Edmonton: Three Boars, Perfect Cocktails

edmonton

Before a recent trip to Edmonton I did my standard restaurant research. All trails seemed to lead to a place called Three Boars Eatery, located happily enough just a few blocks from my hotel in the neighborhood of Old Strathcona. I left a message requesting a booking the day before my arrival and two minutes later my phone pulsed. “Hi. You called. We’re full upstairs tomorrow night but there’s always room in the bar.”

The next night, after an airport shuttle ride through snow-choked streets and a quick check-in, I entered Three Boars’ bar area. It was populated solely by men, all of whom sported either a beard or a plaid shirt. Some, like me, boasted both. It felt like a homecoming. I overheard talk of poorly-behaved roommates at the far end of the bar, while the two gymrats next to me discussed in very technical terms the effect of steroids on a friend’s growth. The Rolling Stones ranted in the background; in the foreground, the service was attentive and nerdy. A revolving cast of three waiters asked questions and probed, made suggestions, and explained that the menu changes several times a week, sometimes daily.

Three Boars is about offal and local provenance. It’s full-fat and high protein. Three Boars is relaxed but it is also self-conscious, telling guests where all their food and drinks originate. I sipped local beers (fine, though nothing truly exceptional) and ate several small and very good courses: smoked pork jowls with grainy mustard, smoked steelhead trout, and bacon-wrapped figs stuffed with blue cheese. So far so good.

Then came the truly exceptional part of the evening, the part that made me sit up: a miso-braised pork belly sitting on steel-cut oats cooked in dashi, with scattered pickled mushroom, roe, and seaweed. The flavors were bold and beautifully balanced. The result was a wildly delicious and quite comforting savory breakfast, but for dinner. It entered the upper reaches of my global favorite food items chart with a bang.

Naturally I asked my waiters where else I should eat. “The food community is small in Edmonton, so everyone knows each other,” said one. To illustrate, he pointed out a chef sitting at the far end of the bar and then grabbed a fellow who was just leaving. “And this is Tarquin, the best bartender in Edmonton. You should have him make you cocktails.”Two nights prior, Tarquin Melnyk had won a Canadian Professional Bartenders Association prize as the best bartender in Alberta. He suggested that I visit Manor Casual Bistro, the restaurant where he tends bar, which I did the following night. I tried three of his complicated cocktails, thinking that each looked on paper as if it had too many ingredients, only to be walloped each time. These are remarkable, ambitious cocktails, some with either semi-exotic components (elderflower liqueur); others with remarkably exotic ingredients (phytoplankton).

Melnyk is personable well beyond reasonable customer service expectations. I had the feeling that, had I requested it, he could have devoted an evening to discussing new developments in the world of craft cocktails with me.

Edmonton’s dosage of friendliness was pleasing for sure, but what made my few days in Alberta’s frozen capital downright exciting was the vibe of being invited in, however briefly, to spend some time with a group of people making good food and drink for each other all bitter winter long.

[Image: Flickr | Hobolens]

Adventure Safari Brings Easy Way To Give Back

safari

Traveling almost anywhere around the world, we see people in need. Many struggle to survive in endangered areas or in a place where an earthquake, tsunami or another natural disaster has occurred. But those in need can be located at stops along our way in the Caribbean, South America, Europe or some other areas too. In the past, it has been hard not to feel the need to help, but often more difficult to know what we can do with the limited time and resources we bring when traveling. Then we found Pack For A Purpose (PFAP), a non-profit organization that lets us give back in a very meaningful way.

Eleven years ago, during their first trip to Africa, Scott and Rebecca Rothney learned that while they were each limited to 40 pounds of luggage on safari, their airline had an allowance of 100 pounds of checked luggage, plus a 40-pound carry-on.

To make a long story short, the Georgia couple asked themselves, with an attitude typical of their Southern hospitality, “Why not take advantage of that unused weight and bring along supplies that will fulfill some need?” They noted how it wouldn’t cost fliers anything to ship and that they could be doing some good. With this in mind, the two launched Pack For A Purpose.

“In making plans for a second trip, we looked into visiting a school near the lodge we would visit in Botswana,” says Rothney. “We contacted our safari company, Wilderness Safaris, to see if we could determine any specific needs of that school. Armed with that information, we were able to deliver 140 pounds (64 kg) of school supplies, including soccer balls, to the school.”

%Gallery-180487%Building on that experience but making it easy by asking travelers to pack just five pounds (2.27 kg) of various supplies, the idea was to involve everyone who wanted to add value to their trip by participating.

travelers give backTo make it even easier, the destinations travelers might visit are organized on the PFAP website by continent, then by country, resort, lodging or tour. Travelers who are considering a land vacation or going on a cruise that stops in Jamaica, for example, will find 18 different properties listed where supplies can be dropped off.

The idea worked. In the first three years of operation, PFAP has been instrumental in delivering over 17,000 pounds of supplies.

Making even more sense of the PFAP plan, Rothney said “We don’t look at it as ‘charity’. It’s a way of saying ‘thank you’ and showing our appreciation for the wonderful experience we have in these places we visit,” in a telephone interview with Gadling.

Think about that for a minute: can you spare five pounds worth of space in luggage?

Pack For A Purpose
points out that five pounds translates to:

  • 400 Pencils, or
  • 5 deflated soccer balls with an inflation device, or
  • A stethoscope, a blood pressure cuff and 500 bandages.

All are much-needed supplies at a variety of locations around the world.

Check this video with Rebecca Rothney explaining what Pack For A Purpose is all about:



[Images – Pack For A Purpose]

Overseas France: Or Where You Can Find France Outside Of France

The days of colonial empires may be long over, though the United States, United Kingdom, France, Netherlands and Denmark continue each to administer a smattering of overseas territories.

Among these, France has arguably the most interesting and wide-ranging set of territories. Overseas France includes tiny St. Pierre and Miquelon off the coast of Newfoundland (population around 6,000), the Caribbean overseas departments of Guadeloupe and Martinique, the smaller Caribbean “overseas collectivities” of St. Martin and St. Barts, the South American overseas department of French Guiana, the Indian Ocean overseas departments of Réunion and Mayotte, and French Polynesia, New Caledonia, and Wallis & Futuna in the South Pacific.

Officially, overseas France is divided into “overseas departments” (French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte, and Réunion), “overseas collectivities” (French Polynesia, St. Barts, St. Martin, St. Pierre and Miquelon, and Wallis and Futuna), and New Caledonia, which has a special status unto itself.

There are also two uninhabited French territories – a vast, noncontiguous territory with the grand name of Territory of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands, inhabited only by researchers, and, most curious of all, the uninhabited island of Clipperton, which sits off Mexico and is administered directly by the Minister of Overseas France.

Tourism is a huge economic driver in many of these territories. St. Martin, St. Barts, and French Polynesia are particularly well known to Americans. Francophone tourists are also familiar with the islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique, New Caledonia, and Réunion.

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[Flickr image via Rayced]

World’s Largest Chocolate Sculpture To Go On Display In California


World's Largest Chocolate Sculpture

California dessert and pastry school Qzina has just broken the Guinness World Record for the World’s Largest Chocolate Sculpture. Modeled after the Kukulcan Mayan pyramid in Chichen Itza, Mexico, the chocolate pyramid took more than 400 hours to construct and weighs 18,239 pounds.

Qzina’s chocolate “architects” built an exact scale model of the Mayan temple to celebrate the school’s 30th anniversary and to pay homage to 2012, the supposed end of the world according to some interpreters of the Mayan calendar. Measuring one-thirtieth the size of the original Mayan temple, the solid chocolate replica stands at six feet tall with a symmetrical base of 10 feet by 10 feet. Every last detail, from the number of steps up the sides of the temple to tiny figurines modeled to look like Mayan tribesmen, was created out of chocolate. More amazing photos of the chocolate pyramid are available in this Flickr set.

The chocolate sculpture goes on display on June 4, 2012, in the Qzina product showroom in Irvine, California, and will be destroyed on December 21, 2012, the last date on the Mayan calendar. “The method for destruction is yet to be determined,” according to the Qzina website.

By the way, the previous world record for a sculpture made of chocolate was held by Italian chocolatier Mirco Della Vecchia, who built the Duomo of Milan out of 10,736.5 pounds of chocolate.

St. Brendan: Did An Irish Monk Come To America Before Columbus?

St. BrendanToday is St. Brendan’s feast day. To the Irish, St. Brendan needs no introduction. For those less fortunate in their birth, let me tell you that he may have been Ireland’s first adventure traveler.

Saint Brendan was an Irish holy man who lived from 484 to 577 AD. Little is known about his life, and even his entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia is rather short. What we do know about him mostly comes from a strange tale called “the Voyage of St Brendan the Navigator,” written down in the ninth century and rewritten with various changes in several later manuscripts.

It’s an account of a seven-year journey he and his followers took across the Atlantic, where they met Judas sitting on a rock, landed on what they thought was an island only to discover it was a sea monster, were tempted by a mermaid, and saw many other strange and wondrous sights. They got into lots of danger, not the least from some pesky devils, but the good Saint Brendan used his holy might to see them through.

They eventually landed on the fabled Isle of the Blessed far to the west of Ireland. This is what has attracted the attention of some historians. Could the fantastic tale hide the truth that the Irish came to America a thousand years before Columbus?

Sadly, there’s no real evidence for that. While several eager researchers with more imagination than methodology have claimed they’ve found ancient Irish script or that places like Mystery Hill are Irish settlements, their claims fall down under scrutiny.

But, as believers like to say, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, and there are some tantalizing clues that hint the Irish really did journey across the sea in the early Middle Ages. It’s firmly established that Irish monks settled in the Faroe Islands in the sixth century. The Faroes are about halfway between Scotland and Iceland. Viking sagas record that when they first went to settle Iceland in the late ninth century, they found Irish monks there. There are also vague references in the Viking sagas and in medieval archives in Hanover hinting that Irish monks made it to Greenland too.

%Gallery-155425%From Greenland, of course, it’s not much of a jump to North America. The monks wanted to live far away from the evils of the world and were willing to cross the ocean to do so.

How did they sail all that distance? In tough little boats called currachs, made of a wickerwork frame with hides stretched over it. One would think these soft boats with no keel wouldn’t last two minutes in the open ocean, but British adventurer Tim Severin proved it could be done. In 1976, he and his crew sailed a reconstruction of a medieval currach on the very route I’ve described. The boat, christened Brendan, was 36 feet long, had two masts, and was made with tanned ox hides sealed with wool grease and tied together with more than two miles of leather thongs. While Brendan says sailing it was like “skidding across the waves like a tea tray,” the team did make it 4,500 miles across the ocean. His book on the adventure, “The Brendan Voyage,” is a cracking good read.

Although Severin proved the Irish could have made it to America, it doesn’t mean they did. Severin had the advantage of modern nautical charts and sailed confident in the knowledge that there was indeed land where he was headed. So until archaeologists dig up a medieval Irish church in North America, it looks like St. Brendan’s voyage will remain a mystery.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]