The Fat Badger, Vancouver, Canada

Fat Badger fish and chips

Fish and chips at The Fat Badger.

The Fat Badger gastropub is a favorite of mine. One, because I’m lazy (it’s just up the street). Two, because the food is good. And three, because the mascot is a pudgy badger wearing a three-piece suit with a top hat and monocle and holding what I can only assume is a frosty alcoholic beverage. How could you not like this place?

The restaurant is in an old, red townhouse (an architectural anomaly in the sleek modernity of downtown Vancouver). It doesn’t seem as popular during the summer as during the colder months because this is the time of year when most folks like to enjoy dining al fresco along the waterfront. Its dark interior contrasts with the warm season, but it’s always inviting, and it’s an old standby for when guests come to call, which was the case when an old friend of my husband’s came to town recently.

Fat Badger squid starter

The squid appetizer.

The menu changes daily, but they often have fish and chips, which I tend to order. The appetizers we got for the table are all items to rave about. We had to get poutine because it’s a Canadian phenomenon that we thought our guest had to try; this version came with potato-stick hunks topped with chicken tikka masala, paneer, and curds. We also ordered a squid appetizer that came out with the squid perfectly tender and served with what looked and tasted like couscous discs held together with cheese, hot green peppers, and mushrooms (chanterelles?); all on a bed of Texas toast. We topped off the starters with buttermilk onion rings in a crispy, light crust.

For my main, I had fish and chips again. The generous portion of cod has a wonderfully crunchy batter, which I assume, because of the color and crunch, contains beer, and the chips are the restaurant’s standard big hunks of potato. The dish comes with side sauces of tartar and curry; plus, I saved the mayo that came with the onion rings as a dip.

This meal was even better than the last time we ate here, and I walked away wanting to come back soon.

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Fishing on the Fraser and the Chilliwack Fair

Fishing Fraser River BC

We’re not fishermen. We own rods, but haven’t mastered them yet. So, we decided to leave fishing to an expert and booked a small-boat charter in Chilliwack, a picturesque small town about 80 min. outside of Vancouver, along the Fraser River. The Fraser is famous among anglers for salmon, trout and sturgeon.

Our guide was a 28-year-old local who made for easy company during the four-hour excursion. He told us he was up at 6 a.m. to scope out potential good fishing spots, and he chose a spot on the other side of the river, driving his boat only a few minutes away from the dock and anchoring at the water’s edge.

I’ve always had an idea that fishing is about patience; waiting for a moment that you can’t predict, but pouncing to make good on the opportunity. It’s a combination of luck and skill, I take it, but, unfortunately, we didn’t have any luck that day. Our guide was anticipating a school of salmon would swim by, which would up our chances of catching some. Alas, the opportunity did not come.

However, it was still an enjoyable day. How could you not enjoy the pleasure of being out on a private boat in the sun, surrounded by mountains and a shimmering river? It forces you to look at what’s around you, pay attention to nature and appreciate its beauty.

Our guide recommended going to the Chilliwack Fair, which is a major two-day event for the town. The displays of local handiwork were endearing and really showed a sense of community that I’m not used to, being a city-dweller. I bought an elegant pair of earrings from a very creative artisan who makes jewelry from old silverware. We wandered through the animal showcase, and stopped to look at a massive mama pig turning over her trough, impatient for food while her piglets scurried around.

Gourmet Bannock food truck

There was an area with food trucks, and we were very impressed with the barbecue salmon sandwiches we ordered from Gourmet Bannock (bannock is a First Nations type of fried bread), which we followed up with a plate of tasty pierogis from another truck. We caught part of the rodeo, too. I’ve never been before, and it was fun to see the riders trying to stay on bucking horses and wrangle cattle. We walked out of the fair, tired and satisfyingly full, with the sun lingering long enough to light our drive home.

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The Grateful Dead @ The Gorge Amphitheatre, George, Washington

Grateful Dead Gorge Amphitheatre

No, the headline is not a joke. There really is a place called George, Washington. Great name, isn’t it?

We did a road trip to the area to see the Grateful Dead play at the Gorge Amphitheatre. It took almost nine hours to arrive in Ephrata, Washington, where our hotel was, about half an hour from the concert venue. The effort was tiring, but well worth it. The drive took us through a stunning display of terrain, from the moody cloud-covered mountains of the North Cascades National Park to temperate forest to rolling dry brushland to the formidable canyons of Indian reservation territory to the Grand Coulee Dam and the Columbia River. It was like driving through a Woodie Guthrie song. We were really seeing America.

A fitting prelude for the Grateful Dead show. This quintessential American band was right at home at the Gorge Amphitheatre, set on the edge of a canyon overlooking the Columbia River. The sky was clear blue, the sun was shining, and the band was in top form. The line up was officially Dead & Company, featuring Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann and John Mayer, with Oteil Burbridge (bass) and Jeff Chimenti (keyboards). The show lasted about 4 hr., including an hour break for the band. I’m used to 90-min. to 2-hr. shows, so this was an unexpected treat.

I must say that it was a delight to watch John Mayer play. I didn’t respect him much when he first came on the scene years ago with what I considered juvenile pop (“Your Body Is a Wonderland”, etc.), but when I saw a clip of him playing “Gravity”, I knew I was looking at a good guitar player. When I saw him play with the Dead at the Gorge, I knew I was looking at an artist. The man can play. He’s a clean soloist with smooth flow through the fretboard. He blended perfectly with the band, which displayed a seamless chemistry, transitioning with ease from song to song from the opening tune “Touch of Grey” to the encore “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”.

Honestly, I looked the other way when it came to the Dead when I was younger. I used to associate them with their fans, who, it seemed to me, did a lot of drugs and led aimless lives. But I did a 180 when my husband played me some Dead albums a few years ago, and it became clear that this was a band to be reckoned with when it came to songwriting prowess. They hit a chord that has always been deep within me, and within the American psyche, with their folk music that keeps alive the raw, strange, wild, and beautiful elements of a time gone by.

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Smoked Oyster, Bacon and Eggplant Pizza

smoked oyster bacon eggplant pizzaMaking pizza is a favorite of mine, and I really hit it out of the park with my latest pizza creation. I can’t explain how good this dish is; to taste would be to understand. Suffice it to say that I was blown away.

This dish relies on three processes: shaping and cooking the dough, making the main topping, and layering ingredients. It’s not a quick meal; it requires a lot of prep and concentration, but it’s well worth the effort.

Ingredients:

1 bag of pizza dough
marinara
1 medium eggplant, sliced into small cubes
1/3 large onion, sliced
3 bacon slices, chopped
1-1.5 cups shredded mozzarella
Parmesan to taste
2 Roma tomatoes, sliced
dried basil flakes
red pepper flakes
1 can smoked oysters in oil

Divide the dough in half and press the halves by hand into flat discs, place on baking trays, then refrigerate until they chill (about 30 min.). The chilling makes them easier to work with. When ready, remove from fridge and hand press or roll the dough flatter to make the base for the pie.

Meanwhile, cook the eggplant and onion on the stove top with a generous amount of olive oil until they soften (about 15-30 min.), stirring occasionally. When the mixture is cooked, stir in the bacon and finish off for another 3-5 min.

Preheat oven to 350 deg. F, then bake the dough for about 15 min. or so. You want the crust to be cooked before you put on the toppings to avoid a messy guessing game with cooking time.

When the dough is cooked, remove from oven,  add dollops of desired amount of marinara on the dough,  distribute the eggplant, onion and bacon topping evenly between the two pies, then layer the mozzarella and Parmesan on top. Garnish with tomato slices, sprinkle on basil and red pepper, then distribute the oysters on top of the pies, making sure to pour on the oil in which the oysters were packed. Bake until the cheese melts (about 10 min.).

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BNA Brewing and KRAFTY in Kelowna, BC

BNA Brewing

My snapshot of Kelowna in British Columbia’s wine country wouldn’t be complete without mentioning BNA Brewing, a brew pub downtown in a large, industrial-chic space with a view of the surrounding hills. Come around dinner time and you can gaze out on said hills bathed in a golden glow.

We ordered tasting flights, which comprised beers that tasted great on site–fresh, with a good zing from the carbonation–but when we took home a growler, we were disappointed in the flavor. Maybe the beer just doesn’t travel well.

The food was quite classy for a pub. I’d stay away from the pizza (it was mediocre) and go for the lovely spinach salad (photo above) and chicken parm (a very tender breaded chicken served on a bed of gnocchi with just the right chew).

KRAFTY Kelowna

For a more high-end foodie experience, you can try the popular KRAFTY kitchen + bar, a casual farm-to-table restaurant with hipster Edison lighting. It’s downtown, near the beachfront and across from a well-disguised strip club. To be honest, there are misses along with hits here. The bison tartare appetizer served with grilled sourdough bread was excellent (photo above). But our main dishes came much later after whetting our appetites. When my fried chicken came, it seemed an amateurish take for the high price, and my side salad had greens that were too basic (they were light green leaves without variety). The kombucha vinaigrette for the salad was a creative idea, but the flavor didn’t pop. The crispy pork belly that hubby ordered was a better choice; well executed with plenty of umami.

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BC Wine Country: Kelowna

Kelowna Camelot

Camelot Vineyards, Kelowna

We drove to Kelowna, BC for a long weekend recently and explored the town and its surroundings by hiking and visiting wineries. About a 5 hr. drive from Vancouver (longer if you take the more scenic route), the town is part of the Okanagan Valley, which is British Columbia’s wine country, a region encompassing several towns that partake in local winemaking. The landscape is lakeside mountainous desert, with patches of greenery in the hills. Surprisingly, Kelowna is densely suburban; full of strip malls, big box stores and fast food joints, which contrasts with the romantic nature of the local vineyards. There are big commercial ventures as well as small-batch, even organic wineries, and they typically have tasting rooms. The best wines are predominantly white and fruity; perfect summer drinks. Popular varietals include Gewurztraminer and Ehrenfelser.

Mission Hill

Mission Hill

The most well-known local winery is Mission Hill in neighboring West Kelowna, an artfully constructed property best described as monastery-chic with a Napa Valley vibe. We had dinner one night at the house restaurant overlooking the vineyard. The panoramic view turned out to impress more than the so-so food.

Vibrant Vine

The Vibrant Vine

Among the most charming wineries are the “FabFive”, a cluster of vineyards in the more romantic part of town in terms of landscape: verdant hills and wide open sky, with no hint of suburbia nearby. The Vibrant Vine is particularly funky, with trippy-hippie decor and a lovely yard out back of the tasting room with lounge chairs and a stage for live music.

I also really liked Off the Grid, an organic winery atop a hill in Westbank. We parked in front of the goats’ play pen and cooled off in the tasting room insulated naturally with straw. The wines were crisp and refreshing, and the lady at the counter was chatty and friendly.

For hiking, the Myra Canyon trestle trail is an excellent choice. It’s a short drive, right outside town, and rewards you with spectacular views of Kelowna, Okanagan Lake and the steep-walled canyon where a railway used to run. The trail is flat and goes for 12 km one way. Bike rentals are on site. We hiked for about 6 km, stopped for a picnic lunch overlooking the canyon, then doubled back, always enjoying the view.

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