Categories
Food

Sugaring Off

As thousands of my fellow Montrealers descended on downtown decked out in all things green for the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade, I headed out to the countryside with a group of friends for a different ritual: one involving far less alcohol, a lot more sugar, and nary a shamrock in sight.

Our destination was Mont St-Grégoire, east of Montreal, and we were going sugaring off. The springtime celebration also known as going to a sugar shack or cabane à sucre in French involves a usually-gigantic, always maple syrup-laden meal at one of Quebec’s many maple syrup producers that gears up for visitors as the sap starts to run in the province’s abundant maple-tree forests. (We produce 71% of the world’s supply of maple syrup — not bragging, just saying. 😉 )

There are a couple of decadent homegrown rituals I usually save for when I’m with people new to Montreal or who are visiting — indulging in poutine is one of them; sugaring off is another. Today’s group brought together lifelong Montrealers with newcomers from the UK, France, Italy, and the United States.

As the all-you-can-eat feast began, I gave a heads-up to my end of the table that this was only the savoury start to the meal — the sweets were still to come, so be sure to save room. We worked our way through tureens of split-pea soup and platters of fluffy omelettes, sausages, roasted potatoes, baked beans, thick-sliced ham, pork ribs, and tourtière hand pies — pastry pockets filled with seasoned ground pork and beef. We liberally poured carafes of maple syurp over just about everything. In case that wasn’t enough, there were also fresh rolls, cretons (a seasoned pork spread), coleslaw, pickles, beets, and a chutney-like homemade ketchup. And let’s not forget the oreilles de crisse — a deep-fried pork jowl concoction someone once decided to name after Jesus Christ’s ears, I’m never quite sure why. The table groaned, and I think a few of us did too.

Next up: the desserts. Baskets of fluffy apple doughnuts arrived, with little pots of warm caramel sauce to pour over them, because what’s better than fresh-from-the-fryer doughnuts than doughnuts drenched in warm caramel sauce. Platters of pets de soeurs appeared, little swirls of rich pastry filled with brown sugar. When we explained to the out-of-towners that these meant “nun’s farts” there may have been a few giggles — I can’t quite remember, as the sugar coma was starting to set in by then. The tarte au sucre (sugar pie) was a creamy thing of beauty, and I was told the pancakes were ethereal, but I couldn’t manage any. There are a few other sweet maple treats that weren’t served at this cabane — each has its specialties — we missed pouding chomeur (poor man’s pudding — a maple-syrup drenched white cake) and les grands-pères au sirop (grandfathers in syrup — dumplings boiled in maple syrup), but really, who would have had room?

After the repast it was time for one last indulgence. We hopped on the tractor and crossed the apple orchard — this farm does double duty — to the steamy maple shack where sap from the trees is boiled down. We stood in line and braved the final sweet tidbit: taffy on the snow, aka tire sur la neige, thickened maple syrup ladeled out on clean snow and twirled around popsicle sticks to make a maple lollipop like no other.

And with that final sublime taste of maple on our lips, we all headed home. To a nap for most of us, I suspect.

Categories
Food

The Secret Garden

In a secluded corner of a large open field, tucked behind a suburban university residence, lives an oasis of thriving vegetables and herbs. It’s hard to find unless you know exactly where it is and what you’re looking for. I’d even say it’s a secret garden.

On summer and early fall Tuesdays and Thursdays, this collective teaching garden opens a teeny farm stand to the public, selling bunches of whatever it has enough of that week. Today there were zucchinis as large as my forearm and delicate bundles of mint. I opted for an imperfect cucumber, a bright yellow summer squash, a wad of yellow and green beans, and some mixed lettuces. Four lonely zucchini blossoms tempted, but I’ll wait for next week when hopefully the crop will be larger – this week’s torrential rain wiped out most of the delicate flowers.

With the recent heat and humidity, cooking has not seemed appealing. I’d completely forgotten about the nearby veggie patch; this week’s local crop has inspired me again. Thank you, secret garden.

Categories
Food Personal

Party Sandwiches

There is no rational explanation for my obsession with party sandwiches.

Small rectangles of the most boring soft, crustless white or whole-wheat bread, layered with chopped egg salad or canned tuna or salmon, some in double-decker combinations: there is nothing remotely exciting about party sandwiches. You could easily make them yourself. And yet if you try, they never taste the same.

Bland comfort food at its finest, trays of party sandwiches have consoled mourners at post-funeral gatherings in my family ever since I was a child. When my maternal grandmother died I made sure to order plenty for everyone who came to pay their respects.

If I’m sick and my tummy is not up for the usual curries or sushi or tacos, I crave a plate of party sandwiches.

More recently, party sandwiches have become my go-to travel and pre-trip food. The night before an early flight, they serve as a light supper. Perfect plane food, too. Small and compact, and not too smelly.

Party sandwiches are plain. They are unassuming. They don’t make a fuss.

In the end, they’re just sandwiches. But like anything that’s greater than the sum of its parts, they’re also so much more.

Party sandwiches, potato knish, dill pickles
Categories
Food

Smoothie Adventure

Blender

There sat the word on my “Things to Get” list for well over a year. As a smoothie-lover, my $40, 14-speed Osterizer just wasn’t cutting it anymore. Barely crumbled ice cubes, lumpy date residue… I needed to face facts: my smoothies were sad.

During a trip to warmer climes this past winter, our living quarters were graced with some positively kick-ass blenders. They whirred like a boss. Frozen drinks abounded. I quickly became spoiled.

With the return of hot and humid weather in Montreal, I’ve been motivated to find out just what those magical blenders were, and where I could get one.

Several emails and one Amazon order later, the Oster Versa Performance Blender is mine. It’s got 1,100 watts of mighty melding power. And I’m in smoothie heaven.

Chocolate Banana Smoothie

  • Servings: 1
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1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 pitted date (for sweetness, you can use another type of sweetener if you prefer, like honey)
1 frozen banana chunks
1 tbsp. cocoa powder
2 tsp. nut butter, any kind (I like trying various nut-butter combos from Nuts to You)
1-2 ice cubes (optional, if you have a high-performance blender they’ll give your drink a more slushie-like texture)

Put all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth.

I have this smoothie for a quick breakfast at least a few times a week.

This recipe is a variation of the original Vegan Chocolate Milkshake from Food52.

Pineapple Mango Smoothie

  • Servings: 1
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1/3 cup fresh pineapple, cubed (I’m sure canned would be fine too)
1/2 cup frozen or fresh mango, cubed
1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk (you could use water, regular milk, or orange juice if you prefer)
3 tbsp. orange juice (optional)
1 tsp. honey (or your preferred sweetener, like agave or cane sugar)
3 ice cubes

Put all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth.

This smoothie has a delicious Creamsicle-like flavour. I may try a few drops of vanilla next time to boost that impression.

This recipe is a variation of the original Tropical Smoothie from the Oster Versa Fresh & Fit Recipe Guide.

Got a favourite smoothie recipe? I’d love to know about it.

Categories
Automattic Food

Growing Garlic Redux

While we’re contending with frigid temperatures here in Montreal (“feels like” -27C / -17F tonight!), next year’s crop of 101 garlic bulbs happily hibernates beneath the ground in my backyard.

Some of you may remember that my flash talk at last fall’s Automattic all-company Grand Meetup revolved around garlic gardening, and back in September I posted a garlic-growing guide based on the talk. The video of my talk is now available – if you’re intrigued about growing garlic and have four minutes to spare, check it out:

The original slides are here in case you’d like to watch them alongside the video: