A weekend of eating

Wow, 10 days since my last post… Time sure flies! I’m in the middle of re-orienting my life right now and I’ve got a number of things on the go. I didn’t realize it had been so long though: my apologies.

It was cool Monday here in Montreal, with temperatures hovering around 20 degrees with large clouds providing a dramatic skyline and a healthy breeze. I had a decadent weekend of eating and celebrating with my mother and her beau who were in town for the weekend from Toronto. They had a delicious meal at Lawrence on Friday that I offered her for her birthday. They shared oysters, a pig’s cheek asparagus and mostarda appetizer(one of the best dishes ever…) and a poached duck leg with puy lentils, kale and radishes, as well as sea bream with zucchini flowers, chanterelles and mussels. For dessert they shared a strawberry tart, and a ginger rhubarb layered ice cream cake they make. I’ve tried and savored each one of those dishes and I can declare with confidence that it made for a great evening of eating.

Just found this impressionistic painting of Lawrence.
Check out the artist’s site at http://jermin.wordpress.com/

The duck was from a farm called Au goût d’autrefois on l’Île d’Orléans, an island near Québec city. The owner, Jacques Legros and his wife, work tirelessly to provide what must be one of the most ethically admirable animal products in all of North America. Not only are their ducks, geese and turkeys well treated and loved, but they taste fantastic, due to a healthy and varied diet of different high quality grains.

Jaques Legros feeding his animals

After eating what some refer to as neo-rustic english cuisine at Lawrence on Friday night, Carolina(my wife) and I joined my mom and her partner for an evening of fancy Turkish food at Su, a restaurant on Wellington in Verdun, Montreal, where Fisun Ercan, the chef and owner, plates aromatic and colorful dishes from the country that bridges Europe and Asia.

Chef and owner of Su, Fisun Ercan

It was a first time at the restaurant and we had a very good meal. I was very pleased to see them serving lamb from Kamouraska, a Québec lamb that I particularly enjoy. They live by the mouth of the St-Lawrence and the feed they graze is slightly salty due to the sea water mixing with the river and the sea winds bringing with them some of its flavor. The meat is fantastic, and SU did the lamb justice. Here’s what I ate:

Kuzu pirzola
Grilled fresh lamb chops marinated with mountain herbs, mint, sumac and pomegranate infused olive oil, bulgur and seasonal vegetables

I sucked on those chop bones in an attempt to get at every last bite of meat. Fantastic. Thank you Kamouraska, and thank you Fisun and Su!

I recommend the restaurant and urge people to explore what Verdun has to offer. I was very pleasantly surprised by how charming it is.

Following a night of lamb infused sleep, the four of us woke up for another round of food: this time, some Montreal bagels, smoked meat, cream cheese, sun dried tomatoes, and a rhubarb and almond loaf from the pastry shop Rhubarbe. All of this we enjoyed sitting on a picnic table in parc Laurier near one of Montreal’s cutest neighborhoods. Picnicking is something I don’t do enough!

Pastry Chef and owner Stephanie
Now THAT’s a bagel!
Parc Laurier

It was a great weekend. Eating brings us together.

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A pasta salad, an espresso and the lachine canal

Things have been moving along at the same moderate pace on the home-front. We’ve gone back to eating without restrictions, which hasn’t been all that unhealthy. It’s simpler to eat out and I’ve spent less time in the kitchen recently, which is a good thing being that the weather has decided to cooperate in the best of ways recently. Warm, sunny and dry. Never overwhelming. Lovely.

I finished the Pablo Neruda biography by Adam Feinstein and started a university history textbook on Latin America, as well as a Julio Cortazar book entitled “Los Premios”, or, in English, “The winners”. I’m reading it in French though, so I’m actually reading a book called “Les gagnants”!

Julio Cortazar in one of his better looking photographs

The textbook is dense and boring but it’s an accurate, researched and as close to objective as can be resource. My plan is to finish it and follow it up with a book I recently found about the fight for aboriginal rights in South America. Sounds interesting. The Julio Cortazar book is what I get to read before going to bed, and occasionally, during the day, when the dense account of 3 centuries of history becomes unbearable.

Anyways, this post is not about books, or reading, or history: it’s about a nice salad and a wonderful day.

Spinach pasta salad

A quick recipe:
1.Spinach pasta– In our case, store bought but fresh.
– Boil, rinse, and let it cool down with some extra virgin olive oil
2.Carrots
– Grate. 🙂
3.Red Cabbage
– Thinly slice
4.Parmesan
– Grate.
5.Olive oil and seasoning
– sprinkle.

That’s it, and you know what, it was great.

Now on to the wonderful day Carolina and I shared on Sunday, when the sun was shinning, the breeze was gentle and the air refreshing.

We woke up early to explore a neighborhood we rarely set foot in called St-Henri. A new coffee roaster, named after the neighborhood, has opened there and I was excited to discover the coffee and space.

Find out more here: www.sainthenri.ca

The space is simple and elegant; with church pews and cute wooden chairs playing off the charcoal and grey tones of the wall, floor and ceiling. The roaster is one of a new wave of coffee makers popping up around North America. Hip, experimental and passionate, groups of (mostly) younger coffee aficionados are going about producing a mini coffee revolution; establishing an alternative to the large corporate hegemony that developed North America’s love for coffee during the 90s and 2000s. More involved in the roasting and picking of the beans, these artisans are offering exciting new options at small coffee shops around the continent. This is the first one of this kind that I know of in Montreal, and they are slowly developing their coffee. It was better this weekend than when I had tried it some weeks ago at the restaurant I work at. Good to see it improving.

Not my picture

Here are a few that you should look into:

Ritual– from San Francisco

Forty Ninth Parallel – From Burnaby B.C

Metropolis – From Chicago

Stumptown – Brooklyn, NY

There are a great many more, but these are a few you can look into.

So, on to the Lachine canal. Running through Montreal, weaving an imperfectly parallel line with the St-Lawrence, is a canal that was used for a number of different purposes over the last centuries. It’s an inland waterway, on which you can plan water activities such as kayaking, and which inspired the creation of a 15 kilometer bike path that follows its gentle meandering current. What a joy. I’m ashamed to say that I had never followed the bike path before, but oh-so pleased to know that it is there for my enjoyment. On Sunday, I felt liberated. I swooned over Montreal and it’s many treasures and I rejoiced in my discovery. One must absolutely bike down the Lachine canal on a nice day. Bring some food, a book, a sporting good, whatever, but make it a mission for yourself. You won’t regret it. For those of you from out of town, there are bike and boat rental stations, as well as small restaurants and a harbor near the end of the bike ride where you can relax and enjoy life. aha. It’s also very family friendly.

a statue at the parc towards the end of the ride
babe
historical leftovers
happy, happy

LUFA farms: a vision for the future?

lovely produce

Ladies and gentlemen, today I have something a little different for you. During December of last year, I became aware of a project taking place in Montreal that was being developed by LUFA farms. The company was in the midst of building the world’s largest urban commercial green house. Just north of the city’s downtown, they found an old building upon which they went about building a 31 000 sq feet green house that would start producing herbs and veggies in late March.

"Cold" greenhouse

On Monday the 18th of April, I was invited by my friend Cai Rintoul, who first informed me about the project and who is now acting as a consultant for the company, to an information session with chefs and restaurateurs from around the city. We gathered at the green house and were given a tour of the premises, explained the functioning and the philosophy behind the project and LUFA farms, and were invited to taste some of the produce.

At the core of the project is a vision of responsible and environmentally friendly living. An urban greenhouse offers a number of advantages that our regular food system is unable to provide. First of all, LUFA’s goal is to distribute produce that is as fresh as possible. When fully functional, they will have baskets of their veggies and herbs distributed every day of the week to restaurants and to different pick up centers where regular customers who have subscribed to their service can get their weekly supplies. What’s more, when the distribution network will be properly organized, there will be zero waste of vegetables. A bonus of getting the daily fresh produce so fast to its customers is that they will be able to guarantee the highest possible nutrient value. Even in the best systems, rarely do we find produce that is less than 3 or 4 days old in our markets and grocery stores(if not much more…). LUFA provides a local and consistent source of fresh vegetables year round, whether its in the winter or summer.

The greenhouse is a complicated but very efficient and sustainable system for vegetable growth. The water used is filtered and re-used, the energy necessary is minimal and the system is highly productive. They eventually plan on using the bio matter(stocks, leaves and so on) of the plants to produce heat for future greenhouses. The air quality is filtered and no pesticides or chemicals are needed. A lot of its heat is produced by the plants themselves, and a well organized greenhouse can offer carefully controlled growth conditions that will maximize the efficiency of the plants therein. In the summer the plants will help cool the space and that of its surroundings. What’s more, the greenhouse is also a positive structure for the building on which it exists. The owner of that building will be saving a great deal in heating and cooling throughout the year.

rooftop greenhouse

LUFA’s vision is one of a city of rooftop farms…. Not the endeavour of a group of hippies, LUFA is also a company with an ambitious business model. It took a very large investment and 4 years of research and tests to develop the project. The risks are big but the rewards potentially much greater, and I believe that would be a good thing for society. Imagine the energy savings that would take place if we were to have most of our own produce grown within a city’s boundaries and picked fresh daily. While there are certainly restrictions as to what they can grow, the benefits outweigh the negatives. Greenhouses of the sort are also quite flexible; able to offer different produce to different communities while being able to change the production of certain products very rapidly. When I visited, the plants were less than 2 months old and were already producing. The eggplant for example was thriving and the tomatoes were as well. LUFA will also be able to tweak the flavors of its products.

After our information session we were presented with a variety of greens, herbs and tomatoes to try. Everything was freshly picked and very flavorful. Certain items, such as the coriander(cilantro) still need some work as it was rather bland, but the tomatoes were wonderfully sweet, the Persian arugula was bright and spicy, as was the watercress. The green peppers were crisp and flavorful and the eggplants were not bitter at all. As I walked out I marveled at the possibilities of such a project. This 31000 sq feet greenhouse will be able to serve baskets to about 2000 customers a week. LUFA is already thinking about a 100000 square feet space. If this works, eventually, they’ll be able to develop greenhouses following the subway networks of large cities and could become a great source of local and pesticide free produce for urbanites. When I think of the rapid rise of urban development in developing countries, that is when I become especially excited. I’ve seen and followed the changes that have and continue to take place in China for example. Things are happening unconsciously fast, and they will need to properly plan their development for sustainable living. LUFA farms offers an opportunity for environmentally progressive development and that’s really cool.

Here are more pictures:

green pepper plants
tiny growing eggplant
worker
Striped Tomatoes
Lovely tomatoes
eggplants

More about Lawrence

So, Lawrence, the restaurant I work at that I wrote about a few weeks ago, was reviewed today in Montreal’s most important english newspaper, the Gazette. It’s a wonderful review and reinforces my belief that I happen to be very lucky working in one of Montreal, if not Canada’s, best restaurants.

Here’s the link to the Lesley Chesterman review: http://www.montrealgazette.com/life/food-wine/Fine+Dining+Lawrence/4348152/story.html

In order to further activate your salivary glands, here are some pictures of the food at Lawrence:

Braised Beef pie

Ahimsa

Hello there,

I’d like to share with you a wonderful project that I’ve indirectly been involved in. I met a wonderful couple a few years ago who opened a yoga studio last year in Montreal. However, Miranda and Andrew, owners and teachers of Ahimsa, are more than just running a yoga center, they are engaging in a lifestyle experiment that I admire and that inspires me. We’ve started working on a video project together, where I make short little videos following the development of the project, filming everything from an introduction to the yoga studio to a day of plastic free food shopping.

Miranda and Andrew

I’ve added the link to both their yoga studio, and their own wordpress blog in my blogroll. I urge you to take a look. I’m also adding a few links to the videos we’ve made together in order to you to get a better picture of what it is exactly they are doing.

Enjoy!

The Ahimsa Yoga Studio Tour:

http://player.vimeo.com/video/16903452<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/16903452″>The Ahimsa Yoga Studio Tour</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user3559747″>gabriel couture</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Ahimsa Yoga:

http://player.vimeo.com/video/16894780<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/16894780″>Ahimsa Yoga Studio</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user3559747″>gabriel couture</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Ahimsa Yoga-Le Frigo Vert:http://player.vimeo.com/video/16075755<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/16075755″>Ahimsa Yoga-Miranda and Andrew- le Frigo Vert</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user3559747″>gabriel couture</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

 

***I NEED TO LEARN HOW TO EMBED VIDEOS DIRECTLY INTO THE POST!!***

AUX VIVRES; AN OVERVIEW

I live in the plateau neighborhood of Montreal, Quebec where there resides a healthy, affordable and tasty vegan restaurant called Aux Vivres.

Aux Vivres has been around for quite some time now and enjoys a regular following. The restaurant is simply decorated; with art from local artists changing every few weeks. There´s a juice bar and an outdoor patio during the summer time where they grow herbs and vegetables as well. The restaurant offers a menu made with mostly organic produce. The recipes are simple but wholesome and tasty. There are sandwiches and wraps, organic rice bowls, salads, soups and plates of dips with breads. They make they´re own vegan sweets as well and they are well worth it if you have a sweet tooth. On saturdays and sundays they offer two vegan brunch choices starting at 11am.

I´ve always found the service to be friendly and casual although at times they take forever to bring you your fruit juices or smoothies. I must admit though, that they´ve improved considerably over the past few months. It´s a nice little place to go, where i enjoy going alone or with friends. The ingredients are always fresh and although the dishes never make me salivate, they always satisfy me . I always feel good after having eaten there; energized, pleased and strangely calm… Perhaps its my conscious giving me a break, haha.

If I have one criticism about the place, and arguably this has more to do with the vegan food movement in general, its that the menu is too repetitive and isn´t bold or experimental enough. Because of this, Aux Vivres becomes like some kind of high end, although inexpensive fast food joint… Not exactly what i want from a place which does so much business and has the potential to excite the palates of meat eaters and non meat eaters alike. They have daily specials but they always fall under the boring and ´this has been done a thousand times over category´. There are a lot of great vegetable items out there to experiment with; let´s celebrate veganism appropriately! haha ( Notice how i turned this post into a rant on veganism instead of a restaurant review!)

Other than that, almost everything is good: The curry dishes are a bit weak to satisfy the north american palate which is disapointing but understandable. My favorite dishes are the MACRO BOWL and the vegan BLT in Chapati. I also like the weekend brunch choices and the dip plate with bread. I should point out that they make a mean corn bread.

For a dinner that will cost you under 20 $ per person with tax, tip and even tea or fruit juice included, this place is great. Try it out.

Other reviews:

http://www.montrealmirror.com/ARCHIVES/2004/052004/resto.html

http://restomontreal.ca/restaurants/index.php?section=viewresto&resto_id=15

http://www.voir.ca/publishing/article.aspx?article=42560§ion=21