Optimistically Cautious

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Poverty in Malawi

I ventured out late this afternoon for another International Week session titled, "Gender, Education and the HIV/AID Pandemic in Rural Malawi." Presenting were Dr. Anne Fanning, a retired physician, and Rachel Maser, who just recently returned from a ten-month volunteer stint in Malawi with Engineers Without Borders.

Dr. Fanning began the session with a whirlwind twenty minute PowerPoint presentation meant to provide a framework and overview of the factors involved in poverty, including the necessity of infrastructure, good governance and access to education. While the content was there, I wish there had been more time for depth - her spiel can best be likened to a Blender Blaster of statistics, charts, graphs, maps and fact lists. I think she may have made some assumptions that the audience was more familiar with the material than we actually were (or, it may have just been me), and breezed through it without a pause. It's evident she's extremely knowledgeable (she is one of the leading experts on TB), so I can only hope to be able to hear her speak again on a future occasion (an exasperating fact - though condom use is not as prevalent in Africa as it should be, Dr. Fanning noted a statistic that an able-bodied, sexually-active man in Africa only has access to an average of fourteen condoms a year).

Rachel also referred to PowerPoint slides, and on them included many pictures she took while in Malawi. Working through EWB, but with an organization called ActionAid, her objective focused on girls' education. One of her projects while there involved organizing a day where young girls were able to listen to positive role models working in professional jobs, and then job shadow some of those women on the following day. She came away with the sense that more had to be done to change the perception that the domain of the female was in the home. One interesting point - Malawi, at least in the southern part of the country where she was stationed, is quite well connected by cell phone. She talked about how the technology was revolutionizing the way people did business. For instance, a farmer could receive a text message with the current market price for grain, and then decide whether or not a trip to town would be worth it.

In all, it was great to be able to hear perspectives of those who have worked and lived in the field.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Warm and Inviting: Free Press Bistro

Dickson and I met up after work today for a quick bite to eat. He insisted on something "warm" (what can I say? He's an articulate one), and I suggested the Free Press Bistro (10014-104 Street).

Until recently, the restaurant belonged to the Original Fare collective, a group of independently-owned eateries in the city. The following is an excerpt from an interview with Natasha Shekhter-Chapman, one of the proprietors of Free Press, distributed in the November 2006 Original Fare newsletter:

"Our concept is to do non-processed panini's. What I found with panini's is that most of them are processed, generic food. Whereas here the chicken is roasted, the pork is pulled. Everything down to our desserts we make here. For us it is about non-processed, unique, healthy, incorporating all different aspects of the world. You look at our menu and we've got Thai and Vietnamese, and then we have the French, the Cajun, kind of all over the world but combining them all into a very basic thing. Everybody loves sandwiches."

I'd been there once prior, almost a year ago, on a similarly blustery day, but wasn't too impressed with the food at that time, however. Just a stone's throw (okay, maybe more like a punt) away from Bay Station, it's in quite a convenient downtown location.

The restaurant was cozy and inviting, and even more so as the dimmed lighting brought out the warmth in the earth toned walls. Non-obtrusive vintage newspapers accented the dining room, a theme continued on their colorful menus. While I wasn’t a huge fan of their furniture (clunky metal and tacky pink), the calming ambiance somewhat made up for it.

To start, we ordered the intriguing Chip Butty, an apparent spin on a British pub classic, with fries and mozza grilled between Ciabatta bread. For our main plates, I went with the Chicken Parmesan (breaded chicken, tomato sauce, mozzarella), while Dickson chose the Free Press Club (chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, bacon).

The Chip Butty came soon enough, and my, it may be my new favorite sandwich. The combination of french fries and melted cheese encased in crisp Ciabatta tasted heavenly and had it been served with gravy instead of a lemon dill aioli, it could have been considered a 'poutine sandwich.' Come to think of it, perhaps I should add a panini grill to my kitchen wish list.

As for our entrees - the chicken in mine was a tad on the dry side, but using ketchup for dipping, it wasn't too noticeable. The star of the sandwich was indeed the bread. Dickson wondered if they baked it on-site. Based on their interview excerpt above, I'd hope so. Lastly, the fries were of the shoestring variety (which I normally dislike), but I didn't mind them on this occasion.

While I'm happy to say I had a good experience this time around, I may have to return to see if they can remain consistent with both the service and the food.

Restaurant interior

Cool menu

Chip Butty with Lemon Dill Aioli

Club Sandwich (with a dollop of ketchup because Dickson couldn't wait to dig in)

Chicken Parmesan

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Culinary Q & A with Dickson


Day: Evil Overlord
Night: Math Tutor

What did you eat today?

Breakfast: Kellogg's Corn Flakes
Lunch: Sticky rice.
Dinner: Instant Noodles.
Late night snack: Kellogg's Corn Flakes

What do you never eat?

Raw meat - especially fish

What is your personal specialty?

Beefy Cheesy Pasta - now with tomatoes!

What is your favorite kitchen item?


World ends tomorrow. Describe your last meal.

Appetizer: I've never cared too much about appetizers so I'm just going to say Chicken Salad and today's soup!
Main course: A 12 oz kobe beef steak, lobster dipped in melted butter, mash potatoes with greens smothered in gravy. Extra salt.
Dessert: Creme Brulee and Apple Pie from Joey's

Where do you eat out most frequently?

I like to give equal patronage to the various restaurants around town so every few weeks I rotate. My rotation so far:

Tokyo Express
Garden Bakery
All Happy

Current Rotation: Sam Wok

What's the best place to eat in Edmonton?

My two favorite dishes are steak and pho. So I'm going to have to vote for KEG and Doan's (though I've just been told King Noodle House has the best pho in town so my vote may change).

If you weren't limited by geography, where and what would you eat?

International House of Pancakes. What can I say? I'm an expensive eater :)

But really, I don't think I've travelled enough to give this question a thoughtful answer.

Dickson cooking up his specialty
(it also happens to be his birthday today - Happy Birthday!)

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Monday, January 29, 2007

One person's junk...

Who knew? I read an article in the Edmonton Journal today about a new collectibles phenomenon - Starbucks gift cards. From the piece by Shannon Proudfoot:

"BucksCards.com, a website devoted to collectors of Starbucks gift cards - by far the most popular and lucrative on the market - reports that two anonymous collectors recently paid more than $2,000 each for cards that carried no balance but were produced in limited quantities for employees or contest winners.

"'Gift cards are like stamp collectibles or coin collectibles - just a modern version,' says Margaret Li, a collector from Vancouver who uses eBay to sell of duplicates or unwanted cards.

"The food news for Canadians is that on the Starbucks gift card market, the little guy may have the upper hand: there are vastly fewer of the ubiquitous coffee outlets in this country, so Canadian designs are more rare and valuable."

The website provides some interesting tidbits on misprints and other things to look for in collectible cards. It also highlights rare cards issued in countries around the world - I think it'd be a neat idea to pick up such international variations as travel mementos instead of the more commonplace postcard.

I've actually kept every card I've purchased or received, but for a different reason - I'm a sentimental pack rat. Still, it's reassuring on some level that there is a market out there for seemingly irrelevant, disposable pieces of plastic.


It's a Fashion Revolution: Uniform Sizing

I read an Associated Press article reprinted in the Edmonton Journal on Friday about a program women everywhere have been holding their breath for - standardized sizing across merchants.

"Spain's government has reached an agreement with major fashion designers, including the owner of the Zara chain, to standardize women's clothing sizes with the aim of promoting a healthier image. Designers such as Cortefiel, Mango, El Corte Ingles and Inditex, which owns Zara, agreed to take part in the program, which was announced Tuesday.

"The program, designed by the Health Ministry, will also prevent those companies from using window displays featuring clothes smaller than a European size 38 (10 in Britain, 8 in the United States). They will have five years to phase in the change."

Imagine - shopping for yourself, or for loved ones, and not having to guesstimate sizes. And the end of the line for the "sizing up" marketing strategy, a tactic that exploits self-esteem shopping for those who marvel at their sudden ability to wear a smaller size.

I hope this movement hits North American shores soon!


Ronald Wright: "The Traps of Progress"

After months of self-flogging as punishment for missing Stephen Lewis's keynote address in 2006, I made sure to take time out of my regularly scheduled workday this afternoon to attend Ronald Wright's opening lecture for the University of Alberta's annual International Week.

Wright's address was excerpted from his award winning Massey Lecture, A Short History of Progress. Drawing extensively from history and in particular, literary references, he provided an overview of the human population explosion, with the dire warning that the earth cannot sustain growth at such exponential levels.

In all honesty, a forty-five minute talk can only be expected to skim the surface, and Wright didn't have the time to go much further than the exposition of facts and quotes spanning two millennia. Because of this, I ended up paying more attention to his oratorical style.

No doubt, Wright has an ear for language and cadence (for example, a clever insertion of the descriptor "softened" following a sentence on Viagra), and as expected of a novelist, had many quotable phrases (e.g. "the new religion of the bottom line"). Still, I was a little disappointed that he mainly read from the page, and hardly wavered from his written word.

Following his speech, there was a brief Q & A session. He had an interesting response to the question probing for his opinion on how many people the earth could reasonably sustain. He harked back to the days before the steam age, and estimated that only up to two million people could live comfortably, without the great variations in wealth and poverty that we have today, and utilizing only environmentally pure technologies. This connects back to an article I read in the Globe & Mail recently about reducing our "ecological footprint." According to a model created by William Rees, an ecological economist, Canadians are living and consuming resources as if the planet were 20-25% larger than it actually is.

At any rate, I am glad I had the opportunity to be exposed to Wright's perspective on the global issue of sustainability.


Sunday, January 28, 2007

Random Weekend Notes

  • I watched Little Miss Sunshine over the weekend. It's easily the funniest movie I've seen in recent memory. Steve Carell was hilariously dry, and Paul Dano, the silent, Nietze-reading adolescent brother, had me in pieces with his looks of eye-rolling indifference.
  • Had a brush with a fake designer bag - bought what I thought was a Diane Von Furstenburg Rolling City Bag from Winners on Friday. But something didn't feel right. I scoured the internet for evidence that this black and white heart-pattered weekender was authentic, but found no trace that this color scheme existed. And knowing that Winners has carried replica merchandise in the past (fake Seven for All Mankind jeans, for example), I promptly returned it today.
  • Visited the Old Strathcona Farmer's Market on Saturday while I was in the neighborhood. It was as lively and bustling as I remembered. Most of the produce there were winter vegetables (carrots, squash, potatoes), but I did pick up a jar of organic strawberry jam that will come in handy when I make Linzer cookies later this month.
  • While on Whyte, I also stopped by The Plaid Giraffe (10340-82 Avenue), an affordable gift and jewelry store on the Avenue. Though I'm not much of a jewelry person, I couldn't help buying a Lavishy 1 inch circle necklace. I figure it'll tide me over until I have the means and the opportunity to buy the Adina version.

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Quietly Authentic: Sushi Wasabi

Following the play, Annie and I went to Sushi Wasabi (5714-111 Street) for dinner.

Tucked away in the Lendrum strip mall, I was somewhat surprised that such a nondescript eatery could draw the constant patronage that it did that night. And this led to one of the downsides of the restaurant - because of the table demand (and limited seating), we weren't able to dawdle and chat as long as we would have liked.

Annie assured me that their food was very authentic, which explained to some degree their higher-than-average prices. Thankfully, I managed to find something on the menu that didn't involve raw food or fish - the Shichmiyaki Chicken (chicken marinated in Teriyaki sauce served with bean sprouts). I also ordered a side of Miso Soup. Annie opted for the Bento Box, which also came with Miso Soup.

Before our food came, the waitress brought hot towels for us. I felt like I was on a Singapore Airlines flight! It was nicely refreshing. Our soups arrived shortly after, which I found less salty than Kyoto's version. As for the chicken - it was definitely better than Mikado's beef equivalent. Lightly fried, then cooked with Teriyaki sauce, the morsels were delightfully crispy and delicately flavored. And though the portion size was fair, on hungrier nights, I'd likely order an appetizer for good measure.

With great service and good food, I can see why Sushi Wasabi is so popular and in such high regard.

Restaurant interior

Miso Soup

Bento Box

Shichmiyaki Chicken

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Theatre: "Sexy Laundry"

I met up with Annie on Saturday afternoon to watch Shadow Theatre's Sexy Laundry at the Varscona Theatre. From the website:

"Armed with a copy of Sex for Dummies, Alice and Henry check into a trendy hotel with a mission to jumpstart their 25-year marriage. Time has taken its toll; kids, stress, and gravity have all had a detrimental effect. This once-loving couple has hit their fifties and the marriage blahs. Will Alice and Henry survive the test of their relationship...or even this weekend?"

I became especially interested in seeing the play after reading a pre-production interview in Vue Weekly with Coralie Cairns, who said, in regards to one of the themes of the play, "Any time you know someone well enough, you almost just stop listening to them, and start looking for the markers, hearing what they say without actually listening to what it is they’re saying."

Yes, this issue was addressed, but perhaps one of the greatest weaknesses of this play was the fact that it tried to tackle too many issues, including, among others, self-image, career, work/family balance, fantasies, aging, and of course, the meaning of marriage. As a result, the play felt scattered, unfocused, and like a wrought emotional rollercoaster. More than Dinner with Friends, I was exhausted by what seemed like two hours of straight yelling. While everything felt very realistic - the dialogue, communication, and the actors' familiarity with one another - I can't say that it was enjoyable to watch two people go from rational to frustrated to tender without any time for the viewer to reflect on what was said (there was no intermission in this production either). Though I tried to empathize, I found that I couldn't relate to what the characters were going through, and thus, couldn't bring myself to the point where I was invested in the outcome of their weekend. Essentially, watching this couple air their dirty laundry got tiresome.

As for the acting - Cairns was fabulous, and really brave. The end scene had her in fishnets, hooker boots, a leather mini and a stomach-bearing leather print top. It was a necessary costume, to visually demonstrate her desperation and vulnerability at that point, but I'm sure not every actress would be so willing to display her flaws. Glen Nelson did a good job in the role of Henry as well, the proud and sarcastic family man. However, I did find his character's tendency to interrupt conversational flow jilting and rather annoying.

The set was surprisingly sleek and polished, and unusually sophisticated for the Varscona stage. Designer Trevor Schmidt made good use of circular pieces (linking to Henry's last metaphor of 'coming home') – with the bed, table, lighting, and of course, three large mirrors, hung so that they provided a visual reminder that the audience was literally reflected on stage.

Though I may not have enjoyed the play as much as I thought I would, Annie liked it. I'm sure she's well on her way to becoming a full-fledged theatre convert.


2007 Ice on Whyte Festival

On Saturday afternoon, I headed to the 4th annual Ice on Whyte Festival.

Had I been better prepared with a hat and scarf to combat the wicked windchill that day, I would have stayed longer, but as it was, I snapped a few pictures and ran for indoor cover.

All of the carving competitions had taken place the weekend previous, so this weekend was a time for wanderers to marvel at the sculptures. In addition to the individual displays, there was a castle, and even an ice movie screen where films were shown every evening.

However, the crown jewel for me was the ice slide. For $1, I was given a small piece of plastic to sit on, and instructed to hug my legs at the top. I would blame my long wool coat and boots for what happened, but in reality, I am rather uncoordinated to begin with. Needless to say, I didn't end up in a sitting position at the end, and even hit my head on the bottom. When I brought the board back to the slide creator, he deadpanned, "You are the worst slider I have ever seen," and asked if I was okay. Yep, it was pretty embarrassing, but so much fun. If it had been warmer, I may have had another go.

This was my first time at the Festival, and next year, I'll be sure to monitor the forecast to head out on a warmer day!

"Building Canada"

Unidentified sculpture

Ice castle

Slide of death

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Theatre: "Crazy for You"

After dinner, Dickson and I went to the opening night performance of Crazy for You, the second production of the year for Grant MacEwan's Theatre Arts Program. From the website:

"an artfully constructed show-biz tale of boy meets girl, but rather than Times Square they’re in the Wild West, where they spread good will, good tunes and, of course, good lovin’. It’s a high energy comedy that includes mistaken identity, plot twists, fabulous dance numbers and classic Gershwin music."

As custom, the house was nearly full, packed undoubtedly with family and friends of the cast members. John L. Haar Theatre really is a beautiful facility, fully equipped with wide aisles, a gorgeous stage, and orchestra pit. It's too bad it's out of the way, and not in proximity to any large attractions, as their programming should be seen by a wider audience.

For a student production, it was quite well done. The costumes were great, as were the set pieces (in particular, the clown car was well built, leading to an unexpected routine that provided a good display of stage magic). My favorite character was hands down Irene Roth, the soon-to-be wife of the Saloon owner in Deadrock. She was played with great sass by Ashley Bjorndal, and carried off some great verbal exchanges with Bobby Child's mother and her future husband.

I thought the first half as a whole was better than the second half, both in pacing and songs presented. Furthermore, the dancing was stronger than the singing in this show - the male lead had a fairly weak voice (Dickson said the actor who played Bela Zangler had the better voice, and here, I'll defer to his trained ear). I was also surprised at the lack of a show stopping end number. "I Got Rhythm," clearly the most catchy song, and the only one in length that featured the entire cast, fell just before intermission, leaving the audience vainly wanting more.

I was also surprised at their decision to use a projected backdrop to convey the different scene locations. Because of their elaborate sets, I thought this was unnecessary and rather distracting. Specifically, the image of the Gaity Theatre seats could be considered inaccurate, as usual musical-within-a-musical productions see the rehearsals conducted facing the imaginary audience, not upstage.

Despite my nitpicks, it was a fun production overall, and one that left me with a desire to dance!


Sub-par Pho: King Noodle House

Dickson had been referred to King Noodle House (10613-97 Street) by a friend who claimed it boasted the best pho in the city. Emboldened by such a high recommendation, we sought to put it to the test on Friday.

The furniture was clearly from another era, seemingly having been transplanted from an 80s bar. The variations of pho offered were numerous, taking up at least eighty percent of their menu. Clipped inside the plastic jackets as well were copies of two favorable reviews from the Edmonton Journal and the Edmonton Sun. I ended up selecting pho with beef balls and flank, while Dickson chose the special #2 (containing a number of things I can't recall).

The food came lightning quick, perhaps only two minutes behind the record set by Pho Hoa. My dish arrived with plenty of cilantro (hurrah), but all of it had already been submerged in the soup (boo). I found the meat portion small, but worst of all, the soup base was sub-par - oily and lacking flavor, it was rather disappointing. It definitely left me unsatisfied and in longing for a replacement bowl from either Pagolac or Doan's.

Next up for pho firsts: V's (#111, 4990-92 Avenue).

Restaurant interior

In place of an actual fish tank

Special #2

Pho with Beef Balls and Flank

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Kitchen Wish List

As I watch television chefs in action, I grow ever-envious of their kitchens: the wide cooking space, the gadgets, the quality utensils. While my Mum's kitchen is fairly well-stocked (who knew we had a mandolin?), there are a few things I intend on adding to our collection:

  • an immersion blender - to more easily make fabulously creamy soups (as seen on Barefoot Contessa);
  • a pizza stone - to create authentically crispy thin crust pizzas (as seen on Ricardo & Friends);
  • a functional, multi-purpose dutch oven (as seen on Everyday Italian);
  • Linzer cookie cutters (to make, well, Linzer cookies); and
  • a set of stainless steel dry measuring cups (sturdier than their plastic counterparts).

I've found Winners to be quite a great kitchen supply store so far, but I'm willing to shop around for a while to find even better prices. The hunt begins!


Next Stop: Disneyland

Late last year, the Churchill Station platform was Enmax-ified.

For anyone who didn't pass through this LRT stop, Enmax took over all of the display windows, hung large banners from the rafters, and even plastered the stairs and seating blocks with their logo and message (one morning, Enmax representatives were even at the Station handing out branded ice scrapers). Advertising their new EasyMax energy program, it made sense on some level to target the population utilizing public transportation - people who perhaps ride the bus for financial reasons who may be looking for ways to save money on electricity costs, or who have environmental concerns and may be interested in alternative providers.

If you have been to the station recently, however, it has undergone another makeover into an inescapable billboard for Disneyland. With a lavender color scheme and iconic portraits of spinning teacups, Snow White, and Cinderella's castle in its visual arsenal, the Magic Kingdom's display is undoubtedly more aesthetically pleasing - and emotionally manipulative - than Enmax's effort. For some, the images may conjure up feelings of nostalgia, childhood innocence, and carefree times. Still, while it is appropriate timing for summer vacation advertisements to begin their rotation, it's quite curious to me as to why Disney chose to target the LRT-riding clientele. While a wide variety of people count on public transportation in their daily lives, it's safe to assume that urban workers and students (university and otherwise) make up a large proportion of users. Does Disney think this continuous exhibition will passively lull this demographic into "I'm going to Disneyland!" proclamations?

I was thinking a more effective method would be to have Mickey and all his merry friends court potential travelers in person, and à la Enmax, hand out mouse ears and other themed memorabilia. A fun new hat may not spur a trip across the continent, but the receiver may end up wearing the ears all across the city, thus spreading the association. Or, even better, lobby ETS to temporarily change the Station name to "Disneyland." Can you imagine hearing "Next train: Disneyland," or "Next stop: Disneyland." Now that would be marketing.

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Culinary Q & A with Annie

Occupation: Teacher, President of the Professional Procrastinators' Club, sexy Paramagnus intern, ex-fanfic writer, and sane-person-wannabe.

What did you eat today?

Breakfast: Warm cranberry crumble with ice cream (at 9:30 in the morning…that is what my Dept Head decided to bring to school for our PD…it was delicious but I’ve NEVER eaten ice cream at such an hour. I am a strong believer that you don’t eat junk food at least until 10:30 a.m.).

Lunch: SwissChalet’s rotisserie chicken with a Caesar salad and sautéed mushrooms and an iced tea. And may I comment that SwissChalet’s gravy ALWAYS taste like DOG FOOD. It was so gross I ended up using trusty salt and pepper.

Snack: A baby container of Silhouette yoghurt. And a leftover cup of organic coffee that nobody wanted after the PD meeting. It was from the pot and I couldn’t bear to dump it.

Dinner: A nutritious breakfast: 1 cup of Kellogg’s Special Flakes (Vanilla Almond), a toasted sesame bagel with garlic & herb cream cheese, and an orange juice.

Snack: Bowl of apples and strawberries.

What do you never eat?

Donkeys, dogs, and cats.

What is your personal specialty?

Chewy, crystal-like spicy Korean instant noodles. You really have to be an expert microwave/electric water kettle user to tackle this feat.

What is your favorite kitchen item?

I was going to say spatula…but I think I’ll go with chopsticks. You can beat eggs with them, panfry your fish or whatever with them…eat with them…use them as skewers/toothpicks…and oh, they are great for drumming and hitting your dog with.

World ends tomorrow. Describe your last meal.

Appetizer: Chinese cold dish of jellyfish in sesame oil and my Dad’s famous shrimp salad (he always puts in tiny cubes of celery and apples for texture…works VERY well with the shrimpies)
Main course: A bento of sushi (especially tamago, avacado/tempura, and inari ~ you know, that one with the sweet tofu wrap! ) & sashimi (tuna, salmon, and beef).

My Grandma or Grandpa’s ginger fried rice…the story here is that this is what I survived on while on a train trip to Mainland China…I couldn’t eat anything else until we got to our destination. Whenever there was a stop, there would be vendors on the train platform, trying to sell us rice bentos…the problem was…I think they made the bentos on the street...every bite I took, there was SAND…and I remember my Mom finding tiny pebbles in it. YUM. This is how they made their living; I think they did their best for what they have.

A lotus seed bun. This is one of the most vivid memories I have of my Grandpa…when I was really little, he used to take me to DimSum in Hong Kong and I always loved lotus seed buns. When the waiter drops the bamboo steamer of lotus seed buns at our table, my Grandpa would immediately grab one, take the paper on the bottom off, carefully break the bun in half, and then blow on it to cool it down…and then he’d smile and give it to me. You have no idea how I can feel so loved from such a simple gesture. And he laughed when I told him this when he was visiting us in 2005...a good 20 years later.

Some BBQ pork & rice. When I was in kindergarten, my Principal/headmaster used to babysit me for my Grandma while she worked...she loved me and always took me out for lunch and BBQ pork with rice was my favourite. My headmaster also bought me my first plastic baby grand piano with its own stool! They lubbed me!

Dessert: A Japanese rice green tea. Some matcha (green tea) ice cream. Thai Sticky Rice with Mangoes. Bailey’s cheesecake. Fresh fruit. Clearly, all this stuff should be in the main course anyway.I’d probably die from eating all this food …no need to wait for the end of the world…but I digress...

Where do you eat out most frequently?

I want to firstly say ‘ew’ to Mackenzie Male who put down “Denny’s”. Hehe.
I’d say “Tokyo Express”.

What's the best place to eat in Edmonton?

Marco Polo in Chinatown! HAHAHA. Yes, if I want to eat cockroach bits.

Actually, I’d say the La Ronde with their beautiful, well-stocked brunch buffet. Omelettes made to order…woohoo! And the scenery. Nothing beats a rotating restaurant. Worth my 28 bucks or whatever.

If you weren't limited by geography, where and what would you eat?

I suppose I will have to eat all the fresh sashimi in Japan. Spicy rice cakes in Korea. And last but not least, go to Spain and try this scary sounding Hake fish thing. I'd like the gigantic cooked eyeballs...very chewy.

My God...it's all seafood! Um, how about breadfruit? Never tried that.


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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Film: "Their Brothers' Keeper"

Until March, the University of Alberta International Centre will be holding weekly film screenings to increase awareness about global issues that affect the worldwide community, including human trading, conflict, and disease.

Tonight, I went to watch a film entitled Their Brothers' Keeper: Orphaned by AIDS:

"Filmed over a seven-month period, Their Brothers' Keepers goes inside Chazanga Compound, a shantytown in Lusaka, Zambia. The crew focuses on two families headed by children, and their ongoing struggle for food, water, schooling and health care. Local community and aid workers offer support but lack any real resources. Throughout the film, excerpts from speeches by Stephen Lewis, UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, fill in the broader social context."

In Zambia alone, there are an estimated 850,000 orphans. Those children without any remaining adult relatives, or adult relatives nearby, are forced to support themselves. So mature, strong, and brave these young heads of family are that it was easy to forget that they are still children, robbed of the opportunity to play, to laugh, to go to school and to grow up naturally and away from death. The children filmed showed many signs of resilience, most notably, continuing the tradition of storytelling. While the elder sister of one family was away, her brother of eight years made sure his six and three year old siblings didn't miss their nightly ritual.

Following the screening, a medical practitioner who has worked in Africa, Dr. Stan Houston, led a question and answer session. He noted that the movie was decidedly optimistic, whereas the general tone at which he spoke betrayed his more realistic viewpoint - that tens of millions more people will die before the global community will act aggressively enough to stop the pandemic.

One of the most interesting audience members was a Registered Nurse who had volunteered in Zambia for a number of years, working with an NGO to assist with ARV (Anti-Retroviral) delivery in rural areas. In her experience, while the drugs may be available for distribution, without the infrastructure and support of public health services, the pills would be rendered ineffective.

Something that came out of the discussion that I wasn't aware of was the effectiveness of male circumcision to decrease HIV infection. In two separate random trials, the transmission rate was 50% less in circumcised men. Though a few pointed out that encouraging condom use would be easier than mass procedures, it's still a measure worth knowing about.

I was thoroughly engaged, and look forward to similar events in lieu of International Week, that runs next week from January 29-February 2. I encourage you to attend a session or two.

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Never usually one with great timing, turns out my 24 post earlier this week showed a bit of foresight. Today's Edmonton Journal printed an article originally conceived for the Colorado Springs Gazette all about Jack's handy bag from season 5:

"they can hardly keep the bag in stock. Both men and women are buying it. It was a big hit at Christmas and now, with the sixth season premiering Sunday and Monday night, orders are pouring in. 'I mean people are saying things like, 'Thank God I found one. My husband wants one, my son wants one, I want one.''

Jeffrey is just a tad mystified, not being a die-hard fan. But his brother Michael is a fan. And it's kind of embarrassing for Jeffrey to relay this, but he does, anyway, for the sake of capitalism: 'Michael is always saying, 'What would Jack do?' I mean, he’s 61.'"

And for $24 US, you too can be like Jack.

Jack's man-purse (photo from NewYorkFirst.com)


Monday, January 22, 2007

Culinary Q & A with Amanda

Occupation: University student

What did you eat today?

I ate leftover taco for lunch and for dinner i had cauliflower and mushrooms

What do you never eat?

I never eat aspargus or brussel sprouts (ew)

What is your personal specialty?

I can't cook but a can make a killer big breakfast consisting of bacon, eggs, toast and hashbrowns

What is your favorite kitchen item?

Probably a butter spreader or your bread will taste like shit

World ends tomorrow. Describe your last meal.

All you can eat buffet ( pizza, club sandwiches, tomatos, bacon, californian rolls)

Where do you eat out most frequently?


What's the best place to eat in Edmonton?

Banzai (with a 2 for 1 coupon)

If you weren't limited by geography, where and what would you eat?

There's nothing I want to eat that I can't get here

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Men are like Coats

Gotta love a good analogy. First, there was LC's comparison of boyfriends to handbags on Laguna Beach:

"LC: No, I think it’s more like purses, actually. You’re always going to have that one boy that you’re always comfortable with and you’ll always kind of like, right? That’s your purse that you wear everywhere, right? Then you have that gorgeous bag you want everyone to see you with.

Jen: Yeah, but the gorgeous bag is usually an ass****.

LC: Or costs a lot of money. Then you have like those other purses that you really like but don’t really want to be seen with."

And now, an article from The Soko claims that men are like coats.

While the piece isn't ground breaking, and certainly doesn't provide any epiphanies, it's a cute read all the same (especially because I just found a fabulous coat). My favorite comparable quality:

"Ensure the Coat Really Complements You

If you're committing to a nice article of clothing, you need to make sure that it suits you and your lifestyle -- fit, colour, style, etc. Don't buy the coat if it washes you out or is too big on you or isn't suitable for an active lifestyle.

Maybe it's the style of the season, but if it doesn't work on you, you're going to be frustrated. With regard to relationships, why invest any further if you know he's not the person for you? Longevity and quality are key - for coats and relationships."

My only nitpick: I would expect the optimistically ambiguous 'he's out there' byline to bring out a knee-jerk response of cynicism in most women.

Still, I've got the coat, and a girl can't have everything, right?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

"24": Season 6 Initial Thoughts

Jack's back(!) in the adrenaline-pumping, non-stop thrill ride known as 24.

As per prior seasons, it appears the central focus of this day will be preventing a nuclear attack (is it just me, or have warheads become blasé for other seasoned 24 watchers?). But now that the show has matured, and we're on to POTUS #3, it's interesting to be able to compare the leaders, asking, "What would David do?" or, God forbid, "What would Charles do?" and wonder if Wayne Palmer's insecurities are any worse than Logan's.

I continue to be fascinated by the mainstays of the show, including the steady erosion of civil liberties, the astonishing viral corruption apparent in all levels of public service, the ethical and moral dilemmas faced by the CotS (Civilian-of-the-Season), and of course, how "we're securing a 10-block parameter around the scene" still means erecting a barrier of swiss cheese.

I also love the director's ability to flawlessly point to character relationships - a flash of Karen Hayes' ring to indicate her engagement to Bill Buchanan, or Sandra Palmer's call to her brother in high office. And speaking of characters, there has been an interesting array of casting choices so far this season: Peter MacNicol of Ally McBeal fame ("I like a clean bowl!"), as a suspicious Presidential advisor; Shaun Majumder, a former host on the children's television network YTV, as an Islamic fundamentalist martyr; and Kal Penn, one half of the Harold & Kumar duo who spent the length of a movie searching for a burger, as a terrorist recruit. It's also worth noting that Mary Lynn Rajskub looks great this year; Chloe is really coming into her own.

Lastly, the real reason why I watch this show: to uncover, while mourning the loss of Jack's man-purse, how it is possible for Kiefer to look equally good in a casual long-sleeved tee and a dress shirt.

Episode 5 airs tomorrow night!


Holt Renfew & Seven for All Mankind Jeans

On Christmas Adam, May and I headed to Holt Renfrew and committed ourselves to a shopping trip that involved more than a cursory glance at their products. Although a friend of mine works there, I still get intimated - I feel that the clerks can see through me and know that I don't belong amongst the racks of Marc Jacobs, DVF, and Theory.

My aim that day was to buy a pair of designer jeans. I have only owned one pair up to that point - a casual pair of James Jeans that I picked up on sale at Caban a few years ago. Since then, I have been considering other brands, and as of late have been gravitating towards Seven for All Mankind. The 'original' premium denim line, I consider it an entry-level label, particularly when compared with the pricier Citizens of Humanity, Rock & Republic, and True Religion designs. I wanted a classic pair that could breach the line between casual and dressy, and I thought the bootcut, New York Dark wash fit this bill exactly. Not dark enough that fading with subsequent washes would be a big issue, the jeans fit well, and with complementary alterations from Holt, would be ready for a night out on the town in a week.

The purchase was placed in a highly coveted magenta shopping bag. Honestly, I couldn't say at that point which I was more enamored with - the jeans or the bag. I had read an article about Holt's brand overhaul a few months ago, but was too far removed to understand and appreciate the allure of this image. After my own brush with the pink, however, I can say that yes, the bag can very well be a status symbol if treated as such (the fashion equivalent of a Starbucks cup, haha).

In January, I brought the jeans back after work one day to get them hemmed. While the clerk assisting me was quite helpful, I will say that I was disappointed with the other saleswoman on the floor, who quite obviously looked me up and down and did not hide the look of disdain on her face. It is moments like this that discourage future shopping trips at Holt Renfrew (Aritizia or City Centre Mall's Get Set would be friendlier alternatives).

At any rate, I have enjoyed my Sevens so far, and while it may be an empty vow, I will try to contain new purchases of premium denim, at least for a while.

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The Cooking Chronicles: Chocolate Pot du Crème

Knowing that I would have company over on the weekend, I planned ahead and made Chocolate Pot du Crème (a recipe from my handy Better Homes & Gardens cookbook) on Friday night.

Essentially denser, unwhipped chocolate mousse, the recipe was of the "prepare ahead" variety that my personal entertainment guru, Ina Garten, would have approved of. I did, however, have to separate egg yolks and whites for the first time (and learned quickly that the trick is to ensure that the shell is broken down the middle, otherwise there ends up being not enough of a 'cup' to transfer the yolk back and forth into).

I poured the mixtures into individual clear glass dessert cups, purchased earlier at Dollarama (a surprising boon for cooks seeking cheap but functional serving ware), and put them in the fridge to set overnight.

I was quite happy with the final product. I chose to top each serving off with raspberries in addition to white chocolate curls, which helped temper the richness of the chocolate and added some great color as well. One thing - it wasn't as smooth as I would have liked, and an immersion blender in this case would have come in handy.

Though I prefer the lighter panna cotta, Annie commented that the pot du crème made for a nice winter dessert. It may be worth making again with flavor substitutions.

Chocolate Pot du Crème with Raspberries and White Chocolate Shavings


Annie's Birthday: Joey's Global Grill and Dirty Minds

Last night, Mack, Dickson and I helped Annie celebrate her birthday, starting with dinner at Joey's Global Grill & Lounge (9911-19 Avenue).

A restaurant I have been to numerous times since it opened a few years ago, it defines the "casual upscale" movement, and appears not to hire waitresses a day over 25. It was a typical Saturday night, where the wait time for a table was between forty five and sixty minutes. Luckily, Mack and Dickson arrived early enough to counter the fashionably late females.

My order was sadly predictable - the Wild Mushroom Soup and Caesar Salad. Unfortunately, not much else on their menu appeals to me (it is actually remarkably similar to the offerings found at Earl's, but slightly better). Still, the soup is consistently excellent, so I can't complain - creamy, sweet, and served with just enough mushrooms - it is the perfect choice to temper a cold winter's night.

Ginger beef appetizer

Bellini (it has been much too long since my last Bellini)

Wild Mushroom Soup & Caesar Salad

Mack's Lobster Ravioli

Dickson's Quarter Chicken

Annie's Chicken & Ribs

Present time!


After dinner, we headed back to my house for dessert, movies, and a trial run of Dirty Minds. Dickson and Mack thought they'd try to bypass a quick trip to the grocery store by heading straight to my house, betting that my family would welcome them inside with open arms. A quick phone call to my Dad ensured that didn't happen, and is one of the many reasons I love my family - they actually let the boys wait outside on the porch until Annie and I returned. Sure, I felt a teeny bit guilty, but it was a good opportunity for them to test out the warmth of their winter jackets.

No dice!

Before watching Scary Movie 4 (crap) and The Fast and the Furious 3: Tokyo Drift (incredible stunt driving), we played More Dirty Minds. It was pretty fun, with Dickson even coming up with a teaser of his own! Annie and I ended up beating them through the luck of the cards we drew.

Dickson engrossed in his clues

Annie's D-i-r-t-y

It was a nice night overall. Happy birthday, Annie!

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Milestone #1

My own O.C. (cheesy, I know) celebrates its three month birthday today, reaching the first milestone I set for myself in December.

As of this post, I have accumulated 100 entries, which works out to an average of 1 post per day. While I doubt I will be able to maintain such a breakneck pace throughout my blogging life (interesting how such phrases have managed to work their way into my vocabulary), I can say it has been quite an enjoyable experience thus far.

At times, yes, it does feel like a chore to have to timely document most activities in my life, but I know in the future I will come to appreciate this record. I suppose one of the things I am struggling with is this exactly - there is no end date on this blog; it's meant to be active, continuously developed, dynamically changing as I grow. This is a challenge, as with most tasks - papers, projects - there exists a definite end date. It is my hope that I am able to surpass this honeymoon period, this initial stage of enthusiasm, and maintain this blog for years to come.

Thanks for reading and for your comments so far!


Friday, January 19, 2007

From Santa: the Canon PowerShot SD600

My parents were thoughtful and kind enough to buy me a camera this Christmas. As my penchant for photography has steadily developed since beginning this blog, they knew I had outgrown the family camera.

The Canon PowerShot SD600 is perfect to tote around in my purse - lightweight, easy to use, with a large 2.5 inch viewing screen - I feel like I am well equipped to capture passing 'Kodak moments.' Also, armed with a 2GB memory card and waterproof case, the camera really does travel well (though yes, I wish the screen had come with a protective plastic film!).

Besides knowing how to turn the flash on and off, and how to set the quality of the photos taken, I really haven't played much with the features yet. One aspect that I did want to highlight however, is the split second of black that separates the pictures when flipping through them in the play mode - it generates the feeling of a PowerPoint slideshow; very cool.

I look forward to getting to know my camera over the next few months and of course, continuing to post pictures of my culinary adventures!

Front (pictures taken from Steve's Digicams)


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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Culinary Q & A with Mack

Occupation: Among other things, I'm a geek, a programmer, a blogger, a podcaster, a businessman and a student.

What did you eat today?

Nothing yet, unless you count a Grande Starbucks House Blend. (It is currently 7:29 PM). I intend to go home and eat fish and rice, however.

What do you never eat?

Peanuts…sadly, I am allergic. Though I suppose I can’t say I “never” eat them. My friends have been known to “accidentally” include them in a dish.

What is your personal specialty?

I'm pretty good at making grilled cheese :).

What is your favorite kitchen item?

Wooden spoon. It's a versatile item for cooking, and can easily be used as a weapon as well.

World ends tomorrow. Describe your last meal.

Lobster stuffed with tacos! Haha…I guess I’d like a really good steak, Keg classic style, medium, with sautéed mushrooms, rice, and a side of lobster tail for good measure. Followed with carrot cake and cream cheese icing for dessert.

Or, if I had to choose something from a restaurant, I’d pick the Royal Red Robin Burger. You can read the description at http://www.canadarobin.com/Menu-GourmetBurgers.html.

And of course, whatever I eat would be served with Coca-Cola Classic.

Where do you eat out most frequently?

Denny's or perhaps McDonald's. Or Starbucks if you count coffee as eating out.

What's the best place to eat in Edmonton?

I'm sure it's not the "best", but I rather like the Old Spaghetti Factory downtown. The food is always pretty good, and the service is usually excellent. It's in a decent location, and the decor is friendly and inviting.

If you weren't limited by geography, where and what would you eat?

Some sort of "fast food" Chinese, on Sydney harbor.

Mack learning how not to break egg yolks

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Theatre: "Dinner with Friends"

Having read about Dinner with Friends in Avenue Magazine a few weeks ago, I had wanted then to see it for Davina Stewart alone. But the plot and its Pulitzer-prize winning pedigree aren't too shabby either. From the Roxy Theatre website:

"Two married couples have been best friends for years, but when one couple announces they’re splitting up, the rug is pulled out from underneath their comfortable foursome."

Mack's one word reaction to this play (as 'overheard in the theatre') was "heavy." From Beth and Tom's exhausting bedroom brawl, Tom's painful description of a disintegrating marriage, to Karen and Gabe's realization of their own fears and insecurities, all of the scenes resonated with an uncomfortable realism and a naked truth. I found the last act, with separate scenes between the two women and men the most poignant. The friends weren't able to relate to each other anymore; they had lost the common ground they had built their adult lives on.

The cast was positively superb. Though my initial thought was that Dana Andersen was the weakest link (due to his lack of intensity compared with the other three), I do now agree with Mack's opinion that Andersen played exactly the type of character asked for - unassuming and laid back. While the actors did a great job, I think the play would have worked better if all four cast members looked about the same age. Otherwise, as was the case here, it seemed like the more mature Karen and Gabe trumped the younger, more naive couple.

The production made great use of portable kitchen sets, complete with edible lemon almond polenta cake (a recipe of which is included in the program)! I also liked the curtains of circular chains positioned above the stage - great visual of the connectedness of both couples, the 'natural' cycle of marriage (as referred to by Gabe: newlyweds, mortgage, children, menopause), and of course, marriage rings (noticeably worn only by Karen and Gabe). There was also an interesting use of offstage presence - the kids and both of Tom and Beth's new partners are never seen, only heard and discussed - emphasizing both the "he said, she said" conundrum and highlighting the forced reliance on experience relayed through words.

Overall, it was a very personal and relatable play, and truly, "you never know what couples are like when they're alone; you never do."


Surprisingly Efficient: Boston Pizza

Mack and I needed a quick dinner fix yesterday evening before our 8pm play, and passing up on several shady-looking neighborhood haunts, resigned to the nearby Boston Pizza (10543-124 Street).

I am ashamed that my food adventures in high school were limited to the downtown BPs on Jasper Avenue. It was our favorite eating establishment out of general laziness and naiveté to what the culinary scene had to offer. As such, I am now very reluctant to retread my adolescent dining roots and avoid the chain whenever possible. But on this night, our hands were tied, so between the Mr. Sub on the corner and the Oilers game beaming from the lounge inside, Boston Pizza was a welcome option.

As our time was limited, we made sure to check the prep time on our food, and on the server's promise that our medium pepperoni and mushroom pizza would be done in ten minutes, we watched the clock and waited.

And arrive it did(!) - hot, and on time - count me as both surprised and extremely pleased. Nor was it badly made (though I would have called for a tad more mushrooms).

Topped off with a friendly and cheerful waitress, I would highly recommend this off-the-beaten track Boston Pizza...who knew it could be a dining destination for the theatrically-inclined?

Pepperoni & Mushroom Pizza

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In Memoriam: Dr. Bruce Stovel

I opened the Edmonton Journal this morning to read that my favorite professor, Dr. Bruce Stovel, passed away last week at 65 years young. From the Journal:

"Joseph Bruce Stovel was born in Montreal. His father became the chief executive of a major manufacturing company and the family moved frequently, even settling in New York for a time, an experience that undoubtedly expanded his world view and inspired his interest in culture generally. He married Nora Stovel, also a professor at the U of A, 42 years ago, and the couple moved to Edmonton in 1985 with their two children, Laura and Grant.

"It's typical of Mr. Stovel's modest character that few people outside academia knew he had gained his PhD in English, magna cum laude, at Harvard University in the early 1970s, or that he was awarded several of the highest honours for teaching at the U of A before his retirement last year. Following his specialty in 18th-century English literature and numerous published essays, Mr. Stovel became an authority of international stature on Jane Austen in particular, editing two volumes of essays on Austen, founding the Edmonton chapter of the Jane Austen Society and organizing an international conference on the novelist here in 2003."

"He'll be remembered for treating everyone as a respected individual, bringing a positive attitude to meeting new people and exhibiting a natural enthusiasm for art and life that he couldn't help instilling in others."

I had the pleasure of taking an English 343: The Age of Sensibility course with Dr. Stovel in 2003. Literature classes tend to blend together - an amalgamation of discourse and debate, readings and essays. With Dr. Stovel at the helm, the authors became real, animated off the page with obscure anecdotes that humanized their lives, their stories. He introduced me to Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, and even now, years later, I find myself drawn to those aged, eighteenth-century volumes of The Life of Johnson tucked away on the fifth floor of Rutherford Library. He had many kind things to say, and always provided gentle criticism when possible. I actually still have a copy of an e-mail he wrote to me, saved in my inbox as a reminder of his belief in my capabilities.

I plan on attending the musical tribute to be held at the Yardbird Suite (he was an avid fan of blues) on January 28 in his memory.

Dr. Stovel will be missed.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Unexpectedly Disappointing: The Keg

After returning to Edmonton on Sunday, Dickson and I decided on dinner at The Keg in South Edmonton Common (1631-102 Street). Besides a Christmas party at the end of one of my student teaching terms many years ago, I haven't eaten at The Keg since.

Walking in, this location was quite impressive - looming doors enclosed a large waiting area, all dark wood fixtures and flooring, dimly lit to set the desired tone and ambiance. The dining room was large and spacious, a combination of stand alone tables and booths, with the design allowing for several private dining enclaves. Lastly, a fireplace at one end extended the necessary warmth and feeling of comfortable hospitality the chain undoubtedly wants to be known for. In stark contrast with the surroundings though, was the music. For some unexplainable reason, upbeat hits from the 80s streamed from the speakers (e.g. The Jackson 5’s “ABC”) - appropriate for family restaurants perhaps, but not compatible with a muted, sophisticated dining area on a Sunday night.

Our waitress was surprisingly flighty and forgetful throughout the evening, but her cheeriness and genuine nature made her mistakes forgivable. Armed with menus, I chose to go with a lighter supper - a Keg Cesar and French Onion Soup, while Dickson ordered a Keg-sized Grilled Top Sirloin (medium) and a side of Portabella & Button Mushrooms. In an imbibing mood, I also called for a Greyhound (vodka and freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice), which seemed like an intriguing twist on the usual orange-based Screwdriver. The drink was either perfect (with the sourness of the grapefruit tempering the bitterness of the vodka), or just watered down.

The salad came quickly, but was smaller than I had anticipated. The same can be said for the soup, although the broth was quite good - rich and layered with flavor. I can't say Dickson enjoyed his meal as much, save perhaps the mushroom and baked potato sides. His steak came out downright carcinogenic, and was more accurately labeled well done (and dry) as opposed to medium.

While I didn't have a bad time, I really expected more from The Keg. Perhaps some of the funding for their television ad campaigns should be diverted to food preparation and music selection classes instead.

Dining room

Greyhound cocktail
Keg Cesar

French Onion Soup

Portabella & Button Mushrooms

Grilled Top Sirloin and Baked Potato

Us (Dickson's eyes are open!)

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Calgary Mini-Break: Recap

Dickson and I went to Calgary this weekend to accompany my sister and her boyfriend. They had tickets to Saturday's Oilers/Flames tilt (Edmonton lost 3-1. Boo!).

As Amanda and Henry had already purchased Red Arrow tickets long ago, Dickson and I had some flexibility as to when we had to leave. So naturally, we stopped for breakfast at my neighbourhood McDonalds first (pictured below).

Hashbrowns, Sausage Egg McMuffins and Faux-bucks

Yes, you aren't seeing things - those are actual Starbucks cups (extras gleaned from one of my many previous visits). I'm not normally that cheap, bringing outside drinks into an eating establishment, but in my defense, I had thought we would be eating in the car. Their ease of disposal makes the cups very travel-friendly. Besides, my homemade Folgers produces a much better brew than McDonalds' coffee (the same can be said of Dickson's milk-based hot chocolate).

We left the city just after 10am, and though AMA reports had green lighted Calgary commutes, the continuous flurries and windy conditions begged to differ. We passed by several cars that had been abandoned in the ditch, and a few accidents that were even more recent:

Police on the scene

Cars in the ditch

Dickson subsequently concentrating (or is he?)

We arrived in Calgary after 1pm, and drove into the city in search of my first desired stop. Along the way, Dickson realized he had missed a turn, and in a U-turn attempt, nearly slid into a stop sign while trying to avoid an oblivious woman shoveling snow, indifferent to the fact that her life could have been in danger. We were okay, and the Echo had thankfully missed the pole by a few inches.

Without too much difficulty, we found the Buttercream Bake Shoppe (103, 1019-17 Avenue). I was determined to visit one of the cupcake establishments in Calgary (the other being Kensington's Crave) to compare them with Edmonton's own.

Buttercream Bake Shoppe exterior

Pricing chart

Cupcake case

Chocolate case

Our purchase

I guess they're not that much different. The prices are relative to one another (~$2.50 each), and honestly, on a blind taste test, I would not be able to identify the maker of any individual cake. I think it's more of a novelty thing at this point, for me to visit a bakery if I have the time and means to do so.

After that, we picked up Jen and drove back downtown to check in at our hotel. With the help of the very useful TripAdvisor, I had chosen the Calgary Marriott (110-9 Avenue SE). Located across the street from the Calgary Tower, and within walking distance of urban shopping and a C-Train platform, it was both a convenient and economical option.

Starbucks in the lobby (though I didn't actually take advantage of it)


Bathroom (with citrus bath products!)

View of the Calgary Tower (from the 18th floor)

Spacious, with a nice bathroom and a decent view, I didn't regret my choice. I also found the staff quite courteous and accommodating to requests.

Once we dropped off our luggage, we picked up Violet and headed to Market Mall (3625 Shaganappi Trail NW). Notable was the stationary and gift shop Paper Root Studios, where I picked up a few things. I usually visit the Eaton Centre location, but I found this store had a better selection, and even carried a few Unemployed Philosopher's Guild items!

Freudian Slippers

Shopped out, the four of us decided on Vietnamese food for dinner. Violet directed us to Pho Kim (1511 Centre B Street NW), a restaurant that has been set up in what appeared to be a converted house. I can't remember exactly what I ordered, but I found the portion small and broth less flavorful than I would have liked. It definitely paled in comparison to Pagolac and Doan's in Edmonton.

Pho Kim

My order

The next morning, Dickson and I visited Diner Deluxe (804 Edmonton Trail NE) for a late breakfast. In my planning, I had consulted the "Best of" list published in FFWD Weekly, Calgary's equivalent to Edmonton's See Magazine. Diner Deluxe was voted one of the two best places for brunch, so seemed like a safe bet (though really, the place is worth visiting from their very cute website alone). It turns out the Diner is one of five Calgary dining establishments operated by an "inventive culinary couple." Their other holdings include a bakery, a seafood restaurant, and a cafe. After our experience, I wouldn't mind heading to Open Range, their steak house, the next time I'm in the city.

Diner Deluxe exterior

Wait sign

Retro TV in the wait area

When we arrived at the restaurant, the place was packed - we were grateful that it was warm out as we waited for the line inside to shift and accommodate us indoors. It seems their brunch is so popular that it warranted the posting of "line etiquette," including details about line jumping and reminders not to dawdle at the table during busy times. The hostess even wore a shirt with the words "LINE TAMER" on the back.

Diner Deluxe interior

After a not-so-painful 45 minutes, we were seated. With furniture that could have stood in a 50s era, yellow walls, and a wonderful skylight, the dining room was warm and inviting. Part of the kitchen also opened up into the dining area, which is always a reassuring sight. I ordered the frittata (with chicken apple sausage, sundried tomato, and smoked mozza), while Dickson opted for the omelette special.

Mini ketchup bottles

Omelette special with toast and hashbrowns (and orange juice in a goblet!)

Frittata with toast and hashbrowns

My, was the food ever worth the wait - almost even better because of the wait. The frittata was above and beyond Urban Diner's version - cheesy, and baked to perfection. Dickson similarly enjoyed his omelette.

Comfortably full, we drove to Chinook Centre (6455 Macleod Trail SW), always worth a visit for their large RW & Co. We also managed to stumble upon the Cup-A-Cake cupcake container in Williams Sonoma (or was it in Pottery Barn?). Funny, after all that shopping, I didn't end up buying anything for myself all weekend.

We left the city just before 6pm, and found the conditions to be markedly better than they had been the day before. Thus, we made good time.

All in all, it was a great break, and a fantastic way to bust up the typical post-holiday blues!

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