What a pleasant feeling to be in a country where Justin Trudeau is Premier rather than the United States where loathsome Donald Trump is a candidate for the Presidency. Trudeau is everything that Trump is not. He is forthrightly empowering women in government. He is warmly accepting Syrian refugees and other victims of violence. He has pushed forward a number of humane causes including assisted suicide for the terminally ill. Most of all, he revels in Canada’s diversity. HG/BSK summer on Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province (Population: 146,283). The Provincial government welcomes newcomers from all over the world. Its official statement : “Prince Edward Island welcomes immigrants. Indeed, the characterization of our society as multi-cultural, particularly over the last 50 years, reflects our generally successful pursuit of diversity, tolerance and generosity.” Not just words. The little Island welcomed 250 Syrian refugees this year and they are quickly integrating themselves into the various communities. In the town of Little Sands (In the southeast neighborhood), between 200 to 400 Buddhist monks live in a monastery: The Great Enlightenment Institute Society. The monks bake some 2,000 rolls a week and distribute them to local charities and schools. Rightfully, PEI folks are very fond of the monks. When the monastery had an open house a few weeks ago, almost 3,000 people showed up. Amish are now settling on the Island. Priced out of much land in Ontario, Amish families are acquiring farmland on the Island. They have been welcomed. Since the Amish rely on horse and buggies and wagons for transportation, businesses have installed hitching posts and there are signs telling motorists of horse and buggies on the road. HG is looking forward to shoofly pie, tasty cheeses and the other good things these peace loving, industrious people provide.
The Prince Edward Island tourism folk are trying to entice foodies to visit. They are calling PEI “The Food Island” and pointing out that after a sunny day of biking, beach walking and swimming, much good food awaits. Yes, PEI oysters are great; mussels are renowned; fresh sea scallops, clams (hard and soft shell) abound;fishing boats pull into Naufrage Harbor (a few miles from HG/BSK’s oceanfront home), laden with cod, hake, haddock, mackerel and sole. There’s superb tuna during its season. (Alas, the majority is shipped to Japan). A score of boats pluck lobsters from traps a few hundred yards from HG/BSK’s shore. (June is the season. After that, lobster arrive daily from Nova Scotia). Excellent organic lamb, beef and free range chicken is raised on PEI. There is tasty pork, ham, bacon and sausages produced from local pigs. Local cheese makers and bakers are offering world class products. Smoked salmon and peppered smoked mackerel are Island specialties. The characteristic red soil is famous for potatoes and the variety of local greens, lettuces, herbs, etc. is vast. Blueberries, strawberries, tomatoes and corn will soon be harvested. (HG/BSK eagerly await). Local shops display scores of natural jams and jellies plus outstanding mustard pickles. The restaurant scene is improving. Creative young people are opening places and in the PEI capital, Charlotteown, there are good Vietnamese, sushi and Indian restaurants. HG is yet to try the dim sum being offered at a little Szechuan bistro. Happily, excellent beer and ale, Gahan’s, is brewed locally. Myriad View distills fine gin, vodka, pastis and whiskey. The culinary abundance has made HG/BSK confirmed locavores. HG/SK’s son-in-law Marc Meyer, the renowned New York chef (Cookshop, Hundred Acres, Rosie’s, Vic’s) has been a pioneer in the farm-to-table movement. HG/BSK are following Marc’s lead.
Yes, HG is a great fan of the cocktail hour. In HG’s younger days, 5PM began the imbibing of extra dry gin martinis (known as “icy steelies” or “silver bullets”). HG recalls knocking off three super sized cocktail hour martinis at Michael’s Pub, the Hotel Drake Bar and the Russian Tea Room (in that vodka proud room, 100 proof vodka instead of gin), and remaining upright and in command (relatively) of talking and good manners. The martini diet made HG amorous and led to adventures (good and bad). Dorothy Parker summed up this aspect of martini drinking: “One martini. Two at most. Three, I’m under the table. Four, I’m under the host”. Now in his late 80′s, HG has pushed the cocktail hour to 6PM. Being still in love with BSK, wife of almost 53 years, HG is not adventurous but relishes 6PM cocktail hour with the delightful woman. BSK is a devotee of white wine with a splash of Aperol, ice and a lemon squeeze. HG sticks to stronger drink. PEI distilled Myriad View gin (wonderful botanicals) with Pernod or Campari. Negroni composed of one-third Jack Daniel’s, one third dry vermouth, one third sweet vermouth, lemon juice. Vodka with Campari. Tequila, half and half with dry vermouth, lots of lime juice. 6PM begins sunset over the sea. Since PEI is far north, the sunset drama continues until 10PM. Miles Davis music adds another dimension to alcohol-fueled pleasure. Don’t miss those traditional, abundant martinis.
The perfect summer day on Prince Edward Island. Bright blue skies. Warm sun. Calm sea. Pleasant breeze on the wide beach in front of HG/BSK’s oceanfront home. The breeze was welcome since it chases away God’s tiniest little winged creatures who use BSK as a feeding station. HG walked along the shore and gleaned six pieces of beach glass for the family’s ever expanding collection (Beach glass found on Fire Island, Nantucket, Vancouver and Rhode Island). BSK filled a basket with dried seaweed (To be used in pot firing). Toby, The Wonder Dog, leaped in and out of the gentle waves. Suddenly, Toby heard a sound and took off to the top of a shrub covered bluff. Many minutes of loud barking. Like an anxious father with a rambunctious, wandering son, HG became concerned. Had Toby encountered a coyote, a raccoon or a group of foxes (All PEI residents) ? Not to worry. Toby soon appeared and resumed his frolics in the sea. Sunset tonight was something out of a MGM Technicolor extravaganza. HG thought the mangy old MGM lion would appear. There was further drama. A “Strawberry Moon” appeared, a rare and colorful sight. HG/BSK supped on a cooling and healthy starter: Silken Tofu Snack from the Lucky Peach cookbook. This consists of slices of chilled tofu layered with slices of avocado. Dressed with olive oil, soy sauce and lime juice. Dusted with Furikake, the Japanese spice mix and a bit of Sriracha. This was followed by sole steamed on a bed of spinach with garlic, ginger and soy sauce. (BSK is masterly with this dish and HG could eat it every summer night). HG finished the wonderful day with a snifter of Bagaco, the sublime marc produced on PEI by Matos Winery and Distillery. Apologies from HG who has been misspelling this spirit in previous posts. It is Bagaco.
Been windy, rainy and cold on Prince Edward Island. Beautiful vistas of whitecaps. Invigorating salt air. But, Br-r-r-r. Big time turnaround today. Sun. Blue skies. Summer time. HG/BSK visited the Charlottetown Farmers Market. Much improved and expanded. Big seafood counter with young guys shucking oysters, making lobster rolls, grilled scallops wrapped in bacon. Lots of other good things including lobster quiche. Of course, The Gouda Lady is selling her incomparable cumin and fenugreek gouda plus other cheeses. The Taylor’s group is doing brisk business selling a variety of grilled sausages topped with mustard relish or fried onions or sauerkraut. BSK picked up some of their organic chopped pork and Black Forest ham. BSK’s favorite veggie man had sugar snap peas, mushrooms and pea shoots. HG stood between two stands. One dispensing Chinese chicken egg rolls and the other freshly made pierogis, stuffed with mashed potatoes and covered in sour cream. A quandary. HG chose the pierogi, the best ever. Then, it was off to the beach in front of HG/BSK’s oceanfront home. Toby, The Wonder Dog, was in ecstasy. He frolicked in the sea, rolled in the sand, checked out the remains of washed up lobsters. Pooch heaven. HG/BSK walked, waded, picked up beach glass for the family’s vast collection. HG absorbed much sun while reading Adam Gopnik, HG’s favorites essayist. Hot shower (outdoors). Vodka and Aperol before dinner (Ma Po Tofu, utilizing Taylor’s pork). Drank splendid Gahan’s PEI ale. After dinner, drank Bagaco, a local marc, while watching the long lingering sunset (it sets until 10 PM) and listening to Scarlatti (as interpreted by Neville Marriner and the St.John’s in the Field chamber orchestra; Jessye Norman; Blossom Dearie. A perfect day.
Years ago HG saw a morbid cartoon of a sad, legless frog propelling himself on a wheeled platform. HG was not amused. That’s because HG loves to eat frog legs. They used to be a cheap and savory dish served in Paris bistros (And, New York West Side eateries catering to seamen). Many New York Italian restaurants served them in a garlic-laden tomato sauce. Fancier joints called the dish “Grenouille a la Provencal.” HG ate scores of the tasty legs in a variety of ways: With tartare sauce; melted butter and lemon juice; with aioli; with black bean sauce in Chinatown. They always satisfied. The flavor is unique, like lean juicy chicken with a smidge of lake or sea waters. Suddenly, frog legs disappeared from menus. They not only disappeared from menus, they are virtually disappearing from our environmentally deteriorating world. Sadly, the frogs are now an endangered species. Thus, they have become prohibitively expensive. So, imagine HG’s delight when he spotted frog legs at the seafood counter of Sobey’s Supermarket in West Royalty, Prince Edward Island. Ridiculously inexpensive. Wary HG ordered only a half pound. As a dinner starter, HG fried the delicacy. HG believes in simplicity. The legs were dusted with a fish fry mix and sizzled in canola oil. When done, HG gave them a hit of sea salt and smoked black pepper. Poured some vodka on the rocks and set to. Yummylissimo!!! These were the best frog legs HG ever ate, plump, juicy and flavorful. HG was curious about their provenance. Thought they might be locally harvested. Called Sobeys the next day. The frog legs had made a long journey from Vietnam without losing their luster. Unhappily, their appearance at Sobey’s is sporadic. The guy at Sobey’s promised to call HG whenever they’re on sale. HG looks forward.
BSK’S younger sister, Noel, and her husband, Yossi, are mighty engines of talent and energy. Prescient BSK advised the couple to explore Prince Edward Island as their retirement home. They fell in love with the gentle, green Island and two years ago bought a five acre property replete with an eccentric farmhouse, a big barn, a small barn, a gazebo, lawns and scores of fruit bearing trees and shrubs (all overgrown). The property is in the Sturgeon/Crapeaux neighborhood on the south shore of PEI, close to the clams of St. Mary’s Harbor and the lovely beaches of Panmure Island. When HG/BSK arrived for dinner at Ocean Mist last night, HG/BSK were astonished. Lawns and shrubs were groomed. Grapevines were abundant. Horseradish and wild asparagus were growing. (The asparagus were served at dinner and were lush). Yossi’s agricultural experience as the manager of the banana plantation at the Israeli kibbutz where he was raised, was put to good use. (That career was interrupted by service as an IDF paratrooper). There were meticulous gardens of herbs and vegetables. Strawberries. Rows of succulent PEI potatoes. All culminating in a recently purchased contiguous 35-acre piece of fertile land now cultivated with timothy and oats for hay. (Noel contemplates converting it to a lavender field in the future). That’s not all. In the big barn are adorable piglets and sheep. Two happy calves in a nearby pasture. Ocean Mist is a self sufficient empire. While Yossi was engaged in agriculture, Noel painted the farmhouse and small barn; emptied the big barn of a ton of rotting hay; built stalls for the animals; knocked down walls in the farmhouse to make the layout more effective. All of this represented hours of hauling, digging, planting, mowing, pruning, carpentry, painting, etc. HG gets tired thinking of it. However (though not youngsters), Noel and Yossi are constructed of steel and industrial wire. Their combined excess fat could fit in a wee teaspoon. They think of the Ocean Mist labor as a lark compared to their endeavor in the mountain foothills of Colorado. There, they spent three years living in one room of a barn (With their two young sons) as they built a spacious log home. (The barn was built first as a home for their family and stalls for a number of horses). The home was built from scratch. The logs were delivered to the site, peeled by Noel and Yossi, cut to size. How they managed to build the home with no electricity and some minor help remains a mystery. It had to be done part time as the duo were supporting themselves with demanding jobs as special education teachers. When HG questioned Noel about building in the harsh, snowy Colorado winters, Noel replied succinctly: “Never again !!”. Dinner last night was pure PEI with a dash of Israel. Appetizers were hummus with great zaatar-speckled pita (Baked by Noel, a talented baker) and cold PEI mussels in a Sriracha mayonnaise (Brought by HG). This was followed by steamed lobsters (Harvested by an Ocean Mist neighbor), sautéed scallops (Also supplied by an Ocean Mist neighbor); PEI potato salad; green salad from the garden; the aforementioned asparagus. Dessert was Canadian butter tarts and pistachio Halvah (The wondrous sweet made in Lebanon and available, surprisingly, in a Montague, PEI, supermarket). As we dined, Noel looked out at the newly purchased field and spoke of buying a bunch of horses and building a horse barn, hay loft and riding ring. Both Noel and Yossi are professional equestrians, trainers and horsemanship teachers. They are also leaders and teachers in the demanding sport of vaulting (Acrobatics atop a horse). It is hard to think of Noel and Yossi without horses. HG/BSK will see what the future of Ocean Mist Farm has in store. HG/BSK left Ocean mist with many gifts: Sea scallops; leg of lamb and lamb chops (from previous livestock). Happy eating lies ahead.
Le Dome, the vintage restaurant in the Montparnasse neighborhood of Paris, serves the best sole dish in the world. It is a Dover Sole, gently sautéed in butter. Deftly filleted by a professional waitperson, doused with a butter/lemon sauce. Accompanied by a mashed potato pancake. The cost? Astronomical. Here on Prince Edward Island, the lovely ladies of By the Bay Fish Mart, supply HG/BSK with fresh Atlantic sole. No, the fish is not Dover Sole. But, thick and firm fillets with a nice taste of the sea. (The Pacific sole fillets HG/BSK buy at Whole Foods when residing in New Mexico, are too thin and have a tendency to disintegrate when steamed or sautéed). Last night, BSK pan steamed a pound of BTB sole, using a technique learned from chef/daughter-in-law Exquisite Maiko (Visit her at the Oni Sauce stand at Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg for superb Japanese fried chicken, beef tataki and other good things). BSK steamed the sole on a bed of bok choy, spinach, ginger, garlic, soy sauce and oyster sauce. Served it with bowls of rice. Wonderful. Next week, HG will give the sole the meuniere treatment. HG will dust the sole with flour. Quick saute the fish in canola oil and butter. Serve it with a sauce of melted butter, capers, lemon juice. Plate it with a boiled PEI potato. A faint echo of Le Dome at a modest price.
Prince Edward Island. At last. Culmination of 2,800 miles of motor travel and well worth it. The moment HG/BSK opened the door of HG/BSK’s home on the sea, the duo were filled with serenity and well being. And, why not? Sun was shining and the sea stretched out to the far off horizon. Gulls. Osprey. Cormorants. Yellow finches. Crows (alas). Plovers on the beach. Delicious, salty air. Nary a sound from the human world. Peace. And, then there was reunion with ladies of By the Bay Fish Mart, owner Sheryll O’Hanley and her efficient aide, Gladys. By the Bay provides HG/BSK (plus family, neighbors, friends and visitors) with months of culinary delight. Last night, HG/BSK dined on pounds of steamed mussels from St. Peters Bay (BSK added a chunk of the Mart’s cod to the savory stew). This was preceded by a dozen lush, briny oysters. HG thought they were from Savage Harbor, the Mart’s usual source, but was informed by Sheryll they were from St. Peters Bay where a new oyster farm is in operation. The mussels were plump and juicy. Paragons. HG/BSK were overjoyed. Last year was a bad year for PEI mussels, Tiny and flavorless. The mussels have made a tasty comeback. Dessert was a Canadian specialty–Pecan Butter Tarts. These are addictive, flavorful and fattening. Hey, seize the day.
Chong Qing House in Seekonk, Mass., is a quick ten minute drive from the Riva family residence in Riverside, R.I.. It is a small Chinese restaurant occupying a space in a nondescript strip mall. Blink and you’d miss it. That would be a misfortune if you are a fan of authentic Szechuan and Hunan food. HG likes it better than any Szechuan-Hunan restaurant in New York or Vancouver. (In the absence of a trip to Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Chinese mainland, these cities have been HG’s ideal of fiery Chinese food heaven. Oddly, tiny Seekonk has displaced these metropolises in HG’s dreams of Szechuan-Hunan). Today, granddaughters Arianna and Sofia R. joined HG at Chong Quing for a festive, fiery luncheon. As usual, HG over-ordered: Spicy Lamb in Casserole (two red peppercorns denoting level of heat); Salt and Pepper Shrimp (This was the best ever version of the dish. Juicy shrimp delicately breaded and served on a bed of crispy rice noodles dotted with diced scallions. No red peppercorn designation); Shredded pork with smoked bean curd (no peppercorns); Sour String Beans with minced pork (no peppercorns); Steamed Pork Dumplings (no peppercorns). Despite the lack of peppercorn designations, every dish (except the dumplings) packed loads of tongue tingling heat. HG wanted some fish dishes but his companions are not big fish fans. Heat didn’t overwhelm the authentic .savory flavors. The only dish on the extensive menu that garnered four peppercorns was Wild Pepper Fried Frog. HG will pass on that one. HG is adventurous but not brave enough to try these delicacies: Sauteed Bullfrog with Chili Sauce; Marinated Pig Feet Shanghai Style; Spicy Pig Intestine in Casserole. HG could not figure out two dishes: Chong Qing Stew The Cock; Mixed Meat Chaff with Chong Qing Style Spicy Dried Chili. Hot stuff. Both rate three peppercorns.