Cocktails at RAW: almond

This past week I had the opportunity to sip beautifully crafted cocktails on the frozen river as part of RAW: almond's cocktail bar experience.

The first run of this incredibly unique pop-up was in January of 2013, and each year, they're gaining momentum. Tickets for the full five-course dinner have been sold out for weeks, but you can still grab a seat at the skate-up brunch over the weekend or snag tickets to the cocktail bar.
Tickets go live at 8am with three seatings - 5:30, 7:30 and 9:30pm every day. The experience kicks off with a shot of vodka followed by three exquisite cocktails, paired with three amuse-bouches. Each night features different premier Winnipeg chefs and bartenders at the top of their game. Our cocktails were made by Josie of deer + almond, and each one was more delicious than the last, with complex flavours and flawless presentation.
If you're lucky enough to nab a seat, eat before you go, since the food is light and the drinks are strong; and walk over, bus or get a ride.

Fine Oils and Vinegars at Frescolio

Over the last year and a half, local business Frescolio has been bringing unique, high quality oils and balsamic vinegars to the Corydon area. Frescolio emphasizes quality and freshness. Olives are harvested and crushed seasonally, so the origin of the oil is dependent upon the time of year, which optimizes freshness and taste. Also, bottles are poured to order. After you've tasted and chosen what you'd like, they pour you a bottle directly from the vacuum sealed fusti (the stainless steel container where the oils and vinegars are stored). The staff are incredibly knowledgeable and will lead you through a tasting, make recommendations, and even offer tips for ways to use their products in your cooking.

I first visited Frescolio back in November, while researching for my Corydon Village neighbourhood post. Up until that point, I didn't even know that specialty olive oil and balsamic vinegar shops existed. I typically just buy olive oil at the grocery store. But after tasting the oils and vinegars at Frescolio, and learning more about the products from manager Chantal, I'm becoming something of a convert.

Tell me a little bit about your supplier and where your oils and vinegars come from. Our oil and vinegar supplier is Veronica Foods, and they’re based in California. They supply over 500 stores in North America, but each one is independently owned and operated. The Extra Virgin Olive Oils (EVOO’s) come from all over the world based on the season. For our Varietals (unflavoured EVOO), we order only from the most recent harvest, either from the Northern Hemisphere or  the Southern Hemisphere depending on the time of year. We’re right on the cusp of that shift now as we are beginning to get the freshest oils from Spain, Greece, North Africa and California, while still getting a few from Chile, Australia and Peru to round out our selection. The balsamic vinegars all come from Modena, Italy, one of two provinces in that country where the making of balsamic vinegar is governed by regulation. 

Can you explain some of the benefits of the oils and vinegars you carry over grocery store brands? 
Our olive-oil is UP (Ultra-Premium) certified, which means that it exceeds the International Olive Council’s quality standards and testing. We also post the chemical analysis, crush dates, and country of origin of each of our Varietals right on the front of the fusti (stainless steel containers we dispense from). This ensures that you’re getting the highest quality olive oil as well as all those great health benefits you’ve read about. High standards also exist for our balsamic vinegars, which are made without the use of artificial flavourings or additives. The grade we carry, called “condimento,” made entirely of natural ingredients, is second only to “tradizionale” grade (extremely expensive – available from us by special order), and vastly superior to commercial grade balsamic which is what’s generally sold in grocery stores and is often wine vinegar with colouring, thickening and sweetening added. Our balsamic vinegar is aged in wood barrels using the Solera Method, which ensures that you get the right texture and smooth taste. Aside from the technical part of it, our oils and vinegars simply taste better than grocery store brands! That’s why we’re a tasting bar – we know that when customers taste the difference, they become regulars.

Any cooking suggestions? What are some unexpected uses you've found for oil and vinegar in cooking? 
We have lots of our favourite recipes on our website! There’s a common misconception that you can’t cook with olive-oil, which is a reputation based on low quality olive oil which does have a lower smoke point. However, since our product is of such a high quality, it can withstand heat and makes for an excellent choice for sautéing, baking, grilling or marinating. Many people are surprised to know that EVOO is a healthy substitute for butter in baking – we even have a butter-flavoured oil!  One of the most unexpected uses I’ve found balsamic vinegar is in drinks! Some of the fruitier white balsamic vinegars such as the Peach, Pomegranate-Quince, Grapefruit, and Cara-Cara Orange-Vanilla are fantastic in a cocktail with a bit of vodka and soda. It also works nicely in sparkling water for a refreshing non-alcoholic option!
A huge thank you to Chantal for taking the time to talk with me and teach me about these exciting and absolutely delicious products.

The Thermëa Experience

I have been excited for Thermëa's opening since I first heard about them last winter, and I was absolutely thrilled when general manager Frederic Jenni invited me down for a tour. The moment I walked into the building and saw the massive windows overlooking the pools and huts in the centre courtyard, I knew I was in for a special treat. 

Thermëa uses relaxation techniques from the Nordic region. Each guest is welcomed to cycle through three modes: hot, with a choice between a Finnish sauna and scented steam rooms; cold, in either a temperate pool (21 degrees Celsius) or a cold pool (10 degrees Celsius); and relaxation, in a hot tub, the relaxation rooms or one of the outdoor social relaxation areas. The adrenaline produced by moving from hot to extreme cold gives you a rush that is converted into endorphins when you move into relaxation. Frederic described it as a "runners high without running the marathon," and I have to agree.
A few days after my tour with Frederic, my friend Carly and I tried out the entire thermal experience. On this particular evening, Winnipeg was under an extreme weather warning with the windchill bringing temperatures to the minus 40 region, so we definitely experienced the cold side of things :)
We began by relaxing in the dry sauna for fifteen minutes. Next, we approached the 10 degree pool thinking 10 degrees didn't sound that cold, but be warned, it's exceptionally cold. The first time we literally screamed and I felt as if the breath had been sucked from my lungs. We plunged in, all the way under, and then quickly scrambled out and practically ran to relax in the hot tub. After some recovery and conversation there, we headed over to the scented steam rooms to begin the cycle again. The eucalyptus smelled wonderful and healing. We headed back to the 10 degree cold pool, determined not to scream. This time, I was able to appreciate the pounding of my heart and the absolute feeling of exhilaration after I emerged from the pool. We walked for the hot tub and then to the outdoor relaxation area to cozy up by the fire and chat. Afterwards, we spent time in the orange scented steam room. I felt so relaxed and I was able to breath in so deeply. It felt like the end of a strenuous hot yoga session, but without any sore muscles. We spent a few minutes exfoliating our skin with scented salts and then went back to steam up and get nice and warm before heading for the cold. Going back to the cold pool for a final time was still shocking, but gave me such a rush. We decided to take a dip in the hot tub for a few minutes before heading to the relaxation rooms. Once there, we laid on warm mats and listened to music. Carly read. I felt so completely calm and unwound. We decided to give the temperate pool (eleven degrees warmer than the cold pool) a try. This was still certainly cold, but was more refreshing than shocking, like when you take a swim in a cool lake in the early summer. After one final dip in the hot tub, we spent more time in the relaxation area, lying on warm stone and just soaking up the benefits of the whole experience.

On the drive home I felt totally relaxed, alert and a little hungry. And boy did a sleep well that night.

A few quick facts about Thermëa
The spa officially opens with full services on January 15th (although they've had a soft open for the thermal experience since December 20th), and they will be adding more social and relaxation areas in the woods in the summer, including hammocks and hanging chairs out in the trees.

Bring a bathing suit, water bottle (no glass), rubber or plastic sandals and a robe, although all of these items can be purchased and/or rented from reception.

Leave yourself a minimum of two hours for the entire experience (we took three) so that you can really try everything out. Thermëa recommends cycling through the hot, cold and relaxation three times for maximum benefits (they'll give you a colour coded map at reception), but the whole program is self guided so you can figure out what you like best.

If you're able, definitely try the cold pool - the shot of adrenalin is worth the shocking cold, but keep in mind that you can use the temperate pool as a more gentle back up. Thermëa also recommends some other milder alternatives, like standing under the cold waterfall instead of immersing yourself completely in the cold pool, or in winter, simply walking between the pavilions will lower your body temperature. 

You can try out the thermal experience without a reservation, but if you want to add a massage or body treatments, Thermëa recommends reserving two weeks in advance to avoid disappointment.

The thermal experience is only 45$ from Monday to Thursday, which to my mind is a very reasonable price considering the quality of services and facilities together with the true uniqueness of the entire experience. (The price is 49$ if you wish to visit from Friday to Sunday).

Take note of the wooden art and furniture throughout the main building, treatment areas and restaurant; it was made by local artist Jamie Kucey, of Inaka Custom Furniture and Art, and features a lot of reclaimed wood from Manitoba.

Have any of you had a chance to try out Thermëa yet? I'd definitely recommend it and would not hesitate to say that it's the best spa experience I've had so far.

A Super-Late Local Christmas Guide

On the off chance you still have some Christmas season shopping to do (no judgment, I belong in this category), here are a few goods you can buy around Winnipeg that are making me feel like holiday times.

Candles from Barletta Beeswax smell great, clean the air in your home and burn so beautifully.
I can't wait to give these cute little moccasins from Ulla and Viggo to my friend (who just had a baby) as a Christmas/shower gift. They're just about the cutest thing ever, great quality and really reasonably priced.
And for Christmas cards I decided to go handmade this year. I picked up some lovely textured paper from Cre8ive and an alphabet stamp box and stamp pad from Tiny Feast. It's an affordable way to give out a lot of cards, and there's a nice personal touch without hours of effort on my part.

I hope you enjoy your Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, Solstice or whatever you choose to celebrate. Thanks for following along with me this year; I'm so excited about what I have in store for you all in twenty fifteen!

Winnipeg Neighbourhood Guide 4: Corydon Village and Grosvenor

I've been wrestling with the Corydon Village neighbourhood post for weeks. 

I spent two years living right in the heart of the Corydon strip, and I know it to be an absolutely beautiful neighbourhood. The historic old homes are lovely, and exploring the local shops with Sybil from Animated Confessions a few weeks back gave me newfound appreciation for the charming local business in the area. But it also has its pitfalls. The main strip along Corydon is dotted with quite a number of mediocre restaurants, popular largely due to their locations. And while there are a number of excellent, well-established businesses in the area and some new and exciting spaces, there are also spots that see a lot of turnover. 

Winnipeggers are known to have a love/hate relationship with their city. And in a way, Corydon Village is emblematic of that struggle. It showcases some of the best that Winnipeg has to offer, but there are a number of spots that leave you with, "This could be so cool," "If only..." "Well in other cities..."

So in this post, I want to focus on that best part. And that means there are a number of relatively popular spots that I've left off this post. If you disagree with me, great!, use the comments section below and change my mind. I love Winnipeg, and I fall more and more in love with it the further along I get in this series. I'm always open to hearing your suggestions :)
Enjoy prairie fine dining at Mise
The service is excellent and the food is flavourful and delicious. I would particularly recommend sharing a few of the Mise Samplers with friends. It's a great way to explore the menu.

Unleash your inner Parisian at The Frenchway Cafe
Grab a delightfully crunchy baguette and cycle over to Munson park for a picnic in the warmer months. Bonus points if your bicyclette has a basket and a bell.

Cheer on European footballers and chow down on pub grub at The Grove
They have the kind of burgers that once you've picked it up, all you can do is hang on for dear life. By the end you'll be holding the crumbly, delightful remains of one of the best burgers the city has to offer. Bring a companion who doesn't care if you have ketchup on your face (but will let you know nicely before the meal is over) and keep the napkins close at hand.

Carbo-load at Cafe Carlo 
Enjoy rich and saucy pastas in this inviting space. Go ahead an unbutton that top button before you order.
Appreciate design with a coffee in hand at MAKE Coffee + Stuff
Owner Jay has put together an eclectic yet minimalist space with iconic, well-designed furniture and a constant rotation of design exhibits showcasing young and often local talent.

Taste the best buttercream frosting of your life at Lilac Bakery
I'm not even joking about the buttercream frosting. I would never joke about buttercream frosting. Their cupcakes are arguably the best in the city.

Feel like a kid again at Sugar Mountain
With an incredible selection of bulk candy (it's all the same price, so you can mix a bag of all your favourites) and a swath of retro and hard to find candy, this is one fun, old-school candy shop. Cheap, no, but an experience worth having. Bring a kid and make their day/week/month.

Down gobs of gelato at Eva's
They have more traditional flavours like pistachio and dulce de leche alongside decadent options like chocolate or wild berry cheesecake.

Garb yourself in quality menswear at Normandy Shop
Owners Amanda and Chris really put the time in to find quality designers and unique items you can't buy anywhere else in Winnipeg. They're also incredibly friendly and don't mind one bit if you (secretly) just dropped by to visit Norman, the shop pup.

Browse the beautiful and eclectic selection of pottery goods at The Stoneware Gallery
This pottery-artist collective is a truly interesting spot to shop and they offer an incredible variety of styles and finishes to suit various tastes. You can also take a class with them and take home your very own clay creation.

Decorate your home with gorgeous greenery from The Green Scene
With an amazing selection of tropical and indoor plants, let the ladies help you find the right plant to suit your light levels and watering memory. Even people like me whose windows face directly onto another building and chronically forget to water their plants can find something here :)

Go all Nancy Drew at Whodunit
I'm thoroughly charmed by this eccentric new and used book store that exclusively sells mystery novels.

Put some luxury on under your clothes at Gravity Lingerie
Whether you want to swath your private bits in lace, cozy up in a luxurious terry cloth robe or fancify your feet in Happy Socks (great patterns, super cozy and long wearing), you'll definitely leave with something that will make you feel that extra little bit special.
Change the way you see oil and vinegar at Frescolio
Do yourself a favour and ask the knowledgeable staff show you how to do a tasting of their many delicious and sometimes unexpected olive oils and balsamic vinagers. I'm never putting plain old grocery store oil and vinegar on my salads again. Seriously, it's that good.

Pick up the necessities at Corydon Hardware
My go-to anytime I need to get a lamp rewired, this charming little local hardware store (one of the few left in the city) is a favourite of mine. That sign just screams Winnipeg to me.

Get your skate on at Green Apple
I'm no boarder, but for those of you with better co-ordination/skill/general ability to manoeuvre physically than I, Green Apple has some great decks and clothing.

Treat your furry friend at Hip Pooch
Honestly, I hate putting clothes on my dog. I feel a wee bit silly and he looks so miserable. But in Winnipeg, it's definitely necessary this time of year. The Hip Pooch carries some sleek, nicely designed stuff, so at least the poor guy looks good :)

Outfit your feet at the Cha Cha Palace
The ladies bring in designers like Frye, Fly London and sometimes even Irregular Choice. You'll find foot ware that will truly set you apart at a variety of price points.

Selim's Antiques
A stunning selection of quality china and glassware and a gentlemanly owner who will charge you a fair price.

Just walk the streets
Admire the lights along Corydon Ave or appreciate the character of the many beautiful old homes along the side streets

As always, please leave me any comments below. I love hearing from you! I also just want to note that I focused on the streets wedged among Confusion Corner, Pembina, Wellington Cresent and Stafford for this post. Other great Corydon business further west will be featured in upcoming posts!