Wednesday, 14 November 2012

How Stoked are your Oats?

This should last us a while!

Just so you know, I am not a porridge fan.  There is something about the texture and smell that simply does not appeal to me.  However, I love oats.  I make my own muesli - filled with rolled oats, nuts, dried fruits, flax seed, chia seed, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds - and enjoy it every morning, but there is just something about cooked oats that has never appealed.  That was until I discovered Stoked Oats.  Early in the summer, I discovered these wonderful oats at the Millarville Market.  Mum and I bought a tub of 'Bucking-Eh' oats for our road trip and for 12 days on the road, those oats fueled our adventures.  Stoked Oats are a local Calgarian company and their oats are slowly appearing in stores all across the city.  The oats come in four flavours, all of which I've been lucky enough to sample and each is filled with a delicious combination of totally natural ingredients.  My favourite for breakfast is the 'Bucking-Eh' but the 'Redline' make for a fabulous snack during the work day - oatmeal with chocolate chips and instant coffee!  C and I bought four tubs at the Millarville Christmas market last weekend - a couple for each of us at home and work.  If you're in Calgary and after some damn good oats, check out Stoked Oats!

(I know it seems like I've been spruiking local wares in the last day or so, but I'm always getting emails from people asking me to review products on the blog - I even had an invite to test drive the new Ford Escape but was unfortunately working on the launch day - but I'd prefer to write about and promote local products that I absolutely love)

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Reuben and the Dark in Calgary ...

Last Wednesday night, C and I kicked off our huge month of live concerts with a small concert in an Inglewood (one of my favourite suburbs of Calgary) church.  The band we wanted to see was Reuben and the Dark, the band that was our highlight of the Calgary Folk Festival this year.  I had missed them last time they were in town and was determined not to miss this concert.  They certainly didn't disappoint.  The energy they bought to the old church was unbelievable (especially after a rather lame act before them) ... so dynamic, charismatic and entertaining.  I'd had high expectations going into the concert and they met, if not exceeded, them for sure. Here is a little sample ...

The live music month continues this week with three concerts - Neil Young, Metric and Leonard Cohen!

Monday, 12 November 2012

Did anyone guess it?

What IS this thing I'm holding?

If you guessed a bison bull's penis, you would be correct!  That's right, you did read correctly, I am holding the penis of a bison bull.  Twenty dollars worth of bison penis to be exact.  I've been buying bison tendon for some time now as it is a great natural dog chew that seems to last a long time (and therefore minimise the mischief that the lovely Abbey gets up to while we are out).  I stocked up on these chews at the Millarville Christmas market yesterday and am a little horrified to admit that I spent $100 on bison bull penis and bison tendon chews.  But, despite the cost, I am hoping the chews will stop the furniture chewing ... Abbey has recently re-developed this habit, despite being walked three times a day, having the radio on all day and being left with numerous chew toys, cow ears and rawhide bones.  As I mentioned yesterday, one of my favourite things at the market was talking to the vendors and the creator of the Bow Wow's Bakery was no exception.  I learnt about how most bison and beef products are imported from Brazil or China, however at Bow Wow's, their products are 99% Albertan with the other 1% coming from elsewhere in Canada.  If you live in Calgary, own a dog and want to feed them natural, nutritious and local treats, I can highly recommend Bow Wow's!

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Millarville Christmas Market ...

On this chilly but sunny day, C and I decided to venture down to Millarville for the annual Christmas market.  As it seems that everyone in Calgary had decided to do because it was absolutely jam packed.  For a pleasant hour or two, we wandered around the stalls, some of whom are there during the summer Saturday markets and some of whom only offer their wares at the Christmas market.

A warming fire at the market

Country kitsch (note the blue tarp attempting to retain some warmth at the stall next door)

I had wanted to make a trip to the Millarville Christmas market ever since I first moved to the area in 2010, but I'd always missed it because I would normally be back in Australia by the time it rolled around.  To be honest, I was a little disappointed in the offerings.  I think I had more of a vision of the traditional German Christmas markets, with the lights, mulled wine and village feeling.  It wasn't quite like that at the Millarville market as a lot of the crafts were, although local, not up my alley ... a lot of kitsch, cutesy 'stuff.'  We did find a few great things, the most notable perhaps being the small, wooden comfort birds that are designed to hold (and rub) in your hand during times of stress.  I don't normally go for that kind of thing but they were just so beautifully crafted and felt fabulous in your hand.  I bought a maple one for my grandmother and C bought me one made of wende wood, which is a beautiful dark colour with a lovely grain.  

Anna's Hungarian Baking ... perfect for this Anna and her Hungarian background!

Maple taffy ... maple syrup on a stick (normally rolled in snow, but it was cold enough for it to be hard enough today)

The thing I loved best about the purchases I made were the discussions with the vendors, most of whom were the creators of their products - from the innovative oat company (more on that another day), the dog treat lady (again, more info in another post), the meat vendors where we stocked up on elk and bison meat, and of course, the old, tobacco-chewing man who sold us the comfort birds.

Should I get a coyote or sable fur?  Wolf and beaver pelts were also on offer

My beautiful 'comfort bird'

So, despite the market not fully meeting my expectations, it was still a really fun day out - interesting people watching, enjoying some Canadian treats and making some unusual finds.  I didn't quite finish my Christmas shopping the way I had planned to, but definitely made a start.  Right now, I'm off to cook up an elk and spinach pizza from our buys of the day.

Can anyone guess what this is?  A hint - it is for the dog to chew on.  I'll let you know what it is tomorrow!

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Snowy play time ...

The thing that I've taken the most delight in with the onset of the cold, snowy weather has been watching the kids play at recess and lunch time at school.  The snow seems to change everything about how they play.  The playground has been pretty much abandoned and imaginations have been set on fire as groups of girls play together in the snow.  One group of girls from my class have built a snow fort called 'Candy Land' and have written a national anthem (to the tune of the Canadian anthem of course) for their fort, a song that tells of standing guard for the gummy bears and chocolate drops.  Another group of thrill-seekers have taken to sliding down the hills in the school grounds - on their stomachs, backs, feet first, head first, any which way.  A third group have been seeing how many snow angels will fit in the school grounds.  It's a lot of fun to watch. 

It's also a huge change from the Australian school yard where often it is very hot and kids are seeking shade, not snow.  Most Australian schools have a 'no hat, no play' policy which Canadians find a little odd.  A hat is a very easy thing to slap on your head before going out to play.  Snow pants, winter jacket, scarf, beanie (called a toque in Canada), gloves and snow boots are not so easy to put on.  I've now realised that recess extends to about 30 minutes as opposed to the usual 20 minutes because the girls take forever to rug up before heading out to play and then strip off when coming back inside.  I am learning a lot about what to wear too.  I've realised that my lovely Italian leather boots don't retain any warmth (or dryness) in the snow.  Now, I wear them inside only and take my snow boots to school for outside times.  My Australian winter jackets aren't cutting it either; I've been wearing my down jacket at school every day for the past week or so.  Every day, the kids ask me if I have got a pair of snow pants yet so that I can join them playing in the snow.  I think I may just have to get some so I can see what all the fuss is about!

(I would have loved to have posted some of the lovely pictures I have taken of the kids playing in the snow but obviously, it wouldn't be right to share them on a personal blog ... so, you'll just have to imagine 26 delighted 8 and 9 year old girls playing in the snow!)

Monday, 5 November 2012

Moxibustion ...

Ever since China when I became a massage addict, I try to have a regular 90 minute massage.  The cost of massages in the western world limits just how regularly I would like to have them but I still place massages as a priority for looking after my body.  Last week, I went to my usual Chinese masseuse and asked if I could also have a cupping treatment, as I had a cold and thought it would be a good way to draw out some of the nasties from my body.  She explained that she didn't offer cupping but had something much better and showed me what looked like a combination between a large incense stick and a fat cigar.  Eager to try something new, I agreed.  Following the massage, she lit the incense cigar and began waving it over my shoulders and neck very closely.  My skin felt very hot and afterwards, I smelt like I'd been standing around an outdoor fire for the evening.  She was unable to give me the name of the treatment in English but eventually found a name on the side of the stick, moxibustion.  

Moxibustion in action

Curious, I googled it when I got home and discovered that it is indeed an ancient Chinese healing method.  But, there was no mention of it being anything like cupping, in fact, one of its main uses seems to be to turn around breech babies!  I certainly didn't feel any better afterwards either.  I think that next time I want an ancient Chinese treatment, I'll stick to cupping, which I know works!

Cupping in China

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Halloween 2012 ...

Preparing for the pumpkin carving and trick or treaters

It was Halloween on Wednesday evening which is a huge deal here in Canada.  For me, it was another great opportunity to experience a North American tradition.  One of my favourite Halloween things to do is to meander (either at a walk or a jog) around the local streets and see people's decorations.  We didn't decorate our place this year thanks to a super busy work and social schedule in the week or two leading up to Halloween.  But that didn't mean we weren't going to enjoy the festivities.  Last year, we began a tradition of having  our friends, J and W, over for drinks and pumpkin carving.  We continued the new tradition this year, adding a casual dinner (elk and spinach pasta) to the menu as well as the obligatory adult candy (Purdy's salted caramel chocolates) and free-flowing wine.

Mmmm ... candy!  Coffee crisps and smarties are my favourite!

My pumpkin is done
Being a chilly night, many trick or treaters arrived early, eager to get back into their homes to escape the cold, cold night no doubt.  In just under 2 hours, we had 90 children knock on our door, be terrorised by C grilling them on their costume and escape with a small chocolate bar.  We then ran out of chocolate, suggesting that next year we should go for the 120 package of chocolates as opposed to the 90 package.  Once the candy was gone, we snuffed out our Jack O'Lanterns, shut the curtains (to signal that we were no longer open for 'business') and continued to enjoy our adult treats of wine and chocolate.

Jack O'Lantern tells the trick or treaters that we are home

Our second Jack O'Lantern

This year was Abbey's first Halloween which proved to be an interesting experience.  At first, she barked like crazy when people traipsed up our front path and was very reluctant to greet people at the door.  Luckily, she quickly got over that and was soon eager to be patted by the small witches, goblins and superman characters who arrived at our door.  Some were more interested in Abbey than the candy on offer!

Our third and final Jack O'Lantern for the night

C hands out candy to trick or treaters while Abbey looks on inquisitively (and nervously to begin with!)

Being my first year working in a Canadian school, the hype of Halloween steadily grew on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, culminating in a very grumpy Thursday as the girls came to school maxed out on sugar and tired thanks to a late night of trick or treating.  A day working on our art project was the perfect way for the girls to get over their sugar high and settle back into life post-Halloween.

Blurry photo of the best decorated home in our neighbourhood ... nearly 100 Jack O'Lanterns I think I saw!