Friday, August 27, 2010

Adventures in Canada

B and I went on a vacation to Alberta last month. I hadn't been to Canada since I went on a family trip to Niagara Falls twenty years ago, but I already can't wait to go back! We explored both east and west from Calgary, and the glaciers and lakes and mountains and waterfalls and wildlife are like nothing I've ever seen.

Did I mention that the wildlife was awesome?

This is a hawk we saw flying not-that-high above in southern Alberta at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. The name of this UNESCO site pretty much says it all: the Native Americans used to drive buffalo across the plains until they stampeded to their death over this 30-meter cliff. The meat and hides from the dead buffalo lasted the tribespeople through the winter. We ate some buffalo burgers on the trip, but I'm pretty sure they were prepared in a more humane fashion.

On more than one occasion, we had picnic lunches with scenic vistas. Towards the end of our trip, we picked a nice rock overlooking Medicine Lake, near Jasper. (Apparently I can't escape medicine, even on vacation; though I am quite thankful that I haven't yet had a medical emergency develop in a fellow passenger while on an airplane.)

Another highlight, among the many lakes we saw, was Lake Louise, about thirty miles north of Banff. We particularly enjoyed our hike from the waterfront up to the teahouse at Lake Agnes.

People keep asking if this trip was a "babymoon." I guess it was, since it was presumably our last big trip with just the two of us. However, we were also joined by a real, live baby (A, and her parents B&K) for the Banff portion of the trip. She was incredibly interested in practicing her walking, as she prepared to become a toddler instead of a baby.

We stayed in a condo for the Banff part of the trip, which was equipped with a small kitchen. We mostly used the refrigerator and sink, but I had also packed a bag of white powder, a.k.a. a pre-made baking mix to have one morning as a breakfast treat. Unlike on our trip to Wyoming with J and other B, my baggage was not inspected by a suspicious TSA employee, so I thought I was home-free by the time the scone mix arrived in Banff.

After all, making the mix ahead of time was the hard part (and it wasn't even hard). The instructions I'd written on the Ziploc were very easy to follow: "Cut in 1.5 sticks butter, mix in dried cherries, add 1 cup water, and bake at 375 for 20 to 25 minutes." I pre-heated the oven (quite pleased that the dial was in Fahrenheit and not Celsius), found a makeshift baking sheet in the tiny kitchen, formed the scones, and popped them into the oven.

Not five minutes later, the acrid smell of smoke and burning scone filled the loft apartment. Reader, my plans for a home-cooked breakfast on vacation were thwarted by a broken oven dial! After much fiddling of the temperature dial, I learned that although it had tick marks for a normal range of temperatures, functionally it seemed to have but two settings: broil, and off.

B opened the sliding doors to allow for some ventilation, but of course this situation occurred on the coldest day of our trip (and it was cold, even for someone used to summer in San Francisco, with a high that day of around 40). We couldn't keep the condo doors open for too long!

I valiantly attempted to make a second batch of scones with the remaining batter, keeping the oven door propped open to let out some of the searing heat. This batch turned out marginally better, taking a whole ten minutes to cook instead of the aforementioned five (but much less than the typical twenty). B&K, not having had the scones before, thought they tasted good, but B and I knew better, so we picked off the edible top parts from the overcooked bottoms.

I promised K that I would give her the recipe, so here it is. It's pretty self-explanatory, but I would caution her (and you) to be careful of strange ovens. I like scones a lot (we had these ones yesterday with a fresh batch of blackberry jam), and I particularly like Cheese Board scones (like these cheese ones that B loves so much). The corn-cherry scones I made in Banff are also derived from the Cheese Board cookbook, but as with the cheese ones, I've significantly decreased the amount of butter from the original recipe.

When I made the scones again at home, after the trip, I didn't take a picture of the lightly-browned (i.e., not blackened) bottoms, but here's a picture of what the tops should look like. Enjoy!

Corn Cherry Scones

Makes: 12 scones
Time: 15 minutes active, 45 min total

2 c. unbleached flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 c. sugar, divided
1 1/2 c. cornmeal
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 c.) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-in. cubes
8-oz. package dried sweet cherries, about 1 1/2 c. (I use the Bing cherries from Trader Joe's)
1 c. buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 375. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda and powder, salt, 3/4 c. sugar, and cornmeal. Using a pastry blender, two knives, or your fingers, cut in the unsalted butter until it is the consistency of large breadcrumbs. Mix in the cherries. Add the buttermilk, mixing until just combined.

Form dough into balls about 2 1/2-in. in diameter, and place on baking sheet. Sprinkle tops with remaining 1/4 c. sugar. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until tops are golden (and bottoms are not blackened). Cool for at least 5 minutes before serving.

(If making a scone mix for travel, mix together the dry ingredients as above, but also add 4 T. powdered buttermilk. When reconstituting the mix, add 1 c. water in place of fresh buttermilk.)

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