August in Photos: the Skinny

You may recall me saying that I was going to take a photo a day for the month of August, seeing as it was going to be such a momentous month.  Well, here’s my little August gallery.  You can see the ones that didn’t make the cut on my Flickr here.

1 August:

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Dad admiring the new paint job on the old Cape Spear lighthouse.

2 August:

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Last day at work in the Lawffice Liberry.  For five years this was my exclusive domain.

3 August:

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Met a very calm snowshoe hare at the Salmonier Nature Park.

4 August:

4 August 2013

It was raining, so I painted the bathroom. Apparently yellow wasn’t neutral enough. Oh well.

5 August:

5 August 2013

Still raining. HARD. We stayed inside.

6 August:

6 August 2013 2

Dad and I went to the Crow’s Nest (a members-only club for naval officers) in January of 2008 when we were thinking of moving here. Today we bookended our time in Newfoundland with another visit. Here is the angle from the “hidden” door down the stairway.

7 August:

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The first Wednesday in August (weather permitting) is Regatta Day, the oldest regatta in North America (195 years old in 2013).  This is our view from blueberry picking up behind the Johnson Geo Centre.

8 August:

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After some hectic back and forth, we sent Gren off on the plane to stay with my parents. This is one of the extremely nice and helpful security officers using cable ties to make sure Gren stays put.

9 August:

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We had to re-paint my office to a more neutral colour. I was trying to get excess paint off my brush.

10 August:

10 August 2013 3

Down to the essentials now in our pantry: booze, Oreos, ramen …

11 August:

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Our house is surrounded by trees, and the moving shadows the sun creates as it shines through the blowing leaves is quite spectacular.

12 August:

12 August 2013 2

Today I packed up the kitchen. My parents bought these plates at the Denby factory when we lived in England over 30 years ago. I bet they’ve moved almost as many times as I have.

13 August:

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One last walk along the jetty after breakfast at the downtown Cora’s.

14 August:

14 August 2013

I had a job interview over Skype today, so this was where I spent the most important part of my afternoon.

15 August:

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Moving day. The movers were late and when they arrived they were unaware they were supposed to be moving the whole house so it was a little frazzling but we got it done.

16 August:

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Sun in an empty room. My favourite Weakerthans song (which is based in turn on this painting).

17 August:

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Our first morning in Ottawa.  Gren was very happy to have us back with him.

18 August:

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Brunch at the new home of Mags and her boyfriend, the Flying Dutchman. YUM FRESH FRUIT!

19 August:

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Best shawarma in the city is Castle Shawarma on Rideau Street. They have spicy garlic sauce that is incredible.

20 August:

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Today we got the Pie fitted for some suits to wear to interviews at Moores. Looking pretty slick.

21 August:

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My dad was painting the woodwork on the ground floor. He may have accidentally painted me in passing.

22 August:

22 August 2013

Our fourth wedding anniversary. Crazy how time flies.

23 August:

23 August 2013

Grenadier reunited with his sister Bakhita at Bruce Pit.  Both of them reunited with some mud.  This is the picture I took BEFORE Bakhita stuck herself in the middle of an enormous puddle and refused to come out.

24 August:

Two Processor Pies

Gardened with Mum today. Harvested a ton of rhubarb. Obviously I made pie.

25 August:

25 August 2013

ICE CREAM! THERE’S AN ICE CREAM TRUCK ON MY STREET! ICE CREEEEEEEEEEEAM!

26 August:

26 August 2013

Out for a misty stroll on the Ottawa River Parkway. Reminds me of St. John’s.

27 August:

Star Wars Exhibit 27 August 2013

Caught the Star Wars Identities Exhibition at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum. Epic. Like, literally.

28 August:

Cottage Life

We weeded out the path at the back of my parents’ house today, and got to use the weed torch on the remainders. I love setting things on fire.

29 August:

Cottage Life

Hanging out at a cottage with some friends. Gren actually swam voluntarily.

30 August:

Cottage Life

Cottage life: early morning on Mississippi Lake.

31 August:

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The Pie started growing this beard at the end of July, just to see if he could. He’s a little tired of it now so I recorded it for posterity and he’ll shave it off tomorrow.

And that was August!

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Newfoundland Fighting Jam Jams

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For some reason I still don’t understand, I volunteered to do some baking for prizes to give out at the Pie’s final video game tournament before we move.  Because the group is called Newfoundland Fighting Jam, the Pie and I thought it would be funny to make up some Newfoundland Fighting Jam Jams.

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You may have heard of jam jams.  From what I understand, the general version is a round sugar cookie sandwich with jam in the middle, where the top cookie may or may not have a hole in it.  The Newfoundland version of this uses a softer molasses cookie.  If you don’t want to make your own you can order some from Newfoundland’s own Purity Factory.

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Of course, because we can’t leave well enough alone, we had to mess with the recipe a little bit, and we used our ninjabread cutters to make the cookies.  Keep in mind that below is a doubled recipe, so unless you want a million cookies, I suggest you cut it in half.

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Start with 1 cup butter and 1/2 cup shortening (both at room temperature).

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Cream those together in an electric mixer with 1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar (the darker the sugar, the fluffier your cookie will be, due to the high concentration of molasses).  Beat the crap out of those ingredients until they’re super fluffy.

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Now beat in 3 eggs, one at a time, waiting for each one to be fully incorporated before you add in the next one.  If you want to halve this recipe, I would use one egg plus the yolk of another.

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Add in 1 cup molasses (fancy or whatever, whichever intensity of flavour you prefer) and 3 teaspoons vanilla extract.

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Look at that silky, creamy molassesy goodness.

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In a separate bowl, sift together 6 cups all-purpose flour, 4 teaspoons baking powder, 2 teaspoons ground allspice, and 2 teaspoons ground ginger.

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Slowly add your dry ingredients to your wet ingredients until you form a nice soft dough. And I mean really soft. Resist the urge to add more flour. The squishier your dough is now, the squishier your cookies will be.

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Split the dough into 4 parts (2 if you’re halving it) and chill it for at least an hour. Two is preferable. And you want to have all your working surfaces, tools, hands, etc., as cold as possible while you’re working with it.

When you’re ready to go, preheat your oven to 350°F, line some baking sheets with parchment paper, flour a work surface, and get your rolling pin handy. And you’re going to need a lot of flour. Like for the work surface, for your pin, for your hands, for the dough … It’s tacky stuff.

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Working with one part of your dough at a time, leaving the others in the refrigerator, roll it out to about 1/4″ thickness (or about half a centimetre, if you’re feeling metric), and cut it out with your cookie cutters.  If you’re doing a circular cookie, some jam jam aficionados like to cut a small hole in the top cookie for the jam to poke through, but that’s up to you, my friend.

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If you’re making something other than circles or symmetrical shapes, remember to flip your cutter over so you can make a top and bottom to your cookie.  Our ninja cutters had a duller edge on top, so it made it a little harder, but we persevered.

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Eventually we developed an easy system, but it took a bit of time. You will probably sort something out yourself.

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If your dough gets too soft, huck it back in the fridge for a bit to stiffen up.

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Bake your cookies, rotating the pans halfway through and keeping a close eye on them, for somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes, depending on the heat of your oven and the size of your cookie.  You want these babies to be nice and soft, so make sure to pull them out before they get too brown.  If they don’t look done yet, don’t worry — they will continue to cook on the baking sheet.

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Spot the corgi for bonus points!

Allow the cookies to cool completely, then take a wodge of your favourite jam (I used raspberry here, but you could go full-Newfie and use partridgeberry or bakeapple if you want to be truly authentic) and spread it thinly on the bottom of one of your cookies. These ones used about a teaspoon of jam per cookie.  Press that cookie’s pair on top of the jam and then heave the whole batch into a warm oven (like 250°F) for a few minutes to make the jam all cement-y.  This also warms up the cookies again and makes them soft so you can do a little bit of repair work if any of them got bent too out of shape.

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TADA.  Newfoundland Fighting Jam Jams.  A mouthful to say.  A mouthful to eat.  A win-win situation for everyone!

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I made this up after doing a bit of research, and my main inspiration for ingredients came from these four down-home recipes, in addition to my own family recipe for Molasses Gems:

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Missing the Rock: Jam-Jams

Salt Junk: Jam Jams Cookies

Mmm…ade: Newfoundland Jam Jams

Rock Recipes: Soft Molasses Cookies or Giant Jam-Jams

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A Day in La Manche

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This past weekend, Mrs. Nice, Papa John, the Pie and myself braved the occasional clouds and drove about an hour south of St. John’s to La Manche Provincial Park.  For those of you off The Rock, while “la manche” is French for “the sleeve” (and is often used by the French to refer to the English Channel), instead of pronouncing it in French fashion, “la MAHnsh,” you say it Newfie-style: “la MANch.”  Just roll with it.

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Anyway, La Manche Valley, La Manche River, and the geographical area are teeming with various forms of wildlife and blah blah blah and it’s all very interesting and you can read a bit about it here.

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We went on a wee hike to see the river and the waterfall and the lilypads and whatnot and it was all very pretty.

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La Manche 2

BUT THE COOL PART was trekking along the trail that leads to the abandoned village of La Manche.  I don’t have any photos of the trail itself because I needed both hands and my full attention to keep my balance.

But then all of a sudden you’re in a ghost town!

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La Manche was originally settled by just one family in the 1840s as a seasonal fishing settlement.  For about a hundred years, this isolated little inlet community survived storms and resettlement efforts, fishing through the seasons.

c. 1900, from Newfoundland Salt Fisheries
c. 1960s, from East of Eden
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Taken Saturday (2013).

There was a suspension bridge connecting the two sides of the inlet and passing over the waterfall, and a school, post office, and wharves and flakes for drying fish.

One of the more original suspension bridges, c. 1952

The population never went above 55, because La Manche is really hard to get to — hence the efforts at resettlement by the government.

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The southern shore doesn’t get a huge amount of storms, in relation to the rest of Newfoundland, but when it does, they’re doozies.  High winds and rough seas would often force their way into the inlet, causing damage to the settlement, and often wiping out the suspension bridge connecting the two sides.  But of course the hardy folk who lived there rebuilt, every time.  As with most small fishing communities in Newfoundland, life wasn’t easy, but they did it.

La Manche Rock, c. 1930 from MUN MHA.
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La Manche Rock, c. Saturday. It’s quite large.

It all came to a head, though, in 1966, when a particularly vicious storm wiped out the bridge, the wharves, the boats at anchor, and most of the buildings in the tiny village.  Surprisingly, nobody died.  After that, the  inhabitants agreed to be resettled elsewhere.  At this point La Manche was converted into a provincial park area and the coastline section was designated as part of the East Coast Trail.

c. mid-1960s, from Geocaching.com

Now all that remains are the foundations of the houses and storage buildings that once were.

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It’s an interesting mix of newer concrete-and-rebar slabs built above the older foundations made of hand-hewn slate dragged up from the shore and anchored on solid bedrock.

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I think one can safely assume the slate chunks were hauled up from here.

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This is the newest incarnation of the suspension bridge, opened in 2000 (they tend to fall down occasionally during storms).

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Mrs. Nice flat out refused to set foot on it. She’s that blue dot in the background.

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Here was as close as she would get.

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For more information about La Manche, you should check out the following:

Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, Department of Environment and Conservation: La Manche Provincial Park

Memorial University of Newfoundland, Maritime History Archive, Resettlement: La Manche

And, if you wanted to do some more research on Newfoundland’s Southern Shore communities, I have discovered this ROMANCE NOVEL set in La Manche.  No, I have not read it.  But I kind of feel like I should.

A Trip to See Some Birds

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Last week, the Pie and his parents and I decided to take a wee road trip out to the Salmonier Nature Park to visit the moose and see some eagles.  What started out as a jaunt of about an hour or two in the sunny afternoon turned, however, into a seven-hour trek across the southern portion of the Avalon Peninsula.  See, Salmonier Nature Park experienced some serious damage during Hurricane Leslie back in September and has been closed ever since, despite what the website says.  We stopped off at Father Duffy’s Well, which is nearby, to stretch our legs and figure out what we wanted to do next.

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While Mrs. Nice and I vegged out in the sunshine and appreciated the burgeoning flora, Papa John and the Pie examined the detailed visitors’ guide, which listed all the attractions on the Cape Shore drive, which takes you on a coastal route between St. Mary’s Bay and Placentia Bay, both on the southern side of the Avalon Peninsula.

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So we decided to keep going, to see what we could see.  While the Pie and I had driven the Irish Loop (which covers the peninsula containing the Avalon Wilderness Reserve), the Cape Shore was a new one to us.  And what a landscape to encounter!

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If you’re interested in fishing villages, rural architecture, climatology, ecology, geology, geography, biology, oceanography, or history, then I don’t know why you haven’t been to Newfoundland yet.  And when you go, take a drive on the Cape Shore.  It’s like going to Mars.  The landscape alters between rocky barrens and verdant bogmarshes, both of which run right up to the edge of 300-metre cliffs falling straight down into the bright blue North Atlantic Ocean.

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This area is known as the Eastern Hyper-oceanic Barrens ecoregion, which is one of the world’s most southerly expanses of sub-Arctic tundra.  If you’re interested in that kind of stuff, you will know how fascinating that really is.

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If you’re not that interested, just know that it means there are a lot of lichens.

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And very few trees.  And the trees that are there are very, very short.  It’s like the Newfoundland answer to bonsai.

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Eventually we ended up at a point where we hadn’t intended to go just yet: Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve.  If you like birds, or you like rocks, or you just want to see some place that is super dooper cool, then you should go there.

I won’t give you a huge educational lesson today (for that you can click on any one of the hyperlinks above), but I’ll let some of the photos speak for themselves.

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The natural trail.  Don’t fall off.

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That’s a drop of several hundred metres.

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Eggshells.

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Feathers.

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Flying Gannets.

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Lots of lichens.

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I’m a lichen liker.

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The tundra and the shore.

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And of course, the famous Bird Rock.

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Cape St (2)

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Totally worth the trip. Bring a hat!

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More photos of the Reserve on my Flickr starting here.

Eggs Benny, Two Ways

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Two weeks ago the Pie and I decided to head downtown for a late Saturday breakfast and we ended up at the Bagel Cafe, which is consistently voted as having the best breakfast in town almost every year.  We’d never been before, so it was an interesting experience — the place is pretty cozy so I wouldn’t recommend going in a big group — but the menu was massive and I had the best breakfast I have ever had.  It was eggs Benedict served with a sliver of smoked salmon and a dreamy, creamy Hollandaise, but instead of the standard English muffin, this poached beauty was perched atop a genuine Newfoundland cod fish cake.  It was truly one of the more divine things I have eaten in recent memory.

And I can’t stop thinking about it.  So I had to recreate it.  I mean, who did I think I was?  This, then, is what I did the following weekend.

So first, for the man I married who refuses to eat fish, I whipped up another batch of English muffins.  And then I learned that he has never had eggs Benedict before.  I was shocked.  I order them pretty much every time we go out for breakfast, but it never occurred to me to find out if he had ever done the same.  And then I made the fish cakes, which conveniently store well in the refrigerator.

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For the Hollandaise, you want to get your whisking arm limbered up.  Set a large pot of water to simmer on your stove and find a metal bowl that fits snugly over the opening but that does not touch the water (if you’re poaching eggs you probably have a large pot of water already on the simmer so this makes things easy).  While that’s heating up melt as well 10 tablespoons unsalted butter and set that somewhere convenient.

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Into the metal bowl goes 3 egg yolks and 1 tablespoon lemon juice.  Whisk that until it’s frothy.  

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Set the bowl over the pot and keep whisking.  Lift the bowl away from the heat every once in a while to make sure that it doesn’t get too hot and curdle.

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Keep whisking until you produce a thick creamy substance that forms strings when you lift the whisk away.  This is called a sabayon, and that’s basically the structure of your Hollandaise base right there.

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Away from the heat, and whisking all the while, trickle in your nice hot melted butter and mix until fully incorporated.

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Season with salt and pepper.

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And maybe a little Tabasco sauce.  Taste it and season again accordingly.

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Keep the Hollandaise warm (but not hot) while the rest of your chaotic morning is going on.  I did this by putting it a bowl of hot water.  This is enough sauce for 4-6 eggs, by the way.

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You should also be toasting your English muffins (if you’re using them) and frying up your fish cakes (which you should be eating because they’re awesome).  And if you’re using peameal bacon, fry that up as well.

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Now everything else is a matter of timing.  Everyone has their own methods for poaching eggs, and how long they take will depend on the size of the egg, how many you are cooking, water temperature, blah blah blah.  Gordon Ramsay had a neat tip, though: swirl the water into a vortex before sliding in your egg.  The circular direction of the water will ensure that all those little tendrils of egg will end up stuck to the egg itself, making the finished product nice and round.  I also tried the Julia Child method here, where you poke a small hole in the fat end of the egg with a pin.

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Then you get your water simmering and you dunk each egg for 10-15 seconds and then you haul them out.  This pre-cooks the whites a little bit so the egg stays in shape a bit better.

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THEN you add a bit of vinegar to the water.

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And crack your eggs into the barely simmering stuff, one by one. Let them do their thing for 3-4 minutes, depending on how hard you like ’em poached. When they were done I plopped them in a bowl of hot water to stay warm while I set everything up.  This also washes the vinegar off the eggs. Drain them on a clean towel before you put them on your muffins or they’ll get soggy.

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Smear a dab of Hollandaise on your toasted muffin, layer on a piece of peameal bacon, follow that with the egg and more Hollandaise and a sprinkle of parsley or chives and salt and pepper.

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Alternately, plop a dollop of sauce on your crispy fish cake, ladle on the egg, more sauce, and a flake of smoked salmon.

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Eat it while it’s hot!

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Scoff and a Half: Cod Fish Cakes, Rock-style

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If you know anything about Newfoundland, you know that historically it has been home to one of the largest cod fisheries in the world.  So if you visit the Rock you can pretty much eat cod any which way you like.  Many here prefer to eat it salted (a traditional way to preserve it), and there’s a huge number of dishes surrounding this particular delicacy.  A favourite locally is fish ‘n’ brewis (pronounced like “bruise”), and is very popular amongst the hungover patrons of George Street.  It’s a breaded filet of salt cod, pan fried and topped with scruncheons, which you may remember from our toutons recipe.  It makes for a good “scoff,” or meal.

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You can get salt cod pretty much anywhere on the eastern coast of Canada and through much of New England.  It’s a pretty popular way of preserving fish, so you’re likely to find it as well in markets in Russia, China, huge chunks of Europe, and more or less wherever else cod is sold.  You can also get canned salted cod from specialty shops and online.  If you can’t get salt cod (or you can’t be bothered to get some) you can use fresh cod or haddock or any other white fish as a substitute.  Just don’t go through the soaking step, and add a bit of salt to the recipe.

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First you need about 1lb salt fish bits.  I don’t even question what the bits are, though it’s not all cod.  Just trust me on this one.

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Dump those bits in a pot. Okay so it doesn’t look that appetizing. Just wait for it.

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Fill the pot with cold water.  Bung that pot in the fridge overnight.

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Next day, drain that salty, salty water, and fill it again with fresh. Put the pot on the stove and bring the contents to a gentle simmer for about 10-15 minutes.

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While that’s on the go, peel and chop up about 1lb white potatoes (this was 4 large ones).  Huck them in a pot and boil the crap out of them as well.

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Drain the cooked fish.

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Use two forks (or a potato masher) to break the fish up into fine little bits.

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Drain the cooked potatoes and mash them as well.  Leave them aside to cool a bit.

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Finely chop up a small onion (or half a large one) and drop it in a pan with 1/4 cup butter.

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Cook on medium heat until soft. While I’ve got you moving, might as well do the hokey pokey.

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Crack 1 large egg and beat it up and put it aside, together with 2 tablespoons savoury, and some salt and pepper.

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Dump the onions in with the fish and give that a stir.

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Same-same with the potatoes and herbs.

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When the mixture has cooled enough that it won’t cook the egg on contact, dump that in as well and mix it in.

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Use a spoon to scoop up a generous helping of the mixture and form it with your hands into a little patty.

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Roll the finished patty in about 1/4 cup flour (I used buckwheat so I could give some to Fussellette) and set it aside.

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This particular recipe made 16 fish cakes for me.

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Now you can wrap them up in waxed paper and seal them in something airtight and chuck them in the fridge, or freeze them.

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To cook, heat a couple glugs of vegetable oil in a pan and fry on medium high for 3-4 minutes each side.

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Flip when you get some nice golden-brown crispies on the bottom.

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Serve with fresh chives or parsley and a side of strong condiment, like dijon mustard, relish, or chutney.  Save a couple for the magical creation we will be having on Friday.  Stay tuned!

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New Found Ornaments

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I saw something like this at a craft fair in St. John’s and thought that I could easily make my own with some found objects and some hot glue.  The “jellybean row” is an iconic element of St. John’s architecture: a series of brightly coloured and quaintly crooked wooden row houses that line most of the downtown streets.  So every craft fair and gift shop in the area sells some version of this, painted on mailboxes, pieces of wood, in stained glass (similar to the disaster I made last spring), and on pieces of shale, which conveniently break on a rectangular plane.

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So I found some pieces of this shale, relatively thin pieces that wouldn’t weigh down a tree branch.

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And I painted them to look like the crooked, shambling houses around here.

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And then I glued string on the back for hanging, with hot glue.

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An extra dab, for security.

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And that’s it!

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