Author Archives: saltandserenity

Being Present in Newfoundland: Part 1

lighthouse at cape spearsYou know it’s been an awesome holiday when you leave thinking about how soon you can return again. We usually go to New York City each fall with our friends “The Grizzlies.” I have written about our previous sojourns to Manhattan with them in this space, here and here. This fall, Mrs. Grizzly suggested we stay in our own country and visit Newfoundland instead.colourful houses in st john'sFor some reason I have always attributed the quality of quirkiness to Newfoundland and it’s citizens. This most likely stems from hearing promotional ads on TV announcing upcoming stories on that night’s news. “That’s 10:00 tonight on The National, 10:30 in Newfoundland.”  Newfoundland’s time zone is just one of those unique things that makes it special.  It veers from the regular standard time zone system by a half-hour. No other state or province in North America deviates from Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) on the half-hour. Curious to see if my perception of “quirky” Newfoundland met reality, I told Mrs. Grizzly I was up for it!

I have never visited any other place where the locals are so friendly. Everyone we met was eager to share with us his or her opinion of what we needed to do, see, eat and drink. Upon arrival at our hotel in St John’s, the  receptionist at our hotel sent us off to a great lunch at The Merchant’s Tavern. Owned and operated by the team behind Raymonds restaurant, the talented duo of Jeremys, (Charles and Bonia) have done it again!

Newfoundland is blessed with amazing access to fresh seafood, wild game and produce. The Merchant Tavern has taken advantage of this and adopted a sustainable approach to dining, foraging and sourcing locally grown ingredients.

For my main course, I scarfed down possibly one of the best pasta dishes I have ever eaten: Ricotta Cavatelli with Braised Lamb and Merguez Sausage. Savory, a bit spicy and salty in the very best way possible, with fresh peas and mint to add a perfect verdant freshness, I will be thinking about this dish for a very long time. The nuggets of toasted breadcrumbs that topped the pasta stayed perfectly crunchy as they tumbled down to the bottom of the bowl and soaked up all the rich sauce.merchant tavern pasta 2
Our waitress heard that we were hiking to Signal Hill that afternoon. She suggested we take the trail that ends in the historic fishing village of Quidi Vidi. (Pronounced “Kiddy Viddy“, as much fun to visit as it is to say!) Her boyfriend works at The Quidi Vidi Brewery, where they make lager brewed with water from 25,000-year-old icebergs. Every Friday at 5:30 they host a kitchen party featuring a live band and fresh seafood chowder. The place was packed when we arrived and The Brew Crew band was in full swing.

Somehow, even with our bellies full of cod chowder and Iceberg beer, we still
managed to be hungry for dinner and headed off to The Reluctant Chef. They serve a five-course set tasting menu with optional wine pairings, carefully selected to go with each dish. No surprise here that we opted for the wine pairings, but truthfully, by the fourth course (and glass of wine), we were no longer able to discern whether or not the wines were oaky, flinty or earthy, nor did we really care. They all tasted good though! The Thai soup and the lamb were truly outstanding. The dessert was beauiful to look at but a little too bitter for me.

reluctant chef menureluctant chef dessert 2

The next morning, after fortifying ourselves with a hearty breakfast, we headed off to the St. John’s Farmer’s Market, where I had a chocolate dipped oat cookie, finished with a sprinkling of fleur de sel, that had my name all over it! I am still daydreaming about it. I plan to recreate it as soon as possible.
chocolate dipped oat cookiesWe headed back to Quidi Vidi for lunch at Chef Todd Perrin’s “Mallard Cottage“. Chef Perrin captured my attention on the first season of Top Chef Canada when he bravely cooked a “seal flipper slider” (on a chive biscuit) for the judges. (Spoiler alert, it didn’t go down too well!)

He has restored one of the oldest buildings in Newfoundland and created a charming rustic spot, featuring  an impressive brick and stone fireplace in the center of the dining room, that my husband, a card carrying pyromaniac, greatly admired. Chef Perrin is cooking Newfoundland comfort food taken to the next level.mallard cottagefireplacePulled pork on cornbread was sweet and tangy and served with fresh lettuces from Lester’s Farm, just across town.Pulled pork on cornbreadMrs Grizzly had scallops pulled fresh from the ocean.scallop saladChef Perrin reimagines traditional Newfoundland dishes, like the salt cod cakes that my husband immensely enjoyed. salted cod cakes and baked beansWe asked our waiter about the “Cake plate” on the dessert menu. He informed us that you can fill a small plate with as much pastry as you can manage, all for $10. We send Mr. Grizzly to the dessert table and he accomplished the task admirably. Our favourite was the caramel apple coffee cake. cake plate at mallard duckAfter lunch we waddled off to hike up to the Cape Spear Lighthouse National Historic Site.cape spears 3Cape Spears 2Set high on a rocky cliff, on the most easterly point of land in North America, the Cape Spear Lighthouse provided an important approach light to St. John’s harbour for more than a century. Kind of cool to think we were standing where Canada begins (or ends, depending on if you are facing the ocean or the land!). Watching the waves crashing on the rocky shore, you can appreciate how terrifying it would have been to be approaching by boat at night.

For our last night in St John’s we had a wonderful dinner at Saltwater Restaurant. We really had no idea that Newfoundland is in the midst of an incredible restaurant renaissance. Meal after meal we were served rustic East Coast food, elevated from it’s humble roots. Comforting and familiar, yet completely new.

You really get to know your friends intimately when you travel with them. We had a 5 hour drive, early the next morning, from St. John’s to Farewell, where we were catching the ferry to Fogo Island. After dinner we stopped at the corner store to stock up on Mr. Grizzly’s road trip essentials. Twizzlers, All- Dressed Chips, Classic Cheetos, Jalapeño Cheetos, Peanut M&M’s, Beef Jerky, Peanut Butter Cups and a large bag of Sour Gummi Worms completed his shopping spree.

Stay tuned for the next instalment of Being Present in Newfoundland and find out how we survived our road trip.

Spicy Roasted Tomato and Corn Soup

soup for 3 625F sqIt strikes me as quite ironic that while we consider the cracks and crevices in the skin of
heirloom tomatoes beautiful and even desirable, the same qualities in the skin of an aging woman are not. Yet I digress. We’re here to talk about tomatoes, not the skin of mature women. There’s enough conversation about that topic everywhere we turn these days.
in green bowl I feel as though I have eaten my weight in heirloom tomatoes this summer. I buy them every time I see them, which has been every few days over the past 6 weeks. The local supermarket near my cottage has been carrying them all summer. Heirloom tomatoes just taste better than hybrid tomatoes. There are actually a few reasons for this. Most heirloom plants produce only 2-3 tomatoes. What that means is that all the energy of the plant is concentrated into fewer tomatoes. Heirloom tomatoes have more locules, those little cavities in the tomato where the seeds are housed, than hybrid tomatoes.on a pedestalAccording to Christopher Kimball of Cook’s Illustrated, the seeds are the most flavourful part of the tomato. “It turns out the seed in [the tomato] jelly … has three times more flavor compounds called glutamates than the flesh, so when you seed the tomato… you’re actually throwing out most of the flavour.”

Mostly I have been slicing the tomatoes, sprinkling them with salt and basil and just eating them that way. Some days I get fancy and dice them up, mix with a bit of garlic, olive oil, coarse salt and basil and let them macerate for about an hour. Then I toss the tomatoes with some hot pasta and grated Parmesan cheese. sliced on wooden board 2The other morning there was a bit of nip in the air, before it rose to 30°C (86°F), and I started craving something roasted. I was over raw.

This soup was inspired by a roasted tomato and corn soup created by blogger Adrianna Adarme, over at PBS’s food blog, Fresh Taste. if you can’t find heirloom tomatoes, just substitute some large beefsteak tomatoes.
seasoning for roasting
cutting corn off the cob
adding veg stockThe spice in the soup comes from a combination of of heat sources: jalapeño, ancho chile powder and a bit of cayenne. Some cumin and smoked paprika round out the seasoning. The sweetness of the corn is a perfect complement to acidic juicy tomatoes. I pureed the soup and then strained it for an extra velvety texture. This is the perfect transitional soup to help you manage the difficult shift from summer to fall.

ladling soup 2F

Click here to print the recipe for Spicy Roasted Tomato and Corn Soup.

bowl of spicy tomato corn soup

Family Reunion

Most of the time I am proud to call myself a Canadian, but once in a while somethings comes along that makes me wonder, “What were we thinking?” The good folks over at Lay’s Canada dreamed up a contest called  “Lay’s Do us a Flavour.” People from all over the country sent in their ideas for new potato chip flavours.

Here are the four finalists:
Cowboy BBQ BeansButter ChickenMontreal Smoked MeatPEI Scalloped Potatoes
I had the chance to try these new flavours along with 9 other wild and wacky chip creations last weekend at our Family Reunion, in a blind chip and beer tasting. More about that event later!

I have written about previous reunion weekends here and here. This year our numbers were down. Only 34 were able to attend. Two of my cousins  had new babies (born one day apart!), so they were otherwise very busy and couldn’t make it. My aunt from Philly was also absent due to some health issues, so her kids stayed behind to be with her.

The reunion officially started on Thursday afternoon, but two sisters and their families showed up 24 hours early. One of them arrived with all the fixings for an amazing fish taco dinner, and the other one turned up with 2 dozen Nadege macarons, so we happily started our party early. Another sister and her family showed up Friday morning, 18 hours late. The last sister showed up with her family on Friday night, almost 30 hours late. (That’s 4 sisters if anyone is counting… yes I am blessed) My brother and my mom arrived Thursday afternoon, exactly on time! I guess at least one of us  was listening when mom taught us about party etiquette. All, whether early or late, were welcomed with a happy heart and open arms.

The first event of the weekend was a swim marathon on Friday morning. My baby sister, brother and I have been doing the swim for almost 10 years now. We swim from our dock to an island across the lake, a 1.6 kilometre odyssey. The man who owns the island is a heart surgeon so we know we will be taken good care of if something goes awry. This year we had the largest contingent yet, with 9 of us taking the plunge. We had 2 kayaks paddling along side to keep us company.

My cousin Brett took off at warp speed, dazzling us with his front crawl. We tried to tell him that the swim is meant to be a social time, not a race, but he was training for a triathlon, so he left us in his dust. The rest of us performed a passable head-up breaststroke at a leisurely pace.

That afternoon we all gathered at the dock for tube rides. “The Captain” (my husband) takes it as a personal challenge to tip the tube and dump all his brother-in-laws and nephews and nieces. cousinstubing 1man overboardtubing 3Many people think that it would be swell to have a doctor in the family. But those people would be wrong! What you really should be wishing for is a kindergarten teacher in your clan. My sister Bonnie teaches senior kindergarten. She was so clearly in her element this weekend, planning all the activities, corralling us into teams and keeping us on schedule.

Late afternoon we gathered on the lawn for a rousing game of “Donuts on a String.” It’s harder than it looks!donut contest 1donut contest 2Saturday morning we played “Amazing Race – Smiths Falls Edition.” We were divided into teams and went off on a car rally-treasure hunt to the charming town of Smiths Falls, Ontario.

Our first challenge was to visit The Smiths Falls Public Library and find a children’s book about goats, bunnies, cows or aliens! We were required to take a picture of at least 3 team members snuggled up together reading the book.  storytimeWe were challenged to stop by the supermarket and search for the most calorie dense food. One team felt confident with their choice of butter tarts, but my brother-in-law Brandon came up with a jar of goose fat. Goose fat trumps butter tarts!Susie Aaron Kailey with buttertartsNo visit to Smiths Falls would be complete without a visit to Canadian Tire. We were asked to  take a picture of the 7 things you would want to have on a desert island.

Obviously a boat would be good so you could get off the island!Nick with kayak Failing that, if you had to stay awhile, a portable toilet would come in handy.Jenna and Emily buy a toiletFor the final challenge of the day we were sent to McDonalds. With a budget of $10 we were able to purchase any items we wished and creatively combine them to craft a new menu item. Burger creationMy nephew Jacob was the judge and not surprisingly, he felt a little ill after sampling these imaginative concoctions.jacob judges 2Saturday afternoon was time for the chip and beer tasting, also organized by Bonnie. It was a blind tasting. The table was set with all the chips and beer, without packaging. We were each given our tasting sheet and had to complete the assignment!chips and beer 1chips and beerI teamed up with my sister Jody, who is blessed with super human taste receptors, and we got 9 of the 13 chip flavours correct. Let me just say that it is wrong to add simulated meat flavours in any form to potato chips. Some were quite vile. Everyone loved the “Balsamic Vinegar and Sweet Onion” chips. No one was surprised to learn they were made by Miss Vickie’s. She knows how to make good chips!

After all those chips we needed a good cocktail to cleanse our palates.cocktail timeWith 14 grandchildren, my mom (Mop Mop is what the kids call her) is a pretty lucky lady! We gathered them all up for a photo.mop mop and her 14 grandchildrenFor our final evening program, my sister Jody organized a family reunion version of “Heads Up.”giving cluelaughing at heads up 2We succeeded in making more treasured memories for everyone and tired a few family members out in the process!



Buzzing About Cold Brewed Coffee

liquid velvet
I arrived at the coffee party a little late in life. I didn’t start drinking it until I was in my late 30’s.   Now I start each day with an extra-hot skim milk latte (made in my beloved Nespresso machine, and no, they’re not paying me to say that!) Up until a few weeks ago I would have told you that I really didn’t like iced coffee at all. It always tasted too bitter to me. But then my daughter was visiting for the weekend and made a pitcher of “Cold Brew” coffee. One sip and I was hooked. So smooth, like drinking liquid velvet. No bitterness at all. In fact it tasted slightly sweet, even though I hadn’t added any sugar.

There’s been quite a bit of buzz going on about “Cold Brew” coffee. It’s not the same thing as iced coffee. We’re talking about a whole different kettle of fish here. Iced coffee is prepared by brewing strong coffee, chilling it and then pouring it over ice. Cold brew is prepared by saturating coarsely ground beans with cold water and then letting it sit at room temperature for 12-24 hours. Then it is strained and served over ice.

In the first instance, heat is doing the work of extracting the flavour from the coffee. In the second instance, time is doing all the work. When time replaces heat, the resulting coffee is much lower in acid and has a natural sweetness and smooth finish. Why does this happen?

If you slip on your lab coat for a minute and join me for a science lesson, I’ll explain.  Coffee is comprised of many chemical compounds. One group of these compounds is known as chlorogenic acids, a key contributor to coffee’s characteristic bitter taste. Chlorogenic acids do not dissolve as well in cold water as they do in hot water, which means that cold brew coffee tastes less acidic. There’s a bit more chemistry involved, but that’s the gist of it.

Feel free to add a bit of milk or cream for a luxurious treat. If you like it sweeter, add a bit of simple syrup, as plain sugar will not dissolve very well in a cold liquid. Simple syrup is basically equal parts of water and white sugar, boiled until the sugar dissolves and then chilled. I always have a jar of it in my fridge. It keeps forever, and you just never know when your sister will stop by with all the fixings for fish tacos and your brother-in-law, an amateur mixologist, will want to whip up a batch of margaritas to drink with the tacos.Cold Brew coffee 2There are several pricey contraptions available on the market for making cold brew coffee, but really, all you need is a large pitcher or mason jar, coffee beans and a grinder (or coarsely ground coffee) and a strainer lined with cheesecloth or a coffee filter. ready to brewGrind the beans coarsely. Finely ground beans lead to a cloudy brew. The ground beans should look like this:coarse grindPlace the beans in a large container and cover with cold water. I like a ratio of 1 1/2 cups of ground coffee: 8 cups cold water. I used a fancy glass pitcher because I knew you were watching.adding cold waterStir the grounds, cover the jar with some plastic wrap and leave it on the counter for 12-24 hours. Strain through cheesecloth or a coffee filter and store, covered, in the fridge. It will keep for up to 2 weeks.

Click here to print recipe for Cold Brew Coffee.

Feel free to add milk, cream or even blend it with vanilla ice cream for an amazing coffee milkshake. adding milk 625 sq

Peach Berry Crisp and the difference between sons and daughters

crisp for 1 625 sqWith summer fruit this perfect, it’s best to not mess with it too much. Keep it simple. I love summerThis has been my go-to crisp topping since scrunchies and shoulder pads were all the rage. I love it on apples in the fall, pears and cranberries in the winter and strawberry and rhubarb in the spring. I always have a bag of the topping stashed in the freezer for a quick dessert.  crisp toppingtopping in food processor 1topping in food processor 2To thicken the juices in the crisp I like to use Minit Tapioca. Depending on the sweetness of the fruit I add between 2-4 tablespoons of sugar. adding minit tapiocacovering with toppingI have made this crisp topping so many times I could practically prepare it in my sleep. But still, you need to pay attention. Here is my cautionary tale of what can happen when you go on auto-pilot in the kitchen.

A few years ago I made the crisp with fall apples and served it after dinner. My children dug in immediately. My daughter took one bite and said, “This is disgusting!!” I looked over at my oldest son. He was diligently shoveling in the apple crisp, but not at his usual alarming speed. With his mouth full he said, in a kind voice, “Well mom, it’s ok, but it’s not as good as usual.” I reached for his spoon and took a bite for myself. I almost choked. My daughter was right, it was horrible. I had been rushing around the kitchen that afternoon, trying to do too many things at once and I guess I wasn’t paying attention. I had mistakenly mixed the apples with salt instead of sugar. And therein lies the difference between sons and daughters. You can always count on your daughter to be brutally honest with you, while your son will soften the truth to protect your feelings!waiting for it to coolWarm from the oven or room temperature, this crisp is a wonderful way to pay homage to summer fruit. share with friends

Click here to print recipe for Peach Berry Crisp.

share with friends 3