Spring Into Action

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The clocks went forward an hour on the weekend and the lighter evenings are waking me out of winter hiberation mode. Which makes it a good time for a round up, don’t you think?

Here are a few things that have caught my newly refreshed eye:

I haven’t yet made time for the Vancouver Art Gallery’s current show, MashUp: The Birth of Modern Culture, but I need to correct that soon. It seems like everyone I know has been making multiple trips to the exhibit – the whole gallery is devoted to this exploration of contemporary cultural production and it’s too much to absorb in a single visit. If you’re in Vancouver before it closes in June, you should block it liberally into your itinerary.

Last year, I brought a recipe to the AvoShowdown, competing against a number of Vancouver bloggers. This year, the general public is invited to submit a recipe – 16 competitors will face the judges on April 10th. You can find all the details here: Call for Recipes – Avocado Showdown. I’m looking forward to attending as a spectator this time around!

The Eastside Flea has moved from Commercial Drive to Main Street and have a bigger, permanent home. If you’re a vendor, they’re looking for all sorts of goods purveyors for their grand opening on April 16th & 17th.

The Femme City Choir brings their new show to the York Theatre on June 5th & 6th – I’m telling you now because it’s best to get your tickets early. Their shows sell out.

Food and community find perfect expression in the Food Connection Friends Potluck Dinners. For folks in and around the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, they hold regular potlucks and DIY food workshops. There’s one coming up this Friday, March 18th, in fact.

But the big question this week is would you rather celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by rocking out to Pogues tribute band, Shane’s Teeth, at the WISE Hall’s annual St. Paddy’s Day Bash, or are you more into the nostalgic (and nearly as lively) sounds of the Irish Rovers? Just let me know – I’ll be sipping on a Guinness while you decide.

Eat Local: A Singularly Delicious Pairing

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I was a guest of Kingfisher’s for the evening, but received no other consideration. All opinions are my own.

Beer has come a long way in BC. Not all that long ago, a beer and a meal meant mass-produced lager and a wan remembrance of English pub food.

These days, it’s an exciting prospect. With excellent breweries popping up around the province and many restaurants’ laser-focus on the best of local food, there’s no predicting what will happen when they come together.

Last month, I benefitted from such a collaboration between Kingfisher’s Waterfront Bar & Grill in Maple Ridge and Victoria’s Driftwood Brewery. The occasion was the pouring of a very special stout and the carefully constructed tasting plate my brother, Chef Sean, dreamed up to go with it.

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Driftwood’s Singularity Russian Imperial Beer is delicious bottled, but it’s even better when it’s been cellared. Ted Hume, one of Kingfisher’s owners, opened a cellared barrel of the 2014 vintage and invited guests to enjoy it with Chef Sean’s tasting plate.

We had a glass of a more recent vintage, which is everything I love about stout – full of flavours like coffee and chocolate, refreshing and filling all at once. This stout has an extra layer of flavour imparted by the bourbon barrels it’s aged in, too, making it even deeper and darker than I’ve come to expect. As good as it was, the cellared beer was astonishingly better. It needed to be sipped and savoured, more like scotch than beer, and the flavours were even more complex and pronounced. As Driftwood representative Asia said that night, it’s a challenging beer to pair.

I may be biased, but Chef Sean’s tasting plate met the challenge perfectly. He started with a brioche crostini with bacon in a bourbon-caramel sauce, dusted with pecan. Then, lamb sirloin with a port-cherry demi glaze over blue cheese infused mashed potatoes. Finally, a beignet with dark chocolate sauce, sprinkled with brown sugar. Sipping the beer between bites, these dishes enhanced and were enhanced by the Singularity. The only thing I could have asked for was a second round.

Ted and Asia were kind enough to talk more about the event, the night’s offerings, and the synergy between Kingfisher’s and Driftwood’s philosophies, in a Periscope interview that I’ve captured here:

This synergy extends beyond the presenters of the evening, right onto the plate. Bacon from Gelderman Farms, brioche from A Bread Affair, blue cheese from Little Qualicum Cheeseworks, and more were showcased in this meal, companies that put as much effort into collaborating with restaurants as they do the quality of their products.

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It made for a room full of happy eaters and drinkers, including my mother and me – though we didn’t order a second round, we indulged in a few more plates of food (including some fabulous crab cakes and a tiramisu so wonderful I forgot to photograph it).

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The Perfect Pickle

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I received a jar of Malassol cornichons from Maille Canada, but received no other consideration. All opinions are my own.

A few weeks ago, I told you about the balsamic and honey mustard that Maille Canada was kind enough to send me. Well, I received another package from them, this one to replace the jar of Malassol cornichons that had opened in transit. I wasn’t expecting it, but I’m so glad they did.

I’ve always been fussy about pickles. Growing up, I wouldn’t touch dill pickles or gherkins, but I couldn’t get enough of my mother’s pickled beets, beans, or well, anything but pickled cucumbers. As an adult, I’ve softened my position, but I’d never fight anyone for one. Until now.

Maille’s Malassol cornichons are worth fighting for. Most pickles in North America are dill-heavy, with an eye-scrunching acidity. These cornichons (or gherkins) are well-balanced. There is dill in the mix, but not enough that you can’t taste the other flavours in the brine, including tarragon-infused mustard seed. There’s also a pleasing sweetness mixed in with the sourness you expect from pickles.

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Maille suggests serving them with charcuterie, tartare, or sauce gribiche, but you might find yourself eating them straight from the jar. It’s what happened at my house, so be warned.

I set aside five, just enough to make a variation on this potato salad. I skipped the capers and used sherry vinegar in place of red wine vinegar, as I wanted a more delicate balance to highlight the cornichons. The dressing and pickles worked beautifully together – a grown up potato salad that happens to be vegan and gluten-free.

Now, I’m left with two problems. The pickles are gone and the jar of less lofty gherkins that replaced them aren’t satisfying my pickle-loving partner the way they used too. Then, there’s the delicious brine that’s left in the jar. I’ve been adding it to dressings and sauces, but a little goes a long way. And I’m not Millennial enough (or at all) to drink it straight up. Any suggestions?

A Pause for Celebration

  

It’s Kevin’s Birthday today, so I’m busy celebrating. On Friday, I’ll tell you about something I made for him.

For now, admire the gift I got in the mail from Maille Canada. I’ll tell you what I did with those (besides eat them up more quickly than I care to admit) on Tuesday.

And here’s a teaser of something I’ve got coming up for you in a few weeks.

  
See you Friday!

Something Simple 

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There was to be a savoury tart today, but a moment of inattention led to an evening of correcting tart dough instead. My Canadian eyes insist on reading “cup” when they should see “stick” and I put exactly twice as much butter into the dough as I was meant to. Luckily, it was easy to fix, but by that time I’d decided that leftover potato and spinach curry was a better dinner idea.

Now, I have one half of the dough fitted into my tart pan and the other well-wrapped. Both are hanging out in the freezer, awaiting another day.

I was still in the mood to bake – do you find that once you’ve set your mind on it, you’ve got to do it? Perhaps that’s just me.

I decided on drop biscuits, to use up some milk and because they’re perfect for the pot of plum jelly my mother brought over last week.

On Friday, I’ll show you what I had in mind for that savoury tart, with a deliciously piquant post. Until then, I’ll be enjoying warmed biscuits slathered with jelly.

Cottage Cooking Club – January 2016

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Oh, January, you are the month of good intentions. This post represents one of mine – since I was so tardy posting last month’s CCC entry, I thought I’d post early this time around.

Late winter can start to feel like a march through a string of lacklustre meals until spring’s vegetables rescue us, but meals with warm spices and good quality canned or frozen vegetables can cure that ennui. These meals are certainly perking us up this week.

Curried red lentil soup

Lentil Soup

This soup caused a schism in the household. I gave Kevin a taster bowl of the soup when I’d first puréed it. While he ate it in the living room, I decided it needed a bit more liquid and a creamy element. So, I added a can of light coconut milk and re-adjusted the spices. Meanwhile, he thought it was thick, rich and perfect. Oops! I suppose it’s good to know it works both ways.

This soup is a variation on the Curried Sweet Potato Soup the group tackled in December, 2014. It trades out sweet potatoes for lentils and limes for lemons, while adding some carrot and celery for a little more veggie fortification. Kevin isn’t a sweet potato or yam fan, so this version was a much bigger hit for him than the original.

I was out of garam masala, so I ground another batch. There’s nothing better than cooking with freshly ground spices, is there?

This soup will last us through the week’s lunches and the flavours are so deep, there’s no chance of getting bored. Especially since I’m thinking about baking some biscuits tomorrow, which will be perfect for dipping.

Next time I make this, I’ll leave it thicker, skipping the purée and the coconut milk and serving it over rice. I think that version will mend the rift.

Chickpeas with cumin and spinach

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Most of the time, committee meeting nights are for leftovers or meals I’ve cooked and portioned for the freezer. Tonight, though, I was able to put together dinner from scratch in about the same amount of time it would have taken to prepare a pre-cooked meal. Even better, it used staples from my kitchen counter, pantry, and freezer. Paired with some basmati rice, this was practically a fifteen-minute meal. I’m slow though, so it took 20-25 minutes.

Chickpeas and spinach, seasoned with lemon, is the ne plus ultra of quick meals for Kevin, so this dish was right up his alley. Adding tomatoes, cumin, onion, and garlic was like a deluxe upgrade of a simple meal.

I was thrilled to put together a filling and flavourful meal before I had to run out the door. Kevin’s thrilled that there are leftovers for tomorrow. Since I have (yet another) meeting, I’m glad we’re covered.

If I manage to fit in any more of this month’s CCC selections, I’ll post an update. For now, I’m feeling rather happy that I’m writing about food that’s still available to me for meals this week.

At the end of the month, you’ll be able to find the rest of the group’s posts, here. I encourage you to check them out – you’ll meet some wonderful bloggers and get some great inspiration for vegetarian eating.

A Post-Holiday Progress Report

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I’m still not back into the post-holiday swing of things, are you? So, instead of a full post, here’s a report card of sorts – what I’m reading, what’s on my radar, where I’m aiming to be.

Book Report

I don’t have the manual dexterity to qualify as a gamer, by any stretch of the imagination. But, I do find the narrative potential of the form fascinating and gaming has also become a frontier for discussions around activism, social justice, feminism, race, and more. The State of Play: Creators and Critics on Video Game Culture by Daniel Goldberg & Linus Larsson is a good place to start if you’re interested in where progressive game culture is headed.

The next book in the pile on my nightstand is Creating a Learning Society by Joseph E. Stiglitz & Bruce C. Greenwald. In a time when learning is becoming a more and more closely guarded resource, the implications of a “learning society” for a healthy economy are intriguing.

Then, I’m on to Amy Halloran’s The New Bread Basket, exploring the rise of local grain production.

There’s also one book I finished recently that’s lingering in my mind. Sally Mann’s Hold Still is a compelling exploration of an artist’s appraisal of her work and history. It’s also a book that reminds me that misgivings about an artist’s views on some subjects shouldn’t preclude admiring their take on others. Mann’s striking honesty and openness is what stays with me, along with her sharp insights into art, photography, and memory.

Lunch Hour

I like to test-drive cookbooks by taking them out of the library. I tell myself that it keeps me from buying more and taxing my groaning bookshelves. In truth, if I like what I see, the book mysteriously appears on the shelves sooner or later. Oh, well.

Here’s what I’m currently taking out for a spin:

Oodles of Noodles by Louise Pickford could be my mother’s dream cookbook. Whenever we go out for lunch, she’s angling to try another restaurant that serves one variety of noodles or another. This book does a sort of survey of East Asian cuisines.

I’m getting a head start on next year’s holiday cookie lineup with Mindy Segal’s Cookie Love. Though, who am I kidding? Cookies are welcome every day of the year.

Modern Jewish Cooking by Leah Koenig has a world focus, rather than being grounded in one tradition. So far, I’m finding her Breads and Pastries section particularly tempting.

Social Studies

Did you find yourself wishing that Tina and Amy had taken the Golden Globes’ stage one more time? I did. Here’s one of the reasons why: Ricky Gervais‘ jokes about trans people.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of the great essayists of our time, able to take on even the trickiest of subject matter.

Extreme weather is already becoming a factor in our lives and will affect how and what we eat in the future. Researchers are studying the impacts in order to adapt.

Jeff Wall’s body of work is celebrated world-wide. Even so, he harbours doubts about the direction of his artistic career.

Recess

If you think the holidays are the biggest reason to max out on sugar, you’re wrong. It’s nearly Hot Chocolate Festival time.

Or, if you have a more grown up palate, you could check out the Vancouver Whisky Festival.

I’ll probably spend some time at the Gluten Free Expo next weekend – when half the household has celiac disease, it’s a yearly must.

If you want to feed your mind instead of focusing on your stomach, the PuSh Festival starts next week. If you’re of a more urbanist bent, MOV‘s Your Future Home exhibit is starting soon.

That should give you enough to chew on until my next full-fledged post. Enjoy the rest of the week, even if it’s not incipiently spring-like where you are.

Operation Whirlwind – A Holiday Inspiration Pass Adventure

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December is a busy month, with year-end gatherings, holiday celebrations, and special events. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen, baking and cooking in anticipation of Christmas, but the holidays took me out of the house just as much.

This year, though, I had an extra reason for running from one side of the city to the other. After waiting more than three years, it was finally my turn to receive Vancouver Public Library‘s Inspiration Pass. Mine came into effect on December 9th, giving me until just before Christmas to visit as many of the attractions available as possible.

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Considering the time of year, I think I did quite well. I skipped the garden tours, as the weather was stormy for most of the time I had the pass. I also skipped the Park Board offerings, choosing to concentrate on museums, exhibitions, and performances.

I went to UBC one day, Vanier Park another, then tried to fit in as many of the others as I could.

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Some of the highlights:

Speaking of c̓əsnaʔəm, it was very instructive to visit so many exhibits on First Nations culture in a short space of time. The Museum of Anthropology and the Museum of Vancouver had sister exhibitions that explored the reclamation of the c̓əsnaʔəm village site by the Musqueam people, with a third exhibit showing at the Musqueam Cultural Centre gallery (which I’ve not yet seen). The MOA and MOV exhibits centre the voices of Musqueam people, while taking responsibility for their institutions’ role in recasting the belongings of a living people as the artifacts of a dead culture.

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At the Museum of Anthropology, in particular, there is an ever-increasing emphasis on the institution as a repository rather than a collection. On the tour I took part in, the guide emphasized that the rights and stories of the items we viewed still belonged to the families who produced them. It’s a welcome change from the museum tours of my childhood, which presented them as the remnants of a vanished culture. They’ve also transformed the way their vast holdings from around the world are presented, collecting and displaying European artifacts in a manner that does not hold them above or apart from those of any other culture.

So, when I made my way to the Vancouver Art Gallery, I was very glad to learn that there was an exhibit of coastal First Nations art there, too. The pieces displayed were part of an unexpected gift to the VAG, which has extremely limited holdings of First Nations pieces. There was an acknowledgement to that effect and on one side of the exhibition floor, strong contemporary pieces by Robert Davidson were allowed to stand alone. On the other, historical pieces were paired with vast photographs by Christos Dikeakos serving as commentary. It felt like the VAG was very much at the beginning of the process that’s been undertaken by MOV and MOA. Even the exhibition notes felt sparse in comparison to those for the exhibitions on the floors below, especially those for the show that centred artists like the Group of Seven and Emily Carr, with a number of works that were dominant culture observations of First Nations coastal communities and cultural productions.

The closeness of my visits highlighted these issues, which then followed me to Roedde House, a museum that recreates a middle class Victorian family’s environment. This was an unexpected benefit of the Inspiration Pass and a welcome one.

The downside of getting the pass when I did was that I was only able to go to one performance, as my loan period extended into the Christmas week closure of many performance groups. However, those who get the pass in the off-season can’t see performances, either, so I’m not complaining.

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I’ll end with a few observations:

  • I’d love to see the pass program extended to some of our smaller institutions, like theatre companies and repertory cinemas. One of the goals of the pass is to encourage Vancouverites to get subscriptions to our cultural institutions, so it would be nice to bring up the profile of these ones. I could envision one choice being a movie at either Vancity Theatre or The Cinamatheque and another being one play from a list of theatre companies.
  • In the same vein, I’d like to see the program stretch a little further into East Vancouver. The volunteers I spoke to at the Beatty Museum of Biodiversity had never heard of The Cultch, can you imagine? Let’s get Westsiders to cross the city, too.
  • Since performance groups largely shut down during the warmer months, it might be nice to have the option to go to a baseball or soccer game instead.
  • Finally, I’d like to see some more flexibility from some of the participating institutions on how groups of four are made up. Goh Ballet allows four adults to come to a performance, but the Vancouver Symphony insists that only two adults and two children can be allowed as a group of four. For those of us who have elderly parents and grown up children, nieces, or nephews, that’s a shame. It also doesn’t take into account non-generational families and groups of friends. I’d like to see that change.

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Many of the people I know had no idea that the Inspiration Pass was available to any resident of Vancouver with a VPL card. I’m not sure I should have told them, because they’ve all put a hold on it. There are eight passes per library branch and the number of holds keeps creeping upward. I wouldn’t be surprised if they reach 1,000 for each branch before long.

I’ve put another hold on the Inspiration Pass at my local branch. I estimate I’ll get it again in three-and-a-half to four years. Luckily, my partner has a hold on one, too. He’ll get it in two years or so. That’s not so long to wait.

A Best of 2015

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I know it’s cliché (as I’ve said before), but I enjoy looking back over the year through the lens of the posts you liked best. When I think about my favourite posts of the year, it’s the process that stands out for me – a new skill mastered, a story shaped and re-shaped until it achieved the effect I was looking for, a photograph (for once) well-made.

The list of top posts, on the other hand, show me which ones intrigued people enough to click through to them. It’s not a perfect measure of quality, to be sure – comments may be a better guide there. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to see what brought people here this year.

It’s also interesting to see that the top posts this year are completely different from last year’s list. I think it’s encouraging to see that the blog is at least a little dynamic, though I think the end of French Fridays with Dorie was part of the shift.

12. Made with Love

We start with a post that would count as one of my own favourites from 2015, in which I share the recipe for my mother’s spicy vegetable chili. It’s a winter dish, really, full of pantry staples and vegetables that are available year-round. But, it’s so popular, that we get requests for it through all the seasons. My mother makes enormous batches of it for the church and community gatherings she organizes. I make it for co-op meetings. We both make it for Kevin, who loves it so much that he’d happily eat it weekly.

But, it’s not really the recipe that makes the post, at least for me. It’s the story of how the recipe came to be and the love it represents.

11. Sucre à la Crème

I was surprised that this one made the list, as it’s a short post that shares two French language videos of people making a classic, homey French Canadian sweet. I’m a little fond of it, though, both for the winkingly nostalgic photo and the video of the Québécoise grand-mère.

10. French Food Revolution Friday with Dorie 2015

This year’s French Fridays with Dorie edition of Food Revolution Day was a lot of fun. I made a dish I’d missed when it came up in the rotation originally, reviewed some past favorites, and connected it all to the day’s goal of promoting cooking skills and food literacy.

9. FFWD – Holiday Card and Recipe Exchange

This post is about something that’s become a yearly tradition amongst French Fridays with Dorie alumni. We exchange cards, and often recipes, at year’s end. It’s nice to have something to look forward to when checking the mailbox, isn’t it?

8. FFWD – Marengo As You Like It

I suspect people came to this post looking for a recipe, but it’s really just a recounting of my experience with Dorie’s recipe. Though many of my French Fridays posts were designed to have wider appeal, others – like this one – were really addressed to our group. Posts like these are travel diary entries for a journey through a cookbook.

7. Eastside Coffee Culture

This post was a lot of fun to research. It’s a celebration of the coffee shops in my neighbourhood and it’s meant to be the first in a series of themed explorations. More will come along, slowly, as I gather enough intelligence on each subject.

6. Baking Chez Moi – Brown Butter and Vanilla Bean Weekend Cake

A short, fun post on a delicious cake I’ve made over and over again.

5. Holiday Book Reviews – True to Your Roots

I very much enjoy writing my cookbook review series, so I was happy that one of these posts made the list. This book intrigued a number of people and the person who won it in the giveaway was thrilled. I’m very happy, myself, that it’s now on my cookbook shelf.

4. FFWD – Brioche and Nutella Tartine

Who can resist the siren call of Nutella? (Not me.) However, my favourite part of this post is the beautiful braided brioche I made.

3. FFWD – Celebration Week #1: The AHA Moment

I’m so glad I “cheated” on our assignment for this post. As a result, it’s a lovely guided tour of my French Fridays years.

2. Spring Book Reviews – Teatime in Paris!

Another book review, for a cookbook I turn to on special occasions. Thinking about Jill’s pâte sucrée makes me want to start my holiday baking all over again.

1. Eat Local: Kin Kao

The number one spot this year goes to one of my (very occasional) restaurant reviews, for one of our favourite neighbourhood spots. I’m quite pleased that reviews took three of the top five spots. I’ve been enjoying writing them this year more than almost anything else.

So, there you have a list of some of the buzziest (in the very calm, sort of backwater way that my blog can be said to generate buzz) posts on my blog. And I have food for thought about the directions I may take the blog in 2016. I hope you enjoy clicking around the list as much as I did.

You’ll hear from once more before the close of the year. I hope the dwindling days of 2015 are treating you well!

A Little Cheer

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I think it’s high time I shared a holiday round up, don’t you?

Craft Fairs

It’s no secret that I have a soft spot for craft fairs. This time of year they are at their peak. I’ve got a selection of favourites for you.

Make It! is big, comprehensive and worth an afternoon’s browse.

Toque is a fundraiser for Western Front, so it’s not surprising that the wares on display have a fine arts sensibility. It’s always a hit.

Got Craft? still sets the bar for what’s indie and in when it comes to craft fairs. This year, they’re taking the show to North Vancouver.

Shiny Fuzzy Muddy is organized by some of my favourite artists and it’s a small, curated show full of beautiful art, jewellery, and apparel. If you’re thinking about buying yourself a present this year, do it here.

Markets

It’s not all about crafts, though. Holiday markets are a pleasure all their own.

The Baker’s Market is back, just in time for the holidays. It’s a one-stop shop for indie sweets purveyors, so prepare to get all your stocking stuffers out of the way.

The Vancouver Christmas Market imports (literally) the Germany holiday tradition and is always popular. Go hungry.

Speaking of hunger, the Vancouver Farmers’ Market Holiday Market is a great place to shop when you’re hungry, too. There are goods of all sorts, though, so you just might polish off your gift list.

Tourist in Your Own Town

Your condo may be too small to safely install even one string of outdoor lights, but luckily, there are thousands of lights for you to enjoy across the city. Then, work off the hot chocolate at the ice rink.

VanDusen Botanical Garden‘s Festival of Lights is bigger than ever. Tour the grounds, then go for a meal or hot chocolate – they’ve got everything from snacks to fine dining.

See the Capilano Suspension Bridge in a whole new light – well, hundreds of thousands of lights.

Or, keep it simple and go skating at Robson Square. It’s surprisingly magical.

Performance

There are a bewildering number of great performances happening around here at this time of year, so I’m just going to highlight a few.

This year’s East Van Panto is Hansel and Gretel. They’re always hilarious, topical fun.

A Christmas Story, The Musical sounds like fun, too, as long as nobody puts an eye out.

Christmas at the Chan is going to be majestic – five choirs in that space!

It’s the 50th anniversary of A Charlie Brown Christmas. So, why not celebrate with the The Vancouver Chamber Choir?

And finally, Vancouver Cantata Singers are performing at Holy Rosary Cathedral. Experiencing the gorgeous acoustics there should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Have you checked out my holiday cookbook review series? There are copies of 5 great cookbooks up for grabs. You can find the links to the giveaways (as they go live) here.