Today is the last day of my Newfoundland holiday. Tomorrow evening at this time, I’ll be boarding my red-eye flight back to Chester via London Heathrow.
This morning over my peanut butter and cocoa oatmeal, I spotted a bald eagle chasing crows around the harbour. Basking lazily on the ice-pans below was a slick, blubbery seal, surveying the snowy crags of frozen seawater.
Yesterday there was a sea otter (apparently a whole family of otters live down by my dad’s wharf). From the living room window, there is always some fascinating wildlife show in full swing, where the dark, thick, tangled coniferous woods slope roughly into the North Atlantic: sea hawks, dolphins, rolling capelin, foxes, rabbits, pothead and minke whales, moose, seals, Canada geese, and eagles.
A little further along the coast (or further inland), and you might chance to see wild caribou, minks, orca (killer whales), and black bears. Even an occasional polar bear washes up on a drifting ice flow, but these are tranquilized by wildlife officers and transported north to colder, unsettled regions.
It’s worth keeping a pair of binoculars on the windowsill, just in case.
After a long, lingering breakfast, I got all dressed up in my snowsuit and ski-doo helmet and headed for the woods.
The thing about Newfoundlanders is that they only have two speeds: really slow, and really fast.
They build cabins in the woods to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and then spend every chance they get hurling themselves along sheets of compressed ice at speeds exceeding 100mph.
Like my dad and I did this afternoon, for instance:
I’m definitely not a petrolhead (I avoid driving at all costs in England, and walk and cycle everywhere) but I just can’t say no to that kind of adrenaline.
In the summer, when the ice has long melted, snowmobiles are replaced with jet-skis and motorboats.
I love speed, but if you prefer to take your time, there are lots of activities year-round that won’t cause palpitations. Skiing (alpine and cross-country), snowshoeing, ice-skating, kayaking, berry picking, hiking, fresh and saltwater swimming, and fishing, to name a few.
After a few hours outdoors, my cheeks were burning with the cold (with the windchill, the temperature today was about minus 13 degrees Celsius). My brother and I decided to thaw out over an unforgiveably bad game of Scrabble. My family have always played a lot of board games (Scattergories is my favourite, although I also really like Buzz Word, Trivial Pursuit, and The Five Second Rule) – but my rotating Scrabble board was lying around in the kitchen, so we gave it a go.
In the end, the board was so poorly navigated that neither of us could finish placing our letters, and we had to quit. (I basically won, though, 394 to 127).
My brother, his family, and my parents headed to my Nan’s for an early “supper” (dinner) at about 5:30 (Newfies eat really early, but I think it’s so they can squeeze in an extra cheeky meal before bedtime) and we chowed down on traditional Newfoundland “cold plates”.
“Cold plate” is the term for a meal usually comprised of cold meat (turkey, chicken, beef, ham), and a whole load of heavy wintery “salads”. Some typical Newfie cold plate salads include, coleslaw, cold macaroni and cheese, J-E-L-L-O (gelatine) salad with grated carrots and pineapple, and my three personal favourites:
Mixed Potato Salad – mashed potatoes, a little chopped raw onion, splash of milk, can of peas and carrots, few tablespoons of mayonnaise, salt to taste. I’ve also added chopped boiled eggs to this before.
Sweet Mustard Salad – mashed potatoes, a little chopped raw onion, splash of milk, generous squeeze(s) sweet yellow/American mustard, few tablespoons of mayonnaise, few pinches of sugar.
Corn, Beet and Apple Salad – Equal(ish) parts drained corn kernels (fresh/canned/frozen), drained cooked beetroot, and chopped apples. A few tablespoons of mayonnaise.
I didn’t include any measurements here, because I’ve always just mixed the ingredients until they taste right. Remember to refrigerate after you finish preparing, as they’re generally eaten cold.
(Nan Vardy – if you’re reading this, you probably have more accurate recipes – so take a picture of them and send them to me so I can add them to my post!)
Growing up, cold plates were a really common fundraiser for various community groups.
Makeshift assembly lines would be set up in the church basement or the school gym, and ladies with beetroot-stained hands would carefully slide ice-cream scoops of colourful salads onto white Styrofoam (cringe) plates like blobs of paint on an artist’s palette.
Salt beef buckets of homemade savoury dressing, white bread rolls, chunks of turkey, and slices of processed ham would come next, and then another plate would be secured to the top with two criss-crossed rubber bands, so they could be delivered door-to-door. It was the closest thing to Domino’s that you could get in 1990s Hickman’s Harbour.
My brother and I were always excited when Mom ordered cold plates, and we would always trade to get our favourite salads – my jelly for his mustard potatoes.
After stuffing myself to the gills with one final Newfie supper, I retired to my parents’ hot tub for an end-of-holiday soak. It’s nestled between two snow banks and overlooks the very same seascape with which I began my day – only this time it’s lit up with stars.
You never get sick of this kind of view.
I leapt from the steamy water and slid barefoot across the ice to where my towel and flip-flops were piled against the snow. A strand of hair had escaped from underneath my wool hat and I could feel it starting to freeze against my neck.
Newfoundland is a place of beautiful extremes, and charming contradictions, and while I have long accepted the reasons I have for living and working abroad, at moments like this, I can only think of all the reasons I have to keep coming back home.