Best of Whistler, Food and Restaurant Edition

When I first moved to Whistler, many of my Vancouver friends believed I’d become some sort of all-knowing Whistler guru. I’d often get texts saying, “Where’s a good place to get lunch in Whistler?” or “I’m in Whistler, where should we go for dinner?”

These friends did not realize that my newfound ski bum lifestyle (and budget) did not afford me the luxury of sampling each and every one of Whistler’s fine dining establishments (of which there are many). But over my Whistler career, I eventually got the chance to eat at many of Whistler’s restaurants, largely thanks to visits from my parents and the off-season specials. I now confidently have a response to just about any Whistler gastronomic inquiry. Here are my unqualified recommendations for dining in Whistler.

Best All Around Restaurant: Creekbread

Creekbread is my favourite Whistler restaurant, period. It’s got everything a dream restaurant ought to have: excellent food, good service, a cozy atmosphere, and a lack of the pretentiousness that seems to infiltrate many Whistler restaurants. Creekbread mainly does one thing – wood-fired pizzas – and they do it perfectly, concocting unique combinations with local sourced ingredients, like the Pemberton Potato pie and my all-time favourite, Mopsy’s Kahlua Pork. (They also do a KILLER salad – it was my go-to take out option for many years. Order the No Boundaries salad with all the veggies.)

I always recommend Creekbread for families, big group gatherings (make a recommendation ahead of time), or friends looking for a good meal without having to drop $50 on an entree. The caveat: it is located in Creekside. I promise it’s worth the short drive (or cab ride).

Best Fancy Dinner: Alta Bistro

Fancy is arguably what Whistler does best, and everyone seems to have an opinion on which restaurant is the creme de la creme. My vote goes to Alta Bistro. Some people think the food is a little too “out there”. I disagree – there are plenty of options for people wanting to try something a little different, but there are lots of more familiar choices, too.

Alta Bistro has a smaller dining room, and they don’t really have a schtick. They just make excellent food (and excellent drinks, too). I’ve never, ever had a bad experience at Alta Bistro.

Best Drinks: Bearfoot Bistro

Bearfoot Bistro is arguably the fanciest, most over the top restaurant in Whistler. If you’re familiar with the establishment, you may be thinking, “Okay, moneybags, I’m not going to Bearfoot Bistro for a casual drink with a friend.”

I used to think that, too, until I realized that the drinks at Bearfoot Bistro aren’t THAT much more expensive than drinks at mid-range places (think Earls). If you’re planning on an all-night bender, you may be better off at Three Below (cheap drinks, never any wait to get in). But if you’re after a finely crafted cocktail or two, Bearfoot Bistro is just a couple of extra bucks – and it’s well worth it.

The bartenders are excellent – really, the service is over the top wow. The ambiance is most entertaining, not just because of the live pianist, but the rich city people sitting across the bar often put on quite the display. And if you’re looking for a next level drink activity, the Bearfoot has two: sabering bubbly in their wine cellar and vodka tasting in the ice bar. Both are expensive, but worth doing at least once (I’ve linked to two articles I’ve written about these experiences).

Best Brunch: Elements

It’s worth the wait – and there is always a wait – for brunch at Elements. I don’t know what it is about Elements, but I have yet to have a better brunch anywhere else. The potato stack (replacing your typical hash browns) is to die for, the stuffed French Toast is a life changer, and each meal comes with a shot of smoothie. It’s brunch, taken to the next level.

Best Place to Meet for Coffee: Purebread

Whenever someone wants to meet me for coffee, I steer them towards Purebread. They actually don’t have many coffee options – just the basics (and a good hot chocolate) – but the real reason I want to go is to ogle at the overflowing display of baked goods and to make the agonizing decision of which treat to pick. “Going for coffee” is basically code for “going for baked goods”.

Sitting room is a little scarce, so don’t be that guy who sets up shop with his laptop for two hours. As for what treat to pick, well, half the fun is figuring that out for yourself – but my go to is the outrageous brownie or any brownie variant.

Most Underrated Lunch: Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre

The day Cedric and I discovered the Thunderbird Cafe at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre was a pivotal day in my Whistler eating career. The mains are delicious (venison chili, anyone?) and affordable, but the real star of the show is the BANNOCK. Oh, the bannock. It’s like a non-sweet donut and it is sooooooo good with some strawberry jam. Since it’s a little under the radar, finding a seat is never a problem. You need to discover this cafe.

Best Off-Season Special

Spring (i.e., right now) and fall are the best times to try Whistler’s fancy restaurants because they offer amazing deals on multi-course menus. I have tried just about all of them – some several times – but Araxi always comes out on top. They usually offer the best value (something like 5 courses for $35) – and yes, the courses are small, but there are five of them and they’re usually rich as all heck, so you’ll leave feeling plenty satiated.

Best Cheap & Quick Bite to Eat: La Cantina

When I am starving, unwilling to wait for too long, and wanting to preserve my funds, I head to La Cantina in Marketplace. I used to order the tacos, but I have since discovered that the burritos are the way to go. They offer incredible bang for your buck and are FAR tastier than your typical burrito.

(La Cantina’s fancier sister restaurant, The Mexican Corner, is worth a mention – it’s not inexpensive, but it offers something different from your typical pub fare or West Coast inspired menu – and the quality is top notch).

Best Cold Thing on a Hot Day: Smoothies at Olives

They’re a little pricey as far as smoothies go, but they’re ridiculously, wonderfully filling. Olives Market in Function Junction whips up a mean smoothie, custom ordered. The peanut butter one is the PERFECT treat after a day at the lake, playing frolf, or mountain biking (I imagine, anyway).

Disclaimer: While I have tried numerous Whistler restaurants, there are still some on my to-try list. Chief among them are the Red Door Bistro and Southside Diner (I know, I can’t believe I’ve never been there either!)

Escape Whistler: So Good Enrique Iglesias Could Write a Song about It

There aren’t a ton of rainy day activities to do in Whistler. There are even fewer in Squamish. So I was a little bummed when the forecast called for rain, rain, and more rain during a visit from some of my friends back home.

Truthfully, my bum ankle (which is getting WAY better – running, I’m coming for you any day now) caused more of a setback than the weather. Despite the two obstacles, we managed to have tons of fun – I was even able to squeeze a couple of pow laps in on the mountain before my ankle called it quits.

There was one major highlight – one that wasn’t affected by crummy weather or weak joints.

Escape Whistler.

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It’s SO FUN, you guys! I actually had done one of the rooms before a little while back – the Pirate Ship. It’s supposed to be the “easy” one, but we weren’t actually able to escape it. I was ready for another shot at success.

Deciding between the other three rooms – the tomb, the cabin, and the rabbit hole – was no easy feat. The website describes the room, but it doesn’t say anything about the difficulty. Really, it doesn’t say much about the rooms at all, because if it said too much, it would be giving the fun away. I’ve since discovered that the easy-to-difficult rank is approximately as follows:

  1. Pirate Ship
  2. Tomb
  3. Cabin
  4. Rabbit Hole

Now, I haven’t done all of them, so I can’t personally attest to this myself.

We settled on the cabin, booked our time slot, and waited anxiously in the hobby of the Hilton Hotel. We watched the group ahead of us emerge: parents with two kids. They’d escaped successfully, and one of the boys started giving us wishy washy clues that made me want to plug my ears and scream LA LA LA. (He didn’t actually give anything away. I was just a little on edge.)

We were debriefed, then we entered The Cabin. I will say no more about the room itself, other than the first couple of minutes are similar to the first few minutes of a final exam. You’re surveying everything, trying to take it all in, and freaking out over whether or not you’ll be able to answer anything correctly and on time.

The staff are able to communicate with you via walkie talkie (they’re watching you – possibly laughing at you – on camera). At one point, they radioed in to offer us a hint. The decision of whether or not to accept was agonizing. On the one hand, the escape wouldn’t feel as real if we accepted hints. On the other hand, the escape wouldn’t be possible if we got stuck on one thing for too long. We initially turned down the hint, then we changed our minds a few minutes later. I’m glad we took the hint – I won’t say what we’d done wrong, but we had been SO CLOSE but probably wouldn’t have figured out our error on our own. We might still be stuck there if we hadn’t asked for help.

Alas, it was a slippery slope – we ended up needing two more hints, but we did escape, with two minutes to boot!

The verdict: Escape Whistler is so, so good. It’s not cheap, at $30 per person for only 45 minutes of action (though you spend at least as long analyzing every aspect of the activity afterwards). But as I learned with our out of town guests, few activities in Whistler are inexpensive – and $30 a person is way less than $200+ a person for some of the other tourist activities.

Now, who wants to do the tomb and the rabbit hole with me?

Meet My Boy, Millionaire Hoy

Millionaire Hoy is not really my boy, but he introduces all of his videos as “What’s up, it’s your boy, Millionaire Hoy” so I thought this post title was pretty clever.

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Until I encountered Millionaire Hoy’s YouTube channel, I had never been one for fitness videos. But all that changed a couple of years ago. It was mid-winter in Whistler and it was too snowy/icy/nasty out to do most of my favourite outdoor activities (except, of course, snowboarding, but the kind of snowboarding I do cannot really be described as a strenuous activity). I was doing drop-ins at the gym and at my yoga studio, but my budget did not allow me to increase my attendance at either. So I consulted YouTube.

I can’t remember how I came across Millionaire Hoy, but something about his workouts really work for me. They’re no frills – no back up dancer type people, no gimmicky graphics, no music at all (which somehow I never really notice). That’s not to say they’re not well done; on the contrary, they’re perfectly designed with all the cues you want (preview of the next exercise; timer; modification options) without being cluttered or distracting.

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Typical video layout

His videos tend to be high intensity cardio/body weight focused, with the occasional optional dumbbell element. Typical MH videos include push up variations, heaps of burpees, different types of squats and lunges, etc. Expect LOTS of jumping – do NOT do his videos if you are in a condo/dorm/hotel. Actually, he has a series of “silent but deadly” videos that don’t feature jumping around. I have done a few of these before – it turns out, doing 20 variations of push ups is indeed silent but deadly.

I guess different trainer styles connect with different people, and Millionaire Hoy (incidentally, this is his real name) clicks with me. He’s not overly peppy, he doesn’t try to play the mean tough guy – he’s just positive and he keeps it real. I EXTRA like him because he doesn’t charge for any of his videos. I read that he decided to provide them free of charge because he didn’t want people’s incomes to prevent them from being in shape. He just seems like a solid guy.

Okay, let’s talk about the videos. He splits them up conveniently into playlists. My go-to lately is the “Full 90 Day Total Body Burnout HIIT Workout Challenge” list. I didn’t actually do the 90 day challenge – I just pick one of the 60 minute videos in this series. I only do one video per week, because I like to do other things like trail running, yoga, weights, snowboarding, etc.

His videos are hard. I sometimes feel like puking up my heart and usually have to pause the videos a few times (although he does provide frequent water breaks, praise). But I really like them, which is why I decided to talk about them in my blog today. I also wanted to balance out all the baking posts.

I will leave you with my favourite MH video of all time: the animal themed workout. Enough said.

Cookbooks from the Library? Genius!

I am a loyal patron of the Squamish Public Library.

It’s not quite as glitzy as the Whistler library, but it reminds me a lot of my neighbourhood library growing up. Small but well-stocked, plenty to browse, and friendly staff.

On a visit a little while ago, a book on display caught my eye. It was a cookbook of all things Canadian. I flipped through it, but didn’t take it out – it have a lot of novelty recipes, but I knew I’d never try them (plus it’s hard to find moose meat at the local grocery store). But it did ignite a light in my head: cookbooks at the library?!

Somehow, it had never dawned on me that I could borrow cookbooks from the library. I perused the rows upon rows of cookbooks until I settled on one: Jamie Oliver’s Meals in Minutes. Little did I know what magic I had just stumbled upon.

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Meals in Minutes is FABULOUS. Here is why:

  • I like Jamie Oliver for his unpretentious approach to cooking. His technique is messy and flexible. It’s hard to screw up his recipes.
  • The meals generally didn’t cook quite as quickly as J.O. promised, but they were still largely under an hour.
  • The recipes provide a whole meal, not just a main course. This is amazing: not only does it automatically match up flavours and food groups, but the steps hop from one dish to another so that everything finishes up more or less at the same time.
  • Most importantly, the meals were very good. They’re a great way to get out of a cooking rut.

Some of the recipes we tried are:

  • Tomato soup with chunky croutons
  • Curry rogan josh with fluffy rice, carrot salad, and flatbread
  • Mustard chicken with quick dauphinoise and greens
  • Tray-baked chicken with squashed potatoes and creamed spinach
  • Killer jerk chicken with rice & beans and chopped salad
  • Chicken skewers with Satay sauce and fiery noodle salad
  • Piri piri chicken with dressed potatoes and arugula salad
  • Pork chops & crispy cracklins with crushed potatoes and minty cabbage (the cabbage was kind of weird)

(Can you tell I load up on chicken breast when it’s on sale?)

The recipes come with suggested desserts, too, but I skipped them – we just have chocolate chip cookies for dessert or whatever happens to be my baked good du jour.

Sadly, the time has come for me to return the book – but happily, there are a hundred others that I have yet to sample. Thank you, Squamish Library, for inspiring my culinary creations for the rest of my lifetime.

Mags 99: The Capital of Squamish

It’s been a long time coming: my official review of Mags 99.

Here’s the thing: to the people of Squamish, Mags 99 isn’t just a fast food stop on the side of the highway. No, no, no – it’s an institution.

If I were to say something negative about it, there’s no doubt I would be ostracized from the community.

Sort of like that.

Luckily, I do like Mags 99, so people of Squamish, you can put down your pitchforks.

My introduction to Mags 99 occurred on a hike with two friends from Vancouver. One was saying how much she loved their Mexican food; the other was saying that it was vastly overrated. Here’s what I knew about Mags:

  • Its site just off the highway and next to the gas station used to a house a combination Taco Bell/KFC.
  • When it took over the site, it kept the tradition alive by serving both fried chicken and Mexican food, but both better than their chain fast food counterparts.
  • It has witty billboards that I always look out for when I’m driving to and from the city.
  • On its surface, many people believe it resembles Los Pollos Hermanos from Breaking Bad.

What I didn’t realize about Mags 99 is that it is a beloved landmark of Squamish, particularly among the rock climbing and mountain biking communities. Had I known this, I might not have chosen a sunny Saturday afternoon in summer to try it for the first time.

Imagine my surprise when I ordered my burrito from the counter – typical fast food style – and received it nearly an hour later decidedly not fast food style! Hangry and rushed, I gobbled down the chicken burrito, which was the size of a 3 month old baby. It was good, but it didn’t blow my socks off.

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I don’t know who Tim is, but I want to see his hair!

It took a little while for me to figure out the art of Mags 99:

  • Don’t be in a rush. The food takes forever, even if you go at 1 PM on a rainy Wednesday mid-winter. I’ve since learned that this wait is due to the fact that it is NOT like most fast foods – they don’t use frozen stuff that’s already half cooked. It’s fresh and it’s made with love. So take it easy.
  • The pork is the BEST meat. The chicken burrito may have been just okay, but the pork burrito is A++++++.
  • They have a smaller burrito size, which is better suited to my appetite size than the 3 month old baby size.

I’ll admit to the fact that I am a one trick pony – I always order the same thing. However, I have often drooled over other peoples’ orders. On my latest visit, I joined friends old and new who sampled a wide selection of the menu’s offerings: fried chicken, poutine, the daily special, and more. When I asked how they liked their food, I was told that everything was the best.

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I don’t go to Mags 99 as often as some of my Squamish counterparts do, but I do firmly place myself in the pro-Mags category and will gladly accept an excuse to head down the highway for some of that sweet, sweet pork. One day, I may even expand my horizons and try something else on the menu.

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One day.

A Very Valentine’s Recipe: Bobbette & Belle’s Macarons

Have you ever wondered why macarons are so expensive?

I no longer wonder this. In fact, after making a few variation’s of Bobbette & Belle’s French macarons, I wonder why they aren’t more expensive.

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I thought that baking macarons would be a nice Valentine’s treat, but I didn’t expect these little morsels to be so demanding.

I opted to make two types of macarons. The raspberry and double chocolate variations seemed easy enough (ha ha ha ha hahahah), so that’s what I went for. In reality, I ended up making five recipes from Bobbette & Belle’s cookbook. Yes, little macarons are a wee bit labour intensive. I set up my audiobook (Elizabeth Smart’s My Story – captivating, but her narration is abysmal) and went to work.

1. French Macaron Shells

The first step of macaron-making is to prepare the shells. I thought this would be the hardest part, but it was actually the easiest – aside from shelling out $14.99 for a teeny tiny bag of almond flour, which was a little tough to swallow. As per the instructions, I traced 2 inch circles on a parchment sheet and lay them out pencil-side down. I ended up using this template to make sure my circles were as close to perfection as possible.

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Some of these circles are not perfect.

The instructions were straightforward and I’d had the foresight to pre-read the directions a few pages later for the raspberry and double chocolate varieties. Since the double chocolate version had me adding cocoa powder mid-way through the original shell recipe, I ended up veering slightly off course around step 4, splitting the recipe in half and dying one set pink while adding cocoa powder to the other.

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PIPING TIP: I learned eons ago that the easiest way to fill the bag is to fold the tip over (so that the filling doesn’t spill out) and place the bag in a glass. Fold the top of the bag over and fill your heart out (well, don’t overdo it). Then unfold the bag, remove it, twist the top, and you’re good to go.

Despite my perfect little circles, I was a little inconsistent in my piping. I started off very conservatively and ended up having a fair bit of extra batter. Tip: don’t try “topping up” your smaller shells after you’ve already piped them. You’ll end up with something that looks like the poo emoticon.

SMOOTH TOP TIP: If your piped shells have a Hershey’s kiss cowlick, dip your fingers in water and pat it down softly.

The true test of macaron shells is the presence of a little crust at the bottom – or, as the book says, “the much-desired lacy foot”. I was pleased as punch when I removed my shells from the oven and saw that I had achieved this.

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My only real snafu at this stage – aside from irregular piping – was that I forgot the last part of step 5: “Once all the shells are piped, gently tap the bottom of each baking sheet against the counter to knock out any air bubbles and to smooth out the tops”. A few shells were ruined by air bubbles, but that’s okay – those are the shells meant for the bottom.

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2. Double Chocolate Macarons

The double chocolate macaron recipe required incorporating cocoa powder in the main shell recipe and filling the shells with a simple chocolate ganache recipe: chocolate and cream. Making the ganache is a one-step recipe and, frankly, it’s hard to screw up.

And yet.

I was supposed to allow the mixture to cool to room temperature (check), then fill a piping bag and “pipe a teaspoon-size dollop of chocolate ganache onto each bottom”. Looking at the consistency of the ganache, I knew there was NO WAY I could put it in the piping bag – it was way too liquidy, even after an hour in the fridge. It would have poured out the end, making a large (and wasteful) mess. Instead, I used a little spoon to scoop a bit on each macaron. It was still quite liquidy. What am I missing?

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Why so liquidy?

EXTRA GANACHE TIP: Mix leftover ganache with frothed milk and hot water for a delectable hot chocolate. Bliss.

3. Raspberry Macarons

The raspberry macaron recipe required following the original shell recipe to a tee, adding in a bit of pink food colouring along the way. Easy peasy. Then, it calls for making a raspberry filling using a mix of two recipes: one for buttercream, and one for a puree.

3A. Classic Vanilla Buttercream

Ughhhh, I knew I was going to hate this buttercream recipe because it called for a candy thermometer (it’s a Swiss meringue buttercream). Mine is broken and I haven’t picked up a new one yet. This recipe sort of makes the candy thermometer step seem optional (“… whisk gently until very hot to the touch or a candy thermometer reads 140F”). Okay, we can work with this.

I decided to use a meat thermometer, and when it hit 140F, I did a back up test and touched the egg white sugar mixture to see if it felt “very hot to the touch”. It did. I proceeded to the 10 minute whisking stage. This is supposed to allow the mixture to cool to room temperature, but I think I should have let mine stand a little while longer. (Foreshadowing).

I added the butter, cube by cube, and tossed in the vanilla. But things were not looking good…

3B. Raspberry Puree

Meanwhile, I whipped up a batch of raspberry puree. The recipe is pretty straightforward: buy a large bag of frozen raspberries (because that’s all that is available) and use only 1/2 a cup for the recipe (because you’re only making half a batch). Use raspberries in your morning smoothies for weeks to come.

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Alternate use for raspberry puree: Halloween decor

In all seriousness, the recipe is easy, but it seems like you end up with such a pitiful little amount of puree at the end! I had to really rake my hands along the bottom of my sieve to get the juice out.

(Back to the main recipe)

Here we are: buttercream made (but looking dicey), raspberries pureed. Now, we add the raspberries to the buttercream.

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It looked… not right. How does one describe this texture? Curdled? Lumpy?

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Nonetheless, I filled the piping bag and began to pipe. The curdled buttercream tried to jam out, while the raspberry juice oozed out of the sides, making a liquidy mess.

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: (

I ditched the piping bag and spooned on the buttercream. The result was not smooth and pretty like the pictures.

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Verdict

My shells were good.

My fillings had some challenges.

My macarons looked okay.

But they tasted AMAZING!!!!!!

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Not just any macarons – SQUAMISH macarons!

If I close my eyes, I can almost pretend I bought them at a market in Provence. Even Cedric – who at first resisted the macarons, saying they looked “too sweet” – was converted after popping back a few chocolate ones.

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Please note how I tried to display these like they did in the B&B cookbook photo

Will I make them again? Well, I do have half a tiny bag of almond flour left. I’ll probably make them again in several months when I forget how much work they are. I can try some of the trickier variations, like the Earl Grey macarons and the Pistachio Cream macarons (praytell – where does on obtain “pure pistachio paste” in Squamish?)

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Winning and the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour

I win a lot of things.

This is partly genetic. One year, my family won a Harley and a stocked wine cellar just a few months apart. My maternal grandmother was also known for her winning ways – my personal favourite was the time she won a chocolate nativity scene (I got the white chocolate Mary).

There is also a strategic element to my winning. I enter things that I know few people are likely to enter – contests run by small, local Facebook pages, contests that require effort to enter (people are lazy), etc. [By the way – if you enter those Facebook contests that are like, “We’re giving away a free Ford F150! Comment in your favourite colour!”, run by F0rd Canada Driverz Inc., then you have a lot to learn.]

Here is a list of the top 5 things I have won in my life:

  1. The Woods Canada dream job application. We actually had to beat out nearly 4,000 other applicants, and the prize was outrageous both in terms of the experience and the cash (which helped us buy our house).
  2. When I was a wee child, I lived in Ottawa and our neighbourhood had an Easter Bunny colouring contest. We were rushing to submit our drawings in time for the deadline but I insisted on colouring in the basket at the last minute. I won the grand prize: a big chocolate Easter Bunny. It may have been a random draw, or it may have been the fact that I took the time to colour in the basket. This might have been my first win ever.
  3. I was chosen to be one of a dozen Oakley Active ambassadors a few years back for an entire year. This was the closest I’ll ever be to a sponsored athlete. I got a pro deal and won SO MUCH awesome Oakley workout gear.
  4. At the World Ski and Snowboard Festival in 2012, I won this awesome prize package at a fashion show. It had all kinds of sweet stuff – some sundresses, ANY Seafolly bathing suit that I wanted, $100 to TNA, etc. I have to credit this one to my roommate Marcus’ dog, Doya, because I won using a photo of her.
  5. In grade 2, we had a monthly draw (I can’t remember the details) and the teacher would lay out a bunch of prizes on some desks. The first winner got first dibs on the prizes, then the second one got to pick from the remaining prizes, etc. I won the mother of all prizes: a Cabbage Patch Kid. She wasn’t new or anything (she had weird freckles on her bald head, probably from being left in the sun or something), but I loved her and named her MaryLee and she joined my very large family of Cabbage Patch Kids.
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Shout out to DOYA – I won the WSSF prize pack with this photo!

This past week, I had my first win in a few months: I won free tickets to the Squamish screening of the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour. I won from the Mountain FM Facebook page – only three people entered! (Incidentally, I also won $50 to the Escape Route from Mountain FM a few months ago. Mountain FM has great prizes!)

Here’s the deal: the Banff Mountain Film Festival is a multi-day affair that takes place in the fall in Banff. All kinds of outdoorsy films take part – five minute mini films, half-hour shorts, full on feature films, and everything in between. After the films have been screened and the prizes doled out, the highlights of the fest goes on tour in cities all over the world.

Squamish was just one stop of many, but I’m glad the festival made its way here. One thing I loved – and miss – about Whistler is that there was a vibrant arts and culture scene. I  loved going to comedy shows and ski film premieres and outdoor concerts and speaker events. There is some of that in Squamish, but not as much. Or maybe I’m not looking hard enough.

The event was fantastic. It was held at a local high school, so we got to wander the halls (we got a little lost) and pretend we were 14 again. There was a fantastic bake sale (3 items for $2 – are you kidding me?) and we bought a glow-in-the-dark Nalgene for only $5 – a steal!

Best of all was the entertainment. There were nine films, ranging from about 5 to 30 minutes. The mix was fabulous: skiing, biking, climbing, hiking; funny, motivational, absurd, inspiring; pro athletes, groms on the rise, and old people alike. My favourite film was called “Four Mums in a Boat”, about four English ladies (with an average age of 55) who decided to row across the Atlantic, despite not having a whole lot of experience.

I should mention that there were some sweet draw prizes at the intermission. I did not win. You can’t win them all.

Still, I think we might try to make the Banff Film Festival an annual tradition. If there’s a show in your town, it’s well worth checking out. Do it!

My First Less Than Spectacular Bobbette & Belle Recipe: Double Chocolate Fleur de Sel Cookies

There is a cookie purist in my home. (It is not I.)

This cookie aficionado – the Cookie Monster, we shall dub him/her – likes one cookie, and one cookie only: the chocolate chip cookie.

(Actually, I have seen the Cookie Monster eat some Girl Guide cookies without much hesitation.)

Now, the Cookie Monster is not particularly loyal to a single chocolate chip cookie recipe. Every one I have made – and over the years, I have made many – gets an enthusiastic reception. Recipes that include oats tend to be slightly less favourable, but are still consumed with glee. Our household has finally settled on one BEST chocolate chip cookie recipe, which I shall blog about another time.

All this to say that I don’t often experiment with other kinds of cookies, and when I do, I want them to be so good that they rival the classic chocolate chip so that I can say, “See? Other cookies can be good, too.”

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Unfortunately, Bobbette & Belle’s Double Chocolate Fleur de Sel Cookies did not help me prove my point. Though the B&B cookbook has wowed me with their brownies, cinnamon bread, and scones, these chocolate cookies were not up to the usual caliber.

They’re a little too dry, too crumby – not chewy, as I believe a cookie should be. They have so much potential: a double dose of chocolate (cocoa powder plus dark chocolate chips) and a dash of sea salt to bring out the sweet. How could they go wrong?

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I’m not sure, to be honest. I followed the recipe to a tee, and it is pretty straightforward – I don’t know where I could have messed up. It provides mixing speeds and times, leaving next to no guesswork.

The one thing that caught my eye was that this cookie recipe doesn’t have any eggs. Even the dough felt a little dry and crumbly – the only non-dry ingredient is a cup of room temperature butter. Weird.

That’s not to say that these cookies are bad – I just have a tough time believing that they are the top-selling cookie at the Bobbette & Belle shops, as the recipe intro proclaims. Rest assured that this will not turn me off trying some of their other recipes (the Classic Peanut Butter and Soft & Chewy Ginger Cookies, in particular, have caught my eye) – I’m just not sold on these guys.

If you’ve ever tried these President Choice cookies, the texture is very similar.

PC® The Reverse Decadent White Chocolate Chip Cookie

Verdict? Skip this recipe – there are better ones out there.

Baking With Bobbette & Belle, Blueberry Scone Edition

Aaaaand we’re back with another recipe from the Bobbette & Belle cookbook. This is the Christmas gift that keeps on giving, folks! In case you missed the first two recipes, they were:

Today, we’re making blueberry scones.

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Truth be told, I’m not a big scone person. I have made them only once before at a baking class. I never order a scone from, say, Starbucks, but I have picked up a homemade biscuit from the jam lady at the Farmer’s Market. Are biscuits and scones the same? Let’s save that for another day.

I was, however, intrigued by the blueberry scones in the Bobbette & Belle cookbook. I chose three recipes that piqued my interest and asked Cedric to pick one, and he chose the blueberry scones with no hesitation. So blueberry scones it was.

The ingredients are pretty simple; I only had to pick up two things. The first was frozen wild blueberries – this is what the recipe called for, but I bet these scones would be AMAZING with some fresh Pemberton blueberries in the summer. The second ingredient was cream of tartar, an ingredient I rarely use and did not have on hand. A tiny box cost a whopping $8.99, which was a tough pill to swallow, especially since the recipe only calls for a quarter teaspoon. So now I have an almost full box of cream of tartar. I’m going to have to find some more recipes that call for it.

[Note: I can’t find this recipe online. I’ve found versions that use vanilla and buttercream, but the recipe in the book calls for neither.]

One more note before we dive in: I decided to get fancy with this baking recap. I asked Cedric to take photos as I went along. Now, Cedric normally takes photos like this:

But he was a good sport and agreed. It helps that he gets paid in pastries.

Okay, the recipe starts off simply enough, but I must admit that I took some liberties right off the bat. Step two says to “blend the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry cutter”. I don’t own a pastry cutter, but I do own hands, so that’s what I used to mix it all together. I once read somewhere that it’s not a good idea to buy a kitchen tool that only does one thing. I kind of like that. I don’t have a lemon squeezer or a garlic mincer or a potato masher (although I could probably actually use one of those) or a pastry cutter.

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Action shot. Hand looks purple, like the scones will after I add the blueberries.

I may have overworked the dough in step four, despite the warning not to overwork the dough. The Bobbette & Belle photo shows a pretty clean looking white pastry, whereas mine was streaked aggressively with purple from the blueberries.

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However, I bet you the Bobbette & Belle people used food stylists and stuff to make their scones look so good. This is something I thought about frequently while Cedric was photographing the process – it was hard to make it all look good. Can you imagine working on the set of a photo shoot for the Martha Stewart magazine? Actually, I think that would be an awesome job.

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(Over)workin’ it

Step 5 ends with, “sprinkle with coarse sugar”. I’m not sure there is anywhere to get coarse sugar in Squamish. I used regular sugar.

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So much egg wash, so few scones.

I popped the scones in the oven and started working on the clotted cream. Originally, I wasn’t going to make the clotted cream. First of all, it sounds gross – clotting makes me think of blood. I also hate the term “lemon curd”. But Cedric thought the clotted cream was an essential component of the recipe, and I did have some 35% cream on hand. Plus, in the cinnamon pull-apart bread post, I said that one can only really judge a recipe if one makes all of its components. So I pulled out the stand mixer and got ready to mix.

WAIT – clotted cream does not call for a stand mixer! Clotted cream is made by bringing whipped cream to a boil, then letting it simmer for 45 minutes. Then you have to put it in the fridge for FOUR HOURS. Who knew!

See, here’s the problem:

  • The scones take 30 minutes to bake.
  • They probably take another 30 to cool.
  • The clotted cream takes 45+ minutes to make.
  • The clotted cream takes 4 hours to cool in the fridge.

These timelines do not align and I did not have the foresight to make the clotted cream four hours prior. So I took a shortcut and I popped the clotted cream in the freezer for half an hour or so, swishing it around every now and then.

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NOBODY would be able to wait 4 hours before sampling these goods. (They look a little flat, don’t they?)

It obviously was not ready when it came time to sample the goods, but it didn’t matter.

Ready for the verdict?

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Yessssss

These scones were good. As in, they were good – for scones. But I’m still not a scone person. They’re not sweet enough! Even the clotted cream severely lacks sweetness!

Now Cedric, on the other hand, LOVED them. He does not share my sweet tooth; he thinks blueberry scones and clotted cream are just the right of sweetness.

Still, it’s not like I didn’t like them – I did go back for another the next day. By now, the clotted cream had been sitting in the fridge for well over four hours. I was ready to see how it turned out.

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Non fluffy clotted cream.

The cream turned out kind of gross. It’s hard to describe the texture – almost elastic. It wasn’t light and fluffy like whipped cream – and I get that it isn’t whipped cream, but the cream in the B&B photo just looks much airier. Cedric said that it was the normal texture for clotted cream, but agreed it had been better when we had it the day before in its more liquid state.

I don’t know. Maybe putting it in the freezer caused some kind of chemical reaction that compromised its integrity. Probably.

So the blueberry scones get a solid “good” rating from me – but I wouldn’t make the clotted cream again. Instead, I’d serve it with some blueberry jam from my beloved jam lady at the farmer’s market.

Bobbette & Belle Brownies

Today in non-Squamish news: brownies.

Specifically, brownies from the Bobbette & Belle cookbook. (Bobbette & Belle is a pastry shop in Toronto. I’ve never been.)

I received the B&B cookbook from my parents this Christmas and for the past few weeks, I’ve been scoping out the recipes and trying to decide where to begin. The layer cakes look glorious, but I tend to shy away from making cakes because a) they’re hard to share (unless you’re serving to a crowd) and b) stacking cake layers is my baking weakness. One of them, anyways.

I’ve been on a bit of a cinnamon bun kick lately, so the Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread recipe has had a ribbon bookmark wedged in it since, oh, Christmas morning. There’s a flourless chocolate torte recipe that looks aces, as do the Fleur de Sel Caramels on page 192… but where to start?

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Brownies, that’s where. For no particular rhyme or reason other than brownies are delicious and this particular recipe is called “Death by Chocolate Brownies”. I can think of worse ways to go.

The story behind these brownies is that a customer inquired as to whether the bakery could make brownies that she could use as a wedding favour and this is the recipe they came up with. This sounds like a wedding I would have liked to attend.

On to the baking. First, the brownies:

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The brownies, pre-oven.

Health food, they are not (as evidenced by the three cups of packed brown sugar), but they’re relatively easy to bring together, with only 7 ingredients – most of which you probably already have on hand. The directions are straightforward, except for one: the baking time. The book calls for 45 minutes in the oven. I checked at 40 and the top was extremely wiggly, which is bake-speak for “nowhere close to being done”. Granted, the directions call for a 10 inch square baking pan, and I only have a 9 inch one, so I expected they’d take a little longer than anticipated. They ended up taking a lot longer than anticipated. I checked every 5 minutes or so and stopped counting after half an hour past the original 45 minutes. I ended up pulling them out still slightly underdone because I had things to do and didn’t want to be tied to the oven any longer.

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The brownies, post-oven

Now, the chocolate glaze:

The recipe calls for a chocolate glaze, which I believe is the difference between these being regular brownies and Death by Chocolate brownies.

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The glaze pre-cooling

The glaze isn’t too tricky to make (although I did have to buy some chocolate for it and really dig around in the back of my cupboards for some corn syrup), but my timing was a little off because I expected the brownies to be done way earlier than they were. As a result, the glaze got thick like icing. I put the metal bowl over a stove element on high and gave it a few quick mixes, and it softened up quickly.

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The glaze, post-cooling and reheating

Removing the brownies from the pan went relatively well, but the combination of slightly undercooking them and having poked them a dozen or so times to test for doneness resulted in a rather homely look. Not to worry; chocolate glaze hides all sins.

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Blue ribbon prize winner?

The brownies were cooled-ish, not completely cooled as directed. What can I say, I’m a glutton for punishment – I even skipped the “put in the fridge for 20 minutes after glazing” step. As such, the glaze got even softer as I spread it on the brownies. This may have been a problem if I was competing in a bake-off or something, but aesthetics weren’t my priority today.

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NOW WE’RE TALKING

Now for the best part: the taste test. The brownies were rich and moist, and the edges were just the right amount of chewy. They certainly don’t need the glaze, but it does elevate them to the next level of deliciousness.

Best paired with a glass of milk.

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La fin

(You can find the recipe here if you scroll down, but it doesn’t include the chocolate glaze – I guess you have to buy the book for that. I feel like if I post it here, I will get sued or something. Plus it would take eons to type up.)