Tasting Edmonton and Hugging Strangers

Well, that went by quickly.  I’m in Winnipeg after spending three short, but not overly busy, days in Edmonton.  Edmonton, from the little bit I saw of it, is quite a comfortable city, very green (although flat – and I can’t imagine what it would be like in the winter when all that green is covered with snow), with a lot of elements that remind me of Portland (except for the whole Alberta oil thing).  Here’s how I spent my weekend in Edmonton:

Saturday

Jolene picked me up from Edmonton International Airport late Friday night/early Saturday morning.  I got settled in to the guest room in her cozy basement apartment and marveled at her plethora of Hello Kitty items, including a Hello Kitty toaster.

We decided to hit the Taste of Edmonton festival the next day.  The forecast was not looking so great – grey, rainy, and fairly cool (60s), but we figured we’d give it a shot.  On the way, we stopped at Timmy’s because Jolene insisted that I needed to try some Timbits that hadn’t been sitting around all day (I tried some at the airport the night before and wasn’t too impressed).  We got a little sampler box including chocolate, tangerine, and caramel, and I must say the tangerine was quite tasty.  I also put Timmy’s coffee to the test and I was rather impressed.  Nice and strong.

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The festival was downtown, and each participating local restaurant had a booth offering two menu items.  Instead of making purchases at each booth, you had to buy tickets (each for $1), then you used your tickets to “buy” the foods you wanted to try.  We bought a sheet of thirty tickets, then sat down with the festival guide to strategize.  Our idea was to share almost everything so we could try more items overall.  It was a good idea.

First up, vegetarian samosas with coconut chutney.  They were delightful.  I realized rather quickly that there is no shortage of Indian food in Edmonton.  In fact, it’s pretty much everywhere.

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I didn’t photograph everything we tried, but some other tasty treats included: green tea ice cream, tiramisu, chana masala, s’more fritters, hurricane potato, and candied bacon on a stick.

Side note: Someone helping with the family reunion came up with the idea for those traveling to North Dakota to do a scavenger hunt along the way.  We each have a list of things we are supposed to find and/or photograph along the way to earn points.  One of the things on the list is hugging strangers (1 point per stranger).  If I don’t earn points for anything else, at least I can say I hugged a lot of strangers.  For instance, I hugged these strangers at Taste of Edmonton:

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Well, okay, they were acquaintances of Jolene’s, but definitely strangers to me.  Anyway, the guy told us we had to try the spatchcocked (an excellent word that I only know because I heard it on the Food Network recently) quail with pomegranate sauce, to which we crinkled our noses and shook our heads.  He handed us three of his own tickets and insisted that we try it.  Because we are such honest people, we felt we had to honor his wish and use them to try the quail, rather than something we actually wanted to eat, like more sugar.

I got myself all psyched up to try it, remembering the horrific things I ate in Iceland last year, and then I took a bite and… it tasted like chicken, with a vaguely sweet sauce.  Kind of disappointing.  We didn’t finish it.

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Tummies full, we left the city center and went to Jolene’s friend’s Carole’s house, where she was having a garage sale, or at least trying to, as it had by this point begun to rain.  We didn’t actually want to peruse the garage sale; Jolene wanted to use the washroom (Americans, that’s Canadian for “bathroom”) and I wanted to hug Carole.  We did both, and then Carole’s father gave me this amazing gift:

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Because we hadn’t eaten enough, we went to the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market and enjoyed some delicious samples.

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Jolene also insisted that I try a green onion cake, which is apparently a very popular thing in Edmonton but hard to find elsewhere.  It’s pretty much what it sounds like – a small, round flatbread with green onions, served with a vinegary Vietnamese dipping sauce.  The market was filled with produce, much of it local and a great deal from BC.  I bought some Rainier cherries from BC, which was sort of ironic since they were developed and are widely grown in Washington, but oh well, they were delicious.  We did some shopping (mostly of the window variety) along Whyte Avenue, which reminded me very much of Alberta or Hawthorne in Portland.  At one point it started drizzling and the drizzle quickly turned into a pour and we ducked into a Starbucks to escape.  There I swiftly outed myself as an American by attempting to order a “twelve-ounce” drink.  The poor barista’s look of confusion was rather hilarious.  He seemed to think the grande was 12 ounces so I just let him think that and got a grande.

I think Starbucks sizes are the same in Canada, i.e., the tall is 12 ounces, the grande is 16, etc., but of course they are not labeled by ounces, only by the Starbucks size and the milliliters.  I realize that the metric system is much more logical overall, but the Starbucks drinks end up being ridiculously random numbers, like I think a grande is 473 mL.  I can’t imagine anyone ever tries to order a “473 mL iced latté,” although now that I think of it that sounds kind of fun…

Anyway, while I was sipping my 473-milliliter iced unsweetened passion tea, Jolene spotted three friends.  As they were strangers to me, she asked if I could hug them and thankfully they were all game.  So that is how I met JC, Derek, and Carter:

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The rain had slowed so we left the shelter of Starbucks and continued strolling down Whyte Ave.  We went back to Jolene’s for a quick afternoon nap (which felt SO good even though it was short.  I hate working 8-5 and never having the chance to nap), then met up with our fellow 2012 Snorri Breanna for a tasty Thai dinner.  We really should have gotten photos together but sadly we must have been too busy stuffing our faces.

By the time we finished eating, it was sunny again, so we went for a little evening stroll along the river.  It’s actually a trail a fair ways above the river, as the river itself is in quite a deep valley.  Apparently the deep valley and the fact that very few if any homes are built very close to the river helped save Edmonton from the sort of flooding Calgary saw recently.

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Evening stroll along the North Saskatchewan

Jolene needed to make a grocery run, so I decided to go with because it is always educational to go grocery shopping in new places.  For instance, when I visited Texas last fall, I learned that Texans like to eat things shaped like their state, including but not limited to cheese, tortilla chips, cookies, and party platters.  I’m glad I went on this shopping excursion, because I learned some interesting things about Albertans.  For example, their Hershey’s brand chocolate chips are not called chocolate chips; they are “Chipits.”  Also, they seem to really like margarine:

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I was rather surprised by this amount of margarine, and the section of butter just to the right that was maybe a third this size.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen that much margarine at a grocery store in the States, or at least not in the Northwest.  There’s always wayyyy more butter than margarine.

I bought some Chipits to make double chocolate chip (er, double Chipits?) brownies, and Jolene insisted that we get some Old Dutch ketchup chips and creamy dill chips.  Ketchup chips are actually not new to me; I remember having them on the ferry when I was a kid.  And I think you can actually find at least one or two brands of dill chips in the States.  But Old Dutch is a Canadian brand so they are more authentic.

Sunday

On Sunday, we planned to go to the West Edmonton Mall.  West Ed is the largest mall in North America and was the largest mall in the world until 2004 (now it is #10 or something – apparently there was a huge mall building boom in the past decade).  But the weather turned out to be lovely in the morning so we had a leisurely breakfast outside (the mosquitoes breakfasted on me), then went for another walk by the river, but this time on the other side.  I was amused by the cross-country skiing signs on the trails – definitely not something you’d see at Lewisville.

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After we’d had our dose of outdoor time, we hit the mall.  Yes, it is huge.  Yes, it has an indoor lake with a sea lion show and a pirate ship replica.  Yes, it has a gigantic indoor amusement park and a hockey-sized ice skating rink.  Yes, the size is pretty impressive.  But it’s really just a mall.  A great many of the stores are good ol’ American companies, just like we have at our much much smaller malls.  I don’t think I’d feel the need to go back, unless I won the lottery or something, but it was definitely an impressive sight to behold.  Also impressive was the Northwest-style downpour we got caught in as we left.  Perhaps the best part of the mall visit is that it allowed me to check several items off the scavenger hunt list, like getting a fortune from a fortune cookie, finding a book with a puffin on the cover, and getting a photo of a stranger wearing tie-dye.

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Indoor lake at the West Ed Mall

We went home and dried off, then headed back out, this time to Jolene’s friends’ apartment for game night.  Jolene has a very fun group of friends that I believe she met at work.  Apparently they get together for game nights quite regularly and usually play Settlers of Catan, but there were too many of us for that so we played Cranium instead.  We did girls versus guys and unfortunately the guys won.  I am rather shy when it comes to playing Cranium with my own friends, let alone with a group of strangers, so I’m afraid I was a bit awkward, but it was still fun.  We played a round of Catch Phrase to cap off the evening.  Almost everyone had to work the next day, including Jolene, so we didn’t stay too late.

Monday

Monday I was on my own while Jolene was at work.  I was going to meet up with my other Snorri friend Alex, but she couldn’t make it, so I slept in, had a lazy morning watching TV, went for a walk and picked up some lunch, took an afternoon nap, then made some double chocolate Chipit brownies.

After Jolene got home, we went out for dinner – poutine!  Poutine, for those who don’t know, is a Canadian dish consisting of French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy.  In other words, it is fat and salt and there’s pretty much no way to go wrong with that!  It originated in Quebec and I am sure it is more authentic there.  My sister informed me it can also be found a few places in Portland, so when I get home I may have to go on a poutine hunt.

I spent my last night in Edmonton eating Chipit brownies, watching Amazing Race Canada, laughing at People of Walmart, and packing while watching a wondrously silly Mandy Moore movie.  (A note about Canadian TV: A lot of the same products are advertised on Canadian TV, but in different ways.  For instance, the Dawn dish soap ad is all about how well Dawn can clean up poutine gravy.  Probably not the strongest selling point in the US of A.)

Tuesday

Today I was hoping to meet up with Alex for breakfast, but she wasn’t feeling well, so I ate a quick breakfast at home, finished packing, and headed out for my tour de public transportation.  Here’s the thing about me and public transportation: we are not well acquainted.  I live in suburbia, and I have a car, and about the only public transportation I have ever used more than once is the MAX in Portland.  So I wasn’t 100% confident in my abilities to navigate the Edmonton Transit System, even though Jolene spelled out all the steps for me last night:

  1. Catch the bus right by the house and go to Southgate mall.
  2. Transfer to the train and go one station south to Century Park.
  3. Take the aptly-named 747 bus to the airport.

Thankfully, I made all the connections and only felt a little bit like a really uncoordinated suburban American.  I enjoyed a really overpriced Starbucks latté and resisted the urge to buy dorky tourist attire, then boarded my flight and said goodbye to Edmonton, skipped over Saskatchewan (sorry, Saskatchewan, maybe next time), and said hello to the Peg.

2 thoughts on “Tasting Edmonton and Hugging Strangers

  1. Your sister Kate

    Oh brother, you cannot be worried about public transportation in a country where they speak your language! I distinctly remember having to use Israeli public transit to make a red-eye flight at Ben Gurion, and the scary Israeli bus depot at 11:00 PM where everyone speaks Russian and Hebrew and every sign is in Hebrew (which is very unusual!) was not an experience I plan on repeating.

    Anyway, enjoy your chipits & Lait’s Go! Mmmm, so delicious …

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