Each year, there’s one specific day on which I realize the holidays are coming, and it hits me like a ton of brick-shaped Christmas tree ornaments.

That day for me was yesterday.  I walked into Richmond Centre, and suddenly it was all silver bells, red ribbons, and even Santa himself.  He was on a break when I arrived – I assume eating the stew, biscuits, and snowball cookies Mrs. Clause packed for him – but he’s ready for visitors most of the time, so bring your kids!

After reveling for a short while in the winter wonderland-ness of it all, I headed up to the new Dining Terrace for lunch.  I decided to try Umi, a Japanese eatery that opened its flagship restaurant in Richmond Centre (thanks to Robyn of Swallowtail Tours for the recommendation).  Its glowing, bright green sign makes it a dominating presence in the terrace, and there are about a dozen staff members working hard within the open concept kitchen.  It’s a sushi and udon hive of activity.

Umi is very new, and there are still a few wrinkles to sort out; for instance, there’s no clear designation for the lineup, so people tend to crowd the till, which could be fixed with a simple “Line Up Here” sign.  It was also a little difficult to view the menu, since it’s divided between two sections above the counter.  You can’t see the ‘make your own sushi’ menu if you’re stuck in front of the udon/bento board, so it would be great if there were a few smaller menus spread out  displaying all the options.

Umi offers hot entrees made to order, as well as an extensive selection of ready-made sushi.  There’s also a little bar for desserts, including flavoured shaved ice.

The entrees include a huge variety of udon, udon soup, small meals, snacks, and bento boxes.  I wanted to try a few things, so I got a vegetarian bento ($7.99), a ‘mini’ order of yam fries with spicy mayo ($4.49), and the “Tontoro Katsu Curry” ($8.99), with breaded and fried pork cheek.  I wonder how many people ask for the “Toronto” Katsu Curry, because my brain sure wouldn’t allow me to say otherwise.

Once you’ve placed your order, you’ll be given a buzzer – it looks like a TV remote control, and therefore your kids will fight over it!  Eventually it’ll buzz and light up, and you can return to the counter to collect your meal.

Of the three dishes I ordered, my favourites were the udon curry and yam fries.  The fries were the epitome of deep-fried deliciousness; each piece of yam had been battered then fried, so they were sweet, wickedly crunchy, and had a spicy, creamy kick from the mayo drizzled on top.  I wish yam fries were like this everywhere in the world.

The fried pork cheeks were also astonishing good – they were tender, crunchy, and gorgeously rich.   The udon noodles were great, though I would have preferred the curry sauce to have had a slightly stronger flavour.  Still, I would definitely order this dish again.

I was rather indifferent when it came to the bento box.  The avocado in the roll was lovely and ripe, but it was sort of messily-prepared, and the salad was nothing more than iceberg lettuce with some dressing.

The stir-fry was standard and the rice a little clumpy, but the best part of the dish was the fresh, crunchy broccoli and yam tempura.  Judging by this post, it would seem the only foods I like are those that have been battered and deep-fried.  I’m classier than this, I swear!

Umi has loads of potential, and once the wrinkles are smoothed out I think they’ll do well.  Definitely check them out the next time you’re in the Dining Terrace.

After lunch I went to the gym, then stopped in at Galloways.  Like Richmond Centre, they’re in full Christmas swing, with festive displays setup around the store and every last item you could possibly need for holiday baking.

If you’re a fruitcake fan, you’ll have to head to the store on December 2nd.  Kristen Degenhardt of the Sweet Spot Bakery will be judging Galloway’s 4th Annual Fruitcake Contest, with the winner announced December 3rd.

Not everyone loves fruitcake, BUT I SURE DO.  Our family’s friend Shirley sends a homemade cake to Prince George each year for Christmas, and my mom and I snack on slices of it practically every hour.  It’s dark, rich, fruity, nutty, and boozy – a cacophony of calories.  I love it.

If you’d like to make your own fruitcake, Galloways makes it easy; they have an entire rack filled with candied fruit, nuts, and raisins, as well as a conversion chart for going between weight and cup measurements.

They’re also stocked full of holiday magazines,

cookies, chocolates, and panettone, a sweet, bread-like Italian Christmas cake that’s delicious with butter.  Or, if left to dry-out a bit, it makes some seriously phenomenal French toast.  Galloways have little ones, regular-sized ones, and this beast, which is most certainly the biggest panettone I’ve ever seen!

Inspired by the season, I decided to make my first batch of Christmas cookies yesterday.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll continue to share more recipes as I stock my freezer with baking, and would love to hear your holiday favourites, too.  After all, everyone has their “it just wouldn’t be Christmas without _____” treats.

In honour of my American friends who will be enjoying turkey tomorrow, I’ve come up with a slightly new name for these buttery cardamom cookies, which are perfect with a cup of tea on a cold day.  Happy holiday season to all!

(adapted from The Food Network)

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup semolina flour
2 1/4 teaspoons ground cardamom
4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon orange-flower water, available at gourmet markets, or substitute orange extract or liqueur (I omitted this)

Sift together both flours and 2 teaspoons cardamom in a large bowl; set aside.
Using a mixer, beat the butter, 1 1/4 cups sugar and the salt in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the egg yolks; mix well. Add the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated. Mix in the orange-flower water.

Divide the dough in half; place each half on a sheet of wax paper. Using the wax paper, roll each piece of dough into a 12-by-1 1/2-inch log. Wrap tightly and chill until firm, at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 teaspoon cardamom in a bowl. Slice one log of dough into 1/4-inch-thick rounds (keep the remaining log refrigerated). Dip the tops of dough rounds in the cardamom sugar and arrange on ungreased baking sheets; bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Place the cookies on a wire rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining log of dough.

*I halved this recipe and still got a few dozen cookies!  It makes a lot.



Umi, Richmond Centre

6551 No. 3 Road, Richmond BC


Cash and cards accepted

Vegetarian options available