Looking for Canadian gastronomy

This blog was initially designed to talk about what we cook and eat on the boat while cruising the world. But since we’ve been tied to a Mexican dock for a year or so, the stories seem to have revolved around whatever food experiences come our way, travelling or not.

Typical example: last month, we spent 2 weeks on a skiing holiday in Whistler, Canada. Being January, school holidays, the idea was to get away from the heat of Mexico and indulge in cooler weather before resuming our cruising schedule this year (I know, life is tough…trust me, we enjoy every moment while it lasts). We were joined by Australian friends David and Denise who had such a great time in Mexico with us, they decided to follow us and continue the party in Canada! The weather was suitably cold ( for us anyway, though the temperatures were above zero, pretty mild for Canadian standards), the snow on the short side but enough to have fun, and the best part for me was the variety of food available. Next to Australia, Canada must be the most culturally diverse country I know.

We rented a condo large enough to accommodate our party of 6, and with a full gourmet kitchen at our disposal, Denise and I elected to take turn in cooking dinners.  Food wise, with migrants from all over the world, the supermarkets are bursting at the seams with produces as varied as lemongrass, polish sausages, French baguettes, or Italian cheese! We stocked up for basic supplies with gusto in Squamish, a town 40 minutes from Whistler, where prices are at least half of what you pay in the resort town. That allowed us to eat (and drink) like kings: between spaghetti bolognese, giant rissole casserole, spare ribs, Italian chicken, homemade granola, curry nights, pancakes with bacon and maple syrup of course and much more…we felt a little smug when comparing the price of going out.

But you know me, always looking for culinary adventures, I used every opportunity to taste something new and I was on a mission to find out what Canadian gastronomy was all about. A quick look at the Whistler dining guide was enough to realise that we could only afford a couple of dinners out and my attention turned to lunch on the mountain instead ( you may call me cheap, I prefer to think of myself as discerning!). To give you an idea, lunch on the slopes cost an average of $17 (that’s the value of the lunch voucher given to Marc by his ski school!), as opposed to main course for dinner being anything upward from $25.

And they were very yummy lunches indeed: mushroom soup,

 

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beef pies, breakfast sandwiches,

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turkey chili…

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Food for champion! Except that the jury is split on the national dish called poutine, a bowl of French fries smothered in gravy and sprinkled with cheese curds. The kids absolutely loved it, I not so much, found it too sloppy.

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We did go out for dinner a couple of times, and the experience paled in comparison: in both cases, they were expensive steak houses with rave reviews. While the meal at RIC’s GRILL was OK (bison rib-eye for Terry, B.C salmon for me), it was not great for the price. The Aussie waitress from Mildura made up for it though, she was nice.

 

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On the other hand, SIDECUT at the Four Seasons was a huge disappointment: this is the kind of restaurant that charges $50 for a steak then asks you to choose a selection of sides at $7 each. I was longing for lamb cutlets, and it turned out to be the best choice since it was served with its own garlic mash and Brussels sprouts. The others ordered steaks, which were good for nearly everyone except Terry who sent back his rib-eye that had come out very well done instead of medium rare. The service was atrocious (impatient and condescending), the atmosphere noisy and busy, and the final straw was when presenting us with a $600 bill for 5 (I deliberately leave Anne out, her kids meal was only $10); they refused for us to pay with a debit card. Maybe we are spoiled: my friends and I are good cooks, who occasionally like to have a night off and will pay for the privilege of a break from the kitchen (especially the washing up). However, I do take offence at being treated badly (like a bad student who doesn’t understand how restaurants are run!), and believe that the customer is king (or queen), no matter how many stars are attached to an establishment!

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Well that was my whinge. On the positive side, we did find a gem of a restaurant in Vancouver for lunch, at the Marriot Airport hotel, of all places. The food was great, I was still on the lookout for anything quintessentially Canadian, but in the end happily settled for everyone’s favourite prepared with local produce: cod and chips for Terry, Alberta beef burger for Marc, B.C seafood salad for me, and double margarita for Denise! The waitress was fantastic, making us feel like she was running a taverna (maybe it was her Greek accent) and could not do enough to please us. We knew she cared, when after serving the boys their 4th beer, she asked if we were driving somewhere, and was relieved when we told her we were staying next door at the Hilton (or maybe, as Terry said, by law she would have had to cut us off!)

 

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So happy with that lunch experience, I was looking forward to have an early dinner at the airport and would you believe: once we stepped into the international area, ALL shops and restaurants were closed. It was 7pm, and our flight was to be the last flight of the day scheduled at 8.30pm!!!  The only option was a Tim Horton’s outlet, Canada’s answer to Starbucks, hailed as the best coffee shop by most locals we’ve met. Knowing that it would be a long, food-free flight home to Cancun, we selected muffins and cookies (no savoury selection available). Intrigued by the “double-double” coffee all Canadians talk about, I convinced Terry to order a small cup while I played it safe with an ordinary black coffee. Oh, what can I say? The double-double means 2 teaspoons of sugar and 2 teaspoons of cream, enough to send a diabetic comatose in a flash. As for the black coffee, it was nothing but brown diluted water with an unrecognisable taste, certainly not coffee, which I hate to admit, I flushed down the washroom. What I wouldn’t have done for a Nespresso…

All is not lost though: I have procured myself with Grade A Maple syrup, Canadian bacon ( unlike US or English bacon, it has none of the surrounding fat, only the lean meat, much to Terry’s dislike!), and have every intention to enjoy a Canadian culinary experience…on the boat.

One last Mexican culinary tour

You would think that after 12 months in Mexico, we’d have had enough of the local food ( actually one of us does, and systematically orders burgers whenever we go out) I remember back in November, overdoing the Mexican theme, and feeling “over” Mexicana Cocina. But after 2 weeks  in France, indulging in rich cheesy, garlicky and buttery dishes, the kids and I rediscovered the appeal of tacos, nachos and ceviche.

So, when our January guests asked to sample as much Mexican food as possible, I gladly obliged taking them on a culinary tour around Riviera Maya. Like a previous Australian visitor last year, there was no time for long excursions to Merida or far away ruins, so we stuck to local favourites ( Latitudes 20, La Zebra  and La Bomba Jarocha who by now must consider us part of their furniture ) as well as feasts on board! Below are some of the highlights from yet another Food Lover’s visit in Mexico.

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Ok, this is not a food picture. But we took friends out on the boat one day, and wild dolphins came to play on our bow.  We’re used to it, but our guests thought that was pretty cool !!!

 

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Buffet lunch on the boat…sea air makes everyone hungry!

 

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Breakfast by Anne

 

 

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Chicken quiche, when quick and easy dinner is on the menu!

 

Relaxing drinks at Tulum… Perfect snack, guacamole served with pork rind chips!

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Ceviche how I like it, not too much lemon juice, just the fish!

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Cazuela de Marisco, or Fish soup, Playa way…still working on the recipe

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A kitchen to scare any Australian health inspector, but producing the best food around!

 

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Like this fried fish in garlic and chili sauce. Yummmm!

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Sample plates for our guests: beef tacos, beef nachos, guacamole, chicken with refried beans.

 

 

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Maybe you can have too much nachos after all…

 

 

 

Coconut Lemongrass Vegetables

Last month we spent 2 weeks in Canada for a skiing holiday in Whistler. The snow was pretty average, especially for Canadian standard, forcing us to climb as far up the mountain as possible to find good skiing. While we enjoyed every minute of it, that also meant we froze our butts off for quite some time!

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Much of my time spent sitting on chairlifts or gondolas was dedicated to keeping warm and dreaming of a piping hot dinner waiting for us back at the condo. With a party of 6, we took it in turn to cook meals and after a few days of eating tomato-based casseroles, it was my turn to provide with a request from hubby for a hot curry. I was happy to oblige, though took the lazy way and bought a big jar of madras curry paste, 1.5 kilos of stewing beef, threw a couple of sliced red capsicums and carrots, and let the whole thing simmer for 90 minutes. There’s hardly a need for a recipe, it’s that easy!

In the meantime, I had to cater for these among us who do not like pepper or chili and are generally wary of curries for fear of them being too spicy. I personnaly was craving for vegetables, and found my inspiration at the local IGA supermarket (which is quite high-end and is the closest you will find to a fresh market in Whistler!): staring at me from the “oriental” section was a huge bunch of lemongrass stems. Not the anemic straw-looking stuff I’ve had to put up with in Mexico, but the big-fat-blemish free-as thick as my finger stalks. Each bunch consisted of at least 5 or 6 stalks, superfluous to my cooking needs, but I took them anyway. Combined with onions, garlic and ginger, and bathed in coconut milk, it made the perfect broth for whatever vegetables were handy. Indeed this recipe works for any vegetable in season. Pumpkin, broccoli, cabbage (as I did), beans, snow peas and zucchini may be used singly or in combination. A subtle and delicious side dish with curries, it is equally satisfying when thinned down a little and served as a vegetable soup on its own. In fact, I loved it so much, I sneaked back to the condo for lunch the next day, so that I could enjoy the soup by the fireplace without having to share!    Read More

December Happenings

Like most people, the end of the year has been a whirlwind of activities for us. We wrapped up school with the children, caught up with friends here in Mexico for a Christmas drink or two, tied up a few business loose ends and cleaned up the boat prior to us leaving for the holidays. It was a hectic time in the galley, I can tell you: my mission was to accommodate whatever produce I felt would not survive 2 weeks in the fridge, which basically included anything fresh. Salt fish was turned into Bul Jol (a Caribbean salt fish salad),

bul jol

beef shanks made a great “cheats” osso buco (I admit taking a shortcut and used V8 juice for the gravy!) with polenta,

osso buco

every vegetables became fair game for any kind of soups and we lunched on more grilled cheese sandwiches than I care to remember. The baking of Christmas cookies and Buche de Noel were actually a welcome distraction, reminding us that it was a special time of the year to be enjoyed by all.

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Then, there was our 2 weeks holiday in Paris. I have mentioned the lead up to the Christmas feasts in the previous post. But as I flip thru the hundreds of pictures taken, I feel compelled to share some of other moments of this “Food and Wine festival” of ours:

  • A family reunion around a buffet of salads (tabouleh, rice), Mexican chicken drumsticks and guacamole, and petits fours…
  • The very first taste of rabbit for the children: shot by our neighbour (a keen hunter), and smothered in mustard cream sauce by my mum.rabbit in mustard sauce
  • The very taste of wild boar for all of us: shot by the same neighbour, roasted with herbs and served on a bed of tagliatelle. An acquired taste, but the clafouti and apple galette for dessert were delicious. And our hosts’ hunting tales were hilarious!wild boar
  • Caneles, Chichis, Cupcakes or Kouignettes…all deliciously rich pastries we ate as street snacks while strolling along the Champs Elysees and Boulevard St Germain (the French would rather savour them eating neatly at the table, but I can’t convince Terry to sit down to eat more than three times a day, and that’s even one too many!)
  • chichiskouignettesAsian buffet in a suburban restaurant, at the initial request of Anne craving for sushi. Everyone ended up loving the mix of Japanese sushi, Vietnamese spring rolls, Chinese fried rice and so on…best value in town at 15 euros!asian buffet
  • Expensive pasta in the city, after a busy day of touring around the Quartier Latin. The price to pay for a casual Italian in the 6th arrondissement? 40 euros per person. Ouch!pasta vongole
  • Let’s not forget the wine: most memorable reds came out of my dad’s cellar (saved for special occasions, he said), some dating back as far as 1998! As did the champagne, which somehow never seemed to run out (though I am sure it has by now). And as for the beer, Terry kept a steady supply on the window sill. The good thing about winter in Paris is that there is no need for a beer fridge!!!

Back on the boat, I could not help but feel nostalgic for all this food, thinking there just hadn’t been enough time to eat everything. Looking forward to a New Year’s Eve party organised by a friend, I jumped for joy when she asked me to bring over some desserts. Now was my chance to indulge my French pastry craving, so here I give you, my last (and most popular) desserts of 2013: Tarte aux Pommes and Gateau Tout Chocolat.

desserts 2013

Tarte Aux Pommes :

 

Serves 6-8 people

For the pastry:

170g plain flour

80g maizena (cornstarch)

1 tsp sugar

2 pinch of salt

180g butter (cold, cut in small dice)

1 egg yolk

5 tbsp. /100ml cold water

1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar

For the filling:

6 apples

Juice of 1 lemon (lime OK)

1 egg

50g sugar

200g sour cream

2 tbsps. calvados or rum

Icing sugar

Prepare the pastry: Place the flour, maizena, sugar, salt, butter in the bowl of a food processor.  Blitz until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk, water and vinegar and pulse until the dough just comes together. Sprinkle with a little flour, wrap in plastic film and cool in the fridge for 1h.

In the meantime, peel the apples, cut in quarter and in thin slices. Place in a bowl and squeeze lemon juice over them so they don’t turn brown. In another bowl, mix the egg with the sugar, sour cream and the alcohol of your choice. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Grease a 22cm tart dish. Roll the dough out and line the tart dish. Trim the edges and prick the base with a fork. Spread 2 tbsps. of the egg/cream mixture in the bottom of the pastry case. Place the apple slices in a neat overlapping circle, Pour over the rest of the egg/cream mixture, sprinkle a little extra sugar and cook for about 30mn. Serve warm dusted with icing sugar.

Christmas in Paris

We have just returned from 2 weeks in Paris, spending Christmas with family. It had been 3 years since our last Christmas together, which my younger self used to think was frequent enough, but now that I am in my late forties with aging parents, every visit becomes more precious. Our cruising lifestyle means that “popping over” is not that easy, instead we need to plan well in advance not only flights, but also care of the boat in our absence. Add the notion that we never know when the next reunion will be, and things end up more emotional than they used to be.

So when we did arrive, every possible excursions or tourist activities I had invariably planned, went out the window as I found myself catching up with relatives and friends not seen since 2006 or earlier, as well as 3 years’ worth of “news updates” with my parents. You’d think that with Skype and Facebook, we would have kept up with the gossip, but frankly, nothing beats face to face conversation sitting at the breakfast (lunch and dinner) table. My husband coped very well. Over the years, he’s learnt to leave us talking French and goes for long walks in the neighbouring park knowing that on his return, we will still be chatting while cooking the next meal. Or he may be lucky and I am ready to go out. My children also enjoy this slower pace, taking delight in tasting French food cooked with love by their grandmother (they acknowledge that I also cook with love on the boat, but only once a day!)

I did have plans to go on a food safari in Paris, even set a Pinterest board with places to go and see. But a quick look at the crowds outside Laduree shops, menu prices at trendy restaurants like Au petit Sud Ouest or L’Avant Comptoir, made us retreat and think of a plan B. We are, after all, a couple of semi-retired yachties, and while we enjoy good food and easy life, we also have to be discerning. Rather than focus on the hype associated with celebrity chefs and “not to be missed “ restaurants, we decided to spend our money on the best produces we could find. France in general, is known for its wonderful fresh produce and local open markets making them available all over the country. Located 20 minutes south of Paris, my parent’s home is blessed with such a neighbourhood market, in Juvisy sur Orge where literally every kind of fresh food can be found as well as inexpensive household items (like past season designer wear, shoes, fabric remnants , kitchenware…enough to fit out a small apartment!) This market has been around for as long as I can remember, I used to accompany my mother as a child and play with the live animals at the poultry stand (not realising that the cute rabbits and chicken were destined for consumption!), sample cheese and pates , search for cheap clothing…

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Nowadays, there are no longer live animals, but the bargain clothing guys are still here, as well as the cheese monger, Mr Barbet, the “charcutier” Mr Guette, Freddo the “volailler” and jean-Pierre the vegetable guy.

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freddo the volailler

charcuterie Guette

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am prolonging the family ritual whenever possible bringing my own children, who actually enjoy the unique atmosphere of camaraderie and sense of community (most stall holders have dealt with my parents twice a week for nearly 40 years, and have heard of us “the cruising Australians”), second only to the free sampling! Both Marc and Anne can’t get over how the simple question “What is that?” leads to a chunk of cheese/pate/sausage/bread offered on the tip of a knife with a “Goute!” ( “Have a taste!”). Palate education is what it’s all about, and at the kids request, we’ve filled our baskets with “Pate au piment d’Espelette” (chicken pate with red chili), “escargots” (snails), “magret de canard” (duck breasts), Emmental cheese and Corsican clementines. Terry would not be outdone, selecting his own “produits du terroir” (regional produce), like Morbier cheese, duck legs, foie gras, and prawns. Coming back to the house, with our produce laden baskets, my mother would then take over with the cooking, instructing us to set up the table and be at the ready. In these circumstances, why go out?

 

corsican clementines

 

 

 

 

 

  duck leg

escargots

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas meals followed pretty much the same pattern, except that we ordered stuff in advance to ensure availability. Terry and I volunteered to pick everything up at the market early on Christmas Eve. It was a grey, dark and windy day, not quite the snowy weather we had been waiting for but still wintery enough to confine us inside the house, light up a fire and prepare Christmas Eve feast. Like most French people, we had seafood for starters, namely raw oysters from the Ile de Re, freshly chucked by my Dad. That was a treat for us, as both Terry and I stopped eating oysters after tasting some fairly ordinary specimens in the US last year, and knowing someone who died from bacterial infection after eating a batch there. I am pleased to report that these Charentaise little numbers not only tasted great (fresh and briny) but didn’t cause any after effects. Main course followed with a leg of lamb roasted and cut to perfection by Terry, and we rounded the meal with a feather light Chocolate Buche de Noel.

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  yummy oysters

gigot xmas eve

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Christmas morning was supposed to be an elaborate brunch of breads, quiches, muffins, juices, etc… but with 7 people waking up at different times, some not caring about food much, we took the simple road and dug out the “raclette machine” for everyone to melt their own Mont D’Or cheese, grill their own bacon slices, and serve it over fresh baguettes. Terry thought it far too indulgent still recovering from the previous night’s meal, and elected to go for a 3 hour walk instead, along with my cousin Sonia (who, I am sure would have skipped the exercise, had she been told about brunch!)

mont d'or xmas breakfast

My argument was that with a big Christmas dinner planned, a substantial brunch made more sense than a small breakfast followed by lunch (with the time involved in cooking and washing up). Indeed dinner was not only a big “do”, catering for 10 people, but also happened quite late as we waited for everyone to be present (the lot of blended families, where some of us had to spend part of the festivities with one side of relatives then got caught in traffic on their way to our dinner). Terry and the kids started to worry that Christmas day would be over before we finished dinner and opened gifts, but we managed to avoid that by introducing the Australian tradition of gathering for aperitifs in the kitchen while preparing dinner (as opposed to the French way of waiting for everything and everyone to be ready before having your first drink) and declaring a Present Opening “pause” between the entrée of smoked salmon and prawn salad and the turkey main course!   And just as yet another Buche de Noel was brought out for dessert, my Dad announced it was midnight and Christmas was over. We made it just in time!

salmon entree

 

buche de noel

 

opening presents

 

xmas eve

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