Friday, September 14, 2007

Autummer in Montreal

There are not enough words to describe how much I love this time of year, when the harvest is in full swing and the weather is turning crisp. It's no longer summer, but you don't need your coat just yet (a sweater will do) and the leaves have barely begun to turn. It's AUTUMMER, and nether can I express how much I enjoy Quebec at this time of year, from Labor Day to the first snowfall. But I'm jumping ahead as usual. We begin our story back in good old Plattsburgh.

Last weekend, I worked at the farmers' market, which was practically pointless. I didn't make enough money to justify the additional labor added to my already busy week (not to mention, my physical and mental health!). Oh, there were lots of people walking through, mainly due to the Battle of Plattsburgh celebration downtown, but I guess no one wanted to buy anything and then have to haul stuff back to their cars and let it sit in the hot sun all day during the parade and other festivities. And boy, was it ever HOT and humid, reaching 90 degrees and breaking records. I felt very sorry for all of the historical re-enactors in their heavy, layered garb. But since I was already downtown, and I had never fully experienced the Battle of Plattsburgh (and it has really grown over the years), I decided to check it out after the market closed. Now, celebrating war is generally not my cup of tea. Still, I saw most of the parade from my vantage point at the market. Then I drove over to the historical Kent-Delord House for a tour and to walk through the authentic encampment on the grounds which was quite fascinating. They had, among other things, a doctor, an apothecary (who bought a loaf of maple oatmeal bread from me to serve at tea!), seamstresses, and other kinds of vendors from that period (books, food, etc.). I even spotted a few of my teacher friends along the way, dressed up and occupying some of the tents.

After exploring the big event downtown, I made my way over to my friends, Steve and Lee Ann's new house (they've just moved into town from Saranac Lake which is close to an hour and a half from Plattsburgh, so I'll get to see them more often--yeah!). It was their daughter K's sixth birthday, and she is my long-time buddy. Plus, it was a Harry Potter theme, so I wouldn't have missed that! K actually had two cakes--Harry Potter's face made from a mold and that one looked great, but also an amazing Hogwarts Castle cake carved from rice krispy treats with upside-down ice cream cones for the turrets. So cool!

By the time I got home from throwing down with the six-year-olds, it was already 8pm, and my roommate said that she would completely understand if I just wanted to crash on Sunday. But there is no rest for the wicked at this time of year! So we decided, as we so often do, to point the car toward Montreal and see what we might see along the way. Of course, we had to hit the little farmstands along our route through Napierville and Sherrington. One sign in particular caught my eye, advertising autumn strawberries for sale. Isn't that an oxymoron? (But a darn tasty one!)

Once we hit Montreal proper, we did a little clothes and shoe shopping, then decided we needed a snack. I have always wanted to check out the Big Orange right off of the D├ęcarie Expressway (15N) called Orange Julep Gibeau. Cyd has always made fun of me for this, but I wasn't taking no for an answer! We enjoyed a ginormous, frothy and fresh-tasting orange juice and a big plate of deliciously goopy poutine, and we then had the strength to make it to (and through) the Jean-Talon Market, which is my tabernacle, especially at this time of year. By the time we found parking and a working ATM machine, it was very late, so we had to sprint through the market. And we weren't the only ones in a bit of a dither. The frenzy to preserve as much of summer's bounty as possible before the season ends was palpable.

An older woman and her daugher rushed by us with a HUGE box of canning tomatoes that neither could carry alone. Another man was carting two shopping bags full of red peppers, and I asked him what he was going to do with them. He shrugged his shoulders in that Gallic way and said, "Phfff! I have kids! They'll eat through one of these bags in a week." I was quite surprised, but he said he roasted them with olive oil in the oven, and the kids ate them with everything. Hmmm...while our kids are eating Doritos, theirs are eating roasted red peppers? We could learn something from those folks, eh?

We hurried through the market, seeing many wonderful sights and buying many wonderfully fresh veggies (see a few more random pictures below). Then we paused for some gelato at Havre Aux Glaces (espresso and dark chocolate--YUM!) and also bought some Romanian hamburgers and fresh kraut to take home and make on the grill.

Before we departed Little Italy, I had to try and take some pictures of the beautiful gardens that surround Jean-Talon. The apartment buildings have courtyards the size of postage stamps, but the Old World residents manage to do magical things with them.

Now, it should be understood, most Montrealers (and Quebecers at large) take great pains to have a nice yards and lovely flowers, even if they just have a tiny apartment and some windowboxes on the balcony. But I love these old Italians best because they value edible gardens! And since their space is so limited, they grow everything vertically, and anything nailed down has some sort of vine growing on it, be it a tomato or squash or what have you! It's truly amazing to see! (Look closely at the next picture and note the dangling gourds toward the back that someone has grown using a trellis made of tall stakes and some kind of fencing anchored to a staircase...ingenious!)

And another resident (not pictured) even has a small orchard in front of his or her apartment, and it was hard for me to restrain myself from stealing a few ripes pear, which you know I am apt to do from time to time. However, the residences are gated off with big "keep out" and "no parking" signs (after hours, the market attracts an unsavory element), but did I let that stop me? Nooooooo! And one kind lady even invited me in for a tour! Her English was practically non-existent, and my Italian is completely non-existent. So we did our best to communicate by speaking broken French. Here is her husband, taking a break under their grape arbor, and can you see the squash vine attached to the fence behind him? These urban farmers don't waste an inch of space, and I celebrate them for it!

After the market, we picked up a dozen piping hot sesame bagels at St-Viateur's to take home, and then decided to try something different for dinner. We ate at Casa Gaucho on Parc, an Argentinian Grill. We weren't exactly sure what Argentinian cuisine might be, but we suspected that beef would be involved (after all, a gaucho is a cowboy). When we walked in and saw some the cowhides adorning the walls, our suspicions were confirmed. As my friend, June, informed me later, Argentinian food tends to be meat, meat, with a side of meat! Tee hee. The signature dish of Argentina is the mixed grill, but I became squeamish at the inclusion of kidneys, sweetbreads, and blood sausage. So we opted for the short ribs on the advice of our waitress. However, she should have advised us to get the small portion, as the TWO rack of ribs that they served us were Fred Flintstone-sized! Then again, the leftovers made for a tasty lunch the next day. We also sampled one of their delicious empanadas which were likewise stuffed with meat and olives and such. But the best part of the meal was the homemade chimichurri sauce that we ate on everything. Chimichurri is the Spanish-speaking cousin of the persillade that I am so fond of (and both are surely the descendents of pesto). It's basically a combination of parsley, oregano, garlic, olive oil and perhaps vinegar, too, used to marinade meats and as a condiment. I could practically eat the stuff straight myself, I love it so much! There was also a spicy red pepper sauce that we enjoyed, but it was all about the chimichurri on some MEAT! :-) After such a hearty meal, I could barely keep from nodding off at the wheel as we made our way back to the border. But it was a fabulous day, and a very fitting beginning to my favorite season. Get out there and immerse yourselves in some harvest-time will be richly rewarded for your pains. (And don't worry: the couch will still be there alllllllll winter!)

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