December 4th, 2016

Explore BC: Oliver

This is the third post about our trip to BC back in October. You can read about our Kelowna and Penticton highlights as well.

While we didn’t stay in Oliver (we chose to overnight in Osoyoos instead), we ended up spending some time there at some key attractions.

Festival of the Grape

Our Penticton bed and breakfast hosts convinced us that the Festival of the Grape was worth attending, and since it fit in with our plans to head south, we built it into our itinerary.

Festival of the Grape

Festival of the Grape

Located in Oliver, the "wine capital of Canada", the festival was celebrating their 20th year. 60 wineries from the area were represented, in addition to a number of food vendors. It was an efficient way to sample from new wineries (favourites that day included Pipe Dream gamay and Kismet pinot grigio) in a beautiful setting. I also couldn’t resist the sparkling apple wine from meadery Meadow Vista.

Festival of the Grape

I love wine puns

The grape stomping competition was also a lot of fun, with lively competitors that had travelled from as far as Saskatchewan to compete.

Festival of the Grape

Grape stomping

Hammer’s House of Hog

It’s doubtful we would have ever come across one of Oliver’s few food trucks without Jennifer’s handy guide. We managed to get to Hammer’s House of Hog, parked at Lions Park in Oliver, on his last day of his season.

Hammer's House of Hog

Hammer’s House of Hog

The pulled pork sandwich, customized with one of three house-made barbecue sauces, weighed nearly a pound each, and was tender, tangy and messy. It was everything you would want from a pulled pork sandwich.

Hammer's House of Hog

Pulled pork sandwich

McIntyre Bluff

Looking for a more physical activity, we chose to hike up to McIntyre Bluff, a fairly recognizable South Okanagan landmark and a sacred place for the area’s Indigenous peoples.

Covert Farms

View of McIntyre Bluff from Covert Farm (can you spot the “face” of the rock?)

Being the inexperienced hikers that we are, it took us close to 4 hours to complete the 10km round trip. While the trail itself was clearly marked, distance markers would have been great so we could better pace ourselves.

Hiking to McIntyre Bluff

Increasing elevation

The trail itself traversed some varied terrain, from rock faces painted a dazzling red from the sagebrush to mossy, shaded meadows layered with pine needles to barren, dry desert.

McIntyre Bluff

Loved the colours

The payoff was better than we expected, offering sweeping views of Oliver and the adjacent Okanagan river. We were also able to see Covert Farms, located at the base of the bluff from above (we chose to tour the farm separately the day after).

McIntyre Bluff

We made it!

Covert Farm

We decided not to do a multi-winery tour during our trip, and instead chose a few wineries we would visit and tour in a more in-depth way. One of these was Covert Farm in Oliver. The tour price is on the high side at $49, but we lucked out and ended up with a private tour. Campbell Kearns was our knowledgeable and passionate guide, and ended up spending two hours with us along the way.

Covert Farms

We had fun riding in the beautifully restored truck

Covert combines a number of agri-tourism aspects on their 700 acre property, including tours, children’s programs, on-farm dinners, and a u-pick, and will be looking at collaborating with Indigenous communities to develop a forage/hike up to McIntyre Bluff.

Covert Farms

Squash patch

He introduced us to their Scottish Highland cattle, who are actually protected by a small herd of alpacas (we didn’t know they had been domesticated for this purpose). The manure is helpful for fertilizer, since Covert is a certified organic operation. We also visited the small u-pick area of the property, featuring a small orchard, tomatoes, and strawberry patch. Campbell told us the strawberry variety actually bears fruit twice a year, and they’ve been able to pick strawberries as late as December.

Covert Farms

They had to drag me away from the strawberry patch

We spent the bulk of the tour learning about the organic practices they employ on their 25 acres of vines. To mitigate weeds, they plant competing crops such as vetch, which also have the added benefit of fixing nitrogen in the soil. To dissuade birds from feasting on the fruit, they planted fields of sunflowers (the unintended consequence from this was that it ended up attracting more birds than they’d ever seen before, but it opened up the skies to their predatory friends). Recognizing that they do lease about 300 adjacent acres to Sandhill, which is not certified organic, Campbell was careful to say that Sandhill is expected to be respectful of the land. One of the technologies that Sandhill does employ are propane-powered fans, which automatically kick in when frost is a possibility to sweep the cold draft up and away from the vines. The cost to run a single fan for one evening is $800.

Covert Farms

Covert Wine grapes

During the tour, we also had the chance to sample some of their wines, though many of their varieties had sold out for the year already. They paired the wines with a lovely cheese and charcuterie board.

Covert Farms

Cheese and charcuterie

While we chose not to stay in Oliver, we found there were many reasons to linger!

December 3rd, 2016

Eat and Play Your Heart Out: The Rec Room

There’s a new full-service food and entertainment option in town! Back in September, Cineplex opened its first Rec Room in South Edmonton Common, the first of many planned for the country. In fact, after a second outlet is completed in Toronto next year, expect a third to follow some time in the summer at West Edmonton Mall (in the former Ed’s space). Though this first location happens to share the same parking lot as its theatre big brother, this may not always be the case, and besides some Scene Card branding on site, the visual connection is subtle.

At 60,000 square feet spread out over two floors, the Rec Room has been created as a destination. With more than 140 amusement games and crowd-pleasing music, it appeals to an adult crowd (like Chuck E Cheese for grown ups), but they’ve taken the concept even further. They have incorporated some nostalgic elements – there’s a small bowling alley upstairs and several retro games like pinball and Pacman.

The Rec Room

The gaming floor

However, they’ve also done their research to stay on top of trends; hence, they also offer axe-throwing and virtual reality (curiously, considering the current market in Edmonton, they don’t feature escape rooms).

The Rec Room

Virtual reality

In addition, I was surprised to find out they have a 225 seat auditorium and another stage in the main restaurant where programming is planned 7 days a week – everything from hockey on the big screen to karaoke, trivia nights and comedy shows.

The food at the Rec Room – divided into three distinct “restaurants” – mirrors its philosophy on entertainment. The nostalgia can be found in comfort food classics: a casual food bar called The Shed offers a poutine bar and a “sweet emporium” with gourmet doughnuts that can be injected with liqueur.

The Rec Room

Doughnuts at The Shed

But they also stay on-trend with The Loft and its wood-fired pizzas (wood-fired anything continues to be hot) and the chef-inspired cocktails at the Rec Room’s main restaurant, THREE10 (named for the three territories and ten provinces of Canada).

The Rec Room

THREE10

Mack and I were invited by the Rec Room to try the food at THREE10 over the weekend. Arriving for a late lunch on Saturday afternoon, we found the crowds still relatively sparse. By the time we left prior to the dinner hour though, it was starting to fill up. We were told that line-ups are frequent on weekends, and private rooms have been completely booked into the new year. And although minors are permitted as long as accompanied by an adult, based on customer feedback, they are considering adult-only hours.

Mack and I were impressed with THREE10’s beer list – it was nice to see several Alberta beers on offer, including Alley Kat and Yellowhead. On the cocktail front, we were a tad disappointed with our drinks. The restaurant boasted its recognition of seasonality, so it was unfortunate that we were recommended the strawberry basil lemonade – it was an easy drinking vodka-based cocktail, but one that should be retired until warmer times. The “new fashioned” that Mack sampled wasn’t quite as smooth as he was hoping for, with its mace-nutmeg syrup and rootbeer bitters.

The Rec Room

New fashioned and strawberry basil lemonade

The menu at THREE10 is said to be “inspired by Canada’s vast and varied landscape”, meaning primarily that it strives to appeal to many tastes. It features some conventional plates (steak frites, pork chop, half chicken), but they also have nearly a dozen starters to consider.

The applewood smoked bacon maple jam ($11) was a tasty combination of melted double cream brie and an underlay of smoky, sweet jam. Served with crostini, this was a great shareable appetizer.

The Rec Room

Applewood smoked bacon maple jam with crostini

Similarly, the popcorn fried chicken ($13), served with a chipotle BBQ sauce, was really satisfying. The morsels were lightly battered, and paired well with the moderate kick of the sauce.

The Rec Room

Popcorn fried chicken with chipotle BBQ sauce

For larger plates, we selected two dishes suggested by their staff. The pickle brined fried chicken ($24) is prepared as described – before being dredged and fried, it is marinated in a pickle juice brine. We didn’t expect the brine to impact the flavour of the meat as much as it did, and unfortunately, it didn’t quite work for our palates. I was also hoping the house biscuits would have been flakier and more layered than simple drop biscuits.

The Rec Room

Pickle brined fried chicken, with whipped potatoes, slaw and house biscuits

The organic BC salmon ($26) fared better, served with a bed of whipped potatoes, sautéed spinach and crispy shallots. The fish was cooked nicely, and as a whole, it was a refined plate that I wouldn’t have originally expected to find here. Reflecting their aforementioned seasonality however, they could have substituted root vegetables for the asparagus.

The Rec Room

Organic BC salmon with whipped potatoes, sautéed spinach and crispy shallots

We didn’t have room for dessert, but continuing the theme of fun and games, the sweets menu is printed in the form of a paper fortune teller.

The Rec Room

What’s your preference?

Although we’d likely return to THREE10 on future visits to The Rec Room for their appetizers, I’d prefer to round out my meal next time with a stop for poutine and a doughnut from The Shed, or perhaps a pizza from The Loft. The breadth of choices offered under the same roof at The Rec Room are what make the complex unique.

Before we departed, we took a spin through the amusements. Games are activated through credits purchased on an RFID bracelets, as opposed to using tokens, which can be cumbersome. For $20, 120 credits can be purchased, and most games we played cost between 4-6 credits per person.

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Ice Ball (a Skee ball equivalent)

We had fun racing Mario Karts, playing a Skee ball equivalent, competing at basketball, and conquering Fruit Ninja and Crossy Road on big screens, among other games.

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Hoops are my go-to amusement

Points achieved are recorded on the same RFID bracelet for convenience, and after a quick tour through the redemption room, it’s clear the prizes are much better than those found across the street at Chuck E Cheese.

The Rec Room

Redemption Room

If you’re needing a break between errands at South Edmonton Common (especially during the busy Christmas season), consider stopping at The Rec Room for some games and a bite to eat.

Thanks again to The Rec Room for hosting us!

November 29th, 2016

Flocking for Fried Chicken: Northern Chicken

After All is Bright two weeks ago, Mack and I wandered over to Northern Chicken. The brainchild of Chefs Andrew Cowan and Matt Phillips, Northern Chicken took over the space vacated by Relish Gourmet Burgers on 124 Street.

Much of the interior has been retained, but Andrew and Matt have made some changes – adding accents to the walls, expanding the open kitchen, and transforming the rear seating area into a rumpus room that can be booked for private groups. The space feels comfortable and unpretentious, and coupled with the excellent service staff we encountered that night, is a welcome sight.

Northern Chicken

Northern Chicken

The fried chicken concept is one that Andrew and Matt have been developing for some time. Both chefs have worked their way through many local kitchens (I met both of them years ago when they were at Century Hospitality properties), but are happy to finally be their own bosses. They’ve tinkered with recipes since their first pop-up back in April, and I think they’ve landed on some great flavours.

We ordered their three-piece fried chicken ($14) and a fried chicken sandwich ($14), both served with baked beans. For sides, we selected the honey thyme cornbread ($5) and the bacon creamed corn ($6).

Northern Chicken

The full meal deal

The restaurant was nearly full, so we were pleasantly surprised that the food arrived as quickly as it did. It was also incredibly hot – I had to let the fried chicken cool before I was able to handle it. I loved the breading, well seasoned with just a hint of spice. The chicken underneath (soaked for twenty-four hours in buttermilk) was incredibly juicy.

Northern Chicken

Three piece fried chicken

Mack was similarly delighted with his sandwich, which featured a very generous portion of fried chicken. He was particularly happy to encounter a soft bun more suited to this dish, a change made since that pop-up.

Northern Chicken

Fried chicken sandwich

Mack is the cornbread junkie between the two of us, and appreciated the thick-cut slice and dense crumb of Northern Chicken’s cornbread. That said, it was just a touch too sweet, with the honey overwhelming the cornbread itself.

Northern Chicken

Honey thyme cornbread

The bacon creamed corn, on the other hand, was the star of the show. I would have never anticipated this, but the texture and flavours hit all the right comfort food notes – I would look forward to curling up with a bowl on a cold winter’s night.

Northern Chicken

Bacon creamed corn

Before we left, Matt commented about how foot traffic really slows down after 9pm; it’s a reminder of how the area has changed since the Roxy Theatre burned down nearly two years ago. Given the cluster of establishments that have opened up within several blocks, however, I’m optimistic that diners will continue to flock to this neighbourhood for some great tastes. Congratulations to Andrew and Matt on the opening of Northern Chicken – see you again soon!

Northern Chicken
10704 124 Street
(780) 756-2239
Monday – Tuesday 11am-10pm, Thursday – Saturday 11am-11pm, Sunday 11am-late, closed Wednesday

November 28th, 2016

Food Notes for November 28, 2016

Mack finally relented to decking the halls this weekend, so it finally feels like Christmas at our house. Hard to believe Christmas is less than a month away! On to this week’s food notes:

  • 104 Street’s annual Customer Appreciation Day is taking place on December 1, 2016, with most businesses participating with deals or in-store treats.
  • Canova (rebranded from DeFazio Gourmet), is celebrating its fourth anniversary from December 1-4, 2016, with 15% off their panettone, biscotti and pastries. Do yourself a favour and pick up some vanilla cornettis!
  • I’m all for pop-up markets – Prairie Pigeon’s éclairs will be available at a pop-up market in Abbey Glen Park (Jasper Avenue & 102 Street) on December 3, from 11am-3pm.
  • I remember when Downtown couldn’t seem to sustain one bubble tea cafe, and this year, we have 3 within a 5-block radius: Gong Cha’s location in the Ultima Tower (10236 103 Street) is now open.
  • Grain of Rice, a new Asian restaurant located at 1312 Webber Greens Drive, just opened up on the weekend.
  • Some locations just seem to be a revolving door of businesses, and it’s hard to say what will make it stick: Alibi Pub has opened up shop at 17328 Stony Plain Road.
  • Northern Chicken garnered two reviews on both ends of the spectrum from Cindy and Jonny.
  • Linda tried the food at Alberta’s first Popeye’s.
  • CTV joined in on the fried chicken fray with a quick sampling of Northern Chicken, Popeye’s, and Seoul Fried Chicken.
  • Jonny checked out Calle Mexico’s expanded storefront location.
  • Vue Weekly reviewed Latino’s Restaurant, recently installed in McCauley at 10708 98 Street.
  • Chris and Linda shared their experience at Halo Bar and Bistro, located at the Renaissance Hotel at the Edmonton International Airport.
  • Twyla has compiled a list of 5 restaurants you should try right now.
  • Chef Lindsay Porter will be moving to Woodwork in early December.
  • This year’s recipients of Edmonton’s Best Bar None awards were recognized last week. Congrats to the winners and the newly-accredited bars!
  • Food for thought: until Iconoclast’s series on packaging in the coffee business, I never really considered the type of material that goes into packaging good quality coffee beans.
  • Mack and I shop at the Italian Centre on a weekly basis, so it’s great to hear they’ve partnered with grocery delivery company SPUD so their products can reach even more people.
  • Great to hear about Calgary-based Uncommon Cider, “Alberta’s first quality driven, small batch urban cidery”.
  • I can never have enough soup, so while in the area on Sunday, we stopped by Ninja Club to warm up.

Ninja Club

Tonkotsu ramen at Ninja Club

November 23rd, 2016

Explore BC: Penticton

This is the second post about our trip to BC back in October. You can read about our Kelowna highlights as well.

I had never been south of Kelowna before, so Penticton and onward were new experiences for me. Mack had last travelled the area on road trips with his family as a child, so it is safe to say this journey was a different one.

Hardy Falls

On our way south, we stopped at Hardy Falls in Peachland. It was a great way to stretch our legs and watch the Okanagan Kokanee salmon spawn at the same time.

Hardy Falls

Hardy Falls

It was a peaceful walk, lush and shaded, with many points above the creek to see the pink hued fish from above.

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Salmon!

Kettle Valley Steam Railway

If you prefer to ride a train over one of the remaining Kettle Valley Railway trestles instead of walking or cycling over them, consider the Kettle Valley Steam Railway, located in Summerland.

Kettle Valley Steam Railway

Mack wished it read “Hill Valley”

We have to say the experience was a bit underwhelming after visiting the Myra Canyon Trestles, but it was a family friendly activity, with an on-board banjo player and an interpreted tour.

Kettle Valley Steam Railway

Open air cars

Above the Beach Bed and Breakfast

Above the Beach really spoiled us. It’s a bed and breakfast situated on one of the hills overlooking Skaha Lake, run by longtime residents Barb and Gary. We were fortunate enough to be upgraded to one of their Carriage Suites, which have a separate entrance, a large soaker tub, and a great view.

Above the Beach

Carriage suite

Their breakfasts were a wonderful way to start off our day – one morning, we were treated to cream-cheese stuffed French toast, and on another, eggs benedict. Mack was also happy with the unlimited coffee! And though it was slightly chilly,we still took advantage of the chance to eat outside with views of the beach. We wouldn’t hesitate to stay here again in the future.

Above the Beach

Breakfast at Above the Beach

Penticton Farmers’ Market

So many of the producers Jennifer profiles in her book vend at the Penticton Farmers’ Market, so when it lined up that we would be in town on the Saturday, we made sure to head downtown early to explore.

Penticton Farmers' Market

Penticton Farmers’ Market

Mack wonders why I always torture myself with markets when we’re travelling, since we can’t ever buy much, but I love seeing what’s available from local vendors. We picked up some honey from the Similkameen Apiaries, coffee from Backyard Beans, and Joy Road apple cinnamon buns to nibble on.

Penticton Farmers' Market

Gorgeous tomatoes

In addition to the farmers’ market, the Downtown Penticton Association also organizes a separate market that stretches another few blocks that offers other merchandise and services – we wouldn’t have realized they were two separate entities if we hadn’t read about it prior.

The Bookshop

Mack is a huge book junkie, so we knew a visit to The Bookshop was in order. Located on Main Street downtown, we stopped in during our walk through the farmers’ market.

The Book Shop

Just one section of The Bookshop

The floor-to-ceiling shelves in parts were pretty daunting to navigate, but staff were quick to help if needed. Most of the fun was perusing the titles on our own anyway to find gems hidden in the rough.

Buy the Sea

An Edmonton ex-pat owns Buy the Sea, a seafood retail shop with a built-in fish and chip stand (they also have a location in West Kelowna). The fresh seafood case reminded me somewhat of what Ocean Odyssey in Edmonton is hoping to offer: a combination of raw products and those that are marinated and ready to be cooked.

Buy the Sea

Buy the Sea

We stopped in for dinner, and the fish and chips really hit the spot. Freshly fried and nicely breaded, it was our favourite meal in Penticton.

Buy the Sea

Fish and chips from Buy the Sea

Upper Bench Winery and Creamery

Upper Bench Winery and Creamery has the distinction of offering a perfect pairing from in-house products: they not only make their own wine, but cheese as well.

Upper Bench Estate Winery

Upper Bench Winery

We stopped in to try both one afternoon. While the traffic on the adjacent road was more audible than ideal, it was nice to drink in the surrounding vineyard views. We also had fun playing fetch with Emma, one of the property’s animal mascots.

Upper Bench Winery and Creamery

With the sample platter (and Emma eagerly awaiting more fetch friends)

A related note – the best cheese we tried on our trip came from nearby Poplar Grove Cheese. We didn’t end up taking any photos of the small shop, but the Harvest Moon Washed Rind was some of the creamiest cheese we’ve ever had – it’s worth a stop if you’re in the area.

Play Winery and Bistro

Our bed and breakfast hosts recommended Play Winery, one of the newest wineries and full-service restaurants in the area. Built on a hill above Skaha Lake, the view from the patio is lovely. Also, because the tasting room is embedded in the restaurant, it is open much later than most, which is handy to know about in the off-season when most wineries shut down by 6pm.

Play

Seared scallops from Play Winery

The food was good for the most part; the seared scallop appetizer stood out, served with beetroot yogurt, fried beets and microgreens.

Sunset over Skaha Lake

Sunset on Skaha

After two nights in Penticton, we were off to Oliver and beyond.

November 21st, 2016

Food Notes for November 21, 2016

Winter is here to stay, and I am not adjusting well. I’m bundling up more than these temperatures warrant. On the bright side, there’s less than a month until Christmas! On to this week’s food notes:

  • Food for Thoughts, a group spearheaded by Chef Cory Rakowski, aims to “to bring together hospitality professionals and create a space to discuss mental health.” Their launch event takes place on November 22, 2016 at 7pm. Tickets are $35 with proceeds going towards Momentum Counselling.
  • Karlynn has organized a “Bloggers, Books, and Baking” evening at Audreys on November 23, 2016 to celebrate her new cookbook…with cookies!
  • Cookies by George is again hosting a cookie exchange/tweet-up, with the full $10.50 ticket price to be donated to the Christmas Bureau. The event is taking place on November 26, 2016 from 6-8pm.
  • Slow Food Edmonton is having a wild game dinner at Three Boars on December 11, 2016, featuring the talents of Three Boars’ Brayden Kozak, Bar Clementine’s Roger Letourneau, and Baijiu’s Alexei Boldireff, among others. Tickets are $75, and you can expect black bear and Canada goose on the menu.
  • A perennial holiday standby for many, the Hotel Macdonald is once again hosting festive brunches, lunch buffets, and the festive Nutcracker Tea and Tour (which I enjoyed last year) in November and December. Check out their holiday guide.
  • It was a sad week with the announcement of Gail Hall’s passing from cancer last week. You can relive some of her cooking segments on Global, or listen to attributes provided by some of her peers in the city.
  • Amore Pasta, the new restaurant in southwest Edmonton by the folks behind Cafe Amore and Black Pearl, is now open at 14016 23 Avenue.
  • Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen opened its first Alberta location today at 3733 17 Street.
  • Norwood will be getting a new neighbourhood restaurant called Otto (11405 95 Street), opened by the former co-owner of Culina Mill Creek.
  • The Journal reviews Edmonton’s latest combination Korean and Japanese restaurant, Seorak Teppan and Bar.
  • Twyla sampled the brunch at the expanded District Cafe.
  • Vue Weekly profiles Nudoru’s ramen philosophy.
  • I liked this article in The Tomato, featuring several restaurants that are operating with second generation restauranteurs, including The Lingnan, Upper Crust, and Tony Pizza’s Palace.
  • Congratulations to all of the Canadian competitors in last week’s World Food Championships. Among our best results, Sherwood Park resident Russell Bird placed second in the bacon final!
  • Hopefully Planet Organic can quickly repay their outstanding dues to local bakeries Breadland and Prairie Mill.
  • Ever wanted to try rodent on a menu? You can now do so in Moscow, where nutrias, a large orange-toothed rodent is being served as burgers, hot dogs, and dumplings.
  • If you’re looking about for Christmas gifts for that foodie on your list, have you heard about Little Day Miniatures? I stumbled upon her work at Tix on the Square on the weekend, and the detail she’s included on her earrings and cufflinks have to be seen to be believed.

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Little Day Miniatures

  • One of the best lunch deals available in the city is undoubtedly Cafe Amore’s daily pasta – just $10 for a full serving. Even after adding chicken (an additional $7), it’s still an amazing value, and large enough for two meals.

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Pesto alfredo from Cafe Amore

  • It was definitely a Love Pizza kind of day on Friday, when Mack and I couldn’t muster up the energy to cook after work. It’s great having so many tasty options within walking distance!

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Captain Cook and Meatatarian from Love Pizza

November 20th, 2016

In Memoriam: Gail Hall

Generous. Compassionate. Community-minded. Pioneer. These are just some of the words that come to mind when I think about Gail Hall, who passed away on Wednesday at the age of 65 from cancer.

Gail meant so much to so many people. She was a tireless Edmonton booster, and never stopped sharing her love of local food, businesses and theatre. She was a fixture on 104 Street – at Credo, the City Market, and community events – and always made time to chat.

Liane wrote a wonderful tribute, but I wanted to share how Gail impacted my life. Gail was the person who set me on the pathway to discover local food. As I wrote five years ago:

When I first started to visit farmers’ markets, I would walk past the tables overflowing with produce and overlook the proud farmers showcasing their wares for cupcakes. To me, markets were weekend festivals – bustling, colourful, and meant only for a brief stopover. In 2007, a chance prize earned me the opportunity to cook alongside long-time Edmonton Journal Bistro columnist Judy Schultz and local food advocate (and Seasoned Solutions proprietor) Gail Hall. One afternoon was all it took to demystify the market; it was the first time I saw the market for what it really was – a plethora of farm fresh ingredients, and a direct link to the producers who grew or raised it.

Sourcing local food has now become a large part of my life; a weekly trip to the local farmers’ market is routine. And I continue to patronize many of the producers I first met nine years ago because of Gail’s introduction.

Market Fresh Cooking Class

Meeting Gail for the first time in 2007

This also influenced where Mack and I chose to live. In 2009, we moved into a condo on 104 Street, just down the street from Gail and her husband Jon. This decision was in part driven by our desire to buy local:

An objection we often hear about shopping locally is the inconvenience of it – nowhere to park, limited hours, selection that rewards early birds. By choosing to live right on 104 Street – the home of the City Market – that isn’t a problem for us. And in the same way we value public transportation, supporting local farmers is another one of our priorities, so it helps when the barrier of distance is removed.

Seasoned Solutions Holiday Entertaining Class

Gail and Jon at a cooking class in 2012

I also remember Gail’s generosity in helping me celebrate a milestone. Two years ago, my sisters had arranged a cooking class with Gail for my bridal shower. Along with my mum, we joined Gail in her home for a lovely afternoon.

Sharon's Bridal Shower

Cooking with Gail in 2014

We prepared and enjoyed a meal together, but that wasn’t enough. I joined a larger group of friends for dinner at Tzin down the street after the class, and Gail called the restaurant and ordered another two rounds of their famous bacon for the table. It may have been a small thing for her, but the unexpected gesture meant a lot to me.

Gail has impacted the way that I eat, cook, and connect with my community. There aren’t enough words to express my gratitude, so I’ll just say – thank you, Gail.

November 17th, 2016

One Sweet Story: Caramia Caramels

Edmonton has a sweet tooth! Three dessert-based businesses have run successful crowdfunding campaigns this year: Sugared and Spiced raised more than $55,000 towards their brick and mortar bakery, Confetti Sweets reached their $20,000 goal to help them open up a third storefront, and upstart Caramia Caramels just passed their $13,000 target to purchase commercial equipment. It’s wonderful to see the community step up to support these local businesses, especially during tough economic times. I sat down with Alysia and Tammy Lok of Caramia Caramels this week to learn more about their story.

Caramia

Alysia and Tammy have known each other for twelve years, best friends first and now sisters after Tammy married Alysia’s brother. They’ve always wanted to work together, but the right project hadn’t come up until Tammy discovered fresh caramels while on her honeymoon in Europe. Alysia didn’t even like caramels until she tried some of the sweets Tammy brought back with her. When they couldn’t find similar caramels (they weren’t aware of Red Balloon Pie Company), the idea of Caramia Carmels was born.

Tammy fell in love with the burnt sugar taste, and the layers of complexity that can be achieved with simple ingredients. Caramels, she said, are also a blank canvas for flavours and texture.

The Original - This is not like any caramel you’ve ever had before. Soft, yet perfectly chewy, this caramel melts in your mouth with a smooth and creamy not-too-sweet finish.

They launched the business this year at the City Market, and were bolstered by the feedback they received. Alysia’s favourite moments involved watching people’s reactions as they tried a fresh caramel for the first time. For this reason, even if their business grows, in-person sales at a market will continue to be a staple so they can interact with customers.

They quit their jobs this summer to focus on Caramia Caramels full time, but realized they needed larger scale equipment to increase their product capacity. The Kickstarter campaign was meant to raise the $13,000 they needed for a candy cooking machine, but since they’ve exceeded that goal, any additional dollars will be funneled into setting up the rest of the commercial kitchen.

Presently, Caramia Caramels offers 5 flavours: original, pumpkin spice latte, London fog latte, smoked maple bacon, and sriracha roasted almond. If those aren’t enticing enough, Christmas flavours will be released this month, and include gingerbread, candy cane and hot chocolate. Alysia is partial to the spicy and sweet sriracha roasted almond, while Tammy’s preference depends on the day. I tried several flavours from a complimentary bag, and really enjoyed the subtle earl grey hints in the smooth London fog latte caramel.

London Fog Latte This creamy and decadent bergamont flavoured treat will be the star at any afternoon tea.   

Even though their business is less than a year old, Alysia and Tammy have made supporting charitable causes a cornerstone of Caramia Caramels. They donate caramels and some proceeds to local women’s shelters, hoping that their caramels can help spread some happiness. Alysia and Tammy recounted a recent group meeting they attended at a shelter, and were heartened by how hopeful and strong the women were in spite of the obstacles and challenges they were facing.

Their Kickstarter campaign closes on November 28, but for a quicker fix, you can find Caramia Caramels at numerous markets this holiday season. Their product is also available at Swish Flowers and at the newly-opened Hyatt Place.

It’s great to see small businesses flourish in our city – I wish Alysia and Tammy the best of luck as they continue to spread their love of caramels in Edmonton!

November 15th, 2016

Explore BC: Kelowna

When Mack and I decided on a trip to the Okanagan in October, one of the main draws for us was the wine. Earlier in the year, we took a day trip out of Toronto to visit the Niagara wine region. We learned a lot, but it seemed time to do more exploring closer to home.

We flew into Kelowna, but made our way down to Penticton, Oliver, and Osoyoos over the course of a week with the help of a car. While the distance between Kelowna and Osoyoos is only about two hours, the following series of posts are grouped around towns, and focuses on our favourite experiences. Most of our food-related choices were guided by Jennifer Cockrall-King’s excellent book, Food Artisans of the Okanagan.

Pumpkins!

A sea of pumpkins at Don-O-Ray Vegetables in Kelowna

Myra Canyon Trestles

While I typically do quite a bit of planning in advance of our trips, I didn’t have a chance to do so on this occasion. So Trip Advisor was a great last minute tool, and ultimately pointed us to the Myra Canyon Trestles. We discovered first hand why this is Kelowna’s number one tourist attraction, though the signage to the road leading up to the trestles could have been better. Once parked, we rented bikes from Myra Canyon Rentals for $40 (don’t expect anything more than a truck-pulled rack). The half-day rental was plenty to complete the 23km round trip, even for irregular cyclists like us.

Myra Canyon Trestles

Ready to ride

The mostly flat trail takes visitors to 18 trestles, many of them spanning across deep valleys. The trail follows what was once part of the historic Kettle Valley Railway. I’m sure the views are stunning any time of year, but in the fall, they seemed particularly spectacular.

Myra Canyon Trestles

Trestle

We learned later that many of the trestles had to be rebuilt after the devastating 2003 fire – I can’t imagine the work that went into restoring such a treasure, but I sure can appreciate it.

There are also other sights to see – two tunnels, blasted through rock, and if you’re lucky, wildlife. We encountered a lynx that was making its way down a cliff with freshly caught prey.

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Tunnel

Even if you choose not to rent bikes, you can still make your way to several of the trestles and both tunnels with a brief hike, but I’d recommend cycling for the fullest experience.

Myra Canyon

Beautiful trails

Tree Brewing Beer Institute

The Tree Brewing Beer Institute is located right downtown, and was the perfect place to grab a drink and a bite to eat after cycling the Myra Canyon trail. It’s a low-key place with no table service (you order from the counter), but in addition to the monitors, you have the choice of dozens of boards games to entertain your party. I enjoyed their version of a grapefruit radler, while Mack thought their light brew was refreshing. Their pretzels and pizza (served lightning fast) also hit the spot.

Tree Brewing Co

Pretzels, pizza and beer

On a side note, the Institute also happens to be right across the street from the Kelowna Art Gallery. Check the calendar – if you’re lucky (as we were), you can check out the shows inside for free every Thursday. During our visit, we had the pleasure of taking in a thought-provoking exhibit focusing on the seasonal agricultural workers that populate the region many months of the year.

Okanagan Lavender and Herb Farm

We wrongly expected that the fields at the Okanagan Lavender and Herb Farm would be purple all year round, so the visit was educational. We learned that lavender peaks in July, so those hoping for those lush colours should visit in the summer. That said, we still found the views picture perfect, especially with the lake views in the distance.

Kelowna

Okanagan Lavender and Herb Farm

The gift shop is also a great place to pick up something for home, with lavender showing up in reasonably priced bath and beauty products.

Paynter’s Fruit Stand

What’s more quintessential to a trip to the Okanagan than picking fresh fruit? As we pulled up to Paynter’s Fruit Stand, we realized we’d already been there before.

Paynter's Fruit Market

Paynter’s Fruit Stand

A few years back, we visited Kelowna in late October, and stopped at Paynter’s to buy some fruit. This time, there was still the opportunity to pick pears and apples.

Paynter's Fruit Market

An apple a day

We relished in the chance to partake in the you-pick; the most surprising were perhaps the red delicious apples, which were deep purple in colour on the branches. And yes, the fruit were all great to eat, especially the crisp pink lady apples.

Paynter's Fruit Stand

Purple Red delicious

Micro Bar Bites

On that same visit a few years ago, we ate at RauDZ, launched by Chef Rod Butters, widely considered to be one of the pioneers of the farm-to-table movement in Kelowna. We had high expectations that weren’t met at the time, but Micro Bar Bites, a second restaurant by Chef Butters, had opened more recently and piqued our interest.

Micro Bar Bites

Micro Bar Bites

We were instantly charmed by the warm interior and great service. Don’t be fooled by the name – it refers to the size of the room as opposed to the portions. The beef croquettes actually would have been more successful as two-bite appetizers, but we appreciated their generosity. I also liked the cornmeal gnocchi with citrus marmalade.

Micro Bar Bites

Beef croquettes with patatas bravas

Micro Bar Bites

Cornmeal gnocchi with citrus marmalade

Mad Mango Cafe

Mad Mango Cafe, opened up by an Edmonton ex-pat, has a following that reminds me of Chicken for Lunch. Proprietor Pat (like Amy) even fires up customers’ orders before they’ve sat down.

Mad Mango has a film chronicling Kelowna’s love of the restaurant, and a steady stream of regulars of all ages. The laksa soup may not have been authentic (adapted with locally available produce), but the creamy, spicy soup hit the spot.

Mad Mango

Laksa soup

After a whirlwind two nights in Kelowna, we were off to Penticton!

November 14th, 2016

Food Notes for November 14, 2016

We’ve been spoiled with two vacations in as many months, but after spending time in Chicago during the election and the immediate aftermath, I am happy (and grateful) to be back in Canada. On to this week’s food notes:

  • The next Swine & Dine dinner is taking place on November 23, 2016 at the Red Ox Inn. Tickets for the 4-course meal cost $65.
  • Satisfy your sweet tooth for a good cause: the Ronald McDonald House is hosting a chocolate tasting with Jacek on November 30, 2016. Tickets are $40.
  • Northern Chicken is now open at 10704 124 Street!
  • More bubble tea for everyone: two Chatime locations are now open in Edmonton: Downtown at 10405 Jasper Avenue and in Old Strathcona at 10538 82 Avenue.
  • Lux has rebranded their lounge into Bar 94, honouring Ryan Smyth, one of the original partners behind the restaurant.
  • Casa Doce is the next food truck transitioning to a brick and mortar shop – congratulations!
  • Vue Weekly checks out Dorinku, the newest izakaya in the city.
  • Chef Serge Belair has been named Executive Chef of the Shaw Conference Centre after Chef Simon Smotkowicz announced he will be leaving the Shaw after 28 years.
  • The latest Community Table Project from Phil features Dutch tacos.
  • Chef Cory Rakowski has started an organization called Food for Thoughts, to help create awareness about the mental health challenges faced by those in the hospitality industry.
  • Two food-related folks made it onto Avenue Edmonton’s Top 40 Under 40 list this year: cocoanista Jacqueline Jacek and Localize’s Meghan Dear.
  • Congratulations to Jennifer Cockrall-King on being included in Best Food Writing 2016, alongside names such as Pete Wells and Francis Lam.
  • Out just in time for the holidays, Earls has released a cookbook featuring restaurant favourites from the 1980s until present.
  • It’s disappointing to see absolutely no Prairie content on Enroute’s best new restaurants list for 2016, let alone any Alberta representation.
  • Back in town, our first stop was the Italian Centre. We killed two birds with one stone: great thin-crust pizza for lunch and picked up groceries for the week.

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Massimo pizza from the Italian Centre west

  • I met up with Annie for brunch at Workshop Eatery yesterday. The pastrami hash was great – I loved the crispy potatoes and perfectly soft poached eggs. I’m also happy to report that they also now serve brewed coffee (as opposed to espresso-based drinks).

Workshop Eatery

Pastrami hash from Workshop Eatery