Tag Archives: Alberta

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!

Synchronicity

Synchronicity

Yesterday, June 20, was the birthday of two beautiful young friends of mine who are both, ironically, named Crystal. Not a common name, and I only realized last year that they shared the same birthday. One of the definitions of the word “crystal” is glass of fine quality with a high degree of brilliance. Change the word “glass” to “woman” and it perfectly defines both of these amazing ladies.

Crystal #1 is a brilliant jeweller in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico that I met in Puerto Vallarta many years ago. She is talented, resourceful, passionate and someone whom I admire and love very much. She became my second unofficially “adopted” daughter about fifteen years ago. The distance between us has kept us from actually seeing one another in person very often, but we stay connected and always pick up exactly where we left off.

Crystal #1

Crystal #1

Crystal #2 is a wonderful young woman whom I met at a major oil and gas company in Calgary where we were both working. She moved to a smaller city in Alberta to continue her work in a petroleum-related business until a call back to the land took her back to her rural roots in Saskatchewan to fulfill her dream to take over her family’s farm.

Crystal #2

Crystal #2

I bring these young women up and the topic of synchronicity because my life seems to be surrounded by so much of it. Perhaps some of us are just more aware of these coincidences than others, or perhaps some of us actually experience these occurrences more frequently.

I was travelling from JFK in New York to Calgary yesterday and met a delightful young woman, Karen, from northern Germany, who has been living and working in Canada as an au pair. We struck up a conversation while waiting for the WestJet check-in to open and shared some great stories and histories. While we were waiting, a couple from Calgary, Candace and Hunter, lined up immediately behind Karen and commented that they had been seated next to her on the flight down from Calgary to JFK, randomly saw her several times in New York, were on the same subway train back to the airport, and then ultimately ended up in line immediately behind her again. As cliché as it may sound, we all agreed that it was a very small world indeed that was, in fact, getting smaller every day.

Hunter, Candace and Karen

Hunter, Candace and Karen

My most memorable story of personal synchronicity happened almost 15 years ago with Crystal #1, one of the young women that I introduced earlier. I had been in Mexico City probably seven years earlier where I spent several days with an amazing tour guide by the name of Emilio. Emilio was in the first graduating class of the University of Mexico after the Second World War and had so much knowledge and many extraordinary connections to make my time with him incredibly special. Fast-forward seven years and I was in the busy Zocalo area of Mexico City with Crystal and her friend, Zacbeeh. We had been buying jewelry materials for Crystal and were just on our way back to the Metro to head to Zacbeeh’s for the night. We were walking down the street and I looked and, much to my amazement, saw Emilio on the sidewalk right beside me – after so many years! Before this latest trip, he was the ONLY person that I knew in Mexico City – a city with a population of over 18 million. I remembered him and he remembered me. We embraced and quickly caught up, much to everyone’s amazement.

I’m not a religious person, but do consider myself to be spiritual. When these sorts of occurrences happen, I always feel incredibly blessed and that my angels are telling me that, wherever I am and whatever I’m doing, I’m on the right path.

It really is a small world after all!

Mother Mary

Ron and I are both so fortunate to still have our amazing mothers. My sparkplug of a Mom is 85 years young and living independently on our family farm east of Innisfail, Alberta. Ron’s Mom, Mary, turned 97 this past December and still lives in their family home of over 65 years in Santa Clara, CA and still takes total care of her home, herself and everyone in her life.

Mother Mary is an inspiration to all who know her. She’s an excellent driver and cruises all over Silicon Valley for her medical appointments and to pick up the organic groceries she prepares her legendary food with. An example of her eternal optimism, she bought a new car after an accident shortly after her 96th birthday (which was NOT her fault, by the way). She is still traveling every February to visit her oldest daughter and son-in-law, Mary and John, in Ajijic, just outside of Guadalajara, Mexico.  She brings her youngest daughter, Claire, with her now and Ron and I try to get over to the mainland to share some precious time with Mother Mary and some of the family.

Mother Mary in Ajijic

Mother Mary in Ajijic

Mary and Jake raised six children in their modest bungalow. Their home was filled not only with their own children, but with all the kids’ friends. Everyone was welcome and still is in Mother Mary’s home.

Mary made my Mom welcome back in early March. Our Moms got on the phone and conspired to meet, so Ron and I picked Mom up in San José, they spent a couple of days together, then we took my Mom down to Palm Springs with us for the Indian Wells BNP Tennis Tournament. It was very special to see these girls together, forming a new friendship, and learning that their lives shared many parallels that had much in common.

My Mom and Mother Mary

My Mom and Mother Mary

Neither of these women had easy lives and both started with extremely difficult childhoods. What could have made both of these women bitter had the complete opposite effect. Both chose to not be victims but rather the victors in their own lives. These women are my heroines.

I’ve been learning some of Mother Mary’s recipes over the years, watching her make them and listening to her explain, writing some of them down, taking photos of others so that her food will live on. It’s embarrassing when we visit twice a year because she won’t let us do ANYTHING for her, from food prep to even the dishes after one of her sumptuous meals. We spent almost a week with Mary and she treated us to a couple of her famous dishes and our favorites: Portuguese Omelet (with carmelized onions and flat leaf parsley), French Toast (with Trader Joe’s Cracked Wheat Sourdough Bread), Lamb Stew and her “Boiled Dinner” of corned beef, potatoes, cabbage, onions and carrots. The leftover corned beef made of the best road food sandwiches ever – we enjoyed them for days after we left Mother Mary’s.

Lamb Stew

Lamb Stew

Corned Beef "Boiled Dinner"

Corned Beef “Boiled Dinner”

The last thing I wanted to do was bring illness into her home, but I succumbed to a bad flu/cold while we were visiting this last trip. Mother Mary immediately made a pot of chicken soup for me, which I feasted on every few hours for three days. I absolutely attribute her soup to my quick recovery. It was so delicious that I hated for it to end. She uses her Aunt May’s recipe which is filled with goodness. She started with three pounds of organic chicken legs that she cleans with salt before cooking. She covers with water and boils for one hour. Remove the chicken and set aside. Add celery, onion, carrots and, five minutes before serving, add some white rice and chopped parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve. Mary maintains that you need to sip on a small cup of this broth every few hours for the soup to work it’s best magic. Heat it up, with or without chicken taken off the bone, in the microwave to reheat. Mother Mary’s penicillin – it really works!

One of the things that Mary requested of us was to take a trip to Grass Valley to see her younger sister, Rosalie, who recently broke her leg and is scheduled for surgery in the near future. Rosalie is over 90 years old, as is their brother, Tony, and all of them are bright and in amazingly good health. A special cousin of theirs, affectionately known as “Little Mary” accompanied us that day and she is unbelievably healthy and beautiful – believe me, it’s shocking when you learn that she’s 84 years-old! Each and every one of these Portuguese seniors looks at least 20 years younger than their actual age indicates – they share some very special “fountain of youth” DNA!

Mother Mary, "Little Mary" and Aunt Rosalie

Mother Mary, “Little Mary” and Aunt Rosalie

Never does a birthday or special occasion go by with Mary not sending a card and letter to acknowledge people and let them know she’s thinking of them. She demonstrates kindness, generosity and tremendous thoughtfulness to everyone who knows her. She is grateful for her extraordinary health and her ability to share with others and does so every single day. WE are incredibly grateful for both of our beautiful and precious Moms. We love them both with all our hearts and always will. xox

Remembering Jerry

Two and one half years ago when we were driving south on the Baja to Cabo, we came upon a terrible accident about an hour north of Guerrero Negro. Our first warning of what was ahead was the flashing of hazard lights on two semi-trailer trucks that were fully blocking the road. They were protecting an older model SUV that had obviously rolled but was back sitting upright on its wheels.

There were three other passenger vehicles stopped and pulled off in the field beside the highway: two Mexican and one American from Arizona. We got out to see if we could help and the couple from Arizona, Joe and Andrea, were doing what they could to assist. Joe had a very large chocolate Labrador dog in his care, rescued from the accident, and Andrea, a retired emergency nurse, was attending to the elderly gentleman trapped in the car.

Andrea had dressed Jerry’s head wound and was trying to assess the extent of his injuries, but was having a difficult time understanding him. Turns out that Jerry had emigrated from Czechoslovakia as a young man to western Canada to carve and create a new life. His accent was still very strong, despite the fact he was ninety years-old and had lived in Canada most of his life. The shock of the accident had him speaking in his native language, so it was no wonder that Andrea was having difficulty understanding him.

We were far from medical help, but the Mexican people who had stopped committed to calling an ambulance as soon as they had service on their cell phones. We were completely out of range and in the middle of nowhere.

Andrea asked if I could try to communicate with Jerry, who was from my home province of Alberta. Jerry wanted us to move the steering wheel and help him sit up, but we were afraid to move him in case there was spinal damage. All we could do was make him more comfortable until an ambulance arrived, so I held his hands and tried to get some information from him so that we could contact loved ones back home. Gradually, Jerry started to speak broken Spanish combined with English, so we were able to get his son’s information.

It took a few hours, but the ambulance finally arrived and we were able to communicate that Jerry needed to be moved carefully and that they use a back board to move him. The four of us followed the ambulance into Guerrero Negro to ensure that he received proper care and to try to communicate what we new about Jerry.

Once we had contacted Jerry’s son in Calgary, Alberta and were comfortable that Jerry was receiving proper care, our next order of business was to check into a hotel and give Caesar, Jerry’s ten year-old Lab, a long overdue bath. Ron called him “basic cable” – not neutered, never disciplined and not very bright – no extra channels, in other words. He was a sweet old boy, however, and did his best to be good – he just didn’t know any better when he wasn’t. Take, for example, when we took him for a walk to the hospital to see old Jerry. Minding our own business and walking by some stores on the main street of Guerrero Negro, Ron turned his head for just a moment and Caesar proceeded to pee all over the stack of cowboy boots they had on display. Needless to say, the store owner wanted us to pay for all of the boots and boxes Caesar had “watered”, but we pretended not to understand him and quickly fled down the street.

Hail Caesar!

Hail Caesar!

The hospital, company-owned by Mitsubishi, wanted us to take Jerry home the next day. We refused as we were concerned about something happening to Jerry in transit. We strongly encouraged Jerry’s son to come down to take care of his Dad or, at the very least, make arrangements to have an ambulance take Jerry to San José del Cabo. We loaded up Caesar and with concern and heavy hearts, we were back on the road to Cabo. We had done all we could do.

A very kind woman, who happened to be in the hospital and overheard that they were kicking Jerry out, offered to take him in to her home to convalesce. Just when it appeared Jerry was getting stronger, he collapsed and died of an apparent heart attack. We were so sad to learn of his passing.

Jerry’s property manager and friend, Mariana, found Caesar a new home in San José del Cabo. We understand that he ran away a few months later and was never located. The old boys were inseparable and perhaps Caesar left in search of his friend, Jerry. We hope he found him – perhaps there’s another road trip in their future together.

On The Road To San Diego

We shared a lovely dinner and stayed overnight with David and his gorgeous girlfriend, Jake, at his newly and beautifully renovated home in Santa Barbara on our way south. When we got back to David’s after a delicious dinner downtown, we found a note on our car that had been left by one of his elderly neighbors to apologize for hitting and damaging the front end of our car which we had left parked on the street. Ironically, we had just had body work done on the BMW convertible in New York and the car was in perfect condition when we started our road trip. We were leaving early the next morning for San Diego, so Ron had to get a repair estimate as quickly as he possibly could before we left the area.

David and Jake

David and Jake

We had picked up a new used car (a 2002 Lincoln LS sedan) in Santa Clara to drive down to ensure that my Mom would be as comfortable as possible as she’d been having recent back issues and we knew there was no way for the three of us and all our “stuff” to comfortably fit and travel in our little BMW. The Lincoln needed a new air conditioning compressor, which our friend, Stretch, had ordered and it was to be waiting for us to pick up in San Diego.

IMG_3819

Ron and I fired up our walkie talkies and got our damaged little caravan on the road to San Diego as soon as he was able to get a repair estimate in Santa Barbara. I was really anxious to ensure we got to the airport on time as my amazing little 83 year-old Mom was making her first solo trip – flying from Calgary, Alberta, Canada to meet us in San Diego to drive the Baja to Cabo San Lucas.

Mom Matthie

Mom Matthie

We got to the airport a little late and I was panicked. Ron found parking first and went in to find her at the luggage carousel while I found my way back to the airport and eventually secured parking. Ron found her there, as calm as could be, after having made friends with the airline escort who took her by wheelchair to the carousel area and, of course, several other people. Whew!

Ron needed to pick up the part for the Lincoln, so we took Mom to a nearby park and had an impromptu picnic (with the delicious sandwiches and food that we had prepared at Ron’s Mom’s home) and Mom and I had a chance to catch up while Ron was gone. We found a well-kept and clean motel for us, the Best Western Seven Seas (http://www.bw7seas.com), that had adjoining rooms for peace of mind. We had originally planned on crossing the border that day, but Mom seemed a bit tired, so we thought it best to let her get a good rest and we’d go into Mexico the following day.

Mom wasn’t terribly hungry that night, so we got her some soup and brought it back to her room for her. Ron and I headed to Old Town in search of Italian food as both of us had been craving it for some time. We wandered around to check out the sights and settled on Jack & Giulio’s Italian Restaurant (www.jackandgiulios.com) for dinner. The meal (we split Angel Hair Mediterraneo and Scampi Alla Giulio) and the bottle of 2009 Castello di Meleto Chianti Classico were great, but the absolute stand out of the meal was the basil orange vinaigrette they used on the salad we started with: an Insalati Cuere di Palma with hearts of palm, greens, tomato, and avocado. We almost licked the plate it was so good (Ron actually ordered more bread to sop up every drop of the dressing). Here is the closest re-creation of that dressing that I have been able to come up with so far:

Basil Orange Pesto Vinaigrette

½ cup fresh basil
2 Tbsp. orange juice
1 Tbsp. grated orange zest
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. white wine vinegar
½ tsp. sea salt
¼ cup olive oil

Add first 7 ingredients to your blender and pulse to chop and blend. Gradually pour in olive oil from the small opening at the top of the blender lid until mixture is completely blended. Chill 2 hours in the refrigerator and serve over greens or use as a dipping sauce for seared scallops or grilled shrimp.

We were really sorry that Mom hadn’t joined us for such a great meal, but she needed her rest after her first solo trip ever and all the excitement of the day. We shared many more great meals with her in the month she spent with us, however, and made some wonderful memories with her.