Thursday, July 7, 2016

Lobster here, lobster there - a tasty crustacean everywhere

My first whole lobster this trip - served up on the beach.
No doubt those friends and followers who regularly see my posts on my Facebook pages (personal and business) and Twitter are aware of all the lobster I consumed during my two-week stay on  Cape Breton Island the past few weeks.

I believe I ate more lobster during my two weeks there than I had the previous two years. Or maybe even the previous two decades.

And I never enjoyed it more.

I also learned a lot about lobster, too - how to tell males from females, the optimum weight for a tender and tasty crustacean, how to get a lobster to do lobster yoga ("downward facing crustacean" is the best pose), and numerous other interesting tidbits about lobster.

I learned, too, that you can serve it in just about any form, and it will be good: lobster eggs benedict, lobster sauce on halibut, lobster poutine, lobster mac'n'cheese - it's all good.

Funny, I was never really a huge lobster lover. Oh, I'd had it on several occasions and it was good. But for some reason, this time around it just tasted better, in all its renderings.

The first time I had it was in 1979, at a spray camp/airfield in New Brunswick while working for Forest Protection Limited. Once a year, every summer, the company would fly in fresh lobster for the pilots, crews and others stationed there. My work partner Joe kept raving about how good it would be, explaining how the claws were the best part, especially dipped in melted butter.

Well, it was good - but obviously it didn't make a huge impression on me. Later that fall, while broadcasting a football game between the University of Prince Edward Island and the UNB Red Bombers in Charlottetown back to Fredericton on CHSR, I didn't order it for supper that night after the game, even though our meals were completely covered. My dad, a huge seafood fan, couldn't believe it when I told him during our weekly phone calls between Toronto and Fredericton.

After that, I didn't eat it for many years, and when I did, it never seemed to set off taste-gasms in my mouth. (I guess that's because I always seemed to eat it at a Red Lobster in Calgary. Good, but not great.)

That started to change in 2008.

That was the year the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia hosted the annual TMAC conference. The awards dinner that year was a lobster-fest, complete with plastic lobster bibs. Well, that year I threw myself into the festivities with abandon. I ate at least two, maybe three crustaceans. I also remember turning the bib around so it hung down my back like a cape, and declared myself to be "Lobster-Man!" Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately!) the photos taken that night cannot be found.

I had finally started to appreciate lobster, it seemed.
The lobster at Doaktown, NB was really fresh.

I enjoyed it again thanks to TMAC during a pre-conference tour in 2012, at O'Donnell's Cottages (since changed to Storeytown Cottages), in Doaktown, NB.

It was the first day of the lobster season, and the catch was as fresh as an inebriated Grade 10 at his first senior prom.

 And that brings us to June, 2016. (It seems I'm destined to only enjoy good lobster every four years...)

It began with the first day of our pre-tours. We were treated to an incredible breakfast of lobster-benedict at the Hearthstone Inn in Sydney. Quite the way to start a tour.

Later that night at the Keltic Lodge in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, I enjoyed a meal of halibut (my favourite fish) served with a lobster ravioli that did cause taste-gasms.

And it just kept getting better.

The next night, we were treated to a lobster boil on the beach, courtesy of Parks Canada and some of the local staff. There, our tour leader - kayaker and paddling musician extraordinaire Angelo Spinazzola - taught us how to really chow down on the treasured crustaceans.

We were not only taught lobster biology, we were serenaded by fiddler-chef Scott Aucoin. 

While the lobster cooked, the chef fiddled...

But believe it or not, we had still only just begun...

We really hit the jackpot the second night of the conference proper, (thanks again, in large part to Parks Canada) with a lobster dinner set inside the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site. Cooked to perfection, served up (to those of us who aren't oenophiles) with ample portions of Fortress Rum and plenty of other good food. (It topped off a perfect day for me, as I'd spent the morning watching sea parrots - a.k.a. puffins - during a three-hour tour. The lobster feast made an A-grade day into an A+ day.)

But wait - there's more...
Lobster kicks poutine up a notch or three.
There was great chowder with lobster in it at the Red Shoe Pub ... ditto at the Castle Rock Country Inn, the final night of our tour.

The real test came after a three-hour whale-watching excursion when we went to the Rusty Anchor

I was waffling between two different dishes that included lobster. Luckily, I managed to convince another writer to order lobster mac-and-cheese, while I ordered lobster poutine - and we switched halfway through so we got some of each.

Mac'n'cheese, already good, gets better with lobster.

Could ordinary dishes like these use lobster and be as good as the other renderings already enjoyed?

Yep. There were multiple taste-gasms, that night. Just picture Meg Ryan in "When Harry Met Sally" - except she's eating lobster instead of deli cold cuts.

So, after all this, I can only assume there must be something special about Nova Scotia lobster - especially Cape Breton lobster, since it seems to taste better than any I've ever eaten anywhere else. It could also be the company, or maybe it's the freshness ... but I think there's also a little bit of Cape Breton magic there, as well.

That magic, that special warmth that seems to be everywhere on the island, that alone is good enough to lure me back there again, some day.

Plus I want a whole lobster poutine to myself.

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