Archive for 2011

NYE Recipe: Portobello Mushroom Mini Pizzas

December 30, 2011 9:20 am
NYE Recipe: Portobello Mushroom Mini Pizzas

If you are staying at home this New Year’s Eve, or hosting a cocktail party, hor d’ourves are always a great and fun way to ring in the the new year. Many store-bought hor d’ourves, however, are full of preservatives and sodium, so why not skip all the fillers and make some delicious appetizers from scratch? This simple, yummy and healthy recipe for Portobello Mushroom Mini Pizzas, is always a hit at gatherings with young and older guests alike. Give it a try and ring in the new year in style and good health! Bon Appetite!

Portobello Mushroom Mini Pizzas  Ingredients:

5 portobello mushrooms, cleaned, stems and gills removed*
1 cup Pizza sauce (regular tomato sauce works too)**
2 cups Mozzarella cheese
Parmesan cheese (for sprinkling on top)

Suggested toppings (get creative with your pizzas and throw in whatever toppings you like!)

1/2 cup sliced Pepperoni (Turkey is a good lean substitute)
1/2 cup pitted and sliced Black Olives (optional)
Fresh basil leaves (for garnish)
Dried oregano (to taste)

**Double your recipe by doubling all the ingredients or cut your pizzas into quarters once cooled.

* You can substitute marinara for pesto and mozzarella for feta, makes your pizzas a little lighter but just as tasty!

Spread you sauce or pesto evenly on the inside of mushroom cap.

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Clean the mushrooms with a wet paper towel then carefully remove the stem and gills.

3. Turn your mushroom over so it is resting on the top of the cap and spread pizza sauce or pesto inside.

4. Sprinkle cheese and all other toppings of choice inside your mushroom cap.

Make sure to cover your baking sheet with a thin layer of olive oil of cooking spray to avoid bottom burning.

5. Coat a tin foil covered baking sheet with a thin layer of olive oil or cooking spray and place mini pizzas on top (toppings facing up).

6. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until the cheese is melted and mushrooms are tender. To brown your cheese on top, broil for about 5 minutes of until cheese bubbles.

7. Sprinkle parmesan cheese and oregano on mini pizzas, let cool, serve and enjoy!

Voila! Ready to be served and enjoyed!

Keshia Chante at Bayshore

December 29, 2011 8:29 am
Keshia Chante at Bayshore

It was a pleasant surprise for Ottawa to see Keshia Chanté perform in Bayshore’s E-Style lounge as a part of the Candlelighters event, a non-profit organization that provides support to young cancer patients and their families. From the performance, it is clear that Chanté has been in the spotlight for a long time and loves what she does.

Julie Lan with Keisha Chante at Bayshore Shopping Centre. Photo: Q3 Studio

While most teenagers spend their down time hanging out with friends, Chanté had big dreams and was making a name of herself in the music industry. Chanté has been a Canadian pop icon since her single “Bad Boy” when she juggled finishing high school and her music career. Her success comes from always believing in hard work and being true to herself: “You have to balance life and fun. I finished school for me and for my fans, and I never preach about things that I don’t follow myself. I believe in the responsibility of owning up to your actions.”

After a departure from Sony BMG Canada, Chanté is back with a released her third album, Night & Day. Similarly to her previous album, Chanté is very involved in the production process: “I handle some legal and paper work, organizing meetings and discussions. I’m very hands-on as it’s important to have pride in your work and you want it to reflect yourself”. Night & Day features familiar dance beats similar to Chanté’s previous singles and signature style, but it also offers melodic tracks: “I love dancing, R&B and hip hop, I love how dance tracks put people in good mood, but there are two sides of me”. Table Dancer, a single from Night & Day, is a reflection of Chanté’s recent trip to Vegas: “I get inspirations everywhere. Sometimes I wake up in the morning, have a great idea and spend the day just writing”.

Chante with fan at Bayshore Shopping Centre. Photo: Q3 Studio

Even though Chanté has grown musically since “Bad Boy”, in her track “Edit, Cut & Delete” from Night & Day she’s still singing about, uh hem, a bad boy: “I definitely have a type, I love guys with an edge. Obviously every girl loves a funny and charismatic guy and so do I, but I also like one that keeps me off my toes and often take control”. Hey, what girl doesn’t?

DVD Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

December 28, 2011 7:58 pm
DVD Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I confess to having had no desire to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes until I started hearing good reports about this latest instalment in the long-running franchise, which originated way back in 1968. As a result, I decided to bite the bullet and I rented the DVD issued by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. OLM tries to review any film made wholly or partially in Canada, and because Rise of the Planet of the Apes was mostly shot in Vancouver (substituting for San Francisco) it fully qualifies as Canadian content.

Scene from Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Furthermore, according to the Internet Movie Database, scenes were filmed at Mammoth Studios in Burnaby, British Columbia; Robert Burnaby Park in East Burnaby, B.C.; Stanley Park in Vancouver; The Agrodome at the Pacific National Exhibition Grounds in Vancouver; and on the streets and in the distinctive back alleys of downtown Vancouver. Rise of the Planet of the Apes also features Canadian actors in supporting roles: notably Tyler Labine (cast as a doomed genetic researcher) and David Hewlett (best known for his recurring role in the sci-fi TV series Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis and SGU Stargate Universe – all mainly shot in B.C.). Hewlett plays an airline pilot with anger management issues whose key scene appears during the end credits, as he inadvertently spreads a disease fatal to humans, but not to primates, around the world.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a reboot of the original series, with only the vaguest connections to Planet of the Apes or its inferior sequels (Beneath the, Escape from, Conquest of, Battle for) and two mid-seventies TV spin-offs (Return to the Planet of the Apes was a low-budget animated TV show). In Rise, no scenes are set in the distant future or on another planet, and the time-travel plot conceit so evident in the sequels of the 1970s is absent. The plot of Rise begins with the capture of a chimpanzee in the African jungle by poachers. During experiments on primates to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, a genetically-enhanced chimp uses its greater intelligence to lead other apes to freedom. Production of ALZ 112 – the promising but still unproven treatment for Alzheimer’s – is rushed, because billions of dollars are at stake, even though the drug, which dramatically increases primate intelligence, may be lethal to humans.

Freida Pinto

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a watershed film – in that Andy Serkis’ motion-capture creation of super-chimp Caesar is by far the most compelling performance in the picture, easily outdistancing the pedestrian work of human lead players James Franco and Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) and deserving of a special Academy Award for best performance by an actor under layers of digital effects. (Bruce Greenwood’s performance as the monster in Super 8 would also qualify in this category.)

The script of Rise of the Planet of the Apes was co-written by Rick Jaffa (The Relic) and Amanda Silver (The Hand That Rocks the Cradle) – solid horror credentials from the 1990s. Where have Jaffa and Silver been all these years? The inspired supporting cast includes John Lithgow (3rd Rock from the Sun) as Franco’s sick father, Brian Cox as the crusty owner of a shelter for primates (more of an Alcatraz for monkeys) and David Olewoyo as the amoral head of the big drug company where ALZ 112 is being developed. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is, I’m told, far superior to Tim Burton’s 2001 misfire, making Rise the best film in the series since astronaut Charlton Heston first said through gritted teeth: “Get your stinking paws off meyou damned dirty ape.” – a line that is repeated in Rise by Tom Felton’s sadistic custodian in the wretched animal shelter from which Caesar leads his simian brethren in a Spartacus-like escape.

Bayshore E-style

December 27, 2011 4:03 pm
Bayshore E-style

It’s no secret that holiday shopping is a crazy and hectic venture. It has become a combat sport as people squeeze through racks and shelves trying to find the perfect gift at an affordable price. Even though there are many of us who love the adventure of shopping, there is quite a few who dread the experience of wandering through crowded malls.

The folks at Bayshore Shopping Centre had this in mind this Holiday season when they unveiled E-STYLE, a new virtual shopping service designed to revolutionize the holiday retail experience.

Let one of Bayshore's little elves help you with your shopping needs. Photo: Q3 Studio

The Bayshore E-Style service is a mobile virtual shopping application that shoppers can utilize on the go. The application will do the bulk of your shopping before you set foot in a retail store. Offering gift solutions for any age, gender and price range plus a list of the stores where to pick up your holiday goodies. The details are then delivered right to the shopper’s inbox or mobile device.

This cutting edge service is sponsored by hi-tech business magnate Sir Terry Matthews, who was also in attendance of its launch in November at Bayshore. The event also launched the E-Style Lounge, a chic set up on the main floor of the mall, equipped with E-Stylists and iPads to assist patrons with their shopping list, needs and desires.

There is no doubt that in this techno-savvy era, many will find this new service quite useful and engaging.

Although the main Christmas shopping madness is behind us, this wonderful service can still provide you with gift ideas for those extra-nice people still outstanding on your list. For more details see: http://www.bayshoreshoppingcentre.com/en/estyle

Massimo Capra’s Confession

9:10 am
Massimo Capra’s Confession

“Is this my confessional?” said the chuckling Massimo Capra, as he and his assistant joined me in the booth of the monastery inspired Pub Italia. This wasn’t an inquisition nor did Capra confess his sins to me, but he did confide his love for Chicken McNuggets! “Now that’s molecular cuisine at its best!”

“Gourmet Escapes”

The Italian expatriate is one of Canada’s most recognizable chefs and the host of Travel+Escape’s new original series Gourmet Escapes.  The Toronto-based chef is also widely known for his role in the popular television show Restaurant Makeover on the Food Network and as the chef with the handlebar moustache with upward curved extremities.

Everything started to sizzle for the celebrity chef when he left Sesto, Italy and landed in the Queen City to work in a relative’s kitchen. With a pie in the sky mentality, Capra kneaded dough at Preggo Della Piazza for a decade before transferring to Mistura, followed by his biggest move in the opening of the flamboyant Sopra Upper Lounge.

Even if Capra doesn’t have a restaurant in Ottawa, he still drops by once in a while. “I visited Ottawa several times, I usually come during La Vendemmia (fall grape harvest),” said Capra. “It’s a pleasant looking city, the summer here is great and so is the By-Ward Market.” Capra also appreciates Ottawa’s diverse culinary scene, “there’s a good variety here and good integration between Quebec and Ontario.” Capra wishes he had discovered more restaurants in the Nations Capital, but la famiglia è la patria del cuore. “One of my cousins lived here and like a good Italian family, we always ate at home.” Capra still had the chance to savour the creations of a few Ottawa chefs. He points to Michaels Moffat’s Beckta and Steve Mitton’s Murray Street Dinner as two great restaurants in O-Town. Capra’s only critique of Ottawa is “it’s too weekend oriented, I tried to get some nice meat cuts on a Tuesday and everything was sold out,” he said. “Thankfully, I found this nice meat market called Sasloves.” Despite Ottawa’s shortcomings, Capra does recognize the culinary scene here and elsewhere is changing for the better.

According to the celebrity chef, the economy is forcing the food scene to change. Like in the Arab countries, “there’s a rebellion against the old, there is a food revolution where new people are coming in with great ideas,” said Capra, who spent time in the Italian army. “The attitude in Canada is changing, young kids are more knowledgeable about their food and are eager to learn and I must say are developing quite the palate!” While Capra applauds this new movement, he doesn’t support all the new trends.

“I don’t enjoy it,” he said, referring to molecular gastronomy.  This cuisine consists in the research of food’s reaction when faced against physical and chemical transformation. “They use these techniques in factories, which some people are trying to get rid of, yet it’s growing in popularity,” said Capra. “You must be jaded with life to make calamari into spaghetti and those foams are just absurd.” Chef Capra isn’t against everything molecular, “some techniques are acceptable and valid, but only in small doses,” he said. “I do use some of them in my restaurant, but I don’t enjoy the cuisine.” Coming from an Italian chef, it’s not surprising to hear Capra discourse on culinary physics. “Italy disregards molecular cuisine, some even protested in the streets against it.” Fresh ingredients and simplicity are the cornerstones of Italian cuisine and represents a side in this culinary debate.

Massimo Capra in Zermatt, Switzerland

In Timothy Taylor’s bestseller book Stanley Park, he divides the culinary world in two gangs, the Crips and the Bloods. Crips are transnationalist seeking ingredients from across the globe, always trying to create new dishes and are known to practice fusion cuisine. Bloods are traditionalists rooming the terroir for fresh and in-season ingredients. Considering this, it’s not surprising to see Capra don the red bandanna. “Italy is known for fresh products and eating them exclusively,” he said. Capra uses vinaigrette as an example. “In France, chefs take olive oil, vinegar and mix it with other products to create the vinaigrette, in Italy we simply use olive oil,” he said. “The Italian vinaigrette’s sold in America are a myth.”

According to Capra, it’s difficult to tell what is authentically Italian. Italy is such a large country offering different types of cuisine. One misconception is the presence of garlic in the cucina italiana. “In Italy, garlic is frowned upon, it only brings trouble,” said the chuckling Capra, who didn’t mince his words on Cesar Salad’s deception, “now that’s not Italian!” There are many un-authentic Italian restaurants in America, yet the moustachioed Italian doesn’t feel it creates a bad image of his motherland’s cuisine. “You can’t help it, there are 110 provinces in Italy and over 1 million different sauces all claiming to be the best,” he said. However, the portrayal of Italian cuisine in America did shock Capra when he arrived in the True North. “Ravioli in a can!? Good for business, bad for food,” he said with a smirk. Capra does confess the adaptation occasionally pleased him. “I’m a glutton and I enjoy saucing and cheesy pizza.” His main message remains not to emulate Italian food, but to concoct your own.

Massimo Capra in Northern Ireland with famous chef Liz Moore

Strongly influenced by Europeans, Canadian cuisine is trying to set itself apart now. “I applaud Quebec cheese farmers for making their own style of cheese and not mimicking Parmesan cheese or Ricotta cheese,” he said. Capra wonders why there isn’t as much innovation in North America, a region blessed with the freedom to create. “In Italy you must wait for products and you can’t go against the traditions,” said Capra. “You must eat what’s in-season and follow the system in place, even ordering a cappuccino at night will result in some frowning and questioning from the server.” Canada is a vast place for chefs to innovate, but Capra stresses the importance of travelling before.

Capra feels aspiring chefs or food enthusiasts should “travel, meet the food producers, talk to other chefs and smell the dirt where the food comes from!” Capra recalls a trip to California (his favourite) where the aroma of the produce intoxicated him! He also met with farmers allowing him to understand “the good, the bad and the ugly of the products.” When abroad, Capra stresses the importance of visiting traditional restaurants and coffee shops, “don’t go to a Starbucks when you’re on vacation!” Adventuring with your taste buds will allow you to discover culinary moments, like Italian brioches accompanied by a cappuccino, which according to Capra takes the cake. “You can’t pay enough money for an experience like that,” said Capra. His show, Gourmet Escapes, attempts to re-create similar experiences and can be compared to Anthony Bourdain’s show No Reservation, but with less booze.

Capra can’t explain the explosion of celebrity chefs, “but I’m certainly benefiting from it,” he said laughing. With the popularization of chefs and cooking shows, many culinary schools are opening their doors to eager children willing to learn and pay. “It’s cooking school not chef school, I hate when someone tells me ‘oh my son is a chef. Oh really where does he work? At McDonalds, but he’s at chef school.” Capra did attend the National Culinary Institute in Salsomaggiore, Parma, but got the knack of it in a kitchen. “The way I learned the most was watching my chef in Italy, I just scrutinized his every move, gained his confidence and one day I arrived before him and prepared everything,” admitted Capra. “You must learn the ropes, learn from your mistakes and you must be patient,” he said. “Kids now just want to be the all-star chef, but it’s very methodological and repetitive,” he said. “I’m a cook and then a chef.”

Rapid Questions with Massimo Carpa:

Favourite spice: Star Anis
Favourite vegetable: Fennel and Liquorice, “I love the root!”
Favourite fruit: Anything in-season like watermelon, peaches, plums and grapes.
Favourite chefs: Batalli, Bocuse among other French chefs.
Favourite food: Charcuterie
Favourite book: Pellegrino Artusi’s La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiare bene
Loathed food: Chinese egg and Parmesan ice cream.

NBA Preseason Power Rankings: Part Two

December 23, 2011 3:43 pm
NBA Preseason Power Rankings: Part Two

The condensed 2011-12 NBA season is set to begin on Christmas Day. On Wednesday, we previewed the teams slated to finish out of the postseason this year. All teams are separated into tiers, based on their projected performance in 2011-12. Once again, the rankings shouldn’t be taken as an indicator of the team’s exact finish in the standings, but an estimate of their chances of winning the NBA championship.

Here is part two of the NBA Preseason Power Rankings: the playoff teams.

***

Playoff Teams (teams that should reach the postseason, with the chance to win a round)

16. Philadelphia 76ers

Philadelphia is banking on the internal improvement of its young core – in particular, guards Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner and center Spencer Hawes – to secure another playoff berth. Swingman Andre Iguodala would be best suited to a Luol Deng-type role as the second- or third-option on a contending team, but the Sixers have committed to building around their versatile defensive stopper. They’ll be hard-pressed to make any improvement in the standings without free agent help, which likely won’t arrive until Elton Brand’s albatross contract comes off the books in 2013.

The Magic hope that Hedo Turkoglu's presence will be enough to coax Dwight Howard into staying in Orlando.

15. Orlando Magic

Through a series of baffling decisions designed to placate pending free agent Dwight Howard, Orlando has set itself up for a grim future. Last December, they shipped Vince Carter and gifted center Marcin Gortat to Phoenix for the uninspiring Hedo Turkoglu, reassuming Turkoglu’s 5-year, $53 million contract, which he had signed with the Magic in 2009. This offseason, they re-signed 30-year old shooting guard Jason Richardson, also acquired in the Turkoglu deal, for $25 million over four years. They traded Brandon Bass for Glen Davis, which would have made sense if Bass weren’t better, cheaper and more mature than Davis.

Orlando’s fortunes are centred entirely on Howard. He could choose to stay in Orlando (which he has no reason to do, given the state of the current roster), guaranteeing the Magic a first- or second-round playoff exit for the next several years. He could push for a trade (which he has already done); Orlando’s best option would be to flip Howard to the Nets for Brook Lopez (a talented young center who could match maybe 70% of Howard’s output on offense, and 10% on defense) and a multitude of first-round picks. Or he could bolt next summer in free agency, leaving the Magic with nothing but a slew of aging role players with hefty contracts (which is worse than being left with nothing). Expect a trade to happen soon, though knowing the Magic, they may just let Howard walk.

14. Portland Trail Blazers

Despite missing shooting guard Brandon Roy and center Greg Oden for considerable chunks of time, Portland has averaged 51 wins over the last three seasons. Unfortunately, it looks like Roy’s early retirement and Oden’s prolonged injury troubles will finally catch up to the Blazers in 2011-12. There’s still cause for excitement: LaMarcus Aldridge has emerged as an interior force; Raymond Felton, deemed expendable in Denver, was a savvy pickup via trade; Gerald Wallace is showing no signs of slippage after 10 years in the league; and Jamal Crawford and Nicolas Batum will provide scoring punch off the bench. None will have the impact of a healthy Roy or Oden, of course. With shrewd decision-making and a little luck, the Blazers could have set themselves up as championship contenders for the foreseeable future. Now? They’re just another team fighting to stay relevant in the powerful Western Conference.

13. Atlanta Hawks

Not talented enough to compete for a title now or young enough to envision future championships, Atlanta is the most profoundly mediocre of the NBA’s top clubs. The Hawks are hamstrung by Joe Johnson’s obscene contract (about $21 million on average over the next five years for a one-dimensional shooting guard on the decline), as well as the lavish deals awarded to forwards Josh Smith and Al Horford. Atlanta will never improve in the top-heavy Eastern Conference, and with the fiscally creative Indiana Pacers and the star-studded New York Knicks nipping at their heels, a fourth consecutive second-round appearance is not a safe bet.

12. Indiana Pacers

By following the small-market blueprint of assembling a cap-friendly roster that can roll nine or 10 players deep, the Pacers have quietly constructed a team capable of causing havoc in the NBA playoffs. After pushing Chicago in a series far closer than the five games it took to conclude, Indiana nabbed power forward David West in free agency and traded for guard George Hill. Indiana will roll out an intriguing starting lineup of Darren Collison, Paul George, Danny Granger, West and Roy Hibbert, with Hill and rugged forward Tyler Hansbrough set to anchor a reliable second unit. The condensed season will favour young, deep teams like the Pacers, who present a refreshing alternative to the perpetually disappointing Hawks.

Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs may struggle through the condensed 66-game schedule.

11. San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs sprinted out to a 40-7 record in the first three months of the 2010-11 season, coasted to the first seed in the Western Conference and were ousted in the first round of the playoffs by the Memphis Grizzlies. It’s difficult to see San Antonio replicating their torrid start under the abbreviated schedule, and even harder to picture the team’s aging core entering the playoffs with both healthy bodies and a high seed.

While some have pegged the loss to Memphis as a result of a particularly unfavourable matchup (the Grizzlies’ low-post duo of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol simply overwhelmed the Spurs’ undermanned front line), their early elimination looks like the first sign of slippage for the Spurs dynasty. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have logged too many miles, and the supporting cast is unprepared to compensate. They’ll make the playoffs until Duncan retires, but San Antonio’s championship window looks to have come to a close.

10. New York Knicks

Pro: The Knicks have Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire. Con: Their decision to exercise the amnesty clause on Chauncey Billups has left their backcourt in ruins, with combo guard Toney Douglas, rookie combo guard Iman Shumpert, the injured Baron Davis and the ghost of Mike Bibby their options at point guard. Pro: By waiving Billups, the Knicks were able to sign Tyson Chandler, one of basketball’s best defensive centres and the second-most important player on the champion Dallas Mavericks. Con: Stoudemire and Chandler are both notoriously injury-prone, and the depth beyond the “Big 3” rivals the 2010-11 Miami Heat’s abomination of a bench. Solution? By signing a cheap point guard next offseason (Steve Nash, anyone?), praying that Stoudemire and Chandler’s knees hold up and waiting for the aging Boston Celtics to erode, the Knicks will soon be competing for division and conference titles.

9. Los Angeles Lakers

Included in the top 10 by default because of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. What remains after them? The Lakers had to give away Lamar Odom to their biggest rivals for nothing in the aftermath of the aborted Chris Paul deal, leaving them with no weapons off the bench. Metta World Peace has lost his jump shot and ability to log heavy minutes on defense, along with his former name. Neither Derek Fisher nor Steve Blake is an effective backup at this point, yet one will be forced to start at point guard. Matt Barnes, Troy Murphy, Luke Walton and Jason Kapono will all be expected to make significant contrubutions. Josh McRoberts, of all people, is their fourth-best player.

For all his talent, Gasol is prone to down stretches, and is hardly a bargain at $19 million over three more seasons. Although he’s just 24 and has six years of pro experience, Bynum is still very raw offensively, and will miss the first five games of the season after his forearm shiver on JJ Barea in last year’s playoffs. Things are hardly as grim as the Smush Parker salad days of 2006, but Bryant is no longer able to perform his usual yeoman’s work. Will the Kobe/Laker mystique be enough to succeed in a shortened season with no other guards, no depth and no Phil Jackson at the helm? This is not the same Kobe, and these are not the same Lakers.

8. Boston Celtics

Included in the top 10 by default because of Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. What remains after them? After engaging in a heavy, fruitless pursuit of Chris Paul (reportedly at Rondo’s expense) and failing to snag David West in free agency, Boston’s biggest offseason move was swapping Glen Davis for Brandon Bass as the backup power forward (a rearrangement of the deck chairs, if anything). Forward Jeff Green will miss the year with a heart condition, leaving Bass as the only legitimate offensive weapon off the bench. There are no reliable backups for Rondo, Allen or Pierce, and the only options at center are (gulp) Jermaine O’Neal and Chris Wilcox.

If Boston’s vaunted Big Four are any two things, they are proud and they are capable defensively, boasting the league’s stingiest defense in terms of points allowed in 2010-11. The Celtics’ elder statesmen are simply not built for an 82-game season, however, much less a 66-game schedule condensed into four short months. Can Allen and Pierce log heavy defensive minutes against guys like Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, with no reprieve from the bench and while shouldering the majority of the burden on offense? Can Garnett handle the burden of back-to-back-to-back games? Can Rondo remain steady after being shopped heavily throughout the offseason? These are not the Celtics of 2008, or even 2010, and they are not a team capable of winning the NBA championship.

FRINGE CONTENDERS (teams with a chance to win 2 or 3 playoff rounds)

Zach Randolph starred for the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2011 playoffs.

7. Memphis Grizzlies

Memphis threw a wrench into last year’s playoffs by topping the Spurs in a surprisingly one-sided six-game series. Buoyed by one of the NBA’s most vibrant crowds, the Grizzlies would overcome the loss of swingman Rudy Gay (sidelined with a shoulder injury) and come within a game of the Western Conference Finals. As small-market teams go, Memphis is basically a rich man’s Indiana Pacers, with Mike Conley and OJ Mayo holding the edge over Darren Collison and Paul George in the backcourt and Gay and Danny Granger mirroring each other on the wing. The Grizzlies hold a decided advantage over Indiana (and the rest of the league) in the frontcourt: Zach Randolph has overcome weight and attitude issues to develop into one of the league’s few low-post beasts, while Marc Gasol has emerged from his older brother’s shadow as one of the game’s top centers.

There is cause for concern: backup forward Darrell Arthur will miss the entire season with a torn Achilles tendon, leaving Hamed Haddadi, a 7-2 center who averaged 6 minutes a game last year, as the primary backup to Randolph and Gasol. For all their low-post dominance, Memphis is not a particularly good shooting team (Gay led the team last year at 39%), allowing opponents to load up against the Grizzlies’ interior threats. Regardless, Gay’s return from injury has Memphis primed to build upon its Cinderella playoff run, to claim its place among the top Western Conference clubs and to raise hell in the postseason once again.

6. Denver Nuggets

Yes, this may be a bit of a stretch for a team that starts Andre Miller, Rudy Fernandez, Jordan Hamilton, Kenneth Faried and Chris Andersen– wait, sorry, that’s Denver’s second unit. The Nuggets’ starting lineup will actually feature Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Danilo Gallinari, Al Harrington and Nene Hilario, a solid group even without the menacing cast of reserves behind them. The Nuggets have the personnel and the fresh legs to push the pace on offense, finishing first in both points-per-game and offensive efficiency in 2010-11.

Much like Portland or Indiana, the Nuggets are built to play 66 games in 120 days. While they lack a player with the singular ability of LaMarcus Aldridge, Danny Granger or David West, they boast unparalleled depth, allowing them to play 11 players upwards of 22 minutes a game, like they did in 2010-11. (Former Nuggets J.R. Smith, Wilson Chandler and Kenyon Martin are all currently playing in China, and one or more could sign with Denver when their seasons end in February or March.) By dealing troubled superstar Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks last February, Denver has afforded itself both on-court and financial flexibility, constructing a likeable roster that will score in bunches and is poised to take the next step in the Western Conference.

5. Los Angeles Clippers

Lob City’s most celebrated offseason addition (and rightfully so) will be Chris Paul, the league’s best pure point guard and the perfect table-setter for Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Rather than stop at Paul, the Clippers plucked Chauncey Billups off the waiver wire and poached Caron Butler from the champion Mavericks. They lack a true shooting guard after giving up budding star Eric Gordon, but can plug any two of their five veritable point guards (Paul, Billups, Eric Bledsoe, Mo Williams and Randy Foye) into both guard spots without missing a beat. The Clippers are flawed (one glaring issue is the lack of a post presence off the bench), but then again, so are a lot of teams. A Paul-Billups-Butler-Griffin-Jordan quintet should be enough to propel them into the top four in the Western Conference, with room for improvement from there.

Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks defeated the Miami Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals.

4. Dallas Mavericks

The club that will open its championship defense on Christmas Day against the Miami Heat will have a decidedly different look than the lineup that clinched the title last June. Most of the key pieces are back, including the incomparable Dirk Nowitzki, super-subs Jason Terry and Shawn Marion and floor general Jason Kidd. Center Tyson Chandler is gone, as is shooting guard and LeBron James antagonist DeShawn Stevenson. In their places are former Lakers forward Lamar Odom, acquired for a draft pick after the fallout of the vetoed Chris Paul trade, and the well-travelled Vince Carter, signed as a free agent from Phoenix. Point guard Roddy Beaubois and free agent Delonte West are poised to offset the loss of slippery backup JJ Barea to Minnesota.

If we learned anything from the 2010-11 NBA season, other than not to count your chickens before they hatch, it was this: Never count out the Dallas Mavericks. That was then, however, before Chandler signed with the Knicks and left Brendan Haywood and Ian Mahinmi as Dallas’ only two centers. For all the brilliance of Nowitzki and Terry, Chandler keyed the title run on the defensive end, gobbling up rebounds, anchoring the defensive rotations and deterring countless drives to the basket, particularly against LeBron and Wade in the Finals. Even though Beaubois should seamlessly replace Barea, even though Carter is an upgrade over Stevenson, even though they poached Odom for nothing, even though Dirk and Terry and Marion and Kidd are still around… I just can’t see them doing it again without their peerless defensive captain.

(In other words, cue the Dallas comeback.)

CONTENDERS (teams that will contend for the NBA championship)

Nick Collison provides a spark off the bench for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

2b. Chicago Bulls
2a. Oklahoma City Thunder

There are only three teams that have a realistic chance to win the 2011-12 NBA championship. It’s nearly impossible to separate the first two, given the composition of the rosters and their trajectories to the top of the NBA. The Bulls measure themselves by their sterling defense, instilled by coach Tom Thibodeau and enforced by center Joakim Noah and perimeter stopper extraordinaire Luol Deng.  The Thunder are wonderfully efficient on offense, with Russell Westbrook and James Harden operating out of the backcourt, Serge Ibaka popping jumpers from the elbow and Kendrick Perkins camping out under the basket.

Both teams are bolstered by terrific bench units, protecting leads and allowing the starters to rest during crucial interludes. Taj Gibson and Omer Asik give Chicago an extra boost in the frontcourt, while Thabo Sefolosha and Nick Collison often play late in games to reinforce the Oklahoma City defense. Thibodeau and Thunder coach Scott Brooks have both been lauded for the work they’ve done in dragging their teams from the lower echelons of the NBA and making them perennial contenders.

This is all without mentioning both teams’ undisputed leaders, the league’s two greatest young stars, each of who has racked up individual accolades and established their team among the NBA’s elite in their first few professional seasons. Derrick Rose is a one-man offensive machine for Chicago, driving the basket with reckless abandon, knocking down open shots and finding teammates for easy baskets. Kevin Durant is similarly effective on offense, drawing endless fouls and displaying unparalleled range from outside. Both franchises should be credited for managing to construct rosters that complement the strengths of their young stars so well.

Despite their youth, both the Bulls and Thunder have limited championship windows. Four Chicago starters (Rose, Deng, Noah and Carlos Boozer) earn eight figures in salary, while Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka are all set for lucrative extensions in the next few years. Chicago’s title hopes will depend on greater offensive output from its complementary players (particularly Boozer), while the Thunder must commit to defense on every possession and find a balance between Westbrook and Durant on offense. Both teams have come very far in a short period of team, and both are prepared to take the final step in 2011-12.

THE FAVOURITE

1. Miami Heat

The Miami Heat are the overwhelming favourites to win the NBA championship. They have LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. They have veteran stopper Shane Battier and a rejuvenated Mike Miller off the bench. They will have Udonis Haslem from the beginning of the season. Unlike Boston or the Lakers, they will be well equipped to handle the rigors of a condensed season. Once again, their depth is thin, particularly in the frontcourt, and they could find themselves in trouble if any of the Big Three go down for an extended period of time.

Regardless of their deficiencies, Miami is, once again, the most talented basketball team in the world. It remains to be seen whether or not they are the world’s best team, a title currently held by the Dallas Mavericks, a title wrested away last June from the Heat and their superstar leaders. This year, there will be no self-indulgent free agency specials or pre-season pep rallies. There will be no excuses. Miami has the personnel to take home the championship. They are the only team whose season will be deemed worthless if they fail to do so.

Six months from now, the Heat will still be alive in the NBA playoffs, attempting to reclaim the prize that was snatched from them by a lanky German and his devoted band of teammates. Their success won’t depend on their bench, or their coaching staff, or even the secondary superstars on the roster. Miami’s title shot rests on the will of one LeBron James, the man who announced his arrival in South Beach to the world, then disappeared for six days last June. What will he do?

Handmade Holiday Gifts for Beginners: Part III

December 22, 2011 4:26 pm
Handmade Holiday Gifts for Beginners: Part III

Basic Cross-Stitch: Make a Fridge Magnet

First rule of cross-stitch: it looks much more difficult that it is.  Cross-stitch is done on Aida cloth which has a grid (much like graph paper).  Each stitch is made up of two smaller stitches that form an “X”: the first stitch travels diagonally from one corner to another, and the second one goes on top of the first joining the remaining corners (if you need help visualizing the stitch, a quick trip to YouTube at this point might be useful!).  The grid pattern makes cross-stitch extremely easy to learn, and fun to design.  Using a simple piece of graph paper and a pencil you can sketch out your own design and then stitch it into the Aida cloth.  In addition to the cloth, you’ll need some cross-stitch needles, embroidery floss, and a hoop if you’d like to make the fabric more stable while you stitch (all available at your local craft store).

What you will need. Photo: Emily Truman

The only other thing you need to know before you start: embroidery floss is made up of six loosely twisted individual threads.  The basic cross-stitch uses two strands for the standard stitch, so when you cut a piece from the larger skein (the name given to the floss when you buy it, as pictured), make sure you separate it out before you use it.  Also good to know: simple outlines and details are usually done with one strand only.  That’s it for basics, happy stitching!  When you are done, if you want to admire your handiwork on a daily basis, cut out your design and apply a thin magnet to the back of the cloth (thin adhesive magnetic sheets that can be cut with regular scissors to fit your project are available at most craft or office supply stores).  Now it’s refrigerator ready – place on your own, or give it to a friend.

Place your magnets on your fridge or give them as gifts! Photo: Emily Truman

Happy Crafting and Happy Holidays!

Holiday Handmade Gifts for Beginners: Part II

December 21, 2011 3:45 pm
Holiday Handmade Gifts for Beginners: Part II

Basic Sewing with Felt – Make a Tree Ornament

Many of us have basic sewing skills learned long ago, or perhaps no sewing skills to speak of.  But don’t let your poor memory or lack of practice stop you from learning!  Here is a basic sewing project using inexpensive felt from a craft/office supply store (about .50 cents a sheet), a basic sewing needle, thread, a good pair of sharp scissors and a piece of lined paper and a pencil (if you don’t have basic sewing materials and don’t want to spend a lot, check out your local drug store for a small travel sewing kit which should come with a needle, thread and a small pair of scissors).

What you will need. Photo: Emily Truman

Start by making a simple design using the paper and pencil.  Pictured is a small owl template that I cut out free hand (2 x brown body, 1 x white background for eyes, 2 x blue eyes, 2 x small white dots for pupils, 1 x beige tummy, 1 x orange beak, 1 x red heart).  But you can create whatever you like by drawing on the paper, cutting it out and using it as a pattern to cut your felt.  Hint: It is a much easier to practice your design and stitching skills on a simple shape (think two-dimensional and flat), but once you feel more confident you can stitch more complicated shapes and add more details to your design.

Check out the many available Youtube videos to perfect your stitching technique.

To learn a basic “straight stitch”, check out a quick YouTube video.  If you like you can match your thread to your felt, or choose a contrasting colour (which is helpful for beginners because your stitches are easier to see).  Felt is a wonderful material to practice basic sewing stitches because the edges won’t fray and it has some weight to it.  It also comes in a wonderful range of colours (as pictured).  My only other piece of advice here is to avoid frustration by using a good quality sharp pair of scissors for the felt cutting.  Once you’ve stitched the details onto the front of your owl, attach the back piece by sewing all the way around the body and leaving an opening across the bottom.  Stuff the owl slightly with the leftover felt from your cutouts, and sew the opening closed.  Use a bit of fishing line or a small hook to make your ornament tree-ready!

Your ornament is ready to hang! Photo: Emily Truman

NBA Preseason Power Rankings: Part One

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NBA Preseason Power Rankings: Part One

On October 12th, I lambasted the owners and players of the National Basketball Association for their inability to strike a compromise on a labour deal that would put an end to the prolonged NBA lockout. After making sporadic progress over the next six weeks, the two sides finally managed to reach a tentative agreement on November 26th, which was ratified by the players’ union on December 8th. Although the reputations of NBA commissioner David Stern and NBPA executive director Billy Hunter have been tarnished beyond repair and the first quarter of the season was wiped away because of the ego, incompetence and stubbornness of the owners and players, the NBA is finally set to resume play. An abbreviated season will begin on Christmas Day, with teams slated to play 66 games in a span of 120 days.

Rather than harp on the laughable negotiating tactics employed by the owners and players any longer, we can finally discuss actual professional basketball. Here are OLM’s NBA preseason power rankings, presented in reverse order, with all 30 NBA teams separated into tiers based on their projected performance. The rankings shouldn’t be taken as an indicator of the team’s exact finish in the standings, but an estimate of their chances of winning the NBA championship. (For nearly every team, that would be zero chance.)

Part One of this piece will present teams 30 through 17, while Part Two will present the projected playoff teams.

***

Lottery Teams (teams virtually guaranteed to finish at the bottom of the standings)

Jamaal Magloire was an NBA All-Star in 2004. Unfortunately for the Toronto Raptors, it's nearly 2012.

30. Toronto Raptors

Not even defensive maestro Dwane Casey will be able to save the Raptors from themselves this season. Led by a point guard in rapid decline (Jose Calderon) and a 7-footer that can’t rebound or play defense (Andrea Bargnani), Toronto’s rotation boasts several players that wouldn’t see the court on contending teams (Jerryd Bayless, James Johnson, Linus Kleiza and Amir Johnson, to name four). With 2011 first-rounder Jonas Valanciunas stuck in Lithuania until 2012-13, shooting guard DeMar DeRozan and power forward Ed Davis are the only promising youngsters on the roster. GM Bryan Colangelo’s offseason activity (most notably, the signings of Rasual Butler, Anthony Carter, Gary Forbes, Aaron Gray and Canadian basketball legend Jamaal Magloire) has Toronto primed to tank this shortened season, select a burgeoning superstar from the 2012 draft class and continue the rebuild from there.

29. Charlotte Bobcats

There is literally nothing redeeming about Charlotte’s current roster. Their best player is Corey Maggette, a 32-year old small forward who’s been a sixth man for the past three years. A 48-year old Michael Jordan would be an upgrade at shooting guard over Gerald Henderson and Matt Carroll. The loss of Kwame Brown has decimated their frontcourt, a sentence that, on its own, should be enough to contract this sorry excuse for a franchise.

28. Detroit Pistons

The Pistons have been reduced to a shadow of their 2004 championship team, though their core is a tad more promising than Charlotte’s. Emerging pivot Greg Monroe should continue to impress in his second pro season, and though Ben Gordon has endured two straight disappointing seasons in Detroit, he’s a proven scorer and still only 28 years old. The Pistons should earn their highest draft pick since 2003, when they used the 2nd overall selection on the immortal Darko Milicic.

27. Cleveland Cavaliers

Year 2 post-LBJ will see the Cavs show slight improvement in the win-percentage column, with top picks Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson expected to log major minutes by the end of the season. The long road back to contention will begin in earnest with the addition of another top prospect in June 2012.

The New Jersey Nets will move to Brooklyn after the 2011-12 season, possibly with Orlando center Dwight Howard in tow.

26. New Jersey Nets

Beyond Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, the roster is frighteningly thin. Their playoff chances in 2011-12 are eerily similar to owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s odds in the Russian presidential election, though the rumoured addition of Dwight Howard via trade could change the Nets’ fortunes dramatically.

25. New Orleans Hornets

Had commissioner David Stern not vetoed a three-team trade that would have sent disgruntled Hornets point guard Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers (and Pau Gasol to Houston), New Orleans could have opened the 2011-12 season with a starting lineup of Goran Dragic, Kevin Martin, Trevor Ariza, Luis Scola and Emeka Okafor, with Lamar Odom and Carl Landry coming off the bench. Even after trading their franchise player and losing his sidekick (power forward David West) in free agency, the Hornets would have boasted a playoff-calibre lineup while gutting two Western Conference rivals in the process.

Alas, Stern shot the deal down, citing “basketball reasons” and the wishes of the NBA’s other 29 owners. (The league has taken charge of the Hornets until a new owner can be found.) Stern’s massive conflict of interest aside, New Orleans was allowed to flip Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers for a package centred on shooting guard Eric Gordon. Gordon exploded offensively in 2010-11, his third NBA season, but hasn’t been his team’s first option since his time at the University of Indiana. The downgrade from Scola and Odom to Chris Kaman and Al-Farouq Aminu is significant, and the Jarrett Jack-Terrico White point guard combination leaves much to be desired. The Hornets are younger, as per Stern’s wishes, but are hardly better positioned to win in the short- or long-term.

(And yes, if they were in the Eastern Conference, New Orleans could easily finish 10th. But they’re not.)

24. Sacramento Kings

While Sacramento guards Jimmer Fredette and Tyreke Evans may initially seem like polar opposites (one is a devout Mormon; the other served as the driver in a drive-by shooting while he was in high school), there are many similarities between the two. Neither is a true point guard, though both play the position. Neither is renowned for their work on the defensive end. Both are high-volume shooters who dominate the ball on offense. With resident malcontent DeMarcus Cousins pining for shots in the post, the Kings will be entertaining, to say the least.

Fringe Playoff Teams (teams that could conceivably challenge for a low playoff spot)

Washington center JaVale McGee is more renowned for his aerial theatrics than any form of on-court success.

23. Washington Wizards

Jan Vesely and John Wall should combine to form the most dynamic alley-oop tandem this side of the Los Angeles Clippers, while JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche will continue to delight fans with their Julius Erving impersonations and relentless pursuit of triple-doubles. The Wizards may sometimes play stupid, uninspired basketball, but at least they have Wall.

22. Phoenix Suns

The Suns return much of last year’s mediocre lineup that finished 40-42, with former Lakers backup guard Shannon Brown and journeyman Sebastian Telfair the only offseason additions of note. The gross incompetence of owner Robert Sarver not only threatened the entire NBA season, but has also squandered Steve Nash’s prime years and successfully derailed the Seven Seconds or Less Suns.

(Note: This low ranking may be partially based on my desire to see Nash dealt to or sign in the offseason with the New York Knicks. Imagine a Nash-Amare Stoudemire-Mike D’Antoni reunion, with Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler (the league’s second-best defensive centre) thrown in for good measure. He could compete for his first NBA title in basketball’s biggest market, which doubles as his offseason home, and film the much-anticipated sequel to his Step Brothers collaboration with the recently signed Baron Davis. There’s really no potential downside here. Let the #freenash movement resume.)

21. Golden State Warriors

Despite an offseason of extensive turnover, the status quo will continue to reign in Oakland. The Stephen Curry-Monta Ellis-David Lee nucleus will put up a prolific amount of points while conceding even more on the defensive end. If his track record as an ESPN analyst is any indication, the addition of Mark Jackson as head coach will do little to spur the Warriors from their perennial 12th-place finish.

Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio will suit up for Minnesota in 2011-12.

20. Minnesota Timberwolves

This may be a giant reach for a team that managed to outlast Cleveland and secure 30th place in the NBA last season. There’s really nowhere to go in Minnesota but up, however, and the introduction of Rick Adelman as head coach should ensure that some measure of forward progress will be achieved. Ricky Rubio and JJ Barea will stabilize the point guard position, rookie Derrick Williams will provide explosiveness at multiple positions and Kevin Love will continue to monger rebounds and refine his offensive game. If all goes right, they’ll finish on the outskirts of the playoffs.

19. Utah Jazz

The Jazz possess a potentially devastating frontcourt, with Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson slated to start, promising youngsters Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter providing support off the bench and Mehmet Okur slated to return from an Achilles injury. Utah’s playoff hopes are contingent upon point guard Devin Harris returning to All-Star form, the Jazz’s continued maturation on defense and GM Kevin O’Connor parlaying one of his bigs (likely Okur and his expiring contract) into immediate help elsewhere in the lineup.

18. Houston Rockets

After being gypped out of acquiring Pau Gasol and losing out on Marc Gasol, Nene and Tyson Chandler in free agency, Houston enters the season without any frontcourt replacements for the departed Yao Ming, Brad Miller and Chuck Hayes. The players the Rockets do have (particularly the ever-underrated Kevin Martin and Luis Scola) should be enough to keep them out of the depths of the Western Conference, but their playoff aspirations will ride on the itchy trigger finger of GM Daryl Morey.

17. Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks followed their breakout 2009-10 campaign by crashing back to earth in 2010-11, winning just 35 games as their top four scorers all missed significant time due to injury. Two of those players, swingmen John Salmons and Corey Maggette, are gone, replaced by Stephen Jackson and Mike Dunleavy Jr. The success of the Bucks will depend on the health and effectiveness of the other two, third-year guard Brandon Jennings and emerging centre Andrew Bogut. If they can replicate their output from two years ago, the Bucks will challenge for a 7- or 8-seed.

Holiday Handmade Gifts for Beginners: Part I

December 20, 2011 5:46 pm
Holiday Handmade Gifts for Beginners: Part I

Venturing into the world of handmade gifts can be daunting to those of us who don’t think of ourselves as especially “crafty”.  But all you really need are some very basic materials and skills to get you started.  In the next 3 days, and just in time for the holidays, I will be sharing three easy handmade gift ideas that are suitable for beginners who want to learn how to knit, cross-stitch, or sew.  Don’t be intimidated by these projects, they require minimal materials (all available at your local craft store or big-box/department store craft section), and basic skills which you can learn from a YouTube video tutorial.  If you’ve always wanted to try DIY arts and crafts, now is the time!

Basic knitting: make a cotton dishcloth

Here is an idea for an easy project for the beginner that will help you learn all of the basic knitting stitches, and you’ll end up with a gift for someone special – a hand knit dish cloth for the kitchen (who doesn’t need more of those?).

What you will need for your knitting adventure. Photo: Emily Truman

First, you’ll need some cotton yarn (important because you want the cloth to be absorbent) and a set of knitting needles from your local craft store.  Hint: the label on the yarn will tell you which size of needles you need (The yarn pictured is a 4 weight, and the bamboo needles are size 7).  Next: check out YouTube to learn the four basic stitches needed for this project: cast on, knit, purl, cast off.  Once you have the basics, practice, practice, practice!  (The dish cloth pictured is 35 stitches wide, and you can do it without the fancy border – just cast on 35 stitches, knit an entire row, purl the next row, and so on.  Keep alternating rows until you are happy with the size, and then cast off!).  And don’t worry about dropped stitches, you can either unravel the yarn a bit and try again or just leave them (after all imperfections are part of the charm of handmade gifts!).

These lovely dishcloths make great stocking stuffers!

Stay tuned for more simple, do-it-yourself ideas for the holidays and beyond…

Recipe: Holiday Pumpkin Gingerbread

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Recipe: Holiday Pumpkin Gingerbread

When we think of holiday baking several things come to mind: gingerbread houses, gingerbread men, log cakes and the list goes on. But why not make and bake something a different this holiday season and give your family and friends a taste of something out of the ordinary? This recipe for Holiday Pumpkin Gingerbread is an easy and great way to ‘spice’ up your holiday baked goods and it makes a wonderful breakfast treat! The original recipe was tried and tested from here, but also re-vamped to suit the holiday season.

Makes 2 9×5 inch loaves.

Ingredients

3 cups sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

4 eggs

2/3 cup water

1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Pumpkin Gingerbread

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease two 9×5 inch loaf pans.
  2. In a large mixing, combine sugar, oil and eggs; beat until smooth. Add water and beat until well blended. Stir in pumpkin, ginger, allspice cinnamon, and clove.
  3. In medium bowl, combine flour, soda, salt, and baking powder. Add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture and blend just until all ingredients are mixed. Divide batter between prepared pans.
  4. Bake in preheated oven until toothpick comes out clean, about 1 hour.

Enjoy your gingerbread with some drizzled or powdered sugar.

Wind in the Willows is a Breath of Fresh Air

December 19, 2011 3:25 pm
Wind in the Willows is a Breath of Fresh Air

Take a classic English children’s tale, add some whimsical puppetry and spice it up with gentle humor and you have the latest offering at Ottawa’s Arts Court theatre.

The Wind in the Willows by the Rag and Bone Puppet Theatre is a treat for younger children and adults alike. Featuring puppeteers Kathy MacLellan and John Nolan and musician Russell Levia, the production takes a journey through the lives of animal friends the Water Rat, Mole and Mr. Toad who live on the banks of the River Bank.  The classic turn of the century tale set in the English countryside comes alive during the production through the use of simple back drops such as silk scarves and falling leaves, all aided by the delicate sound of live music including an oboe, banjo, zither, hornpipe.

Based on the classic tale.

The effect is startling – a shimmering white scarf falling down on the Water Rat and the Mole as they venture into the Wild Woods represents snow falling, two green scarves moving in concert with each other represents the flow of their beloved river. Then there is the puppetry itself. MacLellan and Nolan do an excellent job at switching from one character to the next – from a washerwoman, to a judge to a baby otter – in a seamless performance. Both puppeteers artfully combine the use of smaller hand puppets with puppets that resemble soft sculptured stuff toys and the use of masks, wigs and other props. A video screen which forms part of the puppet stage adds to the special effects of the show provides moving montage such as a windy dark forest and a road down which Mr. Toad drives a car.

Wind in the Willows ~ a delightful tale for a young audience

Best of all for the young audience are the frequent touches of humor in the script mixed with Canadiana. For instance, the English picnic of cucumber sandwiches and ginger beer featured in the original tale becomes the more Canadian rice crispy squares and soda pop. Deft touches of humor throughout the show delighted the young audience. The section of the Wind in the Willows tale where the adventurous and irresponsible Mr. Toad becomes obsessed with motor cars (with disastrous results) elicited squeals of delight and laughter. A particular hit with the kids was the character of Mr. Badger with his deep voice, handle bar mustache and bowler hat who frequently interacted with youngsters during the show. All in all, the Rag and Bone Theatre did a fine job in turning a much loved but slow moving English classic into a fast paced rollic without losing any of the charm of the original story. The Wind in the Willows production by the Rag and Bone Puppet Theatre is highly recommended viewing for both children and their parents alike.

The next Rag and Bone production of the Wind in the Willows will be held at the Shenkman Arts Centre at 245 Centrum Boulevard Ottawa on April 1 and 15, 2012. For more information on Rag and Bone please visit www.ragandbone.ca.  More information about other upcoming productions at Arts Court can be found by visiting www.artscourt.ca.

 

Skiing the Unbelievably Beautiful Italian Dolomite Mountains

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Skiing the Unbelievably Beautiful Italian Dolomite Mountains

Ski touring in Italy is highly civilized and geared to a broad cross-section of skiers. Our stomachs did somersaults as the van winded its way up and down the many passes on our way from Venice to San Cassiano, the starting point for a ski touring excursion with Dolomite Mountain s.r.l. Part of the Italian Alps in north eastern Italy, the Dolomites are unique for a number of reasons, including their sheer walls of rock that jut up, their narrow deep valley and their almighty snow, a skier’s best friend. A UNESCO natural heritage site, this region is truly a geological wonder and it boasts being the number one ski resort in the world with over 1,200 kms of groomed terrain. It does so with good reason. This skiing experience, in fact, is truly unparalleled.

It’s not uncommon in Europe to have a gondola in the centre of a village but never before have I skied from one tiny village down into another small village, taken my skis off, walked across a narrow road, put the skis back on and taken a lift up to the top of the next peak. With 18 peaks in the region, one could spend days travelling from village to village. (At one time the locals did just that as the ski trails were the only means of connecting villages.) Thanks to the Dolomiti Superskipass, you can ski the whole region using all 450 lifts with one ski pass. The pass has a magnetic strip that triggers the turn-style and later, you can log onto their web site and track the total kilometres skied by keying in your pass number.

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No burgers and fries, instead Burgundy’s and gourmet cooking with a side of the best view ever. Lunch slopeside is serious business.

But skiing is only part of the Dolomite experience. Our tour operator, Agustina Largos Marmol from Dolomite Mountains s.r.l., expertly paired our adventure with stops at incredible restaurants and overnight accommodations. On the first night, we dined at the 2 star Michelin accredited St. Huburtus restaurant located in the Hotel Rosa Alpina in San Cassiano. Third generation owner, operator, Hugo Pizzinini gave us a tour of St. Hubertus’s kitchen. Chef Norbert Niederkofler explained the different types of ovens including the wood oven which is used solely for cooking risotto. The food and white-gloved service was exceptional. Fois gras crème brulée, venison and apple tart were nothing short of divine.

The next morning we headed down the road with our overnight packs on our back. We met a helicopter that swooshed us up to the jaw-dropping 3,342 metre peak of the Marmolada glacier. The view from the top is fantastic. The glacier offers a 12 km run with breathtaking scenery.  Believe it or not, this is intermediate skiing. The locals all seem to ski in large swoops like ex-world cup downhillers skiing invisible wickets. If off-piste is more your thing, you won’t be disappointed. Our guide Alberto provided us with avalanche beacons and we headed off to try some of the steeper ungroomed faces.

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The Serrai Di /Sottoguda gorge is famous with ice climbers around the world.

Instead of lunching slope-side, Alberto skied us through the 2 km long, magnificent Serrai Di Sottoguda gorge with its sky-high walls of ice.  Popping out the other side at the small village of  Sottoguda. We shouldered our skis and walked down the street to a local café for lunch. At the end of our ski day a “snow-taxi” picked us up slope side and motored us to a remote isolated valley and the beautiful remote Rifugio Façade (it is not accessible by roads.) I can’t recall the last time I experienced true silence. It was magnificent, only to be outdone by the excellent meal that evening. The dining room was busy for a mid-week, end of season evening.

We skied our next day between the peaks of the Pelmo and Civetta stopping to view the historic openings in the rock face where the Austrians tried in vain to fight off the Italians during WWI. Taking in the scenery never gets old. It just gets better and better. That evening we spent the night at Rifugio Lagazuoi at 2700 metres. This Rifugio literally sits on the peak of a mountain. The restaurant area opens to an oversized deck where if you dare, you can look over the edge to the valley way, way below. Accommodations are a little tighter but seeing the sunset on top of the world was magnificent. As is the custom with Italians, the food was great even at almost 3 kms above sea level.

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The view from the terrace of Rifugio Lagazuoi.

On our last day — now swooshing down the slopes like the locals — we skied around Cortina-d’Ampezzo, the site of the 1956 winter Olympics and by far the largest of any of the villages visited. (Amazingly, there was still not a printed tourist t-shirt in sight). After skiing the World Cup and Olympic runs, there was no hopping across the road with skis in hand. Instead, we caught a city bus to the gondola that services the peaks on the opposite side of the valley. After a day of hitting the books, the school children here hit the slopes in droves. It was great fun to see them all out having fun skiing.

After another fabulous meal at Tivoli, a Michelin guide accredited restaurant we spent the night at the stunning Cristallo Hotel, Spa & Golf. The hotel has old world charm.

Augustina and her staff at Dolomite Mountains went out of their way to give us a memorable week of skiing, food and friendship. The trip was perfectly tailored to our ski level and surpassed our expectations.

Take a break from the beaches and endless buffets of our southern cousins and head to Italy’s Dolomites for an all-inclusive, ski-touring trip of a lifetime. Whole families can be comfortable swooshing down the wide pistes together, stopping here or there for a coffee or for a spectacular lunch on one of the many patios perfectly positioned to enjoy the stunning scenery. How many times can a person say amazing in one day? We simply stopped counting.

www.dolomitemountains.com

Written by: Karen Temple

Green Cleaning

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Green Cleaning

With the holiday season in full swing, many homeowners are busy cleaning their homes in preparation for company. Unfortunately, many household cleaning products are laden with harmful chemicals, including harsh cleansing agents and artificial dyes and fragrances. These chemicals produce indoor air pollution, which is dangerous to both human health and the environment. Additionally, our over-use of many antibacterial products is actually making some strains of bacteria stronger, and more resistant to antibacterial drugs. Read on for some effective, natural, and safe green cleaning ideas.

An easy green solution to cleaning-try baking soda!

Baking Soda
Baking soda is easy to use and a versatile natural cleaner, which can be used in nearly every room of your house. A sodium bicarbonate, baking soda neutralizes both acids and bases, fully eliminating odours rather than simply covering them up. Sprinkle baking soda anywhere there is an unpleasant smell – ideas include at the bottom of the garbage can or litter box, in the fridge, or when cleaning up a spill. In addition to combating odours, baking soda is an excellent cleaning agent as well. A mild abrasive, it can be used to remove stubborn stains and grime. Use baking soda on its own, or combine with water to create a scouring paste. For those extra tough stains, add some kosher salt.

Vinegar
Vinegar is a multipurpose cleaner and deodorizer. Pour white vinegar into a spray bottle and effectively clean surfaces, glass, stainless steel, and carpets. Because it is acidic, vinegar can dissolve mineral deposits from glass, coffee makers, and more. Best of all, it has strong antibacterial properties for disinfecting. Effectively clean windows and mirrors using vinegar and newspaper (to avoid streaking) – you’ll be amazed at this simple cleaning solution.

Use ketchup to clean your copper and brass cookware.

Ketchup
Ketchup is an unexpected natural cleaner. Use it to remove tarnish from copper and brass cookware. Squeeze ketchup onto a cloth and rub liberally – in just minutes your cookware will be brighter. Rinse and dry.

Corn Starch
Corn starch is great for those persistent greasy or oily stains. Use 3 parts corn starch to 1 part water to create a paste, and then apply to counter tops, stove tops, vent hoods, or other places where grease has gathered. To remove those stubborn grease stains from your clothing or fabrics, first blot as much as you can with a cloth, and then sprinkle cornstarch over the spot. Let it sit for several minutes, then remove. Dab the stain with white vinegar and launder as normal.

The humble lemon is a powerful disinfectant to add to your cleaning regimen.

Lemon
Lemon juice, whether freshly squeezed or in concentrated form, is a powerful disinfectant able to kill most bacteria in your home. The acidic cleaner has the added benefit of leaving your home with a refreshing citrus aroma. Lemon juice can be used on its own or mixed with vinegar or baking soda for double-duty cleaning power.

Baking soda, vinegar, ketchup, corn starch, and lemon are just some of the many versatile natural cleaners you can use around the home. This season, as you invite friends and family over to celebrate, make your home a healthy one. The planet (and your wallet!) will thank you.

If the Sidewalk is a Runway, then Life is a Parade

December 16, 2011 5:23 pm
Courtesy of The Peacock Parade

Luxury at your fingertips. Kind of an oxymoron isn’t it?

Jan Gandhi and Nancy Sahota founders of online designer,  fashion retailer, The Peacock Parade said luxury is just what Canadian women want; affordable luxury that is.

The Peacock Parade is like an online sample sale, which features products by all your favourite designers, said Sahota.

You must become a member, which is free http://www.thepeacockparade.com/, to receive access to the sales. Emails are sent regularly to announce sales of up to 70 per cent off of various designer clothes and accessories. The sales foster a feeling of exclusivity because you have to shop under a time restriction and there are a limited number of products available.

Luxury at your fingertips...

Gandhi and Sahota said they want to provide an e-commerce outlet for Canadian women to experience luxury. This starts with the look of their website. A variety of sales take place at all times. Each product is photographed on attractive models at The Peacock Parade headquarters in Toronto. The products are displayed in complete ensembles, which allows the buyer to imagine the piece working in her closet. Scrolling through the sale options feels more like flipping through the pages of Vogue, then virtually combing through a sale rack.

“From beginning to end it is a luxury experience,” said Sahota.

I recently purchased a beautiful A.B.S. linen scarf  from the site and my order arrived promptly to my doorstep. Inside the package, my scarf was hiding under a sea of teal tissue paper, which thoughtfully coordinated with the company’s aesthetic and logo, inspired by a peacock feather. A thank you card sat on top, which reminded me of the saying: “Life is a Parade-Attend in Style.”

Gandhi and Sahota, both originally from Toronto, are avid shoppers. They met in New York City while pursuing careers in the fashion industry. Their idea came as a result of  a noticed gap in the Canadian fashion market and returned to Toronto to fill it.  The duo launched The Peacock Parade in June. They said much of their knowledge about the fashion industry comes from being consumers.

Armani Editorial from www.thepeacockparade.com.

“We were absolutely obessesed with clothing sites and the majority don’t ship to canada,” said Sahota.

The Peacock Parade not only provides Canadian consumers with discounted, designer merchandise, but also allows an opportunity for Canadian designers to sell their work. Canadian designers are featured regularly on their site.

Other items sold are from internationally-known luxury retailers such as Gucci, Chanel and Prada. “Gucci or Fendi handbags at 50 per cent off  becomes a little more affordable,” said Sahota.

The founders said they have experienced an overwhelming response to their venture.

Some of the lovely COACH wallets available for sale.

“Our sales reinforce that Canadians do want access to these brands,” said Sahota.

Recently, a sale on cashmere wraps sold out in an hour, Tom Ford sunglasses were gone in a flash and a recent sale on Missoni scarves had Americans begging for access to the Canadian-only site. “The Americans got a taste of what Canadians feel all the time,” said Sahota.

The pair said their target customer is an affluent, 30 plus woman who is comfortable shopping online and loves a great deal, but during a phone interview, Sahota hinted at expanding into menswear, which they did this past week.

“We’re still building, our hands are touching [every part of the company],” she said.

Recipe: Holiday Peppermint Chocolate Cookies

December 15, 2011 8:35 am
Recipe: Holiday Peppermint Chocolate Cookies
Everyone loves holiday sweets, how can you not – it’s one of the few times of the year that we can indulge in sweets and treats without feeling guilty about our diets, waistlines etc. The holidays are also a great time bake some goodies for friends and family or share some tried-and-true recipes for your favourite treats. In the spirit of sharing and giving and sweets, here is a great recipe for Holiday Peppermint Chocolate Cookies. Originally from Martha Stewart, this recipe has been tweaked and personalized for the holiday season. This recipe makes 6 dozen cookies, plenty for you, your friends or to share with that special someone!
Ingredients:
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 ounces (5 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
3/4 teaspoon pure peppermint extract
8 large candy canes or 30 peppermint candies, crushed
2 pounds white chocolate, coarsely chopped

Don't forget your crushed candy canes! Easiest way to crush your canes is to put them in a zip-lock bag and crush them that way.

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325F degrees. Sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. Beat butter and sugar with a mixer on medium-high speed for 1 minute. Reduce speed to medium-low, and add egg, then yolk, beating well after each addition. Beat in peppermint extract. Slowly add flour mixture, and beat until just incorporated. Shape dough into 2 disks, wrap each in plastic, and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour (or up to 2 days).
  2. Roll out 1 disk of dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/8-inch thickness. Freeze until firm, about 15 minutes. Using a 2-inch round cutter, cut out circles, and place 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Roll and cut scraps once. Freeze cookies until firm, about 15 minutes. Repeat with remaining disk.
  3. Bake until cookies are dry to the touch, about 12 minutes. Transfer parchment, with cookies, to wire racks, and let cool. (Undecorated cookies will keep, covered, for up to 3 days.)
  4. Sift crushed candy, and separate larger pieces from dust, reserving both. Melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of gently simmering water. Remove from heat. Dunk cookies into melted chocolate. Using a fork, turn to coat, let excess drip off, and gently scrape bottom against edge of bowl. Place on parchment-lined baking sheets, and sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of either candy pieces or dust on top. Repeat, sprinkling half the cookies with pieces and the rest with dust. Refrigerate until set, up to 3 hours. Decorated cookies are best served the same day.
Enjoy your cookies with egg nog or a cup of tea!

Happy Holidays from Ottawa Life Magazine!

Honoring Shannen’s Dream

December 14, 2011 11:40 am
Honoring Shannen’s Dream

Long before the Federal Government’s planned delivery of mobile homes and food to the remote Northern community of Attawapiskat, there was Lady Evelyn Alternative School.

While Attawapiskat has recently become a household name across Canada after it declared a state of emergency, the native community has been on the radar of the small alternative school in Ottawa’s East for some time now. For two years, in fact.

A message from Shannen Koostachin.

But while Attawapiskat’s call to Canada was for food and shelter, Lady Evelyn’s students answered a different call.  This time, a cry for support from perhaps the bravest school girl this nation has ever known – Shannen Koostachin of the Attawapiskat First Nation.  Shannen died, at the age of fifteen, never having known the inside of a proper classroom or a decent education. She knew however, that she and every other child in Attawapiskat, deserved one, and she spent her short life fighting for it. In her words:  “School should be a time for dreams. Every kid deserves this.”Shannen’s journey began when her school (the only elementary school for 400 children in Attawapiskat) closed due to diesel fuel contamination under the building. Portable trailers were put in the playground as a “temporary school.” Nine years later, they were still there.  No school. The doors warped and the heat went off in winter. The children walked in the cold from portable to portable.

The children of Attawapiskat's call for a new school.

In 2010, Shannen died in an automobile accident – never seeing her dream – for all First Nations children to have “safe and comfy schools” come true. It’s a situation, Lady Evelyn Alternative School and others have found unacceptable.  In April 2011, months before the Attawapiskat crisis, the school took its message to Parliament Hill. Letters were delivered to politicians in support of Shannen’s Dream to “rally behind the principle of equitable education rights for First Nation children and youth.”  However, the school hasn’t stopped there. It has organized fundraising activities and recently answered the call from the Attawapiskat Food Bank to collect and send food to the James Bay community.

Let’s hope, once Attawapiskat is no longer in the headlines, Shannen’s Dream and the dreams of Attawapiskat and other struggling First Nations communities, are not left behind. For more information on Shannen’s Dream (and the efforts of Lady Evelyn Alternative School) please visit: www.shannensdream.ca.

For more OLM articles on Attawapiskat, click HERE.

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