Optimistically Cautious

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Queen Elizabeth High School's Night of Music

Dickson and I headed to Annie's school of Queen Elizabeth High for their annual Night of Music event. It seems I've been so far removed from the school environment that I had to be reminded of the positive, infectious energy young people exude when they are focused on achieving a goal. In this case, it was musical performance.

The students did better than I expected, and I enjoyed in particular the rendition of the always charming Barenaked Ladies' song "If I Had A Million Dollars," and the vocally-challenging Elvis Presley number "A Little Less Conversation." Before the acapella group HOJA closed out the concert, the audience was treated to a version of the "Evolution of Dance" (check out the original on YouTube; the guy is now paid to perform his act all over the U.S. at various conferences and events).

Thanks for the invite, Annie!


The Cooking Chronicles: Panna Cotta with Fresh Berries

Hands down my favorite back pocket, make-in-advance dessert, Giada De Laurentiis' Panna Cotta with Fresh Berries is a saving grace when striving for easy elegance. I started experimenting with it last summer, and have been cooking up batches ever since.

Needing a red-and-white themed dish for a potluck at work in celebration of Anna's new status as a Canadian citizen, I thought individual servings of panna cotta served with raspberries would be perfect. Using disposable plastic wine glasses purchased at a dollar store, I allowed the mixture to cool overnight in the fridge. Though transporting the glasses to work on the bus was a bit of a challenge, they remained thankfully in tact come lunch time.

Great with raspberries, blueberries, and even sliced strawberries or kiwi, this is a no-fail recipe that I will be making for years to come.

Panna Cotta with Raspberries

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

"What are our other options?" Denny's

Edmonton has a dearth of late night dining spots, especially early on in the week (I am vainly hoping for a time when Edmonton can support late night hot dog stands a la Toronto). So after Die-Nasty, Mack and I resorted to the southside Denny's (3604 Gateway Boulevard) for a bite to eat.

I don't really have anything against Denny's (unlike, say, Earls), but given the choice, I'd pick other family-friendly establishments like Boston Pizza or Swiss Chalet any day. Still, nothing beats reasonably priced all-day breakfast plates.

I can't remember a time where I've ordered anything but breakfast at Denny's, and I didn't think to buck the trend this time, opting for the Meat Lover's Scramble (two eggs scrambled with chopped bacon, diced ham and crumbled sausage, and topped with Cheddar cheese, served with two strips of bacon, two sausage links, hash browns and three fluffy buttermilk pancakes). Mack ordered the new Slamburger, unique for the inclusion of an egg cooked to order.

The food wasn't anything special, but as to be expected, was reliably filling. And though I wouldn't describe the fare as "high quality," there's something to be said for their consistency.

Slamburger and Seasoned Fries

Meat Lover's Scramble

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Theatre: Die-Nasty, Season 16

Die-Nasty has become an institution of sorts in Edmonton, and though I've always meant to give it a go (I came really close at last year's Fringe), I just haven't made it out. Part of the reason lies in a lukewarm experience I had watching one of the shows at the Improvaganza festival a few years ago - I came to the conclusion that unscripted comedy really wasn't my thing. Well, Die-Nasty may have changed my mind.

Season 16 centered around a fictional 70s hockey team, the Edmonton Die-Hards, loosely based on the Oilers of the era. With outrageously-named characters, including Dr. Bueno Excellente (Mark Meer) to Captain Derrick Capilano (Jeff Haslam) and Coach Rollie Doobie (Dana Andersen), the cast really had fun creating their world. And upon hearing that Georges Laraque would be guest starring in the season finale, how could I pass it up?

It was a packed house, and a CTV cameraman even stayed to record the first half! I can tell you it was a bit surreal watching Laraque (fittingly #69, Wellen Dowed) alongside who I consider to be Edmonton's theatre all stars - Meer, Haslam, Andersen, Sheri Somerville, Leona Brausen, Matt Alden, and of course, Ron Pederson (back in Edmonton for the summer!) up on stage. Two of my favorite things - hockey and theatre - came together for an evening.

As for the comedy itself - Andersen's direction was spot on. The fact that this omniscient narrator was present to set up and subsequently end the scenes really allowed for some plot development, and unlike Improvaganza, wasn't just a series of random exercises. He also ensured the audience got their money's worth of Laraque - in the first act, he appeared in every other scene. As expected, most of the funny moments arose from ironic comments about his size, or more often than not, hyper-sexualized tension between him and whichever female cast member happened to be in his way (Laraque's, "I couldn't breathe!" after Brausen stuck his head between her breasts was priceless). Mack's recap highlights some of the other memorable lines of the night, including Donovan Workun's "I have a million dollar tool, that's why I built the shed" response to a dig about his weight.

Though I may never understand why all of the women got to make out with Pederson, nor want to know what was actually in those bottles they were drinking out of, it was an entertaining evening all around. And really, any event that helps Mack get to the point where he can pick the theatre all stars out of a lineup is a worthwhile one in my books.


Film: "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End"

Over the weekend, I watched the second of three summer blockbusters I've been looking forward to, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.

I don't have too much to say, not because I didn't enjoy the movie, but because I can't say I really understood what was going on. Between Calypso's heightened importance, the drudgeries of Davy Jones' servitude, and Jack Sparrow's dead/not dead state, I ended up throwing the details to the wind and decided to just sit back, soak up the special effects, spirited soundtrack, and marvel at the on-screen wonder that is Orlando Bloom (he's just so darn pretty!). Though some would disagree, I was really rooting for Bloom and Keira Knightley's characters to end up together (the hopeless romantic that I am), and so I didn't find the post-credits scene cheesy at all. As they parted at the beach at the end of his free day, I thought their honeymoon was much too brief - the movie was definitely tipped in favor of action sequences over romance!

So though it was a fun ride, I'd be fine with Pirates ending on this note.


Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Cooking Chronicles: Vanilla-Fudge Marble Cake

I had been craving cake for a while, and remembering a quote from Ricardo Larrivée that I read somewhere about how people should only eat the sweets they make themselves, decided to buck just heading to the store and bake myself a Vanilla-Fudge Marble Cake.

I really liked the use of chocolate syrup in the recipe - simplifying the chocolate additive by at least a step or two (instead of say, having to melt baking squares). The batter came out thicker than I expected, but it didn't seem to affect the final product. As I couldn't locate our fluted pan, I had to use a spring foam pan in its place. It wasn't a bad choice for ease of removing it from the pan, but I would have preferred a decorative and not plain circular shape. In the end, it didn't really matter - the cake was moist, sweet, and contained just the right amount of chocolate flavor. I can see it working quite well as a birthday cake.

I will be bookmarking the recipe for future reference.

Slice of Vanilla-Fudge Marble Cake

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Notes on Food

  • The "supper club" concept seems to be picking up steam down south. And by south, I mean Calgary. Restaurant by day and club at night, Blink Restaurant and Supper Club opened up a few months ago to lukewarm reviews. It has since revamped its menu (via Alberta Venture), which is improving its reputation some, but perhaps Albertans just aren't able to wrap their brains around fine dining-then-dancing all in the same place.

  • Though probably not as accurate as Vue Weekly's Golden Forks, voting for Where Edmonton's "Most Memorable Meals" has begun. Cast your ballot here.

  • The third in Scott McKeen's series highlighting his favorite haunts was published last week, but it's hard to give a guy who would recommend Pho Hoa to the unsuspecting public credibility.

  • The photography in Australia's Donna Hay Magazine makes Martha Stewart Living look like amateur hour. The pictures are so beautiful I'm tempted to get a subscription to look forward to drooling on a bimonthly basis.

  • More on coffee than food, but has anyone else noticed that Starbucks is now producing greeting cards? On a visit a few weeks ago, I saw Father's Day cards for sale next to their display of baseball and golf-themed mugs. First toys, then music, now cards. What's next?


Friday, May 25, 2007

Retro Chic: Leva Capuccino Bar

Since our failed attempt to try them back in December, I've been itching to visit the newly-renovated Leva Capuccino Bar (11053 86 Avenue). So on a windy Friday, Bettina and I ventured back in the direction of the University campus.

It turns out their grand re-opening took place on March 24, and in addition to renovations, they also revamped their menu. As this was my first time at Leva, I'm not sure what it looked like prior to its facelift, but I can say that the new space is very chic. With a clean black and white color scheme, accented with orange chairs and fabulous crystal chandeliers, it has a younger, but similar vibe to Caffè Sorrentino. The order counter (save the LCD panels), is designed with a 70s touch, anchoring the cafe with a retro feel. Also of note is their selection of food magazines, including Gourmet Traveller and Donna Hay - definitely not your average coffee shop collection!

In addition to the baked goods and artisan gelato, Leva also offers several salads, panini sandwiches, and pizzas. Never being able to pass up a good Margherita, I gave it a try. Made to order, the pizza was great (and better than the one I had at Earls a few weeks ago), in large part due to the light and crispy crust. The creamy bocconcini cheese was a delicious alternative to the more commonly used mozzarella, and really served to make this pizza special. My accompanying iced coffee was just that, but included just the right amount of added sweetener, cutting through the usual bitterness associated with the drink.

Just a short walk from the University, Leva is worth a try if you're in the area.

Cafe exterior


Order counter

Margherita Pizza

Bettina's treats (of which I sampled as well - the blueberry ricotta tart was the best of the three)

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Art Gallery of Alberta: China Sensation

One of the city's best kept secrets is the Art Gallery of Alberta's free admission on Thursday evenings from 4-8pm. So on Thursday I headed to the temporary gallery location (100, 10230 Jasper Avenue) with a few friends to view the current exhibits.

As the Enterprise Square space is merely provisional, I wasn't expecting much. As it turns out, with expansive white walls and bright spot lighting, it is a definite improvement upon the dingy, dark halls of the previous building.

I was especially interested in the pictures that were a part of the China Sensation display, as I had read some of the media coverage surrounding these "cutting edge" works. Though I can't say I understood most (okay, almost all) of the pieces, it was definitely interesting to be exposed to Chinese art that was anything but landscapes and flowers. Between the flamingo-human hybrids, cannibalistic pigs, and neon portrayals of child pest slayers, it was quite the barrage of images. I had no idea art on this plane was being produced in China.

The exhibit runs until June 10.


Off to Glutton-Land: Urban Diner

On Wednesday, after a rather tumultuous day at work, I joined Annie, Dickson and Mack for a round of comfort food at Urban Diner (12427 102 Avenue).

Probably my second favorite diner in the city (following, of course, Blue Plate), I quite enjoy the food and ambiance there. Typically more happenin' on weekend mornings, the restaurant had a moderate number of customers when we were seated. Though I had initially craved their Diner Meatloaf, I was torn when I remembered they also had Fat Franks on the menu. Luckily, Mack agreed to split the latter dish with me, so off to glutton-land I went.

The food took longer than expected, which was likely a blessing in disguise, allowing me to build-up my appetite to accommodate a dish and a half. I was floored when our orders were delivered - the meatloaf was easily twice the size of Blue Plate's offering (but with steamed, not grilled, vegetables - boo). Without tomato sauce to blanch the flavor, and the added pizzazz from the cranberry chutney and creamy mushroom gravy, I think I'll have to admit that Urban Diner wins the meatloaf round of the "diner war." The hot dog was also quite good; Mack wasn't so impressed, but I found the char marks lent much flavor to the meat.

I can honestly tell you that although I thoroughly enjoyed my meals, I will never again order so much food: it turns out gluttony can be a form of self-punishment.

Restaurant interior

Diner Meatloaf

Hot Dog

Shepherds Pie

Fish 'N Chips

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

"Gilmore Girls" Movie?

That's right, folks! Though I will remain cautiously optimistic at least until the actors have been tied to a contract, TV Guide's David Ausiello seems to think a Gilmore Girls movie to conclude the show, Amy Sherman-Palladino-style, is a viable possibility:

"In the next year or two, she hopes to make — wait for it — a two-hour Gilmore Girls TV-movie that ties up all those loose threads! I nearly fell over when she said it — especially given what she told me back in December. (BTW, lest you think Amy was pulling my leg, her partner in life and in showbiz, Dan Palladino, confirmed that a GG reunion pic is something they're interested in pursuing.)"

There is precedence for this (FOX's cancelled Firefly spiraling into a major motion picture), but I'm not sure it would work as well, even on the small screen, for this little show that could. Personally, I had made amends with Gilmore's cancellation, so the false hope such a teaser brings is disrupting my mourning process.

So as with the up-fronts, all we can do is wait...


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Impact Advertising

Though it's a bit backwards to have found out about media campaigns through secondary means, I suppose for public awareness purposes, the medium itself doesn't matter.

These are two PSAs worth checking out:
  • Toronto-based marketing firm BBDO produced this ad, among others, for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. It's unsettling and uncomfortable, just as it should be.
  • This is just a very cool use of sunlight to paint a picture of rising ocean levels. As mentioned in the Globe piece, the physical placement of the billboard would be dependent on the location, and wouldn't be suitable for all thoroughfares, but still should be commended for its creativity.

Have you been exposed to any memorable campaigns lately?


How Not to Play a Fangirl

I attended a workshop last weekend alongside one of my favorite Edmonton playwrights, Marty Chan. Though not as prolific as Lemoine or Belke, I credit Chan's Bone House as the play that started it all for me - after watching it that cool, fall night many years ago, I began my yearly pilgrimage to the Fringe the summer following, and my love of theatre has grown ever since.

Anyway, I felt that I should communicate the impact that his work had on me, so I essentially accosted him at the buffet table and told him so. Keeping in mind that The Bone House centers on the hunt for a serial killer, it wasn't surprising that his immediate response was something along the lines of, "Really? But that was a pretty disturbing play..." Perhaps I should have made it clear why I enjoyed it as much as I did - stellar acting from Chris Fassbender, great use of space and circumstance to heighten the tension (and fear) in the room, and clever manipulation of audience imagination with the use of everyday sounds and objects. Of course, none of this came out in that moment of stilted verbosity, so all I ended up uttering was "Thank you."

I do hope he remounts it soon - it's about time more of the Edmonton community be exposed to his genius!


Monday, May 21, 2007

Tidbits: Notes from Edmonton's Epicurean Scene

  • Two Asian restaurants have recently opened up in the city - Sweet Mango (9120 82 Avenue) and Moon Garden (10117 Jasper Avenue). They haven't received as much press as their also-green counterparts Bacon and Skinny Legs and Cowgirls, but hopefully once the hype of those two bistros die down, more attention can be paid to these eateries.

  • Gleaned from Where Edmonton, Mr. Mike's Steakhouse & Bar, apparently Canada's oldest steakhouse chain, will be setting up shop in West Edmonton Mall in June. With the success of The Keg, Lux, and Ruth's Chris, it seems Edmonton's appetite for steaks is growing.

  • It seems I was mistaken in my assumption that Leva Cafe (11053 86 Avenue) had been taken over - it was simply under renovation. Check it out for their artisan gelato!

  • In other coffee shop news, da Capo Caffe (8738 109 Street) is now open, courtesy of City Palate. According to their blog, they are in the midst of expanding their food menu: "we are introducing Vino, Prosecco and Antipasto Fridays, Pizza Napoletana Saturdays and a breakfast frittata panino." Sounds delicious!

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Cooking Chronicles: Everyday Lighter Macaroni and Cheese

As I have mentioned previously, I am now leaning towards recipes that can be made with what I have available in my fridge and pantry on a day-to-day basis, and after catching a segment on America's Test Kitchen this morning, I decided to duplicate their Everyday Lighter Macaroni and Cheese recipe for dinner tonight.

Annie stayed over for supper, so she helped me put it together. Substituting mozzarella for light cheddar, and omitting the dry mustard, it was a fairly easy recipe to follow. I only realized after the fact that I only added about half of the required cheese, and as I didn't have enough corn starch on hand, should have looked for a starch alternative to thicken the sauce with. This resulted in a sauce with a water-like consistency, but besides that, was a decent modified béchamel.

While taking a little more effort than Kraft Dinner, this macaroni and cheese from scratch has more body than its instant cousin.

Everyday Lighter Macaroni and Cheese

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What do they mean by "lonely?"

My Europe-bound girlfriends came over for a pre-trip planning session this afternoon. In addition to the Internet, they brought over various guidebooks, they have been collecting over the last few weeks. Flipping through one of them, Lonely Planet's Best of London, I came across this text in a section titled "Women Travellers":

"Aside from the rare wolf whistle and unwelcome body contact on the tube, women will find male Londoners reasonably harmless. If you’re over 16, you can buy the morning-after pill over the counter in many pharmacies."

I would have been okay with the information if it was delivered with a little less insinuation, or mirrored with a section titled "Men Travellers" addressing the availability of condoms or other birth control options.

I think I'll be sticking with Frommers.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Second is the First Loser: Acajutla

Looking to unwind at the end of a work week, I asked May, my Mexican cuisine connoisseur friend, to choose a restaurant. She had heard good things about Acajutla, 11302-107 Avenue (which coincidently, won second place in Vue Weekly's Golden Fork for Mexican/Latin American), so there we went.

As indicated on the menu, acajutla translates to "a place of sea turtles and sugar canes." The decor in the dining room was festive to say the least, with brightly colored paper decorations and lanterns hanging from the rafters, and boldly checkered table cloths covering each table. The waitresses were all wearing the same puff-sleeved blouses of the Mexican Heritage-Day variety, providing more of a (stereotypical) ethnic atmosphere to the restaurant.

The menu was more extensive than El Rancho, complete with pictures illustrating select dishes. May decided to order the Combination Plate (one each of tostada, pastel, taco, & fajita), while I stuck with my tried-and-true Chicken Fajitas (soft corn tortilla stuffed with chicken breast, mixed with tomato, onion, and bell pepper).

The restaurant was busier than I had expected, with nearly all of the tables occupied (and a large party of rather loud women situated just behind us), but it was still no excuse for the lengthy wait for our food - we were starved by the time our plates arrived. I was even more disappointed when I found the chicken in my fajita to be dry and over spiced to my taste. May's meal was better, as she was able to sample a few of their specialties (I tried a bit of the pastel, which was very tasty). The service as a whole was sub-par, as we had to physically bring our cups up to the counter for water refills and had to ask the waitress for our bill at the end.

I'm hoping Vue was wrong in their announcement that El Rancho is closing their doors; Acajutla would be a poor replacement.


Combination Plate (clockwise from left - fajita, taco, tostada, and pastel)

Chicken Fajitas

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Cooking Chronicles: Pizzagna

Trying to make the most of leftover dried pasta and asiago cheese left over from our mac & cheese and focaccia pizza creations, respectively, I found a fairly simple recipe in Rachel Ray's Pizzagna. Sounding appealing enough, it combined elements of pizza and lasagna in an easy assemble-and-bake style dish.

Though we omitted the onions (more because I forgot to get them at the supermarket than anything else), red pepper flakes, and parsley, and substituted asiago for parmesan, and button for crimini mushrooms, we followed the rest of the directions fairly closely. I'm finding I really like baked pastas and casseroles, as they do have a make-ahead option available.

The final product was delicious - the ricotta and pepperoni really made the dish unique. Next time, I'd probably try to include more vegetables - zucchini and tomatoes would complement the sauce nicely.

Pizzagna: definitely a keeper!


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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Theatre: "After the Fall"

With The Crucible and Death of a Salesman as evidence, I thought Arthur Miller's last play, After the Fall, would have had similar oomph. Boy, was I wrong.

From the Studio Theatre website:

"Miller's After the Fall (1964) is a strongly autobiographical work, which deals with the questions of guilt and innocence, examining failed relationships, false American values and broken principles amid larger political and social failures like the aftermath of the Holocaust and the McCarthy communist witch hunt. One of the central characters, Maggie, is clearly modeled on Monroe, although Miller always denied this."

After reading an interview with director Stefan Dzeparoski, I wholly give him the credit that he deserves in attempting to unpack this challenging play, as at intermission, Mack and I both had no idea what was going on.

Between the too-busy set (the textured backdrop, giant wardrobe, theatre seats, overhead screen, and rolling bed in the second half), and projected visuals (Quentin's conscience, ghosts, and wife Maggie), it was a battle to pay attention to the words alone. The fragmented narration, with characters popping in and out of Quentin's life, was too difficult to follow. I also wasn't able to reconcile the first half of the play, with storylines involving the House of Un-American Activities Committee, Quentin's mother, and his first two wives, with the second half that centered on Quentin's tumultuous relationship with his third wife. "Strongly autobiographical," I'm convinced that only Arthur Miller himself would truly be able to tell us what he intended of this play.

That said, I thought Melissa Thingelstad's performance as Louise was a bright spot in the play, while Mack liked Meredith Bailey's turn as Maggie.

Beyond that, I don't have much else to say, except that the audience's stunned silence following the end of the production, and subsequent delay in applause, said it all.


Still Unremarkable: Earls

Mack, Kimmi, Dickson and I grabbed a quick bite to eat at Earls (Tin Palace, 11830 Jasper Avenue) this evening. I really don't have that much to say about this chain restaurant, as it is pretty well known that I would prefer not to eat at Earls if given the choice. My personal bias aside, I do understand the pull of their "Wings Wednesdays" on the greater public, and for that, I can sacrifice my personal taste from time to time.

I will admit, however, that this was the first time I remotely enjoyed what I ordered - a Margherita Pizza. While not sensational (a la Bridges), it wasn't bad.

Until we meet again, Earls.

Margherita Pizza

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Cooking Chronicles: Strawberry Tarts with Vanilla Buttermilk Pastry Cream

For a Hawaiian-themed spring potluck we were having at work, I decided to make Strawberry Tarts with Vanilla Buttermilk Pastry Cream.

I figured it would be an easy recipe to pull together on a weeknight, as I was using frozen tart shells to begin with. After baking the shells and allowing them to cool, I combined the listed ingredients as directed on the stovetop. Surprisingly, it thickened at the four minute mark as indicated in the recipe, and with the use of an ice bath, reached the perfect consistency. A dollop in each of the shells, then topped with a strawberry, and I was done.

If you're looking for an easy, yet elegant dessert for a dinner party, look no further!

Strawberry Tarts

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Farewell Stars Hollow: "Gilmore Girls" Series Finale

The series finale of Gilmore Girls, titled "Bon Voyage," aired tonight. Ideally, I wanted there to have been closure to most, if not all, of the storylines, but as the announcement of the show's cancellation came following the shooting of the episode, I really didn't know what to expect.

So I extend my props to David Rosenthal for putting together a lovely finale - a coup in Christine Amanpour's cameo, a heartstrings Luke moment ("I like to see you happy," squee!), and enough strumming Sam Phillips for a sentimental send-off. I appreciated the final pan-out shot of Lorelai and Rory in Luke's diner, complete with twinky lights - an homage to the way the pilot episode ended all those years ago. And though it was quite evident that Luke and Lorelai were together at the end, I liked how the focus of the last scene was still on the girls, just as it should have been.

Still, though the finale more than fulfilled my expectations, I am still curious to know what Amy Sherman-Palladino's version would have looked like, and in particular, what those elusive "last four words" would have been. I'm paying close attention to Ask Ausiello, but perhaps I should just let it go, and remember Gilmore Girls as it was.

Farewell, Stars Hollow; thanks for seven great years.


The Cooking Chronicles: Frittata with Fontina, Green Pepper, Mushroom, Tomato, and Sausage

To befit the end of Gilmore Girls, I planned on making a diner-style dinner to precede the viewing of the finale. My original intention was to recreate Ina Garten's Turkey Meatloaf, but after being confronted with the very uneconomical pricing of ground turkey breast, I decided on the more wallet-friendly Frittata.

Dickson and I decided to substitute and add several ingredients to the recipe - green peppers for asparagus, and for a more hearty base, mushrooms and cooked sausage. The instructions really aren't that difficult, except perhaps making sure there is enough oil and butter present to prevent the egg from sticking to the skillet (we initially had excess grease from the fried sausage, so discarded some, but likely should have kept more in the pan). After dotting the diced fontina on top, then broiling the frittata for a few minutes, the dish was done.

Served with a salad, the frittata was not only satisfying, but made for a wonderfully plated meal(the green peppers and cherry tomatoes peeking out provided fabulous color). Super-easy, fast, and delicious, this versatile recipe would work for a filling brunch, lunch, or dinner course.

In the frying pan


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Closer to the Bottom: Garage Burger Bar

Mack and I headed to Garage Burger Bar (10242-106 Street) for a late lunch this afternoon. I had assumed good things about Garage from its four year streak in claiming Vue Weekly's vote for "Best Burger" in its annual Golden Fork Awards. As such, I was expecting burger-equivalent fireworks when they received top honors again just last week.

We arrived at the restaurant just after four, greeted by a waitress relieved to be relinquished from her boredom - it turns out we were the first customers since the lunch rush ended several hours before. Needless to say, this wasn't a positive initial impression.

It was fairly nice out (though it drizzled a bit later on), so we decided to sit out on their small enclosed patio. The plastic lawn chairs weren't the most comfortable furniture I'd ever encountered, but they served their purpose. The interior of the dining room itself (a refurbished garage - hence the name) was in a word, "dingy," but something I think wouldn't be as noticeable with a larger crowd present. The waitress said that Garage had been around for over fifteen years, and admittedly, it showed.

We perused the menu, and Mack commented that he liked the fact that all burgers with the exception of one were priced equally at $5.99. Fries, however, had to be ordered separately ($1.79). I chose the Bacon(!) Mozza Burger (self explanatory), while Mack was delighted to verbalize his selection of the Dana Burger (cheddar, bacon, lettuce, tomato, BBQ sauce).

The food, as expected, arrived in an expedient fashion. We were both disappointed when we realized the patties weren't made from fresh ground beef and wondered how an establishment could have garnered such acclaim from frozen meat. Secondly, I thought the fries tasted as if they had been refried from the batch left over from the lunch crowd.

While the service was good, prices reasonable, and patio pleasant, I can't say Garage deserved its Golden Fork. At least not until they rehaul their burgers.

Restaurant exterior


Bacon Mozza Burger

Dana Burger

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

In Celebration of Spring

A quick shot of my favorite flower, one of many at a local greenhouse:



Exceeding Expectations: Milestone's

During my research for a trip to Vancouver earlier this year, I came across a "Best of" survey in the Georgia Straight weekly that listed the chain Milestone's as the second best place for brunch in the city. Until reading that, I had no idea Milestone's (1708-99 Street) even offered a brunch menu. After perusing their selections online, I decided it would be a nice place for my family and I to take my Mum in celebration of Mother's Day.

I had made reservations a few weeks ago just in case, but it wasn't as busy as I expected it to be on a lovely Sunday morning. With warmer tones, a casual atmosphere, and more family-oriented than the comparable Murrieta's Grill, the decor holds up surprisingly well for brunch, making the most of its high windows and reflective mirrors.

I quite like their menu as a whole, as it contains some interesting takes on traditional weekend fare. Along these lines, I ordered their Italian Sausage Frittata (open faced omelette with fresh garden vegetables, fresh basil, roasted italian sausage, mozzarella and reggiano cheese). My mum opted for the Strawberry French Toast, my Dad chose the Grilled Shrimp California Benedict (in lieu of the Prime Rib Hash that they had "run out of"), and Amanda and Felicia ordered Joe's Special (seasoned ground beef, fresh spinach, sliced mushrooms, scrambled eggs, chipotle catsup, parmesan) and the Californian Omelette (double-smoked bacon, spicy house-made avocado salsa, diced Roma tomatoes, sharp cheddar), respectively.

The food took a while, but besides that, I had no complaints about the service. When our dishes did arrive, though, not only were they beautifully plated (a detail often overlooked by larger chain restaurants), but the portions were huge (the French Toast in particular)! As for my fritatta, I can't fully comment on the taste, as the spicy tomato sauce it was smothered in overpowered the sausage and all other additions to the egg. I suppose this could be likened to the spread I used to dislike on Blue Plate Diner's meatloaf, but have now grown to appreciate, though I would have preferred it sans sauce on the first go-around.

Milestone's isn't by any means an inspired choice for brunch, but it was surprisingly good and definitely exceeded my expectations.

Cozy booth

Italian Sausage Frittata

Strawberry French Toast

Grilled Shrimp California Benedict

Joe's Special

Californian Omelette

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Fine Dining, American Style: Ruth's Chris Steak House

I first posted about Ruth's Chris Steak House (9990 Jasper Avenue) in November last year when it had just opened in Edmonton. I finally had the opportunity to dine there with a few friends to celebrate a belated birthday.

I'm not sure why steak houses invariably have less lighting sources than other restaurants, but Ruth's Chris is an exemplar of this. Muted spotlights created a hazy darkness that when combined with the rich red carpeting and dark furniture, could be seen as the picture-perfect abode for stereotypical cinematic Asian gangsters. That said, our dining area (one of three) did have a few elegant touches, including a blue-lit wine cabinet and a soothing water wall. Interestingly enough, the conversational volume in the room rose quite a bit over the course of the evening, bordering on loud in such a small room, but was surprisingly refreshing for a dressed-to-the-nines crowd where I was expecting hushed whispers.

I was glad to see a good selection of non-steak options on the menu, but as I'm not a vegetarian, I couldn't very well not sample their beef on my introductory visit. The birthday girl and I both chose the Petite Filet, while my two other friends opted to share the Porterhouse for Two. In addition, we selected three sides to share (ordered a la carte) - sautéed mushrooms, au gratin potatoes, and the sweet potato casserole.

The plates arrived smoking hot (out of a 500 degree oven, our server claimed), and the quality was at it should be for an establishment of this caliber. My steak was grilled to medium perfection, tender and spiced to play up the natural flavour of the meat. One of my friends commented that the corn-fed Midwestern U.S. beef (which, with the exception of one dish, Ruth's Chris proudly serves in ranch-rich Alberta) lacked the "kick" she's used to tasting in grain-fed Alberta beef (I'm afraid my palette isn't refined enough to make that distinction). All of the sides were delicious as well - the sautéed mushrooms were lightly coated with savoury garlic butter; the au gratin potatoes were rich and creamy, topped with melted cheddar; and the caramelized-pecan crusted casserole could have doubled as dessert.

For dessert, I ordered the Creme Brulee served with mixed berries and mint. Beautifully presented in a white ceramic dish on a black plate (accented with the reds and the blues of the berries), it was a satisfyingly velvety custard complemented by the warm, sweet crunch of caramelized sugar.

My fine dining experiences are few and far between, but Ruth's Chris is right on par with other restaurants on the pricey end of the scale. While too expensive for an every day dinner, Ruth's Chris is worth a try if you are a steak connoisseur, or are looking for an intimate venue for that special occasion.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Lights Out in Stars Hollow

CW announced on Thursday that Gilmore Girls will not be renewed. From Variety:

"Money was a key factor in the decision, with the parties involved not able to reach a deal on salaries for the main cast members. Other issues, such as number of episodes and production dates, may have also played a role."

Though I was skeptical that the quality of the show could be maintained without creators Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino at the helm, the current season has proven me wrong. The last two episodes in particular have been great - kudos to David Rosenthal for Rory's struggle upon graduation, and for Lorelai's heartbreaking serenade to her unrequited love.

For those who don't watch serial dramas, it really is difficult to understand how much impact a show can have. As sad as it may seem, appointment television really can grow with a person over the course of seven years. I was in high school when I first started watching Gilmore Girls regularly, and since then, I have "matured" right alongside Rory. While I can't say I could relate to everything the characters went through, there were many moments of felt kinship. Other things will come along to fill the entertainment void, but like West Wing and Ed, my attachment to the show is very much associated to the time in my life when I watched it.

The series finale airs on May 15.


"High School Musical 2" Premiere Date

Mark your calendars - High School Musical 2: Sing it All or Nothing will debut on the Disney Channel and its Canadian Family Channel affiliate on August 17.

Speaking of HSM, rumors are abound that its leads Zac Efron and Vanessa Anne Hudgens are an item! My cynical self thinks this to be a spring-summer romance, but regardless of the catalyst, it's a great publicity stunt for the upcoming release.

And if you thought one sequel was enough, I'm sorry to disappoint you with the news that the third installment, Haunted High School Musical has already been planned for a 2008 theatrical release. How's that for tween power?

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Cooking Chronicles: Green Onion Cakes

After many trips to the supermarket shopping for recipe ingredients not readily found in my house, I am beginning to appreciate instructions that don't call for anything unavailable in my pantry and fridge on a typical day. So on a lazy Sunday, I decided to duplicate Martin Yan's Green Onion Cakes.

Yan, a popular Asian American chef whose show airs sporadically on PBS, can be considered the Chinese equivalent of Emeril Lagasse. Entertaining, enthusiastic, and always energetic, Yan has unquestionable knowledge about Chinese cuisine. Though I admit to rolling my eyes when I watched him growing up, with the new perspective garnered from the experiences I've had in the kitchen thus far, I have to say he does know what he's talking about (my Mum has commented that Yan's cooking does pander somewhat to the greater Western audience he serves now, however).

This wasn't my first try at creating these appetizers - I'd made them with May quite a while ago, albeit with a different recipe. Nothing against Yan, but his method didn't allow for as many layers as the previous recipe encouraged, and thus, my cakes lacked the desired flakiness. On the other hand, it was my mistake in adding too much pepper but not enough salt, and not rolling each cake thin enough (resulting in half-cooked, but nearly burnt products). Still, I'll have to figure out why the individual cakes didn't fry evenly - I'm sure it has something to do with the oil.

The cakes were edible at the end of the day, but I will be hunting down the first recipe for a second go.

Green Onion Cakes

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Film: "Spiderman 3"

I went to watch Spiderman 3 at the South Common theatres last night. It was quite a festive atmosphere for the younger set, with an inflatable jump house set up just outside the theatre, comic books and Spiderman-balloon animals offered inside, and even a costumed Spiderman available for photographs in the lobby.

We bypassed the peripheral fun in favor of lining up early to secure good seats. Though I tend to build up unwarranted expectations when waiting is involved, the movie didn't disappoint. I failed in my attempt to avoid all reviews before the screening, but I do agree with Mack's opinion that the critics were unnecessarily harsh on the third installment. I didn't have a problem with what they deemed to be an abundance of villiains, and if anything, my favorite scene in the movie was the eleventh hour partnership between Spiderman and New Goblin (admittedly, I have a soft spot for redemption storylines).

As expected from the Spiderman franchise, there were stunning visual effects, and the requisite Sam Raimi everyman hero humor (but who else thought Parker's bang-tastic street dance went on a tad long?). As for the new cast additions, Topher Grace did surprisingly well in his turn to the dark side, and James Cromwell's bit appearance was a waste for someone of his acting caliber. And oh, the crying - the movie might as well have been subtitled S3: Waterworks Edition.

All in all, it was a good night at the cinema. Spiderman 3 definitely deserves its place as the first blockbuster of a sequel-filled summer movie season.


Theatre: "Dreamland Saturday Nights"

May and I then attended a matinee of David Belke's remounted Dreamland Saturday Nights at the Varscona. From the website:

"When two lonely hearts meet at an old time repertory cinema, they discover that where one sees colour and romance in a search for love and adventure, the other analyses lighting, direction and camera angles. The play follows the growth of their relationship over a series of Saturday nights as they watch old movies together, eat popcorn and fall in love - with a little help from their friends, Bogart, Davis and Astaire."

Just as nostalgic as the description portrays, the play was a classic Belke romantic comedy. I loved the use of old trailers and concession advertisements to set the tone as the audience seated themselves (though Shadow Theatre's own trailers could have been better put together - I thought they were fake until I looked in the program). The set was as functional as it was pretty - the designer found great replicas of theatre seats and a concession stand to accompany the whimsical pastel colored swirl backdrop, evoking the desired feeling of innocence and push for simpler times. The stage also incorporated a clever sheer movie 'screen,' to distinguish between the film realm and reality.

Like most Belke plays, the supporting cast stole the show. Patrick Howarth, the only actor who appeared in the original, was fantastic. His impersonations were spot-on (and he can dance!), with his Jack Nicholson imitation garnering the most laughs. Aimee Beaudoin, playing the "wicked" gold digger, was so fabulous in her oozing indifference and cruelty that I was left wondering how it could have been possible that I'd never seen her before. In particular, her maturity as an actress shone through in her Bette Davis masquerade. Angela Christie was well-cast as Dorothy, the cute and shy female lead, but I'm still unsure about Chris Bullough. Although better this time around than in Teatro's House of Cats earlier this season, he didn't completely convince me that he was remotely torn about his decision of tearing down the Dreamland. The program didn't list the original cast, but as Chris Fassbender was a Belke favorite while he was still in town, I couldn't help but think Fassbender's ability to juggle quirkiness with heartfelt sincerity would have better suited the role.

As a classic movie fan, I'm embarrassed to say I couldn't recognize all of the allusions (the buck stopped with Citizen Kane and Empire Strikes Back for me), but I could relate to Dorothy's sentiment of wanting to have a bit of both Oz and Kansas in her life. So despite its shortcomings, Dreamland Saturday Nights was an enjoyable piece of fantasy, comedy, and romance.


Not for the Impatient: Two Rooms Restaurant

For a pre-play brunch, I suggested to May that we try Two Rooms Cafe (101, 10324-82 Avenue), located in the historic Dominion Hotel. Hosting only seven tables, the restaurant is charming but small. With a warm decor - brown with stone accents, decorative cases, and a water wall - the dining room melded perfectly with the open-concept kitchen (or second "room").

I was happy that the waitress still let us order from the 9am-12pm breakfast menu at 12:15. May selected the Cinnamon Kissed French Toast, while I chose the Indian-spiced Tofu Scramble. Given the decent staff-to-customer ratio, and the small number of tables to begin with, who knew our meals would take over 40 minutes to prepare?

May was disappointed with her dish, which ended up being much too sweet, overloaded with an intense amount of raspberry puree. My tofu scramble was all right - I've never had turmeric in a breakfast dish before, and it did add an interesting kick to the eggs. The potatoes were noticeably good, soft and well-seasoned.

At the end of it, May and I both agreed that we'd be more likely to head back to Murrieta's than Two Rooms.

Cinnamon Kissed French Toast

Indian-Spiced Tofu Scramble

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Satisfyingly Authentic: B-Bim-Baab Restaurant

My fellow Europe-bound companions and I had dinner at an off-the-beaten path Korean restaurant in a southside business park. B-Bim-Baab (9543-42 Avenue) came with Annie's recommendation of authenticity and quality, and as the rest of us soon discovered, she was spot on.

With dated furniture of the Pagolac variety and aged carpeting, it was clear the decor wasn't the main attraction of B-Bim-Baab. We decided to split four dishes, and after some discussion, ordered the Dolsot B-Bim-Baab (rice and egg, among other ingredients served in a Hot Stone Bowl), Tofu Yachae Bokum (pan fried tofu stir fried with vegetables), Charp Chae (clear potato string noodles stir fried with seasoned black mushrooms and vegetables), and Chicken Tang Su Yuk (crispy chicken with sweet and sour black bean sauce, tossed with slices of green pepper, red peppers, onions, and pine apples).

The very polite and petite waitresses were quite attentive over the course of dinner, though there was an accident involving chili sauce and Annie's white hoodie. The dishes arrived one after the other, and all contained generous servings. My favorite dish was probably the B-Bim-Baab, if not only for the novelty of the Hot Stone Bowl. The egg added a creaminess to the sticky, crunchy rice for a texture previously unbenowst to me.
When we left, we were surprised how busy the restaurant was, given it was Friday night, and its location in the 'middle of nowhere.' But like El Rancho in the northside, this can be considered another of Edmonton's ethnic gems.

Restaurant interior


Bean Sprouts
Kim Chee

Dolsot B-Bim-Baab
Tofu Yachae Bokum

Charp Chae

Chicken Tang Su Yuk

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