Tourist at Home: Bell Island

On a gorgeous Saturday morning we made a trip to Bell Island.

We drove to Portugal Cove-St. Phillip’s, about twenty minutes north of St. John’s, and waited next to a waterfall for the ferry to take us away.

A trip on the ferry costs nearly nothing, and you pay the fare only once to get on and off the island.  The ride there was pretty awesome, and we all took lots of pictures.The ferry itself was super-ghetto, which made it also cool.

Bell Island was settled by farmers in the early 1700s.  Iron was discovered there in the late 1800s, which made Bell Island into a thriving mining community.  The mine closed in 1966, however, and since then the population, once around 12,000, has declined to less than 4,000.  Most Bell Islanders live in the incorporated town of Wabana, but a few live in the smaller towns of Lance Cove and Freshwater.  The mine is open to tourists, but unfortunately we were about two weeks too early to get a tour.

Fun fact for you.  Bell Island was one of the only places in North America to see enemy action during WWII.  A pier where 80,000 tonnes of iron ore was stored in preparation for shipping was torpedoed by the German u-boats in 1942.  Supposedly at low tide you can see the wrecks of the four ships that were sunk in that battle, and there stands a memorial for the 69 men who died in the conflict.

Unfortunately we got lost (hard to do on such a small island, but we managed) and we didn’t make it to that memorial.

We did, however, find a beach.

There was a duck who had it in for me.  Cait chased it away with her scary red boots.And a boat that probably didn’t float.

And a seagull.

On an old wharf with missing pieces and a warning sign.And some rocks, which the Pie threw into the ocean (surprise, surprise).

And an inukshuk, which I built.

Cait found a rock with a happy face on it, so we gave the statue some expression.

We drove around a bit more, and then we found the lighthouse, which made the entire day worth our while.  This shot reminds me of an Alex Colville painting.

There were warning signs everywhere about unstable coast line, which we ignored, and were glad we did.  Well all of us except the Pie, who worries about such things.

The lighthouse sat on the edge of an enormous cliff.

Below it were some utterly fantastic land forms. 

This huge broken piece had all sorts of little caves underneath it and the water was so blue.It reminded me of some kind of pirate meeting place.I crawled over some strawberries to get some of the photos.  The ants living there didn’t like it very much and I was soon covered with the little buggers.

This mini staircase was at the edge of the parking lot.  You could pick it apart with your hands, which made me a little glad I hadn’t gone right to the edge of the cliffs.

I think this is a pitcher plant.Behind the lighthouse it looked like the horizon stretched off and ended abruptly, and it actually did.  You can see in this photo, where the grass ends is just empty air.  The cliff drop-off is staggering.  You really do get the impression that you are at the end of the world.  Most of Newfoundland is like that.

We ate lunch at Dick’s, a family restaurant celebrating its 60th year in operation.  I enjoyed my sandwich. It had a nice view.  The restaurant, not the sandwich.The ferry back was slightly newer, and we passed the old on on the way.  And a sailboat. 

It was such a nice day.

Tourist at Home: Signal Hill and The Battery

Alidoesit’s 100th post!
Cait and iPM’s visit started with some cheese.Okay, with a heckuvalotta cheese.  Good Ontario cheese. A week later and we’ve barely dented it.  Best house guest present ever when you live in the land that cheese forgot.

Anyway, then the visit progressed.  We tried to show our friends the best of our little island in the middle of the North Atlantic.  I think that we did a pretty good job.

We started with the obvious: Signal Hill National Historic Site.

You can see this place from all over St. John’s, which made it an ideal site for observation and communication over the last four hundred or so years.  You can even see it from our house, in the winter, when the trees are all naked.

Long before ship-to-shore radio, flags raised on signal masts on the hill would tell merchants and the military in St. John’s about the types of vessels heading into the narrow harbour.

The hill also became the strategic location for the city’s military defenses, beginning in the 18th century and continuing through the Second World War.

St. John’s, a coveted port by the French, the English, and to a lesser extent, the Portuguese, fell from British control to the French in 1696, 1705, and again in 1709.  The Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 recognized British sovereignty over Newfoundland, but that only temporarily ended the conflict between the French and the English.

The last battle of the Seven Years’ War was fought in St. John’s in 1762. In June of 1762 the French succeeded in again capturing St. John’s, but lost it again in September.  Lt. Col. Amherst took strategic advantage when he captured Signal Hill first, and bombarded the city with its own guns.  The historic Fort Amherst is located across the Narrows on the other side of the harbour.

Fortification of the hill began at this point, and was enough to successfully deter the French yet again in 1796.  Military barracks were built on the hill and around it in the 1830s, and it was re-fortified during the American Civil War. 

During the First World War, a contingent of the Newfoundland Legion of Frontiersmen manned the fort for St. John’s defense.  In the Second World War, the Americans maintained anti-aircraft artillery, coastal defense guns, and a mobile battery at Signal Hill.  Fortunately St. John’s did not see any action during these two wars.  In fact, Signal Hill was a place for healing.  Three different hospitals called it home between 1870 and 1920.  It was from one of these hospitals that Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless signal in 1901.
Between 1898 and 1900, Cabot Tower, that landmark most visible around the city, was built in honour of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s Voyage of Discovery. The tower was used for signaling until 1960, and now it contains a gift shop and a museum commemorating Marconi’s efforts. 

Below Signal Hill is the historic Battery, a set of ancient fishing houses, stages, and stores that are an echo of the way the city used to be, when there were no roads and everyone traveled by boat.

The streets here are too narrow to drive, and the brightly painted houses lining them are old and tiny.  It is a beautiful place for a walk.Or even just to sit and stare.

Egotistical Exercises, or, Experiments in Self-Portraiture

(Apropos of nothing, HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOMMA!)

***EDIT: I was intensely caffeinated when I wrote this, so it kind of reads like it’s in fast forward.***

Ahem.

If you’re like me (and I suspect most people, even secretly, are), then, aside from the nominal insecurities about appearance, health, lifestyle, career prospects, finances, social interactions, intelligence, and personality, deep down you think you’re pretty awesome.

*I* think I’m pretty awesome.  The Pie is a terrible liar so when he says ‘you’re awesome’ generally I believe him.  So I’m a pretty awesome wife.  I’m a pretty awesome cook.  I’m a pretty awesome anthropologist – no, I’m actually just a middling anthropologist, but I do only have half a PhD at this point so there’s an excuse if I ever heard one.

One thing I am not pretty awesome at doing is taking pictures of people.  The light is always bad, they’re looking away, blinking, or moving so fast everything comes out blurry.  It’s a real failing.  My problem is I’m not a fan of posed photographs.  I find the candid ones always turn out better – expressions are more genuine and they’re less cheesy.  They just don’t turn out well when *I* take them.  Most of my shots of the Pie are of his back, a fact my mother never fails to point out to me.  I can’t even shoot my own husband right.

So I need some practice.  I can shoot Il Principe to my heart’s content but he’s a baby and baby pictures always turn out well, no matter how badly I set them up.  Kº, Kª, and the Pie will all lose patience with me very quickly if I practice on them before I develop any real skills.

I’m going to do the ultimate in self-serving activities, therefore, and take pictures of … MYSELF.

The main reason is to get some practice understanding how different poses work, to learn new lighting techniques, and to penetrate the miasma of technical camera stuff that I never bothered to absorb before.  And really only I have the patience to sit through my OCD while I figure this stuff out.

The other reason is that I am generally The-Woman-with-the-Camera, so in group shots and outings and whatnot, I’m the one taking the pictures and there are very few of me.  The most current pictures I have of me that I like came from my wedding, which was last summer.  Most of the other ones of me that exist catch me candid, showing my double chin, my belly roll, or the peculiar upturn of my nostrils.  Not flattering, really.  So it would be nice to have some shots of me where I’m in control.

Now just so you know, these aren’t going to be your typical ‘Myspace’-like ’emo’ shots, reverse-angled through a mirror and shot from 45°.  These will be real (though entirely inorganic) shots of me doing real things.  Brushing my teeth.  Cooking.  Washing dishes.  Reading.  Gardening.  The usual, which is usually action shots.  I don’t do sitting still very well.

***EDIT: Can you hear the caffeine?***

Kª mentioned Cindy Sherman to me the other day, and her work is kind of sort of exactly what I want to do.  You can see some of her stuff, done around 1977, as part of a MoMA exhibit in 1997.  I probably won’t be that well-coiffed but my mop-top will suffice for now.  I may even be wearing painting pants and be covered in dirt.  It’s kind of my style.

Now you know what I will be doing.  I’ll post results when I’m happy with them.  Until then, you can have a picture of my hands, a part of me with which you are already rather familiar.

Fountaining Fiasco – Elizabethan Explosion

***WE INTERRUPT YOUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED BLOGGING FOR AN IMPORTANT SYSTEMS BROADCAST.***

It's hard to see, but the street is more or less flooded.

Sunday night: a raging downpour that continues to Monday.  Kº hears a steady dripping sound in his bathroom ceiling.  Is it the rain, or is it something else?

Monday evening: the dripping continues, despite the fact that the rain has stopped.  All Elizabeth residents, Il Principe included despite his age, are called in for consultation.  The bathroom ceiling is noticeably bulging.  The Pie, given his freakish height advantage, gives the ceiling a good poke.  Everything is squishy.  The dripping can be heard by all present.  This is obviously an internal leak, and as our bathroom is directly above KK’s bathroom, the culprit is either our ancient sink or our even more ancient toilet, which our landlord has decided not to replace, as the matching green fixtures are kitschy and cool.  Landlord and contractor are notified.  We wait.  I didn’t take pictures, sorry.

Tuesday morning: the ceiling, full of water, gives way (obviously).  Elizabeth is full to the brim with unintelligible Newfoundland handy men and their tools.  The carpenter’s pickup is pulled into KK’s driveway (the bed is full of pieces of wood, that’s how I can tell), and the plumber’s pickup is pulled into our driveway (the bed is filled with tubes and piping, that’s how I can tell).

Plumber's truck

Tuesday afternoon: the ceiling comes down and is taken away.  KK’s bathroom is full of people fixing it, but the water is turned off in our apartment, because the pipe behind the toilet is spraying water everywhere downstairs.  Nobody can pee.  My research proposal takes a back seat to the chaos that reigns in the house (and the fact that my new kitchen scales and artisan bread book have arrived).  At one point the plumber comes in and drills a hole in my bathroom floor, and sticks a tube in it.

The new tube.

Later he comes back and attaches a small pipe to the toilet.

A little pipe to bypass the old burst one.

Later, the water comes on and spurts and burbles all over the place.  Then it goes off again.

Air in the water pipes.

Tuesday evening: the super-nice plumber leaves for the night.  KK’s ceiling is completely missing but nothing is leaking.  The contractor will replace the ceiling in a couple days.

The new white bypass pipes.

Interesting information: the carpenter tells Kª before he leaves that Elizabeth is actually one of the oldest houses on the whole street (which is a freaking long street, for that matter), and that back in the day (this is circa 1920 or so), it was quite the fancy establishment.

You can see the high old ceilings in this distance shot.

More interesting information: you can see the old crown mouldings in the bathroom after they removed the ceiling.

The contractor told me there was a double floor there that they have removed.  Lending credence to my belief (judging from the decor of my kitchen) that the house was converted to apartments in the 1960s, the carpenter found a beer bottle in the ceiling, an old one (India Beer is a local brew – the logo is a Newfoundland dog – it’s not bad).

The date on the inside of the label says 1 63 5 (5 January 1963? 1 May 1963?).  The modern stuff is made by Molson and looks like this, but I just found a link that told me bottles like this from the sixties are selling on eBay for $20.  Go figure.  Kª saved it for me, and it’s on my mantle now.  I think my dad might get a kick out of it.

What’s awesome is I took a ‘before’ picture of the bathroom to get a good perspective if they were going to take out the floor or whatever.  Aside from that little pipe, nothing has changed.  I feel bad because the leak was all because of our toilet, and it’s KK’s bathroom that got destroyed.

KK's chaotic bathroom.

Kª has taken some pictures, too – I’ll post them if I can get ’em.

Stay tuned!

***THIS HAS BEEN A TEST OF OUR EMERGENCY SYSTEMS BROADCAST.  WE NOW RETURN YOU TO REGULARLY SCHEDULED BLOGGING.***

Greenthumbing Take Two

Happy Spring!

Well, not quite yet.  We had a blizzard last week that set things back a pace or two.  The above photo is one I took last spring around this time.  In fact, all the photos in this post are from my garden last year.

Last spring I had all sorts of plans for my garden.  I was going to create a simplified version of a wildflower garden, and plant things that I could name off the top of my head and that I knew how to care for.  I had all my seeds planted indoors, soaking up the sunshine from the warmth of my kitchen.  I was ready to go.Things did not work out the way I had hoped, however.  It was a cold spring and we had a last-ditch blizzard in late May.Most of my seedlings died because I had ignored the frost warnings.  The rest were eaten by slugs.  Even my marigolds, which I planted as slug repellents.  Who knew?

I did have some successes, however, and you can see the results here.

My failures were many, however, so this year I plan to start afresh: no seedlings, just mature plants, and everything will be simple and hardy enough for shallow, rocky, lead-lined soil.

Stay tuned!

The Great Wedding Cupcake Experiment of 2009

The Pie and I were married on 22 August 2009.  We wanted to do our wedding on the cheap, because we are stone broke, and we also wanted to give our guests a little taste of our personality.  With that in mind, we turned down my parents’ repeated offers to make fruitcakes (‘but it’s a traditional Scottish wedding cake’) and decided to make cupcakes instead of buying a tiered and costly confection.

Which flavours were we to pick?  The choices were almost endless and we didn’t know where to begin.  My mother gave me Cupcake Heaven by Susannah Blake as a Christmas present, and we decided to start there.  With one exception, all the recipes we tried are from there.

I chose a panel of a dozen people at work to help us to test our cupcakes, and every one of them looked forward to Cupcake Friday.  By the time I was finished the experiment (which ran from the beginning of March to the end of June 2009), my panel had doubled in size and I was a very popular lady at work.

A crucial piece of machinery without which I would have gone MAD is the Kitchenaid stand mixer.  I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone who does a lot of baking.  Also my camera, of course.  I took a lot of pictures during this period.  You can see the rest of them on my Flickr site here.

Apple Cinnamon Sour Cream Cupcakes

#1 Apple Cinnamon Sour Cream

These were extremely tasty but not particularly attractive, texture-wise.  Aesthetically they weren’t much to go on either.  The icing was also quite runny and very sticky, but also very good.  The sour cream mixed with the lemon and the icing sugar made a tangy topping.  The Committee thought it would make a good brunch baked good.

One thing to note about these is that I had to re-cup the cupcakes after they were baked, because the bottoms had burned a bit in my antiquated oven and I wanted to hide that.  Fun fact: if you re-cup a cupcake, the cupcake will not stick to the paper cup anymore, as you can see in the photograph.

 

#2 Carrot Cardamom

I really like the word ‘cardamom.’  These ones turned out exactly like the picture in the book, which was gratifying, and they had a much smoother texture than the Apple Cinnamon, which was reassuring.

I’m not a huge fan of walnuts, however; they have a bitter after taste that I am not fond of – I much prefer pecans.  The mascarpone icing, however, was incredible and there was an enormous amount of it.  If these cupcake experiments taught me anything (and to quote one of the Committee members), ‘there is no such thing as too much icing.’

Cherry and Marzipan Cupcakes

#3 Cherry and Marzipan Cupcakes

These little boogers were a spectacular failure on my part.  The recipe involved putting half the batter into the cup, then sprinkling it with grated marzipan, then putting the other half of the dough on top.  Silly me, I did all the bottom halves first, then all the marzipan, and by the time I got around to the tops, I had run out of batter.

In addition, I had to deal with runny icing and artificial cherries, and that’s never a good combination.  Let us not forget as well that I had to face the inevitable comments at work that these strongly resembled boobs.  So much for professionalism.

Overall, they were too sweet, and too much of a pain to make.  Vetoed.

… then something magic happened …

… my oven exploded!

I’m totally serious.  The Pie was making dinner one night and I heard this loud thrumming noise coming from the kitchen, accompanied by a yell that I should probably get in there.  I ran in and saw bright white light coming from the oven window – element was arcing and sending off sparks.  It was making the thrumming noise.  We turned off the oven and got the hell out of there.  Two days later my landlord bought us a new oven.  It’s so low tech that it has no interior light and you have to shine a flashlight in to see if your stuff is done, but it works really well, I will give it that.

The Perfect Cupcake was born.
Creamy Coconut Lime

#4 Creamy Coconut Lime

It was from this new oven that a new generation of cupcake was born.  I could now actually follow the recipe when it came to temperature and cooking time.  Nothing burned, or exploded.  It was inspiring, actually.  The first experiment to come out of the new oven, or ‘tailgate special’ as I like to refer to it, was this perfect confection.  It was unanimously voted by the Committee as the perfect cupcake for a wedding.  Nothing I made after this counted for much in their opinions.  I was, however, undaunted, and continued on with my experiments.  I couldn’t stop now – things were just getting good.

Orange Poppyseed with Mascarpone Icing

#5 Orange Poppyseed with Mascarpone Icing

In these, I substituted canned mandarin slices for regular orange segments.  Other than the fact that I am truly lazy and did not want to segment several oranges, the canned pieces meant that my cupcakes would be uniform and also that the quality of the fruit would be good.  Living in Newfoundland, especially during the winter, means that produce quality is always a guessing game.

These cakes were popular with those who liked poppyseeds.  I liked them, but the Pie was not a huge fan.

As you can see, I was really getting into my groove here.  My photographic cupcake record had turned more artistic now that my appliances were cooperating.

#6 Blueberry and Lemon with Cornmeal

These little beauties contained fresh Newfoundland blueberries stuck right into the batter, and were made with cornmeal, which made the batter a sunshiny yellow but which created a texture many were not expecting.

Blueberries directly in the batter!

I thought they were great but most people were unconvinced.  In any case, I had  a lot of fun with my new zester, creating and photographing my confections.

Martha Stewart eat your heart out:

Blueberry and Lemon with Cornmeal
Maple and Pecan Cupcakes

#7 Maple and Pecan

I had a lot of fun making these – and burned myself severely in the process.  They were one of my favourite cupcakes, taste-wise, but many people found the hard caramelized sugar too sharp or tough to bite into, the Pie included, so they were eventually scrapped.

Playing with melted sugar is a lot of fun.  If I ever made these again, however, I would let the sugar cool a bit more before pouring it, to keep the fluid from spreading too much – I think that was my major failing here.

Bittersweet Chocolate Wedding Cupcakes

#8 Bittersweet Chocolate Wedding Cupcakes

I ended up renaming these bad beauties Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse, because that’s pretty much what they tasted like, and that’s pretty much all the ‘icing’ really was: hot whipping cream poured over dark and bittersweet chocolate and then whipped into a light foam.  They are truly divine.  The batter itself was a little bland, however, so I thought I could improve somewhat.

You can see at this time that spring was coming, and my seedlings were on the sprout.  But spring comes late to Newfoundland, and we had a while yet to wait.

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemon Icing

#9 Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemon Icing

I can pretty much guarantee that I will never make these again.  I have never been so disappointed with myself.  I didn’t want to serve them to the Committee, and some Committee members refused to even finish them.  They were dry and tasteless and the crystallized ginger on top was too strong.  It was supposed to be stem ginger in syrup but this being Newfoundland I couldn’t find any.

EPIC FAIL.

I had to redeem myself.

Experiment #10
Marble Cupcakes

#10 Marble Cupcakes

When these were finished they looked nothing like the photograph but boy were they tasty.  Inside was a chocolate-vanilla swirl cake that really wasn’t visible unless there was no icing but which was nice and moist and light.

The icing was cream cheese mixed with cream and icing sugar.  You can’t really top that, but of course that would mean leaving out the caramel.

I used Smucker’s caramel ice cream topping, but had I been thinking I would have used real dulce de leche, because it would have held its shape better and not oozed everywhere.  These cupcakes certainly entailed sticky fingers.

Coffee and Walnut Cupcakes with Ricotta Icing

#11 Coffee and Walnut Cupcakes with Ricotta Icing

The Pie and I wanted to experiment with a few lower-fat options, and this was one of them, containing no butter at all, and of course using ricotta cheese instead of cream cheese for icing.

They turned out really well but weren’t quite what we were looking for.

Chocolate Fireworks

#12 Chocolate Fireworks

These were meant to be served with lit sparklers in them, but I wasn’t sure how I would get them into the office.

I settled for the little silver balls instead.  Did you know they are called ‘dragees’?

The icing was rather unimaginative and runny, but the batter had some orange in it that kept in moist and gave it a nice tart tang.

Raspberry Trifle

#13 Raspberry Trifle

Unlucky number 13.  We were drawing to the close of our experiment here, with only three more recipes to try, and I was pretty tired of making cupcakes at this time.  It seemed every week I was adding someone new to the Cupcake Committee email distribution list.

I made these while watching Detroit lose to Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  I was cheering for the Red Wings (my beloved Senators didn’t even make the post-season) because I hate Crosby, but alas, I was out of luck.

This cake was really good, though, because it was chock-full of raspberries.  I thought the custardy topping could have had more flavour, but that might have had something to do with me failing at making custard.

Strawberry Vanilla Cheesecake

#14 Strawberry Vanilla Cheesecake

I left the picture of this one small because it’s blurry.  It was late, I was tired, and these were such a hassle that I forgot to take a picture until super late at night.

The recipe called for slicing off the top of the cupcake so the cream cheese topping would set, smooth and flat, like a real cheesecake.  I cut off the tops, which was a pain, considering I then had to re-cup the cakes, and then topped them.  And discovered that the topping wasn’t going to lie smooth and flat anyway.

There was some swearing.

In the end, these were one of my favourites: a fine vanilla cake with vanilla cream-cheesy ‘icing’ and sliced strawberries on top.  The fanning of the berry was my idea, as the berries I got weren’t of the quality that they would stand up on their own, like they were in the book.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Cheesecake

#15 Gluten-Free Chocolate Cheesecake

Another cheesecake-y recipe that didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped.  The Pie’s grandmother is a celiac, as is one of my former coworkers, and both of them were coming to the wedding.  I didn’t want them to feel excluded from the cake part of the festivities, so I experimented with a gluten-free recipe.

It was an all right cupcake, but it wasn’t light or fluffy, the potato flour I used made the texture a little grainy, and, all in all, it was rather bland.

Coconut Cream from the Barefoot Contessa

#16 Coconut Cream

This was my final cupcake, and it wasn’t really an experiment.

One of the people in the Cupcake Committee had been talking about the Barefoot Contessa’s Coconut and Cream cupcakes for a while so as a final treat I decided to make them.  You can get the recipe from the Food Network here.

The cupcakes were huge, and I knew I wasn’t going to make them for the wedding – they were pretty time-consuming.  But everyone on the Committee had been talking about that other coconut recipe for ages, so I thought I would end it with an echo of the earlier recipe.

They were fabulous and if you ate more than one you felt ill.  We had wayyy too many leftovers and I think we ate them for three weeks straight.  Or at least it felt like that.  They were good though.  I recommend giving them a shot.

And that’s it.  Sixteen cupcakes in seventeen weeks.

Which ones did we eventually choose: Strawberry Vanilla Cheesecake, Fireworks (but with the icing from the Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse), and the Raspberry Trifle (but with a lemon cream cheese icing instead of the custard.  They were a hit.