The Cooking Chronicles: Christmas Cookery

I actually haven’t been cooking much these past two weeks – for lunches I’ve been subsisting mostly on pots of my two favourite soups, while dinners have been had out of the house. That said, in the last week, I did have to make a dish to contribute to a potluck at work, and did some Christmas baking as well.

Asian Slaw

My team was once again responsible for treating the rest of the staff at the office to lunch to celebrate the holiday season. With turkey, bread and root vegetables taken care of by my colleagues, I knew I wanted to contribute some sort of salad that could be served cold (so I could avoid the reheating rush).

Paging through cookbooks desperate for inspiration, I came across Trish Magwood’s recipe for Asian slaw in Dish, the colourful, eye-catching cover shot. I had always wanted an opportunity to give it a try, and this seemed like the perfect time to do so (a similar recipe can be found here).

I’m not sure why I haven’t yet learned my lesson about starting new recipes early for good measure, but I really didn’t think it would take me as long to prep the vegetables as it did (surprisingly, it was cleaning the bean sprouts that took the most time).

Asian Slaw

Asian slaw

A rainbow combination of julienned carrots, sliced red cabbage, bell peppers and green onions, slivered baby bok choy and chopped cilantro and peanuts (I omitted the mango), with a spicy-tangy vinaigrette of chili sauce, fish sauce, sugar and vegetable oil, it was a vibrant, crunchy counterpoint to some of the other foods on the table. I particularly like that it is a salad that can be prepared nearly year-round primarily with locally-sourced vegetables. It’s definitely a dish that I will make again!

Cake Pops

For some reason, when thinking about what I wanted to make for my work colleagues this year, I latched on to the idea of cake pops. These dainty cake bites served on sticks have been popular enough to appear in the pastry case at Starbucks, and the queen of cake pops herself, Bakerella, released her first cookbook this year.

For something so popular, however, it was difficult to locate a start-to-finish cake pop recipe. Although the guidelines are straightforward (crumble a cake, mix in some icing to bind the crumbs, roll into balls, chill, secure on a stick, dip in chocolate and decorate), I was hoping to be able to follow something more concrete the first time around (especially with regards to how many pops I would end up with). However, at least I was able to determine, between Bakerella’s video and the FAQ on Vernoica’s Cornucopia, what not to do.

On the web, it seemed most people used cake mix and prepared icing for their cake pops, but I decided to make both from scratch. I made Ina Garten’s pound cake for the base, and a quarter of Magnolia’s recipe for frosting. I used one loaf for the cake pops, saving the other one to gift on its own. This recipe made 20 medium-sized cake pops.

Pound Cake

Pound cake

The upside of using pound cake as the base is that it wasn’t very sweet to begin with, so the addition of icing as a binder wouldn’t make it too sweet. That said, because the cake was comprised of a drier crumb, we probably needed to incorporate more icing than other cake recipes to ensure the balls would form easily. Mack was a great help in forming the cake balls – he had to be firmer with them to make sure they could hold together. After fifteen minutes in the freezer, we pierced each ball with a lollipop stick.

Cake Pops

Cake balls

We melted the chocolate wafers using a double boiler. We probably could have been less stingy with the amount, as we didn’t quite have enough depth in the bowl to make dipping an easy task (we had to do more swirling than recommended to fully coat the balls). Immediately after dipping, we dressed the balls with festive sprinkles and stuck it in a piece of styrofoam placed in the fridge to harden.

Cake Pops


Cake Pops

In the fridge

The next day, I wrapped them up individually with some cellophane and ribbon – given it was our first experiment with cake pops, I was really happy with the results! They were pretty sweet, though this mostly had to do with the chocolate coating and sprinkles, rather than the cake itself.

Cake Pops

Cake pops

It’s really neat to see what’s possible with cake pops (just take a look here). Though it’s not likely I’ll tackle any of the more complicated designs, I’d definitely consider making them again for a special occasion again in the future. Thanks again to Mack for all of his help with this project!

2011 Festival of Trees

It’s been a few years since I last attended the Festival of Trees, but when May offered me an extra ticket she had been given by her office, it seemed like a good chance to get reacquainted with one of Edmonton’s Christmas traditions.

Festival of Trees

It would be difficult for most people not to be swayed by the spirit of the season after stepping inside the immaculately decorated halls of the Shaw Conference Centre. Between the music, the lights, and of course, the trees, the room was glowing with the joy of Christmas.

Presents make up the tree!

A recyclable tree


One sweet hearth

May and I agreed that attending the festival towards the end of its final day was actually not a bad idea; by that point, most of the crowds had dispersed. It meant we could take our sweet time admiring our favourite trees, revelling in their beauty and detail.

Festival of Trees

Dissipating crowds


Bringing the outside in

It’s hard to know how veteran contributors come up with new ideas year after year, but it was evident there were some wonderful creativity behind some of the tree themes. Most of my favourites were probably aimed more at children, but what can I say? I’m a kid at heart.

Sesame Street Tree

How can you not love Elmo?

Under the Sea Tree

Under the Sea

Toys tree

More toys (yep, that’s a Furby you see)

We also noted new-to-us displays of interesting wreaths, including a stunning wreath constructed out of steel ribbons.


May and I also made sure to tour the gingerbread creations (most definitely went above and beyond construction of a “house”). Being a Star Wars fan, I had a soft spot for the Ewok tree hut, but I also had to marvel at the detail in the very aptly named “Have You Any Wool?”, down to the texture of the knit stocking.

Ewok gingerbread house

“Forest of Endor”

Have You Any Wool?

“Have You Any Wool?”

I also loved the comical scene in “A Merry Little Christmas Tree”, created by the Shaw Conference Centre pastry chefs. They definitely had a sense of humour when it came to this particular landing of Santa’s sleigh.

Shaw Conference Centre gingerbread house

“A Merry Little Christmas Tree”

Thanks again to May for inviting me – it was a great reminder of what I’ve been missing these past few years!

Winter Wonderland in Downtown Edmonton

It was another unseasonably warm winter day on Friday, perfect to explore the freshly decorated Legislature grounds. It’s one of the most magical places in Edmonton in the holiday season, and taking a stroll through the tree-lined paths have become an annual tradition for us.

We first stopped at Second Cup for some hot drinks (I’m really enjoying their salted caramel hot chocolate), and en route to the Legislature, passed by the Christmas lights display at the Edmonton General.

Second Cup

A part of their Lights of Hope campaign, the continuing care facility is giving the Bright Nights displays (last seen in Hawrelak Park in 2008) new life. The 400 lights are intended to boost staff and patient morale and draw attention to the frail senior population.

Lights of Hope

Santa and his reindeer

The lights aren’t only on the front of the building, however – they line the entire perimeter of the facility, as well as the parkade behind it. We recognized some of our favourites from Bright Nights, including the hockey player who shoots and scores, and the duck-duck-goose parade.

Lights of Hope

Mack couldn’t help but pose with Santa

It was then onward to the Legislature, which had just been lit for the season on December 1. It was great to see many other couples and families enjoying the park as well that night.

Alberta Legislature

The lights are great, but I think what really makes the display special is the music that is piped in – Edmonton’s very own winter wonderland.

Alberta Legislature

A visit to Candy Cane Lane might be in your family’s holiday repertoire, but think about incorporating a stroll downtown this year as well – you won’t regret it!

Alberta Legislature

Shop Local 2011: Favourite Gifts to Give or Get

Although the official City-proclaimed “Shop Local Month” ended yesterday, I think today marks the unofficial kick off to the real holiday scramble – all leading up to, of course, December 23, the busiest shopping day of the year.

So as I have for the previous two years, I thought I would ask some local personalities what they will be presenting loved ones with this Christmas – shopping locally definitely shouldn’t be confined to a single month! I asked them:

What is your favourite locally-purveyed gift to give or get?

Paul Shufelt, Century Hospitality Group VP Culinary/Managing Partner

When it comes to giving, I treat each of my chefs to a selection of great cook books each year. I like heading down to Audreys Books and rifling through this year’s list of chefs that have released their cookbook. As most chefs are, I am very visual, it’s more about the images, and the creativity, rather than the recipe itself. One timeless book that I highly recommend for the want to be chef is Culinary Artistry. This book is a little different, in that it doesn’t share recipes, as much as it offers classic, and not so classic, flavour pairings, allowing my mind to race with ideas when it comes to creating a great meal. Not everyone in my life loves food the same way I do, so I have to get a little creative. I find that starting at Identity Clothing or Lord’s Shoes is always a good place to start when it comes to picking out something special for my wife. And if that doesn’t work, a little spa treatment at Perugia Salon Spa will always do the trick.

When it comes to receiving, I love the thought that can be put into preparing a gift basket for someone special, and for me, that would include a selection of some of my favourite treats around town. I would probably start at the Italian Centre, grabbing some great oils, pestos, sun dried tomatoes, marinated artichokes, maybe some Proscuitto di Parma, bundnerfleisch, or soppressata, shaved thin. Then I would head to Queen of Tarts and pick up some fresh rustic breads and brioche buns. After that I would head to Paddy’s Cheese to track down some fantastic local cheeses, like the Sylvan Star Old Grizzly gouda, and maybe throw in a box of Rosemary Raisin Raincoast Crisps. I would round out the gift basket with a trip to Baseline Wine & Spirit Co. where Che and his team would gladly help me to pick up the perfect bottle of red to compliment all of these tasty treats. Now that’s a Christmas gift like no other.

Neil Herbst, Alley Kat Brewing Company

I would have to say some Kerstin’s Chocolates washed down with some fine espresso from Transcend.

Dez Melenka, Co-Host, CTV Morning Live

Melissa Dominelli [CTV Morning Live Traffic Specialist] and I love shopping local…I think for me it’s about locally run fashion.  I love Bella Maas…it’s run by two friends and they are both feisty fashionistas!!    If it’s about eating out…and who doesn’t like that…a really great local bistro that is always a treat is La Persaud…a gift certificate from there would be fun!

Melissa knows how popular athletic wear is and tells me it’s a great gift to give friends and family…she recommends Key Lime,  a Canadian company that really makes affordable and stylish work out wear. Above all…we both love the markets…local artisan shows that allow you to find the truly unique gift!!  My favourite is the Handmade Mafia…it’s a fabulous place to find something different and completely local!!

Chris Buyze, President of the Downtown Edmonton Community League

Since a grow a lot of my own food during the summer, and do a lot of canning and preserving with friends, I like to give small tokens of the garden – salsa, jam, canned peaches, zucchini chutney or tomato jam. I make these items in small jars and build small pine boxes out of locally-produced lumber to package them in, along with Coal Lake Honey from the City Market Downtown.

I am also a big fan of giving locally-produced arts and crafts as gifts, especially pottery from the Alberta Craft Gallery or Gabe Wong‘s ‘Endangered Alberta Animal 2012 Calendar’ from the Royal Bison Art & Craft Show. We have so many talented local artists and artisans that produce high-quality products worth supporting!

For my nieces (and kids in general), there is a great selection of sustainably crafted toys at Carbon. And you can’t go wrong giving books from Audreys Bookstore, whether a nice cookbook or local interest book.

Erica Viegas, Singer/Songwriter

Being a lover of music, and especially local music  something from a local record store like Permanent Records or Blackbryd Myoozik would definitely be part of my give or get gift list. I also think there is nothing cozier in the dead of Edmonton’s winter than comfy Cloud Nine pajamas and a cup of something warm.  I’m a big fan of Credo Coffee and Duchess Bakery for a yummy treats, and Red Ribbon or Bella Maas for local clothes certificates.

However, more than physical gifts, I would often rather spend time with someone one over a nice meal, and I think Corso 32 is one of Edmonton’s best (to treat or be treated to)!

 Kara and Nevin Fenske, Drift Food Truck

Two presents we like to give and would love to get would be:

1-any sort of mix of items from the deli counter at the Italian Centre. You really can’t go wrong with meat, cheese and olives. Throwing in a bottle of wine from DeVine wines is always a good idea!   Pairing that with chocolate is a nice touch as well,  which brings us to #2

2-Kerstin’s Chocolates. From their spiced drinking chocolate to salted caramels. ANYTHING from their shop is delightful.

Sarah Jackson, Graphic Designer and Author of A Jam Story

My favourite local item to get: I would love to get a leather purse or wallet from Keri V, a local girl who vends at the Royal Bison and other Edmonton craft shows (she’s also on etsy). I already have this beautiful blue leather purse from her and a custom-made laptop bag, and now I’m addicted to her handmade-leather goods. She has an attention to detail that is rare in today’s world and an aesthetic that I love, lining her purses and bags with vintage patterned fabrics. Each piece is crafted with such care.

My favourite local item to give: The one I give the most often is probably Duchess treats – if I’m on my way to a dinner party or a birthday I’ll stop by and get one of their rich dark chocolate Duke cakes, one of their lemon merengue pies (delish!) or a box of macarons. I also like to stop by The Artworks downtown – they make the most beautiful bouquets of flowers tied with colourful ribbons and I always feel that people know you love them best when you give them an Artworks bouquet.

John Caputo, Edmonton Sun Publisher

Anything from the Italian Centre Shop, and I mean anything. I get so excited when a basket of any kind  shows up from them. And what about the bakery…



Jessica Halabi, Fashion Designer

I’ve given it quite a bit of thought and it was super hard for me to choose just one local gift I’d like. I have fallen in love with many pieces from my designer friends, being such a tight knit community – I always browse their beautiful work. So, I have come up with the perfect compilation of gifts. Nearly everything Gabriela Cruz of CRUZ designs, I adore. She gifted me a top in the summer that I really couldn’t stop wearing. I’ve been drooling over Fridget Apparel’s super cute cardigans for quite some time now. I think every girl should own a corset from Sweet Carousel Corsetry, nothing could make a woman feel & look as beautiful as Elise Troung’s ultra fem corsets. Corinna Chow of Parasol makes the cutest shrugs. To top all those off, a necklace from Rachel Bingham of BangBang Bijoux. Made from vintage finds, or jewels from her grandmothers chandelier, every piece tells a story.

Most of all, at the top of my Christmas list is a gift certificate from Sig Plach Couturier Fabric Store. Rooms full of fine fabrics fill this downtown house. Such beautiful, hand crafted pieces of fabric that come from all over the world. Sadly, Sig Plach is scheduled to close this summer. Unfortunately, too many customers are turning to mass produced fabrics and buying online. Which really hits home for me as a local business owner.

Ruth Kelly, President and Publisher of Venture Publishing

Books are a go-to gift for me and my favourite place to find titles which surprise and delight is Audreys Books. This year, I’ll be gifting copies of Lynn Coady’s fine Giller-shortlisted novel, The Antagonist. I’m also giving subscriptions to 18 Bridges, the magazine edited by Lynn and fellow Edmontonian Curtis Gillespie.

Call the Kettle Black always has some must-have new kitchen item that I slather over. And for host gifts to take along to the many parties of the season, you can pick up one of their cunning little tools, like the wooden juicer, and pair it with a basket of citrus fruits.  You can get a double-hit of local if you go to Awear, the women’s clothing store on Calgary Trail. Owner Leila Gumpinger stocks local designer Kelly Madden’s fashions and Kelly’s pieces are both very unique and remarkably affordable.  One of the best received gift packages I gave last year was a package of hot chocolate from Sweet Lollapalooza matched with my home-made biscotti. The hot chocolate is indescribably good; tears came to my eyes the first time I sampled it.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this list! I hope their suggestions help you this season. Make sure you also check out City and Dale’s shop local holiday gift guides for more ideas.

Sturgeon County Bounty on Canada Day

Mack and I are creatures of habit, so for the past few years, it is no surprise that we haven’t changed up our Canada Day tradition of downtown fireworks…and nothing else.

This year, we were extended an invitation to check out the Sturgeon County Bounty, an event that was a part of the Canada Day festivities held at the Edmonton Garrison. Although the festival was first developed for the military families living on the base, it has now evolved into a full-scale community party, with residents of all surrounding townships participating.

Until we arrived, we really weren’t aware of the scope of the event. It. Was. Massive. The parking lot was filled to the brim, having transported literally thousands of people to the site (someone told us that 20,000 people were estimated to attend this year).

Canada Day 2011

At the Garrison

Walking through the grounds, we discovered quickly why it was so popular – there was something for everyone. From musical acts to street hockey to an RV and vintage car show, the festivities were spread out over many acres, and yet, still had a small-town feel to it all.

Canada Day 2011

Street hockey

The family area was absolutely packed, excited children lined up for face painting, old-fashioned carnival games, and amusement rides (tea cups! ponies!).

Canada Day 2011

Childrens’ area

Canada Day 2011

Tubs of fun!

Of course, the main attraction for us was the food, so we headed straight for the tents at the far end of the site. The vendors were equally busy, and one had to think the short serving period of 11am-2:30pm might have had something to do with it.

Canada Day 2011


Because we were guests, we were lucky enough to skip the ticket line-up, and received 30 tickets (valued at $1 each) to spend as we wanted. Most items were in the 4 to 6 ticket range, although there were some steals to be had for just 1 ticket (you can see the menu here).

Canada Day 2011

Delicious cookies made with Mack’s favourite no-nuts peabutter (and at 3 for 1 ticket, they were the best deal we found)

This was the second Sturgeon County Bounty ever organized. The first took place last October at the Prairie Gardens and Adventure Farm, but was much smaller in scope (and, focused on the fall harvest, highlighted goods made with pumpkin). The objective of the event is to showcase area producers and food processors, such as Rose Ridge Land and Cattle, based in Thorhild.

Although each tent had a menu tacked up, it faced inside, making it difficult to see from a distance. Combined with the lack of individual paper menus (a nod to the environment?) made browsing the options a literal exercise. I liked that each producer had official Sturgeon County Bounty information cards available (similar to the ones distributed at Sip! last year), but as a takeaway, a single summary sheet combined with menu items would have been more efficient. On the environmentally-friendly front, especially given the volume, I would hope they consider plant-based cutlery and plates next year.

Canada Day 2011

The lines weren’t for the faint of heart

We started out with a slice of perogy pizza, a fruity chicken skewer and stuffed mushrooms from Don’s Steak and Seafood Bistro. The pizza was quite good – all the fixings of a perogy (potato, sour cream, green onions)on a decent crust . The skewer, not so much, dry and flavourless as it was. The mushrooms were okay, though the stuffing of chicken and vegetables wasn’t prominent through the breading.

Canada Day 2011Canada Day 2011

Pizza, chicken and stuffed mushrooms

I really liked the alpaca burger from Belle Valley Farms – I probably wouldn’t have known it was alpaca if not for the sign. And paired with the saskatoon jam, it would be an excellent way to introduce others to this lesser-known local protein.

Canada Day 2011

Alpaca burger

We easily waited forty minutes for Rafter 2M’s beef sliders. They were definitely not worth the wait (nor could we figure out why they couldn’t push the food out any faster), but were tasty enough.

Canada Day 2011

Mack wasn’t impressed with the wait for his beef slider

The shortcake from Prairie Gardens and Adventure Farm was summer on a plate. The berries and rhubarb were fresh, just starting to seep their juices, and combined with a touch of whipped cream and doughy biscuit, was perfect on that sunny, summer day.

Canada Day 2011

Shortcake with strawberries, rhubarb and saskatoons

The saksatoon sorbet from Berry Ridge Orchard was equally memorable. It was a little creamier and thicker than sorbets I am used to, but it was delicious.

Canada Day 2011

Saskatoon sorbet

Elaine from Allium Foodworks was also on hand to do a cooking demo at the event. We sampled some of the alpaca meatballs she had on hand, coated with the most amazing sauce.

Canada Day 2011

Elaine cooking up a storm

Before we left, we were treated to quite the show in the sky. Pilots showed off their deft flying skills, much to the delight of the crowd.

Canada Day 2011

Is it a bird? No, it’s a plane!

Canada Day 2011

Drinking in the sunshine

Thanks to the Sturgeon County Bounty for the invitation! It was great to discover such an amazing event right in our own backyard!

The next Bounty event is scheduled for October 1, 2011. Check the website for more details.

Shop Local Month 2010: Favourite Gifts to Give or Get

I haven’t really begun my Christmas shopping yet, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about it! Things I’m leaning towards this year: treats from Duchess Bake Shop and Jacek Chocolate Couture; wine from Barr Estate Winery; or, like we did last year, baskets of locally-sourced products.

With Shop Local Month coming to a close, but the gift-getting-and-giving season just ramping up, I thought it might be helpful to collect ideas from a few city personalities, similar to last year. I asked them:

What is your favourite locally-purveyed gift to give or get?

I hope their answers will help you with your own shopping!

Garner Beggs, co-owner of Duchess Bake Shop

StylusI would have to say a beautiful fountain pen or some ink from Stylus at 10538 102 Avenue.  I’ve got more than a bit of a pen fetish and Stylus, besides having amazingly friendly and knowledgeable staff, has the most ridiculous number of inks I’ve ever seen crammed into one shop.  Plus their selection of writing utensils in general is superb. 



Tamara Stecyk, Special Events and Community Relations for the Edmonton Food Bank

I’ve always loved bakeries. Fresh bread can be so comforting and I love to treat myself to the apple caramel bread from Prairie Mill. It’s a great gift as well because the flavour is different than any other bread that I’ve tasted and others who have shared this sweet doughy pleasure with me agree.

I also recommend buying one or both of local writer Debby Waldman’s children’s books. Clever Rachel has riddles that even adults can enjoy. A Sack Full of Feathers teaches kids why it’s not a good idea to spread gossip.

Liane Faulder, Edmonton Journal Food Writer

Winter MarketI have to say that local cheese is my new favourite gift. A recent visit to Paddy’s (or Everything Cheese if you live in the south west) left me with three great ideas for locally-inspired hostess gifts over Christmas. Take a piece of St. Maure (by Holly Gale of Smoky Valley Goat Cheese) a chunk of pecorino (by The Cheesiry‘s Rhonda Headon) and a sizeable bite of Grizzly from Sylvan Star Gouda. Put them into a basket with a jar of preserves by The Jam Lady (available at Uncle Ed’s Restaurant or Bon Ton Bakery while the City Market is closed for the season) and a loaf of fresh bread from Tree Stone Bakery (baguettes are great, but they are long and might look funny sticking out of your basket). You are sure to be praised as the best guest ever at your next Christmas party.

Kendall Barber, marketer and blogger

RefineryThis holiday season wrap up the gift of handmade with gifted and talented Edmontonians.

For design lovers or aspiring chefs, give a solid maple or walnut cutting and charcuterie boards handcrafted by Geoffrey Lilge. Available at Zocalo (10826 – 95 Street) or 29 Armstrong (10129 104 Street).

Give some sparkle with handmade jewelry from So Pretty. Absolutely adoring the rose gold collection for those hard-to-buy-for-gals on my list. Purchase online or at Coup Garment Boutique (#101 10137 104 Street).

Show up to your next holiday soiree with a hostess gift from g l a s s . f u l. These hand blown, tripled layered, coloured glass votives can be used as candleholder, vase, drinking glass or centerpiece. At only $30 a glass votive, these will be my go-to holiday gift.

Kids on my list will be reading all about jam with The Jam Story line-up of books from local illustrator Sarah Jackson. The adorable books teach important lessons on self-acceptance and realizing your tastiliciousness. Available at the Art Gallery of Alberta gift shop.

Omar Mouallem, editor, writer and rapper

FridgetNo Edmonton woman is at her full potential of coolness without a piece of clothing by Fridget Apparel. Her line is a little 50s, a little mod, a little revolution.

And to add some animal or leafy charm to your life, I adore the felt anthropomorphized animals and hairpins by craft-ster Bevan Kovitz and her Trial By Fiber company.

Kat Danser, musician

I recently received a lovely gift of a massage at Prana Holistic. This business is owned by a mother/daughter team who are committed to the community and environment as well as providing a nurturing, professional atmosphere. My professional life as a musician means that I must commit to health and wellness. Creativity relies on a relaxed mind and body so that one’s spiritual essence can guide the way. The more out of my ego/mind self I am, the greater success I have in communicating  musical meaning. I plan to return to Prana Holistic many times in the future so that I can expand my body knowledge and nurture myself. A lovely gift to receive and to give.

Gerbera daisies are my absolutely favourite flowers! When I first came upon La Piazza Dasee, I realized that something special was happening in that business. The calm environment, the care and attention of the creative flower artists and the value are outstanding. Whether sending beautiful flowers for to myself or to others, La Piazza Dasee is the only flower shop for me.

Valerie Lugonja, food blogger

Art Gallery of AlbertaI will be giving gifts from La Fourchette this year as I love the back story on this young foursome and their little funky flattened silverware markers that I first found at City Market downtown.

I will also be giving memberships for the Art Gallery of Alberta to my daughters as supporting our local art community is so important.

The last gift I will be giving is the gift of learning how to cook and bake through a gift certificate to a cooking class at my new business partnership with Maria: Taste Tripping.

I would love to get a gift of a donation made on my behalf to go to The Boys and Girl’s Club of Edmonton or to the Edmonton Food Bank. It is a time for me to give back and when someone wants to give me a gift, I ask that they keep these two very needy and incredibly important organizations in mind.

Jerry Aulenbach, realtor and bacon enthusiast

Bacon stuffies by @Evieheartsmilo. They are hand made, cute, cuddly, awesome, and bacon! Available as a muppet or a simple pillowy stuffy.

Bruce Clarke, photographer

CredoCoffee – you can’t go wrong with just about any coffee product from either Transcend or Credo. Gift cards are always nice too.

AGA Membership – I’ve visited the new Art Gallery of Alberta more times in it’s first year of being open than I ever visited in all the previous years combined so I think a gift of a one-year membership would make an amazing gift to give or receive.

Hats – Headcase on Whyte Ave has a great selection of funky hats for men and women. As a man with a growing forehead, I’m learning to appreciate hats more and more.

Cosmetics – for the lady in your life, check out Lady Venom Cosmetics. Gina Cicero is an amazing makeup artist from Edmonton who has created her own line of high quality cosmetics.

Adam Rozenhart, Social Media Specialist and Podcaster

MoCupcakeYEGBoy, this is really a tough question. And I hate to default to something so common as what I’m about to suggest, but over the last five or so years, Edmonton’s food and beverage scene has grown by leaps and bounds.

If I had to give a gift from the local food scene, it would probably have to be a selection of fine roasted coffees from Edmonton’s very own local roasterie, Transcend Coffee. The boys and girls at Transcend have coffee bean roasting down to a T (pardon the ironic pun, if you’re reading this out loud). But more than that, they get what it means to be a local business. They’re active in social media, they love chatting with customers, and they also chat with competitors like the folks at Café Haven in Sherwood Park, and Nate Box over at Elm Café.

The holiday season is about staying warm and spending time with family. And nothing beats a delicious cup of coffee to help facilitate both.

Cindy Lazarenko, owner of Culina Highlands

Kerstin's ChocolatesKerstin’s Chocolates! One year I received a gift basket with chocolate, book, coffee etc. wrapped beautifully, they do a great job there.

I love macarons from Duchess! Especially the salted caramel.

Also Callys Teas (8608 99 Street), her teas are so good and she sells these great little colored brown betty type teapots with basket inside, we use them at the restaurant.

Ryan Jespersen, Host of CityTV’s Breakfast Television

NotablesMy wife (Kari Skelton) and I are big fans of “the experience,” so we try to give out-of-towners gifts that provide an opportunity to visit and learn a little bit about Edmonton. In past, we’ve gifted “itineraries” – weekends built around an Oilers game, a show at the Citadel (especially A Christmas Carol!), the Edmonton Indy or even the Ice on Whyte festival. A weekend in the capital city isn’t complete without a visit to one of our excellent independent restaurants, so we’re sure to include a stop at one of our favourites – Madison’s Grill, the Blue Plate Diner, Koutouki, Lux Steakhouse or Delux Burger Bar. Presentation-wise, it’s tough to beat the offerings at Notables Stationers. We’ve designed custom Christmas cards with their talented staff in past (and the hand-made wrapping paper is sure to impress). And for that person that seems to have everything, we’ve always found something special at La Piazza Dasee. Their team pushes floral design to a whole new level and their expanded location just south of Whyte Avenue has a great selection of unique gifts you won’t find anywhere else!

Make sure to check out Lightside Photography’s blog, featuring 30 local businesses over 30 days, for even more ideas!

Winter Market on the Square and Holiday Light Up 2010

The first of the winter markets launched this past Saturday, in both heated tents right on Churchill Square and in the grand City Room in City Hall.

Winter Market

Tents on the Square

Just under fifty vendors participated, ranging from stalwart City Market merchants like Kuhlmann’s, to newcomers like Jacek Chocolate Couture. Smoky Valley Goat Cheese was a particularly welcome sight, as we had hinged some of our housewarming dishes on our ability to purchase their chevre and St. Maure cheese (they had a beautiful sampling platter out to entice the palate).

Winter Market

Inside City Hall

The outdoor food trucks were out as well. We made sure to stop by Eva Sweet for a waffle. Bamir is looking forward to the Hot to Huddle Grey Cup Festival November 25-28 – his truck will be parked at Churchill as a part of the festivities.

Nothing makes a better lunch (of course, I didn’t remember to snap a picture until halfway through)

After a walkthrough of both vendor areas, I thought those placed inside were at an advantage, with ample space to set up, and abundant natural light. When we returned to Churchill later that evening for the Holiday Light-Up however, it was clear that the vendors in the three tents had much better visibility, located right in the thick of things outside.

Holiday Light Up

The crowds have descended

Though I’m a fan of outdoor markets, it really is a challenge to make it work over the winter months – the individual, cloistered tents removes that larger sense of community somehow. At the same time – our climate makes it impossible for uncovered markets – one of tents was without heat for a while, and it was noticeably chilly – I couldn’t imagine remaining stationary as a vendor. I suppose we’ll just have to hope for a larger year-round space to open up soon!

Winter Market

Inside one of the tents

The weather was definitely milder than last year, and we very much liked the change in stage placement, so photos taken of the action would have the brilliant City Hall pyramid as a backdrop.

Holiday Light Up

Can you spot Santa?

To recognize the fact that the city is hosting the Grey Cup this year, the 700 foot white spruce is decked out in green and gold colours, and two Eskimos were on hand with the Mayor as he flipped the lighting switch.

Holiday Light Up

Beautiful tree

The fireworks show following the lighting was entertaining, set to music as always. I ask again – why can’t all fireworks displays make the best of the music played alongside?

Holiday Light Up


The tree will be lit every night until mid-January. There are three more winter markets planned – December 4, 11 and 18, scheduled tentatively for 11am-3pm. Check out the City Market page on Facebook to keep up-to-date. Looking forward to it!

Holiday Lights at the Legislature

After another hectic day at work, I couldn’t think of a better way to relax then to wander the decorated grounds at the Legislature.

The Legislature grounds, all decked out

The Legislature grounds are one of my favourite places to visit during the holidays – it’s the perfect place to stroll with a loved one, cup of coffee in hand. I could get lost in along paths of light-strewn trees, listening to the soft “twirling music” (Mack’s term, not mine) being piped through outdoor speakers.

Lots of lights

If the lights weren’t enough, there are always fun ice sculptures to admire, created by the Sculptors’ Association of Alberta.


And though we were there too late for the evening choir performance or check out the decorated trees indoors, there are still a few opportunities to do so until December 23.

If you’re looking for a serene place to enjoy (or escape) the holidays – you may find it at the Legislature.

Card-making 101: Holiday Stampin’ Up Workshop

Back in high school, I used to scrapbook. I think I made one scrapbook a year, filled with photocorners, glitter-glue page titles and magazine cutouts. Sometime since then, I’ve channelled that energy into other endeavours, but can still appreciate the tangible thrill of looking upon something beautifully assembled by one’s own hand.

Ornament card

My friend from high school Jane, on the other hand, never did lose her creative flair, and recently became a Stampin’ Up demonstrator For those who aren’t aware of Stampin’ Up – it is a company made up of crafty entrepreneurs who lead workshops where attendees pay to assemble cards in a fun and supportive environment. Nearly all supplies are provided by the demonstrator, making it easy for non-crafters and lapsed crafters like myself to participate.

So last Sunday afternoon, Janice, Annie and I headed to St. Andrew’s Centre for a workshop alongside a dozen other people. I paid just under $40, which included materials for 15 cards and a “snail adhesive”, a plastic applicator filled with double-sided tape – it was the first of many words specific to the Stampin’ Up world that I would learn that day.

Janice and I

Jane explained that we would be rotating through the five different “stations”, and would be assembling three of each type of card (Jane had created four out of the five designs we would be making). Before we got started, she demoed how to put each card together, from embossing to die-cutting, attaching brads (tiny metal accents that work like duotangs) to using dimensionals (double-sided foam stickers that provide a 3D look).


Although the steps to some cards seemed daunting at first, we helped each other around the table, and Jane was always around to answer a question or lend a hand. The fact that almost everything was pre-cut and ready to go simplified the tasks for us, but there was also room for creativity – each table had more than enough colour and stamper options, so those who could think outside the sample could indeed experiment.

North Pole card (the penguin one is my favourite)

I haven’t played with glitter in years, but I think I got more than my share of sparkles at the workshop –it seemed as much of it ended up on me as on the cards!

Reindeer “sparkly and bright” card

The card that we embossed was probably the coolest design – not only did we get to use a heat gun to set the slightly raised and shiny stamped image, but the card incorporated a clear plastic cup to be filled with candy to look like a colourful ornament. It is definitely something not easily found in a card store.

Season’s Greetings 3D ornament card

Though we initially thought that the three hour time frame for the workshop was too generous, Janice, Annie and I were the last to leave, nearly three and a half hours after the session began! I have to say that we weren’t hard at work during that entire time though – Jane had brought snacks with her as well, and even baked mini cupcakes the night prior for the group to nosh on.

Annie shows off one of her creations

It was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon, and I am certain that those who are given a handmade greeting will appreciate it more than a generic boxed card. If you’re interested, Jane will be hosting another workshop on January 17, 2010 – she says that Valentine’s Day cards will be in the mix. Check out her website for more information.

Thanks again Jane for the opportunity to rekindle my creative side!

Christmas on the Square Holiday Light Up 2009

I’ve been looking forward to the Holiday Light Up celebration for a while – with a fireworks show actually choreographed to music, and warmer temperatures than on New Year’s Eve, I wonder why it isn’t the city’s most popular event. And with family-friendly activities precluding the light-up, in addition to City Centre Market vendors, it makes for a great few hours spent in the core.

Christmas carollers on stage

Sleigh rides around City Hall were pretty popular with the children, and the Art Gallery of Alberta had a tent promoting their new logo and grand opening in January 2010. We also checked out the vendors on hand (whose heated tents were better spaced out this year).

Inside the Art Gallery of Alberta tent

Mack as Vanna White

At 5pm, everyone readied for the grand finale – two children, alongside Mayor Mandel and Santa Claus, flipped a giant light switch to power up the Christmas lights. The tree, from Whitecourt, AB, stands at sixty feet, and this year, features animated icicle lights that make it appear as if snow is falling from the tree – pretty neat.

The crowd for the main event

Ready for the light-up

All lit up

The light switch that made it happen

The fireworks that followed were fantastic as expected, with flares and sparks released in time to cymbals crashing and trumpets blaring. If you haven’t yet experienced the show, I would encourage you to attend next year.


Notably missing this year were the small Bright Nights displays that have been a fixture on the Square during the holiday season for the past few years. I guess the cancellation of the Hawrelak Park Bright Nights also meant the necessary retiring of all related decorations. The few inflatable displays they had on the east side of the Square really weren’t the same.

I’m counting down the days to Christmas already, but this was a great event to help kick off the season!

You can see Mack’s photo set here.