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RAW: Almond

Last year, when I first heard that Mandel Hitzer from deer + almond was going to erect a tent on the river at the Forks and invite chefs from all over Winnipeg to come play with him, I thought it was a brilliant idea. Unfortunately, I dragged my feet and missed out on getting tickets, which sold out far faster than I thought they would. Apparently, I wasn’t the only person who thought it was brilliant.

Raw Almond

This year I kept my ear to the ground, and managed to snap up a couple of tickets to RAW: Almond as soon as they went on sale. Edward Lam from Yujiro was the chef for the evening we chose. And so last night, with the windchill hovering around -25°C, we made our way down to the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers for dinner.

The food was lovely. Fresh seafood, bitingly pungent wasabi, earthy vegetables, and succulent duck graced our plates that evening. But I don’t think it’s fair to review RAW: Almond as a restaurant, really. The chef changes every few days, as does the menu, giving you a completely new experience. The venue itself rises from the ice in the dead of winter, and within a few months all that can be seen where the tent stood is a swirl of muddy water.

Raw Almond

Before dinner, Hitzel spoke about the spirituality of the Forks, and what it means to share a meal there. After we ate, I thought about the meal, and the pop-up restaurant itself, and I could see another layer of meaning: RAW: Almond is a nearly perfect metaphor for Winnipeg itself.

People from elsewhere who have never been to Winnipeg (or even some residents who don’t bother exploring the charms of their city) view Winnipeg as cold, probably miserable, and even dangerous. Meanwhile, eating in a tent in the winter in Winnipeg was poo-poo’d as cold, miserable and maybe even dangerous.

First impressions of Winnipeg can be variable, but I’ve heard it described as unrefined, and certainly not someplace you’d consider sophisticated. The tent for RAW: Almond has a rustic charm, and the temperature dictates that no one bothers with dressy clothes – casual (and warm!) attire rules there.

Raw Almond

After you’ve lived in Winnipeg for a while, though, you begin to realize that the casual attitude also translates into friendliness. Everyone here can commiserate about the cold. The long communal table at RAW: Almond makes it easy to strike up a conversation with strangers. Perhaps, by the end of the meal, you won’t be strangers anymore.

Finally, Winnipeg can be sophisticated, even though that isn’t apparent at first glance. World-class arts and music, excellent restaurants, amazing green spaces and unique festivals show that there is more to the city than its reputation suggests. And in the white tent sitting on the fork of the rivers, the food that is served there is not what you’d expect after settling yourself on a fur-covered stump next to the plywood kitchen. This is no camp food, and the plates that the serving staff bring from the kitchen would not be out of place in a swanky restaurant.

Raw Almond

Our plans for next winter already include another trip to RAW: Almond… A new night, a new tent, a new chef, a new menu, a new experience, and a new way to enjoy the city.

Raw: Almond on Urbanspoon

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Get Your Half Pints at the Flatlander’s Beer Festival

I totally admit to not being much of a wine person. Instead, my Midwestern upbringing has made me a beer person. I don’t dislike wine, but when given the choice I prefer malt and hops to grapes. This has led to some interesting encounters; for example, a waiter at Sydney’s once said “Aren’t you cute!” when I asked for a pre-dinner beer instead of a cocktail. Fortunately, the rising popularity of craft brews is allowing us beer people a lot more variety and choice when it comes to our beer.

One of the rising stars on the Canadian craft brew scene, of course, is Winnipeg’s very own Half Pints. They just got some national attention from Jordon St. John when he profiled them for the Sun. As far as I’m concerned, they deserve the positive attention. In his column, he mentioned one of their recent seasonal brews, Noche De Los Alebrijes.

Noche De Los Alebrijes

Noche De Los Alebrijes is a dunkle lager. I am normally not a fan of darker-coloured beers, but this one has really won me over. It has a really rich flavour that manages to not be overwhelming, and fades into an intriguing chocolate aftertaste. I like this beer. I really, really like this beer, and I’m going to be very sad when we’re gone through our hoard and we can’t get anymore. (We went to the Ellice Street MLCC and just about bought them out of stock a few days ago.)

My husband is a fan of the Humulus Ludicrous, a ridiculously bitter IPA that Half Pints put out at the same time as Noche De Los Alebrijes. I’m not a fan of the extreme hoppy taste, but that just leaves more for him.

Half Pints is going to be at the Flatlander’s Beer Festival tonight and tomorrow. They will have Humulus Ludicrous available to sample, along with a cask of a vanilla stout, which I am very interesting in trying.

We went to the beer festival last year and had a fantastic time. (And thank you, Winnipeg Transit, for the ride home.) With your admission you receive five tasting tickets, and you can buy additional tasting tickets at the event.

You also receive a guidebook with space for you to take notes about the beers you’ve tasted. After the event you can peruse your notes, and go to the MLCC to find your favourites from the evening. Last year I added a few more beers to my favourites, including something that I consider a “dessert beer,” St. Louis Kriek. It tastes more like a cherry fruit cooler than a beer, but I can see it taking the same place as an ice wine on a dinner menu.

The Flatlander’s Beer Festival is on September 13-14, from 7:00pm-10:00pm at the Winnipeg Convention Centre. Tickets are available at all MLCCs, or from Ticketmaster. See you there!

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Manitoba Food Bloggers (minus 1): Get Your Goodies Bake Sale

Tomorrow, May 18th, the Manitoba Food Bloggers will be having a bake sale from 10am to 2pm at Aqua Books to support Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Day.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Jamie Oliver is the adorable British celebrity chef who has taken on childhood obesity and food ignorance as his favourite cause. Jamie was the 2010 TED Prize winner; you can watch his prize speech here. May 19, 2012 has been designated Food Revolution Day, on which people are urged to teach people about food, food issues, healthier lifestyles and better nutrition. Funds raised at Food Revolution Day events will go towards food education projects run by the Jamie Oliver Foundation, such as the Food Education Box (you can a check out a sample lesson).

Chocolate Chip Cookies

In addition to the fundraiser, participating bloggers will have their eligible goodies judged as part of the Big Bake Off, sponsored by Manitoba Canola Growers. Fabulous prizes!

So, head on over to Aqua Books (still open in its Garry Street location) on Friday, May 18 to sample some goodies baked by people who know what they’re talking about, and support a good cause at the same time!

(No, I’m not participating in the bake sale. First, I’m not a baker. I have no trouble subjecting my family and even coworkers to my rather mediocre baking, but the thought of offering it up to strangers – for money, no less! – just seems like so much hubris. And secondly, I’m burningly shy around new people, and have yet to make it to any of the Manitoba Food Blogger events that have happened. I’ll go to one eventually, I’m sure, but I just haven’t been able to work up the nerve yet. Meanwhile, I’ll just feign dead over here… after I eat my cookies from the bake sale, of course.)

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We’re Digging In

This summer, Dig In Manitoba, an initiative of Food Matters Manitoba, is showing Manitoba families that eating local can be easy.

The Dig In Challenge dares local families to discover the local food possibilities this summer. Challenge participants pledge to shift at least $10 of their weekly food budget towards, try at least two new Dig In Challenge activities a month, and (optionally) to attend Dig In workshops. Also, workshop participants will be eligible to win prizes!

Three Sisters

Families who already make an effort to eat locally can participate in Dig Deeper. Dig Deeper participants are limited to only 100 families, but as the name suggests, they will delve deeper into the local food scene by growing their own vegetables, participating in seed-starting and seed-saving workshops, and doing more activities each month.

The Dig In Challenge kick-off is this Saturday, April 21, in the Centre Court at The Forks Market, hosted by Janet Stewart. To sign up for the challenge for free, just visit the pledge page on the Dig In Challenge website.

We will be participating in the Dig In Challenge this summer as well! Because our summer is going to be a bit busy we can’t commit to the Dig Deeper Challenge, but I’m happy to be participating even in a small way.

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Half Pints' Burly Wine Day

Yesterday morning, even though it was a Saturday, we set our alarms for early and managed to get out of the house before 9am. (Trust me, that’s a miracle for us for Saturdays after the time change. Winter = sleepy.) What rousted us from our warm bed so early? Why, beer!

We visited the Half Pints Brewing Company’s Burly Wine day and open house. The Burly Wine, which has gotten some rave reviews, was available in the 2009 variety, along with a small selection of 2008s and 2008s aged over bourbon chips.

Burly Wine is a barley wine, or a very strong ale. They have rather high alcohol content, and actually improve with age (rather than going “skunky.”)

We managed to get to the brewery on Roseberry a bit after 9:30am and got in line. We snagged four bottles of the 2009, two of the 2008, and six of the 2008 bourbon. We also grabbed a six of Half Pints’ seasonal beer, Sweet Nikki Brown.

Burly Wine

After we secured our goods, we made for the tasting room to sample the beer we’d just purchased. Whew, that stuff is strong! I admit to liking my beers a bit less – uh, robust. For comparison, St. James Pale Ale is right up my alley. But I can see the Burly Wine being more of a sipping beer rather than a drinking beer. This is a beer that you enjoy slowly over the course of an evening… Almost out of necessity. (I admit to being a cheap drunk.) My husband, however, LOVES the Burly Wine, and is already figuring out how to portion out the bottles in order to age them in the most efficient manner.

Then we went on a tour with the Brewmaster for Half Pints, Dave. He called the company a home brew operation that got out of hand, and you can tell in the way he shows people around. He takes pride in every step along the way, and happily answered all of our questions about the brewing process. As my husband put it, “I enjoyed the tour because it was presented in the enthusiastic manner of somebody who obviously loves his craft, showing off his favourite toys.”

I asked if they were planning on doing a lambic anytime soon, since I love lambic beers so much. He said that he would like to do a lambic, but that they were really labour intensive. If they do come up with one, I’d really like to try it!

Anyway, we had fun, and we’ll try to make it back for next year’s Burly Wine day.

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