Archive for April, 2004

Hastings House on Salt Spring Island

Wednesday, April 21st, 2004

The Pacific Northwest is a breathtaking part of North America, and tucked on the tiny island of Salt Spring is a real gem: Hastings House. Just outside of Vancouver you board a ferry to Salt Spring Island, and you feel like you are being transported to a foreign land. The ferry leaves the harbor and heads into the open seas. As you look back, you can see the tall buildings fade into the horizon. The ferry motor purrs as the boat undulates on the waves; you can feel your body begin to relax. The sea air is salty and exhilarating. As you approach Salt Spring Island you see a rugged coastline with water crashing up against the rocks. The island almost looks uninhabited with row after row of huge evergreens. Salt Spring is tiny, only 70 square miles with a population of 10,000, but you feel like it is your own private oasis. The boat pulls into the harbor at the far end of the island, but only a ten minute taxi ride to Hasting House.

Hastings House is an upscale small resort that sits at the water’s edge. There is an old English Manor House, a barn, and several cottages scattered around the property. It looks like a postcard, 25 acres of rolling grass, farms, and gardens sitting on a bluff.

Guest Cottage at Hastings House

Guest Cottage at Hastings House

The Manor House was built in 1940 by William Hastings to replicate his 11th century childhood home in Sussex, England. It is a Tudor style with small pane windows, white stucco walls, and a rough cut stone foundation. Inside dark, wooden beams contrast nicely with the plain white plaster walls. The main sitting room has a huge sofa and comfortable chairs in front of a massive fireplace that roars all day long. Upstairs there are 2 guest bedrooms. There are a total of 18 guest bedrooms on the property, but the tasteful placement of the cottages makes for an open, airy environment. I had the pleasure of staying in one of the Farmhouse suites, which are cottages located on a berm, overlooking the harbor. The rooms are large, typically with a sitting area, a fireplace, and a private balcony. They are decorated with antique furnishings, local artwork and eiderdown quilts on the beds. Fresh flowers from the property are placed in each room, and during turndown service every evening the fireplace is set ablaze. The staff goes out of their way to make you feel special.

Adirondack Chairs by the Sea

Adirondack Chairs by the Sea

Although the service is exquisite, and the accommodations comfortable, it’s the outdoors that makes Hastings House truly memorable. Adirondack chairs sit on the lawn overlooking the sea. In the distance you can see the harbor in the nearby town of Ganges, and the sailboats rock back and forth with the tide. You can hear the birds chirping, and the water churning amongst the rocks. You can smell the sea air and the fresh cut grass. You can just relax, read a book, or contemplate the world – total tranquility. Hastings House has a complete spa to further enhance your needs for relaxation. It offers facials, massages, wraps, and other forms of revitalization.

For the more adventuresome, there are many activities. Salt Spring has beautiful trails for hiking, and Hastings House will outfit you with trail maps and backpacks. The island is quite rural, a mix of national parks and large farms. Complimentary mountain bikes are also offered, and it’s a great way to see the island. But be warned that the terrain has some hills, and they seem to only go up. Exploring the coastline is spectacular. It’s so rustic; rock formations jut out from the sea, and sheer cliffs are softened by the ubiquitous evergreens. The shore also has many interesting inlets filled with small marinas, quaint seaside homes, and private beaches. It’s not unusual to see sea otters swimming, or seals catching some rays on the rocks. Kayaks are a fun way to travel, and you can have guided tours; there is even one by moonlight. For those not looking to do so much paddling, you can take a sailboat around the island. If you are lucky, you will see a bald eagle.

The town of Ganges is just a short walk up the road. It’s a quaint hamlet located in the middle of the island with several marinas supporting the local boating community. Ganges, although quite sleepy, is the most active town on Salt Spring Island, and it’s the heart of the artistic community. Years ago this island became a haven for artists, and they open their galleries 6 days a week, exhibiting art, sculpture and pottery. The big event is on Saturday, when a colorful market takes place with over 100 vendors. This market provides us with an

excellent cross section of the local flavor. Many artists exhibit here selling anything from hooked rugs to homemade jams. The farmers, ranchers, and fishermen also participate. Herbs, vegetables, poultry, game, and seafood are all on display; making you mouth water in anticipation of the next meal.

Roaming Chickens

Roaming Chickens

Complementing the magnificent accommodations and the spectacular natural beauty is a culinary dining experience second to none. Great food always starts with the freshest ingredients, and as you walk the grounds you realize that you are in for a treat. Vegetable and herbs gardens are extensive. Perfect rows of chives, and scallions, and carrots make you dream of being a vegetarian. But the poultry and game are no less fresh. You will see lamb, chickens, ducks and cows; you want to start humming Old MacDonald. A full breakfast is served in the Manor House with eggs, fruit and baskets of fresh baked muffins and scones. For lunch, gourmet picnic baskets are made available for your excursions. Keeping with the British theme, Tea is served in the afternoon, but not just with crumpets. I remember trifle being served one afternoon, and a cobbler the next.

The highlight however is dinner, which is served in a beautiful dining room. Tables are adorned with white tablecloths, fine English bone china, and crystal glasses. But this elegance is made less formal by having simple pastel colored walls and a huge picture window framing the sea. The chef Marcel Kauer has won many awards, and the restaurant recently received 114 out of 120 points from Zagat. He develops a five-course menu featuring the fresh local ingredients, and changes the menu daily. There is always a choice of 5 entrees, and baby Salt Spring Island lamb is their specialty. I had a rack of lamb with a rosemary breadcrumb crust that was delicious. A sample meal might be as follows: eggplant and goat cheese roulade and fennel salad; Thai style sweet peppers and coconut bisque; marinated sablefish, bok choy and sorrel; herb crusted Pacific Halibut, vegetable spaghetti, and citrus salsa; and hot orchard quince soufflé with a white chocolate crème anglais. The food is spectacular, and the presentation exquisite. An outstanding wine list ensures that you will be able make this a true five star dinning experience. Whether it be the food, the service, or the accommodations, Hastings House goes the extra mile to ensure an enjoyable stay.

The Pacific Northwest is known for considerable rainfall, so plan to visit May through September, which is quite dry. The daytime temperatures average in the 70s. As I reflect on Salt Spring Island, I have great memories: the spectacular natural beauty, the beautiful cottages, the quaint town and artistic shops, and the superb food. I remember as the ferry pulled away that this was a special place, and I hope that I will return soon.

Lamb – a Favorite of Springtime

Tuesday, April 20th, 2004

Spring is a great time to cook lamb. We start to think about dusting off the grill, whether it be a charcoal or a gas grill. And we want to keep things a little simpler in spring, as opposed to those lamb stews or braised lamb shanks of winter. Variety is the spice of life, so I have listed three different ways to grill lamb. Grilling techniques vary widely, but I prefer to grill on a high heat. This sears the outside of the meat sealing in the juices. The outside will get a little char, and will cook rapidly; the inside will remain rather rare, which I prefer. If you prefer more well done lamb, move to a lower temperature and continue cooking. In either case, allow the meat to rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Loin lamb chop
are the simplest to prepare. Have the butcher cut the chops 1 ¼ in. thick, season with minced garlic, fresh chopped rosemary, salt, pepper and olive oil. Grill.
Lamb burgers
are a fun alternative to hamburgers. In a bowl, moisten breadcrumbs with a little milk. Sauté onions and a clove of minced garlic and add to the bowl. Add ground lamb, fresh herbs (oregano, thyme or rosemary) and salt and pepper. Form 1/3 to ½ lb burgers, then place a chunk of feta cheese ( optional) into the center. Grill.
Butterflied leg of lamb
is a great way to feed a crowd. Since it is rather uneven, part of the lamb will be medium, while the thickest section will be rare. Have the butcher butterfly the lamb, then marinade overnight in ½ cup Dijon mustard, 2 tbs. fresh rosemary, 2 minced garlic cloves, 2 tbs. olive oil, 2 tbs. soy sauce, and ground pepper to taste. Grill.

Worth seeking out…

Monday, April 19th, 2004
  • There are many hot sauces on the market, but my favorite is Frontera Chipotle hot sauce. It has the same heat as Tabasco, but the smoky sweetness gives it a depth of flavor. Available at grocery stores or www.fronterakitchens.com.
  • Sauce Aioli by Delouis fils is a garlic mayonnaise that is a great dipping sauce. It’s a great alternative to a cocktail sauce or tarter sauce. It works well with shrimp, scallops or mussels. Available at gourmet markets.
  • Maile Dijon Mustard continues to be my favorite mustard. It’s a sharp acidic blend that Maile has been making since 1747. Although they now make many flavored mustards, the traditional Dijon is my favorite. Widely available at grocery or specialty stores.
  • Casa Mano is a Spanish Tapas restaurant recently opened by Mario Batali. It’s a tiny place with only 13 small tables, and an additional 13 stools at the bar. The food is fun, well prepared, and boldly seasoned, typical of a Batali restaurant. A few favorites were pumpkin & goat cheese croquetas, brussels sprouts a la plancha, ramps with romesco, scallops with cava & chorizo, and wild boar with escalivada. For those bored with the routine, try the cock’s combs, sweetbreads or the tripe. An extensive Spanish wine list is available. It’s located at 52 Irving Place, NYC.

Wine of the Month: Nelms Road Merlot 2001 ($18)

Saturday, April 17th, 2004

Nelms Road is the second label of Woodward Canyon in Columbia County, Washington. Woodward Canyon is my favorite merlot producer from the state of Washington, and four years ago they started to produce a new lower cost line of wines under the Nelms Road label. This wine is delicious. It’s a blend of 77% merlot and 22% cabernet sauvignon. The cabernet adds structure and body to the wine, while the merlot adds layers of cherries, plums and spices. There is also a hint of vanilla indicative of the barrel aging. This wine is well made with enough acidity to balance the layers of fruit. Nelms Road is a great easy drinking wine that will go perfectly with grilled hamburgers, ribs or chicken.

The Wine Cellar

Friday, April 16th, 2004

Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino are two outstanding Italian wines that are perfect for any wine cellar, but they can be a bit pricey. I recently have been buying two lower cost alternatives.

A common alternative to a Brunello is its baby sister: Rosso di Montalcino. It’s from the same region of Tuscany, using many of the same grapes. It’s, however, aged for a shorter period of time, and is lighter. I recently tasted a Rosso called Fattoria Poggio di Sotto 2000 by E&P Palmucci, and it was the best Rosso I ever had. The Brunello by this producer costs about $100, while the Rosso was $45- expensive but worth it. This was not a simple, one-dimensional wine, it was a masterpiece. Note that many of the other excellent Brunello producers also make a very good Rosso.

Bricco Manzoni 1997 is a great alternative to buying the current Barolos. Currently the Barolos from the 1999 vintage are on the shelf, and you should age these wines for 5-10 years to best enjoy them. The current Bricco Manzoni is from the 1997 vintage, and it’s drinking perfectly today. It’s a blend of nebbiolo (the grape used in Barolo) and barbera. It’s full bodied, but the barbera adds acidity to the wine, making it very approachable.

Either wine would be delicious today, but could be aged for the next 5 years.