Category Archives: travel

A Weekend in the Big City

Living as a country mouse means I get to enjoy space and quiet and peace of mind most days. That’s not to say I don’t like a dose of urban hustle and bustle once in a while. Hubbie and I just got back from a whirlwind weekend in Vancouver, so I thought I would share some of our highlights. Then you can try out our discoveries, if you like what you see.

We met my stepdaughter for dinner on Friday night in downtown Vancouver. She is recently engaged so we knew the conversation would be all about wedding plans. That required a place casual enough for lots of silly chatting and sharing of Pinterest photos; a tapas restaurant in Gastown sounded perfect. The Sardine Can worked out really well, with delicious food and lovely wine.

As an added tip, I’ll mention that Gastown is a busy part of town for after-work drinks and socializing. Be prepared to wait – you will likely have to get a drink at one place while you wait for a seat at another place. Maple Tree Square is the centre of the action, with restaurants and pubs all around. We wandered into Chill Winston to have our first toast of the evening, since The Sardine Can only has a few seats and they were all full.

Even the lighting at Chill Winston is cool

We visited, but you could go alone and enjoy – it’s a great people-watching spot, and the staff are friendly. Our bartender Charlie even made a custom drink for my stepdaughter.

The tapas were great and the Spanish wines helped transport us; we felt as if we’d snuck into a cozy spot on a side street in San Sebastián.

Good olives are even better when they are warm

Have you ever heard of zucchini carpaccio? It’s delicious!

You have to include chorizo – I think it’s a rule.

Prawns and lamb meatballs made for our grand finale. They were only missing one thing…

…Fresh bread, for dunking in the sauce (served warm, like the olives.) I loved the practical presentation.

By the time we were done we had discussed wardrobe, menu, flowers, and the ceremony venue.

When your Papa is a chef who knows pastry and chocolate, dessert has its own significance. A trip to Sweet Obsession was in order.

If you have a hard time making decisions, this place might be overwhelming. Just take heart in knowing you can’t make a bad choice.

This gem in Kitslano was made famous by a protegé of my hubbie, so it’s near and dear to our hearts. Tracey now owns Lemonade Bakery, where she specializes in gluten free products. There is no cafe to stay and eat, but it is worth a trip even if you aren’t gluten free.

the smell and colours of tropical flowers always makes me smile.

fresh coffee is another of my favourite smells. I am a JJ Bean fan, but any of the vendors you see on Granville Island will fix you up with a fresh brew.

prepared or semi-prepared food adds to the cheeses, charcuterie and fresh produce. Plan ahead or save the day with a few choices.

Stewart’s Bakery has been a fixture at the market for as long as I can remember. I still dream about their eccles cakes…

On Saturday we had to make our cardinal stop. Ever since I was a kid, my favourite foodie spot in Vancouver has been Granville Island Public Market. It still warms my heart and my tummy on every visit, especially now that it’s the source of so many memories.Brave the busy parking and shuffle your way through the crowds – it’s worth all the fuss to enjoy a coffee, or a piece of pie, or fresh fruit, or fudge, or fish and chips (they have it all) and sit outside to watch the boats and birds in False Creek.

We stocked up on all our favourites, planning for a picnic dinner that night in our hotel room. (Having a full suite with a kitchen made it easier and much more comfortable than eating on a hotel bed.) More on that later.

Saturday lunch was for more family time, so again casual was the theme. Hubbie wanted to do some research, so we chose a BBQ joint – oddly enough, it was back at the same square in Gastown that we had visited the night before.

We met my brother and his girlfriend to trade gifts and then wandered down to Peckinpah BBQ, a southern style joint where most of the menu is set up very simply: pick your meat, then choose a few “sides” to go with it. There was beef, pork and chicken (we had a bit of each). Sides included corn bread, hush puppies (basically fried cornbread), coleslaw, fried pickles, and of course mac and cheese.

I can’t speak for the mac and cheese as we skipped that one but the other items were all solid efforts. I prefer vinaigrette for my coleslaw dressing; theirs was creamy and peppery. Fried pickles are good if you eat them fresh from the fryer; wait more than a few minutes and they get soggy. The jalapeño mayo they make for dipping the pickles was just the right touch of heat. We discovered it worked well with hush puppies and chicken wings too.

There is something especially comforting about food shared with family after a long absence. My brother and I hadn’t shared a meal in years and dipping hush puppies together as we laughed at old stories made the tastes even better. I know it won’t be nearly as long till we sit around a table again.

The picnic my hubbie and I set out that evening was just a nibble before heading out dancing, as we weren’t very hungry after all that BBQ. What an elegant way to picnic, though, in our vintage suite at the Arundel Mansion Hotel in New Westminster.

preserved lemon-stuffed olives, duck rillettes, fennel salami and a full cheese selection with baguette and PEI artisan butter went well with our gamay from The Hatch Winery

Sunday brunch was my own sentimental indulgence. Years ago my dad introduced me to a place out by the airport that was unique in its ambience. The Flying Beaver Bar & Grill sits on the water in Richmond, next door to the Harbour Air terminal for seaplanes. You can sit and watch them land and take off as you sip your beer and nibble on a homemade burger or Eggs Benny. I hadn’t been back in years, but it was just as good as I remember. (It’s just busier, like everything in Vancouver fifteen years later.)

Beaver hash, which is Eggs Benny atop chorizo, veggies, cheese and pan fried potatoes

A bison burger, fully loaded

How cool is that?!

Sometimes we head to the city and try out new places, looking for new adventure. This time was more about connections. It was heartwarming to reconnect and add to the memories. Not to mention we filled the fridge with delicacies.

The Last One

It’s a sad night. We reached the bottom tonight. There is no more. 


We ate the last of the wonderful Beaver Dam confections from Le Chocolatier. I did dloublecheck in the box, just to sure there were no more. I felt a bit like Winnie the Pooh with a pot of honey, and my hubbie looked at me with the same expression. We were sorry to be empty handed. 

I’m sorry if I misled you. Perhaps you thought I was talking of a more serious matter. Well, in our humble abode the end of a delectable delight is a tragic event. We really do revel in a nice treat and these little morsels are the perfect blend of comfort food and decandence. Chocolate, caramel, pecans, pretzels… it’s so easy to lose yourself in The rich creaminess and exciting crunchy goodness. Thankfully there are enough in a box to share, because my hubbie loves them too. One of the lovely bonuses to having such a good buddy with whom I’m in tune is that I don’t have to worry who eats the last one – we can share.  

It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long difficult words but rather short easy words like what about lunch? – Winnie the Pooh

The really sad part is that we have to go all the way to Canmore to get more. Since we don’t plan on heading that way in the near future, I may have to contact Chief Confectioner & Chocolate Dude John Spear to see if we can order more via post. 

Ah well, I’m off to bed now. Tomorrow will be another day. I’ll take Pooh’s attitude and look for the good in things. 

I Feel Like a Million Bucks!

This time of year is when I really feel like I deserve a treat. With the cold wind blowing during my walks with Ella this week I must have burned extra calories.

Sweets offer us a boost in energy. Numerous ingredients gives a combination of flavours and benefits. A decadent dessert is comfort food on steroids.  Therefore, making Millionaire Shortbread  is completely justified. What is Millionaire Shortbread, you ask? Let me tell you…

Martin and I discovered this wonderful dessert in Scotland a few years back. We were there in March img_4806and it was bone-chilling damp cold (I don’t know how kilts can keep anyone warm in that kind of weather!)

We ducked into a cozy cafe in Edinburgh after having visited the Surgeon’s Hall Museums at the Royal College of Surgeons.
(It might sound creepy, but this place is well worth the visit if you are in Edinburgh, full of interesting exhibits and amazing facts. ) img_4807Amidst the aromas of black tea and coffee in the cafe we spied a row of squares among the usual pastries, layered and elegant. Once I saw the name I knew we had to sample one.

 

I can’t find any information on where the name Millionaire Shortbread comes from – it must be just because the layering of shortbread, caramel and chocolate all in one bite makes you feel like you’ve struck it rich.img_4811-copy

I didn’t get the recipe from the cafe, and the ones I found needed tweaking so I added my own Scottish-Canadian twist. They aren’t hard to make, all they take is a bit of patience as the layers set. While you wait  I recommend thinking of with whom you will share them, as they are addictive and one really is sufficient.

Once you have settled in with your hot beverage and squares of decadence, you might want to continue the Scottish theme. There are many topics of discussion – one of my favourites is the Outlander series of books, written by Diana Gabaldon – which have now also become a TV series. (If you’ve been in a hole and haven’t heard of Outlander, these stories tell the tale of the love between a post-war nurse and the Highlander she meets when she tumbles through time to the 18th century. Their love stands not only the test of time but also numerous historical events.) What better way to while away an afternoon with a friend than to muse on possible alternate lives and love that transcends all obstacles?

By now you are probably thinking I’ve gone overboard, but that’s because you haven’t tasted Millionaire Shortbread. Just go make some. Then you’ll know what I mean.

 

So Cheap It’s Almost Free

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‘so cheap it’s almost free’

Sometime from Friday night to yesterday evening our little freezer went down. There is still some home grown from last year and other assorted that freezers collect but we were struck by how little we have on hand. Although a lot of what you buy up north is grown here, that’s just what happens to most of it…it goes north. On occasion as with all growers, growth exceeds demand and produce of whatever being grown for the export market floods the grocery stores and it is ‘so cheap it’s almost free’.  Well, here anyway. And like anywhere, no tomatoes or they are so tasteless and expensive you do without. The freezer is a wonderful hedge.

Today in the grocery store tomatoes were approximately .25$ Cdn. per kilo.These are not the ones at the fresh street markets grown in backyards, delicious and just off the vine. These were all Roma, uniform ripe and unusually this time, very, very tasty. We thanked our lucky stars at our 9kilos and roasted half and stewed the other half. Our version of canned tomatoes. No salt or preservatives and very little effort. Yes, electricity (which can be iffy here and costly) plus the freezer. Supermarket cost usually of tomatoes is about 1.5/2$ per kilo. Markets are less and how the farmers stay alive I don’t know. Minimum wage has just risen yet so has the cost of gasoline and other consumables. Globalization is here but as always, only a few really get to partake.photo-1

We eat according to the market. The Mexican diet is not heavy on vegetables except as an additive or salsa. When your diet is the opposite, a little meat and mostly vegetables sometimes it’s a strain. Unexpected tomatoes are a delight but we do grow our own. Plus chard, arugula, dill, oregano, mint, basil, squash, beets and I notice this year, a volunteer sunflower. Always a welcome addition.  Fruit here takes space and concentrated watering; there are orange plantations, lemons like mandarins, grapefruit (all with a gazillion seeds), mangoes, strawberries and from the south papaya, bananas, pineapple and much more. Markets are seasonal so we are back to eating seasonal rotations. Everything tastes better and it travels little. It is also economical.

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I am very fortunate. The sun shines, there is lots to eat and the people of Mexico are charming.  I travel when the sun gets too hot (I hear you groaning!) and I live the same in Europe as I do here, whatever is available at the market is what’s for dinner. And it’s always a delight of experience.

 

 

Master of cheap eats

I’m making a quick entry tonight – nothing fancy, but certainly worth noting. 

We got stuck in the dinner rush last night and ended up wandering through town looking for a place to grab a bite. Finally we hit upon a redneck Mecca – Guy Fieri’s Kitchen and Bar. It’s not what you’d call a local place, featuring more hamburgers and Mac n’ cheese than tacos and ceviche. But it does have some Mexican dishes and it is a solid concept. (If you don’t know of Guy Fieri, he’s a celebrity chef known for his road trips featuring hole-in-the-wall restaurants that offer down-home dishes with their own flair. His TV show, “Diners, Drive-ins & Dives” – or Triple D as his fans call it – is a favourite with Canadian and American foodies that love low-brow food.)

We tried to stay in theme, so I had tortilla soup and Martin has ancho lime wings with the seasoned fries. All of it was tasty, hot and fresh – they hit the spot. After all, what more can you ask of comfort food?


Then just to really top the night off, we shared the churros which come warm with Mayan chocolate and dulce de leche dipping sauces. Sheer heaven! 


It wasn’t cheap by usual Mexican standards but it was cheaper than the prices at his Vegas or New York location, I would bet. The server mentioned their new spot will be in Dubai – another place expats will likely enjoy a taste of home, not to mention those curious about American comfort food. 

I want to talk more about simple food done right in future posts – a meal doesn’t always have to be impressive or innovative to be spectacular. Sometimes you just want to be satisfied in a heartening sort of way. I know I went to bed with a happy tummy last night! 

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