Preview: Flavours of BC’s Naramata Bench Wine Tasting & Auction

This guest post was written by Mack, an Edmonton-based geek who fancies himself a part-time foodie. You can find him online at his blog, and on Twitter.

On Wednesday I had the opportunity to check out a preview of the Flavours of BC’s Naramata Bench Wine Tasting & Auction. The 3rd annual fundraiser for the Winspear Centre and Edmonton Symphony Orchestra takes place on January 28, and features the sounds of Sandro Dominelli performing smooth jazz plus more than three dozen wines. At the preview, we got to taste nine of them.

Flavours of BC's Naramata Bench Wine TastingFlavours of BC's Naramata Bench Wine Tasting

We tasted wines from four different wineries: Kettle Valley, La Frenz, Lake Breeze, and Laughing Stock Vineyards. I enjoy wine, but I am definitely not a connoisseur. Usually I am more than happy to select a bottle from the shelf based on just the name or label. Fortunately for me, there was a little of both at the preview!

David and Cynthia Enns both had established careers in the investment business when they purchased Laughing Stock in 2003. The name is a play on the risk of launching a winery, and the financial references don’t end there. When they released their first wines, they called the event Laughing Stock’s Initial Public Offering (IPO). And they have some of the most unique bottles I’ve seen – instead of traditional sticker labels, they feature information printed directly on the glass. The bottle says “LFNG”, the would-be stock symbol for Laughing Stock, and features the date and a variety of stock prices from that day printed in the style of a stock ticker tape. It’s eye catching!

Flavours of BC's Naramata Bench Wine Tasting

We tasted three wines from Laughing Stock: Portfolio 2007, Blind Trust Red 2008, and Chardonnay 2009. Portfolio (the winery’s flagship) is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, and retails for around $40. Blind Trust Red is a blend of Merlot, Malbec, and Cabernet Sauvignon, and retails for around $29. The Chardonnay is aged in larger format French oak barrels, and goes for about $26. Of the three, I enjoyed the Portfolio most.

Flavours of BC's Naramata Bench Wine Tasting

La Frenz was started by Jeff Martin, known for spearheading Quails’ Gate in Kelowna. Their bottles feature a QR code on the back, which is still fairly unique, but something I expect more wineries will adopt in the future. We tried two of their wines: Semillon and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Semillon, which sells for about $28, is blended with 10% Sauvignon Blanc and had a nice citrus flavor. The Cabernet Sauvignon sells for about $37 and had great color. Among other awards, it won Double Gold and Best Over $25 at the All Canadian Wine Championship last year.

We tasted two wines from Kettle Valley, which features the Kettle Valley Railway on its labels: Merlot and Pinot Noir. The Merlot, which sells for about $26, was one of my favorites of the night. The Pinot Noir, which sells for about $36, was good as well, with earthy tones. Both are multi-sourced wines, fermented in French oak.

Flavours of BC's Naramata Bench Wine Tasting

We also tasted two wines from Lake Breeze: Seven Poplars Sauvignon Blanc and Seven Poplars Merlot. Seven Poplars denotes the winery’s premium wines, created from select barrels and select vineyards. The Sauvignon Blanc, which sells for about $27, was sweeter than I prefer, which made me think that Sharon would really have enjoyed it. The Merlot, which sells for about $37, was my favorite of the evening. It was full bodied and very flavorful.

If the wines at the preview were any indication, the fundraiser later this month will be an enjoyable affair. Tickets are $90 per person for the main event, or $150 if you’d like to sample the VIP tasting, which gives you access to exclusive library wines and the chance to learn from the winemakers themselves. For more information, including a list of the featured wineries, check out the Winspear Centre’s website.

MoCupcakes, No Problem!

The manliest cupcake. Does that sound like a contradiction? I wasn’t sure what to expect when asked to be a judge in the MoCupcakes event that took place at Transcend Garneau last Monday, but it sure sounded like it would be a tasty task.

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Cupcakes galore!

MoCupcakes is one event in the Movember arsenal to help raise awareness of and funds to fight prostate cancer, a disease that 1 in 6 men will be diagnosed with in their lifetime. Although the campaign has been around for a few years (yes, it is the reason for the unsightly moustaches seen in November), 2010 has been the most successful year by far, having raised over $800,000, contributing to the over $20 million raised in Canada.

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Demistache

So, why cupcakes? Well, why not? From the MoCupcakes website:

Why not combine an iconic feminine baked delight  “cupcakes” and mash it up with a historically masculine cause that is changing the face of men’s health?

Jas Darrah was the mastermind behind Edmonton MoCupcakes, soliciting six bakers and five judges to determine the city’s manliest cupcake. The team at Transcend (who were also growing ‘staches for the cause), were generous enough to donate the venue, with staff agreeing to work on their own time when the shop closed for the night. Bravo.

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Jas explains the rules

Each of the six competitors were given an opportunity to describe their creation to the crowd, knowing that the name and explanation of their cupcake would be worth 10 out of the possible 30 points (10 additional points were awarded for the look, and the last 10 for taste).

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Jerry introduces his cupcake

Bacon enthusiast Jerry Aulenbach did not disappoint – his Cheddar Bacon Mo-fin with a chocolate ganache was a play on sweet and savoury flavours. But he even had bacon-less versions for those needing a kosher cupcake!

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Cheddar Bacon Mo-Fin

Although Ailynn Santos of Whimsical Cupcakes wasn’t on hand for the presentations, her box of “Big Poppa” cupcakes were accompanied with an explanation that the moustachioed cupcake featured a spice base and root beer frosting. The straw cigarette was a nice touch.

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Big Poppa

The cupcakes from Upper Crust were about twice the size of the others, and gorgeously showcased Edmonton’s most popular professional sports teams – right down to an Oilers decal made of icing and a football constructed from a chocolate-covered almond.

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Sports-themed cupcakes

Transcend’s own Chad Moss offered a Chocolate Beet-down Mo-cake, using his wife Thea’s recipe. Though he would not divulge whether or not bacon fat was added to the batter, his cupcake was made using local ingredients where possible.

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Chocolate Beet-down Mo-cake

Food blogger Chris Falconer offered his own interpretation of a cupcake with his Sunday Dinner Mancake, featuring a toasted bread crisp surrounding the ground beef, bacon and parmesan centre, then topped with a goat cheese mashed potato fondant and a maple sugar crisp. Talk about a dinner in cupcake form!

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Sunday Dinner Mancake

Last but certainly not least, Jas’s wife Linda Affolder presented her tool-belt wearing Stud Muffins – an encapsulation of men with their “strong chocolate exterior”, a shot of Guinness in the frosting, and a soft caramel centre. The fleur de sel sprinkling was icing on the cake.

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Stud Muffins

Alongside Kerry Powell, Ryan Jespersen, Seth Glick, and Nathan Box, we had the arduous task of assigning scores to each of the cupcakes. I know I was glad to have a rubric to fall back on.

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Cheers!

Who has the best milk moustache?

Nate means business!

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The judging

That said, Linda’s salty-sweet Stud Muffin was my personal favourite – the combination of the dark chocolate, caramel centre, and fleur de sel was just perfect, and made me wonder why the local cupcakeries aren’t already capitalizing on those flavours (Linda’s recipe can be found here).

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It’s a hard job, but somebody’s got to do it!

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The judging remnants (all taken home and finished later)

The winners, you ask? Chris’ savoury cupcake earned 125 out of a possible 150 points for third place.

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Chris and Sarah toy with their prize

Second place was awarded to Chad for his beet cupcake, who earned 132.5 points.

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Chad accepts his prize from Jas

And Linda, with 140.5 points, won first. She was unfailingly humble even then!

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Kerry bestows the feather boa to the MoCupcake champion

Thanks to Jas for organizing the event – it was great fun to be a part of! And a big thanks to the bakers for contributing their time and efforts to the cause.

Mack did an awesome job with the photos! You can see his entire photo set here.

Edmonton’s Food Bank: Expressions of Hunger Contest

In high school, a few girlfriends and I volunteered for Edmonton’s Food Bank, back when the main warehouse was still located downtown, just off Jasper Avenue. Our weekly task centered around repackaging dry or fresh goods so individual portions could be placed in hampers. I remember marvelling at how well coordinated the Food Bank was – the organization seemed to operate with assembly-line efficiency, with our portions eventually taken to the hamper assembly area, and bagged into hampers to be picked up by clients. There never seemed to be a time when the interview rooms were empty – frontline staff were continuously busy, taking calls or assessing clients in person.

Though the Food Bank’s location may have changed, the need for their service has not. And while there may be a collection box at the exit of every grocery store in the city, donations to the Food Bank are often an afterthought, in spite of their continuous provision of food to Edmonton’s needy on a daily basis.

For that reason, I really admire their current campaign called Expressions of Hunger, an attempt to engage creatives in the city on the subject of hunger. Open until March 31, 2010, the contest encourages photographers and writers to submit photos, poetry and short prose to illustrate one of five categories: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and environmental.

In April, the entries will be posted online where people can vote for the top three photos, poems and prose in the five categories, with winners being notified on May 3. The three winners in each of the five categories will be showcased at City Hall on National Hunger Awareness Day (June 1) and until June 4, at the Carrot Community Arts Coffeehouse, from June 7 to June 23 and exhibited during the Works Festival of Art and Design at the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts from June 25 to July 7.

I emailed Tamara Stecyk, the person behind Expressions of Hunger, with some questions about the Food Bank, and to find out her inspiration for the contest.

  1. While the necessity to help some Edmontonians meet their basic needs is growing, does the Food Bank foresee any particular areas of heightened need for 2010?
    Edmonton’s Food Bank experienced a 70 per cent increase in use from March 2008 to March 2009 as a result of the economic downturn (from just over 9,000 people per month to almost 15,500 per month). As an organization supporting the community for almost 30 years, this is not the first time we’ve seen challenges like this.  In 1996, we were serving almost 19,000 people per month and it took 12 years to see client numbers fall to the 9,000 people per month. We anticipate that the need for our services will continue throughout 2010 and over the next 5-10 years.
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  3. What is the biggest misconception about the Food Bank?
    One of the biggest misconceptions is that the Food Bank serves a particular demographic in Edmonton. In reality, anyone is one pay cheque away from using the Food Bank. If you lost your job, your marriage fell apart, became very sick or faced unforeseen expenses, you may need to turn to our organization to help you through that tough time.
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  5. How did the Food Bank conceive of the Expressions of Hunger contest?
    I work in the Special Events and Community Relations department at Edmonton’s Food Bank, and was struck by photos related to food banks that I came across on the Internet. Active in social media, I was also aware that there is a strong photography community in Edmonton and proposed an online contest that would explore the nature of hunger in our society.
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  7. What has the response been to the contest so far?
    The response to Expressions of Hunger has been a bit disappointing. We have 4 photo and 10 literary entries. With such creative talent in the Edmonton area, we thought we would receive more response. But there still remains a month left for submissions so perhaps possible participants are procrastinating.
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  9. If you could encourage every person to recognize National Hunger Awareness Day (June 1) in one way, what would that be?
    We encourage people to recognize National Hunger Awareness Day by organizing a food drive, a fundraiser, a discussion around food insecurity or participate in Expressions of Hunger. For more information about National Hunger Awareness Day, click here.

Thanks to Tamara for answering my questions! Click here if you want to find out more about Expressions of Hunger, and check out the Food Bank’s Twitter account here.

Charity Auction Dinner: Ric’s Grill

Last fall, the Edmonton Sun’s Graham Hicks approached Mack to see if he would like to be a part of the 2009 ATCO and Edmonton Sun Christmas Charity Auction. He would be paired up with a restaurant, and people would bid on the chance to have dinner with him, with proceeds going to charity (coincidentally, my agency is one of the four that benefit from the funds raised).

Ultimately, a bidder paid $140 to have dinner with Mack at Ric’s Grill downtown, and we arranged to meet up with the winning party this past Wednesday.

Though we were expecting a pair of diners, we ended up being joined by four people – it turned out the bidder, Terri Lynn, had actually done this once before, having secured the opportunity to dine with Vinomania’s Gurvinder Bhatia and CBC’s Ron Wilson the year prior. Along with Terri Lynn’s friends Kelly, Sue, and Ginette, the night was filled with good conversation, and of course, wine (a lovely Malbec that my usual sweet palate didn’t mind at all – good choice Ginette!).

Mack didn’t get much choice in the restaurant that he would be paired with, but since each establishment had donated a certificate that would cover most of the costs (in this case, $300), we were thankful that Ric’s Grill stepped up to the plate. My last meal at Ric’s was nearly two years ago, and given the experience I had, I wouldn’t have considered coming back without a push.

Although our server gave us a tad too much time and space (perhaps she was deterred by the amount of laughter emanating from our table), it was a solid evening overall. Mack, the goat cheese lover between the two of us, enjoyed the almond goat cheese crostini ($12) starter, a cheesy, rich cousin of garlic toast.

Our steak dinners were equally agreeable. My six ounce, bacon-wrapped filet mignon ($31) was nicely prepared, perhaps on the medium rare side of medium. My side of celery root and cauliflower soup was the standout part of my meal – creamy and well seasoned. The crispy leeks (reminding me a bit of fried onion straws) added some textural flair.

Celery Root and Cauliflower Soup with Crispy Leeks

Bacon-Wrapped Filet Mignon with Chef’s Potatoes

Mack’s sirloin Oscar deluxe ($33) was topped with sautéed prawns, scallops, asparagus and housemade Béarnaise elicited no complaints. He said that the scallops in particular were cooked well.

Sirloin Oscar Deluxe with Rice Pilaf

I’m glad I had the opportunity to visit Ric’s Grill again. And while we don’t usually eat out at steakhouses, I would consider giving them another try in the future. It was good to meet all of you – thank you for a great night!

Ric’s Grill
10190 104 Street (2 other Edmonton locations)
(780) 429-4333

Edmonton AIDS Walk for Life 2009

The 2009 AIDS Walk for Life took place this past Sunday. Mack and I participated for the second year in a row, and began raising money for it a few weeks ago. As some of you may have known, we were in a bit of a competition, and in spite of his “Twitter clout”, I won! Well, ultimately, HIV Edmonton is the winner, but thank you to all of my sponsors who helped me raise $260 (Mack raised $210). All of the money raised from the walk stays in the community to help with HIV Edmonton’s work with prevention, education and support for those living with HIV, among other activities.

With the water bottle and reusable bag I “earned” from raising over $250

It was a beautiful, albeit brisk, day for the 5km walk, and the weather was a blessing for the event, held in Churchill Square this year. The outdoor setting made everything seem more lively, and welcomed any and all who were in the area to enjoy the festivities. Besides music and entertainment, Planet Organic and Starbucks were on hand distributing refreshments, and walkers were treated to free pizza from Pizza 73.

Churchill Square

Burlesque performer Sophie Sticke

At the same time, there seemed to be more confusion that arose out of the open space, a natural result from a latent ability to exert control over a wide area. Last year, a button we received at the end of the walk entitled participants to complimentary pizza and popcorn, but this year, because of the nature of the space, tickets were required for food. It hadn’t been communicated to us that tickets could be used for a free hot dog from Fat Franks (we only stumbled upon this after deciding that we would buy food ourselves), and I’m sure many participants who hadn’t wanted to eat prior to the walk weren’t aware of this fact.

Nitpicks aside, it was still a great event. Nick Lees, the “Mile High Marshall” and Sophie led the way on a float of sorts down the walk route. There’s something about just being a part of a crowd, knowing you are a part of a movement larger than yourself that is wonderful to experience.

Nick Lees and Sophie

And we’re off!

Mack gets his walk on

Along the walk route

At the Legislature

Instead of stopping halfway through the walk at the Legislature for a photo, the organizers decided the group shot would be taken at the end back at Churchill Square. The stairs on the Centennial Plaza were the perfect place to do so.

Group photo op

Thanks again to everyone who supported us!

Twestival Local 2009

It’s been roughly seven months since our last Twestival in Edmonton. In February, Twestival attendees helped raise over $1000 for Charity:Water, a non-profit organization that helps ensure clean water is accessible in developing nations. While the majority of attendees were users of Twitter, it definitely wasn’t a prerequisite to take part in the event.

This time around, Twestival is set up for participating cities to choose their own cause. After an online vote, it was decided that the Youth Emergency Shelter Society will be the charity of choice. The details of the event are as follows:

WHAT: Twestival Local 2009
WHEN: Thursday, September 10, 2009 at 6:00pm
WHERE: Original Joe’s Varsity Row, 8404 109 Street, Edmonton, AB (map)
WHY: To support the Youth Emergency Shelter Society

We’re asking for a minimum donation of $20, but feel free to donate more! You can buy tickets online here, or donate at the door.

Hope to see you there!

Green & Gold Community Garden

My Mum pointed out an article in Thursday’s Journal about a very cool community garden at the University of Alberta farm.

Green & Gold Community Garden

Volunteer-run, the Green & Gold Community Garden sells their vegetables on a pay-what-you-can basis, with 100% of proceeds going directly to Tubahumurize, a non-profit organization based in Rwanda that “supports and empowers socially and economically marginalized women with counselling, life-skills coaching, health care education, and opportunities for sustainable income generating activities.”

Mack, my Mum and I drove out to the garden this afternoon, intent on picking up some vegetables for ourselves. At the garden, a volunteer explained that we would be matched with another volunteer who would help us harvest the vegetables of our choosing. We were encouraged to wander through the garden, but told to stick on the paths.

Harvesting lettuce

Corn will be coming along shortly

Sunflowers!

Though zucchini, tomatoes, turnips, beans, peas, corn, cucumbers have been planted, they either weren’t ready yet, or had been picked through for the day already. Swiss chard, leeks, beets and a variety of herbs were available, but we were happy with some beautiful red and green leaf lettuce and a handful of baby carrots.

My Mum and I with our vegetables

We paid $20 for the vegetables, knowing all the money would go to a good cause. What a fantastic idea – I hope this project continues next year!

The Green & Gold Community Garden open Tuesdays 7-9pm and Saturdays 1-3pm – check the website for directions.

RestorAction Charity Gala

Mack invited me to be a guest at the second annual RestorAction Charity Gala on Saturday. As a volunteer for the Youth Restorative Action Project (YRAP), Mack had been helping with the organization of the gala for a number of weeks, so it was nice to finally be able to see the culmination of their efforts.

The event was formal, so decked out in a suit and party dress, respectively (haha), Mack and I headed out to the Coast Edmonton Plaza Hotel. While he set up the slide show he had put together, I perused some of the silent auction items up for bid in the hallway. Among the goods were an Oilers jersey that had been autographed by the entire 2007-2008 team (which ended up fetching $675), and two gold section seats to an upcoming Oilers game donated by Mayor Mandel (who was in attendance at the gala, at least initially), sweetened to include access to his exclusive parking spot.

Dressed and ready to go

Dinner was served right on time, and included two appetizers of Italian style tomato, basil and gin soup, and a salad of market field greens in a cucumber ring with balsamic vinaigrette. The soup was regrettably on the sour side, and tasted more like pasta sauce or flavoured tomato paste as opposed to soup, while the salad was all right but unremarkable. The main course, a roast supreme breast of chicken stuffed with spinach and ricotta cheese, was dry, and try as I might, my aversion to cooked spinach continues. For dessert, we were served a chocolate croissant pudding with caramel sauce. This was my first sample of a bread pudding style dessert, and though it wasn’t bad, I think I’d sooner choose a cake or tart of some kind in its place.

Market field greens in a cucumber ring


Roast supreme breast of chicken


Chocolate croissant pudding

After dinner (or to be technical, during dessert), the program began. A number of people were invited to speak about their involvement with the program, but the most memorable speech of the evening belonged to Mark Cherrington, the adult advisor to YRAP. He presented a heartfelt poem of experiences drawn from real mentors of young offenders that chronicled the cultivation of trust leading to change.

Mark Cherrington

The entertainment portion of the evening consisted of a variety of dance demonstrations from the University of Alberta Dance Club instructors, spliced with comedic sets. The second comedian, Dawn Dumont, used Native stereotypes as a launching pad for her jokes (she is Cree herself), but more often than not, the audience wasn’t certain whether it was politically correct to laugh at all.

Dance demonstration (the rest of Mack’s pictures are here)

Thanks for the invitation, Mack! It was fun!