Hey all!

I can’t believe it’s been almost three years since I started this blog. More than 71,000 unique visits and 103,000 page views later, I think it’s time for a bit of a makeover.

So I’m moving to my very own domain (… with much help from Jason, of course. He’s a good man. I think I will marry him.)

Please update your bookmarks and RSS feeds and all that fun stuff. I’ll eventually be taking down this WordPress-hosted version. And thanks to them for such a great, free service.

See you over here!


Mead was the drink of choice for kings, conquerors and knights — and now me! I can now get my very own honey wine from Alberta’s first meadery in Okotoks, about 25 kilometres south of Calgary limits.

It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon for a drive with Steph and Torsten, who were visiting from Edmonton. We took Torsten’s zoom-zoom car and got to the Chinook Honey Company in no time.

Chinook Honey Company, OkotoksBees, Chinook Honey Company

We walked into a tidy country store with not only honey (duh), but also shelves of beeswax candles, soaps, lotions, ointments, teas and ice cream — all made from what Art and Cherie Andrews’ bees produce.

And you can see the bees! There’s an observation hive behind glass so you can peer at the bees doing their thing. They don’t buzz so much as hum together it seems.

Chinook Honey Company, OkotoksCherie gave us the low-down on the bees, what they do and how they do it in the interpretative area, where they host school groups and such. It was pretty fun sitting there being a kid again.

She pointed out how clean the bees keep their hive, as we watched a worker bee drag the body of a dead bee out of the observation hive. Wowza.

“How did you become a beekeeper?” asked Torsten. (No, he didn’t raise his hand. It’s OK because he’s like seven feet tall.)

Turns out Art started beekeeping 13 years ago as a relaxing hobby to pollinate their organic garden; one hive turned into almost 300 and a full-time job.

Then this May — after seven years of tinkering — they launched the Chinook Arch Meadery, turning honey, yeast and water into mead, the oldest alcoholic beverage known to man.

Chinook Arch Meadery, OkotoksCherie walked us over to the cute little bar area and poured us samples of the King Arthur’s Dry Mead. It smelled um, funny — OK, I thought dirty socks and rubbing alcohol — but tasted pleasantly like Gewürztraminer.

Cherie suggested that the mead’s sweetness works well paired with hot and spicy food.

We also sampled the Bodacious Blackcurrant melomel, which is mead that contains fruit. That tasted very much like a sweet rosé wine. Cherie told us she likes to have it on hot summer days with some ice or club soda. (I think she said club soda; it might’ve been Steph that suggested it.)

Chinook Honey Company ice creamWe enthusiastically bought a couple of bottles ($20) each to take home because how often do you get the chance to have mead? They’ve actually already sold out of a third mead, the Buckaroo Buckwheat.

It was a sweet night as we cracked open a bottle of the mead after dinner — it’s excellent extremely cold — and chowed down on some honey and Saskatoon berry ice cream ($8/pint) that had been taunting us from the Chinook Honey store’s freezer.

The mead is so far only available from the Okotoks store, but the visit with Art and Cherie (and some bees) is worth the trip.

Chinook Honey Company, southwest corner of Highway 7 and 16th Street West, Okotoks, Alberta, (403) 995-0830. Map and more information here.

This post was seriously five months in the making. I started writing this back in February when we were in moving upheaval.

The night before the movers came to take all our possessions and put them into storage — including all my pots and pans and cookbooks — Jason and I sat in our neighbourhood pub over dinner, pondering our living situation.

The newly built condo we were supposed to move into was delayed again, throwing us into a bit of chaos. We hastily found a sublet in a building scheduled to be torn down.

“We have to settle into some sort of routine because we can’t eat out every night,” I said. “It’s too expensive, especially in Calgary.”

But then Jason threw down a challenge to me: Eat out for a week of dinners on $70.

“You have to follow my rules or I will revoke the challenge!” he said.

  • No coupons.
  • No fast food.
  • No repeat visits.
  • No 25-cent chicken wings.

And so I was off on my cheap eats challenge!


I could’ve cheated and had pasta three nights of the challenge. Chianti Cafe has a terrific deal on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays, offering more than 40 pastas for $6.99.

On a cold day, the warm buns placed in front of us were welcome. I got the creamy spaghetti carbonara with bits of bacon. It wasn’t gourmet, and it wasn’t very pretty, but it was a decent, solid plate of pasta for a total of $7.34 including tax.

(Yes, there’s a glass of wine in the crappy picture that I didn’t count, but damn it, I needed it!)

Chianti Cafe, 1438-17th Ave. SW, Calgary, and two other locations in the city.


I know the Mexican places in Calgary don’t come anywhere near to the amazing ones in the U.S. or even the Chipotle chain (which I love). But Salt & Pepper has a good thing going every Tuesday with all-you-can-eat tacos for $10.98.

Salt and Pepper, Calgary

They come in sets of three with your choice of chicken, beef, chorizo or vegetable. The first plate is served with some delicious refried beans and rice.

Salt and Pepper, CalgaryThe tacos are wrapped in soft corn tortillas (not the deep-fried hard shells), sprinkled with lettuce and finely shredded mozzarella, and drizzled with sour cream. Chorizo is the best filling, hands down.

Subsequent trios of tacos are served on their own, which is too bad because the rice and beans are really good. In any case, Alison and I had to draw the line at six tacos, while Jason and Luke (making his debut behind the bottles of hot sauce) plowed ahead with nine.

Beware the hot sauce though. It really is hot.

I splurged a little and ordered a side of homemade guacamole (tasty!) for $1.95 so my total tab with tax was $13.58.

Salt & Pepper, 4351 Macleod Trail, Calgary, (403) 243-3173. Two other locations in Calgary and Cochrane.


Block Sixteen is where the challenge started, because of its Wednesday special steak sandwich for a measly $5.95.

The steak (I’m guessing 5 oz.) is a decent cut and crusted with a kind of Montreal steak spice. It comes with your choice of one side — mashed potatoes, fries, sweet potato fries, house or Caesar salad or grilled vegetables.

I’m always happy when my steak — no matter what price — is cooked as ordered (medium-rare yay!). My total here was $6.25.

Block Sixteen, CalgaryBlock Sixteen, Calgary

Block Sixteen is the most underrated bar around the 17th Avenue strip. It’s got the big-screens for hockey games but enough ambiance to take it a step up from the local watering hole. There’s great service, great food and extremely reasonable prices even off the regular menu; thin-crust pizzas and burgers run around $11.

Unfortunately, it took me so long to post this that Block Sixteen changed owners and has been renamed the Balance Lounge & Eatery. They don’t appear to have a steak sandwich special or two tacos for $2 on Mondays, but their menu still seems reasonably priced.

Balance Lounge & Eatery, 1504-16th Ave. SW, Calgary, (403) 228-5955.


Chinatown is always the best place to find value, and I’m partial to the Hong Kong-style cafes. They serve Western-style food with Cantonese influences. Kind of like a Chinese diner, in a way. Think spaghetti but cooked in a wok, or steak marinated in soy sauce and served with gravy.

ABC Bakery & Cafe is a typical one. There are lots of one-plate Cantonese dishes, like curry beef brisket on rice or shredded duck fried noodles. But I love their combination meals.

ABC Bakery & Cafe, Calgary

For $9.99, I can get a sizzling hot plate of minute steak or pork chops with a choice of onion gravy, black pepper gravy, satay sauce, tomato sauce or cream sauce. It comes with onion soup, rice, mixed (frozen) vegetables, and tea or coffee.

The gravy comes in its own boat, so you pour it over the meat on the still-sizzling hot plate — shaped like a cow — and then transfer the meat to the plate of rice. It’s quite a bounty. As you can see in the pics, my order came with THREE pieces of pork chop.

My total here with tax was $10.49.

ABC Bakery & Cafe, Calgary

ABC Bakery & Cafe, 112-3rd Ave. SE, Calgary, (403) 266-2888.

Years ago — and I suppose even now — the cheapest “meal” of all was those handy packages of Japanese ramen. It’s hard to beat a steaming bowl of MSG and noodles for oh, 75 cents.

But real Japanese ramen in a nice broth is quite lovely, especially at Shikiji Japanese Noodles and Sushi, an inconspicuous, yet very cozy, spot off Centre Street and 16th Avenue NE.

Shijiki, Calgary

Shikiji has the ramen available in the standard soup bases of shio (salt), soy and miso. (There’s no tonkatsu, white pork bone broth.) They all come with a couple of slices of roasted pork, seawood, bok choy, and green onions. The miso ramen has additional corn and bean sprouts.

I got the shio ramen, which was a clearer broth than Jason’s darker soy-based soup. I really liked the broths, especially because they were obviously not laden with MSG.

Shijiki, CalgaryThey gave us little bowls of toasted sesame seeds that we crushed with a mini pestle to release the aroma and flavour right before we added them to our ramen. There was also a tiny basket of dried garlic flakes on the table too.

The ramen was nice and chewy, just a tad past al-dente, and not the instant noodle mush you get at home.

For some reason, the shio and soy ramen are listed on the menu as $10.60 but they only charged us $8.60 each for them. So my total and tax ends up at $9.03.

Shikiji Japanese Noodles and Sushi, 1608 Centre St. N.E. Calgary, (403) 520-0093. Click here for online menu.


There was some debate over Falafel King because it could be construed as a fast-food place but Jason deemed it eligible for the challenge after I pointed out we were eating at proper tables and chairs and that my dinner came on a plate.

Falafel King, Calgary

I got the chicken shawarma platter ($8.49) which is pretty much a deconstructed pita wrap. It’s a huge plate of chicken sliced off the rotating spit, with lettuce, raw onions, tomatoes, pickles, my favourite bright pink pickled cabbage and a heap of garlic sauce and hot sauce. I passed on the pita bread, which is served on the side.

It was SO GOOD. (But verrry garlicky. So make sure you’re with someone who really loves you, or at least have some gum handy after.)

Total with tax: $8.91.

Falafel King, 1610-10th St. SW, Calgary, (403) 802-5464. Relocated downtown location opening soon on Stephen Avenue.


House of Kabob, Calgary

Things on sticks are fun, and the House of Kabob specializes in them. A similar Persian restaurant used to be in this same spot but there are new owners and an interior revamp.

The menu is pretty much kabobs and a few Greek-style souvlaki dishes. Service is sketchy, but it’s one of these small, independent places where it’s somehow forgiven.

I got a chicken sultani ($14.95), which was one skewer of chicken breast (jujeh kabob) and one skewer of ground beef (kubideh kabob) with grilled tomatoes and half rice, half salad. The kabobs are juicy and full of flavour.

If you’re lucky, you may get there in time for what looks like a cross between a Persian soap opera and karaoke on the flat-screen TVs.

The total with tax was $15.70 which officially brings me $1.30 over my $70 challenge… OR we could pretend instead that I got the chenjeh kabob ($11.95), a skewer of marinated chopped steak, which would’ve set me back only $12.55 — leaving me $1.85 under.


House of Kabob, 1115 Edmonton Trail N.E., Calgary, (403) 277-7151. Open seven days 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Chipotle is an American fast-food chain (stay with me here) that serves fresh Mexican tacos and burritos. Started in 1993, it’s modeled after the taquerias of San Francisco. The end result is not completely authentic, but still quite delicious.

McDonald’s used to own almost 90 per cent of Chipotle before it divested itself of the chain a few years ago. But Chipotle has very unchain-like policies. It uses only chicken, pork and beef raised without antibiotics. Its sour cream comes from cows that haven’t been treated with bovine growth hormones.

Chipotle, San Francisco

Any chance I can get in the U.S., I try to stop by Chipotle. My favourite is their barbacoa, shredded beef braised in chipotle adobo, cumin, cloves, garlic and oregano, in crispy tacos with their fantastic guacamole.

Chipotle, San FranciscoJason is partial to the burrito bowl ($6.25), which has everything in a burrito except the tortilla. The smoky (organically grown) pinto beans are particularly good.

All their meats are quite juicy and tender. The carnitas (pork), for example, is seasoned with thyme, bay leaves and juniper berries, and then braised for hours before it’s shredded.

Chipotle is also a pretty good value. You get three tacos, or one huge burrito, in each order that runs an average of $6.25.

Suck it, Taco Del Mar.

The rumours that Chipotle is coming to Canada are true! Toronto gets the first Canadian location, but we can only hope that Calgary isn’t far behind.

Chipotle, more than 450 locations in the U.S. Click here for website.

Thirsty Bear, San FranciscoBy our last night in San Francisco, we couldn’t bear the thought of eating more seafood, or really anything else. We were in one of those funks where we couldn’t decide what to have, but we didn’t want crap. I know, woe was us.

Jason vaguely said, “I want something casual. With beer.”

I remember lying on the hotel bed, going: “Pub food? Indian? Go back to Tadich Grill? Pizza? Chinese? Thai?”

As I listlessly surfed the internet, I somehow found the Thirsty Bear. For the lack of agreeing on anything else, we headed that way, and boy am I glad we did. Thirsty Bear is an organic brewery in a brick building that tries to serve only hormone-free meat, and local produce.

Thirsty Bear, San Francisco

We had no problem getting a table in the cavernous space, filled variously with stagettes, families, businessmen, tourists, sports fans watching some game in the bar, and couples.

Jason started with their nine-beer sampler, which is a hell of a deal at $9. The seven they usually have on-tap are:

  • Polar Bear Lager: golden, pilsner-style
  • Valencia Wheat: a hint of coriander and Spanish orange peel in a Belgian white
  • Brown Bear Ale: classic British style brown ale with caramel overtones
  • Golden Vanilla: infused from whole vanilla beans
  • Meyer E.S.B.: extra special bitter
  • Howard Street I.P.A.: India pale ale
  • Kozlov Stout: dark, dry, Irish stout

Then you also get two of their specials brews. On our visit, one was called Elixir of the Damned; I can’t remember the other one. Uncharacteristically, Jason’s favourite that summer night was the Golden Vanilla.

Thirsty Bear, San Francisco

Our server was fabulous. We weren’t starving so we told her we wanted to sip our drinks and order a few tapas at a time. She never rushed us, and was always perfectly timed. In that pace, we ended up eating a lot more than we thought we could.

The lamp empanadas ($10) were also fab, hot and flaky, filled with spinach, idiazabal cheese, peppers, potatoes and cilantro mint sauce. The pastry was a lot thicker than I was used to, but the three pieces still disappeared quickly.

We also got one of their flatbreads ($10) with chorizo, asparagus, piquillo peppers, rosemary and queso fresco. It was nice, especially with the asparagus — even if it makes your pee smell funny after.

Thirsty Bear, San Francisco

Thirsty Bear, San FranciscoSecond round, we got the patatas bravas ($6.50) and the albondigas ($9.50). The fried potatoes were not bad, but the Spanish meatballs were better in a sofrito tomato sauce with a sprinkling of fried onions.

Third round was my favourite of the night. The kokotxas ($9), panfried halibut cheeks in sherry and olive oil, were kickass with a big squeeze of lemon over top.

Thirsty Bear, San FranciscoLater in the night, I saw one of the servers sitting down to dinner, and he had the halibut cheeks and a flatbread. To me, that’s proof it must be one of the restaurant’s best dishes.

Finally, for dessert, I could not leave without having churros ($7), those delicious deep-fried sticks of pastry dough, rolled in sugar and cinnamon.

Thirsty Bear, San FranciscoThirsty Bear’s cinnamon churros came with a mug of thick Spanish hot chocolate and whipped cream for dipping, which zooms it to the top of my list as the best churros I’ve had so far — not counting my very first time at Disneyland when I was 10.

Thirsty Bear Brewing Company, 661 Howard St., San Francisco, (415) 974-0905.

Open Mon.-Thurs. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday 11:30 a.m.-midnight, Saturday noon-midnight, Sunday 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Menus and more info here.

Ferry Building, San Francisco

This is a bombolini, an Italian doughnut filled with Nutella, and how Jason started his Saturday morning at the Ferry Building. The ferry terminal, which opened in 1898, has been beautifully restored and now includes specialty food stands and restaurants.

On Tuesdays and Saturdays, there’s a farmer’s market outside with the kind of glistening fruit only California can offer. It just doesn’t have that same juiciness or crunch or glow once it’s trucked thousands of kilometres to Canadian grocery stores.

Ferry Building, San FranciscoI didn’t get any pics because I was too busy snacking on the samples of nectarines, peaches and cherries the farmers kept handing out. I don’t like fruit, but I like this fruit.

Inside, we actually had to hunt a bit for a nice cup of coffee to kick our morning off. To our relief, we found I Preferiti di Boriana, which imports stuff from Tuscany, and does espresso in the mornings. That’s also where Jason got his bombolini. (It disappeared fast.)

Ferry Building, San Francisco

I was drawn to Delica rf-1, a Japanese delicatessen with a quirky name. (Not sure what rf-1 stands for…)

There were some very attractive things behind the deli’s glass counter, and of course, I picked the roast beef sushi ($2 per piece), which turns out to be one of Delica’s signature items.

Ferry Building, San FranciscoThe sushi piece was yummy, topped with rare, hormone-free beef, baby arugula, minced shallots, and julienned radish.

I also got a “healthy” onigiri ($2 each), made here with brown rice and fresh roasted wild salmon. I normally dislike brown rice, but it works very well here.

The Ferry Building is a great place to wander if you’re into specialty foods, from caviar to olive oil to organic meats.

My favourite find was Far West Fungi, with various baskets of fresh mushrooms and dried varieties I’d never seen before.

There were piles of fresh morels, porcini and chanterelles (at $34 a pound), as well as glass jars of dried truffles neatly lined on the shelves like a candy store. I never thought I’d have so much fun browsing a mushroom boutique.

Ferry Building, San Francisco

Ferry Building, San FranciscoThe area outside the Ferry Building on Saturdays is hopping too. Across the street is an open market area, and that’s where we bought two prints from young artist Amos Goldbaum. His artwork is really cool and vibrant and very affordable. Check it out here.

We also saw these proud Americans outside the market, collecting signatures on a petition to change the name of the city’s biggest sewer treatment plant to “George W. Bush Sewage Plant.

U.S. law says any proposal supported by a petition with more than 7,168 signatures must go to a civic vote; these guys already have more than 8,500. Ah, democracy.

Ferry Building Marketplace, along the Embarcadero at the foot of Market Street. Lots of information on hours and merchants on the website.

Tadich Grill, San Francisco

I want to marry Tadich Grill — if, you know, humanoid-restaurant unions were socially accepted, and legally recognized.

The restaurant has been around for 159 years — in its current location since 1967 — and is a total legend in San Francisco.

Tadich is old-school, with almost an old-boy’s club feel in the dark wood, the brass wall scones sconces and coat hangers, and the crisp, white jackets worn by the servers.

Tadich Grill, San Francisco

It’s easy to see why a quarter of Tadich’s daily 800 customers are regulars. You immediately feel like this well-oiled machine is going to take good care of you.

I had been warned about a regular half-hour wait at peak times for Tadich, which doesn’t take reservations, so we timed our arrival for earlier than when we actually wanted to eat dinner.

But the moons must have been aligned or something, because as soon as we walked in, the man behind the bar yelled, “BARRY! TABLE FOR TWO!”

I was in love.

Tadich Grill, San Francisco

There’s a long wooden bar on one side of the restaurant, and booths and nooks on the other. We got a little table for two in front of a big mirror and a bowl of halved lemons.

When Barry, our baritone, pretend-gruff, but super-nice server asked what I wanted to drink, I stupidly said, “A Caesar?” betraying my Canadianness. I opted instead for a Bloody Mary, and Jason got a locally brewed beer.

A plate of fresh sourdough and butter soon came. I sipped my oh-very-strong drink as we perused Tadich’s gigantic menu, which is printed off every day with more than two dozen lunch and house specials next to the straight-forward, regular items. Regulars swear by the various sautéed and pan-fried filets.

Tadich Grill, San Francisco

We started with a sliced tomato quartet salad ($15), four beefsteak tomato slices on iceberg lettuce, topped with a big prawn, crab, baby shrimp and anchovy. It was so simple, so fresh, and so good.

On Barry’s recommendation, we had it with Louie dressing, which turned out to be a delicious, homemade sauce similar to Thousand Island.

Tadich Grill, San FranciscoJason’s crab and lobster thermidor ($29.25) looked like what I expected: a casserole dish with a golden-brown cheese crust. But underneath, it was ALL seafood meat in the classic creamy, mustardy sauce.

We expected it to have some sort of starch filler on the bottom because who serves that much crab and lobster meat in one dish? Apparently, Tadich does!

I took the plunge and ordered the seafood cioppino ($24.50) after I asked Barry if it was good and he replied, “It’s the best thing on the menu.” I knew he wasn’t lying because I heard him say the same thing to the table behind us too.

Tadich Grill, San Francisco

Cioppino is the Italian version of French bouillabaisse. This fish broth was packed with clams, prawns, scallops, bay shrimp, crab and white fish. Oh. My. It was sooo good. Two thick pieces of garlic bread that came on the side was handy for sopping up the soup.

Neither of us could finish our portions, much less have any room for dessert. When we told Barry that, he swatted at me with a menu. Jason thought that was quite entertaining.

Good. He doesn’t suspect that I’m plotting to elope with the Tadich Grill.

Tadich Grill, 240 California St., San Francisco, (415) 391-1849. Open weekdays 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Saturday 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.

Tadich Grill, San Francisco


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