Sugaring Off Part I and a Canadian Cocktail


We can smell the maple syrup as soon as we step out of the car. I can see smoke rising up out of the trees and the sun warms my face. I leave my jacket in the car and Danny, Noah, Mateo and I duck inside the family home. Auntie Lynn looks up from the maple pecan pies she is taking out of the oven and greets us. She barely bats an eyelash as we unload our car (about half the entire contents of our home) and trek our belongings to the guest room.

“For the month of March this isn’t my home”, she says in a resigned matter, “It’s a community centre.”

We’ve all come for one thing: sugaring off. During these warm days and cool nights, the sap is running in Lynn and Marc’s 25 acre ‘sugar bush’. The maple trees are tapped, and the collecting of the precious sap has begun.

On the kitchen counter sits an industrial sized canning pot with at least two gallons of dark maple syrup in it. A ladle hangs on the side and a jar of spoons next to the pot invites tasters.

“Try some”, smiles Lynn, “I boiled it last night.”

Unprepared for just how good it is going to be, I dip into the pot and spoon out a generous tablespoon. It’s like nothing I’ve ever had before. Now, as a rule, we only use pure maple syrup in our house (there is never any Aunt Jemima hiding in my pantry) but even store-bought pure syrup doesn’t come close to this.

“What? What? How…?” I splutter.

I think Lynn gets this reaction often, for she didn’t seem surprised by it and explained that the difference is due to the fact that the sap was boiled in the traditional method over an open wood fire in the middle of the forest. I’ve camped enough in my life to get that; bake a potato at home and bake one in the ashes of a campfire and they are worlds apart. Such is the case here; underneath the sweet and true maple taste of this syrup is another level of flavor so complex it makes you shake your head in wonder. Not surprisingly, though, everything tastes better straight out of the ground–or in this case, the tree–than it does off of a shelf.

I surreptitiously tuck the spoon into my pocket (one wants to always be prepared, doesn’t one?) and we exit the house, strike out into the woods, past an ancient outhouse, following the slushy trail and the barking of dogs.

(click on any image to enlarge)

Young saplings are interspersed with strong tall maples on either side of the path and almost every maple has a tin bucket hanging from it. Through the trees I can see a hub of activity. A pile of old wooden pallets towers precariously next to a massive cast iron stove; they are the fuel for the fire that reduces the sap. A couple of quads are parked nearby and the very sight of them causes Noah’s footsteps to quicken. He is a boy for sure.


We enter the clearing and greet everyone; someone takes Mateo from my arms and another person offers me some chili. I’m actually not that hungry yet, but when I hear that it is Uncle Marc’s homemade venison-maple chili, I accept the offer. It’s incredibly flavourful, smoky & sweet–and yes, he harvested the deer himself. Next to a small campfire, I take a seat on a freshly cut section of log, and size up the stove. It’s a big mamma and there’s a raging fire inside, fueled by the wooden pallets.


On top of the stove is a massive metal box, bigger than most bathtubs, and it’s half full with maple sap. Steam rises from the top as the sap boils rapidly, reducing itself to the precious syrup. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup, and out here in the fresh spring air is where the magic happens.

Buzzed from the jolt of maple from the house, and warmed by the chili, I’m raring to go. Noah has disappeared with his grandpa and, childless for the moment, I jump at a chance to tap some trees. A group if us head into the woods, armed with a drill, buckets and taps.

(Yours truly tapping a maple. You can see the smoke rising through the woods behind us)

The ancestral process is surprisingly elementary. Choose the side of the trunk that faces the sun; drill a hole (at a slight upwards angle so the sap can flow down); place a tap firmly in the hole; hang a bucket on the hook below the tap; cover the bucket with a lid. Then you wait. On a warm day like today, the sap is running fast and a bucket can fill within hours.

I hear voices through the woods and recognize Noah’s among them. In our wandering we’ve happened upon a frozen swamp with a group of aunts and uncles on it, just enjoying the day. It’s a charming spot, the smooth ice spreading through the trees creating many little frozen islands. Christmas lights encircle the pond and I suddenly wish it was night and I had my skates. Robert Frost’s famous poem “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” comes to mind especially the line…’Between the woods and frozen lake’.


As I step onto the ice to approach the small group, I notice that most of the activity is centered around a small table set up in the middle of the pond. Curious. The table holds a bottle of vodka, a liter of cream, a bottle of fresh maple syrup and a stack of small paper cups. I’m beginning to understand why this is such a popular spot!

I’m not going to pass up this golden opportunity; after all, one doesn’t happen upon a minibar in the forest very often, and I accept a drink. It’s not just the beautiful natural setting that makes me rate this cocktail among my top ten, it is truly one to be savored; the sheer quality of the pure syrup leaves little to be desired as it plays a bold lead role in the drink.

There’s not a car to be heard or a house to be seen; truly, this is roughing it with side benefits.

To be continued….

If anyone knows the official name for this most excellent drink, please let me know!

Recipe for Canadian Maple Cocktail:

Have the following ingredients chilled:

1 oz pure Canadian maple syrup
1 oz coffee cream (10%)

1 oz vodka

Pour maple syrup into a glass. Top with cream, followed by the vodka. Stir with a small tree branch (because what else are you going to use in the forest?) and enjoy. Add ice if desired.

If any bartenders or mixologists out there can recommend a way to keep the vodka and cream separate, please let me know!

Click Here for Sugaring Off Part II!: Making Taffy, Apple Cinnamon Flapjacks, and a recipe for Auntie Lynn’s Rustic Maple Pie.

An Afternoon Outing and The Best Autumn Sandwich


Our annual apple picking outing is always more than a trip down memory lane (we pick apples in the same orchard where we were married) and buying bushels of apple for canning, but usually evolves into a gastronomical tour of the region as well.
We munch on wedges of local aged cheddar with our Mac’s, scarf warm apple-custard tart straight from the pie pan and sample maple taffy. Along Mont Saint-Hilaire’s Chemin de la Montagne (Mountain Road) apple growers are selling the best their orchards have to offer and at some places, that includes some pretty amazing organic ice cider. Yum!
We usually pick our apples and then sprawl out on the grass for a picnic lunch, but last Saturday the bitter winds blew us out of the orchard and back into the car where we headed for one of our favorite bakeries just down the road, La Femme et Le Boulanger.


Our pockets and bags bulging with crisp cold apples and various delicacies we had already picked up, we snagged a little table by the window and surveyed the tantalizing baked goods. It was hard to choose, but we selected several croissants for our sandwiches, rum & coffee cannelés for dessert and a bacon baguette to have with our poached eggs for Sunday breakfast. (If you’ve never tried a toasted bacon baguette with a poached egg on top, you haven’t lived, my friends)
I sliced some three year cheddar, cracked open a jar of confit d’onion, both purchased from La Vieille Cave, and with some slices of our Macintosh’s and the fresh croissants, constructed the best sandwich I have had since my pulled pork party.

Seriously, the tart apple paired with the strong cheese and the sweet onion jam was just fabulous packed between flaky croissants. With a hot latte to wrap our chilled fingers around and a bottle of fresh squeezed apple cider, we were in heaven.

So by now you are probably wondering-where are all the recipes?

Yeah, I know, it’s been a while; I’ve been giving you interviews, garden updates, and oatmeal, for pete’s sake, and now a sandwich??
Hang in there, there’s tons of good food coming, I promise. In the meantime, why don’t you head over to the Blogger’s Choice Awards and vote for me. Much appreciated and good luck to all the nominees!

Since I’m already on a rambling streak, allow me to get sidetracked for another minute with this sequence of photos from Noah’s apple picking experience…

Boy spies apple
Boy picks apple
Boy eats apple
Boy contemplates the meaning of life.

Mmm…Canada: Foie Gras Sushi

The Perfect Balance of Flavors in Foie Gras Sushi: Nori, Sushi Rice, Red Anjou Pear, Seared Quebec Foie Gras, Reduction of Ice Cider, Wasabi, and Pickled Ginger

How do you define Canadian Cuisine? Is there one dish that sums it up? A half a dozen? I think not. Every province has its different specialty item from the Pine mushrooms in British Columbia to the seafood of Atlantic Canada.
Canadian cuisine means something different to everyone be they Ukrainian-Canadian, Italian-Canadian, French-Canadian or other. Our beautiful country is such a colorful melting pot of different cultures; stretching from ocean to ocean, with a vast majority of food products.

When Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict emailed me and asked me to participate in Mmm…Canada, her blogging event for Canada Day (July 1) I couldn’t refuse. I usually don’t participate in online events (read: never) for a few reasons, but mostly because deadlines and babies just don’t mix well!
However, I was excited to celebrate our nation in a culinary way and didn’t have to think twice about what I wanted to make.


If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ve probably noticed that I throw around the word ‘favorite’ quite a bit; however, this dish is, without question, one of my top five favorite things to eat in the world. Period. I find it also well represents Canadian modern fusion cuisine by taking a Japanese dish and using local ingredients such as Quebec foie gras and ice cider and highlighting them in this unique twist on classic sushi.

As I said before, deadlines and babies mix like oil and water and I am down to the wire on this one. Not a good start! So there is no way you are getting a recipe today and I hope you are not looking for a detailed look at how to make sushi rice! (I’m still mastering that one).
Despite a case of Red Rave and oceans of coffee, the late nights staying up talking with my parents (not to mention the Jazz Festival) and the early morning awakenings of the babies are taking their toll and my brain is fuzzy. My apologies for the awkwardness of this post!

Still I am so excited to show you the components of this dish I recently made for some friends, so here’s a quick look at how the recipe comes together.


An entire 375 ml bottle of Michel Jodoin ice cider is reduced and mixed with a little soya and sugar for the glaze on this sushi. This ciderie is located approximately 40 kilometers from my home; it’s hard to get more local than that!
The foie gras is from Palmex who are practically a household name to anyone who has worked in the fine dining industry in Quebec.

Here are the humble beginnings of the foie gras sushi:
a quarter of a sheet of nori, a generous smear of wasabi, a handful of sushi rice and some ripe pear. If pears grow locally, use your own; ours are not in season yet.

The foie gras is seared, placed on the pear and generously topped with the ice cider glaze.


Then you add some pickled ginger, fold up the two sides of nori like a bun and scarf it like a hot dog. No nibbling allowed! It’s a bit messy, but should be eaten in about two bites so you get all the flavors in your mouth at the same time. You will not soon forget the combination of the warm saltiness and richness of the foie gras paired with the tart ice cider, the sweet pear, the heat of the wasabi, and the pickled crunch of the ginger.

Oh. Mama.
Mmm, Canada!

All credits go to top Montreal chef Philippe de Vienne for this ‘out of this world’ recipe. Thanks for letting me pick your brain for the details and for coming up with it in the first place.

If you have any questions about quantities or preparation for this recipe, feel free to drop me an email and I will do my best to answer!

Enjoy your upcoming Canada Day on Tuesday!
Oh, one more thing. July 1 is also the Birthday of the love of my life, Danny!

Happy 30th, sweetie!
I love you!!

OK, someone cut me off of the Red Rave.

Montreal’s Best Cupcake: Part 2

Mini’s from Les Glaceurs

Exactly one year ago today, Under the High Chair brought you a thorough investigation into the trendy cupcake scene in Montreal. We did a citywide tasting, related its highs and lows, and ultimately named one cupcake “Montreal’s Best”.
Today we bring you an update to that post, because bakeries change, new places open, and kitchens change staff. You deserve to stay informed and I am more than happy to do the ‘work’. (Mmm, sugar)
So, does Montreal have a new best cupcake? You’ll find out at the bottom!

If you haven’t read the original cupcake post, I strongly suggest that you do and familiarize yourself with the territory, for it is a fascinating one of mafia (only speculating here guys), high prices, frosting and sprinkles! You’ll learn not to judge a cupcake by its cover, that the average price for one is almost a biting $3, which places to hit up when you feel a craving coming on and which ones to avoid like the plague.

Noah checks out the gorgeous presentation of cupcakes at Les Glaceurs

We were a different bunch this time around for the tasting blitz: instead of a group of girls, we were three guys, the two tots and myself. There wasn’t a crumb leftover as things got polished off lickety split be they good or bad! Hmm, guys certainly have a different metabolism than girls!

We did not return to two places that I reviewed last year, Cho’cola and Itsi Bitsi, as I had been informed from many sources that things remained the same at each establishment. In brief, Cho’cola: bad to very bad and Itsi Bitsi: good to pretty good. Yeah, I know that is totally vague, but like I suggested before, read the first cupcake review for details.

(Note: if you have experienced something different than I have at either of these places please let me know. e.g. a fresh, knee-weakeningly-good cupcake from Cho’cola or the opposite from Itsi-bitsi. I would be happy to return as I am always game for sweets!)

Our tour started with the new kids on the block:

Les Glaceurs
453, rue St-Sulpice, Vieux-Montreal, 514.504.469, Open since: September ’07 Price per cupcake: $2.85 Seating: yes

I have to say I’m sorry guys, because with Olive et Gourmando just down the hill, we’ve haven’t really been holding our breath for a cupcake joint in the Old Port. Fortunately Les Glaceurs sells Bilboquet ice cream though, and that in itself is a big draw.
While they have location, location, location (literally a stone’s throw from the Notre Dame Basilica) and the appearance of everything going for them (cool decor, beautiful presentation, clean bathrooms) they are a perfect example of how when you scratch a little deeper than surface, things aren’t so pretty. In short, I didn’t enjoy their cupcakes.

Clockwise from top left: Lemon-Vanilla, Chocolate Brownie, Peanut Butter, Red Velvet

We tried six different flavors, the ones pictured above plus Choco-Choco and Coffee-Vanilla. Eager to get this tasting going, Noah and I tucked immediately into the Choco-Choco, apparently one of their bestsellers. I stopped after the first bite while he kept going, a lesson right there to never trust a two-year-olds’ palate!
I found myself mentally admonishing the kitchen to upgrade their brand of chocolate, or add more, or something. It was nowhere near chocolaty enough, most certainly would never cut it for one of my cravings, was dry and completely forgettable.
Not a good start.

I went for the Red Velvet next as I had never had this southern specialty and was eager to see what all the fuss was about. Les Glaceurs tops theirs with a cream cheese frosting and it looks pretty cute. It disappeared in a twinkle and I found it more appealing than the chocolate, perhaps because I had no expectations. The color is a little alarming, but I am a sucker for cream cheese icing.

However, as we kept tasting I started noticing a pattern. The cake part of every cupcake was dry and mostly flavorless, while the icings took a lead role and kept us licking our fingers. (We liked the peanut butter especially) But in my opinion, the frosting and various toppings should take a back seat to the star of the show, the cake, and not outshine them. At Les Glaceurs the cake was bad enough that, without the toppings, these cupcakes just might be worse than Cho’cola’s Betty Crocker specimens.

Final answer? Sure, I’ll probably be back. I take just about all my out-of-town guests to the Basilica and with two kiddos to lug around now, for sure we’ll need a pit stop that has A/C and a bathroom, though you can be sure that if I have any say in the matter, we’ll be getting Bilboquet ice cream all around and skipping the cupcakes.

Next up:

Petits Gateaux.
783 Avenue Mont-Royal Est. 514.510.5488.
Open since: May ’07
Price per cupcake:$2.95 Seating: yes

Clock-wise from top left: House marshmallow samples (yes please!), Sucre a la creme, Tea Cranberry Violette, Sour Cream Raspberry and Chocolate Cupcakes

My last visit to P.G. was my first and only. I was aghast at how bad the cupcakes were, likening them, if I recall, to a day-old Tim Horton’s bran muffin. And I hate Timmy’s. However, I had heard that the original baker had moved on and that new team was turning out something rather memorable. Plus they had added mini’s to their repertoire. I had to see if the rumors were true.

Yep, as a matter of fact, these cupcakes are now made by a team of four guys who apparently have a blast playing with frosting and sprinkles and are doing a fine job of it. Their flavor combinations are creative, the cupcakes are tasty and satisfying, and those mini’s are looking like a tasting menu waiting to happen. Bravo!

Top row L to R: Tea Cranberry Violette, Blueberry Tofu, Chocolate Ganache
Bottom row: Chocolate Ginger, Pear-Vanilla, Carrot

While I was impressed with the all-male teams’ work (almost anything would be an improvement over the last baker), of course I have a few quibbles and after careful consideration my complaint would be that the cupcakes could benefit from the delicate hand of a woman.

For example on the Pear-Vanilla cupcake, a large quarter of a poached pear dwarfs the cupcake below. If I had wanted a fruit cup, I wouldn’t be here. I do like a little frosting.

The Blueberry Tofu is hands down, the ugliest cupcake I have ever seen, but gets points for originality and flavor. Frozen blueberries that bleed all over the white frosting? How hard would it be to use a few fresh ones? Still the taste is great, but let me warn you, the texture is a little funny! I’m still trying to put my finger on what it reminds me of.

On the Sucre à la Crème, the square of fudge is so large that the cupcake must taste about as sweet as a slice of toast after eating it. Same for the Chocolate Sucre à la Crème and a few other toppings that seem completely disproportional to the already small cupcake.

The lilac colored Tea Cranberry Violette Cupcake is as if someone said
“OK, now we need a girly one. Hmmm, what do ladies like? Tea and flowers, I guess.”
It’s such a random combination and from my observations, has absolutely no cranberries to speak of save a sugared one on top. The cake itself is moist and tasty, but it’s a stretch to say it has green tea flavor, and as for the violets, they seem to be M.I.A with the exception of the icing color. I was baffled by this one.

Favorites?
Great carrot cupcake. I love a good carrot cake, yet it’s not something I would whip up for just our little family. Give me a few more years and a few more kids and I’ll haul out my box grater and start peeling carrots. This moist cupcake with its hint of spice and cream cheese frosting (told you I was a sucker for it) was a pleasure to eat and one I will return for when the craving hits-and it is sure to!
A pretty decent Chocolate Ganache and the Chocolate-Ginger were hits with the guys. At least here the chocolate was worthy of the title, unlike Les Glaceurs.

Moving on to our last stop:
Cocoa Locale.
4807 Park Avenue. 514.271.7162. Opened: Summer ’05
Price Per cupcake: $3 Seating: a bench and a –swing?
How much to I love you/I’ll tell you no lie/How deep is the ocean/How high is the sky?

If you haven’t dropped in on baker/owner Reema and her little shop on Park Ave yet, then lower that three pound container of two-bite brownies you are contemplating buying, get out of Costco and GO!
Trust me, your guests will thank you for it.

Three flavors available at Cocoa Locale: Lemon, Vanilla, and last year’s winner for best cupcake, Chocolate-Chai

Mother’s day was tainted for me this year because I knew exactly what I wanted and I couldn’t get it. I wanted a cupcake (or four) from Cocoa Locale and after getting our family out the door (not so simple with a newborn) and driving to Park Ex. I saw a sign on the door that said ‘sold out’. I learned a valuable life lesson that day and so should you: Call and reserve your cupcakes. Especially on holidays.

I must be growing up. No, not just because I am turning 30 this year, but because more and more, I am choosing vanilla over chocolate. It’s like my taste buds are maturing and realizing that the question “chocolate or vanilla?” is no longer a no-brainer. Vanilla really can outshine its seductive counterpart, chocolate, and I finally understand why it’s my mother’s favorite ice cream flavor. Here is what helped me see the light:


Which brings me to the conclusion of our cupcake tasting and a NEW winner for Montreal’s best cupcake!

Cocoa Locale’s Vanilla Cupcake!


You saw that coming a mile away, right? Well, satisfyingly dense, just sweet enough, ever so moist, and with such a perfect grown-up, vanilla flavor, this cupcake silently outshines last year’s favorite.
Apparently it’s Reema’s favorite, too. So there.
I am also enchanted by it’s soft pink color, simply a few drops of food coloring, and that must be the girly-girl side of me coming out.

Pretty please may I have 30 of them for my upcoming birthday?

So there you have it. I’m not sure how to conclude this post, but I guess I will just say that I hope you enjoyed the read and found it helpful.
We’ll see you next year!

Sweet! Cabane à Sucre

Ah, Spring, when Quebecers thoughts turn to cabane à sucre. With Canada producing about 80 percent of the world’s maple syrup, and the majority of that coming from us here in Quebec, it’s no wonder that Quebecers, young and old alike, keep up the tradition of flocking to countryside Sugar Shacks to get their fix of maple syrup during the sugaring off season. While most of these establishments are massive tourist traps, where people pour in by the bus loads, it is still possible to have a more authentic experience. We met up with some friends last weekend at Cabane a Sucre Bouvrette to feast on traditional Québecois comfort food and get our fill of sugar. It felt a bit like I was a kid back at summer camp again when I stepped into the bustling sugar shack. Once my eyes adjusted to the dim lamps, I saw rows and rows of long tables packed full of people, low wooden ceilings, and bright yellow curtains that gave the place a farmhouse kitchen feel. The place was toasty warm thanks to a roaring fire in a stone fireplace and smelled heavenly: like bacon, warm maple syrup and coffee.


This was no camp food, though, you could taste the love in the cooking.
Our menu:

Split Pea Soup (pictured above in a cheery red terrine)
Sausages cooked in syrup (hmm, let just call them hot dogs, OK?)
Coleslaw
Roasted Potatoes

Baked Beans (in syrup, of course)
Maple smoked Ham
Bacon
Pork Rinds (oreille de krisse)
Homemade Bread
Assorted Pickles Maison
Omelette (oven baked, laced with cinnamon, very nice)
Pancakes
Sugar Pie
Coffee, etc.

Of course, everything is covered in maple syrup before it is consumed. Maple syrup in coffee? Mmm, delicious.

I could have lingered long at the table for another cup of coffee and a round of pancakes, but Noah was itching to get outside and visit the ‘attractions’: a well-rounded petting zoo/small farm and a little train that wound it’s way through the maple forest and tootled it’s horn. So we left our sticky table and exited, blinking, into the bright sunshine.

However, the best was still to come as, after the requisite train ride and farm tour, we stopped off at a cute little red-roofed shack to sample some fresh maple taffy or Tire d’érable.
This delicacy is made by boiling maple syrup until it reduces slightly ( to a temperature of 234 degrees F, to be exact), and then pouring it over packed, clean snow. It rapidly hardens and a Popsicle stick is then used to lift it off the snow and to the mouth!
Watch the video to see the real deal. Yum!

Brandon, one of our friends we were with, declared that this insanely sweet confection was the real, if not only, reason he goes annually to a sugar shack. He certainly made the most of it too, consuming an impressive seven sticks of tire. That’s probably the equivalent of at least 300ml of maple syrup, if not more.

I maxed out at three. Noah was allowed one, and he still had a decent sugar rush.

So there you have a Québec Cabane à Sucre experience in a nutshell!

If you are looking for a recipe with maple syrup, check out my all-time favorite: Pouding Chômeur.