When I was a kid my summer activity of choice was spending hours submerged in the blue quietness at the deep end of the pool, seeing how long I could swim underwater without coming up for air. Sailing was a revelation that had to wait until I was an adult, when friends invited Dave and I to go out on their sailboat. My favorite sailing moment always came when the engine shut off, the sails unfurled and the only sound was the prow cutting through the water and the wind whipping the rigging.
Tiny Cowichan Bay.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, when Eric Pateman of Edible Canada asked if I'd be interested in going on one of their gourmet kayaking trips, it was all I could do not to scream "Woo hoo!" into the phone, no doubt scaring the bejesus out of my would-be host. But I managed to maintain my composure, which meant that a few weeks later I was driving a rented car up to the small town of Ladysmith on the inland coast of Vancouver Island, an area known as the Cowichan Valley.
Like our own corner of the Northwest, the valley is known for its bounty of local produce and wines, as well as cheeses, beer and bread…sound familiar? So on my way up to Ladysmith I stopped in the tiny town of Cowichan Bay to sample some of that local goodness at Hilary’s Cheese shop. Hilary is Hilary Abbott, the man who, with his wife Patty, makes the cheese from island goat and cow milk. The day I was there they had a slightly aged goat cheese with a grape must-washed rind, a mild goat cheddar and a goat blue with a greyish, bloomy rind. All were fairly fresh so hadn’t developed many secondary characteristics, but all three were uniformly delicious. The cheese plate came with slices of bread from the shop next door, True Grain, which features BC, and even some island-grown, grains and flours.
Morning from my window at Island Estuary.
After filling up on the cheese, bread and fruit at Hilary's, I headed for the Island Estuary Bed and Breakfast, owned by chef Lynda Diamond and her husband, photographer Ted McCrea. The B&B, which was to be our base camp for the weekend, was situated on a wooded hillside just south of Ladysmith overlooking Holland Creek Estuary and Ladysmith Harbour.
Lynda's amazing albacore with seaweed salad.
The large, comfortable house is beautifully designed and filled with artwork that Ted and Lynda have collected from local artisans, and each room features a stunning view out over the estuary. Lynda strives to serve locally sourced food, including coffee from a local roaster, wines from the island and produce from area farms.
One happy paddler.
With a terrific lunch of fish tacos with a couple of kick-ass salads alongside, the assembled group of ten intrepid paddlers was off to our first lesson a few minutes' walk up the beach at Sealegs Kayaking. As a complete newb, I was a teensy bit nervous that I'd totally embarrass myself and tip over, lose my paddle or not be able to keep up with the rest of the group. By the end of the weekend I was very proud to say that none of that happened, and since the group was made up of a wide range of skills and physical abilities, I fit right in.
The Island Estuary Cosmo (recipe below).
In the three days we had drop-dead gorgeous weather, fantastic food, calm waters (those inland channels, remember?) and saw lots of seals and jellyfish. I'll save the specific details for the article I'm writing for NW Palate magazine (the Mar./Apr. 2012 issue), but suffice it to say that this area just north of Victoria is well worth visiting all on its own or for a few days out of a longer trip.
Here's a recipe for a killer Cosmo that Lynda served the first night:
Island Estuary CosmoFrom Lynda Diamond
1.5 oz. vodka*
1/2 oz. Cointreau or any other orange-flavoured liquor
2 tsp. of Rose's Lime Juice or fresh lime
1.5 oz. cranberry juice
Mix all together in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice, then strain into glasses. Enjoy!
* Lynda said she uses Schramm vodka from Pemberton Distillery and always keeps it in the freezer.