Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Holiday Cup of (Coffee) Cheer!

As my first Grad school course comes to a close, tutoring for University English papers peaks and crashes, and the the holidays peek around the corner, I'd like to dedicate a post to Edmonton's best coffee spots, where I spend much of my free time. By 'free', of course, I mean the hours I spend planning my tutoring business, studying for Mcgill's Masters' program and relaxing with friends. Caffeine fiends, this one is for you!

Second Cup and Starbucks aside, (c'mon now, we all know they are the similar everywhere), here is a tribute to my ten favorite small businesses in e-town.

E-town's 10 Best Cafes

da Capo - 109th Street Southside

Cute and quaint, this little cafe is so Italian they close on Sundays and have the family running the show. In fact, they refused to buy paper cups for the first year of their operations; cafe, they told me, was for enjoying while seated, not on the go! Expensive but delicious, their paninis are also a carboholic's delight!

Leva Cafe - University Area

Just steps away from the University of Alberta campus, this perfect little cafe serves up $4 small cappuccinos, flatbread pizzas and gelato. Sunday breakfast is (tiny) but great, too. Mmmm, gelato!

Remedy Cafe - University Area

Open till midnight! Finally, somewhere other than Tim Hortons is open late! Second Cup lives in my heart as they allow me to take my needed coffee break after late night tutoring sessions, closing at 11pm. Midnight - that's unheard of for such a mid-size city. Thank you, Remedy, for your curry Indian-fusion inspired cuisine, giant cake slices, interesting musical mix and great service. One note for improvement though - expand so you can have more chairs. It's so crowded!

Tesoro - Downtown Oliver

Formerly a Caffe Sorrentino franchise, this Italian family "mangiaria cafe" has good pasta (I've heard), decent Paninis (hello, cheat meal!) and small but smooth cappuccinos. What's really great it, just click here, you can print off a coupon for a free latte!

La Pasta - University, HUB Mall

They knew me so well here in my university years, the owners called me "Cappuccino Girl". Hey, at only $2.50 a latte, when the competition is charging almost double, who wouldn't stop there every day? Not to mention, they have delectable veggie wrap, complete with real parmesan cheese and avocados.

Italian Centre Cafe - 104th Street & 51 Avenue

Oh, Italian Centre- I love visiting you! Every weekend on one of my tutoring breaks, I manage to sneak in there for a skinny lattee. They use Caffe Kimbo, and they are the only ones, I believe, in the city who do. Attached to the Italian grocery store, this cafe has scrumptious pastries (thanks to my weekly cheat meal, after 6 months of nothing at all, I can indulge in their chocolate croissants. Mmm, heavenly!

Transcend - Argyll Road or University area

While I have to admit I haven't been to their newest location, the Argyll location used to house their coffee production. Produced right here in Edmonton, AB, this coffee has a defined, unique taste. It's indescribable - you'll have to go give it a try. They travel the world, pick out the best coffees, and learn to brew them here. Their store is visually appealing and reasonably priced. Again, cafe owners that do webcrawling, here's a piece of criticism - service is SLOW. Not sure if that is intentional!

Bogani Cafe - 111th Street & 23rd Avenue, Southside

The reason Bogani's made my top ten list is only because of its history. It was, when I was 14 years old, Cappuccino Affair, a chain restaurant (way back when they allowed smoking sections in restaurants). The non-smoking section was always beautiful, with a library and comfy couches. Many a conversation, date, analysis of a teenage dilemma, meeting of a long lost friend or lover or gossip session happened under their roof. I once heard of an author who wrote a book based on pieces of conversations he heard in a coffee shop. If he had pieced together my conversations, I'm sure it would have been a comedic drama. Even after it became Bogani cafe, it retained its flair, as two older European ladies overtook the place. In the last two years, hands transferred to a Chinese family, who now adds unique items like Bubble Tea to the menu. Stephanie W & I claimed this as our spot for years, when we lived in the area. They, too, used to be open until 11pm, until new management took over. Now, they are even closed holidays..

Axis Cafe - 108th Street downtown

Although I've only visited this venue after working downtown, it is known for its night events, such as jazz performances and artist openings. In fact, if there is a show, they are open until midnight! Their coffee is smooth and average priced, and their baking is, from what I remember, delectable, especially the cookies. Mmmm, heavenly again! Haha, I can dream, right?

Blue Chair Cafe - Avonmore neighbourhood

I've been to this cafe once, but it made my list since it's walking distance from my home, and the most eclectic, unique cafe I've seen in Alberta. Janice and I stopped there for a "quick" coffee after yoga one morning last summer, and it definitely was not quick! They are very slow, cater to the senior market (I think), and are very European (don't ask for toast! French baguettes only!) From what I remember, the coffee was pretty good, though. Also, I'm reading their website now, and perhaps they've switched management, because there are new hours, 10am to 10pm half the week anyway, click here

The Mainstreams

Second Cup - Riverbend Square: Janice and I spend our Sunday nights studying together, her for a Library Science masters and me for a Teaching English masters. Go bookworms! I have to say the Riverbend second cup is the best in the city - it's the biggest, quietest and best serviced. Two little flaws though (ahem, cafe owners, you use blogcrawlers, right? ;) - you need more electrical outlets and you need to get that sweet free latte with $30 gift card promotion the other locations have :)

Starbucks - Mundane and efficient, Starbucks definitely has made its mark in the business world globally. I prefer the Canadian alternative, but I will admit that Starbucks' vanilla beats even the Torani syrup at Second Cup. Torani's caramel sugar free is definitely better than Starbucks' though - although the Monin syrup used at most Italian cafes tops them all!

(Oh, and I borrowed the pictures from Google Search. I'll be taking a photography course right away here, so there will definitely be more originals!)

Caffe Sorrentino - Popping up in South Common, West Edmonton Mall and other megaplex shopping centres, Cafee Sorrentino is an overpriced but decent cafe.

Steeps Tea House - University Area While this is also a chain, I'm sure calling it a coffee shop is against its mandate - but wow those Chocolate Chai lattes are amazing!

As I make this list, I realize how small Edmonton is- can I barely name ten worthy cafes in the entire city? (Coffee Snob, I know) There is a new one, Credo Coffee on 104th street downtown I'd love to try, but they are only open during banker's hours! Nevertheless, the ten cafes listed have their charm and bring a smile to my face in the midst of the stressful end of semester, tutoring, paper editing, end of year madness! Not to mention, they all provide welcome warmth from a wintery hell. Stay tuned for an upcoming Christmas post on my favorite cafes worldwide (there are a lot!!)

So, with a candy cane or gingerbread latte in your hand, welcome in the December Christmas season. This Coffee Snob wishes you warm and Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Oil & Art @ Alberta Art Gallery

After much anticipation, Stephanie, Darryl, Sean, Janice, Steph B and I attended Saturday's Alberta Art Gallery's bi-annual gala. This year's theme, Refinery Party, was a collection of art works that described the creation, sustenance and destruction of oil and the oil industry. A little disappointing compared to my expectations, the event still held its own and the architecture was a unique backdrop.

While interpretive dancers swirled their bodies in a partially topless, partially clothed fashion that, frankly, I could not "interpret", waitresses served hors d'oeurves, and crowds of people hovered around the art exhibits

Matisse was unimpressive at first, although Darryl managed to put the exhibit into a historical context that established the French artist was really a "first" for certain types of sketches. His finished works, however, do provide an interesting mix of colour. Although some of his paintings in later years have a more realistic portrait style and brighter, more fresh, colours.

Source: check out more of Matisse's later paintings here

From 9 pm to 1 am, we wandered the levels of the new art gallery, marvelling at the architecture (yay, Edmonton, you're trying to be more big city!).

Tables with little art projects, like "make your own carbon footprint" were a comical touch. An Urban exhibit showcased large photographs of plastics and other waste in the oil industry. A larger exhibit was filled with photographs of the progression from oil's beginnings - including sulpher blocks in Fort Mcmurray - to drill rigs, oil barrels, cars and homes that use oil - and projected depletion of oil itself. Very fitting to Alberta, the exhibit was interesting - although I think the integrated dance performances were a little too "artsy" for me. In black costumes, moving about as if in a trance, they swirled around with odd movements and music. I think the idea of one of the performances was to show the creation of products from oil (a woman with a hammer and nails building a black object) to the destruction of their products (a black Michelin man -like woman, encased in tires, falling down and rising up). So....artsy??

Janice, with the main piece of art in Sapna's house

Sapna & Steph B

Hopefully next year's theme will be a little more engaging!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Puppy Mischief: A Look At Kiara's First Year

After one year and eight days of having Kiara in my life, I thought I'd compile the puppy mischief stories. They are really incredible - fiction would be more plausible, but here's an honest - and fairly schooled in training, I might add! - pup's perspective on life in e-town. If you're skimming this slightly long post, the stories are titled - so choose the mischevious adventure you would like to read about!

*Facebook Users!: Click HERE if you want to be able to see the puppy slideshow! Just one click away and you'll have a much better view, I promise!

Bringing Home A Baby Dog - Nov 09

On November 7th, 2009, Sean and I drove to Calgary to pick up my beautiful black lab puppy. Seven lbs & frantic, we put on her specially made pink dog collar and leash and put her in a blanket-ined cardboard box, and drove home, wondering if she'd be thrashing the whole time. After some whining, she decided that travel was for her (my kind of puppy!) and fell asleep to the motion of the rocking car. At the first Shell rest stop, we thought she might have to pee - but she just kept shaking and shaking and shaking Why are you strangers taking me away from home?? you could almost here her scream. Of course, arriving home, we found that my Puppies for Dummies books (and six other knockoffs) were out the window. "You may hear whining when your puppy is in her crate, but it's important not to give in and let her know she needs her own space" - easy for THEM to say, she SCREAMED the entire night! Who would have thought seven little pounds could have such strong lungs?

Housebreaking took three days - the third morning she was knocking at the door to go out! Two years of training research paid off. What I can tell you is, the first night, I had this fear that I was responsible for a life; the second night I was so frustrated I almost regretted my decision; the third morning, I was lifting weights and she sat there, bobbing her head to the rhythm of the barbell presses - and that's when I knew, we were a team.

Travel Puppy or Homebody?

Throughout the few days I had off, Kiara and I visited a few coffee shops and all my favourite e-town haunts. While most places shun puppies here, a few nice stores let me hide her inside my jacket (I can't even believe she used to fit!)

Puppy's First Christmas! Dec 09

Can we smile for Santa Claus? Of course, Kiara smiles for everything. Here she is, just four months old, in Santa's lap. Running like wild during my Christmas baking party, shredding gifts with her teeth, tearing her gifts to pieces in less than a week, and "snow-diving" through piles in the backyard. Yes, the icy winter is her favourite season (sorry pup, we may one day abandon that idea!).

Rascal Antics, Training & Losing Teeth were just part of the fun!

In January, Kiara and I joined our first Puppy Kindergarten class, followed by Puppy Basics. Wow, what a handful! I realize now that she was significantly younger than most of her classmates, but her puppy brain - lack of concentration - was quite the challenge! Soon we had her in Agility 1 though, jumping over hurdles and managing to focus for a treat. Wait till she's a year old, they told me!

Conehead & Kennel Drama Feb '10

At five months old, Kiara was spayed. I honestly felt like a mother - so nervous for her! They kept my gorgeous puppy for the entire day, and returned her to me with $200 worth of medicine and a cone! Well, at first, she had some attitude about the cone - but 10 days later, she wouldn't let me take it off! I guess it was fun to bump into things and catch food that was slid down her cone like a slide!

At six months old, I decided to let Kiara have some more of my trust - and more room to run. This is also when she first met Watson, her puppy love. I remember the first day she saw him, she started howling and standing over the three foot fence, like there was something really amazing in the neighbour's yard. I went over to meet the neighbours - and found a baby puppy, who Kiara just licked and licked and licked, followed by her play bow. They are best friends now - and whine SO much when they haven't seen one another for a few days.

I love snow!

Three words I can't stand - well - not long term, but she LOVES piles onow, slippery ice. It's especially fascinating that snow turns into water!

First Dog Park Visit Mar '10

Well, I was nervous and she was ecstatic - her first trip to Terwillegar dog park and I just trying to keep her somewhat close to me! I've learned from the neighbours and Watson since, that Kiara won't leave me behind - if she can see me, she figures, it's all good! She's got an amazing nose; she knows where home is! (I swear she has the intelligence of those talking hounds on Homeward Bound!)

First Time Home Alone April '10

I've never felt more loved than the day I came home from my first weekend away (to Banff, with Janice & Sean. This is the time she started to love my dad (not a dog lover), I think, since he took her for walks. When I got home, Kiara darted towards me, almost knocking me over and started licking and licking my face. Where have you been!!?? They say dogs have about 100 facial expressions - but that I miss you one is definitely the most priceless.

Chewing Disasters May '10

On mother's day, Kiara decided to EAT my shoes while I was at our annual family brunch - not just one pair, but THREE pairs - Nike runners, Aldo white pumps (thankfully an older pair) and white sandals. They were SHREDDED and I was livid. Argh, puppy, shoes are not food! They are now all locked up in my room, in the closet, beyond her reach (we hope). Thank goodness I was wearing my vintage pink plaid Steve Maddens that day!
Pancake Puppy! June '10

My all-time favorite Kiara story. This story trumps them all. I come home from work/tutoring/gym one night, and have my roommate ask "How many bottles of syrup do you have?" Oh no, I think, she got to my coffee syrup. "No, how many bottles of pancake syrup?

"One, I think, somewhere." Where? Turns out that my sneaky little puppy had managed to open a cupboard where her treats were hidden, take out the lazy susan and - behold! - discover a bottle of unopened pancake syrup. "It's not open? No problem!" She snatched the bottle, ensured no one was home (I'm sure), took it to her favorite spot on the couch, opened it, ate what she wanted, and spilled the rest on the couch, as well as in the cubby hole she made for herself in the couch itself. Then, she proceeded to roll around in the syrup - and my roommate came home to find her sticky! My house smelled like Sunday morning brunch for weeks!

Photoshoots July '10 - Check out the July slideshow here, folks!
I was snap happy with my new digital SLR in July, so there are many poses!
Visitors & A Birthday! Aug'10
Kiara got two sets of visitors from Germany this August (Kristin and my roommates' friends a few weeks afterwards), and she loved them all! Jumping, screaming, running laps around the living room - they're signs of love, I promise! Kiara turned 1 on September 4, 2010 :)
Desertion & Payback Sept '10

Leaving Kiara for 2 weeks in September to go to Peru would have been, I expected, something like my 1 week trip to California the month before. Extremely happy, smiling, puppy greeting me at the door. Oh, no, not this time - this time I got an angry puppy ignoring me for a whole hour! She followed my dad around the house instead of me, played with others and basically said "#*@# you! Deserting me like that!!!" - despite the fact that Sean, Diyuma, Ross & Rainier, not to mention my brother and parents, were all caregiving for her! After about an hour, she warmed up to me and was back to her happy self. Thank god I didn't put her in a doggy hotel for the 2 weeks; imagine her reaction then! Emoti-puppy!

Fun in the Leaves

Edmonton actually had a Fall season this year - and I took the opportunity to take a Fall photoshoot!! Check out the slideshow for pictures (yes, facebook users, this means leaving your beloved homepage...) Click here.

Pumpkin Puppy Oct '10 - see this entry!

Superwoman in a Tee - Dog Park Injuries & Protein Powder Repair!

Kiara had her first injury on a muddy day in October. She's been off-leash in dog parks for months now, and loves them. That day, it was getting dark at 7:30 pm (thanks, Winter) and I called out for her - and had no response. Ten minutes later, I was frantic, running, calling, yelling, whistling my lame whistle. Where could she be? As soon I dashed up the wooden stairs, she appeared, right behind me. Two days later I discovered she was acting very strangely quiet - and then I discovered the giant cut down her side. Apparently she snagged herself on a tree. As quickly as I could, I took her to the vet - who resigned her to my Lorenzo Expeditions trek t-shirt for the rest of the week, so her cut didn't get infected! Oh, supergirl puppy

That didn't stop her, of course, from getting into a CLOSED, giant, bottle of protein powder (it takes a knife for me to open it), carrying it off the counter, spreading it on the couch, and lying, in her t-shirt on the other side of the living room, with white powder all over her nose. I came home and she looked at me like "What? It smelled like vanilla!"

65 lbs of love

One year after I got Kiara, I feel the same way I did three days after her arrival - I could not live without her. She really is 65 lbs of a loving companio

Check out the slideshow below to see a recap of Kiara's 50 best photoshoot shots, from her very first picture cuddled in a box - to her "Bad-girl" puppy in a bandana shots a couple days ago. Facebook users, click View Original Post at the bottom of the "Note" or click here