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A weekend on Vancouver Island

Conveniently, my birthday falls around the family day weekend. The last few years we’ve celebrated by going out of town for the three-day weekend. This year, we decided to take advantage of the direct Westjet flight from Edmonton to Comox and visit my friend Christopher and spend the weekend on Vancouver Island.

Christopher was very excited to show us around. We kicked our weekend off with a hike along the shore of Comox Lake before we joined the locals for a roast-beef-dinner at the Waverley Hotel in Cumberland. We also picked up some locally brewed Raven’s Moon craft cider (and bootleg BC wine) before heading home to binge watch the winter Olympics.

Saturday morning we were ready to kick it to west coast of Vancouver Island.

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Christopher suggested picking up some seafood before we set off, so we stopped in at Fanny Bay Oysters for oysters and crab, and we also grabbed some clams from Mac’s Oysters, where I was blown away by the massive piles of shucked oyster shells.

We arrived in Tofino to a torrential downpour, so we decided to wait out the storm with an incredible view from the restaurant in the Wickaninnish InnEventually the sun came out so we had a chance to walk the shore as the tide was going out.

We were hungry, so we stopped in for a bite at the famous Tacofino van parked out back behind a surf shop.

While waiting for tacos I always recommend deep lunges.

Tacofino Time!

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Christopher & The Spaniard trying to hide from the wind at Long Beach.

We strolled around Tofino taking in some of the sights like the Roy Henry Vickers art gallery. Eventually we made our way back south towards Ucluelet, stopping in for a windy sunset at Long Beach. 

Christopher had stayed at Fortune Cove in Ucluelet in the past and we were so glad to have the recommendation! The Cypress Cabin was adorable and the perfect home for a night to enjoy our home-cooked (and shucked) seafood feast.

Huge thanks to Christopher for shucking three dozen oysters for us to enjoy as well as cleaning the crabs!

Before the sun went down our hosts recommended we check out the lighthouse in Ucluelet.

Christopher convinced us to brave the winds by the lighthouse, but it was too intense. I thought we were going to get blown away.

The next morning I wasn’t feeling great, but after willing myself to feel better – we decided to take a walk along the Wild Pacific Trail.

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Silliness ensued and The Spaniard and I got into an intense game of push your loved one off the log.

Later on we stumbled upon the perfect tree which I am sure has idiots like Christopher and I playing on it all day taking photos.

Eventually we made our way back into town for lunch and to say goodbye to the funky octopus.

From there – things went a bit downhill for me. Either I had food poisoning or I picked up some stomach bug. I’m not sure – I can just tell you the 2.5 hour curvy drive back across the island was challenging. Once we were back at Christopher’s place – things went from sick to sicker. While I look back at the photos with positive memories, the last 24 hours of our trip was a memory I would like to erase.

I guess that means we’ll just have to head back to the Comox Valley and visit Christopher for another dose of Vancouver Island fun. Christopher – thank you so much for the hospitality and we hope to put your shucking skills to good use again soon!


Win 2 Tickets to the #ABFoodFight Feb 12, 2018 with Taste Alberta

On Monday, Feb 12, 2018 the oven mitts (or as The Spaniard likes to call them – kitchen mittens) are coming off!

The Alberta Diabetes Foundation and Taste Alberta are joining forces to show how locally sourced ingredients can be used to create healthy and nutritious dishes.

Home economist, writer, comedian, cookbook author and host of My Left Frying Pan youtube cooking show Mairlyn Smith will go head-to-head against local ingredient lover and executive chef of Chartier restaurant Chef Steve Brochu.

The event, which includes lunch at the Westin, is sure to have your healthy ingredient packed belly shaking with laughter. I’ve had the pleasure of learning nutrition tips from Mairlyn as I laughed my ass off on two different occasions when she was presenting at Christmas In November at the Jasper Park Lodge. Thanks to Mairlyn I learned the correct lyrics to a song from my childhood: beans beans the musical fruit, the more you eat, the less you toot.

Chef Brochu is sure to give Mairlyn a run for her fibre facts. Plus, he has the local advantage of know how to make ingredients from Taste Alberta’s seven commodity partners (Alberta CanolaEgg Farmers of AlbertaAlberta MilkAlberta Pulse GrowersAlberta Chicken ProducersAlberta Turkey Producers, and Alberta Pork) shine.

I’m so excited to help Taste Alberta give two tickets to the upcoming #ABFoodFight at the Westin Edmonton away!

There are two ways to enter for a chance to win a pair of tickets to the Alberta Diabetes Foundation & Taste Alberta’s #ABFoodFight Culinary Combat and Luncheon on Monday, February 12 at the Westin Edmonton (valued at $120):

  1. Visit Taste Albert’s Facebook page and leave a comment explaining why you love Alberta farmers.
  2. Tag @tastealberta on twitter and share why you love Alberta Farmers.

Taste Alberta will randomly select a winner on Friday, Feb 9, 2018.

If you want to guarantee your seat to this culinary showdown, you can still buy tickets to the #ABFoodFight Culinary Combat Luncheon in support of the Alberta Diabetes Foundation


Recap: Prairie Noodle Shop Taste Alberta Dinner

On Sunday, January 21, Chef Eric Hanson and his culinary team at Prairie Noodle Shop broke away from their ramen mould and plated a noodle-free Taste Alberta family-style meal inspired by flavours, ingredients, and products from across the province.

The challenge to the kitchen with every Taste Alberta Prairie on the Plate dinner is to showcase the seven commodities groups within Taste Alberta: Alberta Canola, Egg Farmers of Alberta, Alberta Milk, Alberta Pulse Growers, Alberta Chicken Producers, Alberta Turkey Producers, and Alberta Pork.

Well, chef Hanson and his team started off the 2018 Taste Alberta dining series with a bang! The menu represented the many unique voices from the kitchen, with the team sharing a flurry of bites which incorporated each of the commodities groups, and a whole lot more from the bounty of Alberta.

Upon arrival, guests were welcomed with a mint raspberry cocktail featuring spirits from two Alberta distilleries:  Strathcona Spirits Gin and Eau Claire Distillery Prickly Pear Equinox.

Potatoes in a sweet chili by self-taught cook Jamie Tokuda

I had a chance to savour my drink along with the first bite of the night – a bowl of baby potatoes in a sweet chili created by Jamie Tokuda. It was the calm before the storm as bite after bite arrived at our table, each one from different members of the kitchen.

The Spaniard helps himself to Bison tataki with pink lady batons & an apple ponzu sauce

One of the most interesting flavours on the night for me was an antipasto dish finished by Rob Freisen. The bite featured crab apples, picked and brined by Eric Hanson and Ben Staley in 2015 from the Edmonton River Valley, which had been stuffed with jam and wrapped in Alberta pork that Kevin had sourced from a local butcher.

I found the crab apples to have an initial flavour of olives, but finished with a distinct sour crab apple flavour. Wrap anything in Alberta pork and you always have my attention.

I couldn’t pick just one favourite from the Prairie Noodle Shop Taste Alberta dinner, but one of my top five bites of the evening was a venison tartare with beets and charred onion created by Mai Nguyen. The colours were beautiful and I was left wishing I had another one. 

Venison Tartare with beets and charred onion by Mai Nguyen

So often people think that turkey is for holiday menus, but I loved chef Hanson’s smoked turkey bombs wrapped in Napa cabbage. I’m told the sauce was turkey & chicken broth reduced down before having a smoked chicken fat emulsified in. The dish was an ode to chef Stephen Baidacoff, who showed Hanson the turkey parcel when they opened North 53; Baidacoff was also one of chefs to the create Prairie Noodle’s first four bowls and turn the concept into a series of pop-ups, into reality.Rob Friesen wanted to represent the sun and earth on a prairie road for his beet bite, and to taste our golden fields in a rural area with his dessert.

Sadly this gluten-free girl couldn’t have Friesen’s golden beet semifreddo with rye soil and mini beet chips; however, I thought the colour on the beet chips was lovely and my table mates gave the savoury semi-frozen dessert an approving mmm.

Chef Hanson’s grilled lamb and celeriac.

Another favourite on the night for me was the potato mochi with Sylvan Star Gouda by Kanako Stockdale.

I am happy to report that Chef Hanson says these delightful little cheese dumplings will be launching on the new spring menu. If you missed out on the Taste Alberta dinner and want to give them a try, he said these potato mochi will be featured on Feb 13th for Fat Tuesday.

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In advance of the event, Debra with Alberta Pulse Growers dropped off some product for chef Hanson and his team to experiment with. Kevin Ostapek used the green pea flour to create an onion bajji with spiced yogurt dip and B.C. Merlot dust. As a Celiac, I rarely get to indulge in fried items, so I was thrilled to try this gluten-free dish of Kevin’s that brought back memories of my backpacking trip to India. My sharing tablemates Debra and Simone were kind enough to let me finish off the plate.

With the flurry of bites complete, we moved on to the family-style portion of our evening. Our menu included another dish from Kevin highlighting Alberta pulse producers. The smoked pork loin was served atop a red lentil purée and topped with an Alberta Canola mole (a sauce that was one of chef Hanson’s favourite elements on the evening).

The pork was fork tender and packed with flavour, and since we were past the by-the-bite portion of the evening, I was able to plate myself a second helping.

Chef Hanson’s other favourite of the night was Jamie’s Umeboshi plums he grew and canned over the summer, which he then turned into a sauce with Albertan mustard that he brushed over chicken thighs on the grill. I grew up eating chicken thighs, in contrast to most of my friends who grew up on lean white chicken breasts, so I loved the tender flavour from Jamie’s hand-picked plum chicken dish.

Roasted Red Kuri Squash glazed brown butter and birch syrup created by Jamie Tokuda

Grilled AB chicken thigh brushed with Alberta mustard & Umeboshi plums gown in his backyard, by Jamie Tokuda

Cast iron Brussels sprouts tossed in Alberta honey, birch syrup, lemon and salt by Kevin Ostapek

The culinary team at Prairie Noodle Shop finished off the Taste Alberta menu with three sweet components. 

Mai Nguyen presented a malt cake brushed with brown butter drizzled with Alberta honey. I thought the cake looked reminiscint of a dense pound cake, but my tablemates said it was delightfully light and airy.


Rob Friesen got creative with Albert Canola by plating a sweet corn ice cream marbled with crunchy toasted canola, served with almond crumble, honey butter and corn ash.

And for a special treat, we got to cheers the innovative menu with a taste of Evan’s Cherry Liqueur by chef Eric Hanson.

I first met chef Eric Hanson when he was in the kitchen at Niche, so I’ve known for years how talented and passionate the guy is about the food he creates. At Prairie Noodle Shop I am so used to Eric fulfilling my gluten-free ramen cravings that I had forgotten how truly talented he is.

Hanson and the entire team at Prairie Noodle Shop have been so busy as of late it was challenging hammering down a date for a Taste Alberta – Prairie on the Plate dinner. I am so glad that we made it happen – it was one of the most memorable meals I have had in Edmonton in some time.

Eric said yes to the challenge of a Taste Alberta dinner because:

“I hope the experience opened not only our guests eyes but the Prairie Noodle Shop team’s as well that there are many delicious things coming from our own backyard, and even in January, we can enjoy the rewards.”

I consider myself lucky to have scored a seat at the sold-out Prairie Noodle Shop table that night. I’d like to thank chef Eric Hanson and the owners of Prairie Noodle House for hosting us, and to the entire team at Prairie Noodle for sharing your passion and your vision for the prairies on the plate.

I’m already looking forward to another bite of those Sylvan Star Gouda potato mochis when they land on your spring menu!

Prairie Noodle Shop
10350 124 st #4
Edmonton AB T5N 3V9
(780) 705-1777

Monday: 11am – 2:30 pm
Tues – Sat: 11 am – 2:30 pm & 4:30 pm – 10 pm

Five Reasons to Brunch at Dogwood Cafe at Victoria

It is no secret that I like to brunch at the Dogwood Cafe located in the clubhouse of the Victoria Golf Course. My friend Linda (@lindork) teases me that ‘I love that place’ every time I rave about it – but I think she is just jealous she doesn’t have a neighbour gem like Dogwood so close to her house.  As a resident in Oliver, I absolutely love being able to walk down the hill, or when the weather agrees, get in a quick cross-country ski loop or two on the Victoria Golf Course, before enjoying a relaxing brunch at the Dogwood Cafe.

During the winter season, anytime someone asks me for a recommendation for brunch in the downtown area I always list Dogwood Cafe in my top three options. Here are five reasons you should brunch at The Dogwood Cafe.

1.  À la carte Saturdays or buffet brunch on Sunday

This winter season, chef Brad Lazarenko decided to switch things up by offering an à la carte brunch from 9am-2pm on Saturdays and Sunday brunch buffet from 10am-2pm.

While the Eggs Benedict is always a winner, in previous years I have regularly opted for the special of the day which often features a speciality Fuge sausage. From the Ukrainian platter, to the Swedish potato pancakes, huevos rancheros, french toast to the vegetarian breakfast sandwich, I feel there is something on the menu to satisfy any brunch appetite.

Dogwood Cafe eggs Benedict with ham & potato hash

Are you someone who has trouble committing to one dish? The Sunday brunch buffet offers up an assortment of hot and cold menu items along with an array of baked goods to satisfy any sweet tooth.

The Spaniard is a big fan of the dessert bar at Dogwood Cafe’s Sunday brunch buffet

Dogwood Cafe proudly supports a number of local farmers, producers and vendors like The Jam Lady which are showcased throughout the buffet.


2. Homemade baked goods

Whether you hit up Dogwood Cafe on a Saturday or Sunday, there is bound to be an assortment of house-made baked goods, as well as treats from local patisseries like FanFan Patisserie.

3. Casual dining with a fabulous view of Edmonton’s river valley

Dogwood Cafe has a fast-casual vibe for brunch. Upon arrival you order and pay at the counter and then select your table from the two upstairs dining rooms. Staff deliver the à la carte dishes and will top up the bottomless coffee, but then you are on your own. It may not be for everyone, I don’t mind filling my own water or grabbing items from the shared condiments areas because the vibe is completely relaxed. I have been to Dogwood on days when it is busy, but I’ve never felt rushed to leave because no one is dropping a bill off at the table. You’ve already paid! So you can stay as long as you like to enjoy the winter wonderland river valley view of the Victoria Golf Course.


4. Price is right

Items on the Saturday brunch menu vary from $7 for the breakfast vegetarian sandwich and top up at the $16 Ukrainian platter – a hearty portion of FUGE kielbasa, potato-cheddar pierogi, fried eggs and toast. Lattes are a reasonable $3.50.

I was shocked to learn the Sunday buffet was $21. Not ideal for anyone lacking portion control – I think the Sunday buffet is a great value. Our hot-menu options includes Fuge sausages, bacon, french toast, fried eggs and some kick-ass potatoes. Cold menu-dishes included a feature salmon frittata, a granola-fruit-yogurt bar, prawns served with a dill sour cream. And don’t forget the assortment of baked goods, which includes Brad’s freshly made raspberry muffins, cream scones, mini gluten-free cheesecakes, and a warm ginger bread pudding.


5. Brad Lazarenko and the Culina Family serve up a hit list of sweet & savoury bites

First off, no Ukrainian chef is going to let you go home hungry, so you know you are going to have a good fill when you eat at the Dogwood Cafe. I mentioned it before, but the variety of dishes is what keeps me coming back. Chef Lazarenko and his team serve up simple dishes packed with flavour. Every time I leave I am already thinking about what I am going to order next time.

Fuge ‘F-Bomb’ spicy italian pork sausage with mushroom-cheese frittata and marinara salsa.

* Ok – not in the top five for everyone, but a bonus reason for me is that Dogwood Cafe serves up an abundance of gluten free options.

My first trip to the Sunday brunch buffet included a gluten free plate filled with the salmon frittata, fuge sausages, potato has, eggs and prawns.

So, if you happen to have a high maintenance Celiac like me in your life – take them to Dogwood where they can order eggs Benedict, Swedish pancakes, and eat copious amounts of Fuge sausages.

Dogwood Cafe at Victoria

12130 River Valley Road,
Edmonton, AB T5N 0E0 

780 442 1636

Saturday brunch from 9am-2pm
Sunday Brunch Buffet from 10am-2pm
Open for Dinner Wednesdays to Saturdays from 5pm-10pm

Recap: A Taste Alberta Autumn Feast at Canteen

Autumn is a lovely time in Alberta; the leaves are changing and the harvest season presents a bounty from farms and greenhouses across the province.

Last week, 124th street’s Canteen hosted the latest in the Taste Alberta – Prairie on the Plate dining series with a $55 four-course autumn feast designed by chef Ryan O’Connor.

When we arrived, our table was excited to learn that Canteen had their happy hour prices on for the event which included three Alberta craft beers on for $5: Bench Creek Brewing Cloudbreak Hopfenweizen, Yellowhead Brewing Company Lager, and Alley Kat Brewing Company Buena Vista Brown Ale.

Canteen also had three glasses of white and red wine on for $5, but the drink that I found most enticing, as did my table, was the Eau Claire Distillery (from Turner Valley, Alberta) Gin with Porter’s Grapefruit Tonic for $5.

For our introductory course, chef Ryan O’Connor explained that Alberta Pulse Growers had donated the pulses for his yellow pea falafel.  Cooked in canola oil and served with a side of herbed creme fraiche, the dish also represented two other Taste Alberta commodity partners – Alberta Milk and  Alberta Canola.

I snuck into the kitchen as the second course of the evening was being prepared, which gave me an opportunity to catch chef Ryan O’Connor and his brother Sean O’Connor, executive chef of Canteen’s sister restaurant the Red Ox Inn, stirring things up.

I think I learned the secret to the brother’s Spätzle – it is tossed in a generous serving of butter (something that I am sure will make the dairy farmers of Alberta happy). 

Heading into the kitchen between courses can be dangerous. I was seriously tempted to steal a portion of pork belly once it came out of the oven.


Once the dish was plated and served, Chef O’Connor explained that we would be enjoying confit Irvings Farm Alberta Pork belly with dill Spätzle and braised purple cabbage. Chef O’Connor sourced all the vegetable for his autumn harvest dinner from Reclaim Urban Farm.

Confit Irvings Farm Alberta Pork Belly with Dill Spätzle and Braised Cabbage

Sadly I missed out on the Spätzle, but I did get to enjoy my Irvings Farm pork belly with a gluten-free modification featuring Brussels sprouts. 

Our main course was a comforting dose of meat and potatoes. Chef O’Connor braised Four Whistle Farms beef short ribs which were served up with charred onions and a potato pave. The dish was accented with a green peppercorn aioli  – a sauce I certainly would have bought had they offered us the option to take home.

Four Whistle Farms Beef Short Rib with Charred Onion, Potato Pave and Green Peppercorn Aioli

The dessert was my favourite dish of the evening. I’m not a die-hard chocolate fan – I prefer fruity or creamy desserts, so chef O’Connors pumpkin spiced pot de creme (which featured Egg Farmers of Alberta and Alberta Milk) was the perfect way to finish my autumn feast.

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I was so pleased when co-owners Andrea and Frank Olsen wanted to host a Taste Alberta – Prairie on the Plate dinner at Canteen. For me, the 124th street restaurant is home to one of the best brunches in Edmonton – and I forget to think of Canteen as an evening option. Chef Ryan O’Connor’s autumn feast was a good reminder –  I need to come in for dinner more often.

Nothing but brotherly love in the kitchen at Canteen.

Thank you all of the Canteen family for hosting a delightful meal on a crisp Wednesday night in October. I also learned that Canteen is offering a happy hour menu from 5 – 6 pm everyday! Check it out – I’d be happy to meet you at the bar.

10522 124 St
Edmonton, AB T5N 1R9
(780) 485-6125

Why I love Adult Summer Camp

The leaves are turning, the air is getting cooler, and I know that a blanket of snow across Edmonton is on the horizon. Summer is over, and I realised, I forgot to recap this year’s weekend at Camp Wanna Getawae.

Last week I got together with Jon, one of the faithful camp directors and organisers of a local grown-up summer camp held at Camp Yowocas just west of Edmonton. Jon told me the sad news that he and co-organiser Sarah have decided Adult Summer Camp will be taking a hiatus in 2018, and will hopefully make a return in 2019.

I can’t imagine the efforts that went into organising 100 grown ups to take part in a weekend of adult-friendly camp fun – but I hear it was akin to the stress and work of planning a wedding. I am so grateful that Adult Summer Camp – 2.0 happened. Personally, I think it was better than the first year, and i’m not just saying that because I was team captain of the WINNING TEAM!!!

Going through photos brought back so many great memories. Here are 10 things I love about Adult Summer Camp.

1. Camp gear is all about costumes, outfit changes, and retro style


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At adult summer camp, the shorter the short shorts… the better! I saw men and women rocking some killer shorts all weekend. I think my favourite was on my teammate Mark – who rocked some tight-ass jean cut-offs all weekend long. 

Very functional mosquito net pants

Throughout the weekend we watched as our tie-dye shirts got snipped and restyled into crop tops, layers of fringe, and in some cases – just a vest. Costume changes were abundant; I heard Sarah’s friend say ‘that was two outfits ago.’

Oh… and Des and I busted out some amazing mullets.

2. Icebreaker games

the classic string on a spoon relay race

Adrenaline was running high when we all arrived for a weekend of camp. After getting assigned to a room and getting our shirts – we knew what was coming up next – Icebreakers! Just check out the intensity in this video:

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Watching a room full of grown-ups give it their all at balloon popping, pass the spoon on a string down your shirt, and my personal favourite – hungry hungry hippo on skateboards – was hilarious! I think I have watched this video 100 times:

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3. Grown-up Dance Party

DJ Quake made a repeat appearance at this year’s adult summer camp, revving things ups shortly after the ice breakers were done. Thankfully the bartenders were set up in the same room as the dance floor – the tunes he was spinning were so good I didn’t want to even leave for a bathroom break for fear I’d miss a sweet beat. The Spaniard taped Des and I singing/screeching the lyrics to Whitney Houston’s Dance with Somebody – I’m not quite sure how we had voices the rest of the weekend. Must send props to the Barbie girls – I was seriously jealous of those body suits. 

4. Team Beauty Parlour

This year, Des mixed business with pleasure and brought her staff from The Beauty Parlour. At first glance these ladies (and of course Dean) did not look like they would take the athletic events, but they fooled us all. They rocked the dance floor, held in there during the flip cup competition, and showed up for all camp events. They also created a braid chain – which inspired countless hairstyle changes.

5. Polar Bear Dip

Team Spirit Champion Gavin was the first to make the polar bear dip.

While Lake Wabamun served up some picturesque views – the lake is not exactly out of a Hollywood camp movie. The lake is shallow near the shore, so the polar bear dip (which counted for spirit points), is more of a crotch-level wade. Once again, I was surprised by how many hungover campers showed up.

My teammate Melissa was thinking ahead with the water props.

6. Camp activities

This year we got in the zip line, high ropes course, archery as well as canoeing. My favourite had to be lounging out on the lake in a canoe – although I’m pretty sure if The Spaniard and I ever signed up for any canoe activity that involved paddling for more than an hour we would break up. I don’t care what he thinks – if you can’t do a basic J stroke you shouldn’t get to sit in the back and steer the canoe!

* not an official option on the camp activity sign up list

7. Team Competition time

Jon & Sarah – thank you for reminding us that tossing a water balloon, participating in a potato sack race, and tug-of-war is not just for kids. This year’s competition was intense – and the final leg of the relay race saw some serious leap-frog wipe-outs.

As a non beer-drinker, I was happy to skip out on the beer mile (which saw a few people barfing in the trees during the race).

I refereed this year’s flip-cup competition. The event saw one team eliminated each round – which led to a lot of beer being consumed over 10 rounds. Thankfully, adult naps are fully supported at grown-up summer camp.

Special thanks to Ralph for adding some live music to the flip cup competition.

8 Campfire Sing-Along
This year’s campfire was awesome! There were some truly talented people this year who sang and strummed the night away. Long after the S’mores and hot dog station were cleaned up – Nils started dropping some rhymes – busting out the lyrics to all your favourite 80’s and early 90’s rap songs. Nils – you are amazing!

9. Winning Camp Wanna Getawae!

That’s right – the Cutie Pies wearing the baby blue tie-dye t-shirts took home the trophy, or in our case we each got a bottle of booze, for points we amassed towards spirit points, winning competitions, and for having the last people on the dance floor at Friday Night DJ Quake dance party.10. A memorable weekend with The Spaniard and friends

The Spaniard and I love all things summer camp – and this year was another amazing weekend. This summer, we brought Adult Summer Camp rookies Angela and Gavin, who ended up being a couple of ringer additions for Team Cutie Pies. This video of Gavin absolutely destroying his girlfriend Angela in a zorb ball still makes me laugh. (If you listen hard you can hear her squeak, and then The Spaniard busts a gut laughing).

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Add in Des and the Beauty Parlour gang, all of Jon’s friends I have gotten to know, our new teammates, and super fun and friendly people that Sarah brought to the mix – the weekend was packed with amazing people.

So to Jon and Sarah – thank you so much for organising one of my most memorable weekends of 2017. I laughed my ass off, squealed like a piglet as I ripped down the zip line, and enjoyed gluten-free S’mores as I sat among new friends listening to some very talented people entertain us at a campfire.

Whenever you decide to host another Adult Summer Camp – The Spaniard and I will be the first to sign up!

A culinary adventure with Edmonton Food Tours

On Saturday I had the opportunity to be a tourist in my own city by joining the Edmonton Food Tours 104 Street Feast tour led by the fabulous Liane Faulder, food writer for the Edmonton Journal.

The Spaniard and I met up with Liane at Kitchen By Brad, a downtown culinary studio open for cooking classes and private events on 105th street, to kick off our tour with brunch served up by Chef Tracy Zizek. We were joined by Jayne of Girl Tweets World, a full-time travel blogger, who was in town to courtesy of Travel Alberta.

Chef Zizek treated us to a menu of Ukrainian dishes including handmade perogies, coleslaw, pork meatballs slathered in mushroom gravy, house-made Irvings Farm Alberta Pork sausage, and two kinds of pickled beets. Tracy also demonstrated how they make Nalesniki, a crepe filled with cottage cheese.

The Spaniard happily accepting a second helping of meatballs.

A gluten-free version of Nalesniki, a Ukrainian crepe filled with cottage cheese

As a second-generation Canadian with Ukrainian heritage, it was a comfort food menu I have eaten on many occasions. Sadly, since getting diagnosed with Celiac disease seven years ago, I haven’t had Nalesniki, Tracy graciously had a serving for me. I also couldn’t eat the meatballs but did get a cup of mushroom gravy I ate with a spoon (it’s like Tracy has a key to my stomach).

There was an assortment of condiments on the table and I easily finished the jar of pickled golden beets.

After finishing a glass of Tracy’s Saskatoon lemonade, we were off to the City Market Downtown on 104 st.

Living in Oliver, the City Market is the market we frequent most often in the summer. I thought I knew a lot of the vendors and would be joining the tour as a know-it-all, but I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the tour and learned so much on our three-hour adventure.

We had a chance to sample yellow-grape tomatoes from Gull Valley Greenhouses, pick out a treat as well as a chocolate bar at Jacek Chocolates,  and received a goodie bag of cookies from Confetti Sweets, whose baked goods were featured at the Oscars not once but twice.

Thanksgiving collection at Jacek Chocolates

We regularly buy fish from Ocean Odyssey Inland, but the tour gave us an opportunity to learn more about the sustainability of the products that they sell. With the $10 each in market bucks we received as part of the tour, we came back to buy some pacific rockfish and Icelandic redfish.

We visited Ray Ma, co-creator of Honest Dumplings, a line of Chinese-inspired dumplings featuring high-quality, often local and organic ingredients. Originally from Shanghai, Ma and her husband Chris Lerohl saw an opportunity in Edmonton. Unfortunately this gluten-free girl can’t indulge in them, but if I could, I’m sure the maple pork belly would be my favourite.

Two vendors I really enjoyed stopping at and learning more about was Reclaim Urban Farm and Fruits of Sherbrooke. The former reclaims back and front yards, empty lots, and gardens in the neighbourhoods of Garneau, Old Strathcona, King Edward Park, and Bonnie Doon, repurposing them to grow food.

Fruits of Sherbrooke is a not-for-profit society armed with volunteers who rescue fruit and turn it into 30 different types of jams, jellies, sauces and condiments. In addition to selling their wares at the market, Fruits of Sherbrooke shares their products with snack programs in high needs schools in the city, to community programs sponsored by the University of Alberta, and to our local Food Bank and were used at summer camps for new Canadians. They also teach jam classes!

We also stopped by Meat St Pies where I had my first-ever slice of Meat St Pies gluten-free veggie pie, which was made with a spaghetti squash crust.

No stop to the City Market is complete without an Irvings Farm bacon pick up from Alan.

Our last stop of the day was another first for me – DeVine Wines & Spirits on the corner of 104st and Jasper Ave. The Spaniard was very impressed with the size of their Spanish collection, and we got to sample two wines worthy of a Thanksgiving dinner pairing. I walked out with a bottle of Lambrusco I am very excited to try – a great takeaway from the tour.

Checking out the Spanish wine selection at DeVine Wines & Spirits

I walked away with a full belly, an I love yegdt bag filled with samples and goodies, and a wealth of information on vendors I walk past almost every week. Even if you already shop at the City or Strathcona Farmers Market, I would absolutely recommend the opportunity to be a tourist in your own city, and experience one of Edmonton Food Tours culinary experiences.

Edmonton Food Tours

327 Whispering Water Bend, Calgary, AB, T3Z 3T3

Recap: Prairie on the Plate dinner at Northern Chicken

On Tuesday night, Northern Chicken played host to the latest Taste Alberta Prairie on the Plate dinner series.  This time, the event highlighted one of Taste Albert’s commodity partners, Alberta Chicken Producers, to help celebrate that September is National Chicken Month.

One could argue that every day at Northern Chicken is a celebration of Alberta Chicken Farmers, but chefs/owners Matt Phillips and Andrew Cowan were happy to close their restaurant for a one-night, set menu designed to celebrate farmers and their hard work and dedication to farming and to Albertan/Canadian consumers.

Once the $50, five-course menu was released the event quickly sold out. My table scored the back room, which has a retro basement vibe, along with access to a custom Steam Whistle beer Crokinole board. Even though Andrew had a restaurant full of guests, he found a few minutes to explain the Canadian invited game and school The Spaniard before heading back to the kitchen.

Back to the Prairie on the Plate menu.

First up, we were served a chicken liver pate on a house crostini, paired with pickled mustard seeds and gremolata (a lemon-garlicky parsley condiment). My friend Simone noted that while some pates can be quite heavy tasting, she found the lemon flavour a nice addition that cut the fat, giving our appetizer a light, flavourful taste.

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Next up was a sweet potato and peanut soup. Chef Matt introduced the dish, which he explained hails from the southern United States. The roasted sweet potato soup made with peanuts, cumin, dark roasted chicken stock, celery was smooth – and once topped with maple spiced peanuts and the house-made cayenne oil – had a kick.

Our table was like Goldilocks and the three bears. Simone loved the soup, had no problem finishing her bowl, and instantly wanted the recipe. For me, it was on the edge of my heat tolerance – full of flavour, but too hot to finish the last few bites. For a few ladies in my crew, well it was just too much heat to handle.

I was a little scared to see hot sauce on the description for the next dish, but Andrew and Matt said I would be fine. Inspired by a hot wing, the boys served a Buffalo Brussels Sprout dish made with fried brussels sprouts, pulled roasted chicken, buttermilk dressing, and served with the house Doef’s Greenhouses red chilli hot sauce.

The dish was served family style and an instant hit at our table. (I got a special, non-fried gluten-free version which was delicious, but since I know most fried things taste better, I can understand why this was one of the favourites for many on Tuesday night).

The star of the night was served as our main dish for the evening. The classic Northern Chicken fried chicken was served alongside cold-pressed canola confit potatoes and drizzled with honey and thyme.

I can’t give a personal review of the fried chicken, but I can say my table lapped it up. Instead, this gluten-free girl received roasted chicken, and I loved the honey-thyme drizzle. I may not be able to indulge in the fried chicken at Northern Chicken, but I know I will never go hungry there. What is more important for me, is that I feel safe eating there, knowing that Matt and Andrew take allergies seriously, and that bacon cream corn is always available on their regular menu.

Our table was pretty stuffed after four courses, which turned out well for the Spaniard. In addition to plowing through his piece of roasted pear and cinnamon pie, he got to go home with two extra pieces from ladies at our table who couldn’t manage another bite.

Since I didn’t have batter on my chicken, I had room for the generous gluten free portion.

The Spaniard, Sean, Cam and I stuck around to play what turned into a best of three Crokinole game.I found the game is most competitive played in pairs – and it is highly addictive. Ask the next time you are heading to Northern Chicken, Andrew wants more people to come play, or come challenge him to a game.

I told Andrew my favourite dish of the night was the chicken liver pate. I recommend complimenting the chef whenever possible because my kind words got me sent home with a little jar of extra pate.

Thanks to Matt, Andrew, and the entire Northern Chicken crew for showing Alberta Chicken Producers of Alberta and Taste Alberta some love. At the end of the night we all received a recipe card from Alberta Chicken Producers featuring Northern Chicken’s recipe for Fried Chicken Drumsticks on Red Fife Pancakes. Matt and Andrew are doing something right – Northern Chicken is a fun place to grab a bite of what many argue is Edmonton’s favourite fried chicken joint. Check them out:

Northern Chicken
10704 124 St
(780) 756-2239

Bacon Day 2017 at Workshop Eatery

Last weekend, Chef Paul Shufelt and the crew at Workshop Eatery played host to the 8th Annual Bacon Day Dinner. The event is designed to tempt diners to mass consume all things pork, but really it is about raising money for Youth Empowerment and Support Services (YESS). It is also a chance for Paul to cook with his buddies and former colleagues Chef Andrew Cowan and Chef Matt Phillips of Northern Chicken.

Thanks to the generosity of many local sponsors including: Nicola and Alan Irvings of Irvings Farm Fresh who donate one of their Berkshire pigs and an assortment of cuts, Alberta Pork, Southgate Audi, and media sponsor CTV Edmonton, every penny from the $90 ticket price went directly to YESS. Along with a silent auction, live auction, a balloon draw, and the ticket prices – $25,000 was raised in support of YESS.

More than 150 people came out to support the event, including some anti-meat eaters who protested for a few minutes before moving along. My official date for the evening was the lovely Liane Faulder, but thankfully she was ok with The Spaniard tagging along.

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My favourite dish year after year will always be the bacon truffle cream corn (check out the recipe).

Over the years, Paul and his team has experimented with more house-made meats. This year, I was thoroughly impressed by the bounty of hand-cured and created charcuterie on display.

Alberta Pork Executive Director Darcy Fitzgerald sampling some of the charcuterie

Our friend Jose Miguel (another Spaniard in my life) was very impressed with the cured meat he tasted (Paul when a Spaniard who grew up eating jamon compliments you – you know you are doing something right).

My own personal gluten free -Bacon Day sized portion – charcuterie plate.

This year’s menu included a variety of tray passed appetizers as well as a taco station. I had no shame wandering into the kitchen and asking for gluten-free servings. The bacon jam on these sliders was awesome!

Some Alberta pulses also showed up on the menu – pork and beans are the perfect pair.

Our chefs for the evening took advantage of the fire outside, cooking up bacon-topped flatbreads and sausages from Spolumbo’s.

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The showpiece of the night when they wheeled in the Irvings Farm pig that had been slow roasting on a spit all day. Along with the help of Robin Wasicuna from Twin Pine Diner of Yellowknife, NWT, the crew had the hog from the spit to the plate in no time.

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The service staff, who all donated their time to the event, were incredible. At times I felt bad for them as they tried to run the gauntlet of diners with a tray of bacon cornbread baked oysters or bacon-topped smoked devilled eggs.

The participant portion of the evening is always entertaining. Chef Paul and Chef Andrew have an annual dessert off and they do their best to sway voters in their direction. I’m impressed by their ability to come up with bacon infused sweet dishes year after year.

 This year, Paul was the fan favourite and he will proudly retain the trophy on the Workshop Eatery bar. While this gluten-free girl couldn’t indulge in Andrew’s bacon butter tart, I know his dessert was The Spaniard’s first choice (I managed to score a takeaway four pack which brought a shiny bacon-fat smile to his face).

Congrats to Chef Paul Shufelt and the entire team that helped raise $25,000 and sent us all home with the meat sweats for the next two days. Mark your calendars! Next year’s Bacon Day has already been set for September 15, 2018.

Weekend in NYC – La Gran Manzana

Over the Labour Day Weekend, The Spaniard and I jetted off (that sounds far more glamorous than the red-eye flight we took from Edmonton to Montreal, and then on to La Guardia), for a weekend in New York City. Both of us had been there once, but for each, it felt like a lifetime ago. While I am normally the one in charge of planning vacations and trip, this was entirely The Spaniard’s choice. You see, he wanted to go to the US Open. Since I force him to watch ice hockey – it is only fair I agree to watch some of his favourite sports as well (like our trip to San Antonio to watch an NBA game).

Arriving at La Guardia Friday morning and checking into our AirB&B in Astoria Queens by 11:30 a.m. meant we had almost four full days. Although we were jet lagged from an overnight flight – here are 10 things that kept us busy in the five boroughs:

1. 12 hours of tennis at US Open
Months after we bought our tickets, we managed to secure seats in the Arthur Ashe Stadium for the round of 16 the day the US Open singles tickets went on sale to the public. If we had bought for the day before we would have been able to see Nadal and Federer, but instead, we got a great line up of women’s games (we watched Venus Williams win and Maria Sharapova lose). A highlight for me was getting to watch Denis Shapovalov, the 18-year old Canadian kid who recently beat Nadal, in the opening game that day. Sadly he lost in straight tiebreaker sets to The Spaniard’s countryman Carreño Busta, but it was still a great match, and a great day of action-packed tennis.

2. Ate ice cream on the High Line
Thanks to my friend Ashely’s recommendation, we walked the High Line –  a 1.45-mile-long elevated linear park, greenway and rail trail that affords some great views from Hudson Yard to northern Chelsea. We popped into the Chelsea Market where the former National Biscuit Company warehouse in the meatpacking has been transformed into an urban food hall. My friend Marc suggested trying L’Arte Del Gelato, which I happily enjoyed as we walked along the urban oasis.

3. Two musicals and a free show on Broadway
We didn’t do much research about what to see when we were in NYC, and as we were trying to decide if we should buy discount tickets from the TKTS booth in Times Square, or rush seats directly from the box office, we stumbled upon a unique show in Times Square. As I pushed around a crowd of people I came face to face with a naked man (ok so I had to look down to see he was naked). I scanned the crowd and found The Spaniard near the back smiling at me – he saw naked dude before I did and changed his path. We seemed to arrive just as the cops did. Someone near us asked one of them if it was legal – and they said they weren’t sure. A woman who was recording the show (basically he was just standing on a mat saying ‘hey’ into a microphone) provided two of the cops a sheet of paper. After looking it over – they seemed to be content with whatever permit they had, and the free nudity continued.

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As for paid shows – we got rush seating ($39 each) to School of Rock as well as rush seats four minutes before the curtain call to Miss Saigon ($49 each).

4. A Yankees Game
We rode the subway out to the Bronx to catch one of the biggest rivalries in American baseball – the New York Yankees vs. the Boston Red Sox.

Sadly, the home team lost that night, but I think I was the real winner – because the new Yankees stadium has a dedicated gluten free cart! My sausage dog was $8.75 and worth every penny.

5. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge
We walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, along with about 100,000 other tourists, on the holiday Monday. The Spaniard, who is a civil engineer, was blown away to learn that when it opened in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was the world’s largest suspension bridge. Of course we read all the plaques and educational info along the route – it truly is an impressive structure that offers wonderful views of the city.

6. Made Friends on the Subway
When we arrived to NYC, we opted for the $33 seven day transit pass, which meant loads of subway travel. On our way home from the US Open we were on the platform waiting for our transfer subway when a voice called out for help navigating down past an individual sitting on the steps. I was so fascinated by the New Zealand gentlemen who eagerly explained that he found the chair for free, but since it wouldn’t fit in the Uber, so he had to take it on the subway. I desparately wished that he was on our train – as I would have loved to get a shot of him sitting in it while riding the rails, but sadly we had to say goodbye. I do hope he and the chair made it home in one piece.

7. Sought out Gluten Free eats
Thanks to some tips from Tara –  a fellow gluten-free girl I met in Turkey and have remained facebook friends with – I had some suggestions to check out in NYC. First up with Erin McKenna’s Bakery, the muffin top sandwich was nothing to get excited about, but I did enjoy the Samoa doughnut. (The place is GF and vegan and maybe it is just me – but I think everything tastes better with butter).

Next, I indulged in a rare treat – fried food! At Lili’s 57 I tried the salt and pepper squid as well as the Singapore noodles.

Gluten Free Salt & pepper squid and Singapore Noodles at Lilli’s 57

While at the US Open, we left the grounds to get our Mexican fix with a quick walk to Tortillería Nixtamal for some great-tasting gluten free tamales, tacos and flan.

Tacos at Tortilla Nixtamal in Flushing, Queens


I struck out at two brunch places in Astoria, but finally found something worth coming back for at Friedmans. The location we went to was packed, and since they cater to gluten free diners I had loads of options to choose from.

Friedmans Chicken Bacon Swisswich

Wild Mushroom Toast at Friedmans

Finally, we sat down for some arepas at the Caracas Arepas Bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Food was great and the patio out back was the perfect pit stop for a late afternoon lunch.

Caracas Arepa Bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

8. Checked out some Spanish Architecture
After walking past the crowd of people getting photos with the Chasing Bull and the Fearless Girl and taking a moment at the 9/11 memorial reflecting pools, we found ourselves heading towards the Oculus, a Santiago Calatrava designed structure that houses the World Trade Centre Transportation Hub. I felt it looked more like a skeleton rather than the image of a child releasing a dove – which inspired Calatrava. Dubbed as the world’s most expensive transportation hub, it is another example of Calatrava’s over budget and delayed projects. The design was impressive, and unlike the last Calatrava building I was in (which was the Palace of Exhibitions and Congresses City of Oviedo), I didn’t spot any buckets collecting water from leaks in the roof.

9. Walked amongst the hipsters in Williamsburg
Our AirB&B hosts told us that Williamsburg has become so hip, that rent prices can be higher than Manhattan. We walked around the neighbourhood, admiring the cool kids enjoying brunch, the funky vinyl shop and live music venue at the Rough Trade, and people enjoying life in the East River State Park. While we heard everything is expensive, we did manage to find a retro bakery with vintage prices. At the Peter Pan Donuts and Pastry Shop, The  Spaniard took advantage of the $1.10 donuts and indulged in a double dose of gluten.

Peter Pan Donuts and Pastry Show

10. Admired the Flat Iron Building
It is hard not to look around at the arcitecture of NYC and be impressed, but we found a few spare minutes before we had to head to School of Rock to sit and admire the Flatiron Building. Built in 1902, it was 20-story building with a unique triangular base was the world’s tallest building until 1909. Right after I took this lovely photo of The Spaniard:

I noticed I was standing next to the Lego Building, which also provided a quick, cheap, and easy way to visit the Statue of Liberty.

One thing we did not get to do was check out the New York Public library. We arrived to find a sign that said closed for the long weekend. Disappointing, especially since I wanted to check out where Carrie and Big were supposed to get married in Sex and the City.

New York Public Library – closed for the weekend

Looking back, it felt like we were go, go, go the whole time, and yet we didn’t manage to scratch the surface that is NYC. I think you could spend years there and still find new places to explore, shows to see, and places to eat. We didn’t even make it to Central Park! I guess we’ll just have to save it for our next trip to la gran manzana.