May, 2013

May 13

Sunday Morning Ice Cream: flavours worth staying home for

I love Meyer lemons - they're a cross between lemons and mandarins and are wonderful in a G&T

I love Meyer lemons – they’re a cross between lemons and mandarins and are wonderful in a G&T

I hate to be a roaring cliche but sometimes when life hands you a giant sack of lemons, it makes sense to make a bucket of delicious lemonade. That’s what I tried to do in April. Flattened by an injury I had to stay at home for the whole month, lying on my back, my foot propped up high, icing it every couple of hours. Blee. So after a weekend having a good cry and feeling sorry for myself I decided that this was the perfect time to try the Sunday Morning Ice Cream service – after all – when else could I be certain I’d be home every Sunday morning to receive it?

My favourite: a base steeped in freshly popped, buttered popcorn layered with homemade salted butter caramel, pralined almonds and fleur de sel.

My favourite: a base steeped in freshly popped, buttered popcorn layered with homemade salted butter caramel, pralined almonds and fleur de sel.

It’s a great idea. You sign up to a month’s delivery. You have no idea what flavour you’ll get – only that it will have been home-made by gelato super-gal, Genevieve and that it will come – freshly-churned – to your door. Each Sunday morning you get an email with the flavour profile, appropriately, that first week it was Meyer Lemon and Buttermilk – lemons into lemon ice cream then.

Some say you shouldn't combine florals with coffee. Not I. And not the Sunday Morning Ice CreamCo.

Some say you shouldn’t combine florals with coffee. Not I. And not the Sunday Morning Ice Cream Co.

The pots are small – sorry – there’s no way I’d share and yes, for the first week there was a lingering snarky feeling of “Ouch, I just paid $40 for a small pot of heaven…” The next week that $40 faded into the ether and all was left was the best freaking ice cream I’d ever had. So for the next three weeks there was an overwhelmingly joyful feeling that a lovely lady was, for no reason, bringing me a treat each Sunday morning.

Hand-made ice-cream, home-made labels

Hand-made ice-cream, home-made labels

I tried to eke each pot out to make it last longer than Sunday. But that never happened. It was a bonus if it made it past Sunday lunch to be truthful. If you’ve no plans to leave the house each Sunday morning – sign up. For a gift, I’d say it’s one of the best you could get for someone living in Vancouver. Four mornings of the perfect treat, a whole month of something special.

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Tart rhubarb and sweet cream. I basically inhaled this :(

Tart rhubarb and sweet cream. I basically inhaled this…


May 13

Vancouver Spot Prawn Festival: five things you need to know about spot prawns

They love their spot prawns here...

They love their spot prawns here…

So, today was the much-heralded Chefs’ Table Society Spot Prawn festival down on Fishermen’s Wharf. In its seventh year more than 2000 sustainable seafood fans poured into False Creek to dive into the new season of spot prawns. Sweeter than many other prawn varieties and much-loved by BC chefs, there are several spot prawn festivals and dinners (like this series at yummy Italian Campagnolo)  across BC for the season. Try to get along to one of them because oh, those prawns are good!

Gotta get 'em while they're here

Gotta get ‘em while they’re here

1. No one knows how long the season will be. I chatted with Chris Sporer, the Executive Director of the Pacific Prawn Fishermen’s Association, who told me that, “In 2009 the season lasted for 66 days and in 2012 it was just 44 days. The fishery is monitored to check the health of the stock and count the number of spawning prawns. When the threshold is reached, that’s it, season over.” This is what makes the BC Spot Prawn season one of the most sustainable there is.

2. Prawns change sex. Seriously. Spot prawns have a natural four-year life cycle. All prawns are born male but around aged two, they become female and then start to spawn in their last year, so every adult prawn you eat is a female.

Boil 'em up for two minutes...

Boil ‘em up for two minutes…

3. Commercially-fished BC Spot Prawns go through vigorous checks. Spot prawns are caught in traps which get dropped to the ocean floor – so there is no trawling. The traps stay on the bottom and the fishermen can only haul up once a day. The first check comes from the prawns themselves – the holes in the traps are fairly large, so first the smaller ones swim in, then the larger ones arrive and chase the little ones out. Once they are hauled in, because they are hand-sorted, any remaining young prawns are thrown back in the ocean and those that remained are checked against a size requirement.

Buy your prawns fresh off the boat - the queues were huge!

Buy your prawns fresh off the boat – the queues were huge!

4. If you buy them fresh – off with their head! Yup, turns out that unless you want to cook and eat those prawns immediately, if you’re keeping spot prawns at home in the fridge, you need to take their heads off as soon as you get them home as they start decomposing and that affects the taste. I drove home from Fishermen’s Wharf with my bag of prawns jumping away on the floor next to me, raced upstairs, boiled them (heads on to get the best taste) for a minute and a half and then doused them in cold water to stop the cooking. Then I ate them dipped in aioli. Oh, yes please! So when you buy them from a fishmonger, make sure they’re live in a tank or already have the head off.

Just an hour from dock to table. That's what I call fresh

Just an hour from dock to table. That’s what I call fresh

5. Support sustainable fishing – ask where the prawns came from You can buy spot prawns from Washington State or Alaska – but nothing beats the taste of a fresh-off-the-boat BC spot prawn. And nothing feels better than knowing that you’re supporting one of the most sustainable fisheries in the world. Sure, the season’s short but that makes it all the sweeter… Ask questions and make sure you support the good guys!

Nothing tastes as good as sustainable seafood!

Nothing tastes as good as sustainable seafood!

Everything you ever wanted to know about spot prawns from Organic Ocean

May 13

In which I get all fan girl-ish about Organic Ocean’s Steve Johansen… and eat a LOT of Spot Prawns

So... these are mine. What are YOU having?

So… these are mine. What are YOU having?

If there was any kind of polite or non-insulting way to compare someone to ‘Moby Dick’ I would absolute declare that right now, I feel a little like Captain Ahab. For the past four years I’ve heard tales of this mythical character who roams the oceans… I’ve listened to stories about him from every single great chef I’ve met in Canada and I’ve gleefully cleared my plate whenever one of his fish has been on it. So when I realised that the ‘Steve’ I was sitting next to tonight at dinner was Steve Johansen from Organic Ocean I had this sudden flash of fan-girl Ahab-ness, but there the metaphor kind of breaks down because A) he’s the fisherman and really, B) you can’t call someone ‘Moby Dick’ and hope to not be slapped in the face with a haddock next time they see you – but I hope you see my hideously laboured point? You do? In that case, I’ll go on…

I’ve been so inspired by Steve’s vision of sustainable fishing; it simply wasn’t something I gave a lot of thought to before but the more I stay here in Vancouver eating the freshest, most seasonable produce and learning more from the excellent folk at Ocean Wise about sustainable fishing, the more I see he’s quite the visionary.

The A Team

The A Team

I’ve been reading and hearing about the Spot Prawn festival for so long and this weekend I’ll finally get to experience it. I quizzed Steve about starting it along with Chef Robert Clark seven years ago: “For years almost all our Spot Prawns went to Japan, and here we were in BC eating farmed Tiger Prawns – all exported.” he said, rolling his eyes, “Robert and I were talking one winter and he said,  ‘I want these prawns to stay here.’ So we came up with the idea of the Spot Prawn festival. The first year there were 300 people, last year there were 2500 people. People love the idea of a local sustainable seafood and these prawns right here,” (he jabs the glistening silver-pink raw prawn on his plate for emphasis) “They were caught just six miles from this table.”

I was booted out of the way by iPhone-waving seafood fans - so apologies for this not-great image!

I was booted out of the way by iPhone-waving seafood fans – so apologies for this not-great image!

He’s right – it’s a great story and one that Chef Ned Bell is telling from the kitchen at the Four Seasons Yew Restaurant. I’d been invited along to taste the very first of the season, and for once being late paid off for me, I skittered across the steps by the hotel just in time for the first catch of Spot Prawns to come in. There were TV crews there, hordes of eager photographers all to snap the first sight of the Spot Prawns. Steve and his fellow fisherman Frank bounded out of the back of the truck with their haul and raced inside to the kitchens with the chefs.

Quivering slightly and translucent, the raw ones tasted candy-sweet

Quivering slightly and translucent, the raw ones tasted candy-sweet

We were treated to five courses of table-bangingly wonderful food – a joint venture between the chefs Clark and Bell that was a deft masterclass in showcasing wrigglingly-fresh ingredients. I ate raw candy-sweet Spot Prawns and Thai-style pickled ones with a peanut-y crunch, spiked with mint. I could have happily inhaled a satin-smooth pea soup made rich with prawns cheerily bobbing under the surface and spangled with salty crisp fork-shatter bacon. But best of all, a ‘Surf ‘n’ Surf’ where Spot Prawns met the most juicy succulent halibut and basically made out all over my plate.

Oh. My. God.


Thai-style with an un-Thai like (but perfect) Mascarpone-lime swirl

Thai-style with an un-Thai like (but perfect) Mascarpone-lime swirl

There are just a few short weeks of the Spot Prawn season, Yew are running a ‘Fans & Followers‘ five course menu from Saturday May 11th till Friday May 31st. Dive in; it will be wonderful.

I was a guest of Yew but – as ever – my words are 100% my own. I loved this. Really, really loved it.

May 13

Celebrating a BC Spot Prawn spring

Spot prawn season begins...

Spot Prawn season begins…

I’ve never lived anywhere so ‘seasonal’ before; and I don’t just mean the weather, Vacouverites seem to live and breathe seasonality in their food. I noticed it first just before christmas, it was ‘pumpkin season’ and everywhere there was pumpkin pie, pumpkin latte, pumpkin doughnuts, pumpkin ales… you get the picture. Then it was ‘egg nog season’ and  again – ‘nog was to be found in absolutely everything. Then the arrival of the exotic King Crab… most recently there was halibut hysteria when, remarkably, even the big name supermarkets were proudly shouting about their fresh, seasonal, sustainable fish.

Spring morning on English Bay

Spring morning on English Bay

I spoke to a friend Sophia about this and her theory is that because the weather is so fiercely seasonal, people are more in tune to eating what’s fresh. She may be right, you are in no doubt what time of year it is in Vancouver; in autumn, you crunch ankle-deep through a patchwork of colourful leaves, in winter you wilt under relentless torrential rain and grey, grey skies with snow-covered mountains appearing once in a while through the gloom, and now spring is here flowers are bursting from ever corner. I cannot wait to see what summer has up its sleeve. There’s also the matter that chefs here in Vancouver are rock stars, followed and adored by their foodie fans. And of course, these rock stars want the very best produce to create their masterpieces – which means sticking to the seasons.

I took a photo. You never want to forget your first time...

I took a photo. You never want to forget your first time…

The Spot Prawn season began yesterday at precisely 12pm, I was lucky enough to get my first taste at Yew and I’m off to the Spot Prawn festival (seriously) at the weekend. It’s a four-to-eight week season and I intend to dive in head first and try them as many ways as possible. If living seasonally is the way to live in this town, count me in. I love the excitement and anticipation of enjoying something for a brief period of time. Now I know that when the last of the cherry blossom has fallen, it’s Spot Prawn season… I wonder what happens next.


May 13

Afternoon tea at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver

Before I moved to Vancouver I didn’t think I was terribly British at all, but the further away I am from England, the more I find myself ticking all those stereotypical Brit boxes. Take afternoon tea, for example, I’m no tea drinker at home – I don’t even own a kettle! It’s coffee all the way for me, but when Nancie invited over to the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver to see what their spread was like I jumped at the chance. Tea! Sandwiches! A three-tiered cake stand! Oh, be still my fluttering British heart…

Essentially how I'd like every Friday at 3pm to start, please.

Essentially how I’d like every Friday at 3pm to start, please.

I had a fun afternoon ‘cocktail’ tea at the gorgeous Fairmont Chateau Whistler as part of the Cornucopia festival. I’d imagined this tea was going to be a traditionally sober affair, but hooray! I was wrong. We started our feast with an glass of bubbly, which is a hugely cheery thing to do on a Friday at 3pm, and I absolutely recommend it.

The most tricky task of the afternoon was picking which tea to have; the menu is pleasingly large and infuriatingly tempting with some two dozen blends to pick from. I ummed and ahed over the Maple Maple or the Empress Orange Pekoe but in the end went for the divine-sounding Versailles Lavender Earl Grey – after all, I was about to eat cake so why not go for something Marie Antoniette-ish? I’m a fan of florals, I know they’re a kind of love-them-or-hate-them flavour but I’m definitely in the ‘love’ camp. Anything with a rose, violet or lavender taste, count me in. There was just enough perfume in this blend to not overwhelm, I decided against adding milk and wondered where I could find some to have at home. Tea worth buying a kettle for? Maybe.

*Muffled sounds of greedy applause*

*Muffled sounds of greedy applause*

It was tough not to whoop when our three-tiered stand of delights arrived; scones on top, delicate patisserie in the middle and itsy-bitsy sandwiches on the bottom. The formality and utter indulgence of an afternoon tea delights me in every way. It’s always been one of my favourite things to do and the Fairmont didn’t let me down. The scones were a little too sweet, but I think this has to be a Canadian thing as everywhere I’ve had scones they are always a touch over-sugared for me, but the patisserie – one little raspberry pastry flecked with gold leaf in particular – superb and the crispy bacon on one of the sandwiches had me gurgling with delight!

Who can resist a smoked salmon pinwheel? Not I.

Who can resist a smoked salmon pinwheel? Not I.

I leaned back on the padded armchair (with wheels! so you can adjust your chair in ultimate comfort) and looked at the room; all gilt-edged and old-fashioned glamour, I was definitely in my happy place. I think I’ve found my new favourite Friday afternoon treat – now, who’s coming with me next time?



I was a very cheerful guest of the Fairmont Vancouver hotel for tea – but all my words, as ever, are 100% my own. Admittedly, they were mostly moans of pleasure as it was glorious, but still. 

Need to know:

Book afternoon tea at the 900 West Lounge at the Fairmont Vancouver at 1pm or 3pm here or call call (604) 443-1807 to reserve.

Afternoon tea is $39 per person, a glass of Moet & Chandon champagne an extra $20.




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