Sorry for the radio silence! If you hang around twitter at all, you’ll know I’m in a pretty spectacular place this week. For the past decade, I’ve spent approximately 1/52 of my time at the Jasper Park Lodge for their annual Christmas in November, which is easily the most fun I get packed into 10 days all year. And I get to meet some of you here, which I love! It’s all about eating, drinking and being merry. I’m good at that, especially when there’s eggs Benedict every morning and someone to make my bed for me every day. (It’s going to be a tough reentry when I go home on Monday.)
It’s also completely gorgeous here on Lac Beauvert, so rather than rely on my camera phone I brought my new baby along to take some real shots. It’s the world’s smallest and lightest digital SLR, so not a big deal to tote around. And it makes a huge difference, especially when photographing food.
It’s not too bad for landscapes, either.
So here’s what happens – the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge gets all dolled up for the holidays before the holidays actually kick in. Yes, that’s a life-sized gingerbread house-made with 6000 cookies!
Guests arrive for weekend or midweek packages – welcomed by roasted chestnuts and hot chocolate with whipped cream and dark chocolate curls – and spend a few days indulging in over-the-top food, wine, cocktails, champagne, and morning and afternoon cooking/decorating/crafting sessions with all kinds of presenters, including Chef Michael Smith, Anna and Michael Olson, and Rose Murray and Elizabeth Baird. (And yes, myself! I’m in such great company. And this year I brought Pierre!)
Every time I came out of my cabin I had to take a picture.
We spent an afternoon between sessions at Maligne Canyon – how have I never been? It’s stunning, a dramatic series of waterfalls, underground streams, water churning smooth grooves into the limestone; the canyon is only two metres across at some points, and the 50 metre drop reminded me that I’m not all that fond of heights.
Apparently the Maligne valley is one of the most extensive karst regions in the world, full of caves and geological formations created by the erosion of soluble rock. According to Parks Canada, it has been carved into the Palliser Formation, a layer of limestone deposited in a shallow tropical sea by lime-secreting plankton about 365-million years ago. So cool.
Back at the JPL, most days I’ve gone for a stroll around Lac Beauvert. It’s one of my favourite walks – an hour if you stop every now and then to skip rocks across the ice (when there is any), creating Star Wars-esque laser beam sounds that echo across the lake.
The chipmunks are especially accommodating, posing adorably with their snacks alongside the trail and allowing close-ups. I didn’t even need to use the continuous shooting mode. And because the camera has EOS scene detection technology, I can go from landscapes to portraits or close-ups (even of squirrels) and the camera knows what to do when the opportunity to photograph a rodent presents itself and I don’t have time to fiddle with settings.
Speaking of food – oh my. With each package there’s a welcome reception with buffet tables scattered through the Beauvert room – this year, the theme is decades, with dishes inspired by the seventies, eighties, and so on – my favourites (after two packages, you start strategizing) are the butter chicken, beef short rib grilled cheese, porchetta and wheels of raclette, served with crusty bread and cornichons and charcuterie. For dessert the pastry chef is on hand making mini doughnuts with four kinds of sugar, along with mini cheesecakes, red velvet cupcakes, chocolate whoopie pies sandwiched with cream cheese frosting and caramel, and ice cream champagne floats.
On the second night, we all sit down to a fancy gala dinner; this year it features a crown roast of pork. Usually I don’t bother taking photos of food in low light conditions – and in the ballroom late at night, it’s really low light. During the first package I snapped a photo with my phone to tweet, and someone replied “no offense, but please start using that fancy new camera of yours” – and so I did. This was taken in really low light, right at the table, with no flash! Flash kills food. And who wants that?
Chef Michael Smith’s wife Chastity took the stage again this year to do a rendition of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and it was stunning, as always. (When I sing Christmas carols, W asks me to please stop singing.)
Bob Blumer arrived on Tuesday night! Here he is trying to get a shot of the packed dance floor.
Our nights usually wind up downstairs in Tent City (named for the the Brewster Brothers, who in the early 1900′s pitched a group of tents on the lakeshore) with Micah Dew being his awesome flair mixologist self, flipping bottles Cocktail-style at the bar beside the dance floor. When everyone’s cabin is within walking distance (and they’ll even shuttle you if your feet are too sore), there’s no better place to stay out late.
This is most likely where I’ll wind up tonight, and then tomorrow, and after a final morning session and epic brunch and teary goodbyes, I’ll head back to Calgary to settle into the holidays, into my stretchy pants, and look forward to coming back next year.
Hey! Speaking of the holidays, there’s still time to enter to win that fab Canon EOS Rebel SL1 – with lenses! Leave a comment over at my post about food photography – I’ll be drawing a name soon!