At the Hartleys

6 October 2010

We dived back into French culture today after a 2 year hiatus when we went grocery shopping at the street market in a near-by town with Catherine. That meant asking for help in French; exploring food items that we would never see in California (the fall mushrooms are incredible); trying to figure out the cost of items (we could not believe that the produce we bought, including a huge heirloom tomato, was less than $3.30); attempting to understand what the vendors said we owed on our purchase; and figuring out payment in Euros. Our 1st purchase at the market was the rabbit pâté. We bought cheese that looked like it was 100 years old (called Salé) but it was only 2.5 years in age. We bought great stinky cheese and chewy baguettes. I’m now sure we are in France.

The weather is fantastic! Lots of clouds, including a few grey ones threatening rain; a fairly warm breeze; and nice warm sun peaking out every-so-often. Lunch today at home was wild mushroom omelets, tomato salad, a slice of rabbit pâté, and a delicious French baguette. The mushrooms we saw today would blow your mind—a testament to the shapes, colors and sizes not to any psychotropic aspects of the fungi.

We relaxed for the afternoon and then had a light supper with the Hartleys. Catherine bought some very interesting mushrooms called Lactaire—they were shallow-capped, brown mushrooms with green mottling. Very unique! The vendor said that they taste like meat—and they did have a meat-like texture. Cat drizzled them with olive oil and parsley and gently braised them in their liquid. They were great. We had rabbit puff pastry tarts from the same lady who had the rabbit pâté. She was an ancient looking lady with lots of character to her face. And she treated us with quintessential French manners and dignity. Stephen said that when he first saw her he knew she was the kind of farmer to do business with. We ended our evening meal with chewy walnut bread and the cheese purchased earlier in the day.

In France

October 5, 2010

Our flight was a dream compared to what we would have experienced in “economy.” Our food was the same “just OK” meal in economy but the premium included “digestives” after dinner”: I got Liqueur de Poire Willams, a pear liqueur that was very good and H got cognac. Even though we had large seats with lots of leg-room, I only slept about 2.5 hours but H slept a good long while.

At the Paris airport we searched for our luggage only to finally remind ourselves that it had been sent on to our ultimate destination, Montpellier, about 45 minutes from Catherine and Stephen’s house. After about a 20 hour journey we were happy to see our friends’ smiling faces. At home Stephan introduced us to Domaine des Trinités wine, a local winery in which the Hartleys have invested. Cat fixed a lovely supper of smoked salmon, cream cheese, local green olives, French bread, and, the one item I have been waiting for, great French cheese.

We unloaded the gifts to our hosts. The Thomas Keller cookbook set (for French Laundry and Bouchon restuarants) weighed 15 lbs! And I schlepped that in my carry-on. Boy, will I be glad that the return trip will not weigh heavily on my shoulder joint. H luckily found a signed 1st edition of one of Stephan’s favorite authors.

To bed at 11pm and blissful sleep until 9am (I read for about an hour at about 3am). Then we were ready for our 1st full day in France!

Off to France

October 4, 2010

We regretfully left our sweet babies, including our new arrival, Lucky, and we are now in LAX waiting for our flight to leave. Since our economy tickets only allowed us one piece of checked baggage, we were surprised to see so many people with well more than one bag. The couple ahead of us had six bags and they were HUGE (and fluorescent in color). So the Air France desk lady was in a very bad mood when we arrived at her station. It took a long time for her to check our two bags and I almost used the instant feedback station at the desk to say that she was being a bitch to us! But instead I smiled and told her “no problem” when she half-heartedly apologized about the delay.

After we got through the long security line I realized that she did not give us the correct seats! Howard and I always reserve two aisle seats across from one another. It is hell for me to have to sit in the middle seat for 12 hours. So Howard retreated to Wolfgang Puck’s for a beer and I headed back to check-in to give someone a piece of my mind. On the way I pondered our seat assignment: 20 A&B. Row 20 is pretty close to the front of the plane—could we have struck gold?? Yes, she up-graded us to premier economy—not quite business class but the man I grabbed to complain to said that I would be very happy.

Premier Economy

And he said to drink lots of champagne. As if I needed any prodding!

So I look forward to 12 hours of hell mitigated by at least 12 glasses of champagne.

Vancouver

Before we left on this trip, we needed to get our passports renewed. In memory of my sweet mom who died March 26th, I had her photo put on my passport. HA!!! Sooooo many times on this trip I’ve started to send her a postcard but hopefully she has a premium seat from which she can watch our adventure. And maybe precious Leo is sitting next to her barking “Why didn’t I get to go to Canada??”

On Wednesday night we finally got our oyster fix thanks to the recommendation in our Frommer’s Guide. We walked just a few blocks to Joe Fortes Oyster Bar & Grill. It was all that we had been waiting for! We had a dozen oysters sourced from this area of the west coast–delicious. H had seared yellowfin tuna for his main dish and I had sablefish cooked in a very light Japanese flavored sauce. Both were excellent. For dessert I had banana cream pie and H had crème brulee—we took most of dessert home. So “Joe’s” is the real thing and it was only $100 more than that imposter of a restaurant: A Kettle of Fish!

The exchange rate here is just about even so we are not gaining or losing on the exchange rate. But we are amazed at how expensive everything is. I would say that at restaurants we are paying about 25% more than what we would pay at home. When we go into the wine shops (Canada has an excellent wine-growing region that we will be visiting later this week) we have to plead with the employees to find us a nice bottle under $20. Thankfully the cost of the Timeshare here was less than $100/night—a real bargain for the area and the quality of the apartment. And we have cooked in several times.

Thursday, July 1, was Canada Day—kind of like Canada’s birthday. We were told that it would be a BIG day of celebration—and we were not disappointed. (Although being awakened repeatedly throughout the night and early morning hours by the revelers and sirens was a disappointment!) We chose to spend the day at Grandville Island—just a quick walk to the ferry boat and a short boat-ride to the opposite shore (we could have swam the distance quicker than the boat ride it was so close). The day there was filled with great activities. First we had to get our Canadian Flags to wave and flag pins to wear. The island has an incredible 50,000 square foot market with a huge number of food, wine, flower, fast-food and craft venders. Before we left we purchased several great local cheeses, lamb sausage, local scallops, steaks, interesting breads, risotto cakes, couscous salad, and luscious local cherries and other produce. We enjoyed watching the street entertainers and especially loved the rescued dogs’ agility trials. H had to restrain me from trying to take home a little rescued apricot poodle. We had a nice lunch at Cat’s Social House: I had a short rib Panini and H had a seared tuna rice bowl—both were excellent. The kids were getting tattoos and face paintings of Canadian icons—I wanted one too but the line was too long. We headed home before the parade and were in bed when the fireworks went off—we’re USA duds.

On Friday we drove to the Museum of Anthropology—what a place!! I blew it because I did not take my video camera! We thought we would not be able to take photos… Here are some internet photos of the exhibits inside (if you take the time to scan through the images and enlarge the ones that interest you, you will be amazed): http://www.google.com/images?rlz=1T4GGIH_enUS253US254&q=museum+of+anthropology+vancouver+photos&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=univ&ei=XSgxTOu_J8KDnQfd4rDlAw&sa=X&oi=image_result_group&ct=title&resnum=1&ved=0CB8QsAQwAA

Canada’s First Nation’s art and culture are fascinating. The term “First Nations” refers to the native cultures here. I find the artwork to be beautiful. The museum has many old and new examples of totem poles, masks, and wooden serving pieces for clan potlatches—all decorated in colorful, stylized renderings of local animals. There is a 3-story all-glass gallery with totem poles and other large pieces. As we marveled at the huge wooden monoliths, 3 bald eagles soared above the glass ceiling of the gallery. It was a lovely sight.

We heard about the street cart vendor called “Japadog” on Anthony Bordain’s TV program No Reservations. We were amazed to find one of the carts just a couple of blocks from us! So after our morning visit to the Museum we decided it was time for a Japadog. There is a long line to order and a long line for pick-up—it is a very popular street vendor (we saw at least 2 other locations around Vancouver—plus a few imposters). We both had the Terimayo hot dog with teriyaki sauce, Chinese mayo and seaweed. We added some wasabi mayo for some tang. We also got 3 different Japanese snack packages with savory puffs and a weird “mat” with a fish flavor–kind of like a soft cracker, I guess. All were good especially the hot dog.

I forgot to mention that in Portland food trucks (aka Roach Coaches) are the new eating experience. Our culinary tour guide said that many of the graduates of the culinary schools in Portland choose to buy food trucks instead of investing in restaurants. And at least one established chef with a following decided to chuck the restaurant for a less stressful food truck business.

After our gourmet lunch, we walked to Canada Place—the location of the convention center, hotel and the cruise ship docks. The building has a distinctive white sail design. We then got a 360 degree, unobstructed view of Vancouver and the surrounding mountains atop the Vancouver Lookout—a 28 story building. The elevator ride up was a little scary—it’s all glass and on the outside of the building and it puts your heart in your stomach.

We tried to book a naturalist tour of nearby Capilano River Regional Park but the tour was full. However the man who runs the tour company gave us directions to the park and said that the salmon were spawning and we would be able to see them making their journey up-stream. We also had hopes to see the eagles that dine on those salmon. So Saturday morning we were off to the “wilderness.” Alas, we did not see any salmon but we did have a nice walk into the forest. H took some nice photos (posted on this website). The only birds we saw were robins—like we haven’t seen a million of those already. The journey there took us over the Lion’s Gate Bridge, a landmark of Vancouver. Opened in 1938, it is a suspension bridge that spans the first inlet of the Burrard Narrows, Vancouver’s port area.

For lunch we visited a restaurant recommended by the Frommer’s guide, Salt, located on Blood Alley. There is no Blood Alley on any tourist map so we headed for the tourist information office. The guy there had never heard of it so he looked it up on the internet. Let me tell you, you would never walk down that alley unless you were sure there was good food ahead. It was a creepy back-alley with several large garbage dumpsters (and the smell of urine). When we got there the menu had a FAQ section and one of the questions was: “Is there any other entrance?” The answer is “no.” But the inside was nicely decorated (Frommer’s calls it “minimalistic modern”). The official name of this eating establishment is Salt Tasting Room—notice it is not a restaurant. And it was tastes that you got. With each plate you got 3 tastes of either meat or cheese and a condiment. I got the British Columbia plate (all local foods): Ash Camembert cheese with Similkameen honey; Kulen (a dry salami) with piccalilli relish (a sweet/sour relish); and corned beef with Guinness mustard. H got the butcher plate (all meat tastes): Mettwurst (a fresh smoked sausage) with Basque olives (the olives were great); Rosette de Lyon (a French dry salami) with piparras peppers; and smoked pork with cornichons. We chose the wine-pairing and got probably 1.5 oz of 3 different wines to taste with the tastes of food. I emphasize TASTES because each portion was maybe 3 bites with 3 sips of wine. Each food plate was $15 and the 3 tastes of wine were $15. We did enjoy the experience and all the food and wines were great but really, it was just a few bites and sips for $30 each. And, with their unbelievably awful location, they can’t need to cover high rental costs. I told you Vancouver is expensive!

We decided that Sunday was Chinatown day including a Dim Sum lunch. Again we trusted Frommer’s—the recommendation was The Pink Pearl. We had the address and could easily find the street on the map but we were not able to see exactly where on Hastings Street it was. But it’s in Chinatown—we can see where that is on the map so it can’t be too far. HA! Our LONG journey (1.5 miles) down Hastings Street took us through the worst drug slum that you can imagine. I cannot believe that we survived the walk through that area. I think the residents were so drug-addled that they could not believe that 2 old tourists were passing through. And this went on for blocks and blocks. (As we walked back at the end of our adventure [yes, we stupidly began the walk back], a very nice lady with 2 small children in the car stopped at the side of the street and asked us if we were lost. She told us what we already knew—we should not be walking down that street. She directed us to the next block over which was a lovely, flower-lined street with children and their parents taking leisurely walks as if there were not crazed drug addicts the next block over.)

Well, when we finally arrived at the Pink Pearl it was closed for renovation! Well good luck was with us—we had passed a very nice looking French café, Au Petit Chavignol, and we were happy to find a table in the crowded, homey dining room. (I don’t know how a lovely café could do good business in that area of town but it was crowded.) We had duck confit fritters with a poached egg on a bed of arugula. We were very happy with our meal and it was only $5!! I guess their prices reflect the neighborhood.

The panhandlers and drug addicts are really prevalent here. We are accosted by several meth-mouthed (i.e. toothless) beggars every time we go out into the city. I confess that I have lost my initial love for Vancouver. It is a noisy, expensive, bum-populated, ugly high-rise city. Three days would be enough to see the good sites but a week is too much. We loved Portland but we did not stay in the city (and there were panhandlers but not as many it seemed). Maybe if we had stayed downtown we’d have the same image of Portland but I don’t think so. I’m ready to move on to the Canadian Rockies…

 

Greetings from Vancouver

Greetings from Vancouver!  What a great city!  Last Tuesday we were able to drive through the city (from Portland) right to our timeshare location without any screaming from the driver (that’s me).  In fact I must say that the “bitch” (the GPS lady) and I have bonded on this journey and she and I have cooperated nicely in our travels recently.

Our apartment here is really nice!  The brochure warned that it was very small but we think it’s the perfect size.  We are on the 23rd floor with ceiling to floor windows overlooking Vancouver (and a lovely demolition site).  It has a full kitchen and a washer and drier.  With the windows open the traffic noise can be a little loud but H takes out his hearing aids and so far I don’t mind it—we are in a bustling, alive city so it’s OK.  The location is perfect.

It’s been a little over 5 days on the road so let’s back-up to the beginning of this adventure.  I slammed the door on work about 5pm on 06/24/10 and we focused on packing and kissing and hugging Lucien and Toby (they were sure that they were coming with us but they are in good hands with Wendy—she will make them forget their sorrow through sweet words and lots of treats).  Our first stop was Sacramento to visit our long-time (not “old”) friends Jim and Denise MacDonald.  On the way up long, boring Route 5 we stopped about lunch time at Harris Ranch.  We have seen this place many times on our drives up to wine country.   We thought it was just a little restaurant but it is a HUGE resort.  We had a GREAT lunch and it was a nice half-way respite.

Denise and Jim moved to Sacramento about 3-4 years ago and beautifully renovated a lovely old house in a sweet neighborhood.  What a nice visit!  Great catch-up time and wonderful food.  (Thanks, Jim, for a lovely meal.)

Then a 9-hour drive to Portland.  What a beautiful city!  I want to live there!  But I hear it rains a bit.    That much?????

The drive to our accommodation was incredibly frustrating.  (Did you hear me screaming all the way to Southern California?  You should have.)  The “bitch” was at odds with nearly every cross street.  Honestly the drive was “turn here” then “recalculating.”  (Remember this—you will hear the end of the story later.)  We checked into a very nice 1 bedroom cottage located behind a B&B only to find we were in the land of “no’s.”  No shoes inside; no perfume; no cooking fish; no suitcases against the walls; no open exterior doors; no food on the counter; no listed skin-care products; and I’m sure there was more that I have repressed in my anger at this lady.  The cottage was lovely and the location was superb but the owner was a nut.  Unfortunately she messed up our reservation dates and for the 3rd night we had to move into the B&B and there were even more prohibitions!

For breakfast on 06/27 I was anxious to experience Voodoo Doughnuts, which was recommended by Anthony Bourdain on his Travel Channel program No Reservations.  The claim to fame of Voodoo Doughnuts is the maple bars with bacon on them.  But they also make lots of different doughnuts covered with such unusual things as sweet cereal morsels (Captain Crunch, Fruit Loops, Etc.); peanut butter smears; and even a doughnut with a cup of Nyquil imbedded in the top of the doughnut (the state of Oregon stopped the production of that doughnut).  The shop was only a half mile away from us so we walked.  On the way we realized that some dumb-fuck had changed several of the street signs so that the streets were the opposite of the way they should have been!  No wonder the “bitch” was confused as we made our way to the B&B our first day!

The best part of our location was the superb near-by restaurants.  Our first night we visited Tabla Mediterranean Bistro—just about 4 blocks away (easy crawling distance back home).  It was a FANSASTIC evening. We started with cocktails: H had the Gambito Sour and I had the Bicycle Thief (yum on both counts).  Howard’s 3 course dinner was the seared baby octopus appetizer; the Tabla ravioli; and the veal sweetbreads.  I had the fish trio to start (which was smoked albacore, anchovies, and salt cod); papardelle pasta (I would love a HUGE bowl of this for a meal); and salmon in lobster broth.  We had the wine pairings for each course and they were great.  For dessert H had the Strawberry Napoleon and I had the chevre (goat cheese) and salted almond tart—both with the suggested wines.  Our meal was PERFECT and the wait-staff was fantastic.  We talked about coming back before we left.

On our first full day in the area we decided to explore the Columbia River gorge and visit a couple of wineries along the river.  In retrospect it might have been better to book a tour—we might have seen more remote and interesting sites but it was still a good day.  I also would recommend traveling the gorge on the Washington side of the river—on that side you have a lovely view of the Oregon coast without trees hampering the view (I never thought I’d wish that they had clear-cut the Oregon coast so that I could see the rugged river gorge).  We visited two Washington wineries (Syncline and Domaine Poullon) that produce wines in the fashion of the French Cotes du Rhone wines (which we love).  We enjoyed the wines at both wineries (and the people) and bought a total of a case.  We had a nice lunch in White Salmon, WA at Everybody’s Brewing Restaurant.  They had tasty home-produced brews.  I had a Cuban pork sandwich with sweet potato fries and H had the steak and blue cheese sandwich with regular fries.  I kept telling H that he made a mistake by not ordering sweet potato fries.  I eventually looked at my plate to find that they had “salted” my sweet potato fries with brown sugar (and a little salt)!  That made me mad!  The sweet potato fries were even better when I knocked off the sugar.  And we enjoyed half of the two sandwiches over the next couple of days.

I don’t know what made H explore the restrictions on getting into Canada but thank goodness he did!  He discovered that we could only take 4 bottles of wine into Canada without paying duty.  And the duty was about the same price as what we paid for the wine!  So our $25 bottles of wine would in the end cost $50!  That was not good.  So do we pay the additional $150 on $150 of wine or do we risk lying?  I think we were both of the mind that we needed to find an alternative way—we cannot lie about anything (it’s true our tax returns are 100% honest).  H spent a bit of time on the internet and eventually found the nicest guy (we think) that would pick up our wine and ship them for about $30.  It turns out he ships for many wineries and has several drop-off points for wine shipment.  What a savior!  So no laws were broken and (we think) our wine will arrive safely and cheaply at our place.  We were happy to have that problem solved.

That night we ate at a nearby place called Dove Vivi.  Their claim to fame is thick corn-meal crust pizzas.  H had a kale salad and I had an ice-berg lettuce and blue cheese salad to start.  Our corn-meal crust pizza was a traditional home-made sausage pizza.  All very good but I think that I would have preferred the cracker-thin crusts that Portland is becoming known for.  But we have enjoyed the left-overs these last couple of days.

On Monday (06/28) we had booked a culinary tour of Portland.  We were to start at 10am at the Heathman Hotel in Portland.  We were concerned about parking in the city.  We pulled up to the hotel valet parking and a very nice young man dressed in a traditional beefeater costume opened my door (it was difficult to not laugh at his get-up).  I told him about the tour; he knew all about it.  I asked what he would recommend for parking.  Their fees at the hotel were $8 for 4 hours but we were going to be there for about 6-7 hours because we were going to spend some time in the city.  He was a sweet guy and said he would charge $8 for the whole day—I gave him $10 and an extra $2 when we came back to pick up the car.  What luck!

We were an hour early so we enjoyed a walk through the Farmer’s Market.  The selection of fresh berries looked particularly delicious but we had no way to keep them fresh for the day so we regretfully walked on.  The cheeses and bread were also inviting but alas it was not to be.

The tour was about 3.5 hours.  It was a great tour!  There were about 10 of us and our tour guide, Alyssa, was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable of Portland history.  We sampled: hot chocolate (NOT anything like Nestles) at CacaoHot-Lips pizza with home-made blackberry soda; Cool Moon hand-made marionberry ice cream and chocolate sorbet; Elephant Deli tomato and orange soup (yum—try pairing oranges with tomatoes); Pearl Bakery baguettes, sour-dough bread, croissants (the best out of France I’ve tasted), chocolate bread, and another sweet bread; several teas and cookies at a local tea house, The TeazoneStumptown coffee ; Oregon wine and some succulent condiment munchies at a gourmet shop; and gourmet cupcakes at Cupcake Jones.  It was a great tour and well-worth the time and cost.  We also learned about Portland’s efforts to be a “green city” and a little about that journey to “greenness.”  We were really impressed with everything about the city.  The weather was sunny and lovely—but that was a lucky anomaly from what everyone told us.

That evening we decided to try a new restaurant since Tabla was closed on Monday.  We walked out the door and mindlessly sauntered down the street.  When we “came to” we realized that we were on Tabla’s street (not the street we intended to be).  So I said “let’s see if Tabla if open.”  The sign in front said “now open on Mondays”—decision made!  So that evening H had is “usual” cocktail and I tried the Rollerskate Skinny—delicious!  I must perfect that drink when we get home.  H had the fish trio (it was a little bit different that night); the squid-ink pasta; and the culotte steak.  I had the Spanish head lettuce salad; the macaroni pasts; and the duck confit—with the paired wines, of course.  For dessert H had the chevre tart and I had the cheese plate with the paired wines.  It was a perfect evening and we were grateful that Tabla opened for us on the last night of our Portland stay.  It was every much the perfect evening as we had the first night we were here.

Since the drive from Portland to Vancouver was less than 6 hours, we decided to make a detour to Anacortes on Fidalgo Island north of Seattle.  We had a great time there last October with Sheri and Gene Kohlmann.  Our favorite restaurant when we were there was Adrift, a cute, old-timey place with great food and service.  (The motto is: Swell Food.)  It was the perfect stop.  Howard had crab cakes with cole slaw and I had Yakisoba noodles with salmon.  Were we happy that I e-mailed Sheri for the restaurant info—too bad she and Gene weren’t able to meet us there!

We got settled in our new “home” in Vancouver and we were ready to taste perfect oysters.  The lady at the front desk here recommended  “The Fish Kettle.”  I dunno—that did not sound like the place to have the perfect oyster.  But what do I know about Vancouver?  So we try it.  DO NOT trust your oyster hopes to a place called “The Fish Kettle”!  Everything we had there was just average (at best) and it was NOT an inexpensive restaurant.   And we still have our cravings for the perfect oyster.  (The perfect oyster for me was had in Marseillan, France—it had the taste of the ocean.)

Wednesday was our first full day in Vancouver—so what did we do?  We decided to enjoy a visit to Stanley Park: a 1,000 acre urban park that was about a 30 minute walk from our place.  It was cloudy and was threatening rain but we were optimistic and left in shirt-sleeves without jackets and powered our way toward the park.  We arrived at the Vancouver Aquarium 15 minutes before opening—it was a little cold so we were glad that we’d be going inside.  The fountain at the gate is a Native American sculpture of a killer whale and it is beautiful!  I can only summarize our aquarium visit as incredible.  We saw just about every kind of sea life: every size, shape and color possible of fish (I thought one huge fish was a big rubber tire on the bottom of the aquarium until it moved); sea anemones in shapes of fancy feathers, ; urchins; sea cucumbers; snails; corals; incredible jellyfish in all sizes and shapes; dolphins; beluga whales; seals; eels including little tiny worm-sized eels sticking their heads out of the sand; sand dollars; rays; sharks; sea turtles;octopi; star fish with any number of arms and many other unbelievably beautiful sea life.  There were other exhibits on rain forest frogs, snakes, birds and butterflies.  One of the volunteers showed us a video on her iPod showing baby frogs being born and imerging from the skin on their mother’s back!  I thought that was a great way to use technology to add interest to the experience.  We enjoyed every minute  of our time there.