Category Archives: Newsletter

Best’s Dinner at Divino Wine & Cheese Bistro was the BEST!

Best’s Dinner at Divino Wine & Cheese Bistro was the BEST!

My dear friend and unofficially adopted daughter, Kajsa, who is a chef, caterer (Taylor Made Events Catering) and foodie extraordinaire, heard about an event that she invited me to attend with her this past Wednesday. I am SO glad she did and let me tell you why!

Divino Wine & Cheese Bistro, one of my favourite downtown restaurants and wine bars, conveniently located on Stephen Avenue, has been a Calgary favourite for over 15 years. It is part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts‘ family of restaurants and offers a comfortable bistro atmosphere, excellent cuisine prepared under the direction of chef John Donovan, an award-winning international cheese selection, and a superb wine list.

Upstairs at Divino's (photo from Divino's website)

Upstairs at Divino’s (photo from Divino’s website)

The event that Kajsa invited me to was Best’s Great Western Wine Dinner, presented by Richmond Hill Wines, a specialty wine importer and wine shop located in south west Calgary (my former neighbourhood). As one of the oldest independent wine stores in Alberta, Richmond Hill Wines has a tremendous reputation for carrying great wines, especially those from Australia.

Best's Great Western Wines (photo from Best's)

Best’s Great Western Wines (photo from Best’s)

Wednesday night’s wine dinner featured the wines of Best’s Great Western from Victoria, Australia, and were presented by Jonathan Mogg, General Manager of Sales and Marketing from Best’s. This year, 2016, marks the 150th anniversary of one of Australia’s oldest family-owned wineries (the fifth generation of the Thomson family now runs the business) and oldest vines in the country. To commemorate this extraordinary milestone, Best’s is celebrating with various tastings and dinner events around Australia and North America, of which we were able to attend the special event hosted at Divino in Calgary.

Wine Director for the Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts and AIWS (Associate of the Institute of Wine and Spirits) Sommelier, Brad Royale, paired the food from Divino with an outstanding assortment of Best’s wines for our enjoyment. He supervised and orchestrated the entire evening’s event, introduced each dish as it was presented, and provided his own insightful tasting notes to highlight the food and wine that was served. Here was their outstanding menu and pairing:

Heirloom Tomatoes (with Fior di Latte, Baby Fall Greens, White Balsamic & Honey Vinaigrette) served with Best’s Great Western Reisling 2014

Duck Leg Confit

Duck Leg Confit

Rogue Farms Duck Leg Confit (with Poached Santa Rosa Plums) served with Best’s Great Western Ancient Vines Pinot Meunier 2010

Lamb Shank

Lamb Shank

Slow Braised Lamb Shank (with Potato Gnocchi, Braised Cipolini Onions) served with Best’s Thomson Family Shiraz 2012 and Best’s Great Western Chardonnay 2012

Cheese Cake

Cheese Cake

Cheese Cake (Thornloe Ontario Blue Cheese, Wild Saskatoon Berries) served with Best’s Great Western Sparking Shiraz Late Disgorged 2011

The food prepared by chef John Donovan and his team, the service, and the wine served throughout the evening, were nothing short of superb! I highly recommend Divino Wine & Cheese Bistro for a casual drink, lunch or dinner at any time, but particularly special events like this, Best’s 150th Anniversary Dinner.

My guy, Ron, and I have talked for a long time about attending the Australian Open, but Best’s have given me just one more brilliant reason to travel to Melbourne and explore the wines “down under”!  If you can’t get to Melbourne in the near future, I highly recommend that you check out the selection of Best’s Wines at Richmond Hill Wines. These wines really are some of the “best” Australia has to offer!

A View From “The Bow”

A View From “The Bow”

A panoramic view of downtown Calgary with "The Bow" prominently featured on the far left.

A panoramic view of downtown Calgary with The Bow prominently featured on the far left (the building with the diagonal exterior grid of cross-bracing)..

After talking about it for several years, my dear friend, Bettina, took me on a tour of the building she works in, The Bow. I shared some pictures of it in a previous post, but there is nothing like this skyscraper from the inside looking out.

Construction of this 58 floor, crescent-shaped skyscraper began in 2007 and was completed in 2012 – a billion dollars later.

It's a LONG way down!

It’s a LONG way down!

The design and architecture is absolutely stunning, with graceful rounded curves throughout the interior, incredible views, and beautiful, natural light flooding in through every window.

A view of some of the graceful lines and light.

A view of some of the graceful lines and light.

We picked up lunch at a favourite restaurant of Bettina’s, Chef’s Cafe, situated across the street from The Bow, then took it up to eat at the Sky Garden on the 54th floor to enjoy the view from a beautiful vantage point.

View looking over the Bow River.

View looking over the Bow River.

This magnificent structure literally “towers” over other buildings in downtown Calgary, and its exquisite design will remain a signature of one of the most dazzling corporate structures in Canada and perhaps the world. It has, without doubt, changed the skyline of Calgary with its semi-circular shape and clean, modern design.

A view from the top!

A view from the top (and looking at the new Brookfield Plaza which will be taller than The Bow upon completion – taller perhaps but definitely NOT as impressive)!

Thank you for taking the time, Bettina, to show me this brilliant structure and for introducing me to The Bow, from the inside looking out!

Celebrating With Special Girlfriends

Celebrating With Special Girlfriends

This past Friday night was very special. I got together with five of my very dear girlfriends for a delightful evening of connection, laughter, food, wine and general merriment! It was a pot-luck dinner and ALL of my friends love and appreciate great food and wine, so the offerings were superb. The occasion was supposed to be a celebration of three of our birthdays (Susan, Monica and me), but because I’m out of the country during the winter months, it has grown into just a great reason to get together and our group expanded to include Kajsa, Cathy and Tina.

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I was responsible for the appetizer and had planned to prepare stuffed mushrooms and a grilled eggplant salad served in Belgian endive. When I walked into Lina’s Market on Centre Street and saw the magnificent fresh figs they had displayed, the plan instantly changed. Instead I made carmelized figs with burrata cheese, with rolled prosciutto and fennel salami – the cheese drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil, fresh lemon zest, finely chopped arugula and freshly ground black pepper. To caramelize the figs, I removed the stem end, cut the figs in half lengthwise, and pressed the cut sides firmly into light coloured brown sugar. I heated a large, heavy sauté pan until hot, then cooked the figs sugar side down until carmelized (only takes a couple of minutes).

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Kajsa was up next with the salad course, which was absolutely brilliant. Kajsa is a caterer and is an amazing chef (as well as a cherished friend and first “adopted” daughter). She came up with this recipe after I told her about a fabulous crab salad I’d had in the JFK Airport recently. She made the salad with a combination of rock crab (from Prince Edward Island where she and her husband, Patrick, have a cottage) and shrimp, all beautifully wrapped in a ribbon of cucumber, served on a bed of mesclun greens, with threads of carrot and a thin slice of lemon to garnish. Gorgeous! None of us wanted to eat these little masterpieces, but we finally did and they tasted as incredible as they looked!

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Susan prepared delicious chicken skewers for our protein and Monica, another brilliant chef and our hostess for the evening, provided a fabulous rice pilaf and some marinated, grilled vegetables to complete our dinner. Kajsa had saved and brought some very special wine for all of us to share and we ate and drank very well all evening!

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Cathy supplied a delectable dessert of frozen green seedless grapes with ice-cold dessert wine from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia.

Dinner was phenomenal, but it was the laughter and connection shared among our group of six that made it incredibly memorable and thoroughly enjoyable!

Until next year, precious friends! xox

From Mediocre to Sublime

From Mediocre to Sublime

We were invited over to our friend Monte’s for dinner last week. Monte, Ron and I all love mussels, so I offered to prepare them as our contribution to the meal. One of my missions on this last trip to New York was to enjoy as much seafood as possible, so buying mussels at Cor-J Seafood (a great place for the BEST fresh fish and seafood in the Hamptons) and bringing them to Monte’s fit in well with my plan.

Steamed Mussels

Steamed Mussels

I’ve prepared mussels a few times and was looking for a new and different way to do them. In a large stockpot on Monte’s grill, I browned a quarter pound of porchetta (which Ron and I had purchased at Scotto’s, the local pork store in Hampton Bays), cut in small cubes, in 1 tbsp. olive oil, then added a generous pinch of hot red pepper flakes, a medium onion, diced, and one large clove of garlic, finely minced. When the onion was cooked to translucent, I added a bottle of beer and the fresh mussels (approximately 3 dozen) that had been thoroughly rinsed in cold water in a colander (be sure to tap any mussels that are opened and, if they do not close, throw them out as they are bad and should NOT be eaten). Once the contents of the pot were boiling, I lowered the heat to medium, covered the pot, and simmered for approximately 7 minutes or until the mussels began to open. I turned the heat off and added 2 tbsp. butter (for flavor) and 2 tbsp. of fresh parsley, chopped fine, for color and garnish.

Manhattan Clam Chowder

Manhattan Clam Chowder

The mussels prepared this way were fine, but I’ve had better recipes. We had a lot of leftover porchetta/onion/beer/mussel broth left over and I decided to make a Manhattan Clam Chowder the next day to use it up. I found a great recipe for Manhattan Clam Chowder by Sam Sifton in the NYT Cooking App and modified it to make the BEST, and I mean the BEST, clam chowder I’ve ever tasted, or certainly made, in the past. Using the broth from the steamed mussels from the night before created the most delicious broth – seriously, like the best bouilabaisse you’ve experienced. Here’s what I did and what I’ll definitely do again:

1). Over medium-low heat, melt 2 tbsp. butter and added 1 large onion, diced, and 2 large cloves of garlic, minced;

2). Once the onion was cooked to translucent, add 4 ribs of celery and 4 large carrots, all diced into small cubes;

3). Stir in 3 large Yukon Gold potatoes, cubed, and 1 litre of low sodium chicken broth and bring to a simmer;

4). Add the leftover porchetta/onion/beer/mussel broth from the night before, 2 bay leaves, 1 tsp. of dried thyme, 1/4 tsp. of black pepper and a generous pinch of hot red pepper flakes;

5). When the potatoes are tender, add 1 – 28 oz. can of Italian whole tomatoes and, using your hands, squeeze the whole tomatoes into large chunks and add to the chowder with all of the juice;

6). Add 2 small (284 g) cans of chopped clams with their juices and allow to simmer for 5 minutes;

7). Remove stock pot from heat, and remove and discard bay leaves;

8). Let the chowder sit to allow the flavors to blend and reheat to serve. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley and garlic toast or, if you’re on the East coast, oyster crackers (traditionally served with chowders and bisques).

Even though the initial mussel recipe wasn’t my favorite, I would make it again in a heartbeat to repeat this Manhattan Clam Chowder. Like any good stew, this chowder got better and better every time we reheated it and was truly delicious!

William Shakespeare Abridged

William Shakespeare Abridged

Our friend, Ian Harkins, is a brilliant actor, producer, director, and voiceover artist who trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London and Cornell University. He’s been playing tennis with Ron since he was a very young lad, and until last night, we had never had a chance to see him perform.

Ian Harkins

Ian Harkins

As Managing Director, one of three Founding Partners of Purpled Pheasant Productions, and one of the three actors to perform a comically abridged form of 37 Shakespearian plays at the Southampton Cultural Centre, we thoroughly enjoyed Ian’s performance, and that of his fellow actors, in this fun, fast-and-furious interpretation of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). This show first premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1987, became London’s second-longest-running comedy after a ten-year run, and has become one of the most frequently produced plays which has been performed in dozens of languages around the world.

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It was very cool for us to watch Ian on stage. He is best known for his television series’ performances as Narrator of The Once and Future Nerd and as John Chamberlain in ABC’s Forever. He’s appeared in many plays throughout the US and Europe, including London’s West End, as well as in American Hustle, Boardwalk Empire, the Murdoch Mysteries, and The Knick (upcoming). His career is just starting to take flight and we will watch and follow his future success with great excitement and anticipation. Break a leg, Ian!