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Ah yes, the dog days of summer. When the star, Sirius, shines brightest in the night sky; the sun hangs about long into the evening; the weather is warm; the trees green and full.

It’s hard to believe a scant six months ago, the temperature was a breathless -30C. Fast forward to present and the mercury has jumped 60 degrees. One of the few joys of living on the prairies, I suppose.

It has been years since I’ve spent the summer in Winnipeg. (Even though I have been back for over a year, I spent the better part of last summer abroad.) Honestly, I’d forgotten how lovely this city can be at this time of year.

Perhaps when one leaves the city and becomes a, “I grew up in Winnipeg,” guy, one becomes so used to the inevitable, “God, the winters must be miserable!” and is so quick to defend them with a quick, “But, it’s a dry cold!” one never has time to consider the summertime.

Well, I’m considering it now — and think it’s splendid.

Really!

What’s not to like: hot weather, sunny skies, lush foliage, a steady stream of events and activities (i.e., Jazz, Folk, Fringe). Heck, just last week, on my day off (few and far between these days), I spent the day at the beach. The beach!

I bet those Toronto-centric, Eastern-Canadian, big-city sonofaguns didn’t even know we have beaches. Well, we do! And they’re lovely.

Granted, our summers are short — and it isn’t every year they’re this hot, sunny, and bug-free. But in a town with little to brag about (murder capital, longitudinal centre of the continent, not being Regina), I’ll gladly champion Winnipeg in the summertime.

Oh sure, I can think of a few places I’d rather be in the summertime (Barcelona tops the list), but beggars can’t be choosers; so, when not hunkered down in the kitchen, I count my blessings and celebrate these dog days in the Peg.

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It’s been almost a month now since I started my work term. Time has flown by and I have been having a blast.

With the weather slowly improving, the number of reservations is growing, the pace of the kitchen quickening.

I’m working the evening shift right now, which means my day starts at 2 p.m. and finishes anytime between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. During that time, I help finish up lunch service, handle any final prep for the evening and, if time permits, the following morning. All the while anticipation builds for the ensuing evening.

Every now and then I steal a moment for myself, taking a seat on an overturned milk crate, taking in the din of the air conditioning unit and the view of the dumpster across the staff parking lot whilst enjoying a cup of hot, albeit stale coffee. In it’s own rugged way, it’s blissful.

This past week was especially exciting: I had the chance to work the line alongside the executive chef. We were slammed, and he jumped in to help us push out a table for 20. I did my best to keep my cool, tending to the pickerel I was pan frying, steaks I was grilling and vegetables I was running to and from the steamer. It was intense, what with my chef keeping one eye on me, my methods and my timing. I managed okay.

Of course, what’s most extraordinary about times like those is how everyone, no matter their skill level, background, or depth of experience, pulls together, puts egos aside, and works like a cohesive team to get ‘er done.

And we did.

So far, so good.

What a difference a year makes.

Last summer I was gallivanting about Europe and North Africa; this summer, I am working the line in Winnipeg.

Red River College’s culinary arts program has a co-operative education component, which means I spend two-thirds of the program in the “classroom,” and a final third in the “real world.” During this, my first work placement (the second, next summer), I will be at a golf and country club in the southern end of the city.

It’s an ideal spot to get my sea legs, grow my skills, expand my knowledge, and gain some genuine work experience. Better still, I’ll be required to assist with all kinds of cooking; from short-order breakfasts and lunches, to fine dining dinners and banquets.

Why just the other night, we prepared a 6-course, seafood dinner for 80, including halibut with sweet potato mash and a vanilla bean-infused beurre blanc (top), seafood terrine with dill sauce and micro greens (middle), and wasabi-crusted salmon with a butter-poached rock lobster and a crispy parsnip garnish (bottom).

Granted, it’s early days yet, but so far, I’m loving it — and look forward to a busy summer spent on the line.

2010 has been a fantastic year.

And if I could summarize it with just one word, it would be this: travel.

Las Vegas not once, but twice. Twice to DohaQatar, too. Colorado, Kansas and Chicago. Summer through Spain and Morocco, in Paris, LondonEdinburgh, and Toronto, and across Ireland. Phew!

Along the way, I ate, I drank, I laughed and I loved.

And then, come the fall, I returned to school, to the kitchen, to chase down a dream.

Yes, 2010 was a pretty good year. And while I doubt 2011 will look anything like it, I’m hopeful it will be as exciting — replete with new sights, new sounds, new tastes, new adventures.

Onward.

Winter has arrived — with a vengeance.

In the space of 24 hours, Winnipeg went from being without snow to completely blanketed with the white junk. And I, for one, am not happy at all… especially when it looks like it’s here to stay.

Times like these, I find myself yearning for the beaches of Barcelona, Alicante or even Essaouira. Heck, I’d even take being poolside at the Doha Marriott. (It is, after all, +27C and sunny in the Gulf Sheikdom at the moment.)

Remind me again why I, and so many like me, continue to live in this frozen wasteland?