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Good morning, everyone! And Happy New Year. I hope you had a very good break, if you managed to take one. 

I am so excited about 2016. I will finally publish my next tome, Project Bacon. It has been a forever friend and sometimes frenemy. As you know, I made the decision to self publish it and kickstart it. I don’t regret that, but life intervened and there have been several (at times, crushing) delays. But now, after an intense end to 2015, I feel I am almost at the top of the hill. And I can’t wait for you to see it.

Project Bacon Recipe Photo Previews :) 

My Kickstarter backers have had lots of recipe previews, and design and photography previews too. I will share some here with you soon, and there will be a limited amount available to buy when they go to press. So, keep an eye out for those. Now that the book is almost done, I will have lots more time here, and lots more freedom for other projects. What would you like to see? I have lots of ideas. But, I would love your feedback too. 

Nova Scotia over Christmas

I spent Christmas in Nova Scotia in Canada, and swung by Montreal on the way back. I booked too late to fly direct from Halifax to London home, but I was so happy to have an excuse to get off the plane in Montreal. I love it there, and had never been in Winter.  It was my first Christmas not spent in Ireland, and I brought a mild Irish Christmas with me, to my disappointment. But, we did get snow. 

Nova Scotian Christmas Dinner (I cooked) – locals often just have lobster, but we had turkey too.

Nova Scotia was gorgeous as always. We had a mild Christmas Day, a beautiful bright blue crisp boxing day, and lots of snow after that. We had lots of lobster too. It is plentiful there and the season is well regulated all over Atlantic Canada. You get chowder and lobster rolls in every roadstop diner. Lobster poutine too. I had plenty, and I did lots of cooking too.

Digby oysters with bacon jam (a riff on one of my Project Bacon recipes!)

Digby oysters with bacon jam (a riff on one of my Project Bacon recipes!)

I returned to my favourite wine bar, Obladee, and had wonderful fish cakes with celeriac chips and ham & cheese (juniper smoked ham, apple dijon, pickled cabbage, white cheddar, baked open faced on baguette). The chocolate goat’s milk fudge is very special, and should not be missed. Rich and tart and lovely. The wine list is always very interesting here, international with the best of Canadian, with lots by the glass and also wine flights. We had a gorgeous Meyer Reimer Vineyard Pinot Noir. There was great live music the night we visited too. Obladee is owned by a friend of mine, but I am not alone in thinking it one of the best bars in Halifax. I only wish she could open one here. 

Obladee – photos from my September 2015 trip, I treated myself to a night without my camera over Christmas!

We brought the snow with us to Montreal, and we went with no plans. My favourite restaurants there (Joe Beef & Au Pied de Cochon) were closed for Christmas, but I returned to that shrine to Montreal smoked meat, Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen, which is always so good. The secret to Schwartz’s is to go off peak or just before or after meal times. It is always busy and there is often a queue. I had the smoked meat sandwich on rye, this time with a frankfurter and a slaw on the side. Interestingly they do poutine now too, although I had no room for it. For drinking, I have been told that it has to be a cherry cola, and that is what I have. With that much snow outside, you need to fortify yourself, right?

Smoked meat at Schwartz’s

I am a coffee fanatic, I travel with coffee beans, a hand grinder and an aeropress. For coffee, I visited the lovely Café Myriade in Montreal, mid snowstorm, and had a latté but also a soothing hot lemon, honey and ginger. They use 49th Parallel Coffee from Vancouver (I visited there a couple of years ago). 

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Café Myriade in Montreal

I queued for brunch in the snow, again. I know, I know. But I wanted to return to Olive et Gourmando, a gorgeous café in St Paul. Everything is made from scratch and with care and the room is lovely. As I was waiting, I noticed how many people were paying for Cuban sandwiches, so I had one. Excellent, crispy bread, lovely filling, sharp and sweet with a pleasingly stringy melted cheese. I had soup on the side, which was warming. And I watched the snow fall outside with glee.

I had dinner at Maison Publique, a Montreal take on a British gastropub by Derek Dammann. Dammann was previously chef de cuisine at Fifteen in London (Jamie Oliver invested in the restaurant), it reminded me of those great original gastropubs like The Eagle in its heyday. (I say heyday, as it has been too long since I last visited. I must return, I loved their Bife Ana (Portuguese steak sandwich)).

The room has a long counter, with the bright open kitchen being the first thing you see when you enter. The lighting is low, and the menu is on a board to one side of the dining room. The wine list is all Canadian, which is super, especially as a visitor looking to explore. We ordered, amused by the small digger ripping up the street outside as it shovelled the snow into piles. It was clear that the driver loved his job, albeit on the border of dangerously. Vroom vroom!

The signature baked oyster was gorgeous, the oyster was chopped and mixed with mushrooms then cooked lightly under a fluffy crisp layer of mayo tinged with marmite, their take on the wonderful Japanese oyster motoyaki. I wanted to order it again once I was finished.  The maiale tonnato (porchetta served with tuna mayonnaise, and a local cheddar) was a nice fresh take on vitello tonnato (which I had a lot of in Piedmont last year). 

Winter vegetables with bagna cauda were fresh and bright, calamari in squid ink with garlic toasts was perfect foil for the cold winter outside. We had some pumpkin ravioli, which were lovely, but a little on the sweet side for my palate. The desserts were wonderful, a rich velevety dark chocolate tart with mascarpone and orange, and a perfect pot au creme with shortbread.

IMAX cinema was born in Montreal (via the Expo of 1967), and there are three IMAX cinemas there now. It is much cheaper than here (the favourable currency exchange helped a little), and we saw Star Wars in 3D at the IMAX for $14 each! (£7). Could this get better? YES. You can get poutine to bring in to the screen with you. That wonderful marriage of (good) chips, squeaky cheese curds and gravy. And it is not bad either (how could I not indulge in that?).

On the last day we walked around snowy Montreal, I adore winter (although I am not sure I could manage a long very cold one, I like to pop in and out). I stomped in the snow, admired the street art, and returned to Marché Jean-Talon to stock up on gorgeous tins of maple syrup, Montreal bagels, maple butter and a little ice cider (I already had a bottle of ice wine from Nova Scotia). The apples are frozen on the tree, or more often now in wooden boxes in the orchard, in the depth of winter the snow in the orchards can be waist high. As with ice wine, with the water in the fruit being frozen, the juice that is extracted is a pure sweet nectar, and makes a beautiful dessert drink. 

The spice shop at Marché Jean-Talon, Épices de Cru, deserves a mention. You know I love spices, my first cookbook is called Comfort & Spice, and I had plans to sell it with spices, spice mixes and pestle and mortars. This didn’t happen then, I was soon to discover that promoting a book while doing everything else is enough work without adding an extra layer (although I would if I were to do it again). Épices de Cru is like a spice library with wonderfully sourced spices, sold in airtight tins so that they have bright flavours. I normally don’t buy spice blends, preferring to make my own, but I did buy their book which came with some, and they were fantastic, so I bought some to cook with when I got home (I roasted a chicken covered with their lovely Montreal spice blend just last night). Épices de Cru sell spices online if you want to try some, I would highly recommend it.  

Farewell for now Canada, I will see you soon, and sooner than that I hope! Welcome in 2016, I hope you are feeling as optimistic as I am. I was so tired at the end of 2015, and wondered how I could face it, but a week off leaves me feeling renewed and full of vigour. Shall we get started?

Want to see more regular updates? I am on snapchat where I post everything I cook as I cook it (like a visual recipe with photos and short videos) as well as travel and London snippets. I also post on instagram, facebook and twitter. On all of these places, you can find me by searching eatlikeagirl. See you there! Say hi if you follow! :)

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Niamh

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