Thursday, July 19, 2012

Auberge des Cevennes: A refuge from a summer storm

Our first night of a 5 day trip in the Saguenay and Quebec City region was spent in L'Anse Saint-Jean on the Saguenay Fjord. It was a well located first stop on our circle tour of the Saugenay Fjord. The town, is in fact, the only small town that is located directly ON the fjord at water level.  So it gives you a view of the magnificent Saguenay that is difficult to get elsewhere.

We spent only one night at Auberge des Cevennes in L'Anse Saint-Jean but we wish we could have spent another. We arrived at the end of a long days drive from Montreal.  Lugging our luggage up two sets of stairs to our 3rd floor room seemed a bit daunting at first.  But the room opened onto a shaded shared veranda with comfortable chairs and tables. The view to the St Jean River and out to the mountains that cradle the fjord was rejuvenating.

We quickly dumped the luggage and went out for a walk down to the town's old Covered Bridge (which once graced the back of the Canadian $1000 bill). The bridge is well maintained, in active use, and is decorated on the interior with a set of paintings by a number of local artists depicting the town and it's inhabitants at various times of the year.

We had hoped to walk to the small harbor but we were chased inside by the sounds of thunder. The view from our veranda of the approaching storm rolling off the hills across the Saguenay Fjord was spectacular.

We took a short nap on a very comfortable bed and awoke hungry. Fortunately we had decided ahead of time to have dinner at the Auberge. So glad we did. The food was excellent, freshly prepared with many local ingredients. We had a seat beside a window with more views of the storm and the beauty of the surrounding region.   Our server's  English wasn't much better than my French but we communicated nonetheless with much pleasantness.

Breakfast the following morning was not elaborate but it was very good. we had eggs fixed how we wanted them, fruit, pastries (cereals were also available). Jerry had ham with his eggs and I had a crepe. Very good coffee and that view again. (oh...and a yummilicious blueberry/raspberry muffin to start off the meal....I know, I know...some would stop there...but that wouldn't be me would it?)

If you are not familiar with staying in nearly century year old auberges, please be forewarned...the stairs are narrow and a bit steep, floors tend to slant every which way, and there was no a/c, but there was a ceiling fan, pedestal stand, and screens on the window.  However, I have to say that it was a bit warm and stuffy for us at nap time. But in all fairness the region was also having unusually warm temperatures.   The bathroom (which was en suite) was, of course, added after the fact and is small and basic.  The water pressure wasn't the best.  But all in all, everything worked and it was adequate.  There was a small coffee maker which was greatly appreciated since we need a jolt to get us moving in the morning. And had it been winter (and yes this auberge is open all year) there was a fireplace near the door to the veranda.

The auberge has a small garden with chairs , a glider swing and bird feeders. Like virtually all Quebec homes in the summer, there was a riot of color in the garden from day lilies, hostas, petunias, and hydrangeas. There is ample off street parking convenient for getting your luggage into the Auberge.

The website doesn't have an English version but I just used Google Translate and that worked fine.  Email correspondence with the owners, Enid and Mario was quite adequate in English. Their website is:

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Coconut Cupcakes and the Smell of Homemade Chicken Soup

Joe Natural's is a delightful store and cafe in little Leipers Fork in Tennessee about 40 minutes out of downtown Nashville.  Joe's sell all sorts of local produce and products from eggs to honey to cheese and breads.  Oh and fresh baked cakes and cupcakes....the coconut cupcake was to die for. We were early in the day so we didn't stay for lunch but the smell of homemade soup coming from the kitchen certainly made us want to linger.

Joe Natural's in Leipers Fork, TN

The local farm store

lsOne of two charming eating areas
Joe Natural's website is:  They are also on twitter at @joenaturals

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Charming Brown Headed Nuthatches at Cape San Blas Light

There were tall long needled pines standing around the base of the Cape San Blas Light.  While enjoying the view of the Light in late afternoon sun I heard the distinctive chatter chirp in the trees of a little nuthatch.  I took these photos with my new Panasonic Lumix and was so happy with how they turned out.  I took and watched the happy trio poking around for lunch in the bark for a long time. It made a nice afternoon memory.
Which way did he go???

Belly up to the bar boys!  There was a small hole of some sort right by the middle birds beak that they kept digging around in for lunch.

Now you see me, now you don't? Hey...I'm right in the middle!

Sugar Sand Beaches, Turtle Nests, Mullet and a Wheaten: St Joseph Peninsula on the Florida Panhandle

On our way north to Nashville we stopped for delightful nights at the Cape San Blas Inn on the St Jospeh Peninsula just outside Port St Joe on the Florida Panhandle.  A quiet, friendly backwater of a place there are no big highrise condos or hotels...just beach homes, a few inns, and a few low rise condo complexes.  There are miles of white WHITE sand beaches with few people on them.  There is a quiet bay between the peninsual and Port St Joe that provides for sheltered boating and kayaking.

The Cape San Blas Inn was a wonderful quiet spot with a long dock into the bay where we sat in a hot tub at moonrise.  We walked across the street and down a sandy lane to the beach within 5 minutes. There were turtle nests marked off as out of bounds, mullets surfing in the swells hitting the beach, families fishing (those mullet weren't biting), and firm sand perfect for walking. Afterwards we had a lovely room to rest in with a small fenced patio and comfy bed.  Breakfasts were delicious and we enjoyed meeting some of our fellow travelers over the meal.

We hope to return to this lovely quiet spot on the panhandle one day to linger a little longer.

Jerry walking on the St Joseph Peninsula Beach. The water was warm that day and there were few people about even though it was a Saturday.

Caution: Turtle Nest.  It is turtle nesting season in the area and we saw at least 5 of these marked nest in just a short 1 mile stretch of beach.  A happy sight.

Jerry talking to the family of fishermen...not catching much, but they were having a great time.

Look careful...those are mullet bodysurfing in the surf...just about 10 feet of shore

The Cape San Blas Light.  No I didn't walk up to the top. If the prospect of walking up the steps wasn't daunting enough...I'd would have had to walk up a spiral set INSIDE that white tube.  No thanks!

Right across from Cape San Blas Inn is a small groups of businesses where you can buy real estate, beer, eggs, hamburgers, souvenirs and of course coffee & ice cream.

Moon rise over the bay off the Cape San Blas Inn dock

Sunset looking towards the tip of the St Joseph Peninsula

Rocky, the adorable sometime-resident Wheaten Terrier.

CMA Music Fest. Something for Everyone in Nashville

For 6 years now we've been making the pilgrimage to Nashville each June to partake in the massive CMA Music Fest celebrating country music and raising money for the Nashville School District's Music Program.  All the performers come with their bands and perform free on one of the many stages during the day throughout downtown Nashville or on the big stage at one of the 4 nightly concerts at LP Field.  All proceeds go to the Nashville regional school district to support music education (primarily the purchase of instruments).  All types of people from 50 states (and this year 27 countries) come to enjoy the madness.  And there is something for everyone: bluegrass pickers on small stages to Carrie Underwood at the massive LP Field, from rockabilly bands to country rocker Jason Aldean.  Here are a few photos to give you a taste of the Fest, you can see the complete set of my photos on my Flickr is the link:

Broadway Signs
Littel Big Town
Glen Campbell giving a poignant performance at LP Field

The Old and the New of Downtown Nashville

One of many stages in downtown Nashville during the CMA Music Fest

Carrie Underwood rocking the Short Shorts on LP Field

Our wonderful Dancing Man...floating and dancing throughout every concert at LP Field

Brad Paisley and special guest Hank Williams, Jr.

Saying hello to the Mounted Police Ponies

Monday, March 19, 2012

Butterflies (and Moths) Go Free!

Montreal's Jardin Botanique brightens a Quebec winter every year by hosting Butterflies Go Free in their Arboretum for 10 weeks from mid February to the end of April.  The arboretum filled with bromeliads, orchards, bonsais, ferns, exotic fruit trees and more is a delight all by itself.  But when you add Butterflies and Moths to the mix it is transformed into a land of enchantment.

So first...the moths.  (all information comes from the very informative brochure provided at exhibit)
Moths tend to stay in the shadow out of the sun.  Moths have to shiver to generate the heat they need to fly about to search for food and a partner.  Moths tend to be more stocky and furry (as opposed to the sleeker butterfly).  When at rest, moths keep their wings spread apart.

These are Cobra Moths which are very large.  The male can detect a female several kilometers away
This next moth is my VERY FAVORITE ON THE PLANET!  I just stood mesmerized staring at this beauty.  I think it looks likes a tiny cirque d' soleil dancer.  So magical!

Luna Moth

This is actually a butterly although its colors are "mothlike" and it is active at dusk...which is why it was in the "moth building".  We loved it's "eyes" on its wings.

Owl Butterfly
I thought these little guys were leaves stuck to a wall at first.  They are Blinded Sphinx Moths.  Their leaf colored wings help them hide against trees during the day.  

Blinded Sphinx Moth
And now to the Butterflies...jewels of the sky.  The blue morphos were brilliant but very hard to photograph because they were almost always flitting about and when they did rest, they folded up their beautiful blue wings to show the drab brown exteriors (best to hide from the bad guys).One of the best pictures I got was of a Dad trying to take a picture of his daughter with the butterflies flying all around her head.  What he didn't know was there was a brilliantly blue morpho on his shoulder

There were so many incredible can view them all on my flickr set Montreal: Butterflies Go Free 2012 at 

Here are a few of my favorites:

Sugar Shack Time!

Throughout the maple syrup regions of Quebec, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine there is a tradition of the Sugar Shack: big and small, private and commercial.  Once the sap starts to flow in late winter and families and coops start boiling the sap to make maple syrups, then you see sugar shacks popping up throughout countryside and towns.  Sugar Shacks are simple or fancy, small cabins or large log buildings with one thing in common: great food and maple syrup. There's usually a roaring fire and/or an outdoor fire pit.  And of course, at least for the ones in the countryside, a chance to see how maple syrup is refined from the sap and how to make a maple syrup lollipop (pour syrup on snow/ice....wait until it sets up...put stick in congealing syrup and roll it up...proceed to enjoy)

We decided to come up in March this year with the hopes of hitting sugar shack season.  I called too late to get reservations at Martin Picard's PDC Cabane d' Sucre (so that will be on next year's list) so we decided to take a ride out into the countryside near the Richelieu river and eat at Erabliere Charbonneau in Mont St-Gregoire.

Erabliere Charbonneau is located about 40 minutes from downtown Montreal on the slopes of Mont St Gregoire.  There are maple trees for syrup and extensive apple orchards.  Something for many seasons.  The sugar "shack" is actually a large, multi-roomed, honey colored log building with broad covered verandas.  There is a nice fire pit with swings and benches.  The only problem for our visit?  It was 72 degrees!!  No snow.  No fireplace. But there was still great food and maple syrup.

We sat at a table in a high ceiling room humming with happy voices of happy eaters.  We had:

pickled beets
pickled tomato relish
white bean soup
maple covered sausage
bacon rinds
roasted potatoes
baked beans
meat pies (absolutely yummy)
apple juice
fresh milk
maple sugar pie
All with a BIG carafe of maple syrup

After stuffing ourselves, we walked around the property out to the apple orchards.  Visited the little "barnyard" where there were goats, a very inquisitive llama, and turkeys (apparently Annette is a "turkey whisperer:" because she got the male to "chat" with her.)

We stopped in the "syrup making" building where they were finishing up the last of the syrup for the season.  Apparently the high temps of the last week (and especially of  the past few days) has caused the sap to slow down.  They said the "water" or sap is now cloudy which means it isn't good.  So their work is done for the season. I'm pretty sure they would have hoped for at least a few more weeks.

where they make the maple syrup
Making maple syrup "pops"
We enjoyed our drive to the countryside, we had a very good lunch, and we will try sugar shack again next year. We're just hoping for some snow and cold enough weather to warrant a big fire in the fireplace.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Montreal: An exploration of food: Part Two: Toque!

Wednesday was snowy in Montreal.  Thursday was rainy.  Friday was gray and drizzly. The weatherman had promised a warm-up and a glimpse of spring and we were impatient. So we were glad that we had long ago made lunch reservations for Toque! (900 Jean-Paul-Riopelle Place, Montreal) located across the street and small park from the Montreal Convention Center (Palais des Congres).

As we walked through drizzle and gray we were greeted by the welcoming beacon of the Toque! sign which seemed to promise felicity and spring.

Restaurant Toque!

The restaurant has tall ceilings, light colored woods, blues and earthtone colors and simple clean lines.  Floor to ceiling windows brought in delicious light from the outside and well modulated interior lighting provided complementary soft and warm light. The room is elegant without being stuffy.  Distance between tables is generous and interior noise levels were perfect.  As much as we love the hustle and bustle of a place like Joe Beef or Pied de Cochon, the fact is that Jerry doesn't hear that well (blame it on working around Navy aircraft long ago) and we often can't really hold a conversation at that type of restaurant.  So here we sat in a light-filled room with the pleasant hum of happy eaters and looking forward to a long chat and good food.

The Bar at Toque!

Toque! is owned by Christine Lamarche and Normand Laprise. The current chef is Charles-Antoine Crete. Much has been written about this team of "artists" as the Toque! website refers to them.  There have been many awards and stars.  Now it was our turn to see what all the fuss is about. 
Fortunately for us, the  food and service did not disappoint.  The flavors were...well...spring like.  Fresh, light and yet somehow complex, and perfectly seasoned. Our waiter and wait staff were very helpful.  For the first course (of the 2-course lunch): I had the cauliflower soup, a slightly richer version than we had at Joe Beef the night before).  I liked it very much.  Jerry had a lemon cream with salt cod on toast...see the picture was really, really good.  A delight to the eye and palate.

Lemon Cream and Salt Cod with radish and green magic (my words not Toque!)

For the main course, I had the skate fish which was perfectly was the first time I've eaten skate (a type of ray) and I love the firm texture and delicate taste.  Jerry had the flank steak...also perfectly prepared.

Flank Steak


Finally for dessert we shared a plate of "made just two minute ago" churros with chocolate dip and Illy coffee.   I'll never eat another churro in my life without comparing them to these (and I'm sure they will never match up).

Fresh, FRESH, Churros and chocolate      

All in all, it was a well-priced two course meal delivering fresh flavors on a cold gray day in a comfortable, light filled space.  What more could we ask for on a late winter day...except maybe that promised sun.

Restaurat Toque!
900 Place Jean Paul Riopelle, Montreal, QC H2Y 3X7 T:514-499-2084