Un Common Figs

Almost indescribable, the scent of a fig tree full of almost ripe fruit is a fragrance that is both sweet and earthy. Nutmeg had never had the opportunity to enjoy the remarkable smell of the fig tree, before she spent the summer in Provence. The scent is distinctive, almost arresting in the open air, however, in a closed space can be overwhelming.

The fig tree is often referred to as the Common Fig. It grows both cultivated and wild in most countries that are close to the Mediterranean and in many parts of Asia. Some tree varieties will bear fruit up to four times a year.


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Canmore’s One and Only Crazyweed Kitchen

Nutmeg loves the Crazy Weed Kitchen in Canmore.  The food is consistently good with a strong Asian influence.  Signature starters include; Vietnamese pork meatballs and salt and pepper calamari.  Nutmeg’s favorite main course is the red curry seafood bowl and Ginger loves the fettuccine with chorizo, big shrimp, grilled vegetables and creamy tomatillo and chipotle sauce.

The Crazy Weed can only be described as eclectic.  It is located on Railway Avenue in Canmore, after a move from Main Street a couple years ago.  The building was purpose built for the restaurant, with high ceilings, a green roof that looks a bit shaggy, a design that creates essentially two main dining areas, great mountain vistas and a casual deck.  The decor is simple with white walls and splashes of color in the seating.  The atmosphere is busy and the appearance of unfinished “projects” (art that is still to be hung, herb planters that are still waiting to be finished) seems to suit the character of the place just fine.

The challenge with Crazy Weed has been inconsistent service.  At times one has been left to wonder if the wait staff will ever come back….then dinner shows up and the wait has worth it.  Good news though, recently there has been a realignment in ownership and Nutmeg is very happy to report that the service at dinner last week was fantastic.

In addition, to menu items listed above the following are worth a try:

  • Frites with garlic aioli – Chili rates the fries 7.5/10
  • Jewel box salad – orange segments, shaved bartlett pear, blackberries, fairwinds goat cheese with greens and lemon vinaigrette
  • Ceasar Salad – Chili and Hot Sauce rate this one a 9/10 or higher – they are still talking about it
  • Halibut with beets, avocado and a citrus sauce – Nutmeg’s new summer favorite (without the avocado)

Great food, add to your must do or must return list.

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The Bump and Grind in Palm Desert

Before you let your mind get too far with that, it is the name of a HIKE!

Nutmeg is terrified of snakes and a good girl scout, so there is no way she is going hiking alone.  The Bump and Grind hike is different, it is like going to the gym outside.  You park in a very urban setting, right behind Target and basically follow the crowd.  It is a very good workout, 2 miles up and about 750 feet of elevation gain.  The path is wide so you can easily pass slower walkers and you can see the snakes if they are on the trail (thankfully none in sight).  Like every hike in the desert make sure to take water, a hat, sunglasses, wear sunscreen and do not wear white shorts (no one should).  Other than a decent workout, the people watching is certainly lots of fun.

Here is Nutmeg’s association of hikers on the trail to the cars parked at the start;


  • Roadster:  with some new shiny, enhanced parts
  • Ferrari: in a big hurry and strutting their stuff
  • Wide Load:  I am sure you get the picture
  • Rag Top:  some good-looking California men with their tops off
  • Classic: slow and steady every morning
  • Pick-Up:  Well I am sure you can figure that one out

Bottom line – Do the Bump and Grind in Palm Desert – it’s a spectacle and a good work-out.  Drop by the Starbucks on El Paseo after and you have had a really great morning of people watching.

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Sunny Citrus in California

Nutmeg was curious, in December she and Ginger had fresh squeezed orange juice every morning from the tree outside the door in Palm Desert.  However, in June no decent oranges, lemons or grapefruits for any juice.  The trees are still very healthy and there are signs of fruit to come, although not anytime soon…

So Nutmeg wondered: do the trees only bare fruit once a year? The answer is yes, unfortunately.

Is California really the place for citrus?  The answer is yes although it is not the leader in US production.  The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) publishes monthly results and forecasts by state and by type of produce; oranges “non-Valencia”, oranges “Valencia”, grapefruit, tangerines, tangelos, lemons etc.  Florida by far has the largest production (131 million boxes – forecast for 2010), followed by California (59 million), Texas (1,6 million) and Arizona weighs in with some minor production.  Total US production forecast for 2010 is 192 million boxes. Interesting to note, Brazil is actually the largest producer of orange juice in the world, followed by the USA, then Mexico.  Europe’s overall production has been declining although Spain does produce lots of oranges – hence the names Valencia and Seville.

Although not entirely precise it is widely thought from the research that citrus fruits began to appear in Asia around 4000BC.  The name orange is thought to have derived from Sanskrit.  From Asia the cultivation spread slowly to Africa then to southern Europe.  The Spaniards brought the plants to the Americas.  World trade in orange juice began in the 1940s.

A few more interesting tidbits:

  • Blood Oranges were discovered and cultivated in Sicily in the 15th century
  • The Chinese have the largest world wide production of those fantastic little mandarins
  • The navel orange was a result of a single mutation in the 1820s, at a monastery orchard in Brazil
  • The Spanish Valencia orange was the official mascot (“Naranjito“) of the 1982 FIFA World Cup

Christmas Clemantines

So Nutmeg’s questions are answered and she is having to satisfy her thirst with Tropicana OJ – made from Brazil and US oranges.


Dogs and Vitamins

Nutmeg and Ginger have two black Labradors.  These ladies have a very good life; they get a few walks a day, lots of food and water, they have a nice backyard to laze around in and they get to swim in the nearby rivers.  In addition to that, they have two great doggie caregivers who pitch in for walks and when Nutmeg runs away from Calgary’s weather.  Nutmeg is away (did I mention the weather?) and she got an email this morning… Jade ate a vitamin is that OK?  Well if you own a Labrador you know the answer – ask Oregano to tell you the story of his dog and the socks one day.  Of course a vitamin is certainly not going to hurt and is 1000 fold better than half the stuff she finds in the park.

That was not enough for Nutmeg though she was curious – would human vitamins actually have any effect on dogs?  Well first of all on a Google search that question surfaces over 4 million results, so the jury is obviously out. Veterinarians are undecided, some think there could be some benefits while others feel there actually could be harmful side effects.  Commercially processed dog food is said to have a complete, balanced nutritional level (unless it comes from a suspect Chinese factory 🙁 ).

The vitamin manufacturers must love this statistic!  It is estimates that nearly one third of pets in the United States receive nutritional supplements.  The largest focus is relief of joint pain and arthritis that is common in older animals.  Other common supplements are fatty acids to improve coat shine and probiotics to reduce digestion issues.  You can read the full article on Wikipedia and surf a few credible sources for review including Vet Info.

So the answer to the question about dogs and vitamins?

Jade will be just fine.

What Nutmeg found more interesting, is the full list of foods that dogs should not eat.  The condensed list is below, with Nutmeg’s comments:

1. Onions (contain the toxic ingredient Thiosulphate also found in garlic) – apparently in can be toxic in one large dose… Note to self: better stop feeding the girls leftovers!
2. Chocolate (contains Theobromine, a compound that is a cardiac stimulant and a diuretic) – Nutmeg had heard that chocolate could be fatal for dogs, although over the years Skoki has eaten (in one sitting) 3 pounds of chocolate almond bark and another family dog ate ALL of the Christmas tree chocolates.  In both cases, they were a bit sluggish (wouldn’t you be) but certainly no terrible side effects
3. Grapes and Raisins (can affect canine’s kidneys)  – I will have to tell the girls as they eye my cheese and grapes every night!
4. Macadamia Nuts (contain an unknown substance that is toxic to dogs)  –  these nuts are really expensive so don’t feed them to your dog
5. Bones (in particular chicken or anything that might splinter)  – I wonder about all the sticks they chew instead 🙁
6. Potato Peelings and Green Potatoes (Contain Oxalates, which can affect the digestive, nervous, and urinary systems) – our dogs are much too picky to eat these anyway they just want the good stuff
7. Yeast Dough (can produce gas and swell in your pet’s stomach)
8. Coffee, Coffee Grounds, Tea, Soft Drinks (are dangerous due to the caffeine)
9. Beer/Wine/Alcohol of any kind (could lead to coma or even death) – or a few quiet hours 🙂
10. Moldy or Spoiled Food (I think this goes without saying.)  – interesting considering the quality of stuff they have found over the years in the park
11. Persimmons (Persimmons can cause intestinal blockage)  – not sure why anyone eats these
12. Raw Eggs and Raw Fish (can cause Salmonella poisoning)
13. Salt, Baking Soda, Baking Powder (In large amounts these can cause an electrolyte imbalance which can lead to muscle spasm or even congestive heart failure)
14. Mushrooms (may contain toxins which could cause liver and kidney damage)  – our dogs love the spring and fall for the array of new wild mushrooms…
15. Avocado (All parts of the avocado and avocado tree are toxic to dogs)  – again way too expensive to feed to your dogs anyway
16. Diary Products (do not usually pose a great danger; although many pets are lactose intolerant) – not ours – just ask Chili he loves feeding the girls pieces of expensive cheddar!

So there you have it the secret to happy, healthy pets?  Everything in moderation and the odd vitamin will not hurt either.

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Do not like Cilantro It is Genetic

So Nutmeg has this friend,  Mr. High Maintenance (or “the lighting guy”) who he claims that he does not like Cilantro.  We have all thought for years that he is well; Mr. High Maintenance – you get the picture.  So today on the step-mill at the gym Nutmeg was stunned to find out that apparently it is true!! There is a study that has been done to understand the link between DNA and dietary preferences. 

You can read the full article in Maclean’s Magazine (May 17, 2010).  The study has been co-authored by Dr. Oz (yes his real name). The field is called “nutrigenomics” which is the pursuit of identifying the right diet for your genes. The theory is that people may not process and digest food in the same way due to unique gene make-up.  Apparently, via a simple mouth swab, they can determine what kind of diet you should be on. 

In addition, a study has been done by Charles J Wysocki in Philadelphia specifically on the herb Cilantro and the findings revealed that some people who dislike it may be missing a genetic component.  So there you have it, what Nutmeg has always suspected is true…Mr. High Maintenance is missing a gene!

European Road Trip 2010

Nutmeg’s parents (Hot Sauce and Chili) love to travel.  Last year, they put a mere 6000 nautical miles on their boat doing the Great Loop Miss Bim’s Adventures.  This year they have decide to take on Europe in 7 weeks and do a driving road trip.  They start the adventure in Gothenburg (Sweden), at the Volvo factory, with a tour and a new car.  They will have a GPS and are fully equipped with the latest technology to get from point to point.  However, Nutmeg is concerned they may not have done all their research, on the food and drink options that await them in the next few weeks.  So, the following is an overview of the trip and Nutmeg’s food guide to help them narrow down the endless possibilities:

CityCountryFood Possibilities
CopenhagenDenmarkFrikadeller (meatballs), with cabbage and beets
KristiansandNorwaySmoked Salmon, Gravlax, Open faced sandwiches, Meats served with juniper berries and lingonberry jam.  One interesting  thing is that Norway is the world’s leading coffee consumer.
StockholmSwedenSmilar to Norwary but add pickled herring, Swedish meatballs and akevitt (deadly white liquor)
HelsinkiFinlandCabbage rolls, game, hernekeitto (pea soup) and Karelian pies
RigaLatviaDinner with cold borscht, pot cooked cabbage, a cotlette, a gherkin, sour milk (kefir) and some kvass (beer).
WarsawPolandPierogis, sauerkraut, kielbasa, cabbage rolls, bigos (meat stews), rye bread and lots of great deserts.
Cesky Krumlov
BudapestHungaryHot Fish Soup (Halaszle), Goulash (meat soup), Nokedli (small dumplings), stuffed peppers, salami.  This is a place that Paprika is used liberally.  A classic desert is Dobos torta (sponge cake layered with chocolate paste and glazed with caramel and nuts).
SalzburgAustriaWiener Schnitzel and boiled beef.  Sacher Torte, Linzer Torte and Apple strudel.  Check Nutmeg’s blog on Vienna food scene.
OberammergauGermanySausage, sauerkraut, potato dumplings, pretzels and beer.
FribourgSwitzerlandCheese fondue, raclette and mediocre wine
ChamonixFranceTruffle is cooking!
LondonEnglandFish and chips, beer, ploughman’s lunch, beer, Cornish pasties, beer….

Enjoy!  We look forward to some guest blog reviews from Hot Sauce and Chili.

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Celebrating The Milestones

Hot Sauce has a milestone birthday this week.  Although, she does not want to advertise the specifics, let us just say that it starts with a “7”.  So in order to celebrate Nutmeg’s family converged in Toronto for a weekend of celebration.  Nutmeg’s sister Bernaise decided that they would host the weekend event.  This is no small undertaking as the family is well practiced in the art of consumption on many levels.  In fact there was an emergency run to the LCBO  (“Large Central Booze Organization”  or as Nutmeg calls it the Ontario liquor monopoly) to refill the stock of wine.  It was almost a national emergency!!!   There is no question that the LCBO has been able to position themselves well in the marketplace – some might call it a monopoly….the Avenue road store is impressive with a two-level underground, heated parkade and four freight elevators to make sure you are not restricted by what you can carry.  Nutmeg is convinced the LCBO margins are pretty good.  🙂

To celebrate the big milestone birthday, Bernaise called in Chef Gabe of Chef Revolution. Chef Gabe is not only talented but very accommodating as the family dynamics range from 2 years to the early 70’s.  We were treated to many fantastic appetizers; shrimp and lobster cakes, Ahi tuna crisps, risotto balls and shrimp and fig crostini.  That might have been enough for dinner but Chef Gabe followed with a spinach and berry salad, an orange sorbet (“palate cleanser”), pan roasted red snapper with mixed pepper slaw.  Gabe wanted to make sure no one went home hungry so he whipped up a desert platter with tastes of creme caramel,  coconut ice cream, chocolate cherry tart ….very few were able to make it through the selection although Ginger gave it a college try.

Bernaise and her hubby Scoobie (who wants to be known as Sizzle Zone) were fantastic hosts and the whole family had a great opportunity to reconnect.

The ingredients for a successful family reunion:

  • Alcohol to keep the conversation going
  • Good food
  • Kids to remind us of how simple the pleasures can be
  • The Master’s to make sure there is a good excuse to get away from the group dynamic

Happy Birthday Hot Sauce!!

Which is the best Coffee Capital Paris Vienna or Brussels

Nutmeg says hands down Vienna is the best Coffee Capital.  You will find decent coffee in all three locations, Paris has already been mentioned (02/23 Don’t tell the French Italian coffee is better), Brussels is decent with many options for Italian expresso or café au lait.   However, the Viennese have created an entire culture around the “coffee-house” which generally involves a smoky bar or quieter lounge. Legend has it that soldiers of the Polish-Habsburg army, while liberating Vienna from the second Turkish siege in 1683, found a number of sacks with strange beans that they initially thought were camel feed and wanted to burn. The Polish king Jan III Sobieski granted the sacks to one of his officers named Jerzy Franciszek Kulczycki, who started the first coffee house. After some experimentation, he added some sugar and milk, and the Viennese coffee tradition was born.

In Vienna, there are plenty of sweet choices to go along with your coffee.  The two most delicious and famous are the Sachertorte and Applestrudel.  Legend has it the Sachertorte was invented in the kitchens at the 5-star Sacher Hotel.  It is definitely very good although Nutmeg is not sure if it is the best.  The Sacher Café closely guards the recipe; in fact it is apparently locked in a vault.  Not to worry though you can find a very acceptable version on Epicurious.  The only issue in Vienna is they still allow smoking in restaurants so look for one with a non-smoking section…or no people.

Nutmeg’s vote:  Vienna is the best coffee capital.

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European Capitals Dining options in Paris, Vienna and Brussels

If there is one thing that Nutmeg and Ginger love to try it is food.  The truth is you are not going to starve in any of these great cities; the array of options can be overwhelming.  In all three cities Paris, Vienna and Brussels there is no end of options for international cuisine.  Each city offers fresh farmers markets, local produce retailers and many ethnic specialty areas.  In turn, each city has a large inventory of what Nutmeg likes to call the dreaded “overpriced and underwhelming tourist traps”.

With the internet, it is easy enough to search for good to great restaurant options in any city. Zagat is a reliable resource and a bit more established in Europe than Open Table.

The other strategy is “roll of the dice”; this means taking some time to look at the menu (price and limited variety), the décor (lighting levels and table settings) and the number of diners (never try an empty restaurant).  Here are some recommendations based on this strategy:

In Vienna:

Nutmeg and Ginger tried Indochine 21 night the food is influenced by South East Asia and the décor by Thailand and Vietnam.  This place scored highly on Nutmeg’s list as the lighting levels were appropriate and the smoke levels low – oh and the food was very good.

A funky place to check out is Urania was built according to the plans of Art Nouveau architect Max Fabiani (a student of Otto Wagner) at the mouth of the Wien River and was opened in 1910 by Franz Joseph I of Austria as an educational center with a public observatory. It was named after the Muse Urania who represents Astronomy. The bar/restaurant is perched right above the water.  The menu is not extensive but the food is decent and the service prompt.  If you are not hungry just go for a drink Urania is a great people-watching scene.

In Brussels:

A great find was Toscana 21.  This tiny restaurant has been open about three years it is located just of the Place du Petit Sablon. The menu is limited in size with a focus on Tuscan specialties.  Momma is the chef, her son Lorenzo and his wife (training opera singer) run the show out front.  We had an antipasto selection with great pecorino cheeses and a selection of specialty cured meats.  The main course pastas (all homemade from scratch) were fantastic.  Ginger had a goat cheese and honey stuffed tortellini in a cheese, pear and poppy seed sauce.  Nutmeg had “nude gnocchi”; spinach and ricotta dumplings without the outer shell – they were like little cloud puffs.  The food was fantastic and Nutmeg will not be trying these at home.  She will be booking another trip to Tuscany though!

So the bottom line is you are never hard-pressed to find good and great food in these European cities.  Use whatever methodology you like (internet, word of mouth, roll of the dice) but Go and Explore!