Sunday, 6 May 2012

Wish Upon a Road

I've had many learning experiences while driving over the patchwork quilts of St. John's roads. Two flat tires in one week taught me the fine art of the pothole slalom. A broken alternator taught me that tow truck dispatchers perceive time differently than most people. And, oddly enough, a hitchhiker who tried to pick me up taught me a little about what I want out of life.

It was the kind of fall night that makes forecasts redundant. Rain fell, fog rolled, and drizzle did its thing somewhere in between. My freshly second-hand car hurtled down Prince Phillip Drive, engine purring with the power of a soapbox racer. The road was clear as far as the eye could see, about fifty feet.

It was 3:30am, and I was heading home from poker at my friend's house. At the time, I would've called myself “single and looking,” but the reality was “single and wishing.” I'd spend my time playing cards with the boys, then wish that a girl would spontaneously walk out of the fog and into my life.

The light was red as I pulled up to a major intersection. Two headlights shone through the fog across from me. As I waited for the light to change, a figure interrupted the headlights. “What the hell is that person doing,” I thought. “Get off the road.” But she did no such thing. She kept walking. I didn't know she was walking toward me.

She crossed the intersection, opened the passenger door, and got in. For the first time, I realized that I drive with my doors unlocked.

“My friend told me I should go with you,” she said. “That doesn't sound like much of a friend,” I responded. “What?” she said, already slumping in the passenger seat.

She told me not to be afraid. Her slurred voice reinforced my fear that my freshly second-hand interior would end up covered in whatever made her drunk. I asked her where she lived. She said it was nearby, but she'd rather not go there, it's too boring. She wondered if I had somewhere she could stay instead.

She was dressed more modestly than she spoke, but her picture was worth a thousand of her words. She had tights, a fashionable coat, and hair that was several dances past did. She was a trophy that a frat boy would proudly mount on his headboard. And she had spontaneously walked out of the fog and into my car.

She told me her name, which I forget. I told her mine, which I imagine she forgets. She made a sound dangerously similar to nausea. I asked again about her home, and she said it was nearby, but reiterated that it was boring. She asked about my home, and I said it was nearby. I didn't say it was boring.

I pulled into my apartment's parking lot and stopped my car. “This is me,” I said, final yet transitional. “I live near here,” she said, telling me the street. “I could walk home later.”

At the time, I would've called myself “single and looking,” but I didn't understand what I was looking for. Unsatisfied with my dating, I imagined that impersonal conquest would make me happier. But here, in my car, outside my apartment, was a conquest. A conquest without any battle. Without any meaning. Without any dignity.

I started my car. I drove to the street she mentioned, and asked which house was hers. She told me. I let her out, and watched as she fumbled for her keys and let herself in. I turned on the interior light and breathed a sigh of relief at the clean seat.

Afterwards, I thought about this interaction. I wondered what kind of “friend” would encourage a drunk girl to walk through a foggy intersection and into a stranger's car. I wondered what conversation inspired her to step into the street, and if getting into my car was escape or revenge. But, most of all, I wondered why I'd wished for a catch without a chase.

Years later, I'm not the person I was on that fall night. This random girl's actions were just that, but understanding my own actions helped illuminate myself. Looking back, I see that I found inspiration even in the spontaneous events of St. John's roads. Maybe that's why I'll always be a writer.

Monday, 30 April 2012

Weather or Not

7:40 AM, April 30

2:40 PM, April 30
See what I mean? It's still lurking; today it gave itself away. Winter isn't coming. It never leaves.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

La Manche, Newfoundland

Newfoundland has always had a strong tie to the sea. With the boom in offshore oil, our primary resource is beneath the waves. But before Hibernia, King Danny, and the Atlantic Accord, and all the way back to John Cabot's (likely) landing at Bonavista, the fishery was our foremost industry. Historically, the fishery led to isolated communities along the island's cove-marked coast, populated by fishermen who worked the surrounding waters.

These isolated havens dot Newfoundland shores to this day. Looking at the land itself, it seems preposterous that anyone would build in such locations. Houses perched atop rocks and stilts, living, like their owners, with one foot in the sea.

Looking at the land itself is a flawed perspective, however. Started by fishermen seeking safe harbour, these settlements provided access to, and shelter from, the ocean. The land was only important as a respite from the water around it. This respite, however, was never absolute.

The sea found its way into the bays and inlets of the island. With it came fishermen for whom the water was passage and pasture. Without roads, these communities relied on the ocean to transport catches to the merchants, and to transport supplies back in return. Even now, terrestrial access to these communities is often limited to hiking trails.

The fishermen came with the sea, and, despite their best efforts, the sea came with the fishermen. The water was ally and adversary; it gave and took in turn. Such was the case in the village of La Manche, year of 1966, population of 25.

A severe storm and its accompanying tide destroyed the wharves and bridges of the community. Emotionless and capricious, the water laid waste to the infrastructure that worshiped it, eroding the fishermen's efforts like the rock to which they clung.

Like the rock, though, the fishermen did not yield easily. In 1954, the provincial government began the Resettlement program, an effort to consolidate the scattered Newfoundland outports into larger communities. Premier Joey Smallwood claimed that these isolated havens had “no great future” (citation), and provided financial support to those willing to resettle. Stubborn as their sheltering stone, the citizens of La Manche resisted the program. Until the sea intervened.

In the wake of the 1966 storm, La Manche joined the ranks of over 300 communities abandoned during the Resettlement. Almost fifty years later, only stairs and foundations remain, still clutching the land and enduring the water. These remnants are physical echoes of good catches and bad storms, of the promise and power of the waves. The sea is heaven, hell, and the road to both; it is stairs bolted to rock, leading from nowhere to nowhere in an abandoned cove.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Lemon Meringue Pie Cocktail

My girlfriend and I go to a lot of restaurants. I enjoy when I try new places, and she enjoys when I pay. There are a lot of excellent restaurants in this city, and I've been to most of them at least once. They all have their own charm, but there's only a handful that I revisit. I go back because of good deals, or unique dishes, or because my girlfriend tells me to.

Her favourite upscale spot is The Keg. Not so much because of the steak or the seafood, but because of the Lemon Meringue Pie Martini. When it comes to expensive food, I prefer small, local restaurants to chains like The Keg, but I have to admit that this drink is something special. It has all the elements of a great lemon meringue pie: sweet lemon, frothy meringue, soft graham crust, and serious alcohol content. Just like Grandma used to make.

The Keg's martini will run you $10 a pop, but with some sleuthing and experimentation, I found that you can make the same drink at home for about $3. Granted, at The Keg you're paying for the atmosphere, but the atmosphere requires you to wear pants, so it's not necessarily a good thing.

Here's what you'll need:

That's Galliano, Limoncello, pineapple juice, graham crumbs, and a high-tech shaking apparatus, such as the handy cook's secret weapon, the Mason Jar. You'll also need ice, and lemon juice if you prefer drinks more tart than sweet.

To get the soft graham crust I mentioned, we’ll rim the glass with the crumbs. Pour some Limoncello into a bowl and dip the top of the glass in it. Or you can use lemon juice, if, like me, your job drives you to drink but pays too little to waste any.

Spread some graham crumbs in another bowl and dip the moistened glass rim in it. Turn the glass to ensure a good coat of crumbs.

Now for the meat of the drink. Over ice, pour one part Galliano, two parts Limoncello, and three parts pineapple juice. Add a dash of lemon juice if you want to cut the sweetness. Shake for ten to fifteen seconds. It helps if you imagine that the jar owes you money.

I'm literally shaking with anger.
The more you foam at the mouth with rage, the more the meringue will foam on top of the drink. Shaking aerates the pineapple juice, giving the drink a frothy, meringue-like head. The Galliano gives this “meringue” the characteristic vanilla taste. Other recipes for lemon meringue drinks recommend whipped cream or egg whites, but I prefer the texture and simplicity of the pineapple juice. Plus, shaking the juice gets more fun after you've had three or four.

Strain the ice out for a martini-like presentation. I prefer mine with the ice still in. I imagine this drink more as a cocktail than a martini, since only half the ingredients are alcoholic. Which is what I sound like for making this distinction.

This drink is a delicious, potent, and surprisingly simple dessert in a glass. It's 100% Girlfriend Approved, and it's totally cool with you not wearing pants. Your girlfriend might not be, though. As if underwear is something her friends haven't seen before.

“Too Long; Didn't Read” Version:

1 part Galliano, 2 parts Limoncello, 3 parts pineapple juice, shake with ice and strain. Add an optional dash of lemon juice to cut the sweetness. Rim glass with graham crumbs for extra fancy-pantsery.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Black Lake, Newfoundland

Every Newfoundlander's second favourite pastime is complaining about the weather. I'd guess it's because we're always ten minutes away from the outdoors turning into bullshit. April and May weather is particularly suspect, since at any moment a swelling spring can flaccidly flop back into winter. Even in an unseasonably warm year like this one, it's hard to trust spring. Break out the deck chairs, but don't put away the shovel and Polaris jacket quite yet.

That said, the recently beautiful weather has me pining to get out and enjoy it while it's still here. But, little things like my writing career and day (or more accurately, night) job prevent me from taking time off to gallivant around the wilderness. Instead, I'll turn to the two favourite recourses of the trapped modern worker: nostalgia and the Internet.

I have a bunch of wintry photos ready for the blog, but I'll let them wait until I'm certain that the snow isn't biding its time until an ambush on May 24. For now, I'll take us back to last summer and an off-the-grid hideaway called Black Lake.

This place greeted me after about 700 kilometers of highways, back roads, and woods roads. Having spent my teenage years in Central Newfoundland, I'm no stranger to highway driving. Back then, my buddy Jean Claude Grand Am could push me back in my seat with the force of a roundhouse kick. Nowadays, the trickiest part is getting my 90-horsepower muscle car to maintain the mandatory speed of 20 km/h over the limit.

To the left of the cabin there's a small sandy beach, a rarity in Newfoundland. The water is no more than neck-deep for several hundred feet out, making this cove perfect for swimming. And, the winds off this large lake help deal with the deadliest animals in Newfoundland: flies.

Well, it isn't always windy, a trait that separates Central Newfoundland from St. John's. To the right of the cabin, the semi-private cove continues. I say “semi-private” because you can barely see the roof of the nearest cabin near the end of the point. The first day I was there, the neighbours came over bearing bacon-wrapped scallops and tips on where I could get cell reception. With strangers like that, it's small wonder that Newfoundlanders never truly leave the island.

Black Lake has no electricity or amenities. The cabin itself is fairly advanced, featuring propane heat, a pump for indoor plumbing, a gas-powered generator, and a solar battery. That said, a lot of the energy comes from old-fashioned axe and bucksaw. There's no shortage of windfall trees, and a campfire just isn't a campfire if you don't make your own splits.

This campfire certainly is a campfire. A few birch junks turn kindling into a towering inferno. Thanks to its natural oils, the bark—or “rind”—burns hot and fast. The fire looks impressive, but it's not practical for cooking until the heat dies down. I've never had any success making marshmallow flambé.

After the kindling turns to coals, the indirect heat is more than enough to roast meat. Cooking in a fire pit has a charm that even barbecue can't replicate. To the left is an onion with butter, and to the right is a pork tenderloin rubbed with extra virgin olive oil and seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic, and rosemary. Next time I go to the cabin, I'll document my recipe and technique. I'll call it “Iron Age Chef.”

After eating, Nicole and I enjoyed the sunset. If you're wondering, I'm the rugged one with the chiseled jaw.

And what a sunset it was.

Black Lake didn't give me any reason to complain about the weather. It did give me reason to complain about the flies, though. They're like the weather, except itchier and more predictable. That said, I can't wait to go back. Maybe I'll go out the next time there's a big snowfall. I give it about a month.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Deep-Fried Cadbury Creme Egg

I love Easter. To me, Easter symbolizes the solidarity of our culture. It's magical that every April, grocery stores rise up in unison to have massive sales on chocolate. It's like Halloween, but with better weather. And since it comes but once a year, the Easter sale is an excellent excuse to create heart-stopping desserts.

Today, I'm going to help you celebrate new life by showing you a mouth-watering way to hasten the end of your own. Behold: the deep-fried Cadbury Creme Egg.

I think my heart just skipped a beat. It's probably because I ate three of these.
With all the subtle delicacy of a waltzing hippo, this is not a dessert for the faint of artery. It's as rich as Donald Trump and only twice as pretty. But, like any waltzing hippo, its true beauty is on the inside. Its delicious, gooey inside.

Cadbury Creme Eggs are all about goo. In their ads, pent-up eggs release their goo all over garbage cans, typewriters, and photogenic actresses. Comical marketing aside, this ad campaign has a point: the sweet glop is definitely the climax of the snack.

If she finds this goo satisfying, it's only because she hasn't tried mine. The confectionery combo of yolk and white is tasty, but it has potential for more than that. This recipe is my attempt at reinventing the creme egg.

Instead of a hard chocolate shell we'll use a sweet donut-like coating, crispy on the outside, soft and moist on the inside. The once-hard chocolate will melt into the egg goo, and this scrambled crème will dribble onto a bed of French Vanilla. It's crispy and soft, warm and cool, delicious and deadly.

The recipe itself is fairly simple. Here's what you'll need:

That's flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, milk, cooking oil, and eggs, both creme and non-creme. You'll also need some French Vanilla ice cream, if that's the way you choose to live your life.

The first step is taking your creme eggs, removing their wrapping, and freezing them. For all this talk about warm goo, we need the batter to crisp up before the chocolate melts. The easiest way to do that is to have the eggs frozen and the batter at room temperature.

The second step is prepping your oil. The oil should be deep enough to allow the eggs to float, two to three inches, so a narrower pot is better. Preheat it to 350 F, 176 C, or both.

For the batter, I scaled down a recipe for funnel cakes. Even only making this much, you'll have enough batter for half a dozen creme eggs at least.


1 Egg (chicken, not creme)
2 tbsp white sugar
2/3 cups of milk

1 ¼ cups white flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch salt

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cream the non-creme egg and the sugar in a mixing bowl. Slowly add the milk while beating the mixture. Add the dry ingredients and beat until it's almost as smooth as me.

Take the creme eggs out of the freezer and submerge them in the batter. Turn the eggs, making sure to give them a generous coating. Now, the tricky part is getting the eggs from the bowl into the oil. Wire tongs work well if you have them, or you can scoop the egg on a spoon with a glob of batter underneath. You'll want to prevent the bottom of the egg from going naked and spewing its delicious guts into the hot oil.

Fry them until the coating gets a nice golden brown texture, two to three minutes. Like any deep fried food, make sure not to crowd them in the oil. I did one at a time, just to be sure.

The mess adds flavour.
While it's frying, get your ice cream ready in serving bowls. When the eggs are done, let the excess oil drip off them, then place them directly on the ice cream. Serve them immediately, if you can wait that long.

This poor egg didn't get a chance to become a creme chicken.

If Cadbury's ads compare creme eggs to sex, then this is deep-fried sex. Just without all the burning.