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Edmonton Journal: A new Airbnb, hosted by a renaissance man



EDMONTON, ALBERTA – One of the main reasons why I decided to spend the time and money to come to Edmonton to cover these Avalanche playoffs: for the stories to tell. Think about it: I’m the only media reporter from the United States here in Edmonton covering these playoffs right now. That, by itself, gives me a story nobody else will ever be able to tell. For a writer, that has value. And, thanks to many of you, you have helped me along financially to be able to do this with your generous donations to my Avalanche Travel Tip Jar.

On Friday, I moved out of that Airbnb I stayed in for the first month here, mostly because of a bed bug outbreak, and moved into a loft inside a big house in a more suburban location. I broke my rule of the last couple years in doing this, which is: no housemates, no roommates. A couple of bad experiences before instituted that rule. But this place had rave reviews and the price was right, and I kinda sorta have a place to myself here anyway, so I pulled the trigger on a new stay here.

So let me tell you a story about what it’s been like so far, and the man who is the host. His name is Jim, and he’s a former longtime investigative reporter with the Canadian Press. He is also a serious, and I mean serious, cook. Jim is going through a divorce right now, has survived three heart attacks and also a battle with cancer.

Jim knows a little something about everything. If I begin to talk about anything – anything, any subject about absolutely anything – Jim immediately jumps in and has 1) extensive knowledge about it, 2) extensive experience with it or 3) both, and he starts filling in the rest of the story. I can be talking about plastic bags or something, and Jim will immediately know where the best plastic bags can be found in Edmonton and the history of plastic bag manufacturing in the world. I can bring up something about music from the ’70s and Jim will jump in with a story about what it was like to smoke hash with Burton Cummings of the Guess Who. I can talk about water, and Jim knows the entire history of water in Canada.

Jim is an expert hunter, an accomplished cyclist, a former food business owner, a former political consultant, a serious hiker and a serious audiophile.

Every Friday night at Jim’s place is Pizza Night, and it’s not just Jim ordering from Domino’s. It’s a two to three hour class on the art of pizza making, and I’m not joking. Jim has two “suites” in his house that he rents out with Airbnb, but I was the only guest on Friday, so I was his lone pupil. Jim only uses the finest flour, and has a method that he learned, I think I remember him saying anyway, from real pizza makers in Italy. Part of Jim’s process in making the pizza is letting the flour mixture sit for two hours. When the two hours are up, the dough looks like marshmallow fluff. It’s light and airy and feels softer than anything soft that you’ve ever held in your hands. Part of the class is you learning how to toss the dough, just like a real pizza maker.

Here’s what that dough looks like, by the way:

Here’s how one of the two pizzas he made looked before it went into the oven. Into the oven a second time, that is. That’s part of the secret process, Jim said. The all-important crust is cooked first, then cooked a second time with the ingredients on top:

That’s a special kind of capicola, and all those bags are filled with delicious variations of cheese. The finished product was truly delicious, and Jim will be ashamed of me if I ever make pizza that doesn’t use his methods.

Jim was not just your everyday reporter in his day (he’s 64 now and retired). He made politicians in Canada quake in their boots when he looked into their dealings. Jim applied the same kind of doggedness in uncovering a story as he does with his pizza. If you ducked Jim’s call, he’d look at it as a challenge, like hunting moose in the woods, which of course he’s done. He would eventually get the story.

Jim lives well. He has no debt, and his house is a serious crib. I have the loft suite, but I wish I had the basement suite. The basement suite includes an X-Men pinball machine, a nice recliner couch with a big, fat TV in front, along with a private bathroom and an expensive Stairmaster fitness machine. A married couple, who I have yet to see, got that suite before I could get a shot at it.

Hey, if the Avs continue on in these playoffs beyond this series with Dallas, I might get a crack at the basement. And, by then, I will probably have my certificate as an expert pizza maker. I will also be able to say that I know what elk tastes like. Jim made elk burgers tonight and they were…delicious. Really, really good. I’ve had moose and elk now. Hey Canada, am I an honorary citizen yet?

Here were those burgers:

Jim has a dog, a 1-year-old Labrador, named Mika. He is a very good boy. This is Mika Saturday morning, giving me a nice wakeup greeting:

Jim has a great backyard setup, with this nice couch:

That’s where we enjoyed the elk burgers, and where I continued to get an explanation of just about everything. I brought up the JFK Assassination, my theory about it, and Jim immediately told me why my theory is wrong (he believes in the multiple shooter theory), with a full rundown on the history of the gun Lee Harvey Oswald used.

When I said Jim is a serious audiophile, I meant it. He has really, really expensive and good speakers in his living room on the main floor. I’m two floors up from that. I slept in a little today, until 11. That is a little late to my liking, and Jim’s too apparently. This was my alarm clock:

It’s getting late now, and I probably should get to bed. After all, I have a dog anxious to wake me up tomorrow, along with a 50,000 watt speaker.

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