Archive for the ‘Discovering’ Category

A Magical Garden

Just back from visiting my parents in Richmond, B.C.. One of the things I like most about visiting them, especially in the summer, is their garden. It really is a magical place: big, lush, and colourful. There are fruit trees that provide abundantly, garden art hidden among the greenery and surprising you at every turn, a little man-made stream that babbles all day long – soothing sounds – and, of course, a vegetable garden. It’s a place to play, to relax, to meet, to eat, and to enjoy!

Bird's eye view of my parents' gardenBird's eye view of my parents' gardenBird's eye view of my parents' gardenThe "spring" and garden art in my parents' gardenThe "stream" in my parents' gardenAsian-inspired statue in my parents' gardenRabbit statue in my parents' gardenVegetable garden in my parents' gardenRipening cherries in my parents' gardenUnripe figs in my parents' garden

Read Full Post »

Violetta food-cart-turned-restaurant, Portland, OregonLuckily my food memories are slow to fade. I’ve been wanting to capture David’s and my 2010 travels and all the great places at which we ate last year before hitting the road again this year.

Food is not the only criterion we consider when choosing a vacation destination, but it is among the top 3. I admit we fall into the “will-travel-for-food” crowd and seek out tasty morsels wherever we happen to be.

I’m usually the one who does the research. I start with the tourism bureaus; some places are big into food tourism and have great websites to promote local foods, producers, and tasty eats. I do city searches on Serious Eats, one of my favourite food websites, and Saveur, which does a great job at showcasing city trends and off-the-beaten-track places. I may check the local buzz on Urbanspoon. Finally, I discovered Tasting Table, which sends out interesting tidbits of daily food news in a national (American) edition, as well as city-specific newsletters for Chicago, Washington D.C., New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

Once at the destination, we will often plan where to eat first and then arrange our other activities around our chosen food stops. It may sound a little food-obsessed, but I happen to like to know that I’m going to eat something good and not be stuck having to find a “good place.” For me there are few things worse than bad food value and having to settle for a mediocre meal. Nevertheless, we still travel with a budget. We usually splurge on one more expensive dinner and find ways to keep our costs down by eating lunch (instead of dinner) at other restaurants we want to try, eating ethnic foods, and even cooking ourselves if possible.

So where did we go and where did we eat?! Chicago, Vancouver, Oregon, and Salt Spring Island.


Sign inviting passers-by to eat a Chicago-style hot dog, Chicago, Illinois

Sign inviting passers-by to eat a Chicago-style hot dog, i.e. topped with mustard, sweet relish, chopped onion, a pickle spear, tomato wedge, and a sprinkle of celery salt.

It was 5 pm when we got to Chicago after two days of driving. We were hungry and getting cranky. We’d decided to stop at Calumet Fisheries (tip from Saveur Magazine) on the way into town. Thanks to the GPS, we managed to navigate our way to this little shack somewhere in South Chicago without any problems. Inside, a diverse 15-person line snaked its way around the tiny place. The dinner of smoked shrimp and fried fish hit the spot and was a perfect introduction to Chicago’s food scene.

We punctuated our week-long stay with what I would consider reasonably healthy and interesting fast food places for lunch. Near Cloud Gate we ate Cuban sandwiches and salads with Caribbean flavours followed with rich, sweet coffee and alfajores at Cafecito. We found fresh and tasty sandwiches at Hannah’s Bretzel tucked into a downtown office building. Also downtown, we stopped at one of the several Wow Bao locations to have a fun meal of fusion-style steamed buns. One day we connected food stops on foot in a 12 km triangle, walking first to what seemed like the middle-of-nowhere to eat the obligatory Chicago hot dog at  Hot Doug’s, then stopping for a beer at the then recently opened Revolution Brewery — which happened to be hosting delegates from the Craft Brew Conference and World Beer Cup while we were there — and ending the afternoon with a taco snack at Tierra Caliente, a Latino supermarket with a lunch counter hidden at the back. Not the kind of place we’d usually wander into, but a rewarding stop for our tastebuds! We did coffee breaks at Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea, where coffee and tea are treated like a fine wine and their preparations release aromas in ways you don’t experience in other coffee shops.

Brewing coffee at Intelligentsia, Chicago, Illinois

Brewing coffee at Intelligentsia.

It would have been amazing if our budget had allowed a meal at Alinea, but that was not the case (and I don’t know if I could justify to myself spending that much on a meal). Our dinner splurge was at The Publican, a place in the Warehouse District I discovered via Tasting Table. When I read about The Publican, I knew right away that it would appeal to David and, despite the offal-centric menu, I was tempted by many of the dishes and the originality of the space. We ordered more than we should have, but were delighted with our selection. The charcuterie plate was the highlight, showcasing a selection of homemade cured and prepared meats including lambcetta and the.most.sublime. homemade coriander and vanilla mustard. It was like eating savoury jam.

We loved Chicago, not only for the food, but also its architecture, attractions, and an unpretentious big-city sophistication blended with a relaxed ambiance. We’ll go back, there’s no doubt!


Sushi platter from Village Sushi, Richmond, B.C.

Super fresh sushi lunch for four from Village Sushi.

Always a pleasure to be back in my hometown, and there are a couple of places that are musts on every trip. Village Sushi in Steveston is one of them. A small establishment run by a husband and wife team, they serve lovingly prepared, exceptionally fresh, and high quality sushi. What’s more, David and I eat our fill for $20-$25 including tip. Another regular stop is Oyama Sausage Company at Granville Island where we inevitably buy guanciale – I have yet to find it in Ottawa – and one of their saucisson sec; Oyama has much more to offer though. Vij’s Rangoli is another place we visit regularly to enjoy a feast of inspired Indian cuisine.

Oyama Sausage Co. at Granville Island, Vancouver, B.C.

Oyama Sausage Co. at Granville Island offers a huge selection of carefully crafted sausages and other meat products made with high-quality ingredients.

On this trip we discovered Chen’s Shanghai Kitchen tucked into a strip mall in central Richmond (home of the Olympic oval). A bright and clean establishment with a partly open kitchen at the back of the dining room. On one side there was a window through which we could observe a woman diligently and deftly making by hand one dumpling after another. The menu was different than the typical Chinese restaurant and it was hard to choose. In the end we had a combination of dishes that were new to us and familiar ones that we felt would be interesting to try in this restaurant. All of it was good, but I particularly appreciated the Buddha’s Delight made with Chinese cabbage, lily buds, at least two types each of tofu and mushrooms, and something I couldn’t identify, maybe wheat gluten. Next time I’d like to go back with a larger group to be able to try more!

The menu at Chen's Shanghai Kitchen, Richmond, B.C.

The menu at Chens Shanghai Kitchen.

One of the best things about going to Vancouver though, is being treated to good things from my parents’ kitchen and garden. Notable from the last visit are home-smoked salmon and fresh quince from the tree.


Market fresh in Portland, Oregon

Market fresh in Portland.

Oregon is one of those places that actively promotes food tourism and has an elaborate website dedicated to the subject. Very useful for trip planning. After spending a couple of days in Portland, with its thriving food and micro-brew scene, we drove through the lush Willamette Valley to get to Newport on the Oregon Coast, an active fishing town with a working waterfront, and ended with a too-short one-night stop in Astoria, which was for me the surprise gem of the trip.

Most of our “serious” eating happened in Portland. At Clyde Common, we witnessed the delivery of a whole lamb from a nearby farm as we sat at a communal table eating delicious lunch sandwiches. From our seats at the end of the bar at Olympic Provisions, we had a view of the kitchen and saw them breaking down meats and preparing their housemade sausages. Famous for its food carts, we were lucky to score a comforting meal of chicken and rice at Nong’s Khao Man Gai before the chef ran out. We also had some hearty and tasty breakfasts at Buddha Bites. Meanwhile the burger at Violetta, a food-cart-turned-restaurant, hit the spot after a long day of walking around town.

Making charcuterie at Olympic Provisions, Portland, Oregon

Making charcuterie at Olympic Provisions, Portland. We were lucky to get the seats with a view from the lunch counter.

Our dinner splurge, which happened to be our anniversary dinner, was at Beaker & Flask. We came across the restaurant in a magazine article in which the chef at Beast, one of Portland’s top restaurants, mentioned that Beaker & Flask was one of her favourites. We figured if she liked it, then we would too! Although known for its cocktails, the food was outstanding, and the service genuinely friendly and professional. For me, the most delicious discovery during this meal was the Padrón pepper. Lightly fried and salted, it was part of an vegetarian antipasti plate I’d ordered. Addictive. I’m hoping I can find some seeds and grow some myself! Meanwhile David had an enlightened conversation with one of the waiters about forcemeat, his latest food interest.

Colourful fish & chip lunch place in Newport, Oregon

Colourful fish & chip lunch place in Newport.

On our way to the Pacific Coast, we did some wine tasting and picked up a couple of bottles on our drive through the Willamette Valley. We were enthusiastically welcomed at the Willamette Valley Cheese Company, where we tasted a surprisingly flavourful mozzarella cheese – the traditional method of hand-pulling the cheese makes all the difference. Our lunch stop was in the charming town of McMinnville, well worth a visit.

Ponzi Estate, Willamette Valley, Oregon

Vineyards at Ponzi Estate, Willamette Valley.

With the sound of the waves accompanying our meal, we ate fish and chips in Newport, but missed out on Dungeness crab, the official state crustacean. And well, our stay in Astoria located on the banks of the Columbia River just across from Washington State (where The Goonies and Kindergarden Cop were shot) was just too short. Nevertheless, we managed to stop in at Josephson’s for some smoked fish (next day’s lunch) and had dinner at the Fort George Brewery + Public House, which happened to be serving its seasonal Hopstoria Fresh Hop Ale made with hops collected from local gardens and backyards. How cool is that?! Astoria definitely deserves a second visit.

Oregon brewers sticker collection at Fort George Brewery + Public House, Astoria, Oregon

Oregon brewers sticker collection at Fort George Brewery + Public House.

Our accommodations in Oregon are worth mentioning: the contemporary Hotel Modera in Portland (got lucky; we booked a Travelocity secret hotel), the charming if a little musty Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport with stunning views of the coast (when it wasn’t foggy or raining), and the historic Commodore Hotel in Astoria.

We only spent a week driving around Oregon, but that short visit convinced me that I need to go back for a longer (at least three-week) road trip!

Salt Spring Island

We drove from Oregon to Port Angeles where we took a ferry to Victoria, then another ferry to Salt Spring Island. I think Salt Spring Island is a great place for a holiday. For me, it has the right combination of nature (countryside, forest, ocean, elevation, coastal wildlife), art, and food.

My favourite food stops are the Salt Spring Island Cheese Company, maker of goat’s and sheep’s milk cheese, Salt Spring Island Bread Co., maker of organic artisan breads baked in a wood-fired oven, and Bruce’s Kitchen. The Farmer’s Market in Ganges is also lovely to buy fresh island produce and chat with the locals.

The Salt Spring Island Cheese Company is located in a beautiful wooded area. A short self-guided tour takes visitors around the outside of the building where the cheese is made offering windows on each step of the cheese-making process. But the best part is tasting the cheese in the shop! My favourites are the soft fresh chèvres and the surface ripened Juliette.

The drive up to the Salt Spring Island Bread Co. is worth it as much for the bread as for the view of the ocean from the hilltop location. It’s also worth buying several loaves of the delicious bread, since the bakery is not open every day.

Bruce's Kitchen, Salt Spring Island, B.C.

Bruces Kitchen on Salt Spring Island. Even without the words, the sign visually says it all!

Bruce of Bruce’s Kitchen used to live and work (at Mariposa Farm and the Urban Element among others) in Ottawa. He moved West several years ago and opened Bruce’s Kitchen where he serves up daily specials made with the best local ingredients. His passion for food definitely flavours the fresh and wholesome dishes he cooks up in his tiny kitchen.

Wow, all these memories of great food eaten in great places are making my mouth water and my feet itch! Luckily we’ll be packing our bags soon.

Read Full Post »

Quebec City's German Christmas Market under a blanket of snowCute little wood huts decorated with lights, pine and fir. Snowflakes. Cobblestone streets and old buildings. Voices coming together in festive song. Warm aromas of Glühwein (hot mulled wine) and other traditional specialties. Christmas crafts, handmade gifts and artisan wares. Laughter. Happy people. The German Christmas market in Quebec City is the perfect prelude to the holiday season.

Cute Santa decorations made by members of the church to support Quebec City's less fortunateMy long-time friend, Susy, is one of the organizers of this Christmas market. It started three years ago when she and several other Germans and German-Canadians sought to recreate in Quebec City the beautiful Christmas markets common to many central European countries. The first year they attracted over 1000 people to their stands in a community centre (the expectation was 200).

Lights, laughter and traditional treats at Quebec City's German Christmas MarketOne of many happy shoppers at the German Christmas MarketEncouraged by this initial success and the apparent interest from the community, they created the Communauté Allemande Québec and started organizing the event for year two. They had wood huts built for the vendors and moved the market to the courtyard of the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, a beautiful location just across from the Château Frontenac. The second year attracted over 20,000 visitors.

Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus carved of wood

Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus carved of wood

Chocolate Santa moulds

Chocolate Santa moulds.

This year, the market was extended to two weekends (December 3, 4, 5, and 10, 11, 12). They also increased the number of vendors and added a series of Christmas concerts to the festivities. The numbers for year three look promising, proving that the marché de Noël allemand has become a popular event on Quebec City’s Christmas calendar. Needless to say, I’m proud of Susy’s achievements!

Selling pretzels and German sweets at the German Christmas Market

Yummy pretzels and traditional German baking.

German gingerbread

German gingerbread in pretty shapes and natural decorations.

Volunteering at the market allowed me to spend time with Susy, be a part of this great event and soak up the festive ambiance. Of course, I also enjoyed checking out the different foods being offered! In addition to the Glühwein, there were sausages, pretzels, German Christmas cookies, Nürnberger Lebkuchen (German gingerbread), baked apples, roasted chestnuts, crepes, Apfelbrot (a hearty bread with apples, hazelnuts and spices) and Stollen (a candied fruit and nut-filled buttery yeast bread). Yum!

Selling traditional German Lebkuchen (gingerbread)

These ladies were busy throughout the day and evening selling Lebkuchen, traditional German gingerbread.

Susy and me at the German Christmas Market

My friend Susy, one of the market's organizers, and me at the German Christmas Market's info booth.

I’ve learned there are European-style Christmas markets in quite a few towns in Quebec. However, the Communauté Allemande Québec‘s German Christmas market is extra special: an incomparable setting in Vieux-Quebec, an authentic German Christmas market atmosphere, and a delightful mix of craft and culture. It reminded me of Christmas markets I’ve visited in Europe.

Christmas market in Colmar, France

Christmas market in Colmar, France. It takes up the entire city!

On a different note, I have to add that while we were in Quebec City, we had an exceptional dinner at Le clocher penché, a little bistro in the Saint-Roch neighbourhood. The food was fresh, seasonal, and locally sourced. The service was professional and friendly. The ambiance was charming and upbeat.

Quebec City's Le clocher penché bistroTo start, I had homemade faisselle, a creamy yet light fresh cheese made of cow’s milk just firm enough to keep its shape – out.of.this.world – followed by melt-in-your-mouth pork cooked sous-vide for two days accompanied by a mix of wild rice, squash and bok choy which added tasty texture to the dish. Meanwhile, David had marrow bone as an appetizer, and, as a main course, delicately flavoured boudin noir on a sublime parsnip puree with lightly sauteed apples served with a salad of fennel and apple, a crunchy contrast to the boudin. Delicious!

Bar at Le clocher penché

The bar at Le clocher penché. Note the pictures hanging above the bar -- portraits of their local farmer-producer-suppliers.

Read Full Post »

Showing off the colours, the spirit and the beer!

Showing off the colours, the spirit and the beer!

What makes a good party? Plentiful tasty food and good quality drink, happy people, music, and fun. Another sign of a good party: everyone goes along.* Beau’s Brewery brings it all together at Beau’s Oktoberfest!

This year’s event sounds like it’s going to be even better than last year’s. They’ve added more beer, more food, and more activities like the who-makes-the-best-sauerkraut competition and a sausage-eating contest.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it—and envy those who will—but I had a great time last year. Here’s a glimpse of what’s in store at the Beau’s Okotberfest-ivities:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

*Note the green hats!

Read Full Post »

GreeceAt this time last year I was discovering a small part of Greece. Beautiful landscapes, interesting history and, of course, tasty food. I would go back in a heartbeat.

Unfortunately a trip to Greece is not on this year’s agenda. I’ve been eating Greek vicariously through Saveur Magazine’s Greece Issue since I got it a couple of weeks ago. Ottawa’s annual GreekFest got me even closer to the real thing.

Ottawa GreekFest

Flags at Ottawa GreekFest

Organized by Ottawa’s Hellenic community, the Greekfest runs for 10 days around mid-August every year. It’s true to its motto “Live a Day the Greek Way” featuring Greek music, culture, customs, and food, lots of food.

To avoid the crowd, David and I arrived around 5:30. Once on the festival site—admission is free—we let sight and smell guide us to the good stuff. We ended up under a big tent where typical Greek specialties were being prepared. For dinner, we chose roast lamb and an appetizer plate which included spanakopita, tiropita, tarama, tzatziki, dolmades, feta and olives. The food may not have rivaled dishes in Greece, but the friendly people, spirit and ambiance certainly did!


Dessert: loukoumades (fried pastry with honey and cinnamon) and coffee frappé.

Then we went for dessert. Mmmmm loukoumades! I never had the opportunity to try them in Greece, so was delighted to get a taste at GreekFest. Loukamades are a fried pastry dough—much less doughy though than your typical doughnut—drenched in honey and sprinkled with cinnamon. They’re bite-sized morsels, light, sweet, and stickily delicious. It wasn’t long before the bees wanted some too. We couldn’t resist getting a frappé to go with the loukoumades. A Greek frappé is a lightly sweetened, frothy cold coffee made with instant coffee. Take me back to Greece!

Greek olive oil tasting

Greek olive oil tasting by Stavros Kalogerakos of Terra Foods.

After dinner, we participated in the olive oil tasting offered by Stavros Kalogerakos, owner of Terra Foods. Mr. Kalogerakos told the story of his olives, grown on his family property in Krokees in the Peloponnese and milled within 24 hours of harvest. This timely cold-press ensures that the oil retains its vitamins (A,D,E & K) and beneficial phytochemicals. What an oil. Rich green in colour, fruity, lightly herbaceous. It creates a light sting at the back of the throat, which Mr. Kalogerakos explained is due to those phytochemicals—they have anti-inflammatory properties. I didn’t need to taste twice before buying a bottle!

We ended our visit enjoying some traditional dance performances. All in all, a great Greek evening. Opa!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »