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 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.