Author Archives: bcorbett907

About bcorbett907

I'm a Calgary-based writer who enjoys exploring the landscapes, and menus, of western U.S./Canada

The Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the Planet

My no-mow, no-rake, lightly watered garden. With the no-drive car in the background

I don’t know if you’re keeping tabs on the Glasgow climate summit, officially COP26, or COP-out as I like to call it. It’s the umpteenth attempt to cut global greenhouse gas emissions.

World leaders are all in on meaningfully reducing carbon levels… sometime in the distant future… maybe. They throw around vague words like “commitment” and “pledge”, hoping no one will notice the almost complete absence of concrete actions in the here and now, as they go about their “real-world” business as usual.

No doubt we need governments and industry to come up with large-scale regulations to make a sizable dent in emissions and global temperatures. But it’s going to take a lot of time, horse trading and huge expense, especially on schemes like sucking carbon out of the atmosphere.

In the meantime, I think it’s incumbent on individuals—hopefully in large numbers—to take steps to reduce their own environmental impacts. If we can get 80% of people voluntarily vaccinated against Covid in less than one year, we can certainly do the same for climate reasons.

Admittedly, I’ve followed enough of these green campaigns to know there are many well-meaning individuals who are nonetheless unwilling to adjust their core habits in the name of something as amorphous as climate change. So I’m going to propose a series of actions that are almost painless to adopt.

Let’s call it The Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the Planet. Rather than beg people to make a serious effort, most of these steps require no action whatsoever.

Leave your car at home

My biggest resolution is to not get in my car two days a week. I just stack up all my appointments and errands for driving days and do things on foot on non-driving days. This saves me gas, commuting time, parking fees and potential accidents. I actually managed to NOT get in my car four days last week. But even if you just do it once a week, that’s a 15% reduction in driving emissions.

Don’t commute to work

Zoom. Enough said.

Don’t go to the gym

Pre-pandemic, I used to go to the gym five late afternoons a week. That involved driving there and back (sometimes in traffic and bad weather) and getting changed twice. Now, I throw on some running shoes and go for a daily walk or run in the neighborhood. I also do a few minutes of daily stretching and strengthening in my living room while I’m waiting for the coffee to brew. Commuting time: 10 seconds.

Having said that, gyms, with their collective use of equipment, create far fewer total emissions than nature-loving folks, each with their own gear, who drive out to the mountains every week to hike, cycle or ski. Just saying.

Don’t take a 10-minute shower

Five minutes will do the job. But rather than bore/scare you with my own regimen—showers only twice a week and pausing the hot water while lathering up—I offer you a cheap technical fix: Replace your old, water-guzzling showerhead with one that uses half the water. There, you’re still taking a 10-minute shower but using only five minutes of hot water.

Don’t subscribe to a “paper” newspaper

For nearly a decade, I’ve subscribed to two online newspapers (Globe and Mail and New York Times). The news is always up to date and available whenever I want to read it. Spare me the cliché about liking the feel of real paper while reading on the throne. Name me one other product you buy that’s good for only one day before being dumped in the recycle bin.

Don’t touch your garden

Let’s start with the lawn. Either dig it up or don’t water and fertilize it. The latter also means you rarely have to cut it with that belching, two-stroke gas mower.

Don’t dig up your garden for winter. Farmers have long known not to till their fall fields so as to preserve the soil. Follow suit.

Don’t rake your leaves. Bugs, birds and other critters will thank you for creating winter habitat.

Plant drought-resistant, native perennials and grasses. Spend the time you save on watering enjoying a local craft beer on the patio.

Don’t fly

Airports and airlines have made flying as unpleasant as possible. Consider instead a road trip where you decide when and where you go, with only your own kids kicking the seat behind you. I’m sure I needn’t remind you about the scary amount of emissions from overseas flights.

Don’t eat meat

Well, how about eat less meat. I like a good burger, drumstick or sausage. But maybe I don’t need red meat, say, twice a week. That means much less methane, runoff, antibiotics, feedlots and emissions.

That’s my quick, lazy list to save the planet. What’s on yours?

ATCO Cafe: Back in Beautiful Business

The gorgeous ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen has fully reopened

They’re back!

It’s been a tough 19 months for the restaurant business, considering all the on-again and off-again clampdowns. It’s been a particularly rough time for ATCO’s Blue Flame Kitchen Café, one of my favourite places in Calgary to eat, with its spectacular architecture and good, inexpensive food.

It was completely shut down for a long stretch, in part because the immense dining hall was connected to ATCO’s office tower and all its employees. Later, it was takeout and meal kits only. Even when the café finally resumed in-house dining, the menu was slim and the prices well above what I consider to be cheap eats.

So, it was with great pleasure that I went back the other day, to discover a more diverse menu and bargain, quality lunch dishes. My substantial, two-meals-for-the-price-of-one flatbread special, featuring fresh mozzarella, was only $9, as was a 12-hour pulled pork Cubano sandwich. Several other honking sandwiches were $10.

This $9 flat bread fed me for two meals

The only thing different was the scanty crowd, about 25 diners, in this cavernous, high-ceiling space that can easily accommodate a few hundred. Maybe it was the vaccine passport requirement. Or maybe it’s just waiting to be rediscovered.

Feast your eyes on these cheap eats

ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Cafe
Commons Building, 5302 Forand Street SW, Calgary
Weekdays 8 am-2 pm. Closed weekends

A Hearty Dosa of South Indian Cuisine

It’s a family affair at northeast Calgary’s Chennai Dosa

It can be a nuisance driving halfway across a far-flung city to run an errand. But such journeys, especially to industrial districts, can sometimes serendipitously lead past intriguing strip-mall eateries you’ve never heard of.

Such was definitely the case when I ventured into Calgary’s northeast recently to get a tent repaired. A block away was a sandwich board advertising a place, Chennai Dosai, offering South Indian cuisine.

Chennai Dosai is in a little northeast strip mall

When I asked my server what constituted South Indian food, she said it featured dosai (also known as dosa), a thin crepe from a fermented batter primarily made from lentils and rice. Chennai is definitely the place to sample dosai, with some 20 such items on the menu, including masala and mysore.

I opted for a Chennai delight dosa, featuring stuffed masala, corn, mushrooms and other vegetables. It certainly was a bountiful delight, with some six chunks of silky dosa, plus a soup and two containers of dips, a two-meal deal for $13.

A bountiful meal of Chennai delight dosai

Chennai also lures in the locals with daily specials such as a butter chicken wrap ($9) and a breakfast masala scrambled wrap ($8).

Indeed, I may well head back, when I go pick up my tent.

Chennai Dosai
702 41 Avenue NE, Calgary
Monday to Saturday 10 am-3 pm. Closed Sunday

Brewery, Coffee Roasting Under One Innisfail Roof

House-smoked pulled pork sandwich and pint at Dark Woods Brewing & Coffee Roasting

I have two culinary vices, both regularly ingested as liquids. One is coffee… and probably the hardest to give up. The other is craft beer.

So it was with astonishment and delight that I found a spot that caters to both these vices, in Innisfail, Alberta of all places.

The name says it all: Dark Woods Brewing & Coffee Roasting. Under one roof in this central-Alberta town, local brothers Nick and Scott Bell are brewing some 10 types of beer and roasting five varieties of coffee beans. Here’s a third thing they’re doing in-house—slow roasting barbecue meats in backyard smokers for their taproom handhelds.

Hop-shaded patio at the taproom

So of course, when I hit the taproom recently, I had to go for the trifecta. That involved a Daines Ranch pulled-pork sandwich (10-hour smoked port butt), washed down with a Gnarly Stump IPA and chased with a dark-roast coffee.

How much better does it get than that?

Note: Dark Woods also runs a coffee booth at the new Red Deer Farmers’ Market

Dark Woods Brewing & Coffee Roasting
4720 50 Street, Innisfail, Alberta
Taproom opens 7 am weekdays and 10 am weekends

Nanton Bolsters Its Food Scene

The Hive is a collective of local vendors in Nanton

One of the things I always liked about Trader Joe’s, on western U.S. road trips, was the ability to mix and match when buying a six-pack of beer. That way, I could try a variety of local beers in one purchase.

So I was delighted to find the same concept at work in The Hive, a hub of local vendors and artisans in Nanton, 40 minutes south of Calgary. Here, I can mix a tall four-pack of craft beers from breweries in nearby High River, Black Diamond, Lethbridge and Fort Macleod, the latter featuring the fine Stronghold Brewing.

A mix-and-match six-pack of southern Alberta craft brewers

That seems to be the geographical range for the 250-plus vendors selling their wares at this little spot at the south end of Nanton, on the west side of Highway 2. A quick glance at fresh and frozen foods and drinks reveals this diversity: Coco Brooks fabulous pizzas (Calgary), El Papolete tomatillo dips (High River) and Tin Star roasted coffee (Nanton).

High River’s El Papolete makes a fine tomatillo dip

The sit-down dining options have been in flux, but the kitchen will now be run by The Buzz-Nanton, featuring sandwiches and daily soups.

All in all, The Hive is a big step forward in Nanton’s food scene.

The Hive
2517 21 Avenue, Nanton, Alberta
Wednesday to Monday 10 am-6 pm. Closed Tuesday

Gasoline Alley Farmer’s Market Adds Pizzaz to Red Deer Food Scene

The new Gasoline Alley Farmers’ Market in Red Deer

In the four decades I’ve been driving between Calgary and Edmonton, there’s been little incentive to pull over in Red Deer for a coffee or a bite to eat. That’s because the choices have been uninspired, to say the least, both along Highway 2’s Gasoline Alley and within the city. You know it’s a bad sign when the nearby community of Lacombe (population 14,000) has better cheap-eat options than a city of 100,000.

But maybe things are looking up. The Gasoline Alley Farmers’ Market recently opened, boasting more than 50 vendors. And there’s enough going on here to make me figure out the rather circuitous approach for drivers heading north along said Highway 2.

It’s an indoor market, kind of a mini Calgary Farmers’ Market in appearance, albeit with smaller crowds to date. It shares at least a couple of things with its more famous southern counterpart: fabulous Beck’s carrots (Innisfail Growers) and Luc’s fine cheeses.

Oishidesu Ramen Shack is one of 50-plus vendors in the market

But it’s the local food and drink vendors I’m interested in, and there’s a number that grab my attention. In the Market Kitchen, at the building’s north end, is a wall of beer taps, mainly showcasing a collective of central Alberta craft breweries, under the name Craft Beer Commonwealth. Indeed, it’s the only farmers’ market in Alberta with an in-house brewery and taproom.

A nitro cold brew on tap at Birdy Coffee

Sharing the space is Birdy Coffee Co., pulling shots from beans roasted in a wee machine around the corner. The bird illustrations on its bean packages are the most beautiful I’ve seen.

Divine coffee bean packages

In the two times I’ve stopped at the market, I’ve also sampled a nice focaccia at Dovganyuk’s organic bakery and dug into a delightful, bountiful sirloin burger and fries (a bargain $13) from Ponoka-based Longhorn Eatery.

Scrumptious burger and fries at Longhorn Eatery

Something tells me, I’ll be stopping in Red Deer more often in the future.

Gasoline Alley Farmers’ Market
558 Laura Avenue, Red Deer (I’d use Google maps to figure out directions; it’s a few blocks southwest of Costco)
Friday to Sunday 9 am-5 pm, Market Kitchen open every day except Monday