Wining and Dining in the Okanagan Valley

Ok… over to my again husband to recount our recent trip.

This trip to the spiritual home of BC wines was highly anticipated on many fronts. Firstly we relished the opportunity to learn more about the wines we were savouring in Vancouver, secondly we hoped to discover a few more fine examples of Okanagan golden goodness and lastly we longed for a good

Oliver Road 18

The vista from Road 18 vineyard in Oliver

old fashion road trip. I think Canadians and Aussies definitely share a common enthusiasm for long, meandering drives to wonderful destinations. Our countries are decorated with natural beauty but in both cases it can take a mighty long time to get there. You can lament this situation or just strap yourself into a trusty vehicle, turn up the stereo and enjoy the ride. Equally, what better way to see a new country than from the vantage of a road trip and what better time of the year to do it in, than Fall.

The Okanagan Wine Country is about 5-6 hours north east of Vancouver and the Zielinski’s opted for a timeless classic in the form of a Volkswagen Westfalia. This van rolled off the production line in 1986, so it was a vintage VW but had been lovingly maintained all those years so was still highly reliable (we hoped…)  It came with it’s own fridge, cooktop, double bed and a top speed, on the downhill, of 110km/h. Having this chariot chug us down the highway added a deft touch of romanticism to our trip.

Our steed, the Westfalia

The 26 year old Volkswagen Westfalia, sure wasn’t the fastest way to get somewhere but definitely the most fun

Naramata DSC_1174

This is the heart of some of the best vineyards to visit

The drive up was beautiful and even swept us pass Hope, BC the setting for the legendary Sylvester Stallone film “Rambo, First Blood”. We took a pre-planned pit stop at a roadside fruit and veg store to feed one of our touring party’s growing  addiction for pumpkin and gourds. These were critical components to the upcoming Halloween festival. We spied a slinking wolf on the way up and arrived in Naramata in the early evening.

 

Here we met the lovely and gregarious Renee who ran a delightfully unique B&B – Robinson Bed and Beach. Her links to the area were indisputable as her grandfather was one of the first to settle in the area and built the Heritage Inn. The B&B had a moose head proudly on display that apparently fed Renee’s relatives for two years during one particular lean period. It’s difficult to describe the B&B in words other than to say eclectic would be high on the list. It was perfectly placed on the shores of Lake Skaha, so the sunrises were breathtaking. The view was enhanced further by the jumping into the outdoor Jacuzzi with a coffee or wine depending on the time of day.

Now, back to the main purpose of our trip – wine tasting. Obviously everyone was looking forward to this, especially our hosts who were itching to introduce us to some fine wineries. The only tragedy we struck was my wife learning 3 days before we left that she was 5 weeks pregnant with our second child. Devastation at not wanting to drink wine due to the incessant nausea countered by joy of knowing we were growing a second child would describe her mental state. So I took it graciously upon myself to taste and drink for the two of us. Almost all of us thought this was very selfless of me.

All 3 days of our Okanagan visit involved a very similar routine. We set out mid morning after a quick Jacuzzi by the Lake, carefully keeping an eye out for the legendary Okopogo.

Lake DSC_1190

Never tire of this view of Lake Skaha from our B&B

We would then hit a few wineries before lunch and before our kids self destructed. Then we would visit a few more vineyards in the afternoon (mainly G and I) whilst the ladies would corral the kids back to the B&B for some entertainment. Perhaps the greatest challenge during the weekend was entertaining the 3 kids whilst we tasted.  My memory of all the wines we tasted and vineyards we visited is limited but my general impressions were that the region is truly breathtaking. It rivals and tops many of the wine areas I have been lucky to visit so far. I would rank it above the Hunter Valley, Clare Valley, Napa and it would be on par with the Dordogne, France. Whilst in terms of its wines this region is an infant in comparison since most vineyards are 20 years or less old.

The Okanagan

Quite simply … Okanagan Gold

There were definitely many standouts however, they are probably a little over priced and I was a little frustrated by the tasting fees which appeared almost mandatory at every place, even the small vineyards. I know this is standard practice in the States but it doesn’t sit very well with me as tasting the product is part of doing business. Anyhow this aspect didn’t detract greatly from our experience. We even visited a wonderful cheese farm, a vineyard, Elephant Island, that made wines from plums, raspberries, blackberries, apples and peaches. This probably harks from the time that the Okanagan was overrun with plenty of orchards. Some 15 years ago there was a shift from orchards to vineyards as everyone eyed the potential for more money from selling bottles of wines rather than boxes of apples. I am sure glad they did as the region is spectacular.

OK, so what wines stood out I hear you plead. Definite highlights included the Burrowing Owl in Oliver, Quail’s Gate in Kelowna and in Narramatta I loved La Frenz, Red Rooster, Wan Westen and Poplar Grove. The most epic and Napa like vineyard was undoubtedly Mission Hill in Kelowna. This is a monument to largeness. Epic! Mammoth! Gargantuan! All these descriptors aptly provide a snapshot to this place.

Mission Hill1DSC_1284

Understated? The entry into Mission Hill

It is framed with massive marble and stone arches, roman-like pillars and amphitheatres which funnily enough provided the kids with so much fun as they rolled down them a million times. This was where our trip concluded. We sadly filed back into the Westfalia and braced ourselves for the long car trip home. We three were happier for the amazing landscapes, food, wine and friends we enjoyed for Thanksgiving 2012.

Thanksgiving Colour

Happy Thanksgiving 2012

Good Places To Eat

1. The Bench Market – known for their delectable Eggs Bennie

2. The Patio @ Lake Breeze Winery – relaxed atmosphere couple with a great food and a spectacular view

3. Burrowing Owl – For a beautiful dining experience where the matching wines are as great as the dishes

World Food challenge

With my limited knowledge and experience at blogging, I have only just discovered that 30 countries in total have viewed my blog!…now this is more countries than I have ever travelled in my entire life and some I know very little about when it comes to the food and their food culture, for example Iceland.

So, I am setting myself a challenge to publish one recipe from each country, even if I’ve never cooked them before! Some might even be a favourite dish that I have treasured over the years…who knows what I’ll discover. It could take me a year or so and it will be a great learning experience. Whenever I post up a recipe from one of these countries, the subject header will include both the recipe and the ‘world food challenge’ in it so you know its part of this series.

I cannot guarantee the authenticity of each recipe as I cannot speak the languages of the countries but I will attempt to do them as much justice and respect as they deserve. I will always credit and source a recipe too.

Here are the countries listed below:-

Canada

Australia

United States

United Kingdom

Germany

Hong Kong

Spain

New Zealand

Singapore

Indonesia

Brazil

Philippines

India

Belgium

Mexico

Sweden

Greece

Ukraine

Malaysia

Cambodia

South Africa

Croatia

Thailand

Ecuador

Israel

Finland

Netherlands

Iceland

Romania

Colombia

Thank you, to all of you that have stopped by my blog around the world – much appreciated.

If you are reading this and you would like to share a particular dish or favourite from your country, I’d love to hear from you.

Here’s to the beginning of my world challenge culinary adventure – Enjoy!

Deep Cove – Savoring the sun and perhaps a swim with the seals?

I think I’m in denial that Summer has ended. Coming from Australia, you hardly notice the gradual merging of the seasons between Spring to Summer, Summer to Autumn/Fall as there are regular sunny days tempered by cool breezes and most of the time small amounts of rain either side.  I am clinging to the occasional sunny afternoon here in Vancouver and trying not to think about the reality that fall has arrived…almost overnight. The colour of the leaves are changing, and dropping one by one to the ground, I am snuggling under the duvet more and I also found myself walking out of a store with a new sweater last week. Experiencing the seasons in full swing is a beautiful thing of course, and I will try my hardest to embrace it all but if I had to choose, warmer weather will always my preference.

So with the unpredictable weather on the weekend, it was a risk to head to Deep Cove in North Vancouver for a kayak. However, my husband must have had good vibes or something because the minute we parked the car, the sun came out and it appeared to be lighter and warmer than when we had left home.

Deep Cove is a small bay town in the easternmost part of North Vancouver, BC, Canada. It is located at the foot of Mt Seymour and fronts onto the Indian Arm, a branch of the Burrard Inlet. It is also approximately 13 kilometres from downtown Vancouver.

It is a popular area for water sports; kayaks, canoes, paddle boarding, boating, fishing as well as other outdoor activities including hiking and biking.

At Deep Cove Canoe and Kayak a double kayak will cost you about $38 for two hours. You are provided with life jackets, pump, rope and given a good introduction to the area and where to paddle.

It’s a peaceful and pretty perspective that low on the glassy water, and while gliding around we saw our friends racing each other…

we saw many summer cabins that were of a particular size (including jacuzzis, hammocks and flags with lookout spots) around the Cove (locals refer to Deep Cove as the Cove) which weren’t catching a lot of sun at that particular time…and some that weren’t so steady looking.

It was a little cold in the water, but was tempting to swim with the seal swimming right by us

many boats and yachts,

A lighthouse on a point,

and two well fed seagulls.

A relaxed afternoon and a great way to soak up the few sunny days that are about.

Two places I recommend to eat/drink in the Deep Cove area are:

Honey Doughnuts located at 4373 Gallant Ave, North Vancouver, for a sweet snack and coffee or lunch.

Deep Cove Osaka Sushi located at 4355 Gallant Ave, North Vancouver, for excellent sushi and sashimi.

For strolling, I had to mention this cute gift store called Room 6 located at 4389 Gallant Ave, North Vancouver too!

Three outings with or without kids in Vancouver…

Although the water parks are closed and the air is gradually becoming a little more fresh and breezy, the sun is smiling still and beckons for us to make the most of it. There are still many places to go with children to keep them entertained outdoors…

Where we have been lately?

1. Steveston – A quaint fishing village about 20 minutes south of Vancouver. It was once the largest fishing port and cannery centre on the West Coast. It is still home to the largest salmon run in North America and to the largest fleet of commercial fishing vessels on the BC coast. (www.tourismvancouver.com).

Quaint fishing village of Steveston, Vancouver, BC

For kid’s it’s great to watch the boats…

Fishing boats docked in Steveston, Vancouver, BC

or fly kites…

Kite Flying at Steveston, Vancouver, BC

and eat fish and chips (we ate at Pajo’s, there was a queue but it was worth it)…

Pajo’s Fish & Chips line up – Steveston, Vancouver, BC

Walk it off along the water, and finish with an ice-cream from Timothy’s Frozen Yoghurt.

Timothy’s ice-cream in Steveston, Vancouver, BC

2. The PNE – Pacific National Exhibition which runs for 17-days in late August, early September and is a Summer fair, seasonal amusement park, and arena in Vancouver.

It is located in Hastings Park; entrance / Gate 1 at Hastings and Renfrew Street and is a terrific way to wear out your children.

PNE Fair, Vancouver, BC – Entrance, Gate 1

We enjoyed seeing the Peking Acrobats performance…

Peking Acrobats – PNE, Vancouver, 2012

Especially the dog show!

PNE dog show, 2012

There were animals and a farmyard to see how our food is grown and picked…

Picking carrots in the farmyard – PNE, Vancouver, 2012

and of course rides, rides and more rides! (there are quite a few for younger kids to wear them out).

Rides at the PNE, Vancouver, 2012

3. Burnaby Central Railway – What child does not like trains? There cannot be many I am sure about that as all I could see on arrival was children squealing and laughing as they boarded the mini trains here. This railway is located at Confederation Park, 120 North Willingdon Avenue, Burnaby, BC.

This place is cash only, be prepared! The fare is $2.50 per single ride ticket and kids will most likely want to ride a few times at least…we must have had a ride on all the different coloured trains which means approximately 5 rides!

Ride on the trains! At Burnaby Central Railway, Vancouver, BC

There are quite a few tracks…

Riding the rails – Burnaby Railway Station, Vancouver, BC

some tracks were surrounded by blackberry bushes, plump, juicy ones ready to pick but just out of reach!

Our train driver – Burnaby Railway Station

So it was just as well we had a picnic (you can bring your own) waiting to enjoy in the grounds of croissants, salad, fruits and cheese. After all that, it was time to go home.

Take me to the Top – Lions Peak, Vancouver

So this is Rob here and my delightful wife has kindly handed over the reigns of her Blog to me for one day. This was no mean feat, might I say! Being a Zielinski too I feel that I can write under Greenskis with authenticity. So here goes.. hope you enjoy!

It’s an odd way to start an epic hike but mine started in the hot tub at the Hillcrest Aquatic Centre. Yep, that’s right, whilst I was whiling away a cool and crisp March morning in the lovely warm waters the plan to climb the Lions Peak was hatched. There, next to me was our great friend, Nicole, who provided the necessary local knowledge. I asked her what those two distant peaks were that were intermittently obscured by clouds. They were the most prominent features on the skyline and they beckoned. Her casual reply was “Oh they are the Lions Peaks and they are a bit of Vancouver legend.” The next question was reflexive – “So can you climb them? And is it hard?” Not being a rock climber but an adventurous soul I was hoping her answer was “Yes” to both. Indeed it was. They are definitely hike-able, require no mountain gear and afford one of the best views of Vancouver and the surrounding area. That’s all I needed to hear.

The Lions Peak way in the distance from downtown

In the distance the Lions Peaks are visible from anywhere in Vancouver

Fast forward about 6 months and with a reasonable amount of background reading and a hiking crew all ready to go we set out at dawn to climb the Lions! But first a bit more background on these little beauties. It is well-known that most Vancouverites desire to climb the Lions but few actually ever get around to it. Being in Vancouver for the short term provided the requisite motivation and so I enrolled two other Aussies to join me. The Lions are a pair of pointed peaks (West Lion – 1,646 m (5,400 ft);East Lion – 1,606 m (5,269 ft)) along the North Shore Mountains in Vancouver. They can be seen from much of the Greater Vancouver area, as far as East Burnaby, south to parts of Surrey, and from the west on the  Howe Sound Islands. Along with the Lions Gate Bridge named in their honour, these twin summits have become one of the most recognizable Vancouver landmarks.

The earliest recorded climb of the West Lion in 1889 happened almost by accident. A group of hunters following a herd of goats found themselves at the top with no place to go but down. Sadly there is no cable car to effortlessly transport you down like on Grouse Mountain and I soon learnt that it is the descent that really hurts you. Most of the hiking advice websites recommend to plan for a 3-4 hr ascent, 1 hour to enjoy the scenery and 3-4 hour descent. That adds up to 8-9 hours, a double shot of coffee and a very long and arduous day.

On the day we chose to climb the Lions we accidentally coincided with the Lions Bay Community annual ascent. That translated to another 50 people, mostly on the 60+ years side, attempting the climb. All in all there were about 300 people who climbed that day. That brings me to my first piece of unsolicited advice, get there EARLY! Not just to snare one of the rare parks at the start of the climb (the run off car park is about 1km away … down hill) but to enjoy the climb in some serenity. So we three, set off full of vim and vigour and enjoyed a reasonably placid start to the hike. The first section was on an old fire trail and only a gradual climb. This quickly led into a lovely well-marked park that wound its away over gullies into valleys and traversed some lovely quintessential West Coast pine forrestscape.

Typical but beautiful West Coast Pine Forest. The trail is well-marked.

Some old pines make way for new growth
Some old pines blown down in storms make way for new growth

We were enveloped by massively majestic old pines, and occasional fallen giants as storms, winds and father time continually remodel the forest. After an hour and much banter amongst the group, things began to escalate – in both oxygen demands and steepness. Occasionally one would be tempted by a stunning view of Howe Sound but mostly it was solid progress through dense pine forest. In parts it was definitely steeper than the Grouse Grind so I was starting to blow out many candles.

Halfway up and we were excited. Stunning Howe Sound in the background.

Halfway up and we were excited. Stunning Howe Sound in the background.

As we crept out of the tree line we were greeted with an awe inspiring vista. The vastness of the valley was humbling and off to the left one caught a good look at the West Lion. Boy, it looked a fair hike away and it remained a couple of hours of hard yakka. We saw some fire pits up of hiking groups who prefer to share the awesomeness with no one. The next section was across scree, granite boulder fields, and occasional ponds of snow. Even though we were well into August and the weather was a picture perfect 23 degrees and blue sky as far as the eye gazed, the amount of snow this area receives meant that it stays alpine all year round. The snow wasn’t troubling at all more of a passing novelty for us three Australians. It also afforded us with ammunition for an impromptu snow ball fight.

Some scrambling over granite boulders and lingering snow islands.

Some scrambling over granite boulders and lingering snow islands.

Well you had to, didn’t you? Through this section over your right shoulder lay the vastness and beauty of Howe Sound.

Wondrous Howe Sound, nothing more to say

Wondrous Howe Sound, nothing more to say

This body of water starts at Squamish and transports the gazillion litres of snow melt from the mountains each year. We wondered what constitutes a Sound and later I discovered it is a large sea or ocean inlet larger than a bay, deeper than a bight (even the Great Aussie Bight?), and wider than a fjord; or it may be defined as a narrow sea or ocean channel between two bodies of land. Right back to the hike. At this point, high above the real tree line and in the boulder fields another path joins and this one started way back at Cypress Mountain. So there is a second way of getting to the Lions but apparently this way is EVEN longer and not as picturesque.

My favourite mountainscape - stunning palate of blues

My favourite mountainscape – stunning palate of blues

We had 30 mins to go and I was getting pretty pumped. The last section is a bit of more strenuous weaving and climbing up larger boulders. Definitely no climbing required but just a little more technical than the rest of the hike. At this point you are at the saddle of the Lions and the West Lion is over to your left and the East Lion to the right. The East Lion is out of bounds to climbing but many tackle the West Lion. As you can see in the picture below there is a pretty precarious section to navigate. No mistakes are possible as the ‘trail’ is narrow and the mountain falls away so steeply that a fall would be curtains.

West Lion (far top right) stands proudly out in the distance.

West Lion (far top right) stands proudly out in the distance.

At this point of the summit some 1500m above sea level I felt no desire to climb higher. We shared this moment with a few ‘tame’ black crows that were actually terrifyingly large. I suspect they fed on wasted scraps from the horde of climbers’ lunches. All I could think of was their massive beaks just pecking away at my eyeballs if I was unlucky to slip and perish up there. OK that is a crow pecking eye phobia I have had for a while and occasionally it leaps into my thoughts.

Black Crows grow big in the Mountains

Black Crows grow big in the Mountains

So what did we see and was it worth the effort. You betcha!! We were lucky enough to see Mt Baker way down in Washington, USA still capped in snow. There were mountains in every direction but one. Howe Sound was in that direction and it continued to absorb your gaze effortlessly. Capilano Dam was visible which supplies the vast majority of drinking water to Vancouver. And way off in the distance the city skyline of bustling Vancouver twinkled.

Perching on the Precipice. Howe Sound in the distant.

Perching on the Precipice. Howe Sound in the distant.

We decided to sit down and enjoy a hearty lunch. I was fortunate to have my wife’s famous Quinoa Salad and it went down the hatch in record time, even for me! Man it was tasty. One weird observation up here was that there was reasonable mobile phone coverage which weirdly took a little away from the experience. But I guess if you fell and hurt yourself the ability to call was comforting. The youngsters probably twittered or facebooked their achievement.

The descent was next and I really wasn’t looking forward to it. There’s no longer any anticipation and the constant pressure on the knees and quadriceps was likely going to be crippling. A few tourist helicopters whizzed by and I wistfully imagined hitchhiking a ride back down. Fast forward 3 difficult hours and we were down. My legs were jello and doing the Wobble, totally under their own control having severed any connection to my neuromuscular junctions. We washed away the pain with a lovely lemonade a few girls were selling to raise some money for something or other. Heck it was cold and it was good. Next stop was BierCraft, the local Belgium beer and schnitzel house to meet my wife and son for a crisp, cleansing, and cold beer. Talk about the exclamation mark on a day that was most definitely mind-blowing.

Destination: Toronto, Ontario

In just under three hours we drove from Grand Bend to Toronto and I have to say Google maps was spot on with the timing. We had chosen to drive back on the Civic holiday and almost everyone who we spoke with from Toronto said we were in for a long journey back; at least 4-5 hours so I guess we were lucky.

We were meeting a longtime friend in Toronto and her boys for a week in the controversially named neighbourhood of “The beaches” or “The Beach” east side of the city where she grew up and still resides. It was mid-afternoon and she greeted us in her usual style over a cool, crisp glass of white wine. I believe it was a gewürztraminer  and the first time I tasted a gewurz was four years ago with her in the Niagara on the lake area vineyards.

I finally introduced my son to her sons and it was a wonderful feeling to see them unite. The boys were still on holidays so it worked out perfectly. We enjoyed some beach fun,  another beautiful freshwater lake beach. Pictured is a lifeguard from Woodbine Beach on Lake Ontario.

My friend’s local cafe ‘Lazy Daisy’s’ www.lazydaisyscafe.ca located at 1515 Gerrard Street, Toronto, Ontario, became our local favourite over the course of the week. Each morning we ordered a delicious coffee which is a challenge to find anywhere in Canada, but they do exist! This homely place which has been described in reviews as ‘farmhouse chic’ reminiscent of her childhood days on her family’s farm. The menu provides a large selection of healthy options using fresh local produce and sweet treats that tasted more wholesome than naughty too.  We loved the blueberry cornmeal muffin, cooked beautifully and the right size for the three of us to share a couple of bites with our coffee. We must have worked our way through a good proportion of the sandwich menu with favourites like the Coronation Chicken, Veggie Patch wrap and Farmer’s Club with mouth-watering Egli’s smoked bacon and garlic aioli which would please most I suspect.

The owner has catered to kids with books, a train table, comfy seats and colouring in sheets with a wall of fame for the youngsters (if they are worthy) to put their finished art up on.

As my world revolves around delicious food much of the time, a trip to St Lawrence food markets –www.stlawrencemarket.com was in order. It is somewhat an escape from the hustle and bustle of downtown Toronto with like-minded people gazing at the endless treasure trove…a foodie’s heaven.

The number of food markets I have visited on my travels has really clocked up over the years. I would have to say that this one was serendipitous.

There were so many specialty ingredients and produce items you could source in the realms of this grand building. The selection of smoked meats, cheeses from around the world, seafood, wines, produce, ice-wines, truffled products, rainbow coloured pasta, tomahawk steaks from Alberta, baked goods galore was mind-blowing. It hardly does it justice, but I guarantee it is a must do, must see for yourself experience! After wearing ourselves out in the market, my friend took us to a restaurant she knew well from trips with her parents as a child. An institution which has been running for over a quarter of a century; Paddington’s Pump – St Lawrence Market, 93 Front Street E, Toronto sure packs a punch with its ‘Oink on a Kaiser’. It is the most bacon I have ever seen on a bun!

Ok, so moving on…I must note that the days have passed where I used to spend hours shopping in gorgeous boutiques and finishing with a good wine while taking great pleasure in my purchases. I am lucky these days if I can enjoy one or two stores at a time with a little boy in tow, but a girl can fantasize right?

A streetcar ride up Queen Street and I had to ask my girlfriend what area we were in at some point; she said ‘Queen West’, only one of Toronto’s coolest neighbourhoods and shopping districts. I so wanted to jump off right there and then and while away the hours with all my favourite things; fashion, art-design, patisserie and wine.

Before I could think about it a moment longer we were somewhere else, however this is moving to the top of my list next time I visit Toronto.

An area we spent time in together was a good compromise as I was able to step into some unique stores where there was something for everyone in Roncesvalles Village which is an area located east of High Park and north of Lake Ontario. Toronto is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world and this part of the city is better known as the Polish community’s centre. We were funnily enough heading to lunch at Cafe Polonez – 195 Roncesvalles Ave, Toronto.

Superb! Between us, we ordered:-

Traditional Beetroot soup with dumplings (Barszcz czerwony z uszkami), which is Borscht consommé with a choice of mushroom or meat dumplings.

Pierogies (rozne nadzienia), homemade boiled dumplings served with side of sour cream and fried onions & pork; we chose the sauerkraut and mushroom, minced pork, cheddar and potato ones.

Polish Schnitzel (kotlet schabowy), plain cutlet served with potatoes and a bouquet of salads.

If I had the stomach the size of four people, I would’ve also ordered the cabbage rolls (golabki), polish sausage (kielbasa z frykami) and Goulash (gulasz wieprzowy) too!

How does the Polish proverb go? “A good appetite needs no sauce”.

My friend and her boys are so fortunate they have a wide selection of top quality Polish food on their doorstep and this is the advantage of living in a city steeped with multiple cultures and heritage.

We girls had to have a night out together to catch up. My friend booked tickets to see The Temper Trap in concert who were touring in Toronto coincidentally when we were there. They are an Australian band and had global success after releasing ‘Sweet Disposition’ which played at my wedding so it’s pretty special. The concert venue was the ‘Kool Haus’ in the Guvernment Entertainment Complex – 132 Queens Quay East, Toronto. It was a really cool space and relaxed enough for us to enjoy our vodkas and catch up over some music from home.

Dinner beforehand was a few minutes away from the venue at Against the Grain Urban Tavern – 25 Dockside Drive. When I spotted the Hendrick’s Gin that put a smile on my face and we tried the barman’s cocktail with a rosemary infused sugar syrup in it which took it to a new level for me! We ordered the fish ceviche soft tacos which were amazingly good. We were seated right on the harbour front which gave me a taste for more seafood so we both chose the Urban lobster roll with a cold glass of Niagara riesling.

I am not sure if I am saving the best till last, because the entire week was special seeing my girlfriend and her boys. However, when we were offered a date night; that is my husband and I, we jumped at the chance and booked a restaurant she recommended from a choice of a few. Given I am reading the 100 Mile Diet at present, I wanted to dine at a restaurant that focuses on locally sourced produce and more importantly we were enthusiastic to try Caribou, Elk or something that may be a rarer find on the West Coast. We dined at Globe Bistro – www.globebistro.com 124 Danforth Avenue, Toronto. To our delight, we were fortunate to enjoy the taste of Elk (a first for us) along with a duck dish, a selection of freshly shucked Malpeque (Prince Edward Island) oysters and a host of freshly picked ingredients from Ontario’s best farms on each plate. The restaurant had soft lighting with elegant chic furnishings as well as a friendly and discreet waiter who seemed to only appear with a smile whenever we needed anything leaving us to immerse ourselves in the ambient vibe.

I know my pattern of storytelling often skews towards food, but all in all the week was about seeing a very dear friend and her family at home in Toronto, meeting friends and family members.  It was a memorable time and I will miss them…until next trip of course!

“Flatiron Building” – Historic landmark of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Destination: Guelph and Grand Bend, Ontario

I am not sure where to start. This has been the longest period between writing about our adventures and I have wanted to log in for over a week now to record it.

So I will go back to the beginning of our vacation which took off in early August flying to Toronto, Ontario. Immediately we arranged our hire car pick up and drove to Guelph, a university city in Southwestern Ontario, Canada.  It was just under an hour’s drive from Toronto Pearson International Airport. Although it was a brief stay overnight to break up our journey to Grand Bend which is approximately three hours away, we found it to be a charming town. There are many heritage buildings and distinctive limestone architecture is evident all over particularly in the downtown area of the city.

Guelph is steeped in history. With a nickname of ‘The Royal City’, according to Wikipedia; [the name Guelph comes from the Italian Guelfo and the Bavarian-Germanic Welf. It is a reference to King George IV, monarch at the time of its founding (who family was a family from the House of Hanover, a younger branch of the House of Welf) and a tongue in cheek reference to the then ascendant population in neighbouring Berlin (Kitchener). (Guelphs being the name given the northern Italian factions who opposed the reign of the Holy Roman Empire].

Guelph is the home to one of Canada’s largest breweries; Sleeman Breweries Ltd. Its headquarters were founded here in 1834. This fact is particularly important as my husband is working his way around the country trying and buying the best of what’s on offer in that department.

We booked into a bed & breakfast called the Norfolk Guest House located at 102 Eramosa Road, Guelph. It is a little pricey at the upmarket end of where B&B’s sit, however we wanted to assure maximum rest and comfort after a long flight and drive. With a glorious plush bed, double Jacuzzi tub and elegant furnishings in a large grand room we were aptly satisfied. On arrival we were greeted to a generous charcuterie and cheese plate with a bottle of red (which was pre-ordered) and we were happy. As a final unwind before hopping into bed, we enjoyed a luxury bath overflowing with bubbles, jets and soft hues of colour from lights under water. Our son found this thoroughly entertaining!

Breakfast was served in an ornate room with high ceilings and decorative fixtures. We were happy with our orders of eggs, french toast and fruit which was lovely. The only disappointment for us was the lack of warmth and hospitality from the host. My preference for bed & breakfast establishments over large chain hotels is always first and foremost for the personal service you expect. The extra touch of a friendly more intimate stay where you are introduced on a first name basis, learn more about where you are staying and the history of the location ensures a pleasant experience overall. Sadly, this was not the case but oddly enough I couldn’t flaw anything else.

Before leaving the town, we visited the Guelph Farmers’ Market located at 2 Gordon Street (corner of Gordon Street and Waterloo Avenue).  The markets are on Saturdays 7:00am to 12:00 noon (Year Round) and Wednesdays 3:00pm to 7:00pm (June 20th to October 31st only).

At 9am it was a hive of activity with locals out in full force and with over fifty vendors, these markets were plentiful; no fear in produce being scarce two hours after opening! Summer fruits were a delight, especially the peaches, watermelon and blueberries. There was a huge variety of vegetables, dairy, meat and specialty foods – we were in heaven.

By 11am it was an extremely hot 31 degrees celsius, so unfortunately we could not indulge in perishables for our long trip and there it was, we departed salivating like Pavlov’s dog.

Guelph appears to have a full calendar of events taking place and we arrived on 4 August which surprisingly was Guelph’s Annual John Galt Day (in celebration of the founder of Guelph). This was held at the City Hall & John Galt Park. While we were enjoying the sounds of the music and entertainment kicking off, we wandered over to the Cornerstone Restaurant/Cafe at 1 Wyndham Street North, Guelph.

Although we stopped in for coffee only, it has a laid back pub-like feel and serves vegetarian food. Breakfast sounded good with options like cornmeal waffles with blueberry compote and I’ve heard the African Bean Stew and the Corner Club sandwich are a reasonably good pick for lunch too. Our coffee was just how I like it, hot and not too strong.  It did the job and picked me up for a good part of the journey to Grand Bend.

We were meeting friends and their family at Grand Bend and staying with them in a cottage. Grand Bend is located on Lake Huron, one of the five Great Lakes in North America. Lake Huron has a surface area of 23,000 square miles making it the third largest fresh-water lake on Earth.

A Torontonian friend who now resides in Vancouver told us before we left that it was a ‘party town’. I laughed as I thought it couldn’t possibly be when I knew we were visiting friends with their children and families staying in a quaint holiday cottage to have some peaceful beach time. On arrival it did appear that way; quiet, relaxed and beach around the corner which was by no means packed on any occasions we were there. However, I understood what he meant when we took a drive on our way out one afternoon on Main Street and witnessed for myself that this lazy beach town which is populated with a few thousand inhabitants most of the year round, actually increases to approximately 100,000 in the summertime. Whoa was it busy!

We enjoyed a dinner out at the Growlin Gator Bar & Grill – 86 Main Street, Grand Bend, Ontario, Canada. With a pumping vibe so close to the main beach, we were lucky to get a good table in the courtyard. With an extensive cocktail and martini list and kid’s menu, which I thought was a good combination – everybody was happy.

Service was friendly, food came quickly and although taste wise it was average, kid’s were happy and that is the most important aspect of going out with multiple families!

The beach was the closest reminder of home with soft white/yellow fine sand, and had familiar bushy green foliage surrounding it and similar outlook to the bay where I would  spend my summer holidays growing up on the south coast of NSW. The water was even warmer than any water we’d experienced in Vancouver.

I had to keep reminding myself that it was a lake not an ocean so each time I would enter, it was a little odd to taste fresh, clear water as opposed to saltwater which I expected.

As a final stop, we visited the Grand Bend Pinery Antique Flea market – 10163 Lakeshore Road, Grand Bend. It is open May through November and was full to the brim with stalls of food, poutine, bric-a-brac, new homewares, toys, antiques and more. Entertainment was very impressive too in the beer garden area. You need to allow at least a couple of hours as these markets are huge.

We had a restful beach holiday with relaxed fun company as you would expect. To finish I think the pictures speak for themselves and although it’s clearly not a hidden secret, I recommend this place to anyone visiting the glorious Lake Huron and seeking out a beach holiday in the Ontario province.