Things We Like Fridays

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah, friends!

We had coffee yesterday at deVille in Fashion Central, for what’s becoming an annual Toque Girl tradition to exchange Christmas gifts and catch up before the holidays. In true Chris and Michelle style, we showed up wearing nearly identical outfits, from our turquoise tops and black pants to our small metallic earrings. (This was unplanned, of course.) We would have taken a picture of ourselves to accompany this blog post, but thought it best to avoid looking like total idiots.

Instead, we took a picture of our nearly identical Christmas gifts, which, when pulled out of our bags, sent us into hysterics. There is a reason we’re such good friends.

Fun Christmas gifts aside, here’s what’s making us smile this week: 

  • Chris is a big fan of The Guardian’s music writers. They’ve led her to some great discoveries over the years (Mumford and Sons, British Sea Power are examples.) To get a taste, check out their list of the best songs of 2011.
  • Michelle is a big fan of not having to hire a crane to hoist a new couch to her balcony, as she did last year at this time. (Here’s the refresher, complete with photos.) She was so traumatized, she may never buy new furniture again.
  • Yum! We’re eyeing these pumpkin gingerbread pancakes for Christmas morning.
  • Here’s an unusual take on this year in news — 2011 in Lego.
  • Word nerd alert! Check out these games.
  • *Stomach growling.* This recipe for healthy fudge, from ayurvedic medicine practitioner Simmi Latulippe at Inliv gym, looks outstanding.
  • Friends of Shayna Conway, the lone survivor from last week’s tragedy outside Claresholm, Alberta, have set up a trust fund. You can donate here.
  • Head out to the slopes or the trails over the holidays? Chris recently wrote a piece on healthy snacks for winter adventures for the Calgary Herald. Here’s an earlier article, too, on preventing ski injuries.
  • Last but not least, we love – and are so grateful to – all of our readers, commenters, media peeps and public relations friends. Thanks for being so awesome and supportive this year. We wish you all the best in 2012!

On that note, we’ll be back on Tuesday, Jan. 3. Till then, take good care and eat lots of gingerbread and Toffifee. We sure will.

~The Toque Girls

p.s. Here’s what was underneath all that beautiful wrapping. Hooray for fantastic holiday reading!



Last Minute Homemade Gifts

I feel the ho-ho-holiday panic in the air. Rather, I read it on the blog. We had plenty of hits yesterday from people searching “homemade Christmas presents” and — less often, but still there — “how to make Christmas booze.”*

Yep. Hard-hitting stuff.

We Toque Girls aim to please. So here you go — a last minute make-it-yourself gift that can spread jolly, mirth and other things Yuletide.

My mom and I spent an afternoon earlier this week mixing up what I call “Meze in A Jar.” You’ve got your good quality feta cheese, kalamata olives, roasted peppers — all kinds of Greek goodness mixed into one. You’ll need garlic, oregano, dried chili, fresh basil, feta cheese, olives and roasted red peppers (you can roast them yourself or buy store-bought. I won’t tell.) Here is the recipe we used. Good luck!


* If you’re really set on homemade Christmas booze, my Auntie Mary often makes her own home Irish Cream whiskey. Mix 1 can condensed milk, 1 1/2 cups of Irish whiskey, 1 cup table cream, 3 eggs, 1 tsp. chocolate syrup and 1/2 tsp. coconut extract.



Stocking Stuffers

The Toque Girls recently went on a fun little shopping spree for stocking stuffers. *Look away, anyone we’re filling stockings for!*

Full disclosure here: London Drugs sent us each a gift certificate to use for the holidays, so we met at LD on 8th St. SW to peruse our options. Free shopping sprees make Toque Girls happy. See?

Shopping with Chris was fantastic, because it totally broadened my stocking stuffing horizons. I typically grab chocolates, magazines and sports things, like workout-friendly headbands; she loads up on nail polishes, hand creams and lip glosses. The following are just a few of the things we came across and picked up for loved ones.

A festive nail polish for girls:

A healthy breakfast cereal for vegans:

And a post-workout treat for the gym-goers, which may be too big for stockings but is definitely worth leaving under the tree:

Perhaps we picked up a thing or two for ourselves, as well. We figure if we say they’re from Santa, no one will know the difference.



A Drink List for the Holidays

I’m so excited about this post!

You know that person who always has incredible recommendations for wine? For Michelle and I, that person is Shelley Boettcher, executive editor of Wine Access magazine and author of Uncorked!: The Definitive Guide to Alberta’s Best Wines Under $25. (It’s a great gift. Go pick up a copy at Chapters.)


Shelley very kindly completed a Toque Girls questionnaire on booze for you, dear readers. We gave her ten scenarios in which we’re likely to want to a drink in hand and she told us what she’d be quaffing in said scenario.

Grab your pens (or your iPad, iphone, iwhatever) and take notes! You’re going to want this list at the liquor store.

1. A drink for trimming the tree on a cold, snowy night

 Maybe you’ve decorated your tree. Maybe you haven’t. But if you’re looking for a great bottle for tree-decorating, or simply for a cold night, try Port. Any Port, depending on your budget, as long as it’s the real deal, from Portugal. Leave some for Santa, too, because, really, we all know the fat guy in red doesn’t really want milk with his cookies.
2.  And for Boxing Day evening when you’re wearing sweatpants and doing the giant Globe and Mail crossword with your brother
Melange Red, by Waterbrook; it’s about $14 a bottle, easy to find and easy to drink. It’s available at Zyn.ca. Or look for the Chianti Classico Riserva from Castello di Gabbiano; this smooth, rich Italian red retails for about $25 a bottle and is widely available, including select Calgary Co-op Wine & Spirits locadtions.
3.   A bottle for your friends who always invite you to their place for impeccable dinners and who make wonderful homemade Christmas gifts
I suggest the Brancaia Tre, 2006 (Christmas label). The red “Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year label is so festive, you only need to add a ribbon and a card, and you’re ready to go. About $23 at CSN Wine & Spirits, Cork Fine Wine, Spirits and Ale, Enoteca, Eau Claire Wine Market, Ferocious Grape, Highlander Wine & Spirits, Kensington Wine Market, Wine Ink, and, in Canmore, at Cellar Door, and in Medicine Hat at 8th Street Liquor.
4.  Midnight on New Year’s Eve
If you’re on a budget, pick up a bottle of Veuve du Vernay, Brut, NV (non-vintage). You’ll pay about $14 for these bargain bubbles. Widely available, including select Real Canadian Liquor Stores, select Calgary Co-op Wines & Spirits, select Liquor Depot locations, Highlander Wine & Spirits, Willow Park Wines & Spirits and Zyn.ca.
5. Wine for Christmas dinner
It isn’t too late to pick up a bottle of the Grgich Hills 2008 Estate-Grown Chardonnay, from Napa Valley. A perfect pairing for turkey, this full-bodied classic California Chardonnay costs about $50 a bottle and is widely available, including Safeway (Garrison Gate), select Calgary Co-op Wines & Spirits, Crowfoot Wines & Spirits, Willow Park Wines & Spirits and Zyn.ca.
6.  Canadian wine as a gift for an American friend
If I could give a little-known Canadian wine as a gift, I would give something, anything, from Orofino, in British Columbia’s Similkameen Valley. Alas, the organic winery’s creations aren’t yet available in Alberta, so my friends will have to wait until the next time I’m in BC to stock up. In the mean time, I’ll hand out Alibi, from Black Hills Estate Winery, for my white wine-loving friends; and the red wine fans will get the Black Hills Syrah. Alibi’s about $50 a bottle, while the Syrah goes for about $35. Both are fairly widely available, including Highlander Wine & Spirits, and Willow Park Wine & Spirits.
7.    A wine that’s great price and perfect for stocking over the season
The stock-up wine for party season? Apothic Red. Widely available, about $14 a bottle (but I’ve seen it as low as $10 a bottle.)  From California, this easy-going red blend has super-soft tannins and great fruit, and it pairs with practically everything — pizza, pasta, grilled meats — or you can just drink it by itself. Maybe not one for wine snobs, but the rest of us will suck it back and ask for more. Very widely available, including Calgary Co-op Wines & Spirits, Liquor Depot, Northmount Wine & Spirits and Zyn.ca.
8.  The first thing you’d order after a long day of skiing or snowshoeing (or something you’d take with you)
Going skiing? Or snowshoeing? And you want something to keep you warm on a cold day? Try a cognac. Made in France’s Cognac region from white wine, it’s a spirit that can be used in cocktails, or enjoyed by itself on a cold day. Beautiful. I suggest Remy Martin VSOP, which is widely available and retails for about $55 a bottle, but if your budget can handle it, try an XO – it will be even smoother and more beautiful.


9.  A beer for that handsome boy who likes cool, little-known microbreweries
 I can’t imagine Christmas without some Wild Rose Cherry Porter; brewed in Calgary, it’s a rich, fragrant dessert in a glass. About $12 for a 750-ml bottle. Or, if a trip to Banff is in the cards, stop by the Banff Avenue Brewing Co. to pick up a selection of artisan-brewed treats. Or try a mixed six-pack of rare and unusual beers from your nearest wine store. A few to consider: Something from Innis & Gunn, Fuller’s or Achouffe. All good, very good.
10. A drink for a long conversation with a friend you haven’t seen in ages
What better way to reconnect than over wine? I suggest a bottle of Beso de Vino, from Grandes Vinos y Vinedos(Carinena, Spain). This medium-bodied, easy-drinking red is loaded with flavour. The cartoon bull on the label is named “Antonio, and the word “beso” means “kiss” in Spanish — perfect for patching up a rocky friendship, or rekinding a new one. It’ll retail for about $13 at Aspen Wine & Spirits, The Cellar, CSN Wine &Spirits and Sunnyside Liquor.


Now get thee to the liquor store. Thanks, Shelley! We’ll have a toast in your honour.



Eggnog Martinis

On Saturday night, while at a martini-themed Christmas party, I was searching for an easy eggnog martini recipe. And oh, did I find one. This martini was like holiday happiness in a glass.

As opposed to most cocktail recipes we came across, this one called for only three ingredients: vanilla vodka, eggnog and nutmeg. S. did she martini-shaking and pouring; I followed him around and added a dash of nutmeg to the top of everyone’s drink. Check out the final result:

Eggnog Martini*

  • 1 1/2 parts vanilla vodka
  • 4 parts eggnog
  • Dash of nutmeg
Mix all the ingredients together with ice in a martini shaker. Strain into martini glasses and top with another dash of nutmeg. Extra points if you serve this wearing a Santa hat, as S. did on Saturday night.

*I’d cite the source if I could find it. Alas, we browsed many recipes that night and I can’t recall where it’s from. The martinis I consumed had nothing to do with the memory lapse, I’m sure.