Happy Chinese New Year!

I can’t take credit for any of the food on our table on Chinese New Year – my Mum took care of everything, including honouring Mack’s request for spring rolls. I’ll let the pictures do the talking:

Spring Rolls

Deep Fried Egg Roll with minced pork

Shrimp and Vegetable Stir-fry

“Gold Coins” (deep fried pork)

Steamed Sole

Braised Sea Cucumber with Chinese Mushroom

Happy Chinese New Year to those celebrating!

New Year’s Eve Downtown

Mack left it up to me to decide whether or not we would join the freezing masses gathered in Churchill Square on New Year’s Eve, and though the -30 weather could have easily swayed me the other way, the fireworks won out.

We took advantage of the free public transit offered that night, hopping on a bus that dropped us off a block away from the action. We wove our way through the packed square, grateful for the hopping Caribbean tunes that kept us stepping to the beat, in an effort to bring the feeling back into our toes. As we sipped the hot chocolate that we had brought along, we couldn’t imagine how cold some of the people around us probably were – the twenty minutes we had to wait for the show to begin were unbearable.

The promised fireworks began just before the crowd was finished counting down to midnight, rising into the air just above City Hall’s majestic pyramid. Green and gold fireworks were prominent, as the show was partly to commemorate the University’s centennial, but someone has to explain to me how and why seemingly random country songs were chosen as the musical accompaniment. I was hoping for a choreographed and musically-timed display similar to the one used to celebrate the holiday light-up, so this show was a bit of a letdown. Moreover, the advertised ten minutes became a seven-minute wonder in reality. Mack captured some of the fireworks on his Flip (I have to admit, the show looks better from where I’m sitting right now, mostly because I’m warm).

One of the photos I took that was slightly less blurry than the others

In the end, it was much too cold for me to enjoy the fireworks – I think I learned my lesson, and my threshold for winter fun.

The Cooking Chronicles: Pulled Pork Sandwiches and Affogato

While I can’t take credit for making Christmas dinner, I did plant the idea into my Mum’s head of using the slow cooker this year. A recipe for Pulled Pork Sandwiches in the most recent edition of Inspired by Compliments magazine caught my eye; I loved the idea of minimal effort to produce the evening meal.

As we didn’t have the recommended smoky applewood sauce on hand, my Mum substituted a bottle of barbeque sauce, which worked just as well. To accompany the meat, she made buns with the dough left over from the batch of breadsticks she had made the night prior – yum! Though the meat was a touch on the dry side, a heaping tablespoon of the generated onion-laced sauce flavoured the sandwich nicely. She served the sandwiches with roasted squash and sautéed mushrooms, but any type of roasted vegetables or even tossed salad would have made a fine side dish.

Pulled Pork Sandwich on a Homemade Bun

My Mum asked me to take care of dessert, but due to my lack of pre-planning, we didn’t have any cream in the fridge necessary to make crème brulee, which she was craving. We did, however, have ice cream she had been meaning to get rid of for some time, and after surfing around on the Food Network site, I came across Ina Garten’s simple Affogato recipe.

Easy as pie, I substituted the espresso ingredient for two strong cups of Starbucks’ Christmas Blend (which I figured was as close to espresso as we were going to get that night). Poured over a scoop of vanilla, I was done.


There was something about the interaction of the hot coffee and cold ice cream that worked beautifully. And though I was afraid that the coffee would vaporize the ice cream too quickly, it wouldn’t have mattered if it did, as the melding of both in liquid form made a lovely, drinkable dessert.

Who says Christmas dinner has to be something to sweat over?

Food Notes

I hope everyone had a nice Christmas! I took a bit of an unplanned break from blogging, and while it was relaxing, it’s nice to be writing again. I’ll be catching up on quite a few posts over the next few days.

  • I could not help but laugh and relate to Marty Chan’s account of attempting to demonstrate his dim sum prowess to friends, published this week in the Journal.
  • Well-known Edmonton blogger Lex Culinaria wrote that she has relocated to Langley, BC. Her posts will also begin to focus more on recipes, as she raises her second child. Best of luck Lyn!
  • Via Brulee Blog, a suburb of Des Moines, Iowa is using garlic salt to de-ice their roads.
  • There are a ton of year-end roundups out there, but I like the scope of Chow’s Year in Food 2008.
  • Mack, being the thoughtful person that he is, made me a customized calendar for Christmas, featuring sixty of the food photos that we have taken over the last two years, food-related quotes, and important dates to remember. It will hang proudly in my office at work! He posted about his experience making the calendar here.

June 2009

  • As is tradition in our family, Christmas Eve meant a potluck with family friends. My Mum made her famous breadsticks, honed from a recipe she now has memorized. There was turkey, and then some.

My Mum’s fabulous breadsticks

The spread

My plate

Amanda’s plate

Happy New Year everyone!

Volunteering with Santas Anonymous

Mack, always up for informal meet-ups with local Twitter-users, was all for an informal Tweetup at the Santas Anonymous warehouse tonight, and I was more than happy to pitch in myself.

We headed to the warehouse on the west end of the city, and after filling in a quick one-page application form, were led to the bagging room. My family and I have delivered presents for Santas Anonymous before, so the mounds of presents encased in garbage bags were a familiar sight to me, but this was my first time participating at an earlier stage.


Bagging room


Tags, divided into areas of the city

We were shown the bagging process – how to identify the number and ages of the children in the household, and how to properly secure the address tag to the bag – before being set loose. With holiday music playing in the background, it wasn’t a difficult or laborious task at all. The four of us in total who had shown up managed to get through quite a few tags, but as I remarked to Mack at the end of the night – we really could have just kept going. Between the “wrapping bees” outside, and knowing that the charity is still collecting toys, it is amazing to me that they will ever be ready for delivery day. The logistical challenges of collecting, sorting, wrapping and delivering thousands of toys just boggle my mind – but bravo to the organizers for pulling it off every year.


Mack and Diane hard at work

I think my family and I will be delivering presents again this year – after seeing a bit of what goes on behind the scenes, I’m even more excited to do so. If you want to join in on spreading Christmas cheer, check out the details on the Santas Anonymous website.

2008 Butterdome Craft Sale

After the great experience I had at the Holiday Stop and Shop a few weeks ago, I was looking forward to checking out the 18th annual Butterdome Craft Sale for the first time. Funny how I never thought of stopping by the event during my numerous university years, but no time like the present to rectify past omissions, right?

Mack and I should have thought ahead and planned to take the bus, but it didn’t work out that way this afternoon, and we ended up parking in the zoo on campus. At a flat rate of $3.75, it wasn’t expensive, but it still added to the overall “admission plus” charges that day.

The Craft Sale charges $5 admission for adults, providing access to 240 vendors. We saw a ton of people coming out of the building, arms laden with bags and random knick-knacks purchased in anticipation of the holidays, and we were hoping to get some shopping done in a similar fashion.


Butterdome floor

I think what surprised me the most was the the artisans came from all over Canada – I saw quite a few vendors from Vancouver, Winnipeg and Toronto. And while we did see some very unique items (including Jim Nodge’s iron sculptures, and Tin House Design’s framed squares of reclaimed tin ceiling panels), Mack and I for the most part were disinterested shoppers. It took us just over an hour to walk through the entire floor, and we even took time to pause at the occasional vendor. All we had to show for our visit were two t-shirts Mack bought from Grimm (his favourite says “shouldn’t you be on a ledge somewhere”).

The Butterdome will hold its third Spring Craft Sale from May 1 – 3, but after this experience, I think I will stick with the smaller fairs, like Stop and Shop and the Royal Bison Craft & Art Fair. Though I’m glad the Butterdome helps to push handmade crafts into the “mainstream”, the overall feel is too “corporate” and not as personal as the smaller, grassroots fairs, in my opinion.

Bright Nights at the Legislature

After dinner at the Wildflower Grill, Mack and I grabbed a hot drink at the Starbucks next to the restaurant and walked to the Legislature grounds. Earlier in the day, the official light-up had taken place, but we were more than happy simply to explore the lights without the fanfare.


Approaching the Legislature

I have been to the grounds once before, but walking underneath the multicolored lights, with holiday songs piping in the background, will never get old. The ice sculptures, lit from behind, were out for display already as well.


Ice sculptures


Mack with Santa

The lights are typically on until at least the first week in January, both in the morning, from 6:30-8:30am and in the evenings from 5-11pm.

It was a pretty chilly night, so we were more than happy that the annex building was open so we could warm up a bit before heading outside again. Inside, we found a Lego-version of the Legislature building, sponsored by the Northern Alberta Lego Users Group. On a related note, watch for the Art of the Brick at the Telus World of Science, an exhibit that opens on December 20 that will feature a variety of life-size pieces built by a Lego artist.


Legislature in miniature

Make sure to take some time this holiday season to explore some of the great things to do in the city!

December in Edmonton is for the Holidays

  • Choirs are definitely a part of the season – the Legislature hosts singing troops both at noon hours and in the evenings from December 1-23, even serving hot chocolate to listeners! Choir schedule here.
  • The City Hall also hosts elementary school choirs at noon hour, in a series called Holiday Magic, but with a shorter run, from December 1-5.
  • If you missed the holiday light-up in Churchill Square last month, don’t despair – you can check out the light-up at the Legislature grounds on December 4, which host their own display of Bright Nights figures.
  • Every Thursday evening in December, join an expert in science, ethics, philosophy or religion on a tour through the Imagining Science exhibit at the Art Gallery of Alberta.
  • Toted as “Western Canada’s Best Craft Sale”, the annual Butterdome Craft Sale takes place December 4-7.
  • Looking to buy a poinsetta for a festive addition to your home? The Muttart Conservatory is open December 6-7 & 13-14 for pots and some hands-on workshops. Print this newsletter for 20% off.
  • The Market at Callingwood is hosting hay rides with Santa Claus on December 6, 13 & 20.
  • Just in time for the cold weather, the annual Jingle On!, Downtown Edmonton’s Indoor Santa Claus Parade will happen on December 7.
  • University of Alberta Alumni are invited to a Holiday Shindig at Latitude 53 on December 11. RSVP details here.
  • Savoy’s (10401 Whyte Avenue) Sip and Splurge, an alternative craft shopping event, is taking place on December 11 from 5-10pm. Bring a donation for the Food Bank for admission.
  • The official light-up for Candy Cane Lane is set for December 12, but the displays will be lit throughout the month. Remember your donation to the Food Bank if you’re planning a visit!
  • Join the ETS for a Christmas Lights Tour from December 15-21. It seems some times have already sold out.
  • The Winspear Centre’s annual fundraiser for the Christmas Bureau is taking place on December 19. Bring a donation and join 16 choirs for a Christmas Carol Sing-along.
  • Hopefully the weather is conducive to outdoor fireworks viewing on December 31, but regardless of the temperature, you can bet Churchill Square will be hopping with those anxious for it to be 2009! Check the Edmonton Downtown website closer to the date for details.

Holiday Light-up in Downtown Edmonton

My posts are acquiring a bit of a scattered chronological order lately, but as some of my intended subjects have passed the window of timeliness, I thought I’d just continue back and forth as appropriate.

On Saturday, Sir Winston Churchill Square played host to Downtown Edmonton’s annual Holiday Light-up celebration, as well as Christmas on the Square.

Free sleigh rides for children

I had intended on visiting the square for the event last year, but didn’t make it. For whatever reason, I expected a larger tent to house the vendors, instead of what I found – tables scattered between three smaller tents. While it may have made the spaces easier to heat, there was not much room to move, and I’m certain more than a few breakable items fell prey to the congested movement of the crowd.


Cute Lola Canola honey bears

After 5pm, Mayor Mandel and Santa came out on stage to flick the switch on the 83 foot Christmas tree, in addition to the Bright Nights fixtures on the east part of the Square. Most impressive, however, were the fireworks – set in tune to music (something the New Year’s committee has claimed to have been doing, but hasn’t actually put this into practice), I was amazed they could have set off the pyrotechnics with such little space between the stage the the Winspear to play with.


Bright Nights display


Churchill Square

Mack took some videos of the fireworks with his handy Flip, in case you missed the event, and has uploaded all of his pictures onto Flickr.

Also, Bright Nights at Hawrelak Park begins on Friday, while the light-up celebration at the Legislature takes place on December 4. Incredible how quickly the holiday season is approaching, isn’t it?

BrightNights on the Square 2007

One of three locations of the annual BrightNights displays (the other two being the Legislature grounds and Hawrelak Park), Churchill Square is given a holiday trimming with lights all along its east side. In addition, the City has also set up a giant Christmas tree, which will be lit nightly, along with the rest of the displays, until January 6.

While not worth visiting unless you’re already in the area, it isn’t a bad detour to take en route to the Citadel, Winspear, Stanley Milner Library, or City Centre Mall.

BrightNights on the Square

With City Hall in the background

Tree (I’ll be comparing this to the Rockefeller Tree)