The Canadian Coffee & Tea Show

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I received a media pass to attend the trade show and competitions at The Canadian Coffee & Tea Show, nevertheless, all opinions are my own.

Trade shows have a reputation for tedium, full of dry seminars for industry professionals, stationery samples, and towers of stale danishes.

But, imagine walking onto a trade show floor and almost immediately being handed a latte from one of your favourite local coffee chains. Then, spending the rest of the day sampling coffee, tea, chocolate, pastries and cocktails. All the while, competitions rage along to determine the best baristas and latte artists.

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That’s what visiting the Canadian Coffee & Tea Show is like. There was an enormous array of coffee roasters and tea importers from around the world, with suppliers of everything a coffee shop or tea room could want.

A month later, I’m still sorting through and absorbing the materials I brought home from the show, but I have a few highlights to share with you, along with some thoughts about the show and what it means for the state of hot beverages in Vancouver.

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Tea

I was a tea drinker for years before I ever touched a cup of coffee, so I was especially excited to see so many fine teas, highly qualified blenders and sommeliers, and the Tea Association of Canada at the show. I often drink coffee when I’m out, and as much as I enjoy it, there are many occasions when I wish I felt comfortable ordering tea, instead.

It can be difficult to find a good cup of tea in Vancouver, unless you’re at a tea room. There’s nothing worse than being served tea that’s improperly prepared, of poor quality, or both. Vancouver began solving its coffee problem in the 80s, so I’ve usually stuck with that at most of the places around town. (There’s one local coffee chain that particularly comes to mind – they have beautiful tea, chosen and blended by a talented team, but they pour almost half a cup of loose tea into a bag when they make a large cup. The tea is undrinkable and the leaves wasted.)

This is becoming less and less the case now, with the new generation of coffee shops focusing on the quality of everything they serve. They’re sourcing wonderful teas and preparing them precisely, making my decision of what to order very hard indeed.

This attention is reflected in the strong showing tea made at the show. Many of the conversations I had over the course of the two days left me feeling optimistic about the future of tea throughout Vancouver. Just as barista culture, artisan roasting, and the renaissance in brewing has elevated the quality of coffee in Vancouver, the influence of tea merchants and next gen coffee shops is elevating tea here, too.

So, you can expect to see more top shelf tea at coffee shops, hotels, and restaurants. But you should also expect more good quality tea at your grocery store, too. Though the emphasis at the show is on providing products to the industry, there were a number of retail brands in attendance at the show. I saw whole leaf tea, organic and fair trade brands, sommelier blends and more at the retail kiosks. The future of tea is bright in Canada.

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Coffee

For coffee, the future is already here, from discerning local roasting companies to innovative coffee shops. There was a dazzling display of machinery at the show, reminding me that coffee has a lot in common with cars – people love to look at race cars and long to bring an affordable version home. There were beautiful espresso machines, tap systems for everything from cocktails to sodas, and technological wonders.

But what’s really exciting now is that all the innovation we’ve seen in coffee brewing is ready to come home with you. Just look at this page on KitchenAid’s website, if you don’t believe me. Expect high quality coffee from local roasters to show up throughout the restaurant industry, while siphon and pour over machines appear on kitchen counters.

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Aspirations

One of the most enjoyable parts of the show was being introduced to products that were trying to find a foothold in Canada. There was tea from Nepal, chocolate from Ecuador, coffee from Brazil, and BKON’s Craft Brewer – an amazing machine that can infuse flavour into alcohol in seconds or brew a perfect cup of tea at precisely the right time and temperature. These were just a few of the exhibitors who were working to establish themselves here.

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Highlights

Edmonton’s Blue Hour Tea and their “sticky teas.” Premixing chai with Alberta honey is something different and delicious.

I’m hoarding the last of the samples I got from Lumbini Tea. Beautiful, whole leaf, flavourful tea is something to be savoured.

I was impressed by Trumps Fine Food‘s gluten-free collection. Producing tasty gluten-free goods in volume is difficult to pull off.

6 Mountains‘ Pu Erh tea was beautifully presented and served amidst the chaos of the trade show floor. It truly is the king of tea.

I learned a lot at the show and I’m looking forward to following up on leads for future stories, which I hope to share with you in the new year.

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In the meantime, I’m getting ready to visit the Vancouver Tea Festival. They’re at the Croatian Cultural Centre this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and I’ll tell you all about it next Tuesday. If you’re in Vancouver, though, you can find out for yourself. You can buy tickets to the Festival on their website, along with tickets to their educational sessions.

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Tea and Apples

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On Sunday, I had a near-perfect day. I started by baking apple pielettes, this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie selection. Then, I went to Heritage Hall for Tea Sparrow‘s Tea-Off. After tasting (and tasting again) eighteen teas, we walked a block and had dinner at Burgoo, one of my favourite places for comfort food in the city.

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The apple pielettes (or pielets, depending on your spelling preference) are going to become a seasonal feature in my kitchen. They’re made with the galette dough from Dorie’s Baking Chez Moi, which she describes as “both sturdy and supple.” Sturdy enough to hold the saucy apple filling, supple enough to fit into muffin cups easily. But when you bite into it, it’s not tough at all. Instead it’s flaky, tender, and delicious.

For the filling, I decided to keep things simple, opting for apples with apricot jam and a little cardamom and cinnamon. I don’t think I need to tell you the filling was as delicious as the crust. Nearer the holidays, I think a version with dried cranberries might be in the works.

I sent some downstairs to my neighbour for her birthday, then sent some more home with my mother. They were my companions for the tea-tasting and for dinner and I believe they had a great day, too.

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We certainly enjoyed the seemingly endless cups of tea we had at the Tea-Off. I’ve told you about Tea Sparrow before and the process they use to choose the teas that go into their monthly boxes.

This time, we sampled teas that ran from cocoa and chocolate notes to herbaceous tisanes. I enjoyed most of the teas presented, but I had some favourites:

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The last one surprised me, because it doesn’t fit my usual tea preferences, but the flavours were beautifully balanced.

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There’s an endless amount of learning in the world of tea. Even though I’ve been drinking it since adolescence, I feel I’m still a novice in many ways. Visiting the Tea and Coffee Show helped and I’m looking forward to learning more at the Vancouver Tea Festival in November.

But, in some ways, I’ve learned most from those for whom tea has become a passion. At the tea-tasting at Tea Sparrow last week, I picked up a lot of interesting information, including these tidbits:

  • Some big tea companies pre-stale their tea before it hits the shelves to ensure a uniform flavour.
  • There are no real standards for tea, so companies like Tea Sparrow have to do a lot of their own research and testing to determine which teas are free from additives and artificial ingredients.
  • The growing popularity of premium teas is prompting larger tea vendors and corporations to cater to this market, making more clean, quality teas available to everyone.

The next step will be nurturing a tea-serving culture that has the standards of coffee barista service – no more lukewarm brewing or 1/2 cup portions of tea leaves in a cup, please!

I came home with a package of Vanilla Honeybush tea, which I happily enjoyed with my remaining apple pielettes. Since I gave so many away, I think I’m justified in making another batch this weekend, don’t you?

You can find the rest of the Tuesdays with Dorie crew’s entries on this recipe here: Apple Pielets.

Tea-Tasting at Tea Sparrow

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Rainy afternoons and tea-drinking go hand-in-hand, or at least they do in my world. Well, in my world, tea is a suitable accompaniment for any time of day or type of weather, so let’s just say that rain, afternoon, and tea make a classic combination.

This drizzly afternoon, I was drinking tea at Tea Sparrow headquarters, taking part in one of their famous tea-tastings. I’ve told you before how lucky Vancouverites are to have a say in which teas go into Tea Sparrow’s monthly boxes. This time, I was one of the lucky few who got to sip and rate Tea Sparrow’s newest discoveries.

In anticipation of their Second Annual Tea-Off next week, Tea Sparrow invited a few bloggers, podcasters, and recipe developers over to experience one of their tea-tastings.

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We rated six teas and two of them were favourites for me, personally – a dreamy Jasmine and a pure Ceylon cinnamon tea. Two others came close – a light, refreshing herbal mix by the Austrian company, Sonnentor, and a masala chai that was fragrant and flavourful.

And as a bonus, we were treated to Michael Menashy’s enthusiasm and expertise while we sampled our tea. When I share some photos of next week’s Tea-Off with you, I’ll also share some of the things I learned today.

Tea Sparrow’s Second Annual Tea-Off is next Sunday, October 25th, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Heritage Hall on Main Street. Tickets are 2 for $10 in advance and $10 per person at the door.

However, I’ve got two tickets to give away, so one of you can go for free and take a friend. If you’re going to be in Vancouver on Sunday, leave a comment on this post (with a contact email) and tell me about your favourite tea. The first person to do so is the winner!

It’s your chance to get in on the tasting and adjudication that helps to make Tea Sparrow’s monthly boxes so special.

Savoury Avocado Cream Bites – An Avo Showdown Recipe

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One of the nicest parts of blogging for me is when the two lenses of my blog, food and community, converge. It’s not a rare occurrence, either – food and community go hand-in-hand.

There are a lot of organizations that connect food bloggers these days – Food Bloggers of Canada, food blogger savvy marketing companies, Meetups, and more. It means I’ve had the opportunity to meet other local bloggers and it’s often in the context of a fun event.

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This summer, I got to do just that, courtesy of Town Hall Brands and Avocados from Mexico.

They organized an Avo Showdown and local bloggers brought their best original avocado recipes to the competition.

I spent some time recipe-testing, consulting my copy of The Vegetarian Flavor Bible for avocado-friendly pairings, and came up with an avocado and coconut cream spread, paired with jalapeño jam and a cucumber and fennel salad. I presented it on Vancouver-favourite, Raincoast Crisps, for two reasons: they’re delicious and I thought they’d hold up well to the very long wait between assembly and presentation to the judges.

  

Savoury Avocado Cream Bites

Serves a crowd

Fennel Crunch:
  • 5 grams red onions, finely diced and soaked in ice water for 10 minutes
  • 50 grams fennel ( ½ small bulb), excluding fronds, finely diced
  • 50 grams cucumber, peeled, quartered & cored, finely diced
Lime Vinaigrette:
  • 1 tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
Avocado Cream:
  • 2 ripe avocados
  • ¼ cup coconut milk
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • a generous pinch of cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste
To Finish:
  • jalapeño jam, store-bought or homemade (I use Camilla Wynne’s recipe)
  • crackers, crostini or rice crackers
  • cilantro (optional)

Prepare the Fennel Crunch and Lime Vinaigrette. Toss the Fennel Crunch in 2 -3 tbsp of the vinaigrette, check for seasoning, and refrigerate.

Halve the avocados, remove the seed, and scoop the meat into the jar of a blender or the bowl of a food processor. Add the remaining ingredients and blend until the mixture is smooth, thick, and free of lumps. Check for seasoning, then refrigerate for 30 minutes.

To assemble, scoop a small quantity of the dressed Fennel Crunch onto the crackers or crostini. Spoon or pipe ½ – 1 tsp. of the Avocado Cream on top. Add a small quantity of jalapeño jam to either side of the Avocado Cream. Garnish with another small sprinkle of Fennel Crunch or a shower of chopped cilantro.

Serve immediately.

Tips: For a gluten-free version, use rice crackers, gluten-free crostini, or even slices of cucumber. This recipe is suitable for vegan or vegetarian eaters.

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My dish was a hit with my family and with a few of the judges, so I’m happy. (Of course the happiest bunch of all were the night’s winners, as you can see in the photo above.)

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The evening was the best reward, anyway. We were treated to mountains of delicious appetizers prepared by the students at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, along with a demonstration of an avocado-shrimp spring roll by PICA’s Executive Culinary Chef Instructor, Darren Clay. (It was fun working in a commercial kitchen alongside fellow bloggers.)

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This was followed up by a demonstration of an Alligator Fizz by Justin Darnes, of Drinks Undressed and prestigious bars around the world and here in Vancouver.

By the time we got to taste each other’s dishes (nineteen in all), we were already a little full. But, they were all so delicious, we managed. And on our way out the door, we got a bag of avocado goodies to take home.

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A wonderful evening all around.

I was given an invitation to the Avo Showdown by Town Hall Brands, along with a small gift bag, but received no other consideration. All opinions are my own.

Some Bright Ideas

  

Here’s what I’ve got coming up for you next week on the blog:

Meinhardt Fine Foods has opened a downtown location. I’ll tell you all about it, and their opening party, on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, barring any technical glitches, I’ll have another interview up in the G-W Portraits series.

On Friday, I’ll be sharing a recipe and describing the event that had me hauling out my copy of the Vegetarian Flavor Bible.

Here’s what I’ve got coming up, offline, this weekend:

A visit to Knit City, to ogle the wares of dozens of yarn and equipment purveyors. (Have I mentioned that my yarn diet is almost as fragile as my tea diet?)

I’ll also be attending the Canadian Coffee & Tea Show. I’ll be checking out their Tea Lounge and Tradeshow, while keeping tabs on the progress of the Canadian Barista and Latte Arts championships.

It’s also Doors Open Vancouver this weekend. If I have time, I might take the opportunity to take a behind-the-scenes look at one of the City’s civic facilities. It’s a great way to get a new perspective on the architecture, infrastructure, and function of our City’s landmarks.

As always, I’d love to hear what you’re up to, online and off, this week.

Cold Teas to Soothe the Soul at Tea Sparrow’s 1st Annual Iced Tea Festival

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I attended the Tea Sparrow Iced Tea Festival as a media guest, but had no obligation to review or write about any aspect of the event. All opinions are my own.

Growing up, I thought I didn’t like iced tea. But really, it was American-style sweet tea that wasn’t my thing. When I became a tea drinker, in my adolescence, my mother insisted that I take it clear – no sugar, no milk. I found I loved it that way. I’d lost the taste for pop around ten or eleven and tea was the perfect replacement. I loved its astringency and malty undertones. And I soon became convinced that I only liked it hot.

I kept on feeling that way until my mid-twenties, when a friend made me some barely sweetened sun tea. I’ve had some good versions since, most memorably a batch made with a rich, organic Earl Grey, honey, and mint from a friend’s garden. Still, I never sought it out or felt inclined to make it myself.

It wasn’t until I started exploring premium loose teas that I truly started to enjoy iced tea. It’s no surprise that it’s the teas that don’t need any sweetening at all that won me over. Not all teas benefit from being served cold, but the ones that do make a perfect relief from the heat.

Coconut Oolong

In Vancouver’s seemingly never-ending heatwave this summer, an invitation to an Iced Tea Festival was a welcome distraction. The festival was hosted by Tea Sparrow, which curates monthly selections of teas from around the world, for tea drinkers worldwide. They focus on quality and taste in their tea selections, avoiding artificial ingredients.

I’d only just heard of Tea Sparrow recently, so I took the opportunity to talk to one of the co-founders of the company, Michael Menashy, at the festival. Tea Sparrow started as an industry curation company in 2010, then expanded to shipping tea boxes directly to customers in January of 2012. Though the company has a world focus, their base is Vancouver, which makes their local customers a surprisingly big part of their tea selection process. They hold tea tastings every second month, rating the teas that are contenders for the next few months’ tea boxes. It’s a very hot ticket, since only twelve people can attend – Michael told me the Eventbrite listing is filled up within hours of posting.

As you can imagine, there are a lot of disappointed tea tasters each round. So, to give more of them a chance to get in on the action, Tea Sparrow holds occasional events that cater to a larger crowd. This year’s Iced Tea Festival was the first of what they hope will be an annual event and they had crowds of tea lovers lined up, until well into the afternoon, eager to try the fifteen teas they had on offer.

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I showed up around three, when the line up had eased, and was happy to get out of the muggy heat into Heritage Hall’s airy auditorium. I was armed with a tasting cup and invited to try the teas as many times as I liked. The teas were cold, but not so cold that the taste was dampened, and I appreciated being able to taste them without the distraction of any added sweetener.

Several stood out for me, including Samovar Tea Lounge‘s Pineapple Coconut Oolong, Sonnentor‘s Organic Peppermint, and Tea Desire‘s Maracuja Orange. There was a clear winner for me that day, though – Herbal Republic‘s Strawberry Mint. It had a deep strawberry flavour complemented with mint, which Herbal Republic’s Tracy McDowell told me took a lot of trial and error to get right. Strawberry is one of the hardest flavours to capture in tea and many companies rely on artificial extracts. Not so for Herbal Republic – they dry strawberries carefully and infuse their tea with natural flavours.

Strawberry Mint

I’m supposed to be on a new-tea-moratorium (until the tea cupboard is less stuffed), but I may have to break that fast and order some Strawberry Mint. We’re having a short respite from the heat this weekend, but the rest of the summer is scheduled to be hot and dry – that means iced tea weather until well into the fall. That’s enough of an excuse…right?

Even if I don’t start adding to my tea collection again immediately, I’m feeling inspired to cold brew some of the teas I have at home, finding out which ones work iced as nicely as the ones I tasted last weekend. I’m also going to be keeping an eye on Tea Sparrow’s website. I’d love to go to another tea tasting event in the fall or winter – fifteen hot teas to try on a cold, damp Vancouver afternoon sounds right up my alley.

Headed for a Heatwave

  

It’s going to get hot here, in the next few days. At the same time, there’s a bounty of summer produce to experiment with. Here are a few early summer heatwave suggestions:

It’s still strawberry season, so make the most of them while you can.

Shortcake

Dorie Greenspan’s Double-Strawberry and Rose Shortcakes

Salad

Mozzarella, Tomato and Strawberry Salad

Ice Cream

Ginger-Honey and Strawberry Chèvre Ice Cream

And now, cherries have started appearing in the market.

Cherries

Roasted Cherries

Clafoutis

Whole-Cherry Clafoutis

Gateau Basque

Gâteau Basque

If hot-weather cooking doesn’t appeal, there’s lots to do around town.

The Vancouver International Jazz Festival runs until July 1st this year. There are concerts at venues all over town, but don’t overlook the free shows this weekend at David Lam Park. It’s a beautiful place to relax, picnic, and listen to some stellar music.

If you’d prefer to start your weekend indoors, Rain City Chronicles‘ latest show is at the Museum of Vancouver this Friday. It’s called GUTs and promises “stories of relying on your instincts, acts of bravery, and the organs inside you.”

There are two days left to catch the Festival d’ete francophone de Vancouver.

If you have kids, or if you still have the constitution of one, head over to Playland and test your stomach’s mettle with fair food and amusement park rides.

I prefer my thrills pedal-powered, so Velopalooza is right up my alley. I’m only sorry I missed today’s Tour de Book Exchanges.

Or you could hang out in your backyard (or patio, for you microunit dwellers) and work on developing Summer 2015’s signature drink.

I’ll be here hoping for a nice summer rain.

In the Early Summer

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One of the nicest things about Vancouver Mini Maker Faire is that it runs the gamut from handcrafts to high tech, with all makers being accorded respect. There’s lots to see and do there this weekend.

Once you’ve made the most of Maker Faire, you can reward yourself with a cold brew at Vancouver Craft Beer Week’s Festival on Sunday.

Or you can just get in the mood for Italian Day on the Drive at The Rio. They’ve got a mini Italian film fest lined up in the week leading up to the big day.

Bard on the Beach is back, meaning that it’s well and truly summer. Their offerings this year include a steampunk-inflected version of The Comedy of Errors and a Jazz Age Love’s Labour’s Lost.

If it’s not sold out already, Vancouver’s Femme City Choir promises to put on a terrific show.

Or you can celebrate the oeuvre John Hughes with Hot Wet Art City.

If none of this seems exciting to you so far, maybe a Terminal City Rollergirls Double Header is more your speed.

There’s lots more going on, of course, but that gives you a starting point. There’s also a chance that I might kick back with a cool drink and admire the early summer flowers. They’re so fleeting, after all.

Got Craft? Spring Edition 2015

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I was given free admission to Got Craft?, but received no other consideration. All opinions in this post are my own.

Craft fairs have come a long way since I was a little girl. Back then, there were tables full of simple knitted toques, sugar-stiffened lace figurines, beadwork, and Phentex slippers. Everything felt homespun and full of a grandmother’s love, but it wasn’t exactly the right place to find stylish gifts or exciting home decor.

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These days, craft fairs are where you look for the newest trends in the making, across a number of disciplines. You’re much more likely to find a unique, on trend item at a craft fair than you are in a department or chain store.

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In Vancouver, Got Craft? was a pioneer of this new style of craft fair. I’ve got them to thank for a number of my favourite pieces of jewellery, home decor items, and well-received gifts. And they’ve helped to establish a healthy network of craft fairs and shows throughout the year here, supporting a diverse array of makers and crafters.

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Today I visited the first day of the spring edition of Got Craft? and was happy to find lots of new things to get excited about, along with some that have been favourites for a while. And once you finish shopping, you can take in one of workshops led by local favourites like A Spool of Thread.

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They’re back at it tomorrow and here are some of my personal highlights:

  • Anonum Design, one of a number of vendors that repurpose materials that would otherwise be headed for the landfill. They turn rubber printing blankets into an array of colourful, useful goods.
  • Craft’ed‘s whimsical cards, magnets, and bookmarks.
  • Cabin + Cub‘s wooden accessories. (I came home with a bicycle crest pin for my partner, who was delighted.)
  • The Green Flamingo Design‘s dapper ties and pocket squares, for any gender.
  • Graveley and Sons‘ syrups and infusions

I could go on, but you can check out full list of vendors instead.

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You needn’t worry about getting hungry, either. The area around the Maritime Labour Centre may be light industrial, but there are treasures around every corner. You’re only a block away from Parallel 49 Brewing, and there are plenty of tasting rooms, restaurants, and coffee shops within blocks. You can find a list of many of them at the East Village BIA website.

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But, you don’t have to wander far to find something tasty – there are food trucks parked right outside and treats from the likes of Livia Sweets and The Lemon Square in the foyer.

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And if you can’t make it this weekend, the folks at Got Craft? are also behind Strathcona’s London Fields Shoppe, or you can head over to Tiny Finery in Hastings-Sunrise for a similar commitment to the best of local makers.

3There won’t be another edition of Got Craft? until the the end of the year, but thanks to them and the other entrepreneurs that support Vancouver’s vibrant craft scene, the city is full of markets and shops that will keep you busy until then.

West Coast Christmas Show

I attended the West Coast Christmas Show as a media guest, but had no obligation to review or write about any aspect of the show. All opinions are my own.

Decorations

Last weekend, Abbotsford’s Tradex transformed itself into a winter wonderland of gifts, family activities, and holiday entertainment. The West Coast Christmas Show had come to town. And the Fraser Valley rushed in the door to welcome it. I was glad we went first thing Saturday morning, because by lunchtime, the crowds really started to arrive.

Gifts

I wasn’t surprised, because the show was justifiably popular. Over the course of our time there, we found handcrafted gifts, all the treats and ingredients you could want for the holidays, and Christmas decorations, flowers and wreaths – along with more gadgets than I’ve seen since last year’s Home Show.

More food

Here are just a few of the things that stood out for me:

Frost Bites Syrup Co. broad range of flavours
Sharon Hubbard‘s whimsical castles
Edible Gardens‘ line of balsamic vinegars
Clearbrook Coffee Company – nothing like locally roasted beans
a paper {life}‘s creative quilling
It’s For the Birds‘ seedcakes

Kids

I was also impressed by how much there was for kids to do at the show. While their parents may have come for the cooking demos and entertaining tips, there were also workshops galore for the small set, along with attractions like Santa’s mailbox and a beautifully set up model train.

More Gifts

Events like this have convinced me that for Fraser Valley residents, there’s no longer any need to drive into Vancouver for trade shows and artisan showcases anymore. What isn’t being produced in your own backyard is coming to meet you at showcase centres like the Tradex.

Food

And there are more attractions to come for the Fraser Valley this holiday season. I was able to get a sneak peek at one of them while I was visiting the Christmas Show. North Pole BC‘s Festival of Christmas opens its doors at the Tradex on November 28th and I got to have a little look around at what you can expect. I even caught Santa napping beneath the Christmas tree.

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