Those of you who have been hanging around here for awhile probably know that for the past decade or so, I’ve spent about a third of my November in Jasper for Christmas in November at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. (I also ingest about a third of my annual calorie intake during those ten days.) I don’t exaggerate when I say it’s one of the highlights of my year. How could it not be? There’s no event like it, really – like grown-up sleepover camp with gorgeous cabins and ironed sheets and endless food, wine and cocktails.
I know it’s a bit early to be discussing the holidays, but then again not; I figured I’d talk about it ahead of time for those who aren’t in the know, rather than field emails from people exclaiming their regret that they have to wait until next year to join the fun. Jasper is one of the most beautiful places I know – and for the past 26 years, Christmas in November has been the most anticipated event of the year at the Fairmont JPL, with variety of presenters (new ones and regulars), activities and sessions to attend. Part of what makes CIN such a unique experience is the way the lodge is laid out – with more than 200 cedar cabins on its 700 acre property, you have your own cozy space but never feel holed up. You get out into the sunshine every day, going to sessions and checking out the decorated cabins, and during the time between your sessions/meals/swims/spa treatments/dance parties there’s the stunning Lac Beauvert to sit beside or walk around – and when it’s frozen, the rocks skip across the ice, making Star Wars-esque laser sounds I’ve never witnessed anywhere else. (W has been going since he was 3 months old… each year we hope it freezes so we can all go throw rocks on the ice, then come inside for some of the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had. It’s the little things.)
Of course even when it’s not icy and wintry, it’s gorgeous out there. And the chipmunks take cuteness to an almost professional level.
So this is how it works – you go for a three-night package that begins, after everyone arrives over the course of the afternoon and settles into their cabins, with an enormous welcome reception and the most extensive, creative buffets you’ll see. (Better than Vegas.) This year’s theme – ugly Christmas sweaters. (Note to self: hit VV.) Everyone then spends the weekend attending sessions with Food Network and local celebrity chefs, decorators, interior designers, craftspeople.. with amazing breakfasts, lunches and dinners in the great hall in between. Everyone is happy – particularly those who manage to end their afternoons with wine tastings or mixology.
Bob Blumer has been here in previous years! And Lynn Crawford, Michael Smith, and a ton of others. This year there’s also a great lineup of local chefs and bakers, including Giselle Courteau, owner of Duchess Bakeshop in Edmonton (her new book? STUNNING. And won a Taste Canada award a few weeks ago in Toronto!), Connie and John from CHARCUT in Calgary, the always awesome and hilarious Pierre Lamielle of Top Chef and Chopped (and everything else) fame, Dale MacKay & Nathan Guggenheimer of Ayden Kitchen & Bar in Saskatoon, and the super fun guys from Tres Carnales and Rostizado in Edmonton.
Like I said, each year is like a mini CIN reunion, with new friends to welcome to the club. Every year I catch up with the awesome Michael and Anna Olson, decorators like Karl Lohnes and flair mixologist Micah Dew – It’s a crazy fun time and I get completely lost in the luxury of being spoiled, not having to go anywhere all week (the only traffic to deal with are the herds of elk you often come across walking from the pool to the playroom to the lounge and back to your cabin) and become hopelessly hooked on Bing Crosby and never having to do a dish or make a bed. (I’m trying not to gush, I really am.)
There’s a pool it’s fun to be in while it’s snowing, and a newly renovated spa. And the fireplaces. Of course, everything is decked out for Christmas. It’s like the Christmas holiday you always dream of amid the chaos of your actual holiday.
Lots of people come in groups, with friends, moms, sisters, and love that it’s all fun, all the time, and there’s always something interesting to do. (Nearby, the Maligne Canyon hike is completely gorgeous too.) If you’ve never been, I highly recommend it – coming from Calgary, even just the drive up the Icefields Parkway – a completely stunning route past over 100 ancient glaciers, frozen waterfalls and emerald lakes, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, even – is worth the trip. (I do get a little too used to never having to make by bed, or do dishes, or make my own coffee. It’s a tough re-entry that first Monday morning back when I can’t roll out of bed and get served eggs Benedict.)
So after a whirlwind 6 city book tour to help launch the new Home Cooking by the Best of Bridge – a title that was already in the works before Sue, Elizabeth and I came on board – I’m looking forward to CIN being my next major excursion. (Related: how can it be creeping up on November?? Honestly.)
And so I’m flashing back with these cinnamon bun crunch icebox cookies – a recipe from my very first book, that I demoed at my very first Christmas in November 14 years (!!) ago. They’re easier to make than they look, and it’s oh-so-satisfying to have a log or two of dough in the fridge or freezer that you can pull out and slice and bake a half dozen or so from at any time. These in particular make your house smell cozy and wonderful, which can be a very good thing when you have friends coming over, or kids arriving home from a chilly day at school. And of course being icebox cookies, the parchment-wrapped logs are fine to chill out in the freezer for months, meaning if you’re like me and get prematurely giddy about the holidays, or not like me and are totally organized and on the ball, you could theoretically start your holiday baking now and be prepared with a solid frozen stash.
Cinnamon Bun Crunch Icebox Cookies
I made these for my first book, One Smart Cookie, which I self-published 15 years ago (!!) and soon after selling my initial 10,000 print run was picked up by Whitecap Books. My initial version was low fat, as was the trend in the nineties… I’ve upped the butter again to make the dough a bit easier to handle. The recipe can be easily doubled for a larger stash.
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup finely chopped pecans (optional)
2-3 Tbsp. honey or golden syrup
In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugars until well blended. Beat in the eggs and vanilla until fluffy. In another bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the butter mixture and stir until the dough comes together. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for half an hour or so.
On a lightly floured surface, the dough into a 10-12 inch square. Sprinkle with the brown sugar and pecans, drizzle with honey or golden syrup, and sprinkle with cinnamon. Roll up jelly-roll style, wrap in parchment, twisting the ends to seal, then refrigerate until firm (or for up to a week) or freeze for up to 6 months.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350?F. Slice the dough ¼-inch thick and place the slices on an ungreased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until pale golden and set. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Makes about 3 dozen cookies.
I love showing off my home province – thanks to Travel Alberta – for helping me do it! As always, words and opinions are my own.