March 30, 2011

In the right place


It has been a crazy couple of weeks around here.

Tomorrow night is a big event in my husband's life - his final voice recital for his Master's of Music degree at the University of Alberta. He'll be singing an hour-long program of music, from classical to 20th-century, in five languages, accompanied by piano.

Solo recitals are always a big deal for musicians, but this one is especially important for several reasons. J has spent three years working on his Master's degree, after starting out in music theory and switching to voice performance after one semester. It's the culmination of nine straight years of post-secondary education, which included several shifts. He started out as an accordionist in Paris, then moved back to PEI to study organ, started taking voice lessons, took on voice as a major, and then started out in theory here in Alberta.

He's definitely in the right place now. I truly believe singing is what he was meant to do. See and hear him on stage and you'll agree with me.


But the craziest thing about tonight's recital is a more recent change. Last summer J was in Austria for a five-week training program in German song and poetry. He worked with some of the most famous classical singers and coaches in the world. It was there he learned that he's not actually a baritone, the voice type he'd been singing as for seven years. It turns out he's a tenor! (Tenor is the highest male voice type, followed by baritone and bass.) Needless to say, this was a surprise. He's spent the past nine months adjusting to this new reality, learning new repertoire, and tackling many technical challenges with his ever-supportive teacher and coach at the U of A.

You could say tonight is his Edmonton debut as a tenor. At age 26, he's considered a very young tenor, and his voice will still change a lot in the coming years. But tonight he gets to show it off in a program of beautiful, challenging music.

J's parents arrived in town today, and my mother, a classical musician herself and a huge fan of his, flies in tomorrow morning. Many of his friends and colleagues will be there tomorrow night too.


J started working full-time a few weeks ago, so he's been preparing for the recital on top of a 9 to 5 job. I am also playing piano for one song cycle on the recital, so I've been practicing extra-hard and we've been rehearsing together.

On top of all this, (were you wondering if there was a food element to this story?) I'm preparing and baking the food for the post-recital reception.

I have to admit there's some pressure about making this reception delightful in every way. But I think all the pressure is coming from me. At UPEI, where J did his undergrad degree, student recital receptions were kind of a big deal. Everyone tried to have the best one, most enlisting the help of their mothers and friends to cook and bake up a storm. The last reception I created like this one was for an organ recital J did back in 2007. I remember baking sugar cookies two ways, preparing chocolate-dipped strawberries, smoked salmon crostini and goat cheese-sundried tomato dip, all in our tiny red kitchen on Pownall Street in Charlottetown (the original little red kitchen, incidentally).


That reception was a ton of work, and this one has been too. But it's work I enjoy. I love the planning process - deciding what to make for a balance of foods and flavours, which foods work best in a reception setting (all cold food that's easy to pick up and eat), having enough options for the vegetarians.

And of course it's all gluten-free.

The biggest challenge, for me, is trying to figure out how much food to make. I really have no idea how many people will come to the reictal - it's hard to predict these things when it's free and you don't need to buy a ticket. I'm erring on the side of making too much instead of too little, but it may be that we are foisting off platters of cookies and crackers on our friends at the end of the night. 


In terms of preparation, I am just about where I want to be at this point. The baking is done, and tomorrow morning I'll finish up the things that will not keep so well. It's going to be a bit of a blitz, with J's parents coming over to help me wrap dates in prosciutto and stick feta and tomatoes on skewers.

Here is the menu:

} Cinnamon sugar cookies
} Chocolate chip-walnut bars
} Lemon ginger bars
} Pumpkinseed Brittle
} Hummus with vegetables and crackers
} Tomato-feta skewers
} Prosciutto-wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese

I've been doing all my baking lately - and everything for this reception - using a new-to-me GF flour blend. It's from Gluten-free Girl, one of the most popular and authoritative GF voices writing online. Her blog has been around forever, and she has published two cookbooks. I greatly admire her drive and her work in raising awareness about celiac disease. So far, her flour blend works very well.

I'm off to cut the lemon bars. If you're free tomorrow night, come hear my husband sing! I promise it will be a fantastic performance, and if everything comes together, the reception should be decent too.

The recital is at McDougall United Church in Edmonton – 10025 101 st., 7:30 pm on Thursday March 31st. Admission is free.

March 28, 2011

A visit to the Italian Centre


I definitely feel different now that the weather has shifted in Edmonton. Spring is not quite here in full force, but the months-long funk of minus twenty temperatures has lifted. The feeling I had of being chilled even while inside is gone. Birds are singing. The sun feels warm on my back, and the streets have turned slushy. I'm still wearing my winter coat, but I know that things are changing.

Our habits are changing too. In the past month or so, we've started doing the majority of our grocery shopping at the north side Italian Centre. I had been there many times before, but it was actually a comment on this blog that got me inspired to start shopping there regularly.

When I did, I realized how nice it is to shop there compared to the large Save On Foods I used to go to. It's a smaller store and feels centred in the community. I love hearing people speak Italian as I walk through the aisles. It's a lot easier to find staff to help you if you need something. And though it's small, it carries much of what we eat on a weekly basis. The produce is fresh and varied, lacking only in a few areas like greens (which surprises me, since when we were in Italy greens were everywhere), and much of it is cheaper than at Save-On. And the deli is fantastic, carrying many gluten-free meats and sheep's and goat's cheese.

Most of all, I really like the feeling of supporting a local business. I know the vegetables and fruits come from far away, but more of my money is staying here in Edmonton. 

So I thought I'd take you with me on my shopping trip this week.


I like to walk to the store if I have time. It takes about twenty minutes from our apartment.


There is a beautiful cafe, Spinelli’s Bar Italia, attached to the store. If you feel like sipping a cappucino while you shop, that is definitely an option.


It's going to be a busy week for both J and I, so I planned simple meals, including turnip and potato patties, parsnip soup (with parsnips I picked up at the city market last weekend), and rainbow peanut noodles.


I really like their selection of bulk mushrooms, including oysters and shiitakes. When I started eating these I realized how much delicious flavour they have compared to the average button.


Cheap B.C. apples and a great assortment of hot peppers.


At the deli: a huge selection of meats (many gluten-free) and cheeses. This place is packed on a Saturday afternoon.


Prosciutto is one of our favourites. Just look at that beautiful vein of white fat … Although on a sad note, I found out that it is NOT gluten-free!

They carry a great variety of pasta, including many gluten-free kinds which are not astronomically expensive, and delicious canned tomatoes.


There is also this Italian brand of crackers and cookies, with varieties that are gluten-free, sugar-free and dairy-free. They didn’t have any gluten-free ones this time, so they’re not in this picture, but the crackers remind of of Stoned Wheat Thins with a hint of rosemary. There are also gluten-free tortillas, seen at bottom left.


Doesn’t this toffee chocolate crunch look amazing? I just noticed it for the fist time, and it’s gluten-free! It comes in four or five flavours, but I’ve been craving pistachios lately so I zeroed in on these. I decided not to splurge this time (they’re 9 dollars), but I definitely will in the future. I noticed since this trip they also sell these at Planet Organic.


It wouldn’t be an Italian store without a wonderful selection of olive oil. I like looking at the pretty labels too.


Laden with my shopping bags, I wait outside for the bus home (it conveniently leaves from right in front of the store and drops me right in front of my building). I look over at the statue of Frank Spinelli, the founder of the Italian Centre, in Giovanni Caboto Park. Frank looks pretty lonely, sitting at his table surrounded by snow, but I hope the park will soon be filled with green and buds and running children.

Here’s to Spring!