Au Canada, Part Deux

Queen Elizabeth II street art in Old Montreal

Our second full day in Montreal (Saturday) began with pour over coffee to-go from Le Couteau and a long walk to the Mile End neighborhood so that we could hit up the original St-Viateur Bagel, who some say have the BEST Montreal bagels. (I never like to say that anyone does anything better than New York – especially bagels – but Montreal bagels are VERY good.) The walk was lovely despite some increasingly real pain in my ankles from walking up and down Mount Royal the previous day. It was sunny, windless and there were lots of people out and about with their kids, pulling them in little red wagons and such. (I forgot to mention that the previous day we saw at least three nursery school classes before 10 AM with all of the kids walking along hooked to a long leash and I felt much better the next day when I saw that most children were unleashed on the weekends, at least.)

When we got to St-Viateur it was more like a bagel factory. You had to buy bags of bagels. There were no seats. So, because I am very particular and had wanted to sit down while I ate my bagel, we walked all the way back to where we came from in order to go to the St-Viateur Bagel Café on Avenue Mont-Royal. The actual bagels were delicious but our waiter was unfriendly (probably the most unfriendly person we encountered and I wouldn’t call Montreal a friendly city) and I wasn’t super into the toppings that I got on my sandwich (seriously there must have been like four scrambled eggs).

Afterward, we took the Metro to Vieux-Montreal, the Old City. We didn’t have much of a game plan, but our first stop was the Notre-Dame Basilica, a 19th century Gothic church. We spent some time taking pictures of a monument with famous figures from Montreal’s history in a square in front of the church. (There is one Native American – though I don’t think they use that term in Canada – and one lady featured on the base of this monument. All of the other figures basically looked like fur trappers.) The church was fine. I mean, it looked like a big beautiful church. I don’t have much more to say about it than that.

It seemed like the Old City was built two hundred years ago especially for tourists today. The buildings were European and the streets were cobbled and there were lots of hotels and gift shops and even a store that only sold Christmas knick-knacks. But there were also a fair number of government and office buildings around so I’m guessing it just felt overwhelmingly touristy because it was a Saturday.

We walked along the quais and the Old Port on the St. Lawrence River, which were lovely as it was a lovely day, but otherwise not super remarkable. EXCEPT for this weird housing complex across the river that from far away looked like the underground city in The Matrix trilogy, the sight of which provoked a lot of imaginative conversation. I feel like a lot of the “attractions” in Montreal are underwhelming, but as long as you can find some interesting/weird aspect, they’re worth seeing

On our way back to the apartment, I tried to find some postcards to send to my grandmas and my great-aunt but every one I saw was ugly and I decided to hold out for some pretty ones. (Obviously, I did not purchase any postcards until we were at the train station on Monday morning on our way home.) Every souvenir shop was filled to the brim with the most wonderfully lame shit. Faux fur hats? Check. Sweatshirt with a list “You Know You’re From Canada If…” phrases? Check. T-shirt detailing things that you can find in Canada as iPhone app icons? Check.

Three Wolf Moon t-shirt – Also sold in Canada

After that, we obviously needed to rest so we hung out at the apartment for a little bit before we ventured out for an early dinner. We tried Le Chien Fumant again and were successful! Which I’m very happy about because I had one of the best meals, if not in my life, then in recent memory. Vincent and I both ordered delicious gin cocktails to start and had a Chinese fried calamari appetizer. For dinner, I ordered “pintade” without knowing what it was because it came with “creme de bacon”. After a bit of Googling, I found out that it was guinea fowl, which was a big relief. The pintade was, I am pretty sure, perfectly cooked and it sat on top of the creme de bacon, which was something like pureed cauliflower with the essence of bacon somehow magicked into it. And then there were these truly amazing Brussels sprouts on top of that so I really couldn’t have asked for anything better to eat. The only bad thing was the second drink I got, which was a Gibson infused with garlic? Don’t ask me why I ordered it. On top of the fact that it really was just alcohol mixed with more alcohol, there was also a clove of roasted garlic floating in it. So, between all of the food and a drink that tasted like a forest fire-flavored antifreeze, I’m not sure how I didn’t barf. BUT the food was so good that I’m not going to take of points for the drink. It was my fault for ordering it anyway.

With kind of disgustingly full bellies, we took a trip to the neighborhood west of us to see King Tuff play at Il Motore. We got there about forty minutes after doors opened and were the first people there. I was worried until about a half hour later, when the club started steadily filling up. The opener – whose name I forget – played like ten songs. One of them was good.

I’ve been a fan of King Tuff for a long while now, so I was psyched that I finally got out to see him. It was interesting being in a non-New York crowd for the first time in almost four years. Once the band went on, a mosh pit almost immediately began. Why? I wondered. Is it because the drinking age in Montreal is 18? This is assuming that everyone under 21 is really into moshing. (Sidenote: I can’t believe I just typed the word “moshing”.) Is it because I only go to low-energy shows? Honestly, I have no idea. I danced and sweated and had a ton of fun, but I was also pretty consistently worried that some kid was going to kick me in the eye as he flailed his way over the top of the crowd.

I was truly exhausted after a day full of walking and eating and dancing. Really, I wore my body out. So much so that I could barely walk the next morning. Walking up and down stairs was particularly excruciating. Elderly people navigated the stairs in the Metro stations better than I on Sunday. Once we got off the train, we moved slowly, painstakingly through some futuristicky tunnels and then through the misty rain, toward the Montreal Musee d’Art Contemporain. We saw exhibits on Abstraction in Quebec/Canada and the work of Pierre Dorion. I was especially impressed with the Dorion exhibit. We also saw a preview of sorts of the Brooklyn / Montreal contemporary art event that is currently happening in Montreal and will happen here in Brooklyn in January.

Underground, on our way to the museums.

We then made our way – through the pouring rain – to the Musee des Beaux-Arts. There was a large exhibit on Impressionism opening there that day. Since Impressionism is for sentimental idiots, we skipped the line and headed for the museum’s permanent collection, which was pretty underwhelming for anyone who has been to – uh, I hate to say this because it sounds really dramatic – any other museum of fine arts. One thing they do have going on though is a wing full of Napoleon-related art and artifacts which I frankly found bizarre, but which people who are into Napoleon – are their people who are into Napoleon – might like. So, if busts of Napoleon are your thing, get thee to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts!

Both Vincent and I were very cranky after our rainy museum visits, so we went back to the apartment to nap. Well, first we got bagels. Then Vincent napped. I read and took selfies on my phone in the living room.

Old Montreal at night

Once we were fully rejuvenated, we went back to the Old City – which is really beautiful and kind of creepy at night – for our Last Supper in Montreal. We ate at Garde-Manger, one of Chuck Hughes’ restaurants. I have been fascinated by Chuck Hughes ever since I saw his show, Chuck’s Day Off, on the Cooking Channel a few years ago. It’s not really that I’m fascinated by him so much. It’s more or less his accent, which is INSANE. (See here for an example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cfe7-1OkiwY ).

Anyway, Vincent had very nicely procured us a reservation and I was really excited. The meal I had fully lived up to expectations. First, we had Campari cocktails. And then some bread with this flavored cream cheese which sounds not that great I guess, but let me assure you – it was so good that I ate more than one piece of bread. THEN I had a tomato salad with cucumbers and avocado which seems normal EXCEPT that it had fried cubes of cheddar cheese in it! (Everyone should be frying cubes of cheddar cheese and putting them in every salad.) And then I had lobster risotto, which was great. Seafood is kind of their thing at Garde-Manger, so Vincent had lobster poutine followed by dorade, both of which were excellent. We left very satisfied, drunk and empty-pocketed, as we had spent ALL of the Canadian cash we had left on dinner.

In the morning, we got to the train station just in time to be almost last in line to check in. I ran around the train station just before the line started moving to collect some bagels and coffee for our trip back. Once we were settled in on the train, we swiftly realized that we were sitting in the worst possible spot – without a window and directly in front of the loudest and most Russian couple of senior citizens to have ever ridden a train.

The last Montreal bagel

This became very troublesome about an hour into the ride, when we crossed the border and the woman in this couple started freaking out about how long we were sitting there. (Not that long.) And it became even more troublesome when, about thirty miles down the track, we were stopped for over an hour while the train crew was trying to figure out a broken signal or something. This woman acted like there was no greater injustice in the world than being held in a train car on the fall foliaged shores of Lake Champlain for an indefinite amount of time. She continued to yell (really, SHRIEK) at every Amtrak employee who passed us by, even after we had started moving again, for the remainder of the twelve-hour journey.

Stuck on the tracks near Lake Champlain

And that is how I came to spend almost a full day with extremely high blood pressure, reading A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor, which is really one of the greatest travel books I’ve ever read. I finished it on the train. So, I guess one good thing came out of that train ride.

As all good things do, this trip came to a real end around 11:30 on a Monday night. I entered my apartment with two wounded ankles, four unsent Canadian postcards, at least one blog post to write and a constant craving for smoked meat sandwiches and guinea fowl. At this time, one of my ankles still hurts, the postcards remain unsent, I am just now finishing the second of two blog posts about this trip, and I’m lamely fighting off my Montreal cuisine cravings with a strict diet of salads.

Things I may have forgotten to mention:
– The toilet in the apartment we were staying in was manufactured by a company called CRANADA.
– I’m pretty terrible at speaking French now.
– I have a bunch of Canadian money (coins) in my coat pockets so holler at me if you’d like to use it.

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Au Canada, Part One

Morning in Montreal

Cross Canada off the list! After twenty-five years of living within a decent drive of the U.S.-Canadian border, I finally made it to the Great White North. I spent 3+ days in Montreal last week and now I am most interested I’ve been in Canada since I saw Michael Moore’s “Sicko” (in theaters). Or maybe since the 2010 Vancouver Olympics when every commercial that aired was the one for Canadian tourism where all of these famous actors were like “Surprise! I’m Canadian!” Anyway, Montreal was great! Let me tell you about it.

So, how is it that I ended up going there? Well, last year I discovered that taking Amtrak from New York to Montreal was only $63 (one way) and since then, I’ve been trying to put together a little getaway. Luckily, my friend Vincent was interested in taking the 12 hour rail journey with me so we bought our tickets, booked an airbnb rental apartment and we were off!

I wouldn’t say the train ride was bad. I actually kind of enjoyed the trip. I had plenty of leg room, plenty of snacks and I was able to finish the book I was reading, The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy. It actually went pretty quickly until we got to the border, where we were stopped for a seemingly unnecessary amount of time while Canadian Customs officials interrogated a few people and, as far as I can tell, detained someone because they were traveling without a passport. Also, for some reason, I got really nervous about bringing trail mix and dried fruit to Canada? On the little Customs form they give you, it asks you to declare any nuts and fruit you’re bringing into the country and naturally, I panicked about whether or not to declare my Trader Joe’s “Monkey Business Trek Mix” and “Soft & Juicy Mango”. Because ecological disaster would ensue were I to drop a piece of dried mango at the foot of Mount Royal. Anyway, I ended up declaring it and the Customs lady could not have cared LESS.

I wouldn’t say our seating situation was the worst. I mean, I get annoyed with any/all strangers I encounter and am just generally intolerant, so I was bound to find some things to complain about in this regard. Vincent and I had to sit across the aisle from one another because these two girls who were traveling alone wouldn’t budge from their window seats. The girl sitting next to me was reading an annotated version of Billy Budd when she wasn’t watching a poorly produced foreign television show on her laptop, which I found highly annoying just because…ugh, why would you want to do either of those things for twelve hours? Also, we sat behind an amateur train expert/Midwestern stereotype, traveling with his wife and his father from western Illinois, who I think has traveled on every train in America? He described all of the routes one can travel on Amtrak in great detail to the French dude sitting across from him. And when he wasn’t doing that, he was predicting the speed at which we were traveling.

We rode all the way up the Hudson and along Lake Champlain to the St. Lawrence with these people and arrived in Montreal about an hour after we were scheduled. Through a combination of sheer luck and Google Maps, we found our way from Montreal’s Gare Centrale to the correct Metro stop, which from the outside looked exactly like a not-very-well hidden entrance to a retro bomb shelter. Once we figured out that the ticket machines wouldn’t accept our primitive American debit cards – luckily, there was an ATM in the station – we bought our tickets with some crisp Canadian twenties and struggled through the turnstiles with our luggage, our pockets singing with the sweet sounds of so many one and two dollar coins of which we Americans are so naturally distrustful.

We arrived at our stop, Mont Royal, mere minutes after boarding a very clean train, which actually sort of looked like a bus that ran on a track. After a short walk through the rain, we arrived at our rental apartment on Rue de Bienville, where we were met by our host, Michelle. She kindly gave us the lowdown on the apartment and the neighborhood, Plateau-Mont-Royal. Vincent and I decided to go out and “explore the neighborhood” in the rain, which really meant that we walked around until we found a bar that looked good/definitely wasn’t a strip club. We learned two things at the bar: 1) Yes, everyone really speaks French; 2) Our waitress, who I’m not sure was representative of all Montreal waitresses, wanted to be tipped immediately after each drink. (We made sure to tip after each drink for the rest of the weekend.)

And then we ate dinner at an overpriced “microbrasserie”, like you do when you’re a tourist. We had overcooked burgers and experienced a DJ spinning 70s AM Gold tunes for a crowd of approximately seven diners. Then it was bedtime.

In the morning, our first stop was a very cool cafe at the end of our street called Le Couteau (The Knife) that was recommended to us by a friend of a friend. She said that it was run by a “sexy lumberjack” and indeed it was! It also had great decor and a mural of a knife on the side of the storefront so it was a real win-win-win situation. (The coffee was good, also!)

Latte at Le Couteau

We then made our way over to the Parc du Mont-Royal which is, as far as I could tell, pretty much made up of a mountain! I know that because we climbed it. We weren’t even trying to. I mean, we didn’t get to the top or anything because, uh, I was wearing heeled ankle boots but we did climb like 8,000 stairs up to this thing that I just found out is called the “Kondiaronk Belvedere”. (For some reason we were calling it “the Chateau”, though, when we were there?) There was an awesome view of the city from the pavilion up there.

View of the city.

The Pavilion (via Instagram)

But I forgot to talk about our grand entrance to the park, which was at the monument I’ve taken to calling “High-Five Angel”, which is right before you get to this thing that is marked on Google Maps as “Tam-Tams !!!” which we learned is the site of a large drum circle. (Makes sense, as it also looks like a good spot for my next Beltane Fire Party.)

Eastern entrance to the Parc du Mont-Royal

After we slithered our way down the mountain – literally, could barely put one foot in front of the other going down the steep path – we walked about one million miles down the Avenue des Pins. We saw (in this order): a hospital, some McGill buildings, a man sitting in the yard outside of his mansion watching his chickens peck at the grass, a park that was just like, a hill with some mud and sticks and dead leaves and one lonely bench. That’s it. It was a bleak walk to where we were going, which was…

Schwartz’s! The place to get a delicious smoked meat sandwich in Montreal. You guys, it was so good! Just look at this.

Schwartz’s Smoked Meat Sandwich

After that, we hit a couple of nearby vintage shops on Boulevard St. Laurent. We didn’t see anything we really wanted to buy – a lot of stuff was overpriced or a little too kitschy to even be considered for purchase but we DID witness a teenage boy with fabulous orthodontia and a fur stole beg his mother to buy him the top hat that he had been searching for for his “whole life”. So that was something.

A history of the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics en Francais, found in a vintage store.

That night, our big plan was to eat a French bistro called Le Chien Fumant, but we hadn’t made a reservation and got turned away at the door! So we went to La Banquise, a famous 24-hour snack bar and purveyor of many, many kinds of poutine. (Poutine is traditionally a plate of French fries with gravy and cheese curds.) After a long wait, we were finally seated. I got some regular old poutine and Vincent got his with bacon and we both drank something labeled “spicy buckwheat beer” (Coup de grisou) and neither of us died of a heart attack.

Baby’s first poutine!

Immediately afterward, we headed to an Anglophone bar called Casa del Popolo. Fun place! Full of McGill students that night, I think. I say that because many people looked pretty young and a lot of them were complimenting each other on how “hipster” their outfits looked. So…anyway, we drank some St. Ambroise and chilled and pointed out all of the dudes with good haircuts. It was a good end to our first full day.

I’ll continue my tale of this trip in another post, COMING SOON!

The First Step Is Admitting You Have a Problem

I’ve been on and off Weight Watchers for the last three years and it’s safe to say that I’m really and truly off right now. Like, I just went to the site to track my points for the first time in weeks (and weeks and weeks) and I didn’t even recognize the log in page. There was a whole year where I tracked points religiously. Or maybe I mean to say continuously. Because it was an all-day-everyday thing. It was half of what I thought about and three quarters of what I talked about. And then, one day, I stopped. I mean, not totally, but I stopped being such a psycho about calculating points and weighting myself. I had lost a very decent amount of weight. I missed drinking good beer in large quantities and eating meals that were not mostly composed of green leaves. And I really, really missed baking.

I went a whole year without baking more than probably six or seven times which now just seems ABSURD to me. Baking has been one of my hobbies since I was a kid. Now, I bake a lot. Maybe more than I should? It’s kind of negatively affecting my life. Like an addiction!

Whenever I have some sort of gathering to attend, I feel the need to bake something before it. So, if this gathering is on a weeknight, I spend the whole night before baking. Which means I don’t go to the gym or do laundry or read or write or do whatever other thing I had planned on doing that night in addition to baking but don’t actually do because I have a job and need to sleep. I also inevitably eat a lot of what I make. So, I’m like a person who cooks meth and then does some of it before giving it to other people. (That’s an apt comparison, right?)

So, I’ve decided that I’m going to start baking in moderation. Or at least, not when I need to get other things done. I’m telling myself that I’m going to plan ahead and stick to those plans! Which is, I guess, something that I learned from Weight Watchers many moons ago before I fell off the wagon.

Anyway, I’ve annoyed myself by writing all of the above because my original intention was just to tell you about two good things I baked recently!

1. Pumpkin-Chocolate Swirl Brownies

I used this Smitten Kitchen recipe (well, adaptation of a Martha Stewart recipe) that I’ve been a big fan of since I first tried it last fall. Pumpkin and chocolate are amazing together and these brownies have just a little bit of cayenne pepper, setting them apart from other “fall” desserts. The only part of the recipe that I didn’t follow was the whole melting the butter and chocolate with a double boiler. I don’t have a double boiler and I also am too lazy to purchase one. The microwave worked just fine for the task.

Two of my favorite things.

I meant to take a photo of the finished product when it came out of the oven, but I didn’t because I was in a rush. So, I took a picture of the last brownie left in the batch!

 

Note: These are even better after a few days!

2.  Banana Blackout Cupcakes

OK, I made up the name for these chocolate-banana cupcakes myself. I needed to call them something clever because they were for our book club discussion of David Carr’s The Night of the Gun, which incidentally is about addiction. I adapted this recipe from Joy of Baking. And by adapted, I mean I tried to halve it and then I accidentally added twice as much milk as I needed and then I tried to fix it by only adding a little bit of vegetable oil. But they turned out to be amazing! They were really moist – I think because of the bananas – and um, basically perfect. I’ll just have to figure out what I did exactly before I try to replicate my success.

Banana Blackout Cupcake Leftovers

I also made my own frosting for these…by hand. Aggressively stirring a bunch of butter and sugar and cocoa powder together at 11 PM isn’t so much fun, but the finished product was delicious!

 

(I used Martha Stewart’s recipe for Ultimate Chocolate Frosting.)

What should I try making next? (Now that I’ve written about these I’m excited to try something new!) A pie? One of the cakes in Baking by James Peterson? Whatever I do, I’m going to set aside an afternoon weekend for it so it doesn’t make me crazy.

Also, there won’t be a Friday Roundup this week because I’ll be in Montreal, which I’ll tell you all about once I’m back!

Friday Roundup: No Time For Reads

I was too busy to read anything this week – well I read a few things – so this week’s roundup is pretty short.

Honestly, I mostly watched Solange’s ‘Losing You’ video in my downtime this week:

Here are a few things, though:

Ina Garten (New York Times): I will read literally anything about her. This is a little thing about her magnificent kitchen.

Grizzly Bear (New York Magazine): This definitely made me have some thoughts about the music industry/music in general. Also, the members of Grizzly Bear all sound like nice guys.

India’s Booming Newspaper Industry (New Yorker): It’s all about the ads.

And a fun one…

Ten Classic 30 Rock Jokes, Retold As Infographics (Vulture)