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Blackberry Cream Scones

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I love the autumn.

Not that it’s been very autumn-ey here in Tipperary. When I got off the plane in Dublin a month ago I was prepared with a warm sweater and my rain jacket handy, but as it turned out I didn’t need them… and I haven’t needed them all month.

This is strange to me.

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See, the very first time I came to Ireland was in September. I left Korea with Pat and we were going to settle in Toronto for a few years, but we wanted to come here to visit with his family for awhile. So while my two cats flew straight to Toronto to be picked up and cared for by two saintly friends, Pat and I flew to Ireland for a month.

When we left Korea, it was normal Korea-weather for September. Hot. Still hot. Muggy. So muggy. I had been getting Japanese straightening perms my entire time in Asia but still, my hair was no match for a long Korean summer.

Imagine my genuine shock when we landed in Dublin late on that September evening, coming from the hot, sunny weather in Korea and descending into the bone-chillingly cold Irish autumn.

I got used to it quickly, and in fairness, it wasn’t bone-chillingly cold our entire time in Ireland (there was a particularly beautiful warm, sunny day spent on the lakes of Killarney). When we arrived in Toronto later that October I wasn’t so shocked by the cold weather.

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With the unseasonable warmth this year came a shitload (an actual technical kitchen term, folks) of blackberries. I don’t know if I mentioned this already, but Pat and I are fixing up the family farmhouse in Tipperary, meaning we’re not in Waterford anymore (sniffle). We live down a long dirt road lined with hedges. I was delighted to discover the hedges were basically all blackberry bushes, sloe bushes, rosehips and elderberries. Jackpot.

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Taking Maeve for a daily walk down the lane to see the “moo’s”, I would fill the two cupholders on the buggy with big, juicy berries. When I’d acquired enough, I just had to make a batch of cream scones. Two reasons for this:

  1. I live on a dairy farm now. I can just skim a bit of cream from the batch whenever I want. ENDLESS CREAM, PEOPLE.
  2. I had an amazing meal in Cape Breton at The Bite House which ended with a gorgeously plated cream scone crumble. I couldn’t get Bryan’s scone out of my mind.

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Blackberries are my favourite berry after wild blueberries. I just love the flavour of them, especially picked wild and at their peak. It’s funny, each year I expect them to taste like raspberries (don’t ask me why) and am then pleasantly shocked when I remember how a blackberry is supposed to taste. They go so well with these sweet, crumbly scones and go particularly well with cream. You could skip this recipe altogether and just have a bowl of ’em with cream.

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Blackberry Cream Scones

Ingredients:

Scones:

4 cups cream flour

2/3 cup golden demerera sugar

2 Tbsp baking powder

1/2 tsp sea salt

2/3 cup cold, cubed butter

2 cups rinsed, fresh blackberries

1 tsp vanilla essence

1 1/2 cup fresh cream

1 egg

Glaze:

2 cups confectioner’s sugar

3-4 Tbsp cream

Splash of vanilla essence

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees (210 degrees Celsius, no fan) and line one or two baking sheets with parchment. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Rub in the cold butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
  • Add the blackberries to the mixture. In a separate bowl, mix the cream, egg and vanilla. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the wet all at once.
  • Mix until everything is just incorporated. On a well-floured surface, knead/continue to mix the dough until you have a bit of elasticity (the dough may be on the wet side).
  • Let the dough rest for 10 minutes.
  • Roll out the dough to a thickness of at least an inch. Cut and place each scone on the parchment lined baking sheets.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes until the tops are golden brown.
  • Mix the three ingredients together for the glaze. Using a pastry brush, lightly glaze each scone while they’re still warm.

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Highlights from Home

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Now that the jet lag is gone, Maeve’s teething is (mostly) under control and the mad pile of laundry that awaited my return is (mostly) under control, I have some time to sit down and reflect on my summer in Cape Breton.

It was a different summer. Not in a bad way, but in an “I have a baby now” way. Baby always take precedent, and rightfully so.

Still, I got a part-time job baking pies, biscuits and desserts for the summer. My mom eagerly made use of her alone time with Maeve, teaching her new words (we’re still hearing about crows, or “Ohhh’s” over here), blowing bubbles with her and taking her around the garden when the black flies weren’t too bad.

I hung out with Dan from Tourism Cape Breton and went on lots of fun tours, day trips and meals. I have so many things to write about. 

We had a two-day stopover in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and one of my dearest friends flew from Toronto to meet us there – it was so wonderful to see her and spend time with her family. 

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Before I put my 2014 summer away in my “memories” folder, I thought I’d share some of the biggest highlights of the summer:

Louisbourg

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This was a fabulous day. I think the last time I visited The Fortress of Louisbourg I was 2 or 3 years old – definitely not old enough to remember anything. A trip to this 18th century French fortress was absolutely in order. It was supposed to be stormy that day so we weren’t sure if we’d make it. With Louisbourg, a little misty rain and cloudiness can add to the atmosphere but torrential rain does not a great day make. 

It turned out to be one of the most beautiful days of the month. We were lucky, and we had an amazing day with my aunt, uncle, cousins and all our little people. In true Cape Breton style, the bus driver knew my Uncle Donnie. We had a great auld chat (he also told us there’s a Louisburgh in Ireland! Go fig.).

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Fun fact: Louisbourg is the largest reconstruction in North America, right down to the actors knowing the actual stories of the people who owned each establishment. The French eventually lost Cape Breton to the British, but Louisbourg still looks the same as it did in 1744. 

The Miners Museum

From the 1700’s to the early 1990’s, coal mining was Cape Breton’s largest industry. Except it wasn’t, where I grew up. Mine was a farming community. I never thought much about coal mining, as a result, until I visited the Miners Museum in Glace Bay.

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The funny thing is, I come from a family of coal miners on my mother’s side. Her father and all of her uncles mined coal, and so did my uncles until the mines were shut down. What I learned about coal mining – about how the mining companies owned the houses the miners lived in and the shops where they bought their food, and how they never paid them enough so the miners were always in debt to their employers – opened my eyes. When it was no longer considered profitable, the mines were all shut down and the miners, who had never done anything else, were out of a job.

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I think my family members were a bit better off by the time they started mining – they had some benefits by then and better pay – but it was still an extremely dangerous job dealing with toxic fumes, explosions and other serious workplace hazards. My aunt told me my grandfather used to have to fight the rats for his lunch. 

The museum has an actual mine replica and a former miner is your guide. You get a real feel of what it was like underground.

In true Cape Breton style, our mining guide knew my grandfather and my great-uncle Wes.

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We had a really good lunch at the Miner’s Village Restaurant – crispy haddock and oatcakes? Yes, please. 

Family Time

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There are a lot of babies in my family right now. In the past year I think there have been at least eight or nine born and one or two more on the way. Since there weren’t any babies for a long time before this, everyone’s in great cheer. Babies just bring out the best in people.

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Maeve had so much fun with her cousins this summer and I’m so glad she got to spend time with so many of them. Some were too little to play, but Maeve enjoyed tickling their toes. I really have a wonderful family and, even though I love living in Ireland, I miss them every day. 

Glenora Distillery

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Did you know: Cape Breton has North America’s first ever single malt whisky distillery. And it’s awesome.

The distillery is called Glenora and their whisky is known as Glen Breton. They were actually sued a few years back because the Scotch Whisky Association doesn’t like other areas using the term “Glen” in their branding. Sorry Scotland, but when so many of your inhabitants moved to Cape Breton they called a lot of areas “Glen something-or-other” – I mean, the distillery is located in a place called Glenville! 

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At the distillery, you can take a tour, have a tasting, stay at one of their gorgeous chalets on the hillside, eat some tasty food in their pub and listen to the talented musicians who play there every day. Besides their whisky, which is excellent, the pub has a great selection of local beers and wines. 

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I had a great seafood gnocchi when I visited and as a starter we tried their bacon-wrapped, whisky-glazed scallops – which were phenomenal. 

I should mention that their gift shop is one of the nicest on the whole island. You can buy their whisky but also handmade, local crafts, artwork and knick-knacks. There are a lot of gimmick-ey gift shops in Cape Breton where the trinkets are all made in China – this is not one of them! 

On that note, let’s go on to…

Cape Breton Centre for Art & Design

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Cape Breton is home to some truly talented artists and craftspeople. The Centre for Craft & Design, located in Downtown Sydney, has some of the most beautiful pottery, paintings, jewelry, leatherworks, glassworks and weaving around. They feature juried artists from around the island – many with their own small shops; well worth checking out – and work hard to garner support for the arts in Cape Breton.

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Aside from their gorgeous gift shop, they also have a space for art shows and rooms for workshops. They put on summer camps for kids and do a lot of good in the community.

Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia

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Before we left for Newfoundland, we visited my alma mater in Wolfville – a small town about an hour from Halifax. 

I went to Acadia University for my undergrad so it was a lot of fun showing Pat around and buying swag at the university shop for Maeve. We even got her picture taken on the sign (a time-honoured tradition).

Aside from checking out the university (and visiting my favourite former professor), we visited Paddy’s Pub, Joe’s for Scot Skins (it’s an Acadia thing), The Library Pub, Just Us! Coffee (where I used to sling espresso) and The Rolled Oat (to visit some good friends). 

I wanted to see the Benjamin Bridge Winery, but apparently it’s not open to the public! Also, we tried to have dinner at Front & Central, a restaurant that made last year’s Top 100 Restaurants in Canada, but it was closed for some reason.

I still managed to smuggle some Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 into Ireland (it’s exquisite. It’s sitting in my fridge now, waiting for an occasion).

Newfoundland

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The amazing new Westjet flight from Dublin to St. John’s gave us the perfect excuse to spend a few days exploring Newfoundland. We could have taken the ferry from North Sydney in Cape Breton to St. John’s, but the plane ride was only an hour long. 

I have so much to say about St. John’s it will have to be another post. For now, let’s just say: I had the best meal of my life, the coziest brunch ever, drank beer made from an iceberg, ate fries, dressing & gravy, got blown away by a tropical storm and soaked in an ocean swell. And that’s just the beginning.

‘Til next time!

Gairloch Falls

The hike begins where my grandmother's life began - at the foundation of a house that no longer stands and a field that my ancestors laboured to clear when they came from Scotland. I should mention that the field is no longer a field, but part of the forest. You need to be with someone, like my dad, to know where the house and barn and fields were. It's amazing how the mountain was once a thriving, well-populated community. Now, it's a road where most cars can't drive and the thickest forest with a clearing every now and then; reminders of where a house once stood.

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