Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Christmas at Home Thanks to Ford Canada

Christmas is undoubtedly my favourite time of year. I love the feeling that surrounds it. People are friendlier, extended family makes themselves more available, friends host parties and of course children light up at the thought of Christmas morning.

A present under the tree
To tackle all my Christmas shopping and to make it home to celebrate with my girlfriend’s and my family, the fine folks at Ford Canada supplied us with a Ford Explorer Platinum to #GoFurther for the holiday break. The Explorer came in handy quite a few times over the holidays as we were able to load up all of our gifts, our Siberian Husky and a friend (her gifts too) with plenty room to spare. We were all quite comfortable in the roomy cabin, but my girlfriend and I were pampered with massaging seats in the cockpit.

Ford Explorer parked at my girlfriends parent's house.

I was excited to have the Explorer which made it possible for me to make it up to my parents’ house this year for Christmas Eve. I love seeing how my mom has decorated the house, she is quite the artist when it comes to decorating the Christmas tree. This year was no exception as she used bronze, copper and brown ornaments on a white tree (the only thing white about this Christmas this year!). I woke up a little bit earlier than everyone and quickly filmed it in all its glory. Check that out below:

My dad ended up gifting me and my girlfriend engineered hardwood flooring to spruce up our kitchen floor. Thank the stars we actually had the Explorer or we never would’ve got that home with the sub compact car I would’ve rented to save money. Unfortunately though I now have a project to complete on my next day off…thanks Dad!

Hardwood flooring, padding and laundry. It all fits in the Explorer!
The holidays are spent with family, so we didn't just visit mine. In the morning of Christmad Day we loaded up the gifts into the Explorer and drove over to my girlfriends parents' house. My girlfriends mom is a great cook and baker, so we had an amazing spread of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, yams, turnip and veggies. Afterwords we had some home made treats and a cheesecake so delicious words wouldn't do it justice. What I love about her family is that similarly to mine they also give it all they've got to decorate the house. After a gift exchange we unfortunately had to hit the road, pick up our pooch and head back to the big city.

My girlfriends family's living room all decked out in Christmas decor!

Between both parents' homes and back and forth to the city for dreaded boxing day shopping, we put this truck through it's paces. One thing I noticed was how smooth and quiet the ride was, unless of course we were blasting Christmas Carols and singing along. The other little perks available in this model actually saved our butts a few times, particularly the park assist feature. Parallel parking with any vehicle in Toronto can be a pain, let alone a big SUV. The parking assist made it a piece of cake by doing it for me! All I had to do was hit one button and apply or let go of the brakes. While this terrified my girlfriend the first time we tried it, there was no denying it was incredible.

The controls of the cockpit, and a heated steering wheel!

As hard as it was to get in the spirit with it being a green Christmas, I am extremely glad I was able to make it home to see family and friends thanks to the good folks at Ford Canada. I hope you all were also able to get home and see your friends and family. If you have any interesting stories from your holidays please share below in the comments, I'd love to hear them!

Happy New Year everyone!

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

5 Winter Themed Beers to Try This Holiday Season

With the cold weather looming, snow threatening to fall at any given moment and fireplaces begging to be used, it is the perfect time of year to consume winter themed beers. In no particular order of awesomeness, here are 5 brews to check out!

*Please note all of these may not be available outside of Ontario*

Winter Beard Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout (2015 batch)Muskoka Brewery, Bracebridge, Ontario, Canada
Winter Beard Cranberry Stout Bottle

$14 CDN

750mL Bottle

ABV: 8.0%

Winter Beard Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout looks dark brown almost black, opaque and has a light brown head. The aromas match the flavours you taste with dark chocolate notes and a slight hint of the tartness of cranberries. The mouth feel on this brew is lighter than I anticipated, but is smooth going down. You have two choices with what to do with this bottle. The easy decision is to drink it all up right away. The harder decision is to let it age for another 2 years. I’d recommend buying two and seeing what happens from a fresh batch to an aged one.

Bah Humbug Christmas Cheer Ale Wychwood Brewery, Witney, Oxfordshire, England

Bah Humbug Christmas Cheer Bottle
$3.50 CDN

500mL Bottle

ABV: 5.0%

Bah Humbug! If you’re feeling grumpy about the season, have a glass of Christmas Cheer. Wychwood has produced a Christmas brew with a translucent, dark copper colouring. They have jammed in many flavours and aromas to remind you it is the Christmas season. Cinnamon, darker fruits, brown sugars, vanilla and more come out in this beer with each sniff and sip. The mouth feel is thin with little carbonation. Overall this is a great beer in small doses. Maybe one or two to get you into the Christmas mood.

Lions Winter Ale – Granville Island Brewing, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Lions Winter Ale Can
$3 CDN

473mL Can

ABV: 5.5%

I'm not too sure how a lion would fair in a Canadian winter, but I know us humans can use this Lions Winter Ale to warm up around a fire. The beer pours a nice burnt copper colour with a foamy, creamy looking head. The aromas on this one are vanilla and cocoa. The taste however takes on more of a chocolate, malty, caramel flavour. While that may sound like a disaster of sweetness, it is all fairly balanced to be quite enjoyable. The feel is exactly like the pour, smooth and creamy. Bring a few of these to your next Christmas party and pass them off to those who normally avoid beer like the plague. It will surprise them!

Great Lakes Winter Ale Great Lakes Brewery, Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada

Great Lakes Winter Ale Bottle
$7 CDN

750mL Bottle

ABV: 6.2%

It gets cold around the Great Lakes, so why not warm up with some Winter Ale from a company who gets it! The ale pours a chestnut brown with a head that dissipates fairly quickly. I pick up strong scents of cinnamon and gingerbread with some butterscotch. The taste is that of winter spices: cinnamon, cloves and ginger but also has a dark bready taste with a hint of citrus. This one has a medium to low carbonation with a dry finish. I found splitting this bottle with my girlfriend while watching the fireplace channel (yea I do that from time to time) had some weird enhancing feature. I suppose atmosphere does have a major impact on your senses!

Winter Welcome AleSamuel Smith’s Old Brewery, Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, England

Winter Welcome Ale Bottle
$4 CDN

550mL Bottle

ABV: 6.0%

Winter is coming and you either run from it or you welcome it. I always like a reason to drink to a few brews, so I will welcome it with open arms and this Ale. The beer pours a rusted bronze with an off white head which leaves that mouth-watering lacing on the glass. I pulled out light spices with caramel, bread and warm applesauce as its aroma. For the taste I was getting more of a toasted nut, malty bready taste with a hint of the cinnamon. I craved the warm applesauce that I picked up from the aroma, but unfortunately it wasn’t quite there in the taste. This is still a solid brew to try, especially for those looking to practice picking out aromas and tastes.

There you go! 5 new beers to try out on your next day off, next weekend off or even to bring to a Christmas Party. If you end up loving one, two or all of them then I’m glad I could help. If you hate them all, well I apologize, but be sure to check them in on the Untappd app and you’ll at least earn a Winter Badge!

Remember to consume all of these adult beverages responsibly and have a safe and happy holidays!

Photos of each brand were pulled from the LCBO website.  

Friday, 4 December 2015

Toronto Christmas Market - 2015 Update

December is finally here, which means Toronto is in full swing with Christmas. Shops have their decorations up and carols playing. People are running around trying to find the perfect gift with winter themed coffee cups in their hands. Office and work party season is in full gear and there is a general niceness towards everyone that only exists this time of year.

Main Road in Christmas Market
The main road/vendor section of the Christmas Market
One major draw for the Toronto scene this time of year is the Christmas Market in the beautiful Distillery District. The Distillery District is a historical site that is rich with Victorian industrial buildings, just steps away from the Downtown Core. The 47 buildings that make up the Distillery District were once owned by Gooderham and Worts (formerly the largest distillery company in Canada) and were deemed to be a historical site in 1976. Cityscape Holdings purchased the site in 2001 and imagined it to be a place where a blend of artisans and entrepreneurs could have a space to showcase their creativity. In 2003, the Distillery District was opened to the public and since then has been an area famous for its cobblestone streets, clothing and craft shops, creative businesses, Mill Street Brewery and of course the Christmas Market.

Christmas Market Tree
The huge tree in the Christmas Market
The Toronto Christmas Market pulls from historic European traditions and offers the people of Toronto and surrounding areas a romantic celebration of everything Christmas. There are local vendors who occupy quaint huts and sell their artisan crafts, clothing and food. There is a large "Wintergarten" where everyone can meet and socialize outside with cups of cheer by one of many fire pits. While this Christmas tradition has been modernized and is essentially another business to gain money, you can't help but get wrapped up in the feeling of the cheerful people, old buildings, twinkling lights and Christmas decor. The Christmas Market is intended to romanticize the feeling of Christmas, and it does just that. Visit here and you will fall in love with Christmas again!

The market runs from November 20th through December 20th. To combat overcrowding the market is now $5 per person on Saturday and Sunday and free Tuesday through Friday. More information can be found at the Toronto Christmas Market website. Below are some pictures from my visit earlier this week!

Naughty or Nice Sign
Are you Naughty or Nice? Find out in the Wintergarten!

Alternate view of Christmas Tree
Alternate view of the beautiful tree

Girls and Snowman
The girls getting cozy with one of  many statues to pose with at the Christmas Market

Christmas Market Ferris Wheel
Get a view of the entire Christmas Market on the Ferris Wheel!

Sleeman Dark Chocolate Lager
Indulge in some spirits and brews! Sleeman Dark Chocolate Lager readily available for all those of age.

Vendors huts after hours.

Ed Eating a Turkey Leg
Me crushing a Vanilla Porter from Mill Street Brewery and a massive turkey leg (totally worth the $13 price tag)!

Main Street After Hours
The main street after hours. 

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Real Man Travels: Wine Tasting 101

Wine Tasting 101-

When I was a young man, at the ripe age of 19 , I thought Coors light was a good beer....I also thought wine was awful. Thankfully, as I have matured so has my palette and I find myself enjoying the wide variety of beers available. Unfortunately as my beer knowledge has expanded, my knowledge of wine has remained at a standstill. As I creep ever so close to thirty,  I feel that now is the time to put on my big boy pants, take a seat at the grown ups table, and learn how to enjoy wine.

Earlier this year I tried to educate myself by simply reading the small "vintages" flyer available in my local LCBO. I found a few I would label as "not terrible"  before being distracted by a new craft beer I'd yet to sample.

Determined to explore this new horizon, I set off to beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario - One of Canada's premier wine regions- to quench my new found thirst for knowledge. With some guidance from the great folks over at Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake, I would know just where to begin.

Inside Diamond Estates winery. Wine as far as the eye can see!
Diamond Estates winery is home to many great wines, producing wines under 10 brand names, with grapes from 25 Niagara region farms.  It was there that we were introduced to Diamond Estates On-Site Wine Expert, Brae. After getting a feel for our knowledge about wine, Brae thought she would start us off with the simple 5 steps of  wine drinking.  You can follow along at home, start by pouring a glass and then follow along.

Step 1: Look at the wine. Simple enough place the wine glass against a white background,  or a sheet of paper if available. "the colour of a wine will give you some clues to what the wine might taste like" Brae remarked. A golden colouring could indicate a toffee, or buttery taste. Where a lighter yellow (straw coloured) would indicate citrus flavours. With red's the darker the colouring the more bold the flavouring from the grape will be.

A pure white background can be handy when decoded the characteristic of a wine.
Step 2: Swirl it.  This actually accomplishes something more than making you look like a pompous ass, it oxygenates the wine. Pulling air into the wine helps to smooth out the flavour and opens up the aromas.  Brae further punctuates the importance of aeration to wine with this equation - "pouring your wine through an aerator has the same affect as one hour in a decanter. One hour in a decanter is equal to one year in a cellar"

Step 3: Smell it. Your nose and mouth aren't close together on your face for nothing. By taking a big whiff your pre-programming your brain to what tastes might lie ahead. The average person has trouble readily identifying most scents listed on a wine tasting notes.  "You can start off smelling more items on your trip to grocery store,  or if you are just trying to seem cool to your friends  you can just make it up"

Grapes continue to ripen on the vines surrounding Diamond Estates.
Step 4: Cheers!  Often overlooked in wine circles is the social aspect. As with beer share the experience with those around you, and as we know from history it ensures your enemies have not poisoned your drink.

Step 5: Taste it. Brae suggested doing this in three sips to let the flavours cover your entire palate. I say just don't pound it back like a shot.

There you have it, an easy to follow five step guide to wine tasting. This process allows you to experience a wine as it was intended. Additionally important is sampling from a wide selections of wines to find a style of wine you enjoy. For me it was barrel fermented Chardonnay, it has a smooth oak flavouring that reminds me of scotch or whiskey. Please feel free to share your own favourites in the comments below!
Stay tuned for more from my recent travels in Niagara-on-the-lake, next up, Wine pairing!

Real Man Recipes - Thanksgiving Dinner Part 1: Turkey

Real Man Recipes - Thanksgiving Dinner Part 1: Turkey

It’s that time of year again when turkey’s everywhere (well mostly just in Canada) start running for their lives. I’m talking, of course, about Thanksgiving. And the crew here at Real Man Travels has got you rookies covered with some easy recipes to make sure you can knock the big dinner out of the park.

traditional thanksgiving dinner
Thanksgiving in Canada is just like in the USA, just earlier, and without NFL games.

A lot of people go to great lengths to try and take their turkey to the next level. News flash! Turkey is pretty damn good just the way it is. Here is a great, basic recipe to make your bird sing.

Go to the grocery store and buy a frozen turkey when they start going on sale. Make sure it’s a Grade A turkey, but don’t shy away from the utility turkey label. This usually just means it’s missing a wing or a leg or something superficial. Thaw the turkey out. Keep in mind that this might take a number of days. Thawing in the fridge is safest. Now, most turkeys come with the neck and giblets, which are usually stuffed up inside the abdominal cavity. I’m not a huge fan of the giblets, but hold on to the neck (queue the Christmas Vacation ‘Save the neck for me for Clark’ quotes). Throw the turkey into a roasting pan and put the neck in the pan beside it. Roughly chop 2-3 medium size onions and put those in the pan too. Pour some chicken broth into the pan (I make mine with chicken Bovril) so that there’s about an inch or so in the bottom of the pan. Now take a healthy dose of room temperature butter and start massaging your bird. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cover that bad boy with foil (or a lid if your roaster is big enough).

male turkey
"You want to put what, where???"
Preheat the oven to 350 and pop him in for 15 minutes a pound. I like to crank up the oven to 400 and uncover for the last hour or so to get that nice golden colour on top; plus the crispy skin is most definitely where it’s at. Get yourself a meat thermometer and double check the internal temperature before taking it out. Poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of 180 degrees in the thickest part of the thigh.

When your bird is done, pull him out and let him rest a good 20-30 minutes before carving. For the love of all that is awesome, don’t get rid of your pan drippings. That’s where the sweet, sweet gravy lives. Check back later this week for the gravy recipe.

roast turkey
enjoy, and then nap,
Now I know what you’re thinking; where’s the stuffing? I don’t stuff my turkey because I make what we call ‘stuffing balls’. And you’ll have to check back later this week for that one, too.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Drinking Beer in Collingwood

Once strictly viewed as a winter destination on account of the incredible Blue Mountain ski resort, Collingwood, Ontario has transformed itself into a haven for day-trippers and vacationers alike during all four seasons. Home to attractions like the Blue Mountain Village (complete with shopping, restaurants, hotels and an adventure park featuring the Ridge Runner mountain roller coaster, a ropes course with zip lines, the Apex Bagjump, and gondolas to the top of Blue Mountain), Scenic Caves, Scandinave Spa and a variety of other attractions, there is no shortage of ways to fill you days.

The town also features an incredible trail system. During our stay we trekked along the Heather Pathway which does a loop through the better part of the town and starts and ends at two magnificent lookouts over Collingwood Harbour.

With the development of four season tourism along with a strong community of both seasonal and full time residents, an array of beer, wine and spirit manufacturers have also found their homes in Collingwood. The town is home to three breweries; Canadian Mist Distillery, makers of the excellent Collingwood rye whiskey; and an array of wineries.

Never missing the chance to try local beer, I visited two of the three local breweries during my visit and found the following gems. I look forward to checking out Collingwood Brewery on my next visit.

Formally known as Denison’s, the brewery re-branded and are now named for the method of launching ships used in Collingwood for generations. Side Launch has experienced impressive success in the Ontario beer market. Their lineup is focused and features mainstays that are quality approaches to traditional beer styles, along with a revolving selection of seasonals.


One of the brewery’s three mainstay beers, and likely their most popular, Side Launch’s wheat is a German Hefeweizen, and likely one of the better efforts at the style amoung Ontario breweries. Banana predominates on both nose and flavour and is backed with strong yeast character. Coriander and other mild spices round out the flavour.

Dark Lager

I’ve been drawn to this style (traditionally called German Dunkel), of late. The beer is pure malt on the nose with the flavour of light caramel, bready malt and a little bit of brown sugar. The beer leaves you smacking your lips long after your sip.

A brand new entry into the Ontario beer market, Northwinds opened a little over a year ago and offers a great selection of food and beer at their brewhouse. You won’t find these beers in major retailers, but the variety of beers on tap is astounding. While there were a few misses, the following beers really grabbed my attention.

Brew Mountain SMaSH Series (Centennial)

A great entry in the American Pale Ale category. Thin body with plenty of citrus on nose and flavour. Grapefruit and floral/piney notes predominate with the centennial hops really coming through as advertised. Great for summer.

Old Baldy Farmhouse Ale

With so many saisons on tap I feel brewmaster Andrew Bartle must have been a homebrewer. While lacking the usually yeast forward character of many saisons, this entry brings the hops to the forefront with the hot taste of rye malt coming through. Unique and tasty.

Side note! If you are looking for a truly unique place to eat while around the Collingwood area, check out Hai Sai in Singhampton (20 minutes south of Collingwood). Managed by restaurant legend Michael Stadtländer, Hai Sai is completely and utterly surprising. Both food and décor are out of the ordinary and definitely worth the trip off the beaten path.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Bad Axe Summer Nights with the Ford #Fusion

When Ford Canada asked if we wanted to spend one of our summer nights throwing sharp objects across a room, and putting the Ford Fusion Energi through the rounds of Toronto life, I had to think about it for an entire second before a simple "Yup" fell from my mouth. I will, however, admit that I had to ponder the connection between throwing axes with the fine folks at Bad Axe Throwing and the 2015 Ford Fusion Energi. It came to me later that Gamification was the key. More on that later.

First let's get to the axe throwing. Axe throwing is a hot new activity sweeping the nation like the next One Direction song (or the Backstreet Boys if you're over 25), and its brilliance lies in its simplicity. Take a sharp axe and throw it at a piece of wood. Then naturally it progresses to: "Take a sharp axe and try to hit the centre of a piece of wood. Suddenly, it's a game, a competition, a sport.

Toronto Axe Throwing
We here at Real Man Travels excel at throwing sharp objects. It is known.
That's me. Capturing a quick selfie with one of many bulls eyes our crew mustered over the hours we spent hurling objects of destruction towards unsuspecting plywood. You might be thinking: "How did you spend hours simply throwing axes and still look so happy about it?" The answer, again, is gamification. Our hostess led us threw a few quick lessons on the proper technique. Once all of our members had a handle on the sweet science we were lead through various games with different scoring methods. Each game rewarded a slightly different skill, and this kept the evening enjoyable for the members of the group that found the bulls eye on a much less frequent basis than our Real Girl Travels team member Alison (she beat me, I will own that).

Bad Axe Throwing Toronto
Our friend Dante was a natural. He seems destined for a career in the pros.
When our time was up we ventured back downstairs to our Ford Fusion. As a car guy at heart I always look for what makes a car stand out from the crowd. It sat parked in a long line of cars hugging the curb that night in the Junction of Toronto, yet the sporty lines stood out amongst the sea of bland mid sized sedans. A quick press of the remote start button brought the first stand out moment.....there was silence. No "vroom" noise, just the lighting system awakening as we walked towards it.

ford fusion interior
The stylish space aged cockpit.
After adjusting the controls and finding The Highway on Sirius/XM, I was ready to see how the Energi system adapted to my driving style. A brief pause for the technical jargon: The Fusion Energi offers the best of both worlds, providing the capability to be driven as an electric vehicle for short trips and as a hybrid for longer trips, boasts Ford. I found it did one better; it made me a better driver. It was only a few short blocks before I found myself watching the SmartGauge measure my driving efficiency. Within minutes I was growing new leaves (a smart way of showing the driver how well they are doing) and finding the right times to let off the gas to maximize my regenerative braking power (the car captures energy every time you coast, and stores it in the on-board battery pack). My competitive nature had taken over... I needed to own the high score!

A few sweet benefits to the green vehicle: Free reign of the HOV lanes and being able to plug in to any household outlet to charge using the supplied charging cord.
Thanks to gamification this Ford taught me how to win at the gas pumps, and how to survive the pending zombie apocalypse with my newly discovered axe throwing skills. Women still like guys with skills right?

Friday, 14 August 2015

Lessons Learned: 10 Tips for Your First Portaging Trip - Part I

Hot off our very first portage trip Sam and myself learned some valuable lessons and want to share them with you. Here are 5 things I learned about what to do before, after and during your portage trip.

1. Ditch the Packaging and go All Ziploc

A bear canister fills up fast with less food than you’d imagine. My recommendation is to take any food that has air in it and put it into a Ziploc bag. This will save you a ton of space. After repackaging use a marker or painters tape and label each bag to easily identify your food. 

Bonus Tip: Load the canister or bag in order of your consumption plan (day 1’s meals at the top and your last days meals at the bottom). That way you don’t have to dig deep to get your eats or repack it daily.

Transferred food from original packaging to Ziploc bags
Food transferred from store packaging to Ziploc bags. Saves a ton of space in your bear canister.

2. Baby Wipes over Toilet Paper

Ditch the toilet paper and jump over to baby wipes. Not only do they pack up smaller but they can also get wet and are multi-purpose (washing your face, hands, wiping your butt, etc). The only concern is their scent, so save some room in your bear canister or bear bag. Trust me your butt will be much happier after crouching in the bush with these!

3. Invest in the Right Gear

Too often people buy an inferior product because of the price tag. The truth is you get what you pay for; you don’t need to run out and buy a $4000 tent. But think about this, do you want to spend $300 on a tent now that is built to last 20 years or do you want to spend $80-100 every 3 to 5 years on one at your local big box? The way I have approached gear is that I am slowly building up to having exactly what I want by making key purchases every season. I’m spreading out what I can deal with and what I need to purchase in order to maintain my budget. Make one big purchase (tent, sleeping bag or pack) and add on one slightly less expensive item and within 3 summers you will have a superb set up without breaking the bank.

Ed's Kelty Grand Mesa 2 tent set up with a starlight sky background
Ed's new Kelty Grand Mesa 2 tent. Lighter and easier to assemble than his old tent.

4. Aim to Pack Less but Pack Smart

Less is more, especially when you have to carry everything you will need on your back. The keyword there was what you “need”. Reduce clothing to items you can stretch out for the duration of your trip and pack layers. On a recent 4 day portage trip I wore the same shirt, shorts and sweater for the entire trip; I’m not trying to impress anyone. Also make sure you have only essential items that you are able to comfortably carry. Real Man Travels recommends laying out all of the gear you think you’d need on the floor of your home. Then start to pick out non essentials until you are left with about 60-75% of what you had. From there load up your pack and see how it feels. If it is still too heavy think outside of the box on how to reduce, or give weight to a partner that has a lighter load. Just remember that walking around the house for 2 minutes with a full pack is not the same as a trail for an hour or more.

Bonus Tip: Pack a bag with fresh underwear and other clothing and leave it in your vehicle for when you re-enter society. Fresh clothes will go a long way for the ride home, or that pit stop at a pub for a much needed beer.

5. Portage with the Right People

This may be an oversight but if you are going to be canoeing and camping out in the wild for an extended period of time, you better like the people you are going with. Let’s face it, a trip can be make or break depending on the people attending. Positivity is key so eliminate anyone who will be a negative strain; the last thing you want is a Debbie downer moaning and crying when the day is filled with bugs, rain or some other undesirable element. If you are blending groups of friends, choose wisely who can attend. Look for similar humour styles, similar attitude towards the outdoors, similar interests, etc.

Sam and Derek shore fishing
Fishing with a straw hat is an automatic in with our group. Sam and Derek doing some shore fishing. 

Those are my 5 things learned from this portage trip, be sure to come back later and check out part II when Sam will reveal what he has learned.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Real Man Tested: GSI Pinnacle Soloist

A few members of the Real Man Travels team recently went on a four day portage trip in Ontario's beautiful Massasauga Provincial Park. This was our first real portage trip together with no coolers, luxuries or special amenities, so we had to be smart about the items we packed. The decision to mostly use just add water food for our meals made the most sense for weight and convenience. Enter the GSI Pinnacle Soloist cook set to boil all of the water for my meals. I bought this set at MEC for $45.50 + tax and put it to the test. Here are the results I found:

1. What You Get

The GSI Pinnacle Soloist comes with a 1.1L pot with an attached handle that swings up and down, a lid with an integrated strainer and spout, a 590mL cup with a removable insulation strip, a “foon” (telescopic spork), a stove bag made for an MSR Pocket Rocket style stove (stove not included), and a stuff sack that can double up as a wash basin.

Included items in the GSI Pinnacle Soloist
Included in the set: A 1.1L pot, telescopic foon, cup with insulating strip, a wash basin and a strainer/lid.

2. Look and Feel

When I first went to MEC and looked at this set my initial reaction was that it is small... much smaller than I thought it would be. After unboxing it at home and seeing how it all stacks up within itself I realized that this was a well thought out product.

The pot feels sturdy and light and the rubberized handle sits firm in its locked positions. The plastic bowl has a little bit of flex but not too much to be nervous about squeezing out your contents while holding it. The pot lid is a hard plastic and I was skeptical about it not melting when in use. The stuff sack has a rubberized interior which allows it to stand on its own making it believable for use as a wash basin. The stove bag was a generic pouch made of canvas material. The telescopic foon (spork) felt flimsy and cheap in comparison to the rest of the superior contents.

3. Ease of Use

Unpacking and packing up the stove is a breeze as all the components fit into each other perfectly. As for actually using the product, it’s as simple as: fill the pot with water, set it on a lit stove and let the water boil, add food, fill your bowl with your cooked food, eat with the foon and clean up.

GSI Pinnacle Soloist on a MSR Pocket Rocket Stove
Simple stove to boil water!

4. Actual vs. Advertised

The GSI Pinnacle Soloist is advertised as a trail solution for one person, but I found that if anyone else in the group has their own mess kit it could actually be beneficial for two people. 1.1L of water is enough to make two Knorr Sidekicks or two of most Mountain House meals, two cups of coffee in the morning etc. And if there isn't enough water in the first boil, it doesn't take very long to boil another full pot.

All of the included components work as advertised, my only gripe is that the telescopic foon is flimsy, cheap feeling and retracts itself under the pressure of you scraping the edges of the bowl for the last little morsels of food.

5. Value

Priced at $45.50 CAD at MEC, I believe this was a steal as some big box retailers offer crappier products that are bulkier and don’t include everything you need for a similar price. This complete storage system allows for a small fuel canister and a stove to be packed into it so the space and bulk savings in my pack is well worth the price tag.

6. Practicality

500mL of water took, on average, three minutes to boil, and a full pot took about five to seven minutes (under perfect conditions). This meant I wasn't waiting too long to eat my meals. I ended up sharing the pot with a buddy and it worked well for the two of us. This set is small and took up very little real estate in my pack. I’d say this is a perfect set for a backpacking or portage trip where the luxuries are left behind. It could also be used on a car camping or “glamping” trip where you would want instant coffee or instant oatmeal in the morning.

Noodles in the GSI Pinnacle Soloist bowl/mug/cup
Ain't nothing like a bowl of noodles after a long day of portaging!

7. Overall Impression and Final Score

Overall I am very impressed with this set. The pot boiled the water quickly, the cup held a generous amount of food and was soft enough to grip yet firm enough to not spill contents. The foon, unfortunately, was junk and I would recommend grabbing something else that is a similar size to keep the integrity of the way the set packs up. I never used the stuff sack as a sink, but it is capable of the function, even if it seems a little small. The entire set packs up tiny, and is pretty cheap. I will definitely be using this set in the future for my adventures and would definitely recommend it for your next adventure.

4.5/5 rating for the GSI Pinnacle Soloist
A well deserved score of 4.5/5 for the GSI Pinnacle Soloist

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Real Man Recipes - Thai Cashew Chicken

I've always wanted to share my cooking with people. I love entertaining and cooking for crowds, so I find recipes that I like, tweak them, and share them. I like simple recipes; things that you don’t need to scratch your head and wonder ‘what the hell is that?’ when it comes to ingredients. More often than not, I like to try and make do with what I have in the cupboards. A little culinary ingenuity never hurt anyone.

There’s a great little restaurant here in Thunder Bay called Thai Kitchen. Ever since the first time I ate there I've been trying to replicate their cashew chicken recipe. A buddy of mine went to Thailand a couple of years back, took a cooking class, and came with recipes that have also influenced mine.

So without further adieu, here’s my take on this tasty, authentic and exotic dish that you can whip up in no time, with only a couple of ingredients that you likely don’t already have in your cupboards.

Thai Cashew Chicken

  • 2 large, boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 3 large white onions, chopped roughly
  • 1 can (500g) of whole cashews (don’t be cheap and get the pieces you’ll regret it)
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 1 tsp hot pepper seasoning (I use a dried, ground hot pepper medley that my Momma makes for me at her greenhouse, suckers. Regular chili flakes work fine, though you may want to up the dose - as my medley is super hot)
  • 3 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tsp fish sauce 
  • 1 cup uncooked rice (I like basmati, though I've used jasmine rice and even Minute Rice, in a pinch)
  1. Soak the rice in water if required. I typically soak my basmati rice for about 10-20 minutes before cooking. Just put it in a bowl and cover with water.
  2. Cube chicken and brown in large sauce pan (e.g. a dutch oven, *insert fart joke here*) with garlic powder, salt and pepper, hot peppers and olive oil. Season to taste here guys. Like garlic, add more. Not a fan of super spicy food? Less hot pepper seasoning. 
  3. Boil water in a medium sauce pan/pot and add rice. Add a few dashes of salt. Follow the instructions on the package for rice-to-water ratio and cooking time. 
  4. Toss the can of cashews in with the chicken. Ensure you've got enough olive oil that things aren't drying up in there. Lube is your friend.
  5. Add oyster sauce and fish sauce to 1/3 cup of water and mix. Beat it like it owes you money.
  6. Once chicken is almost cooked through, add the onions and water/oyster/fish sauce and cover with lid, stir occasionally.
  7. Once onions have softened and started to look a little translucent, remove from heat.
  8. Serve rice on to plate with chicken/onions/cashews on top. Season with salt and pepper and additional hot peppers to taste.
         Serves 4.

That’s it. I’m not much of a wine drinker, but this pairs really well with a light glass of white wine; Pinot Grigio or something.

Eat up!

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Real Man Recipes – Classic Brats

Give a man a sausage, he will likely make a bunch of inappropriate jokes; teach a man to cook sausage using this classic recipe, he will shut up and be eternally grateful.

The proper way to cook bratwurst is violently debated. It’s been the cause of 50% of European wars since the middle ages. It’s the number one listed reason for divorce in Germany. Bavarian political parties run on all-brat platforms, and win. All true stories.  

Many swear by the classic Bavarian method of boil and serve while others insist the wurst isn’t wurst unless it is seared over glorious flame.

Enter the Americans - those glorious chefs renowned for improving most any cuisine through the adding of beer and fat.  This recipe, straight out of Wisconsin (the Canadians of the not-so-south), showcases American cuisine at its finest, and is absolutely freakin’ delicious. 

Beware – do not slice or pierce the sausages while cooking, keeping the juices in is key – you’ve been warned.

  • 8 uncooked bratwurst (fresh)
  • 1.5 L of beer – the cheaper the better – or try something hoppy for a different twist
  • ½ cup of butter
  • 3 yellow onions
  • 8 sausage buns
  • Yellow or German mustard
  • Sauerkraut
  • Seasoning salt
  1. Slice onions thinly and place in an aluminum pan.
  2. Add beer to pan, place on barbeque at high heat. Add butter.
  3. When beer is boiling or close to boiling, add sausages. Cook thoroughly.
  4. Move sausages to grill. Grill until golden brown.
  5. Warm sauerkraut on side burner or on the grill.
  6. Serve on sausage bun with mustard, sauerkraut and a sprinkle of seasoning salt.
Bon appétit, dudes.  

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Bick's Contest - Win a Big Green Egg!

As Canadians, we are resigned to the reality that our winters are long and our summers short. As such, we find ways to seize summer and make the utmost of its brief glory. Long, hot, hazy days are embraced as we swap our snow pants for shorts and our toques for t-shirts - often ridiculously early at the first hint of warmth.

There are a few telltale signs that herald the arrival of summer in Canada: the firing of sputtering lawnmowers, the filling of long-dormant restaurant patios, and the inevitable invites from friends and family finally breaking their winter hibernation. But two signs stand out above all others: highway traffic swelling with eager cottage-goers on route to cottage country, and the amazing smell of adding burgers to a fiery grill!

Bick's, purveyor of the finest pickles and other garnishes and condiments, were kind enough to invite the good lads from Real Man Travels to experience both these stand-out summer signals (well, the cottage, not the traffic) a couple of weeks ago. We also helped prove that burgers and pickles are truly the perfect pair. More on that in a future post, but we wanted to share a really fun contest they have announced with the chance to win a Big Green Egg BBQ - the ultimate cooking experience! These awesome-looking grills will allow you to signal summer far and wide and become the envy of your griller-hood. To enter, you must Find Bick's a Burger! Click here to learn how you can be entered to win, all while checking out amazing burger recipes.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Savouring the Brewers Plate 2015

For someone who is still learning to love beer, I have to say I am having an exemplary education. I was lucky enough to attend Brewers Plate on behalf of the team here.

I have been to quite a few of the food events Toronto has to offer, and while I have always left them full and happy, I have to say that Brewers Plate was my favourite.

The concept was simple: 20 rock star chefs, 20 rock star brewers, one great event. The 2015 Brewers Plate benefited the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation. Each of the brewers and chefs had a sign explaining their connection to the greenbelt, and many highlighted Greenbelt grown or foraged ingredients. Everyone was encouraged to wear a concert t-shirt. I own an original Bruce Springsteen 1984 Born in the USA tour t-shirt. So yah, I was pretty excited by that theme. 

Held in the atrium of Corus Key, breweries and chefs were elbow to elbow. The space is really neat (green wall, twisty slide) and the big sliding doors were thrown open highlighting the water-front view of Lake Ontario. For the caliber of the food (lobster tails, ribs, duck, pasta served from a wheel of parmigiana) the line-ups were pretty much non-existent. Though the place was buzzing, we had no problem sidling up at a table and striking up a conversation - the crowd was friendly and fun.

Food Highlights:
  • The fanciest hot dog ever: Brie nacho cheese-style sauce, pickled ramps and mustard seeds (from Globe Bistro)
  • Maple syrup-wrapped cheese (aka, my favourite thing wrapped around my second favourite thing)
  • Smoked duck breast with dark chocolate and blueberry compote
  • Smoked ribs and mustard-y potato salad (with FIDDLEHEADS).

My companion for the evening was Amanda, who was the perfect date in that she’s equally passionate about beer AND the environment. She did the beer tastings as I was the DD. Here is her report:

The Beer Report: 
  • Fav beer of the night: McKinnon's Hefeweizen - great banana nose, clean and crisp taste, not too heavy like some wheat beers can get.
  • Honourable mention: Black Oak team up with ChocoSol to create this iced chocolate beer float thing that shouldn't work, but totally did.
  • Fav drink of the night: Georgian Bay Gin, because  as much as I love delicious craft beer, I love gin and tonics 1000 times more (and I really LOVE craft beer). Plus, gin and tonic garnished with a  lobster skewer? Yeah, I'm middle-classed enough to be impressed by that.