Guest Post: Gill Murray’s Food Photography Hacks for Instagram Worthy Images with Your Smartphone

Instagram has become more than a fun place to share photos. It has become a community. I know that social media has its downsides, but a fun part for me is connecting with people via the app and then having the opportunity to meet them in person. The Blog Pod girls are an example of this and so is the lovely Gill Murray, a Scottish food photographer and blogger that I met a few years ago when she liked one of my Scotland photos. We’ve kept in touch and I was so happy to meet her in person last year when I was back in Edinburgh. She is a gorgeous human being inside and out. 

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Blog Pod Fancy Tea at The Secret Garden Tea House

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I love tea. I particularly love having tea with friends. I’ve mentioned the Blog Pod that I belong to a few times; these ladies have become a lovely group to get together with, and some of us recently had the opportunity to spend a hygge afternoon enjoying Secret Garden Tea Company‘s High Tea together. One day, all ten of us will be in the same room, but for this day we had me, Karlie, Emily, Po On, Melissa, and Orla.

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Date Night In

It’s already past the midway point of February! What the what?

I had (what I had originally thought were) fairly realistic plans to get some Date Night blog posts done to coincide with Valentine’s day; but in the way of things, work and life got busy, and I need to sleep. But I realized that posting after what I know some call a ‘Hallmark holiday’ works better.

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7 Budget Friendly Ways to Experience Barcelona

Winter in Vancouver is down to your bones cold. I’m in the middle of some Sunshine Coast drafts but the windy, rainy weather and the cooking shows I’ve been watching on Netflix have my thoughts straying to the dry heat of Barcelona. As close to a tropical vacation as I’ve had a while, June in this Spanish city was perfect for the girls and me after the unexpected and pelting rain in Paris.

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#12DaysofHygge – Day 5: Tuesday Night Supper + Recipe for White Bean & Kale Soup with Sausage

One of things that makes me feel most hygge is a small dinner party, eating family style with favourite people.

I have been eating at Karen Dar Woon’s 1920’s oak table since I was 16 or 17 years old. She was one of my dance moms (referred to as Ballet Mom in this post) and is a really lovely friend to me and my own mum. Karen used to be a paper sales rep, and decided to start making biscotti. (Which was very tasty!) Her Biscotti Queen business took off and going through the BCIT Venture Development program, she eventually turned it into Your Secret Chef, a successful private chef and catering company.

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#12DaysofHygge – Day 4: Roasted Fennel & Butternut Squash Soup

There’s a frosty bite in the air, which means it’s officially hearty soup and stew season. With that, the next few #12DaysofHygge posts will be all about hearty food and beverage!

We had a roasted fennel and butternut squash for dinner last night. Much needed after a day of being out and about in the cold. (I was running errands and getting new photos shot for the blog. Really excited about the results!) I’m a little obsessed with fennel. I don’t like licorice, so I’m baffled about this fixation – perhaps it’s just more subtle than say… ouzo (*shudder*) – but I digress.

I love soup. It’s quick and easy to make, nutritious, and makes for excellent leftovers for lunch or when you don’t feel like cooking. This is a soup that I started making by cobbling bits of other recipes to my liking, and then the Brit took over and made a few more tweaks. Between the two of us making it a fair amount of times this year, I think we’ve finally gotten it to a spot on place. (The Brit also made bread last night, but he is still tweaking the recipe. Another day, another post.)

ADD VARIETY – If I’m having leftover soup, I like to stir a big handful of chopped kale or spinach into the bowl after I warm the soup up. It adds some variety and gives me an extra shot of greens for the day!

Normally I would haven take some fancy photos of the ingredients (like the fennel that I would smell all day, every day) or the soup, but honestly? I was exhausted and thoroughly enjoyed having my feet up while my guy cooked this fabulous soup. I got one in though, so I will take that as a win.

Roasted Fennel & Butternut Squash Soup

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, cubed into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 fennel bulb, (with green part removed), cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 2-3 celery sticks, washed and roughly chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced or mashed through a garlic press
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (Whatever your preference!)
  • ½ tsp thyme
  • Pinch or two of nutmeg – depends on how much kick you would likeCrushed black pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup half & half (easily substituted with almond or coconut milk)

#GetThrifty Timesaver – You can find pre-cubed butternut squash in the frozen section at your local supermarket. It’s cheaper than a squash by weight.

Method:
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Chop anything that needs chopping and prep your other ingredients
  2. Toss squash and fennel with 1 tbsp of olive oil, a bit of salt, and whatever dried herbs strike your fancy,
  3. Evenly spread on a large baking sheet grind 3-4 clicks of fresh pepper across the tray. Roast for 15-20 min
  4. Heat the rest of the olive oil in a heavy soup pot, add onion, celery, garlic and thyme. Saute until the onion is softened.
  5. To the soup pot add roasted vegetables and chicken stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low-medium. Simmer for 10-15 more minutes.
  6. Season with nutmeg and 3-4 clicks of finely ground black pepper
  7. Use an immersion/stick blender to blend until smooth (or transfer vegetables with some stock to the blender and then pour back into the pot)
  8. Stir in your cream of choice
  9. Enjoy solo, with bread, or with some savoury biscuits!

Whatever I’m doing, I’m in that moment and I’m doing it. The rest of the world’s lost. If I’m cooking some food or making soup, I want it to be lovely. If not, what’s the point of doing it?
~ Sade Adu

My Favourite Metro Vancouver Brunch Spots

Brunch. The Goldilocks and most hygge of meals. Yes, it’s Thursday morning and I’m already thinking about where to have weekend brunch.

If you’re like me, you might like to plan things out and want to make a reservation. That doesn’t always fly as many restaurants in the city don’t take resos during brunch time, if at all. This gives me mild anxiety, but the key is to show up 20-30 min before you actually want to be seated so they can take your name down. I’m not a huge fan of standing in a queue forever, but there are some restaurants that are worth it!

Here are my favourite brunch spots in and around Vancouver – most of which are #GetThrifty friendly!

Vancouver

The Distillery Bar & Kitchen ($-$$) – 1132 Mainland St, Vancouver

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The Distillery Scramble

Last weekend I was reminded that The Distillery is a Vancouver gem with its solid $10 brunch menu and very decently sized $10 Mimosa jugs! Very #GetThrifty for a neighbourhood known for pricier establishments – I like it! The food is good, the service is friendly and charming, and the restaurant itself has a really great vibe. There’s always excellent specials, the prices are good in general, and they usually play classic movies like Casablanca on their screens. The music can get a bit loud, but this is absolutely my vote for the best brunch in the city. (Note: Brunch is only served Fri-Sun + holidays, with Mon-Thu exclusively for dinner and drinks.) Reservations are recommended.

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Mimosa brunches are a wonderful thing! (For my Friends across the Atlantic, a Buck’s Fizz!)

*Make a reservation!

Belgard Kitchen ($$) – 55 Dunlevy Ave, Vancouver

Located in what is called the Settlement Building (with its big, beautiful doors and high ceilings) in an area called ‘Railtown’, Belgard Kitchen shares space with the Vancouver Urban Winery and Postmark Brewing. Their Salmon Gravlax Hash is the prettiest meal I have ever been served. No joke. The first time I ordered it, I almost didn’t want to ruin it. Common sense prevailed, but seriously, it looks like a beautiful piece of art. Reservations are recommended.

*Make a reservation!

Cafe Medina ($$) – 780 Richards St, Vancouver

Cafe Medina used to be on Beatty Street, but moved up to Richards Street a few years ago. They are known for their waffles (yum!) and having a slightly exotic take on brunch classics. It’s a popular spot that doesn’t take reservations, so there’s always a queue outside. But, I’ve had brunch there a few times and have planned a couple of corporate events in their space (excellent for private events!), and it’s worth the wait – if you have some relaxed weekend patience.

*No reservations.

WCCG Tip – For places that don’t take reservations, arrive 20-30 minutes early so you can get your name on the list! Some places are worth the wait. 🙂

Kingston Taphouse ($-$$) – 755 Richards St, Vancouver

The times where the wait time is just too long at Medina (or because I know the food is good and have wanted to avoid the queue-up business in general), I’ve popped across the street to the Kingston. It’s part of the Kingston Hotel and I suppose would be categorized as a sports bar. But it’s actually quite cozy and hyggelig with its fireplace and wood paneling. Try the Farmer’s Plate – filling and tasty! Reservations recommended on football game days.

*Make a reservation!

Edible Canada ($$-$$$) – Granville Island, Vancouver

This is a ‘treat yourself’ brunch spot. Very tasty, but on the higher end of the price scale. But with that, it’s perfect for fancy brunch with the girls or a weekend date day at Granville Island. Edible Canada’s focus is on seasonal and Canadian ingredients and they are a fun option for the city’s annual Dine Out Vancouver event. They also have a lovely gourmet food shop that features only Canadian artisan brands – make sure to pop back there before you leave! Reservations are recommended.

*Make a reservation!

Honourable Mentions: Catch 122 ($$), Ouisi Bistro ($$) and Cat’s Social House ($-$$ – $4 mimosas!), because I remember their brunch being good, but it’s been ages and I need to go back!

I’ve heard Twisted Fork ($$) on Granville Street is fantastic, but I still need to get there. It’s on my blogger friend Nina’s Vancouver brunch list – you should check it out!

North Vancouver

Before the Brit and I moved in together he lived on the North Shore and Lower Lonsdale was my weekend neigbourhood. There are some fantastic restaurants in the the area, and these are my favourites for brunch.

Lift Bakery ($$) – 101 Lonsdale Ave, North Vancouver

Lift Bakery is owned by Jane Copeland who has been the pastry chef in some of Vancouver’s and the world’s best restaurants. Her croissants are divine and the brunch meals have a nice touch of creative flair – like the parmesan lace cracker that came with my breakfast hash.

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*No reservations.

The Cheshire Cheese ($$) – Lonsdale Quay, North Vancouver

The Cheshire Cheese is a family run restaurant located in the Lonsdale Quay Market. Being a British restaurant, they have common British staples like baked beans on the menu and a grilled tomato is served with meals. The Brit tells me their bacon and sausages were actually ‘proper’, so there you go. Brunch is served only on weekends and holidays and you should get a seat by the window so you can enjoy the view.

*Make a reservation: (604) 987-3322

Finch X Barley ($$) – 250 East 1st Street, North Vancouver

Finch and Barley is a nice little North Van gem with incredibly tasty food. The FXB Hash (I really like a hash for brunch) is very good and the portions are just right. It’s a little bit hipster without being pretentious and it’s actually quiet. No loud music. And just for fun, there’s a bison head on the wall (that I’m 99% sure isn’t real – I hope). Reservations are recommended.

*Make a reservation: (604) 770-1000 or reservations@finchandbarley.com

Tour de Feast ($$) – 319 Mountain Hwy, North Vancouver

This little French bistro is located in a little bit of an industrial area of North Vancouver, right near Bridge Brewing. The menu is simple and fresh, and even though it’s not on a Paris street, Tour de Feast has a je ne sais quoi about it. We went there after hiking Dog Mountain on Mount Seymour, and it was the best way to refuel!

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Tour de Feast’s ‘Smoked Salmon Breakfast’

*Make a reservation!

New Westminster

This is a list that is going to get quite long, but for now, it only has one solid option until a bit more reconnaissance has been done.

The Castle Neighbourhood Grill ($-$$) – 319 Governors Court, New Westminster

Many moons ago,  I used to live in the Sapperton area of New West and frequented this place quite often as some good friends live just up the hill from it. Located in the Governor’s Mansion on the Old BC Pen site, The Castle is a great pub with quality and reasonably priced. Scroll down on their online menu to get to the brunch options. Having eaten a lot of it, I can tell you that their French toast is everything. Not being very near a train station or bus stop, this is a drive-to venue, but it’s worth it when you get there. The current Lower Mainland weather forecast is not patio friendly, but they have a nice patio for when it’s slightly balmier outside. The Castle is also a good place to hold a fundraiser for your team, kid’s scout trip, charity, etc.

Make a reservation: (604) 544-5020

Anywhere in BC

White Spot ($-$$) – Click here to find a location near you!

The OG of breakfast/brunch spots, White Spot is a BC institution. I’ve been going since I was a kid (hello, Pirate Packs!). The price-point has gone up a bit from what it used to be, but the meal sizes are decent and the food is unpretentious and good. The Nat’s Hearty Brunch with scrambled eggs and smash’browns is my favourite thing to order and I always ask for spinach to be added to my eggs – but I’m quirky like that.

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What are your favourite brunch spots in the Vancouver area, or wherever you live? Share in the comments section!

For me, brunch is such a versatile meal since you can play on both the sweet and savory in your dishes.

~ Marcus Samuelsson