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Recipe: Chicken Liver Pâté

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

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

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

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

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

Chicken Liver Pâté

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

Instructions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Devour the Rockies – Take Three

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

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

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

SAVE THE DATE: DEVOUR THE ROCKIES FEB 26 – 28, 2021

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

1. A cabin crawl at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge

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

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

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

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

Chef Doreen Prei’s vegetarian friendly brie cheese schnitzel

Alpine chic – the perfect attire for a JPL cabin crawl

2. Chili Cook-off

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

Chef Doreen Prei serving up her vegetarian chili

Chef Paul Shufelt’s charred corn & chorizo chili

 

3. A chance to glam up at the Gala

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

4. Bubbles & Brunch

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

5. Free time at the JPL

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

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

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

Gluten Free Eats on 124th Street

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

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

Woodshed Burgers – 10723 124 St

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

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

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

Bodega 124th Street – 12417 Stony Plain Rd

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

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

Bodega’s Chef Lino

 

OEB – 56-10240 124 St

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

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

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

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

Meuwly’s Artisan Food Market

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

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

Northern Chicken – 10704 – 124 St

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

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

 

RGE RD – 10643 123 St

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

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

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

Prairie Noodle Shop – 10350 124 St Suite 4

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

Three Days in Mexico City

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

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

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

How we got around:

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

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

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

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

Day 1: Zocalo, Roma Norte, and Mexican Wrestling

TOUR OF THE HISTORICAL CENTRE

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

LUNCH AT AZUL HISTORICO

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

Azul Historico – enchiladas & tacos

Azul Historico

SHOPPING AT THE MERCADO DE LA MERCED

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

COFFEE, VINTAGE SHOPPING & TACOS IN ROMA NORTE

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

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

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

The vintage clothing vibe at Vintrend.

Taco time at Taqueria Orinoco

LUCHA LIBRE WRESTLING

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

Day 2: Teotihuacan, Barbacoa, and Salsa Dancing

TEOTIHUACAN

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

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

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

LATE LUNCH AT HIDALGUENSE

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

MONUMENTO A LA REVOLUCION

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

STREET TACOS & SALSA DANCING

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

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

Day 3: PASEO DE LA REFORMA, CHAPULTEPEC, COYOACAN, & CONDESA

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

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

Line up at the Frida museum

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

Gluten free dessert at Las Mamazotas Kitchen

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

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

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

Launching Armoire Inspiration – a sustainable fashion venture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOW TO BUY

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

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

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

 

 

 

9 Reasons Bhutan is worth the price of admission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. TIGER’S NEST MONASTERY

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

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

2. MEETING THE KING AND QUEEN OF BHUTAN

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

All smiles following our Royal Family encounter

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

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

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

The Bhutanese Royal Family’s ride

3.FORTRESSES, STATUES AND RELIGIOUS STRUCTURES GALORE

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

Punakha Dzong

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

Great Buddha Dordenma

The Memorial Stupa, also known as the Thimphu Chorten

4. PHALLIC SYMBOLS

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

For sale in the Thimphu National Post Office

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

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

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

 

5.CUSTOMIZED BHUTANESE POSTAGE STAMPS

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

6. THE DAILY FEE INCLUDES 3 MEALS, ACCOMMODATION
AND YOUR GUIDE

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

Our G Adventures guide and driver

7. NOT MANY TOURISTS

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

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

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

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

 

8. WATCHING ARCHERY – BHUTAN’S NATIONAL SPORT

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

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

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

9. A PHOTOGRAPHER’S DREAM

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

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

Kila Goempa Nunnery

 

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

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

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

Mt. Everest, Nepal

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

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

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

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

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

 

1. HOW TO COOK PORK BELLY PERFECT EVERY TIME

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

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

2. EVERYONE MAKES MISTAKES IN THE KITCHEN –
INCLUDING ANNA OLSON

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

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

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

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

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

3. APPETIZERS SHOULD BE ONE BITE

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

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

4. HOW TO SAVE OVER WHIPPED EGG WHITES

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

5. A SPATULA IS A $1 MILLION KITCHEN TOOL

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

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

6. THE HOLIDAYS ARE ABOUT INCLUSIVITY –
INCLUDING BAKING FOR YOUR GLUTEN-FREE FRIENDS

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

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

7. YOUR FANCY FRENCH MUSTARD HAS SASKATCHEWAN ROOTS

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

8. YOU DON’T HAVE TO MAKE EVERYTHING FROM SCRATCH

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

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

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

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

9. APPARENTLY I LIKE EGG NOG

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

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

10. HOW TO STRIKE A POSE

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SET FOR THE HOLIDAYS & LIVING HIGH OFF THE HOG

 

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

A Weekend Guide to St Louis, Missouri

For the past few years we have traveled south of the border to celebrate The Spanadian’s October 16th birthday by taking in a basketball game on the NBA’s season opening weekend. This year, the league started later, so he offered up the opportunity to check out a hockey game (for me) instead. Using a search from Edmonton on the weekend we wanted to travel, he found return flights to St Louis for $420 (Canadian). When asked if I wanted to go to St Louis I replied, “sure.”

I didn’t know much about St Louis, but the prospect of watching the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the St Louis Blues, and checking out a new city sounded good to me. After a bit of research, we found more than enough things to keep us entertained. We had an absolutely amazing weekend filled with great food, fun activities, a dose of history, and a view from the top of the tallest man-made monument in the United States.

From the time we left our Air BnB to start exploring to the time we jumped on the metro back to the airport we had exactly 72 hours in St Louis.  We relied entirely on a St Louis metro pass and by walking.

HERE ARE 10 THINGS TO KEEP YOU BUSY IN ST LOUIS

* Before I upset anyone I would like to point out that a highlight of St Louis is said to be enjoying the beer. As a Celiac I don’t drink beer, nor do I like the taste of gluten free beer, so it isn’t in my top ten of things to do. Everyone we spoke to said that St Louis is a drinking city, and with a long history of Germans who settled there, the culture of beer is prevalent throughout the city. I wanted to see the famous Clydesdale horses on the free Budweiser tour of the Anheuser-Busch St Louis Brewery, but we ran out of time. From what I read, opportunities for beer tours abound a craft breweries around the city. When in St Louis – drink up.

1. View the city from the top of the Gateway Arch

Designed by Finnish-America architect Eero Saarinen, the Gateway Arch commemorates the westward expansion of the United States. At 63 stories tall (630-feet/192 m), the symbol looks stunning from viewpoints across the city. Completed in 1965, rides to the top in eight-pod trams take four minutes to complete.

The five-seat elevator pod built in the 1960s looks straight from a Bond film.

The view from 192 m up in the Gateway Arch.

Guests can spend as much time at the top viewing the cityscape through 32 windows. To be honest, I had no idea we could travel up the monument. When we learned this at the visitor center we were told that the tram can sell out so we bought our tickets in advance ($12 USD) for our final day in the city, and made sure to give ourselves enough time to view the museum (which is free).

Even if you can’t fit in a ride to the top, I recommend giving yourself time to enjoy the Gateway Arch from the riverfront. We took the Metro across the river and walked back along the Eads Bridge at sunset, which made for a spectacular view.

2. Cheer on the St Louis Blues at a hockey game (or the Cardinals if it is baseball season).

We bought resale cheap seats for the top of Enterprise Square the day before a St Louis Blues Saturday matinee game, and at $81 (USD) the tickets were less than what we would pay to watch the Edmonton Oilers back home. I found the fans passionate, the in-game entertainment amusing, and the chirps from the peanut gallery around us hilarious. I’m sure if the Blue are out of town, catching the game at a bar would be entertaining as well.

* Once the Cardinals made the second round of the playoffs we bought tickets to game 6 and fully expected to watch a baseball game on our first day in St Louis. Sadly the cards were swept by the Nationals and we didn’t get to go. We did walk by the stadium and it looked incredible – I would definitely get tickets if we were in town during the ball season.

3. Lick your finger clean at a BBQ joint

Pappy’s Smokehouse – pulled pork, beef brisket, potato salad and beans

Bogart’s Smokehouse

I ate BBQ every day I was in St Louis. On the suggestion of my old roomie Marc, our first meal in St Louis was at the famous Pappy’s Smokehouse. The vibe was cool and the pulled pork and brisket were tasty, but it was our visit to Bogart’s Smokehouse the following day that had us raving about ‘those ribs’ for the rest of the weekend. We tried Sugar Fire as well, but we enjoyed the first two stops more. During our travels around the city we spotted or smelled numerous BBQ joints – there are likely loads of hidden BBQ gems across the city to experience.

Bogart's Smokehouse rack of ribs

4. Admire the Architecture on a Historical Walking Tour

At just $10 a person, our 2.5 hour east downtown Landmarks Walking Tour was the best deal of the weekend. Our 77-year-old guide Rich didn’t stop talking or walking the entire time – he just had too much to tell us and show us. From the old courthouse to the Gateway Arch and over to the old post office, we learned about the famous Eads Bridge, (which was admired greatly by my civil engineering boy toy), admired the lobbies of buildings transitioned into hotels, and learned an incredible amount of historical and architectural details about downtown St Louis.

The lobby bar at the Hotel Saint Louis

5. Score a retro find at a Vintage or Antique Store

In recent years, I’ve started to pick up a vintage dress or piece of clothing from my travels throughout Canada and abroad. St Louis was an affordable gold mine of fabulous vintage clothing. Less than two blocks from our AirBNB in The Grove was May’s Place, and it took me all of 10 minutes to find multiple vintage finds I would have loved to come home with. I ended up returning to May’s to pick up a great winter coat, and I also picked up  a vintage dress from Avalon Exchange in the Delmar Loop,  and another at Remember Me Vintage Clothing in Soulard. If we had time, I would have loved to visit Cherokee Antique Row.

6. Take in the St. Louis Symphony

The St Louis Symphony Orchestra is the second oldest symphony in America, and the building they perform in is absolutely breathtaking. We took in the afternoon performance of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, sitting fourth row on the floor for $38 USD (for two tickets). Their new Music Director Stéphane Denève was well spoken and animated throughout the performance. Watching the SLSO was a highlight of the weekend.

7. Explore Forest Park

We walked through the 1,300 acre park, which includes not only green space among ponds, streams and lakes, Forest Park is also home to the St Louis Zoo, the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Missouri History Museum, and the St. Louis Science Center. After admiring the view of the World’s Fair Pavilion, we visited the Saint Louis Art Museum (free of charge).

8. Have a beautiful day in a St Louis neighbourhood

Enjoying a Vincent Van Doughtnut in The Grove

Outside the downtown area, St Louis is stacked with must-visit neighbourhoods packed with restaurants, bars, live music venues, shops, and of course, more history. Our stay in The Grove had us close to the metro line as well as a cute coffee shop (Rise Coffee House), donut shop (Vincent Van Doughnut), and Nepalese restaurant (Everest Cafe & Bar) offering gluten-free fare.

Rise Coffee in The Grove

We also checked out the Delmar Loop (where I enjoyed watching Fitz’s root beer get packed using vintage bottling equipment), The Hill, Soulard, and South Grand. Our best brunch was enjoyed at Polite Society in the Lafayette Square neighborhood of St. Louis.

Blackened Shrimp & Grits and Osso Buco Hash at Polite Society

9. Get inspired by indoor and outdoor art

For a city that is so committed to sports, I was surprised by how accessible (meaning free) and visible art galleries and public art was throughout the city. Before our St Louis Symphony performance we had time to wander through the Contemporary Art Museum of St. Louis (free). On our historical walking tour we passed through the Citygarden Sculpture Park, and we made the effort to come back to visit and take more photos. Eros Bendato, a massive sculpture by artist Igor Mitoraj, is one of the many pieces of art scattered throughout the urban park – when I saw a kid walking out of the head I couldn’t wait to come back to snap a pic.

Citygarden Sculpture Park

Degas sculpture at the St Louis Art Museum

 10. Listen to the Blues… seven nights a week

BB’s Jazz, Blues and Soups

St Louis is famous for live music and our walking tour guide affectionately mentioned you can listed to the Blues seven nights a week. Whether we were walking by famous venues like Blueberry Hill (or the Chuck Berry statue) in Delmar Loop, or hearing a live band playing from the patio of a bar in Soulard, it was hard to ignore the vibe throughout the city. We popped into BB’s Jazz, Blues and Soups where The Spanadian enjoyed the southern menu of gumbo and blueberry crumb while a local band belted it out.

As I mentioned previously, we managed to do everything by walking and using public transit (Metro and bus). We found St Louis a very safe city to walk around and the people incredibly friendly and polite. I never got tired of admiring (or photographing) the St Louis Gateway Arch. I’ve been gushing about your trip since our return and recommending it as a weekend away – St Louis surprised me in all the best ways.

Recap: Long Table Dinner at the Fairmont Macdonald

On Tuesday, August 20, 2019, The Fairmont Hotel Macdonald hosted their annual long-table dinner. This year, the hotel reduced the price to just $69 for a four-course menu which included a glass of wine from their signature collection (enjoyed on the patio with arguably the best view in Edmonton).

I wasn’t the only one who thought $69 for a multi-course dinner at the Harvest Room at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald was a good deal. In response to the demand, The Mac oversold to accommodate 160 people  who were set up across two long tables in the Empire Ballroom.

A wonderful thing about the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald is their ability to accommodate just about any allergy and food intolerance you throw at them. In addition to my gluten free needs, our friends also required a lactose free dinner – no problem for Chef Mridul and his culinary team, who served up a lovely summer-inspired menu.

FIRST COURSE

Scallop aguachile, cucumber, cilantro, tempura prawns, paprika oil

SECOND COURSE

Meyer lemon ricotta & broccoli gnudi, soya steak, petite vegetables

petite vegetables

MAIN COURSE

Venison, spiced chorizo jam, roasted corn cream, glazed turnips

DESSERT

Peach 
white chocolate & peach mousse encased in cocoa butter, centered with fresh peach and mint marmalade

 

Upcoming dining events in the Harvest Room at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald include chef Mridul’s Classic Series, which takes diners on a culinary journey around the world. I’ve been to three of his previous dinner destinations and I always enjoy his specialty chef menus. Check it out:

Classic Series: Mandarin

Date: Thursday, October 3
Time: 6:00 PM
Price: $75 per person
Location: The Harvest Room

Classic Series: France

Date: Thursday, December 5
Time: 6:00 PM
Price: $75 per person
Location: The Harvest Room

Cooking in Gascony, France

Life moves pretty slow in Gascony, an area of southwest France where I spent six days last summer immersed in a culinary course. Just how slow life moved was reinforced the day I tried to get back to the Gascony Cookery School’s kitchen before our French instructor Bernard delivered our first course of foie gras for lunch.

I had just sat down in the restaurant for lunch with a glass of rosé when I realized I had left a tart in the oven from our morning pastry class. I was hustling back the 150 meters between buildings when our neighbor, who seemed to never be wearing a shirt, but always drinking a bottle of wine, caught sight of me. “Ca va?” he asked, concerned. In my remedial French I responded that yes, I was alright. He brought his arms to his side and swung them back and forth rapidly, laughing as he mocked my urgent speed-walking.

I lacked the language skills to say my tart may already be on fire, so I just smiled and slowed my pace. The tart shell was burnt, but I made it back to the restaurant in time for the foie gras course; c’est la vie.

When I arrived in Gramont, population 160, for my culinary holiday at the Gascony Cookery School, I found myself in a picturesque village perched on a hillside surrounded by fields of bright-yellow sunflowers. The charm of the village’s chateau and a handful of homes was enhanced by a quiet and calm that was disrupted only by the occasional crow of a neighbor’s rooster or the mew of one of the cats lounging in the lane, hoping for a chin scratch as I passed by.

There were many options when I began searching for a European culinary vacation, but I was immediately drawn to the Gascony Cooking School for their English instruction and for the regional gastronomical specialties. Famous for duck, cassoulet and Armagnac – the oldest of the French eau de vies – Gascony is a gastronomical delight that remains largely unspoiled by tourism seen in neighbouring areas like Bordeaux.

After settling in Gramont, British expats chef David and Vicky Chance forged a unique friendship with Bernard Corbière, who has owned and run the village’s Le Petit Feuillant for over twenty-five years. Together they have created the Gascony Cookery School, giving students the opportunity to dive into creating Gascony cuisine classics, while also improving knife skills, presentation of dishes, and the art of pastries.

From my first sip of orange-flavoured Armagnac at the welcome reception, where I met my six classmates from across the world, I was in sensory overload. That first meal, on a terrace with a view of the Pyrenees, featured seared foie gras, duck breast, cheeses, and chocolate mousse; it was just a taste of the decadent menu for the week ahead. By the time we ate cassoulet on our final evening of the course, I was ignoring the fact that it was 35 degrees outside and was digging out a second helping of confit duck leg from the savoury stew. Parisians, and Frenchmen and women across the country, were willing to drive hours to have Bernard’s Gascony cuisine no matter the season; when in Gramont – you eat cassoulet.

As an experienced home cook I had concerns that I may not be challenged in the level one course, but David and Bernard expanded my recipe repertoire to include flambéing Crêpes Suzette, mastering a frangipane tart, and deboning a chicken with the skill to wrap it all back into a sausage-stuffed ballotine.

Between rolling out pastries, curing duck livers, and learning how to properly fillet a flat fish, our itinerary included visits to the neighbouring village of St. Clar to pick up the morning’s baguettes and collecting a grocery list of products and produce at the weekly market in Fleurance.

Our last full day in the course involved an intensive morning focusing on French desserts with Bernard – crème pâtissière, crème brulée, crème caramel – before a lesson in sugar spinning with David. I took video after video as we created sugar-spun nests, transparent shards, and artistic droplets to adorn the pastries and desserts – inspired to wow my family and friends with the same technique upon my return to Alberta.

The afternoon was spent sight-seeing the medieval fortified village of Larressingle, snapping selfies with a statue of the musketeers (D’Artagnan hails from Gascony), and touring the Château de Cassaigne, Condom’s acclaimed Armagnac distillery, for a history lesson and tasting of the prestigious local brandy.

I happily departed with bottles of the sweet aperitif Château’s Floc de Gascogne, made of 1/3 Armagnac and 2/3 fresh grape juice, which is produced in both white and rosé varieties.

As I looked out over the Valley D’Arratz from my sunflower-inspired bedroom on my last morning, I felt a sense of calm; in just one week I had adapted to the tranquility of my surroundings and the decadent dining of the region. Perhaps it was all the foie gras, cheese, and crème pâtissière in my belly, but I felt truly content. As I readied my bag to catch my flight out of Toulouse, with essences of duck confit and Armagnac still on my tongue, David handed me one of my gluten-free lemon tarts from earlier in the week – adding yet another flavour to my culinary memories of Gascony.