Port Renfrew, Vancouver Island

When I feel the need to flee the city, unplug, relax, be immersed in the wild and just let myself breathe, there is no better place to travel to than Port Renfrew.

A sweet little hamlet of a little over 200 people surrounded by the rugged beauty of Vancouver Island’s west coast, this part of the world is a pretty magical place. Let me show you a few reasons why:

Beaches with hidden caves and crashing waves..

The magic of old growth forests..

Sweet BC sunsets..

And places to swim..

Who could ask for a better place to recharge your batteries?

Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us. — Maya Angelou

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Hiking Adventures 

A friend and I were trekking along a trail on Cypress Mountain yesterday and all of a sudden a blur of shiny black fur lept across the trail, about 25 feet away. “Is that a huge German Shepherd? Where are his owners?” I thought. Then I saw s cute, little, round beach ball of a baby black bear scurrying behind. My brain took a quick second to compute. Bears!!!

My friend and I looked at each other, then hung on to each other, then slowly backed up and finally turned and “calmly” walked away, with our hearts pounding almost out of our chests. We did not want to threaten Mama Bear in any way, shape or form.

Eventually mama and her baby went deep into the forest and we guardedly continued up the mountain. 15 minutes or so later we heard a splashing sound and peeked through the branches to see another big black bear hanging out in a stream.  I didn’t stick around to get any photos but this was turning into a bear~y exciting, adrenaline rush of a hike.

I don’t have a lot of one on one experience with bears (we used to drive to the dump when I was growing up in Ontario to watch black bears go through the garbage and I saw a grizzly in Alberta but I was safely locked in my friend’s vehicle) but I remembered a hiker telling me about his close encounter with a grizzly in Alberta and how, after that solo experience, he would only go hiking in groups of six or more as bears won’t bother that many people grouped together. I don’t know if this is true but I believed him and when I spotted a family hiking on the trail just ahead of us. I called to them and we formed a bear-proof pack (there were 6 of us including my dog) and hiked safely together up to the view point and back.

There were no more bear sightings that day. Maybe our little group scared them off or maybe the bears had better things to do deeper in the forest. Either way, we had an awesome day in nature, made a few new hiking  friends and walked off the mountain with a good story to tell.

Snowshoeing Adventures

Squamish, BC is less than an hour from Vancouver but, in many ways, it’s a world away. At first glance you’ll see a typical Canadian small town with strip malls, fast food joints and a bustling Tim Horton’s. But then you look up and see the stunning mountain range right beside the town and Squamish no longer seems anything close to typical. This hiker, rock climber, and snowshoer’s paradise is one of my favourite mini getaways. The mountain range is called “The Chief” and now has a gondola that takes you part way up the mountain to tree lined hiking trails with breathtaking vistas.

If you love the outdoors and are planning a trip to BC, definitely put this winter wonderland destination on your list.

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The Chief

Sooke Harbour House

With all of the political unrest south of the border dominating the news this week, I can’t think of a more soothing place to write about than Sooke Harbour House on Vancouver Island.

I was lucky enough to spend three nights there a few weeks ago and the whole experience was a blissful, back to nature retreat.

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Let me start with the view. Our room faced the ocean and we saw breathtaking vistas like this every day from our balcony.

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vancouver island

The hotel is quaint and luxurious at the same time, making a visit there feel like entering a warm haven from yesteryear. If I had to describe the visit in a metaphor, staying at Sooke Harbour House is like wrapping yourself in a fuzzy blanket with a good book beside you and a cup of delicious hot chocolate cupped in your hands. And, speaking of good books, the hallways of Harbour House are lined with shelves and shelves of books. There are also super comfy love seats nestled in the hallway, waiting for someone to sink into them and dive into one of those good books.

sooke harbour house

sooke harbour house

Leave your room for an afternoon and you’ll see that the grounds around the Inn are filled with an edible garden. Herbs, lettuces, root vegetables, fruit trees and lots of beautiful edible flowers make the garden a delight to walk through. And later at dinner, the unbelievable freshness of your meal is a foodie’s dream. This is due to so many food items being picked from their very own garden but also because they source almost all of the menu items from the Island. Sooke Harbour House is an example of the 100 Mile Diet at its best.

Then there’s room service. Here we have garden pomme frites, a chanterelle soup and garden salad topped with pretty edible flowers.

organic food

Everything tasted amazingly delicious, as did every other meal eaten in the two restaurants, The Copper Room and The Restaurant. If you’d like to make this rich and creamy soup at home, so you can cuddle up in a fuzzy blanket and forget about all of the worries of the world for a while, let me help you out…

Sooke Harbour House’s Chanterelle Walnut Soup

1/2 cup unsalted butter

2 cups wild chanterelle mushrooms, brushed and chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, shelled
1 cup onion, diced
1/2 cup carrot, diced
1/4 cup celery, diced
20 fennel seeds
10 coriander seeds
10 cumin seeds
2 Tbsp garlic, chopped
2 Tbsp ginger, peeled and minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
5 cups vegetable stock
1 cup whipping cream (or whole milk for a lighter version)
2 fresh or dried bay leaves

Place butter in large, stainless steel pot over medium heat. Once butter has melted, add mushrooms, walnuts, onion, carrot, celery, fennel, coriander, and cumin seeds, and saute until onions are translucent and carrots begin to soften (about 10 to 13 minutes). Add garlic and ginger, and saute for 5 minutes. Stir constantly to avoid burning. Add white wine and increase heat to high. Reduce wine until approximately 1/4 cup remains. Add stock, cream, and bay leaves, and bring to boil. Then, reduce heat to medium and simmer for 25 minutes. Remove from heat; remove and discard bay leaves. While soup cools, prepare garnish. Place whipping cream in medium-sized bowl and whip until stiff peaks form. Once soup has cooled for 30 minutes, puree in blender at high speed in small batches for 2 minutes each, or until very smooth. Return puree’d soup to pot. Bring to boil and serve. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish each with a dollop of whipped nasturtium cream. Serves Six.

 

Tofino Trails & Buffalo Cauliflower

What can I say about Tofino, BC? It’s a very special place nestled in a lush forest at the end of the earth. The setting for this beautiful playground is the most western point of Canada, where an unspoiled landscape meets the endless ocean.

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tofino

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Wild and rugged, its forests are lush and green with moss covered leaves and cavernous old growth trees. Trees that spark the imagination and look like they may have tiny fairies living inside of them.

tofino forest

old growth tree

If you’re lucky you can see a pack of wolves walking along the mud flats early in the morning or a humpback whale jumping out of the stormy ocean in the afternoon. Stay here for a while and you can’t help but feel how connected to the earth we are.

Walk barefoot along Chesterman Beach on soft, white, powdery sand. Then stop to gaze at a sparkly ocean that is part of Tofino’s magic. I’ve never seen the ocean look so filled with diamonds as it does here.

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chesterman beach

And what should you eat to warm you up after you’re finished exploring this supernatural corner of the earth?

This:

Buffalo Cauliflower

Adapted from Thug Kitchen

  • 2 medium heads cauliflower
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup water

Hot sauce:

  • 2 tsp oil
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup Sriracha or similar-style hot sauce
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp soy sauce or tamari

Heat your oven to 450F. Lightly grease a rimmed baking sheet. Chop up your cauliflower into little pieces no bigger than your thumb.

Whisk together the flour and water in a big bowl until a batter forms with no chunks. Toss in the cauliflower and mix it around until all the pieces look a little coated. Spread the cauliflower out on the baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes. Mix the pieces around halfway through roasting so all the sides are covered.

Make the hot sauce. In a small saucepan, mix the oil, Sriracha, vinegar and soy sauce. Heat over a low heat until the sauce is warm but not bubbling. Turn off the heat and let it sit.

After 15 minutes in the oven, put the cauliflower back in a big bowl and toss it with the hot sauce mixture from the stove-top. Make sure everything is coated. Drop the cauliflower pieces back on the baking sheet, leaving the extra sauce in the bowl, and roast for another 3 minutes so everything is warm and delicious.

Serve hot.