Christmas can be a trying time, whether you’re like the Grinch or Cindy Lou. Who knows what our memories of this Christmas will be? Well, there’s one for certain. Something unusual that we won’t forget.
Planning a belated 91st birthday party for our friend George, we decided to cook Marcella Hazan’s recipe for Roast Pork Loin Roast with Juniper and Rosemary, oven-seared at a scorching temperature to produce a crusty crackle, then simmered stovetop, slowly at a low heat so the inside is tender and juicy. A dish we’d served him years ago that he raved about. George knows good meat—his first job, while still in high school, was at a butcher shop in the days of small farms, specialty breeds and free-range goodness, unlike today’s pork which is mostly cardboard-lean, factory-farmed and tasteless.
Searching for a heritage-breed boneless pork loin I checked three meat shops and a local vendor who comes to Vancouver’s farmers’ markets. No luck.
Magellan to the rescue.
At our neighbourhood corner grocery (and on Pender Island) we’ve bought excellent frozen meat from a company called Two Rivers. Googling, Magellan discovered that Two Rivers has a specialty meats store in North Vancouver.
Hey, we’re travelling again! Half-an-hour’s drive on a rainy Thursday morning, November 25, exactly a month before Christmas.
It was one of the best trips we’ve ever had.
“You usually have to order a pork-loin roast in advance,” said the black-aproned clean-cut guy behind the high counter at Two Rivers. “Let me see what I can do.”
As jubilados, and like many people in other age groups, we’re eating less meat. For numerous reasons: health, the environment, cost. But for us, checking out the meat display at Two Rivers was akin to kids visiting Santa in a toy store.
The first treat to catch my eye was a rolled lamb belly, a cut of meat I’ve never seen in a butcher shop and eaten only once at a restaurant, and loved. Brisket, a necessity in my favourite winter borscht. Thick-cut lamb chops. Rib-eye steak aged twenty-eight days. Pork belly, reminding me of an unctuous recipe I wanted to try: slow cooked with cinnamon, cloves, ginger and star anise. The absence of price tags wasn’t going to deter us.
The butcher (why didn’t we ask him his name?) returned to show us the pork loin he’d prepared. Perfection. We bought it, and all of the meat described above (plus more), pleasantly surprised at the total price, half of what I expected.
“How long has your store been here?” Magellan asked. Wholesale since 2007, retail nine years later.
The butcher explained their aging process, pointing to haunches of meat hanging in the glassed-in cooler, and told us about the specialty farmers they source their beef, pork, poultry and game from. “Do you want me to write down the directions I gave you for cooking the lamb belly?” he asked.
We planned on having lunch at their in-shop eatery, but it was closed because of COVID.
“Is there somewhere nearby you can recommend?” Magellan asked.
“Douce Diner. It’s a small, chef-owned restaurant, they serve great food, buy their meats from us and it’s only a three-or-four-minute drive from here,” the butcher replied, giving us explicit directions on how to get there.
Shaking off our raincoats, we debated sitting at the old-fashioned diner stools or a table for two.
The menu is small but well-curated. Both a breakfast and a chicken sammy, eggs, an omelet with Boursin cheese, avocado toast, chicken & waffles, French toast, salads, a tuna bowl, a burger, a Rueben and our choice—grilled cheese sandwiches and a cup of the day’s soup.
Our waitress was a young woman in her twenties, competent and friendly. “Would you prefer paper menus?” she asked.
Waiting for lunch, I looked around. Mom, baby and grandma were at the table next to us, all three looking like they needed more sleep. Three young Asian girls sat at the table beside them. “I think they must have pre-ordered,” Magellan speculated, “Their food arrived practically as soon as they sat down.” We guessed they worked in the area. A lone diner, a young man, perhaps disabled, who appeared to be a regular customer from his interactions with staff, changed seats. A couple at the far table behind plexiglass were too distant to observe, even in this small restaurant.
“Hey, a text from Clare,” Magellan announced, looking up as his phone pinged.
The advent calendar we’d ordered for her from The Spice Trader had just arrived and she was thanking us. We told her where we were. She googled Douce Diner and encouraged Magellan to go for the Banoffee milkshake (banana and toffee our waitress explained) he was coveting.
Our sandwiches arrived, generous with sweetly caramelized onions, melted Gruyere and cheddar. On the side was a dish of house-made zucchini pickles and the soup, a perfect velouté of Jerusalem artichoke and apple.
“This is sooo good,” Magellan told the waitress. “Delicious,” I mouthed to the young waiter who diligently kept refilling my water glass.
Foregoing the milkshake and warding off a parking ticket, we asked for our bill and a box for leftovers; the sandwiches were so fulfilling we ate only half.
“Bill for Table 10,” a staff member called out.
There was a brief delay before our waitress arrived. Empty-handed.
“Your bill has been taken care of,” she smiled.
“What? I don’t understand,” Magellan said. “Did our granddaughter pay for this?” he guessed aloud, explaining that we’d been texting her during lunch.
“No,” she said, definitively. “No granddaughter was involved. It was a random act of kindness. Thank you for coming and I hope you’ll be back,” she smiled.
“Should we buy someone else’s lunch here to reciprocate?” I suggested. By this time the family of three had gone, as had the lone ranger. Two other couples were just arriving.
“This is new to us; I don’t know what to do,” Magellan said to one of the staff.
“Well, you are in Canada,” he replied with a grin.
“Come back anytime,” our waitress said as Magellan pressed a ten-dollar bill into her hand.
It was still raining as we travelled home, though nothing like the unprecedented atmospheric rivers of precipitation earlier in the week that flooded British Columbia, sweeping away farms, homes and highways.
Clare confirmed she hadn’t paid for our lunch and suggested maybe it was someone in the restaurant. That seemed unlikely.
Who should we reciprocate with an act of kindness?
Suddenly the answer was obvious. And we agreed immediately on who it would be.
One of the hardest-hit places from the devastating floods was Princeton, a town of 3,000 people sandwiched between two rivers, the Tulameen and Similkameen. Extreme rainfall caused both rivers to overflow their banks and dikes. Half the town was under water, the gas line had broken, electricity was cut off and a fire had broken out.
We were impressed with the leadership of the town’s mayor, long-term resident Spencer Coyne who lives on a family farm dating back to before our friend George was born.
“He oozes a vigorous love for the town, which he has channelled into sometimes heated discussions with officials at various levels of government who aren’t forthcoming with what Mr. Coyne thinks his town needs,” wrote Anthony Davis in The Globe and Mail. “Last weekend, Mr. Coyne told reporters he’d requested help from the Canadian Armed Forces but heard nothing. When asked what the federal government was doing to help in Princeton, he answered: “There’s not a lot of federal government help here.”
I emailed Spencer:
We’ve been reading about you—what a grand job you’re doing, enacting what mayors and civic leaders are elected to do—work for the people to ensure the systems they depend upon (water, sewer, education, transportation) are operable. There’s an American woman named Rebecca Solnit who wrote about people like you in her book A Paradise Built in Hell. In it she describes how in catastrophes, like yours in Princeton, it’s local people who rise to the occasion with common-sense solutions that solve the short- and long-term problems, while governments arrive late, get in the way or just screw up.
So, we’d like to send you $200 as a random act of kindness to spend on yourself and your family to help compensate for the enormous gift of your time and energy toward the public good. Please let us know how we can transfer this to you easily.
An hour later Spencer replied.
Good evening Gloria and Kerry I am honoured by your generous offer but I must ask that you would make that generous donation to the flood victims http://cfso.net the money will go to those who need that money much more than I do. We are blessed to have a roof over our heads, water to drink, food in the pantry and a warm fire to keep us warm. Thank you again for your generous offer.
Was it the butcher who paid for our lunch at Douce Diner?
I sent an email to [email protected] exclaiming about the pork loin roast—the finest we’ve ever cooked—relaying our random-act-of-kindness experience and asking the question. No one replied.
Astonished by the experience, we feel like the Grinch in Whoville, “Cheerily blowing “Who! Who!” on his trumpet.”
Borrowing from Dr. Seuss, “Cheer to all Whos, far and near.”
P.S. Yesterday in the Vancouver Sun Spencer Coyne said three-hundred people from Princeton are still on evacuation order and one-third of them will need accommodation. “We have water, sewer, power everything nearby so it can be run to the buildings and then set up for the interim, so people can have a place to go and still stay in the community,” he said. “The biggest challenge is funding.” The town has requested funds from Emergency Management B.C. and may look to B.C. Housing. “We’re moving at the speed of government,” he said.
So, if you’re looking to help BC’s flood victims (or stuck for a unique Christmas gift idea for someone), Community Foundation South Okanagan, the organization Spencer Coyne mentioned, would be an ideal place.
UPDATE: December 30, 2021. Spencer is still waiting for government approvals…
Be Fresh. A plug for our neighbourhood store, well-managed, well-stocked (with Two Rivers meats) and well-priced. “We believe that food should be healthy, so we partner with local producers and farmers who you can trust: real people who have integrity, who respect our environment, who care about our community, who value sustainable farming practices and believe in the humane treatment of animals.”
Davis, Anthony. “After B.C. floods, Princeton’s mayor battles the elements and bureaucracy to save his hometown from ruin.” The Globe and Mail. November 25, 2021.
Douce Diner, named after the chef-owner Dawn Doucette, a graduate of the California Culinary Academy who also studied at the Sushi Academy in Japan and has cooked in Toronto and San Francisco.
UPDATE: December 21, 2021. The Georgia Straight has just done a story on Douce Diner’s excellent brunch.
Dr. Seuss. How the Grinch Stole Christmas. New York: Random House, 1957.
Smart, Amy. “Housing for displaced flood victims top priority, Princeton mayor says.” Vancouver Sun, December 18, 2021.
Two Rivers Specialty Meats “In 2006, Two Rivers co-founders Margot and Jason Pleym tied the knot in BC’s Pemberton Valley, where the Lillooet River and Ryan Creek meet. Guests danced in a barn, pulled beer from tractor buckets and listened to Barney Bentall perform a song he wrote especially for the occasion: Where Two Rivers Meet.
In 2007, Margot and Jason gave up their jobs to plot their next steps from a yellow school bus by the Kicking Horse River in Golden, BC. They returned to Vancouver in the fall with a plan to connect local farmers and meat eaters, and a name for their new business.
In the beginning, Two Rivers Specialty Meats was nothing more than a handful of people working out of a tiny space. There are more of us today, and our offices and warehouse are bigger, but our purpose remains the same.”