Archive for February 2012

Dare to Disconnect

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With so much commanding our attention these days, it’’s easy to feel like we’re drowning in a tidal wave of messages that arrive daily through our phones, computers and personal devices.

At some point, it seems the only way to catch a break is to simply walk out into the wilderness, and away from the constant technological distractions.

A few weeks ago, I went on a backcountry ski trip and enjoyed two solid nights at Bow Hut and three days of skiing under a brilliant blue sky. This trip was particularly wonderful because it provided a much-needed break from the endless notifications that inundate my daily life.

The nothing that a backcountry ski can’t cure. Here we are on the Wapta Icefield. Photo courtesy Meghan J. Ward.

I was reminded of the importance of temporarily disconnecting from the “real” world. Of course, it doesn’’t take a backcountry trip to do this. A walk in the park, run by the river or snowshoe through forested trails will provide ample opportunity to go ping-free for a few hours.

In order to truly disconnect I believe we need to either spend some time alone or surround ourselves with people who can also turn the power off.  By heading into the backcountry, I was forced to completely disconnect because I didn’’t have cell coverage anyway. But, the people around me were also forced to leave their gadgets in the car, so no one was scrolling through their smartphones as we sat around the wood stove.

The following weekend we headed up to Peyto Hut and up Trapper Peak. Photo courtesy Meghan J. Ward.

Just a few hours or days spent away from our devices gives us the perspective and discernment we need when we choose to connect again. By fully engaging in our time spent in nature –- breathing in the fresh air, watching a tree sway in the wind or the way the snow drifts across the ground –- we’’ll stay in the present moment and away from the perpetual “”To Do List.”” If fact, when we let go of all the nitty-gritty things that command our attention, we are better able to prioritize and discern what is important. The time we take to refresh our spirits will make us much more productive when it’’s time to enter the game again.

Nothing earth-shattering happened back home during my three days of backcountry disconnection. And even if something truly momentous had happened, I think I would have been more prepared to handle whatever came my way, recharged by my time in the wilderness.

Dare to disconnect yourself from the daily grind and engage in a world that exists technology-free all the time: the great outdoors.

On that theme, check out Operation Unplugged, where self-professed techno-addicts are unplugging and experiencing Canada’s wilderness. 

Wild Waldorf Salad

 Our Queen of Vegetarian Goodness, Mystee, has done it again with this easy-to-make recipe for Wild Waldorf Salad. We suggest preparing a batch for the week ahead: you’ll be happy you did when you open that fridge door! – Highline

Wild rice is actually a seed from a marsh grass, rather than a grain. It is far superior nutritionally to regular rice and lends itself perfectly to this salad with a creamy cashew dressing.


Photo courtesy Mystee Maisonet.

  • 1 cup wild rice
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 3 green onions, sliced
  • 3 small organic granny smith apples, cored and chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries or raisins
  • 1/2 cup pecans or walnuts (toasted or left raw, your choice)
  • 1 cup chopped italian flat leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup raw cashews soaked in a little water for an hour or so
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/3-1/2 cup water
  • 3/4 tsp himalayan salt


Cook the wild rice in plenty of water for about an hour until tender. Drain and set aside.

Drain and combine the cashews in a blender with lemon juice, water and salt. Blend until very smooth adding additional water to achieve a mayonnaise-like consistency. Toss with the cooked wild rice and the remaining ingredients. Season to taste with additional fresh lemon juice, salt and fresh cracked pepper.

This salad stores well in an air tight container in the fridge for about four days.

Raw Chocolate Bliss Balls

We would love to see how these Bliss Balls turn out in your kitchen. Send us your delicious photos at info[at]  – Highline

Photo courtesy Mystee Maisonet.

Cocoa in its raw form has been named one of the top ten nutrient-dense foods on the planet. Most natural foods stores carry the raw ingredients to make your own raw chocolate. If you’re in a pinch, good quality dark chocolate can also be melted and used to coat these truffles.


15 pitted fresh dates

3 Tbsp of raw cacao (cocoa) powder

1 cup raw organic almonds

2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1/3 cup of organic unsweetened shredded coconut

1 recipe of raw chocolate or 100 g. of good quality commercial organic dark chocolate


Photo courtesy Mystee Maisonet.

In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, grind the raw almonds to a fine powder. Add the dates, cacao, vanilla and coconut and process for about 2 minutes. Depending on the freshness of the dates, you may have to add a tablespoon or two of water with the motor running until the mixture begins to form a big sticky ball. Roll into 1-inch balls.

Place the balls in a sealed container in the freezer for about 1 hour before coating in chocolate. Freezing the balls first encourages the chocolate to set faster. This is essential if you are coating them with raw chocolate otherwise you end up with a puddle of chocolate at the bottom of each truffle.

To make the raw chocolate

1/2 cup raw cacao butter, slivered

1/2 cup raw cacao powder

1/4 cup agave syrup or raw honey

coconut sugar, cinnamon, or raw cacao nibs to decorate if desired

To melt the cacao butter, fill a fairly large bowl about 1/4 full with boiled water. Place a smaller stainless steel bowl in the hot water and then place the slivered cacao butter in the smaller metal bowl. Whisk gently until melted. Whisk in the cacao powder and the sweetener until very well combined. A few at a time, roll the frozen balls in the warm melted chocolate and then place on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Decorate with a sprinkle of coconut sugar, cinnamon, or raw cacao nibs if desired before the chocolate sets. Store in the freezer until ready to serve.

Learning the Zen of Paper and Pen

Zentangle is not what you’re thinking (a bunch of Bow Valley yoga instructors playing “Twister,”right?). Nice try, though.

Zentangle is a relatively new art form that is considered by its practitioners to be an “artistic meditation.” Using simple dots, lines, patterns and a little imagination, even self-declared “left-brainers” can create beautiful drawings like the one below. It’s easy to learn, highly addictive, and artistically rewarding.


The typical “Zentangle” is created on a 3″x 3″ square paper, using a fine black pen. This is the TRUE method, but I like to think that you can apply the concepts of flowing pattern and meditation to pretty much anything once you get going. Case in point; collected rocks, picture frames, old computer monitors… no smooth-surfaced object is safe at my house anymore (see below).

I recently attended a class taught by Val Kildaw and Kathleen Henderson, a couple of Canmore based Zentangle instructors (the only ones of their kind in Alberta). Val and Kathleen have received their instructing certification from Zentangle masters, Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas, in Boston, MA. Keen to share their new found passion with the people of the Bow Valley, they are now offering custom private and group classes. To schedule a class or to find out more, you can peruse their website.

If you are convinced you don’t have an artistic bone in your body, the process of Zentangle will prove you wrong. The beauty of it is that absolutely anyone can create beautiful and unique art pieces with minimal effort and maximum reward.

Photo + rock art by Kristy Davison.


9 Tips for Capturing Northern Lights

Dark skies, cold nights and a lack of light pollution mean you’’ve got a great chance of seeing northern lights, or aurora, in the Canadian Rockies. If you’’ve ever been wondering how to capture them, here are some tips from local photographer, Paul Zizka, who has photographed the northern lights throughout Canada. – Highline

With the solar maximum of an 11-year cycle approaching fast, “viewing the Aurora” will undoubtedly be on many people’’s bucket list. Some of the lucky, sleepless ones won’t be happy just looking; they’ll try to freeze the rare moment in-camera. Here are some things to keep in mind when you’’re trying to photograph this elusive subject.

Northern lights over Lake Minnewanka, Banff National Park. Photo by Paul Zizka.

1. Check the Forecasts. Yes, there are forecasts for northern lights activity and this one (from the Edmonton area) is my favourite. You might as well check the weather forecast while you’re at it because there’’s no point going out if the cloud cover won’t let you see anything.

2. Location, Location, Location. Finding a spot that is free from light pollution and that offers an open view to the North is key.

3. Got Your Gear? For lenses, use the fastest, widest lens you can get your hands on. If possible, it is best to use a body that deals well with noise at higher ISOs, such as the Canon 5D Mark II.

4. Quick, There It Is! Now, Which Settings? Shooting the aurora requires surprisingly short exposures. Anything beyond 30 seconds is likely to blur the detail of the curtains. A good place to start is to use your widest aperture, an ISO of 400 or 800, and an exposure time of 10-15 seconds and to readjust from there.

You can’t beat Canada’s Northwest Territories for the show they put on. Photo Paul Zizka.

5. Composition is Key. Anybody can go out on a clear night, set up a tripod, aim at the sky and come home with a colourful shot. However, it is often the composition that makes a northern lights image stand out. Find one that is pleasing to the eye while waiting for the lights to show up.

Arctic ice meets northern lights on Baffin Island, Nunavut. Photo Paul Zizka.

6. Stick Around. Even when they’re in the forecast, the lights are unpredictable and can come and go suddenly several times within an hour. It’s well worth staying at your chosen location for at least an hour.

7. Bundle Up. Attempting to photograph northern lights often means a lot of standing around and waiting. Brings some extra layers to keep warm as you enjoy the show.

8. Focus It Right. It is not always easy to get sharp aurora images due to focus problems in low-light environments. This is an instance where being familiar with hyperfocal distances can be very helpful. Otherwise, try manually focusing on infinity.

9. Use the Moon. If the lights are strong enough, you don’t necessarily need a moon-free sky to go shooting. In fact, a moon that is 25% full can provide just enough light to beautifully illuminate the foreground without getting in the way of the aurora.

Now You’re Cooking With Fats!

Know when to use the right fats in the kitchen.

Back in the summer I decided I’’d had enough of the astronomical prices of odour-repelling exercise clothes, and purchased a cheap, no-name brand exercise t-shirt. It didn’’t have special stitching, or unicorn hair woven into it, or a charcoal absorbent layer – it was just a green shirt. That weekend I wore it while running up Ribbon Creek, one of my favourite trails. After about 5 kilometres, I smelled like a kill site: flowers were wilting, hikers were feeling light-headed, and ravens were gathering close. Very quickly, I learned that not all exercise gear is created equal.

When cooking with fats, the same rule applies. Some fats can handle heat and some should stay on the shelf. It’’s important for a kitchen master to know when to get safflower or hazelnut oil into the mix.

Not So Radical, Dude!

Check out the handy chart below to find out which fats can be heated, and how much. Photo courtesy John Reid.

The wrong choice can lead to some unhealthy results. That’’s because all fats have a “smoke point,” which is essentially a temperature that, if exceeded, causes it to become rancid. Rancid fats are caused by excessive heat, moisture or oxygen and are full of free radicals, which are not nearly as radical as their name. In fact, free radicals destroy tissue in the body, attack red blood cells and accelerate ageing. Bummer, dude.

Some fats become rancid more easily than others. These fats are called “polyunsaturates” and include flax oil, borage oil and cod liver oil. Ever wonder why you always buy these in dark bottles? That’s because even room temperature and sunlight can cause them to go rancid. Polyunsaturates can be as delicate as a glacier lily. Saturated fats, however, are much more durable and have a much higher smoke point. You’ll find saturated fats in lard, palm oil and coconut oil.

To Pam or Not To Pam

So now you’’re thinking, “Does that mean the Pam spray I use on all my pans is bad for me?” Well, if you’’re frying with it, then yes. The canola oil used in Pam is an unsaturated fat and not meant for high-temperature frying. I strongly recommend you pick up some coconut oil for the next time you fry up some sunny side eggs.

On the other hand, if you were to use that Pam cooking spray to grease up a baking pan for some delicious granola bars then you’re probably fine. This chart should give you a good idea of when to use which fats.

No Heat

Low Heat (baking)

Med Heat (light sauté)

High Heat (frying, browning)

flax seed oil, hemp seed oil, cod liver oils safflower oil, sunflower oil, pumpkin oil olive oil, hazelnut oil, sesame oil coconut oil, palm oil, lard

Cooking with fats isn’’t as simple as firing up the burner and getting started. A little planning will go a long way in saving your body from the damage free radicals cause.

Now… I’’m off to go buy a new shirt.