Friday, September 05, 2014

The ALS ice bucket challenge

Here is my ALS ice bucket challenge:


If this video inspires you to do the challenge or simply donate to this worthy cause then cheers to you!

Monday, October 21, 2013

The farmer's apprentice

The first time I visited the Farmer’s Apprentice there was a slight problem with the ventilation and wood smoke wafted from the kitchen into the adjoining dining room. This set a perfect tone for the restaurant, a tiny 30-seater set up like a large farmhouse kitchen. Coming from a chilly and wet October evening into this warm, slightly smoky and cozy room was very comforting. We were seated at an end table that is separated from the rest of the room by a wooden divider that has an old-fashioned window set into it, giving intimate peek-a-boo views into the rest of the room.

The chef, David Gunawan, has a solid Vancouver pedigree running kitchens at West and Wildebeest. West is pure classic fine Pacific Northwest, Wildebeest is unapologetically meat focused. The food at Farmer’s Apprentice is an evolution of the two. Buttery smooth smoked sole is served on the bone with a vanilla cream sauce. A braised beef cheek is adorned with small roasted turnips, served on a bed of steel-cut oats with a rich espresso demi that has an impossibly deep fruit flavor. Bread is served with onion jam and olive oil and a chicken liver parfait is like whipped cream studded with bits of pear and frisée lettuce. Food is served family style and comes when ready. The result is a casual yet uniquely innovative experience without pretense and priced like a neighborhood eatery. This means service is appropriately casual and unobtrusive, the wine list is short enough to make decisions easy and there are about five cocktails on offer. The thyme-infused tequila and chartreuse blend I tried was a great aperitif.

This restaurant has been carefully crafted by an expert chef who is unabashed with his food yet keeps things down to earth. After having eaten at Farmer’s Apprentice a couple of times now I can honestly say this is a unique experience that any restaurant and food enthusiast should try for themselves.

Monday, September 16, 2013

2013 summer road trip

Road trip time! After the last-minute cancellation of my previous plans, it was high time for a good long drive. On the morning of September 14 I got in the TT and headed east, ready for adventure...

I guess the cost of entry of any trip out east is the drive along highway 1 through the lower mainland. It isn't very exciting at the best of times. This morning it was made particularly unexciting by a string of construction zones and heavily overcast skies the color of wet mud. Things only started improving as I passed Chilliwack, the clouds cleared up and the landscape became more scenic. Around 9am I stopped for a quick break in Hope, eager to head into Manning Park. The drive through the park is a classic, things become very pretty indeed and I was soon savoring the road, sunshine and gorgeousness of it all.

Princeton is a regular stop for gas, there is a Chevron there, meaning the TT gets 94 RON petrol...I am OCD about the type of gas I put in my car. I grabbed a coffee at Cowboy Coffee and sat on their patio, chatting with an older man who was curious about my car. He turned out to be quite the character and gave me a detailed rundown about police speed traps and tactics around the area. I filed this information away, got back in the car and continued east on the Crowsnest highway.

Cowboy Coffee in Princeton

Having grown up in Holland, I am a big fan of black licorice. It is relatively hard to find in Vancouver, that is why the Dutch shop in Keremeos is always a great place to stop. The owners are Dutch and make a good 'boterkoek', a very buttery shortbread with almonds. I always get a slice of that plus s brown paper baggie full of licorice gathered the traditional way, scooped out of an array f glass containers holding the different types of 'dropjes'. You mix and match your favorites and pay by weight.This takes me right back to my childhood when I used to visit the licorice shops in my home town to get my weekly dose of sweets.

The Dutch shop in Keremeos

At Keremeos I decided to veer off the beaten path and head north on the 3A towards Okanagan Falls. My target was Green Mountain road. I found it while looking for interesting driving roads, I always research my routes before I head out. Green Mountain Road cuts through the interior and ends up in Penticton. It also leads to the road to Apex Mountains ski resort. Roads to ski resorts are usually good so I was hoping for a driving treat. Well, I wasn't disappointed, in fact I was rewarded with one of the most exciting roads I have driven in quite some time. Green Mountain road is a smooth ribbon of tarmac that winds its way through pristine scenery, devoid of traffic and made for cars like the TT. I had an absolute blast driving this road and it only got better once I turned onto Apex Mountain road. It has lots of sweepers and switchbacks, giving the car (and driver!) a supreme workout. I stopped briefly at Apex village but was too eager to repeat the experience to linger. Once back at Green Mountain road, I continued towards Penticton.

Apex Mountain village

Green Mountain road, quite the discovery

I turned south at Penticton towards Osoyoos and pulled into the parking lot of the Sandy Beach Motel early afternoon. I had allowed myself plenty of time so I could enjoy the lake and spend some time lounging before dinner. I had a quick bite of cherries and peaches before I spent some time cooling off in the lake. Reading on the beach quickly led to heavy eyelids so I headed back to my room for a bit of a nap. Well over an hour later I woke up, hungry and ready for dinner.


The Sandy Beach motel in Osoyoos

The first day was concluded with dinner at Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek, one of my favorite restaurants in the Okanagan. Jeff van Geest runs the kitchen, I know him from his days at Aurora Bistro and Diva at the Met in Vancouver. I have always loved his cooking so was looking forward to another treat. When I told him I was hungry he smiled mischievously and said he would take care of things. Two hours and seven delicious courses later I staggered back to my car and headed back to the motel, passing out very thoroughly.

The next morning I was up early so at 7:30am I was driving east out of Osoyoos. The place was still asleep on a Sunday morning. The highway winds up a steep hill straight out of town so the driving becomes interesting almost immediately. There are great views of the town below, I decided to have plenty of stops for photo-ops, more so than on my previous drives where I usually do more driving and less stopping!

Sleepy Osoyoos

It was early on a Sunday morning so the road was pretty much deserted. I enjoyed the many twists and turns, the TT hungrily devouring the tarmac. The scenery seemed to become more impressive every time I rounded another bend.

Christina lake

At Castlegar I stopped for gas, there is a Chevron to be found :-). Then, about half an hour later as traffic was getting a little heavier closer to Nelson, I was pretty much cruising along when from the opposite direction a police cruiser popped over a hill. I glanced at my speedometer, I was going a bit over but not too much. However in my rear view I saw the cruiser turn on the flashers and I knew I was going to get nailed. And yes, minutes later it showed up behind me and I was pulled over. Apparently, I was doing 120 in a 90 zone. The cop wasn't too bad, he seemed surprised at my clean driving record and asked if the car was new. He gave me the lowest possible fine but I was still peeved. I wasn't actively trying to speed there, just going with the flow of traffic. The speed limit fluctuates wildly from 80 to 90 to 100 and back again so it is hard to keep track. He could have picked any other car around me, they were all going about the same speed. But hey, I guess that is the price of driving something that isn't a pickup truck or RV in those parts.
Minutes later I was in Nelson, ready for a good long break, some food and coffee. My good friend Sam told me about Oso Negro, a local coffee roaster. It didn't disappoint, the coffee was good and the panino very tasty. I sat in their garden enjoying an early lunch while a bunch of rowdy pigeons jostled for the crumbs of my sandwich.

The garden at the coffee shop

Nelson is very pretty little town with a laid back vibe. There are guys on the street playing guitar and the place is full of boutiques, little restaurants, new age shops and outdoor gear stores. I spent some time strolling around and checking out the shops. I found a little specialty food store where I chatted with the guy behind the counter. He recommended some locally made hot sauce and a bar of single bean chocolate. I didn't need much convincing to get both.

It was now time to get back in the car for the next leg of my journey, heading north towards the heart of the Kootenays.

A beach near Kokanee Creek provincial park

Kootenay lake near Balfour

Highway 31 past Balfour hugs the lake and is a fantastic drive. The scenery is stupendous, the road windy and the traffic light. I put the TT through it's paces and was once again impressed by the sheer effortlessness of the engine's power delivery. Passing manoeuvres are a combination of brutal acceleration and that wonderful roar of the 5-cylinder turbo. They are also over before you know it and I usually have to employ the brakes to get back to a less incriminating speed. So much fun!

Kaslo is very pretty, perched above the lake. I had a quick stop to stretch my legs before I headed dead west towards New Denver. Highway 31A cuts straight through the area between Kootenay and Slocan lakes. Another fantastic piece of road this one, deep forests and dramatic mountains line it on both sides. It ends at New Denver where Highway 6 continues north towards Nakusp.


About 15 minutes north of Nakusp is the Halcyon Hot Springs resort. The main building has a number of pools fed by the hot springs and for a nominal fee visitors can grab a towel and head to the pools. I spent some time swimming and bobbing in the warm mineral waters, feeling the fatigue of the day's drive flow away. The place is situated overlooking the lake, the scenery once again staggeringly impressive. As I was admiring the view I did notice dark clouds rolling in from the south, the weather was about to take a turn from nice and sunny to rather dark and wet...

The next stop was the ferry across Upper Arrow lake to Shelter Bay. I was lucky with the timing, the ferry showed up 5 minutes after I joined the end of the queue and the TT was the last car to get on. The crossing took about 20 minutes, I stood at the bow of the ferry getting very wind-blown and enjoying the ride.

Once off the ferry I followed highway 23 up to Revelstoke. I was looking forward to my visit, I stayed there during last year's summer road trip and very much enjoyed it. As soon as I pulled into town I headed for my favorite spot there, the Village Idiot pub. I sat on the patio with a large glass of local dark beer, taking the customary shot of the pint:

Downing the pint only helped to spur my appetite but I badly needed a shower to wash off the mineral water of the hot springs so I headed for my hotel, the Sutton Place at the ski resort. This is a well appointed resort hotel that is fully integrated into the little ski village by the base of the chairlifts. They have great deals on rooms during the shoulder season so I stayed in a fancy little suite overlooking the ski hill. The restaurant has a great patio with good views so after a shower I headed down for dinner. The sun was just setting and clouds were coming in so the views were quite dramatic:

I passed out early and slept well so the next morning I was up and rearing to go at 7am. By 7:30am I was in the village looking for breakfast. The Modern Bakeshop and Café was open, a cup of tea and a ham and cheese sandwich later, I was on the road, headed west towards Kamloops.

Outside the Sutton Place resort, just before heading out

Revelstoke's main street

The Trans-Canada towards Sicamous winds its way along the Eagle River, once at Sicamous it enters the Sushwap where it passes Salmon Arm, Sushwap Lake and the river that leads to Kamloops lake. The weather was moody, it went from dark clouds and occasional rain storms to sunny with dotted clouds from one moment to the next. At some point I got stuck behind a logging truck that was shedding lots of mud and gravel which gave the TT a thick layer of grime. The entire front of the car is wrapped in protective film for occasions such as these so I wasn't too worried about rock chips. Still, I passed that behemoth at the first opportunity that presented itself, thankfully the TT is extremely good at doing so! There were plenty of photo-ops along the way so I took a few shots here and there. I arrived in Kamloops just after ten and headed downtown in search for a coffee. I found Caffe Motivo where I had a great cappuccino.

After Kamloops I headed for Cache Creek, continuing on towards Lilooet. I was playing The Doors at the time and listening to Riders On The Storm while driving through mountains covered with heavy clouds viewed through a rain-streaked windshield is a bit of a surreal experience. Things get quite dramatic as you get to the Fraser River canyon, this is a deep gorge with the river running far below, a railway track right beside it. At some point the road narrows to a single lane that goes through a short tunnel, a bit hair raising given the steady truck traffic there. I took a few shots of the canyon:

At Lillooet the Duffey Lake road begins. I have raved about this road plenty of times now so suffice to say I was looking forward to driving it once again. It was a mixed experience however. The first part of the road is in very bad shape with potholes and rough patches everywhere. I also got stuck behind a bus with a small procession of cars behind it that was going so tortuously slow that at some point I gave up, pulled over, reclined my seat and read a chapter of my book. After that it got a lot more interesting. The weather was still wet and it rained off and on but the road surface improved hugely at some point and traffic thinned out considerably. I was once again enjoying the hell out of my car and the descent towards Mt Currie came all too soon.

Around 3:30pm I pulled into Whistler. By this time I had done about 6.5 hours of driving through sometimes challenging conditions and I was getting pretty tired. I also realized I hadn't eaten since breakfast at 7:30am in Revelstoke so I decided to take a nice long break, have a walk through the village and find something to eat. I was craving a hamburger with fries, something that the many restaurants along the village stroll have aplenty. I enjoyed sitting on a covered and heated patio while it rained pretty much the entire time.
Affogato, vanilla ice cream with a shot of espresso...yum!

An hour later I was back in the car, ready for the last leg from Whistler to Vancouver. I was well fed and content by that time so I decided to cruise it back home sticking dutifully to the speed limits. I actually set cruise control to just a bit over the limit and not much later I had some very impatient people lining up behind me. At the first passing lane I had many SUVs and pickup trucks fly past me which was interesting given that the speed limit is pretty much 80 km/h most of the way and the majority of traffic was doing well above that. This makes my speeding ticket near Nelson a bit ironic since the driving conditions were pretty much identical there. I ignored everything, cranked up Tool on the stereo and chilled out all the way to Vancouver, the little black sports car being passed by a steady stream of speeding minivans.

Well, this was once again an epic drive, British Columbia continues to amaze me with its staggering beauty and fabulous driving roads. Case in point, the Green Mountain road near Keremeos. I have been to the Okanagan dozens of times on many trips throughout the years yet discovered this road only now. I wonder how many more of these gems are out there, waiting to be explored by yours truly in a fast car... usual...the entire route, 1728 kilometers - click to enlarge:

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The road trip that wasn't...

The summer of 2013 has been a busy one so far. There has been much family time, trips to the Sunshine Coast (another camping trip in the TT with Kai as well as a trip with both Connie and Kai) and a very good week in the Okanagan enjoying the lake. The only thing that is missing is a good few days of driving the TT, apart from the one rip around Duffy Lake I did back in May, I haven't had a chance to enjoy the car much. I have done plenty of drives to Redmond, but the slog down I-5 is hardly exciting. Not that I mind driving the TT any time but I yearn for a twisty scenic road somewhere far from Vancouver. Open road, freedom, sunny skies and the immense enjoyment I get from this car are the things I crave!
Sooo...when Connie booked her yearly summer trip to Toronto with Kai, the ones I usually skip since I simply don't have enough vacation days for it all, I seized the opportunity and booked a weekend in the Okanagan. I had it all figured out, a colleague of mine just bought a brand new Audi S5 and was also itching for a good drive. He needed to be in Kelowna this weekend so we were going to drive up together, take the scenic road via Manning Park and Keremeos. I was going to peel off in Summerland and head for the Summerland Resort for an afternoon of lounging by the pool and catching up on magazines. The next morning I was going to rip it back across the connector and the Coquihalla to be back in time for Connie and Kai's arrival at YVR in the afternoon.

This is where I was going to spend the afternoon...
Everything was set, bag packed, driving plans made and car filled up. Then on Thursday evening I noticed our cat Loki behaving strangely. He was pacing around the house and looked quite unhappy. Now Loki is a bit sensitive to pretty much anything so I didn't think too much of it, gave him a cuddle and let it be. Then Friday morning he was in distress, unable to pee so it seemed and I had to take him to the vet. Long story short, I am now at home instead of in Summerland with a sick cat, a battery of medication and a car sitting idly in the garage. In addition to yesterday's vet visit, I also spent 2 hours this morning in the animal ER since he was blocked up again.

Cat medication
Since I had planned to be away the weekend I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands. After settling a drugged-out Loki in back home, I loaded up the TT with a bunch of old decking slats and took them to the dump. This was a funny experience, the TT's trunk is quite roomy and fitted the pile of slats perfectly. I drove up to the dump's entrance and lined up between pickups, vans and garbage trucks waiting to unload. The guy at the gate looked at me questioningly and asked what I had in the car. He didn't seem convinced and waved me through, probably wondering about my sanity. I then pulled into the unloading area, got rid of the slats and headed to one of my favorite lunch spots, Thomas Haas. Since I was robbed of my driving and pool lounging experience I decided to spoil myself today to make up for the disappointment.

In addition to lunch at Thomas I also booked myself at West for dinner tonight. I was there earlier this week (another tradition when I am home by myself, tasting menu at the bar) and it was so good that I am going to repeat the experience. My previous post has some more about the West bar experience. I am looking forward to that!

Well, apart from updating a much neglected blog and playing a lot of video games, this day is slowly passing by. Tomorrow afternoon I will pick up Connie and Kai from the airport and life will go back to normal. Until then, I will be looking after this guy: