September 2011

Approaching Nanaimo ferry terminalPROLOGUE

My heart beat faster as I saw the invitation.  A Cooking Contest to be held over two nights on Vancouver Island - and I was invited to be one of the judges. I sipped my freshly-brewed coffee and watched the lights across the waters of False Creek blink out as the morning sky lightened. Perhaps it was the caffeine because my dreams were certainly not opium-induced but my thoughts took off and "ran down pathways measureless to man".

"The Cooking Contest's Judge Gillian - wow.   Move over Mark McEwan - I too could become a Celebrity, and then a Star and then perhaps a gig on "Dancing With The Stars" could be in my future. Derek, Tony, Mark, Max - fantastic teachers all - how to choose?
or do they get assigned? Eight hours dancing a day - fantastic. I would never whine like some of those wimpy "stars".

Patches of blue sky were gradually appearing above the rose coloured clouds in the East above False Creek. I took another sip of coffee and thought some more deep thoughts.  "How did the Food Network find me? It must be the incisive foodie writing on my Sipping and Supping Blog." 

One way to find out. It was clearly time to read the email.

antipasto platterCuckoo Trattoria & Pizzeria
Coombs,
Vancouver Island
Ph: 1 (250) 248-6280

Cuckoo in Coombs Trattoria & Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Clam chowder and BLT specialRocking Horse Pub
2038 Sanders Road
Nanoose Bay

Nanaimo District, BC
Ph: (250) 468-1735

Rocking Horse Pub on Urbanspoon

As we drove up to the Rocking Horse Pub, I saw what  looked like a large house standing amidst green fields. The exterior did not hint at the comfortable English pub ambience that we encountered when we entered. Six of us were seated at a nice sized table. I chose to sit on the "church pew" bench which meant the table was just at the right height for me.

Samantha Hill & Adrian Marchuk; Photo by David CooperLight in the Piazza
Music and lyrics by Adam Guettel
Book by Craig Lucas
Direction and musical staging by Peter Jorgenson
Musical Director Sean Bayntun
Patrick Street Productions
Annette and Norman Rothstein Theatre
Sept 15 to  Oct 9th, 2011

Vancouver, BC: In musing about my response to the show, I finally concluded that I really admired the production but was a little disappointed in the work itself. So what on earth do I mean by that? In brief, the production values from cast, musicians and the creative/technical teams were excellent but I just could not connect with the music.

Samantha Hill & Adrian marchuk. Photo by Ross den OtterI guess for me contemporary show music is a bit like drinking an ultra-dry Alsace style Gewürtztraminer or Riesling versus one from the Mosel or Rheingau. Both may be exceptional quality but I enjoy the latter far more. Having read previous critical raves about Guettel's music I was hoping, and I think, expecting, the melodic music of the old style musicals, from which tunes continue to play in my head long after I have left the theatre. Instead, as several of us agreed, we enjoyed the orchestral music and admired the ability of the cast to sing those intricate songs but the songs were not memorable, at least to our musically unsophisticated ears.

It was down to the last three Fringe performances that I could fit into my insanely crowded schedule, and the day was grey and rainy. Did I really want to take the ferry across to Granville Island and stand in lineups in the rain?  Luckily the skies cleared and by the time I needed to leave it was dry and quite pleasant.  I packed my umbrella into my knapsack and set off to the ferry dock for a quick ride over to the island, and was really glad I did. I had been looking forward to hearing Melanie Gall sing Piaf since I heard her sing while I waited in line-ups for the earlier shows, and she did not disappoint me. The Sparrow and The Mouse is my favorite show of the selection of 8 plays I managed to see in this year's Fringe.

For my other Fringe Festival Reviews check out

Vancouver Fringe Festival 2011 Part I

Vancouver Fringe Festival 2011 Part II

But first at the False Creek Gym I saw "Suicide(s) in Vegas, staged by members of the Seoul City Improv group who have been touring across Canada since June.

Warren Kimmel, Caitriona  Murphy and Eric Morin. Photo by David CooperNext To Normal
Music by Tom Kitt
Book & lyrics by Brian Yorkey
Directed by Bill Millerd
Musical Directors Bruce Kellett and Ken Cormier
An Arts Club Theatre Production,
Stanley Theatre Industrial Alliance Stage
Jan 27 to Feb 27, 2011

Vancouver, BC:  Go and see Next to Normal. It's powerful stuff yet poignant, at times comedic and the characters will grab at your empathetic emotions and not let go. This rock musical garnered Tony awards for best score and orchestrations, as well as a somewhat controversial 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Millerd and his stellar cast did justice to every aspect of the show.

Tuesday I was back on Granville Island for more Fringe Festival performances. I picked two shows at Studio 1398 on Cartwright Street at 5:15 and 7:45 and what a treat they both turned out to be.

 Dianne & Me
Playwright: Ron Fromstein
Director : Luke Brown
Studio 1398 at Festival House
RT: 55 min
Remaining shows Sept 16, 17.

Dianne & Me is a delightful look at the bond between mother and daughter seen through the eyes of an imaginative teenager who is suddenly to confront a problem far out of the realm of homework, best friends and teenage infatuation.

Emma is played by Elena Juatco, who shone as Christine, the naive / sophisticated con-artist in the Playhouse's 2009 production of  "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels."  As Emma, she captures perfectly the speech and mannerisms of a gawky teenager and I thought she did an excellent job of this one-woman show. The script garnered first place for Fromstein in the Hamilton 2010 New Playwright's Best Of Fringe contest. Though the arc of the story and the outcome were quite predictable, I was engaged throughout and I confess I surreptitiously wiped away a tear or two at the end.

a medium and large tagine on the stovetopFor the first of what I hope will be many Cookbook Critiques on this website, I enlisted the help of my fellow foodies of our SASSY Supper Club to try out a range of recipes from Pat Crocker's "150 Best Tagine Recipes."

Since we were simultaneously trying out recipes from Camilla Saulsbury's  "Piece of Cake!" cookbook,  we enlisted 5 additional couples as "honorary SASSYs" for the evening. Three of these guests volunteered to make recipes from the salad and dips sections of the Tagine book. Three guests (two regular and one occasional cake baker) undertook to provide desserts from the cake recipe book. (The SASSY Club Eats Cake)

Raspberry Sour Cream CakeThe desserts designated for the first Cookbook Critique event were cakes from the second cookbook that I have for review. It's called Piece of Cake! by Camilla V. Saulsbury, and the recipes are all designed to be "one bowl, no fuss , from scratch cakes." In other words not to belabor the point, theoretically the recipes should be "a piece of cake" to make. But could they also satisfy the discerning palates of the SASSY foodies and cake-baking friends?

The first part of the  evening (The SASSY Club Tastes Tagines) was devoted to eating tagines and discussing the recipes from the Tagine cookbook.

Salted Caramel Peanut and Chocolate Upside Down CakeBut after indulging in a plethora of tasty dishes, the SASSY cooks and their guests decided to let  some  time go by  before tackling the arduous task of eating cake!

150 Best Tagine Recipes
by Pat Crocker
240 pages with 16 colour photos
Publisher: Robert Rose Inc.
ISBN 978-0-7788-0279-2
Cover price US$ 24.95 Can 27.95

When I first examined the brightly coloured cover of this paperback cookbook, my attention was caught by the description of the author as a culinary herbalist. I assume that the herbs and spies that are so widely used in the cuisines of the North African countries of the Maghreb (Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia) must make these foods particularly interesting to a writer with a strong interest in culinary herbs.

After a brief summary of the culinary specialties of North African cuisine, the author introduces the concept of tagine and tagine cooking. 

A medium sized tagine from Le CreusetA Tagine is a two part, conical-domed cooking dish based on the traditional Moroccan clay pots used for slow cooking  of stews on stove top or in the oven.  The term tagine" is also used  as a name for the food prepared in one of these vessels. She describes how modern tagines have been derived from the traditional clay pot,  provides a table for comparison of four popular brands of tagines and talks about the use of tagines in meal preparation and service.

I liked the illustrated section on herbs and spices that make up a North African Flavour Footprint.  A series of recipes for rubs and other spice combinations is followed by recipes for tagine dishes. The sections include recipes for poultry, lamb, beef, seafood and vegetables. Other recipes include those for dips and sauces, sides and salads, beverages and sweets.

For a fair evaluation of recipes in this book I enlisted members of our Supper club to join me in cooking. We planned an evening to taste recipes from this and another cookbook. The appetizers and entree recipes came from this book (The SASSY Club Tastes Tagines) while our desserts were cakes from the second cookbook (see The SASSY Supper Club Eats Cake). And for my experiences in acquiring and cooking with a tagine  see Gillian Tries out her Tagine.

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