Thursday, September 08, 2011

Open - An Easy Drinking Wine and an Excellent Life Philosophy

Although no longer a student, I have found myself thinking 'it's a new year!' on several occasions this week. Perhaps it's because I work at UPEI and am thus surrounded by back-to-school proclamations, and throngs of eager and not-so-eager students. The business building has come alive again after a summer of hibernation. Yesterday, as I biked to work with my backpack on, I couldn't help but muse that I fit in nicely with the students traipsing around campus. From a distance anyways. Upon closer inspection of my face and hair, I'm sure the best I could hope for is a 'mature student' label. Well, in any case, I am heartened by the thought of a clean slate. Really, every day, every moment is a clean slate, but sometimes tis hard to remember that and one needs a reset of seasons, a holiday away, or a set of new circumstances to be reminded of this.

There are several reasons I've not written this entire summer, or to be more precise, that I've not published anything on this blog. No need to reel them off, but anyone who knows me well will correctly assume that wine, sunshine, food, and friends proved to be mighty fine distractions from the task of blogging. Then there was, of course, the 'onwards and upwards' that had to be done. The passage of time, as most people can attest to, has proven to be of great assistance, however, much contemplation and conversing also aided in the process. I will not delve into this subject much more, however, I will share three things of particular note that I have learned or been reminded of over the past couple of months...lessons that, really, apply to every area of life. First, never ever ignore your intuition. Red flags, no matter their size, need to be checked out thoroughly. Only after reading some journal entries from last winter, did I finally acknowledge that my intuition had been speaking to me early on, I'd just chosen to dismiss it. Secondly, if you start to feel the world is closing in on you, rather than opening up wider and wider, that's a sign something isn't right. Figure out what it is, do something about it. And, finally, if you want to extend your lifespan, keep filling your days with new experiences and new people, rather than making each week a rerun of the past one, because that will get boring and, eventually, soul-destroying. In conclusion, I am doing grand and see the world opening up wider and wider!

And enough of that. Insert awkward transition to much more fun-filled topics, such as food, wine, and holidays.

So this year, I was able to get on the much-coveted customer list of Jen Campbell's CSA (community supported agriculture) program. What an amazing woman and tremendous farmer/business person! I have been blown away by the amount of time and energy she puts in each and every week to keep her CSA members informed and educated. She sends out a really engaging email each week with plenty of details about the harvest, farm happenings, etc. She also includes recipes so we know what to do with our produce! Then she proceeds to write an entirely different account on her blog each week, with photos of the fields and her twin boys (yes, she's got toddlers and acreage to look after!). Every week when I arrive for pick-up, she's there with a smile on (and often rubber boots) and gives instructions to each customer regarding vegetables in the week's harvest. Of course, I'm saving the best for last, which is the bountiful harvest she delivers each week. It's just astounding to me that I only had to spend $11 per week (I went splits on a full share, which was $22 a week) to get a mountain of organic produce that would most certainly cost me at least 1.5 to 2 times as much if I bought at the market or grocery store (like I'd ever buy at the grocery store during the summer, but I digress). I've had CSA shares with three different farmers now, and took over my friend's egg share with another farmer. It just struck me tonight that in every one of these CSA operations, the driving force (i.e. the main farmer) has been a woman. Two of them have been young farmers, while the other two were a bit older. I think that's pretty awesome. There are, of course, many men also involved in the sustainable agriculture movement, but it is nice to see a new crop (no pun intended) of farmers that is more diverse in age, gender, etc.

This summer I made a point of packing in as many new restaurant experiences as possible. On August 13th, I found myself at Ship to Shore (Darnley, PEI), which is housed in an unassuming building that was probably a community hall in the past. Everything about the experience was delightful. I'd made a reservation on-line through Open Table and cheekily added in the comments section that I wanted the best table in the house (followed by a 'just kidding. kind of.). Well, our dining party arrived half an hour before the reservation and they'd already prepared our table so we were seated quite promptly and it really was the best table! The menu is hilariously quirky and quite extensive. With so many choices, we were quite torn as to what to order, so we looked to the table beside us for inspiration. In the end, I shared two main plates with my friend, so we could enjoy land and sea. The smoked rack of ribs were sooooo tasty and fell off the bone, while the scallops were huge and fresh. The portions were ridiculous. I'm not kidding. As far as value for money, Ship to Shore outshines any other place I've been on PEI. We were treated to a complimentary dessert thanks to our insider-chef connection. Divine!

Other out-of-town restaurants that I've enjoyed this season include Shipwright Cafe in Margate, The Dunes in Brackley, The PEI Preserve Company in New Glasgow, and Maplethorpe in Bedeque. I do believe I've just listed them in order of 'most enjoyed to least enjoyed', although none were by any measure un-enjoyable.

One of the best dining experiences I've had as of late, however, was this past weekend when I took my visiting friend, Suzie, up to Abram's Village for an Acadien-style lobster dinner. The event was being hosted alongside the Evangeline Agricultural Exposition and in conjunction with Fall Flavours. We arrived before the dinner began and toured the grounds, enjoying a classic 'rubber boot toss' competition and wandering through outbuildings filled with vegetables, fruits, baked goods, quilts, etc. that had been adorned with ribbons. We also checked out some of the livestock on display, including a lot of poultry, a donkey, rabbits, cows, horses, etc. It was so quintessential country fair and, truth be told, I kind of loved it!

Dinner was served at long tables that had been set out for the four course meal. Suzie and I were amongst the only people in the crowded dining hall with naturally colored hair. A fiddler and pianist were on stage, playing music while guests got settled. Then Chef Corbin of the Food Network came on stage (he looks like a younger version of Tom Hanks!) and, along with Georges Arsenault, served as host of the evening. We were first presented with a bowl of chicken fricot (soup consisting of chicken and potato). Then while we waited for our next course, Chef Corbin picked people from the crowd to come up on stage. Sadly, I was not amongst the random picks. These lucky people got to do a taste test between the traditional Acadien meat pie and rapure, and Chef Corbin's takes on these dishes. Happily, we then got to enjoy our own taste of the traditional versions. Next up were stepdancing lessons with more audience victims, again I missed out! Then the piece de la resistance was delivered to us...fittingly lobsters were piled high on red lunch trays and we just had to pick which one we wanted. I was delighted that Suzie got the real lobster experience, rather than the tourist one, where the restaurant cracks the lobster open for you. We worked our way through the beady little guys and then moved on to the final course, bread pudding. I was stuffed by this time, thanks to a rather large bottle of Gahan Honey Ale and the previous three courses. Somehow I managed to make it through to the end though. On the way home we drove through Kensington, but unfortunately all I could do was point out the Frosty Treat to Suzie, as there was no room for any ice cream delights.

Prior to touring PEI with Suzie, we checked out Halifax and Cape Breton. The weather was amazing during the entire trip, save for Hurricane Irene, which happened to blow through whilst we were driving from the city to the Cape. We arrived at our accommodations in Cape Breton around supper time. Checking into Bear on the Lake Guesthouse we were informed that there was a Hurricane party planned for the evening, which would involve a BBQ, white russians and the promise of good times. I was excited, because in my experience, hurricane parties are pretty much incomparable (mind you, I'd only been to one hurricane party prior, but it had been excellent). The record now stands at 2 - 0 for rockin' hurricane parties!

We spent three full days in Cape Breton. On the first day we toured the Bras D'or Lakes area. I was in desperate need of a nice, sandy beach to lie down on and nurse my slight hangover (such a curse of getting older). Alas, while we were able to find sandy beaches, none offered salvation for the weary, due to the blasting sands carried by post-hurricane winds. On the upside, this meant fierce and fantastic waves, which Suzie and I let ourselves get pummeled. I was only up to my knees and my hair got soaked!

On the second day, we did the entire Cabot Trail. An Austrian girl from the hostel joined us, and off we went to check out the 300 plus kilometres of rocky cliffs and spectacular vistas. I couldn't help but find myself reminiscing about Scotland, and oh how much I miss it even six years later. We ended our day at The Red Shoe Pub in Mabou. The pub is owned by the Rankin sisters (of the Rankin Family musical group) and they had, without a doubt, the best red beer I've ever enjoyed. We were joined mid-meal by an English-Canadian bloke who'd come in alone and been taken hostage by a gentleman that appeared to frequent the bar far too regularly. I was, once again, transported to the UK, where having a stranger sort of invite themselves to join your table was not unusual. Something I miss greatly here in Canada, where pubs are where you go with friends you know rather than to make new friends.

On our final full day, after a slight detour to visit the mechanic (sigh), we ended up in Baddeck. There was a mid-week Farmer's Market, which was really cute. We spent several minutes talking to an older gentleman who was selling unique spoons that had been worked from wood on his own property. Suzie ended up getting one made from Lilac wood. Then we wandered down to the dock to see if there would be room on the 2.00 pm sailing excursion. As we approached the captain said 'there's room for you, no worries, Kat called, it's all organized, come back around 1.45'. Oh, you have to love small towns and awesome hostel hostesses (Kat's the hostess at Bear on the Lake and had called ahead to make sure we got seats on the excursion). It was a perfect sailing day, with a sharp breeze and a rich blue sky dotted by fluffy, white clouds that held little threat of letting loose. We were in the heart of Alexander Graham Bell territory and several houses belonging to his descendants were pointed out to us as we rode the waves. The excursion was made even better by the presence of another Alexander...Mr. Alexander Keith, that is. Our last evening in Cape Breton found us around the hostel dining room table yet again, this time with a new crew of people, most from the Salty Bear tour that had cruised in a few hours prior. I had learned my lesson from Sunday night, and paced myself quite well, I like to think. My stomach was grateful, in any case.

Thursday, after returning to the mechanic's for some urgent repairs, we headed back to PEI, where a weekend of indulgence, sand, and sun awaited us. As noted above, the Acadien lobster dinner was a definite highlight. On Thursday night, we were treated to a lovely dinner at Mom and Jim's place in the countryside, then headed back into town for more boozing with the Salty Bear crew who had also come to PEI. I like to think that Suzie also enjoyed the local dinner I prepared for us on Saturday night - lamb burgers stuffed with bacon and a mass of vegetables that had been sauteed in...yep, you guessed it, bacon fat! Then we had to head over to a Tapas contribution was a sangria, while Suzie prepared something with bread, aioli, and sausage that was quite divine. Sunday we rounded out our PEI culinary experience with a visit to The Dunes, which is simply a lovely venue to take an afternoon at, with its gorgeous galleries and gardens. Finally, Sunday night was Katie's birthday-wedding party, where most people were dressed up in either totally cute garb or totally tacky garb! Mikey C. had made a 3-tier chocolate cake, infused with strawberries and decorated with white icing and gorgeous pink and orange flowers. Wow, that man has skills!

So, yes, that's a rather abridged version of what life has brought me food-wise and otherwise since last I posted in May. Many other fantastic times have been had, but as tends to be the case, we remember the things that most recently happened and the rest fades into the back for awhile, until everything gets stored in that part of the memory called 'nostalgia', then it all just gets jumbled up and the timeline doesn't matter any more. Funny how that is, isn't it? Really gives one pause for thought about the relevance of time and memory, concepts that are both borne out of our minds. But I digress, it is becoming entirely too evident that I've been reading more Tolle and contemplating the simplicities and complexities of the human mind. I'll save that post for another day.

Stay tuned for more regular posting in the weeks and months to come. I have exciting news to share very soon... some are already privy to this, but I'll be making it official and blogging about it once September winds down and the last of my visitors has left.