The Italian Centre Shop Calgary is a 13,000 square foot foodie heaven and it is within a 5 minute drive from my house. I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard this friendly Edmonton family had decided to expand their Italian/European market into Calgary, but here we are about a year later and this treasure trove of all things good is now open!
I had a chance to sneak a bit of a peek about a month ago when my daughter went for an interview at the job fair. While waiting, I met store manager Gino Marghella who immediately welcomed me like family and gave me a quick tour of each section within the market. The tiles were just barely in so it was difficult to imagine what it would be like…so when I walked in on friends and family night and saw this ‘Cathedral of Cheese’ I was completely floored. This is only a section of the 13’ high and 40’ wide cheese wall, after I counted there were actually 35 wheels of Parmesan and 80 wheels in total. After I had recovered from the cheese wall, I spent a lot of time studying the grocery aisles beginning with the dried legumes. They covered almost an entire row and then there was the canned legumes…my daughter is going to have a fun time checking this section out! I haven’t always been able to find San Marzano tomatoes here in Calgary but now I have a steady supply, multiple brands to choose from, and all at a really decent price. This is half of the brands available. You can get them with or without basil added. Besides the legumes and tomatoes, the grocery aisles contain some really great European products that aren’t always easy to find such as cuttlefish ink, nettle syrup, 3 kg sized tubs of Nutella, regular and gluten free pastas (made with alternate grains), chocolates and sweets, and really great Rio Mare canned tuna. There’s a freezer section filled with many kinds of ravioli, frozen rabbits, and sauces. I spotted these bags of already pitted frozen sour cherries which I know will come in handy for pie making.
What I really liked was that the Italian Centre Shop tries to carry as many local products as they can. In addition to the great European products, they carry Fiasco Gelato and Rocky Mountain Flatbread Co. frozen pizzas. My foodie date, Danna, said that their frozen pizzas are really delicious.
Once I had gone through all the grocery aisles I ended up at the bakery which probably was a big mistake…everything looked so good! You can take away or order anything from tiramisu to mille feuille, lemon tarts, and nutella croissants. If that wasn’t enough sweets for you, the next counter contains a delicious array of tasty gelato and a professional espresso bar. The head barista was brought in from Italy specifically to train the staff using Kimbo espresso. Hubby is really excited because he drives by the Italian Centre Shop is on his way to work. The espresso bar is open at 7:30 am so he can get his morning coffee and I’m excited because I can get him to pick up pizzas on the way home!
Speaking of pizzas, the Italian Centre Shop pizzas were voted the number one pizzas in Edmonton so I am really looking forward to trying one. In addition to take away pizzas, there is a prepared food section along with other take home meals like lasagna and meatballs. During the event I tried these delicious mozzarella arancini in sauce. While I was talking to the server, another lady took an arancini and that was how I met Teresa Spinelli, daughter of Frank Spinelli who co-founded the Italian Centre Shop in Edmonton in 1959. She is a friendly lady who values her customers and community as family. The Italian Centre is a very active supporter of community in Edmonton and they intend to carry on this tradition in Calgary. As a start, ten percent of all the ‘Friends and family’ night sales was given to local Calgary charity Brown Bagging For Calgary’s Kids. “The more you give, the more you get back” was an all important philosophy that Frank instilled upon his children and Teresa lives by it to this day.
There is a large middle deli section that makes up the core of Italian Centre Shop. There you will find all kinds of imported and local cheeses and deli meats. They carry well priced grass fed, anti-biotic and hormone free Piedmontese beef raised in Lacombe by Messinger Meats. They also carry local elk, bison, and pork as well as Prairie Roots organic chicken from Bittern Lake. I am not much of an olive connoisseur but I was impressed with the gorgeous olive bar and I even found a ‘beginner olive’ to bring home. They are the round green olives at the bottom right of the photo, beside the grilled red peppers.
Last, but not least there is a decent sized fresh produce section with local and imported fruits and vegetables. There were trays of delicious figs, BC cherries, fava beans, and peppers grown in Lacombe…just as a small example of what you can find there. And, if you have an event coming up, you can order fruit arrangements, deli trays, and caprese bites along with your canolli.
Welcome to Calgary Spinelli family, I’m so glad you chose Calgary as your new home!
Italian Centre Shop
9919 Fairmount Drive SE; Calgary
“The very best conversations happen around the table; whether it’s the dinner table, the boardroom table,
or just a coffee table…It’s where ideas come to life, relationships are built, and connections are made. Because
it’s not what’s on the table that matters, but who’s at the table” Julie Van Rosendaal, A Seat at Our Table trailer.
No words rang truer on the night when I dined with 100 other Albertans, all strangers with one common bond, on the rooftop patio at Charbar. A Seat at Our Table was a culinary event over a year in the making attended by people from all walks of life…and everyone had an Alberta story.
We began with introductions that were essentially four of the five profile questions that were emailed along with our invitations:
It was a great way to start a thoughtful evening, which celebrated all Alberta has to offer Canada and the world. We are more than oil and gas, we have farmers and producers that do their very best every day to produce a product that they are proud to call their own. From humanely raised and ethically slaughtered grass fed beef to creating creamy gelato, every product that comes from Alberta has an impact on the land, the consumer, and the farmer/producer. As Albertans we can’t lose sight of how important it is to treat our land with respect so that future generations can continue to proudly call Alberta home.
Truthfully, I was a bit unsure of what the evening would be like. I’m not the best at meeting new people in such a large environment but I went to the event with an open mind and a few conversation starters ‘up my sleeve’. I also had a couple of questions that I wanted answered and the length between courses allowed everyone to get up from their table and mingle with other diners. I spoke to Kent and Kassie O’Brien from 4KFarms about their farm and how they differ from large scale pig producers. What I gained from the conversation was more than just ‘yes, we ethically raise pork for your table’, it was an understanding of how much they love what they do and how knowing a real producer can give you an immediate Alberta connection. It makes me want to dig out my rubber boots for a visit to their farm to see the pigs someday soon!
I also spoke with Tony Marshall from Highwood Crossing, a fourth generation Alberta farmer who has been producing organic grains, cereals, and cold-pressed flax, canola oil and granola on his family’s land near Aldersyde for over 30 years. I love that his passion for farming never faltered during the devastating 2013 floods which flooded the fields and ruined their brand new production facility. During that time he never lost a customer but instead, received help and support from the local Alberta community. The family chose to take the positive energy of the community and rebuild and now their bond with Alberta is stronger than ever.
Those are just a couple of the great conversations I had last night. At our table, (which we fondly nicknamed ‘the roulette table’ due all of us having various food allergies and intolerances) there were producers (Rod & Lara Olsen from Leaf & Lyre Urban Farms), passionate healthy food advocates (Amber Romaniuk from Amber Approved), small business advocates (Stephanie Jackman of Reap Calgary), Michael Brown (the CEO of CMLC), and shallow gas producer Quinton Rafuse (Ember Resources). Even though we all came from various backgrounds our conversation contained very few lulls, except those that were a result of us enjoying our food.
Oh, yes. The food. It all began with this delicious cocktail from Christina Mah of Raw Bar. It featured Spring Equinox spirits from Eau Claire Distillery, a Highwood Crossing oats and honey directly from Rouge restaurant’s urban bee hives. Christina kept us from getting thirsty all night with several cocktail pairings, including the ATB Long Table Sour (using Eau Claire vodka) and the Gin & Timber (with Eau Claire Parlour Gin and local Porter’s Tonic). We also had pairings from local breweries; Village Brewery, Tool Shed Brewery, and Big Rock Brewery.
Course one came courtesy of Chef Andrew Winfield of River Café. It was a gorgeous purple asparagus salad with some of the very last Edgar Farms asparagus. This is one of the first crops of purple asparagus and it’s still in the ‘experimental growth’ phase as it takes about 5 years to really get growing. The brown butter egg was a perfect contrast in texture…and flavour. It was a real treat to have all of that fresh goodness perched on top of a very thinly sliced piece of lardo. If you’d like to try Edgar farms asparagus you’ll have to wait a whole year for it to come back into season and you can buy it directly from the farm or at the Crossroads Market from Innisfail Growers.
We were off to an amazing start but this second course was really unique. I knew as soon as it was placed in front of me that it could only be the work of Duncan Ly, also from Raw Bar (and Hotel Arts). Leaf and Lyre Rhubarb Hot and Sour Soup with Citrus cured Rainbow Trout, Soya Cured Roe and Fragrant Herbs. The beverage pairing in this case was Village Triplet from Village Brewery. I thought the slightly sweet berry tones in the beer went nicely with the sour rhubarb. In this photo you can also see part of the Alberta Table, artfully crafted by woodworker Martinus Poole.
The next course featured 4KFarms Tambuta pork. It’s pork with an outstanding flavour due to the special diet of hazelnuts and barley mash. I’m not kidding, these are some well fed and very happy pigs. I kind of wish there weren’t any other flavours on the plate but then we wouldn’t have had a preview of things to come from Chef Darren MacLean’s new venture, Shokunin. The kombu and miso flavours actually went really well with the pork.Next up was my very first taste of Charbar featuring the cooking of Chef Jessica Pelland. This Asador Platter is featured on their menu and contains some mighty find meat based food, grilled right on the Charbar rooftop using an authentic Argentine Parrilla. 7K Panorama Ranch Grassfed Longhorn Beef Striploin with house made chorizo, empanadas, grilled peppers, and some crispy fried tripe with chimichurri. I had a couple of pieces of tripe before I recognized the tell tale texture and you know what? It was pretty okay. Not bad at all. And finally a uniquely prairie finish to our Alberta Table dinner with Fiasco Gelato Saskatoon Berry Gelato with Highwood Crossing Oat Crumble and house made caramel. No matter where I am, the taste of Saskatoon berries brings me back to my days of berry picking with Grandma. The gelato course was paired with a unique Big Rock Brewery White Stout called Mind Bender. It had a lovely aroma of espresso and cocoa nibs which was sweetened with honey directly from Big Rock’s own apiary.
Julie Van Rosendaal was an excellent emcee for the evening; entertaining us with stories, introducing each producer, dish, and chef as required. She’s hilarious and was really great at thinking on her feet when the chefs needed a bit more time to plate up. The service was outstanding considering most of the food was prepared in the basement kitchen three floors down and plated up on the roof. I spoke with one of the servers at the end of the night and she was absolutely wiped out. If you’re looking for a ‘get in shape quick’ job, Charbar is definitely for you.
It was certainly a night I won’t soon forget. I’d love to thank Terry Andryo for extending the official invitation to me and for all his hard work with this year long project. It would also have been an impossible evening without the generosity of event sponsors ATB Financial, AMA Alberta, Tourism Calgary, and of course the Alberta Tourism and Culinary Alliance.
If you would like to learn more about the Alberta Table head to the A Seat At Our Table website or check out the great producer videos on their YouTube channel. They were all filmed on location by local film company Ramble Ritual.
Oh…and my answers to those four questions (if you’re curious) were:
Who are you? Bernice Hill: Former farm girl, Stay at home mom, wife, food blogger (Dish ‘n’ the Kitchen), travel junkie, and Calgary food enthusiast
Who are you connected to? I am independent writer, Food Bloggers of Canada Member, friends with local foodies.
Who brought you to the table (your connection) Terry Andryo after the Social Media Breakfast
What are you bringing to the table? (What is your Alberta story and what is your reason for wanting a seat at the table) I believe that my contribution at your table would be unique. Conversations are great when there are many ideas and values being discussed but the other side of a conversation is thoughtful listening. I can bring my experiences growing up on a mixed farm (grains +beef, then later all bison) among people who celebrated what our hard work provided. Hunting, fishing, butchering, preserving via fermenting and smoking provided the bulk of our food to get us through the winter…even to this day!
What saddens me is that so many people have lost touch of where their food comes from even here in Alberta, so close to where the food is raised/grown. They buy things like pre shucked corn in plastic and prefer not to think of how their gorgeous t bone steak dinner was raised and butchered. I think people need to know…the difference between a mass produced feedlot steak and one that came from a cow who was treated with respect. It think if consumers were better informed they could make decisions that make huge differences in the industry.
If you could be seated next to anyone (living or dead) who would it be and what would your conversation be about? Easy. My grandmother who passed away while we were living in Australia. If only I could have one more day with her. I think we would talk about baking because it was her love of baking (and butter) that has greatly influenced my food passion.
If you are looking for someone more local…I’m going to have to go with Ralph Klein. Never got to meet him and I bet we could talk about everything from the current orange crush to branding cattle. That conversation would never be boring!
Our post Easter weekend Monday was fairly low key. We didn’t do too much other than a quick visit to the Painted Ladies, followed by a visit to Golden Gate Park for a little geocaching. I hadn’t really checked the park out in advance, other than I knew that sometimes there were Food truck events that went on there. We were surprised to see museums there, and though we usually aren’t the museum going kind of people we really enjoyed the California Academy of Sciences. I think it was even more fun and educational than the Aquarium of the Bay. In addition to the multi level rain forest exhibit, the Philippine Coral reef, the ‘living’ rooftop, and the live penguin display, we saw the incredible visiting Whales exhibit from New Zealand complete with full sized male and female whale skeletons. Since it wasn’t a very nice day spending time inside was a welcome change. I do wish we had seen more of the park though, especially the Japanese Tea Garden. There was only one SF food truck to choose from so we had to try the Annakoot Paratha Folds and Chana Masala for lunch. I also really enjoyed the Mango Lassi. I’m drawing a complete blank over where we ate dinner that night, though I do know we tried to get a table at the Liholiho Yacht Club just down the street from our hotel. It was packed solidly so we gave up. I’m glad we didn’t just give up though, because we did get in the next evening for a very early dinner. I can understand why it is so popular. The small space is really modern looking, with many wood accents and a really open and busy yellow tiled kitchen. We were seated right across from the kitchen so I was entertained all evening. There was also a photographer journalist from the New York Times taking photos in the kitchen and it was a really interesting to watch as she hung out in the kitchen trying to take photos without interrupting the flow of the cooks.
Chef Ravi Kapur (left) is having a rough day.
The restaurant is California fresh mixed with Hawaiian flavours and before you ask, yes there is SPAM on the (secret) menu and, no we didn’t order it. We began with Tuna (Ahi) Poke on crispy nori crackers. I could eat Tuna Poke, or any kind of Poke every day. I must have been Hawaiian in a past life because I think that tuna was meant to be eaten with sesame oil. Our next dish was hubby’s choice and he really enjoyed it. Duck liver paté on toast with pickled pineapple and jalapeno. Pickling is really popular right now and this pickled pineapple was quite delicious.We needed some greens and this Asparagus Caesar salad, bonito flakes, sweet snap peas with Haas avocado was definitely appreciated.
I was really happy to order the roasted octopus, Castelvetrano olives, butterball potatoes, cilantro…and utterly captivated by the curried raisins.
For our mains, hubby and I both shared the twice cooked pork belly, red Fresno peppers, pineapple, Thai basil, and fennel. The texture on the pork was amazing; so soft but with the fat rendered down just so that it was a bit sticky. Oh, this dish was so good…I’m salivating right now writing about it. Kid number one chose this odd duck dish: Country pork steak, charred cabbage, miso honey mustard, Tokyo turnips. He said it was the best pork chop he’s ever had even though the rest of it was a bit strange.So after all those mind blowing dishes did we have room for dessert? Of course! Since I had been keeping an eye on the kitchen all night I had seen more than a few of these Baked Hawaii plates go out. I have really never ever tasted anything like it; Caramelized pineapple ice cream, vanilla chiffon base, torched meringue, caramelized pineapple and coconut, with a coconut caramel drizzle. I would go back to San Francisco just for this dessert. Hubby tried this Bruléed cardamom cheesecake, pistachio crisp, and candied kumquats and was quite happy with it as well.
I think I just figured out why this place was so busy the previous (and every) night. I did some digging around and it seems that local SF food critic, Bauer Christens, had given Liholiho Yacht Club a three star review only two nights earlier.
I can’t believe it’s June already. It seems like we skipped spring and went right from the long, cold winter right into summer! Today is June 8 and we have hit a record high temperature of 31.2 C and well, technically it isn’t even summer yet. I don’t think I ever remember it getting so hot so quickly in the year, and I am just in Calgary. My sister in Vernon has had more than a few weeks of this hot weather. That means that Okanagan BC cherries are ready super early! I saw some at the Calgary Farmer’s Market last weekend and thought maybe they were fibbing because they were so early. As a farmer’s daughter I can’t get too excited about all this heat. I know that a dry winter and spring is going to really affect crops.
Despite the summer like feel of today, I have been doing some spring themed experimenting in the kitchen. Hubby and I got quite a good yield of vibrant coloured spruce buds which I later pickled with cider vinegar.Then I got inspired by our local annual Lilac Festival to create a Lilac Cocktail. I made a Lilac simple syrup which I paired with our locally distilled Spring Equinox spirits from Eau Claire Distillery. I’ve been busy cooking all sorts of interesting salads like this ‘carrot noodle’ salad with home grown mung bean sprouts and furikake vinaigrette. This is the very first time I have used the Heath Ceramics bowl I bought in San Francisco. I guess I was waiting for the right sort of salad to use it.I was so happy with my bowl I had to use it again for this potato and bacon salad I made for the year end football banquet. Don’t worry I didn’t bring it to the banquet, it was just used for a photo op! I was really disappointed I got chosen to bring a salad for the banquet…I thought the boys wouldn’t appreciate a salad. So I decided to ask the boy what kind of salad football boys were likely to eat and he replied, ‘bacon’. Well duh! Some renovations have been going on in my kitchen. I’m curious to find out just how long they take. For now I am really happy with my new sink and streak (leak) free faucet. The old sink was white acrylic and was stained beyond belief. When I could no longer bleach out the stains we decided to begin the renovations by putting a new one in. Not really the usual way to go about things but necessary for sure. Hubby also has one section of the back splash replaced so far…after two months. The tiles behind the new sink are still the old style. Calgary has an ever growing and vibrant filming industry. If you haven’t seen Fargo (the FX series) yet, you should really give it a chance. I didn’t care for the movie but I really loved the TV series. We binge watched it in two nights and I had fun picking out familiar local neighbourhoods and stores in the background. After the season two filming wrap up, there was a prop sale where you could buy props used during filming. It was held in a huge warehouse where there was still pools of fake blood on the floor and an entire constructed house set. Each season of the show is set in a different decade, with the props at the sale appearing to be mostly 1970’s in nature. I can’t wait to see season 2!
And finally in preparation for my youngest son’s Grade 9 graduation I had to go through the photo albums and pick out a baby photo to send to the school. I had a difficult time choosing because he was an extremely cute baby (and not just because I am his mom!) so I took a poll on Facebook. This is the photo I ended up sending in: Special thanks to Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial who organizes this special monthly peak into kitchens around the world and to all the particapants. If you would like to join us, have a look at Celia’s In My Kitchen post and show us what is going on in your kitchen.
There are generally two kinds of people when it comes to foraging. There are those who prefer to forage among the safety and sanitized rows of their local grocery stores and then there are those who are willing to go the extra mile…or two outside of their comfort zone. As a child growing up on the family farm my ‘foraging’ usually included pinching baby carrots and sweet peas from my mother’s garden but as I spent a lot of time outside in the bush or marshy area near our homestead, I also did a some wild foraging.
In the summer I picked tiny little wild strawberries found in the sunny ditches along our roadway and if I was really lucky I would find a dewberry or two. I remember the look on my grandma’s face when I brought her 4 cups of wild strawberries (which had taken me the better part of a day to find) so that she could make me a wild strawberry pie. I will never forget the taste of that pie either, the concentrated strawberry flavours were so strong that we all ended up with our mouths going a touch numb. In those same ditches were small ground cover plants with large heart shaped singular leaves growing on top of a stem. I found that if I broke the stem, there was a fibrous string that I could remove and chew and it tasted like mint. I don’t even remember how I discovered it but now that I can google it I’ve found that I was eating Wild Ginger (Asarum caudatum). Other than picking berries with my mom, auntie, and grandma that was the extent of my foraging. I’m kicking myself for not asking my grandparents more questions about plants that they grew up eating and using, though I do know that they would pick and boil shave grass into a poultice for sore feet. One of our retired neighbours (a great uncle by marriage) was a mycologist who wrote a book on Fungi of the Boreal Saskatchewan Forests during his retirement. I really regret not ever going on a mushroom forage with him but I was young then and really not much of a mushroom eater.
More recently I’ve taken to studying my urban surroundings for edibles. I would still love to learn how to forage for the most prized morels, ramps, and stinging nettles but for today I am happy to post about these lovely spruce buds I found in my front yard of all places. Does this mean these spruce buds are ‘hyper local’? Hubby and I kept a close eye on our front spruce this spring and I almost gave up until last week when he pointed out the window and said, “It’s time!”. He picked from a ladder and I picked from the safety of the ground until our neighbour came outside to ask us what the hell we were doing. We explained and he seemed to be okay with it, even mentioning that a lady comes to pick the rose hips from the bushes near his cabin every fall. I do think that everyone has a bit of a natural tendency to forage, that it comes from a deeper place within us and stems from when humans began as foragers and hunters. Enough about human evolution, lets get back to cooking!
Making these pickled spruce buds couldn’t have been easier. What really takes the most time is cleaning all the brown papery wrapping off of the young buds. Once that job is done, just pack them into clean jars, pour in a boiling brine (I made mine out of 1 cup water: 1/2 cup cider vinegar: 2 tsp salt), cover, and process in a hot water bath for 10-12 minutes.
Of course, you don’t have to pickle them. You could just make a simple syrup out of them and use them in a gin and tonic with smashed blueberries OR you could bake them in a pie, also with blueberries!
There’s been an entire period of adjustment in our household. It’s really not easy when one member of the family wishes to become vegan and the rest are lifelong members of the meat eating club. It’s even more difficult when that single person has become obsessed with restricting their diet until they have gone below the recommended BMI for a person of their stature. There are many obstacles that need to be dealt with on a personal level, for me anyway. When I look at my daughter it’s hard to see her instead of her disease. I know that witty, nerdy, artsy girl is still there but her bony exterior is very distracting. As a food blogger…I just want to feed her. As a mother there’s a deep concern for her well being, mind and body. Would it be easier for me to deal with if she still agreed to eat meat, eggs, and milk? You bet. It would be a lot easier just to focus on why she is so restrictive and to understand why her body (the way it was? is?) became unsatisfactory.
My fridge is full of vegetables. It’s bursting and there is no room for meat. Sometimes I am so focused on what to feed my daughter, the rest of the family is left behind. Just this minute my oldest son told me he doesn’t want to stick around tonight after being gone all week for work (and leaving for Hawaii tomorrow for another week) because of all the ‘weird stuff’ I make to feed her. Does it hurt? You bet. It’s the ultimate way to break a mother’s (and food blogger’s) heart. My youngest son doesn’t appear to have a problem with the changes in our diet, in fact with him doing strength training for football, it’s good for him to have double the protein…both meat and legumes. He is really concerned about his sister though even if it isn’t something he fully understands.
The irony is that my pantry is probably one of the most well equipped for the vegan diet. I’ve got every type of lentil you could possibly imagine, as well as dried beans and many varieties of nuts. With some minor changes to the contents of my fridge I am well equipped to feed my daughter. Coming up with ideas that everyone will enjoy is another story. I really adore lentils but even I have my limits and I can only go so long without breaking down and adding fried bacon in with the herbs. With football every night it’s been a struggle to coordinate our varied diets. I will make a complete meal for my daughter every couple of days but in between I have begun to leave her responsible for feeding herself. It may seem a dangerous method but she is well monitored and completely capable of cooking a great vegan meal (see her instagram @celestialotter) or combining the leftovers in the fridge. We’ve had discussions about what sorts of foods complement each other nutritionally (though we still have been unable to visit a nutritionist) but I would still like her to include more foods that are higher in calories. With all that said I am so happy to say that she has just (barely) squeaked over the minimal BMI advised for her height and…you can bet we will take that as a small victory!
This salad was one of the first ‘complete’ salads I made for my daughter. It has julienned pickled carrots, roasted golden beets, sprouted legumes mix (lentils, mung beans, and adzuki beans), parsley, and green onions all tied together with a roasted carrot and cumin dressing from the Thug Kitchen cookbook.
Roasted Carrot & Cumin Dressing
3 medium carrots
1 tsp olive oil
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
pinch of salt
1/3 cup white wine vinegar (I used rice wine vinegar)
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Dice carrots and place in small roasting pan. Drizzle the first olive oil over top, then add cumin and salt. Cover and roast in 375 F oven until the carrots are tender. Put carrots in a food processor with the vinegar, water, orange juice, and second portion of olive oil. Process until smooth and yes, it could take a while.
Funny story about meeting Matt and Michelle, the Thug Kitchen bloggers at the Food Bloggers of Canada conference. As I waited in the book signing queue with my cook book I thought about what to say when it was my turn. My daughter had mentioned briefly that she would like to cut down on meat and maybe someday become fully vegan. When it came time for them to sign my book, I mentioned that I thought my daughter was ‘turning vegan’ which they thought was pretty hilarious. Matt even asked if she had been ‘bit by a vegan’ which of course is ethically impossible seeing as vegans don’t eat meat. Anyway, we had a good laugh about it at the time and they signed my book like this:
The area occupied by San Francisco is not very large but there is a very high population density. Still, when you are walking up and down the seemingly endless hilly streets it feels like you are walking forever. We quickly became pros at catching the bus and ending up very near our actual destination and so we found the transit system(s) very efficient. On the Saturday of our trip our destination was the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. I had heard about Karl, the famous bay area fog, but so far every view of the bay that we had was outstanding during our trip. I was beginning to wonder where Karl had gone…We spent a fair amount of time walking the bridge and admiring the architecture and beautiful views before we decided to wander around in the nearby Presidio park. I guess I really wasn’t prepared for how large it was and it took us a while to figure out the best way to get back to our hotel. What really amazed me about the park was that the area we hiked through was predominantly Eucalyptus trees. The early morning rains had congregated on the leaves, releasing the scent that had me immediately transformed back to Australia. Sometimes, even on holidays, it’s nice to get away from the hustle and bustle and just enjoy nature.
Once we were nearly back at our hotel room we decided that with all the walking we had done we deserved a special treat so we made a small detour to see if Mr. Holmes Bakehouse was open. We were out of luck though, because it was 4 pm and there was the dreaded ‘sold out, see you tomorrow Holmies’ sign on the door. I think we spent the rest of the day in our room, then went out for a quick bite later that evening.
The next day (Easter Sunday) we awoke well rested with a new found energy. Since it was pretty early I begged hubby to wait in the cruffin line at Mr. Holmes Bakehouse…and he did! My queue hating husband agreed to wait over an hour to buy me a cruffin. It may be true that this cruffin fad has become really hyped up in the last couple of months with the break in and subsequent theft of resident baker Ry Stephen‘s coveted recipe book. Even with all the hype, there’s no denying that the cruffin (and everything else sold at Mr. Holmes Bakeshop) is a work of pastry perfection.
We enjoyed the pastries in our room then caught the cable car to Easter Sunday service at the old St. Mary’s Cathedral right on the edge of Chinatown. The church is quite something and was one of the few buildings to survive the 1906 earthquake and devastating fires. I was a bit worried that we would have a difficult time finding restaurants open on Easter Sunday and so I planned for us to visit the R & G Lounge as suggested by Anthony Bourdain right there in Chinatown.
Of course we had to have the famous salt and pepper crab dish. I found that it was extremely greasy and salty with very little pepper flavour. I was disappointed with the whole lunch except for the vegetable and fungi dish which contained seven different types of fungi. I think I was just happy to see vegetables for a change. I felt a bit guilty about all the deep fried food we had eaten but since we spent the rest of the afternoon walking to, around, and from Fisherman’s Wharf…I wasn’t too stressed about it.
Kid number one had mentioned that he really wanted to go the to the Aquarium of the Bay so we made that our afternoon activity. We also stayed for quite some time at Pier 39, mesmerized by the Sea Lions that lounged around on the floating docks.
A quick snack of Dungeness Crab cocktail and a delicious Perfect Hibiscus Margarita (which had just won the Bay Area cocktail competition) at Fog Harbor Fish House and we were ready to tour the Aquarium. I am always enchanted by seahorses and jellyfish while kid number one was super excited to see an octopus. In all, it was a lovely Easter Sunday and the grand finale was our reservation at Bar Tartine. We didn’t have time to go back to our hotel and get my big girl camera so cell phone photos would have to do. I apologize in advance as they keep the restaurant quite dark, the photos are of really poor quality and do not do justice to the dishes we were served.
I read the entire Bar Tartine cook book before we left on our trip and was amazed at the ingenuity and innovative techniques. The restaurant prepares the whole menu from scratch, including the ‘soda’. When kid number one tried to order a coca cola, the server suggested their house made tarragon whey soda and he was pleasantly surprised at how delicious it was. I enjoyed my rhubarb and bronze fennel cocktail as well. I would never have thought to mix rhubarb and fennel. It was at Bar Tartine where hubby and I first enjoyed Moonlight Brewing ‘Death and Taxes’ CA Black Lager. From then on whenever we saw it on a menu, it was a ‘must order’. We didn’t do the tasting menu but picked some of the dishes to share between the three of us, beginning with some delicious Sprouted Einkorn Bread with Cultured Sunchoke & Sunchoke Oil. The boys tried the pickled pork sausage and buckwheat but were not impressed by the coarse texture and odd flavour of the sausage. Then, we had the best Beef Tartare I have ever had. It absolutely blew my mind for taste and texture. It was served on toast, with tonnato sauce and bottarga. The next dish was our favourite (or close second…and I am thinking of the octopus dish from Contigo here) but yet it seemed so simple. Humble roasted and smoked potatoes which were given a final quick fry for crispness and served with black garlic and ramp mayonnaise. The beet salad with sorrel, marjoram, and feta was a fresh tasting herby take on a regular beets and greens salad, and the sorrel really made the dish. We did also order the sprouted lentil croquettes with kefir and yoghurt (not pictured; all house made) which we all adored despite there being no meat involved. Our only disappointment was the pork belly (top right). The snap peas, carrots, and mung bean sprouts were outstanding but the star of the show was poorly flavoured, had a weird grey tinge to it, and was so underdone that we couldn’t even cut it. It wasn’t appetizing at all. Since all our dishes were quite small and mostly vegetable based we had room to end the evening on a sweet note. The nut stuffed dates with house lemon grass yoghurt were perfect.
We took a taxi back to the hotel, fully satiated and ready for a long snooze. If you visit San Francisco I highly recommend Bar Tartine for the full SF ‘experience’.
I had my first taste of sangria last year on Canada day. It was a tough day because my dachshund, Louis, had run away the night before and was spending the holiday in the slammer at Calgary Animal Services. The sangria definitely helped and I was slightly consoled with the knowledge that he was safe. Perhaps if everything had been ‘business as usual’ I would have gushed over the sangria and asked for the recipe.
I had no further thoughts of sangria until I picked up this beautiful hand made in Poland glass pitcher at Homesense. When I saw it on the shelf in the store I knew it would be perfect for all our patio-sized summer cocktails. First up…sangria!Last night was the perfect night to sip sangria on our sunny deck and I was really excited to have some company to share it with. My little sister was passing through on her way to a Washington music festival and I knew we’d only have a couple of hours to visit…I had to make it count! I love her free spirit and am always amazed at her ‘mature beyond her years’ attitude. She’s always someone I can count on for advice when things get overwhelming. I only wish that she lived closer to me.
Sangria is bound to become my patio drink of choice this summer. How fortuitous is it that I revisited this tasty summer drink right at the beginning of patio season? Let me know when you’re coming over and I’ll mix up a pitcher full…
Yep, those are my toes!
Berry Rosé Sangria (epicurious)
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/4 cup creme de cassis
1 1/2 cups mixed berries (I used blueberries and strawberries)
1 (750 ml) bottle chilled dry rosé (I used a 2011 Charles Melton Rose of Virginia Rosé from the Barossa Valley. I probably didn’t need to get that fancy)
2 tsp lemon juice
Add sugar, water, and creme de cassis together in a small pan. Bring up to a gentle simmer until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and add the berries. Let cool until room temperature then add to pitcher. Add chilled wine and lemon juice and cover. Chill until you are ready to serve. Enjoy!
Ah brioche. That golden loaf of goodness purchased in the spur of the moment…what would Julia cook? Why French Toast of course! I just couldn’t resist this perfectly golden and airy brioche from Yum Bakery at the Calgary Farmer’s Market and with the weekend coming up, I knew that the whole family would appreciate a special Saturday morning breakfast.
Making French toast isn’t really rocket science so I don’t generally use a recipe. I just crack as many eggs into a flat pan as I think necessary (remember if you run out it’s easy to make more!) then add a splash of milk and some ground cinnamon. Since the yolks don’t need to be separated or even whole for that matter, this is a great time to practice your one handed egg cracking technique.Add some butter to a hot pan and soak your bread for a minute or two in your milk/egg mixture, then flip. If you like cinnamon as much as I do you can sprinkle some more on top of the floating brioche pieces.Add the soaked pieces to the hot buttered pan and fry until they are golden.When they are done cooking, sprinkle with powdered sugar and add your favourite syrup or fruit conserve and enjoy!While I was making the brioche French toast I decided to use up the older cinnamon buns that I had hanging around. They were a great variation on regular French toast.
Spring has finally sprung here in Calgary and I am finally out of ‘vacation mode’. My mind has made the switch back to reality and I can finally let loose a little and tell you all about our family trip to San Francisco. It seems funny to say ‘family trip’ because really there were only three of us that went. My oldest doesn’t take trips with us because he’d rather take trips with his future wife and in laws (yes I am still having trouble letting go!) and our daughter was on a school trip to Europe. It was just hubby, kid number one, and I for this whirlwind trip to the city by the bay.
I now understand why Tony Bennett left his heart in San Francisco. This city is packed full of things to do and see, not to mention a mecca of sorts for us foodies. I had planned on mapping out important and not to miss eating spots before we left but I really only had a few in mind by the time our airplane took off. It really helped that I had a few food loving friends that had visited SF the week before and were very active on social media about it. Local food writer and awesome lady Gwendolyn Richards gave me a few ideas, as did long time friend and fellow food blogger, Noelle Chorney of Amazon in the Kitchen. I may have also borrowed a few ideas from Anthony Bourdain, that dude knows his shit.
On our first full day in SF we began with some great coffee and breakfast sandwiches from a great little café around the corner (and up the hill) from our hotel. One thing we noticed and became very grateful for was that almost all of the little cafés and restaurants had open wifi. It was very convenient for us travelers…why don’t we have this in Canada? We didn’t have a lot of time to relax with our coffees as I had scheduled our Alcatraz tour right away at 10 am. We did a lot of walking before we figured out the correct spots to catch the bus (MUNI) but we eventually got on and off quite near Pier 33, just a mere 5 minutes before the tour was to leave. The ferry ride to the island was quite enjoyable, with warm temperatures and sunny skies we had an amazing view of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance.
At first I wasn’t really as excited about touring Alcatraz as the boys were but now I am really glad we went. We spent a good time on the inside (see what I did there?) and also had the chance to view the great art exhibit @Large by Ai Wei Wei. His portrayal of social and political prisoners in the Alcatraz setting was especially poignant. It was pretty late afternoon when we got back to the mainland and we were starving so we were happy there was no line up at Hog Island Oyster Co. We had a large tray of the freshest oysters possible and I got to eat my first sunny California avocado in this amazing avocado, fennel, and grapefruit salad. This photo of the boys is my favourite from the whole trip! After lunch we explored the markets at the Ferry Building then caught a virtually empty cable car back to our hotel to chill for the evening.
The next day was a big one! We did a lot of walking, beginning first in Chinatown then over to Molinari’s Italian Deli in North Beach for lunch. While the boy and I waited in line inside, I had a good look around and suddenly felt as if I were in a Godfather movie. This deli (around since 1896) is an institution and one of the few Italian sandwich shops left over from a time when the Italians ran everything and the Irish police were on the hunt. Everyone ate at Molinari’s. It took us a while to clue in that we needed a number…and even longer to figure out why everyone was standing around holding bread. To get your sammich you must first do those two things or you will be waiting forever! After lunch we hiked up to see Lombard Street, the street that is famous for being the steepest in San Francisco. Having hiked up the first portion, I was happy to stay at the bottom and take pictures of the cars driving down the hill in a continuous zig zag while kid number one ran up one side and down another. Apparently he had energy to burn. After Lombard street we grabbed the BART to the Mission area where we waited in a line outside of Omnivore Books so that I could meet David Lebovitz!! It was a true foodie fan girl moment. My only regret is not being able to fully browse those shelves, completely stocked with every cook book you could possibly imagine.
Since I knew we would be in the area quite late, I had decided to ask Mr. Lebovitz (via twitter the night before) what his local restaurant recommendation would be. Imagine my surprise when I woke up in the morning and he had replied! I phoned Contigo immediately and was able to get a reservation for 9:15…pretty late but well worth it in my books! We ended up spending some time in Starbucks using their free wifi, then arrived at restaurant at our appointed time and starving…to find we had to wait another half an hour. Let me just say this…if you pay your bill you are finished your meal! It is so extremely rude to then decide to order dessert and digestifs while others wait for their table nearly fainting from low blood sugar. I really thought hubby was going to lose it but he didn’t and I am glad we stayed. We had one of the best meals at Contigo during our stay in San Francisco.
Contigo is a tapas style restaurant. Like most SF establishments it is tiny and extremely busy. I was a bit nervous about getting a ‘set menu’ that late in the evening because I thought their most popular dishes would be sold out already. The server assured us that the set menu only contained the most popular dishes and it did, thankfully, give us the most bang for our buck. There was no question whether or not we could eat that much food. We began with David’s recommendation…anchovy toast! Then Jamón Serrano Croquettes Next up…Strawberry and Grilled Goat Cheese Salad…with fennel and kumquats.That was a hard act to follow…This Pea and Mushroom Crostini wasn’t our favourite…but that tiny salad with fresh sweet snap peas was so good!And then our favourite dish of the night (and most likely our whole trip) Grilled Squid with black rice, chorizo, and roasted artichokes. Yeah I’m still dreaming about this dish.
The Grilled Trout we had next was pretty delicious too because it had more of those sweet snap peas, Jamón serrano, and a really interesting green farro. I asked the server about it and apparently it is grown locally and has a very short season…which of course is spring!
So, our first two days in San Francisco were packed with sunshine (yay!), lots of walking, sightseeing, and FOOD! Stay tuned for more posts on our trip to San Francisco….