Wednesday, July 27, 2011

City Perks Coffee Shop

Coralee Abbot and Mike Dahlen took possession of the City Perks coffee shop (two blocks north of City Hospital) in March 2007.

“We started it on a whim,” explains Coralee. “I love to entertain, so why not?” It has become hugely successful. The outdoor patio is a drawing card in the summer, and the freshly-baked food is a treat all year round.

Getting started
The first task was to upgrade the facility with new plumbing, new electrical and new furnishings. Once they opened their doors, Mike and Coralee learned very quickly that your business plan has to evolve in response to what the customers want.

“There were only three of us working at the beginning, and we got slammed,” says Coralee. “We hadn’t expected to serve lunch, but customers were looking for a lunch menu.” They stopped opening in the evenings and focussed on building up their morning and lunchtime traffic.

Responding to customers
Customers have continued to shape the coffee shop. Quiche and salad were on the menu from the start, but Coralee didn’t anticipate quiche being so popular. She’s now developed a repertoire of 32 different quiche recipes to keep it interesting.

The repertoire of muffins, cakes, scones, cheesecake and other delicious baked goodies is constantly changing. Coralee enjoys trying out new recipes and bakes something different every day, but certain recipes are so popular that Coralee has to keep making them or face very disappointed customers.

“People get so upset when the carrot cake isn’t available,” she says. “So I make it frequently, but I change it up with different types of icing – cinnamon cream cheese or white chocolate.” Another perennial favourite is banana torte with dulce de leche filling and peanut butter frosting.

“Our first baby”
Coralee and her husband Mike are both actively involved in running City Perks and refer to it as their “first baby.’ “It can be one or two in the morning, and Mike will be doing the books while I’m finishing a pie,” says Coralee. “But we always make time for fun and our boys.”

Coralee started out trying to do everything herself. It didn’t seem right to ask other people to do something if she wasn’t also doing it herself. But she is learning to share responsibility. The coffee shop is open on Sundays and holidays, but Coralee doesn’t have to be there. She can be at home spending time with her family.

Marilyn Dahlen, Mike’s mother, has been a key player from Day One. She’s on hand from Monday to Friday, does lots of baking, and has been instrumental in shaping the coffee shop.

Two years ago, Mike started up his own landscaping and excavating business (Raucous Excavating, 260-8500). It took off faster than they expected, so he has less time to spend at City Perks during the summer. But he’s still busy behind the scenes with grocery shopping, errands and bookkeeping, and he’ll be at the restaurant more often come winter.

“An amazing group of young people”
Coralee believes that choosing the right staff is extremely important and is delighted with her current group of 15.

She looks for passionate, creative people who will care about the food, interact with the customers, and give her feedback and ideas. “They can’t be too shy – they have to be outgoing,” she explains, “so I ask them whether they perform or check to see if they have a tattoo. I also ask them what they like to eat. I wouldn’t hire a burger and fries person.”

Coralee grew up in Herschel near Rosetown. Her first job was as an apprentice baker in Grande Prairie, and she soon became the pastry chef.

When City Perks first opened, Coralee and Marilyn were doing all the baking. Responsibility is slowly shifting. Tiffany is a professional cook, so she’s taking on more responsibility, while Katelyn and Nicole lend a hand with just about everything.

Small quantities of fresh food
City Perks has a very small kitchen and limited storage space, so they buy food in small quantities on a regular basis. And Coralee prides herself on only serving fresh food. She’s even reluctant to serve quiches that are left over from lunch to evening customers.

“It’s the scariest but most flattering thing ever when we run out of food,” she says.

When City Perks first opened, the choice of soups and sandwiches changed on a daily basis. But most people don’t come in more than once a week, so they now have a weekly menu with two soups (one is always vegetarian), five sandwiches and quiche with salad.

There are fresh muffins, scones, coffee cake and loaves on hand every day for the morning crowd. Or you can have a bowl of Coralee’s hearty oatmeal. “It’s chunk full of everything,” she says, “from goji berries and dried fruit, to flax hemp, coconut and nuts.”

There were four regular muffins at first; now there are eight tried and true recipes. “Thank goodness it’s not me making them,” says Coralee, “as I get tired of making the same thing.”

Future plans
City Perks is now open in the evening, and Coralee is planning to introduce some evening meals by winter. There will be chilli, soups and stews – comfort food for the cold weather. Coralee is also planning to introduce more vegetarian options, with different grains, such as quinoa.

In the future, they would like to be able to offer specialty ales and wines.

Coralee and Mike may have opened City Perks on a whim, but nowadays they couldn’t imagine doing anything else. “I get such a charge from coming in and hearing the buzz and the chatter,” says Coralee. “It feels so alive.”

City Perks is located at 801 7th Avenue North, and you can follow their daily specials on Facebook. The coffee shop is open Monday to Friday from 7 am to 10 pm, Saturdays from 8 am to 10 pm, and Sundays from 9 am to 5 pm.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Flavourful Saskatoon July 25, 2011

Foodie news and events in and around Saskatoon – prairie cherry ale, floating gardens, food day, and historical recipes
Floating Gardens
I picked up shiny purple eggplant, aromatic basil and delicious strawberries from the Floating Gardens stand at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market this past weekend.

I am eager to take a tour of Floating Gardens as their aquaponics operation is something completely new for Saskatchewan.

Their goal is to raise fresh, pesticide-free produce for Saskatoon and area on a year-round basis (Saskatchewan currently produces less than 10% of its own produce). Their greenhouse combines growing fish with hydroponics (raising plants without soil). The fish produce waste, which then nourishes the plants. The water is recycled, so it’s a self-supporting system.

Food Day Canada at Souleio Foods
Souleio Foods will be serving homemade chanterelle perogies and Pine View Farm sausages on Saturday, July 30 in celebration of Food Day Canada, a national celebration of Canadian food.

Good Spirit Bakery, Watson
I talked with Jonathan Lee from Good Spirit Bakery at the Farmers’ Market on Saturday. He tells me that they’ve expanded the lunch menu at their Watson bakery to include burritos and wraps, and there are new vegetarian options, such as falafel. Sounds great.

Crave Cookies and Cupcakes
The opening of Crave Cupcakes on Broadway Avenue has been delayed. They now expect to open by late September or early October. Never fear! We’ll be ready and waiting outside their door whatever the opening date.

Prairie Cherry Ale
The Bushwakker Brew Pub in Regina will be serving Prairie Cherry Ale this week. The cherries are from Over the Hill Orchards, a certified organic orchard near Lumsden.

Historical Recipes from Parks Canada
To mark its 100th anniversary, Parks Canada is launching its first mobile phone application, Heritage Gourmet, which offers more than 70 recipes tied to the country’s historical landmarks, some dating back to the 18th century.

The app will be available after July 28 from the App Store for iPhone and Android Market. You’ll be able to search for recipes by ingredients, region of origin or time period. Photographs and information about the historic site or people will accompany the recipe. (via The Globe and Mail)

Flavourful Saskatoon is a weekly Monday feature. Email me ( if you have products, events or places that you would like me to include.

Photographs: Mercado Central, Alicante, Spain

See also:
Flavourful Saskatoon July 18, 2011
EcoSask News July 19, 2011
Alicante: Exploring the layers of history
A warm welcome to Sawaddee Bistro

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Parés Baltà Winery: A Place of Enchantment

On my last day in Spain, I took the train south from Barcelona to Vilafranca del Penedès where I was met by Joan Cusiné Cusiné, one of the owner’s of the Parés Baltà winery.

It was the start of a five-hour journey of enchantment through the vineyards and the wines of Parés Baltà, and I fell head over heels in love with the land, the people, and the wine.

We were accompanied on our tour by Martí Mensa and his wife, Carmé. Martí is an amateur photographer and generously shared his photographs of our afternoon journeying.

I hope that the following SlideShare presentation conveys at least a portion of the beauty and magic of Parés Baltà.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Flavourful Saskatoon July 18, 2011

Foodie news and events in and around Saskatoon – food in jars, food in trucks, and food in the park, plus a couple of cups of tea

Taste of Saskatchewan
Taste of Saskatchewan runs from July 19 to 24 in Kiwanis Park. I am disappointed that there isn’t a greater emphasis on local food/restaurants or more vegetarian options. However, there are some good choices.

You can get a great coffee (cappuccino, iced latte, espresso gelato floats, etc.) from Caffe Sola.

Cava Caffe is serving Italian sausage on focaccia from Good Spirit Bakery, grilled herbed polenta with Tuscan ragu of fresh market vegetables, and corn on the cob.

E.E. Burrito’s has bean and cheese pupusas and chorizo on a bun.

There’s ice cream from Homestead Ice Cream and Jerry’s Food Emporium.

Rembrandt’s Fine Dining and Royal Thai will both be serving vegetarian options.

Food in Jars
The Lethbridge Veg recommended the Food in Jars blog as a great resource for small batch canning and preserving recipes. Food in Jars has an eclectic collection of recipes – from peach oolong jelly, to cherry bounce, to sour cherry jam and roasted tomatillo salsa.

Edmonton’s Food Truck Extravaganza
Food trucks are all the rage in cities like Vancouver, San Francisco and New York. They seem to offer innovative food and a chance for a small business to get off the ground without the huge expense of leasing restaurant space.

Sharon Yeo (Only Here for the Food) and her husband were inspired by a Food Truck Festival they had attended in San Francisco, so they organized one in Edmonton. What the Truck?! was billed as a celebration of Edmonton’s food trucks, combining street food with pedestrianism and downtown vibrancy.

I believe that all the food trucks were locally owned, many of the offerings were creative and unusual, and at least one was offering farm-fresh food. Unfortunately, there were limited vegetarian offerings.

Banff Tea Co.
If you’re in Banff, be sure to check out the Banff Tea Co. The company donates 25% of its profits to charity and has a fantastic line-up of 180 different teas.

I am a tea snob and very picky, but I’ve already identified several favourites. The organic Earl Grey is excellent, while the Banff Earl Grey Snowflake is a milder blend combining Earl Grey and organic jasmine green teas with a hint of rose. My sister in law enjoys their Spicy Chai.

The store carries the Kusmi line of teas, which originated in Russia in 1867. The Almond Kusmi is green tea with a delicious almond aroma. (with thanks to Andrew and Shelley)

Flavourful Saskatoon is a weekly Monday feature. Email me if you have products, events or places that you would like me to include.

See also:
     Flavourful Saskatoon July 11, 2011
     EcoSask News July 12, 2011
     Petrofka Bridge Orchard

     National Ceramics Museum, Valencia, Spain

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Introducing Monastrell Wine to a World Market

I invite you to read my article about the wines of Jumilla, Spain in Palate Press. Here are two excerpts:

"I was introduced to Altos de Luzón, a wine from Jumilla, this past winter and was entranced by a small, relatively unknown wine region in southeast Spain that has been growing grapes and making wine for over 5,000 years. When I was planning a holiday in Spain, Jumilla was my go-to destination.

As I stepped off the bus from Murcia and began walking up the esplanade, the 15th century castle towered above me. It is the focal point for miles around, a sheltering presence keeping watch over the region’s 45 wineries that harvested 80 million kilos of grapes in 2010."

Keep Your Eye on Jumilla
"Although Jumilla wines do not currently enjoy wide distribution in North America, they are extremely good value for money, and I believe that we will see more and more of them on store shelves. In addition, as the wineries develop their brands and become more familiar with the export market, there will be increased differentiation. Although the primary focus at the moment is on aged Monastrell wines, I believe that the wineries will begin to introduce more blends as well as more rosados. These are wineries with a long tradition of winemaking: we can look forward to enjoying their very good wine in years to come."

Palate Press: Introducing Monastrell Wine to a World Market

Monday, July 11, 2011

Flavourful Saskatoon, July 11, 2011

Foodie news and events in and around Saskatoon – cherry bombs, fresh strawberries, flower tours, and lots and lots of chocolate

Saskatoon Sous Chef – D.A.M.N. Fine Foods
Saskatoon Sous Chef (also on Facebook) is carrying the three new flavours in D.A.M.N. Fine Foods’ line of fiery jams. You can choose from Smokin' Saskatoon, Cherry Bomb, Rip-Roarin' Raspberry, Blueberry Burn, or Sizzlin' Strawberry. Kevin suggests pairing them with cream cheese.

D.A.M.N. Fine Foods (also on Facebook) is owned by Dave and Ann Cook, who keep Saskatoon Sous Chef stocked with vegetables during the summer. In exchange, their sheep grow fat on Sous Chef’s compost!

Marr Residence
The Marr Residence, 326 – 11th Street East, is the oldest building in Saskatoon that is still on its original site. Volunteers offer tours and a variety of different program activities.

Sunday, July 24, 11:30-2:30 pm – Dig out your old lunch box and join with friends and neighbours for an old-fashioned box lunch picnic with musical accompaniment.

Sunday, July 31 & Monday, August 1, 1:00-4:30 pm – The Ninth Annual Rhubarb Festival celebrates this hardy plant that played a prominent role in pioneer gardens. Come and enjoy two afternoons of lore, recipes, entertainment and refreshments.

Berry-Picking Time
U-pick and ready-picked strawberries and Saskatoon berries are now available at The Strawberry Ranch. Call 384-4842 for picking times.

Another option is to visit The Berry Barn and pick some Saskatoon berries after enjoying a meal in their riverfront dining room. (A waffle with a generous helping of each and every topping is my personal favourite.) Call 978-9797 for reservations.

The Berry Barn is open Monday to Sunday from 10 am to 9 pm. The U-Pick area is open from 8 am to 8 pm.

Nest Secret Garden Tour
The Secret Garden Tour is a self-guided tour of Saskatoon gardens on Sunday, August 7 from 1 to 5 pm. Proceeds go to Nest, a registered charity that helps to settle refugee families in the city. Passports are $10 and are available at Blossoms, Dutch Growers, Flowers by Fred and Nosegay.

Chocolate and travel – two of my all-time faves – so how can I resist Doreen Pendgracs’ blog, Travel Diversions with Doreen, where she is currently recounting her research for a book on artisan chocolate around the world. Yum!

Alcohol Level of Wine
An article in The Guardian newspaper reports that the Ontario government tests the alcohol level in the wines they import. A 17-year study of wines from all the major wine-producing companies showed that “every country tends to understate the alcohol levels of the wines with Argentina, Chile and the United States tending to do so most and Portugal and New Zealand the least.”

Flavourful Saskatoon is a weekly Monday feature. Email me if you have products, events or places that you would like me to include.

More good food and drink:
Flavourful Saskatoon July 4, 2011
Three Farmers Camelina Oil
Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Paddock Wood Brewing Co.

how not to start a business – and yet still be wildly popular

Starting a business is rarely straightforward, but even I was surprised by how many unexpected events have shaped the history of Paddock Wood Brewing Co.

I’ll have to make my own
In 1992, Steve Cavan and his wife, Kathleen James-Cavan, moved to Saskatchewan from Ontario. Kathleen had been hired as an English professor at the University of Saskatchewan and Steve was hired as a lecturer in Classics and History. Things were looking bright for the two former graduate students, but Steve had one big problem – there was no good craft beer in Saskatchewan. The only solution was to brew his own.

Using his well-honed research skills, Steve applied himself to learning how to brew beer. And that’s when he ran into the next dead end. He needed to buy malt, hops and yeast, but they weren’t available locally. Steve’s current favourite was British ale, so he contacted Paddock Wood, England, hoping to buy hops directly from the local cooperatives. But the smallest order they’d accept was for 1000 pounds, and Steve was only using about 5 pounds a year at that time.

Steve eventually found a US supplier who would sell to him – as a home-based business. So, in 1995, Steve set up a mail-order business supplying other home brewers with supplies.

Mail order business
Business was slow at first, but it really took off in 2000. By 2005, Steve was selling $12,000 a month in grains and Canada Post was doing daily pickups. But then the bottom fell out of the market. Large wholesale companies, such as Cargill in Western Canada, started selling oats, grains and malt directly to the public. By 2007, Steve’s sales of grains had dropped to $1200 a month and Canada Post was no longer doing pickups.

Steve pulled the plug on the mail order business, but Paddock Wood was still alive and well under a different format.

Home brewing kits
Steve had considered closing the business in 1999 when sales were slow, but a local customer didn’t want to see that happen. They became partners and opened a storefront in the Avalon Shopping Centre in 2000.

Steve purchased a secondhand 10-gallon brewing kit and began experimenting with recreating beers from around the world.

Steve decided to cater to the thousands of customers who make beer from kits. Customers could name any beer in the world. Steve would source the ingredients, research how to make it, and put together a kit. Customers could now make any beer they wanted, and the kits became popular.

But Paddock Wood had such a small brewing unit that they could only make 2 kits at a time. They were working triple shifts, but it was crazy. They needed to move to a bigger space with bigger equipment. But they didn’t have the money.

Again, Paddock Wood turned to its supporters. The company incorporated and raised enough money to move to a larger facility in Sutherland. They purchased a 300-litre system and could now make 12 kits at a time. But that’s when they hit the next roadblock.

Rules and regulations
Steve phoned Revenue Canada on an unrelated matter and discovered that it didn’t make a difference whether you were making wort (unfermented beer) or brewing beer. You needed a license.

If that was the case, Steve decided he might as well start bottling and selling beer. But that was easier said than done. The Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA) had no regulations covering micro breweries. You could set up a brew pub, but brew pubs could only sell from their own location – the beer couldn’t be distributed through SLGA.

Finally, in December 2004, Paddock Wood obtained permission to sell their beer through SLGA. But could they keep up with demand?

Let’s make more beer
Paddock Wood invited more shareholders on board and bought a bigger brewing system. In 2007, they installed a bottling line. Before that, the operation had been completely manual, bottling a maximum of 24 bottles an hour.

Over the past few years, Paddock Wood beers have begun retailing in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario, but distribution continues to be challenging. Each province has different regulations. SLGA is government-regulated, providing a level playing field for breweries of all sizes, but they make arbitrary decisions as to which beers they will carry.

Bottling beer is extremely labour intensive, but it’s hard to get Paddock Wood’s beer on tap in bars and restaurants as the large breweries have cornered the market. Small kegs have proven popular, however, for house parties and weddings.

Looking ahead
Paddock Wood is once again finding it difficult to keep up with demand. Last year, a single batch of Mai Bock sold out locally in 6 weeks. This year, a triple batch sold out in a little over a month. SLGA asked for more, but there was none left.

Steve believes that 2011 is the year that Paddock Wood will really take off. By this time next year, he hopes to be building a new brewery with a much larger system and a separate bottling room. And he’ll retain the current facility and use it to make lambic beers (a Belgian style of beer that undergoes secondary fermentation providing a very distinctive flavour).

Research and experimentation
Craft beers, such as Paddock Wood’s, are a combination of 4 essential ingredients – malt, hops, yeast and water. The art of brewing lies in finding the right balance between the hops and the malt and the right temperature. You can tweak the taste and the mouth feel of the beer by using different kinds of malt, yeast and water.

Steve loves experimenting and reproducing beers from other countries and past centuries.

Kolsch is a light summer ale from Cologne, Germany. Cal Soloway, a local home brewer, has studied and won awards for his Kolsch beer, and he gave Paddock Wood the low down on every detail, from the water to the temperature. Paddock Wood purchased the same yeast that is used by a Cologne brewery and a computerized program replicated Cologne water.

In the 1700s, brewers in England roasted the malt over an open fire. When he was developing the Black Friars ale, Steve replicated this process by putting a tray on his barbecue at home. When the grains started to pop, he knew it was roasted.

Sherbrooke Liquor Store in Edmonton has commissioned a series of 12 beers dedicated to 12 gods and has commissioned a famous cartoon artist to design the labels. The first beer in the series is the Baltic Porter. Steve plans to introduce the second in the series for Christmas. It will be a Belgian triple ale. He plans to add some grape juice to the mix and thinks it will work well as Belgian yeast tends to be fruity.

Try something different
There are many stereotypes surrounding beer: it’s a man’s drink; it’s only good in the summer to quench your thirst – taste doesn’t really matter.

But the stereotypes don’t apply to craft beer. There are so many distinctive flavours, and they need to be tasted before you can tell whether you will like it or not. I really enjoy London Porter, which was a complete surprise as I thought I would only like light beers.

Drop by the Paddock Wood store at B1, 116 – 103rd Street East and pick up a variety of different beers. Email Steve at if you would like to participate in the home brewing and tasting club, which meets monthly (except during the summer). Or sign up for a tour of the brewery.

And, above all, enjoy the flavour of natural, locally-brewed beer.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

EcoFriendly Sask

There are a great many environmental organizations and websites, but none of them focus on the local environmental news and issues in Saskatoon and Saskatchewan.

And no one is gathering the news from all the different organizations or telling the stories of the local people and their passions.

My brother and I decided to collaborate on EcoFriendly Sask to gather the news and stories on the environmental front in Saskatoon and Saskatchewan and pass it along via blog, Facebook and Twitter. We hope to raise awareness, educate and encourage.

We hope you’ll join us. The first weekly issue of Sask EcoNews was published today.

Photo credit: Grasslands National Park, Andrew McKinlay

Monday, July 4, 2011

Flavourful Saskatoon, July 4, 2011

Foodie news and events in and around Saskatoon – maple syrup from Kamsack, yummy black tomatoes, northern plants for food and medicine, flour grinding and murals

The Boreal Herbal Book, Bev Gray
Bev Gray is a herbalist and registered aromatherapist living in Whitehorse, Yukon. She and her family opened Aroma Borealis Herb Shop in 1998. They manufacture and sell over 200 products incorporating wild plants from the sub arctic with organically grown herbs and essential oils.

Bev has just published The Boreal Herbal Book, a guide to identifying and using northern plants for food and medicine. It also includes dozens of recipes, such as Wild Weed Spanakopita, Dandelion Wine, and Cranberry-Mint Muffins.

Chef Kevin Tetz will be at McNally Robinson Booksellers on July 21 to cook up some northern eats from Bev Gray’s book, The Boreal Herbal: Wild Food and Medicine Plants of the North.

Recipes from the book will be featured in Prairie Ink Restaurant July 14 to 21.

Good Life Greenhouses
I am really enjoying the purple and black heirloom tomatoes from Good Life Greenhouses. They are juicy, sweet and so much more flavourful than beefsteak tomatoes.

Good Life Greenhouses is at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market every Saturday with their pesticide, herbicide and fungicide free produce. I’m looking forward to trying out their tomatillos later this summer.

Saskatchewan Maple Syrup

SaskMade Marketplace, 1621 8th Street East, sells Leprechaun Taps, maple syrup from Kamsack, Saskatchewan. Now that’s local!

Pion-Era, July 9 & 10, Western Development Museum
There’s everything from old-fashioned ice cream making to flour grinding and clay oven baking at this year’s Pion-Era. Not to mention a pancake breakfast from 9 am to 11:30 am on Saturday, July 9 and a breakfast buffet from 11:30 am to 1 pm on Sunday, July 10 accompanied by toe-tapping old-time music.

SCYAP Mural at Saskatoon Farmers’ Market
In 2008, We Are Many, a youth-run arts and environmental organization, commissioned Saskatoon Community Youth Arts Programming (SCYAP), to design and paint a mural showcasing local food producers. The mural has at last found a home at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market.

The StarPhoenix article by Jeremy Warren states that, “The mural features older style houses one finds in the core neighbourhoods below a stylized Broadway Bridge. In front of the houses are orange silhouettes of people standing above a garden with ready-to-pick vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes and lettuce.”

Flavourful Saskatoon is a weekly Monday feature. Email me if you have products, events or places that you would like me to include.

More good food and drink:
     Flavourful Saskatoon June 27, 2011
     Weczeria reopens on Broadway
     Poached Breakfast Bistro