Tuesday, May 29, 2012

New Brunswick’s Acadia — A veritable feast

I recently toured New Brunswick’s Acadia. Coming from the west coast it was fabulous to visit this pocket of Canada that has preserved — very proudly! — its French heritage.

The Village Historique Acadien was an excellent introduction. We wandered through houses, barns, a hotel, a blacksmith’s shop and much more that dated back to the 17th century. A volunteer in period costume demonstrated how she spun and wove wool. I was envious of her nimble fingers and ability to switch effortlessly between French and English.

That evening we lodged at the historic Hotel Paulin, a delightful small inn in Caraquet and discovered the Acadien’s love of food and wine. Chef Karen Mersereau enthusiastically served an outstanding six-course dinner featuring salad with crab claws and shrimp and a main of duck and lobster. The mushrooms for the wild mushroom soup were picked by the restaurant’s own mycologist.

Next day we toured the dramatic New Brunswick north coast passing fishing boats, villages with Acadian flags flapping and the world’s largest lobster. We visited the large white Sainte-Cecile Church, aka the Bubble-Gum Church, on Lamèque Island whose interior is painted in garish, childlike pastels as though the priest/painter was on a psychedelic trip.

Lunch was at Déjà Bu in Caraquet, probably the best wine bar experience east of Montreal, where the host, Robert Noel, demonstrated the Acadien joie de vivre and love of good food. We worked our way through French onion soup, fresh oysters, steak frite, mussels, lobster truffle macaroni and cheese and a house special, clam poutine, all chased down with superb wine pairings. Our tummies distended, we motored on.

With the sun low in the western sky, we stopped at Maison Tait in Shediac. What a gorgeous, historic inn! And dinner was, of course, another treasured Acadian ritual.

Next morning we strolled a long boardwalk to Le Pays de la Sagouine, an island, which is an attractive rendition of early Acadia with two stages for performances. This cultural centre is based on Antonine Maillet’s novel, La Sagouine, which depicts the hard-scrabble life of an Acadian woman.

Racing to the airport, we only had time to stop for a small four-course lunch and wine before I waddled onto the plane and, very sadly, departed.

Kelowna – The Heart of Canada’s Garden of Eden

The Okanagan Valley slices like a surgeon’s incision in a north-south direction through B.C.’s mountainous interior. Blessed by sunshine and bounteous vineyards and orchards, it’s Canada’s Garden of Eden, and a place I love to visit. This time I was drawn by the occult and mystical: the pyramid at Summerhill Winery (http://www.summerhill.bc.ca/). As Stephen Cipes, the winery’s proprietor, the creator of the pyramid and an aging happy hippy explained, “This is the world’s most accurate model of Egypt’s Great Pyramid. Due to its sacred geometry it channels energy and enhances the wines we store there.” We tasted his sparkling wine, and I could only agree.

At Father Pandosy Heritage Mission (http://www.okanaganhistoricalsociety.org/pandosy_mission.html), we strolled among old log buildings, recalling the early days of the valley, when life was much simpler.

Later along the concrete of downtown, I mounted a paddleboard, handcrafted by local artisan Derek Frechette (http://www.peregrinelongboards.com/), who also gave riding pointers to this aging duffer. I rolled along slowly and tentatively as youngsters raced past, but with a huge grin.

The accommodations at Manteo Resort (http://www.manteo.com/), right on the banks of the lake, were comfortable, and the food at its Wild Apple Restaurant ( http://www.wildapplerestaurant.com) was great. The second evening I feasted at the popular Cabana Grille.
In the morning we hiked high on Knox Mountain. The air had an intoxicating freshness, arrowleaf balsamroot flowers bloomed bright yellow among the dry grasses and Kelowna and Lake Okanagan were laid out below us like feast. Turning a corner, we unexpectedly encountered a rock cairn and then another and another. An anonymous sculptor had erected about 50 rock cairns, like Inuit Inukshuks, here on a ridge. Some loomed over two metres in height and took unusual shapes, often like dream-land creatures. They were mysterious and spiritual.

No question, Kelowna rocks!

For more information: www.tourismkelowna.com

Friday, May 4, 2012

Fredericton: Warmth, Whiskey & Gourmet Cuisine

The tediousness of flying across our vast land to reach Fredericton was quickly washed away by New Brunswick’s warmth and hospitality. What a TMAC conference! Who would have thought the city would throw open the doors of its historic Government House, which we reached by a lovely, sun-warmed stroll alongside Canada’s most storied river. En route, Andrew and I even encountered some delightful rascals, one of whom wore a scarlet tunic and kept ringing a loud brass bell.

To the screech of bagpipes the horde of TMACers entered the not-so-modest domicile of the Lieutenant Governor. Sipping a cranberry sparkling wine I wandered through three floors of history encountering an attractive belle playing a harp, painters painting and a duo playing fiddle music. Everyone was smiling and laughing; Government House overflowed with good cheer.

But the best part was the food! Gourmet culinary stations were sprinkled throughout this formidable manse. Freshly harvested oysters, shucked right before me, slid down my throat. I tried to concentrate — unsuccessfully — on the chat of a striking lady representing Manitoba, or was it Edmonton, or perhaps Montreal, while the tastes of poached lobster topped with caviar cream lingered on my palate. Around each corner awaited scrumptuous gourmet snacks: fresh smoked salmon, succulent crabcakes, bacon-wrapped turkey – all produced locally. Finally, I reached the desert table. Nirvana! Ecstasy! Calories be damned, I dove into the truffles, devouring about ten. Oh yes, the cheesecakes and chocolate tort weren’t bad either.

As the crowd began to thin, Andrew and I headed into the town centre, lured by rumours that a certain pub, the Lunar Rogue, served 400 different whiskeys from around the globe. Soon we were happily sipping a dram washed down by a pint of best bitter, chatting, somewhat incoherently, with the locals.

Stumbling back to the hotel with the moon reflecting from the still waters of the St. John River, I emitted a small belch. A memorable evening indeed.