaurant I have ever been in.  Thai Son just off Kingsway.  The food was fantastic though, so inexpensive and featuring well cooked chicken and pork chops.  Now there is only a good Japanese restaurant to go to before we return home and most of our favourite ethnic and fusion food favourites will have been sampled. Then it is back to very strict diet for me for 3 weeks prior to my next round of quarterly lab tests that I am hoping and praying will show a reduction in my liver function enzymes.  If the reduction of my symptoms is any indication, healing must be happening...at least that is my strong hope.  I have to find a way to keep up the intense regimen of walking I have adopted here.

My husband has been doing some shopping this time and I have done none.  There is nothing I need right now.  He and I enjoyed a 4km round trip walk to Murchie's tea shoppe on West Hastings and he bought a LOT of tea....no surprise there since he is such a fan.  One of his tea friends at home is going to benefit from this particular expedition as well. He also wants to buy a hat but I hope he won't. haha Not a man's hat fan.

So today we are off to Purdy's chocolates for some marzipan for my husband's planned hiking expedition in June, on our way out to Abbotsford to see our friends.  Tomorrow our son may have the day off work and we will all go out to Regent College to wander through the bookstore and see what kind of nice gift we can purchase for a good friend's upcoming ordination, then back across the city for our annual pilgrimage to Van Dusen Gardens.  The following day my husband will attempt some repairs on our son's bicycle before we start packing up to return home the day after that.  As usual, the time has gone by far too quickly and we need another week to do all the things we want to do and see all the people we would then have the energy to see.

It has been a real boost to our spirits to be out here at this time of year, to see our son doing well, to enjoy the scenery and vegetation,  to eat good food, to rest and de-stress.  I have to, I see now, make some big lifestyle changes for myself if I am going to continue living on the prairies and I am not sure how to do that or what to do exactly, but I will figure it out.  My husband is going to have to adjust his too busy schedule while he is struggling with the vitamin B deficiency again.  

Much enjoyment has characterized our week, along with recognition of the need for change in how we are conducting our lives and ministries.  It is all good!

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