Sunday, November 25, 2012

100 Grey Cups

For Edmonton Eskimos fans the 100th Grey Cup is a bit of a dilemma. Who to cheer for? The pitiable Toronto Argonauts or the detestable Calgary Stampeders? Most folks I have talked to will cheer on former Eskimo quarterback (and St. Albert resident) Ricky Ray, and thus the Argos. A clear case of the lesser of two evils.
But as Canadians of a certain age understand, Grey Cup is not really about the game. As Stephen Brunt's new book 100 Grey Cups: This Is Our Game shows, the grey Cup is a celebration of Canada, of nostalgia, of community and of course, beer.
I noticed Calgary's Avenue Magazine posted a list of 10 Great Grey Cup Beers but was puzzled by their selection. Only four of the ten are Canadian, none are from Calgary, and most are big, intense beers meant for sipping by a fire, not watching football. Here's my own version of 10 Great Grey Cup Beers, from west to east.
Halifax: Propeller ESB (Extra Special Bitter), from Propeller Brewing. It is a shame Halifax does not have a CFL team - they should. There are many football fans in the Maritimes, and a pseudo-team has floated about for ages (the Atlantic Schooners). Halifax is a great beer town as well, with two excellent craft breweries, Garrison and Propeller. I quite like Propeller's Anglo-focussed beers, including the delicious ESB.       
Montreal: The recovery of the Montreal Alouettes is one of the best stories of the CFL in the last few years. And the Montreal craft beer scene is an even better story. Dieu du Ciel continues to innovate while pioneer McAuslan continues to impress. McAuslan's delicious St-Ambroise Pale Ale remains a personal fave.
Ottawa: The CFL is coming back to Ottawa in 2014, and that's a good thing. Finally Winnipeg can move back to the Western conference. So, for a team that doesn't exist yet, a beer we can't get yet in Alberta, Beau's Lug Tread Lagered Ale from Beau's All Natural Brewing in Vankleek Hill, near Ottawa. I look forward to the day we can get Beau's beers in Alberta.
Toronto: It was very nice of Edmonton to give Toronto our star quarterback so that the Argonauts could make it to the 100th Grey Cup in Toronto. Don't say we don't do anything nice for Toronto. There are many great beers to choose from in Toronto and area, but perhaps I should go for a beer brewed in the shadow of SkyDome, where the Grey Cup is being played (yes, SkyDome - I'm old school). Steam Whistle is located a Ricky Ray long bomb away from the field. Their Steam Whistle Pilsner is an excellent football beer, when you may need to have more than one!
Hamilton: With a new stadium coming soon, the Ti-Cats are on the way back, one presumes. As to Hamilton craft beer, well that's a mystery to me. But the great band the Arkells are from The Hammer, and Wellington Brewery just northwest in Guelph has the excellent Wellington Arkell Best Bitter... Okay, a stretch.
Winnipeg: Poor old Blue Bombers. That's all that needs to be said. Let's focus on the great beer brewed by Winnipeg's Half Pints Brewing, shall we? Their Little Scrapper IPA seems appropriate for football watching.
Calgary: I love you Calgary but you know we up north can't cheer for your teams right? Good. We're happy to drink your beer however. Indications are that Big Rock has awoken from its multi-year slumber and is putting some effort into making beer again. Some promise has come from recent seasonals and one-offs, including their good new Czech pilsener, Saaz Republic Pils. Word has it that Big rock is going to keep Saaz on as a year-round beer. If true this means a delicious new beer for the Edmonton Folk festival beer tent. Still, a word of advice: Don`t fear the hops, Big Rock - we love'em!

Edmonton: It's a great shame that the home of the Eskimos, Commonwealth Stadium, does not serve a local beer. Molson does not brew in Alberta! Commonwealth, a city-owned facility, should take a tip from some US stadia and serve local beer. Support your local brewers, like Edmonton's own Alley Kat Brewing. For the big game you can't go wrong with Alley Kat's world-beating Full Moon Pale Ale.
Vancouver: Van has a lot of things going for it - do they really need winning sports teams? No, I think not. One thing lotuslanders have going is access to a lot of great beer from around Cascadia. Driftwood, Phillips , Steamworks - so much good BC beer. Venerable Granville Island Brewing has suffered growing pains, with their beers seeming a bit dated now. But Brockton IPA is a decent brew and Granville has been doing some interesting seasonals. Interesting is how I would refer to their Lions Winter Ale seasonal. The strong vanilla taste is not for me, but I know several people who LOVE this beer.
Enjoy the beer, Canada, and the game as well.

Edit: How embarrassing, I forgot Saskatchewan. Or did I? ;) Where do the Roughriders play again? Regina: Yes, there's Pil. Let's move on, shall we? As the Roughriders represent all Saskatchewan I'll head north for one of indie Great Western Brewing's brews. Their Original 16 is a very quaffable "Canadian pale ale" that would match well with the watermelon Riders fans appear to enjoy while watching football.       

Friday, September 07, 2012

Gone Girl

For the first time in ages the Library has a new number 1 'most popular book', finally knocking Fifty Shades of Grey of its perch: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. This gripping thriller depicts a crumbling marriage from both the husband and wife's point of view. On the morning of their fifth anniversary Amy, the wife, disappears, casting suspicion on her husband, Nick. This book built in popularity all summer long, and it looks like it is continuing to build. The news that the film rights had been purchased by Reese Witherspoon added to the buzz. Check out Flynn's previous two novels, Sharp Objects and Dark Places as well.

The top ten most-requested books (aka "bestsellers") at the Library this week:
  1. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  2. Fifty Shades Darker by E.L. James
  3. Where We Belong by Emily Giffin
  4. Bones Are Forever by Kathy Reichs
  5. Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
  6. Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny
  7. Fifty Shades Freed by E. L. James
  8. Trust Your Eyes by Linwood Barclay
  9. Sweet Tooth by Ian MacEwan
  10. Watching the Dark by Peter Robinson

Monday, May 21, 2012

For All the Tea in China

  • Happy Victoria Day!
    I love our quixotic, very Canadian holiday. Did you know Canada is the only country in the world to celebrate Victoria Day? Strange but true.
    Below two Victorianish book picks for the St. Albert Gazette Good reading! column.

    For All the Tea in China by Sarah Rose
    A ripping tale of Victorian adventure, all the more incredible because it’s true. In 1848, the British East India Company sent Scottish botanist Robert Fortune deep inside China to steal the secrets to tea horticulture. A thrilling account of Fortune’s remarkable journeys into China – a daring act of corporate espionage.

    The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin
    An appealing novel of changing times in the late Victorian era, sure to appeal to fans of Downton Abbey. In 1893, Cora Cash, America's richest heiress, heads to Europe with her mother to marry into aristocracy. Soon enough, engaged to the Duke of Wareham, Cora discovers that money can’t buy everything.
    The painting of Victoria above was Victoria's secret: a special painting by Franz Winterhalter of Vic at age 24 done for her husband Albert. known as the "secret picture", Albert kept the painting in his private chambers and it only became known to the public in 2002.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Edmonton Bestsellers - May 13, 2012

Local Bestsellers, as compiled by Greenwoods Books and published in the Edmonton Journal on May 13, 2012. * = Canadian author ** = Alberta author *** = Edmonton author.

  1. 419 - Will Ferguson **
  2. Coppermine - Keith Ross Leckie *
  3. The Prague Cemetery - Umberto Eco
  4. The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins
  5. Half-Blood Blues - Esi Edugyan **
  6. Why Men Lie - Linden MacIntyre *
  7. The Art of Fielding - Chad Harbach
  8. The Sisters Brothers - Patrick deWitt *
  9. 50 Shades of Grey - E.L. James
  10. Killing Winter - Wayne Arthurson ***
  1. The Cure for Everything - Timothy Caulfield ***
  2. Foodshed - dee Hobsbawn-Smith **
  3. Baba's Kitchen Remedies - Michael Mucz ***
  4. Food & the City - Jennifer Cockrall-King ***
  5. What We Talk About When We Talk About the War - Noah Richler *
  6. F in Exams - Richard Benson
  7. The Healing Code - Alexander Loyd
  8. Straphanger - Tara Grescoe *
  9. The Table Comes First - Adam Gopnik *
  10. Imagine - Jonah Lehrer
Both #1 writers have been the St. Albert Public Library's guests, Will Ferguson for STARfest in October 2011, Timothy Caulfield just a few days ago for a talk. Edmontonian Wayne Arthurson was also the Library's guest in 2011, Michael Mucz just yesterday.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Scotiabank Alt-Giller Shortlist

Today the Scotiabank Giller Prize jury of novelists Howard Norman, Andrew O’Hagan and Annabel Lyon announced the results of their culling of the Giller longlist of 17 down to a shortlist of 6. Congratulations to all the authors who have made it to the official 2011 Scotiabank Giller shortlist:
David BezmozgisThe Free World
Lynn CoadyThe Antagonist
Patrick deWittThe Sisters Brothers
Esi EdugyanHalf-Blood Blues
Michael OndaatjeCat's Table
Zsuzsi GartnerBetter Living Through Plastic Explosives
Here at St. Albert Public Library our patrons created a local version of the shortlist by placing holds on the longlist titles - an Alt-Giller shortlist. Our list would drop Bezmozgis, Edugyan and Gartner in favour of Endicott, Vanderhaeghe and Johnston:
1Michael OndaatjeCat's Table
2Marina EndicottThe Little Shadows
3Guy VanderhaegheA Good Man
4Wayne JohnstonA World Elsewhere
5Patrick deWittThe Sisters Brothers
6Lynn CoadyThe Antagonist

Locally, Michael Ondaatje's Cat's Table is by far the most popular, but Marina Endicott's The Little Shadows and Guy Vanderhaeghe's A Good Man aren't far behind. We are very big Marina Endicott fans hereabouts, so we were disappointed not to see The Little Shadows on the shortlist. But we shout huzzah for another local hero, Lynn Coady, making it to the shortlist with The Antagonist. Look for an appearance by both Marina and Lynn at the Library, probably early in the new year. [Photo above is Marina (L) and Lynn (R) at the launch of The Antagonist in Edmonton in September].

Friday, August 26, 2011

Summer Gone

They go too quickly, Alberta summers. Driving north from Red Deer yesterday I couldn't help but notice the tinge of yellow in some of the trees along the highway. Sigh. The end of summer always reminds of David Macfarlane's lovely novel Summer Gone - a book that didn't get near enough buzz when it came out in 1999. 
Below a few end-of-summer reads:
Summer Gone by David Macfarlane (1999)
A beautifully-written, elegiac novel about fathers and sons, fleeting Canadian summers, canoeing, Muskoka cottages, secrets and regret.
Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead (2009)
Summer brings out memories of the endless sun-drenched summers of youth. Brooklyn writer Whitehead remembers the summer of 1985 (New Coke and The Cosby Show) with this autobiographical coming-of-age novel set in Long Island’s Sag Harbor starring 15-year-old Benji Cooper.
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (1972)
Swedish writer Tove Jansson distills the essence of summer into twenty-two crystalline vignettes. This brief novel tells the story of Sophia, a six-year-old girl awakening to existence, and Sophia's grandmother, nearing the end of hers, as they spend the summer on a tiny unspoiled island in the Gulf of Finland.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Fair Country

Some recent Native/Metis Canadian books that were picked for the St. Albert Gazette Good Reading column in honour of National Aboriginal Day.

One Story, One Song  by Richard Wagamese
For National Aboriginal Day, a new collection of warm, wise and inspiring true stories in this a follow-up to Wagamese’s bestselling memoir, One Native Life. This time Wagamese invites us with him on his travels as he tells stories that show the four principles of native Ojibway tradition: humility, trust, introspection and wisdom.

Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont  by Joseph Boyden
You could meet Louis Riel in person - as portrayed by St. Albert actor Matt Chaney - at the Rendezvous 2011 "Meet the Street" event on June 12th. Local actors lead by Paul Punyi and Maureen Rooney took on the personas of local historical characters (plus people like Riel important to local history) in celebration of St. Albert's 150th anniversary. In this fascinating dual biography novelist Joseph Boyden (Three Day Road) takes on Riel and his fellow Métis leader Gabriel Dumont.

Motorcycles and Sweetgrass by Drew Hayden Taylor
The noted Native Canadian writer has written and edited a number of books, but here it puts it all together in his first novel for adults. This engaging, funny story is set in the sleepy Anishnawbe (Ojibwa) community of Otter Laek, Ontario, where Chief Maggie Second is trying to juggle her busy life. Then one day a handsome stranger pulls up on a 1953 Indian Chief motorcycle and life is turned upside down.

A Fair Country: Telling Truths about Canada by John Ralston Saul
From one of Canada’s great thinkers, a brilliant and persuasively argued book that proposes that Canada is a Métis nation, shaped by aboriginal ideas of egalitarianism, a balance between individuals and groups, and a reflex for negotiation over violence.

Monday, February 07, 2011

The Yacoubian Building

"Egypt? What? Really?" I like to think I'm reasonably well-informed but the protests in Egypt definitely surprised me. If only I'd read the novel The Yacoubian Building by Cairo dentist, activist, journalist, and - oh yes - novelist, Alaa Al Aswany. It is a perfect example of a work of fiction being able to give context to fast-moving current events.
The New York Review of Books said the novel (2002 Arabic, 2004 English translation) is "an amazing glimpse of modern Egyptian society and culture". The novel focuses on the lives of the residents of the decaying Yacoubian apartment in downtown Cairo, during the Gulf War of 1990. Each character is a thread in the colourful carpet that is modern Egypt, "where political corruption, ill-gotten wealth, and religious hypocrisy are natural allies, where the arrogance and defensiveness of the powerful find expression in the exploitation of the weak, where youthful idealism can turn quickly to extremism..." (from the book's cover).
Al Aswanny is a modern-day version of Nobel Prize-winning Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz. Both are social realists, using fiction to point out the problems of Egyptian society. Both have a strong dislike of Islamic fundamentalism and its Egyptian home in the Muslim Brotherhood. In books like his classic Cairo Trilogy (Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street) Mahfouz was writing about the malaise of Egypt under colonialism from the 20s to the 50s. Al Aswany writes of the malaise of Egpyt under born-in-Egypt oppression.
Al Aswany's latest novel, Chicago (2007 in English) is about the life of young Egyptians living in Chicago, with Egyptian and American lives colliding on a college campus, post-9/11.
A bit of a media star, here's Aswany talking to Charlie on the Charlie Rose show in 2008:

The New Yorker suggests The Yacoubian Building and some more fiction (plus the memoir Persepolis to help understand the Egyptian crisis.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Goat Song

When I saw the photo above of Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff holding a pack of St. Albert cheddar, I wondered where this "St. Albert" fromagerie could be? Alas, a little googling revealed that the cheeserie in question is in another St. Albert, in Ontario, not far from Ottawa. Le fromage, c'est dommage (our Alberta St. Albert would be perfect for an artisan goat cheese operation!)
Iggy seems quite pleased with his cheese. I don't blame him - cheese is a true delight. For me, one of the highlights of visiting BC's Salt Spring Island in the summer is a trip to Salt Spring Island Cheese, not far from the ferry dock at Fulford Harbour. This is a delightful place, with a gorgeous view over the Pacific. It was founded and is owned by David and Nancy Wood, who were refugees from the hectic urban life of Toronto. In 1990 Wood sold his hip Toronto gourmet grocery to "get a life" on Salt Spring. Perhaps the life of a goat cheese maker sounded bucolic, but Wood soon realized the hard work and headaches involved.
Two recent memoirs talk about the dream of packing in the city life for a life of artisan cheese making:

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Snowman

I've posted a piece on Norwegian Nordic Noir over at the Library version of Pete's Picks. Yesterday was Norway's national holiday, Constitution Day, so I chose a Jo Nesbo book (The Snowman) for one of this week's St. Albert Gazette Great Reading picks. The other pick was an Icelandic novel, the latest mystery from Arnaldur Indridason (Hypothermia) - in honour of the infamous Eyjafjallajokull volcano!