Sunday, May 10, 2020

The Door in the Mountain

One of Great Uncle Jack’s main reasons for being in Canada, and Jasper in particular, was to search for the Sasquatch, a creature widely rumoured to have been in the area. Even renowned cartographer David Thompson recorded an encounter with the tracks of something unusual in the vicinity of Jasper during his 1811 expedition. Whether it was a Sasquatch, an uncommonly large bear, or even a small mammoth was left undecided, though all these explanations were put forward. And although Thompson does not record the details, he does mention that the area is supposed to be the haunt of one or more beasts of tremendous size.
As per usual with Jack’s writing, it is cryptic and disorderly, having clearly been written solely for his own reference. In addition to that, the majority of the individual entries for the expeditions boil down to ‘nothing of interest to record’ and a handful of figures regarding distance travelled, change in elevation, and minor technical adjustments to the Brazen Angel. I’ve taken the liberty of omitting these, and just concentrating on the most relevant and interesting entries.
A couple of notes before we begin, so that I can let Uncle Jack have the last word. Even though I’m not in Canada anymore, I’ll be trying to keep things running here, and carrying on with Uncle Jack’s stories. This particular story seems to be an experience he had early in his search for the Sasquatch. It doesn’t relate directly, but it does represent the best start point as a balance of completeness and chronological order, as far as I can tell. I hope you find it interesting and entertaining.
With that out the way, let’s get to it!

I shall be setting out on the morrow to continue my search for the elusive Sasquatch. Thanks to the Czar (that’s the Crypto-zoological Association of the Rockies) I have the co-operation of both the Hudson’s Bay and North West Companies. No small achievement, given the tensions between the two, and the prestige available to whoever should capture the beast. I have prepared my supplies and equipment. Along with the requisite food, water, fuel for the Angel, and so on, I have the following:
Sasquatch bait; being various large cuts of meat, stuffed with nuts, berries, mushrooms and potent sedatives.
Sasquatch traps; being the same as a bear trap, but bigger.
Hexagrammatic Harpoons; designed to fix the beast in place physically, and neutralise any paranormal capabilities it may have.
Assorted ropes, chains, shackles and a collapsible cage
Assorted firearms, conventional and specialist, including the Carbine and Arquebus.
Experimental Sasquatch call, being a specially modified set of bagpipes.

I anticipate that this shall be an extended expedition, since I have much to learn about the habits of the beast. Narrowing down its range, tracking it to its lair, determining the best method of capture and so on. The equipment I have at present is based on the stories I have heard from other travellers, though I do not set much stock by them.
Having completed a preliminary investigation of the area, I believe the most promising area of exploration lies to the Northeast. That region I have tentatively named the Strangeness, which Jasper seems to sit at a Southwestern edge of, marked by the Pyramid and the Old Fort. I anticipate that there may be other interesting things in this area, which I would be loathe to leave un-documented. The structures and anomalous areas I have encountered so far have defied any explanation. All that I can say with confidence is that there is a link between them, and that there is a great deal of Fey activity in the area.
I think this promises to be a most interesting expedition.
 I am approaching the area of the river head where the stories mention great beasts reside. I intend to follow the flow of the river upstream, hoping to find both the source of the river, and some sign of these monstrous creatures. I have yet to encounter anything out of the ordinary. I have found a sizeable crop of edible mushrooms, which I have added to my rations.
I have found some tracks of remarkable size. I have been unable to follow them, unfortunately. They were a few isolated prints in a patch of river mud in rocky surroundings. Although incomplete, I doubt these to be the prints of the fabled Sasquatch- they do not seem to be simian in nature. Regardless, it would seem that I am on the right track.
I have seen no more tracks, but there have been some of those unusual marker stones. Whenever I have encountered these before, they seem to have indicated areas high in unusual activity. Whether it is the sasquatch or not I cannot be certain, but it would seem that I am on the trail of something.
I have diverted from my original course. While passing a sheer cliff-faces I noticed a small cleft in the rock face, which appeared to have a passage behind it. I paused to take a closer look and found that the cleft did not appear to be entirely natural. It seemed to have been widened with tools at some point in the distant past. There were faint, weathered tool marks here and there, as the passage rose in to the interior of the rock face. It remains narrow, but navigable. The cleft extends to the top of the rock formation, allowing sunlight in. At noon it should be quite bright, I think. I shall explore a little further.
There are stairs carved in to the rock back here. And it looks like the top of the cleft has been carved in some way. I think that when the light is right it may create patterns of some sort. Though without knowing whether that is a daily or annual phenomenon, I cannot tell. This is most intriguing. There are a number of smaller markings as well, carved in to the walls of the cleft. There appears to be some variation in style, between these markings and those typical to the region, and between the different sections of markings here. I have made a few sketches of some of these. I shall attempt to classify them later.
This is remarkable! I have found a structure of some sort. There is an elaborate door carved in to the rockface, with a long chamber behind it. I cannot see how far back it goes and shall have to take a lantern with me. I have made a sketch of the door as best I can in the fading light. It was gone noon when I found the cleft, and it has taken a little while to explore the cleft and take notes for the other file.
Whatever this structure is, it is substantially larger than I anticipated. I shall explore it briefly now, and document it more thoroughly tomorrow.
I have encountered many strange things in these mountains. This may be one of the strangest to date.
As I entered the Tomb, for I can think of it as nothing else now, the light of my torch caught strange patterns carved in to the walls. I took me a moment or two to determine their purpose. They seem to be paths of some sort, such that one could follow them buy running a hand along the wall. I suspected that this was to allow someone to traverse the corridors in total darkness; I am now certain that this is the case.
…sprawling network of tunnels of caves, carved from the rock. The purpose of most of them eludes me. Ritual of some sort, I suspect. Others appear to be libraries or studies, full of tightly rolled scrolls on shelves carved in to the rock. Others seem to be burial chambers. In these rooms it seemed that the bed had been replaced with an intricately carved sarcophagus, and little else had changed. The carving seemed at first to be an irregular pattern of curves and angles, but on closer inspection it seemed to be closely packed text of a style I was quite unfamiliar with. The way the pattern seemed to move in the light of my torch made me very uneasy, and I did not linger. I noted, however, that the design seemed quite distinct from the carvings on the path in. At a guess, those inside are the work of whoever built, or dug, this place. Those outside I take to be the work of a later group. I suspect I would have found more of the same script or symbols on the scrolls. Fearing they may be fragile I did not open any.
After some time I came to a chamber similar to the studies, or monks’ cells, as I had begun to think of them, but larger and better furnished. This had a number of cushions arranged around the outer edge of the circular room, each with accompanying low desk. The walls were honeycombed with scroll-shelves, mostly full. It seemed designed that a group of scribes or scholars might work with great efficiency, were every seat taken, as should any scroll be required from the shelves, one would only have to turn around to take it, or ask a fellow to pass it around the circle. In the centre of the room was a larger desk, of the same low design. Upon it was an open scroll and a curious writing implement. At the opposite end of the chamber was another door. The design was similar to that of the outer door, though smaller and more refined. I crossed the room and opened it. On the other side was a curious and horrifying chamber. There were more doors on the far side, leading off at 3 different angles. There were stone benches on the left and right. And occupying the room, as though frozen where they stood were figures. Well dressed, in robes of red and white, woven in strange angular patterns, withered, leathery mummified corpses. Each eyeless, with empty, staring sockets. Each facing the door, from all parts of the room, and in a variety of postures. Six or seven pairs of black pits, all looking directly at me.
 I decided that further investigation should wait until the morning, since this was clearly a much larger complex than I had imagined. I closed the door to that dreadful room, and started briskly out of the scroll room back toward the entrance. As I passed the low desk, I bent to pick up the open scroll. Being the newest- or least old, anyhow- it seemed likely to be sturdiest. As I stooped to reach it, I received a terrible shock. I heard the door behind me begin to creak open! I started, and managed to both drop the torch and stumble over the desk at once. The torch, which had been burning low by this point, went out. Plunged in to sudden, terrible darkness, I heard a slow, shuffling step from the direction of the door. In a panic, I tried to run for the exit. Disoriented by the total darkness which engulfed me, I hit a wall, stumbled, and by tremendous good fortune almost fell back out in to the corridor I sought. The slow shuffle sounded once more behind me, and I bolted in to that lightless labyrinth. I stuffed the scroll, which I still held, in to my shirt, and began to try and feel my way out, reaching for the walls, and the strange patterns I recalled seeing carved in to them. Desperately, I tried to recall if there was a pattern I had seen at both the entrance and here in the depths of the maze of rooms and tunnels. Failing to do so I set off as fast as I dared, sticking to the left hand wall and searching desperately for some pattern that might guide me out. I remembered only one from the outside. A sort of distorted chevron, pointing in to the depths of this place. Whatever pursued me was slow, and that awful ceaseless shuffling soon receded behind me as I fled. I continued, swift as I dared and silent as I could, not trusting in haste alone to free me from this awful tomb. I had spent the best part of a half-hour making my way in, and wished now that I had spent more of that time with my attention on the route than on research, for I had become lost and doubled back on more than one occasion on that journey. Now I was stricken with fear that should I make such a mistake again, I would find that dreadful slow shuffle ahead of me rather than behind.
As I paced those stygian hallways, I could still hear that shuffling step behind me. And with each dead end corridor I traversed, it sounded closer. It would recede as I hurried away, only to be there once more the next time I was forced to double back. I do not know how the thing tracked me through that warren, but its pursuit was relentless and precise. And for all my speed, it seemed to be catching up to me, a little closer each time it drew near. The fear that I would find my passage blocked, and some unknown thing reaching out for me in the darkness shortened my breath and set my heart racing. With each corner I feared I should run in to something, or yet another dead end. And still that relentless shuffle sounded behind me. At last I found the chevrons. The exit was near! Keeping my hand on the wall, I made as much haste as I could. I had heard no sound for a minute or two, and dared for a moment to think that I was clear of my pursuer. Mere moments after that thought, I heard that shuffling sound again, nearby off to my right. Whatever the thing was, it had known the tunnels well enough to take a short cut, and had almost cut off my escape. I realised with growing dread that although the wall-marks laid out a route through the passages, they did not lay out the fastest route, even with the ingenious system markings to tell the user when to switch between following with the right and left hands. Twice more I passed junctions where that relentless shuffling thing had drawn even closer. On the second occasion I am sure that I felt something snatch at the tail of my coat, and that I heard the fabric tear. I broke in to a full sprint, desperate to get away, and the shuffling thing pursued. It seemed faster now, almost keeping pace as I fled. Then the door was in sight! Scarcely visible, the night outside almost as dark as the tunnels, but with a glint of light on some of the equipment I had left outside. Now a rasping and wheezing sound joined the shuffling, as though by great effort my pursuer was pushing themselves to greater speed.
I raced through the door, stumbling at the change from smooth floor to rough terrain, but caught myself in time to slam it shut behind me. Only as I shut it, something on the other side caught it and started to push back, slowly forcing it open! I can only have been trapped in that awful deadlock for a second or two, though it felt as though hours passed. I strained every muscle, and yet was slowly inexorably forced back. Then some distant cloud must have moved, for the moon suddenly shone full upon the door, in a strange and elaborate pattern. Startled, I stumbled back. The door swung open, and before me was one of those red and white robed corpses, staring with empty eyesockets, and every bit as immobile as when I had seen it before. As I stared, those places where the moonlight crossed it began to smoke and smoulder. Jolted back to my senses by this observation, I hurled myself forward and slammed the door shut. There was a terrible crunch. One of the things hands had been stretched out past the frame, and now lay on the floor beside me, where it burned and shrivelled in the moonlight, rapidly crumbling away to nothing.
I stepped back. Now that I could see it in full, the pattern of the moonlight was recognisable as a complex arcane sigil, of similar design to the marks carved in to the walls and ceiling of the narrow pass that lead here. Looking back, I could see similar signs along the length of the route back to that strange cleft I had first noticed. I owed my life to whoever had carved those symbols.
Little remains to be said of the events of that night. I gathered my equipment and left, not stopping to draw the door or the ward that seemed to seal it. The scroll, written with a strange ink that leaves a very rough texture on the page, has defied all attempts at translation so far. I have found no record of any inhabitants of this area, though some of the myths regarding the Adlets, the wolf-folk from whom Europeans are supposed to be descended, mention a war and allude to battles fought in the general vicinity. All record of who or what they fought has been lost or destroyed. As such, there seems to be no further progress to be made at present.
There is a later note that was at one point pinned to this record. Sadly it appears they became separated at some point, and the note is quite badly damaged. I have typed up as much as is legible.
…closer to some answers. Spoke to F at M.U. Some mention of ancient death traditions involving… …including human sacrifice. Idea seems to be trading a life for a life, or similar… …common belief, but the idea that it actually works is…
 … not very similar, but seems to have been close enough for a partial translation. …deeply concerning. …indestructible, but paralysed by… …some kind of research project, seeking… …that they might emerge and reclaim… …if something isn’t done, it may only be a matter of time before…

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

An Eccentric Not in Canada Anymore

Hello all! Right, it's been a while, and a fair old bit has happened. Obviously, travelling and working in the tourism industry isn't really terribly viable at the moment, and in light of the ongoing situation, I have returned home to England. A bittersweet return, since it is sad to have curtailed the trip, nice to be home, but also a nuisance that I can't go and visit all of the friends I wanted to come back and see in the first place. Plus Wendy has gone back home to the Czech Republic, and having spent a whole year with her, that now feels like a very long way away.

Now, while being back home does give me a lot more time for actually writing and keeping this blog up to date, it does also remove the main thing I was going to write about- travelling around Canada.

So, what next? Well, I've still got a lot of stories from Uncle Jack's diary to compile and type up, so there'll be more of that. There'll probably be more cooking, a couple of other creative projects that I've got in the works, and then whatever comes up after that. The next post should be a rather interesting tale from Uncle Jack, which is nearly ready. After that, some sort of Year in Review, probably.

In the meantime, I've been making the most of warm weather and being back in my home kitchen, making Cloud Eggs Benedict for the family, and enjoying meals in the garden.

Right, that's all for now. No idea what the update schedule is going to look like going forward, but we'll work that out. In the meantime, stay safe, stay healthy, and stay indoors!

Thursday, February 6, 2020

A page from Jack's notebook

Just a quick update- I'm working on putting together Uncle Jack's account of his time tracking a Sasquatch (or at least, so he says) through the Rockies. While going through his notes, trying to find all the sections and get them typed up in the right order, I found a rather fine example of recipes being scribbled on the margins of older pages. Take a look:

See what I mean? Anyway, that's all for now. Next time should be part one of Uncle Jack and the Sasquatch.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

A culinary diversion

Uncle Jack’s Rocky Mountain Recipes

So, as you may have noticed, food is something of a recurring theme on this blog, albeit a somewhat sporadic one. Well, this is very much true of Uncle Jack’s writing as well, but even more so. I’ve been trying to collect some of his recipes, but as the majority of them are scribbled in the margins of other writing in a manner that rather suggests a ‘first available piece of paper’ approach, combined with a callous disregard for orientation, this is something of a challenge. I’ve managed to find a few that are legible, and where possible I’ve tried to look for similar recipes to fill in gaps and to provide some comment on whether it’s what you could consider a ‘normal’ recipe or not.

Poutine au Gratin
Cheese, and/or curds
An onion
Stock, any will do
Mushroom ketchup, Worcester sauce, or other flavouring
Milk, if available, water if not

Cut the potatoes in to chips and set them to fry. Begin an onion gravy, frying the onion, then adding flour, water, stock and seasoning. If using mushroom ketchup, I would recommend selecting for flavour as opposed to other effects for this recipe. Cut cheese and curds while the potatoes and gravy cook. Once the potatoes or gravy are ready, begin a cheese sauce. You can begin it earlier if you have a third pot or pan. Make a roux, and add milk and cheese in the usual manner. Place the chips in a pot or bowl with the cheese or curds, then mix well with the gravy. Top with the cheese sauce, and bake until golden brown.

I have literally no idea why you would do this. The fact that Uncle Jack tried poutine and decide that what it needed was an extra layer of cheese sauce possibly says more about him than any of his other writing. It’s also very peculiar that this recipe exists at all since poutine is generally agreed to have emerged in Quebec in the 1950’s. How it appears in a notebook more about 140 years earlier is quite beyond me.

Cider vinegar
Maple syrup, honey or molasses
Dried ginger, ground, or fresh ginger, sliced
Choice of Gin, Rum, Brandy, Whisky, Vodka, Tequila, Triple Sec, or other spirit. Or better yet, a mixture of as many as you have.
Use water as a base, and add the other ingredients according to taste. Alternatively, omit the water.

Switchel is a fairly well-documented energy drink, of sorts, with variations being documented as far back as Roman times: There isn’t normally any alcohol in it though. And without the water, it’s a rough approximation of a Long Island Iced tea. Though admittedly a cocktail recipe that boils down to ‘mix all your spirits together’ isn’t really much of a recipe.

Collops of Mountain Unicorn
1 Haunch of Mountain Unicorn, or other large cut, sliced in to collops
Bacon, lardons, or fatty trimmings from the animal
Herb paste
Bay, sage, rosemary, and garlic, mixed into a paste. Add an egg, if you have one.
Spiced gravy
Bread, ground or grated small , vinegar, ginger, cinnamon, clove and galangal, if you have it.

Lard the collops of unicorn with the bacon, or other fat. Mountain unicorn is a very dry meat, and this will help to keep it moist.
Spread the herb paste upon the collops, then bind them tightly together with string, and skewer. Spit roast the skewered collops by an open fire. Catch the juices in a tray, and mix with the ingredients for the spiced gravy. Add some claret, if you have it.
Serve the collops with the sauce, and such vegetables as you prefer.

This seems to be pretty close to a fairly common way of roasting lean meats. What a ‘Mountain Unicorn’ is, I’m not sure. Probably a Bighorn sheep, based on the somewhat whimsical way that Uncle Jack seems to have gone about identifying and naming local animals. Having done a little bit of research, it seems pretty similar to the recipe here: I'm rather tempted to try this one. Might need to tweak it a bit to work with an oven and whatever cut of meat I can get, though. If I get round to it, I'll post it here.

Taggity Pie
Ordinary pie paste
A large pinch of paisley
4 pods of conundrum, cracked
A sprig of time
One large leak, diced
Grated chess, to garnish

If you are making this, you know How and Why. You should also know Why Not.

Yes. The less said about this one the better, I think.

Snake Soup
A snake or two, preferably vipers
An onion
Two small carrots, or one medium carrot, or half a large carrot
Some potatoes
A bit more carrot
Spinach, if you must
Strong wine
Such herbs and spices as you have available, to taste

Chop the vegetables, then set them to boiling. Kill and clean the vipers, keeping the hearts. Cut in to pieces about two inches in length, and add to the pot, along with salt, pepper, wine and seasonings. Boil until tender, then serve with a bread roll. Garnish with sliced lemon, if you have it.

This one is… well, weirdly authentic, actually. Take a look:
I’m honestly not sure if this being a ‘real’ recipe, rather than one of Uncle Jack’s own invention is more or less unsettling.

While researching some of Jack’s recipes I found a few that I was rather more inclined to try. And what with it having been Christmas, and temperature here in Jasper hovering at around -25 C at the moment, it's been a good time to stay in and cook.

Switchel is pretty good, though I’d definitely suggest lemon juice instead of vinegar, at least at the ratios I've been using. I can definitely see an apple vinegar and maple syrup variation with some cinnamon, either instead of or as well as the ginger being rather good. Why I've only thought of that as I write this I don't know, but I'll certainly try it next time I'm making some.

The pies that you may remember were based on the recipes I found here:

And having been inspired by the other traditional foods, I finally got round to trying something I've been meaning to do for years; mince pies with actual mince!

Strange as it sounds, it actually came out really well! I think I overcooked it slightly, so I may well give it another go at some point, though I'll definitely be reducing the quantity of filling. Once I've fine-tuned the recipe I'll add it here.

Right, that'll do for now. See you all next time!

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Banff Part 2- Caves and Snails

The other big thing in Banff, which deserves a whole post to itself, is the hot springs in the cave, and the surrounding walks. There are quite a lot of hot springs around here, it seems. Though given that it's all on Sulphur Mountain, that's not too surprising. The route from town to the caves and museum is particularly delightful as well, especially with a light dusting of snow.

Waking up to a view like this, you just know it's going to be a good day

This was the view from the bridge over the river heading out of town towards the caves.

And this was the footpath towards the caves. I forgot to take a picture of it, but there is also the rather excellent Buffalo Nations museum on the way to the caves. I can't tell you very much about it since we didn't have time to go around, but the building itself is a rather lovely log fort.

After a delightful walk through snowy woodlands and across a boardwalk over some of the slightly swampy ground where the spring runs down toward the base of the mountain. At that top of that section of the boardwalk is the museum building and inside that, at the end of a short tunnel, is the cave itself.

The caves were known to the local populace for a century or two, before being found by European colonists in the 1880s, and used for a variety of ceremonies. Participants would be lowered into the cave through the small hole visible at the top of this first picture on a rope ladder of rawhide or woven sweetgrass.

The cave has a very sulphurous smell, thanks to the high sulphur content of the spring water. Back in the 1880s, it was a very popular spot for hot spring bathing and this was seen as a good thing, for some reason. Novelty value, I suppose. Or possibly it was just nice to have found somewhere warm.

The water is still crystal clear, though, and contrasts beautifully with the pearlescent mineral deposits on the cave walls and the thin shaft of sunlight falling through the small hole in the cave roof.

Bathing isn't permitted in the cave of springs anymore, and there's a very good reason for that; the Banff Springs Snail! This delightful little beastie is unique to the springs around the cave and basin and is very sensitive to chemical changes in the water. Any sort of disruption to the delicate balance of minerals, bacteria, and plants can have quite a dramatic impact on the snail population. Which would be a shame since, uniquely among snails, they have their eyes on their heads, instead of on their antennae. Which doesn't sound very significant, but it does make them really cute!

Look at that little snaily face! Adorable.
In addition to housing the entrance to the caves, there's a small museum about the history of the site and the tourist trade that surrounded it, with a few interesting exhibits and bits of information.

And here, the lovely Wendy is modelling one of the most interesting exhibits- an old fashioned camping car! Fully equipped, and complete with its own tent.

Round the back of the museum is another section of boardwalk, that works its way up the side of the mountain. And by golly is the view good from up there:

There's another interesting little spot up at the top of the cave, just a short distance from the original entrance to the cave- the site of the first hotel in the area, built in 1883.

And on the way back down the mountain, I spotted a rather lovely little squirrel. I do like these Canadian red squirrels. Slightly cuter than the greys back home, and much easier to spot than European reds.

For some reason, the museum was flying a Union Flag. I'm afraid I neglected to ask why, though.

At the base of the mountain the hot springs flow out into the nearby river. The wetlands here are a breeding ground for a wide variety of small fish, since the water stays warm and unfrozen all year round, thanks to the hot spring water.

And that's about it for our little trip to Banff! There's a fair bit more to do there, but I think that's certainly a snapshot of the highlights. And just to finish off, here's a rather nice picture of Lake Louise that I took on the way back to Jasper.

Monday, November 25, 2019

A little trip to Banff

Hello again! As per usual, a little way behind on keeping things up to date, but here's the rundown of mine and Wendy's trip to Banff!

Considering which, I should probably do an introduction:

This is Wendy! She's a lovely young lady from the Czech Republic, and we have been dating for 6 months or so. Possibly weird that I haven't mentioned her until now, but I had an approximate publishing schedule and it felt weird to shoehorn her in. Here, however, definitely makes sense, as we finally had a few days off together, and decided to make the most of it.

Some of the scenery on the way there
Since we both work for a hotel chain with properties in both Jasper and Banff, we get discounts at their properties, so it was the most sensible choice, and one of the best local beauty spots (outside Jasper, anyway).

And rather pleasantly, it started snowing just as we were leaving Jasper, which made our entire trip almost aggressively Christmassy, which was absolutely delightful.

Banff is a lovely little town. Substantially larger than Jasper, and rather more touristy, but that does mean that it has an excellent range of restaurants, cafes, bistros, and touristy shops. It's still only a short walk out of town into the surrounding hills and forests, and there are a variety of hiking trails nearby.

Much like Jasper, there are mountains in every direction, although given the general location that's not really very surprising. On the topic of mountains, thanks to the Banff Gondola, I've finally made it up to the top of one (having spent the majority of summer waiting for it to stop raining, and it not doing so very often). Though it did start snowing again on the way up, which was very scenic and atmospheric, but did make good pictures a bit difficult.

It was also about 10 degrees colder up at the top, which took it from about 6 C in the town to -4 or so at the peak. On top of the peak in question is also a decommissioned cosmic ray observation station, situated for the high altitude and clear skies. There's only a small hut left on the peak now, but it's still nice to see how science can take you to all sorts of unusual places.

If you're looking for a way to warm up after visiting the mountain top, you can't do much better than the thermal springs at the base of the mountain, and just across the carpark from the gondola.

Hot spring at the entrance to the baths
The thermal springs have been a popular tourist spot since the first baths were set up in 1888, and now have a rather nice modern swimming pool enclosing the spring. If you're feeling more traditionally inclined, however, you can hire an 1880's style swimming costume, as I did. And I have to say I looked rather good in it. There are no pictures, you will probably be pleased to hear.

Another highlight of the trip was the tour of the Park distillery. It's a free tour, and if you go on it you get a discount in the restaurant. That alone makes it very worthwhile, as the cocktails are excellent.  

They produce a variety of different drinks with a rather excellent variable still, including whiskey, unaged rye, vodka and gin.

Depending on what has been produced, it is then either bottled or barreled for ageing. In the case of the vodka, it may be infused with either coffee beans or vanilla pods, if it's for a flavoured batch. They also produce a chilli vodka, but that one is flavoured by being bottled with three small birds eye chillis, and then left for a few months. Apparently, the first attempt at batch infusing chilli vodka produced a rather good alcoholic hot sauce, which, while tasty, wasn't really suitable for drinking.

Most of the barrels are stored off-site, but a few are kept in the distillery. Using smaller barrels means more contact between liquid and wood, allowing the desired flavour to be achieved quicker.

And on the topic of those cocktails:

This was called the Observation Peak, if I remember correctly, and was essentially an Old Fashioned served under smoked cedar. Absolutely delicious!

Right, that'll do for now I think. Next time, the hot spring caves and surrounding mountains. Cheerio till then!

Monday, November 11, 2019

Canadian Food and a Spot of Cooking

Before we get into this too deeply, I feel that I should add a disclaimer. I do not claim to be able to provide an overview of all Canadian food, but I do feel inclined to present my impressions so far.

First of all, the restaurants I have been to have set a very high standard, especially in Jasper and Banff. Keep an eye out for a food review section, coming to this blog sometime soon! Well, eventually anyway. But the point is that there's nothing wrong Canadian cuisine per se, and some of it is absolutely excellent. Which probably give you a bit of a hint as to the central theme of what I have to say next...

Tinned and frozen food is never the best. I'm used to that. The small number of pre-prepared things I've tried have still managed to disappoint, though. With an exception for the tins of frozen fruit punch, that is, which are perfect on hot days. Even a lot of the fresh produce is either somewhat bland or very expensive. An interesting exception to this is the meat. The beef is excellent, if a little expensive, and the pork is both excellent and cheap. The salmon is pretty good too, though I personally cannot recommend the salmon jerky. It sounds like it should be good, and I may give it a second chance at some point, but initial experiments have not been promising.

Coffee creamer, on the other hand, is absolutely something we need in Britain, primarily on account of the excellent range of flavours. My current favourite is Cinnabon- if there's something better to start the day with than a cup of hot, caffeinated, liquid cinnamon roll, I haven't found it yet. Unless perhaps it's the same but with a shot of rum in it on the weekends. I'll try that at some point and let you know.

And now we come to the big one- cheese. If anyone can explain to me what is wrong with Canadian cheese, I will be most interested to hear about it. It seems to almost all be big, extruded plastic slabs and slices, or imported a phenomenal cost. The other day I found Snowdonia Cheese Company cheddar, but it was something in excess of $7 for a rather thin slice.

This stuff with a raspberry ale washed rind is pretty damn good though- which is why there isn't very much of it left.

(There were supposed to be pictures of different sized pieces of cheese here, but I keep eating them before remembering to take a picture. I'll put some in later)

To be fair, I suspect that there is a difference between food in Jasper and in the rest of Canada. We are right up in the mountains, so shipping is a bit of an issue, presumably.

However, I have managed to make the most of the situation, and have developed some new cooking skills to help with preparing lunches and dinners for strange and variable shifts. First, weeklong sandwiches:

Started with the classic Shooter's Sandwich, full of steak and mushrooms. Very nice, but a bit expensive for every week. 

A pork variation, since that's a lot cheaper here.

And an attempt a creating a variation on a muffuletta. Couldn't get any proper giardenia, and didn't feel like stopping to pickle my own vegetables, so it was a tad crunchy, but still pretty good.

And then, for a change of pace, pies! Started with pork and broccoli, using a variation on a recipe from the 1800's. In fact, it does seem a little similar to something that Great Uncle Jack mentions in his journal, but his recipe is, uh... interesting.

Beef, carrot and onion.

A giant beef burger. This worked pretty nicely, stayed tender even when cold.

And the latest variation, chicken with aubergine and olives. My best yet, I think.

Had a bit of success with some desserts as well- primarily bread pudding, and peach pie:

Both of the bread puddings are topped with an improvised whisky caramel sauce, which turned out rather nicely. Truth be told, it's all the faffing about with this that has been keeping me from the blog to a certain extent- working 6 days a week and doing lots of cooking and food prep on the 7th hasn't left a lot of time and energy for very much else. Fortunately, the summer rush is over, and things are starting to calm down enough for me to have a bit more time. Ergo, bicuits:

At some point, I'll get round to some restaurant reviews, and I'll try to make sense of Uncle Jack's recipe notes. But next time, Banff!