The Perfect Last-Minute Christmas Gift: Don’t Leave Home

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How would you like to do your last-minute Christmas shopping? At a crowded mall like this?

You’re not really thinking of hitting the mall for some last-minute Christmas shopping, are you?

Just think of the misery that awaits. The bundling up. The freeway gridlock. The musical chairs of finding a parking spot. The jostling with fellow customers, who grab the last copy of that lauded toy or book. The sweating under a heavy parka in an overheated store. The lineups at the till. The person in front of you trying to return a sweater, without a receipt. Need I go on?

Now consider the alternative. Sitting quietly at your desk, sipping a Pinot Noir or an amber ale while scrolling through your online options. Click. Click. Done. Delivered, perhaps for free, to your loved one’s door without you ever leaving the house.

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Or sitting at a desk, like this?

But wait, you say. With only a few days before the big day, isn’t it too late to get said online gifts delivered on time?

Well, I’ve got the perfect solution. It’s called e-books. I know, the publishing industry is properly chuffed about the revival of the printed book. And there’s no substitute for something that can be wrapped, placed under the tree, opened, held in the hands and lovingly flipped through.

But remember, this is about fulfilling your gift-giving duty—checking someone’s name off the list, if you will—without braving the last-minute horrors of the mall. Here, it doesn’t get better than an e-book.

Search. Select. Click on “give as a gift” to the recipient’s email address. Enter a delivery date. Pay. Done.

The beauty of this is you can even do your shopping at 9:00 Christmas morning, while hubby is poaching the breakfast eggs, none the wiser. And with a download, there’s no risk of an online retailer being out of stock.

But wait, you again say. There are millions of e-book titles to choose from and you don’t have time, at the last moment, to find the right gift.

Well, I just happen to have the perfect suggestion. Totally self serving, mind you, as it happens to be my own e-book, Marathon Mouth. If I do say so, it’s a lively, highly subjective guide to the best, affordable, independent places to eat and drink while on a road trip in western North America. It features nearly 900 cafes, diners, coffee shops, bakeries, brewpubs in 11 U.S. states (west of Texas) and two Canadian provinces and one territory.

Marathon Mouth ebook

The perfect road-trip gift, without getting in your car

I mean who doesn’t like to travel? Or eat? And if you happen to be on the road during Christmas, you can even find the best places to order a turkey sandwich. Dig in.

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If you happen to be on the road over Christmas, you can still get your turkey fix

Here’s where you can download Marathon Mouth, for a bargain-basement $10 or less: Amazon.com, (Amazon.ca in Canada), Kobo, Apple iBooks and Chapters/Indigo.

Where’s the Beef? In Babb, Montana

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Cattle Baron Supper Club

Yes, the steaks at Cattle Baron Supper Club, in Babb, Montana, start at a road-trip unfriendly price of about $33. But when you consider the inch-and-a-half T-bone weighs in at an artery-choking 40 ounces, it’s time to reconsider the math, or at least remove one cow from the equation.

In fact, if you’re not a glutton, you could feed a carnivorous family with a single steak or have enough leftovers for a long cattle drive. The setting is everything you’d expect in small-town ranchland Montana—a character place that’s sufficiently dimly lit that all you can focus on in is stuffing another mouthful of tender, local beef down your throat, along with maybe a beer or two to help in the digestion.

Babb Bar Cattle Baron Supper Club
Highway 89, Babb, Montana
Daily 5 pm-10 pm. Closed during winter

Fresh, Local Fare in Creston, B.C.

Local. Fresh. Healthy. It doesn’t get much better than that, especially when you’re surrounded by verdant fields of veggies and fruits, ready to be plucked and plated.

To keep things simple, just call it what it is: Real Food Cafe. This one’s in Creston, B.C., just north of the Idaho border. Though why these type of wholesome eateries aren’t more common in agricultural small towns is a mystery to me. It isn’t to the Creston locals, who have the cafe happily abuzz on a Friday evening.

There’s so much local stuff on Real Food’s menu, let’s just look, for simplicity’s sake, at what’s traveled a tiny distance for tonight’s specials. There’s the acorn and butternut squash for my earthy cup of soup. There’s watermelon in the salad, pear in the cake. Of course, I have to spoil things by ordering a quinoa and black bean burger, which is topped by local greens and a killer, house-made corn relish.

But perhaps the most impressive local thing about Real Food is the service. I seem to have two or three courteous, friendly waitresses attending to me—keeping my water glass topped up, asking if I’d like something to read while I wait all of five minutes for my meal, discreetly bringing an extra napkin when some leakage stains my face (that could be a full-time job).

They’re around so much, I can hardly take furtive pictures of my food. In fact, other than one blurry shot in a dimly lit room, I’m forced to solely focus on all the fresh flavours.

Real Food Cafe
223 10 Avenue, Creston, B.C.
Monday to Friday lunch 11 am-2 pm, dinner 4:30 pm-8 pm, Saturday 4:30 pm-8 pm. Sunday closed
250-428-8882

Formidable French Bakery in Central Washington State

French toast and strong coffee hits the spot at Anjou Bakery near Cashmere, Washington

French toast and strong coffee hits the spot at Anjou Bakery near Cashmere, Washington

An artisan bakery near the speck-on-a-map town of Cashmere in central Washington has my GPS so befuddled it sends me out to an apple orchard. Finally, I seek directions from a local, who directs me back to Highway 97/2, just west of Wenatchee, where I soon spy a big road sign for Anjou Bakery (which aptly is backed by a pear orchard). So much for high technology.

Inside the lovely cafe is a bakery, which for some two decades has been producing loaves of hearth-fired bread. But that’s just the opening act for an irresistible lineup of baked goodies one might expect in a French patisserie.

There are flaky almandines, airy meringues, mini cherry and marionberry pies. I go for a crispy slice of fruit-filled French “toast” to accompany a good, strong coffee. Formidable!

Why go for a slice of formidable pie when you have the whole thing?

Why go for a slice of formidable pie when you have the whole thing?

Other customers don’t seem encumbered by my directional challenges, as there’s a steady stream of travellers stopping for their morning treats. One simply says to the server: “Give me six of your pastries. You choose.”

Anjou Bakery
3898 Old Monitor Highway, Cashmere, Washington
Thursday to Sunday 8 am-5 pm. Closed Monday to Wednesday
509-782-4360

Old-School Diner in Snowville, Utah

Mollie's Cafe is a classic diner just off the interstate in tiny Snowville, Utah

Mollie’s Cafe is a classic diner just off the interstate in tiny Snowville, Utah

A woman peers over the high counter as I enter Mollie’s Cafe in Snowville, the last Utah outpost on the I-84 west before it enters Idaho.

“Are you a salesman?” she asks, perhaps noticing the nylon briefcase slung over my shoulder. “Because if you are, I’m not buying.”

“But, hey,” I counter, “aren’t you selling something? Like, maybe, food?”

“I’m just the cook,” she laughs.

Lots of barstools and red vinyl booths. What's not to like?

Lots of barstools and red vinyl booths. What’s not to like?

Mollie’s is the kind of place you enter as much for the colour, the character and the conversation as the food—and the food’s pretty damn good for a classic country kitchen.

I go for a classic BLT on sourdough, lots of crunchy bacon to offset the tomatoes. Nicely done, with a side of chunky vegetable and beef soup. There’s nearly a dozen fresh fruit and cream pies to tempt, but with hours still to drive, I don’t want to fall into a food coma.

The classic diner fare is bountiful and affordable

The classic diner fare is bountiful and affordable

Of course, the soup comes with crackers

Of course, the soup comes with crackers

Mollie’s Café
15 Main Street, Snowville, Utah
Daily 6 am-10 pm
435-872-8295

A Classic Small-Town Utah Diner

The Parowan Cafe is a classic small-town Utah diner

The Parowan Cafe is a classic small-town Utah diner

I once, in younger years, literally jogged up Brian Head Peak, an 11,300-foot mountain near Cedar Breaks National Monument in southern Utah. If I’d been better informed, I would have first headed to nearby Parowan Cafe to carbo load for the wheezing run.

It’s a classic small-town diner, in business for some 80 years in well-kept, wide-street Parowan (hey, it’s Utah). The menu covers breakfast and lunch classics such as a hot sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy.

My steaming, three-egg omelette arrives stuffed with crumbled bacon and melted cheddar and a generous helping of hash browns to fill out the platter. Then there’s my “side” of two pancakes, each covering a dinner plate. I could have run a marathon on these cakes alone.

Breakfast for one: Carbo loading for a major run

Breakfast for one: Carbo loading for a major run

It’s a slow morning, with many of the regulars off for the opening of a deer hunt with black-powder rifles. So the cook and waitress come out to chat for a while, no doubt eying my pathetic attempt to make a dent in the hotcakes. They’re just too damn big to hide under a napkin.

“May all who enter as guests leave as friends,” a sign at the back reads. I think we’ve got that covered.

Could have used a car wash after this muddy run up Brian Head Peak

Could have used a car wash after this muddy run up Brian Head Peak

Parowan Cafe
33 North Main Street, Parowan, Utah
Daily 7 am-9 pm, except 8 pm closing Sunday