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Lemon Bars

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Mmm, a shortbread base and a light, lemony topping. What could be a better tea accompaniment on a hot Irish day?

It’s still sunny here in Waterford, but I have to say the heat is much less intense today than it was for the last week. During the heatwave I had a sudden craving for lemon bars – the ones we used to sell at the cafe where I worked throughout university; the ones with a soft filling and a light dusting of powdered sugar on top. I had to have them.

I went to university in the small Nova Scotian town of Wolfville. You’ll find Wolfville in the Annapolis Valley. The “valley”, as we call it in Nova Scotia, is always ten degrees warmer than elsewhere in the province during the summer. I still long for those summer days (I remained in Wolfville, even when I wasn’t in school).

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There would always be a large bunch of Acadia students staying in town during the summer. The ones who had to stay, to work on campus, and the ones who simply wanted to stay because it was a good time. Paddy’s Pub, on Wednesday nights, would always be full and there would be a trad session to go along with our craft beer drinking.

On weekdays, the cafe where I worked would be full of my friends and regulars, making for a fun work environment and a never-ending social life. When I’d have a day off, a big group of us would sometimes go tubing down the Gaspereau River; our beer cans trailing behind our tubes to stay cold in the water. Whoever was in the lead would shout “Asses up!” any time we were tubing through a particularly rocky section of the river. Someone would inevitably leave with a bruised ass.

The parties were epic. The fun was endless. I lived with several of my best friends; we’d BBQ on our balcony and take day trips into Halifax.

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And these lemon bars continue to stick out in my mind. Our baker would only produce them once a week, and they would sell out immediately after we put them on display. That meant, for me, they were a rare treat – maybe one was broken during transport, maybe one (briefly) fell on the floor. Any bars that weren’t fit for customers were consumed by us, the staff. It was a lucky day when you could split a lemon bar with whomever you were working with.

This isn’t the exact recipe for those lemon bars, but it is very close. The base shouldn’t be over-mixed – it should be so delicate, it melts on your tongue (like a really good shortbread).

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Lemon Bars

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 cup AP flour, sifted

1/2 cup icing (confectioner’s) sugar, sifted

Rind of two lemons

Juice of two lemons

2 eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

2 Tbsp AP flour

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp baking powder

Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

Directions:

  • For the base: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (180 degrees Celsius, no fan). By hand, mix the butter, 1 cup of flour, lemon rind and 1/2 cup of confectioner’s sugar until just combined. The mixture should be like a crumbly shortbread dough. Press this dough into a well-greased, 8 or 9 inch square pan. Bake the base for about 15 minutes, until golden brown.
  • While the base is cooling, whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon juice, salt, vanilla, flour and baking powder.
  • When the base is cool, pour the egg/lemon mixture over top. Return to the oven and bake for an additional 25-30 minutes at the same temperature. The lemon topping should be set with a slight wiggle in the centre (the wiggle will go away once cooled).
  • When finished baking, cool completely in the pan on a cooling rack. Sprinkle with sifted confectioner’s sugar so the top is nicely coated. Portion into bars or squares.

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Ha Jin the Korean-Canadian-Irish Cat

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Another beautiful day and another breakfast out on the patio – I don’t know how I’m going to adjust when the baby arrives; for the past few months I’ve mainly been home alone with just the cat for company! It doesn’t help that I don’t have a driver’s license, but it’s on the list right after I cross off “have my life changed forever by giving birth”.

I’m not sure how the cat will react to a newborn, either. She’s been our fur baby (well, mine and then, gradually, Pat’s) for the last five years. I adopted her while living in Korea and named her Ha Jin after my favourite student, who didn’t like speaking English but did enjoy meowing like a cat.

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She was so cold when we first moved to Ireland; didn’t take long for her to discover my heated blanket.

A few months after adopting Ha Jin, I met Patrick. He grumbled as I insisted on moving her to Canada with us. He didn’t like cats. He was, and mostly remains, a dog person. I’m a dog person, too, but cats are much less work. When we move to a real house (that we own) with a big backyard, then I’ll be ready for a dog.

So Patrick and Ha Jin were wary of each other for a few years. She came to Canada with us, along with my other adopted cat from Korea, a Japanese Bobtail I called Somi. Somi was mean. She wasn’t friendly. She was loud and demanding and had a constant pained look on her little furry face. She was the dominant cat in the relationship, and Ha Jin, as far as we knew, had no personality whatsoever. She was just the “quiet one”.

Ill-fated Somi

Ill-fated Somi

After moving to Toronto, we decided to bring the cats with us on our trip home to Cape Breton for Christmas. We were taking the train, which would take about 28 hours from start to finish. The cats were coming with us, but had to stay in the baggage car with all the other pets making the trip.

I didn’t like the idea, but we bought a new carrier, put a padlock on it and put the two cats in together so they wouldn’t be too scared.

When we were about to arrive in Montreal, a voice came on over the loudspeaker.

“Will the owner of the two cats please come to the baggage car.”

Assuming they meant me, I made my way down the train, wondering what Somi had done. I was picturing her broken out of her cage surrounded by clawed luggage; Ha Jin quietly looking on.

When I arrived at the baggage car, the woman in charge (very quickly) said “I’mverysorrybutwelostoneofyourcats!” and then handed me a cellular phone with her supervisor on the other end.

He explained to me that, although he was in Montreal and the incident occurred in Toronto, one of my cats had escaped and they were doing all they could to locate her.

I started crying. I demanded to see the carrier so I could see which cat they had lost (even though I knew all along). Sure enough, reaching the carrier, I saw the door, previously padlocked, swinging on it’s hinges wide open. I looked inside to see my poor girl, Ha Jin, pressed against the back of the carrier absolutely terrified. Somi was gone.

They never found her. I don’t think they really looked. Feeling utterly helpless throughout my entire Christmas holiday, I called and called, leaving message after message. Finally I sent my best friend, who happens to be a lawyer, to the station in Toronto to demand some answers. Seeing her in her lawyer gear finally compelled them to call me back, but every conversation I had as a result began with “Well, I wasn’t working that day so I can’t really tell you what happened”.

Watchin' the news; their daily ritual.

Watchin’ the news; their daily ritual.

Needless to say, we will never take pets on a train again. I can only hope some nice person took Somi in, because after all my searching (I even got her on the local TV station) and the help of the humane society, we never even found a trace of her.

If there’s any hint of a happy ending to this story, it’s that we discovered that Ha Jin actually has a personality! She really came into her own after Somi was lost, which makes me wonder if they were lying in Korea when they told me they had to be adopted together. We realized she likes to be the only cat in the household.

Soon after, she started becoming weirdly affectionate toward Patrick. He was surprised. Since then they’ve become friends. She’s adopted him. When he comes home from work, she’s right there next to him on the couch, watching the news. At night, she sleeps at his feet. She has completely changed his mind and attitude towards cats and he had no problem forking over the dough to move her to Ireland.

She likes to sit on the wall to make sure there aren't other cats around.

She likes to sit on the wall to make sure there aren’t other cats around.

The other night as we were having dinner on the patio, she was lying down at his feet and he said, “I never knew cats could be loyal.”

I just think, on some level, she understands that we saved her life.

*Update: A few weeks after our baby was born, Ha Jin passed away from complications with feline breast cancer. She lasted a year with the illness, which is pretty good. We cherish the time we had with her; she really was a spectacular, brave cat.

Road trippin'

Road trippin’

Rocket & Walnut Pesto

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The glorious weather remains! While I can’t help but feel sorry for my Canadian brethren who continue to experience a less-than-ideal summer, I’m also kind of glad to have escaped the country in time for Ireland’s best summer in… how long has it been? I feel like I’ve been hearing about awful summers, full of rain and cold temperatures, since Patrick and I first met over five years ago. The Irish deserve this weather, and I’m glad I get to experience it, too.

When picturing my first summer in Ireland I may not have envisioned endless beach weather, but I did anticipate at least a day or two of sunshine a week. With that in mind, one of our first big purchases upon moving into our little house in Waterford was a BBQ and patio set (complete with umbrella; a good move on my part). I don’t feel homesick in Ireland – I’m surrounded by family and a culture very similar to the one I grew up with, so I’m very comfortable here – but there are a few things every Canadian needs in their life during the summer, regardless of the weather. Those things are a BBQ and an outdoor space fit for relaxing on nice evenings. Now that we have those things, I’m content.

Needless to say, with this weather we’ve been grilling all week. I’m loathe to turn on the oven, so the most I do for dinner indoors is a quick pasta or sauté to accompany our grilled proteins.

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For Canada Day you might recall I made a pasta salad with a pesto made from the rocket in my garden. Well, I had so much rocket I was able to make enough pesto to last the whole summer (in covered ice cube trays in the freezer – the perfect portion every time!).

Last night we grilled chicken that had been marinating in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. To accompany the chicken, I sautéed some diced onion, garlic and seeded, diced tomato (not canned), wilted some spinach into the mixture and tossed it all with cooked spaghetti before adding a splash of chicken stock, a knob of butter and a few tablespoons of pesto.

Topped with freshly grated grana padano it was the perfect accompaniment to the chicken and we dined al fresco for the third time this week, enjoying the amazing summer evening.

This pesto is a cinch to make in a food processor, but you can also make it in a blender or plain ol’ mortar and pestle. The food processor gives the best consistency – if you like a completely smooth pesto, go with the blender and if you like it really chunky make it by hand.

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Rocket & Walnut Pesto

Ingredients:

3 bunches fresh rocket (about 2 bags from the grocery store)

1 wedge grana padano, finely grated (about 300 grams)

juice of two lemons

3 heaping tablespoons grainy mustard (or plain dijon)

200 g chopped walnuts

4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

Extra virgin olive oil

Directions:

  • Assemble all of your ingredients so you have them right in front of you.
  • The best technique when making any kind of pesto is to blend the garlic, mustard, nuts, cheese and lemon juice into a chunky paste before adding anything green – that way you won’t over-blend the green stuff, which could cause it to discolour.
  • In the food processor or blender or mortar/pestle, blend the garlic, mustard, lemon juice, cheese and walnuts until they’re well combined and the nuts have broken down into a grainy paste.
  • Add the rocket (you may need to do this in batches if all the rocket won’t fit in the processor at one time, if that’s the case, cut the other ingredients in half and make two smaller batches of pesto to then mix together by hand). Make sure there’s an opening in the top of your blender or food processor, then start blending the rocket into the nut/cheese mixture. As you’re blending in the rocket, add the olive oil in a steady drizzle. You’ll probably end up adding about 1/2 a cup to a cup of olive oil before it reaches the right consistency (thick and slightly chunky, able to hold it’s own shape).
  • Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  • Use for pastas, salads, marinades or mix with mayo for sandwich spreads. Store in ice cube trays covered with plastic wrap and use as you need it.

Blueberry Buckle & Hot Summer Nights

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It’s still very hot and sunny in Ireland. I’ve been spending my days out on the patio with a good book and my feet propped up. It’s not that I don’t have other things to do, it’s just that, with the heat and the being pregnant, my feet have a tendency to swell up to the size of balloons. It’s uncomfortable and very unsightly!

It’s even warmer in the upstairs of our house, since, as we all know, heat tends to rise. So even though it’s lovely and cool in the evenings and early mornings, our bedroom is an oven from sucking up the heat all day. That’s ok, though, I’m still loving this weather (Patrick less so, since he has to work in un-air conditioned circumstances in a shirt and pants). It’s only Wednesday but I’m already looking forward to the weekend; to the beach and the cold, cold ocean.

Working in a restaurant kitchen in Toronto during the summer is a slow form of torture; you’re in front of a burning gas range or 500 degree pizza oven while it’s 30+ degrees outside. Whenever I needed something from the walk-in fridge, I used to linger an extra minute or two to stay cool.

Toronto has been recently plagued with flash flooding and the power has been out during the busiest time of the summer for chefs – Summerlicious. The participating restaurants have set menus for lower-than-normal prices, making even the finest dining establishments accessible to all. This means it’s crazy busy this time of year. I saw a former co-worker’s photo of he and his cooks working the line by candle light as the power had gone out during service. I didn’t envy them.

I remember these things when I’m about to complain about how hot I feel.

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In between reading (The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht; very good so far), tanning, lounging, necessary foot elevation and hanging laundry on the line I managed to get a bit of baking done yesterday. I said a bit, because I literally only had the oven on long enough to pre-heat and bake the Blueberry Buckle I had whipped up.

A buckle is a traditional East Coast dessert (in both Canada and the Northeastern US) made with seasonal fruit or berries, a streusel topping and a dense, cakey base. You could call it a coffee cake; it wouldn’t be far off. But back home we call it a buckle. You take names of things for granted growing up, so I did a bit of research as to why we call it a buckle. It turns out that when the cake batter rises around the fruit, the streusel topping cracks, or buckles. Hence the name! Straightforward enough.

You can make buckle with any kind of fruit, but in Nova Scotia the obvious favourite is wild blueberry, which we enjoy in the summertime. I had a few pints of blueberries that I picked up at Lidl. They were from France, much larger than the ones back home and much less sweet, but they still did the job. It would be much better with smaller, wild blueberries. I adapted the recipe from an old Cape Breton cookbook that had been gifted to me by my Aunt Flora.

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This cookbook, entitled St. Ann’s Heritage Book, Folklore, History and Recipes, has everything from recipes for cherry bark cough syrup to the traditional recipes brought over by our Scottish ancestors, to the recipes adapted to the produce the settlers found once they arrived (for example, blueberries and seafood). I don’t think this cookbook exists anywhere else, except for those who bought it when it was first published many years ago, so I’m a lucky girl to have gotten hold of it. It’s a gold mine of traditional Cape Breton recipes. An excerpt:

“Looking back, we wonder at the rigidity and commitment of life then, but on the whole, people were happy in the Scottish communities of Cape Breton.”

A lot has changed since the Scots first settled our little island, but the people of Cape Breton are still among the most content in the world. Recipes like this boost our already sunny outlook. Hope you like it!

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Blueberry Buckle

Ingredients:

1/2 cup softened butter

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup buttermilk

2 cups fresh blueberries

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup cold butter, cubed

1/2 tsp cinnamon

Directions: 

  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees (180 degrees Celsius, no fan). Butter a small cake or casserole dish.
  • Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and continue to mix until well combined.
  • In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking soda and salt. Add to the creamed butter mixture in two parts, alternating with the milk. Mix all until well combined.
  • Pour batter into the greased cake pan and sprinkle blueberries over the top.
  • In a small bowl, mix the 1/2 cup flour with the brown sugar, cubed butter and cinnamon. Rub together with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle streusel mixture over the top of the blueberries.
  • Bake the buckle for 35-40 minutes. The streusel should be golden brown and the cake should be cooked through, but very moist. Serve warm on it’s own or with cream, custard or ice cream.

If you’re interested in the difference between cobblers, buckles, grunts and crumbles (since they are all similar but differ regionally), Kim Severson of The New York Times wrote an excellent article on these old fashioned desserts.

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A Weekend in County Kerry

Ballybunion, Co. Kerry

Ballybunion, Co. Kerry

This past Saturday was hot and sunny. So was Sunday, and Monday, and today. I can’t quite articulate how happy this weather makes me. nor how lucky I feel as it’s my first summer in Ireland and the last few have, apparently, been so awful weather-wise.

We had been planning to visit Patrick’s Aunt Bridget for the last few weeks and finally got the chance last weekend. We didn’t have any other plans, we weren’t needed in Tipperary and we even convinced my father-in-law to join us. Bridget lives on a farm just outside of Listowel, County Kerry and a visit to her house always means ending up well-fed and taken care of – she is an Irish domestic goddess. Her house and the grounds are beautiful, her dogs are adorable and she lives close enough to take day trips to Ballybunion (the best Irish beach I have ever visited) or the lakes of Killarney (a day trip we took a few years ago and one I’ll never forget).

Patrick and I took the long way to Kerry from Waterford, going through Lismore (have you BEEN to Lismore? It has a huge freaking castle and the town is gorgeous!), Fermoy and eventually reaching Listowel after following a meandering country road for some time. It was a beautiful drive, made even better by the weather and as soon as we arrived at Bridget’s she announced we would be dining “Canadian style” – aka, out on the patio, to soak up as much sun as possible (we have very short summers in Canada, hence most meals are eaten outdoors when the weather is pleasant, as Bridget found out when she visited us in Cape Breton last summer).

Bridget is an avid gardener. Her house is full of blooming blossoms.

Bridget is an avid gardener. Her house is full of blooming blossoms.

Dining al fresco was lovely, but I have to admit it was my first hot roast dinner eaten outdoors (we had another roast dinner outside on Sunday – can you see why I love visiting Bridget? I don’t get cooked for very often!). In the evening Bridget and I went to Ballybunion for a walk and ended the day with a drink outside.

Coke for moi, and a "glass" of Guinness for Bridget.

Coke for moi, and a “glass” of Guinness for Bridget.

On Sunday we went to mass with Bridget. I don’t have too much experience with Irish mass, but being a Catholic I was, more or less, able to follow along. The church in Listowel is beautiful – so old and ornate compared to the simple wooden churches we have in Cape Breton.

Farmdog, Toby, tried his best to stay in the shade all weekend. Poor fur ball!

Farmdog, Toby, tried his best to stay in the shade all weekend. Poor fur ball!

After the second roast dinner (preceded by tea and cake and followed by tart and ice cream… and tea) we packed up and headed home, this time taking the shortest possible route through Limerick and Clonmel (it still took about 3 hours to get back to Waterford). This route may not have been off the beaten path, but it was still beautiful. I love driving through Tipperary on sunny days with The Galtee Mountains in the distance.

County Kerry is arguably the most beautiful county in Ireland. Patrick likes to tell this joke:

A man was visiting the United States and went to mass. He saw a pay phone with a sign that said “Direct Line to God”. He asked the priest how much for a call and the priest told him “$30,000 per minute”. The man thought that was a bit steep and so avoided making the call to God. He then went to the UK and, at mass, saw another pay phone, again with the sign saying “Direct Line to God”. He asked the priest how much for a call and the priest replied “10,000 pounds per minute”. The man still thought this was a very steep price and went on his way. He was visiting County Kerry and, again, saw a pay phone at mass with the sign “Direct Line to God”. He tentatively asked the priest how much it would cost him per minute and the priest replied “10 cents a minute. Sure, it’s a local call.”

Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

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I know it’s a thing to do Throwback Thursdays, but I seem to get in the mood to reminisce on Fridays. Maybe it’s in anticipation for the weekend, wondering what Pat and I will be getting up to. We took our niece, who has been staying with us this week, to Tramore Beach last evening and two of my sisters-in-law are currently on vacation in The Algarve, so with those things in mind and this lovely weather we’re having in Waterford, I’ve been feeling a bit beachy. It got me thinking of my travels and, in particular, my favourite beaches.

There were some gorgeous ones in Thailand, Indonesia – even the East Coast of Canada has a few greats – but my all-time favourite beach is found in Malaysia. In the Northeast corner of the country, you’ll find two very small islands known as The Perhentians. The bigger island is called Perhentian Besar and the smaller island is known as Perhentian Cecil.

Tea in a bag, Jerantut, Malaysia (at the railway station)

Tea in a bag, Jerantut, Malaysia (at the railway station)

Roti Canai in action, Kota Bharu Daytime Market

Roti Canai in action, Kota Bharu Daytime Market

A few years ago, Patrick and I took a train from Teman Negara National Park in the centre of the country to the city of Kota Bharu. We spent some time in the city – it was actually really cool, with night bazaars and daytime markets. I stuffed my face every morning with freshly made roti canai, which is a flatbread (like a chapati) that comes with a side of light curry sauce for dipping. Aside from the delicious food, though, we were feeling disenchanted with Malaysia after spending a month in crazy, tear-your-hair-out, exciting Indonesia. We were staying on budget, sure, but we weren’t blown away with Malaysia like we were with Indonesia.

With that in mind, I was feeling burnt out and wanted some beach time. We decided to take a small boat to The Perhentians, as some of our friends had been there and enjoyed themselves. At the time, there were no ATM’s on the island (Perhentian Cecil) so we had to take enough cash to last for the several days we’d be spending there. Fine.

Threatening skies upon our arrival...

Threatening skies upon our arrival…

I was already feeling cranky when I found out how much boat tickets to the island would cost. It was more than our daily budget, which was $20.00 and I was sure it was a rip off. However, I just really wanted to get to the beach, so we paid and off we went.

The boat journey took about 30 minutes from Kuala Besut on the mainland to Perhentian Cecil. It stopped en route to let people off at Perhentian Besar, as well. Besar has nicer, more expensive accommodation while backpackers tend to flock to Cecil to stay on budget.

By the time we got to Perhentian Cecil, the heavens had opened and the thunder and lightning started. My mood worsened. We had left the covered speedboat to take a smaller, uncovered boat to shore. I was upset because I didn’t want to be in open water during a thunder and lightning storm, plus with the downpour our backpacks (and we) were soaked through. Then we had to pay additional fare to have our bags moved from the boat. I never do this, but I actually complained at this point. I was so upset! The man in charge told me I could always swim to shore with my bags. I responded that the bags and I were already soaked so it wouldn’t make much difference either way. I was well prepared to hate The Perhentians.

Not a happy camper.

Not a happy camper.

We took cover in a restaurant on the beach and had some tea and more roti canai while waiting for the weather to abate. When the sun came out about 20 minutes later I was already feeling a bit better. We took a hike to the other side of the beach (we stayed on Long Beach; Coral Beach is also very nice) and found little huts dotted along the hillside. They were very reasonably priced (mostly because they were just huts with a bed and mosquito netting – nothing more) at about $8.00 CAN a night. It wasn’t the most glamorous place to sleep, but the view from our little veranda was worth it. I think we had the prettiest view on the whole island.

The view from our little hut

The view from our little hut

The next few days were spent lounging on the beach, drying out our very wet belongings (and saying goodbye to my trusty mp3 player, which kicked the bucket during the downpour), eating and drinking at night with Patrick’s fellow scuba divers. Liquor was difficult to come by and; therefore, expensive and I seem to remember the power went out every night at a certain time. Despite this, I had an amazing stay and, in the end, didn’t want to leave. We even had a “little” pet that we could hear lurking under our chalet every night. I didn’t know what it was until, one afternoon, I was out on the veranda enjoying the view when a massive monitor lizard came out from under the hut. It must have been 6-7 feet long from snout to tail. Mystery solved!

Beach perfection.

Beach perfection.

Everything was bigger on this island - even the geckos!

Everything was bigger on this island – even the geckos!

We left after a few days, feeling refreshed by the gorgeous beach and much less bitter about our time in Malaysia. I even discovered that what I thought was a really expensive boat ticket also included the return trip. D’oh.

I can’t wait to return to this place. It. Is. Paradise.

Canada Day in Ireland with a side of Butterbean Dip

Canada Day 2009 in Suwon, South Korea

Canada Day 2009 in Suwon, South Korea

As a perpetual expat, I may not be considered the most patriotic Canadian in the world. I mean, Canada is just so big. I haven’t seen half of it and I’ve spent most of my adult life living in other countries. I could have been coming from a different country altogether when I moved to Toronto from the East Coast. My culture, the way I speak and the things I hold dear are, often, completely foreign to people from other parts of Canada. But that’s also what’s nice about being Canadian.

I have been lucky enough to spend time in several parts of my vast country. Some of my favourite spots?

Montreal. The amazing mix of culture in this city of just under 2 million brings a plethora of sights, tastes and sounds to its many neighbourhoods. Tie that into a decidedly French/European identity with a history going back to the 1500’s and you have one of the craziest, coolest cities you could ever visit. Au Pied de Cochon, Joe Beef, Les 400 Coups… the dining possibilities are endless and the food is ranked among Canada’s best.

If you’re a beer aficionado, you’ll be interested to know that next to Portland, Oregon, Montreal has the highest number of craft breweries per capita in the world. That means the drinking possibilities are also endless!

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Dipping my feet in the Pacific on Vancouver Island

Victoria, British Columbia is a small, beautiful city tucked into the South end of Vancouver Island. When your flight descends into the airport, you have the ocean on one side of you and the Rockies on the other. Victoria, to me, feels like the most British place in Canada – the folk are royal crazy, you’ll find roundabouts instead of intersections and high tea is a regular indulgence. My brother lives in Victoria and his in-laws have the most lovely house, right next to the ocean, with a beautiful garden. You won’t find a harsh, Canadian winter in Victoria, but you will have rain and overcast conditions for much of the year.

Me and my dad in Cape Breton last summer

Me and my dad in Cape Breton last summer

The best place in Canada (easily) is my home island of Cape Breton. I know I like to talk about it (a lot), but it really is special. Summer  swims in the clear, beautiful rivers, beach days spent playing in the waves and lobster & mussel boils make for a great place to visit, and an even better place to grow up. Things move very slowly in Cape Breton. You won’t have cellular service in many areas, you share the roads with moose and black bears and, often, the only thing for you to do is relax and enjoy your surroundings. And you will enjoy your surroundings. They’re glorious.

Since I couldn’t celebrate Canada Day at home where I would watch the local parade, eat BBQ and cake and, after the fireworks, go to the dance in town, my sister-in-law Monica (who, incidentally, also comes from Cape Breton. Who, incidentally, I grew up with and have been friends with my whole life. Who, also incidentally, fell in love with my brother-in-law at my wedding and subsequently moved to Ireland. Her.) and I decided to celebrate Canada Day as best we could. No parade or dance, but with BBQ, cake, plenty of cold bevvies and our Kennedy family.

The weather didn’t cooperate for much of the day, but by late afternoon the skies had turned blue and, although it was still chilly, we bundled up in sweaters and enjoyed Canada Day out in our backyard in Waterford.

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I made the Canada Day Cake, which was a doubled recipe of my Tres Leches cake, hastily masked in Chantilly cream and patriotically decorated with Irish strawberries. I also made some braised, shredded mole chicken legs, a pasta salad made with arugula walnut pesto (my rocket is outta control – I was able to make about a litre of pesto with it last week) and a smokey butterbean dip. The dip was delicious and the recipe will follow this post – it’s a great alternative to hummus if you don’t have chickpeas or tahini on hand.

Mole Chicken and Monica's Potato Salad

Mole Chicken and Monica’s Potato Salad

We're in Waterford, so we use Blaa as burger buns, natch.

We’re in Waterford, so we use Blaa as burger buns, natch.

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Walnut Arugula Pesto Pasta Salad with cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, peppers and scallions

After the BBQ, we lounged around the backyard playing charades and having a laugh. And, thusly, Canada Day was celebrated in a very Irish but nonetheless special way.

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Smokey Butterbean Dip

Ingredients:

2 240 g cans of butterbeans, drained and rinsed

3/4 cup natural yoghurt

1 Tbsp butter

1 onion, thinly sliced

1 hot chili of your choice, finely chopped (I used 2 tsp of chili paste)

1 Tbsp smoked paprika

1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground

1 tsp coriander seeds, toasted and ground

juice of one lemon

salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

  • In a food processor or blender, add the drained/rinsed butterbeans.
  • In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat and add onion and chili. In a small frying pan, toast the cumin and coriander seeds and set aside to cool. When cooled, grind in a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder reserved for spices.
  • Add the smoked paprika to the onion and chili. Cook through. Add the ground cumin and coriander to the saucepan. Cook together for one minute.
  • Add the lemon juice to the saucepan and allow the liquid to reduce slightly.
  • Add the onion mixture to the food processor/blender with the butterbeans and blitz.
  • When the mixture has been thoroughly blended (no chunks of onion, etc.) move the contents to a bowl and blend in the yoghurt. The dip should be smooth and spreadable, but not too thick. Adjust the consistency with more yoghurt if  necessary. If the beans aren’t blending together easily in your blender/food processor, use a drizzle of olive oil to loosen things up.
  • Season the dip with salt and pepper. It’s important not to season before this point as the butterbeans may already be a bit salty. Wait until all the components are put together, then taste and season accordingly.
  • When serving in a big bowl, I mix another 2 tsp of smoked paprika with extra virgin olive oil and drizzle it over the top of the spread.
  • *This is a great dip for raw veggies, flatbreads or corn chips. I like using it on my sandwiches instead of mayo and it makes a KILLER grilled cheese with some gouda and good quality sourdough.
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