Thursday, July 31, 2014

Road Trip: Nova Scotia (Part 1--Halifax)

One of Canada's Maritime provinces, Nova Scotia was a new experience for me. My husband had been up that way before I knew him, years and years ago, but for me this was terra incognita.
My knowledge of Canada in general was woefully inadequate, so one of the best things about taking this trip for me was to learn something about our neighbor to the north.
N.S. markets itself as part of "Atlantic Canada" or the "Atlantic Lifestyle." Along with Prince Edward's Island and Newfoundland, N.S. has a thriving tourism industry in summer and early fall.
The weather was warmer than we had expected -- never wore the windbreaker I'd packed, and stayed in shorts more often than jeans -- but otherwise it was just about as I had expected and imagined it would be.
That goes for the food, as well.
Lobster is plentiful, if not especially inexpensive, and for the most part, seafood rules.
In fact, by the end of our 10-day visit, we started seeking out non-seafood menu items.
We started and ended our trip in the capital city of Halifax, population about 300,000. What my husband remembers as a sleepy coastal town in the 1970s seems to be in the midst of a building boom along the waterfront, although we heard from many locals that young people still tend to leave in droves. (That is even more true in the province's rural areas, of which there are many!)
Not surprisingly, Halifax has the best and most varied choices for foodies, although it also dishes out plenty of mediocre meals for tourists.
Seafood @ Salty's
 First night in, we hit one of those tourist spots, the long-established Salty's on the waterfront. The lower level, which includes a large patio, serves standard fare to families and young people on dates or in groups (mostly). We stopped there for a drink and appetizer before going upstairs to the more refined dining room, which was populated by our own demographic of old fogeys who want wine with dinner instead of tropical cocktails.
I had a decent linguine with lobster meat and sun-dried tomatoes, while hubby had a seafood sampler that he later named as one of his top seafood entrees of the trip.

We also tried and very much liked a trendy spot at the other end of the boardwalk called Bicycle Thief (named after the famed Italian film of the 1950s). We overindulged there at dinner one night, ending with a decadent and FABULOUS butterscotch cake that our waitress said was "life-changing" and drinking too much wine. On another day, I went for lunch on my own while George went on a sightseeing cruise, and had a much healthier and quite delicious meal: asparagus soup, barbecue chicken panini and spinach salad.
Lunch @ Bicycle Thief (Halifax)
 One disappointment was a place called Press Gang: it's in one of the oldest buildings in Nova Scotia and has an appealing ambiance. But the food was overpriced and mediocre. We wouldn't recommend that one; it seems to be living on tourism and some kind of past glory.
Press Gang: Ambiance Galore, but otherwise....

One day, we took a longish walk to have breakfast at Cora's, known for elaborate, fruit-based breakfast entrees. It was interesting, but actually a bit over the top and we didn't go back again. All in all, it's hard to find anything interesting at breakfast in downtown Halifax.
Breakfast @ Cora's

Our favorite restaurant turned out to be one called Two Doors Down, where we had a great lunch, then stopped that night for dessert, and back the next night for dinner. There was nary a false note in everything we ordered, from cocktails to wine to generally healthy and not expensive savory fare. We WOULD recommend that one, along with Bicycle Thief. Two Doors Down is the stepchild of the more high-end Chive's, which we just didn't get the chance to try.

Two Doors Down: Cod and Veggie Korma
NEXT: Dining around the province -- Good stuff up on Cape Breton!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Pleasant surprises and disappointments

We have had our share of both here in Nova Scotia.
I will be back on a regular schedule, posting from home, in a couple of days....with a wrap-up of this Nova Scotia road trip....and enjoying another month (or more) of delicious summer produce. Recipes to come!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

On the Bay of Fundy

We are in Annapolis Royal for two nights so my husband can do some genealogical research in nearby Digby.
This whole trip is about George getting in touch, spiritually speaking, with some of his ancestors who settled in this part of Canada back in the late 1700s.
Food has been adequate, nothing exciting, but the scenery and walking/hiking has been very good. I especially liked the western coast of the Cape Breton Island. Otherwise, Halifax is more appealing to me than these out of the way spots.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Moderation on vacation

We have ramped up the physical activity-- hiking, swimming a little -- and moderated the food and drink.
For now, at least. Anyhow, this part of Nova Scotia encourages outdoor activity and isn't exactly a gourmet paradise.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Nova Scotia: Halifax and Cape Breton

We are in day 3 of the Nova Scotia vacation, and so far the food and drink have been....well, excessive. It's hard not to overdo it on vacation. Today I am trying to dial it back or I will return home with extra pounds and feeling bad about myself.
Also because we are driving long distances around NS, time for good exercise has been minimal. That will change tomorrow -- for the next two days we will have ample opportunity for vigorous hikes along the Cabot Trail.
I have only my iPad for posts, and can't do as much with it as from the home PC, so I will write a wrap up about the highs and lows of healthy foodie experience of this interesting Canadian province upon our return.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

To the Maritimes

Today we depart for 10 days in one of Canada's Maritime provinces, Nova Scotia. I expect a vast array of super fresh seafood, some French accents due to the Acadian influence, and even a bit of Canadian wine.
Will post when possible!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

RESTAURANT REVIEW: John-Robert's Table (our best meal there, ever)

For our wedding anniversary, we dined at Jean-Robert's Table, the establishment owned by Cincinnati's top French chef, John-Robert de Cavel, who is also one of our area's best community citizens.
The crowd was light after the restaurant's five-day Bastille Day extravaganza, but as always the ambiance was perfectly pleasant. As an extra treat, Sylvain Archer and his band "Frenchaxe" was playing all evening.
The meal was superb and in fact was the best I've had there, start to finish.
We started with a great lobster salad (a special preparation not on the regular menu) and totally scrumptious spring vegetable ravioli with a delicious but light truffle cream sauce poured over the dish at table. (I had a glass of Champagne instead of a cocktail and had a bit of it left to enjoy with my ravioli.)
Lobster salad (L) and Spring Vegetable Ravioli
 For entrees, I took our waiter's advice and selected the scallops, which were prepared marvelously with a fava bean puree, a few other light veggies, and another hit of a truffle-infused sauce.
Jean-Robert's Scallops
My husband's entree was halibut, not on the regular menu. I took a photo of it but didn't have a taste, and he didn't try my scallops, either!
With the scallops, I had a glass of red Burgundy.
Halibut special at JR's Table
After all husband ordered a chocolate macademia nut tart and a cup of coffee, but I finished with a lovely glass of Sauternes.
We vowed not to let another couple of years go by before we dine there again!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

RESTAURANT REVIEW: The Littlefield, Northside

Another welcome addition to the dining scene in Northside -- which other than OTR has become the best Cincinnati neighborhood for kicking up one's heels -- is The Littlefield, a bourbon bar and restaurant. It opened just after the 4th of July and already is becoming a super-hot place to go.
Cocktail at The Littlefield

There are at least four different seating areas -- the bar and tables on the main floor, several small tables up the stairs in a loft, a second-floor outdoor deck off the loft, and a side patio on the ground floor. As hot as Hades on our first visit, we sat in the coolest spot near the bar, which also gave me a chance to watch the head bartender (or is it mixologist these days?), Mark, make an array of interesting cocktails.

In addition to a selection of 50+ bourbons for sipping (and a featured bourbon flight each day), there's a menu of eight cocktails, mostly based on bourbon or rye whiskey. I tried two: Boy of Bayonne (Eagle Rare, house cherry bitters, vanilla simple syrup, muddled cherry and orange peel) for $8 and Cherry Street (rye, bitters, Dolin, smoked cherry) for $12. Both were delicious, although Cherry Street didn't seen $4 better than the other. But there are several more that I want to try on my next visit, which will be SOON.

When it comes to food, you're in luck, because everything is marvelous. The short menu is divided into "Bites" (best thing we tried there was the cauliflower fritters, not to be missed), "Plates" (a couple of sandwiches, a couple of potpies, lamb meatballs and BBQ brisket) and "Sweets" (five desserts ranging from $3 for cookies to $6 for bourbon pecan pie or bourbon flourless chocolate cake with bourbon whipped cream).
Caprese salad and cauliflower fritters

With two drinks apiece, two bites (including a special, off-menu caprese salad),  two sandwiches and the chocolate cake, we managed to rack up a bill of about $70 plus tax and tip, but we were being a little gluttonous and trying as many things as we could manage. Next time, we'll probably be just fine with a bit less food. Or not!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Load Up on Fruits and Veggies

            Summer is the easiest time of year to enjoy vegetables and fruit. Even so, most Americans fall far short of the recommended daily amount we should be eating.  As recently as 2012, only one in three adults had two or more daily fruit servings and even fewer (26%) had that many veggie servings. And that count of veggies included potatoes!  When you consider that the American Heart Association recommends a minimum of eight daily servings of fruits and vegetables, those statistics are even more, well, disheartening.
            While you’re firing up the grill this season, consider how easy and satisfying it is to add veggies, and even fruit, to the barbeque. Try putting chunks of vegetables and fruits on skewers, or cooking them on a grill topper that will keep them from falling through the grids.  You only need to brush the food with a little vegetable oil (not olive oil, which will burn), or try the recipe below for something only slightly more elaborate. Consider also grilling whole, fresh figs – put them on a skewer – for a delicious caramelized flavor. Stone fruit such as peaches and nectarines also take well to the grill; just cut them in half and remove the pit, but keep the peel on.

Recipe: Mixed Vegetable and Fruit Grill
Serves 4-6
½ pound fresh asparagus, trimmed
1 large red or yellow pepper, cut into 4 chunks
2 medium zucchini, cut in half lengthwise 
1 medium red onion, peeled and cut into wedges
1 pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into quarters lengthwise
2 medium bananas, unpeeled and sliced in half lengthwise

For the vegetables:
¼ cup canola oil
1-2 T honey
4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper

For the fruit:
¼ cup rum
2 T brown sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract

In a small bowl, whisk together the canola oil, honey, vinegar, oregano and seasonings. Pour most of the marinade into a large resealable plastic bag. Add asparagus, pepper, zucchini and onion; seal bag and turn over to coat the veggies. Marinate about an hour at room temperature.
Transfer veggies to a grilling grid; place grid on preheated grill rack. Close the grill lid and cook over medium heat about 8-10 minutes, until crisp-tender, turning occasionally.
Once you have placed the veggies on the grill, brush pineapple and banana pieces with the brown sugar mixture and place on the outside of the grill alongside the vegetables. Close the grill lid and cook with the veggies. Watch carefully and turn pineapple as needed; the banana should go skin down and not be turned (it most likely will be done first).
Remove food to a platter as each piece becomes done, keeping veggies to one side and fruit to another. Drizzle remaining marinade over the veggies and brush fruit with any remaining brown sugar mix. Serve warm or at room temperature. (You can cover with foil to keep warm while you cook any meat, poultry or fish that you also want to serve at this meal.)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Blueberry Cupcakes: Enjoy the peak of the season

There's no better food on earth, IMHO, than the beautiful blueberry. In season -- NOW!! -- the little sweet things are part of my everyday diet. They always appear at breakfast, either in a bowl with pieces of cantaloupe and other berries, or in cold cereal or oatmeal. On special days, they make it into pancakes or muffins, and we like the blueberry cornbread you can find sometimes at Whole Foods.

Here's a recipe or blueberry cupcakes that has a secret ingredient for the cake -- mashed potatoes! The potatoes make the cake incredibly moist, and the frosting is so guilt-free that you can pile a lot on each one. Note that the frosting stiffens just about as soon as you mix it, so be sure frost the cupcakes right away.

This recipe was adapted from one of my favorite healthy-foodie sources, Eating Well magazine.

RECIPE: Blueberry Cupcakes
Makes 12 cupcakes



  • 1 large Yukon Gold potato, peeled and cut into small chunks
  • 3/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour (see Note)
  • 3/4 cup cake flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract or vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup nonfat buttermilk (see Tip)
  • 1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen (thawed and drained), plus fresh blueberries for garnish


  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 4 teaspoons dried egg whites (see Note), reconstituted according to package directions (equivalent to 2 egg whites)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2-3 tablespoons blueberry preserves or jam
  • 1/4 teaspoon coconut extract or vanilla extract

  1. To prepare cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 12 (1/2-cup) muffin cups with paper liners.
  2. Place potato in a saucepan, add water to cover and bring to a boil. Cook until tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and mash until very smooth. Measure out 3/4 cup and let cool slightly. (You may have some potato left over.)
  3. Whisk whole-wheat flour, cake flour, baking powder, baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl.
  4. Beat granulated sugar and oil in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until combined. Beat in egg, 1/2 teaspoon extract and the 3/4 cup mashed potatoes until combined. With the mixer on low, alternately mix in the dry ingredients and buttermilk, starting and ending with dry ingredients and scraping the sides of the bowl as needed, until just combined. Fold in 1 cup blueberries. Divide the batter among the prepared cups (they will be full).
  5. Bake the cupcakes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 22 to 24 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.
  6. To prepare frosting: Once the cupcakes are cool, bring 2 inches of water to a simmer in the bottom of a double boiler (see Tip). Combine 3/4 cup granulated sugar and 3 tablespoons water in the top of the double boiler. Place over the simmering water and heat, stirring, until the sugar is melted, 2 to 3 minutes. Start beating the mixture with an electric mixer on high speed; add reconstituted egg whites, cream of tartar and a pinch of salt. Continue beating until the mixture looks like a glossy, thick frosting, 5 to 7 minutes. Off the heat, beat for 1 minute more to cool. Add 2 tablespoons (or more, depending on desired color) blueberry preserves (or jam) and 1/4 teaspoon extract and beat on low just to combine. Spread or pipe the frosting on the cooled cupcakes and decorate with fresh blueberries on top, if desired.