Frugal Friday with Erika Shea: DIY Sushi

A few weeks ago we set out to make sushi at home for the very first time. We learned two very important lessons: (1) it is easier than you might think; and (2) it is cheaper than you might think.

We’ve always loved going out for sushi and were over the moon when Oka Maki opened up on Charlotte Street in Sydney. Their sushi is some of the best but at $60-$65 for two people (pretty standard unless you’re lucky enough to enjoy your sushi in BC) it’s not something we do all that often.

After a few YouTube videos and a trip to Sobeys on Prince Street we were ready to go! With the exception of the Nori you can probably get most of these things at most grocery stores. Here’s what we bought, what it cost and how much of each we actually used:



Amount Used

Per Meal For Two Cost

Miso Soup


2 of 3 packages




6 of 10 sheets


Bamboo Roller:


One (can be used and reused and reused)


Sticky Rice


½ of bag




¾ of cucumber



1.29 each




12.00 (two packages)

¼ of 2 packages (we ate the rest in a pasta the next night, but will buy way less the next time)


Crab flavoured Pollock:

This comes in strips and chunks – we used the chunks the first time and strips the second time. Go with the strips if you can. They’re easier to cut and roll up much neater.


2/3 of package (the other 1/3 is good to eat the next day in a sandwich or just on its own as a snack)




1/100 of the bottle (this sauce comes in a HUGE bottle relative to what you need. But if you like hot sauce it doesn’t get much better than this stuff)


Soya Sauce, Mayo and Sesame Oil

Already had

Mayo: four tablespoons

Sesame Oil: one teaspoon (we already had this. The recipe called for smoked sesame oil which we couldn’t find but the regular version seemed to work just fine)





What we made:

  • California Rolls: four rolls cut into 6-8 pieces each (nori, rice, cucumber, avocado, crab flavoured pollock)
  • Dynamite Rolls: two rolls cut into 6-8 pieces each (nori, rice, cucumber, avocado, salmon)
  • Salmon Nigiri: about 6 pieces (salmon and rice)
  • Miso Soup: two bowls
  • Dynamite Sauce (1/2 cup mayonnaise, 2 tbsp Siracha, ¼ teaspoon sesame oil)

What we learned:

First we cooked the rice. The instructions suggested seventeen minutes to cook and then three minutes to let stand. We learned the hard way to be patient and give it at least another fifteen to twenty minutes to cool. Scalding hot rice isn’t easy on the fingers. While the rice cooked and cooled we cut up everything else.

Cut up ingredients waiting to be rolled!

Altogether, it took us almost an hour (cook and cool rice, cut ingredients, assemble) to make. This isn’t a treat to whip up last minute or if you’re already feeling faint from hunger. But it’s worth it, I promise you.

We learned that nori is sticky and delicate. To keep the rice and/or nori from sticking to your bamboo roller, wrap the roller in siran wrap. To keep the nori from sticking to your fingers, dip your fingers in a little bit of mayonnaise.

A roll waiting to be cut into pieces.

Our biggest lesson the first time around was buy less salmon. Way less. Unless you’re going to make a lot of nigiri (fresh fish on little mounds of sticky rice) you’ll actually use very little salmon.

We learned that this is a lot of salmon.

We also learned that everything we made was still good the next day. This is what we were hoping for since we wanted to take some for lunch. It wasn’t so good, however, the day after that.

Part of the fun of going out for sushi is the variety. This is something that, without a much bigger investment of time and money, is trickier to replicate at home. Still, compared to a $60 bill (dinner for two with taxes and tip) we saved more than $35 (based on what we used and our lesson learned about less salmon), making this something we can enjoy once every few weeks instead of once every few months. I’ll raise a glass of saki to that!

For recipes and techniques pay a quick visit to You Tube and you will find all you need.

Erika lives in the historic Northend of Sydney with her handsome partner Rob and beautiful, but increasingly mischievous toddler, Frances. When she dreams about having free time, it is filled with sailing, knitting and gardening. Since it is a dream and in no way tied to her actual track record, the garden is thriving.

You can read the first Frugal Friday column here!

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My first speaking engagement

The registration deadline is coming up for a great event happening in Sydney next weekend!

The event: The Youth Social Enterprise Boot Camp. Cost: free!

Cape Breton University, in partnership with ACCSE and other local partners are challenging 50 young Cape Bretoners to begin creating real entrepreneurial solutions to the social, environmental or economic issues that they care deeply about – solutions that they will actually implement in their communities. ACCSE facilitators will lead an intensive workshop at the CBU campus on March 30 – April 1, 2012, which will:

  • Expose students to other young social entrepreneurs from across the province, region and country;
  • Engage them in identifying the issues that they would like to see addressed;
  • Lead them through a process to identify a range of entrepreneurial solutions to their chosen issue, and select one that presents the most promise;
  • Help them to build an initial business case for their chosen social enterprise;
  • Provide them with the opportunity to present their social enterprise to and get valuable feedback from a panel of experts;
  • Connect them to the range of resource people, agencies and programs available to develop and implement their social enterprise; and
  • Challenge them to take steps after the boot camp to actually move forward with their enterprise.

For more information, and to register (by March 26th!), click here.

Also, I am so honored to be one of Friday night’s three keynote speakers. I’ll be talking about my blog and the excitement and joy I see here in Cape Breton, and the possibilities for us to determine our own future. Tim Damon, who is organizing the event, is super great and quick to respond, so if you have any questions, I encourage you to give him a call or send him an email (563.1434 or you can e-mail

I’m really excited for next weekend. I hope to see you there!

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Oh glorious Water!

Today is another beautiful, warm and sunny day in Baddeck Bay, and I suspect it is also gorgeous around most of the island. I woke up a little late to my mum going “Get up! It’s so nice out! You’re going to be sorry you missed it!” Grumbling to myself, since it’s not often I get to sleep in, I rolled out of bed and outside. And, agreed with her. (That doesn’t happen often either! Not because she’s not right. Because I’m her daughter and that’s sort of my job, right?)

I know that at some point today, I’ll be taking a walk. And when I get back from my walk, I’ll want to drink some water. A cool glass of delicious, clear water after a walk outside is one of life’s underrated pleasures. So, I set my glass of water on the deck bench to snap some shots to show just how simply gorgeous a glass of water can be. Then, when I came back inside to write this post, I read on the ACAP Cape Breton Facebook page that today is UN World Water Day! I love coincidences like that.

Then I went looking at the flower beds. I love seeing the new plants start poking up, and how they poke right through the old, dead leaves. There is so much energy there, they just burst right through the decaying leaf matter. It’s time! (they’re saying) Let’s get GOING!

And of course, the mung bean sprouts by the sink are not be to left out of all this bursting, growing, springtime fun.

Today I’m thinking about urgency. And panic. And how I can get all bent out of shape, all stressed and panicked, thinking about all that needs to change about our current systems of food production, transportation, and making things. Our news media and we as people are hooked on panic, hooked on “freaking out”.

But panic just gets me all balled up, emotionally. What actually gets work done is when I take a big task in small pieces. One bit at a time. When I take the time to slow down, to take a walk, to appreciate new plants and glasses of water. To look up at the sky and around me at the trees and to hear the birds singing and swooping. To practice letting go of that stuff I can’t do a darn thing about. To look forward to a weekend with my boyfriend, who is quite strict about work versus rest, and for whom rest is pretty much sacred. We need it. We need it like water.

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The brown bag is from Value Village and cost 5$. The wallet is from Leather Works (on the Cabot Trail) and was around 40$, I think. The little notebook was a gift from my friend Laura. That isn't, incidentally, the Dream Big notebook. It's more my "fits in my purse and takes random notes" book.

Today I am…

– Planning and dreaming (writing in my Dream Big notebook, reading tips and thoughts by Elsie at A Beautiful Mess, writing a bio for myself for the program for an upcoming workshop I’m speaking at, writing some more in my Dream Big notebook)

– Enjoying this early spring weather we’re being blessed with. Honestly, and I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but if it’s global warming that’s causing this balmy weather that makes me so happy, right now, I’m OK with that.

– Drinking tea out of this red cup, which used to belong to my neighbour, Jimmy MacKillop. He died a few years ago, when he was 96, and his family asked us if we wanted to take a keepsake each from his home.

The cats are all frisky with the spring weather!

– Starting a painting project. (Basement stairs!)

– Trying to set limits and come to terms with the fact that I cannot do it all. It seems like I learn this lesson at least once a week. Sigh.

– Stopping work at 6:30 on the nose to enjoy home-made lasagna from a friend, with my mother. Dream Big, see you again tomorrow!

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Q+A with Daniel Harris

Daniel Harris likes books.

Q+A is a new feature on Dream Big Cape Breton. These are interviews done over the Internet, via email or Facebook. I send someone 10 questions, they write back their responses! It’s quicker and saves time and fuel. The questions vary from person to person but you’ll see a lot of similar questions being asked, especially the first three.

If you would be interested in being a Q+A participant, just contact me. I’m interested in everyone’s story.

Today’s Q+A is with Daniel Harris, a Sydney native who’s made his way to Brooklyn, New York via Vancouver. He’s currently working on a PhD in philosophy at the City University of New York Graduate Center, and teaching philosophy classes at Brooklyn College.

1. What’s your age?

I’m 28.

2. CB born and raised? Or transplant? (Plus whatever biographical details you feel like giving).

My family has lived in Cape Breton for a few generations on both sides—as far back as I know about. I was born at Saint Rita’s Hospital in Sydney, where my grandmother worked. I was raised in Westmount until I was 17, at which point I left to do a high school exchange in Switzerland for a year. I then came back for twelfth grade at Riverview before starting at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver in 2003. I haven’t been back for more than a
month or two since then.

3. “What are you up to these days?” I.e. what do you do for a living, what are you working on, are you a student, in the workforce, etc?

I live with my girlfriend Margot, who’s from Chicago, in a neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York that’s called Fort Greene.

For the last three and a half years, I have been working on a PhD in philosophy at the City University of New York Graduate Center, which is in midtown Manhattan. I have another year and a half to go before I’ll be finished. Right now I am writing a dissertation about the nature of linguistic meaning and a bunch of other foundational issues that come up when we try to understand how people use natural language.

I also teach several philosophy classes at Brooklyn College, including logic and business ethics. If all goes well, I’ll be looking to start a permanent job as a university professor in a couple of years. This will probably involve moving to a new place somewhere in North America, or conceivably Europe or Australia. I won’t have much of a choice about where I wind up.

4.What are the things you do whenever you come back to CB, that are “must dos”?

My number one priority is to spend as much time as possible with my family. My parents and brother live in Sydney, and although they’ve visited me a few times, I mostly get to see them when I’m in Cape Breton. That’s usually twice per year.

For the last four years, another must-do while in Cape Breton has been a trip to the Cape Breton Regional Hospital’s Cancer Center. I was treated for testicular cancer ten months before I moved to the United States. Although that treatment was a quick and unequivocal success, I’ve had to have semiannual followup tests, and so I decided to squeeze them in during visits to Sydney rather than try to play the pre-existing condition game with my American insurance company. The result is that a visit to Cape Breton’s wonderful oncology specialists has been part of my recent routine.

I also have a few close friends who remain in Cape Breton, and who I
usually try to see while I’m there. And whenever possible I try to fit in some hiking, swimming, and camping, which are things that living in the metropolis causes me to miss out on. This summer, I’m hoping to ride my bicycle around the Cabot Trail. Hopefully Margot will be able to come along.

5. What is a typical “day in the life” for you?

Take today. I woke up at 7:15, drank some tea, and rode my bicycle about 8 kilometers south through Prospect Park to Brooklyn College, where I taught a class about faith and reason and then another one about ethical theory. It was raining when I finished teaching, so I carried my bicycle onto the Q train, which took me back to Fort Greene, where I met a friend for lunch at a restaurant that specializes in South African food. (Incidentally, the friend is also from Sydney, and he’s is now doing a Geography PhD at the University of British Columbia. He’s been sleeping on my couch for the last few days while attending the Association of American Geographers’ conference here in New York. It’s quite common for me to have a guest visiting.)

On most Wednesday afternoons I ride my bicycle about ten kilometers to midtown in order to attend my department’s weekly philosophy colloquium. Today I have some writing to do, and the colloquium is on a topic that doesn’t especially interest me, so I’ll stay home and hunker down at my desk for a few hours. My goal for today and tomorrow is to write five or ten pages that answer the question: what act do we typically perform when uttering quantifier phrases like ‘some boat’, ‘both boats’, or ‘every boat’?. If I finish this by tomorrow evening, I’ll send it to my dissertation supervisor and meet with him to discuss it on Friday.

Margot is an architect, and so she often has to stay late at the office to meet a deadline. She also sometimes goes to the YMCA after work. Depending on what time she gets home, I’ll either make dinner for us, order takeout, or grab a falafel sandwich by myself. We might pull down the projector screen and watch a movie or the Daily Show. I’ll read for an hour or two before I go to bed.

This is all pretty typical, except that on some days I’ll also go to a class I’m auditing or the philosophy of language workshop I organize. Generous chunks of time wasted on the internet or listening to nerdy podcasts should also be haphazardly sprinkled into my description.

6. When you’re travelling and you chat with people about CB, what is their reaction or response?

Very few people outside of Canada know where Cape Breton is. I usually start by saying that I am from Eastern Canada. It’s common for a European to respond by asking whether I mean Toronto or Montreal. Telling them that they would have to drive about sixteen hours east from Montreal to get to my home town usually blows their minds—understandably, since they could make it from London to Rome, passing through France, Germany, and Switzerland in the same amount of time.

Most people in Vancouver and New York aren’t as ignorant about the broad facts about eastern Canada, although it often requires a quick geography lesson to help them locate Cape Breton, which they then typically assume is either cold and remote or pastoral and idyllic. Every once in a while I meet someone who’s been there, and they usually report skipping Sydney and thinking that the rest was beautiful. Sometimes their attitude resembles that of someone who’s conquered a remote test of their wanderlust, as if Baddeck were the North Pole or the Marianas Trench. My dissertation supervisor told me that he’d like to visit Cape Breton and/or Newfoundland, because he has a thing for “North Atlantic islands like the UK and Iceland”.

And, of course, I sometimes bump into other Cape Bretoners here and there. This was pretty common in Vancouver, and less so in New York, although I know of at least one other Nova Scotian PhD student at the CUNY Graduate Center (from Truro no less). Plus I think Kate Beaton lives somewhere nearby, but it would be more like a celebrity sighting if I bumped into her.

7. Do you see yourself ever living in Cape Breton again? Pretend for a minute that you have a magic wand and could change anything about the island to make it so that you would be able to live here. What would those changes be?

I can’t see myself returning to Cape Breton on a permanent basis. The rest of the question seems sort of ill-posed to me because it presupposes that deep down, I want to return. Since I was about 16—as long as I’ve had an opinion about the matter—Cape Breton seemed seemed like a place to escape from, to break free from. So I was scheming up ways to do that rather than to stay.

I’m sure that this attitude can probably be explained in terms of the usual socioeconomic push-and pull factors: sixteen was also around the age when I started getting bookish and became aware of the relatively limited array of professional options in Cape Breton. But I think the real issue is that the rest of the world is full of wonderful things. Now, of course I think that Cape Breton’s physical geography and culture are unique and beautiful, and I feel plenty of nostalgia for both (Exhibit A: Stan Rogers is at number six on my iTunes most-played list). But the world is bursting with other unique
and beautiful places and cultures that I haven’t had a chance to experience yet, and I think I am motivated more by curiosity than by nostalgia.

So the magic wand would have to make everywhere else less exciting in order for me to want to move back to Cape Breton, but I can’t imagine why I’d wave around a wand like that.

8. Swimming – ocean or river?

River. Especially if there’s a bridge to jump from or a tube to float on. Or maybe better yet: lake. As in the fresh water lake at Ingonish Beach. All of this should take place at night, preferably without swimsuits. But any of the above is awfully nice!

9. Summer or winter in CB?

All of my favorite stuff to do in CB is better in the summer: camping, swimming, biking, and hiking. People also seem happier and more socially active, there are more of them around, and everybody stops complaining about shoveling snow and paying for heating oil.

10.What are some neat, community-oriented things that you have seen in your travels, that you think young people living in Cape Breton should know about?

My ideal community is one that’s made up of creative people who motivate each other to pour themselves obsessively into pursuits that they love. I organize a workshop for philosophers of language in grad schools around New York that’s like this. We meet once a week and pick apart each other’s ideas with an eye to making them better. But the same general principle goes in any field: you need the right mix of talent, helpfulness, and criticism and something really special can result. Start a club with people who are really good at something, or better yet obsessed with it, and push each other to get even better and even more obsessed. The something could be anything from weight-lifting to designing websites. I once heard a pseudoscientist say that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to get really good at anything, and if that’s true, then I doubt that anyone would bother if they didn’t have a group of people with high expectations around to keep them from slacking off and watching TV or something.

I guess this is pretty vague, and I’m not sure if it answers the question. But it seems like the basic structure of any really exciting community.

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Beautiful weather for a drive!

It was windy and sunny, and I was a happy lady!

Yesterday I was on the road a fair bit. I started the morning in Sydney at a meeting, then drove over Boularderie, over Kelly’s Mountain and then across the Englishtown Ferry, then turned towards St. Ann’s and stopped in North River for another meeting. Then back towards Baddeck, and home.

The weather has been amazing! Today is the first day of spring, so Happy Spring everyone! I always feel very hopeful in the spring. The snow melts away and plants start to show signs of life again. The whole summer is ahead. I feel lighter and I love the way the air smells.

A few changes around here: I changed the “theme” – the way the blog is laid out – so that you can just scroll down, and down some more, to read blog posts. As always, I love feedback, so let me know what you think.

I also created a header image – that’s the banner across the top that says “Dream Big Cape Breton”. It’s really just a rough start, actually – I hope to make it even more awesome as I go down the road of learning graphic design. (That’s right, it’s official, I’m going back to school this fall, to NSCC’s Marconi campus, to take Graphic Design! So excited!)

Here are more pictures from yesterday.

My favourite graffiti, on Kelly's Mountain.

Barachois River on the St. Ann's Loop

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“I write this for you!”- The Project So Far – March 2012

This past Saturday - green onions cut up for baked potato soup topping, and my prototype shamrock. Also, some pale ale courtesy of Jeremy. I love getting free samples!

So we’re two months into the “Dream Big” journey. I started the blog in January and it’s now March. Time for another update!

When I started this blog, I used that word – “journey” – with the thought that the project would essentially be a physical journey. Dream Big would be a travel blog, of a kind. I’d roam the island in my 1997 Ford Escort, driving Cape Breton’s often-bumpy roads, and snapping shots of picturesque fishing boats in Bay St. Lawrence, the big stone church in Cheticamp, a kitchen party in Judique, surfers at Pt. Michaud. Readers would love it, as they would connect with seeing pictures of their favourite places, and I would chat with people along the way. I’d find out things about the island, and about myself. Easy as pie.

Dreams have a funny way of changing when they become reality!

For one thing, fuel is expensive! And this island is big. Like, really big. Not-conducive-to-driving-between-towns-quickly, big.

"Old man's beard" lichen. I took this picture on a walk I took on Friday.

I mean, I knew that! As a pre-driving teenager, I had to beg my parents for a ride to my best friend’s house in Wreck Cove, which was an hour away. More often than not, though, she and I would spend hours on the phone because it was so very far between our houses. And that was before the days of cell phones, too. We had landlines, and we had to pull the cords into our bedrooms to get any privacy.

Anyway, knowing these physical distances exist, I started Dream Big Cape Breton with high hopes. “I’ll interview everyone on the island within the first few months!” I thought. “I’ll be on fire! I’ll be a ‘driving around Cape Breton’ fiend!”

Yeah, except, long-form interviewing takes a lot more work than I had anticipated. (Not that I had really thought about it, actually. My M.O. tends to be “do it first, figure it out later”.) And it’s not that I don’t like work, it’s just that work takes time. And posting a blog, and wanting to have regular readers, means you need to have good quality content, fairly regularly. Like, every few days if not more often. And long-form interviews, which take roughly eight hours (driving to and from the location, doing the interview, and post-interview writing) to produce one piece that takes about ten minutes to read, aren’t overly sustainable, shall we say, for such a blog.

I'm not sure why I like this picture so much. Maybe the contrast of dark and light? I snapped it when we gassed up on Saturday, in North Sydney.

So I invested $30 in a course, the Blog Love course by Elsie at “A Beautiful Mess.” Best thirty bucks I ever spent. (She’s a huge influence of mine, by the way, and I’ll talk more about her in a future “Blogging influences” post.) And as a result of using this course and taking her advice, I’ve been doing lots of “behind the scenes” work, filling notebooks with ideas and plans and thoughts about “Dream Big Cape Breton,” the blog. What it is now, what it will become. There are lots of exciting things on the way! I can’t wait to share them all with you.

Some things I can share now: as you’ll have noticed, I’ve gotten two fantastic contributors on board – Erika Shea and Erin Phillips. And I’d love to have more contributors! Read this and email me if you’re interested.

I’ve also switched up the long-form interviews with shorter “Q+As“. These are done over email. The questions are mostly the same but I tailor them to the person. I’ll still do the longer-form interviews but they won’t be the only focus of the blog, more a regular feature.

The weekend weather was so amazing, warm and sunny. We went grocery shopping. Maybe the windshield needs cleaning.

I’m also thinking about earning income from the blog somehow. I spend anywhere between 2 and 5 hours a day, each day of the week, on this blog, and I could easily spend more, because I just love it that much! Currently I’m on EI, but I’ll be working again this spring. It would be amazing to somehow get paid to do this! I’m figuring out how that might work – maybe advertising, maybe sponsorship. We’ll see. I would fully disclose any sponsorship, though, and would make sure that I was still able to write on any topic I choose.

Another fun update is that I’ve been asked to do two speaking events, as a result of this blog! I’ll give more details when I have them. It was really flattering to be asked and I hope that if they go well, I’ll do more of that kind of thing. It’s pretty amazing to me that I dreamed of doing something like this for years, using my voice to speak my – and my generation’s – truth, and didn’t do it for one silly reason or another. And now that I am doing it, it’s wonderful to see other opportunities opening up.

Alder catkins. There are so many cool things to notice along the roadside.

But the most important facet of this blog is still you, the reader. Without you, I’d be typing all by myself at home, alone, with the cat trying to steal my pens. (Oh wait, that’s what I do anyway.) So I want to make sure that this blog stays relevant and interesting to you. Dream with me here – because we’ve got a lot of potential right here on this site. It’s a whole blog about Cape Breton, and life here, written by a woman in her twenties, for other Cape Bretoners! No agenda other than being awesome and fun! And that’s why I want you to tell me if there is something that doesn’t interest you, or a feature that you really love and want to see more of. I write this for you! Really! And I’m really quite nice and approachable, so shoot me an email or leave a comment.

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