Small-but-mighty Cumberland Farmers Market

Vegetable vendor at Cumberland Farmers Market, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Veggies, veggies everywhere!

Small is mighty – that’s the first thought that comes to mind when we visit the relatively new Cumberland Farmers Market.  An offshoot of the Comox Valley Farmers Market, the Cumberland fixture got its start just this year and has been successful enough that the vendors are hoping to carry on in to September rather than wrapping things up at the end of August.  Either way, this great little market is full of character and is worth a visit.

Fruit-filled hand pies at Cumberland Farmers Market, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Fruit-filled hand pies – and full-sized ones, too

Spread around the perimeter of the village square, the Cumberland Farmers Market offers pretty much anything you could want to prepare a meal, and then some.  Ethically-raised beef, chanterelle mushrooms and organic produce are front and center, along with baked deliciousness and three different flavours of hemp ice cream.  There are even gorgeous cut flowers for your dining table. There is a kids’ activity tent and a variety of craft vendors. And, like any good farmers market, the Cumberland event features live music.

Zinnias at Cumberland Farmers Market, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Beautiful flowers….

If you get peckish (or don’t feel like cooking) there is a food truck offering the authentic flavours of Sri Lanka.

Kids activities tent at Cumberland Farmers Market, Vancouver Island

Says it all…..

The Sunday that we visited we enjoyed a wander around and savoured the relaxed ambiance which seems to be part and parcel of this endearing rough-and-tumble village.  There is none of the hustle and bustle of many of the larger farmers markets. So, if you are looking for quality products in a quieter environment, head to the Cumberland Farmers Market – it’s worth the trip!

Cumberland Farmers Market, Vancouver Island The Cumberland Farmers Market runs every Sunday during the summer months between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

         wheelchair-l Further information on the market dates can be found at the website:

            http://cvfm.ca/calendar-node-field-event-date/month

The market is held at the Cumberland Village Square on Dunsmuir between Third and Fourth Avenues, next to the old post office (now the Wandering Moose Café).

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.618878  Long. -125.027220

N 49 37.133  W 125 01.633

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Qualicum’s Uptown Summer Market

OverviewWhat can be lovelier on a soft summer evening than a relaxed outdoor market in a beautiful setting, topped up with live music and talented vendors?  There isn’t much that tops an experience like that, and we recently enjoyed such an affair at the  Qualicum Beach Uptown Summer Market.

Baked goods at Uptown Summer Market, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island

Baked goodies feature at the market

Organized by the Qualicum Beach Downtown Business Association, the evening market runs every Thursday during July and August from 6-9 p.m.  A long block of Second Avenue (the main shopping area in Qualicum Beach) is closed to vehicular traffic and vendors set up their tents offering a wide variety of beautiful and intriguing offerings.

Hand-knit slippers at Uptown Summer Market, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island

Who could resist these cozy hand-knit slippers?

We spent a happy hour wandering up the street enjoying the very relaxed ambiance – a big change from the busier and more frenetic farmers markets and other street markets held throughout the Oceanside area.  There was plenty of time and space to peruse goods and chat with vendors, who hail from as far away as Campbell River.

 

Jazz musicians at Uptown Summer Market, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island

Live music is a much-appreciated feature

The added bonus to the evening was a very cool jazz duo, perched in front of one of the original charming Qualicum Beach homes.  Mellifluous tunes emanated on to the street and convinced us to sit awhile and simply enjoy.  One couple was inspired enough by the music to share a dance in the middle of everything.

Rustic birdhouse at Uptown Summer Market, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island

Unique garden décor…..

You won’t find a lot of produce at this market, but for those in search of food there is a food truck serving up yummy samosas and Mirella Trozzo’s very excellent Italian baking is featured  at the Biscotti de Notte tent.

What visitors to the Uptown Summer Market will find is a multiplicity of beautiful hand-crafted items that could well get your Christmas shopping started early.  Cozy slippers, beautiful windchimes, garden décor, mouth-watering baking.  And for those needing a little relaxation, three masseuse vendors ply their trade.  Several of the local businesses remain open late as well.

Teapot and cutlery windchime, Uptown Summer Market, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island

…and upcycled silverware

While the Uptown Summer Market was originally designed to draw summer visitors to the downtown core in the evening it is also drawing locals.  We ran in to some neighbours as we strolled along the street, and noted that quite a few of the attendees were recognizable local faces.  Regardless of your residency or lack of same, however, be prepared for a delightful evening that offers the quintessential Qualicum Beach essence of summer.  It doesn’t get any sweeter than this.

The Qualicum Beach Uptown Summer Market runs up Second Avenue from Memorial Avenue to Primrose Street, every Thursday evening in July and August .

           wheelchair-l GPS co-ordinates are:

            Lat. 49.347099  Long. -124.441742

            N 49 20.826  W 124 26.505

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Courtenay’s Nymph Falls

Nymph Falls, Courtenay, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaThere is a little bit of heaven near Courtenay that is open to equestrians, dog walkers, hikers and mountain bikers. Nymph Falls Nature Park is a 151-acre preserve along the north side of the Puntledge River that offers a cornucopia of outdoor activities on a year-round basis.

Trail to Nymph Falls, Courtenay, Vancouver Island,. British Columbia

The trail to the falls is easily traversed

We hiked the forested trail from the parking lot down to the pretty falls with ease. The trail wends its way through second growth forest, past picturesque resting areas and comes out upon massive flat bedrock that offers easy access to lovely views of the falls.  The main feature is the fish ladder, blasted out of the bedrock more than 70 years ago, with several smaller outcrops with rushing water tumbling over them surrounding the ladder. Although the falls may not look as impressive as some of the more imposing water features on the Island they are, nonetheless, captivating.  It would be easy to sit on the bedrock in the sunshine for hours on end just listening to the rush and swirl of the river.

Fish ladders at Nymph Falls, Courtenay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The fish ladders were blasted out of the bedrock more than 70 years ago

Nymph Falls Nature Park has many fine features, including dedicated trails for experienced mountain bikers, trails that can be shared by those on horseback, foot or mountain bike, and trails devoted to pedestrian traffic only.  There are several loop options, laid out clearly on the map in the parking lot, that allow visitors to decide their route. Trails are very well-marked, making for easy navigation once you are in the forest.

There are a few picnic tables in a cleared area that once served as a labour camp site for conscientious objectors during World War ll.  Several benches are located in various spots along the riverside, allowing for rest and contemplation.  And,  nearby Barber’s Hole is a popular and tranquil spot for a cool dip on a hot summer’s day.

Off leash dog sign at Nymph Falls Nature Park, Courtenay, Vancouver Island, British columbia

Off-leash dogs are welcome at the park

The other main attraction at Nymph Falls is the return of the salmon during the Autumn months.  The annual migration up the river generally happens during October and November, and can be a great outdoor excursion that entrances visitors of all ages.

Trailhead route sign at Nymph Falls Nature Park, Courtenay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Trail routes are well marked

The other thing we loved about the Nymph Falls park is that it is deemed perfectly legal and acceptable to have dogs off-leash, as long as they are under control.  This freedom is so rarely found these days that it was a revelation to discover a sign actually saying that canine companions are allowed to run loose. No guilt trips here, and no wondering if a conservation officer or other official is suddenly going to pounce.  Reasonable precautions must be taken, of course, due to the fact that there is wildlife in the area.  But, a refreshing change from most places these days for those who like to let their dogs loose for a good leg stretch and a little exploring.

So, put Nymph Falls on your must-visit list – it is a great adventure for all ages offering much in the way of natural beauty, the wonders of nature, fresh air and peace and quiet.

            Further information about Nymph Falls Nature Park, including directions to get there, can be found at the website:

http://www.comoxvalleyrd.ca/EN/main/community/parks-trails/comox-valley-parks/nymph-falls-nature-park.html

Nymph Falls Nature Park is located off Forbidden Plateau Road

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat.: 49.671108 Long. -125.078498

N 49 40.266 W 125 04.710

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Cowichan’s Saison Market Vineyard

Saison Baking Cowichan Valley restaurateurs and farms seem to have nailed it when it comes to providing good food in beautiful settings.  We finally got to another one that has been on our list for a long time, and Saison Market Vineyard did not disappoint.

Saison is located 7 kilometres (4.3 miles) north of the city of Duncan.

Lineup of patrons at Saison Market Vineyard, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Busy. busy, busy – so much good food, so little time!

Created as a culinary agritourism project, this busy eatery was bursting with activity, good smells and delicious food when we visited one Saturday at lunchtime.  There were patrons of all ages digging in to the daily offerings and savouring the fresh flavours of real food.

View from the deck at Saison Market Vineyard, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Pretty views abound

There is indoor seating at Saison, along with an expansive deck fitted with picnic tables that offer sweeping views of field, forest, vineyard and rolling hills.  We opted, as we always do when the weather is fine, for the al fresco experience.

The big problem at Saison is what to choose.  The baking displays are a huge temptation and as someone with a well-developed sweet tooth I always have difficulty at this point.  However, erring on the side of ‘healthy’ as opposed to decadent, we settled on a delicious spinach and chevre quiche accompanied by small bowls of cauliflower and kale soup.

Quiche and soup at Saison Market Vineyard Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Lunch at Saison

The food – oh, the food – had that  ‘farmhouse fresh’ quality to it. Distinctive flavours intermingled to create taste sensations that, even now several weeks later, have my mouth watering.

Saison is a very busy spot, so be prepared to wait in line to place your order.  And be prepared to wait for your meal or treat to arrive at your table.  But why, with all the bucolic loveliness surrounding it, would anyone care about having to wait? Kick back, enjoy the birdsong, people watch (there is some great people watching to be had!), breathe in the fresh country air and relax.  Between the wait and the excellent food, you will be set up for the rest of the day.

Saison Market Vineyard is only open Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. The market does not accept any credit cards, but will accept debit, cash and cheques.

            Further information on Saison can be found at the website:

http://www.saisonmarket.ca/index.html

Price rating: $-$$

Saison Market Vineyard is located at 7575 Mays Road, North Cowichan

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.836563  Long. -123.705745

N 48 50.194   W 123 42.345

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Duncan’s Red Arrow Brewing Company

Beer tasting samples at Red Arrow Brewing Company, duncan, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaI have consumed my fair share of beer over the years – it’s part of the territory when you are a news reporter. But in the ‘good old days’ of my burgeoning journalism career there was no such thing as a craft brewery – all the big companies dominated the market and the offerings in the pubs.  Things have changed more recently, and the proof was in the tasting when we stopped in recently at Red Arrow Brewing Company just off the highway near Duncan.

Red Arrow is housed in a beautiful red brick building that was originally used as a motorcycle shop.  The tasting room at the brewery has high ceilings, plenty of space, Red Arrow merchandise (of course!), friendly staff and some of the most interesting darned beers that have ever graced my gullet.

Tasting room at Red Arrow Brewing Company, Duncan. Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The tasting room

The signature brews are created on-site right at the Red Arrow building.  At the time we visited the company had on offer eight very distinct beverages, created in just one year of existence.  They have recently added several more, to the point where tasting all of them could be a dangerous thing from the point of view of trying to decide just which ones to purchase and take home to enjoy.

My husband and I have done our share of wine tasting tours over the years, including one very long and interesting day in the Cowichan Valley when I began writing for Destination BC. (http://blog.hellobc.com/vancouver-island-cowichan-valley-wine-region/)   But beer had never been on the agenda until now.  After the experience at Red Arrow I found myself wondering why we had taken so long to get around to visiting a craft brewery.  It definitely won’t be long until our next experience!

Red brick building that houses Red Arrow Brewing Company, Duncan, Vancouver Island, british Columbia

The exterior of the beautiful building that houses Red Arrow Brewing Company

The thing that impressed both my husband and myself was the wide range of intriguing flavours and hues that were set down before us.  Everything from sourdough bread to cacao, black cherry and floral essences came through.  We loved the Sweet Leaf IPA, a bright amber creation with a floral and fruity nature. And the Chocolate Cherry Porter – well, the name pretty much says it all on that one, describing the flavour as well as the dark, chocolatey brown colour.

Truth be known, there wasn’t a single offering among the eight that we didn’t like – each had its own special aroma and taste, and each had its own appeal.  We travel Highway 1 south on the Island quite frequently these days, so we are happy to know that this great little brewery is a) so easily accessible off the highway and b) produces so many unique and delightful beers.  I think Red Arrow is going to become one of our favourite stops on the way up and down-Island.

            Further information on Red Arrow Brewing Company and its products can be found at the website:

http://redarrowbeer.ca/

Red Arrow is located at 5255 Chaster Road, Duncan

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.762630  Long. -123.690293

N 48 45.758 W 123 41.418

 

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Innisfree Farm offers a tranquil oasis for an al fresco lunch

Lunch Buffetherb crusted lentil flan with garlic aioli zucchini bread gathered greens (mixed lettuces and wild herbs) with blueberry vinaigrette

afternoon tea $12.50 includes 3 baked treats and hot or iced herbal tea

plum tarte tatin quinoa chocolate lavender cupcakes with raspberry coulis (gluten free) Helen’s raspberry cake with raspberry coulis

or a single baked treat with hot or iced herbal tea for $5.00

iced tea of the day rose bergamot, spearmint and lavender

We thought we were just heading up to Royston’s Innisfree Farm for a nice Saturday lunch – who could resist a menu like the one posted above?

Lentil flan and zuchinni bread at Innisfree Farm, Royston, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

It’s all about the food – delicious and healthy!

Innisfree in the past has held a few farmhouse dinners, which we have greatly enjoyed, so we were pretty sure that their new summertime Saturdays-only Green Dream Café would be a happy experience as well.  It most certainly was a delight, but for many more reasons than we expected.

Gluten-free quinoa chocolate cupcake at Innisfree Farm, Royston, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Gluten free chocolate cupcake

Innisfree Farm is a 7-acre botanic garden that has evolved over the years to become a central meeting place for those dedicated to learning about and practising botanical medicine.  In the process of developing that concept Chanchal Cabrera and Thierry Vrain have created an oasis of calm at the terminus of a dead-end road in the tiny community of Royston, just south of Courtenay.  As I said earlier, we had been to Innisfree in the past but it was always during the fall and winter months when weather and darkness were closing in, which meant opportunities to explore the farm were limited.

Man sitting in Adirondack chair at Innisfree Farm, Royston, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Sit and rest awhile – Innisfree is an inviting escape from the everyday world

Our summer excursion, however, offered a chance to wander the farm prior to lunch, taking in the huge oyster shell labyrinth, the peaceful pond, mowed paths bordered by high grass, a sculpture garden.  There were arrangements of chairs all over the place, inviting visitors to sit a while and simply enjoy the peace and quiet and listen to the sounds of nature. We trailed through the gardens and wandered through the wildly beautiful medicinal garden before ambling back to the rustic outdoor setting where the Green Dream Café was set up under cover.

Oyster shell labyrinth at Innisfree Farm, Royston, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The huge oyster shell labyrinth

The lunch offering was simple but substantial, very healthy and extremely delicious. Each Saturday there is a different prix fixe menu with lunch priced at $15

View from long table lunch at Innisfree Farm, Royston, Vancouver Island, British Columtia

The view from our long table lunch

We began our meal with the individual lentil flans, served with a generous portion of excellent garlic aioli and a salad of mixed greens. A slice of delicious zuchinni bread served with a zingy herb butter accompanied the main course. The iced tea went down with a final hint of lavender.  – not too sweet, but flavourful.

Pond and Adirondack chairs at Innisfree Farm, Royston, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Quiet places for contemplation are found all over the farm

The desserts all looked too tempting for words, and with good reason.  The choice of spiced plum cake with a plum coulis, raspberry cake with raspberry coulis and a gluten-free chocolate-lavender cupcake topped with lavender coconut frosting and accompanied by the raspberry coulis were all beautifully presented and a pleasure on the palate. The nice thing is that you get a choice of desserts, so if you are with friends you can share and savour the various flavours.  The raspberry coulis particularly was a hit – clean and fresh flavours of pure raspberry (one of Innisfree’s big crops) without an overbearing sweetness. The quinoa chocolate cupcake was my favourite – dense, very chocolatey and a big plus for a chocolate lover like myself.

Metal sculpture at Innisfree Farm, Royston, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

One of the striking pieces in the sculpture garden

One of the other really charming things about lunch at Innisfree Farm is that you never know who you may end up talking to.  We enjoyed several pleasant conversations with both Innisfree staff and patrons – a not-unusual occurrence at long-table meals, and always very interesting.

Lunch setting with vintage rocking bench at Innisfree Farm, Royston, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The intimate rural setting enhances the lunch experience at Innisfee

So, what started out as ‘just a lunch’ evolved into a delightful, relaxing occasion that made us eager to return.  Great, healthy food, gorgeous environs, friendly conversation and a tranquil, calm pace – it doesn’t get any better than that on a lovely summer afternoon.  If you go be sure to put aside enough time to enjoy the farm and all it has to offer, and be prepared to be drawn in to the quiet, measured tempo that permeates this special place.

Chairs on hillside at Innisfree Farm, Royston, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Another tranquil perch, on a hillside

The Green Dream Café is open on Saturdays from June through September, between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you aren’t up for a full lunch, a simple repast of tea and sweet goods is also on offer.  Innisfree Farm also sells from its farm stand on Saturdays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

            Further information about Innisfree Farm can be found at the website at:

http://www.innisfreefarm.ca/about-innisfree/

            Menus for the Green Dream Café can generally be found on the farm’s Facebook page under Innisfree Farm

Price rating: $-$$

            Innisfree Farm is located at 3636 Trent Road, Royston

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat.: 49.634777  Long.: -124.952089

N 49 38.087 W 124 57.125

 

 

 

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Cedar’s Mahle House a perennial favourite

 

Interior of Mahle House Restaurant, Cedar, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Character and old-fashioned ambiance are the hallmarks of the beautiful interior of Mahle House

There is a reason that Cedar’s beautiful old Mahle House Restaurant is the ‘go to’ choice for so many on the Island.  In fact, there are many reasons.

We ventured down to Cedar recently for a celebration dinner – had been meaning to get to Mahle House for years and finally decided that the one-hour drive (each way) was worth the effort.  It was a good decision and made the celebration all that much more special.

Seafood croquettes and shoestring potatoes at Mahle House restaurant, Cedar, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Seafood croquettes and house-made shoestring potatoes

Mahle House was built in 1904 and continues to retain much of the old-fashioned loveliness found in homes of that era. Worn wooden floors add character, large mullioned windows offer views on to the pretty ornamental garden, stained glass elements evoke thoughts and memories of a slower, gentler period.  While we found the orange-painted exterior a bit of a surprise there is certainly no doubt that it makes Mahle House very identifiable and easy to find.

We dined at Mahle House on a Sunday evening when, much to our delight we were able to partake of a generous prix fixe menu that offered three courses for $40 – a very good price indeed for the calibre of food, service and presentation being tendered.  The set menu is also available on Thursday evenings, and it obviously is a popular affair – the restaurant was impressively busy.

dijon and parmesan salmon on crispy polenta, Mahle House Rstaurant, Cedar, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Dijon and parmesan-crusted salmon on crispy polents

We began our culinary adventure with a glass of excellent pinot gris from Alderlea Vineyards located in the Cowichan Valley.  Appetizers – seafood croquettes with roasted garlic tartar sauce and a stack of perfectly crisped, lightly-salted shoestring potatoes – arrived promptly, hot and flavourful.

My husband ordered the Dijon and parmesan crusted salmon for his entrée.  Served atop a luscious wedge of crispy polenta and accompanied by a medley of perfectly-cooked fresh vegetables, the plate offered a cornucopia of bright colours and flavours.

Mushroom-stuffed chicken breast on creamy polenta at Mahle House Restaurant, Cedar, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Mushroom-stuffed chicken breast on creamy polenta

My main course consisted of two generous portions of succulent chicken breast stuffed with mushrooms, served atop creamy polenta and fresh vegetables. Again, a lovely combination of flavours that left my tastebuds happy and my appetite sated.

There were two choices for dessert – house-made ice cream in several flavours  accompanied by ginger shortbread or Crème Brulee Napoleon.  We both opted for the latter, with no regrets.  The dessert was a totally decadent combination of crème brulee studded with pecans and layered between thin, shatteringly crisp layers of phyllo pastry.  A drizzle of the most amazing caramel sauce finished things off and left both of us wishing we could lick our plates.  A warning – this is a very rich dessert, something that we might normally have shared.  But that beautiful combination of flavours and textures  made me grateful that, this time around, my dessert was all mine.

Creme Brulee Napoleon at Mahle House Restaurant, Cedar, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Crème Brulee Napoleon – to die for!

For all that the Mahle House is, and has been for many generations of patrons, there is not a whit of snobbishness about the place.  Welcomes are genuine and warm, service is friendly and fun but efficient, the beautiful old house has a charm all its own  and the food is superior.  Mahle House has been in business for 33 years – testament to the high standards that keep diners delighted – and coming back!

Further information on Mahle House can be found at the website:

http://www.mahlehouse.a/Home.aspx

wheelchair-lMahle House is located at 2104 Hemer Road, Cedar – 10 minutes south of Nanaimo

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.104937  Long. -123.859186

N 49 06.296 W 123 51.551

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Nanoose Bay Art in the Garden a summertime favourite

Nanoose Bay Art in the Garden

The beautiful venue includes great gardens, a pond and shaded trails

Can there be a lovelier place to be on a fine summer’s day than a beautiful garden filled to the brim with talented artisans and musicians?  If you think that nothing could be better, be sure to mark your calendar for this coming weekend, July 9-10, and head to the seventh annual Nanoose Bay Art in the Garden event.

Pond at Nanoose Bay Art in the Garden

Trails around the large pond serve as pretty locations for the artists, and the platform at left is a performance venue for musicians

The beautiful 10-acre garden meanders along shady trails surrounding a large pond and across lush lawns.  All along the way artists in various disciplines display their creative and very attractive wares, all of which are for sale.  I never manage to get away without purchasing something that has caught my eye – it is often a starting point for my Christmas shopping, promising gifts that are unique and won’t be found anywhere else. Garden décor is another big favourite of mine at this event – there is always so much beautiful and different work available.

We usually plan to spend at least a couple of hours wandering this delightful site, enjoying the summertime ambiance, live music emanating from the platform suspended over the edge of the pond, and always, a sit-down with a beverage and something to nibble on.

Nanoose Bay Art in the Garden

The event appeals to peop0le of all ages, and is wheelchair accessible

The event has grown tremendously during the seven years it has been in existence, beginning with just a handful of artists and a great vision.  This year there are more than 70 artisans who will be setting up their canopies, so we are looking forward to the expanded offerings and an excuse to linger even longer.

The other wonderful aspect of this occasion is that all proceeds from the donated admission fees are given to the Nanoose Food Bank.  To date Nanoose Bay Art in the Garden has raised more than $16,000 that has gone into purchasing foodstuffs for those less fortunate – a feel-good aspect that comes as a bonus to those attending.

Vendor at Nanoose Bay Art in the Garden

More than 70 artists will be displaying their unique work

The 2016 event runs from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday at 2525 Northwest Bay Road, with admission by donation.

             wheelchair-mFurther information can be found at:

www.nanoosebayartinthegarden.com or on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Nanoose-Bay-Art-in-the-Garden/221049994574742?fref=ts

 GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.2871544  Long. -124.19079139999996

N 49 17.229  W 124 11.447

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Port Alberni’s Jane Austen Festival

Jane Austen Festival prticipants in Port Alberni, dressed in Regency Dress

Regency dress will be the order of the day at the Jane Austen Festival in Port Alberni. Photo by Stirling Images

While the central Island community of Port Alberni is busy reinventing itself, morphing from a fishing and logging town to a paradise for lovers of the outdoors, another group of promoters has something entirely different in mind.  In fact, their plan for a huge Jane Austen Festival harkens back to the genteel days long before major industry dominated the local economy.

Port Alberni’s Centennial Belles have been planning the Jane Austen Festival for some time, organizing a packed two days of events that they hope will end with setting a Guinness world record.

The events kick off on Friday, July 8 with a regency-style brunch at the city’s beautiful old Rollin Art Centre. Hot on the heels of the brunch is an afternoon tea at the same location.  The historic home that serves as the Rollin Art Centre is surrounded by beautiful gardens, so a visit for this very special gathering might be an enjoyable introduction to the world of Jane Austen and her peers.

Activities shift to the Capitol Theatre at 7:30 on Friday evening, where there will be readings of Jane Austen’s works.  Her five major novels, which included Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Emma, were all commentaries on Austen’s times.  They interpret, critique and comment on the life of the English landed gentry and will take attendees back to a world and society long since faded from view.

Saturday, July 9 will be another big and engaging day for those attending the Jane Austen Festival.  First on the agenda is the attempt at the Glenwood Centre to set a Guinness world record for the number of people garbed in regency dress.  The Guinness folks have laid out strict parameters of what is required in the way of regency costume, so anyone interested in participating should click on the website below and follow the link to the Guiness World Record Guidelines, embedded in the festival programme. Each participant will be photographed and will be given a number to ensure that all entries in the record attempt are properly turned out.

Saturday evening will see the wind-up event for the Jane Austen Festival with a Grande Regency Ball at the United Church Hall, complete with a full late evening regency-style supper served at 10:30 p.m.  Regency dress is required.

So, for those looking for a taste of ‘the good old days’, the Jane Austen Festival might just be the ticket – it will be a refreshing change of pace that should bring a reminder of the mores and morals of yesteryear, a look at the genteel world of the late 18th century.  If you are planning to attend any of the activities the organizers advise to get your tickets early – they can be ordered through the website.

            Further information on the Jane Austen Festival can be found at the Centennial Belles website:

http://www.centennialbelles.ca/festival-programme

 

 

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Rustic country ambiance and honest food at Cowichan’s Alderlea Farm Cafe

Patio view of farmland and fields at Alderlea Farm Cafe, Glenora, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The pretty view from the covered patio at Alderlea

We love the concept of farm-to-table food and all the fresh goodness it brings to dining out.  The Cowichan Valley is rife with delightful finds of this genre, including Alderlea Farm Café, perched in the bucolic Glenora area.

Alderlea started out 13 years ago as a biodynamic farm under the stewardship of John and Katy Ehrlich. They developed a popular CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) produce box program, then progressed to opening the organic café six years ago. We found it recently, awash in evening sunlight and bursting with all the colours and fragrances of a new growing season.

Grass-fed beef burger at Alderlea Farm Cafe, Glenora, Duncan, Vancouver Island, british Columbia

Alderlea-raised grass-fed beef burger

Alderlea’s café is very, very casual, featuring sunny yellow walls, rustic ambiance and unadorned wooden tables and chairs.  There is a lovely covered outdoor patio that offers sweeping pastoral views – a perfect spot for a quiet meal or gathering with friends.

The café was very busy when we arrived on a Friday evening. We perused the daily offerings and settled on a hamburger made with Alderlea grass-fed beef for my husband and the Love Bird Roasted Chicken (also raised at Alderlea) for myself.  We started with Happy Weekend Leek and Mushroom Soup and Beltane Nettle Soup.

The menu at Alderlea is pretty extensive, featuring wood-oven fired pizza, veggie burgers, soup and salad combinations, vegetarian plates, grilled cheese sandwiches, a soup taster option (you can try all three soups on the daily menu for $10), sweet treats and a variety of alcoholic beverages.

Nettle soup at Alderlea Farm Cafe, Glenora, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Nettle soup

Both of the soups were extraordinarily good, full of unique flavour combinations that left our taste buds (and us!) in a very happy frame of mind.  They arrived with home-made buns – the better to sop up the remnants in the bowls.

There was a bit of confusion over our entrees – my husband’s beef burger got served to another patron, so he had to wait for his main course.  My roast chicken dinner arrived at the table in good time however, accompanied by a sweet pickled pepper and the most wonderful mashed potatoes (grown at Alderlea, of course) that I have had in years.  The spuds had that lovely old ‘potatoey’ flavour that seems to have disappeared in so many of the newer varieties.

When the beef burger did finally arrive – on a home-made bun – my better half deemed it very good.

Roast chicken and mashed potatoes at Alderlea Farm Cafe, Glenora, Duncah, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Roast chicken dinner with the best mashed potatoes anywhere

We fell victim at the end of it all to a slice of chocolate zuchinni cake that was so good it felt almost immoral to consume it.

While Alderlea Farm Café is far from what anyone would call fine dining it is, nonetheless, reasonably-priced good, simple food served in a cheerful, casual setting.  I loved the rural ambiance, the bustle of the place and the entire concept of offering true, home-grown food.

            Alderlea Farm Café is only open Thursday through Sunday during certain hours, so best to check out their website at :

http://www.alderleafarm.com/

Price rating: $$

Alderlea Farm Café is located at 3390 Glenora Road, Duncan

GPS co-oridnates are:

Lat. 48.758128  Long. -123.730982

N 48 45.488  W 123 43.859

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