Called on the (red) carpet

People get cynical about Hollywood hype, and I understand that, but I still get sucked into it. I love the red carpet. I love the glamour. For me at least, it's still there.

Not that I watched the show. I watched most of the telecast last year. Apparently, I was the only one who enjoyed the rather wack hosting by Anne Hathaway (I would watch her do just about anything) and James Franco (I swear he was stoned). This year they had Billy Crystal back. I'm not a Billy Crystal fan. I love when comedians are funny—Jerry Seinfeld back in his stand-up days, Chris Rock, Louis C.K. Why not have Ellen DeGeneris host the Oscars? I'd watch then! Whoopi Goldberg used to do pretty well too. But Crystal? No thanks. He wishes he were funny. He's really just shtick. I think he likes the Oscar telecast because he knows he can get away with telling bad jokes that fall flat, as though that were somehow the intent.

Thankfully, there are the interwebs, chock full of what's really important—the couture. Oh, I checked a live blog from time to time to see who won what. Go Octavia Spencer! Woot for Christopher Plummer! (I haven't seen that performance, but hey, the oldest person ever to win—and he's Canadian.) Yay for the screenplay for The Descendents! I haven't seen The Artist or Hugo, so that was a bunch of awards that kind of went over my head, including most of the big ones. And I haven't seen The Iron Lady. I'm sure Meryl Streep was great. She always is. But I would have liked to have seen Viola Davis win.

But on to the important stuff! There are many good sites for red carpet shots. I referred to the MTV site for this. For tons and tons of pictures, Stylebistro has it all.

My favourite was Penelope Cruz in gorgeous blue off-the-shoulder Giorgio Armani. As someone wrote, it was like Betty Draper channelling Grace Kelly. She was elegant and beautiful! I think my second favourite was Emma Stone. I don't usually go for big bow-like things on the shoulder, but somehow this gown from Giambattista Valli Couture just worked. And she's always gorgeous! And right up there was Gwyneth Paltrow, not usually my favourite, in white Tom Ford with a cape that worked so well.

Natalie Portman was elegant in vintage Christian Dior with a gorgeous diamond necklace. Viola Davis won me over in a strapless green Vera Wang, although the bodice looked like a wardrobe malfunction waiting to happen. And I don't think I've ever seen Milla Jovovitch look anything but stunning, last night in a sparkly white one-shoulder Elie Saab. Octavia Spencer looked Oscar-worthy in a beautifully cut white Tadashi Shoji. I loved the pale blue lace from Elie Saab (always such great dresses) on Bérénice Bejo. I also loved Sarah Hyland in a beautiful pale plum Alberta Ferretti.

Although I'm not a fan of the peplum trend, I thought Michelle Williams pulled it off well in Louis Vuitton—minus the clashing pink clutch. I love that musician Esperanza Spalding rocked a no-label blue gown from eco-designer Prophetik, not to mention her amazing 'fro. Jessica Chastain looked wonderful in black and gold Alexander McQueen. I'm not usually much for black on the red carpet, but Melanie Griffith, no spring chicken, looked great in Yves St. Laurent.

Did I imagine myself as Stacy Keibler in gorgeous pale gold metallic Marchesa on the arm of George Clooney? What do you think?

Not crazy about Angelina Jolie in deep blue (I thought it was black) Atelier Versace slit up to there. Not crazy about the weird bodice on Rooney Mara's Givenchy gown. J-Lo in Zuhair Murad? J no. Others noticed that Cameron Diaz (in Gucci) was just not up to snuff last night. I usually love Marchesa, but Sandra Bullock's dress didn't work for me. Tina Fey in dark blue Carolina Herrera didn't wow me. Melissa Leo in a truly odd Reem Acra "gown" totally did not work. And Meryl Streep in gold Lanvin bathrobe (others said "shower curtain") was a fashion disaster.

There seemed to be more elegance in the couture this year. I loved that the guys were wearing real tuxedos with bow ties. One thing I would have liked to have seen with such gorgeous gowns was a bit more hair up, as a few did. It just seems to fit. Jessica Chastain would have looked so much more stunning that way!

Back to the actual awards before I finish. Check this out about women directors. What makes it even worse is that I haven't even heard about most of these films. And Pariah, which I really want to see, has never opened here.


Veronica Falls at the Media Club

It was a rainy Monday evening. The $23 event parking sign was up at the big lot on Cambie between Dunsmuir and Georgia. But I spy with my little eye...street parking! And since it was already 9:30, even cautious me had to pay only a loonie to cover us until 10.

This was our first time at the Media Club. The first thing we realized was how small it is! Small means a bit loud (we always forget earplugs), but it also means you can easily get pretty close and, if you're not sadly short like Sweetie, might even see the bands.

Bleached were already playing when we arrived. We didn't know anything about them, but when one of us is armed with an iPhone, we soon knew more. Sisters from Los Angeles, who played together in a previous band called Mika Miko. A punk pop band! That's my kind of stuff. I quite enjoyed their set and have since downloaded four songs from two of the three seven-inch records they have put out (gotta love that kids are issuing not just vinyl, but singles). Part way into the set, Sweetie said "Ramones." There was a definite Ramones vibe going on. And sure enough, the one cover they did was "Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World" from the very first Ramones album. Very appropriate! I try not to think about that fact that The Ramones came out 35 years ago (and that we have lost Joey, Johnny, and Dee Dee), but I love that the Ramones are still so influential.

It wasn't long after Bleached left the stage that Veronica Falls were ready to go. I had been waiting for this show for months! Their eponymous debut album was one of my favourites from last year, and as you may recall, I was bummed that I couldn't go to the show they did last October, opening for the Drums at Venue. But this was great—more up close and personal than it would have been at Venue.

I see from someone's Flickr photos that Roxanne Clifford and James Hoare were wearing the same shirts as they wore at Venue! Favourite stage clothes, I guess. Not that you can tell from my dumbphone camera. And the lighting seems to have been even dimmer than it was for Bleached.

Veronica Falls did strong versions of several songs from the album, including "Stephen," "Beachy Head," "Found Love in a Graveyard," "Come On Over" (finishing the set with the album closer), and two of my favourites, "Bad Feeling" and "Wedding Day." I wish they had done "Misery," but I don't remember hearing that. They also did several new songs, which sounded very good. Their drummer, Patrick Doyle, provides not only a great anchor for the songs but some key background vocals. And he says he never played drums before he joined this band!

The sound was slightly marred by some kind of low end feedback, not loud and easier for me to ignore than for my bass player. We couldn't tell if it came from Marion Herbain's bass (which was mixed a little low) or the kick drum. Still, I loved the set, and even Sweetie, who was not nearly as familiar with the material as I but is an old fan of New Zealand band the Chills, quite enjoyed it.

And they were finished by about a quarter after 11! This allowed the grannies to zip home in the trusty vehicle and be in bed by midnight, which allowed them almost enough sleep before work on Tuesday. Almost.


Flawed but interesting

That's what they say about a movie that engages us because it was brave and daring even if it could have been better executed. Often we'd rather see these kinds of films than those that are perfect but soulless.

The birthday meal I made for Sweetie yesterday was definitely ambitious. I did what you're not supposed to do when you have company—make something you've never made before. In this case, it was two somethings. And poor Sweetie was the guinea pig. But for whatever reason, I felt I could pull it off.

The day started pretty successfully. When I make pancakes, I usually make a variant on a recipe from the Deaf Smith Country Cookbook, an old vegetarian hippie cookbook I've had for years. The whole wheat pancake recipe is about the only reason I keep the book. But yesterday, I had a half carton of buttermilk left over from having made Red Velvet cupcakes on Valentine's Day, so I made actual buttermilk pancakes with white flour. Yikes! I added some frozen blueberries to the basic mix, as well as some extra milk (the batter was too thick). I made them with Sweetie's brunch favourite, bacon (good stuff from a Fraser Valley farm). The pancakes were yummy! I might have to go non-virtuous more often.

For the actual birthday dinner, I had planned potato gnocchi in a beurre noisette sauce. Those are the two things I had never made before. Foolish but brave? More confidence than ability? I started by steaming B.C. Yukon Gold potatoes (revealing the provenance, as they might on a menu). Once they're done and peeled, while still hot (I'm pretty good at that), they're supposed to go through a ricer. A ricer makes the gnocchi lighter. We don't have a ricer. And after listening to Chef Robert Irvine on Worst Cooks in America drilling into people to use the right tool for the job, I should have known better than to try to get away with not having that. I had thought I could force the potatoes through a metal colander. What potato did go through was actually in pretty good riced shape, but it was too much effort to get more than a little that way. I ended up mostly mashing, almost killing my food processor motor, and finally getting a reasonably acceptable pile of potato.

I whipped up the egg mixture—egg, salt, white pepper, and a bit of nutmeg (a great touch). I made a well in the potatoes and started incorporating the egg mixture, some freshly grated Parmigiano (I can't remember if I bought Reggiano or Padano last time), and flour. I did pretty well with that step, not kneading for too long (if the gluten in the flour develops, the gnocchi will be tough).

Pretty labour-intensive so far, but we're not done yet. Next, I cut the dough into six parts. I rolled each one into a half-inch rope. The dough had a bit of spring, but I hoped not too much. I cut little gnocchi pillows from the rope, about 16 for each. I rolled each pillow into a ball, then rolled each one against the back of a fork, making a little indentation on the other side with my thumb. Those help hold the sauce. This is not the quicker method I've seen on cooking shows, where the dough seems a bit looser and is put into a pastry bag. The dough is then extruded, and pillows are sliced off and fall into boiling water.

I made about 80 gnocchi before I stopped, leaving the final brick unrolled and unused. That seemed like enough gnocchi. I had already started a sautée of chopped butternut squash in a little olive oil, lightly seasoned.

I switched to making the appetizer: crab cakes. No, I didn't make the crab cakes! I probably will at some point, but the crab cakes from the Daily Catch are great. I had already made a spicy remoulade. I like to make that from scratch, but the amount of mayonnaise is determined by the amount of egg. It's pretty hard to use half an egg, and a whole egg makes more than a cup of mayonnaise. So I used pre-made (good organic stuff), with some Dijon mustard, chopped pickles, and Tabasco sauce. I seared the crab cakes and served them with mixed greens and a Balsamic vinaigrette. Simple and tasty.

Then it was back to the main course, and time for the beurre noisette. Here is where I would have been eliminated from Chef Anne Burrell's team. Never having made beurre noisette before, and having only the exact amount of butter I needed, I was too cautious. I was afraid to burn the butter, so I stopped a little short. At least I'm pretty sure I did. Maybe it was tan butter instead of brown butter. It did cook for a while, and butter browns pretty easily. The recipe also called for sage, and I should have held off on adding that until I could see the colour change clearly. At any rate, I pushed it as far as I did, and then added some chicken stock. Meanwhile, I was cooking gnocchi, which have the convenient habit of floating to the top of the water when they're done. I put the drained gnocchi in the sauce, added the sautéed squash, and tossed it all together. I served it with another sprinkling of Parmigiano and some chopped flat-leaf parsley.

Flawed but very tasty. Sweetie was making food-gasm sounds, and so was I.

I had chilled some Burrowing Owl Pinot Gris, one of our favourite wines. Burrowing Owl is always good, but some vintages are better than others. We had one bottle left of the 2009, but I figured my baby deserved the superb 2010, which paired wonderfully with the gnocchi.

And somehow we had room for cake. I didn't make the cake. I make good cupcakes, but I've never tried a whole birthday cake. Sweetie made a special request for a Black Forest cake from Bella Cakes & Pastries across town. Since I had had to pick it up before they closed on Saturday (and they do not open on Sunday), the cake was not intact for the actual birthday. In this picture, you almost can't see the missing slices.

I definitely want to make gnocchi again, and I want to make beurre noisette again. For the gnocchi, I must get a ricer. That's all there is to it. I did everything else pretty much as I should have, and the gnocchi actually came out pretty well. For the beurre noisette, what I should do is experiment. Melt one pat of butter in a pan and watch it to see how long it takes to change and exactly what happens. I've seen a video, but there's no substitute for actually seeing it in front of you. Sweetie went back for seconds even for this batch. Wait until I get it right!


Waiting for Justin

I love the passion of Justin Trudeau, Liberal MP for Papineau. I saw and heard that passion in the scrum yesterday in which he explained what he had meant in a weekend interview in French on Radio Canada. Even before I saw that video, I understood what he intended when he said that if Canada turned into Stephen Harper's vision for the country, he might think about making Quebec a separate country.

Quite frankly, if Stephen Harper steals my Canada from me, I would consider making British Columbia a separate country. Or maybe it would be time to make Cascadia a reality. The Canada Harper wants to create is not the beautiful country I immigrated to and not a place I want to live.

Do all these commentators really not understand what Trudeau was trying to convey, perhaps not as clearly as he might have? Or are they just being disingenuous? This was not about the desire for an independent Quebec. It was a very strongly expressed passion for the Canada that Harper is trying to change beyond all recognition. Perhaps too strongly expressed for those who wait to pounce on any politician who gives a slight opening.

Trudeau is not good at expressing it intellectually, but he sees the same thing that the rest of us in the current opposition parties see. This government is not the political descendant of Brian Mulroney or Joe Clark or even John Diefenbaker. This government is the radical vision of a control freak who has no respect for tradition, no attachment to Canadian values—those that were once held by his own party—and no love for the democratic process. Harper is smart enough not to appear overtly dictatorial, but more and more people see what he would like us not to pay attention to. Justin Trudeau sees it as well, and it makes his blood boil. As it should.

I once saw someone else express that kind of passion for this country. Many years back during the race for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada that eventually saw Stéphane Dion take the prize, I saw all the candidates at a reception in Vancouver. Each candidate spoke briefly to the crowd. Dion, whom I was supporting at the time, did not deliver well that day. He was always better one-on-one than he was making speeches. Michael Ignatieff was strangely flat, as though he didn't want to be there. Bob Rae was convivial. I actually met him briefly in the crowd. But the candidates who impressed me most that evening didn't have a prayer of winning, and more's the pity. One was Martha Hall-Findlay, who made a wonderful short speech. But the one who impressed me most was Ken Dryden, who expressed a passion for a fair and just Canada that people claimed he didn't have. He did and does. I saw it that day, and it was stirring.

Dryden's passion is balanced by his brilliant mind, which is what commentators tend to focus on. Trudeau, unfortunately, does not have that kind of balance and probably not that kind of brilliance either. He admits that he is not the intellectual his father Pierre was, but it's more than that. He really doesn't put his brain in gear before he speaks, and thus has to dig himself out of holes of his own making. He has the impetuousness of his mother, Margaret, rather than the cold calculation of his father. I remember the eulogy he gave at his father's funeral. A lot of people loved it, but I thought it was overwrought. I definitely saw his love for his father, but I would have believed him just as much if he had not gone way over the top as he did.

I love that Trudeau is willing to wear his heart on his sleeve for Canada, but we can see how easily that is misinterpreted. He gives ammunition to his enemies but not tempering that wonderful passion with some consideration for his words and how they will be viewed. At this point, his decision not to run for the leadership is a wise one. He's not ready. Not ready to be party leader, and not ready to be Prime Minister. We need a leader, and indeed a Prime Minister, with that kind of passion for Canada. But we can't have a leader who doesn't balance that with clear thought and careful consideration.

Trudeau is 40 years old, so it might be a stretch to attribute his demeanor to youth and immaturity. But as someone who herself took an embarrassingly long time to ripen, I think there is still hope. Passion is in his temperament, but he can still learn to channel it and thus make it more useful. A head without a heart gives us Stephen Harper's cold white north, but a heart without a head can't give us back our country. And we need our country back.


Sickness sucks

I know it's only a virus. Or perhaps two in a row or one that mutated (if that happens). All I know is that I have been sick for this entire month so far, just over two weeks. Normally, almost like those stupid Advil Cold and Sinus commercials, a cold doesn't stop me for long. A few days of really bad symptoms, a few more of minor irritants, and for the most part I pay little attention. But not this one. I haven't been able to go to the gym. If I had used the cross-trainer, I would have started coughing or been unable to breathe well at all. I've woken up too many days with a sinus headache the likes of which I've never had before. I have often slept poorly regardless of what I try, and I need to keep catching extra sleep when I can because I have no energy.

At least I have found something that does a better job with symptoms: Benylin All-in-1. It comes in daytime and nighttime versions and includes something to help with mucus. It hasn't cured me, of course, but it has definitely done a better job over the past few days. Now I'm thinking that maybe, just maybe, I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel (and not the headlamp of an oncoming train).

It hasn't been an entirely wasted two weeks. We have our cozy little TV room. Of course, I didn't have to do much about that except be here, although I did do much of the work of moving furniture upstairs. I was able to attend an organizers meeting for Ladies Rock Camp. That effort is moving toward our planned rock camp weekend at the end of May. Sweetie and I and our drummer went to check out a rehearsal space that we think is going to work well for us. Sweetie and I had a lovely "pre-Valentine" secret dinner (a kind of house restaurant). And last night, at Rogers Arena, we watched the Canucks win in the first shootout we had ever seen live. I wish they had won in regulation or even overtime, but I have to admit that the shootout was exciting.

Sadly, I think I have to drop belly dance. I missed the second class due to a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, then missed a second class due to sickness, and then a third class because we had those Canucks tickets. It's really too bad, not only because I paid for the classes, but because this was a really good class for me—a small class of women who, like me, had done some belly dance before. We were moving along at a good pace.

And even though we scoped out a rehearsal space, Lisa's Hotcakes hasn't been able to practise for all that time. That feels like a setback after such a good start. But we have been accumulating material, and we should be able to meet next weekend. We'll get back on track for what we hope will be a May gig.

I also did something for myself, and perhaps something for my career. I registered for a course called Fashion Forecasting that starts in April and runs until the end of June. It's a course in the Fashion Marketing certificate program, which is a part-time program. It's also a toe in the water. It's not like any college course I've taken before, and I will get to find out whether I like this kind of thing enough to keep going and get a certificate.

Meanwhile, it's been mid-year (fiscal year) review time at work, and I want to ensure that I'm giving them my best for as long as they keep me on.


Room for two

Sweetie and I own an old house. Old for this part of the world anyway. It's a design called a Pioneer Tent, a simple Victorian workingman's house. It looks like the kind of house a kid would draw. It's officially a one-and-a-half storey house, but the eaves on the second storey are high enough that neither of us bumps our head. Originally, these houses were build on the ground, with a one-storey kitchen on the back under a shed roof. If this house had a shed, it no longer does, and in the early part of last century it was raised onto a foundation.

Upstairs consists of four small rooms and a bathroom. The master bedroom is slightly larger than the others and not a bad size for the two of us, although we desperately need closet space (they didn't build closets in those days; we use a wardrobe). The first room on the left was a child's bedroom for the previous owners. We turned that into an office that we both share. The two rooms farther down the hall are quite small. We figure the house was built without indoor plumbing, and the bathroom was added later. When that happened, some space was stolen from those two rooms, do each has a kind of notch in it. We turned the one on the left, the smallest room of all, into a guest room. The room on the right, which had also been a child's bedroom, became a place for storage.

The living room downstairs was never a great place to put a television, and it just got worse when we bought a home theatre. It's a decent-sized room, but it really loses when so much space is taken up by electronics and a large screen. So over the last couple of years, we have been turning that upstairs storage room into a "media room."

We stripped the room down to the studs, including the ceiling. It would have been nice to preserve the old plaster, but it wasn't practical. There had been too many layers of wallpaper and paint put on top of it. We reinsulated and then had drywall installed. We painted and installed baseboards. We had shelving built into one wall, not just for the TV but for much-needed book storage. It was a tight fit next to the window. Finally we had new carpeting put in, because the floor was hopeless.

Last weekend, after much delay, some guys from the Geek Squad came to move all the equipment upstairs and install it. No more sitting in the living room to watch TV or a movie on DVD. We suddenly found ourselves in unfamiliar territory, a room we had never really used and never sat in. I thought it might feel strange.

As it turned out, it felt quite nice. We had bought the flat screen at a size that would work in that room, and it had always been rather small for the living room. We finally had the full impact of a wide-screen TV! And the small room was pleasantly cozy. In fact, it turns out to be one of the warmest rooms in the house, quite a contrast from the north-side living room downstairs.

We are adjusting. There's a bathroom right next door, but the kitchen is quite a ways away. There is still work to do in the room around the window and door frames. We need to touch up some paint. But we're feeling comfortable there. Finally, the house is just a bit bigger than it was.

Now the living room is a bit of a wreck. It needs furniture! And a whole lot more work so it can be the parlour it probably once was.


You give me nasopharyngitis

Dear Pfizer,

You know those ads you run for Advil Cold and Sinus? The ones where the person has a cold or even the flu yet somehow manages to go rowing or swimming and then hit the office to give a super presentation? All because they took some Advil Cold and Sinus?

I know that advertising is bullshit, even in Canada where the rules about making claims you can't support are tougher than they are in the States. But really, if a person can do all the stuff you imply they can do, they weren't sick in the first place. I have a lot of experience with Advil Cold and Sinus. It's my go-to medication when I get a cold. But it does not allow me to go to Zumba class. It does not make me look bright-eyed and bushy-tailed before I give a stunning Powerpoint.

I know you don't want to show what Advil Cold and Sinus really allows you to do, which is crawl through your day feeling slightly better than if you didn't take any medication at all. And really, if you take the non-drowsy variety, which of course you need to do if you're going to flip through your Powerpoint slides in order and talk at the same time, they only contain analgesic and decongestant. They don't have any antihistamine, because that's what knocks you out. Ergo, while you're out rowing or being all impressive before bigwigs in suits, your nose is running like a faucet. Either that or you took the drowsy variety and you're curled up under your desk taking a much needed snooze.

I remain a fan, but only of the pills, not of the stupid ads. Let's get real.



"That's when the hornet stung me / And I had a feverish dream"
("Ahead by a Century," The Tragically Hip)

Colds suck. They're so...prosaic. No one is ever going to write a song about a cold. "You give me fever," sure, but not "you give me a cold." When I was a DJ at university, I recall doing a brilliant show while I had a pretty serious fever (I didn't give up my shift for anything). Fevers and getting high seem to have similarities. They can put you into a kind of altered state. You have weird dreams. You might even hallucinate. You can tap your creative reserve.

Not so with a cold. You just suffer through it. No romance in a cold. It won't kill you. It's not inspiring. It's just yucky. You drag yourself through it until it's a memory and hope you don't get another too soon. Everyone wants to stay away from you while you have it, and with good reason. They don't want your friggin cold! So you feel like crap, and you're alone. Or a pariah in company if you're foolish enough to believe the Advil ads and pretend you don't have a cold. Everyone else knows better.

If I say I have acute coryza, that sounds cooler, yes? But I still feel like poo.