Local beer update: Big Spruce Brewing

Hops have grown up the rope and onto the supporting structure.

As you’re aware, if you’ve been reading this blog a while, there is a microbrewery starting up in Nyanza, near Baddeck.

In case you’re not, however, this post is my first interview with Jeremy and Melanie, this post is when I tasted their beer, and this post is an update from June of this year when I visited their property. (Oh and just for kicks, this post is Erin the Librarian writing about growing her own hops in her garden in Whitney Pier, and books on beer growing that you can get at the Cape Breton Regional Library.)

So how are things going with Jeremy and Melanie, and their little boy Everett? Well, bountifully. They’ve begun construction on the brewery building, for one thing. (All pictures courtesy Jeremy.)

And the hops have been harvested for this year.

I asked Jeremy about the beer-making process and what part the hops play. He wrote back, “The cones are added to the boil at varying times throughout the boil. They lend bittering and aroma properties to the beer depending on varietal and how long you let them boil with the beer.”

Doesn’t this picture of Melanie and Everett have a wonderful 1970’s vibe to it? Like it should be the cover of a book called “Going Back To The Land: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Health and Happiness.”

The other news is that they have changed their name from The Kilted Moose to Big Spruce Brewing.

Jeremy says, “As we’ve gone further down the road into our business, we’ve looked harder at trademark-related issues, and we’ve also thought a lot more about the kind of brand we want for our brewery. So we’ve decided to change our name to Big Spruce Brewing.”

He says that the spruce is a great iconic Canadian symbol, and that there are lots of spruce trees around the brewhouse. And yes, a spruce beer is in the works.

You can keep up with their news by Liking their Facebook page. And there will be updates on this blog sporadically, as well.

Posted in Business ideas, Food + agriculture | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Frugal Friday with Pamela Johnson: Herbed Ice Cubes and a Friendly Slug Killer

Herb puree frozen into cubes keeps well into winter.

Herbilicious ice cubes

I love cilantro, so much that I planted WAY too much of it this summer. I couldn’t wait to cook with fresh cilantro again! Mmm, mango chutney, sweet potato soup, any number of Indian dishes.

However, this full crop was far more than one person could possibly manage before it became a much dreaded additive to every meal. So here’s what I did – and by the way I stole this idea, most of my good ideas are borrowed – I took big handfuls of cilantro and threw them in the blender with just enough water to emulsify it to make a puree, then poured them into ice cube trays and popped those puppies into the freezer. Presto, you have a flavour punch ready for stir-fry, soup, or whatever, all year ‘round.

Slugs dying a happy death in Pamela’s garden.

Beer-dead slugs

Slugs, earwigs and other unhelpful creepy crawlies were taking over my garden. They have been lunching on my spinach, herbs and greens for weeks, until I remembered a most helpful gardening technique: feed them beer. Who doesn’t want a beer one on a hot day while hanging out in the garden? Well, this is how you make a beerdead slug:

  1. Have a BBQ; invite a couple of friends who bring good beer, and others who bring beer that is barely drinkable.
  2. Take barely drinkable beer and pour it into a shallow dish (pie plates work well) and leave the dishes under plants, and in infested areas.
  3. Be prepared to find a dishful of dead, smiling slugs and earwigs within a few days. They go happily and your greens will be equally happy without infestation.

I find I might need to re-fill the pan once, so essentially two treatments per summer.

Happy gardening everyone!

Pamela Johnson lives in Sydney. She recently came up with a Facebook group called “The Urban Food Propagandist.” She writes, “I came up with this so I can share the fruits of my backyard farming with my friends. I was inspired after dropping by a friend’s house yesterday and seeing all of the great things in their garden and thinking, “Hey, I want some of that stuff!”. Well, let’s trade people. If you are backyard farming here in Sydney, and you have more than enough for you and your family, let’s share.”

You can find the group on Facebook, and ask to be added. Here is the link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/331032030323462/

The other Frugal Friday posts on this blog:

Posted in Food + agriculture, Guest posts | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Going back to school at 28

Next week I’ll be going back to school.

I’m 28, and the last time I was in a classroom was early 2007. I left university in my third year of a Bachelor of Arts degree. At the time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do next, and for several years I still didn’t know. Go back and finish the degree? That didn’t appeal to me; I’d left for a reason.

So I let it sit. I decided not to worry about it (much) – I worked paid jobs, and dabbled in hobbies and talked to people. Every now and then I looked at NSCC’s offerings, thinking about their Landscaping program, as well as the Printing program, since I was absolutely in love with typography.

Time went by. I still wasn’t sure. I kept on working. Doing my thing.

Then last year I thought about taking a Business Administration program. I enjoyed the office work at Baddeck Marine, and so this past fall I looked into the Business Admin program at NSCC. The night I was going to go take a tour of the classroom and meet the teachers, I decided to check out Graphic Design instead.

Why? I don’t know. Intuition? That little voice in the back of my mind that I don’t usually listen to?

And, the second I walked into the classroom it was like “YES, YES YES.” Like, when can I start? Can it be now?!?

So I made the choice. Sure, there was doubt too, like I think there is no matter how sure you feel. It’s a Big Life Decision – it’s going to affect the rest of my life, and set me down a path. After sitting at the trailhead for a while, it was time to start hiking.

I went through the application process, which for Graphic Design has a portfolio component. And I got accepted.

Then I applied for the Skills Development program (which is, essentially, when EI pays for tuition), and was able to get it. And I had to line up a student line of credit through my financial institution (East Coast Credit Union), to afford the things that EI wouldn’t cover.

And then all summer it was just waiting for the time to come. And now here we are.

It is … weird. But also good. I’m excited about the course I’ll be taking (graphic design) and I just know I’m going to eat it right up. I’m pretty confident that I’ll do well – I was always a good student. Took good notes, studied, did well on tests. But still, there is always the nervousness and wondering how it will go.

But, two of my good friends from Baddeck will be at NSCC with me! One is taking Industrial Instrumentation, the other Culinary Arts. Both are also mature students like me. I’m sure there will be lots of chances to have lunch together or study together. It’s nice to know they’ll be there too.

I’m nervous, too, though, as we all are about any new thing. But, I visited the campus a couple of times last winter and spring, and spent some time in the classroom, so at least I know what the place looks like and a little bit of what to expect.

I’m curious about my classmates – who will be in the class with me? Will they be fresh out of high school? Will they be in their twenties like me? Or older?

And I love knowing that there is so much learning ahead of me. I’m a geek that way, for sure. That I’ll have lots of new knowledge and skills by Christmas-time, that I don’t have right now, is thrilling.

Have you ever gone back to school? Were you nervous? How did it all work out?

Posted in Education, Jobs, Leah's thoughts | Tagged , , , | 18 Comments

Lunenburg for an August wedding

It was my first time in Lunenburg.

My friend Catriona had lived there for three years, several years ago. That’s where she met Auston. He was a cook at Fleur de Sel. She was a cook at Trattoria della Nonna. They met at The Knot pub.

Last week they returned to Lunenburg to tie the knot. (Not my joke. Actually, Auston’s joke.)

The view from the Boscawen Inn, where the reception took place. The Picton Castle is visible in the harbour – that’s where they got married.

This toilet was at the hostel in Mahone Bay where I stayed. Part of their decor. I thought it was pretty neat.

This is Michele Stevens’ Sailloft. She is one of the sailmakers that we deal with at Baddeck Marine, sending sails that need repairs her way, or if customers need sails made. I had never visited her loft before, but the day after the wedding I had a bit of time, so I ventured out onto Second Peninsula to meet her staff.

In Mahone Bay the next day, I stopped at Mateus Bistro for lunch and was not disappointed! I had the broccoli-cheese soup, and the roasted veggie sandwich with salad. The covered deck had a nice breeze going and there was wifi. I was in heaven.

The wedding was really special. To see a friend who I have known since I was a little girl, stand up in front of her family and friends and tell her man that she will love him forever, and to hear him say the words to her too, is pretty powerful.

Posted in Towns + communities | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Q+A with Lorna MacLean

Lorna MacLean

Lorna MacLean is a self-proclaimed food enthusiast who lives in Middle River. Referred to as a “crazy hippie lady” by some of her friends, she can often be found baking delicious cakes, or complaining about the slugs in her garden. All photos courtesy Lorna MacLean.

1. What’s your age (or age range – sometimes I say I’m a “twentysomething”, or you can say whatever you’re comfortable with).

25 years of age, with a much older soul.

2. CB born and raised? Or recent transplant? (Plus whatever biographical details you feel like giving).

I am born and raised on the Cabot Trail. I moved to Charlottetown, PEI for 2 years to get my Culinary Diploma, and when I graduated I moved to Wolfville, Nova Scotia to work for a year, and ended up back in Charlottetown for a year to get my Pastry Arts Certificate. I returned to Cape Breton after that.

3. “What are you up to these days?” I.e. what do you do for a living, what are you working on, are you a student, in the workforce, etc?

These days I work seasonally, back and forth between the gift shops and the kitchen at the Red Barn. When I’m off in the winter, I decorate cakes, here and there, for people in the community. Sometimes I get the urge to sew, and try to turn something old into something new. My most recent project was turning a burlap rice bag into a purse, it turned out pretty great.

4. You’ve worked mainly in the hospitality industry. What’s your sense of this industry in Cape Breton – is it sustainable? Is it something you’d like to stay working in?

I like to think that if you have the right product, and the right determination, it can be sustainable. But, it’s hard to say. Cape Breton has turned into such a tourist trap, and when the tourists leave, a large portion of the population is on unemployment. There’s not much money left to go eat out after facing the reality of the cost of living here.

I would love to stay here, and be able to cook or bake for a living. Unfortunately, right now, unless I move to Sydney, the chances of finding year-round work, with a salary worth staying for, are slim.

It’s a hard pill to swallow sometimes… and I often find myself searching for the same jobs in the Annapolis Valley. I can usually find a job I’d want to apply for, but nothing that pays enough to make me want to leave Cape Breton.

5. What are your favourite things to do out of doors, in CB?

I’ve developed a love for gardening the last couple of years. In general, I just love getting out into the woods, and sunshine. Hiking, snow shoeing, cross-country skiing, or even just walking.

My camera usually comes with me too, to document some of the lesser seen images of Cape Breton. I have a couple hundred acres of old farm land at my disposal, some of the most beautiful things I have seen are literally in my own back yard.

6. Favourite CB eateries, past and present?

Tough one. There are a lot of great places to eat in Cape Breton, and usually “the smaller, the better”. The Dancing Goat in Margaree always delights me. The changes in soup choice and the sandwiches are great. The atmosphere is always so friendly and has an amazing community vibe. I always see at least one person there that I know, and probably haven’t seen in a while.

I also love going to Oka Maki Sushi in Sydney! It makes me so happy that I can get sushi in Cape Breton, and get it from people who started off their business because they wanted to introduce Cape Bretoners to Korean food. [Note: Lorna wrote this interview in March, and Oka Maki Sushi has since closed.]

Does The Dancing River Sprite count? They offer such a unique dining experience. You will not find anything like it around; the atmosphere, the quality of food, and the fact that George sources as many of the ingredients as he can, locally. It’s awesome that someone has done this!

7. What was it like to grow up in Middle River?

I loved growing up here. Mind you, I’ve come to learn, my “childhood” wasn’t the same as those who grew up next door, even. I grew up on a dairy farm, and my father had a flower business that he ran out of my grandmothers’ basement. I was exposed to a lot of things that most children aren’t.

Plus, the community itself is pretty awesome. There’s a great feeling of family in the community, and the school is the heart.

I loved every second of my elementary education. Maybe I am biased, but I feel like I grew up in a community where it was still like “the older days”. We grew up knowing a lot of what we ate and drank (milk), came from the land, not from an unknown source beyond the grocery store.

The community is a lot different now from what it used to be. I remember “Family Fun Day”, when there were enough farms and small businesses in the area to have a parade – on the Cabot Trail!. There was face painting, dunk tanking, fun! And all just a minute’s drive down the road from home.

These days, you go into Baddeck on Canada Day to get an experience like that, but even then, it’s just not the same. We had Jack Rabbits behind the community hall, cross-country skiing loppets, Little League T-Ball, they quit having it before I made it to the actual baseball level, COC and Explorers, bicycle safety courses, summer bible camps and as far as I know, there isn’t even a Sunday School here anymore. I attended the Sunday School at the United church here from grade primary until I was 12 or so…and then spent my Jr. High and senior high years assisting teachers, and being a teacher until I graduated high school. It’s kind of weird to sit here thinking about all of this, and realizing it no longer exists. It leaves me wondering what the children in this community do…

8. Are you planning on staying in CB? Why, or why not?

A. For now, I plan to stay here. I am in search of a year round job, which I have decided, probably will not be in the hospitality industry if I want to continue living in Middle River. But, I would forfeit hospitality, and “industry”, to stay in Cape Breton, as long as I’m still doing baking or cooking in some form.

9. “Dream big” for a minute: what are some innovations or events or just plain old “big ideas” you think Cape Breton could use?

This is another tough one. I mean, Celtic Colors is on the right track. When I was backpacking in Ireland, most people needed us to dumb down our “Where are you from?” answer to “eastern coast of Canada.” I remember running into a guy in his early twenties in a pub in Dublin, who kept getting us to be so specific, that when we finally said “Cape Breton”, his response was “Oh! That’s where that celtic music festival is!”

It made me think that the festival organizers were doing something right.

It just takes time. I think there is an opportunity to highlight Cape Breton food, but I’m not sure it has been properly explored quite yet. I don’t know if it needs to be an event, or “culinary vacation”; But there could be something that highlights people and places that use locally and wildly, found produce. Mushrooms, fiddleheads, Jerusalem artichokes, dandelion leaves, and anything that grows here…it’s all here. Chefs make caviar out of fruit these days…people, locally and from afar, should be introduced to the fact that Cape Breton can offer “crème de la crème” turnip and potatoes with a side of their next door neighbour’s beef cow, and make it unrecognizable to what your mother cooked for you.

[If local food interests you, Right Some Good is a foodie event that takes place in August in Cape Breton. Also, check out my page “Eating Local in Cape Breton” for links to more local food producers and markets.)

10. Finish this sentence: Being from Cape Breton, to me, means…

…knowing where I come from, knowing my roots, and having a huge sense of culture. Bottom line, home and family.

This Q+A with Lorna is part of an ongoing series of interviews I do with people associated with Cape Breton in some way – mostly young people, but not necessarily. The complete list of interviews is here.

Posted in Active living, Business ideas, Food + agriculture, Outdoors, Q+A, Women + kids | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

10 Beaches/2012: Florence

Florence Beach was kind of a tough one to find. I mean, on the map it looks easy enough to get there, but there aren’t signs. I just had to drive along back streets towards the water, turning around at dead ends several times until I got to where I thought it was. I ended up asking some people and they said just to park and then walk through this one person’s yard.

And I still think there are parts of it I didn’t get to – someone told me later that there is another part of it. Hmm… an adventure for another day, perhaps.

Funny story – this is actually kind of a fake smile. I mean, I was content that day, but I wasn’t overly happy, like thrilled or anything. It was an overcast day, threatening rain. The beach was quiet. There were seagulls and the odd tiny lick of a wave. It was just very still. So I sat and looked out at the water, and ate some salsa on corn chips with cheddar cheese (my go-to beach food) and watched the seagulls as they watched me.

I’d been wanting to try writing a word with pebbles. So, I did.

Watch your step! There was some broken glass by a big concrete block. I usually walk around beaches barefoot – and by usually I mean always – so I had to be mindful after I saw this glass.

Overall Florence is a nice beach. And close enough to where I’ll be living (North Sydney) that it can be an easy getaway, a place to go to just sit and look out at the water, or take a dip. You know, I’m realizing, through doing this intentional “Beaches” project, that being by the water is incredible for me. It helps me relax. It’s “going home” time.

Sitting there on Florence Beach, I wrote some thoughts in my notebook:

“It’s easier to feel low on a day like today.

I’m thinking about post-industry – after industry like coal mining or steel making has been, and gone, what’s left?

  • Remnants. This still beach.
  • Concrete blocks that today’s teenagers paint with spray-on colours.
  • The land – sand, dirt, however it was modified.
  • The cliffs with black stains.
  • Quietness.
  • Houses.
  • Streets.
  • Names of people, names of companies.
  • A flat ocean, a grey sky.
  • Birds and grasses.
  • Spiders, mice, trees.
  • Descendants – people with memory, desire, love.”

Edit: After writing this post, someone told me about a Facebook group of people who are interested in promoting Florence Beach and making better access to it. This is the link to that group if you’re interested in joining: https://www.facebook.com/groups/260225230753514/

To get there: Looking on Google Maps now, it seems I took Pitt St off of Main Street, and then it turned into Shore Road. I drove all the way to the end. Then I turned right onto Nicholas St, and parked in a little lane that I *think* was marked “Beach Lane”. From there you can see the beach and just walk about 15 feet across part of someone’s lawn.

Curious about my 10 Beaches/2012 project? Basically, this summer, I’m challenging myself to make it to ten separate beaches on Cape Breton Island. So far: Initial post, Point Aconi, Chimney Corner & Inverness, Gabarus & Fourchu, Kennington Cove and now Florence.

Posted in 10 Beaches/2012, Active living, Leah's thoughts, Outdoors | Tagged , | 5 Comments

it’s the weekend!!

I am working all weekend but at least it’s almost over. Only four more days of work and then I am off, and then school starts!

Next week I’ll talk some about what it means to go back to school at age 28… and have a new Frugal Friday column… and another Q+A … and some Lunenburg pics from last week… and another Cape Breton beach!

Enjoy your weekend.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments