Tasting Australia! Part 4!

Part 4 of a series about this world class event held in Adelaide, South Australia.

If it seems that I’ve been short on wine (yea right!) then my last day visiting South Australia sure made up for that. It was off to the Adelaide Hills and then the Barossa Valley for wine tasting and touring, a day I was really looking forward to.


The day began with an interesting chocolate and wine tasting at Hahndorf Hill Winery. I’m not a big chocolate with wine person whatsoever, but I enjoyed the tasting and loved the views of this gorgeous estate. And yet again, let me mention the light in Australia. It’s beautiful.

After our tasting we headed to The Lane Vineyard and Bistro for a lunch prepared by chef Glen Carr. Oh, my heart be still. Exquisite food, beautiful wine, gorgeous views. The deconstructed caesar left me yearning for a way to recreate it here at home.

We explored more of the Adelaide Hills before settling in to the Kingsford Homestead. My Australian friends might recognize this estate as the setting for the TV series McLeod’s Daughters, and after an extensive remodel this 1856 two-story Georgian mansion is now a beautiful property available for booking.

Well rested with a morning full of flat whites, it was time to meet up with John Baldwin of Barossa Daimler Tours. John is an expert on all things Barossa and the perfect host for a day of sightseeing and tasting. He’s every bit as jovial as his smile might lead you to believe, and for the car fans, there’s this:

We visited the famous Penfolds Winery where we tried our hand at blending before heading to Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop. She needs no introduction, but to my American friends who might not now of Maggie, she’s an Australian icon who has dedicated her career to food, drink, and Aussie hospitality. I was thrilled to visit her shop and enjoy some pate, a few savory meat pies, salad, and of course some wine.

After lunch there were quick visits to the Torbreck and Rockford Wineries where we sampled various wines at their cellar doors. We also stopped by The Barossa Valley Cheese Company for a few cheese treats and a chat with the cheesemakers.

It was a fantastic day with fantastic company, and as my trip ended and John took us back to Adelaide, there was this:

I believe this is nature’s way of telling me that my second trip (two rainbows!) to Australia was nothing short of magical. And while I do understand it’s quite a trek to visit for many of us in the states, that shouldn’t stop you from visiting.  It’s also a land filled with magic, smiles, contrasts and extremes, with delicious food and wine and amazing people. When I think back to my 7-year old self who dreamt of seeing Australia one day, I can say that a lifetime of anticipation has only been met with a greatness I was never expecting.

Tasting Australia! Part 3

Part 3 of a series about this world class event held in Adelaide, South Australia.

One of the components of Tasting Australia involves getting out and seeing what makes the region so special. An overnight visit to Kangaroo Island exceeded any standard for a food festival I’ve ever experienced, and probably set the bench mark for what culinary tourism is all about.

Kangaroo Island is Australia’s third largest island (after Tazmania and Melville) and is only 70 miles southwest of Adeliade. However, it’s not the easiest place to get to and requires a short plane or ferry ride which might as well be a million miles by the time you finally touch down in this nirvana. With a population of about 4,500 people, it’s mostly agriculture that sustains Kangaroo Island with the production of honey, wool, canola and wine. One thing to note is just how pure this place is, from the fresh water to the clean air.  And it’s this purity you can taste in everything from Kangaroo Island. Speaking of pure, Kangaroo Island is also home to the only pure strain of Ligurian Bees in the world, and great effort is made to preserve this as well as the island’s wildlife.

No visit would be complete without a visit to the Seal Bay Conservation Park, or as I like to call it So Freaking Amazing And Cute You’ll Explode National Park. And why? Well, look for yourself.

If by chance you’re not quite ready to give up your creature comforts, remember that this is Australia and you could always check into Southern Ocean Lodge. But be prepared to have your standards of island accommodations forever raised.

If I had a dime for every time I heard “Southern Ocean Lodge? Oh you lucky devil” as well as “You will love it, just wait” I’d probably be a rich man. I must admit that I kept my expectations small; I get to see some pretty stellar places to rest one’s head during my travels and most are generally nice but I try to not go into anything with expectations.

I’m glad I didn’t.

The grandeur of Southern Ocean Lodge can’t be explained without setting foot inside. There’s a sense of scale that spreads out across acres, and entering the lobby after walking through the entry corridor feels like a silent production — you swear you can hear a drumroll and orchestra swell inside your head. It’s magnificence in every sense of the word, and actually left me a bit dumbfounded.

The curved great room allows views of the coast, with a serpentlike-row of guestrooms immediately to the left. A suspended fireplace in the middle of the room and an open-access bar makes you wonder if you’ll ever even make it to your room, and with champagne being poured in the lobby I’m surprised I actually did.

But I am oh so glad I did.

Clear, sparse, comfortable, with just the right amount of thoughtful amenities make for beautiful rooms. Two happy Lamingtons waiting also make you smile, even if they do spoil your dinner just a little bit.

Speaking of dinner, the food program is equally as stellar as the architecture, featuring Kangaroo Island produce, cheese, honey, meat and seafood. We spent a few moments with SOL’s chef Tim Bourke learning to make a shellfish stock that is incorporated into vinaigrettes, sauces, and a variety of other dishes. This spectacular reduced stock is like nothing I have ever tasted before, with a pure distinct mellow ocean flavor. My friend Kay from Bon Appetit and I wanted to sneak off with the stuff, it’s that good.

The mornings are particularly serene at Southern Ocean Lodge, and a quick walk down a long wooden bridge is a perfect way to catch the sunrise.

After grabbing our bags and saying goodbye to Southern Ocean Lodge, we embarked on a tour of the island, ending up in the sand and rolling hills of Snellings Beach.

It was magical.


Our lunch began with a quick blessing from members of the island’s Ramindjeri clan. To be in the presence of these men who possess such history and knowledge of the island left me speechless as each one of us received a personal blessing delivered in song.

After our blessing we were greeted with glasses of bubbles (I sense a trend here) accompanied by tree branch skewers of possum and kangaroo that were grilled over an open fire. Cooked only so slightly, a sprinkle of salt finished the small rare bits of meat that were remarkably delicious.

I would like to share a story with you of getting separated from my group and being stranded on this beach but I don’t want to get any hosts in trouble. So I won’t.  But IF I was sharing it I’d tell you it was a) my fault and b) the most peaceful 9 minutes of my life spent here.

After being reunited with my group, we walked into what I can only called an Australian explosion of perfect rustic aesthetic and gobsmackingly phenomenal local food. In a shed. With a chandelier. And mixmatched place settings. And leaves and candles. You can see where I’m going with this, right? It was heaven.

There were roasts, prawns, bread, salad, wine, fantastic conversations with locals and visitors, and I didn’t want this afternoon to end. I really didn’t.

Luckily for us, our day wasn’t over as we headed to Island Pure Sheep Dairy to meet with general manager Justin Harman. We spent time talking about sheep, food production, working with ewe’s milk and tasting his cheeses and yogurts. And the flavor? Clean, distinct, delicious. I’ve always been a fan of anything sheep and Island Pure’s Kefalotiri, Haloumi and Manchego were perfect. How can I get some in Los Angeles? Sigh.

Our last stop was to Kangaroo Island Spirits, South Australia’s first boutique distillery. If you need any evidence to prove just how unique Australians can be then you’ll need to stop here. Sip liqueurs and spirits that have been infused with local ingredients like ligurian honey, native juniper berries and wild fennel while chatting with owner Jon Lark. And make sure to say hello to the friendly pooches out front.

Back to Kingscote for a flight back to Adelaide. Tomorrow? More wine!

Tasting Australia! Part 2

Part 2 of a series about this world class event held in Adelaide, South Australia.

My days in Australia start the same, no matter what is on the agenda: with a Flat White. For the rest of the world yet to embrace this coffee drink, let me tell you how perfect it is. Similar to a latte but using the microfoam that isn’t scalded, this velvety, smaller drink reminds me of a basic cafe con leche you’d find in Spain or Argentina but with a much naturally sweeter flavor from the heated milk. IT IS PERFECT. And I miss it, although I have heard from friends that they are slowly trickling into American coffee culture. Please hurry. Please.


Who doesn’t love a Farmers Market? Such an excellent opportunity to see the local produce, meet growers, and get a sense of what the community is all about. My visit to the Willunga Farmers Market was an excellent way to experience the local flavor and experience all that was fresh and seasonal. Now in its 10th year, the Willunga Farmers Market was the very first farmers market in South Australia and from the looks of it it will be going on for decades and decades. I couldn’t help but stock up on some Blue Gum and Mangrove Honey, which tastes like nothing else you will ever taste. Blue Gum, a eucalyptus, imparts that distinct medicinal note into the honey, creating a very herbally taste that blew my socks off. Talk about local!

The baker above could clearly sense the fact that I hadn’t eaten in at least 8 hours and insisted I take a baguette with me. Between the amazing loaf and a few slices of venison chorizo (yes, venison chorizo!) my breakfast was all set.

After a few hours at the farmers market and chatting with Billy Doecke, the assistant market manager, it was time to head to McLaren Vale’s Coriole Vineyards for a quick lesson from Mark Lloyd about olive oils.

After learning about this family owned and operated vineyard that produces wine, oil, vinegars and verjuice, we headed to Producers for a quick lesson in cheesemaking.

Producers is a glistening airy building designed by architect Max Pritchard that’s surrounded by vineyards and expansive views.  At Producers you can take a class, sample local wines, enjoy lunch and marvel at the best the area as to offer. In addition to making fresh mozzarella we also made fresh pasta which became our lunch. You can’t get any more local than that.

You might think all this wine talk would leave the beerheads feelng no love,  but you’d be wrong about that thanks to Jeff Goodieson, owner of Goodieson’s Brewery. Oh, I could sigh a million times about this place, I really could. Just a big open air microbrewery that begs you to hang out, enjoy his deliciously crafted beer, and possibly order another. In what might only make sense to my fellow Texans, there is quite a strong South Austin vibe about this place that made it hard to leave.

Plus they have Jennifer the goat. I love her.

Happy from a gorgeous day and delicious beer, I made my way back to Adelaide for a night of rest before heading to Feast for the Senses, Tasting Australia’s Public Event. Trust me when I tell you I’ve been to a million food festivals and this? At the top.

Well organized with a convivial spirit, I spent the afternoon taking in food demos, talking to food and winemakers, and eating the best of South Australia, all while strolling along the river. And I had more wine, can you believe it?

Tasting Australia! Part 1!

Part 1 of a series about this world class event held in Adelaide, South Australia.

The event was almost forkloric to me: a bi-annual gathering of food luminaries, producers, celebrities and chefs that convened in Southern Australia, touring and tasting for a weeklong festival of fine foods on one of my favorite continents. Add to this a disbelief that I would be attending the 2012 Tasting Australia Festival and you might get an idea of how thrilled I was to experience it first hand.

Getting a solid grasp on Australia’s culinary scene and history was a bit daunting for me. First, it’s far away from my home. Second, it’s full of creative people doing creative things. Third, it’s such a deep blend of distinct cultures, both new and old world. And lastly, to paint Australia’s food scene with one broad brush would be like trying to do that with American food. It’d be not only impossible but short-sighted.

But I did know that the foods I’d be tasting during the event in this part of Australia would have a singularity that I could easily put my finger on: quality. It was there in adundance as I sipped wine, ate seafood, sampled honey and cheeses, and ate my way through South Australia. I do have a sneaking suspicion that everything actually tasted better because it was enjoyed in the company of Australians, and I’m pretty sure you know how I feel about them.


I arrived in Adelaide via Alice Springs, taken aback by the instant change of scenery: rocks and fields were replaced by parks and sparkling buildings, gone was the outback and in was a modern, beautiful city.

I had only a few hours to explore Adelaide before jumping into all things delicious that South Australia has to offer.

First Stop: Fleurieu Peninsula

Located south of Adelaide, the sprawling spaces and clear skies of Fleurieu Peninsula make it a must-visit. The peninsula is home to McLaren Vale, one of South Australia’s wine making regions. While the area grows many types of grapes, it’s noted for shiraz and yes, I helped myself to quite a few glasses.

There’s this thing that Australia does so well, perhaps like no other place on earth, and it’s where rustic and modern intersect with fluidity, creating a perfect aesthetic that’s rugged, worn, beautiful and unique. This blend could be seen in action at No 58 Cellar Door & Gallery where we stopped for lunch. Platters of fresh cheeses, tapenades, chutney, salumi and bread were washed down with wine from the region. After lunch we did a little bit of shopping among the gallery’s selection of ceramics, painting and textiles.

After lunch we made our way to the coast to join Renee and Ashley Newman of Kangaroo Island Sailing for a few hours of sightseeing from the luxurious Lady Eugenie, a 21-meter long, 5-meter wide ketch rigged yacht.  More glasses of chilled wine were enjoyed, along with nibbles from the yacht’s own chef. The Lady Eugenie is available for private trips, and has everything on board you could need. Quite a spectacular way to enjoy the Fleurieu Peninsula, if you ask me.

About the only way to close out this amazing first day on the peninsula would be by having an amazing meal with a gorgeous sunset. Enter Port Willunga’s Star Of Greece restaurant, which incidentally is named after a shipwreck and not because of Greek cuisine. First, let’s talk about this sunset.

This.

You must allow Australia to spoil you when it comes to sunsets. And if by chance you can admire these sunsets with a sparkling glass of bubbles then well, you’ve died and gone to heaven. Or Australia, rather.

The cliffside Star Of Greece overlooks Port Willunga Beach, allowing magnificent views while enjoying the food — definitely Australian with touches of Asian and Mediterranean influences. I would have been happy snacking on the salt and pepper squid, caught locally, and nothing more. But of course the entire meal and company was nothing short of magnificent.

Full and happy, I boarded a bus back to Adelaide for the evening before heading out to The Willunga Farmers’ Market. More about that tomorrow!

Riding The Ghan in Australia

This is the first in a series of posts about a visit to Australia. I began my journey in the Northern Territory before ending up in Southern Australia. You can read more about my travels all this week.

Individual cabins. The dining car. Pre-dinner aperatifs in the lounge. While some people may believe that these amenities are relics of a bygone era of travel, their features and comforts exist on The Ghan, part of Australia’s Great Southern Rail Line that connects the Northern Territory to South Australia.

All vintage idealistic notions aside, this Thoroughly Modern Matthew wanted to see if it was possible to go from point A to point B in a velocity I don’t travel in that often: S-L-O-W. Would the lack of crowds and technology compliment or confuse me along my journey? Would I tire of a trainride that is the antithesis of fast, modern travel? And could I even survive without wifi?

Well, I did. And I loved every minute of it.

After spending a few days in a very muggy Darwin, I boarded The Ghan as a band played on the platform. It added a vintage send off as I imagined Australian travelers might have experienced decades ago. Had I not been lugging audio and video equipment I might have forgotten I was standing in 2012.

Train travel was once a major method of getting around, and The Ghan, formerly the Afghan Express, has been doing so since 1929. As it cuts through the outback, you realize that this massive area is where camels and trains excel; not much else would be able to make it across this inhospitable trek. The trainline itself was expanded in 2004, allowing travelers to make it completely across Australia, from The Northern Territory all the way to Adelaide in South Australia. I had stops in Katherine and Alice Springs and met such lovely people.

Establishing your bearings on a train requires a slight recalibration of your self. Door frames are small, passageways are long, and traveling from car to car is a balancing act that must be performed at least four times before mastering. It’s not unlike an airplane, expect for one small thing. Well, actually it’s a large thing that is missing in almost all other modes of travel.

Time and freedom.

Journeys of this nature, the kinds that are measured in days and not hours, afford the hurried traveler moments to actually enjoy the journey. In airplane speak this could mean enjoying the seat in front of you for 9 hours, but on a cross country train ride? You get the ever-changing view of the outback. You get a bar. You get a cabin (if you so choose) to read in, stretch, relax. You also get the interaction of fellow passengers at breakfast, cocktails in the afternoon, and at dinner. You’ll never have to dine alone.

The Ghan itself can be up to 2,329 feet long, depending on the number of travelers. Travel classes vary from Red Service, Gold Service and Platimum, complete with individual cabins and restrooms. My cabin happened to be in a remodeled car, offering me a comfortable room outfitted with classic touches of the past but a bathroom that sparkled with modernity. Cramped yes, but private and the best part? All mine.
My trip on The Ghan coincided with a special ANZAC DAY trip, with the train making special steps throughout the outback for ANZAC ceremonies and events I felt doubly lucky; one part was experiencing a part of Australia not many see, the other half paying witness & tribute to Australian citizens who fought and died in the war.

Believe it or not, you don’t really get bored as you travel throughout the outback. At least not on The Ghan. It’s easy to get lost in discussions, in a book, or with the changing landscape that passes you outside your window. Native trees, red earth, bushes and tall termite towers fill the view, and before you know it you’ve spent 30 minutes starting at earth that seems as endless as the milky way. You’re only brought back to eart by the train’s announcements.

“Ladies and gentleman, dinner with be served shortly. Please make your way to the dining car or lounge soon.”

You don’t need to ask me twice.

Speaking of dinner, I must admit that this was part of my trip that I was most interested in. Full meals, three times a day, served in a moving restaurant from a galley kitchen no wider than the train car itself.

How? With lots and lots of planning.

I spent a few minutes in the galley chatting with Russell Seymour, the chef who was responsible for keeping so many travelers well fed. Having worked in a traditional (i.e. stationary) kitchen for most that 20 years, his last three on the Ghan aren’t terribly different, save for the space constraints and the fact that the kitchen is powered by electricity and not gas. This affects cooking times, but I was also interested in hearing about the constant movement of the train. He assured me that things like massive pots of boiling water do indeed move around, but guards on the stovetop prevent it from crashing down. And after a while one learns how to do things just as you did before, just as soon as you get used to working in a moving kitchen. One insight? You’re always aware of your fingers and pay continual attention to where your hands are while prepping food.  I would hope so!

Because of space constraints and that fact that the Ghan runs through the outback, menus are planned with precision, with provisions well laid out before the journey begins. You can’t exactly stop by the market to pick up a few missing things, and Chef Russell once told us that an 18-hour train delay in the middle of nowhere forced him to be rather creative. But not to worry, all the passengers remained well-fed three times a day while they waited. That’s a professional, folks!

And how was the food? Quite delicious. Getting used to beans and toast for breakfast took no time to adjust to (in fact I miss it!), and a lunch of roast with vegetables and potatoes seemed like the proper thing to do. Kangaroo Steak was also served, which for an American definitely goes down as a first.

While I left my travel companions a bit early and departed The Ghan in Alice Springs, I would have easily continued for the rest of my journey without a moment’s hesitation. In fact, it was a unique experience that had me traveling in style and relaxation that allowed me to see a huge part of Australia I might not have otherwise. I do think I’ll visit again and take my time traveling throughthe outback this way, and if you’re looking for me I’ll be the one holding a glass of champagne in the club car.

Thanks to Australia’s Great Southern Rail for a lifelong memorable experience! As per FTC disclosure, travel and accommodations were provided by Great Southern Rail.

Set those DVRs! Me-N-Paula = Oh My God

Dear friends, if you’re not doing anything this Saturday morning you can turn on your television and watch me a) cooking b) actin’ a fool c) trying to keep it together in the presence of Paula Deen. Ok, actually maybe they edited  c) out of the show, I don’t know. You never know what happens until you see the show.

Here’s the official show description:

There’s a party in the kitchen today, y’all! Paula Deen and her new friend Matt Armendariz are whipping up the perfect party bites to make any party an absolute blast. This shindig heats up with Paula’s delightfully flakey Hot Dog and Bacon Bundles and continues with Matt’s playfully delicious Chicken and Waffles. And, of course, no party would be complete without gooey finger-licking S’mores With Homemade Marshmallows. Now that’s a party, y’all!

As much of a ham as I am, I always feel like I’m going to pull a Cindy Brady moment whenever I’m in front of a camera. You know what I’m talking about? That little brat walked around telling EVERYONE how she was gonna be on tv, how hot she thought she was, that diva in polyester and pigtails, but when that little red light came on she was a TOTAL CHICKEN! So I can never tell how I’ll come across. If I do appear quiet, please be nice to me and realize that standing next to Miss Paula is a pure joy and she’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. But I ain’t gonna lie, I was nervous.

So yea, if you have nothing better to do watch me and Paula make some really fun recipes from my book On A Stick! Here are the air dates on Food Network:

  • Jun 30, 201210:00 AM ET/PT
  • Jul 02, 20125:00 PM ET/PT
  • Jul 09, 201212:00 PM ET/PT

And never let it be said that I’m not a party, y’all!

P.S. Meet me in person and I can tell you about all the backstage shenanigans. But only in person. Long story short: I freaking LOVE Paula Deen. And Brandon. And her entire crew.

 

My favorite places in Nova Scotia

Well folks, I wanted to share with you the two places in Nova Scotia that really left a big impression on me. Truth be told, all of them did, every single place. But these two places were so fantastic that I just had to write about them all by their little happy selves.  And they really couldn’t be more on opposite ends of the spectrum, but I’ll explain it in just a few.

John’s Lunch

They say they’ve been serving the best seafood since 1969 and something tells me they ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie. This is the place of my dreams, the type of restaurant that serves no frills and is packed with local flavor. It’s a landmark and as I type this I am a) crying and b) starving because I am obsessed with their Fried Haddock Tips and Fried Clams. It’s old school of the highest order, and when you travel the world eating course after course of precious food you need moments like this to bring you back to earth. It’s soul food, pure and simple. Not to mention it’s a pretty salty and crunchy (WHICH MEANS HEAVENLY) way to sample the local seafood.

Hey, did I mention I am obsessed with the Fried Haddock Tips and Fried Clams? Did I?

As luck would have it, I guess I was a little too vocal in my love and admiration of the fried seafood that was in front of me as we were offered another heaping mound of fried clams. Just cuz. “Here, you get to eat the mistakes”.  Mistakes? Hardly.

I’d hop on a plane tomorrow just to eat here.

 

 

Tangled Garden

I’d also hop on a plane to visit Tangled Gardent, located about an hour outside of Halifax. This store featured handcrafted condiments like jams, jellies, chutneys, vinegars, mustards and liqueurs all made with fruits and herbs that they grow in the back of the shop. But it’s not your regular “out back” kind of garden: this is a labyrinth of paths and passageways that fill your senses. It’s simultaneously relaxing and invigorating, with playful touches that make you feel as if there’s some magic happening here. It’s hard to explain but I was definitely enchanted here in a way I haven’t been in quite some time. It’s just magical.

I also know where my holidays gifts will be coming from this year :)

Top Ten Halifax Moments

I just returned from 5 glorious days along the Eastern coast of Canada, Nova Scotia to be exact. But you might already know this. In those days I visited Halifax, Dartmouth, the Annapolis Valley, Sambro, Ketch Harbor, Wolfville, and many points inbetween as part Canada’s Explore Like A Local campaign. In fact, I was one of the lucky three selected to hit the ground running and well, explore the area just like a local. And that I did! We ate, sipped, snacked and devoured the best Nova Scotia has to offer, and while I could easily spend an hour talking about the food, how about I just jump right into my Top Ten Halifax moments for you? It’s that good.

 10. Beer

Look, this is a beer-drinkin’ part of the world and Haligonians love their beer. Love. Their. Beer.  That doesn’t mean you can’t find some amazing cocktails at places like Nectar and The Bicycle Thief, because you can. But if you’re looking for a pint of local beer enjoyed in great company then you’ve come to the right place. I fully embraced my IBL (Inner Beer Lover) and I’m sure Benjamin Armendariz will be very very proud of me.

 9. A Drive. Anywhere.

Never have I been so non-specific! But really, it’s hard not to tell you to get in a car and drive somewhere, anywhere, in this beautiful part of the world. Idyllic views, beautiful waterways, rugged coastlines and crisp air beg to be explored (as long as you can tear yourself away from #10 above). Give yourself plenty of time and get out and explore Nova Scotia like I did. You won’t regret it.

 

8.  Blomidon Inn

I swore I stood in my room at the Blomidon Inn just waiting for someone to come in and dress me before walking down a grand staircase for dinner. It never happened, but that’s ok; this turn-of-the-century mansion enthralled me in so many other ways. While I don’t always throw out words like quaint and old-fashioned without a snicker, there will be no joking about this glorious hotel. It’s easy to go back in time here, especially with the afternoon tea served in one of the hotel’s magnificent front rooms.

 

7. Foxhill Cheese

I was lucky enough to spend time with Jeanita Rand, the owner of Foxhill Cheese House who, along with her husband and family, run this amazing micro-cheesemaking business on a sixth-generation farm in Port Williams. While you’ll taste some of the most delicious fresh quark and yogurt made from the milk of their own cows out back, it’s almost easy to be awestruck when you hear the family motto: “Quality, Service, Education”.  The dedication to their customers and the pure hard work they put into cheesemaking make you realize how special this place is. Oh, and another thing: there’s not enough space on the internet to tell you the lengths they went through to bring glass bottle milk to their customers. If only every business thought of their customers half as much as Foxhill Cheese.

 

6. Donair

First, you’ll need to read this article written by my friend Simon Thibault in The Globe And Mail. Read it now. Ok. Done? Now let me tell you why I love it, as summed up by Mr. Thibault himself: “Best eaten late at night and on the street, it is a sweet and savoury, tasty and messy snack for meat lovers.” Yes, it sure is. You can’t visit this part of Canada without trying a donair, and it’s exponentially better when enjoyed with friends after barhopping. While I admit it took me a while to get used to the sweet donair sauce on top of what seems to be a doner kebab, I can see the appeal. There’s simply nothing else like it. But since I’m all about discovery and trying new things, I wasn’t about to pass up the Donair Pizza, either. I actually loved it more, imagine that! One day I’ll return to try Donair Poutine. Who knew?

 

 

 

5. Fid Resto, Specifically This Blood Pudding.

We stopped by Fid Resto for lunch, where I discovered heaven in a bowl: warm smoked haddock sitting on top of a potato and spinach mash that’s been topped by a poached egg. That’s right folks: eggy, mashy, smoked fishy. Three things I adore all put together. Needless to say I felt right at home with Chef Dennis Johnston’s local creation. After snapping a few photos, he began to tell us about a special dinner he was doing that involved his own housemade blood pudding, and as luck would have it a small plate appeared on the table at the end of our meal. I’m going to tell you this right now: a piece of blood pudding (or sausage as we Americans call it) on top of creamy smooth mashed potatoes with cooked apples instantly became the highlight of the day. And before you get all squirmy squeamish on me (ewwww blood!!!!) I want to tell you that you’d most likely enjoy every savory bite of it, too. You would.

 

 

4. Tibs Family Dinner

You don’t really know how lucky I was to snag an invite to the Tibs Family Dinner Pop-Up at Dartmouth’s favorite local coffee shop called Two If By Sea. These regular dinners focus on a seasonal ingredient or theme, and with asparagus season upon us we enjoyed tempura, risotto, a savory cappuccino and a beet salad that rocked my world. It was great to see a community come together for a meal and was a fantastic way to really explore Halifax like a local.

 

3.  A Stroll Through The Halifax Public Gardens

Sunshine and gorgeous views made for a wonderful way to spend an afternoon at the Halifax Public Gardens. Created in 1875, these Victorian gardens cover 16 acres through a series of walkways, bridges and paths and feature a bandstand in the middle of the park.  Strolling through the park and admiring the beautiful plants and trees make for a perfect city experience.

 

2.  Digby Scallops

I get pretty excited when I experience something that I feel is the absolute best: salmon from the Copper River in Alaska, Ig Vella’s Dry Jack from my adopted homestate of California, and tart cherries from Traverse City, Michigan. Now add Digby Scallops to this list as I’ve never had a more perfect example: tender, fresh, flavorful, sweet but not too sweet, and just right. Of course I must give credit to the chefs who prepared them perfectly at both Chives restaurant in downtown Halifax and Le Caveau restaurant inside the Domaine De Grande Pré winery. This dish in the photo featured then crusted and pan-seared served on top of housemade kimchi. Um, hello? How do you say perfection?

 

1. The People Of Nova Scotia

I saved the best for last here, with good reason. I talked about Nova Scotia being “nice” in my earlier post, but I’m pretty sure I’m still not getting it across here. You see, I really do believe that people are good and nice; I spend enough time traveling the globe to know that mankind is generally, well, kind. But Nova Scotia? Oh you people, you do something different. You take friendliness to a whole ‘nuther level, in a way that takes this citydweller by surprise. Off guard, even.  All you need to do is strike up a conversation with a shopkeeper, with someone at the table next to you, at a bar, on the street…just about anywhere and you’ll see what I mean. Gracious, friendly, warm, welcoming. And if your town has a deficit in the Manners Department, we can all look to the entire province of Nova Scotia, Canada for having it in spades. It’s just the way they are.

Psst. There are two things missing from this list. Two things that needed their own posts, two places that I’m still dreaming about now that I’m home. Check back in a few days to see what they are.

Disclosure: As part of the Explore Like A Local Campaign, I am working with the Canadian Tourism Commission and all opinions and viewpoints are my own. Travel expenses have been covered by the CTC.

Halifax, Nova Scotia

So what can I say about my first day in Halifax? It’s nice. And before you say “Nice? That’s all?” I want to back up and say that I mean it in the strongest sense of the word, not in a “well I don’t have anything else to say so nice is a good harmless word” way.

I’m guilty of overusing the word, rendering it pretty bland. That’s not how I mean to use it here.

When I say nice I mean this: friendly, courteous, polite, jovial, approachable, wonderful, beautiful. Nice. From top to bottom. And it’s a place where one can feel at ease, walk around, take in stunning views and meet gracious residents along the way. It’s a contrast to the hurried urban scenes I usually explore.

And it’s also delicious.

In my first day I’ve sampled fantastic coffee, amazing pastry, deliciously local ingredients, and even a glass (or two) of wine from the area. I plan on full reports shortly, but I’m thrilled to be exploring Halifax like a local, taking in all the sites and sounds of this very special place. I’m so happy to be here.

Oh Canada, I love you!

More soon!

Explore Like A Local: Canadian Trailblazer Contest!

Howdy folks! Give me my camera and a notepad, set me loose in Halifax, Nova Scotia, throw in a fantastic dose of social media and your requests and what do you get? The Canadian Trailblazer Contest, part of the Explore Like A Local campaign from the Canadian Tourism Commission and Travel + Leisure magazine. And if you enter, you might win a trip of a lifetime.

And if you remember my last involvement with the program last year in Vancouver, I don’t need to tell you that it literally was the trip of a lifetime. One of the highlights of the year, actually!

First, how about a lil video? Don’t laugh.

Now here’s where things get really interesting. When you visit my Trailblazer web site you can recommend places in Halifax for me to visit. And I’ll visit them! I’ll report back through photos in all the usual places (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest) to let you know how they are and answer any questions if I can. I’m looking forward to eating and drinking the best Halifax has to offer, so hop on over and tell me where to go, will ya?

I’ll be leaving this weekend and I’ll be there all next week. I’m really looking forward to your suggestions and ideas. And you could win a trip!

Let’s keep up with each other, shall we? My stuff: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram: Mattbites