Saturday, September 13, 2008

Cow Bay is Kinda Grungy

With all due respect to the fine folk who live in the Cowichan Valley, the commercial centre of Cowichan Bay (along the waterfront) is in danger of turning into a touristy rat-hole.

Sorry, but it had to be said.

I'm thinking back several years to when I used to visit La Conner, Washington ... long before the crap shops took over, and the big-box shoppers decided it was a quaint place to pick up some of the local "crafts." What was a great little community was ruined forever all in an effort to win the tourist dollar.

People of Cowichan Bay, please don't let this happen to you, although I fear it may be too late. And before you start getting all snarky and firing off an email that we'll all regret later, let me say that there are some real gems here. I'm just not a huge fan of the "nick-nack" shops that try to pass off 3rd world exploitation as culture.

For a worthwhile day, try this. Start of in Cobble Hill (not Cow Bay I know, but its within 5 minutes) at Drumroasters Coffee. I am a self-confessed coffee-snob. I'm not at geek level yet, but I'm not retired yet either. There's still time.

Drumroasters is owned by Geir Oglend (a Norwegian, so he's A-OK in my books from the outset) and roasts everything in-house. Terrific espresso and espresso based drinks ... but their House-Blend, we discovered later, makes a truly excellent cup of drip or French press coffee.

Sufficeintly caffeinated, continue into the touristy part of Cow Bay. You can't miss it ... it's the place with all the RV's lining the street. Hillary's Cheese makes some of the best cheeses anywhere in the world (the Youbou Blue is a terrific starting cheese for those interested in venturing forth into the world of blue cheeses). They have a deli in Cow Bay that sells their cheeses along with some other notable imports.

Continuing on the dairy path, there's Udder Guy Ice Cream. Udder Guy ice cream is available at various retail locations throughout the Island, but if you're in Cow Bay getting cheese, you might as well get an extra hit of lactose at their parlour just down the road. You can't miss it. There's a lineup coming out the door and a hundreds of wasps garding the front door. I mention this because I have recently dicovered I have a severe alergy to the damn things. Their presence forced my quick exit from the store. However, J. and the kids perservered and I was treated to some excellent ice cream.

The highlight of Cowichan Bay for me is True Grain Bread. This is a place for those who are serious about their bread. Easily the best bread I've enjoyed outside of France ... maybe the best ever. True Grain mills all their own flour for the breads and pastries, and the difference is evident. They are also well known for their participation in the return to the Red Fife strain of Heritage Wheat (think like heirloom tomatoes). They do a weekly loaf made from flour milled from the wheat that is grown on Vancouver Island, taking the 100 Mile Diet matra to heart. Bread here is amazing, but don't miss out on the pain au chocolat, bagettes, cookies, ...

Monday, September 8, 2008

The 10 km/16 Mile Dinner

The idea behind the 100 Mile Diet is to focus as much of your diet from local sources as possible. This helps reduce green-house emissions, supports the local economy and helps consumers get in touch with the regional "terroir."

On our recent vacation in the Cowichan Valley, we were presented with the unique opportunity to experience something even more local. The Valley has become known as the "Provence of Canada" because of the diversity of the farmers and producers. Everything from vineyards, farmers, cheesemakers, bee-keepers, butchers and many many other food related folk thrive in the region.  100 mile diet? Pshaw! 10km was our goal!

Our first stop was the Cowichan Bay Farm for poultry. The folk raise chicken, ducks, eggs (both) and other produce, and sell it to you from a little shack towards the back of their property. The honour system is in proactice here; you pay cash for what yout take. Bring change, because they have none. We selected a 5lb roasting chicken, some chicken sausage, and went to look for veggies.

From what we discovered, most farms in the area specialize in 1 or 2 veggies. So if you're looking for a one stop shop, it can be difficult. Fortunately there are a few roadside stands that gather produce from all around the area. The stand we found was just north of Mill Bay (about 3 kms) and had a terrific selection of potatoes, carrots, cucumbers, etc.

The house we were renting had a good grill, and a crazy sombrero-looking device that allowed you to roast a chicken "beer-can" style with veggies scattered around the outside. Worked like a charm (and if anyone knows where I can find such a thing please let me know!) So, dinner was a roast chicken with roasted veggies. The view, as you can see, made for a relaxing prelude to the meal ...

... as did this G&T, made with Victoria Gin from Barking Dog Spirits (Winchester Cellars in Saanich), and a slice of lemon cucumbers from the aforementioned veggie stand. Wine with dinner was Winchester Cellars 2006 Pinot Noir.

Dessert (unphotographed because it was devoured before I could get out my camera) was a Blackberry Cobler made with blackberried found on the street out house was on.

Cowichan Bay Farm
1560 Cowichan Bay Rd
Cowichan Bay, BC

Winchester Cellars
6170 Old West Saanich Road
Saanich, BC

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Not for the Squeamish

I am a carnivore. I make no apologies for this. I like meat and just about anything to do with it. But unlike a lot of meat lovers I know, I don't shy away from where my meat comes from, nor from eating some of the lesser known cuts and organ meats (offal). In fact, I believe it's an insult to the animal who gave its life for you to not respect it in that way.

So it was with great pleasure that I discover the Cowichan Valley Meat Market on our recent family vacation to Mill Bay. Just outside of Duncan, right beside the highway (don't believe Google Maps on this one!) you'll find a business built by the Quist family over 3 generations. (Just look for the sign and be prepared to turn quickly!)

Almost everything in the store is from their farm. They control what the animals eat, so there's no worries about hormones or animal by-products. I spent a while speaking with one of the younger apprentices about their product and the pride was front and centre. Whatever cut you wanted, they had or could get.

In addition to the full butcher shop, the store was packed with several variety of smoked meats, salamis, pepperonis, bacons (I stopped counting after 5 types). Our purchases that day were: lamb pepperoni (used on pizzas later that week), short ribs (braised for dinner that night), double smoked bacon (best bacon EVER!), and 6 racks of baby backs (to be used at the upcoming BBQ on the bypass).

If you've never been to a REAL butcher, this is a must visit.

Cowichan Valley Meat Market Ltd.
5191 Koksilah Frontage Road Duncan , BC , V0R 2C0
phone: 250-746-8732
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