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Posts tagged ‘Cape Breton Island’

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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Romesco Sauce

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Life in Cape Breton is so busy compared to my past year in Ireland! I’m feeling a bit like a single mom, even though I have lots of (appreciated) help from my parents and extended family. I miss how Pat used to let me sleep in on Saturdays while he got up with Maeve.

I miss Ireland, a bit, too. I didn’t think I would. Not that I don’t love living there, I just never thought it would live up to Cape Breton. It seems to, though, in a completely different way. The summers are better (and more fun; relaxing) here. My parents and aunties are here and I am perpetually missing them while in Ireland. But the winters in Ireland are better; the spring arrives sooner. I have big family of in-laws who I love dearly. I can travel across several different countries by air in Europe in the same amount of time as it would take to fly from one end of Canada to the other. Ireland has its perks; and it seems like home to me now.

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Cape Breton will always be home, too. I hope my kids feel at home here. But this is probably the last time I come for months on end without my husband. It’s not as fun without him anyway.

BUT he arrives in five days! And even though we’ll both be working it will feel like a proper summer holiday. I am thrilled to be hanging out with some of the lovely folks from Tourism Cape Breton as I rediscover my island home and do lots of research for future articles. I am loving taking care of the baking at the Baddeck Lobster Suppers a few mornings a week, and of course I’m so excited to be able to spend the next few weekends at the beach with my whole family. That’s right, my brothers will be here with their families. We will host a party of epic proportions. With lots of delicious Nova Scotian beer.

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Though I haven’t had much time to cook or bake outside of work, I did whip up this delicious romesco sauce the other day. Romesco sauce isn’t just a condiment, it is a lesson in classic Spanish technique and flavour. It’s practical, using up stale bread and blending bits of fresh, roasted veggies with almonds and sherry vinegar, but it’s also multi-purpose. The flavour profile will brighten up nearly any fish or meat (including my dad’s famous egg-battered haddock) and also works well tossed with pastas or cooked veggies.

A dollop added at the beginning of a paella (although most likely considered blasphemous in Spain) will add an extra bit of zest to the classic dish. And now that most of my meals end up being eaten by an almost-one-year-old, I can attest to the fact that it is absolutely delicious in grilled cheese sandwiches. Maeve agrees.

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Romesco Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded & cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 entire head of garlic with the top cut off (use a serrated knife)
  • 4 medium sized vine tomatoes, cored
  • 1/2 cup blanched, whole almonds, lightly toasted
  • 1 red chili pepper, seeded and sliced in half lengthwise
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1-2 heels of stale bread, ripped into chunks
  • 1 Tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 1 heaping tsp paprika
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 375 degrees (190 Celsius, no fan). Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.
  • Prepare all of your vegetables – core the tomatoes, seed and slice the peppers and cut the head off the garlic (you can save the little bits of garlic in the head for the minced garlic needed later).
  • Throw the garlic, peppers and tomatoes on the baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Roast the veggies for about 1.5 hours. They will be really, really well roasted when done.
  • Toast the almonds on the stove top (I just put them in a dry cast iron pan and tossed them occasionally until they were evenly toasted). Set aside.
  • In a blender or food processor, add the olive oil, almonds, bread, minced garlic, vinegar, and paprika. Pulse a few times to start breaking things down.
  • Add the roasted garlic, tomatoes and peppers. Pulse until smooth. The consistency should still have texture to it, though, like a pesto.
  • Season with salt and pepper and serve warm or at room temperature with all kinds of meat, white fish, grilled veggies or even just some nice, crusty bread, warmed olives and manchego cheese.

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Tipperary Fields

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County Tipperary is good for the soul.

Each part of Ireland I’ve visited so far has some unique thing going for it. I think Tipperary’s specialty is serenity.

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I believe the fields here are greener than anywhere else in Ireland. The soil is pure black and full of nutrients. The growing season is long and the cows are happy. Coming home to Tipperary calms me, even though I couldn’t really say my life in Waterford is hectic or stressful.

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I think it just reminds me of Cape Breton. The fields with the mountains in the background – the farms and the cows – the neighbourly neighbours. Coming home to Tipp makes me feel, on some level, like I’m coming home to Cape Breton.

It helps that one of my dearest friends from home married Patrick’s brother. In that sense, I really can come home to a piece of Cape Breton in Tipp. My sister-in-law and I have a shared history and grew up in the same place. We can stroll through the fields and reminisce when we’re missing the island, or catch up on the latest gossip – making it almost as if we never left. Knowing my daughter has an auntie who will help instill her sense of place in Cape Breton also calms me.

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I love visiting the family farm. The puppies are eight weeks old and bounding around the place, trying to imitate their hard-working father. The cows are getting heavy with calves and will be giving birth over the next few months. There is an even greater sense of calm on the farm for now, before the calving begins.

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It was wonderful taking a Saturday afternoon walk through the Kennedy fields this past weekend. Even though it started to rain, and even though it was bone-chillingly cold out, the beauty and stillness of the place made it worth it.

Inside the ring fort, where the faeries supposedly hang out.

Inside the ring fort, where the faeries supposedly hang out.

Victoria Sponge Cake

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Yesterday was Father’s Day, and though I talk to my mom nearly every day, I don’t often get a chance to chat with my busy dad. Here’s a smidgen of our conversation:

Me: “How was your morning?”

Dad: “Great; I caught six huge trout for tomorrow’s dinner. Your mom and I invited Aunt Joan and Jacqueline over. They love fresh trout.”

That quote says a lot about my dad. He takes care of people and is pretty salt-of-the-earth in his outlook. Here are some more of his wonderful attributes:

  1. He loves to farm (though he doesn’t do it anymore).
  2. He loves to fish.
  3. He loves to make furniture and build houses from scratch.
  4. His perfect evening includes a BBQ, cigar and glass of rye out on the deck.
  5. He loves British comedies.
  6. He is so, so kind in every way. Once he brought home a wild turtle he saw being hit by a car on the highway. We put it in the pond behind our house. I think I was 16 at the time.
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Photo by Brad Sampson Photography

I have inherited most of these interests and attributes from my dad (except for the furniture/house building). He used to take my brothers and I for long walks through the highlands, where our grandparents grew up. He taught us the names of the trees, the different types of birds and our family history among many other things. As a result, the three of us have a huge appreciation for nature and are very proud of where we come from.

And those trout he caught? I can guarantee, at tonight’s dinner, no one will be cooking the fish but dad. He doesn’t get in the kitchen very often (he’s a BBQ man) but my dad is a pretty stellar cook. In his opinion, trout needs nothing more than some dredging, seasoning and frying. His eggy-battered haddock is one of my favourite ways to eat fish, and every Christmas he makes his special seafood chowder with crumbled bacon on top.

Like my dad, I have a real lack of appreciation for sparkly, frou-frou dining experiences. I can dig fine dining, but there has to be some substance there for me to really appreciate it. Pretentious dining experiences bore me to tears. In my opinion, nothing beats a glass of wine and some BBQ or fried fish at home with my family. Most chefs will agree with me.

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Hence this Victoria Sponge Cake. It’s not really a Canadian thing, but I see them everywhere in Ireland. Very simply, a Victoria Sponge consists of two sponge cake layers sandwiched with jam, cream or fruit or a combination of the three. It gets coated with a dusting of icing sugar. It’s beautiful in its simplicity and has become one of my favourite cakes.

Of course, though, I had to “redneck” my version up a bit. I used brown sugar instead of white. Why? Because it tastes better. You would think it would result in a heavier sponge, but if you whip it into submission with the eggs the result is *even better* than it would be with white sugar. It’s adds a bit of moisture to the cake and a lot of caramelized flavour.

Secondly, I didn’t make a true sponge cake. I made a hot milk-almost sponge-cake. It’s my Aunt Flora’s recipe. The hot milk gives the cake a lovely, malted flavour.

I did whip some cream, but luckily tasted it before using. It had gone sour before it’s “best before” date! I ended up filling the cake with Big Red Kitchen’s delicious Pear & Vanilla Jam. A Victoria Sponge will generally use strawberry or raspberry jam as the filling, but the pear went so, so well with the brown sugar almost-sponge.

I’m sorry I missed out on Father’s Day with my dad, but this is definitely a cake I’ll be making for him when he comes to Ireland in September. Uncomplicated, well textured and full of flavour – it’s the kind of food he (and I) like the most. He’ll have to supply the rye, though – we’re in whiskey country.

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Janine’s Victoria “Sponge” Cake

Ingredients:

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup all purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp sea salt

3 Tbsp butter

1/2 cup milk

1/4 cup The Big Red Kitchen’s Pear & Vanilla Jam

icing sugar, for dusting

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees (180 degrees Celsius, no fan). Butter and flour two sandwich cake pans (or two regular cake pans).
  • Using a stand mixer or hand mixer with the whisk attachment, whisk the eggs, vanilla and brown sugar on high for at least 5 minutes. You want the eggs and sugar to get to the ribbon stage, where the volume has doubled, the mixture has paled in colour considerably and when you lift the whisk the batter falls down in a ribbon-like manner.
  • In the meantime, heat the milk and butter in a small saucepan until it boils. Set aside.
  • When the eggs/sugar have reached the right consistency, sift in the flour and baking powder. Add the salt and mix until just incorporated into the eggs/sugar.
  • Add the hot milk and butter and whisk on high for 30 seconds.
  • Divide the batter between the two pans. Bake for approximately 15-20 minutes, checking at 15. The top of the cake should be golden brown and will bounce back when touched.
  • Let the cakes cool for 15 minutes before removing from the pans. Place one sponge upside-down on a cake plate and spread the jam over the top. Add the second sponge, right side up, on top. Dust the top with icing sugar and serve immediately (it won’t last more than two days; it’s too yummy).

* If you want to make the cakes in advance they freeze very well. Bulk up the deliciousness by whipping fresh cream and including it in the sandwich, along with fresh fruit or berries.

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Céad Míle Fáilte

Ireland already feels like home.

Maybe because it’s my husband’s actual home and I’m surrounded by his many siblings, aunts and uncles and his father. That definitely helps, and it’s nice to have the support of a close-knit family when you move permanently from your actual home, but I don’t think it’s the only reason.

Some of our lovely ladies at the farm in Tipperary

Some of our lovely ladies at the farm in Tipperary

Tipperary is our home base: where the family farm is located, where my husband’s best friends live and where our local can be found. It’s got the greenest fields I’ve ever seen and lofty mountains looming in the background. In the village, there’s never much going on – it’s one of those places where everyone knows your business. A stranger walking down the road is regarded with polite suspicion and then open acceptance once they realize who you’re married to. The folks looks out for each other.

Reginald's Tower in Waterford City

Reginald’s Tower in Waterford City

Waterford is where we’ve moved to: where our small house is found and where my husband’s work is located. It’s a compact city with lots of great people, food and scenery. We’re close to several beaches and, being located in the “Sunny Southeast”, we apparently enjoy a bit more sun than the rest of the country (I’ll confirm this claim at the end of the year, but so far the weather has been warm and sunny, true to the title). Coming from Toronto, Waterford is a nice change. A lovely community with lots of young families.

To be truthful, Ireland reminds me of home – my actual home – in Nova Scotia, on Canada’s East Coast. I come from an island called Cape Breton. It’s a little smaller than Ireland with far less of a population.

My ancestors came to Cape Breton from Scotland in the early 1800’s and we’ve been in the same place ever since. I spent my childhood swimming in the river, picking wild blueberries with my aunts and mom and traipsing around the mountain where we lived. It was a slightly isolated way to grow up, but I loved it. Our culture hasn’t changed much since the 1800’s, either. Fiddle tunes, hay making and Gaelic singing largely defined my childhood.

The only downside to Cape Breton? The lack of work. Most of my generation left the island to make a living, just as many Irish youth are leaving now (many, ironically enough, going to Canada). Toronto was great for my career, but I never felt at home there.

So I’m happy to be here, even though it’s only been a month, and I feel at home in Ireland for many reasons. Most of all because I’m in a beautiful place with my best friend.

Welcome to my little website!

Dunmore East, Co. Waterford

Dunmore East, Co. Waterford

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