What makes a vacation, at least for me, is going to a place different than what you are accustomed to. This could be a change in your physical surroundings, your schedule and even what you explore and taste. The last several weeks have been all of that for me and for my children.
Even with their visiting the beautiful Yukon, for the summer, I wanted to take my children to a different sort of place, as well. So, some months ago I reserved a slot for my car, three tickets and a stateroom aboard the B.C. Ferry that crosses from Prince Rupert, B.C., on the mainland, to Haida Gwaii or the Queen Charlotte Islands.
For nine days we camped, explored and enjoyed nothing but sunshine and warm weather.
When I travel, I like to immerse myself in the place that I visit. Beyond seeing the sites and exploring, I love to talk to the local people, enjoy local food and drink and, if possible, read something about the place.
In that respect, two evenings stand out in my mind as particularly wonderful. The first was a Saturday evening price-fixed dinner at the Eating House of the Haida Gwaii Cultural Centre where my children and I sampled a mix of three different appetizers, entrees and desserts in what I can only attempt to describe as “Haida-Fusion” cuisine.
The chef served up duck pâté, a fresh gazpacho made with local tomatoes, garlic and shredded crab meat, and seared tuna with an aioli sauce. We then moved on to ling cod with fresh vegetables; salmon served on blue-cheese polenta with octopus bacon, and pasta alfredo with local mussels and striped shrimp. We finished with some amazing desserts.
To my initial regret, wines or any other alcoholic beverages were not available. As my regular readers know, I am a big fan of matching foods with wines and would have loved the challenge of the octopus bacon (maybe a smoky, chilled Fumé Blanc or an unoaked chardonnay). But, as I said, vacations for me are about getting out of some comfortable habits and getting into new spaces.
While I know the preparation of these wonderful dishes owed much to the influence of Asian and French culinary traditions, equal recognition is due to the local seafood, vegetables, fruit and pure water that honour the traditions of that place and people.
On our last night on the island, though, I resolved to have wine with my dinner. In conjunction with my children, I planned a farewell dinner experience worthy of the magnificent place we had visited.
A half of a local salmon was purchased, along with fresh lemons, some herbs and olive oil to cook it with. Local potatoes were bought to bake in the embers of a beach fire. And a trip to the local wine store (in B.C., there are both provincial and private liquor stores, the latter being open on both Sundays and holidays … until 11 p.m.) yielded a 2008 Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series 2Bench White from the South Okanagan Valley ($17).
While this wine is not carried locally, here in the Yukon, I am told that the Yukon orders off the B.C. Liquor Commission wine list, and so you should be able to order it in. I will certainly be exploring getting some more of this treat.
While I was familiar with the Tinhorn Creek name, what really drew me to the wine was the intriguing blend of different grapes that comprise this wine: 33 per cent Semillon, 31 per cent Chardonnay, 20 per cent Sauvignon Blanc, 13 per cent Viognier and 3 per cent Muscat.
After taking the ferry from Graham, to Morsby Island, and driving logging roads for about 25 kilometres down the east shore of the island, we found ourselves on the sweeping five-kilometre crescent beach of Gray Bay.
That evening we built a fire of cedar wood on the beach, dressed our salmon in lemon slices, pepper, salt, olive oil and herbs, and my daughter grilled it to perfection over the open fire.
Served with “sea-washed” baked potatoes (we named our own invention after the cooked potatoes were dropped in the sand and had to be washed clean of the grit), we looked out on the waves and savoured our last evening meal.
The wine was an excellent choice. Like the salmon, it was part of this place, created as it was down the coast from these magical isles. The Semillon seemed to offer a hint of smoke … though it might have been the cedar fire; the Chardonnay yielded a buttery rich taste and mouth feel; and the Sauvignon Blanc seemed to add just the right citrus notes to work with the lemon slices and grated lemon zest that infused the salmon. I could not really discern the Viognier and Muscat, but I know they added to the depth and richness of the taste experience.
Perhaps it was the wild island location, the cedar wood smoke, the beautiful evening ocean view, the company of my children, the sound of the gentle waves and eagle calls or the spirits and creator of those magical islands … but that salmon dinner and wonderful wine accompaniment will stay in my memory for the rest of my life.