Cabane a Sucre Au Pied de Cochon: Part 1

I’d love to start this post with a brief introduction to who exactly Martin Picard is and why some 20 local food bloggers were freaking out over scoring a coveted reservation at his sugar shack, but I’m going to skip it and short track straight to the food.

Anyway, many of you have probably already heard of this Montreal chef and the restaurant where he hangs his apron, Au Pied de Cochon; although, come to think of it, I’ve never seen him in an apron.

It’s not really Martin’s style. This is more his thing:

Rustic entrance to the Cabane a Sucre

For reasons that will soon become apparent, my account of our outing to the sugar bush will be presented in three parts: appetizers, main course, and dessert, naturally.

The eating was seemingly endless….the photography documentation exceedingly extensive…all which makes the report expansive. Three posts it will be.

So let’s get to it!

Au Pied de Cochon’s Cabane a Sucre
Part 1: Appetizers

First up was a salad of fresh greens, walnuts, aged cheddar, and ham, topped with an mound of airy ‘Oreilles de crisse’ (deep-fried pork rinds). One could hardly call the rinds a garnish, as they equaled the greens in volume, but when all the elements were assembled, the salad made for a very tasty and well-balanced mouthful.

The salmon gravlax was well executed, but a tad boring–and I was wishing for some crostini to drape the silky fish over.

Toast or bread of any sort would have also been welcomed to accompany the following dish: ‘Cretons’.

A spiced ground pork spread, this traditional French-Canadian breakfast staple may look like cat food, but I can assure you it is delicious when it is prepared properly.

I thoroughly enjoyed APDC’s version, toast or no toast.

Which brings us to the first item I did not enjoy: barbecued chicken feet.
I attacked the spindly claws before any other dish, as I couldn’t imagine trying them cold, but even piping hot, crispy and lacquered with a succulent maple glaze, I could not, WOULD not, eat more than one bite.

Non merci.

A quick word on service: excellent.

As I’ve experienced long waits at the mothership APDC, I didn’t have high hopes for the sugar shack. I was pleasantly surprised by the prompt service, smart servers and general attention we received.
Granted, we were a group of 25 foodies/food bloggers. Perhaps that helped. We made quite a scene with our cameras. Good grief. The Cameras.

I was all over this split pea soup with it’s earthy chucks of ham and nuggets of foie gras. I doused mine in maple syrup and was completely happy.

These nondescript buckwheat pancakes were alone worth the trek up north, but then I’m a bit of a pancake fiend, as we all know.

Although they were wrapped inconspicuously in a warm towel, they didn’t last long around me. Each one was dipped in pure maple syrup and eaten in two bites. Delish.

To be continued…

Montreal Foodie Tour with Foodie Suz

Blogging has provided me with the opportunity to connect with hundreds of wonderful people and there are so many of you who I would love to get to know better over a cup of coffee! I’ll just have to get to one of those blogging conferences one of these years! Anyway, I recently had the chance to meet a fellow Canadian food blogger who was in Montreal on business: Sue Robbins, or as she is better known, Foodie Suz.

I picked her up at her hotel and whisked her around town to some of my favorite food spots. Sue was courageous to meet up with me, a total stranger, and while she expected a foodie tour, she didn’t know that she was signing on for a white-knuckled drive. I can be, ahem, a rather aggressive driver, not to mention sometimes scatterbrained. Poor Sue!
Anyway, I only blew through one red light (our conversation was so engrossing!) and we survived the whirlwind trip. Here’s a peek of where we got around to…

Illy coffees and chocolate brioche at Olive et Gourmando
Olive et Gourmando, my favorite bakery/cafe
More treats from the Old Montreal bakery

Artfully arranged produce at Jean-Talon Market, our biggest open air market. This stop also included a walk through the one-and-only Hamel cheese shop and a lengthy visit to Olives et Epices, which we later exited laden with exotic spices.

Of course we were working up an appetite so a stop at St-Viateur Bagels was not optional – it was mandatory! I love how this place never closes and the river of bagels is always flowing.
We later popped in to my favorite cupcake shop, Cocoa Locale, but much to my dismay, it was closed, so no Chocolate-Chai Cupcakes for us.

We still needed a chocolate fix, so instead we parked in my old neighbourhood, the Plateau, and walked to Les Chocolats de Chloé. A stunning little artisanal chocolate shop, I died and went to heaven with Chloe’s Illy Espresso chocolate. I would happily accept treats from this one-of-a-kind shop for any occasion–as long as I live!

After drooling over upscale kitchen items at Arthur Quentin, we were in need of something a bit more substantial than chocolate. As Sue had already experienced the famous Schwartz’s Deli on a previous visit, I decided L’Express would be a good option for lunch. The Parisian-like place was in fine form, including a grumpy Maître d’, who huffily told me to remove my water bottle from the table. Or what? You won’t serve me? Man, my days of snobby restaurant life are over. Lighten up!

I think Sue enjoyed her octopus and lentil salad and I was relieved when she also ordered a side of fries, or else my lunch would have looked mightily unhealthy in comparison. I feasted on what just may be the best sandwich in town, the Croque Monsieur from L’Express. Heaven. Think grilled ham and cheese, but such ham! and such cheese! Cooked to perfection and served with an immense jar of pickles maison (pictured above with Foodie Suz), this is the sandwich of my dreams.

I so enjoyed my time with Sue and we were never lacking for conversation. We swapped book titles, recipes and favorite blogs, yakked about our kids and compared travel stories. It was wonderful to meet her.

Thanks for looking me up, Sue, and for putting up with my driving!

PS: Here is Sue’s rundown of our day, including a photo of yours truly on what was a very windy day where the wind was sculpting my hair into something unnatural!

Take a Break in the Townships

I wasn’t going to bore you with any more details of our little weekend getaway in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, but since people have been emailing and asking where we stayed and so on, I decided rather than answer everyone individually, it would be easier to post a recap with recommend links. It was a short and sweet trip and the details are well worth sharing.

You can start with La Route des Vins, a site highlighting agrotourism and wineries in the area; it also provides maps and information on the wine route. Although the route is a stunning drive along hilly country roads dotted with charming farms, I won’t be passing along any praise for the two wineries we visited. Granted, I’m no wine expert, but I am a wine-lover and I could barely swallow some of the schlock we were offered in tastings. Some of it was shockingly bad–and the plastic cups they served it in didn’t help. I can’t drink wine out of plastic, I’m sorry.

I felt guilty about slipping into an SAQ in Magog to pick up a bottle of wine for dinner, but what’s a girl going to do? I felt even worse when our waitress eyed our bottle of Australian wine as if to say ‘don’t you know you’re sitting in the middle of Quebec wine country’?

Photo by nissanman2009

The town of North Hatley -and our final destination that day- is just too sweet for words. Perched on the banks of beautiful Lake Massawippi, it has the best kind of small-town feel about it and boasts the best junk/antique shop I’ve ever seen.

We chose to dine at the Auberge le Coeur d’Or, which we enjoyed, although in hindsight, most of the enjoyment was probably due to the facts that a) we were dining in a civilized fashion without the kids and b) we were sharing the aforementioned bottle of vino.
While the setting was quaint, charming and romantic, the food was rather dismal; it boasted that it offered local ingredients but didn’t quite deliver in their preparation. I mean, asparagus soup should be a sensual experience, not a pool of gray matter that reeks of celery. Perhaps the chef waved a bundle of asparagus over the pot while the soup was cooking, but if that was a chilled asparagus soup, I’ll eat my umbrella. Five years ago I might have complained to the waitress that Danny’s duck was over cooked and my rabbit was so dry it hurt to swallow, but who am I kidding? I was unplugged, sitting across from my sweetie, a hundred kilometers from home, I was HAaaaaappy.

Stuffed from our four-course meal at Auberge le Coeur d’Or, we decided on a post-dinner stroll and ended up watching the twinkling lights of boats from the end of the town pier. Ve.RY. Romantic.

I would heartily recommend our B&B, Le Chat Botté (Puss in Boots) with it’s wrap around veranda, private beach and close proximity to the center of town. The hostess was very friendly and gracious, and if there’s anyone who loves cats more than her, I’d be surprised.
Served in the attached gazebo, the three-course breakfast was a plentiful, tasty, and piping hot–what more could you as for? Coffee? Yep, latte for her, espresso for him, served in the sweetest of kitty cups.

Although we were stuffed from breakfast, we stopped to check out the farmer’s market on our way back to Hwy 10. Located on School Street in North Hatley, it’s open from 10-12 on Saturdays and offers a bounty of lovely local produce, baking and flowers. I consider myself a bit of an expert on farmer’s markets and this one had it all, save the hippy/bluegrass band playing in the center of the square.

These sisters didn’t look thrilled that I was buying their strawberries, or perhaps they had someplace else they would rather have been that Saturday morning, but we enjoyed the berries nevertheless and they filled our car with their warm berry fragrance all the way back to Montréal.

Wait! There’s one last thing! I have to say a HUGE thank you to my mother-in-law, Dorothy, who made this all possible by taking the babies overnight, and thanks also to my mum, who bought us the B&B gift certificate in the first place and forced us to get away.

In conclusion, I admit I used to think the whole overnight getaway for couples was overrated, but there’s a lot to be said for sleeping between sheets that have never been repeatedly assaulted by baby vomit or leaking breast milk.

We returned home starry-eyed.

Take a break in the Townships soon, you deserve it!

UtHC Bulletin

Under the High Chair bulletin is a scattering of various and sundry happenings, discoveries and news.Keep reading...

Garden News

“This is what’s cruel about springtime: no matter how it treats you, you can’t stop loving it.”

Barbara Kingsolver

Truly March is the most frustrating month. It brings sunny warm days that cause you to cast away the wool scarf and haul out sneakers from the back of the closet, and then slams the door in your face with its plunging temperatures and occasional snowfalls. Still, I admit that I give in to its games and occasionally allow myself to believe that it is spring. My hope was validated today by the discovery of some very brave rhubarb poking its little heads up in the garden.
Consider this a warning that I will probably begin blathering about seedlings, compost and my garden in future posts and won’t let up until about mid-October or so. It’s almost gardening time!!

* * *

Interview with Aimée
Mother of three and food blogger, Kate of A Merrier World, has decided it’s high time to discover the stories behind some of her favourite food blogs and guess who she picked to go first? Yep, in the very first installment of her fascinating Edible Lives series, you can read all about Under the High Chair’s humble beginnings and the journey to what we are today. Curious as to how everything began? Head on over to the interview for a trip down memory lane and also discover which popular blogger she’ll be interviewing next!!
Thank you for this opportunity, Kate!

* * *

Raw Pet Diet
Alright, so after the last fiasco with our cat, Cassis, I decided to put him on a raw diet to avoid going through anything like that again. Correction, I didn’t really ‘decide’, more like I was told to by my little sister, resident family pet expert and B.A.R.F pioneer (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) around these parts. Note that I don’t usually take commands from a sibling seven years my junior, but believe me when I tell you, if Miranda strongly suggests something pet related, I know I’d better listen up.
If you want to find out what is involved in committing to a raw diet for your pet or how to transition, my sister outlines the process at her informative, easy-to-understand blog My Mini Zoo. You can also follow her on Twitter.
Raw pet diets are not for the faint-of-heart, let me just say that! There’s nothing quite like hacking up chicken carcasses (bone shards flying everywhere and the baby trying to eat them off the floor), mincing chicken hearts & livers, tossing in a raw egg, serving it to your cat–and then sitting down to your own dinner. They don’t call it B.A.R.F for nothin’. Just saying.

* * *

Making Baby Food 101
From cat food to baby food, the lovely Cheryl from Backseat Gourmet has two articles on making your own baby food that I wanted to recommend to all my mommy readers out there. I’ve always made all my own baby food, but never got it together to post a how-to on the subject, even though more than a few of you have asked. (Sorry!)
Cheryl lays out the steps simply and smartly, without lecturing or sounding ‘preachy’, so if you’re expecting a little one or about to transition your baby to solids, be sure to check out Step 1: Purees and Step 2: Textures.

* * *

So, it’s only right that I share what has been both an inspiration and a kick in the pants these last few weeks (not to mention a darn good read). Barbara Kingsolver’s book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life”
Written as both a love letter to the land and a wake-up call to the consumer, I haven’t been able to put this book down. Even my Tweets are suffering. Her ode to asparagus alone had me weak at the knees.
Suffice it to say, this book is a must-read for any gardener, cook, environmentalist or the like.

* * *

Sugar Shacks
Lastly, I guess my last two posts about sugar shacks got you all fired up about sugaring off season and now you have a hankering for all things maple. Just so you know, I’ve considered all your requests and am now giving my recommendations! Unfortunately, I am not aware of any places that collect sap in the traditional method and allow you to participate as I did (lucky me! OK, now you just want to smack me). However, here are two places that allow you to get out of the city, admire the tall maples and feast to your hearts content.

  • For families, you won’t regret a visit to Cabane à Sucre Bouvrette, which we visited last spring. If the amazing pea soup and tire d’érable don’t do it for your little Johnny or Jane, the tidy petting zoo and old fashioned train ride will.
  • For grown-ups, gourmands and anyone who has $45 to spend very wisely, get yourself to Martin Picard’s sugar shack: Cabane à sucre: Au Pied du Cochon. Be sure to make reservations ahead of time to ensure there is some maple-poached lobster left for you.

Sugaring Off Part II and Rustic Maple Pie

This post is continued from Sugaring Off Part I

In an interview with the National Post, world-renowned Montreal chef Martin Picard calls maple syrup extraordinary, underestimated, and the most emblematic product you can find in Canada; I love how this guy ticks. There is so much more to this 100% natural liquid gold than most people think and I’m really enjoying this discovery of how it is traditionally harvested and prepared. From the clear, perfumed sap that drips from the tap on the tree trunk, to the seductive dark syrup that coats our pancakes, this is truly Eastern Canada’s most valuable resource.

Like Christmas Day for young ones, the goodies just keep coming on our sugaring off adventure. First the venison chili, then the maple cocktail, and now Uncle Marc (who had disappeared indoors for sometime) makes his way down the trail with a steaming kettle in one hand and a can of wooden paddles in the other. He sideskirts the bustling stove area and heads for a patch of clean snow in the woods instead. My foodie instincts propel me, and true to form, I am first on the scene.
He’s making maple taffy or ‘tire d’erable.

He has reduced the syrup over a steady heat until it has reached the soft ball stage and now pours it on the snow in long strips. The taffy hardens–but not too much–and then is rolled onto a paddle; this lollipop of pure delicacy is handed to the closest awaiting hand.

Hmm, funny how many of those eager hands are little ones.
Like mother, like son, it hasn’t taken Noah very long to discover this snow buffet. I watch with enjoyment as he cautiously takes a first taste and then observe in horror as he neatly devourers the rest of the tire on his stick in one massive sticky bite. As I brace myself for all twenty of his tiny, pearl-white teeth to rot out of his head and drop into the snow, I see him preparing to help himself to another stick and manage to stir myself out of my reverie enough to intervene. He doesn’t complain much as I lead him away from the tempting spread, as if he knows it’s too good to be true anyway.
I proceed to have four more sticks of taffy in a row and not to be a complete spoil-sport, I share some with him. Talk about a double standard!

My youngest child has now succumbed to the warm afternoon sun and is dozing in the jogger stroller. My heart is racing from the pure sugar fix (overload?) and I’m ready to see how the sap is collected. Let’s go!

The sun is beginning to slant behind the tall maples as I hop on the back of the ATV and a handful of us set out to collect the sap. Facing backwards as we bump along the ‘route’, I am looking at a large barrel we are towing on a sled that holds the sap. We stop at various ‘checkpoints’ along the trail while folks, armed with 5 gallon pails, fan out into the woods. Each and every tin bucket is lifted from the tree and the contents dumped into the 5 gallon pails, which in turn are emptied into the barrel on the sled.
From the back of the quad where he sits, Marc is clearly pleased to have the extra help, as he usually does the sap run solo twice a day. Harvest time is a busy time, no matter what type of farmer you are.

When we return to ‘camp’, I don’t stick around to see the sap transferred from the barrel to the stove top, because I’m badly in need of coffee and I’m off to hunt some down. As quickly as it came, my sugar rush has left, taking my energy stores with it. I’m getting old after all. I don’t have the stamina of these monkeys picture below; of course, who knows just how much pure maple sugar is running through their veins right now.
I’m anticipating a major meltdown from the one in the red jacket before the hour is up.

I’m pleased to see the homestead kitchen is a bustle of activity and there are many signs of a promising full-on feast to come. Baked beans (with maple of course) are bubbling away on the stove, six dozen eggs are stacked on the counter awaiting their destiny, and pork in its many attractive forms is warming, including about five pounds of maple-glazed bacon contributed by yours truly. Some things are essential, and bacon is one of them.
My sister looks up from her post behind the griddle where she’s turning out apple-cinnamon flapjacks with skill; these are not her first pancakes, people. I’m famished and I could smell these from outside. She doesn’t object as I snitch one; it helps to have contacts in the kitchen.

Whether lured by the smells coming from the kitchen or driven by the need for dry feet, a steady stream of people begin to trickle into the house. Soon muddy rubber boots and various other footwear begin piling up on the back porch like wild mushrooms multiplying on a rotten log. To my utter relief, my brother-in-law and resident coffee geek, Kevin, turns up and begins pumping out expertly prepared pots of French Press coffee. I take the second cup (he has dibs on the first), we stir in maple syrup and sigh with pleasure.
Then it is time to eat.

Photos are scarce from this point on due to the fact that I am just too busy tucking in to the home cooking and feeding the little ones. This shot of Danny’s plate–the first of many–is the only evidence of our sugar shack style meal.
There’s nothing like fresh air to work up an appetite and this is apparent as we devour the aforementioned baked beans and flapjacks plus scrambled eggs, bacon, ham, bison sausages, coffee cake, bagels and hash browns. Everything is topped with maple syrup; a tribute to our day in the sugar bush.

My hands wrapped around one last cup of coffee and my tummy full of pie, I watch the sun set over the valley that stretches out below the farmhouse. I hear Lynn behind me:

“See why I moved to the country?”

She gestures at the view, but it doesn’t require anyone to speak for it. It’s stunning and the display has not been lost on me.
This whole day had only been a reminder of that I already knew: ‘You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl’.

Thanks Marc & Lynn! See you next spring!

Rustic Maple Pecan Pie

I enjoyed my piece of pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of more maple syrup. Why not? Sugaring off comes but once a year.

Recipe by Auntie Lynn

1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell
2 eggs, beaten

3/4 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons flour

1 cup pure maple syrup

2 tablespoons melted butter

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1 teaspoon pure vanilla

1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400F. Beat eggs in a bowl. Stir flour into brown sugar and add to beaten eggs. Add remaining ingredients. Pour into pie shell and bake for 40 minutes.
Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.