road-trip to the okanagan

A few weeks ago Hannah, my mom and I journeyed across the Rocky mountains to visit family in the Okanagan.  My busy, impatient little girl did surprisingly well on the long drive - I just kept passing her toys and snacks, ha ha.  

A few years ago I blogged about D-Dutchman Dairy in Sicamous (here's that post).  Their ice cream has always been a family favourite.  I love stopping in for a cone and visit with the cows, mostly for the sake of nostalgia I think.  Also, keeping family traditions is fun, so this was Hannah's first visit.  When I was a kid I looooved bubblegum ice cream, so Hannah and I shared a cone too. 

In Kelowna my Aunt took us to a little Cuban restaurant she likes.  Soul de Cuba Café is a cute little place near the north end of the boardwalk (pretty close to the lake).  

We tried the Tostones (fried plantains with mango sauce); I always forget how starchy plantain is, ha ha, but these were really good - nice and crispy on the outside and they got a good flavour boost from the mango sauce.  We all shared the Ropa Vieja (shredded beef dish) and the Picadillo a la Habanera (a ground beef mixture with olives).  Both dishes were served with rice, black bean soup and shredded lettuce.  Both dishes were tasty - I really liked a bit of the meat on top of the lettuce.  The two dishes we picked tasted fairly similar to me - I guess we should have picked one beef dish and one chicken dish.  Anyhow, the food was good and I would definitely come back.  

We also had a lovely lunch at Hotel Eldorado, a beautiful place right on Okanagan Lake.  The dining room feels like an old veranda with large windows opening to the lake, it would be super-romantic for a date night.  I had the seared tuna sandwich for lunch.  The tuna was beautifully cooked and the house-made bread tasted great - an awesome sandwich.  For dessert I had a bowl of the peach sorbet (freshly made-in-house daily), so smooth and delicious.  The next time you're in Kelowna I would totally recommend stopping in at the Hotel Eldorado - even if it's just for drinks and snacks alongside the marina.  

So that's a quick summary of our trip!  We had an awesome time and enjoyed some good food.  Especially ice cream...we had a lot of ice cream :)  

Oh, one more thing: if you're looking for a place to stay in Kelowna, check out Pleasant Pear Orchard B&B

sweets & eats in banff

We spent a snowy weekend in Banff, relaxing, snowboarding and soaking in the hot springs - oh, and eating.  The weather was snowy and windy, so we had a terrific powder day at Sunshine, but it wasn't as nice for walking around.  I didn't notice any big changes in restaurants since our last visit (summer 2011), so we ended up going to a few places we know we like.

We didn't take a camera to the hill with us (our little one died in Cambodia) so I'll just have to describe lunch at the pub: a pitcher of beer and a poutine for two with a ridiculous amount of gravy.  So bad for you, but so good.  It's our favourite snowboarding lunch.

We also didn't take the camera when we went to the Old Spaghetti Factory for dinner.  I know, I know...but it's kind-of a little Banff tradition of ours.  We both order the spaghetti a la Homer - browned butter with a generous heap of mizithra cheese (we both add a very generous sprinkle of pepper).  Try it, it's different, but so good. 

First up, Sushi Bistro - a little place we discovered on our last visit.  After you're seated you get a menu and laminated card for marking what/how much you want - a pretty good idea I think other sushi places could adopt!  We each ordered a bowl of miso and a variety of rolls.  All the regular maki come in orders of 6, and the giant maki come in orders of 4.  First up was the miso - we both agreed it tasted more like chicken soup than what we're used to (it also had slices of carrot and cooked onion, rather than green onion).

The salmon & avocado rolls were tasty, as was the spicy tuna.  The kamikaze roll had crunchy bits of tempura with spicy mayo and avocado - it was okay, but I probably wouldn't order that one again.  We also got an order of the spicy scallop rolls, with tempura battered scallop and spicy mayo - this one was awesome, the scallop was sweet and tasty (and rare in the middle, which I like) and the mayo definitely added some heat.

All of the maki were well prepared, I liked that there wasn't too much rice so that we could enjoy the flavours inside and the fish tasted good and seemed fresh.  It's a simple restaurant, but we had good service and enjoyed our meal.  Oh, and I love their place settings - they use a little gummy cola bottle as a chopstick rest :)

Sushi Bistro on Urbanspoon

Next up: dessert from Mountain Chocolates

DSC_5412.jpg

After dinner we strolled the streets for a bit, but the wind was biting cold, so that didn't last for long.  Even though it was cold we made sure to stop in at Mountain Chocolates to pick up some dessert to take back to our hotel with us.  The shop smells AH-MAZE-ING!  If ever you've strolled the streets of Banff, I'm sure you would agree...the aroma of freshly made fudge or caramel popcorn perfumes the air and gets your sweet tooth fired-up.  When we were in the shop a fresh batch of chocolate-amaretto fudge was sitting on the marble slab - I was so tempted to dip a finger in!

We picked up a few pieces of fudge and this other giant treat that included soft caramel, cashews and chocolate - it was fantastic, and seriously, the size of my hand.

Mountain Chocolates on Urbanspoon

I took this photo of Mountain Chocolates the next morning - except it was even colder then!

On Sunday morning we headed to the Wild Flour Bakery Cafe for Breakfast.  It's a cozy little place a block off of the main street (which is nice).  It was also relatively quiet when we were there, a rarity in Banff.  I ordered the whole wheat flax seed waffles with berry compote.  The waffles had crispy exteriors and I liked the flavour that the whole wheat flour and flax added.  The berry compote was awesome, I think it had blueberries, blackberries and raspberries.  It all tasted really good, but I had a few minor quibbles: the berry compote served on top of the waffles was cold, which meant that my waffles cooled off in a hurry, so quickly in fact that the cold butter served on the side wouldn't melt on them.

Trev ordered the breakfast sandwich, which was listed as herb & egg fritatta with aged cheddar on sourdough bread.  Sounds good right?  Wrong...it was bland and tasteless.  You could see bits of herb in the egg, but they added no flavour whatsoever.  This brings me to the other thing that kind-of irked me: there were extra charges for absolutely everything.  I understand a charge for bacon on the breakfast sandwich (+$1), but I thought that charging $1 for syrup for my waffles or $0.50 for hot sauce to liven up the bland sandwich was a bit much.  When you're already paying $6.50 for a sandwich, is it too much to ask to fork over a bit of free hot sauce?  uugh...sorry for the mini-rant.  Ok, so quibbles and irks aside, the Wild Flour is still an okay place to go, it just has some room for improvement.  I enjoyed my americano in peace, away from the hustle & bustle of Banff Ave. 

Wild Flour Bakery Cafe on Urbanspoon

Last stop of the weekend: the Eddie Burger. 

By coincidence, we arrived on the first day of Baconfest.  Yup, bacon everything: bacon pops, bacon-topped ice cream sundae, peanut butter-jam-bacon milkshake (weird, right?).  I wasn't convinced to try anything from the Baconfest menu, but Trev decided to try the bacon burger - chopped up bacon in the patty plus all the regular fixings on top (plus more bacon).  It was so enormous that he couldn't finish all his sweet potato fries.  I ordered the Kiwi burger - a lamb patty topped with gouda cheese, lettuce, garlic mayo and cranberry dijon on a whole wheat bun.  It was really good, I loved the garlic mayo the the tangy cranberry dijon.  It was such a good combo with the flavourful lamb.  I had home-fries on the side, and they came out hot and crisp.  How could I not finish them all?  It was jam-packed in there, but the server was friendly and it didn't take too long to get our food (probably about 20 minutes).  Once again, the Eddie Burger did not disappoint, and I'm sure we'll be back next time too!

The Eddie Burger & Bar on Urbanspoon

good eats in victoria

We had a good time on the West Coast Trail, but I was very excited to make it back to Victoria...first for a shower and second for some good food and a glass of wine.  It was a looong bus ride back to Victoria from Bamfield (about 7 hours) but we finally made it and checked into our hotel.  We were staying right in the inner harbour area, so we were in easy walking distance of lots of great restaurants.

We headed out for a late dinner and ended up at Pagliacci's, an institution in Victoria.  Even when we showed up at 9:30 we had to wait for a table.  The atmosphere was great.  It was packed and cozy in there with tables packed in tight and signed photos of celebrities lining the walls, candlelight and the sound of happy people visiting and eating.  You're greeted with a basket of fresh-baked focaccia bread with delicious crunchy sea salt on top.  We started off with a bottle of wine from Spain (they have a huge wine list) and we all ordered 1/2 size orders of pasta.  I loved that they offered 1/2 sizes (which were still generous and more than enough for dinner).  I tried a fresh made pesto with sundried tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms and toasted pinenuts with linguini. 

It definitely hit the spot but I didn't have any room for dessert.  Brian hadn't made it out for dinner with us that first night, so we ended up going there for a late dinner the next night as well.  We decided to order appetizers so we had the antipasti plate and the Captain Nemo bowl, which had mixed seafood and shellfish in a coconut curry broth, and of course, lots of fresh bread.  The service was fantastic and friendly and Trev and I both agreed that if we lived in Victoria we would be regulars. 

the looong line and Red Fish Blue Fish in the distance

the looong line and Red Fish Blue Fish in the distance

tacones...I could eat these everyday

tacones...I could eat these everyday

Another place we would happily be regulars at?  Red Fish Blue Fish, a fresh seafood joint serving delicious sustainable seafood out of a sea-can in the inner harbour.  We waited 45 minutes in line to place our order (apparently if you can make it on a rainy day the line is a lot shorter).  As we were waiting a menu was passed back so you could plan your order and start drooling over all the choices.  When we finally made it to the front we decided to order two scallop tacones and two grilled albacore tuna tacones (each order comes with a side of slaw) and I ordered a fresh shrimp cocktail and a coconut-lime popsicle for dessert.  It ended up being A LOT of food, but it was all fantastic.  The tortillas for the tacones were grilled first then filled up with some fresh slaw and pickled onions.  The tuna was good, but the scallop tacones with the golden shallot aioli were to die for - and the amount of scallops in each was very generous and definitely worth the $12 for an order of two.  The shrimp cocktail was also a delicious surprise.  They make a fresh tomato-horseradish gazpacho and top it with fresh local shrimp, some diced lettuce, a bit of sour cream and fresh green onions.  That alone would have made a great light lunch.  Top it all off with a popsicle and I was happily stuffed as we headed off to Butchart Gardens for the afternoon.

enjoying the sun and fresh seafood

enjoying the sun and fresh seafood

I tend to be an early-riser (so Trev gets dragged along too) and I like to be up and about before a city really wakes up, so we would set out early and find neat little places for breakfast.  One morning we ended up at Chef Suzi in the Square, enticed by their breakfast sandwich special on the sandwich board outside.  Trev tried that one: an english muffin with chipolte mayo, an egg, monterey cheese, bacon and avacado ($3.50).  It was a great combination, I'd love to recreate it at home.  I went for the coffee and muffin special (only $3).  My muffin was a still warm out-of-the-oven orange-cranberry-poppyseed creation.  It had just the right amount of crunch on the top and it went great with my local Salt-spring Island coffee.  We ended up coming back again on another morning with Brian and Loretta.  It was a great place to hang out and the prices were unbeatable.

On Sunday night was Symphony Splash, so we made early dinner reservations at Cafe Brio (Trev had read some good reviews).  Cafe Brio focuses on locally sourced ingredients with pure and fresh flavours.  It was a perfect choice and I loved absolutely everything about our experience there.  First of all, the restaurant has fantastic atmosphere, with a lush green terrace in the front, then a beautiful high-ceiling space with rich dark walls covered in interesting art, warm light and a skylight above.  We chose to sit out on the terrace, and I think it was a good choice. 

We decided to order the Brio Family Meal.  It was $40 per person, and everyone at the table had to participate; we were provided with 6 dishes, chosen by the chef, to be shared family-style.  First out we were provided with a romaine hearts salad and a salumi plate with in-house made Brio Salami, Pancetta Pate, olives and pickles.   We also sampled the cucumber gazpacho with smoked trout and paprika oil. 

It was all so delicious, I could have easily been satisfied after the round of appetizers, but then the main course showed up.  First was a seared sirloin with an amazing red wine sauce served with a black lentil side dish.  Next was pan-seared halibut with salsa verde and sauteed spring peas and finally an heirloom tomato pasta with a generous sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan.  Everything was delicious and amazing.  It was great to try a little bit of everything, I just wish I could have eaten more!  Or that we were at home and I could take the leftovers with me.  The dessert menu looked great, but none of us had any room left.  I'm so glad we had the opportunity to eat at Cafe Brio, we had an excellent experience at an internationally known establishment.  Chef Laurie Munn is a master, there's not really anything else I can say!

Right after our meal we headed to the inner harbour for Symphony Splash, an annual fundraiser for the Victoria Symphony Orchestra.  They pull a giant barge into the harbour and the symphony plays in front of 40,000 people.  As a grand finale they play Tchaikovsky's 1812 overture, complete with cannons and fireworks.  It was quite the sight, and I was so glad we got to see it as part of our trip!

the crowds gathering for Symphony Splash

the crowds gathering for Symphony Splash

wannawafel?  I do!

wannawafel?  I do!

On our last morning (before we headed to the airport) we took one last stroll around the city.  I was on a mission to try Wannawafel, a Belgian waffle shop.  Their store-front location is in Market Square and they have multiple mobile units.  They make traditional Liege-style waffles (sweeter and more dense) and Brussels-style waffles (lighter and airy with a crisp outside).  I ordered a plain Liege waffle - I had to compare it to Edmonton's Eva Sweet waffles!  What was the verdict?  Well, my Wannawafel treat was tasty, but it was a little doughier and there were fewer crisp sugary bits on the outside so I decided that Eva Sweet's were better (especially the plain maple one).

I was a little sad (okay more than a little sad) to get on the plane back to Edmonton.  We had a fantastic vacation and I wished I could spend more time relaxing and wandering the streets of Victoria.  Maybe next year...

the west coast trail

Our adventure on the West Coast Trail started with a flurry of missed flights, rental cars and high-speed back-roads driving but we finally arrived and started on our journey.  We weighed our packs just before starting (so we had water along too)...mine weighed in at a very heavy 41 lbs and Trev's was a back-breaking 57 lbs...uugh, but we managed.  Because of our late start that day we arrived at the Thrasher Cove campsite late and tired after a difficult 6km.  Anything would have tasted good, but the dehydrated meat sauce with spaghetti I made really hit the spot.  (check out my dehydration tips at the bottom of the post)

Our second day was really fun as we climbed over house-sized boulders on the beach.  We made it around Owen Point just as the tide was coming in.  That day lunch was one of my favourite backpacking meals...quesidillas.  Aged cheddar cheese can be brought along on the trail without being refrigerated and it doesn't go bad.  I also found a dehydrated black bean soup mix at Planet Organic, then I added some spices and we used it as a dip for the quesidillas.  Add in a few little packs of hot sauce from Taco Bell and lunch was amazing.

That night we camped at Camper Bay.  Dinner was a trail version of tuna noodle casserole.  We started with mini shell Kraft Dinner (it cooks faster than the maccaroni) and boiled it with some peas I had dehydrated, then added in the cheese sauce package, some skim milk powder, a bit of powdered parmesan cheese and some packs of tuna, then I sprinkled some crushed whole wheat crackers on top.  It was another satisfying meal. 

butter chicken on the beach at Carmanah

butter chicken on the beach at Carmanah

The third day was a long day...18km over rough terrain.  It really wore me out and I thought I was going to die on the beach!  We finally reached Carmanah Creek and set up camp.  After a totally exhausting day we made coconut rice with dehydrated butter chicken.  It turned out great, we both loved it and agreed we would gladly eat it again in the future.

roasting boots and socks around the fire

roasting boots and socks around the fire

On day four we got a bit of a late start.  We were only about 1 km away from Chez Monique (a little restaurant along the trail) so we arrived around 11ish...just in time for breakfast or an early lunch.  It was a toss-up, but we both ordered veggie omelets while Brian and Loretta went for the cheeseburgers.

Chez Monique...proof that you can't judge a restaurant's food from it's appearance

Chez Monique...proof that you can't judge a restaurant's food from it's appearance

inside the kitchen at Chez Monique

inside the kitchen at Chez Monique

While we were waiting for our breakfast we had a good chat with Monique.  She's 72 and up until a few years ago she lived at her cabin along the beach year round.  Now she spends winters on the lower mainland, where she is working towards a bachelor's of science with a specialization in horticulture (she's on the Dean's list, by the way).  She has a large family with lots of grandchildren and she loves visiting with the hikers that stop at her restaurant.  The burgers at Monique's are famous and the stuff of hungry hiker's dreams.  As we encountered other hikers on the trail we were often asked if Monique's was open.  The answer was yes, and it was worth every penny ($15 for a 2-egg omelet, $20 for a 3-egg omelet, $20 for a cheeseburger).  

The omelets were sooo good.  They were light and fluffy and stuffed with a generous amount of fresh veggies and cheddar cheese (grated carrot in omelets?  try it, it's awesome).  It was hard to believe that these perfect omelets and yummy hashbrowns were fried up on little coleman camp stoves.  Brian and Loretta thoroughly enjoyed their burgers, then we all loaded up with some bags of candy and a few beers for the trail.  I've got to say, gummy candies are the best treat possible during a long day of hiking.  Oh, I also devoured a few buttertarts before we headed out...

A few hours later we arrived at Nitinat Narrows, the mouth of a lake that cuts across the trail, requiring a ferry ride across.  Trevor had sped along the trail ahead of the rest of us and while he was waiting for us the ferry driver was feeding his "pet" eagles.  He threw whole fresh salmon out for them and they would swoop down and scoop them up.  Trev got some great pictures.  The ferry is run by local native fisherman and they also sell fresh crab, salmon and cool beverages to hikers.  Trev and I shared the crab ($20) and the bbq'd salmon dinner ($25)...it was super fresh and so good.  It was so nice to have two of our meals cooked for us that day, and it definitely helped us push on that night to make it to our campsite at Tsusiat Falls.  We ended up setting up our tent by headlamp, but we made it.

We spent a day relaxing at Tsusiat Falls...it was so nice not to put my hiking boots on for a whole day!  Because we were just lazing around the beach all day we decided to turn our lunch into paninis...I put some tuna into whole wheat pita pockets with some sliced cheddar cheese and fried them up on the stove with a pot pressing them down from the top.  They turned out nice and crispy, a great lunch.  That night we had our second spaghetti meal with pistachio pudding for dessert.  Yup, pudding...it's so easy, just put a package of instant pudding and 2/3 cup skim milk powder into a medium sized ziplock bag, then add 2 cups water and squish it all around to mix it up, then bring it down to the river (or falls) and pin the edge of the bag down with a rock and let it set up.   Add in some crumbled oreo cookies (like we did) for an amazing dessert on the trail. 

On day 6 we continued on hiking...the trail was a lot easier after the falls.  We were all glad that we had started on the hardest end of the trail (starting in Port Renfrew) so that we didn't have to dread that struggle the whole time.  It was also a little amusing when we crossed hikers going the other way and they would tell us we were in for a "big mud hole just ahead"...ummm, yah...maybe they didn't know they were on the easy side...Anyhow, we slept on the cliffs overlooking the sea lion colony at kilometer 9.  It was a breezy night up there, so our noodles were cold as soon as they were off the heat, but we gladly ate them anyways.  We only had one more night of sleeping on the ground.

On our last day we hiked out to the Pachena Bay trailhead.  It was supposed to be 9km, but I swear it was a lot longer...after the 3km marker the last two markers were missing and it just seemed to go on forever, but we finally made it.  We paid a local woman to drive us into Bamfield so we could get some lunch and catch our bus back to Victoria.  Bamfield is a tiny little town whose main industry is fishing and tourism.  We had lunch at the little family-run diner.  Their specialty was fresh halibut and chips (with Nana's beer batter recipe).  I had a halibut burger and it was so good, Nana definitely has that recipe perfected!

halibut burger in Bamfield

halibut burger in Bamfield

We had completed the West Coast Trail in six nights and seven days.  We all took a few tumbles but there were no major injuries.  We saw some amazing scenery along the Pacific coastline and enjoyed some sunny weather.  We ate some good food and survived with only one pot.  We had a fantastic time, and I know I'll be back to do the trail again.    

Homemade Dehydrated Backpacker Meals: How-To

I made two different dehydrated meals for our adventure: tomato-meat sauce for spaghetti and butter chicken.  The "how-to" is the same for both (and any other saucy-type dish, I think):

  • Make the dish the same way you would at home, season it to taste
  • Puree the mixture in the food processor or with an immersion blender - I know, it doesn't sound appealing, but pureeing the sauce allows it to dry evenly and completely
  • Spread the mixture onto drying trays in a dehydrator and let it dry out overnight (about 8 hours)
  • Put the dried sauce back into the food processor and pulse on and off until it's powder-like
  • Spread the powdered sauce back onto the dryer trays in the dehydrator and let it run for a few more hours
  • Add 1 tbsp cornstarch to 2/3 cup powdered sauce mix (that was a generous serving for 2)
  • On the trail add about 1 cup boiling water (or amount necessary to achieve desired consistency) to the powdered sauce mix and let it sit for a few minutes before using
  • Serve it up with noodles or instant rice...it's a delicious taste of home on the trail!

egypt lake and peters' drive-in

Ahhh...long weekends.  They seem too few and far between, so we tend to cram a lot into them to make the most of our short summers here in Alberta.

This past weekend Trev and I headed south to Banff for a few days of backcountry hiking.  We stopped to pick up our backcountry passes in Banff, in the middle of the Canada Day celebrations there.  We grabbed a quick bite at a sushi place then headed to the Red Earth trail head.  We had planned on taking Healy Pass, but it's still snowed in so we had to take the slightly less interesting route. 

We started our hike at around 3:00, and easily made it to the first tenting site.  We arrived early enough that we decided to continue on to the next site at Pharaoh Creek.  The difficulty of the trail increased...we kept telling ourselves that the site would be after the next bridge (there were 9).  We eventually arrived and started preparing dinner right away.  Luckily, dinner was an easy backpacker meal.  The dehydrated chicken stew was actually pretty good; maybe a few crunchy bits, but it filled the void.

The next morning we continued on to Egypt Lake.  We arrived early and set up camp then cooked up my favourite camping lunch, quesidillas.  We wanted to do a day-hike up to Whistler's Pass, but the trail had tons of snow.  It was tough going, but we ended up at a nice view point with a good view of the surrounding mountains and the lakes below.  The hike back down to our tent only took about 1/3 of the time as we slid through snow banks.

For dinner that night we cooked up some instant rice with soy protein curry.  Still a little on the crunchy side, so I guess I'll have to adjust the recipe in the future.  We had pistachio pudding for dessert.  It's so easy, you add a package of instant pudding to a ziplock bag with 2/3 cup of powered skim milk powder, then add 2 cups filtered water to the bag and squish it all together to mix.  Bring the bag down to the river and hold down the edge with a rock and let it sit for a while.  The icy glacier water sets the pudding up and makes a nice treat.

On our third day we got up early, had some oatmeal and hot chocolate to warm up (it was below freezing at night) then started heading back.  The hike out was loooong.  It was just over 20km, and it started raining when we were about halfway.  We finally arrived at the parking lot (after some whining from me) and started heading for Calgary.

Believe it or not, I've never been to Peters' Drive-In in Calgary.  I guess we don't really make it to Calgary that often, so I was really looking forward to it (it's how I kept my feet moving for the last 3 kilometers).  After our backcountry adventure we earned the treats we devoured!

Peter's Drive-In has been open since 1964, and not much has changed since, which is amazing.  You can go through the drive-through or you can park in their parking lot and order from the window.  They only take cash (to keep things speedy) so make sure you come prepared.  We each ordered a single burger with cheese and a milkshake (maple walnut for Trev and banana-peach-coconut for me) and we ordered a small fries and onion rings to share.  All of that was only $23 and it was SO much food.  The burgers were really good and had real cheddar cheese.  The fries and onion rings were tasty and hit the spot, but we could only finish about 1/2 of each order.  The milkshakes were fantastic - thick and creamy, and they use real fruit in their shakes.  Sadly, I couldn't finish my shake either, but I gave it my best effort.  Now that I've tried Peters' once, I'll need to think of a reason to head down to Calgary so I can try another flavour of milkshake!