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clams

Food and memory are inextricably woven. A lasagna eaten on a terrace overlooking the dusty pink buildings of Bologna is somehow much more memorable than a lasagna eaten at your Aunt Luisa’s summer holiday potluck, no matter how good of a cook she is.

I cannot always recall the details of the places I’ve visited, or even what year I’ve visited them, but I can always recall what I ate there. I still remember my first taste of real Swiss chocolate on a visit to Switzerland with my mom when I was eleven. I’m sure I’ve had better chocolate since then (hello Valrhona!) but nothing matches my memory of that first silky, creamy chocolate coin given to me by my mother’s Swiss friends.

So it’s without a doubt that the highlight of my trip to Prince Edward Island last week was the Atlantic seafood that found its way to my plate virtually every day of my trip. Although I am an unrepentant carnivore and would have a hard time giving up meat, I could do it if I could keep my shellfish. From the king crab to the lowliest of clams, I love them all. Many an evening I will drive out to my local purveyor of fresh seafoods and steam myself a heaping bowlful of mussels marinier, an act my non-foodie friends find shockingly indulgent.

But what of it? Seafood is low in calories and fat and offers a host of nutritional benefits. It’s only recently that it has come to be seen as luxury food; it wasn’t long ago that shellfish like lobster and oysters were reserved for the proletariat. 

We started off Day One with a ten pound bag of PEI mussels cooked in white wine–de rigeur for mussels, in my opinion. bagmussels

 

To prepare the mussels, scrub them with a sink brush or a coarse dishcloth to free them from any sand residue. A few grains of sand can ruin any seafood dish. If any mussels are not shut tightly they may be dead and therefore dangerous to eat. If you tap them and they close, they’re probably still okay. I cook them any way, and if they don’t open during the steaming process, you should discard them. It’s best to prepare the mussels just after you buy them. You can store them in the fridge for a day, but this will probably result in a lot of dead mussels, which is wasteful.

I like to cook my mussels with parsley, cream, and shallots exclusively, but the varieties are actually endless. One of my favorite restaurants in the city where I live serves them with chopped up chorizo sausage or in a broth with coconut milk and lemongrass.

mussels

We ate the mussels for lunch, served with a basket of rolls and some butter for dipping.

musselslunch

As we ate our way through the week, it seemed like we were making our way up the crustacean food chain; mussels, clam, scallops, and finally lobster. It started with a lobster BLT at a Charlottetown oyster bar called Fishbones. There are few things I like more in  life than a BLT, so a lobster BLT was really something. My sandwich came with crispy fries and a vial of coarse sea salt to sprinkle them with.

lobsterblt

As heavenly as it was, it only whet my appetite for the full meal deal. As it happened, the following day was the last day of lobster fishing on PEI. My brother got up early to go down to the dock to buy them off the lobster fisherman and cooked them up for our lunch. I had not eaten a whole lobster before and was looking forward to eating one.

Because of the recession, people are spending less money on luxuries such as lobster, even on PEI, and unfortunately, the fisherman have been hard hit by this. The lobster was four dollars a pound–unheard of.

This is fifty bucks worth of  lobster.

lobsters

And this little guy was all for me. Actually, he wasn’t so little.

lobster

You’d think after this trip I would be seafood-ed out. Au contraire–when I went grocery shopping yesterday I picked up the one type of shellfish I didn’t have on PEI. I picked up a big bag of prawns. Shrimp cocktail, anyone?

 

Moules Marinieres (Mussels in White Wine)

Adapted from Ina Garten’s “Barefoot in Paris”

Serves 6

Ingredients:

6 pounds mussels

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups chopped shallots

1/3 cup minced garlic

3/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 cups white wine

1/2 cup cream

4 teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

1) Heat the butter and olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook for five minutes, then add the garlic and cook for 3 more minutes, or until the shallots are translucent but not browned.

2) Add the parsley, wine, cream, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil.

3) Add cleaned mussels and stir. Cover the pot and cook over medium heat for 8-10 minutes, until the mussels are opened. Discard and mussels that remain shut. With the lid on, shake the pot a couple of times to make sure the mussels don’t burn on the bottom. Pour the mussels and the sauce in a large bowl and serve hot with slices of fresh French bread.

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landscapeLast week I took a much needed holiday and flew across the country to Prince Edward Island. 

Now, I have a confession to make. I’m a big traveler; there is very little I love to do as much as to hop on a plane to somewhere I’ve never been, or return to a place that has captured my heart. Despite this, I have traveled very little in my own country. When faced with time off and some extra money, I’m more likely to go to Europe or the United States. Although I was born and raised in Canada, the number of Canadian Provinces I’ve been to can be counted on two fingers. Well, actually now three.

A couple of years ago, my brother and his wife bought a cottage clear across the country on Prince Edward Island. I thought it was high time for a visit. Actually, PEI was one of the provinces I’d been to in the past, on an exchange trip in junior high. Except for a couple of the keg parties, it was so long ago that I fail to remember much about the trip.

Prince Edward Island is the smallest province in Canada and is known for its pastoral scenery and lush agriculture. The rolling green hills, white sand beaches and famous red soil have made the island known for spectacular natural beauty. The land served as inspiration for Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, a late Victorian tale beloved the world over. The book was published in 1908 and was intended for readers of all ages, although in recent decades it has been considered a children’s book. It has been translated into thirty-six languages and is especially popular in Japan, where it has been on the school curriculum since 1952. Thousands make the pilgrimage to Green Gables farmhouse every year, and many Japanese couples get married on the grounds. Many tourist attractions are based on the book and the musicals Anne of Green Gables and Anne & Gilbert are performed at theaters on PEI.

annes

When you are on PEI you definitely know you are in the Maritimes. It has a Maine/New England vibe to it. It seems as though there is a church or cemetery on every corner, and a lighthouse on every horizon.

panmure

Though the weather was unusually cool for late June/early July, with several periods of rain and overcast skies, we still managed to see a lot of the sights. I loved Charlottetown with its quaint shops and beautiful marinas.

dock

Even though I’m from Vancouver, where a lot of Hollywood films are made, it’s been a while since I’ve experienced a celebrity sighting. I wasn’t expecting to see anyone remotely famous on PEI, but on my first afternoon in Charlottetown, my dad held a restaurant door open for Chef Michael Smith from Canada’s Food Network.  Michael is Canada’s best-known chef and is the host of four Food Network shows. He has received a James Beard Award for Cooking Show Excellence. His Chef at Home series is filmed at his home on PEI and inspires home cooks to improvise and move beyond recipes by teaching viewers fundamental techniques in the kitchen.

By West Coast standards, a lot of the buildings in Charlottetown are old, possessing the sort of graceful beauty that age brings. I have always adored history and its remnants, which is why I’m always drawn to European cities. My favourite building in PEI’s capital was definitely the Citadel, a Catholic church in the town’s center. Built in the 1920s, it seemed much older, its porticoes and arches bringing the Sacre Coeur in Paris to mind.

basilica

Life is funny. When I first visited PEI years ago, I never thought I’d be back. Now I’m so thoroughly charmed by its lush scenery and friendliness of the people, I’m sure this little island province has not seen the last of me.

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"Noncooks think it's silly to invest two hours' work in two minutes' enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet." -Julia Child

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