Tuesday, October 1, 2013


We hear a lot these days about the healthful benefits of a Mediterranean diet.  What we don't hear often enough is how delicious it is!  Mediterranean cuisine, loosely defined, is the food of the people residing in close proximity to the Mediterranean sea.  Although this area of the globe is home to a wide variety of cultures and ethnicities, the historical connections make for a number of common elements in the foods.

Whether you are looking to get more creative in the kitchen or if you are already familiar with Mediterranean fare, you must make a visit to Blair Mart.  Behind this unassuming storefront on Pandora Avenue, you'll find a treasure trove of exotic spices and Mediterranean delicacies.  On a recent trip to this delightful shop I scored pomegranate molasses and orange flower water (the latter is lovely sprinkled over sliced fruit or infused in a cocktail), preserved lemons, spicy harissa paste (excellent brushed on grilled meat or fish), and a bottle aged balsamic vinegar.   The owner is delightful.  He made several suggestions for the use of preserved lemons.  For example, dice up the rinds and sprinkle on top of a halibut filet or chicken breast, add them to a salad, cous cous or rice pilaf.  Use the lemony brine to jazz up your salad dressing.  Preserved lemons add a mellow citrusy kick to your dishes without the accompanying bitterness of lemon pith.

At Blair Mart, you'll also find premium olive oils,  Halloumi and sheep's feta, okra and broad beans, fat pearls of Israeli cous cous, lentils, flat breads, hard to find spices (such as saffron and sumac), juicy olives, and pistachios.  Behind the deli counter are delectable looking shwarmas, samosas, spanakopitas, hummous and more.  Sweet tooths should try the Turkish nougat.  If what to buy flummoxes you, ask the owner for suggestions.  He is supremely helpful and his enthusiasm is infectious.  Ingredients you may have thought of as too exotic will become indispensible in your kitchen.  Don't be afraid to branch out.  You'll be glad you did!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


I recently participated in an inspiring and mouth watering Thai cooking class at Cook Culture. The instructor was local chef Heidi Fink. Buoyed up by what I learned in the class, and impressed with Heidi's teaching style, I decided to accompany her on one of her culinary tours of Chinatown. 

I have always been smitten with Victoria's tiny but vibrant Chinatown. Heidi's culinary tours are a veritable gold mine for anyone who loves Asian style cooking but finds the array of unfamiliar ingredients on display a little daunting.  Heidi will demystify everything with her warm accessible teaching style.  During the tour, I learned about Asian produce and how to prepare it, the differences between rice, egg and bean thread noodles, where to find the best quality condiments, sauces, rice, and curry paste and much more.  We sampled unique bakery items and some succulent roast duck and bbq pork.  I had been trying for ages to find galangal to no avail and Heidi showed me the light (hint: it is on Government street) The tour concluded with a tea tasting at Silk Roads.  We were given a comprehensive handout full of pertinent information and some mouth-watering recipes to try.  

I strongly recommend Heidi's tour for anyone interested in expanding their home cooking repertoire and knowledge.  I will most definitely be trying my new recipes as soon as I am able.  I can now shop in Victoria's Chinatown with confidence and enthusiasm.  Thanks Heidi!

For more information, check out Heidi's web page:


Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Brentwood Bay Pub has ambiance to spare.  Floor to ceiling windows flood the room with light.   Whether you choose to sit indoors by the cozy fireplace or out on the heated patio (complete with outdoor fire pit!) you'll have a commanding view of the marina.   This pub offers friendly service and one of the best ocean views on the island.

I must profess I haven't sampled much from Brentwood Bay Pub's menu but I simply had to give a shout out to their superb seafood chowder.  Steve and I have sampled it on two occasions.  At first we balked at the price ($13 for a bowl seemed eye wateringly expensive) but we had a craving so we gave in.  We were glad we did.   We were each served a veritable tureen of smoky creamy broth brimming with chunks of salmon, halibut, ling cod and clams and topped with a garlicky crouton.  Steve orders chowder nearly everywhere he goes and he gave this a big thumbs up.  It is the best we have tried.  This chowder is sublimely smoky and sweet and the creamy rich broth sated our appetite for hours.

While the chowder may be on the pricey side, beer is very reasonable. A pint of craft beer is $4.50. A glass of wine is $4.00.  Brentwood Bay pub also serves up gourmet woodfire baked pizzas, steaks, salads, and burgers.  Given that restaurants face tremendous challenges to meet their costs and retain any profit I am not going to begrudge them here.  The relaxed atmosphere and excellent service go a long way to placating any wallet angst.  

I would suggest for a double bill you head to Oldfield Farm (see previous post) and cap off your afternoon with a cold beer at Brentwood Bay pub.   I can't think of a more rewarding way to spend a lazy weekend afternoon!

Brentwood Pub on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Oldfield Orchard Bakery is located in picturesque Saanichton.   It is well worth the drive.  If you do venture out you'll enjoy some of Vancouver Island's most idyllic scenery as you meander along.  Once you reach your destination you'll be glad you made the trip. 

This Bakery, located in the farming community of Saanichton, makes superb fruit pies using their own produce.  And that's not all. Check out their beautiful vegetables and fruit, homemade jams and jellies, soups, tortiere, savoury pies such as chicken or steak and vegetable, golden yoked free range eggs, hanging baskets and more.  On your way out the door don't forget to visit the donkeys and goats in the petting zoo.

Whenever we go to Oldfield Farm we invariably load up on more than what we originally intended to buy yet we never seem to regret it. We discovered Oldfield's pies by accident.  Steve and I purchased a pie at the Saanich Fair last year. It was so delicious we took note of its origins.   From then on we never think to go anywhere else whenever we are craving pie.  Their pastry is outstanding, flaky and light and the fruit has just the right balance of tart and sweet.  Oldfield also makes superb cinnamon buns and if you are lucky you might get one that is still gooey and warm.  Charmingly, Oldfield is unstaffed in the wintertime but they leave their stand open.  You can purchase baked goods from the freezer and leave your money in a jar.  They use the honour system!  I was truly touched that this vestige of rural life remains and it is nice to still be able to enjoy their bounty year round.  

If you are looking for a fun excursion on the island I highly recommend visiting this pretty and friendly farm.   Afterwards head to Brentwood Bay Pub for a bowl of seafood chowder (see separate blog post).  You'll return home both renewed and relaxed!

Monday, October 8, 2012



Anyone who has known me for any length of time knows of my affinity for anything dumpling related.   I originally stumbled upon the friendly folks at Hungry Rooster Food Truck at Rifflandia Music Festival.  A generous sized plate of their pillowy cheese and potato perogies sustained me through many hours of concert going.

Recently I was craving some stick to your ribs fall food. To my delight I found that Hungry Rooster routinely park their truck downtown, just steps away from the public library. If you head there (and you should!) try the "Mexicanca" a plate of perogies topped with aged cheddar, lime chipotle aioli, salsa and sour cream.  Alternately, you could opt for the "Polka", served with the traditional accompaniment of bacon, caramelized onion and sour cream.  Hungry Rooster also sell steaming bowls of homemade borscht.  If you are in a carnivorous mood order a smokie topped with onion and sauerkraut and served on a fluffy Portofino bun. All the combo plates are served with an addictive Asian cabbage salad that would convert the most fervent coleslaw hater.  The crunchy slaw adds wonderful textural contrast and lightness.  Hungry Rooster uses quality ingredients and prices are very reasonable. 

Food trucks are a welcome addition to the Victoria food scene and I hope they won't go away any time soon.  Reward yourself for returning your library books with a plate of  cheesy potato goodness.

 a, lime  & chipotle aioli, sour cream, fresh cabbage sl

6  perogies, aged cheddar, tuck made salsa, lime  & chipotle aioli, sour cream, fresh cabbage slaw, cilant6  perogies, aged cheddar, tuck made salsa, lime  & chipotl, fresh cabbage slaw, cilan6  perogies, aged cheddar, tuck made salsa, lime  & chipotle aiolih cabbage slaw, cilantr

Hungry Rooster on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


Greenleaf Bistro is a cheerful little eatery located across from the old Bay department store on Douglas Street.  It is one of three terrific restaurants lined neatly in a row in a part of town that is otherwise a wasteland of fast food joints and crummy chain stores.

Here you can sit down in front of a sun drenched window and sip tea while you peruse the extensive menu.  Appetizers such as salad rolls with pork and shrimp and deep fried crispy tofu tempted me. Alas, as I was on my own, I could only try one dish at a time!  I ordered vermicelli with lemongrass chicken and onions.  What arrived shortly after was a pile of tender crisp vegetables and juicy chicken on a mound of gossamer thin rice noodles. At only $10.25 for a huge plate this is a remarkable bargain.  If you like, jazz up your noodles with the condiments at hand. Add a dollop of licorice sweet hoisin sauce. If you like it spicy, try a drizzle of chili oil.  This is part of the fun of eating Vietnamese; you can doctor your plate to your particular liking.

On a separate visit to Greenleaf I tried tofu with crispy noodles.  Once again my lunch arrived promptly. Greenleaf really respects vegetables.  They always serve them at the peak of freshness.  The tofu was puffed and golden.  My only quibble about this dish is that the crispy noodles are hard to eat.   No matter, it was still very tasty once managed to fork the crunchy shards in to my gaping maw.

FYI: the Vietnamese consider plunking a bill down on your table to be rude.  They don't want you to feel rushed.  So, when you are ready to pay, go directly to the till and they will ring in your purchase.  Greenleaf is a great place to bring your vegetarian friends, as the meatless menu is extensive.  Omnivores don't fret; there is lots for you too including meatball pho, ginger chicken, lemongrass shrimp or crispy skinned barbeque quail.  

I think this little row of unassuming restaurants is an exciting addition to the otherwise ho hum Douglas Street.  Why go to Burger King when you can get delicious food quickly and inexpensively?  Give Greenleaf Bistro a try and you'll see why this restaurant has a bevy of loyal customers.

Monday, October 1, 2012


Logans is a neighborhood watering hole located  a hop, skip and jump from downtown. It may seem unassuming on first glance but within these walls beats the heart and soul of the local independent music scene.   Some would say the space is  too lived in.  For me this utter lack of pretension is precisely what makes Logans the perfect hang out.

If you are feeling blue on a rainy Sunday afternoon head down to the Hootenanny.  Cozy up in one of the vinyl booths and nurse a cold one as a bevy of seasoned performers grace the stage.  If you are lucky, local songstress Carolyn Mark will be hosting and she’ll play a handful of hauntingly beautiful melodies.  Fridays and Saturdays are the usual performance nights but other evenings frequently feature live acts.  Check the website (loganspub.com) or grab a copy of Monday Magazine to peruse the line up.  Drinks are affordable and there is a full pub menu available if you get peckish.

Logans is the perfect place to imbibe, unwind and relax.  Head on down there and see for yourself!  You may discover your new favourite band and you are sure to have a good time.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012



The neighborhood of Oak Bay is viewed with disdain by many Victoria locals.  It is derided as stuffy, old and boring.  I beg to differ.  Of late, Oak Bay Avenue has become increasingly fun and, gasp, dare I say it, downright funky!  This I attribute to Ottavio's.  Ottavio's, in business for over a decade, is the establishment that began the "tweed curtain's" transformation from haute to hip.  Other local businesses followed suit.  Oak Bay Avenue, once the home of fusty matronly consignment stores and uninspired tea shops is now chock full of bakeries, delis, retail clothing stores, unique gift stores, cafes, even a pub!

Ottavio is a combination bakery, deli, gourmet grocery, and licensed cafe.  In the cafe you can enjoy an affordable and tasty lunch.  Paninis are made with cheese and charcuterie from the amply stocked deli.  There are also salads, soups and a tempting array of mixed plate specials to choose from. Espresso is brewed manually (yes, there IS a difference!). Ottavio’s crafts their own gelato using organic milk and local fruit.  If you have never tried gelato before you are in for a treat.  The texture is silkier than ice cream and the flavour very grown up.

If you are more in a mood to eat in, browse the vast deli section for Galloping Goose sausage, herbes de Provence, homemade pesto and demi-glace, pasta, gnocchi, lasagne (made in house) and much much more.  There are over 240 varieties of handcrafted artisanal cheeses in the deli case.  Breads are hand rolled and made with only flour, water, yeast and salt.  

Ottavio has a vast selection of quality olive oils for sale and they occasionally host tastings.  Ask the friendly and knowledgeable staff for assistance.  Ottavio is a great starting point for a wander down Oak Bay Avenue.  Check out the new delis, clothing stores, bistros and cafes.  See for yourself that change can be good!

Ottavio Italian Bakery, Delicatessen & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 21, 2012


As much as I enjoy dining out I love home cooking with equal fervor.  Autumn conjures up images of cozy afternoons and delicious aromas emanating from oven or stove top.  As the leaves turn and the air cools I look to cookbooks for inspiration and comfort.

I would be remiss not to mention Victoria chef Mary Patterson's "Special Cookbook" which is chock full of drool worthy recipes.  The book contains sumptuous reproductions of still life paintings by artist Shawn Shepherd making it a feast for both eyes and soul.  Mary has deftly categorized the cookbook by ingredient, showcasing and transforming each into something marvelous.  My mouth waters over recipes such as golden cream and apple tart, carrots and lentils with smoked bacon, beet and tangerine salad, bbq duck and sweet chili pizza, pan roasted chicken with avocado and papaya and many more.

This book is the very definition of creative soul food.  If you are  an armchair cook you'll enjoy the clever anecodotes about each featured ingredient i.e. find out why Welsh soldiers carried leeks in their helmets or learn about the unique communication style of herring (hint: acronym FRT). 

We are very fortunate to have a bevy of talented cooks and chefs residing on Vancouver Island.  Special Cookbook gives you a chance to replicate some of the bounty at home.  Mary's recipes are meticulously laid out and easy to follow.  This book will appeal to both seasoned home cooks and kitchen novices alike.  

Special Cookbook is available at The Market on Yates and Polychrome Fine Arts.  This is an irresistible cookbook you will turn to again and again.  It would make a splendid gift for any enthusiastic home cook.


Friday, July 20, 2012


Sophie's Cosmic Cafe on Urbanspoon
Sophie's Cosmic Cafe is an institution in Kitsilano.  Just look for the giant chrome cutlery on either side of the front door and you'll know you have arrived.  Inside, Sophie's emulates the style of a retro diner with a long counter top and shiny red vinyl booths. All kinds of fabulous knick-knacks and art adorn the walls. Check out Englebert Humperdinck album covers, mini statuettes of Pee Wee Herman and Charlie's Angel's lunch boxes to name a few.

All the nifty eye candy would be for naught if the food weren't up to snuff.  Sophie's was recently awarded the Golden Plate from the Georgia Straight for "best restaurant to cure a hangover". If you need to soothe YOUR savage beast try chowing down on eggs benedict dolloped with lemony hollandaise (served with fresh fruit or rosemary potatoes) or order up some good old bacon and eggs.  If a sweet brunch is more your cup of tea, ask for a stack of Sophie's impossibly fluffy buttermilk pancakes or try the Belgian waffles with whip cream and fresh berries. Portions are ample and the quality is exemplary.  Wash everything down with copious amounts of trucker style drip coffee or order a Viet coffee with condensed milk for a sweet treat.

If you are jonesing for lunch rather than brunch, Sophie's offers a tempting array of burgers, sandwiches, soups and salads.  Try a milkshake (they are huge) or share a piece of the pyramid shaped apple pie.  You can always work off the calories with a vigorous walk at nearby Kitsilano beach.

Service at Sophie's is consistently attentive, fast and friendly.  Line-ups are long on weekends but tables turn over quickly.  If you head to Vancouver, be sure to visit this iconic and fun eatery. You certainly won't leave hungry and you'll probably be very happy!