Believe It or Not… I’m Still Running

I realize I have not posted about running in… oh, about forever.

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(Actually, I have not posted about anything in forever. I feel like so much of my day is spent on the computer for work, that lately, at the end of the day, the last thing I have felt like doing is getting back on the computer.)

That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped running. In fact, I’m running a lot – typically 5 times a week these days, just about all of which is on trails.

I mellowed out my running over the winter-iest winter months, opting mainly for runs in the 5 – 10 k range and more often on the pavement than on the trails, but I picked things up again towards the end of February to start training for the Loop the Lakes 21k.

I ran that race last year and I quite liked it, but my goal at the time was mainly survival. I had never run a trail race of that length, and an ankle sprain in March seriously messed with any intentions I had for training properly.

This time, I’m entering the race with a plan. Goal #1: don’t sprain my ankle (so far so good – touch wood!) Goal #2: follow a training plan.

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I can’t remember how I found this training plan (I think I googled some combination of trail running half marathon intermediate training), but so far I like it. It is a 12-week plan, which is enough to make me feel prepared but not so much that I start to burn out.

It incorporates 5 runs a week, which is a lot for me – 3 to 4 seems to be my happy place. But 5 is doable for 12 weeks, and it has been particularly enjoyable as the weather has crept from winter to spring (and back again to winter, on some occasions). The first few runs were done with crampons on iced-over trails – but now, I’ve already run a few in shorts and my crampons have been stashed away for the season. (Don’t make me eat my words, Mother Nature!)

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Swapped snow for rain

Each week features one workout type of run, which is somewhat new to me. I’ve often tried to incorporate things like hills and speed into my (admittedly informal, to date) training, but this one really maps it out for you with specific hill repeats, track workouts (ha ha, there is no track in Squamish – a quiet road will have to do), and Fartlek sprinty-fast runs. Don’t forget to do a warm up and cool down for these guys – I typically do 15 minutes of easy road running for each.

The regular runs have a mix of distances (building to 12 miles, which is about 19k) and tell you what kind of effort to give: easy, adding strides, negative splits, tempo, race goal pace, etc. I admit that I am only adhering to the effort part somewhat – the truth is that for trail running, my race goal pace and my easy pace aren’t terribly different from one another.

There are also a couple of rest days per week – I use these for hikes, gym days, or days where I’m too busy (and/or tired) to exercise.

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I haven’t followed the daily schedule faithfully, in that I may not do the designated Monday run on a Monday, but I will make sure it gets done sometime in that week. At the start of each week, I make a check list of each type of run I’m meant to do that week. As long as it gets checked off by the end of the week, I’m happy. That way, I can plan my long runs when the weather is best, and I can squeeze in the shorter ones when my days are busier.

While I’ve felt a little sluggish and low energy emerging from winter hibernation, I truly feel my best on these runs on the trails. Sometimes I forget how pleasurable it is to breath in trees and dirt and rocks – although Cedric and other seasonal allergy sufferers might beg to differ!


Before I tackle the Loop the Lakes course, I have one race to conquer first: the 5 Peaks Alice Lake race this coming weekend. Cedric and I volunteered at this race last year, and we received what I consider to be the ultimate volunteer perk: free registration for any 5 Peaks race. I’ll be running the longer course (13.5k), and even though it may be a little soggy, I’m really looking forward to it.

Over Easter weekend, my local trail running store, Capra, held a free orientation run for the 5 Peaks course. This was perfect – my training schedule happened to call for a 13k run and I always like knowing what I’m going to run ahead of a race.

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As a further bonus, my friend was able to join me at the last minute and we both did the course together – her longest trail run ever, and my longest run in about half a year.

As a bonus bonus, Capra had hidden little Easter eggs throughout the course. Even though we stayed towards the back of the very large pack (seriously – attendance was impressive!), I was determined to find an egg of my own. For the first half an hour or so, we were too busy chatting and forgot to look for eggs. Eventually, we remembered, and I was lucky enough to spot this little white one.

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They smartly imposed a limit of one egg per person, so we set out trying to find an egg for Becky. It was nice having something to distract ourselves with when our legs started getting tired – I wish ALL of my runs had prizes hidden throughout. Such great motivation!

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Alas, we never did find a second egg, but we made it in one piece and I’m feeling excited for the race this weekend. For those wondering, my egg was redeemed for a $25 Capra gift card – a most awesome prize. Thanks, Capra, for the fantastic event (and to Altra for the waffles afterwards!)

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I don’t think I will destroy any records on the Loop the Lakes course in May, but I hope to feel strong the whole time and to enjoy the race day (which I really did last year). I think I should be able to beat last year’s race time, but you know what? I can’t remember exactly how long it took me to run it last year, and I haven’t looked it up yet. I kind of just want to run it my best this year and then compare the two afterwards. We’ll see if I can hold out.

Happy running!

Woods Explorer Stories: Banff and the Canadian Rocky Mountains

We are lucky to have some pretty phenomenal landscapes in Canada, but the Rocky Mountains has to be one of my all-time favourites.

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Even though I live among the Coastal Mountains of BC – and I love them, truly – there’s something about the Rockies that humbles me every time I see them. I was very excited to visit them in Banff on the 12th leg of our trip of outdoor exploration across Canada.

We arrived in Banff right around Labour Day, fresh from an 8-day canoe trip along the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories – and we’d stumbled our way right into winter. It was seriously cold, and I won’t lie – I was exhausted from our previous leg.

Arriving in Alberta also meant that we were nearing the end of our five-month journey. Half of me wanted to squeeze every outdoorsy moment out of this trip, since I knew it wouldn’t last forever. The other half of me sorely missed my warm, comfortable bed.

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How I felt about taking photos at this point on our trip…

And so, our time in Banff was kind of a hybrid between outdoorsy and not. If you’ve ever been to Banff, you’ll know that if you stay by the town centre – as we did (in a campground, at least) – it’s hard to feel like you’re truly “out there”. It is pretty touristy and there are lots of shops, restaurants, hotels, and even a movie theatre. (We may have gone to see Straight Outta Compton – that’s the not-so-outdoorsy part.)

We toured the eternally busy Johnston Canyon (when in Rome, right?), then attempted a more challenging hike up Mount Bourgeau. It felt weird crossing through gates at the trail head – the gates are to keep grizzlies and other critters off the highway and main populated area, so when you cross them, you’re leaving your safe(ish) little bubble and entering no man’s land.

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The first part of the hike was no harder than many of the hikes I’ve done in BC, but man, I felt winded! I couldn’t determine if it was the elevation (we’re not a sea level anymore, Dorothy!) or just the fact that most of the hikes I’d been doing that summer had been pretty flat and not, you know, scrambling up a mountain.

We passed Bourgeau Lake and continued to head up. Now, things were getting more exposed – and stormy conditions were a-brewing. Clouds were rolling in and we were getting socked in. It rained. It hailed. It even snowed!

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We continued onward and upward until I couldn’t feel my hands anymore (remember – Raynauds!), and then we assessed our situation. Cedric was steadily on the “let’s get to the summit!” train, but I thought the weather was making things sketchier than we were probably prepared to face. Eventually, I convinced him that the dense fog meant we wouldn’t have any views even if we made it to the summit, so we turned back and made our way back down.

We had been leapfrogging with another couple on the way up, but lost them after we turned around. Shortly after we arrived back at the parking lot, they popped out. They, too, had turned around – they told us they had visions of being a headline: “Dumb Tourists Fall Off Side of Cliff in Fog”. I laughed – and very much related to the sentiment.

Nights weren’t great. The campsite was busy (being Labour Day weekend), so it was hard to feel like we were truly “out there”, as we had been in the NWT. Plus, the temperatures dipped well below zero. There was a lot of tossing and turning and it was hard to feel enthusiastic at all times, if I’m being perfectly honest.

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However, it was VERY easy to feel enthusiastic about one particular adventure: HORSEBACK RIDING!

We were both very green to the sport (activity? sport? what is it at this level?) of horseback riding. I had memories of riding a horse in a circle outside the IGA – can that be right? Was there such thing as horses in grocery store parking lots when I was little? I also vaguely remembered riding a horse named Raisin at my cousin’s stables around the age of 7. Nonetheless, we had been signed up for a full day of horseback riding in the Banff backcountry – and we were STOKED!

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Our horses were amazing. I had a fella named Caesar, and he was sassy and perfect. Cedric rode a horse named Possum. Possum was fantastic – he had to stay in the back of the pack because he annoyed other horses. Caesar was the only horse who could tolerate Possum, so I rode ahead of Cedric. When Possum would get too close to Caesar, Caesar would just swiftly kick him.

Shortly after we left for the trails, we were reminded that horses are actual beings, not just methods of transportation. Here’s what happened: a trail runner came up from behind and spooked Possum, who was at the back. Possum took off at full sprint (gallop? canter?!?!), Cedric hanging on for dear life. Possum’s freak out, in turn, startled Caesar, who also took off running. Thankfully, I held on tight as we passed the three horses ahead of us, and eventually Caesar and Possum chilled out. I was very weary of sudden noises and movements after that, but we didn’t have any more excitement of that genre.

Here’s one kind of excitement we did have: WOLVES! Thus far into our Woods Canada adventures, we’d seen bears, moose, deer, porcupines, porpoises, and even a whale – but no wolves. A way’s down the path ahead of us, we spotted a wolf and her pup before they tucked into the woods. They looked a lot like huskies from where we stood. In hindsight, it is kind of sad that we saw them, because there has been a lot of conflict in Banff with wolves, making it not so safe for them to be around. It’s kind of like bears in Whistler – they’re just chilling in their habitat and checking out the treats the people are leaving behind, but by being so close to people, they’re putting themselves in danger.

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Possum and Caesar had no problem navigating the terrain, even the steep and muddy bits and river crossings. The most nerve-wracking part was right at the end, when we walked them by the Fairmont and there were cars and buses and people everywhere. I was worried that the beep-beep-beep of a bus backing up would startle the horses, but we made it back in one piece.

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Earlier in the day, our guide had mentioned that it was rutting season for the elk, and that one male had been making a regular appearance late afternoon around their stables. We hung around (from the safety of our car – you do not want to mess with an elk in rutting season) and indeed, out he came, kicking up grass with his antlers and stomping around. He was on the cover of our Christmas card that year.

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Our time in Banff was more about micro adventures than one big one. It included hikes, wildlife, horseback rides, alpine explorations, waterfalls, a couple of trips to the movies, and yes – a trip to the Grizzly Paw brewery in Canmore (which also serves CRAFT SODA – a dream come true for me!). Leaving Alberta was bittersweet – on the one hand, it meant our adventure was coming to an end. On the other hand, it meant that I was getting closer to a night in my own bed and a FRESH CHANGE OF CLOTHES (I had been wearing the same two or three tops and bottoms on repeat for nearly five months).

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But the trip wasn’t over yet – we still had a couple of legs in our own neck of the woods to cap things off. Stories to come… some day…

Bread Illustrated’s Potato-Dill Sandwich Bread… err, Minus the Dill

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Is it normal to want to weep when looking at a picture of beautiful bread?

Dill is a weird thing.

I like (but not love) dill pickle chips. I like (but not love) dill on smoked salmon.

I just can’t really think of many instances where I looooove dill.

I have never had a piece of bread and thought, “Man, you know what this is really missing? Dill.” So I have skipped past the Bread Illustrated recipe for Potato-Dill Sandwich Bread, time and time again, as I have baked my way through the book for the last year.

Until I recently had a eureka moment: what if I baked the potato bread… without the dill?

Now, I’m sure the dill adds a nice touch to this bread, but approximately half the bread I bake gets used for toast, which peanut butter and/or jam – and there’s just something about the combination of PB, J, and D that grosses me out. So I took some creative liberties and went ahead and baked this pillowy, ultra soft bread without dill.

I know – pretty radical.

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The potato is this recipe appears in the mashed variety, so the first step is to cube a potato, boil it, then mash it to smithereens with some butter.

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The dough only calls for 8 ounces of ‘tots, and I found that one decent sized potato makes enough for two loaves (put the rest of the mash in the fridge – you’ll need it sooner than you think because this bread goes down quick and easy).

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The mashed potato gets combined with some bread flour, salt, and yeast. The instructions say to do it by hand, but I used a flexible spatula and things seemed to turn out okay. Then, the stand mixer does its thing for about 10 minutes. (After the 10 minutes is when you would theoretically add the dill).

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As with other sandwich breads (including my favourite old classic, which gets baked once every week or two in my neck of the woods), the potato bread gets a little hand kneading, then rises for an hour and a half, then gets shaped and rises for a second time before baking. Handling this dough can only be described as utterly delightful. It is the softest dough I have ever felt. Dragging it into a perfect little ball is highly pleasant.

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While the dough tastes nothing like potato, the mashed potatoes are everything to this recipe. The texture is out of this world – soft (even when toasted) and a little chewy. This is a weird description, but stay with me here: this bread is what they were trying to achieve when they made Wonder bread. Rather than being dry and bland, this bread is moist and bouncy and tastes like something. That “something” is hard to describe – a little buttery, maybe?

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It’s well worth a go. And if you dare to make it with dill, let me know how it works out.

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Dorie’s Cookies’ Vanilla-Brown Butter Madeleines: A Two-Bite Cupcake

There’s something about madeleines that seems so wonderfully precious to me. Maybe it’s because they share a name with the little French private school character. Maybe it’s because they require their own special pan for baking. Maybe it’s because they’re just so gosh darned dainty and cute that it’s a wonder they haven’t blossomed into macaron-territory popularity. (Mark my words: madeleines will be the on-trend dessert of 2019 or 2020).

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My own history with madeleines is somewhat hazy. Until Christmas morning, I didn’t own madeleine pans, so I never got the chance to try to bake my own. Until now, my exposure had been limited to some store bought ones I tried when I was around 10. I can’t remember especially liking them – but I also can’t remember not liking them.

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Nonetheless, I was eager to put my new pans to work and decided to test them out with the most simple and classic of madeleine flavours: vanilla-brown butter, from my Dorie’s Cookies cookbook.

Here’s the thing with madeleines: Dorie stresses that they should be consumed as shortly after being baked as possible. I was preparing these for an evening book club meeting, so I started to bake them just as the sun was going down. This means that the pictures get progressively worse – sorry for that. Is anyone else counting down eagerly until the days get long again?

Step one is to prepare the special madeleine pans by greasing them and flouring them. Check and check. Next, you whisk the dry goods together: all-purpose flour and baking powder. So far so good.

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Now, the butter. The butter gets melted and swirled on the stove top for a little while – after all, this recipe is called vanilla brown butter. When the butter is amber-esque and smells nutty and delicious, it gets pulled off the heat.

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Meanwhile, you mix white sugar with eggs, vanilla, salt, and honey – the wets.

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For those keeping track, we now have three bowls going on: the butter, the dry, and the wet. It is now time to unite them as one: you gently stir the wet with the dry, then fold the butter, bit by bit. Finally, you add a bonus ingredient. The bonus ingredient is a tablespoon of either Scotch, bourbon, dark rum, or milk (… one of these things is not like the other…). I had some bourbon left over from the sticky toffee pudding I made somewhat recently, so I threw it in there – and you know what? The boozy kick was pretty noticeable, considering it was only a tablespoon! I’d like to see how the taste differs if I use milk instead.

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The batter then gets poured into the mad-pan. The recipe says it yields 12 madeleines, but mine made 20 (bonus!!). They bake at a high-ish temperature (400 degrees) for a short-ish amount of time (12 minutes), then you have to tap them out of their shells right away.

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Aaaaand this is about where the sun had totally gone down and the pictures really suck.

(I’m not sure why it’s so urgent, but the recipe told me so. Maybe because they would keep baking and they’d dry out quickly? Who knows.)

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I decided to kick my madeleines up one final notch by dipping them ever so slightly in some melted dark chocolate. This was not part of the recipe directions, but it was the right call – otherwise the madeleines may have been just a bit too plain.

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The last step: a dusting of icing sugar (this step was called for by the recipe).

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I tried to get an inside shot so you can get a sense of the texture. Kind of springy, kind of bouncy – very tasty.

Now, I don’t know exactly what madeleines are supposed to taste like, but I’ll do my best to sum it up and someone can let me know if I made them correctly. They kind of taste like a mini two-bite cupcake – they’re light, and they have a nice springy texture. They’re not overly sweet, but they’re not terribly exciting either. Or maybe that’s just because I picked a boring flavour. The good news is that I’ve got some more exciting varieties to try both in this cookbook and another. Stay tuned – exciting madeleines coming your way soon.

Woods Explorer Stories: Northwest Territories, Part 3 and the Conclusion

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Umm… yeah. More on this shortly.

Do you know what I just realized?

I never finished writing about my summer spent camping, hiking, paddling, and otherwise making my way across Canada as a Woods Explorer!

In fact, I just left the stories about our trip down (up, technically – we were going north) the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories totally unfinished. YIKES!

These trips happened two and a half years ago, and I won’t lie – the memories aren’t all that fresh. However, I originally wanted to write them down so that I could revisit them down the road and remember all the good times (and a few of the not-so-good ones). So here we go.

If you missed it (or need a recap, because the last time I posted about this was more than half a year ago):

  • In Part 1, we delayed our canoe trip on the Mackenzie River due to winds and made some friends in Fort Providence.
  • In Part 2, we hit the river for many relentless days in the most wild country I’ve ever been exposed to.

Reading Part 2 with fresh eyes, I realize I made paddling the Mackenzie sound kind of unpleasant. The truth is that it was Type 2 fun: somewhat miserable while it happened, but pretty incredible looking back.

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These are the types of photos we didn’t share on social media originally. But this is what it was like day in day out: cold, flat, sparse, and grey (this is actually pretty bright grey for the trip!)

There is something unnerving about being so totally alone in nature. Cedric and I saw a ferry going upriver one of the first days of our trip, but that’s it – that was the only sign of active human life that we saw. The trees were so, so dense on either side of the river that it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. I guess we kind of were.

But as long as the days were, as cold as the nights were, and as muddy as everything I owned was, it was still pretty magical. Case in point:

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The Northern Lights, ladies and gentlemen.

We were in the NWT in late August, which is not prime Northern Lights time – that would be mid-winter – but man, what a spectacle.

Despite the heavy cloud cover that plagued our entire trip, we lucked out with two nights of Northern Lights.

These Northern Lights were unreal. Both times we saw them, I had awoken in the night to go for a middle-of-the-night bathroom break – and even without my glasses or contacts, I could tell that something amazing was happening in the sky. Indeed, once I popped my glasses on, I saw the sky dance with green. That’s the best way I can describe it – dance. The sky was fluid and the lights were constantly moving and changing shapes.

It was cold as heck standing outside watching it all go down, but man – what a show. And to enjoy it by ourselves in the middle of the Dehcho was something I will never forget.

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Our second to last morning, we woke up to dark grey skies – again. As we took off to paddle, I could see a teeny, tiny opening of clouds way up on the horizon. It was the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, and I paddled like crazy all day hoping that the clouds would break and all would be well.

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We spotted this bad boy (the antler, not Cedric – heheh) on the side of the river towards the end of our trip

This day was monumental because we were approaching Jean Marie River, a small town of about 200 people. This was a potential exit point – if we weren’t able to make it all the way to Fort Simpson, the Canoe North people could pick us up here. At one point, we stopped for a snack and checked our map – and it looked like Jean Marie River was still a long, long way away.

Even though the weather was starting to clear up a little and – best of all – the river was starting to narrow and the current was helping propel us along, I felt totally, utterly defeated. I had kept up my spirits for most of the trip, but for some reason, I broke that afternoon.

The funny part is that we’d actually underestimated how far we were (this NEVER happened – we always thought we’d come further than we actually had), and we pulled into Jean Marie River less than an hour later.

We had planned on phoning Canoe North when we landed in Jean Marie River to give them a sense of whether we needed a pick up there (for instance, if we’d had an extra day of weather delay) or if we would make it to Fort Simpson. I won’t lie – part of me wanted to call it quits and have them pick us up the very next morning. But we didn’t quit. We phoned them on the satellite phone, told them we were right on schedule, and arranged for a pick up two days later in Fort Simpson.

We had kind of hoped that Jean Marie River would have some kind of store where we could buy hot food or a cold drink, but nope – it’s just a few houses with people! We ended up camping a little way down the river (this was the second night we got Northern Lights).

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Finally, we woke up for our last official day of paddling. We’d read that the distance between Jean Marie River and Fort Simpson was a solid day or two of paddling, but it took us less than a full day, thanks to the flowing current that helped push us forward. On a rare sunny day, we pulled onto a beach in Fort Simpson and caught a ride to the local campground. We’d made it!

Fort Simpson is small by our standards, but is considered a large-ish community in the NWT (according to the lady at the post office, anyway). We gobbled burgers at the only restaurant in town, visited the information centre, and enjoyed a solid snooze at the campground.

The next day, our ride from Canoe North arrived. It was a long, bumpy ride (and we saw a bear – despite not having seen one on our entire canoe trip!) and we made it back to Hay River just as it was getting dark. I enjoyed a glorious shower and we had another burger – this one was way better than the one in Fort Simpson. And the next morning, we flew out of Hay River and out of the Northwest Territories altogether.

Just like that – the biggest leg of the trip was done.

This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime kind of adventure. Traveling up North isn’t cheap, and frankly, there are so many places in the world to discover that it’s hard to repeat places you’ve already been. I don’t know if I will ever make it back to the Northwest Territories, but I do know that my short time there changed me profoundly.

Life in the territories is considerably different than anywhere else I’ve seen so far in Canada. Communities are small and distances are incredibly vast. It’s hard to wrap your head around without experiencing it – and I know I’ve only experienced a very small part of the territory. If you ever get the chance to visit, do it. Do it, do it, do it.

Our next leg took us to Banff, Alberta – for a very different experience than the one we’d just had. Hopefully, it won’t take me another year to write a blog post about it!

Bread Illustrated’s Pan-Grilled Flatbread

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I swear I’ve made Bread Illustrated’s Pan-Grilled Flatbread recipe before, but I can’t seem to find a blog post about it. If I didn’t blog about it, does it even count? Probably not.

The flatbreads popped into my mind when I was invited to a friend’s house for a curry dinner. What goes better than naan and curry? Nothing – because it is the best.

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Technically, this is a recipe for flatbread, not naan specifically. But as the opening write up for the recipe says, flatbreads are eaten all over the world and they pair deliciously with stews and curries of all kinds. So they were definitely well-suited for the occasion.

Although the flatbreads are pretty easy and quick to make (you can make them in an afternoon and have them ready for dinner), I find anything that you have to make multiples of – rather than one big loaf – can be a little labour intensive. This recipe claims to yield four 9-inch flatbreads, but I made eight 6-inch(ish) ones.

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The Bread Illustrated flatbreads are made with a combination of bread flour and whole-wheat flour, as well as some of the usual suspects (yeast, salt, water) and some non-so-usual suspects (olive oil, sugar, and yogurt). You’re supposed to use plain whole-milk yogurt. I had 5% (I think) on hand, so I used that, but the recipe warned they may be a little tough if I sacrificed the whole-milk aspect. Mine were a little chewy, but still delicious.

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Step one is to mix the dough in the mixer for a total of 10 minutes. Then you knead by hand for 30 seconds or so and let the dough rest in a bowl for a couple of hours. So far, it’s the same process for your typical dough.

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Before…

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And 2 hours later!

After dough has had some time to rise, it’s ready for action. You split the dough into quarters (or, in my case, eighths) and roll each one into a ball. The book shows a technique of pulling it around your thumb and pinching the seams – it works pretty well. The balls of dough rest – meanwhile, you can heat up a skillet on the stove.

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The recipe calls for a cast-iron skillet. I do not own such a thing, but my sturdy Le Creuset dutch oven can hold heat pretty well, so it made do in this recipe.

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One by one, the pieces of dough get stretched and rolled out. You stab each flatbread with a fork, oil the skillet, mist both sides of the dough with water (this keeps them soft, not crusty), then let it sizzle away for 2-4 minutes per side (I stuck with 2 per side). I set up stations so that while one flatbread was cooking, I’d roll out the next piece of dough to have it ready to go.

Side note: since making this recipe, I haveĀ  received a tortilla press (merci Lise!) It would have come in handy for this one… stay tuned for future tortilla press action.

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After both sides have cooked, you brush the pieces with melted butter and sprinkle it with sea salt. I do not recommend missing this step – it makes it soooo delicious. I kept my finished flatbreads in aluminum foil and prior to serving, we tossed the foil packet in the oven for a few minutes to heat it up.

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I don’t have a picture of the breads with the curry, but they paired fabulously, of course. Yes, it’s more effort to make these than it is to pick up a packet at the grocery story – but it’s infinitely better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Notably missing: snowshoes.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Right out of the oven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mid-pince

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

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Daaaang look at those bubbles!

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

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

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

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

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

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

More FWSY to come.

Cross-Country Skiing in the Callaghan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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