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, May 3 when the 21st  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 has come back this year 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.

Keeping with the theme of ‘ice’ there will also be new attractions featuring icy food items, including ice cream making.

            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. This year’s headliner is Juno-award winning folk singer Valdy – a perennial favourite who has endured on the music scene for more than four decades.

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 Pirates of Qualicum Beach.  Pirate costumes are welcomed and encouraged on both participants and attendees, which should make for some good fun and great photos.

            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 , , , , | Leave a comment

‘True, wholesome food’ at Courtenay’s Common Ground Cafe

           

An eclectic mix of driftwood, barnboard, hand-hewn beams and other found objects create a warm and welcoming environment at Common Ground

An eclectic mix of driftwood, barnboard, hand-hewn beams and other found objects create a warm and welcoming environment at Common Ground

It caught our attention a couple of years ago during a junket up to the Comox Valley, but it wasn’t until recently that we managed to actually make it through the doors of Courtenay’s Common Ground Café.  It is, undeniably, one of the most welcoming places in which we have enjoyed a meal during our extensive travels on Vancouver Island.           

Cranberry Nut Salad

Cranberry Nut Salad

Common Ground is tucked up towards the top of Fifth Street in downtown Courtenay, just far enough out of the business core to be missable if you don’t tend to ever get lost or take exploratory detours during your adventures. And if you arrive on a weekend, too bad – they are only open weekdays and the gates leading up to the attractive cedar shake-clad historic home will be closed and locked.  Truly though, this place is worth the effort to get there during the week.        

 

Each dining booth is unique

Each dining booth is unique

Common Ground is operated by a small religious sect called The Twelve Tribes.  Much of the café’s produce is sourced from the group’s communal farm in Merville, keeping in step with their goal of bringing the café patrons ‘true, wholesome food’.  Judging by the lunch we enjoyed they are doing pretty well on that front.

            My husband, who is most definitely not a huge salad fan, saw one of the Cranberry Nut salads headed for another table and immediately ordered one for himself, along with a bowl of scratch-made split pea soup and a slice of the restaurant’s house-made bread. The salad was declared the best he had ever eaten – unlike so many offerings in other places that are primarily greens this one was loaded with a generous combination of dried cranberries and a cornucopia of crunchy nuts, making for a filling and healthy meal.  The soup had that unique combination of flavours and texture that declared, right from the first spoonful, that it was created with great ingredients and a deft hand.

           Big Booth I opted for the Montreal smoked meat sandwich, served on house-made bread with a mouth-watering sauerkraut, accompanied simply with potato chips and a flavourful dill pickle spear. 

            Aside from the tasty food at the Common Ground we loved the earthy, rustic ambiance.  The group purchased the old house, built during the 1920s, in 2005 and spent several years refurbishing the interior with ‘found objects’ from the Comox Valley, including weathered barn board, driftwood, macramé hangings and a pretty little fountain.  Although the place was packed solid when we first arrived the intriguing décor and warm welcome from the staff were enough to make us want to stick around, wait a few minutes for a table and see what was on offer. We also liked the fact that some of the original features of the old house, including the entrance and windows, remained intact thereby adding to the unique atmosphere.           

The shake-clad exterior of Common Ground.  There is a wheelchair lift at the side of the cafe

The shake-clad exterior of Common Ground. There is a wheelchair lift at the side of the cafe

Common Ground offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, with daily specials for all three times of day.  You can also peruse the menu and, if you feel so inclined create your own sandwich by ordering a variety of ingredients that may not be included in the standard offerings.  Gluten-free options are also available.

            If you are looking for some lovely, reasonably-priced food served with warmth and good grace (and no proselytizing, I am pleased to report) in a unique and pristinely clean environment, Common Ground comes highly recommended.  There are a couple of pretty outdoor patios at the front of the house that no doubt make for a charming al fresco dining option during good weather.

            Common Ground does not have a web site, but has a Facebook presence under the listing of Common Ground Café Courtenay BC

 wheelchair-mPrice rating: $ – $$

 The café is located at 596 Fifth Street, Courtenay

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.68923513053117  Long. -125.00338450905428

N 49 41.354 W 125 00.203

Posted in COURTENAY/COMOX VALLEY, KID FRIENDLY, WHEELCHAIR ACCESS, WHERE TO EAT | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Nanaimo’s Morden Colliery Historic Provincial Park delivers the unexpected

 

Concrete headframe

The 74-foot high head frame was considered something of a marvel of engineering back in 1914

          It’s interesting that when most of us think of provincial parks we envision pristine beauty, wildlife, perhaps some sort of waterscape.  About the last thing I expect to see in such a park are mammoth century-old structures of reinforced concrete – but that, along with all the other aforementioned assets, is exactly what we encountered when we visited Morden Colliery Historic Provincial Park just south of Nanaimo.           

March at Morden Colliery Provincial Park

There are pretty views, too – this is the marsh, full of wildlife

The park isn’t large – just four hectares (nine acres) but it offers an interesting glimpse at the sheer mass of some of the equipment required to extract the black treasure from the ground a century ago.  Morden Colliery was never a particularly successful or productive coal mine due to a number of mitigating factors (including labour unrest), but it does boast a North American ‘first’ – the use of reinforced concrete for a surface mining structure.  The 74-foot high headframe and tipple are the main features at the park and, even 100 years later, left us awe-struck at the accomplishment of such massive construction with what must have been very primitive equipment.           

boiler smokestack

The huge boiler smokestack base stands sentry in the woods behind the pit head

After spending a few minutes reading about the history of the place at the pit head site we meandered along the 1.2 km (just a little less than a mile) trail that wends its way through woodland, over a marsh and concludes at the Nanaimo River.  The trail leading to the river was the original rail bed of the Pacific Coast Coal Mine.  In the early 1900s the railway carried coal from Morden across a long-gone trestle over the Nanaimo River and out to Boat Harbour for export.

            The trail is a pretty one that offered, on the day we were there, glimpses of trumpeter swans, beaver dams and a variety of wild vegetation.  There is an interpretive plaque that describes local flora and fauna along the way, and a rustic bench at the river’s edge.

The trail to the river meanders through a pretty woods

The trail to the river meanders through a pretty woods

 

            On the return trip from the river we looped along the Miners Trail and found many other intriguing remnants of the various buildings that made up the small community.  According to historical notes a small number of houses were moved to the Morden site to accommodate some of the mine workers. 

            We have, of all people, an industrialist to thank for the preservation of this most engrossing site. In late 1969 George Wilkinson, president of Interprovincial Construction in Vancouver, began lobbying the provincial government to help save the final remaining remnants of what had been Vancouver Island’s major industry in the early 1900s.  At the time the site was owned by a company that was using it to dump rubble from logging operations. Wilkinson even, at one point, proposed to purchase the land himself in order to preserve what was left of the site for future generations.  It took two years and $10,000, but eventually the land (including the railbed on the other side of the river) was purchased by the provincial government and designated as parkland.            

Beaver dam

Testament to the presence of beavers, this dam is found in the marsh area

Sadly the situation with the concrete headframe and tipple is not looking promising at present.  The concrete is deteriorating at a rapid rate due to lack of maintenance and without reinforcement the imposing and impressive structure is in danger of complete collapse. It has been estimated that somewhere between $250,000 and $500,000 would be required to ensure the continued existence of this historic monument to a thriving industry that contributed so much to the Island’s economy. Perhaps it’s time for other industrialists who have benefitted from their existence here on the Island to step up to the plate.

            Further information on the Morden Colliery Historic Provincial Park can be found at the excellent website operated by Friends of the Morden Mine at:

www.mordenmine.com

            Access to the park is at the end of Morden Road, south of the Duke Point ferry turnoff.

            GPS co-ordinates are:

            Lat. 49.09460841991113  Long. -123.87281082343111

N 49 05.677 W 123 52.369

Posted in DOG-FRIENDLY, EAST CENTRAL ISLAND, KID FRIENDLY, SPECIAL PLACES | Leave a comment

Chemainus’ Dayliner Cafe a ‘delightful little bistro’

 

Dayliner Cafe

The Dayliner Café is tucked away on Chemainus Road

The sign above the entry door says it all: ‘delightful little bistro’.  The Dayliner Café is one of the more recent additions to the dining scene in the Cowichan area, having opened in May, 2013 in a charming building that started life in the 1940s as a store.  Known locally as the Saltair Station House, the place also served as a commercial garage prior to its latest incarnation as a cute, comfortable and cosy spot for breakfast, lunch or dinner.     

 

Thanks to the two huge retractable garage doors at the front of the building and plenty of windows the place is flooded with natural light – a happy compliment to the cheerful service, casual ambiance and simple-but-good food.           

House-made crustless  three-cheese quiche and spinach salad

House-made crustless three-cheese quiche and spinach salad

We dropped in for a late lunch on a weekday afternoon and were faced with a multitude of choices on the blackboard menu just inside the door. My husband ordered one of the house favourites – the roasted turkey and brie wrap, accompanied by the excellent soup of the day, which was cream of spinach.  I opted for the individual crustless quiche of the day, a  flavourful cheddar/mozzarella/gouda blend.  A fresh spinach salad topped with toasted flaked almonds and a light vinaigrette dressing rounded out my meal and left me feeling satisfied but not, happily, over-fed.           

Interior Dayliner Cafe

Comfortable sofas offer an alternative to sitting at a table or the soda fountain-style counter

While we waited for our meals we enjoyed the opportunity to take in all the unique and interesting features of the Dayliner. We loved the two different types of old-fashioned flooring, the far end of the bistro that offers comfortable sofas for those who want, perhaps, just to enjoy a quiet coffee, and the soda-fountain style counter.  The seating options are many and varied but are nicely laid out to avoid the feeling of being crammed in.  Warmer weather brings the opportunity to sit outdoors on the patio or in the large garden area.           

Interesting décor touches throughout the bistro add up to unique ambiance

Interesting décor touches throughout the bistro add up to unique ambiance

A glance backwards through the café’s Facebook page reveals that there is always interesting food (including some gluten-free) on the menu.  It’s also great to see that the folks at the Dayliner source many of their ingredients locally, and that the ever-changing menu is influenced by the shifting seasons. Because we are always on a quest for new stories for the website we seldom re-visit places we have already written about, but my salivary glands tell me that this won’t be the case with the Dayliner – too much good-looking food there, and the promise of al fresco dining in a pretty garden seals the deal.

            The Dayliner is open seven days a week for breakfast and lunch, and from 5:30 – 9 on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening for their popular Bistro Dinners (reservations advised)

            Further information on the Dayliner Café can be found at the website:

www.daylinercafe.com

Price rating: $ – $$          wheelchair-mThe Dayliner is located at 10445 Chemainus Road in Saltair.

            GPS co-ordinates are:

            Lat. 48.940786216299486  Long. -123.74811023300117

             N 48 56.447  W 123 44.887

Posted in DUNCAN/COWICHAN, KID FRIENDLY, WHEELCHAIR ACCESS, WHERE TO EAT | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Foresight preserves Nanoose’s Beachcomber Regional Park

Swimming Beach, Beachcomber Regional Park

Two small, safe swimming beaches feature at Beachcomber

I am often critical at the seeming inability of government bureaucracies to ‘get it right’ but a recent discovery in Nanoose Bay puts the boots to that complaint, at least this once.  We recently visited Beachcomber Regional Park, a tiny gem of a place that someone in the Nanaimo Regional District had the foresight to preserve way back in 1955. And thank heavens they did!

Trail at BeachComber Regional Park

Park trails are mostly easy, although a couple have fairly steep grades

Just one hectare (a little less than 2.5 acres) in size, the park occupies the tip of Beachcomber Peninsula and offers much to lovers of the outdoors, regardless of age.  There are beautiful views west towards Parksville and Mt. Arrowsmith, and north to the mainland and the spectacular coastal mountain range. There is much in the way of wildlife including bald eagles, seals and a wide variety of sea birds. The day that we visited a group of friendly seals came very close to shore to say hello, entertaining us for several minutes with their antics. Two protected little bays offer up pretty, safe swimming beaches. At low tide there is a cornucopia of tide pools to explore among the flat rocks below the low bluff – a true natural-world wonderland.

Oyster Catchers
A pair of oyster catchers harvests lunch off the beach

        Two memorial benches are perched side-by-side looking out over water, mountains and sky, offering a peaceful place to sit and contemplate life. There are a few short hiking trails leading to the beachfront from the parking area. Most of them are pretty easy going but it doesn’t hurt to have some mountain goat capabilities on a couple of them. At the very least, be sure to wear good shoes in order to traverse the trails comfortably and safely.           

Benches at Beachcomber Regional Park

A couple of benches invite visitors to rest awhile and savour the spectacular scenery

A good part of the charm of this little beauty of a park is the fact that development hasn’t overpowered the peace and quiet or the very ‘natural’ aspects of the place.  Although there are homes scattered along the shoreline on either side of Beachcomber they are discreetly located among the Douglas fir, arbutus and Garry oaks that predominate on the peninsula, blending in with the terrain. Over-all, a wonderful spot for a picnic or an outing any time of year – and one, I suspect, that you won’t find over-run with people and traffic due to its low profile and small size.

          Beachcomber Regional Park  Further information on Beachcomber Regional Park can be found on the Nanaimo Regional District website at:

http://www.rdn.bc.ca/cms.asp?wpID=2581

            The small off-road parking area for the park can be found on Marina Way, off Claudet Road. 

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.31299265072135  Long. -124.2124689549845

N 49 18.780   W 124 12.748

Posted in DOG-FRIENDLY, EAST CENTRAL ISLAND, KID FRIENDLY, SPECIAL PLACES | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Great food and a happy vibe at the Duncan Garage

 

Interior at the Duncan Garage

A casual ambiance and happy vibe attract folks of all ages and walks of life to the Duncan Garage

What do you do with a huge 100-year-old behemoth of a concrete building in a prime location in Duncan? If you are among the dozens of creative and talented people in the Cowichan Valley you re-invent it, taking it from its original purpose as a garage and creating instead a vibrant community meeting-and-eating place that attracts young and old from all walks of life.

Grilled sandwich
The grilled sandwich of the day – simple, satisfying and oh, so flavourful!

 

            We first heard about the Duncan Garage from the ladies in a local book shop, but it took us more than a year to find our way there.  Their glowing description of the place was spot-on – we were awed by the energy and bustle of the place, not to mention the amazing foodstuffs on offer.

            The Duncan Garage was constructed in 1912 by Norman Corfield, the first person to drive the Malahat from Victoria.  The building was heralded in Canadian Motorist Magazine in 1913 as ‘the most complete, up-to-date fireproof garage on Vancouver Island.’  Sixty-five years later the business set a provincial record for the longest-running business in the same location.  Corfield had other ‘firsts’ to his credit, among them inventing the automobile air lift and designing the first Ford station wagon.           

Vegetable quiche

The quiche, jam-packed with flavourful ingredients in a smooth, creamy egg base

There is little on public offer about the more recent history of the building other than the fact that the Duncan Garage Restoration Project was launched in 2002.  Judging by what we saw on our recent visit, there is a lot of life left in the old girl yet.

            These days the street level floor of The Garage is home to an extensive organic grocery farm store, an engaging used book shop and a very busy, very good bakery café.  Line-ups at the cafe seem to be the norm, and no wonder considering the mouth-watering array of baked goods, take-out and lunch items on offer.  The menu changes daily and is posted on a blackboard. Everything listed on the day we visited was $10 or less, much of it organic, much of it gluten-free, vegan or vegetarian.  Every item we consumed was flavourful, interesting and filling.

Bakery case, Duncan Garage

The order counter is located at the end of the bakery display case, full of tempting goodies and savoury take-out items

            Each day there is a different offering in various categories for lunch.  You can choose a rice bowl, a grilled sandwich, quiche, soup, wrap, patty special, stew, pizza, fresh sandwich, quesadilla or enchilada. So, plenty of decisions to make – and then, you have to get by the baked goods display in order to place your order.

            My husband opted for a tasty bowl of mushroom barley soup and the quiche – a creamy egg base crammed with potato, mushroom, onion and broccoli. I ordered the grilled sandwich of the day – a really delightful combination of green peppers, gouda cheese, fresh and sun-dried tomatoes, onion and white bean roasted apple spread. As I mentioned earlier, all really interesting combinations – for us, one of the hallmarks of a great place to eat regardless of price point or ambiance.           

Duncan Garage exterior

It’s pretty hard to miss the big, colourful building

We also really loved the vibe of  The Garage – it’s a busy, cheerful place, funky with a sense of history to it.  Once you have your food you can settle at one of the simple wooden tables that line the broad hallway leading to the book shop and the organic grocery, contemplate the historic photographs on the wall, visit with a friend, read or – one of the best options here – people watch.  There seems never to be a dull moment, and there is most certainly plenty at The Garage to feed the soul as well as the body.

            The Duncan Garage doesn’t currently have a website, but can be found on Facebook under Duncan Garage Café & Bakery.

wheelchair-mPrice rating: $

The Garage is located at 330 Duncan Street, Duncan

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.777327518641535  Long. -123.70607598506484

N 48 46.640  W 123 42.365

Posted in DUNCAN/COWICHAN, KID FRIENDLY, SPECIAL PLACES, WHEELCHAIR ACCESS, WHERE TO EAT | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Forces of nature combine to create unique magic in the annual Spring herring fishery

Herring fleet of Vancouver Island

Dozens of boats jostle for position to scoop up the silver treasure of the sea

 

There is a magic that descends on both the east and west coasts of the Island early in March each year.  There is no set date, nor agenda. It is, for those who know about it, one of the major happenings of the year – an event orchestrated by nature, not the hand of man. Some years it lasts upwards of a week; other years, it lasts less than 24 hours.  It draws many thousands of residents and visitors to the beaches to watch in rapt attention, a mesmerizing and, somehow, exciting occasion that is a sure harbinger of Spring.           

Herring fishery at night

Once the fishery is open fishermen work day and night , creating the effect of a city on the water when darkness falls. Thousands of gulls swirl around the boats, sea lions bark and the thrumming of the boat motors becomes a unique lullaby

Ever since the 1970s, when I first experienced the annual herring fishery on the west coast of the Island I have marveled at the combined forces of nature that draw  humans, seals, sea lions, sea birds and, of course, the main attraction – the millions of tiny silver fish that bring them all together in a flurry of activity.  For the humans, of course, the attraction is the fishery that produces thousands of tons of herring roe – a delicacy in Japan.  The creatures gather too, not just for the roe of course, but for a good feed that will sustain them through migration or mating season.           

Herring fish boats

A close-up look at some of the activity on the water

The sense of anticipation builds at the marinas and harbours late in February as fishboats await word of the opening from the Department of Fisheries.  For many, the  fishery is an opportunity to make some serious money in a short time frame so it is important to be in the right place at the right time. The length of the fishery is predicated upon Pacific herring stocks, which vary from year to year, and on demand. Some years the opening sees a veritable city of sea-going vessels on the water, engines thrumming and fishermen working 24/7 to get their share of the haul.  Other years, like the one immediately following the earthquake in Japan, there is almost no activity because there is no demand for the end product. 

Sea lions

It’s not just the activity on the water that attracts people – hundreds of sea lions, brant geese, seagulls and bald eagles make their presence known during the fishery too, taking advantage of easy prey

So every Spring, we wait and hope, keeping an eye on the waterfront, checking with friends and acquaintances up and down the coast. The sights and sounds are captivating enough that we have found ourselves driving considerable distances to take them in, for the herring are fickle and spawn in different areas each year. What may be a frantic scene of activity on the Qualicum Beach waterfront one year may another year see the same area entirely bereft of boats.  There are no guarantees, so watchfulness is essential.           

Spectators watch the herring fishery

The many footprints in the sand are testimony to the throngs that gather at the beaches to watch the action. There is an appeal for all ages.

If you are fortunate enough to be near a fishery opening, don’t be surprised to see hundreds of other people joining you along the waterfront, night or day.  Some folks even bundle up the kids, pack hot beverages and folding chairs, and head down to the beach in the dark to take in the magic and excitement of a spectacle that will, guaranteed, remain in the mind’s eye forever.  Before you head to the beach be sure to pack binoculars and cameras.  Dress warmly and wear warm, waterproof footwear.  

Seagulls at Qualicum Beach

Thousands of seagulls gather on the beaches to feed on the herring spawn, which is sometimes ankle deep

You may think you are just going to spend a few minutes watching but, guaranteed, you will be so enthralled with all of the activity and excitement, with the huge variety of wildlife that gets in on the act, and with the overall impact that this natural phenomenon has on you, that you will end up lingering.  If you aren’t totally entranced, I can only surmise you must be dead.

Posted in ATTRACTIONS, COURTENAY/COMOX VALLEY, EAST CENTRAL ISLAND, EVENTS, WEST COAST | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

‘Perfect storm’ makes for a memorable evening at Nanaimo’s Bistro at Westwood Lake

 

View from Bistro at Westwood Lake

The pretty views from the bistro include lake and forest. Floor-to-ceiling windows enhance the ambiance

            Maybe it was the snow and the silent, white beauty outdoors.  Maybe it was the warm lighting and soft jazz that greeted us as we came through the door.  Maybe it was the fact that we had the best table in the house, with a pretty view of forest and lake. And there is no doubt in my mind that the food and cheerful service added to it. Mostly I guess it was the combination of all those things – a perfect storm (of the snowy sort) that  recently converged to afford us a romantic, relaxed evening  at Nanaimo’s  Bistro At Westwood Lake.           

 

Dungeness crab cake

Crab cakes are made with local Dungeness crab

Normally there is no way we would walk into a place this popular on a Saturday evening without a reservation and expect to even get a table, much less the best one in the house.  But snowy nights on Vancouver Island mean cancelled reservations (20 on this particular occasion) and we were the first ones through the door.  Thus, we enjoyed the pretty view of the lake as the snow drifted down and dusk drew in.

            Despite the gloomy financial outlook for the evening bistro owner Gaetan Brousseau proved to be an attentive host who delivered our meals with aplomb and great good cheer. His attitude certainly added to the excellence of the experience.

            We began our meal by sharing a Dungeness crab cake accompanied by a colourful small salad dressed with a light, flavourful vinaigrette.  I was so pleased to see Dungeness crab on the menu – I can never understand why, when this superb and most flavourful local ingredient is so easily accessed, restaurants insist on putting inferior crab into their crab cakes and other seafood offerings.

stuffed chicken breast

Mushroom and leek stuffed chicken breast

 

            Our main courses included a perfectly cooked juniper berry crusted venison loin accompanied by spaetzle and tender-crisp vegetables for my husband. I opted for a flavourful mushroom and leek-stuffed chicken breast, which came with parmesan polenta and a colourful medley of vegetables. Both meals were beautifully presented and provided a happy combination of unique textures and flavours that complemented each other. It was really nice to have something other than potatoes as the carbohydrate component on the plates.

            Dessert arrived – a dense and decadent slice of dark chocolate truffle tart with  chantilly cream for my husband and a flavourful lemon semifreddo topped with tiny meringues and fresh fruit for myself. Again, beautiful presentation and nice combination of flavours.  My only criticism here is that the semifreddo was more like a pudding than the classic half cold/frozen called for in the true translation of the word. But, the combination of lemon and fresh fruit more than compensated for the lack of correct texture.           

Lemon semifreddo

Lemon Semifreddo

Although I had been hoping to visit the Bistro at Westwood Lake at what I thought would be a more photogenic time of the year, we ended up having no regrets about making our initial foray to this lovely spot in the dead of winter.  I can’t wait to return when the weather warms up and the trails around the lake can be hiked and enjoyed without benefit of boots and heavy clothing.  And of course, we will finish our next visit with lunch or dinner on the pretty patio overlooking the lake. Something to look forward to, for sure!

            The Bistro at Westwood Lake is located at 2367 Arbot Road in Nanaimo, adjacent to the Westwood Lake Tennis Club.  Further information and menus can be found at the website:

            www.westwoodlake.com

wheelchair-mPrice Rating : $$

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat.: 49.16674518484529  Long.  -124.00690905396732

N 49 10.005  W 124 00.415

Posted in EAST CENTRAL ISLAND, WHEELCHAIR ACCESS, WHERE TO EAT | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nanaimo’s Artzi Stuff offers ’100 Mile Diet for the Home’

 

Wooden bowl

This beautiful hand-turned bowl made of bird’s eye maple is one of many on display

The 100 Mile Diet For Your Home.  Well, why not? With all the emphasis on buying local these days it seems a natural progression that we should be supporting local artists and artisans as well as food producers – especially in view of the fact that there are so many really talented folks right here in, figuratively speaking, our own back yard.

 

Fused glass plates

Fused glass pieces feature prominently in the shop

When Tanya Streeter first opened the doors of her charming 400-square–foot Artzi Stuff shop in Nanaimo’s Old City Quarter in 2008 she was looking to market not only her own line of scarves and T-shirts, but the work of many of the other talented artists she had met over the years. Tanya had been creating beautiful wearable art  since 1996 and for more than a decade kept hoping someone would open a shop in the central Island area where she could sell her work.  That never happened, so what began as annual ‘open studio’ events featuring her artistic endeavours and the creations of other local artists eventually morphed into the opening of Artzi Stuff. By the autumn of 2013 the small shop was bursting at the seams and Tanya relocated to a much larger space in downtown Nanaimo.

Vase at Artzi Stuff

Not your average container for cut flowers!

 

 The west coast/island influence is evident in virtually all of the work on display, from spectacular hand-crafted wooden bowls to the pottery, fused glass and wearable art, original paintings and prints, jewellery, calendars, handbags, stunning hand-crafted journals – the list is endless and ever-changing. The larger store is flooded with natural light and affords the opportunity to effectively display all of the work to maximum advantage, with plenty of space for customers to move comfortably throughout the shop and contemplate the varied and very lovely offerings.

At the moment Artzi Stuff markets on behalf of about 50 artists, but Tanya has plans to acquire more display furniture so that she can accommodate additional work by new artists and artisans.  She also is planning to stage four art shows scheduled for the coming Spring months with themes of fabric, metal, found objects and music.

I am probably one of the most devoted ‘anti-shoppers’ on the face of the planet, and since we down-sized to a smaller home a few years ago I am very resistant to purchasing more ‘stuff’ for the house, no matter how much I may love a piece.  But I never get out of Artzi Stuff without something tucked away in my tote bag.  There is always at least one piece that catches my eye and ends up finding a home with us, even if I can’t think of where to put it when I am contemplating the purchase.  Which says Tanya – and the many talented artists she represents – must be doing something right.

Artzi Stuff is located at 2 Church Street in downtown Nanaimo.  At present there is not a website, but information for the business can be found on Facebook under ArtziStuff, or you can contact the store by telephone at (250) 716-8989

Interior of Artzi Stuff

The interior of the new Artzi Stuff location allows for maximum exposure for the many lovely works on display

wheelchair-mGPS co-ordinates are:

Lat.  49.1669289789983  Long. -123.93707719262505

N 49 10.016  W 123 56.225

 

Posted in EAST CENTRAL ISLAND, SPECIAL PLACES, WHEELCHAIR ACCESS | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Downtown Nanaimo has another winner in ‘new-old’ Gabriel’s Gourmet Cafe

           

Butter chicken rice bowl

The butter chicken rice bowl is one of many generous – and excellent – offerings on the lunch menu

There are many factors that make you feel really good about eating at Gabriel’s Gourmet Café in downtown Nanaimo, not least of which is the food itself.

            The young team at Gabriel’s has recently ‘moved house’ from a tiny hole-in-the-wall takeout on Commercial  to bigger digs just down the street, allowing patrons to sit down and enjoy their meal rather than heading out the door with their food.  The new premises are four times the size of the old place, capable of seating upwards of 50 diners. And a good thing, too – we arrived at 12:30 on a recent Saturday to a fairly empty venue, but within minutes the place was packed, there were lineups to order and all the tables were occupied. So, there’s the first of many feel-good aspects about this place – Gabriel’s almost-five year tenure in Nanaimo and the recent expansion is obviously a roaring success. We are always happy to see young chefs of varied disciplines thriving in their own restaurants, adding to the vibrancy of the dining scene on the Island.

Interior, Gabriel's Gourment Cafe

Simple, clean lines set the aesthetic for the interior at the new Gabriel’s venue

 

            Gabriel’s new location has a pretty austere aesthetic, but there are unique twists to be found in that aspect as well. The tables, countertops and benches are constructed from recycled bowling lane alley wood. The wall art reflects the ‘green’ theme as well. Light fixtures are constructed of bare bulbs encased in clear glass Mason jars. All of which contributes to a lively, casual atmosphere and adds to the second thing we liked about the place – a conscious effort to reduce, re-use and recycle.

            Third on our list of ‘likes’ is the fact that Gabriel’s  sources as much as possible in the way of ingredients from local farmers who raise their animals and their produce in an ethical manner on small scale farms. What’s not to love about that?

            There are plenty of vegan and gluten-free options on the menu and many ‘alternative’ foods such as tofu, chick pea and quinoa have pride of place there. (Advantage number four, for those who are counting).           

House Salad, Gabriel's Gourmet Cafe

The House Salad is a generous and colorful combination, served with whole grain bread and kale butter

And last but certainly not least, the food is good, generously portioned and very reasonably priced.  Three of us enjoyed substantial lunches with coffee and at the end of it all the bill came to $37.25 (before tip). My husband declared his butter chicken rice bowl the best he had ever consumed.  Our friend enjoyed a colourful and ample house salad topped with a wildflower honey vinaigrette and I enjoyed a curry chicken wrap that came overflowing with apple tomato chutney, brown rice, green onions and cilantro – a nice combination to keep the taste buds humming and my stomach happy, but not over-stuffed. The meals were accompanied by a small loaf of whole-grain bread with kale butter for sharing.

            Gabriel’s also serves up breakfast (featuring, of course, protein from ethically-raised animals on small scale farms).  Next trip I want to sample the ‘You ask we might make it’ omelette. All of the menu items are numbered, making for simple, efficient ordering.  – a good thing if the place’s current popularity is any indication.            

Wall art, Gabriel's Gourment Cafe

Not your average wall art, but certainly keeping in sync with the ‘green’ theme at the cafe

Next time you are looking for something a little different but definitely good, do yourself a favour and head out to Gabriel’s Gourmet Café – there are so many great reasons to do so.

            Gabriel’s doesn’t currently have a web site (they are working on it) but can be found on Facebook under Gabriel’s Gourmet Café.  The new location is at 39A Commercial Street in downtown Nanaimo. You can phone them for operating hours at (250) 714-0271.

            wheelchair-m Price rating: $

            GPS co-ordinates are:

            Lat.49.16502615384974  Long. -123.93688868465574

            N 49 09.902 W 123 56.213  

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