Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Traveling Cowboys: Soaring with the Eagles at the Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation in Coaldale, Alberta

Soaring with Eagles


Where can you feel the wind from a fully grown Bald Eagle's wings on your face? Even better, where can you give a Golden Eagle a shower on a hot summer's afternoon?

The Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation is the place where I realized a childhood dream of being up close and personal with eagles and other birds of prey. Colin, the proprietor of the facility allowed us to give a Golden Eagle a cooling shower. I also saw how accurately a fully grown Bald Eagle land on his arm, between a group of people. I felt the wind from the birds 85" long wingspan when he swooshed by, during the performance.

It all happened this summer during our visit to the foundation's rescue and conservation center in Coaldale, just east of Lethbridge.



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The Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation is Alberta's first privately licensed raptor rescue and conservation organization. It's been operating since 1982. The facility is located two hours south of Calgary in the heart of Canada's wild prairies and 10 minutes east of Lethbridge. You can visit the center during the summer months to get a closer look at the magnificent birds and to learn more about the work that goes into rescue and conservation.

Although Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation is Alberta based, the organization's environmental contributions extend far beyond the province of Alberta. It released offspring from their Burrowing Owl breeding program in all four western Canadian provinces. At the facility, they've also cared for injured birds from locations ranging from Ontario to British Columbia, and even Canada's Arctic.

The Foundation is a non-political organization with a simple strategy. According to Colin Weir, the founder, the focus is to initiate hands-on practical solutions which directly benefit wildlife and our environment. Colin mentioned that although it sounds idyllic to be amongst these majestic birds every day, they do not receive any government or operating subsidies to help them in their work.

He calls it his happy place and his biggest liability. The Foundation relies solely on donations in addition to people generously donating their time. It makes the work of the organization so much harder. They spend 100% of all donations on programs and projects that directly benefit the wildlife and habitats they strive to conserve.

Observations


There are no words that can describe the experience we've had with Colin. Look at the video and photos below. We highly recommend the visit.

The highlight of the day was when Colin released a rehabilitated bird, and we could film the action with our cameras in slow-motion.

If there is such a thing as a spirit animal, then the Golden Eagle is mine. The majesty that is part of these birds is breathtaking. Even more when you see them up close, and you realize how big they are, how fragile they are on the ground and understand the power they exhibit when you see them in flight. You can experience all of this in a matter of minutes at the center.

The visit to Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation was not only a highlight of our trip to Lethbridge. It was a special day I will cherish for the remainder of my life.

Hendrik van Wyk
Spirit Cowboy

We earn our livelihood from producing great content and supporting inspiring people, businesses, and communities. We use Patreon to help us earn from our work. Please become a patron at http://www.travelingcowboys.com if you want to see more of this and other stories.


Photos

Two Birds

Reflecting

Majestic

Epic

Where's the Barn


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Two Cowboys: Fresh, Pure, Liquid Gold from the Alberta Prairies Courtesy of Forever Bee in Okotoks, Alberta

Purest of Honey


In 2010 I embarked on the crazy journey to perfect classic Italian Honey Nougat. It is an ancient celebratory confection with only four ingredients - honey, egg white, cane sugar, and nuts. Nougat is a major industry in the old world of Italy, France, Spain, Turkey, and Morocco where it was typically served to royalty and as present at weddings, christenings, Christmas and birthdays.

It is also one of the most difficult confections to make. The soft, white, melt-in-your mount textured candy has broken many a chef's resolve. Only a few people in the world know the secrets of perfect white soft honey nougat and most of them only impart it to close family members on their death bed, who is tasked with perpetuating the legacy.

It took me three years and five tons of failures to finally unlock the secret of honey nougat perfection. None of which I am prepared to divulge in this post. What I did discover during my struggle is that most of the honey that we buy in stores are either not honey or of such low quality that it may as well be regular cane sugar syrup. For a start, it contains abnormal amounts of water, and it is pasteurized. As we know pasteurization kills all pathogens - the good ones with the bad. The bottom line discovery was that store bought honey cannot be used for making Honey Nougat.


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During my journey, I met Matt and Annanie. They own of Forever Bee. It is a small apiary they started in February of 2012 while on their own search for a better quality honey.

Forever Bee began as a tiny business that managed to sell a few jars of honey here and there at farmers' markets. They've been bootstrapping the business since and have managed to build up a strong fresh honey supply to many loyal customers in Southern Alberta. Their products include raw honey, flavored honey (they do a fantastic cinnamon honey), honeycomb, beeswax, candles and more.

Observations


We spend a lot of time around farmers' markets in Southern Alberta, and inevitably we run into the Forever Bee clan again and again with their fresh honeycomb and jars of pure, unpasteurized honey.

The honey is terrific for all the good reasons they mention in the video above.

What stands out for us about Matt and Annanie's business is not so much the honey they produce, which is fantastic. It is the success they have starting from nothing five years ago and building a simple, successful business with a very loyal customer base. The business is in its fifth year, and it is allowing them to have their entire family involved in growing it. It is only with passion and an outstanding product that they can continue to succeed.

Being at farmers' markets is hard work. It may appear idyllic or romantic to the casual bystander. There is a lot of time and dedication that goes into producing products the whole week and then still doing markets at the same time. For many, it is a seven day week affair. Often these small producer businesses cannot sustain themselves with only one market, so they are typically serving several markets per week. The season is also short, so every market day counts.

We find Forever Bee at these markets in the Foothills. What stands out is their dedication to a fantastic quality product. What sets them apart from other honey vendors is their willingness and commitment to educate about the virtues of fresh honey and the love and care they put into making their honey taste as good as it possibly can.

The honey from Forever Bee is the perfect honey for my classic soft Honey Nougat.

Hendrik van Wyk
Sweet Cowboy

We earn our livelihood from producing great content and supporting inspiring people, businesses, and communities. We use Patreon to help us earn from our work. Please become a patron at http://www.travelingcowboys.com if you want to see more of this and other stories.


Photos


Lethbridge Market

Okotoks Market

Canmore Market

Honey Gold

Happy Beez

Monday, September 11, 2017

Two Cowboys: In-depth Investigation Into Custom BBQ Use at the Annual BBQ on the Bow Competition in Calgary, AB

Custom Big

We are told that people can't find the tools they need to become prize-winning BBQ pitmasters.

That is why we did an in-depth investigation into the phenomenon of custom BBQ design and constructions at this year's 25th annual KCBS BBQ competition, hosted by Alberta's (possibly, even Canada's) oldest BBQ Society.



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BBQ on the Bow is an annually occurring Kansas City BBQ Society (KCBS) sanctioned BBQ Competition and outdoor festival.

It takes place at the Montgomery Community Association (Shouldice Park) during Labour Day long weekend. Their mission is to spread the love, passion, and joy for “southern style” BBQ while simultaneously celebrating and promoting local products, businesses, and musicians. Now you know why the Two Cowboys took an interest. They had us already at BBQ. We also share a similar passion for products, the people that make them and the people that sing about them.

The association was founded in 1993 which, according to Bernie Kenney (VP of the Association) makes it one of the first of its kind in Canada. The BBQ on the Bow was created to jointly promote “Southern BBQ” and Alberta agricultural products of pork, beef, and chicken.

This year it celebrated its 25th year. The event has endured everything mother nature threw at it over the years, be it floods, snow, winds and other storms. It has evolved from a small competition with a  handful of teams to one of Canada’s premier competitions with over 35 teams competing annually.

Forty-five teams competed this year, in spite of a Province wide fire ban, which makes it an event for the record books. It may also be because of the fire ban that so many teams grabbed the opportunity to do some BBQing in a controlled and permissible environment before BBQ withdrawal sets in.

Observations


We are amazed at every competition to see the number of home-grown, self-built BBQ's that make it to competition. The people that take the plunge into constructing a custom smoker machine are seasoned pitmasters or very adventurous engineers.

Big brand name smokers, which are usually in ample supply in such a competition, are often associated with newbies or with teams that managed to get that all elusive sponsorship from a well-known brand or manufacturer. We've heard that some teams are even bribed into merely displaying a big brand name smoker (not necessarily cooking with it) for a small fee. You know who they are because the smokers are all clean, shimmering in the sun and brand new.

The more salted pitmasters have their go-to smokers customized and seasoned over time to meet their particular need or style of cooking. We are told that these smokers have personality. "She's like a woman. If you treat her well, with respect, she will make a BBQ champion of you", a pitmaster proclaimed, which will remain nameless.

One way you know that custom machines are worth their weight in smoke and iron is that they are the tools that show years of wear and tear. These smokers worked and will continue to do so. The meat-fat, grease, and caked on carbon from weeks, months and years of use serve as one-of-kind seasoning that provides a unique and unduplicatable taste to the fare. That is why these smokers end up with names and their teams with the medals.

What makes a BBQ Smoker, good?

If you listen to the champions, some like even heat in the cooker. Others want different temperature profiles on the same machine so that the machine becomes multi-purpose. Some smokers are suited to the purists that cook and smoke with wood. Others are "cheaters" with computer controlled pellet feeders and convection fans.

One fact above all distinguishes a champion pitmaster and his team. It doesn't matter what tools they use. The machine helps, but it is their experience and finely tuned palate that separates them from the rest. They are also the ones busy cooking while the rest are looking.

Hendrik van Wyk
Smoker Cowboy

We earn our livelihood from producing great content and supporting inspiring people, businesses, and communities. We use Patreon to help us earn from our work. Please become a patron at http://www.travelingcowboys.com if you want to see more of this and other stories.


Photos

Steampunked!

Massive

Sponsored

Definitely Sponsored

His Wife's Fault

Old-School!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Traveling Cowboys: Lingering for a Slice of Brisket at the Best Smokehouse in Lethbridge, Alberta

Lingering Smoke


There is such a thing in BBQ as "too much smoke." Just because you can keep a piece of protein in a smoker for up to 13 hours, doesn't mean you should.

Smoke plays two prominent roles in cooking. Firstly it provides a distinctive flavor. Secondly, it helps to preserve. When you grill, there is smokiness. When you BBQ then smoke is a key flavor ingredient that contributes materially to the taste profile of what is cooked. The risk is that introducing the "seasoning" of smoke can jeopardize other flavors if it becomes too overbearing. Contrary to popular belief, smoke doesn't cook the protein. Temperature does the job.


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On our trip to Lethbridge earlier this summer, we were on the hunt for our favorites. Beer, Ice Cream, and BBQ. We asked the locals about their favorite local BBQ spots and couldn't get a straight answer. It seemed that Lethbridgians haven't discovered much beyond the standard pile of nationally branded franchise outlets when it comes to dining out preferences in the town. Or, we've not asked the right people. Before giving up, we consulted the universal "know-it-all" - our friends at Google - which suggested the Smokehouse BBQ & Bar.

We stepped in early to find Michael Wilson opening for the day's business. The Smokehouse BBQ & Bar is a southern style smokehouse where they smoke everything from brisket to chicken to ribs and seafood. It is a southern tradition right here in Southern Alberta. Two "Souths" cannot be wrong.

Michael, the owner, and executive chef was born and raised on a farm in Southern Saskatchewan. He has an impressive CV. Not the kind of schooling you find in most Smokehouses. He began cooking at the age of 8 years. He moved to Lethbridge in 1995, at the age of 26, to start cooking professionally. He attended Lethbridge Community College thus beginning his goal to become a Red Seal Chef. In 1996, he received a Certificate in Commercial Cooking. In 1997, he was awarded the Apprentice of the Year Award in his second year of apprenticeship. In 1998, he received his Journeyman Certificate as a Red Seal Chef. He has worked with many excellent restaurants as Executive Chef, such as Streetside, Brewster’s Brewing Company, Ric’s Grill and Firestone Restaurant.

Observations


Smokehouse BBQ & Bar is as unassuming as it comes. It is all about the food like it should be in such a fine establishment owned and operated by a seasoned chef. Michael serves all the trusted smokehouse favorites with an ample array of home-made sauces.

Something is different here, though. There seems to be a more refined touch. A sense of balance.

Usually, we reek of smoke for days after visiting a BBQ or smokehouse. You can get it out of your clothes when you take a shower. What we struggle to do, is get it out of your palates and olfactories. Maybe, BBQ pitmasters get so used to the smoke that they don't realize how overbearing it becomes. It shows in their food.

Instead, we found that the dishes at the Smokehouse BBQ & Bar was done with just the right amount of smoke. It had the full melt-in-your-mouth texture experience with a broad repertoire of traditional and new flavors. The smoke complemented it. It was almost as if a qualified Chef was involved in the preparation.

We may get into trouble for the following two statements. Firstly, of all the BBQ we've had since the Two Cowboys hit the road (including at competitions), this visit stands out. It is a definite must-do!

Secondly, if we can ask for one thing from Michael (not that we want to mess up a new friendship), it is that he should please serve some local Alberta beer. Eating at the Smokehouse BBQ & Bar was like a symphony with one out of tune (beer) violin. A local Alberta brew will perfect the performance.

We will be back.

Hendrik van Wyk
Old(er) Cowboy

We earn our livelihood from producing great content and supporting inspiring people, businesses, and communities. We use Patreon to help us earn from our work. Please become a patron at http://www.travelingcowboys.com if you want to see more of this and other stories.

Photos


Expert Conversation

Food Porn!

In Case You've Missed It

Now for some Local Alberta Brew

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Traveling Cowboys: Connecting with the Past, Present and Future at the Galt Museum in Lethbridge, Alberta

Connections


When I think of museums, I associate it with dead things - graveyards.

Suspended items, behind glass and access ropes, sadly manage, although barely, to cling to the last remnants of relevance. While no longer able to fulfill their intended purpose, they are relegated to serving merely as lingering remains of different times and places.

The Galt Museum & Archives in Lethbridge is refreshingly different. It is alive with enthusiastic Lethbridgians who are telling stories, creating exhibits and organizing community events that help to bridge the gap with the past by keeping it relevant in the present. They are also laying the foundations for what is to become of the community of Lethbridge.

At the impressive facility, you are educated about the human history of southwestern Alberta and the value of recognizing history for the role it plays in creating future opportunity.

It also has the best view in town.


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The number and variety of programs at The Galt (as it is known by locals) are staggering. It includes stories, art, and music. All of it is crafted around the heritage of the community. As it goes in Southern Alberta, there is always a lingering of a little alcohol around, concerning the beer and whiskey heritage of the area.

Observations


We checked in early with Dana Inkster to be ahead of the day's busy schedule at the Museum. We were glad we did because the sun rising over the gorge and the wind playing in the long green grass rewarded us with an incredible sight of the famous bridge, from the building's foyer. It is a view that promises to always be amazing, and rarely similar. The seasons change incredibly fast in this part of Alberta and tomorrow it is bound to look different than today.

This turned out to also be a metaphor for our visit.

The museum reminds you that things change and it happens faster than you expect. Yet, there are also things that remain consistent. Lethbridge is the breadbasket of the region and has been for some time. It was the core of its livelihood in the past and that which continues to define the community in future. This heritage creates a sense of comfort and belonging for Lethbridgians as they continue to lead the agricultural industries in Alberta. And the Galt Museum serves to remind us of this responsibility, every day.

Lethbridge continues to intrigue us.

Hendrik van Wyk
Old(er) Cowboy

We earn our livelihood from producing great content and supporting inspiring people, businesses, and communities. We use Patreon to help us earn from our work. Please become a patron at http://www.travelingcowboys.com if you want to see more of this and other stories.


Photos


The View

The Galt

The Bridge

Monday, September 4, 2017

Traveling Cowboys: Searching for Some Heat at the Annual Chili Fest and Cook Off in Okotoks, Alberta

The "e" for the "i"


Chili has to pack some heat.

We missed the heat at this year's Okotoks Chili Fest and Cook Off, and a question came to mind, "Are we getting soft here in the Great White North, or don't we understand heat when we need it?"

The International Chili Society (ICS), an organization devoted to the "promotion, development and improvement of the preparation and appreciation of true chili". According to them, ever since "the second person on earth mixed some chile peppers with meat and cooked them, the great chili debate was on. The desire to brew up the best bowl of chili in the world is exactly that old".



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Perhaps it is the effect of Capsaicin spices upon man's mind? In the immortal words of Joe DeFrates, the only man who ever won both the National and the World Chili Championships, "Chili powder makes you crazy."

To keep things straight, chile refers to the pepper pod and chili to the concoction. The "e" and the "i" of it all.

The great debate, it seems, is not limited to whose chili is best. Even more heated is the argument over where the first bowl was made; and by whom. Estimates range from "somewhere west of Laramie," in the early nineteenth century as a product of a Texas trail drive, to the grisly tale of enraged Aztecs, who cut up invading Spanish conquistadors, seasoned chunks of them with a passel of chile peppers, and ate them.

Never has there been anything mild about chili and it should not change now.

We attended the Okotoks Chili Fest and Cook Off on 26 August 2017 courtesy of the town of Okotoks. As is the custom with great Okotokian events, it all happened downtown with the main street closed and the entertainment in full complement.

Observations


It lacked heat, and then it was too hot.

The ICS judges a bowl of chili according to five key characteristics which include taste, ratio, aroma, appearance, and bite.

Taste, above all else, is the most important factor. The taste should consist of the combination of the meat, peppers, spices, etc., with no particular ingredient being dominant, but rather a blend of the flavors.

Chili must have a good ratio between sauce and meat. It should not be dry, watery, grainy, lumpy, or greasy. It should smell good. This also indicates what is in store when you taste it. Chili should look appetizing. Reddish brown is generally accepted as good. Chili is not yellow or green.

Lastly, and most importantly it should have some spice or bite. Bite or after taste is the heat created by the various type of chili peppers and chili spices. This is what we missed from the concoctions at the Okotoks Fest, and we can only attribute it to the cooks being too timid and their Canadian pallets being too sensitive.

If you are going to have a cook off, you better pack some character with spice and come ready to compete. Only 3 out of the twelve teams understood the need for some Capsaicin in their cook. Those that did, came out tops in the competition.

After 12 tastings in the hot midday summers sun with nothing drink in sight, we were boiling hot and made our retreat to the Royal Duke Pub to tally the score. The iDental team definitely had the upper hand in this year's competition. They claim it is their paddle that's been seasoned by decades of use. They were our first place, and was followed closely by the Remax team which I believe are veterans in taking the laurels.

We learned a valuable lesson with this year's competition. Pace yourself and make sure to take in plenty of fluids. You will need it in this hotly contested affair, that is attended annually by as many as up to 10,000 people.

Hendrik van Wyk
Flaming Cowboy

We earn our livelihood from producing great content and supporting inspiring people, businesses, and communities. We use Patreon to help us earn from our work. Please become a patron at http://www.travelingcowboys.com if you want to see more of this and other stories.


Photos


"Milk" Shooters

Nice

The Paddle!

The name says it all...

It won't help.

Bread and Tomatoes

Well Deserved!

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