Optimistically Cautious

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Poor Planning and Bad Timing: Sorrentino's

I have mentioned Dine Alberta a few times this month, it being a September program that promotes the use of local ingredients at select restaurants across the province. I finally got around to arranging for dinner at Sorrentino's, a much-loved local Italian chain that seems to be something of an institution in Edmonton (beyond Sorrentino's proper, the purveyors also maintain That's Aroma!, Oliveto Trattoria, Caffe Sorrentino, a sports bar, and a pub). I poked around the website and was looking forward to trying something off of their featured Mushroom Harvest menu - specifically, the porcini mushroom risotto.

With Dickson at the wheel (though that phrase is a bit redundant...), we headed for the downtown location. Count me embarrassed when we were confronted with a closed sign. Vowing better research before future outings, we checked to make sure the southside location was open before driving there.

Arriving around 8:30pm, we were given the "S-Bar" menu, a condensed selection of dishes meant for late diners. I inquired about the Mushroom Harvest menu, but to my disappointment, was told that it wasn't offered on Sundays. The website failed me - nowhere on their otherwise comprehensive webpage was it written that the specials were only served Monday to Saturday. So not only were we deprived of sampling the regular fare (of which a chef's daily risotto is a part of), but I also wasn't able to get my Dine Alberta fix.

That said, the after-9 menu isn't bad; there were quite a few comfort dishes that were tempting. I settled on a margherita pizza, while Dickson opted for Mamma's lasagna. The food arrived after a bit of a wait (the main dining room had been fully booked for a private function), though Dickson would have been appeased had they simply brought more baskets of their salted baguette. The pizza wasn't great, and tasted very much like the fare I had at Three Bananas Cafe, and easily loses up against the phenomenal slices at Leva. Dickson's pasta was quite good, but he was left wanting more because of the small portion.

When the bill was presented, we were surprised to see we had been charged full price. Checking the time our plates were entered, we realized that had we waited twenty minutes to order, we could have saved $6. Sure, that isn't a lot of cash, but after the mushroom menu mix-up, it was another instance of our bad timing that night.

I'll have to return to Sorrentino's for a full, triple fact-checked dinner to see if it really can live up to the hype.

Margherita pizza

Mamma's Lasagna

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Edmonton: More to Discover

To follow-up on a post I made last month about all there was to do in Edmonton free of charge, here are more ideas for October:

That's all, folks!


Saturday, September 29, 2007

Edmonton Symphony Orchestra: Robbins Pops, a 75th Birthday Tribute to John Williams

Mack and I met up with Dickson and headed to the Winspear Centre for my second concert in three days - the first Robbins Pops of the season, a 75th birthday tribute to John Williams.

Through the wonderful Pulse8 Club, we purchased tickets for just $20 each (including service charges), and ended up with seats in the second row, orchestra centre. After this experience however, I know that the symphony is just about the only exception to the rule of stage proximity. For a view of the entire orchestra, first balcony seating, or at least further back on orchestra level, is essential. From our vantage point that night, we couldn't see much beyond the conductor and the string musicians. Live and learn.

In between songs, conductor Bruce Hangen introduced video clips of an interview he conducted with John Williams himself. It was a treat to be able to hear Williams talk about the process he went through to compose some of his best known works, including the theme from Jaws, "Hedwig's Theme" from Harry Potter, and music from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Of all the songs, I was most looking forward to hearing the title theme from Star Wars, and of course, the choir-infused, pulse-racing marvel "Duel of the Fates" from Episode I. I was not disappointed, and couldn't help but be brought back to the time when I watched Star Wars for the first time. The costumed characters (Darth Vader, Leia, and an array of Storm Troopers) that appeared during these pieces was admittedly over the top, but as I ended up taking a picture with one of them, I can't say much else.

Darth Vader and Unknown Baddie (even better - Dickson's Mum and Vader)

It's Leia! (hair buns and all)

Dickson and I pose with a Storm Trooper

Also, who knew the Symphony was the place to be? After running into a friend and a coworker at the show on Wednesday, I saw a few other workmates on Saturday. I had no idea the ESO was so well-frequented.

There are a few upcoming shows I want to check out, and armed with a fabulous discount, I really have no excuse!

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Ripped Off and Ticked Off: Wok Box

After a valid but ultimately failed attempt at catching a play at the Arts Alive! Festival in the afternoon (there's always next year), Mack and I killed time in the downtown core, and ended up at Wok Box (10119 Jasper Avenue) for dinner.

I've been to the franchised takeout restaurant twice before, and after finding the fare extremely overpriced, I vowed not to return unless equipped with a coupon. Luckily, I just purchased an Entertainment Book containing a Wok Box coupon, so with a 2-for-1 mentality in mind, we saddled up to the counter to order.

But rebuffed, we were. The employee mentioned something about the store not being consulted before the address was printed on the back of the coupon, and couldn't accept it. Because we had a show to get to in less than an hour, Mack and I sucked it up and ordered the teriyaki chicken stir fry and butter chicken (Violet's recommendation). The bill was over $21.

Thankfully, our wait wasn't too long (unlike my other experiences), and though the novelty of eating out of a "Chinese" take-out box still tickles me somewhat, I recognize the inflated cost of fanciful packaging. In the end, my butter chicken was all right (the sauce was rich and tasted great with the rice), but without a side of vegetables, was a fairly dense meal, and was not worth what we paid for it.

Take-out boxes are cute, but cannot make-up for the restaurant's small portions and mistaken advertising. I'd choose a Chinatown establishment over Wok Box any day.

Mack "smiles" with his Wok Box order

Teriyaki chicken, butter chicken and "naan bread" (looking pretty unappetizing)

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Brunch as it Should Be: Blue Plate Diner

After a walk about the City Market downtown (where I was disappointed that both Inspired Market Gardens and Whimsical Cupcakes were absent this week), I treated my parents and Amanda to brunch at Blue Plate Diner (10145 104 Street).

I've posted before about dinner at Blue Plate, but brunch at the Diner is truly one of my favorite meals at the city. There's just something about the combination of the brick, the buzz in the air and the charm of their retro furniture that I cannot resist.

I ordered the pancake breakfast (2 buttermilk pancakes, eggs, choice of meat side), while my sister opted for the mornin' sandwich (fried egg, cheddar cheese and tomato with herbed mayo on toasted multi-grain and served with potatoes), and my parents selected the big breakfast (2 eggs, potatoes and multi-grain toast and choice of meat side).

The pancakes were great - moist and fluffy, they soaked up the maple syrup nicely, and as always, their potatoes were crispy and delicious. My Mum really liked the bread, which we found our later was brought in from French Meadow, the artisanal bakery a few streets down.

After brunch, we headed to deVine Wines on the corner of Jasper Avenue and 104th Street for a free wine sampling they were hosting that afternoon. Though I didn't buy the red Chilean wine I tried, I did come away with a bottle of German Riesling wine, in the hopes that it would taste similar to one that I sampled in St. Goar this summer.

The City Market is open for its last hurrah this Saturday, and I highly recommend a morning of produce shopping followed by brunch at Blue Plate. You won't regret it!

Pancake breakfast

Mornin' sandwich

Big breakfast

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Edmonton's Fashion Festival: Fall/Winter 2007

Amanda and I headed to the last runway show of Edmonton's Fashion Festival tonight. The event moved from Planet Ze Design in Old Strathcona to the more visible and central location of Churchill Square.

While the website recommended attendees to "dress creatively," due to the venue being a tent in the urban outdoors, the slogan really should have been "dress warmly," as my sister and I were quite cold by the end of the nearly two and a half hour show (my flats really were not the smartest shoe choice).

We had decided to line up quite early, which in hindsight was a great decision, as we were able to secure front row seats. The poor souls who arrived too late were relegated to stand in the crowded areas behind the chairs, not fun on the hard concrete Square floor. I didn't blame those in the back for leaving early, as nearly half the crowd had gone by the time the last designer hit the runway.

Amanda and I wait for the show to begin

The Festival's Creative Director Sandra Sing Fernandes opened the show by welcoming everyone. She's a rather imposing lady, with a radio-friendly voice and a daring fashion sense. While it is likely because of her due diligence that a fashion festival exists at all in the city, perhaps from a PR standpoint she should have taken the time to, for example, learn to pronounce the names of sponsors, remember who donated the door prizes, and be able to properly introduce performers.

Sandra Sing Fernandes, MC for the evening

First up wasn't a runway showcase, but an Edmonton-born country singer, who performed "Lady Marmalade", for what purpose I don't know. Later on in the show, a troupe of ballet dancers took to the stage. Neither of these seemingly impromptu additions were advertised in the program, and though it is a nice thought to provide members of the artistic community with a venue, in the grand scheme of things, such inclusions ultimately detracted from the evening's fashion focus. Superfluous interruptions like these really highlight the assumption that fashion cannot survive on its own in Edmonton.

Of the four collections, I thought Nylon by Dex had the most "wearable" designs, while Nokomis' whimsical hair and makeup choices emphasised the expected femininity and organic nature of their designs. I thoroughly enjoyed Morse Code's portion of the night - entertaining and visually slick, the models were cheeky, with a 70s sensibility in their outrageous wigs and movements, supported by funky music choices (including remixes of Batman and Spiderman theme songs). The show closer, Stanley Carroll, opened with a spooky Halloween theme, dressing the first few models backwards, and affixing wigs over their faces and attaching a mask to the backs of their heads. While memorable, the clothing ended up playing second fiddle to the stunt. The rest of the collection was showcased with the lights on, fortunately, but really was much too long.

Ultra Ego

Ultra Ego



Morse Code

Morse Code

Nylon by Dex

Stanley Carroll

Stanley Carroll

Stanley Carroll

This was my first fashion show, and I must say it was enjoyable as a whole. Sitting so close, I was able to notice some of the "seams" - padding under shoes to prevent scuffing of soles (and allowing for shoe resale), and really, in many cases, the shoes being much too big for the models to walk properly. On another note, Amanda and I talked about the need for a bigger (indoor) space, but the halls of Shaw Conference and Northlands are all too mainstream. It will be interesting to see where this takes place next year.

Goaded by an exposure to America's Next Top Model, but helped by the "glamour" of flashing bulbs, pumping base, and the irresistible sound of high heels hitting the platform, I will be back. Look for Spring/Summer Fashion Week in April 2008.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Edmonton Symphony Orchestra: Midweek Classics

While I've known for a while about the existence of discounted programs created by local arts companies in an attempt to build loyalty in the 18-29 age group (whom they hope will become lifelong patrons), I hadn't looked closely into it until this year. The Citadel has Club Friday (which is outrageously expensive, especially in the face of pay what you can Sundays), Edmonton Opera runs an Explorers' Club (which I joined this year), and last but not least, the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra operates the Pulse8 Club.

Of the three, Pulse8 offers the best deal hands down - free to join, members can purchase up to two tickets to most of ESO's concerts for $15 each. Best of all, when tickets are released to Pulse8 members, it is the best available seats that are up for grabs. Keeping in mind that gallery seats are regularly $42 each, this provides a great opportunity to inexpensively enjoy a night of music. One tip - if possible, buy the tickets in person, otherwise one ends up paying $4 more in service charges when ordering over the phone.

Another unexpected benefit of Pulse8 membership ended up being free tickets to the opening Midweek Classics concert that took place last night. Dickson and I were given terrace seats, not bad considering the tickets were complimentary to begin with.

As this was my first classical concert, I relied heavily on Dickson to explain to me why a conductor is necessary at all (sacrilege for those intimate with the orchestral workings), and had a juvenile laugh at the fact that the conductor's right hand man is called the Concertmaster (anyone else think he should wear a sash of some kind?). I will say that it was a lovely sight to be able to see the synchronized bow movements of the stringed instruments, and the gradual addition of each section to the song as a whole. The music itself was nice, though to be entirely honest I haven't been exposed to enough classical repetoire to really appreciate it. I am used to such music in a supporting role, and never as the end itself, so I think learning to appreciate such music for music's sake will take time.

The real surprise of the night was ESO's Music Director. Anyone who has seen William Eddins on stage will know that he is entertaining in his own right - I've never before encountered such an animated conductor. He actually physically left the ground a few times, and I was afraid some of his jerky arm movements would push him into a coronary. His comments between pieces and introductions of the featured musicians showed his charisma and humor, as well as his respect and passion for the music.

I am fortunate that I will be getting another opportunity to enjoy the symphony very soon - a few friends and I will be heading to the Robbins Pops celebration of John Williams' 75th birthday this weekend.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"It might as well have been a holiday Monday"

I called Langano Skies on Sunday night with the intention of reserving a table for a group of us the next day, but it turned out the restaurant is closed Mondays. Anna attempted the same with a few eateries close by to no avail.

So nearly by default we ended up at Next Act Pub & Grill (8224 104 Street). Or should I say, everyone else did, as I arrived just as the flashes were going off. But with the magic of photos, it appears as if I had been there the entire time.


Unfortunately, I didn't get to visit much with Doug (and Jared) who had to leave, but after having my supper packed to go, the rest of us piled over to Michael's place to chat. Thanks for having us Michael!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Random Notes

I would prefer to avoid shorthand posts, but they are such a convenient fallback when no elaboration is needed. So here, again:

  • The Edmonton Journal created a new section in Saturday's edition called "Style" two weeks ago. From what I can tell, it is an amalgamation of everything the Globe's daily "Life" is - a snapshot of home decor, a piece on fashion, a restaurant review - but all very haphazard and scattered. I never knew what happened to "Ed" (it seemed to just disappear from print, at least), but "Style" is a very poor follow-up, if that is indeed what it is.
  • On that note, my weekly round-up, as seen in the Globe & Mail: a table shaped like a grand piano that brings new meaning to "dinner music"; and a photo group on Flickr that celebrates the greatness of a brown bag lunch.
  • Speaking of Flickr, Mack was nice enough to buy me a Flickr Pro account this week, slyly pushing me to integrate further into the throes of Web 2.0 life. Thanks Mack!
  • My beloved TelevisionWithoutPity got a makeover recently. At quick glance, they got rid of the clever show icons in favor of network pictures, and ads are more prominent on the frontpage, unfortunately. It's definitely shinier, but now looks suspiciously corporate...what do you think?
  • I was very happy to read that the rest of the Sex & the City's season 6 regulars, David Eigenberg, Evan Handler and Jason Lewis, were secured for the upcoming movie. I had to suppress a squee when I saw the first production still. Ah, to heck with it - squee!


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Culinary Q & A with Eric

Occupation: Student

What did you eat today?

Breakfast: Erica's peanut butter cookies.
Mid-morning snack: raisins and banana.
Lunch: Grilled chicken sandwich (made by Chef Moi).
Mid-afternoon snack: Bits and Bite (a treat!).
Pre-Capoeira bite: International fare from the "Study Abroad" session.
Dinner: Japanese udon.
Dessert: Pineapple and banana.

What do you never eat?


What is your personal specialty?

As in cooking?????!

What is your favorite kitchen item?

The French knife.

World ends tomorrow. Describe your last meal.

A hearty duck confit, fruits of every kind from around the world, and a glass of fine red wine.

Where do you eat out most frequently?

Very random now since I don't eat out often.

What's the best place to eat in Edmonton?

Jack's Grill for ultimate food pampering, Sunterra's pizza for delicious gourmet lunch on-the-go, and Bistro Praha for the ambience (sorry, I know it's three).

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

I would go to Romania and eat all the Elephant Ears I can!

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Quotable Women (and Two Men): Installment Four

  • "Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, 'What! You too? Thought I was the only one.'" – C.S. Lewis

  • "True friends are those who really know you but love you anyway." – Edna Buchanan

  • "It’s the friends you can call up at four A.M. that matter." – Marlene Dietrich

  • "I always feel that the great high privilege, relief, and comfort of friendship was that one had to explain nothing." – Katherine Mansfield

  • "I felt it shelter to speak to you." – Emily Dickinson

  • "A friend will tuck the tab back into your collar." – Anonymous

  • "Some of the most rewarding and beautiful moments of a friendship happen in the unforeseen open spaces between planned activities. It is important that you allow these spaces to exist." – Christine Leefeldt

  • "A true friend never gets in your way unless you happen to be going down." – Arnold H. Glasgow


Monday, September 17, 2007

"Prison Break": Season 3 Premiere

After a summer nearly free of appointment television, the first of the fall premieres (besides The Hills, anyway) aired last night.

Season three of Prison Break has begun with four familiar faces behind bars, this time in a seedy Panamanian jail controlled by the inmates within. While Lincoln promised Michael mid-episode that he would be transferred to a safer facility the next day, the harsh discovery of LJ and Sara's kidnapping means the genesis of another story arc through blackmail. And so as it stands - Michael will have to help another prisoner break out of Sona, lest allow for the demise of his nephew and would-be lover.

After months of light summer television fare, the tense, gripping, cliffhanger format of serial dramas will take some getting used to again.


Friday, September 14, 2007

Edmonton: Free to Discover

I have the privilege of compiling a monthly calendar of events for my clients at work, in the hopes of encouraging them to explore and enjoy what the city has to offer. Since undertaking this initiative over a year ago, I must admit to the secondary benefit of becoming quite well-informed about economical and unique happenings in Edmonton. Thus, I am now quite dismayed when I encounter anyone who claims that "There is nothing to do in Edmonton." At least, nothing related to either West Edmonton Mall or Whyte Avenue nightlife.

September, besides being the time of year that induces groans of children and teens everywhere, will also see the occurrence of four distinct, growing festivals:
  • Only in its second year, and taking place about a month before the better known Lit Fest, the Edmonton Poetry Festival is offering a plethora of events, many free, from readings, to poetry slams to a hip-hop night.
  • Edmonton Fashion Week runs from September 24-28, this year moving its runway shows from the south side Planet Ze Design to the unbridled space of Churchill Square. Besides being great for the current movement towards the publicity and revitalization of the downtown core, it also allows the festival itself increased exposure to new crowds. While the runway shows are not free, the opening night gala, featuring displays and a preview showcase, is open at no cost to the public (though attendees are encouraged to bring a non-perishable donation to the food bank).
  • The revamped Edmonton International Film Festival starts on September 28. Although it's a shame the filmed-in-Alberta Assassination of Jesse James isn't being screened, the matinee documentary series can be seen for $5 a pop.
  • Revitalization of a different sort is being celebrated in the form of the second annual Arts on the Ave Kaleido Festival. Nurturing the artistic in the ill-famed Alberta Avenue district, the festival is hosting a number of free performances and street entertainment (and for those who missed the five-star Fringe favorites Water and Homeless, you'll get the chance to see them on stage for a bargain $5 a ticket).

I always wonder what it would have been like to grow with the Fringe, now just having finished its twenty-sixth consecutive run. With these four festivals still in their relative stages of infancy, perhaps one day you can look back and know that you were there for the beginning.

Other notable free activities during the month of September:

  • City Farm, which aims to expose the public to cultivation and animal care techniques, is holding its Harvest Festival on September 15. Admission by donation.
  • Free admission week at Kinsmen Sports Centre runs from September 22-30.
  • Two fun, cheeky exhibits at the Art Gallery of Alberta, including pieces by Andy Warhol start later this month. Admission into the temporary space at Enterprise Square is free from 4-8pm on Thursdays.
  • The City of Edmonton's celebration of recreation, Free Admission Day, offers no cost entry to all city-owned facilities on September 30, including the perennially-popular and family-friendly Fort Edmonton Park, Valley Zoo, and Muttart Conservatory, as well as recreation centres and arenas.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Spicy and Pricey: Tropika

I finally made my way down to the south side Tropika (6004 104 Street) on Wednesday with Dickson, spurred on by a coupon I had on hand. I had heard that the food was good but pricey, so a discounted meal was a definite encouragement to try their version of Malaysian cuisine. pricey

As opposed to many Asian restaurants, the purveyors of Tropika attempted to cobble together an actual decor scheme. Unfortunately, the unfinished wood panelling on the ceiling reminded me more of the plywood Contiki village cabins than a "rustic" South Asian establishment.

Upon being seated, I showed the coupon I had clipped from a local flyer to our waitress, as the print on the slip indicated that it had to be surrendered before ordering. She asked if I had the rest of the flyer, but I did not, and even though the address and phone number of the restaurant was apparent, without the word "Tropika" on it, she was hesitant to accept it without asking her manager first. Though this wasn't a major inconvenience (they accepted it in the end), it didn't exactly start off our meal on the best note.

Service aside, I was extremely impressed with the full-color, coil-bound menus. The pictures were gorgeous (especially compared with the out-of-focus, yellowed photos on the menus at Kyoto), and for those who are not familiar with Malaysian dishes, provide a visual trial to encourage gastronomic experimentation. We opted for an order of Roti Canai (a thin, pan-fried bread) to start, and for the heart of the meal, Nasi Goreng (a type of fried rice), Sayur Lemak Hot Pot (a seafood curry) and Pad Thai.

We ended up with a lot more food than the two of us could eat, and really, most of it was too spicy for us to eat (at no fault of the chef). I was pleasantly surprised at the liberal amount of seafood that presented itself in each dish. The Nasi Goreng was my favorite by far, if not only because it was the mildest of the three, but the Roti was quite tasty as well, and worked well with the curry sauce from the hot pot. Service was spotty throughout the night (I wished for more water on more than one instance), but improved once the frugal waitress was replaced by another server.

Even with the coupon, the meal worked out to about $18 per person, still rather expensive for Asian food in general. But with leftovers that served me well for lunch the next day, I couldn't complain much.


Roti Canai

Nasi Goreng (a lot better than the photo makes the dish look)

Sayur Lemak

Pad Thai

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Random Notes

  • Celebrate Dine Alberta by enjoying regional ingredients at 36 participating Edmonton eateries. I hope at some point the website will be able to provide more detail about the special menus at each restaurant.
  • Italians were encouraged to boycott pasta today to protest rising prices. I can't imagine such a movement will get very far.
  • After some exposure to Jamie At Home, I now want to start referring to zucchini as courgettes and arugula as wild rocket.
  • There was a really fascinating article in last week's See Magazine about a local group that organizes what is essentially hide-and-seek for adults. They set the boundaries, choose a "manhunter," allow players 120 seconds to run, and then the game begins. Those who play fall into two categories: those who enjoy being chased, and those who hide for dear life.
  • Every Friday, the Life section of the Globe & Mail showcases unique home accessories and decor items. One piece they highlighted was a "welcome" mat that suits your mood. Two others I enjoyed from the same website were the Sun Jar (like capturing a firefly, but better), and dinner plates that can truly reveal what you think about a particular guest (as well as cheekily interpreting the idea of "good china" and "bad china").


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Cooking Chronicles: Cheddar-Dill Scones

Using the fresh dill I bought at the City Centre Market over the weekend, and armed with a recipe out of The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, I set out to make Ina's Cheddar-Dill Scones on Monday.

Back in April, I had tried her similar recipe for Strawberry Scones, but I found the freeze-dried fruit a little on the bitter side. I thought the combination of cheddar and dill would likely work better, and I was not disappointed.

This was my first time cooking with dill, so it took me longer than it should have to get the leaves off of the stems. Also, as I prefer to bake without the assistance of a KitchenAid mixer, hand cutting in the butter and working in piles of cheese undoubtedly takes more time. But somehow, the process of baking feels more "involved" that way.

I was very happy with the finished product, and they really are best fresh out of the oven. The butter melts, gets into every crevice of the dough, and the texture is perfect - crunchy on the outside but soft and gooey on the inside. And though this version is better than the strawberry, both resulted in flaky, golden brown scones. So here's to you, Ina.

Cheddar-Dill Scones

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

My Own Surreal Gourmet: Cooking with Judy Schultz

On a whim, I entered a contest last week sponsored by the Bistro section in the Edmonton Journal. The prize was a market fresh cooking class with Bistro editor Judy Schultz and Gail Hall, owner of Seasoned Solutions. For my submission, I wrote about my developing interest in the culinary workings of Edmonton alongside my own experiments in the kitchen, with documentation available on my blog. Much to my surprise (and excitement!), Judy called on Tuesday, opening with the line, "I couldn't resist your Cooking Chronicles!" We were to meet on Saturday at 10am, in front of the Sunshine Organics kiosk at the City Centre Market.

Kuhlman's kiosk (where I picked up some fresh dill)

I reached the kiosk at five minutes to ten, and began to wait. It was actually a bit unnerving, as all I had to go from was Judy's column photo in the Journal, so I can best liken the feeling to the jitters of a blind date. By 10:15, I was really nervous, and thought back to the nightmare I had of having missed the group somehow. Luckily, I overheard a woman say something about needing to direct a "girl who will look lost," and from there, I was off with the woman who turned out to be Judy.

The food columnist extraordinaire actually doesn't look much like her stock picture at all. Lively, with a quick smile and warm manner, she informed me after introducing herself that they had started a little early. We crossed the street, and walking towards Jasper Avenue, met up with two men. The first was Tim, one of the other Shop, Cook, and Eat! winners, and the other was...Rick, a Journal photographer. Of course this excursion couldn't go unrecorded - exposing local food to the masses is informative (and makes for good PR).

The four of us walked to the Greens, Eggs and Ham booth (the name is too cute) and I was introduced to Joan and Jeanine, my fellow winners, and Gail, who would be directing our cooking adventures that morning.

The entire experience - but in particular shopping at the market - was so surreal. It was as whirlwind as my recent tear through London with my cousins. While Gail knew exactly what ingredients she needed for the recipes we would be preparing, to my untrained eye, it was a tad maddening, running about the vendors picking up seemingly random things. And without cell phones or GPS trackers to fall back on, we weren't able to wander away from the pack for fear of being left behind.

After a few shots with bell peppers from Doef's Greenhouses, Gail led us back to her apartment in the Cobogo Lofts (10249 104 Street). It is a simply gorgeous space, full of character not only from the history apparent in the hardwood and brick, but in how clearly it reflects its two inhabitants. Photographs of Gail's culinary excursions adorn the walls, and her ever-growing collection of bears are displayed on the shelves and cabinets. To me, it is a place that speaks to the idea of home.

The site of the Loft Cooking Class (don't worry, I asked if it was all right for me to take pictures)

Though it was only eleven in the morning, I would quickly find out that no one else in the group would mind imbibing so early in the day. Judy made us each a cocktail, we stood for pictures (after which Rick had to leave for another assignment), and we got down to business.

On the menu:

Judy's Mom's Quick Bread topped with Caramelized Onions and Sour Cream
Market Salad with Honey Dressing
Frittata with Fresh Herbs and Sylvan Star Gouda served with Roasted Baby Potatoes and Vegetables
Plum Clafouti

And did I mention the wine? Lots of wine? I'm a known lightweight when it comes to drinking, so when the group polished off two bottles before 11:30, I knew I was in trouble.

The kitchen wasn't particularly large, but the generous island in the middle allowed for fairly seamless group activity and interaction. Gail gently assigned various tasks, from mixing dry ingredients to frying onions to chopping herbs, and everyone felt like they were contributing to the meal. She mentioned that a growing part of Seasoned Solutions is catering to the business community - specifically, conducting cooking classes as a means of building team rapport. I think cooking as a group is an excellent way of fostering team skills; food has a magical ability of disarming people. The best part, however, is being able to reach a near-immediate result - the instant gratification of having something to eat.

As we put together the dishes, I did my best to make like a sponge and absorb. Kitchen tricks, equipment recommendations, names of Italian regions and obscure New Zealand vineyards were assaulting me every which way, and it was all I could do to try and keep up. If Saturday taught me anything, it was that I have a lot to learn. A few things that I did pick up: use aluminum trays and parchment for baking (and never Teflon); test the magnetism of a knife sharpener by seeing if a dress pin sticks; wrap fresh cheese in wax paper or cheesecloth soaked in vinegar (vs. saran) to keep the moisture out; and visit restaurant equipment suppliers (like Condon Barr) for discounted kitchen toys.

By 1:30, the dishes were ready to be plated to eat. Gail had set up the table with beautiful fall linens, and her husband John helped out by pouring (you guessed it) more wine. All of the dishes were great (and ones I will incorporate into my personal repertoire), but my favorite had to be the salad. The edible spicy flowers elevated what could have been a very bland plate of wild greens, and the honey dressing made with New Zealand white wine vinegar was deliciously sweet.

Washed greens and flowers (from Inspired Market Gardens)

Gail plates the salad while her husband John gives us a history lesson about the Cobogo Lofts

Table setting

Frittata with a side of roasted potatoes and vegetables (sweetened with birch syrup)

Had I been more prepared for what was to transpire, I would have given some thought to cooking questions I wanted answered. Still, it was great to be exposed to the idea of cooking with local ingredients, and to be introduced to some of Edmonton's key players in the city's culinary scene. I had no idea Judy spent three months of the year in New Zealand (she's currently building a house there, and because her son is a pilot with NZ Airlines, she has an unlimited flight pass), or that a farm near Sylvan Lake produces award-winning cheese (Sylvan Star Cheese). In our folders to take home, Gail included a reference list she put together with essential suppliers and services in the city, a great resource for someone who is learning.

We didn't finish until after 3, so it was quite a full morning of food, wine, and conversation. In all, it was a wonderful experience to be in the company of those who love food as much as I do.

Group photo (from left Joan, Judy, Tim, Gail, Jeanine, and me)

EDIT: Judy's article about our experience was published in today's Journal, complete with all of the recipes we tested!

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Friday, September 07, 2007

Anticipatory Stage: Edmoton's 2007/2008 Theatre Season

This month, several new productions will be premiering in the city, so now is a good time as any to tally the shows that I am looking forward to this year.

  • Catalyst Theatre's second Edmonton run of its Sterling Award-winning Frankenstein (February 2-24). Be sure to get your tickets early for this one.
  • Edmonton Opera's second show of the season, HMS Pinafore (February 2, 5, 7). Why opera? Because Stewart Lemoine is recrafting the classic. Reason enough for me!
  • Shadow Theatre's remount of the Fringe hit Between Yourself and Me (May 29-June 16). I'm not sure who will be playing the male lead, but Jocelyn Ahlf will be great in the role of Amy.
  • Studio Theatre's What the Butler Saw (November 1-10) and While We're Young (February 7-16).
  • Roxy Theatre's A Beautiful View (September 20-October 7), featuring Caroline Livingstone and Davina Stewart, and the infamous Famous Puppet Death Scenes (February 14-March 2).
  • Last but not least - whatever's on the playbill for Teatro La Quindicina. Their season will not begin until the spring, so the specific schedule has yet to be released, but I'm sure to be there for at least their Lemoine remount and premiere for the year.

I encourage you to take a chance on theatre!

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Sub-standard Storefront: Moon Garden Restaurant

Since the "Opening Soon" sign had been put up in the window, I was curious about the new Vietnamese restaurant Moon Garden that would be inhabiting the old Zenari's space downtown (10117 101 Street). Though I now know that the establishment is merely a second location and not a brand new endeavor, I was still keen on trying their pho at some point.

Tonight, I met Dickson there for a quick dinner. As soon as I sat down, the waitress brought me a complimentary spring roll. It was free, so I can't complain much, but it had obviously been refried, as the wrapper a tad too crispy for my liking. I ordered (surprise, surprise), the beef noodle soup with medium sliced beef, and green onion cakes to start.

The dining room is small but functional, with the open kitchen inhabiting part of the space. Dickson said that Tokyo Express had taken a gander at the storefront property, but ultimately decided against gambling on a dinner crowd that could not be guaranteed. With only four other tables occupied over the course of our stay, I'd say Moon Garden is facing what Tokyo Express had anticipated.

The green onion cakes resembled Pagolac's, but were strikingly without flavour and nearly devoid of green onions. Shortly after, our entrees arrived, but without the standard side serving of bean sprouts, mint, and limes. I was also disappointed with the absence of cilantro in my soup. In the end, although the pho as a whole wasn't terrible (there was a fair amount of sliced beef and noodles included), given the choice, I'd head to Pagolac or Doan's any day.

Green onion cakes

Pho with medium sliced beef

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Film: "Roman Holiday"

I was craving some classic escapist fare, as it has been quite some time since I have been to an Edmonton Film Society screening. Roman Holiday was a good pick - Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck frolicking amongst Rome's most famous sites - what could be better?

Surprisingly, the city wasn't highlighted as much as I remembered (the Trevi Fountain was only shown in passing, boo), though of course, the Vespa ride through the streets has perhaps surpassed the film itself to become an essential activity for tourists. The comic scare at the "Mouth of Truth" was also memorable, as was the scene in front of the supposed "Wall of Wishes," which no longer exists as shown in the movie.

Director William Wyler created some fantastic moments of tension, particularly at the end. Her move to meet the press representatives, for example, had audiences holding out for the moment she arrives at Peck's character. And with Peck's final walk out of the hall, the camera positioned to capture any movement from the door which Hepburn exited moments before...who wasn't eagerly awaiting a flash of white to appear?

What is undeniably wonderful about Roman Holiday, however, is Audrey Hepburn. Dazzling in her film debut, I am sure part of the reason she ended up winning an Oscar was because the voters simply couldn't take their eyes off of her. Radiant and charming, she nailed the steady, aristocratic tone of controlled acknowledgement (if I could just learn how to say "Thank you" as she does in the movie...) and conveyed the difficult choice of duty above self. Clothed in Edith Head's stunning gowns, Hepburn is unforgettable as Princess Anne.

Roman Holiday is likely stocked at your local rental branch, but here's a tip - it's also available at the Edmonton Public Library.


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Notes on Food

  • Mr. Mike's Steakhouse & Bar is now open in West Edmonton Mall! Strange I haven't really seen it mentioned in any of the local papers.

  • Bettina pointed out a unique alternative to flowers and candy - Edible Arrangements! While they may not last as long as a bouquet, they are certainly beautiful to look at. They are on the pricey side, but I'd be open to taking the idea and making up single-stem pineapple/melon flowers myself. They'd be perfect as takeaway gifts to give following a baby shower or spring dinner party.

  • Original Fare has introduced gift cards! Valid at 17 independent Edmonton-area restaurants, I can't think of a better present for your epicurean friends.

  • Starbucks has been promoting a campaign of culinary coffee pairings, going the route of wine. Though I like the education aspect of it, it's also a clever way to try and upsell their pastries. I did sample the Chocolate Cinnamon Bread the other day (though with tea and not alongside the recommended coffee), and it was surprisingly bland. Perhaps I'll eat it with its "other half" next time.

  • Also on Starbucks - did anyone notice how quickly the stores cycled through their drinks this summer? From Raspberry to Orange to Blueberry Frappuccinos and Iced Teas, and now to their Fall Pumpkin Spiced Latte...I felt it was a bit too much, too soon, going against their marketed ideal for the summer of relaxing and just enjoying life.

  • I stopped by Essence Organic Tea Bar (10011 102 Ave) on Friday, and had their Java Lat-tea (I will admit the pun made me smile). It's actually better than a very similar drink I had at Blendz in Vancouver, and though perhaps mainly psychological, it felt healthier than a cup of joe. I hope their business picks up - it was completely empty during my visit.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Sylvan Lake Day Trip

On Saturday morning, Jenn and I joined May on a day trip to Sylvan Lake in celebration of her birthday.

The weather was perfect for the drive - sunny but not overly warm. We reached our destination within the estimated two hours, and after parking the car, wandered around town.


Jenn does her best at channeling rehab-ready starlets (Hoodie? Check. Large sunglasses? Check. Oversized bag? Check.)

Jenn's bag. Too cute.

Rain had been forecasted for the day, so we were a tad surprised at how sunny it turned out to be. But because none of us had brought swimming gear along, we had to make do with eating and shopping - overall, not a bad way to spend a lazy Saturday.


We had lunch at the Bayview Cafe (5100 Lakeshore Drive), situated next to the Lake on the ground floor of the Chateau Suites. The food was of the heat-and-serve variety, but for a light lunch, didn't end up being too bad at all.

My Cannelloni

May's Rotini

Jenn and her Breakfast Wrap

May and I pose with her Whimsical Cupcakes (which I picked up at the City Centre Market that morning)

For dessert, we couldn't pass up a visit to The Big Moo (4603 Lakeshore Drive), a retro ice cream parlour on the town's main strip. With checkered floors, a large yellow menu board, and an ice cream counter that seems to go on forever, it's a fun way to revive one's childhood spirit.

My scoop of White Moccachino

Jenn and May enjoy their treats on the water

We were amazed when we looked at our watches to find out that it was already past 5 - time flies, especially during these last days of summer. Happy birthday May!

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