Christmas clip artWe are going to take a some time off to spend time with family and friends over the festive season, but hope you will re-join us on January 8 for the first post of the New Year. Thank you to all of our readers and advertisers for your positive feedback, support and enthusiasm, and Merry Christmas to one and all.

 

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The reason for the season brought to life at Bethlehem Walk

 

Butcher, Bethlehem Walk

A huge array of vendor stalls are included in the Bethlehem Walk, including a butcher

Ask anyone in the Parksville/Qualicum Beach area about the best festive season attractions in Oceanside and the Bethlehem Walk is sure to be near the top of their list of ‘must do’.  This amazing spectacle is built and manned totally by volunteers from the congregation of the Parksville Fellowship Baptist Church and draws visitors from all over the Island through its annual four-day run. This event  is an amazing re-creation of the town of Bethlehem at the time of Christ’s birth, right down to a live baby (the newest member of the congregation) nestled in a manger.

Sheep at Bethlehem Walk

Livestock is included in the walk, adding to the authenticity

           The congregation begins building the ‘walk’ each autumn and by the end there is a totally undercover reconstruction of the cobbled streets, rustic vendor stalls, livestock enclosures and pretty much everything else you can imagine would have been found in Bethlehem all those years ago. There are bakers, basket makers, an apothecary, wool brokers, candle makers, metal workers, butchers and fish mongers. There are sheep and other livestock and so many more features that it is difficult to remember them all.

           

Fishmonger, Bethlehem Walk

Members of the congregation are in period dress

And then, not content to just build this awe-inspiring village, the entire congregation, from youngsters to adults, mans all those features for four nights, dressed in period costume and filling the roles of merchant called for in each shop or stall.

            We have returned to the Bethlehem Walk many times over the years and are always so impressed by the authenticity and endless hours that go in to providing such an amazing attraction for the community. All of the smells and sounds of this ancient town are there, drawing us back to yesteryear – and providing a gentle reminder of the real reason for the festive season.

           

Weaver at Bethlehem Walk

Ancient skills are displayed too

We generally find that we have to wait outdoors for quite some time prior to being admitted to spend an hour or so enjoying the Bethlehem Walk, which as I mentioned earlier is all enclosed and under cover.  It’s a good idea to bundle up and come prepared for whatever the weather is throwing at us but rest assured, any wait you may have to endure is well worth the trouble. And, there hot chocolate and cookies are offered in the church at the end of your tour of Bethlehem so you can look forward to warming up afterwards. The church also takes donations of food and money for local charities  at this event so, while there is no charge to take in this marvellous display we always take something as a contribution for those who are less fortunate.

            Dates for this year’s Bethlehem Walk are Saturday, December 13 – Tuesday, December 16 from 6 – 8:30 p.m. , with a special showing for pre-school and special needs on the morning of Monday, December 15, although we have seen folks in wheelchairs attend the evening showings in past years. There is a shuttle service from a nearby mall to accommodate easy parking for those attending.

            Further information on the Bethlehem Walk can be found on the church’s website at:

            http://www.parksvillebaptist.org/events-and-calendars/bethwalk

             Parksville Fellowship Baptist Church is located at 550 Pym Street, Parksville

wheelchair-m GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.332716332422805  Long. -124.33788028465574

N 49 19.963  W 124 20.273

 

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McLean Mill Christmas Village offers the charm and loveliness of an old-fashioned festive season

The entryway to the magical village welcomes visitors for the festive season

The entryway to the magical village welcomes visitors for the festive season

Christmas is one of the most magical times of the year for many folks, me among them. There are many, many great Yuletide offerings here on the Island, beginning with the craft fairs that seem to get under way earlier every year (first weekend in November) and running right through to the New Year.  One of our favourite events is the annual  McLean Mill Christmas Village, which brings this National Historic Site back to life with the charm and loveliness of an old-fashioned festive season.

Just one of the beautifully-decorated cottages in the Christmas Village

Just one of the beautifully-decorated cottages in the Christmas Village

The history of the McLean Mill is chronicled elsewhere on this website in the Attractions section; the folks who oversee the mill’s operation are full of great ideas that keep visitors coming throughout the year. We think the Christmas Village and the affiliated craft fair and steam train ride from Port Alberni is one of the best attractions for folks young and old.

            The kick-off for the Christmas Village events is an engaging steam train ride from the old train station in downtown Port Alberni, this year slated for Saturday, December 6.  The village light-up takes place that night, heralding the Festival of Christmas Lights.  The craft fair gets under way at the same time.

You can stroll through the entire National Historic Site enjoying Christmas music and the small village Christmas ambiance

You can stroll through the entire National Historic Site enjoying Christmas music and the small village Christmas ambiance

The beauty of this particular event is that it isn’t your usual run-of-the-mill Christmas venue. The craft vendors are set up inside the small bungalows that served as actual homes to the mill workers and their families more than 85 years ago. You can spend hours poking through the historic structures, enjoying the beautiful and varied offerings of many talented merchants.  Each house is ablaze with colourful Christmas lights and other seasonal decorations, and the opportunity to wander from building to building enjoying the sights gets the festive season off to an enchanting and relaxed beginning. If you are lucky, as we have been in past years, you might even get a bit of snow, which adds immeasurably to the old-fashioned Christmas spirit of the place.

Cheerful greeters!

Cheerful greeters!

For the little ones, Santa will be on site for photos.  There is entertainment galore and a huge bonfire offers a great spot to warm up and visit during your explorations. And, here’s a bonus at this expensive time of year – admission to this delightful happening is free.

            The 2014 McLean Mill Christmas Village and Festival of Lights commences on  Saturday, December 6,  one of a couple of occasions when you can  enjoy the Spirit of Christmas steam train ride out to the mill and back – after that you will have to drive or find other means of transportation to the mill site.

 The website for the McLean Steam Sawmill National Historic Site is at:

 www.alberniheritage.com/mclean-mill/welcome-mclean-steam-sawmill

 The McLean Mill National Historic Site is located at 5633 Smith Road in the Beaver Creek area, about 11 miles out of town.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.30866544272342

                                                               Long. -124.82910633087158

N 49 18.520  W 124 49.746

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Find the magic in Milner Gardens Christmas event

Tens of thousands of colourful lights brighten the historic Milner estate for the annual Christmas Magic event

Tens of thousands of colourful lights brighten the historic Milner estate for the annual Christmas Magic event

The magic of the Christmas season arrives at  Qualicum Beach’s  Milner Gardens beginning December 5, offering up a cornucopia of festive delights not to be found anywhere else on the Island.

Every year there are new displays, such as this lighted archway en route to the house

Every year there are new displays, such as this lighted archway en route to the house

The historic Milner estate is a 70-acre blend of forest and waterfront woodland garden anchored by an enchanting gabled house that was completed in 1931. The garden and house are a major attraction for visitors and area residents throughout the year for a variety of events, but the Milner Christmas Magic experience has to be one of its most popular.

            Designed to appeal to kids of all ages, Milner’s yuletide attraction begins with a leisurely walk or shuttle ride along the lengthy winding driveway that leads to the house. The driveway is strung with lights, and static decorative displays along the way draw the eye and build anticipation of what is to come. When the driveway terminates at the house and 10-acre waterfront garden visitors are greeted with an eye-popping blaze of thousands of multi-coloured lights.  They are strung from trees, along the house and from almost any other vantage point you can imagine. It is impossible not to be cheered by the sight.

What would a Christmas event be without Santa and Mrs. Claus?

What would a Christmas event be without Santa and Mrs. Claus?

The light displays, however, are really just the beginning. The folks at Milner do an extraordinary job of creating the ambiance, charm and excitement of an old-fashioned Christmas in so many ways, and in many locations on the estate.

            The gracious old home is the main focus for much of the special activity that occurs. It is decorated end-to-end, indoors and out, with greenery and twinkling lights, evoking memories of a gentler time that preceded the commercial juggernaut of modern Christmases.

           One of the main attractions in the house is the story room, complete with comfy chairs and cushions on the floor. Volunteers spend the evenings reading to book fans young and old.

Christmas stories for kids at the main house - what could be better?

Christmas stories for kids at the main house – what could be better?

The beautiful tea room, complete with handsome fireplace and festive decorations, offers scrumptious treats and warm beverages – again, thanks to the work and dedication of many volunteers. There is a room offering live seasonal music for those who enjoy that aspect of this festive time of year, and another of the rooms is set up as a mini-shop, where visitors can purchase a variety of lovely items.

The tea room at the main house serves up warming deliciousness during the event

The tea room at the main house serves up warming deliciousness during the event

Volunteers also man an outdoor concession near the house where hot chocolate, hot dogs and other sustenance is available.

            There are other special spots on the estate as well, all located near the driveway access that leads to the house. The old gardener’s cottage is transformed into the Teddy Bear Cottage, and the pool house is an expanded permanent version of the shopping opportunity found at the main house.

The Teddy Bear Cottage is always a favourite attraction

The Teddy Bear Cottage is always a favourite attraction

All-in-all, Milner Christmas Magic is one of the best ways to begin the Christmas period. It offers a relaxed two or three hours that will take you back to the festive seasons of yesteryear; and who knows, you might even run in to Santa and Mrs. Claus!

            Comfortable footwear and warm clothing are recommended, and it’s not a bad idea to take a flashlight along. Admission to Milner Christmas Magic is by donation at the main entry gate.

            Dates and hours for the 2014 Milner Christmas Magic event are as follows:

December 5 – December 7, December 12-14, December 17-21  from 5 – 8:30 p.m.

 Milner Gardens and Woodland is located at 2179 West Island Highway at Qualicum Beach. Further information can be obtained at the website:

www.viu.ca/milnergardens/index.asp

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.352825  Long. -124.412852

N 49 21.170  W 124 24.771

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Old world charm combines with a casual vibe at The Vault

Vintage lusury combines with good food and old world charm for a great combination at The Vault

Vintage luxury combines with good food and old world charm for a great combination at The Vault

If you are looking for a casual meal in a truly wonderful environment you need look no further than downtown Nanaimo and a place called The Vault.

The exterior of the historic building that houses The Vault only vaguely hints at the delightful ambiance to be found inside.  The building was constructed in 1912 from a design by one of the most popular architects of the day, Francis Rattenbury.  Rattenbury had designed the stunning legislative buildings and the Empress Hotel in downtown Victoria, thus coming to the project for the Merchants Bank of Canada with a considerable reputation. The place is now on the Nanaimo Heritage Register – the sole example in the city of the graceful Free Renaissance style that was popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

It doesn't look all that special from the outside....

It doesn’t look all that special from the outside….

The only exterior features that hint of the charming interior are the elaborately detailed round arched windows featuring radiating mullions. Inside, however, is a whole different story.

...but the interior serves up beautiful antique finishes and a relaxed ambiance

…but the interior serves up beautiful antique finishes and a relaxed ambiance

We instantly fell in love with the relaxed vibe of The Vault.  There is no haute cuisine here, no high-end service.  You walk up to the service bar, peruse the blackboard menu, order and then find a comfy spot to wait and enjoy the intrigues of the interior – of which there are many.  The folks at The Vault have managed to combine all manner of eclectica to provide a casual ambiance that offers old-fashioned elegance and beauty.  Intricately carved wooden ceiling beams combine with beadboard, vintage furniture, lots of natural light and a multi-level structure to provide plenty of elbow room. Meals are served on mismatched vintage dishes, adding to the appeal. There are antique odds and ends all over the place, taking patrons back to another era. Live posies arranged in china teacups grace each table

Comfort good at its best - home-made, home-grown

Comfort food at its best – home-made, home-grown

The food is good, too.  We shared a hearty bowl of from-scratch soup featuring double-smoked farmer sausage and harvest vegetables, accompanied by a yummy open-faced chicken pesto sandwich (on home-made bread) crammed with bacon, spinach, cheddar and cream.  The Vault sources many of its ingredients here on Vancouver Island and the food, as we were told by our server, is ‘made with love.’

Although the menu is limited it all smacks of good old down-home comfort food goodness, which goes hand-in-hand with the atmosphere of the place.  Nightly live entertainment brings in the evening crowds, adding to the revival of downtown Nanaimo.

The beauty of yesteryear reverberates throughout the cafe

The beauty of yesteryear reverberates throughout the cafe

Clearly, the combination of flavourful honest fare, welcoming vibe and heritage chic is working.  During the hour we enjoyed at The Vault all manner and ages of folks wandered in. It seems to have become a favourite spot for Nanaimo residents to study, knit, read, watch street life or enjoy a quiet coffee. It may seem to be kind of an odd combination, mixing casual with old-world refinement, but it works here.wheelchair-lPrice rating: $ – $$

Further information about The Vault can be obtained via the Facebook page at:

https://www.facebook.com/thevaultcafe

The Vault is located at 499 Wallace Street, Nanaimo

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. : 49.1636748  Long. -123.93668170000001

N 49 09.820  W 123 56.201

The Vault on Urbanspoon

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Head to Ladysmith for the 27th annual Christmas Festival of Lights extravaganza

 This event is worth planning ahead for and making the commitment to get to the Island from wherever you are. This is the 27th annual light-up that involves 1,ooo volunteer hours and tons of fun!  

Two hundred thousand Christmas lights grace the town of Ladysmith for the festive season

     For a small town of 8,000 Ladysmith, located on the east coast of Vancouver Island between Nanaimo and Duncan, knows how to do it up right when it comes to kicking off the Christmas season.

            The town’s annual Festival of Lights, always held the final Thursday of November (weather permitting, this year November 27), is a great family outing and a huge attraction for those from far and wide. Upwards of 20,000 people attend, coming from all over Vancouver Island as well as from the Lower Mainland/Vancouver area and other areas of the Pacific Northwest.

Entertainers keep kids of all ages entranced while they wait for the light-up and the parade that follows

The afternoon gets under way with a big craft and gift sale at the Aggie Hall, and there is a community spaghetti dinner hosted by one of the local service clubs. As dusk falls the bright Christmas lighting and displays in the store windows come into play.  The merchants located all along the town’s main drag (First Avenue) and on several of the small side-streets stay open throughout the evening.   By 4 p.m. there is street entertainment on First Avenue, complemented by various concessions hosted by local businesses and service clubs.

Local merchants are enthusiastic participants with beautiful window displays, special sales and treats for attendees

            While many visitors to the area attend the community spaghetti dinner, we opted last year for a quick, tasty and very inexpensive meal of udon noodles and teriyaki pork at Appetit, a tiny hole-in-the-wall in the middle of the business district on First.  Quick service and a table shared with a friendly couple from Nanaimo put us in a happy frame of mind for the rest of the evening. We spent quite a bit of time checking out the many unique shops on First, then headed up the hill to the area occupied by the mobile entertainment stage.  It turned out to be a perfect location – we had a great view of First Avenue all the way down the long, gradual slope, and also were almost directly across the street from the building atop which Santa appeared promptly at 6:30 p.m.to ‘plug in the town lights.’  The light-up was spectacular – 200,000 Christmas lights blazed to life to the cheers of the crowd.

Everyone loves a parade, and the participants in this one go all out

The light-up is followed by a really great parade full of brightly decorated floats, clowns and participants from a wide variety of community organizations. It lasts a good solid hour, and is special enough to keep any kid (or adult!) enchanted. The evening wraps up with a huge fireworks display, providing the weather behaves itself and there isn’t too much wind. It can get cold, but the various concessions offering hot chocolate and other goodies help to keep energy levels up. A visit to Ladysmith’s Old Town Bakery for some of their scrumptious baked goods isn’t a bad idea either, we discovered.

            For anyone who is a Chrismaholic, loves parades and/or grand community events, this one is a great bet. The historic town, founded in 1900, has lots of interesting nooks and crannies (be sure to check out the antique store in the old Post Office/Customs building on the highway – even if you aren’t an antique aficionado, the building itself is full of history and an interesting look into the past)

All snugged up in anticipation of the big night!

            Further information on Ladysmith and the Festival of Lights can be obtained by going to www.ladysmithfol.com/ or visit the visitor information centre at 411B First Avenue, phone 250-245-2112.

 The GPS co-ordinates are: Lat. 48.9926132

                                                 Long.  -123.8163

                                S 124 26.022  W 123 48.982

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Hiking Nanoose’s Notch Hill

The beautiful views from the summit are worth the effort to get there

The beautiful views from the summit are worth the effort to get there

With winter coming on and the rainy season threatening here on the Island we grab every opportunity we can to get outdoors and enjoy whatever good weather the Gods bestow on us.  So it was with happy anticipation that we headed out on a sunny -but not too warm – day in November for Notch Hill, located near the upscale development of Fairwinds in Nanoose Bay.

The sign that marks the parking lot on Fairwinds Drive makes this destination easy to find

The sign that marks the parking lot on Fairwinds Drive makes this destination easy to find

Plans to hike this picturesque trail had been on the books for months but other commitments stalled the trip.  In the end, late autumn proved to be a great time to do this hike.

Not for the faint of heart -  this hike is fairly strenuous if you choose the 'straight-up' route

Not for the faint of heart – this hike is fairly strenuous if you choose the ‘straight-up’ route

Notch Hill climbs (mostly straight up, it seems at times) a total of 240 metres or 787 feet: the round trip is 3 km (about 1.25 miles).We opted for the steep ascent on the way up and the gentler, more meandering trail on the trip back down.  It took us about 30 minutes to climb to the top, which included time for rests and dawdling along taking photos.

The trip up the hill is via a pretty well-maintained trail that snakes through Arbutus meadows and a Garry Oak eco system.  While we were delighted with the flora and fauna at this time of year there is apparently even more to see during warm-weather months when wildlflowers are in full bloom.

NH Dog

Dog heaven…..

Notch Hilll is a mecca for families and dog-walkers.  We met folks of all ages and from many walks of life during our adventure, including a couple of energetic young dads pushing their offspring in strollers.

We reached the summit to discover youngsters scrambling around in a large Arbutus, dogs gamboling along the bluffs and a family group perched on the huge boulders enjoying the spectacular views and the quiet, relaxed ambiance. There are stunning vistas in every direction from the high point – we could easily see the Island well past Nanaimo to the south, Mt. Arrowsmith and, of course, the pretty rolling farmland and sparkling waters of the Nanoose area.

The hike wends its way through beautiful Arbutus meadows

The hike wends its way through beautiful Arbutus meadows

We spent quite a bit of time at the summit enjoying the views and the fine weather.  In retrospect it would have been a great spot for a picnic lunch, with all the magnificence of the area laid out hundreds of feet below us.

The trail that we opted for on the trip back down was considerably less strenuous, with only the occasional small uphill grade and the opportunity to wander off the trail and enjoy more beautiful scenery from different locations.  The descent took less time (for obvious reasons) but was no less interesting and lovely than our original route.

We saw a couple of dads with strollers on the trail

We saw a couple of dads with strollers on the trail

A few suggestions for those contemplating this hike: bring camera(s) and water. Be sure to wear good walking shoes, and don’t attempt the ‘straight-up’ trail if you aren’t reasonably fit.  A walking stick might be a help for those with aged knees. Finally, be prepared to enjoy some of the most spectacular views on the Island.

Notch Hill is located off Powder Point Road, which turns into Fairwinds Drive, in the community of Nanoose. There is a well-marked parking lot on the right–hand side of the road leading to the Fairwinds community.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.27476739474435  Long. -124.14404860674096

N 49 16.486  W 124 08.643

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Lighthearted fun and great food reign at ‘new’ Mad Chef Cafe in the heart of downtown Courtenay

Orange Dragon Bisque finished with a coconut rum crème fraiche

Orange Dragon Bisque finished with a coconut rum crème fraiche

We finally made it into the ‘new, improved’ Mad Chef Café in Courtenay recently. This place has always been one of our favourites, for a whole slew of reasons.  And we were not alone, to the point where the crazy crew there recently pulled up roots at their old haunt and moved to a bigger, renovated space right in the heart of old downtown.

A sampling from the extensive menu

A sampling from the extensive menu

The ‘new’ Mad Chef  is a huge contrast to the restaurant’s initial location, which was much smaller, almost always crowded and kind of funky.  The new digs seat about 60 patrons and have a very industrial feel to them.  There is more elbow room, to be sure, but a completely different ambiance.

I am delighted to report however, that the food is as good as ever and that it continues to come in very generous portions.  I ordered a ‘cup’ of the sublime Orange Dragon bisque, which was closer to a portion that would fill a tureen.  The soup was a flavoursome combination of coconut, cream, curried butternut squash, yams, pears, onions, garlic and ginger.  Took the leftovers home and happily slurped it for lunch for two more days.

The Shroom of Doom pizza - wonderful flavour combinations and plenty of it!

The Shroom of Doom pizza – wonderful flavour combinations and plenty of it!

My husband consumed the Shroom of Doom pizza, a delicious house-made concoction featuring roasted exotic mushrooms, lobster, cream cheese and pesto.  He allowed me one piece which, as so often happens, had me wishing that I had ordered that dish and left him to try something else. But then, I would have missed that lovely soup…

The environment and vibe at the Mad Chef is as wacky, off-the-wall and sometimes, bordering on rude, as it ever was. The extensive menu is a source of great delight as well as great temptations – light-hearted descriptions of what the innovative genius in the kitchen has concocted always leave us chuckling. And salivating.

The industrial interior has an edgy vibe - and a lot more space than the original Mad Chef site

The industrial interior has an edgy vibe – and a lot more space than the original Mad Chef site

The back end of the café features icing sugar artwork (by the chef) and a wide variety of silly signs that may affront some more ‘sensitive’ patrons.  If you are easily offended this may not be the place for you but in all honesty, anyone with a minimal sense of humour and an appreciation for folly will be just fine – especially once the food hits the table.

While I have to admit that the industrial decor finish to the ‘new’ Mad Chef is not my favourite atmosphere in which to dine, we will continue to patronize the place for the simple fact that the food is so interesting, flavourful and fun. Service is good, and prices are in line (especially when you consider the huge servings).  And, of course, there is always the guarantee that you will find something to make you chuckle when you are there.

            Further information on the Mad Chef Café can be found at the website:

www.madchefcafe.net

 Price rating: $-$$

wheelchair-mThe Mad Chef Café is located at 444 Fifth Street, Courtenay

 GPS co-ordinates are:

 Lat. 49.690249984659864  Long. -125.00058280310833

N 49 41.415   W 125 00.035

Mad Chef Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Deerholme Farm’s mushroom foraging workshops highlight all that the wilds have to offer

Mushrooms, mushrooms everywhere - interior of Deerholme Cottage is crammed full of mushroom memorabilia.  Bill at work in the kitchen.....

Mushrooms, mushrooms everywhere – the interior of Deerholme Cottage is crammed full of mushroom memorabilia. Bill at work in the kitchen…..

Autumn on Vancouver Island brings with it many delights, among them the prospect of yummy meals created with the huge variety of wild mushrooms that can be found here. Mushroom foraging is not, however, for the faint of heart or for the foolish, as we learned during a wonderful Saturday spent with mycologist and chef extraordinaire Bill Jones of Deerholme Farm.

Bill with a cauliflower fungus, which makes for very interesting eating

Bill with a cauliflower fungus, which makes for very interesting eating

Among his many projects (cookbook author, guest chef, food consultant, host chef) Bill runs a series of foraging workshops from his small farm in the Cowichan Valley. In the fall the workshops focus on wild mushrooms because that is the main season for them.  Weather plays a huge role in what varieties you can find, and when you can find them, and where.  But a few hours spent in the delightful company of Bill and the nine other folks who attended his workshop had us up to speed and, happily, very well-fed by the end of the day. Bill calls the workshops ‘a general overview of what you need to know in order to keep yourselves alive.’

All ready for lunch....

All ready for lunch….

Our day began with generous servings of Bill’s house-made hummus featuring chanterelle and porcini mushrooms and a long discussion and display of the various kinds of mushrooms found in the Cowichan area – both the edible ones, and those that can kill you.  A generous handout package featured colour photos and written descriptions of the edible types, along with a couple of recipes. All of the lectures and dining are staged in Deerholme’s pretty 1904 renovated cottage

Lecture over, Bill returned to the kitchen to put the final touches on lunch (featuring a variety of mushrooms, of course) while we ‘students’ whiled away the short wait perusing his many cookbooks or hanging over the kitchen counter watching him at work.

The beautiful pork terrine, with house-made mustard and porcini mushrooms - a sublime combination of flavours

The beautiful pork terrine, with house-made mustard and porcini mushrooms – a sublime combination of flavours

Following a sumptuous lunch featuring a tasty terrine, simple romaine salad and filling rice chowder we headed outdoors where we tramped through forest and field, sometimes along trails, other times through dense undergrowth. While the foraging movement is becoming very popular it certainly isn’t a simple walk in the woods. In fact as Bill adeptly pointed out, the further away you are from public spaces the more likely you are to find wild mushrooms. In our particular case the quest led us through farm fields, up hills through dense woodland undergrowth and along trails. Bill took the time to explain the types of terrain preferred by each variety of commonly found mushroom. Dry weather up to the point of our visit meant that not many fungi had emerged on the forest floor but we managed to find a fair number of varieties, all examined closely by Bill and elucidated upon.

Foraging in the forest

Foraging in the forest

Two hours later we returned to the cottage to finish off the day with dessert – a not-too-sweet apple crumble featuring fruit from the Deerholme tree (no mushrooms in this course).  And, because Bill is the ultimate forager, the crumble was accompanied by a lovely tea that combined the needles of Grand Fir (collected during our walk) and honey.

Overall it was a great, relaxed day of camaraderie, learning and great food – a fine, gentle transition from Indian summer into the charms of autumn and all it has to offer.

            Further information on Deerholme Farm and its many events can be found at the website:  www.deerholme.com

            Deerholme Farm is located at 4830   Stelfox Road, Duncan

            GPS co-ordinates are:

            Lat. 48.7448846  Long. -123.76171590000001

            N 48 44.693  W 123 45.703

 

 

 

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An evening of good cheer and great food at Innisfree Farm’s farmhouse dinner

Platters of delicious organic food are passed to diners at the first farmhouse dinner

Platters of delicious organic good are passed to diners at the first Farmhouse Dinner

Anything to do with agriculture and local food has always been a favourite excursion with us, and a recent trip to Innisfree Farm in tiny Royston proved, once again, that you can’t go wrong with that combination.

The beautiful - and tasty - amuse bouche

The beautiful – and tasty – amuse bouche

Located on a pretty side road in the small community just south of Courtenay, Innisfree  Farm was hosting its first farmhouse dinner featuring all local ingredients (most of them grown organically right on the property). The fact that the food was being prepared by Cumberland’s Gourmet Girls Global Catering was a draw for us too – we have greatly enjoyed their interesting and flavourful fare at other venues.  And the price – well, $35 for an innovative four-course meal certainly made it affordable.

Thierry collects produce and flowers from the organic gardens for the dinner

Thierry collects produce and flowers from the organic gardens for the dinner

The other thing we love about these events is the surprise element – you never know who you will be sharing a table with.  When 25 of us sat down we found ourselves surrounded by a best-selling cookbook author, a house painter, an itinerant house sitter and a variety of other interesting characters.

The leaves of autumn settle on a rustic table near the pond

The leaves of autumn settle on a rustic table near the pond

We arrived early at the farm and, with encouragement from owners Chanchal Cabrera and Thierry Vrain, spent some time wandering among the raised vegetable beds, tasting the thriving still-sweet autumn raspberries, and enjoying the flower and apothecary gardens and the planted labyrinth.  There is a pretty pond area and a sculpture garden to enjoy as well – all very serene and the perfect opportunity to free up your mind and relax a bit prior to sitting down for the meal.

Food, glorious food ...

Food, glorious food …

As expected, the Gourmet Girls did not disappoint – the meal started out with beautiful and tasty amuse bouche, followed by a roasted squash soup with house-made flatbread crisps. These were followed by the passing of many family-style platters piled high with everything from fire-roasted beets served with a warm crabapple, nettle and horsetail vinaigrette to salad to olive oil-poached wild sockeye salmon. The dessert combo consisted of chocolate cashew fudge, crisp churritos with house-made red wine grape jelly drizzle and Chantilly cream topped with the aforementioned lovely fresh raspberries. Other than the salmon course, the meal was totally vegan. All of it was  delicious and very interesting, which for us is one of the hallmarks of great food.

Thriving raspberries, still producing late into autumn

Thriving raspberries, still producing late into autumn

While creativity was running amok in the kitchen there was much good cheer and an energetic vibe in the dining area. Those attending shared stories and lives while Chanchal, Thierry and members of the Gourmet Girls team brought out platter after platter of tantalizing food and elucidated about what was on them.

...and dessert!

…and dessert!

The evening was one of those unforgettable events where good cheer, great food and a lovely atmosphere all collided in a perfect storm to provide memories that will sustain us through the impending gloom of winter on the ‘wet coast’.  And here’s the good news – Innisfree has scheduled at least two more of these affairs for October and November.  There can’t be a much better way to banish the winter blues.

Further information on Innisfree Farm and the many events it offers can be found at the website:

http://innisfreefarm.org/

Innisfree Farm is located at 3636 Trent Road in Royston, about 5 kilometres south of Courtenay

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.6347774  Long. -124.95208869999999

N 49 38.087 W 124 57.125

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