Small Business Inspiration – Beirut Bakery

In light of recent tragic events in Paris and around the world, I’ve come to the realization that not everyone I know has the knowledge and compassion needed to survive and thrive in today’s reality. So many people are posting messages of hate and intolerance on social media and, at times, it can feel so overwhelming that it makes me want to retreat myself (along with my family) into a cocoon of safety, love, and reason.

I know I’m not the only one. Recently my brother in law had these wise words to say on his Facebook page:


“I’m tired. I’m tired of the news. I’m tired of the hate. In tired of the vitriol. I’m tired of all the debate. I’m tired of the blame. I’m tired of blanket statements and generalization.

I care deeply about the fallout from it all, and my heart goes out to those affected by the actions of a few.

But the fact of the matter, is that until we can get away from the blame and the hate, we are never EVER going to get away from terrorism.

Terrorism wins when there is fear, hate, animosity, greed, blame and despair.

The only way to fight hate? I am sure you can figure it out…”

So what are we left to do? My answer is to look for the good in everyday life. You can find it, I promise it’s still there. Clear your mind, hold that chin up high and be a part of everything you feel is right in the world. I’m not saying that you should ignore what is going on in the world, but to learn when enough is enough for you. Counteract all that is evil and hate with giving and joy. We’re in the middle of that perfect season between Thanksgiving and Christmas – a great time to reflect upon everything that is good in your life and the world around you.

Here’s a story about what inspired me today:

On the very last day of my daughter’s group therapy, I left the house in such a hurry that I forgot my wallet. As we drove across the city to the Alberta Children’s Hospital, I was really looking forward to a shawarma at Beirut Bakery, a place we had discovered together, only the week before. I had no idea that my day was about to change…for the better.groceryshelves
What really made me go back, though, was the owner Mahmoud Rafih. Mr. Rafih is a small business owner who works hard and takes pride in every aspect of his business. The small area of grocery lined shelves are neat and tidy, as are the display cases filled with sweet and savoury pastries.bakerydisplay When you walk in the door, Mahmoud offers a sample of Fatayer (a meat filled pastry) as a welcome. After I had ordered my shawarma and discovered I had no way to pay for it, I was mortified. I ran to my car to see if I could find any money and was relieved to find that my daughter had almost enough to pay my lunch bill in her school back pack. I still felt quite bad and Mahmoud tried to cheer me up, telling me it was okay and that I could pay the $1.50 the next time. He even made jokes about me driving around without my license (even though I was petrified of doing that by now…) and offered to phone the police when I left the store.

Seeing this new side of his personality inspired me to think about the positive aspect of our situation. Here I was, petrified and owing money for my lunch and here he was with a story to tell. I quickly introduced myself as a food blogger, gave him a business card, and asked for his story.

Mahmoud Rafih came to Calgary  via Saudi Arabia in 2008. He was originally from Beirut and I didn’t want to pry into the reasons why he came to our country. Suffice it to say that this man left his country of origin and ended up in Canada, initially working with his brother at Little Lebanon Pita, Pies & Donair until he had saved up enough money for his own business. He bought up a space on 17 th Avenue that had previously been a convenience store, renovated it, and opened almost one year ago. He works long hours, sometimes 15 hours a day, but he still takes the time to know his regular customers and make all of his food from scratch. Mahmoud has made a conscious effort to alter some of his recipes, like the Warak Inab (stuffed grape leaves) and Mujadara (rice and lentils with crispy onions) so they are available for his gluten free customers.menubeirut

While I am not please that I left my wallet at home and short changed Mahmoud out of $1.50, I am please that I get to go back again for another visit to pay him back. I may just bake him some cookies in return for the kindness he showed me that day. I guess you just never know when the great and positive things in this world will appear amidst all the dark destruction but it’s always a great thing to keep your mind and spirit open for when they do.

Christmas In November at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge

The next morning, as I washed the last of the glitter from my hair and unpacked my silly Christmas sweater, I thought about all the amazing memories I had of Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge’s Christmas In November. I realized that what I had previously expected to experience at CIN was in no way what I had experienced at all. Sure, I had expected a gorgeous wintry wonderland nestled in the Canadian Rockies, some eggnog, some sugar cookies and merry tunes but what I witnessed and became a part of was a whole lot more.

From the moment our bus entered the grounds and Santa hopped aboard our bus to give us our room keys, to the final wave good bye from the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge staff, it was pure magic. Within six feet of the front door, I was immersed in Christmas with every sense I have; I smelled the wood smoke from the roaring fire, tasted an eggnog & rum, and listened to the beautiful Christmas melodies performed by the Willows Trio. The warmth of the lodge was so welcoming after coming in from the cold, and I was suddenly very eager to get in on my first ever Silly Christmas sweater party.

From those beginning moments of Christmas In November to the very end when the presenters and staff of Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge gathered to wave goodbye, I fell in love with Christmas all over again. I would love to share with you some of my very favourite CIN moments.

The Flaming welcome reception Fire Cocktail with Pinnacle vodka and cherry brandy. While I sat in awe as Sue the bartender (yes we ended up on a first name basis) lit my cocktail glass on fire I noticed that I wasn’t the only one watching. Flare bartender, CIN presenter, and partial elf, Micah Dew was filming my drink being made and afterwards, we had a nice chat about the upcoming cocktails we would create during his cocktail session. His co-hosting commentary during the whole CIN event was entertaining and I could tell that he loves meeting people and helping them to have a great time.

FlamingcocktailThe people. Everyone was there to have a good time, whether or not they had arrived all by themselves or with a huge group of friends and family. During the weekend, I took some time everyday to sit with as many different CIN attendees as I could. At breakfast one morning I met a 14 year CIN attendee who was accompanied by a group of other ‘less experienced’ friends, including a couple of first timers. I sat with a couple who had traveled from the Toronto area at dinner that first night. They had heard how great CIN was from a friend and couldn’t resist becoming a part of the festivities. I chatted with two celiac ladies just prior to Christine Cushing’s session. They were so excited that Christine had taken the time to make them a special ‘gluten free’ version of her sweet potato gnudi with fried sage and chestnuts using rice flour instead of all purpose flour. Oh, and then there were the jolly food writers that closed the hotel bar down every night…we’ll just leave it at that!

The entertainment. From the beautiful three way harmonies, to their always matching and festive outfits, the Willows Trio were a treat at every dinner and reception.  When it was time to party a little bit harder, Edmonton band, The Counterfitz really had a lot of great tunes (accompanied by vocals that just blew me away!) that kept people dancing. Of course, no CIN would be complete without a visit from the big man himself! Gala night got a little crazy for some of the presenters but I don’t think anyone ended up on Santa’s naughty list.

cincollageThe Willows Trio; Elizabeth Baird and Michael Olson with Santa

The setting at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is within a  gorgeous Rocky Mountain valley, beside the shores of Lake Beauvert. When we arrived, there was no snow on the ground but it began gently falling the next day, as if on cue. I was blessed to be staying in a cozy lakefront cabin with a king sized bed all to myself and I felt so spoiled as every time I called #55 on my phone, the front desk person addressed me as ‘Ms. Hill’. I think a word or two needs to be said here about the staff at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. They were so attentive and organized, with just the right amount of professionalism mixed with mischievous fun. I could see that they all work so hard during the long hours of CIN, yet they still found time to chat or make jokes. I enjoyed meeting everyone from the cleaning ladies who showed me how to use my in room coffee gadget, to the kitchen chefs who were there to help the presenters, Uwe Walter (Director of Sales & Marketing who shared my table for the majority of the weekend, Angela Moore (Fairmont regional public director), and Teresa Marshall (Marketing & Public Relations, FJPL). I particularly enjoyed seeing Executive Chef Christopher Chafe let loose on the dance floor and taking the time to speak with so many people. He looks like a chef that is comfortable both in and out of the kitchen, and he was entirely comfortable leaving the food preparation to his amazing kitchen staff.

The presenters. I signed up for all the food related sessions (and still couldn’t get to them all!) and was fortunate to be able to meet most of them again during ‘downtime’ over the course of the weekend. They all were very friendly and always willing to post for a picture. Emily Richards and Elizabeth Baird really had to be two of my favourite presenters. Their presentation was set up in the private dining room overlooking the lake and I walked by them every morning on my way to my scheduled presentation. Every time they would wave and I would wave back and carry on walking. Finally, one evening at dinner, Elizabeth Baird stopped to ask me (!) when I would be IN the session instead of just floating by it! Yep, I was pretty tickled to meet this great lady of Canadian cuisine, 2014 recipient of the Governor General of Canada award for her contribution to the history and continuation of Canadian Cuisine.
Some of our local food chefs, Julie van Rosendaal, Connie DeSousa, and John Jackson love coming to CIN because they are able to enjoy quality family time with their families during the 9 days of CIN. I was excited to be able to add a few more ‘chef selfies’ to my growing photo album…

chefcollageClockwise from top left: Christine Cushing, Roger Mooking, Anna Olson, Emily Richards, and Elizabeth Baird.

The Food. It appears that I have saved the last. I have to say at this point that I am usually pretty careful how much I eat at our Christmas family gatherings. There are just too many great things to eat during the holidays and if I let loose, I just may never stop. Well, I’m afraid that this was the case during CIN…I ate way too much! Each of the presentations I attended ended in a tasting of all the amazing dishes they had made and I tried almost every dish. On the second day I started ‘presentation hopping’ so that I could try as much of the presenter’s food as I could. So let’s say, for example I tried all of the delicious pastries that Emily Richards and Elizabeth Baird had made…then ran down the hall to where Connie and John had just finished up their Charcut vs. Charbar presentation to try the truffle poutine and seared meats with seafood. True story. You may now be able to understand why I was so full for the majority of every served lunch and dinner at CIN. I felt bad because the meals that Chef Chafe and staff had prepared were the best I’ve ever had in a hotel, especially during a conference of 450 people! Each course was specially timed so everyone at each table was served at the same time. The food was piping hot, well presented, and delicious. The traditional turkey dinner we enjoyed for lunch on the first day was something quite special, indeed.presenterscollage

Mustard grilled pork chops (Michael Olson), Buttertarts & Gorgonzola/onion tart (Emily Richards & Elizabeth Baird), Crispy Pork Belly Vietnamese style sandwiches & Pineapple Pork Skewers (Anna & Michael Olson), Sweet Potato Gnudi with Sage and Brown Butter (Christine Cushing), Candy Cane Macarons (Duchess Bakeshop)

The chef presenters supplied everyone with copies of the recipes they had made for the presentations and now I feel more than prepared to host Christmas at my house this year! Here is a great recipe for sugar cookies from Anna Olson which uses cooked egg yolk to add texture and stability. annascookies2

This year Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is celebrating 100 years in the Rocky Mountains including 27 years of Christmas In November. CIN is planned down to every last twinkling light by the heated outdoor pool, their longevity is a testament to their attention to detail and amazing service. The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is open year round and is the perfect getaway for couples, families, and friends alike. It is even pet friendly! They host many great events throughout the year, including many special events marking their Centennial year.




Homemade S’mores

Another year of football has come and gone and I am thankful. Yes I am a football mom and yes, I love watching my son and favourite CFL team play, but this year both teams have had tough seasons. For now I am breathing a sigh of relief that the season is over and we can move on top prepare for next year. Sometimes it’s just best to keep the past behind us and move forward. Unless it involves food.

It seems like ages ago we celebrated the end of our son’s Bantam football year with a potluck banquet. We were asked to bring dessert so I made these home made s’mores. They flew off the platters and were appreciated by all the teenage boys and parents alike. Back then, I shared photos of them on social media when I made them but forgot to post a recipe on the blog! So, if you have a celebration coming up or a potluck where you are a designated ‘bringer of dessert’ these home made s’mores are sure to please.smores1

Homemade S’mores

Graham Crackers


1½ cups all-purpose flour
1⅓ cups graham flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter; room temperature
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons honey


1. Whisk both flours with the baking soda and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

2. In a mixer bowl, combine the butter, brown sugar and honey, and beat at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

3. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed just until blended and the dough comes together, about 30 seconds.

4. Transfer the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, shape into a log (about 8 inches long), then flatten out sides so there are slightly rounded corners on the log. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 5 days.

5. To bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

5. On a cutting board, cut the cold dough log using a sharp knife. Transfer each slice to the baking sheet, spacing the crackers at least ¾-inch apart.

6. Bake the cookies for 10 minutes or until the cookies are dark golden brown and just firm to the touch. Let cool for a minute on the baking sheets, then transfer to a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.


 Marshmallows (by Rosie Daykin from Butter Baked Goods)

(makes about 64 (1- × 1-inch) marshmallows)


1 cup water
3 envelopes unflavored gelatin
2 cups granulated sugar
1⁄2 cup light corn syrup
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons pure vanilla
Generous amount of icing sugar to coat the marshmallows, about 2 cups

YOU WILL NEED: (9- × 9-inch) baking pan, buttered


1. In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, pour in 1⁄2 cup of the water and sprinkle with the gelatin.  Set aside to allow the gelatin to soak in.

2. In a medium saucepan over high heat, add the sugar, corn syrup, salt and remaining 1⁄2 cup of water.  Bring to a rolling boil and continue to boil for 1 minute. Remove from the heat.

3. Turn the mixer to low and mix the gelatin once or twice to combine it with the water.  Slowly add the hot sugar mixture, pouring it gently down the side of the bowl, and continue to mix on low.

NOTE : Be really careful at this point because the sugar mixture is smoking hot!  It’s not a job for little ones.

4. Turn the mixer to high and continue to whip for 10 to 12 minutes until the marshmallow batter almost triples in size and becomes very thick. Scrape down the sides of the bowl frequently to avoid the batter overflowing as it grows. Stop the mixer, add the vanilla, and then whip briefly to combine.

**If you are making marshmallow topped brownies this is where you add the marshmallows to the cooled brownies**

5. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking pan and use a spatula or bench scraper to spread it evenly in the pan. Work quickly, as the marshmallow becomes more difficult to manipulate as it sets.

6. Grease a sheet of plastic wrap with butter and lay it across the top of the marshmallow. Press down firmly on the plastic wrap, to seal it smoothly and tightly against the mixture.

7. Leave the marshmallow to set at room temperature for at least 3 hours or, even better, overnight. The marshmallow will be too sticky and soft to cut if you try too soon.

8. Sprinkle a work surface or cutting board with the icing sugar. Run a knife along the top edge of the pan to loosen the marsh­mallow slab. Invert the pan and flip the marshmallow out onto the counter or board. Scoop up handfuls of the icing sugar and rub all over the marshmallow slab.

9. Use a large knife to cut the slab into 1- × 1-inch squares (or to fit your graham crackers). Roll each of the freshly cut marshmallow squares in the remaining icing sugar to coat them completely.marshmallowcollage

TO ASSEMBLE: Melt a little semi-sweet chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave under a watchful eye. Dab a little on the bottom of two graham crackers, then place them around a marshmallow. Place the finished s’mores close together and all lined up. Use the rest of the melted chocolate (you may have to re-heat it at this point) and, using a fork or silicon pastry brush, flick the chocolate all over the tops of the s’mores.


Thanksgiving Everyday – Veggiedukken

This year at Thanksgiving there were so many wonderful things in my life to be thankful for. Though Canadian Thanksgiving has come and gone, mindfully practicing thankfulness all year long has really become a priority in my life. First and foremost, I am grateful for the health of my family. I’ve known of so many people that have had an unbelievably rough year, losing loved ones or being diagnosed with illness. It really brings even the small things into perspective for me.

Our house has not been without struggles this past year, dealing with my daughter’s eating disorder was a priority, as any mother will tell you that the health and well being of her children is the most important thing in her life. I’m so happy and proud of her recovery efforts; while she is still mindful of what she eats, she has been very successful in remaining vegan throughout her recovery. During meetings with the nutritionist, we are usually given ‘homework’, little changes that we, as a family, can do to help our daughter regain a healthy attitude towards food. Since she regularly cooks her own meals and eats separately from the rest of the family, we are to be practising cooking together and having her present at family dinners again. Thanksgiving (and other major holidays) are often peak times of stress for those with eating disorders but this Thanksgiving, we worked and ate together as a whole family again.turdukken

I started dinner preparation as I always do, by brining our turkey, however, this year our side dishes had a more ‘inclusive’ flavour. I found a large, quite cylindrical butternut squash and together we stuffed it with a rice and vegetable stuffing. turdukken1When it was done roasting, we sliced it cross-wise and enjoyed our first ever Veggiedukken.turdukken2



  • 1 15-20 inch butternut squash or banana squash
  • 1 onion; chopped
  • 1 red pepper; chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic; minced
  • 2 cups button mushrooms; chopped
  • olive oil
  • 1 long carrot; peeled and cut in half crosswise
  • 1 leek; tender white part only, quartered lengthwise
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice
  • 2 cups bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup fresh sage
  • 2 tbsp fresh thyme
  • 1 cup fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper


  1. Slice squash in half lengthwise and scoop seeds out. Hollow out the flesh until it becomes only about 1 inch thick, leaving ends intact.
  2. Add onion, red pepper, garlic, and mushrooms to a food processor and process until they are a fine dice. Add olive oil to a pan and sauté vegetables until they become soft.
  3. Boil carrot in a small pot for 5-10 minutes until it is slightly softened.
  4. In a large bowl, combine vegetables, rice, and bread crumbs. Finely slice the sage (chiffonade) and parsley and add them to the bowl along with the picked thyme leaves.
  5. Season and mix.
  6. Stuff one half of the squash with mixture, nestle the carrot and lengths of leek along the stuffed cavity. Stuff the other half of the squash and tie with kitchen string. Lightly cover with foil and bake in a roasting pan at 350 F for 1 1/2 hours or until done.
  7. Let cool slightly and slice cross wise. Serve.


And as for what made me most thankful of all? While we ate our pumpkin pie and cheesecake, my daughter also enjoyed her very own ‘vegan’ pumpkin pie that she made herself.  I’m thankful for little victories.


Alberta Blogger Roundup – Christmas in November

This year at the Food Bloggers of Canada conference, I spent much more time catching up with local Alberta food bloggers and visiting with those I had met at the 2014 conference. It was really nice getting to know everyone a bit more…sometimes, when we see each other at events, we don’t really connect on a higher level because we are so busy taking photos and soaking up the details. Blogging is sometimes a really lonely job (hobby/pastime) as it involves long hours cooking, photographing, writing, editing, and seemingly endless social media. I love doing all of that but sometimes I find it a bit isolating.

I’ve been wanting to find a way to reach out and connect with local bloggers for a while now. Sure, I would love to arrange regular meetings or potlucks (even better!) but let’s face it, everyone is so busy that it’s really difficult to find a time when everyone is available. At the conference I was listening to Ayngelina Brogan and Davida Kugelmass speak about taking the leap from hobby blogger to professional blogger and then suddenly, it was like a light went on in my head! There are many ways for us bloggers to support and learn from each other, we don’t always have to meet in person and even just sharing content and knowing what everyone is up to can be a way to grow a blogger community.

Before that seminar was even over I had posted on our Alberta Food Connections Facebook page about ideas for a local round up. One of the suggestions was a ‘Christmas in November’ roundup and I ran with it because as bloggers ,we start getting ready for Christmas much earlier than everyone else (except Costco). So here are some great Christmas related posts from bloggers around Alberta, welcome to our Alberta Roundup!

Merry About Town – No Bake Peanut Butter Crunchies – An Easy Christmas Treat!

A tried and true family recipe via Merry About Town. Start a new Christmas tradition in your family with these easy to make delicious Christmas treats! Peanut-Butter-Crunchies-620x349

Recipe here.

Top 10 Gluten Free Holiday Sweets Recipes

A roundup within a roundup? Why not?! Here are ten mouthwatering Gluten Free Christmas treats from Calgary Gluten Free Blogger Wheat Free Mom

Blog post here.

Gingerbread Dreams Festival of Trees Grande Prairie

This post is what started a very cool gingerbread journey for Barrhead, AB blogger Nutmeg Disrupted. Since then she has raised thousands of dollars for charities in Alberta with gingerbread.  I love that she has found her passion and has found a way to help others at the same time. gingerbreaddreams

Blog post here.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Cynthia from Cynful Kitchen says that sometimes, the happiest kitchen experiments come from accidents. The sticky, messy kinds. With Christmas coming upon us, if you need to bake exactly a dozen cookies, this easy drop Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe will be sure to come to your rescue!


Recipe here.

Christmas…and Candy Cane Bark

 At Food Mamma, candy cane bark is a must have for the holidays.  With two layers of chocolate topped with crunchy candy canes, it’s a winning combination.


Recipe here.

Holiday Candy Popcorn Bars

These candied popcorn bars are so simple, yet they are sticky and satisfying and hit the right note for holiday entertaining.   Home to Heather loves the versatility of this recipe because you can tweak it using what ingredients you have on hand.


Recipe here.

Oven Roasted Chestnuts

I remember the time that we tried to roast chestnuts with the kids. It was pre Google era so we didn’t know any better and just threw them into the fire. I’m thinking this post from Julie’s Kitchen Adventures would have come in really handy!


Blog post here.

Christmas Monkey Bread

The Kitchen Magpie takes a suggestion from her readers and updates her original Monkey Bread to give it a festive spin for Christmas morning brunch.


Recipe here.

Grand Marnier Tasting with Patrick Reguenaud

I don’t expect any of you to know who Patrick Reguenaud is and I certainly don’t expect you to know anything about cognac because I sure as heck didn’t…until last week. Cognac has never been high on my priority list because it just wasn’t a spirit my family was familiar with. I think mom may have had a bottle or two of Grand Marnier that she drank along side her coffee during ice fishing and I most recently had my first ‘Millionaire’ (made with bourbon, Grand Marnier, absinthe (or pastis), grenadine, lemon juice, and egg white), but other than that I have had literally no cognac experience.

So, when I got the invitation to attend a cognac tasting for the launch of the newest Grand Marnier addition, 1800 Cuvée, at Teatro Restaurant I just couldn’t say no to a little cognac education. I figured the best way to learn is from someone whose family has lived and breathed cognac since 1627. Patrick Reguenaud is the master distiller for Grand Marnier. That means he oversees the Grand Marnier cognac empire from grape production, to distillation, blending, ageing, and even marketing. He knows his product inside out and was also very personable and entertaining. patrickSince the majority of the tasters in the room were beginner cognac connoisseurs, Patrick was happy to start with the basics:

  • Grand Marnier was first created in 1880 by Alexandre Marnier-LaPostolle. His family crest is still present on the red seal of every bottle of Grand Marnier.
  • Grand Marnier is only made in France and over one million cases are exported to 150 countries annually.
  • Cognac is comprised of three main ingredients (grapes, sugar, orange distillate)
  • 2-3 % of the cognac is lost through evaporation annually; the oldest barrels may have up to 50 % loss of cognac during the 70 year ageing process.
  • As a minimum, all Grand Marnier is at least 51% cognac.


  • Trebbiano grapes are the primary varietal used for cognac. Those grown in the Cognac region don’t make great wine because they are too acidic, but they make great cognac.
  • Grapes are grown in six different regions of Cognac by over 5000 local farmers, all of whom are included in the International Cognac Association.


  • The sugar used is beet sugar from beets grown in France.
  • The sugar must be refined otherwise flavours would affect the taste of the cognac.


  • Grand Marnier uses the Caribbean Bigaradia orange (Citrus aurantium), a very bitter orange.
  • The oranges are picked while still green and peels are dried in the Caribbean sun before being shipped to France.
  • The peels are rehydrated in water and the pith is removed.
  • The peels are then macerated in neutral spirits for 10 days, then distilled so that the flavour is more concentrated.


  • Grapes are picked and fermented, then distilled in October resulting in 30% ABV.
  • The second distillation results in 71% ABV.
  • Orange distillate is added after the second distillation. All distillation is finished by the end of March.
  • Grand Marnier is aged in French Oak Barrels for a minimum of 2-3 years and a maximum of 70 years, depending on the product.
  • The aged cognac is blended using smell and taste by Patrick to create each Grand Marnier product according to quality.

cognacDuring our tasting, we tried each of the six cognacs in the Grand Marnier Cuvée Collection. We began with the Cordon Rouge (Red Seal) Grand Marnier that everyone is familiar with. I’m going to be honest, it wasn’t my favourite and I almost choked even though it has the least amount of cognac. It just wasn’t for me. Neither was the Raspberry Peach; the slight deviation from the original Grand Marnier flavour because it also includes distillate of fresh peaches and raspberries along with the orange. Once we tried the Louis-Alexandre I was really finding my tasting groove. It’s probably not difficult to conclude that the longer aged (and higher percentage) products were more enticing! We tasted them all; the Cuvée du Centenaire, the Cuvée 1880, and the Quintessence. It was a special treat, indeed, to be tasting Cognac that had been aged and blended to its maximum potential.GrandMarnier

In the end, that was a lot of cognac. I wish I had kept tasting notes but really the stand out for me was the Cuvée du Centenaire and luckily, I think this one still may be within my price range. I left the tasting with a new knowledge, and a rumbly stomach which brought me to Blink Restaurant for a bowl of their amazing risotto. Since there were only seats at the bar open, I was seated there and enjoyed my conversation with owner Leslie Echino who was working behind the bar. She happened to have another Grand Marnier cuvée, the Cuvée du Cent Cinquantenaire, which was launched in 1977 to commemorate the 150 th Anniversary of the house of Grand Marnier. I tried that one too…seven cognacs in one day was pretty intense. I went home for a nap after that.

In My Kitchen – November 2015

My goodness it’s been a long time since I’ve participated in In My Kitchen. The truth is not much has gone on in my kitchen except for the ongoing renovations that started in April. Yes, April. One of these days, the kitchen will be complete and I’ll be able to post the finished product. Until then, here are a few things that have been going on.

I attended the third annual Food Bloggers of Canada conference in Montréal, Québec and had a wonderful time learning, socializing, and networking. Then there was the amazing swag bag provided by the many sponsors: swag

My dad decided to surprise my mom for her birthday with a trip to visit her ‘far away’ children and grandchildren. They stayed for a week at my sister’s house and spent her birthday at mine. I didn’t mind the short visit though, I had plenty to do and my dad can’t stand the big city. He is in the stages of completing his wood working shop and I’m looking forward to seeing what he creates in his spare time. He brought me this section of old barn door to use as a back drop/surface for my food photography. backdrop

I scored big at Value Village with this very Mad Men-esque cocktail set. I am guessing it originally came with more glasses so I will keep my eyes peeled so that I can eventually complete the set. I fell in love with the almost round glasses, etching, and gold accents.cocktailset

My cook book obsession continues. In addition to the great books I got in my conference swag bag, I couldn’t help but buy these three. Pretty soon I’m going to need an addition on the house, just for a cook book library! cookbooks

And last, but certainly not least, there was some great food in my kitchen this month! I made the ultimate Lemon Meringue Pie just before I left for the conference. I regret not taking any ‘big girl camera’ photos but here’s one from my cell phone. lemonpieYou can tell the daylight hours have left us here in Canada. The long, dark winter is ahead of us and today we had our first significant snow. 024Which means Christmas is on the way…and so is the beginning of Christmas baking!

pecanpolverones1Pecan Polvorones with Muscovado and Rosemary Centres

Thank you so much to my friend Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial for hosting a peek into November kitchens around the world!

Pecan Polvorones with Muscovado and Rosemary Centres

I’ve been thinking a lot about traditions lately; specifically Christmas traditions. When I was a kid, Christmas meant gazing longingly at toys in the Sears Wish Book, an increase of baking going on in the (already) busy farm kitchen, snow-shoeing in the back fields, and skating on ponds with my cousins. My siblings and I would wait for mom to ‘finish getting ready’ in the car every Christmas Eve and years later,we finally figured out that she was quickly arranging our gifts under the tree so that it would appear Santa had arrived while we were at midnight mass. We listened to the ‘Santa report’ on our local radio station during the 45 minute drive to church, and if it was a starry night, we could watch the northern lights dance across the sky.

Then I became a parent and everything that I did to prepare for the holiday season was for my babies. It was so easy to get caught up in their excitement and it seemed like the magic of Christmas would always make our lives brighter during the long Canadian winter months. As the children got older we decided to move across the world to Perth, Australia where we experienced two hot weather Christmases and tried our best to remain festive without the pond skating or the turkey dinner by going snorkeling and having a rock lobster feast instead. I think what I missed the most (other than family) was the joy of baking Christmas goodies because to me, the lengthening of days, arrival of snow, and baking days are what I need to mentally prepare for Christmas.

This year I am starting a little bit early so that I can try out more recipes than ever before and because I attended the second meeting of our local ‘Bite Club’ hosted by local blogger and food personality Julie van Rosedaal. Our potluck meeting, comprised of local food enthusiasts, had a ‘holiday fingerfood’ theme to it and I came away with some great recipes for dishes to snack on during the holidays. As I tend to do at our family gatherings, I brought the sweets; namely these Pecan Polvorones which have a tiny little element of savoury as well. I found them (and many other delicious looking cookies) on fellow FBC food blogger’s site The Finer Cookie. Kimberlie’s blog is all about cookies and that is A-okay with me!pecanpolverones1
Pecan Polvorones with Muscovado and Rosemary Centres (recipe from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt in Your Mouth Cookies/Alice Medrich)


  • 1½ cups (5.25 ounces) pecans
  • 1/3 cup (2.33 ounces) sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened and cut into chunks
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg yolk (optional)
  • 2 cups (9 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour Filling
  • 2/3 cup (4.625 ounces) firmly packed dark Muscovado sugar
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • Scant 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • fresh rosemary


  1. Pulse the nuts in a food processor until most are finely ground and the largest pieces are about ¼ inch. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
  2. Add the sugar and salt to the food processor; process them together until fine and powdery.
  3. Add the butter, vanilla and egg yolk (if using), and pulse until the mixture is smooth.
  4. Add the flour and pulse until the dough starts to clump together (you may have to stop and scrape the sides of the food processor). Add the nuts and pulse just until combined.
  5. Empty processor contents onto counter and knead it by hand to make sure it is evenly mixed. Do not overwork.
  6. Shape the dough into 1-inch balls and place them on a lined cookie sheet small enough to fit in your refrigerator. Press the handle of a rolling pin dipped in flour into each ball to form a depression
  7. Cover and chill the cookies for at least 2 hours. pecanpolverones
  8. Preheat the oven to 325⁰F. Remove the cookies from the refrigerator and place them 1 inch apart on the lined or ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, until the cookies are lightly coloured on top and light golden brown on the bottom. The cookies will puff while baking, so the depression you made will be less deep after they are baked. You can make them a nudge deeper right after they come out of the oven if you need to.
  9. While the cookies are cooling, combine the Muscovado sugar with the cream and salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over low heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Boil gently for about 2 minutes without stirring. This will allow the sugar to firm when cooled.
  10. Allow sauce to cool slightly, then pour into a squeeze tube. If you don’t have a squeeze tube, spoon a little filling into the depression in each cookie. Squeeze the sugar filling to fill the depression. Lay a sprig of fresh rosemary on the sugar filling. muscovadocream

These cookies were a huge hit at Bite Club and I really think making them in the food processor is the secret to the buttery melt in your mouth texture. Next time I make them I may try to infuse a little more of the rosemary flavour into the muscovado filling, just to give them a bit more of that unique flavour.

rosemary polverones

One Week Until Christmas! *In November*

With our children not really being ‘children’ any more and with no nieces or nephews (or grandchildren!) to spoil, there is less excitement surrounding the holidays in our home. The magic seems a bit duller without small children around, though celebrating as a family has become a priority now that everyone in our extended family is busy living their lives in different provinces. We have also made a conscious choice to make our holiday season more about the giving than about receiving.

Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge will be kicking off their ‘season of giving’ by heading up to the Ronald McDonald House in Edmonton to cook with kids and their families. Executive Chef Christopher Chafe, along with Nic Manojlovich, the Gemini Award-winning host, writer and co-creator of Savoir Faire, will be giving cooking “tips and tricks” to the families, volunteers and staff so they can continue making these quick and nutritious meals. In addition, Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge will be further supporting Ronald McDonald House in Edmonton through their ‘Christmas Trees of Hope‘ auction.  Bid on one (or all three) gorgeous paintings up for auction during the ten days of Christmas In November and all proceeds go directly to support this worthwhile charity.

When I received the invitation to attend Christmas In November at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge I jumped at the chance to regain some of that Christmas magic. I’m looking forward to immersing myself in a beautiful natural mountain area with millions of Christmas trees, 160,000 Christmas lights, and a life size gingerbread house (I bet it smells amazing!). Gorgeous scenery and location aside, there are so many activities planned; from the Silliest Christmas Sweater Reception, to the icy cocktail bar, the seminars on food, drink, and holiday décor, and the Gala dinner, Christmas In November is sure to bring out the elf in all of us!

I can’t wait to learn new recipes and tips from Canadian chefs; Roger Mooking, Christine Cushing, Anna and Michael Olsen, Massimo Capra, Julie van Rosendaal, Pierre Lamielle, Elizabeth Baird, Emily Richards, Andrew Whiteside (Orso Trattoria), Dale Mackay (Ayden Kitchen & Bar), Nik Manojlovich, Connie DeSousa & John Jackson (Charcut), Edgar Gutierrez (Tres Carnales/Rostizado), and Giselle Courteau (Duchess Bake Shop). presentersAnd everyone who knows me would agree that I could use some holiday decorating tips from craft and décor experts;  Cory Christopher, Karl Lohnes, Chris Strandring, and Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge’s own Marna Praill and Sue Dunn. artsandcrafts

Have you chosen your signature holiday cocktail yet? Indulge in a bit of bubbly at the Charton Hobbs Sparkling wine tasting, or learn how to mix your own cocktail from Flair bartender, Mich Dew. I’m going to bring my warmest woolies just so I can have a drink or two at the Icy Cocktail Bar

The schedule of events during Christmas In November looks packed with just right amount of Christmas fun, learning, and creating. If you would like to join me and get a head start on making this your best holiday season ever there are still three Christmas In November packages to choose from:


For more information or to book your package:  Christmas In November: Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge 


If you would like to make a donation to the Ronald McDonald House please follow this link:


Garde Manger à Montréal

I made a short list of possible places to visit while in Montréal and ended up making a reservation for two at Garde Manger, well in advance of our day of arrival. We arrived in Montréal with no travel issues and just had enough time to check in at Le Westin and get settled before our appointed time. I’m really glad we gave ourselves plenty of time to walk through Old Montréal because we started off walking in the wrong direction and ended up taking a more ‘scenic’ route. We also walked by Garde Manger several times because it does not have a sign and looked fairly dark. The only reason we found it was because of the shop number.gardemangercollage

Though it’s been open for a while, reservations at this restaurant are hard to come by because it is so darn cool. People are primarily drawn to the ‘Chuck factor’ at first, but Garde Manger was actually opened slightly before executive chef and co owner, Chuck Hughes solidified his fame as a ‘rock star’ chef on the food network. Even though he doesn’t usually work weekdays, his chef de cuisine Josh Lauridsen and staff made our dinner an unforgettable event.

The menu at Garde Manger is a mixture of classic French with a twist of modern inventions like Chuck’s infamous Lobster Poutine. Hubby ordered the seared foie gras with duck confit sitting on a buckwheat waffle and was really happy with it. While seared foie gras and duck confit are French components, the maple gastrique and buckwheat waffle were a great way to inject a little Canadiana. I had a difficult time choosing my starter because I wanted to eat everything but in the end I ordered the octopus with fingerlings, crème fraîche, chorizo, and butternut squash purée and I didn’t regret it for a second.

Hubby went with the short rib for his main. The meat, vacuum-packed and slow-cooked at a low temperature for 60 hours at 60 degrees, had great beefy flavour and a melt in your mouth texture. It was served upon a large pile of Gouda mashed potatoes and this made hubby a happy man. For some reason I was really feeling the seafood so I ordered the seared scallops with leek, romanesco, speck, and more butternut squash purée. Everything was cooked, seasoned, and plated to perfection but I was left a little bit hungry. I had chosen two fairly light dishes on purpose so that I could end our dinner on a sweet note. While all the options sounded tempting, I was drawn to the s’mores dessert because it involved marshmallows and I am a sucker for marshmallows. The decadent chocolate brownie, topped with warm, gooey marshmallow and graham crumb and vanilla ice cream was the perfect ending.

We left Garde Manger well satisfied and ready to paint the town ‘rouge’. Another of my ‘on the Montréal list’ places to visit was the Dieu de Ciel micro brasserie and I knew that if we didn’t go together that very night, I wouldn’t get to visit any of the great micro breweries in Montréal at all. We hopped in a taxi and arrived to a very packed brew pub, however, luck was on our side and we grabbed seat at the next available table in no time. We had some fun trying to decipher the menu of French beers and I didn’t realize I could have ordered a tasting trio until it was too late. Instead I got stuck drinking a whole pint of Saison de l’argousier; a seasonal brew with buckthorn berries that I really didn’t enjoy at all. I didn’t know how I was going to finish it but felt that I just couldn’t leave it there. Hubby ordered a pint of the Rosée de Hibiscus, a nice hibiscus flavored wheat beer that turned out to be quite tasty. After I choked down the last of the Saison, I ordered a tasting trio; the Rosée de Hibiscus, Route de épices (peppercorn rye beer), and the Péché Mortel (imperial coffee stout). They were all delicious and I wish I could have sampled more but I had to get going early the next morning. dieudeciel


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