Optimistically Cautious

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

"Laguna Beach" Renewed

It turns out that they will be shooting a fourth season of Laguna Beach. Via Laguna Beach Hook-Up, this article also notes that MTV admits that its current incarnation is failing to live up to the past seasons that cemented this "scripted reality" phenomenon.

I became enamored with Laguna earlier this year. The production values floored me - the artistically framed shots, emotionally-manipulative editing, and scene perfect music selections. To the untrained eye, the episodes could've passed for any show on the now-defunct WB network. But more than aesthetics, the melodrama that arose from carousel dating, back talk, and betrayals became terribly addicting.

Laguna, and its The Hills spin-off are definitely guilty pleasures of mine. I just hope that the last half of season 3 that has yet to air in Canada can make up for its poor showing thus far.

All Hallow's Eve

I don't subscribe to the belief that Halloween gives you the de facto right to act any differently than you normally would. Isn't it worse when those around you discover that such behavior was pent up, just waiting for a "socially acceptable" situation to be let out?

Of course, the behavior I'm referring to is an escalation of promiscuity. Isn't it curious that on the one day of the year that you can masquerade as anyone, you don't hear anyone say that they want to be more "respectable" or "intelligent?"

Pumpkin carving isn't a family tradition of ours, but it does seem to be a company tradition of sorts, as I helped carve one at work yesterday for the second year running. Our original intent was a disco-themed Tina Turner, but due to poor planning and the substitution of red tinsel for hair where an afro should have been, our pumpkin resembled Ronald McDonald more than anything else.

Each department was responsible for producing a pumpkin, and they were voted upon today for prizes. I am in awe of the sick creativity behind the winning entry.

Our "Ronald McDonald."

Introducing, "HomeCare Helen!"

Sunday, October 29, 2006


I am not afraid to admit that I have a cupcake fetish, or at the very least am in the midst of a cupcake phase.

Ever since Magnolia Bakery hit it big in New York, gourmet cupcake shops have been springing up in major centres across North America. Even Edmonton, as small as we are, currently supports four cupcake franchises: two physical stores and two home-based businesses.

  • The Cupcake Shoppe: a home-based business, they deliver, and have sold their product at St. Albert's Outdoor Farmer's Market in the past. I haven't yet had a chance to try out their cupcakes, so I will withhold judgment until then.
  • BabyCakes Bakeshoppe (6861-170 Street): a cupcake bakery and tea room, I just read about this location in the Edmonton Journal. I will be sure to make a stop there sometime soon.
  • The Cupcake Bakeshoppe & Cafe (17298 Stony Plain Road): I visited this cafe a few weeks ago with a friend of mine, and after much anticipation, I was sorely disappointed. The cafe itself was quite charming, but the cupcakes were not what I expected. Because they were refrigerated, it was hard to determine whether or not they were freshly made. Moreover, the icing was of the buttercream variety - not sweet enough for my tooth. The server explained that they only use imported Belgian fruit purees in the icing, but to me, the strawberry icing atop "The Diva" tasted strangely reminiscent of artificially-flavored Pocky. I will return sometime soon, if not only to try the 'cakes that they had sold out of ("The Don" especially), but I will remain cautiously optimistic.
  • Whimsical Cake Studio: another home-based business, they are clearly my favorite (with the best website too!). They also deliver, and sell their product at the St. Albert and Downtown Farmer's Markets. Over the summer, Whimsical was profiled in the Edmonton Journal, which is where I discovered the company. I had my first taste of their cupcakes at the city centre market, and felt even more privileged when I managed to score the last two they had for sale that Saturday (yes, there was a little boy behind me in line. No mercy when it comes to cupcakes). The 'cake was obviously freshly baked, and the icing was a little taste of heaven - sweet, but not overwhelmingly so. If you're interested, Whimsical will be setting up booths on November 4 & 18 at Churchill Square. Details here.

An unidentified Whimsical cupcake (picture courtesy of a coworker with a talent for photography).

EDIT: on a cupcake-related note, I discovered Johnny Cupcakes clothing today. They make one cute shirt.

Haweli Restaurant and Steeps

Last night, a few friends and I had supper at Haweli Restaurant (10220-103 Street), located on the Boardwalk in downtown Edmonton. Haweli actually just recently won the Edmonton Appetizer Challenge at the Rocky Mountain Wine & Food Festival.

Although the furniture looks like it could have been rescued from a repossessed Bonanza, there were some nice decorative touches of organza around the dining area. Though on second thought, Haweli could greatly benefit from a Restaurant Makeover-style interior renovation...

I would be the first person to admit that I haven't had much in the way of East Indian cuisine before, so much of what was on the menu was new to me. Thus, I was hoping the waitress would be able to provide some guidance, but this wasn't the case - she was either new, or simply ill-equipped to deal with questions from inquisitive patrons. In the end, we settled on sharing orders of vegetarian samosas, garlic naan, butter chicken, navratan korma (mixed vegetables cooked in a creamy sauce), and chicken biryani (basmati rice cooked with boneless chicken).

Save for the plates of samosas and naan, all other dishes were surprisingly small. However, the food itself was excellent. In particular, the navratan korma was creamy, flavorful, but not overpowered by spices.

Our cheque divided up into roughly $18 per person, so it was definitely a worthwhile sampling of East Indian cuisine. And while I'm not sure I will be back right away, it was a satisfying experience overall.

Interior of Haweli Restaurant

Chicken biryani and navratan korma

Following dinner, we headed to Steeps (12411 Stony Plan Road). I love coffee as much as the next person, but I do drink a fair amount of tea as well. Steeps is noted for their great selection of teas, which you can check out at their handy "tea tree": a stand with individual canisters of all of the teas they carry, available for your sniffing pleasure.

This was my first time at the "original teahouse," as it is denoted on the website, and the atmosphere is fantastic. You almost feel like an urbanite just stepping into the place, with its old hardwood flooring, mismatched 70s furniture (reminiscent of pieces sold at The Junque Cellar), and dim lighting. This location actually reminded me a lot of one of my favorite Edmonton haunts, the Blue Plate Diner.

I settled on a small pot of "spring wind jasmine" green tea. I am not enough of a tea aficionado to suss out the subtle hints and tones of the brew, but I can say that it produced a comforting drink to accompany fine conversation.

A great cup of tea!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Theatre: "Urban Tales"

On Friday night, I went with a friend to watch Northern Light Theatre's Urban Tales 9: Night Nurses in an Insane Asylum at the Third Space. Four separate playwrights wrote anecdotes for each of the four characters, which were then edited together to form one coherent play. From the program:

"On a dark and stormy Halloween night, an electrical storm unleashes the inmates, and perhaps a few ghosts, to terrorize Dorothy, Midge, Betty Ann and Vivian."

This was my first Urban Tales experience, so unfortunately I don't have any past productions to compare this one to, but what I did not expect was a glorified reading. Yes, there were costumed actresses, sound and music effects, and lighting design, but the actors for the most part read from the script! Each actor even had their own music stand, which made for quite the awkward commute between the very-small stage and an additional stand set up just in front of the stage to showcase the individual monologues.

That said, Annette Christie, who played Dorothy, was by far the standout for me, as she had to voice her lines entirely in the stereotypically "giggly girl" nasal, and provided many comedic moments with her doe-eyed delivery. There was also some interesting work with a projector that flashed a variety of images onto a makeshift curtain screen just to the right of the stage. An image of a catatonic patient with vacant eyes was particularly spooky, and did much to set the mood for that scene. In addition, the sound technician has to be singled out - the necessary timing involved with inserting a *lightning flash* here, and a *creepy howl* there seemed more taxing than in other productions I've seen. In all, although I jumped a few times, and my imagination was exercised, Urban Tales 9 pales in comparison with Marty Chan's The Bone House, my benchmark for chilling theatre.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Pursue the Moment

Have you noticed the recent Lexus "Pursue the Moment" marketing campaign? There is a commercial, for example, on television, which flashes through a series of events and images one might experience in life, urging viewers to live it up.

As affecting as the commercial can be, I'm much more taken by the one-page print ads, featured last week in The Globe & Mail. One such ad, accompanied by a landscape photo, reads:

"Would anyone buy a ticket to the movie of your life? Pack it full of moments. Make it glorious. Make it epic. Make it funny and sad and tender and outrageous. Make it a blockbuster. Fill it with laughs and adventures and special effects of your own design. Be the hero, fight the bad guys, get the girl. Make it colourful and spectacular and dramatic. Make it unique. Give it plot twists and a back-story and total surround sound. You're the director. You're the star. You'll get all the credit. Pursue the moment."

Cheesy, I know, but it struck a chord with me all the same. The phrasing of the text also reminds me of the ongoing right hand ring campaign - short, staccato sentences that build towards the tag line.

So, have you seized a moment lately?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Theatre: "10 Days on Earth"

Ronnie Burkett is a theatrical genius.

I first heard of him when he premiered Provenance in Edmonton a few years ago, but didn't get out to see it because of the "hefty" $30 price of admission. Little did I know his talent, as showcased in a 120 minute production, is priceless.

Last night, a coworker and I watched a play titled 10 Days on Earth at the Roxy Theatre, acted entirely with marionettes. The flyer describes the show as follows:

"Darrel, a mentally challenged adult, doesn't realize his mother has died in her sleep. For ten days straight he unknowingly lives alone, continuing his simple daily routine and daydreaming about his favorite storybook characters."

Like most synopses of great art, words alone cannot do Burkett justice. At first, I had to adjust to the experience of watching puppets move about in place of live actors. But soon enough, I realized how imagination bridges the gap between you and the stage; you end up relating and empathizing even further with the marionettes because to believe the life being created out of wood and string, you have to invest a part of yourself that isn't necessarily required with human performers. My heart broke as Darrel called in vain for his mum; as he peered expectantly at her still-shut door; as he sat, ever-patient, in the hallway, and waited. And because the faces of the puppets are unchanging, it was fascinating to notice the vital importance of body language. Every flicker, twitch, and jerk became a telling sign, a character trait. The marionettes are "simply, simply" mesmerizing.

You have to wonder how Burkett manages to perform this show night after night - it was exhausting just watching him maneuver over the numerous platforms, personally handling all two dozen puppets, and voicing all of the different characters, some that I was sure would lead to laryngitis. In any case, his sweat and tears made last night's show unforgettable. I am already looking forward to his next stop in Edmonton. I encourage you to check out 10 Days; it runs until November 26.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Mini Frittatas

Although I've dabbled in baking here and there, my experience creating appetizers and entrées have been limited. That's why I'm always on the lookout for fast and easy recipes, particularly from my favorite TV chefs. Yesterday, I decided to replicate a frittata recipe I saw on an episode of Giada De Laurentiis' Everyday Italian. Below is a picture of the result:

(So few product were captured because I ate the majority of them before the shot was taken...)

In my opinion, the recipe is foolproof, and you can substitute whatever you have on hand for the filling. In this case, I used mushrooms and turkey breast slices, though I admit a little greenery wouldn't hurt the presentation. Another tip: if you fill the muffin tins about 3/4 full, the frittatas come out perfectly concave. This recipe would make a great appetizer, brunch item, or afterschool snack. I encourage you to try this out and share your favorite filling combinations!

Friday, October 20, 2006

"You've Got Mail"

"I like to start my notes to you as if we're already in the middle of a conversation."