Category Archives: Travel

Irish Soda Bread

with-teaIf you happened to have been visiting Ireland during the first week of September this year, and noticed a shortage of butter, I apologize. My bad. That was me, eating my way through Galway, Killarney and Dublin, one loaf of bread at a time, slathered with Irish butter and salt.bread-and-butterMost folks go to Ireland to drink Guinness or Irish Whiskey. When the customs officer asked us the purpose of our visit I think I shocked him when I divulged I was going for the butter.

What makes Irish butter so good? Turns out that the key to their delicious butter is grass. Over two thirds of Irish land is dedicated to farming and agriculture.  80% of this land is used to grow grass, hence the country’s nickname, “The Emerald Isle”. Irish cows graze freely on grass for 10 months a year. emerald-isleIrish butter has a deep golden colour, owing to the beta carotene in grass. Contrast that to North America, where most dairy cows are fed a diet comprised of primarily corn and soybeans. This produces a paler coloured butter, less rich and creamy than Irish butter. Creamy and sweet with a pure clean butter flavour and silky texture, Irish butter is the gold standard. The most well-known brand of Irish butter is Kerrygold. Luckily for us, it’s widely available here at home.kerrygold-vs-north-american-butterI discovered the joys of Irish soda bread and butter on our very first morning.  We landed in Dublin after flying all night and rented a car to drive to Galway, on the west coast. We stopped halfway through our 3 hour drive for our first full Irish breakfast. My plate arrived piled high with eggs, sausages, bacon, potatoes and tomatoes. All very delicious, but I quickly lost interest and abandoned it once I took my first bite of the soda bread, thickly spread with salted butter and jam.

Turns out that almost every restaurant bakes their own soda bread and the variations seemed endless. My rule for bread eating is, that unless it’s stellar, I try not to waste the calories. I was powerless to resist all that amazing bread, and it goes without saying that the butter put me in my happy place.

Irish soda bread boasts a craggy intensely crunchy crust and a dense chewy interior. There are many different versions and variations, but the traditional recipe consists of flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk. The power of baking soda is activated by the acid in the buttermilk. 

My version is adapted from Clodagh McKenna‘s book Clodagh’s Irish Kitchen. She uses equal parts of white all-purpose and whole wheat flours. I loaded up my loaf with golden flax seeds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds and raisins.

Irish butter, flaky sea salt and tart cherry jam make excellent accompaniments to the bread. Any leftover is delicious toasted all week long!butter-salt-and-jam

Click here to print recipe for Irish-soda-bread.




A Toast to Summer: Honey Roasted Tomatoes on Whipped Feta Toasts

3 toasts
If I’m being completely honest, I really only have myself to blame. It all started with a trip to the Amalfi Coast in Italy in 2011. It was there I first discovered the joys of Prosecco and “Aperitivo.” The literal translation is an alcoholic beverage that is consumed prior to a meal with the intention of stimulating the appetite. It almost always involves a few nibbles to have along with your drink, and I’m not talking about a “happy hour” dish of peanuts.

Depending on your location in Italy, the snacks change. In the south it is typically freshly roasted warm salted almonds, a bowl of spicy marinated olives, home made potato chips, or little squares of pizza.

Several years later we visited Umbria in Northern Italy. Aperitivo here meant little crostini topped with pecorino cheese and drizzled with local wildflower honey, suppli (deep fried breaded rice balls stuffed with cheese) and all sorts of amazing charcuterie.

I decided to adopt Aperitivo hour at our cottage. It was recieved quite well by all our visiting friends and family. (What a shock, I know!) It’s gotten to the point that around 6 pm, my husband, children, siblings and friends will ask, “What are we having for aperitivo tonight?” I have conditioned them to expect a little snack along with pre-dinner drinks. Like I said, all my own fault! Truthfully, I love aperitivo hour. Everyone comes together on the back deck, cell phones are put away into pockets and we chat.

I am always looking for interesting snacks that can be put together without too much fuss or bother. A  few months ago, my sister Bo sent me a recipe for whipped feta. I filed it away, thinking it would be perfect, spread on some crusty bread for aperitivo hour.

I decided to top the whipped feta with roasted tomatoes. Little grape or cherry tomatoes get tossed with garlic, olive oil, honey and thyme.Drizzling tomatoes with honey30 minutes in a hot oven until they are slightly shrivelled and bubbly. You can roast the tomatoes early in the day and just leave them out on the counter until you need them. roasted tomatoesThe whipped feta dip was a recipe from Ina Garten. I adapted her recipe, cut back on the feta and added some whole milk ricotta to the mix. It love the lightness it added to the spread. This can also be made in the morning. Just wrap well and chill until serving time.Making whipped Feta-RicottaStart with some really good bread. A baguette or ciabatta loaf are perfect for this. Good quality bread will have big holes in it like this. I bought a ciabatta lunga from Ace Bakery. Ciabatta LungoIn bread freak lingo, these big holes are known as “an open crumb structure.” They are achieved by a long slow cold fermentation, gentle handling so you don’t deflate all the built up gas and  a high hydration dough.

I like to split the loaf horizontally, toast it gently on a grill or in the oven, and then cut it into serving size pieces before topping them.5 toasts2 toasts with prosecco

Click here to print recipe for Honey Roasted Tomato and Whipped Feta Toasts.

1 toast with a bite taken



Sabbich ready to eat 2Falafel? Forget about it. Shawarma? So over it. This year I’m all about Sabich, a pita sandwich bursting with fried eggplant, hard-boiled egg, shredded cabbage, hummus, Israeli salad and pickles. Drizzled with tahini sauce and pickled mango chutney (amba), this sandwich is a thing of beauty.

The origin of this sandwich is credited to Iraqi Jews who arrived in Israel in the 1950’s. Most of them settled in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan. Since cooking is not allowed on the Sabbath a cold lunch of yesterday’s fried eggplant and hard-boiled eggs was often served for lunch. Natural born entrepreneurs, the Iraqi Jews rolled these ingredients into a pita and started selling them as street food. Cheap and filling, these sandwiches quickly became the country’s version of fast food.

I had my first sabich at Sarona Market, the stunning modern new food market in Tel Aviv. If you have not visited Sarona Market but are familiar with the Shuk (Machane Yehuda Market) in Jerusalem, suffice it to say that they are polar opposites! Not to say that the shuk does not have its charms, such as being elbowed by sabras in a hurry to get their marketing done before Shabbat. Each market is special and unique and both merit a spot as a must visit destination on trip to Israel. Even if food is not your passion, the people watching at both markets are a fascinating window into daily Israeli life.Sarona Market

olives juice bar ice cream breadI didn’t really know what I was ordering. My daughter and I just pointed to this beautiful stuffed pita sandwich in the display case. It looked fresh and promising. We were hooked from the first drippy, messy bite. Crispy, crunchy, soft, creamy, tangy, and spicy, this sandwich is an amazing fusion of textures and flavours. The addition of hard-boiled egg surprised me. My daughter explained that this is typical in some Israeli sandwiches.sabich at saronaI knew I had to try recreating this at home. I have made it twice now since coming home. The first time I tried not to stray too far from the original. I was unable to find amba, the pickled mango chutney where I live. I could have ordered it online, but I was too impatient. I substituted in some pickled jalapeños for heat. I added some creamy avocado, which seemed like a perfect compliment.ready to assembleYou may be tempted to bake or grill the eggplant slices, in order to keep the calorie count lower. I beg you not to do that. Yes, eggplant soaks up a ton of oil when you fry it. But it is precisely that oil rich flavour and squishy texture you want in this sandwich and only frying can achieve it. Since you’re just tucking just a few slices into the sandwich, so don’t stress about it.

Green cabbage is thinly sliced and simply dressed with salt and white wine vinegar. Sour dill pickles add additional crunch. Tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil are combined in a classic Israeli salad. I jacked up my store bought Tahini sauce with some garlic, and lemon juice and added some hot water to thin it out so that it had the perfect texture for drizzling.

The second time I made it, I mixed up a batch of spiced ground lamb (cumin, coriander, sautéed onions and cinnamon) and formed mini lamb burgers that we grilled along side the fresh pita bread. The addition of the lamb sliders was a big hit at our table.Sabbich ready to eat 1

Click here to print recipe for Sabich.

Click here to print recipe for Spiced Lamb Burger Patties, if you want to add lamb to your sabich.

open faced




Brie and Apple Crostini with Onion Jam

ready to assembleJust as I think I really don’t need another cookbook, poof, next thing you know, there I am buying just one more. I seem to have no willpower when it comes to cookbooks. That, and black jumpsuits. I need a black jumpsuit intervention! A bit more about the latest cookbook purchase in a minute. As for as my black jumpsuit obsession, well, no need for you to know any more about that!

We were in Washington D.C. for a wedding a few weeks ago. We only had time for one meal out, so I did a little research and and the restaurant Founding Farmers kept coming up. Everyone raved about it and it was just a 10 minute walk from our hotel.

Our server came over to our table and introduced herself as Myers. I asked, “like the lemon?” She laughed and nodded. I loved that our server had a food name. She brought us the menu and explained a little bit about the restaurant. It’s a very cool concept. It is owned by over 40,000 family farmers of the North Dakota Farmer’s Union, and is supplied daily by hundreds of family farms everywhere. Everything is cooked, baked and mixed, from scratch on site, with high-quality, responsibly-farmed food.

I wanted to order one of everything on the menu. Myers said that the home baked farm bread was one of her favourite things on the menu. She suggested we start with the Apple, Brie, and Onion Jam Crostini. Fantastic suggestion! If you go, it is not to be missed. When good bread is on the menu, I feel a responsibility to sample it.on green platesThe onion jam was sweet and tart all at the same time with a surprising depth of flavour that you can only get with low slow cooking. slicing onionsonions in pan 1onions in pan 2I asked Myers if the chef would share his recipe for the onion jam, and she said they had a cookbook with many of their recipes. Of course I bought it and came home to recreate this delicious dish. I served it as an appetizer with drinks, but it would also be perfect with a salad for a lunch or a light dinner. The onion preserve recipe makes more than you will need, but it keeps well in the fridge for a week, so use it up in grilled cheese sandwiches, on toast with goat cheese and as a pizza topping.

As always, start with good bread! Kudos to you if you plan to bake your own baguette. I have tried, and it’s not easy. But, there are so many great bakeries crafting excellent Artisan loaves now, it’s just so easy to buy great bread. use good bread

Click here to print recipe for Brie and Apple Crostini with Onion Jam.

take one 625 sq


Being Present in Newfoundland: Part 2

cindy and marla on rockA few days ago I posted about the first part of our trip to Newfoundland. The saga continues. We checked out of our St. John’s hotel at the ungodly hour of 5:00 am. When Siobhan, the sweet front desk clerk, heard we were headed to Fogo Island, she squealed. That’s home for her. Her parents are still living there, in the village of Tilting. We jokingly said we’d say hi for her.

We hopped onto the Trans Canada Highway (TCH) at Mile Zero. The world’s longest national highway, the TCH stretches across Canada from St. John’s Newfoundland on the East Coast, to Victoria B.C. on the West Coast, a whopping 7,821 km (4,860 miles) long. Mrs. Grizzly and I napped in the back seat while Mr. Grizzly expertly navigated my husband through a dense early morning fog. We were startled awake by this sound

followed quickly by this

as Mr Grizzly ripped into the bag of All-Dressed Potato Chips at 7:45 am. It was going to be a fun ride.

We arrived in Farewell Newfoundland about 11:00 am and patiently waited to take the ferry across to Fogo Island. As we were buying our tickets, they asked if anyone in our group qualified for the senior’s discount – age 60 here. My husband, who reached this magic age the day before, was thrilled to receive his first senior benefit!

I had done a little reading before coming to Fogo Island, but nothing really prepared me for my experience here. Although I had seen a few photos online, driving up the winding gravel lane, rounding the corner and finally seeing The Fogo Island Inn come into view was surreal.Fogo Island InnThis contemporary building, all angles and lines, was such a stark contrast to the raw rocky coastal setting. One end of the building is balanced on what on what looks like stilts, rising almost three storeys up into the air, supporting the inn’s dining room. I later learned that these stilts were modelled after pilotis, the wooden stilts that support the traditional stages set up by fishermen to lay out the salted and drying cod.

Fogo Island Inn is the brainchild of Zita Cobb. Ms. Cobb, one of seven children, was born and raised on Fogo in a home with no electricity or running water. Those amenities didn’t arrive on the island until 1972. She left Fogo at age 16 to study business at Carleton University in Ottawa. Within 20 years, she made a name and quite a fortune for herself in the high-tech industry (fibre optics at JDS Uniphase). In 2001 she exercised her stock options and cashed out with close to $70 million dollars. She took off to sail around the world, but the pull of Fogo Island was very strong and brought her back there in 2005. 

Cod fishing has been critical to the economy of Newfoundland for centuries. However, due to greed and overfishing, stocks of cod became depleted and in 1993 the Federal Government declared a moratorium on cod fishing. This caused a collapse of the fishing industry in the province and Fogo Island was especially hit hard.

Zita returned with the goal of giving back to her declining community. Initially she set up scholarships for the youth of Fogo Island, but during a town hall meeting one resident approached her and said that while she appreciated everything Zita was trying to do, scholarships would just encourage people leave rather than building a better place for them to stay. As Oprah would say, Zita had an “aha” moment.

Rethinking her strategy, together with her brother Anthony, Zita established the Shorefast Foundation with the mandate of revitalizing the island by preserving local culture and making it a geotourism destination. Zita calls this “entrepreneurial philanthropy”.

The foundation’s main initiative was the building of Fogo Island Inn, which opened for business in 2013. Inn employees receive 15% of gross revenues in addition to their salary. Any profits from the Inn are reinvested by the Foundation, via micro-finance loans to local small businesses.

Fogo Island Inn is truly a love letter to the island. The Foundation hired award winning Norway architect Todd Saunders to design and oversee the building of the inn. Originally from  Gander Newfoundland, Todd had an innate understanding of Zita’s vision and worked tirelessly to bring  it to fruition.fogo island inn at nightLocal love continues on the inside as well. Island carpenters and artisans used native spruce, birch and fir trees to craft all the furnishings for the inn. The beautiful quilts on all the beds were handcrafted by the women on the island. Even the light fixtures in the dining room, designed to suggest white fishing nets, were crafted by local artists.dining room 2While there’s no denying the beauty of Fogo Island and the Inn, for me it was the people that made the place extraordinary. Fogo Island Inn has created a “community host” program with the intention of getting guests to spend some one-on-one time with locals. On our first afternoon, we were introduced to Fergus, who took us hiking. Formerly employed by the Canadian Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans, hearing his perspective on the cod industry was enlightening. We were schooled on the local topography (mostly granite), native livestock, and learned a little about the history of the the local colourful “saltbox” houses. hike to Tilting 2sheep grazingcolourful houses 1The trail we hiked ended in the village of Tilting. Fergus led us to “Da Shed” for a drink. Strangely, for a population that has such strong Irish roots, there are no pubs in Tilting. The local custom is to invite friends and neighbours (and clearly complete strangers as well), into your shed (which houses mostly fishing gear and tools) for a drink and chat. Because of a lack of liquor licence you don’t buy your drink, but rather, “make a contribution.”

We visited Phil and Maureen Foley’s shed. Reminiscent of my first student apartment, the shed was brimming with overstuffed couches and chairs that had seen better days. The walls were plastered with posters. We started chatting with Phil and discovered that he is the dad of the hotel clerk we met that morning in St. John’s! Small world. We were introduced to Phil’s brother and sister-in-law (Gerry and Darlene) as well as several other locals. After about 15 minutes of small talk Phil asked us if we had a song to share. WHAT??? Apparently shed culture involves singsongs as well. Gerry whipped out his guitar and started in on a beautiful haunting Irish melody. Phil, and then his wife Maureen also entertained us with some traditional Celtic tunes.

My initial instinct was to whip out my camera and record the performances. But an inner voice told me to sit still, be present in the moment and savour it. Somehow we have started to believe that every moment of our lives needs to be documented, and in doing so, we miss the being part of the moment.

I will admit to coming home and Googling Maureen, to see if anyone else had recorded her, so I could share it with you guys, and sure enough, there she was. Click here to check her out.

Chef Murray MacDonald is at the helm in the Fogo Island kitchen. A fellow native Newfoundlander, he left the island at age 18 to attend culinary school in P.E.I. He then honed his skills, travelling and cooking in Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, New Zealand, China, and Mexico. Just like Zita, he travelled around the world, only to find his way back home. And, just like Zita, he believes in honouring and preserving the traditions of the past.

At heart Chef Murray is a locavore with a strong survivalist spirit. “We are doing what our ancestors did a hundred years ago, using our ingenuity to forage, gather and cook. Back then they worked with what they had to survive…Our menu is focused on wild things from the North Atlantic and local seasonal produce.” He talks about the importance of having one foot in the past while looking to the future, in order to stay relevant. His kitchen motto is “Find new ways with old things.”

Foraging for ingredients is one of his favourite pastimes. While we were there we had a chance to taste pasta created with sea urchin, found on the rocks by the shore, just beyond the kitchen door. And, as a side note, can I just say how happy it made me to discover that his guilty pleasure food is bologna!sea urchinsHe gathers springy caribou moss by the shore and candies it to serve with yogurt and berries!granola and caribou mossEverything in the kitchen is made from scratch and the inn’s very talented pastry chef, Kara Lackie, has an incredibly light touch with biscuits and scones. They almost floated off the plate.Ed's Eggs benedict on BiscuitsFogo Island also happens to be one big berry patch. We discovered this as we were hiking and I kept stepping all over these red berries and squishing them. I later learned that they are called “partrige berries” and the island is literally covered in them. They found their way into scones as well as my morning fruit bowl.Partidge berriespartrige berry scones and latteisland berriesIt’s possible that some cod flavoured kook-aid was slipped into my morning latte, because the next thing I knew, I was agreeing to go on a Cod Fishing expedition. I typically avoid all forms of watercraft, due to a proclivity toward motion sickness.

The unflappable housekeeping supervisor, Rosemarie, outfitted us in bright orange rain slickers, mittens and hats. As we were leaving, she slipped a bottle of Non-Drowsy Gravol into my pocket. Nine of us set out on the M/V Ketanja with Captain Emberley for a three hour tour. We’re  all smiles as we board the boat. smiling as I get on the boatMarla and Ed 4Once we moved out into deeper waters Captain Emberley cut the motor and gave us all a chance to try our hand at cod jigging. Jigging basically involves the use of lures attached to a line which is “jigged” or moved up and down in a series of short movements. The jigging motion attracts the fish, which are hooked as they move close to the lure. The line is then hauled onboard and the fish removed. I passed on my turn to try my hand at jigging. Non drowsy Gravol did not work too well for me
A fine catchfor the love of codLuckily everyone caught their fish quite quickly and we were soon moving again towards our next destination, Little Fogo Island. Once a vibrant fishing village, the only full-time residents on this tiny archipelago are puffins and razorbills. shore of little fogo islandThe steep cliffs on the island meant that the fish stages (platforms for drying salted cod) had to be be built on posts. You can still see several of them dotted around the shore of the island.dock at little fogo islandLittle Fogo Island is home to summer cottages now. summer cottages on little fogoWe had a chance to visit Captain Emberley’s grandfather’s cottage, and check on the progress of the new cottage he is building for his family. summer cottage on little fogoThere is a charming church on the island, and once each summer a priest comes out to hold mass to honour all of Fogo island’s departed residents. little fogo island churchWe arrived back at Fogo Island Inn, a little nauseous, but happy to have checked cod fishing off my life’s “To Do” list.

On our last night at the Inn, we began chatting with our young waitress. When we asked her what changes she has noticed since the opening of the Inn, her answer surprised us. She said that of course the Island has begun to prosper financially, but what she noticed even more was a change within her.

No different than most kids living in a small town, she said she wanted nothing more than to leave the Island when she became an adult. She headed off to Halifax when she turned 18 but became quite homesick. She moved a little closer, to St. John’s and then when the Inn opened in 2013 she came home. All of the sudden she began to see Fogo Island through the eyes of all the guests coming to visit. They gushed about the raw beauty and unspoiled terrain. She had taken it for granted all her life, and seeing it through a different lens made her really appreciate what she had all along. I guess there’s no place like home after all!lobster traps 2