I am yellow today...

Yellow is on my mind since this post is a preamble to sharing my Flan recipe - a lovely pale yellow delicacy. Pastels are everywhere now that it is officially Spring - even though the Southern Ontario weather-god did not get the memo. Why do we associate yellow with Spring? It is the colour of many of the first flowers, but I could not find an answer to this question, other than “in almost every culture yellow represents sunshine, happiness, and warmth.” [Source

This earworm has taken up permanent residence in my head - “I am yellow today… I shine my light out like the sun…” If you live in Canada, you may recognize that lyric from this year’s tourism commercial for Newfoundland and Labrador (NL). I invite you to pause and enjoy the “Crayons” video.

Viewing the video, you are captivated by the landscapes and the colours of NL and are ready to plan a trip, but… there are some things you need to know. Almost 30 years ago, having already had our first visit to NL we got a giggle from the NL documentary called “Rain, Drizzle and Fog” - and the title says it all. (Update: When I first posted this blog I could not find this online, but now you can watch this sweet NFB documentary here. It is enjoyable and includes beloved NL personalities Mary Walsh and Andy Jones - sibling of the equally talented Cathy Jones).

I am not intending to discourage anyone from visiting “The Rock” – have been there several times and love it – and the talent, culture and food. Go, go, go! but choose your wardrobe thoughtfully. My last visit was in the month of May and it was freezing! Mind you, what they say about maritime climates is true – “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes”. There was in fact a day when the sun came out and the temperature went to double digits – the locals whipped out their flip flops for those few exhilarating hours. Once on a July holiday, way up on the Great Northern Peninsula there was still snow on the shady side of the road! (Yes, a summer snowball fight ensued.)

Most people get to NL by plane or ferry. We always chose the ferry. North Sydney, NS to Port aux Basques - a 5-7 hour ferry ride that we took overnight. Not “wasting” a day on the crossing seemed like a good idea at the time, but it meant staying up late to board the ferry and arriving at the crack of dawn, then driving in a sleep deprived daze to Corner Brook for breakfast. The ferry to St. John’s takes 14-16 hours and once on land, it’s another 1.5 hour drive to St. John’s. The drive time from Port aux Basques to St. John’s is at least 9 hours and that explains why we never, as a family, visited that city. When traveling by car, the long journey to and from the capital of The Rock never seemed to be a good match to the allocated holiday schedule. Noteworthy - one should heed the warnings of NL-ers about driving after dusk. Moose accidents are still a huge issue. The provincial government even offers a Moose Advisory.

On our first visit, in the 1970s, driving had additional limitations. Wanting to travel up the Great Northern Peninsula to see St. Anthony’s and L’Anse aux Meadows, we were warned by locals that our car would not withstand the long drive on the gravel road. Years later, on that same (now paved) road, I formed one of my fondest memories. It was my turn to drive, and music from Mark Knopfler’s Local Hero soundtrack was playing. (Click for musical interlude.) Windswept shrubs seemingly growing sideways separated us from the sea on my left - still the Gulf of St. Lawrence - and the yellow sun was shining!!

We went as far north as we could, staying at a fabulous B&B called The Tickle Inn, in Cape Onion. (It is still there!) My boys were thrilled to have a separate room - the loft - accessed by what must have seemed like a magical ladder. We slept with windows open and were warned not to be alarmed by noises in the night - they’d be growlers - small chunks of iceberg rubbing on the shore. We grabbed a small one for our cooler when leaving, and to this day still have two pop bottles filled with melted iceberg.

The chance of seeing an iceberg is certainly an attraction - though iceberg alley is not always busy. NL offers a website to help with this. (The satellite feed to the map goes live on April 1. Google Newfoundland + iceberg and check out the News results.) There were no active icebergs in 2011 when I finally got to St John’s. This time, I flew in to St John’s, travelling with my BFF. One of our outings was to nearby Quidi Vidi Harbour where one year later a glorious iceberg was trapped in that wee inlet – bad timing / luck for us.

I need to bring this back to food. Good moment to mention that several entrepreneurs have taken to harvesting and selling iceberg water – Berg and Glace

I am pausing here to seriously and ruthlessly edit down all that I could share about NL. snip <> cut <> snip <> cut….

I cannot say this of all Canadian provinces, but Newfoundland is part of the tapestry of my life. Sorry Labrador for being infrequently mentioned. I am sure some of the images in the NL commercials come from Torngat Mountains National Park. I can point on a map to Labrador City and Churchill Falls and HVGB. From watching CBC St. John’s supper hour news (yup, I know - crazy, eh?), I know that’s short for Happy Valley Goose Bay. I’d consider driving to Newfoundland via Labrador if only there was a road connecting the end of Quebec’s #138 to Labrador’s #510. (Mind you…  a lot of the #510 is still unpaved…)

So much laughter in my life is owed to Newfoundlanders – a long string of comedy dating back to CODCO, Gullage's, Hatching, Matching and Dispatching - up to today’s This Hour Has 22 Minutes and Rick Mercer Reports (Update: Rick retired the show in 2018 - sad...). Later additions to the CODCO core are greatly talented – Mark Critch, Susan Kent, Shaun Majumder. Then there’s Jonny Harris hosting the charming Still Standing - where he visits towns with dwindling populations, but inspirational community spirit.

Majumder also ventured away from pure comedy long enough to do several seasons of Majumder Manor. His goal of using tourism for cultural / economic revitalization of his hometown of Burlington, NL mirror what’s happening with Fogo Island’s breathtaking project – save your pennies for that experience.

TV talk is not complete without reference to Republic of Doyle. The older airport taxi driver asked if we’d heard of it. Yes of course we had! He wanted to assure us that it was just TV and St. John ’s was no where near as dangerous as that! NL gives us humour, great actors like Gordon Pinsent, and real characters as in (past) Premier Danny Williams.  Take three minutes to view this video: Williams + Pinsent + Critch = hilarious.

NL films? - The Grand Seduction (the English language re-make of the Quebec film), Shipping News, John and the Missus. NL literature? – Wayne Johnston (start with The Colony of Unrequited Dreams); Michael Crummey’s Galore; Annie Proulx’s Shipping News – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg (forgive the pun.) For a soundtrack to your reading there’s much to choose from – Great Big Sea, Hey Rosetta, Allan Doyle (who chums around with Russel Crowe).

And finally, the food. Some NL-ers might admit that until recently there was not much to say about the food, but now there is! Added to their classics - cod tongues and scrunchions, toutons, seal flipper pie (yup, that's a real thing), partridge berry and cloudberry jam, and Purity candies - there is a new wave of creative chefs making national headlines. 

Here’s the moment when I must confess a foodie faux pas, regret. I did a ton of walking in the heart of St. John’s, often passing a cute little sign advertising a B&B. I looked it up on the internet and read - “local chef Todd Perrin and hosted by his parents - Bill & Wanda”. Family business with the son doing the cooking. Yes, I thought, cute – but not where we are going to eat. A few months later, I tune in to the first season of Top Chef Canada (now discontinued) and behold – Todd Perrin from NL!! He did not win, but has since opened Mallard Cottage in Quidi Vidi (close to the microbrewery) and is now set to open a second eatery in the same area. Missed the chance to meet him and enjoy his cooking - boo!

It gets worse. Twice we thought about eating at Raymond’s. I had read about the place, but each time we approached the imposing building and peeked in at the white tablecloths, we decided it was out of our budget and incompatible with Mountain Equipment wardrobes. Of course, Raymond’s is now #4 in Canada’s Top 100 restaurants – oops, another miss.

So where did we end up each night we gave Raymond’s a pass? At the Aqua restaurant. That chef, Mark McCrowe, described as an award-winning Newfoundland and Labrador chef went on to appear on Chopped Canada. Sad to say that Aqua is now closed. Nonetheless, as with so many cities and towns, St. John's is showing signs of youthful entrepreneurial activity. For example, the “Brooklyn” vibe was noticeable at The Rocket Bakery

[Update: The NL food scene is booming. I can think of no one better than Gabby Peyton, fellow FBC-er, to help keep you on top of all that's new in NL and beyond. Check out her site Food Girl in Town.]

Finally… the Flan. The recipe source calls it a "Spanish style" flan, but in the context of this ode to NL, let’s re-christen it Portuguese Flan to acknowledge the strong links between the fishers of each country. (Read more about the Portuguese White Fleet).

Yellow - sunshine, happiness and warmth? Yellow is also associated with caution and cowardice – but take heart! You can make this impressive and tasty dessert!! Think of the yellow that is associated with “amusement, optimism, gentleness, and spontaneity” and bliss in the kitchen! [Source]

Here’s the link to the recipe. Use Comments, below, to share or ask questions - and if you enjoyed this read, please take a second to click on "Like"!

P.S. The crew at This Hour Has 22 Minutes, not surprisingly, did a parody of the crayon video. Spoiler – NL has had another tough winter, so the colour is “white”…

P.P.S. Had not realized until after posting this that 11:59, March 31, 1949 was the moment NL joined Canada as the tenth province. Not everyone in NL was happy about that - a fact reflected in the 1992 film Secret Nation - which can be watched online. (The first few minutes only are choppy.)

P.P.P.S. Anthony Bourdain was just there - can't believe I forgot to tape that episode!! arghh.