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Bob Hoye : Food Writer

Luncheon At The Castle

England in June can be very pleasant. It was in 2008 when we were in London on business and visiting friends near London. The extended weekend included a visit to Windsor Castle– on a special occasion. Prince William’s investiture of the Order of The Garter. He was number 1,000 to be granted the honour, which dates to 1348.

Of such ceremonies, it is considered the most medieval and quaint.

Rob retired as a colonel from the British Army and one of his colleagues had been appointed to the Military Knights. Benefits include nice two-level apartments in Windsor Castle right across from St. George Chapel. Duties include attending services and a role in various ceremonies, including the Garter.

With Rob driving, the invitation got us into the park where we enjoyed the “Long Walk”. Then into the Lower Ward where we found that the apartments had temporary stands built facing the Chapel. Some 20 folding chairs were setup for viewing in comfort. These were accessed from the second-floor living room.

With “bubbles” accompanying the introductions the late morning was looking good.

The served canapes were wonderful, especially the smashed little potatoes with caviare and crème fraiche. Sort of kedgeree rice balls were also memorable. The actual lunch was buffet from an ancient side board and we enjoyed ours sitting out on the deck. The cold ham with special mustard was delicious. Potato salad, mmmm.

The apartments were originally medieval, but were renovated in the 1840s. Ours was directly across from the entrance to St. George Chapel and it was fascinating to watch the VIPs arrive. Mrs. Thatcher’s arrival inspired long applause. Prince Harry stood joking with Kate Middleton until the principals arrived.

Our host changed into his Military Knight uniform, which seemed also to be from the 1840s. Very grand, as were the series of military bands as they marched down from the castle itself.

On both sides of the road, there were security police facing outwards and at alternate intervals were the Household Guards with their glistening silver helmets with the tall plumes. Some of the guards seemed right out of central casting.

The Royal party was dressed in medieval robes and large hats with ostrich feathers. Their walk down the road to the Chapel was casual, with everyone at ease. Jolly came to mind.

After the investiture, the principals were taken up to the castle in open carriages each driven by a postillion rider.

Then the party resumed as people went from apartment to apartment enjoying the glow.

Tea followed.

 

Lunch In The Shade: Surprise

The Bridge River is in the dry country of Southern British Columbia. A nice summer day can get hot, particularly on a south-facing slope. Our Department of Highways survey crew was working on relocating the road to above the valley floor.

We had started the day at the Jones Creek Camp for some 80 construction workers. The food was good and lots of it. Steaks, chops, roasts and strawberry short cakes. There was a station where everyone made their lunch. Metal “lunch pails” with the rounded top that held the thermos flask were popular. However, our young crew favouring calories over coffee, discarded the thermos and filled the space with the good stuff.

This included sandwiches, tins of smoked oysters, bananas, apples and oranges. Up and down slopes all day used a lot of calories.

It was getting towards noon and we were on an old and level game trail. Being early in the summer, the open sidehill was covered in lush grasses and wild flowers. it was a couple of hundred feet of steep slope down to the flats, which turned out to be key to the story.

Ahead there was one very large Ponderosa Pine shading the trail. A good place for lunch. After finding a comfortable part of the mountain, I was wondering what to enjoy first when Smitty said there was a bear up the tree. I looked up and couldn’t see it, but others in the crew said there was. So I got up from comfort and sure enough there was a yearling brown bear.

I looked around and, fortunately, there was no mother bear in sight. The only weapons we had were 2.5 pound axes and belt knives.

The idea of moving on was suspended as Smitty started to climb the tree. Feeling responsible, I told Smitty to “get down”. He kept climbing and the bear who was getting agitated climbed further up the tree—backwards with his face down and hind end up.

Others in the crew were also shouting to “come down”. By this time, they were virtually face to face with the young bear snorting at the intruder. A lot of noise and excitement.

But, the bear kept backing up as Smitty continued to climb.

It can never known if Smitty had a plan, but if there was it was abruptly lost. The scene is still frozen in my mind as the higher they climbed the smaller the tree became. Then finally the bear was reaching up with a hind foot for a branch that was not there. It decided to come down—in a panic.

Finding the panic irresistible, Smitty started down. Well what else could he do? But not fast enough as the bear passed him on the way down, tearing his shirt and jeans.

With this, the crew was helpless with laughter only to be driven to utter collapse. The bear hit the ground at the foot of the tree and losing balance rolled all the way down the slope. Spinning faster and faster. When it hit the flats it could hardly stand let alone run.

I can’t recall if I finished lunch with tinned oysters or the little brisling sardines.

 

Skiing-Cuisine-Wine

Over the decades, skiing has changed a lot. Always a wonderful sport, both the equipment and techniques have evolved. For the better. Food services have changed a lot. Also for the better. Memories flow. This writer started when ski-pants were baggy and his face was smooth.

While never full time “ski bums”, we had very little money and skiing has always been relatively expensive. So, on one side there was the challenge of deep snow and bumps. On the other side was thrift, which is never voluntary.

Near Salt Lake City, Alta hosts deep snow with slopes steep enough to make a fabulous legend. The “Powder Bowls” of Alta were reached with the world’s second chairlift, which was built in 1938. The first was invented in Sun Valley in 1936.

In the 1960s, only about 20 percent of the skiers at Alta could handle the deep and for those who could it would take three days to carve up all the fresh stuff. And then it would snow again. Always deep and light, we called it “desert snow”.

Nowadays, new snow on any mountain will be carved up in only a couple of hours, but the food services are outstanding. That’s up top as well as in the valley. And for any budget.

Back in the day, we stayed at low-priced motels and bought the cheapest groceries possible. One would go through a cafeteria line, pour a mug of hot water, put in some ketchup, one of the little things of milk and crumble in a package of crackers. As a French chef would say – “voila” – hot cream of tomato soup.

Carbohydrates were needed for energy and a “filler”. On the way to the mountain there was a donut factory and at the retail door, there would be boxes of rejects. We fondly called them “cripples” and a good top up would last for most of the day. Inexpensive, but drinkable wine, provided the evening entertainment. At $1.75, these were half the cost of a lift ticket.

Famous for snow, Alta has avalanche problems. There were few places where accommodation and bars could be built, so there was little of the night life usually enjoyed in ski villages.

In Idaho, Sun Valley provided all, repeat all, of the amenities. It lives up to its name in weather and provides some of the best-groomed skiing in the world. On a budget or not, the village is marvelous. Picturesque and loaded with fashion.

Going from the powder bowls of Alta to the fleshpots of Sun Valley was a “night and day” transition. Both in the style of skiing and in entertainments.

Particularly some years later when budgets had advanced beyond thrifty. Chicken wings and salad in the Roundhouse at the top of the lift system were outstanding for lunch, especially compared to a small bag of broken donuts.

Sun Valley gets sun and that implies moderate amounts of snow, particularly early in the season.

This was the sad condition going into one New Year. And a ski resort without snow has its own type of gloom, which hangs like a clinging fog – everywhere.

All day and all night, but one needs to go out so we booked at the Trail Creek Cabin. This is a rather nice restaurant and one can get to it by horse and sleigh. Not on that evening, but our window table had a nice view of the long brown grass on the banks of the creek.

Inspired by the pall, the servers were at their best.

Hoping for our own inspiration, we started with a modest champagne, which picked us up a little. After careful study, I chose the rack of lamb with mustard and herb coating which was outstanding. Others at the table enjoyed their dishes as well.

A rather nice Pinot Noir from the Russian River in California was helping, but in looking around the mood was generally downcast.

The view of the old grass was not comforting but it was compelling to look out at the well-lit scene. And then, and it took only a glance, snowflakes were coming down. Not just ordinary ones, but huge and the air was thick with them.

In an instant, the thrill of discovery went around the room as did orders for more wine.

We reached for a Margaux, which was slowly savored. In those days, it was only about twenty times the cost of a lift ticket, now it’s some seventy times.

Up on Mount Baldy, more than a foot of fresh snow and sunshine provided one of the great days of skiing.

Sigh.

 

Lake Trout In The North West Territories

It was a bright sunny day in May, when our De Havilland Beaver landed on the ice-covered lake north of Yellowknife. The terrain was mainly flat, relieved with glaciated rock hills covered with lichen. Small trees and bush were next to the muskeg which was next to the lake. Although the climate is semi-arid, the region has thousands of lakes. It was daunting to think that for many hundreds of miles in any direction it was all the same. Bush pilots would hold a map up and glance along it in order to match their position with the terrain. They were heroes and it was said that if one ran into trouble remote from a lake, he would spit out the window and then land on it.

The camp had four wall tents on platforms on solid rock, which was “first class”. The kitchen tent was on a point jutting into the lake and the breeze would keep most of the bugs away. Gordon, a former trapper, was the cook. The crew, I learned by the end of the summer, was made up of some of the worst “bush rats” in the whole Canadian Shield. As a student geologist, and when the engineer was away, they were easy in pretending that I was in charge. It was a dry camp and we got a lot of work done on a beryllium prospect. Beryllium was the” space-age” mineral and it made for a good stock promotion.

Big trout, fresh from the lake, were filleted and sauteed in butter. Gordon knew about cooking and served the trout with lemon and capers. They were outstanding.

Initially, as the ice retreated, these were caught by casting from shore. The water was clear and we soon learned that Northern Pike were also interested in the lure. These were bony and not that good for eating and if you were catching one of these you were not catching a trout. When one of these brutes was seen, the lure would be reeled in faster than the big fish could swim. They would almost come out of the water, looking up with yellow eyes and their underslung jaws had serious teeth.

The crew called them “crocodiles”.

As the summer progressed, the lake got warmer and the trout got deeper. A wood-canvas canoe was used for deep trolling. We were not dependant upon caught fish and I recall some delicious roasts and steaks. Tinned bacon from Denmark for breakfast………mmm.

One would not know if it was a pike until it was hauled into the canoe. Pliers and a glove were used to remove the hook so that the fish could be thrown back.

In his early sixties, Ernie was from Norway and spoke with an accent. The first I learned of a problem was when he appeared at the door of the cook tent. He had the fishing leader in one hand and a pair of pliers in the other. In the end of his nose was the barbed hook.

Ernie said “I pulled and I pulled and it yust wouldn’t come”.

Kneeling in the bottom of the canoe, he had the lure free from the big pike, which did a violent flip and his nose got the hook.

Waving sheets, we got the attention of a pilot who took Ernie to the Doc in Yellowknife. The hook was removed and then there were social pressures. He bought a case of Canadian Club whiskey and in a cab took a bottle to each of his friends who were not working. They lived in a part of town called “Moccasin Square Gardens”.

Of course, the whiskey was enjoyed straight on each visit. Tradition was that when a bottle was opened the lid was thrown away. Then it was passed around and when the pilot finally got Ernie into the plane he had an open bottle in his firm grip.

The pilot had to help him out of the plane and his next step was off the float and into the lake. Although it must have been a shock, Ernie showed marvellous presence of mind. When he surfaced he had his thumb over the top of the bottle.

Pan-fried Lake Whitefish were also enjoyed. They were a smaller fish and caught in a net strung out from shore.

Nothing could go wrong.

 

A Surprise At A Fine Italian Restaurant

Late November is a good time to enjoy an evening in a fine Italian restaurant. Actually, there are number of months suitable for superb dining. This is quite the opposite to Mark Twain’s list of bad months for investing. His list was twelve and so is ours.

Last November, recorded another special birthday dinner with enjoyable wine. For the red, a Sassicaia can be outstanding and for a special evening– reachable in price.

For an initial course, the West Coast Kusshi oysters are delicious and compare very well to the East Coast “Blue Points” if you are in the US. Or “Malpeques”if you are in Canada.

Served on ice, of course, and with a nice Prosecco, we were off on a quiet celebration. Somehow the ambience including the vaulted ceiling, wooden beams, and racks of wine bottles enhances conversation. Amusements seem to bubble up from nowhere. Especially when Fr…….. Is your server.

The transition to the main course was assisted by a subtle calvados sorbet.

Lois had the BC Salmon with Lemon Preserves, White Asparagus and a Chives Emulsion.

After deliberate study, I chose the Spring Rack of Lamb with Cassoulet and Grilled Vegetables. It was wonderful.

A mellow mood arrived and coasted us out to a shared Poached Pear Tart for dessert.

It is hard to determine when mellow turned to risk.

To complete the evening, I decided to have a grappa. Very Italian. Considering where we were I thought that the most expensive one would be worth trying.

That was Thursday and our regular group meets at the same restaurant for Friday Lunch. The genial proprietor joined us for a few minutes of conversation.

I mentioned how pleasant the previous evening had been and also quietly related the mistake of trying the grappa.

Said that “It tastes like gasoline”.

Proprietor said “Yes!”.

 

 

Cuisine To Carmel

Amongst other things, Carmel is the centre for vintage sports car racing. Called the “Historics” they are held in August at the same time as the Pebble Beach Concours. Both are premier car events in North America.

Each year a marque is featured and when it was Alfa Romeo it inspired a tour from Vancouver.

We were in an 1970s GTV which is a small coupe, They are quick and comfortable, designed for long distance touring. With enough room for minimalist camping gear. This included a dome tent, sleeping stuff, mountaineering cook stove as well as appropriate beverages.

Of course, the best roads have the most turns so we planned a route down the Pacific Coast. The weather was very good and it took four days to do the 1000 miles. Fun drives with nice lunches and leisurely dinners.

The good stuff begins just south of Bellingham on Chuckanut Drive. This is next to the ocean with some nice “twisties”. It also features the Oyster Bar, which being right on the cliff has fabulous views. The Seafood Bouillabausse was outstanding with hints of fennel and saffron. My partner savoured the Crab Cakes, garnished with mango chutney.

What a start!

On other trips I found that the Alfa straight-four engine had enough room between the cam covers to hold four cobs of corn. These were shucked down to the last leaves, which were peeled back so that the kernels could be slathered with butter. The leaves were smoothed out and the cob wrapped in foil. Cooking was done at 50 mph for 40 minutes.

We had a book with a description of camp sites and in stopping early each day we found some very nice places.

At the coastal communities we would pickup some fresh seafood and the makings for dinner.

With appropriate timing the corn would be put on the engine and it was fun to pull into a spot next to a big camper. The bigger the better provided the best entertainment. That was for those watching a small car in Italian Red. In twenty minutes the tent would be up, sleeping bags spread out and folding chairs set up.

The little stove would be on the picnic table with dining things on a nice cloth.

Then pleasantly sitting with Tanquerays and Tonic our neighbours would sidle over with opening comments about such comforts from a such small car. Then in joining us for the cocktail hour, they would insist upon providing ice cubes.

It happened on a couple of afternoons, adding to a memorable trip.

The best part with our new friends was to casually stand up, lift up the hood and take out hot, buttered corn-on-the-cob.

Amusing for all, and a delicious starter for us.

Followed by pasta with shrimp and clams Alfredo (from the package).

Some salad, then port and cheese.

The weather stayed good and Carmel was wonderful.

 

Hotel Okura

It wasn’t certain what we would see when first visiting Tami in Tokyo. Being a tourist has never been a passion, so meeting a long-distance friend and business associate was the first thing, seeing Japan was the next.

The flight from Vancouver started with some “bubbles” and then we were into the Hotel Okura in time for a brief rest. Then to meeting our friend for drinks in the Orchid Bar.

The Okura is one of the premier hotels in Tokyo and being across the street from the US Embassy, one wing often hosted the presidential entourage. In his novel, “You Only Live Twice”, Ian Fleming had James Bond visit the hotel as a guest.

Tami is an engaging host.

One of the best places for Kobe Beef is right in the hotel. It really is outstanding. Guests sit at the bar, which is built around the grill. Up close and friendly, the chef prepares the beef and provides an easy ambience. Adding to this was another couple who were at the bar when we sat down.

Everyone joins in.

Teppanyaki Sazanka is the name of the bar. How do you say bonhomie in Japanese?

The carefully raised and prepared Wagyu beef is amazingly marbled. With highly-skilled rather than flashy knife handling, the chef trims the beef and puts the tasty little bits to one side. Conversation and amusements flow and it is fascinating to watch the steps through the evening. Delicious portions of beef, perfectly seared, are served with salad, sauces and sort of a fried rice. The “tasty” little bits of trimmings had become crispy and enhanced the rice.

A crepe with ice cream and fruit was on offer for desert.

Too tempting to be refused, it provided a sweet close to a convivial meal.

More bubbles and then retirement.

 

30sportcoupeJP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memorable Cuisine, Not Haut Cuisine

In the days before fast-food burgers a freshly-built and stacked-up burger was the teenager’s delight. Particularly in BC’s Okanagan Valley when nighttime would bring in Seattle’s big radio station. In the mid 1950s, KING would play the top hits, sponsored by “Earnie—The Hamburger King”.  The commercials included descriptions of “Lucious Burgers”. Along with cool tunes, the vision became compelling. Very compelling.

My 1930 Model A Ford Coupe was not up to the mountain passes, so we caught a ride on a big Semi to Vancouver and the train to Seattle.

To “Earnie’s” and in walking in, the place  looked and felt good. The grill was in the middle of the restaurant. As were the chefs, who when the patty was cooked would flip it up in the air and catch it on the bun. You had to be there.

If you were, it was the most memorable burger in history.

In saving our summer wages, this was a planned event.

Some 40 years later there was the impromptu discovery of another memorable  burger.

I like to stay in nice old hotels and the Heathman was the place in downtown Portland. Just up the street was “Higgins”, an upscale  restaurant with a “character” bar in the side door. After a couple of cocktails, I  looked at the bar menu and asked if I should have the burger?

It was strongly recommended.

Well, it was the greatest in forty years and after telling the bartender the story we named it the “Serendipity Burger”.

Completely unplanned, but also never forgotten.

 

 

Tree Line Cook Tent

The cook tent was set on a ridge near the tree line at 3500 feet, just north of Terrace, British Columbia. On one side, the view was down to the Nass River, which valley floor only 250 years ago had experienced a massive lava flow. This is just plain ugly rock with not enough of a soil build-up to support plant life.

The other side of the ridge was steep down to a beautiful tarn lake, surrounded by scree slopes, last season’s snow and clusters of fir trees.

Being late August it was not long before seasonal snow would begin.

A gold showing was being evaluated by driving a tunnel into the mountain and another big wall tent accommodated two miners, a geologist and the cook. It was hunting season and soon a year-old mountain goat provided a memorable dinner. The stove did not include an oven so the roast was slowly simmered in a big pot. With some herbs the aroma was wonderful and so was the meal.

In early October it was getting rather cool. Overnight, the cook would put his false teeth in a mug of water. That was until one morning when they were frozen in.

Eventually, the job was finished and the crew walked down and drove to town. They gave the “OK” to the helicopter guys to come and pick up the equipment and me. That was the day the weather changed and being close to the coast, it can really snow.

The days were spent pulling the snow off the tent roofs and putting up pole-markers for the stacks of equipment. Then the routine was to get the snow off the roof, to read and wonder what to have for dinner.

After some ten days I must have been getting a touch of cabin fever. Decided to make donuts. Without a recipe. Without experience.

The result was some round buns, somewhat smaller than a tennis ball. Covered with cinnamon and sugar they looked delicious, but were very hard. Hard enough, that they had to be split with an axe.

That was it. The next morning with a small pack of food, not including the donuts, I headed out. It was a white-out, but the slope of where the trail should have been kept me in the right direction until I got down into the trees. Then the trail become clear.

Below the snow line, and making good time, there was a “woof” and a black bear rose up from the bush. In coming straight at me I was very concerned and then there was another “woof” behind me. Fortunately, the first bear went right by as he caught up with his buddy.

The snow storms continued and the weather did not break until early November when the helicopter finally got in.

The prospect was not economic and I have never tried to make donuts since.

 

Mining Camp Dining Hall

There are three main criteria for success in a remote camp. Good food, hot and plenty of it. Well, in remote what else is there?

The last one I was in was at the south end of Buttle Lake in Vancouver Island. Close to the impressive Myra Falls, which was the name of the camp. The old dining hall was on skids and quite likely from a former logging operation.

Just getting to the camp was interesting and required an hour and a half boat trip down the lake. The boat was about 30 feet long with a cabin for some 25 passengers. Access was from a floating wharf to the gunnel, down a step to a bench and then to the floor of the elliptical fan-tail.

After days off, we had to wait for the last guy who had had too much to drink. He was staggering along with a case of beer in each hand. As he got onboard, these were placed conveniently on the bench and once in the cabin he fell asleep. Upon mooring at the end of the trip, being last one in, he was first out.

Still half asleep, he stepped up onto the bench and with a case in each hand up onto the gunnel, and…..There was a problem, discovered too late. The boat had been moored  with other side to the wharf.

Weighted by the cases, he sunk upright, to the bottom. Fortunately it was eye-level deep. With a shelving shingle beach, he had the presence of mind to keep weighted down by the beer and walked to shore.

Cheers all the way around.

As the days shortened into December, it would get completely dark by 5:30, which was the time the doors of the dining hall opened. The tables could handle six men, seated on benches. Flunkies would serve the food in hot crockery bowls. With all of the passing going on, the worst place to sit was in the middle of the bench. Also, there was a lot of reaching.

We called the meal “dislocated chicken” because it was mainly wings and legs. With roasted potatoes it was very good and popular.

Amidst all of the talking, passing and reaching, the generator failed and the lights went out.

Pitch black and shocked silence.

Then from the dark came a voice:

“Leggo my arm!”

……………………………….