Category Archives: Uncategorized

Composting: Such a Waste

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You can throw just about anything into Calgary’s compost buckets

My greatest “food” discovery in 2017 wasn’t the Instant Pot, despite my sister’s devotion and some 1,500 books dedicated to its use. Not a sous-vide contraption, either. Not the latest craft brewery, botanical distillery or chef-driven fast food.

No, the thing that most impressed me was at the waste end of the food stream. Specifically, it was the introduction of compost collection in my home city of Calgary, Alberta.

I’d always done my own backyard composting of kitchen scraps and yard waste. But it was a slow, uneven process that left me, each fall, with a couple of buckets of soil and big clumps of matted grass.

So, I was quite happy to recycle my plastic composter and instead let the city collect the compost every week. What I wasn’t prepared for was all the things I could throw in the big bin, things I could never have pitched in my old composter.

Things like meat, fat and bones. Like pet waste, which in my case are droppings from wandering neighbours’ cats. More permissible pet sheddings: fur, hair and feathers, along with rawhide bones. Not so sure about cold, dead kitty. But certainly cold ashes from fireplace and barbecues.

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Some of the things you can throw in the compost bin (no, not the plastic coffee filter)

Also paper plates, coffee filters and Kleenex…. used Kleenex. And, significantly, paper towels, which can be used to wipe dirty pots and pans instead of rinsing all that wet, greasy stuff down my kitchen sink, which has a propensity for clogging.

I can also toss into the bin things like tree and hedge branches, cones, weeds, various garden vines, avocado pits and Christmas trees, none of which would ever have broken down in my old, tepid compost pile. And everything wooden from untreated lumber to Popsicle sticks. The list goes on.

The reason you can toss all this stuff into your compost bin is that Calgary’s modern, industrial-scale composting facility operates at temperatures exceeding 55 degrees Celsius. This searing heat breaks down all those bones and pits into usable soil and kills any harmful bacteria.

At $6.50 a month, I figure this weekly compost collection is a bargain. More important, it can cut most people’s garbage at least in half, sparing the city’s overflowing landfills from more than 85 million kilograms of food and yard waste every year.

Compost collection tips

Yes, you can throw all your kitchen scraps into your old, unlined compost bucket. But when you dump that bucket into the compost bin, there’s a tendency for all the loose, wet stuff to stick to the bin’s sides and bottom. In winter, said wet stuff can freeze to the bin, leading to messy cleanups.

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The bins work throughout the winter, as long as you don’t throw loose, wet stuff in

It’s better to use some kind of bag. Do-it-yourselfers can consult YouTube for learning how to fold newspaper into a collection device that fits inside your under-the-sink compost bin. Lazier types can buy compostable plastic liners; I bought a 125-bag box at Costco for peanuts. Just don’t let them sit too long under your sink, as they start to break down and leak a bit of fluid after about a week.

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A Costco-sized box of compostable bin liners. Note: You can’t use regular plastic bags

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Revelstoke’s La Baguette the Perfect Road Food Stop

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The quick-serve counter at Revelstoke’s fabulous La Baguette

The drive from Calgary to Vancouver is a 975-kilometre, 10-hour-plus push that I endure a couple of times a year. To relieve the tedium and replenish the batteries, it’s nice to have a few go-to places along the way for good coffee and a quick, wonderful bite to eat.

One such place that I nearly always stop at is La Baguette, in Revelstoke, B.C. It ticks all my boxes for what constitutes great road-food dining on a long-distance drive.

First is its location. Revelstoke is about a 4.5-hour drive from Calgary, an ideal distance for a break, coffee refill and snack or meal. Second, La Baguette is just a couple of minutes off the Trans-Canada Highway, with on-street parking.

Third is the flexibility. La Baguette is both a bakery and café/restaurant. That allows me to quickly pick up an Americano, a fresh croissant or a hearty turkey-yam wrap from the counter (my only complaint is sometimes the line moves a little slowly). La Baguette has recently expanded, adding a little sit-down restaurant with largely the same menu, if you want a longer break.

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The bar in the new, sit-down restaurant

None of this would matter if the food wasn’t memorable. As I’ve stated in previous posts, La Baguette is one of my favourite bakeries/cafes in western Canada. The food is exceptional, the prices are reasonable (that turkey-yam wrap is about $7 and satisfies two reasonable appetites) and, most difficultly, the high standards are consistently met.

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The “healthy bread” might be the best toast I’ve ever had

And despite a relatively short menu, there’s always something interesting and unusual to try. Like the exquisite healthy toast (featuring spelt flour, coconut and dates), poached eggs over crispy potatoes, pulled siracha chicken on a brioche bun or a Montreal-style bagel topped with pork rillette.

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Montreal-style bagels loaded with interesting goodies

Did I mention the new restaurant has a little bar, featuring well-curated craft beers on tap, like the exceptional Twin Sails offerings from Vancouver suburb Port Moody?

That’s the only problem I have with this new sit-down café. It’s creating havoc with my driving schedule.

 La Baguette
607 Victoria Road, Revelstoke, B.C.
Daily 6:30 am-7 pm (8 pm in summer)
250-837-3755

$18 Breakfasts Still Abound in Calgary

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Good, upscale breakfast at Calgary’s Blue Star Diner

I’ve lived in Calgary since 1980 and have thus witnessed numerous booms and busts. So while a number of food and drink places invariably fold with each crash, especially downtown, I’m no longer surprised when much of the restaurant scene chugs along as if nothing’s happened.

So it is with the most recent oil-price collapse, especially at breakfast. Calgary has long been one of the more expensive places to order breakfast in western North America. Think $15 for a good, though fairly standard morning feed. And yet people are perfectly happy to line up for these breakfasts, especially on weekends and even in winter.

An outsider might think such lineups would disappear and prices cut in the wake of this latest recession. No such luck. A quick survey of popular Calgary breakfast spots shows prices of $16 to $19 for more upscale morning offerings like lox waffles, meatloaf hash and tofu scrambles. One place even charges $14 for a breakfast sandwich and $15 for pancakes.

Thus it was when we recently visited Blue Star Diner in the city’s trendy Bridgeland district. At 8 am on a Saturday, it wasn’t lined up but still busy.

I often like to order breakfast offerings that venture well beyond the tried-and-true bacon and eggs. Blue Star certainly delivered on originality, and we were soon happily munching on slow-cooked brisket and grits ($17.50) and corned lamb hash and cornbread ($18.50).

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Corned lamb hash and poached eggs

I must say it was delicious, with lots of locally sourced ingredients, excellent execution and attention to detail. I’ll always happily pay a little more for quality. Still, $45 for breakfast and coffee for two? Sheesh.

Blue Star Diner
809 1 Avenue NE, Calgary, Alberta
Daily 8 am-10 pm
403-261-9998

Great Ramen Shop in Edmonton

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There’s a lot of delicious complexity in this pork ramen bowl at Edmonton’s Prairie Noodle Shop

I’m a big fan of eating at restaurant counters, because it gives me a front-row view of the kitchen.

At Edmonton’s fabulous, newish Prairie Noodle Shop, I’ve discovered another benefit of sitting on a high counter stool: it’s only a few inches from bowl to mouth. All the better to slurp up that liquid and noodle goodness without wearing it.

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A fabulous chunk of roasted pork belly goes into my ramen bowl

Really, there is no elegant way to attack these gorgeous ramen bowls. Just lift your chin occasionally to admire the beautiful composition and then dive back into exploring all the complex flavours and textures.

The big plastic spoon is needed to savour the rich pork broth, simmered for 16 hours and, in my case, jacked up with miso, garlic and house-made chili oil. The chopsticks are required to grab the slender ramen noodles, the tender chunk of roasted pork belly, the smoked, shredded pork shoulder and the half umeboshi egg. Then it’s back to the spoon to scoop up niblets of sweet sesame corn.

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The spoon is one of the tools needed to attack this big bowl of goodness

There’s a lot going on in this big bowl forged by chef/owner Eric Hanson—a bargain really at $15.50 for this much originality and quality.

Prairie Noodle Shop
10350 124 Street, Edmonton, Alberta
Monday 11 am-2:30 pm, Tuesday to Saturday 11 am-2:30 pm, 4:30 pm-10 pm. Closed Sunday
780-705-1777

It’s Well Worth the Drive to Mile One in Pemberton, B.C.

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Mile One Eating House co-owner and chef Randy Jones runs a professional kitchen in Pemberton, B.C.

I’m sure there are some fine, inexpensive places to eat in Whistler, B.C. Indeed, I often head to purebread, which produces perhaps the best bread and baked goodies on the west coast. Mind you, I always stop at their little Function Junction location, a little ways south of the madness that is central Whistler.

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purebred’s fabulous hazelnut fig bread

Whistler is certainly not organized for the road tripper looking for a quick bite or beverage. Between the tourist hordes, all the side streets off the highway, the confusion about where to park and the baffling naming of pedestrian retail spaces—Village Square, Village Stroll, Village Lane, Village Green, Village Idiot—I usually just give up and get the hell out.

Instead, I often head 30 km north on Highway 99 to Pemberton, where I can easily locate, and find nearby parking at, my favourite restaurant in the region, Mile One Eating House.

Yes, there’s a growing lineup on a weekday night in late September (Tip: get there early). But it’s well worth the short wait at this family-run, chef-driven spot that produces fabulous, locally sourced burgers (they recently even bought their own, historic cattle ranch), upscale poutine and the best, gourmet mac ‘n cheese I’ve ever tasted.

I normally go for the divine Southern Comfort mac ‘n cheese—B.C. chicken breast, smoked bacon and brocolini in a creamy aged cheddar/mozza sauce. But there’s a Wednesday night special: a burger and craft beer for about $12. How can I resist?

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Best mac ‘n cheese I’ve ever eaten

My Mile One burger features a five-ounce Cache Creek natural beef patty, smothered in smoked bacon, aged white cheddar and beer-braised caramelized onions, all stuffed inside a house-baked buttermilk bun. It’s so thick I have to cut it in half to funnel it into my gaping mouth. Still, it’s a messy, two-napkin job, washed down with a fine bottle of Russell Brewing’s Punch Bowl IPA.

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The delicious, jaw-stretching Mile One burger

Mile One’s got everything I’m looking for: high standards, excellent ingredients and hard-working cooks, in an open kitchen. And despite the crowd, there’s enough of a personal touch to keep things casual and friendly.

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Lots of regional craft beer available

Right across the street, with parking right in front, is another road tripper’s delight: Mount Currie Coffee. Yes, they also have a Whistler location. But when it might take me 10 minutes just to find it, is there any comparison?

Mile One Eating House
7330 Arbutus Street, Pemberton, B.C.
Wednesday to Sunday 11 am-9 pm. Closed Monday and Tuesday
604-384-3842

Mount Currie Coffee
7331 Arbutus Street, Pemberton
Monday to Saturday 6:30 am-6 pm, Sunday 7 am-6 pm
604-894-3388

Primed for a big burger in Fort Nelson, B.C.

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A perfect post-backpack prime-rib burger at Woodlands Inn in Fort Nelson, B.C.

Fort Nelson is in the middle-of-nowhere northeast British Columbia. Yeah, it’s on the Alaska Highway, and there’s lots of oil and gas activity. But it’s more than 1,000 kilometres from the nearest big city, Edmonton.

So when we pull into the town of 4,000 people after a week-long backpack in nearby Stone Mountain Provincial Park, I’m expecting it to be easy to find a place to eat, even on a Saturday night.

But the pub we go into is crawling with people attending a fundraiser. Strike one! Across the street, the local Boston Pizza is full to the rafters with folks watching the Conor McGregor-Floyd Mayweather “fight”. Strike two!

It’s now pouring with rain, and we’re starving for a pint, or two, and something with lots of carbo calories to wolf down. Almost in desperation, we head across the highway to a hotel, Woodlands Inn & Suites, with odd concrete hallways.

The lounge is quiet—not a promising sign—and the two beers on tap are definitely generic. Finally, the food prices are rather northern expensive.

All that is except for a prime-rib burger and fries for $15, which all five of us order. Sure, the extras, like bacon and cheese, are another $2 or $3 each. Still, there are enough fixings on the basic burger to keep the cost down.

Now, it’s always hard to objectively rate a restaurant when you’re ravenous and just off a big mountain trip. But we all agree these charbroiled burgers are excellent: juicy, flavourful and big. And lots of hot, greasy fries. Yum! Several of us even order a second pint of Kokanee Gold.

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A Fort Nelson highlight, an excellent new rec centre

Woodlands Inn & Suites
3995 50 Avenue, Fort Nelson, B.C.
250-774-6669