A Calgary Christmas Crawl

downtown A Calgary Christmas Crawl

A few weeks ago, we found ourselves stuck in gridlock in an underground mall parkade on the afternoon of Black Friday. This was not planned, and it was not joyful. I’m not one to hit the malls for such occasions, nor set my alarm to go shopping on Boxing Day. I flirted briefly with online shopping, which saves you a trip out, but makes me feel badly for Otto, our FedEx guy, and sitting alone with a credit card by the glow of my laptop is too solitary for the season, and somehow takes away the thrill of the hunt. I do love the bustle of Christmas shopping – of seeing neighbourhoods decked out, of the camaraderie of crowds with the same happy goal. Even when there are lineups and you find yourself crushed in the food court, tired and hangry in search of sustenance in the form of ginger beef, it has a certain Christmas Vacation appeal. So we decided to do our own Christmas crawl – to visit some of our favourite local shopkeepers, many of whom rely on the holiday season to get them through the rest of the year, and to be jovial and jolly and neighbourly and Dickens-esque. And while I don’t often share Calgary-centric stuff here (since not everyone lives close by), it’s a city I’m fond of and proud of, and if you haven’t been, perhaps you’d like to visit.

bay 585x438 A Calgary Christmas Crawl

I grew up here, so have a sense of nostalgia about the place – I love downtowns in general at Christmastime, especially when there’s an old Bay building and a CP hotel, but the Palliser has a special place in my memory. Growing up, my dad’s office was attached to the building – and the Calgary tower – and some years we’d come down to have dinner at the Rimrock on Christmas eve, hoping to score a seat by the fireplace. It’s the Palliser‘s 100th Christmas this year, and possibly, if rumours are true, the last for the Rimrock, and so we started our crawl with the Palliser as home base for a night, lucky enough to snag a spot beside the fireplace for the Yule Love It buffet lunch.

buffet A Calgary Christmas Crawl

We started out watching the zamboni grooming the ice in Olympic Plaza, then hit the Glenbow gift shop – where they sell tons of locally made ceramics, jewelry and paper crafts as well as books and smart games – and good cards. (If you’re looking for a totally different sort of a gift, you can also adopt an artifact-artwork and objects from the Glenbow’s collection, from war medals to love letters.)

glenbow A Calgary Christmas Crawl

Next – a stop at The Cellar for bottles of Gin Rummy from the new Eau Claire Distillery – a seasonal offering of barrel-finished gin and rum with the flavours of spiced fruitcake. (And a bottle of wine for the room.) Another unique gift idea – a membership in their Wine of the Month Club; two different themes (“Tried & True” or “Off The Beaten Path”), 6 different wines, delivered monthly for $150.

The Cellar A Calgary Christmas Crawl

Christmas cards written on Friday night by the pool. Right? (Being self employed, neither Mike nor I get company Christmas party, so we decided to have our own. And my idea of a good time is lounging somewhere super festive with W.) Usually I take any opportunity to hit the Oak Room for a classic cocktail (Fairmonts always make a perfect whisky sour), but on this particular visit we were lucky enough to experience the penthouse level Gold Lounge, with snacks, sweets, canapes and the most extensive honour bar I’ve ever seen – complete with a vintage copy of the Mr. Boston cocktail guide for reference. No need to leave the hotel.

Palliser collage1 A Calgary Christmas Crawl

Back for breakfast in the same spot – waffles, pastries, bacon and eggs, fruit, charcuterie and all the espresso I can drink – fuel for a day of shop-hopping.

breakfast A Calgary Christmas Crawl

Our first morning stop – after perusing the Bay for the annual pair of slippers for Mike’s mom – was the new downtown SAIT Culinary Campus, which has plenty of student-made baked goods, jams, preserves and condiments that make great gifts while supporting local student chefs.

SAIT A Calgary Christmas Crawl

And over at Holt Renfrew we came across one of our favourite bakeries – Yann’s Haute Patisserie – with a macaron pop-up that will be there until Christmas eve. Who needs chocolates when you can bring a box of brightly coloured festive macarons?

macarons A Calgary Christmas Crawl

From downtown we hit Inglewood – my ‘hood (although technically, I live on the other side of the tracks, in Ramsay), stopping first at Wilde Grainz bakery for mince tarts they make using a 100 year old recipe from the UK, shared by a dear friend. You can pick up a jar to make your own, or bring home slabs of dark fruitcake and shortbread.

Mince tarts A Calgary Christmas Crawl

Across the street, Reworks Upcycle Shop has the most awesome assortment of things made from other things – my current favourite are these skateboard cheese boards, wine racks made out of pipes, and road sign trays, which Santa was kind enough to deliver to me last year.

reworks 1 A Calgary Christmas Crawl
reworks 2 A Calgary Christmas Crawl

These wine stoppers made out of old doorknobs and taps and locally screened tea towels have become by go-to gift to attach to a bottle of wine (or Irish cream made in High River). And this side table made out of old skateboards? Want.

IMG 2475 585x585 A Calgary Christmas Crawl

Further down 9th Ave, Kent of Inglewood is open – for all your holiday hatchet needs.

axes 585x438 A Calgary Christmas Crawl

Darcy and Greg at DaDe Art & Design Lab have beautiful things – besides art and furniture, they always have unique handmade ceramics by local artists.

DaDe A Calgary Christmas Crawl
DaDe 11 585x328 A Calgary Christmas Crawl

And right now the guys from Monogram Coffee has a pop-up in their space, offering up wonderful coffees (as well as a subtly spiced, not-too-sweet alternative to the ubiquitous pumpkin spice latte) and baking from Pretty Sweet.

monogram A Calgary Christmas Crawl

Next door, one of my favourite shops in the city is The Uncommons – so much cool/fun stuff there, including my favourite Calgary-made tonic

porters tonic 585x373 A Calgary Christmas Crawl

Which would pair well with a homemade gin kit. Make your own at home!

gin kit1 A Calgary Christmas Crawl

On the other side of DaDe, Savour Fine Foods is one of my favourite Calgary kitchen stores. They carry Staub and Le Creuset, along with tons of fun kitchen toys, stocking stuffers, and delicious things like these infused pure maple syrups from out east.

savour fine foods A Calgary Christmas Crawl

Across the street, Oliviers has been making chocolates and candies in Calgary for over 100 years; they’re known for their massive hand-made candy canes, but also have a huge selection of novelty chocolate, sugar-free chocolates, and caramel corn that rivals Poppycock. Also – if you’re tired of chocolate Santas, you can get a chocolate Buddha.

Oliviers A Calgary Christmas Crawl

And there are vintage dishes, linens, purses and Christmas decorations at Pretty Little Things!

pretty little things A Calgary Christmas Crawl

From there, we popped over to Britannia, to the new Village Ice Cream location, to pick up some pints of their festive flavours – peppermint! eggnog! salted caramel! And next door, Britannia Hardware is one of my favourite spots for kitchen toys.

village ice cream 2 585x438 A Calgary Christmas Crawl
village ice cream 1 585x438 A Calgary Christmas Crawl

What are your favourite festive spots at this time of year?

This post was sponsored by Travel Albertaa great partnership, since I love showing off this province so much. And thanks to the Fairmont Palliser for hosting our stay! As always, all the content is 100% my own.

button print gry20 A Calgary Christmas Crawl

December 09 2014 | eating out | 16 Comments »

Butter Chicken Tarts with Gouda

IMG 3296 585x585 Butter Chicken Tarts with Gouda

(I’ve been a tad obsessed with vintage cookbooks lately – especially those from the fifties and sixties, with their overuse of food colouring and vivid food photos. Although there are no frankfurters or gellies here, don’t you think this photo could be circa 1963?)

I was on the road for a chunk of last week, talking on TV about local cheese and the myriad of ways it makes people happy during the holidays. Cheese is generally the focal point when people gather at our house at this time of year – almost always melty, and in enormous quantities. I tend to fall back on the usuals – goat cheese with warmed herby, garlicky olive oil, a skillet fondue, baked brie with maple-pecan praline and the omnipresent homemade Raincoast crisps – but among the recipes we made was a butter chicken tart, smothered in Gouda. That’s right.

IMG 3177 585x585 Butter Chicken Tarts with Gouda

I can’t take full credit for these – the recipe was developed for the Dairy Farmers of Canada (they put together 30 holiday recipes, divided into 5 party menus, from casual to fancy), and the food stylist brought them to the set premade along with ingredients to start from the beginning. After we finished taping, she let me bring the assembled tarts home to bake for a Christmas party last night – let me tell you people become very excited when presented with a platter of warm tarts filled with butter tart filling and topped with golden, bubbling cheese.

Gouda Butter Chicken Tarts

15 homemade or store-bought tart shells
2 Tbsp. butter
1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breasts or thighs, diced
1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp. curry powder
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/3 cup 35% cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1 1/4 cup grated Canadian Gouda, divided

Preheat oven to 375°F. Place tart shells on baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet melt the butter over medium-high heat. Sauté the chicken with the onions, garlic and curry powder for 4–5 minutes.

Add the tomato sauce and cream and season with salt and pepper. Stir, reduce heat to medium and let simmer for 5 minutes, until thickened.

Remove from heat and stir in the cilantro and half the cheese. Divide among tart shells and sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Bake for 10–15 minutes, or long enough to melt the cheese. Makes about 15 tarts.

pixel Butter Chicken Tarts with Gouda
button print gry20 Butter Chicken Tarts with Gouda

December 07 2014 | appetizers and cheese | 10 Comments »

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