Optimistically Cautious

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

November in River City

There's lots to do in Edmonton in November - enjoy!


Shadow Theatre: "Almost, Maine"

I'd been looking forward to Almost, Maine for quite some time. Standing in somewhat for Teatro la Quindicina while I await the release of their new season, Shadow Theatre, also based at the Varscona Theatre, offers similar, if not just as quirky fare. From the website:

"Set in a mythical New England small town, Almost, Maine is a witty, insightful, delightful exploration of loves lost, found and mislaid."

I had heard that this play was one sweet confection, almost overly saccharine, and they weren't mistaken. But not every one of the eight vignettes were sentimental, so overall, I'd say Almost, Maine was for me, the equivalent to a warm cup of cocoa on a cold day.

The play is perfect for someone with a short attention span, as the scenes didn't last longer than fifteen minutes or so. I loved the visual metaphors for love - pillows in the scene titled "Getting it Back," quantified the 'amount' of love one gives to another, and in "They Fell," the literal act of falling to the ground accompanied the epiphany of realizing one's true emotion. It was great to see Jeff Haslam in a role that was genuinely less kooky than usual, and one that didn't require the wearing of a tight shirt (he'll be in the Edmonton Opera's H.M.S. Pinafore as well!). He was especially good in "Sad and Glad"; my heart broke for him as he encountered his ex for the first time - at her bachelorette party. The music was also a notable achievement - Chris Wynters' score delicately supported the beauty that is love, and could easily have a place amongst media larger than a community stage (my only nitpick - I could have done without the overly obvious "ding" that indicated the scene's turning point).

Almost, Maine was a lovely play - no pun intended.

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Out, damn'd fly! Out, I say: Packrat Louie

After being turned away from Sapphire, which appeared to be permanently closed, Mack and I wandered over to the nearby Packrat Louie (10335 83 Avenue) for a pre-show bite on Tuesday night.

My first experience at the restaurant a few years ago was ruined due to an incessant fly, and though the staff and food were all right at the time, I haven't been able to ever bring myself back. However, I read that they had revamped the menu in the spring, so was a tad curious and wanted to give it another chance.

Packrat Louie is just one of those places that is better at night. The dining room, sleek with its aged hardwood floor, exposed brick and wooden beams, was aglow from the individual tabletop candles, and reminded me of an inherent elegance shared by Toronto's Crush. As well, butcher paper laid on top of the white linens lent itself to a slightly more casual feel, while the open kitchen encountered just through the main entrance was a comforting sight to see.

We were coincidentally seated in the back corner of the restaurant - quiet, but also the site of my unfortunate insect encounter during my last visit. Our server explained that their new winter menu took affect that day, so no specials were in order. That was fine - there were more than a few entrees that piqued my interest. I settled on the Roasted Vegetable Artisan Ravioli, served with house-made ratatouille and shredded Grana Padano parmesan ($20), while Mack opted for the Prosciutto & Pineapple wood-fired pizza ($15), and the Pan Seared Calamari ($14) to start.

The appetizer arrived in no time, and although Mack discovered he preferred the fried version, we didn't mind Packrat's take on calamari. At the very least, the curry sauce and spinach were a delicious combination, and the mango chutney provided an interesting flavour contrast. Our mains were also quite good - Mack claims his pizza was "better than Bridges," and my ravioli was filling, but not too heavy, and included quite a generous serving of vegetables.

We were nearly through our meal when to my shock and horror - a fly buzzed to our table out of nowhere. Nearly November, I really thought we had entered the safety zone when it came to nuisance insects, but clearly, I was mistaken. While this won't cause me to completely write Packrat Louie off, I have to wonder.

Service was great throughout, though I think our server did step over the line of being too keen. That said, besides the fly, I had a wonderful time. Better than Flavours on the next street over, I would highly recommend Packrat Louie as the precursor of choice for a night out at the theatre.

Pan Seared Calamari

Prosciutto & Pineapple Pizza

Roasted Vegetable Artisan Ravioli

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Food Notes

  • Ever wonder what master chefs would want as their last supper? Wonder no more. I have no idea about what most of Mario Batali is referring to, but I want it.
  • The science of ordering - Report on Business has a tidbit that the "prime space" on a one page menu is about a third of the way down, while on a two-page menu, is on the top third of the second page. I'll have to test this out the next time I'm faced with a tough food call.
  • I also just read about a restaurant in Switzerland called Blindekuh, run by employees who are blind. The entire restaurant is dark, and the menu is whispered into patrons' ears, introducing an experience that is supposed to heighten one's sense of taste.
  • The proliferation of steak houses in Edmonton continues. Vic's Steakhouse, based in the Mayfield Inn and Suites, opened this month. The most interesting about it - the head chef is 22 years of age.
  • Another restaurant that has been in the press is Viphalay, a Thai and Laos restaurant open since July. Boasting "authentic" food (though I don't know what that means anymore), it's a family-owned place that appears to be worth a second glance.
  • Christmas is coming to town early! Holiday drinks are back at Starbucks on November 1st, as is its fabulous Christmas-themed website.
  • River City Roundup, a celebration tied to the Canadian Finals Rodeo, runs from November 2-11. Besides a chili cook-off, country music, and many opportunities to dust off that cowboy hat, the restaurants of Original Fare will be offering "Dine Western" specials. Watch for details at the website.

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"24": Season 7 Preview

Sometimes it seems the anticipation of serial dramas - with the naive hope for a season ripe with possibilities and the excitement of seeing those familiar faces again - is never equalled in the payout itself.

With the recent release of 24's seventh season trailer (hour one and two debuting January 13), I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the show lives up to the hype. With the return of an unexpected character, and a change in format involving the elimination of CTU, it appears the producers are doing their best to re-energize the inconsistent series.

Let the clock start ticking!


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Culinary Q & A with Thelma

What did you eat today?

In the morning I had an apple and some water....very bad for a pregnancy diet eh! I also had a bagel, then turkey, mashed potatoes, and greens for dinner

What do you never eat?

Ceasar dressing; very wierd taste plus I believe it takes etxtra care to make the best tasting ceasar dressing, which I'm yet to taste.

What is your personal specialty?

Our staple food from Zimbabwe which is Sadza- corn meal based paste molded solid some people prefer it very soft so it depends who's eating. The best closest comparison would be polenta. It is ususally served with stews i.e beef, prok, chicken, fish, beans, with some greens such as collards, cabbage; there is a wide variety of veggies to choose from and bottom line is the sky is the limit with what you eat sadza with.

What is your favorite kitchen item?

my wooden spoons

World ends tomorrow. Describe your last meal.

My mother's sadza with fried collards with onions, free run chicken or goat stew, buttermilk, fresh from my uncle's cows or what we call lacto which is the warehouse manufactured and purified version of buttermilk, sugar bean stew

Where do you eat out most frequently?

Sadza and its varieties

What's the best place to eat in Edmonton?

So here comes the big question, I actually would combine certain dishes from each place I've visited to make the best meal. I take the garden salad from Olive Garden and those darn bread sticks. Then some lamb from Gini's place, blooming onions from the Outback.I'm not much of a sweet tooth so anything goes for dessert with the exception of brownies and any of these creamy desserts.
Ok truth is I don't know maybe olive garden or the outback so far

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

The best place I've ever eaten is Ted's Montana grill in the US oh! Lord have mercy that place is heaven. I wish they would invest their business here in Edmonton I know people will love it. Everything is made from scratch in their kitchens which happen to have an open layout so you can sit and watch the chefs as they whip their magic.
This restraunt is rapidly expanding in eastern, central and southern states so if you happen to be around these take some time to check it out or visit here.

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The Cooking Chronicles: Stuffed Shells with Arrabbiata Sauce

For a potluck gathering on Saturday, I decided to test out one of Giada de Laurentiis' recipes in Food Network Favorites, a gift from May for my birthday this year. The Stuffed Shells with Arrabbiata Sauce would be undoubtedly rich, but also comforting and a good make-ahead dish that could be prepared and then baked when needed.

As I started the recipe just an hour before I had to leave, my Mum had to lend me a helping hand. Between boiling the pasta, frying the pancetta then simmering the marinara sauce over the stovetop, and mixing the ricotta-parmesan filling, I should have given myself more prep time. Besides the many steps, however, it wasn't a difficult dish to put together.

I ended up reducing the addition of red pepper flakes to one teaspoon, and I was glad that I did - the sauce had quite a bit of heat going for it already (apparently, "arrabbiata" is Italian for "angry", encouraging the use of more spice). Also, for presentation and taste, I should have included more herbs or greens in the ricotta stuffing.

This Giada recipe is another winner! I really should buy myself some of her cookbooks...

Stuffed Shells with Arrabbiata Sauce (half-consumed...I nearly forgot to take a photo)

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Grant MacEwan Theatre Arts: "Little Women"

After dinner, the three of us proceeded to John L. Haar Theatre for Grant MacEwan's production of Little Women. From the website:

"Set in New England during the Civil War, Little Women follows the adventures of four sisters – Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy March – as they grow up. After their father leaves for battle and under their mother’s guidance, the girls must rely on each other for strength in the face of tragedies both large and small. The story will captivate audiences of all ages while telling of the sisters’ progress into womanhood with the added strains of the romance, illness, the pressures of marriage and the outside world."

The success of this musical wholly depended on a charismatic and talented Jo, and here, the casting was pitch-perfect. Alissa Keogh had a believable headstrong, tomboyish charm, and vocal abilities that put her stage mates to shame. I mean the following as nothing but a compliment: her voice is made for the wholesome songs of the Disney canon, and I have no doubt she has a bright future ahead of her.

As for the rest of the cast, the choice of Yemie Sonuga of African descent was an inspired choice for Marmee (with the backdrop of the American Civil War), but it was a shame that her acting was uneven and forced. Jaclyn Nestman as Beth and Kristy Neufeld as Meg were quite good in their roles, however, and Matthew Van Boeyen did his best to play with dignity a man at least thirty years his senior.

As for the rest of the production, I have an admitted difficulty avoiding obvious comparisons with other adaptations, and in this case, it would be with the 1994 Winona Ryder film. While the play's Amy was able to redeem herself, and win over the audience (unlike in the movie), I sorely wished for the impossible appearance of a young Christian Bale to reprise his role as Laurie. As in the movie, I still find Jo's "hasty" marriage to Professor Bhaer an unbelievable, unsatisfying ending. Though Jo's happiness in finding a connection with someone literary, who challenged her and supported her work as an author is understandable, I can't believe this happy ending would come so quickly.

For a student production, Little Women was quite good, and it was a treat to watch Alissa Keogh perform, undoubtedly a star in the making.


Deli Counter Plus: Tesoro Cafe Bar

I remember initially reading about Tesoro Cafe Bar (11244 104 Avenue) in Vue Weekly, and being drawn to it because of its Thursday night special - two pastas, a salad, a glass of wine and gelato all for just $20. Well, as it seemed I would never make it there on a Thursday, I decided it might make a good location for our pre-show dinner on Friday, regardless of any particular deals.

Dickson, May and I walked in, and were immediately surprised by the interior of the restaurant. Like Caffe Sorrentino, Tesoro is another one of those quick bite establishments with prominent placement of a refrigerated deli case. Even with dim house lighting and tea lights on every table, Tesoro still gave off a cafeteria-esque vibe. The wicker-based chairs may have had something to do with that as well.

However, with the recent addition of a full sit-down dinner menu, we were willing to overlook the casual decor. The menu included the requisite pasta, panini and thin crust pizza options, as well as fancier fare such as osso buco, all priced under $20. On this night, I was swayed by the Gnocci Alla Margherita ($10.75), made with homemade tomato sauce and fresh basil, while Dickson chose the Gnocci Sanmaio ($10.75), made with hot Italian and Chorizo sausage, truffled mushrooms, tossed in a Rosé sauce, and May ordered the Panini Prosciutto Derosa ($7.75), which featured Italian ham, eggplant, and herbed ricotta.

Our food arrived promptly, and Dickson and I were pleasantly surprised at our portion sizes. As with our dishes at Olive Garden a few weeks ago, however, I much preferred his plate. The homemade tomato sauce with my gnocci contained some heat and flavour from the crushed red pepper and garlic inherent within, but was a tad too sour for my liking. The accompanying bread was also in need of a good toasting - drizzled with some olive oil, and placed on a panini press for two minutes, it would have been crisp and ready to soak up the excess sauce.

I wouldn't mind returning to Tesoro on a Thursday evening to give their Pasta e Vino a whirl, but other than that, I think there's better Italian to be found elsewhere.


Gnocci Alla Margherita

Gnocci Sanmaio

Panini Prosciutto Derosa

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A Long Time Coming: The Copper Pot

For a special lunch on Friday, my coworker Sharon and I decided to "stay in" and dine in the restaurant located on the main floor of our building - The Copper Pot (101, 9707-110 Street).

While I've had take out from the restaurant in the past, I've actually never had a sit-down meal in the dining room itself. When new management took over The Copper Pot late last year, the specials board, usually prominently displayed outside its glass doors, disappeared, and we feared "new" meant "more expensive". While costlier than take-out from the nearby Zuppa's, I found out that an afternoon with a view is well worth the price.

I had made reservations for the two of us a few days previous, but it turned out it wasn't really necessary. We were the second party seated just before noon, and were able to pick out a choice sunlit table overlooking the serene Ezio Farone Park. The decor was elegant and simple, and while the banquet fabric may need to be updated soon, I did appreciate the small touch of the copper-look salt and pepper shakers on the table.

The lunch menu was fairly standard - soups, salads, sandwiches and pastas making up most of the midday fare, and while nothing really jumped out at me, I was happy with my selection of the Turkey and Brie Clubhouse (sliced deli turkey, blackforest ham, brie cheese, lettuce, tomato and raspberry mayo served on multigrain bread), which included a side soup of the day. My dining companion chose the Chicken Supreme, a marinated, grilled free range chicken breast served with roasted red potatoes and seasonal vegetables.

Our food arrived at a record rate (Sharon had commented that this would not have been the case under the previous owner). My sandwich was two-tiered, with a generous amount of sliced turkey and ham adorning the bottom half, bracketed by crisp, perfectly buttered bread. The smoked chicken soup was perhaps a little spicy for my taste, but contained a surprising amount of meat for the serving. Sharon was also very happy with her meal.

The service was excellent throughout (our waiter asked "May I, Miss?" before removing our plates), and with a priceless view and a bill totalling only $14 before tax and tip, I would not think twice before dining here again.

Restaurant Interior (every table does have a view!)

Turkey and Brie Clubhouse

Chicken Supreme (I love the fact that the rosemary looks like it is lit from above)

Happy (and full) diners!

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Cooking Chronicles: Rustic Apple Tart

I've been craving a warm baked apple dessert for some time, and the Rustic Apple Tart recipe from Real Simple Celebrations (a similar one here) seemed straightforward.

The text recipe recommended the use of either McIntosh or Empire apples, and I chose the former. In hindsight, a type less tart, perhaps Gala apples, might have been better. Overall, it was a really easy pie to put together - the prepared Pilsbury crust pulled it together quickly without sacrificing the aesthetics of the dessert. While I would have preferred a thicker, more buttery crust, I can't complain about the ease of packaged help.

This is something I'd definitely make again - it'd be a great close for a fall meal.

Rustic Apple Tart (or, as "rustic" as possible when Pilsbury is involved)

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Food Notes

  • I finally visited Condon Barr on the weekend! The kitchen supply store with the tagline "Shop where the chefs shop" is not as much of a haven for me as it is for my Mum (she didn't want to leave), but I did pick up a spring-hinged ice cream scoop, handy for creating those perfectly shaped and rounded muffins (a la Ina Garten).

  • Need a place to eat? Edmonton Dining is now accessible on your mobile device!

  • Featured in November's Everyday with Rachel Ray, Mappetite, a neighbourhood guide of where to eat in New York City, and a fabulously green and clever idea for a beautiful centrepiece.

  • Via Wish, old news about eggs that reveal, through invisible ink, whether they have been soft, medium, or hard-boiled. Perhaps too much of a convenience, but it's still pretty cool.

  • I recently flipped through Dish Entertains, authored by Trish Magwood, host of Food Network Canada's Party Dish, and was disappointed with the content. I was hoping for more of her hors d'oeuvres and appetizers and less emphasis on sit-down dishes. On the other hand, I am very happy with Real Simple Celebrations, a great well-rounded starter book for anyone thinking about entertaining for the first time. It offers recipes that can be made ahead, chic decorating ideas, and answers to common questions about dinner party etiquette.

  • Just in time for the Christmas season, Costco is now selling Starbucks gift baskets. Priced at under $30, they're not a bad buy for the coffee lover in your family.

  • One of the food bloggers I read is currently on a road trip through Atlantic Canada. She recently posted about a road side potato stand that operates on the honor system. Can you imagine?


Monday, October 22, 2007

"All the World's a Stage": Affordable Theatre in Edmonton

If you're looking for something to do, and none of the current film releases strike your fancy, how about giving a live show a try? There's a common misconception that theatre is expensive, but in some cases, tickets are cheaper than a trip to your average multiplex.
  • In-house productions put on by students in the Department of Drama at the University of Alberta are free - just check the schedule for updated show information and times.
  • Studio Theatre, cradle of amateur creativity, offers $5 preview Wednesdays. Their productions seem to be hit-or-miss, but when they get it right, there's no better value for your money.

  • Teatro la Quindicina and Shadow Theatre, both housed at the well-worn but cozy Varscona, both offer 2 for 1 Tuesdays, and even better, pay-what-you-can Saturday matinees. Without question my two favorite local theatre companies, their productions are often witty, fun, and heartfelt.

  • Even the famed Citadel Theatre has affordable shows, in the form of pay-what-you-can Sundays. As long as you have time to spare (their wristband ticket distribution system will take up an afternoon in itself), you can inexpensively partake in any of their sterling productions. Vern Thiessen's upcoming premiere of Vimy has been generating quite the buzz already.

  • Theatre Network at the Roxy also offers 2 for 1 deals on Tuesdays. With great in-house productions and out-of-town imports like Famous Puppet Death Scenes, it is one company worth keeping an eye on.

  • If comedy is your preferred genre, Die-Nasty, the weekly live improvised soap opera, and Oh Susannah, the monthly Euro-style talk show, may be the perfect indulgence. Wacky, unpredictable, and supported by the most committed regular audience I have ever seen, it's a guarantee you'll have a night out like no other.

  • There's even the option to enjoy theatre from the comfort of your own home - Urban Tales 10: Bifurious, from Northern Light Theatre, claims to be the "First EVER Canadian Live Theatre Web-cast of a staged workshop". Check it out here on October 27.

So no excuses - check out some live theatre today!

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Random Notes

  • I'm so glad I'm not the only one - phantom vibrations, or "ringxiety" are becoming more and more common. One man they interviewed for the article made me laugh - he claims to anticipate messages on his Blackberry, "I'll feel it, look at it. It's not vibrating. Then it starts vibrating...I am one with my BlackBerry."

  • Have you seen a hyphen lately? Editors of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary announced the dropping of hyphens for over 16,000 words.

  • Via the Globe & Mail, here's a fun little blog about the "misuse" of quotation marks.

  • Would you like a side of snark with that card? Also gleaned from the Globe, the tagline for someecards reads, "When you care enough to hit send." Amusing cards (and there are many) include, "I'm ready to change my Facebook status when you are", "Your Starbucks drink order embarrasses me", and "I'd like to offer moral support but I have questionable morals."

  • Ticket prices for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games were released last week. Prospective buyers can now apply to be considered, and for over-subscribed events, a lottery system will be utilized. If you were curious, the gold medal game in men's hockey will cost between $350-775.

  • Speaking of hot tickets, I have heard nothing but good things about NAIT's weekly Student Showcase buffet at Ernest's, put on by students enrolled in the culinary arts program. I called this week to make a reservation, but didn't expect a date so far in advance - April 2008. I would imagine that by now, tables will not be available until the following school year. It had better be amazing.

  • Today happens to be my blog's one year birthday! I didn't quite make it to an average of one post a day, but I'm still happy with how far I've come since last October. Thanks for reading!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Rocky Mountain Wine & Food Festival 2007

After missing last year's event, I made sure I marked off the date for the 2007 version of the Rocky Mountain Wine & Food Festival.

I had some time to kill before having to meet up with Janice and May, so took some time to admire the view from the terrace of the Shaw Conference Centre. It was a beautiful fall day, and though the leaves had all but fallen from the trees, our river valley was looking glorious bathed in the warm autumn sun. I was able to capture a few shots of two hot air balloons just taking flight from a field near the Muttart Conservatory:


Up, up and away!

Just after five, the girls arrived, and we headed into one of the halls already buzzing with activity. After having our tickets scanned, we were handed a wine glass on our way in, and picked up a small program listing all of the vendors present. Pretty soon, however, we figured out that it was easier and more fun to simply wander the aisles without attention paid to labels and names.

The floor

Unlike the Taste of Edmonton, this festival charges a $15 admission fee. For what purpose, I still can't figure out, as I can only imagine the hundreds of dollars each winery would have been charged to set up a booth. Tickets were actually a little cheaper though - 50cents each, with wine and food samples priced at a minimum of 2 tickets, but up to, as far as we could see, 20 tickets. May and I both snagged a few coupons from the local paper, so between the three of us, managed to redeem them for 60 free tickets, and only needed to purchase $20 dollars worth to supplement them. I'm sure for most patrons of this event though, being economical wasn't on their minds - it looked as if most of Edmonton's upper crust was present that evening (Hello, Louis Vuitton!).

Though wine (and spirits) should have been the main attraction (hence the name of the festival being wine & food and not food & wine), we necessarily gravitated towards the food vendors. We hadn't had a lot to eat prior to meeting, so we figured some food in our stomachs would make the alcohol easier to process.

The Little Potato Company had the best deal hands down, selling samples of Piccolo Potatoes with Fresh Cream and Dill for just 3 tickets, and as a bonus, distributing two small bags of potatoes along with it, free of charge. The Grill had one of the most popular items on the floor - Blue Cheese Stuffed Mini Burgers. Presentation was of utmost importance at this event, and would put most at the Taste of Edmonton to shame. For example, B-Bim-Baab was offering mini portions of their namesake, hand garnished with sections of pickled carrots, bean sprouts, egg, and grilled beef. Of course, although there were some reasonably priced items to be had, there were also some duds - a small plate of butter chicken and rice was $5 from Khazana, while a combination plate from the Haweli booth was a startling 19 tickets.

Blue Cheese Stuffed Mini Burgers from The Grill

May poses with her Lobster Cakes from the Century Hospitality Group

For us, wading through the overwhelming number of wine merchants was a chore - as all of us are relatively new to the appreciation of wine, we didn't really know what to sample. The importance of marketing to a wine label's success was evident on this night - brands such as Funky Llama and House Wine (hee) distinguished themselves in part because of their stand out names. I was happy to see a few brands that I had noticed on past trips through liquor stores, and seized this opportunity to inexpensively give them a go.

Janice receives her first pour of the night

The 2006 Fat Bastard Rose from France was a bit weak for my taste, while the 2005 Voga Italia Pinot Grigio wasn't bad. The 2005 Artezin Zinfandel from the Hess Collection was too rich for me, and definitely boasted of a dark, black cherry taste the purveyor had mentioned. Mystiq, a Cognac-based fruit cocktail, was a refreshing departure from wine, and was sweeter than the similar but more well-known Hypnotiq. My last sample turned out to be the most expensive of the evening, a 2003 Private Reserve Chardonnay from the Canadian Peninsula Ridge Estate Winery. At $5 for the 2oz. pour, the wine was well worth it - smooth, and with nary an aftertaste.


We didn't make it out of the hall until nearly 7:30, in part due to the increasing number of people touring the aisles as the night wore on. I will be back next year, ideally with a knowledgeable oenophile in tow, and make sure to again arrive early, and keep an eye out for coupons in the paper.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

"Entrenched in the war room": Mr. Rice Wins!

I just got back from what turned out to be a celebratory party at Mr. Rice's residence (I will never be able to bring myself to call him "George"), in his successful run to become the Edmonton Public School trustee for Ward G.

I had distributed some flyers on his behalf this weekend, and thus was invited to join others who had helped him out on the campaign trail. Mack and I arrived just before 8pm to a packed house full of many staff and administrators from my high school years. After a few hellos, we headed upstairs to what eventually became the "war room" - Mr. Rice's study with a monitor and a television screen. I don't think Mack's finger strayed too far from the mouse all night, in order to constantly refresh the Edmonton Election results, with the supporters in the room eager to call a victory. I must admit it was a pretty neat, albeit nerve wracking, experience to be a part of, and all the more so when I thought of all of the other "little campaigns that could" likely also gathered around screens in homes across the city.

By 9:30, all 37 polls in Ward G had reported, and Mr. Rice was declared the "unofficial" winner, with 36% of the votes (and hey, we reached a voter turnout of 26.8% - great job, Edmonton!).

Congratulations Mr. Rice!

Status update: Priceless photo.

The winner!

Ms. Smarsh gets creative with her t-shirt.

Already on the phone with his constituents...

All smiles! (more pictures here)

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

More Than Just Scones: Arbour Restaurant at the Rutherford House

All throughout university, May and I had wanted to pay the cafe inside the historic Rutherford House (11153 Saskatchewan Drive) a visit. Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Hub Mall and the rest of campus, Janice, Annie, May and I decided to meet there for lunch this afternoon.

With just eight tables, reservations are a must. The charming dining room was bright with windows along one wall, and quirky books and artifacts lined the shelves, reminding diners of the history of the space.

I had expected only scones and perhaps finger sandwiches on the menu, but boy was I wrong. Their tempting list of savouries included pies, quiche, and even chili. Though the dessert trays were beckoning, we were much too starved for subsistence on sweets alone. I decided on the Brie and Cranberry sandwich, with a side of the soup du jour (potato and leek with stilton).

As for drinks, the back page of the menu should satisfy most tea enthusiasts, with nineteen varieties to choose from. Luckily for me (as this was my first meal of the day), they also had coffee available, served in a coffee press.

Our orders didn't take long to arrive, and all of our dishes were very artfully presented (rosemary-as-garnish seems to be a theme as of late). My soup was delicious - rich and creamy, the blue cheese blended in well alongside the pureed potato. The sandwich was an interesting experiment - the bap was nicely crisp and toasted, and although the halves oozed with melted brie, the over-generous amounts of cranberry jam all but overpowered the cheese.

Over the course of our meal, two surrounding tables had ordered an assortment of dainties, causing some dessert envy on our end. As such, I will most certainly be back another day for high tea! The Arbour Restaurant is the perfect place to catch up with friends, to take Mum for brunch (as per Janice's suggestion), and works well as a starting point for a great afternoon - the nearby trails and campus in fall are ripe for exploration. With free parking out front, you really have no excuse not to check it out!

Rutherford House

Dining room


Coffee press

Brie & Cranberry Sandwich

May's Chicken Cordon Bleu

Annie's Roasted Vegetable Strudel

Janice's Turkey Pot Pie

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RestorAction Charity Gala

Mack invited me to be a guest at the second annual RestorAction Charity Gala on Saturday. As a volunteer for the Youth Restorative Action Project (YRAP), Mack had been helping with the organization of the gala for a number of weeks, so it was nice to finally be able to see the culmination of their efforts.

The event was formal, so decked out in a suit and party dress, respectively (haha), Mack and I headed out to the Coast Edmonton Plaza Hotel. While he set up the slide show he had put together, I perused some of the silent auction items up for bid in the hallway. Among the goods were an Oilers jersey that had been autographed by the entire 2007-2008 team (which ended up fetching $675), and two gold section seats to an upcoming Oilers game donated by Mayor Mandel (who was in attendance at the gala, at least initially), sweetened to include access to his exclusive parking spot.

Dressed and ready to go

Dinner was served right on time, and included two appetizers of Italian style tomato, basil and gin soup, and a salad of market field greens in a cucumber ring with balsamic vinaigrette. The soup was regrettably on the sour side, and tasted more like pasta sauce or flavoured tomato paste as opposed to soup, while the salad was all right but unremarkable. The main course, a roast supreme breast of chicken stuffed with spinach and ricotta cheese, was dry, and try as I might, my aversion to cooked spinach continues. For dessert, we were served a chocolate croissant pudding with caramel sauce. This was my first sample of a bread pudding style dessert, and though it wasn't bad, I think I'd sooner choose a cake or tart of some kind in its place.

Market field greens in a cucumber ring

Roast supreme breast of chicken

Chocolate croissant pudding

After dinner (or to be technical, during dessert), the program began. A number of people were invited to speak about their involvement with the program, but the most memorable speech of the evening belonged to Mark Cherrington, the adult advisor to YRAP. He presented a heartfelt poem of experiences drawn from real mentors of young offenders that chronicled the cultivation of trust leading to change.

Mark Cherrington

The entertainment portion of the evening consisted of a variety of dance demonstrations from the University of Alberta Dance Club instructors, spliced with comedic sets. The second comedian, Dawn Dumont, used Native stereotypes as a launching pad for her jokes (she is Cree herself), but more often than not, the audience wasn't certain whether it was politically correct to laugh at all.

Dance demonstration (the rest of Mack's pictures are here)

Thanks for the invitation, Mack! It was fun!

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Canucks vs. the Oilers: No Contest

My sister Felicia was able to score Amanda and I discounted tickets to Friday night's Edmonton Oilers game against the Vancouver Canucks.

The seats ended up being very good - executive level - and just above the opposition's covered exit off of the ice (providing closeup views of Naslund and Ohlund. Whoo.). Unfortunately, that was about all we could "cheer for" that night - the Oilers were horrible. Garon let in a few weak shots, Luongo pulled out all the stops, and we were done.

I haven't been to an Oilers game in over a year, and I had forgotten how much fun hecklers can be. On another note, my sister and I were hoping for more cheese in the opening introductory video that runs just before the players skate through the derrick (remember the hilarious video of the Oilers mock-racing one another?). It seems this year they were content with shooting each of the players against a white background wearing their jeans and a jersey, without any gimmicks. That, like their play on Friday, also deserves a "boo".

I would like to go to at least one more game this season, and by that time, I hope for at least a winning record (we shoot low in the City of Champions).

Our view of the ice

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Roberta Brandes Gratz on Urban Development

In celebration of Edmonton's designation as the Cultural Capital of Canada for 2007, the city has been holding a number of special events, including a speakers series inviting experts from a wide variety of areas to offer their opinions on municipal life, arts, and culture.

Roberta Brandes Gratz, an urban critic, journalist, and consultant based out of New York City, spoke to a crowd of over 200 gathered in the Maclab Theatre at the Citadel on Thursday night. My knowledge of urban planning is murky at best, and while it took me a while to really get into her speech, by the end, she had me convinced of her philosophy of growing for the local as opposed to the transient, and optimistic, based on some of her cited examples of cities reborn, for what is possible.

She clarified the difference between density and overcrowding, and alongside the well-worn idea of building up and not out, emphasized the need for areas that are not only walkable (i.e., services available within a reasonable parameter), but that also incubate local economies. I really responded to her example of a visit to a new Home Depot in what must be mid-town Manhattan. Constructed like the department stores of old (utilizing several floors in a confined space), she mentioned passing by a small boutique on her way back to the subway, and ended up buying something from the store. If not for Home Depot, she said, she likely would not have "found" the store at all. Ms. Gratz did cite Whyte Avenue, which she visited that afternoon, as Edmonton's own successful application of this concept - where larger retail enterprises can coexist with smaller businesses.

On the topic of affordable housing, all of her observations seemed very much to be common sense - it is up to the city (and ultimately, the people who will be living in the area) to force developers include more units of affordable housing (within mixed income buildings) and create spaces with a diversity of uses (e.g. parks). Too much is at stake - the sustainability, growth, and with time, rebirth of neighbourhoods - to be left at the charitable whim of developers.

Ms. Gratz also touched on the idea of marketing and nurturing for the local as opposed to tourists. In her research on Edmonton, she came across an article about the controversial renovations to the Art Gallery of Alberta and its $88 million dollar price tag. Had the consultation process been done right, she said, residents would not have had to choose between the lesser of several designs, but would have been asked whether or not this was a worthwhile project at all. Similarly, she questioned the need for the proposed welcome gates to greet drivers coming into the city - the money is better spent for people who already live in the city; visitors are drawn to vibrant, thriving municipalities.

Ms. Gratz was gracious enough to field questions from the audience for forty-five minutes, and likely could have continued if the host did not pull her off stage. She was asked at one point about the idea of building a new hockey arena downtown. Earlier in her talk, she had mentioned that stadiums and entertainment centres were black holes of sorts for locals, and really only stood to attract visitors. To answer this question, she drew laughs by first insisting that she knew enough not to mess with the Canadian love of hockey. But that said, she indicated that it was possible to develop a harmonious arena, as long as it was right for the community and visitors were not of the 'get in, get out' variety. We'll see what the newly (re)elected city councillors do with this proposal in the coming months...

All in all, it was a stimulating evening of thoughts, ideas, and precedent that left me with a sense of optimism, and a desire to learn more about urban (re)development.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Better than a Buffet: Olive Garden

It's a wonder how I've managed to have this blog for nearly a year and not yet have written a post about Olive Garden.

As chain restaurants go, Olive Garden is pretty consistent - service is friendly, portions are generous, and of course, the unlimited salad/soup and breadsticks that accompany entree orders deserve praise of their own.

Dickson and I hadn't been to the restaurant in quite some time (their long wait times are a deterrent for empty stomachs), but despite the expected 25 minutes of idle hunger that night, we stuck it out.

It didn't take us too long to decide on our dishes - I chose the Lasagna Classico (layers of pasta, meat sauce and mozzarella, ricotta, parmesan and romano cheese), while Dickson opted for the Chicken and Gnocci Veronese (sautéed chicken with traditional Italian dumplings and roasted red peppers in a parmesan and ricotta cheese sauce). Of course, we both knew the pasta would play second fiddle to his breadstick obsession.

After some salad, soup and breadsticks, our entrees arrived. I was curious to see how their lasagna would taste compared to Sorrentino's, and I'm sad to say that the latter won this battle. The pasta was a tad overcooked, and there wasn't enough sauce to moisten the too-dry meat contained within the layers. Dickson's gnocci, on the other hand, was excellent. I really should have ordered that dish instead.

Everyone has those select few establishments that seemingly can do no wrong. Olive Garden is one such place for me.

Lasagna Classico

Chicken and Gnocci Veronese

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Edmonton Corn Maze 2007

Mack and I made a trip out to the Edmonton Corn Maze on Monday night, and like last year, brought a camera with us to capture the experience.

Like tourists!

This year, the maze was shaped to celebrate the Edmonton Oil Kings, though really, the aerial shots and overall design are good for publicity only - once inside the corn field, the shape is irrelevant.

We arrived at dusk as planned, paid admission, and entered the maze just after 7 o'clock. We were both shocked at how low the stalks had become. The website had warned than an early frost and winds had caused the corn to die and fall over, but it was worse than I had thought. When on the lookout bridge, Mack and I were actually able to count the number of people "getting lost" in the maze (twenty), something not possible during our visit the year before. We hope the corn stalks hold up for the Maze's Farm of Fear event that starts next week.

Poor corn.

View from the lookout bridge

Mack, ever impatient or adventurous (more likely a bit of both), decided to take us through a stalk-infested short cut. And a few photo stops later, we were out.

Dying corn stalks

A cob of corn

The website pegs the average time spent in the maze to be over an hour, but with some creative directionality, we made it out in less than 30 minutes (besting our 40 minute route last year). It occurred to us for a second to go through it again honestly, but with the chilly conditions, we decided it wasn't worth it.

We'll be back next year, hopefully earlier in the season, armed again with a camera, my crank-powered flashlight, mittens, but this time with a desire to finish the maze without self-made shortcuts.


Sunday, October 07, 2007

Food Notes

  • Sorrentino's really is taking over the city - a second location of Caffè Sorrentino is set to open in the old space previously occupied by the Polka Cafe in Edmonton City Centre.

  • Daawat, purveyors of Indian cuisine, just opened up a second location on Whyte Avenue, with a third planned for Mayfield Common. I'll have to try it some time to see how it holds up against New Asian Village.

  • A bistro called The Passionate Plate will be opening soon next to the south side Italian Centre. New food related ventures are always exciting. I can't wait to pay it a visit.

  • Speaking of the Italian Centre, I shared a panini with my family at Spinelli's, the cafe attached to the grocery store. After high expectations fueled by a glowing review I read, I was quite disappointed with the cold sandwich. Perhaps we have been spoiled to anticipate warm or toasted sandwiches, but the cafe was not equipped with anything to heat the panini up. I will say that the spread used on the bread was quite tasty, but other than that, the panini was like any other cold cuts sandwich.

  • Via eat drink one woman, I found out about the Edge Brownie Pan - where every square is guaranteed two edges. Genius!

  • Bacon lovers unite! The Grateful Palate will help you demonstrate your love of pork with bacon scented candles, a bacon-shaped ornament, and yes, even bacon-print toilet paper.


The Cooking Chronicles: BBQ Pizza

Taking advantage of what may have been the last warm day before the cruel plunge into winter, I pulled out a recipe I had wanted to try all summer - pizza on the barbecue.

Using Ricardo's recipe for dough, and guidance on grilling pizza from an MSN Lifestyle page I can no longer locate, I can't say this is one for impatient cooks. Waiting the hour for the dough to rise was painful, and as I had got started late to begin with, I'm not sure I wouldn't have been better off heading to the nearest grocery store in that time to pick up frozen bread dough to work with instead. For toppings, I went with a blend of asiago and mozzarella cheeses, roma tomatoes and green peppers (I couldn't for the life of me find fresh basil that afternoon).

After the hour, I split the dough in half, and Amanda and I each pounded out a disc with our hands. With my Dad's help, we toasted one side of the bread for a few minutes, flipped it over, then topped it with tomato sauce, cheese and vegetables. The last step involved closing the lid and allowing indirect heat to melt the cheese and finish cooking the pizza.

I was quite happy with the finished product - the dough was crunchy, and the grill for the most part acted like pizza stone of sorts.

So, perhaps it may be time to invest in a pizza stone (just in time for winter)...

On the grill (it was dark by this time...)

Ready to eat!

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Quotable Women (and Men): Installment Five

  • "Inside me lives a skinny woman crying to get out, but I can usually shut her up with cookies." – Anonymous

  • "Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands – and eat just one of the pieces." – Judith Viorst

  • "Behind every successful woman…is a substantial amount of coffee." – Stephanie Piro

  • "If you always do what interests you, at least one person is pleased." – Katharine Hepburn

  • "A beautiful woman seductively dressed will never catch cold no matter how low cut her gown." – Fredrich Nietzsche

  • "A dress makes no sense unless it inspires men to want to take it off you." – Francoise Sagan

  • "It’s not really a shorter skirt, I just have longer legs…" – Anna Kournikova

  • "You know what charm is: a way of getting the answer yet without having asked any clear question." – Alberta Camus


Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Beauty of Autumn

It might surprise you to know that autumn is actually my favorite season. I just love the changing foliage, the soft rustling and subsequent dispersing of leaves, and the cool (not crisp) evenings.

This time of year might be construed by some as merely the calm before the onslaught of winter, but in my view, the world seems genuinely at peace - no bustle of spring or bright lights of summer. Nice in their own right, I still prefer those two glorious weeks of autumn when the breeze is light and the midday sun scatters over the reflection of the fallen, but still glowing leaves.

Coincidentally, I came across a quote that expresses the beauty of the season better than I ever could (from the Globe & Mail's "Social Studies" section, compiled by Michael Kesterton):

"The summer is over now. It is October and autumn. We are having delightful fall days, misty and purple, with a pungent, mellow air and magnificent sunsets, followed by the rarest of golden twilights and moonlit nights floating in silver. Maple and birch are crimson and gold, and the fields sun themselves in aftermaths. But it is autumn and beautiful as everything is, it is the beauty of decay - the sorrowful beauty of the end."
- Lucy Maud Montgomery, in her journal, 1899

A view of the river valley from Ezio Farone Park