A Decade in Saint John: My Best Of List

Since posting that I’m celebrating my 10 year anniversary of moving to Saint John, its become clear that my schedule is not going allow me to write a separate post for each of my favourite places in Saint John as I’d hoped .  If you follow me on Instagram, I’ve been posting a few photos of my favourite places in Saint John over there (link on sidebar).

Since time is pressing and October is almost done, I decided that a single post with all of my Port City Best Of’s would be more efficient.

So here are my Best Of Saint John:

Best Place to Find Outdoor Adventure

Rockwood Park – with over 55 trails and endless activities to choose from, you can disappear into the wilderness, right inside the city.

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Best Place to Catch Live Music/Eat Your Body Weight in Wings

Peppers Pub – showcasing the best in local and come-from -away talent.  Wing nights are Thursday.  Get there early.

Best Place to Watch a Sunset

Brothers Cove/RKYC – any night of the week in the summer, you can find people drawn to this beautiful spot to watch the sun disappear over the Kennebecasis River in fantastic fashion.

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Best Views of the City

Fort Howe – panoramic views of the city and harbour.  Also, get a selfie with the famous Saint John sign!

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Best Place to People Watch

King’s Square – pack a lunch and park yourself on one of the benches around the King’s Square Bandstand and watch the people go by.

Best Place to Catch an Amazing Show

Imperial Theatre – a theatre circa 1913, restored in incredible detail.  I don’t know what I love more: The shows or the setting.

Best Place for a Fancy Meal

East Coast Bistro – Chefs Tim Muehlbauer and Kim Steele serve up locally sourced food with a distinctively Maritime twist.  You won’t be disappointed.

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Best Place for Bargain Meal

Thai Pho – owners Julia and Dave Park welcome you to Thai Pho as if it was their home. They take great care to serve delicious Thai and Vietnamese food at a great price.

Best Place to Score Killer Style

Exchange on Germain – selling mid to high-end consignment items, I find something great every time I open the doors.

Best Place for a Cocktail

Port City Royal – house mixologist Eric Scouten was named one of 10 Mixologists Putting Canada on the Map, by destinationcanada.com.

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Best Place to Get a Coffee

Java Moose – I’m going to say specifically in the Saint John City Market, this iconic Saint John coffee company is much loved by locals and visitors alike.

Best Place for a Romantic Getaway

Chipman Hill Suites – with numerous beautiful buildings around historic Uptown Saint John, you can have a romantic getaway right in the heart of the city.

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Best Place for a Walk on the Beach

Bayshore Beach – while most people will tell you that New River Beach is the nicest beach around (and I wouldn’t disagree), Bayshore Beach on the city’s west side allows you to stroll along the famous Bay of Fundy ocean floor in much closer proximity.

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Smith Family Traditions: Christmas Mix

Holiday traditions.

We’ve all got them and the holidays just don’t seem like the holidays without them.  It might be the baking of a delicious treat, or the ritual of decorating the Christmas tree or a multitude of other sweet family customs.  They become so deeply embedded in our enjoyment of the season that even as we become adults, we often can’t let go of those traditions that we cherished as children.

For as long as I have known him, my husband has been making Christmas Mix as a holiday treat to give to family and friends (also known as bits and bites or nuts and bolts or a multitude of other names).  He’s been doing this for about 15 years and since we’ve been together, for the better part of a decade now, I’ve helped him.

Ours is a super-secret family recipe that can’t be revealed, but you can find a lot of very close recipes posted across the internet, such as those found here and here.

It started out as just about a dozen mason jars being given out but it’s ballooned over the years to this year’s all-time record of 40 jars of Christmas Mix!  It’s quite an operation.  If you don’t receive a jar from us, we’re very sorry, but we had to draw the line somewhere!

First, we collect all the supplies we need and the mason jars.

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All the supplies are collected and ready to be baked!

Then comes the really time consuming part, baking the mix.  The mix cooks for 2 hours, stirred every 20 minutes.  You can’t just throw it in the oven and walk away.

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The Mix is getting mixed
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One batch almost ready for the oven
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Adding the secret sauce…

We’re making 5 large batches this year, an all-time record.  That’s a lot of Christmas mix!  This year we decided to do all the baking in a single day, so we’re currently about halfway through a 10 hour Christmas Mix baking day.  It’s a marathon event that requires lots of Netflix, Winter Warmer (wine for me) and patience.

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About half way through the baking process.  It smells amazing in here!
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Of course, Joel has to sample the goods.

After the mix has cooled we put them into mason jars and pretty them up a bit.

The finished product ready to be delivered!

The really fun part is delivering the mix.  Joel and I put on Santa hats and hit the road (usually some snowy evening) to hand out our delicious treats. We even mail some out to friends who live outside Saint John.

It’s a lot of work but it’s totally worth it to spread a little Christmas cheer among our friends and family.  It’s a tradition.  And holiday traditions are comforting and warm, like a sweet memory.  For some, it’s just not Christmas until they see that mix.

I’ll leave you with some music to complete your own holiday traditions.  I was fortunate enough to see this New Brunswick native perform at Imperial Theatre this week and it was fabulous!  If you get the chance to see him live, I highly recommend it!  Here’s a couple of my favourites from his Christmas album:

 

What are some of your family holiday traditions?

 

Only in the Maritimes

Recently, Covered Bridge Potato Chips released a flavour, or rather a combination of flavours, called Storm Chips, capitalizing on the now ubiquitous Maritime term to describe storm-related snacks.  If you haven’t heard the story of how Storm Chips came to be a Maritime phenomenon then carry on, dear reader.  Last winter, Stephanie Domet, a Halifax CBC reporter spoke on air about her penchant for chips and dip every time it stormed (which, as you remember, was often last January).  When she went to the store to get her snacks, she snapped a photo of them with the hashtag #stormchips and the phenomenon was born.  Now, you can actually buy a flavour of chips bearing that very name.  I can already hear the crinkle of chip bags opening all over the Maritimes this winter as thousands of Maritimers cuddle up under a blanket on the couch as a storm rages outside.  Just, hopefully, not too many times.  For our physical health as well as our sanity.

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Photo, coveredbridgechips.com

The reappearance of Storm Chips got me thinking: what else can be considered uniquely Maritimes?

There are a few things that the Maritimes share with neighbouring regions, such as wild blueberries and maple syrup.  There’s also lobster and other seafood of course, lobster rolls being a favourite served in restaurants across the region.

Now, that’s a lobster roll!

Dulse (dried seaweed) is another treat (term used liberally!) from the sea commonly found in the Maritimes.  That doesn’t mean it’s for everyone and while lots of Maritimers love dulse, lots hate it, too.

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Photo, public domain

Donair is another well-known Maritime food specialty.  The donair reportedly began in Halifax in the 1970’s, but who can claim credit for creating it and being the first to serve it is up for debate.  For those who don’t know, donair consists of sliced, seasoned meat served on bread with tomato, onion and sweet donair sauce.

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Photo, MrDonair.ca

As for non-food related Maritime specialties, it might very well be the only place in the world that you can find inner-city, dual lighthouses at sunset, like these found in Uptown, Saint John:

Dual lighthouses at sunset, only in the Maritimes

Lighthouses in general, while certainly not unique to the Maritimes, are so synonymous with the region that the Peggy’s Cove lighthouse is one of the most photographed lighthouse in the world.

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A foggy day at Peggy’s Cove

You can also find brutal winters here, that range from +15 one day and -25 the next.  And don’t even get us started on the snow…we’re still traumatized from last winter, which saw record snowfalls in several Maritime cities.

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We find ways to deal with the snow

Despite all the unique things the Maritimes offer that we love, there is not one single thing that can define us.  It’s all part of a way of life that is shaped by our environment and our histories.  It’s woven into our DNA, from the first breath of salty sea air that fills our lungs.  We are a part of it, as it is a part of us.

Is there anything I missed that is uniquely Maritimes?

 

 

Fall Chop Chop Week in Saint John

A foodie’s dream – it’s Chop Chop Week in Uptown, Saint John!  All this week, our fabulous chefs offer up special plates, 2-course lunches and 3-course dinners for a special price.  And the best part is that $1 from every dish sold goes to Lunch Connection, providing hot lunches for kids.  It’s a win-win.  You get to eat great food and the kids get a hot lunch.  And remember that thing I wrote about helping support your city, Saint John?  This is one really simple way to do just that.  You get to show appreciation for our fabulous chefs who take such great care to make wonderful, beautiful food for us, support local businesses and thus the local economy and you get to help feed kids in the area.  So really it’s a win-win-win.

We’re well into Chop Chop week, with only a few more days left to partake.  And by all accounts, it’s been a roaring success.  Joel went to En on Tuesday with some coworkers and told me the place was bumping.  Last night we went to dinner at East Coast Bistro and the place was packed.  We had a fantastic meal and despite how busy it was, the service was great and we didn’t have to wait more than a few minutes for any course. Their kitchen is obviously a well oiled machine.

Since I can’t eat wheat, my choices are somewhat limited but I would still like to make it out for one more Chop Chop meal this weekend and I have found that our Saint John chefs are incredibly accommodating with food allergies and intolerances.  I thank you for that, it means a lot to this gluten free foodie!

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Chop Chop main course, En
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Chop Chop dinner at ECB!
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Black & white salad for me, sweet potato soup for Joel
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Pesto haddock gratin for my main, apple-cranberry-rye stuffed pork tenderloin for Joel
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Butter ice cream with sponge toffee crunch for me, Maritime gingerbread for Joel – so yummy!

So if you haven’t been out for a Chop Chop meal yet, what are you waiting for?!  Get on the horn and make a reservation for this weekend!  Yes, all our restaurants will still be here next week but these special menus and the chance to help local schoolkids won’t be.  Happy eating, SJ!

Anniversary Celebration in Uptown, Saint John

Two years ago tomorrow, my husband and I used Chipman Hill Suites as a home base for our wedding. The historic residence of former Mayor Walter W. White, 71 Sydney St. had everything that we needed to create beautiful photo memories of the day and was a comfortable place for out-of-town guests to stay.

On Saturday night, we ventured back Uptown to celebrate our 2nd anniversary, this time at 1 Chipman Hill.  After having been in several of the Chipman Hill Suites buildings, I can tell you that they are exquisitely beautiful with all of the incredible opulence of their time of construction (1854-1857 for the buildings on Chipman Hill). They boast crown moulding, colourful stained glass windows and ornate wood carvings.

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1 Chipman Hill exterior
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Our gorgeous room at 1 Chipman Hill
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Pretty stained glass windows
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Lobby and staircase at 1 Chipman Hill

The furnishings have all been chosen to complement the style of the homes.  I loved the carved wood armoire in our room and admired the lovely chess set and light fixtures in the common areas.

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Ornate armoire
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Loved this little detail in our room
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Chess anyone?
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Lobby light fixture

Susan Fullerton and her team go above and beyond to ensure their guest’s comfort.  I remember having many email conversations with Susan throughout the wedding process on what we needed and how best Chipman Hill Suites could provide it.  She was so helpful.  I guess this is one reason why they are ranked #1 on TripAdvisor among B&B and Inn’s in Saint John.  They are definitely worth checking out if you are planning a trip to Saint John or if you just want a night away from home.

Even though I had a cold and was feeling a little under the weather, I didn’t want to miss out on having dinner Uptown.  We decided on Italian by Night: it was a romantic night after all, so we felt Italian was called for.  All I can say is WOW.  We had an incredible meal and I was so impressed that the chefs had gluten free options so that I could enjoy every course fully.  And I thought the meal was a great value: we split the bruschetta, each had a main as well as dessert (those GF brownies – chocolate heaven!) and a couple glasses of wine for around $80.  For such a fantastic meal – that’s a bargain.

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Bruschetta. ‘Nugh said.
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GF penne for me and and pizza for Joel
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GF brownies for me and tiramisu for Joel

After dinner, we ended our evening out at Bourbon Quarter, where we had a nightcap of Pollen Angels mead for me and a Hammond River brew for Joel while we enjoyed the music from their weekly open mike night.  Then we strolled back to 1 Chipman Hill, having thoroughly enjoyed our romantic evening Uptown.  Saint Romantic, indeed.

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Some fine NB-made nightcaps

Maritime Growing Season: The Wild Blueberry Harvest

My family owns a few wild blueberry fields in Cumberland County, Nova Scotia.  Every year around this time, the blueberry harvest begins and it’s like a siren call luring me home.  I take a week off work each year to make the trip from Saint John to help my parents out with the harvest.

Most blueberries are harvested now using large tractors with special attachments but some fields aren’t conducive to this method or have sections that the tractors can’t get to. So me, my parents, my siblings, the older grand-kids and anyone else who wants to earn a few extra bucks and give themselves a backache, head to the fields to handpick a path for the tractors and anywhere else that my father, aka the Blueberry Warden, deems fit.

At one time, blueberry fields would be completely handpicked.  Bus loads of workers would wearily make their way to the fields each morning, straining away all day in the hot sun, doing this incredibly physical work everyday for 3 or 4 weeks.  You got paid by the bucket; depending on how good the berries were you would probably get $1.25 or $1.50 a bucket in my childhood.  Not many people want to work so hard for so little reward these days and the harvesters do the work much faster so the days of handpicking are pretty much over, at least in Cumberland County.

And it is backbreaking work, let me assure you.  For those of you that have never had the distinct “pleasure” of handpicking wild blueberries, let me paint you a picture: you spend your entire day bent over in the late August heat, with blueberry vines scratching at your legs while you heave away at those loathsome blue bastards using your metal-teethed torture device (that you are likely to stab yourself with at least once by the end of the week).  You will come to hate those devil-spawn berries, probably by the end of the first day.  It will hurt to bend over; it will hurt to stand up.  You will see blueberries when you close your eyes at night.  They will stain all your clothes and your hands.  And don’t even get me started on blueberry spiders – I live in fear of those monsters.

But the thing is, despite all the hard work, I have a lot of fond memories of picking blueberries. Memories of childhood summers spent running around Papa’s blueberry fields and well deserved afternoon treats of ice-cold Popsicles.  Stuffing your face with blueberries, straight off the vine and warmed by the sun, until Papa yells at you to “stop eating all my profits!”.

These days, the harvest is one of the few times a year my whole family gets together.  It’s a reunion and it’s a time to catch up.  My maternal grandmother picked blueberries well into her 60’s and when she finally had to stop, she found she really missed the social aspect of it.  You’ve got lots of time to chat in the blueberry field.  It’s also a time to celebrate the end of summer and reset ourselves for the start of a new season.  To this day, every blueberry harvest season makes me feel like I’m going back to school.  And there are benefits to your family owning blueberry fields: all the blueberries you can eat.  I love a bowl of them with milk and a little bit of sugar.

There will come a time, perhaps soon, when we will no longer get together for the blueberry harvest.  We’re all getting older, it’s harder on our bodies.  We won’t converge on this lonely hilltop for a week in late August to share in the experience of hard work and a job well done.  We won’t tease my father for being a slave driver and each other about who picked more.  And as strange as it might be to some, I will probably miss it. Because nothing bonds a family quite like a common goal.  And this year was particularly sweet, as we had another reason to celebrate – my father’s 60th birthday. The celebration brought family and friends together for an incredible feast and was a wonderful way to end our visit and another successful blueberry harvest season.

Here are a few photos from blueberry harvest 2015:

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Growing Season in the Maritimes: Garlic Scape Pesto

This is not a food blog.  And I am definitely not a chef.  That being said, if we are going to talk about life in the Maritimes, food has to be part of the conversation.  Because we all love food and each region has a unique take on it.

I love this time of year.  Fresh local produce is starting to roll out in grocery stores and farmers markets.  I’ve been gorging on strawberries while I can get them fresh because there is really nothing better.

In previous growing seasons, my husband and I have signed up for a local produce pack. It includes locally grown fruit and veggies that you pick up at a designated location once a week. One of the best things about getting the produce pack was that it introduced us to several items that we had never cooked with before (mizuna? tatsoi? daikon radish? – I had no idea what these things were).  It was like an adventure every week, to see what would show up and figure out how we would use it.

One of those lesser-known items was garlic scapes.  Those twisty, curly, pointy green shoots that come off the hard neck varieties of garlic commonly grown in these parts.  At first I had no idea what to do with them.  I mean, they looked cool and all, but how do you actually eat them?  Then I found a recipe for garlic scape pesto.  And I was sold.

Here’s my recipe for Garlic Scape Pesto, modified from an Epicurious recipe:

Garlic Scape Pesto


10 large garlic scapes

6-8 large basil leaves

1/3 cup unsalted pistachios

1/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Kosher salt and black pepper

1/3 cup olive oil

Combine all ingredients except olive oil in food processor and puree until very finely chopped.

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With the motor running, slowly pour olive oil into the opening until a paste-like consistency develops.

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And that’s it, you’re done!  The pesto will keep in the fridge for a week or you can freeze it for up to a month.

I like to spread the pesto on bread or crackers but my favorite way to eat it is to cook spaghetti and save some of the pasta water, whisk it together with a bit of the pesto and toss with the pasta.  Delicious!

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What are some of your favorite ways of using fresh, local produce?