Friday, October 23, 2009

My Trip-Poutine

Part of the package at our Inn in Vermont was a free breakfast at Mrs. Pickwicks, the hotel restaurant. Walking into the dining area we found it deserted and quiet. After a minute or two we were greeted by a friendly waitress who seated us at a large table near the window. We both ordered eggs and griddle pancakes. Dad also ordered bacon and hot tea and I had maple sausage and iced tea. The sausage was delicious with a subtle maple flavor that complemented without overwhelming the sausage flavor and a natural casing that had a hearty snap when bitten into. The pancakes were cooked perfectly, slightly crispy on the outside and warm and cakey inside. We poured warm Vermont maple syrup over them and entered a heaven that's only accessible in New England.

After breakfast we strolled around downtown Stowe and took pictures of it's story-book church and the town Meeting House. We also visited the Stowe Mercantile, an adorable country store that just made me smile. Before leaving the area we had a couple of more stops to make and returned to Cold Hollow Cider Mill and were delighted to actually get to see them make cider. They laid down large pallets covered in mesh, covered them in what appeared to be some type of lint-free cloth, then piped apple pulp on top with large hoses. They then folded the cloth over the top and capped it off with another pallet and started the process over again. Once about 10 of these pallets were assembled into a stack they put them on a machine that pressed a large weight down on the stack and squeezed every ounce of juice from the apple pulp contained within. We watched this process for a few moments while sampling the cider, which was like a liquid apple with a clean, crisp taste. While maneuvering around a tour group of seniors we picked up a few food items that represented Vermont to take home. Maple BBQ sauce, pumpkin butter, maple spread, apple cider jelly, apple butter, maple candy, apple cider donuts and of course Pure Vermont Maple Syrup. Our last stop in the Stowe and Waterbury area was at Green Mountain Coffee Visitors Center and Cafe. It was nestled in an old train station behind a public park. It turned out to be part museum and part coffee house, with that rich coffee aroma filling every inch of the building. Dad and I found the perfect way to round out our morning was with a large cup filled with a Pumpkin Spice Maple Steamer, pumpkin spice flavored coffee with a shot of maple syrup topped with steamed milk. It was an amazing treat on a cool Autumn morning.

We headed North out of town up towards Burlington where we stopped to view the serene Lake Champlain and Adirondacks. Dad and I both wanted to get out and take pictures but couldn't find a place to park that didn't charge, since we only planned on getting out for a couple of minutes we didn't want to drop any money on parking. Dad eventually saw some spots in an empty parking lot. We pulled in and quickly realized it was a police station! Instead of driving away in fear of being ticketed by a building full of police officers, I snapped pictures of Dad jokingly bent over the hood of the car with his hands behind his back. Luckily some Burlington Barney Fife didn't run out and yell at us. Being a couple of smart-alecs can potentially be dangerous!

We finally did manage to snap some pictures of the lake we came to see, had lunch and drove north across the border. When we first entered Canada it certainly didn't feel like we were in another country. It just seemed like any other area of the North East, that is until we reached an actual town. The signs were all in French, not French and English but just French. What little of the language I did know seemed terribly insignificant as we whizzed by storefronts and traffic signs. An hour or so later we passed over the Saint Lawrence River and entered the city of Montreal. We had no real idea where we were going but we were looking for the Notre-Dame Basilica. Between the foreign signs and the blustery, rainy day it was no easy feat. When we did finally came upon the cathedral, we realized yet again there was nowhere to park and settled for taking a few hasty pictures out of the car window. We weren't exactly sure what to do next so we pulled over and whipped out a tour guide and map of the city. Dad found out that we were near an underground mall and that sounded just right for a rainy day in a walking city. The Complexe Desjardins is just a tiny fragment of what is part of the largest underground structure in the world. In fact Montreal's subterranean complex is known as the "underground city", complete with malls, museums, banks, grocery stores, hotels and more. Not to mention the Metro train line.
We were amazed to find an IGA grocery store in this particular mall. Since Dad used to work as a butcher in an IGA in Illinois we had to visit. Dad and I strolled around the supermarket and the mall and listened to the beautiful Francophone sounds being spoken all around us. Dad even exchanged some US money for Canadian dollars so we could purchase a few things.

We decided dinner in the food court would be just fine with us for the night and we looked around trying to decipher the French menus. Dad settled on an Asian restaurant and I knew what I was having before ever arriving in the country, Poutine. I had heard about poutine for some time before our trip and knowing it's virtually impossible to find on a menu in the states, I knew I had to try it. Poutine is the "official dish" of Quebec and made up of basic ingredients, though if prepared correctly it can be elevated to haute cuisine. In it's simplest form poutine is french fried potatoes, topped with a brown gravy and cheese curds. After nervously ordering my dish in English while throwing in some basic French for the cashier's benefit (Bonjour! Ca Va? Merci!), I carried my tray of poutine with a half a club sandwich and a Pepsi (they serve mainly Pepsi and 7/Up instead of Coke and Sprite there) to a table where Dad was waiting for me. The dish tasted exactly as I hoped it would. Rich, deep and comforting.
Before heading out to our hotel we stopped in a news-stand and purchased a "Canadian" candy bar for each of us, my mom and sisters, my brother-in-law and my husband, as well as a couple of bags of Canada's famous Old Dutch Ketchup chips. We ended the night back in the hotel watching a movie (Revolutionary Road)on DVD and prepared for the last leg of our amazing journey.

This dish is a basic brown/beef gravy ladled on top of fries and cheese curds. If you can't find cheese curds locally (or don't want to go looking for them, though I suggest you make the effort) crumbled fresh mozzarella or Farmer's cheese will also work. You can also use store bought fries and/or gravy, but fresh and homemade always tastes better.


2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups beef stock
Freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into fries
1/2 pound fresh cheese curd (or mozzarella or Farmer's cheese)

Peel the potatoes and cut fries, 4 inches by 1/2-inch. Soak the potatoes in ice water for about 30 minutes. Remove and drain well. Let dry completely.

While fries are drying, in a saucepan, over medium heat, combine the butter and flour. Stir until incorporated. Cook for 5 minutes for a medium roux. Stir in the stock. Season with salt and pepper. Bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and continue cooking for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and keep warm.
Fry the potatoes in hot oil until golden brown (5 minutes for a deep fry, about 15minutes for a pan fry). Remove and drain on paper towels. Season with salt and pepper.
To serve, mound half the fries into serving bowl, crumble half of the cheese curds on top, add remaining fries then crumble the remaining curds. Top off the dish by ladling hot gravy over the entire dish.

General Store in Stowe, Vermont

Stowe Meeting House

The "Perfect" little Church in Stowe

Dad at Burlington Police Station "Hand-cuffed"

Lake Champlain

Notre-Dame Basilica, from passenger seat out of driver's side window

Dad and his Canadian Money

Dad at IGA


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