I know, this comes across as very Mothers’ Day-ish, doesn’t it? Mothers’ Day proper was bit of a bust around here, if you’re looking to hear how it went. Mike forgot, having stayed up late to watch Betty White on SNL (the MOTHER’S DAY SPECIAL), and when I told W it was Mothers’ Day his response was, “NOOO! I want it to be Daddy’s day!” (He’s in an I-don’t-love-you-I-only-love-Dad-because-he-plays-with-me-and-you-only-work-all-the-time phase, which DOESN’T HELP AT ALL.) It turns out I’m just not as gifted as Mike is at playing superheros/Star Wars/Scooby-doo. I try. I’m just not boy enough.
So yeah, no sleep-in, no coffee. Bah. I’m not a flowers and jewelry sort of mom, and I don’t even care about breakfast in bed. But I do look forward to not getting up at the break of W climbing all over my head, and then having someone go get me a coffee. When it finally kicked in he made a Tim Horton’s run, and Ben and Emily made me some pity pancakes.
But. We went for Afternoon Tea at the Banff Springs Hotel yesterday, so I can pretend that was orchestrated by Mike and W on my behalf, in honour of my most excellent motherness.
I’ve lived in Calgary since grade 2. We grew up making day trips to Banff – to ski, mostly, but in the summers to hike and for the occasional day trip. We often ate at Magpie & Stump or at the dark place with the salad bar at the top of the Sundance Mall, and always stopped at the Fudgery apres-ski to choose something for the car ride home. We stayed at the Banff Springs sometimes, which may be why I’ve developed such a strong affection for the place. (The first time we went, the story goes, my youngest sister walked through asking “where’s the king?”, because it so resembles a castle. When W was about two we went, and he nervously peeked into each room before going in, then flat-out refused to approach the wide stone spiral staircase, convinced that there was a dragon up there). I really really love the Banff Springs. Just being there makes me happy.
I’m rediscovering the fact that Banff is a little over an hour away, and enough of a change of scenery to make a regular weekend seem like a long weekend, even if you bring your blackberry and laptop with you. (Plus: you can get a lot of work done in the car if someone else is driving.) Friday afternoon we threw our stuff in the car and hightailed it out to Banff for a night at the Juniper – a newly renovated boutique hotel on the other side of the highway (turn right at the second turnoff instead of turning left into Banff) that I really liked.
The interior was modern, with wood and stone and chunks of tree turned into side tables. They had little stainless pots of Q-tips and cotton balls in the bathroom, and robes. They had nice beds with good, thick white sheets and down pillows and good blankets. And I was impressed to see so many local food products on the Bistro menu.
The highlight of breakfast was W’s stack of light yet grainy pancakes, which I recognized immediately as made from pancake mix from Highwood Crossing. They were topped with stewed apples and pure maple syrup, then dusted with icing sugar. I ate most while W wasn’t looking.
In the afternoon, we went to tea at the Fairmont Banff Springs. It was wonderful.
I’d never been. I knew they did it, but it became one of those things I had known about for so many years it just slipped by under my radar. Recently they’ve upped the experience a notch, modernizing high tea with a series of matcha tea mar(tea)nis. Apparently the infusion of matcha (powdered tea) with alcohol increases the polyphenol count considerably. Who knew? Here we are chugging quantities of green tea for its antioxidant benefits, and all we need to do is add a shot of vodka.
When you arrive for tea, the experience begins with white linens, real silverware and a stunning mountain view. Mike said as we sat down that he wished he traveled more (so do I) so that he could definitively say that this was his favourite place on earth. Not just Banff, but that particular spot – any window seat, really – in the Rundle Lounge at the Banff Springs.
Once you’ve settled into your blissful spot, they bring out a tea cart and do a little talk, educating you about their various loose teas, letting you sniff and ask questions. For the kids there’s a bubble gum tea that actually has tiny gumballs nestled in the leaves in order to infuse them with flavour. (My friend Nik has this same tea, and she brings it to events at which kids will be present, like skating parties and school plays, as an alternative to hot chocolate. In summer she chills it and serves it instead of juice. It’s caffeine-free, brilliant pink and tastes like bubblegum. How completely awesome is that?)
After you make your tea selections they go steep it and bring tall martini glasses filled with fresh fruit as a palate cleanser. Then the tea arrives in silver pots, your first cup poured tableside through a silver strainer.
There is, of course, honey and milk and lemon on offer. And then comes the tower of food. I’m not sure what W was more ecstatic about – the fact that we were going to a real tea party in a castle or the three-tiered plate that arrived at our table laden with strawberries, wee sandwiches, and two-bite cakes and tarts.
There were mini flaky croissants stuffed with egg salad, soft baguette topped with smoked salmon, ham finger sandwiches with creamy/spicy dijon, and PB&J with the crusts cut off for W (we didn’t even have to ask – although he favoured the ham and dijon). One plate up there were small crème brûlées, tiny pots of strawberry jam and real clotted cream. On top: small chocolate cakes, cream puffs, whole strawberry tarts and tiny lemon tarts with torched meringue tops.
It was like the mother ship was calling me home.
And then they brought the scones – they had to arrive separately, because they were WARM.
Mike (who had never experienced scones with clotted cream): ohmigod, are you serious? You’re kidding me. YOU’RE KIDDING ME. This is the best thing I’ve ever eaten.
Me: (Can’t talk, eating.)
Mike: If I’m ever on death row, this is what I’m choosing for my last meal. Do you have to be British?
W spent most of the time making faces in the reflective side of the teapot and mixing mad scientist potions out of his tea. Little Lord Fauntleroy, he was. Next time I’m forcing him to wear a sailor suit.
Lulled into food submission, we drove home in warm silence. W snored in the back seat, and I tried not to in the front. Best Mothers’ Day Eve ever.
And hey – I’m working on getting this scone recipe from the chef. Check back.