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What's Cooking?

Why Not?

by Treva McNally

Barb MacLeod of The Uncommon Grocer at one of her vegetarian cooking classesIs it just my imagination or have cooking lessons become the latest form of entertainment? Classes seem to be popping up everywhere, including the community rooms at SuperStore and Sobeys, at Community Schools and at the Uncommon Grocer, and there are probably more because I didn't look very hard to find those ones. Many classes are free, although several cost $5 and a few of the more exotic ones cost $10. I've also heard rumors that some guys have signed up to take cooking lessons so that they can meet women but I can't confirm that.

I decided to see what it was all about and found I could register for instructions on Healthy Cooking, Weight Loss, Meal Planning, Culinary Adventure, Kids Cooking, Cajun Cuisine, Mexican Fiesta, Healthy Resolution, Japanese Cuisine, East Indian Made Easy, Moroccan Cuisine, Spanish Cuisine, or Heart Smart cooking. An advertisement which promised to teach me "to lose weight and drop my cholesterol permanently with vegetarian cooking lessons from The Uncommon Grocer" appealed to me because I had always been curious about vegetarian cooking and I could take it during the day, so I signed up.

The sessions were held in the large open rear area of the store, and seven of us were there for the first class. It was the owner/instructor Barb MacLeod's first time teaching but her enthusiasm more than made up for her inexperience. The first week she made Falafel Balls accompanied by a vegetable spread, and while the falafel was good, the spread (which was made from tofu) was delicious. The next week Barb made a leek and tofu quiche which didn't appeal to me, but I was enjoying myself and decided that I would take a few more classes to see what else I could learn. It was a good decision, because later she made grilled tofu with mushroom sauce and Creole tempeh which were both so good that I made them at home and got rave reviews from my non-vegetarian family.

After just five classes, I'm not about to embrace vegetarianism completely, but I did learn to prepare some good tofu dishes and I became aware of some healthier substitutes to use when cooking. In the process, I met some interesting people and had a good time. If you have an evening free, it's well worth the small expenditure of time and money to take a cooking lesson and dazzle your friends and family afterwards. The hardest part will be deciding which one to take.

Peeling the Layers

Institute of Island Architectural Studies and Conservation lectures

by Treva McNally

Maurice Roy gives a Institute of Island Architectural Studies and Conservation lecture. Photo: Treva McNally

In January, when the days are short, the roads are slippery, and the desire to stay inside is strong, the Institute of Island Architectural Studies and Conservation announces its winter lecture series. I often wondered who would go out in the dark and cold of winter to attend a lecture series so I decided to find out.

This year's lectures were held on the four Mondays in January in the Carriage House behind Beaconsfield. To my amazement, the organizers kept adding more and more chairs to accommodate all the people who came for the first lecture. That blustery night, more than a hundred people listened to historian Reg Porter speak on the origin of rural romantic architecture on P.E.I.

The next week, Maurice Roy spoke on the history and conservation of 40-42 Hillsborough Street and it was a very enjoyable evening. His lecture was illustrated with slides of the historic duplex he is restoring, and it left no doubt about the enormity of the task he has undertaken. Now into the third year of a planned ten year project, he described removing interior paneling to discover an inch of wall paper which had been layered on over crumbling plaster in the years since the house had been built in the mid 1800s. He found boarded up fireplaces and doors; floors with layers of linoleum, plywood and sub-floors; and an exterior that included layers of clapboard, shingles, 1950s brick-looking siding, all covered by asbestos siding which had to be professionally removed. Underneath all of this, he found that the house was originally a log cabin which had been added to several times till it reached its present dimensions. As I listened and watched, I could hardly believe he has continued to live in the house as he restores it, and I found myself trying to estimate how many dumpsters he has filled removing one hundred and fifty years of old layers.

Early 1800s Charlottetown house on Hillsborough St. Photo: Treva McNally

The two other lectures in the series which I plan to attend are Allan Rankin and the conservation of the Lefurgey properties in Summerside, and Robert Tuck and the building of All Souls Chapel. The speakers in this series are knowledgeable and eloquent with a passion for their subjects which they invite the audience to share. After listening to Maurice Roy, I have an increased appreciation for those who work so hard to save the old buildings which give our Island its beauty and character, and I thank the members of the Heritage Foundation who make it possible each winter for us to learn about it.

Pursuit of Trivia

by Treva McNally

Did you ever wonder what goes on at all those Trivia games advertised here in The Buzz? Eighteen weekly games were listed last month, and there are more than that. So why the popularity? Probably because it's fun, challenging, and sociable.

Question 1: Who wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls?

To play, all you need is a team, but it can be as small as two players or as large as you can manage around a table. Some teams play together for years, but others are just a collection of people who get together for the two hours or so that it takes to play a game.

Question 2: Which liquor store on P.E.I. has the highest annual sales?

The game is presided over by a trivia master, a person with a well-worn notebook full of handwritten questions which they guard with their life. It contains quirky facts they've collected, as well as the date and place they've asked the question so that they won't reuse it. There are two types of trivia masters: pleasant and sociable, like Doc or Will, or abusive and funny like Campy. And they are generally very good.

Question 3: What is the capital of Montana?

Each team is given a sheet of paper and there are usually two sets of fifteen "write down" questions, where team members agree on an answer before writing it down. These sheets are handed in to be marked and the scores determine the winner. Then there are "beer" questions-the trivia master asks a question, and contestants raise their arm to be acknowledged and asked for the answer. If right, the prize is a drink or a T shirt or another product provided by the event sponsor. If wrong, it costs a quarter which you throw into the empty boxes scattered about.

Question 4: In Grace Under Fire, what was Grace's husband's name?

If you enjoyed trying to answer the questions in this article, you would probably enjoy playing Trivia. Before giving it a try, call to confirm the time because occasionally it's canceled, or the time changes. And if you've never played before, it's not a bad idea to let the trivia master know-newcomers are always welcome and they'll guide you through your first time. Then try several different games to find the one you enjoy the most as each venue has its own atmosphere and type of questions.

Question 5: In the song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, what was given on the 11th day?

Getting All Fired Up

Do-It-Yourself Ceramics

by Treva McNally

Back in the 1970s and 80s, ceramics was a favourite hobby-everyone was decorating earthenware mugs, vases, Christmas trees, and seasonal ornaments, and signing their name and date on the bottom. You had to use your own brushes and tools and usually stored them in an empty Pringles potato chip can. Starting with a greenware piece, the seams left from the mold were scraped and sanded until smooth, and then the piece was fired in a kiln to harden before decorating could begin. As a result, even the smallest project took at least three or four studio sessions. At the end of each evening, everyone gathered to wash brushes and paint pots because a sign on the wall stated: "Your mother does not work here. Please clean up after yourselves."

Remembering that experience, I was intrigued when I saw an ad for a ceramic studio, Fired Up, suggesting that birthday parties could be held there. I couldn't imagine a party where a group of young people sat around a table sanding for several hours so I paid a visit to their location behind Leisure World in Charlottetown to see what had changed.

That evening, the customers included a table of very young teenagers as well as several couples working together. Clearly the demographics have changed from the 80s when ceramics was the domain of women over 30. Now, the earthenware pieces are already cleaned and fired so that you can skip cleaning and go directly to decorating. Brushes, stencils, stamps, tracing paper and paint are all provided, and there is a separate room for parties.

To try out the studio, I picked something small-napkin rings with a bamboo pattern. I asked Sarah Carver, who was working there that night, what I might do to decorate them and she suggested three to four coats of paint and then sponging with a darker colour to give depth. I did as she instructed and was able to do it all in an hour and a half. After leaving my pieces for a final firing, I started to take my brushes and paint pots over to the sink when Sarah told me that cleaning up was her job. I liked the changes!

This is not your mother's ceramic studio. Finishing a piece is much faster than it used to be and there are more ways to decorate it. For a productive pastime, Fired Up is worth considering. It's an enjoyable way to spend a few hours and you don't have to be an artist to create something attractive.

Holy Bargains, Batman!

by Treva McNally

It was while looking for used Hardy Boy books for my sister-in-law this summer that I first become a yard sale fan. I found the books for $1 each at a yard sale and while buying them, picked up some little Batman characters for my grandson. He loved them and wanted more, but they're not in the stores so I started going to yard sales on Saturday mornings to get enough for his house and mine. It was while searching for them that I also found a Limoges creamer for twenty-five cents, a deluxe Scrabble game for $5, a Braun coffee grinder for $5, an iron bed for $25, a beautiful Koleszar vase for $5 and, the piece de resistance, a Batman cape for $1!

My summer of yard saling ended with a grand finale-the 4th annual 70 Mile Coastal Yard Sale, sponsored by the Wood Islands and Area Development Corporation. Following the yard sale map and watching for the fence posts decorated with balloons, a friend and I made our first stop outside Orwell where we bought beautiful peacock feathers for $1 each. At one farm we bought big pumpkins for $1 and at another, freshly picked yellow corn. With our trunk full of produce, we went cross country through the hills of Caledonia towards Beach Point, experiencing some of the most beautiful scenery on PEI.

Participating homes, businesses, farms and restaurants were all marked on the map with symbols indicating washrooms, food, and multi-table sites. Some sites were so busy that we couldn't stop safely, and in Murray Harbour the only restaurant was packed so we ate delicious barbequed burgers prepared on the wharf by Minor Hockey volunteers. At Little Sands, we tried perogies with garlic butter at the Garlic Farm and sampled some wine at Rossignol's winery.

Throughout the day, we met up with old friends, talked to a lot of friendly people, saw some beautiful countryside, picked through great piles of junk and found some treasures including a dart board case for $6, two pieces of McCoy pottery for 25 cents each, a favourite out-of-date exercise video for $1 to replace one which had worn out, and incredibly, a Batmobile which lit up with a blue bulb inside ($5). It took us nearly a day to cover less than half the route so we'll have to go again next year and do the Belfast and Pinette section because there is still that great little chowder house at the tip of Point Prim to visit. Even if we don't find any treasures, it doesn't matter because the fun is in the hunting, as any good yard saler can tell you.

Taking up the harp

Proving that it's Never Too Late to Learn

by Treva McNally

Harpist Jill Harris

I have always liked music. I took many years of piano lessons as a child but hadn't played for a long time and found that I missed making music. As a result, in the last year or so I had been thinking about getting a keyboard or a similar portable instrument which didn't require rearranging the furniture. An article in The Guardian last year about playing the harp had caught my attention as a possible instrument to try, but I had been busy and hadn't followed it up.

Then this summer while visiting Woodleigh Replicas with my daughter, we arrived during a medieval fair featuring a woman in a long gown playing the harp. The woman was Joan Woods, the woman who been featured in the paper last year, and when I told her how much I liked the sound of her harp, she sat me down to try it. I plucked hesitantly and the most incredible sound came out . . . I was hooked! We exchanged phone numbers and in September, she called to tell me she had an Irish harp available and was I interested in taking lessons? Definitely "yes."

This first week of practicing on my beautiful Limerick rosewood lap harp with its rich tones has been one of ups and downs. I discover that although fingers that had once been nimble were now arthritic and stiff, I still remember how to practice and read music. Fingering on the harp is opposite to the piano but when you make a mistake, it doesn't sound as bad. Practicing takes effort but experiencing the improvement is exhilarating. Friends have been incredulous ("Why in the world would you want to play the harp?"), supportive ("When will you be ready to play for us") and good natured ("When do you get to buy the long dress?")

Since Joan started The Island Harp School nine years ago, the number of harps on PEI has grown to more than thirty, ranging from little lap harps to beautiful big concert models, and there are now more than fifty people playing them. When I listened to a senior student, Jill Harris, make beautiful music at the Harp School's open house and found she had been playing for only six years, I was filled with hope. If I keep practicing, maybe I'll see you at the medieval fair next year!

[If playing the harp is something you might like to try, you can reach Joan at 569-3178.]

Laughing at Ourselves

The Maritime Way of Life

Review by Treva McNally

Summer on Prince Edward Island would not be complete without a visit to Victoria-by-the-Sea, a picturesque little village filled with unique shops, antiques, restaurants, and art and crafts. And a visit to Victoria has to include a show at the Victoria Playhouse, the little theatre with marvelous acoustics which is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year as the centrepiece of Victorian summer life.

Each time I go to Victoria for a show, I like to walk around the village, visit some of the shops, and try one of the restaurants. This time I tried the Actor's Retreat Cafe next door to the theatre and had a good meal with excellent service. And it is an actor's retreat-while we were eating, Erskine Smith stopped in on his way to the theatre and made plans to meet some friends there after the show.

My choice of shows this year was The Maritime Way of Life, a hit from the 1999 season which has been brought back for another summer. The ad for this show says "You'll laugh as you share in Maritime foolishness" so you know right away that this will not be a sophisticated comedy. If that isn't enough, your second clue is that men play women's parts and women play men's parts, but they do it very well, especially Josh Weale and Erskine Smith.

This show was written by New Brunswick playwright, Charlie Rhindress, is set in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and is being performed on Prince Edward Island, so does represent the Maritimes but with stereotypes taken to the extreme. Pam Stevenson plays Pa, who continues to go to work every day to a mine which closed years ago, and Erskine Smith plays Ma, the matriarch of the family who enjoys a party line telephone so much that (s)he pays extra for the privilege. Josh Weale is Grandma, and although he has very little real dialogue, he manages to get some of the best laughs of the show with his mangled speech. Mia Ingimundson is the daughter who has come back from Toronto for a visit, and Darcy Gorman is her not-so-bright brother.

The Maritime Way of Life is light summer fare, but entertaining and well done. If you have an evening to spare, a visit to Victoria and the Playhouse is an enjoyable way to spend it.

Ahead to the Past

Don Messer's Jubilee

Review by Treva McNally

What a difference a year makes! The addition of Bill Langstroth, the original director and producer of Don Messer's Jubilee, to this production has given theatre patrons exactly what they were looking for last year-more Don Messer music. By keeping what was good (Leahy, lots of dancing, the set and costumes) and adding the Jubilee format to allow more Messer music, Langstroth has recreated the spirit of Don Messer and his Islanders that fans of the old television show enjoyed so much.

Frank Leahy is a fantastic violinist/fiddler and when he plays the Maple Leaf Rag on Messer's violin, the sound is so perfect that memories come flooding back to the older members of the audience. Leahy has very little dialogue, but pieces like "Hot Canary" let his violin do the talking. If you are new to Don Messer's music, you will certainly enjoy being introduced to it by Leahy.

Pamela Campbell and Craig Wood don't pretend to be Marg and Charlie, but both do a wonderful job of capturing their spirit. Campbell has a beautiful strong voice which is highlighted in songs like "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square," and she does Marg proud on "May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You." Craig Wood doesn't have the purity of sound that Campbell has, but he does have soul. His version of "Movin' On" is better than Hank Snow's, and Hank Williams must be smiling when Wood sings "Lovesick Blues."

The New Buchta Dancers keep the show lively, and their many costumes are very colourful. Michelle Banks and Jamie Farquhar depart from the original Buchta style with a great step dance number, and the other members of the dance company, Thea Campbell, Karen Cudmore, Melissa Vloet, Scott Fraser, Wade Munn, and Craig Purves are given lots of opportunity to show off as well.

The members of the New Islanders, Bill Stevenson, Trevor Campbell, Ross MacDonald, Peter Gallant and Gerry Rutten are a pleasure to listen to, and it's impossible not to clap along with Rutten's Clarinet Polka. Ken Williams does a good job as the master of ceremonies.

If you went last year and were disappointed that there wasn't more Messer music, go again this year, sit back and enjoy it. If you haven't seen it before, visit the Jubilee Theatre in Summerside and spend a very pleasant evening being introduced to the music of one of Canada's most popular fiddlers.

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