Friday, August 26, 2011

Vacation eats - Maritimes (part one)

So, finally have a chance to sit down and dish about vacation and the good stuff we had to eat. (Get comfy, this will be a long one ;) We decided we would be heading east into the Maritime provinces to visit some of B's family there. So we shipped the cats off to their grandmother's for the week, packed the car and hit the road.

It's roughly a 10 hour drive from Montreal to the St John/Moncton area of New Brunswick, and I had chosen the route that took us through the northern bit of the States (Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine) for no particular reason than to see what there was to see. What was there? Trees. And a lot of road construction :P But we did take a short break on the side of the road and were treated to this scene:

Somewhere in Maine

It was a brief stop though and soon we were back on the road... or in some places, the gravel trail. August seems to be road construction month through most of that part of the world and I saw my fair share of people in bright orange vests waving signs about. Rather than getting into Bangor, Maine at lunchtime so we could enjoy a leisurely lunch and swap driving duties, we dragged in sometime after 3pm, promptly got lost, and ended up in a small town just outside Bangor called Orono. We finally stopped to eat at a little hole-in-the-wall pizza place and then hit the road again, this time with B behind the wheel.

The rest of the drive there was fairly unremarkable... mainly because as soon as my butt hit the passenger seat, I was out like a light. 7 hours of driving without a break takes a lot out of you! But as evening rolled in, we could tell we were getting nearer to the coast... the scenery and the weather were changing. We started passing more and more signs advertising various kinds of seafood... we even passed one for an auto body shop that announced you got a free lobster with the purchase of a new windshield! If it's one thing the Maritimes take seriously (and do well), it's seafood.

After the umpteenth sign on road side diners for lobster rolls, my stomach decided it was time to stop for dinner. We were just getting into St John and it was about another hour or so to where we would be staying, so we stopped to eat. We'd been once before and remembered there being a good restaurant down by the waterfront, so figured we'd start there. Grannan's caught our eye, partly because the outside seating area was packed (surely a good sign, right?) and partly because they had lobster rolls on the menu. I'm all for it! After being ignored by the staff for a few minutes, we were directed to the dining room upstairs, where we were ignored for another few minutes. Finally seated, I knew what I was having, while B decided on fish and chips. We waited for quite a while for the food, and when it came... meh. The lobster roll was watery and tasteless. The best part about the meal was the potato salad that came with it, and when you're in the Maritimes, there's really no excuse for a side dish like potato salad outshining the seafood. I was really underwhelmed. Even B's fish and chips seemed limp and lifeless... while it's one thing to have tender, flakey fish, it's another to have the thing fall apart on your fork as you try to eat it. Neither of us were impressed, even less so when we got the bill for more than $40 for the two of us. But then considering where it was, and the prices on the menu, it was clearly more of a tourist trap rather than a serious restaurant. We'd have had better luck at one of the roadside places leading into town, probably. Lesson learned, Grannan's will not be a repeat visit for us.

The next day we wandered down to St Martin's, an extremely tiny but picturesque spot by the water.

Beach at St Martin's, New Brunswick

We stopped at a roadside gift shop to look around, and after a while discovered B's uncle to be missing. We found him on the dock talking to some fishermen next to their boat. Turns out they had been out fishing for scallops and their catch was on ice in the cooler on the tailgate of their truck. I lit up like a light and we bought a pound of crazy-fresh scallops off them for less than $10. B commented that in any other circumstance he'd never even consider buying fish out of the back of someone's truck, but here it seemed perfectly normal. That night we had homemade lobster rolls along with the scallops, pan seared in a bit of butter, and some fresh veggies. And I think that meal was the single best one I had the entire trip, hands down. The lobster rolls were delicious... lobster meat mixed with a bit of onion and mayo on a warm buttered roll. Unbelievable. The scallops were equally good... sweet and caramelized and nicely seasoned. We also built a fire in the outside firepit and had s'mores for dessert ;)

The next day we were off to a family reunion at one of the family member's cottages right on the shore of Grand Lake, and there were two things there was no shortage of: food and people. Being an only child myself and coming from a fairly small family, I'm often overwhelmed by the size (and volume) of B's family. But I was quickly engulfed by the herd, being introduced to dozens of people whose names I would spend the rest of the day quietly quizzing B on in hopes of remembering them all. As always with B's clan, I was warmly welcomed in as part of the family and quickly treated to some of the good-natured teasing and sarcasm that seems to be their trademark. Luckily I'm much the same so I fit in nicely ;)

Dinner was a potluck spread that was staggering in its size. I attempted to try a little of everything, but got sidetracked by the lobster dip and a mysterious (but delicious) dip set out with a large plate of fresh fruit. Someone told me there was marshmallow fluff in it, and from the taste there was also some orange zest or orange juice, but no one seemed to know what else was in it, or even who had brought it. How mysterious! I may have to try and recreate that one... it was amazing. After we were all stuffed, we sat around chatting and digesting. Some of the older men got out a game that looked to be similar to horseshoes or shuffleboard in that you had large metal discs (they seemed to be metal washers, about 5 or 6 inches wide) that the players would take turns throwing at a board with various scores marked on it. I went over and stood on the sidelines watching, trying to figure out how it worked, and was quickly invited into the game. I was the youngest one among the players by a fair few decades, but had a great time with the guys, they were a very friendly and entertaining bunch.

As dusk finally fell, I wandered down to the lake:

Sunset over Grand Lake, New Brunswick
Once the sun was totally set we all came down to the water's edge and watched a small fireworks display put on by one of the group. Kids were still in their shorts and bathing suits, adults were in their flip flops and over-sized sweatshirts to ward of the evening chill. Sitting on a rock among the lanterns and twinkle lights strung in the trees, looking out over the dark lake you could catch whiffs of campfire smoke and sun-warmed lake water, hear murmured conversations around you and the occasional slosh of a stolen sip from a bottle of beer. The fireworks were loud and smokey and the kids squealed with delight at each explosion, and the whole scene was quintessentially summer-y. I loved it.

To be continued...

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