A Night at the Juniper in Banff

We have been encouraged to be boisterous.

And how can we not be, now that we’ve finished our cocktails and mingled outside, casting looks over the jagged Rockies and Vermilion Lakes from The Juniper Hotel’s perch just off the road up to Mount Norquay, and then be led in to sit at two long tables stretching the width of the Bistro dining room in anticipation of a five-course dinner featuring one of Vancouver’s top chefs?

A view from my room over to the The Juniper Bistro and beyond.

This is the third collaboration dinner in the Juniper Bistro’s dining series and the restaurant’s manager, Chris Irving, and his staff are sharing the kitchen with Angus An, a Vancouver-based chef well known for his restaurants Longtail Kitchen (which made my list of best eats last year) and Maenam, among others.

(For more about the dining series, upcoming chefs and why Irving started it, I’ve got the scoop on The YYScene.)

There is one focal point for the dinner.

“Life is short, prawns are seasonal,” An announced at the beginning to cheers and laughs.

Spot prawns, the coveted shellfish, has a short, six-week season of availability so they remain a sustainable fishery. They are considered Oceanwise because of this and the opening of spot prawn season on Canada’s West Coast is greeted with a lot of joy.

Fifty pounds of them were brought in fresh and turned into a series of dishes that played to An’s strengths, featuring the Thai flavours he is known for. Maenam serves up modern Thai dining, while Longtail Kitchen has a more street-food focus.

Bold flavours – sweet and sour, salty, spicy – were showcased throughout the night. Punches of heat from chili jam, citrus notes from galangal and even smoky notes, for a Tom Yum soup, that came from grilling the prawns.

The mood was jovial as we nestled in our seats, next to friends and strangers. Since the appetizers –kaffir and lemongrass roasted cashews, pad thai spring rolls and Thai green curry fish cakes – were set out family style, it was a good way to break the ice.

We were able to nibble and chat while occasionally peeking into the open kitchen to see the flurry of cooking happening there.

The first plates to come out were of a spot prawn ceviche, aromatically spiked with lime leaves, lemongrass and some crisp spot prawn crackers to add crunch. Conversations lulled as we took the first bites and then roared back up again as people talked about the dish.

Spot Prawn Ceviche from the Maenam-Juniper collaboration dinner at The Juniper in Banff.
Spot Prawn Ceviche

An, Irving and the rest of the kitchen staff spent the day making every course from scratch, weaving a culinary journey around Thailand. Between courses, An would explain some of the techniques and ingredients used in the dishes. Like that the deep earthy flavour that underpinned that soup came from using every part of the prawn, including the head and innards in the stock.

The soup, poured tableside, was aromatic and deeply flavoured.

Tom Yum Goong with galangal-infused broth

But it was the seafood curry with roasted sablefish, mussels and spot prawns, coloured and perfumed with turmeric, that made me wish for a second helping. The fish was perfectly cooked, the curry warming and full-bodied.

It’s likely to make my list for the best things I ate in 2017.

Turmeric Seafood Curry

We lingered over dessert. Irving’s goal of creating these dinners in part to serve as a catalyst for conversation and potentially to spark new friendships succeeded as those of us sitting at one end of the table exchanged phone numbers with suggestions we connect again soon.

And after it all, I was able to tumble into the king-size bed in my hotel room, only a few steps from the Bistro. The perfect commute.

In fact, I was a few minutes late to the cocktail portion of the dinner as I couldn’t stop myself from throwing open the outside door of my room to look out at the view over the Banff townsite and sharp-tipped slope of Mount Rundle.

Set outside the main town of Banff, across the Trans-Canada Highway, The Juniper enjoys a totally different perspective on the area (especially for a non-skier like me who hasn’t been up to Norquay).

A room…

…with a view

In the morning, I am loathe to leave, lying in bed with the curtains open to enjoy the view for as long as I can.

When it comes time to check out, I load up my car but find I’m still not ready to abandon the calm beauty of Banff for Calgary’s bustle, so I head into town to grab a pastry and tea from Wild Flour Bakery on Bear Street and then drove along the road that winds next to the Vermilion Lakes, stopping by one of the docks that juts out from the shore. Tea warming my hands, I sat on the dock, bobbing in the slight waves kicked up from the strong winds.


Thank you to Chris Irving for inviting me to come to the Maenam collaboration dinner and The Juniper for hosting me.

Future dining series events include a night with Chef Ned Bell in October and Top Chef Canada alum Todd Perrin in November. Dates to be determined. Find more information about upcoming events and book your own night at The Juniper at thejuniper.com.

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Nanaimo Bars

I was lying in bed last night watching Netflix around 10:30 p.m. when I was hit with a strong craving for Nanaimo Bars.

None of this is unusual; I am hit with such cravings with alarming regularity.

I also wasn’t surprised that when I tweeted it out, I sparked cravings in others. (Sorry, guys!) It seems this Canadian classic is something we all find infinitely craveable. For me, it’s been this way since I was a kid.

This post has been sitting in my drafts for some time — I have no idea why. My procrastination/follow-through issues are serious business, apparently. But it seems incredibly timely to get it up. And then go to the store to get what I need to answer the call for Nanaimo Bars. (And take more photos because one is most certainly not enough.)


While I am sometimes struck by sudden, overwhelming snack cravings, these mostly boil down to two items: Rice Krispie Treats and Nanaimo Bars. Maybe it’s for the taste of nostalgia, since both of these bars were regular treats when I was growing up. Maybe it’s that they offer just the right level of sweetness. Or maybe it’s that I just love dessert bars.

Normally, I wait and let the craving pass without succumbing. Partly this is because I am missing some key ingredient and the craving isn’t strong enough to warrant a trip to the grocery store. And partly, it’s because I know I’ll eat one slice of what I’ve made and then I’ll completely lose interest.

This weekend, though, a very different thing happened. One, a craving for Nanaimo Bars struck. And two, I actually had everything I needed to make them – even the custard powder that adds a bit of flavour and signature yellow tint to the middle layer, which I had impulsively bought one day, just in case I had an urge to make them.

Am I bad Canadian if I admit this is the first time I’ve ever made this quintessentially Canuck dessert?

I grew up on Nanaimo Bars, thanks to my stepdad’s sudden – and never denied – cravings for the three-layer dessert named after the Vancouver Island city. He would make huge pans of them that would last only a day or two in our house. Since they were often in ready supply, I never learned how to make them, leading to some startling discoveries when I found out just went into them. “There are graham cracker crumbs in the base layer?” I actually said out loud when I finally decided the time had come to answer the craving.

The other discovery: they are ridiculously easy to make. A dangerous and delicious realization. It’s mostly just melting and layering, though a little patience is required as each step is followed with time to chill in the refrigerator. Conveniently, this also allows for tidying between steps, so there’s not even a mountain of dishes to do at the end.

I was wrong about one thing, though: I didn’t eat one slice and lose all interest. I ate four. Hopefully, that will be enough to keep the cravings at bay for a little while.

Nanaimo Bars

This Canadian standard doesn’t see much variation between recipes, but I upped the cocoa a bit in the base layer for an extra bit of chocolate flavour. Adapted from several sources.

Base layer:

  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) butter
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) white sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) cocoa
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) vanilla
  • 1 3/4 cups (430 mL) graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 cup (250 mL) sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped walnuts, pecans or almonds

Middle layer:

  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) butter, softened
  • 3 tbsp (45 mL) milk
  • 2 tbsp (15 mL) custard powder
  • 2 cups (500 mL) icing sugar

Top layer:

  • 5 oz (150 g) semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) butter

Lightly butter an 8-inch (20-cm) square pan and line with parchment paper, letting a few inches hang over each side, like a sling. (This will make it easier to remove the bars for cutting.)

In a double boiler, set over medium heat, melt the butter and add the sugar and cocoa, whisking until smooth. Slowly drizzle in the beaten egg, while still whisking and continue stirring until the chocolate mixture has thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla, graham cracker crumbs, coconut and nuts. Add to the prepared pan and press into an even layer. Chill for 40 minutes.

Prepare the middle layer by beating together the butter, milk and custard powder. Once wellmixed, add the icing sugar and beat until smooth and creamy. Spread evenly over the chocolate base and let the bars chill again for another 30 minutes.

In a double boiler set over medium heat, melt together the chocolate and butter until smooth. Let cool slightly, then pour over the bars. Chill until the chocolate has set.

Remove from the pan and slice.

Makes 36 bars (depending on how large you cut them).


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Touring to Torrington’s Gopher Museum with #GoFurther150

I love a road trip.

Likely because I’ve always loved driving.

(Barring that one time when my stepdad was teaching me standard and I rolled a fraction of an inch and then stalled at a tiny slope in Vancover and the woman behind me honked and I said, “Nope,” got out of the car as traffic grew behind me, switching seats with my stepdad who easily, and quickly, navigated us out of the situation. Funnily, I later taught myself how to handle a stick shift and now it’s my preferred way to drive.)

This really translates into a love of a quick escape.

I once drove from five hours from a small town in the B.C. interior to Jasper just to swim in a lake (worth it) and did a round trip from Victoria to Tofino – 9 hours of driving – because I wanted to see the pounding surf.

All the aspects of a road trip appeal to me. Snacks! Good music playlists! Podcasts (definitely wished those were a thing in those early days of day-long road trips)!

I’ve poked around Southern Alberta quite a bit on such quick escapes. Over to Drumheller to see the museum and hoodoos, west to Banff or Canmore to poke around the mountains, south to the Crowsnest Pass and many, many trips to Turner Valley for a burger at the Chuckwagon – often looping down and over to Nanton for some antiquing before turning the car home.

(All road trips in my life need a stop at some tasty/interesting/unexpected/intriguing place to eat, obviously.)

But I haven’t done much exploring north of the city. And one thing has been on my list for a while: the Gopher Hole Museum and Gift Shop in Torrington.


When Ford Canada offered to loan me a new Fusion Sport and send me to the museum as part of their #GoFurther150 campaign, I was game. Road trip? Nice car? Stuffed gophers in display cases? Let’s do this.

Across the country, in celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation, Ford has been sending people on trips in their vehicles to see local landmarks as part of their #GoFurther150 campaign.

[Disclosure: I was given a gas card to offset travel costs, plus Ford paid the $2 admission fee at the museum for myself and a friend.]

Iphone synced, music filling the car, we slipped north on the highway and then east over to Torrington, testing out the sport mode, which makes the car more responsive and adjusts torque and engine sound. (Confession: I also totally tried out the seat warmers/air conditioners – cooling! – heated steering wheel and the lane assist, which, after a few tests, prompted the car to suggest I pull over because I might be tired.)

Version 2

For 21 years, the gopher museum has attracted visitors from around the world – and more than its fair share of controversy when PETA inevitably protested its opening, to which the museum responded with a note that they could “get stuffed” – to view the dioramas of daily life in the community featuring taxidermied gophers.

Volunteer fire gophers, Silver Willows Seniors’ Club gophers, gophers visiting the local Pizza n’ More Eh and gophers on dates. All the background art for each of the dioramas was done by local artist Shelley Barkman, while a retired carpenter built the cabinets and local women dressed the gophers in their little outfits, right down to an RCMP gopher in red serge.


Dale Heinz, a taxidermist in nearby Didsbury, had the task of getting the gophers display ready.

(OK, they’re actually Richardson Ground Squirrels, if you want to get technical – and there was a copy editor at the Herald who always wanted to get technical on that front – but for the sake of consistency, I’m going with gophers here. After all, that’s what the museum calls them.)

The one-time village opened the museum, capitalizing on the numerous gophers in the area, as a way of drawing in tourists. Judging from the pins on the map that visitors have used to mark their homes, it has attracted people from all over.


The museum is open for four months a year – June 1 to the end of September, though they will open outside of those dates for visitors who call or email – and sees about 6,000 visitors each season.

(We were a couple of days early, but they opened for us and a couple who had initially been disappointed to learn it was closed.)

The whole hamlet of Torrington has embraced the gopher. Fire hydrants are painted like the small creatures in outfits and there’s a statue along the highway denoting the community mascot.



And so, with the museum finally checked off my list of things to see in Alberta, it was time to seek something to eat.

Never one to skip a chance to take secondary highways, we took the long way around to Bowden, circling up to Innisfail along ribbons of road undulating over the foothills and then down the QEII to the Starlite Diner Car – another landmark that’s long been on my list.


The diner was bustling for a Thursday afternoon, parking lot full of tourists and truckers who wanted to stop for a chance to eat at the retro-styled diner just off the highway.

While mostly typical diner fare, the menu has an extra-terrestrial theme (as does some of the décor) with Romulan or Crop Circle salads, among other options.

It was all about the clubhouse sandwich for me and this one didn’t disappoint. Slices of real turkey, ham, cheese, a thick layer of bacon. Perfection. Also? Inordinately good fries.


We took the long way back to Calgary, heading west and then down Highway 22 through to Cochrane. (One of my road trip preferences, when possible, is to never take the same road back.) Everything was lush and green and we were able to watch the edge of a summer storm push toward the city.

Another great day of exploring.


If you go: the Torrington Gopher Museum charges $2 admission for adults, 50 cents for children under the age of 14. It’s open daily from June to September, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.


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