Recap: Eats on 118, International Edition

The third and final Eats on 118 event this year took place in late August. A series of events organized by Wild Heart Collective and the Alberta Avenue Business Association, Eats on 118 helps to showcase the variety of establishments located in an often overlooked neighbourhood. I’ve discovered a few gems from past tours (including Plaza Bowl on the last crawl), and this evening was no different. In particular, it highlighted just how much diversity is present on the Avenue.

The group met up at Paraiso Tropical, a popular Latin food market in the heart of 118. We were welcomed by Jesus Gonzales, who took over the shop from his parents in 2009. Although they boast a wide selection of import products from the Caribbean, South and Central America, they also offer a selection of hot takeout items. The menu varies by day, and could include tacos, empanadas, and taquitos.

Eats on 118

Kicking off Eats on 118

That evening, we each received a street food box with two tacos and a pupusa. Of the trio, the al pastor taco was my favourite, but it was nice to be able to sample a few of their dishes.

Eats on 118

Sampler box from Paraiso Tropical

Our second stop was Mama Asha Cafe, easily missed tucked in next to an auto shop. Like Jesus, Saharla Aden also took over the business from her parents, renaming the restaurant after her grandmother.

Eats on 118

Saharla Aden of Mama Asha Cafe

Saharla and her husband also refreshed the dining room have a more modern, contemporary feel, reopening in May of this year. The menu is unique, offering all-day Somali breakfast and some dishes that are hard to find in Edmonton, such as shakshuuka.

Eats on 118

Savoury plate from Mama Asha

We indulged in a savoury plate featuring beef suqaar strips, rice, a samosa, sabayat (Somali flat bread – my favourite), and bajiya (black eyed pea fritters), but without a doubt, it was dessert that stole the show. The moist coconut cake we were served to end our visit is definitely worth seeking out.

Eats on 118

That coconut cake!

Next, we walked over to Mini Kitchen. While not a retail outlet, the production kitchen on 118 Avenue is used to prepare heat-and-eat Indian and Thai meals sold at eight farmers’ markets in Edmonton, St. Albert, Fort Saskatchewan, and Red Deer. Mini Kitchen’s products can also be found at some specialty retail locations.

Damini Mohan prides herself on preparing healthy and nutritious meals without compromising flavour. With the exception of soy sauce, all ingredients they use are non-gmo, and the produce they source is primarily organic. I enjoyed the taste of butter chicken and naan we were provided, with layers of flavour without an overwhelming heat.

Eats on 118

Butter chicken from Mini Kitchen

Our final destination was Passion de France, a patisserie opened by Montreal ex-pat Mélanie Dovale in 2014. A halal pastry shop, Passion de France fills a niche in Edmonton, but she shared that she likes the community feel of the neighbourhood.

Eats on 118

Pastries on the patio

We were provided with a generous variety of their treats, including a lemon meringue tart, chocolate orange tart, eclair, opera cake, and a macaron. My office is only a few blocks away, so it wasn’t my first brush with Passion de France, nor will it be my last.

Eats on 118

Dessert from Passion de France

Kirsta Franke from Wild Heart indicated that Eats on 118 will be back again for two installments in June of next year. So if you missed out, make sure to check the Alberta Avenue website in the spring! Thanks again to the organizers for putting on another great event.

104 Street Feast by Edmonton Food Tours

Mack and I were very fortunate to be able to spend Food Day Canada in early August with Karen Anderson. Karen is a culinary ambassador based in Calgary, well-known for her food writing and tours of markets and dining districts in our neighbour to the south. However, in the last year, she expanded her Calgary Food Tours business to encompass Edmonton and Canmore as well, rebranding as Alberta Food Tours.

In Edmonton, they presently offer three types of tours: Strathcona Feast centres on the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market and adjacent area; 104 Street Feast winds its way through the City Market; and the newest Downtown Delights tour exposes diners to old and new gems in the core. Karen engaged several well-known food personalities to lead the local tours, including Edmonton Journal writer Liane Faulder and chef Cindy Lazarenko. But on occasion, Karen leads the groups herself, which is how we came to meet her in August.

Karen had invited us to attend one tour of our choosing; although Mack and I are weekly patrons of the City Market (and residents of 104 Street), we selected the 104 Street Feast option because we wanted to see how Edmonton Food Tours would highlight something so close to home for us (for the record, Get Cooking also offers a City Market tour, followed by a cooking class).

All Edmonton Food Tours are $115 per person, and cover all of the food and drink samples over the course of three hours. We learned later that Karen prides herself on compensating the restaurants and producers she has partnered with. In total, Alberta Food Tours supports over 70 producers in the province.

104 Street Feast begins at Kitchen, Chef Brad Smoliak’s culinary studio. Home to cooking classes and wine dinners, the space is warm and inviting, and Brad made us feel right at home. The small group gathered around the large island for coffee and an introduction of what to expect that morning.

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

Starting off at Kitchen

We started off with a hearty Ukrainian brunch that we would contribute to. Brad gave us a quick tutorial on how to assemble perogies before setting us loose. He’d prepared a basic dough (a simple and ingenious 2:1 ratio of flour to Dairyland sour cream, mixed together with a dough hook) and a filling of potatoes and Winding Road cheese for us to use. Since his philosophy at the studio is to get people back into the kitchen, Brad recommends having a perogy party to socialize while making up enough batches to go around.

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

Making perogies!

This was the highlight of the day for me – it was my first time making perogies “from scratch”, and it is something I could definitely see myself doing in the future.

After that, the dishes just kept on coming from the kitchen. Served family-style, this was a unique brunch that I couldn’t imagine being offered anywhere else. Although all of us had big appetites, we barely made a dent in the food.

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

Brad serves up perogies

The meal highlighted ingredients sourced from the City Market. There was a simple and fresh salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, and radishes dressed with cold pressed canola oil that helped cut through the richness of some of the other dishes (I especially loved the flecks of dill).

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

Salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes

Meatballs, made with Acme ground beef and Irvings Farm Fresh pork, were simmered in a rich mushroom gravy, while Brad’s house-made kielbasa was accompanied by local Brassica Mustard.

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

Meatballs with mushroom gravy

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

House-made kielbasa

The nalsknky were easily my favourite, a house-made buttermilk cheese rolled in a crepe then doused in a mustard cream sauce. The perogies held up well, considering the inexperienced hands that had created them, and were served in Mack’s preferred way – with onions and lots of butter.

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

Nalsknky

Satisfied and eager to stretch our legs, the group wandered over to the City Market to commence the tour. In all, we would stop at ten different vendors or shops.

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

With Pat Batten from Ocean Odyssey Inland

At each vendor, Karen would provide some background about the business, then for most, we were offered a taste of a product or a sample to take home.

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

Sampling steak and cheese pies from Meat Street’s Thea Avis

Given the market was in full swing with other customers to serve, it wasn’t possible for each vendor to tell their own story, but I did appreciate when this was possible. For instance, Alan Cosh, one of the founders of the Fruits of Sherbrooke, shared with us the evolution of the non-profit that began in order to reduce food waste. They began with the production of applesauce, then pies, but finally found their form in jams. Today, they make 45 different varieties (including their bestseller, a chipotle rhubarb ketchup), and having finally broken even two years ago, is now making fruit snacks and applesauce tubes for inner city schools.

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

Alan Cosh from Fruits of Sherbrooke

We also had the opportunity to chat with Ian Treuer of Winding Road Cheese. Based in Smoky Lake, Winding Road is unique because of their use of a plant-based thistle rennet (as opposed to the more common animal-based rennet). Ian was also fresh from a second place award at the American Cheese Society Conference for his washed rind RDB cheese, which is quite the coup for a cheesemaker who stared as a hobbyist just a few years ago. Winding Road currently offers seven different types of cheese, ranging from the stronger Highland Hall, a soft bloomy rind cheese, to a mild German butter cheese. Mack, upon sampling the award-winning RDB, actually stopped in his tracks to appreciate its flavour.

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

Ian Treuer from Winding Road Cheese

The entire tour took place at a relaxed pace, and we never felt rushed to move on. The three hour length was reasonable, and would allow guests to continue to browse the market afterwards on their own if they chose to do so. As a whole, the 104 Street Feast is a good resource for locals hoping to learn more about the market, as stories and firsthand connections to producers can be very powerful, but I did think the selection of vendors leaned more towards prepared products. It’s my bias as the City Market provides the foundation of our weekly groceries, so I would have liked to see more farmers included apart from Gull Valley and Reclaim Farm. A meat or egg producer would have rounded things out nicely, and might provide locals with a reason to return to the market on a more frequent basis.

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

City Market

Still, the fact that not one, but two tours centre around the City Market is encouraging. 104 Street Feast definitely sets itself apart with the decadent Ukrainian brunch, perogy lesson, and the opportunity to hear from producers firsthand. If you’re hoping to learn more about one of Edmonton’s food institutions, I’d encourage you to consider joining this tour.

Edmonton Food Tours’ 104 Street Feast continues weekly every Saturday until October 7, 2017.

Will Bike for Food: Food Bike Tour

Back in July, Mack and I were invited to join a Food Bike Tour. In their second year, the local company “strives to promote local people, places and products through healthy living”, merging a love of cycling and food. Each tour is unique, with stops at 4-6 locations. Tickets are $99 each, and cover all of the food and drink provided over the course of the 6 hour tour. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own bike, though we ended up renting through their partner, River Valley Adventure Company, at a discounted rate of $40 per bike for the day.

We met the rest of our tour group at Ezio Farone Park that Saturday morning. Collectively, we numbered around 40 participants, more than enough to comprise a critical mass to lend confidence to less experienced road cyclists like myself.

Foodie Bike Tour//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Vanessa kicks off the tour

Food Bike Tour owner and tour leader Vanessa Ojeda was full of energy as she welcomed the group and provided an overview of the day. We’d all received an e-mail outlining the itinerary in advance, but we were also introduced to the three other guides who would be along for the ride, ready and able to help with bike fixes or first aid needs.

Our first leg took us through some of the river valley trails and up to High Street, where we stopped for some cheese education at Paddy’s Cheese. Fern Janzen has owned Paddy’s since 2001, and shared some of her wisdom with us:

  • store hard cheeses in cheesecloth, soft cheeses in thin wax paper, blue cheeses in tin foil
  • cheese doesn’t respond well to changes in temperature and humidity, so it’s best not to let it linger out of the fridge for too long
  • don’t freeze cheese (except she recommended grating cheese ends that can be repurposed in a recipe for cheese spread)

Fern shared that although truffled cheeses were once the most expensive product she stocked, it’s now the burrata, a fresh cheese that must be sold within two weeks.

Paddy's International Cheese

Fern shares her cheese knowledge

Before departing, Fern offered us several samples of cheese. Mack’s favourite was the wookey hole cheddar, a cave aged farmstand cheese from the UK.

We pedaled back downtown for our only full meal at Grandin Fish and Chips. We were given the freedom to select anything off the menu, though everyone stuck to the restaurant’s namesake dish.

Grandin Fish & Chips

Haddock and chips at Grandin

Chef Jesse Morrison-Gauthier was cooking behind the counter, and curiously didn’t address the crowd. It would have been nice to hear from him firsthand, particularly about the fresh products they’ve sourced from Effing Seafoods and Fin’s.

After the delicious but heavy meal, it was nice to get back on the bike and work it off. We rode to Cafe Sorrentino’s on 107 Avenue. At each of the stops, Food Bike Tour staff made sure those without locks would have their bikes chained together, something Mack and I appreciated for the convenience of not having to lock up our bikes individually.

Inside, Chris Hrynyk, the Assistant Corporate Chef with Sorrentino’s, led us through a condensed cooking assembly lesson. The location hosts a number of different cooking classes for kids, adults, and team building. Our group prepared (and enjoyed) arancini and bacon-wrapped figs.

Sorrentino's

A lesson in arancini

Around us, staff were busy preparing meals for various airlines – I wasn’t aware that Sorrentino’s supplied the pre-packaged boxes sold on some Sunwing and WestJet flights.

Sorrentino's

Forming a bacon-wrapped fig

By the time we departed for our next stop, temperatures were peaking at 31 degrees. Not being an avid cyclist really made the next leg challenging for me, particularly in the heat. The route took us through the lovely Mill Creek Ravine trails, so I was grateful for the shade, but in all honesty I probably could have used a rest break in between.

The itinerary had originally called for a stop at Cafe Bicyclette, but a private booking there meant we skipped straight to The Wired Cup in Strathearn.

The Wired Cup

Dave Jackson of The Wired Cup

Open for ten years, the neighbourhood coffee shop makes their own muffins, granola, and bread for their sandwiches. We sampled some of the housemade granola, iced coffee, and iced tea while perusing the items in the gift shop.

We biked back across the river to Parlour on Capital Boulevard. General Manager Steve Roy took us through the history of the 111 year old building (warehouse, car garage, casino/gentleman’s club, coffee house, and hair salon) before treating the group to a tasting of three of their draught wines. I appreciated that two of the three wines they served were Canadian, including a personal favourite, the Red Rooster pinot gris.

Parlour

Wine tasting at Parlour

Our final restaurant was close to home – the newly-opened Bottega on 104 Street. Neither Mack or I had been yet, so it was a great opportunity to sample some of their fare.

Bottega

The scene at Bottega

The restaurant prepared several of their pastas and pizzas for the group to taste – we all must have been pretty hungry by that point, as the food disappeared quickly from the buffet table!

Bottega

One of my favourites that night – rigatoni abruzzi

Many people decided to linger, purchasing drinks or other dishes to round out the day. We unfortunately had to return our bikes before the rental office closed, so we couldn’t stay. Our parting gift from the tour was a bag with snacks, water, and some valuable incentives to return to the businesses we visited that day, including a free pizza voucher from Parlour, a $10 gift card from Grandin Fish & Chips, and a 2 for 1 coffee at the Wired Cup. Vanessa also provided each of us with a Food Bike Tour passport; we had received a stamp at each stop along the way. If we attended future tours and collected a total of 30 stamps, we would be eligible for a $50 gift certificate from one of the tour restaurants.

One of my favourite aspects of the tour was the diversity of the businesses we visited, and the hands-on activities that were incorporated. It was neat to taste, learn, and cook our way through the city!

Most of the businesses are compensated for their participation, but in the process hope to expose their business to a new crowd.  The attendees we talked to had a great time and were very open to learning about new dining options, so while it seemed to have a positive affect, only time will tell if the tour will result in return visits.

The length was also an obvious challenge for me in terms of time commitment and fitness level required, as we ended up cycling nearly 30km that day. When asked, it appears their target demographic are avid cyclists, so the distance wouldn’t be such a barrier for this group. Still, if Food Bike Tours hopes to expand their reach in the future, they may want to consider half day tours on evenings or weekends that remain on one side of the river. It would be a nice teaser for those less comfortable with urban cycling as well.

Overall, I commend Food Bike Tours on encouraging alternative transportation modes to explore Edmonton. Vanessa’s passion for food and fitness is obvious, and she is helping to expose some local gems to a wider audience. Thanks again for having us!

Food Bike Tours runs until September – their last tours this year take place on September 9 and 16, 2017.

Orchard Tour at the Green & Gold Community Garden

The Green & Gold Community Garden has been in operation at the University of Alberta’s South Campus since 2009. Volunteer-run, the proceeds raised from the two acre farm go towards a not-for-profit organization that supports women in Rwanda. They grow about 50 different types of produce, with the availability posted on their website every week. Though I’d been to the garden early on and a few times over the years, I wasn’t aware that the farm was adjacent to a small orchard. At the end of July, Mack and I attended a free tour of the orchard to learn more about some of the fruits that can be grown in our climate.

Green & Gold Community Garden Orchard Tour

Green & Gold Community Garden

The tour was led by Gabe Botar, who worked for the U of A as a horticulturalist for 30 years and initiated the orchard. Although he has since retired, he is now a mentor to the Green & Gold volunteers who have taken over the responsibility of caring for the orchard he developed over 25 years ago.

Green & Gold Community Garden Orchard Tour

Gabe Botar

The hour long tour showcased the variety contained in the orchard. Some of the fruits we encountered are more commonly found around the city – apples, Evans cherries, saskatoons, goji berries – but some were unexpected, such as pears, grapes, apricots and butternut. The Green & Gold Garden sells the apricots collected from the trees, so it’s worth a visit if you’re wondering what they taste like!

Green & Gold Community Garden Orchard Tour

In the orchard

It was clear Gabe was passionate about this subject, and could have easily extended the tour into the evening hours. And though he is officially retired, he’s still experimenting – his latest breeding project is miniature pears.

Green & Gold Community Garden Orchard Tour

Grapes

I will admit that as a non-gardener, much of the technical information about grafting and root stocks sailed above my head, but it was still a neat experience to see different types of fruit that can thrive in Edmonton.

Green & Gold Community Garden Orchard Tour

Evans cherries

The Green & Gold Garden will be hosting three more tours in August, on August 15 (7-8pm), and August 19 & 26 (1-2pm). If you intend to go – plan to arrive early and pick up some produce before the tour begins.

Update on Edmonton Chinatown Walking Tours

We’re halfway through our series of free Chinatown walking tours that we introduced back in June, and it’s safe to say that the interest from Edmontonians is alive and well!

Edmonton Chinatown Tour

The four tours were fully subscribed in a matter of weeks, and the two groups we’ve led so far have numbered up to 40 people. Nearly all have been attended by locals, most who were not aware that Edmonton had two Chinatowns and many who were looking for a reason to stay and explore the neighbourhood further.

Edmonton Chinatown Tour

Although the historic and cultural component provides a key foundation to the tour, it’s been interesting that many of the questions we receive relate to commercial Chinatown. People have appreciated the stops we make to introduce the proprietors of several businesses along the way, and many have asked for restaurant recommendations to extend their time in Chinatown. We understand that for many, food is the gateway into the area, and like some other communities have done, use that to our advantage to encourage more foot traffic.

Edmonton Chinatown Tour

We decided to add one more tour date in August to accommodate the demand -  consider joining us on August 27, 2017 if you’ve been curious to learn more about Edmonton’s Chinatown! We’ll be reviewing the pilot after September to determine how we might continue the tours in the future.

Edmonton Chinatown Tour

If you aren’t able to make the tour but want an excuse to explore the neighbourhood, consider attending the Moonlight Carnival on September 16, 2017 from noon to 9:30pm at the Ukrainian National Federation Hall (10629 98 Street). Organized by the Chinatown Business Revitalization Zone, you can expect vendors and performances.

Alternatively, mark your calendar for the Mid-Autumn Festival on September 23, 2017, from 1-9pm, back for its forth year in a new location at the Alberta Legislature grounds. Though not in Chinatown, the cultural event features food, crafts, performances and cumulates with a lantern parade and a beautiful display of floating wishing boats on the water.

Hope to see you out and about in and around Chinatown this summer!

Recap: Eats on 118, Bowling Edition

I had such a grand time at the first Eats on 118 in April of this year that I knew I had to sign up for their second event in late June. Su was the perfect dining companion as we ate (and bowled!) our way down the street together.

Organized by Wild Heart Collective, the tours are designed to showcase businesses that may otherwise be overlooked because of the overall reputation of the area. Although I had been to some of the restaurants prior, it’s always interesting to learn more about the people behind the businesses.

We started our evening at Lan’s Asian Grill. Named for their mother, Lan’s is operated by three siblings: Tom manages front of house, Monica ably leads the kitchen, and Vince handles all marketing and photography. They’ve been in business since 2008, and though their parents taught them to be great hosts, they didn’t want them to be restaurant owners. But with several generations of chefs and food entrepreneurs in their family, it was in their blood, and it’s clear that this family is passionate about what they do. Tom shared that they just signed another five year lease, and they’re happy with how the neighbourhood has continued to grow since they moved nearly a decade ago.

Eats on 118

Vince, Monica, and Tom of Lan’s Asian Grill

We sampled several small plates at Lan’s. Everything is made from scratch (so they can manage the dietary restrictions of most diners), and pride themselves in using free range chicken and organic vegetables.

The carrot and green papaya salad was my favourite course – vibrant, crunchy, and refreshing (I had to laugh when Tom said the heat level was “baby spice”, considering it was on the hot side for me).

Eats on 118

Green papaya and carrot salad

We also tried their chicken satay skewers and a lovely dessert of passion fruit and guava panna cotta.

Eats on 118

Passion fruit and guava panna cotta

Our second stop was just around the corner – The Duck (which some may remember as The Blind Duck) is now led by Alex.

Eats on 118

Kirsta Franke of the Wild Heart Collective introduces us to The Duck

He served us a buffet-style Mediterranean spread, including baba ganoush, hummus, and fatayar (meat and spinach pies). Though most items we tried don’t appear on their regular menu, they are often featured as daily specials, and are available through their catering service. Of the samples we tried, the fava bean dip was at the top of my list, creamy and well seasoned.

Eats on 118

Bites from The Duck

I was most excited for our third and final stop. Plaza Bowling Co. has been in the Stride family for three generations since it opened in 1959. The facility has been meticulously maintained for the nearly 60 years they’ve operated, as it changed hands from grandfather, to father, and now to son.

Although Trevor Stride never thought he’d continue the family business, when his dad told him he’d be putting it up for sale, it just didn’t feel right. So on January 1, 2017 he returned to Edmonton from Vancouver in the hopes of creating a place for people to socialize. He brought in TVs and craft beer, focusing on brews from Alberta and BC on six rotating taps. In the fall, they’ll also be serving up some food prepared by Drift.

Eats on 118

Su has great form!

They have sixteen five-in lanes, and the only remaining wooden lanes in the city. The space feels worn in, laid back, and comfortable, and we had such a great time bowling one game that we stayed for a second.

Eats on 118

Five pin bowling!

Because Plaza Bowl doesn’t have a full kitchen, they allow groups to order food in. In this case, Eats on 118 wanted to showcase another business off the Avenue – Otto.

Whereas Plaza’s refrain is “craft beer and bowling”, Otto operates on “craft beer and sausages”. It’s a gem of a restaurant in Norwood, relaxed and family friendly. They served up two different kinds of Fuge sausages and coleslaw for us to try – the Otto dog (a bratwurst stuffed with Sylvan Star smoked gouda) was new to me, and will definitely be on order on my next visit to Otto.

Eats on 118

Otto dog and coleslaw

Kudos to Wild Heart Collective for putting together such a fun evening! If you missed it, you have one last chance this year to (re)discover Alberta Avenue – the last Eats on 118 takes place on August 30, and tickets are just $42.

Recap: Tour of Sunworks Farm

Over the years, Mack and I have been fortunate to visit many of the farms from which we source our food, including Riverbend Gardens, Bles Wold, and Irvings Farm Fresh. In June, we were able to add another to that list – Sunworks Farm.

Although our primary chicken and egg supplier is Sunshine Organic, because they’ve become a part-time vendor in the winter incarnation of the City Market, we often find ourselves at the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market between October and May. Sunworks Farm has been a staple at that market since for more than 15 years; owners Ron and Sheila Hamilton are a fixture for regulars – Ron tempting passing shoppers with sausage samples and Sheila tending to customers behind the busy counter. Since 2012, their meat and egg products have also been available seven days a week at Blush Lane down the street (in addition to 3 other Edmonton markets and 1 Calgary market). So just how have they managed to grow their business? A few weeks ago, we were invited to learn more about Sunworks from Ron, Sheila, and Issac Fregoso and tour the farm along with a group of other food bloggers.

Sunworks Farm Tour

Sheila, Issac and Ron

Located about an hour southwest of Edmonton, Sunworks occupies about 400 acres, raising chickens, turkeys, pigs, and beef year-round. When they started back in 1992, Ron shared that he and Sheila raised animals primarily to feed their own family; they had learned about unconventional farming practices and the possibilities of holistic management. This snowballed as friends also wanted their products, and eventually, this led to vending at a farmers’ market in 1998. And while they have grown in that time – from 80 chicks to 130,000 chickens this year – their values have never waivered. Sunworks Farm has been certified organic since 1997, and certified humane since 2005.

I was actually most interested in seeing their chicken coops. Back in May, I had the chance to visit a conventional egg farm – just how different would Sunworks be?

Sunworks receives their chicks about 3 hours after hatching. In the summer, they’re raised in a barn until they have enough feathers to handle colder nights outside (of course, birds are raised wholly indoors in the winter).

Sunworks Farm Tour

Indoor chicks

When they’re ready, laying hens and meat birds are relocated into moveable shelters, shifted daily so the chickens can access fresh grass. Nesting boxes line the walls of the shelter, and fresh water is always available. Even with 350 chickens per shelter, the space is roughly double what conventional birds have access to.

Sunworks Farm Tour

Moveable shelters

Sunworks has quota for 5,000 laying hens, and harvest about 300 dozen eggs a day. Their hens start laying after about 20 weeks, and are able to produce for one year before being processed as soup hens.

Sunworks Farm Tour

Laying hens

Through experience, they’ve found that the plywood walls are cooler than plastic siding, and a roof is necessary on the back end of the shelter to keep out predators like coyotes and owls. When I asked why the shelters were built so high (unlike other mobile shelters that are lower to the ground), Sheila remarked that besides helping with heat management, they’re also more human friendly – all of their eggs are hand picked.

Sunworks Farm Tour

Meat birds

We did notice a couple of chickens who had “flown the coop”, and were just outside of the shelters. These birds had been pecked and will fully recover after a few weeks apart.

Sunworks Farm Tour

Looking in

While we couldn’t visit their pigs as they are raised on a separate piece of land, we were able to see the cattle from a distance (they retreated, of course, as our group advanced). Ron said they source their cattle from four different family producers; the breed is less important to them than being able to support other farm families. At present, they have about 65 cattle. They are grass fed their whole lives, supplemented with alfalfa pellets in the winter. Ron believes this produces a leaner product – I can attest to that; we’re big fans of their beef.

Sunworks Farm Tour

Ron with his cattle in the distance

Like the chickens, the cattle are moved daily so they have access to fresh grass. The other benefit of relocating them frequently is to ensure their manure is spread around as well – Ron remarked that it can take between 50-100 years to create a layer of top soil. Though the land wasn’t in great shape when they moved here 25 years ago, he indicated that much has changed even in that time. It’s important to them that the land is returned in better condition for the next generation.

Sunworks Farm Tour

Cattle

In 2015, Sunworks was able to open their own meat processing facility on site. They can process up to 3,500 birds a day at 1,000 birds an hour. Ron and Sheila are hands on every step of the way – Ron hangs each bird, while Sheila does the “dispatching” – she stuns each bird to ensure they don’t go into the scalding tank live.

Sunworks Farm Tour

Processing facility

They are supported by a team of people who help with the cutting, packaging, and processing of the value-added products. They don’t use liquid smoke or heavy cures for their sausages and deli meats, and Ron shared that his current favourite product is their turkey ham.

Sunworks Farm Tour

Sunworks products

To end our visit, we were treated to a five-course dinner featuring various Sunworks meats, prepared by Chef Kevin Zellweger of the Quarter Section Food Company. They run a catering operation and is in the process of opening a bakery in Leduc.

We nibbled on a delicious assortment of Sunworks charcuterie, Sylvan Star cheese and freshly baked bread before moving on to a salad spiked with some of the tastiest crumbled bacon I’ve had in some time (from Sunworks, of course).

Sunworks Farm Tour

Charcuterie and cheese

Chef Zellweger also prepared chicken leg confit atop asparagus and mushroom risotto, but the resounding favourite was the beef wellington – medium rare and gluten-free to boot.

Sunworks Farm Tour

Beef wellington

We had also spied the triple chocolate mousse when in the cooler earlier on in the tour, but it was even more appealing plated, served with flecks of edible silver.

Sunworks Farm Tour

Triple chocolate mousse

If Ron and Sheila’s generosity wasn’t enough already, it extended into a parting gift containing several packs of sausage to take home (including Mack’s favourite – chicken garlic and rosemary sausages).

Thanks again to Ron, Sheila, and Issac for hosting us, and to Jacquie for organizing this opportunity! Sunworks will likely open their doors for a family-friendly public tour in September, so keep your eyes on their Facebook page for details.

Introducing: Edmonton Chinatown Walking Tours

Back in 2013 and 2014, I was part of a small team of volunteers who wanted to bring some vibrancy to the streets of Edmonton’s Chinatown. Our solution was to program a night market that involved food, vendors, and a variety of performances to help bring more foot traffic to the area and celebrate some of the distinct cultural aspects that Chinatown has to offer.

97 Street Night Market
2014 Night Market

Both markets were successful, and some who attended appreciated the encouragement that brought them to a neighborhood they did not normally have cause to explore. While we weren’t able to continue the night market, we have been thinking about ways to continue highlighting Chinatown that are more sustainable.

97 Street Night Market
Lion dance at the 2014 Night Market

One of the more popular aspects of the night market we had included in both years were walking tours. Led by volunteer community members with expertise in different areas such as history, public art, and food, the tours provided participants with the opportunity to see Chinatown with a different lens, or gave them a reason to return again on their own.

97 Street Night Market
Tour at the 2013 Night Market

In May, Kathryn Lennon and Claudia Wong-Rusnack organized a Chinatown-themed tour as a part of Jane’s Walk this year. More than thirty people turned up, so the interest in learning more about this area of the city is definitely alive and well.

Edmonton Chinatown Walking Tour

Jane’s Walk tour

In this spirit, we will be offering a series of free Chinatown walking tours this summer, in the hopes of being able to introduce even more people to an area of the city that is sometimes overlooked and underutilized.

Dates: June 11, July 9, August 13, September 10, 2017 (second Sunday of the month)

Time: 10:30am – 12:30pm

Location: meet at Edmonton Tourism, 9990 Jasper Avenue (rain or shine!)

RSVP on Facebook: June 11, July 9, August 13, September 10

If you’ve ever wondered why Edmonton has two Chinatowns, learning more about some of the development pressures faced by the neighbourhood, or have been curious about which businesses you should visit, please consider coming for a tour! We’re open to feedback as well, and will be adding information to the tours as they happen.

Hope to see you there!

Road Trip: Exploring East of Edmonton

A few weeks ago, we picked up the twentieth edition of the Go East of Edmonton guide from one of those free magazine boxes. It was the push we needed to finally explore some of the communities just east of the city, with a visual map that aided us to plan a day trip away.

Fort Saskatchewan

We started our morning at The Downtown Diner. It was our second time, and we were reminded again of their incredible hospitality. The service was warm and consistent – they kept pace with the way in which I drink my morning coffee; not an easy feat.

At this point, I should remark that the Diner is more highly regarded for their lunch and dinner plates, though they do have a few all-day breakfast specials. I always prefer to have eggs for brunch, so chose the basic eggs, meat and toast platter. Everything was fine, but the breakfast plates never pop as much as the other dishes.

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Breakfast platter

Mack’s mac and cheese, for instance, was a rich and creamy delight, topped with a crunchy bread crumb crust. He also appreciated the accompanying garlic toast.

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Mac and cheese

Bruderheim

After brunch, we were off to neighbouring Bruderheim, a small town of 1,300 known for being the site of Canada’s largest recovered meteorite (back in 1960). More recently, they are among a handful of Alberta towns that have instituted a curfew for teenagers.

One of the downsides to exploring small town Alberta on a statutory holiday was most of the family-run businesses we encountered were closed. One of the exceptions in Bruderheim was Theil’s Greenhouses, a small but charming greenhouse with a good selection of flowers, planters, and vegetables.

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Theil’s Greenhouses

I was particularly impressed with their array of tomato varieties (we picked up one of our perennial favourites – sweet baby girl) and a planter for Grandma Male.

Mundare

It’s always been on my bucket list to plan a road trip based around the unusually large monuments all over Alberta. We were able to hit up two on this trip, so it’s a start!

Mundare’s giant sausage ring (commemorating and erected by Stawnichy’s, the well-known Ukrainian meat shop) is set up just beyond the welcome gates on the town’s main street. It was built for photo ops, with a staircase in the centre to ensure tourists can be captured within the ring.

Mundare Sausage

The sausage

Just steps away from the monument is Stawnichy’s itself, one of the only shops on the street open that day. They were still doing brisk sales – their products are available at Mundare Sausage House in Edmonton, but it was nice to get it from the source; we bought some Ukrainian sausage and jerky to take home.

Vegreville

Vegreville was next on our list of towns and massive monuments. The pysanka is one of the most frequently cited large-scale sculptures, and though I had seen it in photos many times, it took visiting it in person to realize it rotates.

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The pysanka!

Although the pysanka isn’t accompanied by a staircase, it’s actually situated in more picturesque surroundings. Nestled in a park, we stretched our legs in the green space that featured a decommissioned caboose, playground, skate park, gazebo, and picnic areas. The playground even featured the exercise equipment that Mack and I so enjoy.

Vegreville Kinsmen Park

Onto the train!

Last year’s Vegreville Country Fair is actually featured on the cover of the Go East of Edmonton Guide – it definitely caught my eye, and is something I hope to get to later this summer (it runs August 10-12, 2017).

Elk Island Park

Last June, we took a turn through Elk Island Park and were besieged by mosquitos, so we thought a visit earlier in the year might result in better conditions. While this was true, I don’t think we anticipated as many people as we encountered. Although there were a steady stream of cars leaving as we drove in, the parking lot was oversubscribed.

It was great to see so many families taking advantage of the gorgeous weather over the long weekend. There were line-ups for boat rentals, blankets pitched every which way, and many groups set up for picnics.

Elk Island National Park

Busy day at the park

We weren’t dressed for an intense hike, so we took some of the more leisurely trails just off Astotin Lake. And though I was an initial sceptic about the Parks Canada #sharethechair campaign, I have to say I’m now a happy convert.

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Sharing the chair, again

Sadly for Mack, we didn’t happen upon any wildlife on our walk that day, but I’m sure we will be back to Elk Island before the summer’s end. They are hosting quite a number of special events over the next few months, including Parks Day on July 15, the annual Bison Festival on August 19, and Dark Sky Preserve Party on September 2-3, 2017.

Elk Island National Park

Sunny skies

It was a fun way to spend a day exploring the communities just outside of Edmonton. I’d recommend the Go East of Edmonton guide if you’re looking to plan your own daytrip!

Taste Alberta Visit: Morinville Colony Egg Farm

When Mack and I started going to the farmers’ market regularly ten years ago, we became particularly conscious about where were sourcing our meat proteins. For us, the relationship we have with the vendors we buy from is as important as the conditions in which the animals are raised; as a result, we’ve even visited some of the farms we purchase from first hand.

That said, it’s not lost on me that much of the agriculture in this province is based on conventional farming methods. And while we have chosen to invest our food dollars based on what we value, I’m open to learning more about other farming practices. Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending a tour of a local conventional egg producer organized by Taste Alberta.

We started off with breakfast at the Glasshouse Bistro at St. Albert’s Enjoy Centre. It was a bright and sunny day, with the clear enclosure around the restaurant amplifying the beautiful conditions outside. The family-style meal featured eggs with a house-made hollandaise, bacon, sausage, and addictive spiced potatoes.

Taste Alberta Morinville Colony Tour

Breakfast at Glasshouse Bistro

Our group of half a dozen then rode a bus about 30 minutes north west of St. Albert to the Morinville Hutterite Colony. The colony is made up of 120 people and occupies 6,000 acres. They are a mixed farm, with grain, livestock, and dairy rounding out operations.

The Colony’s egg farming division is extensive, holding a hen quota of 20,160. In 2013, they were named the Alberta Egg Producer of the Year by the Egg Farmers of Alberta (who represent more than 160 registered egg farmers in the province). On average, the colony produces 1400 dozen eggs per day, and sells them to eighty restaurants in the area including the Hotel Macdonald and Cora’s, and commercially in Edmonton at the Italian Centre and through Four Whistle Farms. I was surprised to learn that Hutterites produce between 80-85% of all eggs in Alberta.

Taste Alberta Morinville Colony Tour

At the Morinville Colony

Paul Wurz, Morinville Colony’s Egg Manager, led the tour of the barn and the sorting facility. Though I have visited many farms in the past (albeit small operations by comparison), it was the first time I’ve been required to suit up for biosecurity reasons. With 10,000 hens housed in the single barn though, it’s easy to understand how an errant virus could quickly contaminate the entire flock, which would result in serious financial consequences for the farm.

Taste Alberta Morinville Colony Tour

With Sharman in our suits

While we weren’t permitted to take photos inside the barn (we were told an accidental flash might disturb the hens), the following photo from the Egg Farmers of Alberta captures a conventional hen house, and is very similar to what we encountered that day.

As mentioned, the barn we toured housed 10,000 hens. The cages were stacked three high, with seven hens in each cage. Each hen is provided with 72 square inches of space. We were told that this type of hen housing is being phased out in favour of furnished or enriched housing, which features more space, nesting boxes, perches, scratch pads and dust baths. The Egg Farmers of Alberta states that by 2020, 32% of hen housing in the province will be furnished or free-run/free range.

One of the advantages to this system is undoubtedly the built-in automation. The hens are allocated feed (105g per bird, per day, a mix of grain and soy for protein), and eggs laid roll down onto a belt that cycles them into the sorting facility next door. Manure is collected on a different belt underneath the metal grate of the cages, and carried outside for composting every four days. This was one of the factors Paul was most proud of – his eggs never touch manure; “In my books, the healthiest eggs are from barns like this,” he said.

Eggs cycled from the barn

In this barn, all of the birds were 24 weeks old. The colony raises all its own pullets (chicks), and they are placed in the barn at 19 weeks when they start to lay eggs (90% lay an egg a day). They lay for one year, after which they are butchered, then replaced by a new flock.

Before I set foot in the barn, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had heard stories of cramped living quarters, dirty conditions, and mottled birds, so what I saw was better than what I had anticipated. The birds were full-feathered, and apart from their obvious curiosity related to the visitors, they were relatively calm and quiet. In my opinion, the cages may be defined as humane, but it was hard to see so many birds in what appeared to be such a small space. In some ways, it was best summed up by a label that can be found at Save-On Foods, where they classify the different types of eggs available: “behaviours restricted”.

In the facility next door, the eggs travel on a conveyor belt to be cleaned, inspected, then sorted. The eggs are rinsed, removing any bacteria that may have been on the shell, as well as the protective barrier provided by the hen, necessitating their immediate refrigeration.

Taste Alberta Morinville Colony Tour

Rinsing the eggs

Next, the eggs are inspected for any blood spots, unusually large air pockets, or cracks using a light placed underneath the conveyor belt, one of the jobs still done by a person. Only 1% of eggs don’t pass this inspection for sale.

Taste Alberta Morinville Colony Tour

Inspecting the eggs

Lastly, the eggs are automatically sorted by weight from small through to jumbo sizes. The eggs are packed and boxed by another person. All told, the facility can be run by just three people due to the automation involved.

Sorting the eggs

Paul provided us each with a carton of eggs to take home, and was obviously proud of their quality. Among the feedback he receives from the restaurants he supplies – “My eggs don’t run – you don’t have to chase them,” he says, referring to the firmness of the egg white. Interestingly, he ensures the feed mixture doesn’t colour the yolks beyond pale yellow (the inclusion of alfalfa or corn can darken the colour), even though many consumers now consider darker yolks to have more nutrients. Paul shared that when the yolks have been darker in colour, he has received complaints from some of his customers.

Taste Alberta Morinville Colony Tour

Paul Wurz

I appreciated how open Paul was to having visitors at the Colony. His transparency and willingness to answer our questions was a welcome change from what I thought we might encounter. Thanks to the Morinville Colony and Egg Farmers of Alberta for hosting us that morning, and to Taste Alberta for organizing a very informative tour.