Friday, June 29, 2007

Random Fact for Friday

It's time for a confession; I have a difficult time pronouncing my own first name. Everytime I answer the phone at work, Jonathan lets out a snicker as I stumble over the name portion of my greeting and I let out a little sigh of discontent as I realize that, once again, I've mispronounced my own moniker.



I don't know the remedy to this problem. When I was 12, I tried to adopt my middle name, Wynne, but after too many people kept calling me Wayne, Whyanne and my personal favourite, Whiney, I gave up. (Actual proununciation: Win. It's just like Lynne, except with a W.)

I've tried other solutions. Since it's the "sica" portion of my name that I have trouble saying, I often introduce myself in social situations as "Jess." However, in loud rooms (bars, clubs, publicity parties, concerts or in some of the conferences and marketing events I attend) this is a barely audible syllable that always confuses people.

"You're getting a little better," said Jonathan, in false encouragement this morning, after I got off the phone. But you'd figure that after 23 years with this name, I'd be able to say it by now.

Maybe I'll just change my name to Jennifer.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Hole in the bucket

Today I went to work with a pertinent, burning question on my mind. "Jonathan, can you explain to me why the city employees are out watering flowers today, when it poured all day yesterday?" I asked my co-worker, referring to yesterday's precipitation of biblical proportions.

Jonathan was ready with a logical answer. "Because they're paid to. But," he asked, "can you explain to me why they were watering flowers yesterday, in the rain?"

Monday, June 25, 2007

Run with us

This morning I woke up to a skinny red fox running through my back yard and the knowledge that the forest behind my parents' home, where they have lived for 20 years, is going to be torn down and replaced by a "green" area (in otherwords, grass) for a new housing development.

I truly believe that the world would be a better place if only land developers were forced to watch episodes of the Raccoons.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Surprise, Cheesecake!


Early on in our courtship, I revealed to Alex Dodd my penchant for making cheesecakes. "I make turtle cheesecakes, frozen peppermint cheesecakes, pumpkin pecan cheesecakes and I also make a wicked white chocolate amaretto raspberry cheesecake," I bragged to him.

A cheesecake lover, he was ecstatic at my enthusiasm for baking. Until he asked the dreaded question: "But, can you make a vegan cheesecake?"

"Uh. . .I don't know. I've never tried." I felt like a cheesecake-making fraud.

Since then, he's been hinting that I should make a vegan cheesecake. But it wasn't until this morning, 10 months later, that I woke up to rain and a mission for the day already formed in my mind. Today was the day.

After scouring the Internet, I decided that all the recipes online were unacceptable. It's hard enough to get different varieties of tofu in Cold Lake, and completely impossible to find vegan cream cheese or egg replacer. I would have to make up my own recipe if there was to be a cheesecake in the oven at any point during the day.

I decided that I would make a vegan version of the white chocolate raspberry amaretto cheesecake, which was especially challenging since chocolate has milk products in it. But I wasn't going to be stopped. I found a solution and there is a vegan cheesecake cooling in the fridge. Alex Dodd is driving to Cold Lake right now, and doesn't know about the surprise.

The batter tasted good considering it was a tofu-based cheesecake, and the texture of the cake seems right. But we'll wait until tomorrow to see what the recipient thinks of the final product.

In the meantime, here is my favourite *non-vegan* cheesecake recipe. (If anyone is curious, I can let you in on the vegan version as well. Maybe if it's successful enough, Alex will start food blogging again.)

I first made this recipe for Helka's graduation party in Finland in 2003. While the table was covered in goodies, my cheesecake was the first thing to dissapear, with guests scraping the crumbs off the dish, wanting more. It has since become one of my absolute favourites. It is also easy to make (I promise!) and the raspberries make it great for summertime BBQs.


White Chocolate Amaretto Raspberry Cheesecake


Crust
1 cup silvered almonds
1.5 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup butter, melted


Filling
3 (8-ounce) blocks cream cheese
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup amaretto
2 tbls flour
2 tsp vanilla
3 eggs
3 ounces white chocolate, melted
raspberries for garnish (2 small packages)


1. Preheat oven to 325 and grease a 9-inch springform pan.

2. Mix together the ingredients for filling, using more melted butter, if necessary, until mixture is moist. The silvered almonds may be pureed for a finer crust.

3. Press crust firmly into springform pan. Place in oven for 10 minutes. Let cool.

4. Place a layer of fresh raspberries on top of the filling.

5. Mix together all the filling ingredients. More amaretto may be added to taste. (I use up to 3/4 cup, but keep in mind this will change the consistancy of your cheesecake. If it seems too thin, add a bit more flour.) Pour into spring form pan.

6. Bake for 60-80 minutes, until the middle is slightly firm.

Serve with raspberries and fresh whipped cream over top.



Thumbs up for cheesecake and totally non-related photos!

Hints and Tricks to Cheesecakes:


-Place your springform pan on a larger baking sheet. This way, if there are any cracks in the pan or crust, the batter will leak onto the sheet rather than onto the bottom of your oven. This also allows for easier removal of your cheesecake, and for easier "shake" testing to see whether the cheesecake is done.

-Make sure all cheesecake ingredients, including eggs and cream cheese, are room temperature before you begin. If the cream cheese is too cold, it will make for a lumpy cheesecake mixture. This may also prevent cracking in your cheesecake. (I like to pull everything out of the fridge before I start and put my cream cheese on the stove while the crust bakes. The heat from the oven warms everything up. In a pinch, you can also microwave cream cheese, but only enough to warm it --for 30 seconds, tops.)

-In order to melt chocolate without burning it, use a double-broiler on the stove. For fast and easy microwaving, microwave the chocolate for a minimal amount of time, and then stir the still solid chocolate in with the melted chocolate. It will melt from the heat of the dish.

-Don't open the oven while the cheesecake is baking. It will cause cracks to form in the cheesecake.

-In order to tell if a cheesecake is done, shake the pan gently. It should be slightly firm, but will still wobble is the centre, sort of like jello.

-After you remove the cheesecake from the oven, run a wet knife around the edge of the pan to prevent cracking.

-Don't blog about making cheesecakes on a Saturday night. It's a key way of inviting unwanted comments about eventual spinsterdom, yo'.

Solstice

Sitting pretty north of the 54 parallel, Midsummer is one thing that Cold Lake does damn well.

While the middle of June here doesn't near compare with the sleepless month I spent in Seinajoki, Finland (which is north of the 62 parallel), waking in the very early morning still means looking outside and mistaking it for a much later time of day.

It doesn't stay truly light here, but it doesn't stay truly dark either. On a clear night during midsummer, the horizons are always light and the stars are faint balls of light, rather than the crystal clear glow they adopt in the depth of northern winters.

Now if only the warm weather would catch up with the picturesque scenery. I'd really like to go to the beach right about now.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Not a Happy Camper Part 2

I've gotten quite a few questions lately from friends about the campground incident with Alberta Beach. "Did you call her back to complain?" No. I figured that there was no point. But lucky for me, I didn't need to call her to complain, because she called me back today.

"Hi, Jessica?"

"Yes?"

"This is Lakeview Campgrounds calling, did I call you back a couple of weeks ago?"

"Uh, yes."

"Oh, okay. So, you found out all the information you needed?"

"Yes, I found out that I'm not allowed to book a campsite because I'm in my twenties."

"That's not what I said," she told me defensively, "I said we only book to families."

"It is with my family. My family just doesn't happen to consist of kids. I was rather offended by your presumption that just because we're in our twenties that we're going to get drunk, out of control and cause a ruckus." Yes, that's right. I used the word ruckus.

"If you were in my situation, you would understand."

No, actually, this is what I understand--this past weekend, Alex Dodd and I stayed in a campsite. While us tenting twentysomethings were quiet and playing Scrabble (oh! the rowdiness!), the "families" at the campground felt it was necessary to blast "Stand By Me" and terrible techno music through their RV speakers at well past midnight. (I'm sure you can all commiserate with me with stories of "adults" out of control, yet they still garner more respect.)

So, no, I don't understand. And I can't help but wonder what's going to happen when I'm 40, childless and still don't own an RV?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Bored?

If you're bored at work, be sure to check out Jordy's new site pinkolive.ca.

Added bonus: the D. Dodd's appearance in the sidebar of the press/praise section.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The significance of rocks

While my international travels have been halted for the time-being, I can't help but feel the same rush of excitement that I get boarding a plane, when I get behind the wheel of my car.


With the summer barely started, I've already driven over 10,000 km. So much for being eco-friendly.


This weekend it was a camping trip with Alex Dodd. The destination was chosen as though I had pointed my finger at a provincial map and asked myself, "What's the furthest possible location from Cold Lake?"

The answer was simple: Waterton National Park, which lies tucked neatly in the southwestern corner of Alberta, bordered by British Columbia and stretching into Montana (where it becomes Glacier National Park).



We stopped in Red Deer for snacks, but it soon became clear that Gasoline Alley was not the place to be for self-proclaimed vegetarian foodies.


Although, I have to admit, I was mighty tempted by their high-class beef jerky. (Really, though, what gas station needs two displays devoted solely to beef jerky? I love beef jerky as much as the next person, but isn't that just a little unneccessary?!)


The excitement when I'm driving wears off after 6 hours of this scenery, much in the same way that all airline attendants begin to look exactly the same after 3 hours in the air and you get excited by the brief interludes of peanuts and water. In southern Alberta, the pretzel breaks are when you see hilarious road signs like "Alcohol is part of our culture-- please don't drink and drive," interspersed by the occasional deer, turkey farms and huge feedlots.


After 5 hours of driving south of Edmonton, we finally arrived at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. Alex was thoroughly amused that whomever designed this sign definitely had no qualms about getting to the point.

The buffalo jump was used for an estimated 5, 700 years.


They refer to this as the "kill site." Neat.

We also learned that buffalo fetus bags were all the rage back in the day. It's a fashion trend that's just dying to make a comeback.


We laughed as the film at the Interpretive Centre depicted natives channeling buffalo spirits in order to herd them.


Little did we know that Alex Dodd has been channeling spirits, too.


"That's just ominous," said Alex. "A big, ominous bird."


We settled into a campsite on the edge of Waterton, with the Prairie bush for our shelter and the mountains as our backdrop. With his fast complete, Alex was all about the eating and cooking over the fire.

I was all about the whining and rocking the awesome camping fashion trends (all I was missing was my buffalo fetus purse.)


Right beside our campsite was a massive bison paddock. Southern Alberta was full of dangers, though. We were warned that deer may attack dogs, bison may attack people, and that you can fall over the edge of cliffs. Who knew?


On Saturday, after a Swiss Army Knife shopping excursion (I'm ridiculously jealous of Alex's new "the Camper" knife), it started to pour rain, but we braved the weather and went for a mini-hike up beside Cameron Falls.


I imagine this is how Alex posed in vacation pictures when he was 12.


Haha. Another great sign. Thanks, southern Alberta!


Not knowing what else to do in the rain, we decided to drove up the mountain to Cameron Lake. The rain stopped just in time to rent a canoe.


Since the weather was so sketchy, we were almost the only ones on the water. We canoed all the way across the lake, close enough to see deer grazing silently on the shores, close enough to see a huge waterfall and close enough to nearly touch the ice caps that had formed on the mountain by the lake.


The view from our campsite was amazing. "I wonder why we like mountains so much?" Alex thought aloud.

For me it's because they remind me of how insigficant I am, and that like Head-Smashed-In, there are thousands of years of history before me. All it takes is a bunch of big rocks to put me in my place.


On Sunday morning, we woke up to blowing wind and dark clouds that threatened to wreck havoc on our flimsy tent and dry blankets. After breakfast we packed up, just as the rain started again, deciding to head north. On the way I decided that despite my intense hatred of wind, I'd really like to become a wind farmer.

Alex woke up bleary-eyed from his car-ride nap to discover that we'd driven a little more north than he had anticipated.

Just joking. We drove up on the Kananaskis road, where the heavy, wet snow was at least a foot deep.


Finally, after a six hour drive that included a harrowing 35 km adventure on an unpaved cliffside forestry road, we ended up in Banff, where Alex renounced his veganism and ate some cow inards.*

The End.

___________________________________________________

*That was a lie. We actually went to Magpie & Stump's for a vegan friendly dinner, went to the hot springs and ended up driving back to Edmonton in the middle of the night since even the hostel in Banff cost $140/night.





Wednesday, June 13, 2007

How the middle half lives.

Saskatchewan is the kind of place where Rasputin has gone to die. Or more accurately, where Ra-ra-rasputin, lover of the Russian queen, has gone to live on. Loudly. In karoke bars. In karoke bars where people dance along to whoever is singing on stage because there is no other bar in town.


It's also the kind of place where as soon as you cross the border (in Lloydminster to be exact, Alberta's famous city that sits smack dab on the Alberta-Saskatchewan border) modern conveniences suddenly seem so much more complex.


When I was driving out to Humboldt (an hour east of Saskatoon, and a six hour drive from Cold Lake) this weekend, I couldn't help but think about Laura Ingall Wilder's description of the prairie horizon as an endless bowl surrounding her as she stared out the back of her family's covered wagon.


I also couldn't help but wonder what the thick black clouds of bugs on the highway between Saskatoon and Humboldt were. Fish flies? No, we were too far away from any lakes of substantial size. Inspection of my grill repulsed me--the thick black clouds were hoards of mosquitos.


I went there to visit Mike, who, due to a series of unfortunate events, currently resides there. Humboldt is about half the size of Cold Lake, but with all the class. (Except, I do have to say, when the Arrogant Worms came on, the Humboners, as I'm sure Mike likes to refer to them, definitely sang along with the Pirates of the Saskatchewan a lot louder than Albertans ever could.) Alex, one of Mike's friends, also flew in from Edmonton for the weekend.

My favourite parts of the night, though, was when:

a) Tiga's "You Gonna Want Me" was put on by the DJ, who announced, "And now. . .the LATEST from Tiga." Just for the record, this song was released in 2005.

b) One of the Humboldt girls approached Alex and asked, "Are you Mike's friends?" "Yah." "I just wanted to tell you that you all have really nice teeth," the girl gushed. It reminded me of this episode of the Real Housewives of Orange County when a girl from Ontario visits and one of the wives comments, "She has such nice teeth. Canadians don't have nice teeth, you know. It's because they don't have flouride in the water up there." (Yes, that's right. I just admitted to watching the Real Housewives of Orange County. Wanna fight about it?)

After having conquered Humboldt, it was time to head to Saskatoon for the night.


By the time we got to the hotel, a whole long hour later, Mike was exhausted.

Alex, however, was not exhausted at any given point during the weekend. It was kind of remarkable, really. She did some crab impersonations which were really right up there with my ability to perfectly mimic barnacles.



Saskatoon is a beautiful city. If it wasn't in the middle of Saskatchewan, I think I could live there.


It's very worldly there, too. Ghandi's down with Saskatoon.


Okay, I've run out of captions. Here's the rest:


(The resemblance is uncanny.)


(Which might explain this.)


Most interesting roadkill of the weekend: beaver.

Best sign sighted: a "livestock crossing" sign, with a picture of a cow. (Which would have been slightly funnier if it wasn't for the fact I've definitely had to stop for cows on the road before.)



Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Like a 14-year-old in a candy store.

Recently, I was given the responsibility of booking a campsite for an upcoming trip with my cousin and some friends. After several phone calls, I finally got a call back from the Lakeview Campground at Alberta Beach today.

"Do you take reservations?" I asked.

The woman was immediatly hesistant to answer what I figured would be a run-of-the-mill question, considering that she runs a campsite. "Well, that depends," she answered slowly, "what are you looking for?"

"A camping site that can accomodate 3 tents."

"And what are the ages of the members of your party?"

The question seemed absurd, but I figured she just wanted to ensure we were all of age. "Um. . .the youngest is 21 and I think the oldest is 25."

I figured this answer would prove to be satisfactory, since we're all well of age.

I was wrong.

"I'm sorry," she told me. "We only take reservations for families."

"Well, it is my family," I said, with a polite laugh. "We're cousins."

"No, I don't think you understand. It would be fine if your parents were with you. But we only book to families. We don't want people partying in the campground. In fact, we're even phasing out tenting. All the campsites in the area aren't accepting tent reservations anymore."

Yes, that's right. Not only was I discriminated against because of my age, but because I want to camp in a tent. I know it's a crazy and outlandish notion, camping in something other than an RV with a satellite hookup, but call me old-fashioned.

For first time in years, I feel like a teenager in a dollar store--like when the shop owners would follow you around to ensure you weren't helping yourself to the five finger discount.

I'm not a happy camper. (Haha. Get it? I'm sooo funny.)

Can anyone recommend a campsite within an hour drive of Edmonton that has a lake and where the owners aren't total assholes?

Monday, June 11, 2007

I wear my heart dripping down my chin.

So, the other day I was bagging groceries (which is an entirely seperate story) and this couple came through with a lot of meat. Despite being vegetarian, I'm not usually queasy about dead animals. But these people seriously had a lot of meat. Roughly 15 packages of liver and 3 cow hearts, in fact.

I temporarily wondered if they were biology teachers with a pack of huskies at home to feed. But they didn't quite look like the mushing teacher types (whatever that looks like). The smell made me gag a little.

This has been a true story.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Twoonie bars & drunk uncles

As I swerved through traffic on Sunday morning, I hurled profanities out my open window in the general direction of the suburbanites grooming their fertilizer-fueled lawns.

With only 10 minutes left before the ceremony was set to start, I was lost and stuck in the city. I still had a 20 minute drive ahead of me into the country.

With my heeled foot heavy on the gas pedal, and dust billowing behind me, I smiled briefly. It's a good thing I grew up in the kind of place where being able speed on a gravel road wasn't just a necessity, it was a rite of passage.

I arrived at the church just in time. And by just in time, I mean about 20 minutes late.


"The bridal party just arrived," the ushered informed me. I breathed a sigh of relief and collasped into a wooden pew at the back with my brother's friends, where Teri's baby stared in rapt fascination at my bright red dress.

After the ceremony, we funneled out of the church into the hot sun, set out a blanket, and collapsed in the shade.

My brother was the best man. This is a picture of Andrew and I, actually looking like we might be related, for once.

Despite my love of attending weddings, I don't think I've honestly thought about my own wedding since I was 6.


I've known and been friends with a lot of girls who eagerly flip through bridal magazines, oohing and aahing over white gossamer gowns and floral arrangements, rings and colour combinations.

I just don't get it. (My favourite part of this picture: my conspicuous absence from it. At Chantel's wedding, her bouquet broke apart in the air. I caught one flower from the arrangement, which I figured entitled me to at least one good date.)

If I ever get married it will be for the following two reasons: to get gifts, and to have an excuse to go on an extended and justified vacation (commonly referred to as the honeymoon).

In order to make the benefits of gifts outweigh the cost of the wedding, I've created a master plan. I'll invite everyone I knew and hold the ceremony on the beach. If it rains, I'll stand out in the rain. After all, if my dress gets ruined, it won't matter, because it won't be a $1000 taffeta affair. It will likely be something a) not white and b) worth less than $100.

Afterwards the reception will be at the Cold Lake Legion. All the local veterans who hang out there will be more than welcome to attend, to ensure that their stools at the bar downstairs stay warm. Food has not yet be determined, but it will likely involve peanuts that you can shell right onto the floor. And if the legion's booked, then I'll see if I can rent the Roundel. After all, nothing says classy like stripper poles on your wedding day.

I guess I've just always thought that if you love someone, you don't need a piece of paper to prove it.

And although I love the idea of being able to celebrate sheer adoration for another person in front of friends and family, I don't want to do that through an iced carrot cake, the token drunk uncle, bad bridesmaid dresses and pre-written vows.

I want to do it and celebrate it through my daily actions.

(Edit: I almost forgot! The best part of the wedding is when the brother of the bride said grace. "Thank you god, for this love feast," he said, much to our amusement. "So," ventured one of my brother's friend's, looking at her bottle of Snapple, "if this is a love feast, does that make this love juice?")