Living in maple heaven / Vivre au paradis de l’érable

maple buckets

Gathering maple sap the old-fashioned way. Photo: Patricia Maunder

March may as well be renamed Maple in Québec. In the province that produces three-quarters of the world’s maple syrup, it’s literally flavour of the month when the harvest of maple sap begins. It’s a sign that spring is here, and it’s time to eat even more maple goodness than usual, from the traditional meals at maple farms, to seasonal treats, including maple beer and latte.

In Australia I had a choice of two brands of maple syrup in nearly identical bottles. It’s fairly pricey there, so used sparingly, and limited to but a few dishes (particularly pancakes), or entirely absent no thanks to maple-flavoured syrup – urgh! Now I live in the sweet spot of the maple universe: it’s way cheaper; there are as many ‘brands’ as there are maple farms (so thousands); it’s available in different grades, from golden/delicate to dark/strong; it’s a pleasure not limited to syrup form; and, especially at this time of year, it’s everywhere – even on the Canadian flag! Continue reading

I love afternoon tea / J’adore le thé d’après-midi

ritz

Afternoon tea at Montreal’s Ritz-Carlton hotel. Photo: The Ritz-Carlton

Afternoon tea is one of my favourite things in life. I keep a lookout for exceptional examples of this time-honoured indulgence when travelling, so while I’ve never stayed at London’s Ritz or New York’s Plaza, I have enjoyed a few hours at these hotels, living the life of luxury without the massive bill. Beyond five-star hotels, distinctive tearooms can also deliver memorable moments, such as Angelina in Paris and Gunners Barracks on Sydney’s majestic harbour.

I love afternoon tea close to home, too, because above all it’s a chance to press pause on ordinary life and share some special time with friends. Back in Melbourne, I regularly indulged at the historic Windsor Hotel, or at one of many unique tearooms (State Parliament’s hushed, wood-panelled dining room is one the city’s best-kept afternoon tea secrets). So I was disappointed by the comparatively limited afternoon tea options when I arrived in Montreal, but lately things have been looking up. In fact, I’d say there’s a little afternoon tea renaissance going on here. Continue reading

Meat-free Montreal / Montréal sans viande

miam kram

Chu Chai’s amazing Miam Kram – one of my favourite dishes in Montreal. Photo: Patricia Maunder

There’s a strange divide in Montreal’s dining scene: on one side a surprising number of vegetarian, even vegan, cafes and casual restos (the local, bilingual slang for restaurants), while with few exceptions anywhere that’s a bit fancy has almost nothing (or literally nothing) without meat, fish or seafood. There’s obviously a substantial population here that doesn’t eat animal products, but either few of them have much money, or most big time chefs have trouble conjuring interesting dishes not centred around flesh.

For most this divide is invisible, but for vegetarians (végétariens) and vegans (végétaliens) living in or visiting Montreal, here’s my take on the good food on offer – including a couple of fancy restaurants that not only cater to us, but also understand that we’re not birds limited to seeds and greens. Continue reading

The Cider Route / La Route du Cidre

Some of the apply delights available for tasting at Michel Jodoin. Photo: David Musgrave

Some of the apply delights available for tasting at Michel Jodoin. Photo: David Musgrave

On my first visit to Canada in 2003, I went to Ontario’s Niagara-on-the-Lake wine region, and tasted ice wine for the first time. Appropriately, I sipped while looking across the snow-covered vineyard at Inniskillin, a pioneer of this style of dessert wine that involves harvesting grapes frozen on the vine.

When I moved to Montreal, I discovered that Québec has its own take on this Canadian innovation. While there aren’t many grapes here, there are a lot of apples, so about 20 years ago someone invented ice cider. Like ice wine, it’s a viscous, sweet and delicious dessert wine.

I’ve enjoyed many a glass of ice cider over the past few years, as well as the quality sparkling cider that’s made in these parts, but only recently did I make my way to some of the cideries that produce it. Turns out there’s an official Cider Route in the Montéréregie region, which is directly across from the island of Montreal. Finding myself in pleasant countryside, tasting good cider at the source, less than an hour’s drive from downtown, was a very pleasant surprise! Continue reading