Category Archives: Uncategorized

A Coffee Date I Can Certainly Embrace

This southern Alberta-produced coffee is happy to show its roasting date

Back when I was a bit of a coffee snob (what, I still am one?), I used to ask upscale café owners what date their packaged beans had been roasted.

The invariable answer, which skirted the question, was: “Oh, it’s fresh.”

Well, maybe it was, but where was the proof? Unlike most of the food and beverage industry—which dutifully proclaims the date when the product was packaged or was “best before”—the coffee business mainly ignores the question.

The line of defence seems to be that their just-roasted beans are packed inside vacuum-sealed bags and are thus fresh for a considerable period. A Starbucks bag I bought in September 2021 says “Best before 28 January 2022” and then goes on to say, “Use within a week of opening.”

This Pincher Creek coffee wasn’t roasted months ago. Note: It took me three months to post this blog

So, it’s putting a lot of faith in that vacuum-sealed bag to keep those beans reliably fresh for nearly five months.

I’ve been sporadically roasting my own beans for many years. So I think I have a pretty good idea what fresh coffee smells and tastes like and, just as importantly, looks like.

For several days after coffee beans are roasted, they produce a visible bloom of bubbles when ground and then brewed in a drip system. It’s the carbon dioxide that’s being emitted (though hopefully not in volumes destined to destroy the planet). You can also notice this emission of gases if you store your fresh beans in a Ziploc bag; a few hours later, there’s more air in the bag.

This CO2 bloom indicates just-roasted beans

My point is that when I brew a cup of coffee from a bag of sealed beans that were roasted months ago, there’s no bloom. The one thing I and Starbucks agree on is that once opened or, in my case, roasted, coffee beans only stay fresh for about a week.

The good news is more roasters, especially small and independent ones, are now stamping their bags with a roasting date. Which means we all stand a better chance of getting fresh beans. I’d say it’s about blooming time!

Cilantro & Chive Tops Lacombe Hit List

Lacombe’s Cilantro & Chive combine’s a big-city menu with a small-town vibe

Whatever you do, don’t call Lacombe small town.

Sure, the population of 14,000 would suggest town status. But the central Alberta community is officially a city. And the excellence of its architecture, history, and eats and drinks suggest a place punching well above its weight, certainly in the midst of farmland.

Exihibit A is Blindman Brewing, one of the top craft breweries in Alberta, always willing to push the boundaries of what makes interesting beer.

Exhibit B is Cilantro & Chive, whose imaginative restaurant fare is the equal of most big-city heavyweights. Consider the weekly lunch special I recently ordered: three Yorkshire puddings, stuffed with prime rib and deep-fried onion. Or regular menu offerings like braised duck wings or beef brisket grilled cheese. Who else does that?

Prime rib stuffed Yorkshire pudding. Yum!

Certainly I haven’t seen any place in five years of touring western North America that offers some 200 types of canned or bottled beer. Most of it Alberta produced.

About half the beers, mostly Alberta brewed, on offer

So the next time you’re considering a day trip from, say, Calgary or Edmonton, put Lacombe on your list. It’s my favourite Alberta town. Oops, city.

Cilantro & Chive
5021 50 Street, Lacombe, Alberta (and now a Red Deer location, 1927 50 Avenue)
Opens at 11 am weekdays, 10 am weekends
403-782-2882

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
403-245-7630

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
403-509-9186

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
403-227-3630