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?

Travel?

Christmas?

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

Hunter Valley, Australia

Gundog Estate WineryJust a two hour drive from Sydney, the Hunter Valley is not only Australia’s oldest, but its most visited, wine region.  With fall markets, year-round food and wine festivals, and concerts featuring international pop stars to chamber music virtuosos, it’s easy to see why.  A covey of stellar vineyard restaurants and artisanal food producers cements the Hunter’s place as a food-lovers haven.

READ ON HERE to learn more about my favourite discoveries in the Hunter Valley – or check out the full Summer issue of Taste & Travel International magazine HERE.

Comfort & Joy at Seasons of Bowness Park

Seasons of Bowness Park entryway

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.

Seasons glass - closeupIt’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.

Seasons' chicken pot pie
Chicken pot pie with apple beet salad Photo credit: Seasons of Bowness Park

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?

Market goodsIf 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 Park and Market are open daily, including Christmas and New Year’s.  Check their Facebook page for hours.

Text and photos © 2016 Catherine Van Brunschot (except where noted)