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Friday, June 30, 2006

Diving in Nanaimo

The wreck of the Saskatchewan covered in soft corals and other gorgeous sea life.

Duking it out for land rights to this piece of slit.

This was truly a momentous day. Diving in Nanaimo is probably the coldest dive I have made including that one made in Manitoulin last summer. The trek from Victoria to Nanaimo took about 90 minutes. The hardest part was finding the dive store which isn't even marked by a sign just dive flag on the side of the building. By Ocean Explorers Diving Limited was quite capable as a dive store despite its lack of advertising.

There was a 17 knot wind in the morning and hence a trip out to the wrecks of the HMCS Cape Breton or Saskatchewan was not possible for safety reason. About three years ago, a dive boat sank as it tried to rescue some divers. The waves overtuned the boat which then washed onto Snake Island. It smashed to a thousand shards.

Hence our first dive as on the Rivtow Lion, 157 foot North Sea Rescue Tug sunk in February 6, 2005. There was little wildlife on the boat/artificial reef unsurprisingly but give it a few years and d we'll see what grows on it. I did see these two Dungeness crabs duking it out on the slit floor and then a huge jellyfish called a Lions Mane. It was the size of a human head. And the water temperature was 10-12 degrees celsius. Yes, I did survive the whole 30 minutes at 83ft depth in this temperature to even my surprise. It reminded a litte of that dive of the wreck of the North Wind I did last summer.

We were fortunate as the waves died down in the afternoon and we managed to dive the HMCS Saskatchewan. This is considered the best and healthest artificial reef in the world by the National Geographic society and Jacque Cousteau(I really wonder where in the dive world) this guy has not been. It is quite a wonder to behold and did not disappoint. The entireship (over 300 feet long) is covered in soft corals and anemone. Although it was sunk in June 14, 1997, its 9 years under the sea have generated such a density of sea critters that you can hardly recognize the architectural features of the ship itself. Visiblity at both sites was a about 20 feet in the frigid waters. The only other ship/artifical reef in world that compares apparentlyto it is the Yongala in Australia.

The icing on the cake was the harbour seals that snorkled with us at the end of the day. They are quite friendly. Actually I think a bit too friendly as they were nibbling on my fins and coming right up to my face. The divemaster suggest not taking a camera as they are drawn to the flashand reflections of themselves in the camera housing. One of thedivers was almost kissed by the seal. So no close up pictures of this but what an experience diving in Nanaimo was.

Ode to Tojo's

Vancouver is quite a busy town right now. The UN World Urban ForumIII just wrapped up last Friday. Although I did not get a chance to see Kofi Annan, I did see Wayne Gretzky in the lobby of the WestinBayshore and Marina. He was doubtless in Vancouver for the NHL draft that occured on Sunday.

The dinner party that Ms. Prada arranged at Tojo's was fabulous. It is deserving of its reputation of one of the top if not the top Japanese restaurant in Vancouver if not in Canada maybe even North America. Most certainly, the best Japanese meal I have had. I started with Tojo's top sake: Masukagami. Very delicious and not too sweet either. Rather than order from the set menu, the entire party of ten opted for Omakase, this is the Japanese version of the tasting menu. The word means "entrusting" which is really what you are doing when you ask thechef to make a meal especially for you. Your taste buds are literally in his hands. There are different grades of Omakase, the $60 grade,the $80 grade, $110 grade and the "unlimited" grade. The last choice literally means the dishes keep coming until you say "uncle". What is really unique is that some of the dishes are familiar and others areone of a kind, never to be tasted again.

As this was most of our parties first experience at Tojo's, we opted for the $110. Perhaps next time, I'll be more adventurous go for the "unlimited" Omakase. The first dish was tuna belly marinated in a wasabi based soy sause wiith sesame seeds. Extremely yummy and this dish was just the warm up. What followed as a seafood sashmi salad of thinly sliced yellow tail, salmon and tuna arranged with fresh local sprouts in citrus based vingerette. Very much in the style of cerviche. The fish so fresh, it pratically melts in your mouth.

Then a truely once in a life time dish. Broiled black cod (called Gindara) served with Japanese plum sauce. WOW! Really one of the best dishes of the night. But personal favourite is a novel creation of Canadian sable fish wrapped around fresh bamboo shoots, king mushrooms, slices of mango and asparagus. This was held together isbamboo wrap and folded in parchment paper and steamed. The sweetnessof the bamboo and the freshness the fish was a surprise delicacy formost taste buds. As more dishes flowed in, a hand roll of shrimp with slight hint of tangy wasabi, marinated lobster, flying fish, yellow tail and scallopmaki rolls. There were tuna rolls topped with caviar and even an eggroll topped with bonita shavings.

Our party of 10 started to sound like the tasting panel on Iron Chef. "This is so good." "It melts in my mouth." "Mmmmmm, so fresh." So passed gasps of delight at our culinary feast proceeded through the evening hours. After four hours, our royal meal was done.

I must say that Hidekazu Tojo is is a genius. More than traditional Japanese chef, he is aninnovator in Japanese cuisine. I realize this sounds like a line fromIron Chef too. His Tojo tuna and Tojo-maki (inside-out version ofwhat would become known as "California roll") has helped introduce Japanese cuisine to North Americans. In 1974, Tojo's first introduced the barbecued salmon-skin roll that is found today in virtually every Japanese restaurant on the West Coast. In Ontario, it falls under thename of a BC roll. He was also the first to introduce smoked salmoninto Japanese cuisine. Quite a resume, eh?

The current restaurant was opened in 1988. The site caters toeveryday man and yes to the more famous too. In the private room nex tour gathering, Kristin Davis held court with a late supper. She plays Charlotte York on Sex in the City. Small in stature but of course TV adds 10lbs making her "normal" for Hollywood. She is quite pretty never the less.

Our parties were the last to leave Tojo's as the clockrang out 30 minutes to midnight. The chef personally say goodbye tous and had a few extra words for Ms. Prada Maybe, she is trying to entice him to come to Calgary and set up another restaurant. I conclude with an ode to Tojo's:

Watery depths of my hunger for good sushi
Unagi, hamachi, sake and uni
Slippery and somewhat slimy to some
Its taste can truely compare to none

Bathed in sweet soy and pickled ginegar
All was consumed with gusto and vigour
Quenching a thirst thus unsated
Masukagami's sake arrives long awaited

Amongst friends old and new
A seafood feast thus ensued
Each delicious dish outdid its successor
Each diner proclaimed with mouthfuls devoured in fervour

Seasonal ingredients so fresh in each tasty roll
Easily had Tojo's work achieved its goal
A culinary experience, Chairman Kaga would agree in kind
That was a taste of Japan truely divine.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The drought is over. After 20 years, a new TV has been purchase. LCD Samsung with HDTV receiver and personal video recorder as well. The World Cup never looked so good.  Posted by Picasa

This is the old TV moved to a new location. The knobs all work and yes you do have to get up to change the channel, volume and turn the machine on and off. Retail from Sears for $25. I think it is over 30 years old.  Posted by Picasa

The Drought is over

I have made another leap in techology. Albeit is not as great as moving from my townhouse to the 3 bedroom house I now live in. It is probably comparable to moving from a 1989 Honda Civic Hatchback to 2004 VW Jetta (wow this is has mp3 player and heated seats too!). No, this advance is quite significant. The dawn of a new age of TV watching in the home: HDTV. Behold another TV couch potato is born.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Definitely the best meal I had in the Bahamas was in Freeport's Stone Crab where I had (what else?) stone crab of course. Fabulous dense rich and meaty crab unadulterated with anything else but a little lemon and some black bean rice. Each claw was so huge I thought I was eating lobster claws. This meal at the Stone crab is highly recommended. Mr. Hippo had the blackened swordfish which was extremely delicious as well.  Posted by Picasa

Bimini Road

Off the island of Bimini lies another one of the alleged sites of a lost civilization of Atlantis. What lies beneath is a trail of rocks laid out like the interlocking cobblestone path, a "city" road of Atlantis perhaps. Divers and snorkellers alike have claimed to have "lost" time in this area. Some have lost days other weeks. The Sea Explorer lost a diver here but he was just refused to come back to the boat when it was time to go really. Posted by Picasa

Feeding Frenzy

The sound of shark teeth grating on the bait and on the chain is quite horrific. Doubtless it has been used in a some scary movie flick. Within minutes, the feeding is done and the sharks return of their usual behaviour. Oh, yes this was quite a memorable dive....and not there was no "cage" used. Posted by Picasa

Shark Dive at Bull Run

Easily the most exciting dive in the Bahamas was the creature feature of sharks. In this case, Caribbean reef sharks with an appetite for barracuda thankfully not divers. The sound of the boat's motors must produce a Pavlov response for these creatures. As the divers entered the water, the sharks arrive and begin to encircle the amiphtheatre of coral that we are seated in. As the bait is lowered, into the waters, the behaviour of the sharks changes from calmness or excitement. Then it begins, the feeding frenzy. Posted by Picasa

Bahamian Lobster

This spiny lobster was hinding under a rock overhang during a dive at Space Mountain. This dive site was rarely visited due to its remotest which makes it quite inaccessible except in the calmest of waters. He didn't end up on any dinner plate though. It is illegal to hunt while scuba diving. However, if you can free dive and capture this creature, that is another story. Posted by Picasa

Death blow was struck by our first mate Nat to this dolphin fish aka mahi mahi. A large fish and quite powerful too as it struggled to the end. The fish did no died in vain. In its final dance, it managed to bloody the entire set of towels and clothes hanging in front it as well as several crew members and guest divers. It was also quite effect in satisfying the hunger of many a diver too.  Posted by Picasa

This little fellow traveler was riding the waves at Riding Rock Reef when I stopped him. Quite graceful was his slow escape from my camera.  Posted by Picasa

Okay don't mock my flatfootedness. This is a family trait I have inherited from both sides...just my luck. The trait that got one of my uncles out of the army and was the cause of my torn ACL injury. Well here they are in the sands of Port Lucayan beach, Grand Bahamas  Posted by Picasa

Clear waters and warm bahamian sands. That and my man, Mr Hippo walking on the beach in the early morning hours as the sun rises. Just a perfect holiday start.  Posted by Picasa

Magnolia Blossom

Another lovely spring has come and is nearly gone. This gorgeous magnolia outside the house is really quite spectacular particularly with the daffodils at its base. I can't think of a more apt opening of spring. The renewal of the earth and yes, it sounds really dorky but the renewal of life. Posted by Picasa

Beautiful Bahamas

Just returned from a lovely diving trip. One made more special by the fact that Mr. Hippo accompanied me. Made more significant by the fact that diving brought us together. The last six months have just flown by as we have spent almost every weekend together.

The trip was fabulous. Lots of sun and crisp calm seas. We dove a few sites that the crew themselves had not been to for almost a year because of the risk of tropical storms and hurricanes. One of the other guests caught a dolphin fish also known as mahi mahi and this was grilled for us during our port stay in Bimini. This was the only land we touched during the 6 days we spent in the Caribbean sea. Bimini noted for its big game fishing....marlin and the like. Secondly, it remains the playground for the rich. Papa Hemingway himself lived in the island. The Compleat Angler, the bar he frequently patronized recently buried alas. Apparently he had a standing bet with the locales that if any of them could punch him out with one blow, he would award the winner a $100 USD. No one really knows if this money was ever collected.