After two short flights and one long layover we arrived in Seattle. It was after midnight and rainy. We needed to be in Port Angeles, a town 2 1/2 hours away, by 7:00 AM to catch the ferry to Victoria, British Columbia, our final destination. Our two pint-sized travelers were frolicking through dreamland before we even pulled out of the rental car facility which made our decision to do the drive that night a simple one. It was wearisome, but uneventful, and we were grateful for our few hours of sleep after arriving safely at the hotel.
The following morning, we didn’t have time to stop at a restaurant to feed the girls breakfast so we crossed our fingers that there would food available on the ferry. The food situation was, at best, underwhelming, but Annabelle and Evelyn were downright giddy about the individual serving sized cereal containers and tiny cartons of milk. They ate, the coffee was hot-ish, we were satisfied.
The overcast skies and steady wind made the ferry’s outdoor observation deck uncomfortably cool, but that didn’t stop us from taking it all in. The girls were captivated by the water whooshing under the boat and they crouched to watch it until their teeth chattered and their lips matched the color of the blueing sky. We explored every square inch of ‘explorable’ space and a few inches of not so explorable space by accident. Annabelle serenaded several of the passengers (some interested, some not-so-much) with obscure tunes sung with operatic enthusiasm. Evelyn met a little boy her age and they kissed. On the lips. Heaven help us.
The palatial structures and meticulously manicured landscape of Victoria greeted us before we even disembarked the ferry. Annabelle’s boisterous melodies became gasps of sheer delight and lots of jumping when she caught a glimpse of a princess castle (a.k.a. Fairmont Empress Hotel) on shore.
We spent the first day touring the Butchart Gardens. In the early 1900’s, Jennie Butchart made it her life’s mission to replace her husband’s depleted and unsightly limestone quarry with something more lovely. She had the bottom of the crater-like hole filled with rich soil (delivered by horse and cart!!) and began planting. Today, the ethereal beauty of each and every blossom is a wonder to behold. Fifty five acres of such beauty cannot be described. Two words for you, John Milton: Paradise found.
The Baroque Revival architecture of the British Columbia Parliament Buildings transported us to Europe, Austria perhaps, and left us in awe. Tim and I ogled the masterpiece while the girls lounged and rolled in the lawn and groups of Japanese tourists photographed them.
On Sunday it rained, but, not wanting to be cooped up in the hotel, we made our way to the indoor Butterfly Zoo. It was small and pricey, but the 3,000+ butterflies bobbing and weaving all about were well worth the time and expense.
Monday was our last full day in Victoria. Tim had to work so I put the girls in their stroller and we strolled a couple of miles to a park that overlooked Fisherman’s Wharf. I was intrigued by the flamboyant maritime community, and curious about its history.
When Tim returned from work, I showed him the photo of the docked homes and he suggested we take a water taxi to the Wharf to see what it was all about.
The history of the wharf is, as you’d expect, very interesting. You can read all about it here if you’d like. Today there are 33 “float homes” (max. capacity) and several businesses occupying the Wharf. Apparently, the majority of the occupants are as colorful as their homes, but we didn’t knock on any doors to confirm 😉
We left Canada grateful, refreshed, and ready for another adventure.
The trip was not a culinary tour of Victoria. We didn’t intend for it to be. Our girls are borderline demonic restaurant goers so we kept our meals very low key for everyone’s sake. We did, however walk through the Fairmont Empress Hotel’s dining room during afternoon tea one day and the bounty of miniature treats that graced each table seemed befitting of royalty. Speaking of royalty…we saw them while we were there. Yes, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge together with their little ones, George and Charlotte were also in Victoria. I thought about adding the photo but it’s pretty poor quality and made me feel very paparazzi.
Anyway, I looked at the tea menu and had to wipe the saliva off my chin a few dozen times before reaching the end. Everything caught my eye, but the caramel banana cake with Chef Darren McGrady’s description just felt right: “A popular recipe I made at Kensington Palace for Princes’ William and Harry as young children. They both loved any recipe with bananas in and this became one of their favourites.”
The banana bread is my go-to recipe and the caramel, adapted from Ashley Rodriguez’s book Date Night In, is foolproof. No thermometers or wet brushes required. The brown butter imparts a delicious nuttiness without any nuts (my kiddos don’t like them, but I suppose you could add a handful of chopped walnuts if you’d like). Feel free to cut back on the sugar in the bread by up to 1/2 cup if sweets aren’t really your thing. The caramel adds lots of extra sweetness. Keep in mind that I’m not advertising this as a healthy snack, but rather as an indulgent treat.
I have no idea if the following recipe is even a distant relation of Chef Darren’s version, but it contains both bananas and caramel, and it’s quickly become a ‘favourite’ of my young children.
- ¼ cup / 60 mL Water
- ½ cup / 100 g Sugar
- ½ cup / 120 mL Heavy cream
- ¼ teaspoon Salt
- 3 Very ripe bananas (more brown than yellow), mashed
- scant ½ cup / 80 g Sugar
- scant ½ cup / 80 g Dark brown sugar
- ¼ cup / 56 g Unsalted brown butter (see instructions)
- ¼ cup Oil 56 g (canola, olive, and coconut have all worked very well for me)
- 1 Egg, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon Vanilla extract
- 1 cup / 152 g All-purpose flour
- 1 cup / 120 g Whole wheat flour (graham and spelt are also delicious)
- 1 teaspoon Baking soda
- ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
- Begin by making the brown butter:
- In a small skillet over medium-low heat, melt the butter. After the butter has melted, continue cooking, and swirl the pan every few minutes to promote even browning. The whole process should take about 15-20 minutes. The butter is done when it smells deliciously nutty and the color is just a shade or two darker than caramel. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and cool for 10 minutes.
- While the butter is cooling, make the caramel:
- Combine the sugar and water in a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat and cover. Cook for exactly 4 minutes without disturbing. Remove the lid and continue cooking for 3½ more minutes. Swirl the pan a couple of times, but DO NOT stir. Turn heat off and add the cream. The hot sugar will harden at this point. Whisk vigorously until the mixture is smooth. Turn heat back on medium and stir for exactly one minute. Remove from heat, stir in the salt and set aside to cool.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a loaf pan by lining it with parchment paper and generously spraying or buttering the paper. Add the mashed bananas, sugars, oil, egg, and vanilla to the cooled brown butter and mix until the egg is evenly incorporated into the mixture. Add the flours, baking soda, and salt. Stir just until combined. Pour the mixture into a prepared loaf pan. Spoon half the caramel over the top of the batter and use a butter knife to swirl the caramel into the bread. Bake 55-60 minutes or until a knife comes out without crumbs. Cool completely before slicing. Serve plain or with whipped vanilla butter for an extra special occasion.
The extra caramel can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.