Exploring Nova Scotia’s wine country… #explorenovascotia #summer2016 @NSWineTours

(Note to readers: No, I did not fall off the face of the earth, I was just planning a wedding. Basically the same thing, right? I can assure you, I continued to enjoy food, I just was not so hot about documenting it. Now that our wedding is done and dusted, I can get back to life. Except… we decided to buy & renovate another house! So yeah, I will probably not be posting here that often, and if I do, I can’t PROMISE it will all be food related. I do a lot of DIY projects these days, so I’ll probably write about that on here too. Hope you’re cool with that. If not, well… sorry!)

So, I took a bit of vacation time during the first week of August. I didn’t have anything planned, really… between work and ongoing renovations we have on the go right now, I had plenty of projects to fill my time. So I opted for a bit of a staycation: a mixture of ticking things off my to-do list and some fun stuff. I slept a lot, spent some time outside, read a couple of books, painted some brick:

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Scraped some wallpaper:

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Doesn’t look like a lot of fun… Don’t worry. I also went on a wine tour! 

Yay! I’ve been promising myself to make a trip to Nova Scotia’s wine country for a few years now. I had contemplated just venturing to the Valley myself, but where’s the fun in that? 1) I have a pretty bad sense of direction, so I would probably get a bit lost; and 2) I wouldn’t really get to taste much wine if I had to drive, right?

I roped my bestie in for the adventure, and after a bit of research, we decided to book in with an organized wine tour. We looked at hopping on Wolfville’s Magic Winery Bus (because who doesn’t want to travel on a magic bus?!), but since it only included transportation around Wolfville, it wasn’t going to help us get home to the city safely if we decided to enjoy more than a sampling of wines. (I still would really like to check this tour out some day, especially if I was going to stay in Wolfville overnight… that way, I could also roll in a visit to Privet House for dinner).

Anyways, we decided to book in with Grape Escapes Nova Scotia Wine Tours. They offer a variety of tours (some include lunch or dinner, or visits to specific vineyards), but we opted for the “Afternoon Escape.”

It cost $85 per person (plus tax), and included transportation to and from the city, and to three wineries (L’Acadie, Lucketts, and Gaspereau), as well as wine samples at each (normally, you pay to sample flights at each vineyard).

L’Acadie Vineyards is a very small, family-run and certified organic. In my opinion, it was also the most interesting stop on the tour. Their resident wine guy (not really sure what his official title was?!), Ian, was very knowledgeable about the history of the region & industry, and taught us a lot about the wines we were sampling, as well as the land they are grown on and what makes their wine organic. It’s also a pretty gorgeous spot to sip on a glass of wine:

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They’re apparently best known for their sparkling wines, but I didn’t end up bringing home a bottle of their sparkling. Instead, I selected their 2015 Rose.

We ventured to Luckett Vineyards next, where none other than Pete himself was on-hand to greet guests in the bustling storeroom. While our first stop at L’Acadie was a tranquil spot to start our adventure, Luckett’s was very busy, with plenty of other patrons visiting to enjoy lunch outside, while we tasted wines inside. We did, of course, venture outside to take a photo at the iconic phonebooth:

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I scooped up a bottle of bold & beautiful Black Cab and their lovely Tidal Bay.

Our third and final stop was at Gaspereau Vineyards. At this point, we were all starting to get a bit hungry, so it was a good thing that this final stop included a platter of local cheeses to sample. We sat out on the patio and enjoyed some nibbles in the sunshine, while a somewhat-bored-seeming young woman who worked there told us a bit about the wines we were sampling. To be honest, she didn’t seem all that interested in what she was doing (to give her the benefit of the doubt, I believe the staff had all been at an industry event the night before, and may have been feeling the after-effects of sampling the wares), but our Grape Escapes guide, Emma, had filled us in on the winery and backstory behind the winemaker, Gina Haverstock, en route, so we knew to expect big things from their Riesling. And BOY, was she right.

Now, if you’re making a face right now, thinking Riesling = sweet, you’re wrong. Their Riesling is more of a traditional German dry-style, and it is amazing. It also happened to be the 2015 Winner of the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in Nova Scotia Wines. I obviously took home a bottle of that, as well.

Here’s my bounty from the trip:

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Besides sampling some lovely local wines, I really did learn quite a bit about Nova Scotia’s burgeoning wine industry: I learned about what makes the Valley region well-suited to growing grapes; what grapes thrive in our climate (and as a result, what types of wine are hardest/impossible to produce here); what Nova Scotia’s appellation wine is (Tidal Bay); and that there are NINETEEN vineyards in the province (with two more on the way)… so basically, there’s a lot more of Nova Scotia’s wine country to explore. As a plus, our guide and driver, Emma & Randy, were absolutely lovely and clearly knew loads about the industry and region.

If you’re interested in learning more about Nova Scotian wines, or just trying some different wines and spending some time with friends, I would definitely recommend going on a wine tour with Grape Escapes.

 

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Birthday celebrations with @Unwinedwmoira & friends!

My birthday is on Christmas Day *cue the sympathetic “ooh that must be awful” reaction*

Actually, I don’t really mind sharing my day of birth with the Big Guy’s son… To me, it just means there are usually more people around to celebrate! Growing up, I was also very spoiled by my parents, partially because I think they felt guilty about their timing… so they were always very careful to celebrate my birthday independently from Christmas (separate gifts, cards, a cake: you get the picture).

It can be kind of tough to manage to get people together this time of year, though, so this year, I tried to make it as appealing as possible: I decided to host a wine tasting party!

And since I know very little about wine, I brought in an expert to show us the ropes. Moira Peters, of Unwined Tasting Parties, is a certified Sommelier. She works with clients to select an assortment of wines, then comes to your home (or office, or other venue), to teach you a bit more about the art of enjoying and appreciating wine.

Even after spending a few years hobnobbing on Whistler’s fine dining scene, where I was fortunate enough to attend a few luxurious winemakers dinners, I must admit I still don’t know much about wine, apart from what I generally enjoy. So when I heard about Unwined, I was pretty excited.

Contrary to what you might expect from a wine tasting, this is NOT a pretentious affair. I gathered a group of about 10 friends & family members into my almost-completely-renovated basement, Moira brought along all the stemware, tasting notes, clipboards, pencils and spitcups (don’t worry, we didn’t waste too much), and we started sniffing, swirling and sipping the night away!Unwined Tasting

Moira does a great job of making the world of wine accessible to everyone, explaining how to evaluate any wine with the eye, nose and mouth. Personally, I learned quite a bit from the evening: like what “legs” are, and that you should never judge a wine at first sip! I think it’s also safe to say we had loads of fun in the process, too… with some Christmas carols playing in the background and a few goodies to nibble on throughout!

Tasting notes!

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I think the pricing for the event was reasonable, as well: Moira’s fee varies depending on the size of the group, and the price also depends on wine package you select (she actually kind of blended 2 packages for me). Our evening of wine tasting at home with 10 friends (and no glassware to wash at the end of the night), was under $400. Well worth the experience, I’d say!

Happy Birthday to me! 🙂

 

Saturday morning delivery!

Weekly food box delivery

I dislike grocery shopping. I know, seems weird, right? Because I love to cook. I used to love to go to the grocery store… In fact, I have an excellent system that makes sure nothing gets missed, and we’re in and out pretty quickly. But lately, I’ve been having trouble finding the time to do a weekly shop to make sure we’re fully stocked up.

That’s when I saw an ad for Home Grown Organic Foods. This small, locally-owned and operated business recently relocated to a new storefront location on Gottingen Street, and to mark the occasion, they offered a promotion through CoastMart. I signed up, of course, and we’ve been getting their weekly food box deliveries for a few weeks now!

It’s pretty awesome, actually: You pick the size of box you want (we started with the double but found it to be too much for us), then let them know if there are any products you absolutely don’t want to receive (so, if you hate cauliflower or something, let them know, and you won’t get any in your delivery) and if there are any items that you absolutely love! Since we live in Dartmouth, they deliver to us on Saturdays, which actually works really well for us. If we aren’t home, we’ve designated a spot for them to leave our order, and we try and make sure we remember to leave out the container from last week’s delivery.

The service costs us $30 a week, and I find it’s a pretty good value, considering we receive good-quality organic produce right to our doorstep. I’m sure we’re paying a bit of a premium for the delivery, but it’s convenient, and we’re supporting a local, independent business, so I’m okay with that. Also, because we didn’t stipulate what we want to receive/don’t want to receive, it’s a veritable goody-box to open up each Saturday morning, and it usually contains at least one item I wouldn’t have normally purchased, so it also challenges me to try new recipes, etc…

This week’s delivery contained: a head of lettuce; generous bag of mushrooms; potatoes; garlic; 3 oranges; 6 apples; broccoli; red cabbage; carrots; and a green pepper.

All-in-all, we’re pretty pleased with the service!

Just fiddling around | Preparing a spring favourite: Fiddleheads! :)

The smell of freshly mown grass, the spark and sizzle of the barbecue lighting up, and the sight of fresh wash hung out on the line: they’re all clear signs that spring is here, and the lazy days of summer are slowly sauntering towards us.

Another one of my favourite signs of the seasonal shift is actually found in the produce section of the grocery store. I immediately notice that the overall quality of produce is improving, as the weather warms, but I’m also always keeping an eye out for one key ingredient: fiddleheads.

As soon as I see those delicate little whorls of green pop up on store shelves, or restaurant menus, I begin to mentally slip on a pair of sandals.

Now, I’ve eaten fiddleheads prepared at restaurants before, but never attempted to make them at home. When I spied them for sale at Dave’s Fruit & Vegetable Market yesterday for $4.99/lb, I decided to try my hand at the dish.

For those of you who have never heard of fiddleheads before, or maybe just tossed them a puzzled glance at the grocery store, a bit of background, courtesy of Wikipedia (of course):

Fiddleheads are actually just the furled fronds of a young fern, which are harvested to be eaten as a vegetable. If you left them on the plant, each fiddlehead would eventually unfurl into a front. ‘Fer real.

Because fiddleheads are harvested early in the season, before the frond has opened and reached its full height, they are cut fairly close to the ground.

Not only are they delicious (if prepared well), fiddleheads are a source of antioxidants, Omega 3 and 6, and are high in iron and fibre. The downside? Certain varieties (not the ones typically found in North America) are carcinogenic. Bummer.

Fiddleheads have been eaten in Northern France since the beginning of the Middle Ages, and in Asian and Native American cultures for centuries. They’re also a traditional dish of northern New England, Quebec, and the Maritimes! (little known fact gleaned from Wikipedia: the community of Tide Head, New Brunswick is the “Fiddlehead Capital of the World”).

Well, now that we’ve gotten the history lesson out of the way, let’s get to the important part: eating them!

First, you have to wash them really well, and then boil them for up to 15 minutes (I think that’s too long, personally, but it’s up to you). In the early ’90s, The Centres for Disease Control associated a number of food-borne illness cases with fiddleheads, and though they didn’t actually identify a toxin in the fiddleheads, their findings suggested that fiddleheads should be cooked thoroughly before eating. Health authorities recommend cooking them for 15 minutes if boiled and 10 to 12 minutes if steamed.

I washed mine thoroughly, trimmed the stems with a paring knife, and boiled them for 9 minutes (the boiling process not only cleans and cooks the greens, but reduces bitterness, tannins and toxins). I drained them, and sauteed them in a frying pan with about 1 tablespoon of butter, three cloves of fresh garlic and pepper. Next time, I think I’d also add a splash of lemon, to add a bit of acidity to the dish!

I took a first tentative bite: they were perfectly cooked, not mushy, and also not crisp or bitter. Yay! 🙂 Fiddleheads definitely have a distinct, but not unpleasant, taste. I served them with a maple-glazed, barbecued pork roast, and roasted new potatoes, onions and carrots, all prepared on the grill! (Have I mentioned how much I love to cook in the summer?!)

My one mistake? I didn’t buy enough. I found myself wishing I’d scooped up more fiddleheads, but I hadn’t wanted to invest in an enormous bag, in case it turned out that I couldn’t cook them very well…

I think I’ll be making another trip back to Dave’s to enjoy this seasonal treat before they unfurl into fronds. 🙂

Where’s the beef?!

Like many other Canadians, I am guilty of doing much of my meat purchasing at the grocery store. I’m trying to make more of an effort to source my protein locally, and beyond that, I’m also trying to learn a bit more about the various cuts of meat, and what they are best used for.

Beef is something of a tricky beast. Have you ever wondered why one type of steak costs much more than another? I mean, it all comes from the same cow, right? I must confess, I’m not a big red meat-eater (I prefer chicken or fish). But every once in a while, a juicy steak hits the spot! On Easter, I actually prepared a prime rib roast (which I managed not to overcook). I got a killer deal on it, as well, but they are usually quite expensive. Why begs the question, again: why?

Well, the lovely folks at FrugalDad recently sent me a very handy guide to deciphering the various cuts of beef, and I thought I’d share it with you, my dear readers! While some of the statistics in the infographic are specific to an American audience, the actual breakdown of the cuts is what I find interesting:

Beef Infographic

Many thanks to FrugalDad for sharing! 🙂