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Playing with our food

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Valley people have made food competitive. We grow giant pumpkins – over 1,000 lbs. – then hollow them out, decorate them and race them across a man-made lake in Windsor. (Allan Lynch Photo)

I live in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley and here people play with their food. And they welcome others to join them.

Summer vacation may be over, but in the Annapolis Valley the fun ramps up in October. After several seasons of planting, tending to and harvesting crops and flocks, residents are ready to play. It’s only natural that the so-called “breadbasket of Nova Scotia” and most agriculturally diverse part of Canada would play with and celebrate food.

During October, Kentville’s population jumps up with the arrival of the Pumpkin People. Lawns, parks and fields fill with Pumpkin People and their cousins the Gourds. From October 6thto 29th 300 Pumpkin People hang out in town. This year’s Pumpkin People reunion has an On the Go theme, so their wardrobes, accessories and vignettes will celebrate transportation. http://kentville.ca/events/kentville-pumpkin-people-festival-2018/

One of the Valley’s signature, truly world-class events is the Giant Pumpkin Regatta in Windsor. The world’s craze for competitive giant pumpkin growing was the dream of local farmer Howard Dill. He developed the Atlantic Giant seed which has sold around the world and fueled this international phenomena.

This year’s event is on Sunday, October 14. At 11 am there are 6 & 12k canoe and kayaking sprints on Lake Pisiquid.  At noon the Parade of Paddlers leaves the Exhibition Grounds for downtown Windsor and then the start location on the Falmouth side of Lake Pisiquid. The parade consists of paddlers and their PVCs (Personal vegetable crafts). The regatta starts at 2 pm. This year there is a class for motorized and experimental pumpkins. All day there are miniature train rides and vendors set up. https://worldsbiggestpumpkins.com/Regatta%20Schedule.htm

October 14this also the last day of the 2018 season for the Magic Winery Bus which provides a double-decker London bus as your designated driver, offering a hop-on, hop-off service, to five of the wineries in the Wolfville – Grand Pre area. https://magicwinerybus.ca

October 17 is the Miner’s Marsh Pumpkin Walk. Miner’s Marsh. Students at the Nova Scotia Community College tourism class carve over 300 pumpkins which are lit and line a 1k walk in this Ducks Unlimited wetlands in downtown Kentville between 6:30-8:30 pm. Admission is by food bank donation. Rain date Oct. 18th. Service dogs only. http://kentville.ca/events/miners-marsh-pumpkin-walk/

These are followed by the world’s tastiest event: DEVOUR, The Food Film Fest. DEVOUR is ground zero for the marriage and many manifestations of art and food. It’s been said that food is first visually consumed, then tasted. DEVOUR puts food on the big screen, then develops special meals based on the film themes. One year, after a documentary on oysters, instead of popcorn and soda, oysters and vodka were served in the theatre lobby.

The six-day festival (Oct. 23-28) comprises films, documentaries, seminars, workshops, special meals, galas, receptions and other food-based events like the Bubbles Bus, Street Food Party (from a cluster of food trucks), Mayors’ Bike Ride with refreshment stops, and an Everything Apple Express. Events are held in Wolfville, Kentville and Starr’s Point.

DEVOUR is an event that the late Anthony Bourdain attended. https://devourfest.com

dscn1111In addition to the scheduled events, the Valley offers a variety of other food-related experiences. There’s a weekly Saturday Farmers’ Market in Wolfville (with a diverse range of on-site edibles). Throughout the Valley are pop-up roadside farm markets, with shelves stocked with just-picked, just-pulled from the ground produce as well as home-baked pies, bread, squares and preserves. Many are on an hour-system, so bring cash. In small denominations.

Outside Wolfville you’ll find a corn maze and kids playground at Noggins’ Farm, a Pumpkin Maze at Stirlings and fresh cider at Elderkin’s. And from Windsor to Annapolis Royal there are any number of community breakfasts, lunches and dinners based on old recipes and local ingredients. They are real home cooking. Check out Valleyevents.ca.

The Valley in fall offers the addition beauty of fall colours with great light for photographers and painters, great tastes and fun things for friends and family to do. It makes playing with your food acceptable.

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A brilliant Valley day

Saturday was another brilliant day in Wolfville and the Annapolis Valley. It was a sunny, warm day. Summer may be over, the kids back in school and adults returned to the office, but it was a gloriously lazy day of busy personal pursuits.

The Wolfville Lions Club hosted their monthly breakfast. Around the corner the weekly Farmers’ Market was packed with social shoppers, stocking up on fresh-from-the-field produce. Then wandering Main Street I saw dozens of mud-covered Acadia University students walking barefoot through the downtown. They had come from sliding in the harbour mud at low tide and were headed to the university gym to shower before hitting their dorms and town’s cafes.

DSCN0900All the sidewalk tables, chairs and cafes were packed with happy people sipping designer, free-trade coffees, some holding hands, others enjoying a local craft beer.

Wolfville is a lovely town, with tree-lined streets – even the shopping street – lush gardens and over-flowing store window boxes. There’s colour, scent, greenery, happiness and energy to the place.

DSCN0902One of the community’s older businesses, Herbin’s Jewellers, is sporting a fresh new mural, which employs a line from John Frederic Herbin’s writings. Herbin was a renaissance man who put the place on the map. He was an optometrist, jeweller, historian and author. He used the royalties from his books to compile the land for a park at Grand Pre, which is now has double UNESCO World Heritage Status as the site of the deportation of the Acadians (1755) and as the longest continuously farmed part of North America (many farmers here are the eighth and ninth generations on this land).

And for a final bit of lightness, many businesses communicate with humorous sidewalk signs.

Wolfville and the Valley is a pleasant place to be at any time of year.

 

Mona Parson’s exotic life

I went to the opening of The Bitterest Time: The war story of Mona Parsons.

I was at the back of the theatre and couldn’t take a good shot of the curtain call, but the play is about the amazing life of a Valley woman.

Mona Parsons was born in Middleton, joined the Ziegfeld Follies, married a Dutch millionaire, hid downed Allied airmen from the Nazis, was arrested by the Gestapo, sentenced to death, escaped imprisonment to walk across Germany back to Holland where she was liberated by the North Nova Scotia Highlanders from Halifax. After the war she married a general and moved to Wolfville, Nova Scotia.

Local author Andrea Hill-Lehr learned of Parson’s exotic, larger-than-life life and wrote a book about her.  Parson’s story inspired the Women of Wolfville to raise the funds to place a statue in her honour in a garden on the post office grounds. Now Hill-Lehr’s book has become the basis for the play.

Mona Parsons’ history proves you never know who lives down the street or around the corner from you.

 

A booming Saturday

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Cadets with HMCS Acadia keep Tchaikovsky alive. They perform their part in the 1812 Overture. (Allan Lynch Photo)

 

On Saturday the evening air in Annapolis Royal was filled with cannon fire. This was not for the first time. But it was in peace. Sea Cadets from HMCS Acadia performed the 1812 Overture as part of their final sunset ceremony. It’s the delicious eccentricity of Nova Scotia that an event like this just sort of pops up.

The Cadets paraded through town following their band, trumpeters, colour party, cadet troop and dragging their own field artillery pieces. They do this twice a year. In their previous evening, two local churches lent their bells to fill in at the appropriate place in the score.

Sea Cadets are 12-to-18 years old, so spending a summer working with artillery is a blast.

The arrival of the cadets at Fort Anne continues the fort’s 389-year-old military tradition which has seen French, British, Scottish, pre-American (before the Revolution), British and French armies fight over and take command of this place.

 

Natal Day in Annapolis Royal

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The command is given to the Red Coats to fire on the French who are approaching the fortress. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Annapolis Royal celebrates Natal Day by embracing big booms. The town has fireworks, and fills with military re-enactors who face down the heat and humidity or freakish rain at their base camp on the grounds of Fort Anne. They cook on open fires and live the life when this was a centre of imperial power on the Bay of Fundy.

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Drummed and piped to battle, re-enactors are led to their position. (Allan Lynch Photo)

When not in camp they re-create one of the battles which took place here. There are volleys of musket fire and the smokey boom of ancient artillery.

Annapolis Royal is so pretty, with it’s historic streetscapes of fantastical architecture, lush gardens, great cafes and restaurants, many memorials, it’s easy to forget that this is some of the bloodiest soil in Canada. The French, the English, the Scots, the American Colonists, First Nations – everyone has fought here. And for this one weekend each year we are reminded of who served and died in this bucolic, lush landscape.

This year to follow up on the re-enactors noise, Annapolis Royal is hosting a performance of the 1812 Overture. And yes, canons from the Fort will play their part of the performance. The 1812 is presented on August 11th. The performance starts at 7:30.

 

The 200th regatta is a go!

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The calm before they put their backs, hearts and souls into the regatta. (Allan Lynch Photo)

The sun in shining in Newfoundland so the Royal St. John’s Regatta is a go!

The Royal St. John’s Regatta is the oldest sporting event in North America. This is it’s 200thanniversary. It is one of the quirkiest events in the world. Quirky because it’s a floating civic holiday. While scheduled for the first Wednesday of August it is dependent on good weather. Every year at 6 am the regatta committee – not the mayor, council or premier – determines if the weather is good enough for the regatta to proceed, which triggers a civic holiday in St. John’s.

If the weather is bad, the committee meets Thursday to repeat the process and so on.

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The two worlds of the Royal St. John’s Regatta: the race and the midway. (Allan Lynch Photo)

In it’s 200-year history the Regatta has only been postponed a few times: the death of George III, world wars (tho’ in 1941 it was held as a diversion for men at arms and to help with their physical fitness) and because of wind and rain in 2007 and 2008. Some times the weather turns during the regatta. In 1968 the last races ran so late that car lights were used to guide rowers to the finish.

Since Wednesday could be a holiday, St. Johner’s party the night before. If the regatta is postponed, they go to work and party again Wednesday night because Thursday could be a holiday. The local joke is never to schedule surgery for early August because you don’t know what state your surgeon will be in.

The regatta is the last fixed-seat rowing competition in the world. It’s held on Quidi lemonade signVidi Lake (pronounced Kitty Vitty). The day is filled with 20 races between 80 sculls comprised of six rowers and a coxswain (the guy who yells at the rowers). There are competitions for men and women with teams made up of a wide swath of the community from lawyers, to car dealers, members of the military, students, airline staff, pharmacists and others. One side of the lake is occupied by regatta fans, the other by a massive festival with games of chance, crafts, food vendors, music and at the far end bouncy castles, slides and rides for kids. There are two types of regatta attendees: the rabid racing crowd and the carnival crowd who ask, “Oh, is there a race?”

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Newfoundland and Canadian music icon Alan Doyle performs to the hometown crowd at the George Street Festival. (Allan Lynch Photo)

The lead-in to the Regatta is the George Street Festival. George Street is the city’s infamous street of bars. In three blocks there are 24 pubs, clubs and bars. The easy-to-follow directions I was given on my first visit to St. John’s were, “Walk that way. You’ll hear it before you see it.”

For six nights each summer George Street closes to the public and implements an admission charge to become the continent’s largest pop-up bar. Bands perform on a main stage constructed for the festival and George St Festivalstreet establishments waive admission charges, create special drinks and provide express service windows. People are allowed to wander the street with drink in hand. It’s New Orleans north. While it sounds raucous, it’s a fun, multi-generational experience.

I’ve twice attended the festival. I kick myself for not taking a camera to the first when I saw three university-aged lads wandering the street with an olive-green, velvet sofa. Periodically they would sit it down in the middle of the street and pause for a drink. Other times it could be seen leaning beside the doorway of whatever club they were in.

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A small section of the George Street crowd listening to local legend Alan Doyle. (Allan Lynch Photo)

How can you not love a city which hosts such events and is home to such people.

Tea at the Savoy

The silver Rolls-like portico for The Fairmont Savoy shines even in the London rain. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Ducking into the cavernous backseat of a London black cab I gave my driver the dreamiest of directions, “The Savoy, please.”

Those magical words prompted him to adjust his posture and check his mirror to see if I am a famous face he should know.

The Baccarat fountain drowns out the city’s noise and welcomes you to the serenity that is The Savoy. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Shortly, we turn off the Strand onto Savoy Court, the short, three-limousine-long lane under the Rolls Royce grill-like awning which protects the Baccarat fountain in the hotel’s forecourt.

Most hotels and resorts don’t cost what was spent on the Savoy’s three-year, £220-million renovation, but this was the innovator for modern hotels, everything else is a copy. When the Savoy opened in 1889, it was the first hotel to have electricity, private baths, hot water, “ascending rooms” (elevators), air conditioning, and 24-hour room service.

Inside the Savoy remains quietly, tastefully opulent. And that spills over to the service, which is not just prompt, but anticipatory. It is as if your thoughts were being read. Staff move with purpose, but without rushing. Nothing beyond the click of a silver spoon against a china cup disrupts the tranquility.

The Thames Foyer. (Allan Lynch Photo)

I took tea in the restored Thames Foyer, which is dominated by a rediscovered stained-glass skylight that provides light for the pianist housed in the lacey, licorice-like gazebo below.

My tea butler, in cutaway tails, having learned I take milk, attentively monitors the proper “stew time” for the Ceylon tea she has paired with my finger sandwiches of lemongrass chicken,smoked and poached

Tea at The Savoy could be an addictive delight. (Allan Lynch Photo)

salmon with dill mustard, Wiltshire bone ham with honey mustard, Egg salad with chives, and Tobiko, cucumber and tomato with basil cream. Lest one starve, scones and Cornish clotted cream, followed by French pastries and cakes complete the tea. Tea is so popular that reservations are required. If it’s for a special day, like Mothering Sunday, the sooner you reserve the better your chance of a table.

For something more substantial the River Restaurant has been replaced by the stylish and casual Kaspar’s Seafood Bar and Grill, while the famous Savoy Grill remains under the direction of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. That other Savoy stalwart, the American Bar, still serves the best cocktails in the empire.

 

The Savoy, the Strand, London WC2R 0EU. Telephone +44 20 7836 4343 http://www.fairmont.com/savoy-london