Exploring Our Backyard: 29th Annual Great White North Pumpkin Weigh-Off and Fair

Back in October (apologies for the tardiness of this post!), Mack and I checked off another item off of our local bucket list – to take in the Great White North Pumpkin Weigh-Off & Fair in Smoky Lake, Alberta.

The 29th iteration took place the first weekend in October, meaning the event will celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2018. We learned that this event is part of the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth, linking it to standards and regulations observed by squash-growing enthusiasts worldwide.

Located about 1.5 hours northeast of Edmonton, it was clear this festival is a major tourist attraction for the community, with most businesses using it as an opportunity to showcase their products.

The event was spread out over a large enough area that it was serviced by a free yellow bus shuttle that ran between several buildings near Main Street. In addition to arts and craft vendors, it was nice to see some familiar faces at the farmers’ market set up, such as Winding Road Cheese, Birds and Bees Winery, and Serben Farms. We limited our purchases that day to pumpkin-related items, including pumpkin pie and pumpkin cinnamon buns from Mundare Bakery.

Smoky Lake Weigh-Off

Farmers’ Market

Outside, it was also nice to see lots of families taking in the amusement rides and games – I love how charming smaller-scale midways can be!

Smoky Lake


The main attraction, of course, is the weigh-off of the pumpkins. It takes place in the main hall of the agricultural complex, with all the pomp and circumstance you’d imagine – the competitors are forklifted onto the stage one by one, and hoisted onto a massive scale for their moment of truth. Hosted by a boisterous and engaging MC, it was definitely an entertaining show.

Great White North Pumpkin Fair

Pumpkin weigh-off

We watched as the 2016 champion from Lloydminster, Don Crews, was again crowned the victor with a festival record-busting pumpkin weighing 1652 pounds.

Great White North Pumpkin Fair

Victory for Don Crews!

Afterwards, festival attendees were invited to get up close and personal with the different contest entrants including the longest gourd – we couldn’t resist taking a pumpkin selfie!

Great White North Pumpkin Fair

One of the smaller competitors

Smoky Lake Weigh-Off

Pumpkin selfie!

We also enjoyed some of the food available at the festival – the Ukrainian concession was served up some very satisfying perogies, kubasa, and cabbage rolls.

Smoky Lake Weigh-Off

Ukrainian lunch

In town, we also stopped for a meal at Betsy’s Burger Shack. There was nothing special about the meal, but it was nice to say we’ve now eaten at a local institution.

On our way home, we detoured through Andrew so we could add the “world’s largest mallard” to the list of Alberta oddities that we’ve visited this year.

Visiting the Mallard in Andrew

With the world’s largest mallard

If you’re hoping to take in the pumpkin weigh-off next year, mark your calendar for October 6, 2018!

Culinary Highlights: 2017 Edition

At the very least, compiling a list of some of my favourite food moments over the past year reminds me of how grateful I am to live where we do! It’s also a good opportunity to reflect on our travels, and how fortunate we were to be able to explore a bit more of our country.

Here are some of my favourite food-related memories from 2017:

Our favourite new restaurant was Otto. Mack and I love their approachable menu, simple but well-made food, friendly service, and accessible location (just one bus from work or home).


I love the Otto dog and fries

Zwick’s Pretzels was another new favourite – there’s nothing better than a fresh, savoury pretzel warm out of the oven.

Zwick's Pretzels

Trio of pretzels

We also had a fabulous meal at the chef’s table at Baijiu with Amanda and Jason in the fall.


Braised pork bao from Baijiu

My office moved to Alberta Avenue in the spring, so it was great timing that Eats on 118 continued this year. I had a blast at each of the food tours, but I had a soft spot for the bowling edition, where I was introduced to the wonderful Plaza Bowl.

Eats on 118

Plaza Bowl

Mack and I had a great time exploring more of our backyard last year as well, with trips to Lake Louise, Lacombe, East of Edmonton, Calgary, and Smoky Lake.

Eagle Creek Farms

Selfie at the Bowden Sun Maze

Continuing with the theme of visiting farms, a highlight was a tour of the Sunworks Farm, one of the producers we purchase from regularly.

Sunworks Farm Tour

Chickens at Sunworks Farm

Similarly, it was an special experience to be able to visit Doef’s Greenhouses as a part of this year’s Grand Taste Tour.

Doef's Greenhouses

Doef’s Greenhouses

Alongside a small team of volunteers, I enjoyed introducing many Edmontonians to Chinatown (and some of its culinary gems) through a series of walking tours. I’m happy this will continue into 2018 with Chinatown Dining Week.

Edmonton Chinatown Tour

Edmonton Chinatown walking tours

We did some travelling as well, with visits to Montreal, Toronto, Seattle, and Vancouver Island.


Schwartz’s smoked meat sandwich was the best thing we ate in Montreal

Maison Christian Faure

Although I wish I had gone back for a second croissant from Maison Christian Faure

Wild Mountain

We did not expect to find a restaurant like Wild Mountain in Sooke on Vancouver Island

Red Fish, Blue Fish

The tacones at Red Fish, Blue Fish in Victoria lived up to my expectations

There is a lot to look forward to in 2018, so we’ll see what makes the cut next year!

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.


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.


Mac and cheese


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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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!

Exploring Our Backyard: Lacombe and Pigeon Lake

I’ve wanted to be more intentional with exploring the areas just outside of Edmonton, so at the end of April, Mack and I planned an overnight excursion just south of our city.

Last year on our way to Calgary, we stopped over in Lacombe. They had a charming Main Street lined with well preserved historic buildings, and we stretched our legs in a few of the small shops after lunch at Cilantro and Chive. We didn’t have time to hit up all of the notable businesses, so we made a note to return.

Sweet Capone’s

Sweet Capone’s has received some press for selling out of their specialty cannolis on a daily basis. A few months ago, they moved into a larger space just a half block down from their original location on Main Street.

Sweet Capone's

Pastry case at Sweet Capone’s

On this trip, we were finally able to give them a try ourselves. The pastry was lightly dusted and perfectly flaky, and we preferred the vanilla to the artificial-tasting lemon cream.

Blindman Brewing

Blindman Brewing has been helping to raise the profile of Lacombe through its craft beer. Located in an industrial area of the town, Blindman offers a lively, comfortable taproom where visitors can sample their various brews.

At least on that day, most of the patrons appeared to be regulars, treating the taproom as a place to meet up with friends for a pint. In addition, Blindman offers on-site sales, so many folks ducked in for growler refills or to pick up a case or two of beer.

Blindman Brewing

Flight of beer at Blindman Brewing

We were both surprised at just how many varieties Blindman produces. On that day they had nearly a dozen varieties, most of which we hadn’t seen before. Of the types we tried that day, Mack’s favourite was the New England Pale Ale, while I preferred the light, inoffensive Saison Lacombe Printemps (I’m not much of a beer drinker most days).

Old Prairie Sentinel Distillery

Next door to Blindman sits Old Prairie Sentinel Distillery. In operation since January, they’ve been overwhelmed with demand.

At present, they offer four varieties of vodka and gin, with their most unique product being the Pickled Pepper Vodka, which was made to be mixed with Clamato for a quick but flavourful Caesar. They hope to add rye and rum to their roster soon, in addition to a gin for "juniper heads". Most of their bottles are being distributed in Lacombe and the surrounding communities, but there are plans for wider distribution – Eau Claire was mentioned as the model small distilleries hope to emulate.

Old Prairie Sentinel Distillery

Varieties at Old Prairie Sentinel

Although Old Prairie Sentinel doesn’t yet have a tasting room (it’s in the works), the few minutes we spent in there with Rob Gugin were enlightening. His passion for spirits is contagious; we’ll definitely be back when the tasting room is in place.

Elizabeth Lake

Before leaving Lacombe, we stopped by Elizabeth Lake just before the rain came.

It’s a small lake adjacent to a university and a residential area, so it’s not really worth seeking out, but I liked seeing the exercise equipment integrated along the natural paths.


Mack humoured me at the sit-up station

They’re apparatuses we’ve seen in Toronto and Ho Chi Minh as well – it would be great if Edmonton would consider them for some of our park spaces, too.

On our way towards Pigeon Lake, our resting place for the evening, we detoured to a couple of farms.


Pik-N-Pack is made up of three member greenhouses in the Lacombe area that Edmonton farmers’ markets consumers would be very familiar with: Doef’s, S4 Greenhouses, and Gull Valley Greenhouses. They process, package, and market their products under the Pik-N-Pack label for wholesale purposes (you can also find these at Save On Foods, among other grocery stores).

Pik n Pak

Self-serve Pik-N-Pak

However, Pik-N-Pak’s warehouse also operates an honour-based self-serve store, open daylight hours Monday to Saturday. It’s amazing to me that stores like this still exist, but based on a sign posted on the door of the store, it’s likely they’ve experienced some issues with theft.

Pik n Pak

Picking out some goods!

We picked up some tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes for the road home, but they also had cucumbers, eggplant, hot peppers, and carrots on hand.

Brown Eggs and Lamb

Near Pik-N-Pack is the family-run farm Brown Eggs and Lamb. They also have an honour-system store for their eggs.

In addition, the on-farm store has a good selection of meat proteins, dairy products, and value-added products produced in Central Alberta. We bought a jar of Red Deer made Chai Wallahs honey, creamed honey enhanced with a blend of spices so consumers can easily produce a cup of chai at home.

Brown Eggs and Lamb

Brown Eggs and Lamb

Brown Eggs and Lamb is actually hosting a customer appreciation day in July, so if you’re hoping to explore more of the farm (as Sharman did last year), make sure to mark your calendar for a road trip!

Village at Pigeon Lake

I’ve been very fortunate to have been a part of a few off-season work retreats to the Village at Pigeon Lake over the years. It’s only an hour away from the city, but the pace of life seems much more relaxed. Mack and I stayed at the Village Creek Country Inn, a basic but well-kept hotel. I particularly appreciate that the hotel is adjacent to several other amenities in the "village", including restaurants, a grocery store, gift shop, and clothing boutique.


Happy to be back in the village

Chef N’ Pigeon Lake

We ended up at Chef N’ Pigeon Lake that night, as the more well-known Eco Café was closed for a tasting event. I didn’t mind, as our experience at those work retreats with the catering from Chef N has been very positive. Their "uptown country" menu in the restaurant was more extensive than I expected, ranging from burgers and steaks to chicken and dumplings and steamed mussels.

I ordered the hot turkey, a fun take on turkey dinner: pulled turkey overtop a stuffing waffle, doused with gravy and coleslaw and a side of cranberry sauce. My only complaint was that the coleslaw should have been served on the side, but otherwise, I enjoyed the diner-style comfort food.

Chef N' Pigeon Lake

Hot turkey

Mack went ahead with the 8oz signature farmer burger, with sauteed mushrooms, Sylvan Star gouda, house-made bacon, crispy potato hay and garlic mayo. The patty was impressively juicy and flavourful, and though it was definitely a five-napkin burger, he said it was worth the mess.

Chef N' Pigeon Lake

Signature farmer burger

Daisy McBeans

The only hot breakfast option in the village, we stopped at Daisy McBeans the next day. Their homestyle breakfast menu isn’t extensive, but features all of the classics you would expect.


French toast and sausage

Portions were large – I barely finished my French toast and sausage, but it is the kind of place you can linger all morning without worry.

Pigeon Lake Provincial Park

We eventually made our way to Pigeon Lake Provincial Park, comprised of day use areas and camp sites.

Pigeon Lake

Pigeon Lake in the spring

The weather was spotty (rain clouds soon rolled in), explaining the likely reason of why the trails were so quiet, but I did appreciate having most of the area to ourselves that day.


Trails at Pigeon Lake

The trails connected us to the yurt options now available at Pigeon Lake, described as "comfort camping" by Alberta Parks (also more commonly known as "glamping" – glamour camping). They do provide convenience – beds, a fridge, and of course, ready-made shelter, but the price per night ranges from $120-165 per night – a little steeper than I would have expected.



We ended up taking the backroads to Edmonton, which, in addition to encountering less traffic, meant the potential for more photogenic scenes like this one.

Clouds & Hay Bales

Hay bales

While many may overlook Lacombe and Pigeon Lake in favour of the mountains, they’re worth considering for those who are time-conscious, or just looking to further explore their backyard.

5 Reasons to Visit Lake Louise

After a visit to Jasper early last year, Mack and I were reminded of how invigorating a trip to the mountains can be. It’s an amenity of living in Alberta that we don’t take advantage of often enough, so we vowed to return next year.

In February, we planned a long weekend for a mini-break, but instead of returning to Jasper, we thought we’d tread newer ground to Lake Louise. Though we’d both been to Lake Louise on family vacations as children, it had been years since we ventured past Banff. And it’s probably our aged state, but it’s safe to say we appreciated the surroundings much more as adults.

If you’re thinking of heading down to Lake Louise, here are five reasons why I think you should.

Reason 1: Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

When Mack and I got married a few years ago, his coworkers gave us a Fairmont gift card. We had been fortunate enough to stay at the Jasper Park Lodge in the past, so looked into the other two mountainside Fairmont properties we had yet to experience. We ultimately chose the more economical option, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.

Lake Louise

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

Don’t get me wrong though – "economical" doesn’t mean cheap. I’m certain this was the most either of us have ever spent on a hotel room, but the Fairmont brand, as we have come to know it, is equated with an unparalleled level of service and quality.

Lake Louise

Winter wonderland

We’ve never been to an all-inclusive, but I have been on a cruise ship, and this property reminded me of that. It was billed as a resort, with daily posted activities for the guests of all ages, shops and restaurants all under one roof, and excursions that could be booked for additional cost.

Lake Louise

Picture perfect

On the weekends, the property organizes a free evening campfire, complete with marshmallows for roasting.

Lake Louise

Evening campfire

We also marvelled at the ice sculptures that were created at the Ice Magic Festival that takes place towards the end of January.

Lake Louise

Wooly (snowy) mammoth

With a distance from Edmonton of about 4.5 hours, we had decided to park the car after our arrival and take advantage of all the amenities the Chateau had to offer. This included dining at several of their restaurants. Our favourite was their signature Walliser Stube, named and inspired by cozy haunts in the Swiss Alps. We shared an indulgent cheese fondue with all the fixings, my favourite part of the meal.

Lake Louise

Cheese fondue!

Reason 2: Snow!

We learned on this trip that Lake Louise, on average, receives about 45cm of snow per month between November and March – more than double the amount Jasper typically receives over the same period. This is one of the reasons why it’s such a prime destination for skiers.

Mack and I aren’t skiers, but we were interested in snowshoeing, prompted somewhat by our introduction to snowshoeing in Jasper last year. One of the guided excursions offered by Chateau Lake Louise is a snowshoeing trek into fresh mountainside powder.

We were lucky enough to end up with a private tour, as we were the only two who joined up that afternoon. It had also just snowed the day previous, so all signs pointed to a perfect afternoon. When we showed up though, our guide Mike jokingly referred to our non-water resistant jeans as "death cloth", and had to properly outfit us city folk with snow pants and convince Mack to leave his camera behind.

Snowshoeing at Lake Louise


I enjoyed snowshoeing up the mountain on a semi-worn path (what Mike referred to as the "trans Canada trail") as we chatted about his experiences living in the area for more than twenty years. I’m not sure I was adequately prepared, however, to snowshoe back down by making our own pathway in waist-deep snow.


So much snow!

In some ways, with the incline, it almost felt like skiing. It was also more difficult than I expected, what with fallen branches and timber to watch out for (or, in my case, to get my snowshoes caught under – Mack had to dig me out twice). Mike also taught us some useful techniques on how to flip ourselves over with the help of a walking pole, a skill I never knew I needed until surrounded by three feet of snow on all sides.



It was a really memorable experience – one I’d definitely seek out again.

Reason 3: Johnson Canyon

A trail along one side of Lake Louise is maintained for those looking to walk or cross-country ski on the snow-covered lake. The path takes you to a frozen waterfall on the other side, with breathtaking views of intrepid ice climbers attempting to scale the cascades.

Lake Louise

Ice climbers

Just outside of Lake Louise, however, there’s an opportunity to get even closer to a similar natural wonder in Johnson Canyon. Located about 30 minutes outside of Lake Louise, it’s a year-round hiking opportunity. In the winter though, ice cleats are strongly recommended – we were very thankful to have brought them with us, especially when we encountered a young woman who had slipped and twisted her ankle halfway down the trail.

Johnston Canyon

Lower Falls

Even with the crowds, it was a lovely hike, with sections of the guardrail built right into the side of the rock face, and a tunnel through the rock that leads to a closer view of the Lower Falls.

Johnson Canyon


The hike to the Upper Falls rewarded us with beautiful views of the frozen waterfalls, in addition to seeing the death-defying climbers up close.

Johnston Canyon

Upper Falls

Reason 4: Canmore

This is a bit of a cheat, as Canmore is obviously a town separate from Lake Louise. However, given how tiny the hamlet of Lake Louise is, and how comparatively touristy Banff can be, we really enjoyed the hospitality and retail we discovered in Canmore on the way in and out.



There was some great shopping to be had: I picked up some great deals at the Canmore location of consignment company Trend Fashions (they also have stores in Edmonton, Calgary, and Chestermere). Canmore is also the home of the Rocky Mountain Soap Company, and they offer tours of their factory on Fridays and Saturdays (something we didn’t get the chance to see).

We had a lovely sit-down lunch at Crazyweed, an upscale casual restaurant with an interesting menu. We enjoyed both our entrees – Icelandic cod fish and chips and a Vietnamese pork ball sandwich (which, incidentally, had flavours reminiscent of Pucker’s banh mi burger). It was a nice place to get our bearings after the long drive in.


Icelandic cod fish and chips from Crazyweed

On our way out of the Rockies, we stopped for a quick lunch at The Range. I was expecting larger portion sizes (the half sandwich could have easily been served on a kid’s menu), but the quality of the food was apparent. The porchetta was tasty, and the thick, textured mushroom veloute hit the spot for me.

The Range

Porchetta and mushroom veloute from The Range

Beamer’s is also worth checking out. It’s a comfortable coffee shop that seems to have quite the local following. We were impressed with their coffee as well as their selection of beans (always our souvenir of choice).


Coffee from Beamer’s

I wouldn’t hesitate to stay in Canmore in the future – it would give us even more time to explore what they have to offer!

Reason 5: It’s Free!

You’ve probably heard by now that in commemoration of Canada’s 150th birthday, Parks Canada admission is free (by obtaining a Discovery Pass). It’s a really great opportunity (and excuse) to visit some of the green spaces in our own backyard.

And if you’re worried about the spike in traffic from other like-minded Canadians this year, our snowshoe guide reminded us that 95% of visitors are only interested in the "shore and smile" – snapping a photo from the lakeside then moving on. If you go off the beaten path – into the bush, onto the water – you’ll be able to escape the hoards. It was sage advice and will come in handy as we approach the spring and summer months.

Lake Louise

Shoring and smiling

I hope you’ll have the chance to create your own adventure – whether in the Rockies or beyond!

Culinary Highlights: 2016 Edition

I looked back on my year of blogging only to remember how an unexpected project at work derailed the first four months of 2016, severely limiting my free time to write. Although things calmed down in the spring, I’m not sure my work/life balance ever fully recovered.

At any rate – I never managed to put together a 2015 edition of my culinary highlights, so it’s a small victory that I am returning to some old habits.

Here are some of my favourite food-related memories from the past year:

Did someone say pizza? Love Pizza ended up being our go-to downtown addition this year. Great product, and a restaurant we can walk to!

I can’t say no to the Meatatarian

A Streetcar Named Dessert was a unique experience that married Sugared and Spiced cakes with an amazing musician in an unforgettable venue.

How do you choose?

This year’s Grand Taste Tour took us to Tangle Ridge Ranch where we enjoyed one of the best dishes I had all year.

Gnocchi with peas and pecorino

I attended my first Gold Medal Plates in 2016, and appreciated firsthand the skills and talent of all competing chefs. But I would be kidding if I didn’t say that the highlight of the event was a selfie with the gracious Olympic gold medalist Erica Wiebe.


It was also the first year that I attended What the Truck?! as a “layperson”. The festival is a lot of work to produce, so I am grateful to the team for carrying the torch forward!

What the Truck?! at Northlands

A brief stop in Niagara this spring resulted in some wine education for both Mack and myself.

Green Lane Winery

We continued that education in the Okanagan that fall, and at Covert Organics, met a special strawberry patch.

Ain’t nothing like a fresh strawberry

In Chicago, I finally got to taste some of Rick Bayless’s food, and it lived up to my expectations.

Frontera Grill

Smoked pork queso fundido from Frontera Grill

Closer to home, we enjoyed some food with a view in Rocky Mountain House.

Prairie Creek Inn

I also found my new favourite restaurant in Calgary: Ten Foot Henry.

Salt roasted potatoes

In most cases, it’s not what we eat that we remember, but who was around us at the time to make it special. For example, while there were things I would have changed about the Culinaire Treasure Hunt, Mack and I had an absolute blast with our teammates Su and Allison.

Team High Viz!

In that same vein, one of the reasons I’ve grown to love Toronto as much as I have is because of my sister.

Toronto 2016

Cheering on the Raps at Jurassic Park

Thanks for joining me on another year of adventures. Here’s to 2017!

Explore BC: Osoyoos and Similkameen Valley

This is the fourth and final post about our trip to BC back in October. You can read about our Kelowna, Penticton and Oliver highlights as well.

We ended our BC trip in Osoyoos, another town that neither Mack or I had visited before. Although there were some points of interest in Osoyoos, the attractions we were most drawn to were actually beyond its borders.

Watermark Beach Resort

We were told by multiple people that the Watermark Beach Resort was the place to stay in Osoyoos. Because we were hoping for a relaxed vacation with a lot of down time, it made sense to for our longest leg to take place here.

Watermark Osoyoos

Watermark Beach Resort

However, I didn’t realize until we arrived just how small the community is – under 5,000 – so amenities were fewer than expected. That said, while reviews indicated that the Watermark may not be the most serene place during high season, just before Thanksgiving, we felt like we had the place to ourselves. We were upgraded to a two-bedroom, two bathroom suite (the extra bathroom felt like a luxury given Mack and I share one between us at home), and the hot tub and pool area rarely hosted more than a handful of guests at any given time. The weather, unfortunately, prevented us from making use of the beachfront area outside of brisk walks, but it added to the low-key feel of the property. I will say that because we just departed the very personalized service at the bed and breakfast in Penticton, the Watermark felt much more corporate, but I’m not sure how such a large facility would be able to operate otherwise.

Lake Village Bakery

Osoyoos was the home of my favourite bakery of the trip, Lake Village Bakery, which had deliciously flaky sourdough croissants. Located a stone’s throw from Osoyoos Lake, we greedily consumed our treats overlooking the water, trying not to make too much of a mess.

Lake Village Bakery

Sourdough croissants from Lake Village Bakery

NK’MIP Cellars

Although most of the area’s wineries are located north of Osoyoos, NK’MIP Cellars has the distinction of being the first (and only) Aboriginal-owned and operated winery in Canada. With a desire to learn about their history, we signed up for a guided tour. NK’MIP was born from an enterprising chief, who wanted to make the most of the land.

NK'MIP Winery

NK’MIP (pronounced Inkameep) vines

Although the transformation of reserve land started with an RV park, it eventually grew to include the winery, a hotel and conference centre, and a desert museum. We were surprised to learn Osoyoos Indian Band is actually quite small, made up of only 500 members.

NK'MIP Winery

Tasting by the cellar

The winery was perhaps even more visually striking than Covert Farms in Oliver – with the surrounding barren  landscape, it’s a small wonder a viable, agricultural-based business can thrive in the area.

The Grist Mill

Initially, I skipped the section in Jennifer’s book about the Similkameen Valley, because I wasn’t sure we’d have the time for a detour. But after looking at the map and realizing the valley’s proximity to Osoyoos, we hived off a day to take our time in the area.

The Grist Mill

The Grist Mill

The highlight was a visit to The Grist Mill in Keremeos, a museum built around a historic 1877 waterwheel-run flour mill. We spent some time wandering the grounds before spending a full hour with Cuyler Page.

The Grist Mill

Cuyler Page

He was in the process of rebuilding the leavers and pulleys inside the mill, and spoke at length about the history of wheat and milling (including his involvement, humbly stated, in bringing red fife wheat back to prominence in Canada). As Mack commented that day, it’s likely we only scratched the surface of his knowledge.

The Grist Mill

Sifted flour

The Grist Mill also features a cafe with a small menu of soups, sandwiches and baked goods. The food was nothing fancy, but tasted homemade and wholesome. It definitely helped to round out our stop.

Twisted Hills Craft Cider

During our trip, we learned that cider houses are up and coming in the Okanagan, with several having opened up in the last few years. Twisted Hills in Cawston is among them, and we stopped in to have a taste of some of their ciders and sparkling juices.

Twisted Hills

Twisted Hills cider tasting

It’s a small operation that isn’t quite salient yet (the owners planted on family-owned land), but given they were sold out of many of their offerings, it’s a good sign. Though we found the Calville’s Winter a tad on the sweet side, we enjoyed our visit to the farm.

Benja Thai

Apparently Benja Thai is known as "Thai worth the drive" in Keremeos. The fact that a Thai restaurant exists in a town of 1,200 is a feat in itself, but the family who runs it demonstrate their wonderful hospitality during our visit, and we could see how they’ve built up a loyal following. Mack especially enjoyed the green curry, and the pad Thai hit the spot for me.

Benja Thai

Green curry

It was a whirlwind week in BC, but I think we made the most of it, and discovered some hidden gems along the way.

Explore BC: Oliver

This is the third post about our trip to BC back in October. You can read about our Kelowna and Penticton highlights as well.

While we didn’t stay in Oliver (we chose to overnight in Osoyoos instead), we ended up spending some time there at some key attractions.

Festival of the Grape

Our Penticton bed and breakfast hosts convinced us that the Festival of the Grape was worth attending, and since it fit in with our plans to head south, we built it into our itinerary.

Festival of the Grape

Festival of the Grape

Located in Oliver, the "wine capital of Canada", the festival was celebrating their 20th year. 60 wineries from the area were represented, in addition to a number of food vendors. It was an efficient way to sample from new wineries (favourites that day included Pipe Dream gamay and Kismet pinot grigio) in a beautiful setting. I also couldn’t resist the sparkling apple wine from meadery Meadow Vista.

Festival of the Grape

I love wine puns

The grape stomping competition was also a lot of fun, with lively competitors that had travelled from as far as Saskatchewan to compete.

Festival of the Grape

Grape stomping

Hammer’s House of Hog

It’s doubtful we would have ever come across one of Oliver’s few food trucks without Jennifer’s handy guide. We managed to get to Hammer’s House of Hog, parked at Lions Park in Oliver, on his last day of his season.

Hammer's House of Hog

Hammer’s House of Hog

The pulled pork sandwich, customized with one of three house-made barbecue sauces, weighed nearly a pound each, and was tender, tangy and messy. It was everything you would want from a pulled pork sandwich.

Hammer's House of Hog

Pulled pork sandwich

McIntyre Bluff

Looking for a more physical activity, we chose to hike up to McIntyre Bluff, a fairly recognizable South Okanagan landmark and a sacred place for the area’s Indigenous peoples.

Covert Farms

View of McIntyre Bluff from Covert Farm (can you spot the “face” of the rock?)

Being the inexperienced hikers that we are, it took us close to 4 hours to complete the 10km round trip. While the trail itself was clearly marked, distance markers would have been great so we could better pace ourselves.

Hiking to McIntyre Bluff

Increasing elevation

The trail itself traversed some varied terrain, from rock faces painted a dazzling red from the sagebrush to mossy, shaded meadows layered with pine needles to barren, dry desert.

McIntyre Bluff

Loved the colours

The payoff was better than we expected, offering sweeping views of Oliver and the adjacent Okanagan river. We were also able to see Covert Farms, located at the base of the bluff from above (we chose to tour the farm separately the day after).

McIntyre Bluff

We made it!

Covert Farm

We decided not to do a multi-winery tour during our trip, and instead chose a few wineries we would visit and tour in a more in-depth way. One of these was Covert Farm in Oliver. The tour price is on the high side at $49, but we lucked out and ended up with a private tour. Campbell Kearns was our knowledgeable and passionate guide, and ended up spending two hours with us along the way.

Covert Farms

We had fun riding in the beautifully restored truck

Covert combines a number of agri-tourism aspects on their 700 acre property, including tours, children’s programs, on-farm dinners, and a u-pick, and will be looking at collaborating with Indigenous communities to develop a forage/hike up to McIntyre Bluff.

Covert Farms

Squash patch

He introduced us to their Scottish Highland cattle, who are actually protected by a small herd of alpacas (we didn’t know they had been domesticated for this purpose). The manure is helpful for fertilizer, since Covert is a certified organic operation. We also visited the small u-pick area of the property, featuring a small orchard, tomatoes, and strawberry patch. Campbell told us the strawberry variety actually bears fruit twice a year, and they’ve been able to pick strawberries as late as December.

Covert Farms

They had to drag me away from the strawberry patch

We spent the bulk of the tour learning about the organic practices they employ on their 25 acres of vines. To mitigate weeds, they plant competing crops such as vetch, which also have the added benefit of fixing nitrogen in the soil. To dissuade birds from feasting on the fruit, they planted fields of sunflowers (the unintended consequence from this was that it ended up attracting more birds than they’d ever seen before, but it opened up the skies to their predatory friends). Recognizing that they do lease about 300 adjacent acres to Sandhill, which is not certified organic, Campbell was careful to say that Sandhill is expected to be respectful of the land. One of the technologies that Sandhill does employ are propane-powered fans, which automatically kick in when frost is a possibility to sweep the cold draft up and away from the vines. The cost to run a single fan for one evening is $800.

Covert Farms

Covert Wine grapes

During the tour, we also had the chance to sample some of their wines, though many of their varieties had sold out for the year already. They paired the wines with a lovely cheese and charcuterie board.

Covert Farms

Cheese and charcuterie

While we chose not to stay in Oliver, we found there were many reasons to linger!

Explore BC: Penticton

This is the second post about our trip to BC back in October. You can read about our Kelowna highlights as well.

I had never been south of Kelowna before, so Penticton and onward were new experiences for me. Mack had last travelled the area on road trips with his family as a child, so it is safe to say this journey was a different one.

Hardy Falls

On our way south, we stopped at Hardy Falls in Peachland. It was a great way to stretch our legs and watch the Okanagan Kokanee salmon spawn at the same time.

Hardy Falls

Hardy Falls

It was a peaceful walk, lush and shaded, with many points above the creek to see the pink hued fish from above.



Kettle Valley Steam Railway

If you prefer to ride a train over one of the remaining Kettle Valley Railway trestles instead of walking or cycling over them, consider the Kettle Valley Steam Railway, located in Summerland.

Kettle Valley Steam Railway

Mack wished it read “Hill Valley”

We have to say the experience was a bit underwhelming after visiting the Myra Canyon Trestles, but it was a family friendly activity, with an on-board banjo player and an interpreted tour.

Kettle Valley Steam Railway

Open air cars

Above the Beach Bed and Breakfast

Above the Beach really spoiled us. It’s a bed and breakfast situated on one of the hills overlooking Skaha Lake, run by longtime residents Barb and Gary. We were fortunate enough to be upgraded to one of their Carriage Suites, which have a separate entrance, a large soaker tub, and a great view.

Above the Beach

Carriage suite

Their breakfasts were a wonderful way to start off our day – one morning, we were treated to cream-cheese stuffed French toast, and on another, eggs benedict. Mack was also happy with the unlimited coffee! And though it was slightly chilly,we still took advantage of the chance to eat outside with views of the beach. We wouldn’t hesitate to stay here again in the future.

Above the Beach

Breakfast at Above the Beach

Penticton Farmers’ Market

So many of the producers Jennifer profiles in her book vend at the Penticton Farmers’ Market, so when it lined up that we would be in town on the Saturday, we made sure to head downtown early to explore.

Penticton Farmers' Market

Penticton Farmers’ Market

Mack wonders why I always torture myself with markets when we’re travelling, since we can’t ever buy much, but I love seeing what’s available from local vendors. We picked up some honey from the Similkameen Apiaries, coffee from Backyard Beans, and Joy Road apple cinnamon buns to nibble on.

Penticton Farmers' Market

Gorgeous tomatoes

In addition to the farmers’ market, the Downtown Penticton Association also organizes a separate market that stretches another few blocks that offers other merchandise and services – we wouldn’t have realized they were two separate entities if we hadn’t read about it prior.

The Bookshop

Mack is a huge book junkie, so we knew a visit to The Bookshop was in order. Located on Main Street downtown, we stopped in during our walk through the farmers’ market.

The Book Shop

Just one section of The Bookshop

The floor-to-ceiling shelves in parts were pretty daunting to navigate, but staff were quick to help if needed. Most of the fun was perusing the titles on our own anyway to find gems hidden in the rough.

Buy the Sea

An Edmonton ex-pat owns Buy the Sea, a seafood retail shop with a built-in fish and chip stand (they also have a location in West Kelowna). The fresh seafood case reminded me somewhat of what Ocean Odyssey in Edmonton is hoping to offer: a combination of raw products and those that are marinated and ready to be cooked.

Buy the Sea

Buy the Sea

We stopped in for dinner, and the fish and chips really hit the spot. Freshly fried and nicely breaded, it was our favourite meal in Penticton.

Buy the Sea

Fish and chips from Buy the Sea

Upper Bench Winery and Creamery

Upper Bench Winery and Creamery has the distinction of offering a perfect pairing from in-house products: they not only make their own wine, but cheese as well.

Upper Bench Estate Winery

Upper Bench Winery

We stopped in to try both one afternoon. While the traffic on the adjacent road was more audible than ideal, it was nice to drink in the surrounding vineyard views. We also had fun playing fetch with Emma, one of the property’s animal mascots.

Upper Bench Winery and Creamery

With the sample platter (and Emma eagerly awaiting more fetch friends)

A related note – the best cheese we tried on our trip came from nearby Poplar Grove Cheese. We didn’t end up taking any photos of the small shop, but the Harvest Moon Washed Rind was some of the creamiest cheese we’ve ever had – it’s worth a stop if you’re in the area.

Play Winery and Bistro

Our bed and breakfast hosts recommended Play Winery, one of the newest wineries and full-service restaurants in the area. Built on a hill above Skaha Lake, the view from the patio is lovely. Also, because the tasting room is embedded in the restaurant, it is open much later than most, which is handy to know about in the off-season when most wineries shut down by 6pm.


Seared scallops from Play Winery

The food was good for the most part; the seared scallop appetizer stood out, served with beetroot yogurt, fried beets and microgreens.

Sunset over Skaha Lake

Sunset on Skaha

After two nights in Penticton, we were off to Oliver and beyond.

Explore BC: Kelowna

When Mack and I decided on a trip to the Okanagan in October, one of the main draws for us was the wine. Earlier in the year, we took a day trip out of Toronto to visit the Niagara wine region. We learned a lot, but it seemed time to do more exploring closer to home.

We flew into Kelowna, but made our way down to Penticton, Oliver, and Osoyoos over the course of a week with the help of a car. While the distance between Kelowna and Osoyoos is only about two hours, the following series of posts are grouped around towns, and focuses on our favourite experiences. Most of our food-related choices were guided by Jennifer Cockrall-King’s excellent book, Food Artisans of the Okanagan.


A sea of pumpkins at Don-O-Ray Vegetables in Kelowna

Myra Canyon Trestles

While I typically do quite a bit of planning in advance of our trips, I didn’t have a chance to do so on this occasion. So Trip Advisor was a great last minute tool, and ultimately pointed us to the Myra Canyon Trestles. We discovered first hand why this is Kelowna’s number one tourist attraction, though the signage to the road leading up to the trestles could have been better. Once parked, we rented bikes from Myra Canyon Rentals for $40 (don’t expect anything more than a truck-pulled rack). The half-day rental was plenty to complete the 23km round trip, even for irregular cyclists like us.

Myra Canyon Trestles

Ready to ride

The mostly flat trail takes visitors to 18 trestles, many of them spanning across deep valleys. The trail follows what was once part of the historic Kettle Valley Railway. I’m sure the views are stunning any time of year, but in the fall, they seemed particularly spectacular.

Myra Canyon Trestles


We learned later that many of the trestles had to be rebuilt after the devastating 2003 fire – I can’t imagine the work that went into restoring such a treasure, but I sure can appreciate it.

There are also other sights to see – two tunnels, blasted through rock, and if you’re lucky, wildlife. We encountered a lynx that was making its way down a cliff with freshly caught prey.



Even if you choose not to rent bikes, you can still make your way to several of the trestles and both tunnels with a brief hike, but I’d recommend cycling for the fullest experience.

Myra Canyon

Beautiful trails

Tree Brewing Beer Institute

The Tree Brewing Beer Institute is located right downtown, and was the perfect place to grab a drink and a bite to eat after cycling the Myra Canyon trail. It’s a low-key place with no table service (you order from the counter), but in addition to the monitors, you have the choice of dozens of boards games to entertain your party. I enjoyed their version of a grapefruit radler, while Mack thought their light brew was refreshing. Their pretzels and pizza (served lightning fast) also hit the spot.

Tree Brewing Co

Pretzels, pizza and beer

On a side note, the Institute also happens to be right across the street from the Kelowna Art Gallery. Check the calendar – if you’re lucky (as we were), you can check out the shows inside for free every Thursday. During our visit, we had the pleasure of taking in a thought-provoking exhibit focusing on the seasonal agricultural workers that populate the region many months of the year.

Okanagan Lavender and Herb Farm

We wrongly expected that the fields at the Okanagan Lavender and Herb Farm would be purple all year round, so the visit was educational. We learned that lavender peaks in July, so those hoping for those lush colours should visit in the summer. That said, we still found the views picture perfect, especially with the lake views in the distance.


Okanagan Lavender and Herb Farm

The gift shop is also a great place to pick up something for home, with lavender showing up in reasonably priced bath and beauty products.

Paynter’s Fruit Stand

What’s more quintessential to a trip to the Okanagan than picking fresh fruit? As we pulled up to Paynter’s Fruit Stand, we realized we’d already been there before.

Paynter's Fruit Market

Paynter’s Fruit Stand

A few years back, we visited Kelowna in late October, and stopped at Paynter’s to buy some fruit. This time, there was still the opportunity to pick pears and apples.

Paynter's Fruit Market

An apple a day

We relished in the chance to partake in the you-pick; the most surprising were perhaps the red delicious apples, which were deep purple in colour on the branches. And yes, the fruit were all great to eat, especially the crisp pink lady apples.

Paynter's Fruit Stand

Purple Red delicious

Micro Bar Bites

On that same visit a few years ago, we ate at RauDZ, launched by Chef Rod Butters, widely considered to be one of the pioneers of the farm-to-table movement in Kelowna. We had high expectations that weren’t met at the time, but Micro Bar Bites, a second restaurant by Chef Butters, had opened more recently and piqued our interest.

Micro Bar Bites

Micro Bar Bites

We were instantly charmed by the warm interior and great service. Don’t be fooled by the name – it refers to the size of the room as opposed to the portions. The beef croquettes actually would have been more successful as two-bite appetizers, but we appreciated their generosity. I also liked the cornmeal gnocchi with citrus marmalade.

Micro Bar Bites

Beef croquettes with patatas bravas

Micro Bar Bites

Cornmeal gnocchi with citrus marmalade

Mad Mango Cafe

Mad Mango Cafe, opened up by an Edmonton ex-pat, has a following that reminds me of Chicken for Lunch. Proprietor Pat (like Amy) even fires up customers’ orders before they’ve sat down.

Mad Mango has a film chronicling Kelowna’s love of the restaurant, and a steady stream of regulars of all ages. The laksa soup may not have been authentic (adapted with locally available produce), but the creamy, spicy soup hit the spot.

Mad Mango

Laksa soup

After a whirlwind two nights in Kelowna, we were off to Penticton!