Tuesday, August 26, 2014

School strike? Sounds like a good excuse for a trip to Mission Hill

I had the chance to visit Mission Hill Winery a little while back, and... Wow. If you've never seen the jaw-droppingly beautiful estate , put it at the top of your list.

In fact, if you're looking for something to do if school doesn't resume in these parts soon, I'd recommend finding a way to get out of work and go on a road trip.

And if you're lamenting the lack of resources to visit the grapevines of Italy, take heart knowing that B.C.is home to wine-making spots that are just as spectacular as those in Europe.

You get the feeling you're somewhere else entirely other than B.C. in this peaceful place.

Situated on sloping hills with the vineyards themselves planted on benches above the floor of the Okanagan Valley, the winery has a 12-storey bell tower, an original Marc Chagall tapestry, underground barrel cellars, and an outdoor amphitheatre (where Lyle Lovett and the Gypsy Kings have performed).

Then there's the al fresco Terrace Restaurant, headed by executive chef Chris Stewart. Overlooking rows of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and Lake Okanagan, it offers a regularly changing menu of exquisite local and seasonal fare.

Now's an especially good time to visit, with Mission Hill presenting "Encounters with Iceland", a sculpture exhibition featuring 42 life size works by acclaimed Icelandic artist Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir. Seeing these statues in this setting would be stellar.

Tours take place until the end of September, and last from one to two hours. The two-hour Vineyard Lunch & Tour would be my pick, with time left afterward to hit the onsite shop.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Only in Vancouver: Organic cotton candy

You know you're in Vancouver when there's a lineup for organic cotton candy.

We stumbled upon the confection craziness last night while strolling around Canada Place, where lululemon's SeaWheeze Half Marathon warm-up party was taking place.

Mostly young, fit women were standing in line for other things too, such as temporary tattoos. But with two kids in tow, I had to beeline it for the Cloud Nine food truck.

Surely the company must get the odd eye-roll; I mean, c'mon, is this taking the organic movement just a few sweet steps too far?

Whatever. I LOVE the fact that there are no artificial colours or flavours in this stuff. I cringe any time my kids eat the sweets with Red #4 or what have you.

Obviously all-natural cotton candy can't be described as good for you, but I'm all for this new take on an old treat.

Among the company's flavours are strawberry, mango, root beer, bubble gum (seriously? there's an organic version?), watermelon, blueberry, and chai.

The bonus for us was that it was free, complements of lululemon. That's almost worth doing a few extra Downward Dogs for.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Everyday Vegetarian makes meatless meals a breeze

You've gotta love it when a cookbook follows through on the promise delivered in its subtitle. In the case of Everyday Vegetarian, "Meat-Free Meals in Minutes" ain't no lie.

Written by Brenda Stanley, a former cooking-show host who lives on a small ranch in Idaho, the cookbook is loaded with recipes that will help you avoid the dread that sometimes accompanies 5 o'clock, when you realize all of a sudden it's almost dinner time, the kids are starving, and you have no idea what you're going to serve.

The most extreme example of just how fast a meatless meal can be thrown together is Stanley's Five-Can Stew. Take a can of diced tomatoes, corn, minestrone, mixed vegetables, and black beans (rinsed). Mix and serve.

You might want to check those cans to make sure the linings don't contain BPA, of course, but still, some nights just call for easy-as-can-be, and you could do a lot worse than preparing an entire supper out of non-perishable goods you happen to have on hand.

Stanley mostly sticks to fresh ingredients, however, in dishes ranging from Broccoli Cheese Chowder and Creamy Mushroom Fettuccine to Eggplant Rigatoni and Zucchini Enchilada Casserole.

I'm always looking for new vegetarian recipes; even better when they're quick and easy. Brenda Stanley shares one with us below.

Hearty Spinach and Chickpea Salad with Yogurt-Mint Dressing.

 2 cups vegetable broth or water
1⁄2 cup bulgur (cracked wheat)
1⁄2 tsp. ground cumin
1⁄4 tsp. sea salt or salt
1⁄8 tsp. black pepper
1⁄2 cup quick-cooking couscous
1 (15-oz.) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
5 cups baby spinach or torn spinach, rinsed
1 cup coarsely chopped apple
1⁄2 small red onion, thinly sliced, separated into rings

 In a medium saucepan combine broth, bulgur, cumin, salt, and black pepper.

Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, about 10 minutes or until bulgur is
nearly tender. Remove from heat. Stir in couscous. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes.
Using a fork, fluff grain mixture. Transfer to a large bowl; cool slightly. Add chickpeas.
Cover and chill 2–24 hours or until completely chilled.

Meanwhile, prepare dressing by mixing ingredients in a small bowl, adding lemon
juice to thin until desired consistency is reached. To serve, arrange spinach on a large
serving platter or in individual bowls. Spoon grain mixture on top of spinach. Top
with apple and onion. Drizzle dressing evenly over salad.


1⁄2 cup yogurt
1–2 tsp. lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1⁄4 cup mint leaves, finely chopped
salt and black pepper

Monday, August 18, 2014

Mouldy droppings: C'mon dog owners, pick 'em up

Can you spot the mouldy dog poop?
There's nothing like getting out for a walk in the gorgeous greenery of Lynn Valley.

The North Vancouver region has stunning trails for people of all ages and fitness levels.

How totally disappointing and just plain gross to stumble across not just piles of dog poop here and there but mouldy piles of dog poop.

This is what happens to your beloved pet's waste, dog owners, when you shirk your responsibility and let it sit there:

That's not a couple of cotton balls.
And just like at beaches and parks, that dog poop is just waiting to be stepped on, getting lodged within the treads of innocent people's running shoes.

What usually happens is that little kids will step in it, then some of the excrement inevitably ends up on their fingers, which inevitably end up in their mouths, and then they get sick.

Thanks, lazy dog owners, for sharing your furry family member's feces (faeces, as per below) with the world. I beg of you, please scoop your poop.

"Pick up thanks." Not ideal grammar, but the message rings true.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Chicago With Kids

With speakeasy-style spots like the Drake Hotel’s Coq d’Or lounge, which opened the day after Prohibition ended in 1933, and Buddy Guy’s Legends blues club, Chicago is home to some of the world’s coolest bars. Call them just some of the Windy City’s Hip Places You’ll Never See if You’re Travelling With Kids.

But if you do have tiny tourists in tow, America’s third-most-populous city has plenty to entertain little ones—and mollify their parents.
You might, for instance, find yourself on a mission to meet Sue. Even if your kid doesn’t aspire to be a paleontologist, most children are fascinated by dinosaurs, and this old gal will stop you in your tracks. Named after Sue Hendrickson, the fossil hunter who discovered her in South Dakota in 1990, Sue is the world’s largest, best-preserved, and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton. More than 12.8 metres long and weighing over 1,800 kilograms, the beast makes for an awe-inspiring entrance into the Field Museum, an impressive structure in itself situated on the shores of Lake Michigan.
When a docent asked our six-year-old—who does, in fact, dream of finding fossils—if he’d like to hold one of Sue’s actual teeth, you’d have thought he’d died and gone to the late Cretaceous period. He needed two hands to hold the serrated incisor, which was bigger than a plantain.

Although Sue is the Field’s most imposing creature on view, other dino exhibits are just as captivating. There’s the McDonald’s Fossil Preparation Laboratory, where visitors can see mask-clad paleontologists at work in what resembles a dentist’s office with all those bright lights and sharp tools. And kids can go on a dinosaur dig in the Crown Family PlayLab, sifting through bits of recycled tires to discover massive bones underneath.

What’s the best way to drag children through the Art Institute of Chicago? Good question, and if you know the answer, let me know. But it’s worth bribing them with wooden puzzles from the gift shop just to see the museum’s impressionist collection. In less than an hour you can take in masterworks like Georges Seurat’s 1884 A Sunday on La Grande Jatte and Vincent Van Gogh’s 1886-87 Self-Portrait. If you have the stamina, check out other highlights like Marc Chagall’s America Windows, which even kids find dazzling, and iconic works by the likes of Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Edward Hopper, and Grant Wood.

Fortunately for culture-craving moms and pops, Chicago has a progressive and impressive public-art program, and just steps away from the AIC is the 10-hectare Millennium Park. There sits Anish Kapoor’s mind-bending Cloud Gate, a giant, stainless-steel, mirrored blob that has a four-metre arch you can walk under and gaze up at. Nearby are the two 16-metre-tall glass towers at opposite ends of a shallow pool that make up Spanish artist Jaume Plensa’s Crown Fountain. The towers’ LED screens project video images of Chicagoans’ ever-shifting faces that sometimes blow kisses—then spew water. Both installations make for perfect, picturesque playgrounds.

Perfect, that is, if the weather is cooperating, which in Chicago it often isn’t. We were there at the end of May and froze our blackhawk feathers off, and friends who’ve visited in the fall said the same thing. When packing for Chicago, always bring something warm.

Then there’s the wind. The kids would have loved a ride on the 15-storey Ferris wheel at Navy Pier, a 20-hectare lakefront playground that’s also home to the Chicago Children’s Museum (which won the kids over with its Kovler Family Climbing Schooner, complete with three levels of shiplike nets and ladders to scramble up and down). But day after day the winds were so strong that the big wheel wasn’t spinning.

Ironically, Chicago didn’t get its Windy City nickname because of howling gales. The name goes back to the late 1800s, when long-winded politicians boasted about the city hosting so many conventions and expositions.

Forgoing what would have been a spectacular view from that Ferris wheel, we opted for two kid-friendly tourist attractions that offer expansive vistas instead.

Little ones have no fear of the vertigo-inducing glass balconies that jut more than a metre out from the Willis Tower Skydeck’s 103rd floor. A little less nauseating is the John Hancock Observatory. The building itself is an architectural icon with its exterior’s distinctive X-shaped bracing. With a City Pass—a book of admission tickets that allows you to take in five attractions for far less than what you’d pay for them individually—a trip to the viewing deck comes with a free frothy strawberry milk for kids at Lavazza Espression Café. Adults get a coffee. At 300 metres above the ground, the café also sells panini, gelato, and cocktails. Taking in the stellar view with a drink in hand while the kids swooned over ice cream made for one of those rare moments that reminded us of the days when holidays were relaxing.

The Hancock building and the Willis Tower are both near Magnificent Mile, that famous, wide shopping street lined with the usual major shops, including Disney and LEGO.

Chicago is a walking city, so it’s easy to get around with kids—if you have the foresight to bring a stroller, which we didn’t. The city’s El (as in “elevated”) train is a highlight in itself for children: it’s kind of rickety and loud. Plus, it’s convenient and cheap. We were strangely envious when we saw a group of adults on Segway Personal Transporters on Lakeshore Drive. City Segways Tours offers three-hour guided adventures, allowing tourists not only to advertise to the world that they are, in fact, tourists, but also to take in major sights in the fresh air, fast. Alas, the minimum age is 12.
If every trip has regrets, here are ours. We never took an architectural tour by boat, a 90-minute voyage on the Chicago River. I would have loved to see more of the city’s striking architectural contrasts, like the way the new sparkling Trump International Hotel and Tower sits so close to the white -terra-cotta-clad, triangular 1924 Wrigley Building.

And despite having bought tickets to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, the beloved ballpark with ivy-covered walls where the score is still changed by hand, we never did see the famous baseball diamond: the game was rained out.

After that disappointment, we craved comfort food, and luckily dining out in Chicago with kids is a cinch. You can’t escape the fact that the town remains associated with deep-dish pizza (try the gooey spinach version at Giordano’s) and hot dogs. Portillo’s, a theme-restaurant chain with its Chicago location decorated in ’30’s and ’40s gangster memorabilia, offers a beef wiener stacked with half a kosher pickle the size of that aforementioned T. rex tooth as well as peppers, tomatoes, onions, and mustard (but no ketchup) on a steamed poppy-seed bun for just $2.35. Moms and dads can get a chilled schooner of beer for $2. See? In the Windy City, there’s something for everyone.

Access: Hotels in the Loop (downtown), Lincoln Park, and near Magnificent Mile are all close to major attractions in Chicago. We stayed at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers, which has views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago River.

Originally printed in the Georgia Straight

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Two Diets: The Grizzly vs. the Average Baseball Fan. A Cross-Cultural Study

Let's compare, shall we, the diet of Grinder and Coola, the two Grizzlies up at Vancouver's Grouse Mountain, and that of the average American baseball fan.
Is it any wonder there's an obesity crisis?
I don't even know what a Funnel Cake is, but knowing that it comes from the same vendor that sells fried Twinkies, I don't want to know.

Peak of Vancouver, August 9, 2014

Safeco Stadium, August 11, 2014