Friday, July 30, 2010

Bandidas Taqeria, Commercial Drive, Vancouver

Saskatoon is a fabulous place to live, but I do wish there were some vegetarian restaurants or even more vegetarian options on the restaurant menus. Some restaurants have been offering the same token vegetarian main course for years!

So I love visiting Vancouver, and British Columbia in general, because I have so many more food options. Not only are there vegetarian restaurants, but the menus often list vegan and raw options as well. It’s awesome to be recognized and to have choices.

Bandidas Taqeria serves really great Mexican vegetarian food. The corn tortillas are fresh and handmade. The menu has lots and lots of choices, and it changes frequently to satisfy their regular, daily customers. Some dishes include tofu, others tempeh, and there are vegan options (house-made soy sour cream and Vegan Gourmet cheese.)

I had Chile Lime Fajitas Рmarinated tempeh with saut̩ed strips of poblano chiles, onions and red peppers, served with rice and beans, salsa, sour cream, red cabbage and tortillas. It was amazing.

Helen had tortilla soup (topped with avocado, tortilla chips, cilantro, feta cheese and lime) as well as two burritos.

The Ronny Russell burrito was stuffed with roasted yams and onions, fresh guacamole, black beans, green salsa, purple cabbage, and pumpkin seeds, while the Camillo burrito had spicy breaded walnuts, pinto beans, cheese, purple cabbage, fresh red salsa and sour cream. A great combination of sweet and spicy, soft and crunchy.

Bandidas Taqeria, at 2781 Commercial Drive, is only two blocks from the Commercial-Broadway SkyTrain station. It’s worth the trip – I promise!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Raw Canvas, Yaletown, Vancouver

Yaletown is a very trendy neighbourhood – Pink Lime Salon and Bar, divine vines: contemporary floral design, Kosmic Scizzors, Bombay Brow Bar (“rock your brow. indian style”). The old warehouse loading docks are now home to brand-name restaurant patios. Yaletown is a place to see and be seen.

Challenging Stereotypes
Raw Canvas, with its mismatched wooden chairs, easels and paint, seems out of place. But Steve Merkley likes to challenge stereotypes. His first Yaletown business was a yoga studio.

“I wanted to put yoga, a deep practice, in what is perceived to be the most superficial place [in Vancouver] and see what happens.” Now, he has opened Raw Canvas, a combination of social space and art studio.

The restaurant area in Raw Canvas is warm and welcoming. There’s art on the walls and a simple but interesting menu. It’s a comfortable place for a glass of wine and a good book or a quiet conversation with a friend.

And don’t be lulled into thinking that a grilled cheese sandwich is pretty pedestrian. With two kinds of artisan cheeses and sun-dried tomato marmalade, it’s anything but. And a glass of Lotusland’s organic Ortega wine was irresistible. (It was good!)

The Art of Healing
But Raw Canvas is much more than just a restaurant. It’s also a public art studio. Just purchase a canvas and paint. Although Steve says very few individuals do. “Most people who aren’t artists need company,” he explains. Most of the drop-in artists are couples on dates or groups (birthday parties, stagettes). Businesses rent the facility for team-building exercises.

“Art is fundamental to our well being,” says Steve, “but the education system has sucked the imagination and creativity out of us. My vision for this place is built on tapping into people’s innate creativity. If you can forget about your finances, your relationship, your career for an hour or two and feel like a kid and be natural, that’s healing.”

Raw Canvas also sponsors an open mike session every Monday, a poetry reading every second Wednesday, and a band once a week. The back wall is the canvas for a performance piece, which changes every month.

Ideology and Connection
“I want people to create, to reach inside themselves and be free, just for an hour, of what they think they are, those limiting beliefs,” says Steve. “I want to give people the experience, through yoga or art, of connecting to their deeper self, beyond identity and social roles.”

Steve’s desire to make connections extends beyond the art studio to his choice of food, wine and supplies. He tries to strike a balance between organic, local and handmade. But it’s particularly important that the products are made by hand and not mass produced by machine. “The key for us is knowing that not a lot of machines have touched it,” he says. “It’s made by people like my parents who have farmed their land for generations.”

Steve uses wine as an example. He chooses wines, like Lotusland, that have been made on the premises in small batches using hand-picked grapes. The quality of the wine is determined by the terroir, the heart and soul of the land, rather than being artificially manipulated using additives and different types of yeast.

Steve buys high-quality paint from a small Granville Island business, even though it costs four times as much as paint from China. The secondhand furniture was a deliberate choice, even though it was far more expensive than new furniture. The refillable paint system is zero waste, and he uses environmentally-friendly cleaning products.

Franchise Opportunities
Steve has strong ideological principles, but he’s also a businessman. The combination of art studio and social space is unique, and he plans to franchise the concept.

Now, this isn’t your typical franchise. Steve’s dream is to create a community of like-minded people who want to run a fun business. They’ll pay a small fee for the brand and receive advice on getting started, but they’ll have a lot of independence.

However, they’ll also share and collaborate with each other. So one month Raw Canvas in Germany will be responsible for the website and blog, while another month it will be the branch in Seattle or Montreal. They’ll share live streamings of their performance art. “I would love to have a community of 10 to 20 businesses – lines of energy, pockets of creativity, all sharing with each other,” says Steve.

Visit Raw Canvas at 1046 Hamilton Street in Yaletown if you like good food, if you want a comfortable place to sit and have a drink, if you want to paint, or if you are intrigued by their ideology. It’s a place that works on many different levels – and a welcome change from the bland conformity of multinational restaurant chains.

My thanks to Steve Merkley for taking the time to share his thoughts and dreams. And my thanks for the lunch, which was delicious.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, BC

“an ancient forest and garden oasis by the sea”

Milner Gardens
Milner Gardens, located near Qualicum Beach/Parksville, is an entrancing mix of old-growth Douglas firs and delicate roses, rhododendrons and azaleas. The 70-acre garden and woods are located on a point overlooking the Strait of Georgia so in one afternoon you can enjoy forest, garden and ocean. (slideshow below)

I really enjoyed the woods and gardens as they are much more natural and untamed than Butchart Gardens. You can wander the paths, moving from majestic cedars draped in moss to fragile bunches of pink roses, and end your visit with a traditional English afternoon tea in the Camellia Tea Room – china cups and saucers and scones with Devonshire cream.

La Boulange
Now, I realize you won’t have an appetite after tea and scones, but you should still stop at La Boulange on your way to or from the Gardens. Clare and I strongly recommend the cinnamon buns and chocolate fudge cookies. And trust us – we’re connoisseurs. The bakery also has a good selection of organic bread.

La Boulange is located in a residential neighbourhood at 692 Bennett Road (airport road), Qualicum Beach. It’s open Monday to Friday from noon to 6 pm.

Milner Gardens

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Morningstar Farm, Parksville, BC

Have Fun and Enjoy Life

Vancouver Island offers so much variety. After a morning on the beach, we headed inland to Morningstar Farm at 403 Lowry’s Road, Parksville to visit Little Qualicum Cheeseworks and Mooberry Winery.

Lori Palmiere, the wholesale manager and one of Little Qualicum’s first employees, provided an in-depth tour of the farm. The farm was a really fun place to visit. There was food and drink, fresh country air and lots of animals, and goofy signs encouraging visitors to laugh and play.

Farm Animals
The goats are particularly friendly, but you can also tour the barns and meet the young calves and the hogs. In March/April, there is a calving festival when 10-20 calves are born.

Morningstar was the first farm in British Columbia to receive SPCA certification after being inspected to make sure the farm met the SPCA’s standards for animal welfare. They also work with The Land Conservancy to improve the quality of their 68 acres.

You can take a self-guided tour through the fields, along the creek and past the ponds. There’s also a picnic area. And, of course, there’s lots of cheese and fruit wine to sample and enjoy.

Nancy and Clarke Gourlay, the owners of Little Qualicum Cheeseworks, had been working overseas as missionaries. They took a sabbatical in Switzerland and fell for the locally-produced raclette cheese. They were ready for a career change, and the climate in mid- Vancouver Island was similar to the climate in the lower Swiss Alps (particularly in terms of humidity, which is really important for cheesemaking), so they decided to learn all they could about making cheese.

Nancy and Lori became the farm’s first cheesemakers. Lori says that courses and recipes don’t tell you everything. “You have to taste it, feel it, see it,” she says. “It’s the hands-on experience that is how you really learn cheesemaking.”

What the cows eat is key to good cheese. The cows spend their days in the fields and make their own way to the barn twice a day for milking because they know they’ll get a treat of grain (granola) while they are milked. The farm grows hay to produce silage for the winter feeds. Did you know that the bales are wrapped in plastic to "pickle" them?

Summer is high season so the cows are currently producing approximately 1600 litres of milk a day that is immediately turned into cheese. The brie is shaped in molds and left in the brine tank for 24 hours before being turned every day for 10 days until it is ripe. Then it’s packaged and sold almost immediately. The blue cheese has to be kept in a separate room to isolate the blue cheese spores. The hard cheeses are aged for a couple of months.

You can buy the cheese in the Farm Shop or at farmers’ markets on the Island and in Vancouver. Lori explains that the markets are important because they ensure a direct connection with consumers. “People want to know where their food is coming from. They want to see you and talk to you.” There’s a financial advantage as well as selling directly to consumers eliminates the middleman and improves the narrow profit margin on food products.

Mooberry Winery
The farm started making fruit wines two years ago. Phil Charlebois, the winemaker, is new to winemaking and super enthusiastic. He’s developed wines using a wide variety of fruits and berries – from apple and pear to gooseberry and raspberry – and he’s still experimenting. Future plans include strawberry-rhubarb and kiwi grape. And each variety is really different. The apple is dry and crisp, while the cherry is smoky and complex, and the raspberry captures the wonderful aroma of sun-warmed raspberries.

I really enjoyed talking with Phil because he’s not a wine snob. He reminded me that both making and consuming food and drink should be enjoyable. Have fun and enjoy life seems to sum up the Morningstar Farm philosophy – and that makes it a great place to visit.

Truffles in BC?
As we entered Morningstar Farm, I was intrigued to see a sign advertising truffle host trees at the neighbouring farm. A little digging on the internet informed me that Duckett Truffieres are growing organic truffles and truffle host trees. An amazing discovery for someone who really likes truffle oil on her pasta and thought it had to be imported from Europe. Yet another reason for me to come back to Vancouver Island!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, BC

Land Warmed by the Sun

The Cowichan Valley, just north of Victoria, is rich in farms and culinary businesses thanks to its warm, protected climate. You could spend days and days visiting all the different wineries and farms, but we only had one day . . . .

Organic Fair
My first contact with Organic Fair was through their fair trade organic chocolate bars (available at The Better Good in Saskatoon). There are 15 different choices, ranging from Canadiana with maple syrup, sundried apples & alder smoked salt to Capetown with figs, rooibos and Clementine. The owners have a half share in a cocoa bean farm in Costa Rica and a background in essential oils and chocolate, which explains the interesting flavour options and good quality chocolate.

Their first chocolate bar was Corazon, which they made for their wedding – “fall in love with the perfect marriage of floral rose, sweet honey, complex cacao nibs and a kiss of vanilla. A rose is often a token of the heart, and Corazon means heart in Spanish, a ‘romantic’ language, so it is only fitting that two people in love created this bar – together.” It is interesting how often couples enter marriage and a new business at the same time.

Their organic farm is far removed from civilization with flowering herbs and heritage chickens (gotta love the “fluffball” with furry claws). The farmyard store sells a wide range of organic herbs and spices, and I felt “obliged” to buy their Hedonist Hot Chocolate mix.

They also sell heavenly ice cream cones made with certified organic milk and eggs. There was real mint in the chocolate chip mint ice cream and local hazelnuts in the maple hazelnut ice cream. Yum!

Bread and Cheese in Cowichan Bay
The True Grain Bread Bakery is adjacent to Hilary’s Artisan Cheese – the perfect opportunity for a picnic lunch on the porch.

Hilary’s Cheese was established in 2001 by Hilary and Patty Abbott. They partner with local producers of cow and goat milk to produce a wide range of cheeses – from fresh curds to blue cheese to brie-style soft cheese to hard cheese that has been washed in blackberry port from Cherry Point Vineyards.

True Grain Bread uses organic ingredients and grinds their own flour (take a look through the door in the passageway) to prepare a wide range of hand-crafted breads and baked goods. They have just opened a second store in Mill Bay (unit 107 - 2690 Mill Bay Road), and I know people from Victoria who come out to Cowichan Bay on a regular basis to buy bread. One of my sister’s favourites are the buns studded with dark chocolate chunks.

There are lots and lots of wineries in the Cowichan Valley, ranging from small to large. We only had time for two visits as we travelled up Island. Cherry Point Vineyards is a large, well-established vineyard with a tasting room and restaurant. It is the second-largest winery on the Island and one of the first. It has just been purchased by new owners, so it will be interesting to see how they develop the business.

We also visited Godfrey-Brownell Vineyards, a small vineyard up a back road. They have 60 acres of land with 20 acres devoted to growing grapes, 25 acres that have been set aside with support from The Land Conservancy for conservation purposes, and have plans for 8 acres of olives and 7 acres of mixed farming.

Their website states that they measure success by plant diversity and do not want to devote all their land to growing grapes: “You will notice lots of ‘weeds’ and compost piles on both properties. Our philosophy is multiculturalism for plants and fauna. Even the lowly broom and dock have a role. . . . Monocultures, in our experience, encourage frenetic efforts to maintain control and breed their own demise.”

We arrived at the end of the day and had a quiet chat with Mr. Godfrey. I enjoyed a taste (and later a full bottle) of William Maltman, named after Godfrey’s uncle. It’s a blend of Marechal Foch and Gamay Noir – a complex red wine that still maintains its fruity origins. I also enjoyed their Chardonnay with its strong notes of apple.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Rathtrevor Beach, Vancouver Island

Clare and I spent three nights at a resort directly overlooking Rathtrevor Beach near Parksville on the east coast of Vancouver Island. The bay is shallow so when the tide goes out you can walk for miles and miles over the wave-rippled sand, admiring the crabs, the sand dollars and the seaweed still lifes. It’s a magical place.

I hope that future generations of children will have a chance to build sand castles and play on the beach like our family did.

Here’s a slideshow of some of my photographs.

Rathtrevor Beach

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Taste: Victoria’s Festival of Food and Wine

Part Two: Food and Spirits

It’s obvious that I love good food and drink. But it’s the people I’ve met over the past few weeks who have made my culinary adventures so exceptional. As with so many professions, it’s not enough to simply provide a good product. You also need to connect with your audience – and it’s that personal connection that really sells your products.

Here are a few more of the people and products that I connected with at The Main Event, the opening event of Taste, Victoria’s second annual Festival of Food and Wine.

Victoria Spirits
Victoria Spirits is a two-year old, family-owned business. I confessed to Peter Hunt, the Master Distiller, that I knew nothing about gin or other hard alcohols, so he patiently showed me their products. I was surprised to discover that the Oaken Gin, which has been aged in new oak does not taste of oak but instead has a slightly-sweet caramel taste and colour.

The gin is handcrafted in small batches in a wood-fired still and infused with ten natural and wild-gathered botanicals: from juniper berries and rose petals to coriander and orange peel. They also make bitters, whiskey and eaus de vie.

I love the humour in the artwork by Mia Hunt, Peter’s sister and the company’s Creative Director – a young Queen Victoria on the gin, a mature Victoria on the Oaken Gin, and a drag queen on the Twisted and Bitter aromatics.

Partnerships for Opportunity – the African Connection
I did some digging on Victoria Spirits website and discovered that when Peter isn’t distilling gin, he’s fundraising for Partnerships for Opportunity, a non-profit organization committed to providing a supportive foundation for community self-development projects in sub-Saharan Africa.

My brother and I were born in East Africa so I was really interested. An email to Peter provided me with further information. Peter and his partner, Natalie Ward, will be returning to Uganda in October 2010 to build a Vocational Secondary School and Community Cultural Centre in Bwera, a severely impoverished rural community in western Uganda.

Take a look at their proposal. They are specifically asking Canadian schools to become involved – something to consider if you’re a teacher. If you live in Victoria, you might like to attend their Art Lottery Gala on October 1, 2010 at the DaVinci Centre. For more information, call 250-516-6509 or email

Paprika Bistro
Paprika Bistro is a small restaurant in Estevan Village, near Willows Beach in Victoria, one of my sister’s favourite haunts. The restaurant describes itself as a “proud supporter of local farms, wineries and ocean-wise fisheries.” They served the most awesome chocolate truffles at The Main Event. And the chef is Anna Hunt of the talented Hunt family who own Victoria Spirits.

Amuse Bistro
I really enjoyed talking to Bradford Boisvert, the chef and proprietor of Amuse Bistro at Shawnigan Lake in the food-rich Cowichan Valley. Bradford says that he specializes in local food with a French influence and is part of the slow food movement. I thought that holidaymakers would be his principal customers, but he corrected me, explaining that “local people of this Island are very interested in where their food comes from.”

Amuse Bistro opened four years ago and will be joined shortly by a gourmet food store and bakery. Judging by the tiny puff pastries filled with chanterelle mushrooms in a cream sauce, the food at the restaurant must be delicious.

Antichi Sapori Italian Food Company
There was quite a crowd at The Main Event, but there seemed to be an unending supply of food. It was amazing to watch Valerie Sovran Mitchell and Stefano Malgari produce plate after plate of delectable bruschetta. One minute all the plates were empty, the next you were feasting on yet another variety.

Antichi Sapori (old world tastes) Italian Food Company offers boutique catering, home Italian cooking lessons, guest chefs and Italian evenings, and specialty Italian products for the kitchen.

Thank You
My thanks again to Kathy McAree for generously giving me tickets so I could participate in this event. I had a great time and learnt a lot about Vancouver Island’s food culture.

My thanks to the chefs and winemakers and distillers for sharing their talents.

And my thanks to Clare for being my designated driver, for directing my attention to interesting businesses and for keeping me organized.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Taste of Victoria: The Main Event

Part One: Vancouver Island Wine

Imagine! Over 52 tables set up offering wine and food from Vancouver Island and the mainland. It was an exciting opportunity to sample a wide variety of different products and talk to the producers.

I am extremely grateful to Kathy McAree, Travel With Taste and event organizer, for giving me tickets to The Main Event, the grand opening of Taste, Victoria’s second annual Festival of Food and Wine. Congratulations, Kathy. The event was well organized, beautifully laid out, and I had a great time.

It wasn’t possible for me to sample all the wines or to talk to all the producers, so I focused on Vancouver Island wineries. I learned a great deal – here’s just a brief overview.

Ortega – the Island Wine
Jane Ellmann, Muse Winery, describes Ortega as “patio wine – summer in a glass.” It’s also known as the Island Wine as this is one of the few areas where it is grown.

Ortega is a dry, fruity white wine. I really enjoyed it and would like to compare the Ortega wines from other Vancouver Island vineyards.

Pinot Gris – with a Difference
There is an added twist to Pinot Gris from Island wineries as it is often a light pink from a short contact with the grape skins. I enjoyed a bottle from Rocky Creek.

Pinot Noir – Averill Creek
Andy Johnston, the owner of Averill Creek Vineyard, boasts that they make the best Pinot Noir in Canada. I certainly enjoyed a sample of their 2008 Pinot Noir. The vineyard is located near Duncan in the Cowichan Valley, which Johnston describes as a warm, protected microclimate that is perfect for growing Pinot Noir.

92 tons of estate grapes are aged for 11 months in 2-4 year old French oak barriques to produce a complex wine with a subtle, unobtrusive oak flavour.

Brut – Crisp, Sparkling Wines
Champagne from France, Cava from Spain, and Prosecco from Italy. But now we can add Brut Naturel from Vancouver Island wineries to the list of great dry, sparkling wines. It was a complete surprise for me to taste some great locally-produced sparkling wines. One of my favourites was Celebration Brut from Starling Lane Winery, which will be released in October 2010. The wine is bottle-fermented from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes grown on their Saanich Peninsula Vineyard.

Another one that I enjoyed was the 2007 Brut Naturel from Venturi Schulze Vineyards. I’ve also heard rave reviews for their balsamic vinegar.

There is an abundance of blackberries on Vancouver Island so it’s not surprising that many wineries offer a blackberry wine or port. Rocky Creek Winery has a very nice Wild Blackberry wine. It has a good fruity flavour and isn’t overly sweet.

Many of the Island wineries offer a blackberry port or dessert wine. One that I have tasted and enjoyed is Cherry Point Vineyards’ Solera Blackberry.

Organic Wine - Mistaken Identity
I enjoyed tasting some of the wines from Mistaken Identity, a certified organic winery on Salt Spring Island. Cliff Broetz, the owner, says that they started growing grapes in 2003 and opened their doors two years ago with the 2008 vintage. Their website states that care of the land and care in the process are the starting points in their product delivery.

I particularly enjoyed their Abbondante Bianco, an estate-blend white wine. It was clean, crisp and dry with a rosy tinge.

Great Artwork
Another Salt Spring Island vineyard offers great artwork along with great wine. The labels for Salt Spring Vineyards are designed by Brandever Strategy Inc. of Vancouver, BC. They work with a number of wineries and specialty food stores on their brands.

Here’s what they have to say about their design work for Salt Spring Vineyards: “Salt Spring Island is a rather fascinating island off of the coast of British Columbia. Known for its eclecticism, hippies, sheep, wild salmon, organic farming, rusty old VW’s, and hand-painted gumboots. Its Haight &; Ashbury meets Green Acres. When we took on the challenge of designing an identity for an upstart winery on Salt Spring, we knew exactly what to do. We created a barely clad, flying goddess, Eartha, wearing gumboots. As she flies overhead, she gifts the land below with hearty edibles. We also stirred-in just about every iconic image of the island we could think of – right down to the free-range eggs.”

The Main Event - Part Two: Food and Spirits

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Ottavio Italian Bakery and Delicatessen, Oak Bay Village, Victoria

Food, Culture and History

One last bakery/deli in Victoria. My sister lives near Oak Bay Village, and I always make my way along the Bowker Creek path to spend a half day visiting the stores in Oak Bay Village.

The Village's Tudor-style architecture is a humorous reminder of Victoria’s strong British roots, and you can still enjoy a British-style tea at the Blethering Place Tea Room.

But there are other cultural strands weaving their way through Oak Bay Village, and one of the most tasty can be found at Ottavio Italian Bakery and Delicatessen.

Ottavio is a third-generation family business owned by Monica Pozzolo and Andrew Moyer. Monica’s grandparents owned a pasticceria, bar & gelateria in Torino, Italy for over 40 years, while her family has operated The Italian Bakery on Quadra Street in Victoria since 1978.

The store carries over 25 extra virgin olive oils from Italy, France, Spain, Greece and the United States. One of the staff helpfully points out some of the different varieties. “Olive oils are like wines. They’re all different,” she explains. “L’Affiorato is light and fruity and popular with local chefs. Oliveto fonte de Poland is deep, rich, very peppery and full-bodied. Olio Carli is blended and popular because it is consistent.” (My apologies if I misspelled the names of the oils.)

Ottavio has a wonderful display of cookies and baked goods from The Italian Bakery – cannoli and cornetti, baci di dama and brutti ma buoni, amaretti, fossette, and moretti.

There is a mix of local and international products – pickled walnuts from England, chocolate bars from Spain, Kusmi tea from France, but also Victoria’s Feys & Hobbs rhubarb chutney and an entire refrigerated case devoted to cheeses from Quebec and British Columbia.

You can enjoy a sit-down meal in the store or on the patio or pick up a takeout lunch to eat on the beach.

While you’re in Oak Bay, be sure to visit the bookstores, jewellery and home design stores. And The Village Patisserie has good take-out salads, pizzas and other baked goods.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Black Stilt Coffee Lounge, Victoria, BC

Environmentally-friendly business practices

Human activity has a huge impact on the environment. I can take my own mug to the coffee shop, and many restaurants and delis are replacing styrofoam with materials that are more easily recycled, but that’s just a small piece of the puzzle.

I was heartened to hear about the Black Stilt Coffee Lounge in Victoria, which has a much more comprehensive approach to being environmentally friendly. Here are just a few examples from a very long list of their environmentally-friendly practices:

• Maintain a compost pile and use compostable paper towels and cutlery

• Purchase recycled and post-consumer paper products

• Unplug equipment at night to reduce phantom loads

• Use a low-flow dishwashing wand and the sanitizing dishwasher is only run when full

• Increased compost and recycling storage to minimize waste pickups and reorganized bakery and coffee deliveries thereby reducing total number of trips to the Black Stilt by over 10%

Black Stilt is a Third Wave coffee shop, which means that its coffee is linked to a specific farm and crop in order to make the production process as transparent as possible. By visiting the farm and working directly with the farmers, the coffee shop owner can ensure that the coffee has been grown organically, is bird friendly, grown in the shade, and that the rights and welfare of farm employees are a priority.

I have been accused of being elitist because I care about where my food comes from and how it is produced and delivered. It is true that it can be more expensive (although not always), but to only focus on money is very short-sighted. If we truly care about sustaining our environment and passing along a planet rich in natural resources and beauty to future generations, we have to stop abusing it – NOW. Individual consumers and business owners can make a difference and can lead us towards a more sustainable future.

According to Wikipedia, the black stilt (New Zealand) is one of the world’s most endangered birds. The current wild population is estimated at 85 adult birds.

From Seed to Cup, a small book chronicling the critical stages in the creation of a cup of coffee, is a fundraising initiative to help support the coffee farm families. The funds will be distributed through the Oughtred Coffee Trust.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Victoria Harbour Ferries

“There's nothing . . . absolutely nothing . . . half so much worth doing as simply messing around in boats.” (River Rat, Wind in the Willows)

It was sunny and hot – the perfect day for a boat ride so I headed down to Victoria Harbour to catch one of the tiny harbour ferries that chug back and forth in the summer.

I started out by taking a one-hour tour up the Gorge Waterway. It starts out as a really industrial area with roadbed and car recycling plants but changes to gracious waterside homes.

You can stop off along the way for a tour at Point Ellice House or lunch at Fol Epi Bakery at Dockside Green as well as various other locations.

After lunch, I hopped back on a ferry and went round the point to the Delta hotel. I then meandered along the harbour walkway to Spinnaker’s Brew Pub where I enjoyed cider and bruschetta.

Afterwards, I continued walking to the West Bay Marina at the far end of the harbour where I caught a ferry ride back to town.

Other options are to rent a kayak or a rowboat, and there are trails along the Gorge and the Harbour so you can walk or cycle as well.

The Downtown Victoria Business Association puts out a great brochure called Walk + Run Downtown Victoria, which lists everything from running routes to off-leash dog areas to the top 10 photography locations.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Fol Epi Bakery, Victoria, BC

Food, Community and Integrity

I sneak a peek through the open door of the bakery and glimpse the baker using a paddle to slide a pizza into the wood oven. It’s lunchtime, and Cliff, the owner of Fol Epi Bakery, is busy so I sit down on the deck with my lunch.

Fol Epi is located at Dockside Green, a new environmentally sustainable neighbourhood development, which is still under construction on the Gorge Waterway, a very industrial part of Victoria. Across the waterway is a roadbed recycling plant.

Cliff, one of the original owners of Wild Fire Bakery, opened Fol Epi in January 2009. I imagine that it has been a somewhat rocky start as Dockside has been slow to develop. Cliff is a member of the Slow Food movement. All the ingredients are organic, and they are sourced locally as much as possible. They make small batches of just a few quality products.

After lunch, Cliff generously takes a few minutes away from the oven to talk to me, apologizing for the flour on his hands. I am struck by his gentleness and his ethical, principled approach to food and community. “We want to do a few things and do them very well,” he explains. Integrity is an integral part of all Cliff’s decisions – from how he sources the ingredients to how the store is constructed to how he treats his employees.

For example, Cliff buys the vanilla he uses from a slow food cooperative in Mexico where everyone shares in the process. The sugar is fair trade. As many products as possible are organic and local. The store was built using as many recycled products as possible – from the bricks used to build the bread oven to the beautiful wooden beams that now serve as counters.

Cliff has worked directly with a Saskatchewan farmer to bring Red Fife, the first wheat ever grown in Canada, back into production. He is working with a local farmer in order to develop a local source of wheat. “It takes time to secure land,” says Cliff. “It’s a big commitment from the farmer, especially when land prices are so high.”

Fol Epi is one of only three local bakeries which mill their own grain. The others are True Grain in Cowichan Bay and Wild Fire Bakery in Victoria. Again, it’s a question of integrity. Cliff feels that he has more control of over the quality of the grain; it is more sustainable as there is less packaging; and it increases the slim profit margins of bakers and farmers. In addition, Cliff believes it’s more interesting for the baker to be involved in that part of the process.

Cliff’s principled approach extends to his staff. “I want it to be a better way of living for employees,” says Cliff, explaining that he pays more than the average industry wage and hopes to be able to pay more as he reduces his debt. Cliff is also an integral part of the local food community. Charelli’s sandwiches are made with baguettes from Fol Epi, and so many of the people I met urged me to visit his bakery.

And last, but definitely not least, I have to tell you that the food is fabulous! The bread in my egg salad sandwich was moist and chewy and flavourful, and the tiny flourless chocolate cake was a mouthful of chocolate heaven.

Fol Epi shares space with Caffe Fantastico, one of the oldest third-wave coffee shops in Victoria. The owner travels internationally to identify high-quality farms with a focus on organic, fair trade products.

Fol Epi is located on the Gorge Waterway so it’s easily accessible from the series of trails that loop around the harbour. Hop on a harbour ferry, ride your bike or paddle your kayak – but be sure to visit Fol Epi Bakery. It’s fabulous.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Phillips Beer, Victoria, BC

Surly Blonde, Blue Buck, Chocolate Porter, Accusation Ale

Phillips beer is “proudly brewed in a little brewery at the bottom of a mid-sized island on the left side of a very big country.”

Phillips rolled out its first beers in August 2001 and  proclaims itself to be the younger brewery in Victoria: because they are a new business, because their oldest employee is 40, because of their ties to the skateboarding and arts community.

Now, there’s an art to making beer, and Phillips beers are excellent, but I fell in love with their artwork.

Shawn O’Keefe has been designing their labels from day one, and they’re gorgeous. They also use hand-painted wood signs designed and painted by the Dobell Brothers to advertise outside the brewery and at locations where their beer is sold. Again, amazing artistic talent.

Bill, our guide on one of the twice-weekly brewery tours, says his job title is “Funmaker.” And they do have fun at Phillips. After losing a lawsuit regarding the name of one of their beers, they came out with a new beer entitled Accusation Ale with a label depicting a judge slamming down his hammer.

Their website is really fun too. You can sign up for information about new beers – pretty straightforward stuff. But here’s how they describe it on their website: “We might not be able to offer you millions from Nigerian bankers, hot Russian brides or the best price for penile enhancements, but what we can guarantee you is the latest news from Phillips Brewing Company. You’ll be the first to know about all of our seasonal releases, as well as exciting Phillips events. No spams, no scams, just brews and news.”

If you’re in Victoria, be sure to check out their beer or go on a brewery tour (4 beer samples and laughter included).