Hidden Gem of the Season: Get Cooking

get cooking

Hidden on the ground floor of MacEwan University’s student residence, Get Cooking appears unremarkable—another takeaway café supplying students with sandwiches and muffins. But step behind the counter and enter the working kitchen, and you’ll discover a world of culinary excellence.

Owner Kathryn Joel, a graduate of London’s Le Cordon Bleu and Leiths School of Food and Wine, brings her expertise of global cuisine to this quiet corner of the university campus every evening. Her educational kitchen—with its central island, video monitors and movable steel tables for flexibility and collaboration— becomes a hub for the city’s top chefs.

It also helps apprentices wishing to learn from masters like Joel and Michelin-star restaurant trained chef Doreen Prei.

Joel marries an appreciation of local ingredients with her international background. Born in Melbourne, Australia, Joel lived in England, Scandinavia and the US before moving here to teach culinary classes from her Riverbend home. But while intimate, the small kitchen couldn’t accommodate her vision.

Having an Oliver location with a commercial kitchen has allowed her to cater private events, bring in other chefs and excite young people about cuisine.

She hopes classes like Cooking for Two, Seafood Skills or 30-Minute Meals will “demystify cooking” and encourage the use of quality local and international ingredients. “We’re bringing flavours from afar into Edmonton’s home kitchens,” says Joel. The classes come with wine parings and take-home recipe packs. “It’s a night out with restaurant-level food but in an interactive environment.”

Her guest chefs love it, too: “It’s like a playground,” says Prei. She enjoys the freedom the venue brings, allowing her to use locally sourced ingredients and meet foodies. But if you’d rather leave it entirely in the hands of the experts, you’re in luck. Saturdays’ pop-up brunches are served “family style” with a focus on central Alberta ingredients like Jerusalem artichokes and free-range chicken.

Meanwhile, Food Fight YEG events put on a reality TV-style cooking battle between Edmonton’s celebrity chefs, like Chopped competitor Shane Chartrand.

Then there are the Kitchen Parties—culinary theme nights like “Gin, Pimms and Gastropub,” a modern take on English pub favourites, and “Greek Getaway,” featuring grilled octopus and cocktails.

Tickets to these events often sell out in mere hours. Book yourself for a cooking class, Food Fight or Saturday brunch at getcookingedmonton.com.

Volunteer of the Season: Brett Hall

BrettHall - photo credit AJ Wall

“There’s always something you can do in your neighbourhood to make it a better place.”

Sage words from Meals on Wheels volunteer Brett Hall, an Oliver resident who’s been delivering groceries to the non-profit’s members since August. To his welcome surprise, bringing food to people in need across Edmonton and in his neigbourhood has become a kind of personal therapy. “I was looking to raise my confidence and find stability,” says the 35-year-old former nurse turned insurance agent. “Driving for [Meals on Wheels] humbled me and put my own problems into perspective.”

Hall has become somewhat of a guinea pig to test out Meals’ new Store-to-Door program for seniors and disabled people, which became an official program after a trial last fall. Twice monthly, Hall purchases and delivers groceries for an elderly man named Michael, who lives only a few blocks away, but can’t physically run the errands himself. There’s no cost for Hall and his mileage is reimbursed by the non-profit.

The project helps forge a connection to the neighbourhood for those who aren’t able to easily get out into the community. “Now we have a rhythm,” says Hall. “It’s nice to think that he trusts me enough to enter his home.”

If you would like to become a Store-to-Door volunteer, or pitch in on other Meals on Wheels programs, email emow@mealsonwheelsedmonton.org.


Board Game Cafes Crop Up in Oliver

BoardGame Night

Ever since the German game Settlers of Catan gained popularity in North America in the 2000s, there’s been a movement of people putting down their controllers or phones and taking up the die in an effort to test their wits and meet new people, I.R.L. A new way to foster human interaction is organically taking hold right here in Oliver where two board game cafés have opened, Table Top Café (10235 124 St.) and the Gamers’ Lodge (10459 124 St.).

Prior to their openings, the OCL hosted free, all-ages games nights every month, complete with snacks, a table of new titles like Hive—an addictive strategic game akin to chess—and the promise of making new friends. (The league has since cancelled them, now that the needs are met by new businesses.)

Mary McPhail of the OCL says it’s the human touch missing from our digital lives that’s spurring the trend. According to The Guardian, board game purchases have risen by as much as 40 per cent annually since 2010. There’s a constant flow of new games released every year— some of them selling millions of copies.

What’s behind the resurgence? Brian Flowers, owner of Table Top Café, has a theory: “When you enter a competitive atmosphere, everyone’s paying attention to the game, not their phones.” Plus, he says, “It’s a really good icebreaker.”

Flowers’ friend and self-admitted boardgame aficionado Rudy Janvier agrees. In fact it’s how he met Flowers. “It began as just a regular thing on Sundays with some friends. And then when I moved to Oliver I started going to the community league’s nights to find more people who wanted to learn about new games.”

Another reason for this revival might just be that the games are getting better. Some of the most funded Kickstarter campaigns are games dreamed up by highly creative people. Janvier also points to massive conferences, like SPIEL in Germany, that allow players to contribute to the creation process. In other words, designers have learned that we want something more engaging than crib, Chinese checkers or backgammon.

But with a constant rotation of new titles to sample at Table Top and the Gamers’ Lodge, where does one even start? If you’re really up for a challenge, Janvier recommends Pandemic Legacy, an apocalyptic campaign game giving you a chance to command an imaginary centre for disease control.

Looking for something more general? McPhail loves Dixit, a story-building card game made for the word nerds among us.

Of course, if you prefer the classics, they’re easy to come by. “I remember a retiree coming in with her Chinese checkers board,” recalls McPhail. “She kicked my butt!”

How Community Groups Can Help Refugees Settle

church 4

Over 1,400 Syrian refugees have moved to Edmonton since November and at least 1,000 more are to come. To help them settle, community-based groups like DECL and All Saints’ Anglican Cathedral are pitching in. “In dire times, we’re called to help [anyone] regardless of race, religion or anything,” says Chris Pilon, community engagement coordinator of All Saints’.

All Saints’ will soon assist one Syrian family. The church formed a sponsorship steering committee, and has raised about $45,000 to sponsor the family for a year. Equally valuable are the dozens of volunteers ready to greet them, arrange medical appointments, help with job hunting and so on. DECL also informally approached the church in fall 2015 about its planned response to the Syrian crisis; it’s committed to participating in any suitable capacity.

The chief concern for arriving refugees isn’t integration but navigation, says Pilon. Understanding housing, utilities, transportation, banking and schools in Canada’s comparatively bureaucratic society is complex. These hurdles can overwhelm anyone, and immigrants often have a limited grasp of English, which makes navigation harder. Even after short-term necessities are managed, refugees face ongoing challenges. They may worry about how to support their families after the sponsorship ends.

Pilon, who is also a DECL board member, says community leagues play a vital role in assisting refugees because their members are naturally passionate about their communities and want to share them with newcomers, whether from Syria or St. John’s. They also have connections to organizations, business owners and other resources that make them valuable sources of knowledge.

Leagues can also waive membership fees, supply information on their services and programs, and provide a liaison to connect families to programs directly. “If there are cultural issues happening, [leagues] could help to explain things to the families in a non-confrontational way,” says Elizabeth Nash. She recently formed the Refugee Response Group with members of the North Glenora Community League and Robertson- Wesley United Church. “These families come from very close-knit communities, and feeling welcome in their new neighbourhoods is very important for their integration.”

The North Glenora-sponsored family is a multi-generational family from Aleppo— four adults, three teenagers and six young children. They lived in a Lebanese camp for over two years after fleeing Syria in 2013, following an explosion outside their home. Laws restricted the adults from working, so the young boys took to selling paper on the street to support their extended family. They arrived in Edmonton in February, but the eldest daughter, her husband and their two children remain in Lebanon. Nash’s group is working with another community-based group in Glenora to reunite them. To show their appreciation, the family recently bought, butchered and cooked a goat for a thank-you dinner.

Pilon looks forward to the day he can see All Saints’ sponsored family comfortable, confident and beginning to feel at home in Edmonton. He hopes to meet them at a local event, not as refugees that the church sponsored, but as “fellow Edmontonians” who ventured out independently to enjoy their community.

Connecting Kids in the Core

IMG_0277Yvonne Epp used to see a lot more strollers on the streets. Previous to moving to Downtown for work, Epp, her husband and their two small children lived in downtown Ottawa, where they were accustomed to seeing other kids in the core daily. The transition has been an adjustment.

“When we first moved here, I’d see other strollers, and almost wish I had a business card that said ‘Downtown Mom: Do you want to be my friend?’” she says. Epp, who joined DECL in February because she wanted to contribute a parent’s perspective, was initially discouraged and pondered moving to a more family-friendly neighbourhood.

Instead, she decided to “be a part of the change” and started the Urban Kids Playgroup to connect downtown’s few families.

Heather Popowich, for one, is glad she did. “It’s so important for [kids] to play with other kids in a different environment,” says the mother of a toddler.

At the group the kids have abundant toys, snacks and space to explore. “They get so excited!” says Popowich, though she could say the same about the parents in attendance. The adults get to lounge in comfy couches with coffee, making rare connections with other parents, while the kids entertain one another.

Epp hopes the group reaches a point where the kids can go on mini field trips around the core, to the Epcor Tower or the AGA, and help establish a stronger sense of community.

“We need to pull [the core’s families] out of the woodwork,” says Epp, “and this group is like the bait.” (For more information visit Urban Kids’ Facebook page at facebook.com/ yegurbankids)

Urban Kids Playgroup: Jun 13, Jun 27, Jul 11, Aug 15, Aug 29: It’s where downtown children (0–5) play together and their caregivers meet. (10:30am, DECL Space, 10042 103 St.)

The Future LRT is Nostalgic

102 Street Stop

(Editor’s Note: This story has been corrected for errors. See footnote.)

Breathe easy: Downtown’s treasured summer festivals, such as Taste of Edmonton and Cariwest, won’t be displaced from Churchill Square by Valley Line LRT construction until next year, when major construction on the line begins in the core.

After the Mill Woods-Downtown line is finally completed, in 2020, expect to feel a touch of nostalgia. Rather than the underground stations Downtowners have grown accustomed to, the new line will operate at-grade, alongside traffic with platform access from the sidewalks, like an old-fashioned streetcar.

But don’t expect a quaint and boxy car with a uniformed conductor ringing his bell, either. The new line’s primary contractor, Bombardier, which has developed similar light rail systems throughout Europe, promises spacious trains with low floors, sleek bodies and easy access. This change, simple to many, radical to others, isn’t just less costly—it helps animate the streets with people coming and going.

The line will run alongside a single eastbound lane of 102 Ave. traffic and newly developed bike lanes, with stops (not stations) at Churchill Square and 102 St.

But until then, it’s business as usual in Churchill Square this summer: food trucks, festivals, basketball games and relaxing in the sun, free of noisy construction.

(Corrections: An earlier version of this story stated that major construction around Churchill square was to begin in 2016, not 2017; that the line wouldn’t break ground until 2018, when in fact it broke ground in April 2016; and that construction was delayed. The Yards sincerely regrets the errors.)

The Social Benefits of Dog Parks

Courtesy of Flickr/Jim's Photos1

Courtesy of Flickr/Jim’s Photos1

When my husband and I adopted a puppy early this year, I expected housetraining accidents, chewed shoes and muddy paw prints. I was correct in all these predictions. But I wasn’t expecting Winston to change how I interacted with my downtown neighbours.

I had always considered my neighbours to be friendly, but we rarely had reasons to talk. With a puppy by my side, I find myself striking up conversations with many more passersby. “What’s his name?” is just a starting point for conversations that often turn to discussions of local news or a new restaurant recommendation.

Dogs get people talking. And research shows that when people talk, even briefly, it strengthens their interpersonal bond and plants the seeds for a myriad of benefits. They feel safer and more connected to their community. They’re more likely to give time and energy to helping neighbours. In turn, this sense of connection benefits individuals, helping them deal with stress and anxiety, while encouraging their well-being by fostering a sense of belonging. In these ways, dog-friendly spaces can strengthen community and quality of life.

Public spaces have always served as a fulcrum for humans to meet, interact and strengthen their community experiences. People want to form relationships organically, but they often hesitate, either in accordance to some unwritten social rule or because they simply don’t know where to begin. A dog is a catalyst that makes conversations, and relationships, easier to start.

Although the core has no shortage of dog-friendly sidewalks, it is sadly lacking in designated dog parks. Downtown Edmonton and Oliver remain two of the only neighbourhoods in the city without off-leash parks—but not for long. When it’s completed next year, Alex Decoteau Park at 105 St. and 102 Ave. is sure to change the experiences of dog-owners throughout the core. It will fill a void by giving us a safe place to exercise our dogs—without a leash. But it will also become a gathering point for neighbourhood residents, dog-owners and non-dog-owners alike.

We might meet there because of our dogs, but we’ll keep going back because of each other.

Puppy Central: Six Reasons Your Dog Loves the Core

(1) The (Un)Official Off-Leash Park
The core doesn’t have an off-leash park (yet), but the historical McKay schoolyard is the next best thing. It’s a quiet, hidden patch of greenery amongst the vast concrete, and best of all it’s fenced in. Bring a ball and let them run free. 10425 99 Ave.

(2) Made with Love
On your next stroll down 124 St., scoot into Food Dish Wishes to treat your furry friend with homemade gourmet biscuits. Owners/sisters Tessa and Ashley Lee not only serve up decadent delights for dogs, but loving homes for cats; the shop supports an animal adoption service right inside this little gem. Here’s hoping they all get along. 10724 124 St NW; facebook.com/fooddishwishes

(3) Stress-free Socializing
The famed and trusted daycare Divine K9 & Feline is tucked just behind Oliver Square. Conveniently located for quick and easy pickup/dropoff, you can get on with your life while your pooch socializes with others and gets some exercise with a “Pack Leader” staff who are trained themselves—in animal behaviour, nutrition and health. 10552 114 St.; 780-421-7888; divinek9.ca

(4) Get the Goods
Looking to stock up on the good stuff? The helpful staff at Global Pet Foods, a Canadian-owned chain, will guide you through their dizzying selection of dog foods—from locally sourced to brand name and organic—and not to mention troves of toys. So if that old stuffed animal is hanging onto its last leg, let your pooch pick out something new to destroy. 10103 117 St.; globalpetfoods.com

(5) Fur on Fleek
Your paws are in good hands with the Edmonton Journal Readers’ Choice-approved groomers at the Pampered Puppy. All staff have completed full certification in pet first-aid and grooming, so you can just drop them off and enjoy a few hours to yourself, worry-free. On top of regular grooming services, you’ll also find supplies for those quick DIY touch ups. 10303 124 St.; thepamperedpuppy.net

(6) Just the Two of Us
Escape to Louise McKinney Riverfront Park for a peaceful walk along the edge of Edmonton’s winding river valley. This stretch of greenery is perfect for an early morning walk or run with your furry friend—and thanks to a looping pathway, dogs can literally run laps. 9999 Grierson Hill Rd.

Connect the Blocks with the Abundant Communities Initiative

“Busy” is the new small talk. Instead of discussing the weather, we talk about how many things we’ve got on the go, and oftentimes the B-word has become the default response to “How are you?”

That mindset is why cities lack a sense of community, says Oliver resident Viraj Wanigasekera, who yearns for “the eye contact that you would make with strangers and the obligatory hello walking down the street.” To rediscover community he’s become a “Block Connector” with the OCL’s Abundant Communities Initiative.

The ACI has set loose enthusiastic people into the neighbourhood to combat social isolation—or, as Wanigasekera puts it, “to spread the gospel of citizenship participation.”

Susana Chalut is in the first stages of her role as a Block Connector. Like Wanigasekera, Chalut goes door-to-door in her high-rise, the Centurian Tower, to collect information about people’s interests, hobbies and skills for a database that will connect like-minded residents. Chalut, a writer who immigrated from Chile, wants to get to know her neighbours, to build community and to create a sense of belonging by connecting people and hosting events.

Wanigasekera feels the same about his condominium. “Community means people who live around each other, care about each other. I want to rouse people out of apathy and get people involved with one another.”

The Abundant Community Initiative is 100-per-cent volunteer driven. The OCL is looking for eager Block Connectors and Neighbourhood Connectors. If that could be you, email Angelika Matson at info@olivercommunity.com.

Reaping the Benefits of Neighbourliness

hall2You walk by them everywhere. They are…your neighbours. But how well do you know them? There is a tendency to live in isolation, especially when we reside among high-density populations like Oliver. It’s easy to be unseen, to come and go and never truly connect with those you live near.

Efforts like the Abundant Communities Initiative (ACI) are trying to reduce isolation and bring neighbours together. “Block Connectors” literally knock on the doors of homes and tirelessly unite neighbours in similar interests, backgrounds, cultures and hobbies. In doing so, they create micro-villages of connection throughout Oliver—food is shared, stories are told, friendships are made. Knowing your neighbours is a wonderful way to be connected to your community. We encourage you to open your door to the ACI Block Connectors and reap the benefits of neighbourliness.

In addition to this initiative, the Oliver Community League hosts events to bring our whole neighbourhood together. On June 18, the league is hosting its annual rummage sale. The hall will be packed with trinkets and treasures, so be sure to stop by.

Our annual Canada Day Pancake Breakfast also returns this summer on, well, July 1, of course. Join in this tradition and meet upwards of a few hundred neighbours over pancakes and maple syrup.

Summer is always a busy time for folks: Children are out of school, vacation time gets put to use, gardeners—on their lawns, balconies or community plots—work hard on their bounty. And, of course, there are the countless festivals filling summer days and nights. Long, warm days bring us out of our homes and onto our streets, which presents opportunities to share even a wave and smile with a passerby. Take the opportunity—even if you need a pet to break the ice. However you choose to meet your neighbours, research shows that we’re all healthier for it. Our community is stronger, safer, livelier and more inclusive when we know one another

OCL board of directors: Lisa Brown (President), Craig Lidstone (Vicepresident), Simon Yackulic (Secretary), Mary McPhail (Treasurer), Anika Gee, Marjorie Henderson, Justin Keats, Rowan Kunitz, Luwam Kiflemariam, Tim Mallandaine, Angelika Matson, Marija Petrovic, Erin Wright and Hossein Zahiri.