Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Canada, cousins and cake

In the 1960s my Aunt Kate emigrated to Alberta, Canada. Every other year she would send her daughters back to the UK to teach them what an English summer was like so they would understand why she'd left. This meant that every other year I had a playmate who was just my age - cousin Sarah - and for all that we grew up thousands of miles apart, we've always been close.
Me and Sarah aged 5, 7, 9 and 11 with our sisters Virginia and Lucy, and Grandad
Aged 14. Ew. 
Aged 17. Look! A new cousin. Helen
My long-held dream was that my parents send me on a reciprocal visit to Alberta but they refused, citing lack of funds. Also my dad put me off a bit by telling me that in Canada you had to say everything in English and then in French because it's a bilingual country (I believed him). For all that I've visited the cousins several times in Toronto, I'd still never visited their childhood home in the prairies.




The prairies - bright, cold and flat.
This April the planets aligned: Sarah had been selected for the prestigious Citadel/Banff Centre Professional Theatre Program and was then in Edmonton performing in The Penelopiad. 
Margaret Atwood's Penelopiad. For anyone who didn't think their early 20s was an ideal time to plough through 24 books of Homeric Greek, let's just say it ends badly for the maids and 12 nooses are about to be lowered 
Aunt Kate had a spare room and it was Easter, time for bucketloads of treats. Helen and I packed some much-missed English chocolate and flew out.
IMPORT                         EXPORT
The more milkybar buttons you pack in your case, the more Oh Henrys you can take home
We overlapped for a couple of days with Sarah's boys Charlie and Joey, who were quick to learn we had jelly babies too
Sarah and her husband Tim enjoying a typical Canadian breakfast - coffee in the snow
Canadians are mad keen on their coffee but they've got a surprising number of tea houses, probably because they've got the British Queen on their money which keeps reminding them to drink the stuff. I bought this tea-brewing mug at David's Teahouse for a fella back home, but was too shy to give it him and have kept it for myself. Win/win, eh? A lonely life with a nice brew. 

The best place to get a cup of tea in Canada is Tim Horton's, the ubiquitous doughnut store founded by a former hockey player. They do a steeped tea that is a good strength and means you don't have to faff on brewing your own tea and wondering where to put the soggy teabag. Why does NOBODY else offer this? The time saved allows you to put more effort into choosing from their massive array of doughnuts.


You can also order a box of little doughnuts called Timbits,  or "bits of Tim", which isn't very nice seeing as the poor man died in a car crash.
"Yeah I'll have a steeped tea and one of those things that looks like a glazed turd" 
Aunt Kate drove us out to Jasper in the Canadian Rockies, ostensibly to admire the scenery but really to enjoy some lovely massive cakes.
Look at the size of this scone, it's like a mountain!
Sticky cinnamon buns at the Bear Paw Cafe. This is what Canada excels at.
The Columbia Icefield at Jasper that feeds several glaciers. I didn't really understand how it works but I hope my small contribution helps keep them topped up
Back in Edmonton, we made the trip I always insist on in Canada and went to Dairy Queen for a Blizzard. This is like a McFlurry but much much nicer - the gimmick is to show how thick the ice cream is by turning the tub upside down. I always go for a Skor (Daim) Blizzard but was impressed by Helen's mint Oreo and have one booked in for 2015.

We got photobombed by a man on his way to mow down some former colleagues
The other actors in the Penelopiad had recommended The Duchess Bake Shop as the best bakery in Edmonton. We went twice to check if they were right and we tried nearly all the cakes as well as the cookies, shortbread, macarons and croissants. Turns out the actors were bang on - the cakes were amazing.
I was particularly pleased with my choice of the Paris-Brest cake and even more pleased to find the bakery has shared the recipe here. I swear I will make it one day.
Smile all you like, girls. I'm not sharing.
Helen and I had a great time in Canada. It was lovely to spend time with family, relax and overindulge. Thanks to everyone who treated us and especially to our very kind and generous host Aunt Kate xx




An illustrated guide to our holiday eating by Helen Hancocks










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