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Recap: Taste Alberta Brunch at Bodega

Last weekend, chef Lino Oliveira of Sabor and Bodega Tapas and Wine Bar hosted Taste Alberta‘s first ever Prairie on the Plate brunch.

Taste Alberta’s Prairie on the Plate dining series invites chefs to create a unique meal that celebrates ingredients, farmers, and producers from commodity groups that make up Taste Alberta. Chef Lino took on the challenge – and his brunch menu featured ingredients from six of the seven partners including: Alberta Canola ProducersEgg Farmers of AlbertaAlberta MilkAlberta Pulse Growers CommissionAlberta Turkey Producers, and Alberta Pork.

Chef Lino, executive chef of Edmonton’s Sabor and Bodega Tapas and Wine Bars

Both the Bodega Highlands and the new Bodega 124th Street locations offered brunch on both Saturday and Sunday from 11 am to 2 pm, so chef Lino and his culinary team decided to offer a three-course menu for $25 at both locations throughout the weekend.

To kick things off, diners received a pintxo – a small snack typically eaten in bars in northern Spain. Chef Lino featured Winding Road Artisan Cheese‘s RDB cheese from Smoky Lake, Alberta, paired with quince marmalade on a slice of baguette.

The Spanish inspired pintxo of bread, cheese and quince was a winning combination for The Spaniard

For the main course, diners had a choice of three dishes:

1.  Potato-wrapped braised pork cheeks served with lentils, bacon, kale migas, and two poached eggs. 
Taste Alberta PartnersEgg Farmers of Alberta, Alberta Pulse Growers Commission, Alberta Pork

2. A cornflake-and-chickpea-breaded turkey filet, served with baby potatoes, a red and yellow peppers hash, and a mustard-honey aioli.
Taste Alberta PartnersAlberta Canola ProducersEgg Farmers of AlbertaAlberta Turkey Producers, Alberta Pulse Growers Commission

3. Coca Verduras – a Spanish flatbread served with Winding Road’s fromage blanc and grated Joseph cheese, pisto manchego vegetables, and three poached eggs.
Taste Alberta Partners: Alberta MilkEgg Farmers of Alberta

For dessert, chef Lino served Pastel de Nata. The warm custard tart is a classic Portuguese dessert, one that I am told by my dining companions was the perfect last bite to our Taste Alberta brunch.

To accommodate my gluten-free diet, chef Lino plated me the most delightful slice of pudim caseiro. He told me the Portugese baked caramel custard recipe is his mother’s – one that I look forward to coming back to experience again. I’m sure the Egg Farmers of Alberta and Alberta Milk would love to get their hands on that family recipe.

While Sunday may be a more popular day to brunch, I was happy to make a reservation for the Bodega Taste Alberta brunch on Saturday. Clearly, I am not the only one who likes to brunch on Saturdays as there were loads of familiar social media faces that also took in the brunch at the 124th street Bodega location.

Patios are luxury in Edmonton and Bodega has one at each of their locations. The 124th street Bodega Jardin is a lovely space – and a great spot to enjoy brunch, lunch, or a late night glass of sangria alongside some tapas.

As mentioned before, Bodega serves brunch both Saturday and Sunday at both their Highlands and 124th Street locations from 11 am – 2 pm. While the Taste Alberta Prairie on the Plate brunch was a one-time event, their regular menu is packed with options and dessert is always on the menu! A huge thanks to Christian and chef Lino for agreeing to host a Taste Alberta Prairie on the Plate brunch. Be sure to check Bodega out:

Bodega Highlands
6509 112 Ave.

Bodega 124 Street
12417 Stony Plain Rd.

Weekend in Seattle

We recently took advantage of the direct flights from Edmonton to Seattle for the long weekend in May. As per usual, we used public transit (the light rail transit and buses were very convenient) and booking on Air BnB to save some coin while traveling on the American dollar (which always leads to more colourful encounters with locals).

While we have shied from uber touristy activities on our most recent city-break trips to the United States (San Antonio, Portland, and New York City), we decided to go full on tourist with the Seattle City Pass. I knew The Spaniard, a civil engineer, would want to take a ride up the Space Needle, and our friends Marc & Jaddah had suggested the locks harbour cruise tour.

With two of those activities (the locks tour was a small upgrade), we decided it would be worth the $89 (American) pass for five of Seattle’s top (insert most touristy) attractions.

For our first toursity activity we joined the mob of families taking in the Seattle Aquarium.

We had some time before our boat tour so we walked up to the Seattle Public Library, which is definitely worth a visit. In 2007, the building was voted #108 on the American Institute of Architects.

Taking a ride up the series of escalators in the Seattle Public Library


The sun came out as were lining up to board our harbour cruise. We booked the upgrade ($15 extra) for the locks Argosy Cruises tour and it was worth the price. On the 2.5 hour trip we got a history lesson on the waterfront, we rose 22 feet in the Ballard locks, we sailed passed boats seen on the Greatest Catch, and even saw the houseboat that Tom Hanks’ character in Sleepless in Seattle lived in.

Ballard Locks

Even though the Space Needle was partially under construction, the view from the top was still impressive. While most people zoomed past the info boards on the way to the elevator, we took the time to read about the building process. Built for the 1962 World Fair, I was amazed to learn that it took less than a year to build and there were no casualties during the construction.

View from the Seattle Space Needle

A surprise highlight for me was the Chihuly Garden and Glass. The blown-glass exhibit was awe-inspiring. The photos I took do not do it justice – I loved learning about this artist and experiencing the installations throughout the exhibit.

Chihuly Garden and Glass

Chihuly Garden and Glass

Our final piece to the Seattle City Pass was to visit the Museum of Pop Culture. There were some very cool things in the museum and I really enjoyed the Nirvana exhibit, but the place is massive and we did not give ourselves enough time to check out the MoPOP before heading for our flight home.

Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP)

I convinced The Spaniard that we should attend a Seattle Mariners game while we were in town. The stadium is impressive and convenient to get to on public transit. Unfortunately the visiting Detroit Tigers pitcher was on his way to getting a no-hitter (exciting if you are a baseball fan, but not so much if you are from Spain, new to watching baseball, and want to see some action).

Near the end of the game the home team finally got a hit. They spent the whole game down 2-0, and in the bottom of the 9th the Mariners tied it up and sent it to extra innings. The hometown team went ahead in the bottom of the 11th and resulted in a very exciting finish to the game.

We also had a chance to catch up with Miguel’s friend Kareem. His wife and I got to know each other while the duo, who studied together in Spain and Denmark, reminisced on the time spent working on their masters. The evening involved some hip and tasty spots in Ballard including The Walrus and the Carpenter, Pie Bar, D’Ambrosia Gelato and King’s Hardware.

During our trip I also enjoyed our meal at Capitol Cider. which has an extensive cider drink menu, and entirely gluten free menu.

Gluten free fish & chips, seafood chowder, and calamari at Capitol Cider

But my favourite bites of the weekend were at Sunday brunch in Ballard at Porkchop & Co. Although he really wanted the french toast, The Spaniard graciously ordered gluten-free with me so we could share two dishes.

Brunch at Porkchop & Co in Ballard

We did the obligatory Pike Place Market visit, but we ripped through it quite quickly. A few too many tourists and the gluten free cinnamon bun I specifically went there for was nothing to write home about.  Although, it was entertaining watching people pose in the disgusting gum wall alley while The Spaniard sipped a latte.

Totally grossed out by the gum wall in Seattle

The weekend was over before we knew it. We definitely need to make it back to Seattle to spend time in Capitol Hill, walk some more neighbourhoods, take in some live music, and check out more of the food scene. Seattle – we will be back!

Photo fail next to Catalan artist Jaume Plensa’s Echo in Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle Art Museum



Why the 30th Anniversary of Christmas in November at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge will be the best yet

Heading to the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge (JPL) to experience Christmas in November (CIN) has become my favourite event of the year. Who wouldn’t love escaping to the mountains to spend your days in interactive culinary sessions with local and celebrity chefs, getting your Christmas decor and craft on, and indulging in decadent meals and a few adult beverages. The hardest part is deciding which session to go to and when to fit in a dip in the heated pool.

The first Jasper CIN I attended was five years ago for their 25th anniversary, and I can tell you they like to celebrate anniversaries. This year, the Fairmont JPL team is going all out to put on the best Christmas in November yet! The event is already close to a sell out, so if you want to rub elbows with Food Network Canada culinary stars, learn tips and tricks on how to DIY (do it yourself) your holiday decor, and get all the recipes you need to host the perfect holiday dinner, you better book quickly.

In honour of the Fairmont JPL’s Christmas In November 30th anniversary, here are 30 reasons you won’t want to miss Canada’s finest Christmasy food & wine festival:

1. The Chuck & Danny show is coming to Jasper

Hot of the heels of last year’s headlining gig, celebrity chef Chuck Hughes is coming back for another year of Christmas in November. This time, he is bringing co-star of Food Network’s Chuck & Danny’s Road Trip, and Chef de Cuisine of Chuck Hughes restaurant Le Bremner in Montreal, Danny Smiles.

2. Get your Tailgate on with Michael & Anna Olson

It happens just one time per three-day package, and you won’t want to miss this BBQ class. Chef Michael Olson will have every grill and smoker he can get his hands on for this year’s Ultimate Outdoor Tailgating session, supported by Alberta Pork. Featuring Anna Olson, who brings some sweetness to the meat fest, the tailgate party is going to be must-taste session again this year.

3. Wine tasting with Charton Hobbs

Who doesn’t want a glass of wine during their weekend in the mountains? I’ve learned loads at these sessions in past years, including how to saber a bottle of champagne. This year Charton Hobbs will be featuring the best of British Columbian wines.

4. Silly Sweater Party

There are some seriously creative CINers out there and I swear they must start planning their outfits in the summer. I’ve seen everything from hilarious holiday sweaters, to groups in adult-sized Christmas onesies, to a woman who dressed like the female Grinch. The silly sweater party is the best way to get you in the holiday spirit and kick your CIN off with some glitter and giggles.

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5. Learn how healthy food can taste delicious with a Looneyspoons creator

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Author of five best-selling cook books and a Food Network Canada alumni, Greta Podleski is attending CIN for her 1st time. Learn about Greta’s self-publishing success story as she shares simple, delicious and healthy recipes to mix up the traditional a calorie-heavy holiday season.

6. Get your Christmas craft on

Chris Standring’s craft class is one of the most popular at CIN. You get to go home with a holiday craft that is ready to go on your table or door. Each year is a different craft and registration fills up quickly.

7. Learn baking secrets from Edmonton’s most popular bakery

There is a reason that Giselle Courteau is back presenting for her 4th year at CIN – its because people can’t get enough of her tips, tricks, and recipes from the Duchess Bakery.

8. Shaken & Stirred with Micah Dew

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In addition to co-hosting CIN, Micah will be sharing his flair bar-tending tips to ensure the bar at your holiday party is well stocked to deliver some seasonably satisfying holiday beverages.

9. Get cooking with Corbin Tomaszeski

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Before he was on such Food Network shows including Restaurant Makeover, Dinner Party Wars, and The Incredible Food Race, Corbin Tomaszeski was an Alberta boy growing up on a farm outside of Edmonton. Eager to share his philosophy that making good food can be fun for the whole family, you’re sure to walk away with easy-to-follow recipes from this Food Network star.

10. Photos with Santa!

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When the Spaniard first came to CIN with me a few years ago he confessed that it was the first time he was sitting on Santa’s lap. (Apparently you get your photo with one of the three wise men in Spain). No waiting in line at the mall and feeling awkward because you are an adult at the JPL. Getting my photo with Santa is something I look forward to at CIN each year. (Chef Michael Olson won bonus points last year for creativity).

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11. Get inspired in Cory Christopher’s Decor Cabin

Designer Cory Christopher is bursting with not only holiday spirit, but ideas, tips and tricks on how to style your home for the holiday season. The Fairmont JPL let him and his design team take over one of the signature cabins at the lodge and go crazy with bows, bells, and boughs.

12. Let some of Alberta’s top chefs share their love of local ingredients

The Jasper CIN local line up of chefs is incredible this year! CIN alumni chef Paul Rogalski, Culinary Director & Co-Owner, Rouge Restaurant, Calgary, and chef Blair Lebsack, who with partner and General Manager Caitlin Fulton founded RGE RD in Edmonton, are both back for another year.

New this year are first-timer chefs and restaurant owners from Edmonton –  Ryan Hotchkiss of Bündok and Lindsey Porter of London Local. 

13. Visit the JPL Greenhouse for a DIY decor lesson

Marna Praill, Grounds Superintendent and Head Gardener at the JPL, partners up with Stevie Massie  to deliver a very unique CIN experience. With just a short ride to the greenhouse, CIN guests are transported into a magic space where you’ll learn simple and inspiring ways to incorporate live foliage and flowers to your home for the holidays. Every year I have returned from their class to make a DIY holiday project with friends.

14. Enjoy the view from the Fairmont JPL hot tub

No better view of the Jasper National Park than from the outdoor hot tub at the Fairmont JPL.

15. Receive the VIP experience with a celebrity chef hosted kitchen party

Ok, so this experience is limited to those who opt for the VIP CIN package, but it is an incredible experience to get up close and personal with some of the celebrity chefs for an exclusive culinary experience. Last year it was Vikram Vij who spiced things up at the kitchen party – you’ll have to opt for the upgrade to see who is taking over the kitchen for the 30th anniversary celebration.

16. You can bring your clan, or your man

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Jasper CIN is reason to celebrate. I’ve seen groups of ladies making the trip, three generations of women in the same family, and in recent years, more men! Young and old couple alike are increasing and with events like scotch tasting, the tailgate party and beer tastings, there is something for everyone.

17. Learn the lowdown on how to recreate a weekend at the cottage

CIN co-host and creator of Weekend at the Cottage Nik Manojlovich is back for another year at the Fairmont JPL. Learn comfort classic recipes as he regales you with stories from his time on the television series Savoir Faire. (Be sure to ask him about that time he bumped into Bette Middler).

18. Learn a lesson on Canadian culinary history with Elizabeth Baird

I absolutely love Elizabeth Baird and Emily Richard’s culinary sessions. Elizabeth, who was awarded the Order of Canada – one of the nation’s highest honour’s for her contributions to the promotion of Canada’s diverse food heritage, is the former food editor for Canadian Living Magazine. Joining her is Emily, returning for her 19th CIN. Emily is the author and co-author of numerous cookbooks, she’s a professional home economist, and worked in Canadian Living’s Test Kitchen. In past sessions I have learned that butter tarts are a Canadian invention and also busted a gut laughing with Elizabeth’s zippy one liners and constant teasing of Emily.

19. A reason to get gussied up

You know that dress or gown in your closet you’ve been waiting to wear at a special occasion, you can wear it at Jasper CIN! I love vintage clothes, so all year I am on the hunt for special pieces I can bust out for the gala evening at CIN. Furs, diamonds, you name it! Christmas in November is the perfect place to dress up for the holidays.

20. The food – beautiful & delicious

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There is absolutely no chance of going hungry during Jasper CIN. Between the samples dished out during the culinary sessions the culinary team at the Fairmont JPL is busy serving up beautifully plated dishes at lunch and dinner. Some of the desserts are so beautiful you don’t want to eat them… almost.

21. Learn how to better support Alberta farmers at a fireside chat

Taste Alberta rounds up some of the local chefs and members/farmers of their seven partnering commodity groups:  Alberta CanolaEgg Farmers of AlbertaAlberta MilkAlberta Pulse GrowersAlberta Chicken ProducersAlberta Turkey Producers, and Alberta Pork to help you learn how your purchasing power can better support local farmers and producers.

22. Dance! Dance! Dance! at CIN After Dark

A new addition to the CIN line up this year will be CIN after dark with Edmonton’s Girls Club (DJs Suzy & Jacqueline). You’re sure to burn some calories out on the dance floor so JPL will be sure to keep you hydrated with signature cocktails and some memorable culinary experiences from their lineup of celebrity chefs.

23. Be one with nature

While the bears are most likely hibernating by the first week in November, the elk are often fattening for winter throughout the Fairmont JPL grounds. Last year as I was walking to the main lodge for breakfast I saw an elk with a full rack walking along the waters edge. It almost looked too perfect – but that is just a typical day at the JPL.

24. Learn insider tips from the Fairmont JPL pastry kitchen

New to the Fairmont JPL CIN line up this year is Stephanie Greenslade, the JPL’s new pastry chef. You have to love a chef with a motto of ‘when one indulges in dessert ensure it is the best tasting item they have eaten today.’

25. Get in the Christmas spirit with The Willows

Most likely your arrival to CIN at the Fairmont JPL will coincide with the beautiful sounds of The Willows. It’s hard not to get into the Christmas spirit with the harmonious sounds from this beautiful trio of singers.

26. Get a head start on your holiday gift giving (or just treat yourself)

Indulge at this year’s Expanded Christmas Market Shopping Experience – featuring a wide array of products from Cory Christopher, Duchess Bakery, Jaqueline Jacek, and many other Alberta retailers.

27. Relax and recharge at the Fairmont JPL Spa

You wouldn’t want to get stressed out running from one interactive session to the next during CIN. There is still time to book in for a massage, pedicure and much more. The Spa at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge ensures an experience unlike any other—one that gives you the time and space you need to breathe, dream and reflect on the natural abundance that surrounds you.

28. Signature Cocktails

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I can get dry in the mountains, so it is important to stay hydrated. Thankfully there are plenty of signature cocktails to try during CIN that are bursting with holiday flavour. When in doubt, the JPL caesar is sure to please.

29. Get your photo with the biggest gingerbread house you’ve ever seen!

Every year the culinary team at the Fairmont JPL builds a life sized gingerbread house in time for CIN. Every time I have walked by it or through it I’ve noticed something else to be impressed with, inspired by, or even tempted by.

30. Three nights at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge

Even without the celebrity chefs, all the incredible food, or the holiday decor, three nights at the Fairmont Jasper Park lodge is incredible. The accommodation is amazing and the staff are there to help make your CIN the most magical experience you’ve ever had in the mountains.

The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge’s 30th anniversary of Christmas in November is sure to sell out. Registration for sessions is now open – so book now if you want to experience Canada’s best Christmas culinary adventure!

Two Weeks in Japan – Highlights in retrospect

It has been a year since I returned from a two-week trip to Japan with one of my favourite travel buddies Josh (who met me there from Australia). Life was a bit crazy when I returned from that trip, and I never got around to blogging about our adventure. My facebook memories have been on overdrive in recent weeks reminding me of what Josh and I were up to a year ago, which made me feel like it wasn’t too late to document our Japanese journey, and reflect on my favourite memories of our trip.

So, here is my top 10 highlights from two weeks in Japan (along with some tips which helped make the most of our trip).

1. Went to a Japanese baseball game

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Going to watch a baseball game was so much fun in Japan we did it twice. (We actually tried to go three times but we arrived at the ballpark in Tokyo to find the game sold out). Although Josh is not a baseball fan (as an Aussie he is more into rugby and cricket), I convinced him to ignore his jet lag and let me take him out to the ballgame in Hiroshima. We picked the cheapest seats we could get and I think it was probably the best $20 I spent the whole trip. Japanese baseball fans are committed – it felt like every fan in the place was wearing a Hiroshima Carps jersey. It sounded like there was a unique song for each player when he went up to the plate, the opposing team was heckled, and there was a seventh inning song that involved blowing up red balloons and releasing them all at once. The people-watching was incredible and the snacks were less American baseball peanuts and beer, and more about the bowls of ramen. We were adopted by the home-town fans sitting near us. It was such a blast we did it all again in Sapporo.

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2. A day trip to Miyajima Island

Just last week I saw a photo of the giant Torii gate taken at high tide which makes it look like it is floating on water and thought – I’ve been there. When Josh arrived in Tokyo I met him at the train station with a plan to get down to Hiroshima so we could visit Miyajima Island. He was up for anything and our first full day together in Japan did not disappoint. It was a further 25 minutes on the train followed by a quick ferry ride (which was also included in the Japan Rail Pass). I had timed our arrival for high tide in the morning, setting it up for beautiful shots from the Island of the Gods. After spending the day exploring temples, shrines and walking up to the highest point on the island, we arrived back bay to see the water had receded, and we could walk out to the Torii gate during low tide. A local even let me take a shot at digging up some shellfish. I was so glad we were there for both high and low tide – the island was busy with tourists and still I loved our day there.

3. A detour to Naoshima – Japan’s art island (so I could get a photo in front of a giant pumpkin)

On our way back north from Hiroshima, I somehow convinced Josh to jump off and store our bags in Okayama and take a day-trip detour to Naoshima. The island has become famous for contemporary art, which began when the Benesse Corporation chose Naoshima for the setting of a growing collection of modern art (along with a seriously luxurious looking hotel). We arrived in the rain and after arriving at Chichu Art Museum (which looked like it where Dr. Evil or a James Bond villain lived) to learn that I had read the travel guide wrong, and each museums were individually priced and not just one multi-visit ticket. They must have sensed our budget as they suggested we take a look at the gift shop, see if we like the art, and then decide if we wanted to go in. We took a look, admired the futuristic toilets, said our thank yous, and headed off in the direction of the free public art.

I was so happy when we found Kusama Yayoi’s yellow pumpkin – I have to credit Josh for the umbrella placement in the photo. As he so wisely said, “do you want to take photos of art, or do you want to make art?”

We did take in the Art House Project in Honmura, a village with art installations creatively scattered within natural and man-made structures all within walking distance of each other. By the time we took the train back to Okayama, and then on to Osaka, it was a very long day of travel and sightseeing. But I loved it!

4. Eat fresh seafood at a fish market

The first large market we had a chance to visit was in Kyoto. It blew my mind seeing some of the things that had been pulled out of the ocean, and I loved walking around watching everything from egg omlettes to kobe beef being prepared for hungry patrons at the market. I didn’t love the feel of the super touristy spots, so I settled on a small family run shop in a quiet corner of the Kyoto market to buy some salmon and scallop sashimi. The woman who took my money offered me the one seat she had along with a small card table. Much to her entertainment, I pulled out my own gluten-free tamari, and showed her my – I can’t have gluten/soya sauce card in Japanese. As a Celiac I had challenges eating in Japan, and was often turned away from sushi restaurants as all the fish had been dipped with soya sauce. Even though it was 9 am, I ordered a second helping of the scallop sashimi. I still remember it as the best sushi I had on that trip.

I also ate and enjoyed my time at the Hakodate fish market when we ventured north to Hokaido. I found a spot where you could fish out your own squid, and then have it cut up for you immediately to enjoy. It was the freshest sushi I have ever seen served.

5. Park Golf

Josh and I are interesting travel companions. I am a bit more plan-oriented, and he is way more go with the flow. I am also an old-school traveler, with a special place in my heart for hard-copy Lonely Planet guide books. Josh let me do all the research and planning, and helped choose some of our directions when I presented him with options. There are two exceptions that I can remember where Josh peered at my book and voiced an opinion. Once, asking if we could go to Hokkaido, and the other to play park golf once we got there.

Park golf was invented in Hokkaido in 1983. The game is played with just one club, a resembles a sport somewhere between golf and croquet. We found that the friendly game is mainly played by retired Japanese people, who appeared happy to have two blonde-haired foreigners join in on the fun. We threw our hostel in Sapporo for a loop when we asked where a course was – but we found there were two courses within walking distance and the price for the game and to rent clubs was around $5.

All the other foreigners were on the hunt for cherry blossoms, but for us, Park Golf was so much fun we hit up the second course the next day.

6. A night in a traditional Ryokan (with a piping hot onsen)

When Josh asked if we could go to Hokkaido I started researching options for things to do there. One thing that sounded interesting was a stop in Noboribetsu, a town famous for its piping hot sulphur smelling hot springs and devil like statues.

While most people stay in nice hotels or expensive traditional ryokans, we found hospitality in Shōkōin, a temple with traditional rooms on the second floor. We couldn’t find a phone number or email, so we just showed up, knocked on the door, and were each given our own room fit with tatami mats and a kimono to wear in their private hot-water onsen. It was the best sleep I had the entire trip. 

7. Bought a Kimono

The first photo I took on this trip to Japan was of a woman in a traditional kimono I was walking behind. The next day, I stumbled upon two weddings at the Meiji Shrine and could not stop taking photos and admiring both brides, as well as weddings guests dressed in their elaborate kimonos.

My friend Linda mentioned she wished she had rented a kimono on her recent trip to Japan when she was sightseeing in Kyoto, which is stocked with shops renting kimonos to Japanese women (and the odd tourist), looking to be photographed among the myriad of temples in the former Imperial capital of Japan.

As a collector of clothing, particularly from my trips around the world, I knew I would end up buying one on my trip to Japan. I had looked at a few second hand stores in Tokyo on the day I had in the city before Josh arrived, but couldn’t commit. There were just too many choices.

Instead, I ended up buying one on impulse from a store in Hiroshima that had one rack hung out in the street. I tried a few on for Josh, but settled on one that was an excellent price. The owner wanted to close up, and when I was debating on whether the one obi belt he had matched, he threw out a bargain figure, and I walked away with a very heavy kimono and obi for less than $50 Canadian (and far less than renting in Kyoto would have cost me). That was on day three of my trip. I carried my very beautiful, but very heavy, purchase in my backpack for two weeks, and finally wore it on my last day. Josh kindly took photos of me around our hostel in Asakusa and near the Sensō-ji Buddhist temple, Tokyo’s oldest temple.

8. Watched a Sumo practice

Sadly, our trip to Japan was in between sumo tournaments, so my only opportunity to see a wrestler in the flesh was to get up early and join the tourists hoping to get a peek of a sumo practice. I learned that Arashio-beya practices sumo between 7:30am and 10am on most mornings except in March, July and November, and it is free to those who stand outside on the street.

Josh opted to sleep in, so I went off in search of sumo on my own. When I arrived, I found a trio of wrestlers, sweat and dirt covered, stretching in the street next a  group of tourists snapping photos through large stable windows. The juxtoposition of the nearly naked sumo wrestlers among the modern streets, buildings, and cell-phone cameras made me smile. I happily spent an hour watching the wrestlers fight, stretch, and even redo their hair between battles. The other tourists among me largely respected the request for silence, and all that could be heard in the street was the grunts of the wrestlers and the slapping of their bodies in combat.

9. Riding the rails on a bullet train

Buying a two-week Japan Rail Pass was essential to our trip. Eligible to foreigners who are temporary visitors, the pass allowed us to take bullet trains across the country, traditional trains, city transit, and even a boat to Miyajima Island. Occasionally we booked in advance, but often we just rocked up at a station and jumped on a train to our next location. Japanese trains are always on time, so as long as we were there with one minute prior to departure we were good to go. Armed with pocket wifi, I had loads of time to plan our next steps as the countryside whizzed by. Looking back I am surprised by the ground we covered in two weeks. From Tokyo we went to Hiroshima, Miyajima Island, Naoshima Island, Osaka, Kyoto, Kanazawa, Hakodate, Noboribetsu, Sapporo, and back to Tokyo.

Going anywhere with Josh is entertaining, and my time on the train with him was always filled with laughter. And when I got bored, I could just glance over and look at the elderly man reading porno magazines while sitting next to his wife (true story).

10. Only one day in Kyoto

Everyone I had spoken to about doing a trip to Japan talked about going to Kyoto. The standard itinerary included three days of temple visits (there are a 1000 in Kyoto), Shinto shrines (there are 400 in Kyoto), and a trip out to see a bamboo forest.

I met two Australian girls at my hostel in Tokyo the night before Josh arrived and they gave me their opinions on Kyoto: skip this, this is lame, it takes an hour to get to the forest on a bus, don’t be fooled by that photo, etc.

So instead of the standard three-day trip to Kyoto, we arrived in the morning, stored our bags at the train station (where Josh had his first bowl of ramen in Japan), and then set out walking. We found our way through a number of free temples, but the one temple we made sure to visit was Chion-In, which Josh wanted to see because scenes from The Last Samurai with Tom Cruise were filmed there. I did the obligatory head stand, and we helped some Japanese girls take photos of themselves in their rented Kimonos.

I was glad to spend a day in Koyto, but as we caught a bullet train that afternoon to Kanazawa, I felt satisfied with my taste of the Imperial city.  Although it took longer to get to on the train, I’m glad we spent three days in Hokkaido instead.

Random Thoughts…

So, it doesn’t exactly make my top ten list, but considering how many photos I took, I think it is worth a mention.

Many people talk about being amazed by the buildings and technology in the big cities in Japan, but one of my favourite things to see was at eye level, or below. Across our trip I tried to snap photos of the decorative manhole covers or have our photos taken in scenic cardboard cutouts.  Thankfully Josh is a good sport – I still giggle looking at some of these photos.

Also – the one thing I wish we had done was race go-karts in costumes from Mario Kart through the streets of Tokyo. Sadly, we didn’t have international licenses so we couldn’t partake in the costume street racing. Anyone who asks me for tips for Japan I immediately tell them – get your international drivers license and get your Mario Kart on!

Even though I could barely eat anything (seriously I lost 10 pounds – Japanese people like to put gluten on and in everything), and barely slept (Josh snores and I’m getting too old for hostels), I had an amazing time and our trip was filled with incredible memories. I owe a huge thanks to my friend Josh, who I first met on the Inca Trail in November 0f 2009 and then met up with again in Iceland in 2014. Thank you so much for meeting me for two weeks in Japan; I can’t wait for our next adventure!

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Recap: Taste Alberta’s Prairie on the Plate at Buco Epcor Tower

Every Wednesday, all three Buco Pizzeria & Vino Bar locations (Epcor Tower, St. Albert and Windermere) feature a Date Night three-course chef’s choice meal for just $32.

Last week, chef Spencer Thompson transformed the weekly Date Night menu at the Buco Epcor Tower location into a Taste Alberta Prairie on the Plate menu featuring an assortment of ingredients from across Alberta.

Ricotta and Dandelion Tortellini – chicken sausage, Sylvan Star grizzly gouda, pine nuts, shaved apples

To kick things off, diners were treated to house-made tortellini with ricotta, spinach, and Alberta-grown dandelion greens. The pasta was served alongside chicken sausage, made by their sous-chef Michael who is also a butcher, along with Sylvan Star Grizzly Gouda, pickled pine nut butter, and shaved apples.

Buco Pizzeria + Vino Epcor Tower’s Chef Spencer Thompson

Buco Pizzeria + Vino Epcor Tower’s sous chef Michael

I’m told sous chef Michael spent over 20 hours prepping the Alberta Pork main course. He had to source pork trotters from a number of different Alberta pork farmers, which he braised, and then deboned. Chef Michael then made his own pork sausage using the trotter along with pork belly and shoulder, which he stuffed back into the trotter skin. To help keep the round shape, he wrapped the stuffed trotters in caul fat. The trotters were sous-vide and then pan fried (rendering off the caul fat), and resulting in a crispy stuffed pork trotter that was packed with flavour.

Zampone, an Alberta Pork trotter, stuffed, and served with Blindman Brewing session ale mustard, new potatoes, and green goddess dressing

The dish was complimented with Blindman Brewing session ale (from Lacombe Alberta) mustard, new potatoes, grilled vegetables, and green goddess dressing.

Peas on Earth carrot cake slathered with Fairwinds Farm goat cheese icing, local honey sponge toffee, and chocolate soiles.

For dessert, chef Thompson wanted to make it feel like diners had to dig in the garden to get to their dessert. First, Buco Epcor Tower’s pastry chef Jocelyn baked a carrot cake using Peas on Earth Organic Gardens carrots.

The dessert was delivered in butcher’s paper wrapped jars stamped with the Taste Alberta logo. Once unwrapped, the jars displaced the carrot cake mixed with Fairwinds Farm goat cheese icing, dehydrated chocolate brownies made into soil-looking chocolate crumbs, sponge toffee made with Sturgeon County honey, and toped with edible flowers from Reclaim Urban Farm.

With Shania Twain in town that night, Buco Epcor Tower’s culinary and serving staff had a busy evening between serving up Taste Alberta Prairie on the Plate dinners as well as concert goers. I love a deal – so I was thrilled when chef Thompson agreed to transform their weekly date night dinner into a Prairie on the Plate dinner.

The Date Menu chef’s choice is available every Wednesday for just $32. If you are an adventurous diner who enjoys experiencing the chef’s choice – check it out:

Buco Pizzeria & Vino Bar Epcor Tower
10423 101 St NW Suite #100, Edmonton, AB T5H 0E7
Phone: 780.250.2826

Chef Mridul’s culinary journey dining series at the Harvest Room

Last month, I joined a new dining series aimed at taking diners on a culinary journey around the world. Chef Mridul Bhatt joined the  Fairmont Hotel MacDonald culinary team last summer, and the Indian born and raised chef is eager to bring some international flavour to the Hotel Mac’s Harvest Room.

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Sadly, I missed his first two destinations – India and Spain – but managed to get my culinary passports stamped with his latest Italian dinner over the Easter weekend.

I felt $75 for the dinner was an excellent value for our five-course Italian dinner, and of course the service in the Harvest Room was impeccable. Chef Mridul and this team happily accommodated my gluten-free needs, but I did have a moment of envy while dining with the Spaniard and our friend Jose-Mi. While I did enjoy my gluten-free spaghetti with truffle, sunchoke, egg yolk and pecorino, I know I was missed out on the the hand-made parpadelle from the pasta course the boys raved about.

Antipasto course – olives, focaccia, Parma ham, burrata, and peppers

Piadina – seared ahi tuna, arugula pesto, pistachio, lemon

Piadina – (served gluten free) seared ahi tuna, arugula pesto, pistachio, lemon

my gluten free pasta course served with truffle, sunchoke, egg yolk, and pecorino cheese.

Parpadelle -truffle, sunchoke, egg yolk, pecorino cheese.

Beef tenderloin served perfectly pink with olive oil and parmesan mash, porcini, espresso

Castagnaccio – chocolate, chestnut, fig, and anise gelato

I think the Hotel Mac’s international culinary dining series is a great addition to the Edmonton dining scene and an opportunity to make some tasty #macmemories. The next destination Chef Mridul and his team will be taking diners to is Ukraine on May 25th.

My adorable dining partners for the Italian Dinner at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald – Jose Mi and The Spaniard

Confections Cake Co. dessert bar now open in St. Albert

If you have a sweet tooth there is a new dessert bar in the Edmonton area to add to your baked-goods hit list. Confections Cake Co., tucked between Jack’s Burger Shack  and Cerdo Tacos + Tequilla on Perron street in St. Albert, quietly opened on Tuesday last week, offering up an assortment of sweets late into the evening seven days a week.

I spotted a tweet on Friday from my massage therapist about the newly opened dessert bar, which caught my eye as she mentioned gluten-free options. I happened to be in St. Albert on Sunday evening and was excited to learn they were open until 10 p.m. Actually, they are open every night until 10 pm!

Confections Cake Co. owners Brittany and Jarrett opened their bake shop and cafe on Perron Street in St. Albert on April 10, 2018.

At present, Confections Cake Co. is run entirely by life and business partners Brittany and Jarrett.

Brittany, who hales from Vancouver Island, took three years of cooking school before studying pastry arts. She first moved to Edmonton to gain work experience at Duchess Bake Shop, before spending five years with Over the Top Cakes in St. Albert.

The current menu features three cakes – each priced at $8 a slice.

The Vanilla Berry features vanilla cake with vanilla butter cream with fresh berries.

The Salted Caramel has layers of vanilla cake with caramel butter cream, salted caramel, and caramel popcorn on the top.

The sky-high Triple Chocolate chocolate cake is layered with whipped chocolate ganache, white chocolate ganache, chocolate buttercream, dripped in chocolate ganache and topped with macarons.

Brittany is also serving up a New York style cheesecake, a chocolate mousse with a raspberry caramel on top, and a baked Canadian – a piece of chocolate cake with salted caramel and maple walnut ice cream that is wrapped in meringue, torched, and topped with candied bacon. Both the Baked Canadian and the chocolate cake can also be served gluten free.

I was impressed by the price of her French macarons, just $1.25, as well as the bold flavour of the blueberry cheesecake and the root beer float that I tried. Brittany plans to carry 10 flavours including: bubblegum, strawberry, coconut, lemon poppy seed, root beer float, salted caramel, pistachio, chocolate cherry, chocolate raspberry. The delicate cookie sandwiches are also available in six or nine pre-packed takeaway boxes.

An official grand opening is tentatively planned for Saturday, April 28 to coincide with their anticipated liquor license. The bake shop currently has a full menu of coffee items, but craft beer and cocktails paired with flights of dessert are in the near future.

Based on their first five days of business Brittany told me it was a mix of customers ordering in and taking away, but she expects the custom orders for cakes and wedding cakes to increase.

Brittany will also be offering a mix of sweet and savoury cooking classes at the bake shop and cafe – two dates for upcoming french macaron classes are ready for baking enthusiasts to register. Call (587) 873-6502 for more details on dates and times.

The young entrepreneurs have filled the dessert bar with local art and hope to add more seating in time for the grand opening. When we arrived on Sunday night the place was busy; it appears a dessert bar is going to be in demand in St. Albert. I expect by the time the St. Albert Farmer’s Market opens on June 9th, Brittany and Jarrett will have a line up out the door.

Confections Cake Co.
140, 15 Perron St, St. Albert, AB T8N 1E5
(587) 873-6502

Tuesday – Sunday – 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Monday – 5 p.m. – 10 p.m.



Recap: Taste Alberta Prairie on the Plate at Chartier

Chartier is a rustic, Quebec French style restaurant in the heart of Beaumont, Alberta. For those who have dined at Chartier, named one of the top 30 new restaurants in Canada by EnRoute Magazine last year, you can feel the warmth and love in every dish that chef Steve Brochu and his culinary team plate on the restaurant’s collection of vintage plates.

Last week, Chartier played host to the latest Taste Alberta dinner in the Prairie on the Plate dining series. Chef Brochu’s four-course meal for $75 highlighting some of Taste Alberta’s commodity partners: Alberta CanolaEgg Farmers of AlbertaAlberta MilkAlberta Pulse GrowersAlberta Turkey Producers, and Alberta Pork.

Guests were greeted by the Chartier team with welcome drink – an Alberta Premium Rye Saskatoon berry shrub lavender syrup and soda.

Alberta Premium Rye, Saskatoon berry shrub lavender syrup & soda.

With the clanging of a pot to grab our attention, chef Brochu welcomed us all and explained our first dish of the night. In advance of the event, Debra with Alberta Pulse Producers had dropped off some products from Alberta farmers to inspire chef Brochu. 

With a black box of pulses, Chef Brochu used green pea flour to make a house-made sourdough. He topped the bread with a fibre-packed serving of marinated black, red, northern grey, pinto beans and pine nuts, alongside parsnip chips. 

Green pea flour sourdough topped with marinated black, red, northern grey, and pinto beans, toasted pine nuts, and parsnip chips.

For our next course, chef Brochu showed Alberta Turkey Producers some love by creating a smoked turkey mortadella.

Smoked turkey mortadella topped with flourless blue cheese cake, gremolata and roasted pink oyster mushrooms from Gruger Family Fungi.

Morinville Colony turkeys were transformed into a mortadella (I’m sure Chartier could sell by the slice at their bread window), topped with a flourless blue cheese cake, gremolata and roasted pink oyster mushrooms from Gruger Family Fungi.

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For our main course, chef Brochu showed that pork belly can be the star of the show, and not just reserved for appetizers.

Chef Brochu shared a roasted Bear and the Flower Farm pork belly served with a pine nut risotto, parsley puree, parmesan crisps, and Brussels sprout leaves. For all you pork belly fans out there – this was a crispy skinned and flavourful winner.

For dessert, chef Brochu found inspiration in an olive oil cake popular in both Spain and Italy. But, for a true taste of Alberta, chef created a roasted lemon cold-pressed canola cake topped with Revolution Ice Cream Co. lavender ice cream and dried strawberries. (Obviously, my boyfriend The Spaniard approved).

One of the things I love about dining at Charter, particularly for brunch, is the variety of gluten-free options for celiacs like myself. Chef Brochu spent the evening accommodating diners with allergies from gluten to nuts, so I knew I would have something special coming for dessert.

Knowing that I am a bit of  crème brûlée fan, chef Brochu served me a double chocolate crème brûlée. Served on a vintage sauce, it was almost too cute to eat. Almost. (I cleaned that ramekin right out).

After we had a chance to thank chef Brochu, the entire culinary team, and all the lovely front of house ladies, a few of us took advantage of the restaurant props to snap a few Game of Thrones inspired photos.

A huge thanks to chef Brochu and the entire Chartier team for hosting Prairie on the Plate, and for highlighting just how amazing Alberta ingredients are. I’m doing my best to introduce more pulses into my cooking – I would be far more likely to eat my beans if I had chef Brochu at my disposal to plate as beautifully as he did that evening.

Looking forward to my next journey to Chartier (which I am sure will include their legendary poutine). Be sure to pay them a visit:

Chartier Restaurant
5012 50 St #102
Beaumont, AB T4X 1E6

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