Thursday, August 18, 2016

Tofino, Vancouver Island. Yes.

Note: We're prepping for a road trip to the East Coast, so I better get this post out before new adventures eclipse our recent visit to Vancouver Island, which was agreeable on many levels.

Ok, so Tofino is touristy. But we are tourists.....and sometimes it's good to enjoy briny air, whales, eagles, beautiful beaches--some with wave-crazed surfers--great food and bike paths, even if others are in close proximity. Many others. 

Dramatic clouds formed as we searched for whales on a tour with only about 30 people. It wasn't a crowded situation. Especially regarding  whales, unfortunately, but we did glimpse a few.
A humpback whale surfaced not far from our whale-watching craft.  But the only way I could see it was by
checking my telephoto shots after the fact. I had no idea I'd actually caught an image. Nice surprise! Mediocre shot!
We arrived in Tofino in our little Roadtrek van in mid-July, prime tourist time. We'd been clued in to Tofino's assets, but I was surprised and delighted by how close those assets are. The ocean is close, the islands are close, the eagles, the restaurants, the temperate rainforests, the hikes, all minutes away, squeezed into the tip of a tiny peninsula.
Case in point. Our campground. We are several tiers back. The towering cedars and firs ease the cheek-to-jowl situation. We got the last site available. Sorta common for us, it seems.

Paul doesn't much care for cheek-to-jowl camping. On this night we could hear the guy next door sawing logs big time in his pop-up trailer. And on the other side, an Airstream with a baby crying. Still, it was a beautiful setting, perfect weather, and we could hear the ocean and the birds.

A favorite image from Tofino, a bald eagle being pursued by seagulls after the eagle attempted to plunder seagull nests. Eagles are scavengers and predators not unlike other birds of prey. Only USA citizens have assigned them a higher calling. 
Tofino's harbor with at least five islands visible.You could swim over for a visit.
Trendy Tofino, just outside the wonderful Wolf in the Fog restaurant, which Tripadvisor ranks as only the fifth most
popular in Tofino out of 36.. Number one? Chocolate Tofino. Ice cream.

Paul, a guy who doesn't like clams, oysters, shrimp etc,  surprised me by ordering this lunch from Wolf in the Fog's menu:cod cheeks and clams!!!! We shared a seaweed and shiitake salad.

The well-stocked bar at Wolf in the Fog bar. We chose this restaurant the best possible way; riding our bikes to town from our campground, I stopped to ask a dog-walking local his recommendation.

Big fat jellyfish doing a raw egg imitation in Tofino's harbor
Big guy seal with attitude oversees a bored harem, seen from the whale-sighting cruise, which lasted about 3 hours.
We didn't get to this restaurant, but you can't argue with the location. 

Tofino appears to be an active fishing port. 
Tofino is a small lively community, even when bloated with tourists, and campers need to make reservations or take a chance with winging it. We didn't exactly wing it, but got a reservation a few days in advance at an RV park.

We inquired too late to get into the Grass Point National Park campground not far out of town, and instead settled for a private campground that crammed 181 sites into prime beachfront property. Numerous spaces are on the beach, or have ocean views, but that was not the case with us, parked several tiers back, not far from one of the THREE restrooms serving the entire park.  Canadians call them "washrooms". If you ask for a restroom, they think maybe you're looking for a quiet place to nap.

 The one closest to us had two working toilets (out of three) and the one and only shower was out of order. And the cleaning crew was apparently on vacation. This is why boondocking - camping in free but legal places - is a growing phenomenon. We paid $40+ for this? But I quibble. We did have electricity, which we don't really need, and access to a great beach during beautiful weather.  On to the good stuff.

A bike path runs several miles paralleling the main road, and was accessible from our campground. We've hauled our bikes on too many trips where we didn't ride them enough to warrant the trouble. On Vancouver Island the bikes saw a lot of action.

Ahhh, a bike path! Just under 4 miles long, it allows visitors and residents to get around without driving.

Eagle portrait captured in the Tofino harbor as we departed on a 
whale watching tour. Guides said that 140 nesting pairs make 
their home around Tofino. It was a joy to see a few.

We didn't spend enough time in the Tofino/Ucluelet area. Ucluelet is small town about 20 miles from Tofino, which we drove through to reach the Wild Pacific Trail, a terrific way to spend a late afternoon taking in the coastal drama.

 The drive to this peninsula is also noteworthy.  Hwy. 4 passes the MacMillan Cathedral Grove, which somehow rivals a redwood forest, and includes a twisting narrow section through dramatic peaks and valleys with grades of 11 percent to 18 percent. Needless to say, but I will anyway, do not ride your bike to Tofino!
Part of the lush understory of the MacMillan Cathedral Grove.
Yet another opportunity for awe. Or ahhh. En route to Tofino.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Should I stay or should I go? Go, of course.

This proud sunflower came up all by itself this year. About a third of our sunflowers are, like this one, volunteers.
We're about to leave for six or seven weeks on a road trip to the east coast, including Canada's eastern provinces. After we pass Minnesota to visit family, it'll be mostly new territory, especially when we enter Canada after Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Then dip down into New Jersey to see PK's family. Excited!

On the other hand....August is pay-off time for garden work that began in early spring. This morning I harvested a dozen cantaloupes, pulled a row of onions to begin a quick "cure" in the full sun before storage, poked through the tomatoes to find the ripe ones, and snipped the glossiest eggplants and the most perfect zucchinis. The harvest box was so heavy I had to unload some on the garden's edge for a return trip. Definitely a first-world "problem."
Part of this morning's harvest included a dozen ripe melons and a massive spaghetti squash.
I try not to take for granted the bounty and beauty and my good fortune. Thank you, universe. But having a wonderful home and garden isn't our only fortune, but also the ability to travel and leave behind the few green acres in which we are rooted and where we've grown and learned and raised our sons and made a home we're not ready to give up. I wonder when that day will come, as it must. As it will.

For now, we'll indulge our shared delight in travel and enjoy the best of both worlds, home in the garden and at home in the world. I think we'll do this as long as we're able and our strongest tethers aren't to the land or to wanderlust but to each other.
Later we feasted on smoked grilled veggies marinated in sesame dressing, and succulent sweet melon with fresh basil. The barbecue chicken was a bonus. 
The joy of gardening isn't just about the harvest, it's about the process and the beauty. It's about awakening with the birds and bees and butterflies. They drink the nectar, gather the pollen, and ravage (finches!) the chard and kale and sunflower leaves. The morning light about kills me. Ditto the evening light.

It's about the intoxicating fragrance of roses and the sweet smell of crushed mint that's grown into what passes for a lawn. This morning,  a few days before our departure I ventured out to work, to harvest, to enjoy, and to assess my brain and heart about leaving at the peak of harvest.

Bottom line. I'm good with it. The garden's inevitable decline has started. The next five days are predicted to be 100-plus. I hate extreme  heat, and the garden hates it more. Leaves will curl, peppers and tomatoes without shading leaves will shrivel with sunburn, and the sunflowers will hasten to seed, much to the delight of numerous bird species.

We've hired a trusted person to harvest and give away the remaining melons and other stuff; and to harvest and freeze tomatoes from 11 plants, down from 17 plants last year! It'll all be good. It's been a process, but I know we'll drive away in a few days without looking back. If I get too lonesome, I'll just look at these pictures.
One of hundreds of bees gathering sunflower pollen. Later, when seeds form, birds will move in to harvest the seeds.
 We're going to miss that part of the annual garden wildlife show. 

We have a great eggplant crop on four plants this year. We'll be giving most of them away, but I did manage to make
some ratatouille and mix eggplant into the grilling/smoking routine.
Newly emerged sunflowers, backlit. 
Walla Walla and tropia onions curing in the sun. Tomorrow we'll need to pull the "keeper" onions to let them cure a day before we put them all on screens in the garage to dry. 

Serrano peppers ripening. Peppers of all types will remain on the plants to ripen until we return.The riper they get, the better they are, in my opinion. These will be deeply red and HOT. PK will make his famous serrano sauce.

PK checking the automatic watering system, making sure crops that still need water will get it  in our absence. 

Evening light shines through the canna lily part of the day.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Headed for Victoria, VI? Bring bikes!

Our July 2016 trip to British Columbia's Vancouver Island exceeded expectations. My preconceived notions about Canadians (snooty) and the city of Victoria (congested, commercial and difficult to navigate) were wrong, wrong, wrong. I had also underestimated the beauty and allure of other places we visited on the Island. 

Photo taken from the Royal British Columbia Museum overlooking Victoria's Inner Harbor. Lined with historic buildings, shops, restaurants, vendors, and buskers on wide pedestrian-and-bike-friendly streets, the harbor is the heart of the city. The museum's First Nation exhibits alone are worth the price of admission, which is CA $24 for adults, $17, seniors and youth six and older. The exchange rate was favorable to US citizens, so those, and all other Canadian prices, translated  roughly into a 25 percent discount.
Victoria, British Columbia's capital, adorns the southern tip of Vancouver Island. It's a spirited city full of history and beauty, water and flowers, boats and .....bicycles! Known as the Cycling Capital of Canada, the city is a wonder of interconnecting bike paths, bike lanes, and, most astonishingly,  bicycle-friendly drivers!
The Galloping Goose is a 34-mile rails-to-trail, part of an
impressive network of cyling/walking trails that make the Victoria region
a boon to bicycle commuters and also a cycling destination.

Paul on an unpaved stretch of the Galloping Goose trail. The packed gravel surface
worked fine with our skinny-tire road bikes.
By "bicycle-friendly" I mean if you're standing with your bike on a traffic island awaiting a green light, drivers will STOP and let you go, even with a long line of traffic behind. They will give you lots of space in your bike lane and, in the rare event a bike lane doesn't exist, they'll hold back to allow you to slip into your rightful place in the traffic lane. We experienced and saw these behaviors numerous times.

Our first night on Vancouver Island we scored (advance reservation) a site at the Westbay Marine Village and RV Park. This park has 61 sites and is smack in the middle of the harbor area. Except for its location, it's nothing special. It cost $42.50 a night, not including wifi or showers. But the great location allows campers to walk, bike, or catch a water taxi to outstanding restaurants and tourist sites. We couldn't get reservations at Westbay for our return trip.
The view from the water's edge of the Westbay Marine Village. That big ship is a ferry. The harbor is abuzz all day with private boats, water taxis, seaplanes, tour boats and so on. Surprisingly, the park was quiet at night. 
I admit, I was leery about biking in Victoria. I am not at all keen about biking in cities, let alone large unfamiliar ones. PK, however, was game the afternoon we arrived. I prevailed, as it was late in the day, and even he agreed we'd be better off starting a bike adventure in the morning. Instead we took a harbor ferry/taxi across the bay into the historic downtown, had a great dinner and walked back on a waterfront trail skirting the harbor, discussing our cycling plans.
This is what we saw the next  morning. No cycling. Boo hiss!

 Even the campground's waterfront sites couldn't escape gloom. Fortunately,
this was the wettest of our 11 days on the island. 
The harbor ferry stops next to the Marine Village and takes passengers
across to the Fisherman's Wharf. From there, you can take a series of walkways,
including a paved walking path skirting the harbor, back to the RV Park.
Without dawdling, it can be navigated  in about an hour. But why hurry?

Classy houseboats (marine homes) are part of the Westbay Marine Village . A sign asks visitors to respect occupants' privacy. It also says residents live here year-round and explains, because they know you were wondering, that all houseboats are hooked into the city's sewer system. Note the floating flower garden.

Sailboat moorage is next to the colorful houseboats and part of the Marine Village.. 
Glimpse of Inner Harbor action from the water taxi—a sea plane roaring in behind a whale watching craft.

On our return trip we stayed two nights in the Fort Victoria RV Park. It has 742 sites and we got the last available space reserving two days in advance. (We couldn't get into the Marina  again.) We stayed two nights and had a TERRIBLE site under big power lines and towers the first night, but were able to move the next night. 

The worst (but most high-powered) campsite ever! But Fort Victoria RV Park in Victoria had benefits. Chief among them, its proximity to a bike path connecting with the 34-mile Galloping Goose Trail. It also had strong wifi, a rarity, and the cleanest most commodious bathroom/shower facility I've ever seen in an RV park. $40 a night. 
If it wasn't for reconnecting, via Facebook, with a dear friend from my distant past, we probably  wouldn't have visited Vancouver Island.

Lesson learned - The Island is way too good to spend just a few measly days, as we did. We're already sketching out a return trip that includes more time in and around Victoria, a lot more bicycling, Vancouver Island Music Festival, and a return visit to Tofino and Ucuelet. Not to mention places we didn't get to. I'd say 3 weeks might be enough. (Posts about the music festival and Tofino are in draft.) 

More photos, and a link to our Butchart Gardens visit.

Especially fetching hanging baskets enliven Victoria's Inner Harbor area.

Typical Victoria street scene. Food and drink, art and music, 
A Victorian-looking bank on a Victoria street.
One image from the Royal British Columbia Museum's First Nations exhibits. Outstanding. 
 Other posts from this trip:

Butchart Gardens 
Hoh Rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula, The Hoh, the Hikes and the Bike Scum

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Blackberry-chipotle jelly with less sugar and without commercial pectin

I'm taking a quick break from writing about our recent travels on Vancouver Island because I've been derailed by a yen for blackberry-chipotle jelly. Never actually tasted it before, but the combination intrigued me. Chipotle flavors everything from chips to barbecue sauce to donuts. ... will ice cream be next? Probably not, but blackberry jelly is a good candidate.

Being a low-carb believer, I haven't made jams or jellies for years. Way too much sugar is required, and I don't care for the taste of preserves made with fake sugar. This year, with yet another ton of blackberries ripening on the edible "fence" that forms a boundary on our rural property, I decided to give low-sugar jelly another try. Jam isn't an option for blackberries, at least not for me, because of all the big seeds. Gotta strain those babies out, and jelly is the result.
I was pleased that the final product is spreadable, tasty, richly colored, and not cloyingly sweet. With chipotle cubes added, it has a bit of a bite, but nothing hot hot hot. The Mary's crackers have nothing to do with me, but are super good low-carb fare, about one carb each. A cracker topped with a little cream cheese and a dab of  blackberry/chipotle jelly, yum!
Before I go on, I must give credit where it's due. I searched online for reduced sugar preserves and the first thing that popped up was the useful and well-written blog, Mother's Kitchen. I adapted the strawberry jam recipe on the Mother's Kitchen link to make blackberry jelly.  My adapted recipe follows.

The author, in turn, credits the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving with providing direction for making preserves without commercial pectin. It is awesome! I could not believe that the blackberry/chipotle jelly wouldn't taste like apples, but it doesn't.

Mother's Kitchen also included this bit about commercial pectin that motivated me to NOT use it, especially not the low-sugar type. She writes:
I got interested in making jams and jellies without using commercially prepared pectin for a number of reasons. First of all, I am thrifty and it can cost well over $2 per box. Secondly, I just wanted something a little more natural. A pectin factory receives apple residue or citrus peels from juice factories. It's mixed with acid to get all the pectin out of the sludge. The solids are separated and then alcohol is added to precipitate the pectin out of solution. Ammonia is added to some kinds to make it work without added sugar normally needed (those expensive brands of pectin that allow you to make jams and jellies without adding sugar), and then it's mixed with dextrose or sugar to stabilize it. The good news is you can make all the pectin you need with apples and lemons. Mother's Kitchen blog

Here's how to use up eight cups of fresh blackberries to make seven or eight half-pint jars of jelly. Be warned—this is more time consuming than mixing fruit with a ton of sugar and a box of pectin.

Blackberry/Chipotle Jelly

8 cups blackberries
5 cups sugar   (I reduced the font for sugar because it still seems like a lot. But it is far less than if  made with boxed pectin.) I used a half cup less than the amount recommended.
5 tart apples. I used Granny Smiths and they were supermarket-large
1 entire lemon
2 -3 chipotle cubes* optional - using them or not does not affect ingredient quantities

* In the unlikely event you have your own smoked jalapeƱo peppers, from which you have made chipotle cubes, you'll understand what I mean by chipotle cubes
If not, and you want a little chipotle flavor, buy a can of chipotles in adobo sauce, chop them finely, juice and all, and add to the blackberries to taste. Use an ice cube tray to freeze what remains.

Here's my 2009 post that explains chipotle cubes. It's entitled Chipotle, Southern Oregon Style, and is kinda fun, if I do say so myself. 

Dump the berries into a large shallow container, add the sugar, and mash and mix. Add chipotle if using. Set aside, and start working on the apples and lemon.

Pull off those annoying supermarket stickers, trim the blossom ends and the stems from the apples, cut into quarters--seeds, skin and all-- and roughly chop them in a food processor. No food processor?Use a large sharp knife and a cutting board.

Cut the lemon into quarters and roughly chop, including peel and seeds. Mix the apples and lemon in a soup pot, something large enough to contain the big fruit froth that's coming soon.

Just barely cover the apples and lemon with water, enough to prevent sticking but without drowning. I used too much water and boiled the mix a long time, more than the 20 minutes recommended by Mother's Kitchen. When the apples and lemon are softened, and not too watery, run them through a food mill. In the absence of a food mill, force through a fine sieve with the back of a spoon, enough to make two cups of puree. (I think I had a bit more than two cups, but it didn't matter.)A jelly bag may also be used.

I was skeptical about how this was going to work. I was pretty sure I'd end up with purple-colored apple jelly. It seemed like way too many apples. And a whole lemon? But I followed the directions.

While the apple/lemon mix is boiling, purge seeds from the blackberries with a food mill, a jelly bag, or the fine sieve/large spoon method. This is a pain in the keister, but you'll end up with a gloriously dark purple slurry. Mix it with the apple puree in a large pot. Mother's Kitchen recommends boiling for 20 minutes and then testing to determine whether the mix will be jelly or sauce.

I totally winged it, testing every few minutes (after the 20 had passed) and guessed how it should look and feel. Somehow, it turned out perfect. I dipped a spoon into the bubbling pot, let a bit pool in the spoon and swirled it around for a minute or so. When it appeared to form a sheet, I declared it done and proceeded with canning.

Later I discovered there is a scientific method; use a thermometer to take the mixture's temperature. (Not the kind you take your own temperature with, of course, but a candy or jelly thermometer. ) When the mixture is 8 degrees above the boiling point of water (212) at sea level, it has reached the gel point. 212 + 8 = 220.
We're at 1,000 ft. above sea level, so next time, I'll go with 218 degrees and take the guess work out of it. If you're at 2,000 feet elevation, boil to 216 degrees and so on.

Without a thermometer, you can do the spoon or sheet test as described by the University of Georgia's extension service

Spoon or Sheet Test: Dip a cool metal spoon in the boiling jelly mixture. Lift the spoon above the kettle out of the steam. Turn the spoon so syrup runs off the side. If the syrup forms two drops that ow together and fall off the spoon as one sheet, the jelly should be done.

Temperature Test: Take the temperature of the cooking jelly with a candy or jelly thermometer. When done, the temperature of the jelly at sea level should be 220°F, or 8°F above the boiling point of water. (Note – For each 1000 feet of altitude above sea level, subtract 2°F. For instance, at 1000 feet of altitude, the jelly is done at 218°F; at 2000 feet, 216°F, etc. For an accurate thermometer reading, place the thermometer in a vertical position and read at eye level. The bulb of the thermometer must be completely covered with jelly but must not touch the bottom of the saucepot. (Remember to rst test the accuracy of the thermometer by making sure it registers 212°F, or the boiling temperature for your altitude, when placed in boiling water.)

When the gel point has been reached, quickly pour jelly-to-be into hot clean jars, apply lids and screw bands, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. If you're unsure about canning, this link includes detailed directions.

Eight cups of berries with a frozen chipotle cube.
Later, I added a second cube. Next time, 3 cubes!

Five cups of sugar added to berries. Mix, mash and allow juices to
drain while preparing apples/lemon mix.
Berries, chopped lemon, and chopped apples. Time
to start boiling the apples/lemon and strain the berries.
Blackberries, apples and lemon boiling away. Time to take its temperature or do the spoon or sheet test for doneness.

In case I need to make more, blackberries  aplenty are bursting forth about 100 steps away.