Monday, March 28, 2011

Amazing Spicy Peanut Chicken

My roommate in Saskatoon sent me a link to this recipe and I made it last night:

1 diced onion
1Lb chicken (cubed)
4 cloves garlic
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 Tbsp lemon juice
3 Tbsp Soy sauce
2 Tbsp Brown Sugar
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup water
1 Tbsp fish sauce (optional)
3-5 cups fresh spinach 
Sautee onion in oil unbtil slightly brown. Add chicken and garlic and cook until almost done. Add soy sauce and lemon juice and chili and sugar. Cook for a little bit. Add PB and water and stir until thickened. Fold in spinach leaves until whilted. serve over rice or by itself.
SIMPLY AMAZING. I added a bit of cayenne pepper for extra kick. The recipe is quite similar to an already-awesome dish my mom makes (Mongolian Beef) and I can't say that one is better than the other, but they are both knock-out dishes. Here's the spicy peanut chicken:

I made a pizza for supper tonight - pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, and feta cheese. Mmmmm:

Confession, the pizza crust came in packs of two, so I really made two pizzas which I will be eating for the next several days.


I am looking forward to making the trip back to Saskatoon this weekend! I bought myself a small carry-on bag for $50, I figure it's a good investment considering I will be making lots of these weekend trips. On my first trip home I thought I was smart by packing everything in one of those reusable grocery bags, but I just felt like a hobo and it was annoying that it didn't close (and spilled underwear and socks everywhere when it tips over!).

Less than four weeks until the Rush concert and less than eight weeks until Iceland!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Electoral Maps & Other Fun Data

I love data (see: here) and when the government starts churning out really cool datasets I think that is even cooler.

Yesterday Jim Flaherty released the Canadian budget in the House of Commons and the opposition parties rejected it. The Liberals will be tabling a non-confidence motion on Friday and basically what this means is that we're probably having an election in May. This may be underwhelming for most people but it's exciting for people who love The Current on CBC Radio (like me).

Inspired by all of this election talk, I poked around and found some interesting government and non-government pages:

1. OpenParliament (

OpenParliament is the product of one guy being frustrated at the fact that the Government of Canada doesn't publish House of Commons data in a format easily readable by humans. So this one guy programmed a site that parses all of that raw data and makes it easily searchable and indexable. Kudos to that guy! They have statistics and history for every bill, motion, MP, etc:

Brad's favourite word is "legislation" - boring! It should be "zounds!" or "ass-hattedly"

A great site that is worth exploring! I have subscribed to RSS feeds of my MP's recent activities so I can send him angry emails when he does something dumb, like vote against a bill that would prevent children in developing countries from dying.

I think people could learn a lot about their MPs simply by looking them up on OpenParliament, and checking to see if their MP's votes line up with their personal beliefs. I know I did.

2. Elections Canada (

I also like love MAPS and the folks at Elections Canada have some pretty maps of electoral districts on their website (click "Maps Corner"). Most are available in PDF format so you can zoom in and check out what's relevant to you. Here's conservative Saskatchewan in blue:

That one district in Regina just can't get enough of Liberal MP Ralph Goodale.

3. (

No pretty pictures here. The Government of Canada is slowly warming up to the idea of sharing data so that people can play with it (for instance, writing useful apps), and Canada's effort feels quite new.

Many municipal and federal governments already do this, like New York City, San Francisco, Vancouver, the United States, the United Kingdom, etc. Unfortunately Canada's page is boring and ugly - like every other Government of Canada page - and it really sucks the inspiration out of developers looking to make cool data-based apps.

Here's a lot more useful open data resources:


I just created a "politics" tag for this blog, I hope that's not a bad move. With a looming election I think I am interested in exploring some issues based on my interests - communication, technology, privacy, etc. We'll see what happens!

Monday, March 21, 2011

French Classes

I started French classes today, offered through my work. This introductory course is three hours per week for ten weeks. I was very nervous about the course - I completely lacked confidence in my language skills.

However, my ego got a small boost today when I met my two classmates: a man from Australia with no French background and a woman from China who has completed one beginner course. Even though I had convinced myself that my elementary (and grade 9-10) French education was poor, all of a sudden I was top of my class, at least in terms of knowing nouns and verbs. All due respect to my classmates!

Our instructor is a really great young woman, she seems like she's been doing this job long enough to be good at it. After the first 15 minutes she told us that she was switching to 100% French instruction for the remainder of the course.

Funniest moment: our instructor was trying to explain common greetings and responses to my Australian colleague, for instance, "Comment ça va?" "ça va bien" etc, but she was not giving any clues in English. When the tenth "comment ça va" finally clicked, he responded, "je vais tres mal" (very bad) and everyone burst out laughing.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

GREAT Customer Service from Air Canada!

Believe it or not! Read on to find out...

On my first visit back to Saskatoon from Montreal, Air Canada let a connecting flight in Toronto leave without me. Some details here. Every flight from Toronto to Saskatoon was full and it was looking like I would be spending the night, so when I heard a boarding call to Regina I ran to the gate and got on that plane with seconds to spare. Robyn picked me up from Regina - how nice!

The catch: because I didn't talk to Customer Service in the Toronto airport, I was told I wouldn't receive any compensation for the inconvenience (that gate agent who got me to Regina was great, though - she was just telling it like she saw it).

I wrote Air Canada's Customer Relations department a letter where I explained the timing of the whole situation, provided my confirmation numbers, and requested compensation. The last two paragraphs looked like this:

To summarize, my desire to get home and spend time with family and friends caused me to miss being compensated by Customer Service for the missed connection, and caused my (patient, loving) girlfriend to incur a 500km round-trip to pick me up in her vehicle. I am requesting a $200 travel voucher from Air Canada to fix this inconvenience.  
Considering I avoided a night in a hotel at Air Canada’s expense, and considering the costs of gas and mileage on my girlfriend’s vehicle, I believe this figure is fair. If that’s not enough, this show of good faith from Customer Relations would guarantee Air Canada gets my business over WestJet for the next year’s worth of Montreal-to-Saskatoon round trips (13 in all, or about $8,450 with today’s prices), and guarantee a positive recommendation to friends, family, and colleagues. 
Without prejudice,
Brahm Neufeld
Well lo and behold! I got an email today that read:

Dear Mr. Neufeld,
Thank you for taking the time to contact our office. 
I sincerely regret to learn of the difficulties you experienced while travelling to Saskatoon on February 25, 2011 and on behalf of Air Canada, offer our most sincere apologies. 
As a gesture of goodwill and in recognition of your valued support, I have taken the liberty of issuing a future travel credit in the amount of $200.00 CAD.  
.... {details of the travel credit} 
We look forward to serving you again under less extenuating circumstances. It will be our privilege to welcome you on board. 
Customer Relations

So there you have it - an excellent resolution!

Truthfully, I didn't know whether my letter would have any effect - I've never asked for anything like this. But Air Canada came through, surprised me with a very clear apology and exactly the compensation I asked for.

And I'll hold up my end of the bargain - I'll be flying Air Canada the rest of the year, wherever possible. Errr... except the two trips I already have booked on WestJet.

Canada Research Lab Makes Android FM Radio

Here's something neat - Canada's Communications Research Centre wrote an Android app (and a software library) that wakes up the FM radio tuner in Samsung Galaxy S phones where the functionality has been disabled or not implemented in the first place.

The Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant that I bought through SaskTel does have a built-in FM tuner and an app to listen to FM radio, but that app crashes randomly every 30 minutes or so, which is annoying.

Why FM radio instead of streaming internet radio on a smartphone? FM radio is great for tuning in immediately to local programming, instead of waiting for a feed to buffer. Also, in some settings - like my cubicle at work - users can't get a solid data connection for streaming radio.

So far FM TwoO seems to be a solid application in terms of functionality. In fact, it does more than the built-in app:

It's user interface has room for improvement, but I think it's just a concept app. Hopefully someone takes the software library that the CRC wrote and makes something beautiful.

Soured through:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


One cool thing about Twitter is that you're one "submit" button press away from connecting with a company or a celebrity!

Today I sent a message to the host of CBC Radio's Q, Jian Ghomeshi, and received a near-immediate response:

How cool is that?! It's like a digital autograph.

One funny thing about Twitter is that, because every tweet is more or less public, companies can search for mentions of themselves and immediately send responses.

When a contact asked where she could grab a specific computer accessory, I recommended two local Saskatoon shops and London Drugs. I have a running theory that London Drugs always, always, always has what I want, sometimes even before I know I want it. One Christmas, Robyn and I checked 7 stores for Candy Cane Lane Tea, and we were about to give up, but I knew we'd find it because we hadn't checked London Drugs yet. We bought a dozen boxes.

Anyway, when I tweeted that London Drugs always has what I want, they responded, "we try!"

It's a cool feeling to directly connect with a company, too!

Finally, in 2009 I posted about my excitement for an upcoming Sloan concert, and the band retweeted (think: re-posted) my comments in their feed to all of their fans:


More posts coming this week! Robyn came for a visit this past weekend and we have some neat pictures. And next Sunday I think I am going to check out Montreal's St. Patrick's Day Parade, which has been around for over 150 years!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Red Pepper Soup, Office Emails

I am immature, but I resisted replying to this email today:

Have you lost something near the toilet on the 10th floor?

If yes, please contact {name} ext-{number} and made a brief description to retrieve it.


Robyn is coming to visit this week! That is pretty exciting. Because I am nice I am making a fancy supper the night she arrives and I thought I would make the soup in advance.

I've had a lucky streak with Google and recipes (see Sub Buns and Pizza Casserole) so when I Googled "red pepper soup" I went with the first result: this recipe.

I followed the recipe exactly, except I roasted the red peppers in my oven and added the tiniest bit of cayenne pepper after blending to give it an extra spice/kick. The above pic is the exact yield with 4 big red peppers, so one batch makes a fair amount!

IT'S SO EASY AND DELICIOUS!! 5 stars all around!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Pizza & Pop

On Wednesday, my cousin and her family came over to my apartment for pizza! I made three kinds, and only snapped a "before" shot:
On the left: gorgonzola blue cheese, onions, and olives - a great recipe that my mom is famous among her friends for! In the middle: pesto, red pepper, artichoke hearts, shrimp, and cheese - a great recipe that my dad is famous for! And on the right, classic cheese for the kids.

A woman at my office brought me a cool treat today:
Cherry Coke and Cherry Dr Pepper, both unavailable in Canada (last I checked). She heads down to Plattsburgh, New York - an hour and a bit south of Montreal - every few months to stock up on cheap treats and goods that aren't available in this bustling French Metropolis. Woo-hoo, thanks!

Ah, and my embarrassing moment of the week. On Thursday I had an appointment to assess my French language skills to determine my placement in a course in a few weeks. I admitted my French was somewhere between non-existent and terrible, then this happened:
Assessment Guy: "I want you to look at this picture and tell me the names of things in French"
Brahm: "(gulp) okay.... (long pause).... un chien"
AG: "Oui, un chien; a dog"
B: "...... ummm..... (there were like - 100 things on the picture and I was blanking)..... ummmmm.... un homme"
AG: "Yes, un homme, duex hommes..." (he wanted me to say "lawyer" but that's out of my league)
B: "ummmmm................ un baguette"
AG: "No, that is a croissant. The word is the same in English, you know"
B: (facepalm)
AG: "Okay, I think I know enough to assess you."
Beginner French, here I come!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Snow Lions in Saskatoon

On Friday I took off for Saskatoon for the weekend. Air Canada managed to delay my flight out of Montreal, which caused my connecting flight in Toronto to leave without me - hooray!

Everything flying to Saskatoon was full, but luckily I managed to hop on a plane to Regina mere minutes before it took off - after sprinting to the gate an amazing agent got me on the flight. Robyn, being awesome, drove to Regina and picked me up.

On Saturday Robyn and I visited the Forestry Farm Park & Zoo, which is awesome in winter! It's open to the public - 100% free of charge - in the winter months. It's only slightly creepy walking around in an empty zoo (we were the only people at noon on a Saturday) but the awesomeness of the animals makes up for it. Since it's winter, they're moving around to stay warm, and because the zoo is otherwise empty, animals are curious about anyone who is there.

The most amazing was how interested the lions were in us:

As long as we were standing there, the male paced back and forth in front of the viewing glass, growling (purring?). The female joined him for a while, but we were too boring to keep her interested.

And yes, we were slightly surprised to see lions hanging out in -25*C weather!

After a weekend packed with family and friends and familiar routines, it's a bit strange to return to Montreal. But this should be a fun week, tomorrow I'm hosting my cousin and her family for a bunch of delicious pizzas, and on Thursday I have an "interview" to determine my competency in French which will determine my placement in a beginner's class. Fun!