My #BigDayDowntown: I visit @SpiritSpaHFX, Kee-Heong Cantonese Bakery, @RousseauChoco, & @InkwellBoutique,

So, I’m feeling very spoiled: I kicked off the Labour Day long weekend with my highly anticipated (well, to me, anyways) Big Day Downtown.

The Big Day Downtown event is organized by the Downtown Halifax Business Commission, and is designed to help promote businesses in the downtown Halifax core. For four weeks, starting September 15th, they will be giving out $100 Visa gift cards via Facebook and Twitter to the public (follow them on Twitter @DowntownHalifax and like them on Facebook to keep tabs on the event). But before that, some very fortunate local bloggers (like moi) are invited to participate, and were given $150 Visa gift cards to spend anywhere downtown!

This year, the theme was “People’s Choice,” which meant we had to consult with our readers and social media peeps when we were deciding how to spend the cash. I created three polls on my site, and asked people what I should do on my day downtown. The results were pretty overwhelmingly in support of visiting the spa (thanks, guys!), buying something ‘just for me,’ and eating somewhere I’ve never eaten. Sounded pretty damn good to me…

So, with my credit card practically burning a hole in my wallet, I headed downtown on Friday afternoon.

1st stop: Spirit Spa

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I managed to snag a last-minute appointment with the lovely Tiffany at Spirit Spa for a Sea Scrub body treatment. While I try to go for (semi) regular massage treatments, I’ve never been for a salt scrub, and it sounded kinda refreshing. According to their website:

“This body polish uses diatomaceous earth to exfoliate your skin and stimulate circulation. The treatment ends with a silky marine based body milk that will leave your skin supple for days.”

While “diatomaceous earth” sounded a bit fancy, it really just looked like this:

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It felt great, and was really quite relaxing. Plus, my skin felt SUPER smooth afterwards. It was my first trip to Spirit Spa, as well, which is a beautiful, tranquil space: plenty of natural materials, calming music and lots of pops of colour.

I rolled out feeling radiant, relaxed, and ready to eat!

TOTAL: $85.96 (including tax & tip)

2nd stop: Kee-Heong Cantonese Bakery

Just up around the corner is a tiny little Cantonese bakery I’ve been swearing to visit ever since I noticed it there:

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It was around 1 p.m. when I entered the dining room, ready for some dim sum. The lovely lady working behind the counter brought me a menu and informed me, when asked, that they had actually been open for 1 year and 10 months. Seriously?! I need to get out of Dartmouth more often.

I was the only person in the dining room, which made me a bit nervous at first, but I figured that it was likely because I was having a bit of a late lunch, so I settled in to review the menu. As it turns out, I was correct: plenty of others came in to place orders to take away, and eat in, after I placed my order.

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Typically, my eyes were bigger than my belly: I settled on a 3-piece order of pan-fried crispy shrimp dumplings ($3.50), a 6-piece order of pork with cilantro dumplings ($3.50) and a 2-piece order of steamed barbecue pork buns ($3.50).

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The cilantro pork dumplings were savory and packed with fresh cilantro flavour. I’m a big cilantro fan, but for anyone who doesn’t enjoy this distinct flavour, I’d definitely recommend ordering seconds (or thirds) of the pan-fried shrimp dumplings, which are phenomenal. These are like crispy little presents, loaded with shrimp, green onion, and garlic:

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I saved my steamed barbecue pork bun for last…  a slightly sweet, sticky, soft, doughy cloud enveloping a savory pork centre:

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This definitely isn’t a fancy place to go for lunch — the dining room is almost completely unadorned, and there isn’t much in the way of music to create much ambiance, but Kee-Heong offers authentic fare that is fresh and fairly priced.

The display of pastries was very tempting, but I managed to resist the urge to order one (or two) to go, because I was heading to another sweet spot….

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TOTAL: $13.89 (including tax & tip)

3rd stop: Rousseau Chocolatier

Rousseau Chocolatier tweeted at me when I was asking people for recommendations on where to go for my Big Day Downtown. And when I saw photos of their chocolates on their Facebook page, I was sold. They opened up shop on Hollis Street earlier this year, and have been getting lots of attention.

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And for good reason: they know their chocolate! Owned by a husband and wife team — Julien and Nathalie (who was working when I popped in on Friday) — they produce an impressive selection of handmade chocolates, using locally-sourced ingredients as much as possible. Incidentally, they ALSO make a KILLER coconut macaron. Fer reals:

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Plus, you can actually watch the chocolate being made in the adjoining space (which reminded me of when I visited a Swiss chocolatier many years ago). After staring at the chocolate display in awe for a couple of minutes, I finally settled on an assorted box to take home, along with a bag of chocolate dipped meringues.

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To my credit, I shared these with my boyfriend, which I think officially qualifies me as a the nicest girlfriend ever. My favourite chocolate was the feuilletine, which basically has thin crispy flakes in a creamy smooth milk chocolate:

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TOTAL: $29.90 (including tax)

4th stop: Inkwell Boutique

I meandered up to Market Street as a nibbled on the aforementioned coconut macaron, mentally totalling up my purchases en route. With just $20 left to spend, I knew selecting just one thing at Inkwell was going to be tough. I mean, come on:

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This is stationary geek heaven. I lapped the store probably five times before I caved and busted out my own debit card to use in conjunction with my prepaid Visa. I had to have the infamous “seven year pen” (which has an ink supply that’s supposed to last seven years). I’ve been in a need of a good “purse pen” (aka a pen that lives in my purse), and this totally fit the bill. Plus, there’s a strip of cartoon bacon on the clip. Sweet, right? I also snagged a birthday card that predominantly featured a unicorn, and a great print for my basement office area:

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TOTAL: $40.82 (including tax)

So, the grand total for my Big Day Downtown was *drum roll please*:$170.57. For that price, I was scrubbed, buffed and moisturized, well-fed, treated to sweets and even managed to pick up some local art. Plus, I discovered a few hidden gems and supported some great local businesses in the process!

All-in-all, a successful Big Day Downtown, if I do say so myself! 🙂

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VOTE: How should I spend my #BigDayDowntown #Halifax ? (@DowntownHalifax)

Big Day Downtown package!

Guys, I’m kinda excited over here! The folks at the Downtown Halifax Business Commission (DHBC) have invited me to participate in their Big Day Downtown blogger event.

Wait, let’s start at the beginning:

A few years back, the DHBC launched the Big Day Downtown campaign, designed to help promote the pretty awesome array of businesses (restaurants, shops, services, etc…) in the downtown Halifax core. For four weeks, starting September 15th, they will be giving out $100 Visa gift cards via Facebook and Twitter to the public (follow them on Twitter @DowntownHalifax and like them on Facebook to keep tabs on the event).

But before that, some very fortunate local bloggers (myself included) are invited to participate, and are given $150 Visa gift cards to spend anywhere downtown!

Fer real.

The only “twist” is that I need to get your input on how I should spend the $150!

See, there’s a lot on offer downtown: 174 restaurants & cafes; 23 salons/spas; 33 tourist attractions/museums/galleries; 45 clothing stores; 16 hotels/inns; 27 furniture/gifts/houseware stores; and 17 sports/hobby stores. So I’m going to need your help!

Ideally, I’d like to do more than one thing (aka I don’t want to blow the entire budget on a new dress at Biscuit), and since this is technically my food blog, I’d like at least one of the activities to involve, well, eating.

I’ve narrowed it down to a few choices, and am hoping you’ll give me your two cents to help inform my itinerary:



If you’d like to make some more detailed suggestions, PLEASE feel free to leave a comment below, or just get at me on Twitter! (@hfraught)

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!

Chez Tess dishes up homey atmosphere & fabulous crepes with a side of addictive potato wedges (@cheztess)

After months of repeating “I *must* go and finally try Chez Tess,” I finally made the trip!

I love crepes (if you want to try making them at home, you may want to try your hand at my easy apple pie crepes or start with this basic recipe). So a creperie is right up my alley.

Unfortunately, because of my work schedule (I work almost every Saturday and Sunday morning), going to breakfast/brunch with my boyfriend or friends isn’t usually possible, so I miss out on a lot of the prime breakfast/brunching opportunities.

But the other week, I was invited to check out Chez Tess with my mom, a group of my lovely aunties, and a cousin. An all-lady brunch with the Fraughton clan. Hold onto your hats, fellas. 😛

I sped up to the north-end eatery, which is tucked away on Charles Street, as soon as my shift ended, so I could partake in Tess’ brunch offering (which are only available until 2:30 p.m. on weekends).

According to their website, Chez Tess was dreamed up by owner Liz Cunningham, who moved to Halifax from New York City 12 years ago. She opened the cozy, cherished neighbourhood restaurant in September 2009.

The menu is pretty extensive, with lots of choice, and a focus on local & seasonal products, as well as “tried and true recipes handed down from family and friends.” I dig.

On my visit, I opted for the Huevos Rancheros (it’s a go-to breakfast fave for me, what can I say!?!) I love the Coastal Cafe’s version of this dish, but everyone seems to do it differently.

At Chez Tess, poached eggs are nestled inside a savoury crepe and topped with pulled pork and salsa fresca, and served with a side of sour cream, a few bites of green salad, and a delicious, savoury baked potato wedge:

The pork was a *little* lacking in heat for my liking (but I’m a total spice fiend, let’s face it), but the flavour was well-balanced, and I didn’t find the dish heavy, which is always a danger with Huevos Rancheros (it can venture into greasy territory pretty easily…) I also LOVED the little baked potato wedge (could have eaten three), and was a big fan of the presentation, with the eggs and pork artfully bundled up in the thin, savoury crepe.

A few of the ladies at my table were a bit disappointed with a lack of Hollandaise sauce on their eggs Benedicts, but our server cheerfully remedied the situation, and everyone was still smiling. Especially when the desserts arrived.

I was too full to try one myself on this visit, but I will DEFINITELY be back for their espresso creme brulee. How amazing does that sound!?

Chez Tess Creperie on Urbanspoon

How does your garden grow? Here’s how my first summer of gardening went…

Well folks, I was off to a really good start with my first summer of gardening.

I started a bunch of veggies off from seed in the house:

Then, they grew:

…And grew some MORE:

I planted onions, carrots, tomatoes, basil and cilantro, and when they were ready, I popped them into two little veggie beds in my yard.

I’m not entirely sure when they will turn red, but I can’t wait! I have loads of them… 🙂

I also planted some peas directly into the other bed:

They proved to be super easy to grow:

I also made the awesome discovery of a huge, mature high-bush blueberry bush, nestled next to the garage. I have been selectively raiding it for weeks:

My basil thrived indoors (I now have two big pots on my kitchen windowsill, and throw it into many of my dishes), but the bugs really loved it in the outdoor beds, which I though was strange.

My onions and cilantro disappeared, gobbled up by some hungry pests, I’m sure. And I haven’t been brave enough to pull out any carrots, yet!

Honestly, I lost quite a bit of my gardening momentum when we got Mowgli the puppy:

And I’ve been neglecting my little patches of earth, especially after The Beast (aka Mowgli) began tearing down my sugarsnap peas and munching away on them. *sigh*

Still, starting my little garden was a great learning experience, and one that I plan to more fully commit myself to next spring/summer.

Any other aspiring home veggie gardeners out there? How did your crops turn out?!

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. 🙂

Made my 1st visit to the new local butcher! :) @jessigillis

I was all caffeinated up after meeting up with a buddy for a coffee at Starbucks in the Hydrostone  yesterday… And even though I was definitely paying attention to our conversation, in the back of my mind, I was also thinking: “Frigg. What am I going to make for lunch/dinner (aka linner)?”

I did NOT want to go to the grocery store (I hate crowds, and let’s be real: that’s what you get at the grocery store on a Saturday). Then, I remembered that a new butcher’s shop had opened up just a few doors down!

After drinking the last dregs of our coffees, we wandered down to Highland Drive Storehouse, which I believe just opened a few weeks ago?

Anyways, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this new shop (other than meat, obviously). I kind of expected it to be really pricey, but it wasn’t.

Mind you, I only ordered a few sausages (I was still in work/mid-caffeine mode, and wasn’t able to fully formulate a plan for dinner). And the sausages looked great — caramelized onion, roasted red pepper and spicy beef ended up in my cart — and two landed on the grill as soon as I got home.

They were Absolutely. Delicious.

Fresh, flavourful and really unlike any sausage you’ll buy at the supermarket. I grilled ours and served them on multigrain buns, with a side of roasted potatoes and onions.

I’m going to use the spicy beef ones in a pasta dish tonight, I think…

I also bought a jar of their apple maple butter (which is divine served on top of vanilla frozen yogurt, along with a few fresh strawberries).

My four sausages and apple butter came to just over $11; not bad at all.

They also sell fresh produce, which is beautifully arranged on a table in the centre of the shop, and the shelves are stocked with loose teas and herbs, and pickled carrots and beets. I believe there was also a cooler of local cheeses, but it was a bit crowded in there, so I didn’t get a chance to check them out. Next time! 😉