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Loose-Leaf Journals: Down East

Good company, a camera, and a craving for tea: an adventure was brewing. It was 8.30 in the morning when my girlfriend Kendra and I climbed into my rugged Nissan Pathfinder and set off with the compass pointed east. Our purpose: to travel around eastern PEI, dropping into some local shops and cafes that serve and/or sell Lady Baker's Tea to see what they had to offer. Kendra described it as being "like a bar-hop, only with cafes." It reminded me of the bygone tradition of ceilidhs. Before modern forms of communication, it was common to drop into the neighbour's place to tell a few stories and enjoy a "cuppa tea."

The first stop was the Inn at Bay Fortune. Once the roaring Pathfinder had been silenced, we stepped out onto the gravel. I noticed a tranquility in the air. Only the birds dared to make a sound. They sang softly as we made our way over to the garden. There were patches of herbs like dill, chamomile, oregano and tarragon, each carefully labelled and neatly laid out in the patch. For a small island, PEI is abundant with crops and with the type of patient folks willing to grow their own ingredients and raise livestock in their backyards. If you don't think you can top a home-cooked meal, try a home-grown meal.

It wasn't long before we were off once more, cruising down the highway to Murray River. Our next stop was Companion Coffee, a refurbished home with the kind of comfort that reminded me of my grandma's house, only more hip! A record crooned in the corner and there was a freshly baked pan of chocolate-chip cookies resting humbly on the top of an old-school oven.

We were greeted by Steven Fancy, the friendly owner of the cafe. In fact, there seemed to be an inescapable aura of friendliness throughout Companion Coffee. Kendra and I took our teas and baked goods upstairs. I had a strong cup of Lady Baker's Irish Breakfast tea with a raspberry scone.

Both were hearty and delicious. To finish off the visit I enjoyed a moment of leisure on the comfy couch upstairs.

We didn't have to travel far to get to our next stop. A quick walk across the street led us to The Old General Store, and the name couldn't have been more apt. The shop was stocked with art, pottery, crafts, jewelry and handmade quilts. It was a microcosm of the very best of Island culture.

Lady Baker's Tea-filled postcards are one of the more creative items available at The Old General Store. Yes--genuine mailable postcards filled with tea! The postcards are Island-themed with depictions of lobsters and lighthouses on the front. Imagine the thrill of receiving one!

The next stop was Chef Michael Smith's Flavour Shack. It was windy and wet when we arrived in Souris, and my key got stuck in the ignition as I tried to pull it out. After a considerable amount of time jigging the key, I was able to free it from its bondage. I felt just like King Arthur pulling Excaliber from the stone. A tiny triumph indeed, yet a mighty one! Come to think of it, the same can be said of the Flavour Shack! It may be small, but it features a splendid assortment of curated food products. There were hot sauces, cheeses and honeys as well as tea postcards and bottles of maple syrup. Spicy, salty, sweet or savoury, you can find it all at the Shack!

With the Pathfinder functional again, we set off for beautiful St. Peter's. By this time, the weather had cleared up, and the sun peaked through a thick layer of clouds.

Parking at St. Peter's Landing, we made out way inside Freckles & Porcelain, a retail shop owned and operated by artist Emily Carlaw. The space is stunning. Emily's art is sprinkled throughout the shop: unique hand-tinted copper plate etchings. Each piece snatches the eye, each one nostalgic and fun. To make an already pleasant atmosphere even more welcoming, Emily offers visitors hot cups of tea. I had a Chai Rooibos. Fortunately I was wearing sandals as this turned out to be the kind of tea that would have knocked a man's socks off. There were hints of cinnamon, ginger and cardamom. But this was no spicy chai tea--it was incredibly smooth. Here's a fun fact: Rooibos translates to "red bush," and comes from a South African plant. Kendra had a cup of the Butter Tart Supreme tea and loved it!

It was 4.30pm when we arrived at Point Prim.

We admired the Point Prim Lighthouse (it's the oldest one on the Island) and then made our way into the nearby Chowder House for dinner. I devoured the pan-seared chicken. It was glazed with what was quite possibly the best gravy I've ever had.

Dessert was strawberry shortcake heaped with freshly picked Prince Edward Island strawberries.

And thus the great blending of landscape, tea and art came to a close. We journeyed home, smiling as we recounted the highlights of the day. I lay in bed that night a man madly inspired. I longed for deeper connections with others. I longed to go out on more ceilidhs to places both familiar and new. As I floated off to sleep, the old Irish adage "die with tea, die without tea" kept drifting through my head.

So have a cup of tea, if you will, while there's still breath in your lungs and life within you. Take in as much as you can. Enrich the world around you. Surround yourself with laughing friends. Find the beauty in life, and steep. Steep like a lively black tea or like a cozy chamomile. Steep in the sun and in the rain. Steep, and then pass your teapot around. I'll join you for a cup!

This week's post was written by blogger Shane Pendergast. To learn more about Shane, click here

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