Not only have I made just two trips to Canada, but both trips were to the same place: Montreal. The first time I went was with my high school French class on a field trip, circa 1995. It was a lot of fun, in the way that overnight trips with your underage classmates in a foreign country can only be fun. I mean, the drinking age is 18 in Montreal, and my classmates and I were mostly ages 16 and 17. You do the math.
What I remember most from my first trip to the Great White North are the things that typically register on the radar of most teenagers (or at least, teenagers in the mid-90's): our teacher/chaperone brought her new boyfriend along, which was...odd, and they wore matching Boston Marathon warmup jackets the entire trip, even though I'm pretty sure neither of them was a runner; we saw an IMAX movie and mostly just took pictures of each other wearing the Canadians' version of 3D glasses (which were, by the way, ENORMOUS); we saw lots of horses in the country and declared that each of them was named Maria Chapdelaine; we ate dinner at a dive bar called La Cage Aux Sports; our teacher put masking tape across our hotel room doors at night so she'd know if we tried to "escape"; someone "escaped" and tore the tape off everyone else's doors, foiling our teacher; and I woke up one night to find one classmate crawling into my hotel room through the balcony window (hi, Trevor). Let's just say that although the purpose of the trip was educational, the cultural highlights didn't exactly register in my adolescent mind. I mean, yeah, we did visit Notre-Dame, Olympic Stadium, and some weird place called the Crypt ("Please, DO NOT SIT ON THE RUINS!!"), but mostly, it was just a fun time with my school mates.
My second foray to Montreal was over Labor Day weekend in 2006. I wanted to go back and experience Montreal again (paying actual attention, this time), and my hubby was excited to make his first visit to Canada. We spent our first evening walking around Old Montreal and taking in an amazing evening light show at Notre-Dame.
On Saturday morning, we went for a nice long run in Mont Royal Park and then spent the day wandering around the city. I had my first real vegan meal ever at Le Commensal, a Canadian vegetarian restaurant franchise. It's the kind of place where you choose your food buffet-style and then pay by the kilogram (although now it's apparently a load-your-plate-for-one-fixed-price kind of joint). I remember having tofu for the first time here and really liking it. I also remember getting a juice-box-thingy of soymilk, which I thought was really fun. Yes, I'm five years old.
I think one of our fondest memories of Montreal, though, was running uphill from our hotel to Fairmount Bagel for Monday's breakfast. We must have run about 4 miles in the rain just to get to this little hole-in-the-wall bakery, which is renowned for having some of the best bagels around (take that, New York). We grabbed a couple of bagels and cream cheese (for my hubby), stuffed them in a paper sack, and then ran downhill in the rain back to our hotel. We sat in our room, still wet, and enjoyed the best-tasting bagels of our lives. I'm not sure if they tasted so good because 1) we were starving, 2) they were warm, and we were wet and cold, or 3) they actually were the best bagels around, but we enjoyed them nonetheless.
In honor of my two trips to Montreal, I decided to make two sorta French-Canadian-ish recipes for dinner tonight. Okay, it's a stretch, but whatever.
First up: the Bistro Broccoli Chowder from Appetite for Reduction. Broccoli, potatoes, parsnips, onions, garlic, and rosemary are simmered together, then partially blended with some almond milk for creaminess and body. It was really tasty and the perfect choice for a cool autumn evening. And I could totally picture them serving this at a cute little bistro in Old Montreal. So there ya go.
I wanted to pay tribute to my first-ever taste of tofu at Le Commensal, so I turned to my favorite vegan Canadian cookbook author - Dreena Burton. Her recipe for Lemon-Herb Tofu in Vive Le Vegan! is one my favorites, and it was a great accompaniment to the soup. And she's Canadian. Wait, I said that already.
I hope you enjoyed notre petit voyage a Montreal. Tomorrow we'll be making a quick stop in my home state of Rhode Island! See you then :)