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Road Food: Eating in Jasper

Jasper

I head up to Jasper at least once a year – I’ve been going for Christmas in November for the past 13 years – and because I’m typically eating and drinking at the Fairmont JPL, I rarely have an excuse to check out the town beyond gassing up. This weekend there was a little more wiggle room, and we decided to stay for an extra day to exhale before hitting the coast and to do a bit of a Jasper walkabout. People kept asking me where to eat in Jasper and the truth was, I had no idea.

jasper street view

Jasper is a ski town in the Athabasca river valley, small and beautiful and full of gift shops, anchored by a railway station and often populated by herds of elk. There’s an Earls and a Famoso pizza and a Tim Horton’s, the requisite tourist-stop candy store and an easy to find grocery store on the main drag. But some poking around and asking those in the know turned up a few spots I’m happy to know are there – not least of all, we found the good coffee.

Snowdome

The Snow Dome on Patricia Street is a coffee shop inside the (environmental award winning) Coin Clean laundromat, down below street level – an excellent combo if there ever was one, especially in a town with so many young visitors.

snowdome coffee

As you come in the door, there’s a tiny counter behind which they brew Fratello beans from Calgary (in a Slayer machine!), and in their tiny onsite kitchen bake muffins, banana bread, warden cookies and other tasty things to serve alongside; there are a few tables and chairs and a makeshift living room complete with couches right next to the rows of washing machines for some serious laid-back multitasking. You can at least pretend you’re getting laundry done while sitting back and sipping a cappuccino.

Bears Paw bakery 1

As Mike will attest, I love seeking out bakeries in any city/town/villa I manage to visit, and Bear’s Paw Bakery was just the sort of place I expected in a mountain town – kitchy and homey, with a screen door that slaps shut behind you, lots of wood (display cases, trim, signs, countertops), and plenty of home baking – apple pies! carrot cakes! muffins and scones and grainy breads, and old-school squares like date and those peanut butter-marshmallow ones I’m a total sucker for. Surprisingly, a good muffin is hard to find. Not here.

Bear's Paw Bakery 2

Cocos Café came highly recommended, and I was happy to find them brewing Phil & Sebastian beans. They specialize in vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free, but have some serious glutinous baked goods on the menu and know how to stack a Montreal smoked meat sandwich at the same time.

Coco Cafe 1

The space is small and cozy, with a walk-up counter and a single table out front; the menu is interesting, and largely local – with things like homemade elk and Saskatoon berry sausage rolls and and extensive all-day breakfast. (A good thing when you’re on the road, and breakfast could be required at any time.)

coco's

Twitter enthusiastically recommended The Raven Bistro, which was closed when we went by (but the menu looked amazing), and Evil Dave’s, a large, tinted windowed, locally-owned restaurant on a busy corner, serving up some fairly classic family-friendly meals – had we not had a 100 lb dog in tow I would have gone in and ordered the Alberta bison and wild boar bacon meatloaf.

IMG_9462

But as it turned out, we did have Lou with us this time, and when I stopped at the dollar store to pick him up some makeshift legwarmers for the 80s party (purple argyle socks with the toes cut off that made him a hit with the Sunday bruch crowd), the cashier tipped me off to her favourite pizza place, where we could walk in and order a couple wood-fired oven pizzas to take out and bring back to our hotel room, to eat by the fire with the hockey game on.

Jasper Pizza

Sometimes, with kids and dogs in tow, this is the best kind of food to find.

Do you know Jasper? I’d love to get the inside scoop on what you like to eat there.

I love showing off my home province – thanks to Travel Alberta for helping me do it! As always, words and opinions are my own.

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March 19 2015 | eating out | 3 Comments »

Peanut Butter Trail Bars at Maligne Canyon

CIN 5

I was in Jasper this weekend. How beautiful is this place? And yes, I met Molly Ringwald. And sang 80s karaoke, and lost my voice almost completely, rendering me unable to manage a squeak across the table to Molly at dinner. And I made Sriracha caramel corn and Nutella brownies and that Pixie Stick sandwich Ally Sheedy made in the Breakfast Club. I’m still recovering.

moutain & elk

But even with all that pink 80s glam, one of the best parts was getting outside, soaking in the outdoors in all its greatness. (And yet going to bed on ironed white sheets – is there anything better?) The drive up to Jasper from Calgary on the Icefields Parkway (highway 93) is one of the most beautiful in the world – you pass somewhere in the neighbourhood of 100 ancient glaciers and ice fields, emerald lakes, frozen waterfalls and the odd assembly of elk or bighorn sheep. The 10,000 year old Athabasca glacier is the highlight; as kids, we’d take the ice explorer – like an enormous Tonka truck with disproportionately large tires – right up onto the ice to stomp around.

IMG_9483

It’s noticeably smaller these days (although still thicker than the Eiffel Tower is high), but no less stunning, especially when the wind blows snow off the peaks above in great billowing waves. Calgarians tend to be nervous about driving the 93 in the winter because its altitude can bring unpredictable weather. This is the clearest I’ve seen it – dry roads, glaciers to gawk at, and still half-frozen waterfalls, albeit with fewer ice climbers on them.

Maligne Canyon Collage 1

Once you get to Jasper, Maligne Canyon is worth a stop – in the winter, you can even do a guided ice walk – a stunning, dramatic series of waterfalls, underground streams and-smooth water-churned grooves in the limestone. The canyon is only two metres across at some points, with a 50 metre drop.

Maligne Canyon Collage 2

Apparently the Maligne valley is one of the most extensive karst regions in the world, full of caves and geological formations created by rushing water eroding soluble rock.

Maligne canyon Collage

The canyon itself is carved into the Palliser Formation, a layer of limestone deposited in a shallow tropical sea by lime-secreting plankton about 365 million years ago. It’s a stunning walk – totally manageable after a late night of cocktails and karaoke – and the short bridges aren’t too terrifying if heights make your arms and legs feel like overcooked spaghetti.

maligne canyon 1
Chipmunk Collage

(Chipmunks need to take a load off and have some snacks too.)

maligne canyon

I always have the best intentions when it comes to nutty, seedy homemade granola bars. I imagine myself making a batch and wrapping them individually for packed lunches and to stash in the glove compartment to ward off impulse detours through the drive thru. And to pack in my gym bag, if I had a gym bag. But in reality the only time I manage to make a batch is during those final hours before a road trip, most likely as a procrastination measure to avoid finishing all the things that need finishing, and the essential things, like laundry and packing. But snacks are important too, right? Especially when hikes are in your future, and car trips involve long stretches of highway where the only stops are to gasp and take photos.

food bars 1

Road Trip Peanut Butter Trail Bars

1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 Tbsp. canola or olive oil
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup all-purpose, whole wheat or oat flour
3/4 cup oats
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon (optional)
Pinch salt
1/2 cup raisins, dried cranberries or chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or sliced almonds
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds (optional)
1/2 cup chocolate chips or chopped dark chocolate
1/4 cup shredded coconut (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, stir together the brown sugar, peanut butter, milk, maple syrup, oil and vanilla. Add the flour, oats, baking soda and salt and stir until almost combined; add all the additions you want to add and stir just until blended.

Spread the batter into a 9×13-inch pan that has been sprayed with non-stick spray. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden. Cool in the pan on a wire rack.

Makes 12-18 bars.

I love showing off my home province – thanks to Travel Alberta for helping me do it! As always, words and opinions are my own.

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March 17 2015 | eating out and going places | 6 Comments »

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