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:

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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!

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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On Top of Mount Scio

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On Thanksgiving weekend, the Pie and I decided to take a hike to somewhere we’d never been.  St. John’s has an extensive concourse trail system and in our four years here, we’ve explored a good part of it.  Gren definitely has his favourites, as well.  On this day, though, we left him at home.  He doesn’t have the same energy as he did when he was a puppy, so we knew that he would get tired long before we did.  If you’re ever thinking of getting a dog to encourage you to exercise, don’t get a corgi.  They are so lazy.

Anyway.  We took the Long Pond to Oxen Pond Walk.  One of our regular walks with Gren is the Long Pond walk just behind MUN’s campus, so it was familiar territory.  The trail to Oxen Pond, however, is a bit more of a hike.  In fact, it pretty much goes straight up Mount Scio, which is kind of the backstop for the city.  There are a good many stairs, which my poor battered knees protested before long.  The view once you reach the top of the mountain is pretty epic, though.  You can see all of the North Valley, which is where we live and where Memorial University is.

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You might want to click on the photo above and zoom in on my Flickr page.  MUN campus is in the foreground in the middle, hiding our house, with the Health Sciences Centre and hospital at the left side of the photo. At the centre of the shot you can see the two clock towers of the Catholic Basilica. To the right of that are the red roofs of The Rooms, our museum. On the other side of the Rooms is a giant hill leading downtown, which you can’t see in this picture. The vee of water behind the church and museum is the opening to the Narrows and St. John’s Harbour. The water to the left is Quidi Vidi Lake, which empties into Quidi Vidi Bay. The river that feeds Quidi Vidi Lake, Rennie’s River, actually gets some of its start from tributaries up here on the mountain. And that’s your geography lesson for the day.

From the top, we took the trail along and down a ways until we crossed Mt. Scio Road and entered the MUN Botanical Gardens.  Because we are Memorial students, we got in for free!  Of course, it being October, much of the showy summer foliage has died back, but we spent a good 25 minutes tooling around the edible and medicinal herb gardens, marveling at how people figured out which herbs did what when you ate them or boiled them or steeped them.  This one was of particular interest to me, a long-suffering victim of chronic UTIs.

MUN Botanical Garden 3

Another part of the ornamental garden illustrates the various plants that live in Newfoundland’s climates. Many of these plants adapted well to extremely harsh conditions, and some of the environments in this province have been re-created here. I took a picture of this one because it grows in our backyard (on almost pure gravel) and I can never remember what it’s called.

MUN Botanical Garden 2

Inside a shelter there was also a neat little succulent and cactus garden, with a few flowers thrown in.

MUN Botanical Garden 5

MUN Botanical Garden 6

A little of a last hurrah for warmer weather.

MUN Botanical Garden 9

Once through the ornamental garden we finished the trail down to Oxen Pond. We had self-righteously refused to buy duck feed at the admissions desk, because as a rule we try not to feed wild animals. However, as soon as we arrived at the pond we were greeted by some very hungry ducks.

Mobbed by Hungry Ducks 1

Who soon called in all their friends.

Mobbed by Hungry Ducks 2

From all the way across the pond.

Mobbed by Hungry Ducks 4

Mobbed by Hungry Ducks 6

Eventually we were mobbed and had to leave when they started yelling.

Mobbed by Hungry Ducks 7

With angry quacking ringing in our ears we continued along the trail to the fen, admiring the lush moss along the way.

MUN Botanical Garden 10

In the summer in a bog you can see all manner of cool things, like orchids and lady’s slippers and iris and stuff like that. You might remember some of that from our trip to Gros Morne last summer. But most of those flowers have died back by this time of year. What remains, however, are representatives of the province’s official flower: the pitcher plant. I think carnivorous plants are so cool.

MUN Botanical Garden 11

MUN Botanical Garden 12

I petted this one (though I probably wasn’t supposed to). Those little hairs are quite soft.

MUN Botanical Garden 17

On the way back, we marveled at some more Leslie damage.

MUN Botanical Garden 14

A moose path leading who knows where.

MUN Botanical Garden 16

And some truly epic fungus.  Here is a small sample.  I don’t know why Newfoundland doesn’t have a booming mushroom industry, considering how damp and dark it is.

MUN Botanical Garden 15

MUN Botanical Garden 1

Not to mention this poor tree, which was covered in galls. Galls are reactions to irritants for trees. Like an oyster covers a grain of sand in mineral deposits to make it smooth, a tree grows these bulbous things around stuff like insects and worms and fungus and stuff to protect itself. Neat, huh?

MUN Botanical Garden 21

So even if it wasn’t summer, we still got to see some cool stuff, which we probably would have missed had it been overshadowed by the more ostentatious products of warmer weather.

End of Season Review: My Three Boat Tours

Mullowney's Tour
Our intrepid hero

As our chapter of Newfoundland living draws slowly to a close (our five years are almost up!), the Pie and I are trying to take any opportunity to experience the good things and the amazing things that this province, and the St. John’s area, have to offer.  And this summer, owing to the generosity of my law firm and some fortuitous Groupons, I ended up taking not one, not two, but THREE boat tours of the area, with three different companies.  So I thought, now that the boating tour season is almost over, I’d give you my opinion on the whole enterprise, so that if you’re in the area next spring and summer, you can decide if you’d like to try this experience as well.

C&P Boat Tour

But first an Ali-cized version of Newfoundland history.  As you may know, the province of Newfoundland and Labrador has been the location of various fishing colonies from Portugal, France, and England (and a few others) for the past five hundred years.  Legend has it that the first Vikings to visit North America stopped here first, and that they could walk from their ships to the rocky shores on the backs of the plentiful cod in the water.  All that cod meant a lot of fighting over fishing rights, and after a few switches back and forth, England eventually won out (although France and Portugal still have their own interests).  Newfoundland became part of the Dominion of Canada after World War II, and here we are.

Ferryland
Imagine cod cushioning your feet from these jagged rocks.

In 1992, the cod fishery was so severely depleted that the government declared a moratorium on cod fishing — there simply weren’t enough fish in the sea anymore.  This resulted in thousands of fishermen losing their traditional livelihood.  If a Newfoundlander can’t fish cod, is he really a Newfoundlander?

IMAG0428-1
Who says size matters?

Some enterprising fishermen came up with some new ideas about how to put food on their tables.  They converted their fishing boats into tour boats, adding seats and life jackets and taking out the nets and hauling equipment.  Tourism in Newfoundland began to thrive.  And from May to September every year, you can take a tour with one of these companies and see all the sites that Newfoundland has to offer — from the sea.  In May and June, if you’re lucky, you can sail up close to a massive ice berg as it makes its way south to melt.  In July and August you can sail alongside all manner of local whales as they, too, migrate to other waters.

O'Brien's Boat Tour
From whaling and codfishing to eco-tourism.

My first tour happened back in late June.  My law firm charted an Iceberg Quest boat to take us from St. John’s Harbour around Cape Spear to Petty Harbour.

C&P Boat Tour
View of the harbour, from the Narrows.

It was a calm and sunny afternoon as we pulled out of the harbour, but once we hit the currents of the North Atlantic, the swells got a bit higher and the spray off the bow was enough to thoroughly soak most of us in minutes.

C&P Boat Tour
Me and Mel, thoroughly soaked.

There were a few members of the party who had to make use of the barf bags on board.  I’m sure the open bar didn’t help.  I kept getting salt water in my rum and Coke (which actually didn’t end up tasting that bad). But those of us who had our sea legs had a great time.

C&P Boat Tour
Everyone had to have a Titanic moment.

My favourite moment of this particular tour was when we rounded Cape Spear, which is the most easterly point of land in North America.  And at that particular moment, I was more east than Cape Spear.

C&P Boat Tour
East-er than the east-est

We did catch a glimpse of a humpback whale off our bow, but it was gone before any of us got any good pictures of it. This is the dorsal of a minke who was too camera shy and gone before long.

C&P Boat Tour

There were birds all around us, though, and they were interesting too.

C&P Boat Tour

We pulled into Petty Harbour nicely sauced and just in time for dinner.

C&P Boat Tour

Chafe’s Landing is a restaurant just a few steps from the harbour and is rumoured to have the best fish and chips on the Avalon Peninsula.  And I’m here to tell you that those rumours are TRUE.  It was incredible.

C&P Boat Tour

We took a bus back to St. John’s as the sun set, all happy, salty, and full of good food.

C&P Boat Tour

While the staff were friendly they weren’t all that talkative with us.  Perhaps because this was a private charter they weren’t required to give us the rundown on the things we were seeing as we sailed around the Cape.

A particular benefit of Iceberg Quest is that they are the one tour company that sails directly out of St. John’s Harbour, so if you’re in town and you don’t have transportation, it’s the way to go.  I think that because it is directly out of St. John’s that the tour cost is probably quite a bit more expensive than those which operate outside of town.  Because the firm paid for it, I have no idea how much it actually cost. But the boat was flashy and shiny and big.

C&P Boat Tour

My second tour was with O’Brien’s in early August, and the Pie and I got a Groupon for a four-person pass at half price, which cost us about $120.  We took Cait and Jul and drove to Bay Bulls one morning for a 9:00 AM sailing.  As we left St. John’s and headed south, it got foggier and foggier, and by the time we hit Bay Bulls we could barely see ten feet in front of us.  Not to worry.  We were experiencing what is known as “capelin weather,” which meant we were in luck.  Capelin are tiny fish, about four or five inches long, that provide the main source of food for not only the cod, but many other species of wildlife in the area.  Capelin migrate through here in the summer, and are usually the most plentiful (like, you can scoop them off the beach with a shovel) after several hot days in a row followed by a cold, muggy, foggy spell.

O'Brien's Boat Tour

Despite the weather being the pits most of the time, Newfoundland is definitely beautiful, rain or shine, and we were quite taken with the shoreline emerging suddenly from the mist, and disappearing just as suddenly.

O'Brien's Boat Tour

Then we hit the mouth of Bay Bulls and saw a giant patch of birds, all feeding from the same place in the water.  This meant capelin, and so, if we were lucky, it also meant we might see some whales.  Then, not a hundred metres from where we were, we heard a humpback take a deep breath.  Then, a few seconds later, we smelled it.  Whale breath is not a pleasant thing.

O'Brien's Boat Tour

Over the next hour or so, we were joined by two more humpbacks, who were very curious about us and the other tour boat next to us.  Instead of gorillas in the mist, we got humpbacks in the fog.

O'Brien's Boat Tour

Justin, our highly experienced (and musically gifted!) guide, said this was the best year for whales he’d seen, and he’s been doing this for twelve years.  He was very good about explaining to us exactly what the whales were doing when we couldn’t see them.  You see this round patch of water?  That’s the whale’s footprint, essentially.  You get that sort of upswell when the whale makes a deep dive.  It sticks around for a surprisingly long time.

O'Brien's Boat Tour

Whenever we thought the whales would get bored with us and take off, they would surface again and just sort of hang out between our two boats.  It was truly incredible.

O'Brien's Boat Tour

O'Brien's Boat Tour

At long last we had to bid the whales adieu and keep to our schedule.  We headed a bit further out of the bay to Gull Island, which we smelled before we saw.  This area is an ecological reserve for seafowl and has the largest population of puffins in the entire world.  But it’s also home to a huge number of other birds, and we got to see them all.

O'Brien's Boat Tour

O'Brien's Boat Tour

O'Brien's Boat Tour

As we headed back to the Bay, we piled into the cabin for warmth.  When you sail through fog it tends to stick to you, so we were all coated with a light, salty mist, and our hands were so cold it made holding our cameras tricky.  But it was definitely worth it for such an amazing experience!

My third tour was actually just yesterday (because I’m writing this on the 24th of August), and I wrangled another Groupon package deal for four with Mullowney’s Boat Tours for $110, which was half-price.  Trav was staying with us at the time and so the three of us went.  I ended up giving the fourth ticket to one of the other passengers.  The highway to Bay Bulls is only one lane on both sides with little room for passing and we got stuck behind the slowest person alive on the way there, meaning that we arrived at Mullowney’s five minutes after 12:00 PM, the time the boat was supposed to sail!  We thought we had missed it entirely but fortunately, because I had made a reservation, the boat was waiting for us.  They had heard from other passengers that the traffic was bad and they stuck around until we got there, which was really nice.

Mullowney's Tour
Despite it being noon, Trav is not yet truly awake.

Today when we left Bay Bulls it was sunny and calm and absolutely glorious.  We had layered up in anticipation that we would get cold and we actually found ourselves to be quite comfortable, even a little warm, in our jackets.  Now, this is the North Atlantic, so for it to be this calm and quiet was extremely unusual.  If you do a tour, make sure to dress warmly.

Mullowney's Tour

It had been three days since any of the local tour companies had seen any whales, so we didn’t get our hopes up this time.  It is the end of the whales’ migratory season anyhow.  Because I wasn’t looking for whales, I got to focus a bit more on the sea birds around, and we had a great time laughing at the antics of the puffins, who are the most ungainly flyers I have ever seen.  The other birds regarded them with disdain, and chased them down for their fish.

Mullowney's Tour

Mullowney's Tour
Gull chasing a fish-laden puffin. Gulls are huge jerks, apparently.

Mullowney's Tour

Mullowney's Tour

Despite not seeing any whales, we all agreed that we’d had a great time.  Mullowney’s takes a bit of a different route from O’Brien’s, so the Pie and I got to see different sides of Gull island than we’d seen before, and it was nice to observe their habitat when it wasn’t shrouded in fog.  The pleasantness of the day alone made puttering around on the sea a true delight, and the companionship of our friendly young guide Alastair made for an entertaining trip.

Mullowney's Tour

Mullowney's Tour
Overall:

I can’t say that I had anything other than a very pleasant experience with all three of the touring companies I used this summer.  The staff were all very friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable about both sailing and the areas we visited, and I know from speaking to several of the employees that the companies are not in competition with each other.  That makes for a much friendlier environment, and they help each other out when it comes to spotting whales and bergs and the like.

Mullowney's Tour

When you take a boat tour there’s no guarantee that you will see whales or ice bergs or any of the more spectacular things out there.  There’s not even a guarantee that the water will be calm or the sun will be shining.  But even if you don’t get the jaw-dropping experience of seeing giant whales or colossal ice bergs, you can still appreciate nature writ large as you sail past Newfoundland’s ragged coast line and you hear the cries of hundreds of sea birds all around you.  Any day you go, whatever you see, you are guaranteed to have an experience you won’t forget any time soon.

More on the boat tour companies in this post:

Iceberg Quest: http://icebergquest.com

O’Brien’s: http://www.obriensboattours.com

Mullowney’s: http://www.puffinswhales.com

Capilano Suspension Bridge

Happy Birthday Ando!

Capilano Suspension Bridge

When we were much younger, my brothers and I sailed with my dad on his ship across the strait from Victoria to Vancouver to see the sights.  Back then, I was too terrified to attempt the crossing at the Capilano Suspension Bridge, but the time had now come for me to face my fears.  Ando, his wife Teedz, and my two nieces, Tego and HG, decided to attempt the bridge while we were out west, and the Pie and I thought we would tag along.  I’m really glad we did.  In recent years, the rainforest surrounding the bridge has been turned into a huge educational conservation area, with lots of interesting stuff to see and do.  Admission is pretty steep ($28 for us students), but it’s worth it.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

Right off the bat, you head across the 450ft (137m) bridge, suspended from cables 230ft (70m) above Capilano River.  The Pie told me that the bridge would support 96 elephants, so I was not to worry about falling.  As long as there were no elephants around.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

Tego continually watched me for my reaction every time the bridge bounced under the feet of the hundred or so people crossing it at the time.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

The view of the river (a little low at this time of year) from the middle of the bridge.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

Once across, there were tons of things to see and do to get kids (and grownups) more in tune with the nature around them.  One such activity was to test out your wingspan.  HG was not pleased to be ONLY halfway between a raven and a great horned owl. She’s trying to make herself longer in this shot.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

Tego was happier to be a great horned owl, almost a goose.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

And the Pie broke the mould by being a giant, and an eagle at the same time.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

We were surrounded by so many ancient and massive trees, cedars and firs and all sorts of things.  It was quite a shock to come from Newfoundland, where trees are maybe the height of a house and live for about 40 years, to see things like this Douglas Fir, which was 205ft tall, 20ft in diameter, and about 1300 years old.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

Tego learned quickly what it means to be a tree hugger.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

HG didn’t find the tree’s height all that impressive.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

We also took part in the relatively new Treetop Adventure, which I actually found more nerve-wracking than the big bridge.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

Teedz, Ando, and HG were happier than me.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

But we got some great views and learned a whole bunch of stuff.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

Then we crossed back over the bridge …

Capilano Suspension Bridge

And went on the park’s newest attraction, the Cliff Walk, which is a wee construction sticking out from the side of the Capilano gorge.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

Tego watching to make sure I don’t freak out.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

Because the floor is made of GLASS in some parts.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

HG again was unconcerned.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

In fact she ran ahead while I clutched the rails.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

Once our ordeal was over, the Pie and HG were pleased to accept their certificates for having completed every activity station in the park.  What you can’t see (because it matches his shirt too well) is the Park Explorer button that HG won for completing the Tree Top adventure.  She gave it to her uncle because it didn’t go with her outfit.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

Definitely worth a visit!

Capilano Suspension Bridge