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Of all the take-your-breath-away vistas, the hikes into remote areas, the climbs over glacier crusted mountains,  one adventure missed my radar entirely until we visited the Canadian Rockies last summer.   In my wildest dreams,  I never imagined a full-grown grizzly bear would be joining us for breakfast!

It was a crystal clear, late summer day and I was enjoying a world free of commercial interruption.  Perhaps it was the berries, the yogurt, or the hour (nearly 8 a.m.).  But, more likely, it was the location – – sleepy Baker Creek (near Lake Louise and Banff)  – – where we stayed in a rustic cabin no more than fifteen feet from the water’s edge.  I stood over my husband’s shoulder pouring coffee when she caught my eye, sauntering by, not ten feet from the sliding glass door.

“Honey, you might want to look up from your computer for a moment,” I said to my husband who had not fully unplugged, yet.  Indeed, a magnificent brownish-gray beast with that unmistakable hump behind its head was wandering by.  Griz held our attention for what seemed like an hour as she slowly meandered past the cabin and down to the chilly brook.  “This might be a good time to get the camera,” said my husband.   But, alas,  I couldn’t move, could not take my eyes off the gorgeous creature who might have truly joined us for breakfast had I opened the glass door.

So, you’ll have to take my word that a grizzly bear came to breakfast one August morning.  But you need not take my word that a visit to the Canadian Rockies affords an extraordinary mix of travel and exploration.   Besides the vistas, the glaciers, the majestic falls, save an appetite for dinner.  Restaurants in the Canadian Rockies are no strangers to the gluten-free diet.  Every eatery seems to speak gluten-free and many offer separate menus, gluten-free pizza, breads, and rolls.

And we ate well – -from the four-star Post Hotel in Lake Louise to the rustic Bakers Creek Lodge at Bakers Creek, to pizza parlors and Cassio’s Italian restaurant (with several gluten-free pasta dishes).  It’s just across from the railroad station in Jasper, Alberta.

High on my list was Evil Dave’s Grill in Jasper.  There’s no Dave at this funky, self-styled
café.  What you will find is great service, sublime atmosphere, and wicked food.  Owners Mike and Cyndi Day are known for offering a whimsical menu and casual décor that makes diners feel nourished the moment they enter.  From the gluten-free menu, check out Chinese Lettuce Wraps, Malicious Salmon (blackened salmon with a skewer of grilled shrimp) Fiendish Falafel, and convicted Felon (Asian style salmon over rice noodles).

My favorite was El Diablo Chicken, a signature dish that’s bursting with flavor and a bit of spice.  (The heat can be adjusted by cutting back on the chipotle seasoning.)  Chef Nicole shared the recipe which I adapted here.  I’m plannng to serve this at a gathering for the Super Bowl, but its great presentation makes this a perfect company meal, too.

It’s not too early to plan a summer vacation to the Canadian Rockies where the season is short and hotels book quickly.  And, about that grizzly – – well, you’ll have to find your own.  Our bear was last seen swimming across the creek.

El Diablo Chicken
Serves 4 to 6
Adapted from a Recipe by Chef Nicole Langille at Evil Dave’s Grill, Jasper, Alberta, Canada

4 to 5 large boneless, skinless chicken breast filets (about 1 to 1 ½ pounds)

Marinade ingredients:
¼ cup olive oil
1tablespoon good quality chili powder
1 tablespoon minced garlic
Juice of one large lime

Combine marinade ingredients and add chicken breasts. Stir to coat and let stand, refrigerated, for at least 3 hours.

The Sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ of a large yellow onion, diced
Two vine-ripened tomatoes, diced or 1 (15 ounce) can of diced drained tomatoes
½ to 1 teaspoon chipotle powder (adjust for heat)
2 cups gluten-free chicken broth
¼ to ½ cup heavy cream
½ cup corn kernels, thawed, if frozen
½ cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
1 ½ cups cooked Jasmine rice

Garnish:
1 to 2 ripe avocados, thinly sliced
2 scallions, top third removed, coarsely chopped

To make the sauce:  Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan. Sauté the onion and tomatoes for 2 to 3 minutes or until onion is translucent.  Add chipotle powder and sauté briefly.  Add the chicken broth and simmer until reduced by half.  While the mixture is simmering, preheat a grill to medium high and grill the chicken on both sides until centers are no longer pink.  Remove from heat.  Let cool slightly and slice each filet diagonally to yield 5 to 6 slices per filet.  Add the cream to the reduced chicken broth mixture and simmer 2 to 3 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Fold in corn and black beans.

Divide rice between 4 to 6 plates (or plate on one serving platter).   Spoon a portion of the tomato mixture over the rice.  Fan out chicken slices over the top and garnish with avocado slices and a sprinkle of chopped scallion.  Or arrange on a platter and serve family-style.

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