Saturday, November 30, 2019

Chestnut cake

I spent the fall months in Spain and Portugal.  I walked through chestnut orchards and saw a few ancient knarled trees that would remember where the old orchards used to be.  Chestnuts rained down from the canopy of the shaded trail and I was glad not to be struck by the spiny husks.
I saw a few cafes or bakeries mentioning 'chestnut cake' - in English, clearly for us camino tourists - and I recalled the chestnut delicacies I had years ago in Germany.  I had them roasted and also whipped, sweetened and spiced into a dessert.  I liked them, and thus set about to sample some here.
Alas every inquiry into getting these chestnut products seemed thwarted.  I found vaccuum-sealed tarts that had expired and had mould spots, or else I'd "just missed" the last slice.  After enough frustration I've laughably resigned that this is a low-key conspiracy to simply not share their chestnuts with me.
I will make my own chestnut cake.
I discovered that the American Chestnut had been severely devastated by a fungal blight, I wonder if that is one reason why we mostly see chestnuts used more in Europe than in North America.  I purchased roughly $5 of chestnuts from the a market that has a selection of local produce and foreign imports, and I believe these came from Italy.  I also learned that chestnuts should have two or three weeks stored in minor refrigeration before using to 'cure' and maximixe their sweetness.  Maybe that's why I couldn't get them in Spain at the end of September despite the bombarding bounty from the trees.
I used the recipe here which seemed simple and showcased the chestnuts without overly competing flavours.  I found the most challenging aspect was preparing the chestnut flour, specifically removing the meat of the nut from not only the skin, which flakes somewhat easily after roasting, but the pellicle which would rather flake my fingernails off.  I managed a combination of roasting and simmering that worked adequately though time consuming.  This is likely a task that becomes easier with practice.  I now have a few enthusiastic tasters who wouldn't mind another attempt at this cake in the near future.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

An odyssey to Iberia; Camino de Santiago

Prologue; the Preparation

My friend has decidedly set this quest to mark her 50th birthday.  She's been planning it for years, as she is a planner (typical Virgo), and says it builds her anticipation.  At last the time to depart approaches, we leave on Monday and - barring any complications - aim to start walking on Wednesday August 28, 2019.
I plan too, albeit to a lesser degree, moreso for contingencies.  I wonder if I've become a worrywart, the vestigial remnants of the Be Prepared motto we so readily pledged as Girl Guides.  It seems our pre-teen capacity to find ourselves in trouble or an emergency was a lot smaller back then; we operated within the confines of established rules and laws like good girls and request assistance from adults if things get out of hand.  Now I am the adult.  My backyard has greatly expanded across land and oceans, the opportunity to meet thousands of new friends if I choose (note I'm pretty introverted so already that just sounds exhausting), and many new experiences available to sample.  Those perks all come with increased responsibilities as there's little or no safety net should I fall.  I am responsible for my own safety, registration, time, money, belongings... thus I pack accordingly and literally bear this weight on my shoulders.
My first challenge is to pare everything I usually carry.  The Camino is foremost an ancient trade route, and there will be merchants, shops and services available to purchase whatever we don't bring from home.  Still I must resist temptation to bring everything  'just in case', it's a deeply ingrained compulsion that could prove to be a handicap.  In this case I am aided(?) by my usual frugality and my choice to fly with a cheap economy seat which limits my carry-on baggage by both weight and dimension.  I have fussed over my gear for the past two weeks and feel I am adequately Prepared.
Be Prepared.  Or as my father is fond of saying, "Prepare for the worst and hope for the best." Man that just sounds grim.  I know we will pass plenty of roadside memorials to those that have died along The Way.  One aspect of the trek is to confront the limitations of our flesh and test our capabilities.  Currently I can walk 10km easily but am slow on inclines, I hope this will improve with practice.  It's going to be hot in the late summer in continental climate, but cold with evenings and elevation.  Above all we must keep hydrated and take care of our feet.
I have few tiny details as 'goals', mostly geocaches.  I have installed c:geo on my tablet and stored 677 geocaches offline - not all I will attempt, just to have them available sans WiFi.  Mostly I will walk The Way, the walking itself a challenge and sort of meditation.  Get a sense of the history and the spirit of all those who came before me and those who are yet to come.  Feel humble and insignificant as one of many cows  plodding along their set path.  Accept what comes, adapt if the need arises.
My goal I guess is to walk far and don't give up.  Mind you far and give up are relative and somewhat fluid in definition.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Tuesday, July 30, 2019


Texada island- Oliver+penticton - 12 days of Christmas in July + nova scotia.

Saturday, June 29, 2019


June! To Keats Island, and preparing for more travels farther!

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Quick trips in May

In the last few weeks I've had the invitation to tag along with friends on their travels - a business conference in Kelowna and a choir tour in Nanaimo and Duncan on Vancouver Island.
The former provided hotel room and rented vehicle (of course I still use heated seats in a desert!) on the company dime, so that aspect was easily laid out for me.  I was pretty much left to my own devices during the mornings and afternoons, which I spent wandering around geocaching.  I didn't get very far from town itself, so was more of an urban/industrial paved environment in unrelenting heat though still enjoyable.  I've been meaning to head to Kelowna for a while to tour their multitude of wineries, and we only scratched the surface of options here on one day.  We hiked up Mt Boucherie and it seemed we had the whole mountain to ourselves that afternoon.  I got to see visit my parents and give them a pre-Mother's Day dinner at RauDZ which was recommended by the fella at the tourist office.  It seemed like a trendy yet elegant showcase of regional fare - although we all chose a seafood dish, which came from not-Kelowna.  The price was befitting a special occasion and the food was prepared and presented just right.
The choir tour was a smaller affair than last year, closer to home with everyone responsible for their own transportation, hotel and expenses.  They're saving up the choir funds for a more extensive tour next year to the Maritime provinces, and of course it's good PR to meet and hold joint concerts with other local groups who have a fan base in their own communities.'Twas a long wait and ferry ride (during which we occupied ourselves with sudokus) all for two concerts! Worth it though, the performances were great and it was good to see the friendly fellas again, I'm their cheerleader in the front row! One at breakfast told us about the Heritage Boat Festival in Ladysmith that we'd be passing through on our way south, so we stopped in there and browsed the exhibits, very engaging folks eager to share their passion and hobby.  Beautifully restored wooden vessels.  And a geocache.  We had time for a meandering puzzle cache around the cute part of Duncan, which was also where the farmer's market was and the choir concert just down the street.  Altogether is was a full day (he'd describe as "busy") but at a leisurely pace. As long as we got to rehearsal and performances on time, there was no other itinerary.
Thanks for a great time!

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

My birthday in Ucluelet

It's my birthday! Or at least a drawn-out affair lasting a week or two while I try to celebrate a little with a few friends that wouldn't be at the same place at the same time.  Birthday Week.  Maybe Birthday Two-Weeks.
For my birthday itself on March 29th I wanted to be away from town, as a kickstart to what will hopefully be a pleasant travelling season, typically advised against by well-meaning folks who don't want me hobo-camping in the rain.  Alas, I can't help it I was born in springtime on the Wet Coast! I chose Ucluelet as a destination for its rugged natural beauty, and ideally had someone to host me there for the weekend.  I'd only briefly walked through Ucluelet years ago and wished to devote more time to explore.
Plans fluctuated briefly prior to departure and I was ready to go alone walking/hitchiking and stay in the hostel - my usual manner of travel that takes less money but more time and effort - but happily a fella joined me and we could drive (and stop to geocache) at a leisurely pace.  We stopped at Coombs which was buzzing with tourists and again at Cathedral Grove, one of my favorite spots for big ol' trees. I'm glad this provincial park preserves them, and despite logging on the island and reports of poaching the old growth, I like to think that the far depths of mid-island have plenty of these elders left.
His friend hosted us in his beautiful home; the guest bedroom was quite dark and below ground level so extremely quiet, the bathroom clean and spacious, and the tv has all the special channels. Indeed we watched a fair bit of tv in the grey mornings and dark evenings.  We arrived in the light evening of Friday and not caring to fuss with dinner plans were fine to settle in with drinks+appies at home and watch the sunset.  We made short work of a bottle o'rum.  I had a seasonal cold and was content to have a low-key relaxing time, burning it out with spicy hot wings and trying to keep my sniffling as unobnoxious as possible. 
Ucluelet's tourist tag is to "unplug and reconnect", so we took a break away from our screens and spent most of our afternoons out.  The weather was warm and calm, only just damp and chill at dusk, so we walked the trails south that overlook the Broken Islands and west looking towards the Pacific horizon.  The trail networks are well maintained and accessible, the many rocky pocket beaches pristine and seem secluded although most of the coastline is in view of several hotel resorts and sleek modern homes.  Despite the one-road-in-and-out small town vibe, there is some money here. 
We had dinner at the Floathouse in the harbour, seemed popular and unpretentious with a simple menu and I enjoyed my salmon pasta with a decent caesar and a lemon-lime cheesecake as my token birthday cake.
For a brief afternoon we drove up to Tofino - the other town at the end of this one road - and browsed around for lunch, settling on the Wolf In The Fog for excellent corn-battered halibut nuggets on homemade salad/slaw, bright fresh tastes.  After that we visit Chesterman Beach, which was sunny with a light mist just on the water.  Plenty of people out today but the beach was big enough for all of us, a quiet calm energy.  Perhaps another time I'd be surreptitiously tenting among the driftwood, and I was again grateful for the hospitality and assistance of my present company.
We left on Monday in an attempt to avoid the construction delays along the highway by Kennedy Lake. On our way back we grabbed a burger at a classic drive-in in Port Alberni, then another stop in Cathedral Grove for the south side.
Thanks for a fantastic time - the most fun to be had while sick - and a great start to my personal new year.