Saturday, July 29, 2017

Appetizers with a Victorian Flair

By Cal Orey
Meet a sophisticated Italian appetizer called crostini. These versatile cuties are made with small slices of toasted bread and an assortment of toppings.  Think cheeses, vegetables, herbs, and even fruit. These scrumptious treats go back centuries and were served to peasants who didn’t have plates—and these days crostini can be served to all classes of people, rich, poor and in between.
On my July trip to Victoria, British Columbia I was one of the lucky chosen few (a treat to the suite guests) to enjoy the concierge dining room appetizer bar. At five o’clock P.M., I entered the highest floor of the hotel with a picturesque panoramic view of the boat harbor complete with special food for special people. As the finicky semi-vegetarian it was the crackers, cheese, olives, and fruit that won my attention. I scooped up a plate full of the edibles and fled back to my room with the million dollar Inner Harbour view.  
Ironically, while I put together little appetizers a flashback of Tahoe visited me. Years ago when I was a stringer for the Tahoe Tribune I wrote a dozen articles for a magazine on noteworthy locals. My editor gave a magazine launch party at one of our town food spots. As the reclusive writer I forced myself to make a cameo appearance. When she asked me to read each article aloud I whispered, “Can someone else do it? I’m shy.” The extroverted publisher did the deed as I listened to my words on paper. Feeling calm out of the limelight I snuck over to the food table and snagged bruschetta (like crostini but larger toasted bread slices often with olive oil) to munch on.
So, back to the awesome Canadian suite complete with English d├ęcor. I put together artful appetizers like I enjoyed back at the Tahoe Tribune event. I placed different foods on the assortment of crackers and pretended they were the classic crostini and bruschetta appetizers are Victoria inspired with a taste of Tahoe.

Worldly Appetizers
Canadian Bruschetta
4 slices of a baguette or French bread (toasted or warmed up in the microwave) or multigrain herb crackers
4 cubes or slices of cheese (cheddar or goat)
2 Heirloom or Roma Tomatoes, chopped or sliced
Several olives, pitted, sliced
Red onion, chopped (optional)
Top each piece of bread or cracker with cheese, tomato, olives, and onion. Heat up or serve cold.

Dessert Yogurt and Fruit Crostini
4 slices of a baguette or French bread
¼ cup Greek yogurt (plain or vanilla), goat or feta cheese
4-8 slices fresh fruit (figs, green apples, nectarines, peaches, strawberries)
¼ cup walnuts or almonds (chopped)
Honey (optional)
Spread yogurt on bread. Top with fruit, nuts, and drizzle with honey
Both savory and sweet appetizers serves 2 to 4 people. Serve cold when the weather is hot, heat on cooler nights.

These tasty tidbits were fun to eat as well a healthful way to eat a light dinner. Back at home instead of a picture-perfect view of an island city, I whipped up these tasty bites in the comfort of my cabin surrounded by pine trees, and my view of a cat, dog, birds, and squirrels. And note, wherever you are this summer or year round these appetizers are worth writing home about. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Under the Tuscan Salad

Under the Tuscan Salad

In the summertime, cold pasta salad is a popular dish, especially when the weather is warm and chilled food is welcome.  A variety of pasta shapes can be used and this salad is often made with a zesty homemade vinaigrette, an assortment of vegetables, cheese, herbs and spices. Steaming hot Fettuccine Alfredo, Pasta al Pesto, and Spaghetti with Marinara Sauce are winners but during July it’s about cold eats.

The first summer I moved to Lake Tahoe, going to restaurants was something I did more than I do now. Blame it on becoming a food author. But back in the day when I was writing articles for magazines, I recall one time at our former Sizzler, a vegetarian’s delight. It was instant gratification time dishing up all types of salad include the noodle dishes—hot and cold. 
That particular hot night it was crowded, probably due to the heat and nobody wanted to cook. Instead of standing in line I played the machine where the big claw grabs a stuffed animal. On a mission to win I must have shelled out dozens of quarters. I complained to the manager. “The machine is rigged. I’m going to order the salad bar.” He opened up the money maker, picked out a big stuffed bear and handed it to me.  I smiled like a kid and thanked him.  I savored the different salads, especially the tangy cold pasta salad while sitting next to the furry prize that I should have won and sort of did. 
These days I make my own pasta salads. And finally, I mastered the art of putting together a cold noodle delight for old time’s sake inspired by the sweet restaurant manager who had a heart of gold for adults who like to have fun like kids do.

Tuscany Pasta Salad
1 ½ cups cooked pasta, whole grain rotini
½ cup all natural Italian dressing (or make your own vinaigrette with olive oil and vinegar)
½ cup tomatoes, chopped
½ cup broccoli florets, cooked
½ cup black olives, fresh, sliced (I used whole ones found at our friendly Safeway deli)
¼ cup bell pepper, chopped (optional)
2 tablespoons red onion, chopped
Black pepper and sea salt to taste
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a large bowl, mix pasta with dressing. Add tomatoes, broccoli, olives, bell pepper, and onion. Season well with pepper and salt for more flavors. Chill in refrigerator. Sprinkle with cheese. Serves 6.  Pair with a French bread or baguettes.

I was pleasantly surprised how easy this salad is to make. As a finicky eater I prefer to make my own salads because I know exactly what goes into it, from the type of pasta, ingredients of the dressing, and can pick out which vegetables I like. During the hot days ahead this salad makes a super side dish or can be served as a light meal. Either way it’s a keeper for the season of hot weather and summer adventure.

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 Beach. 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...