From the main road you may have to squint to see Forest Glen Herb Farm. It’s hidden from sight behind a row of tall, thick bushes, but as you drive up the entrance your eyes will get bigger and bigger as each beautiful garden unfolds. Owner Cynthia Cooks’ 8-acre farm is like an English princesses’ garden – it’s magnificent! The combination of flowers and herbs meander up to and around the romantic, 140-year old, stone and board barn repurposed into a retail store. The barns original features have been left intact, and it’s bursting full of beauty. Hanging from beams are bouquets of dried flowers, rafters hold fall wreaths, dried herbs dangle from hooks and shelves are lined with fragrant sachets and herb jellies. Cynthia makes dozens of varieties of herbed and pepper jellies and grows over 1500 different culinary herbs organically to fill the barn. When I spoke to Cynthia earlier this week, she had just harvested her peppers. She described mounds of different pepper varieties inside the barn. “Tomorrow we begin making our red pepper jellies. It’s a marathon every year and I swear I’ll never do it again. But, look at me now,” laments Cynthia. Inside the barn the aromas and sights are intoxicating. With barely a path to walk, dried Sea Lavender hangs from the rafters; Straw Flowers reach out from the stone walls; Golden Marguerite cover the posts; baskets of fuzzy Amaranth line the floor; and Flowering Onions spill themselves across antique tables. It’s a Willy Wonka wonderland of beautiful dried herbs, flowers, and mesmerizing aromas. Cynthia runs many in-demand culinary classes where she shares the best way to incorporate nutritious herbs into your favourite dishes, her craft classes assist you to make or enhance a beautiful wreath and her popular afternoon herbal teas are a romantically relaxing treat. In the summer the gardens draw nature lovers from the four corners of the province, the fall harvest is swarming with customers anxious for the aromas and flavours of just picked Ontario herbs and in the winter people linger around the romantic snow covered grounds and warm themselves in the cozy, natural surroundings of the antique barn. Forest Glen Herb Farm is one of Ontario’s most beautiful destinations at any time of year but especially in the autumn when the brilliance of the foliage is tonic for the soul. Cynthia is a warm and welcoming host and if you’re looking to fill your holiday with more local food and local food activities, this is the place to get to know. Decorate your door with a beautiful wreath, buy a culinary class for a loved one or pick up some culinary or health and beauty gifts from the retail store. They’re all made by Cynthia and it’s all grown in her beautiful gardens. Owner, Cynthia Cook Forest Glen Herb Farm Open 7 days a week, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 8333 Glendale Drive, Lambton Shores
I was standing on St Patrick’s Quay in the town of Cork, Ireland trying to figure out where I would find the best pub for dinner when a man burst out of the store in front of me. We were of equal height, his thick hair was grey and curly and his chin a little too bristly to have been shaved that day. He stopped dead in his tracks and asked if he could be of assistance (the Irish are so friendly). His monologue of fine Irish pubs went on a mile a minute but I stopped him at fish and chips.
That’s what I was in the mood for, a fine plate of Irish fish and chips. After all this is an island and the fish is incredibly fresh. The best in the city was just around the corner at a little place called The Fish Wife. It’s the blue building next to the sushi place and just down the street from where I was staying. “Tell them John the hairdresser sent you,” he said.
So I made my way to The Fish Wife. I walked through the door into a tiny space with four barstools along the wall – all were occupied. Caroline, who I assume is the fish wife, told us to order and if we wanted to eat indoors, we go to The Cork Arms across the street and if we wanted to eat outdoors, we go to the other pub, also across the street.
So I placed my order for hake and chips and walked across the busy three-lane street to The Cork Arms and ordered an Irish (hard) cider. Sure enough, Caroline came in with a box of hake and chips with tartar sauce and mushy peas. The plastic cutlery was wrapped in torn rolls of rough paper towels and she told me if I wanted salt or malt vinegar, it was behind the bar.
I squeezed a lemon slice over my lightly battered giant piece of hake. Hake is a whitefish of the region, it’s a thick as haddock with a meatier texture and just as flaky and juicy; it’s really delicious. The chips were roughly chopped thick bits of potatoes, fried crisp. Irish potatoes seem to be sweeter than Canadian ones. When fried, they’re crispier which makes me think there really is a bit more sweetness to them that crisps on the outer edges when fried. They’re incredibly addictive at I ate them all.
I went behind the bar to find an old container of salt, a very used bottle of malt vinegar and the all too familiar bottle of Heinz ketchup. I was good to go! After my feast of hake, chips and yes, I ate my mushy peas, I returned the salt and vinegar. I put my empty fish and chip box on the bar and asked if this is where I leave it? “No, no dear, there’s a rubbish bin just down the street,” said the bartender. So I left with my empty box and deposited it in the rubbish bin five stores down.
What a hoot. Traveling offers so many varied cultural experiences from John the friendly hairdresser to Caroline the fish wife at the quirky fish and chip shack who serves you at any restaurant you want to go to. It increases our tolerance for differences and fills our lives with new and delicious experiences. Traveling is enriching and I’m on the road again.
Ireland may not be a leader in the world’s haute cuisine but I didn’t have far to go to find great food in Limerick. There’s a new café on a busy street corner in the centre of town near the Shannon River.
It’s called the Hook and Ladder Living Café. Manager Ashley explains the name is because the Café is constantly evolving. From seasonal foods on the menu to the wall of quality kitchen accessories (Yes, they’re all for sale), from the selection of baked goods coming from their in-house bakery to the line-up of cooking classes in the lower level cookery school, it is constantly changing with the seasons and evolving with the time.
Many items are locally sourced, fresh ingredients are seasonal and foodstuffs are typically Irish. Driving from Dublin to Limerick the countryside was constant checkerboard pastures with dairy cattle, beef cattle and sheep. I was getting a hunkering for lamb, but “we only eat it in season,” says Ashley of Irish lamb, “It’s a spring dish.”
Ashley chats about the strong local food movement in Ireland. “We need to support our own”, she says of their recent downturn in the economy. From the Limerick region there’s an abundance of all dairy from their sweet creamy butter to the whipped cream they smear on their warm scones. Apples are big in this region of Ireland and you can see it in their apple tarts, pies and compote that accompanies their famous Brioche French Toast with apple cinnamon compote.
In their bakery warm Irish soda bread comes out of the oven. This one is Pumpkin and Honey and baker Keith explains, “I use soda as a rising agent not a flavouring agent and I bake it in the oven for a moister bread. The flavour comes from the pumpkin and honey.” Sure enough, there is no chalky taste “from soda bread cooked on the hob,” explains Keith. He talks of it as being a new modern version of Irish soda bread.
I ordered the Fruit Scone and it came with soft, sweet Irish butter, thick raspberry preserves and the morning paper, The Irish Times. The scone was warm, the raspberry preserves so chunky it slides off my scone. The scone was loaded with raisins yet they call it a fruit scone and not a raisin scone. It has a buttery flavour with a hefty texture – it’s a delicious scone.
There is an eight-foot tree in the middle of the café, a turret seating area covered with curved window benches and sunshine that pours in from the curved glass. I sit and watch everyone outside driving on the wrong side of the road. I flinch from what I anticipate to be one crash after the other, but it somehow all works. Everyone inside the café is chatting and relaxing to the lull of soft jazz playing in the background.
The next day I went back for the house made granola, yogurt and fruit. It came in a preserving jar beautifully layered like a trifle. I pick up the tall thin ice cream spoon that comes alongside it and begin to stir. On the side I find a little crock of more of Hook and Ladder’s raspberry preserves. It all gets mixed in and washed down with a warm cup of tea.
In the lower level of the café is a popular cooking school with classes on everything from traditional Irish dishes to jams and preserves. Hook and Ladder is a family run business that just opened in May by the Maloney’s who also run a café in Waterford. Waterford is approximately 68 kilometres away and is home of the famous Waterford Crystal.
So who would resist digging into this seductively delicious bowl of seafood chowder? Not me, that’s for sure. I’m in Limerick, Ireland looking for a good meal. I followed the Shannon River towards the ancient castle and stumbled upon the Curragower Seafood Bar. The Curragower is in a residential area, away from the hustle and bustle of the downtown area just across the Shannon.
I walked into the tiny bar into a few groups of people huddled around little tables in the dimly lit, age worn pub. We seated ourselves by a frosty window and sipped on pints of Smithwicks, a great Irish beer.
That’s when the bartender began to brag about their seafood chowder. When it came, the mussels in their shells were perched on top of the thick, creamy chowder. I pulled the mussels out of their shells and mixed it into the chowder. The steam rose from the hot chowder in the cool pub. The dreamy texture was smooth, creamy, rich and pure with flavours that ranged from sweet lobster to earthy mussels, juicy salmon and soft potatoes. It had no pasty, cloying texture that coats your tongue from chowders thickened with powdered thickening agents; this was the real thing. It was the chunkiest chowder I’d ever tasted served with thick slices of Irish brown soda bread. This is a seafood chowder worth bragging about!
It’s easy to taste why the Curragower has been voted Best Gastropub for 4 years straight by the Irish Restaurant Association and it’s constantly mentioned in McKennas Guides. This independent pub is owned by two local guys with a real flair for good food!
The next pint of Smithwicks came with a giant bowl of mussels in garlic broth. The bowl of mussels would easily feed two for dinner and luckily we got one order to share. The next table ordered fish and chips and they came with two oversized, thick pieces of lightly battered fish. The Curragower is a place for really great food!