Driving “Up Island” in a Smart Car

Michell's

This is my last post about our west coast trip, I promise.

While we were staying in Victoria, the Pie and I took two days out and drove up to Courtenay to visit Tim, one of the Pie’s childhood friends from Ottawa who had made the move west.  Tim was best man at our wedding.  There’s pretty much only one highway that goes the length of Vancouver Island, and if you go anywhere north of Victoria you are going “up island”.  Courtenay-Comox, while situated pretty much in the middle of the length of the island, is considered to be the farthest you want to go up island.  When I was a child, I actually thought it WAS at the northern tip of the island.  It turns out instead that nobody really wants to go that much farther than Courtenay-Comox, and the best way to go further is to take a boat.

So we rented a car.  My firm gets me a corporate discount at Enterprise rentals, and they’ve always treated me well.  Since it was just the two of us and we were only traveling for two days we rented an economy-sized car.  I joked as we were waiting in line that I’d love to take the little Smart Car in the parking lot on our trip, and the Pie rolled his eyes.  Little did we know that it was the only “economy” sized car left in the lot!  Have I mentioned that the Pie is 6’4″?  This was going to be interesting.

Courtenay-Comox

Neither of us had ever driven a Smart Car before so we took it on as a challenge. Here is the super-awesomely small rear view mirror. There are no blind spots in this car, so it’s not a huge deal.

Courtenay-Comox

And the nonexistent leg room.  And the lack of gadgets. And our pasty, pasty legs.

Courtenay-Comox

But the whole roof was glass, which was neat when you are driving through the mountains.

Courtenay-Comox

Though because the car is energy-efficient, it seemed to always want to be in the highest gear possible, which meant it rumbled along like it had a diesel engine.  An engine that never wanted to accelerate, and that shifted violently, like a newbie on a standard transmission.  And it was an automatic!

Courtenay-Comox

We booked it up to Courtenay, sliding through Chemainus and its famous murals and Nanaimo, where we got a coffee.

Courtenay-Comox

We hit Tim’s place in the mid-afternoon, and he took us out to Stotan Falls to cool off, as it was about 33°C and sunny.

Courtenay-Comox

This series of short falls is a very popular place to come and sit in the sun and the water.  While much of it is very shallow, the limestone has worn away in spots to form these potholes, which can catch you unawares.

Courtenay-Comox

Some of them are large enough to tuck yourself into, as Tim demonstrates here.

Courtenay-Comox

And you can swim in the deeper, cool water just after the falls.  Floater that I am, I nearly got swept away because I couldn’t get my feet under me, but Tim hauled me out safe.

Courtenay-Comox

In trekking around, we also got to see some neat fossils. That’s my foot, for scale.

Courtenay-Comox

As well as the sheer neatness of the geology of this area.

Courtenay-Comox

Courtenay-Comox

That night we drove to Comox and had dinner on the sandy beach near CFB Comox.  While planes took off behind us, the sun set to our left.

Courtenay-Comox

The water was so warm that even the Pie went into the ocean and swam.  This is a history-making moment, people.

Courtenay-Comox
This dog never left the water!

On the way home we got a brief tour of the organic spa that Tim owns with his partner Lisa.  If you’re ever in Courtenay and you need a massage, Ziva is the place to visit.  After my ordeal in the rapids I could have used a massage myself, but it was late.

Courtenay-Comox

Courtenay-Comox

Courtenay-Comox

The next morning, after saying our goodbyes, the Pie and I began our trek south, though in a more leisurely manner.  We stopped at a farmer’s market in Qualicum Beach, which happens every Saturday.

Courtenay-Comox

Our breakfast consisted of some locally roasted organic coffee, local tay berries, and home-made cinnamon sticky buns.

Courtenay-Comox

The tay berries taste like a combination between raspberries and blackberries, and look like logan berries (what’s the difference, anyway?).

Courtenay-Comox

The cinnamon buns were so sticky and delicious we may have died a little.

Courtenay-Comox

These were my sticky and stained hands at the beginning of breakfast.  By the end I was a total mess. The camera was going to get sticky if we took a picture of that so we refrained.

Courtenay-Comox

Then back to our Smart Car, which we had dubbed Blinky.

Courtenay-Comox

To give you a sense of scale …

Courtenay-Comox

We paused at the Little Qualicum River Falls, which were stunning.  I took way too many pictures, but you can see some below.

Little Qualicum River Falls

Little Qualicum River Falls

Little Qualicum River Falls

Little Qualicum River Falls

And had a brief stop in Cathedral Grove, home to some of the oldest and tallest trees on the island. We didn’t stick around too long, because the Falls hike and the Falls themselves had made us very thirsty.

Cathedral Grove

Cathedral Grove

Cathedral Grove

Then we had lunch in Coombs, which has to be one of the weirdest towns I have ever seen.  This exporter seemed to own the whole place, and had these strange (and not for sale) sculptures all over the open space.  The wooden and marble sculptures inside were even more fantastical, and many of them were pornographic.  We weren’t allowed to photograph any of them, though, and I’m not even going to get started on some of the strange chairs they had there.

Coombs

In the same place was Goats on Roof, a market place specializing in imported foods.  And all sorts of kitschy Asian paraphernalia, like these lanterns, which hung everywhere in the store.

Coombs

Let’s not forget that there were actual goats on the roof.

Coombs

It was a long drive both ways, but in the Smart Car we only went through one tank of gas, even with all our perambulations.  It was a nice change of pace to be on our own schedule and under our own steam, and we quite enjoyed the trip.  I was very sad when we had to return Blinky.  Not a good car for highway driving, but a fun challenge nonetheless.  And backing up was AWESOME. What a fun trip!

Michell's

O Canada: Nanaimo Bars

Nanaimo Bars

Despite having eaten probably a thousand of these over the years, I have never made one before.  I guess I thought it would be hard.  It really isn’t.

The origins of the Nanaimo bar are shrouded in mystery.  Some say they are not from Nanaimo at all, that some housewife merely pointed to a town on a map when she named her crusty buttery bar.

Others (Canadians, mostly, and especially those from Nanaimo), insist that the Nanaimo bar belongs in its rightful birthplace on Vancouver Island.  For our purposes, we’ll go with the second story.  According to that second story, miners in town would take the bars with them when they went to work.

Nanaimo Bars

There are, of course, a hojillion recipes out there for Nanaimo bars.  There are a bajillion variations (my neighbour makes a variation with candy canes at Christmas).  I kept seeing ones that told you to use custard powder or pudding mix and I kept thinking, where is the original recipe?  How can I make this from scratch?  Then I realized that using a powder mix IS the original recipe.  The custard powder is there more for flavour and sticky-together-ness than it is for making an original custard.

Nanaimo Bars

This particular recipe, with some very minor modifications, comes from Nanaimo [Nah-NIGH-mo] itself, which is a tiny town on the tiny Vancouver Island, a few hours’ ferry ride away from Vancouver in British Columbia.  Apparently the mayor of Nanaimo held a contest several years ago to find the BEST Nanaimo bar recipe in town.  It was re-posted by the owners of the Buccaneer Inn, in Nanaimo.  How many times do you think I can say “Nanaimo”?  I bet it’s more than you think.

In a double boiler, or a bowl suspended over a pot of simmering water, melt 4 or 5 ounces dark chocolate with 2 tablespoons butter.

Nanaimo Bars

Stir it until it’s smooth and set it aside to cool to room temperature.

Nanaimo Bars

It will cool faster if you swish it up on the sides of the bowl.

Nanaimo Bars

In a stand mixer or with an electric mixer, whip together 1/2 cup room temperature butter, 3 tablespoons cream, 2 tablespoons custard powder (I used Bird’s), 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 2 cups icing sugar.

Nanaimo Bars

Keep going  until it’s light and fluffy.

Nanaimo Bars

In another bowl over a pot of water, melt and stir together 1/2 cup butter, 1/4 cup sugar, and 5 tablespoons cocoa.

Nanaimo Bars

Beat up an egg.

Nanaimo Bars

Add that into the melted butter, sugar, and cocoa, and stir to thicken.  The egg will cook as you do this, and the texture might turn out a little lumpy, but that’s fine.

Nanaimo Bars

Remove the mix from the heat and stir in 1 1/4 cups graham crumbs, 1/2 cup finely chopped nuts (I used almonds), and 1 cup sweetened dessicated coconut.

Nanaimo Bars

You can easily chop the nuts in your food processor.

Nanaimo Bars

Press the coconut crumb mixture into the bottom of an ungreased 8″ square pan.  Lacking that, I used a 10″ x 7″ pan and hoped for the best.

Nanaimo Bars

Spread the yellow custard mixture over the top of the crumb base.

Nanaimo Bars

Pour on the melted, cooled chocolate and gently spread it to cover the whole area.

Nanaimo Bars

Chuck in the fridge and leave it to chill for at least an hour.

Nanaimo Bars

Cut it into squares and eat them all.

Nanaimo Bars

Store what you can’t in good conscience finish in an airtight container.

Nanaimo Bars