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To drive the cold winter away, I’ve been compiling a list of my favourite things about living in Edmonton. You know, good, warm, tasty things that help take the sting out of a six-month chill. Today’s offering is that time-honoured Canadian tradition, the backyard firepit party.
I’m pretty certain Edmontonians didn’t invent the firepit, but we sure know how to get the most out of one. And why not? What’s not to like about sitting around a fire – in summer and yes, even in winter – with friends, sipping a few cold (or hot) ones and solving the problems of the world (or the slumping hockey/baseball/curling team).
The great thing about the backyard firepit concept is … well, okay it’s two things:
1) the backyard and 2) the fire.
The backyard means you don’t have to find a campsite or other suitable venue; you just have to make sure you are friends with the sorts of good, like-minded people who have a similar penchant for sitting in a circle around an outdoor fire, mesmerized by the flame and getting high from the scent of burned marshmallows and singed rubber (from putting your sneakers a little too close to the life of the party). And the fire? It is what it is.
Food is an integral component of the firepit party, of course. All of the standard summer backyard/patio/barbecue/camping snacks are encouraged, but the ones that make the most sense are things you can toast/roast on the flames or coals, like wieners, marshmallows and s’mores.
Last September we introduced s’mores — so named because you always want some more! — to a visitor from New Zealand. The list of ingredients (marshmallows, chocolate to melt, graham crackers, etc) clearly left her cold, so we cooked up a few for her to sample. She tried to look happy about that but was still obviously unimpressed. Horrified, possibly. Questioning our sanity, definitely. But she pretended to like it.
She returned to Auckland not quite sure what possesses Canadians to huddle around fires in their neighbours’ backyards, sometimes in weather so cold parkas are required, munching on cookies and corn chips, swilling Sleeman’s and frozen margaritas in plastic martini glasses. It’s one of those things about the Canadian mystique that you have to just accept and not overthink — like three-down football. Five-pin bowling. Street hockey. Block heaters. Beavers. Politeness. And poutine.
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(This Top 30 comes to you courtesy of Edmonton Winter. It’s a list of things that keep me here despite weather like, well, like the royal blizzarding we’ve had this week. Today’s item is a true summer gem: The Edmonton Folk Music Festival.)
I lived in Edmonton for almost a decade before I ventured to Gallagher Park on the second weekend in August. Friends had gushed on about Edmonton’s storied folk music festival, yet for some reason I steered clear of it until the early ’90s.
Then I got my first taste … and have been hooked ever since.
The Topp Twins. Jennifer Berezan. Ferron. Catie Curtis. Melissa Ferrick. Janis Ian. Ani. The Waifs. The Nields. Serena Ryder. Sarah Harmer. Iris Dement. Long John Baldry.
The Stage 3 Gospel Hour on any given Sunday morning…
My fave year remains 1996. That heavenly lineup featured Jann Arden. Joan Armatrading. Laura Love. Roseanne Cash. The Flirtations with Suede. (One of my favourite FF workshop memories is Suede recalling being asked if the Flirtations ever played at weddings. ‘Our people aren’t allowed to HAVE weddings,’ she replied with a grin. My, how times have changed.) k.d. lang in a dashing white suit belting ’em out during the Sunday finale. (Garth Brooks was also in town that weekend, and he stole the front page spotlight in the local tabloid. Twice. Harumph.)
Other highlights from over the years: Mary Gauthier rockin’ Wheel Inside the Wheel with Buffy Sainte-Marie’s band. A Stage 6 folkapalooza with Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Nancy Griffith, Tom Russell, plus Greg Brown if memory serves (and it doesn’t always). The northern lights dancing across the eastern sky as the Indigo Girls closed out the 2002 festival …
There have been amazing blasts from my teenaged past (Melanie,
Al Stewart, Linda Ronstadt, Joan Baez, Bruce Cockburn …)
There have been marriage proposals … and actual weddings … and a whole lotta flirtin’ in between. Oh yeah, baby.
Each August I heard things that caused me to race to the ‘record tent’ to purchase music by artists I’d never heard of and who now, years later, still feature prominently on my iPod.
Of course, I’ve missed a few folkfests here and there – we always seem to be out of town when Emmylou Harris drops in. And family commitments prevented me from hearing Joni Mitchell and Elvis Costello in ’94. Chris Isaak shuttin’ her down a couple of years ago? I was, I confess, too tired to stay around for the finale that year. But managed to stick for the return of k.d. lang and the Siss Boom Bang this year; another outstanding lineup from three decades of outstanding lineups. Other 2011 notables (for me) were Imelda May, Lissie, Angelique Kidjo, Lyall Lovett and Jeremy Fisher, to name just a handful.
Rather than gush on and on about how wonderful this festival is — I haven’t even mentioned the green onion cakes, chickpea curry, getting all folked up in the beer garden on more than one occasion, eating lunch with Dar Williams (still kicking myself that I didn’t have the guts to introduce myself and my partner as Jane and Amber), or the legendary tarp races of last century — I’ll just sign off with a gallery of snapshots from over the years.
See, here’s the thing. I do not like winter. It does not agree with me. It depresses me, it makes me cold and cranky and ornery and sad.
So why do I reside in a city that is occupied by winter for a minimum of five months each year? And not just mild winter; HARSH winter. The kind of winter that renders sidewalks so icy they are hip-fracturingly treacherous; the kind of winter where the daily temperature forecast comes with an automatic ‘feels like’ number called Wind Chill that has made me weep on occasion. The kind of winter that means seven hours of daylight per day – on a good day – between now and next March. The kind of winter that means parkas, toques, mitts, scarves, fleece vests and lined, industrial-strength boots. Where fashion accessories include snow shovels, snow blowers, ice scrapers, hand warmers, flannel sheets and crampons.
Why do I live here? Yup. That’s a damn good question.
But I’ve lived here for 27 years. So there must be something keeping me here. It’s just that, when my relatives from Down East ask (as they inevitably do after having visited me during late November 2007 when the temperature didn’t rise above minus 23 – feels like minus 33! – for the entire duration of their stay) Why do you stay there? I have trouble articulating an answer.
Because, frankly, it’s hell for half the year. And if the other half is, as a former colleague used to say on an annoyingly regular basis, six months of potholes and bad skiing (not to mention the mosquito factor), why do I stay?
The prime reason is, of course, friends. I have an amazing assortment of super amazing friends here, so whenever I start to believe that it might be pleasant (and possibly even artistically more lucrative) to move somewhere with a better climate (literally, politically, culturally – pick any that apply) I am reminded that if I were to leave this place, I would be leaving behind a wonderful tribe of people whom I love and by whom i am loved. That is no small thing.
But there must be other factors that make the place bearable, yes? Absolutely. Because I don’t ski, and nor do I skate; and while I am in fact very much a “sweater person,” I do not enjoy having to wear wool and turtlenecks every day from mid-October to the end of April (and sometimes through the May long weekend).
So for the past several months I’ve been making a list of the things that I like, in fact (dare I say?) LOVE about Edmonton. And I decided to launch this list here in this blog on the day the first snowfall announced the arrival of Winter 2011. Which is today. Sadly. (Although, not so sadly, it could have arrived on a day in mid-October. Or even earlier. So, thank goddess for small mercies.)
Throughout the next few weeks I will list one thing a day that I love about Etown. As you may have surmised, there is nothing winter-related on this list. OK, maybe one thing – but you will have to wait for another day to find out what that is. (Hint – it’s got nothing to do with the Oilers.)
This list is in no particular order, by the way. And a lot of it is going to be about food. Which is my prerogative because I like food … and food is a great thing to share with friends … and it’s MY LIST.
1. The Sugarbowl Cafe.
Located in the Garneau neighbourhood (10922 88 Ave.) next to Red Bike and a stone’s throw from the High Level Diner, the Sugarbowl is historic and cozy and has a great patio. It has an extensive beer list. It offers smoked paprika popcorn + lime (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it – and then you will be forever hooked, like me).
It is famous for its cinnamon buns (get there first thing or you’ll be disappointed) and it has lovely warm, dark wood and local art on the walls.
It’s comfortable in the most literal sense of the word.
And though it’s only a few blocks from campus, you don’t have to be a U of A student to hang out there. Lots of writers, in fact, hang out and write there.
I have sipped many a kriek (Belgian cherry beer) on the Sugarbowl patio. I have gotten sunburned on the Sugarbowl patio. I have plotted world travels (and my world takeover) over lattes on the Sugarbowl patio.
And once I found a $20 bill on the Sugarbowl patio.
Did I mention the patio?
Pomme frites, hummus & pita, yam fries, cheese plate … the eclectic menu (open for breakfast, lunch and dinner) has enough options to satisfy carnivores and vegetarians alike. Plus, the proprietors get their eggs and meats from local farms. Other bonuses: sometimes there are beer tastings; live music has been known to break out.
And while parking in that area can be a challenge, the Sugarbowl is easily accessible via public transit: the number 9 bus stops less than half a block away on 109 Street.
One down, 29 to go.
News item, February 2011:
Toronto the Good ditches longtime nicknames T.O., T.Dot and Hogtown; dubs itself ‘El Toro.’
Please refer to Seinfeld episode #175: You cannot give yourself a nickname. It must be bestowed upon you by others. As George Costanza discovered, when you try to get people to call you ‘T-Bone’ you end up being called ‘Koko.’
Ironically (or was it a
cry-for-attention cheeky collective nod to Seinfeld?), ‘T-Bone’ was runner-up in the Eye Weekly contest that unleashed ‘El Toro.’
Whatever. Nine months have passed since CBC television host Evan Solomon, one of the celebrity judges, proclaimed the winning moniker has ‘a delightfully multicultural tinge.’ Right. So … Is anyone actually referring to Toronto
as El Toro?
Didn’t think so.
two bruised peaches on the subway platform
samuel taylor coleridge on the TTC
two new moleskin notebooks
to match your bergundy chick-magnet blundstones
whispering around the henry moore
gourmet popcorn on the menu at starbucks
man on crutches to litterer: you dropped something.
litterer: thank you.
man on crutches: you dropped something.
litterer: you’re welcome.
man on crutches: so why don’t you pick it up?
litterer: fuck you.
man on crutches: aren’t you going to pick it up?
litterer: fuck you!
man on crutches: pick it up!
litterer: go fuck yourself!
you miss chagall at the AGO by one week
dark green centre
lochhead . riopelle . borduas
shamanic art ^^^ automatist painting ^^ ahhhhh ^
canadian landscape (NFB movie
featuring a.y. jackson, 1941
you know, the year your grandmother
‘can paradise ever be achieved?‘
A) damnshit right it can. got some of it right here ahhhh ahhhh ^^^^^ ahhhhh ^^
B) not without modern appliances
robert motherwell says art = an experience, not an object.
general idea says poodles = “the hairdresser’s little friend”
(which of course = code for “SO GAY!”) ^~^~^~^
it’s obvious you’ve been wondering:
what is it about the poet brain?
what sets those sad captains apart?
is it hope? belief in miracles?
in true love in daffodils in forever?
you may not be ready to hear this but the truth is
when we myopic fools finish deep wrestling with a particularly obstreperous line
or recalcitrant couplet
we more frequently than we care to admit
wake up in a strange hotel room days later
lying next to stanzas smeared with blood and mascara
exclamation marks reeking the sweaty sour reek of vodka
hungover commas retching into the morning-after porcelain
(which act of punctuational thuggery
tore the bathroom door off its hinges this time?)
the fetid stench of onomatopoeia
hanging in the air
like stale pizza
oh look look at the clever hipster youngster
being wicked funny on queen street
‘donation? donation?’ he giggles, waving an empty coffee cup
under the noses of saturday night flaneurs and leafs fans.
the genius is wearing a $200 gap sweater and shiny italian shoes.
begging as a lark, it’s such a joke, will anyone toss a coin
into his blatantly un-needy cup?
(true homelessness has become just so banal …)
three blocks later another sharp dresser grabs your arm and asks for change.
no but i’ll give you five bucks for that leather jacket
— what? fuck. no. seriously, lady. i need it for food. i haven’t eaten in three days.
— PLEASE! THREE DAYS!
you start walking away so he accosts the person behind you
with even more hostility in his voice.
— for food! PLEASE!
then he leans against a brick wall and (blatantly, defiantly) lights up a joint.
geez, pal, if you can afford weed surely you can afford a cheeseburger