Culina at the Muttart Conservatory

When the Muttart Conservatory finally reopened after over a year of renovations in June 2009, there were high hopes the revamped Ela Euro Cafe, located at the front of the facility (and thus could be accessed without paying an entrance fee), would help draw residents and others to the evergreen oasis. Given its prime Cloverdale location, and really, the fact that it is the only food establishment in the immediate area, Ela Euro should have been a slam dunk.

While the space was bright and functional – a bank of windows and a large enclosed patio – the food couldn’t have been much of a draw. I can’t say we stopped by all that often, but on two instances we were at the Muttart, the cafe was empty.

Before: Ela Euro

As a result, the City’s new partnership with one of Edmonton’s most recognized and upstanding local chains was probably a most welcome one. Culina Muttart, the restaurant’s third outpost, opened on December 2, 2010 in the Ela Euro space. In addition to offering their comforting fare (that highlights some of the area’s best producers), the staff will also be utilizing the Muttart’s greenhouse space to grow herbs and greens for the restaurant.

Culina at the Muttart

After: Culina Muttart

On Monday night, Mack and I attended the launch of Culina Muttart. After the full-on tasting at ZINC’s fall menu launch, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. It turned out instead of a sit-down event, the evening was an informal one, set up reception style, which suited the casual cafe space perfectly.

Culina at the Muttart

Culina Muttart

It reminded me very much of the Meet the Locals Festival at Planet Organic – producers set up at tables along the periphery of the room, offering samples of their wares. Brad Lazarenko, Director and Executive Chef of Culina, said that the producers represented a range of relationship lengths – from Spring Creek Ranch, who they have sourced from for over five years, to EnSante, a brand new supplier.

Spring Creek Ranch

Kirstin Kotelko of Spring Creek Ranch slices up some beef

Meeting and chatting with the producers was a great way to really get a sense of the philosophy behind Culina’s food (which was probably the purpose of the evening), but it probably wasn’t the best way to find out what to expect at Culina Muttart, in terms of the menu and plating of dishes.

Yellowhead Brewery

Leon Hunter of Yellowhead Brewery

That said, there was one dish served, a salad featuring quinoa, Sylvan Star gouda and a Mighty Trio Organics dressing (made specifically for Culina) that is actually on the menu. The salad had great texture, and at the very least, made me feel less guilty for the meat and cheese consumption to follow.


Salad with Mighty Trio Organics dressing

Shayne and Vicky Horn of Tangled Ridge Ranch, a lamb producer, were new to us (we loved the title on Shayne’s business card that read, “Flock Master”). The slices of lamb they served us were incredibly tender and moist – I hope that same preparation ends up on the Culina menu (Tangled Ridge currently only sells whole carcasses).

Tangle Ridge Ranch

Shayne and Vicky of Tangled Ridge Ranch

Speaking of sheep, we also had our fill of sheep’s cheese (and air dried charcuterie) from Brian and Rhonda Headon, of The Cheesiry and O Sol’Meatos. Mack especially liked the cardamom salami.

The Cheesiry

Samples from The Cheesiry

The Cheesiry

Brian and Rhonda of The Cheesiry and O Sol’Meatos

Shame on us that this event was the first time we ever tried any of The Jam Lady’s products. Though we know they are a veritable City Market favourite, we always passed Donna by because we do really like the August Organics jam we always have on hand. After trying a few of her preserves and mustards however (the curried mustard is like nothing I’ve ever tasted), I know we will be loading up on a few jars very soon (her products are also available at Culina Muttart).

The Jam Lady

Bohdan and Donna Borody, aka “The Jam Man” and The Jam Lady

Guests were also invited to tour the pyramids, with interpreters pointing out the edible plants in each biome. We chose to tour the temperate pyramid, and while we learned a few things (Mack and I had no idea that seasons were induced in each biome – hence, spring in the temperate world), we were really hoping for a peek inside the greenhouse space to be used by Culina.

Feature Pyramid

The feature pyramid – all decked out for Valentine’s Day

Though the restaurant is currently only open for lunch on weekdays and brunch on weekends (during the Muttart’s operating hours), staff are working to possibly extend the restaurant’s hours into the evening, which would be particularly handy once the days are longer. Stay tuned!

Thanks again to Kiri and the rest of the Muttart staff for organizing this event – it was great opportunity to meet with some of the producers and taste some of the products that will be featured by Culina Muttart (a few other food bloggers have written about the event also: check out recaps by Liane, Twyla, Chris and Brittany).

Culina Muttart Conservatory Cafe
9626 – 96A Street
(780) 466-1181
Weekdays 10am-5pm; weekends & holidays 11am-5pm

Edmonton Corn Maze 2010

A few weeks ago, I took advantage of a Groupon offer for the Edmonton Corn Maze. At $8 for two admissions, it was a pretty good deal (though the regular price of $9/person has never been a deterrent for us).

We put the coupon to good use on Saturday, on the warmest night in recent memory. It seemed many other people were wanting to enjoy the weather as well, as neither of us had ever seen the corn maze as busy as it was yesterday. In addition to families with young children, there were many groups of teenagers – it appeared that most were taking advantage of the picnic facilities and fire pits to make the trip out to Spruce Grove a full night’s activity.

Edmonton Corn Maze


There have been some neat additions to the maze this year. While we didn’t stick around to watch the Corn Express in action, it looked like a fun ride for children (and adults) alike.

Edmonton Corn Maze

I couldn’t resist a photo

Also, the Corn Maze has developed SCVNGR, an app that is downloaded to be played on iPhone and Android phones. There is a text version for other mobile phones, but we chose to use the traditional ten question paper method to get through the maze.

Edmonton Corn Maze

SCVNGR instructions

While the stalks weren’t as green and hearty as they were during our visit last year, most of the corn still stood over six feet.

Edmonton Corn Maze

Mack in the maze

The design this year is a tribute to Fill-Up, the mascot for the Edmonton Food Bank. And though I seem to say this every year, we found the maze more difficult than the past few years. We somehow ended up skipping question marker 8, and after a few misguided choices, we were sure we had circled the same corner of the maze several times.

Edmonton Corn Maze

Through the corn

As we neared what we thought was the end, we were joined by a few other families who were similarly lost. We eventually found the exit, without the help of a corn cop. The elapsed time? About an hour, which was actually par for the course.

Edmonton Corn Maze


Thanks to the corn maze for a fun evening – we’ll be back next year!

The Edmonton Corn Maze is open until October 17, 2010. In late October, it reopens as the Farm of Fear (not intended for young children).

Valley Zoo: Onward with the Master Plan!

The Valley Zoo was one of those attractions that had been on my list to re-visit for some time – I had trouble even remembering when I last ventured out there. So I was delighted when I found out one of our board meetings was scheduled to take place at the Zoo, with a behind the scenes tour to precede the more formal portion of our monthly gathering.


A sunbathing alpaca (it had just received a haircut)

The Valley Zoo just celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. When it was originally built, it was conceived as the Storyland Valley Zoo, in line with most of the other zoos built in North America during that time period. Remnants of the original design can still be found around the site, but will soon be retired in favour of a more modern facility.

Storyland Valley Zoo

Storyland aspects

Bye, Humpty!

Humpty Dumpty won’t be put together again

Dean Treichel, the Operations Supervisor of the Zoo, was a fantastic guide, and was obviously passionate about his job and the facility. He was just bursting with pride, and keen to share his knowledge about the zoo with us.


Wallabies and rabbits – too cute!


Tigers, oh my! (we were led into the building where the animals are fed…I have never been that close to a tiger in my life)

Red Panda

Adorable red panda

The piece de resistance of our visit, and what I was most looking forward to, however, was Lucy. There has been much controversy in the past year over the zoo’s lone elephant, but above all the rhetoric, what shouldn’t be lost is how much her keepers care about her. Maureen, for instance, has been with Lucy for 21 years, and cheekily said, “I will be crazy glued naked to her body” if they ever take her away. I’m sure a sense of humour would be imperative to remaining sane under all the scrutiny.


Lucy on one of the seven walks she takes every day

After the tour, Dean presented the Master Plan for the Zoo, which was passed by City Council in 2005. So far, $43 million dollars have been earmarked for capital development over the next two years. What most impressed me about the plan was how the designs will not only provide more learning opportunities for visitors (a key, said Dean, for small zoos), but how they chose to really embrace animals of our northern climate. Moreover, they have incorporated several sustainability features, including a green roof on the sea lion retreat building and an Arctic marshland that will help filter and reuse water, with an end goal of net zero water usage (except for loss due to evaporation).

Zoo Master Plan Update

Master Plan

Many of the habitats he showed us were still in their conceptual stages, such as “forest homes”, which would be built on tree canopy platforms to allow patrons to watch animals in their natural, tree-bound environment. Or, eye-to-eye viewing of prairie dogs and their underground tunnels.

That said, construction has already begun on one of the most impressive planned upgrades – a new habitat for pinnipeds. Dean was confident that the design would lead to award-recognition for the zoo, and based on the slides, I’d have to agree. The 750L seal and sea lion saltwater pool will be stunning, with details that elevate the design from straightforward to remarkable – including theatrical northern lights on the buildings and an acrylic panel that will mean the animals can swim beneath the feet of visitors.

Seal habitat

Arctic Shores model

Another project is The Wander, a central trail system through the zoo mimicking the North Saskatchewan River in design that will be lined with play and demonstration areas, and will help visitors navigate the facility.

Though some funding has been secured, the Valley Zoo Development Society is committed to raising $12 million towards the renovations.

Bravo to the Valley Zoo staff for re-imagining what Edmonton’s zoo can be. Best of luck with the fundraising campaign!

Spring Gallery Walk 2010

Mack and I have lived in west Oliver, just five minutes from the Gallery Walk district, for nearly two years now, but have never taken the time to visit any of the galleries. I suppose it felt a bit daunting to just walk into the intimate spaces, all exhibiting art available for purchase. However, I knew that the Spring Gallery Walk, a twice-yearly event encouraging the public to tour the galleries, was just around the corner, so planned to go.

Gallery Walk sign marker in front of Electrum Design Studio

It was a beautiful day on Saturday, and it was great to see many Edmontonians taking advantage of this pedestrian-friendly event. Signs and festive balloons were a welcoming sight, and marked the entrances of each of the seven member galleries. Cookies and beverages were served at many sites, a nice reward for the children we saw along for the ride.

Inside Peter Robertson Gallery

The exhibits were diverse, with some galleries focusing on just one or two artists, and others that showcased dozens. Our favourite galleries overall were the Agnes Burgera Gallery and the West End Gallery, which for us, had more accessible art, and some memorable cityscapes and sculptures. Tu Gallery was also notable for featuring some stunning handcrafted furniture.

In an inspired tie-in, patrons were invited to collect stamps from each of the member galleries on a postcard-sized passport. If five stamps were collected, the bearer would be entitled to free admission to the Art Gallery of Alberta (we saw AGA Executive Director Gilles Herbert and AGA Board Chair Allan Scott pounding the pavement today).

My completed passport!

Of course, the area businesses also benefited from this event, with many patrons stopping by area shops on their way to the next gallery. We decided to celebrate the sunshine with some stellar gelato from Bueno Gelato (12325 102 Avenue).

Raspberry and banana gelato

We also stepped into Flur Designs (10260 124 Street), a lovely little floral and gift shop that has been in business for two and a half months. A clean, bright store filled with gorgeous flowers and great gifts (like Vanishing Creatures Chocolate, where the packaging can be repurposed into a floating candle display), it’s a great addition to High Street. I couldn’t resist picking up a bouquet of fresh white flowers.

Flur Designs

The Gallery Walk (and the excuse to take time to explore the neighbourhood) was a fantastic way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I’m also happy to say I feel like I wouldn’t need the pretense of the Gallery Walk to visit their exhibits in the future.

The Walk continues on Sunday, April 18 from noon-4pm – check it out if you can!

Evergreen Pyramids: Muttart Conservatory

Longing for an optimistic reminder of the spring to come, Mack and I headed to the evergreen pyramids of the Muttart Conservatory over the weekend. We took advantage of a 2-for-1 offer I had received (after signing up for the City’s new Find Your Fun attractions and recreation newsletter), so we only had to pay $10.50 admission for the both of us.

Muttart Conservatory

We were eager to see what changes the popular tourist destination had undergone, as it reopened in June 2009 after over a year of being closed for renovations. In addition to a new outdoor courtyard, a revamped cafe and gift shop, and additional classroom spaces, a water feature and new plant material had been introduced to the pyramids.

Though I have to admit my hazy memory from my previous visit years ago didn’t serve me well enough to recognize the facility enhancements upon first glance, I am happy to say the pyramids themselves were everything I remembered them to be – a natural oasis encouraging reflection and pause. The ample benches were welcome, and of course, being able to transition from temperate to tropical to desert landscapes by crossing the hall felt just as remarkable as when I was a child. Here are a few photos we snapped that day:

Arid Pyramid

I remember the desert biome was always my least favourite pyramid as a child. Though there are bursts of unexpected colour and beauty in adaptation, the landscape in the pyramid always just seemed barren next to its tropical and temperate neighbours.  

Desert fauna

Pretty and prickly

Mack’s favourite cacti

Tropical Pyramid

I loved the new water feature in this exhibit. Between the soothing sound of water echoing throughout the pavilion and the lush surroundings, I really felt like I had temporarily escaped from the bustle of the city.

Palm tree!

Beautiful orchids

Gorgeous water feature

I felt like we should have left an offering at the base of the coffee tree

Temperate Pyramid

With a wedding shoot underway, we didn’t fully explore the pathway in this pyramid, but surrounded by green, the dappled sunlight through the glass and leafy canopies made for a tranquil setting.

Into the forest

Under the canopy

Forest giant

In honour of Gaia (I have to admit seeing a porcelain face looking up at me was a bit disturbing at first glance)

Feature Pyramid

With a slight chill in the air, the feature pyramid was spring imagined, the perfect kind of winter awakening ripe with colour and life. I’d never really appreciated tulips before this, having only really seen them cut and bound into bunches. Here, grown in shade blocks, they were a beautiful sight, and exactly what I needed to see that day before stepping out into biting gale-force winds.

Signs of spring


If you’re needing a refreshing break in the city – a visit to the Muttart Conservatory can do wonders for your spirit.

Muttart Conservatory
9626 96A Street
(780) 496-1749

Edmonton Corn Maze 2009

To make the most of what could have been the last warm weekend of the year (how’s that for pessimism), Mack and I drove out to the Edmonton Corn Maze. I wanted to make a point of seeing the corn stalks in their full glory – our last few visits have been at the tail end of the season, when the stalks we reaching the sad end of their life span.


Inside the corn maze

9pm marks the latest hour visitors are allowed into the corn maze, so our 8:30pm arrival cut it pretty close. We toured some of the other amusements quickly, including pedal carts and a small petting zoo (the sheep and goats were all just begging to be fed). With a picnic area (and a bonfire after dark), families could easily make a trip to the corn maze a full-day event.

Petting Zoo

We couldn’t resist!

The corn maze is designed with a theme in mind every year. This year, in honour of the Edmonton stage for the upcoming Canadian Curling Trials, the maze features a Roar of the Rings theme. Of course, on the ground in the maze, it’s hard to know what the overall scheme looks like, but the aerial shots they take every year are pretty cool.

At the entrance of the maze, visitors have the option of picking up a 10-question guide to help navigate critical crossroads inside the maze. We chose the quiz focused on we deemed to be most fitting – curling.

Ready, set, go!

Mack took pictures of all of the signposts throughout (they look to have been purchased through a company that manufactures them specifically for corn mazes…I had no idea the “industry” was big enough to support such businesses). I have to say, although the warm night air was perfect for a stroll, we had to race against time. Being without a flashlight meant the setting sun would leave us in the dark, and navigating was difficult enough even when we could see.

Netty came with us for the maze…he had a bit of a mishap involving dirt though

Sample Cornundrum sign

It was a welcome challenge though, and I appreciated the height of the stalks, the majority of which were over six feet tall – perfect for concealing other wanderers, even if their traveling voices made them seem close.


We ended up making it out of the maze in about an hour. It was a brisk walk, and seemed more difficult than in previous years, but we enjoyed ourselves all the same. While perhaps not a tradition yet for us, it’s a fun activity that we will continue to try and incorporate into the harvest season. Keep it in mind if you find yourself with a free evening or weekend, or even better, take advantage in their Get Lost for Hunger promotion this long weekend – $1 from each admission will go towards the Edmonton Food Bank, and get $1 off admission with a food donation.

Visit Edmonton Corn Maze for directions and hours (and a printable coupon!).

Fun on the (Victoria Driving) Range

Every time we passed by the golfers at the Victoria Driving Range last year, we declared our intention to join them that summer. Unfortunately, those declarations never spun into action. This year, Mack made it a point to incorporate the driving range into my birthday activities, so we ended up there on a Sunday afternoon after brunch at the Mac (sans dress and heels).

Victoria Driving Range

Neither of us golf (the last time for me was in Grade 10 phys. ed), so it is no surprise that we looked out of place, in a sea of golf wear and bags of clubs (even the few children at the range had their own appropriately-sized bag of clubs). For less than $20, though, even amateurs like us were able to get some fun out of it – $3 for a club rental, and $7.50 and $9 for a large and extra large bucket of balls, respectively.

We definitely could have used some instruction on stance and swing, but watching the pros next to us provided enough visual guidance for that day. It was a little intimidating having to shoot next to a concerted “whap” sound (the club our neighbour was using was at least 10 inches thick), but with luck and repetition, we were both able to experience the instant gratification of a crisp, clean shot.


Readying for a shot

Mack swings!

All in all, it was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon, drinking in the beauty of Edmonton while changing up our weekend routine.

To Be a Kid Again: Calgary Zoo

I don’t know why I became fixated on visiting the Calgary Zoo, but it ended up being one of my top non-restaurant priorities for our weekend trip. The fact that I had a 50% off admission coupon probably helped matters too, and reduced the $16 gate price to $8 a person (meaning, of course, that we could spend more on food with a little less guilt).

Calgary Zoo

The last time I was at the Zoo was on a high school biology trip, but I don’t remember many details from it, besides taking umpteen photos on the bridge leading to Prehistoric Park. I was looking forward to the touristy aspect of visiting the Zoo, and to see if animals could hold my attention in the same way as when I was younger.

Turned out, not quite, but it was still a nice way to spend three hours. We did a ton of walking (particularly in the Canadian Wilds area), and visiting the Zoo in the winter time meant that crowds were definitely lighter. Of course, some of the exhibits (notably, the lions) were closed for the season, but I was fine with the tradeoff of a less busy beaten path.

Mountain Goat

Mack loved taking pictures of the carnage remaining in some of the cages, while I focused on the happier animals. My favourites were the giraffes, elephants, baby gorilla and cotton-top tamarins. The koalas, the Zoo’s current feature exhibit, was a bit of a disappointment, though we did learn some interesting facts about the marsupials (their pouches are actually upside-down, and babies eat their mother’s poop, called “pap”).


Hungry elephant

Baby gorilla

Cotton-top Tamarin

Not a baby kangaroo, but a kid

As a child, I loved Prehistoric Park. Having been to Drumheller and the Royal Tyrell Museum numerous times in the past, I’m not sure why brightly-colored fake dinosaurs amongst “hoodoos” would have appealed to me at all, but the outdoor aspect is hard to beat.

On the rickety bridge

Mack, of course, had to take a photo with the Edmontonsaurus

We were pretty tired by the time we had made the rounds, and were glad that we would be heading to the hotel next to rest up before our scheduled dinner at Rush. All in all, it was a good afternoon – I’d recommend a stop if you’re looking to revisit your childhood fascination with the animal kingdom.

Mack’s photo set is here.

“The Art of the Brick” at the Telus World of Science

“The Art of the Brick” is the newest exhibit at the Telus World of Science, showcasing larger-than-life art sculptures built entirely of LEGO blocks by artist Nathan Sawaya. I knew Mack, being the LEGO fan that he is, would love to visit the exhibit, so we planned a trip there on his birthday.

We arrived a bit later than we anticipated, with just over an hour left to explore the galleries. For this late arrival, we were granted a small discount. We headed straight to the Explorer Gallery, and were greeted by a roomful of colorful displays – some freestanding, some hung on the wall like art, and some needing reinforcement from the wall or ceiling. The spot lighting (probably left over from the Body Worlds exhibit) really made the colors pop.

A one-page guide with the name of each sculpture is available, though it probably would have been more helpful if the installation had been treated more like an art exhibit. Helpful to know on a small mounted placard next to the sculpture would have been the name, number of LEGO blocks used, and perhaps the inspiration behind the piece (for example, of the LEGO picture of Lindsay Lohan).


The exhibit was nonetheless visually appealing, especially for the child in us. I liked the sheer size of the dinosaur, but the men made of a single color, posed in a look of frozen agony, were the most striking. “The Eye”, a box containing small 3-D figures which, when glanced at from a distance, bore the image of a single eye. This demonstrated a more advanced use of planning – I hope this is the direction Sawaya goes in.




Me and Dinosaur

Mack and buddies Circle, Triangle, Square

Our only disappointment from the exhibit was that a number of sculptures would be added in January 2009; we thought such omissions should be clear up front.

Shielded behind a curtain was a play area for adults and children alike – Megablocks for those under the age of five, and smaller, regular LEGO blocks for those older. A “City of the Future”, built entirely in “French-fry yellow”, as I heard an attendant describe it, lined the back wall. Patrons were invited to add their own imaginative creations to the city, so Mack and I sat down to create…something.

That’s the real beauty of LEGO, in my opinion anyway. There are no rules, and you do not need a plan prior to approaching the stackable blocks – something will come of it. In the end, Mack and I combined our creations to form a vehicle of sorts, complete with headlights and four wheels. We placed it on what looked to be a roadway, and left the gallery.

Future City

Mack hard at work

Our vehicular contribution

It’s too cool that someone has made a living playing with LEGO blocks. Sawaya also caters to requests, as described on his website, and on a fee-for-service basis, can create a personalized sculpture for you. “The Art of the Brick” is a cool exhibit for both adults and children alike, but wait until January 2009 to attend to make the most of your money.

We didn’t have a lot of time to check out the other galleries, but did take some time to peek at Mystery Avenue, probably my favorite of the permanent exhibits. If we had more time, I wouldn’t have minded actually solving the mystery of the abducted dog, CSI-style.

Mack on what he wishes was the Batpod

I am happy to report that the Telus World of Science isn’t just for kids – the young at heart will also have a great time there. Mack’s photoset is here.

Retreat at Fort Edmonton Park

I had been researching different locations for an upcoming program staff retreat for some time, and eventually, we decided on a venue in Fort Edmonton Park.

The Jasper House Hotel featured two levels of usable space, which came in handy for the activities we had in mind. It was also fairly affordable at $219 for the day, especially considering some of the other prices I had come across, and also offered off-site catering possibilities. Of course, as I hadn’t personally visited the venue before booking it, I was expecting some glitches to pop up.

Jasper House Hotel

1885 Street (bright and early that morning)

Turns out I had nothing to worry about. Besides having to play traffic cop in the morning to direct my colleagues to the poorly-marked parking lot, the Hotel worked great. Being at Fort Edmonton Park was a refreshing change from the office, and at lunch, everyone was able to wander the grounds on a cool but sunny autumn day. The Park is closed to the public on weekdays, and until the end of December, is only open on the weekends. As such, the buildings were all closed, but the picturesque streets still provided ample opportunities to snap a few photos.

Wagon wheel

Trees (by the river, I could hear the leaves rustling in the light breeze…it was lovely)

Gyro Park

Come, Pig

Kelly’s Saloon


All in all, it was a great day out with my workmates. My photo set is here.