I was planning on blogging about this much earlier but real life got in the way. Anyways, I just have to say I had a pretty fantastic weekend and wanted to share it with y’all. So what did I do? I spent Saturday with tons of interesting people at the Eat Alberta conference that was held at NAIT. Eat Alberta is organized by Suzanne Dennis, Ming Franks, Valerie Lugonja, Mack Male, Nicole Schroth, Allan Suddaby and Sharon Yeo and they did an amazing job! I had just a great day meeting people I talk to on twitter (in real life!) and putting faces to names – I even learned how to make stuff!
My day started early and fortified with a cup of coffee, I headed up to NAIT for a continental breakfast (and more coffee) and registration. All the baked goods were produced by NAIT students and they were so good – I thought about sneaking a few slices of banana bread home but I didn’t bring a purse (there was nowhere to store everyone’s belongings in the kitchens), so no bread for me.
Our morning keynote was presented by Danny and Shannon Ruzicka from Nature’s Green Acres about their experiences on their grass fed farm. It was interesting to hear about everything they do – it is incredibly hard work, for instance they move their chicken pens twice a day – I always assumed that the chickens lived a little house and then were let out to run around for their food (who knew chickens were so lazy?!), but the passion Danny and Shannon have for what they do was evident and certainly makes me re-think the costs of conventional meats versus grass fed meat (not gonna lie – particularly loved the cost analysis – what is included in the price of each type of meat?).
After that enlightening keynote, I headed off to my first class of the day: Pasta Making. A long time ago, I bought a pasta maker for $20 at Stokes and have used it once so I definitely wanted to take this class and start cranking out my own pasta. Kathryn Joel of Get Cooking is a great instructor! She is so personable and informative – I can totally imagine how much fun one of her Get Cooking classes would be. Pasta making was not nearly as complicated as I thought it would be and I think that learning how to knead the dough with my hands worked out better than if I had machine to help – now I know what it’s supposed to feel like! I was a little busy making pasta so not many photos but here is my rolled out pasta before it turned into pappardelle.
My second class of the day was Macaron Making with Connie Nelson who is Mirabelle Macarons. We all know how my macaron experiences have gone in the past (reminder: not well) so I signed up for Connie’s class to figure out what I’ve been doing wrong. Macarons take a lot of practice and Connie took a long time to perfect hers so I guess my ego can survive a few more failures. Our class started a little late, so Connie didn’t get a chance to get all the kinks worked out and we also didn’t have enough time to let our macarons rest and ours (Carmen (@FoodKarmaBlog) and mine) had a minor volcanic eruption and cracked across the top. Teresa (@thankfulfoodie) and Ashley (@ashleyblaire23) made nipple-y macarons (see photo 4 below) and I think those photos made their rounds on twitter for a while (nothing like slightly obscene macarons!). Since I’ve never managed to get my macarons right, I haven’t had to deal with the maturation process, where you have to let these cookies sit in an airtight container for a couple days (I want my macarons now?!) – let me tell you, this is ridiculously important and the deliciousness factor after 2 days is off the charts compared to when they are first completed, so patience (not my strong suit) is key. Despite a small macaron fail, I learned a lot from Connie and I even baked up some macarons on Monday. My shells were pretty successful and look NOTHING like my previous failures so I feel like I have kind of conquered the macaron shell, unfortunately I was defeated by the buttercream? I thought I broke it but it turns out I didn’t mix the buttercream for long enough, so quick tip – if your butter and egg mixture looks really lumpy – you just keep beating and it will become smooth – it doesn’t mean you broke the buttercream!
After those two morning sessions, we headed in for lunch and again everything was prepared in house by NAIT students and instructors. It was all delicious and there were things I wanted to try but didn’t get a chance to. I loved the tomato soup – it was a perfect bowl of soup. I just want to say that the amber stout chocolate cake was to die for! It was seriously awesome – I regret not having a second slice. I ended up shoving my cookie into my apron pocket since I didn’t have time to finish it before my next class but when it was still excellent when I ate it the next day.
My first class of the afternoon was probably the most difficult (for me): Cheese making! Carmen made the process of creating a smooth, gorgeous mozzarella ball look so easy – her cheese congealed right away and everything else went perfectly, so she pretty much cruised through that class – I had a more difficult time since my cheese would not give me a clean break (shows that the milk has congealed enough to be curds) so I had to keep heating and stirring it and trying to get a clean break (eventually I ran out of places to break!). Finally I managed to move onto the next steps of the process but it was nearing the end of the session so I didn’t completely finish kneading my cheese into a smooth ball. It probably needed another zap in the microwave BUT I actually don’t own a microwave so Carmen invited me over to use hers (Best session buddy EVER!). Chef Alan Roote was knowledgeable and very patient as I kept waving my hands asking “is it ready yet? is this right? what about now?” See the first picture (of the post) for a peek at my final product (looks pretty good huh?) and below is a snapshot of part of the process. My cheese was a little bland as I guess I was a little light on the salt but Carmen’s “perfect cheese” tasted really good – I sampled some when I was at her place using the microwave.
The last class of the day was Sourdough Bread with Owen Petersen of Prairie Mill Bread Co. Owen was fantastic and his method of just guesstimate how much to put in was very much in line with the A. and Argenplath Method of Baking so I was super excited. He even hooked us up with a little bit of Julie (bread starter) and she’s (it’s?) sitting in my fridge waiting for my next bread baking adventure. This was the one class where we managed to finish early and Owen was a fun and informal instructor (great way to end the day) but he was also super awesome about answering all our tweets the next morning as everyone seemed to bake their bread for breakfast/brunch. Bel, who hates sourdough actually really likes it and has been helping me eat that massive loaf of bread.
After the full slate of sessions, we listened to an awesome panel on “how to survive a zombie apocalypse?” The panel consisted of Amy Beaith, Kevin Kossowan, Shannon Ruzicka and Jeff Senger and was moderated by Allan Suddaby. I am really bad for remembering to take notes at conferences (doesn’t matter what kind of conference it is) and I always *think* that I can rely on my memory about things that were said (haven’t learned my lesson yet), so I don’t recall everything that was said but my recollection is that it was an engaging discussion and many wonderful points were made. One thing I do vaguely remember is the idea that it’s not necessary to be a jack of all trades, but by building a community where everyone can contribute and share the few things they do well (i.e. trade/barter goods), you’ll probably survive just fine.
The last “session” of the day was the wine down, where we were presented with a lovely taste board of local products and 1.5oz tastings of local wines. The tasting board was delicious! It consisted of:
- First Nature Farms braised bison with Mo-na Foods Saskatoons in a berry gastrique,
- Roasted bull elk with foraged high bush cranberries in compote,
- Raw beet and horseradish salad with apple cider and Morinville Gardens dill,
- Local chickpea salad with Sylvan Star feta, market green onions, Gull Valley Tomatoes and Mighty Trio Organic Hemp Seed Oil,
- Gold Forest Grains whole wheat bread with Mighty Trio Organic Canola Oil, and
- Cheesiry Pecorino with Lola Canola’s dandelion honey.
While I enjoyed everything on the board, my absolute favorite were the beets (probably because I really love beets). The dandelion honey was also phenomenal – I dipped some of my bread in it too and it was just so amazing! I sampled a few different wines – I am such a bad blogger because I can’t remember the names of everything I sampled? – but I do remember my two favorites came from Barr Estate Winery. The Other Red is a raspberry wine and all I tasted was the flavor of raspberry, which is quite dangerous as I could probably drink the whole bottle (or more) in one sitting. The Barb is a rhubarb wine that is quite light and refreshing without that oak-y taste that I hate in white wines. I am already planning to pick up bottles at the Downtown Farmer’s Market this weekend!
I know that I didn’t take a lot of photos (I was busy learning?) so I would direct you to Maki’s blog to check out more professional photos! She also has photos of all the sessions I didn’t attend and much better ones of the sessions I did attend. There are several other attendees who have already blogged about the event (much more on the ball than I am) so please scroll down to the bottom of Maki’s post and check them out as well. I also want to give a quick shout out to my all day session buddies (we seriously spent the WHOLE day together) – Andrea, Carmen and Ray – as they made the experiences in every session that much more fun!
So What Would Argenplath Pay?
The conference cost me ~$138 once everything was said and done. I have to admit that at first I wasn’t sure if I could afford to go (I’m still a poor grad student) but I am glad that I did attend. I had so much fun and picked up so many helpful tips and tricks that it was definitely worth the cost. Also I got to meet all these wonderful people that I’ve chatted with on twitter in person and continued to get to know those that I’ve met before (a whole bunch of us even went out for dinner after, but that’s another post?).
If I remove the food costs, each session really only works out to about $35 for an hour of instruction. I don’t think that is unreasonable by any stretch of the imagination and the fact that we had breakfast, lunch and the lovely tasting board built into the conference fee made the sessions an even better deal! I’ve attended other one day conferences for much more and walked out with less information (and a blah, bored feeling) than this event, so it was definitely worth attending in my books. Plus everything I learned is going to affect future costs – for example, I could make my own macarons instead of paying $1.50+/macaron every time I have a craving (not that that will stop me from buying flavors I can’t make) and the long term savings will end up paying for what I learned at Eat Alberta. So I guess the WWAP lesson of the day can be summed up as “…teach a man (or in this case a woman) how to fish and…”
I do believe that this will continue to be an annual event so if you’re interested in local food, it’s certainly something that I would encourage you to consider attending. There were so many sessions I wanted to go to (uh all of them?) that I will probably be back next year – maybe we can even be session buddies!