September 18, 2011

The Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market


It’s no secret that I love farmers’ markets. The earliest one I can remember was in Halifax, where I grew up. It’s also North America’s oldest farmers’ market. It was in an old brick building downtown that used to be the Alexander Keith’s brewery. I loved the energetic bustle of the market – it was always filled with people, all working their way through the warren-like maze of rooms stuffed with vendors.


The year I moved back to Halifax to go to school I visited the market a few times. In fact, I did my first ever radio story on the new building the market was planning. Many vendors felt the old brewery building was just too packed and too crowded. Some shoppers found it claustrophobic. Other people loved the historic, chaotic character of the market and didn’t want to give it up. (Tension! Perfect for a journalist.)


When I did that story almost four years ago, the new building was supposed to open the following summer. Instead, it got delayed two years and opened in August 2010. When I was home for my sister’s wedding last summer, I got to visit the old market one last time. I really loved that market, but I wasn’t a fan of having to push my way through the crowds. If you were actually trying to do your weekly shopping, I can see it taking a very long time. I was looking forward to the new building.


I visited the new market with my Mom on a cloudy, chilly day in July. It’s a short walk from the old building, smack dab on the water at the south end of downtown.

The building is impressive. Not only because of the harbour location, but because of its focus on the environment. Panels inside explain how much energy the building is saving with its four wind turbines and geothermal heating. It also boasts a green roof and a living wall. The building has LEED Platinum certification, one of the highest environmental designations in the world.


It’s wonderful to stroll down the aisles with the harbour just outside the floor-to-ceiling windows. There are two floors of vendors  and the entire building boasts soaring, warehouse-type ceilings . The second floor is more of a mezzanine-type area, where you can look over the railing to the floor below. I read that this new market is double the space the old market had.


The building has some permanent store fronts and is open six days a week, with the farmers’ market held on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday. We went on a Wednesday and there were only a handful of vendors. I’d love to see it on a bustling Saturday too.


The one stall I really cared about was there, though – Schoolhouse Gluten-free Gourmet. I read about this business online before the trip and I knew I had to check it out.



It’s a small bakery run by a family in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, and they visit the market twice a week. Not only did they have the cutest little stall, their treats were great. I wanted to try so much stuff that Mom kindly treated me to some of it. It’s not every day you come across a gluten-free bakery!


We ate our pumpkin muffins right away. Though very crumbly, they were moist and had a rich, delicious pumpkin flavour.  We tried two kinds of cookies – ginger and chocolate chip. The ginger were definitely superior. They were thick and chewy, as good as any ginger cookie I’ve ever had. The chocolate chip tasted a bit like rice flour and were pretty dense, but not bad.


I was really impressed with the cinnamon-raisin bread. It passed my two tests for great GF bread: it didn’t require toasting to enjoy, and it was good even after the first day I bought it. Definitely the best GF bread I’ve tried. Too bad this bakery isn’t closer!


Although it would have been great to see more vendors, we had such fun exploring the building. There’s a small deck with benches on the second floor. But the best part is the deck on the roof. It’s so wonderful to emerge from the building to an amazing view of the harbour and the two islands – George’s and McNab’s. I also loved the garden up there, the plants creating so many different colours and patterns.




We also had the most delicious lunch – gluten-free buckwheat crepes with egg, cheese and ham. I was really happy that the crepe stand not only offered gluten-free batter, but the women working there took great care cleaning off the cooking surfaces and using GF utensils to cook my crepe. I devoured the hearty crepe with the salty, peppery filling.



The old market in the brewery building is still open, since some vendors didn’t want to make the switch to the new place. I’m curious  how many people still visit the old one. Of course it has its charm, but I found the new location so spectacular that I’m wondering how long the old one will survive.


Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market
1209 Marginal Rd.

Schoolhouse Gluten-free Gourmet
7014 Highway #3, R.R. 2, Mahone Bay

September 10, 2011

Baking with summer fruit


Before all the summer fruit is gone from the farmers' markets, I need to tell you about two new, gluten-free fruit desserts we got hooked on this summer.

I really love baking with fruit. It adds so much beautiful flavour and colour to baked goods, not to mention it makes desserts more healthful. And when there's so much fruit in the markets, I always feel inspired to turn some of it into an after-dinner treat.

Back in July I had a glut of overripe strawberries, and I remembered a strawberry cake I'd seen on smitten kitchen, a blog I read frequently. It's originally a Martha Stewart recipe. The cake looked simple and I decided to adapt it using my gluten-free flour mix.

It turned out wonderfully. It's a simple yellow cake base with a strong vanilla flavour, and I made it partly with whole-grain flours so it was golden and hearty. The fruit releases its juices in the oven and bleeds into the cake, so every bite tastes like summer.


We fell in love with this cake and made it again with cherries, then again with raspberries. It was delicious with both, but I think I like strawberries best of all. No matter what fruit you use, it should be as ripe as possible so the cake has plenty of flavour.

The second dessert is a similar concept. It was J's idea to try a clafoutis, a French cake traditionally made with cherries. It's one of the simplest desserts I've ever made. Clafoutis is almost like a cake/custard, since there's only a little bit of flour and lots of eggs and milk.

I made it with fat, luscious blackberries, and then with the traditional cherries. I preferred the blackberries since they were so juicy, but on the second go-round I baked the clafoutis less and the custard was more apparent. It almost separates into two layers, with cake on the bottom and custard on top, with fruit in every bite. This would be a great thing to fancy up by baking it in individual ramekins. It would turn something something incredibly simple into a truly elegant dessert.


I adapted the clafoutis recipe from our Larousse Gastronomique cookbook, and it has so few ingredients that you could also add vanilla or almond extract or lemon zest. This is literally the type of dessert you can throw in the oven in about 5 minutes while supper is cooking on the stove (you just have to toss the fruit with sugar a little bit earlier).


A little more about the gluten-free flour mix I mentioned earlier. There are many GF mixes on the market, and many more recipes in cookbooks. When I was first started baking with gluten-free flours, I used them all separately, and there are still recipes where I use them that way. But I also use two mixes from Gluten-free Girl. I use her all-purpose and whole grain flour mixes and so far I've had great success substituting them in many regular gluten recipes.

When substituting GF flour, it's much more accurate to use weights than cups, since all flours have different weights. That's why I started baking with a scale -- and I love it! Fewer dirty dishes and more accuracy. If you bake gluten-free it's one of the best investments you'll make, and I often use it when I cook as well, to weigh vegetables and meat. 


I'll be sharing more of my adapted recipes here soon. For now, whatever flours you might use, be sure to bake with summer fruit while you still can. Here in Edmonton the weather is fantastic, so let's squeeze everything possible out of the end of summer.

Gluten-free Strawberry Summer Cake
Adapted from this recipe

6 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine, at room temperature, plus extra for pie plate
188 grams gluten-free flour (I used 88 g wholegrain mix and 100 g AP mix)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
170 grams plus 2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup (118 ml) milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound (450 grams) strawberries or other summer fruit, hulled and halved

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch springform or cake pan.

Whisk flour or flours, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, beat butter and 1 cup sugar until pale and fluffy with an electric mixer, about 3 minutes. Mix in egg, milk and vanilla until just combined. Add dry mixture gradually, mixing until just smooth.

Pour into prepared pan. Arrange strawberries, cut side down, on top of batter, as closely as possible in a single layer (though I had to overlap a few to get them all in). Remember the strawberries will shrink in the oven. Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over berries.

Bake cake for 10 minutes then reduce oven temperature to 325°F and bake cake until golden brown and a tester comes out free of wet batter, about 50 minutes to 60 minutes. Let cool in pan on a rack.

Gluten-free Clafoutis
Adapted from the Larousse Gastronomique

500 g unpitted cherries or berries
butter for pan 
100 g sugar, divided
125 g gluten-free flour
3 eggs
1 1/4 cups milk
powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

If using cherries, take the stems off put do not pit them. This is the traditional way to serve it - apparently the pits add to the flavour of the cake. Wash your fruit and drain in a colander. Toss with 50 g (1/4 cup) of the sugar, and leave for at least 30 minutes so the juices can come out.

Butter your pan. I used a square 9.5 – inch dish which worked great. You could also use a 9 or 10-inch cake pan, but NOT a springform. Arrange the fruit in the pan.

Mix together the flour and the remaining sugar with a pinch of salt. Beat the eggs and add them to the dry mixture, stirring well. Add the milk and mix well until you have a smooth batter. Pour the batter over the fruit and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. You want it to be completely set and browned at the edges, but the middle should still be custardy. If you prefer, you can bake it a few minutes longer until it's browned all over and it will be more of a cake and less of a custard.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve warm or at room temperature.

September 7, 2011

PEI Fried Clams


Fried clams are a PEI summer staple. Not just on PEI, in fact, but all around the Maritimes. There are a couple of legendary clam spots in the small town of Cap Pelé, New Brunswick. My family always went to Camille’s (could have been because my father’s name was also Camille, but I think it was mostly because of how good the food was), and some people are loyal to Fred’s. Cap Pelé is a common stopping place on the highway that takes you through New Brunswick to Quebec.

We had no reason to go to Cap Pelé on this past vacation, but there are lots of good fried clams on the Island too. Unfortunately, I can’t eat them anymore – no one has come up with a gluten-free version that I saw. But J decided to do the work for both of us and have a sort of fried clams taste-off around the Island.

You generally find fried clams at small, roadside restaurants where you order at the counter. I’m pretty sure they sell them at almost every dairy bar on PEI (and there are many – perhaps a subject for another post). They’re also popular at pubs or other restaurants with table service that focus on seafood.

There’s also a fried-clam debate among some people, and right within our marriage. There are two basic versions of fried clams: “whole” and “strips”. Either the whole clam is fried, or just the rubbery part that attaches to the clam shell. Clam strips are often frozen and thus served year-round, but in my experience whole clams are fresh and in-season.

From everything I've heard, most people prefer whole clams, which are more expensive. That's the category I fall into. I love the textural variety of eating a whole fried clam: the crunchy batter, the chewy end, then the juicy, soft burst of the clam body. Plain strips – all chew and no creaminess – just  don't compare.

Others love whole clams and clam strips equally, and that's J's camp. (He's always had the ability to appreciate all kinds of foods, whereas I can be guilty of food snobbism.) He says the two versions are completely different, that you can barely even compare them. His exact words were, "it's like comparing fries with mashed potatoes".

I must admit that on this trip even the clam strips looked appealing. I think it was the promise of the batter.

Rick’s Fish ’N’ Chips, St. Peter’s


The drive from Charlottetown to the small town of Souris by way of St. Peter's is one I've taken likely more than a hundred times. My father's family is from Souris and we spent time there every summer of my childhood. One of the most beautiful views along the highway is St. Peter's Bay. You come upon it gradually, the blue water glinting in the sun out of the left-hand window of your car. When you turn the corner at the stop sign, you're in town, and you get a great look at the bay as you drive over the small bridge. It's usually dotted with buoys holding the mussel traps on the bottom.

If you keep going straight you'll end up at Greenwich Beach, part of the PEI National Park. Turn right to continue on to Souris, and if you're craving fresh seafood or ice cream, stop at Rick's.


Rick's is pretty well-known across the Island, but we rarely ate there as kids. I do recall one time when we stopped with my Dad and ordered pizza, of all things. I don't think it was very good. I loved the homey feel of the place, but the fried clams were mediocre. The batter was their downfall. It was a traditional fish and chips batter, and much too thick, so J said the flavour of the clam got lost in all the breading.

Basin Head Beach, Red Point


While spending time with family in Souris, J and I visited one of my favourite spots on earth. Basin Head Beach is popular across the Island, because of the “run”, a river flowing from inland to the sea, with a wharf and a bridge to jump off. As a child I spent many happy hours jumping off and letting the current float me out to the sea. The white-sand beach at Basin Head is also beautiful and endless, typical for the Eastern end of the Island. When I was growing up my family rented a cottage every summer one beach over from Basin Head, where the tourists were less plentiful but the surroundings every bit as beautiful.


J and I were at Basin Head Saturday morning at about 10:30 am. It was deserted, except for the teenage lifeguards on the wharf waiting for kids to show up.  The softly lapping water reflected the grey sky, awash with heavy clouds. It was not ideal beach weather, but I’m so glad we went anyway. Just walking along the beach soothed every part of me. The water there is so clear the underwater ridges of sand carved by the surf are visible from the shore. We were determined to go swimming, even when it started to spit rain.


The water was numbingly cold, but diving under felt like going back to the womb. Swimming in salt water is a sensation I’ve known nearly my entire life, but it had been three years since I'd last felt it. The clarity of the water, the way the waves bob at your chest, the slight buoyancy -- there's nothing like it.


A snack of fried clams was just what J wanted after we dried off as best we could and made our way back up the beach. The snack bar offered nothing for me, but J thoroughly enjoyed his clam strips, temptingly presented on top of a lettuce leaf with homemade tartar sauce and a slice of lemon. The batter was dark golden, crunchy, and crumbly, almost like fried chicken. J declared them excellent clam strips, and he was even converted by the tartar sauce, which he has never enjoyed before.


Brits Fish and Chips, Charlottetown


Brits is a chain restaurant with a location in Edmonton too, but I’ve never been to either. The Charlottetown restaurant moved into an old spot downtown on University Avenue that had several previous tenants. I remember going to the same space in high school when it used to be Checker’s Diner and drinking thick chocolate milkshakes.

The reason for our visit to Brits this time was because I found out they have gluten-free fish and chips, fried in a separate GF fryer. This is all too rare, and since I was trying to eat as much fish as possible on our trip, I had to give it a try.


My haddock was delicious, though the batter was nothing fantastic. It definitely didn’t have the delicious golden crunchiness that makes regular fish and chips so good. It was stiff and plasticky and the flavour was missing – I suspect it was made principally with white rice flour and cornstarch. 


It can be tough to get your hopes up about special GF foods like this, because often the reality is not the way you imagine. Fish and chips is something I've loved my whole life, but it would be hard for a restaurant to recapture the wheat-filled taste the way I remember it. 

J, of course, chose the clam strips, which came with fries (often called a clam platter). He enjoyed the clams, but we both found the fries kind of soggy. He said the strips did not measure up to Basin Head's version.

The Frosty Treat Dairy Bar, Kensington


Our fried clam tour really made its way across the Island. Kensington is in the Western end of PEI, near Summerside, the second-largest city. Frosty Treat is definitely the most well-known spot in town.  Its somewhat inane slogan, “Don’t drive by, drive in” has become sort of a joke among our friends.

Again, it’s right on the highway, and it’s the perfect stop for a snack or an ice-cream cone between Summerside and Charlottetown. We've stopped here many times on the way home from concerts at the Indian River Music Festival nearby. On warm summer nights the deck is always alive with people.

Frosty Treat is atypical of most PEI dairy bars, being a larger and flashier affair. Their menu is printed in bright colours, rather than black sliding letters on a white board, and they offer non-traditional treats like deep-fried Mars bars.


J’s favourite dairy bar treat is always a soft-serve combination (chocolate and vanilla) chocolate dip cone with nuts (which he now enjoys much more since he can take lactaid before eating it). This time he went for the fried clams too. The whole clams are served with crinkle-cut fries, and these turned out to be J’s favourite whole clams of the trip. He ate them in the car on the way back to town, and they smelled incredible. The breading was not quite as crunchy as the Basin Head clams, but crispy and thin, just the right amount.


With that, our fried clam tour came to an end. The clam strip winner was the Basin Head canteen, and Frosty Treat took home the whole clam trophy. Though I didn’t get to eat any this time around, I hope I have enough taste memories to rely on for the rest of my life.

September 2, 2011

The Charlottetown Farmers' Market

Well, that was a longer-than-planned blogging break!

We went on a glorious vacation for three weeks to PEI and Nova Scotia. But then right after we came home, we moved into a new apartment. It's been three years since our last move, and I think we forgot just how much work it is. We're also experiencing a long delay getting our internet installed. Now that we're settled into our new (bigger!) place, getting back into a routine, I have so much to talk about.

Let's start at the Charlottetown Farmers' Market, shall we?

The market is THE place to be in Charlottetown on a Saturday morning. During the summer it's also open on Wednesdays, which means we got to visit three times while we were home.

J and I were talking about how this farmers' market is our favourite one ever. Of course, there are lots of memories and nostalgia tied up in that opinion, but it really is a special market. I think it's because it's such a social place. I'd say more than half of the stalls sell food you can eat right away, from hot breakfasts to shawarma, perogies, Indian and African food, smoked salmon on a bagel, baked goods, and more. There's a large dining section on one side of the building with communal wooden tables, and more seating outside too. This turns the market into a very popular meeting place. Some groups of friends have been meeting for Saturday morning breakfast there for decades.

On your way in, you can stop and get a delicious sausage. We have tried lots of homemade sausages at Edmonton's markets, and quite frankly, nothing compares to these. You can also buy fresh ones inside, where there is usually a long lineup.

There's a very popular coffee stand, with a fresh juice stand right behind it. There are stands selling vegetables, meat, fresh seafood, cheese, flowers, and crafts. We didn't end up doing much cooking while we were on PEI - too many restaurants to eat at - but we bought some delicious mixed greens and new potatoes.

I even discovered a new stand selling German baked goods, including some gluten-free options. Though the other cakes looked much more decadent, my GF carrot nut cake from Angelika's German Bakery was hearty and not too sweet.

I have so many memories of coming to this market with my parents and my sister on Saturday mornings for breakfast, then later with Jacques and our friends. You always meet someone you know. This summer, we saw a friend who works at the tea stand, and ran into two friends of Jacques' mother. That's just the way things work on PEI.

(I kind of wish we had indulged in that maple cream up there ... it looks so scrumptious!)

I have lots more to tell about delicious, gluten-free food experiences from our wonderful vacation. And coming soon, food cooked and baked in our new kitchen!

Please excuse the strange spacing in this post ... I'm posting from the blogger software rather than the program I usually use. Back to normal soon!