The Christmas Market

Visiting the German Market on Christmas Eve brings back happy childhood memories of visiting my Oma and Opa in Northern Germany and gorging on huge bars of marzipan, schnitzel and frites. I always went to Germany an average sized child and came back one or two sizes bigger. Every single time.

The market food, decorations, mistletoe, music, bustling crowd and, the thing my inner child loves most, the bright, colourful carousel, all make my heart smile. It also signifies the beginning of my long awaited Christmas holidays. So, with a bratwurst in one hand and a gluhwein in the other, I am ready to get festive and indulge!

Merry Christmas xo

Soup Sisters

My lovely city is in  the middle of a cold spell. So uncharacteristically cold that I feel like I’ve been magically transported from Vancouver back to my birthplace, frigid and snowy Ontario. The ground is blanketed in a layer of sparkling, diamond-like frost, it’s been endlessly sunny out, 10 degrees below zero and so dry my skin is starting to crack. Very strange for a temperate rainforest. And as the freezing cold weather continues, I’ve become extremely worried about homeless people and outdoor animals. This (global warming) weather has got to be a shock for all beings living outside in southern BC.

Last weekend I braved the cold and took my little Terrier out for a two hour walk in the sub-zero weather and when I got home, chilled to the bone, all I could think of was a hot, steamy bowl of soup from Whole Foods. Soul warming, stick to the ribs, soup. So off I went to the grocery store to get a huge bowl of chicken noodle. On the way there I noticed two homeless guys camped out on the sidewalk. One had a huge down comforter wrapped around him, and the other had….nothing. Yikes, I thought as I walked by. Are these two going to survive the cold spell. Especially the blanket-less man?

Into the store I went. I grabbed my soup and couldn’t wait to get home to chow down. As I walked back home though, I looked at the man sitting on the cold sidewalk with no blanket. I approached him and heard myself asking if he wanted some soup. It was almost like my voice had a mind of it’s own because part of me really, really wanted that soup. I walked home, soup-less and thought, well that was a microscopic drop in a gigantic bucket. I think part the reason we feel so powerless when it comes to homelessness is that it’s such a huge problem, most of us don’t feel like we can help instigate even a small change, so then just do our best to ignore it.

I checked my email later that evening and saw a reminder that I had signed up for a cooking class two months ago, that I had completely forgotten about. Soup Sisters and Broth Brothers at the Dirty Apron Cooking School, the very next night. Serendipity.

I bundled up with a toque, scarf, mitts and puffy jacket and off I went to the Dirty Apron, ready for my first cooking course ever and an introduction to the philosophy of the Soup Sisters. The organization was started by Calgary resident Sharon Hapton, three years ago. On her 50th birthday she decided that she wanted to give back to the community and cooked a huge batch of soup for a local shelter. And from that random act of kindness, the Soup Sisters were born. The Soup Sisters help feed and shelter women and children fleeing domestic violence and their counterpart, the Broth Brothers, work with youth living on the street.

My Sunday night class gathered in the large, welcoming kitchen of the cooking school, ready to cook for a cause and prepare four batches of soup. Three batches to be given to shelters and one to be eaten that evening by us, the students. All, Chef Takashi instructed, were to be made with love. He is a firm believer that one should only cook when feeling happy and positive as the chef’s emotions influence the quality of the food and, ultimately, the person who eats it. As I looked around the room at the smiling faces, I was pretty sure our soup would be infused with good intentions and lots of love too.

Creamy corn clam chowder was the soup my group was preparing and we chopped, stirred and tasted as Chef Takashi guided us along and shared his wealth of culinary wisdom with us.

At the end of class we all sat at a long communal table in a lovely dining room decorated beautifully for the holidays. The table was situated under two sparkling, vintage lead crystal chandeliers that cast a warm glow over the entire room.

Shortly after we were seated, we were given a glass of delicious local wine to sip as we chatted about the evening. Next we were presented with a fresh salad of mixed greens, dressed with a pomegranate vinaigrette and prepared by the Dirty Apron. And then we were served our very own creamy corn clam chowder. A lovely and delicious ending to the beautiful vibe of the evening.

My experience making soup with the Soup Sisters warmed my soul and gave me a goal for 2014 of getting more involved with the organization. Fundraising probably, as I found out that evening that Harper has struck again and they, like so many other charities, lost a substantial amount of government funding last year.  This is a season that is so hard for many people, especially those fleeing dangerous situations and facing the incredible challenge of rebuilding their lives, how can you not want to help?

Forget the “made in China” trinkets at the mall, this is what Christmas is all about. Thank you Soup Sisters for reminding me of that.

And now, the soup…

The Dirty Apron’s Creamy Clam & Corn Chowder

Serves Two

Ingredients:

·         4 slices double smoked bacon, cut into ½ inch slice

·         2 shallots, diced

·         ½ carrot, diced

·         2 garlic cloves, minced

·         4 unpeeled red potatoes, small chunks

·         8 oz clam nectar

·         20 fresh clams

·         4 oz white wine

·         8 oz heavy whipping cream

·         Juice of one lemon

·         1 corn on the cob, grilled

·         1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped

·         1 tsp fresh chives, finely sliced

·         1 tsp cornstarch mixed with 1 tsp cold water

·         Salt & pepper

In a saucepot, heat white wine over medium high heat and add clams, steaming with lid on until all clams have opened.

Then remove clams from pot and separate meat from shell.

Reserve both clam meat and juice for later use

In a separate saucepot, sauté bacon over medium heat until brown and crisp.

Transfer bacon to paper towel for later use.

Next, add shallots, carrots and garlic to the bacon fat pan and suate. Add the potatoes, clam nectar and bring to a boil.

Simmer until veggies are tender.

While the soup is simmering, grill the cob of corn and then cut kernels.

Add the cream, clam meat, lemon juice, corn thyme and bacon to saucepot.

Bring back to a boil and add corn starch, stirring until desired consistency is reached.

Season to taste and garnish with the sliced chives.

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Steve #5

Walking along Georgia to Granville Street, lost in my thoughts, I suddenly heard a loud “Ho, ho, ho”. I turned and looked in the direction Santa’s voice was coming from and this is what I saw:

Ugly Christmas Sweaters? I immediately perked up. I love ugly Christmas sweaters. I ran across the street to get a closer look. So many ugly, ugly sweaters in one place. It was fabulous! I bee-lined over to Steve. Dressed in his Santa suit, he looked like he was the one in charge. “Is this for real?” I asked. “Yep. I’m selling really ugly sweaters until Christmas day” was Steve’s reply. I smiled. Usually Christmas marketing gets on my nerves but this was awesome.

I asked Steve if he liked his job. “Are you kidding? It’s the best. I make people laugh all day long!”

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Merry Christmas Steve. You rock. Thank you for being my fifth stranger.