Operation Whirlwind – A Holiday Inspiration Pass Adventure

Pass

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.

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G-W Portraits: Tara Sawatsky & Kevin Sauvé

 

Grandview-Woodland is home to a number of non-profits and many community activists, cultural workers, and civic sector employees make their home here, too.

Tara Sawatsky and Kevin Sauvé live in a housing co-operative in the Commercial Drive area, do great work, and love Grandview-Woodland.

We spoke on a windy December day (apologies for the sound quality), then headed off to a co-op holiday potluck.

You can find the rest of the interviews in this series here: G-W Portraits

Have you checked out my 2015 holiday cookbook review series? There are copies of 5 great cookbooks up for grabs. You can find the links to the giveaways here and enter until December 17th.

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.

Cookbooks galore!

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Things are getting festive around here – I just attended the first cookie swap of the season and on Commercial Drive, my local high street, there was a tree-lighting ceremony and festivities.

We’ve also reached the mid-point of my holiday cookbook review series – there are seven books this time around, so close enough. There are giveaways for five of the books, so I thought I’d post links to those posts here, so you can make sure you’ve entered.

Two of the giveaways are open to readers from Canada and the States, while three are (sorry U.S. friends) just for Canadian readers.

For Readers in Canada and the United States:

True to Your Roots will make you want root vegetables at every meal. The recipes are healthy, vegan, delicious.

Decolonize Your Diet is full of wonderful vegetarian recipes for healthful, modern Mexican-American food.

For Readers in Canada:

Pierogi Love takes this delicious dumpling in directions you’ve never imagined. It also offers the very dangerous knowledge that pierogies are really easy to make, once you know how.

DIY Vegan will have you filling your pantry and everyone else’s with their delicious staples, sauces, and treats.

Made In India is making Best of 2015 lists for good reason – it’s full of delicious recipes, great advice, and beautiful writing.

After that, I have two more cookbook reviews. Any of them would make great Christmas gifts – it’s been fun to read and cook through them!

Before the end of the year, I’ll also be talking to you about the Vancouver Tea Festival, reviewing a fine dining restaurant hidden away in a spectacular garden, hanging out with the rest of the Tuesdays with Dorie bakers for some spectacular holiday desserts, and bringing you at least one more G-W Portraits interview.

Sounds like a nice finish to the year.

G-W Portraits: Ange Gleeson

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So many people I know have moved away from this neighbourhood, only to return as soon as life lets them. Consciously choosing this neighbourhood is something that has come up over and over again in the short time I’ve been doing these interviews, so I wasn’t surprised to hear this from Ange Gleeson, too.

She’s one of the people that makes this neighbourhood shine, with a humourous anecdote always at the ready.

We did the interview near Britannia library and before we got started, Ange was chatting with passersby and even sharing the cookies I brought her. It was a reminder of how engaged people are in this neighbourhood. We talk to one another here.

You can find the rest of the interviews in this series here: G-W Portraits

G-W Portraits: Terrence Feng

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It’s hard to tease apart the DNA of a good neighbourhood, but I’m certain that one can’t survive without local businesses that are as engaged as its residents. That’s true of Grandview-Woodland’s business community, especially the grocers, retailers, and restaurateurs along Commercial Drive and Hastings.

It’s certainly been true of the owners and staff of Kin Kao Thai Kitchen. Since they opened in February of this year, they’ve done a roaring business with patrons from across the city. But they’ve also become great neighbours, who always remember your name and your favourites from the menu and are happy to say hello when they run into you around the Drive.

Their food has become a regular habit at our house and they’ve been especially careful and thoughtful around Kevin’s gluten-free and vegan requirements.

Now that they’ve been denizens of the Drive for the better part of a year, I thought I’d ask Terrence Feng, one of Kin Kao’s owners, to share his thoughts about Grandview-Woodland.

You can find out more about Kin Kao on their website and in the review I published when they first opened. We love them for dinner and takeout, but don’t forget to try their lunch and brunch menus.

You can find the rest of the interviews in this series here: G-W Portraits

G-W Portraits: Trevor & Rowan Whitridge

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I’ve often said that there is art being made all around this neighbourhood, but much of it isn’t apparent. This has been a popular neighbourhood for artists, performers, writers, and makers over the years, but you don’t necessarily know which of your neighbours is a mid-list novelist and which is an accountant for an eco-trust.

Music is different. It wafts down alleyways and across parks, catches your ear as you pass by a coach house practice space, and greets you on sidewalks and plazas. We know who the musicians in our neighbourhood are. When I lived a few blocks away from where I do now, there was a jazz singer across the alley who’d have regular jams in her apartment. Sometimes, I see people I know congregating in the Napier Greenway as part of one band or another. And I always enjoyed hearing my neighbours’ sons practicing as I walked home.

As it turns out, Rowan and Trevor Whitridge have been accomplished professional musicians for a number of years now. They were kind enough to talk to me about their music and what they love about this neighbourhood a few days ago.

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You can find out what Trevor and Rowan are up to, along with their upcoming gigs, on their website: The Whitridge Brothers

Here are a few of the places where they play:

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Jazz Vespers at St. Andrew’s Wesley

VSO School of Music: The Big Band

Capilano University

And you can find out more about the community book exchanges Rowan mentioned in this article.

You can find the rest of the interviews in this series here: G-W Portraits

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.

G-W Portraits: Graham Anderson

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I don’t do weekly grocery shops, as I might if I lived in the suburbs. Living near Commercial Drive, I have the luxury of shopping daily (or nearly so), making decisions about what I have for dinner based on what looks best at the markets.

Our primary grocery store is East End Food Co-op. We can get most of the staples and ingredients we need there, while supporting a co-operative business that has great labour standards and keeps its profits in the community. They focus on fair trade, local, and organic products as much as possible, while providing as wide a variety of quality products as they can.

We don’t buy everything there, but it’s fair to say we do the bulk of our shopping there. I especially love that they’ve introduced us to so much great produce from BC farmers, including heritage varieties of fruits and vegetables I haven’t seen elsewhere.

On Saturday, the City of Vancouver declared East End Food Co-op Day and there was a celebration in front of the store, including cake and Ethical Bean coffee. It was an extra-special celebration, because it’s the Co-op’s 40th anniversary this year. If that weren’t enough, it was also Co-op Week.

I put one of the Co-op’s Board Members on the spot, asking for an impromptu G-W Portraits interview, and Graham Anderson was gracious enough to agree. Here’s what he had to say about Grandview-Woodland, East End Food Co-op, and Saturday’s celebration:

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.