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Archive for the ‘Adventures’ Category

Eating in a canoe

While some people think of hotdogs and marshmallows when they think of eating while camping, I’m afraid my experiences are otherwise. Growing up, one of my major food influences was my mother’s close friend (and my best friend’s mother) Sandra. Sandra taught me how to make a flakey whole wheat pie crust and just always seemed to be able to make healthy food taste that extra bit better. She’s also the person you want with you on a camping trip because she comes equipped. It’s the little things that make a difference when you’re camping, the person who not only brings the tea bags, but also brings the kettle. She always comes with a blanket for picnics, the grate for the fire (a shelf from the inside of the fridge) and the griddle to make pancakes. I’ve become so dependant on Sandra to bring the right stuff for cooking in camp, that when left to my own devices I often forget half the things I need.

Luckily, it turns out Sandra’s not the only consummate camp cook. This summer I was lucky enough to be invited on a four day canoe trip by my friend Adrian (along with three other people, Anne, Margaret and Philippe). Full of trepidation because it’s been sooo long since I was in a canoe I was barely able to get myself packed up with tent and sleeping bag and multiple pairs of socks in separate ziplock sandwich bags, let alone food. Luckily Adrian turned out to not only be able to carry a canoe on his head, he also packed for what has to be the most ridiculously gourmet wilderness outing ever. Our first night out, after a short (I’m not sure it was even 45 minutes) canoe trip to the first camping spot we had polenta with homemade bolognese, both traditional and vegetarian. Clever boy had frozen the sauce (Margaret and I almost left it behind in the freezer – luckily the giant post-it on the door caught Margaret’s attention on our way out) so it stayed cold and was perfect by the time we got to camp. Lunch the next day (which was eaten in a swamp les-boys.jpgwhile we waited for another group of canoers to get ahead of us so we could go back to belting out rock ballads and Annie tunes) consisted of Fairmount bagels with peanut butter and homemade raspberry jam (mine). The jam is good, but I have to say there’s nothing like watching people lick the jar to make me feel like I got the recipe right. Fruit to Go and weird Italian candies provided us with snacks and boy did the Fruit to Go taste good. That night it was cold and windy and rainy and I saw a four inch leech swim past in the lake. Overall it was kind of depressing and we were in mid transition between clean and dry to dirty and wet, but we weren’t feelin’ it yet so everyone was a little cranky, but our feelings were lifted by the gnocchi with pesto and olive paste.  Food from a tube never tasted so nice. We ended the evening with a somewhat class oriented game of asshole  and then we snuggled into our sleepingbags and thermarests to warm up (really it was cold). The next day (which was warmer, much better for Annie tunes) we had tuna sandwiches with white beans and canned corn with lemon – tres yummy. They totally made up for the clogged waterfilter taking an hour to get a cup of water out of the lake – beaver fever started to sound a whole lot better. When we made it to our final destination, a little damp and pretty satisfied with our dirty selves we were greeted with yet another downpour (that day it seemed like every time we portaged it rained) Portaging in the rain…againand then the most spectacular double rainbow ever. RainbowWe switched gears and sang the rainbow connection and then settled in to making camp and prepare for our final feast. That night we dined on campfire roti with porcinis and sundried tomatoes, fondue (of course what else would you do with those storebought fondue packets!!!?), baguette and smoked salmon. We all gave each other massages, refrained from spending another night in the tent playing asshole and had to eat the rest of the baker’s chocolate because we forgot to put it in the food bucket up the tree and you never know…bears. Next time let’s bring some of the 75% stuff and make potential bear attacks more worthwhile!

The food was amazing and the trip was magical. Nothing like spending time in a canoe with cute boys and good friends. canoe.jpgI can’t wait to do it all over again next year!!!!

Special thanks to Philippe without whom I never would have been able to get that grilled cheese!

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My grand plan has been to write about the food I had in Portland while visiting my friend Rose for Christmas. So better late than never…As it happens I was also inspired by a little book, which is apparently a series, that I found in Portland called Eat Shop Portland http://eatshopguides.com/. They’re these little guides to the food and shopping that the person writing the guide likes. The focus seems to be on original, artsy kind of places. As Portland is full of artsy little places it must not have been hard to write the book. Anyway, I thought maybe I’d branch out in this space and write a little about shopping as well as fooding, because some days I like to diversify the way I dull the pain (kidding). Thus, the slight change in title. Besides, occasionally I do things other than cook, go to restaurants and think about food.My plan to go to
Portland for Christmas was born of two things. I missed Rose’s visit this past summer because I was in Chisasibi teaching (more on goose and michaups later) and Christmas in Montreal has become a nightmare marathon of family. On my own I have a number of branches of family to spend time with at Christmas and the Dolce Culo, being Italian, has an extended family as well. So we pretty much spend three days going from house to house eating variations on Christmas dinner (from goose stuffed with sausage and chestnuts with Jerusalem artichokes on the side to lasagna made with boiled egg and peas), having to stay when we want to go and having to go when we want to stay (or when we can’t move anymore). I couldn’t face it this year and decided to escape to the West coast. Rose and I grew up together and our families spent lots of Christmases together so it seemed like a good bet. The D.C. was less enthused but we went anyway.
The food experience started, unfortunately, in the airport during our stopover in Minneapolis. I haven’t been in an American airport in a while, but they seem to have become much like shopping malls. I won’t get into the details too much but after a meal at one of the many available chain restaurants in the airport I came to realize that tequila and air travel aren’t a good combination for me.Once in Portland the food experience started at Sidney‘s, a little restaurant/cafe close to Rose’s work. I went there to finish marking exams, and while there consumed a small quantity of very lovely mini-cupcakes.cupcakes1.jpg

Portland, thankfully, still seems to think that all things cupcake are cool. I concur. I think these tiny bites were there for the children who seem to frequent the cafe from the Montessori daycare across the street, but never mind, they were moist and playfully capped with frosting that I saw one young lady joyfully licking off as if it were an ice cream cone. Personally, I prefer, popping them whole into my mouth while pretending to be some sort of muffin devouring monster. This seemed to be an unpopular style with the nannies and yummy mummies also frequenting the place, but what the hell, I was a foreigner who couldn’t be expected to know better.

From there the highlights included: The mac&cheese at The Delta Cafe(and their drinks in wide mouth mason jars), a pear & procuitto grilled cheese sandwich at the Ste Honore Bakery, and the sorbet and champagne float at Pix, Portland seems to be in the midst of a love affair with the French style boulangerie/pattisserie, which while nice, wasn’t such a departure from home, and the “potato bar” meal Rose cooked at home when I ended up with a migraine and no medication. When I was little I claimed a baked potato would get rid of my migraines and it seems to still be true. Yummy and medicinal!

There were other stops on the food tour of the city but I must make mention of AJ’s aunt’s soup, which was amazing. I need to get the recipes. I pooh poohed the idea of soup for Christmas Eve dinner but I don’t think I’ve ever had soup like this. An Italian vegetable soup was followed by seafood chowder followed by one of the best damn tiramisu’s I’ve ever had (sorry to the D.C. and his family some of whom make a very good tiramisu). I’ll get the recipes and put them up here. Other food adventures included: Happy Hour at the Portland City Grill, where the food kind of sucked but the view from up on top of a high-rise was nice, despite the gladiator style competition to get window side seats; The giant bag of trail mix Rose and I almost bought from a very stoned health food store employee – those self-serve dispensers are hard to manage, ah well it brought us back to our hippie childhoods and saved us from serious blood sugar problems; and Ken’s Pizza, which we went to to test their authenticity. The D.C. , our token Italian, was feeling a little dragged out by this time and complained that the sophisticated sprinkling of sausage on his pizza wasn’t what he had in mind (what! no pepperoni, no chunks of sausage! But Rose and I liked it, despite a little bit of a glitch with getting seated. Actually I kind of liked the pizza in Portland. They make their slices really big.

Finally, as far as food goes,Taqueria Neuvewas the peak experience of our trip. Rose and AJ took us to their favorite Mexican restaurant and I fell in love. It started with my margarita made with strawberry infused tequila. It sounds a little girly/dainty but it was the most wonderful cocktail I have ever had. It tasted like springtime and all things good. By the end of the meal we were taking pictures of empty dishes and our full tummies and writing adoring notes to the chefs on the brown paper table cloths. In an effort to get this post up finally I won’t get into too many of the details. Suffice it to say that there wasn’t an off note in the entire meal and if you should go to Portland you should go. For once I forgot about the bill and ordered everything and I don’t know the last time a meal has made me so happy. It might also help if you’ve just had a pedicure and are still walking around in the silly flip-flops they give you to let your toes dry…especially if the temperature seems to be hovering around zero. It all added a crazy edge to an evening of great food with the bestest friend ever. It may have taken me a while to get this post up, but I’ve still got the toenail polish Rose looked askance at on (I need to find more of it actually) and a hankering to make me some strawberry tequila of my own!!!

Thanks to Rose for a great Christmas. Sorry we pushed the kitty over the edge…

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A few weeks ago, to brighten up the Friday morning drive to work, Erin and I decided to stop for some sort of breakfast on the go. The fast way to work takes us past the big-box scariness that is the Marché Central which, when due to entirely misguided reasons (Italian dude with quite the “dolce culo“) I moved to Ahuntsic, I discovered had more to offer than free samples at Costco (I know it’s trashy but I like free samples at Costco). On the West side of L’Acadie there are a number of really good Lebanese places (I use the term “places” deliberately since they are not all, strictly speaking, restaurants).

I was surprised when Erin suggested we stop at one of them, BSweet, a little patisserie, because she claims to be terrified of the Marché Central and this was entirely uncharted territory (unlike the literally named Shish-Kebab up the street which I’ve been to repeatedly and I think has some of the best Lebanese food in the city).We stepped into the bright cleanness of the place and encountered a long glass counter of Mediterranean sweetness. All those baklava-like goodies glistening with buttery sweet and nuts promised good things, if not a traditional breakfast. The glass case filled with sweets, another case filled with fruit and the other case filled with sorbet caused me to hesitate in part due to indecision and in part because it was all a little confusing and I wasn’t sure how things worked.


Erin intrepidly stepped to the counter and attempted to order a croissant. This seemed to cause some confusion on the part of the slightly odd server behind the counter. In the confusion another customer stepped forward and picked up some sort of hot melty, cheesy, pastry thing. While Erin paused he turned to her and charmingly said something to the effect of “Why have something you’ve had a million times when you can try something new?” This is a line that’s gotten me in trouble before but it seemed like it might be a more sound principle when it came to breakfast. Erin went for it, and the next thing we knew she was being handed her own oozy, cheesy pastry with sesame seeds on top and some sort of sweet coconutyness inside. It sounds suspicious, but it was in fact entirely delicious. The pastry was flaky, the filling was sweet and the cheese was oozy and copious; Erin claims it was the highlight of her day (later in a meeting she stated that things had definitely gone down-hill since breakfast). I went for the chocolate croissant, which itself was gigantic and filled with a nutella-like chocolate cream. It was also still warm from the oven and the chocolate sprinkles melted all over my fingers as I tore it into bite size pieces – a nice cozy feeling. The coffee was a nice counterpoint to the richness of our pastries and was entirely serviceable, kind of like a Tim Horton’s coffee, hot and not actually bad tasting. We left determined to come back and continue our exploration of Lebanese breakfast possibilities. 

I have been back – more on that later. The most important thing I walked away with that morning was a philosophy for restaurant reviewing: “Why have something you’ve had a million times before when you can try something new?” Food is about comfort, but in some ways it’s also about adventure. When we can’t afford to drop everything and fly to a new corner of the world we can still afford to go to a new restaurant, or try a new recipe, or just go grocery shopping in a different part of town. That’s what I want this blog to be about: adventures in food; my attempt to try something I’ve never tried before.

I’ve since been back to BSweet. So far the baklava is a little dry for my taste, and if it’s not first thing in the morning, ask to have your croissant (they have cheese, chocolate and almond) heated up. The odd lady I mentioned earlier does not speak English and her math is a bit funny (either that or the coffee is really cheap) but she’s very nice. Later in the day there’s a wider variety of people working there and when I went in the evening there were some very helpful young ladies behind the counter who told me what things were called. One of them gave me a sample of Jalabi, a drink pictured on their menu of fruit drinks and which looked like a slushy. One of the young ladies described it (with some distaste on her part) as being made of raisins and dates. It is in fact an amazing concoction of dark sweet liquid in a granita like ice mixture, heavy with rosewater. It’s a drink that evokes all sorts of silly romantic visions of Lebanon and that part of the world. I can’t wait to get a big glass of it during one of Montreal’s muggy, hot summer days. Actually I heard the temperature was going up to 17 degrees in the next few days so maybe I’ll try it then!There’s one more trip planned to fully explore things at BSweet. I’ll come back and update further. At this point I would strongly recommend a trip there just to “try something you’ve never had before.”

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