Optimistically Cautious

Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Cooking Chronicles: Banana Fritters

Mack was insistent that we make spring rolls to bring to Megan's potluck on Friday. As it turns out, my Mum was kind enough to "lend" us her stash of ready-made rolls to simply fry up and go, so I thought it would be a good time to try out a recipe for Banana Fritters (as we could make use of the already-heated oil).

The genesis for my excitement was the similar dish I had at Pradera Cafe a few weeks ago - crispy, sweet, perfectly fried banana morsels that didn't seem too difficult to duplicate. The recipe was straightforward enough - the batter was easy to whip together, and once the bananas had been peeled and sliced, all that was left was to coat and fry them (my Mum taught us a neat little trick of how to test if the oil was hot enough: place a chopstick in the oil and watch for the volume of bubbles arising from the tip). We found that the smaller pieces were easier to coat, but were labor-intensive in terms of increasing the quantity we needed to fry. And we weren't sure if it was a result of a thin batter, but the fritters didn't end up being very crispy in the end. Though not the most appetizing-looking product (my Dad asked if what we gave him to eat was a Chicken McNugget, haha), once tossed in a cinnamon-sugar mixture and served with ice cream, it didn't seem to matter, and most people seemed to like them just as well.

So with the slight mishap of Mack burning himself with the hot oil (chalked up to a sacrifice for the culinary arts anyway), the experiment was a success.

Banana Fritters (not plated, boo)


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Random Entertainment Notes

  • Congratulations to the newly-engaged Celina Stachow & Josh Dean. Yes, I am an Edmonton-theatre-actor stalker.
  • Stewart Lemoine's At the Zenith of the Empire is being published in April by Newest Press.
  • I'm sure Dickson and Mack will be thrilled to learn about the new DVD Board Game based on High School Musical. It's in stores now! And for those of you who didn't know - the movie is also on ice!
  • "Snowy!" - anyone else excited for the upcoming Tintin movie?
  • My beloved TWOP was acquired by Bravo a few weeks ago. I'll choose to think that gives us legions of posters (and lurkers) an honest-to-goodness legitimacy.
  • Critics have been saying not to hold out for Studio 60. Though I'll be a Sorkin fan until the end, even I'll admit that he could do better. But I still hope they will air the remaining episodes. In the meantime, take a look at this hilarious bumper sticker.

Labels: ,

Monday, March 26, 2007

Behind the Pandemic

Continuing with the barrage of learning opportunities, I participated in a workshop on the connection between HIV/AIDS and social inequity at HIV Edmonton today. It was a small group of fifteen, but perhaps it was more conducive towards a sharing environment. There was a wide variety of people present, from university students, Streetworks and STD Centre staff to a medical anthropologist.

The facilitators went through an educational resource kit from the International Coalition on AIDS and Development (ICAD) titled "Behind the HIV/AIDS Pandemic" (downloadable online!). The kit uses a hands-on approach to uncover the differences between vulnerabilities, risks, and impacts in relation to the AIDS pandemic. One of the more unique activities included a simulation, where tables in a room represented different areas of the world, including Eastern Europe/Central Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, South and Southeast Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and generic High-income Regions. The object of the activity involved building a 10 x 10 square from geometric pieces akin to a tangram, with success ultimately requiring cooperation between regions, and extreme negotiation with those in the privileged area as they held the only pair of scissors and roll of tape in trust. Hilariously, when all groups gathered to compare task results, it ended up that the High-income Region was the only one who failed to complete their square (they had gotten so comfortable with having other areas approach them that they figured there was no need to read the instructions in any detail).

All in all, it was a worthwhile day - it's always great to meet people and learn at the same time!


Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Cooking Chronicles: Classic Mac & Cheese

I was hit with a craving for Kraft Dinner on Friday night, but unable to locate a package of the instant macaroni in our pantry, I was forced to artificially subside my longing for the time being. So on Saturday, I suggested to Mack that we try out Dave Lieberman's from-scratch recipe for Classic Mac and Cheese.

We substituted a few things, including medium instead of sharp cheddar, fresh parmesan for romano, and rotini in place of penne. We also nixed the parsley, much to my food aesthetic dismay. We followed the directions closely, and though the cheese sauce ended up like a thick fondue, our dish turned out pretty well. Of course, there were the usual adjustments that we learned for the next go around, most prominently to use less breadcrumbs, crushed finer than we did, and potentially to add a filler ingredient (like ham, hot dogs, or my vote - grape tomatoes tossed with fresh herbs). More cheese on top wouldn't hurt either.

Was it better than Kraft Dinner? Yes. Was it worth the time and effort? Yes, and even more so with the aforementioned improvements. Onward with experimentation!

Classic Mac & Cheese


Narratives of Citizenship Conference

Mack and I attended the Narratives of Citizenship Conference this weekend, put on by the Graduates Students of English Association at the University of Alberta. The conference was divided into three sections - academic, artistic, and communal, though really, the concentration was on paper presentations.

We were originally asked a few months ago to be a part of the latter focus in the form of a community roundtable session, but when we were also extended an invitation to attend the rest of the conference as guests, I was excited. I am always on the hunt for professional development opportunities (related or not to my current job), so I have been looking forward to this weekend for a while.

The keynote that began the conference on Friday evening was titled "Imposing subCitizenship: Canadian White Civility and the Two Row Wampum of the Six Nations," presented by Daniel Coleman of McMaster University. It turned out to be quite an interesting history lesson for me, as he talked about the current Haudenesaunee land claim dispute in Ontario and the events that led up to that. The most interesting idea from his talk had to do with a dichotomy I hadn't really thought about before - of how a policy of inclusion (his example was of Native enfranchisement) could function as well as ill-recognition of one's sovereignty and independence and hence, encourage a right to be excluded.

Saturday offered a plethora of sessions on citizenship - everything from dual-citizenship to forgotten citizens to multiculturalism and nationalism. For the better part of the day, I tried to construct a clever metaphor to capture the day's experience, but the closest I came was something about only being able to eat the bread of a sandwich, never quite able to reach the filling (yes, a terrible comparison). It's ironic that at a conference where one of the explicit themes was belonging and acknowledgement of citizenship, that I could possibly feel like an outsider. This is not to say that my fellow attendees were in any way exclusive or unwelcoming - on the contrary, those to whom I spoke were very nice and open with sharing their research. However, having only ever taken one course in post-modern English, I just didn't have the background necessary to process all of the knowledge, and many of the theories and citations were clear over my head. More than that, I found myself asking often what the ultimate point of this research was - how could it apply to real life?

That said, I did enjoy Lily Cho's plenary talk that morning (or at least, the 40% that I managed to comprehend). She did what all of the other speakers I watched didn't - actually discussing her thesis without reading word for word off of the page. Though I still can't define diasporic citizenship or affect theory, she had some interesting thoughts related to racial melancholia, specifically about how racial communities are connected through a collective grief that cannot end until that community is able to translate that grief into grievance.

Two other papers I found intriguing had a more literary basis, using text as a starting point to discuss greater social ideas. Jennifer Delisle's "A Citizen of Story: Confederation and Wayne Johnston's Newfoundland," used two narratives as a foundation for the argument that inhabitants of Newfoundland have been dealt a double-wound in the last half century. Between losing a connection with the "Motherland" and an increase in out-migration, citizens of Newfoundland have lost their sense of identity twice. Secondly, Elyssa Warkentin's "The Marginalized Female Citizen: Dangerous Femininity in Marie Belloc Lowndes' The Lodger" was a fascinating study of a narrative based on reports on Jack the Ripper. Of all presentations, Elyssa's was by far the most logical, providing enough details from The Lodger for those unfamiliar with the text, and as traditional English papers do, used evidence to thoroughly support her argument. After a long day, her paper was much-needed and refreshing.

This was my first time at a conference of this nature, and as such, I have a few observations from green eyes:

  • In stark opposition with my experience at Northern Voice, there were no laptops! (Yay! I belong!)
  • All of the conference attendees were very supportive, encouraging, and appreciative of one another. During post-presentation discussions, everyone preceded questions with something along the lines of the ostensibly polite, "Thank you for the great paper..." Moreover, whenever anyone ducked out during the talks for any reason, they always took the time to publicly apologize for their absence after.
  • As with any other specialized field, name dropping was rampant. But in this case, it was not only appropriate, but necessary, as the presenters were citing authors and their original ideas.
  • The conference was essentially a forum to flesh out ideas - like the best kind of English class, and the ones professors always want to have.

During lunch, I mediated over frozen yogurt to somehow make the content relevant to my current stream of work. Modest thoughts only, but I harked back to an e-mail requesting statistics for those immigrants who self-identity as health care professionals but are not practicing at the moment, and came up with a stream of questions. Keep in mind they are questions I can't answer, and don't know if I will come back to answer, at least not right away:

  • What good is self-identification without recognition, acceptance, and a right to practice?
  • Can one still self-identify without actual practice? (and the idea of borders as barriers to legitimizing identity)
  • What of those who are forced to give up on that identity for whatever reason to adopt another profession, thus altering how they relate to and identify with others (status, class, professional relationships, etc.)?
  • Is this double-wounding of identity, with not only a physical diaspora occurring but a professional extinction as well (as so frequently asked of those we meet, "Where are you from? What do you do?")? And if this is the case, not discounting family, personal will and the holistic view of an individual, what is left?

Although I had every intention of attending the artists' gala on Saturday, by the time we had finished dinner, I was more than spent. Luckily, our roundtable wasn't until 3pm the next day, so I was able to sleep in.

The "Community Education and Translation of University Knowledge" roundtable was great - I got to hear about other programs I didn't know about before, and received updates on those that I hadn't heard from in a while. There were several "dignitaries" present, including the Mayor and MLA Raj Pannu, but their remarks missed the mark in terms of relevance to the session's objective. While we couldn't be sure whether or not it was a failure on the part of conference organizers to accurately inform the dignitaries in advance, or the failure of the dignitaries to put together an appropriately-themed speech, I must admit I remained respectfully silent through Mayor Mandel's digression of needing to increase Edmonton's film industry, and MLA Pannu's dissemination on the importance of climate change awareness.

Needless to say, by Sunday evening, I was exhausted. Overall, it was a good weekend - it was definitely a new experience for me, and it is always invigorating and inspiring to be around those who are passionate about their work. Congratulations to the conference organizers for a successful event!

Labels: ,

Friday, March 23, 2007

Comedy for a Cause

After dinner, Mack and I went to a YRAP fundraiser, Comedy for a Cause, at The Comic Strip on Bourbon Street in West Edmonton Mall.

This experience was definitely better than my last, where the $25 ticket price bought only moderate chuckles. The evening was MC'd by Paul Brown of The Bear "fame." Late to the stage, he gave the impression that he had just arrived, barely oriented to the event at hand, and immediately launched into a haphazard tirade about the trouble with kids and crystal meth. As this was a fundraiser for the Youth Emergency Shelter, where the law and drug addiction could very well factor into a teen's stay, it was, needless to say, the wrong kind of comedy for this group. One woman at the YES table in particular glared at Brown all night and looked quite unhappy with his vein of jokes. After some reflection, I'm fairly certain he had deliberately intended on being offensive.

The two comics were at opposite ends of the spectrum, and I found it interesting how both of them integrated family anecdotes into their routines, but only one of them managed to make it work. And so I ask - what makes a comedian funny? I can't answer that, but I can tell you that Willie Santos crashed and burned. I'm not sure if it was just a nervous reflex either, but he actually started to alienate the audience when he questioned why we weren't laughing.

John Wesley (of Last Comic Standing "fame"), on the other hand, was great. He was affable, energetic, and self-sacrificing without putting the audience on the defensive. He had some classic material - his relationship with his father, the differences between Texas/the United States and Canada, and ex-girlfriends. He even poked fun at Calgary with a line about the hick Pied Piper leading all rednecks south.

As for the venue itself, it is hard to blame the waitresses when they are clearly doing their job, but it was unnecessarily distracting for them to be asking for drink orders at seemingly 10 minute intervals, walking in front of patrons trying to pay attention to the show, at times even causing the audience to miss out on the punch line all together. Though in Santos' case, perhaps pouring on the alcohol was a good thing.

All in all, it was a fun evening, and even better that the money raised went to a worthy cause!

Labels: ,

Just Like Earls: Dante's Bistro

As we would be in the area anyway, I figured it'd be a good time to try Dante's Bistro (17328 Stony Plan Road). Mack was surprised I hadn't been to this restaurant before, but considering it isn't readily accessible by public transit, it shouldn't have been too difficult to believe.

The dining room (or "bistro," as it is named on the website) is built with an incredibly high ceiling, giving it a grand feeling, trumping most other casual upscale locales. At the same time, I wasn't too sure I liked the painted faux-fresco walls - like slightly off designer replicas, I felt it devalued the overall decor. I would have much preferred plain, one-color columns to emulate the classy, sophisticated feeling created by the heightened ceiling.

As for the menu, Mack was spot on when he compared it to (boo) Earls - pastas, fusion dishes, and grilled meats. In contrast with the chain, however, there were actually a few dishes that I would choose to eat. In this case, I chose the Pineapple & Prosciutto Pizza, while Mack selected the Ginger Beef. As it would turn out, neither of us ended up getting what we ordered.

I was served the Blackened Chicken, Grilled Onions, Cilantro & Mango Chutney Pizza (that's what those yellow chunks were!), and Mack the Bul-Go-Gi Beef Stir-fry. I really hope it was the server's first day, because we clearly didn't incorrectly articulate our order. We also didn't send it back, though in retrospect pointing out her error may have resulted in a generous discount of sorts. As for the meal itself, the pizza was fairly satisfying, though the Italian ham would have hit the spot just a little bit better. Mack enjoyed his stir-fry, though in my opinion the beef was on the dry side.

Would I return to Dante's? Perhaps to the lounge for the ambiance, but not for the service or the unexceptional food.

Dining room interior

Blackened Chicken Pizza

Bul-Go-Gi Beef Stir-fry

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

"The Hills": Mid-Season Review

While I've been following the show closely, I haven't felt the urge to post about The Hills so far this season. Most of the plotlines, including Heidi's pregnancy scare, Lauren and Brody's flirtations, and nouVogue's intern supreme Emily have been quite unexceptional.

But with last night's intense fight between Lauren and Heidi, I think the season has found its legs and resonating moment. Though the tension has been building over the last few episodes, it erupted today in Lauren's ultimatum - Heidi's choice between her boyfriend or their friendship.

Beyond boy dramas, Laguna Beach and The Hills have both had their share of female cat fights and clique wars. But there's something about best friends at an impasse that is relatable on a very raw, personal level - voyeurism at its best, with situations playing out in a suspended reality. Producer manipulation and editing aside, it's just darn good reality television.

I can't wait for next week!


Edmonton Film Society: "Marnie"

On Monday night, I attended an Edmonton Film Society screening of Alfred Hitchcock's Marnie with Dickson at the Royal Museum of Alberta (the movie passed through his precious litmus test of quality - the user-voted IMDB rating).

Dickson likes to poke fun at the average age of the audience by calling them the "sea of grey," but personally, I think part of the fun of EFS events (as opposed to renting the classic films) is watching these movies with this particular generation. There is not a drop of pretentiousness in the room; every reaction is absolutely genuine. As demonstrated during a screening of To Catch a Thief last summer, from the laughs to the gasps to the applause at the end, I sometimes feel that this kind of collective viewing experience is what all theatres should offer. That said, the numbers were low yesterday (likely due to the chilly weather), so the room didn't quite have the critical mass necessary for the desired aural effect.

The plot of Marnie is described perfectly on the EFS website: "a perverse romance between a beautiful, elegant thief [Tippi Hedren as Marnie] who’s blackmailed into marriage by one of her victims [Sean Connery as Mark Rutland]." Perverse indeed - I took offense with Mark's machismo as he prayed on Marnie's vulnerability, even to the point of rape. Connery played cocky well, but even Bond didn't come off as anything but a controlling, manipulative terror.

Hedren was a great casting choice - not classically beautiful but attractive nonetheless, she had an unsettling aura about her that was perfect for the character. Edith Head's signature gowns draped beautifully on her as well, though even the everyday clothes were lovely to look at - bold colors, high button collars and trapeze silhouettes.

As for the special effects and the score - they were both decidedly over-the-top. Marnie's pulsating curtain of red visions became redundant over the course of the movie, reaching near-campy levels. The music was shrill, unnecessarily prominent, and by the end, unnervingly grating (the violins!). Perhaps that was the sound designer's intent, but it took the focus away from the acting.

The ending was welcome, but probably not for the reason Hitchcock originally intended. Still, it was a fun night out, and beat watching a conventional movie at the local multiplex.

Labels: ,

Daily Competition

Apparently 24 Hours (a free daily produced by Quebecor Media, who also prints various Suns across Canada) is rising in popularity. I read an article in The Globe & Mail today about how "as much as 15 or 20 per cent of the content offered in Sun Media's paid dailies" were also printed in their free papers. It seems self-defeating, doesn't it?

And though I blogged about it a few weeks ago, I had no idea the market for dailies (both paid and free) was so fierce. So much so that the Winnipeg Free Press, is trying to head off 24 at the pass by producing their own Project Eclipse, aptly named '"because it's a Sun killer," Free Press publisher Andy Ritchie said.' I'd read the paper for the name alone.

As for our local dailies, I have been flipping through Rush Hour fairly consistently, and I'm finding it really sparse for content. I'm usually done scanning the extremely ad-infested pages in five minutes. If it weren't for the nice lady who hands out copies of the paper by my bus stop in the morning, I probably would have switched to 24 long ago. There really is something to be said for getting your paper from a person.


Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Apartment Show

I read about "The Apartment Show" in ed Magazine last week, and thought it was a fascinating concept. Artists were invited to a dilapidated apartment complex to transform the soon-to-be-renovated rooms into installation art, harvesting the energy of the space and at times whatever materials were left behind as inspiration. As Blair Brennan, one of the artists who participated in the show, explains in the ed piece, "'I like the analogy of a crime scene when it comes to interpreting installation art. The evidence is laid there, but it's up to the viewer to interpret it, to create some kind of fictional narrative, a story that will make sense of what they see.'"

Mack and I headed over to the non-descript building on Sunday afternoon. I somehow didn't expect anyone else to be there, but was pleasantly surprised to find a small group of patrons wandering the floors when we got there. After depositing a donation to the iHuman Youth Society, we were invited to explore the parts of the building not occupied. We wandered from room to room, scanning over brief descriptions of each of the individual exhibits. From a very intense condom-decorated bathroom (no pictures, sorry), to a brightly-painted mock children's room with aptly placed societal influences of guns and Playboy magazines, the displays ran the gamut from arcane to somewhat intelligible for us.

My favorite had to be the "caretakers room," with a plethora of hand-written notes plastered from floor to ceiling on the walls - from phone messages to directions to incomprehensible shorthand lists - it was overwhelming to be confronted with so many "moments" that had meaning for somebody, somewhere, at some time.

As with the Free for All exhibit, we probably didn't spend as much time as we could have, but I appreciated the opportunity to be exposed to alternative perspectives.

Mack next to axe

Sign as you enter the room with the axe

Mack with giant Coke can ball (looks unsurprisingly happier than he did with the axe)

A child's bedroom

Interior of "caretakers room"

On one side of the wall

Close-up of one section of the notes


Orange I Wasn't Glad: 9th Street Bistro

May, Annie and I met for brunch at 9th Street Bistro (9910-109 Street) this afternoon, meaning that I have now tried all types of meals at this restaurant (I was there for dinner not too long ago). I am also sad to say that each subsequent experience has been less impressive than the last.

I had read a review of their "Champagne Brunch" in See Magazine quite a while ago, and was left with a desire to try it out at some point. With a wide bank of windows, creaky floors, and aged furniture, the dining area is bright and infused with character. Though none of us actually chose to partake in alcohol this early in the day, it was a nice option. May ordered a kiwi and cream cheese omelet (an interesting, if not previously unheard of flavor combination), while Annie and I stuck with the more traditional French Toast, albeit with a citrus twist.

I think my ultimate dissatisfaction with my dish was due to my own shoddy reading of the menu description. But between the orange zest on the toast itself, to the Grand Marnier-reduced syrup, I felt I was served a cure for scurvy.

Combined with tolerable service, I think I've sampled enough of 9th Street Bistro fare for the time being. Time to move on!

Restaurant interior

Kiwi and cream cheese omelet

Grand Marnier French Toast

Labels: ,

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Cooking Chronicles: Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Icing

Given all my harping about cupcakes, it's a surprise that I haven't yet tackled the challenge of making them myself. So tonight, I attempted Ina Garten's recipe of Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Icing.

It was certainly the most prep-intensive recipe to date. Between ensuring that the eggs, butter, and sour cream were at room temperature, remembering to brew the coffee, and letting the buttermilk mixture stand, I definitely exceeded the time guidelines listed on the recipe. Moreover, though I dislike using an electric mixer (I'm strangely traditional that way), I thought I'd experiment with my Mum's KitchenAid mixer this time. It wasn't as complicated as I had expected, but I did cop out near the end and chose to hand-incorporate the buttermilk and flour mixtures.

I also used Ina's method of ice-cream scooping the cupcake batter into the baking cups, but boy, do I need a better scoop in the future; I think gravity was a more effective helper than the lift button itself.

As for the icing - it is without a doubt the star of the show. I'm known for eating spoonfuls of peanut butter out of the jar, but with the fluffy sweetness of the peanut butter icing, I'm liable to take the bowl and run. I highly recommend this recipe for anyone with frosting-related needs.

The 'cakes themselves rose nicely, and frosted with icing and topped with chopped peanuts, look absolutely delectable. I'm not sure if I'd go through with making the cake batter from scratch again, as it was time consuming without much difference in taste when compared with the Betty Crocker/Duncan Hines variety, but the icing gets two big thumbs up from me.

Think anyone will buy my creations for $2.50 a pop?

Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Icing


Random Food Notes

  • I'd never really been bitten by the Iron Chef bug, but as with most other Food Network shows, I can watch it if it's on. I was excited, however, to tune in to a battle featuring Canadian chef Lynn Crawford, of Restaurant Makeover and Four Seasons fame (in that order, I suppose), up against the caustically-arrogant Bobby Flay. I thought the secret ingredient of peanuts would be an easy challenge for Flay, with his expertise in Southwestern cuisine, and in the end, he did "reign supreme." And though my dislike of his television personality isn't secret, even I had to hold myself back when he pulled out his peanut butter French toast served with a port wine reduction and concord grapes (an upscale PB & J).
  • Rachel Ray (or her marketing puppeteers) is selling a line of t-shirts screened with her most annoying -isms, including "Yum-O" and "Got EVOO." Gag me.
  • On my next visit to Vancouver, I will have to make a stop at Vij's. Rarely does a week go by when I don't come across some mention of this famous Indian restaurant in my readings. Perhaps I'll have to placate myself in the meantime with his widely-available cookbook, Vij's: Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine. It's a testament to how food can foster and develop relationships. As Vikram Vij said in an interview, "I don't know what other newlyweds talk about, argue about or discuss for hours on end, but [my wife] Meeru and I built our relationship through our recipes. Our first argument, hurt feelings and personal accomplishments all occurred at Vij's while we were coming up with these recipes."
  • Over the last few weeks, there has been quite the fervor over a "leaked" memo written by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. A lot of the discussion centres around the contradiction behind wanting to recapture the 'authentic' Starbucks experience with a continued push for brand and location expansion. What do you think? Read it here.
  • Speaking of Starbucks, I was happy to get my free cup of brewed coffee on Thursday morning on my way back to work. And I figured now is a good time to showcase my equivalent of a Starbucks shrine on my corkboard at work - a collection of various promotional materials:
Clockwise from top - Christmas 2006 postcard, reminder about Starbucks Coffee Break promotion, and two Akeelah and the Bee flashcards

Labels: ,

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Culinary Q & A with Megan

What did you eat today?

A granola bar, followed by a not-so-ripe nectarine, a juice box, some coffee and a piece or three of gum. Lunch is a sandwich. Dinner is whatever slop I decide to pull from the fridge

What do you never eat?

I try really hard not to eat mushrooms or raw onions. I also don't eat Brussels sprouts or beans (unless they're baked beans or in chili)

What is your personal specialty?

I don't really cook. But I make a wicked Raspberry Semifreddo for dessert

What is your favorite kitchen item?

The magic bullet. It really DOES make chicken salad in 10 seconds. And makes alsome frozen beverages.

World ends tomorrow. Describe your last meal.

Steak. (Taber) corn on the cob. Garlic Potatoes. Beer. And an orange ice cream float for dessert. Followed by stove top popcorn.

Where do you eat out most frequently?

Um. Swiss Chalet with the parents. And Moxie's or Brewster's with friends.

What's the best place to eat in Edmonton?

I like OPM for the sweet and sour chicken. But I'm also partial to Opa! And Punjab Sweets and Restaurant (it's by my house)

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

I'd eat real Indian food in Mumbai. And maybe an orange off the tree in Florida. And fresh just-picked mangoes.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Cooking Chronicles: Mini Linzer Cookies

My original plan was to replicate Ina Garten's recipe for Mini Linzer Cookies in time for Valentine's Day so I could bring the treats to work to share with my colleagues. Due to my difficulty in locating the specialty cookie cutters however, I had to delay my excitement (Call the Kettle Black didn't have them...tsk, tsk). Luckily, my Mum found a set at Winners, so my cooking project was back in the works.

I only had enough room temperature butter for half of the recipe, which was a shame in the end, as the preparation was fairly time consuming with only a moderate amount of product to show for it. Though the directions were simple enough, between the half hour to chill the dough, the fifteen minutes to chill the cut-out cookies, and the ten minutes to allow the cookies to cool before decorating, the "idle" time dragged the process out quite a bit.

Despite slightly-burnt cookies and a dash too much confectioners sugar, I was ultimately happy with the experiment. They'd make a lovely tea time accompaniment or a gift-worthy treat. I hope my workmates enjoyed them!

Mini Linzer Cookies (with organic strawberry jam)


Monday, March 12, 2007

Culinary Q & A with Anna

Occupation: Attidude Adjudicator

What did you eat today?

Since it is only 10 am (on the new "Spring" time, which would have been even earlier back in "Winter") - NOTHING. I would have consumed something had I been writing this in the "pm" part of the day. "The breakfast should be the most imporant meal of the day" is a an extinct piece of wisdom, an atrophied truth from the peasant/farming culture. What is the need for a substantial meal in the morning if you are going to spend the next four hours at a desk, as opposed to tilling land or doing other farm chores? :)

What do you never eat?

I don't think there are any foods that I detest - I must have outgrown any anti-preferences that I could have had as a child. Boiled onions still hints at a sensation of disgust, however (I have never tried them, but the idea itself makes my stomach turn! :). There are some tastes/ flavours that have failed to become appealing - licorice, mint (unless it is toothpaste :), bacon, smell of "French" fries.

What is your personal specialty?

Real cottage/farm cheese (I have not been able so far to find anything in Canada comparable to the one common in Eastern Europe) with creamed buckweat honey and roasted walnuts...Unbelievably delicious!!!

What is your favorite kitchen item?

Double sink - allows for a greater dish pile-up, before the lack of space makes washing them necessary. :) Also oven, as I believe in baking/roasting as the most harmless way of food thermo-preparation.

World ends tomorrow. Describe your last meal.

Probably, the above "personal favourite." Also, since there is no tomorrow (hypothetically), however, and hence no need to sustain well-being, indulgence into not-so-healthy (or not at all healthy) foods and their quantities appear to be biologically and morally permissible - a platter with a generous assortment of cheese (including the "Rockford" type - the one with mold), a tray of honey-roasted nuts (cashews, pine-, pea-, wall-, brazil-, hazel-, macadamia, almonds, pistacchios) and...coffee-cheesecake ice-cream!

Where do you eat out most frequently?

"Most frequently" for me means "once a month" (or not even that). As a friend of mine has pointed out quite astutely, "What's the point of eating unhealthy food and having to pay for it?" (yes, the underlying assumption is that commercially-prepared food IS unhealthy). Unhealthy eating, however, can indeed be very enjoyable and appealing, so my spot of choice would be the Parkallen restaurant (Lebanese) or Langano Skies (Ethiopian).

What's the best place to eat in Edmonton?

The Symposium Greek restaurant on Whyte and 104 St. A temporal correction - "was" the best place, as the resaurant does no longer exist, although the sign is still hagning on the building, looking grim and abandoned.

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

Any fresh produce in Ukraine (veggies and fruits, especially strawberries, apricots, and sour-cherries) - they REALLY have a taste and a flavour - unlike their rubber-resembling North American counterparts (I am too cheap to go "organic" here), a breath-taking variety of delicious dairy products (some of them have no linguistic equivalency in English), the above cheese. There is also a special type of chocolate/candy, "Hematogen", made with butter-scotch, "regular" chocolate ingredients, and...bull's blood (or the blood from some other domestic animals). It is usually given to anemic children in small dosages, but I can eat it by dozens of bars!

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Art Gallery of Alberta: Free for All

Following brunch, Mack and I made our way to the Art Gallery of Alberta to visit the "Free for All" exhibit. According to the website, over 1300 artists, from amateur to professional, brought in a total of 2863 pieces of art to be displayed in the gallery free of charge.

Walking in, I was overwhelmed by the spectacle of creativity; it was literally a visual assault of color and images. Due to the sheer number of submissions, I had to wonder how difficult it must have been to curate. There was some coherence in places (e.g. tigers, the outdoors), but the majority of walls were adorned with a seemingly random assemblage of pictures.

The variety of representations was amazing - from collages to comic sketches, shadow boxes to 3-D models - it would be easy to spend a week just taking the time to look at each of the pieces individually. I was pleasantly surprised that there weren't a noticeable number of landscape portraits or religious depictions among the bunch.

My favorite pieces included:

Calendar (which to me speaks of how our experiences are quite literally worn on our sleeves)

Peace Map (with its interesting detail)

Title unknown, but darn clever

Honorable mentions go to Shrine, a smile-inducing ode to Bill Gates

And Hugh Laurie as House

I loved how alive the gallery was - kids and families wandering the halls together. The odd time I have been there, the patrons were few and far between, so it was a nice change to see the energy and excitement pulsing through the space. I remarked at one point how easy it would be for so-called "real," marketable art to be placed among "amateur" submissions unbeknownst to the casual viewer. So, on that note, what to make of this giant Q-tip?

The free exhibit runs until March 24.

Labels: ,

A Tad Too Welcoming: Barb & Ernie's Old Country Inn

Some of you may remember an obscure cooking program on Shaw Cable Channel 10 in the 90s featuring a German couple named Barb and Ernie. Well, I remember watching it, and though I can't tell you anything specific about the show, I do recall much butter being used in the dishes produced. Anyway, I've passed by the Bavarian facade of Barb & Ernie's Old Country Inn (9906-72 Avenue) too many times to count driving southbound on 99 Street, and I thought it was about time I went in and actually tried the food. Mack joined me Sunday afternoon in my quest to satisfy my morbid curiosity.

I had tried to make a reservation for brunch earlier in the week, but the gentleman on the phone told me they didn't accept reservations for the morning. He advised that I try to come either before 10am or after 1pm to avoid the rush. As neither Mack or I are early birds, we decided on the latter suggestion, arriving just before one o'clock. We were pretty lucky, as we were seated almost immediately and with Ernie's special brand of hospitality: he pointed to the table at which we would dine. After we were settled, he approached us to play out a cheesy but well-worn and likely popular bit, handing me the menu with a "For you, Beautiful," while to Mack, he said, "...And you."

It's difficult to judge Ernie, as his intentions are pure, and there's no doubt his restaurant is popular in part because he is so ingrained in the Old Country Inn experience, but as someone who appreciates a low key brunch of quiet conversation, this wasn't the place to be.

The restaurant did have extensive breakfast offerings, however, including a page of "healthy choices." I decided on a Barb & Ernie special of one hotcake, eggs, and sausage, while Mack chose the bacon and mushroom omelet. I actually should have asked for the menu back in retrospect, as I hadn't finished reading the chronology of their business and family life in Edmonton detailed on the front page.

The food arrived after a limited delay, and suffice to say, the portions were huge! The meal itself wasn't spectacular (even being less greasy than I expected), but as the prices are comparable to Denny's, this is a better bet if you have the stomach for it (tried as I might, I could only finish half of the hotcake). On the downside though, this isn't a place to linger for coffee refills, as Ernie was eyeing our table soon after our plates had been cleared.

Barb & Ernie's isn't for everyone, and actually, come to think of it, besides those who personally know the family, I wonder how most people aren't intimidated by his over-the-top gregarious nature. While I realize a restaurant is more than one person, he's undoubtedly the face. And because of this, it's hard not to think of the Old Country Inn as just that - a stopover, a tourist attraction, and a living museum for Ernie's hospitality.

Tabletop kitsch

Bacon and mushroom omelet with potatoes

Hotcake with scrambled eggs and sausage

Labels: ,

Friday, March 09, 2007

Exceptional Service: Pradera Cafe and Lounge

As I had mentioned last week, Friday marked the start of Edmonton's Downtown Dining Week. After mulling over the options, May and I decided on Pradera Cafe and Lounge, situated in the Westin Hotel (10135-100 Street). Although I've been to other hotel restaurants in the area, the Westin's attention to detail and personable service blew me away.

Upon entering the hotel, I noticed the partitioned off groupings of tables and chairs to the left, and figured this was the restaurant. But after approaching the host, he brought me to a secluded dining room in the back. With neutral-toned walls and classic furniture, it wasn't remarkable by any means, though the fireplace was a nice touch. Whomever designed the layout of the room really should have rethought the placement of columns however, as though their intention may have been to create private spaces, really ended up disrupting the flow and prevented an initial feeling of welcome.

Aesthetics aside, starting from remembering my dining companion's name (May was taken aback that they called her by name when she asked about our reservation), to having our coats checked, chairs pulled out and napkins laid on our laps, it was a level of service that was nice albeit a bit disconcerting ("We can do it ourselves!").

As per the Dining Week menu, we were each able to select three courses. We both chose the more uncommon cream of roasted pumpkin soup with a cinnamon cream swirl to start (as opposed to salad). For the main course, I opted for the pan-fried chicken breast accompanied with portobello mushroom herb cream sauce served with chefs' seasonal vegetables and potatoes, while May went with the poached filet of atlantic salmon with a lemon scented hollandaise sauce accompanied with chefs' vegetable medley and potatoes.

The pumpkin soup was delicious - smooth, with a nutty, squash-like flavor, it made a great fall/winter appetizer. Before moving on to the entree, we were given a small scoop of blood orange sorbet. I must say I'm not used to the idea of a palette cleanser, but this was definitely better than the tart coconut concoction I had at the Harvest Room a few years ago.

The main course was fabulous - the pan-fried chicken was the best I have had since an apple wood smoked chicken breast at Flavours on Whyte. The portobello mushroom sauce was delightfully creamy, and if they bottled it I'm sure could be marketed as the new HP sauce - good with everything.

On to the dessert - and because I couldn't pass up the Belgian chocolate mousse in a raspberry shell accompanied with a raspberry sauce, May was left with the banana fritters complimented with vanilla ice cream and maple syrup. The mousse was light and airy, but a tad too rich for my taste, particularly with the overdose in solid chocolate already. I much preferred May's dish of cinnamon and sugar-coated fried banana pieces, something I should learn to duplicate.

At the end of the night, we were both well-fed and tickled with the service. The host, waiter, and busboy all made us feel special. And though it isn't something I want to get used to, on occasion, it's nice to be pampered.

Restaurant interior

Cream of roasted pumpkin soup

Blood orange sorbet

Poached filet of atlantic salmon

Pan-fried chicken breast

Belgian chocolate mousse

Banana fritters

Labels: ,

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Tidbits: Notes from Edmonton's Epicurean Scene

In the months since I started this blog, I've developed the desire to showcase what's good in Edmonton. As I've had more spare time to experience events and venues, I have found that I now truly appreciate what the city has to offer. Obviously for me, a part of that is dining options around town. So here is hopefully the first of many entries about culinary developments in the City of Champions:
  • TZiN (10115-104 Street) is finally open! I have been waiting with bated breath for the former Whole in the Wall space to come alive since November last year, as the opening kept being delayed. While I've never been to Bin 941/Bin 942 in Vancouver, I would expect this hip tapas bar to at least strive towards their flair and flavor.
  • I'm sure Mack would look forward to dining at a restaurant called Skinny Legs and Cowgirls (9008 Jasper Avenue). I stumbled upon a review of this 3-month old bistro in See Magazine a few weeks ago, but wasn't too interested until I read in City Palate that the place only has five tables. Hmm.
  • Also from City Palate - who wouldn't want to eat at a nearly-vegetarian restaurant named Bacon (6509-112 Avenue)?! Opening later this month.
  • I had no idea until I read in today's Edmonton Journal that the same proprietor runs both the Manor Cafe and Urban Diner. I wonder how many other unknown connections exist between local eateries?
  • Passed by the Lucky Saloon and Eatery (9855-76 Avenue) the other day. And just like the picture I saw in Vue Weekly, it does resemble a house. It's apparently worth checking out if you're a vegetarian.
  • Can't remember from where the information came, but Calgary staple Good Earth Coffeehouse and Bakery is launching its first Edmonton location on campus (8623-112 Street) in mid-April. Someone said to go for the scones.

Happy eating!

Labels: ,

Quotable Women: Installment Two

To follow-up on last month's post of memorable quotations taken from my page-a-day calendar (which thus far has an overrepresentation of thoughts from Marilyn Monroe and Coco Chanel), here are a few more gems:
  • "If love is blind, why is lingerie so popular?" - Anonymous
  • "When women go wrong, men go right after them." - Mae West
  • "People shop for a bathing suit with more care than they do for a husband or a wife. The rules are the same. Look for something you'll feel comfortable wearing. Allow room for growth." - Erma Bombeck
  • "Perhaps all human progress stems from the tension between two basic drives: to have just what everyone else has and to have what no one has." - Judith Stone
And though I don't want to disrespect the sentiment of International Women's Day, I found it too ironic that of all days, I came across this definition in this month's Alberta Venture magazine today:
  • glass cliff - an important project or senior job given to a woman with a high risk of failure (cf. glass ceiling, e.g. Rona Ambrose)


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Revolutionary Speakers' Series: Art Spiegelman

Sometimes an event is witnessed that shouldn't be reduced to text because it deserves the sensory justice of an in-the-moment experience. This was one of those nights.

My APT English professor first exposed me to the work of Art Spiegelman, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus. It was my first brush with graphic novels, and it amazed me how the visuals collided with the text to produce a piece more poignant than simply using either or. In the classroom, I found that students in both streams of English responded exceptionally well to it, as comix supplied a non-threatening base for discussion. Moreover, it allowed for a seamless transition to the more widely-recognized Eli Wiesel's Night. Needless to say, when I heard Spiegelman was coming to town as a part of the Students' Union's Revolutionary Speakers' Series, I marked my calendar straightaway.

I was simply awestruck - Spiegelman was eloquent, witty, humble (he only ever wanted to write a "long comic book that needed a bookmark") and exemplified the perfect balance between gravitas and humor, of which the latter enhanced the former by way of personable credence. Though he spoke much faster than I could process, he had the endearing quality of a brilliant-but-rambling professor who embraced what teachable tangents arose.

While his main focus was on the theme of "forbidden images" (in particular the Muhammad cartoons printed in the Danish papers), the talk in part became a "brief history of comics." He has a phenomenal knowledge base, and with names sprinkled throughout, I had to strain back to the recesses of my brain to resurrect what threadlike remembrance I had of Francisco Goya, the Chapman Brothers, and Roy Lichtenstein (and those were the only artists I recognized). Spiegelman effectively made use of slides during his "performance" (as "performers are allowed to smoke"), with pictorial representations of everything he addressed. The New Yorker had always been in the periphery of politico-cool to me, but I never really paid attention to the satiric punchlines delivered by their pot-stirring cover art.

In addition to discussing the importance of trusting the artist, a split between what's forbidden being grotesque versus sensational, and the media's confusion of symptoms and causes, I liked that he addressed that the artist cannot control the interpretation of images where meaning could be warped by the brain's almost primal, knee-jerk response to visual stimuli.

I also appreciated the insight he provided into his creative process (how both Maus and In the Shadow of No Towers came about), and the snitches of personal anecdotes he shared (how a Neo-Nazi documentary showed a young German with a Maus poster on his wall, citing that that was the only image of a Swastika he could obtain, and how second only to cocaine how his series of "Garbage Pail Kids" trading cards have been illegally shipped to Mexico).

I guess I didn't expect a comix genius to be such a great speaker as well, so though I highly respected Art Spiegelman before tonight, after listening to his presentation, I am now hold him in wondrous regard. I look forward to his next engagement, or at the very least, his next great work.

Labels: ,

"Solo Mish": Blue Plate Diner

I watch movies alone at the theatre once in a while, and have been doing so for as long as I can remember (sad but true fact: there was a period where Bridget Jones was probably as much of a friend as anyone I knew in person). Inspired by an episode of Sex and the City where Carrie has lunch on her own at a sidewalk café, I wanted to get over the fear of eating alone at a restaurant.

So tonight, before attending a speaking event, I headed to the Blue Plate Diner for the ultimate in comfort food - meatloaf.

Walking in, I found it incredibly empowering just uttering the words "for one, please." While I admit this could very well be one of my disillusioned soapbox moments, I could appreciate the feeling of freedom that comes with not having to dine with another, or select the always inspiring food court alternative. The hostess discriminatingly sat me against a wall (as opposed to a window), I'm sure to discourage the thought from pedestrians passing by that Blue Plate was the sterling choice for loners and workaholics. In that vein, I did haul out some writing to do, so in a sense masked my solo meal in a cloud of acceptable busyness. Perhaps that is my next step - to do as Carrie did and not hide behind books or stacks of paper.

As for the food, I've had the Herbed Meatloaf enough times to know what to expect - the best grilled vegetables in the city (maybe it's the charcoal?), homemade mashed potatoes, and a hearty slice of ground beef heaven. I know I've complained in the past about the tomato sauce smothered on top, but I've come to like it as a sweet additive to the dish along the lines of last week's Chicken Cannoli at Moxie's.

So I can now cross off "eat at a restaurant alone" from my list of 43 Things. Hurrah!

Restaurant interior

The eternally cute "Drinking Jar"

Herbed Meatloaf with Grilled Vegetables and Mashed Potatoes

Labels: ,

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Random Weekend Notes

  • Millwoods finally has its first stand-alone Starbucks (2331-66 Street)! Though "finally" is a misnomer in this case, as its been in operation since August of last year. I guess I just haven't paid enough attention when passing by the south side of the Mill Woods Town Centre complex. Anyway, to help ease the pain of phonetic transcription exercises this morning (I naively thought my days facing the evil schwa were over), I bought myself a vanilla cupcake. I must say it wasn't bad - moist, and topped off with creamy, buttery icing, I even pardoned the oily paper cup as a byproduct of forced freshness. So at $1.95, and more accessible than the few and far between specialty cupcake shops, it's a worthwhile indulgence.

Vanilla cupcake, coffee, and homework

  • Speaking of Starbucks, Mack told me about a novel documentary called Starbucking that will be out on DVD in April. The movie focuses on why a man has made it his personal mission to visit every Starbucks in the world.
  • Yesterday afternoon, I decided to make like my coworker Anna and walk home after a seminar at the Grey Nuns Hospital (if you were wondering, as I was, Youville Drive, the street the hospital is on, is named after St. Marguerite d'Youville, the first native Canadian to be elevated to sainthood). It was one of those perfect pre-spring winter days with sunshine, fresh, cool air, and active, visible wildlife. The trek was a modest 45 minutes, and particularly after a meandering stint in the Mill Creek Ravine (I wish I had my camera!), made me wonder why I don't do this more often. Like withdrawn new year's resolutions, the answer to that is simple of course, but I hope to be more "active" as the weather shifts, and perhaps blogging this will make me more accountable for such grand visions.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, March 03, 2007


Before heading to Vancouver, as I mentioned in my previous post, I made sure to make a reservation at Feenie's for brunch. The restaurant's website had the option to connect to an external portal called Open Table. I had seen the name before, but hadn't used the site before this instance. I figured it was worth a shot.

Signing up with for a free account was straightforward, as was subsequently searching up the availability of seats. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to secure my desired table for 5 for the time period (including two hours earlier and later) that I had in mind. Though my initial thought was to split up our dining crew, I figured as a last shot, I'd just call Feenie's directly. And it worked - table for 5, 11am.

So why use Open Table at all? It turns out they offer a Dining Rewards Program - standard reservations garner 100 points, and the redemption chart for Canadian members is as follows:
  • Redeem 2,000 points and get a $26 OpenTable Dining Cheque
  • Redeem 5,000 points and get a $65 OpenTable Dining Cheque
  • Redeem 10,000 points and get a $130 OpenTable Dining Cheque
Not bad, I suppose, but even the first level of redemption requires 20 outings at participating restaurants. This would be difficult for the local diner, as there are only 16 places that currently utilize this service. It might be quite easy for those who dine out for business or travel often, but likely not so for casual diners. Moreover, the restaurants on the list are fairly high-end, so the Dining Cheque presumably wouldn't be economical or worth the initial expense for this latter group.

Based on my Feenie's experience, I'd be hesitant to use the service on the basis that receiving an e-mail confirmation isn't as reassuring as speaking to a live person on the phone, as well as knowing that restaurant personnel can fudge seating where software can't. I'd be willing to try Open Table for kicks, but I wouldn't depend upon it for my reservation needs.

Labels: , ,

Edmonton's Downtown Dining Week

It's back! Edmonton's 4th annual Downtown Dining Week starts this Friday, March 9, and goes until March 18. All menus for participating restaurants (with the exception of tapas bar Tzin, which may or may not be open yet) are up on the website for your viewing pleasure. Warning: do not attempt to read on an empty stomach.

I'm leaning towards Hotel MacDonald's dinner special (wild mushroom bisque/braised veal cheek/caramel creme brulee), despite the Confederation Lounge versus Harvest Room setting, though I can't deny the appeal of Pradera's offering (roasted pumpkin soup/atlantic salmon/belgian chocolate mousse).

Well, if you do head out for a sampling, be sure to let me know what's good!

Labels: ,

Friday, March 02, 2007

The Return of the Free Daily

May 17, 2006 was a sad day. That was the day on which the last paper edition of Dose was published. For months prior, Dose had been my happy morning companion: friendly, unpretentious fluff that still managed to inform. When it died, my morning coffee became a paperless experience.

Back to work on Tuesday, I encountered two newspaper boxes en route to Starbucks. It turns out the major publishing companies will be duking it out in Alberta, with Quebecor's 24 Hours, CanWest's Rush Hour, and Torstar Corp/Metro International's Metro (due out in April)competing for eyeballs in the apparently lucrative Edmonton/Calgary markets.

I haven't taken an extensive read through of either available paper, but quick scans through both of them were enough to let me know that neither quite hit the spot.

Rush Hour seems more interested in the 18-24 sect, with its heavy focus on pop culture and sensationalist news. For example, bold headlines from the March 1 edition included, "Park it: Paris Hilton in trouble again behind the wheel", "Refs at Risk?" and "Ouch! Woman jailed in burnt penis attack". With this content, it does remind me of some of the aspects of Dose that I liked, but I do prefer a side of more 'serious' news. A daily feature I do enjoy, however, is the "Dinner in a Flash" recipe. Though not always practical (today's edition involved an outdoor grill), it's another no-brainer exposure to cooking that piques my interest.

I've had less opportunities to read 24 Hours, but it appears to be more dry, with a lot of content packed onto the pages. 24 definitely leans towards the an older generation (24-45). I may have more to say in a week or two.

Regardless of the quality, the rise of the free daily is a sign that Edmonton is being recognized as a worthwhile market.

Labels: ,