Living in Victoria - Fernwood Bites · 4.06.14 by colin newell
Fernwood’s tastiest event, Fernwood Bites, is back for the fifth year in a row. In partnership with Cook Culture & local restaurateurs, Fernwood NRG is offering food-&-drink-lovers a chance to sample Victoria’s finest fare at its annual tasting event and fundraiser.
Happening in Fernwood Square on Sunday, June 22nd, the event will feature an evening of food and drink sampling, live jazz, and a silent auction of items donated by local artists and businesses. Proceeds will help fund Fernwood’s sustainable food initiatives including the Good Food Box, Fernwood Neighborhood Orchard, and Kitchen Garden Pilot Project.
Participants in Fernwood Bites include 10 Acres Bistro + Bar + Farm, AJ’s Organic Cafe, Aubergine Specialty Foods, Be Love, Bon Macaron Patisserie, Bona Vini Wines Co., Cascadia Bakery, Charelli’s Cheese Shop and Delicatessen, Choux Choux Charcuterie, Cook Culture, Discovery Coffee, Fernwood Inn, The Hot & Cold Cafe, Hoyne Brewing Co., Lonetree Cider, Olive The Senses, Origin Bakery, Padella Italian Bistro, Phillips Brewing Co., Renaissance Wine Merchants, Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse, Silk Road Tea, Spinnakers, Stage Wine Bar, Stir It Up, Wildfire Bakery, Yates Street Taphouse, and Yonni’s Doughnuts.
Fernwood Bites will run from 5:30-8pm on Sunday, June 22nd in Fernwood Square (Gladstone at Fernwood). Tickets for this 19+ event are $50 and include all samples. Tickets are available online at fernwoodbites2014.eventbrite.ca.
About Fernwood NRG
Fernwood Neighbourhood Resource Group is a charitable organization that offers programs and services to the neighbourhood of Fernwood, including childcare, affordable housing, family support services, parenting groups, community recreation and celebration. Led by a membership of neighbourhood residents, Fernwood NRG sets as its highest goal social, environmental, and economic sustainability. Fernwood NRG believes that a neighbourhood society should be responsive, active, engaging and fun. For more information about Fernwood NRG, please visit www.fernwoodnrg.ca
For some more yummy looking photos of Fernwood Bites from last year – head over here
Colin Newell is a Victoria area resident and freelance food and drink writer – active in the Victoria area and Canada since 1995!
The Urban CBC Chickens of Greater Victoria · 28.04.14 by colin newell
Bonus Interview –
I consider myself an avid CBC Radio fan — and recently when a colleague told me about their urban farm in Victoria and how they named their chickens after local regional CBC Personalities – well, I could not resist pitching it to the local CBC station on 90.5
In the photo above, there’s Carol Off, (the black one), Jo-Ann Roberts (the gray one) and Anna Maria Tremonti (the red one)!
This podcast (interview) is around 4 minutes long – so strap yourself in.
Hats off to the CBC for listening to their listeners and knowing when a story has wings… and in this case, folksy charm.
Podcast – If you cannot see the audio player above, click here for the mp3 download.
Saaz Indian restaurant first impressions · 7.03.14 by colin newell
Andrea and I have been on the prowl for a great Indian restaurant for a long, long time. I will admit it – we both love the intense flavors and aroma of a great curry – and Victoria B.C. although having pretty comprehensive coverage of many a cuisine, Indian food is not something that we seem to do very well.
Well, that all changed with the arrival of Saaz Restaurant at 535 Yates St. in the lower part of Old Town in Victoria. Tucked in an unassuming old office building is an inviting, old school and rustic space that belies the incredible food within. Sure, we had read a few reviews on Urban Spoon and Trip Adviser – reviews I often take with a grain of salt – but in this case, all of the reviews were overwhelmingly positive and blindingly glowing. OK. We are in.
But let’s back up a step. It was our new Canadian English friends that suggested Saaz, because they, more than us really miss a great curry, the likes of which was pretty commonplace in the old country.
Anyway – after an quick e-mail to Gurpreet, director of operations and affable host – and getting a bit of a background on what the Saaz concept is all about – it became pretty clear that the potential for great food was here. So off we went tonight.
Saaz is a pretty rustic space – that once could have been an old school English pub in another life. The decor is pretty simple, clean lines in dark wood and brick. There are 3 distinct rooms in the space – 2 on the main, 1 upstairs – so there is an option for private parties. It is not all that much to look at – but what the heck. It is not so much about the layout as it is about the food, right? Well everything about the food shone bright. So onto that then!
We started with Mustard masala jackfruit with tomatoes, Curried brussels sprouts, onions and tomatoes, Prawns with garlic, coconut and spices, and Vegetables pakoras… there was 4 of us after all!
The Jackfruit (never had it before) is a cross between chicken and artichoke in texture in a mustard masala that is just hot enough but not overpowering. The pakoras were sublime and the lentil daal that came with the pakoras was immensely satisfying – could have eaten a bowl of this alone. The brussels sprouts would have been right at home with a Christmas Turkey dinner – but here they were on an Indian menu! Perfectly cooked with a little bit of crunch left over – but not overwhelmed by spice and a delightful nutty flavor remaining. The prawns were prepared perfectly, impeccably fresh and well spiced — with a bit more of a bite.
For mains, our team of diners tackled Lamb with garam masala and raw brown sugar (for Andrea) – Chicken Tikka , Chicken in yogurt, ginger, garlic cooked in the traditional clay oven for Sharon, Chicken in Kalonji seeds and spices for Steve and Butter Chicken for me. The rice pilaf served with each main is impeccably prepared, fluffy and light – rice that I cannot reproduce at home. I appreciated the portion sizes – by the time we got to the mains, we were pretty full from sampling appetizers – so it all worked!
I was playing it pretty safe with the Chicken but it was well balanced, presented in a, for me, a perfect portion size – with lots of flavor and authenticity.
Steve’s Chicken in Kalonji was very, very interesting – like most of the night, I was experiencing lots of new flavors. Between the 4 of us we also shared a plate of perfect and warm garlic Naan bread… the perfect compliment to everything else that was in front of us.
For dessert: Rose & Mango Kulfi (Ice Cream) – divine, a luscious and sensuous creaminess and fragrant botanical flavor spectrum that you have never had in a frozen bowl! We also had Gulab Jabun (Indian Doughnuts) in a simple cardamom infused sugar sauce. I would happily die eating these little morsels.
Service was professional, engaged and informative – we loved everything and look forward to coming back for more exploration.
Our friends, Steve and Sharon – who are sticklers for a good Indian feast were 100% satisfied – and that was a relief – because we have been at some of those other places in Victoria that left us somewhat heartbroken.
I wish Saaz and the team the very best and hope they succeed – this is a place that I would encourage everyone to try… and soon!
Saaz is located at 535 Yates St #103, Victoria, BC V8W 1K7 – (778) 433-7229
and their website is – Saaz Restaurant
We live and we love for Ray and all those that face loss. · 25.02.14 by colin newell
Was having “tea” at the Finnerty Express at UVic at three – and was visited by “Ray” a lovely 80 year old retired RCMP officer that lives in the area and often pops in for a coffee. He had some bad news today. His wife of 50+ years passed away after a wicked battle with cancer. He seemed to be taking it OK but reminded all of us to embrace the living… “Go home and hug your wife (or husband) tonight. Celebrate life when you are among the living…”
I have been offering condolences a lot lately and I guess (I know) that this is part of life. And it is especially important to embrace those who have experienced loss… like Ray.
We reminded him to drop into the cafe often, that we are here for him – and we are.
As he got up to go, we all shook hands… you know, the two handed more intimate form of the hand shake. I wanted to give him a big hug but wasn’t sure.
His last words were, “What am I going to have for dinner tonight? That is the awful thing… I can only drink so many bowls of mushroom soup…”
My heart goes out to Ray. I know all about loss but loss is something that is constant and omnipotent. But we must keep living and loving while adapting to loss. I cannot imagine going home to an empty space – my life is so truly blessed with a loving and devoted wife, and so many wonderful friends. It all really makes me appreciate the importance of the moment. The now.
It took a couple of hours but when I got home and had a glass of wine and some potato chips in my mouth (it is a ritual), I had a good cry – all that pent up grief coming out.
(But) You have to keep moving forward. People will come and go. It is part of life. Love the ones you are with. Pray for the departed. But most of all, embrace the living while they are on Earth.
Grande opening of the Victoria Public Market - why you need to be there. · 11.09.13 by colin newell
Victoria has a colorful and wildly uneven history of farmers and public markets – In fact, there is a pretty comprehensive journal from local historian and journalist Ross Crockford over here. It is a great read and I will borrow a bit from that article here – and the bulk of the sentiment.
Some thoughts in point form. Which I will expand upon…
- Victoria’s downtown needs a year round farmers market
- Why hasn’t there been a year round market all along?
- Even in the 21st Century we need to think about food security
- Buying from the chains is not always cheaper or better for the community
- By all means continue to support satellite, weekend markets and local businesses.
Why a market? So Victoria has the Moss Street market – one of the most notable and recognizable markets in the Victoria area – and it is well traveled – their website is over here – and for a small neighborhood market, it has stood the test of time. The MSM has been open 14 years or so now – and that (to date) is somewhat more stable than initial iterations of the first Victoria Public Market (which according to Ross Crockford) only lasted a few months.
…the owners blamed its failure on public indifference, and competition from Chinese farmers who peddled vegetables door-to-door. In 1878, white farmers successfully petitioned the city to build another indoor market, but the construction was so shoddy that the farmers stayed away.
At the time, Victoria was still something of a wild west and by some of the descriptions from historical references, much of the bureaucracy around the city administering a market was very much like it is today for most business people – difficult.
Even in the late 1800’s many farmers and producers sold their wares directly to retailers, negating the need for a public gathering place for food, services and entertainment.
Moving forward to the 20th Century, Victoria’s market struggled with progress but was re-energized by the
advent of World War (both of them) with issues of food security and patriotism being bandied about.
In the 50’s the final nails in the coffin of the Victoria Public Market was the arrival of chain stores, indifference to what was considered a quaint method of food gathering and a general neglect of the infrastructure.
As Ross Crockford points out in his historic observations, the downtown cores layout of real estate was coveted and public markets seemed contrary to progress – particularly with the advent of the automobile and decline of the street car as the predominant mode of transportation.
Why now? So why haven’t we (as Victoria residents) seen a surviving market through the years? Many European and American cities have had farmers markets that are upwards of a hundred (or in the case of Europe) hundreds and hundreds of years old.
Simple. Victoria never had a downtown population. Until more recently. I can remember scooting around Victoria in the mid seventies (as a young teen) noting that there were no Apartments in the downtown core – and many of the upper “flats” that used to exist in historic buildings on Government, Yates, Pandora and Fisgard avenues (for example) were boarded up or left fallow because of fire regulations.
In 2013, there are condos sprouting up in every corner of the city AND there are no downtown grocery stores (apart from the somewhat distant Yates Market at Quadra and Yates [which serves the area well thank you very much…]).
In the late 50’s and and until the mid sixties, downtown Victoria had an Eaton’s food floor and a Safeway (near the corner of Fort and Douglas) serving the needs of James Bay and Fairfield residents. I can remember as a young child in the 60’s popping into the Eaton’s Food Fair for some groceries (it was a real deal full service grocery then – much like the Woodward’s Food experience at Town and Country) and then hitting the soda fountain nearby for a Coke float. Additionally, the downtown had numerous general stores, like David Spencer Limited (commonly known as Spencer’s) who operated a department store chain – with a location in Victoria that lasted up until demolition to make way for the Eaton Center in the mid-eighties.
Anyway – staying on topic!
Food Security Anyone that says that we needn’t worry about our Island food supply has an agenda that it is not in the best interests of our local communities and neighborhoods. It was an issue in the 20th Century and it is an issue now. Why sell off our farm land for development while at the same time increasing our demand on an imported food supply? We are only one Earthquake or calamity away from pinching off a staggering dependency on food that is trucked and flown in on a scale that should give us pause.
According to food journalist, Don Genova, we produce around 6% of the food stuffs that we consume on Vancouver Island. And when you consider how arable this region is and how much we can actually grow if we put our minds (and shovels) to it… well, it’s shocking.
Chef, farmer and educator, Bill Jones of Deerholme Farm is one of our Island food professionals leading and raising awareness of Island food trends and the need to be cognizant of our fragile food supply – His educational curriculum and food learning program is a great example of how one person (and friends) can educate a lot of people about regional and local food production… and the fun of foraging!
One of my favorite rants on subject (of Island grown food management) was the practice of a very large Island grown food chain that was shipping Island grown produce to Vancouver for sorting… before it shipped it back to the Island… the excuse being “Our Island storage facilities are not big enough…” Give me a break. And people wonder why locally produced fruits and vegetables cost so much at the chains. To their credit, I think they have built a warehouse on Vancouver Island for sorting and storage of Island produce.
Want to contrast food pricing with the Chains? Try this exercise: Head out to one of the small satellite markets or farm vendors like the Root Cellar on McKenzie and Blenkinsop – and tell me their prices are not refreshingly cheaper than Thrifty Foods or Safeway.
Why support local? Why buy local? Creates jobs. Creates an incentive to produce locally. Instills a sense of community. Brings people together. And I am not just talking about farmers – but bakers, brewers, crafts people of all kinds. In a city the size of Victoria, you would think we would have dozens of great bakeries – we don’t but that could change if we stop buying unhealthy factory produced breads from afar.
I should stress that if you live in a neighborhood (or within a km or two of a neighborhood) that features cafes, bakers, brewers or meat markets – by all means support those ahead of your regional or local market! The idea is not to take away business – but to get people to walk to their markets or local businesses and artisans – to mingle and learn and be part of the community.
Historically, markets were built to serve an urban population – As stated, Victoria has not had an urban population (with the necessary density to support a full time public market) until the 21st Century. The time is now.
So we seem to be on the right track. In the last ten years I have seen the arrival of better choices locally, a raised awareness of the importance of a stable local food supply and a passion for “getting it done locally” that simple did not exist in the latter part of the 20th Century. We have come a ways – but we have further to go.
Let’s keep doing what we are doing Victoria has markets, day markets, summer markets, street markets and night markets. We are in the right track. By all means, keep supporting these initiatives – seek them out. Support them.
And by all means come out to the grande opening of the new Victoria Public Market this Saturday and Sunday!
I will be there – and so should you! Here is the link for finding your way to the Victoria Public Market opening on Saturday –