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Hunting Down the Waterford Blaa in Newfoundland (and a recipe for you to make it at home)

Waterford Lane, in St John's Newfoundland

Waterford Lane, in St John’s Newfoundland

Do I need to reintroduce you to the blaa? I probably do. The humble bread roll from Waterford, it is fluffy, square and white with a flour crust, and we are a little obsessed with it. It is thought that it came to Waterford with the Huguenots who called it blanc (because it was a simple white roll), but with our accent and a little time to erode it, it became a blaa.

It is a simple bread, slightly sweet with a little sugar and fluffy with a little butter. Allowed to rise slowly, it is the perfect vehicle for our traditional (and my favourite) chicken and stuffing sandwich. Also, for the occasional tayto (cheese & onion) crisp sandwich with butter to cushion the crisp.

Street art in St John's, Newfoundland, featuring fish (what we know as cod), a huge part of their culture

Street art in St John’s, Newfoundland, featuring fish (what we know as cod), a huge part of their culture

There used to be 60 bakeries in Waterford that baked the blaa, and it never really left it. You never used to see the blaa anywhere else. This has changed recently, in no small part due to the efforts of the remaining bakers, now only 4, who are trying to protect it and have applied for a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin). To apply there needs to be at least 3 producers and we are getting low. As a result there has been some press, and I have seen the blaa pop up here and there a bit more.

St John's, Newfoundland. It was common to build houses on stilts, to cope with the dramatic surfaces of the land.

St John’s, Newfoundland. It was common to build houses on stilts, to cope with the dramatic surfaces of the land.

I used to make and sell them at my market stall in Covent Garden 4 years ago, where I made and sold my own food. Not content with doing anything that wouldn’t push me as far as possible and drive me (seemingly) close to deaths door, every day I would make a number of different dishes, always from scratch. Soups, stews, tarts, salads and sandwiches (and all on my own). I would get up at 5am and bake blaas fresh every morning, then serve them filled with overnight roast shoulder of pork and spiced apple relish, or spiced overnight roast shoulder of lamb, with aubergine and tomato relish. They were a hit and I always had a queue, so I ensured that these recipes made it into my cookbook, Comfort & Spice.

A house on the Battery in St John's, Newfoundland

A house on the Battery in St John’s, Newfoundland

I was speaking once with my father about Nova Scotia (as I have a good friend from there who I was visiting). He, previously a master cutter at Waterford Crystal, knew some ex colleagues who had moved to Nova Scotia to set up a crystal company there. And somewhere along the way, my father had discovered that they made the Waterford blaa in Newfoundland, and only there. That sounded familiar.

That had my attention and it has been in my head ever since. Food is culture, it tells you a lot about where you come from and the land itself. Newfoundland has many Waterford connections, not least in their accent which can be very similar to my own. It turns out that this is for a strong reason, Waterford city used to be the headquarters of the seasonal cod fishery in Newfoundland dating back to the 16th century. Many people from Waterford and surrounds travelled to Newfoundland to work in the cod industry as seasonal workers (mainly between 1763 and 1830) and lots stayed on. Their mark is still there, there are many Powers, Barrys, Butlers, McCarthys, in fact there are over 1300 Irish names on Newfoundland now.

I was fascinated and determined to seek the blaa out. I was sure it must be there but my initial research proved fruitless. I contacted the tourism board and a local historian, both super helpful, they tried but could not find my blaa. I was sure it must be there, so I took a risk and thought, if I can find a baker, I will visit. I was sure that they were making them, and that they have just given them a different name.

On my first day in St John’s, I popped into a local pub for a bowl of chowder, and served next to it was what I would know as a blaa. AH-HA! I knew it! What is it? Just a bread roll. But it isn’t. Not to me and most of Waterford at least. The next day I was meeting Lori Butler, a local baker and chef with a passion for Newfoundland food and recipes. We had communicated over email, and Lori had said that she made a bread roll, but wasn’t sure if it was a blaa. I was now fairly certain that it was.

Lori and her mother in law Regina

Lori and her mother in law Regina

We started early, in Waterford Valley in St John’s. We got the dough ready and left it for a first rise. Like most home home cooks, Lori does things by eye and by feel, using recipes that have passed through the generations. We left the dough to double gently and then portioned it into 8, rolling it in flour and leaving it to rise, all cosy and cuddled together, as blaas are.

Proving the dough

Proving the dough

Proving the dough

Proving the dough

Dividing the dough into 8

Dividing the dough into 8

I was now fairly certain that we were making blaas and I was excited. We allowed it rise again, gently on the side and then dusted it with a final flour flourish. We baked it, we tore them apart and I had a bite. This is a blaa, I declared! I knew it! I have found it. It was a little bigger than normal, but it was the very same bread. I was even happier when I discovered the roast turkey and dressing sandwich, which is similar to our roast chicken and stuffing sandwich except that here they pour warm gravy on also. I am taking that back with me. (Dressing in Newfoundland is stuffing made with savoury, in place of our thyme). They drink steeped tea too, something I always associate with my childhood in Ireland.

Steeped tea

Steeped tea

Dusting the bread with extra flour

Dusting the bread with extra flour

 

Ready to taste

Ready to taste

I found them! Lori and her home baked blaas

I found them! Lori and her home baked blaas

Lori had learned her bread recipe from her mother who had learned it from her mother in turn. I brought some with me to give to some other Newfoundlanders who all agreed that they had remembered their mothers making them too.

Here is to history and culture, the kindness of strangers, the food that brings us all together, and a humble little bread that travelled to the other side of the Atlantic and stayed the course.

My Blaa Recipe

be sure to have it with roast chicken, stuffing and gravy – OR – and you have my permission, some tayto crisps and butter ;)

Makes 8 blaas
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A Postcard from Niagara

Maid of the Mist at the base of Niagara falls - no time to do it on this trip but definitely next time!

Maid of the Mist at the base of Niagara falls – no time to do it on this trip but definitely next time!

I am working backwards, feeling slightly justified as I am still in Canada, even if I am writing about it the wrong way round. But hey, you have come to expect that now, haven’t you?!

I am a mite passionate about wine. I love the stuff, and I love to visit vineyards, do tastings, and explore the wine culture of any country I visit that has one. I am in awe, and worried for, people that can deny themselves wine and/or pasta. Why? Just, why? Life is short, bring the joy, and buckets of wine and shovel loads of (great) pasta. Carbonara or tagliatelle with ragu for me please! With a gutsy delicious wine. Several Canadian provences make wine, and I have visited a few, the Okanagan, Nova Scotia and Niagara.

My trip to Toronto was short, just 3 days, and I devoted one of these to a trip to Niagara for a little explore. Niagara (famous for the falls) is also a well established wine region, producing some excellent wines including ice wine. I visited two wineries: Trius (where I also had lunch) and Inniskillin (which is particularly famous for ice wines, the were one of the pioneering ice wineries (is that a thing?!) in Canada). I also visited a maple syrup farm, farmer’s market and antiques market, had lunch, and whizzed by the falls. Because you just have to.

Enjoy!

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Asparagus at the Farmer’s Market in Niagara

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Canadians love their pickles

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Maple syrup at White Meadow Farms – all picked in the same season, the syrup darkens as the season goes on

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Dark maple syrup from the very end of the season at White Meadow Farm

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It takes this many buckets of maple syrup from the tree to make one small jug at the end – the tree syrup is cooked down until it caramelises and becomes amber

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Wine in Niagara

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Hillebrand Gewurztraminer at Trius Winery (Hillebrand recently rebranded as Trius)

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Lunch at Trius Winery – their version of Surf & Turf – mini lobster roll served with a wild ferment Trius chardonnay and rib eye mini burger with the Trius red – love the idea and it worked. Delicious food too.

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Hillebrand ice wine – 2007 vintage – ice wine is made from grapes frozen at minus 8 – 10 deg C for 2 – 3 days. Each grape produces only 1 – 2 drops of juice so it isn’t cheap, but it is really delicious

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Rhubarb dessert – behind it was a terrific ice cream cookie sandwich made from an oat cookie and rhubarb sorbet – served with the ice wine above

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Chive flowers (delicious!) with the Trius vineyards behind

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All types of worms – live and available to purchase from this machine at the gas station

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Sparkling ice wine at Innniskillin – one of the pioneering wineries in Canada (especially with regard to ice wine)

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Innikillin ice wine and dessert and cheese pairing at Niagara

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Ice wine grapes at Inniskillin vineyard

Article

British Columbia, Canada, in Pictures [Part 3]

View from the ferry to Salt Spring Island, BC – the view is of the Gulf Islands

Yesterday, I wrote a post extolling the virtues of a little sleep. This morning, or rather this afternoon, following far too little sleep and an overnight flight from Victoria via Vancouver, I am a shell. Restless legs are my permanent accomplice. I don’t even have the mind to cook. I need to sleep. But not yet, I want to write first.

The past 9 days in British Columbia flew by and I am left with such a positive impression. What I saw was food with such integrity, and people preparing it and serving it who really cared. They care about the provenance of their ingredients, not just because it is trendy, but because it is good. They care about sustainability both in fishing and agriculture / viticulture. The cooking and execution, in the main was great too.

These pictures are from Tuesday, when I visited terrific Whole Beast Meats who use the whole pig carcass and make lots of charcuterie, bacons etc. I then travelled to Salt Spring Island in the Gulf Islands between the US & Canada, and visited Salt Spring Vineyards, Salt Spring Island Cheese, had a terrific lunch at Bruce’s Kitchen . I finished my day with a bacon martini and some very good dim sum at the Hotel Grand Pacific, finishing with a wonderful dinner at Aura, in the Inn at Laurel Point, where conveniently I was staying. My expectations for hotel restaurants are never very high, but the cooking here was fantastic. I focussed on the seafood, including some of the best oysters that I have ever had.

This post is my last BC photo post. I have more photos from the last day but they are few, and the best will be included in the posts which will follow. I will publish a travel guide too, as some of you have requested one. It makes sense also, doesn’t it?

Cory & Geoff at Whole Beast Meats with some impressive looking (and smelling) bacon

Jackalope at Whole Beast Meats – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackalope

I love a ferry journey! Love the water.

This is a real bus stop chair on Salt Spring Island

Calm

Pumpkin field

Delicious champagne method sparkling wine at Salt Spring Vineyards

Rosé tinted glass

Relax

Gorgeous homemade bacon, homemade ricotta & kale tart with beetroot & quinoa salad, roasted plums & homemade mustard at Bruce’s Kitchen

Bruce at Bruce’s Kitchen – terrific food and lovely guy. So knowledgeable too. I have his bacon dressing recipe to share :)

Bruce’s Kitchen – I like his style

Beautiful sunny afternoon, outside Bruce’s Kitchen

Fabulous little fish shop

Sculpture garden at Duthie Gallery on Salt Spring Island

Salt Spring Island Cheese

Bacon martinis at Hotel Grand Pacific

Superb oysters at Aura, Inn at Laurel Point

Beautiful sablefish at Aura, Inn at Laurel Point

Article

British Columbia, Canada, in Pictures [Part 2]

Good morning folks! Doesn’t some sleep make the biggest difference?

I felt at the end of my tether last night. I woke up thinking “oh my god, won’t that guy just stop talking about that toaster?!”. In my dream someone was talking incessantly about one. Only I quickly realised that the guy was on TV and had thus invaded my sleepy head. I fell asleep with the TV on.

I am off this morning to Salt Spring Island with Island Time Tours (who I also travelled with yesterday). A wonderful day lies ahead.

For now, and for you, the second part of my photo post. I decided to make it three as I had too many to squeeze in here. So, come back tomorrow for the finale.

Eggs Benedict at Shine Café, Victoria, BC

Hugging a 500 year old cedar on Vancouver Island, BC

Xavier of Cherry Point Vineyards

Xavier of Cherry Point Vineyards with his lovely wines

Cider tasting at Merridale Cider

Prettiest spittoon I have ever used at Venturi Schulze vineyard – terrific wine and balsamic vinegar too

Balsamic vinegar that is over 40 years old, and balsamic vinegar barrels at Venturi Schulze

Enrico Vineyard, BC

Fun tasting and lovely wines at Enrico Vineyard

Short Rib & Truffle Poutine at The Bengal Lounge in Victoria, BC

Enjoying the short rib & truffle poutine :)

Article

British Columbia, Canada, in Pictures [Part 1]

I have so many things that I wanted to write about, and I had planned to today. After a day of visiting vineyards and then an evening editing photos I am all out of energy. Rather than write something dull and uninteresting and lacking any passion, I thought I would share some of my photos from the trip with you instead. There are some I really love, and not all would actually fit in with any post I might write. I have taken hundreds.

This is the first of two posts. Enjoy, and I will be back soon with the next photo post and then some lovely detail. When I am a little more awake and have the energy to enjoy it. Because one thing is for sure, if I don’t enjoy writing it, you won’t enjoy reading it.

Niamh

Tiny planes I have been zooming around British Columbiain

Dim Sum breakfast in Richmond

Deep fried crispy chicken skin at a Taiwanese restaurant in Richmond

The Okanagan Crushpad – really interesting winery in the process of moving to biodynamic

Drinking a Gewurztraminer slushie at Kettle Valley Winery -so delicious!

Crabapples in Okanagan

Nk’ Mip Cultural Centre in Okanagan

Bob at Nk’Mip Cultural Centre performing a smudging ceremony

Wine tasting at Stoneboat Winery

Garlic Festival in Okanagan

The lovely folks at Forbidden Fruit Winery – terrific wines too

The Pleasure is Ours (in Okanagan)

Best pumpkin display I have ever seen

The Dark Side – at Seven Stones Winery – terrific Meritage

Feeling corny

Article

Eating Victoria: Red Fish Blue Fish

redfish

Victoria harbour

I have been in British Colombia a week now, and it has been wonderful. It has also been very busy. I have spent the last week in Vancouver doing the urban thing, in Richmond exploring Asian food, the Okanagan visiting wineries and tasting lots of (delicious) wines, and for the coming three days I am on Vancouver Island, based in Victoria.

Pretty busy. So I took today, my first day in Victoria, in my stride, visiting the museum (highly recommended for the First Nations gallery alone), and wandering about, poking my head in here and there, taking turns that would take me somewhere I didn’t know, and in general following my nose. Exactly how I like to travel.

Red Fish, Blue Fish in Victoria, BC

My nose brought me to Red Fish, Blue Fish. A local and modern interpretation of the humble fish and chip shop, in a shipping container by the harbour. A few people had mentioned it on twitter, so I had a look. The menu was everything I have come to expect of one on the West Coast. Vibrant, explicit in their sourcing of ingredients, sustainable and fun.

Red Fish Blue Fish in Victoria, BC

It looked great, so I joined the queue. At the core of their menu is local and sustainable wild Pacific fish. I wanted most things but couldn’t resist the seafood poutine with local shrimp, smoked tuna belly bacon bits, crispy shallots and miso clam gravy. One of my favourite food memories is a miso soup with lots of tiny clams at the bottom of it in Tokyo. I was sold. Also, tuna bacon? I have to try that.

Part of the menu at Red Fish Blue Fish, Victoria BC

I opt for a half size as I also want to try a grill seared albacore tuna tacone with medium rare charred tuna, pea shoots, slaw and lemon pickled onions. With a soft drink and service, it still isn’t $20. I take my seat on the board walk and watch the world go by while I wait.

Seafood Poutine at Red Fish Bluefish, Victoria BC

My half portions arrive and they are enormous. I am ripe for the challenge. The poutine is fresh and light, the seafood is terrific, the tuna bacon a delicious revelation and the gravy delicate but rich enough to carry it.

Albacore Tuna Tacone

The tacone is basically a taco wrap. The tuna is medium rare as promised and with a lovely crisp char on the outside. The slaw and salad give it great texture and balance. Terrific.

I am so happy as I sit there and eat it all, watching the sea planes land in the harbour as the sun sets. Red Fish Blue Fish is a great spot, with great food, ethics and prices. Highly recommended.

http://www.redfish-bluefish.com/
1006 Wharf Street Victoria, BC V8W, Canada
(250) 298-6877

Article

Vancouver: Eat Your Cart Out (Street Food)

Vancouver Street Food

Greetings from Vancouver folks! I am here to explore the food, the wine, and all of the other bits in between. I started with the street food.

Street food in Vancouver? If you visited before 2010 you might think I am referring to a different city, but following the success of the food trucks at the Olympics a limited number of licences were granted. At first by lottery, which unsurprisingly didn’t prove completely successful, the second and third rounds of licences were granted via a jury including some of Vancouver’s best chefs. Pitches were granted based on unique ideas, sourcing and sustainability.

So far, so good. How did they taste?

I went on an Eat Your Cart Out tour with Tour Guys. Led by Jess, a Vancouver local passionate about food (she is a member of the Vancouver Yelp Elite). We visited 5 of Vancouver’s best trucks and carts.

Vancouver Street Food – Feastro

Starting with a refreshing Israeli lemonade from Mangal Kiss, we had our first bite at Feastro. Feastro had a whole show on the Food Network dedicated to it and as a result is very well known and popular. Attached to the front is a smoker with a skull on it. Feastro smoke their own food and they smoke it here.

Vancouver Street Food – Feastro

Vancouver Street Food – Feastro

We had a daily special: a beef taco with saskatoon berry, jalapeno jelly, sour cream salsa and corn tortilla crunchies. Gorgeous beef and lovely contrasts in texture and in flavour. A brilliant start.

Vancouver Street Food – Mom’s Grilled Cheese

Truck 3 was Mom’s Grilled Cheese. “Mom” used to do film catering, but when she had her daughter she started her food truck so that she could work more sensible hours. A grilled cheese is of course the humble toastie, and wonderful it was too. We had a havarti, cheddar and tomato toastie with local crisps. Swoon.

Vancouver Street Food – Mom’s Grilled Cheese

Vancouver Street Food – Mom’s Grilled Cheese

There is still room but just about, and we are off to The Kaboom Box. These guys specialize in salmon, proper salmon and not “pharm” salmon, as they call it. I opt for a hot smoked salmon in a sandwich with a gentle crunchy slaw. Delicious. Again, smoked in truck and sourced ethically.

Vancouver Street Food

Have I any more room? I really don’t think so. We make our way to Tacofino, a food truck specialising in Mexican food that started in surfer town Tofino on Vancouver Island. There is a little bit of a walk and with every step I feel full.

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I arrive at the Tacofino truck, which I have seen earlier that morning and am curious about. We get a ling cod taco with tempura battered ling cod, chipotle mayo, shredded cabbage and salsa fresca on a fire toasted flour tortilla. It is so fresh and vibrant that I can’t resist eating it. Even though, in actual fact, I really can’t. But I do.

Vancouver Street Food, is exciting, fresh, vibrant and very, very good. Loved it, and the next day I had to explore further. More on that soon.

Vancouver Street Food

I traveled to Vancouver with the Canadian Tourism Commission