I’ve been traveling a lot lately, and working more hours than is probably good for me (or those I live with), and there have been extra obligations that have all added up to too much of everything, and not nearly enough sleep and W. And so on Friday we spontaneously decided to hop in the car and take off somewhere where there wasn’t a computer, or a neglected garden/back yard/basement that needed work, where we could just hang out for a night and play cards and eat Cheezies and sleep in.
I find car trips therapeutic – to an extent – and am particularly fond of hour-or-two long excursions during which I can either answer my email in the car as Mike drives (I get a crazy rush out of dozens of emails whooshing out of my outbox when we arrive at an internet connection), or unplug and gaze out the window at rolling fields. As much as I love the mountains, I feel comforted and anchored to the prairies, and I love driving north, east and south through Alberta farmland, past cows and classic cars and weathered churches dropped into farmers’ fields, poking through small towns, looking for pie.
On Friday it was overcast, like a damp grey wool rug had been draped over the world, and so after picking W up from school we drove to High River, not quite an hour away, where some people and homes and businesses are still in flood recovery mode, and you can still see boarded up buildings and piles of sandbags. We made a stop at the Hitchin’ Post, a teeny box of a drive-in set in the middle of an enormous parking lot, serving up burgers, fries, onion rings and real saskatoon berry shakes.
It was windy and wet, but the food was hot – I imagine on sunny days, that parking lot is full, the people and the cars taking up far more real estate than the building itself.
I had heard last week about a spot about half an hour east of High River called Aspen Crossing, a sort of oasis for train lovers, with a campground, a fully functioning railway that offers 3 hour, 28 mile round trips with themes like wine and cheese, ales on the rails, grain elevator tours (you can’t get much more Alberta than that) and a dinner theatre complete with train robbery. But what made me pick up the phone and make a reservation was the two caboose cabins – Canadian Pacific railway cars transformed into cabins you can stay in for the night.
How. Cool. Is this? Says W: “this is the best vacation ever.” Nevermind that it was raining, and there was no internet. (All the more perfect.) There are two, with a third planned for this summer; we booked the larger Canadian Pacific Caboose, which technically sleeps 5 but comfortably sleeps 3 – there’s a queen-sized bed, a (very firm) pull-out couch, and a bed up the ladder in the cupola – the raised part of the roof where the conductor would traditionally sit. (Warning: If you visit and have more than one child, make sure you stay as many nights as you have kids, or there will be fighting over the loft. It’s about as cool as it gets for a 9 year old. And also a 47 year old.)
There was a deck with a gas barbecue, a fire pit, a little kitchen with a fridge and stovetop, a shower, a retro gas stove in the living room to warm the place and make it even cozier, and air conditioning up top for the heat of summer. The Union Pacific is smaller, and parked beside the teeny store/bathrooms/showers/laundry – ours was a little more private, and a stretch of grass between the two was perfect for soccer and Frisbee-throwing. There were plenty of kids on bikes, lots of dogs, a playground, and a special area where they let you set off fireworks – which are for sale in the gift shop. (To up the cool factor.)
There’s a dining car of course, where you can go for breakfast, lunch, dinner or Sunday brunch – and they have their own flock out back to visit and thank for the eggs.
It’s a trek we’ll likely take again – especially knowing we can be there in less time than it takes many people to commute on a regular weekday – and next time we’ll stop at the other dining car – the Whistle Stop in High River, which I hear has great pie, and at Evelyn’s Memory Lane Cafe, which we tried to stop at but construction had torn the street up. Perhaps next time it will be a southern Alberta pie crawl, with a long, digestive nap in a caboose.
The Hitchin’ Post reminded me that I had a bag of saskatoons in the freezer, and also vanilla ice cream – while a milkshake seems like an obvious recipe, I always forget that I can make them at home – and how completely delicious they are.
Saskatoon Berry Pie Milkshake
You could really use any berry in this recipe and come up with a pie-milkshake version; rhubarb would work exceptionally well, or blueberry, strawberry, raspberry or blackberry. If you really want to justify calling it a pie milkshake, rim the glasses with graham cracker crumbs before you pour in your shake. (For the record, the city was named after the berry, so the berry itself isn’t capitalized; the city is.)
fresh or frozen saskatoons
vanilla ice cream
Put a cup or so of saskatoons into a small saucepan and add a splash of water (they aren’t very juicy at first) and a shake of sugar – about a third of a cup, or to taste. Simmer until the berries pop, then cool and refrigerate until cold.
To make your milkshake, you kind of have to play it by ear – how much milk you’ll need will depend on the density of your ice cream and the juiciness of your saskatoons. Put a few scoops of ice cream into the blender, then add a good pour of saskatoons and their juice, and a glug of milk, and pulse until it’s as smooth as you can get it, adding extra milk or berry juice if it’s too thick, or more berries if it’s not purple enough.
Serves as many as you want to.
I love showing off my home province – thanks to Travel Alberta – for helping me do it! As always, words and opinions are my own.