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An Afternoon with Santa’s Reindeer

Santas reindeer

I was lucky enough to spend last weekend in Calgary with one of my dearest girlfriends, in honour of my 50th birthday. One of the activities on our radar was to attend the Spruce Meadows International Christmas Market, and it did not disappoint. After all, shopping and sampling goodies amidst children singing holiday tunes is lovely, but how can you beat a sneak peek at Santa’s reindeer?

If you’re like me and you love the hustle and bustle of artisan markets, then Spruce Meadows is a delicious blend of funky, kitschy, homespun and intriguing. There are vendors big and small, with all manner of gift and decor items. Every food vendor offers samples, and the concessions have such delicacies as Hungarian goulash and gluwein, in addition to good old hot dogs and mini donuts. Outside the buildings are toasty warm fire pits where you can snuggle and enjoy your treats, and inside the pavilions are seating areas near performing stages. You’ll need a bit of sustenance to manage the whole fair!

There is something here for everyone, so I encourage you to stroll the aisles and check out what strikes your fancy. The vendors in the stables are particularly charming in their stalls, and that of course, is where you’ll find the reindeer, too. You can even get a posed picture for a fee.

I found some perfect Christmas goodies, and so I’d like to offer a few suggestions from my list of favourites, just to get you started:

In Reindeer Alley (right after the guests of honour)-

  • pet stuff – I loved the funny signs and toys at DOG GONE HEALTHY in Reindeer Alley, but in all fairness there are a number of vendors selling all manner of dog and cat paraphernalia

    Dog Christmas tree

    Dog Gone presents for, and from, the dog!

  • home decor and entertaining accessories – BURGUNDY OAK BARREL DECOR has stylish, well-made wine barrel platters and other accents.

In the Riding Hall-

  • KOOTANA GALLERY – featuring some lovely chimes, crystals and beautiful jewellery that is all about spirit animals, symbols and the energy in stones. You’ll feel good just checking it out!
  • AFRICAN BUTTERFLY hair accessories – these masterful works of art are the best for putting up long hair, whether it’s thick or thin. I bought one years ago and was happy to see Daniel again and get Christmas presents.
  • KATTINAT Swedish dishcloths – ingenious and fun! Look for the colourful designs on these organic cotton cloths that wipe up like nobody’s business! (there were 2 booths carrying these cloths; same price at either one)
  • western style gifts – COWBOY CHRISTMAS has some lovely accessories and fun gift ideas, and the art at RON CHURCH FINE ART & DESIGN is stunning.
  • COZY COTTAGE INTERIORS  brought much of their store inventory to showcase. Great country-style kitsch.

In the Gallery on the Green and outside

  • REAL TREAT cookies – I know, you’ve tasted lots of cookies, what’s the big deal? Try the smoked pecan ones, or the salted caramel shortbread and you’ll get it.

    A "Giggler" puppet!

    A “Giggler” puppet!

  • GIVE A LITTLE GIGGLE puppets – These wonderful people were only at the market for one weekend but check their website to see where else they are, or buy online. A great gift for little or big kids.
  • garden gizmos galore – CREATIVE IRONWORKS has beautiful garden sculptures and furniture; SPRUCE IT UP GARDEN has accents and greens, and RED BARN MERCANTILE has lots of fun Christmas accents and decorations
  • home decor – LITTLE MONKEY METAL WORKS has a striking display of silhouette metal art.

In the Equi-Plex (this is also where the main food concession is – think Hungarian Goulash – as well as many of the performances)

  • BIG BLUE MOMA jewellery and textiles – if you want something handmade and unique, the collection here will do the trick for sure. Jewellery, cushions and table linens all made in Canada with materials made by hard-working entrepreneurs in Ghana. They are one of the delightful booths featuring international wares – be sure to wander this aisle and check out all the unique items.

    Ghanaian fare by Big Blue Moma

    Ghanaian fare by Big Blue Moma

  • TORILL’S TABLE – delectable Norwegian waffles, made from a mix – try a sample!
  • KRUSE’S BAKERY – has stollen, and some delicious-looking cookies. Save some time and enjoy someone else’s baking!

There are 2 more weekends left to enjoy this market in Calgary’s south end. Easy access is available through public transit, and there is a parking shuttle too. You can save $2 per ticket if you buy online through their website. Plan on spending about half the day if you want a good look around; my list is only the tip of the iceberg. If you are there after dark, you’ll get the added benefit of all the lights!

If you’re not in the holiday spirit yet, this is sure to do the trick. Thanks to Spruce Meadows and all their volunteers for putting on such a professional and welcoming holiday event.

Spruce Meadows International Christmas Market

Spruce Meadows International Christmas Market by night

Spruce Meadows Christmas market

lots of room to browse and enjoy at the Spruce Meadows Christmas Market

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Is perfect food bad?

perfect peppers

As a foodie, I like to consider myself close to the earth. I enjoy knowing where my food comes from, and I’m lucky enough to live in a region where lots of stuff is local. There is a fruit orchard on one side of us, a huge vegetable garden out back and an organic vineyard on the other side. We are neighbours with Paynter’s Fruit Market , a beautiful farm stand operation that is owned by a 4th generation farmer in the Paynter family. Blessed? Yup, I think so.

So, you won’t be surprised when I tell you I like my carrots with a bit of dirt on them, and a blemish on my tomatoes is not the end of the world at all. Does that mean I am suspicious of “perfect” food? Perhaps. It seems to represent the industrial production methods we have come to link to all that is bad in the food world – pesticides, GMO’s, lack of care for the workers, animals or plants… But how about if a larger scale operation worked to use the good methods, like beneficial bugs instead of pesticide and heirloom seeds instead of GMOs, and using local labour…

Check out this story from Vancouver, posted recently by a great blogger who talks a lot about local gardens and food. This story details a PR makeover for greenhouse veggies that are seen as “too perfect”. What do you think? Is this an OK deviation from supporting “the little guy”? It seems they are trying to downplay their beauty – an understandable position for a Canadian company – we like to apologize for our success – and educate people about their efforts to be on the right side of the good food debate.

follow "The Green Man" blog for more interesting garden and food news

follow “The Green Man” blog for more interesting garden and food news

I will still do my best to support the small business in my neighbourhood whenever I have a chance, but I don’t mind knowing that there is an awareness to use the same old-fashioned wisdom on a larger scale 🙂

Revelstoke, B.C. – a funky small town for food and drink

the Revelstoke Farmers' Market is a warm place even on a cool grey day.

the Revelstoke Farmers’ Market is a warm place even on a cool grey day.

We spent a weekend in Revelstoke recently and had the most amazing time. I remembered this small mountain town from my childhood, but more as a stopping-place when we camped in the region or a pit-stop driving from Calgary to Vancouver. Although the small peek you get of the river as you cross the bridge is a pretty view, you are missing the fun if you don’t go into the town itself.

We were fortunate enough to arrive on a Saturday morning when the farmer’s market was on. The sincerity of the vendors was absolutely charming, and the small businesses that operate on McKenzie Street were the perfect pairing to compliment the market. I had a deliciously seasonal pumpkin latte made with a homemade sauce from Conversations Coffee House. That made for the perfect way to warm up to the market ambience.

There was a live turkey on display (he looked a bit nervous). One of the farmers was displaying her pumpkins for their natural art – the designs created on the skins. She was getting all kinds of feedback from people, and so I ask you to join in the chat… what do you see?  🙂 There were homemade baked goods and breads, stone roasted coffee, farm fresh eggs and sausages, and some pretty interesting artisan accompaniments. We picked up some of our ingredients for dinner and headed on our way to meet our friends and look for our main ingredient.

what do you see in the pumpkin?

what do you see in the pumpkin?

this vendor had Vampire's Jelly too... perhaps to fend off possible Hallowe'en attacks?

this vendor had Vampire’s Jelly too… perhaps to fend off possible Hallowe’en attacks?

The main purpose of our trip was to hunt for wild mushrooms. Yes, we were going foraging – that cool new pastime that’s all the rage with foodies these days. Autumn is mushroom season, and with the weather we had this year (moist, and then warm, and then moist again) it made for perfect conditions. My chef husband was very excited; going into the forest to look for mushrooms is his version of spending time at the spa. He has been foraging since long before it was cool.

It was a humid grey day and our friends took us deep into the forest above town. WIthin a few minutes we saw a number of different mushrooms, but we were looking for specific species. We expected to see lobster mushrooms, and we hoped to find some chanterelles too. We got lucky on both counts. The lobster mushrooms are easy to spot, as they are the colour of cooked lobsters. It’s a great sense of accomplishment, especially if you are a novice picker, to see something like this in the woods and know it can be part of dinner.

lobster mushrooms peek out from under the moss

lobster mushrooms peek out from under the moss as they grow

It was a magical afternoon, wandering through little clearings that sported all manner of fairy toadstools amidst a thick blanket of moss. The views we got along the ridge were spectacular, showing the flood plain of the Revelstoke River far below us. Even the dogs were inspired. We headed back with bags full of our harvest and ready to celebrate with a glass of wine. If it had been earlier we would have stopped in at Mt Begbie Brewery for a beer tasting 🙂

Martin made beautiful ravioli with mushrooms in a cream sauce for dinner, and we enjoyed some bruschetta with the last of the heirloom tomatoes brought from our garden at Rabbit Hollow and bread from Okanagan Grocery to share with our friends. The magic of the forest seemed to permeate our evening as we shared stories along with the food and wine in a stunning house that showcased the view. That’s what weekends should be all about!

NOTE: If you’re interested in recipes from my husband including some with wild mushrooms, check out his website The Chef Instead.

both Ella and I enjoyed the view overlooking "the flats" as locals call them.

both Ella and I enjoyed the view overlooking “the flats” as locals call them.

My bucket list is full of snacks

I just had another birthday and of course that brings with it all kinds of memories and more than a little thought about what is left to do on my bucket list. I had the good fortune of finishing last month on a foodie trip to Terra Madre 2012, and that refueled my passion for exotic food experiences (pardon the pun). Being a foodie, many of my bucket list items include a mention of food, so I thought it might be fun to share them…

  • I’ve always wanted to see the New England states, doing a bicycle tour. A bit of Maine lobster, perhaps a New Hampshire breakfast, and of course a whoopie pie! And who wouldn’t want to try a Smuttynose beer?

    Any company that has “Old Brown Dog Ale” is definitely alright in my book 🙂

  • I love convivial music, and seafood, and a bit of spice, so The Big Easy (New Orleans) is definitely on my bucket list.

    I can taste the crayfish and hear the music …

  • I have read about popular chefs and their restaurants for decades, and one place I have still never been is Spago. Wolfgang Puck is a kitchen icon who has survived a long time in a fickle world. 

    It’s just so quintessentially LA, don’t you think?

  • Although I’m not a fan of haggis or salt cod, I would like to visit the countries of my heritage – Scotland and Iceland – and enjoy at least some of their specialties on home turf. 

    Lunch in the Highlands, anyone?

    Who knew there were so many specialty foods so far north?

  • I want to go truffle-hunting. I have hunted for chocolate truffles in France 🙂 but never black truffles in Italy. I got to eat them in Turin last month as part of the truffle festival, so now I just want to see them in their natural habitat.

    Mmm, Italian decadence.

I like travelling because I get to experience different cultures, and a large part of culture has to do with food. Markets showcase specialties, and meal formats are linked to climates and family structure and business patterns. When I share those experiences in a new place, I feel privileged. I enjoy the kinship that comes from the humble sharing of food at a table.

Of course, even at home that can be special. Sharing a meal with friends and family always creates new memories, and this time of year is especially good for that. We will be hosting our yearly dessert party for neighbours and friends in a couple of weeks, an event that always warms my heart. Deep down,  I guess my bucket list is about sharing happy times with others, and often that happens through food.

Do you think I’m crazy or obsessed? Do you dream about great meals too? I’d love to know if I’m the only one who sees the kitchen as the centre of the universe.

Well, that’s enough for tonight. I have to go choose the wine for Sunday dinner 🙂

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