January 16, 2016

Misty for me... in Gastown

After our chicken and waffle feast at Tuc, we went to a musical event at the Firehall Theatre. Something about Leonard Cohen...

By the time we left the theatre, it was dark and a gentle mist covered the downtown.

It's beautiful in this city, at night, in winter, when a fog-like mist chills you to your very bones.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2016 by Jim Murray.

January 15, 2016

Tuc Craft Kitchen in Gastown

What is a tuc I wonder?

In Gastown, apparently it's a fabulous restaurant called Tuc Craft Kitchen.

We had been here before one early afternoon during a recent rainstorm before Hogmanay. Then, the place was almost packed. This time we called for a reservation before arriving and that was a good thinking on G. G. Bylnn's part because Tuc certainly isn't flying under the radar anymore, if ever it was. On our most recent visit the estimated wait time without a reservation, was well over one hour.

Everything about Tuc is good. Service is warmly attentive and professional. Our server offered thoughtful suggestions and informed answers to our questions, which mainly involved the impressive cocktail list. All the drinks appear to be well prepared and nicely presented, and priced reasonably; something that isn't always the case in this city.

Jeem tried a Jaral Caesar, which features mescal, jalapeño and cilantro. It was so good he had to have another to confirm matters. Sherry and Susan had Sunrise Mimosas, which was evidently delicious (Summerhill organic Cipes, Grand Marnier and cherry herring) and not as sweet as might have been expected.

We were here for brunch, before a show at the Firehall Theatre a few blocks away. The menu is inventive yet familiar too. What many people have discovered about Tuc, and one of the reasons we're here on this day, is the Crispy Chicken Waffles. Generous portions of local, free-run chicken breast done in a thoroughly crispy manner, reminiscent of that bucket of chicken we sometimes enjoyed as children. Tuc's version uses less salt and better chicken obviously, and it shows in the taste. The waffles are savoury and the toppings are sublime.

Jeem, remembering his family roots, had a dish named Okonomiyaki, which is a variation on the traditional Japanese pancake, with shredded pork, cabbage, barbecue sauce, kewpie mayonnaise and bonito flakes. It was pleasing in every way, but not in the same way as the fried chicken.

So. To recap. Tuc is fantastic. Make a reservation. The chicken can sell out, so ... don't dawdle.

We're coming back for dinner one night. It's the kind of place that offers great service, some wonderful mixed drinks, wines at reasonable prices and authentic food. Taken all together, those ingredients make Tuc Craft Kitchen a rare find indeed: locally owned and inspired, unpretentious and good. It's a place to come with friends and family because that's the way Tuc feels, and isn't that what dining is all about?

Tuc Craft Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 
The coffee is damn fine too.
Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2016 by Jim Murray.

January 14, 2016

Festival of Lights redux

The annual Festival of Lights at VanDusen Gardens ended just after Hogmanay.The yearly assault on our senses is finally over. It`s now safe to enter VanDusen once again as a normal citizen and not some selfie-indulgent gaggle.

This year, for reasons supposedly due to popular demand, the Festival of Lights continues for several weekends (ending this weekend) but with a positive difference: it`s a kinder, gentler version, and it works splendidly.

The cacophony of noise, the orgy of flashing light, and all the vendors are gone. It`s a more relaxed and peaceful event, one that hearkens back to the origins of the Festival of Lights in the first place.

There is still a crowd, a good thing for the money changers I suppose, but these groups are more manageable. The frenzy has disappeared and that`s a good thing.

G. G. Blynn asked why this version of the Festival of Lights couldn't become the official version. But no, that`s asking too much.

However. It was a delight to walk through the garden and enjoy the lights without the added hoopla. This was nice. We should do it again next year. That would be a start to reclaiming the Festival of Lights, one step at a time.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2016 by Jim Murray.

January 07, 2016

A man is killed by Police on the anniversary of Charlie Hebdo

Today is the anniversary of the attack on Charlie Hebdo. While in Paris in April, I wandered around the offices of  Charlie Hebdo and the HyperCacher where deadly attacks happened on January 7 and 9 last year.

And today a young man was killed by police as he attempted to attack a police station in northern Paris. That he was armed with only a knife makes little difference. When we spent a month in Paris earlier last year, the police and military were professional, but most certainly on edge; we can only imagine what it must be like now.

Today's attack happened in the 18ème arrondissement, which is where we stayed in Paris. The arrondissement includes a broad swath of people including a strong working class and a significant immigrant group, mainly from north Africa. We lived on the western edge of the Quartier de Clignancourt. It is home to Montmartre and Sacré-Cœur. Less than 1000 metres to the east of our apartment is the Quartier de la Goutee d'Or, where this morning's attack occurred.

The further north and east one goes in Paris, and its outer suburbs, the poorer its people. The further north and east one goes in Paris, the more likely it is to see homeless people and migrants. Some sell cheap trinkets at tourist sites, others camp out in donated tents under overhead metro tracks, while making their way to Calais. Or not. It doesn't always fit with our image of this amazingly beautiful city.

What to do now? What does an important European state like France do? How does it reconcile its preferred bias for liberté, égalité et fraternité with an increasing national distrust of the other, even when the other is French? How does it balance its dedication to secularism in the face of increasing fundamentalism? An Aljazeera program sought answers to those questions and to that of the danger of increasing alienation of disenfranchised youth, usually in the northern and eastern suburbs of Paris. It's worth a look because of it challenges assumptions. About Paris and maybe about ourselves.

Answers aren't always clear. We're all in this together. Aren't we?

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2016 by Jim Murray. 

January 06, 2016

Watching eagles from the dyke in Brackendale

The dyke seems shorter than the last time we were here. In fact, it seems to be closed at one end for some sort of redevelopment project. Can this be possible? I don't know, but it seems wrongheaded to me.

The dyke in Brackendale is a wonderful way to see the wintering eagles, and though the rafting experience we had from Sunwolf is not to be missed, there is something to be said about walking... and watching...

Disturbingly, the annual eagle count at Brackendale has dipped to a thirty-year low. Low salmon runs are considered to be the likely cause. While we saw about one hundred eagles on our river rafting trip, and several tens on our walk, there was a slight difference from our time here last year. 

And if the dyke ultimately leads to the famous Watershed Caesar... 
so much the better thought Jeem, Sherry and G. G. Blynn.   

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2016 by Jim Murray.                                                                                                                                                                                    

January 05, 2016

Sun on the mountains of Vancouver

Year-end or year-beginning, snow appeared on the north shore mountains of Vancouver. 

Low clouds and afternoon darkness over the city, and clear, sunny skies above.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2016 by Jim Murray.

January 01, 2016

River rafting with the eagles in Brackendale

Every winter, Brackendale hosts one of the largest populations of bald eagles on the planet. Starting in mid-November and continuing through February thousands of eagles gather to feed on salmon that spawn in the glacier-fed waters of the Squamish and Cheakamus rivers.

People come from all over the world to the Squamish area, and specifically to Brackendale, to see the eagles. Most often, people walk along the shore of the river and see a great many of these magnificent birds. Sunwolf offers the unique opportunity to view the eagles from the vantage point of the river itself, and it was one we couldn't pass up.

First things first of course: getting dressed properly. Rain gear, including rubber boots, is essential at this time of year, and it was all part of the rafting package. Jeem posed briefly in his slightly smallish rain gear, only to end up discarding them before the rafting in order to experience the cold and damp on a more personal level. In hindsight, this might have been in error.

Sherry meanwhile, was outfitted in a stylish combination of colours and fabrics, including a wonderfully appropriate orange PFD.

Our guide was the charming and highly knowledgeable Jill-Marie. She loves her work and it shows. Her passion for the ecology and security of the river and its inhabitants was inspirational. Jill-Marie was more fashionably attired than the rest of us, and we were all jealous of course.

After the signing of waivers, getting properly outfitted (except for Jeem), and a comprehensive safety-on-the-river session, eight of us boarded the "raft" and began our float down the river.

It was a cloudy day, dry and cool with an air temperature just above freezing. It wasn't long before we saw eagles, many eagles.

Females are much larger than males, in fact, sometimes up to 20 percent larger. Canadian eagles, especially those from the west coast, are considerably larger than those from the United States, and it has a great deal to with the abundance of food, especially salmon, here in BC.

The wingspan of an adult female cane be two metres from tip to tip. Jeem, the tallest of this day's river rafting group, is 1.82 metres, and that's only if he takes a deep breath.

The juveniles are not as attractive as the adult birds. Think back to your teen-aged years for an appropriate reference point. With age comes natural beauty, in spite of what we think when we are young. It's the same with eagles.

We gently glided down river, with Jill-Marie as captain and guide. Midway through our river journey Jill-Marie poured each of us a cup of hot cocoa which we enjoyed as we quietly contemplated the beauty of this wonderful place.

                                                                            Upon our return to Sunwolf, we warmed up in the lodge with hot chilli, coffee and tea, and talk of eagles and the river. It was a great experience and highly recommended.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2015/2016 by Jim Murray.