Friday, August 21, 2009

Hiking... or, Why I Love Alberta

This summer, a friend and I have been trying to go out hiking a few times. On my suggestion, we went to Galatea in July and had a great hike. When I got an email from him on Monday with the title "Hiking", I was excited for another nice trip out to the mountains– then I read the message: "It will be a fairly intense hike: ~25K round trip, includes some scrambling/quasi-rock climbing and fording a river, and we will likely be leaving Calgary around 4:30AM." 

Hmm... maybe I'll rethink my excitement to go to Lake of the Horns.

As I pondered the state my legs would be in after such a hike, as well as the amount of sleep I would get the preceding night (I already had plans for the night before that would prevent an nice 8 pm bedtime), I thought, "Well, if my friend thinks I can do it, I sure as shootin' am going to try!" so I replied to the email with a response that I would see him bright and early Wednesday morning. 

We were on the trail by 6:30 and despite my slight grogginess from a nap in the car, got a good start. In the parking lot, we were able to see our final destination, a waterfall coming downa cliff in a dip between two mountains, off in the distance. The sun was slowly coming up behind the mountains to our backs and I've never seen Kananaskis look so beautiful. The river crossing hit at kilometer 1 and the chilly water was a very refreshing wake-me-up. 

After about 8 or 9 km of gently rolling hills and gentle sunlight through the trees, I was thinking, "This is not nearly as bad as it sounded, and look how close that waterfall looks!" Than we hit the incline. My friend and his dad kept up a brisk pace as the incline went from slight to gradual to somewhat steep to grueling. I started taking breaks here and there to keep my heart rate in healthy limits, gratefully joined by my friend's mum, who (luckily for me) doesn't share her son and husband's competitive intensity.

My legs aching and the trail becoming less and less followable in the shale, we suddenly hit the "quasi-rock climbing" that had been promised. My friend, already at the top of the ridge, was kind enough to wait for us within view before going to the lake. As I scrambled up the cliff, sweating like a pig in the sun and my legs feeling like spaghetti, I thought, "This had better be the most beautiful lake I've ever seen, with the best view of the valley, or else it wasn't worth it." when suddenly, I came over the crest of the ridge and saw a pristene blue-green lake tucked into a bowl just behind the cliff. Little scrubby pine trees grew in the soft, heathery turf and when I turned around, I could see the mountains reaching out for miles.

At moments like this, all of my desires to get away from the place I've lived my entire life melt away. I get tired of Calgary sometimes and wish I could live in faraway, exotic places, but when I go out to the Rockies, I know that I could never, ever, leave for good. I'll always have to come back to be near these mountains.

So, aching legs, sunburnt scalp and all, once I had a belly full of trail mix and my friend suggested scrambling up the sides of the valley for a view from the upper ridge, I knew it would be worth it.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Baking Binge

For the last few weeks, Mum, Elena, and I have been taking a cake decorating course at Michaels. I've wanted to learn how to decorate pretty, fancy cakes since I got my Martha Stewart Baking Bible and salivated over the various recipes. After buying a gigantic kit that includes everything from a cake leveler to 15 different icing tips, I started out. There were some hitches on the way- a circus cake that looked like various birds had flown over it with indigestion, for one- but it was all worth it for my final cake (above). 
You see, this course required us to make cake every week to bring and decorate. This meant that there were up to three cakes in our home at any given time. Plus, Elena and I threw a baby shower for a friend and I had to make cupcakes for that. Our house was chock full of baked goods. With the leftover batter and icing from the shower cupcakes, I made the strawberry cake of goodness featured above. Here's the recipe, as requested:
(For a cake, fill the space between the layers with the leftover jam instead of icing. It's way better)

Makes 2 dozen (or, as I found: 80 mini cupcakes + three petit-fours + one 7-inch layer cake)

  • 3 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup milk
  • 8 large egg whites
  • Strawberry Meringue Buttercream
  • 24 small fresh strawberries, washed (hulls intact), for garnish


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two standard 12-cup muffin pans with paper liners; set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and 2 cups sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, scraping down sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla. With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk and beginning and ending with the flour; beat until just combined. Transfer mixture to a large bowl; set aside.
  4. In the clean bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites on low speed until foamy. With mixer running, gradually add remaining 1/4 cup sugar; beat on high speed until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 4 minutes. Do not overbeat. Gently fold 1/3 of the egg-white mixture into the butter-flour mixture until combined. Gently fold in remaining egg-white mixture.
  5. Divide batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling each with a heaping 1/4 cup batter. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until the cupcakes are golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer pans to a wire rack. Invert cupcakes onto rack; then reinvert and let cool completely, top sides up. Frost cupcakes with strawberry meringue buttercream, swirling to cover (I like to put the frosting in an icing bag and give them swirls, like at Crave). Cupcakes may be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to three days. Garnish with strawberries just before serving.
Strawberry Meringue Buttercream:


Makes 5 cups

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into tablespoons
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) strawberry jam, pureed in a food processor


  1. In the heatproof bowl of an electric mixer set over a saucepan of simmering water, combine egg whites and sugar. Cook, whisking constantly, until sugar has dissolved and mixture is warm to the touch (about 160 degrees).
  2. Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat the egg-white mixture on high speed until it holds stiff (but not dry) peaks. Continue beating until the mixture is fluffy and cooled, about 6 minutes.
  3. Switch to the paddle attachment. With mixer on medium-low speed, add butter several tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition. (If frosting appears to separate after all the butter has been added, beat on medium-high speed until smooth again, 3 to 5 minutes more.) Beat in vanilla. Beat on lowest speed to eliminate any air bubbles, about 2 minutes. Stir in strawberry jam with a rubber spatula until frosting is smooth.