We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Vancouver BC and Cactus Club Cafe's Spinach Salad (Gluten-Free)

My Traveling Tales by Michelle 

Getting There
   Any flight between Los Angeles and Vancouver could justifiably be renamed the Disneyland Express. The passengers on these flights are primarly families with smallish children, plus some additional folks (like me) added to the mix and an actor or two thrown in for good measure. The flights are always a bit of a gamble kids wise. The well behaved children are usually outnumbered on a heavily weighted sliding scale by overwraught, overtired, oversensitized kids wrecking havoc from the confines of their seats. A few flights are quiet joy rides as experienced from my westward looking window seat. The majority of flights seem to be three-and-a-half hour riot fests on the topsy-turvy Mad Tea Party ride: round and round we go, when the screaming stops nobody knows. 
    On my last flight on a Sunday afternoon, a young girl threw an epic tantrum on the plane. Mini wolverine was old enough to have outgrown the horrific tantrum stage, but  nonetheless there she was rolling around on the dirty floor screaming her head off, white sandled feet kicking, limbs flailing.
   "¡Egads!", as my Nana may have lamented back in the day. There was nowhere for me to run and nowhere to hide so there I sat feeling suddenly claustrophobic buckled into my seat at 10A trying to avoid direct eye contact. Everyone knows looking a wild animal squarely in the eye is a direct threat, an invitation for disaster. Unfortunately, I had a full view to the unsavory attraction because I was sitting directly behind her.

The view as the airplane gradually descended into Vancouver.
   I tried giving practice to my ignoring skills by giving an A+ effort to listening to an audio book on my iPod. It was a waste of time. All I could fantasize about was shoving a sock in her mouth, which I will reluctantly admit is what my sister Maria did to me when I was ten years old. I was being annoying as younger sisters will do from time to time (cough!). She told me in a threatening voice to shut up. I instantly, defiantly, brazzingly retorted, "Make me." Big mistake. Maria, who was five years older than me, easily threw me down on the ground and stuck her dirty sock covered foot in my mouth. This was at the height of my germ phobia, Howard Hughes style, so I thought I was surely going to die a quick and painful microbe related death. Talk about germ warfare. Just to spite my sister, in only the way sisters can, I lived to tell the tale. The unsavory memory still makes me scruntch my face in distaste. I learned the hard way to never again repeat the words "make me" to Maria. She could be a badass and only had a modicum of patience for me on good days, let alone bad.
   Loving sisterly rememberances aside, I sat as patiently as I could even though I was exasperated at the spectacle unfolding in front of me, wondering when the flight attendants were going to assert some authority over the situation. I seldom watch the news, but I've read enough juicy, newsworthy airline related articles to know that exiting the family seemed entirely reasonable because the mother (dazed and confused) and father (faining sleep) made no effort to get their beast of a daughter under control.
   I suppose the parents were operating under the theory that if they just ignored her, the rampage would stop. Denile is not just a river in Egypt. Perhaps the Dad, with his eyes closed, was trying to desperately remember how Rick Moranis Shrunk The Kids. The convulsing girl continued rolling around on the floor completely apoplectic. Daffy, but not related to duck. Unless we are referring to duck and cover. Sadly I was instructed by the attendants to turn-off my iPod as well as remove the earbuds in preparation for departure. My eardrums, no longer protected, were assaulted by the ongoing vocal rampage one seat in front of me. I asked myself while intaking a deep calming breath: What Would The Dali Lama do?

   The stewardess using her most saccharine voice - as if she were engaging a chihuahua - did finally make the mother understand that the girl had to be belted into her seat for takeoff. "And the screaming," I thought to myself, "What about that?" I kept hoping the attendant would say, in her best salty sailor impersonation, "'Ello poppet, who wants to play Pirates of the Caribbean?  Time to gag the Little Miss."  Or at least resort to the other more plausible option of bouncing all five members of the family off the gang plank plane. (It's a pirate's life for me.) Unfortunately screaming doesn't seem to pose a problem for a Canadian crew. Conversely, American flight attendents are more flinty and prone to action for even non verbal infractions such as a rock star wearing his jeans too low... just ask Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day. The Southwest Airlines attendent thought he was an American Idiot. Billie Joe seemed pretty good natured about the whole incident, which was more than I could say for myself at the present situation.
   Maybe due to the power of  positive thinking associated with the compassionate Dali Lama, or better yet, a magic spell delivered by an apparition of Walt Disney himself, at takeoff the wracked girl finally pulled it together one delayed sob at a time. Once airborne she, owner of the tear-stained face, and her menacing dark-haired siblings, the mininons of the underworld, decided to discover how quickly they could punish everyone around them. The boys reminded me of the trouble-making Siamese cats from Lady and The Tramp. As soon as I possibly could, I reinserted my earbuds and then closed my eyes trying desperately once again to tap into some inner peace. 

A bird's-eye view of the Burrard SkyTrain Station.
   Just as I was getting to a centered state, the older brother started  repeatedly shrieking, "She's asleep." I opened my eyes just to verify that yep, he was indeed yelling directly at me. I kid you not. Even better, the parents had no suggestions for behavior modification for their children, such as hey don't yell at the lady who is glaring at you with squinted eyes resembling a female Clint Eastwood who wants to whisper menacingly, "Go ahead make my day." The whole tragedy made me yearn for the good old days when parents would tell their kids to "modulate". I glanced over at the parents hoping to give them the "WTF? glare" but they both just looked far, far away in the opposite direction, their minds in Never Never Land. I visualized using my other remaining sock for the loudest screaming brother a la Maria. I just closed my eyes and tried really, really hard to think positive thoughts and then realized with a quick check of my watch that horror of horrors I still had three hours to go until we were due to arrive in Vancouver.
    After the plane finally landed after its slow descent and I cleared customs, I had the displeasure of seeing the family again at the baggage carousel. The same beasty girl was having a total meltdown over bubble gum while her brothers were trying to hurt themselves and others with two baggage carts. Her parents acted as if it was a perfectly normal day in Wonderland. I was about to transform into the Queen of Hearts but fortunately my bags arrived. There were still no visible signs of stress from mom or dad, at least not that I could detect. Their outward appearance was that of not having a care in the world. The parents continued to act like a walking advertisement for Prozac as I, bewildered and tired, loaded my luggage on to my cart. I walked as quickly as my legs would carry me to the taxi stand for the getaway. I thought to myself, I am so glad I will never see any of you people again (pretty please, universe hear my plea). It is a small world afterall, so all bets are off.

  After the particularly stressful flight I practice yoga breaths in the backseat of the taxi - deep breath in, hold for three seconds, exhale slowly. Repeat several times. Although the sky is gray, thankfully the weather is mild. And, I remind myself that I happen to be in Vancouver. How can one be unhappy in Vancouver? It is supposed to rain (as is the perpetual forecast), but the Gods smile upon me. I check into my high-rise modern hotel room, drop my bags and immediately go downstairs and cross the street to the Burrard SkyTrain station to photograph the cherry blossoms in their glory while the fading light lingers. It's all dumb luck. I didn't even consider in advance blooming cherry trees in Vancouver in April even though Washington State is known for bountiful crops of cherries. It stands to reason that Vancouver would have cherry trees too. I am so glad I lugged my camera along for the trip.
Deep Cove at twilight during an evening cruise.
   Tapping into the happier side of life, I will reminisce about some of the experiences that I have enjoyed during my various trips to Vancouver. On my first visit I was invited to eat dinner in Deep Cove at Arms Reach Bistro topped off by an after dinner ski boat cruise of the Indian Arm fjord and surrounding inlets. On the return trip to my hotel, from my seat in the taxi van, I watched the Celebration of Light, an annual fireworks festival that features nightly dazzling pyrotechnic displays that takes place over a span of a week at the end of July to early August.

The Spanish Banks
   Vancouver is a gorgeous city surrounded by devastatingly beautiful nature, and to see it all from the point of view of the Spanish Banks is exhilirating. Roland, cooking in the photo below, did all the coordinating, shopping and cooking for the company picnic. He bought the sausages, salmon and prepared salads from Whole Foods. With a laugh I told him that my sister Linda would highly approve. Roland seasoned the salmon with soy sauce, brown sugar, slices of lemon and mild white onions and then sealed the fish within a foil packet and placed it on the grill. My co-workers raved about the fish. Sigh... if only Roland had known to use wheat-free tamari in lieu of soy sauce, I could have eaten it too. As we age, everyone's health issues and/or eating preferences (including mine) are a real pain in the neck when preparing food for large gatherings. I can, however, try the recipe at home using Roland's technique. And you can, too.

    Rob Feenie is Canada's beloved award-winning Iron Chef. His restaurant brands are located across the city and the popular Cactus Club Cafe has various locations from downtown to the suburbs. My favorite location sits on English Bay. I wrote my sisters an e-mail about the experience, "I had the best salad tonight: spinach, pears, pecans, crumbled goat cheese, shaved parmesan, prosciutto, wedged beets. It was tossed with a very light vinaigrette. Perhaps a champagne vinaigrette. The salad was garnished with parmesan over the sliced pears and then drizzled with a balsamic reduction (glaze or syrup, whatever you want to call it). I added grilled salmon. I enjoyed every last bite. I practically licked the plate. I want to recreate it at home. Shouldn't be too difficult."

Feel the energy of The Cactus Club on English Bay.
Arrive early to score a table by the windows or on the patio and...
… this is your amazing ocean view while you drink and dine.
Bin 941
   Although I didn't officially eat at Bin 941, I wish I had. We popped in for a nightcap and the place has a jovial gypsy kind of vibe. The lamps cast a red glow across the small dining room and adjoining belly-up-to-the-bar and get cozy area. Tapas are the main event and I hear that the meatballs are to die for.

My friend Michael gallantly rolling my rig up the street.
At Bin 941 the mirror over the bar reflects the tables in the tiny dining room.
      Although I haven't had the opportunity to wander through Chinatown, it is certainly fun driving through with a Frenchman who pauses the van long enough to let me snap photos of dragons and parks illegally so I can capture the gate.

I am crazy for the brass dragons striking a pose on the streelights in Chinatown.
The gate to Vancouver's Chinatown.
Granville Island and The Sand Bar
   The first time I visited Granville Island it was the week before Christmas. The market was decorated for the holidays. Customers, clearly on missions, were shopping for gifts, flowers, prepared foods, gourmet delicacies, fresh meats and seafood, artisan breads and sweets of all kinds. I was with my co-worker Gary and his wife Debbie and we had the carefree luxury of moseying from store to store and wandering aimlessly through the public market marveling at all the sights, taking in the smells and bustling activity. The various berries were stacked high in bakets and I marveled over the Dragon fruit and the pretty chocolates. We eventually recognized that we were hungry and decided lunch was in order. A kindly shop owner referred us to The Sandbar Seafood Restaurant. We were fortunate to be seated at a table located on the deck, near the fireplace, looking out to the bridge, the city and False Creek, an ocean inlet. Water taxies ferried people to and fro. Competitive rowers glided with timed precision across the fairly calm ocean. The overhead heaters kept us warm and the sun played hide and seek with the clouds as we enjoyed our soup, salad and sandwiches.

The seagulls look innocent enough but to be forewarned is to be forearmed.
If the weather is cooperating, ask for a seat on the open air deck.

 Italian Kitchen
   This bustling two-story restaurant with a small street-facing patio is only two blocks from luxury shopping Robson Street. Regardless of the day Italian Kitchen is usually cranking in the evening. After toiling at the office I can usually find a seat for one at the bar where the bartenders happily make me a cocktail and then serve me dinner while I have a front seat view to all the activity in the open kitchen. I especially like watching the pantry chef prepare crostini style appetizers and insalatas.

Lamb sausage pizza with egg.
The view from my seat at the bar at Italian Kitchen.
Stanley Park and The Teahouse
   The mid July weather, sunny and in the eighties, was absolutely gorgeous for the after work tour of Stanley Park. After enduring so much rain extending from the late autumn all the way through early summer, the Vancouverites where downright giddy over the glowing orb in the sky and its warm rays. Silly friends actually thought it was HOT. Gary, my fellow traveling Tucsonian, and I just shook our heads and laughed. Hot? We'll show you hot. Return with us to the Sonoran desert where perhaps only the mid summer monsoon showers might offer some respite from the withering heat.
   Despite the elevated temperatures, we opted for a table on the patio of The Teahouse and ordered a pitcher of sangrias. Thank goodness for the umbrella over the table otherwise we would have changed our minds and begrudgingly accepted an inside table. As the sun sank lower in the sky, the temperatures dropped correspondingly. I needed to slip on my light jacket by the end of the meal. Everyone enjoyed his or her entrée and I would gladly return to the Teahouse again for another delightful meal. 
   After dinner we simply walked across the parking lot to a grassy area featuring park benches and a low wall to lazily wait upon the sunset. We were not alone. Lovers nuzzled on the grass and a few couples were laying on quilts, enjoying picnics and sipping glasses of wine. Couples strolled hand-in-hand along the winding path. With seemingly happy couples everywhere, I could see how being single in Vancouver could be depressing, at least in the summer when everyone is out and about. With my husband thousands of miles away, I held my camera close to me... does that count? I wistfully thought of my daughter and sent her a text, "Wish you were here..." along with a snapshot of the sinking sun. Roland managed to snag my camera from me to take the portrait featured below. Although I don't particuarly care to have my photo taken, I'm glad that he insisted.

Although this looked like a festive eating option in the park...
… we opted to have dinner on the patio of the Teahouse in Stanley Park.
Loitering after dinner waiting upon the "longest sunset" in Vancouver...

… and I was indeed captivated by the setting sun.
Cypress Mountain 
   Once the sun set, I anticipated a quick return to the hotel to prepare for an early morning departure to the airport, but Roland suprised us all by suggesting he drive us all over the Lions Gate Bridge and through West Vancouver to the lookout point on Cypress Mountain. We were not alone as couples stood arms around each other and folks sat at comfortable intervals along the low stone wall. We stayed until the insects became pests, prompting us to leave. Otherwise, without the increasing aggressiveness of the bugs, we would have stayed and marveled a bit longer at the expansive view of the twinkling city lights.

A view of Lions Gate Bridge as seen from Prospect Point in Stanley Park. 
How did I get this gig? I'd love to be a portrait and wedding photographer in Vancouver.
The expansive view of Vancouver from the Cypress Mountain Lookout.
Cactus Club Cafe's Spinach Salad

"Breathe properly. Stay curious. And eat your beets."
 ~Tim Robbins (Jibberbug Perfume)

   I have ordered this salad almost every time I have dined at the Cactus Club Cafe in Vancouver. A guest can choose to add for an additional charge sautéed shrimp, grilled chicken or grilled fresh salmon. Being a desert dweller, I predictably and happily order the salmon. The shrimp would be a lovely addition as well.
   This is a fairly easy salad to put together but the beets do require a bit of preplanning. My favorite way to prepare beets is to bake them because this method condenses the flavors. Once the baked beets have cooled, the peels are easily removed with a paring knife. Small beets are quartered and large beets are sliced into thin rounds. Careful working with beets as they will easily stain your hands and clothes if you happen to be messy.
   This is a composed salad. The greens are tossed with the dressing and the rest of the items are garnishes on top and around the perimeter of the greens. On the link above, if you scroll through the photos of the fresh greens you will see how the restaurant beautifully presents the salad on a rectangular white plate. The restaurant serves slices of toast with the salad.

   The vinaigrette is of my own making. Of course, if you wish, substitute baby greens or Boston lettuce for the spinach, but I would probably refrain from using a heartier salad green such as Romaine. I particularly like the tenderness of this salad, especially when paired with the grilled salmon. Consider grilling your salmon like Roland does seasoned with tamari (gluten-free soy sauce), brown sugar, slices of lemon and mild white onions sliced into rings. Seal the fish within a foil packet and place on the grill. Depending upon the heat of the grill and the thickness of the salmon filet or steaks, the fish should be fork tender and cooked through within 10 to 15 minutes.
   Most well stocked grocery stores carry candied pecans in the bulk section. If you have the time, I recommend that you prepare my favorite Maple Sugared Candied Walnuts. The walnuts can be prepared several days in advance and stored in an air tight container. Leftover walnuts are terrific served with cheeses and charcuterie (or chopped and sprinkled over a Hot Fudge Sundae).

fresh baby spinach, washed and dried
prosciutto; the restaurant proudly uses San Daniele
goat cheese, large crumbles; the restaurant features cheese from Okanagan
Parmigiano-Reggiano, thinly sliced
pears (alternatively try apples or Fuyu persimmons in season), sliced just before serving to preserve freshness and to hinder browning
sherry vinaigrette
balsamic glaze, plain or flavored with fig
fresh salmon (about 1/3 pound per person), oven-seared (see step six for details)
about 1 tablespoon of high heat oil such as ghee, coconut oil or rendered bacon fat
about 1/3 cup dry white wine

about one tablespoon sherry vinegar or champagne vinegar
one small shallot, minced
one teaspoon tarragon Dijon
about two tablespoons olive oil
sea salt

2. Prepare the beets and set aside, or if making in advance, refrigerate until ready to use.
3. Wash the spinach, spin dry and refrigerate until ready to use.
4. In a small bowl, mix together the minced shallot, vinegar and Dijon mustard. Set aside.
5. Thinly slice the Parmigiano-Reggiano.

6. To oven-sear the salmon, preheat the oven to 500°F.  While the oven is preheating, dab the salmon steaks with paper towels to remove all moisture. The fish will not brown properly if any moisture is present. Once the oven has reached 500°F you can move forward with cooking the fish. On the stovetop, heat a cast iron skillet (or any shallow pan that is safe in the oven at 500°F) over medium-high flame until hot, but not smoking. Generously sprinkle the salmon with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Quickly melt the fat - ghee, rendered bacon fat or coconut oil - in the hot pan. Once melted, immediately place the salmon skin side up in the pan. It will take about 60 to 90 seconds to brown the salmon. After one minute test the salmon before turning by gently nudging the fish with tongs. If the fish moves freely, it is browned, if not let it cook another 10 to 20 seconds and test again. Once the salmon has browned, flip to skin side down and add the wine (the wine will boil fervently). Being carefuly not to burn yourself, the handle might be very hot, immediately move the skillet from the stovetop to the oven to finish cooking. It will take only another 2 to 3 minutes for the salmon to be cooked through. The wine will help ensure that you do not overcook the salmon by keeping the steaks moist. Remove from the oven and let the salmon rest a couple of minutes in the wine before serving.  
7. While the salmon is resting, thinly slice the pears (you can leave the peels on). Dress the greens by first sprinkling with sea salt and then topping with several grinds of black pepper. Drizzle with olive oil - a tablespoon or two -  and give a good toss using two large spoons. Add the shallot mixture and toss again evenly distributing the mix. Taste and adjust flavoring as necessary. Arrange a nice portion of dressed greens on each plate. Garnish the greens decoratively with the beets, prosciutto, walnuts, crumbled goat cheese, sliced Parmigiano-Reggiano, and pears. Drizzle with the balsamic-fig glaze. Add a serving of salmon to each plated salad and serve immediately. Say, "Cheers" to one and all at the table, as is the sociable custom in Vancouver, and tuck in.

1 comment:

  1. That looks like a fantastic trip. Love the photos.


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