Edmonton Things To Do: Evoolution’s Taste the World of Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar

Main course for the tasting at Evoolution.

Personally, a good olive oil and balsamic vinegar brings me back to some of the best dinners I’ve had with friends. It seemed like such a fancy thing when I was younger to have a restaurant serve that mixture as a dip for fresh bread because it wasn’t something we ever did at home. It was such a simple thing, yet it was also a treat.

Nowadays, we’ve got a couple of great shops that specialize in these products. Oliv Tasting Room and Evoolution are on a mission to get high quality olive oils and balsamic vinegars into the hands of Edmontonians and Albertans. I’m a fan of both, having frequented each a number of times over the years. However, working downtown, Evoolution on 104 Street and 101 Avenue is the most convenient.

The Evoolution shop on 104 Street in Edmonton.

Often times, I’ve found myself hanging out there during lunch or after work eating cubes of bread doused in a variety of flavours. Bottles range in size and price depending on the the type of oil or vinegar. Nevertheless, there’s always something to please each palate, and they make wonderful gifts, especially for family members or friends who like to cook.

Recently, I was attempting to find an activity for my friend and I to do together. As per usual, I ended up on the Eventbrite app, and that’s where I came across several listings from Evoolution (104 Street & Enjoy Centre locations). Once or twice a month they hold events in the evening. After the store is closed, they prep the space to seat a large table of about ten people — more can be accommodated in St. Albert’s Enjoy Centre — who will be taken through an educational tasting and full 3-course meal that highlights how olive oils and balsamic vinegars can be used at home.

A booklet with lots of info on their products and the menu for the evening.

For $35 plus tax per person, we were taken through the proper way to taste olive oil using the strippaggio method (similar to how one might taste a fine wine). A dark blue tulip glass is cupped in the hands and warmed before taking a sip. With teeth clenched, you then have to suck air into the mouth until the oil hits the back of the throat. Doing so allows for the oil to be stripped and the flavour to be revealed. The difference between basic store bought extra virgin olive oil and the premium ones sold at Evoolution is staggering. Signs of an excellent olive oil come down to three things: smell, taste, and texture. Surprisingly, the colour and clarity doesn’t matter so much. What you are looking for is an earthy/grassy scent, a pepperiness on the tongue (high polyphenols, a.k.a. antioxidants, bring that out), and a smooth finish with no film or residue left in the mouth.

Better quality olive oils shouldn’t even list an expiry date. What needs to be indicated, though, is the crush date of the olives used to make the batch. It should last for 12 to 14 months after the bottle is opened without any issue. Still, it’s ideally consumed within 6 months since the freshness starts to break down as soon as it’s opened and continues to do so every time air comes into contact with the oil. Nonetheless, you’ll know if it has gone bad as olive oil does become rancid. We also learned that the best olive oils tend to have high smoke points because of their fatty acid content, making them fantastic for use at high heats of up to 450 degrees. That’s contrary to the myth that they are not to be used for cooking.

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

Next up on the agenda was an info session on balsamic vinegars. Honestly, it’d never crossed my mind to question what balsamic vinegar was made of. I was flabbergasted to find out that it’s made from grapes. White Trebbiano grapes to be exact. When crushed, the syrup from the grape juice is what is extracted, fermented and aged either in stainless steel or wooden barrels. The flavour, viscousness, and concentration of every balsamic vinegar is determined by the amount of time aged, evaporation of the liquid as it ages, and oxidization of the syrup when exposed to the barrel used. Lighter balsamic vinegars are usually processed in stainless steel or light wood barrels. Inkier ones are made using dark wood. Due to the fermentation of the product, they can easily last 3 years. I suspect, it’s also why balsamic vinegars have an effervescence when sipped on their own.

Don’t store either olive oil or balsamic vinegar in the fridge though. Condensation in the bottle can spoil them. Just keep them away from direct light and heat and they’ll be fine.

When we finished going over the finer points of each and had sampled half the store, that’s when dinner began. There was a platter of crusty bread to be eaten with our choice of oils and vinegars as well as four different tapenades. Evoolution’s famous truffle butter popcorn was served as well. I’m not a popcorn person, but I could eat a ton of that. Their butter olive oil is made with a plant extract, so it’s free of dairy. Yet, it tastes just like the real thing. Uncanny. To drink, we were given glasses of club soda mixed with their gravenstein apple balsamic vinegar. Turns out that balsamic vinegar is the perfect natural product to flavour water with. For anyone who uses drink crystals or those squeeze bottles to make their water taste “better,” you can stop doing that now.

Supper was more than filling. We were first presented with a spring salad with fresh mozzarella, basil pesto, and black currant balsamic vinegar. Our entrée consisted of an autumn wild rice pilaf — hearty winter veggies, dried cranberries, pumpkin seeds, olives, and butternut squash seed oil — likely made in their back room using a Crock-Pot and a hot plate (they don’t have a kitchen, so we were impressed). Dessert was an elaborate pumpkin pie cheesecake decorated with vermont maple balsamic candy.

As our host, Christine, pointed out, the menus are made on the fly. Usually they’re created on the day of the event, and the courses are determined by what kind of fresh ingredients are found at the grocery store. Having run these tasting sessions for quite some time, she was confident that within the last year they had yet to duplicate a menu or a single course. I declared that she may as well save me a spot every month because I’d be willing to spend the money on a meal like this regularly. Since they don’t prepare a menu in advance, it may be difficult for attendees to know if their dietary concerns can be accommodated. However, Christine assured us that once a ticket is bought, they can be contacted and informed of issues or allergies, so they can work within those parameters.

When we were finished eating, we were then able to shop the whole store at 15 per cent off. Considering Evoolution never really offers any sales, it’s certainly a plus to attend a tasting event just to get this bonus, particularly around the holiday season.

If you’re looking for something new to do in Edmonton and you like to eat, I highly encourage you to look into the next events at Evoolution. The cost of admission is well worth it. My friend and I learned so much about these kitchen staples while being “wined” and dined. It’s time that you experienced Evoolution like this, too.

Edmonton Things To Do: Art Gallery of Alberta Adult Drop-In Studio

Tons of Ideas by Vera Gartley

Earlier this summer, I was making plans with a friend of mine. Due to scheduling conflicts, it was somewhat difficult to find a time that worked for both of us to get together. Futhermore, I didn’t want to do our typical thing of just going for dinner or doing a Paint Nite event. So, I started to scour the internet for ideas of what else we could do in Edmonton.

Honestly, I don’t even know how I eventually ended up on the Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA) website, but I did. What I found is that they actually offer a weekly Adult Drop-In Studio every Wednesday night. While that particular day of the week didn’t work for her, I was intrigued and I wanted to check out a few of those sessions for myself. I gathered other friends of mine and I made it to three different classes over the span of September.

The first one I went to, I phoned ahead to reserve spaces for me and my friends because I wasn’t sure what kind of attendance to expect (there is a maximum of 20 spaces). You are able to hold spots the day of the drop-in, but you do have to provide payment info at that time. You can phone it in and pick up the tickets at guest services upon arrival at the gallery, or you can walk-in and pay in person.

Tickets are $18 plus tax per person and that includes all of the materials that you’ll be using. The price point is stellar for a two hour activity, especially when compared to the majority of other creative events running throughout the city.

As it turns out, reservations weren’t really necessary. Only half a dozen people showed up for printmaking the first night. Initially, there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of direction. The website had indicated that we would be doing lino carving with a theme of cityscapes. Yet, it pretty much turned into a freestyle situation in that we weren’t at all limited. Everyone was allowed to design whatever they wanted, and guidance only came into play once we started doing more of the printmaking itself.

In fact, I loved printmaking so much that I made my way to Delta Art & Drafting Supply that weekend in order to pick up all of the materials needed to do the same thing at home (I have a couple of special projects planned). Thankfully, there was a sale going on.

The following week, my colleague and I ventured out into the cold to make it to the AGA for their Floral Studies drop-in. We arrived a little bit late, but, once we paid, we managed to catch the group of about ten people as they were heading up to the galleries. The instructor for the night wanted us to take inspiration from an exhibit called Vanitas by artist Samantha Walrod. She turned the RBC Work Room (a studio-like residence space) from an empty gallery into several pieces of finished art that explored the idea of life and loss using floral imagery and the passing of time. Her work utilizes layering through multiple mediums like collage, ink and paint.

I was kind of hoping that we would be doing something similar to what we’d seen. Instead, the focus was more on learning to work with chalk pastels and acrylic paints together. Not quite what I expected. Still, I managed to learn some new ways of applying colour and paint to paper, as well as creating my own colours using pigments from the chalk pastels and mixing it with the acrylics.

Finished Japanese stab bounded books.

The final session that I made it to was about book binding. I failed to take photos during this one, but I do have a picture of the finished products. We were taught how to put our own travel journals together using just paper, a couple of binder clips, a push pin, a needle and some thread. We used a simple Japanese stab process, which is easily searchable on Google or YouTube. After we each completed two books, we took them up to the James Wilson Morris gallery where we practiced our sketching techniques (i.e. shading, blind contour, gesture, etc.).

All of these turned out to be fun in their own unique ways. I’ve got my eye on a silk screening class in early-November, but in the meantime, they have a variety of other drop-ins like plaster casting or slow stitch through October. Additionally, if you show up to the gallery early, you can take advantage of the All Access Evenings. Those happen every Tuesday and Wednesday from 5pm to 8pm and it grants all patrons entrance to the exhibits for free.

The Art Gallery of Alberta is definitely making an effort to increase the accessibility and affordability of art and art-related activities. Don’t miss out. Sure, not every workshop is going to call to you, but in the scope of a year, there’s bound to be something that will get your creative juices flowing. Keep an eye on the AGA calendar and carve out some time at this local gem of an institution.

Edmonton Things To Do: 4Cats Arts Studio

Me with my finished piece.

Recently, my friend and I wanted to get together to do something crafty. But, we didn’t know what. A number of events we’d found — everything from cross stitching to terrarium building — were just a bit too pricey. So, I did some digging. Eventually, I came across 4Cats Arts Studios.

The company, founded in Victoria, British Columbia, has been around since 2005. Within six years, they had franchised out their name and business structure to locations across Canada, the United States, and Australia. In the Edmonton area, there are now three studios. One is in St. Albert, the second is in the north of the city, and the third sits in the southeastern neighbourhood of Summerside (this is the one we went to).

They hold a variety of workshops for kids and adults where patrons can paint canvases, decorate mugs or bowls, create clay planters, or mould figurines. Prices are $25 per participant, but they offer two spots for $35 when registering together. Currently, it looks like a variety of sessions are available through to the end of June. Then, in the summer months of July to August, 4Cats will strictly be running summer camps.

The two of us ended up enrolling in a painting workshop called ‘I Dream In Gold.’ It took place on a Friday evening at 6:30pm. We bused it there from Century Park, which was quite convenient as transport stops right on the block of the storefront. Arriving a little early, we used the time to snap photos of the studio space. It’s bright and colourful, likely drawing the attention of the kids who come in for classes. There were rolled and stretched canvases tucked everywhere, too, probably awaiting pick up. 4Cats even has a number of branded products for sale, including tempera paints (regular and glitter), gold foil sheets, note books, figurine kits, etc.

Check out this fun room!

As the start time drew closer, we were taken to the back room. The three open walls (artfully splattered in paint) had been stapled with about a dozen square-shaped black canvas sheets. There were no chairs. This was standing only. If one isn’t too keen on putting their personal belongings out of sight in the adjoining area, I suggest wearing pants with pockets to hold phones and cards/cash (keep it light) as there isn’t really space to keep things nearby. Tucking items underneath the benches may be possible, but I didn’t try that. I decided to turn my jacket inside out and wrap it around my purse, letting those items sit on the bench below my canvas. It kind of worked for me. Still, there’s a chance of getting stuff dirty that way, so make a judgement call.

Other participants working on their pieces. They all turned out so differently!

Similar to Paint Nite, there is a host/instructor who will take everyone through the process of completing the piece step-by-step. She worked through faster and, when needed, she asked the participants to pause as she showed the next stage. This allowed us to go at our own pace while still seeing what was ahead. They actually had a number of  paint jars opened with a bunch of different colours available for use. Also, rather than brushes at 4Cats, for this workshop, we mostly used sponges to apply the colours. As a result, our hands were a total mess afterwards. To clean up, they had a washing station that consisted of a bucket of soapy water and a communal hand towel. I opted to use the sink in their washroom instead.

Once we were satisfied with our paint application, we grabbed some brushes, glue, and gold foil to decorate our canvases. I only used one metallic sheet, but several people opted to add more. The foil itself is super delicate, tending to break apart very easily as it’s manipulated. If there’s anything sticky on one’s hands, the gold will also stay there rather than adhering to the canvas. I do love how it brings dimension to the art though, and I’d be happy to try this medium again.

I think the whole workshop took a total of an hour and a half from beginning to end. Since the paints dry quickly, the art can be taken home on the same night. However, the canvas won’t be mounted or framed. Having it stretched on a wooden frame costs an additional $25 when the service is purchased the day of or $35 should one choose to return later. Leaving it behind for stretching means another trip back when it’s ready (my friend was told it could be about two to three weeks). I, on the other hand, chose to carry my canvas as is. I’ll figure out what to do with it on my own.

Considering the cost per person, 4Cats Arts Studio is quite affordable for a creative night out with friends or with the kiddos, especially if extra services aren’t required of 4Cats after the fact. It’s not really going to break the bank compared to many other crafty options in Edmonton, and it’ll get the artistic juices flowing all the same.

Edmonton Happenings: MINBID MINBattle 2018 Launch Party & Art Battle

Co-founder of MINBID, Michel Côté, was one of the artists drawn to participate.

From what I know, MINBID (short for Minimum Bid) has existed for at least 5 years in the underground art scene of Edmonton. The collective began as a gathering of local creators; it gave them an outlet to share work with their peers and the public. The showings doubled as auction events, too, providing a way for artists to gauge the value of their pieces based on the highest bid received.

The banner ad for their 2018 MINBattle.

One of the things that MINBID has become known for is their annual MINBattle. Friday, May 11 marked the launch of the 2018 series and my initial visit to one of their functions. Kicking off at Vacancy Hall (103 Avenue and 104 Street), sixteen artists registered, but only eight had the opportunity to compete through a lottery draw. There were two rounds of four contestants. Each person had an hour to complete a 24 inch x 24 inch canvas.

Audience members voted with tickets stubs dropped into each artist’s bucket. Bids for the finished pieces could also be placed on the cards.

A group of three to four judges circled the room as they all painted. Audience members even got to partake in the judging process with ticket stubs to be deposited as a vote towards their favourite in both rounds. Plus, all of the pieces were up for auction with bidding starting at $50 and going up in increments of $10. The selling price would count in the final tally of each artist’s score as well. Whoever prevailed in each round (we didn’t stay for the announcement of the winners) will move on to the final MINBattle later this summer.

Co-founder Darren Bolz DJ’d throughout the evening.

Speaking to Darren Bolz, one of the co-founders of MINBID and the evening’s DJ, we found out that this is the first time they’ve used this particular format. Usually they’ve only had two artists battle head-to-head on any given night. This year, they thought they’d change things up, bringing in multiple artists at a time with the top two at each battle duking it out in a huge showdown later this year.

For the launch event, the ticket price was $25 plus fees in advance through their website or Eventbrite. At the door, the cost was $30. Although notes on the Eventbrite page said the cost covers gallery membership, it’s not like buyers receive a card or anything. Ultimately, the money simply covers entrance and the open bar.

Bartender for the night was Christopher Hughes.

Speaking of the bar, it could have been a little more diverse. There were only four drinks available, which I realize is essential to keeping things easy for the organizers, especially in a space that isn’t equipped for bar service. However, the options were so-so, and there was only one non-alcoholic choice. It was a PC brand watermelon soda that was sweet. I think offering just a simple cup or bottle of water would have been appreciated. Not everyone wants something carbonated and sugary to drink. Water would have been a nice alternative to help cool off in the warm space.

The lighting in the space is dim to create a non-intimidating vibe for the artists, allowing them to work without feeling too exposed.

They also struggled a bit with lighting in the basement of the Mercer Warehouse. In order to keep the vibe, the lighting has to be relatively dim. Nevertheless, it’s equally as important to allow enough brightness for the artists, which means there’s a balancing act that’s required. Being that this is a nighttime event, the place emptied out quite a bit by the second round. Yes, it’s unfortunate that people didn’t stick around to watch it all unfold. But, if I’m being honest, I was happy for the extra breathing room.

The participating artists were allowed to paint whatever they wanted within the allotted time, leaving it open ended. Still, if they haven’t already done this in the past, I think it could be very interesting to see them paint to a specified theme. It’d add another dimension to the competition. Additionally, for those not already in the Edmonton art industry and who didn’t know the competitors personally, it would have been beneficial for the emcee to announce the names of the artists before they started each battle

There was only one person, Peter Gegolick, who blatantly advertised himself and had a sort of “I don’t give a shit” attitude as he painted while wearing sunglasses. He actually had a finished piece of art already hanging on the gallery wall with an asking minimum bid of $700 (his battle piece could have been purchased for less than $100). The rest of them were pretty low key. While their first names were listed on the bidding cards, their last names weren’t always there, so it was otherwise hard to follow-up on some of the artists after the fact.

Another piece from Michel Côté was hanging in the MINBID gallery for sale.

I understand that one of the goals of these parties is to assist artists in determining how their work should be priced. It’s a bit of a catch-22 to do that though. I mean, it’s entirely reliant upon the audience that shows up. If there are people with the income and they happen to like the work they see, there’s a chance that a piece will go for much more. But, based on this particular event, I’d say it was mostly a youthful crowd that didn’t necessarily have the money to burn. Most didn’t seem willing to shell out the extra cash after what they spent on the actual event ticket.

The 2016 MIN Royale breakdown.

Maybe I’m wrong and it was an anomaly, or maybe they simply didn’t like what they saw. Either way, this aspect kept the number of bids to a minimum and kept the overall price of the bids low with most going for under $100. For comparison, I looked at how much battle auction pieces went for back in 2016. Of the 30 creations born out of MINBattle events, a dozen sold for over $150. That included one from my favourite artist of the 2018 launch night, Reece Schulte, that went for a cool $450.

I loved his dynamic Edmonton skyline piece so much that I put a couple of bids on it to the tune of $90 (this was a total steal). I left my name and number on the bidding card and walked away. Since the art is still wet on the evening of the event, they just phone or text the winning bidder to make arrangements for pickup and payment (either cash or credit is accepted) over the following week. Sadly, I didn’t end up hearing from MINBID by the end of the weekend, so I assumed someone else swooped in at the last second to snag it. Then, to my surprise, I received a message on Monday afternoon. It turns out that the person who outbid me couldn’t be reached, so it went to the next highest bidder! I’m super excited to add Reece’s work to my modest art collection.

Aside from the late start (listed as 9:00pm, yet didn’t truly begin until 10:30pm) and the crowdedness of the venue during the first round of the evening, my fiancé and I left with an awesome appreciation of what MINBID and MINBattle had to offer. Sure, I initially felt a little out of place. The majority of the other attendees came across as younger and artsier than me.

Nonetheless, MINBattle certainly made for a different kind of date night where we got to experience something new to us. We had some drinks, danced to music, mingled with the artists, and watched canvases come to life. What I like best is that it’s an excellent way to potentially find and buy art for an affordable price.

The next MINBattle event date is still to be determined. Make sure to sign up for their newsletter through the MINBID website to be kept in the loop. In the meantime, think about attending their Udell X & MINBID Collaboration (buy tickets here). Two parties will take place at the Udell Xhibitions Gallery (103 Avenue and 124 Street) on June 22 and 23. Any art aficionado won’t be disappointed. I know that we’re definitely looking forward to our second outing.

UX MB Art Xhibition + Auction

Edmonton Things To Do: Plant Nite

Plants arranged in my sloped bowl.

Almost three years ago, I attended my very first Paint Nite with one of my best friends. What’s Paint Nite? Well, this company out of the States recruits artists/entrepreneurs in numerous cities to lead group painting sessions at local bars and restaurants. The premise is that attendees can grab a drink, order a bit of food, and then have a fun, uninhibited evening where creativity flows. After a couple of hours, everyone usually walks away, art in hand, feeling accomplished at their skills. I love(d) these events so much. I’ve probably been to at least a dozen and a half Paint Nites, eventually buying myself an easel, paints, canvases, and brushes to work at home, too.

Then, early last year, ads for something called Plant Nite started popping up on my social media feeds. Succulents and terrariums are all the rage right now, and it seemed that the creators of Paint Nite were cashing in on the trend with new workshops. At the time, there weren’t any sessions happening in Edmonton, but there are now!

Groupon started selling vouchers for Plant Nite either late 2017 or at the beginning of 2018. I was eager to buy a coupon, so I could go. Yet, when I first checked out the available listings on the website, most of the events had already sold out and additional dates were uploaded at a snail’s pace. Eventually, more workshops were opened up and I was able to register using a Groupon deal (regularly $29; watch out for promo codes to receive extra discounts of up to 25 per cent off).

It’s important to note that, when signing up with a voucher, the base cost of the session ($45) is discounted from the total price. What remains to be paid at the end of the transaction is the materials fee and tax. It typically works out to about $17 on top of what was paid for the coupon. Also, watch out for ones marked as “Special” or “Fundraiser” as vouchers cannot be redeemed towards those.

The Almanac’s back room was the perfect venue for Plant Nite.

Like Paint Nite, Plant Nite events take place all over the city and surrounding areas, so choose a location that works best. A friend and I attended one at The Almanac on Whyte Avenue. It was an ideal spot as their whole back room was set up just for us. Tables fit about four to six people with supplies laid out for easy access. While the hosts could have zipped through the process, getting us in and out within an hour from start to finish, they took it step by step.

Drainage rock and soil are the base of the planter.

We found ourselves on a two hour journey, receiving an education on how to properly layer our planters: use a base that allows for drainage, top it with about an inch to an inch and a half of soil for water and root retention, carefully break off the old soil from the plants — sourced from an Alberta grower — to nest them into the fresh soil, and then decorate.

A trays of succulents were given to each table as they worked on their terrariums.

Each person was given three succulents for their terrarium: String of Pearls, Baby Jade, and Echeveria. I love these dessert plants as they’re hearty. But, I have to say that, after about a month taking care of my bowl at home, I’m slightly concerned about my String of Pearls. As cute as the little vines are, one strand is dying. I think the low baring roots are having a hard time grasping the soil without me covering up much of the plant completely in the dirt and sand.

The last part, decorating, was enjoyable as we got to visit a separate station where we were able to paint river rocks. They also provided a variety of coloured moss, rocks, sand, and figurines, so we could craft our bowls into something uniquely ours. Every single planter looked different. I opted to top mine with bright orange sand, a modernly painted rock, bunches of moss, and a little owl.

My friend’s adorable creation.

Before we left, we were given instructions on how to keep our terrarium healthy. Night one requires two squirts of water around the base of each plant. The next evening, each plant should get a tablespoon of water at the base. A week later, take it up a notch with an ounce of water per plant (I actually found it was a little much). Then, walk away for three to four weeks, checking periodically to ensure that the soil shows a soft soak (only the top half should be wet).

Cardboard boxes that had housed our empty glass bowls were handed out at the end of the night, providing a practical and stable way of carrying our creations home. Had anyone been questioning the materials fee before, I don’t think they would have again after seeing the amount of work that goes into Plant Nite. There are tons of supplies that the host and their assistant need to cart around, unpack, and carry out. It’s a bit ridiculous at how much they have to consider, but they really did an awesome job.

My finished terrarium with all that orange sand.

If I could change anything, I would have thought twice about covering the whole top of my bowl with sand. Although it gives it a pretty sheen, it tends to shift more easily. With a sloped glass bowl, water also runs right down over the sand before it sinks below causing water to pool on one side rather than soaking in evenly. To help avoid that issue, I usually hold the bowl in one hand so that the opening is flat and I do my best to water around the base of the plants, allowing the liquid to soak before I place it back on the table.

Time will tell whether or not I will be able to sustain this piece of living art. I’ll definitely do my best to keep it perky. In the meantime, my next Plant Nite workshop is scheduled for mid-June at Fargo’s.

There are actually a number of great events running through June. Surprisingly, tickets aren’t disappearing as quickly anymore, so it’s easier to partake now. I suggest grabbing a friend, family member, or a whole group. Along with beverages, snacks, trivia, prizes, and music, it’s an excellent way to bond, get a little dirty, and to flex one’s green thumbs (or lack of).