#59 – Seek out my Favourite Vancouver Island Restaurant

My husband and I love to cook but eating out is always a pleasure and an experience if you can find restaurants that don’t disappoint. My mission throughout the year was to find just that. I am listing some of my favorites for different reasons and revealing my all time number one pick.

Restaurants/Cafés/Diners I like:

Pizzeria Prima Strada in Victoria – The Funghi Pizza is to die for.

Brasserie l’École in Victoria – Best Steak Frite, no reservations, great atmosphere, always full.

The Churchill Pub in Victoria – Over 50 Craft Beer on tap. Their Kettle Chips are light and crispy and delightful with beer.

The Blue Fox in Victoria – Not one Breakfast tastes bad and served in large quantities.

 Unsworth in Mill Bay – Restaurant at the winery uses local foods with menu always changing. Always delicious.

 The Garage in Duncan – Funky Bakery and great tasting coffee.

 Willow Street Café in Chemainus – Delicious Soups served with gigantic fluffy Scones.

 Smokin’ George in Nanaimo – Great Crispy Chicken Soft Tacos that have a crunch in every bite. Restaurant was featured on “You Gotta Eat Here” and on the “Marilyn Denis Show”.

 Mon Petit Chou in Nanaimo – Best Bread Pudding made from day old chocolate croissants and sweet breads.

 Saigon Garden in Parksville – Delicious Wor Wonton Soup. The bowl is a meal in itself.

 Bare Bones in Port Alberni – Best Fish and Chips ever! The servings are huge.

Bistro 694 in Qualicum Beach – Flavourful Chicken Curry Soup.

The Qualicum Beach Inn in Qualicum – I just like the décor of the wall of glass balls by my friend Robert Held. The outdoor patio has a 180degree view of Qualicum Bay.

Ball Wall

Picture taken from Robert Held website

 Harbour Sushi in Port McNeil – Sushi is fresh, tasty, and surprisingly good.

But my all time favorite has to be Locals in Courtenay. All ingredients are purchased locally and everything on the menu is delicious, even the salads and especially the desserts. Their food is always so elegantly presented and their servers are knowledgeable, pleasant and helpful. The dining experience and service are outstanding.  Locals is situated beside the Puntledge River which creates a relaxed and peaceful setting.

Locals

Picture taken from Locals website

 

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#7 – Host a Brunch

It is said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day because it provides energy and nutrients needed to start the day and can be important in maintaining a healthy body weight. I used to eat pie for breakfast, arguing with my Mom that is was no worse then having toast and jam. So much for nutrients and a healthy start, oops.

I love brunches because it’s breakfast and lunch at the same time and you can enjoy savory and sweet treats without feeling guilty. Family brunches were a monthly occurrence while living in Nova Scotia. Some picked themes and focused their brunch around that. One time in particular, my brother-in-law did Chinese. He took some doors of their hinges and cropped them up to form a low table. I remember the food being absolutely delicious.

My daughter loves to cook and is always finding new recipes. I asked her to give me ideas for the brunch we were hosting for the golfing crowd we play with. I ended up making all the recipes she suggested and was not disappointed, nor were the invitees.

  • Sweet potato egg cups
  • Savoury bread pudding
  • Ham with bourbon, maple and pecan glaze

I included a variety of cheeses; a blue Côte D’Azur, a white cheddar and a soft brie, along with a pineapple melon plate with plain yogurt and homemade granola. Oh! and let’s not forget tasty Mimosas.

Brunch Layout

I look at brunch as a long extended coffee break with friends in the comfort of your home.

#34 – Have “Afternoon Tea” at the Empress

Did you know that “Afternoon Tea” was started by the Duchess of Bedford in the 19th century? She had her chef prepare a little meal with tea to lessen a “sinking” feeling she would experience in the afternoon. Soon it became known as the British “Afternoon Tea”.

The Empress

The Empress Hotel Victoria BC

I was invited to an “Afternoon Tea” at the Empress Hotel in Victoria BC as a thank you for helping a friend. The Empress is a luxury hotel and renown for its “Afternoon Teas” enjoyed by royalty, celebrities and dignitaries.

The Ladies

An invite to “Afternoon Tea”

It was a simple yet elegant menu; a tower of delicate sandwiches, impressive confectionary and a plethora of tea choices. The fresh baked scones with strawberry jam and Empress cream were light, fluffy and delicious.

Setting

Setting, Tier, Tea

Considering the Empress was undergoing renovations, the Hotel managed to deliver a relaxed and entertaining afternoon. The setting was beautiful in the upper windowed foyer where every seat had a view of the harbor while an accomplished pianist played relaxing music. The 3hour Afternoon Tea was simply delightful!

Dessert

We were spoiled to a delicious Prosecco that married well with dessert

I had an experience of a lifetime when I was in grade 10, a trip across Canada to Vancouver BC with our high school volleyball team. It was my first major travel experience. My mother arranged for me to meet her friend and I was invited for lunch. We went to a beautiful hotel in downtown Vancouver. I had never seen so many knives, forks and spoons at a table setting before and everyone was dressed to the nines. I followed Mrs. Bell Irving’s every move during the meal. All went well until the tea service came out.

The gentlemen server with white gloves, silver tray set with ornate tea pot, sugar cubes, brown sugar sticks, a choice of cream, milk in matching silver bowls, lemon wedges on a porcelain dish, fancy demi-tasses and dainty spoons were more than impressive. He approached me first so I dove in. Before he could ask, “Mademoiselle, what do you take in your tea?”, I grabbed a sugar cube, lemon wedge and a spot of milk and stirred everything in my tea. I knew right away I had done something wrong. The server cleared his throat and Mrs. Bell Irving held her laughter by pressing her finger to her lips. I watched the curdling come to the surface of the tea. If I stirred it, it went away. So, I drank the tea while simultaneously stirring with the spoon. And then put it down and replied, “I drink it like this all the time”.

I told this story to my Mom. She immediately picked up pen and paper. I drink my tea black now.

#20 – Volunteer at a Soup Kitchen

The parking lot is empty, no one in sight

Up the steps, tap the door on the right.

My cause today, is one worthwhile

I’m welcomed, a handshake, a smile.

———-

I’m shown the kitchen, utensils and safety

Tasked to make a salad so fresh and tasty.

Given an apron, a knife and a bowl

With donated food, that is my goal.

 ———-

15 volunteers all in good cheer

To prepare a meal, serve and clear.

Doors swing open just at eleven

Thank the Lord, our God in heaven.

———-

They come from here and from there

Maybe they come from nowhere.

Some lonely, some together, some with child

Some eager, some meek, others mild.

———-

They sit, they chat, and eat peacefully

Appreciate the warm meal lovingly.

They leave with a loaf and a few sweet treats

Say thank you and head back to the streets.

———-

I’m blessed, I’m grateful for all I own

No reason for me to bemoan.

I’m glad I can lend this helping hand

For those less fortunate and in demand.

#56 – Go Apple Picking

It is a true sign of fall when orchards are open to one and all to pick rich, ripe, juicy apples.

The vine

When our kids were young, apple picking was always a fall ritual. We would pack a picnic and head to either Nova Scotia to the Annapolis Valley or to the Cocagne area better known as the Pays de la Saquine in New Brunswick in search of the best apple orchards. Regardless of where we went the results were the same, exploring new places while on a road trip, picking apples, climbing trees, filling baskets and being outdoors in the warm fall sunshine. When family lived close by, it would be followed by a day of making pies and freezing them for the winter.

When I put this on my list, I had no idea where I would pick apples on Vancouver Island but I knew I wanted to experience the pleasure of apple picking again.

We were just recently in New Brunswick and passing through the Cocagne area. We came upon the “Verger Goguen” and they were open. “STOP THE CAR! I can’t pass this up, we have to pick apples!” I exclaimed.

Farm

Verger Goguen and Farm Produce

Tina and Armand gave us a basket and told us the varieties available and where to pick. I have my favorites, Gravenstein for cooking and Macintosh for eating. Since the above mentioned were not quite ripe, Melba’s were recommended for both.

Goguen

Weighing apples with Tina and Armand

It didn’t take long to pick a 28lb basket. The trees were overflowing with apples. Most were easily reached from the ground but those at the top were red and appealing. How close can I get that ladder to reach the cream of the crop?

Picking

In the orchard

Since I can’t bring these home, I have been giving them to family and friends. But not before making 2 delicious pies for a family dinner of 11.  And true to Armand’s word, the Melba’s made excellent tasty pies.

Pies

Apple Pies

#26 – Go on a Picnic

I’m sure when someone says the word “picnic” a vision of what that is, comes to mind. The word “Pique Nique” is a 17th – century French word and simply means a meal where everyone brings food and eats outdoors.

FoodBasket

I love picnics on a camping trip, out on a boat, being in a field or on a picnic table at some rest stop. Somehow food just tastes better. My Mom always had a roasted chicken on her picnics, especially on the many summer road trips we took from Ontario to New Brunswick. I would love to crash an “al fresco” someday, anywhere in Italy. That would be the ultimate picnic.

I’m settling for the next best thing. A picnic with our close friends from the “Merb” on “Large Marge the Party Barge” in Moon Cove at Merigomish Harbour.

The Barge

Large Marge the Party Barge

After a pleasant “randonnée” in the different coves, Black Hall Gut, Moon Cove, Quarry Island, we settled for our picnic. The sun was shining, the food was scrumptious, the beer was cold, and the water inviting.

Picnic Food

We eventually rafted with other friends on their sailboat and motorboat. These kids, who are now grown up into beautiful young adults were our kids’ best friends. And age for them does not matter as long as everyone is having a good time.

#17 – Host at least 6 Dinner Parties

All of our family loves to cook and we enjoy having dinner parties. My husband and I have a pattern. He likes to decide what the main dish will be and prepares it. I do all the accompaniments, most appetizers and dessert.

Food

Some accompaniments and dishes we have prepared

We work well together in the kitchen and clean as we go so not to have a pile of dirty dishes when the guests arrive. Our dinner parties usually end up as kitchen parties and we never go to bed until the dishes are done. Most dinner parties are thought out in advance but the last minute impromptus are always a success.

Table

 

I like to layout a nice table and use dishes given to me by my mother, aunts or in-laws. My mother-in-law always set an elegant table with a centerpiece of some sort. This varied from flowers to small ornaments she found around the house. Touching the ornaments seemed to be the norm while waiting between courses.

 

We’ve had fun with our dinner parties and don’t stress if something fails. One party in particular, we asked guests to come with an apron. Upon greeting them at the door, they were given a recipe and were paired with someone other than their spouse. Little did they know they were helping with the cooking! We had a time line so we knew when things had to be prepared. It was a fun evening but some recipes didn’t turn out. Someone didn’t like onions and the dessert needed more time to set. That was a learning experience.

I have a notebook (like my book club notebook) where I keep a record of all our dinner parties. Actually, I have 2 books as I started this back in 1988.

Dinner BooksI have kept track of who we invited, the occasion for the dinner, what we served and from what cookbooks the recipes came from, what worked and didn’t and I try to keep track of the wines we served. That proves to be difficult at times. If you come for supper more than once, rarely will you be served the same thing because I go back to my book.

I started this because when I got to know my father-in-law he kept records of things. For example, when the ice formed on the river, the high tide lines, birds that visited. He did this for reference and that is why I like keeping track of my parties. Plus, it’s fun to read back and see the trends as the years go by and the friends we have entertained. While living in Quebec, fondues were very popular. We had a “plethora” of parties around that theme. Today, it seems brazing, tagines and slow cooking are in.

Dinner Parties:

  1.  December 19, 2014 – Braised Lamb Shanks
  2.  December 31, 2014 – Lobster Boil
  3.  January 17, 2015 – Pâté à la Râpure
  4.  May 18, 2015 – Roast Chicken
  5.  May 31, 2015 – Leg of Lamb
  6.  August 22, 2015 – Pacific Sockeye Salmon

#13 – Plant an Herb Garden

I’m not much of a gardener, not like Tante Joséphine. Remember her from #53- Tante Joséphine’s Cookbook? She had a green thumb and her garden was a labour of love and so bountiful. When I grew up, almost everyone owned a garden. I hate to admit this but we use to sneak under the cover of darkness and steal out of a specific garden. Yes, steal… carrots, cucumbers, whatever, from Oscar’s garden. He had the biggest of gardens and we figured he wouldn’t notice. My youngest sister heard of our shenanigans so she and her friends decided to do the same. Except, she got caught. Mrs. Oscar marched up to our house and gave my Mom a tongue lashing for not bringing her daughter up properly. Little did she know that her other daughter had done the same.

But I digress…. I’ve always wanted an herb garden and today I planted one. We love fresh herbs and being able to go outside and cut them from the backyard is a bonus. I planted 2 types of thyme, Culinary and English, 2 types of oregano, Italian and Greek, sage and Mojito mint. You know what that is for!

HerbsV2

Our biggest challenge will be to keep the deer out. I “jury rigged” tomatoe trellises with fine plastic mesh to surround each herb. I wish I could grow basil and parsley in big bunches, but that would be a smorgasbord for the deer. We have lots of deer that come and forage on any kind of plant around the house. They’ll eat anything and everything. Apparently, they stay away from herbs. We’ll see.

#43 – Acadian Dinner “Pâté à la Râpure”

My heritage is Acadian. Acadians immigrated to the Maritimes from France in the 1600’s and established an extensive agricultural and pacifist economy. In 1755, when they refused to pledge allegiance to the ruling British, they were deported from their homeland in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island – an area also known as Acadie. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow memorialized the event through a fictional character Evangéline, helping make the expulsion well known.The popular Acadian group, “1755” (now disbanded) from Moncton NB, added to the understanding of Acadians, their cultures and their ways.

Speaking of Evangéline, this is a picture of me representing Evangéline for the Acadian Festival in 1972. The gentleman on the left is a good friend. He was Gabriel.

Evangeline

Acadian Dinner

Plan the menu. Invite friends. Prepare meal. Eat. Be merry.

 Appetizers

Salt Cod Fritters with aioli sauce on a bed of arugula

Meat pie served with molasses and cranberry sauce

Main Dish

Pâté à la Râpure served with molasses and cranberry sauce

Dessert

Blueberry Grunt with dumplings (not cake or crumble)

Pâté à la Râpure is a true Acadian dish. The main ingredient is potatoe.

Quick Step Recipe:

Boil a fowl with onions, salt and pepper. Cool and debone the chicken and cut into reasonable size chunks. Keep the stock. Grate the potatoes and remove all the starch by squeezing potatoes through a cotton bag until you have a very dry, flour-like powder. Slowly replace the amount of starch removed, with boiling stock one cup at a time, stirring constantly. The hot stock will start the baking process and turn potatoes into a gluey off-white mess. In a large deep pan, bake pieces of salted lard to coat the pan. Keep half of the lard pieces for topping. Pour half the potato mixture in the pan and spread all the chicken pieces over top. Top with remaining glue mixture and sprinkle with baked lard pieces. Bake at 350˚F until golden brown, 2 hours or so. Let sit until firm. Et voilà! The râpure is eaten with molasses or cranberry sauce. Appetizing? Some of our friends thought so and I was grateful it didn’t end up in the garbage. I’m also thankful for having my younger sister and her husband help us make it.

PateR

When I was growing up, I remember making râpure with my parents. It seemed we made enough to feed all of the relatives and neighbors. To speed up the process, my father made a special grater to grate the 10lbs+ of potatoes needed. It was a piece of tin about 12 inches by 20 inches attached to two pieces of wood. He hammered nail holes throughout. It looked like a washing board. I wonder where it ended up? My Mother made the bag and it resembled a jelly bag but bigger. It took strong hands to squeeze the starch out.

I want to tell you an earlier adventure about Pâté à la Râpure. My French accent was very prominent in my first year at an English university. I had a roommate whose parents would invite us to dinner on Sundays. They were both doctors and I felt intimidated eating at their home, table so beautifully set.

He knew I was French and asked if I could explain this dish called “Pâté à la Râpure”. “Oh”, I said, “it’s easy, you take potatoes and rape them!” gesturing with my hands how it was done. (Râper in English is to grate). They smiled politely as I continued to explain the dish. “You use de chicken juice and mix into de raped potatoes”, the story went on.

Wanting to carry on conversation on another topic, I asked, “Do you know you can see de “Vierge Marie” in a lobster?” “Really, where?” he said. “Between de testicules” I added. Silence … followed by abrupt laughter. When we left, I was told of my mistake. We did get invited again on many occasions. I loved their food and they loved the company.

#53 – Tante Joséphine’s Cookbook

Tante Josephine, as we always called her, was a very “prim” and “proper” woman. She did not like girls whistling, saying it was very “un-lady like” and we had to cross our legs at the ankles when we sat. I remember her as always being old and living on her own. She was 97 when she died. She grew a great vegetable garden and had a productive cherry tree. She always had homemade treats in her cupboard and loved it when we would visit.

Tante Josephine was very frugal and did not waste anything. Her husband was a travelling salesman and she re-used his sample “Dominion Table Oilcloth” as a cookbook. She had beautiful handwriting. The nuns taught her that. The pictures are from her original cookbook, which I own. Note the date.

Cookbook

 

Most of her recipes only have ingredients listed with no explanations. I took this as a challenge to see if I could replicate one of her recipes.

I decided to make the “Dinner Rolls” she made when she cooked beans. The dough looked good and after the first rise, I was pleased. I formed small round balls and placed 3 per muffin tin and let sit for the second rise as I remember her doing.

Can you over proof bread? Because, by the time I was ready to bake them, they had deflated. I cooked them anyway and they were tasty if you ate them while they were warm with butter. Lots of butter makes anything taste good. I think by tomorrow we will be able to use them as hockey pucks.

Bakerolls

One thing the recipe did do, was remind me of the smells from her kitchen and sitting in her windowed porch overlooking the Baie de Chaleur and the Caraquet wharf on those many occasions we went to pick cherries.

Note: For all you decorators thinking of re-modeling your kitchens, I would pass on this wallpaper.