Keeping It Local: A Squamish-Inspired Holiday Gift Guide

I know a lot of people hate shopping for the holidays – but I am not one of them. I looooove Christmas gift shopping. I usually start in late spring/early summer. I love finding the perfect gift for the people I love the most – and bonus if I’m supporting talented locals.

If you’re seeking some homegrown inspiration for awesome gifts that are useful, nice, practical, or all of the above – well, I’ve got you covered. Most of these are made in Squamish, though I’ve included a few that are made by people in Vancouver or in the Sea to Sky Region.

Lucas Teas

If you’ve got a tea lover on your list, look no further than Lucas Teas. They have a really solid assortment of teas, which you can either buy in person at their store downtown Squamish on Cleveland Avenue or online. For an extra local touch, opt for a Squamish inspired tea (there’s one called Squamish Sunset – so good).

(If you missed my advent calendar post, rumour is that Lucas Teas is doing an advent calendar that is worth checking out.)

Xoco Chocolates

Just down the road from Lucas Teas you’ll find Xoco Chocolates. These locally made chocolates are next level. The flavour combinations are creative but delicious – think cherry/orange/bourbon or peanut/praline/puffed rice. They’re often made with local ingredients, like teas (from Lucas, of course), honey, and even spirits. And they’re definitely showstoppers – each one is a mini masterpiece. This ain’t your ordinary box of chocolates.

(I wrote a post about Xoco a little while ago, if you’d like to learn more.)

Muddy Marvels Pottery

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Photo from the Muddy Marvels Instagram page

I’m a sucker for gorgeous pottery, and while I’ve come across a few talented potters in the Sea to Sky, Muddy Marvels Pottery (made in Brackendale) is in a league of its own. The pieces are not cheap, but they really are works of art (that just so happen to be very functional). This isn’t the gift for a random Secret Santa – you’ll want to save it for somebody you really love who will appreciate it (perhaps paired with some Lucas tea?)

The KNWN Squamish T-Shirt

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Photo from the KNWN Facebook Page.

KNWN is a local snowboard manufacturer, and while their snowboards are wicked, their swag is unexpectedly awesome too. I am a huuuuge fan of this simple but snazzy Squamish t-shirt design – it’s even better in crewneck sweatshirt form, as pictured. Their shop is located in the industrial part of town just behind Backcountry Brewing/Tall Tree Bakery – a.k.a. my new favourite shopping area of Squamish. I think the t-shirts are around $30 and the sweatshirt is just under $70. They have other cool t-shirt designs on offer, too.

Padraig Cottage Slippers

 

I’m pretty sure Padraig slippers are well-loved around the world – or at least across Canada – but they happen to be made in North Vancouver, which is just a skip, hop, and a jump from Squamish. Every Squamish baby seems to own a few pairs of Padraigs, but they also make adult sizes. These are the perfect cozy slippers to wear around the house on a classic rainy PNW day. You can buy them online, or you can support a local company and pick up a pair at Fetish Shoes downtown Squamish.

Backcountry Brewing

I love Backcountry Brewing – and I don’t even like beer! We have a few great breweries in Squamish, but the beer lovers in my life (i.e., Cedric) are all big fans of Backcountry’s offerings (the Widowmaker IPA is a favourite among them/him). They have regular growlers – but they also have super cool stainless steel ones that are just so steezy. A few cans would make a great stocking stuffer, or you could go all out and get bottles + a growler + Backcountry merch. Bonus: while you’re picking out your gifts, stay for a flight and a pizza – their pizzas are soooo good.

Trae Designs Toys

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Photo from the Trae Designs website

I got a set of beautiful, handmade wooden toys from Trae Designs for my niece last Christmas. They seem like a fun toy and unlike gaudy plastic gizmos, these are really pretty to display around the house. They have several different toy sets in a few different colour options – they also have blocks, rattle toys, and other cute things.

Like most things on this list, this gift isn’t necessarily the cheapest (the pictured set is just under $50) – but you’re paying for quality and local skills, which helps justify the price tag.

Nibz Bandanaz & Winter Accessories

My Whistler-based friend, Sara, makes the super-fun (yet practical) Nibz Bandanaz,  balaclavas, toques, and neck tubes Рa must have for winter sports lovers.These are reasonably priced (a bandana is about $33) and are great quality. There are a ton of designs to choose from Рfrom fantastically loud to more understated. (I believe they will be at the Arts Whistler Holiday Market at the Conference Centre this weekend.)

Moe’s Pantry Jams

This summer, I discovered Moe’s Pantry at the Squamish Farmer’s Market. (Hint: they’re also at the winter Farmer’s Market at the Squamish Adventure Centre on Saturdays). I’ve tried four of their jams: raspberry, plum, bluberry, and strawberry. And guess what? They’re all delicious. Personally, I am a big fan of local made edible goods – honey, jams, baked goods, and the like – especially for friends and family that don’t live around Squamish. They offer something special that your loved ones can’t get in their own neck of the woods, and they’re consumable so they won’t just sit around collecting dust. A fairly large jar of jam is only $7 – so go bananas and try a few kinds.

Vancouver Candle Company

A high quality candle is a classic gift option – choosing a local option makes it a little more special than your standard department store pick. The Vancouver Candle Company has become pretty popular across the country, and though it’s not made in the Sea to Sky, I still consider it local. I’ve smelled several of the candles and given a few as gifts, and in my experience, they’re all good.

I love that they’re named after local Vancouver ‘hoods (I love Gastown: tobacco, amber, and black pepper) – and upon browsing their website just now, I’ve discovered that they now have Toronto neighbourhoods, too. The packaging is clean and pretty – even your more discerning candle-loving friends will adore these guys.


Did I miss anything? I love discovering local products, so feel free to recommend your own must-haves and I’ll check them out.

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Bread Illustrated’s Caramelized Onion Bread

Watch out, Cheddar and Black Pepper Bread. You’ve got some competition.

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Previously, Cedric declared the Cheddar and Black Pepper Bread to be his all-time favourite. He’s got a point: it is incredibly delicious. I’ve made it four or five times and it has NEVER lasted long enough to make it to the freezer – it always gets eaten fresh.

But there’s a new bread contending for the number one spot on Cedric’s most beloved bread list. Incidentally, it is the recipe that immediately follows the Cheddar and Black Pepper Bread in the cookbook. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Caramelized Onion Bread.

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If you like savoury, you’ll love this bread. You’ll just have to get your hands a little dirty if you want to make it.

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Since this bread comes from the Bread Illustrated’s “Upping Your Game With Sponges” chapter, it’s no shocker that this bread requires a sponge to be made ahead of time. You can either make it the day before and let it sit up to 24 hours, or you can time your day just right by making the sponge in the morning and continuing with the rest of the steps six hours later. I opted for the former.

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After the sponge has risen and started its collapse, it’s time to caramelize the onions. This is pretty straightforward and also involves a little garlic, thyme, sugar, salt, and pepper. You have to let the onions cool completely before mixing them into the bread.

The caramelized onions are incorporated in two different steps. The first half of the onions is kneaded in right away with the flour, yeast, and water. This part went alright for me. The second half of the onions is added after the dough has had a short rest and salt has been added – you add the onions in increments of one tablespoon while the dough is mixing away. This made my dough very sticky and it had trouble “catching” on the hook attachment in my mixer. Scraping it with a rubber spatula didn’t do much – I had to periodically stop the machine and use my hands to pull the dough off the bottom of the bowl to get it to mix properly.

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It was worth the constant stop-scrape-start, because my onions looked pretty incorporated when it was all said and done – though the dough was very sticky.

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Pre-shaping – doesn’t it look like molten lava?

After another brief (30 minute) rest, there are a couple of fold-and-rise sessions. Then, the dough is shaped.

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I use a colander lined with a tea towel as the book suggests – be sure to dust the tea towel with AMPLE amounts of flour, as my dough got quite stuck to the towel even though I’d floured it.

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Aaaaand this is why you use plenty of flour. This is one sticky dough!

I’ve talked about Bread Illustrated’s lava-rock-in-pie-plates method of baking before – it’s the one I use when I make my weekly sourdough or any other crusty type breads (think pain de campagne). It took just under 50 minutes in the oven for my bread to get nice and crusty.

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I salvaged the shape somewhat despite the tea towel stickiness.

While Cedric LOVED this bread (even for breakfast), I wasn’t quite as passionate about it. It was good and the onion flavour was definitely there, but it didn’t sweep me off my feet and it required a little more effort than your typical loaf. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t go out of my way to make it again – but since Cedric is such a fan, I’m sure I’ll whip it up every now and then.

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YUM. (Yes, I added heaps of flour pre-bake.)

Truthfully, I think I’m just more of a sweet or neutral bread person. The savoury ones are nice, but they’re usually not my favourites.

What do you think – is sweet or savoury bread better?


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Ho Ho Ho! Advent Calendar Season Is BACK!

Folks, I’m unbearably excited to announce that it’s that time of year again: ADVENT CALENDAR TIME!

Okay, so we’re not quite at Day 1 of the advent, but in order to be prepared for the first of December, you need to get your act together in November. Seriously – some of the best advent calendars have already sold out for 2017. As they say, the early bird gets the best calendars.

If you remember my post from last year, I am a total advent calendar nut (see Figure 1 below).

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Figure 1

If you’re on board with the DIY advent concept but want to go a little fancier than paper bags in a shoe holder, I’ve included a few fancy store bought type kits at the bottom of this post. But first: some fabulous, indulgent, and (usually) expensive ways to satisfy your Christmasiest advent wishes.


The David’s Tea Advent Calendar

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Isn’t it beautiful!!!

I bought this calendar for myself the day it came out back in October, and I am so excited to swing open those doors (which have a satisfying magnetic clasp thing) and sample 24 days of teas. I have found that I only need half of the amount in the tin to brew a stellar cup of tea, so I save the other half of each tin for 24 additional glorious days in January. Two months of tea for $45 – that’s well worth it to me for a once a year splurge. Plus, the Christmas joy it brings me is priceless.

FYI: I have recently discovered that Squamish’s own Lucas Teas offers a tea advent calendar, too. I have no idea what they charge, but I love the idea of supporting a local business and I’ve enjoyed every Lucas Tea I’ve ever tried. If you haven’t already picked up a David’s Tea calendar, check out Lucas’s option.

Beauty in Wonderland… WHAT?!?!

It’s not hard to figure out where my advent calendar love comes from – it’s all my mom’s fault. (You can read about her past hits and one miss in last year’s post.) I received a surprise parcel in the mail from my parents that contained this magical box, which opens up to reveal five drawers. Each drawer contains five boxes, and each box is numbered 1 through 25. I have NO IDEA what is going on with this amazing advent calendar other than the following:

  • I’m guessing it has something to do with beauty products
  • It’s from the UK

I am purposely not researching anything about it to maximize the surprise factor.

Bonne Maman 2017 Advent Calendar

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I just about died when I saw this super adorable Bonne Maman advent calendar. I have toast every morning, so this jam fest would be perfect – plus, it’s a fun way to branch beyond the usual raspberry jam and Bonne Maman jams are soooo good. Alas, three advent calendars would be a little much – even for me. Maybe next year?

I’m not sure if this one is still available. If you go to the Bonne Maman website, it is still featured on the front page, but clicking the link leads to a dead page. If you’re able to find it, let me know how the 24 days unfold!

L’Occitane Signature Advent Calendar

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A few years ago, I had an Occitane advent calendar and I adored it. It’s a great way to stock up on little bar soaps, hand lotions, and other divine skin and bath goodies, if that happens to be up your alley. This year’s calendar is $69, which isn’t cheap – but neither are Occitane goods in general.

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They also have a luxury version (ooh la la), which comes with a luxury price tag of $134. I consulted the list of products between the two boxes*, and there are a lot of overlaps – the luxury one seems to contain a few products from their Immortelle line, which are on the pricey side, but I don’t think those merit the substantial price difference. But hey, maybe you’re in the mood to treat yourself, in which case – advent away!

*Note: I would NEVER sneak a peek at the contents of one the calendars I was actually using for the year. This is sacrilegious for an advent calendar devotee.

NYX Kiss and Tell Calendar

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I’m not much of a lipstick person, but I thought this one was pretty fun. It has a variety of NYX lipsticks, glosses, and lip creams and the design is super cool. You can still get your hands on one via Asos. I’ll set you back about a hundred bucks – I can’t decide if this is a lot. On the one hand, $100 for an advent calendar is definitely a lot. On the other hand, $100 for 24 lipsticks – even smallish ones – does not seem terribly unreasonable.

BeerAdvent

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Unlike the other calendars featured on this list thus far, here’s one that I think Cedric could get behind. Twenty four days of craft beer would make for a very merry Christmas indeed. This one is available across most provinces and territories – the Facebook page will tell you where to pick it up. I’ve noticed other beer advent calendars at liquor stores in years past, so it shouldn’t be too hard to get your paws on one. If I didn’t DIY Cedric’s calendar, I’d probably pick one like this up.

Purdy’s Bright Light Advent Calendar

Screen Shot 2017-11-11 at 7.27.08 AMFor many people, an advent calendar is not an advent calendar unless it contains chocolate. If you’re one of these people, I completely respect your advent approach and I offer you an alternative to waxy cardboard-tasting chocolate: this little Purdy’s number. I love Purdy’s chocolate (hedgehogs!) and it’s nice to support a Canadian company. At $25, this advent is also a little more reasonably priced than some of the others on this list.

Saje 12 Days of Wellness

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I’m making a notable exception for the Saje calendar – I generally do not consider “12 days of Christmas” types to be true advent calendars (24 days are required, thank you very much). However, Saje is a popular shop in my group of friends and I thought this calendar of twelve different diffuser blends would be a nice bet for people obsessed with their Saje diffusers (see: my sister). It’s $110 – yikes – but if you’ve ever been to Saje, you already know everything there is pricey.

DIY Advent Calendars

Okay, time to tackle DIY advent calendars. I love using my shoe pocket thingy because it allows for large treats – for instance I’ve included hardcover books and jumbo bottles of beer in the past. The ones below are one the smaller side, but you can still have a lot of fun with them. Ideas of things to stash include, but are not limited to: lip balm or make up, nail polish, extra razor blades (so practical), candy, nuts, mini booze bottles, socks, tiny magnets, jewelry, underwear, gift cards (even $5 for a morning coffee), tea or coffee, a Christmas ornament, etc.

Ikea Vinter 2017

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I think this little paper house village set up is so charming – and it’s only $7.99 from Ikea. They have a multicolour mountain set, too, for the same price (pictured below).

vinter-advent-calender-boxes__0554451_pe659793_s4Holiday Collection Wood Advent Calendar from Canadian Tire

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I see a few main draws to this wooden advent calendar from Canadian Tire. It is solid and sturdy enough to survive storage over the rest of the year, so it can be reused year after year, unlike many others. Plus, it looks like you could easily scramble the order of the boxes, which is always a plus.

Calendar Kit from Billie’s Flower House

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I was recently perusing Billie’s Flower House downtown Squamish and I came across this little fillable advent set on sale for $20. While I’m on the topic of Billie’s, it is a WONDERFUL place to browse for adorable Christmas decorations and gifts. A lot of the companies that the store carries are the same ones you see at some of the local holiday markets. Everything in there is so lovely – and they are also the best place to find a greeting card in Squamish.

Winter Chalet Knit Stockings Advent Calendar from The Bay

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This picture isn’t the best, but this little stocking garland calendar is equal parts advent calendar and decor. One word: CUTE.


The countdown is on, you guys. See you on the 1st!

Bobbette & Belle’s Banana Chocolate Fudge Cake (in Cupcake and Mini Loaf Form)

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Although I have baked numerous recipes from the Bobbette & Belle cookbook, there is a chapter I haven’t touched. (Until now.)

Layer cakes.

I’ll admit that I don’t like making cakes. Layer cakes? Even worse! They’re tricky to get even, they take forever to assemble, and they’re just so much cake. Cupcakes, muffins, brownies, mini tars – these are all so easy to split up, transport, and share with the masses. Cake? Not so much.

But one day while flipping through my Bobbette & Belle cookbook, I came across this eye-opening text book that is so obvious that I can’t believe I overlooked it:

This recipe also works wonderfully as muffins or a loaf. No toppings necessary.

Wait a minute – you mean I can bake the cake and skip the stacking, assembling, icing, and cake cutting? Brilliant!

The particular recipe that enlightened me was for a Banana Chocolate Fudge Cake. The photo looks decadent and delicious, but it involves a dark chocolate fudge frosting, a chocolate buttercream, a chocolate gaze, and banana chips and chocolate chips as garnishes. That’s a lot of sweetness – and a lot of dirty dishes.

However, the combination of banana bread and chocolate is perfection, so I decided to make these in cupcake form for a friend’s birthday. As a bonus, I’d even throw in one of the toppings: the chocolate glaze, which ended up giving it a gorgeous finish.

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In cake form, this recipe makes three cakes. It yielded me something like two dozen cupcakes and eight mini loaves. I ended up sharing – a lot. (And I can attest to the fact that these freeze and thaw well.)

The execution of this recipe is pretty simple and straightforward. First, you mix ripe bananas with brown sugar, then you add in eggs, vegetable oil, and a bit of salt. Then, you mix in dry (flour, baking powder, baking soda) and wet (milk) ingredients, alternating between dry and wet for a total of five additions. Finally, you stir in chocolate chips by hand. The recipe calls for one cup, but I always add the whole bag.

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The chocolate glaze is relatively easy, too. It calls for melting and mixing dark chocolate and butter in a bain marie, with a bit of corn syrup, vanilla, and fleur de sel.

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At first, I wasn’t quite sure how to glaze the cupcakes and loaves – pouring the glaze over, as I would with a cake, seemed wasteful. I decided to dip the mini cakes into the bowl of glaze. This was super easy, quick, and I think the final result looked pretty pro.

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The glossy topping solidified after a bit of time, but it didn’t lose its sheen. It was the perfect complement to the cake, but the cake really is the star element here (you might say it takes the cake). It’s impossibly moist and has a nice spring to it, if that makes any sense. It’s not overly sweet, although I imagine the three different types of frostings may kick up the sugar level a few notches.

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I’m probably not going to be baking a ton of layer cakes any time soon, but this definitely isn’t the last time I morph a B&B cake recipe into a cupcake recipe.

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Race Review: TRY EVENTS Boundary Bay Half Marathon Recap

Last year, I ran the Boundary Bay Marathon. It was my first marathon, so I spent more time in my own head that really taking in the race.

This year, I ran the half marathon, a distance I’m a little more comfortable with – so I feel like I’ll be able to provide a little more race feedback for those doing research on the race. (Why are there so few race reports of the Boundary Bay marathon?!?!)

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LET’S DO THIS!!!!!

I signed up for the Boundary Bay Half Marathon on somewhat of a whim. After my Squamish 50 23k race in August, I thought I had one more race in me for the year, so I signed up for the Boundary Bay Half because:

  • The early November timing was just right. I needed a goal to work towards to keep me running through the fall.
  • I knew the course and the race itself – I liked the level of organization, the relatively small race size, and the overall vibe of the event.
  • It was pretty cheap – $55 before September 30 (it’s $50 if you sign up before July 31).

Unfortunately, training didn’t go as planned, as I discussed in an earlier post. The three weeks leading up to the half marathon, I spent a lot of time off my feet. I did a lot of stretching and foam rolling, I got a massage, and I focused on cross training at the gym, on the stationary bike, and at hot yoga. Here’s a sneak peek at my DREADFUL training:

  • 3 weeks out: 0 running from Monday to Wednesday; a whopping 3.02 k run on Thursday (5:29 min/km pace), and a 21.25 k run on Saturday that I suffered through (6:19 min/km pace) <– why did I think that run was a good idea? My sore leg got DESTROYED.
  • 2 weeks out: a 3.97 k run on Tuesday (5:29 min/km pace), a 13.44 k run on Thursday (6:13 min/km pace), and a hike/run up the Sea to Summit trail on Saturday (it took me 1:53:50).
  • 1 week out: a 5.06 k run on Monday (5:32 min/km pace) and a 5.02 k run on Wednesday (5:52 min/km pace).

Not ideal. Not ideal.

When I signed up for the race, I hoped to break the 2 hour barrier (which I’ve only done once before) and perhaps even nab a PB (my PB is something around 1:57). After training through aches and pains, I readjusted my focus to simply running healthy, even if it meant taking 2:10 or 2:15 to finish the darned thing. I felt like a lot of weight had been lifted off my shoulders by shifting my goal. So how did it go? I’ll get to that soon.


Race Details

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Spot the cute dog in the jacket

First, let’s talk about the race itself.

Registration is easy peasy – your usual sign up online affair. As I mentioned, the prices are reasonable, especially for the half and full marathon distances. Cedric signed up for the 5k (his first race ever – he is a non-runner), which was $50 – kind of expensive for the short distance. So the Boundary Bay races offer the best value for the longer distances, but it’s nice that they have a 5k and 10k option so that family and friends can take part.

The Boundary Bay website is not the best – a lot of the key information is kind of hidden in the left column. Maybe they’ll redesign the website by the time next year’s race comes around (which is when future racers are most likely to read this post – hey guys!)

Early package pick up is encouraged. If you live in the area, they give you a few options. It’s a roughly 2 hour drive from Squamish to Delta, so we opted for the day-of package pick up, which costs an extra $5 per person. You also have to send them an email ahead of time to request day-of pick up – they don’t email back to confirm, so you just have to assume it’s all good.

Picking up the bib on race day is smooth sailing. I just gave my name and the $5, and they gave me a bib, timing chip, safety pins and zap traps, and a long sleeved red t-shirt (you specify your size at check out).

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Getting stoked at the start line.

The start line has plenty of parking, some decent public bathrooms (go early – the line gets long!), and – best of all – a McDonalds food truck giving away free McCafe beverages. If the idea of downing a coffee before a marathon makes you nervous, don’t worry – the truck is still there at the end of the race.

Fifteen minutes prior to the race, there’s a group warm up. Ronald himself participates. I suppose I should mention that this race benefits the Ronald McDonald Foundation, a very worthy cause that I’m happy to support. I believe they raised $7,000+ this year at the race. Good job, participants!

Since there are four distances in the race (5k, 10k, half marathon, and marathon), there is a staggered start. Marathon folks take off at 8:30, then three minutes later the half-marathon runners head out, then the 10k, then the 3k. This is great for avoiding congestion, but it makes the gun time a little misleading – for instance, by the time the 5kers take off, the clock has been ticking for about 10 minutes.

The course itself is straightforward – you cannot and will not get lost. It starts off on a hard packed gravelly/sandy/dirt pedestrian/bike path. About two km into the course, it dips into a residential neighbourhood – this is the only portion on pavement. They don’t shut the road down, so they ask you to run single file. It is a low traffic road and there are plenty of volunteers along the way, so it’s no big deal. Then, the road returns to the path, which winds along the ocean. The surface is kind of like a good dirt road – a little slower than running on a paved road, but it’s not potholed, nor is it like running on a loose gravel path. There are parts of the path that are more worn down than others, so if you can get into one of these ruts, it’s a little easier to move faster.

The turnarounds for the 5k, 10k, and half marathon are clearly marked and impossible to miss. There are a few aid stations along the way – I believe these only handed out drinks, but I’m not 100% sure since I brought my own food and drink. As I recall, things get a little boring and industrial on the full marathon route, but the when the half distance turns around, you’re still in the pretty park-like setting by the ocean. You run by a golf course and if you keep your eyes up, you may see a few golden eagles.

If you like a varied course with lots of turns and changes of scenery, you probably won’t love this course. If you like a straight course that requires little in the way of paying attention and allows you to space out and get in the zone, you’ll love it. It’s a very flat course, but given that the surface isn’t road/pavement, it may not be the best course for setting a world record. Or maybe you’ll like the surface because it’s a little easier on the body. Who knows.

The course is marked with kilometre markers and orange pylons. Since it is an out-and-back-course, the numbers are repeated on your return. So if you see the 6k marker on your way back, that means you have 6k to go.

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Snazzy medal – AND you can pretend you came first! (Note the McDonald’s hot chocolate by my feet)

The finish line is the same as the start. Upon crossing it, you get a medal to wear proudly (you earned it!) and a volunteer clips your timing chip from your shoe. Results are not instantaneous, and given that the start times are staggered, the big timer showing the gun time is not perfect for predicting your chip time.

Results are posted on the Try Events website within 24 hours – this year, it only took about 5 hours. Results are divided by distance, but not by age group or sex (these details aren’t provided at all). The order is determined by gun time; there is no option to sort by chip time, so your finishing position may be a little off. If I could give one piece of feedback, it would be to provide better results data – but I’m kind of a data nerd.


My Race

Okay, time to talk about my personal race experience. We had to leave Squamish early (around 6 AM), but the race happened to take place on the day Daylight Savings wound up, so it felt more like 7 AM, mercifully. It was clear day, but cold as heck. Most of my warm up consisted of hopping around trying to maintain circulation. I was VERY glad to have worn running gloves.

I didn’t really get a chance to seed myself at the start line – I just joined the queue, somewhat towards the back, then we were off. I weaved my way through to the crowd to try to find a comfortable start in the first kilometre. I settled somewhere in the middle.

I hadn’t quite decided on a strategy for my race. On the one hand, I could try to run slow and steady to ward off my calf pain for as long as possible (it had reared its ugly head anywhere from 3k to 13k into my “training” runs). On the other hand, I could try to run fast early on to make up for the slow-down that the leg drama would inevitably cause. I was feeling pretty strong, so I decided to run at a pace that felt a little challenging but sustainable.

For this race, I had a feeling I would need extra motivation for zoning out and not focusing on any discomfort, so I busted out a secret weapon: music. I hardly ever run with music (NEVER in the trails), but I had good luck running with tunes at the Squamish Loggers Day 8k in August. This turned out to be a wonderful distraction. The two songs that gave me the most turbospeed super powers (think the mushroom in MarioKart) were Sail by AWOLNation and Forgot About Dre.

KM 1 – 7

The first 7 k felt good, but I was freezing cold. My hands and feet were totally numb. There were a lot of distractions throughout this part of the run: other racers, the km markers, the turnoffs for the 5 k and 10 k distances, the road detour, etc.

Around km 7, three things happened:

  1. My extremities thawed. This was both wonderful and awful (have you ever had that hands defrosting feeling where it feels your nails are falling off? Yeah). I stuffed my running gloves in my vest for the rest of the run.
  2. Sail came on my iPod. I passed a large group of runners and felt like a superstar.
  3. The dull pain in my leg reared its head. I was a little annoyed but happy I’d enjoyed 7 kilometres of pain-free running.

Splits:

KM 1: 5:49 — KM 2: 5:38 — KM 3: 5:29 — KM 4: 5:39 — KM 5: 5:39 — KM 6: 5:38 — KM 7: 5:42

KM 8 – 14

Though the ache in my leg was present, it didn’t feel like pain – just discomfort. My left hip flexor also felt a little wonky (this was a new ailment), so I just focused on keeping proper running form (glutes! glutes! glutes!) and listening to my music. I tried to run relatively conservatively for the first few kms in this segment, knowing that I could pick up the pace depending on how was I feeling at the turnaround.

The turnaround snuck up pretty quickly, so I bid adieu to the poor marathoners and started making my way back. I chowed down on a Kewaza ball at the halfway mark to keep my energy levels high for the second half of the race. (I talk about Kewaza balls and other fueling fun facts in this old marathon training post, if you’re interested.)

When I run longer distances, I try to assessment my effort every so often and think: can I sustain this pace for 15 more minutes? (I read this somewhere long ago and for whatever reason, it works for me). This helped keep me pushing, but within reason.

As I got closer to km 14, I felt a little tired, but I knew that I still had plenty in me. When I reached the 2/3rds mark, I was pleased with how much energy I felt I still had.

I slowed down in this segment, which I’m going to go ahead and blame on the minor but nagging leg tightness.

Splits:

KM 8: 5:46 — KM 9: 5:48 — KM 10: 5:47 — KM 11: 5:53 — KM 12: 5:51 — KM 13: 5:59 — KM 14: 6:00

KM 15 – 21.1

I was feeling good and the solid tunes just kept on coming, so I allowed myself to stare off into the distance and go on autopilot. By this point, the runners were fairly well spaced out. I could see the same cast of characters ahead of me (orange jacket guy, blue jacket guy, black top guy, etc.). Every so often, someone ahead would pull over to walk or tie a shoe. A couple of people passed me, but I had a good amount of wind left in me and I was able to pass more than passed me.

This rarely happens, but the km markers seemed to come reasonably quickly as the race went on. I started to wonder if, against all odds, I just might sneak in under the 2 hour mark after all. I didn’t have a watch on me and my phone was tucked away, so I had to go purely based on feel. I knew I’d have to pick it up and challenge myself if I wanted to really go for it, so I tried my best to giv’er.

Before I knew it, I could see the finish line up ahead. Is it just me or does the finish line always seem like a mirage – so close, but so far? Luckily, the CLASSIC Darude hit, Sandstorm, doo-doo-doo-doo-dooed me all the way to the finish line.

Splits

KM 16: 5:44 — KM 17: 5:45 — KM 18: 5:54 — KM 19: 5:46 — KM 20: 5:44 – KM 21: 5:14 (it was Sandstorm)

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My final chip time, according to the results, was 2:02:23. I am STOKED with this! No, I didn’t break the 2 hour mark, but I felt sooooo good the whole time DESPITE the most lackluster training and a nagging injury. You know what that means, right? It means that if I let myself heal properly and bust my butt in the spring, odds are good that I can set a PR at half in 2018. Game on!

I placed 78/249 runners in the half distance, which I’m happy with (though this is a little misleading, because a handful of runners raced faster than I did, but their gun time was slower because they started behind me). I estimate I came 37/119 for women (based on names that sound womanly) – alright!

As for Cedric, despite ZERO training (literally not a single practice run – though there was some cross training at the gym and on his mountain bike), he placed 12 out of 99 runners for the 5k! He says the runners in that group were on the casual side, but still – I’m pretty stoked for him.

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And that’s that for another year of races. I’ll do a full Year in Review a little later, but I’m so happy to have finished on a high note after facing a few good road bumps in my running this year.

Battle of the Bottles: Contigo Thermalock Matterhorn

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There is an ongoing battle in my household. It relates to hydration.

The story goes like this: Cedric loses water bottles like it’s nobody’s business. Cedric cannot hang on to a water bottle for more than a month without misplacing it or leaving it somewhere where it cannot be retrieved.

I, on the other hand, am extraordinarily responsible with my water bottles. On a daily basis, I use two – we’ll call them my Tier One bottles:

  • A periwinkle S’well bottle, which I received as a Christmas gift two or three years ago (remember, it made my Magee’s Favourite Things 2016 list); and
  • A blue Nalgene bottle that I’ve had FOREVER. I had a previous blue Nalgene that I left on a plane maybe four or five years ago, and have owned this replacement ever since.

(My system is a little convoluted, but if you’re curious: I leave my Nalgene full and in the fridge at all times. I love my water to be a level of cold beyond straight-from-the-tap. I use my Nalgene to fill my S’well with cold water – the S’well keeps water cold forever, but because it is so insulated, it won’t make water cold if you put it in the fridge. So the Nalgene is always in the fridge, full and ready to refill the S’well.)

The problem is that when Cedric loses a water bottle, he tends to “borrow” mine “until he can find a replacement”. He has “borrowed” – and then lost – probably a dozen of my Tier Two water bottles over the years (Tier Two meaning any other bottle I’ve owned other than the Nalgene and the S’well).

It gets worse. He won’t borrow and lose just any old water bottle – he is very picky and only takes my best Tier Two bottles. He hates bottles that don’t seal properly, spilling in his backpack, so he’ll only pick from my finest Tier Twos. Presently, he has borrowed and lost ALL of my sealable Tier Two water bottles, which means he now “borrows” my blue Nalgene all the time – to go to the gym, to go biking, backcountry skiing, etc.

So I’ll often go to re-fill my S’well bottle – only to find my Nalgene is not in the fridge, where it should be. Instead, it is at the bottom of Cedric’s backpack – EMPTY.

(Battle ensues.)


That was an extraordinarily long introduction to a product review. I was recently sent a new water bottle and I was curious to see if it could crack into Tier One – or whether it would become a Tier Two so desirable that Cedric would surely lose it within a month.

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Meet the Contigo Thermalock Matterhorn. In many ways, it is the ultimate hybrid between my current Tier One bottles. But can it hold its own between my tried and trues?


Name Recognition

  • Nalgene: A classic for the outdoorsy type; often pictured with a carabiner clipped onto it or with a ring of duct tape for survival situations. Good Squamish street cred.
  • S’well: So trendy, it hurts – especially if you have a wood grain one. Very nouveau Squamish.
  • Contigo: More under the radar, though we do own a portable Contigo coffee mug that Cedric uses on the regular. The name “Matterhorn” adds a level of adventurous intrigue that would gain you acceptance in most Squamish circles.

Capacity

  • Nalgene: The classic model has a 32 ounce capacity.
  • S’well: I own the 17 ounce, but they go up to 25 ounces.
  • Contigo: 32 ounce – Nalgene, you’ve met your match. (Also available in 20 ounces.)

Cost

  • Nalgene: $16.69 at Canadian Tire
  • S’well: $45 at Chapters Indigo (and that’s only for the 17 ounce)
  • Contigo: $19.99 on the Contigo website

Weight (Unfilled)

  • Nalgene: 178 grams
  • S’well: 313 grams (for the 17 ounce size)
  • Contigo: 468 grams

Material

  • Nalgene: Plastic. It’s BPA-free, but it’s still plastic, which puts some people off.
  • S’well: Stainless steel
  • Contigo: Stainless steel

Mouth Hole

  • Nalgene: Big hole – Cedric loves this, and it makes it easy to fill up and pour out. It’s also available in little hole. (I think there’s a more technical term for this).
  • S’well: Little hole
  • Contigo: Get this – the Contigo Matterhorn has TWO hole options. If you just unscrew the very top part of the cap, there’s a plastic mouth hole the same size as the S’well hole. If you unscrew the entire cap as one unit, you get a larger mouth hole directly into the metal bottle. Everybody wins!

Seal Factor

  • Nalgene: No leaks
  • S’well: No leaks
  • Contigo: No leaks

(If you’re a bottle and you leak, you don’t stand a chance of cracking my Tier One list.)

Insulation

  • Nalgene: Non existent. Takes on the surrounding temperature – which is great for making water cold in the fridge, but not ideal when adventuring on a hot day (eww, warm water) or a very cold one (ice block, anyone?)
  • S’well: Triple walled; the Fort Knox of water bottles
  • Contigo: Vacuum insulated – not exactly sure what this means, but it is comparable to the S’well. The other day, I filled my Contigo with tea at 9 AM. Around 8:30, it was still warm.

SCIENCE ZONE

I wanted to test the Contigo Matterhorn’s ability to keep hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold, so I conducted my own little experiment.

Claim: “Matterhorn will keep your drinks cold for up to 36 hours.”

Reality: I poured cold water (46.9 degrees Fahrenheit) into the Contigo – an hour later, it had barely lost any coldness (47.1 degrees Fahrenheit). It seemed to warm up about .5 to 1 degrees every hour I tested it. Nearly 24 hours later, it was 53.9 degrees Fahrenheit – quite cold by my discerning standards. Disclaimer: my house is pretty cold, so it’s not like it was in the desert or anything.

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The x axis is time, the y axis is temperature

Claim: “This bottle is also engineered to keep your drinks piping hot for up to 14 hours.”

Reality: I poured boiling hot 205.5 degree Fahrenheit water into the bottle and an hour later, it had dropped nearly 20 degrees. (FYI – Starbucks serves their coffee between 145 – 165 degrees; extra hot is 180 degrees). After that, it lost about 10 degrees every hour, but was still quite hot (127 degrees) after 12 hours – this is just a few degrees lower than the temperature of a Starbucks kids drink (130 degrees). The bottle was in my very cold house so it was probably more of a challenge to keep it hot than it was in the previous test to keep it cold.

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Cap

  • Nalgene: The plastic cap swivels on and off with ease and is permanently connected to the bottle, so you won’t lose it. It is kind of big and awkward and tends to dangle in your face when you take a swig.
  • S’well: Stainless steel and SO EASY TO LOSE. It is not attached in any way, so I lose¬† mine somewhere around the house a few times per week.
  • Contigo: A sturdy plastic that screws on and off easily and is permanently connected to the bottle – hallelujah. Smaller size than the Nalgene, so it doesn’t smack my face when I drink from it.

Stealability

  • Nalgene: High. Cedric steals with great frequency; I may need to install an alarm.
  • S’well: Low. For some reason, Cedric hates my S’well and never steals it. For that, I am grateful.
  • Contigo: Moderate. I asked Cedric if he would steal this bottle, and he said no – he said it is too large, bulky, and heavy for his backcountry ski trips and his mountain biking trips. However, when I asked if he’d steal it to go to the gym, he said he absolutely would.

Bottom Line

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As I said earlier, the Contigo Thermalock Matterhorn is really the best of both worlds. Like the Nalgene, it can hold a lot of water and has the fabulous, unloseable top. Like the S’well, it will hold your drink’s temperature for eons. Unlike the Nalgene, it is made with stainless steel, which seems sturdier and cleaner. Unlike the S’well, it won’t break your bank – it is only half the cost of a 17 ounce S’well, and nearly double the capacity.

My only beef with the Matterhorn is that, as Cedric pointed out, it’s on the heavy side. While I wouldn’t take it with me on a backpacking expedition where my goal is to travel ultra light, I do recommend it for around the house, in the car, at work, in the yoga studio, etc.

Has it earned a position in my Tier One? Absolutely.

Bread Illustrated’s Mallorcas: Sweet Puerto Rican Bread

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I love my book club. Not only does it give me the chance to read books I may not otherwise have come across, but it also provides a convenient opportunity to expand my baking horizons. Everybody typically brings something edible or drinkable to share, and my fellow book clubees are always willing to sample my latest culinary experiments.

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At my last book club meeting, the recipe in question happened to be Mallorcas from the Bread Illustrated cookbook. I was most surprised to discover how many members had connections to Mallorca (an island in Spain) – go figure! Mallorcas are named after the Spanish island, but they’re actually a sweet bread that comes from Puerto Rico. The photo in the cookbook made them look like a sweet, fluffy cloud of a dessert bread, so I decided to give the recipe a go.

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This enriched bread calls for the usual bread ingredient suspects (flour, yeast, salt, water), plus sugar, butter, milk, and four eggs. Combined, the dough becomes rather sticky – frequent bowl scrapings are must during the initial stand mixing stage.

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After some hand kneading, the dough sits for two to two and a half hours – then, the fun part starts: shaping.

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Yup – this looks ready

Mallorcas look easy enough to shape – in the picture, they’re just thick, fluffy coils. In practice, I found it to be a little trickier than I expected. First, the dough is split into two. One piece at a time is flattened out into a big rectangle, which is then brushed with melted butter.

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The dough is then hand rolled into a yule log shape and sliced into six pieces. (Remember, the dough was split into to two – the process is repeated twice, yielding twelve buns in total.)

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Here’s where it really gets finicky: each of the 12 slices is stretched and rolled by hand into a snake-like rope. I found the dough really resisted stretching, and the layers of brushed melted butter added a whole new hurdle. Once they’ve assumed their new rope-like state, each piece is coiled into a spiral – end tucked under, centre pushed in.

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Despite repeating the process 12 times, I never really felt like I found my groove here. Some of my spirals ended up kind of twisted, and I have a feeling that my final product wouldn’t look quite as smooth as the Mallorcas in the photo.

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After leaving the spirals to rise, I attempted to reshape a few – many required having the tails re-tucked. I think I attempted to spiral each piece too tightly – a looser swirl probably would have been a better idea.

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The Mallorcas only require 12 to 15 minutes in the oven (I think I kept them in for 14). After cooling, the buns are coated with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar. The icing sugar should definitely be sifted – I found some not-very-appetizing photos online where it appears the baker tried to coat the buns using a spoon, which resulting in some funky sugar clumps. Incidentally, the sugar is a key addition. I sampled the buns both with and without, and they’re much better with.

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My Mallorcas were not particularly uniform in shape, but they were delicious – as light and fluffy as I could have hoped for. They’re delicately sweet – a nice alternative to a heavy, super-sugary donut. My fellow book clubbers gave them two icing sugary thumbs up.

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Evidently, the thing to do with day-old Mallorcas is use them to make some sort of grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich. I couldn’t quite convince myself to try this sweet-and-savoury combo, so I ended up freezing the few leftover buns I had. They thawed out perfectly and were delicious warmed up in the oven – mmmmm.

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