Northern presence

🕔Dec 15, 2005

Christmas: the word evokes family, celebration and spiritual traditions of many nations… but for many, it means a preamble of big-box shopping and highly packaged, imported goods made from non-renewable materials that will soon add bulk in another landfill.

Thankfully, a more sustainable holiday can be easily done. With a little forethought, Christmas funds can be directed to gifts people will cherish, and which also contribute to local economies and reflect the uniqueness of this region. Here are some of Northword’s picks for Christmas 2005.

Beauty and warmth

Who was it that recommended practising random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty? You can do this by buying gifts from local artisans—even if you missed the season’s craft fairs.

In Prince George, Two Rivers Gallery offers gifts that are as much about northerners’ capacity to turn economic disaster into opportunity as they are about functional beauty. Crafters in Vanderhoof and Prince George are making turned-wood bowls, candle holders and vases out of mountain pine-beetle leftovers, recasting the beetles’ distinctive blue stain as a design feature. They start at $30. The store also stocks a huge range of locally-made, high-quality crafts including handwoven scarves, fused glass, pottery and painstakingly embroidered felt slippers (which former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson couldn’t resist during her last visit to Prince George!).

The Old Ranger Station Gallery in Telkwa offers products by 112 craftspeople from Houston to Hazelton. Colourful hand-knit toques and tams by Barbel Schroeter, called “Funky Lids,” start at $25, and quilted wall hangings by Houston’s Carla Amonson, which incorporate beads, copper and silk threads and recycled silk garments, sell for under $100 each.

The Silvertip Boutique and Spirit Bear Gallery in Terrace is another must-stop for gifts with a northern B.C. flavour. Besides a wide range of masks, jewellery and carvings from the region’s finest First Nations artists, you’ll find unusual items like Annette Bolton’s porcupine quill jewellery, and Gail Schmidt’s immensely popular ceramics—such as her raku representation of this region’s elusive kermode bear—for about $14.

For a handmade gift that says Haida Gwaii, consider something with argillite: a soft black slate found nowhere else and carved by the Haida for at least 200 years. It’s featured in sculpture and fine jewellery, starting at about $65, at the Crystal Cabin Gallery in Tlell, Haida Gwaii. Hand-carved wood masks, paddles, silver and gold jewellery by world-renowned Haida artists (including master carvers such as Garner Moody and Hector Thompson) are also offered here. Have a look at www.crystalcabingallery.com; purchase by credit card over the phone and they’re happy to ship.

Listen and learn

Perhaps you’d prefer to direct your Christmas gift funds to cultural experiences. If so, consider these new literary and music offerings from northwestern B.C.

New CDs are out by popular northern troubadours such as Raghu Lokanathan, Mark Perry, George Stokes, Jenny Lester’s Hungry Hill Band, and nationally acclaimed folk rock band The Pucks.

On the literary front, Prince George poet George Sipos has just published Anything But The Moon, a collection of poems which promises to evoke the sensuous textures of everyday life, exploring some of its most potent forces: love, death and the weather. Politicos will enjoy Frank Oberle’s brand new book, A Chosen Path: From Moccasin Flats to Parliament Hill. This is the second volume of Oberle’s autobiography chronicling his life journey from political refugee from war-torn Germany to a six-term political career in Canada, which included serving as mayor of Chetwynd and forests minister in the Mulroney government.

Branwen Patenaude’s new book, The Life and Times of Billy Barker, looks back to the mid-19th century heyday of Barkerville, the Gold Rush town which at one time was the largest city north of San Francisco. A more recent history of northern B.C., and the role of aviation in it, is found in Bruce Lamb’s new book, Outposts and Bush Planes, while Sue Rowse’s new book, In Times of War: Prince Rupert 1939-1945, looks at the rapid change wrought by world events in a formerly sleepy fishing town.

In Prince Rupert, a one-stop shop for gifts which showcase local history and culture is the Museum of Northern B.C. In addition to Rowse’s books, the shop also stocks locally produced items, like hand-woven cedar baskets (about $30).

Big and small admirers of First Nations culture will enjoy Returning the Feathers: Five Gitxsan Stories, a collection of traditional myths recorded by M. Jane Smith, a Gitxsan PhD from Hazelton. Gorgeously illustrated with Ken Mowatt’s watercolours, the book rode the B.C. children’s best-seller list for months. Get it from Creekstone Press in Smithers, www.creekstonepress.com.

Consider buying a gift subscription to the region’s newest, hippest and only regional magazine: Northword! Yes, it’s available for free on the stands, but by purchasing a subscription, you can get it mailed to your giftee’s door—no matter where they live, and support culture in the northwest. Visit www.northword.ca and click on subscribe/find a copy for more details.

With Christmas dinner plans well under way, you may already be thinking about how you’ve had it up to here with Mom’s ancient turkey stuffing recipe. No? Good, because we wouldn’t trade Mom’s recipe for anything. However, we would consider shaking up some Christmas routines for one of northern B.C.’s most celebrated chefs: Andrew George Jr.

This Wet’suwet’en chief scooped several gold medals from the international Culinary Olympics in 1992. His gourmet treatment of traditional First Nations cooking is absolutely unique, and his Juniper Duck (see sidebar) will give Mom’s roast turkey a run for its money. George’s best-selling cookbook, Feast: Canadian Native Cuisine for All Seasons, has been around since 1998, but it’s well worth locating one of the few remaining copies. Find them at the Prince George Native Friendship Centre in Prince George, or order through local bookstores.

Sugar and spice

This leads us to another wonderful way to meet a wide range of tastes, accommodate every budget, reduce packaging and support sustainable agriculture: food gifts.

Farmers’ markets with fresh local produce won’t be open until spring, but deluxe, regionally raised, locally prepared meats are available now. In Prince George, the place to go is Rogers Meats on 1st Ave. Its products are not cheap, but guaranteed fresh, prepared onsite and free of MSG. Try their spicy Cajun smokies for about $5/lb, or buffalo pepperoni for $4.20/lb. Get similar quality at Scott Foods in Vanderhoof, which stocks Rogers products, at the Sausage Factory on Main St. in Smithers, and Bert’s Delicatessen on Park Ave. or M&M Meats on Lakelse Ave. in Terrace.

Alternatively, go straight to the source: your friendly neighbourhood farmer. More than 80 cents of every dollar you spend on meat will go straight to them, as compared with about 7 cents that they’d receive if you bought it through a retail outlet. Try some exotic, lean buffalo or bison steaks and roasts, which start at $5/lb. There are numerous buffalo producers in northern B.C., but you could start at October Farms, about 25 kilometres south of Prince George’s tourist information centre (about 10 kilometres south of Art Knapp Plantland) on Highway 97. Call ahead to (250) 330-4465, or e-mail eileen_myers@telus.net, to ensure owners are home.

If you’re more enticed by sweet than savoury, check out two of northern B.C.’s greatest treasures—both on Smithers’ Main street. Narnia Farms offers about two dozen flavours of locally made fudge (about $12.50 lb), including sugar-free! Christmas time heralds seasonal fudge flavours like pumpkin pecan pie, cinnamon crumb cake, cranberry pecan, eggnog, and candy cane. Narnia is happy to ship fudge, as well as their deluxe, organic, herb-infused bath products. Get in touch at www.narniafarms.bc.ca.

Just two blocks down is Schimmel’s Fine Pastries, justly renowned as a top family-owned European patisserie. Unlike big store bakeries, Schimmel’s makes all of their products from fresh ingredients you can actually pronounce. Northword’s favourite is their popular Dutch dessert: almond rings, a rich puff pastry for about $14 (serves several), and maraschino cherry/chocolate mice (about $2.50 each) that are as cute as they are tasty.

A newcomer among patisseries but certainly in the same league as Schimmel’s is the International Baking & Cooking Centre on Lazelle Ave. in Terrace. For $12 you can give a Christmas stollen: a glazed, fruit-laden bread with a marzipan centre. Or go for the gold with an Italian, chocolate sabayon torte, which can be ordered in advance for about $45. Sample everything by the slice next door, at Cafenara.

Walkin’ wild

If your giftees are like many Northword readers, they’re probably already dreaming of their next outdoor adventure. These documentaries by northern filmmakers are sure to inspire.

Being Caribou (2004) chronicles the five months that wildlife biologist Karsten Heuer and his wife Leanne Allison, of Dunster, B.C., followed a herd of 120,000 caribou on foot across 1,500 kilometres of rugged Arctic tundra. Order it for about $20 through the National Film Board at www.nfc.ca/beingcaribou. Equally compelling stories about northern B. C. wildlife are found in award-winning documentaries by Smithers filmmaker Monty Bassett: Sheep of Stone, about an ancient breed of sheep in the Todoggone, and Life on the Vertical: The Goats of Canada’s Grand Canyon, about mountain goats in the remote Stikine. Both are available at The Old Ranger Station and Gallery in Telkwa; the latter is currently on sale for $5 at www.shop.canadiangeographic.com

If your Christmas list includes “the person who has everything,” consider a gift they won’t have to take home: an adopted endangered owl. A donation in your giftee’s name to the Society for Conservation and Research of Owls could help founder Rolf Krahe continue to rescue owls from extinction (see this issue’s feature “Owl creatures great and small” or visit www.scro.org).

Merry Christmas from Northword!

© 2005 Larissa Ardis

Toody Ni Juniper Duck

This is a great favourite of anyone I prepare it for. The recipe is quite simple, and the end product is spectacular. Think of it: smoked duck breast, and red wine, and juniper berries. Use your imagination as you read this recipe and the flavours will almost jump off the page onto your palate, even before you start cooking.

Chef Andrew George Jr.

2 boneless smoked duck breasts
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp. (10 ml) vegetable oil
1 large shallot, chopped
1 tbsp. (15ml) juniper berries, crushed
1/3 cup(75 ml) red wine
1/2 cup (125 ml) duck stock or demi-glace

Season duck with salt and pepper and place skin side upon a rack in a broiling pan.
In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, heat oil. Sauté shallots and juniper berries until shallots are transparent.

Add wine and stock and boil until reduced by half. Pour sauce over duck and broil six inches (15 cm) from the heat for five minutes.

Baste breasts with sauce and roast at 375°F (190°C) for 10 minutes or until breast is firm to the touch and juices run clear.

Arrange breasts on plates and spoon sauce over them.

Serve with Fiddleheads Wabanaki and Baked Sweet Potato with Roasted Hazelnuts (recipes available in Feast: Canadian Native Cuisine for All Seasons, by Chef Andrew George Jr.).

Serves two.