Our Christmases have never been ‘conventional’. This year we did an inland outport dinner and the amazing Fogo Island Inn Outport experience.
Starting 20 years ago when Leo’s kids were young, Christmases were an early trip to Fogo Island to exchange presents on Christmas Eve morning with his kids and then visit friends and family, working our way to our safe haven with Leo’s brother and sister-in-law and their two sons. We’d arrive late to our lodging, after several houses in a few communities. We’d been greeted with offers of food and drink in each house and one year counted 16 houses visited from morning to a very late/early bedtime the next morning. Oh, and we brought company with us that year! Bernice and Jerome never had a spare room until their boys moved out but there was always a room for us when we showed. Thank you again.
We’d have Christmas dinner midday in Joe Batts Arm with turkey and turr gravies, and stop and get the Christmas update from the kids on our way to the ferry. We’d be still talking about Bernice’s gravy and puddings as we crossed on the ferry. Christmas lights of Gander Bay communities shone on the way back to Gander. Cheese, crackers and other snacks by the time we got home and some years, we didn’t exchange our own gifts until Boxing Day.
Eventually we became the stop-over as the ‘kids’ grew up and were travelling back to Fogo from other places to see their mom for Christmas. A night in Gander on the way, sometimes coming and going, sometimes with family or friends was our time to visit, share gifts and fun.
This year, we all gathered early in Gander to allow some Christmas travellers to do the family thing before hitting the airport. We did the full turkey dinner, Jiggs dinner style, on December 21 with 16 diners and a couple of latecomers who didn’t eat. A 25 lb turkey was harmed in the making of this evening. I eventually gave up at midnight but the festivities did not shut down very early as there was a lot of catching up to do. According to pictures discovered a few days later on a tablet, there was even dancing!
These are the left overs after feeding everyone on the 21st. Gravy on the stove.
This Christmas Eve was our second annual fish and brewis (and moose and brewis) evening when we opened presents with our lovely three year old granddaughter.
I took pictures of presents and gift tags to see if she could match them to the gifts. I’d describe the colour of paper, colour on the tag and the number of snow flakes or other decorations and she’d head under the tree. She came with a tag only the first time but quickly caught on and she did a great job of fishing the gifts from under the tree and sharing them with us all. Next year she’ll recognize our names. So much fun.
There were 9 for supper that night so by the time we headed to Fogo Island Inn, we’d done dishes and dinners for 25 people over two meals.
We’d opened presents twice, with and from others, and we were ready for a rest.
It was fun, it worked out great and the only casualty was a 10 year old shower knob.
Success and Merry Christmas everyone!
We checked into the Inn on the evening of December 25 for out third stay. I’m not addicted, I’m devoted. Or at least that’s my story.
Although we had planned to go out on Boxing Day, a string of events had us needing to make a a short notice trip to the ferry on Christmas Day. Suitcase packed and in the car within an hour we also crossed and proceeded to Joe Batts Arm!
Cresting the hill between Barr’d Islands and Joe Batts in the dark, the lights of the Inn only complimented the 25 foot Christmas tree. The pictures on the Inn Facebook page does it justice.
Another trip to the Inn was our Christmas present to each other. Not one thing under the tree but this was on the calendar for a month. The Inn management gifted us with a beautiful upgrade to a loft suite. Our two night plan became a three night extravagance due to the allure of the room and immediate feeling of “oh, we missed this place”. We were greeted like family arriving for Christmas dinner and that feeling was predominant throughout the evening.
After Rex showed us our room and delivered our welcoming food (homemade bread rolls, molasses and fresh butter) we had a giggle and a snack and then joined the other guests in the lounge. Inn guests, some staff, their spouses and family members were joined by the General Manager, David Currell and the Innkeeper, Zita Cobb. Chef Murray McDonald explained we were dining family style and two tables of ten were quickly filled. The McDonald clan spanned three generations.
Huge platters of goose and fish were negotiated by passing plates, just like home, and I was in charge of goose and dressing and any fresh cod heading to the right of my chair. Chef Murray served turr to each guest and dishes of roasted root vegetables, Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes and bean salad circulated as well as a second dressing, drawn butter and home made pickles. This was truly a feast. It was Leo’s favorite meal of our stay.
One of our dining partners was the lovely Kara, pastry chef at the Inn. I’m not on the payroll, but if I was, they’d get away with paying me in her blueberry scones. This young lady knows her craft. In addition to the magnificent gingerbread house done in a salt box style, she prepared a beautiful table of Partridgeberry Tarts, Blueberry Duffs with sauce and a variety of cookies. It was that same familiar feeling from childhood when we would have my grandmother’s pudding and sauce at Christmas. That was exactly what Christmas should taste like.
Conversation was easy with Leo and Zita reminiscing about growing up on Fogo Island and comparing stories and experiences. Our new friends from Toronto were eagerly taking it in and asking questions about everything from the meals to the fishery. They are obviously well travelled and adventurous as well as fun and personable. My chef buddies and their spouses were friendly and we all enjoyed our meal and generous servings of wine and then coffee with desserts.
In addition to the meal and company, the Christmas mood was heightened by the local musicians playing traditional Newfoundland music and carols before and during supper. After supper, we joined them in the lounge and even sang along to Sweet Forget Me Not and the Star of Logy Bay. Here’s their rendition of the Rubber Boot Song.
We had the staff light the woodstove in our room and returned to it to relax and recover from busy days and a delicious meal. It didn’t take long to feel the pressure come off sitting next to the fire. We did remember that hot air rises when we went to the loft and better timed the lighting of our stove for during the day rather than bed time for the rest of our visit. It’s just not right to be kicking off those beautiful quilts because you’ve heated your room too much.
Morning at the Fogo Island Inn starts with a Daybreak box set outside the door before the sun comes up. Our coffee was piping hot in a silver thermal coffee pot and scones made with dried blueberries were baked fresh each morning.
The real tourists staying at the Inn ventured out with a community host to tour the art studios. We were invited but had some family visits to do and I’m going to see those studios on a warmer visit sometime. We enjoyed breakfast and a visit and looked forward to their report at the end of the day.
We made a run to Island Harbour, Leo’s stomping grounds and visited there. We extended invitations to Leo’s niece and her parents to come up and see the Inn while she was home for Christmas. They didn’t seem like they were going anywhere but we happy to hear about it and ask questions. We caught up on the news and headed to our next destination in JBA.
We went to out usual Christmas hosts, Leo’s brother and sister-in-law’s who were quite eager to have us stay or feed us but they know when we’re broke some day, we’ll be back for that and that we are out for the experience of the Inn. For now, the Inn was in charge of full board.
I did mention to my sister-in-law that in my haste to pack a day early, I hadn’t prepared well and we left as we always do, with gifts and harvest. A gallon of partridgeberries, a bottle of marshberry jam, homemade chocolates and three lovely tops to wear to give some variety to my wardrobe across the harbour. We never leave Jerome and Bernice’s empty handed. Thank you.
The hospitality in Joe Batts Arm didn’t start with the construction of the Inn. I’ve benefited from it for 20 years and try hard to replicate it when given a chance in Gander. We also got a call from the Island Harbour crowd saying they’d been on the Inn web page since we’d left their house and decided they’d like to come in the afternoon to bounce on our bed and get my tour. Excellent! We love company.
Meals at the Inn are award winning and in the Top 10 Restaurants in Canada according to Enroute Magazine this year. This is well deserved. When I saw they had a pecan pie as a lunch dessert, I opted for a soup and sandwich. On thick, crusty homemade bread, shaved beef was stacked to make it a monster sandwich. The beef soup was hearty, hot and delicious and no matter how much I wanted that pie, there was no way to eat the whole lunch. Leo tried the mooseburger and it was perfection. The patty was tender and the spices gave it a flavour that just made you want more. Served with hand cut onion rings and steak fries, Leo passed on dessert too.
A check in with our friends from Connecticut and Toronto had them able to finish their lunches after hiking into two studios and having two left for the afternoon. Good luck with that. We’ll be in our room…
The adventurous guests are provided with guides and equipment including appropriate clothing for the climate right down to boots and hats. One group went to a cabin on snowshoes for a meal! They also went looking and found the caribou herd.
We’d set a status update on Facebook that we’d be ‘receiving visitors’ in our room in the afternoon and our friend Blanche eagerly replied that she was coming down with her son and his partner for a visit. Seldom and Island Harbour guests arrived one after the other and since they were all cousins, made it very festive indeed. Leo entertained the Island crowd while I toured around with those stuck living on the mainland. We did the usual tour, upstairs and down of our room, flip the quilt to see who made it (Linda Osmond) and a bite of my scone stash and then the rest of the Inn, starting with the sauna and hot tub area on the first floor then theatre and conference room on the second floor.
Kara was working on desserts in the kitchen off the conference room and assured me that there was an apple dessert for that night but that there was also pecan pie left from lunch if I’d still wanted it. Yes! As we finished the foyer area on the way to the library and art gallery the doorman, Richard advised me he was checking in a couple of guests but would be right up to light out fire after that. Apparently Leo had a chill and requested a fire when he ordered more glasses, ice and gingerale. Yes, we’ve got it good. Yes, we know it and are grateful.
We returned to our room for drinks, Bernice’s chocolates and sat back like city slickers while doorman Richard expertly lit the fire and set the mood. Flames flickering, Donna hogging the homemade rocking chair and the ocean out the window, there is nothing like entertaining and being entertained at the Inn.
Entertaining and a nap are great for working up the appetite. I’d seen a picture of a fancy new beverage on the Inn Facebook page so decided to try it out. Presentation and flavour are important in all aspects of this place and Amanda readily gave credit to Byran for teaching her this Bonfire Eggnog recipe.
The product was a great as the presentation. Those hiking tourists will need these when they get back from the studio tours.
Due to a small number of guests during the holidays, the evening menus are a four course service rather than the full menu selection. The Boxing Day menu was my favorite with every items something I’d eagerly order again. In addition to the menu presented, the chef does a lovely amuse-bouche to give you just a taste to wake up the palette. On this night, it was a scallop wrapped in a shoestring potato. Savory and yet sweet from the natural sweetness of the scallop, I would have happily ordered a platter of these but there were four courses to come.
Our first course was “Leggy”
On Fogo Island, a leggy is a salted ’rounder’ or round fish as opposed to split or fillets. In Newfoundland, fish means cod. Any other species is called by it’s name; salmon, trout, halibut, etc. Fish was eaten fresh when available but since electricity was only made available to the whole of Fogo Island in the 1970s, 300 years before that they found ways to preserve fish by salting and drying it. Salt fish remains part of the lifestyle and cuisine today in many cultures as the fish was exported all over the world. From Jamaica to Spain and Portugal, salt fish is an ingredient in traditional foods of those cultures. In Newfoundland, it is common for people to tell you they are having fresh beef soup to discern from salt beef, another staple in many family dinners. Fresh milk is to contrast from tinned milk, usually Carnation, used to whiten tea.
Back to the grub at hand. Salt fish is traditionally served in only a handful of ways in Newfoundland and Labrador. Like our Christmas Eve family dinner, this was served with brewis (pronounced brews, a hard tack bread that has been soaked and then heated in hot water). It was also accompanied by scrunchins, pickles and gooseberries. As an appetizer, the combinations of salty, tart and textures of crunchy scrunchins and pickles with tender fish and brewis just made me want one more bite. Like the scallop tease at the beginning, I just needed a bit more of that taste to be happy.
The fixed menu offered moose sausage for the second course. Served with beans and tomato stew this was another delicious combination.
Moose were introduced to Newfoundland, not native, and are hunted in the fall. Newfoundland moose hunters, while proud of getting a big animal, are food hunters. Moose is a substantially popular item in freezers around the province. It’s a lean, healthy meat but also, very reasonably priced if you get it early without having spent a lot of money on several trips. There’s a sense of pride and community to offer someone a meal of moose by picking something out of your freezer to give to a neighbour of visitor. The large moose population leads to many moose vehicle accidents but also has created an industry for outfitters who are paid handsomely to guide non-residents who come here to hunt. These are often trophy hunters but outfitters make sure nothing goes to waste.
I’m not sure what spices and seasonings the chef uses at the Inn but this was the best moose sausage ever. Fennel? I don’t know? It was a treat in your mouth and again, one more slice was desired. One more bite.
Before our third course could arrive there was loud knocking and shouts from the foyer of the Inn and for the first time in 26 years in Newfoundland, I saw mummers allowed in!
They started in the foyer, trying out the floor. Mummers hadn’t danced here before!
A crew of mummers with their own mummering accordion player danced and cavorted in the reception area and eventually worked their way towards the lounge. After several boisterous dances, when offered a drink, I heard one ask for “water first”. After some quick rehydration, the mummers invaded the dinning room and as I tried to get pictures and video, I was suddenly dancing with a mummer. The thought went through my head “Thank god he’s a good dancer.” as we danced a Newfoundland waltz.
While we ate our third course, the General Manager of the Inn was outfitted in mummering gear and a few of the other guests joined him to go mummering in Barr’d Islands. As they were dressing him, they realized they needed to cut eye holes so he could see and one mummer suggested they probably should have done that before their drinks!
While I was dancing, our main course of Arctic Char was served to the table.
I don’t think I’ve had char before. Similar to a trout or salmon, I’m now a fan. The parnips were great as I hadn’t roasted them at home in a long time. As I was finishing my main I remembered my pecan pie and was so thankful that each course had been the perfect portion to leave me hungry enough to enjoy the next one.
Leo opted for Kara’s dessert of the day, an apple pastry with Labrador tea ice cream. I went to get another picture of the mummers kidnapping the manager and when I came back his plate was clean. I didn’t even get a taste but had luckily taken a picture when it was served. Apparently, it was delicious. I heard him say it over and over.
As we waited for our desserts, my mummer dancing buddy visited our table and revealed himself to be Leo’s brother Jerome! We’d even mentioned the fact that their was mummering at the Inn when we’ve visited them earlier in the day and neither he or Bernice let on that he was one of them. Of course my mummer could dance. He’s a very good dancer!
Thanks to the appetite worked up by a twirl around the dining room, I was able to finish my pecan pie delayed from lunch time. Served with cream and a tart ginger marmalade this was my favorite dessert of the trip. I tried the pie and cream combination and the marmalade separately but together it was amazing. I need more food adjectives, I know, but the combination of the pie, cream and ginger was something truly wonderful. I made a point of telling Kara how much I enjoyed it.
Another lovely day finished with a delicious meal.
When we were starting with our amuse-bouche, a neighbouring table of two local couples were finishing their dinners. As they left, one gentlemen tapped Leo on the shoulder and told him not to worry, “you won’t be hungry at the end”. These couples were enjoying their complimentary night at the Inn given to every home owner on Fogo and Change Islands. It was fun to see him reassuring us proudly, not knowing we’d already had a number of stays and dinners here and had full confidence in the kitchen. We saw 6 local couples over our stay enjoying their dinners and breakfasts in the dinning room, part of their invitations.
We took December 27 ‘off’. I even ordered oatmeal for breakfast knowing already what I was having for lunch. Barman, Bryan had told us about the great fish and chips on Fridays at the Inn so we set that as our only goal. Oh, and dessert. Leo finally tried the blueberry dumplings he’s been admiring and when I ordered pecan pie again it came with extra whipped cream and marmalade.
Complete relaxation, too much Facebook and good music on Youtube or the Ipod. There was no sense having the biggest tub ever unless you were going to use it so a soak was in order too.
No visiting was planned until we got a call from Leo’s nephew who was home for Christmas and we had the opportunity to meet his children for the first time. Such a beautiful family. It was like Christmas all over again. First of many visits, I’m sure.
Our evening meal was another 4 course set by the kitchen. A beef Carpaccio in a port reduction was the amuse-bouche added to this evening.
Like all meals at the Inn, this was delicious but the most fun was the service of the crab course. A server for each diner came with the crab plated in the bowl and a pitcher of broth. In unison, the servers poured the broth at the table. A family of 6 booked a dinner at the Inn this night and seeing the procession and service of this course with the waitress explaining the dish and then then kitchen brigade serving and saucing it was great. With a few more tourists, the table of six and four couples from the overnight invitations, the dining room was quite cozy and friendly as greetings were exchanged and we took turns taking pictures.
Having enjoyed baskets of warm bread throughout the meal and because we had enjoyed desserts with lunch, we were unable to even consider the dessert with this meal as tempting as it was to even share one. Our server assured us they’d be happy to send it to the room later if we changed out minds. Having consumed my second pecan pie that day, we didn’t phone down.
The view from the Inn encourages early waking as I waited each morning for the sun to show the ocean view. That view changes as the day goes on and as the weather and tides change.
We decided over breakfast on our last day that we’d take the 3:30 ferry and get the Christmas lights of Gander Bay on the way home. As I declined the pastry tray waiting for breakfast, I was telling the waitress that I’d saved my scones from the daybreak basket to take home for a treat. We gradually packed up our room and enjoyed the morning view on a gorgeous sunny day.
I had a moose burger that I’d been craving since tasting Leo’s two days before and having eaten goose, turr, duck, crab, smoked cod, fresh cod, salt cod, char, scallop, two variations on moose, beef, and homemade breakfast sausages, Leo opted for the lamb stew for a change. Another new favorite. Wasn’t able to finish my burger so they packed it for me to bring home.
At lunch time, we realized we had time to make a run for the 1:30 boat and to be home before dark so we made a quick exit. Not too quick for the Inn to present me with a gift box on the way out. Rushing to catch the ferry, which was loading as we arrived and took us as the last car, one left behind us on the dock I didn’t get a chance to open it until we were on the boat. BLUEBERRY SCONES! They really do love me! the kitchen staff had prepared a dozen scones and boxed them for me. Thank you!
We were literally squeezed on to the ferry so didn’t get a chance to visit with others on the boat. We couldn’t get out of our car.
We got home to a living room still full of folding chairs and tv tables and Christmas gifts that had been opened but not taken home yet by their owners. There was a garbage bag full of wrapping paper and vice grips on the shower handle. Every bed had been slept in and most of the towels were dirty.
We were rested and relaxed and our Christmas continued as I’d advertised my score of a dozen scones and folks came to visit. I even shared the last of my moose burger as ‘amuse-bouche’ sized tastes for those who wanted to try it and with all that left over turkey in the freezer, turkey fest will be on going for a while. You should stop in. I have homemade cranberry sauce.