Monday, December 20, 2010

First NHL hockey game ever: and yes, I am Canadian

It took a bunch of Germans to get Andrew and I out to our first NHL hockey last Thursday night (December 16th). It's the first hockey game I've been to in a very, very long time (so long that I have no idea when, and frankly if, I've ever attended a game). We sat way up in the nosebleeds. So far into the nosebleeds that we were actually in the last row of all of Rexall Place. Yeah. But you know what? We could see everything up there. And it's not like I needed to be close enough to smell the sweat or hear the teams cussing at each other (assuming they do, I have no idea). I actually, had a great time. I always assumed that if I went to a hockey game in person and found myself as a part of the crowd I would get into it, and I definitely did.

Shot of centre ice as we waited for the game to begin.
Puck drop to start the game.
The biggest problem is that we (Andrew and I) don't really know the rules. I mean we know the basics. Shoot the puck in the opposite net, don't kill the opposing team while trying to prevent them from scoring on you, but I have no knowledge of the actual nitty gritty of what deserves a penalty and what doesn't. I can barely keep the rule for icing in my head, although I know it's similar to the rule for offside in soccer--which I also can't remember even though I played soccer all summer. I'm sure the people in front of us must have thought we were idiots as we tried to explain what we thought might be the rules to our companions. Oh well.

The lovely Andrew, and our companions for the game.
My ticket.
For our first NHL game ever, we weren't disappointed. First off, the Oilers beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 6 to 3--a solid victory. I completely missed the second Oiler's goal because I was busy watching a player who had tripped (or been tripped?) soar across the ice. A fight broke out within the first 10 minutes of the first period. Friends of mine who were also at the game explained that the Oilers player involved in the fight (Stortini) is the team 'enforcer' and it's basically mandatory for him to throw off the gloves once game. And I found myself really wanting to see Taylor Hall score a goal. He didn't, but got 3 assists instead.

If I get the chance, I'll probably go again sometime. I enjoyed myself and the crowd atmosphere in Rexall, with everyone pulling for the Oilers--it's a lot of fun.



Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Luminaria at the Devonian Gardens

This past Saturday night Andrew and I drove out to the Devonian Gardens (approximately 45 minutes from our apartment) to take in Luminaria, a special event held in the Kurimoto Japanese garden. I think I read somewhere that this event was first held in 2000 to celebrate the millennium, but I can't seem to find the page where I found this to confirm it. As can be seen from the pictures below, the paths of the garden are lined with paper lanterns, and visitors are offered hot apple cider to sip as they meander about trails. Fire pits were placed in various spots around the garden to allow visitors to warm themselves if necessary.

The nights was crisp (only around -10C, which by Edmonton standards is pretty good, plus I heard someone say last year that the temperature was in the neighbourhood of -35C) and the sky, which started out cloudy, cleared while we were at the garden. Although we were pleased to see the clouds dissipate, we found our view of the stars was somewhat limited as the pink-haze of the lights in Edmonton prohibited a really glorious night sky. We wandered around the garden for almost an hour before we both started to suffer from cold feet and fingers despite our boots and mitts.

This was a really lovely experience. We were both well bundled in preparation for the weather (as were many of the other people there), and the garden walk covered with snow and candles was gorgeous.



Sunday, December 12, 2010

Vinyl Cafe Christmas: 2010

As I blogged last year, Andrew and I like to attend the Vinyl Cafe Christmas Concert with Stuart Mclean, which tours around Canada every year. We don't go to any other Christmas concerts throughout the season, so this is sort of our one chance to tap into the holiday spirit (aside from being bombarded by advertisements, and mall music--thankfully we're pretty much done with that for this year). The concert also isn't an overload of Christmas. The musical guests only preform 2 or 3 times each, and they don't necessarily sing Christmas tunes, and the 'Dave and Morely' stories (the main reason why I love listening to the Vinyl Cafe) aren't always on a holiday theme. It's a good time, and an afternoon well spent, I think.

So, what can I tell you about the show? I enjoyed it. I laughed heartily throughout. I wished it didn't have to end, but as all good things must, it did. First, I'll make a quick mention of the musical guests: Matt Anderson (brought back from last year due to popular demand), and Jackie Richardson. As noted last year, Matt has an extremely powerful voice. It fills a large auditorium like the Jubilee without difficulty, although I think this year he was a little toned down (for the better). He sang a gospel tune in the first act (thanks to my somewhat 'Swiss cheese' memory I can't recall if it was a Christmas song, or if it was a regular gospel song) but the second song was 'O Holy Night.' My one beef with Matt is that he walked onto stage in bare feet and tattered jeans--it just seemed a little unprofessional. I can't remember what he wore last year, but I would have been happier if his pants had been hemmed and there were shoes on his feet.

I looked around for information on Jackie Richardson, but was surprised to find that Google had little help for me (I could only find a few articles regarding specific events, and an unhelpful MySpace page). From the intro given to her during the show, she's well known in the jazz/blue/gospel scene, has sung back up for Ray Charles and opened for Tina Turner (I think...that Swiss cheese memory acting up again). She was good. Her voice was full, and rich, and low. I kept thinking of the line from Spaceballs: 'So she's a bass,' not to say she was a bass--my ear isn't good enough to pick out a singer range--but I would guess her to be a contralto. Her rendition of (You make me feel) Like a natural woman was powerful and she seems to be an expert at the singing/talking thing that some performers do during intro's to songs. Overall, she was great.

Now for Stuart. What is there to say about Stuart McLean? For anyone who's listened to the Vinyl Cafe you know he has a unique delivery style that if you tried to punctuate on a page as he speaks, would violate grammatical rules left, right, and centre (not that I'm a grammar guru...). Yet his dramatic pauses and stammers some how manage to captivate listeners. The Jubilee Auditorium was full on Sunday, December 5th, and despite the musical guests, people were there to see and hear Stuart. Three stories were read that afternoon, plus an extra special segment where he sped-told seven stories in eleven minutes (approximately). I won't tell you much about the stories, that would ruin the experience if you're a regular listener, and the new Christmas story should air during the last radio show before the 25th. Two of the stories were Christmas themed (one old, one new), and the third was a wonderful tale about Dave going to visit an old buddy in the hospital and well...getting into trouble (this Dave we're talking about).

The speed-telling section was a neat segment. As the first act closed Stuart announced that the show was a few minutes short, so he needed people to request stories for him to speed-tell. A bucket was placed in the lobby during intermission and audience members were allowed to make suggestions. As act two opened, Stuart came out with John Sheer (piano) and Denis Pendrith (bass). The deal was Stuart would pull out audience suggestions and the musicians would come up with something to play as accompaniment. Many of the stories asked for were my own favourites including, Dave Toilet Trains the Cat, and Home Repairs. When Stuart read out the request for Dave buys a coffin, John Sheer began to play 'Little Boxes' (a song I'm not familiar with, but it was a cheerful sounding tune). Stuart remarked he was expecting something more somber, at which point John switched the song to a minor key. Again Stuart quipped, that he meant mournful, not Slavic, something hopeful. What was played next? When you wish upon a star. *grin*



Monday, November 29, 2010

Take that, NaNoWriMo

And with a superhero quality roundhouse kick to the chest, I take out the NaNoWriMo challenge once again. At this point (with one day left to go) I've written around 52,000 words. I failed to write anything at all on three days because I was just too busy, with an average of 2,002 words per day, ranging from 1,165 words to 3,326 words.

But, why?

Why do I do this? My story is incomplete (really, 50,000 words is hardly enough for a full-length novel). I'm probably only three quarters of the way through (maybe even less) largely due to the fact that I've been writing on the fly (i.e. without a plot outline). Writing on the fly is both exciting (you never quite know what's going to happen next) and bad for my writing quality (I've written a disgusting amount of drivel). And wow, does it ever need to be edited (as per the previous remark). I've decided to cut out an entire character. That's probably a waste of 5,000 words right there on someone I'm not going to use, but won't dare to cut out until after Dec 1st so that I have enough words to complete the 50,000 word NaNoWriMo challenge.

Why do I bother to participate in NaNoWriMo when I write almost everyday anyway?

I'm not sure.

Maybe I'm experiencing something similar to mob mentality/lemmingism (I made that word up) that if every one's doing it, than I should do it too. Perhaps that's the reason why I should absolutely not participate in NaNoWriMo--I write almost everyday anyway because that's what makes me happy. I know that one 50,000 word stint for one month does not a writer make, and now half the people I know seem to be 'doing it, man' and that kind of irks me. Now here's a look into my psyche for better or annoys me that so many people are doing NaNoWriMo (and succeeding) because it makes me feel less special, less unique, and more like I'm just like everyone else. I hate that feeling. Who doesn't, I suppose.

The only good thing I've gotten out of this month is Nora. I love writing her. She's neurotic, yet fun and I think I'll be a bit sad when I finish this manuscript--it's her last story. She's been through a lot since I first introduced her in The Cure, including chasing a thief, loosing a friend, breaking some one's heart, understanding her own heart better, being hit, choked, suffering a dislocated shoulder and nerve damage, moving thousands of miles away from her birth place, meeting her father and finally...well I haven't written that part yet, but finally finding happiness. Now if only I can find an agent and a publisher who believe in her as much as I believe in her.



Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Put on your stetson, we're heading to the rodeo

Okay, so we've actually already been to the rodeo, and I don't own a stetson, but the title sounded good. Last Saturday (November 13th) night we went to the Canadian Finals Rodeo held here in Edmonton at Rexall Place. We sat in the nosebleed section, which was fine. We could see the whole arena clearly from where we sat, and we didn't have to worry about any angry bulls charging the fence (which had happened the night before). Andrew and I brought our dinner (I love packing sandwiches on this sort of occasion), since we were on the LRT shortly after 6:00 pm and the show started at 7:00 pm.

I found the rodeo interesting, although I'm not too sure what to say beyond that. It's not something you'd readily find in other parts of Canada (although there was one cowboy from Ontario, and a few from Saskatchewan and BC), or at least not to such a large extent, so I thought it was one of those things we needed to do before leaving the province. That being said, would I/we go again? I know Andrew was not a fan. He could see the skill required and purpose of calf roping (done in singles and pairs), and he liked the woman's barrel racing, but didn't care for the bronco/steer/bull riding. I can see that. Really, why would anyone in their right mind willing take a seat on an angry animal whose sole goal is to get you off their back and possibly trample you in the process? I can see how it might easily be taken as a testosterone charged contest--and whether or not that's how the contestants feel I don't know. Regardless, I found myself cheering and hollering all the same and maybe that's just because I don't step back and think about things in an introspective manner.

The scoreboard over head listing how the cowboy's ranked, and showing us close-up pictures of the contestants as they waited to be released into the arena.
My pictures seemed to be rather washed out, but it looks like it's team calve roping here.
Bronco riding, don't remember if it's with or without a saddle, though.
After everything is said and done, I did enjoy myself. Not in an, 'oh my gosh that was fantastic I can't wait until next year' sort of way, more an 'I've never had that experience before and I'm glad I can say I've seen what it's like' kind of way. In fact, I really appreciated the horses used throughout the rodeo. Although I grew up in the country, I never lived on a farm, so I've always thought horses were pretty--and there were some very lovely horses in the arena on Saturday night. Beautiful white ones,with long flowing manes (just the type you might expect Princess Buttercup to ride away on), and gorgeous Pinto horses. *sigh* Maybe in my retirement I'll learn how to ride (right, like I'm going to have free time when I stop working for pay).

All-in-all we can cross rodeo off on our list of things to do before we leave Alberta. Yeah, we've got a 'to do list,' since we don't expect to stay out here for the rest of our lives and we want to make sure we've seen what the province has to offer. Next up? I don't know. It'll probably have to wait until spring when the weather improves (-24C today). Maybe a trip to Drumheller, or the Badlands, since I've never been to either.



Monday, November 15, 2010

The violin delights at the ESO (and so does the oboe)

This past Friday night was our regular Master Series concert at the ESO. We'd experienced our first session with a personal trainer that afternoon, and so had to rush through dinner to get ourselves out the door in time to walk down to the Winspear. Thankfully the night was pleasant and clear, and we were able to walk rather than drive. We got there with ten or fifteen minutes to spare so we had plenty of time to settle in and peruse the ESO program book. While I'm sharing my thoughts, I'm going to throw out this: I'm not a big fan of the new format of the program book. I feel like there are too many colours, too many different fonts and too many graphics (or at least larger ones) in the write-ups of the features music--but that's just my opinion.

On to the music...

The first selection was Handel's Royal Fireworks music. What is there to say about the Fireworks? It's well...classic. Even the orchestra at W.C.I played it when I was in grade 11 (I think), not nearly as good as the ESO, of course. It's been sometime since I've heard the entire piece (although I'm sure I've heard it on the CBC) and found I was not as familiar with the short movements after the overture as I thought I was. The ESO sounded wonderful, rich and expressive as always. It was a pleasant start to the concert.

After the Fireworks came two contemporary selections written by living composers. The first was Requiem for the Victims of a War Torn World by Malcolm Forsyth. To be honest, I didn't care much for this selection, and not for the reasons I think other people might have not liked it. The write up in the program states: "The imagery is clearly on the opposites: foreboding, discord on the one hand--peace and hope on the other." I expected something really weird with clashing chords that were tough on the ears, and there was a little of that, but I found the repetitious quarter or eight notes (I'm not sure which) unimaginative. After performing Threnody by R. Murray Schafer, in high school, it just wasn't weird enough.

The second contemporary selection was Borealis by John Estacio. I felt that this piece lived up to my expectations more successfully than the previous one. I expected it to sound shimmery (as it was inspired by the Northern Lights) and it did. It also had four (maybe five?) xylophone-type instruments, which I thought rather interesting, and thus my attention was drawn toward the percussion section for pretty much the entire performance (there were also three gongs, tympani, and possibly some other drums, which I've forgotten about at this point). The composer used a technique called glissing, where the musician bends the note their holding up or down to the next one, rather than playing two distinct notes. When the orchestra did this en masse it sort of reminded me of the sound-check thing you get at the beginning of movies, but it was still an interesting effect.

The second half of the night featured two short pieces, one by Bach (Concerto for Oboe and Violin in C minor) and one by Mendelssohn (Violin Concerto in E minor). The former featured the principle oboist of the ESO, Lidia Khaner, and guest violinist, Elmer Oliviera. I love the oboe. I'm not sure why, I only learned the basics of the clarinet (being primarily a piano and string player), and I know some people equate the oboe's sound to a quacking duck, but I enjoy it all the same. The Bach piece was sort of a conversation between the oboe and the violin, with the rest of the orchestra just there to fill in the gaps. The program notes inform me that this piece was written as 'special occasion' music, meaning that it was commissioned by Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cothen for a specific event, unlikely to be performed again. Additionally, it's likely that this Concerto was used as the basis for another for two harpsichords, likewise composed for a single event. Regardless of how often it might have been heard during Bach's life time, this was a delightful piece that effectively showed off its two main instruments.

Finally, the Mendelssohn Concerto. This is one of those pieces I absolutely love, because of some mental block, I can never remember who wrote it or what it's called. Therefore, after hearing the first couple of bars I got excited when I realized what I was listening to. My fond memories of this piece stem back to a cassette tape that used to get played in my family's car on trips, called: Hooked on Classics. The tape included what was essentially a mashup of classical works put to a beat (I know, an absolutely dreadful idea, but this was the 80s). There's something about this wickedly complex piece and its jolly theme that just strikes a chord with me, but even if I wasn't already predisposed to enjoy this performance, the violinist, Oliveria, was extraordinary. For starters, he's the only American violinist to ever win the gold medal at the Tchaikovsky Competition in Russia. If that doesn't suggest to you how good he was, I'm not sure I can describe it. As a second note, of the last three years Andrew and I have been subscribers to the ESO, he had the longest and loudest standing ovation I've ever seen for a guest musician. Yeah, that good.

As per usual for a Friday night, the performance concluded with an After Thoughts session with music director Bill Eddins, Estacio, Khaner, and Oliveria. Of particular interest was Oliveria's discussion of his violins. His primary instrument is a 1729/30 Guarneri del Gesu, but what he played for us on Friday was a three-year old Chinese made instrument. Apparently, Chinese workshops are becoming highly noted for their stringed instruments and Oliveria likes to play them along with other contemporary makers. I would never have guessed his violin was of Chinese descent. It sounded wonderfully rich, but then an outstanding violinist can make any instrument sound good.

As long as I've read my schedule correctly, this is our last ESO concert until the new year. Good thing as I don't know when we'd squeeze another one in anyway.



Saturday, November 13, 2010

Catching up by way of Jeopardy's favourite category: Potpourri

I haven't been a terribly active blogger these last few weeks. This because: a) my life is frankly not that interesting (but I blog about it anyway); and b) I've been busy writing/editing and I feel like any moment I'm at my home computer and not working on my manuscript is equivalent to goofing off. Therefore, it's time for a lightening round/potpourri blog post.

Toronto Marathon, October 17th, 2010
I believe I mentioned in passing that Andrew and I had planned to run the Toronto marathon when we were home in October. It started out rather lovely. The weather was good--sunny, but only around 13/14 degrees Celsius--we were enjoying running the streets of Toronto and recognizing places we'd been, and we were projecting a finish time of around 4 hours and 15 minutes at the halfway mark. Unfortunately, we didn't get there. My IT band burst into flames around the 30 km mark.

Okay, it didn't burst into flames, but it started to give me that old familiar feeling that if I didn't stop running, and soon, my knee would tear itself apart. I seem to have a 30 km cap on my IT band, as that is usually where it bothered me in our training runs. Sometimes I'd be able to keep going (as in our last 37 km training route), but there were a couple of times where we had to walk home. I was disappointed to stop (I think I actually started to hyperventilate and cry a bit), but I'm still able to run now, which might not have been the case if I'd tried to push through. We're taking it slow right now, having only run more than 5 km once since getting home. We're also transitioning into our Vibram Five-Fingers, which are awesome, but they take A LOT of getting used to.

Hotel MacDonald, October 23rd, 2010
Andrew and I celebrated our 6th anniversary (actually on the 22nd of October) as if we were rich by staying at the Hotel MacDonald in Edmonton. For those of you who aren't familiar with Edmonton's Hotel MacDonald, it's an old CP Rail Hotel built on the edge of the river valley and it's beautiful. We brought our camera with us intending to take pictures of the hotel and our room, but we never got around to it. We booked a suite as apart of a packaged deal where we got our room, dinner (excluding beverages), breakfast and valet parking all for one price. The food was marvelous. I had pork for my main, while Andrew went for the surf 'n turf (also the most expensive entree on the menu). We were absolutely stuffed at the end, but it was well worth it.

Chantel Kreviazuk and the ESO, November 1st, 2010
To be honest, neither Andrew or I are huge fans. We don't own any of Chantel's CDs, although we're familiar with her music--and she wrote my favourite Song Quest song, from the CBC challenge last year: "In Waskada Somewhere." However, when we saw the show advertised in the 2010-11 ESO program we thought it might be fun so we purchased tickets. We sat in our regular spots (dead centre, front row of the Upper Circle), and so had a good view of the stage.

I rather enjoyed the concert. I think Chantel has a strong singing voice, and is an excellent pianist. Attending the concert made me wish I had more time to practice (both the piano and singing), but I still lack the basic underlying skills to ever be better than the average individual who's completed their Grade 8 Royal Conservatory exam. She told the audience stories about the origins of her songs, which I think added a nice personal touch, and also made her seem quite human--like she might be fun to have a couple of beers with. I also thought the orchestra sounded splendid, as always. The orchestrations were lush and dramatic, and seemed as though each arrangement would be perfect for the final scene in an award-winning movie.

RED, November 5th, 2010
I'd noticed a couple of folks endorsed RED through their Facebook posts, but hadn't much notion of what the movie was about. A couple of weeks ago I even had a conversation about it with my skating coach. On a whim last Friday afternoon I thought I would check out the trailer and immediately thought: yes. Andrew and I hadn't been out to see a movie since How to Train Your Dragon at Easter, so this seemed like the perfect choice to break that streak. It was full of action (lots of guns), was completely silly, contained surprisingly few swear words, and a whole slew of big names (Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, and others). Andrew and I both enjoyed it immensely. And, it was partly filmed in Ontario--during a scene in the movie I leaned over to Andrew and said: I think that's the Toronto Reference Library! I couldn't find anything online to absolutely confirm this statement, but I'm pretty sure.

NaNoWriMo, all of November, 2010
Ah NaNoWriMo, how I love to hate you. I've previously blogged on my concerns regarding NaNoWriMo here, so I'm not going to re-hash my feelings now. What it does do is force me to write everyday, which I should be doing anyway. I've choosen to work on Nora's third and final story, which has been a lot of fun. I've realized that Nora's a lot like me in her neurotic, over worrying tendances, which is perhaps why she's so easy to write. Presently I'm at the halfway mark in my word count, and that's with a day on which I wrote absolutely nothing. I should get the 50,000 done with no problem, but I'm hoping to get more than that written, since I know 50,000 words is not enough for a completed novel.



Sunday, October 31, 2010

Not dead yet Halloween special

This is just a quickie post to let everyone know I'm not dead yet (just in case anyone was wondering from my lack of posting over the last couple of weeks) and, to show off our Halloween costumes for this year. We attended a party hosted by one of my bosses, who is married to one of Andrew's PhD committee members. They pick a theme for their Halloween parties and everyone is encourage to dress up around it. The theme this year was come dressed as if you were from space.

At first I really wanted to do a LeeLoo costume (from The Fifth Element), but I couldn't come up with any ideas of how to do her suspenders. Andrew and I both haphazardly pondered over what we could do during the next few weeks without coming up with anything to commit to. Time passed, then to our great dismay it was October 27th and we didn't have, what about Firefly? That could be fun. At first I thought I might do Saffron, her first costume was rather simple, just a peasant-type dress, an apron and a shawl, but well, to make a long story short that fell through. By this point, Andrew had visited our local costume show (Theatre Garage at 10575-115 St) and procured the necessities to do Mal, and I still had nothing.

While at the mall (sitting in The Bay, actually, where Andrew had located suitable boots for his outfit), I decided to go for Zoe. It was fairly simple, brown pants, green shirt, black boots, a few accessories and bam!
I'm kind of smiling here (I'm not sure Zoe smiles when she shoots people or ever), yet I think it's pretty good picture.
I think this is a great 'Malcolm Reynolds' shot.
Now if only we had a Jayne...
Andrew and I have both agreed that in future years, once we've settled and own a house, we're going to hold annual Halloween parties. I love dressing up (and Andrew does to), and I think adults need more opportunities to play make believe.



btw...Andrew did cut his hair just for this.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Wedding cake, phase 3: the final decorations

Around 1:00 pm yesterday afternoon Andrew and I headed over to his grandmother's house where the cake was being kept. Once again, things didn't go exactly as I planned. I learned something yesterday (that would have been helpful to have known earlier): there's a huge difference in the colouring abilities of Wilton gel products. The ones in the small tubes are not effective in colouring fondant--these are also what I tried to use on Wednesday. We attempted to transform the white fondant I'd purchased into vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges for leaves, but were only coming up with pastel pinks, and peaches--no good.
The cake, uncovered. I really wasn't happy with the base fondant colour, but now I know what to use in the future.
When Andrew had gone through the entire tube of orange we agreed we needed something else, so off he went to the Bulk Barn (thankfully only a couple of blocks away). He came back with more tube colourings, and also with the type of Wilton colouring that comes in little jars. I'm not sure what the difference is, I didn't look at the labels, but apparently I should have been using the jar colouring all along. We got the nice dark colours we wanted without using all of the gel.

Once we'd sorted the colour problem out we were on our way. I started cutting out leaves with various sizes of cookie cutters and drew little veins into them with a nut-pick. Then I placed them into an empty egg carton so they would curl like real leaves. Once I'd prepared a small selection of shaped leaves, I took the assortment of orange leaves Andrew had prepared and arranged them on the cake. As I stuck them to the cake, Andrew continued onto the yellow and red fondant, and after I thought I had enough of the other colours we marbled the leftovers together.
Leaves drying so they will rest curled on the cake,
Andrew, cutting out leaves.
The cake, with its first layer of orange leaves.
Two colours of leaves applied.
The cake, more-or-less completed, just a few finishing touches to go.
The second thing that didn't work out like I would have liked was how I arranged the leaves. Initially I thought I would create a spiral of leaves around the entire cake, but as I laid the decorations out I ended up covering half the cake and the other was bare. The cover side looked great, while the other half did not--surprised? Probably not, so then we had to roll out what was left of the coloured fondant and cut out as many new leaves as we could.
All colours of leaves applied.
A close up of the top.
Overall, I'm happy with the way the cake turned out. The bronze under-colour seems to photograph better than it looks in real life, but that's also part of why I decided to cover the entire cake. Ideally, I would like to take another cake decorating course, one for wedding cakes from NAIT so I can learn more advanced fondant techniques--we'll see if I ever get the time. Maybe next summer?



Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wedding cake, phase 2: covering

My parent’s internet was working yesterday (hurray for country living), therefore I couldn’t blog about my square baking experience. I thought since I still had three more types of squares to make, I would wait to write about them until I was all done. Today I worked on applying coverings to the cake; both icing and fondant. It took me all day starting around 9:00 am and I worked (more-or-less) straight through until 4:30 pm. I decided based on my previous cake making that one regular recipe of Swiss Meringue would be sufficient to cover all of the cake layers. The nice thing this time was that I had a proper stand mixer that was able to handle all 3 pounds of butter required at one time.
The first step of the icing, warming the egg whites and sugar on a double broiler.
The icing, all whipped up and ready to be spread.
By 10:00 am--possibly earlier, I can’t remember--I was applying the first layer of icing to the smallest layer of cake, which didn’t required support. Andrew was kind enough to spend much of the first part of his morning sawing doweling pieces and sanding off the rough bits so I could insert them into the cake. This was one bit of the construction I wasn’t too sure about, but I’d seen it done in an instructional video I’d watched to make sure the lower levels of the cake could uphold the top ones. I really don’t want the cake to collapse on itself.
Andrew measuring out the distances for the support doweling.
The icing process went along pretty smoothly, by which I mean I was able to speed along in the application, then spread the icing out so it was even and...smooth. It turned out I was just about spot on with the amount of icing required as I have only a small tub of it left, and I can use that to apply the ribbon or other decorations if necessary. The fondant was a bit of a pain...not really the rolling and setting part, but the colouring part.
Me applying the last layer of icing to the base layer of the cake.
What's left of the buttercream icing after four layers of cake.
In my mind I was going to create a nice, beige colour for the base. However, no matter how much brown colouring I added, the fondant didn’t get anywhere near brown, it just became a light pink--definitely not what I was looking for. Then when I rolled the first layer out I realized that I wouldn’t be able to cover the entire cake with the 3L of fondant I’d prepared. So, off came the first layer, and out came the remaining litre of fondant. I ended up with a pale peach colour that seemed passable, then when I decided to add my bronze sparkles to the fondant it became even more passable.
Me, adding the fondant, see how fast I move? My hand is blurry.
The base layer, sitting on the cake plate, covered in fondant.
Now all I’ve got to do is add ribbon, more sparkles and leaves. I’m sure this will take longer than I think, but not nearly as long as the first part of the icing.



Monday, October 11, 2010

Wedding cake, phase 1: baking

Welcome to Andrea's Wide World of Baking! Today I bring you the process of baking enough chocolate cake to serve 100 people.

Err...or something like that. Yes, I'm coming up to the judgment day to see if I can really bake and decorate a wedding cake. I can tell you that the baking part went peachy-keen--really. After a good sleep last night, I woke up this morning around 8:20, had a quick bite of breakfast, and started on the first batch of batter. I made 6 times the recipe I used for the previous chocolate cake, in three rounds of mixing. I used something like 20 eggs, 3 lbs of butter, more than 4 kg of brown sugar, and approximately 1.5 kg of flour. Pan dimensions are 14", 12", 10", and 8" wide.

The main ingredients going into the cake.
Me trying to mix up the last of the first batch of cake batter, and trying not to over flow the bowl.
The batter. Mmm, chocolate.
The first cake pan, ready to go in the oven.
Two of the cake layers baking.
The mess after I'd finished mixing the batter.
The biggest layer (14") just out of the oven.
At this point in the afternoon (as I write it is 2:30 pm) all of the cake layers are out of the oven, and are cooling. They're a little crumbly on the outside, but that's why you lay down a quick 'crumb' layer of icing first, to seal the cake. Unfortunately, one of the cake layers (the second largest one--12") is still stuck in the pan and I'm not quite sure how I should proceed to get it out. I'm sure I'll work something out, I just hope I don't break it as I do.



Tomorrow: baking enough square for 100 people.

Friday, October 8, 2010

ESO Gala: Cirque de la Symphonie

This past Tuesday evening Andrew and I attended the ESO gala fundraiser event featuring Cirque de la Symphonie. We actually saw this show 2 years ago (blogged about here), but we enjoyed it so much that we thought we'd go again. Many of the performers were identical to the previous presentation, although there were a couple of new additions, plus if memory serves, the orchestra played different musical selections compared to last time. I'm not going to write a long, detailed post as: a) I probably wouldn't get it done since we're heading to Ontario shortly; and b) as I stated above, many of the performers were the same and you can check my previous post if you're interested.

Even though this was our second viewing of the show I think my favourite acts stayed pretty much the same. The Lady in White, was magnificent with her flexibility/balancing act, and the Strong Men were as mindboggling as ever. An interesting note: in 2009 the Strong Men performed to Ravel's Bolero; however, this year they used Bach's famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor--2 very different pieces. Strangely it worked. They kept their slow, methodical movements and sort of condensed the Toccata and Fugue down to 1/1 time, rather than the 4/4 time it is written in.

Although I say these were my favourites, the other acts were no slouches. The juggler/ring leader was wonderful, communicating a wide range of emotions with his expressive face--and he's also just a great juggler. Then there was the violinist who played while she hung from a trapeze...frequently upside down, no less. She was new, and Andrew and I were both busy during her performance figuring out how her violin was strapped to her, and what kept her bow in place while she was climbing and adjusting her positions (it was magnets). Also in the air was another female acrobat who performed 2 numbers. The first with a male acrobat on silks, then the second was just her on a rope--oh I wish I had that kind of upper body strength, never mind the flexibility! The last performance that really stuck out in my mind was the hulla-hoop artist. I think there was one last time too, but I don't think it was the same one (not having the earlier program anymore I can't check). Rather than spinning her hoop around her waist, she spent most of her routine twirling it around her foot as she did handstands, back arches, etc. Mindboggling, truly.

In the interest of keeping this post 'short,' and finishing it before I turn this blog into 'Andrea's world of baking' (just for a week) I'm not going to reflect upon the orchestra. Although we attended the gala to support the ESO, we choose to go to see the cirque performers. Plus we've got another 6, maybe 7 shows to attend this year, so I'll blather about their performances then.



Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Danny Michel, live at the Arden Theatre

Andrew and I first heard about Danny Michel a couple of years ago when he toured with Stuart Mclean's Vinyl Cafe Christmas Show. He only played two songs (one being Tennessee Tobacco--which I love), but I (and I assume Andrew too) were impressed. He's also from Kitchener, Ontario, which helped in endearing himself to us as Kitchener-ites living in Edmonton. Unfortunately, I didn't ever get around to buying any of his CDs, although I frequently thought I should. When the CBC changed the programming format I started to hear more of Danny and I'm always happy to hear his stuff on the radio. Therefore, when I discovered he was playing a show in St. Albert (I can't even remember now how I found out), I was excited and immediately asked Andrew if he wanted to go. He did.

Before the show on Friday (Sept 25th) we'd hoped to dine (pig-out) at one of the local Ukrainian church's perogy dinners, unfortunately the line-up was huge, and we arrived too late to wait it out. Instead we drove to St. Albert and ended up eating at a Ric's Grill, which was okay, but not spectacular by any means (we'd never been to St. Albert's before and didn't know where things were so we went with what was close by the theatre). We went directly from dinner to the show; however, found ourselves sitting through what must have been 15 minutes of promos for the Arden Theatre's upcoming season. I understand that it's a relatively small theatre/city and so they really need to push the shows scheduled for the year, but it was a bit annoying to sit through. I felt like it pushed a little beyond "wetting the appetite with anticipation" and into "your annoying the hell out of me, just get to it" territory.

At any rate, after the promotional talk and the promotional video, Danny came out. It was just him and his guitar, no back up or anything. He strode out onto the stage with a mug (presumably of water...but one never knows) and a sheet of paper with his set list, and got down to it. Danny's a highly entertaining performer. It's sort of like he's had 10 extra-strength cups of coffee before hand, as he constantly strums at his guitar as he talks to the audience in between songs, and while he's playing he tends to dance around, stand tall and crouch down low as he plays depending on the dynamics of the music. Danny told us numerous stories throughout the evening, prefacing songs with explanations of how they came to be (which at least I find interesting). Of particular interest was the explanation surrounding the song Whale of a Tale, written after meeting a guy in a bar (in Kitchener) who had "done everything." The song was rather hilarious on its own, but shortly after beginning Danny forgot the order of the lyrics, had to stop, and someone from the audience shouted out the forgotten lines. Awesome.

Throughout the concert Danny performed a mixture of his older music (many of which I recognized from the radio) and stuff from his new album, Sunset Sea. As I mentioned before, it was just Danny, all by himself, so in order to fill in the gaps normally taken care of by a band, he used a recording machine controlled by a foot pedal. I saw this technique first used by Owen Pallett, also at a Stuart McLean concert. The artist plays a few bars into their recorder then they can loop the track throughout their performance to make it sound as though they're being accompanied by another musician. It's possible to record multiple tracks and have them played back simultaneous, but I'm not sure how many are can be run at one time. After the show Danny came out for a bit and talked with audience members who were still mulling about. We got the CD we purchased autographed.

A good night all-in-all. We even got home at reasonable hour, which was a blessing since we had our last major training run before the marathon to attend to the next day.



Sunday, September 26, 2010

Cake decorating: the second to last post...I promise*

Last weekend (Sept 18th) Andrew and I held a "Let's eat cake party," with the purpose of letting me practice the cake I planned to make for my brother-in-law's wedding reception in October. It had a secondary purpose, which was to use up the fondant I had leftover from the cake decorating course I took a couple of weeks ago.

The Cake:

After poking around on a couple of recipe Websites, I found a chocolate cake recipe that I thought: a) looked delicious; and b) would be solid enough to hold up a second layer of cake (the only directions I've been given on the cake is that it should be chocolate). I used this chocolate cake recipe from Epicurious. I baked it the weekend before and slipped it into the freezer so that I wouldn't have to worry about the construction of the cake during the week leading up to the party. The general consensus on the cake was that it was delicious, and I have to agree. This probably had something to do with the amounts of butter, sugar, and eggs that went into it, but hey, it's cake, it's not supposed to be healthy. And from my baker/decorator view point, the cake came out relatively flat (not that it didn't rise, but that it didn't have a huge rounded top like the banana one I made as the smaller, second layer), was easy to slice, and wasn't too crumbly to make icing difficult.

The Icing:

What I mean by icing is the buttercream icing layer that went on the cake before the fondant. Buttercream icing is a lot like you might imagine, full of creamed butter. I had never made this type of icing before, since when I took the cake decorating courses it was always pre-made for us. I located a recipe on the Epicurious site for Swiss Meringue, which was what we were instructed to use at the cake decorating courses. The icing has three ingredients: egg whites, sugar and butter. First you heat the egg whites and the sugar in a double boiler until they reach a certain temperature, then you beat the mixture until they reach a soft, foamy, not-quite-soft-peaks consistency, then you add the butter. I only have a hand mixer, so I was a little worried about whether or not it would be able to manage creaming 1.5 pounds of butter, but it worked without a hitch (I also took the butter out of the fridge in the morning before I went to work, so it was very soft). Finally, I tried adding a little amaretto for flavour, but it didn't seem to make much of a difference. It was richly decadent nonetheless.
First layer of icing (of three...) to go on the cake. Each layer sets in the fridge in between icing.
The buttercream icing. Despite halving the recipe I still had leftover.
Me icing the cake. Probably the third layer by the looks of things.
The banana cake layer all iced and ready for fondant.

The Fondant:

As mentioned above, the fondant was the leftover from my decorating course a few weeks ago, therefore the colours on this cake are a little wacked-out. When I do the actual cake I intend to do a light brown-beige colour for the background, then red, orange, and yellow for the leaves. Yes--the cake will be decorated with leaves rather than stars. I would have done leaves this weekend, except that for some reason Bulk Barn had tons of Hallowe'en cookie cutters, and no autumn sets. Since last weekend I've managed to procure a set of fall-themed cookie cutters from Michaels that has three different sizes of oak and maple leaves. I'm also planning to hand-imprint the leaves with veins to make them look more realistic, and maybe curl the edges on some of them so they aren't all lying perfectly flat, as real leaves wouldn't.
The chocolate layer iced, and trimmed with fondant. I managed to get it on with almost no difficulties.
Me applying the fondant to the banana layer. This one went on perfectly. No tears anywhere.
The boarder applied to hide a small gap between the cakes. The green fondant rolled out and ready to make stars.
First colour added, working on cutting out stars for the second set of trimmings.
Almost there, just purple left. I found at this stage I could move quickly through the decorating.
The finished product.



*at least until the next big cake baking/project comes around...

Monday, September 13, 2010

Hiking to the sky: the Jasper Skyline trail

First, the stats:

Distance: approximately 43 km running from Maligne Lake to Maligne Canyon (or visa verso).
Elevation gained: 1,380 m, the highest point being the Notch, at 2,480 m above sea level (also, I believe, the highest trail pass in Jasper National Park).
Time to hike: 3 days, totalling approximately 16.5 hours of hiking over all.

A couple of years ago I received recommendations for various hikes to try in Alberta from a co-worker. I wanted serious wilderness-type hikes, not the front-country, touristy ones that are jammed full of people from June to September. Last year we went to Lake O'Hara, which I blogged about here. This trip provided a "gentle" introduction to backcountry camping where you could choose to hike to the site, or take a bus, and where there was no electricity, but food lockers and safe drinking water was available. We elected to hike to the site (approximately 10 km and around 700 m elevation gain) to see if we could carry our packs for that long. We managed the trek without much difficulty, and I certainly enjoyed the overall camping and hiking experience, so we were game to go for a full out point-to-point camping experience. Thus, we choose to do the Jasper Skyline trail.

Initially, we planned the hike for the Canada Day long weekend, as I had an extra day off from work. However, the trail report at that time stated it was "Not Recommended" and when we called the Jasper office they confirmed that deep (as in up to the knees) snow was still present on the trial. After 20 minutes on the phone (the Park employees were pleasantly patient with me) I was able to re-book the our trip for the Labour Day weekend. The one difficulty was that we couldn't get the same campsite for our second night (Tekerra), which made for a long day to get to the campsite we could book, Signal.

Okay, so without further ado...the hike.

Andrew and I rose at our regular (or at least my regular) work-week time, and were driving toward the Yellowhead (Highway 16) by 7:07 am Saturday morning. The sky started out delightfully blue and pretty, unfortunately that didn't last. The further west we drove, the grayer the sky became and eventually rain did indeed fall. I had hoped we might somehow managed to get away with good whether for the weekend, but considering the summer we've had (cold and rainy) I wasn't surprised. When we first arrived at the Maligne Canyon parking lot, the rain had abated, but as we rode the shuttle bus around to Maligne Lake it started up again.

Note to future hikers: We would recommend parking your car at the end of the trail you plan to finish at and take the shuttle bus to the opposite end. This way your car will be waiting for you at the completion of your hike and you can just drive away when you're ready. Although the bus runs at somewhat regular intervals, there's no guarantee that it will actually be on time.

When we got off the bus at Maligne Lake it was drizzling. I dug my gaiters out of my backpack and strapped them on, and Andrew grabbed out his rain pants. As it turned out, I wore my gaiters for all but the last day when our hike was only 8 km, and I was just too lazy to fight with the mud-caked zipper one last time. The trail was very muddy, as can be seen in the below picture. The sun came out not long after we started up the trail, causing us to stop to de-layer. The first part of the trail was rather pleasant (aside from the mud) as we trekked through a pretty forested section and occasionally caught glimpses of mountain lakes. Maybe half a kilometre before we reached the Evelyn Creek campground (5 km into the trail) it started hailing--yes hail--but it was fairly small so we kept on trudging. After Evelyn Creek the trail took on a steeper pitch, which kept us pretty warm despite the weather. Of course, by the time we reached the Little Shovel campground (8 km into the trail) the sun was back out again. We paused here for a short break and we also decided to fill up our water pack as we'd read there was no water supply at our destination campground, Snow Bowl (13.5 km into the trail).
The muddy trail. I was grateful for my gaiters for keeping my pants dry.
A pretty look out onto a lake early on in our hike.
Note to future hikers: Although Snow Bowl does not have a creek or river running immediately through it like some of the other campsites, water is not very far away (you might have to backtrack 1/4 of a kilometer to fill up). It's no fun carrying 4 litres of water over 5 km of trails.

Not long after setting out from Little Shovel we broke the tree line for the first time and spent a good stretch of the remaining distance to our destination hiking across alpine meadows. If memory serves correctly we saw our first glimpse of snow for the hike during this section, it was also a tad on the cool side as we traversed this mostly open section. As we approached Snow Bowl we lost some of the elevation we'd gained earlier as trees re-appeared. The campsites are all nestled within wooded sections of the trail, and so we found Snow Bowl a bit of a maze trying to find our way between the cook area, the toilet, and our campsite. We were one of the last sets of campers to arrive at Snow Bowl (around 6-6:30 pm), and at first we were worried that all of the tent pads had been taken. This was reminiscent of our trip to Lake O'Hara where we spent 20 minutes running around in the rain trying to find a spot for our tent. At Snow Bowl we found an open one after only a few minutes,got our tent pitched and set to work on dinner.
Me, holding one half of our water filtration system, Andrew stood down stream of me.
Andrew unloading at our campsite at Snow Bowl. We were extremely relieved to take our packs off.
Camping Note: We make our own backpacker's meals. You can buy them at places like MEC, or you can just pick up cheep noodle/soup packs (as a group of young men we met at Snow Bowl had done), but we prefer to make our own. Since we were only out for 2 nights, I made the same thing, a sort of dahl-like meal including: rice, red lentils, dried peas and tomatoes, and spices. I pack them into a zip lock bag and they take up very little space. When it comes to dinner time, you just add water! I make up similar packages for desert too.

Since it was rather cool, we didn't bring any books/cards with us, and it was getting dark, we went to bed early, around 9:00 pm. I had little difficulty falling asleep, although I woke up a couple of times during the evening. We managed to coax ourselves out of our sleeping bags around 7:45 the next morning. We ate quickly (oatmeal and tea), struck our tent, packed our bags and were off again by 9:30 am. We had a sizable distance to cover on our second day (21 km) and wanted to get a good head start. Unfortunately, we made a number of stops early on in our morning. We had to get more water for our bottles, we got too hot so we had to take off our long johns, etc., and so made somewhat slower progress than what we would have liked over the first stretch of the trail. Additionally, we got confused when we came to a sign pointing to the Watchtower mountain. One trail lead up, way up to the mountain, the other kept on in the direction we'd been traveling, but the sign didn't tell us what was on ahead. After some humming and hawing we (correctly) decided we didn't want to trek up to Watchtower, and kept going onto the Curator campground turn off (19.5 km into the trail, plus an extra 1 km off the trail to the actual site).
Looking up toward The Notch from the trail turn off to the Curator campsite. next came The Notch. Truth. It sucked. It's a pretty step incline (another blogger suggests the elevation gain is approximately 345 m) that requires some scrambling at the top, and in our case we had to do it through snow. Truth (again). As we stood at the turn off for Curator and stared up at the Notch in despair we thought we might not be able to make it to our designated campsite, Signal, by dark. Andrew was also suffering with a cold and so his lung capacity was slightly diminished. At this point I actually wondered if I'd gotten us into something we weren't going to be able to handle. Truth (for the third time). The climb is a challenge (even for a couple of people who had been training for a marathon), but it's doable and you don't need any special equipment. I was actually glad that the sun had gone in (it had been a sunny morning up till now) as otherwise I would have been sweating like crazy as we climbed The Notch. It look us an hour to cover the 2 km distance, but we did it, and we sure felt good afterward. Plus, once you've mastered the ascent you get several kilometres of relatively flat hiking as your reward.
The mountain lake, about 1/3 of the way up The Notch.
Still a long way yet to go (aiming for the snow covered peaks) but on our way.
By the time we'd reached the top of The Notch it was snowing. Despite only having a long-sleeve shirt and a wind proof vest on I didn't really feel the cool temperatures as we hoofed it hard across this stretch. As I mentioned before, we thought we weren't going to make it to Signal so we took advantage of the "rest" and powered ahead. Had it been clear, we might have taken it a little slower to enjoy the scenery, but as it was we couldn't see much.

Note to future hikers: A couple of points along this section of the trail are not as well marked as the rest of it. You have to look for the carins up there, although I think it unlikely you could get too far off track as at least on one side of you there's a big drop off the mountain.

We covered this mountain top section of the trail without break partially due to our hurry, but also partially due to the fact that there isn't anywhere to rest and be sheltered from the weather. The snow eventually stopped and the sun tried to come out. Around 2:00 pm (I'm not sure what the distance was at this point, we were just about to start our descent down to Tekerra) we came across a couple of hikers taking the trail in the other direction. We swapped information for a couple for minutes, which helped put "wind back in our sails," as it were. We would be down this section of mountain in under an hour and on to Tekerra (the next campsite, 30.5 km into the trail) in about that time again. Suddenly things looked rosy again, we were hiking down hill, the sky was cheering and we indeed made it to Tekerra before 4:00 pm, where we took a short rest.
The snow covered trail on the mountain top.
Andrew taking a breather at Tekerra, we were relieved to reach the camp and take a break.
Note to future hikers: If you only have 3 days, 2 nights to do the Skyline Trail, and are not an insane backpacking nut, I would recommend making your stops at Snow Bowl and Tekerra, regardless of the direction you hike the trail in. They're each positioned roughly 1/3 of the way along the route. We managed the trek all the way from Snow Bowl to Signal, but it made for a very long day. I imagine if it had been sunny and warm it would have been a challenge to keep ourselves sufficiently hydrated.

The last section of our second day was 5 km from Tekerra to Signal. The trail between these two points does a couple of ups and downs, which when tired is a little trying on one's constitution; however, there are no terribly steep climbs, and the scenery is very pretty. Once you've crested the last hill, the trail is all down hill to Signal, and to your car (if you parked at Maligne Canyon). We reached Signal around 6:00, set up our tent and began preparing dinner by 6:30 pm. By this point the sky had return to a mass of gray clouds, which resulted in a couple short bursts of hail/snow, but we were able to eat most of our dinner in peace and without getting wet.

Note to future hikers: They're no shelters at the campsites. Many have limited tree cover, but if it starts to precipitate you're going to get wet/snowed on. If you can spare the space, it probably wouldn't hurt to bring along an extra tarp and some rope so you can set yourself up a small shelter for cooking and eating.

Again we went to bed with the sun on this night, and again I fell asleep pretty quickly. I heard a little pitter-pattering of rain at one point over night, which turn out to have been snow. Winter came early to the mountains. Snow covered everything on Monday morning, although it was fairly light, and maybe a centimetre thick at best. We stood to eat breakfast, re-heated the leftovers we couldn't finish the night before (nothing like dahl and brown sugar pudding cake for breakfast), then packed up as quickly as we could. We were only 8 km from our car and all down hill. We were off at 9:40 am on our way down an old logging road (I think, or it might have been a fire access old road at any rate). This last stretch was still a pretty hike, although it was mostly trees, etc. It also wasn't quite as steep as we'd expected. We'd been warned that one could easily end up with bruised toes by the time you get down to the parking lot, but we didn't find this the case.
Our tent, Monday morning. We were actually nice and cozy inside.
The last stretch of the trail, on our way down to our car. Really very pretty!
The last section took us a little less than 2 hours, making it to our car around 11:30 am. Although we enjoyed our experience on the Skyline trail, we were also happy to see our car and get out of our hiking boots. We took our time loading up, made a pit stop at the nearby Magline Canyon teahouse/gift shop then headed home.
Andrew and I at the end of the trail.
Last thoughts/recommendations for future hikers: Worth it. Absolutely worth it. You do need some level of physical fitness; however, to take on the Notch and the general alpine surroundings. Definitely not for a first-time backpacker.

*I don't think I mentioned this explicitly, but you need some kind of water treatment system, whether it's a filtration unit, or purification tablets I don't think it really matters, but you need something as there's no potable water up there.

*Be prepared for the weather! We saw rain, hail, snow, and sun. A rain/wind resistant coat is necessary, as are waterproof boots. We had frequent river/creek crossing and lots of mud which would easily soak canvas shoes/boots. Having a waterproof cover for your pack would also be a benefit.

*Hiking poles are a nice extra if you can afford it. I don't think they're absolutely necessary (Andrew and I actually shared one set between the two of us, I had the left, he had the right), but it's a comfort to have something to put a little weight on and pull you along when heading up hills.

I think that's about it. Enjoy the slide show, and feel free to ask questions. Next year's plan: The Rockwall in BC!