Tag Archives: Vancouver Island

Rainy Day Cookie Picnic

Last week, as we got closer to the end of January, it felt like Little Man and I hadn’t been outside for any run around time in forever.  Having grown up in a semi-arid desert, I still tend to be a bit cat-like going outside in the rain.  Meaning it’s not my favorite thing.  This day, however, I had had enough.  It wasn’t raining (yet) so I bundled Little Man and myself up, grabbed his scooter and my bag full of empty egg cartons and headed off into the drizzle.

As we started off down the road, Little Man scooted alongside of me and commented that there was an awful lot of drizzle.  It had, in fact, turned from drizzle into a light rain.  By the time we’d made it up the hill to the house with the egg stand outside their fence, the light rain was a little less light.

Around this time Little Man started asking for a snack and I told him that we could have the cookies I’d brought with me for a snack when we got down the other side of the hill to the little lake.  He thought that was a great idea and declared that we would have a cookie picnic in the rain.  So empty egg cartons deposited, and new full egg cartons retrieved ($3/dozen for local farm fresh eggs… yup!  No need for eggs from the more… questionable sources of the mega stores for us), we were off down the road again.

Little Man imagined that we were going over a waterfall as we walked downhill, tracking whatever villain was supposedly rampant that day.  We had also picked up our neighbor’s friendly dog for the walk.  She often chaperoned us on our walks in the neighborhood, and Little Man considers her to be his dog.  Or at least a dog on loan when we go for walks.

Finally at the little lake, we sat down on a tree trunk bent into a perfect bench for the two of us, water soaking into our pants but neither of us cared.  Then cookies in hand, we sat on our sodden tree, gazed at the water falling into the lake, and chatted about camping thoughts for when the weather warms up a bit.  For this mom, it was a perfect rainy day cookie picnic.

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Our selfie reflection in the lake.  I love seeing Little Man’s Pooh Bear head and the dog paws on the dock as well.

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Our Rainy Day Cookie picnic.  A toque goes a long way to making it OK to sit out in the rain.  🙂

Lumberjack and Lumberjane

A continuance of Poking a Wood Fire (see earlier post).

First year wedding anniversary, and just back from a field season in Turkey.

First year wedding anniversary, and just back from a field season in Turkey.

The other day I stumbled across some pictures of our first wedding anniversary when Dave and I were camping at the much missed Highpoint State Park in New Jersey (best campsites ever… and a really good winery call Westfall Winery nearby too).  The weather was so miserable that most of the other reserved sites were vacant and the park rangers looked pityingly at us whenever they drove by.  We, however, were having an amazing time and didn’t even notice the bad weather.  Dave and I had just come back from a field season in Turkey, had both lost ridiculous amounts of weight from a combination of hard work and dysentery, and were simply reveling in being on vacation… for our anniversary… in weather that was not topping 140º Fahrenheit.  After the sizzling, dry plains; the wet, dripping woodlands seemed miraculous.

Dave proudly standing by his tent; the one dry spot of our campsite.

Dave proudly standing by his tent; the one dry spot of our campsite.

What also seemed miraculous was Dave’s ability to start a fire in that wet pond of a fire pit.  While looking at the pictures from this trip and with fire-starting on my mind, I remembered that Dave had made a sort of Jenga-like construction of kindling, had filled it full of newspaper, then lit it.  Once that initial fire was established, he put logs around it and the resulting fire was amazing.  I’ve since used a variation of that as my “new” fire method, and so far so good.

If I look at it hard enough, it will burst into flame and warm me.

If I look at it hard enough, it will burst into flame and warm me.

Fire pit or bog?

Fire pit or bog?

Back on Vancouver Island and on the road to fire mastery, I turned my sight to our non-existent wood pile.  It is daunting to think how much wood goes into keeping a fire going, especially when you try to extrapolate that out to cover the unknown quantity of our winter.  For weeks I have been watching industrious neighbors and friends gather and split immense piles of fire wood, filling sheds from stem to stern with neat stacks.  Now I was also noticing how BIG these sheds are, and I was starting to think that we could be on the brink of trouble.  This woodchuck needed to start chucking wood, and fast.

Luckily our Farmer-Landlord was thinking similar thoughts, and approached Dave about heading up to The Mountain to gather firewood.  I don’t know which mountain.  I don’t know where this mountain is.  But you can hear the capitalization when people speak of it.  Farmer-Landlord sent Dave off to buy a wood gathering permit, and $20 later they had plans in place for the following weekend to drive to The Mountain to get wood.  Whatever that meant.

We weren’t really sure what to expect from Dave’s wood-finding mission, or how to prepare him for it.  What was it going to be like?  What equipment beyond closed toe shoes and gloves did he need to bring?  What exactly did one “do” to gather enough wood for an entire winter season?  My anthropologist friends will understand this, but the expedition was also starting to have a bit of a “hunter-gatherer” feeling to it.  Dave was leaving our home site to hunt and bring home wood, while I was staying around the home to gather… I don’t know… something fabulous I’m sure.

Then the day for the wood hunting expedition came; cold and misty.  Dave left with Farmer-Landlord in a beat-up old pickup truck with trailer attached.  On the way up The Mountain an elk sauntered across the road in front of them, the first sighting of such a beastie by either one.  Then they came to the timber yard, and it was like nothing either one of us had expected.  Dave’s cell phone photography showed a place that looked oddly like the messy playroom of a giant toddler.  Massive tangled mounds of the better parts of trees were piled around the clearing.  Dave and Farmer-Landlord started pulling logs out of the piles, chain sawing them into smaller pieces (ranging from ready for the fireplace to person-sized) and filling up the truck bed and trailer.  Once both truck and trailer were filled, they headed back down The Mountain, getting back to the farm midafternoon after a long day of hard labor.

Massive piles of the better parts of trees available for harvesting with a permit.

Massive piles of the better parts of trees available for harvesting with a permit.

A closer look at the timber pile.

A closer look at the timber pile.

This will keep us warm all winter... right?

This will keep us warm all winter… right?

In the meantime, back on the ranch… or in our case farm… Little Man and I had our own travails.  My lovely little toddler boy was stung in the face by a yellow jacket, initiating what I’m sure is the first of many medical panics of my parenting life.  That is a story for another time, but when Dave and Farmer-Landlord pulled into the yard I had just gotten my swollen-faced angel baby to sleep for his nap.  I was a mess.

Arriving like triumphant hunters, Dave and Farmer-Landlord dismounted from their trusty steed and posed in front of their bounty.  I was impressed, but still distracted by the sting and hadn’t had a chance to tell Dave of what happened since The Mountain was well out of cell range.  Farmer-Landlord misinterpreted my lack of praise and chastised me for not being more glorifying of my MAN.  He had hunted.  He had brought back fire wood.  I was not being as adoring as befitted a gatherer.  I stuttered out something not quite as idolising as Farmer-Landlord thought appropriate, applauding them both on the success of their hunt.  Farmer-Landlord rolled his eyes and looked pityingly at Dave who was finding all of this quite amusing.

The next few minutes were filled with me explaining what happened to Little Man, and then there was a flurry of logs being tossed through the air into piles bordering our property.  I pitched in as much as my bright pink gardening gloves would let me, and surprisingly missed being drilled in the head with the flying pieces of wood.  We now had enough fire wood to (hopefully) last us the winter… we just needed to chain saw most of it into smaller pieces and then split it all.  This was going to take some time…

The saga of the wood splitting will have to wait for another post, but in the meantime I knew that we would need snacks.  Power for the muscles, and comfort for the hunter-gatherer-wood splitter soul.  These Zucchini Oat Muffins have been a huge hit with Little Man’s buddies at play dates.  The last play date when I served these muffins at snack time, one of his little friends informed me that these were delicious and much better than the previous ones I had made, which happened to be quinoa muffins.  With the toddler vote strongly in my pocket, and with Dave attempting to snatch these muffins off of the cooling rack, these are some seriously delicious muffins.

Zucchini Oat Muffins

I am often trying to make baked goods a bit healthier so that I can feel better about feeding them to my toddler… and to myself, of course.  That is how I came up with these muffins in the first place, since most green things are on Little Man’s “persona non grata” list.  These, however, he gobbles up, and will try to snag from his friends’ plates if they are not vigilant.  The batch photographed here was made with the last summer zucchini from the farmers’ market (sigh…).  I had been told by someone wise (my brother) that you could freeze grated zucchini to use in future baked goods, so I gave that a shot here.  I grated the whole zucchini, put half into the batter and half into a plastic baggie in the freezer.  I haven’t used my frozen zucchini booty yet, but will let you know how the experiment works.

Ingredients

1 c. flour

1c. whole wheat flour

1 c. rolled oats (not instant)

½ c. brown sugar, packed

1 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. ground ginger

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

3 large eggs

¼ c. canola oil

½ c. plain yogurt (fat free is fine, just use good quality)

¼ c. milk (same as for yogurt)

2 c. grated zucchini

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350º F.  Prepare a muffin pan with papers, or you can grease the pan.
  2. In a large bowl combine the flours, oats, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
Dry ingredients

Dry ingredients

With the oats

With the oats

3.   In a small bowl whisk together the eggs, oil, yogurt and milk.

Dry and wet ingredients before being combined.

Dry and wet ingredients before being combined.

4.   Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and stir to combine.  Add the zucchini to the mix and combine gently.  Do not over mix the batter or you will toughen your muffins.  Not good.

Combining the two

Combining the dry and wet ingredients.

Adding the zucchini into the batter

Adding the zucchini into the batter

The final Zucchini Oat Muffin batter

The final Zucchini Oat Muffin batter

5.   Scoop the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown on top.  Test your muffins with a tooth pick to make sure they are cooked through.  If the tooth pick comes out wet, give them another couple of minutes in the oven.  Let the muffins cool in the pan on a rack for about 5 minutes, then remove them from the pan to the rack and cool.  They can be served warm.  Enjoy!

Zucchini Oat Muffin batter ready for the oven.

Zucchini Oat Muffin batter ready for the oven.

If you can believe it, I was so focused on getting the muffins out for Little Man’s buddies at the play date… I forgot to take pictures of the final product.  I’ll be making them again soon, though, and will update the post with the final glorious picture of golden brown deliciousness.  Until then… just use your imagination.  🙂

Click here for a printable version of Zucchini Oat Muffins.

A hiking trail behind our campsite at High Point State Park, New Jersey.

A hiking trail behind our campsite at High Point State Park, New Jersey.

25th Post and Counting…

This is my 25th post on The Sheep Are Out…, a blog about our lives on Vancouver Island.  We’ve lived on the island for about 3 ½ months, and are starting to get a feel for the area.  We’ve wrangled sheep (and our toddler), explored the ocean coastline, played in what feels like a myriad of parks and playgrounds, and begun a quest for the best fish and chips in the greater Nanaimo area.  We feel closer to family (at least our north-of-the-border family) and farther from friends; though that equation is starting to shift as we are making friends here now too.

Little Cowboy touring his new acreage.

Little Cowboy touring his new acreage.

As inevitably happens with any move, it starts to feel impossible to have lived anywhere else.  We know where things are in the house… mostly (please don’t ask for anything in any box in the basement).  We know where to go in town for great sushi or for Little Man’s favorite fried rice.  We know which grocery stores carry the foods we want, which gas stations are the fastest to get in and out of, and where we most want to go when we have the rare chance for a baby sitter.  In short, we are starting to find our feet.

We all know who's the boss here, right?

We all know who’s the boss here, right?

In honor of this 25th post, the recipe I am sharing with you is for what I’ve named the Manic Monday cocktail.  Right after the semester started for Dave, there was a Monday that left us both a bit frazzled around the edges.  It was one of those days when it feels like the wheels are just about to leave the track, but you might be able to hold on for just a moment more.  To celebrate that crazy day being over, I made these Manic Monday cocktails and we toasted the survival of our own little tornado of crazy.

End of a long day.

End of a long day.

In the spirit of joyful survival; to all of our friends and family that we’ve found here; and to our friends and family who we would love to come and visit… Cheers!  May your home feel like home.  May your days be filled with family and friends.  And may you come visit us soon!

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Manic Monday Cocktail

Makes one cocktail

Ingredients

1 ounce dark rum

1/2 ounce orange liquor

1/2 ounce lemon juice

1 ounce mango juice

Ice cubes

Optional: lightly sweetened citrus soda

Directions

  1. Put all of the ingredients into a cocktail shaker and secure the lid.
  2. Shake vigorously until the metal shaker gets nice and frosty.
  3. Strain the ingredients into a rocks glass with new ice.  This is a great opportunity for ice spheres if you have the forms.
  4. Optional: Top the cocktail with about an ounce of a lightly sweetened citrus soda if you want something a bit brighter.  I love the extra sparkle on a hot evening, but if I want to taste more of the mango then I just keep it simple.

P.S. For those of you who would prefer an alcohol free cocktail, and let’s face it sometimes it’s nice to serve a fancy drink without the booze, try mixing equal parts of mango juice, orange juice and the sparkling lemon soda.  Delicious, refreshing and a special treat for those who can’t have or don’t want the alcohol.

Click here for a printable version of the Manic Monday Cocktail.

A Season of Blackberries

OK, so it’s possible that I might have gone a little overboard with the blackberry love recently.  It’s hard not to on the island.  On Vancouver Island in August it is a common occurrence to see cars pulled over on the side of the highway, not because they are broken down or in need of assistance, but because people are out there picking blackberries.  Then you start to see people with ladders on the sidewalks to get to the higher branches, people buried in bushes at the back of supermarkets, people with berry buckets everywhere.  Once you can recognize what the bushes look like, you realize that the parts of the island that are not covered with forest are instead covered with blackberry bushes.  The bushes line the highways and roads, the train tracks, they pop up next to telephone poles, they grow beside bus stops, and they are all over Vancouver Island University campus.

Bushes 

I started jealously watching specific areas around town where I’d spotted the bushes, waiting for when the locals had decided that the berries were ready.  Then I would pounce… literally if I had to.  It wasn’t until after the family reunion that I started noticing people’s cars on the side of the road with people embedded and ensnared in the bushes greedily picking berries.  Then it took some time for us to be able to coordinate our schedules when all three of us could be out there harvesting.  While Little Man was willing, he is not actually much help picking blackberries… or picking anything for that matter.  When he has “helped” Mommy pick tomatoes in the farm garden he tends to use the precious fruit like a hard thrown bocce ball.  I have to move fast to get the fruit from his little hands into my basket.  And that is without the extra bonus of all the blackberry thorns.  So on each of our forays to pick berries Dave’s primary task has been keeping Little Man out of the road, out of the bushes and more or less out of trouble.  For Dave’s efforts he has been rewarded with blackberry scones, muffins, and yes, a blackberry cocktail.  I’m sharing the blackberry muffin recipe at the end of this post.  For the other two, you’ll just have to keep posted.  🙂

berries 

For our own harvesting, we first tried a spot along the road that takes us down into town.  The area is largely forest, but there is a little turn around area and I’d seen cars and berry pickers there in the past.  While we made a pretty good haul that day, it wasn’t quite what I had hoped since the people I had spied earlier did a good job of clearing out the berries.  Our next attempt was right outside of Dave’s building at VIU.  These bushes were full of gorgeous, bursting ripe blackberries.  So Dave chased Little Man who was chasing the bunnies, and I picked berries as fast as I could.  Blackberry harvesting is not without hazard, the bushes snagged my jeans, my sleeves and my hair.  I would bury myself deep into a particularly nice area of the bushes counting on my clothing to protect me (more or less) from the thorns, just to find that I couldn’t get out again.  But any scratches, and there were quite a few, were well worth it.

Dave

I have to admit that not only do I love picking and eating blackberries, but with every freezer bag I put away I feel like that’s also money in the bank.  Each bag that I freeze for future use is one more bag of berries that I don’t have to buy at the store, and as I mentioned above I use berries in everything from salads to pancakes to baked goods to drinks.  Did I mention that I love blackberries?  Normally this time of year would find me scowling at the stacks of beautiful fresh blackberries in the stores, priced at a level that was hard to justify in our grocery budget.  This year it found me ensnared in bushes, and I am still finding thorns in my jeans.  If you also find yourself in a place where blackberries do not grow wild (and free of cost) but still want to try out the muffin recipe below, please substitute the blackberries with any berry that you do have access to, frozen or fresh.  Blueberries or raspberries would be great in these muffins.  Speaking of blueberries, I’ve been told that they are just now coming into season here…

A couple notes about blackberry picking safety:

  • First, although the berries grow incredibly well along the train tracks, NEVER pick berries there.  Not only is it dangerous with the trains using the tracks, but the tracks are routinely sprayed with herbicide to keep plants from growing there.  That means that the berry bushes have been sprayed too.  Not good eats.
  • Second, although it is tempting, never pick berries low to the ground.  There are animals out and about that like to mark their territory.  Just imagine the height of a neighborhood dog’s hind quarters and remember that urine soaked berries are to be avoided.

Blackberry Oatmeal Muffins

Ingredients:

1 ¾ c. whole wheat flour

¾ c. rolled oats (not quick cooking)

½ c. brown sugar, packed

1 tbsp. baking powder

½ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

1 c. milk

1/3 c. plain yogurt

1 tbsp. canola oil

2 eggs

1 c. blackberries or other berry, frozen or fresh

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400º.  Line a muffin pan with papers or lightly oil it.

In a large bowl stir together the flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.  In a small bowl whisk together the milk, yogurt, oil and eggs until well combined.  I tend to use good quality skim milk and fat free yogurt here.  The yogurt adds a richness to the muffins, and replaces the oil that would otherwise be required.

The dry ingredients.

The dry ingredients.

The dry ingredients combined.

The dry ingredients combined.

The wet ingredients.

The wet ingredients.

The wet ingredients combined.

The wet ingredients combined.

 Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir just long enough to combine.  You do not want to over mix the batter since that results in tough muffins.  This batter will look a bit more wet than muffin batter usually does.  Don’t worry, it’s supposed to.  Let the batter sit for 20 minutes.  This will let the oats hydrate, soaking up some of the extra liquid.

Everything combined.  It will look too wet until after it has rested for 20 minutes.  My sushi timer is set, now the waiting begins.

Everything combined. It will look too wet until after it has rested for 20 minutes. My sushi timer is set, now the waiting begins.

 After the 20 minutes of resting, add the berries to the mixture and gently fold together.  Divide the batter amongst the muffin cups, and bake for approximately 20 minutes or until they are golden brown and a tester inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean (except for any blackberry juices it might encounter).

After the batter has rested, add in the berries.  Now you are ready to go.

After the batter has rested, add in the berries. Now you are ready to go.

Tasty batter in the pan...

Tasty batter in the pan…

Tasty muffins out of the oven...

Tasty muffins out of the oven…

 Let the muffins rest in the pan for about 5 minutes, and then remove them to a rack to cool completely.  Enjoy!

Cooling muffins on the rack.  This is when Little Man realizes a treat is coming.

Cooling muffins on the rack. This is when Little Man realizes a treat is coming.

Little Man in the background asking "'Nack time?"

Little Man in the background asking “‘Nack time?”

 Blackberry Oatmeal Muffins

A Day Off in Wine Country

Recently after a particularly tough week of adjusting to Canadian life, Dave surprised me with a special vacation day.  We used to do this for each other from time to time in upstate New York as graduate students.  We would plan dates and then whisk the other person off for a day of surprises planned just for them.  These were not expensive events, but were carried out on the shoe string graduate student budgets that we had.  The very first “Surprise Day” was when we were dating and I took Dave on a mini-golf date.  This included a short walk down the street to a local restaurant with a ½ price happy hour.  While I remember that we had a good time overall, the most memorable part of this date was the weather.  Gale-force winds that literally tore the astroturf off of the course while we were playing; golf ball-sized hail that bounced off the road and off our heads; and rain blown so hard from one direction that we were drenched on one side and bone dry on the other.  This made the “short walk” down to the restaurant a bit more challenging (and glamorous) than originally planned.  Then of course after our snacks we had to run back up the road through the rain.  Later we would learn that our mad dash was more impressive than we had originally thought, since moments after we ran by an electrical pole it was struck by lightning.  I just thought the electricity in the air was from being with Dave.  😉

My boys...

My boys…

 We used to do “Surprise Days” as often as we could, but they have become a bit more infrequent as we have moved across states and international borders, and especially with Little Man’s arrival.  So it was extra surprising when Dave said we were having a day off and I wasn’t allowed to know the plans.  Heaven to not have to plan anything, not even diapers to bring along!  Dave’s “Surprise Day” was a tour of some of the local wineries on Vancouver Island.  This was also reminiscent of our time in upstate New York, when we would drive up to the Finger Lakes, visit a couple of wineries, have a nice lunch, and enjoy the scenery while we tried as hard as possible to ignore the pressures of graduate school that were waiting for us back home.  This Surprise Day was our first attempt to recreate that experience here on Vancouver Island; and of course it was made a bit more “adventuresome” with Little Man.

In front of Averill Creek Vineyards.

In front of Averill Creek Vineyards.

 Little Man was not as impressed with the beautiful scenery or wonderful wines as Dave and I were.  And there was the moment of panic when he had a fleeting moment of freedom from the stroller and made a wild dash for expensive bottles of wine on display.  He has fantastic taste in which bottles to grab, but thankfully no damage ensued.  It was a fantastic day.  We couldn’t ask for better weather.  Bright blue sky, warm but not hot, and an amazing view of cedars and ocean at each winery we visited.  Dave did good.

AverillCreek

Averill Creek Vineyard and their picnic friendly patio.

 

I talk about some of the wines and food that we ate on this trip below.  Please note that I am not a food critic, but I am sharing and remembering our experience of that day.  The preferences are mine and Dave’s alone, and are likely quite different than your’s would be.  Please try the wineries that we visited and see what you think.  You won’t be disappointed.

 This is the order of where we visited:

 Averill Creek Vineyard

6552 North Rd., Duncan, B.C. V9L 6K9

(250) 709-9986

http://www.averillcreek.ca/

This was my first taste of Vancouver Island wines and it was also my favorite winery of the day.  The winery itself is gorgeous and has an amazing patio where you can sip wine by the glass or the bottle.  Visitors are welcome to bring a picnic for the patio, or you can also buy locally sourced cheese and chartecurie from the tasting room.  We are definitely bringing a picnic next time!

Favorite Wines:

Foch, Eh! – This is a low-tannin red made from their Marechal Foch grapes.  Marechal Foch are apparently a specialty of this region, and this bottle was a great representation of them.  We bought a bottle specifically to share with Dave’s parents, and are looking forward to a chance to break it open.

Pinot Grigio – It was a bright, warm day and I truly enjoyed the whites that I tried.  This one had a nice, clean citrusy finish.  I’m looking forward to going back and having a glass of this on their patio with our picnic.

Cherry Point Estate Wines

840 Cherry Point Road, Cobble Hill, BC, V0R 1L3, Canada

Phone: (250) 743-1272

http://cherrypointestatewines.com/

This was our second winery and my expectations were high since we had just come from Averill Creek.  Their wines were good, and we had a nice time talking with one of the owners who was justifiably proud of the recent awards they have won.  Our favorite part of the visit, however, was their bistro.  Dave and I shared their Tapas Plate and Little Man had an amazing Grilled Cheese Sandwich.  The kiddo food is not listed on the menu, but we asked if they had children’s options and they came up with a couple of options on the fly.  The tapas plate included: a fresh beet salad, pickled garlic, mushrooms, mussels, shrimp, pulled lamb shank, olive tapenade, cheese, and an apple compote.  This paired excellently with the wine by the glass that Dave and I had.  He had the Forte, which was rich and tannic.  While I had the Bête Noire, full of fantastic dark fruit flavors with a light finish.

Favorite Wines:

Bête Noire: This was my favorite wine from Cherry Point.  It is in a Rioja-style and is almost inky in color, but the finish is light.

Forte: This was Dave’s favorite wine from Cherry Point.  It also was a strong, rich red that paired very well with the tapas plate.  In terms of comparing this to the Bête Noire, the Forte has a richer overall feeling on the palate and has a strong finish as well.

Wine and bread at the Cherry Point Bistro.

Wine and bread at the Cherry Point Bistro.

Our tapas plate at Cherry Point Bistro.  We devoured it!

Our tapas plate at Cherry Point Bistro. We devoured it!

Tapas from the side... Yes, we love food photography even with our phones.

Tapas from the side… Yes, we love food photography even with our phones.

Little Man's Grilled Cheese Sandwich.  He's lucky our meal was so good.  The sandwich is such that even an adult would be happy to have that as a meal.

Little Man’s Grilled Cheese Sandwich. He’s lucky our meal was so good. The sandwich is such that even an adult would be happy to have that as a meal.

Venturi Schultze

4235 Vineyard Road, Cobble Hill, BC V0R 1L5

Phone: (250) 743-5630

http://www.venturischulze.com

This winery was a bit hard to find, but the search is definitely worth it.  They are a “beyond organic” winery and have produced small batch excellent wines for over 20 years.  For our visit the daughter of the original vintners was working in the tasting room.  We learned a lot about organic wines and their creation that day.  It was in this winery that Little Man got loose and things almost turned disastrous.  In terms of great wines, this was our second favorite winery of the day.  They also produce amazing balsamic vinegars.

Favorite Wines:

Brut Naturel: It was a warm day for our visit and my favorite was their sparkling Brut Naturel.  It was not overly dry, and was extremely refreshing after a hot day of touring.

Millefiori: It was hard for Dave to corral himself into admitting just one favorite from this winery.  In the end I think that the warmth of the day and the refreshing character of the Millefiori won him over.  This is not a sweet white at all, but it also is not overly oaky like some intense (and beloved by me) Chardonays.

 Twenty Two Oaks Winery

#1-6383 Lakes Road, Duncan, BC V9L 5V6

Phone:(250) 701-0385

http://www.22oakswinery.ca/

While Dave was fascinated by the names of the ex-hockey player owners, I was less impressed with the wines and the story of their ugly bulldog wine labels.  This is a relatively new winery, and things could turn around for them quickly.  However they are not on my list of wineries I want to visit again, or labels that I will search out in the wine stores.

Favorite Wines: not so much…

 Deol Family Estate Winery

6645 Somenos Rd. Duncan, BC, Canada

Phone: 250-746-3967

http://www.deolestatewinery.com/

Deol Estate Winery was our last winery to visit that day and it was one of our favorites, at least in terms of the number of bottles purchased.  Do not let the exterior of the winery deter you.  The parking lot and surrounding buildings looks more like an area where restaurant delivery trucks should be off loading product.  The tasting room itself is nice, but the woman pouring our tastings was nice and knowledgeable.  This is a winery that I would love to go back to; I just wish that its surroundings were more inviting.

Favorite Wines:

Blanc de Noir: This was my favorite wine from Deol.  The woman running the tasting room said that the wine embodied the flavor of honey; and it did but not in a sweet way at all.  It was a light, crisp wine that left the lingering taste of honey without its cloying sweetness.  She had me at “honey.”

Somenos Red: This was Dave’s favorite wine from Deol.  It is a rich, deep earthy red.  Not overpowering, but something very nice to sit back and sip in the evenings on the arbor bench… which is just what we did.

Marechal Foch: This was an excellent example of the Marechal Foch grapes that are characteristic of this region on Vancouver Island.  It embodied all of the best characteristics that we were beginning to recognize from our visits to the different wineries.

Little Man's favorite part of the day... running wild with Mommy.

Little Man’s favorite part of the day… running wild with Mommy.

When in Rome… Or Nanaimo…

One of the fun things about moving around a lot (three states and two countries in the last six years) has been discovering local food favorites.  For those that know me this should not be much of a surprise.  Food places make up most of my landmark references and anyone asking me how to get anywhere will likely be led by directions to make turns just past certain restaurants or food markets.  In fact, when travelling (abroad or domestically) I often try to find time to go to one of the local grocery stores.  I love to see what foods are unique to a place, and I can often find gifts for friends and family that travel well and are light weight.

 I have also found that when attempting to become a part of a community, one of the best ways of winning over the locals is to try (and try to recreate) one of the foods that is special or unique to that place.  When one of our best friends was doing fieldwork research in Illinois she stumbled upon the Horseshoe Sandwich.  The Horseshoe seems to be any sort of meat protein (ranging from shrimp to ground beef and anything in between) served open-faced on Texas toast (why this was in Illinois I have no idea), covered with a liberal coating of French Fries and a cheese sauce.

 When living in Indiana, the closest thing to a local dish we could find was the Tenderloin Sandwich.  This was sadly not as unique as the Horseshoe.  The Tenderloin consists of a thin slice of pork tenderloin that has been pounded, breaded and fried to within an inch of its life.  The finished product is more like cardboard than food.  The tenderloin is then served with a little mayonnaise on indifferent bread.  If you want iceberg lettuce and out-of-season tomato on your sandwich then you order the “works.”

 Unfortunately I did not fare much better in Iowa.  I had some amazing food at the homes of friends and in some great restaurants, but what Iowans seem to be most proud of is “food” that can be fried on a stick.  This is found at just about any local community fair, but is produced in spades at the Iowa State Fair.  Famous for its mammoth butter sculpture of a cow, this year the fair’s website boasted 60 stick-bound food-ish items with new options appearing each year.  While living in Iowa they were proud to introduce fried butter on a stick, deep fried bacon, as well as fried pink lemonade.  Don’t ask.

 With the move to Vancouver Island I was initially focused on eating anything that swam in the ocean.  After five years of living in land-locked Midwestern states, I was all about celebrating fish especially salmon.  However, great salmon and seafood are not unique to Vancouver Island, but are hallmarks of the entire Northwest Coast of both Canada and the States (Please don’t call that nation “America” as that tends to get me in big trouble with my Canadian neighbors.  We do all live on the North American continent after all…).  My quest to find a special food that is unique to our new city led me to the Nanaimo Bar.

Little Man trying to score a nanaimo Bar

Little Man hoping to score a nanaimo Bar.

 For my State-side readers, “Nanaimo Bar” refers to a wonderfully rich dessert, not to the “bars in Nanaimo.”  While there is some debate about where the Nanaimo Bar originated (some try to claim them for the States.  Check out wikipedia for more details.), the bars are largely considered to be a local delicacy and are jealously celebrated as a part of local culture.  At its most basic rendition a Nanaimo Bar is a layered cookie with a chocolate and coconut graham cracker crust, a vanilla cream middle, and a top layer of chocolate.  There are numerous variations on this theme with people attempting to put their own spin on the bars with flavors that pair well with chocolate, like peanut butter, raspberry jam or espresso.  Nanaimo Bars have become so tied to local culture that there is a permanent exhibit in the Nanaimo Museum dedicated to this dessert.  The exhibit is flanked by two Nanaimo Bar-shaped stools for people to sit on and contemplate the displayed recipe and local lore.  Stools and recipe tea towels are available in the museum gift store.  The Nanaimo Tourism Council has even published a Nanaimo Bar Trail Guide that includes all things Nanaimo Bar, marking not only the best places in town to try one of the bars, but also themed pedicures, soaps, cupcakes, cocktails and the list goes on.

Pooh Bear enjoying the Nanaimo Bar exhibit at the Nanaimo Museum.

Pooh Bear enjoying the Nanaimo Bar exhibit at the Nanaimo Museum.

 I had heard of these bars before moving to Nanaimo, since Dave had tried a couple on the mainland (aka Vancouver).  They were almost always a disappointment, tasting only of intense sweetness.  Then when we first moved to Iowa we had a little party at our place where we served a number of dishes that were regional specialties from the different places that we had lived (Yes, Utica Tomato Pie was there as well, but that is fodder for a different post).  Dave prepared Nanaimo Bars as the party dessert, but these were different from those that I had sampled before.  While still rich and sweet, you could also taste the vanilla, almonds, chocolate and coconut in Dave’s version.  I was hooked.  He has since made them a couple of times, including most recently at this summer’s Hopwood Family Reunion.  The pictures of Dave making the bars (and Little Man trying to score one) come from that event.

 When Dave made the first batch in Iowa, he had done some internet research and combined multiple recipes to create his perfect Nanaimo Bar.  Then as I was doing a bit of internet research for this post I discovered that what he had created was incredibly similar to what is largely thought to be the most authentic Nanaimo Bar recipe.  In 1986 the city of Nanaimo hosted a contest for the Ultimate Nanaimo Bar and the winner was Joyce Hardcastle.  It is her version of the Nanaimo Bar that is the closest to what Dave put together as well.  Unknowingly Dave had stripped out away of the “unique” add-ins and found his way back to the classic version.

 As I mentioned above, Dave’s most recent reason for making Nanaimo Bars was as a special dessert for the recent Hopwood Family Reunion.  These are worlds away from the first bite of a Vancouver bakery’s Nanaimo Bar that I had on the mainland, and they will continue to be a part of special celebrations with our family.  Just remember that a little goes a long way.  A small square with good coffee or tea is a great dessert.  However, since we just had them this summer it is going to be a good couple of months before I want to have one anywhere near my vicinity.  One of Dave’s young cousins found out the dangers of Nanaimo Bar proximity at the reunion.  One night we were all up late playing a get-to-know-you-better game on the deck of the cabin.  A number of desserts had been brought out to munch on while we played.  One of the teenage cousins had the luck (good or bad) of having the plate of Nanaimo Bars sitting directly in front of him the entire night.  We lost count of how many bars he ate, but it was a substantial number.  So be warned, these things are good.

Chef Dave getting his ingredients for Nanaimo Bars.

Chef Dave getting his ingredients for Nanaimo Bars.

Dave’s Nanaimo Bars

Nanaimo Bars are famously three-layered cookies, with a graham cracker base, a custardy center and a chocolate top.  Dave’s version is intensely chocolaty with the added richness of coconut and almonds.  For the reunion Dave doubled the batch and therefore used a larger baking dish as is seen in the accompanying pictures.  A small square with a cup of black tea or coffee is divine.

 Ingredients

Cookie Base:

1 ¼ c. graham cracker crumbs

1 c. unsweetened flaked coconut

½ c. almonds, toasted and finely chopped

2/3 c. unsalted butter

1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder

¼ c. sugar

1 egg, lightly beaten

Custard Filling:

2 c. powdered sugar

2 tbsp. vanilla pudding mix

3 scant tbsp. cream

½ c. unsalted butter, softened

Chocolate Topping:

8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate (not chips)

4 tbsp. butter

 Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350º.

 Prepare an 8-inch square baking dish by buttering it and then lining it with parchment paper or aluminum foil.  Be sure to leave an inch or so of overlap on two sides to serve as a handle to help remove the bars once they are firm.

 Make the base:

In a large bowl stir together the graham cracker crumbs, coconut and almonds.  Set this aside.

No rolling pin at hand, so Dave used the next best thing to crush the graham crackers.

No rolling pin at hand, so Dave used the next best thing to crush the graham crackers.

The combined graham cracker crumbs, coconut and finely chopped almonds.

The combined graham cracker crumbs, coconut and finely chopped almonds.

In a saucepan melt the butter with the cocoa powder and sugar.  Remove the pan from the heat and temper the beaten egg by adding a few spoonfuls of the hot chocolate mixture to the beaten egg and whisk like mad.  Tempering heats the egg gently so that it hopefully will not scramble when you add it to the mix.  Once you have beaten in the few spoonfuls of chocolate mixture to the egg, then pour the egg mixture back into the pan with the chocolate and again whisk like mad.  Pour the chocolate and egg mixture into the crumbs and stir until combined.

 

The sweetened cocoa and butter mixture for the cookie base.

The sweetened cocoa and butter mixture for the cookie base.

Tempering the eggs so that they do not scramble in the cookie base.

Tempering the eggs so that they do not scramble in the cookie base.

Dave showing off his smoothly tempered cocoa and egg mixture pouring into the graham cracker crumbs below.

Dave showing off his smoothly tempered cocoa and egg mixture pouring into the graham cracker crumbs below.

The combined cookie base mixture.

The combined cookie base mixture.

Pour the crumb mixture into the prepared baking dish and press it down evenly in the pan.  Bake the base in the 350º oven for 10 minutes and then cool it on a rack.

The baked cookie base is cooled here on an impromptu cooling rack of an upside down muffin tin.

The baked cookie base is cooled here on an impromptu cooling rack of an upside down muffin tin.

 Make the filling:

In a medium bowl add the powdered sugar and pudding mix.  Then stir in the cream and softened butter.  Beat until smooth.  Spread this over the cooled cookie base.

 Make the topping:

Using a double-boiler, or a heat-proof bowl over a pot of simmering water, place the chocolate and butter over low heat and stir until both are melted and smooth.  Spread this evenly over the custard filling and refrigerate the baking dish until the chocolate topping is firm.

The completed but uncooled Nanaimo Bar pan.

The completed but uncooled Nanaimo Bar pan.

 Just before serving, take the dish out of the refrigerator and let it stand on the counter for 5-7 minutes so that the bars can be cut without shattering the chocolate.  Lift the bars from the baking dish by pulling up on the parchment or aluminum foil “handles.”  Peel the paper or foil from the bars and place them on a clean cutting board.  Cut the bars into 16 squares (4 cuts horizontally and 4 vertically) and place them on a serving plate.

For the reunion Dave made a double batch of the bars so the pan is larger than the one described in the recipe.

For the reunion Dave made a double batch of the bars so the pan is larger than the one described in the recipe.

Dave's Famous Nanaimo Bars... be careful if you sit too close to the serving plate.

Dave’s Famous Nanaimo Bars… be careful if you sit too close to the serving plate.

The bars can be stored in an air tight (and cousin-tight) container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days or frozen for up to 2 weeks.

Click on the following link to open a separate page with the recipe for easier printing.

Nanaimo Bars

A Pooh Bear Needs Honey

In a previous post (Culture Shock) I wrote about the Immigrant Welcome Center, part of the Central Vancouver Island Multicultural Center (CVIMC).  That is where I was told that there was a name for everything that I had been experiencing in Canada, and that name is culture shock.  Doh!  I was also told that I am an “immigrant.”  Now how did that happen?  It shouldn’t be a shock.  I am in the process of “immigrating” to another country, I am not Canadian, I am an immigrant.  But I resisted that label.  I want to be home, where ever and whatever that is.  On the advice of the CVIMC staff I signed up for fieldtrips with the center in order to meet other immigrants and maybe make friends.  The first outing that CVIMC was doing was to a local honey farm, Fredrich’s Honey, in the nearby town of Cedar.  If you have any spare space for a late summer read, this is a good one.

 Not that we could have left the house without him, but particularly since Little Man and I were going to a honey farm we had to bring along Pooh Bear.  To keep him out of trouble, Pooh Bear waited in the car while we were learning about bees.  Before anyone tries to report me for animal endangerment, Pooh Bear is a teddy bear not an animal.  He is, however, almost “real” in the Velveteen Rabbit sort of way.  The important thing for our story is that I didn’t want Little Man or Pooh to get any ideas about balloons and little gray storm clouds.  I’ve learned from experience that Little Man has a good arm and can launch his teddies with surprising speed and accuracy.

Little Man and his tether.

Little Man and his tether.

 Partly because of the way the trip was structured and partly because I was preoccupied trying to keep Little Man out of trouble I didn’t have as much time to chat with my fellow immigrants as I would have liked, but I did start on the road to friendship or at least to having people recognize my face when I come by.  That was a good first step, and I’ll write more about this at another time.  In the meantime, let’s talk honey…

Visitors asking Margaret questions about bees, beekeeping and honey.

Visitors asking Margaret questions about bees, beekeeping and honey.

 The “farm” itself is mostly an occupied farm house with their Honey House shop located up the hill from their home.  For our “immigrant experience” we were met by Margaret Friedrich, a wonderful woman who is an immigrant from Ireland herself, though her experience in Canada began back in the 60s.  She and her husband, Theo, have been in the honey business ever since, and now her son and daughter-in-law are learning the ropes.  For anyone interested, Fredrich’s Honey also conducts workshops on beekeeping.  You can also read a bit about the ups and downs of urban beekeeping in a book I mentioned in a previous post by Novella Carpenter about urban farming in Oakland.  Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer is an amazing story about her own experiences as a farmer in the middle of urban sprawl and ghetto as she raises pigs, all sorts of fowl, and yes, bees in a small midtown apartment.

An empty beehive.  It will be added in to the active hives if a swarm is found to fill it.

An empty beehive. It will be added in to the active hives if a swarm is found to fill it.

 Margaret is an amazing trove of bee-based knowledge.  Some of it I had heard or read about before, but other parts were new.  For the case of their “farm” the bees were currently up in the mountains since it is summer time and that is where the water is.  They will come back in the winter, stay through spring when everything blooms, and then make their move again.  I was a bit distracted by Little Man during much of Margaret’s presentation, but that was to be expected.  I had him on a short leash, literally.  Little Man has a much beloved tether that he wears when out and about in crowded outside areas, like large zoos, farmers markets and fairs.  People often laugh or scoff at the leash, but I do not care.  It keeps him safe, it keeps him with me, and he loves it.  So there!  J  Normally at a place like a small farm with so few people I wouldn’t use the leash, but in this case I wanted to keep Little Man a safe distance from any fascinating bee hives, or other things that a toddler should not be sticking his hands into.  Did I mention that Little Man likes to run around trees and get hopelessly tangled in his lion leash?  Yes… that was much of my morning.

Tools of the trade.  Little Man wanted the bee keepers hood in a bad way.

Tools of the trade. Little Man wanted the bee keepers hood in a bad way.

 The Honey House was admittedly my favorite part of the trip.  It is open year round, so anyone can come and purchase Fredrich’s honey and other bee-related products no matter what season.  I bought a lovely large jar of wildflower honey, and Little Man was given his own tiny jar of blackberry honey.  One of his and Pooh Bear’s favorite snacks is honey toast.  I will remind him of our visit to the farm each time he gets to bring out his little jar. 

Little Man inching his way towards and active hive.

Little Man inching his way towards an active hive.

 Fredrich’s Honey rotates in different types of honey throughout the year as different plants come into bloom.  Later this fall they will have a Fir Tree honey that I must go back to try.  I am a huge fan of tree syrups; maple is my favorite but Indiana’s Shag Bark Hickory syrup is a close second.  It is lighter in color than maple syrup, but is not as sweet and has a light smoky finish.  Always up for new tastes, I am excited to try a tree pollen-based honey.  I also want to call soon to see if they have any dandelion honey in stock.  This honey is not produced by their bees and they were out of stock when I visited, but woman at the Honey House described it as rich and dark, gotta try it!

Two younger visitors in front of the Honey House.

Two younger visitors in front of the Honey House.

 My final purchase from Fredrich’s Honey was a pair of two beeswax candles.  The scent was of warm honey and bees; not cloyingly sweet and definitely not artificial.  The candles smelled like what I want “home” to be.  Now I just need to find the box with my candle sticks in it so that I can enjoy that scent in the evenings while I write.  Maybe it’s in that large stack over under the stairs?  Oh bother…

Pooh Bear's dream... honey toast for life.

Pooh Bear’s dream… honey toast for life.