Edmonton Happenings: Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids

The stage at The Arden Theatre in St. Albert.

About two weeks ago, I dragged my fiancé to the latest Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids (GRTTWaK) event in St. Albert. It was the second one I’d attended. The first was two years before at The Mercury Room in Edmonton. I was, and still am, just a listener though. I’m not sure I’m brave enough to get so personal with a room full of strangers.

My ticket into the event as an attendee.

For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, the name of the event pretty much speaks for itself. However, to expand, this is essentially a ticketed touring open mic show run by Dan Misener and his wife Jenna. They’ve been doing this since 2007 after a Christmas trip the year before led them on a journey through Jenna’s old diaries and inspired them to gather friends to do the same. It’s now become a podcast hit with recordings made live during dates that are frequently scheduled across the country.

Grownup

Locals in each city they visit sign up to go on stage for about 5 minutes per person to read something from their past. It could be anything from a short story to a poem, or a letter to a class assignment, or something from one’s journal. Those who enroll have to check in with Dan and Jenna before the big day, so they get a sneak peek of what’s to come. Nevertheless, watching Dan react to each person’s share, I could tell he was just as surprised and delighted as the audience was whenever those big “oh my god” moments happened.

Admittedly though, GRTTWaK isn’t my first foray into this world of teenage and childhood artifacts. In fact, I became obsessed with the film Mortified Nation when I saw it on Netflix a few years back (they now have a Netflix series called The Mortified Guide). The premise was pretty much the same. Yet, the founder of Mortified, David Nadelberg, was based out of the United States and launched his similar endeavour in 2002. I loved it so much that I wanted to be the one to bring it north of the border.

Little did I know that Dan Misener already beat me to the punch. It was my friend who introduced me to GRTTWaK, which really doubled my fun when it came to hearing these stories of adolescent horrors, gut wrenching heartbreak, true happiness, etc. that almost everyone can relate to whether or not they realized it when they were younger.

I guess that’s the irony of it. Things always seemed like such a huge deal as kids. We blew things out of proportion and we assumed we were the only ones to be feeling the way we did. More than likely though, our neighbour or our friend was experiencing it, too. It shows us how caught up in ourselves we can become, but I also think that we sometimes have a depth that goes beyond our years. Many of the things people have shared are so insightful and introspective. Others are lighthearted and hilarious.

What I do think is important to remember is that, whatever it is we have in our history, whether it’s good or bad, we’ve come through it. We can look back and learn from our pasts and, hopefully, we can have a chuckle at it as well.

I definitely recommend that if you’re located in Canada, register for the GRTTWaK newsletter. You won’t get a ton of emails. You’ll just be looped in on upcoming events that you can attend. Also, be sure to check out the podcast. It’s available through their website, Spotify, Apple, or Google. While each episode of the Mortified podcast delves deep into the share of a single individual (even doing a follow-up with the reader who provides a bit of extra discussion about their story), GRTTWaK episodes are usually about 25 to 35 minutes long and cover multiple brave souls in one sitting. It can lead to a roller coaster of emotions, but it’s worth the ride.

Check out this GRTTWaK episode, posted on August 27, 2017 where my friend Michelle decided to read an original story she penned about a horse family:

https://art19.com/shows/grownups-read-things-they-wrote-as-kids/episodes/883b32c2-7483-4bb7-8048-7c7c87fd0f9b/embed?theme=light-custom

If you’re interested in hearing an episode from Mortified, listen to this one about Amy, a first generation kid, growing up in America:

https://play.prx.org/e?uf=http:%2F%2Ffeeds.getmortified.com%2FMortifiedPod&gs=_blank&sp=all

Time’s Up: Is 2018 the year of meaningful change?

The Time’s Up statement as posted on their @timesupnow Instagram page.

It’s a brand new year. Instead of starting it off by doing the same old thing on this blog, I felt like this would be a great opportunity to share a few of my thoughts about an increasingly important topic.

I first heard of the Time’s Up movement when I was sitting at home on January 1. As I scrolled through the feed on the Instagram search page, I noticed a number of posts from my favourite celebrities where they each shared the same letter of solidarity to their “sisters” (scroll down for the full post).

Then, on Sunday night, the 75th Golden Globe Awards ceremony was aired on television. Before I took the time to watch the recording of the show, I happened upon pictures posted to social media of the fashion choices at the event. Photo after photo popped up of all of these females in the entertainment industry dressed in black. It was far from the usual colourful parade, so I questioned what I was seeing. I wasn’t aware that this was something that they had planned back in December, but they did. What the world saw that evening was a sea of gorgeous women that varied in age and ethnicity coming together to make a big statement.

This comes after the huge upheaval that Hollywood has been experiencing whereby women seem to have finally taken a stand. They have found their voices and they are feeling empowered. Time Magazine essentially picked the #MeToo movement (a.k.a. The Silence Breakers) as it’s “person” of the year.

Tarana Burke, the creator of the Me Too movement, was showcases on the @time Instagram page.

This show of comradery at an annual industry celebration apparently worked to change the conversation. No longer were actresses being asked what they were wearing on the red carpet. Instead, they were creating a dialog, talking about the reason behind their choice to participate in this movement and, for the first time in a long time, pulling the focus away from the relative artificiality of these typically self-congratulatory parties.

A few women chose to wear colours other than black. Obviously, they stood out like sore thumbs, seemingly out of sync with everyone else. However, their reasoning had validity, so I don’t fault them for anything. Plus, it’s not doing us any service to pit women against other women. They all stated their support for the movement and the women who chose to wear black. If anything, we have to question why this is even a necessary thing for women to have to do. Woman should be able to express themselves in whatever way they choose. It shouldn’t take an army of them dressed in the same hue to get their message across.

Posted to the @timesupnow Instagram page on Sunday.

On the other side of things, it may also seem like these women were just a bunch of rich, privileged celebrities removed from regular society who decided to speak on behalf of those who may be more marginalized. Yet, I still have to give them props because they understood the value of a global platform and they utilized that stage to share their voices and the voices of other disenfranchised women. If these actresses are using their fame for something good that will benefit the many, I say it’s okay.

Some of the actresses and activists that took part on Sunday. Photo screenshot from the @timesupnow Instagram page.

Most memorable during the ceremony was Oprah. She received the Cecil B. Demille award, an accolade which has existed for the past 66 years. Over that period of time, only 15 have been handed out to women and this was the first given to a woman of colour.

Oprah’s speech was a rousing one that had everyone talking the next day. She eloquently spoke to the crowd and the audience watching and it really did make me hope that she’d run for President one day. Let’s hope that Seth Meyers’ cajoling during his opening monologue actually convinces her to do so.

What’s sad is the discussion my friend and I had the following day though. While we both love the idea of Oprah running for the presidency, she is both a woman and someone of colour. Those two things have traditionally been deterrents for many American people. Despite Oprah’s ability to overcome adversity, her poise and intelligence, her generosity and her business savvy, it’s possible that the odds would still be stacked against her. In this day and age, it’s pretty depressing to think about the fact that having two X chromosomes and a different skin tone are the reasons to hold someone of that magnitude back.

Therefore, I sincerely hope that the Time’s Up movement and these outspoken women of celebrity help to spur this burgeoning revolution. These are conversations that are worthy of our time and they should spread like wild fire because it’s the 21st century. Women and minorities should no longer be seen as second-class citizens. We should all be considered true equals.

(Non) Romantic Notions: Takeaways from Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance

 

Fits right in with my decor.

Fits right in with my decor.

Having picked Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance: An Investigation as the selection for my group’s book club, I feel like I can probably talk about the information gleaned from it for days on end. After all, I led a few meetings where we delved deep into what it all meant for those of us who were/are still wading in the dating pool. It’s a tome that felt so relevant to my life over these past few years, meaning it was ripe for discussion.

If you’ve read my previous post about the things I learned from our first book club read, Calling in “The One”: 7 Weeks to Attract the Love of Your Life, you’ll understand that love, life, and bettering one’s self are constant themes that I reflect on. Modern Romance was a great continuation of our investigation into the idea of relationships without the urge to throw the book at the wall as we experienced with book two, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus (not our choice, but we stuck it out), which seemed to set the whole idea of equality back and then some. Instead, Modern Romance has a present day sensibility and humour that makes it easy to relate to.

Our last meeting was in January. A lot has happened since then. I’ve allowed my thoughts about Modern Romance to stew, and these are the points that still stick out in my mind. They’re not necessarily things that make you feel like love is out there, or that romance is possibly around every corner. In fact, some of the findings from Aziz Ansari’s research and interviews has me questioning whether or not romance can even be found in modern life; have we stripped all notions of romance away? Yet, this is the reality for a lot of people today, myself included, and, for better or worse, we’ll muddle our way through it until we’re happy.

1) Online Introduction Services

With the Internet came the biggest change in the way we date. We’re no longer relegated to people like our neighbours and schoolmates. The pool is large and vast, and it’s online. Our biggest problem with online dating is that it is often seen by users as an instant way to find a soul mate. When we first sign up, we see so much potential and, often, our expectations can be high. But, those of us who have had the pleasure of sifting through all of those profiles know that it’s actually a huge chore and a lot of work. Usually, the outcome isn’t great. What I took away from Modern Romance is that you can’t go into online dating thinking of it as DATING. All dating sites or apps are essentially introduction services. Nothing more. It’s a way for you to reach out to someone you may never otherwise have a chance of coming into contact with. However, once you do, it’s up to both parties to put in the effort (i.e. actually talk, really make plans to meet).

2) Don’t Be So Judgemental

People are too quick to judge. They make snap decisions and refuse to give someone good a chance. Sometimes the reasoning might be sound. On other occasions, it just seems like it’s because we/they didn’t fulfill all of the boxes of perfection. Maybe we’re scared of opening up to a new person and that’s why we back out so fast. I’m not entirely sure. All I know is that there are times, for me, when it seemed like a meeting went well and the signs were there, but it still went nowhere. Now, I find myself wondering, what if? What if I had given so and so a second date? What if that guy didn’t ghost me after we met and he actually took the time to get to know me past that hour-long coffee date? He might not be my boyfriend, but maybe he’d end up being my friend. You never know.

3) What is Chemistry?

Chemistry is a funny idea. We’ve all experienced it. That sense of attraction to someone that just can’t be explained is something people continually seek out in friends and partners. Why do we have to have that off the bat though? In the past, I’ve found that I’ve become more attracted to someone the longer I know them. As friends, you learn a lot about each other and you’ve got that comfort that doesn’t necessarily appear out of the blue with someone who is, more or less, a stranger. Chemistry is great, and the idea of it has been around for a long time. However, living in the age we do now – constant connection and immediate access to our social spheres – we’ve become accustomed to the feeling of instant gratification and it’s not always a good thing. Sometimes the best outcomes take time.

4) No Talking Allowed

When I say no talking, I mean out loud and face-to-face. It has become the norm to text using your smart phone rather than to pick up the phone and make a call. I’m not sure of when we started fearing the idea of hearing each others’ voices, but it has happened. I know people who avoid speaking to someone over the phone whenever possible, and I find it funny because it’s not my favourite thing either anymore. Yet, rewind to when I was in junior high and high school, and I loved to phone up my friends just to catch up with them. Granted, we didn’t have the ability to text back then, but the sound of someone’s voice is so much more telling and warm than font on a screen, isn’t it?

5) Technology Has Ruined Romance

I might be exaggerating a little bit. Today’s dating endeavours are aided by the use of technology. But, all of it can be a bit of burden, too. Technology creates the ties that bind us, and, while it’s helpful, we’ve sort of lost that ability to communicate well. With that, we’ve also lost some of that spontaneity that many of us grew up with. No longer can we be satisfied with an impromptu date at the closest taco place. No, we’ve got to find the best possible date and the top-rated Mexican cantina in town before we even fathom going out. It’s all or nothing.

Look at all of those stickies.

Look at all of those stickies.

6) Too Much of Something is Bad Enough (thanks, Spice Girls)

Endless options create less satisfaction and make us more indecisive. Have you ever gone to a restaurant where the menu goes on for pages? You’re sitting there with your friends and none of them can make up their mind because, every time they flip the page, there’s another item that catches their eye. Dating today is like that, multiplied by 1,000. Is there someone better than the person I’m seeing? I want the best. The problem is, you’ll never know if you’ve got the best until you’ve sampled 100 per cent of the offerings, which is impossible. So, if you find someone you like who makes you happy, just be happy with them and don’t overthink it.

7) Quid Pro Quo

We often want what we’re not willing to give in return. I went to Aziz Anzari’s stand up show in San Diego last year. During the event, he asked the audience what approach they take when they’re not interested in someone: a) tell them, b) pretend to be busy, or c) say nothing. The audience was most responsive to Options B and C. On the flip side, when Aziz wanted to know how we’d prefer to find out that someone wasn’t interested in us, the majority cheered for Option A. Aziz thought that was a double standard and he was right. We ask for honesty and straightforwardness from others even when we refuse to offer the same.

8) The Non-Existent Relationship Status

Let’s just call it what it is. Early on, when getting to know someone, I totally understand that the relationship status is going to be in limbo. It’s likely that neither party has made a decision about where they want things to go yet. However, past that first meet and greet, I want it to be clear whether or not the next get together is an actual date. “Hanging out” is a term that I want to disappear unless it’s used in the context of friendship. I think that guys often utilize it because they want to be casual about things and women might say that because they don’t want to seem too eager. Either way, it’s frustrating when you get stuck in that zone.

9) Burn the Rule Book

There are many so-called rules of dating, but these “rules” can be debilitating. They’re ridiculous to follow and they’re often contradictory, so throw them out the window. For example, if the person on the other end is so judgmental about you replying to their text within minutes of you receiving it, then they really have nothing better to think about. People often reply quickly out of courtesy or because they know they’re forgetful when they wait, not because they don’t have a life. Being in “game” mode all the time is tiring and a waste of thought and effort. The rule is that there are no longer any rules.

10) Stigma Be Damned

Online dating used to be frowned upon by many. It probably still is by a few, but the stigma has certainly waned. Most singletons I know have tried it, and those who have been in long-term relationships and have never had a chance to use it themselves seem curious about how well it works. I would say that full acceptance depends on the forum (i.e. Tinder vs. Match), but even ideas about various sites and apps are changing over time. Regardless, the notion of meeting your significant other online isn’t so far-fetched nowadays. In fact, it’s more common than you’d guess.

Have you read Modern Romance? What were your takeaways? I’d love to hear in the comments section below.

Notes, notes and more notes.

Notes, notes and more notes.

Cooking at Home: Eggplant Stuffed Bell Pepper

Dinner is served!

Dinner is served!

Continuing with the cooking journey I started late last month, I had every intention of picking a new recipe to try sometime in March. But, I already had a fridge full of new groceries and I wasn’t too keen on having to pick up specific ingredients from the store, so I decided to forgo any form of instruction and I opted to do my own thing.

Really feeling the need to detox (I use this word lightly), my kitchen was stocked with eggplant, asparagus, zucchini, grape tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, tomatoes on the vine, avocados and salad mix. When it comes down to it, I’m all about keeping things simple, and when food is involved, I’ve learned that less is often better. As I wrapped my head around the items I had at my disposal, I realized that I should try making stuffed peppers. It’s something that always looks so tasty, healthy and relatively easy, so I figured it would be a piece of cake.

I decided that my basic ingredients would include one large bell pepper (I went with an orange one, so it was sweeter), eggplant, tomatoes on the vine, jalapeno cheese, Uncle Ben’s Bistro Express quinoa & brown rice with garlic flavour – I will often cut corners by going this route to save myself time – and a bit of garlic olive oil.

I’d say this took about 15 minutes to prep and about 25 to 30 minutes baking in the oven at 200 C (392 F). The cheese had melted through giving the stuffed pepper some kick, the eggplant had softened to a nice texture without becoming a squishy mess, the diced tomatoes added acidity, and the quinoa & brown rice with the garlic flavour made it a satisfyingly savoury dish.

Here’s the recipe:

Eggplant Stuffed Bell Pepper
1 Serving
15 min. prep
25 to 30 min. cooking time

1 large bell pepper (any colour)
1/3 of an eggplant
1 small tomato on the vine
1/2 package of Uncle Ben’s Bistro Express or bowl of rice
8 small slices of jalapeno cheese
1 tbsp Garlic olive oil

1) Cover a pan with tin foil and set aside.
2) Preheat your oven to 200 C.
3) Wash your pepper. Slice the top off and scoop out the seeds.
4) Take your eggplant and cut into half inch cubes.
5) Dice your tomato.
6) Warm the package of Uncle Ben’s in the microwave.
7) In a bowl, mix the cubes of eggplant and diced tomato together. Stir in a tablespoon of olive oil until the veggies are coated.
8) Add a portion of the rice to the bowl. Mix well.
9) Put your pepper on the pan and start filling it with layers of cheese and veggie/rice mixture. Alternate between the two until the pepper is full.
10) Once the oven is ready, place the pan on the middle rack.
11) Let cook for 25 to 30 minutes.

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This is an excellent recipe when you’re cooking for just yourself. Or, easily modify the portions and you’ll find that you can serve this to your guests next time they drop by for dinner. Enjoy!

Learning to Be a Better Home Cook

All of my ingredients for panna cotta gathered on the counter.

All of my ingredients for panna cotta gathered on the counter.

A couple of years ago, inspired by a friend who cooks and talks about food like he’s a chef, as well as by the meals I’ve eaten at restaurants in Edmonton and during my travels, and from watching the more popular than ever Food Network, I decided that I want to better my own culinary skills. Cooking is a science and an art. A beautifully presented dish can bring joy to the eye, but you also need to know what can work together to create something pleasing to the palate.

I had every intention at the beginning of 2014 to learn a new recipe once a week (or perhaps every two or three) – actually take the time to make a delicious and balanced meal. But, now, more than 12 months later, that hadn’t really happened. However, after having enjoyed a year’s worth of amazing lunches and dinners at eateries across the city, I’m now feeling a little more motivated to go ahead with my initial idea. I want to be able to make myself, my family and my friends dishes that are as good as those at all the fine establishments I’ve had the opportunity to dine at.

Up until now I’ve been winging it and, don’t get me wrong, I’m not terrible in the kitchen. Everything I’ve ever cooked has been edible and even quite tasty, but I’d like to add variety by building on what I already know because I want what I put into my mouth to be healthy and nothing other than delectable.

But, where do I begin? My biggest dilemma is that I never have a fully stocked pantry of food or ingredients just lying around waiting to be molded into some spectacular meal. So, I have to be really proactive about planning ahead. I also think I have to slowly work my way towards dishes that require a little more technique.

My plan is to scour the cookbooks I’ve amassed and the Internet for what, I hope, will be a yearlong experiment. If I am able to keep up with it, I’ll do my best to chronicle the more successful attempts here on my blog.

And, should set recipes not work for me, I’ve told my parents that they can go the way of Chopped (or Chopped Canada) and bring me random baskets of various ingredients and I’ll take up the challenge of preparing them a meal that is fit for consumption. So, wish me luck!

In the meantime, I have dipped my toes in by learning how to make one of my favourite desserts. In no way does this recipe really help me add to my repertoire of main dishes, yet it is a handy one to have in my back pocket should I need to whip a little treat up with short notice.

Panna cotta is a traditional Italian “cooked cream” dessert. I typically order it at restaurants when I want something that is subtly sweet and feels relatively light. The ingredients and cooking method have changed over time, but, regardless, it’s a classic that is surprisingly simple to make. It can also be garnished a number of ways to bring in different flavours. Making this, you’ll feel like a proper dessert chef in no time!

Vanilla Panna Cotta*
6 servings
10 min. prep
6 hr. cooking time

7 g (1 pkg) unflavoured gelatin
1 1/2 cup milk (2% suggested)
1 cup half and half cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
Fruit or cinnamon to garnish

1) Grease six 1/2 cup ramekins and set aside.

2) Pour milk into a small saucepan. Sprinkle the entire package of gelatin into the milk. Let stand for 1 minute.

3) Heat the milk and gelatin mixture on medium, making sure to stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.

4) Add the cream, sugar and vanilla extract to the pan. Keep on medium heat so it remains hot, but not boiling (be very careful about this!). Stir occasionally until smooth.

5) Pour the liquid into the six ramekins. Let cool, then cover and chill for at least 6 hours or overnight.

6) Once set, you can slide the panna cotta out of the ramekin and serve in a bowl or on a plate. You can also opt to serve it in the ramekin. Top with fruit, honey or a sprinkle of cinnamon.

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*Modified from Cook iPad app contributor Reizel Ayeras’s recipe.