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SUMMER EXPLORER: Tips and tricks for picnicking in the mountains

From charcuterie to foraging fresh salad greens, the Bow Valley has you covered

It’s picnic season.

And what a better place to have lunch outdoors than in the beautiful Bow Valley.

Thanks to some innovative thinking amid a pandemic from restaurants and business owners across the valley, locals and visitors have a variety of options to choose from to create their own one-of-a-kind picnic pack.

UP YOUR CHARCUTERIE GAME

Thanks to shops like Valbella Gourmet Foods, Rusticana Grocery, Le Chocolatier, Le fournil Bakery, JK Bakery and the Wine Cellar, there are endless options to pick up locally sourced or made meats, cheeses, breads, chocolate and wine to create a picture-perfect (and delicious) board to take anywhere.

Sitting down with Valbella Gourmet Foods deli supervisor Lean Hancock, the charcuterie pro gave several tips and tricks to get ready.

“You need your thinly sliced meats, paté, which makes a great centre, a couple of cheeses and crackers or baguette,” Hancock said.

Some sliced meat best sellers from the shop include the prosciutto, the coppa or bison, which comes in two version. Air-dried meats are an easy go-to because they don't need to be refrigerated and last for months, which also makes the takeaway snack ideal for hikes and backcountry camping, she said.

Pepperoni sticks are also popular due to their easy pack nature, and if customers are not sure if they want to commit to a full pack, or want to try the different varieties, Valbella's also sells the sticks in singles.

“We also have sausage rings, which stay good for packing during a hike, and I love adding chimney sticks to my charcuterie board … if you slice on an angle it makes for a good looking charcuterie,” she said.

The biggest tip for a great looking board, Hancock said, is to have a centre meat, like paté, then roll the thinly sliced meats for easy picking up and snacking. Continue to decorate your edible canvas with the cheese and crackers, while fruits and jams also make a great addition. But don’t worry about it looking too organized, the best platters are the ones with the easiest access to the food and a mix of everything.

And for those who decide to make their platters last minute, have no fear, as the shop also has plastic utensils and boards available for purchase. As for slicing, Hancock says a simple pocket knife will do.

Not sure you are up to the task? 

The shop also offers small charcuterie platters, available on Fridays while supplies last, and will be launching a full-sized board sometime this month with price points starting at $35.

Hancock, who recently spent four months in Australia after the lockdown, said she is happy to be back as she had a hard time finding the same products down under.

“We have a variety here, like our Landjaeger and Swiss hunter sausage, wild boar pine nut salami … when I was in Australia I couldn’t find the same meats – we have really good quality here,” she said. 

MAKE-YOUR-OWN TAKEAWAY KITS

Now that restaurants have reopened, there are severals options to grab a quick takeout lunch to eat in the park. Or if you want to get fancy in the great outdoors, some places are offering, Make-Your-Own kits with all the ingredients ready – you just need a fire and a pan.

Crazyweed Kitchen Chef Eden Hrabec sat down to talk about her “alternative dining” inspiration and what is available to locals and visitors.

After the kitchen closed due to the provincial government restrictions, Hrabec said she brainstormed ways to give locals an alternative dining experience. People could no longer go to restaurants, but missed their favourite dishes, so the local chef decided to create meal-kits. 

“I think the boredom was getting to people with not a lot to do so I wanted to give them an alternative with the completed meal kits … people still had the time and we made it kind-of easy [to cook at home],” she said.

The kits, which change week-to-week, range in a selection of some local favourites such as a steak kit, pasta kit, curry kit and Thai chicken kit. They range from easy to advanced if someone wanted to bring a propane camping stove to set up in a park or along a hike.

Hrabec said the steak one would be the easiest to bring along as it would only require the stove, a pan and some olive oil for the ingredient in the box, which includes broccolini.

The Thai chicken and curry kits are also ideal for mid-day or afternoon picnics and the chicken and sauces cook in a pan and the rice can be re-heated in tinfoil over a fire. 

The most tricky dish would be the pasta kit, as the chorizo sausage needs to be fried and the pasta needs to be boiled before adding the sauce, but Hrabec said it is doable for those up to the challenge.

If camping stovetop cooking is not your style, there is a curbside menu available with several hot and ready takeaway options including pickle brine fried chicken and an ahi tuna poké bowl.

“We made our menu quick and easy to go and it is all packed in eco-friendly boxes,” she said.

While the restaurant is open for evening dining, the chef encourages locals and visitors to try the curbside lunch to enjoy on the patio, or in one of the many great local parks.

DON'T FORGET THE GARNISH

Once you have your goodies and are ready to eat in the great outdoors, local chef and Tapas Canmore restaurant owner Tracy Little said there are several great easily-identifiable garnishes grown in the outdoors.

While harvesting is absolutely illegal in the Rocky Mountain National Parks, in Kananaskis Country it is allowed with permission from a park ranger, and within Canmore it is fair game as long as you are not trespassing onto private property.

“If I have a picnic, or I’m hiking, I usually try not to bring lettuce and garnish on purpose,” Little said with a laugh, noting it forces her to forage for her own tasty sides.

Some easily identifiable greens include yarrow and prairie fire flowers that can be good for tea; pineapple weed that can be thrown in a salad or eaten fresh; horsetails, which cooks like asparagus; and wild rose petals that can go in salads. 

Little does warn new-time foragers, though, to be careful where they are picking, as along roadside and heavily trafficked areas can have contaminated edibles. 

“Alleyways are fair game, but avoid spots that look like it's regularly peed on by dogs,” she said.

Growing up with a dad who was in forestry, Little said she learned to explore young and expanded her knowledge when she worked in a northern Saskatchewan Lodge.

“I worked at Milton Lake Lodge, near the Northwest Territories and it was a lot harder to get groceries there, so to make life interesting I started foraging and finding out what I could and couldn’t eat,” she said.

While there are several websites for beginners, the best way to learn is to find a guide to show you what is edible and what is not. Some greens can also be mistaken for others that are not edible, Little noted, so when in doubt, leave it out.

“If anyone is interested, I can take people out and teach them what it edible around here … I think people need to be more aware of what if free and local,” she said.

The last reminder is anything freshly foraged needs to be washed, which can be easily done with a little container and some water.

“Just to get the bugs out,” Little said.

WHERE TO FIND LOCAL FOODS

• Rusticana Grocery – 801 Eighth St., Canmore

• Valbella Gourmet Foods – 114 Elk Run Boulevard, Canmore

• Le Chocolatier – 701 Benchlands Trail

• JK Bakery – 1514 Railway Ave. and 1000 Seventh Ave., Canmore as well as 229 Bear St., Banff

• Le fournil Bakery – 1205 Bow Valley Trail

• Red Gables Deli – 707 Spring Creek Drive, Canmore

TAKEOUT

• An Edible Life – 112 Kananaskis Way, Canmore

• Communitea Cafe – 1001 Sixth Ave., Canmore

• Crazyweed Kitchen – 1600 Railway Ave., Canmore

• Mountain Juice Cafe –837 Eighth St., Canmore

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

• Lions Park – 1001 15th St., Canmore

• Quarry Lake Park – Spray Lakes Road, Canmore

• Riverside Park – River Road, Canmore

• Old Camp – 1A Highway

Summer Explorer is an in-paper feature section produced by the Rocky Mountain Outlook, Cochrane Eagle, Airdrie City View and Okotoks Western Wheel.