Whenever someone informs me they are thinking of visiting Vancouver, I invariably list all the activities they’ll be able to enjoy here: snowboarding, snowshoeing, downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, sledding, snowmobiling, skating, hiking, climbing. All wonderful ways to exercise both mind and body – that I wouldn’t be caught doing in a million years. Don’t get me wrong. I keep in shape, alternating between an hour of cardio and weights every other day. It’s just that, well, to say that “I’m not the outdoorsy type” is a bit of an understatement. Truth be told, given my inclination toward more “indoor” diversions and my adventurous eating habits, I’m far more likely to eat a bear than be eaten by one. Still, it’s not like I’ve spent my entire life purposely shielded from nature (although, believe me, I’ve tried). I still have not-so-fond memories of the times my father would take us skating, my sister and I endlessly circling the rink to the maudlin tunes of scratchy-speaker Supertramp. Or that cross-country ski trip I took with my grade seven class when I took a tumble and landed – my skis criss-crossed so I was unable to bend my knees and get up, my arms buried to the shoulders in the deep snow and unable to push up, lying there “enjoying” nature for what seemed like hours until a teacher happened by. Or the time my eighth grade class went wilderness camping and I got in trouble for spilling oil from my tin of smoked oysters in some kid’s tent. Come to think of it, the closest I’ve come to enjoying the great outdoors since then was last year when we played poker on Chris Judge’s patio.
As a kid, I was far more interested in books and television than hockey and soccer. But that didn’t stop my mother from signing me up for everything from swimming lessons to judo, piano lessons to yoga, in a bid to awaken some as-of-yet untapped, deep-seeded passion within me. My sister and I would leave the house early Saturday morning and return home, by my recollection, sometime late Sunday afternoon. Which is where Camp Kakeka comes in.
Given that Camp Kakeka was a Christian boy’s camp, I suspect my mother (a former minister) sought to light two candles with one flame by sending me. The place was nice enough, the cabins not exceedingly rustic, the counselors not overly exuberant – but I quickly realized I was odd man out when bible study hour rolled around. “Let’s turn to Luke 3:10,”our instructor would say. While my fellow campers could crack open their bibles, more often than not right on the target page, I would be scrambling through the index in a bid to keep up (Let’s see – Lamentations, Leviticus, ah, Luke!). Still, despite my shaky wielding of the good book, the counselors and campers happily welcomed me into the fold – until the day I was tackled during an afternoon sports activity, jammed my elbow, and loosened a torrent of curses that undoubtedly had more than a few praying, if not for my soul, then at the very least for my parents to swing by and take me home. But despite their prayers, my elbow sprain, and the truly pathetic lone postcard (read: plea for rescue) I sent home, there was no parently intervention. And so, I spent the full two weeks at Camp Kakeka where I swam in the lake (“Don’t let your feet touch the bottom,”we were advised. “That’s where the leeches are.”), made the acquaintance of a kid nicknamed Monkey who ate a Styrofoam cups on a dare, and had my ill-fated love affair with ice cream sandwiches begin and abruptly end. One of the highlights of the camp was “tuck“, the thirty minutes every day when campers were permitted to purchase junk food. On my first day there, I bought my first ice cream sandwich. It was incredible, a delightful mix of soft cookie and vanilla ice cream. It was so good, in fact, that I wanted to buy another but, unfortunately, our allotted thirty minutes was up and the tuck shop had closed. The following day, I had the foresight to purchase two ice cream sandwiches, and they were just as good as the first one I had – creamy, chewy, and oh so delicious. If the tuck shop had still been open, I’d have no doubt bought a third. So, the next day, I wasn’t going to be denied. I bought five ice cream sandwiches, just to be on the safe side. As it turned out, two and half ice cream sandwiches was my limit – but the goods were melting so I forced down that extra half. I tried to give away my remaining two sandwiches but there were no takers. Rather than see them go to waste, I ate them as well. I haven’t had an ice cream sandwich since.
On a more positive dining note, we had dinner tonight at Le Crocodile, Vancouver’s oldest and most consistent French restaurant. We went in having chosen our main course before we’d even sat down: the fantastic pan-fried skate wing with beurre noisette and capers my sister had ordered the last time she was in town. Alas, the only thing on the menu not available that night: the pan-fried skate wing with beurre noisette butter and capers. Initially disappointed, we managed to make due – in a big way. To begin, we were served an amuse-bouche – a duck confit and cranberry tartlet – sweet and savory, flaky, and still warm from the oven. Fondy’s appetizer was the garlic-fried frog legs in a parsley-chive butter sauce accompanied by an orange tomato puree. A terrific dish. I opted for the wild mushroom soup – morels, porcini, button mushroom (from what I could taste and tell) pureed into a nice, meaty soup with a smattering of pan-fried crispy counterparts, the whole finished with a few drops of white truffle oil. Superb. We were torn over the night’s special appetizer so, rather than miss out, we ordered it as a second course: breaded, seasoned, oven-roasted bone marrow finished with fleur de sel. If you like marrow (which we do), you’ll love the way Chef Emile Jung prepares this wonderful dish. Finally, onto our main courses. Fondy had the Dover Sole, panfried and served with a beurre blanc sauce. A very rich and truly delectable dish. I had one of the night’s additions: a perfectly cooked Chilean sea bass served with tomato fondant and garlic mashed potatoes. The whole was accompanied by crispy pommes frites. We decided to forgo dessert on this night but did book ahead for Valentine’s Day. I can’t think of a better place to celebrate a special occasion.
On the way back to the car, I dropped by HMV and picked up a few things. Extras season one. I’ve heard great things about this show and I loved the original Office, so I’m really looking forward to this one. I also picked up season four of MI-5, a.k.a. Spooks in the U.K., the best spy series on television, bar none. Finally, I picked up Crank, a high octane version of D.O.A. in which our protagonist must keep his adrenalin pumping to stay alive. Granted, more eye candy than brain candy but I like the premise.
Speaking of an interesting premise, I finally tracked down The Eyre Affair. It’s an alternate history where, in 1985, detective Thursday Next is trying to track down a crime boss responsible for kidnapping characters from great works of fiction, among them Jane Eyre. I also picked up P.D. James’s The Children of Men (I figured I’d read the book before bypassing the movie), and short story collection by Harry Turtledove.