Latest Posts

Gluten free options abound along Surrey’s Spice Trail

When my friend Linda, aka Lindork, asked if I would like to join her for a hosted trip by Discover Surrey for a culinary adventure along The Spice Trail, I expected to be taking more photos of food for her than actually tasting much of it. As a Celiac, I was hopeful that maybe one of our daily restaurant stops would have a gluten-free option, but I never expected the abundance of choices presented to me during our three-day tour.

Arepas at Union Latinos Surrey

Surrey’s Spice Trail is a new marketing initiative aimed at inspiring a tasting adventure through Greater Vancouver’s most culturally diverse restaurant scene. Their interactive map features profiles on a diverse range of ethnic restaurants in a variety of price points, from hole in the wall joints hidden strip malls to fine dining restaurants with chic decor.

You can watch the Lindork Does Life YouTube video to see everywhere we went and everything we ate along the Surrey Spice Trail in Surrey,BC. (I was very excited to get the gluten free shout out.)

Here are a few of the places and bites I was able to enjoy along the Spice Trail. Please note that this list is not exhaustive of all gluten free options, and that new restaurants will continue to be added as the Spice Trail continues to grow. Check out The Spice Trail website for an updated list of participating restaurants.


Afghan Kitchen South Surrey

Afghan Kitchen was the first place we tried during our culinary tour of the Spice Trail, and it was one of my top picks from the journey. The online menu clearly identifies gluten free (GF) options, and our server was very knowledgeable on what I could and couldn’t have. We shared the KBL to YVR, a generous platter for two (GF) $61, served with eggplant, potato, sautéed spinach, lamb shank, chicken kebab, side of chicken qorma + Afghan rice. I also tried the grilled spice chicken. While the cocktail menu looked lovely, I opted for the saffron tea which comes served in a beautiful glass teapot and candle to keep the brightly coloured tea warm. 

Clove – The Art of Dining

With a large South Asian community in Surrey, choices of Indian food are abundant; however, Clove stands out for an elegant experience where the culinary team presents beautiful food and drinks with a mix of modern and traditional elements. Highlights for me were the Mysore lamb shank, seafood moilee, and lasooni baigan.

Woo Korean BBQ House

I have a hard time eating at most Korean restaurants as I find that many things are pre marinated and/or made with soy sauce, and accommodations are difficult or bland. I was shocked when we arrived at Woo Korean BBQ for lunch and I was able to have a modified bibimbap with gluten free soy sauce.  I was overjoyed when the fire cracking hot stone bowl arrived and I was able to mix the egg into the crunchy fried rice.

* GF items were not identified on the menu but our server was very knowledgeable.

Union Latinos Food

When we arrived to find Union Latinos Food located in a busy strip mall, next to a Latino grocery store, I had a good feeling. When we opened the door the Colombian restaurant was packed and the energy was electric – Colombia had just finished playing a World Cup qualifier and the tv was blaring the conversation of two commentators speaking rapid-fire Spanish. Having travelled through South America, including six weeks in Colombia, I was overjoyed to find seats in this authentic eatery. Their online menu identified gluten free items – I indulged in cheese filled empanadas, and Arepa Rellena – a traditional corn patty that was stuffed with meat, cheese and sauce.

Kerala Kitchen

Tucked away in an unassuming strip mall, chef Sujith serves up dishes with the flavour of south India at Kerala Kitchen including gluten-free dosas. Dosas are a thin crepe/pancake made from a batter of fermented lentils or rice.

ChaCha’s Tandoor & Grill

The name, Chacha, the Punjabi word for uncle, highlights the importance of family in this locally run restaurant highlighting the flavours of northern India. The menu, decor, and vibe in the restaurant (which included Punjubi rap) is influenced by a first generation Canadian playing homage to his heritage with a twist. I devoured the daal makhani and chicken kalami kebab dishes.

Guacamole Mexican Grill

We stopped by Guacamole Mexican Grill for a quick bite. I love when restaurants allow you to mix and match tacos, and we tried the chorizo, carnitas and el pastor. I loved the decor and wish we had more time to taste more items as I know they had more GF options on the menu.

Civic Hotel

During our stay in Surrey we were conveniently located at the Civic Hotel. Our stay included in-room breakfast and the kitchen conveniently served me eggs, bacon and gluten free toast for breakfast.

Mi Shanti – Vijs

We didn’t have enough time to dine at Vikram Vij’s popular south Surrey restaurant Mi Shanti, but I know that GF options are clearly labelled on the menu and Vikram’s food is delicious. * As indicated on the menu, items made in the fryer may be contaminated and should not be ordered by Celiacs.

A weekend on Salt Spring Island

I’m not sure if it was complete luck, some ingenuity, or the power of positive thought, but I managed to find accommodation on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, with just one day’s notice for the August long weekend. The entire island was booked – literally. I later found out a friend had a reservation we could have used and when they called to cancel the hotel said no worries, as they had 25 people on the wait list.

After there was nothing available online I tried seven places to ask if they had any cancellations (we are still in a pandemic after all). After hearing nothing but no I got creative and tried to see if there were any rental options. I found a post on the local Salt Spring Exchange website for a furnished room available immediately. I inquired if a short-term weekend rental was an option if it hadn’t already been rented and voila; we found ourselves in a heritage house in a private room with an en-suite bathroom, just a 12-minute walk from the central island town of Ganges.

I wanted to go to Salt Spring Island because it is easy to get to with public transit from Vancouver (car rentals over the long weekend were $$$ and also hard to come by), and as the most populous of the southern gulf islands, it seemed like there were loads of things to keep us entertained for a weekend away.

13 things we did during a weekend on Salt Spring Island

1.       Browsed the famous Saturday Market 

Every Saturday from April through to October, artisans and food vendors line the oceanside at Centennial Park in Ganges for the Salt Spring Saturday Market. Salt Spring Island has a deep-rooted history in agriculture and the artisan movements that began in the 1960s, and the local vendors we visited were selling everything from handmade soaps to electric ukuleles. The Spanadian indulged in the pastries on offer from a couple of vendors and we walked away with bath salts and some of that famous Salt Spring soap.

2.       Explored the island by scooter 

As our trip was last minute, we had not done much as far as pre-planning. Since we were travelling without a car, I thought it might be fun to rent scooters. As luck would have it, Salt Spring Adventure Co had two single rider scooters available due to a cancellation. We grabbed them at 12:30 pm and opted for the 8 hour rental. I was a bit nervous at first, especially as some of the roads were 80 km/h, but they were easy to operate and navigating the island was simple.

Scooters rented from Salt Spring Adventure Co

3.       Lunched at Fulford Harbour’s Rock Salt  

We scooted our way across the island to Fulford Harbour and sat down for a bite with an ocean view at Rock Salt Restaurant & Cafe. A popular spot for those coming and going on the ferry to Vancouver Island, Rock Salt offers a grab and go café menu, as well as a full sit-down menu in their restaurant. We shared a lamb burger and a Bombay surf bowl, both of which could be made gluten free. Great meal – would absolutely recommend and dine at again.

The lamb burger & Bombay surf bowl at Rock Salt Restaurant & Cafe

4.       Visited the Salt Spring Island Cheese farm 

Salt Spring Island Cheese makes beautiful cheese. Pick any of their pure goat milk chevre, be it flower, garlic, or lemon, and you are guaranteed to have an artistic addition to any charcuterie board. A visit to the farm can include checking out the goats in the barn, picking up some goat meat from the self-serve freezer, taste testing products in the shop, or indulging in goat milk gelato or a pizza in the café. Sadly, the day we went they were almost sold out of all cheese. We snagged a couple and topped up our supply at the Thriftys grocery store in town.

5.       Shopped local at a farm stall 

As we rode around the island it felt like just about every resident had a wooden farm stall at the end of their driveway, or a sign indicating we could come in to visit their artisan or agricultural studio. (You can pick up a Salt Spring Studio Tour brochure at Visitor Information in Ganges). We rode past everything from fresh cut flowers, to soaps, to golden plums for sale. Many things are presented and sold on the honour system with a little box available to drop cash or make change. One stall we stopped at said we could ask for frozen lamb, so the owner graciously brought down a packaged of minced lamb for us. We grabbed a dozen duck eggs as well, gave her puppy a quick pat on the head, and were back on the road to continue our tour of the island.

6.       Caught some afternoon rays at Beddis Beach 

We rode our scooters to the end of Beddis road and walked down to the idyllic white-crushed shell ocean beach. I’m not a fan of cold water and one dip of my toe had me shaking my head ‘no thanks’ to an afternoon swim. The Spanadian braved the water and I got to enjoy the audible shock of his chilly dip safely from the shore.

7.       Thrifted for vintage clothing 

One of my favourite things to do on vacation is check out vintage and thrift stores, as I’m always looking for things to add to my personal wardrobe or make available through my side hustle Armoire Inspiration. I found some good vintage pieces at Transitions Thrift Store (although I thought the prices were a little high for a thrift store). I was impressed with the curated selection at The Getting Place, but it was a random stop at Thrift Shop Lady Mintos where I found gold in the form of a bright yellow, made in Italy vintage romper.

8.       Climbed Mount Erksine 

With a few hours to spare on our rental, we decided to park at the end of the Juniper Road and do the Mount Erskine loop. The 90-minute climb offered up some stunning coastal views and I was excited to find some hidden fairy doors along the way. It also gave us an opportunity to stretch our legs and burn some calories before dinner.

9.       Dined at Al’s Gourmet Falafel and Fries Foodcart 

We had walked by Al’s, apparently the island’s first food cart, early in the day and confirmed that the fryer was gluten free. We arrived shortly before closing and had time to order falafels, spiced fried cauliflower, and yam fries. A great thing about eating at Al’s is that the food cart is 99% garbage free and uses no single-use plastic. We ate every bite and happily composted our biodegradable packaging.

10.   Listened to live music at the Tree House Cafe 

The Tree House Café appears to be a very popular and beloved spot under the plum tree in the Ganges Harbour. Check the calendar, as many nights they offer music under the stars from the open-air café. When we walked by there were many people listening and dancing outside the fence of the café. On this laid back and sleepy island, this appeared to be the place to be on a Saturday night. Staff got on the mic explaining donations for the musicians from the crowd are welcome so it didn’t matter if you scored a seat inside or not; all are welcome to enjoy the music.

11.   Indulged in a sweet treat 

If you like ice cream on a hot summer day, then options are plentiful on Salt Spring Island. In Ganges alone you can choose from Salt Spring Soft Serve, Glad’s Ice Cream, or if you love gelato as much as The Spanadian does, Harlans Chocolate & Gelato. While we riding across the island I noticed goat gelato was available at the Salt Spring Island Cheese farm as well as from a food cart up the hill from Fulford Harbour, many offered dairy free/vegan options.

12.   Picked blackberries (for free)

We did a lot of walking around and I was shocked by the volume of blackberries growing wild across the island. Since I had packed our dinner for the ferry ride over on Friday night, I had a container on hand to fill with blackberries before we made our way back to the mainland. My mother, who dragged me along to pick fruit through much of my childhood and youth, would have been so proud.

13.   Soared above the Gulf Islands on a float plane 

Originally, we planned on catching the afternoon ferry on Sunday back to the mainland, primarily because that was the only direct ferry of the day. As we were strolling through Ganges on Sunday morning we saw a float plane land in the harbour, and we popped into Harbour Air to find out if they had any last-minute deals. From the time we caught the bus in Ganges to head to the ferry, our bus-ferry-bus-metro option would take likely take close to 4 hours. When we learned we could take a 20-minute flight to downtown Vancouver for $125 each, we jumped on the opportunity.  We sat right up front near the pilot and the quick trip felt like a sight-seeing expedition.

The view from the Harbour Air float plane above Stanley Park, Vancouver

Our weekend in Salt Spring was a delightful and delicious escape from Vancouver. It may be small, but we found loads of things to keep us well fed and entertained on our mini break. A word of advice – book your accommodation for this laid-back Gulf Island far in advance.

Ganges harbour, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

Memories of Mallorca – 10 things to do that don’t involve the beach

Exactly one year ago I was ripping around the winding roads of Mallorca in a rental car with my London-town friend Kalpna, who I had met just five months earlier on a G Adventures trip through Bhutan.

I never got around to documenting our journey around the Spanish island, and as a travel junkie, the pre-pandemic freedom of international travel has me feeling nostalgic to relive the memories. We also had a trip booked to Morocco in April that was cancelled due to COVID – and I am longing for an adventure with my travel buddy.

I’ve done my best during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep my feet from itching too much by exploring my home province of Alberta, but as time goes by, I am more and more grateful of the time I have spent traveling abroad and the people I have met around the world.

Kalpna and I got along so well in Bhutan, but organised group travel is different. I wasn’t sure how we would travel together on our own, but my fears were alleviated when I asked Kalpna to join me in Mallorca with less than two weeks notice and she said “sure, but i’m not much of a beach person.”

“Me too!” I screamed back at her.

Cala Deià

I am embarrassed/proud to say that with five days in Mallorca – we did not step foot on sand. We did try. One late afternoon we walked to catch the sunset at Cala Deià, but when we arrived at the cove we found the tide high and Spaniards lazing about on piles of wet, stinky seaweed. No sand in sight. I stepped into the water only for the photo to prove to my boyfriend I touched the sea and then we got out of there.

Cala Deià

We planned on diving into the sea in Palma when we tried to impromptu walk onto a catamaran trip one afternoon, but that day the boat was inconveniently booked for a private party. There was space the next morning, but we didn’t have enough time to get to the airport to fly out. I think we were just not meant to frolic in the water, but we kept ourselves busy, proving there is more to Mallorca than just package holiday resorts.


1.       Enjoy a multi-hour lunch like a Spaniard
Lunch is the largest and most important meal of the day in Spain, and we centered much of our daily planning around where we would eat each day. As a bargain hunter, I am a huge fan of the menu del dia, a generously-sized multi-course meal that often includes wine and coffee/tea for one price point. You’d think a Celiac (gluten-free) and a lactose-free diner would have challenges eating off a fixed menu, but somehow, we managed to order the menu del dia at some very memorable restaurants including:

Ca’n BoQueta Restaurant in Sóller

This was hands down my favourite meal in Mallorca.  Located in a traditional townhouse along a cobblestone street, we enjoyed a fantastic meal in the garden which included the most delectable Iberico pork skewers and a bizcocho dessert that was naturally gluten free.

Restaurant Toque in Palma

A close second to our meal in Sóller, the menu del dia at Restaurant Toque in Palma de Mallorca was delightful. Our last meal in Palma was a bust, so I wish we had gone two days in a row as they had no issues with our allergies, the service was impeccable, and the food was plated so beautifully.

Restaurant Toque in Palma de Mallorca

Gluten free and lactose free options on the daily menu at Restaurant Toque in Palma de Mallorca

Restaurant Can Cuarassa near the Port de Pollenca

Sadly, in looking up the link to this restaurant I see that they are not reopening post-COVID. I do hope that someone buys the restaurant, as this lovely spot near the Port de Pollenca with a view of the Mediterranean was a delight to stop at during our drive around Mallorca. (The beach here looked lovely, but we had a lighthouse to see and a monastery to get to… so the beach lost out).

2.       Drive to the Lighthouse of Cap de Formentor
I’m sure if I hadn’t been the one driving, I would have gotten car sick on the way to the Lighthouse of Cap de Formentor. The winding road to the north eastern tip of the island was filled with hair pin turns and the odd cyclist hazard. Parking was a challenge at the viewpoint but the goat that was coming down the stairs from the lighthouse restaurant to greet us made the journey worth it.

3.       Sleep in a monastery 

After our visit to the lighthouse, we did our best to beat the sunset to our abode for the evening – the Santuari de la Mare de Déu des Puig, which we booked on Airbnb. After braving a terrifying road with even tighter hairpin turns and potholes that looked like they would eat our rental, we parked and hiked the remainder of the way up to the 14th-century former nunnery. Darkness set in just as we arrived, so we spent the night in our private dorm room, and we explored the nunnery and enjoyed the views in the morning.

* There appear to be a couple of monastery/church hospitality options on Mallorca. We also visited the Santuari de Lluc, which guests can stay the night at with more amenities and no hiking involved.

4.       Visit a free museum 

Located in Sóller’s train station is the Sala Picasso & Sala Miró, a free permanent exhibition of ceramics by Picasso along with a myriad of prints from Miró. While most tourists were lining up to take the heritage tram to the Port de Sóller, we had this free art exhibit basically to ourselves.

In Palma, we visited the beautiful Museu Fundación Juan March, which has a permanent collection of seventy works by the most important Spanish vanguard artists of the twentieth century including Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Juan Gris and Salvador Dalí. Still surprised this one was free – I thought it was a beautiful collection.

5.       Explore the Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma 

Designed in the Catalan Gothic style but with Northern European influences, construction on the Cathedral began in 1229 but did not finish until 1601. Gaudi was invited to take part in a  restoration of the cathedral in 1901 but abandoned his work in 1914 after an argument with the contractor. His idea for an enormous crown of thorns canopy that hangs over the altar was completed by one of his students.

I was intrigued by a modern installation by Miquel Barcelo representing the miracle of Jesus multiplying the loaves and the fish for his followers; it is certainly a conversation piece.

6.       Pick up some retro styles at a vintage store

While I don’t feel that Spain has the thrift/vintage store culture I have experienced in other European countries, I was pleasantly surprised to find a handful of vintage stores in Palma including Flamingos VintageUNICO Vintage  and Seattle Vintage Store. Isn’t a Mediterranean island the perfect place to pick up a fur?


7.       Get your steps in as you hunt for street art 

After a very educational graffiti tour I did in Berlin years ago, I have a greater appreciation and desire to spot street art along my travels. Looking for graffiti is a great reason to step out and explore the city streets, and Palma did not disappoint.

8.       Get your Instagram photo shoot on 

As we were visiting the Royal Palace of La Almudaina (which was conveniently free for Kalpna on Wednesdays as a EU citizen), we stumbled upon a few Instagram photo shoots like the one above. The backgrounds and backdrops are lovely – and we did our best to replicate shots among the winding streets of Palma.

But it was the décor at Hostal Pons where we stayed in Palma that made for the best photo shoot. As Kalpna described, if Miss Havisham from Great Expectations had retired in Mallorca, this is where you would find her.

Can you identify the stuffed animal on the back shelf?

9.       Cheer for the home team at a Real Mallorca match 

Had I realized there was a home game the night we arrived in Palma, I would have made Kalpna go to a Real Mallorca game with me. Instead, we got to enjoy the locals watching the game at televisions lining the streets at every bar and restaurant in the capital city.

10.      Indulge in a locally baked specialty – the ensaïmada
Ok, so this one is not for gluten-free/lactose free travelers like Kalpna and I, but the local baked good famous to Mallorca should enjoyed by those who can. Since I was flying from Palma to Santander to stay with my boyfriend’s family, I didn’t want to come empty handed, and I picked up an assortment before getting on the plane. This delicate cream-filled spiral pastry graced the windows of bakeries in a variety of sizes. When in Mallorca – indulge in the ensaïmada.

So, there you have it, a full itinerary of activities that doesn’t involve the water. I guess when the pandemic is over and I can travel freely again, I have a reason to go back to Mallorca. You can catch me going from sand to sea and into those gorgeous Mediterranean waters. A special thanks to Kalpna for making my mini break in Mallorca a memorable one.

Recipe: Chicken Liver Pâté

COVID-19 is impacting how people are grocery shopping, which is having a direct impact on what ingredients are available to make meals at home. A few weeks ago we stopped in at our local Oliver/downtown Save-On Foods on a Sunday to find not only the toilet paper aisle empty, but also some extremely slim pickings in the fresh meat section.

The only meat left in the fresh chicken section were three packages of chicken livers. The fact that so many people had overlooked this iron-packed ingredient made me feel sad for this tasty yet less-than-glamorous cut of meat. Staring at those lonely packages got me thinking – it had been some time since I had whipped up some homemade liver pâté. I suggested the idea to The Spanadian which he immediately supported, so I picked up one of the packages for just a few dollars.

I have always loved pate. As a kid I absolutely loved spreading it on warm toast for breakfast. While other children were coming to school with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I was begging my mom for bread and liver pâté. To this day, pâté and rillettes are my favourite things to have on a charcuterie board.

Not only is liver pate a simple and affordable dish to prepare at home, the ingredients are easy to access, even during the COVID-19 grocery hoarding situation. The not so secret ingredient to smooth as silk pâté is butter, which means you’re supporting not only the Alberta Chicken Producers, but also Alberta Canola as well as Alberta Milk and Dairy Farmers of Canada with this simple recipe.

I topped by chicken liver pâté with black current jam as well as a pear, date and cognac chutney.

Chicken Liver Pâté

2 tbsp canola oil, divided
1/2 small purple onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
450 grams of chicken livers
1/2 cup of butter
2 sprigs of sage, stems removed
1/2 cup brandy (can substitute with cognac or bourbon)
salt to taste
1/4 – 1/2 cup of jelly, jam, or chutney of your liking (such as cranberry, pear, date or fig)


1. In a medium sized pan, heat 1 tbsp of canola oil over medium-low heat. Add onions and sauté til almost soft (at least five minutes); add garlic and sauté for one to two minutes more. Remove onions and garlic to a plate.

2. Over medium heat, add remaining 1 tbsp of canola. Add the chicken livers along with the sage leaves and cook for approximately two – three minutes per side. Livers should still be pink on the inside, if you overcook the pate can be grainy.

3. Crank the heat to high and add the booze of your choice. Simmer for a minute, and then place the liver, sage and any alcohol left in the pan into and blender or food processor. Add in the onions, garlic and butter and blitz until you have a smooth like butter consistency. Salt to taste.

4. Place the pâté in one or more jars or serving dishes and top with jam, jelly, or chutney of your liking that will pair well. Allow the pâté to chill at least one hour in the fridge.

*  Any exposed pâté will oxidize and turn colour slightly. Covering the top of the pâté with the jam will help prevent this. Consume within three days or freeze until ready to enjoy.  Serve with freshly toasted bread, with crackers, or slather on to french bread as the base to a homemade bánh mì.

** If anyone around you is concerned about their butter intake (like olive-oil obsessed Spaniards), don’t let them see you put half a cup of butter into this recipe. I prefer to just feed it to them after it is set and chilled.

*** Interested in an alcohol free substitute – check out the suggestion in the comments from my friend Simone.

Devour the Rockies – Take Three

In February, I took in the third annual Devour the Rockies Food and Film Festival at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge.

Devour the Rockies is a satellite event of Devour, the largest film and food festival in the world held annually in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Devour the Rockies gives guests the opportunity to spend a weekend at the Fairmont JPL celebrating cinema, indulging in wine (as well as beer and spirits), and getting social alongside a stellar lineup of chefs.

Attendance has grown from 125 at the inaugural event in 2018 to 200 people in 2020, but the weekend still feels like I’m attending a private and intimate event in the rockies. I love the itinerary, the opportunity to socialize with chefs in a laid back environment, and of course, a weekend at the stunning Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge.


The recipe to a successful event has remained the same since 2018; here are five reasons I love Devour The Rockies.

1. A cabin crawl at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge

Hands down, the best part of the weekend for me is the kickoff event – a Fairmont JPL Cabin Crawl. Guests walk between signature cabins located throughout the property where chefs hosts themed cabin parties with the help of wine, local beer, and craft hard alcohol sponsors. One of the stops includes the Outlook Cabin – a space that was fit for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1939, as well as Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in 2005. The cabin crawl allows guests to stretch their legs between bites, as well as a few sips from the lineup of alcohol sponsors.  Most of all,  I love the surprise of what theme décor, delectable delights, and party entertainment awaits (like Girls Club DJs) at the next stop.

Chef Paul Shufelt hosted a Quebecois Discotheque party – poutine was on the menu

The Italian Trade Commission was on hand at this year’s event, where the Italian Centre’s Gino helped kick off the cabin crawl by cracking a wheel of Parmesan.

Chef Doreen Prei surprised guests by hosting a vegetarian schnitzel house during the Devour the Rockies Cabin Crawl

Chef Doreen Prei’s vegetarian friendly brie cheese schnitzel

Alpine chic – the perfect attire for a JPL cabin crawl

2. Chili Cook-off

For the past three years, each of the Devour the Rockies chefs have gone head to head in a chill cook off. Chefs are set up throughout the ballroom, conveniently staggered between more alcohol sponsors. The event is a stand-up luncheon where guests wander among the stations and receiving their chili sample direct from the chef. Patrons vote for their favourite and a weekend at a Fairmont property is on the line. Congrats to Chef Paul Shufelt who took home this year’s prize – check out his recipe for charred corn & chorizo chili.

Chef Doreen Prei serving up her vegetarian chili

Chef Paul Shufelt’s charred corn & chorizo chili


3. A chance to glam up at the Gala

The signature event at Devour the Rockies is the multi-course gala dinner where each of the chefs are asked to create a dish inspired by a short film. The evening starts with a wine reception in the Mountain Galleries at the Fairmont JPL, along with the opportunity to have a complimentary professional photo taken by David and Peggy of A Different Angle Photography. I love any opportunity to get dressed up, so the Devour the Rockies Gala is right up my alley.

4. Bubbles & Brunch

I feel like the event organizers really want guests to feel like we got our money’s worth, so there is one more chance to sip, savour, and watch one more short film. After checking out on Sunday morning, we were treated to a buffet brunch alongside five mimosa stations featuring bubbly delights from the event’s alcohol sponsors.

5. Free time at the JPL

While doing a lap on the skating rink we found this elk hiding along the treeline

Many events I attend at the JPL involve a full program. Itineraries are so good I don’t want to miss out on anything, and sometimes, I feel like I don’t have enough time to relax and enjoy the JPL experience. Thankfully, the program during Devour the Rockies is a little more laid back, and the free morning on the Saturday affords time to hit the hot tub, the spa, or even go for a lap on the groomed skating rink at Mildred Lake. The Fairmont JPL has a variety of winter adventures, or you can just sit back and enjoy the view. We did a full lap of Lac Beauvert on the morning we checked out – a great option for anyone looking to burn off a few calories before hitting the bubbles brunch.

For the past three years Devour the Rockies has been a sell-out event at the Fairmont JPL. Save the date – Devour the Rockies 2021 takes place February 26 – 28.

Gluten Free Eats on 124th Street

Living in Grandin, technically the Oliver neighbourhood, of Edmonton certainly has its perks. Not only is my walk to work downtown a mere 10 minutes, I’m also a quick walk or bike ride to the shops and restaurants on 124th street. I am so grateful of the revitalization of that street/neighbourhood over the last decade, including the addition of both the Thursday and Sunday 124 Grand Markets. I’ve heard Giselle Courteau share stories how people thought she was crazy to open a bake shop in 2009, but just look at how much traffic that the Duchess Bake Shop has brought to the area. Today, 124 Street has to be one of the hippest and tastiest areas of the city.

While not all the wonderful shops ands restaurants cater to Celiacs, there are quite a few that I feel comfortable dining at. Last year my friend Linda Hoang asked me to guest write a gluten-free guide for dining throughout Edmonton. Here is my disclaimer; like that list – this one is not exhaustive or inclusive of all GF options. I often get asked about gluten-free recommendations, so here are the ones I most often recommend in the 124th area.

Woodshed Burgers – 10723 124 St

I knew when Chef Paul Shufelt opened his second restaurant Woodshed Burgers, a burger joint on 124th street, that he would have gluten free options for me. As much as Paul gripes on social media about customers changing orders, he has never had an issue ensuring this Celiac had something to eat at his restaurant. Not only can I order burger on a Care Bakery gluten free bun, there is a dedicated fryer on site that no gluten enters. Chef Shufelt makes gravy with cornstarch, so patrons can request a GF poutine (make sure to specify when ordering). Burgers and fries are a rare treat for Celiacs, and the last meal I had at Woodshed was one of the most satisfying bites I’ve had in a while.

My order:
Smurf Burger: Nonay beef, roasted mushrooms, bacon, arugula, blue cheese aioli on a gluten free bun
Classic Poutine

Woodshed Burgers’ GF Poutine (best enjoyed with my poutine-loving friend Jess)

Bodega 124th Street – 12417 Stony Plain Rd

Many people don’t know, but the 124th street Bodega location (which is just off 124 street located on the south side of Stony Plain Rd) has a secret patio located around back of the restaurant. Chef Lino, who suffers from gluten challenges himself, offers a tapas menu packed with gf options. Piri Piri chicken, cheeses, olives, cured meats, and paella are all naturally gf dishes, and many more can be enjoyed without the side crostini.

My order:
Tapas: piri-piri prawns, braised pork cheeks, and bacon-wrapped dates
Big Plates: fresh mussels with saffron tomato cream (no crostini)
Dessert: torta de Santiago – Galician almond cake with crème anglaise

Bodega’s Chef Lino


OEB – 56-10240 124 St

The first time I went to OEB in Calgary I was shocked by the number of gluten-free options on their menu.  However, if you look up their menu online, there are very few things labelled as GF. In contrast to some restaurants (like the prominent vegetarian restaurant in Edmonton I went to that had a two-page menu that wasn’t actually GF  – as 95% of things were contaminated), OEB seems to only identify the item is the dish is GF, not if it can be made GF.

Each time I have eaten there I have found the service staff very helpful with ordering GF. While I normally want to order a breakfast poutine, which can be done with distinctively different potatoes, the last time I dined I asked about Croque Madame as I was told it could be done on GF bread. After ordering, the server came back to ask if I wanted mine made off the shared grill (yes), and confirmed if I would still want the order without the onions, which the kitchen could not confirm were safe. Normally I had modifying menu items, but each time I’ve dined it seemed no issue to the server and didn’t compromise the final dish.

My order:
Hogs & Scallops breakfast poutine (request GF potatoes) served with brown butter hollandaise.

GF Croque Madame (front) & the Soul in a Bowl poutine with GF potatoes (and half spinach sub)

Meuwly’s Artisan Food Market

Making a charcuterie board? Meuwly’s is your one-stop show for everything you’ll need. Meuwly’s makes over 150 different food products at their production kitchen- from dry-cured salami to coffee bbq sauce to pickled grapes – many that are gluten free.

My order:
Maple breakfast sausages, pate and pork terrine.

Northern Chicken – 10704 – 124 St

Ok, so chefs Andrew Cowan and Matt Philips are not presently serving a gf version of their fried chicken, but the dynamic duo are happy to accommodate Celiacs at Northern Chicken. At present, the GF main is the BBQ spiced drumsticks, roasted and then pan-fried to order. Side dishes are constantly evolving, and the current menu offers gf pork and beans, potato salad, coleslaw; both the butter leaf lettuce and broccoli salads can both be made gf with modifications.

My order:
The bacon cream corn (when available – order two servings of this sinful side dish)


RGE RD – 10643 123 St

So, technically RGE RD is on 123 street, but it is too close (and too good), not to include them in this post. A visit to Caitlin Fulton & Chef Blair Lebsack’s RGE RD is always a treat. While the menu online does not clearly identify any GF options, Celiacs are in good hands at RGE RD. With a constantly changing menu, questions are best directed to your server who can tell you if the day’s kitchen board or questionable bits for the day are gluten free. I’ve also been able to order the RGE RD Road Trip – a hands off approach to dinner where the chefs decide your multi-course dinner.

My order:
Beef tartare (ask for modification for chip)
Nature’s Green Acres Pig Roast (modified side)

Chef Blair Lebsack, co-owner of RGE RD, is happy to accommodate Celiacs in his restaurant.

Prairie Noodle Shop – 10350 124 St Suite 4

While several restaurants offer GF pho around town, Prairie Noodle Shop is one of the few offering gf ramen made with their sweet potato noodles. Start with an order of their charcoal salted edamame and ask if there are any specials that day coming out of their gf safe fryer.

Three Days in Mexico City

For my 40th birthday I wanted to celebrate by traveling to somewhere I had never been before. I had been itching to check out Mexico City, and even though friends told me three days was not enough time to explore the bustling city, we decided to go for it.

Yes, the travel there was a bit long for a three day weekend, (1 hour 20 minute flight from Edmonton to Vancouver then a 5.5 hour flight direct to Mexico City), but when presented with the option of 72 hours in Mexico City, or no hours, I would do the same again.

We had exactly three full days in Mexico City and I think we made the most of them. It was a fabulous way to mark my 40th birthday, so if three days is all you have to explore, I say go for it.

How we got around:

Public transit from the airport is an option; however, our plane landed after midnight and we were back on our way to the airport at 4 a.m. to catch our return flight, and the metro is not operational at those hours. Uber is very cheap and convenient (and there is free wifi around the city), but the only time we took Uber was to and from the airport.

When we weren’t walking our way across the city, we relied on a mix of the metro (5 pesos per ride) and the bus (6 pesos per ride – no transfer). There were police at each stop and we always felt safe during our public transit journeys. Uber is cheap, but riding public transit allows you to experience things differently than in the back of a private car. I highly recommend giving public transit a go in Mexico City.

* We met someone who took Uber to see Teotihuacán and they had to pay an additional 200 pesos in road tolls they were not expecting to pay – be aware there may be extra costs if you choose this option.

Mexico City – or as the Spanish speaking world calls it – Ciudad de México (CDMX)

Day 1: Zocalo, Roma Norte, and Mexican Wrestling


We kicked things off by joining Strawberry Tours for a walking tour of the historical centre. Our 2.5 hour tour included a quick history from the Aztec Empire, through the Spanish conquest, and onto independence of the nation. We navigated our way through the Zocalo, admiring highlights like the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts), the Casa de los Azulejos (house of tiles), Church of San Francisco (where I bought a delightful flan in a cup from a nun for 15 pesos), and finishing up at Temple Mayor.


Several people recommended dining at Azul Historico, which is set in the courtyard of a colonial-era palace.  This is a higher-end restaurant where you can watch women prepare handmade tortillas. Our cochinita pibil, pit-roasted pig that’s made in the traditional style of the Yucatán Peninsula, tacos and the enchiladas made with sautéed hibiscus flowers were the most beautifully presented food we had during our trip.

Azul Historico – enchiladas & tacos

Azul Historico


As we approached one of the largest retail markets in Mexico, it became obvious that a late afternoon visit was not on the itinerary of many (or any) other tourists. The market was quiet with vendors tending to their produce, but not many people buying, and I was the only gringo in sight. The market is massive – you could easily get lost for hours. We bought some Chicharrón from a vendor who also let me have a go at chopping the giant discs of shredded pork, as well as some nuts and dried fruit for our next day’s journey.


After the Mercado, we jumped on the metro and headed to Roma Norte so I could partake in one of my favourite things to do when I am traveling – visit thrift and vintage stores. The Spanadian let me check out Vintrend and Goodbye Folk in exchange for some time to him enjoy some gluten from a bakery and an afternoon latte at a pop up corner cafe.

Thanks to my friend Matt’s recommendation, we dined at Taqueria Orinoco in Roma Norte. The Spanadian found someone who could confirm that the northern-style tacos (al pastor, bistec, or chicharron) and accompanying potatoes were gluten free. The line was short and once we ordered we opted to sit at the bar seats with a view of the grill and all the taco-making action.

A dose of gluten for the Spanadian picked up at a no-name bakery.

The vintage clothing vibe at Vintrend.

Taco time at Taqueria Orinoco


Hands down – the highlight of our first day in Mexico for me was our Lucha Libre Mexican Wrestling Tour (400 pesos). After getting warmed up with some mezcal and outfitted with our own Mexican wrestling mask, we arrived at the arena for the fighting to begin at 8:30 p.m. on a Friday night. The theatrics brought me back to my childhood,  watching Hulk Holgan and Macho Man Randy Savage in the late 80’s. The passion of the crowd, costumes and athleticism/choreography was far more entertaining than I could have imagined. The booing was intense; I wish that we had closer seats for a ringside view of all the drama.

Day 2: Teotihuacan, Barbacoa, and Salsa Dancing


We set our alarm for seven a.m. so we could get an early start at heading to Teotihuacán. Rather than a tour, we took  the metro to the Terminal del Norte station, walked across to the bus station and easily found gate 8 where we bought return tickets (102 pesos) and were on a bus leaving five minutes later. The ride is said to be around an hour (our drivers did it in less both ways), and we arrived at the gate by 8:45 a.m. to the sight of hot air balloons across the horizon.

Almost everything I read said the doors open at 9 a.m., but we learned that they open at 8 a.m. – which allows early morning visitors to enjoy the historical site before the tour buses start arriving around 10 a.m.

With few people at the site, we climbed  the Pyramid of the Sun first, followed by the Pyramid of the Moon. We casually walked along the avenue of the dead, taking in additional sites and the museum, before walking out the south gate at 12:15 p.m. By the time we left the site was busy, noisy, and hot. Getting up early to get to the site before the crowds, and not having to wait in line to climb the major temples, was the best decision we made all weekend.


Open only Friday – Sunday, this Roma Sur restaurant will be a favourite for anyone who loves lamb as much as The Spanadian does. We enjoyed our barbacoa (slow cooked lamb tacos) in the late afternoon along side local families eating family-style at brightly decorated tables.


After an early morning temple trip and a large lamb lunch, we were in need of a siesta. On our way back to our place at Suites DF, we walked through the Monument to the Revolution, which turned out to be  a happening place on a Saturday evening. There were so many girls that looked like they were going to prom alongside girlfriends in matching dresses, guys in suites, and too many hummer limousines to count. We learned that the girls were actually dressed up and celebrating their 15th birthday.


Street food options are abundant in Mexico City, so we hit up some street taco stalls in Roma Norte for a late dinner on the way to the club. We had an assortment of carnitas, chorizo, and chicharron tacos (5 minis for 25 pesos – we had two plates), followed by larger rotisserie chicken tacos (17 pesos each). So essentially we were stuffed on less than $7 Canadian.

We arrived at Mama Rumba around 10 p.m. where a Cuban band was taking the stage. Although the place was packed we managed to find some room on both floors to get some dancing in, as well as some excellent people watching. We left shortly before 1 a.m. and still managed to catch a bus back to where we were staying near the Monument a la Revolution.


We woke early, not by choice, to loud music and someone speaking on a microphone. We later learned that it wasn’t a protest, but instead it was the Mexico City marathon.

With Paseo de la Reforma avenue closed to traffic on Sundays, we walked the avenue alongside runners, cyclists, and dog walkers until arriving at Bosque de Chapultepec. Mexican families flock to the park on Sundays where vendors were hawking all sorts of goods, trinkets and treats. The scene was a bit busy for us, so we opted to grab a gordita from  street seller and jump on the metro towards Coyoacan.

Line up at the Frida museum

I had read that it best to buy tickets to Frida Kahlo museum in advance, advice we ignored, and when we arrived the line up was down and around the block. With so few hours left in Mexico City, we opted to forgo the museum and had ceviche for lunch at the Mercado Coyoacan instead. We walked the neighbourhood, indulging in an organic espresso at Cafe Avellaneda and some gluten-free pastries at Las Mamazotas Kitchen.

Gluten free dessert at Las Mamazotas Kitchen

We took the metro back north so we could walk through the Condesa neighbourhood, including the Parque Mexico and back to our Alameda Central neighbourhood. We may not have taken part in the Mexico City marathon, but it felt like we walked the equivalent of a marathon that day.

Our final meal was at the taco stands near the Monument to the Revolution, where the whole hog tacos were our favourite of the trip. Perhaps it was because we were so hungry, or because of how satisfied with our trip to Mexico City, but they were the juiciest and most flavourful meat tacos of the weekend.

A special thanks must be given to my official translator, The Spanadian. I’ve been saying since we met that I find it hard to understand when he speaks his speedy Spanish, so it brought me great joy to see the locals confused by his strong Spain (th, th, th) accent.  Thank you for helping us navigate the city and ensure I was eating gluten free. Un beso.

Launching Armoire Inspiration – a sustainable fashion venture

My interest in collecting clothing can likely be traced back to my early childhood watching Mr. Dress Up on CBC. My favourite part of his show was when he would open his tickle trunk and there would magically be the perfect outfit to play any character, be it cowboy, artist, or even a sailor.

I grew up in a remote part of Alberta (two hours from the closest store) to parents from farming families where hand-me-down clothes were the norm. Add in my mother’s habit of never throwing anything away, and it was easy to see how I developed an addiction, or admiration, of second hand and vintage clothing.

High Level, Alberta in the mid 1980’s. Heading to Brownies camp with my friend Paulette

I can recall the first day of grade nine wearing a two piece polyester skin tight bell bottom suit which had a pattern of denim patches. While other kids were wearing brand new clothes from the Gap, Club Monaco, and well the odd Nirvana t-shirt, I was wearing recycled fashions from my mother’s closet.

When going to second-hand clothing stores, and the grunge era of fashion, became more popular in junior high, I was completely on board. I loved the thrill of the hunt, and more than anything, I loved trying on the most ridiculous outfits and retro pieces I could find. (I can still remember the jealousy we all had when our friend Adrienne found a $5 bill in the pocket of a pair of jeans).

Buenos Aires – wearing a vintage dress I picked up at an antique market in San Telmo.

Over the years I held on to some pieces, passed other along, and focused my interest on vintage and retro pieces. Having backpacked around the world, I somehow found a way to store an impractical item I’d picked up from an antique market in Buenos Aires or vintage store in Berlin in my pack. I love any excuse to play dress up, and while most people are fine to wear a little black dress to a wedding, party, or dinner event, I am more likely to bust out a one-of-a-kind thrift store find (and maybe top it with a vintage fur coat).

Scored this vintage coat from a thrift store in St. Louis, Missouri.

Now in my late 30’s, I’ve outgrown the size of a tickle trunk; I have what one might call a tickle closet. I’ve become that friend you call when you need something for a costume or special event.

Beetlejuice or the ghosts of vintage past? Thrift shopping with no change room in NYC

In the last year I’ve seen an increase locally in the number of vintage and second hand clothing events and Instagram sellers flipping items. Globally, the fashion world has finally started to denounce fast fashion, and the vintage, retro and second hand clothing market is booming.

Made in France, vintage romper (one-zy) that I found in Portugal, and was perfect for my stop in Gascony, France.

Sustainability has become stylish, but I’ve learned not everyone wants to go hunting for treasures the way I do. This is why the beautifully curated Swish store in downtown Edmonton is likely so successful – people are willing to pay for someone else to do the digging.

My sister is put off by the smell of thrift stores, and like many others, is overwhelmed by the racks jam packed with mostly things she has no interest in.

The Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress I found her at a thrift store… well that she was fine with.

For years, I’ve thought about using my thrift store hunting skills to resell second hand items, but I had no interest the packaging and mailing involved with selling on eBay. I’ve tried consigning, but it isn’t always the right fit for some of the pieces I have or find. I have many things in my collection that I’m ready to part with, but I also found so many amazing things in my searches that weren’t right for me, but felt too good to leave behind.

Head-to-toe vintage: a European fur atop a Saks Fifth Avenue 50’s gown and paired with silver made in Spain shoes.

And so, I decided it was time to share my passion for secondhand fashions and my patience for thrift shopping with the world (or at least Edmonton to start with).

Thanks to my lovely friend Des, who is entertaining my side hustle idea by showcasing a rack of clothes at her environmentally conscious hair salon, The Beauty Parlour, located on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton. I’ll be curating a constantly evolving collection available for viewing and trying on during regular Beauty Parlour business hours.

Wearing a vintage dress bought in Porto, Portugal paired with retro made-in-Canada sandals to my friend Shelly’s wedding

In addition to the salon, my extremely patient boyfriend has allowed me to turn our spare room into a growing showroom of secondhand goods, which I’ve used to show off pieces for some close friends (he also volunteered his love of spreadsheet skills to help me track my sales).

I recently launched a new Instagram account @ArmoireInspiration, to help show off my goods available at The Beauty Parlour and pieces available for direct sale. I’ve been rocking new looks to work each day to get photos of some pieces – which has resulted is oohs and ahhs from my coworkers, and a newly named Vintage Fashion February.

At a Spanish wedding wearing a vintage dress bought on a trip to Portland, Oregon.

The community of second hand clothing is growing in Edmonton, and while I’m not sure how far this side venture will take me, I’m having a lot of fun finding items to share with the world. If watching Girlboss on Netflix has taught me anything, I have a lot to learn.

But at least I am going to look fabulous doing it. Give me a follow on Instagram and let me know if you like what you see.


  1. Visit @ArmoireInspiration to check out items available for sale and direct message through Instagram to arrange a meeting to check out an item that tickles your fancy.
  2. Pop in to The Beauty Parlour where i’ll have a rotating selection of curated items available. I’ll be happy to drop off any items seen on @ArmoireInspiration at The Beauty Parlour to be tried on/purchased.

The Beauty Parlour
2nd Floor, 10011
82 Ave, Edmonton, AB T6E 1Z2
(780) 429 4242

Monday: 9am-3pm
Tuesday: 9am-7pm
Wednesday: 10am-8pm
Thursday: 11am-9pm
Friday: 9am-7pm
Saturday: 10am-4pm
Sunday: Closed




9 Reasons Bhutan is worth the price of admission

In 2019 I booked a trip to Bhutan last minute, on a whim, or as some might describe as an impulse purchase. To be perfectly honest, it was a response to a meltdown over a disappointing birthday.

I entered my 30s by celebrating my 30th birthday in Rio de Janeiro during Carnival. I realized a little too late that I wanted something memorable to mark 39 – my last year before the big 4-0.

So, six weeks after my birthday, I found myself with a problem that many people would love to have. I learned that I had too many vacation days that I couldn’t carry forward and I had to come up with a plan to use them.

And then I found a way to burn through some vacation… a discounted G Adventures 10-day Wonders of Bhutan trip leaving in less than a month.

Bhutan is not exactly easy to visit, nor is it economical.  Known as the last Shangi-La, I didn’t see my first images of the small land-locked country in between India and China until I was 24. I added it to my travel wish list, but the price had always deterred me from seriously considering it.

As someone who has grubby backpacked on a budget literally around the world, spending less than $10 (Canadian) per night in hostels, guests houses, and hotels in Asia, South America, Eastern Europe and Africa, Bhutan’s $250 USD daily visa fee had always been a barrier for me. The country limits the number of tourists each year and requires visitors to fly direct from less than a handful of countries – making the international travel arrangements even more difficult.

Bhutan is not a country that allows cheap backpackers hopping from hostel to hostel. All visitors have their visa arranged by a tour company. I’m not one for package holidays, but solo travel doesn’t really exist in Bhutan – you’re expected to be chaperoned by an official guide throughout your stay.

Once I found the deal I had to act quickly to ensure G Adventures could get me a visa. Very quickly, I managed to blow $7,000 Canadian in just a few hours in this order by:

  1. Booking a flight from Kathmandu, Nepal, into Bhutan on Druk Air – Royal Bhutan Airlines
  2. Securing my spot on the G Adventures Wonder’s of Bhutan trip (which included paying their overpriced $400 fee to come an extra day before the trip started).
  3. Booking a flight on Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong to Nepal (the flight home involved a five hour red eye from Kathmandu to Hong Kong, a 12 hour layover in Hong Kong, 11 hour flight to Vancouver, and then a 90 minute flight back to Edmonton).

In comparison – I spent $10,000 Canadian traveling South America over seven months. The price was a hard pill to swallow, but in the end, I didn’t regret spending the money. I had an incredible trip to Bhutan and absolutely resolved my birthday blues. Here are nine reasons why I felt Bhutan was worth the price of admission:


If you have ever heard of Bhutan, you’re likely to know the image of the cliff-defying Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Perched 900 meters above the Paro valley, tour operators leave the climb to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery until your last day of the trip.

Thankfully our guide Kinley got us up early and we started climbing by 6 am. We had the entire route to ourselves, and did not start seeing other tourists until after we had already visited the monastery and were making our return down. The cloud-covered views as we ascended were breathtaking, and having the climb limited to our eight-person group made it even more memorable.


When we unloaded from our travel van to begin our hike up to a temple, our guide was approached by men driving matching black SUVs who told him the King was arriving shortly. I wondered if we would still be able to climb, but it didn’t seem to be an issue.  We were invited to stay during the ceremony, but we could not take any photos.

All smiles following our Royal Family encounter

Joining approximately 50 locals, we were asked to line up as the Royal Family walked past into the temple. As they passed, the crown prince pointed at our group and whatever he said made the family laugh. The King went in for a few minutes and when the family exited the temple, the King of Bhutan came straight up to our group and said, my son loves the Green Lantern.

My tour-mate Rick (also originally from Edmonton), was wearing a shirt with the Green Lantern logo that caught the young prince’s attention. What followed were multiple conversations with the King and Queen of Bhutan, as well as the Queen Mother, about where all of us were from, how long we were here, where else our tour went, and how much the prince and his cousins loved the Green Lantern.

Although the royal photographer never posted any pics (for days we all stalked the King of Bhutan’s social media pages), it was certainly a highlight of the trip.

The Bhutanese Royal Family’s ride


From Dzongs to Chortens, from temples to Buddha statues – Bhutan is packed with cultural architecture.

Punakha Dzong

While the Tiger’s Nest Monastery may get most of the glory, awe-inspiring architectural sites are abundant across Bhutan. Dzongs, or fortresses, and their towering exterior walls surrounding a complex of courtyards, temples, administrative offices, and monks’ accommodation were humbling to walk through. An added bonus of my April departure meant the blossoms along the river next to sites like the Punakha Dzong made for stunning scenes.

Great Buddha Dordenma

The Memorial Stupa, also known as the Thimphu Chorten


I felt like a teenage girl giggling in sex-ed class, but the phallic imagery, statues and décor across Bhutan never failed to bring a smile to my face. The images of ejaculating penises painted on the walls of houses seems a bit of a contradiction for a country that some would argue is closed and conservative.

For sale in the Thimphu National Post Office

The 15th-century arrival of an eccentric Tibetan monk named Drukpa Kunley, or the Divine Madman, seems to be the cause. Throughout our time in Bhutan we heard stories about how he received a white scarf as is the traditional greeting, and promptly put it around his genitals instead. The Divine Madman pledged to rid the people of his conventional ways and seemed to be a free spirit – eating meat and enjoying sexual exploits.

The carved penis hanging from the rear view mirror of our van was said to keep us safe, the propeller shaped penises hanging from houses were said to ward to evil spirits and trash talk from your neighbours. My travel roomie Kalpna and I posed in a fertility garden with four-foot penises.  It was such an unexpected treat and I never got bored with the statues, paintings and imagery.

As a side note, the Divine Madman is also credited with the creation of Bhutan’s national animal. Legend has it the takin was made when The Divine Madman stuck the head of a goat onto the body of a cow. Our guide Kinley added in a visit to a sanctuary to see the awkward mammal outside Thimphu when we asked about the unique mammal.



Some of my travel friends mock me for my long-time love affair with Lonely Planet, but reading the side notes has resulted in some pretty fun and random adventures over the years. When I learned that you could make your own postage stamps at the national post office in Thimphu, I couldn’t wait to share the news. Two people on my tour, Kalpna and Rick, arrived a day in advance with me. With an afternoon to explore in Thimphu, I suggested we visit Simply Bhutan, an interactive cultural museum where we could pay extra to wear traditional clothing. Kalpna was game – and together we posed for photos which we used to make personalized stamps that went out on all the postcards I sent. I can’t think of a better souvenir.


What I didn’t realize when I learned that Bhutan had a $250 USD daily visa fee, was that it includes accommodation, three meals, and a guide. Bhutan is expensive to get to, but once I paid for my tour, I didn’t spend much money in Bhutan.  I also read that the daily fee reduces for visitors staying longer than one week – which may be why the 10 day tour wasn’t that much more than some of the 5- 7 day tours I saw.

Our G Adventures guide and driver


Bhutan remained closed to foreigners until 1974, and since opening the door, tourism has remained minimal compared to the rest of Asia. The Bhutanese government is aware of the environmental impact tourists have, and restricting tourist activity to sustainable levels made the experience more enjoyable for me once I arrived.

Our 10-day tour included visits to the Gangtey and Haa Valleys – where I don’t recall seeing any other tourists. In 2017, approximately 250,000 tourists visited the country – of those, 71,000 were international tourists. In comparison, the Taj Mahal attracts between 7 – 8 million visitors annually, and 800,000 of those are international tourists.

The only day where it felt ‘touristy’ in Bhutan was the day we visited the Tiger’s Nest Monestary, but as I mentioned above, our guide Kinley had us set off early and we avoided all tourists on our hike up and during our visit of the temple.

The Kingdom is certainly committed to preserving the culture. From the school we visited that teaches traditional arts, to the dance performances with regional dress, to the monk we met who shared how the country measures gross domestic happiness – our trip felt like a time-warp back through a retro issue of National Geographic.



I have taken in sporting events during my travels around the world, but I don’t think I have seen anything as unique as an archery tournament in Bhutan.

Getting ready for the opposing team to shoot an arrow towards them (and the target)

Teams, dressed in traditional clothing, compete to hit targets over a distance of 145 meters. The strange part is that the opposing team stands next to the target that is being shot at. Each player has to pay close attention as the risk of getting shot by an arrow is totally plausible. The teams sing and dance, celebrating shots on target, and tease or mock the opposing team on their misses. My anxiety level went up just watching – an archery tournament in Bhutan is quite a spectacle.


Apart from a candid photo I discreetly take, I most often ask permission to take a photo of someone while traveling abroad. Each time I asked, or pointed at my camera to ask permission, the answer in Bhutan was always yes. Whether it was the young girls dressed in traditional clothing departing from school or the people we saw spinning prayer wheels at a temple – I felt invited to capture the incredible images I saw of people experiencing life across Bhutan.

The country is bursting with colours. From the traditionally clothed people going about their day, to the gold-laden Buddhas, to the intricately designed temples, to the valleys draped with prayer flags – Bhutan is a photographer’s dream.

Kila Goempa Nunnery


Booking a tour and flying to Bhutan is expensive, and that daily fee is likely a deterrent for many travels, but the limited travel imposed by the Bhutanese Government makes a journey through the Land of the Thunder Dragon feel even more magical. At times, it felt like we had the whole country to ourselves.

For me, Bhutan was certainly worth the price of admission.

* If you fly from Nepal you can get the added bonus of a fabulous view of Mt Everest.

Mt. Everest, Nepal

10 Things I Learned From Chefs Anna & Michael Olson at Jasper CIN

Christmas in November (CIN) at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge (JPL) celebrated 31 years last month, and chefs Anna and Michael Olson have been there for 15 of them.

As a contributor to Alberta Pork’s Passion for Pork initiative, I’ve had the privilege of attending Jasper CIN for the past seven years. I, very excitedly, get to introduce chefs Anna and Michael Olson’s culinary sessions, which have most recently been sponsored by Alberta Pork.

During the 10 day event I watch their sessions daily, and while I watch them teach the same recipes on repeat, I always manage to learn something new. Between Michael’s dad jokes and Anna explaining how the holidays are all about winning, the dynamic duo always share noteworthy culinary tips and tricks that have impacted how I spend time in the kitchen.

Here are ten things I’ve learned from chefs Anna and Michael Olson at Christmas in November at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge:



The most influential recipe that Michael Olson introduced me to is his double roasted pork belly. It takes some minor planning to prep the meat the night before, but this double-roasted delight is one of the simplest and most rewarding meat recipes I have in my repertoire.

This recipe makes the best pork crackling imaginable. I can hoover slices of this on its own, but I also really enjoy it with an Asian dipping sauce in lettuce wraps. Michael praised me on my ingenuity at JPL CIN 2018 when I use his chicken wing sauce (made of a ratio of 1:1 melted butter and Frank’s Hot Sauce) that was leftover in a chaffing dish as a crispy pork belly dip. I hate food waste and I just couldn’t imagine that butter sauce going to waste.


Picture-perfect dishes on Instagram and pintrest may inspire some to cook, but for many the pictures can be intimidating and discourage would be cooks and bakers from even attempting to make the dish for fear of what the final product may look like.

If you’ve watched Anna Olson on Food Network Canada you know that her food does indeed look picture perfect, but perfection in the kitchen is a myth.

Anna shared a story at CIN about a cake she was recipe testing on friends coming for dinner. She was so focused on getting the frosting just right, that she forgot to take the parchment paper off the bottom of the cake layers. As she went to slice the cake in front of her guests, her knife got stuck on the paper. She had to take the cake back to the kitchen and did her best to shimmy out the parchment from each layer. With a smile, she shared that evening she served the mashed up cake as trifle instead.

So often I am worried about what the final product looks like, but I’ve learned that people I invite to my dinner table seem to be so appreciative of a home-cooked meal or from-scratch cake, they don’t care what it looks like.

We’re all bound to make mistakes in the kitchen, so get over your fear of baking and remember that even chef Anna Olson flubs up.


Michael has a very strong opinion on appetizers and finger food; a pre-dinner snack should be just a bite (two at most), and nothing that is going to crumble, fall, and stain your shirt. This philosophy cuts down on plates and cutlery and a cocktail napkin or toothpick should suffice.

Check out Michael’s recipe for Super Mario Meatballs or Anna’s bacon cheese puffs for ideas on one-bite wonders for your next evening of entertaining.


Did you get distracted while your egg whites were on the stand mixer and now they’re stiff, stretched to their limit, and lost their luster? Anna Olson has a trick save over whipped egg whites. Don’t throw them out and start again. In the time it takes to make and enjoy a cup of tea, the egg whites will have deflated and you can hand stir them back to the consistency for a soft whipped peak.


Chef Michael Olson, who has been a chef professor at Niagra College’s Canadian Food and Wine Institute for the past 19 years, shared that he tells his students a spatula is a million dollar tool. A spatula helps ensure you can scrape everything out of the bowl and into the cake plan or onto the plate. For culinary students, Michael assures them that tool can help them save a million dollars’ worth of ingredients from the bowl over the course of their career.

I never grew up using a spatula as my mom was a wooden spoon user (who let me lick the cake bowl out). But as someone who hates food waste, I took Michael’s message to heart. Today, i’m pretty sure my spatula is the most used tool in my kitchen.


I’d like to think that Anna chose to share a gluten-free gingerbread cake at JPL CIN 2019 because she knows I’m celiac, and she wants to make sure I have something to sample at the end of each of her culinary sessions. But, it is more likely she wants to give CIN guests a recipe for gluten-free friends and family members that everyone can enjoy.

Apparently she even tricked Michael, who had no idea this holiday spiced cake was gluten free. As with most GF baking, this cake is best served day of, or eaten the next day. Gluten-free baking does not have a long shelf life. (However, if this does happen to be a few days old I’m sure it it could be used to make a tasty GF bread pudding).


Hailing from Foam Lake, Saskatchewan, Michael often shares highlights from the province he was born and raised in. Saskatchewan is the largest producer of mustard seed in Canada, about 75%, and the French buy approximately 70% of the annual Canadian production. Most often, the seeds are prepared in Dijon, France, and then shipped back to Canada at a premium price.


Don’t feel guilty about buying that frozen puff pastry. I’m sure you would expect Michael and Anna Olson to make every dish with ingredients made from scratch, but the duo have shared tips in their session on how to make life in the kitchen easier.

This year I learned that Anna makes puff pastry once a year. She packages it and freezes it, and when she has run out, she buys it in the store like the rest of us. (Look for the kind made with butter).

I’ve learned loads of sauce tricks from Michael that involve processed items available in the store.  In addition to the his chicken wing hot sauce (half melted butter, half Frank’s hot sauce) mentioned above, Michael has a simple yellow BBQ sauce made with:

2 Tbsp (30 mL) packed light brown sugar
2 Tbsp (30 mL) white vinegar
2 Tbsp (30 mL) yellow (hot dog) mustard


My early childhood memories of egg nog are not pleasant or positive. As I got older, the addition of run to the carton mix sold in grocery stores did nothing to improve my opinion of this holiday beverage.

That was until I tasted Anna Olson’s crème brûlée eggnog. Perhaps it is the full cup of whipping cream used to make this calorie-packed drink, or perhaps it is just the magic of Anna Olson, but this recipe is incredible.


I adore Anna’s fashion style. She always looks so polished and I look forward to her outfits at Christmas in November each year. Anna Olson takes a lot of photos with CIN guests and she certainly knows how to strike a pose. One trick she shares at the end of each of her sessions is how to stand and contort one’s body for a flattering photo. I used her point the toe and turn the torso trick successfully for years. I don’t want to take the credit for her secret… you’ll just have to attend CIN to learn firsthand.












Their time at Christmas in November has certainly impacted their recipe development for the home cook or baker, and I love amassing a collection of their recipes. Both Michael and Anna have new cookbooks that would be a great gift for the holidays – Set for the Holidays and Living High Off The Hog.