Thursday, 27 October 2011

The autumn reading list ...

One of the best parts about living in another country is discovering books about that country and by the country's authors.  In China, I read a lot about the history of China and discovered several (Westernised) Chinese authors whose books I really enjoyed.  It's been the same here in Canada, I'm discovering many Canadian (and American) authors whose books I'd never read before.  Here is a little selection of what I've been reading lately ...

This is a pretty well-known book in Canada.  It's a beautifully written tale exploring what it is like growing up in a Mennonite family

Another book about the Mennonites, albeit a sillier tale of a woman in her 40s returning to her Mennonite background

Obviously not a Canadian book, but one that has been on my must-read list for a while.  I loved it but after a while, the 'goodness' of the March girls got to me!

Recommended by a local librarian.  I listened to this on an audio book during my long daily commute to the ranch.  A delightful book.

Another recommendation.  A beautifully written book that is written as a letter from a dying man to his young son.

I'm not great at reading non-fiction in my downtime, so this book is perfect for me - photographs and detailed captions about Alberta and its history.

I just finished this book this morning and I'm contemplating jumping on a plane to Nepal right now.  It's a  beautiful (true) story of the 'orphans' in Nepal.

On my bedside table waiting to be read (or packed for Australia) are the following books ... 

I bought this book after seeing the movie (which I loved) and can't wait to read it.

I have to read this book as part of the Canadian Studies course I need to complete (more on that later this week)

A friend at home recommended this book and it's waiting on my Kindle for me to read on the long flight home

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Preparing for winter - raking the leaves ...

Beginning the job

This past week has seen the weather turn very chilly.  With nighttime temperatures several degrees below zero and daytime temperatures under 10 degrees, winter is on its way.  And many Canadians are spending their weekends outside doing the last few jobs before the snow sets in for several months.  One of those jobs is raking and bagging the autumn leaves so that the ground is bare before the snow arrives.  Why?  Apparently if the leaves stay on the ground, they go mouldy and kill the grass after a long winter of heavy snow on top.  So today I decided to practice being a Canadian and get to work raking and bagging the leaves.  We only have one big tree in our backyard, but there were still plenty of leaves to rake up - 6 bags full to be exact.  I managed to work up quite a sweat whilst doing the job, stripping off layers as I went.  The next Canadian job this week?  Prepare for Halloween - buy some lollies for the trick or treaters, decorate the front yard, find a costume to wear and bake some scary treats.

Nearly there

All done!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Banff Springs Hotel ...

Banff Springs Hotel from Tunnel Mountain (taken a few weeks ago)

A friend of ours held her 40th birthday party in Banff this past weekend and was kind enough to organise a group rate at the Banff Springs Hotel, the original hotel in the Rockies, built to accommodate the rich who travelled across Canada on the Canadian Pacific Railway.  It is a spectacular hotel in an even more spectacular location and we were incredibly excited to have the opportunity to stay there.

The view from our room

And from the other direction

We arrived nice and early so we could make the most of the facilities.  As we were checking in, we noticed a historical tour about to start, so we jumped at the chance to learn a little more about the hotel.  The hotel has a fascinating history since it first opened in 1888.  Did you know that the hotel was originally built backwards?  This meant that guests looked into the side of a mountain, whilst the kitchens and the staff quarters had the million dollar view!  Over time, however, the hotel has been rebuilt, this time in the right orientation.

Our room

What a view from the pool!

After an academic hour, we headed to the heated outdoor pool, which is much like the Banff Hot Springs (which are just up the road from the hotel), where we bobbed about until we turned into prunes and it was time to prepare ourselves for a night on the town in Banff.

A male deer enjoys the green, green grass

Spray River

The night out was a lot of fun.  C and I began the evening with champagne in the Rundle Lounge at the hotel, feeling very posh and sophisticated.  Which didn't last for long as we joined the others on a Banff pub crawl.  About 25 people turned up for A's birthday, meaning that it was quite the group to get around Banff as we launched from one pub to the next.  We left at the fairly sedate time of 1.30am.

Spray River meets the Bow River
Pretty patterns in the ice

The next morning, after a late breakfast at the hotel, C and I wandered down to the Spray River, following it along to the Bow Falls and then walking all the way to downtown Banff, before turning around and walking back.  It wasn't quite a hike, which is why we would normally head to Banff, but on a cold, clear morning, it was the perfect thing to fix a foggy head from the night before.

Rainbow colours off the Bow Falls

Such a beautiful location

A stay at the Banff Springs Hotel is definitely recommended.  If you're coming from outside Alberta, it obviously has the charm of the Rockies, but if you're a local and used to only going to Banff for a day trip (it's only about 1.5 hours from Calgary), then it feels somewhat decadent to actually stay the night, especially at the legendary Banff Springs Hotel.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Procrastinating and baking ...

I'm in the middle of writing my last assignment for the coursework component of my Masters.  It's a pretty boring assignment (an analysis of a bunch of qualitative research studies) so I've also been taking the time to master the art of procrastination ... in the form of baking.  A month or so ago, I discovered the website of Teresa Cutter, Australia's 'Healthy Chef'.  I've always admired her approach to food - an 80/20 approach (eat well 80% of the time, treat yourself 20% of the time) - and I'm loving experimenting with some of her recipes.  So far, I've tried (and enjoyed) these tasty concoctions ... 

Protein Fudge Cookies

330 g raw whole almonds
60g vanilla protein powder
16 fresh dates, pitted
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 tablespoon natural vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground  cinnamon
coconut for rolling

Throw almonds into the food processor with cinnamon, protein powder and cocoa then process until the mix looks crumbly.
Add dates, vanilla extract then process again until the mix starts to come together.
Add a splash of water if you need to so that mixture is soft and forms a soft ball.
Form into 14 decent sized balls.
Roll in coconut and store in the fridge until you feel like a snack or quick meal on the run.
Store in the fridge for upto 4 weeks if they last that long.

The World's Healthiest Chocolate Chip Cookie

150 g almond meal
50 g  grape seed  or macadamia nut oil
50 g honey (2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon vanilla bean extract
50 g good quality dark chocolate, or raw cacao nibs
Combine the first 4 ingredients then add the dark chocolate and form into a dough. 
Add a few tablespoons of water if mix is a little dry.  
Using a small ice cream scoop or spoon form into 10 cookies.   
Press onto a baking tray lined with a sheet of baking paper.  
Bake in a low 150 C oven for 20 – 30 minutes until golden.  
Cool completely before devouring.
Makes 10 cookies.

Oatmeal and Honey Scones

2 1/2 cups rolled oats  +  1/2 cup extra for rolling
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed (linseed)
1/2 teaspoon bicarb soda
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
zest from 1 orange
1 ripe banana
1 cup fresh dates ( pitted and halved)

Preheat your oven to 180 C. (160 C FAN FORCED)
Combine 2 1/2 cups of oats,  honey, oil, cinnamon, orange zest, vanilla, banana and bicarb into a food processor.
Mix for about 15 seconds in the food processor until the scone mixture comes together to form a soft dough. ( now you can also do this by hand, but it will take you a good 5 minutes of mixing and squishing the dough until it comes together)
Add the dates last of all and mix through by hand.
Spoon the scone dough onto a board coated with the rest of the rolled oats and cover the outside of the dough with the oats.
Flatten down slightly and cut into rounds.  You should get 8 rounds.
Place onto a baking tray lined with baking paper and allow to rest for 15 minutes.
Bake for 20 minutes until golden.
Remove from the oven and cool.
Enjoy alone or with a little ricotta,  honey or whole fruit jam.

Detox Energy Salad

150 g mixed leafy greens
1 bunch broccolini or asparagus lightly steamed
1/2  avocado
10 g pumpkin seeds
10 g sunflower seeds
10 g walnuts
20 g goji berries
40 g wakaeme seaweed (rehydrated in cold water for a few minutes)
10 g  ground flax seed (linseed)

Arrange the salad leaves into serving bowls. Lay over the broccolini, seaweed, avocado and sprinkle over the seeds + goji berries.
Serve with the below dressing.

Green Dressing
1 bunch parsley leaves
1 bunch mint leaves
zest and juice from 1 lemon
cold pressed olive oil, flaxseed or walnut oil

Make the green dressing by combining all the ingredients into a high speed blender like a VitaMix and process until smooth. 
Season with a little fresh ground pepper. 
Pour a little over the salad just before eating and enjoy.

All of these recipes are incredibly easy to make (read - almost impossible to screw up) and super duper tasty.  Right now, I'm off to make some more of of the oatmeal and honey scones so I have a tasty treat when I get back from my run (another healthy source of procrastination!)

Monday, 17 October 2011

A Sunday bike ride ...

 C loves riding bikes, especially in the mountains.  Me, I do not.  I like riding bikes, but preferably if they are a lovely step-through bike with a basket, a bell and no hills involved.  I mean, I loved riding my bike in China but there were 9 million other people on bikes too, so it felt a little bit safer.  Not to mention I had a lovely orange step-through bike with a basket and a bell!

 So, it took some coaxing on C's part to get me out on his mountain bike around Calgary on the weekend.  But, surprisingly, I loved it.  Whilst I didn't have the basket or the bell, there was not a single hill in sight.  We cycled around a part of the Bow River that I've never been to because to run it (and be able to run a loop across the river) is too far (or maybe I'm too lazy).  I was surprised to see so many people out and about on a cold Sunday afternoon, but the brisk wind was very refreshing and it was lovely to share some light exercise with C.

Downtown from the river pathway

After enjoying myself so much, I've had a wave of inspiration and am contemplating purchasing a bike of my own (one with a basket and a bell and in a pretty colour of course) this week.  So, stay tuned, I may be the proud owner of a bicycle later this week!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Busy ... but lazy ...

I've been super lazy on the blogging front this past week.  And it's not because I haven't been doing anything worth writing about.  I've done lots of interesting things.  And it's not because I've been working too hard.  Because I haven't - I'm on holidays.  So, I guess it's just that I've been lazy.  Briefly, here's what I've been up to ...

An 'old' Main Street at Heritage Park

  • Seeing 'Ova', the latest Cirque du Soleil offering.  Wow.  It was my first time to a Cirque show and it didn't disappoint.  

  • Visiting Heritage Park, an 'old' historical village which is a little bit like Sovereign Hill for the Victorians in the crowd, but not as fun or authentic.

Old fashioned trains at Heritage Park

  • Visiting the Calgary Zoo and oooing and ahhhing over the size of the Grizzly Bear's claws and realising that, no, I really don't need to see one of these whilst hiking.

  • Running around the river and kicking up the autumn leaves.

Check out the views of the mountains from this Heritage Park ride!

  • Researching Westie breeders and dreaming of a puppy.

  • Battling many Canadian bureaucratic agencies.

  • Eating and drinking too much at two Thanksgiving dinners.  Yummo.

  • Taking in a Wordfest event in downtown Calgary.  We saw 5 authors speak in a literary/musical event which was an odd combination.  

  • Procrastinating about starting my last coursework assignment for my Masters.

  • Buying books online to take back to Australia (they are SO much cheaper here).

  • Going on weekend drives and bike rides with C.

  • Walking into town and working out at the YMCA.

  • Looking forward to heading back to Australia to see family and friends.

Now I know that this is an incredibly lazy blog entry, but I will aim to write more over the next few weeks, including some more detailed entries about some of the above events.  Until then, a cup of tea and the weekend papers await me on the couch ...

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Cowgirl for a day ...

On Friday, it was the annual Calgary Stampede President's Cattle Drive which has been held on my boss' ranch for many years.  C and I were lucky enough to be invited along on the cold and wet ride that was the 2011 cattle drive.  Dressed in many layers and with countless cups of hot chocolate with Baileys along the way, we stayed warm and moved the cows from their summer home to their winter home.  Having the opportunity to be part of a cattle drive is a unique and special Albertan experience and once I finish working with the family, I am going to greatly miss the opportunity to participate in such events.
Getting ready to ride in the rain
Heading out to round up the cattle
Herding the cows towards the road

And up through the bushes

Along the long, wet road

First break of the day - hot chocolate and Baileys anyone?

Typical North American icon (yellow school bus) mingles with the typical Albertan icon (cattle and horses)

Wrong way!

Beautiful fall colours, what a shame it was too cloudy to see the Rockies

The end is in sight (and so is the rain)

Arriving in their winter home

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Last day of work ...

Today marks the end of another period in my life - life as a teacher at Rocky Mountain Ranch 'school'.  It has been a satisfying, challenging and mostly enjoyable experience being a home-school teacher in rural Canada and I'm truly grateful for the experiences that I've been lucky enough to share with this family.  The adventures with the family will continue for another couple of months in Australia, but not here at this beautiful Canadian property.

I've been living in my old place on the ranch this week since C is in the US on business (and the 5 minute commute on foot has been much appreciated!) and I've been making the most of country life.  The scenery at this time of the year is stunning with the autumn colours lighting up the foothills.  I've been outside running each day after work and loving the clean country air (and the workout that the hills provide!)
My last day at work has begun well.  I was surprised to arrive at school this morning to see the classroom draped in tinsel and a huge bunch of flowers sitting on my desk.  The kids and I are seizing the day as one of celebration and fun - finishing off a big project (a virtual trip to Italy in preparation for the kids' upcoming real trip to Italy) and then heading out for lunch and a movie.  

While it's the end of an important part of my life, I have much to look forward to - lots of fun events before I head back to Australia in 3 weeks, spending lots of time with my wonderful family in Australia and then returning to life in Canada, this time as an unemployed teacher working on my Masters thesis.  After all, this blog is about my next adventure, so bring on the next one!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Looking for a puppy ...

Lexie hoping that she looks cute enough to come inside the house

 Since I'm making a (semi) permanent move to Canada for love, one of my 'conditions' is that I can have a dog.  It's all about compromise isn't it?  I move to Canada and C welcomes a dog into our life?!  So, C has agreed and we've begun the process of finding a breeder from whom to purchase a West Highland Terrier (aka Westie).  My brother owns a Westie, little Lexie (above) and over the years, I've been lucky enough to dog-sit her many times.  She is the sweetest, funniest little thing.  On the weekend, we visited a breeder north of Calgary and we both fell in love with the puppies and adult Westies we saw.  We could have easily taken one (or more!) home then and there.  But, we need to wait until I get back from Australia in February.  In the meantime, we'll have a look at other breeders and make our final decision before I go back to Australia.  I am ridiculously excited about getting a dog and sharing that experience with C.