Thursday, June 30, 2011

Best hand dryer ever at Coquitlam Centre

I was at Coquitlam Centre shortly after dining with a friend at Cora nearby.
Happened to use the washroom and got to try out the Dyson Airblade Hand Dryer -- It's fast! Way faster and more reliable than the vent-style air blowers that have been around for a long time. Overall -- awesome!

"The Dyson Airblade™ hand dryer works in just 12 seconds – scraping water from hands like a windshield wiper. It’s the fastest hand dryer – and it’s hygienic, purifying the air before blowing it onto hands. And because it uses up to 80% less energy than warm air hand dryers, it costs less to run."

Can't stick your head it to dry your hair, though. That's one thing the old dryers can do -- You can stuck your head under it, or (with some models) turn the nozzle about to blow at the angle you want.

Lunch at Cora in Coquitlam

Cora Breakfast & Lunch on Urbanspoon

I finally managed to get together with an old friend, and she suggested we try Cora in Coquitlam at Sunwood Square (sort-of near Coquitlam Centre).

Cora is a Montreal franchise that started as a humble breakfast place in 1987 and has quickly grown to over 100 locations -- mostly far east but a few in Alberta and now two in BC.

The overall ambiance is very bright, helped by bright lights and sunny yellow decor, enough to dispel any rainy day outside. The cartoony artwork gives it an almost children's playroom feel, helped by friendly staff and an overall family atmosphere. The Coquitlam location was abuzz before and throughout the time we were there (I got there shortly after 11.30 am, we had lunch between Noon and 1pm) and there was invariably someone waiting to be seated at the front desk.

The menu is small and varied, and what hits the table looks like the pictures on the website and on the full-colour illustrated menu.
Breakfast is served even at lunch, which is handy is you like more fruits at every meal.

Overall, the Cora menu is very simple food made colourful and appealing with a lot of beautifully arranged fruits (breakfasts especially) and vegetables.
The abundance of fruits and vegetables makes for a more balanced meal in general, but you still have to look at the ingredients if you want to make sure you're getting something healthy. For example, my friend's Strawberry Waffle from the breakfast menu was one immense waffle (about 6 inches across) topped with custard and a mound of sliced strawberries, plus gobs of whippped cream on the side. (A smaller version is available as a dessert).
By the time the waffle reached our table, the ingredients had made it soggy, but you're not really eating a waffle with this menu choice. Watery syrup is available on every table; not butter syrup and if it were maple syrup, it was sure watered down a lot.

I ordered the Panini-Crepe from the lunch menu, which came with a small bowl of soup and your choice of a serving of Kraft salad dressing selected from what looked like a wooden cigar box. The Panini-Crepe was basically a beef wrap with too-little cheese (personal preference). It came out kind of bland and small.

Both items were about $11. Add one smoothie-of-the-day made with a combination of fresh fruits (not so readily available nowadays) and our meal came to just over $30 after tax. Since everyone paid at the counter I wasn't sure whether a tip was normal, but threw one in anyway since we were served at our table.

Overall I'd have to class the food as mediocre once you look past the presentation. Because of that, I'm tempted to say it was slightly overpriced, but overall it's a fair deal for friendly service, great ambiance, and platings that actually make vegetables look appetizing. Bonus points for breakfasts available at lunch, especially when the the breakfasts look amazing.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hart House Restaurant

Hart House on Urbanspoon

I can't remember the last time I was at the Hart House Restaurant in Burnaby but it must have been at least ten years. So when my dear dining buddy invited me there to use her Groupon, it was like going to a restaurant I'd never been.

The front door has stained glass with a lot of white, so from a distance it actually looked like the place was closed, and plastered over with white paper to stop people from peeking in. We were there for the first seating (5.30pm) and naturally it was all quiet, to the point of looking deserted.

The lobby of the venerable mansion is claustrophobic by today's standards, though the tight quarters would have made the most of any gratifying heat from the fireplace during the winter. Washrooms are in the corridor to the left, and feature remarkably modern-looking doors. Inside, a couple of (large) mosquitoes that found their way in from the marshy lake not far from the restaurant were an interesting reminder of the location.

We opted for the patio, and were led through the dim dining room to the back, which opened out into a very large garden (where weddings are often set up) and beyond that, the lake.
We were told that in about a half hour, the place would be buzzing with diners, so we opted for a quieter table for two tucked at one of the edges. It was a rectangular table with a hole in the middle (presumably for one of those huge lawn umbrellas), and the wooden chairs were arranged one at the side (with my back to a busy garden plot) and one at the end.

There were ants. We had (mild) allergies. It's the great outdoors. Whoop.

I had seen a $58 "Five Course Chef's Menu", but sadly that was not available on the first seating. After perusing the menu, we settled on the Charcuterie ("Chef’s Selection of House Made Terrines with Selection of Cured Meats and Sausages") to share, I had the Six-Hour Braised Lamb Shoulder ("Roasted Squash, Creamy Polenta, Cippoline Onions"), and my dining partner who always has to have salmon if it's on the menu naturally picked out the Confit BC Salmon ("Winter Vegetable Bonne Femme, Lemon Crème Fraiche").

A basket of slightly warm bread came shortly before the charcuterie plate, which was a simple-looking selection of assorted thinly sliced cold meats and sausages, two types of mustard, and some token olives. All in all, unremarkable. Boring, even. There were some spicy cuts in there to mix things up, though.
Fortunately, the mains were superb.

There were two large groups in that day, and our very thoughtful server popped in to ask if we'd like our mains immediately, although we hadn't finished the appetizer, as we might later be caught in the queue and have lengthy wait.

The salmon was juicy and tender and plated very beautifully on a white plate with a single green streak, complementing the tight bed of colourful vegetables on which sat the poached salmon fillet sprinkled with a white sauce but looking like it had been dusted with snow -- a cool "winter" look.

My piping-hot bone-in lamb was in the midst of a generous amount of polenta, and extremely tender. No knife required here -- you just gently pull it apart or off the bone. Very savoury, but not overly salty.

Dessert was of course the proper way to end dinner, and I had my eye on their version of the molten chocolate cake, the Molten Hart Cake ("Vanilla Crème Fraiche, Macerated Berries"). I'm typically curious about them not only because it's unadulterated chocolate in two ways (cake and rich goo on the inside) but also because it can be tricky. I've seen some coming out like a biscuit after having been in there too long, while in others you have to dig for the chocolate cream in the middle.
This one looked like it had collapsed after popping it out of a tart tin. Not pretty. Tasty enough, but not even a contender against the Thomas Haas Chocolate Soufflé (available at The District), which has a similar lava cake style but holds up much more prettily and has a somewhat richer taste.

Overall, a wonderful dinner with excellent hospitality from very attentive staff (which was a very pleasant change from most of the restaurants I'd been to in the last little while) who were at ease with guests in warm way.
The above selections plus one glass of white wine came to a hair over $100 before tip, before Groupon, after tax.

Credit cards were accepted, but the machine was wired to the counter and we had to go inside. A portable one would have been less gauche, though I would still have preferred the old fashioned way of penning in the tip in private and signing the slip.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Blackened Halibut at the Wallflower Modern Diner

Wallflower Modern Diner on Urbanspoon

It was Car-Free Day on Sunday June 19th, with Veg Fest nestled in the middle of the Main Street location, around Main and East 19th.

My dining buddy and I went to check it out around mid-way at close to 4pm, and scored just one decent freebie from COBS Bread (Bakers Delight in Australia) -- a bun which they smeared with chocolate sauce and, if you liked, coated that chocolate with sprinkles.
There were also smaller bites of chewy bread from Quejos, which are interesting for being wheat-free, gluten-free, yeast-free, and non-dairy.

Afterwards, we idled about looking for something closer to dinner, and shared one chocolate-covered waffle and a small order of tayoyaki before getting serious about what to eat.
My dining buddy was off gluten and off potatoes, so while I was curious to finally try Re-Up, the bun would have been a regular one and in deference to her present dietary restrictions we opted for something else. That something being the Wallflower Modern Diner.

Food aside, it's a neat place because it has multiple menus -- for omnivores, gluten-free diners, vegetarians, and vegans. You're more or less guaranteed to find something without having to resort to salad, and there are several substitutes available to each type of item to cater to different restrictions.

Last time I was there, their chocolate cake was still super-yummy, and we checked to make sure they had at least one slice available for us before settling in to scan the gluten-free menu.

My friend had come once before and was impressed by the fire-blackened halibut (cajun halibut, peaches, vegetables, green salad), so I decided to give that a go, after having had their yummy hummus melt twice already.
She went for a gluten-free hummus melt (gluten-free english muffin, hummus, spinach,onion, mushroom, havarti), which was their regular hummus melt, but at +$1 to substitute the foccacia with a gluten-free english muffin.

My halibut looked blackened, alright. It's "cajun style blackened" is actually a specific way of preparing halibut, and while it looks burnt, the blackening actually enhances flavour. Which can't always be said about stuff that's blackened in the kitchen.
Other than that, my order was quite simple if you deconstruct it and realize most of the volume on the plate was token salad and veggies. The halibut was well-prepared, juicy on the inside and it hit the table quite quickly from the time we ordered it, and was still piping hot. The peaches (skin off) were a nice touch, and the bites of halibut went down well accompanied with a bite of peach at the same time.

The gluten-free hummus melt was, to me, quite a shocking disappointment compared to the vegan hummus melt I had before. It was two halves of an English Muffin piled so high with mushrooms you couldn't see the hummus beneath, and with a generous amount of cheese holding it all together on top.
The vegan hummus melt I had before had the creepy Daiya cheese, but the melted Havarti here ended up giving each bite a rather oily taste and texture. Still, the garlicky hummus dominated the flavour, and so it still turned out okay. I wonder if using jalapeno havarti might not have further enhanced things...

Portion-wise, I thought both came in on the lean side for the price point, but it's hard to quibble about it when your dinner tastes so good.

We opted for "à la mode" for the vegan chocolate cake, and so it came with two small scoops of vegan ice cream.
The vegan ice cream was milky white and creamy, but being vegan it of course had no actual dairy-based cream. Instead, it was made of soy, though you'd have to really be paying attention to catch the difference. The taste and texture was like a basic milk ice cream, though there was an aftertaste that gave it away, plus a slight graininess. For anyone missing "regular" ice cream because they turned vegan, this would have been a very nice treat.
The chocolate cake was as tasty as I remembered it.

$15 for the halibut, ($12 + $1) for the hummus melt, $6 for the chocolate cake, +$1 for the ice cream, +tax = $39.20 before tip. No wine.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Back to Bombay Beat

Bombay Beat Indian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Somehow I ended up back at Bombay Beat last Friday for another curry dinner. This time, on a first-time date (is that a good idea? -- taking a date to a curry dinner?).
It was my very first non-scammer Craigslist date, and during our correspondence over e-mail, she had mentioned two restaurants that she liked: Curry King Café and X-Site Grill and Bistro.
I initially suggested we try Curry King, but she rescheduled and we ended up at Bombay Beat, possibly because I had mentioned I found the food good and it had curious cold Indian appetizers.

I think my date was interested in the cold appetizers too, but was turned off by them when she found out the underlying crunchy pooris used were deep fried.
So, on to the mains!

My date ordered a Lamb Sabaz Curry, primarily because it was the only item on the menu that included "fresh vegetables". No fresh vegetables were in sight when her order came, although the broccoli was still crunchy inside the curry, suggesting that they might not have been cooked together.
It was mild, almost bland for me, but hot enough for her.

I went with a Lamb Vindaloo, which I had expected to be spicy-hot as vindaloos are supposedly famous for that trait. However, it too was rather mild (for my taste) and also somewhat like a Malaysian rendang. It was very tasty (though not quite as good as the goan fish curry I had before and remembered to ask for it spicy), but next time I'll have to remember that Indian restaurants take it easy on North American customers and default to "mild".

I also got an order of Paneer Naan, which was basically naan with the paneer (Indian cheese) grated inside, between the fold. This made the naan almost soggy, and in any case the paneer didn't have a strong enough flavour, so the whole thing was more of a novelty than really adding anything to the order of naan.

For dessert, we finally settled on ras malai, which came as two flattened cakes of paneer. The flavour of the pistachio wasn't particularly strong, but neither was the cardamon (which can be kind of yucky, like having too much star anise).
Overall, this was the least-sweet Indian dessert I've ever had, which was rather surprising as Indian desserts and sweets tend to be a shot of sugar rush. If you're not looking for super-sweet, then this dessert for two might be a good option.

Hockey season being over, the restaurant was quite buzzing that night. Service was uneven, but in part I think it was because the waitresses ended up all over the place, so it was nice that front desk staff and management came by when they were occupied to take and serve our orders. That said, we did sit outside of the main dining room, close to the windows looking out on Hastings -- far from the noisy buzz of a busy dining room, where we could talk privately.

$13.95 x 2 curries, $3.25 paneer naan, $5.25 ras malai, + tax = $40.77 before tip.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Fake meat pizzas at the Vegan Pizza House

Vegan Pizza House on Urbanspoon

The Vancouver Meatless Meetup organized yet another vegan dinner, this time at Vegan Pizza House.
It's a tiny place, as most pizza take-out places tend to be. The big draw here, of course, is that it's vegan. The menu doesn't read that way, however, as it talks about things like ham, chicken, crab, and tuna. But that's all the funny fake-meat stuff, which has come a long way and does look, feel, and taste quite like the real thing.

We had five types of pizza, one slice each, three of which were off the regular menu. There's nothing overly creative here -- pizza combos you can expect to get at any pizza place.

As pizzas go, it's hard to say exactly what the reason was, but the pizzas seemed sloppily put together. It may have been that the generous and wet toppings weighed down the basically thin-crust style, so it was a bit tricky to actually pick up a slice without using both hands. Not quite as soggy and slippery as Marcello's, but nowhere near the convenience you can find with regular crust at any other pizza joint.
Still, if the cause was too much topping, that's hardly a complaint.

The off-the-menu three pizzas were pretty decent as pizzas go, but somewhat blander than usual (possibly because there wasn't as strong a meat-sauce base to it), While non-vegans may find the somewhat-different-tasting fake meat and fake cheese odd, there's no big culture shock here if you wandered in by accident looking for just another pizza joint. For vegan fare, looking at it from a non-vegan's point of view, I'd say this is a good thing.
If you're an omnivore humouring a vegan or vegetarian friend, I recommend the Vegan Meat Lover pizza, but ask them to go easy on that Daiya cheese.

Price-wise, I had trouble with it.

If you compare it to, say, a bargain basement place like Canadian 2-for-1 Pizza, Vegan Pizza House comes out ahead because you don't need to buy two pizzas for a comparable price, and you can also get a pickup discount of up to $4 for a large pizza (it's at the bottom of the brochure, on the inside).

The problem is that all pizza places are now competing with under-$5 frozen pizzas from the supermarket you can take home and bake at your convenience. Sure, some of it are the awfully small Dr. Oetkers pizza (which aren't as frequently on sale at Superstore), but nowadays you can count on the whopping nearly-1-kilogram Delissio pizzas to be about $5 and you can pull it out of the fridge whenever you need it.

Still, there's yet to be a frozen vegan pizza, so if you're a committed vegan, then you're out of luck.

Friday, June 17, 2011

What's Not Said

If you've been reading this blog, you will recall that I've been taking a hard look at my mutual fund portfolio and ultimately decided to change companies and financial advisors.

I'd been thinking over how things unfolded since I sat down with my advisor to ask about where the money was after about 10 years with them. Even in that first meeting, I came away feeling very disturbed by the answers I got. The metrics that were presented to me, and that I was dissuaded from looking at, just didn't make sense.

Now that I have decided to switch advisors, there came the inevitable customer retention call. It focussed on the penalty of switching advisors -- a type of penalty I was encouraged to take when I first moved my portfolio over. She didn't really have to liquidate to change them all to their company funds, but she advised me to cut losses and get into a better portfolio.
Now that I'm cutting losses to switch to a better portfolio (again), she's pulled out the spectre of immediate losses.

In our earlier face-to-face meeting she did look at total returns after the 10 years and tried to tell me what I'd gained was good, and that the bottom line was "I made you money".

What seems to have been carefully omitted in all of this is an analysis of the return over time. She's said before that I would have to dredge up old statements and look up the returns year by year to account for monies invested each year.
Why can't -- or won't (?) -- she do that? I admit it's partly my fault that I didn't do it. But she could have gotten her assistant to pull the numbers. She's tried to say it's a complicated process, but it wasn't hard to do from my 2008-2010 quarterly statements.

Without the actual numbers to work with, I went with estimates, and the rate of return is probably less than 5% over the 10 years. That is, if you compounded the money invested (taking into account money that was put in over time) at 5% per year for 10 years, I'd end up with approximately the figure I have sitting in the portfolio now. Obviously the portfolio had lots of ups and downs, but it's a convenient measure of how well (or poorly, in this case) an investment is performing.

I read the projections for cashing out again, and if they're accurate, I could make it up in about a day in a good fund. The capital gains would be another thing. $8,000 in gains might end up being over $1,000 in tax.
In any case, if I don't cut losses now, I'll be stuck in a severely underperforming portfolio and with a manager I no longer trust to be looking after my best interest -- especially as she's insisting she's given me a good return while pulling out dubious benchmarks to prove it.
Some of the funds I'm in have not performed well for a long time now. She's said before that she was buying low and waiting for highs. That sounds like good advice, but after 10 years, obviously that strategy hasn't worked out so well.
My financial advisor insists that the company's funds are competitive with the wider mutual fund market. But if so... why is my rate of return less than 5%. Why can't we have an objective look at what the returns are year after year? It's awfully strange that the company can't pull out that data or reprint old reports.

She's provided great customer service, and has been friendly and generous with her time, but in the end, sad to say, it comes down to "show me the money".

People often advise never to do business with friends. Maybe there's something to be said about not becoming friends with the people you do business with?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Past Performance does not guarantee Future Performance

If you've been reading this blog, you will recall that I've been taking a hard look at my mutual fund portfolio -- wrangling with hard questions and looking at sobering results.

To cover their ass, financial advisors are always quick to say of mutual funds that "past performance does not guarantee future performance".
And indeed, with mutual funds, you can see a good track record in some years, only to dip later on (or vice versa). There can be various reasons for this, such as changing management styles or a change in the fund manager. Good ones are sometimes headhunted, leaving the fund in the care of someone else who may be less skilled.

But "past performance does not guarantee future performance" also applies to a lot of other things. Self-help guru Tony Robbins encourages us to remember that the past does not equal the future. Whether you've failed the last time or for the last ten years -- it doesn't have to continue. And it doesn't mean you will always fail.

This week, I finalized the painful decision to switch to another financial advisor. He'd done quite well for my parents and at ScotiaMcLeod, he can hold more investment products than just mutual funds (not that I absolutely need to hold stocks directly, but I want to keep the option open).

The cost to liquidate my non-RRSP holdings will be over $1800 in early-redemption penalties plus $8000 in capital gains which may translate to over $1000 in taxes. My existing financial advisor is hovering that over my head -- "I'll have to make that up" if I switch.
When I first had to move my portfolio to my current advisor, it had a mix of funds from the previous advisor. I was asked to liquidate those to "cut losses" and go into better funds. Now that I'm liquidating the funds I have to buy better funds, I'm advised to hold on to the underperforming portfolio. Hmm...

In the past, I'd made some less-than-stellar investments under different advice.
  • My previous financial advisor sold me a cranberry farm limited partnership with Opus Cranberries (quite recently liquidated since the land was bought out from under them) which ultimately didn't perform according to projections. Business never goes exactly according to plan, so the real question there was whether I was a suitable investor for the type of investment.
  • I let myself be talked into a recreational property quarter share at Delta Residences as an investment (which you should never do, because the money is really in savings as a recreational property you intend to use). Recreational property doesn't move on the market like regular property, so I'm basically forced to wait for Sun Peaks to develop and the investment to finally see a good return.
  • At the height of the carbon sink craze, I also sank money into a reforestation company, Treebanking LLC. That's basically gone forever. The irony here is that at some point the principals offered my money back when they had to change their business model to adapt to the changing world. I declined based on their confidence and because the business was still doing good for the environment. Now they're in Indonesia with GreenlineCare and I've lost contact with them.

After all that, it's not surprising that my advisor is pointing to my current decision to move as yet another mistake. It would be a more credible threat if my portfolio had given a good return over the ~10 years, but it hasn't.

The second quarter statements are almost here, not being mid-June.
I'll have to keep them very carefully, and monitor my new manager very carefully too.
Right now it feels like going anywhere else can make me better returns. Hopefully I've picked a competent advisor. Not necessarily more competent than my current one, but not restricted in what funds and products he can put me in -- That, I think, was the main problem.

I wish I could have more of a sense of certainty -- of "knowing" -- rather than just "believing".

Canucks lose to Bruins - Stanley Cup 2011

Luckily Canada won gold in the 2010 Olympics Men's Hockey. Otherwise there wouldn't have been anything left of Vancouver.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

How is My Portfolio Doing? - Part 2

You may remember that I recently saw my financial adviser about my mutual fund portfolio and came out feeling very disturbed by the answers, or rather, the non-answers, I got.

Over the short-term, it's better not to panic over sudden dips and sell -- such as the 2008 NINJA loans crisis and subsequent market meltdown. If your adviser knows what they're doing, and the underlying funds they've put you in are good ones, a crash like that is actually a great time to buy low and really get extraordinary gains when the market recovers.
My own portfolio weathered this -- -41% in 2008, +56% in 2009, +12% in 2010. The money came back, obviously... but it wasn't good enough.
And using a mix of market indexes to mirror my portfolio market exposure and thereby determine a benchmark, 12% in 2010 was only average.

As mentioned in the previous post, I struggled to articulate why I felt my overall portfolio over the last 10 years had done very poorly. After a lot of reflection and looking for benchmarks and, I think I've come to some concrete numbers showing just what was wrong and why I was right to be concerned over the last few years.

First of all, I hadn't kept statements. Big mistake.
When I first moved over to Investors Group, the initial returns were good. There was the whole 9/11 market reaction, but we pulled through. I gave my financial adviser a free hand in adjusting my portfolio.

She seemed confident and competent, and seemed willing to take the time to sit down with me and look through my financial situation as a whole, not just mutual funds. That part never changed -- the customer service part was always good.
So I stopped looking at the portfolio very closely, assuming that I was with a competent adviser who was getting me great returns. Another Big Mistake.

You can get great gains and your financial adviser might have a good strategy of buying promising funds when they are low, but just one market crash can wipe it all out. For example, my 2008-2010 performance was a net +10%, or approximately +3.25% compounded annually for 3 years. That's not good enough. If I had kept it in bonds, it would have done just as well, if not better.

But, you say, my portfolio is obviously a higher-risk one, and those are the risks.


I used to think that, and at various times financial advisers have used that to scare me. If they are saying that to you, BE WARY.
High Risk is NOT the same as the possibility of losing your money. Poor portfolio management means your risk hasn't been managed well. You still haven't lost all the potential in your money, but you could be stuck in a poorly performing fund and your money is simply not growing -- or worse, eroding slowly.

What High Risk really means is high VOLATILITY. You must be willing to ride out the market roller coaster. Some people can't sleep well at night from that, but this has nothing to do with losing money.

As mentioned before, when the market drops, it is a good time to buy low and be position for the highs when they come. It is the job of the mutual fund managers to rise to the challenge and seize that opportunity. It is the job of your financial adviser to find good mutual funds, the ones that are managed well. It is your job to stick with the tolerance for volatility you have stated and not panic so that your financial adviser can do their job.

Going back to my 2008-2010 performance (basically +3% after 3 years) -- for that period is simply not good enough. Even hiding my money in a GIC in the bank would have done more each year.

So why didn't my financial adviser put me in something else? Well, Investors Group has their own family of funds, and they've been under-performing. At some time, they were good. Now, they're not so good. But the Investors Group are still peddling them and if, like me, you stopped looking, your money is stagnant without you even knowing.
The classic response from your adviser would probably be about how selling the fund suddenly would trigger the deferred sales charge, or you would be selling low and realizing losses. But -- why are you in a badly performing fund in the first place?

Which brought me to a different way of evaluating my portfolio. As I mentioned, I didn't have statements from prior to 2008, when I started keeping them to see how I'd weather the scary market crash that lost me 40% of my portfolio.
We're through the crash now, AND my portfolio has been with the Investors Group for about 10 years. Market crash or not, 10 years is more than enough time to decide how your portfolio is doing.

Right now, (portfolio value - money in) = ~47,000. Let's round it up to about 50,000 and pretend my financial adviser made me 50,000. And obviously not all the money went in at the same time, but spread out over the years after an initial lump sum.
To make about 50,000 over 10 years from a lump sum of 50,000 ten years ago would require an annualized return of +7%. That's basically 50,000 compounded every year at 7%. You would end up with 98,357.57.

I started with much more than 50,000. And over the years, I put in enough that the current book value is over 170,000. And 7% annually? -- You can get that from a balanced fund with much less volatility that what I was prepared to take (for the last few years have sat at 95% equity).

So where did all my money go? Where were my returns? And this, after accepting Very High Risk (willing to tolerate very high volatility). To go even higher risk, my adviser suggested there were still some sectors like gold or resources that she could put me in, but that came with a warning -- That I might see a drop for several years, that it might never recover.
Obviously a pretty good scare, and yes, I was scared. But not anymore. I now know that is probably because she has her hands tied with a very limited family of funds, but she didn't want to say it.

I probably didn't do more than what would work out to be 3%-5% annually for 10 years, and likely it was because of a couple of crashes where we came out just breaking even -- thus losing any gains for 2-3 years.
For example in 2008 I lost 41%, in 2009 I gained 56%. If you do the numbers for the two years, I'm still at -8% after 2 years. We did 12% in 2010, but that only puts me at +3% after 3 years. 12% sounds great. 56% sounds really great and certainly looks bigger than 41%. But this isn't addition -- this is multiplication:

(1.00 - 0.41) * (1.56) * (1.12) = 1.03.

I'm grateful for my financial adviser's time and patience and friendship. But 10 years is a lot of lost time to have my portfolio stuck in a rut of poor returns. More than that, it's 10 years more I have to wait to get closer to my financial goals and what that means for my lifestyle, security, and dreams.

You can always make more money. But you can't make more time.

Greek Day at NU

Just got this from NU and the Kambolis Group in my e-mail inbox today...

The Greek Easter feast at my mother Georgia's house has been a yearly tradition for my family. With Nu’s rebranding as a Greek restaurant, we decided to open things up a bit. This year, the event has been pushed to late June, to coincide with Vancouver’s 21st Greek Day on Broadway, and everyone’s invited.

From 4pm onwards on Saturday, June 25th, Nu will serve lamb roasted on a spit and a generous buffet of Greek dishes: spanakopitas, charred octopus, dolmades, keftedes, kota, baked pastitso, and calamari. The afternoon and evening of feasting is only $25.00.

For the first time, we’ve partnered with the Hellenic Canadian Congress of B.C. We’re pleased to host a party that promotes the sights, sounds and tastes of Greece in the lead-up to their big day on Broadway. There’s a lot of simpatico this year

(At the family-oriented street festival on Sunday, June 26th, my mom and I will be doing cooking demonstrations for the crowds at the Greek Culinary Tent at 3050 West Broadway at 2:45pm and 4pm.)

We hope to see you at Greek Day at Nu. Please call 604-646-4668 to reserve your spot.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Hot and Cold at Bombay Beat

Bombay Beat Indian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

While treating my friend at Maurya Indian Cuisine, she mentioned being very impressed with Bombay Bhel in Burnaby, and that's where we went the week after.

On the way in, I noticed a notice that Bombay Bhel gift certificates were no longer being honoured. Which I thought odd, until I saw that we had walked into Bombay Beat (4266 East Hastings Street). Apparently the restaurant had changed management about three months ago. Everything looked the same, ran the same, and it had the same menu -- just a name change.

At around 5.30pm Saturday, it was surprisingly dead quiet that day. In fact, the entire neighbourhood was, except for a couple of pubs. It was hockey night and the hometown Canucks were on game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals, playing the Boston Bruins.

We ordered a cold appetizer platter to start, and I had the Goan curry with basa fillets.

The cold appetizer platter was very large, and a meal unto itself if you had it alone. There were basically two parts to it: A heaping mound of puffed rice (bhel poori, "a scrumptious mélange of puffed rice, peanuts, fine crispy
noodles, potatoes and onions mixed together in our tamarind sauce
and garnished with fresh coriander
") and some crispy rounds filled with creamy sauce (dahl poori, "hollow crispy shells filled with chick peas, potatoes, and our special blend of spices, all topped with yogurt and our tamarind
I'd never had a cold Indian appetizer before, and it was delicious and very different! I highly recommend you look for it next time you're in an Indian restaurant.

When the server took my order for the Goan curry, she said the "normal" way of making it was "mild" -- apparently Goan cuisine is typically not very spicy, though there definitely is a delicious mix of spice and coconut in it. Wary of too much bitter spiciness after my last experience at Maurya Indian Cuisine, I asked for "medium".
The very red curry had large cubes of fish that was a bit on the rubbery chewy side, but too much. The curry sauce/soup was thick with ingredients, predominantly what appeared to be fine shavings of coconut; and quite sweet, much more so than hot/spicy. I picked naan over rice for the side, and the one round of naan bread wasn't quite enough for all the curry, though together it already made for a filling meal, especially after we had shared the large cold appetizer sampler plate.

For dessert, my friend and I shared a chai crème brûlée. The flavour of the chai in the custard below the caramel top was subtle, which my friend liked but which didn't pique my interest so much.

The in-restaurant menu has many items that didn't make it into the online menu, so if you are browsing online first and looking for your favourite dishes, you may want to give the restaurant a call if you don't immediately find something you're keen on.

No Corn Smut at Doña Cata Mexican Foods

Doña Cata Mexican Food on Urbanspoon
Still having a run of bad luck with restaurants and big parties...
This time it's at Doña Cata Mexican Foods, where Earthsave / The Vancouver Meatless Meetup had arranged a vegan "authentic Mexican dinner".

The restaurant normally closes at 5pm on Sundays, so they were open especially for us after hours at 7pm. Our group of 30 would have taken over the whole place anyway as the left side of the restaurant is mostly the counter and some cooking space, and the right side is the seating.

The $20.50 fixed menu ($2 going to Earthsave) was:
  • guacamole platter with tortilla chips
  • cactus taco (medium size taco with with beans, cactus, cilantro and onion), refried beans, mexican style rice
  • half of huitlacoche (corn smut) quesadilla
  • half of zucchini squash flower quesadilla

The guacamole was very bland for my tastes, quite a few people promptly went for the assorted condiments at the counter which were mostly an assortment of salsas.

Next came a plate with rice, refried beans, and a taco with green strips of cactus. Refried beans are refried beans, and nothing to write home about. The cactus tasted like pickles because they were pickled, though not so sweet or tart as regular pickles. They also had a somewhat slimy feel, so if you don't like slimy feeling foods or don't care for pickles, give cactus a pass.

Following the rice/taco plate was a bowl of what looked like some sort of corn and tomato stew, with chopped up white bits -- squash? Zucchini? Definitely neither huitlacoche (corn smut) nor a quesadilla. It was announced at this time that there was, and would not be, any corn smut.
This was extremely disappointing to me because it was the main attraction for this dinner. The restaurant owner explained that the delivery hadn't made it on time, and that she'd actually have to drive down tomorrow to pick it up from across the border.
Honestly, I didn't buy this explanation. Who delivers on a Sunday anyway? And the dinner was posted on May 24th, 2011, so it would have had to be negotiated with the restaurant before then. Surely they could either have arranged for corn smut, or told us of the possibility that it wouldn't be available on time. It's not as if all 30 of us had descended on the restaurant and suddenly decided to order something with corn smut. And who delivers on a Sunday, anyway?
This echoed of the sharply limited menu at Barin Russian even though they knew how many to expect in our party -- if a restaurant can't cater to large groups properly, they really should say so up front.

Anyway, one last thing left on the menu -- the squash flowers. Yes, "flowers", not "flour". We were served a half quesadilla each, with a mixture inside that looked like boiled chopped-up zucchini and chopped up tomatoes. No sign of anything flowery, but we were assured that the squash flowers were chopped up in there.
Okaaay... In any case, it was another bland item.

It'd be pretty sad for Mexicans if this meal were truly indicative of how Mexicans ate at home. Not having meat is one thing -- not having taste is another.

Overall, bland flavours made for boring food, and combined with empty promises, this made for a profoundly disappointing $20.50 spent.

Doña Cata Mexican Foods does feature a vegetarian menu which might be tastier because real cheese would be allowed (real cheese isn't on the vegan diet because dairy = veal = evil).
After tonight's showing on the vegan menu -- a menu recommended by the restaurant, apparently -- I'd go somewhere else to dine out vegan.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Is it a con or not?

I think it's fairly safe to say that at some point or other, everyone has been approached by a person in need on the street.

Common cons include needing money to pay the parking lot attendant and thereby get their car out. Or emergency money for gas because they've been robbed or are stuck out of town. Or they've been locked out of their office and need to rush to the hospital by cab to see their wife in labour.

The list goes on. I think I'm hit by these more often because I have some sort of "look" which says I'm a sucker for a sad story. It never fails -- the (supposedly) needy person will pass by several people but for whatever reason single me out.

Anyway, it happened again last night, on my way to the skytrain at Metrotown. This sort-of-elderly woman comes up and explains that she's been mugged today and lost all her money and cards. She even pulled out her purse to show me how empty it was. Tonight, she needed to go to the 24-hour Shoppers Drug Mart to get a prescription (she showed me a prescription in her bag). Could I help her?

I felt really conflicted. Some part of me thought the story was genuine, but another part couldn't trust myself any more, after all the cons in the past. Also, I was fairly sure that the Shoppers Drug Mart, even if it were 24 hours, wouldn't have the pharmacy open at this time. But I hadn't been there recently and didn't know for sure.
When I brought that up, the woman gave it up and said nevermind, and walked off.

I suppose she could have been telling the truth. And even if the pharmacy weren't open, she might have simply been mistaken on that point.

It's a sad case of too many bad apples spoiling the barrel.
And maybe there are just a couple of good apples left in the barrel, but no one's going to dig through the bad ones to get them out.