Edmonton Tourist: Emily Murphy Park

I tried to wander around Emily Murphy Park Saturday morning but I couldn’t find a parking spot. This is arguably one of my favourite river valley parks because it is secluded and there is a kick-ass fire pit hidden within the park. I am not divulging the location, even today when the park was slammed with people my beloved firepit stood alone – hidden waiting for me to return (or my pal because I told her about it).

from 2011

While going through my archives, I realized I never visited this park as part of the Edmonton River Valley Park series. Cap and I made our way down to see a huge party at the shelter. No masks, no social distancing….so I guess in two weeks we will know the outcome. I took a photo of Emily Murphy herself (in bronze) and thought briefly about first wave feminism. Don’t @ me about how terrible it was these famous five women didn’t consider bipoc in their quest to be know as people. That is why it is first wave. The ones who came first to open the door and suggest the world could be different. Super flawed but most people don’t consider others, they only think of themselves. It’s up to you to change that. Don’t like it? Do something.

I circled the park. To the south the road is closed because of the Groat Road construction. That is a shame because that way leads to the trails along Mayfair Gold Course and into Hawrelak Park. The photos below are from 2011. The park hasn’t changed.

To the east the trail was clear. That path takes you into Kinsmen Park, The Walterdale Museum, the Highlevel Bridge and the Walterdale Bridge.

Sitting on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, Emily Murphy Park feels like it is in the middle of nowhere. The University of Alberta is up the hill. Downtown is across the river. But it feels like it is in the middle of nowhere. That is what I like best about Edmonton’s River Valley Park system. It feels like wilderness in the middle of the city. Where else can you live and be surrounded by wildlife one minute and head for the coffee bar the next?

This shows the park in all her glory when the park was empty on a Friday night in 2011.

When we left the park, we headed for Government House. I wanted a view of the valley and about 500 less people. I will save that story for next time.

Edmonton Tourist: Queen Elizabeth Planetarium

Have you ever been to the planetarium? Not the Space Science Centre, the Queen Elizabeth Planetarium located at Coronation Park. It was the first planetarium in Canada and I used to go all the time when I was a kid. I remember sitting in the blue velvet seats (I have know idea if they were or not, but that is how I remember them) and staring at the white lights on the ceiling called stars.

I learned abut constellations and gained enough knowledge that I would pick them out in my backyard and name them. I still can. It was something my grandpa and I would stand in the back yard and we would point them out to each other. My brother was looking for UFOs and I was looking for other planets. Grandpa would always point out Cassiopeia – the W in the sky. He told me it was God’s initial W. It stood for Warren, Grandpa’s last name – implying he was the divine. If you knew my grandpa, you would know he was a giant fibber, all in fun, but a giant fibber just the same.

Stargazing was a huge favourite pastime of mine – still is to some extent. I am not a rabid fan like the hubs but I enjoy it on a crisp fall night. I remember coming here with my class for field trips and with my cousins with my grandma. The place seemed huge but I loved gazing at the stars from the comfort of the chairs. I remember the building being larger, of course I was a kid so everything was larger.

This building is supposed to open soonish – hard to say when since there is a pandemic, but soonish could mean next year. They did a marvelous job on the inside. I took a peak and the restored architectural design is quite lovely, even the bust of Her Majesty looks grand.

Trying to find this place from memory was tricky. I have walked to it from the Space Science centre, of course we have parked at the building when I was a child, but trying to drive to it wasn’t as straight forward as I expected. The building is in a back alley of sorts now. Behind Ross Shepherd High School. It is directly across from the sports field. I found it eventually and walked around the building. The mosaics are still located in the front of the building which is now the back. The front faces the park and the back of the building is the parking lot. It doesn’t matter, it creates a grand entrance.

I am glad the City of Edmonton preserved it. It is a true historical gem.

Stay safe and healthy friends and get out to explore your town.

Bake Club: Pumpkin Bourbon Bread

Back in the spring when I was buying squash seeds, I purchased butternut squash. When they came from the online shop they were actually kobocha squash. This was a happy accident. I had no idea what to do with them but after a little research, I learned they taste like pumpkin and sweet potato. Libby’s uses these to make their canned pumpkin – this could be a lie because I hear Libby genetically created their own special squash. Doesn’t matter – the kobocha squash tasted exactly like canned pumpkin only… fresher if that makes sense.

I harvested them, cut them up, seeded and roasted them for about an hour at 400F – until fork tender. I had 5lbs of squash and that should yield about 2-2.5 cups of puree. I pushed the roasted pulp through a sieve and was very pleased with the result.

The puree was smooth and tasty.

I followed Melissa Clark’s Pumpkin Bourbon Bread recipe. I had a some bourbon leftover from making vanilla extract and I had 1 3/4 of squash left aft I ran it through the sieve so it work out perfectly! You can use canned pumpkin but my garden squash was next level!

Her method for making brown butter was the easiest method. The key is to use a skillet. That way you can actually see when the solids turn. Big foam – then brown solids. Perfect.

I added all the wet ingredients into the squash except the sugar. That was weird. The sugar needed to be whisked into the flour. I had never done that before.

The 1/4 cup of whisky smelled amazing. Don’t leave it out. It makes this bread.

Then combine everything together and fill two 8″ loaf pans. I have 9″ so they were a bit shallow.

This made two loaves and I think pistachios would be great in this. I used fresh and fragrant ground cardamom – It is worth doing that as well. I am learning fresh spices not purchased in bulk at Costco is worth it. The flavour intensity is amazing.

These were simple to make and Melissa Clarks instructions are always easy to follow. I added this recipe to my hand written recipe book because I will always make this version.

Stay healthy friends!

Bake Club: Vanilla Extract

Has anyone else notice how expensive vanilla extract is? The price keeps rising because of how labour intensive it is to grow them and how rare they are. 80% of the worlds supply comes from Madagascar. I spend – roughly on average – $204 for twelve cups of pure vanilla extract. I think I go through about one and a half cups a year. This year is a bit more because of the pandemic but maybe it is my regular life now, who knows? But even at $25 a year – that gets expensive. It also isn’t always the best quality. My mom brought me 2L of Mexican vanilla once. It was wonderful and lasted a couple of years. Last year I went to Trader Joe’s and brought home bourbon vanilla extract, 1/2 cup for $9 usd. It was good. I mean, reeeeeaaaaalllyyyy good. I wanted that flavour on a regular basis.

So I did the research.

I watched numerous videos and read articles about making your own. I learned that the more vanilla bean you use, the faster it is ready. One gal used 1 bean per four cups and it took a year before she could use it. Ina Gartner uses 10 beans per four cups and it was read in less than 4 weeks. Regardless of quantity, the process is incredibly simple.

Next I did the research looking for vanillla bean. Sobeys rarely has any and often it is one in a glass test tube for $8. Bulk Barn didn’t have any – but they cary paste. Cool to know, but not what I am looking for. I googled a local source and found Silk Road Spice Merchant on Whyte Avenue. The original shop is in Calgary. They recently reopened here in Edmonton. There was a bit of a wait to enter the shop. The limit the number of people allowed in at one time. They have sanitized baskets, hand sanitizer at the entrance and pleanty of staff on hand to help.

THIS WAS A COOL SHOP!

It felt like an old timey apothecary. There were jars of various spices lined on shelves. You could purchase in jars or they would weigh out amounts for you an put it in a bag. All of it was cool.

I went in looking for whole nutmeg for my pumpkin pies and 10 Tahitian vanilla beans (the lesser expensive to Madagascar bean). I came away with black volcanic salt from Hawaii, and very fragrant cardamom. The smells and pungency of these spices are incredible compared to Bulk Barn. Fresh is best apparently.

The vanilla bean was the freshest I have ever experienced. They were soft and fragrant.

I cut them in half. My kitchen and I smelled like vanilla for the rest of the day and I wasn’t mad about that.

I bought the cheapest bourbon available to me. $25 for 750 ml of Jim Bean Kentucky Bourbon, I bought two. I filled three 2-cup jars with the bourbon. and divided up the twenty pieces. When it got down to the last two, I chopped them in thirds and popped them into the jars.

I have left them on my counter so I remember to shake them up about three-four times a day for a week. Then once in the pantry, they will get a shake about once every four to five days. In 4-6 weeks it should be ready to use and will last indefinitely.

Once the jar has about a quarter left, I can refill it with bourbon for one more use. That doubles the value of those beans or I can squeeze the the beans and get a paste out and stick the empty pod in to a jar of sugar to make vanilla sugar. Either way, excellent value because six cups of vanilla bourbon extract cost me $99. I saved $105. Maybe I will buy myself some new cake pans, a new rolling pin and a set of circle cutters. OR I could buy new electric beaters. OR maybe just put it away for something else.

When these beauties are ready they will be dark – just like the stuff you buy from the grocery store. I will let you know how it turns out.

Stay healthy everyone!

Edmonton Tourist: Muttart Conservatory

I am getting braver. I still won’t go inside public buildings, except for grocery and pharmacy. But I am visiting lesser visited outdoor public spaces. This week I went to a few spots in Edmonton’s beautiful river valley.

September is sunflower season here. I was starting to see sunflowers pop up on my Instagram feed. I thought I would go and see if the Horticultural Society was still maintaining the gardens at the Muttart. The Muttart Conservatory is closed this year and next for extensive renovations. Hindsight tells them, it was good timing, the same goes for Fort Edmonton. Timing is everything! The new LRT line is under construction and quite frankly the roads are a mess.

But…

This scares people off and I’m for it.

The parking lot at the Muttart was surprisingly full but I learned that was for the construction. I found a spot in the north section and parked. A few masks were tossed on the ground. Your mom doesn’t work here so clean up after yourself. You should be ashamed. Clip those loops and toss in the trash. Better yet, purchase a pile of reusables and wash them. At least you are wearing a mask…

Captain and I walked south towards the cute little foot bridge at the path entrance.

There were a few people walking around but only two small families. My first thought was this would be a lovely spot for a wedding. I knew an Egyptian family who immigrated here years ago. They held their daughter’s wedding photos here because of the pyramids. They were beautiful photos.

I had forgotten there was a gazebo too.

This park is really charming. Cap was pulling me onward towards the gardens. I instantly spied the sunflower bed. So we headed towards it.

It shared space with zinnias, or at least I think they are zinnias. Fun fact, they were Lois Holes favourite flower – or at least she said they were in her annuals book.

You can’t tell from this photo but the space between the gardens and the cityscape is the LRT construction. Crouch low so you get the best vantage point.

The bees were busy gathering pollen for winter. I found a few hives mounted on trees to support bee life here in Edmonton, SAVE OUR POLLINATORS!

I took a pile of photos of just sunflowers. You can check those out on Instagram, some even star bees.

We wandered around the flower beds and found the afternoon to be relaxing. I missed this. I miss Edmonton’s parks. But I am reluctant to go to many places. Usually the colder weather reduces the number of people in the parks, so I am going to check more out this fall. I am not afraid of cold and snow, and it keeps people inside. All the better for me.

My plan was to climb up on top of the conservatory. The conservatory is built into the ground with the centre courtyard a flat space for walking around and looking into the greenhouse pyramids. I climbed up the steep bank only to find the walkway closed. Sad sigh on my part.

We climbed back down and walked around the south side of the conservatory. This area was ankle deep grass. It wasn’t mowed all season.

I knew the community gardens were around the west side of the conservatory so we headed there. These gardens are overrun with weeds but we found strawberries, peppers, green tomatoes, chard and milkweed.

I turned around an saw a tiny path that let to Dove of Peace Park, but I will save that for next week.

Have you been to the Muttart Gardens? It is a perfect place to sit and meditate or wander around and smell the flowers. It is worth a visit.

Edmonton Tourist: University of Alberta

It is the time of year when students are heading back to school and participating in a once in a lifetime pandemic. Life is strange and unfamiliar right now. Both my adult children are attending classes but not at their campus of choice. They are attending classes via Teams, Zoom and eClass. This is how I finished my degree, so I know a little bit about what they are going through. It is hard to make connections, participate in group work, and borrow books from the library. My work from home situation is similar. It is hard to work on group projects, chat and become inspired and get those creative juices flowing. However, it is what it is and we are making the most of it.

My daughter is annoyed that she is paying buckets of money and she doesn’t even get to enjoy the best part of University, Fall Semester on the Arts Quad. I have to agree. It is the best part about about being a U of A student. Certainly not the windowless classrooms, but walking across campus to get to different classes before winter sets in.

I left the house last week for the first time since forever or blursday, I can’t remember. I hadn’t been on campus since last fall. My MRI doesn’t count because I was in and out of the Kaye without going anywhere but my car. I was doing some architectural research for a book I am working on and drove to the University of Alberta Campus and brought my pal Captain. We could have stayed in the car but I needed to walk.

It felt normal. I miss normal.

I parked at Rutherford House Provincial Historic site. For those of you not in the know, Alexander Rutherford was Alberta’s first Premier. His other lesser home is found in the valley at Fort Edmonton Park. I have toured this house a lot. I used to imagine living here when I was a kid. I loved the opulence of the grand staircase and the idea of having a maid to cook meals. My hubs does that now and it is as decadent as you think it might be. We walked around the gardens taking bad photos.

The gardens are well maintained and lovely for being so late in the season.

We headed south towards the Common where the international students reside as well as other student housing. I love that the campus sits on the south bank of the North Saskachewan River.

The older homes mixed with the newer architecture is normal to me and I love the character it adds to Garneau neighbourhood. The big elm trees that hang over the streets is so lovely and calming. I ask myself every time I am here, WHY DO I NOT LIVE HERE?

We stopped and admired gardens and buildings then found ourselves in front of Convocation Hall, the old Arts Building. The entire arts quad is lovely. A friend of mind said it reminds him of Harvard. Harvard is 383 years old, U of A is 112 years old but it feels stately and peacful.

There is a little brook between Convocation Hall and Hub. I love to sit here and just think or meditate. I have had many great ideas here and the best part is I haven’t shared this spot with anyone so it isn’t tainted with memories. It is just my spot to visit alone.

My parents used to take my brother and I here for walks in the evening. Likely my dad had to drop off a paper or we were picking him up from class. I don’t remember, but I loved running around the big trees and visiting the Turtle or as the sign post says, Tory Building.

So many great memories here for me. I hope my kids have equally great ones too. Get out and explore new neighbourhoods, Edmonton is a lovely city.

Edmonton Tourist: Emily Murphy House

I was researching Garneau, a community in Edmonton, for a new novel I am writing and I stumbled upon Emily Murphy’s house. I knew she lived in Edmonton when she arrived west in 1907. I didn’t give much thought to where she lived. I was looking around google maps looking for a specific architectural style needed for my story. I knew it was in the area between the High Level Diner and the river valley, but I zoomed out a bit to see what else was in that neighbourhood and a pin was marking her house.

I am not a stranger to the University of Alberta. I worked in the area for years, attended classes on campus, and worked production on the Indoor Games held at the Butter Dome. I would run all over the commons and quad, check out the public art and dine at the locals like Sugar Bowl and High Level Diner. My friend Jenny even lived on the same street at the Murphy House and I never knew it.

Emily Murphy House is located 11011 – 88 Ave on the 88 Ave common. It’s a road that only has vehicle access occasionally, usually during student move in time. The house is surrounded by student housing for the University of Alberta. The student housing was originally built for the 1983 Universiade Games as athletes village. (I remember those games and spent the entire summer on campus watching events and games. It was a great summer.) The tree lined common is typical of the area, well, typical of most of the older Edmonton neighbourhoods, with elm boulevard trees.

The house was not marked from street view, I had to walk right up to the stairs before I found the historical marker. It was built in 1912. Emily Murphy didn’t move into the home until 1917 and lived there until her death on 1933. I stood there for a moment thinking about the significance. She was an activist and author in her own right, but also part of the Famous Five. The group of Canadian white women who fought for the right to be people under the law in the infamous Persons Case. That is some big history in this house. The Person’s Case happened in 1929. Big meetings happened in that house. I found that cool. It still surprises me that I hadn’t thought about where Emily Murphy might live. The park that bears her name is straight north of the house in the river valley and there is a statue that commemorates her and her contributions. I also had been there but not in a few years. It is one of my favourite places for a picnic though. Check it out if you are in the area.

I guess my point is, Edmonton is full of history and interesting things to look at. You don’t need to go to other cities or countries to be a tourist. You can do it in your own backyard.

Stay healthy everyone.

Bake Club: Cornflake Chocolate Chip Cookie

I joined Christina Tosi’s Bake Club. I decided to try her famous Cornflake Chocolate Marshmallow cookies right out of the gate. I read her recipe and watched her do this on a lot of different videos. I used this recipe. In theory and in taste it is the perfect cookie. I made it. I read the reviews and learned there is something not right about the recipe because it couldn’t possibly be my skills. It was everyone else that was a terrible baker…not me. I will get to that, but first, let’s go through the process (no matter how disastrous the end result was for me).

Step one: Make the Cornflake Crunch (Warning: this stuff should be called crack. It is addicting.)

I made this the day before because it needs to be at room temperature before you use it. I crushed cornflakes and added powdered milk, sugar, salt and melted butter. I tossed them together and spread it out on a silpat lined baking sheet and baked it for 20 minutes.

It tasted familiar but also like nothing I have eaten before. After it cooled I stored it in an air-tight container.

Dang it was good. I would be happy snacking on this. Forget carrot sticks….

The next morning, I began the mixing of the cookie batter because it needed to chill for a while. The reviews said to freeze it, but I trusted Christina and only chilled them in the fridge.

THIS WAS MISTAKE NUMBER ONE.

The first part of the instructions call for beating the life out of the butter, sugar and eggs for 10 minutes. TEN MINUTES! So I did.

This stuff was so light and fluffy you could make clouds with it.

Then I needed to add the flour and mix until almost combined – that took less than one minute. Next add the Cornflake Crunch, marshmallows and mini chocolate chips.

Simple enough. I took my large cookie scoop as instructed and scooped out tightly packed balls of dough and lined them up on a sheet pan to chill a minimum of 30 minutes. I chilled them for four hours because I had errands to run.

The batter made enough for 24 balls. EXACTLY 24 balls. I had weighed the ingredients for precision and was very impressed. The dough tasted promising, like the cookie would be delicious!

The recipe directed me to bake for 18 minutes in a 375F oven.

THIS WAS MISTAKE NUMBER TWO

This yielded flat lacy dark brown cookies. nothing like the cookies in the picture. Luckily it was only six. I shortened the time to 13 minutes and it was a bit better. Then finally to 10 minutes and they were lighter in colour but still really spread out. Super crispy on the outside. Just like the reviews said it would be.

I think the oven was too hot. They taste good, but super greasy and not cookie like at all. I was so disappointed. I had high hopes and wanted this to be a successful return to baking. Now I have a box of toffee with cookie crumbs instead of cookies.

They look nothing like Tosi’s, so my inclination is to say lower the temperature of the oven to 300F or even 350F and bake for 10 minutes then check them. I am not sure if I will try again unless I find the recipe from her cookbook.

I will give bake club another try. I think I will make birthday cake next. It is grandpa’s birthday tomorrow, he would have been 97 and he hated cake. So if it turns out terrible, he won’t mind.

Simplicity

It’s been a while since I have been here. All is well and I hope things are moving along for you too. I have fallen into an easy routine of sleep, eat, work. Not much has changed except I don’t go out. I have driven three times this month. Three. Very strange for a gal who used to commute daily to and from work and then travel to some piece of solitude in a forest somewhere with my dog. I went to a nursery for a curbside pickup, I scouted some green space locations for work, twice. That is all. It feels foreign to operate my vehicle. I long for the day when I can go on a road trip and sit in solitude again.

My baking obsession has made way for my garden obsession. I made babka on the weekend and I feel solid on my bread skills. I know what to look for in yeast, textures and slowly getting the hang of proving. I am not an expert but past Robyn can sure learn a lot from present Robyn.

In case you are wondering, Babka is chocolate bread and worth the three days it takes to make.

I have been drawn to Pacific Trail documentaries. I read Wild by Cheryl Strayed years ago and have always thought that type of quest would be good for me. When I drove from Edmonton to Big Sur, I spent enough alone time to figure things out and learn what makes me tick. What I didn’t do was act on those gut instincts. I suppose it’s all a process. I wasn’t brave enough then, but I am now. I finally acted on some of those inner voice lessons. After watching a few of those Pacific Crest Trail documentaries, I learned a few things:

  1. I like a comfortable bed and find tenting exhausting. Sure there was a time when finances prevented me from comfort camping in a hotel and I enjoyed the stars and wilderness and loud nature quiet, but sleeping on the ground or in a trailer is not my thing anymore. I’d rather be in a cottage with a front step that overlooks nature.
  2. Self exploration is a gift. It can be found through meditation, walking in nature or just sitting alone. You don’t need to walk 2668 miles from Mexico to Canada to to learn about yourself. But it can teach you what you are made of.
  3. I have spent enough alone time with myself to learn I need more alone time. I cry deeply and it cleanses something within me. It happened on a rock watching whales at Devil’s Slide, standing in the ocean at Chesterman Beach, paddling down the river at Saunders, poking my finger in a bullet hole on a church in Freudenstadt, lying in a hospital with kidney (almost)failure. Each time there was an awareness that I was part of something bigger than myself.
  4. The world isn’t going to go back to the way things were. A new way will happen and no one knows what it is yet. Accepting new things will ease transition.
  5. Living simply is easy and restful. Those people on the Pacific Crest Trail learned that by mile 1500. You don’t need much. I don’t think my family needs multiple cars. If we move somewhere more urban we won’t need any. If we move back into nature we will need a couple. I am leaning towards a more urban life where I can walk to nature, the market or the grocery store, the library and (this is where I am trying to think of what else I need but am stumbling) but I will have to drive to work unless they let me work from home forever.
  6. Making food with your own hands is satisfying and meaningful. We ate out once in two months. Was it worth it? No. The food we make is so delicious. We waste less and plan more. We also snack less – or I do, I can’t speak for my family. I make delicious baked goods and we sample that once a day rather than eat like we will never see food again. When I do for myself, I feel comfort in knowing what is in my meal. Simple. Fresh tastes amazing. The green onions on my growing table taste so good in rice, eggs and on sandwiches. I grow it and cook it and eat it. Simple food is satisfying, I can’t think of another word that works better.
Three harvests so far, #4 is for sour cream and onion biscuits.

I suppose I am consoling myself that my vacation has been cancelled and I won’t be traveling out of the country for a very long time. I live a simpler life now and decided to take a vacation in my back yard where I will stand in my garden and let tears cleanse me. Being alone in peaceful silence or loud neighbourhoods will have to be enough this year. I have enough fire wood to sit under the stars and the aurora borealis and poke the coals to enjoy a favourite pastime. Not having disappointments or drama or big expenses won’t be missed this year. A simple vacation is what I need this year.