Category Archives: Canada

Afterthoughts: Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games

My Olympic Fever has faded, and my Paralympic Hangover has passed. The city has more or less returned to normal. No more concerts or crowded streets. No more flag waving and fireworks. No more singing “Oh Canada, we stand in line for thee!” All in all, it was an amazing thing, being in an Olympic city.

I got more information about the protests and riots from Twitter than from CTV News. Yes, there was a mild riot in which some masked hoodlums busted display windows at the Hudson Bay store downtown. This act of vandalism did nothing to further the concerns or causes of those who protested peacefully. With the amount of money thrown at prettying up the city, trucking in snow, and installing temporary attractions (among other things), somebody is going to have to pay in the end. And it will likely fall on current taxpayers and their offspring to share the load. All that money could have been spent on social programs, schools, hospitals, any number of long term beneficial things. Oh, and they’ve raised bus ticket prices again to boot. Thanks so much, not really.

A number of restaurants around the city had a spike in prosperity, partly due to the practice of adding a 20% Olympic surcharge to each bill (see article at Spiffle). That was pretty sneaky . . . but people complained, especially the locals. During the Olympics, we went to Society in Yaletown with some friends, and yes there was a 20% addition to the bill. When we went to Earls downtown during the Paralympics, we asked our waitress before ordering if the surcharge was still being applied. She said they stopped doing it after getting backlash from unhappy customers (not surprising). We did have a fantastic lunch at Earls, by the way: Orchid martini and grilled chicken sandwich with melted brie, roasted apples, and fig jam. And dessert was ridiculous! Rich chocolate cake with caramel sauce and ice cream. If you’re going to go out for food, go all the way out.

The Paralympics were like Olmpics Lite. Fewer events, less uproar, shorter lines (the Zipline wait was only two hours instead of 7), and significantly cheaper tickets. We actually managed to snag seats for the USA vs Japan sledge hockey prelim and the wheelchair curling semifinals (US v Korea and Canada v Sweden).

The sledge hockey match was a lot of fun to watch, and very fast and physical. Athletes sit in a sort of single-track sled and use a short hockey stick in each hand  like ski poles to push off down the ice. Their arm and upper body strength must be amazing. It was fun being a fan in the stands that day. The US trounced Japan in the prelim (6-0), but the Japanese team fought their way back through the final games to meet the Americans again in the Gold Medal match (US won 2-0). Norway defeated the Canadian sledge hockey team in the Bronze Medal game (2-1).

Read more about Paralympic Ice Sledge Hockey.

Wheelchair curling was quite different than regular curling, as there are no sweepers. The Paralympic teams are co-ed, and the play was a bit like shuffleboard. It was my first opportunity to see a live curling match, and it wasn’t boring in the least. I suppose people are expected to be quiet during a match, but there were some great fans in the Korean corner, complete with a drum and a catchy cheer. I was really surprised to see both matches end in forfeit (which I don’t quite understand), but it was fun to sing Oh Canada with the crowd. The Canadian team went on to win Gold. Korea took Silver, and the Bronze medal went to Sweden.

Read more about Paralympic Wheelchair Curling.

It will take a while to see how hosting the Olympic Games will affect Metro Vancouver and the Province of British Columbia in the long term. It was all very exciting and dynamic from my perspective. I met some amazing random people and had a few rare experiences, and I’m glad for it. It’s time to retire my red-striped Olympic socks and put Quatchi on the shelf until the next Canucks game (which is tonight, by the way. Quatchi loves hockey!). Now I suppose I should get back to writing about food and go buy some peeps for Easter. Smeeps ahoy!

2010 Olympic Hangover: Hockey IS Canada’s game!

Wow, what a party. Over the past two weeks, the city of Vancouver has been bursting at the seams with an incredible positive energy, and it has been amazing to witness. For months (years, really) it built up slowly, crawling across red tape and protests and innumerable concerns and hopes among the populace who wondered if it would all be worth it. Well, I think it was.

post-game celebration downtown ~ photo by nofutureface

During the Olympics, I wasn’t just watching the games, I was also watching the people. I saw great displays of sportsmanship and comeraderie, not only among the athletes but also among the fans. There were a few sour grapes and some nasty attitudes about who won which medal, but that was mainly among those who believe that “second is the first loser,” and well, that’s not how everybody looks at it.

The media (yes, CTV, I’m talking to you) was for a while complaining about the dissapointment of not “owning the podium” but my how they changed their tune when Canada won all that gold. They’re so fickle, those newsmongers. For myself, I can say I was proud of every great performance I saw. To every athlete who gave their best, laid it all on the ice (or snow), and came in 4th or 10th or dead last, you should be proud. You should be really proud of yourselves, because I’m really proud of you.

Truth be told, the Olympics are just another competition, albeit a REALLY significant one. If you’re going to pick a time to shine, do it when the world is watching. These athletes have been training day after day—with a conviction and dedication I have never achieved myself—suffering injury and pushing forward through rehab, overcoming their fears and self-doubts, perfecting their techniques, so they can bring them to all of us and let us share a little part of their “thrill of victory, agony of defeat.” And I am fortunate enough to live in one of the cities that brought such a spectacle to life.

And on the last day, I watched the game of a lifetime. Two nations that hold my heart met to compete for hockey gold. No lie, I wanted Canada to win, but I wanted a good game, and I got a GREAT game. It wasn’t lopsided, and it was a real nail-biter. Oh, Luongo, I’m glad you were minding the net, but I think Sid the Kid had a little hockey angel on his shoulder that day.

high fivin' on the streets ~ photo by Michael F. McCarthy

After the game, Canada literally poured into the streets to celebrate, and I did something I never thought I’d do. Well, a couple of things, actually. I walked across the Burrard Street bridge, and I drank a Canadian beer. I’m afraid of heights, and I don’t like beer, but under the circumstances, how could I resist?

There was red and white everywhere. Flags were waving, fans were wooing, horns were honking, and people were high-fiving right and left. The atmosphere was electric and incredibly friendly. Here and there you’d see an American flag and a Canadian flag hugging it out. It wasn’t an “in your face” victory, at least not where I was standing. I watched a crowd of people pass by a group of US fans, and there were handshakes and high-fives and “good game” comments passing between them. We were all just happy. And the US team looked really pretty in silver, even with a few sour pusses in the picture.

The Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics reminded me a lot of Burning Man. Being a part of this was like being on the playa, except with a lot less dust and a few less naked people. I have to say, kudos to the Vancouver Police Department for providing a security presence that was effective without being oppressive. Shutting down the booze markets early was a smart thing to do. It kept the crowds a little more family-friendly.

Sochi Mascot = Cutest thing ever! ~ by Duncan Rawlinson

I will remember you, stranger who took a bite of my pizza. I will remember you, the girl who gave me a Go Canada bracelet. I will remember you, Alice Cooper impersonator and Sochi mascot and crazy balloon-hat guy. I will remember you, too, smiling faces from far away places.

The Olympics are done, but the Paralympic games begin when the cauldron is relit on March 12th, and we’ll get to see a whole new kind of incredible. In the meantime, I really need to do some cooking and have a nice long nap.

P.S. HUGE THANKS to the people who shared their Olympic moments via Flickr Creative Commons so I could share them with you. My poor little camera is currently being held together by masking tape—no kiddin!

Flickr Creative Commons
nofutureface
Michael Francis McCarthy
Duncan Rawlinson @ The Last Minute Blog

Olympic Curling: Hurry Hard Canada!

Canadian Men’s Curling Team wins opener vs. Norway Harlequins!

Fans rockin' the Norway pants! ~ photo by kennymatic @ Flickr

Really, you must have a look at the pants made by ~ Loudmouth Golf ~ I am very fond of the Shagadelic pattern, but the Norwegian Curling Team’s uniforms are just the bee’s knees!

Yesterday I was roving downtown, watching the people walk by dressed in the colours of their particular countries. So much red and white and blue, and the occasional splash of yellow, green, orange. Stripes and dots and swirls and sparkles, and all these great patterns go walking by, sometimes with sparkles and feathers and balloon hats. There’s music in the air from concerts along the Yaletown stroll, featuring local Vancouver artists. Woo and Yeah are out in record numbers, and the Canadian National Anthem, I Believe, and that “like a waving flag” song are invading my dreams. And everybody is having a good time. It’s like an enormous street festival from one end of town to the other.

Hockey fans sporting Puckheads at the Torino Olympics (by A tee but no e @ Flickr)

While I was literally watching the world go by, here came a man wearing a curling stone hat. It even had a little handle on the top! It’s like a Puckhead, only it’s a curling thing. My sister is a big fan of curling. I’m still trying to figure it out. Curling has a huge following across Canada, and it’s been fun watching the coverage of the games.

According to the Olympic Curling info from VANOC, the game was invented some 500 years ago by people living around frozen lochs in Scotland, where life before TV was hard and there wasn’t a lot of fun to be had unless you made it yourself. I suspect the invention of this game was instigated by one ice fisherman who said to another, “I bet you can’t hit that ice hole with a rock.”

The playing field is called a sheet, and at one end of the sheet is a target area of concentric circles known as the house. Play is reminiscent of bocce (lawn bowling) or shuffleboard, as the object is to get your rocks in the house (i.e. on the target, preferably on the bull’s eye) and knock your opponent’s rocks out. One game is divided up into 10 ends (kinda like how baseball has 9 innings). During each end, each team has 8 rocks to throw, and each person on a team of four gets to throw two rocks.

Once a team member throws a rock, his (or her) team members can use their brooms to sweep the path in front of the sliding rock to change its direction and speed, making it “curl” so that it gets as close as possible to the middle of the target (the center of the rings at the other end of the sheet). You’ll hear the skip (team captain) yelling “Hurry!” or “Hurry hard!” to tell the sweepers to get a move on. “Woah!” means stop sweeping.

~ 2010 Olympic Curling Schedule and Results ~

Tonight we’re watching women’s curling (Canada vs China) and a movie called Men With Brooms. The other day we watched men’s figure skating and Blades of Glory. I haven’t cooked anything but cereal in two days. But it’s been a great party so far!

Curling Terminology

VANOC has a useful glossary of curling terms. There are strange names for just about everything related to the game; it’s funny that the stick used to measure rock distances is simply called a “measuring stick.”

Rock ~ the big ice puck with the handle.

Hammer ~ It’s good to have the hammer. It means you get the last shot in the end.

Skip ~ The team boss. Does a lot of yelling at the sweepers and usually throws the last two rocks for the team in each end.

House ~ The target area of circles, divided into quadrants. The center ring is the button (aka bullseye). The more stones you have in the house, the more points you get.

Hack ~ The bar used to push off when a player slides a rock.

Hog Line ~ A player has to release the rock before they get to this line on the sheet.

~ GO CANADA GO ~

Flickr Creative Commons
Loud and Proud by kennymatic
Puckheads by A tee but no e

Olympic Speed Skating: Men’s 500m

This is the Richmond Olympic Oval. During the 2010 Winter Games, 12 medal events will take place on the 400-metre speed skating track in front of up to 8,000 fans from around the globe. I watched the Men’s 500m on CTV yesterday, and the races were fantastic! Man, are they ever fast!

Flickr Creative Commons photo by adriana8_8

Mika Poutala of Finland burned up the ice in the first race (I like how he uses a down start). He had the fastest time of the night at 34.863, but after his second race he landed in 5th overall. Korea and Japan dominated, and for a moment it looked like Japan would be taking the top two spots on the podium. Keiichiro Nagashima had the fastest time in the second race at 34.876, but a medal in this event comes down to the combined times, and the Gold went to Tae-Bum Mo of South Korea. Nagashima took Silver, and the Bronze went to his teammate Joji Kato.

Visit the Vancouver 2010 Speed Skating website!

Side Note: Japan’s speed skaters wear superhero-style uniforms that make them look like golden Transformers. Awesome design.

Flikr Creative Commons
adrian8_8

The Olympic Flame: Bring it on!

On October 22nd, months before the Olympic games begin, a group of eleven women representing Vestal virgins (Vesta is the goddess of the hearthfire) gathered at the Temple of Hera to kindle the Olympic flame from the rays of the sun. This flame has been transported across the globe to Vancouver, carried by Canadian hands all across the country. The journey by air, land, and water has taken 106 days.

My beloved blurry photo of the flame being passed in Kits.

Last night, I caught my first glimpse of the flame reflected in the window of a local pub, and instantly began jumping up and down yelling, “I see it! I see it! There it is!” At the street corner, two torchbearers met, the flame was passed, and off it ran up the hill, right by me. It took just a moment, then that moment was gone, but the feelings I had stayed with me. It’s the first time I’ve really been excited about something in a long time . . . I don’t mean like “Oh goody, it’s payday!” excitement or “Hey look! Free cupcakes!” excitement. I mean little kid seeing Santa with a bag of goodies excitement. It was cool. And someone did give me a free Coke Zero and a hot cross bun.

This morning, the Governator of California himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, helped kick off the final leg of the torch relay in Stanley Park. The fathers of Terry Fox and Wayne Gretzky are also taking part in today’s final run, but the last torchbearer is still a secret. I’ll be watching CTV tonight to find out who it is.

There are demonstrations and protests taking place, and the torch is headed for Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside where street life is a harsh reality, half-buried under the glitz ofthe Games. Protesters have said they want to prevent people from going into BC Place for the opening ceremonies, but I really hope that doesn’t happen. As much as they have the right to be heard, so does everyone else have the right to enjoy this moment unhindered.

I have been ambivalent about it all up to now—strong feelings either way. It’s a huge hassle and money could have been better spent elsewhere, I’m certain. But the fact remains, the Olympics are right here, right now. And the world really is watching.

It means something. All of this means something. Despite all the crankiness about “inconvenience” and all the protests and politics about where Olympic money could have been better spent, all of this MEANS something. People are smiling. People are cheering. People are feeling good things inside. For the athletes who have trained so hard, for the people who have come to sing and dance and welcome the global community to this beautiful place, for the imports like myself who have come to love a new country, this really is a big deal. The Olympic Dream is real. Tonight, the final cauldron will be lit and that ancient fire will burn in the heart of this city. I’m ready. Let the games begin.

Olympic Torch Relay Comes to Kitsilano

The Olympic Flame has been on horseback, in canoes, on a Dragon boat, and has ridden the Sky Ride to Grouse Mountain. It has ridden bikes, worn sneakers, and been in a wheelchair. It has met the hands of athletes, politicians, Aboriginal chiefs, and community volunteers. It has been celebrated with singing, feasting, cheering, and dancing. In the flame is the spirit of the games, the spirit of competition, and the spirit of unity. It’s an amazing thing that is happening where I am, and I’m glad to be here to witness it.

Security has been heightened everywhere. The streets, the water, the roads, even the airspace is being patrolled, watched, and hovered over by people with tasers, guns, and uniforms. Yesterday, a couple of fighter planes screamed by overhead, and the noise scared me and the cats out of our seats. Completely understandable, of course, but unnerving.

Later this evening, the Olympic Torch will pass by, not too far away. I’ll be going out to see it, though lately, I’ve been vascillating between excited anticipation of the 2010 Winter Games and absolute dread of the maddening crowds and inevitable mayhem they will bring. And we still have not had any snow . . . it’s all back home with my sisters.

Visit Stories From The Road to read more about the torchbearers and community celebrations.

Vancouver Farmers Markets: Fresh, Local, and Fabulous!

Vancouver lies in the bountiful cradle of the Fraser Valley, and the  farms and orchards of the Okanagen are not too far away. Being a port city, exotic produce and goods are readily available to consumers, and many items are available year round. Seasonal local products and produce are wonderful, however, and Farmer’s Market season is in full swing in most Vancouver communities come summertime.

I usually buy produce from local independent shops, and occasionally I’ll venture out to Granville Island Market for some “trendy” grocery shopping and a grand day out, but I what I love best is milling about with the locals at a seasonal Farmer’s Market. Seeing an array of folding tables laden with an incredible selection of fresh fruit and veg or homemade goodies or handmade crafts make me feel at home no matter what city it’s in.

I love the smell of sweet fruit in the warm sun, and the taste of free samples. An infinite palette of ripe natural colours  greets me, and I don’t mind the noise and bustle of a crowd of interesting strangers. I daydream my way through homemade bread, cakes, pies, perogis, pastas, samosas, spreads, dips, sauces, and whatever else the cornucopia of tasty treats may offer. I usually come back with a bag (or two) of fresh, fragrant, and delicious things.

strawberries

An array of ripe strawberries.

bakedgoods

Scrumptious home-baked goodies.

mushrooms

Gorgeous fresh mushrooms.

Today, I purchased a dozen brown speckled eggs laid by happy free-range chickens living in the Fraser Valley, and some ground beef and sirloin steaks taken from grass-fed Angus cattle raised on a Cariboo-Chilcotin ranch. I also picked up some red and yellow peppers, fresh strawberries, and a bag of various greens (including pea shoots and dandelion greens). Baked goods were plentiful, and a small rhubarb crisp came home with us, but we ate an apple-compote crepe and a ham & cheese scone on the spot.

Speaking of spot, there were quite a lot of dogs in the crowd or waiting patiently along the perimeter. I enjoy a dog-friendly neighbourhood, especially when people respectfully leash their animals and the pups have good manners. It’s always a treat for me to meet someone else’s dog, since I cannot have one of my own right now.

frenchbulldog

Little French Bulldog

My Favourite Finds:

Maple Syrup Taffy

Maple Syrup Taffy immediately makes me think of Laura Ingalls-Wilder making snow candy in Little House in the Big Woods. In the winter, her mother would pour swirls of hot maple syrup into a pile of fresh snow and make sweet little candies. Oh how I wanted to do that, begging Mommie Dearest to let me every time there was a good snowfall, but to no avail. Maple Syrup Taffy works on a similar principle. Among French Canadians, it’s called tire sur la neige meaning “to draw in the snow.”

After a brief hand-wash with sanitizing gel, I selected a wooden stick and the Syrup Guy poured a line of hot syrup on top of a barrel full of crushed ice “snow.” I counted to three and pressed the stick into the syrup at the end of the line, then slowly began to collect the sweet sticky candy, rolling it up on my stick. I let my Maple Taffy lolly sit for a moment to firm up, but I could hardly wait to taste it.

Maple Taffy Lolly cooling on snow

Maple Taffy Lolly cooling on snow

It was sticky like caramel, but light and not too sugary. The mapley flavour was clean and bright, like a moment of unspoiled childhood happiness.  I also bought a maple sugar cone for Ginger Man. They are like little tiny ice cream cones, filled with a bit of taffy in the bottom and a more crystalized maple sugar candy on top. Apparently, it’s quite a popular treat among the Quebequois. The sugar buzz kept us going all morning. It was a delightful experience.

Italian Black Truffle Sea Salt

At the Maison Coté booth, there were bags upon bags of spice mixes, peppercorns, and seasoned salts, as well as a shelf of oils, vinegars, and little balsamic spritzers. I picked up some Citrus sea salt (with lemon, orange, and grapefruit peel), a bag of Kitsilano peppercorn blend, and a White Truffle Balsamic spritzer to mist on my greens (I’m told it’s also nice on chicken and fish). I wish I had brought an extra $20 bucks at the time, because I would have immediately thrown it down to have a bag of the Italian black truffle salt. The vendor was kind enough to give me a whiff, and it really knocked my socks off. That earthy, pungent, luscious truffley aroma was truly amazing. Happily, his shop is in the city, so I’m looking forward to visiting and bringing home some of that orgasmic salt blend soon.

Farmers Market Shopping Tips

In the Vancouver area, most farmers markets open between April and July and continue through October or September. The majority run Saturdays or Sundays, but there are several venues with markets on a Wednesday or Thursday.

  • Arrive early to be sure you get what you want, or visit near closing time to get last-minute deals from some vendors
  • Bring CASH to make things simple, or purchase some “Market Money” using your bank card. Use it like cash at any vendor.
  • Some vendors rotate between different venues during the season, but many of them take orders from their websites.
  • BYOB: Bring Your Own Bags! Most markets sell tote bags and packs of veggie bags if you need them.
  • Bike, bus, or walk if you can. Parking in some neighbourhoods can be tricky to find, and drive cautiously around pedestrians. Besides, it’s no bad thing to be a little “green” and leave the gasmobile at home.
  • Keep an eye out for “delivery services” at the market entrance. You can load up with goodies and someone will bike or drive it to your home.
  • Don’t forget, Farmer’s Markets aren’t just for veggies! You can also get fresh eggs, frozen meats and fish, pickles, preserves, oils, spices, honey, handmade soaps, fresh flowers, potted plants, hats, jewelry, pottery, just about anything!

Links

Video of Maple Syup Taffy

Empire Valley Beef

Maison Coté

VFM Seasonal Produce Guide

BC Association of Farmers’ Markets

Vancouver Public Library: The Country Kitchen 1850

V.P.L.After a long week, Ginger Man and I decided to spend part of his day off at the library (yes, we are ubernerds). I love libraries, the smell of books, browsing through the stacks, and coming away with a few borrowed treasures. We have a local branch in the neighbourhood, but the main branch downtown is the coolest. You might recognize it in films and TV shows including the Bastille Day episode of Battlestar Galactica and The 6th Day starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The building at Library Square (designed by architect Moshe Safdie) is easily accessible via public transportation (bus or SkyTrain) and plenty of bike racks are available. The square is bordered by four streets: West Georgia, Homer, Robson, and Hamilton. Across West Georgia Street is a colourful Canada Post Office, and across Homer Street is the attractive Centre for Performing Arts (also designed by Moshe Safdie).

The Vancouver Public Library hosts a variety of events as well as monthly readings, workshops, and classes. Pay telephones, computers, and copy machines are available on each floor. Wireless internet access is free. The lobby section has a few retail shops, and you can pick up a drink or a nosh at several eateries in the square.The central library owns over 1.3 million items, and books and materials are moved through the 9-story building on vertical and horizontal conveyors (neat, huh?).

Front CoverI spend a lot of time on the 4th floor, where the cookbooks and toymaking books live. This trip, I came back with three pattern books and a nifty little reprint of The Country Kitchen 1850, which explains how to properly feed your woodburning stove and provides a great deal of detail regarding proper techniques for making and storing bread, butter, and cheese in addition to advice for the selection, care, and feeding of a dairy cow.

The illustrations and adverts are absolutely charming. the Alimentary Store ad promises “confectionary of the rarest quality” and “more than twenty different qualities of superior health chocolate. Also, the No. 1 homeopathic chocolate of the best French manufacture.” But my favourite “alimentive novelty” is the enormous list of items recoomended for “ill persons” including cordials, Absinthe, very old Cognac, Venus Oil, Champagne, and other such cures. I think I’m coming down with something.

Reading this little gem makes me very glad that I have electricity and that I don’t have to spend the whole day milking, churning, kneading, baking, and washing until the hard working head of the house comes home. Incedentally, according to Mrs. Cornelius, “many a day-laborer, on his return at evening from his hard toil, is repelled by the sight of a disorderly house and a comfortless supper; and perhaps is met by a cold eye instead of ‘the thriftie wifie’s smile,’ and he makes his escape to the grog-shop or the under-ground gambling room.” Sounds like an Andy Capp comic, yet maybe, there is a wee bit of truth in there, eh?