Optimistically Cautious

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Upright Consistency: Doan's Restaurant

I haven't yet decided if I'm going to "repeat post" about restaurants I've already reviewed, but in this case, I do have some new pictures, so it is worth blogging about.

Following the Festival, a few friends and I went to Doan's Restaurant, which I first wrote about in October. I'm quite uninspired about what to add to my previous review, but I do think this translates to a positive remark about Doan's, as the service, food quality, and ambiance all remained consistent.

However, even though the dining room itself is better taken care of, and the portions are larger, I still consider the southside Pagolac my favorite Vietnamese restaurant in Edmonton. Pagolac is like a friend's basement - I feel comfortable sitting back, and enjoy the conversation that flows and is facilitated by a casual atmosphere. Because of the decor at Doan's, I am conscious of the need to sit upright, as the environment dictates more formal behavior.

Perhaps the way to go is Pagolac for dining in and Doan's for take out?

Dining room

Tea (still a rip off, but I used my "emergency tea bag" to make the pot stronger, without just asking for free hot water)

Wonton Soup for one (isn't it cute?)

Combination Grilled Beef Plate

Pho Tai for me (as always)

Festival of Trees

A friend and I headed to the Shaw Conference Centre for Edmonton's annual Festival of Trees event tonight. In support of the University of Alberta Hospital, the Festival showcases hundreds of decorated trees and offers live entertainment, shopping, and activities for children. I am ashamed to admit that although I've lived in the city all my life, this was my first time at the Festival. When I asked my sister about the impression she garnered from volunteering last year, she said, "It's fun if you have kids." Well, I have no kids to speak of, but this seemed like a way to ease into the Christmas season that did not involve listening to carols streaming from store speakers.

The Hall is indeed beautifully decorated, with an arrangement conducive to allowing for easy access and movement between displays. Groups of trees dotted the middle of the room, separated by wide, maneuverable aisles, while organized children's activities such as card making and cookie decorating occupied the periphery. A stage, seating area, and concession lay at the far end of the room, with the perfunctory gift shop located near the exit. Whomever designed it definitely had parents and young children in mind though, as there are benches scattered throughout the space.

The trees being the main attraction, we wove through the displays, each selecting our favorites. The "theme" trees stood out the most, as by the end, individual tress began to morph into a generic cloud of tinsel, multicolored lights, and crystal ornaments. I had a soft spot for the Fringe Theatre Adventures creation, but my personal award for originality goes to the makers of the only "upside down" tree.

Despite taking in a brief highland dancing performance and exploring the gingerbread houses and hospital discovery area, we were finished our rounds in an hour. I am glad that I attended this year, but I have to agree with my sister's assessment about the Festival overall: it would be more fun with kids.

Entering the Hall

Fringe Theatre Adventures tree

Upside down tree

Star Wars tree

Ducks (and frogs) in a tree

The coolest gingerbread "house"

Lovely silver and reflective exit display (notice the mirror-tiled fireplace and foil-wrapped tricycle!)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

"The name is Fringe. Edmonton Fringe"

While I can't take credit for the clever post title (I gleaned it from an Edmonton Journal article), I was happy to read about news from the Fringe front.

The Edmonton International Fringe Festival has chosen its new theme: "Live and Let Fringe," a play on the 1973 James Bond film, Live and Let Die. Not a bad connection, as it will be 2007 (the year of double-0-7). When I told a coworker about it, she rolled her eyes, but we both agreed that anything would be better than last season's "Hi Yo Fringe...Away!" My personal favorite, however, would be 1998's "A Clockwork Fringe," though I didn't start attending the festival until the following year.

As for companies drawn from the lottery, I will be looking forward to Chris Gibbs' return, Matt Alden's new play, and the Screwed & Clued production. Only eight more months to go!

Monday, November 27, 2006

"Prison Break" Fall Season Review

I've never been partial to shows on the basis of a beautiful cast, but it is difficult to overlook Prison Break's smokin' hot men, arguably the most attractive group assembled in recent memory. I mean, Wentworth Miller, Dominic Purcell and Amaury Nolesco (Sucre!) all on screen simultaneously? Kiefer may be hot, but he's just one man.

Besides FOX's monopoly on the pretty, they seem to be doing well with the serial drama concept as well, first with 24 (sixth season to start January 14th) and now Prison Break.

After the "Fox River 8" escaped, I was sure the show would not be able to recover. Little did I know what the writers had in store. Not only did they introduce the determined, ruthless and legally shady Alexander Mahone (played by the amazing William Fichtner), but they also chose the route less traveled with Sara and Michael's relationship - the yellow brick road shouldn't come without further discussion of Michael's betrayal. But best of all, the story has begun to explore the morally and ethically grey areas induced with the release of several guilty inmates along with the innocent ones. I can vouch that the dialogue arising in my beloved forums are darn interesting.

Now for the downside of the season - it's on hiatus until January 22. What's a girl to do?

Dinner & a Movie: 4th and Vine

Following Superskills last night, my friend and I went to 4th and Vine (11358-104 Avenue) for supper. I read about the restaurant in Vue Weekly a few months ago, and was particularly drawn to their weekly "dinner & a movie" event. That Sunday, both An Inconvenient Truth and Who Killed the Electric Car? were featured, but we elected to sit for the second movie, as we had already watched the first.

The lengthy, rectangular-shaped dining room was an interesting design, one not often seen in Edmonton. Instead, it reminded me of space conscious restaurants in Toronto. The high-back, black leather chairs and dark mahogany tables, accentuated by the glow from nearby lamps, oozed an air of sophistication not unlike that from a pristine, upscale furniture showroom. Furthermore, it seemed as if these events had been offered long enough to warrant the purchase of a ceiling-mounted projector and pull-down screen located at the far end of the room.

As anticipated, 4th and Vine had an extensive wine and spirits list, complete with suggested entree wine pairings. Unfortunately, I wasn't in the imbibing mood, but my friend did have a Stella. Their food menu, on the other hand, was sparse in comparison. However, it seems the focus on few dishes was to their advantage.

I ordered the chicken breast (pan-flashed chicken breast basted in their signature garlic hazelnut butter, served with daily starch and seasonal vegetables), while my friend decided on the penne jambalaya (spicy Italian sausage, chicken breast, and prawns sauteed with bell peppers and red onion in a zesty sun-dried tomato sauce). Though the serving was not as generous as I had hoped, it more than made up for size with flavor. The signature butter was superb, with the hazlenuts providing great texture and crunch, and complemented the tender, juicy chicken well. I also have a weak spot for grilled vegetables, so I was happy to see them on my plate. My friend commented that his pasta was "hotter than Gore's anger over global warming, but not hotter than Gore's anger over losing to Bush."

We split a chocolate mousse for dessert (hurrah for coupons!). Gosh, was the aftertaste ever potent. There was no mention of liqueur used in the mousse, but after several spoonfuls, I had to cry for water. Needless to say, I did not finish dessert that night.

We finished dinner right on time to focus on the Electric Car. Thanking our lucky stars, we had access to the best spot in the house, as the patrons who had originally reserved the COUCH didn't show. I'm still tickled by the experience of watching a movie in a public restaurant from the comfort of a couch. Moreover, the kitchen even delivered a free bowl of "gourmet" popcorn (air-popped, slightly burnt kernels drizzled with garlic butter) to each table!

With great food and a novel concept, I must say I was quite enamored with 4th and Vine, and will be back in the not too distant future.

Restaurant interior

Penne jambalaya (pictures are blurry because I didn't want the flash to distract patrons from the movie)

Chicken breast

Movie screen


Sunday, November 26, 2006

Edmonton Oilers Superskills 2006-2007

Just returned from the annual Edmonton Oilers Superskills competition held at Rexall Place. I've never been that consistent with attending season games, but I've been surprisingly regular with this particular event. I am amazed by the increase in attendance over the last three years. In 2003, the head count was probably under 4,000. Last year, the number pushed 8,000. This time, the crowd was easily near capacity. I find that for the price (an increase to $8 this year, but still affordable), it's an even better opportunity than a hockey game to see the players up close and looser than at game time. And really, who doesn't want to see Ryan Smyth's signature mullet flow free, unencumbered by the confines of a helmet?

There was the usual pee-wee hockey team, partaking in the skills demonstrations right alongside the actual Oilers. There were six competitions in total: puck control relay, fastest skater, hardest shot, accuracy shooting, power play relay (3 on 1), and a new "king of the shootout."

Jussi Markannen was notably missing from the lineup, so it was up to Brian Ross, the Oilers' video coach to take his place. It would have been nice if one of the announcers could have volunteered the identity of this phantom "player." Needless to say, Ross did his best, even pulling out a wicked glove save on one of the three-on-one power play rushes.

Marc-Andre Bergeron won two of the competitions - fastest skater and hardest shot, but I must say, Petr Sykora put on the best show. He won the accuracy shooting challenge, hitting all four targets, but he was the token joker all afternoon, purposely sliding into the goalie on his breakaway attempt. I had no idea Sykora had so much personality! They should mike him at an upcoming game!

The end result was White over Blue 17 to 7, due in large part to Dwayne Roloson's excellent goaltending in the power play and shootout competitions. All in all, an enjoyable way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Here they come!

Wake up, Hemsky!

Matt Greene knows his shot wasn't fast enough to beat Bergeron.

Taking it easy.

Go Sykora!

Jarret Stoll vs. Brian Ross(?!)

Ryan and Roli

Team photo ("Turn around!")

Final tally

Cooly Authentic: El Rancho Spanish Restaurant

A few friends and I had supper at El Rancho Spanish Restaurant (11810-87 Street) on Saturday night to celebrate one friend's professional milestone.

Both the covert location (tucked away in a northside neighborhood) and the authenticity of the food can lead one to label El Rancho with the coveted "gem" status. With salmon-colored walls, a small dining room, and cozy burnished tables, the thought of being in grandma's kitchen was not far away. Upbeat Spanish-language music played in the background, functioning well as festive background noise (at least until they switched to Shakira. Blech).

The menu prices were very reasonable, and encourage the sampling and sharing of dishes. Still, I think my entree, the Enchilada Mexicana (corn tortilla filled with chicken garnished with tomato sauce), served with both rice and salad proved to be the largest dish out of all we ordered and hence the best deal. Also, on my next trip, I should make a note to ask about the dressing - probably olive-oil based, it had a nutty flavor unlike anything else I've ever had. My only nitpick - I wanted the dish to be served warmer, if not only to combat the cold air streaming in from the poorly insulated walls and window!

Hands down, best part of our meal that night was the dessert! We split a Tres Leches (three milks cake) and the Pan del Dia (pastry of the day), which happened to be Choco Flan (isn't that fun to say?!). The Tres Leches, soaked in milk, evaporated milk and condensed milk, was my favorite. Not as sweet as the waitress had warned, the cake was moist and light, the perfect partner to the round of Abuelita Hot Chocolate we had ordered as well. It was probably the cold talking, but the cocoa-based concoction was delicious!

El Rancho will be having a "Latino Christmas" celebration on December 1, with a set dinner for $25 per person. Whether you head to the restaurant on that occasion or on another day, it is definitely worth a try!

El Rancho Spanish Restaurant

Dining room

Flautas Mexicanas (three rolled golden fried tortillas stuffed with chicken, carrots and onions, topped with shredded lettuce, sour cream, and El Rancho sauce)

Burrito al Carbon (a flour tortilla stuffed with grilled beef with fried beans, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, garnished with salad)

Enchilada Mexicana

Tres Leches and Choco Flan

Abuelita Hot Chocolate

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Incomparable Audrey Hepburn

In a bout of insomnia last night, I was able to finish off The Audrey Hepburn Treasures book that I began a few weeks ago.

When I picked it up off of the shelves, it immediately reminded me of one of my favorite childhood books, The Baby-sitters Club Chain Mail, where every other page contained an actual envelope with a removable letter inside. Similarly, Treasures contains replicas of personal keepsakes from Audrey's career, allowing the reader an intimate, almost voyeuristic peek at her life. Simply put, Treasures is a gorgeous biography, full of color and dimension, much like its subject.

Written with the assistance of Audrey Hepburn Children's Fund, the book details Audrey's entire life - from her terrifying days holed up in the basement of her home in Holland during World War II, to her rise from the stage to film, and finally, her dedication to UNICEF in her final years. It is by far the most complete record I've ever read about Audrey. As a fan, I'm embarrassed to admit that my knowledge of her career is limited to the films I've seen (Sabrina, Funny Face, and My Fair Lady are among my favorites) and a photo chronicle given to me for my birthday a number of years ago. Although I acknowledge that the perspective presented may be rosier and less journalistically-inclined than objective reporters, the book still contains a mass of information new to me. For example, I had no idea that she had a second marriage, let alone a second son, nor was I aware that a starring role as "Gigi" in the theatre was essentially her big break.

Secondly, I found that it became easy to overlook the behind the scenes pictures and family portraits, because the artifacts are so engrossing. What was most revealing to me was a letter to her first husband, Mel Ferrer, describing her days at a convent researching her upcoming role in The Nun's Story. This may be a case of me trying to force a connection, but the letter seemed to be devoid of emotion, a mere narrative of her day to day activities as opposed to how she was feeling about the experience. This matches up well with a comment Ferrer made about their marriage after the divorce, stating that "'Audrey never spoke about private, personal things and neither did I. It was kind of an agreement that we had.'" Also of note - a handwritten correspondence from Truman Capote, congratulating Audrey in being chosen to play Holly Golightly in the film adaptation of his novella, despite his well-known belief that Marilyn Monroe was better suited for the part.

Coincidentally, this month's Harper's Bazaar features a spread on Natalie Portman modeling the iconic Breakfast at Tiffany's dress. Its famous designer, Givenchy, is auctioning off the garment for charity on December 5th. It is estimated to fetch between fifty to seventy thousand pounds on the block (On an aside: the article uses the curious adjective "gamine" to describe Portman's beauty, a rather odd word choice).

For fans of Audrey Hepburn, Treasuresis a unique keepsake and provides unparalleled insight into the life of a legend. At regular price, it isn't cheap, but the book can be seen as an investment. Children of all ages would adore going through the pages, and I can see myself using the book as an example to prompt creative projects in English class, where mementos can speak volumes, sometimes even more effectively than plain text. Overall, this is a fascinating read, and I highly recommend it to those who enjoy biographies and alternative publishing formats.

Fresh Start Bakery

I decided to check out Fresh Start Bakery (484 Riverbend Square) with my parents while we were in the area this afternoon. I had originally read about the cafe in Vue Weekly, and noticing the apparent hunger in Edmonton for upscale breads and treats (Fresh Start joins Cobbs Bread and the more established Bon Ton and Bee Bell Bakeries), it seemed time to try the city's latest.

Catering to the wealthy and idle, the cafe was clean and spacious, with stone accents and marble counters to boot. Atop the hearth sat a flat-panel television screen, listing the country songs being played on the digital radio station. The bakery counter was located to the left of the entrance, displaying fresh loaves and desserts too saccharine for a late lunch. My dieter's sensibility drove me instead to the bistro showcase.

Given the location of this cafe, expensive dishes were to be expected. The bistro side offered some freshly-prepared goods, including paninis, rice bowls, and pizza, but also some heat-from-the-cooler standard coffee shop fare, such as quiche and shepherd's pie. I opted for the latter, while my Mum ordered a large bowl of beef and vegetable soup.

The pie was nicely plated, but sadly, I couldn't tell if it had been microwaved or oven-heated (usually indicative of the former). Still, the beef was well-seasoned, with a reasonable quantity of vegetables, and the cookie-pressed mashed potato florets created a distinctive presentation. My Mum's soup was disappointing in size ($5.99 for the bowl), but she did appreciate the low sodium flavored broth and generous portion of beef included.

Before heading home, we opted to take home some baked goods. I chose a Montreal-style cheese bagel, and after a frustrating "Who's on first?" type exchange with the clerk ("No, we want the goosen, NOT the cinnamon bun!"), my mum ended up with a cinnamon bun (don't ask). I found the bagel to be worth a return trip - crunchy with a sumptuous cheesy essence. My Dad commented that the cinnamon bun was good, but inferior to Mum's own.

Fresh Start can be considered an alternative to the run of the mill coffee chain, and if I happen to be in Riverbend in the future, I wouldn't overlook dropping by for a cup of coffee. But I'd be sure to load up on a heartier meal elsewhere first.

Fresh Start Bakery (I neglected to bring my camera, so I was forced to take an image from the website).

Friday, November 24, 2006

Film: "Black Gold"

After dinner, we watched the documentary Black Gold. From the movie's website:

"Tadesse Meskela is one man on a mission to save his 74,000 struggling coffee farmers from bankruptcy. As his farmers strive to harvest some of the highest quality coffee beans on the international market, Tadesse travels the world in an attempt to find buyers willing to pay a fair price."

The film set a global course, from the New York Stock Exchange where international coffee prices are set, to the province of Oromia, Ethiopia, where poverty is pervasive, in part due to the terminally low selling price of coffee, to London where Meskela tries to acquire new purchasers for his collective's coffee.

I'm not a documentary-junkie, but I did find that there was something missing in the film - it needed a harder edge. Format-wise, there were the expected juxtaposition tactics of extreme destitution against the wealth of developed nations. At the same time, some jump cuts were much too jarring, weakening the effectiveness with the time needed to adjust between locales.

The filmmakers did try to broaden the scope of the problem to include international scapegoats, mentioning an apparently pivotal end of the International Coffee Agreement in 1989, as well as a breakdown of WTO talks between the EU and developing nations in 2003, but overall, this section was much too general. I suppose part of the problem was that the film up to this point had followed Meskela, and without a developed figure present at the conferences, it was difficult to continue the narrative they had worked so hard to construct.

There was one panel of text summarizing how the multinationals (Kraft, Sara Lee, et al.) had turned down requests for interviews. I'm not saying that the filmmakers had to stalk industry representatives or stage a protest in front of company headquarters à la Michael Moore, but there had to be further elaboration. Yes, governments and trade organizations are at fault, but so are the corporations.

Near the end of the movie, the camera tracks Meskela as he searches the aisles of a London supermarket for coffee originating in Oromia. He does find a package, and expresses his hope that consumers on the ground level will begin to investigate the source of coffee, and work to advocate against the injustice faced by third world farmers. I think this point should have been communicated further as well, for example, by interviewing consumers about their awareness of the coffee trade as a whole. I was waiting for the explicit condemnation of those who silently comply with unjust treatment.

So, am I now a hypocrite if I continue to partake in coffee without asking the questions that need to be asked?

High Level Diner

A friend and I had supper at High Level Diner (10912-88 Avenue) last night. I had previously sampled their daytime fare, but this was my first dinner visit.

The Diner is located near the University of Alberta campus, just off the busy 109 thoroughfare, so parking can be an issue. Luckily, as we pulled in, there were a few curbside spaces free. We expected a thin crowd, as the temperature was easily twenty below. To our surprise, the restaurant was nearly full.

The dining room was dimly lit, furnished with aged wooden tables and chairs. Paintings by local artists adorned the walls, available for customer perusal and purchase. It was evident that there was a lot of care behind the restaurant as many personal touches were observed, such as the vase of real flowers in the bathroom. Overall, the decor evoked a warm and inviting atmosphere.

The evening menu boasted ethnic-inspired diner favorites, seemingly more creative and unique than the comparable Blue Plate Diner. I would name sample dishes, but as my memory is shoddy, and there is no website to refer to, I will abandon specifics in this case. I opted for the Ural Burger (lean ground beef patty, lettuce, tomatoes, cheddar and sprouts on a whole wheat bun) with fries while my friend ordered the daily special (which for that night was pan-fried shrimp, spinach, and mushrooms tossed with fettuccine in a cream sauce).

Our food arrived in no time, although we were in no rush, enjoying the air that buzzed with tones of hushed conversation. My friend said the pasta was disappointing - not bad, but uninspired, and easily surpassed by our favorite pasta hangout, Olive Garden. The burger was generously sized, but a tad too greasy for my taste, and I found the sprouts actually overpowered all other toppings. The fries were homemade from whole potatoes, so naturally, they had less shape and crunch than those made and processed from potato flour. Still, the thinner slices tasted best, crispy and reminiscent of fried potato skins.

With exceptionally friendly servers, comfort food and ambiance typically found only in intimate coffee shops, High Level Diner is a great place to have dinner and catch up with friends.

Table with a view - "Untitled" painting and twinkle lights

Daily special pasta dish

Ural Burger

Table with a view deux - we let the car warm up as long as we could!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Gift Ideas

If you're like me, then you probably started Christmas shopping on Boxing Day last year. I'm a notorious present stockpiler, and I think it has less to do with my shopping obsession than the fact that I don't want to regret passing on what would have been the perfect gift come holiday time.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., meaning Black Friday, which many consider the official kickoff to the Christmas season, is coming up fast (who knew such a bleak term could be used to describe the start of the most festive time of year?). So in honor of the season, and to help those poor souls destined to procrastinate with their shopping, I have compiled a list of interesting gift possibilities:
If you have any other unique gift ideas, please feel free to share them!

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Nature of Blogging

I must confess that I quite enjoy blogging. More than fun, I believe it's a healthy exercise to regularly reflect and record observations and events in one's life. To an extent as well, I think the notion of being judged solely on the markers of thoughts, ideas, and experiences is a romantic one.

I read an interview by Rolf Potts about the art of keeping a travel journal in See Magazine this week. On the subject of blogs vs. paper, Lavinia Spalding had this to say:

"A blog serves a wider purpose. It's essentially published, which means that (in most cases, anyway) it's been proofread and censored for public consumption. Thus, in terms of the actual writing, a private diary entry can be authentic and vulnerable on a level that something broadcast on the Internet can almost never be."

I won't dispute the fact that blogs can indeed be very public collections of personal information, but I am more interested in the nature of the media actively allowing for the crafting of identities. Although some blog for themselves, most are aware that somewhere in cyberspace lies an audience. Consciousness of "public consumption" intrudes, and what isn't said then becomes more important than the content itself: the stories excluded are the more telling narrative.

I can hear my post-modernist literature professor echoing in my head. Or perhaps it's just my inner English teacher roaring to get out. Whatever it is, I fancy the concept that a blog can be deeper than restaurant reviews, theatre critique, and fashion commentary.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Soia & Kyo's "Chelsea" coat

In the last month or so, I have been on the hunt for a wool coat. In hindsight, I should not have passed on an exquisite grey number sold at Banana Republic last year, as I've been looking for a replica ever since.

I'm not sure why I really only have one cold-appropriate coat, as the length of Alberta winters can easily excuse further diversity in this wardrobe area. Edmonton summers are abbreviated at best, and yet, I have at least five warm-weather jackets.

On Saturday, I wandered into Etzio on Whyte Avenue, and was immediately drawn to the black "Chelsea" by Soia & Kyo - a knee-length coat featuring an asymmetrical, full-length, two-way zipper and belted waist. The major selling point for me though was the collar, which can be worn in two ways: with an open neck (scarf optional) for dressier occasions, or completely zipped and buckled for more warmth. On the downside, the material is only 80% wool, so it isn't as warm as it could be.

Since buying the non-refundable coat, I've been looking into the brand, which was unknown to me before yesterday. It turns out Montreal-based Soia & Kyo seem to be a darling of the Canadian fashion community. Only five years young, they have built a reputation for offering stylish, "affordable" outerwear. Their collection is created by the same person who designs for Mackage, a higher-end line sold by the likes of Holt Renfrew.

I'm also not immune to sales pitches, which I am aware are as genuine as the flattery found in fitting rooms. The sales clerk at Etzio said that the coats were flying off the racks, and had been received barely a week prior. Coupled with the fact that I am "supporting a Canadian company," I can put together quite a strong argument for this purchase.

Or, I can admit that all of this was merely posturing to justify an incredibly pricey buy.

"Chelsea" coat (in espresso/black; the site did not have an image of the black-only coat)

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Theatre: "Eros and the Itchy Ant"

This afternoon, a friend and I headed to Varscona Theatre (10329-83 Avenue) to watch Teatro La Quindicina's season opener, titled Eros and the Itchy Ant. From the flyer:

"Music and mythology converge to make magic in this unstoppably hilarious romp, set in that most unexpected of Teatro setting - present day Canada. A piano teacher and a baker explore the possibilities of mutual attraction with a little intervention from a tart-tongued mezzo-soprano and an affable contemporary incarnation of the Greek god of Amor."

First thing - I think Stewart Lemoine productions are meant to be enjoyed in a packed house: it's an unspoken rule that the communal experience on a grander scale somehow make the laughs funnier. Unfortunately, this matinee performance was only about half full.

It's hard not to judge Lemoine by comparison, because I know what he is capable of (Shocker's Delight! has become my standard of which community theatre is measured by), so I found the plot of Eros to be sorely lacking. Unlike most of his other romantic comedies, the only obstacle to the would-be couple was themselves. Nothing is more frustrating than having to watch characters get over their assumptions for the inevitable pairing to occur. Moreover, I have never been a big fan of musicals in any incarnation, and though I enjoyed hearing "The Itchy Ant" piano piece and watching the manic comedy of the Psyche opera scene unfold, I think the musical interjections disrupted the flow of the play as a whole.

Jesse Gervais, who played the hapless male lead Franklin, was the only cast member not in the 2002 premiere. Although John Kirkpatrick was the original Franklin, I still couldn't help but think what Ron Pederson would have done with the role. Nothing against Gervais' performance, but Pederson's brand of awkward grace would have better suited the rhythm and chemistry of the group.

As typical in Lemoine productions, the supporting characters stole the show. Wanda, friend and coworker to the female lead, was the perfect blend of supportive associate and blunt observer, played to a T by the stately Sheri Somerville. And Jeff Haslam, always a welcome presence, brought his boisterous energy to the title role of Eros, immediately putting the audience at ease. I don't think I can wait eight months to see him again on the Varscona stage, so I am planning to catch a performance of the Euro-style variety show, Oh Susannah! sometime soon.

Despite the overall disappointment of Eros, I will be back in February for the next Teatro play. Lemoine has done much to earn my respect for his work, and I believe it's a compliment, ultimately, for the expectations to be so high. He'll have two more opportunities to clear the bar this year.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Games Day

A scene in The Break-Up sees a group of thirty-somethings gather to play board games. This seemed to me like a rather dry idea, but maybe there's more to it than that, as I participated in my own "games day" of sorts today.

Piling over to a coworker's house, we played Cranium Pop 5 and Scene It, both of which are new to me. I have played the original Cranium before, and didn't enjoy it as much as I should have, likely because my desire to win was challenged by my inability to rock the "humdinger" and "sculpturades" categories. Because of this, the Pop 5 version is more up my alley; instead of being assigned a manner of dissipating the clues, you and your team are given a choice of methods (which yes, can be influenced by the answer category and points strategy, but still).

Scene It, a game that combines trivia with visuals, audio, and video, was great fun as well. Although movie knowledge is not my forte, the multimedia-inclusive design was novel, stimulating, and appealed to the pop-culture-infested side of my brain. I'd definitely give Scene It: TV Edition a try!

I wonder if a game rental service exists, as the price is an obvious deterrent to collecting too many games. Like Bag, Borrow or Steal, the company where purse-aholics can pay a monthly charge to "rent" designer bags, someone should start a business where a monthly membership fee grants customers the right to borrow from a catalogue of games.

Regardless, games night anyone?

Real men make quiche, too

It seems that I am on a baked egg kick. On the heels of my frittata experiment last month, I enlisted the help of a friend and his spacious kitchen (in that order, of course) to test out a Better Homes and Gardens quiche recipe.

We opted to use frozen pie shells (why make from scratch what can be purchased "off the shelf?") and chose smoked turkey breast as our filling ingredient. Like frittatas, "mix then bake" was the order of the day. Everything on the recipe was straightforward, even though we did prematurely combine the cheese and the flour with the wet mixture. Honestly, the most difficult part was waiting for the quiche to cook; nearly fifty minutes passed until we decided the egg had set enough to eat.

A photo of the finished product is below; it's safe to say I'm pretty proud of our creation! We paired the quiche with a simple romaine salad (it seems that grape tomatoes taste infinitely better when you know the pint cost $4), but I think a vegetable or tomato soup would have worked just as well as a side. Next time, I would also consider adding a layer of cheese on top of the quiche before baking for extra flavor and texture.

Needless to say, I can now add quiche to my growing repertoire of cookery.

Quiche x 2

Plated and ready to eat! (Disclaimer for foodies: we knew white would have been the more appropriate wine pairing, but we only had red on hand...)

Monday, November 13, 2006

These boots are made for walking...

I am not sure how often I will post about "fashion," but the early days of my blog are a good time as any to forgivably experiment with topics.

The city has been hit with what seems like continuous snowfalls since mid-October, so since I do quite a bit of walking outside, I thought a pair of winter boots would be a good investment for me. Now that I've had a pair for the better part of three weeks, I can't imagine how I got along in Edmonton winters without them.

These Kenneth Cole Reaction "Jonely Lonely" boots are actually my first pair of adult winter boots, a far cry from those pink and purple, velcro-fastened monstrosities I was forced to wear in childhood. This pair is not only functional - essentially flat and only calf-high - but they have also quickly become my workday and weekend staple, with the ability to complement both dress pants and jeans with ease. Although the grip could use some improvement, I have been able to walk to and sit at work in comfort. All hail practical purchases!

Kenneth Cole Reaction "Jonely Lonely" boots (image from macys.com)

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Urban Diner

Just returned from brunch with a few of my girlfriends in celebration of a birthday. We went to Urban Diner (12427 102 Avenue), located in the upscale High Street district. I have been there for dinner on several occasions, but this was my first taste of their breakfast menu.

We went in without reservations, so we had to wait about twenty minutes for a table. Although the time went by fairly quickly, I would advise calling ahead to book a table, as there isn't really a proper waiting area set up in the restaurant.

I love the feel of the place - the staff are friendly, the dining room is clean and bright, and the food is comfort-oriented. Above the cash counter hangs a chalkboard advertising their daily specials, 'shakes, and wine; I think it's a nice touch.

Besides coffee (a must!), I ordered the frittata (with sausage, bacon, spinach, portabella, peppers, tomatoes, leeks, swiss & mozza, served with Diner potatoes and toast). My friends chose the smoked salmon bennie (with basil pesto, roasted bell pepper, spinach, cheddar & cream, served with grilled French bread and Diner potatoes).

Given that the restaurant seemed especially busy, the food was quite prompt. I'm a sucker for novelties: the frittata arrived in its own mini cast iron pan! I'm not sure how many eggs they used, but I can say I was rather stuffed at the end of it. Still, I wouldn't really call the dish a 'frittata' per se; it is more aptly termed 'scrambled eggs and then some.' I am also happy to report that thankfully, I did not taste the leek!

Urban Diner never disappoints; I highly recommend it for brunch or dinner!

The quaint view from the window

Smoked salmon bennie


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Doan's Restaurant

Vietnamese pho has long been a favorite of mine, with southside's Pagolac (9642 54 Avenue) claiming my vote for pho supremacy in Edmonton. However, I decided to put that title to the test when I visited Doan's Restaurant (10130 107 Street) with a friend on Friday night.

Doan's has consistently won See Magazine's annual readers poll for "Best Vietnamese." And though I once sampled their pho in a take-out order, this was my first dine-in experience to date.

The decor is a classic case of Asian misinterpretation of Western flair. Although the pink walls, solid wooden tables and seat covers are nice enough, the palm trees (yes, I said palm trees) and Oriental art accents create an apperance of trying too hard. To underscore this point, the water was served in wine glasses.

To eat at an Asian restaurant without tea is a foreign idea to me, so we ordered a pot of green tea ($2). We were surprised to find they used a tea bag instead of loose leaves or steeped tea. Pagolac, on the other hand, offers a brewed variety, and doesn't charge for their tea.

We decided to start with a half plate of cha gio (spring rolls) while for the main course, my friend settled on Pho Dac Biet (special beef noodle soup with brisket, medium rare beef, well done beef, and beef balls) and I ordered my usual Pho Tai (medium rare beef noodle soup).

The food arrived promptly. The sping rolls were crispy and not greasy, but my friend noted that they were smaller than their Pagolac counterparts. As for the pho - it was simply delicious. The broth was rich and flavorful, with enough cilantro garnish to keep me happy. They were also extremely generous with the portions - the bowl contained noticeably more noodles and beef than Pagolac's version. So for approximately $1 more, Doan's offers the better value.

Though I enjoy Pagolac's laid back atmosphere and free tea refills, the quality of the food at Doan's gives Pagolac a run for their money. I'll definitely be back for another round.

Palm trees!

Pho Dac Biet

Pho Tai

Friday, November 10, 2006

"Studio 60" Reprieve

I was getting ready to write a post titled "In Memoriam: Studio 60" when NBC officially granted the flailing drama a full season on Thursday.

I loved Aaron Sorkin's previous effort, The West Wing. I quote the show incessantly, compare moments in real life to scenes in an episode, and talk about the characters as if they were actual people. But that's it - the world Sorkin created was so rich, so palpable, and so true that it'd be a wonder if the audience wasn't affected in such a way. The characters were three-dimensional, not stock in any sense, and developed gradually over time. Moreover, the political forum was a medium that allowed issues to be brought up and debated, so education ended up an appropriate and inadvertent byproduct of the show.

By contrast, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip seems to be on a mission to force the viewers to not only like the characters, but also to bow down to high-brow television too. The show's "Big Three" are part-stereotype, part-political touchstone: Harriet is the liberal Christian entertainer, with values that continuously conflict with Hollywood expectations; Simon is the black comic who grew up in the 'hood, with interest for equal representation behind the scenes; and Tom is the young actor from the Midwest with a brother in Afghanistan and parents who don’t understand his career decision. Critics and the general public alike have chastised the show for being too pushy and pedantic, overindulgent in its adoration for itself. Who really cares about the ratings of a sketch-comedy show, or whether or not a politically incorrect piece makes it on air? Whereas West Wing's POTUS dealt with an assassination attempt, impeachment, genocide and terrorism, NBS network chief Jordan McDeere frets over censors, negative publicity, and signing the next bit hit.

Despite my criticism, it hasn't been all bad. My favorite scene so far is a tender moment between Matt and Harriet, the show's will-they-or-won't-they couple, underscored by a lute version of Sting's "Fields of Gold." Lovely.

I will continue to watch simply because it's Sorkin. However, I do hope that the talk about the show coming down from its pedestal is true - Studio 60's longevity depends on it.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Tim Hortons' Breakfast Sandwich

On Sunday morning, I finally made it to Tim Hortons to try their new hot breakfast sandwich, which I haven't stopped talking about since seeing the advertisement (it appears that they allow their Canadian customers to have their sleep and eat too, offering the sandwich until noon on weekends but only until 11am in the States).

I have always been a fan of the Sausage McMuffin at McDonald's, but if I had to compare English muffins with biscuits as a base, the latter would win every time. For this reason, Tim's sausage sandwich is my clear favorite. It is marginally bigger than the McDonald's version (with 60 more calories), but at $2.49 plus tax, it's fairly pricey; for that amount you could almost buy an entire meal at McDonalds. Still, it would be well worth the occasional "splurge" when you're craving a cheesy, egg-tastic treat to start out your day.

For the record, my dining companion consumed both the sausage and bacon versions, and claimed he felt "sick" afterwards. Weak.

Understand that I never intended on taking a photo that seems to undercut the appeal of the sandwich...