Tag Archives: Rocky Mountains

Birds of a feather picnic together

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Where: Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Canoe

Plate of food: We stayed at the beautiful Rimrock Resort which feels blissfully tucked away from Banff townsite. Little did we know that Rimrock Resort has a cracker-jack of a restaurant, Eden. This is the only 5 Diamond (Canada’s foodie ranking system) restaurant west of Ontario which is important because there is a *touch* of East/West animosity in Canada. Ahem.

We decided to book a table and see what 5 Diamonds gets you.

We were seated at an intimate table in front of floor-to-ceiling windows which offered us dramatic views of the forest and the surrounding mountain peaks. There was a team of 3 people, two waiters and one sommelier, who referred to us by name, and were perfectly attentive and discreet.

Then they started presenting the food. And I realized that 5 diamonds are so gastronomically fabulous that THIS is clearly what they were talking about when they said “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend”.

While enjoying our welcome glass of champagne (yes, please!), one waiter brought a spruce log to our table. Yes, a spruce log. It was slightly smouldering on one side, just enough to give off the evocative aroma of the forest. Perched near one end were two bright red “lollipops” skewered on spruce twigs (of course, because someone in that kitchen is a bona fide genius). We popped them in our mouths and were greeted with the pleasant surprise of smooth foie gras encased within a thin layer of tart cherry gelatin. Oh, Eden, you 5 Diamond minx!

I wanted to do THIS at dinner, but not sure if that is completely appropriate.

I wanted to do THIS at dinner, but not sure if that is completely appropriate.

The chef also impressed us with his interpretation of High Tea (thyme infused broth in tea cups with blue cheese biscuits and savoury macarons), fresh bread served with hay-smoked butter ( just enough golden earthiness to transport you to a picnic on a farm) and a cheese platter that could bring about world peace (teeny, tiny jewel-coloured checkerboards of fruit jellies to accompany the cheese – have they got pixies working in the kitchen?! What is the labour law on pixies?).

In case we weren’t yet ready to pledge our undying love to Eden, they sealed the deal by presenting us with a gift bag full of chocolate glazed banana cake to TAKE WITH US.

I surrender.

The best: Hiking in Sunshine Meadows. This is an area near Banff, surrounded by stunning mountain peaks, milky blue lakes, and, in the Autumn, golden larches which are deciduous coniferous trees (go on, just take a moment with that).

Larches

Our waiter at The Bison (another great place for a meal in Banff) recommended that we hike up to Sunshine Meadows. He had such an enthusiastic, positive spirit that I would have done pretty much anything he told me to…well, that’s not true because he also expressed great passion about kayaking over waterfalls.

Death in a kayak. No. Sunshine Meadows. YES!

We were stunned by the beauty of what this hike had to offer. After a steep climb and an amble across a scruffy alpine plateau, we discovered vast swaths of golden larches carpeting the hills. Bathed in sunshine, the needles glowed; the most incredible autumnal sight.

Larches

Although the shuttle bus to the trail head was full, the group quickly dispersed and we spent the entire day on our own, enjoying the views and the fresh mountain air. (And some good quality chocolate, obviously.)

Hike

We just happened to be there at precisely the right time to see the larches in all their glory. Lucky, lucky us!

Story that needs to be told: We visited the breathtaking Chateau Lake Louise for lunch one day. After gawking at the view along with 1/4 of Japan’s population (only a guess), we decided to buy sandwiches and drinks at the hotel deli. The 90 minute wait at the hoity-toity cafe was too much for us (oh, yes I did use hoity-toity. I’m bringing it back into common usage). Plus, what could be better than an impromptu picnic in one of the most stunning locations in Canada? Okay, okay, not being denied the shot of apple brandy in my warm cider due to public drinking laws would have made it marginally better.

Lake Louise

As we sat in the sunshine and admired the view across the lake to the glacier, we nibbled on smoked salmon bagels and salt & vinegar chips (the only flavour that should pass your lips, I believe).

Being in the Rocky Mountains, nature surrounds you and alpine creatures scurry about. We were joined at our picnic by a few birds who landed nearby to chirp and cock their heads, then move on.

I noticed that a large, grey bird with a chip on his shoulder (I could just tell) alighted in the gravel near our feet. I continued to wax lyrical about the mountains and our good fortune of being there at that moment, gesturing with my free hand while the other clasped one half of my salmon bagel.

Suddenly and with deadly accuracy, that bird swooped at my bagel, his claws grazing my hand as he tugged once at my food with his beak. Luckily my instincts kicked in to protect such a tasty morsel as smoked salmon and I held on tight. His wing brushed against my hair and, with that, he was gone.

Well, I can assure you that I reacted in a very calm manner (there are no witnesses except for Matt and he ain’t saying a thing), but I was outraged at the audacity of this bird, even with his refined tastes. I abandoned that half of my bagel because his claws and his beak had made contact with it and – do I really need to elaborate here?

I continued to rant about the sheer balls of this bird who would try to take the lunch right out of my hand to Matt who was already over it (no surprise there) when – GET THIS – the bird swooped again. This time he came from my blind side and tried once more to pilfer my bagel. I was not impressed.

He and I spent the rest of the time eyeing each other suspiciously. Him hopping around with his wee beady eyes, me shouting out “OY!!” like I had Tourette’s every time I saw his feathers shift.

You know, I really felt like I convened with nature. I clearly have a gift.

fall

“It is wonderful to feel the grandness of Canada in the raw.”
– Emily Carr

A bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck

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Where: Waterton, Alberta, Canada

At the top of Bear's Hump for a view of Waterton Lake

Plate of food: This isn’t a plate of food; it isn’t even a complete meal, but it deserves a place here. It is a Bear Paw (sometimes known as a Bear Claw). Before I have animal rights activists lashing out at me with their non-leather shoes (oops), let me explain that this isn’t actually a bear’s paw. Us Canadians, we like to name our foods in a way that challenges the mind as well as the palate: each food is like a riddle. Those that are unaware ask themselves, “What am I actually eating?”, while the friendly Canadian chuckles and wryly shakes his head. Take, for example, the Beaver Tail or Cowboy Caviar or Moose Droppings….it is typical of our latent (albeit hokey) humour. Anyway…

A Bear Paw is a disc of caramel toffee coated with chocolate (obviously dark chocolate is the best, right? Right!). To complete the illusion of a real bear’s paw, cashew nuts are stuck into the caramel as claws. Aha! Genius!

No chocolate here, but a cast of a real paw. So scarily big that it made my butt cheeks clench. Yeah, you heard me right.

Culinary snobs might sneer at this being my memorable food from Waterton, which is home to many fine restaurants. The rest of us, however, will acknowledge that you cannot go wrong with caramel and chocolate and nuts – in the shape of a BEAR’S PAW.

When you go to Waterton (you really should), you take yourself straight to Welch’s Chocolate Shop and buy yourself some Bear Paws. Hopefully it is the closest encounter with a bear that you will have during your visit!

The best: A day hike to Bertha Lake (to work off those Bear Paws or, in my case, to justify eating 3 more of them). There are innumerable hiking paths around Waterton and we did a different hike each day we were there, but this was my favourite.

It was a beautiful sunny day. We climbed up from the townsite on a dirt path through pine forests. We often stopped along the way, where the trees parted and wildflowers bloomed, to gaze down at the valley. Despite being in Waterton at the height of summer, there were hardly any other hikers on the trail. It was quiet and peaceful, and satisfyingly hard work. We crossed clear, rushing streams with water so cold it made your fingers ache. Soon we moved further into the trees where it was darker and spongy underfoot with pine needles. Eventually we descended to Bertha Lake and saw a majestic sight:

Wow. Just, wow.

It was breathtaking to come across this perfect vignette of green trees, silver mountains, and blue sky, all mirrored in the crystal waters of the lake. The view made me want to burst into a moving rendition of “Oh, Canada” (even the French verses, that’s how touched I was by this). It was worth the effort of hiking for hours. Bertha Lake is not easily accessible and for that I am grateful – it can remain a hidden treasure, unspoilt and untouched.

We did not linger at the lake, despite its magnificence. As I communed with nature and made grand statements about spirituality, Mother Earth, and giving up eating Bear Paws just for this, Matt’s body suddenly went rigid next to me.

“I saw a bear”, he said.

“S**t”, I said.

Gone was the spirituality and the nature and the beauty. It was replaced with us frantically searching to see where the bear had gone, me hissing at Matt about whether he saw a black bear or a grizzly bear (really? Does it matter at this point?), and me maniacally clapping my hands like a deranged seal because we all know that that is how you scare off a bear. Either that or it is like a dinner gong to a bear – clap, clap, Bear! I am dumb enough to think this will scare you away. Come and get me!

Luckily we had lingered at many lovely spots along the way to Bertha Lake because our return trip was very hasty indeed. I went at a steady trot the entire way, still clapping intermittently which startled a group of Texans, but no doubt had no effect on bears in the vicinity. We made it back to Waterton without any problem, and promptly went and had a…beer (you didn’t think that a Bear Paw was going to cut it this time, did you?).

Story that needs to be told: One afternoon as we walked through town we came upon a house set amongst tall pine trees. It had a pleasant yard, but the owners had placed two plastic deer on their lawn. You’ve seen these before – a doe laying in the grass and a buck standing frozen with one hoof poised to take a step. They exist in the realm of duck ornaments stuck on the exterior of a house or macramé owls hung in the kitchen. That they exist at all confounds me.

It struck me as funny that people would have these lawn ornaments in a place where you regularly see wildlife, but it takes all sorts. I laughed, joking, “You should take a photo of me with that deer in a headlock. We could tell people it was real!”

Smiles still on our faces, we continued walking. As we crossed the street, the lawn ornaments suddenly got to their feet and stared at us. Now, I know that most of you knew that was going to happen, but I assure you, I did not. Blame it on the chocolate I had consumed, but it took some real brain work to figure out that the figurines had moved…no, wait…oh, they’re NOT figurines!

We stopped and waited as the deer delicately picked their way across the lawn and disappeared into the trees.

I then spent the rest of the evening (much to Matt’s delight) pondering what would have happened if I had tried to get my headlock photo. Play along with me, won’t you?

Imagine me cockily crossing the street and doing some body builder poses for Matt. Ha, so funny! Then, imagine me actually getting close enough to the doe (in my mind I had targeted the one laying on the ground) to get my hands on it. Warmer than I had expected! Imagine the deer being so bewildered by this giggling, show-boating girl that she would freeze rather than flee. Imagine me locking my arms around the deer’s neck while I try to arrange my face into an outdoorsy and fearless expression. Cor! Now imagine the look on my face as that deer rears up to her feet, fed up with this foolish girl trying to strangle her. What the..?

Imagine all of that caught on camera. I’m almost sorry we didn’t try.

All together now - "Oh, Canada...!"

“When I’m in Canada, I feel this is what the world should be like.” Jane Fonda