Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A Trip to Salt Spring Island-1

My BC Sustainable Energy Association newsletter informed me of a tour of eco-houses on Salt Spring Island, sponsored by the Island Conservancy. It sounded like something I should attend. Anyone can build a house. To build a house you not only loved but was easy on the land and energy was a true goal, an artistic statement. Thankfully, Salt Spring Island is awash with artists.
With some difficulty, considering how late I decided to go and the fact that it was a long weekend (BC Day), I was able to book rooms at two different B&Bs (one for each day, no place could give me two days in a row) and celebrated by dining at two of the islands best REVIEWED restaurants. Friday night found me at Hastings House, a transplanted English manor house only rich people could afford to stay at, but even I could afford to eat at.
I've never been to an English manor or any other kind of English house. It was a bit like walking into a Sherlock Holmes story, or one of the great English children's books I read as a child. I was invited into the living room for a cocktail around the storied fireplace. The menu offered some famililar drinks and something called a Rosemary Swizzle which was made with crab apple wine, gin, lime, soda and fresh rosemary. I loved crabapples when I was a child in Yorkton (only the town's name is English) so thought I would enjoy this unusual beverage. It turned out to be heavy on the rosemary, but not much else that I could taste. Where was my childhood fruit friend, the crabapple? It was like trying to have a drink with a tree in your glass. OK, a flavourful tree, but still!
While waiting for the other ingredient-kids to show up and play under the rosemerry tree on my tongue, I paged through the colourful history of Hastings House in a book of mostly black and white photos. It seems Mr Hastings, the builder of the house in the 1930s, also drew up the plans for the landing craft that liberated Europe from the Nazis, while losing his wife to a tennis pro, as his house was being infiltrated by a German Spy. If only my drink was as intriguing! I kept wondering, Adam-like, where's the apple already?
So that's why they call it a swizzle! By stirring the beverage between black and white windows into earlier incarntions of the room I was sitting in, I could summon the apple, and eventually the lime. I drink such concoctions slow enough to invent evolution by, to the consternation of the server-dude who wanted me to move to the dining area. I even got my name on a menu!
Finally appropriately tabled and ordered (having thought about this for some time on the online menu, which brought me here to begin with) I was rewarded for finally showing up with a basket of bread sticks. Focaccia, where art tha? and the ubiquitous balsamic/oil melange. First bite of bread, I wished I'd saved some rosemary from the drink! The oil and vinegar didn't kick it up any either. The first sip of wine did help the vinegar and oil and bread to be nice to each other in my presence, but I didnt want to fill up on bread.

I am offered, as amuse bouche (since when do appetisers need appetisers?) a Fanny Bay Oyster with cucumber, carrots, some sort of mustard thing on it. Oysters are the taste of death. Will I survive? I'll find out quickly.

Oddly, I survive. Must be the panko. Makes anything taste good.

Purple potatoes is just a strange thing to do. Again with the memories of lavender sweets I enjoyed in maybe, jr. high? I was really into the science in those days, and fondly recall my science club buddy Cliff Kahn's demonstations of how colour effects our tastes of food, just from expectations, the brain's tyranny over the tongue. 40 years later, feasting on smoked albacore tuna, blue potato and prosciuto salad with calamata olive vinagrette; it's hard enough just to type all that, much less to evaluate the effect of hue on its assorted tastes.
"Subtle" and "rich" fought to see which could describe this the best. The smoke in the tuna and the sauce danced, etc. My bubbly prosecco kept on keeping on the right taste beat. Also moonlights as a pallete cleanser, when not devoting its time to complementing the herbs as if they were newly introduced breasts. Overall, it tastes expensive. That's generally a good thing, when taxmen hover not about.
These ingredients don't grow on trees. Oh, they do? Well, that's not the point!

The great wall of halibut arrives! The wall is propped up by a tomato and other strange things. I'll discover what they are when I bite into them.
On the menu, its labelled paprika herb encrusted west coast halibut, sundried tomato and sweet pea couscous, grilled patty pan squash, basil vinagrette. yeah, right. The dominant flavour is the panko. Always a good choice for domination. The Gary Oaks Pinot Gris, a local wine, increases the subtlety of the fish and magnifies the ingredients in the overall meal. I remain in search of the paprika flavour for some time. The baked, almost blackened green vegetables taste rather oriental. Delicious. The green peas and red sundried tomatos in the couscous are like Christmas in your mouth. Maybe its the colour triggering Xmas iconography in your eye, which your tongue can't argue against. The server re-informs me the veg is Patty Pan Squash. Peter's wife? Tasting it flashes me back to living in Kashiwa, a distant suburb of Tokyo, in 1977. Not really what I want to be thinking about when I'm looking out the window at an exquisite sunset. How tastes suddenly remove us from the now and hurl us back far into our pasts is more oddity than digestive aide. Like staring at a favourite Vermeer and then having a bucket of purple paint thrown over it. The classical piano goes well with the fish, but when the violin enters, it does so rather violently. Teeth, etc. Reminders of meals in restaurants with my parents in the 50s, and how annoying the violin made those meals, though I had far greater tolerance for this type of music then. But the goodness of the food prevailed over musical annoyance, disturbing memory and all other intrusion. Riding waves of happiness, I exit the flower-strewn grounds of Hastings House for a short stroll back to my B&B.


At 7:48 PM, Blogger Elayne said...

It's interesting how much credit you give panko. To me, it's always seemed to add texture rather than taste. I mean, tastewise, you may as well be eating rice cakes. :)


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