Saturday, June 26, 2010

Woman in the Bush

One of my favourite used bookstores in Bellingham is Eclipse Bookstore. It's located in Historic Fairhaven and my friend Betty and I go there every time we get together for coffee. They have a good Canadian section and I always find interesting books to read. I just finished rereading Woman in the Bush (Pelican, 1998) that I got there last year.

Woman in the Bush is the story of Jeanne Connolly Harbottle's first year in the Yukon with her newlywed trapper husband. The book was co-written with Fern Grice Credeur in 1966, but took place during the winter of 1947-48. Jeanne married Tom Connolly following World War II and left her city life in San Francisco for the wilds of the Yukon Territory. They were contemporaries of my parents, but their life was so different. I cannot imagine my mother being capable of living throughout the winter with temperatures around fifty below zero in a six by eight foot log cabin chinked with mud to keep out the wind and only a wood stove to heat and cook.

Jeanne learned how to snowshoe to break trail for the sled dogs, shoot, hunt, trap, skin and cure pelts, trade -- everything needed to survive and support her husband's work as a trapper. It was a hard life, but her adventurous spirit carried her through. People still seek a simple life in the bush, but times have changed. Hunting and trapping is more regulated, and trading as a means of commerce isn't as common. Jeanne's story is a look back in history to a different time, and way of living.

The trip out of the bush back to "civilization" was even more difficult, on many levels. The heat and mosquitoes made the journey on foot a huge challenge for both man and dog. Also, having contact with other people was a big lifestyle change. The book only hints about the future for Jeanne and Tom, but she did return and spent seventeen more years living in the bush, became a big-game guide and a trapper in her own right. She was quite a woman for her day, or any time for that matter. -- Margy

Monday, June 21, 2010

9 Awesome Things about Summer in Powell River

Today is the first day of Spring and I'd like to invite you to my favourite place on earth, Powell River, BC. Here are 7 awesome things about Powell River for this summer.

1. An exciting ferry ride to get here. BC Ferries serves Powell River. You can easily turn your visit into a Circle Route vacation. Check out the Experience Card for extra savings. On the Vancouver to Powell River route you will travel through majestic fjords and pass towering snow-capped peaks. It's an E-ticket ride for sure.

2. Uncrowded campgrounds. We have a special place in our hearts for Willingdon Beach Campsite. We stayed at this oceanside campgound when we discovered Powell River. Hookups are available at Kent's Beach near Saltery Bay, Garnet Rock near town and Sunland by-the-Sea near Lund. We love the remote forest and wilderness campgrounds such as Nanton, Dodd and Khartoum Lake. You can even rent a float cabin to experience off-the-grid life on the lake for yourself.

3. Offroad adventures. Do you ride a quad, off-road motorcycle or drive a 4X4? Logging and forest roads take you to trails, lakes and quiet forests. The Powell River ATV Club loves to help visiting riders. They have an ATV Trail Guide with GPS coordinates. Contact our president Dave through the ATV/BC website or in town at Guy's Cycle Works or Quality Parts. Some of our favourite destinations are Fiddlehead Farm, Poki's Place and Khartoum Lake. You can read about more ATV adventures in Up the Main.

4. Restaurants with views. From everyday to fancy, we have it all. South of town at Beach Gardens is the Savoury Bight, great for sunset dinners. North of town on Okeover Inlet is the Laughing Oyster for great seafood. Continue to the end (beginning) of Highway 101 to the Lund Hotel's for a marina view. And don't leave town without a brew and steak at the Shinglemill Pub on Powell Lake. Sit and watch boats coming and going from logging sites and float cabins up the lake.

5. Events and festivals. Summer is event time in Powell River. The International Choral Kathaumixw from July 6-10. July also brings the Texada Sandcastle Weekend on the 10-11th, the Texada Aerospace Camp for kids from Jul7 21-24 and the annyal Fly-in on the 25th. The 47th Annual Seafair at Willingdon Beach from the 23-25th. Then Marine Avenue closes on Friday, August 20, for the annual Blackberry Street Party. The weekly Farmers Market in Paradise Valley is open April to September. For more activities, read Around Town in the PEAK or PowellRiverDirect.com.

6. Beaches. Powell River is overflowing with fresh and saltwater beaches. In town, Willingdon Beach is the place to go with it's grassy park, sandy beach and Beach Hut. South of town there's Saltery Bay Provincial Park and north there's Gibson's Beach. Keep going towards Lund and you will find Dinner Rock Park tucked away on a gravel road. Or take the Lund Water Taxi to Savary Island for some of the best sandy beaches in BC. Prefer fresh water? Try Mowat or Haywire Bay on Powell Lake, or one of the many smaller lakes in the region.

7. Hiking. Whether it's a stroll down historic Willingdon Beach Trail or a hike on the 180 km Sunshine Coast Trail, we have a path for every ability. Inland Lake's circumnavigating trail is wheelchair accessible. Stop by Breakwater Books or Coles to get Eagle Walz's books (Sunshine Coast Trail Guidebook and Along the Edge of the Salish Sea) about hiking in and around Powell River. They are a must! Also, stop by the Visitor Centre for maps and information.

8. Kayaking and canoeing. Powell River is a great destination for both kayaking and canoeing. Bring your own, or rent one when you get here. Choices include Skeeter Jacks, Powell River Sea Kayak, Alpha Adventures and Y-Knot. Each outfitter also offers lessons and guided tours. The Powell River Forest Canoe Route through pristine lakes is world famous. So are nearby ocean destinations such as Desolation Sound.

9. Boating on the chuck. Around here we call the ocean the salt chuck. The Westview Harbour is the perfect fueling, restocking, maintenance and jumping off for Coastal BC cruising to Desolation Sound and all points north along the inside passage. Nearby Lund also has a marina with fuel and moorage. Check out some of the exciting anchorages and marinas along the way in Wayne's book Up the Strait.

Stop at the Tourism Powell River Visitor Centre in the Crossroads Village Shopping Centre on Joyce Avenue on Mondays through Fridays 9:00-5:00. They will give you great tips about our wonderful community. Pick up a free Powell River Living magazine or buy a Powell River PEAK to see what's happening around town. Need more reasons to come? Visit the Tourism Powell River website. I'll see you here soon! -- Margy

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant

One place I want to visit is Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands). This island archipelago is 90 km (56 miles) by ferry from Prince Rupert on the northern British Columbia coast. Speaking of ferries, I get some of my best books about BC in the gift shop on the ferry between Horseshoe Bay and Langdale on the Sunshine Coast. On a recent trip, I found The Golden Spruce (Vintage Canada, 2006) by John Vaillant.

The Golden Spruce was a 300 year-old yellow-coloured Sitka spruce located on Graham Island in Haida Gwaii. It grew from a minute seed that sprouted around 1700 to a massive tree "sixteen storeys tall and more than six metres around." This amazing biological wonder was the result of a rare genetic mutation that thrived along the bank of the Yakoun River in a rich, fertile lowland called a "spruce flat."

Vaillant likens the Golden Spruce to the bumblebee which can miraculously fly despite less that aerodynamic characteristics. With limited chlorophyll in its needles, the carotenoids (the same substance that makes fall leaves turn red, yellow and orange) shine through. Not surprisingly, this unique tree had special significance to the Haida First Nation people. It also made it a prime target for Grant Hadwin, a former logger turned environmentalist. The Golden Spruce is the story of the tree and its demise at Grant Hadwin's hands in 1977, but it's also so much more.

John Vaillant artfully weaves together the history of Haida Gwaii's discovery, Haida inhabitants, logging practices in British Columbia, and the life of Grant Hadwin. The author is a master at blending facts and background information into a story that grabs the reader. I enjoyed it very much even though the event itself was a sad occurrence. If you are looking for a book that gives an unbiased depiction of logging and life in remote areas in British Columbia, I highly recommend The Golden Spruce. -- Margy

Friday, June 18, 2010

Sunset Over Quadra Island

Last week we spent the night on our boat in Drew Harbour on the east side of Quadra Island in Coastal BC. Our anchorage gave us a perfect view of the sky. The first shot is looking east over the Rebecca Spit Marine Park.

A few minutes later looking west, we watched the sun go down.

And a few minutes after that the sky took on a coppery glow.

If you aren't cruising the Strait of Georgia in a boat of your own, you can still visit Drew Harbour and Rebecca Spit. Quadra Island is accessed by car via BC Ferries from Campbell River on Vancouver Island. The Heriot Bay Inn has rooms as well as RV/tent spots. Rebecca Spit Marine Park doesn't have camping, but you can stay at the nearby We Wai Kai Campsite. -- Margy

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Barn Swallow Nest Building

On May 22, we gave our resident Barn Swallows a helping hand with their nest building by adding a wooden perch. At the end of the season last year, their nest fell onto the porch roof. Fortunately, the three chicks inside were ready to fly and survived.

This time, with the wood base Wayne provided, the pair has been building a new nest. Off and on all month both the male and female birds have been working, bringing in mud and plant material. But it's finally finished.

The female is starting to lay her eggs. And her mate has been spending a lot of time on the swim ladder singing to her. They are really a loving pair. It's going to be fun to watch the family grow throughout the summer. With a more secure footing for their nest, it hopefully will be a much safer one as well.

Do you have nesting birds to watch? -- Margy

Monday, June 14, 2010

Replanting

It's been a cool, wet spring. The plants in the floating garden and pots on the deck have had a hard time getting started. Today (before another rain), I did some replanting. I filled in with more carrot and beet seeds. Rather than replacing spinach and lettuce, I used Swiss chard. I also added more onions from sets. My dead cucumbers got replaced with another set (maybe three times is a charm), and some banana peppers in one of the pots for a change.

Because my garden is so small, I never use up my seeds. I now have quite a collection of old packages. The problem is, I don't know how old they are. Because it takes so long for things to sprout, I hate to waste time on seeds that may no longer be viable. Why didn't I think of this sooner - dating my packages. At least now I know which ones have a better chance of growing into productive plants. -- Margy

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Cabin Cooking: Taco Time

I used the cast iron griddle my good friend Betty gave me the other night to make hand made tortillas. Wayne got some masa harina (corn flour) for roast beef gravy. So, I decided to marry my new griddle, extra masa and leftover roast to make soft tacos.

The recipe on the bag just calls for masa and water. I tried a test batch and found them to be tasty but crumbly. I decided to modify the recipe to make them sturdier. Here's what I came up with.

Margy's Modified Corn Tortillas

1 cup masa harina (corn flour)
2 tablespoons white flour
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
I mixed the ingredients together and refrigerated the dough for several hours before cooking. If they are too moist, add a few tablespoons of masa before rolling. I don't have a tortilla press, so I used folded plastic wrap and my rolling pin to make small rounds about 1/8" thick. The tortillas held together as long as I didn't make them too thin or too large. The batch made twelve small tortillas.

A few minutes on each side on the hot griddle and I had tortillas. They have the sturdiness of a flour tortilla and the great taste of a corn tortilla. To keep them warm until serving, I kept them wrapped in foil. Some refried beans, my beef taco filling, shredded lettuce, cheese and salsa made a tasty meal. So much so, that we each ate four. YUM! -- Margy

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Mitlenatch Island Nature Provincial Park

We had a wonderful overnight cruise in the Bayliner. We left Powell River in the afternoon and arrived at Heriot Bay on Quadra Island in time for an early dinner at the Inn. With Halcyon Days' tanks and our tummies full, we motored over the adjacent Drew Harbour to spend the night at anchor.

Today we stopped at Mitlenatch Island. The whole island is a Nature Provincial Park. The environment is very different from neighbouring islands. Because it is in a rain shadow, you will find the rocky cliffs covered with low growing bushes and few trees.

In winter, you will find California sea lions basking on the shores and feeding in the rich waters. In spring you will find wildflowers and nesting sea gulls. Today, most of the wildflowers were gone, but the gulls were roosting in every nook and cranny on the exposed cliffs.

If you follow the path from the north anchorage, you will come to a bird blind. From here you can view the gulls on the cliffs below without disturbing them. A handy guide above viewing window give you tips on behaviour and species identification.


We hiked back down the trail to our waiting Halycon Days. It was such a nice day that we decided to slowly troll on the way back to see if we could catch a salmon. Wayne did hook a nice ling cod, but we let him go. We are the catch and release kind of fisherpersons.

What a wonderful place to live. So many options: boat, quad, hike, kayak and live up the lake. Powell River has something for everyone to enjoy. -- Margy

Friday, June 11, 2010

Ceiling of Fire

When you get weather reports you often see the ceiling height. That is the altitude of the base of the clouds measured in feet.

Last week at sunset a rain storm moved through. You could see the edge of the cloud cover with Vancouver Island in the distance in the clear.

The result was a ceiling that looked like it was on fire. You can't see it in the picture, but the water below cast back a similar hue. -- Margy

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Preserving: Oven Dried Swiss Chard

The Swiss Chard I planted last summer finally bolted. I did some research and you can dry chard for later use. That sounded good to me. I picked and cleaned the chard at the cabin and saved only the leaves. The rest of the plants I chopped up to go in my compost pile.

I was heading to town to visit Mom, so I decided to use the condo's electric oven. It's easier to control at low temperatures than my propane oven in the cabin. So I packed up my chard and headed down the lake. First I gave the big leaves a course chop.

Next I needed to find something to use as a steamer. I found two metal pans from the pie shop that had holes in the bottom. I inverted one and filled a pot with 3/4" of water. I placed the other pie pan on top and voila, I had a steamer for free.

Before drying, it's recommended to blanch chard for 3 minutes. This helps stop enzyme activity and prepare it for drying. Some recommend water blanching, but with the delicate chard I chose the steam method. The key is to use small batches so that it blanches uniformly.

Next I used cookie sheets to spread the blanched chard into thin layers for drying in the oven, already preheated on the lowest setting, 150 degrees. I spread the cookie sheets out on the two oven shelves with lots of space for the warm air to circulate.

To allow moisture to escape, I propped the oven door slightly open with metal tongs. I checked the chard every half hour and turned the leaves. I also rotated the pans on the shelves. When I turned the heat off, I left the pans inside the cooling oven. For me, all three sheets were dry in four hours.

The last step before storing is conditioning. Some leaves may hold residual moisture. To ensure they were all dry, I used a brown bag and left the leaves inside for several days. A few shakes a day helped disperse any moisture. Finally, I stored my dried chard in tightly sealed plastic containers, ready to add as a taste of summer to my winter soups.

Do you dry fruits or vegetables? Now that I've had one success I am ready to try something new. -- Margy

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Cabin Cooking: Cast Iron Legacy

I've already introduced you to my good friend Betty from Bellingham, better known in the blogging world as Mud Creek Mama. We met through my blog and posts on MySpace several years ago. Since then, we've met regularly for coffee and shopping in the Old Fairhaven district of Bellingham. It has been great fun meeting one of my blogging buddies.

The last time we got together, Betty had a surprise for me. Several of my posts have been about cast iron cooking. And she brought me an extra griddle from her collection. What a wonderful thing for a friend to do. You could tell it was well seasoned from good use over the years. I love it! I couldn't wait to get it up to the cabin to try out.

The first thing I cooked were blackberry pancakes for Wayne using my home canned berries from last year. Wayne said they were the best I've ever made. And I know the secret ingredient. It was all the love from a friend indeed.

Thanks Betty for such a special present. I will treasure it always and make some great meals with it. -- Margy

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Welcome Aboard

Last night we took the Bayliner out for her first cruise of the season to our favourite anchorage in Theodosia Inlet. This year we got a short-term slip in the North Harbour. That's going to be much easier for us since it's within eyeshot of our condo. I thought you might like to take a tour of boat. Her name is Halycon Days which means happy, joyous, peaceful.

Halcyon Days packs a lot into her 23.5 feet. Up front is a bed big enough for Wayne's long legs. Shelves and plastic bins hold our clothes and personal items. Under the bed is our fresh water tank and bins for stuff you don't need very often. There's a hatch for fresh air and with mosquito netting. You'd be surprised how many mosquitoes there are in anchorages. Tucked under the bed is the outboard motor for our dinghy and a BBQ. Just aft of the bed is a storage area and the captain's chair.

Further aft is a small galley (cupboards, sink, ice box and alcohol stove). Wayne and I don't cook much when we go boating. A box of Chubby Chicken from A&W makes a good first meal and there are lots of places to stop along the way for provisions. Our boating excursions follow the KISS principle as much as possible.

Behind the galley is a head. Don't leave home without one. A holding tank makes it good for the environment as well. Opposite from the galley is a table with two bench seats. It can be converted into a small bed, but we use it mostly for holding "stuff" that we use more often.

The space we use most often is our aft deck. There's enough room for two chairs and a little table. We cook here on our BBQ or a small butane burner (easier than inside). We eat, read, fish and just relax here. If it gets hot, we pop up our umbrellas. It may look silly, but it's perfect for a summer day. Our dinghy (Mr. Bathtub) rests here on the swim grid when not in use.

Up top is the command bridge. This is where we prefer to drive the boat. It gives you a commanding view for both cruising and docking. Plus, it's the perfect spot for a sun bath in private anchorages.

So, welcome aboard. Come cruise with us in Up the Strait and we will take you through the Strait of Georgia and Desolation Sound to islands, bays and inlets where the mountains drop into the sea, and the people have a different sense of purpose. -- Margy