Lighting Up Christmas 2020

From “DOUGHNUTS TO DOSAS: A Christmas Tale
(Story: C. Van Brunschot; Photo credit: S. Dunk)

“It was 2003 and time for the talk.  Like many propositions put forward to tweens, it might not go well.

 And the proposition we were making to our son and daughter?  We wanted to take them travelling at Christmas…” 

Say, what?



What fantasy world is this?

In the Year of the Pandemic, travel feels like a distant dream – and carving the usual Christmas traditions out of 2020 is looking as possible as returning to 2003.

Christmas parties?  Gone from the calendar.  Community celebrations?  Better get the laptop going.  Family gatherings? Uh-uh – not if we want to keep Grandma & Grandpa healthy, the kids in school come January, and our own workplaces and businesses open.

Keeping our collective chin up seems to take a little more energy each day.

Enter Savour Calgary magazine, whose holiday issue just hit the stands last week.  It isn’t going to flatten the second curve or generate a new covid vaccine.  It won’t bring distant family members home for the holidays.  It won’t bring us any closer to that light at the tunnel’s end.

But it just might offer a wee bit of first aid.  Call it a thin string of lights to brighten up that tunnel wall.

The November/December issue is unabashedly Christmas focused.  Dishes up big sides of nostalgia.  Brings global experiences to Calgary and points to ways we can enjoy them right here at home.

And among its stories are different slants on what it means to celebrate Christmas – and a reminder of the joy found in solitude, too.

So if you’re looking for escape, fresh inspiration, that fruitcake recipe you lost, or just a small smile, check out this digital copy of the new issue or look here for where you can find a free paper copy to thumb through with your glass of mulled wine.

Me, I’m a sucker for all of those things – and happy to contribute a story to Savour Calgary, too.  (That’s an excerpt at the top of this page.  You can read the full text of “DOUGHNUTS TO DOSAS:  A Christmas Tale” here).

My strategy this year is to set aside what I’ll be missing and focus instead on how to make “different” into something good.

Best wishes to everyone for the holiday season – no matter how or what you celebrate.  This, too, will be just a memory some day.  There’s still some choice to be had in what that memory might be.

Text © 2020 Catherine Van Brunschot

Tenacious Crete

lunch at taverna monastiri, chaniaI’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…

Read the full story here and in the new issue of Taste & Travel International magazine.

Leftovers Black Box Challenge – Week 4: The Excuse

Calgary Farmers' Market produce

I had great plans for this week.  Multiple leftovers challenges to address in my fridge.

But in the same way that life can derail even the best-laid plans to use up all the food we bring home, life has conspired to take me away from my kitchen.

It’s family commitments that are calling – both delightful and less so.  But the upshot is that I have to take an early hiatus from this blog series.   I’m not quite sure when I’ll return.

Hit the FOLLOW button on the sidebar if you want to get a notice when I’m back.

DO keep sending me your leftovers conundrums, questions, and tips.  I love to hear about your challenges and triumphs with your own Black Box.

Cheers ’til later,


Text and photos © 2018 Catherine Van Brunschot

Black box

Following Vernon’s Culinary Trail

Paddling with ELEMENTS Adventure Company
Photo credit: ELEMENTS Adventure Company

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.

A Little Mexican Cooking in Puerto Morelos

Sopa de lima plating
Sopa de lima plating, awaiting the soup (Photo credit: C. Van Brunschot)

If a looming January has you dreaming of an escape to Mexico, travel with me for a moment to a sweet little cooking school in Puerto Morelos:

To duck beneath the arches of the breezy hacienda terrace of Casa Caribe is to escape instantly from the sun-baked attractions and adrenalin-soaked adventures that are the core of a Mayan Riviera experience on Mexico’s Yucatan coast.  Beneath the high ceilings of this unassuming guesthouse, the smell of coffee wafts past a mural of Mexican lovers in a jewel-toned landscape and white wicker chairs beckon from across the cool terracotta tiles…


It’s Beakerhead time!

big data image
(Credit: infocus Technologies (Creative Commons license))

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.

H Tech High-Balls - web

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).

lucky iron fish
Lucky Iron Fish (Credit:

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 or download a PDF version of the festival program here.

Text  © 2016 Catherine Van Brunschot

Happy Anniversary – er, New Year!

Along the Mayan Riviera


They say you can’t choose your family.

I beg to differ.

Consider the case of a 1990 prenatal class, where five couples took a break from their Lamaze breathing to muse about their future as first-time parents.  Two months after the birth of their May babies, they got together to compare notes.  And never looked back.

The Producers' Original Five
The Producers’ Original Five

Coffee time became brunch, which became hikes and camping trips, skating parties and ski days.  The burgeoning clan developed rituals, as extended families do.  Pumpkin carving in October.  New Year’s in Whitefish, MT.  Canada Day in BC’s Columbia River valley.  And May barbecues to celebrate the births that brought them together.

In a Mel Brooks moment, they nicknamed themselves “The Producers” and proceeded to be just that.  Time brought not only new babies,  but overseas moves (and returns),  career changes, high school graduations, and departures for university.  And while the kindred bonds stretched a bit, they never broke.

Now twenty members strong, the tribe’s traditions continue and the young Products have established new rituals of their own.  Think wing nights and club-hopping and community sports teams – with whoever happens to be in town.

It’s been 25 years as a “family by choice” for our gang.  Worthy of an epic anniversary celebration.  So in a mammoth effort that was more than a year in the planning, we pulled our family members from jobs and schools across the country to descend for one week on the unsuspecting Yucatan coast.

Building sandcastles
Photo credit: Amanda Brownlie

Fortunately, the NOW Sapphire was up to the task:  yoga and tennis and water sports for the active set; a long white talc beach for our shore-seekers; and engaging and efficient bartenders for the cocktail crowd.  Our family ebbed and flowed in groups of 2 to 20 according to energy and inclination – and the resort proved small enough to track each other down but large enough to steal away for a little alone time.  We squabbled over tipping; debated dining choices and politics with equal vigour; shared cocktail discoveries; and caught up on matters of love and career.

But we’re not ones to stay put for long.  The scuba divers among us made their way to shadowy cenotes and shrouded wrecks.  The foodies chopped and charred to their hearts’ delight with Chef Salvador Fernandez at The Little Mexican Cooking School.  And a large snorkeling armada bobbed among the reefs, discovering barracudas and eagle rays and a sea turtle swimming off with the current.

Rappelling into Tres Reyes cenote
Photo credit: Alltournative EcoArchaeological Adventures

The whole gang assembled with the knowledgeable and ever-amiable Jonhy and Ismael from Alltournative EcoArcheological Expeditions for a classic Producers’ adventure:  kayaking across marshes and swimming in caverns; rappeling into cenotes and ziplining through the canopy .  We gorged on traditional village cooking and scrambled up and down the Coba temples.  And when the Mayan elder wafted sweet-smelling smoke over our heads, he didn’t need to tell us that we were truly blessed.

Our 25th anniversary celebrations reached their ultimate crescendo at the Sapphire’s sparkling New Year’s Eve party – with winter wonderland decorations and Cirque-de-Soleil-like entertainment that took direct aim at our Canadian hearts.  Dinner brought compelling wines, ambitious courses of beautifully-served food, and a DJ astute to our tendency to break into dance at the slightest excuse.   As the midnight fireworks burst along the shore and torch-light glittered off the water, we made a hearty toast to our good fortune, hugged our adopted kin tight and close, and breathed a wish for 2016 into each other’s ear.

To you, too, I wish FELIZ AÑO NUEVO  and a HAPPY NEW YEAR.  May you all find family where you need them in 2016.

And to my Producers family – here’s to the next 25!

Producers' Anniversary New Year 2016
Photo credit: Phil & Sandra Fischer

(With thanks to Mark Brownlie for his remarkable memoir,  Ill-Mannered and Misbehaved:  The First 25 Years of the Baby Gang.)

Text © 2016 Catherine Van Brunschot