Monday, 29 October 2012

Pumpkin Patch

Let's be honest. Buying a pumpkin at the local grocery store, or the market, is a lot easier than going out and picking it yourself. But it's not as much fun, is it? For a few years, we've been going to a pumpkin patch out on Notre-Dame-de l'Ile Perrot. We've never had any complaints really, the pumpkins were fine, there is a wagon ride out to the field, and a maze for the kids. But because it's so close to Montreal, it's usually a little crowded.

So, this year we decided to try something new. The Centre d'interpretation de la courge du Québec is a little further from Montreal, near where we went apple-picking a few weeks ago. The name makes it sound a little dull, but don't let that fool you. We had a fantastic day out.
There was no wagon ride. Instead we grabbed a wheelbarrow, and the kids got to ride that out to the field.
I never realised how serious the business of picking out a pumpkin is.
After picking the pumpkins, the kids played in the treehouse. The tire swing was a big hit.
It was a beautiful afternoon. Now we just have to carve the pumpkins and we'll be all set for Hallowe'en.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Our Local Main Street

Every town has a main street. When I was growing up in Hamilton, Main Street was King Street (there was a Main ran parallel to King, but all the action was at King and James.) In Montreal, Main Street would probably be Ste. Catherine, or perhaps St. Laurent, which is actually nicknamed The Main.

But away from the larger context of the city, within my neighbourhood, there is St-Viateur. It's home to St. Michael's and St. Anthony's Church, which defines the local skyline every bit as much as St. Paul's Cathedral once did London's. There is Arahova's, Open Da Night (officially known as Café Olypico) and some shops. It's also home to some amazing street parties in the summer.

Here is St-Viateur, on a gorgeous morning a few days ago.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012


Montreal has a long tradition of passing things along. Around moving day people begin to leave things out on the sidewalks in front of their apartments. Usually, they do this a day or two before garbage pick-up, the idea being to give people a chance to take it home before it ends up on the scrapheap. Some of it is junk, or just unusable (after all, would you want a mattress that had been left out overnight?) But, some of it can be pretty great...classic mid-century style coffee tables, old books, board games, etc...I once had a dresser that a friend of mine had found a block and a half away and that we brought over a drawer at a time.

I've just realised that this post makes Montreal sound like a city of dumpster divers, when that isn't what it's about. I think it's just that people can't bear to think of something as being wasted. That's why the Mile End givebox seems so appealing. If you don't know what a givebox is, it's a small shed or closet-like structure where people can leave things they want to give away, and where other people can go looking for treasures.

The first givebox, as far as I know, was one in Berlin. This past summer, Local Montreal teamed up with Une Banane design collective to design and build several giveboxes. One of the giveboxes is on the corner of St-Viateur and Esplanade, just outside the Chez Latina groceteria. It hasn't taken long for the givebox to become a neighbourhood landmark. Somehow, it just seems to fit.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Borrowed recipes with a twist

We celebrated Thanksgiving this past weekend. There's no big story associate with Canadian Thanksgiving - no pilgrims, etc...As far as I know, it's just a day set aside to celebrate bringing the harvest in. I like to think of it as taking time to celebrate what we have, family, friends, and yes, food.

I love the food we eat at Thanksgiving, right down to the Brussels sprouts. Years ago, when I was vegetarian, turkey was one of the foods I missed the most. The foods my family eats are mostly not the recipes I grew up with. The cranberry sauce I remember from my childhood came from a tin (I remember being particularly impressed when it kept its shape, a stumpy jewel-red log, complete with ridges.) We didn't have pumpkin pie, we had apple pie. And the potatoes were mashed rather than roasted. But over the years, we've built our own traditions, including our own favourite foods.

Recipes have to come from somewhere. Just because they aren't treasured family recipes passed down from generation to generation, doesn't mean they can't become part of family tradition. Here are a few of my family's favourites:

Beauty paste:

This is the recipe I learned from my mother, though I suspect it comes from the Madam Benoit cookbook she had when I was growing up. I have no idea why it's called a beauty paste, but it pretty much guarantees that your turkey will come out of the oven with lovely burnished skin. You can also use it on chicken, and for roast beef. Sorry for the vague measures, but family recipes tend to go by feel.

a couple of tablespoons of softened butter
about half a teaspoon dry mustard (or you can use Dijon mustard)
salt and pepper

Mix all the ingredients. Dab liberally onto turkey, after you've already rinsed, dried and trussed it. Roast the turkey following your usual instructions (we like to put it in at the broil setting for the first five minutes, and then turn the heat down to 325C.)

Cranberry sauce

This recipe comes from "Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant," by the Moosewood Collective (Fireside Books) a book I bought when I was vegetarian, and still use regularly. The recipe is really easy, embarrassingly so, as it seems so impressive. My personal twist is that I am generous with the spices and go light on the maple syrup.

12 oz. (about 4 c.) fresh cranberries
1/2 to 2/3 cup maple syrup
Freshly grated zest and juice of 1 orange
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Wash and dry cranberries, removing any soft cranberries and any leaves or stems. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine cranberries, maple syrup, orange zest and juice, ginger, cardamom and cinnamon and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until cranberries have popped and sauce is thick. Remove from heat and cool.

Pumpkin Pie

This recipe is the one from the back of the tin of E.D. Smith Pumpkin Purée. I have met purists who used fresh pumpkin they have boiled and drained themselves, but have never felt the need to put myself through all the extra effort. I like to double up on the spices for this recipe. As well, I don't follow their instructions for the pie crust, as I find it turns out too soggy. You can use the pre-made graham crust (I bet a chocolate graham crust would work really well.) But I like to make my own crust, so I'm including my own pie crust instructions, using a recipe I originally got from Canadian Living:

1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup cold butter, cubed
1/4 cup shortening, cubed
1 egg yolk (reserve the white)
1 tsp lemon juice
ice water

In a medium bowl, mix the flour and salt. Add butter and shortening and blend with a pastry cutter. In a liquid measure, beat egg yolk with lemon juice, beat in enough ice water to make 1/3 cup. Drizzle over dry ingredients and stir into dry ingredients. Press into disc. Chill.
When you're ready, to bake, preheat the oven to 400C. Roll out the dough. Fit into a 9-inch pie plate. Trim the edge to 1-inch overhang. Then fold under and flute the edges. To blind bake the shell, you could line the shell with tin foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans. But I don't have pie weights, and don't like the idea of wasting dried beans. So, I just prick the shell all over with a fork. It seems to work well. I bake the pie crust for about 12 minutes, until it's almost, but not quite, done. Once the pie shell is cooled, brush with the egg white. This will prevent the crust from getting soggy once you add the filling.

2 eggs
1/2 can (28 oz/796 mL) pumpkin purée
1 cup (250 mL) packed brown sugar
1 tsp (5 mL) ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp (2 mL) ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp (1 mL) ground ginger
1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
3/4 cup (175 mL) evaporated milk

Beat eggs lightly in a medium bowl. Add pumpkin purée, sugar, nutmeg, ginger and salt - stir until well-combined. Blend in milk. Pour the filling into the pie shell. Cover the edges of the pie crust with tin foil. It's a little fussy, but means the crust won't burn. Bake at 425C for 15 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350C and continue baking 30-35 minutes more. Let cool.
If you want the pie to look lovely and glossy, add a glaze, apricot jam (heated and strained) works well. What works best is a teaspoon of maple syrup, brushed on with a pastry brush.

I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as I do. What are some of your favourite recipes?

Friday, 5 October 2012

Here we speak...

Every once in a while, as an Anglophone living in Montreal, you end up having to talk about language. It's part of life here, and I've come to accept it. Lately, the subject has been coming up more often than usual.

We had a provincial election here in early September. In the months leading up to the election, the politicians dusted off their old diatribes. The Anglophone community was warned if they didn't vote for the federalist Liberals, Québec would separate and we would lose all our rights. Meanwhile, the sovereingist Parti Québecois played up to the hard line nationalists. It was an exercise in cynicism, with important issues such as health care, education, economy, and the environment taking a backseat to the politics of language identity. And it all ended in a horrible tragedy on election night.

The election rhetoric of separation has stirred up emotions in a way I haven't seen since the 1995 Referendum (and yes, I was living in Montreal at the time.) Yesterday, an employee of the Société de Transport de Montréal decided to post a sign on the inside of a ticket booth window. The sign, written in French, informed people that "Here in Quebec, things are done in French." The ticket booth was at the Villa Maria metro station, in the NDG neighbourhood, which has fairly large Anglophone and Allophone populations.
                                                                                                                                                     photo by Jessica Rodrigues

I have lived in Montreal for nearly half my life. I chose to stay here, rather than move back to Ontario after university. My husband and I have chosen not just to raise our children here, but to raise them to be fluently bilingual. We speak French with our neighbours. We encourage our children to speak French when we're out with them. We even chose to send Ruby to a school in the French school system, despite having the option to send her to an English school. Oscar is at a French daycare, and he too will go through school in French. Obviously, I see how important it is to respect the French language and culture of Quebec. More than that, I care about it.

But I hate what this sign represents. I hate the callousness, the self-righteousness, and the small-mindedness of the person who thought he had the right to post a sign like this in a public place. What I would like to know is why. What was the point of the sign? To make other people feel small, or intimidated? Most people who live in Montreal already know how to ask for a couple of metro tickets in French, even if they have to stumble over their words, or they have an accent.

The hatred this sign represents worries me. When Ruby and Oscar grow up, they will speak French without an Anglophone accent. We've given up a lot to make sure of that, in terms of passing on our culture and language. But will they feel accepted as part of Québec society? Most of the time, especially in Mile End, people seem to get along with each other, regardless of language. You hear a lot of Anglophones speaking French, and Francophones speaking English, and a lot of Franglais in between. But once in a while, the language debate flares up in Québec. After a while, as an Anglophone you just get tired...Tired of apologising, tired of carrying the weight of history around with you, tired of the trouble stirred up by politicians who would rather discuss language politics than tackle bread and butter issues.

But c'est la vie, as they say. I chose to make my life here, knowing full-well that being an Anglophone would make me a target for some people's antipathy. I wasn't born here, and have no family ties here. I could move back to Ontario tomorrow. But I would miss Montreal. It has become my home. I suppose that's the problem for many Anglophones. This is our home, but every once in a while, someone makes a point of telling us we don't belong.

I'm meeting a friend for coffee later...a francophone. As usual, we'll talk about our kids, what we've been up to, plans for the weekend. As usual, we'll end up speaking mostly in French, with a bit of Franglais thrown in, and a smattering of English. And, as usual, we won't talk about language at all. I'm looking forward to it.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012


It's funny how little time it takes to build a family tradition. I don't remember ever going apple-picking when I was a child. We didn't have a car, and it just wasn't a big thing when I was growing up. Or perhaps it had to do with where I grew up.

Here in Montreal, we seem to book-end winter with apple-picking in the autumn, and cabane à sucre in the spring. It may be because our winters are so severe that we feel the need to make the most of the nice weather while we have it. Or it may be because, living in a big city, we feel the need to get back to the land in a way we didn't when I was growing up in a much smaller community.

Regardless, it just doesn't feel like autumn unless we go apple-picking. We're spoiled for choice here, as Montreal is surrounded by apple-growing regions. For instance, Oscar went apple-picking in the Montérégie with his daycare, Ruby went apple-picking in the Laurentians. We normally go as a family to pick apples at a small organic orchard in the Chateauguay Valley.

This year we couldn't make it down to the Chateauguay Valley region, and I found myself scrambling to find an orchard north of Montreal. Luckily, we found a really good one . They aren't certified organic yet, but are working towards certification, and so are using organic farming techniques. They have a large wooden play structure, a picnic area, some very well-cared-for animals (a nice change from some of the depressing menageries which pass themselves off as petting zoos that I've seen in the past.) Oh yeah, and they have a really good selection of apples.

The only downside was the traffic. Yes that's right, traffic. It seems everyone decided to go apple picking the same weekend we did. So, as we drove through this tiny little town, we hit a traffic jam, something you don't expect outside of a bigger city. But once we got to the orchard we had a great afternoon.

We now have a ridiculous amount of apples. Within the past few weeks, ever since Ruby and Oscar's outings, we have had apple pie, apple crumble, apple cake, baked apples, and applesauce. The kids have had apples packed in their lunches and as snacks.

Obviously, I'll be happy to receive any recipes calling for apples.


Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Making time for the important stuff

Sometimes, especially with kids, we just get so caught up in our routines, school, activities, chores, etc...that life itself seems to pass us by. We fell into this trap a couple of years ago-swim lessons, skating lessons, music classes-our weekends were over before they had really begun. It was Sunday evening and we hadn't really had any time to just hang out.

The problem of course, was that the kids actually wanted to do these activities, and we had a hard time saying no. But this year, when planning out the kids' weekend activities, I decided to keep our Sundays activity-free. It has meant Saturdays are mad, and that we had to sacrifice an activity or two.

But it has also meant we have one day a week set aside for us as a family-time to sleep in, have a breakfast we don't have to rush through, and go places we wouldn't get to go otherwise.

One of our favourite places to go is the Bois-de-l'Île-Bizard Nature Park. It is about a half-hour drive, depending on traffic, and the only cost is parking. There are a couple of trails, including the marsh walk. And there is even a beach.

This was the first Sunday after the kids' activities started, and already I know we've done the right thing.
How do you make time for your family?