Saturday, October 30, 2021

thanksgiving week in the highlands - a trip around the cabot trail

We are often asked, as fairly green Nova Scotians still, what we love about this place we call home. There are many answers that come to mind, but one that I feel many people aren't aware of, is how beautifully diverse the landscape of this province is. There are parts that feel so classically New England-like, where the coastline here seems to blend seemlessly with those across the waters belonging to Maine. There's the fertile Valley that runs between the mountains, parallel to the Bay, a patchwork of farmland, fruit trees and vines.

And then there are the Highlands.

It's as though the last of Scottish blood flowing through me is drawn to this place. As though part of me knows the hills of a home from generations past lie just beyond the horizon. The fog that rises from the lochs there, rolls across waves and settles on the hills here. The same salty waters come swirling in with the tides at the base of each cliff along coastline. The highlands leave me feeling like I've returned home.

When Ryan's family decided to come and spend Thanksgiving here, we wanted to make it extra special, so we decided to head up to Cape Breton for a few days away together. We booked a cottage right on the water in Ch├ęticamp, with the ocean to the front and the mountains behind. We took our time heading up, stopping to stretch our legs in Margaree Harbour. We follow the sign for Sandy Bathing Beach, and parked at the bottom of the dunes. We wound our way up through the roses well past their bloom, and stood at the lighthouse steps overlooking the harbour below. An old, white farmhouse sits at the top of the hill, flanked by two lighthouses. Just beyond the tall dune lies Margaree Harbour Beach.

When you climb up the dune, you smell the water and hear the waves before you can even see the beach. 

This is the view from our cottage. We could watch the sun rise behind the mountains from the back and see the sun sink below the horizon in the front.

If you've never heard of the Cabot Trail before, it's Canada's version of California's Highway 1. Honestly, before driving it, I didn't realize our East Coast had mountains like this. You wind along the coast, hugging the edge, climbing the mountains and descending down into the valleys. Lookoffs line the road at every beautiful vista so you can get out and take in the views.

Add the beauty of the changing leaves and it's a grand tour.
Not to mention those gorgeous October skies.

We kept things easy and usually ate out, or we picked a charcuterie and sipped wine at dusk.

On our way home we showed them Inverness Beach - one of our favourite beaches in Nova Scotia. It was grey and moody, but it didn't stop us from enjoying a stroll on the beach in the drizzling rain.

There are so many other places we stopped - Ingonish Beach and Neil's Harbour are other favourites. And if you're really adventurous, go all the way out to Meat Cove.

Whatever you do, just give yourself plenty of time to stop. It's the kind of drive that on paper is three or four hours, but will end up taking you the entire day. But trust me, you won't mind one bit.

Friday, October 22, 2021

thanksgiving weekend

I've long loved the week before Thanksgiving. It's probably one of my favourite holidays of the year, and I love that we celebrate it in October here in Canada. However, Thanksgiving weekend in Nova Scotia is just perfect. The weather isn't too hot, or too cold yet. The colours are pretty much at their peak. It's harvest season, so all of the necessary ingredients seem to be in abundance locally, at market or in all the little farm stands from town to town. But it also means that there's more time to enjoy preparing for Christmas, which already seems to come way too quickly.

The only issue I seem to come across is that with so many I follow being American, everything seems to be Halloween inspiration! I mean by the time you're ready to do Thanksgiving, I'm still not quite ready to decorate for Christmas, so I enjoy a longer autumn, but it just means I need to dig a little deeper for my own inspiration.

Thankfully over the years, I've amassed quite a collection of favourites.

Out come my most favourite back issues of Martha Stewart Living (the early 2000's issues of which I've purchased double and triple copies). I pull old Williams Sonoma cookbooks and reread a couple favourite articles, like when Ina Garten used to have an entertaining column in MSL! Then I lay it all out on the table, put the kettle on and settle in to plan my week before, as well as my menu.

This year we had Ryan's family come visit, so extra planning ahead was required. I wanted to have meals and snacks made ahead and I wanted to spend as little time in the kitchen as I could. That meant I could spend more time enjoying our time visiting with them.

Anything that could be done ahead of time was. I ordered all the groceries online and popped into the market days before to pick up ingredients. I avoided long waits at the liquor store by picking up everything I'd need for the week ahead of time. I made cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes and squash and stored them until the day of. If I was making a mess in the kitchen already, I would tried to make a pot of soup, something to freeze for a quick meal later, or prep a quick breakfast for the next morning.

Every little bit of prep meant less stress the day of. That being said, it's never perfect! Something always goes wrong. This year I burned the marshmallows on the sweet potato casserole not once, but twice! It was a first for me and broiling them at the last, most hectic moment required more attention than I could give them.

I even like to set aside what I need for the table. I purchase tapers, make sure my linens are clean (I should probably iron them but can never be bothered), and I usually plan my centerpiece. This year I intended to do an arrangement with flowers but didn't really find anything I loved. I ended up finding these two perfect little squash and the table went in a slightly different direction.

The day before Thanksgiving was absolutely stunning. We awoke to one of our first frosts of the year. Everything just looked completely idyllic.

I had prepped Pumpkin Brioche French Toast the night before, so I just had to pop it in the oven when we woke up, and then sit and enjoy my coffee - my extra special, holiday coffee.

This is a total indulgence, something I only make on Thanksgiving weekend.

We took a picnic up to the Lookoff to show his parents the Valley in colour. 

We had our dinner on the Monday evening, as that's when his sister was arriving. I had all day to putter around - setting the table, getting the sides ready etc, and this year, packing for the road trip we'd be taking to the highlands the next morning!

At first, I set the table with some simple pumpkins down the middle and a simple arrangement of wheat. I planned to add some clipped sage in little antique pots near the ends, but while I was clipping them, I noticed the frost had started killing our grapevine.

Feeling very inspired by Jamie Beck, I clipped some vines and wove them throughout the pumpkins. I laughed because I loved the little curly tendrils and the clusters of grapes and (if you know her, you'll understand!) I started imaging adding a few insects and moisture droplets to really go for it. I didn't though, I just thought she'd appreciate the effort...

The clipped sage ended up making the perfect garnish for the turkey, along with a couple stolen pears from the neighbor's pear tree. Don't worry, I sent payment in the form of Pumpkin Whoopie Pies,

In the end, everything was delicious. But really, it was just such a blessing to sit and enjoy a meal with our family again. We could have been eating takeout and it would still have been lovely!

If you've already celebrated, I hope you had a memorable Thanksgiving day with those you love. And those of you who aren't even ready to think about Thanksgiving plans just yet, I look forward to seeing how you all celebrate soon!

Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

visiting new brunswick - st andrews by-the-sea and the acadian coastal drive, a room tour

Ryan and I spent a weekend travelling around New Brunswick this summer, and it was really the first time we spent any length of time in this province. Usually we are only driving through it on our way from Nova Scotia to Quebec or Maine. We had planned to take the ferry from Digby, NS to Saint John, NB, as it saves quite a bit of time driving, however the remnants of a hurricane were blowing through and it was cancelled at the last minute.

I packed a picnic for the ferry ride as it was over dinner time, but instead it meant we didn't have to make any stops. Snacks are always so important when we're on a road trip. Snacks keep us happy!

Our first evening was spent in a town we love called Saint Andrews By-the-Sea. It's quaint little seaside town with lots of old historic homes.

We always rent a room at one of the resorts here. It's a little cluster of shake buildings on the water that are tucked snug together with little walkways between sitting areas. You feel a bit like you're on top of each other, so we always recommend staying in one of the upper rooms.

Most of the rentals have their own little private balcony or deck area.

There's a vibrant downtown area with outdoor cafes and dining, as well as many of your typical vacation-town shops. There are also some really interesting old homes, many of which are designated, on the surrounding streets that we like to drive by. If you have time, I also recommend visiting Kingsburg Historical Gardens and browsing through Macklem House Antiques. Another highly recommended place to stay, that we haven't stayed at yet, is the Algonquin Hotel. It's an iconic, grand hotel set up on the hill. Though if you do book a room there, I've been told by a few frequenters to request the original part of the hotel.

There are also deer everywhere. I imagine it's quite an issue for residents, but as a visitor who doesn't have to maintain a flower bed or vegetable patch, it adds to the charm of the town. If your thing is stalking old homes along the water, I highly recommend driving along Joes Point Rd, near the Algonquin Golf Course. And in town, pop into Crocker Hill. It's an adorable little shop that's packed to the gills with all of the best things - chocolate creams in every flavour, fragrant soaps and the most beautiful English water cans in every colour.

We then drove North to do the Acadian Coastal Drive. We stayed right in the Historic Acadian Village, which wasn't anything like we expected, and then took the coastal drive all the way across and down towards Nova Scotia.

There are so many beautiful beaches to stop at along the way.

This is Kelly Beach.

The Irving Eco-centre was another great beach and a really beautiful facility - though in my opinion, adding cedar shakes and a weather vane to anything makes it infinitely more lovely.

And who doesn't love a good boardwalk?

As I mentioned before, the place we had booked for our second night wasn't anything like what we expected. We understood that it was a bed and breakfast near the Historic Acadian Village (Historique Village Acadien), and part of the package included admission to the grounds. When we arrived however, we discovered the that hotel we were staying in, Chateau Albert Hotel, is the actual 1907 replica hotel in the middle of the village! In fact, what we thought would have been a small historic village, made up of a few old homes and old buildings, is actually a massive 2 km circuit that shows the life of the Acadian people through history. It begins with the oldest parts depicting life in 1773, up to the newer village buildings showing life in the 1950's. It was way too much for us to do in the short time we set aside for it, so instead, we decided we would bring the boys back and spend a weekend seeing it.

The couple little buildings right near the hotel made it a really interesting place to stay. Even the hotel itself was interesting. It was kind of like staying in a museum! All around you, people show up to work in the village in period costume, and they try to keep the hotel fairly historically accurate, meaning there were only the necessary modern conveniences (no TV in the room!).

But the room... It made me smile.
It was perfectly simple, but well done. I had to give you a little tour of it!

We actually squished together and shared the double bed. I knew it was a double ahead of time, so I arranged to rent a cot for Ryan to sleep on, as I figured he'd want more space... (we're used to a king!). They do have other rooms with queen beds, but honestly, I just liked this room and bathroom too much.

Whoever did the design of the hotel did a brilliant job on so many details. Antique pieces and artwork were used throughout, and I loved the colour palette they went with. 

This green though. Seriously. I just loved this little room.

I packed accordingly.

I also loved the simple bathroom with such timeless fixtures. Nothing grand at all, but still so classic and clean.

Can we start bringing back toilets like this? I'll never forget, my aunt had one in her house.

This is the main hallway. Again, I love the brass fixtures chosen, and matching hardware. Even the wallpaper was lovely.

There was a terrace that you could sit on that overlooked this part of the village and it made the perfect spot for breakfast in the morning.

We really look forward to returning and being able to do the whole experience. We've been studying the Acadian people in History since moving here to Nova Scotia, and really learning about them for the first time. When we return, I'll share more on the village itself, but for now, if you're planning any trips to New Brunswick this summer, I highly recommend adding these places to your itinerary!