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Thursday, 26 July 2012

"Deckadence" in Nanoose Bay

On the right day a ferry trip from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo is more than a necessary mode of transportation. It is an eye full of boats, mountains, islands, the distant city of Vancouver all embraced by a sparkling sea. Today was such a day and we took it all in,  right at the front, on the top deck. We pretty much had the place to ourselves as passenger traffic was still light to due high ferry prices and a long string of bad weather days. 
 The west coast had been pounded with rain such that the Fraser River was flooding and its long line of brown outflow could be seen far out  against the blue green ocean.
  Our GPS guided us directly to Nanoose Bay and then down side roads where deer didn't even bother to look up as they munched on people's lawns and gardens. We found Carey, a friend of Jan's from high school, and her spouse Annabel's house at the end of a lane surrounded by forest and fronted by ocean. 

                           A brief  nature walk to a local lake 
was a good excuse to build up an appetite for food and drink on the back deck. 

The deck sits above the tree top level of the huge firs and cedars which climb the steep slope from the shore. I felt my ADHD kick in as my concentration went from fine wine, to elegant cheeses, to massive trees, to the ocean, to passing vessels, and to the conversation that I was trying to follow.

  Supper was prepared by Annabel who used to cook for Fettucine's, an Italian restaurant of note back when it was on Bank Street in Ottawa. Tonight, a masterfully barbecued flank steak with pepper corn sauce paired well with the right wines, was complemented by potatoes and brightly coloured snap beans, whole carrots, and tomatoes. This led way to succulent desserts 
of strawberry rhubarb pie with whipped cream along with (why have to choose?) profiteroles and ice cream. 

The coastal air was fresh and cool  as we settled into bed with Diva, their cat. It's her bed. 
She was there first and had no problem with sleeping between us.

West Coast people seem to know when to get up as opposed to Ontario people who generally set their alarms for sometime in the late middle of the night. So after a none too early start to the day we found ourselves out on the deck with one of Annabel's fresh made lattes and a couple of swiped sections from Carey's Globe and Mail. Now a vacation for me usually involves a " news fast". Normally I am as much an information junkie as the rest of us especially if it involves stock prices, but when on holidays the last thing I need to either start my morning or end my day is reading about the world's terrors and tragedies knowing full well that I can do little to directly affect them.  This fast, this deliberate attempt at not knowing, has become part of any vacation travel. Still, my hand had, by reflex action, snared the Business section.
  We basically sat around the deck with our mouths open like baby robins waiting to be fed until Annabel presented us with breakfast. I've eaten a lot of eggs over my life time but Annabel's version of scrambled eggs means that the whole notion needs renamed. I might over time be able to get the recipe from her but I will need her to do the cooking. They are that good.
  The phone rang, a friend was asking for a bit of dog sitting so Annabel who also had had a dog grooming business a few years back, went and picked up a french poodle named Rosie.  We now had their own dog Dorey, plus Rosie.

 It was time for some serious walkies.
  First we had to tie our shoes. Carey gave us a new "how to" that I still employ. Most of us start with a little right over left and snug it down - kept that. Then we make a bow and hold it with our left hand. Keep that too. Now we go over top and through the loop that you just created. Buzzzt wrong! Try going UNDER the bow and through the loop. Why? Because if you do this properly the bow should lay perfectly at ninety degrees to your foot and apparently/theoretically be less likely to come undone than the normal bow that after a few steps often ends up parallel to your shoes. The first few days I found it difficult to make this work. Now this version is the automatic one. You have officially been challenged. Give it a go.
 At the first stop, Rathtrevor Beach, Carey and Annabel kept the dogs on the extensive boardwalk while Jan and I ran around the huge beach with our arms spread out like we were in some kind of cosmetic or deodorant commercial. 

  We discovered some sort of algae or kelp that shone like sheets of gold in the sun and watched an eagle as it investigated a diminishing tide pool.
   As it had been way too many moments since breakfast we redivided the crew into two cars and headed off in search of lunch. I got to go with Annabel and Rosie.  Annabel has the coolest Mini Cooper ever. Amongst other after market features is a Mini Mouse doll stuffed into the coffee mug holder. De rigueur I`m told. Annabel knew how to drive it and I knew how to hang on.
 The Black Goose started out in 1921 as a building designed by one of Canada's great architects, Samuel Maclure. 
The fact that on a sunny day it  happens to overlook Rathtrevor Beach was also not lost on us. It is a self described English/Scottish pub-styled restaurant and has the menu to match. We sat outside on well cared for picnic style tables and ordered both the English and Scottish Ploughman's lunch along with a pheasant and pistachio pate. The other real find of the Black Goose, Annabel had been holding out on me until the drink order. 

 They have Innis and Gunn on draft! Two pints please! 

After lunch more serious walkies ensued. The next beach was Parksville which was followed by yet another beach boardwalk.

Finally there was some looking around in shops and at The Old School House Art Gallery that Carey's parents had helped to foster in Qualicum Beach. All this of course was just a ruse to fill in time to the next meal.

Supper was incredible - local striped shrimp, Alaska cod with incredible homemade peach salsa, a rice with beets and nasturtium dish, an avocado salad. We didn't even make it to dessert before I humbly asked if they would adopt me. I could tell by the way that the food particles flew out of their noses that this was going to be a hard sell.

One of the real pleasures of cigar smoking is being able to share some quiet time puffing along with someone who knows and appreciates cigars as much or more than you do. Annabel went out of her way to share with me her collection of cigar bands and some of the stories that went with them. She also managed to  reference the magazine Cigar Aficionado a few times in the process. 

  I was impressed, but then she had to choose. I displayed a number of offerings. She went for a Cuban made Montecristo platinum1999 series. Good pick. I settled on a the classic Cuban made Montecristo No4.

We sat out on the deck watching the cruise ships go by as the sky darkened. An espresso was followed by a fine bourbon with just a touch of water. The smoke and the conversation drifted quietly in the night air. Pure "deckadence."

Friday, 13 July 2012

Sorry I Ate the West Coast Part Two (or, How To Make a Man Bag)

I must confess that going to the Tomahawk wasn't my idea. Louis, a good friend and a man often described as a "foodie", sent me an email that in effect said, "Hey, if you are going to Vancouver you've got to check out this restaurant that was on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives".
Now according to the Urban Dictionary a "foodie" is,
"A person that spends a keen amount of attention and energy on knowing the ingredients of food, the proper preparation of food, and finds great enjoyment in top-notch ingredients and exemplary preparation" Yup that would be him. That would make me just a simple "cookie" and an enthusiastic but uninformed "eatie".
 Louis is also a man who doesn't like things to go to waste. He volunteers at a thrift type store and has a giant shed full of stuff that often gets recycled in creative science projects for kids. He has also just had his 65th birthday.
 So in Louis' honour my wife, Jan, and I present a recipe:

"How to Make a Man Bag"
2 Tomahawk diner placemats

2 Tomahawk diner headbands

1 stapler

25 staples

Staple the sides of the 2 placemats together with 3 staples per side.

Staple the bottoms of the 2 placemats together with 11 staples.

To add handles, staple a headband to each side of the openings at one end.  Use 2 staples per headband end.

Repeat on the other end of the bag opening.

Optional Ingredient
Fold in 1 Tomahawk diner rubber duckie.

Garnish with yellow tissue.

Let set overnight, then serve to your unsuspecting friend.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Sorry, But I Ate the West Coast - Part One - Following the Mouths of the Famous

  Somehow, some people have managed to become famous by eating. I don't mean speed eating or over eating to the point where you become the world's biggest person, just normal eating and telling people how much you like it. As far as I know being able to open your mouth and shove something edible into it and then say "Yum!" isn't on any university curriculum but it should be. Just turn on your TV and there will be some sort of "food channel" where people make a very fine living making things and going yum. There are even shows about people who don't even make their own stuff - they just go around eating other people's stuff and going yum. Sitting at home you can't even smell it yet alone be able to tell if that yum is genuine. I wanted to be the Yum Meister so I decided to follow in the foot steps and the mouths of the famous.
 One of the more popular food programmes is Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives with Guy Fieri on the Food Network. One of the most famous places to eat in North Vancouver is The Tomahawk. It was just a matter of time before the two got together. If you missed the episode you can easily catch up on it on Youtube. If you do, you will get to hear Guy go gaga over Yorkshire pudding, beef dip and gravy. That's fine but you will notice that he is eating in the kitchen with the chef, and that's not the typical dining experience for most people.

 First, you have to get in. They have a parking lot, but not huge. We got the last two spaces. Once inside the door be prepared to wait. A lot. We were told one wait time but it got supersized.  There is a trick to the waiting period that we learned by, well, waiting around. It seems that they seat groups as whole groups so if you ask for a table for six you get to watch while three tables of two get seated before you. One woman in charge of a group who had been waiting for quite a long time before we even got there asked for her group to be split up so that they could get seated. The woman who was in charge of taking your name, handling the check out, selling the souvenirs  and pretending to be interested when the 87th customer in a row mentioned that they had seen the Guy Fieri review,  was adamant that once they had been given the whole group number they were going to be seated as a group. We got in before they did.
 While you are waiting for a server you can spend your time being bedazzled by a homemade museum. It is festooned with everything related to aboriginal culture. Most of it seems to be genuine fine quality artifact and art, some of it seems to be more kitsch than culture,  and there are even a fair number of items that seem to feature racist caricatures that in other establishments would have been removed by the politically correct police some time ago. The latter category may be why you aren't allow to take pictures.  Regulars, I gather, love it and don't want anything changed. Newbies can make up their own minds.
 Now for the food. Mr Fieri had already covered the supper stuff and although it was pushing noon we opted to go for the breakfast menu.  Marg, our Vancouver friend (and guide to this experience), said that there was no choice, I had to have the Yukon.  Straight forward enough but apparently there was an upsell option concerning the type of eggs that I could choose. I find this vexing. If it wasn't for Marg I would have gone through enough consternation just sussing out the main choices, now it seemed that I had to pass some sort of moral ethical test concerning the environmental genesis of my chicken embryo. I think that a regular egg means that mom was kept in a cage and fed some sort of chicken food which may or may not have been good for me. The term free range gives me this picture of the chicken mom scratching in some dirt and eating the occasional grasshopper as well as some sort of chicken feed that may or may not be good for me. Organic means that mom might be in a cage but she gets fed something certified to some standard that it is to some specific degree chemical and pesticide free. Nice to have choices but that's a lot of decision making about something that comes out of a chicken's bum when I haven't even had my coffee yet. 
   My meal consisted of huge amounts of Yukon bacon over fried eggs over toast over a large helping of home fried hash brown potatoes. I'm not really too sure what Yukon bacon is as it looks like regular bacon mated with back bacon, fried to very well done. As my wife, Jan, is not a bacon person, she went for the french toast. Four big slabs and maple syrup. She managed to mumble out a "very good" between forkfuls. I am usually suspicious when I see large quantities of food offered. Often volume means poor quality but luckily that's not the case here. Just good food and lots of it.
 While you are lining up to pay at the counter you can peruse the souvenirs such as they are. If you neglected to wear your colourful cardboard feathered headdress while eating you can pick one up for the next time you need an outfit to wear to work on "Casual Fridays". You might even cheap out and scoop a couple of placemats -they have a cartoon drawing of Canada and say "Keep Smiling", so they can be used for all occasions. If you are into more upscale mementos you could go for the t shirts that say, "KEEP SMILING" or the ever adorable yellow rubber duckie with the painted feather headband that also in block letters announces "KEEP SMILING". Like the eggs, its your choice.
 Well I don't have a nifty car like Guy to drive off in to end the review but if any of his camera crew reads this I'm ready for my line and close up on 1...2....3    "Yum!"  Ken