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Inspiration strikes!

Do you ever end up on an adventure because of some small moment? Often life gets in the way of us being able to take advantage of serendipity, but with food and drink it can happen more easily. Today is a day we got to enjoy such an adventure.

I like to window shop at food stores. If you’re not a foodie you probably think I’m crazy but I believe it’s a skill I have developed as a Gourmande. I can ferret out an obscure condiment or spice from a shelf full of otherwise mundane choices, and I can imagine an entire dinner party with the inspiration of a single ingredient. Those things tend to happen on more random occasions, especially when you live in a smaller city with not much in the way of specialty food shops. I always have my eyes peeled for opportunities…

Over the holidays, I was at the liquor store (as happens on more of a regular basis than the rest of the year). I was buying rum for holiday egg nog and Christmas pudding hard sauce but being a wine geek I did wander through the wine section. We live in wine country, so we tend to drink more local wine but I love wines from all over.  Imagine my delight when I saw a bottle of Chianti wrapped in straw! You know, the ones our parents had with a candle stuck in them, like they were channeling that romantic scene from “Lady and the Tramp”?


How could I resist? I would be able to dress up a lazy night when we ordered pizza, or I could turn my husband’s favourite meal – spaghetti and meatballs – into a romantic evening. And all for under $20! I bought s bottle and tucked it away in our pantry (a.k.a. Back-up supply of goods, and my special storage for “good things”).

So this morning when my beloved said, “what would you like for dinner? I have some meatballs in the freezer we could have…”, I saw my serendipitous moment. It’s slow season for us, so being a “school night” doesn’t matter; we can put regular routines aside for the evening and none of the balls will fall out of the air.   I picked up spaghetti to make sure he didn’t use just any old pasta, and pulled the  wine from its hiding place. I dug out the checkered napkins for added effect. The candles are ready, and the table is set. I might even put on a bit of Billy Joel

And so now I have to go, and as they say, “slip into something more comfortable.” We are having a romantic dinner. See you tomorrow!

(Watch for my new candle holder in a future post!)

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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

The Heart of Winter

For those of you who do not enjoy this season, fear not –

we are past the worst. The winter solstice was yesterday, so the days are now getting longer. And Christmas is days away, so you might as well get in the spirit (the expression, “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” comes to mind :)). One Christmas during my retail tenure,  I remember the store manager saying to us before we opened on December 24th, “Anyone saying they are ‘just looking’ today is deluded. Take them around the store until they have their whole list crossed off, and then you can send them to the pub once they have paid!” This was a bit focused on the capitalistic side of the holiday season, perhaps, but it has always reminded me to have a sense of humour about my obligations  and spirit of the winter festive season. I’m just not a “bah humbug” type of person, I guess.

In truth, I am a much bigger supporter of solstice celebrations in spirit. Perhaps it is my Icelandic roots, or maybe it comes from not belonging to any specific religious tradition, but I enjoy the celebration of winter and family and nature. If you are looking for new ideas to boost your enthusiasm this season, I recommend Circle Sanctuary‘s website. They have many ideas on planning a celebration. Food and drink is an integral part, of course (that always makes for a good party!).

It really comes down to making the most of it. By that I don’t mean look for the sales and put more under the tree or on the table. I mean take the time to bake one batch of cookies with a loved one, instead or worrying about making four kinds. Enjoy a meal in view of the Christmas tree and think of all the things for which we can feel grateful. Perform a random act of kindness, for no other reason than to see someone else smile. Wish someone a Merry Christmas or Happy Hannukah when they bump you in the mall or steal your parking space. I guarantee you will feel less wintery and more festive. All of the cultures in the Northern hemisphere celebrate some kind of winter festival to make it through the cold and dark. Embrace the celebrations! (And what the heck, if you feel the best way to take part is to support the economy by shopping more, who am I to stop you? Fill your boots!)

And if you would like to make the most of tradition by using technology, guess what? They have an app for that!… check out this breaking news on experiencing the winter solstice at Stonehenge.

Just remember to pour yourself an eggnog before you start to fiddle around with it 🙂

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