The Country Garden

I’m a city girl, but I’ve been in and out of farmland since childhood. Ottawa’s a pretty small city, and it is surrounded by (and encompasses) a great deal of agricultural property. You’d be hard pressed to find anywhere in town that is more than a 45-minute drive from planted fields (traffic aside, of course).


Sign at the farm at 1900 Kerr Line, Foresters Falls, Ontario

Once you get out of the city proper, you start seeing lots of signs like the one above for home-based businesses selling produce and goods that were grown, raised, or made on the property. However, there has been a sharp decline in the number of little sheds that I saw as a child at the end of just about every farm lane. I don’t know what has changed that caused them to become unused; did they become unprofitable to staff? If the booths were unmanned and ran on the honour system, was there just too much theft to make them profitable? Too much spoilage? Was it caused by the change over years in how farms are being run (increasingly, one large farm produces only a few select things and brings everything else in based on the profits, versus the older model of many smaller farms that fed their residents first and then sold the excess, if there was one)? Is it just because there are fewer people living on farms overall, as machines replace manual labour? Or is it because as the larger farms buy up their neighbours’ land, they leave the homes on the property to sit empty? A combination of all of the above, possibly in addition to factors I know nothing about?


Roadside sign for The Country Garden.


The Country Garden’s main area.

However, there are still a few roadside booths going strong. The Country Garden on Queen’s Line is the best example of a successful booth that I know of. The farm itself appears to be tended with a great deal of care. The grass is mowed up to the road, the fruit trees are neatly trimmed, there are flowers planted at the base of all the signs and hanging baskets wherever they’ll fit, the dirt road is without major potholes. And the food, oh the food… I make a point of stopping there every time we’re in that neck of the woods, and I’ve been going for almost ten years now.

The Country Garden is unmanned unless it is being stocked, and hence it runs on the honour system. There is some security in the shape of a lock box and a security camera. This seems to work out well for them overall, although there have been hiccups. Inside the shed there is a board with photos of people who have stolen from the Garden before, along with pictures and a written request for people to help in identifying the thieves. I don’t have a lot of patience with thieves in general, but I think it’s pretty despicable to steal from a small business like that.

The shelves on the outside of the main booth (shed?) are stocked up every day with fresh-picked produce from the farm (which I believe is run by the Martin family). This time of year there is a plenitude of tomatoes, peas, garlic, potatoes, lettuce, and green onions. Of course, this varies by season; I’ve been by in the fall when there are literal trailer-loads of squash for sale.


Inside the shed/booth.


Of course I had to buy a blueberry pie.

Inside the shed (booth?) are shelves lined with preserves, some of which come directly from the farm and others from Horst Homebaking (another local business, which is run by Noreen Horst at 74 Government Road (Foresters Falls, Ontario)). All of the preserves I’ve bough from The Country Garden have been bursting with flavour and not over-sweet, which is exactly how I like them. There is also a fridge that is re-stocked daily with eggs, fresh-baked pies and tarts that would make Dean Winchester weep, pepperettes, and sausages. The freezer is regularly refilled with cuts of beef and homemade ice cream bars.

There are photos on display of the family working on the farm; by their garb I would guess they are Mennonites, but I am not 100% sure. Most of what I know about Mennonites is based on the food I have bought from their booths at farmers’ markets — which has invariably been delicious.

Occasionally there are crafts for sale, like the above ride-on toy digger.

And there are often ornamental plants and hanging plants on offer as well.

If The Country Garden is still running for another ten years, as I hope it will be, I plan on buying fresh local produce and goods from them for all of that time. They don’t exactly have a web presence, but I can tell you that they’re open seasonally Monday through Saturday. They only take cash and, as you’ll have to deposit your payment in the lock box, you’ll need exact change. The Country Garden is located at 3024 Queens Line (Foresters Falls, Ontario), just down from the intersection of Queen’s Line and Acres Road, and close to Queen’s Line United Church (currently not in use). I highly recommend stopping by if you’re in the area. You won’t regret it. Come early if you can, as their stock can run low later in the day.

Lobster Rolls

The weather is finally changing to something vaguely resembling summer, and this is the time of year that I start thinking about all the summer trips to the Maritimes that I made as a child, and then again as an adult. We would drive there from Ontario, and it seemed that as soon as you crossed the border between Québec and New Brunswick, the food culture changed from land to sea. Just pop into a New Brunswick fast food restaurant in order to compare: McDonald’s in New Brunswick serves (very poor) lobster rolls, and Subway serves a (reasonable) seafood sub. The culinary transition is rather abrupt, because it’s not like the terrain and agriculture of eastern Québec and western New Brunswick are at all different. But New Brunswick is a maritime province, and this is reflected in the culture and the cuisine. Which isn’t to say that there isn’t a strong agricultural foundation in the province as well; with an area almost the size of Ireland with one sixth the population, there is room for multiple local industries.


Golden Fry, Shediac, New Brunswick.

Most people who visit New Brunswick head for the coast. The best value for money as a tourist is generally to rent a cottage within walking distance of the sea, or if that’s not possible, to stay in an inn or B&B within a short drive of the beach. The town of Shediac (the self-proclaimed Lobster Capital of the World) has capitalized on its proximity to the gorgeous Parlee Beach Provincial Park and has, over the years, become somewhat overdone, over-hyped and overpriced. The town almost shuts down except for the months of July and August. There are some good seafood restaurants there during tourist season — but some of the best food in town can be found at the Golden Fry (560 Main St, Shediac).


Lobster roll and fries at the Golden Fry.

The place doesn’t look like much; it’s just a small building off the side of the road, with a gravel parking lot and some plastic tables and chairs out front. It’s takeout, pure and simple — it makes me think that a french fry truck grew roots and decided to stay in one place. But oh my goodness, their food is so good! Take the lobster roll, for example. It’s a toasted, buttered New England roll stuffed to bursting with chunks of fresh, cold lobster meat. Their their fries are fresh-cut, their poutine uses real cheese curds, their fried clams are crisp on the outside, soft in the center… A lot of the fancier restaurants in town could take lessons from this place, especially since “lobster roll and fries” is a standard menu item in the area no matter where you dine.


Bouctouche Beach.

To me, though, Shediac has been done to death. The town is packed to the gills during tourist season, the traffic can be gnarly, everything is overpriced compared to the same things just out of town, the cottages are so close they’re practically town houses… For my seaside vacation, I prefer something a little calmer. This is why I’ve fallen in love with the town of Bouctouche, which is a short drive up Highway 11. Like Shediac and Pointe-du-Chêne (which also has some lovely beaches), it is on the Northumberland Strait, and as such boasts some of the warmest ocean water temperatures on the Atlantic coast north of Virginia. Unlike Shediac, it hasn’t become a tourist trap, although Bouctouche does boom in summer. It’s a little further away from Moncton, and hence from the Moncton airport, so people aren’t as likely to make the effort.


Irving Eco-Center, La Dune de Bouctouche boardwalk.


Irving Arboretum.


Irving Arboretum.

The town of Bouctouche has benefited from being where James Dergavel Irving founded J.D. Irving Ltd. (the company most well-known these days for Irving gas stations) in 1882. The company/family has funded a big chunk of the most beautiful spots in town, like the Irving Arboretum, which is packed with scenic walking and biking trails, and the Irving Eco-Centre, La Dune de Bouctouche, which contains the local saltwater beach as well as a boardwalk and hiking trails.


Buctouche river.

In addition to the coastal attractions, the Buctouche river flows through Bouctouche and neighbouring towns, emptying into Buctouche Bay in the Northumberland Strait. This means that the town also has freshwater angling, boating, and scenery.


Banana split at Le Petit Crèmier, Bouctouche, NB.

One of my kids’ favourite places in Bouctouche was Le Petit Crèmier (103 Irving Blvd), which is the local ice cream parlour. Once again, it’s take-out only, but their ice cream is great, their portions generous, and the sheer variety of what they serve is mind-boggling. It’s totally worth a stop on a hot day (or, if you’re like me, any day).


Pirate de la Mer restaurant, Bouctouche, NB

The hidden gem of Bouctouche, food-wise, is Pirate de la Mer (10 rue Industrielle, across the street from the small mall containing the Co-Op and the liquor store). There’s nothing much to the restaurant when you see it from the outside. It’s in a plain red industrial building, with a couple of picnic tables out front, and a gravel parking lot. But if you head there on the weekend or at dinner time, be prepared for up to a half an hour wait in line just to place your order, with another half hour before your food is made. The place is popular with the locals and with tourists. It is not uncommon for there to be not enough seating for everybody, which is why a good portion of their clientele orders their food to go. The amply-sized parking lot gets full fast, with overflow parking on the road. After my first visit, I would order my food a half an hour in advance or so, giving them lots of time to prep while I headed over and then waited in line. This way the food was hot and ready to go as soon as I paid.


Double lobster roll, fries & coleslaw at Pirate de la Mer.

The lobster rolls at Pirate de la Mer are mouth-watering — enough so that I make a special trip to Bouctouche to order them, even when I’m not staying in town. Their fries are crispy deliciousness, and I’m told that their coleslaw is first rate (I don’t like coleslaw). In addition, they make their own tartar sauce – they’ll give you the option between their version and pre-made Kraft stuff. Go with their version. It’s definitely not a fancy restaurant, but I haven’t had better seafood at anywhere that charges four or five times more for “gourmet” and “ambiance”. If you want to eat somewhere prettier, you can always get your food to go and head up the road to the Arboretum or the beach.


Lobster roll at Pirate de la Mer.

There is no excuse for visiting the Maritimes without indulging in seafood. Unless you hate the stuff, I guess. Or are allergic. Or vegetarian. Or your religion prohibits it. Other than that, though, there is no excuse. If you can afford to travel, then you can afford at least one seafood meal — especially since, in New Brunswick, a lot of seafood dishes are on par or cheaper than any other kind of meat. So indulge! You won’t regret it.

Moncton Market

Spring has been exceptionally slow coming around these parts this year; we had a snowstorm last Friday, and the forecast is for more snow this coming Friday. Daytime temperatures have been just above freezing, while at night it has been dipping just below zero, so our snowbanks aren’t melting back very quickly. And it’s only a few days until the beginning of April!


A handicraft booth set up outside the Moncton Market building; there are many tables outdoors when the weather is nice.

Despite the weather, it’s technically spring, and spring to me means the start of the farmers’ market season. Technically it’s a little early for that; we’re not getting fresh produce for a little while yet, unless it’s from greenhouses. And yet I find myself thinking about all the great markets I’ve been to, and yearning for a chance to visit them again.


The main hall (Con Simon Memorial Hall) on an unseasonably-cool summer day.

One of my favourite markets to visit while on vacation is the Moncton Market in Moncton, New Brunswick. We seem to end up there on at least one weekend every time we visit the city. It’s not specifically a farmers’ market, although it does have a large selection of fresh local produce (when in season), as well as deli and butcher booths. There is also a food court and a huge number of handicrafts for sale.


Main hall.

The Moncton Market runs all year long, and actually is set up in its own proprietary building that was built in 1995 (although this market has existed, in one form or another, since the late 1800’s). Saturday is market day, but the food court is open all week long for lunch. Due to its downtown location and proximity to office buildings, particularly government offices, there is a brisk lunch business.


Main hall.

In addition to the main hall, there is a second, later-built hall (Festival Place) and a bay area, all of which are packed with vendors and customers on market day. Festival Place is sometimes rented out for other events on non-market days. There is also a culinary center on the premises, although I’ve never seen it in use. Every time I’ve been there, it has been used as a seating area for the food court.


Accordion player in the main hall.


Maple syrup and maple candy are pretty much prerequisites for any Canadian market.

There is often live entertainment throughout the market. There may be a single busker in the main hall, a duo in the secondary hall, and an entire ensemble on the stage outside — so there’s always entertainment. Thing 2 could happily spend her entire trip to the market sucking on a maple lollipop while she watches the performers. Thing 1, on the other hand, would rather hunt down a gourmet cupcake seller. Me, I’m on the lookout for fresh, local food to bring home for dinner.

Of course, part of the fun is to pick up some breakfast or lunch at the market while you are there. I am partial to the fresh-cooked crepes and waffles; the lineup is always long, but the food is cooked fresh to order, and the delicious portions are substantial.


Fruit-covered crepe drizzled with chocolate hazelnut butter, raspberry syrup, and whipped cream. Photo by my mother.


Classic crepe with banana, chocolate hazelnut butter, and whipped cream.


Waffle with berries, apples with cinnamon-sugar, and whipped cream.

Around here, the winter (indoor) version of the Lansdowne Park Ottawa Farmers’ Market runs on Sundays from January 8th to April 30, from 10:00am to 3:00pm, in the Aberdeen Pavilion. There’s nothing specifically stated on their website, but the outdoor summer market usually starts sometime in May. The Cumberland Farmers’ Market has their Spring Market on Saturday April 8th from 9:00am to 3:00, but their main season doesn’t start until mid-June.

I can’t wait for summer market season to start again. Come on, Ottawa… Thaw!

German Cuisine Inspiration

A lot of my inspiration for learning how to cook “gut bürgerliche Küche” comes from my trip last year to Hamburg, since I wasn’t exposed to much German cuisine when I was growing up. Hamburg is a port city, and as such a lot of their food features ingredients from both the sea and from their trading partners. What North Americans may consider to be traditional German food tends to be Bavarian, which is both further inland and further south — and much different in both ingredients and flavour.

Of course, since we were staying in hotels, we never had a chance for a truly home-cooked meal. But I thought I would put the photos of some of my meals up here to act as future inspiration in my personal challenge to become more competent at cooking German food.


Breakfast at Dat Backhus, Lange Reihe 29, 20099 Hamburg, Germany. What I believe was smoked salmon and pickled egg on a half of a bun. There was some kind of mayonnaise concoction between the fish and the bread.


My dinner at a German pub on Lange Reihe. I had breaded and fried fish, fries, and a salad.


My husband’s dinner at the German pub. He had sausage and gravy, mashed potatoes, and sauerkraut.


Breakfast at Stadt Backerei (City Bakery), Lange Reihe 52, 20099 Hamburg, Germany. The bun on the left held a mix of salad shrimp and mayonnaise. The one on the right was scrambled eggs and bacon.


My husband’s fish in cream sauce at a restaurant right off of the pier and Landungsbrücken station.


My fried fish sampler and salad at the same restaurant.


My meatloaf (possibly Leberkäse?) that I ate at a restaurant in Berlin. Honestly, this was the only dish that I truly disliked during my trip. It tasted over-preserved and reminded me way too much of canned meat.


My husband, on the other hand, ordered pork knuckle from the same restaurant in Berlin, and it was absolutely delicious. I want one of my own sometime!


Hamburg Pho at Pho Duc, Steindamm 103, 20099 Hamburg, Germany. The noodles are wider than I am used to for pho. What makes it a Hamburg specialty? Apparently beef meatballs, fresh beef, and braised beef slices. It was very tasty.


My steak and potato dinner on my last night of the trip was at a higher-end restaurant, and it was delicious, although I don’t think it really counts as typical German food. I believe the restaurant was actually Mediterranean.

Souvenir Yarn

My husband returned last night from a business trip to Den Haag in the Netherlands. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to accompany him, but I was there about ten years ago for a job interview, and I don’t feel as badly about missing out as I would have if it was a place I’d never visited.

When we found out that my husband would be traveling to Den Haag, he asked what I would like him to bring back. “Yarn,” I answered. I’m not a great fan of souvenirs, at least not the kind that will sit on a shelf and collect dust. Practical items are another matter, and I like to think fondly back on my trips whenever I use them. Yarn, for me, is also a great souvenir, especially if I can find something local that is hard-to-get back home. It’s also a great thing to have someone bring back as a gift. I think of the the person who gave the yarn to me when I knit it, as well as when I see the final project worn.


Malabrigo Mechita in 227 Volcan

Now, my husband isn’t a knitter, and he for the most part could care less about nice yarn — although, through exposure to me, he is learning. I am trying to convince him that it’s a good idea to go to a yarn shop employee and say, “My wife is a knitter, I have a budget of $X, she likes local wool and knits a lot of socks, could you please help me find her some yarn as a gift?” Although the employee may have a few more questions to help narrow things down, this will save him an inordinate amount of time wandering through the shelves. Unless his whole plan is to browse because, deep in his heart of hearts, he actually really likes yarn and this is a deeply satisfying experience for him — but I sadly don’t think that’s it.

Before he left, I Googled for a nice shop that was within a reasonable distance of his hotel. He ended up going to Cross & Woods Crafting Parlour. He tells me that he knew I’d like the place as soon as he stepped inside. Not only was it filled with lovely crafting supplies, but there was a table where ladies were sitting and knitting. He overheard them discussing the different ways one could hold one’s needles, how awkward it is to try a different style, and complaining that everyone else’s style is just inherently wrong. Since I’m pretty sure that I’ve had this exact conversation with my knitter friends (indeed, my grandmother and my grandmother-in-law couldn’t watch me knit because it made them want so badly to correct how I was holding my needles), I think I would have fit right in.

Unable to find a yarn that had been produced, spun, or dyed locally that he thought I’d like, my husband instead brought me back Malabrigo Mechita in 227 Volcan. (Malabrigo’s actually from Uruguay.) It is a beautiful soft yarn, although it’s not tough enough for socks, which is my general go-to for thinner yarns. Their website recommends this yarn for “shawls, scarves, garments, accessories, baby and kids items, lace, cables, [and] textured stitches.” I will have to spend some time browsing Ravelry for ideas and that, with a mug of hot cocoa in hand, is my way to spend a perfect winter evening.

Labskaus

On my trip to Hamburg last winter, I ate out often on Lange Reihe, a street with many restaurants not far from my hotel. On one such excursion I stopped in for lunch at Frau Möller (apparently named after the owner’s dog): a local pub that was busy whenever I walked past. I sat at the bar, since the rest of the pub was packed. The waiter was able to provide me with an English menu, thank heavens, because my accent is so bad that I can’t get a native-speaker to understand my small spattering of German.


Frau Möller at Lange Reihe 96, 20099 Hamburg, Germany

One section of the menu was labeled “Hamburg stuff”, which caught my attention immediately. Why visit another country if you’re not willing to try the local dishes? I was intrigued by the entry for labskaus, which had a description of the side-dishes but not the dish itself. I asked the server what it was, but his English failed him and he just shrugged and said, “Labskaus is… Labskaus.” So I had to try it.


Labskaus at Frau Möller

The toppings were two eggs sunny-side up, dill pickles, pickled beets, and rollmops. I’ll confess to never having had rollmops before, but a brief examination revealed that they are a sweet pickled fish (herring, I found out later) wrapped around a cucumber pickle and held together with wooden skewers. But what was underneath the eggs? That, apparently, was the labskaus itself. I feared at first, based on the looks alone, that I’d ordered myself some kind of raw ground meat. But I took a bite, and realized that it couldn’t be. Upon tasting, I could tell it was some kind of meat (corned beef) and potato mixture. But what gave it its characteristic pink hue?

A bit of research back at the hotel when I could use the WiFi informed me that the pink came from pickled beet juice. All of these ingredients preserve well and were commonly available on seafaring vessels, making this dish popular both aboard ship and in coastal cities in Germany, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The British have a similar dish, a beef stew called lobscouse, which is eaten by sailors and is popular in seaports like Liverpool; it is from this that the slang “Scouse” accent gets its name.


Rollmops available in Canada

When I came back home, I wanted to try to make labskaus for myself, since, as I’ve complained before, there aren’t any German restaurants around here. I decided to try a simple recipe from My Best German Recipes. Sourcing the ingredients was actually a lot harder than making the dish itself. Corned beef can’t be found out of a can for love nor money around here, so canned had to do. But which variety to choose? None of them were German. I read all of the ingredients and eventually settled on the one kind that had no sugar. I thought I’d have to make my own rollmops, but as it turns out you can buy them pre-made in most grocery stores. They even have the same shape of skewer as the ones from Frau Möller.


My labskaus

My final product was definitely edible, but paled in comparison to the ones I had in Hamburg. I would like to try to make this dish again, but this time with corned beef that has never seen a can. I think that this would make all of the difference in the world. I will have to try a specialty butcher, rather than a grocery store. I am not satisfied enough with my first attempt to try it without better meat.

World Breads: German Beer Bread

Last winter I had the chance to visit Hamburg, Germany for a week while my husband was there on business. My husband’s mother’s side of the family is German (although not from the Hamburg area), and I thought it would be a great chance to experience first-hand the culture in which she was raised. After all, my children share that side of the family’s German heritage. One day they will want to know more about where they come from, and I think it’ll be better if I know a bit more about it myself.


Cream of mushroom soup in a bread bowl.

One of the things I loved about Germany was the food. German food has a really bad reputation, if you ask me. Yes, it was hearty fare, but I was there in the winter and I found it hit the spot after wandering around in the cold. I especially liked the proliferation of bakeries. They seem to be on every corner, and they all serve delicious food. I especially liked Nur Hier (which translates to “only here” according to Google). There was a Schanzenbäckerei (“bows bakery”?) across the street from my hotel, which was great convenience-wise, but I made a point of walking further to Nur Hier because their food was that much tastier.


Nur Hier at Lange Reihe 48, 20099 Hamburg, Germany

Of course, when I got back home to Canada, there weren’t any good German bakeries to be had. No German bakeries in Ottawa at all, so far as I can tell. Although the local grocery store has a few varieties of German bread, it’s nothing compared to the fresh café fare that I enjoyed overseas. So I decided to try my hand at making my own bread. I picked up World Breads: From Pain de Campagne to Paratha by Paul Gayler (2006) at a thrift shop on a whim a while back, and inside (page 19) there’s a recipe for German Beer Bread.


German Beer Bread (Beer Brot)

It turned out pretty well considering it was the first proper loaf of bread I’d ever made on my own. Sure, it wasn’t symmetrical, but it was tasty and paired well with lunch meats and cheese. It’s a light rye with caraway seeds, which is more or less what I’d buy at the grocery store, but so much fresher because it’s homemade. Baking it also made my house smell absolutely wonderful. This is one recipe that I know I’ll be making again.