Let me be upfront: I never read Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun. Never saw the movie. I’m unaccountably indifferent to pasta (and Italian food in general, if truth be told). Yes, I missed the boat completely on the raptures of Tuscany.
Friends who’d spent time in the popular Italian region said this was a gap in need of remedy. Stat.
So I booked a culinary walking tour of Tuscany, offering hillside rambles and an abundance of wine. Now THAT’S something I could commit to…
I’m here on the water’s edge of what’s considered to be the most beautiful Old Town in Greece. From my vantage point, I see a Venetian lighthouse standing sentry over a narrow harbour entrance and a Turkish mosque – now serving as an exhibition hall – opening its doors to the morning air.
This is Chania, second-largest city on the island of Crete, where the architecture provides just a sliver of insight into a turbulent history…
The screen door creaks a quiet complaint as I ease it shut and slide into a rattan chair. Beneath the low-thatched eaves of my cottage, I ponder the trees emerging from the morning mist and warm my hands gratefully on my coffee glass. According to the card on my nightstand, the brew is podi kappi, “the traditional black coffee of the local people in the High Range area”. I only know it is hot and dark and redolent with cardamom, cumin, and fenugreek. As caffeine and sun make inroads on my hazy dawn, a soft hoot emerges from the canopy: an unseen langur monkey alerts his family to my presence.
Read the full story here and in the Spring Issue of Taste & Travel International magazine.
When I came in search of food experiences in British Columbia’s North Okanagan Valley, I didn’t expect to find myself HERE.
Pine forests tumble down the Monashee mountains and cottonwoods throw shadows over the canoe, as I float with seven other paddlers down the Shuswap River. Other shadows flit below the water: Chinook and Sockeye salmon returning to their birthplace to spawn. A Bald eagle whistles from a tall snag, but before I can locate his partner, my guide, Charles Ruechel, sounds his call to stroke hard on my side of the canoe. By the time we clear the “sweeper” – a tree laid low over the water – we’ve left the eagle behind. No matter. Minutes later, another eagle splits the October sky.
Read the full story in the Summer Issue of Taste & Travel International magazine.
There’s a basic problem to running a restaurant in a 75-acre park. Especially when it flanks one of Calgary’s most popular outdoor skating haunts.
How to keep the wind off your customers every time someone whooshes in with their gear?
Solution: the glass-and-metal vestibule installed at Seasons of Bowness Park. It’s a simple but stylish affair of irregularly-sized panels that frames this new casual fine dining restaurant with a watery effect akin to the light playing off Bowness lagoon.
But when I sit down with Alex Solano, one of the operators of Seasons (as well as two Salt and Pepper locations and Lolita’s Lounge in Inglewood), I learn there’s more to this portico than meets the eye.
It’s pieced of ten historic styles of glass – some wavy, some bubbly, some seemingly dripping with movement – that each derive from a different decade of the park’s 100-year heritage. It’s a silent tribute to the park’s storied past of campsites and swimming pools , teahouses and trolleys, dancehalls and midway rides – and to the stories of generations of Calgarians who have skated, strolled and played under the poplars.
“I wanted the vestibule to make you stop and think,” says Alex. “To take a small [subconscious] pause and say: ‘Oh, actually this is really nice. I’m now somewhere else’.” A somewhere else he hopes that’s peaceful and neighbourly, where people can savour food and good conversation along with the view.
A place where the servers are quick to recognize that the couple at Table 12 want a little privacy, the solo diner devouring Road Trip Rwanda along with her arancini needs her glass topped up without interruption, and the pair by the window crave an ear with which to share the thrill of their grandson’s first steps. Or perhaps bemoan the emigration of their daughter to Toronto for want of a local job.
Now almost five months into its rise from the Flood of 2013, Seasons is gearing up for the winter season with a new menu focusing on warm, comfort foods. Think bubbling chicken pot pie. Fresh Alberta Arctic grayling reminiscent of fishing trips with your dad. And an apple-ring confection that looks and smells like mini-doughnuts on a pillow of sweet cream.
With the ice scheduled to be ready this weekend, there’ll be coffee-and-Bailey’s on the deck for the skating crowd; hot chocolate, of course, for the alcohol-disinclined. Weekends will continue to bustle with brunchers, and the gas fireplaces on the new plaza will light up to warm frigid hands and feet.
Look for special date-night events by Valentine’s Day: how about a cocktail/appetizer interlude, followed by a moonlit skate while servers prepare your table for a cozy fondue?
If seasonal shopping is more front-of-mind for you these days, head next door to the Market grab-and-go counter. While the barista pulls your latte, scan the small-but-growing collection of retail items, including Chilewich runners and placemats, and soft navy throws featuring Seasons’ retro-cool canoe logo. And bring home a few shortcuts for your holiday entertaining, like house-made bone-broth, pumpkin hummus, and fresh tomato salsa.
2016 showed us that Bowness Park is back again to thread through the warp of our urban lives. It’s worthy of a pause – don’t you think? – to appreciate Seasons’ glass century passage next time the wind blows you in.
Seasons of Bowness Parkand Market are open daily, including Christmas and New Year’s. Check their Facebook page for hours.
At the point where art intersects with science, something exciting happens. Something innovative. Potentially game-changing. Possibly delicious.
And from September 14 to 18, 2016, Beakerhead – Calgary’s annual “smash-up of science, art, and engineering” – promises to deliver all of those things and more.
Think interactive art and science experiments in the streets. An inside-the-studio look at the art and mechanics of special movie effects (read: autopsies and snow flurries). A Rock ‘n Roll History of Space Exploration, featuring a real astronaut. And a plethora of workshops that plumb the intricacies of memory, revenge, and each of the five senses – including my obvious favourite: taste.
Food nerds, get excited – because there’s a veritable buffet of activities and samplings at this year’s festival. In the chemistry class you wish you had in high school, Hi Tech High-Balls lets you create “engineered drinks” under the guidance of Hotel Arts’ Mixologist, Franz Swinton. Coffee-lovers can join Phil & Sebastian coffee roasters as they explore java/milk synergies in Cafe-au-Lait Scientifique (who knew these guys were both engineering school grads?).
For those who believe there’s no better workshop than one with take-home treats, there’s Spicy Palate Workout, The Squeak Behind the Cheese Curds, and the Science of the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie. And in the realm of epic events, Torched brings six top Calgary chefs and mixologists together with a car turning a spit and wire baskets of trout roasting over a giant flame.
Around town, Engineered Eats sees over 30 Calgary restaurants and bars creating engineered treats and molecular cocktails for you to try, using the 2016 festival’s theme ingredient: milk. I’ve already got my tickets to Exploring the Milky Way, a Stampede Trolley tour to four of the participating restaurants, where we’ll meet the chefs, learn how the dishes and drinks were created, and taste the results of their experiments.
(In truth, signing up for the Milky Way event had my loyalties divided, as it meant having to forgo the engaging Seven Wonderers session – a panel of first-rate science writers and storytellers telling tales of their own wondering. It was my Man’s and my favourite session at last year’s festival).
On the game-changing front, several Beakerhead events present a half-dozen social entrepreneurs: folks intent on improving the world with small inventions that have potentially big social impacts. Products like wearable technology to assist autism-sufferers interpret social cues. An iron fish that tackles world malnutrition one pot at a time. Disaster relief in a box, and a tsunami survival capsule. An inflatable solar light that packs flat. And a solar-powered bike pod to keep you warm on your winter commute.
Calgarians who favour careening around the city on two wheels will be happy to know that a multitude of free art, cultural, and science exhibits and activities will be placed in cycle-friendly locations around the downtown core. There’s a foldout of these Chain Reactions inside the program guide to help you map out your route. And those for whom this is new territory can join the Cyclepalooza folks for a free guided bike tour through all the major installations – finishing up at Beakernight, the festival’s culminating all-ages street party in Bridgeland.
There truly is something for everyone among the more than 50 events and exhibits at the 2016 Beakerhead festival. Check out the full list at beakerhead.com or download a PDF version of the festival program here.
Like many Calgarians, my distrust of our local weather runs deep.
(Just ask Leonardo DiCaprio how quickly the weather changes around here. But wait – he thought he was experiencing something new…).
Little wonder, then, that when hundred-year-old high-temperature records were falling like poplar pollen in April, I was seized with the conviction that our city would soon exhaust its miserly annual quota of warm summer evenings.
Call me paranoid, but the feeling was unshakeable. So on a balmy Friday just ahead of a predicted weather change, I made the carpe diem decision to cycle against the flow of bike commuters to meet my Man downtown for date night. We’d been itching to try out the new Al Forno Bakery & Cafe near the intersection of the Bow River pathways and the 7th Street cycle track. As luck would have it, my Man had ridden his bike to the office that morning. The plan called for hauling our bikes back home on the C-train if we lingered past daylight or imbibed too heavily.
Sadly, the Man was delayed for an hour past the appointed rendezvous – leaving me no option but to settle beneath Al Forno’s skylights with a glass of red wine, a bowl of warm marinated olives, and a good book (do I know my Man or what?). The cafe buzzed with happy-hour revelers, laptop-absorbed writers, workweek-debriefing couples, and girls-night-out new moms, and a steady stream of nearby condo-dwellers pushed through the door for a takeaway meal or a coffee to go. By the time my Man arrived, every seat in the house was filled by others who, like us, were drawn by the wine and beer specials and the intriguing list of housemade pastas and bakery-fresh flatbreads.
The servers proved amiable and well-versed in the vino offerings, and the twin delights of gorgonzola/pear and potato/bacon/rosemary flatbreads had us planning a return visit before we’d finished the final bites. When we eventually unlocked our bikes in the pink and orange twilight, weekday worries had dissipated along with the day’s heat. A quick calculation of daylight and blood-alcohol levels deemed us fit for the journey home, so we decided to forgo the C-train option. Forty minutes later, we cycled into our driveway just as darkness descended – a happy reminder of how, even in April, our city is blessed with a long and lingering dusk.
Bike Month made its annual launch in Calgary this week – which got me thinking about other great food and libation venues that are easily accessed from our nearly 800 km of cycle paths. As an unabashedly fair-weather cyclist who rarely ventures beyond the Bow River bikeways, I offer up my favourite trailside pit-stops below.
(The more devoted cyclists among you would no doubt cast a wider net – so please do add to the conversation with your own recommendations.)
And let’s get out and enjoy the summer! We’ve got firm assurances from Dave Phillips (Environment Canada’s ever-popular-and-rarely-wrong Senior Climatologist), it’s going to be warm and dry!
Nothing matches the leafy island location of this city-centre icon for a stellar weekend brunch. And I’ve lost track of how many times the cafe has appeared on lists of our country’s top restaurants for its thoughtfully-crafted farm-to-table Canadian cuisine. Procrastinators who’ve been shut-out of Calgary’s annual Folk Music Festival know that come July the cafe’s patio also provides some great unofficial ringside seats to the folkfest along with your meal.
Simmons Building (East Village RiverWalk)
Another addition to Canada’s Top 100 Restaurants list – though it only opened last year – is charbar, serving up meaty Argentinian-inspired cuisine from its wood-fired grill, as well as an array of vegetarian small plates for the herbivores among us. Sharing the gorgeous unconventional spaces in and around the historic Simmons Building are Sidewalk Citizen, with its artisanal sandwiches and overflowing pitas, and well-loved local coffee roasters Phil & Sebastian (who offer tours of the roasterie on Tuesday mornings). But the cherry on top is the oh-so-cool patio of rooftopbar@simmons with its unparalleled view of Calgary’s river panorama (and some tasty bar bites and gelato sandwiches, to boot).
Hose and Hound Pub and Gravity Espresso & Wine Bar (Inglewood)
Okay, so these two Inglewood favourites are not officially on the bikeways. But just a short detour off the river paths up 11th Street S.E. lie the sunny patios of two of my fondest places to lock up my bike and while away an afternoon. The Hose and Hound‘s location in 1907-built Fire Station No. 3 lends quirky historic decor to a pub-centric menu and craft beer tipples, while across the street at the Art Block the neighbourly welcome I receive along with my pinot makes Gravity my top choice of venue to write my first novel.
Heading west out of downtown, the river valley’s treasures turn to nature more than structure, but this cozy breakfast place-cum-Asian cafe-cum coffee klatsch is a welcome destination for weekday lunchers and Sunday morning caffeine-seekers. Operating out of a former Robin’s Donuts location since 2002, this family-owned venue offers bubble tea as well as wine and beer with its eclectic menu – and a stone fireplace to curl up near when my pedalling gets interrupted by a sudden hailstorm.
What would a westward cycle be without a stop at Angel’s (whose full moniker is larger than the diminutive interior of this aluminum-sided portable)? More than a source for sandwich wraps, home-baked goodies, coffee, and ice cream, Angel’s is also a godsend of pathside aid. They’ve got bike repair tools (supplied by Bow Cycle), first aid equipment (courtesy of Calgary EMS), and other emergency supplies – from battery chargers for stranded drivers to duct tape for hapless rafters.
Bowness Park Cafe (Bowness Park)
This old urban park, beloved to generations of Calgarians, will complete its phoenix-rise from the 2013 floods this summer – with a new wading pool for the little ones and a lagoon-centred sound system reminiscent of the park’s early-1900’s heydays. The miniature train will be back, too. Top of my discovery list this season will be the new grab & go market and full-service restaurant – Seasons of Bowness Park – scheduled for a soft-opening one day very soon. Can’t wait to check it out!
So tell me – where are YOUR favourite bikeway fueling stops in Calgary?