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

Friday, March 16, 2012

Montreal: An exploration of food: Part One - Joe Beef

We arrived in Montreal on Tuesday night and woke to fat-flake snow on Wednesday morning in what appears to be the last gasp of a relatively mild winter.  We've come up for a week hoping to catch a bit of snow (done) and eat well.  We have reservations at a Sugar Shack for Monday (la cabane de sucre) a maple sugaring tradition here in Quebec and in the maple sugaring regions of vermont, new hampshire, and Maine. We finally managed to get organzied enough to snag reservations at Toque (for lunch) and Joe Beef (for dinner). Hopefully, the rainy drizzles will let up tomorrow so we can walk off some of the calories we're ingesting!

So let's start with Joe Beef.  Last night we ate at Joe Beef at 2491 Rue Notre Dame West.  Located in a modest storefront in what has been traditionally a working class neighborhood (although that is changing), Joe Beef is an inviting, unpretentious, quirky set of rooms.  No fancy table cloths, a bison head in the bathroom next to the toilet, menu on a chalkboard, and books and odds and ends strewn on wall shelves.  It's a noisy, bustling atmosphere.  But despite the bustle, one is never, ever forgotten by the wait staff.  I watched them and they were in constant motion ALWAYS looking at tables and customers to see if water needing refilling, the table needing cleaning, cutlery warranted changing, dishes cleared.  The kitcehn prepared food so we didn't feel forgotten and yet didn't feel rushed.  Our waiter was delightfully helpful navigating the menu offerings for us, explaining them in great detail with considerable patience.  He made excellent suggestions for wine and was all together just a delight.

So Many Choices!

And then there was the food.  We'd heard we MUST HAVE THE OYSTERS, so, of course, we did  And they were indeed plump, firm, pieces of heaven on a shell.  Both types of oysters were from British Columbia: Beach Hardened and Golden Marina.  Beach Hardened you ask...well they pick the oysters, put them on a beach, and let the surf pound them.  I'm not sure who thought this up or why it's a good idea,  but they were spectacular.

Oysters: British Columbia: Golden Marina and Beach Hardened

After the oysters, Jerry had the cauliflower soup which was creamy but not too heavy and contained pieces of ham hock...It was delish.  I had the cornflaked eel fritters which were light and flavorful and not heavy or greasy. They were served with 3 sauces: dijon mustard, BBQ, and tartar.  All excellent, but my fave was the BBQ.

Our main courses were the Petit Bar: a striped bass served whole stuffed with rosemary twigs, lemon pieces and juice, and fat plump capers.  I think it may have been poached in olive oil...but I'm not sure.  It was spectacular.  Very fresh flavors and perfectly cooked.  Jerry had the Truck Stop Piglet...a "block" of shredded pork served with excellent mashed potatos and pineapple.  It was surprisingly rich.  And not surprisingly, VERY delicious.

Truck Stop Piglet

Petit Bar
Desserts were two concoctions made with the "soft serve ice cream" machine.  Who knew such fun and yet sophisticated desserts who come from a soft serve ice cream machine.  We had the tutti frutti creamsicle dessert made with oranges, orange slices, and bits of "tutti frutti".  And the cream served on a pistachio cake with ample pistachio bits as a topping.  Both were yummy.

Creamsicle Tutti Frutti

The Financier

We waddled out of Joe Beef quite content and happy to have shared the bathroom with a bison (not UP on the wall...but right NEXT to the toilet) and a pronghorn antelope (which served as the toilet roll holder).

You'll Never Be Lonely in Joe Beef's Bathroom

Clever way of making sure you have a second roll

By the Way...a recommendation for menu viewing.  There is only one blackboard in each room.  If you don't want to have to strain your neck to see the board from your table or get up and down to walk over to it....take a picture of it with your smart phone.  Made it ever so easy.  And reservations are available through Open Table as well as direct with the restaurant. 

Next time.....Toque.