A Culinary Tour of Old Montreal

 

On a recent trip to the lovely city of Montreal, I felt I was almost in France–but without the long plane ride! Because my vacation would not have been complete without a thorough sampling of the local cuisine, I signed up for a tour called “Flavours and Aromas of Old Montreal.”

Our tour was led by the very enthusiastic and knowledgeable Lorna Schectman-Greenberg of VDM Global Tours. We headed to Old Montreal on foot to explore some of the best hidden food purveyors in town. Not only was Lorna extremely well-versed in the cuisine of Montreal, she also had extensive knowledge of the history, culture and architecture of the city. We were lucky to have such a well-informed guide to lead us through the charming cobblestone streets of Old Montreal.


The white pâté is duck foie gras and the darker pâté with the cornichon is duck and veal.

Our first stop was at “Marche de La Villette,” a French restaurant and butcher shop with a marvelous selection of gourmet meats, cheeses, and condiments. We sampled two types of pâté, both served on perfect slices of baguette. One was a blend of veal and duck, and the other, a duck foie gras. This tasting required me to make two exceptions to my usual dietary restrictions–veal and foie gras. I don’t normally consume either because of the inhumane treatment the animals typically endure in the production of these foods, but because it was part of the tour and as only two small bites were provided, I made an exception. I found these pâtés to be a little coarser in texture than most pâtés I’ve had before. They were hearty and substantial, perfectly seasoned, and full of flavor. Despite leaving the restaurant with a bit of a guilty conscience for the sake of the animals, I must say I thoroughly enjoyed both decadent bites.


Our second destination was a Portuguese bakery called “Cantinho de Lisboa,” famous for their pastéis de nata. These bite-sized egg custards in flaky crusts were luxuriously rich, but also quite delicate. The light crunch of the phyllo-style crust combined with the cool creamy custard filling was the perfect juxtaposition of textures. While the Portuguese population of Montreal is quite small, this bakery has made an indelible mark on the culture and cuisine of Old Montreal and is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike.

It is thought that pastéis de nata was created by Catholic monks at a Portuguese monastery sometime before the 18th century. Because convents and monasteries used large quantities of egg-whites for starching clothes, such as nuns’ habits, there were many egg yolks left over. Pastéis de nata was created to make use of the excess egg yolks.

Our next stop was “Masion Christian Faure,” a patisserie owned and operated by award-winning French pastry chef, Christian Faure. In addition to the restaurant and patisserie, Chef Faure opened a cooking school at this location in 2013 to teach authentic French pastry making techniques in Canada. We sampled their macaroons. Given the variety of offerings, it was a difficult decision but I opted for the coconut flavor. It was delicate and light, with just the right combination of crunch and chew. Taking a cooking class here is definitely on my bucket list!

There was a variety of macaroon flavors to choose from including pistachio, cassis, strawberry, coconut, mocha and chocolate.
The patisserie also had a dazzling assortment of pastries and cakes.

We then trekked to a restaurant-bar along the St. Lawrence River waterfront called “Faste Fou.” Here we sampled smoked meat sandwiches, a signature dish of Montreal. While no one knows for sure who “officially” introduced smoked meat to Montreal, experts seem to agree that the dish is likely Romanian and Jewish in origin. Beef brisket is salted and brined in spices before being smoked and cooked. Sliced thinly, it is typically served on rye bread with plain mustard. It is often likened to pastrami, but it comes from a different part of the animal and I found the flavor to be a bit more subtle.


Our final stop was “Delices Erable & Cie,” a boutique that specializes in maple products. Quebec leads the world in maple syrup production and maple products are considered emblematic of Canada, so no food tour would be complete without a maple sampling. In addition to multiple types of maple syrup, this shop offered maple coffee and tea, maple candy, maple butter, maple mustard, maple gelato…you get the idea! I enjoyed tasting the wide array of samples that were available in the store. I purchased some of their maple pork rub and a cranberry-maple-nut topping for baked brie. I look forward to sharing these goodies, along with memories of my trip, with friends back home.


While not included in our tour, Lorna also educated us about two other important foods of Montreal: poutine and the Montreal bagel. Of course I would have been remiss not to give them both a try while there! 

There are gourmet versions of poutine involving things like foie gras, duck breast, and steak, but the classic version is comprised of french fries topped with cold cheese curds and hot gravy. Poutine cannot be considered a diet food by any stretch of the imagination but it is a filling comfort food apropos for fueling young hockey players and long Canadian winters.

The Montreal bagel differs from most bagels in that it is dipped in honey-water before cooking and is baked in a wood-fired oven which gives it a somewhat smokey flavor. It is served with cream cheese or butter and is typically eaten for breakfast.


The tour provided an excellent overview of the multi-cultural food legacy of Montreal. It was a delight to experience these foods and discover hidden purveyors I would never have found on my own. If you have the opportunity to visit Montreal, I encourage you to explore the unique cuisine of this lovely city. You’ll be glad you did.

Note: All opinions expressed are my own. I have not received compensation of any kind from any of the establishments mentioned in this post. 

Learning to Sew

 

I began learning to sew when I was in the eighth grade. I begged my mother to teach me much earlier, but she believed I should wait and learn the “correct” way by taking a home economics class at school. I remember eagerly buying my first pattern, a smock top with a yoke, heart-shaped pockets, and butterfly sleeves. (Yes, I know I’m dating myself here!) I searched the fabric store for just the right fabric, thread and notions. I selected a white cotton background with little navy blue sailboats floating across it. The yoke and pockets were a coordinating navy blue and I trimmed it with oversized rick rack. As a first attempt, the end result was amateurish, but I wore it proudly and couldn’t wait to tackle my next sewing project.

While I no longer have the original pattern for my first sewing project, I was able to find this picture of it online.

In the years following, I made much of my own clothing, taking on increasingly more difficult projects. I must admit that I was not a perfectionist about my early stitching endeavors. Impatient to get the piece finished, I usually sped through the process, leaving puckers, crooked top stitching, uneven hemlines and other signs of a novice seamstress in my wake!

I made this pattern later in high school. Looking at it now, I can see that there was no way I could have done a good job on such a complicated pattern with my beginner sewing skills. With its inset yoke, pleated bodice and lots of top-stitching, my garment must have looked very homemade.

My sewing skills did improve over the years and my interests later shifted from clothing to home decor. Sewing for the home is relatively easy compared to making clothing, as it tends to be mostly straight line stitching. I’ve probably saved thousands of dollars by making my own curtains, duvets, pillows and slipcovers. One of my greatest pleasures is revamping a tired room with fresh pillows or new curtains and I love giving my home a custom look on a budget.

I made this pillow from a vintage cotton sugar sack that I purchased at an auction years ago. While faded, I could make out the words “Hershey” and “Cuba” on the fabric. After a bit of research, I learned that Hershey’s owned a large sugar plantation and refinery in Cuba between 1916 – 1947. The sugar was imported to supply the growing chocolate empire in Pennsylvania.

 

Another pattern I made during my high school years. The classic wrap dress will never really go out of style.

Given the influx of inexpensive textile imports over the past few decades, it is often no longer cost effective to make one’s own clothing or home furnishings. However I still enjoy the process of occasionally pulling out my sewing machine and creating something unique.

I made five pairs of these white linen drapes about ten years ago and have used them in three different homes since then.

Did you ever sew a garment or something for your home? Do you remember your first sewing project? If so, I’d love to hear about your creations.

 

Blind Wine Tasting Party

One of my favorite things to do is visit wineries and participate in their tasting programs. At winery tastings, one usually samples a flight of five or six of the winery’s current offerings. But a winery-style tasting certainly is not the only way to taste wine. There are vertical tastings, horizontal tastings, wine-food pairings, Old World vs. New World comparisons, etc. Tastings can be designed according to your budget and can be tailored to the skill level and interests of your guests.
While we were waiting for our guests to arrive, we started off the evening with a little sparkling Spanish Cava, rosemary-parmesan popcorn and watermelon, mint and feta kabobs.
Regardless of the type of wine tasting, the primary goal is to have fun and enjoy the wine! Secondarily, tastings are an opportunity to train your nose and palate to appreciate the subtle and not-so-subtle characteristics of each wine.
I decided to host a blind tasting, which is a tasting where guests are kept unaware of the wines’ identities. I disguised the labels of five wines of different varietals. Guests were asked to identify the varietals from a list of options.
I believe that wine is best when accompanied by food so I added a “grazing table” so that there was always something good to eat alongside the wines. A wide variety of cheeses, olives, condiments, nuts, and other “small bites” were provided to allow guests to create their own pairings.
 
  
Step by step, here’s how this event was put together.

1.  Select your wines. I selected five wines, consisting of two whites and three reds. I chose single varietal wines because I knew blends would likely be difficult for my friends to decipher. The only information I gave my guests was that all of the wines were from California, with one exception.

2. Cover the labels on each bottle. I made bags out of burlap fabric, tied them up with jute strings, and added tags with numbers indicating their order in the tasting. Start with the lightest wine and work your way to the boldest or heaviest. If you don’t know how to order the wines, the internet is there to help you.
For whites:  http://winefolly.com/review/beginners-white-wines-list/
For reds:  http://winefolly.com/tutorial/the-spectrum-of-boldness-in-red-wines-chart/)

3.  Give clues.  A card with a brief description of every varietal included in the tasting was provided to each guest. This helped narrow down the options, but to make things a bit more interesting, I added one additional white and one additional red to the list that were not included in the tasting. (Yep, this threw off even the best tasters in the group!)4. Provide cards for scoring, rating, and guessing the varietal. This gives your guests an opportunity to reflect upon the flavors and characteristics of each wine, to indicate how much they liked it, and to make their best guess at the varietal. I added a few additional questions for bonus points in case there was a tie. Here’s a free editable download of the card I designed: eclecticgirldesigns.com/winetastingscorecard.docx

This tasting consisted of all California wines with the exception of one–a 2012 Cabernet Franc from my native Virginia. I gave my guests a hint that the exception was not a well-known wine region, but no one was able to identify that it was from Virginia.

 

5. Decant each wine before pouring. Although this step is not essential, virtually every wine benefits from decanting. It oxygenates the wine and allows it to “breathe.”  Decanting enhances and softens the flavors in the wine, particularly young wines and is a trick than can make an inexpensive wine drink much better. It also helps remove any sediments that have accumulated in the bottle. Even a brief decanting of 5 or 10 minutes can make a big difference.

6.  Provide a spittoon. This is a container for pouring out wine that isn’t wanted. Tasting wine is a very individual experience and you shouldn’t be offended if not everyone likes everything you serve. I used an ironstone pitcher but any opaque container will work.

7.  Reveal and tally. After all the wines have been tasted, reveal the labels. Tally up the scores and determine the winner.

And the winner is…Tamar! She has a superior palate, correctly identifying all but one wine, and she got almost every bonus question correct.
The prize was a gift basket filled with cheese tasting goodies–because a bottle of wine would have been just too cliché!

This is the first wine tasting party I’ve hosted but it certainly won’t be the last. It was fun, interactive, and provided an atmosphere of good-natured competition that allowed us to get to know one another better.

Putting a wine tasting party together isn’t difficult. It takes a little time to select the wines and assemble the foods, but because I chose to serve mostly prepared foods, it didn’t require a lot of time in the kitchen. I was able to spend most of the evening enjoying the company of my guests. It also provided an opportunity to share some the special wines from my cellar.
If you decide to try a wine tasting at your next gathering, remember it isn’t rocket science and shouldn’t be an intimidating experience. The most important thing to remember is to have fun!

Ironing Monograms

While perhaps viewed as remnants of a bygone era, few household items are more elegant and luxurious than monogrammed linens. If you are lucky enough to have inherited some heirloom monogrammed pieces, I encourage you to use them! But if, like me, you didn’t inherit such works of art, take heart. They can be easily found at estate sales, antique shops, and of course, online. They can also be purchased new. Knowing how to iron these beautiful pieces is key to making them look their best.

There are only a few essential supplies: a spray bottle filled with water, spray starch (if desired), a clean fluffy towel, and a hot iron.

Using a spray bottle filled with water, dampen your fabric evenly and thoroughly. You definitely don’t want it dripping wet, but it should be damp enough to produce some steam when ironed.

Fold your items loosely and let sit for at least 15 minutes. This step is crucial to getting a nice smooth finish. Letting the fabric rest allows the fibers of the fabric to absorb the moisture and relax before ironing. This also applies to cotton and linen clothing, so don’t forget this step if you want a crisp finish.

Then set your iron on a high setting. (Usually the settings for cotton or linen work well, but know your iron. Some irons run significantly hotter than others and you don’t want to scorch the material.) Lay your monogram face down on a clean terry cloth towel. I like to use a bit of spray starch at this point, but it is not necessary, just a personal preference. Begin ironing on the backside of the monogram.

Sometimes the fabric shrinks up around the monogram after washing, so you may need to pull the fabric taut to help it lie flat. Pressing the monogram into the plush terry cloth allows the monogram to gain dimension and “pop up” from the background fabric.

Once it is smooth, flip the fabric over and iron the other side, being careful to avoid ironing on top of the monogram.Take the pointed part of the iron and get as close to the monogram as possible without actually touching the monogram.

I used the same technique on this delicate embroidered runner. Ironing the floral design face down on a thick towel makes the needlework “pop up” and creates dimension.

This also works for dimensional embroidered items where you want the design to stand out.  I used this technique on this beautiful embroidered runner and the flowers nearly leapt off the background!

Heirloom linens are sturdy and can be used regularly. Knowing how to iron them properly is essential to bringing out their beauty. This technique will enhance the appearance of your linens and keep them looking sharp for years to come.