Thursday, September 9, 2010

Sweets Etc. adds homemade flavours to Steveston Farmer's and Artisan Market

I follow the Steveston Farmer’s and Artisan Market schedule religiously. The two weeks between events feels like an eternity to me. I can’t wait to ride my bike down to the village and meet those enterprising vendors who add so much colour and creativity to our community. On August 28th, I had the pleasure of chatting with Daisy and Precilla.

Sweets Etc. broke into the community event scene at the Vancouver Baker's Market earlier this year. Since then, it has been serving up baked goods that delight the eye and palate.

The chiffon collection:

A.Grand Marnier orange chiffon cake
B.Lemon chiffon cake
C.Key lime chiffon cake
D.Dark banana chiffon cake
E.Gateau Chocolat (lovely but not really a chiffon creation)
--Photos courtesy of Sweets Etc.--

The pound cake collection:

B.Mocha pound cake
C.Fig pound cake
D.Prune cake
--Photos courtesy of Sweets Etc.--

On May 23rd, Daisy and Precilla signed up for the Steveston Farmer's and Artisan Market and have been serving cookies, cakes, and bread a few times when I stopped by their tent.

So, what was on the menu that day?

Sweets such as:
· The citrus collection: featuring lemon, orange, and lime cookies
· The decadent collection: consisting of frostbite, mocha mocha, and cream drop dainties
· The heartwarming collection: offering apple cranberry and banana cinnamon buns

And savouries such as cheese knots, veggie curry buns, escargot, and other must-try creations.

According to Daisy and Precilla, their big movers include – not surprisingly – cinnamon buns and Fougasse Provencale, a type of bread that hailed all the way from Provence, France.

The ones being sold that day were baked with roasted garlic and olive but they can also come embedded with caramelized onion. Either version can be eaten by itself, or served with soup or stew as comfort food par excellence.

Such an eclectic menu reflects Daisy and Precilla’s ongoing experimentation to come up with a menu that pleases a wide range of tastes. Instead of focusing on a niche, they are still happily exploring what’s right for their customers. And it all comes down to giving people choices.

At the end of our informal interview, I turned my attention back to the display table and picked up a few treats to be enjoyed later at home, preferably with a cup of coffee. After all, shouldn’t an investigative blogger try out samples of what she is featuring on a post? It's a tough job but somebody's got to do it.

You can find out more about Daisy and Priscilla's baking by visiting them at

Monday, September 6, 2010

Steveston drew crowds of salmon lovers

If nothing else, the recent salmon buying frenzy in Steveston had taught me a couple of lessons.

First of all, a heck of a lot of folks really fancy this singularly unattractive-looking fish.

The constant stream of vehicles beelining it to the landing and threading their way back out of the village reminded me of the usual crush at the Salmon Festival each July 1st. Instead of waving maple-leaf emblazoned paper flags, however, everyone's hand is grasping heavy-looking plastic bags containing the rich sea harvest.

The air was charged with a sense of urgency to get the fresh kill home. No more leisurely pace back to one's car, except for those who had the foresight to trot down the gangplank with a cooler firmly in hand.

I didn't join the horde of people lining up in front of boats moored at the dock. From the craning of necks and nervous milling about, it was apparent that people couldn't wait to pick out their fish before all the best ones were gone.

These were serious shoppers. And probably great cooks to boot! Me, I would be happy to pick my salmon from a grocery store, nicely beheaded, scaled, and gutted of course!

Yes, I know, you can't compete with freshness.

According to one sign propped atop a boat, their fish were of "sashimi quality" and the fisher even provided a definition to what this meant.

For the uninitiated like me, the term means "not frozen." But, as I found out when I Googled the term, its definition is actually quite precise. For example, to the Japanese, "sashimi quality" means less than 24 hours after a fish was caught. In addition, the fish must also have been killed, gutted, and stored on ice until sold.

For you math whizzes, try this on for size! For every hour a freshly caught fish is not stored on ice, it loses one day of shelf life. So, which is of better quality - a freshly caught fish that has not been chilled for four hours or a five-day old fish that has been kept on ice since it was caught? did you know that a fish that is stored correctly has a usable life up to ten days?

Of course, ideally, you should instantly haul your catch home, cut it, let it float on a bath of herb and melted butter, sprinkle it with salt and pepper, and shove it in the oven. Just the way Mark Bittman - my favourite chef - recommended it done.

Although the buying frenzy is now over, I really enjoyed it while it lasted. What a treat to see wave after wave of cars, some sporting Washington license plates, descending on our neighbourhood. Kind of like the 2010 winter Olympics back in February, but happening right at our doorstep. Hm, is it possible to have post salmon-run depression?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Steveston Museum park shows off local needlecrafters, spinners, and quilters

Have you ever walked down the hushed hallways of the Richmond Art Gallery? At the top of the curving staircase, behind glass windows, you can see women stitching, spinning, and quilting. Sometimes they lift their eyes to peer at their instructors. Sometimes, there's a burst of laughter as they split themselves over an inaudible joke. Always, I wondered what wonderful things were being stitched, spun, and threaded on the other side of the wall.

One sunny spring day I got my chance to find out. As I walked past the Steveston Museum park I noticed several tents set up in the shades. I had seen people congregating under the trees before and always assumed that they were vendors selling local art work. That day, however, the gathering was purely a show-and-tell community event.

Closest to the white picket fence facing Moncton Street were the quilters. "Textile Arts Guild of Richmond" proclaimed the banner hung from the blue tent. Spread out on tables laden with yellow cloths and suspended from the supporting poles were samples of their projects: a cheerful bright traditional patchwork number, a soothing green quilt covered with graceful curves and pale blue flowers, a rectangular brown piece with bold outlines of trees, and a smaller one sporting horizontal waves of airy reds, whites, and greens that vaguely resembled an Impressionist painting. All of them looking fluffy soft and practically begging to be touched. But I knew better.

Just off to one side were two women, one of them sporting a very charming hat, huddled over a spinning wheel. Now, I don't know a fly wheel from a drive band, a treadle from a footman, but the set-up reminded me of Sleeping Beauty as she extends her royal hand towards that poisoned needle. Well, I know at least one spinning wheel that had escaped the royal decree and didn't end up in the fiery pit.

Lastly, I crossed over to a table attended by two members of the Dogwood Needlecrafters Chapter. Here I lingered over the fine pieces of cross stitching, needle point, petit point, and canvas embroidery. I admitted that I had dabbled with just about every type of needlework in my younger days - before university, marriage, children and a career overtook over my life. However these years of distraction had only deepened my appreciation of the care and dedication that had gone to every project draped across their table. We also shared a laugh about how as we got older, we had to relinquish the finer work to younger eyes and embrace projects that are less demanding on our eyes.

The next time I visit the Richmond Art Gallery, I will feel just a bit more connected to what goes on behind those doors. And, who knows, one of these days, you might find me behind the glass windows, hunched over a spinning wheel or diligently stitching two square pieces of fabric together. You'll know me because I'll be the one with a smile on her lips.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Sharing Farm volunteers bring fruit, vegetables, and knowledge to the community

It was an uncharacteristically bright and sunny morning for the Steveston Farmers and Artisans Market. Having crossed the dusty and crater-riddled gravel lots, I finally reached the paved parking area where the festivities were already in full swing.

The second tent on my right was abuzz with activities. A display board spelled out "The Sharing Farm." Next to it, a man with a warm welcoming smile stood looking eager to chat up potential customers. I was at the point of skirting away from the hub when we locked eyes, which started a very engaging conversation for nearly twenty minutes.

Even as Mr. Wilson was telling more about the Richmond Fruit Tree Project, I was enveloped by whiffs of heady scents.There, loosely arranged in disarmingly informal bouquets were stalks of lavender, spearmint, Ricola mint, and spearmint – freshly picked from The Sharing Farm. Who needs to go to a spa when they can just stand next to these plastic and wooden tubs and lose themselves to the most potent aromatherapy nature can provide. A zen moment indeed…

Yes, back to the conversation.

Mr.Wilson was educating me on the Richmond Fruit Tree Sharing Project and, unknowingly reawakening my long buried desire to grow fruits and vegetables in my modest personal green space at home. His inspiring narration of what the project was all about also scratched an itch for volunteering that had flared on and off for the past few years.

The colourful and fragrant bounty on display was but a minuscule sample of what is harvested through the Richmond Fruit Tree Sharing Project. According to their website, in the nine years the project has been in operation, 200,000 pound of fruit and vegetables have been collected and distributed to the needy. The project also provides workshops on food security and farming practices and seeks to link up with similar projects to share initiatives and resources.

The Sharing Farm project is located at two sites: at the south end of Gilbert Road (beside the City Tree Nursery) and in the Terra Nova Rural Park at 2631 Westminster Highway. There you’ll find a greenhouse, hoop houses, a seeding room, an apple orchard, and of course, rows of planted fruits and vegetables. Although there are volunteers aplenty, there is always a plea for more community spirited Stevestonites who can plant, cultivate, harvest, and help with workshops, tours and special events.

I walked away from the market feeling determined –not only to feature the project on this blog but also to turn my backyard to a virtual Garden of Eden. Over the course of many years, naturally.

P.S. Did you know that the Institute for Sustainable Horticulture, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, in cooperation with the Richmond Fruit Tree sharing Project, the Richmond Food Security Society, and the city of Richmond, now offers a program on basic farming? The Rich Farm School debuted this past spring and has two major components: core classes and the practicum. Find out more about it by visiting May be you will get inspired too!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ursula's Garden lends its charm to a compact community garden

June 12th dawned bright and by two thirty in the afternoon, it was warm enough for me to go out on my bike and explore my hood.

Before parking our bikes in front of our favourite coffee shop, my husband and I decided to roll down Dyke Road toward the fishing pier.

As we pedaled on the shady narrow paths towards Britannia Shipyards we caught sight of a sprinkling of smartly dressed men and women in frilly dresses. A wedding photo shoot was in progress with the rustic boatbuilding edifice providing a dramatic backdrop. The charm of this historic site extended to the administration office, a quaint shop, and a small boat barely visible through a curtain of waist-high reeds.

Back on Dyke Road, we spotted a cluster of bobbing balloons. Little children clung to their precious party loot bags as their mothers fussed and carefully steered them back to a line of waiting cars. Hm, I thought, must consider hosting a private party at London Farm...

Just as we hit Gilbert Road, I noticed a small community garden that pressed against the Food Bank orchard. Having never been to one, I had to take a closer look.

We veered to the left and made a wide turn to the right, evading cars heading in three different directions- and some rather hostile looks. Yikes!

A young man with an MP3 player plugged into his ears stood next to the only car parked in the vacant lot. Further on, an older gentleman was bent over a tidy patch in an otherwise deserted green space.

The young man identified himself as a gardener and told me that I was free to explore. I suppose it was too early in the season but most of the individual plots were bare, and looked as though still in the initial stages of preparations.

My ad hoc tour guide identified the man yonder as his father. Although the young man himself didn’t appear to be the type to get dirt under his fingernails, he seemed genuinely interested in making a things take root and grow.

The father graciously took a break from his chores to chat with us for a bit. Yes, there are a few plots left and he thought we should go to the City of Richmond to claim ours. He pointed out the orchard that bordered the garden and said that the Food Bank also welcomes volunteer to help out with their peach orchard and apple trees.

As I meandered around the garden, this man shared additional tidbits with us, such as:

· The community garden was opened six years ago

· He has been tending his plot for four years

· Even though fellow gardeners come and go at different times, you do manage to get to know them

· Some gardens are more like ambitious projects, like the one where someone had erected an elaborate structure for creeping vines

This plot appears to have a Western theme. Can you hitch your horse to that pole?

· Ursula, his neighbour, is partial to flowers; her sign display and upturned watering can were utterly charming

· All plots are encircled with chicken wire to keep rabbits out; lately though, there hasn't been any long ears in the vicinity

· Yes, sometimes things go missing but what can you do about those who do not adhere to the honour system?

I can’t wait to return to the community garden at end of summer when everything will be in full bloom and tender with ripeness. I bet the transformation will be phenomenal and well worth the bike ride!

So, stay tuned, SL readers...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Gift from Steveston Village Bikes gives new perspective on cycling

My interest in cycling was at an all time low last summer. Hunching over the low handlebars of my aging bicycle had lost its allure. Trundling down the road, my knees would burn, my back would ache, and my palms would grow tender from supporting my entire upper body weight.

Worst of all, with my eyes focused on the spot just past the front wheel, I took in nothing but strips of asphalt, scraps of rubbish, pebbles, dirt road, brown grass, and what other people’s dogs have left behind.

Well, that all changed on Mother's Day, when my husband presented me with a toodler from Steveston Village Bikes.

This is a toodler!

A toodler is made for the recreational rider. Like me! The handlebars sit higher so that you can remain upright, lift your chin, survey what’s around you, and – bonus – actually have eye contact with others. One leisurely glide around the village and I was hooked!

Given our almost perfect summer days, I often find myself pedaling down the street after dinner to:

Catch the last evening rays in Steveston

Admire wildlife alongside the grinding dyke trail,

Observe local ducks and bobbing boats in the marina,

Capture the quieter corners of the Brittania Shipyards where reeds nod and clouds of insects buzz in the light breeze,

Or just pick up a couple of good reads from the Steveston Library.

If you have ever considered embracing the two-wheeler again, try one out for size from the Village Bikes. One short trip around the block and you’ll catch the toodling bug as well.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

2010 Salmon Festival flower show - a feast for the eyes

On Canada Day, the 2010 Steveston Salmon Festival was in full swing, when I arrived on the scene at 2:30 PM.

As always, the craft fair drew a huge crowd of serious shoppers, browsers, and bloggers (well, at least one anyway).

After circling the gym twice, I slipped out of the building and into the Net Shed, where the flower show was held. It was a Kodak moment in leaves and petals!

Before I share some of the amazing displays, let me assure you that I know absolutely nothing about flowers, gardening, formal arrangements, and how to appraise what has been tended by loving hands. The photos you are about to see happened to speak to me- with their harmonious colours, delicate lines, effusive spirit, and natural simplicity. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Happy Canada Day, Steveston, and keep on blooming!

Perennials mixed

Perennial flowers

Mixed garden flowers

Flowering shrubs

Decorative arrangement - anything goes!

Bowl of roses

Biennials distinct

Friday, June 25, 2010

Dam Good Soap! keeps Steveston clean and lubed

June 20 was the second Sunday that Steveston's Farmers' and Artisans' Market was held under low threatening clouds. It didn't feel much like the day before the Summer Solstice.

But at 11:30 AM, at least at the corner of Third Avenue and Moncton Street, shoppers were eagerly chatting up the vendors. Two tents that were snuggled side by side drew quite a crowd - a white canvas advertised “Dam Good Lip Lube" in one tent while a black canvas promoted "Dam Good Soap" in the other.

“Ooh, these look good enough to eat,” a woman said to her cluster of friends. Hands big and small reached out for multi-scented bars that looked like chunky slices of colourful loaves.

I had heard about "Dam Good Soap" months earlier. A friend had raved about this Steveston-based company for its – well - d--n good soap!

The lady behind the counter explained that all their soaps were made with natural ingredients and olive oil. There was a wide selection of scents to choose but, for my dry skin, she recommended the Spa Baby, a scent free bar for sensitive skin. "Just use a wash cloth to work up a lot of lather," she advised.

When asked which were the big movers, she pointed out the citrus line, with such evocative names as “Lime Currant” and “Lemon Peel.” But what about “Monkey Farts?” I thought, that would have to be the bar of choice for all little boys.

Of course, if your intention was to entice youngsters to spend more time scrubbing behind their ears, you would be wise to go for their Soapsicles, or soaps on a stick, which come in mouth watering shades of yellow, orange, blue, and red.

And for you smoochers, keep those lips supple and smooth with Dam Good Lip Lubes, which are soothing tubes that come in Passionfruit, Vanilla Bean, and Peaches and Cream – flavours you won’t find in your grandmother’s medicine cabinet.

After a long moment of indecision, I decided to get a bar of the Spa Baby. While it was being carefully wrapped in white tissue, I asked another shopper, who appeared to be a devotee, how long a bar lasts. Oh, a long long time, she said.

At least for two weeks, I hope, until the Farmers' and Artisans' Market returns to Steveston. And, with luck, under much sunnier skies.

In the meantime, keep scrubbing and kissing, Steveston!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Crazy Mary adds exotic fun to Steveston

On June 5th, 2010 at 4:15 PM, I finally gave in to my curiosity.

I had to find out why Sara’s Ice Cream’s twin sister shop had such an unusual name.

The “Crazy Mary” sign - with its pair of curly-lashed eyes and green pig tails had intrigued me since I first spotted a couple sprucing up the shop for business.

So I crossed the street, determined to unravel the mystery.

Upon entering the door, I was immediately drawn to the boldly painted walls - swaths of bright orange, green, and burnt earth. You can tell the owner is not intimidated by a palette that others might find too aggressive.

I liked Crazy Mary already.

A slight young lady with sleek brown hair sat behind what looked like a work table. In fact, with the exception of a white couch, the back of the store resembled a design studio. How wonderful it would be to actually walk in on an artistic work in progress, I thought.

I found the layout of the store very conducive to browsing - with the collection of jewelry, accessories and gifts spread out in an arc that starts from the front door and circling counter clock wise back to the entrance. People were milling about their displays, in the windows, on the counters, and locked inside display cases.

The young lady is actually Mary's niece. They hailed from Brazil where I know, from personal experience, that people exude warmth and friendliness and speak as though they are caressing you with their words.

I asked her why her aunt had chosen such an unusual name for her shop. She laughed and explained that in Portuguese, "crazy" denotes a positive quality. Crazy Mary is someone is who is happy and fun-loving. I would have liked to continue our chat but some customers approached the till to have their purchases rung up.

Perhaps one day, I will be able to meet Mary in person and we can have a crazy good chat. Until then, welcome to the neighbourhood, Maria Maluca, and boa sorte com as suas compras!