Thursday, January 5, 2012

Scenes From A (gastronomical) Canadian Winter Holiday

I've been rather unplugged the last few weeks, in the wintery wilds of Québec. My slothful existence has mostly starred red flannel snowflake pajamas, a reading chair, exquisite food and drink, late mornings, a stack of books, my mother, Tobie, his family, strong coffee, a grand piano, and a few brief appearances by friends (that means you, Liz, Lisa, and Not House!)

Other than my uninterrupted, daily rumination on what will I be when I grow up, will I ever get accepted in a Canadian residency, and how can I somehow turn lead into gold to pay next year's tuition...I threw medicine on the back burner and let other areas of my life simmer. It's been great.

Shortly after my arrival in Québec, Tobie and I swept the car off and made our way to Montréal.

When we were car-less, job-less, penny-less and living in residence 2 years ago, we'd sometimes go on imaginary dates in Canada, pretending our purple comforter was a magic blanket that would take us anywhere. We would try to outdo one another with elaborate descriptions of these dream dates. Montréal was a frequent destination when Tobie was choosing the city. We took our magic comforter to go Christmas shopping at Simon's after a crammed lunch at Schwartz's deli. Then we'd walk the dark and snowy streets looking for a quiet place to duck in for some nice wine or sugary treat. After that, it was a chilly ride back across the Atlantic.

Finally, this year we were able to live some of our magic carpet dreams. And probably shorten our lifespans a little in the process. (Apologies for the double photo posting, but until more than 10% of you look at my tumblr account, I won't feel too bad...)

I give you the lean smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz's.

 Belly up, boys! Take a moment to imagine pure deli chaos: the clink of dishware, the holler of orders, scrape of chairs, splash of fries into the oil, murmurs of 'mmm', the ring of the cash register, the smell of spiced and cured meats, salty pickles, and cherry soda. There, you have it now.

I call this photo of Tobie below, "Quintessentially Canadian".  Next to that is Perside, his sister, presenting her Jaime Oliver turkey recipe extravaganza. This was Christmas dinner, when I ate until I developed an upper right quadrant cramp. Similar to a running stitch, only this one was from eating instead.

Below is the classic 'driving home from Christmas dinner' scene. I miss being five years old, falling asleep during the ride home, having mom carrying me (while I pretended to be asleep) into the house, and being put to bed. These days it'd be an improbable feat of superhuman strength for Tobie to haul my somnolent butt out of the car, coat and all, to tuck me in.

Me proving that yoga can indeed be done in yoga jeans. Tobie reading a rag while we were waiting for our table at La Paryse. Seriously, seriously great burgers. The poppy seed bun is well worth the risk of post-meal embarrassment.

Below we are back at Schwartz's for more smoked meat love, this time with my momma-bear. She was fresh off the plane and ready for a week of gastronomical delights, including our own 'food tour' of Montréal. We all should have worn jogging suits for the trip. Not because we were jogging, but because elastic waistbands would have suited our needs a little better. Mind you, we did stand outside in -20 degree Celsius weather for over 20 mins waiting in line and shivering does burn calories. Oh yes it does. Pretty sure my lips were frozen onto my teeth in this photo.

Dinner that night at DNA. OK people, take your bucket lists out now and add, Eat At DNA in Montréal.

No, I am not getting any kickbacks for the endorsement (I wish!) I just need to convey that this was one of the most fabulous nights of dining I can remember. You need to experience this place before you die. Period.

Momma-bear had the lamb (on the left), Tobie and I had the suckling pork loin, slow cooked for 7h and then topped with salsa verde, sweet spaghetti squash, and some pureed goodness that tasted like possibly butternut squash and apple. The photos poorly represent the outstanding presentation, but it was the best I could do.

Tobie tucks in. 

The dessert was no disappointment either. 

Tobie and MB had the lime-tart (I was thinking, lime tart? What, are we eating at a hospital cafeteria in the 1950's??) But the joke was on me because the lime tart should have been called, 11 Minutes of Uninterrupted Eating Bliss involving light and (quite) sharp lime, tempered with soft, fluffy whipped cream, and a crust that would make most pastry chefs weep.

The New York cheesecake was no slouch, topped with their house-made rhubarb jam and a wafer of almond and caramel. And by no slouch I mean that it was the 'Goldilocks and Three Bears' of cheesecake--not too heavy, not too light, not too cheesy, not too bland. Juuuuuuuust right.

Not only was the food brilliant, the decor was very chic in an unpretentious way, as were the house staff. They cure their own meats in the basement and sell house-made pickles, jams, chutneys. All ingredients are locally sourced and seasonal. WIN!

After dinner we cabbed our way over to Pullman wine bar and took in the people watching, deliciously fermented grapes, and their funky atmosphere which included a chandelier of inverted glasses.

Then we returned to the hotel, drank some water, and went to bed.

Just so you don't think we're food snobs, I'd like to direct your attention to the place-setting at the restaurant where we ate dinner the following evening. Let's just also mention that the walls were wood paneled, the waitress was passive-aggressive, no, just straight-up aggressive, and all meals came with white buns and gravy. 'Nuff said.
This is what happens when Tobie chooses the restaurant.
New Year's Eve heralded the invention of a new cocktail (see my recipe posted here), more homemade gourmet feasting (courtesy of Tobie's phenomenal sister), watching fireworks from the living room window, and drinking herbal tea while discussing novels with my mother. It was all very serene. 

Speaking of serene have you ever seen how pretty a preserved hibiscus flower is when it is sitting in a little puddle of gin?  Feast your eyes.

Also, when was the last time you had a drink mixed for you by a blogger in a solar system blouse? Too long ago I bet, too long ago.

And so, another year came to a close. The last few days of my holiday were spent trying to fit into my clothes, packing, and saying goodbye to my near and dear ones. I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity to unwind a little. I know this will be the last long Christmas holiday that I will have for years, which is why only a small dose of daily guilt for my slovenly and sub-academic behavior crept into my awareness.

I'm hoping that 2012 will bring new recipes and races, great reads, light westerly winds, mentorship, adventure, and a few surprises...good surprises. And of course the answer to some of my questions...

Here's to you, 2012, whatever you will be.



Anonymous said...

1) SCHWARTZ'S. IS. THE. BEST. THING. EVER. I lierally bring three pounds of the stuff back with me every time I find myself out there. I'm glad you got the pleasure of experiencing it multiple times.

2) I *love* that picture of driving in the snow.

3) Never apologize for enjoying your vacation. Work will always be there, time with friends and loved ones won't. And after all, we do all of this so that we can have the means to enjoy ourselves. You're just cutting out the middle-men :P

Elizabeth Shouldice said...

This makes me want to head right for the Hay River airport and head (12 hours later) for Montreal. Was so wonderful to see you, even briefly. Can't wait until next time, as always.

thethingspatientssay said...

There is nothing wrong with being a food snob. Leads you to the finest locales...and teaches you appreciate the simple meals, as well.

Albinoblackbear said...

IANH-- 1) YES!! So glad you can also appreciate.

2) me never ceases to make me feel 5 years old and enjoying the magic

3) Point taken. :)

Liz--Yes, can't wait to see you again...hopefully for many and longer visits. Hope you had a great time in the NT!

TTPS--True. Just can't wait until the day comes (in 2037) when I can *afford* to be a food snob! hahah