Optimistically Cautious

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Cooking Chronicles: Strawberry Shortcake

Having seen strawberries advertised in flyers over the last few weeks, I was drawn to Michael Smith's recipe for Strawberry Shortcake in a recent edition of the Globe & Mail.

I tried my hand at it on Monday night, and was sorely disappointed with what was by far the blandest dessert I've ever made. The nutmeg-flavored biscuits and sweetened strawberries were passable on their own, but paired together with the vanilla-scented whip cream, ended up tasting all wrong.

Though I could detect the difference in the cream versus butter-based dough (which resulted in a lighter, cake-like consistency) the biscuit itself doesn't lend itself well, in my opinion, to dessert, and fares better as a brunch item. The whipped cream would have benefited from a sweeter additive like honey, but it probably wouldn't elevate this dish to second-attempt-worthy status.

I may end up retreating back to my fail safe panna cotta to pair with other fresh berries this season.

Strawberry Shortcake

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Film: "Hairspray"

After not being able to find good seats to our first choice, Ratatouille (sob), Dickson and I ended up ducking into Hairspray on Sunday afternoon.

Based on the Tony-award-winning musical, I remember being drawn to the film simply because of its Broadway connection. Of course, nothing beats a live stage performance, but as screen musicals go, Hairspray is as upbeat and fun as they come.

I had no idea racism and overcoming segregation were such an integral part of the plot, but it worked really well alongside Tracy's struggle to be recognized for her talent in the face of her larger frame. As a whole, the movie was very well acted, but I especially admired the work of the delightfully wicked Michelle Pfeiffer, and believably genuine newcomer Nikki Blonsky. John Travolta in drag as Tracy's mother took some getting used to, and I may have to agree with critics that said Travolta in this role was stunt-casted; his presence seemed to subvert all of the sincerity Blonsky was exhibiting. Lastly, the choice of Zac Efron for the part of teen pin-up Link Larkin was an easy way to inflate audiences with the High School Musical-mad set (though I'm not just referring to tweens - it seems Dickson has quite the man-crush on Efron).

Hairspray isn't a must-see, but if you're looking for a movie that will leave you with a smile on your face, this is it.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Theatre: "The Exquisite Hour"

After dinner, Mack and I headed to the Varscona to check out Stewart Lemoine's latest, The Exquisite Hour. From the website:

"A seemingly well-adjusted bachelor finds his life forever altered on a summer evening when an alluring stranger materializes in his backyard to ask the question 'Are you satisfied with what you know?'"

Not a new work but a remount, the play had the feel of a Fringe production. It really was only sixty minutes in length, but more than that, the light, summer quality of the content was devoid of the existential elements I have come to associate with Lemoine. As well, though Jeff Haslam did his best to make the mood shift from one of lighthearted make believe to mourning the loss of time realistic, even he couldn't hide the fact that the switch was much too sudden.

That said, The Exquisite Hour did feature some great exchanges between the two leads, and allowed Haslam to showcase his talent in line delivery. This was my first time watching Kate Ryan on stage, and she was every bit as spunky and charming as the role demanded.

I should say that Mack didn't enjoy the play at all, but I am certain he felt he got his money's worth with our proximity that night to fellow audience member Ron Pederson(!).

I may also have to make it a habit of watching Teatro productions on a non-pay-what-you-can night. That Thursday, they offered free wine before curtain, and a dessert reception following the play. I guess that's what our ticket dollars go towards.

Two changes at Teatro this fall: Lemoine is stepping down as Artistic Director of the company, and will be replaced by longtime associate Haslam (but not to worry, Lemoine will still be writing!). Secondly, the production calendar will be shifting to a spring/summer/fall schedule after a winter hiatus. More information about the news available here.


Vegan Charm: Cafe Mosaics

I'd be lying if I didn't admit that it's getting more and more difficult to think of restaurants in the city that I have a desire to try. Still, when pressed for an eating establishment near the Varscona Theatre where Mack and I were heading after dinner, I remembered the easily-missed Cafe Mosaics (10844 82 Avenue) on the west side of Whyte. Annie and Anna had both spoken highly of it, so I figured it was worth a visit.

The decor reminded me of the boutique Nokomis next door with its soft pastel walls, twinkly lights, funky art and stylishly mismatched furniture. Overall, its vibe was reminiscent of Blue Plate Diner without the urban pretentiousness.

The vegetarian menu at Cafe Mosaics contained quite a few tempting choices, even offering all day breakfast selections. I was in the mood for pasta, so opted for the cheese ravioli served with garlic toast, while Mack decided to test their version of grilled cheese.

Our food, healthy portions of home-cooked comfort, arrived after a short wait. The ricotta-parmesan filling in my ravioli pockets was delicious, as was the sweet tomato sauce that topped my dish. Mack similarly enjoyed his sandwich, claiming the inability to reproduce such a product at home.

With good food, service, and a great dining atmosphere, I'd say Cafe Mosaics did quite well on the critical restaurant checklist. I will definitely be back!

Restaurant interior

Menu (with a revolver on the cover. No idea.)

Cheese Ravioli and Garlic Toast

Grilled Cheese and Fries

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Taste of Edmonton 2007

Though I know I said I would cut out the "extras," at least until returning to my pre-Europe weight, I couldn't resist a trip to the annual Taste of Edmonton festival on Monday.

I had previewed the menu somewhat on the website before heading down to Churchill Square, so it wasn't as much of a shock to me that tickets were astronomically priced at $1 each. When taking into consideration portion sizes, and the questionable quality of food cooked en masse in an outdoor tent, this summer tradition has really become an expensive one.

Thus, Dickson and I decided to sample just a few dishes, with the intent on filling up on more reasonably priced fare elsewhere. Out of habit, I chose Hong Kong Bakery's green onion cakes and was pleasantly surprised that they were tastier than last year's version - more flaky and crispy this time around. Dickson scruputously redeemed his tickets on stuffed mushrooms from the Gas Pump and Beijing Beijing's ginger beef. He much preferred the former dish, if not only for its smaller grease rating (and no pictures...just two days back from Europe, I wanted to step away from the camera for a while).

I'm not sure I'll go back to the Taste of Edmonton next year, especially if it is similarly priced. I'd be more likely to skip down south to give Taste of Calgary a try, simply because most of the particpating restaurants are new to me.

Taste of Edmonton runs until Saturday.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Back from Europe

As you may have gathered from my recent posts, I've returned safely from Europe - a little wiser and with, in my case, no wallet to speak of (more about this later). Between settling in and reading the seventh Harry Potter, I won't have too much time to blog this week, but when I do, I will be cheating and back dating all of my posts in an effort to minimize confusion between past and present escapades. For those of you without aggregators, I realize incessant checking of my blog will start to drag after a while, so I will post an "I'm finished" equivalent if you are of the patient kind, and can await the full documentation that is sure to take some time.

Returning from a holiday is always bittersweet - seeing my family and sleeping in my own bed are nice, but the harsh reality of having to return to work and routine on Monday morning is a jolting reminder that the vacation mentality must cease immediately. It's also funny how the seemingly mundane - being able to communicate in simple terms, not having to pay to use the facilities, ordering tap water free of charge at restaurants, and yes, even the hooks on the back of bathroom doors - become things that you appreciate and no longer take for granted at home.

So, hope everyone had a good few weeks in the heat wave, and I'll begin posting soon.


Sunday, July 22, 2007

"The Hills": Season 3 premiere

Saw a commercial on MTV Canada advertising the third season premiere of The Hills slated for August 13 - meaning we're right on par with the States for the first time!

You can watch the trailer here. I'd normally be pretty excited to return to the glamorous life of LC and company, but this time around, much of the drama seems fabricated and set up by show producers. But as this is reported to be the last season, I'll still enjoy it while it lasts.


Culinary Q & A with Michael

Occupation: Career Adviser

What did you eat today?

Today we had a family potluck. I had potato salad (ooooo potatoes), tenderly cooked ribs, sausage, cheese, KFC chicken (yummy) and pickles. I actually had salad, but I don't remember the name and I don't think I will be good at describing it. And of course more potato salad. (You are correct guessing that I will have potato salad for lunch tomorrow. Who doesn't like left overs?)

What do you never eat?

Some types of sea food like oysters and similar kinds.

What is your personal specialty?

I am going with a) almost anything with potatoes and b) omelet.

What is your favorite kitchen item?

After a long consideration, I am going with a fork. I like to use fork when I eat.

World ends tomorrow. Describe your last meal?

I would definitely have mashed potatoes with creamy mushroom gravy. (I can almost taste it) I would add a medium done steak and some vegetables. I would also have an omelet even it doesn't go together, but why not if the world would end tomorrow.

Where do you eat out most frequently?

I don't go to restaurants allot, so I eat mostly at home, developing my cooking skills.

What's the best place to eat in Edmonton?

I like Royal Glanora, their brunch menu.

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

This is a hard one. I guess I would explore all types of food first and then decide.

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Europe Day 3: London

Before separating from my friends to meet up with my relatives for dim sum and sightseeing, we were treated to a Jesmond "full English breakfast," included in our nightly fee. When compared with a meal of Muslix and toast at our final London hotel, or even the Contiki breakfasts, the hot, made-to-order plate of beans, eggs, sausage and bacon, supplemented with fresh fruit, toast, coffee and juice spoiled us dearly early on in our trip.

Imagine waking up to this every day (calories notwithstanding)

As I had some time to kill before needing to head to Chinatown, I returned to the nearby British Museum for another spin. Turns out I had (oops) missed the Rosetta Stone my first time, among other things. Due to the car bomb incident in Glasgow the day before, there were police randomly checking bags at the entrance, a measure of heightened security not present during my last visit.

I'm not sure what it was besides nasty coincidence, but it was uncanny that the days that I spent with my relatives were never entirely free of rain. So much so that my cousin May started jokingly blaming the wet weather on me. This day was no different.

On one of the few Chinatown streets in London

After lunch, we headed in the direction of the London Eye, snapping pictures, briefly admiring the buskers on the South Bank, and stopping in the Namco Station arcade in County Hall to (surprise, surprise) get out of the rain.

With the London Eye

We walked past Big Ben, and stopped for a coffee break in a pub en route to Westminster Abbey. I am not immune to blame, as I should have been able to recognize the famous landmark, but we couldn't locate it. When we stopped for directions, the gentleman pointed, almost laughingly, to the "big white building" we couldn't miss. Shame. (It still boggles my mind how many Kodak landmarks are within walking distance of each other.)

Big Ben

Coffee (never liked beer, probably never will) in a pub with Cousin Kelly

Westminster Abbey

Here, I met up with the girls, and we Tubed to the Globe Theatre, arriving with quite a bit of time to spare before our 6:30pm curtain. As seems custom by now, we spent the free time before our play in a museum.

Tate Modern is an amazing space, a gallery of (post)modern art built out of a former power station. The exhibit we visited was called Global Cities and focused on the sustainability of large population centres. Even more than the prints, photography, sculpture and multimedia displayed, I was floored by the exposed scaffolding used to make up the two levels of the exhibition - a visual representation of density and differing perspectives, and an effective use of a stark metal jungle to signify the underbelly of growth.

Global Cities exhibit

May, Annie and Janice at Tate Modern

The Millenium Bridge and me

After a frugal dinner consisting of Tesco sandwiches and juice by the Millenium Bridge, we walked to the Globe Theatre and readied ourselves for a few hours of groundling toil. We had purchased the five quid cheap tickets, meaning we would be standing for the duration of the play at the foot of the stage. In the end, though I should have worn a different pair of shoes (my ankles were crying after three hours), it was pretty cool to watch Love's Labour's Lost from where we did. As most people know, I just don't have an inbred love of Shakespeare most English teachers are born with. But to see it on stage, illuminated in speech (thus noticing the poetry of iambic pentameter), direction (the scene involving column hide and seek was hilarious), and use of vulgar visual gags (the age-old horn prop) made me fully appreciate Shakespeare for the master that he was. And darn it if casting Trystan Gravelle as Berowne didn't help his case.

The Globe Theatre at nightfall

The stage

The girls with Henry and his beary friends

I did pick up a program (I don't know if I will ever get used to having to pay for playbills), and successfully avoided buying the too clever "Out, damned spot! Out, I say!" handkerchiefs and 50p felt strawberries "from" Othello.

We took our time getting back to the hotel, but had we known the long day that was to come, perhaps we would better prepared ourselves with a good night's rest.

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