Friday, July 21, 2017

Memories of Victoria, British Columbia

By Cal Orey

Early July I found myself  keeping true to a vow and going to Victoria, British Columbia. I didn't know what to expect but whatever the trip brought me I knew it would be sweet solitude. After living at Lake Tahoe for almost two decades I finally get it. During the Fourth of July if you're not a tourist it's the time to take a vacation.

The thing is, while I craved quietude I did want a bit more excitement. Probably the most intense moments were when I was searched at the airport (blame it on jewelry), and the stowaway on a CRJ700 en route to Victoria. Not sure if the crew found the extra passenger but we were delayed 30 minutes.
Okay so I didn't follow the flock. I was going to go the popular Butchart Gardens but I truly prefer aquariums like the one in Vancouver. I didn't want to be sandwiched in between strangers on a van for more than one hour.  It was my idea to enjoy an impromptu, scenic time viewing seaplane rides (I should have done that), and the beauty of the Pacific Northwest which always includes water. 

Mine Every Morning
The memories I'll always cherish are the water moments: Swimming every morning and taking a hot tub without a soul; making contact with a solitary seal at Fisherman's Wharf; and taking a boat tour on the Gorge--it flows to the Inner Harbour and the open Pacific Ocean, my lifeline to the Golden State. I wished the swells were larger and water choppier but it was calming. Less than more people were on the boat as we listened to the captain spin tales of the inlet. 

Viewing local on kayaks reminded me of Tahoe as well as ducks and a few swimmers. But I admit I was bit by the boat bug. Decades ago my former significant other at the time took us to Catalina. I was hesitant to take the ferry due to listening to people who warned me about choppy water. The way over was a smooth ride as well as coming back to Long Island. Also, we rented a small boat (which almost capsized) but it was fun.
So this trip on the water was a fun one for me mixing memories of the past and present. Yet it made me wonder, "Why didn't I book the whale adventure?" Now that would have most likely presented more feelings of excitement.

Speaking of booking trips, I canceled the "tea experience" at The Empress. After all, I finished writing the book on tea, literally, and have more types of tea in my pantry than they offer. However, I did sit in the restaurant--not the tea room--and ordered white tea and a tossed salad. The tea was another unforgettable experience that I took home with me.
As I sit here in the mountains amid towering pine trees I'm craving a city and water environment. Perhaps this yearning comes from going to school at San Francisco and spending so many years there. I supposed my future travels can give me that boost of water that I love but maybe it's a sign to move on. Toying with the Northeast--Maine to Montreal--late fall. I long for diversity. And it may in reality be just 200 miles south of me in San Francisco. Maybe a book tour for The Healing Powers of Tea in January is going to be my next trip out of the Sierra--a sweet solace spot.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Hello Victoria! I've Landed--Where's the Adventure?

By Cal Orey

By 4:30 P.M. on Saturday afternoon the CRJ700 (the plane I feared taking for years) landed. So, after starting at 2:00 A.M., and taking a cab, shuttle van, flight to Reno-Tahoe onto Salt Lake City, then Seattle and to Victoria, and finally a cab to my lodging--I was whooped!

On July 1 to escape chaos on July 4 in the U.S.,  I walked into the hotel lobby located at the Inner Harbour in Victoria. I felt like the desk attendant thought, "Look what the cat brought in." After handing her the proper ID and payment, off I was soaring up the elevator to the 14th floor--with a promise of a suite with a view. I was clueless to what I was getting because the hotel doesn't flaunt these special rooms.

Once on the 14th floor, I slid the card key into the slot, slowly opened the door and walked into the hallway, living room, bedroom, and bathroom. I was greeted with three large windows boasting an island city, mountains, water,  and much more. I did adore Montreal, Vancouver, and Seattle but this room did have something unique. An English decor with Mediterranean colors of red, gold, and white made me feel out of my comfort zone but oh-so comfortable like home. The thing is, cloudy skies and rain like in Seattle are my cup of tea and this trip gave me blue sky and sunshine--not romantic.

Next up was the phone. Room service. After being surrounded by people and motion for hours and hours, I craved solitude. I hadn't eaten much for the day--coffee, tea, pretzels, and bottled water. 

Being a vegetarian sometimes when out of the country you will find yourself limited. "No baked potatoes?" I repeated to the voice on the phone. Felt like she assumed I was a strange Californian. I scanned the menu (several times). Sadly, there were no basic green salads either with my favorite vegetables. I pulled a Meg Ryan in "When Sally Met Harry" and ordered a salad with tomatoes, crumbled blue cheese, vinegar, olive oil, and French fries. I thought it would be a light meal...

When the food was brought into my room I was pleasantly surprised. The salad was not a side salad but a main dish (for me). The fries? A portion for four. While I was satisfied, the skinny health author who loves to fit into her skinny jeans, I ate about one third of the meal. Done.
The views of Victoria were calming and refreshing. After all, it took me a while to get it that that was my entertainment. There were no pay-per-view movies. No movies! As a film buff who views movies (drama, thriller, romance, mystery, and sometimes horror), I was horrified that I was movie-less! By 9:00 P.M. I fell asleep despite that it was still light outside much like Alaska in the summertime. Another surprise. No dog to take out. No cat to cuddle.  Still, I had landed in Victoria, British Columbia. My main goal for several years  had been achieved.

To Be Continued...

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Water and Watermelon, Canada-Style

Chilling with a Watermelon (Summer Salad)

This time of year at the grocery store seeing watermelons is a common sight. While this red melon (usually with seeds) is not my favorite fruit—it is a summertime favorite. I caved and tossed a small watermelon into the cart next to other seasonal fresh fruit. A watermelon fruit salad can make this no-cook food something to love...
Last week I did flee the Langolier-type tourist invasion, ending up in Victoria, British Columbia--a beautiful, calm retreat. One treat of the hotel I stayed at was a breakfast buffet in the concierge room. I recall seeing fresh pieces of a variety of summer fruit including pineapple, green apples, oranges, and watermelon. While I didn’t include them on my plate with a croissant, scrambled eggs, orange juice, and a large cup of coffee—I do remember the bright red chunks but it was the green apples I took back to my room for snacks. 

Actually it wasn’t the fresh fruit that wowed me overlooking Victoria Harbour; it was a seal at Victoria Pier. I experienced plenty of shops and eateries, boats and house boats, all full of charm. One of my goals for this adventure was to smell sea air, go on a boat ride, and bond with a seal like I used to do in San Francisco. After a pool swim in the morning, I strolled on the pier in search of seal. Almost immediately my eyes met with one single marine mammal in the water. It swam inland right up to me as if to say, “Hello! Welcome to Victoria.” I said, “Hey! What a good boy!” Once the seal was close to me (and the tourists could see clearly it was swimming in my direction) I snapped a photo or two and felt an instant connection to Mother Nature’s creature and Canada’s water.

Watermelon Summertime Salad Bowl
* * *
1 mini round seedless watermelon
Assorted fruit, 2 cups watermelon chunks, ½ cup each of sliced strawberries, orange slices, apple chunks, and peaches
2 tablespoons raw honey (local)                            
1 lemon, juice  
Cinnamon, nutmeg to taste

Using a sharp knife, slice a thick slice from bottom of watermelon to make a flat base so the melon will lie nicely on a large dish. Slice the melon in half. Scoop out melon of one half. Slice it like a checkerboard. Make horizontal and vertical cuts for watermelon square chunks. Scoop fruit out and place in a bowl, add other fruit. (It works well with kiwi, grapes and other melons.) Mix in honey, lemon, and spices. Cover and chill in refrigerator. Serve in bowls and top with Greek yogurt or gelato. Serves 6-8. 

This watermelon fruit salad is easy on the eyes and good for you, too. Watermelon is low in fat and calories, plus it provides some nutrients, including vitamin C and disease-fighting antioxidants. A watermelon salad like this one makes a super centerpiece for a picnic outdoors, brunch, or after dinner dessert. It’s easy to make and will help you chill, and give you time to enjoy the water at Lake Tahoe or escape to British Columbia's waters during our heat wave. Enjoy.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Healing Powers Series Author's Adventures in Victoria, B.C.

By Cal Orey

Last week during the Fourth of July invasion of the tourists at Lake Tahoe I kept a promise to myself. I fled.  I didn't want to cope with dogs off leash, flood lights, hot tub late night delight, and chaos. I craved quietude. 
Months prior this year I booked a trip to Canada. I've been to Vancouver several times but not Victoria. It was taking the ferry or CRJ700 that spooked me. This time, however, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and just did it...

Getting up at 2:00 A.M. to catch a cab, shuttle and 6:20 A.M. flight was a challenge but not as grueling as I had anticipated. Actually, taking my Aussie Skyler to the kennel earlier in the day was more heartbreaking. He had a semi-anxiety attack (put his bum on the floor and played mule to protest); and I cried out loud when calling the kennel a few hours later to see how my boy was doing. We both are super sensitive, Type A, high maintenance souls and do not like to be apart. A soulmate with paws? Speaking of paws...

My Siamese-mix Zen sensed I was going. He was extremely affectionate the last night except for shredding my arm later in bed after a purringfest. Another pet sign of rebellion? Despite the cat and dog acting out we endured the separation. I walked out of my cabin at 3:00 A.M. packed with a carry on and one piece of luggage. And all of my ducks were in a row. Exhale.

At Reno-Tahoe International Airport
Last time around TSA searched me in the early morning thanks to silver on my combat boots to necklaces. I was half asleep and stunned but it woke me up. Not fun before a cup of coffee. This time, because of printing out my ticket and it being scanned earlier by the higher up ticket people, it was smooth and easy, a pleasant surprise. There was time for caffeine and a bagel. Missing my fluffy Aussie was on my mind as I held onto my necklace (a heart locket with my pics of Zen and Skye)... but boarding the first aircraft, a 320 Airbus en route to Salt Lake City took me to another place literally.

I was on my way to an exciting fantasy. It was the beginning of leaving my life full of must-do lists and flying to Carefree World.  And this time there was no rough air. This small airport is easy to navigate and I seem to always find the salt water taffy (it takes me back to the boardwalk days in Santa Cruz). I passed on them going to Canada (thought of my dental cleaning); the tortilla chips and unforgettable salsa because you never know what you're going to get on a flight to cloudy Seattle. So, I ordered chamomile tea. It sufficed and I certainly give the herbal must-have kudos in The Healing Powers of Tea (reviewed by Publishers Weekly).

3 Hours of Sleep
Craving a Cup of Joe
A few hours later on my way to Seattle--a second home to me. I have a sense of belonging there--grey skies, S.F. type of city. 
Again, on the737-800 plane no rough air. Actually, I don't mind turbulence and actually missed a few bumps in the day. I did munch on sea salted pretzels, watched the film La La Land,  a 2016 musical romance but I was semi- thinking about Canada, a romantic place to me--and dreading the small regional flight--one folks warned me of bumps galore. 

Once at SeaTac, taking the "soul train" like in Atlanta (I love Georgia), and onto the upstairs waiting for the little but scary CRJ700 it was a surreal time. I felt like I had flown to an Asian country. Nobody spoke English. Now this was adventure. I called my sibling to get a lifeline to my world and ask about my fur kids. I left a dramatic message saying that I felt at last out of my comfort zone. In another world. It was fun! Cultural shock like I experienced when I was 21 arriving in Montreal--the first time. The metric system, French speaking people, and intensity was over the top but not the second round decades later.
Enjoyed a lingering conversation about quakes, aging, and health with a bohemian boomer, like me, who left New York for a self-help meditation retreat off the grid in Victoria. We made a connection.It was kind of like me looking for environment in Victoria while leaving beautiful Lake Tahoe. Well, it is healthy to depart your home looking for greener grass even though you may discover it was green enough all along where you were supposed to be.
No rough air on CRJ to Victoria

At last, I met my monster face to face. The CRJ! However, since it was a clear day, the flight attendants were calm, I sensed all my fears were in my imagination. But, the Australian woman next to me put on eye shades, ear phones (with those talky relaxation tapes), and a bib as she whispered to me: "I'm a nervous flyer." I winced and nodded. And into the air we soared...

To Be Continued...

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Scoop on Shakes and Smoothies

Summertime is the time for a cold and creamy milkshake. This sweet drink that goes way back in time, is a creation of milk, ice cream, and flavorings such as chocolate syrup. Back in my waitressing days (yes, I was a server) I'd make these drinks that took time using steel containers that you stuck into a machine (my shakes often whirled too fast and spilled onto the floor and ended my short restaurant career)...
The real scoop is, milkshakes were messy to make (on the job), and often included imitation vanilla ice cream and artificial whipped cream. No fresh fruits or assorted nuts. But times have changed or maybe I have morphed into a health nut and continue to think outside of the can and shake things up in the kitchen.

Several years ago when I penned the chocolate book I was treated to a former European hotel spa in Reno. Imagine savoring a Chocolate Silk Hydrotherapy Bath treat complete with an oversized bear claw Jacuzzi-style bathtub full of bubbling water and a chocolate scent while savoring house made chocolate truffles. After 30 minutes there was more in chocolate heaven. I was given a chocolate scrub/French manicure  and a tall chocolate milkshake to sip. But the perfectionist in me now says, "The shake could have been dark chocolate infused with fresh fruit chunks for a healthier kick."
So, just for you, dear readers, I’ve concocted an awesome chocolate delight that’ll wow your eyes and taste buds—at any age.

Sweet Double Chocolate Shake/Smoothie
* * * * *
4-5 ice cubes
1/2 cup organic half and half
1/4 cup organic low-fat milk
1 cup premium, all-natural chocolate ice cream
1 teaspoon premium unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup banana slices
1 tablespoon nut butter (your choice)
Strawberries and nuts (for topping and/or garnish)

Put all ingredients in a blender. If it has the smoothie button on it, all the better. Blend until thick but not too thin. Pour into glass mugs or glasses. Garnish with berries and nuts. Serves two small shakes or one large one. Hold the whipped cream unless it’s the real stuff you whip up yourself from scratch. * You can put the chocolate shake/smoothie(s) in the freezer for 15 to 20  minutes to make it colder.

This shake/smoothie was a super cool treat this week as our Tahoe heatwave is in the works. The chocolate is calming and energizing, the healthful ingredients are flavorful and well, summer healthy. A homemade shake/smoothie is simple to create and as I always say, you can control the ingredients to keep it healthy just the way you like it. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

California Gold Potato Salad for NorCal Author

California Gold Potato Salad

By Cal Orey

#1 Book Penned at Lake Tahoe
As a kid during summertime bar-b-ques and potato salad were common. In the backyard we’d be dished up a plate of chicken, corn on the cob, and a scoop of salad. History shows American-style potato salad comes from Europe. My mom would put it together using russet potatoes, plain mayonnaise, mustard, pickles, celery, and spices. I liked it but as time passed, my taste changed and this salad is now updated since I switch it up to my hippie clean food eating style.

During my two decades at Tahoe thanks to my travels to the Pacific Northwest and Canada, my healthful salads are even healthier, especially since I make them myself. During the Great Recession here on the South Shore, I admit it was like going back in time to graduate school days and living on a tight budget. One day at Safeway I grabbed a bag of potatoes. No processed, fancy foods or dining out for me. I became the DIY cook for survival’s sake. At home the potato and I became close friends. Shepherd’s Pie, baked taters stuffed with vegetables, French fries, and even potato salad were part of my regimen to get through the tough times. Translation: Several of the magazines I wrote for folded. I had to get a real job as a copywriter for Realtors around the Lake. But potatoes came to the rescue.
Red Mediterranean Potato Salad 
These days, times are a bit better. I get to travel a bit and share my tales in books on health and nutrition. So, here is a revised recipe inspired by my mom but with a new, improved West Coast twist.

Rich Wo(man)’s Potato Salad

4 russet potatoes, boiled (with skins on)
¾ cup mayonnaise with olive oil dressing (store bought)
½ cup green bell pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons red onion, chopped
Black pepper and sea salt to taste
1 cup baby spinach, chopped
¼ cup almonds, sliced
½ cup blue cheese, crumbled
Tomato slices (garnish)

In a large mixing bowl, place cubed potatoes. Add mayonnaise and mix. Add bell peppers, onion, pepper, and salt. Chill in refrigerator. Serve a large scoop of potato salad on a bed of spinach leaves. Top with nuts and sprinkle cheese on top. Garnish with tomato. Serves 4-6.

For summer I pair potato salad with homemade lemonade. To stay on the healthy track, mix it up yourself. Purchase lemons (a bit pricey), use bottled water (a bit pricey), ice cubes (a bit pricey), and pure sugar (on the cheap) or honey (a bit pricey). Slice 2-3 large lemons and squeeze juice into two 8-ounce glasses. Add water, sugar or honey to taste (less is more for good health), and ice. Stir, add a sprig of fresh mint (a bit pricey) and a straw. In the long run, it’s less costly than lemonade in a carton and all-natural. And it tastes sublime.
I keep it real but adding nature’s finest foods in salads, like potato salad, to add flavor and good for you nutrients.  And yes, this new recipe is better than my mother’s yellow stuff without the super greens, blue cheese punch, and crunch of nuts. So as times and cash flow can change--so can your eating style. P.S. Go meatless and enjoy this salad as an entrée or pair it with fish.
Motto: While money comes and goes, Mother Nature’s potatoes can get you through the best and worst of times like making lemonade out of lemons.

--Cal Orey, M.A., Is an author and journalist. Her books include the Healing Powers Series (Vinegar, Olive Oil, Chocolate, Honey, Coffee and Tea) published by Kensington. (The collection has been featured by the Good Cook Book Club.) 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Super Vegetables and Tea 21st Century-Style

Summer is on its way and lighter eating is part of seasonal change.  Going back in time a decade ago, at Safeway when I used to gaze at frozen packaged Stuffed Peppers, an American dish, filled with ground beef, white rice, and tomato sauce.  It took me back to when I was a kid and enjoyed my mom’s Porcupine Meatballs (the Stuffed Bell peppers were for the grown-ups).  Nowadays, going meatless and eating more vegetables is gaining momentum for me—and perhaps you, too.

Years ago, my mode of exercise on the South Shore would be to walk to foodie hot spots.  I’d treat myself to cold lemonade and hot French fries.  One afternoon while I sipped the beverage, I waited for a to-go order of fries. The server didn’t give me a strange look. She took my light order despite people were eating meals.  I happily left with my box of taters which I nibbled on during my trek with a get lean mission. Now, I eat first and my go dog walks me after.

Porcupine-Style Stuffed Bell Peppers
* * *
1 1/2 cups brown or yellow rice, cooked (try wild rice but it is high in sodium)
2 bell peppers, red or yellow
2 tablespoons European style butter or olive oil
2 tablespoons yellow or red onion, chopped
1 teaspoon garlic, chopped
3-4 tablespoons green bell pepper, chopped
¼ cup Roma tomatoes, chopped
Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

Black Tea is Healthy
In a pan, cook rice according to instructions. Meanwhile, in a skillet, melt butter or oil, sauté onion. garlic, and peppers. Add into cooked rice. Set aside. In a microwave dish with a half inch of water put two sliced, seeded peppers. Microwave about 1 minute. Remove and stuff rice mixture. Top with tomatoes. (You can use large tomatoes instead of peppers if you preferred.) Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with cheese. Makes 2. Serve with a fresh baguette slices dipped in olive oil. A cupful of green and purple grapes is a nice sweet dessert to add.
These stuffed peppers can be savored for lunch or dinner. For me, I ate one hot out of the oven for a light dinner, and the next day, cold leftovers one for lunch.  These days, I prefer eating grains and vegetables during the warmer weather.  Pairing it with black tea, fresh lemons, and less than more sugar is an acquired taste but a healthier choice. Home-style stuffed peppers and chilled brew will provide you with refreshment.  It’s worth the effort to put it together in the comfort of your home and you’ll enjoy the energy boost to go do it.