Thursday, June 30, 2011

UBC botanical gardens

A couple of weekends ago, Davis and I went to the botanical gardens at the University of British Columbia, which are both extensive and diverse. They're not on the scale of anything like the Butchart Gardens in Victoria, of course, but I really enjoyed the walk through the tall conifers, smelling everything in the medicinal herb garden, rambling through the alpine terraces, and inspecting the vegetable garden (the produce of which is donated to local charities). We also did the canopy walkway, a series of suspended bridges through the treetops. I actually really enjoyed this too - we did the one at the Capilano Suspension Bridge a few years ago and it really didn't feel like much of an adventure at all. But this one puts you pretty high up in the treetops, it's much less crowded, and you even have some thrilling moments of mild peril as the bridge lurches beneath your feet and you peer down at the forest floor 50 feet below.

I was hoping to see some birds on this trip - last time we went I saw a creeper - but other than a bald eagle surveying its domain, I was out of luck. I saw lots of beautiful flowers and some neat insects but I am sadly lacking in knowledge of both botany and entomology so, without any descriptions to get in the way:

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Breakfast salad

A couple of months ago, Davis decided to seriously cut down on carbs in his diet on the advice of Tim Ferriss, and I kind of went along for the ride. This made breakfast a little more difficult, since my breakfast traditionally involved a bagel, toast, or pancakes. For a couple of weeks I did fried eggs and sausages - hey, no carbs, right? - but feeling queasy for the rest of the morning cut that trend short. I also tried shakes with berries and protein powder, but it never really kept me full.

Thankfully, a few weeks ago through the miracle of Pinterest, I found this gorgeous recipe for a breakfast salad. It's so simple and relatively quick - the longest part is poaching the eggs, but I start them first and then chop up everything else and make my coffee while they're cooking.

The base of the salad is one chopped tomato, half to one avocado (depending on the size), and some shredded prosciutto.

I mix these up in a bowl, top with some grated cheese, ground pepper, and fresh herbs (basil, yum!) and two poached eggs.

Poached eggs? Scary!

The last time I tried to poach eggs for a yummy openfaced sandwich, I ended up with a pot full of egg foam and two poached yolks. Fortunately, the recipe for the breakfast salad also included a link with ridiculously simple instructions on how to poach eggs - and seriously, I've perfectly poached dozens of eggs with this method.

To reiterate: find a small pot and fill it about halfway with water. If you underfill it, I find the egg doesn't thoroughly cook. Boil the water, then bring down the heat until tiny bubbles are just rising off the bottom of the pot. Add one tablespoon of white vinegar.

Crack your egg into a small measuring up or teacup, and lower it into the water and slowly tip the egg out.

Set your timer for four minutes, and watch your egg poach!

When the time is up, remove the egg with a slotted spoon to a paper towel to remove the excess water.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Eat! Vancouver food + cooking fest

As you probably know by now, I love to eat. So when I heard about the food and cooking festival happening this weekend in downtown Vancouver, I more-or-less commanded Davis to go with me.

And it was awesome.

We started off, naturally, in the wine+beer+spirits tasting area. This was probably not the brightest idea as I'd had two pieces of toast for breakfast and Davis had had nothing. But our light buzz probably made the crowds more tolerable.

There were so many things to taste, from local wines to wines from as far away as Hungary, delicious microbrews, vodka, spiced rum, sake from Japan, locally-made mead, a seminar on how to make the perfect Caesar - and absinthe:

After our liquid indulgences, we decided it would be a good idea to get something to eat - fortunately, we had plenty of options! We wandered up and down the booths, snacking on beef jerky, yogurt, ice cream, honey, Korean rice cakes, coffee, candied salmon, turkey sausages, barbecue sauce, olives stuffed with lemon and orange, chocolate:

and delicious TĂȘte de Moine cheese from Switzerland:

And we weren't just concerned with filling our own tummies - there were also rows of pet food vendors, all happy to talk about their products and give us some samples for the beasts.

Even though we were unhappily regretting our decision to not wear elastic-waisted trousers at this point, we waddled over to the restaurant booths, where local restaurants were serving up sample-sized portions of their most popular dishes.

There were also celebrity chefs giving demonstrations, and different seminars on cheese and how to describe and pair wines and beers with food.

EAT! Vancouver also runs tomorrow - so if any of you reading this are in town, I highly recommend you drop by!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Surf's up!

Finally - my last blog post in my Tofino/Ucluelet series! I have dragged this on, haven't I... we left over a month ago, and it's taken me this long to digest and regurgitate the trip.

Tofino is famous for its rugged coastal beauty and all the opportunities it provides for visitors to get outdoors. Arguably the most famous scenic destination is Long Beach, a 16-km stretch of sand, sea, and sky.

Although Long Beach is part of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, many of Tofino's other beaches are not. Cox Bay beach, hidden behind the aptly named Cox Bay Resort, is one of my favourites - and it's also a great place to learn to surf!

Davis and I took surfing lessons for the first time last year, and we loved it! The water temperature is usually about 12C in the spring, which is only a degree or two lower than the ocean off Los Angeles. But the air temperature is of course much cooler, and that's what necessitates the neoprene getup!

Both times we've taken surf lessons in Tofino, we've gone with Pacific Surf School. I can't say why I chose them initially, other than maybe they offered a 3-hour lesson instead of 2 and a half. In retrospect, if you're moderately out-of-shape like me, 3 hours might be a little long anyway. But we love the instructors at Pacific, plus they give you awesome stickers, so you can put them all over your stuff and pretend you're a super pro west coast surfer too. And yes, that's exactly what I did.

On our last trip, we decided to actually rent some surfboards and go out on our own. Davis is an impressively good beginner surfer - I was able to stand up the first time we went, but this year was a total flop. But, it's still a LOT of fun, and I promise you don't even notice the cold.

Neoprene. The new Spanx.

The other thing that we love love love doing in Tofino is scuba diving! Davis has wanted to dive for years, so three years ago we did a discover dive with the local dive shop, Ocean Planet. We were insta-hooked. Last year we went back to do our open water certification, and this year we intended to do our advanced open water, but student poverty prevailed and instead we just did a day trip.

I can't say enough how much I love this dive shop - the owner, Andy, is super nice and has the cutest baby I've ever seen. All his divemasters and instructors are equally as awesome - we have never had a bad time, even the time I lost my fin and had to limp back to the boat along the sea floor. I definitely recommend trying a discover dive - breathing underwater is frightening at first, but I always get so quickly distracted by the bounty of life under the waves - the delicate sea pens, opalescent nudibranchs, feathery plumose anemones, starfish of every shape and colour, crabs scuttling here and there and - if you're lucky - giant pacific octopi.

In Ucluelet, we usually try and walk the Wild Pacific Trail, a non-strenuous trail that winds along the cliffs and through the rainforest. Trees dripping with moss line the path, and suddenly open into breathtaking ocean views.

There are so many other amazing activities I want to try in Tofino - sea kayaking, fishing, revisit the hot springs, go whale watching, and one day (when I'm in better shape) hike the arduous West Coast Trail.

What would you do first on a trip to the coast?

Previous Tofino posts:
Wildlife watching
Road to Tofino

Monday, June 6, 2011

Ships to shore

The weather this weekend was forecasted to be the warmest and sunniest in a while, so Davis and I decided to get out of the house and visit Steveston village, a pretty little fishing community south of Vancouver. As we approached, we noticed traffic getting a little heavy - "I guess everyone wants to get outdoors today," I remarked. "Don't worry though, I've never seen the parking lot full."

Well, it was - and so was every side street in a four-block radius. "Is there something going on today?" Davis asked, somewhat rhetorically.

Yes, as it turned out. We finally found a parking spot and started walking toward the village along the dikes when we spotted signs for the Ships to Shore festival - a tall ships celebration featuring four schooners, a Viking longboat, music and food and dancing. This used to be an annual event in the city, until it was suspended to make way for preparations leading up to the 2010 Winter Olympics. This is the first year it's run since 2002.

Passes were on sale to tour the boats and take a 3-hour sail around the area, but we opted to just look at the boats from the docks. Another bit of luck was that although most ships required prepaid tickets just to get on board and look around, the Adventuress, a 133-foot schooner out of Seattle, was letting people walk around the ship for free. We took a look at all the intricate rigging, posed at the helm, chatted with the sailors, and toured the lower decks.

We also got introduced to a really neat band, the Rakish Angles. They're a 4-piece string band with a bass, violin, guitar, and mandolin. They describe their music as "Newgrass, Latin, Gypsy-Jazz and Oldtime." The music was really interesting, so if you like fiddle music or anything similar to that, definitely check them out!

After checking out the ships, we headed over to the village proper, where vendors and artisans had set up tents for the every-other-weekendly farmer's market. We tried some ridiculously delicious flavoured ganache by La Chocolaterie:

Davis's mission of the day was to visit Bell's Bake Shop - which he had read about in the paper - and get himself a Stanley Cupcake. Sadly, they were sold out. :(

But we shared a yummy coconut cupcake instead.

Steveston Village is one of my favourite places to visit, even when (or especially when) there's no festival going on. I love seeing the fishing fleet, eating fish & chips on the dock, walking down to the beach and watching dogs play in the surf. The Canada Day salmon festival in Steveston is always a lot of fun - we're more than likely going to be heading there on July 1 and I definitely recommend you do too!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Eating in Tofino & Ucluelet

For such a small area, Tofino and Ucluelet have some seriously good eats that, as far as I'm concerned,  stack up quite well to some of the posher restaurants in Vancouver. Not that I'm a food critic or anything - as a poor student my gastronomic forays have been quite limited. But I do like eating and trying new things, and I'm always happy to eat in Tofino... although, since your dinner was probably swimming that same morning, how could you not be?

The first year we went to Ucluelet, we really didn't know the area at all. Our hosts had left some cards for various businesses in our cabin, including one for Norwoods. "Sure," we thought one night. "Let's try it."

The restaurant was pretty busy when we got there, as I recall, so we were seated at the bar in front of the kitchen. It turned out to be the best seat in the house, as we got to watch all the amazing dishes being meticulously prepared, and chat with the owner Richard and his chef Phil. The food is all ridiculously fresh - I usually order fish (albacore tuna is amazing), and it was usually swimming that morning. Most of their ingredients are locally sourced from the Island or in province, and are perfectly assembled and cooked.

On our last trip, we started with a pomegranate cosmo and a caramel apple martini:

Davis ordered an octopus appetizer in a ginger chili sauce. I felt a little odd about eating octopus, but all the seafood is certified by the Vancouver Aquarium's OceanWise program, and it was delicious - buttery soft and full of flavour.

My appetizer was thin slices of pacific salmon in a mustard dill sauce, which was also very tasty.

As an entree, Davis and I both ordered fish - what else can you get on a trip to the ocean? Davis chose the halibut:

And I got albacore tuna:

For dinner, we each had the goat cheesecake. Although the rest of their menu changes with the seasons, the goat cheesecake is thankfully something that seems to have staying power, for which I am very grateful!

Of course, Norwoods isn't cheap, and although one year we blew our budget by eating there three nights in one trip, there are other excellent, less expensive places to eat in the area. Our usual breakfast choice, Rooster's, has since sadly shut down (which is very sad because they had excellent and economical smoked salmon eggs benedict), but Ukee Dogs is always a great breakfast choice. Almost everything there, even breakfast, is served hot-dog style on a toasty, soft homemade bun. We always get the Maple Scrambler, which features breakfast sausages smothered in cheese and maple syrup. Yummy!

In Tofino, we usually stop at the Common Loaf Bakery and coffeeshop for lunch - I think their giant salmon salad sandwiches fueled my entire open water scuba diving course. It can be a little slow during busy hours and, heads up, they only take cash, but the lemon cranberry squares are worth it.

During our most recent trip, we discovered a new (to us) restaurant: Shelter. We'd seen it the previous year and it looked pricey, but we were looking for somewhere to have lunch after our surf lesson and our instructor recommended this place to us. The giant fireplace is perfect for warming up after a post-ocean dunking, accompanied by a bowl of salmon and clam chowder and coffee served in a French press. It was also at Shelter that I found a new love: The Tofino Brewing Company. I tried their most recent beer, the Hoppin' Cretin IPA. My only complaint is that they apparently sell out almost as fast as they make it, so we couldn't take any home! And, it turns out that Shelter is not as expensive as it looks - our lunch bill probably would have been under $30 if only we'd been able to stay away from the basil-infused Caesars.

Photo via Shelter.

I'm looking forward to discovering even more places to eat next time I'm in the area but jeez... I'm really hungry now.