Family fun and feasting at Qualicum Beach’s Fire and Ice Street Festival

Chili galore!

Chili galore!

A little bit of madness will hit the streets of the village of Qualicum Beach on Saturday, April 30 when the 22nd annual Fire and Ice Street Festival gets under way. Upwards of 5,000 people flock to the village centre’s closed-off streets to take in a wide variety of attractions that combine to make for a great family day.

            The ‘fire’ aspect of the event is the Chili Cook-off, a heated (if you’ll excuse the expression) competition between local businesses, politicians, restaurants and resorts. The  competitors set up  street-side booths and dole out offerings of  their specialty chili  to anyone and everyone who is keen to try it.  A mere $4 gets you an opportunity to  eat your way from one end of town to the other.  I should note here that my husband and I have yet to manage to down samples from every entrant, but there are those, apparently, who do pull it off. The organizing committee took a year off in 2013 and came back  with some new innovations that will encourage the participation of restaurants who do not normally sell chili, but will be able to offer other hot foods for sampling.

There are plenty of activities for youngsters at the event

There are plenty of activities for youngsters at the event

The fun thing about the competition is the variety of flavours on offer, the weird ingredients that sometimes go into the chili, and the ‘extras’ such as corn muffins, tortilla chips, and all manner of other stuff, that come with the main attraction. The Peoples’ Choice Award is the most coveted of the day and is decided by those who take the trouble to place ballots in boxes at the booths. Participants can also cast ballots for Best Professional Chili, Best Amateur Chili, and Best Decorated Booth (and believe me, there are some dillies in this category!)

The ice carving competition draws competitors from near and far

The ice carving competition draws competitors from near and far

The ‘ice’ aspect of the festival is a popular ice-carving competition that has the contestants set up at various locations intermingled with the food booths. The 15 master ice sculptors turn out some genuinely amazing works of art, and their expertise with everything from chain saws to picks and drills is something to behold.

            The day also features all sorts of kid-friendly activities such as face-painting, pony rides, story time and the ever popular balloon man.  There is music galore – several main stage feature acts are complemented by melodious offerings from buskers who wander through the crowds.

Be prepared for crowds and a great time.

Be prepared for crowds and a great time.

Another new addition to the day’s festivities is the theme, which this year is Bring Back The Sixties.

            Over-all, this is just one of the most relaxed, fun events imaginable. The festival atmosphere permeates every aspect of the village and provides a pleasurable beginning to what everyone hopes will be the onset of summer.  Be prepared for a great day of feasting and fun!

             The big day gets under way at 11 a.m. and runs until 3 p.m.

              Further information can be obtained at: www.fireandicestreetfestival.com

            GPS co-ordinates are (roughly):

                  Lat. 49.34719366303581  Long. -124.4416344165802

           N 49 20.832  W 124 26.498

Posted in EAST CENTRAL ISLAND, EVENTS, KID FRIENDLY | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The Farm Table at Duncan’s Providence Farm

Smoked steelehead in filo pastry at The Farm Table, Providence Farm, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Smoked steelhead in filo pastry

For the past several years we have been trying to get to Duncan’s Providence Farm to partake of a meal at The Farm Table, a culinary partnership between the farm and Vancouver Island University.  We finally got there one recent fine Spring evening and were truly delighted with the experience.

Providence Farm is the training site for VIU’s culinary arts students.  Shepherded by Chef Allan Aikman in the kitchen and Skipper Sorensen in the dining room, the 13 students currently participating in the course learn everything from soup to nuts in the way of restaurant operation. They also spend one day a week working in the fields at Providence Farm – a great learning experience that implants an appreciation and understanding of the effort that goes into producing the ingredients that arrive in their kitchen.

Butternut pierogies at The Farm Table, Providence Farm, Duncan, Vancouver Island

The Farm Table takes pierogis to another level

The Farm Table offers the students an opportunity to gain expertise in the creation of extraordinary meals, as well as plating and serving.  The program runs from March to early August, and during that period dinners are served  Wednesday through Friday between 5:30 and 9 p.m.

We arrived on a Wednesday evening, when there were few other patrons in the beautiful old dining room.  Thursday and Friday nights were both fully booked – up to 30 diners per night can be accommodated.

Duck Breast with Indian spices at The Farm Table, Providence Farm, Duncan, Vancouver Island

Perfectly prepared duck breast

Skipper showed us to our table and we were presented with an impressive menu that gave us a lot of trouble – only because of the diversity and tempting offerings. The Farm Table operates on the basis of patrons ordering a three-course meal. We had four choices for our first course, six main courses to choose from, and three desserts.  The entire three course affair ranges in price from $18 – $24 depending on the entrée that you choose.

The fact that the meals are so reasonably priced may make people wonder at the quality of what will be served.  There is no reason for doubt, however – the food and presentation were up to fine dining standards.  The service by the students was, perhaps, a little tentative but they had only been at it three weeks.  I suspect by the time summer rolls around they will all be waiting tables with great aplomb.

Fresh spinach and potato soup at the Farm Table, Providence Farm, Duncan, Vancouver Island

Spinach and Potato Soup

So – the food.  Ingredients are purchased as locally as possible, including from Providence Farm’s extraordinary organic farming operation.  That attention to detail and dedication to freshness shows up in spades in the delightful flavour combinations that arrive at the table.

Our first courses were comprised of mouth-watering butternut pierogis accompanied by caramelized onions, apple relish and sour cream, and a lovely potato and spinach soup with smoked cheddar and brioche croutons.  Pierogis are a particular weakness of mine, and the ones created by The Farm Table certainly went above and beyond in the flavour and texture categories.  Even my husband, who is most definitely not a fan, agreed that the VIU students’ version of these Ukrainian staples were excellent.

Rhubarb meringue pie and blackberry cobbler at The Farm Table, Providence Farm, Duncan, Vancouver Island

Just enough sweetness at the end of the meal – fresh rhubarb meringue pie and blackberry cobbler

I ordered the smoked steelhead trout enveloped in filo  pastry with salmon mousseline and lemon caper sauce for my entrée. Perched atop a creamy risotto and accompanied by fresh asparagus, the dish sent me in to raptures.  Every mouthful was a delight – I still savour the memory.

My husband ordered the Indian-spiced roast duck. The perfectly cooked duck breast arrived with an accompaniment of mango chutney and asparagus.  Again, a delightful combination that set the palate to singing.

Rhubarb meringue pie and blackberry cobbler were our choices for dessert.  Served in smaller portions, they were just enough to complete the meal without being overwhelming.

Dining room at The Farm Table, Providence Farm, Duncan, Vancouver Island

The beautiful old dining room echoes the farm’s past

I can’t say enough good things about The Farm Table.  The concept of a training program co-operative between a university, a school district and a farm is inspiring.  The opportunity to enjoy exquisite, seasonable food at a reasonable price is delightful. And the dedication of those young people and their supervisors is truly something to relish. The entire arrangement is a stroke of genius that benefits so many in so many ways.

A couple of notes if you plan on dining at The Farm Table: please be patient and understanding of the fact that The Farm Table is a training ground and educational project – not a business. Service levels may vary because of this aspect, but generally we found the service to be good.  We were at The Farm Table for 1 ½ hours – not an unreasonable amount of time to enjoy a three-course meal, a glass of wine and coffee.

Also, reservations are highly recommended. The Farm Table can accommodate about 30 diners each evening and it is not unusual for it to fill up.

            Further information on The Farm Table can be found at the website:

http://cc.viu.ca/farmtable/

The Farm Table is located in the main building at Providence Farm in Duncan at 1843 Tzouhalem Road.

wheelchair-lGPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.782607  Long. -123.652804

N 48 46.956  W 123 39.168

Price rating: $$

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Qualicum Beach’s Oh…So Yummy Cafe

Vertical exteriorThere are a lot of surprises in Qualicum Beach’s Oh…So Yummy Café, not least among them the food and its presentation.

Located in the charming village core, Oh…So Yummy faces on to the main shopping street, tucked in among boutique shops and galleries. It turns a cheery face to the street , and that ambiance carries on through the door where upbeat owner David Keating takes orders in his booming voice and caters to every whim.

There is nothing subtle about this café.  There is some pretty unique artwork on the walls, and the colour orange predominates on walls and chairs, softened by a half-wall covered in cedar shakes.

Lunchtime Melt at Oh...So Yummy Cafe and Coffee Bar

Beautiful presentation combines with good food

Oh…So Yummy opened in Qualicum Beach following a very successful run in Courtenay that lasted 3 ½ years.  David and his partner made the move south simply because they were ready for a change. It has been a happy transition for them, as well as for those seeking a decent meal.

The café offers all-day breakfasts for those who feel so inclined, but we were looking for lunch on the day we visited.  The regular menu offers lots of flavourful, healthy options including quinoa bowls.  We opted for the daily lunchtime melt – a sublime open-faced sandwich featuring house-made red pepper jelly, fresh spinach, sliced grilled yam, roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, melted mozzarella and cheddar cheeses, all topped with a fan of sliced avocado. The presentation was inspired and totally unexpected in a casual café. A cup of delicious chicken-vegetable soup accompanied the sandwich – more than enough food for the two of us to share.

Interior view of Oh...So Yummy Cafe and Coffee House in Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island

Bright and eclectic is the only way to describe the interior

Oh…So Yummy only seats about 20 people, but obviously has attracted a devoted following, for good reason – David’s cheerful persona on the front end and the talent in the kitchen combine to create an attractive, casual, fun place to meet up with friends for coffee or a meal.  It’s a nice addition to the café scene in Qualicum Beach, orange walls and all!

Oh…So Yummy Café is located at 129 Second Ave. West, Qualicum Beach.

            GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.347267  Long. -124.443202

N 49 20.836  W 124 26.592

Price rating: $-$$

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Port Alberni’s Kitsuksis Dyke walking path

Paved pathway at Kitsuksis Dyke Trail, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The entire length of the path on both sides of Kitsuksis Creek is paved, providing easy access for everyone

There aren’t a lot of walking paths on Vancouver Island that can be enjoyed by virtually everyone, so we were particularly delighted to discover Port Alberni’s Kitsuksis Dyke trail. The dykes were constructed following a devastating tidal wave that came up the Alberni Inlet in the spring of 1964, decimating many of the lower-lying areas of the town.

Skateboarders on Kitsuksis Dyke Trail, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Skateboarders roll along the pathway with ease

The path is paved for its entire mile-long (1 ½ km) length and, while there are a few rough spots it is generally in very good condition.  The paving makes it a pleasant excursion along the banks of pretty Kitsuksis Creek for walkers, cyclists, skateboarders, in-line skaters and those pushing wheelchairs or baby carriages.

Both sides of the dyke are paved, so it is easy to do a loop that offers different vistas.  We began our walk at the southeast end of the walkway and strolled along under budding willow trees. Blair Park, about half way along the east side of the path, is a spacious playground with all sorts of equipment for little ones.  We saw several dogs gamboling about there as well – it is obviously a favoured community meeting place.

Gravel pathway to Kitsuksis Creek falls and train trestle, Kitsuksis Dyke Trail, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The short trail to the falls and train trestle is gravel, and well-maintained

We continued on towards the end of the paved walkway, noting a lovely large grassy area called Spencer Park – a perfect spot for a picnic or a lazy peaceful retreat.

Just past Spencer Park we crossed a footbridge, then forked right to follow a gravel trail that led to Kitsuksis Falls and the train trestle.  A sign on a tree promised the trestle was only five minutes away, so we headed up through a forest of Grand Firs and shortly found ourselves perched on a bench, enjoying the rush of water from the falls and the view of the impressive trestle overhead.

Kitsuksis Falls and train trestle, Kitsuksis Dyke Trail, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Kitsuksis Falls and train trestle

Heading back down the trail we traversed the west side of the paved portion of the pathway, encountering dog walkers, skateboarders and cyclists.  The pathway along the west side borders on private properties but there are several access points, all with nicely landscaped entryways.  We crossed the lower footbridge to get back to our parking spot, but a variety of parking locations along both sides of the trail means visitors can access any number of routes.  We could, in fact, have walked all the way from Victoria Quay at the confluence of Kitsuksis Creek and the Somass River.

Although we visited in the early Spring, autumn offers up its share of attractions along the trail as well.  Black bears are often seen foraging for salmon on the opposite bank of the Somass, and coho salmon can be seen jumping up the waterfalls after the first heavy rains in the fall.

Kitsuksis Dyke Trail Map, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia Although not of the ‘wild’ variety of trail, the Kitsuksis Dyke walking path has its own unique charms and offers a pleasant outing for people of all abilities. It is an easy walk; we spent about an hour, start to finish, and that included time to stop for photos and a brief stop to admire the falls and the train trestle.

The Kitsuksis Dyke walking path can be accessed from several points. If you want to avoid walking in traffic the best starting point would be at the bottom of Margaret Street, off Gertrude.

The best bet for getting accurate information on this walk is to stop in at the Tourism Information Centre at the eastern entrance to town and ask for a map – the centre has printed directions for access as well as the map included in this story.

           wheelchair-l GPS co-ordinates for the southeastern access point off of Margaret Street are:

Lat.: 49.258983  Long. -124.814245

N 49 15.539  W 124 48.855

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Qualicum Beach’s Thai Smile Cuisine

Thai folod at Thai Smile Cuisine, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaIt doesn’t look like much, inside or out, and it would be easy to whizz right by it on your way to or from Port Alberni. But Thai Smile Cuisine is one of those little local treasures that you should make the effort to try – it may appear unimpressive, but what arrives at your table will more than make up for that.

Formerly a well-known Malaysian food restaurant, Thai Smile took on a new persona in September, 2014.  Word quickly got out that anyone liking Thai cuisine needed to go there, and every time we have driven by since the makeover the parking lot has been full and diners’ vehicles have overflowed to the roadside. It’s always a good sign.

Vegetarian spring rolls and green papaya salad at Thai Smile Cuisine, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Vegetarian Spring Rolls and Green Papaya Salad

Thai Smile’s ‘home’ is a small building with one big room for diners.  It’s clean and tidy, but don’t expect any high-end décor. Folding chairs and unadorned tables are the order of the day.

Four of us arrived for dinner on a Friday night after making reservations for 5:30.  Glad we did – the place was busy already, and the tables continued to fill up following our arrival.

chicken cashew plate at Thai Smile Cuisine, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Chicken cashews

The menu is pretty extensive and offered a variety of options including appetizers, soups, salads, curries, stir fry, fried rice and noodle dishes. Diners have the options of ordering different protein sources with each plate – chicken, beef or pork, and with some dishes fish or prawns are offered as an alternative for a bit of an upcharge.

We ordered six dishes, starting with a plate of four crispy vegetarian spring rolls, a salad featuring shredded green papaya and a beef salad. The flavour combinations were interesting, and none of the offerings were overly spicy.

Drunken Noodles at Thai Smile Cuisine, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Drunken Noodles

The other three dishes included yummy drunken noodles, chicken cashew nuts (a little more heat in this one, thanks to the use of chili paste) and pad gra pao – a nice combination of prawns, bell peppers, garlic, sweet cabbage and Thai basil leaves. Loved the drunken noodles especially – I could have eaten an entire plate of them all by myself.

All of the dishes were colourful and featured fresh vegetables in abundance, adding to the attraction of our meal.

Although Thai Smile became increasingly busy during our visit service was always attentive and quick. There was never any indication that it was time for us to vacate, and we loved the fact that everyone who looked after us had a smile on their faces, from the moment we walked in the door to the time we left a couple of hours later.

Thai Smile also offers a lunch menu, with 10 generous options offered for $10 each – in this day and age, a pretty good deal. Can’t wait to go back!

            Further information on Thai Smile Cuisine can be found at the website:

http://www.thaismilecuisine.com

Price rating: $-$$

Thai Smile Cuisine is located just off Highway Four at 1015 McLean Road, Qualicum Beach

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.303470  Long. -124.459939

N 49 18.208  W 124 27.596

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Magical beauty at Parksville’s Robert Held Art Glass gallery

 

Floral blown glass vase by Robert Held Art Glass, Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

One of the many spectacular vases

Magical.  That is the best word I can think of to describe the Robert Held Art Glass gallery in Parksville.

We recently visited the huge Quonset hut that houses the Held gallery and glass-blowing operation and were flabbergasted at the exquisite beauty that occupied every nook and cranny of the place. Vases, crucibles, paper weights, light fixtures, decorative pieces, seasonal work – all in vibrant, jewel-like tones that left us wondering at the loveliness of it all.

Gallery at Robert Held Art Glass, Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The gallery area

Vancouver Island is lucky to have the likes of Robert Held – he originally moved to Parksville three years ago to retire after many years of running a 30-man glass-blowing operation in Vancouver.  But an entire lifetime as an award-winning artist held sway and when Robert spotted the vacant Quonset hut on the highway near Parksville’s Orange Bridge, his curiousity was piqued.  One thing led to another and before he knew it his long career in glass blowing was revived.

Work area at Robert Held Art Glass gallery in Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The creative end of the gallery…

 

Glass blower Robert Held, at Robert Held Art Glass gallery, Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

…and the master at work

Anyone walking in to the Held gallery expecting to see only the finished product will have a bit of a surprise.  Three glass blowers are hard at work in the back half of the Quonset, with furnaces blasting out heat that, at times, is almost enough to knock you over.  Wide-open doors were the order of the day when we visited.

Blown glass Easter eggs at Robert Held Art Glass gallery, Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

If you are seeking a very special Easter gift…

Other than the superb finished products displayed in the front of the gallery, the opportunity to watch these talented artisans in the creative process is an added bonus. Several customers and browsers spent quite some time taking in the methods used.

Blown glass heart at Robert Held Art Glass gallery, Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

A sample of the more-than-one-million blown glass hearts

The other great thing about this gallery is that you will most likely have the opportunity to meet and converse with the master himself.  Although Robert now leaves most of the glass blowing work to his three long-time employees, he is ever-present in the gallery area, working on new designs and other projects.  He is a totally affable fellow, happy to talk, it seems, to anyone and everyone.

Giverny blown glass pieces at Robert Held Art Glass gallery in Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Pieces from the new Giverny line, inspired by Monet

Robert’s career in glass blowing began 48 years ago when he attended a two-week course in North Carolina. He returned to Canada to launch this country’s first college-level hot glass program, and over almost half a century has been acknowledged as the pioneer of art glass here. His work is treasured all over the world.

gold-lined crucible at Robert Held Art Glass gallery in Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

A gold-lined crucible

One of the gallery’s most popular items over the years has been a decorative  blown-glass heart design.  Small enough to be held in the hand, the hearts contain exuberant colour combinations and designs that can’t help but raise the spirits and engender an appreciation for the fine craftsmanship that goes into each one. Robert says that he and his artisans have created more than one million of these tiny jewels over the years, and they are all over the world.

Blown glas drinking glasses at Robert Held Art Glass gallery, Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Drinking glasses

But, enough words – the accompanying photos of some of the Held work speak more volumes than I ever could.  If you are in Parksville just go there!

            Further information on Robert Held Art Glass gallery can be found at the website:

http://www.robertheld.com/

wheelchair-l

            Robert Held Art Glass gallery is located at 708 East Island Highway, Parksville.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat.: 49.316129 Long.: -124.287616

N 49 18.968  W 124 17.257

Posted in ARTISAN GALLERIES, EAST CENTRAL ISLAND, WHEELCHAIR ACCESS | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Port Alberni’s Maplehurst Trail

Maplehurst Trail, Port Ablerni, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaOne of the prettiest, easiest and most accessible trails on Vancouver Island is hidden in the back-of-beyond in the Alberni Valley.  The Maplehurst Trail system commences at the end of a secluded road and offers hikes of varying lengths and difficulty.

Stepping stones on the Maplehurst Trail, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Stepping ‘stones’ made of wood blocks will get hikers over the wet, muddy parts

We spent about an hour exploring the pretty pathways along the Maplehurst Trail on a bright, early Spring morning.  There had been a lot of rain the previous week and there were a few muddy/wet spots, but for the most part these areas can be crossed using the wooden stepping ‘stones’ and small bridges that appear frequently along the route.

Bridge on Maplehurst Trail, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

There are several rustic, well-constructed bridges along the trail system as well

There are several loop trails that can be accessed off the main trail, which runs along – and above – Kitsuksis Creek.

When we got to the end of Willow Road in search of the access point to the trail there were a couple of other vehicles parked along the roadside.  By the time we returned to the van an hour later there were several more vehicles – obviously there were a lot of folks out enjoying the trails, yet we never saw another soul during the course of our explorations.  The diverse loop offerings seem to take people in all different directions.

Map of Maplehurst Trail system in Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

These excellent maps can be obtained at the Port Alberni tourist Information centre at the east entrance to town

Hiking along the main east trail is an easy walk, but those with children will need to keep them close at hand – there are a couple of very steep drops to the beautiful (and, on this day, raging) Kitsuksis Creek. A couple of smaller loops that ran closer to the creek were a temptation, but we carried on along the main route, then cut across to the western main leg, which is an old wood road.  The Maplehurst Trail area was logged in the 1950s, but second-growth conifers and deciduous trees provide plenty of green.  Huge quantities of Spanish moss drape off many of the trees as well, creating a rather eerie ambiance on some parts of the trail

Entrance to Maplehurst Trail, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The entrance to the trails is a little obscure but it is the narrow gravel pathway to the left of the address sign

The beauty of the Maplehurst Trail system is that, while it is quite easy to traverse and well-maintained it isn’t over the top.  The natural flora and fauna have been left to their own devices, creating pretty, narrow moss-lined paths. As mentioned earlier, improvements have been made to increase accessibility through the many muddy and wet spots, but they are rustic and fit in nicely with the surroundings.

Whimsy on the Maplehurst Trail, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

One of the ‘whimsies’ on the trail – looks like someone is getting ready for Easter

We found a number of whimsical additions to the trail during our hike, too.  Small adornments of varying shape and colour can be found on stumps, hanging from branches or nestled at the bases of trees.

Dogs would enjoy these trails, but best to keep them on leash due to steep drops to the creek and occasional wildlife activity.

 

Spanish moss on the Maplehurst Trail, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Spanish moss adorns many trees along the trail

In total, the Maplehurst trails are  2 1/2 miles (4 kilometres) long, and can be hiked in the space of a couple of hours.  Time constraints meant we hiked the shortest of the loops, but we are eager to return and explore this lovely jewel of a trail system further – the promise of more pretty trails and the sights and sounds of the creek will draw us back, for sure.

            Further information on the Maplehurst Trail can be found at the website:

http://www.acrd.bc.ca/maplehurst-trails

            Or, you can stop in at the Tourist Information Centre at the east entrance to Port Alberni and ask for a brochure for the trail system.

            Access to the Maplehurst Trail is from the end of Willow Road in the Cherry Creek area of Port Alberni.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.276395  Long. -124.802313

 N 49 16.584 W 124 48.139

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Comox’s Twisted Dishes Cafe

Exterior sign of Twisted Dishes Cafe, Comox, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaSo here’s the question: how can you not be intrigued by a café that goes by the name of Twisted Dishes? It certainly piqued our interest, so we wandered in one teeming-rain afternoon for lunch.

Located on a side street in Comox, Twisted Dishes Café is a small, intimate space totally lacking in any sort of pretence.  There is eclectic décor on the walls that ranges from modern art to vintage mailboxes and stained glass windows. The warmth and welcome envelopes you as you step through the door, and continues as you order at the counter near the back of the café.

Curried yam soup at Twisted Dishes Cafe in Comox, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Curried yam soup and a pesto BLT sandwich

We didn’t arrive until after the traditional lunch hour rush, but there were still customers lingering over their meals. There was absolutely no sense that staff members were anxious about tables needing to be turned, and we liked that – a lot.

After ordering we found a table near the front window, expecting to wait a bit for our meals. We had just settled down with the local paper when the food arrived – it couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8 minutes from the time we placed the order.

Twisted Dishes Cafe owner Dan Locust, Comox, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

New café owner Dan Locust, hard at work in the kitchen

We had decided to split a PBLT – a traditional BLT with the flavourful addition of pesto.  The sandwich was most definitely not your average BLT – the combination of pesto and a sublime ciabatta bun bundling all the ingredients together left us licking our lips.

Interior of Twisted Dishes Cafe, Comox. Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Interior view of the café, which seems to appeal to all age groups

We had each ordered a different soup.  My mushroom soup with roasted sage, garlic and oregano looked a little on the less robust side, but the burst of fungi flavour that settled on my tongue was truly rapturous.

My husband ordered the curried yam soup with broccoli, zucchini and roasted bacon integrated in to it.  Gorgeous colour and a starburst of flavours combined to entrance the eye and the palate. While I loved the mushroom soup I found myself, as I often do, envying my husband’s choice.

Mushroom sage soup and pest BLT sandwich at Twisted Dishes Cafe, Comox, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Mushroom sage soup and Pesto BLT sandwich

The day we visited was the first day of independent operation for new owner Dan Locust.  He had previously worked in the café as the baker, and we have assurances that little, if anything, will change. Judging by the meal we enjoyed at Twisted Dishes this is a wise move – the past three years have seen the development of a devoted following and continuing with the popular breakfasts, innovative lunch menu and casual ambiance should ensure continued success.

            Further information about Twisted Dishes Café can be found at the website:

http://twisteddishes.com/

Price rating: $$

Twisted Dishes is located at 146 Port Augusta Street, Comox

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.672533  Long. -124.925929

N 49 40.352  W 124 55.556

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Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park – 1,100 acres of heaven

 

Middle Bridge at Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park, Vancouver Island

Middle Bridge crosses the river above the upper falls

It has been more than 40 years since I visited Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park on central Vancouver Island.  In those days things were pretty rudimentary – rough trails, outhouses, and flat rocks along the riverbank used as picnic sites. I am happy to report that things have changed for the better, making this spectacular park more accessible to visitors.

Upper falls at Little Qualicum River Provincial Park, Vancouver Island

The upper falls – spectacular from above…

Upper falls, Little Qualicum River Provincial Park, Vancouver Island

…and below

Little Qualicum Falls park was designated in 1940. It encompasses almost 1,100 acres (440 hectares), reaching all the way to massive Cameron Lake. Our recent foray to the park on a lovely early spring day reminded me of why this place has stuck in my mind all these years, even though I have not been a frequent visitor. It is, quite simply, magnificent.

Stairway on trail at Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park, Vancouver Island

Well-constructed stairways assist hikers on the uphill and downhill portions of the trail

The park offers 3.75 miles (6 kilometres) of hiking trails.  We opted for the loop walk that commences from the beautiful picnic area in the day use portion of the park. Trails for both the upper and lower falls meander off in to the woods from there, so we decided to head for the upper falls first.

Canyon on Little Qualicum River, Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park, Vancouver Island

The river wends its way through steep canyons

The trails, while well-maintained, do have some rough spots.  Good footwear and a keen eye are necessary to ensure that you stay upright on your adventure. There are several well-built sets of stairs on this route, and the Middle Bridge, across the upper falls, is a picture.  There are several viewpoints on the way up to the bridge – it helps if you are a bit of a mountain goat to get to some of them, but they are worth the effort.

Bridge at lower falls, Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park, Vancouver Island

The bridge at the lower falls

Views from the sturdily-built bridge are pretty spectacular, but the best view of the massive upper falls is from a viewpoint a ways down the trail on the other side. There is so much water crashing through the Little Qualicum River right now that the spray from the falls can be felt at this viewpoint, which is many feet above the river. Things are quieter in the summer of course, but the spectacle and roar of hundreds of thousands of gallons of crystal clear water tumbling over sheer rock face is breathtaking.

Lower falls at Little Qualicum River Provincial Park, Vancouver Island

The lower falls

From the upper falls we headed down the trail to the lower falls, where another sturdy bridge offered a crossing as well as great views up-river.  While the lower falls aren’t as impressive as their larger cousin they are certainly worth the effort to view.

Picnic area at Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park, Vancouver Island

The beautiful picnic site offers tables and a covered eating area

Back across the river we hiked uphill and back to the parking area. All-told our adventure took about 1 ½ hours.  This walk can most certainly be done in much less time but as usual, we stopped a lot to enjoy the scenery, take photos, and marvel at the power of the natural world. For us, that’s what it’s all about.

Dogs are welcome at Little Qualicum Falls park, but must be kept on leash due to the risk of interaction with wildlife. The loop hike is ‘do-able’ for anyone who is reasonably fit.

Further information on Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park can be found at the website:

http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/little_qualicum_falls/

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.29339899999999   Long. -124.598672

N 49 17.604  W 124 35.920

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Nanaimo’s The Nest Bistro – more space, same wonderful food

Hertel Farm pork spring rolls at The Nest, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island

Spring rolls

More space and a different view are about the only things that have changed at one of our favourite Nanaimo eateries, The Nest Bistro.  And that’s a good and happy thing!

Interior view of The Nest Bistro, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island

The interior at The Nest’s new digs – upscale casual, on two levels

The Nest Bistro moved from its tiny venue in the Old City Quarter last year into a larger spot perched on the edge of a cliff just up from the waterfront.  Floor-to-ceiling windows along the front of the building afford city vistas and the two-level arrangement seems to be working out well for the restaurant.

View from The Nest Restaurant, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island

The view from The Nest’s new perch on a cliff

We arrived at 5 p.m. on a Saturday, expecting to be the only patrons that early.  We were surprised to see several other parties already seated and ordering.  Clearly, the change of location has not affected the popularity of The Nest.

Forest Mushroom Risotto at The Nest Bistro, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island

Forest Mushroom Risotto – too good for words, and lots of it!

We began our meal by sharing the Hertel Farm Pork Spring Rolls  – a generous serving of four substantial and tasty pieces accompanied by a dipping sauce. Crispy but not greasy, they were full of flavour and plenty of pork.  For $10, great value for the money.

Panko-crusted chicken breast stuffed with Brie and sauteed mushrooms at The Nest Bistro, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island

Panko-crusted chicken breast stuffed with Brie cheese and sautéed mushrooms

We moved on to our main courses – for my husband,  a beautiful panko-crusted chicken breast stuffed with sautéed mushrooms and Little Qualicum Brie, accompanied by perfectly cooked seasonal vegetables.  I ordered the most delectable forest mushroom risotto, which was accompanied by prawns and fresh vegetables.  The serving was generous to the point of crazy – I brought about half of it home to enjoy another time. The risotto had a lovely earthy mushroom flavour infused throughout – every mouthful brought expressions of delight from me.

Dessert (which, truth be known, we shouldn’t have ordered, but it was a special occasion) was every bit as scrumptious as the preceding courses.  I ordered the beautifully dense and delightful ginger cake, accompanied by whipped cream and a generous dispensation of caramel sauce.  All I can say about it is it’s no wonder The Nest is famous for this dessert – the perfect balance of spice and sweet is something to savour.  My husband, ever a fan of the humble apple, ordered the baked apple.  It arrived nested in a light pastry blanket and left him with a very happy smile on his face.

Ginger cake with caramel sauce at The Nest Bistro, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island

To-die-for Ginger Cake

We finished our meal with a really excellent cup of decaf Creekmore’s coffee, roasted here on the Island. It was one of the best decafs we have experienced, indicative of the fact that The Nest crew is dedicated to getting it all right, now matter how minor an order might seem.

The move to new premises appears to have been a good thing for The Nest – more space for more people to enjoy the superb food that has always been a tradition at this great local spot. Overall, The Nest is one of the best ‘value for money’ deals on Vancouver Island – superb culinary offerings in an upscale-but-not-stuffy setting, complimented by great service. The depth of culinary experience of both owners shines through in every aspect of this popular place.  Who could ask for more?          wheelchair-lMore information about The Nest Bistro can be found at the restaurant’s website at:

http://www.thenestbistro.com/

Price rating: $$

 The Nest Bistro is located at 77 Skinner Street, Nanaimo

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. : 49.168704  Long.: -123.939014

                                                       N 49 10.122  W 123 56.341

 

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