Hermès at Work visits Vancouver

I'm a lover of what Patsy of Absolutely Fabulous would call "gorgeous little things" and so when the chance came to see how some  were made, of course I was there. Vancouver was recently treated to the travelling show that is Hermès at Work and a chance to see and interact with the Hermès  craftsmen and women outside the intimate settings of their ateliers.  These incredible luxury items are truly works of art and the people who make them seemed to be in a perpetual state of Zen. The idea of moving to Dijon and becoming a silk scarf screen printer crossed my mind a couple of times, I don't mind telling you. But this is the type of skill gained over a lifetime of practice and commitment, and despite the effortless skill that the individual craftspeople displayed, I know this didn't happen overnight. Here are a few of the "gorgeous little things" that caught my eye. 

 Saddle by Hermès            Photo: Helena McMurdo
 Colourful watch straps by Hermès Photo: Helena McMurdo
 Hermès Glovemaker at work. Photo: Helena McMurdo
 A seamstress hemming a Hermès Scarf, using the "Roulottage Française" technique. Photo: Helena McMurdo
 An artist paints a design onto a Hermès plate Photo: Helena McMurdo

Arde Lucus: My Roman Holiday

I wanted to share one of the really special things that we experienced while we were in Galicia this time: The Arde Lucus Festival in Lugo. Now I had been to Lugo once or twice before. As some of you may know, I was born there so this wasn't my first trip. But to see it in this way was an extra special treat.

 Roman Costume at Arde Lucus. © 2014 Helena McMurdo

The area of Lugo was originally a Celtic settlement, dedicated to Lugos, the Celtic god, of among other things, light. Depending on your point of view, the area was either a) conquered, or b) pacified by the Romans in 13 BC who built the city which they named Lucus Agusti. By the 3rd century they had surrounded the city with fortified walls mostly to protect the city from the local tribes. The walls still stand and today are described by UNESCO as "the finest surviving example of late Roman military fortifications".  In 2000, the walls were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Arde Lucus festival is a celebration of this Roman heritage. If you have ever been in Spain for festivals like Pamplona's San Fermin or Sevilla's Feria de Abril, you will know that they are spectacles of colour and pageantry. And Arde Lucus is no different in that respect. This is no sweaty fraternity toga party. This is the full set of Gladiator. With 600,000 visitors over 3 days, it is a sight to behold. 

 Catedral y Muralla de Lugo © 2014 Helena McMurdo
 Romans catching up with the news at The Arde Lucus Festival  © 2014 Helena McMurdo

For me one of the highlights was the way the families approached this event, all dressed up together and coordinated. We even saw baby carriages decked out like Roman chariots. They went to such great effort, each putting their own spin on things. It was lovely to see everyone getting into the spirit of things. Of course, there were events and spectacles like a Roman Circus to behold, but for me, the fun part was the people watching. The variety and quality of the costumes was astonishing. And of course today, Romans and Celts mingle in the streets with little animosity. 

 A young gladiator at the Arde Lucus Festival © 2014 Helena McMurdo
 Celts at The Arde Lucus Festival © 2014 Helena McMurdo
 Family at the Arde Lucus Festival © 2014 Helena McMurdo
 Roman Warrior at Arde Lucus. © 2014 Helena McMurdo
 Roman Hair. Arde Lucus © 2014 Helena McMurdo
  Lugo, Arde Lucus Festival  © 2014 Helena McMurdo
 Calle de La Cruz, Lugo, Arde Lucus Festival  © 2014 Helena McMurdo

Of course, we joined in the fun in the bars and restaurants. As we stopped in one restaurant in the narrow street above, we sipped our wine happily, while past the doorway marched legions of Roman soldiers, with their drums and cavalry to boot. For a brief moment I thought of what it must have been like to be a Celt living in a straw covered hut, seeing the Romans marching in and wondering how life would change. But then I took another sip of wine. And everything seemed fine.

A truly special display, and if you find yourself in this part of the world around the middle of June, you might want to consider investing in some Gladiator sandals. In 2015, Arde Lucus will take place June 19-21.

Breaking Bread: Pan do Seixo

Last May when I was in Galicia I spent some time with a local bread man. To my grandmother and the neighbours he is referred to as Seixo (pronounced say-show), a name that reflects the town where he is from rather than any name his mother gave him. Seixo is a little town in the mountains, not far the ancient village of Cebreiro on the Camino de Santiago. The bread that this man makes is called Pan do Seixo. 

 Pan do Seixo Loaves ©2013 Helena McMurdo

The bread is crusty and chewy and filling. When the locals cut it, they hold it tightly between their arm and their body and cut off a slice, one-handed, as if it could somehow get away from them.

 Pan Do Seixo © 2013 Helena McMurdo

Seixo is a daily visitor, showing up around 10 o'clock in his little van and beeping his horn. If you want bread, you're ready and waiting with your euro in hand. If you don't you wave him off and he continues on his journey through the green hills of this part of Lugo province. 

 Near O Cebreiro © 2014 Helena McMurdo

I asked him if I could spend some time with him and see how this bread was made. He generously obliged. After spending most of the morning delivering, he starts baking at around 4pm. My mum and I made the short trip into the hills through some pretty windy roads to a most unlikely place for a bakery. And not any bakery. One that in addition to servicing restaurants and locals, ships bread, twice a week, more than 900 km to shops in Barcelona. The authentic Galician character of his bread is much sought after by Gallegos living in the city. He told me he started out just shipping bread to a few friends that had a shop. The bread became known by other Gallegos living in the Barcelona and the demand grew.

Despite the rustic surroundings, and the artisanal nature of the bread, the bakery itself is fairly modern.  But some traditional touches remain.

The oven is a state-of-the-art, modern one, with a rotating conveyer belt allowing Seixo to cook 80 loaves at a time. But then you see how it's fired. With wood. A delightful mix of old and new technology.

He uses a mixture of yeast and ferment (what we would know as a starter or biga ), as well as a blend of commercial wheat flour and a locally grown Galician flour. He makes two main loves a wheat loaf and a rye loaf.  

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Once the dough is mixed in a modern, commercial mixer, it is cut into portions and left to proof in a traditional dough trough called an artesa. My mum remembers that in the old days when everyone made their own bread at home, every house had one of these. It's sort of a coffin shaped box on legs with a wood cover.

 Cutting the dough ©2013 Helena McMurdo
 Artesa first proofing © 2013 Helena McMurdo

After an initial proofing in the artesa, the dough is weighed and divided into individual portions and formed into balls (bollas) which are placed on a board for a second proofing.

 Forming the bollas ©2013 Helena McMurdo
 Proofing the Loaves © 2014 Helena McMurdo

After the second proof, of approximately 40 minutes, it's time for the oven. This is rapid fire, co-ordinated team work. With Roberto, bringing out the wood trays, and Seixo forming the bollas into their final shape, slashing the tops where necessary, the two men entered into a rhythmic dance. 

 Pan do Seixo Bollas ©2013 Helena McMurdo

Working in batches they used a conveyer belt to load the bread into the oven, depositing it on the shelves. In no-time, approximately 80 loaves were in the oven and browning nicely.

 Loading the Conveyer ©2013 Helena McMurdo

The thing that struck me most in the 4 hours I spent with Seixo and Roberto was the pace of work. It was non-stop. And they work hard. When he wasn't actively making bread and sometimes when he was, Seixo was fielding calls on his mobile phone, taking orders, doing business.  A man in demand.

 Seixo on the Phone © 2013 Helena McMurdo

When the bread was ready, Seixo asked me if I wanted to try a treat from the old days. He explained this was a traditional snack that he had as a kid. He ripped into a warm loaf and sprinkled it with sugar and olive oil. Heaven. 

 On the conveyer ©2013 Helena McMurdo

We left his home at nine at night, dead on our feet but with smiles on our faces. The next day he was back at our house, beeping his horn. No rest for him.

 

The Full Irish

Irish Breakfast. There's much discussion of what items constitute the essential components of an Irish Fry. Eggs, bacon, sausage, white and black pudding certainly but after that there is debate about beans, mushrooms, tomatoes. 

 Eggs in the early morning light  © 2014 Helena McMurdo

I will choose to use a description that I came upon one day about 12 years ago, while I was still living in Ireland. I was travelling down from the west of the country to Dublin, as I did quite often for my job. What was different on this occasion is that I was on the Galway road, the N6, a route I rarely took and so I didn't have access to my usual trusted stopping points. Somewhere between Mullingar and Dublin, Enfield perhaps, I decided to stop for breakfast. To be honest, I don't remember where it was. I just remember that I was starving...and when I came across a row of houses and a small sandwich board stuck out on the road, I didn't care where I was. I was stopping. It was one of those houses that you knew by the outside, you might find anyone or anything inside. I held my breath and stepped inside, the low roof dangling over my head and although the room was dark, which was disconcerting, I was pleased to see a few burly builder types inside. In Ireland, their very presence is taken as an indication of a good breakfast so I was immediately reassured. The lady of the house seemed to be an old woman. I say seemed because she didn't show herself.

 Eggs with Irish Bacon © 2014 Helena McMurdo

"Just sit down wherever you like", she yelled from behind the swinging door of her kitchen. "The only thing is, we've got no breakfast".

No breakfast? I was confused as I watched the burly builders dip their sausages and bacon into their eggs and stuff them in their mouths.

"Well", she continued, "the power's gone out and we've no 'lectricity. So I've got no toast. But I can make you bacon, eggs, sausage, pudding".  

"Isn't that breakfast?", I queried.  

Deadly serious, "Of course not, there's no toast!"

So there you have it. The essential component of an Irish Fry at least the breakfast version is toast.  Or Irish brown bread. Or both.

Because you don't make this as much as prepare it, it's essential to have the best quality ingredients you can. Something about the quality of ingredients in Ireland makes this dish extra special. They have long been at the forefront of the idea of eating local and producing food in a sustainable way. But I'm pleased to say that as knowledge of locally produced foods has grown here in Canada, I'm more easily able to find beautiful locally produced substitutes, done in the Irish style.

Knowing that St. Patrick's Day is on it's way, and deeming that a reasonable excuse,  I ventured to The British Butcher in North Vancouver, knowing that I would find the essential ingredients I required.

Their Irish bacon is from BC pork and dry cured in house. One of the things I find when buying this style of bacon here is that not every type crisps up nicely. Sometimes it has too much water and it just doesn't brown nicely. Not the case here. The flavour was great and it crisped up beautifully. Black and White Pudding are made here locally, also from BC pork. I love the white pudding particularly. I tend to cook it quite a lot so that the oats inside get crunchy. Delicious. I also enjoy the black pudding although I probably don't hanker it for the same way. Yes, it's got blood in it but if you've read this far, I'm guessing you already know that.

 Black and White Pudding © 2014 Helena McMurdo

The pro tip that I learned from the Irish is that as far as the bacon goes - better to grill than fry. Two reasons: one is less grease. The second is that you can make more all at once. In fact I often also put the sausages and the black and white pudding on the grill pan and under the broiler vs frying them in a pan. This is especially helpful when cooking for a crowd.

 Full Irish © 2014 Helena McMurdo

For me, an essential component of the Full Irish, is a roasted tomato. After all a vegetable or two couldn't hurt. Happy St. Patrick's Day! Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhuit!

Porto or is it Oporto?

I wanted to share some images that I made while I was in Porto - a quick trip I made during my days in Galicia to visit my good Irish friends O & J. So Porto / Oporto. What's with that? In English and in Spanish it's called Oporto and in Portuguese it's Porto. Somehow this seems strange. I mean wouldn't Porto have worked for all of us? Ok. I'l stop that rant, because that's pretty much all I could possibly complain about in this lovely city. It's so gorgeous, it's ridiculous. It's crumbly and old and bright and colourful all at once. And the food isn't bad either. My two new favourite things are included in the photos below.

One.

Pasteis de Nata

. Custard tarts that are everywhere. We had them everyday! And now I've developed an addiction. How can I make these? Anyone?

Two.

Pataniscas de Bacalao

. These are yummy cod fritters that seem to be a cross between a fishcake and an onion bhajii. Seriously good.

And of course, we must not forget Port. or as the Portuguese call it

Vino Porto.

 But that's a whole other story. Enjoy!

PortoCollage ©2013 Helena McMurdo

Pulpo a Feira

Pulpo A Feira ©2013 Helena McMurdo

One of the classic items to eat in Galicia is Pulpo do Feira. Translation: Octopus-"Market Style". In my grandmother's local market, the women working the Pulpo tent dip their sticks rhythmically into the huge copper pot, their hands seemingly immune to the scalding water below. Then using scissors, they snip the legs into pieces so quickly it's amazing that any of them still have fingers. You take your seat in the covered tent and someone plunks down a bottle of wine and a huge loaf of bread and you order your ration. It's drizzled with olive oil,  and sprinkled with salt and pimentón. Y ya está. (That's it!) Meaty deliciousness.

Galicia: Te gusta?

I'm back from a recent trip to Galicia and I wanted to share some of the images I made as well as some of the memories I have from this place. As many of you know, I was born in Spain or more specifically - as my relatives remind me often - in Galicia. Which is different. When we were kids, we visited in the summers from our home in the North of Canada. The differences were dramatic. In Yellowknife, the Frozen North, the chickens came wrapped in plastic on meat trays in the YK Super A, the local grocery store. In Galicia hens strolled around the yard of my grandparents house and baby chicks were gifts from my Abuelo (grandfather) to me and my two sisters when he came back from the local market. Today in North America we would call it a 'Farmer's' Market. In Galicia, then as now, no one felt the need to specify this obvious detail. We were disappointed to learn that grandma's chickens laid no more than one egg a day and sometimes not even any. This did not seem to tally with the pictures in our kindergarden schoolbooks of mother hen sitting on a mountain of eggs. Our relatives viewed us as city slickers (clearly not the case as anyone who has been to Yellowknife can attest), but our words and actions revealed that we ignorant of country ways. They  laughed when my sister tried hopelessly to shake a chicken in order to induce an increase in egg production.

Big excitement happened when one of the neighbours would move cows from one field to another yelling; Vaca Ve!  My sisters and I would copy them, grabbing a stick and yelling the refrain, not really understanding the words but getting the message.  Today there are fewer cows in the village. But they still move back and forth in a rhythm that marks the days. Today they wear ear tags and in the words of one of the neighbours, "they have more paperwork than we do".

Galicia Village Textures © 2013 Helena McMurdo

When we were kids, my grandparents ran a little bar come shop and their little corner of the world seemed a bustling place with neighbours dropping by to have a drink, a slice of jamón or to buy some basic essential like shampoo or the famous black soap from LaToja.

We found it all so very amusing, helping to serve the drinks and being paid in chocolate and Chupa Chups. Much of our time was spent being poked by neighbours and relatives who spoke freely with their pronouncements as to which of us was the fattest, skinniest, best looking, tallest, most intelligent etc. “The food must be very bad in Canada. The children are so skinny” The bar is  no more but the neighbours still have a lot to say. Now they tell me I am fatter but in a good way. “Estás bien ahora.”

On of the first spanish phrases I remember learning was 'Te gusta?'" Do you like it? Someone was always offering food. (What is a local custom became even more impressive presumably because of our perceived state of malnutrition.) Most of the things being offered to eat were too simply too scary for our young and picky palates to consider. Squid? Octopus? No thank you. "No me gusta". We seemed happy to exist on a diet of Fanta de Naranja, Maria Biscuits and Cola Cao with the odd tortilla francesa (omelette) thrown in. But I do remember always liking jamón and chorizo.

Today, I’m making up for my prior fussiness. In fact, there seems to be little that I don’t like. This is simple food; Green Beans with Garlic and Smoked Paprika, Kale with chorizo and a perfect farm fresh egg, a slice of empanada made in the local panadería. Octopus is boiled and sprinkled with salt and paprika and served with boiled potatoes.

Food in Galicia_©2013 Helena McMurdo

The cooking is not complicated. The ingredients are what make it. And nature provides. Y si me gusta!

Chic Pique-Nique: Le Dîner en Blanc

Dîner en Blanc Place Setting

Last night I attended an event that I've been looking forward to for weeks. To say that Dîner en Blanc was this picnic planner's dream come true would not be an understatement. Dreamy secret location. Check. Elegantly dressed people. Check. French Food and Wine. Picnic Baskets! Check.

Founded in Paris 22 years ago, Dîner en Blanc happens one night a year. Friends gather together to eat and drink an elegant picnic, all dressed in white in a secret location revealed just hours before the event itself.

The undertaking was not without commitment. In addition to their white outfits, and their picnic, participants bring their own white tables and chairs plus their own proper dishes and glassware. (Proper in this case means china and real glass.)

In Vancouver guests also had the option to buy a prepared dinner from non-other than Top Chef Chef Dale McKay. Now I'm not saying I'm a Top Chef but I was not about to refuse a challenge. The official Dîner en Blanc list of things to bring, read as follows : "A picnic basket comprised of quality menu items and a china dinner service including proper stemware and flatware." Oh yes. GAME ON!

Three weeks ago, we began to plan. Super G communed with his inner prop master and sprung into action. He found brilliant white chairs at Ikea. A very clever pop-up table at Canadian Tire. We raided my mother's cupboard for white plates and linen. I dug out a beautiful restaurant-style white tablecloth I have never had occasion to use. And of course we started to put together our outfits and the small details involved.

Dîner en Blanc Decor. Photography © 2012Helena McMurdo

I started thinking about the menu. It had to be French, it had to be practical for transport and plating. In the spirit of the event, and in keeping with my own picnicking philosophy - only elegant and practical containers.  A fabulous buttery Quiche Lorraine - what could be more quintessentially picnicky? For dessert I wanted to be a bit more daring. I came upon the idea of crème caramel - so French - and I decided to do them in small Weck Jars so that I could seal the containers after making them and transport them easily, doing the renversement on the plate at the dinner for the final pièce de résistance. (These are the things that make me happy!)

Dîner en Blanc Food Prep. Photography ©2012Helena McMurdo

Cooking was much more fun than shopping and after trying on what seemed to be every white piece of white clothing in the Lower Mainland, almost going snow blind from the experience, I finally settled on my outfit. Now back to the food.

Paté was a must and so a trip to Oyama Sausages was in order where decided on a  smooth and creamy Paté de Cognac and a more rustic Paté de Campagne. We also picked up an amazing Saucisson Sec. Trés bon.

Finally the finishing table touches, the flowers, glassware, and a few tiny chocolates for ápres dîner and of course the baguette were assembled. The task of packing began. It was important to be self-sufficient and compact in our kit as we would be arriving to the picnic (as per the rules) en masse and by public transit carrying everything with us.

Picnic Set for Dîner en Blanc

Super G slung the pop-up table over his shoulder and carried the two chairs and I rigged up a little trolley for my basket. I had a smaller bag for breakables which I carried with me and finally a small hand-held basket with the flowers. It was time to dress up and get out there!

We had been told to be at the Main Street Skytrain Station at 6pm. We arrived and promptly saw a few other people in white. Gradually a larger group assembled. We met our table leader and checked in. It was all very organized and efficient. We were given drinks tickets for our purchased wine so we could collect it quickly when we arrived at the dinner location.  There was a bit of waiting around but the sun was shining and none minded. It was a pleasure to simply soak up the scene.

Waiting for Dîner en Blanc
On the way to Vancouver Dîner en Blanc

With our leader heading the posse, we all hopped on the sky train to our mystery location. At this point we knew only that we'd be going to the Burrard Skytrain Station in the heart of downtown Vancouver but we still did now know our final destination. It was quite a laugh to see the looks on peoples faces as the hundred or so of us piled onto the train, all in white and with all our accessories.

From the Burrard Station we set off on foot and found our groups number growing as other groups from other areas converged on this point. It gradually became clear where we were headed, the home of the Olympic Torch, Jack Poole Plaza at the Vancouver Convention Centre. At the edge of downtown, on the water, it has a spectacular view of the North Shore mountains - a simply stunning, iconic location.

Without delay we found our designated spot, all organized and directed by our table leader Evelyn, and promptly set up our tables. Everywhere people were doing the same and it was wonderful to see the creativity in table settings and outfits alike.

Dîner en Blanc Vancouver 2012

To the sweet and beautiful music of Josh aka that-guy-who-sings-La-Vie-en-Rose-at-Granville-Island we dined, shared each other's food and watched the sun go down.

Dîner en Blanc Celebration. Photography ©2012Helena McMurdo

The entire menu went down a treat and to my great happiness the crème caramel turned out of its dish perfectly.

IMG_5991©2012_HelenaMcMurdoDEBVancouver

By this time it was dark, and time for sparklers! We were each handed a sparkler and at 9:35, 1200 people lit them together creating a beautiful glowing mass which signalled the kick off of the dancing. Les Noces Gitanes from Paris, played a sort of new type of Gypsy Kings thing with the odd riff on Ukranian dancing music. It was great! The party had just begun.

Vancouver Dîner En Blanc Night. ©2012Helena McMurdo

Galician Queimada

IMG_4487

Well it makes sense I guess. The season of Hallowe'en is upon us. So at a recent family dinner when my mother suggested we do a Queimada, who were we to argue? After all it is not every day your mother encourages you to set fire to some high grade alcohol and summon the spirits from on high. Is it?

A Queimada is a Galician tradition from Spain, which involves burning a Galician version of aguardiente called Orujo to ward off evil spirits and bring in the good spirits of those who have gone before to share in the ritual as friends. It was not necessarily done at Hallowe'en but as the Gallegos are Celts after all, I'm sure they would approve. In fact there is a saying which goes along the lines of 'any excuse is a good one for a Queimada'.

For best results, the alcohol is heated first before being poured into a a shallow clay bowl with oranges slices, coffee beans and cloves. A spoon with sugar is introduced into the bowl to gather some alcohol and then lit  on fire and introduced once more into the alcohol to set the mixture alight.

From then on, all present at the table take turns to stir the Queimada while the Conjuro or spell is read aloud. This is your typical bubble, bubble, toil and trouble stuff...beginning with:

Owls, barn owls, toads and witches.

Demons, goblins and devils,

spirits of the misty vales.

Near the end, we arrive at the main point:

And when this beverage

goes down our throats,

we will be freed of the evil

of our soul and of any bewitchment.

Powerful stuff! Evil of our soul? Bewitchment? Ok perhaps a bit dramatic. But I can't help but smile at the next part:

Forces of air, earth, sea and fire,

to you I make this call:

if it's true that you have more power

than people,

here and now, make the spirits

of the friends who are outside,

take part with us in this Queimada.

That sounds harmless enough! Enjoyable even.  Even if you are not inclined to believe in evil spirits, there is nothing to stop you from enjoying a Queimada. The resultant mixture, having burned off a great deal of the alcohol is sweet and smooth and delicious.  Happy Hallowe'en!

Fish are the ones that swim, right?

For anyone who watched Gilligan's Island, the words "three-hour tour", do not instill confidence. Yet on the day before my sister's wedding we found ourselves in North Lake Harbour, PEI  at McNeill’s Tuna Fishing, about to embark on just that. Despite the company name, we won’t be fishing tuna. Although Captain Jeff McNeill could tell you some stories. Like the recent tuna he caught -  677 lbs and 924 lbs. That's too much for these landlubbers so we’re after mackerel today.

NorthLakeHarbour

Before we leave the delightful harbour, Captain Jeff gives a quick talk using the Bride-to-Be as his assistant to demonstrate the safety features of the vessel and the functioning of the life vest to the landlubbers.

With that, we are off and sailing with the wind.  OK not really – we’re motoring but we’re motoring near some windmills on PEI’s east coast, which are most impressive.

McNeil's Tuna & Deep Sea Fishing

After this brief bit of sight seeing which also gives us the chance to see some sea lions, we arrive at thedesignated fishing spot where Captain Jeff turns off the motor and gives a quick demonstration of how to operate the fishing rod and reel and how to catch a fish.  To everyone’s amazement this actually ended with him catching several mackerel on his first reel in! Claps and cheers from the landlubbers and we’re off trying to outdo him.

We went fishing and camping as kids but let’s be clear – we’re not really outdoors people. Given the chance I choose glamping over camping. My European parents rightly thought that their children should not miss out on these Canadian experiences but this sometimes meant pitching a tent in the wooded area a few feet from our house. Not exactly adventure extreme conditions. But we found it to be quite the adventure all the same. I believe I did catch a fish as a child and there is definitely a  picture of my youngest sister with a fish she caught that appears to be twice her size.  So we are not without skills. I'm feeling confident.

The most interesting thing about this trip was what I learned about certain members of my family when caught in a primal hunter/gatherer moment. Screams from a few you might not expect and deftly exhibited skill from others came as a great surprise. Ya think you know people.

Fishing Rods

We do not cast our lines like we did when I was a kid fishing off a dock into rivers and lakes, but we simply drop them over the side and let it sink to the bottom before reeling it up while at the same time lifting the rod up and down smoothly to attract the fish. Within two minutes I am embroiled in a strange triangle with my youngest sister and her boyfriend, our lines are seemingly inextricably entangled. Captain Jeff to the rescue and we are free. So far I suck at this.

The others are catching fish left and right and our bucket of mackerel is growing. But I’m getting nothing.

Fishing

And then this happens.  A cheeky seabird thought it was a great idea to wait until he saw the mackerel coming up on the line before diving down to get it. Brilliant! Or not so brilliant perhaps. Now I have a bird on the end of my line. Or do I? The line snaps and the bird is now floating a few yards from the boat but with its wings tied up on its back in a sort of reverse Namaste position (for the yogis among you).

MackerelCatch

At this point, I really have to commend the actions of the captain and crew who quickly gave the order of ‘Rods up’ and had us haul in our lines so they could get to the bird and rescue it. Catching it in a net they deftly untangled the bird and promptly set it free causing very little trauma to the animal who seemed rather un-phased by the experience shaking it off as the cost of doing business. I imagine that fishermen see this thing all the time but suffice it to say there were a few landlubbers on board who may have been scarred for life.

Seagulls

Beside this bird, and one mackerel which was deemed to small to keep, so far I have not caught anything. But near the end of the trip, I feel a great tug on my line and with a little effort swiftly reel in my catch. I’m told it’s the biggest of the day. Clearly I’m a quality, not quantity person.

CleaningMackerel

So before we knew it, our 3 hours were up and we were back at North Lake Harbour. All in all, a brilliant day out and Captain Jeff and his crew made the day fun and relaxed while teaching us a thing or two as well.  The crew cleaned and filleted our mackerel right on board making it easy for us to take away.

But for me the highlight of the fishing trip came a day later when for appetizers at the wedding banquet, we were served small pieces of our mackerel, lightly breaded and pan fried.  There’s something pretty special about knowing where that fish came from and how it came to be where it was.

The Catch

MacNeill's Tuna Fishing Charters

North Lake Harbour, PEI

Contact: Captain Jeff MacNeill

Tel: 902 - 357- 2858

http://www.peitunacharters.com/

Got a tall ship that needs fixing?

LunenbergWaterfront

As the first British Colonial settlement in Nova Scotia, outside Halifax, Lunenberg dates back to 1753. If like many Canadian children, you ate the odd fish finger or two, you may be interested to know that this is also where Captain Highliner hangs out.

The brightly painted buildings, many of which date back to 1700s and 1800s, and the beautiful natural setting make Lunenberg a picturesque town, whose original plan and architecture has changed little in 250 years.

LunenbergHouse

Lunenberg has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site based on its natural and cultural significance. Apparently it's also a good place to get your tall ship fixed. More on that later.

LunenbergHarbour

We arrived in the late afternoon, we spent some time exploring before grabbing a bottle of wine and having a pre-dinner drink on our balcony overlooking the harbour. (Compared to Halifax, we found Lunenberg to be fairly sleepy).  That said, along the waterfront, there is so much colour and texture. Many working shipbuilders make their homes here.

DoriesLunenberg

The bright colours were perfect agains the grey sky which had descended for just a few hours.

DoryLuneberg

The next day it was up early for breakie which was hard to find before 9am. My brother and I ended up in Fulton's General Store which is one of those fabulous places that all medium sized towns have where you can buy a pair of underwear, a wedding present or a cold remedy all under one roof.  They had delicious coffee and bacon cheddar muffins individually wrapped in cling film with hand written tags.  We later met my dad at the Dockside Restaurant and had some more coffee while he had a traditional fry up which looked, and by all reports was fantastic, and later would receive the best breakfast of the trip award.

TheDoryShopLunenberg

Those who know me well and have travelled with me before know that I have been afflicted with what I like to call the  almighty curse of the scaffolding. Where I go, it goes. Yep, if there's something worth seeing, chances are it's under construction. London, New York, Madrid - I've had the pleasure of viewing Big Ben, The New York Public Library and the stunning Plaza de Correos, under scaffolding. And so it was in Lunenberg, UNESCO World Heritage site and home of the Bluenose II (aka the #1 thing to see here, racing ship, fishing vessel and Canadian icon) and yes, you guessed  - it's currently being rebuilt.  So after breakfast we donned our hard hats and visited it in a massive covered shed.

BluenoseIIReconstuction

It was still fairly interesting to see and it seems a massive undertaking with the hull being completely rebuilt. I’m told she will be ready for sail again in spring of 2012 so one day I hope to see her in her full glory. Until then, anyone who wants to keep tabs on the restoration can do so via live webcam. Interesting they've got quite a bit done since I was there.

This was our last day in Nova Scotia so after our tour of Bluenose II we hit the road for beautiful, sunny PEI.

Finding Delicious on Nova Scotia's South Shore

After two days in Halifax, we took the well known journey along the South Shore and did the drive along route 333 to Peggy's Cove winding our way around the coast on the 329 and then the #3 to Lunenberg. This is a stunning drive along some spectacular coastline dotted by pretty little fishing villages. Peggy's Cove. Yes,it's a postcard stop that no self-respecting Canadian can pass and stop we did. This is a real working fishing village and despite its picture perfect beauty, the evidence of the working village, in form of the brightly painted fishing boats and neatly stacked lobster traps, is everywhere.

PeggysCove

I could have spent a day here easily. There are so many colours and textures to photograph.

FishingBoatsPeggysCove

Continuing along from Peggy's Cove, we wound our way around the coast to Chester Basin where we had planned to stop for lunch at The Seaside Shanty Restaurant. We had got a tip  from a couple of  good friends in Vancouver who travelf frequently  to the Maritimes. (Thanks N & H) and we were delighted with what we found. The setting at Chester Basin is very picturesque , on the edge of a quiet haven filled with boats.

ChesterBasin

You need to keep your eyes open for The Seaside Shanty as you don't have much opportunity to stop but with its brightly coloured sign and pretty painted building, it's hard to miss.

SeasideShanty

The back of the building faces the water, with a neat row of Adirondack chairs overlooking the boats in the harbour. The bright flowers in the flower boxes made an appearance later in our lunch.

SeasideShantyFlowers

The menu is full of staples of maritime cuisine. Chowder, mussels, scallops, lobster. I chose the lobster roll - my first of many on this trip. It completely filled a gap. Delicious and fresh and light, not overdressed. And beautifully presented.

LobsterRollSeasideShanty

The chowder was rich and full of fish and shellfish, not like some you get where you have to chase one prawn around the bowl.

ChowderSeasideShanty

Just like I can’t pass up a staple like crème brulee (I have a sort of running contest going), chowder is one of those things I always like to try to keep comparisons on. I don’t think that are any two the same.

SeasideShantyInterior

My mum chose the scallop burger and seemed to enjoy it. The scallops looked beautifully seared on the outside and again, like all the dishes we had were presented beautifully.

ScallopsSeasideShanty

Afterwards wth a brief photo stop in Mahone Bay, site of the famous Three Churches, where we also discovered that our rental cars tires were completely bald,  we set off in slight trepidation for Lunenberg where we would stay the night.

baldtires

We ate at Magnolia Grill. Sadly no photos but this was one of our favourite places of the trip. Solid homey food, not overly done, but just tasty with lots of choices for different tastes. Very important in our group. Besides that, the service was delightful and friendly and the room was cozy with little snug-style booths. A perfect refuge from the cold and drizzle outside that descended suddenly over us. The kind of place you’d like to stay all night.

The Seaside Shanty

5315 Hwy 3

Chester Basin, Nova Scotia

http://seasideshanty.ca/

Magnolia Grill

128 Montague

Lunenberg, Nova Scotia