Mid-Week Tangent: ode to a Bavarian-themed town

Last weekend, we made our third annual trek to the town of Leavenworth. It would be more impressive if I could tell you it’s the only town where you can be served schnitzel by someone dressed in lederhosen while being serenaded by the sweet sounds of an accordion, but there are actually a surprising number of these towns scattered across North America.  Regardless, today I share my ode to Leavenworth, a town that holds a special place in my heart.

What makes it so special? Leavenworth may be the only Bavarian-themed town where you can buy a supposedly authentic stein in one shop, then walk next door to buy your toddler a trendy scarf printed with hot pink unicorns. Leavenworth may be the only Bavarian-themed town with a surprising number of pizza and Mexican restaurants which, I can only presume, is because someone falsely assumed that you can only eat so much schnitzel.  Leavenworth may also be the only Bavarian-themed village in which you can do something called “Hot Laps” which sounds dirty but is apparently some form of whitewater rafting. Leavenworth, as you can see, has a lot going for it.

What I love about Leavenworth is its unabashed kitsch and how it’s just a little worn around the edges.  Everything, including the big corporate machines like Starbucks, Subway and McDonald’s, has just a touch of Bavarian flair to make it fit into the townsite. There are twinkling icicles hanging from eavesdrops year-round.  There are more nutcracker and stein shops than you can count on two hands, even though every shop carries basically the same things.  There are two outdoor sausage haus’s directly across the street from each other, each vying for your attention with grilled meats, chilled beers and more saurkraut than you could possibly consume in an entire lifetime. Oh, and the pretzels, don’t forget the heavenly salted, oily pretzels. There are at least half a dozen places featuring schnitzel and spaetzle although, if you ask me, Andreas Keller is the only way to go (sadly they were closed this year, and I cannot express my deep dissatisfaction with our second-string choice without getting emotional).  Some even play live accordion music.  There is a gazebo in the centre of town through which peppy polka music is blasted at all hours, lending itself to craft-beer induced, spontaneous, moonlit dance breaks.

It sounds magical doesn’t it? But if you look a little more closely, you can see that all is not so magical.  The jolly Bavarian window shutters on the hotels could use a paint refresh, a sure signal that the interior is even more tired from resting on its Bavarian-kitsch laurels for decades.  The checkered tablecloths in the schnitzel haus’s are somewhat faded. The main street shops are letting the odd green mermaid into their offerings, which I assume does not fit the standard of traditional Bavarian decor (though I could be wrong as I’ve never researched Bavarian folklore). The hipsters have even landed with their sparsely-filled stores standing in stark contrast to the overstuffed traditional shops, and their brick-walled craft brewery/pizzeria that pays no homage whatsoever to Bavarian tradition within its walls, not even with a clever Bavarian pun to name one of its beers.  Most telling, perhaps, is that the tourists idling slowly down its streets do so without a twinkle in their eyes, as though they too can see the veneer of Bavarian magic is wearing thin.

It occurred to me this weekend that my love for Leavenworth is due in part to this undertone of sadness, of a town that was once lively and proudly Bavarian-themed but now gives off the impression of a couple who’s grown a little too comfortable in their relationship. No one’s trying all that hard anymore to keep things new and interesting. That probably sounds depressing, but this is the makings of nostalgia, of knowing that you can go back year after year and all your favourite haunts will still be there waiting for you. You know you can have a great grilled sausage and pretzel at the Sausage Haus and that, even though you’re not really hungry for dinner, you’ll make room for schnitzel at Andreas Keller. You’ll be sure to fit in a dinner at Los Camperos for the best prawn enchilada you’ve ever had. You’ll cram into the tiny tasting room at Dog Haus brewery and the same brewmaster will be there to greet you and dole out overly salted peanuts to fuel your drinking.  You’ll even run into the couple that you met last year on your trip to Leavenworth, the couple who also travels down year after year to partake in the same traditions, and you will warmly say hello like you are old friends, because you understand each other and your love for this Bavarian-themed town.

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Mid-Week Tangent: when you make the mistake of Googling “best new valentine’s chocolates 2018”

I should know better. I should know that the world is full of products that I will never be able to fully wrap my head around.  But sometimes I just can’t resist the temptation of typing a stream of words into Google, clicking search and falling down the rabbit hole.

This all started when I realized that it is only one week until Valentine’s day and I have yet to check out, purchase or consume any of the plethora of Valentine’s day confections out there in supermarkets these days. Alas, that had to change. I mean, what new confections might I be missing out on because I’d been too lazy to do my homework?

This is how I ended up Googling “best new Valentine’s chocolates 2018”, and that is how I came to view the entire 19 pages of Valentine’s Candy & Treats on Target’s website (sidenote: kudos to Target for so conveniently creating a sub-page exclusively for  Valentine’s treats).  I know, I know, this is mainstream grocery store chocolate, but that’s precisely what I was looking for. I want to know what Reese’s, what Dove, what M&Ms are doing to make Valentine’s special, not what some boutique chocolatier in idyllic New Hampshire countryside has churned out for the ungodly price of $75 per box.

Lucky for you, I’m about to share the most perplexing and odd of the Valentine’s candy assortment in a feature I’d like to call:

Why does this exist? 

First up, we have hot and spicy cinnamon Oreos, which I’ve pre-emptively (i.e. without having tried them) deemed repulsive based on the following:
–Cinnamon hearts are an abomination
–Flavoured Oreos never taste remotely like the flavour they presume to be
–Cinnamon hearts are an abomination (this is not a copy and paste error, it simply bears repeating)
I think we can all also agree (again, without having tried these) that there is no way in hell that they are actually hot and spicy. Moving on.

Not everything should taste like red velvet. In fact, in my opinion nothing should taste like red velvet because red velvet tastes like food coloring and, unless you’re five, that shouldn’t be appealing to you.  The flavour aside, I’m struggling to understand the tie in between kittens, Valentine’s Day, and red velvet. Kit Kat fail.

The only thing worse than cotton candy at an amusement park is cotton candy that has been trapped in a tub on store shelves likely for years because no one buys cotton candy at the grocery store.  Much like the kittens with the Kit Kat, I also don’t understand the connection between cotton candy, unicorns and Valentine’s Day, but my bigger beef is the gall of claiming it’s blue raspberry flavour. We all know that cotton candy has only one flavour: sugar. However, I do applaud the ‘wild about u’ for being gutsy enough to not even spell out the word ‘you’.

I have so many questions about this one. Are these gumballs the size of actual tennis balls? If so, are they appropriately labelled as a choking hazard? When you pop the cap open, will the canister smell like real tennis balls? Would the gumballs taste like that smell? Aside from being a game with two players, and a game which includes the scoring term ‘love’, is there anything else inherently romantic about tennis? What would the person you love think if you brought home “Love, Love Tennis Gumballs” as a representation of your undying commitment to him or her? Sadly, I will never learn the answers to these questions.


Is the Valentine’s Day chocolate equivalent to the singing Bass? I appreciate the “you’re a keeper” pun immensely, but I am not entirely sure what it says to give the one you love a chocolate fish, especially when we all know that fish is made of some seriously sub-par, off-brand chocolate. Please, I beg of you, do not give your loved one a chocolate fish even if you love puns (I’m including this last note in case my boyfriend actually reads this because he loves puns and I’d be liable to end up with one of these bad boys).

This is either chewbacca or Harry from Harry and the Hendersons. Wearing a bowtie/shirt collar combo that has no shirt attached. With a rose in his teeth. And a furry exterior. Ready to bear his soul and offer you…original beef jerky. I honestly can’t say which of these disparate facts I love the most. Unlike the pseudo-chocolate fish above, I think I’d actually like to receive this for Valentine’s Day, though I surely wouldn’t touch the beef jerky inside it with a ten foot pole. I would, however, keep the box for posterity, proudly displayed in a high traffic area of my home as a surefire conversation starter.

Did you have any clue that such wondrous Valentine’s confections were at your fingertips?  I feel as though I’ve just added so much to your lives. Now get out there, because you only have 7 days to stock up on these goodies before they’re replaced by all that Easter’s candies have to offer.

TWIR #94: Shaking it Up

Any time I travel, I find I end up shaking up my workout routine a bit.  Most of the time, this means reducing workout duration or missing a day here or there. This week, however, it just meant the return of an old favourite and moving things around within the week. The end result was a workout week that felt a little less stale. Hurrah! Let’s see what I got up to.

Saturday
Activity: planned rest day
Relevant Stats: operation-surprise-my-dad-for-his-70th-birthday successfully completed!
Observations: After a quick early morning flight, we surprised the heck out of my dad and whisked the fam out to Banff for the day.  There is nothing like fresh, mountain air to reinvigorate the spirit.  Though we didn’t get a real workout in, there was lots of walking and photo snapping, and my soul was happy so I was 100% okay with no real exercise.  I also shook up my cheat day and stayed carb and sugar free thanks to those new Starbucks egg bites (sidenote: still not sure how I feel about them and they’re odd, souffle-like texture…) and finding a lunch spot that featured many healthy options.  Somehow, I even resisted the urge to down my half pound of fudge the second I had it in my possession. Growth.

Sunday
Activity: at home strength workout
Relevant Stats: 40 min.
Observations:  We bought my dad a Sonos speaker system for his birthday and were having some issues connecting it to an older stereo system. I could explain the whole set up but who really cares? Suffice it to say I have no patience for nor experience with technological set up so I avoided the whole damn set up process by escaping to the basement for an at-home workout. We capped off the day with a lovely stroll along the Bow river, my mom’s famous home-made caesar salad and turkey pot pie, a half pound of fudge, and a belly ache. Worth it.

Monday
Activity: mini winter hike!!!!!
Relevant Stats: 5.2 km return, 295 m elevation gain
Observations: I have a smaller-than expected ice carving festival to thank for this hiking adventure. Our plan had been to check out the ice carvings in Lake Louise and then grab overpriced specialty coffees at the Chateau Lake Louise. When it became clear that the ice carvings would occupy all of 15 minutes of our time, we needed a plan B. We opted for a quick mini-hike through safe snow terrain and headed up to Mirror Lake. Though a quick and easy trail, I was left wondering why this was my first winter hike of the year.  Plus, man do I miss that nice, fluffy, dry Alberta snow.

Tuesday
Activity: planned rest day
Relevant Stats: travel day + return to the never-ending rain
Observations: As quick as we arrived, we headed back to Vancouver. And to the rain. Which never seems to end. Seriously, it has rained every day in January except for one. I’ll point out the obvious: that’s too much rain. At any rate, I’d contemplated a track workout that afternoon but, upon being greeted by torrential downpours, thought better of it and spent my afternoon meal planning, grocery shopping and doing kitchen chores instead.  Related: four-day weekends are the absolute best. For once I didn’t feel at all stressed about getting all the chores done while still fitting in fun. New goal: find a way to have four-day weekends all the time.

Wednesday
Activity: running intervals + strength
Relevant Stats: 5 min. warmup + 8 2 min. running intervals + strength
Observations: When your brand new umbrella just snaps shut unexpectedly in the pouring rain and after the world’s most painful three hours at work following a wonderfully extra long weekend that made you not want to go back to work, it can sometimes make you want to angry run.   This was one of those times. I needed to run. I craved the running. I ran at speeds I could never sustain these days, but that felt necessary to my sanity. I ran farther than I’ve run in months, and faster. And it felt freaking fantastic.

Thursday
Activity: personal training session
Relevant Stats: 60 min.
Observations: As it turns out, my anger fueled running made my SI stiff and made my hip positioning regress, so not only did I have to do prowler chest presses, but I had to do them with a new form that made them twice as hard.  Ugh. For the most part, my trainer spared me any torturous new activities, but I have to say that my arms and shoulders wanted nothing to do with any form of exercise so even the basics felt difficult.

Friday
Activity: strength training
Relevant Stats: 40 min.
Observations: I seriously contemplated bailing on my workout today, but I’m glad that I didn’t because a) it stopped raining and the sun actually came out while I was walking to the gym (!!!) and b) it turned out okay. I focused on nice, controlled exercises today to give my stiff body a break from the angry running earlier this week and the jumping in yesterday’s training session.  Now that it’s done, I feel accomplished. Nothing more should be required of me today, right? Right.

With that, the weekend is here. Even though I had a three day work week, I’m still saying a big glory hallelujah to the weekend’s arrival. Time to bring on the donuts and relaxation and chill time with friends. I may also day dream just a little bit about blue sky days and sparkling snow in the Rockies because, even though I could frolic in the snow here, I can assure you that it would not be under blue skies. Happy weekend y’all. Hope you find some sunshine, real or metaphorical, wherever you are.

Mid-Week Tangent: kid in a candy store

Look at that. Look at all that beautiful, beautiful fudge. It stretches beyond the eye can see (trust me, this photo shows only a quarter of the actual size of the display case).  This is what I was faced with on Saturday in Banff at my beloved The Fudgery .*  Can you imagine the dilemma? With so many fudges to choose from, how can a sugar addict (i.e. me) reasonably be expected to narrow her choice to just one option? It can only be described as cruel.

It’s easy to eliminate the obviously disgusting choices–hello, vanilla maraschino cherry–but beyond that the selection process becomes significantly more challenging. Do you stick with the old classic standbys like chocolate? Do you seek out some texture with chocolate walnut or Turtle? Do you throw caution to the chocolate fudge wind and go for peanut butter or maple fudge? Do you cave in to the trends and try out the salted caramel chocolate? Do you go with your old favourite, the one that you’d buy at embarrassing frequencies when you lived in Banff–the Reese’s Pieces peanut butter fudge? Ugh. Can you see my point? There are simply too many options to consider.

In the end, and after lengthy deliberation, I opted for the vanilla oreo. That classic cookies and creme was calling my name. I’ve had it before and couldn’t resist its saccharine charm.

This is what it’s like to be me. I am the actual kid in a candy store. I am still a child at heart, in awe of the sheer multitude of candy options laid out before me, simultaneously stressed and excited by the pressure of making the ‘right’ choice because who knows when I will find myself back in the candy store again?  Also like the kid in a candy store, I have yet to learn that you do not, in fact, have to eat the entire half pound block of fudge in one fell swoop. Multiple stomach aches and near-vomiting experiences have failed to teach me that lesson in the past, and I certainly didn’t learn it this weekend as I lay in agony after downing a half pounds’ worth of sugar and butter.  This is the price I must pay for being the 38-year-old kid in a candy store. And it is worth every penny.

 

*Seriously, if you are in Banff do not buy fudge anywhere other than The Fudgery. This is not a paid sponsorship. I have no affiliation with them (though I wish I did). Just trust me when I say I have sampled all the fudge to be found in Banff and theirs is the best.

Mid-Week Tangent: sitting on a year’s worth of chocolate

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you will know that I am a certified sugar addict. I know that’s not an actual certification, but it should be. If it were, I would be the most qualified for the certification than I’ve ever been for any other designation in my entire life.  I’m now imagining a world in which there was actually cachet for no other reason than love for sugar. What a wonderful world that would be…for me at least.

Sorry, I digress. My point is that I am a sugar addict. My love for sugar is widely known in my family, as well, which ensures that I receive several pounds of chocolate each year for Christmas. I’m not kidding.  I normally burn through it at a rapid pace. For once I’m not speaking metaphorically when I say that I’m usually like a kid in a candy store after the Christmas holiday, only the ‘candy store’ is the kitchen cupboard in which I store my personal chocolate stash.  My chocolate stash usually doesn’t know what hit it. I’m just in its face, every night, creating a customized (and large) chocolate sampler uniquely designed to soothe that day’s chocolate cravings.  Needless to say, chocolate typically doesn’t last long amidst these blitz attacks. The chocolate carnage is real.

This year, though, I find myself in a very different predicament. In efforts to,  you know, not give myself early diabetes and also to generally not feel like an exhausted sack of crap on the daily, I have given up sugar six days per week. Now I have just one day during which I can attack my chocolate stash like the sugar predator that I am. For the first time in my life, what used to seem like a short-term chocolate stash is starting to feel like my chocolate Everest.  Based on my new average weekly chocolate consumption, what was once weeks’ or maybe a month’s worth of chocolate at best now feels like a solid year’s worth of chocolate–maybe even longer!

I suddenly find myself facing all sorts of new problems*. Where will I store all this chocolate? How will I keep it fresh?  Should I make an inventory and prioritize consumption based on code or expiration dates? Does chocolate really even expire?  How much chocolate can a human actually consume in one day before making herself ill? Maybe most importantly: can I somehow break my problematic pattern of selfishly keeping all the chocolate to myself, something that I have struggled with since childhood, and instead learn to actually give and share?

I’m with you on this one, Joey.

The questions are never ending as my brain tries to wrap itself around the magnitude of the challenge that lies ahead for me. But I’m game to find a solution and confident that I will somehow eat my way through my impressive inventory.

*Relax, I understand that this is not, in fact, a real problem. This is what I like call dramatic effect, or artistic license, if you will. The reality is that I couldn’t be more thrilled to be loaded to the gills with chocolate options every time Saturday rolls around.  In fact, it might be one of my life dreams…

Real-Talk Thursday: how a 10-day carb & sugar bender will feel after 1.5 months of low carb living

Ah, the holidays, a time of magic, time with family and friends, festive activities, sparkly lights, and lots and lots of lots of indulgences.  I dove into holiday indulgences like it was my job after a month and a half of severely restricted sugar and carb intake. I am here to tell you how it feels to go from 0 to 100 on the sugar consumption scale which, in a word, is awful.

I believe it was around November 6th that I said a sad farewell to sugar and carbs. I was extremely diligent at first, loosely following a ketogenic approach for the first two weeks. I loosened the strings a little bit after that, reintegrating things like wine, because I’m not a savage and life without wine isn’t worth living as far as I’m concerned. Another week after that, I integrated my Saturday “cheat day”, which allowed me the occasional splurge on a donut or cake or ice cream or chocolate or…the list goes on.

For most of that time, I wasn’t entirely sure it was worth it. I just didn’t feel that much better. Then, just as we entered the week before Christmas something miraculous happened: I had energy! I felt good. I was sleeping well. I was waking up on my own, at 5:00 a.m. no less, ready to rock the day. This was uncharted territory for me, but I was willing to run with it.  Even though I felt wonderful, I had decided that Christmas would be my time to let loose, enjoy myself, and indulge in all my favourite holiday treats. This turned out to be a terrible mistake.

True to form, instead of gradually easing myself into carbs and sugar, I simply jumped into the deep end. Okay, that’s not exactly true. For the first few days at home, I kept my carb intake to a minimum. I avoided pannetone and brioche at breakfast, crackers and bread sticks at lunch, and I showed amazing restraint with baking. But then…I fell off the wagon hard.

There was dessert every day. There may have been a breakfast donut. There was sushi rice and twice-baked potatoes and daily wine and daily cider. There was afternoon chocolate. There were post-dessert chocolate ‘snacks’. It was a total shit show of sugar and carbs. If you want to know what 10 days of sheer indulgence after 1.5 months of more structured eating feels, here is what you’d have to look forward to:

–sluggishness to the max. You’d think all that sugar would give you energy to burn. It won’t. You’ll want to lay on the couch for hours on end.

–say goodbye to early mornings. Even nine hours of sleep will leave you feeling half-awake.

–say hello to feeling like garbage. It shouldn’t be a surprise, but somehow it is: eating garbage makes you feel like garbage.

–water retention! Oh the joys of barely being able to do up your boots, which you only have issues with when you’re retaining water like a champ.  You can blame it on muscular calves, but you know you’re lying to yourself.

–“puffy belly”. This is my affectionate term for the immediate and noticeable bloat that comes from sugar and wheat consumption. Your snug-fitting pants will be your first cue that ‘puffy belly’ has come for a visit.

–mind-numbing headaches. Your body isn’t going to know what hit it, so when your blood sugar levels spike dramatically, look out for some raging headaches. Nothing will make you regret chocolate like feeling as though your brain is rattling around inside your skull.

I’m back off sugar and carbs for the time being, at least six days a week. I won’t trade my cheat day for anything.  What’s clear to me after this little bender is that it’s really not worth it to go crashing back into sugar and carbs. I promise you it’s going to be a mistake. I promise you the treats won’t even taste as good as you remembered. And I really, really, really promise you that you will feel like a giant bag of garbage.

 

Mid-Week Tangent: busting through the bad economics of advent calendars

I bet you thought the holidays were over, didn’t you? Well, I’m always one to extend the holidays beyond what’s considered normal. Not only is our tree still up and lit, but we also watched a holiday movie last night, and a really bad Hallmark holiday movie at that! But that’s not what I’m here to write about today. What I’m actually here to write about today are advent calendars.

I know what you’re thinking. I’ve written about advent calendars before. I lamented the fact that I couldn’t find any, and then the universe delivered not one but five!!!! But throughout all of this, neither me nor my boyfriend could shake the bad economics of advent calendars. Regular retail price for a Lindt advent calendar ranges from $11.99-13.99 CDN. For 128 g. Even steeply discounted at end of season they’re around $7 CDN. If you do the math, that’s anywhere from $6.24 to $10.92 per 100g. No one in her right mind would pay that much for chocolate. Sure there’s festive packaging, but let’s not pretend that’s worth the extra coin.

We knew something needed to change, but our challenge was that we love the idea of advent calendars. We love daily surprises during the holiday season. I also have a deep and passionate love for chocolate. Given all of this, what were we to do?

Boom. We got ourselves a fillable advent calendar. No more paying exorbitant fees for chocolate. No more putting up with whatever assortment the calendar comes with (I’m looking at you, Lindt calendar, wasting my time with your boring milk chocolate squares and seemingly eliminated my beloved white chocolate Lindors!). No more dealing with the threat of advent calendars selling out. No more worrying about retail pricing whims getting in the way of a “good” deal.

Next year, the power falls squarely back in our hands. Next year, we will fill this calendar with any brand of chocolate we so desire, at prices that don’t carry a hefty sticker shock. Hell, we may even go crazy and stuff those slots with small ornaments or other festive surprises. The sky is the limit now. Sorry, Lindt, while I have enjoyed your advent calendars for the last few years, the economics of them are simply ridiculous. We’ve found a more cost effective way to indulge in a month’s worth of holiday spirit. If only I didn’t have to wait 332 days to give our new calendar a try…