This is a blog featuring my personal stories of food, gardening, yachting, photography, travel and life. I love it all!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Bucket List

I've had a number of bucket list items scratched off over the years. Another is about to be eliminated as we journey to Central/South America next month for a cruise through the Panama Canal.


We found an extraordinary deal on our favorite travel deal website vacationstogo.com. Go to the cruises to go part of that site and click on the '90 day ticker' link. This takes you to a very long list of cruises to every part of the world at deeply discounted prices. As the date of the cruise nears the prices often continue to improve. Our tickets for a 14 day cruise are $900 for a cabin with a balcony looking out on the sea. We figure anytime you can get an all inclusive price less than $100 a day now days, you are doing pretty well. This price is...under $65 a day. Quite a savings! and with a balcony. Here is our cabin layout.


Our itinerary sounds great. too! We fly to LA on Allegiant Airlines out of B'ham, a direct flight for only $100. We board the Coral Princess, one of the Princess Cruise Line's fleet and spend 5 days at sea followed by ports of call in Costa Rica, two stops in Panama on the way through the canal, a stop in Cartegena, Columbia and another a day in Aruba. Then we head for Fort Lauderdale.

At each of our ports of call we have planned shore excursions that let us enjoy the city sites and natural beauty of the country. Aboard ship we will, of course, enjoy the cuisine but also the outdoor big screen movie theater, the art auction and take walks on the

This buoy marks the southern most point in the continental U.S.
Following our cruise we plan to spend a few days with dear friends in Naples, Florida. Those who know me, know of my love for geographic points on the map. Four Corners in New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado; the beach at Race Point on Cape Cod; Sagres, Portugal, the end of the world and southwestern point in Europe, the green sand beach at South Point on the Big Island of Hawaii. On this trip we will drive out to the Key West buoy, southern most point in the the continental U.S.

As of this writing, we have about 30 days before we head off on our next grand adventure together. After last year's trips to Thailand, Spain, Portugal and eastern Canada, we are really excited about this trip. Look back in the weeks ahead for all the photos and details of our experience.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Send Off For Gram!

We only had about two weeks to get there and back and what with all we had planned, it was going to be a whirlwind journey.

Our mission was to reunite my wife's mother with her father who had gone ahead over 10 years earlier. Part of our journey would be a fitting memorial to celebrate her mother's life and that was the part we most looked forward to.

We drove the 1,000 miles or so from home here in Bellingham, Washington to Central California where we picked up our daughter and son-in-law. 

Our first stop along the way was in Ashland, Oregon where we go almost annually to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. We spend 4-5 days in the area and usually manage to take in at least a half dozen shows. This year it was As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet, Henry V and two other non-Shakespearean plays, Animal Crackers and Medea, McBeth and Cinderella. We haven't been too impressed with the Shakespearean productions the last few years and this year was no different. However, we very much enjoyed the other two shows. 

Along with the festival we also have our routine places to visit. The Rogue Valley Creamery  where they produce Oregonzola blue cheese. We didn't make it there this year since we visited the Harry and David's shop next door to our hotel in Medford and found their cheese there at a significantly lower price. 

We saw a couple of movies. Did some shopping and ate at a couple of our favorite restaurants. Si, Caa Flores is a Mexican restaurant that we love to visit every time we're in the area. Great food!

The Black Bear Diner is just that, a diner with great breakfasts. We always have breakfast at least once at the Medford, OR restaurant. It is a growing chain that originated in the little town of Mt. Shasta, CA. It now has restaurants up and down the west coast and as far east as Iowa. Crazy!  This time we ate at the original restaurant on our way south into California.

The drive through northern California, especially through Tehama and Glenn Counties is really boring. Just wide open ground with little of interest for hours. So it is a great relief when we finally pull off I-5 for our traditional stop Granzella's in Williams, CA. This is olive growing country and nobody makes olive products like Granzella's. We love to grab one of their muffaletta sandwiches and a few jars of their olives on our way through. They have a great olive tasting bar as well. So, we grabbed something to eat, gassed up and were on our way. Not much further to Sacramento.

After the long drive from Medford, Oregon to Fresno, California where we picked up our daughter and son-in-law at the airport, we were ready for a quiet, restful sleep before the next leg of our journey began.

Next day dawned bright and central California hot! We ate the lousy hotel breakfast and then packed the car. Our day began by showing Nick around the Fresno that Kate grew up in. Her schools, our two homes, both of which have seen better days, around Fresno State, where Leslie worked, a quick lunch at Sal's, our favorite Mexican restaurant in Fresno and then out of town.

We headed to the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery where Leslie's dad was buried back in 2000 and today, we would be taking her mother for interment. 

We'd brought the urn with mom's cremains with us. She passed away almost 2 years ago but we'd waited until now to find a time when we could get the whole family together for this moment. We handed mom's urn off to the officials at the cemetery after holding a brief little moment at the gravesite of Leslie's dad, finally bringing mom and dad, gram and gramp back together. 

We drove on to our hometowns of Atwater and Merced where we drove around showing Nick our past. Two little run down, seen better days towns. Sad. We managed a dinner at a favorite place of ours in Atwater--Rizzonelli's. We love there hot salami sandwiches and happily they are still in business. 

We drove around Atwater, showing Nick Leslie's past before heading in to Merced to show off my past. We drove passed my childhood home on the way over to the motel. 

Next morning we headed back to Atwater where we met my sister Susie, her husband Richard, my brother Matt, his wife Linda and their daughter, Mandy. It was a great family reunion. Breakfast at Granny's Pantry and lots of stories and catching up. We are looking forward to meeting again and spending more time with family. Hopefully next year!

After breakfast, we headed over to inspect Leslie's childhood home. It is a rental now and so we had no idea what to expect. We were disappointed in the way the rental management company had been taking care of it and we began taking notes on what we intended to talk to them about when we got home.

Then we headed off to the coast retracing a journey we'd taken so many times with Leslie's folks and during Katie's growing up years. It was always the same. Drive out highway 140 to Gustine, then a stop at Pea Soup Anderson's. Simply dreadful split pea soup, which is their claim to fame, but we only make the stop for the bathroom and to sample the spreadable cheese samples. Then back in the car and off to the next stop. Sounds dumb, I know, but it became our family's tradition and traditions have a strong emotional hold.

We headed onto highway 152 and over the pass passed the San Luis Reservoir.  The next stop was at Casa de Fruta where we always stop at the fruit stand and sometimes the other shops. This time we bought a few bags of dried fruit, honey, spiced seeds. A quick bathroom stop and back on the road.
  
Our next stop is San Juan Bautista, one of the string of California missions established back in the 1700's by Father Junipero Serra. This mission sits astride the San Andreas earthquake fault. It is also famous for being where some of the Hitchcock film, Vertigo was filmed. We walked around the mission, went inside and then walked along the main street a while. Back in the car.

You could smell it and feel it before we saw it. The temperature had substantially dropped from the 100+ degrees of the central valley to the low 60's on the coast. The sea air smelled of salt, but it was Kate who announced it first. She'd seen the ocean. We drove along passed the former Fort Ord, now a state university until we exited onto Del Monte Avenue and on into Monterey. 

Our final stop was Asilomar, the state run conference center we've stayed at so many times over the years. This is where Leslie's parents always took us each year right after school was over. Just a few days but a tradition we came to love. We'd stayed here many time on our own and in other B and B's around town. Pacific Grove and the Monterey Peninsula have always been one of our favorite places in the world and a place we'd love to live. Without the money to buy even a cottage here, we've always just settled for a few days here and there.  


We checked into our room and settled in. Some went hiking down to Asilomar beach. I took a nap.

We'd planned to celebrate Kate's birthday while here and we found a new restaurant that sounded fantastic. We made reservations a couple of days earlier and this evening we drove over to the old Holman building, the tallest building in Pacific Grove for an unforgettable dinner. 


Le Normandie is a two year old French bistro that is simply amazing. Down on Lighthouse Ave. downtown Pacific Grove, the decor is decidedly French bistro. The French family that own it are charming and the food to die for. A great piano/bass jazz combo played in the background all evening adding to the charm. We started with an order of escargot. For our mains, Nick and I ordered the boeuf bourguignon, Kate the Confit de Canard and Leslie, the pork medallions. Wonderful! Delicious wine pairings and when we mentioned to our waitress, the French owner, that it was our daughter's birthday dinner, she insisted on giving us dessert on the house. Not one but two desserts appeared. We hadn't intended to order dessert at all, but what are you going to do?   A chocolate volcano cake came out along with a raspberry torte with raspberry sorbet. Amazing!

As we came out into the night air and walked up the street to our car, I noticed the marine layer had, as it often does, drifted back ashore wrapping Pacific Grove in its gray, foggy grip. I love these nights. It feels so cozy!


We all slept well.  In the morning we met at the beautiful lodge where we have spent so many hours sitting in front of the fire sipping hot chocolate. This morning we ordered a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of coffee. After the previous night's dinner, it was all we could manage.  After one more quick walk along the beach, we hopped in the car and headed to San Jose where we would drop off Kate and Nick at the airport and we would travel on toward home. 

We made an all too short stop in Albany, CA on our way to our overnight stop. I had sadly lost touch with my college friend Michael Bower some 40 years ago, but had recently reconnected with him on Facebook. I'd arranged to stop for a couple of hours for dinner and to catch up. It was great to meet his wife, Chris and to catch up on our lives in person. 

Our stop that evening was a motel in Fairfield, CA. No special place, just a place to lay our heads. We were heading in a direction that would cut off a few miles on our journey north and back to home. Highway 505 just north and east of Fairfield, heads north across country skipping the entire Sacramento area. It reconnects with I-5 just south of our stop at Williams and Granzella's. We tanked up and grabbed our usual muffaletta before heading on. We didn't stop until we got to Mt. Shasta where we needed to stop at the Black Bear Diner to pick up Leslie's sweater she had left when we came through the first time. We stopped and had lunch as well and then kept driving. Our goal today was to get to Vancouver, WA--quite a drive!

We made it, stopping at a motel just 3 miles into Washington state. It felt really good to cross that border. After the butterflys we always feel in our tummies when we cross the California border, leaving the place we grew up, it felt good to be home.

We had dinner at Smokey's BBQ right across the street from our motel. I have to say it was really good pulled pork. The mac and cheese side was also good. The rest of it was so so. But really good BBQ.

The motel had recently been remodeled and the bed was so comfy. Next morning we got up and out as soon as possible. We were headed to The Pancake House for breakfast in Longview. We'd discovered this place on one of our trips home from the Shakespeare Festival a few years back and loved it. Friendly folks and fabulous breakfasts. The p-cakes are so light and fluffy!

We weren't quite done yet. After several hours of driving north we were only about 45 minutes from home when we turned off I-5 and headed west into the small town of Stanwood, WA for a lunch at Jimmy's Pizza and Pasta. We LOVE this place. Jimmy's is like a throw back to a time when Italian-American restaurants made real sauces that were simmered for hours on the back burner, when garlic toast accompanied the meal and the salads had dressing on them. We always order Jimmy's chop salad and a pasta dish to share. When you order the pasta, get it baked! They throw extra cheese over the top of the dish and bake it until it bubbles. Oh man!

It felt so good to see that Bellingham city limits sign on the edge of town, turning off at our exit, driving up Alabama Hill, making that right onto Birch and finally getting to push the garage door opener.

Home never felt so good. But I wonder about gramp and gram back in California, alone out in that cemetery in the barren, brown, rolling hills on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. It is nice to know they are lying next to each other again, having each other for company. But they are so far away and easy to forget from up here where we spend our days. We need to go back often and check up on them from time to time and remember.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Coop Chart Project

Mariners around the world depend on accurate charts (maps to you landlubbers) to safely navigate the waters. They depend on the accuracy of these charts to be able to know where navigational aids such as buoys, as well as shoals, reefs and rocks are located or even the depth of the water. When these objects are, on occasion, not accurately displayed on the chart, it can lead to serious accidents or loss of life.

In cooperation with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), participating squadrons of the United States Power Squadrons are carefully observing and reporting on important chart details in our nation's waters. 

We are systematically checking on these details to ensure the official NOAA navigation charts are accurate. When we find an exception we submit a report to NOAA with the necessary information, GPS location, weather and water and object conditions and photographs, etc. NOAA then investigates and makes the necessary corrections to the charts. 

For the second year in a row, I, along with several other members of the Bellingham Sail and Power Squadron (BSPS) were asked to check up on several locations around Bellingham. I was assigned the Point Migley buoy off the northwest tip of Lummi Island. The buoy is located on the chart on the right as a red point just off the tip of the land mass on the left. Note the word LUMMI written across the land. 

The question was whether that buoy on the chart is actually where the chart indicates it to be? On 9 August, 2012, we (my wife and I) headed out of Bellingham Bay aboard our 32 foot Bayliner, The Key of Sea, to discover the accuracy of that chart. 

We were actually on our way out to Sucia Island, a Washington Marine State Park (note the chart at the top of this blog) for a squadron rendezvous. Point Migley was on our route so we made the stop to gather the needed data. 

Pt. Migley buoy with Lummi Island in the background.
The wind was near 0 and the current negligible so maneuvering  around the buoy was fairly easy. The important thing was to not get too close. Contact with an object of this weight and size could cause serious damage to our boat not to mention it being illegal and these markers sometimes indicate an underwater hazard quite close to the surface. So we carefully moved in a circle about 20 feet off the buoy, took our readings and made our observations. 

Aside from a lot of bird droppings covering parts of the top of the array making it appear more white in places than red, the buoy looked to be in good condition. We jotted down our findings and headed on our way toward our ultimate destination.

All seemed well to us. The buoy hadn't moved from its assigned station so I won't be able to take any credit for a change on the next NOAA charts. That, for the record, is a good thing!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Cruise to Sucia Island's Fossil Bay

Sucia Island from the air with Fossil Bay the inlet furthest to the upper right.
August 9-12 found us out in Fossil Bay in one of Washington State's Marine Parks. This one on Sucia Island in the north end of the San Juan Islands.

On our way out we stopped to take measurements on the Pt. Migley buoy to see if it was actually located in the position our charts indicated. This is a part of the U.S. Power Squadron's Coop Charting service in which we report any discrepancies on official NOAA charts used by all mariners to navigate our waters. Any errors are translated into changes on the charts when updates are released.

We were co-captaining a cruise event for the Bellingham Sail and Power Squadron, of which I am a member. Leslie soon will be.  Our squadron friends and mentors for the cruise were Andy and Chris Backus. They have done this many times and asked us to help with this one so we'd learn the ropes.

This cruise blew away the record for the number of boats and participants attending one of these sponsored by the Bellingham Sail and Power Squadron (BSPS). Formerly the squadron had had no more than 5 boats participate. This time 16 boats made it out to the event including two boats from new members. We were not only pretty proud of this achievement but excited for what it could mean for future events.

Leslie and I headed off in the Key of Sea on Thursday morning 9 August in order to try and get there before the dock space was taken. We were pretty sure the bay would be full as it often is this time of year.

Me standing with our boat in the background rafted to a Grand Banks.
We were right! The mooring buoys and dock space were all filled. However, as we approached the docks to check out the possibility of space being available, we were waved over by a boat flying Canadian Power and Sail burgees. Bob Stone hollered at us to raft up with his boat. I immediately got nervous. We'd expected this was going to happen and we'd come prepared with extra lines and fenders. We smartly had read up on what rafting entailed and so we had some idea of what we were getting into. I would have been more comfortable just anchoring out in the bay somewhere but I needed this experience so in we went.

Bob was great at directing us after informing him we were newbies at this maneuver. Our first attempt quickly felt wrong and so, as I do as a general rule in these situations, I backed off and tried again. I figured I'd go at it like I was approaching a dock only even slower. No need to damage someone's $150,000 boat.

I backed down the engines backing us toward the shallower water near shore. As I back up I noted the depth sounder which indicated the depth of the water under our keel. When I saw the depth go to 9 feet I brought here to a dead stop. Drawing 3 and 1/2 feet, I figured 5 and 1/2 feet was as close to grounding as I was comfortable with. Besides, any quick move in water this depth could kick up a rock into a prop and our trip would be ruined. With the engines at idle I pushed the gear shifts into forward and inched my way forward at about a 20 degree angle to Bob's boat. Gently, like I was docking with the International Space Station, we moved in closer and at the last moment I turned the helm to port and our two hulls came gently together, the 4 fenders on each boat doing their jobs perfectly. Bob grabbed our line and tied us off at the bow while Leslie tied off the stern. Bob then tied spring lines at the midships to halt any movement of the boats fore or aft. Done!

We'd made our first raft. Not only that but on the way out from Bellingham, we'd been contacted by our co-captains by VHF radio. My first time having an actual ship to ship conversation. For those who are unfamiliar with this activity, all boats, for a variety of reasons, are supposed to monitor channel 16 while underway. But using channel 16 for more than initial conversation is illegal. Once contact has been made with the party you want, you must quickly agree to meet them on another channel and then clear 16 for other boaters use. So I called to them to switch to channel 78 alpha. Rolling the dial up to 68 A and calling out again for our friends, we quickly reestablished contact and had our conversation. Cool! There is a protocol for using the VHF radio which is taught in basic boating classes but I'd never used it outside the classroom. Another moment of pride.

Bob Stone and a buddy of his, another Canadian, had already scoped out the dock and set up a network with other boaters who would be leaving either that day or the next. So we knew we'd have plenty of dock space to raft up other boats as they arrived. Being on the dock had its advantages. Chief among them was easy access to the shelter on shore that we'd reserved. Hauling all the food and other materials needed to occupy the shelter would be so much more difficult having to ferry it all ashore in our dinghies.

The rest of the weekend was spent getting to know other members of our squadron, taking hikes, eating, playing games and talking about boats. Lots of talking about boats! We learned so much during our stay having these informal conversations.

Note the squadron burgee and the red flag of rank flying on the Key of Sea.
Oh, I purchased a squadron burgee for the bow of the boat and, for the first time, flew my rank flag above the starboard antenna mast. The rank flags are only flown at Power Squadron events but it was pretty cool to see my flags flying. Many other members had several flags flying in recognition of their current and former ranks. The Canadians also flew a U.S. courtesy  flag on their boats, a tradition that I will reciprocate  when I cross into Canadian waters for the first time. The tradition is that when  you enter a foreign nation's waters you are to hoist a flag of that nation. Your own nation's colors still fly off the stern (the place of honor for those colors) of your boat. Flag etiquette is another part of boating education. It's fun!

Several other participants had the same idea we did about getting to Sucia the day before the event began. So by the Thursday evening there were already 4-5 boats either rafted on the dock or anchored in the bay. Nothing much really happened that evening. Just relaxing or taking a walk ashore. 

Friday afternoon the majority of the boats were arriving and it was a busy time finding space for everyone and getting the word out about the dock party to be held that evening. At 1900 hours everyone descended on the dock taking up 4 of the picnic tables and setting out whatever they brought with them to share, appetizers, wine, pop, whatever.  We also discovered that a folding chair is pretty important at these events and lots of those came out of boats along the dock and were set along the dockside for folks to roost.

We'd also put the word out that we'd be having a campfire that evening and lots of folks gathered around that and took advantage of the S'more making materials we'd brought. More opportunity to chat and get to know each other. By a little before dark, around 2130 hours at this latitude and time of year, everyone had wandered off towards their own boats and a good night's sleep.

Bright and early Saturday morning, we were up and heading up the dock towards the shelter to help set up for breakfast. We'd promised attendees 3 meals while they were in port. The breakfasts on both Saturday and Sunday and sinner Saturday night, so this would be another big day.

Our youngest participants helped find the geocache and then picked out something to keep.
Breakfast each morning--muffins, croissants and fruit. 
Breakfast included muffins, croissants and fresh fruit bot days. Folks brought their own coffee or tea.  Following breakfast everyone had a chance to regroup and relax before the days activities began. The plan included some choices--hiking, geochaching, learning to use a sextant, fossil rubbing, a tide pool walk or just relax and do what you want. As it turned out we sort of combined several of the activities in one long hike. It was a difficult hike in places but all of us managed to get back alive. We even found the only geocache currently on the island and allowed our youngest participants to place something in the cache and take something out. They were thrilled and we adults all got a kick out of helping them decide what they should pick out of the box. 

Saturday afternoon was mostly a time to relax or to meet with friends on the dock, take a nap or do more hiking on your own or in groups. Very informal.
Burger BBQ and baked beans
Dinner was kicked off at 1800 hours up in the shelter. We were cooking hamburgers and they were accompanied by baked beans, cole slaw, and more side dishes and dessert brought by the other participants. Another campfire gathered at the fire pit along with more visiting. Despite the offer of making more s'mores, folks weren't interested after the big dinner that included some pretty fine dessert options. 

Again, by about 2130 hours most folks had wandered off to their berths and a good night's sleep. It had been a big, busy day.  

Sunday morning breakfast was served dockside instead of at the shelter. It was closer to the boats where the food was stored anyway and lots of the folks were planning to depart that morning. So following breakfast we all set about getting rafted boats untied and sent on their way. I was also in charge of making sure I got photos of all the boats as they departed. A squadron brochure project was in need of a good cover photo and I'd promised to take a few photos of each boat as it left the harbor. 

Group photo taken the last night of the cruise gathering.
By about noon most boats had left leaving only three boats of the 16 that had been there. We decided to share whatever we had for dinner and to play some '99', a card game we all learned to play at one of the dockside picnic tables. Again, as had been the custom every night, all of us were headed to bed by around 2130. 


Next morning I was up early as the last two boats were planning to leave on a favorable tide. I needed to snap their pictures and so we were up helping untie their boats and saying our farewells. I ran to the end of the dock to get the best angle for my photos and in no time their bows headed of into the morning sun leaving Leslie and I as the only remaining boat. It was kind of a sad finish after several days of so much fun activity and getting to know all those folks so well and then to have to stand there alone on the dock waving goodbye. 
Leslie hiked to China Caves.


We had planned to stay another night but decided to head out ourselves. We'd been invited to guest berth in Blaine in the slip of one of our new friends who were continuing on with their cruise. We arrived their after a 2 1/2 hour cruise across the Strait of Georgia. 


We spent the night there mostly to check things out. We'd been given the chance to move out boat to Blaine, about 20 mils from Bellingham. It is supposed to get us into a permanent berth in Bellingham faster. We walked into Blaine for dinner that afternoon and then back to the boat for an early bedtime. 

A pretty typical sunset on Sucia Island. Stunning!
The final day of our cruise adventure tune out to be quite an adventure! We headed out into the Strait of Georgia with a favorable tide only to find the wind blowing against us. For the next 3 hours we bucked 2-3 foot wind waves and swells until we finally tucked into the lee of Lummi Island and headed down Hale Passage to the turn into Bellingham Bay.  It was actually fun for me but Leslie was none to happy about this rough leg of the cruise. She kept a stiff upper lip about it though. I was proud of her. 

We tucked into our home slip around noon, washed off the boats, gathered those items needing to be taken home and headed for the car. We'd lived to tell another tale. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Quebec City

Arrived in Quebec City, checked into Hotel L'Aristocrate out on the edge of town but only 15 minutes drive from the old town.  Once settled in we started looking through brochures that we'd found at the TI. Found tons of things to do but due to our timing or the time of year, whichever you prefer, they aren't going on.

We did find a Hitchcock retrospective going on at an indie theater in a neighborhood downtown. We decided to head in and check that out and to have some dinner at a well recommended restaurant around the corner from the theater.

The drive into town went through several lovely old neighborhoods and we instantly fell in love with Quebec City. Well maintained yards despite the harsh winter temperatures. Lovely homes. It just had a cared for air about it that struck a positive note immediately.

The theater turned out to be in a video rental store upstairs from a pharmacy. We found parking right across the street and got to the theater in time to take in two Hitchcock films, one I hadn't seen before called Stage Fright and the second, a classic I love, Vertigo. I've seen Vertigo many times but never on a big screen so this was a real treat.

We go out to movies when we travel as a change of pace. If it is a film worth seeing it is fun to sort of do what the locals do, pony up a few bucks and sit in the dark watching a good film.

After the movies we walked over to Le Cochon Dingue, The Happy Pig, a well regarded local restaurant specializing in traditional Québécois cuisine. We arrived about 9:30 to a nearly empty place with the back half of the dining area already closed and the lights out. There were still three other parties there and they had no trouble seating us. We were surprised that at such an hour there were not more people still out and about. Apparently, either this part of town or the entire town don't stay up late. We thought it would be more Europe-like in its sensibilities where dining was concerned.

We both ordered steak frites which came medium rare as per our request and a pile of fries on the plate with it. There were three choices for sauces. I requested the mushroom sauce, my wife the house sauce. As the hour was late we didn't order anything else.

We were disappointed in the steaks and the frites seemed warmed over. Perhaps they were the last of the fries for the evening. Re-warm rather than heat up the fryer again? The steaks were too uniform in cut to be anything but frozen, precut steaks. Nothing special and they were seriously lacking in flavor. Too bad really. It was a cute place.

We headed back to the room and a good night's sleep.

The next day we headed into the old city and found good parking near one of the gates into the old town. Parking is very regulated inside the walls but there was plenty of good parking for about $7 for 12 hours right outside the walls.

We walked into the upper city and up and down the narrow streets. It was very European in look. The Chateau Frontenac is the centerpiece of this area. A stunningly beautiful hotel sitting on a bluff overlooking the St. Lawrence River. It is supposed to be the most photographed hotel in the world. It is part of the great Canadian railroad chain of hotels stretching across Canada. Each hotel is gorgeous and expensive but fun to walk through and imagine those who lived and played in this place a hundred years ago.

We walked on through town stepping into galleries and shops, stopping to look over menus displayed outside the many restaurants.

For lunch we picked a creperie mentioned as a good lunch place. I ordered a crepe with ham, cheese and mushrooms and Leslie ordered one with bacon and Swiss. Sadly, they were dry and my mushrooms tasted old, a taste that stayed with me for a few hours.

We'd hoped to take the Ecobus, transportation that took you along a route within the walls of the old city, but when we finally flagged one down to board, the sign said $3 a ride. It was supposed to have been one dollar. We opted to go back to the car and take it to the lower city and to drive through other parts of the old town as we went.

We stopped and walked through the market place down on the port promenade. It didn't take long to see what it had to offer, which wasn't much in the way of choices. We are so spoiled when we visit Vancouver, B.C. The Granville Market on Granville Island is always a bustling market with gorgeous displays of fresh fruit and veggies, meats, seafood, cheeses, baked foods, and year round. We have found nothing that comes close to that market out here on the east coast.
View of the lower city.

We found a very bright spot when we walked through the Champlain district in the lower city. Perfect streets with more shops, galleries and restaurants. It was just so tidy and neat. Here is also where you can catch a funicular up the hill to the upper city and the Chateau Frontenac hotel.

After an hour in the Champlain, we walked across the street to our car and looked up and down the St. Lawrence River which flowed right past the parking lot. It was a blustery day which was evident by the white caps across the wide river.

Dinner was at the aux Ancience Canadien Restaurant in the middle of old town. It specialized in Québécois cuisine, meat pies, rustic, hearty fare.

We each ordered a bowl of the soups of the day, one yellow split pea and the other a cream of vegetable. We enjoyed these as we sat by the fire and took in the wood carvings on the walls.

Our mains at Anciens Canadiens.
For our mains we ordered a slice of five meat pie in a flaky crust. Beef, pork, venison, bison and elk were blended in with potatoes and onions and a Salmon en Croute with layers of mashed potato, dill and Atlantic salmon chunks. Again the pastry was flaky and buttery. Delicious.

Our dinner came with dessert so we each ordered a piece of pie, one apple and the other maple syrup pie. Both warm and once again, with a flaky crust and covered with fresh cream. 

The waitress was wonderfully attentive and informative. Very nice meal and a great way to finish the day.


Ever have a day that starts out terribly but winds up wonderful? Today proved to be one of those when I discovered my photo storage disk wallet was missing. I had no idea where I might have lost it along our travels. Spain, Portugal, Canada? Which hotel could I have set it down and not put it back in my pack?

So, I set about sending e-mails to all the hotels we stayed in Europe where I thought I might have left it, which was most of them. It took so long to do that our intention to drive to an island outside of town known for its artisan food producers, had to be canceled. But we discovered that we were inside the lunch window for the restaurant in our hotel which came highly regarded.

Now, you have to understand that hotel restaurants are not generally known for high quality cuisine. What they are known for is their high prices and low quality. There are exceptions to this rule but they are extremely rare and I've never heard of an exception in a Best Western hotel which was where we were staying. But everything we read about restaurants in Quebec named Oneida Fenouilliere one of the very best.

Lamb shanks. Yum!
We had a 15% off coupon so we decided to give lunch a try. Dinner prices were way higher so this would be a chance to try it out without it hurting too bad if it turned out to be a dog. What a surprise!

We ordered the 3 course lunch which included a choice of 3 entrees, several mains and dessert. We both went for the porc rillettes, a kind of pâté but with the meat in a paste formed into the pate shape. A couple of slices accompanied by home made pickle slices, a tomato jam and bits of water cress created a lovely start to our meal.

As a main I ordered the lamb shank which came with various perfectly paired bits of fresh vegetables--Brussels sprouts, quinoa, squash purée, peas and pickled beet. It was a work of art and the combinations on the plate were perfectly paired. I ordered a delicious Argentinian Pinot Noir to go with it.

Leslie's main at Le Fenouilliere


My wife ordered pan seared salt cod topped with a tapenade, fromage en croute, carrot purée, mashed potatoes with herbs. Fresh peas and baby book choy. With it she had a refreshing French Bordeaux white wine.  

The dessert course choices were a banana cheese cake and a chocolate panacotta. We got one of each to try. The cheeses cake came on piece of slate and with a pool of fresh caramel sauce in which two fresh blackberries swam amid bits of ground nuts.

Banana cheesecake
The panacotta was chocolate-orange flavored and was accented by an orange slice, a kumquat with its dried leaves still attached. Both desserts were works of art, looking too good to eat. Much to our taste bud's delight, we did anyway.

La Fenouilliere was by far our best meal during our adventure in eastern Canada and what a surprise to find it right downstairs in our Best Western hotel. Amazing!

After the meal, we walked back upstairs to get ready to go out only to discover it had started to snow. The room was too warm for us to do anything more than take advantage of it and settle in for a nap.

Late in the afternoon we drove over to the Beaux Arts museum. Leslie really wanted to takeout in so while she spent an hour there, I spent it writing in the cafe.

Our final evening in Quebec City was spent back where we had started, at the cinema with the Hitchcock retrospective taking in one more of his films. The snow had started coming down and the wind had picked up so a warm, dry place showing one of the master's greatest films seemed like just the ticket.

Tomorrow we head back in the direction of Montreal and then into Vermont, finally back in the good old USA.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Montreal

Drove to Montreal today. That in and of itself was enough for the day. I was exhausted after the drive. Leslie walked around the old Montreal part of town, which is adjacent to our hotel, in order to get her bearings and to get out a while. We also spent a lot of the evening organizing our next two days. We decided on a couple of evenings of jazz at the two main jazz houses in town--The House of Jazz and Diese Onze.

Our first morning in Montreal was spent walking through Old Montreal, visiting the Basilica, having breakfast and browsing the shops that lined the streets. We also walked along the St. Lawrence River promenade.

Went back to the room for an afternoon nap, then grabbed the car to head out to dinner and our evening of jazz.

Dinner was at a place popular with locals that specializes in burgers and poutine. To describe poutine to folks south of the border (that's south of the Canadian border) is that it is basically French fries or frites covered with cheese curds and brown gravy. Yeah, sounds weird but it is good if not good for you. We both ordered the beef burger, salad and poutine combination. The burger patty was very small and thin. The bun was whole grain but also small. The salad had plenty of veggies on it and came with two squeeze bottles, one with a sort of ranch style herb dressing and the other a balsamic.

After dinner we hiked over to the Diese Onze jazz club in time to get seats at the bar right in front of the stage. The opening duo were two guitarists playing a Django Rinehardt style of music. The group we'd come to hear started playing at 9--Eric Harding's trio of piano, bass and drums. They were rather disappointing. The pianist played with little imagination or variation. Everything sounded the same. The bass player had obviously never played with him before as Eric kept throwing chord changes to him. The drummer was the weakest link, playing in a very heavy handed, detached style. We kept asking who he was playing with because his solos were so unconnected to the style or theme of the piece being played. Still, it was a nice evening out and we didn't get back to the room until after 11.

Day 6:


Had the car brought around this morning and we headed off in the direction of the Jewish quarter of Montreal looking for a bagelry that had been recommended to us. Actually there were two bagelries that apparently cause a lot of debate in town as to which is better. We found the St. Viateur bagel shop first and so that was the one we tried. It was really more like a small factory. No place to sit, nothing besides bagels and the condiments that go along with them. So we took our bagels and cream cheese and sat in the car to eat them.

We really needed a cup of coffee and since we next ran into the Jean Talon Market, it was there we sat down and ordered a breakfast and coffee. Ordering coffee American style has been a bad experience for us here. What we've been served has been very weak, flavorless coffee. The espresso coffees we've ordered are great but significantly more expensive.

Expensive seems to be what everything is here in Canada. Food, fuel, housing, taxes are even high with up to 18% tax on some things. No wonder we see so many Canadians coming down to Bellingham to shop and buy gas. I don't blame them.

Anyway, after a breakfast ham and egg panini, we walked through the Marche Jean Talon checking out the fresh fruit and veggies, the fromage, patisseries, charcuteries,  and maple product sellers.

Then we hopped back in the car and drove over to the Montreal art museum where we spent a couple of hours, then we drove around some of the nicer neighborhoods of Montreal, checked out Oratory St. Joseph, a stunning looking church on a high hill we'd noticed as we first drove into Montreal. Sadly, it's contemporary interior didn't do much for us and we only stayed a short while.

Finally, we drove over to Little Italy for dinner and to an Italian bakery where we bought a few items for later. A chocolate filled cannoli and a bread soaked in lemon cello and filled with whipped cream. Fabulous!

Back at our room we tucked in for the night. A little rain and sleet had begun to fall so this was a good evening to stay in.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Ottawa!

Took a bit of a scenic side trip on the way to Ottawa this morning. We noticed on our AAA map that the road along Lake Ontario was a scenic drive so we headed off in that direction. We stopped in a small town to pick up some picnic supplies and continued on our way driving through several cute little towns and past lots of lakeside "resorts" that were more mom and pop summer cabin places. We'd peek down a little dirt road or out behind someone's home and see a cluster of little rustic cabins or with charming architectural embellishments but all small places like the old motor court motels of the 50's that sprang up across America when Americans began taking car trips. I can imagine they are probably full up in the summer months when families are looking for a sunny getaway along Lake Ontario.

Canadian capitol building in Ottawa.
Speaking of the lake, I've seen the Great Lakes on maps all my life but it really is amazing to see them up close and personal. Lake Ontario isn't even one of the biggest lakes, but driving along next it and gazing across its expanse straining fruitlessly to see New York state on the other side, you get a feel for just how big they really are. It looks like an ocean. There were even waves lapping at the shore. The water out to about 50 or 100 yards had a beautiful azure color to it indicating the shallow in-shore water. But beyond that it was as dark and unpredictable as any ocean water.

As the afternoon wore on and we tired of driving, we turned north and headed back towards the main east west freeway to speed up our arrival in Ottawa. It was a good 5 and a half hour drive without the side trip along the lake shore. After another hour we turned north and another hour later we arrived on the outskirts of Ottawa, the nation's capital.

Okay, maybe eastern Canada in March isn't such a great idea. As we drove towards Ottawa my wife read about the activities and attractions in Ottawa. With each she mentioned, it became like a running gag, "but not this time of year."

Notre Dame Basilica
It is cold here and nothing outdoorsy is happening as a result. There are lots of pubs and restaurants with plenty of outdoor seating. But not this time of year. The famous Rideau Canal is supposed to have ice skating, but the canal is nearly empty and the water unfrozen. There is an icy wind blowing across the city which influences the directions you walk. Stay as much as possible in the lee of a building and you stay significantly warmer.

There were a couple of very nice surprises when we visited the stunningly beautiful Notre Dame Basilica and we were able to sit in the gallery of the Parliament and watch legislators debate national policy. It was interesting to hear them discussing issues that we read about our members of congress discussing.

Organ bay in the basilica
The basilica was as I said, stunning. It is just perfect. Walking in through the front door you see the lovely architectural accents decorating the pillars and ceiling. Walk forward out from under the narthex and suddenly the ceiling soars high into the heavens where the ceiling is painted a royal blue and hundreds of golden stars dot the sky. Everywhere you look your jaw drops with the details. One more time--stunning! It was my number one experience in Ottawa.

My wife decided to go out for a walk this afternoon, planning to visit the National Art Museum since it is free today after 5. Snow flurries changed her mind.

So we are holed up here in our hotel room waiting until we can walk next door at 9. Luckily we are right next door to an Indy movie theater playing a film we're interested I seeing.

We've had plenty of excitement though. Last night around midnight, the hotel fire alarm system went off emptying the rooms. We hung out in the lobby while Ottawa's finest searched every room. Finding nothing, we were allowed to return to our rooms for a fitful night of sleep.

Today we've had a real adventure in site seeing and dining. We walked over to a diner called Mello's for breakfast. The food was good. It turned out the be a real working man's joint. The staff and some of the customers swore like troopers. But it was a hoot anyway with a sassy waitress and a decor unchanged since the place opened who knows how long ago.

A walk through the By Market, which was filled with locals at lunch time, didn't much impress us. We grazed a bit, trying what at first looked like a tasty chocolate chip cookie dipped half way in chocolate. Turned out to be a stale, tasteless disappointment. We also saw a delicious looking savory cheese bread thingy at a bakery shop that had posted lots of photos of President Obama's visit to their shop during his Ottawa trip. Sadly the cheesy thingy didn't match up to our level of delight with our president.

Finally, on our way back to the hotel, we thought we'd found a place that would make it all better. Dunn's Famous Deli has been open they say since 1927. Now I am not exactly sure how they have managed this, but there you are. They are famous for their smoked meat sandwiches which look for all the world like a New York style pastrami sandwich. I say they "look" like one because that is where any other comparison sadly must end. Their jumbo sandwich had about an inch of what looked like pastrami stacked on what was the same color as rye bread and a little yellow mustard swiped across it. This is jumbo? Have these people actually ever been to a real deli? A New York deli, like Katz's or the Carnegie Deli? I don't think so because if they had they would have returned to Ottawa, promptly closed their doors and stopped trying to fool people with these hopelessly tasteless sandwiches. It was as if they had cooked the flavor out of the meat.  It tasted boiled. Then I read that steaming the meat was a big part of the process. And what does "smoked" have to do with the process? This meat never came anywhere near a smoker.

Funny sign in front of a local pub.
It was served with French fries that we're very greasy, which occurs when they are cooked at too low a temperature, and with a cole slaw which was just a sad addition to my already insulted sensibilities. Since 1927, huh? Ottawans, go to New York. Send someone there as a spy to learn the deli business. Please! Oh, vey!

We managed to finish our time in Ottawa on a positive note when we walked literally next door to an Indy theater and saw Salmon Fishing in The Yemen. Terrific film from the UK about a Yemeni sheik who decides he wants to bring salmon fishing to Yemen. Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt star in this film that is much more than the title suggests. Tomorrow, on to Montreal!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Paella Recipe

I recently posted a recipe for Salmorejo Cordobés, a great cold soup we tried while in Spain. 


Salmorejo Cordobés
After posting a photo of my first attempt at paella, I received a lot of requests for the recipe and I am keeping my promise to post the recipe here. 


So, first I'll repost the photo I took of that first pan of paella as a teaser. If it looks good to you, believe me, it tasted as good as it looked.  It is modeled after the paella we had at Ayo's Restaurant on the beach on the Costa del Sol. Here it is!










My first paella
Ayo's Paella



1/2 chicken; cut up into pieces
1 medium onion; chopped
4-5 cloves garlic; minced
1 whole ripe tomato; peeled, chopped
2 cup long-grain white rice
3 cups chicken broth
1 pinch of saffron
1 lb shrimp (raw, medium-size)
1 lb sea scallops
1/2 lb squid
salt and pepper; to taste
6-10 fresh clams


You can also use other meats such as mussels, white fish cut in chunks, good sausage, whatever looks good and is available in the marketplace. Also, while not absolutely necessary, a good paella pan is traditional in preparing this dish. They are available in  many fine cooking stores.
Preparation:
In a large paella pan add olive oil and heat to brown chicken pieces. Remove chicken and add onions, garlic and chopped tomatoes. Cook unit very soft almost like a paste. Add the rice and stir until completed coated with sofito. Add saffron to hot chicken broth and add to rice in pan. Add chicken, and remaining fish to pan and let the liquid boil until the rice begins to open.


At this point you can let it continue to cook on top of range or you can put pan into a 300 degree oven and cook until rice is done approximate 25 minutes. Before putting into the oven or when rice is almost cooked you can add 6-10 clams. When ready to serve sprinkle peas, pimentos, and artichokes over the rice. Enjoy!
Sofito Preparation:


Use the amounts listed of the following items from the ingredient list above:


Onion
Garlic
Tomatoes
salt and pepper


Cook onions until opaque, add in garlic followed by the tomatoes. Cook until softened. Set aside. Make a day ahead if you like and refrigerate. Add salt and pepper to taste.