i remember when i first moved to calgary and overheard one of my friends suggest a drive through the mountains to “look at the larches.” the what? what a strange thing to suggest. all i knew was that i already missed the gorgeous red foliage of maples turning in the fall. crummy alberta only had yellow, and that seemed monotone and boring. why should i be impressed?

those were my thoughts for about three years, until i saw my first larch.

if you’re still confused: it’s a tree. a conifer that is native to the boreal forests of siberia and (home sweet home) canada. in the fall, the green needles turn bright yellow and then promptly fall off.

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the main issue with larch season – besides the fact that it’s so short (only a few weeks) – is that it’s a major tourist draw with only one location in mind: larch valley. while i can assume the hike would be incredible, heck it’s named after the tree for goodness sakes, i’ve never attempted it because i could only imagine how packed it would be on a late-september weekend. i’d rather not be stuck in the herd of cattle.

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the great news is there are many other places outside of the lake louise/moraine lake parking lot where you can see the beautiful trees turn blazing yellow and shine like gold in the sun. if you’re in canmore or kananaskis, their website suggests trails like: hwy 40 to highwood pass, pocaterra ridge and chester lake. if you’re in banff, parks canada suggests you check out taylor lake, saddleback, lake agnes, and healy pass.

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on sunday, i headed out for a larch hike with amanda, erin and erin’s mom. we decided to do none of the suggested hikes, but return to one of erin and mom’s favourite finds of the season: sunshine meadows.
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the approximately 10km loops takes you passed three stunning lakes and over varied terrain: inclines, decline, stairs, wooden bridges. almost immediately you cross into british columbia and complete most of your day hiking in another province. the meadows straddle the continental divide and the boundary between alberta and bc.

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amanda taught me another neat fact about larches: they grow only at approx. 2000 m elevation or above. they are a true alpine tree, which means you have to put in a little effort to find them. thankfully, the sunshine village gondola/bus takes you up part of the way. the rest of the climb was done by foot and much audible breathing.

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we decided to cap off our hike with one last lookout that took us vertical on a bum-burning climb. while the views with each leg of the switchbacks got increasingly more beautiful, it may have been a smarter path for us to take at the beginning and not after we had already conquered 10km. on tired legs – and my tired lungs – we ascended to the standish lookout, which felt like the top of the world.

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surrounded by some of the rockies’ highest peaks, the unobstructed views are beyond compare. we were literally the only four people up there and had a private bird’s eye view of the journey we just took. with the three lakes below us, and the mountain range on our sightline, it was almost possible to forget how angry my lungs were.

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i don’t do too much mountaining in the winter time, so this may be one of my last hiking adventures for the season, if not the last. i’d be okay to leave on this high.


do you know larches? what’s your favourite larch hike?

not to be confused with the british boyband; even though i did own, and often listen to, their debut self-titled album.

calgary

instead, today marks five years since i moved to calgary.

hooray!

if you asked me back then, i wouldn’t have stayed three months, but had forced myself to stay six and reevaluate after that. six months planted me firmly in one of the coldest and snowiest march’s i’ve ever witnessed, and there was no part of me that was driving back across the country in that kind of weather. i stayed put and decided to give myself six more months – that’s when my lease was up, anyway. i got to my one year anniversary with a broken leg, new internal hardware, a cast, and a shiny new set of crutches. i guess sometimes life decides to keep you in one place in funny ways.

my urge to move back to toronto has gone from hourly to about weekly, over the last five years, but it hasn’t disappeared. liking your family will do that to a person. thankfully, sister comes to visit at least once a year, and i’ve convinced dad and mom to come out twice each. now just to get my grandma out! she loves jasper and lake lousie, and i’d love to be able to experience both places with her.

i thank calgary for saving me. i left toronto in a real horrible place, as an emotionally abused, depressed, anxious 25 year old. flying solo in cowtown has given me the opportunity to work on restoring the lively and fun laura i once knew. with the help of a wide range of professionals, new friends, and a lot of fight (and tears, duh) i see her more and more often. she really likes the mountains.

living an active lifestyle full of adventure, fun, and a little sass leaves no time for grocery shopping. well, i really wish i could blame it on hiking in the rockies, trying new fitness classes around the city, going on bad dates and experimenting in my kitchen. the reality is: i just don’t enjoy grocery shopping!

enter SPUD.

spud

SPUD gets me.

they know i need to eat and that i’m busy. so they bring organic groceries, from many local farmers and producers, to my doorstep. with a few clicks of my mouse, i can put together my grocery list, browse through their “aisles” for extra goodies, pick the day i want it to arrive, and pay for everything. all from the comfort of my couch in my sweat pants.

i try not to go to the grocery store in sweat pants because: single. and you never know who you’ll accidentally push your cart into in a crowded produce section. that being said, i’ve never accidentally bumped into anyone, let alone anyone attractive and single, in the grocery store.

for my first order, i decided to stick to produce. the shelves in my fridge were bare, and my tummy hadn’t been feeling too hot. the answer to any digestive distress is always vegetables. it’s kind of magical how everything cooperates when you treat your body well.

plus, i had a craving, which has been rare lately. the cold weekend weather had me urning for spiced and hearty flavours. it always makes me think of soup, but i wanted something with texture. i knew it! i’d take all the ingredients from one of my favourite fall stews – squash and kale – and transform them.

and that’s how the kale and sausage stuffed acorn squash was was born.

squash

kale and sausage stuffed acorn squash

ingredients:

  • 1 acorn squash, halved down the middle, seeds removed
  • 8 ounces lean sausage, casings removed*
  • 1 large leek, halved and sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 cups kale, torn
  • 1/3 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • olive oil cooking spray
  • 1 tsp olive oil (optional)

directions:

preheat oven to 375°.
sprinkle squash halves with salt and pepper, coat with cooking spray.
place squash flesh side down on a foil-lined baking sheet.
bake until golden and tender, 35-45 minutes.
remove from oven, flip squash and set aside.
turn oven to broil.
in a large nonstick pan over medium heat, cook sausage, breaking into pieces, until brown. transfer to a bowl.
if the sausage has not left much fat in the bottom of the pan add optional oil.
add leeks and cook until soft, approx. 3 minutes.
add garlic and cook for 30 seconds.
add kale and toss, then add broth.
cover and cook until kale is tender, approx. 5 minutes.
stir in sausage.
divide kale-sausage filling among squash halves.
in a small bowl, combine walnuts, parmesan and panko; sprinkle over squash.
put back in over, broil until panko is golden, approx. 2 minutes.

*you can always use ground pork instead of sausage, but i like the fennel and spice flavours from sausage.

while i don’t encourage turning the broiler on in your 650 sq. ft. apartment while it’s almost 30 degrees outside, your entire space will smell amazing, and the final result is delicious. could anything ever be bad when it’s topped with cheese?

if you’re in a SPUD city use my referral code CRCAL-BRILAA to save $20 on your order.


have you tried SPUD? what’s your favourite fall dish?

thanks SPUD Calgary for making this meal possible – and thanks for the bonus blueberries. yum!