For the Love of the Adventure: “Snowshoeing” at “Garibaldi Lake”

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I am not what one would call a “peak bagger”.

Rather, I am a firm believer in the old cliche that the journey is the destination. In other words, if I have to amend or abort an adventure due to weather, injuries, time crunches, or other variables that are generally out of my control, I’m not really bothered.

I’m not concerned with reaching a summit; I’m more focused on getting outside and having a really nice time. So while a recent snowshoe trip to Garibaldi Lake ended up involving neither snowshoes nor lake, I still deem it a success. I got to play outside, enjoyed a rare and glorious sunny winter day to its fullest, spent some solid QT with friends, and capped my day off with (root) beer and snacks at Backcountry Brewing – by all objective measures, the adventure was a perfect one.

If you’ve ever done the Garibaldi Lake/Black Tusk/Panorama Ridge hike in the non-snowy season, you know that the first part of the hike involves a seemingly never ending series of switchbacks through the forest. However, in the snowy season, the hike starts one step earlier.

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The paved road to the trail head is not quite as easy to maneuver in the winter, when it is covered in snow, as it is in the summer, when it is not. Our first clue should have been the dozens of cars parked on the shoulder just past the turnoff. However, there were a few tough guy cars who had laid down some tracks along the road, and our Fearless Adventure Leader’s truck seemed as capable as any, so we happily bumped our way down the road to see how far we could get.

We got a decent way up, but the three point turn required to orient the vehicle properly for a smooth exit was a little trickier than anticipated. Luckily, our Fearless Adventure Leader had a sturdy avy shovel in his sturdy truck, so the rest of us got to feel useful as we dug and pushed it to a comfortable position on the shoulder of the road, out of the way of any other tough guy cars who dared make the trek.

Then, we were off. Though there was snow on the ground, it was fairly well packed and more easily tramped by foot than by snowshoe. We debated leaving our snowshoes in the car, but we ultimately decided to take them with us in case things got deeper and softer. Spoiler alert: we did not end up using them, though I am glad we took them because – as another hiker we bumped into with snowshoes strapped to her pack said – we got to take them out for a lovely walk. Snowshoes need fresh air and exercise too, right?

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Notably missing: snowshoes.

We lucked out on gorgeous, sunny weather, though under the canopy of trees in the switchbacks, we weren’t in much danger of getting a sunburn. The snow was a little sparse towards the bottom, but it covered most of the trail pretty solidly. I anticipate after some recent snowfall that the trails are even snowier – perhaps even requiring snowshoes?

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Cell phone cameras: taking poor quality selfies since the 2000s!

My biggest challenge with outdoor activities in the winter is temperature control. I have the attractive habit of sweating aggressively when doing any moderately strenuous activity (including hiking up switchbacks for hours). If I stop, say for lunch, the sweat cools instantly, chilling me to the bone. I’m usually able to reheat my core and my legs once I start moving again, but my extremities go yellow and lose circulation. (Google Raynaud’s if you want to gross yourself out a little.) I lose feeling, especially in my hands, and it is very uncomfortable and hard to regain feeling until I’m somewhere sheltered and warm and wearing something dry.

So, when we stopped around our pre-determined turnaround time to determine whether we wanted to keep going or call it a day – despite having not reached Garibaldi Lake – I was totally fine when we opted for the latter, knowing it meant I would regain feeling in my hands that much sooner.

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We came, we saw (some pretty trees, mostly), and although we didn’t conquer much, we had a great time, proving that one does not actually need snowshoes for an enjoyable snowshoe trip!

 

 

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Dorie’s Cookies “My Newest Chocolate Chip Cookies” Recipe Review

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A picky comment – the photography in Dorie’s Cookies is not my favourite. But as I continue to bake (and photograph) my own cookies, I’m realizing it is kind of hard to photograph cookies in exciting, unconventional ways. Respect to food stylists!

It is no secret that Cedric is a fan of chocolate chip cookies.

As I have previously explained, in our household, we like to make a batch of cookie dough and freeze individually portioned cookies so that when the need for something sweet hits, we simply have to throw a few cookie pucks in the oven and voila: instant fresh-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies.

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Recently, our freezer stash dwindled down to dangerously low supply levels and I decided it was time to make a new batch. Naturally, I knew I had to try a chocolate chip cookie recipe from my new Dorie’s Cookies cookbook – but which one?

I should have known that a cookbook devoted entirely to cookies would contain more than one chocolate chip cookie recipe – it is, after all, a classic. Here were my options:

  • Kerrin’s Multigrain Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • My Newest Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • My Classic Best Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • Two-Bite One-Chip Cookies

I opted for “My Newest Chocolate Chip Cookies” – Dorie’s latest remix of her original “My Classic Best Chocolate Chip Cookies” recipe.

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So what’s different about this recipe? Most chocolate chip cookie recipes vary only very slightly – but even the smallest change in sugar/butter/flour ratio, type of sugar used, cooking temperature, and cooking time can have radical effects. (Yes, chocolate chip cookies can be radical.) This particular recipe features a blend of all-purpose and whole-wheat flour and white and brown sugar for optimal chewiness. It uses baking soda, not baking powder, and it calls for a couple of unconventional spices (for chocolate chip cookies at least): nutmeg and coriander.

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I didn’t have any coriander on hand (isn’t coriander cilantro? do I really want that it my cookie?), but Dorie says that we can use our discretion when it comes to including or omitting the spices. I kept the nutmeg but left out the coriander.

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This recipe is as quick to make as any chocolate chip recipe is, though it calls for at least an hour in the fridge before baking. I rolled up most of my dough into individual cookies to freeze for later, but I did bake a few so that I could give this recipe the review it deserves.

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The recipe says to bake for 9 to 11 minutes. I left mine in for 10, and they looked perfect coming out: pale in the middle (chewiness galore!), brown on the edges. The pictures in the cookbook look a little darker than mine, but after I let mine sit for a few minutes, they were the perfect texture. If I had let them get darker, I think they would have been too crispy for my liking.

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Right out of the oven

The greatest challenge with chocolate chip cookies is knowing that they taste even better if you let them sit for a little while and cool fully – but also knowing that there is nothing better than a still-hot cookie with chocolate that oozes. I compromised: I ate my cookie straight out of the oven, and I left two cookies to cool fully for Cedric to sample when he got home.

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We both really liked this cookie. I’ll have to try a few more of the freezer ones before I make a final judgment call, and I’m definitely looking forward to trying some of the other chocolate chip cookie recipes in this book (the Kerrin’s recipe includes buckwheat flour and kasha – I don’t even know what kasha is!)

One final note on chocolate chip cookies: some people wonder if there is really such thing as a bad chocolate chip cookie. Oh, but there is – and for some reason, cafes and bakeries often serve substandard versions. As a kid, I loved the Tim Horton’s and Subway ones, but now the texture bothers me and so does the crystalized sugar taste. One local cafe (I won’t name names) serve puck-like chocolate chip cookies that are too hard and crumbly; another is disappointingly bland and low on actual chocolate.

So yes, it is possible to botch the chocolate chip cookie. And no, that is not a concern with this recipe – thankfully.

Flour Water Salt Yeast’s Same-Day Straight Pizza Dough Focaccia Pizza

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I was so very excited to receive my very own copy of the infamous Flour Water Salt Yeast cookbook for Christmas.

I have heard about this book for a long time – it is the cookbook of all cookbooks when it comes to artisan bread.

For the past year, I have been baking bread from my beloved (and currently extremely tattered) Bread Illustrated cookbook. I love Bread Illustrated for its simplicity, its excellent use of photographs to clearly illustrate each step, and the sheer variety of types of breads it covers. I fully plan to continue to bake from it because it goes beyond the typical rustic sourdough thing that seems to be popular right now. (Popular in bread circles, anyway. Sometimes I forgot that most people don’t spend a lot of time in bread circles.)

Flour Water Salt Yeast (which I shall call FWSY going forward) has a much narrower range of breadly recipes, but it goes much more in depth than Bread Illustrated. It’s basically like a college textbook of all things bread. It really, really goes into detail about various techniques and examines each and every variable that goes into baking bread, including temperature and time (and how to adjust each of these based on your own circumstances). It’s user-friendly, but it’s advanced.

I’m not going to lie – I find it a little intimidating. I feel like I need to read it cover-to-cover before I give it a serious go. But I did crack and try a recipe the other week – and it was fantastic.

You see, I wanted to make a pizza for dinner. I mentioned that I wanted to pick up some dough while I was in Whistler (Pasta Lupino sells its delicious dough dirt cheap!), and a girl in my book club said, “I thought you baked bread?!”. She was right – why on earth was I planning on buying pizza dough when I knew very well I could make it myself?

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Since rustic breads and pizza are the focal point of FWSY, I flipped open to the pizza section, which includes 15 pages on pizza and focaccia methodology before presenting four recipes: same-day straight pizza dough, overnight straight pizza dough, overnight pizza dough with levain, and overnight pizza dough with poolish. As I was somewhat short on time, I decided to try the same-day straight pizza dough.

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The ingredients – you’ll be shocked to know – are flour, water, salt, and yeast. One recipe yields a MASSIVE amount of pizza dough – enough for five pizzas. As the devoted pupil that I am, I read the methodology section before starting this recipe and realized that I could make two huge focaccia pizzas with the same amount of dough, so that’s what I did.

(We had pizza for days – and if you know Cedric’s appetite for pizza, you’ll know this is quite unusual.)

The recipe is super detailed when it comes to temperatures, which is awesome for making sure your dough turns out as perfectly as possible. It is on the cool side here, given that it is mid-winter, so I have created a proofing room of sorts in one of our bathrooms. It is small and windowless and easy to heat up without destroying our utility bill, and it served perfectly for growing my dough at just the right temperature.

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Here’s another intimidating thing about FWSY: it doesn’t use a stand mixer. You just use – gasp – your hands! Secretly, this is a good thing – I sometimes wonder if my weekly sourdoughs and other breads are too harsh on my KitchenAid’s engine. It will be good to give it a bit of a break, I think.

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Mid-pince

Of course, this means that rather than relying on a hook to do the bulk of the kneading in mixing, I have to use my own digits. The book outlines folding and pincing techniques (lobster claws, activate!) and it was actually kind of fun to squish the dough around to ensure all the ingredients got incorporated. I have a feeling this is the kind of thing that I will get better at over time.

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Daaaang look at those bubbles!

I also learned a new technique for creating smooth balls of dough. While Bread Illustrated talks about cupping the balls and making small little circles with it against the counter, FWSY uses a cup and drag technique, which I like a lot better.

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So, I made two massive balls of dough, which became two large baking pan-sized focaccia pizzas.

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I skipped the tomato sauce and topped them with bocconcini, caramelized red onions, proscuitto, and (post oven) arugula and Nonna Pia’s balsamic reduction.

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The pizza was delicious. The dough was easy to maneuver before baking and after baking, it was light and flavourful and completely delicious.

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The thicker focaccia meant we really got to sink our teeth into it and taste it, but I think it would be wonderful as regular pizza, too.

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If the same-day dough is this good, I can only imagine how tasty the other three pizza recipes in this book are.

More FWSY to come.

Cross-Country Skiing in the Callaghan

I am a BIG fan of the Whistler Olympic Park in the Callaghan.

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Home to such Olympic events as the biathlon and the ski jump (and such non-Olympic events as the Red Bull 400 – seriously, check it out), the Whistler Olympic Park also has some pretty incredible – and impeccably groomed – cross country ski trails.

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I am a casual classic XC skier. I go often enough (i.e., a few times per year) to feel comfortable on the trails and I own my own pair of skis, but steeper downhills – especially ones that curve – still make me a little nervous and leave me laughing manically as I flail down them at Mach 50 (that’s what it feels like, at least). I find the trails at the Whistler Olympic Park to be the perfect mix of fun and challenging.

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Regular admission is not cheap, at $26.75 per person. However, they offer special deals on Wednesday evenings from 3 PM onward for only $7 per person (it used to be $5 – times, they are a-changing). As a bonus, rentals are also only $7 on Wednesday evenings.

There are pros and cons to going on Wednesday evenings. The trails are a little busy, but they’re not too bad – especially compared to any regular high-season day on Whistler Blackcomb. Watching the sky fade from day to night is pretty magical, especially when paired with a fresh dusting of snow falling from the sky (as was the case when I was there recently). Some of the main trails are lit, and other nearby trails are bright enough to see more-or-less clearly, though a headlamp is definitely a good idea.

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The network of XC trails is quite expansive, though on the Wednesday night specials, I usually stick close to the lit trails near the lodge.

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Recently, they’ve had a pretty good Friday night special deal going on – $10 admission (and $10 rentals, for those so inclined). I went with a friend when it was still light out, and we ventured beyond the usual loops by the lodge. There are soooo many trails to explore and I seriously need to head out in proper daylight hours to get a solid day of skiing in.

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I like the Olympic Park because it’s not just about the skiing – it’s about the whole experience. I usually like to grab a dinner in the cozy lodge. The food is catered by Whistler Cooks and is better than your usual cafeteria fare. It’s also priced more reasonably than Whistler Blackcomb mountain food – think $8 for a bowl of chili with some baguette.

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The even have this cute little fire pit igloo zone set up. So very magical, am I right?

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It feels strange to admit this – especially since January was an EPIC month of snow – but I haven’t touched bmy snowboard since December. I definitely plan to head up soon, but I’ve been having such a nice time on my Nordic skis and snowshoes. Hooray for snow sports of all kinds!

 

Dorie’s Cookies Chocolate Creme Sandwiches: a.k.a. Homemade Oreos, Baby

My new Dorie’s Cookies cookbook is seriously daunting.

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There are so many cookie recipes. I get it – that’s the point. After all, it is a cookbook about cookies. But if you want to make cookies – any cookie, no particular kind specifically – it can get overwhelming.

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I decided to try the Chocolate Creme Sandwiches for a friend’s birthday because they seemed pretty easy to make and I thought they would appease most palates – after all, this is Dorie’s approach to the classic Oreo. She describes her sandwiches as “a little less brittle and a little less sweet than the originals, but they’re just as snackable”.

There are two components to this recipe: the cookie and the “creme” (i.e., the delicious cream filling that is arguably the best part of an Oreo).

The cookies require perfectly average ingredients: all-purpose flour, cocoa powder, butter, sugar, salt, vanilla, and an egg white. The filling is even easier: butter, icing sugar, vanilla, and salt. You can colour and flavour your filling to your heart’s desire (anyone remember neon Oreos? The best!), but I decided to keep mine original for the first bake.

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Making the cookie dough, I got the feeling that something wasn’t quite right. I mixed the butter, sugar, and salt without any issues, added the egg white and vanilla as directed, and then introduced the dry ingredients. The whole thing seemed really dry – like I was missing a key liquid ingredient to bind the whole thing together. But after reading Dorie’s thorough cookbook introduction, she has convinced me that all of her directions are just so for a specific reason. I decided to have a little faith. Plus, this line helped me accept that this wasn’t going to look like a traditional cookie dough right away:

“… until you have a dough that holds together and forms clumps when pinched – it shouldn’t come together in a ball.”

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I dumped the crumbly contents onto the counter and kneaded the mass, and wouldn’t you know – it came together beautifully! Sorry I ever doubted you, Dorie.

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I split the hunk of dough into two and rolled each out between sheets of parchment paper – it felt somewhat wasteful, but it made it wonderfully easy and non-sticky. (I used the parchment dough for the actual baking of the cookies, too.)

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The flatted dough rectangles rest in the freezer, then it’s time to stamp out the circles. I have a decent collection of cookie cutters, but oddly enough, I don’t have plain circles, so I used a little heart cookie cutter instead.

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The recipe says it makes 22 sandwiches, so 44 cookies total, but I was able to get way more out of my dough. (I re-rolled the scraps into fresh dough while the first two trays were baking).

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Pre oven

These cookies are chocolatey, so it’s hard to tell when they’re done. I trusted the cookbook’s guide of 12 to 14 minutes and kept mine in for about 13. The cookies maintained their shape nicely, though a few of them had little bumps of air.

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Post oven

After they cooled, they had a satisfyingly crisp texture and tasted almost like a chocolate shortbread.

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This is the whole recipe?!?!

In the meantime, I got to work on the cream filling. It came together easily, but it didn’t look like an awful lot of cream. I prefer my Oreos on the double-stuff side of things, so I wasn’t sure how this would fare.

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I doled out my cream conservatively among my cookie pairs. In hindsight, I may have been better off only making 22 sandwiches as instructed – this would have meant more stuffing per cookie (but it would also have meant many naked cookies). Since my cookies were heart-shaped, not round, it was a little tricky trying to spread the cream inside the cookie.

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It’s hard to describe the finished product. It tasted a lot like an Oreo, but also somehow different – a little more flavourful, maybe? The stuffing tastes more like vanilla icing than Oreo creme, but it works wonderfully with the cookies. They’re sturdy, too – mine survived a little jostling in my backpack before I shared it with the birthday party-goers.

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There were a few that I overcooked in the final batch. I skipped the cream and went directly to the milk.

So far, Dorie is 2 for 2. Maybe as I bake a few more cookies, I’ll stop being so overwhelmed at the massive quantity of delicious recipes to choose from.

Bread Illustrated’s Morning Buns: The Best Recipe You’ve Never Heard Of

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Even after a year of poring through my Bread Illustrated cookbook, I’m still coming across brand new recipes that, for whatever reason, haven’t caught my eye before.

Case in point: the recipe for morning buns.

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What is a morning bun? Before I made it, I had never heard of this tasty little pastry. The opening vignette makes it sounds like a sort of combination cinnamon bun and croissant, and that’s pretty spot on – except it’s even easier to make than either of those recipes.

Morning buns have one bonus flavour that I definitely associate with mornings: orange. The recipe contains a bit of orange juice in the dough and orange zest in the filling, giving it a delicious hint of oranginess.

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I mentioned that this recipe is easy to make – in fact, in can be made in a single morning (hey – maybe that’s why it’s called morning buns!) The folks at America’s Test Kitchen have devised a super simple way of cheating your way around a laminated dough, making it infinitely more practical to make than tasty – but notoriously finicky – croissants. Their trick: a solid large Ziploc bag. Put your dry ingredients in the bag (all-purpose flour, a bit of sugar, some yeast, and salt) and add in slices of chilled butter (I sliced mine then put them in the freezer for 5 minutes or so to ensure they were nice and cold). Then, you shake the bag around to coat the butter with the flour mixture, and roll it out a few times to form nice little butter flakes. It’s almost too easy (no such thing!)

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The baggie contents are then transferred to a bowl, where the wet ingredients are added: the orange juice, some sour cream, ice water, and a single egg yolk. You’re supposed to mix “until combined”. I was nervous about overmixing, so I used a delicate hand, even though the dough looked pretty loose.

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The next stage involves kneading the dough by hand. I was sure mine wasn’t wet enough, but after a bit of manhandling, I was surprised to see it came together relatively quickly (the recipe said 30 seconds – mine was closer to a minute).

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Usually, when you’re making a dough, at this stage you have to chill it before rolling it out. You’d probably have to do that if you were baking the morning buns on a hot day, but I followed the recipe and rolled it out right away into a big 20 x 12 inch rectangle. It was easy to roll out and with a bit of flour dusting, I didn’t have any problems with it being overly sticky, nor did bits of it flake off for being too dry.

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The large rectangle gets rolled tightly into a log, then flattened into a 12 x 14 inch rectangle. It’s like a mini lamination, I suppose. The log is loosely wrapped with greased saran wrap, then it goes in the freezer for just 15 minutes.

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Those 15 minutes can easily be filled by preparing the muffin tins (which have to be lined with paperĀ and sprayed with cooking spray – a first for me) and throwing together the filling. The filling consists of white and brown sugar, a bit (2 tsp) of cinnamon, some orange zest, and a little vanilla.

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When the 15 minutes in the freezer are up, the dough gets rolled out into a big rectangle and the mixture gets sprinkled on. The rectangle gets rolled into a log and reshaped, then the ends are chopped of to ensure each bun has a pretty little spiral.

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After chopping the log into 12 pieces, each piece is plopped into a cup on the muffin tin – then, for the first time really in this recipe, it’s time for a long-ish wait for 1 to 1.5 hours. It was on the cool side when I cooked these, so I gave it a full 1.5 hours.

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The bake starts with a burst of heat – 5 minutes in a 425 degree oven until the buns just start to rise – then it’s down to 325 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes (mine were in for 45 exactly). It’s an agonizingly long time because it doesn’t take long for the kitchen to start to smell really, really good.

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Once out, the buns cool for 5 minutes, then you can discard the now-sticky paper liners and let everything cool on a wire rack. Thankfully, there’s none of the “Let cool for 3 hours” nonsense – the directions say “Serve warm,” so I happily obliged.

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The morning buns taste like they’re way more complicated than they really are. I think the texture is similar to what my kouign-amanns would have taste like if I hadn’t botched that recipe. The outside is crisp and flaky, and there’s a kind of caramelly crispness to it from the sugar that has oozed through the pastry. They’re not nearly as cinnamon-y as a cinnamon bun, but the taste of cinnamon is there and it goes exquisitely with the orange.

The middle of the bun is kind of softish – not in an undercooked way, more like the middle of a croissant or other pastry.

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I feared that Cedric and I would demolish the dozen more quickly than is socially acceptable, so I wrapped half of the batch up in saran wrap, put them in a freezer bag, and hid them away in the freezer. They thawed out very nicely.

I’m still not totally sure what a morning bun is, in terms of it’s exact definition or history, but this I know: I love them.

Rain in the Valley = Snow Up Top

I’ve been putting my Sea to Sky Gondola season’s pass to good use – this week, I went up twice to try my hand (foot?) at snowshoeing.

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I recently acquiring my very own pair of snowshoes – I got a heck of a deal at one of my favourite secret websites, 33 OFF. They had a bonus 10% off snowshoe deal, and their prices are already pretty good. (I also get my road running shoes from here because I know which model fits my foot well – the Mizuno Wave Riders).

This time of year, when it is raining in town, it is often snowing up in the mountains where it’s a few degrees cooler. I checked the forecast and web cameras for the Sea to Sky Gondola, which affirmed what I had suspected: yep, there is snow up there, and lots of it.

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Pro Tip: If it looks like this outside, it may still be worth getting out of bed.

(Remember when I hiked the Sea to Summit Trail the other week in pretty much no snow? It’s safe to say that there is a lot of snow on the trail now.)

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This is how much snow was on one tree branch. Hand for size reference.

I headed in the same general direction both days I went up. One day I snowshoed towards the Skyline Ridge Trail, the other I went partway up the Sky Pilot Valley Trail. Both of these trails are machine groomed – it’s like getting fresh tracks on a cat track.

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I like this post’s hat

Actually, when I went up mid-week, I did get fresh tracks – I had the whole place to myself. The conditions make it easy (and fun) to get an hour or two of power snowshoeing in.

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Fresh corduroy, brah!

Even when I went up on the weekend, it was pretty quiet. I saw a few other parties here and there, but I was largely on my own. I didn’t see anyone else head up the slightly steeper (but still very manageable) Sky Pilot Valley Trail.

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This is where the grooming ends on the Skyline Ridge Trail – continue on if you dare, it’s deep (see next photo)

Way back in the day when I lived in Vancouver, I – like so many others – struggled through the dreary January-March season where it is often wet, grey, and just generally horrible. One year, I discovered that I could head up to Whistler during this season and enjoy copious amounts of snow. It was the perfect cure to the winter blahs.

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I stepped slightly to the side by the bridge and sank down to above my knee. Yeah – probably no off-roading for me right now.

(Of course, it’s not all gravy – shoveling your car out from several feet of snow mid-March while your friends in the city post pictures of blooming tulips can get old pretty quick.)

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Now that I live in Squamish, I kind of feel like I have the best of both worlds. There are plenty of grey days, but if the temperatures cooperate as they did this week, I can get my snow fix with minimal effort. I don’t have to brush snow off my car very often, but Whistler is only a short drive away (in good conditions, anyway).

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Snowshoeing is officially being added to my repertoire of wintertime activities. I like that you can make it hard or easy, and I like that I don’t have to devote an entire day to it – I can head out for a couple of hours in the morning or afternoon and still get a lot done. I’m a fan.