We flew to Vancouver and took the car ferry to the island on the day before. This was plenty of travel for one day, so we stayed in Nanaimo overnight.
Eating in Nanaimo:
First of all, don't trust the maps. None of them are fully accurate. Wander around on foot downtown, however, and you will find things.
Dinner: the Thirsty Camel in Victoria Crescent. This is the Middle Eastern hole in the wall that you desperately miss after a couple days of meat-oriented catering. We ordered gigantic plates of falafel, poured water out of the communal pitcher, and sat around reading some of the anarchist lit on the bookshelf. Afterward we discovered that Canada remains more like Europe in that all the stores are closed by eight. This meant we went down the steps and looked longingly in the window of the clearly excellent used bookstore with thrifted chairs and etc, as opposed to going and sitting in said chairs and reading some books.
Birthday breakfast: Tina's Diner on Commercial. "Let's go drive around and see if we can find a diner! There's one!" There were two guys outside discussing the impact of electric cars. Inside there was the counter plus the row of vinyl booths mended with matching red duct tape that every self-respecting railway-car diner has. We ate and ate. My mini breakfast came with two pieces of really, really good bacon. I can't remember the last time I had bacon that actually incurred praise; usually it's gross and rubbery and flavorless. This stuff was so good. Bacon! The eggs and toast and butter and coffee were all good too. Diner breakfast!
Then we went into a nautical chart store and bought a gigantic bathymetric chart of the island and surrounding waters from a fully frocked priest.
Note how I took no pictures whatever here! Go me!
Then we got back in the car and drove to Ucluelet.
We mucked about gleefully in the rainforest on the way.
We went to the Queen Bee in Port Alberni and bought me some birthday yarn, so I can begin to fully exploit my sock fetish. Then we accidentally ended up having lunch instead of just coffee at the Swale Rock Cafe, which is not a cafe but a restaurant. John had some issues ordering anything vegetarian, and ended up with a gigantic fish-shaped platter of nachos. I had seafood chowder and a piece of the place's famous fisherman's bread, which turned out to be frybread with a side of raspberry jam. It was good frybread, but not at all what you want with soup: too heavy and oily.
Finally, we got to the cabin and inspected the kitchen.
Most of the equipment we needed was there. We had pots and pans and utensils and stove and spatula. We did not have any baking pans of any kind, or a blender. Well, the blender was not a surprise, but it would have been nice to make lots of pureed soups to eat with toast while looking out at the rain. Plus we had no means of making cake, or any oven device. On the other hand, it was interesting to be facing birthday week with a particular set of constrictions. I want soup! I will have it this week, yes I will.
Then we went grocery shopping and acquired.
Then John poured me a glass of some Chilean malbec and started making these sweet potato gnocchi. I was not allowed to help. No helping! Ok, I was slightly allowed to help, but mostly I got to sit around eating a caramilk bar and drinking said malbec. Dee dee base ten number system! Dee dee dee thirty!
Gnocchi are so, so, so easy. I am astonished it took me so long to notice this. They have the easiest dough on the planet. You cannot kill them since they a. have no gluten to overwork and b. don't require cold butter that's hard to maintain while kneading. No! They just have potatoes, flour, and melted butter/whatever from potato mashing.
We actually did use the microwave to bake the potatoes. Mostly this was because we had no oven pans, but also because the microwave could cook potatoes far, far faster than a standard oven. Oh my god! A use for the microwave! I can't remember the last time we used our microwave at home; it hasn't been plugged in since we moved to California. Prick sweet potatoes with a fork and make sure to put them in a bowl or something: they will leak sugar syrup everywhere.
Then we squished out the potato flesh, mashed it with butter since we aren't vegan, and added a bunch of flour. We just followed the recipe proportions. Mix mix mix knead knead knead dough!
John rolled the dough into four long tubes, cut them into inch-long bits, and forked each one to give them grooves. He made an entire gigantic cutting board full of them.
Note: do not buy a glass cutting board; it dulls your knives at best.
Gnocchi need hardly any time to boil, so we made sauce before boiling them. We were going to make just a standard white sauce-based cheese sauce, but John had an idea: GARLIC cheese sauce! So he whacked the skin off a bunch of cloves of garlic and stuck them in a saucepan with butter to cook slowly. Garlic! Apparently this was inspired by something he saw Julia Child do, probably on YouTube.
Super butter garlic cream sauce!
Get some butter melted in a nice whiskable pan. Smash the garlic with the flat of a knife, peel, and add to the butter. We used about eight cloves of garlic; this was an excellent plan. Cook slowly until garlic is soft. It may take a little while. I wasn't cooking, but I'll estimate it at twenty minutes.
When the garlic looks good, make a cream sauce on top of it. Melt more butter if necessary, add a couple spoonfuls of flour, and whisk it all together until the roux is lemon-yellow and foamy. Cook for a few minutes, still whisking, to burn off the flour taste. Then, when the roux has started to turn golden-brown, add your milk. You can use cream instead. You can use whatever. I am not vegan, obviously, but if you are I bet you're well versed in changing butter to earth balance and milk to soy. Do whatever you see fit.
Cook, whisking sufficiently, until the mix starts to thicken. Now is the time to add any grated cheese you might desire. Any parmesan/romano/asiago etc will work just fine. You can clearly experiment with whatever you have, though; I bet gruyere would work well. Grate it and add it a handful at a time, whisking to melt, until you have all the cheese you want.
Add some black pepper. You are done with sauce.
When the gnocchi are done boiling, drain them. Do NOT dump the pan into a colander; these dudes are too soft and delicate to stand up to that. Instead, lift them out with a slotted spoon. We used the colander method, which got the gnocchi a good step closer to tasty mush. It was still good, just less textured.
Plate, sauce, add extra cheese or pepper, and eat.
We had these with aforementioned malbec and spinach salads with chopped apples and pepper. Everything was very tasty. Then we went and got into the hot tub on the cabin porch. It was a pretty good birthday.