Edmonton Things To Do & Event Review: Christmas Glow

Lit up displays are found throughout the Christmas Light Gardens

If you follow any other popular Edmonton bloggers on social media, it’s likely that you’ve already heard of this. But, Christmas Glow is new this year, and it’s touted as the largest indoor festival of its kind around the city. I was fed a paid post on Instagram back in at the end of September. Since they were offering a discount (approximately 35 per cent off) as an early bird deal, I decided to grab a couple of tickets for me and Kirk to attend on my birthday. At $35.88 for both of us, I thought it might be worth the visit.

Santa’s Reindeers

Flash forward two months later, and it was finally here. We drove all the way to the Enjoy Centre in St. Albert on a Thursday night, hoping we’d make it for our timed entry (we chose the 6pm to 7pm slot). When we turned on to Riel Drive, everything slowed to a crawl. The venue does have a decent amount of parking, but cars were also lined up and down each side of the street. Thankfully, we managed to find something along the road. Thus, we walked a couple of blocks to get to the building. Although, once in the vicinity of the parking lot, we did notice a handful of spots, so patience may reward you.

Upon entering the building, we turned to our right towards the Moonflower Room. That’s where Hole’s typically holds a lot of large events. Plus, in the summertime, it’s where they run their garden market. All in, there is 60,000 square feet of space available, and Christmas Glow used every bit of it, including the greenhouse that is usually blocked off from the public whenever I’ve been there.

This is in the Christmas Light Gardens. Look at the reflection in the glass ceiling!

As we approached the door, I noticed that there was absolutely no one waiting to get inside. Three or four staff were standing about just looking for something to do. One of them eagerly waved us over, and, without even looking at the date or time on our ticket, she scanned them and told us to have fun. The minute we stepped through the threshold, I was overwhelmed. The place was insanely packed with people. They had fit in a few food stands to the left of us, so there were multiple lines snaking around. In the very middle of the main area was a grouping of tables where patrons could enjoy live entertainment on stage. Every single seat was occupied. To the right was a gift shop that seemed to belong to the Enjoy Centre. All the way at the very back of the room was the Glow-camotive, a small train that circles around it’s allotted zone.

We attempted to zoom past all of that without tripping over anyone, and entered the Christmas Light Gardens. Cordoned into different areas, there, you’ll find a licensed bar, interactive hanging lights (this was quite magical, especially with the reflection in the glass ceiling), Santa, glowing swings, mistletoe, light up hopscotch, a horse-drawn carriage, Disney-themed princesses, a musical light tunnel, and numerous other displays. Totaling over a million LED lights, it’s quite impressive. I certainly appreciated the work that went into it. Kirk and I got some pretty great photo ops in there. However, it was also over crowded. They say that they’ve sold tickets using time slots to help control that issue, but once people are in, they can stay as long as they want, and it seemed to me it was getting busier and busier as the night progressed.

Many of the children were super excited (I understand; I was a kid once, too), and that’s okay. Yet, I was practically mowed over by a few who weren’t watching where they were going, so needless to say this wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. With everything mentioned above, as well as a Magic Castle Playground and an area to write letters to Santa, Christmas Glow is definitely geared heavily towards families and kids. That’s not to say that it’s an absolute no go for childless adults (to the organizers, please consider adding adult nights in the future!). It’s just probably best for those with a lot more patience than I possess. I was only able to handle this for about an hour and then I had to go. I simply want to be honest about my personal feelings towards the whole thing. I’m glad that I went and had the opportunity to do so. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out to be my favourite event.

We rarely have photos together.

It wasn’t a total loss though, I did find something in the pop-up Christmas Market that was anchored by The Makers Keep. Kirk bought me the cutest print, titled “High Flyer,” of a narwhal flying with the help of a bunch of balloons from art and stationary company, Paper Canoe. That was a lovely birthday present.

Me with my new print from Paper Canoe!

If my thoughts on Christmas Glow haven’t deterred you from going, you can still buy tickets through their website. It’s running until January 19. They are closed every Sunday, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve. The rest of the time, they’re open from 4pm to 10pm Monday to Friday, and they start an hour earlier at 3pm on Saturdays. From December 10 to 12, they continue to offer discounted tickets at 25 per cent off available with promo code EDMONTON25. Dates that remain after will be regularly priced ($22.99 per adult; $16.99 for seniors, and children 4-12; free under 3 years of age; $69.99 for a family with 2 adults and up to 3 kids/seniors). You’ll also save a couple of bucks by ordering online versus purchasing at the gate. Happy holidays!

YEG Local Holiday Gift Guide 2018

What’s going to end up under our tree this year?

Christmas is only a month away now. I’m guessing a lot of you are like me, and you probably didn’t plan far in advance on this year’s presents. With just 30 days left to shop, it’s getting down to the wire. If you have family and friends similar to mine, you may be having a difficult time narrowing things down. Personally, I prefer to gift them with something that’s both fun and useful. But, the older I get, I realize that there isn’t a whole lot that I need anymore, and, whatever I really want, I tend to buy. The same goes for those I know.

What I think works well, though, are products that come from businesses in our own community. Supporting and showcasing your favourite local shops and makers is a great way to spread the word and help these entrepreneurs grow economically while simultaneously sharing what you enjoy with people you love.

In no particular order, I thought I’d highlight several of my top picks here. A number of them were selected for inclusion in the 2018 Edmonton Made Gifted Catalog, and most can be found around the city at various markets, stockists, and their own storefronts or even online.

Evoolution

I recently wrote a blog post about Evoolution’s fantastic tasting events. Those are held monthly at both their downtown Edmonton and St. Albert locations. Tickets to upcoming evenings are available through Eventbrite ($35 per person + tax). With an educational component as well as a full 3-course meal, they’re an excellent value. Alternatively, you can pick up full-size or miniature bottles of their delicious olive oils and balsamic vinegars as a gift for the cooks in your life. The quality is incomparable and anyone who enjoys spending time in the kitchen will appreciate these fine products.

On a side note, we are currently running a contest on our YEG Food Deals Facebook and Instagram pages. Head to both sites where you can enter to win a pair of tickets to the next Evoolution tasting event happening at the 104 Street shop on Tuesday, December 4. The giveaway is open until 11:59pm MT on Wednesday, November 28.

Complimentary mini bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar were given to each guest.

Ochre Lea

I first came across this designer at the Made Local shop on 101 Avenue and 122 Street (I believe this is now closed). I love the whimsical designs that are carefully screen printed on beautifully tanned pieces of leather and then crafted into mason jar holders. The workmanship is impeccable, and they look as though they can withstand quite a bit. Best of all, sustainability has been kept in mind. Everything can be taken apart, which means the metal and glass jar of the mason is recyclable, and the leather is also compostable once the rivets are removed. The 16 ounce size is $35 and a 24 ounce option rings in at $40. Ochre Lea also makes some fantastic letterpress stationary, too. Find these products at the Royal Bison Art & Craft Fair from November 30-December 2 and December 7-9.

Leather Travel Masons by Ochre Lea

Marc Nipp Illustration & Design

I found Marc Nipp’s (a.k.a. El Designo) table at the Edmonton Made show earlier this fall, and I had to go back to get a print of his City of Edmonton Pinball Poster ($25). It’s just a playful representation of our home. Some things are a cheeky take on what we hate about this place, but most of the highlights are pretty great. He’ll be representing at the Royal Bison Art & Craft Fair from December 7-9, or some of Marc’s artwork is also for sale at the Alberta Branded store inside the Edmonton Federal Building. You can also purchase items online through his Zazzle and Etsy shops.

My purchased City of Edmonton Pinball Poster.

Smithstine Copper

Kristine MacDonald is the artist behind the gorgeous copper jewelry and accessories (ranging from $30 to $200), which often have an Edmonton or Albertan theme. She’s recently branched out by mixing other metals in with her usual medium of copper to make distinctive and timeless pieces that will likely be passed down for generations. Additionally, Kristine has started working with enamels, bringing in vibrant shots of colour to some of her hand sawn work. While it may be too late to have something custom made by Christmas (consider that for another time though), you’ll find a variety of pre-made samples at the Royal Bison Art & Craft Fair from November 30-December 2 and December 7-9 as well as on her online shop.

These brass money clips are simple, but meaningful.

Bro Brick

Bro Brick marketed themselves as soap for men with scents to match. Don’t get me wrong though, they do smell great. Rum & Coke and Wasabi & Beer are my choices ($10.50 per bar). They also have shaving soap, moustache wax, and hair/beard balms. All of their products are handmade using plant based oils, so they’re vegan friendly. They’ve now branched out with smaller Chick Bricks for the ladies ($8.50 each). Find them at the Royal Bison Art & Craft Fair from November 30-December 2 or at the Hand2Hand Christmas Market on December 1. Items can also be purchased online directly through their website.

My Sunshine Creations

I don’t currently have any children, but I have a lot of friends with kids. My Sunshine Creations makes some of the most adorable clothing, including unisex cardigans (with matching ones for moms) and comfy looking bum pants. But, what gives me cuteness overload are the baby mocs ($22) and water mocs ($25-$29). There’s just something about tiny shoes for little feet that make me melt. They come in a bevy of colourful designs, so there’s going to be a pair to suit every little boy or girl out there. Order online through the link above.

Baby mocs galore!

Justine Ma

With sassy enameled pins, baby onesies, cake toppers, ornaments, mugs, and cards, Justine Ma won me over. There are products that are pretty and PG13 as well, but it’s the ones that get a little colourful with the language that I love the most. Shop online at the link above, or visit the stores listed here. Justine will also be at the Royal Bison Art & Craft Fair from December 7-9.

Escape City

Even after playing close to two dozen escape rooms across Edmonton, I never get tired of them. There are still a bunch that I have left to tackle, including Escape City’s newest game, Frank’s Revenge. This business does a wonderful job with all of their adventures. Every single room is challenging and immersive. It’s definitely in my top three when it comes to this type of activity. If you know of someone who would rather have a unique experience over something material, this might be perfect for them. Pick up a gift card from Escape City during their regular hours.

We excelled at Neurological!

Brickbubble

I’ve been following Brickbubble on social media for a long time. Run by Diane and Mike who are graphic artists, they’ve utilized their talents to create a number of handmade items ranging from ornaments to jewelry and cutting boards to decor. They specialize in custom work that is often laser cut and engraved, but they also have a lot of ready to go pieces that are perfect for the holidays and speak to the Canadian in us.

Hansen Distillery

I’ve been backing Hansen Distillery since I attended a tour of their facilities and a tasting session back in February. After four generations of moonshiners in their family, Shayna Hansen and Kris Sustrik went legit and opened Hansen Distillery about two years ago. They’ve quickly amassed popularity with their cream liqueurs and cherry rye, and for good reason. They’re delicious to sip on their own and just as great for use in cocktails. Treat a connoisseur of spirits to a tour and tasting ($10.50 per person), or grab a bottle or two of their best sellers to put under the tree.

Edmonton Bakery Review: Duchess Bake Shop

One of the dessert cases at Duchess.

One of the dessert cases at Duchess.

Where have I been all this time? Duchess Bake Shop (@duchessbakeshop) opened up along 124 Street in the fall of 2009 when I still lived at home and was about a five minute drive away. Yet, it took five whole years and me moving all the way across the city before I ever set foot in the shop.

As far as I know, I had never had anything from Duchess before. Perhaps they had catered events I had attended in the past, but I couldn’t be sure, so I count my summer date with some potential guy I met online as my first time eating something from the bakery. Meeting there for tea and dessert seemed like a great idea. It was an area I knew well and it was a public place, so win-win. We split some of the dainty little macarons while we chatted before we had to vacate the premises as they were closing for the day (I do wish they stayed open a little bit later every day). I walked away thinking the macarons were delightful and even unique (the rose flavour is unlike any pastry I’ve ever had before). I also very much enjoyed the European feel of the shop. I even thought well of the guy for a short time. Although the date didn’t really pan out in the end, I found a not so secret new hang out.

Fast forward a few months and after dinner down the street, my friend and I popped into Duchess for some sweets to finish off our evening. Wanting to write about this bakery that was voted onto The Tomato‘s list of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton for two consecutive years now (No. 14 in 2013 and No. 16 in 2014), this was the perfect opportunity for me to try several items.

I decided to order a key lime tart to stay, as well as a few other items to take home with me. The tart was superb. You could tell that it had been made fresh that day. The graham cracker crust was tightly packed, so the crumbs didn’t fall apart with each bite, but they were still dry enough to provide a bit of a crunch. That subtle sweetness from the crust as well as the texture contrasted really well with the rich and creamy filling of the tart, which you could see was generously infused with key lime zest. The overall tanginess that came from the freshly squeezed lime juice really made this a home run. As full as I already was from dinner, I savoured each and every bite until my plate was empty, and I can honestly say that I still wanted another one (I’ll put this into perspective; each 4 inch tart provides 1 to 2 servings).

The desserts that I opted to pack up with me included a pumpkin pie macaron, a coconut meringue and one each of the three flavours of shortbread cookie available – regular, chocolate pearl and earl grey. Those were all devoured within a day. The coconut meringue is large, raised nice and tall, gorgeously shaped with ruffled sides and a hollow center. A crisp outer layer melts away at the touch of your tongue. The inside is fluffy, moist and a little chewy with some shredded coconut. It was really tasty, but the sheer size means that it becomes surprisingly sweet by the last piece. Duchess sells bags of the smaller meringues, and I think the more petite versions would be the perfect amount for a snack.

Being that it was fall, I couldn’t pass up trying the pumpkin pie macaron. The cookie portion, made up of two meringue wafers, actually doesn’t provide much flavour. The taste comes from the buttercream-like filling. It was delicious though. I would have loved to have left the shop with a macaron gift box; the rainbow coloured cookies are a pretty treat that anyone would appreciate.

Shortbread is one of my favourite kinds of cookies, so I had to sample the ones they offered at Duchess. I was a little bit surprised because, while they are buttery, the shortbread leaned towards a salty profile rather than a sweet one. The cookies were actually more dense than I expected, too, meaning there was more bite and they didn’t dissolve in my mouth like some other shortbread cookies are apt to do. There was nothing wrong with that though. They were different, but worth eating. I also liked that the chocolate pearl one used a semi-sweet chocolate, so it wasn’t overly sugary, and the earl grey cookie had a nice mild citrus flavour.

I absolutely love the desserts that are prepared at Duchess, and I cannot wait to go back. Perhaps I’ll go for lunch one day, so I can try their soups, sandwiches or quiches (I hear those are all great) followed by a pastry.

If you’re a baker, you may also want to drop by Provisions by Duchess. Located next door to the bakery, the shop sells everything you need to make confections just like theirs. In fact, starting mid-November, Duchess released their own cookbook, which opens up almost all of their recipes to the public. Try your hand at making the desserts they have perfected. And, if it doesn’t turn out just right, rest easy knowing that the experts are still there to back you up. I know I would love a copy for Christmas. I’m sure that you or a baker close to your heart would appreciate a beautifully bound book as well! That, along with a few choice pastries from the shop itself, would make for a thoughtful gift.

NYC Winter Wonderland: Photostream

Wow! My trip to NYC really crept up quickly this year. My friend and I booked it all the way back in March (see my April post about planning for our vacation) and, at the time, we were thinking it was forever and a day away. But, before we knew it, it was the end of November and we only had a few more days to prep for our holiday. If there’s nothing else I’ve learned with this trip, I will walk away with the knowledge that time sure slows down for no one as we get older. I mean, it’s already been three weeks since we returned home and I’m only just getting to this post.

Aside from my contemplation of the passage of time, this, my sixth visit to the Big Apple, proved to be as spectacular as ever. All of my vacations in 2013 sprung up as a result of a concert and this was no different. Shopping and shows was the name of the game, along with a bit of sightseeing and partying, lots of eating and getting into the Christmas spirit.

What never ceases to amaze me is how much of Manhattan you can cover in the span of a day. It is also an extremely walkable city. My friend’s wireless fitbit® surprised me by telling us that on Day 2 we took over 28,000 steps, climbed more than 40 flights of stairs, walked over 12 miles and burned over 2,000 calories, and I wasn’t even tired. That’s the thing with New York; it’s a little like Las Vegas where you don’t realize how long you’ve been awake or how much you’ve been doing until you get home and you’re completely burnt out and you need another vacation from your vacation. New York City is like this magical place where the atmosphere completely makes you forget that you require sleep to survive. New York City right before Christmas is like that times a hundred.

My photos are grouped into galleries by day and I’m going to let them do most of the talking, but I thought I’d give a little synopsis as well.

Day 1:

Compared to last December in New York City as well as what we left behind in Edmonton, Alberta, we were extremely lucky when it came to the weather. Goodbye -30 degrees Celsius! Hello +14! It was so nice outside that, unlike the rest of the New Yorkers and tourists we encountered, we walked around in just our sweaters and still felt warm. I certainly wasn’t complaining. After we checked into our hotel, 6 Columbus, we started off our first afternoon with a Japanese meal at Natsumi, a quick jaunt to Times Square and then followed up with a Broadway musical called First Date. We loved the show – it was a little clichéd, but so true and very funny – and we left the theatre with newfound crushes on Zachary Levi (@ZacharyLevi) whom I already was a fan of from NBC’s Chuck and Disney’s Tangled. I’m a bit sad to share the news that the show closes on January 5, 2014, so I’m glad that I had the chance to see it while I was there. The night ended with a trip to Whole Foods (please open up a location in Edmonton!) for sustenance to keep us energized for the rest of the trip.

Day 2:

The day started with one of my favourite meals ever. Norma’s Lox & Lox of Bagel and their Waz-Za Waffle. I sort of feel like it’s the quintessential breakfast place and if I’m going to eat anywhere whenever I visit New York, Norma’s is definitely going to make the list. Ever since my cousin took me there, I haven’t skipped it once on any subsequent trips. That breakfast powered us through a visit to Statue of Liberty Island, a shopping excursion to Century 21, a walk through St. Paul’s Chapel and an introspective look around the 9/11 Memorial site. That evening, we had a delicious Greek meal at Ethos Gallery, strolled along Fifth Avenue looking at the holiday window displays and made our way back to our hotel and another stop at Whole Foods (seriously, this place would make so much money from us if they opened in Edmonton).

Day 3:

After a couple of late nights staying up until 3 or 4 in the morning for no reason whatsoever, we started the day a bit later and headed over to one of the better rated sushi restaurants according to Yelp and Urbanspoon. Aoki provided us with a comfortable atmosphere and an affordable and tasty lunch of miso soup, assorted rolls and über fresh salmon sashimi. We took an express train to Brooklyn and got a little lost (we shouldn’t have been on the express), but we eventually made it to the borough where we met a couple of friends for dinner at The Burger Bistro, completely stuffing our faces with burgers, fries and sangria. Then we ventured to Barclays Center for the first Knicks vs. Nets game of the NBA season. Apparently both teams are doing abysmally this year, but I would say that the Knicks are doing better based on this particular game. Since we missed out on the tree lighting festivities the night before at Rockefeller Center, we went back to Manhattan and took pictures in front of the rink and the giant tree. It was so beautiful! As it lightly snowed we hopped onto a carriage and Benny the horse towed us over to the bar, so we could ring in our friend’s 30th birthday at midnight.

Day 4:

We slept in a bit and upon waking we headed to Central Park where we found the fabulous Columbus Circle Holiday Market, which had been set up for the Christmas season by UrbanSpace. Locally made gift items, Christmas ornaments and festive snacks and drinks to warm up customers really helped to bring out the cheerfulness of the season despite the rainy day. After browsing around for a little while, we made our way to Greenwich Village for a pre-booked dessert tour. Unfortunately, the guide did not show up to meet us, but thankfully, we were just a few steps away from Joe’s Pizza (even after a half dozen trips to New York, this was my first time enjoying a famous Big Apple slice) and numerous other food establishments where we decided to create a tour of our own. If plans don’t pan out, you just have to make the best of it! Since we had some time to kill upon finishing our impromptu meal, we ventured back to Fifth Avenue where we came across the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. Afterwards we enjoyed supper at a cozy Italian restaurant in the lower east side called Grotto. And, last, but not least, we, again, met up with our friend to officially ring in her 30th birthday at Tao Downtown and then Le Souk.

Day 5:

I have to say this day was a bit of a write-off. We were at Le Souk until 5am and I was wired from the night out dancing. I didn’t sleep until we got onto an 8:30am shuttle bus to Woodbury Common Premium Outlets just outside of Manhattan. Dead tired, but determined, my friend and I were real troopers and pretty much got our shopping done within the first few hours. Maybe if we had more energy and it wasn’t so bitterly cold in contrast to the first few days of our trip, we may have walked around a bit more. But, after days of late nights and next to no sleep for at least 24 hours, we just couldn’t do it any more. Once we made our way back to the city, we went to Aoki for dinner (becoming regulars) and then I bought myself a last minute ticket from the TKTS Discount Booth in Times Square to see Big Fish at the Neil Simon Theatre, which I am, again, sad to say has ended its run as of December 29th due to poor sales. The night I attended, it was a packed house, probably with those wanting to catch the well-reviewed show before the curtains officially closed, but it was too little, too late.

Day 6:

This was another slightly late day where we worked our way to Murray Hill for lunch at S’MAC. The portion sizes of our mac and cheese dishes were massive and I only finished about half of mine. A walk to burn off the heavy meal led us to Grand Central Terminal and the MetLife Building and back to Fifth Avenue where we shopped at Saks and Bloomingdale’s before having our final three-course meal in New York at David Burke at Bloomingdale’s (delicious by the way!). A stroll back to the Columbus Circle Holiday Market for one last look around before it closed for the night and a quick stop at our hotel to drop-off of all our stuff from the day and we were off to Barclays Center to finally see what we had booked the trip for in the first place – P!nk’s The Truth About Love Tour! Let me just say that I have seen many concerts over the years and this one just blew me away. P!nk is a topnotch performer who entertained us with her acrobatics, dancing, and incredible voice, which, to my knowledge, was live and not recorded. She was everything I hoped and, honestly, her show was a perfect cap to our holiday. I left thinking that if I could still get just a single ticket to her sold out, but postponed Edmonton show on January 16, it would be worth it to see her one more time.

I really hope you enjoyed my adventure and that it inspires you to visit New York soon. Whether you go on your own, with family or friends, you’ll be sure to have a great time.

I thought I would leave you with some extra information that would be useful for your travels to New York or wherever your next trip finds you.

General travel tips:

– Use deal vouchers – Groupon and LivingSocial can save you a lot of money on what would be otherwise extravagant meals or shows!

– Prepay for what you can (it’ll help take the sting out of it come bill time if it’s all spread out). Although make sure you can cancel and get a refund in case plans go awry.

– Make reservations for restaurants that you really want to try out – many restaurants, in the States especially, use Opentable and it’s a great way to ensure you get a table.

– If you don’t have a particular show in mind and you’re willing to take a chance, get last minute discounted tickets – in NYC go to the TKTS locations to see what Broadway and Off-Broadway shows are available the day of.

– Check Booking.com for hotel deals – many of the hotels offer free cancellation up until just a few days before you are supposed to arrive. They also don’t charge booking fees and most hotels don’t require that you pay ahead of time, so you can keep a watch out for better deals in the meantime.

Tips for NYC in December:

– Layer – you never know if the weather will take a turn!

– Mix and match pieces, so that it looks like you’re wearing something different everyday even though you only brought a few things.

– Winter items are heavier, thus taking up more space, so re-wear items, such as pants, throughout the trip, but bring enough, so you can alternate.

– Bring an umbrella, a hat and gloves. While we were there, it was balmly (to us anyway), wet and snowy within the span of 6 days.

Things to check out in NYC in December:

– Rockefeller Center – the Christmas tree is a must see!

– Columbus Circle Holiday Market was lovely, especially if the weather is nice and you can take your time. Grand Central Terminal also had a market set up for Christmas and it’s indoors, so you can stay nice and warm.

– Fifth Avenue – Christmas displays at the department stores are quite exquisite. I didn’t even get inside Bergdorf Goodman, but the windows were beautiful!

Lastly, I wish I was going back to NYC in 2014. I want to see Neil Patrick Harris (@ActuallyNPH) kick serious ass in Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway, which is playing a limited engagement run from the end of March through to almost the end of July 2014. I’m so jealous of anyone who is planning to see that. If you’re going, take me with you.

If you liked my photos, please follow me on Instagram @crystalcarwin.