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Vancouver Island Visit Summer 2009

sunset at Craig BayFRIDAY, 31st July, 2009: Vancouver to Nanaimo

It is summer in British Columbia and in Vancouver we have been enjoying one of the hottest weeks on record. Perhaps enjoying is not the best choice of word. Temperatures soar and instead of grumbling about rain, there are warnings everywhere about how to "survive the heat".  It is really quite amusing as other parts of the world regularly experience weather far hotter and more humid than we are seeing.

Anyway, by sheer coincidence, this happened to be the weekend that our  group of friends who have traveled together on several explorations of the regions of Italy (Tuscany, Le Marche, Umbria, Sicily to name a few),  decided to have another BC reunion with lots of food and wine (see A Taste of the South Okanagan). Two couples in our group have homes on the island less than 5 minutes drive from each other, and the plan was that the rest of us would stay at one or the other place so we could easily convene for our various outings.

 Two of us from downtown Vancouver had planned to leave around 5 to catch the 7:30 ferry from Horseshoe Bay, but our plans changed suddenly when we read that the Critical Mass cyclists would be obstructing the downtown streets   just as we were heading over to the North Shore. We decided to err on the side of caution and leave an hour early and possibly have an early supper in Horseshoe Bay. 

It seemed as if everyone else in Vancouver had the same idea - to leave early wherever they were going. As we drove up Homer Street the traffic was almost stationary - this was not normal rush hour traffic in Vancouver! We slowly made our way across the city to connect up with the traffic on West Georgia Street heading to the Lions Gate Bridge.  Fortunately two of the three lanes were open to traffic heading to the North Shore so we reached our friends' place in West Van where we were to leave our car, in good time. The cab that we called to take us to the ferry terminal responded almost immediately and in no time at all we joined the hordes of people near the ticket booths at BC Ferries Terminal. After standing in the lineup for a while  we finally got to the booth only to find out that they do not sell advance tickets for walk-on passengers. So we would have to come back at the right time to purchase tickets. Note for next time - don't line up till about  20 minutes before to get walk on tickets.

We pulled our small suitcases behind us across the road and decided to find somewhere cool to have some food.  The Bay Moorings Restaurant seemed to fit the bill. We lugged our suitcases up the stairs, and were shown to a pleasantly shaded table on the patio, where we enjoyed a leisurely light meal, before heading back to line up for our tickets.

We had been told to return around 6:30 but when we got to the front of the line, we were told they were still selling tickets for the 7 pm sailing. We decided to take that ferry and try to contact our friends who were to pick us up in Departure Bay from the later ferry, to let them know we were arriving a bit earlier.

The ferry ride can be a very tranquilizing experience as you can sit watching the water and observe the Gulf Islands in the distance. Although, being the day before a long weekend, the ferry was packed, we found seats looking out over the stern of the ferry, and settled in for the 95 minute trip across the Strait of Georgia.

We managed to contact our friend and when we walked off the ferry, we found him waiting for us. From there it was a short ride to Craig Bay and their home. A little later, our friends from Calgary arrived. We settled in on the patio in time to see the glorious sunset as we sipped on wine and caught up on news.

SATURDAY, 1st August, 2009: Food, Wine and Fun

Frittatta maker extraordinaireI woke early as the sky lightened and I lay in bed for a few minutes, luxuriating in the fresh early morning scent of trees, grass and earth wafting in through the open windows . being constitutionally  incapable of lying in bed once I am awake  I got up, pulled on shorts and a top and tip-toed into the sitting room. The floors in the cabin creak so even when one walks as lightly as possible footsteps can be heard down stairs and as most of the others sleep in a bit later than 6 am, I did not want to disturb them.

However, when a flock of Canada Geese flew in formation past the window overlooking the Bay, honking like a line of cars held up by a Critical Mass ride, I figured most of the other guests would wake anyway, and I went to fill the kettle to start a pot of drip coffee.  Soon the aroma of fresh coffee was permeating the air.

Next up was Mike, who came into the kitchen and began efficiently chopping up green peppers and onions for a breakfast  omelet, enough to feed the six of us who were staying at the cabin. The frittattaOne by one, the others appeared for breakfast coffee or tea, and the kitchen rapidly became crowded with everyone helping with breakfast preparations, setting the table, making and buttering toast, raiding the fridge  and cupboards for milk, cream and jams. Meanwhile chef Mike had the eggs and fillings on the stove top, and then popped the whole lot into the oven. Pretty soon out came a great looking frittata.

checking for tidal crittersThe tide was very low and after breakfast some of us took a walk out on to the sandbar, trying to avoid stepping on the tiny crabs that were skittering around. 

The sandbar was strewn with sea shells and tiny critters popping up for air and moving rapidly across the damp ground.

Eventually everyone was ready to leave and the six of us piled into two cars to head off to the  Qualicum Beach Farmers Market. The plan was to meet the rest of our party and pick up some things to barbecue for lunch.
Chocolate truffles
The market was much smaller than the markets I have visited in France but there were some interesting products on display. Apart from the usual homemade breads, and preserves, I found some delicious chocolate truffles to accompany the wine for dessert after our barbecue.

Once everyone had done their shopping we wandered up the road to a craft shop where the women browsed among the jewellery and books, before returning to the car to go via the Milner Gardens before returning to Raymondo and Terri's place for our barbecue lunch.

Jan and I enjoy the viewThe 70 acre (28 hectare) Milner Gardens holds the historic Milner mansion set in a 10 acre garden developed originally by Raymond Milner and his wife Veronica, within a  Pacific North West forest of Douglas and Grand firs and western red cedar. The estate was acquired by Vancouver Island University. VIU’s goal is to maintain the garden in perpetuity for education and the community’s benefit in Ray Milner’s memory.

me and my Moleskine notebookWe wandered around the  Milner Gardens, down to the historic Milner House, located on a bluff  which looks out over the Georgia Strait.  The paths through the forest reminded me a lot of the trails through Lynn Canyon Park near where I lived for several years. 

the herded cats smile for the cameraWe were a bit late for the rhododendron blooms but I am sure it must be quite spectacular when these are blooming.

Although generally it is like herding cats to get our crowd in one spot at the same time, we managed to get everyone together for a group photo.

Our next stop was the Little Qualicum Cheeseworks at Morningstar Farms where we sampled cheeses and also tasted some of their fruit based wines.

We congregated on the patio for our lunch at Raymondo and Terri's home and tasted cheeses and pates while Terri cooked up heaping piles of striped prawns and on the barbecue, their son grilled corn and vegetables. 

The cheeses that seemed to be the favorites were a creamy blue cheese , St. Auger, a goat milk Gouda and gruyere. Terri had also brought a duck mousse pate  from the charcuterie  at Granville Island.

With the food,  Raymondo served a 2007 Grand Reserve Chateau La Moutere Rosé from Provence.  

After lunch the plan was to go back to the cabin for a siesta before dinner. When I read the schedule  had originally thought that there was no way I would need a sleep in the afternoon but a couple of glasses of wine combined with the warm weather - and I fell asleep really quickly.

the bocce winners celebrateRaymond and Delbert strategize for the guysNext up on the schedule was a bocce tournament, guys versus gals. 

I decided to immortalize the play on camera but the girl's team did just fine without me. In fact with my unerring eye for the wrong angle they did a lot better than if I played.

Jan, me and NormaNeedless to say the gals beat the guys - largely thanks to Jan's great bocce skills. Not at all modest- about their win- at least - you can see the victorious team, gloating over the chagrined guys.

After the game we relaxed, wandered around the grounds and enjoyed some quiet chats and then we headed off for dinner.

Thirteen of us descended on the Wesley Street Restaurant in Nanaimo for dinner. We were seated round a large table with lots of room to comfortably hold plates, bread, water glasses and drinks. The only drawback was that the size of the group and the distance made it difficult to converse with the far end of the table.

duck breast and duck leg confitThe first order of business for this group of wine lovers was to select a red and a white wine.  The white selection was a Riesling, the Ex Nihilo 2006  Riesling from the Okanagan Falls area, an  Alsace style Riesling, slightly on the dry side.  The red wine was from Italy, Iperozz 06, La Mozza Morelline del Scansano.

The restaurant's chef Josh Massey  offered a four course Tasting Menu for $45.00, starting with a chilled Gazpacho with local shrimp and basil oil followed by Pumpkinseed  Crusted BC Spot Prawns, The next course was pan seared ling cod and finally a chocolate hazelnut truffle torte.  Several of our group opted for this menu.

ws2After the fantastic seafood lunch we had earlier, I decided to go all duck! I started with a house made duck liver pate, served with pickled cucumber, organic greens in a sherry vinaigrette dressing. The pate was smooth and delicious. 

For my entree I ordered the pan seared duck breast and duck leg confit, served with herbed gnocchi. Both elements of the duck were cooked to perfection, the breast slightly pink and juicy, the duck leg, soft and falling off the bone. It was served with a blackberry balsamic gastric that was delicious but several of the herbed gnocchi were a little overdone.

Others of our party had an oven roasted free range chicken breast which was also declared to be quite delicious.

I could not resist sharing a white chocolate creme brûlée, served with a compote of sour cheese and a small shortbread cookie on the side, and I found myself dozing off on the ride home. So relaxing.

SUNDAY, 2nd August, 2009  Fresh air and Festivals
Mike had planned an early morning walk for the group at Englishman River but several people opted out of the walk the night before so when the time came to leave it was only  Dave, Peter  and I  that accompanied Mike on the walk.

Mike, Dave and Peter on the trailPeter, me and DaveIt was a great morning for a walk - not as hot as it has been and the air was pleasantly crisp.

We followed the trail around across the bridge and past the Falls.

Mike pointed out a cache they had found  a few days earlier while GeocachingGeochaching - is that a verb? in the area. I had vaguely heard the term but never got into the concept of looking for caches.

The scenery was stunning and the walk among the trees was energetic and pleasant.

After all the eating I really appreciated the exercise.

spice rubs for meat or fishWe returned to the house and collected the others for the drive to Comox to attend the Filberg Festival. I had no idea what to expect, especially since I thought they had said the Filbert Festival  so I was expecting something to do with nuts!

Instead I found a huge fair with stalls selling everything from arts and crafts to artisan foods.

I picked up some wonderful spice rubs to use for salmon, chicken and steak and I also went to town on earrings finding some really unusual designs.

I found three unique artists producing exquisite jewellery. From Shi StudioI bFrom Kiln Art Glassought white glass earrings from Braden Hammond Glass and wished I had some of my dance dresses to match for some of the other shades of glass.

Shih Studio incorporates lovely  fabric designs into their jewellery. 

I also loved the shades of the earrings made by KilnArtGlass, and got two exquisite pairs.

After our morning at the Filberg Festival, we had reservations for lunch at the Kingfisher Oceanside Restaurant in Courtenay. The thirteen of us were seated at a table in a bright sunny room with windows overlooking the water. The restaurant does a Sunday brunch buffet  for around 25 dollars or so, with a discount for seniors- defined as 60 or over.

Although a couple in our party decided to order from the lunch menu, most of us opted for the buffet. 

Here is a great selection of smoked and candied salmon, trout, and other savoury offerings, including mini-quiches, small spanakopita triangles, gravlax, pickled herring, egg and  guacamole.  We enjoyed our meal with Raymond's wine selection of an Italian white wine - Masi Soave 2006.

Set up in a separate room, the buffet offered a good variety of hot dishes as well as plentiful salads, smoked fish, and fruit as well as sweet desserts. I chose fruit for the dessert.

That evening we enjoyed a barbecue at Jan and Mike's place and relaxed on the patio overlooking the water.

MONDAY, 3rd August

Monday morning came too quickly.  We spent a quiet morning touring art galleries and walking around town and then it was time to head for the ferry back to Vancouver. It was an excellent weekend for food, wine and friendship and I for one appreciated the planning that our friends on Vancouver Island put into the weekend.