Tuesday, April 21, 2009

In Which My Gays Come to Visit

As you may have gathered from my prolonged absence, my life has been INSANELY BUSY of late! But I swear I haven't forgotten you, dear readers, and I am going to do my best to catch up--I promise! I owe you a long one, so here goes. Now where was I? Oh yes...there were the midterm grades that I had to complete before leaving for spring break, then I was was in New Orleans for a week, and then I was back for just a few days before I was invaded by guests from out of town, so there was MUCH spring cleaning to do to prepare for their arrival! My long-lost roommate, Cyd--BLESS HER HEART--arrived a couple of days ahead of the others (late Wednesday night) and helped me get things ready. Then my boys arrived late Friday afternoon, up from NYC for a whirlwind tour of the North Country. Oh, can I just tell you what bliss it was to see my beloved friends, all in the same room together for the first time in something like eight years?? How I've missed them! (And how my face hurt from all the laughing!)

We started with a late lunch/early dinner at the excellent Thai place in town, Sawatdee. Even my big-city, cosmopolitan friends seemed impressed. (But in the big cities, would a restaurant open a half an hour early just to accommodate one little party? Didn't think so! THANKS, nice folks at Sawatdee!) After linner, we toured Plattsburgh and its scenic environs (yes, there are some!) before heading north to the homestead. It was my intention to take them just across the border to the little pub in Hemmingford for a later supper, but by the time we got settled at home, drank a bunch of wine, and had some snacks (including a deliciously garlicky and cumin-spiked hummus that I whipped up with my friend Mike's collaboration), we decided that we were in for the night.

Saturday morning, we began our adventures with a stop at Parker's Maple Farm for all-you-can-eat pancakes and freshly-made maple syrup. My friends may have chosen to visit at the UGLIEST time of year, but at least they got to enjoy this pivotal (and tasty!) rite of spring.

After brunch, we hit the road north for a day in Montreal (despite some of us not having the proper documentation...um, CYD!). We visited the beloved Atwater Market (where we bought more local maple products) and my favorite bakery (Patisserie Belge). Then I took them up to the majestic overlook of the city from Mount Royal, then to Old Montreal to poke around and, of course, to view the Notre-Dame Basilica (where Celine was married, natch!). We ended our day with a special dinner at Au Pied de Cochon, which was just MARVELOUS! We got there an hour early, but they seated us within 15 minutes of our arrival. We had a cute and delightfully theatrical waiter (pictured below, center, between Rob on the right, and Kurt--inexplicably dressed as a Brokeback Cowpoke--on the left) who answered our many questions and made excellent suggestions, and promptly served us enormous and very flavorful portions of food.

As far as I could tell, there were very few downsides to dining at Au Pied de Cochon, except that the restaurant is very cramped, and it's the only place in the area that isn't BYOB, so they really gouge you on the price of wine. And given Quebec's ongoing love affair with game and offal, you have to have an adventurous spirit and a strong stomach just to endure the recitation of the specials. I have blocked most of it out as it was too psychologically painful for me, but there was something about salmon head soup (um, I'd rather have the rest of the fish involved in my soup, thanks), a green salad topped with sliced veal heart (I am on the verge of tears now remembering it), and the one that pushed us all over the edge with horror followed by uncontrolled fits of laughter was the Rabbit Royale, which involved disemboweling the poor animal, sauteeing its innards and perhaps combining it with foie gras (the key ingredient in most APdC dishes), stuffing it back in, then pan-frying the back legs and preparing the front legs in a confit. AAAAAAAAAHHHHHH...the humanity! Here are some of the things in which we did happily indulge (click on the smaller pics to enlarge, photo credits on this next batch go to my dear friend, Rob):

This is a traditional Quebecois snack called "oreilles de crisse," irreverently translated as "Christ's Ears," or the Quebecois version of fried pork rinds. They taste like the fatty part of bacon, and some pieces almost break your teeth!

Mike, had duck carpaccio for his appetizer. He said it was a bit bland.

Cyd I shared a crock of French onion soup that had ham in it and a pork broth base, so it tasted like a cross between French onion and ham and bean soup (Kurt had this for his appetizer, too). And then Cyd and I also shared a WONDERFUL endive, apple, and blue cheese salad. There may have been walnuts or something, too. DELISH!

Kurt also had one of these little creatures--a square of foie gras, deep fried until crispy and molten inside, then allowed to cool for just two minutes before the waiter instructed him to "pop" it whole into his mouth. I myself couldn't see the appeal, but Kurt literally wept with joy when he tasted it, and then insisted that Cyd order one. She confirmed the ecstasy of the experience.

It was wrong, but we had to order this for the table to share...poutine topped with foie gras (just in case poutine doesn't kill you fast enough)! Our verdict: fresh-cut potatoes fried in duck fat and topped with house-made pork gravy and local cheese curds doesn't need a topping of foie gras (or the $23 price tag).

Mike ordered some mystery pot of varied sausages and vegetables. The blood sausage was the most intriguing, black in color and heavily spiced.

I have no idea what possessed me to take a semi-vegetarian to the pig restaurant, but Rob happily ordered himself the catch of the day, which was a DELICIOUS haddock dish with fresh veggies and gnocchi served atop the most gloriously savory mashed potatoes.

For our entree, Cyd and I shared the restaurant's signature dish, Pied de Cochon (that's the pig's foot to you Americanos, but NOT the version stuffed with foie gras, mind you!). This was a wonderfully flavorful and succulent dish, with the most tender pork and stewed vegetables served over those same awesome mashed potatoes. And I was SO glad that we decided to split it, as the serving was HUGE! The only thing I didn't like was the leftover cartilaginous bits being breaded and fried and served with a drizzle of spicy mustard. Eww.

For his entree, Kurt went a lighter route with a beautiful and tasty tomato tart on puff pastry, which was very good, but would be out-of-this-world come September with seasonal tomatoes!

Lastly, Kurt chose the lighter entree so that he could save room for dessert (though I had a fabulous homemade cherry pie waiting back at home!). He selected the baked apple that was stuffed with cranberries and served in a puddle of something akin to Creme Anglaise. He was very happy.

Sunday morning, we were up and out early, as we had to take Cyd back to the airport in Burlington. After dropping her off, my boys insisted that we take in the local brew pub culture (as is their way no matter what city they visit!). So we enjoyed a long lunch at The Vermont Pub and Brewery where the boys sampled each house brew, including one that we drank in honor of Mike called Handsome Mick's Stout, which tasted to me like someone dumped a used ash tray into a pint of beer. Blech! Then again, I don't drink beer, so what do I know? But I did enjoy my luncheon dish of Toad in the Hole--local maple sausages and Vermont cheddar wrapped in puff pastry and served with house-made apple chutney. Yum! By the time we finished our leisurely lunch, we had a phone call from Cyd that her flight had been cancelled due to inclement weather in the midwest. So we fetched her, forewent shopping on Church Street as it was pouring down rain, and instead headed down to Stowe for some more touristy sightseeing adventures.

First, we toured Ben and Jerry's headquarters and factory (of course we did--and see how Mike looks so very pleased with himself about it). And we sampled the most incredible ice creams there! Unfortunately, the first one is sold exclusively in their scoop shops, so it won't be accessible to most of you around the country*. It's called Goodbye Yellow Brickle Road, in honor of Elton John playing Vermont for the very first time last summer. It has a rich chocolate base, peanut butter cookie dough chunks, white chocolate pieces, and butter brickle bits. YUM!!!
However, I have one more recommendation that can be found in your local grocery stores--Triple Caramel Chunk. It's caramel ice cream with a soft caramel swirl and chocolate-covered caramel chunks. TO. DIE. FOR. (Yes, they kind of ripped off Haagen-Dazs' Fleur de Sel Caramel, but so what? It's awesome!)

*FOLLOW-UP: STOP THE PRESSES! I lied to you good people! When I went grocery shopping after work this evening, I spied a few "Limited Batch" containers of Goodbye Yellow Brickle Road stuck in among the other Ben and Jerry's offerings! And the package says that the proceeds go to the Elton John AIDS Foundation...as if we needed another reason to buy it! So RUN do not walk to your nearest grocery outlet and get some while it lasts in the stores!

After B&J's, we had to head up the road to see the Von Trapps, just so my friends could say that they did. Then we finally made our way back to New York State to relax and enjoy each other's company for one last evening. Since we got back later than we'd hoped, I pulled together a strange smorgasbord of pre-function nibbles, including cornichons from the Atwater Market, little toasted baguette slices topped with either the leftover hummus or some goat cheese and marinated eggplant (also acquired at Atwater), chips and homemade salsa and/or escabeche, or the most creative combination of all (Kurt and Mike put this strange one together): the toasted baguette pieces with goat cheese, a dollop of my blackberry Earl Grey jam, and a squeeze of fiery sriracha. A truly inspired snack! Sweet, spicy, creamy, crunchy--what more do you need in a nosh?!

For dinner, I made the venerable sweet-and-shiny roasted chicken, sprinkled with the house BBQ rub, roasted on top of a half-full beer can with a couple of garlic cloves inside at a scorching hot temp for an hour, then lacquered with homemade apricot pepper jelly and roasted for about 15 minutes more (so flavorful and juicy, both sweet and spicy!), roasted root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, and parsnips), steamed asparagus with butter and lemon (which I overcooked, unfortunately), and a green salad which included some herbs and lettuce from my faithful Aerogarden. The wine and laughter flowed freely, in partial thanks to my old college buddy, Don Wood, of Icicle Ridge Winery in Washington State, who sent me a very timely sample of his wares, including a nice Cabernet Sauvignon and a truly special "Three Blondes" Gew├╝rztraminer--a "must try wine," says Seattle Magazine, and confirmed by my dinner guests. (THANKS, Don!)

Somehow, Cyd managed to convince the airline to change her point of departure to JFK, so she and the boys rolled out at the crack of dawn the next morning, as I stood alone in the driveway, waving goodbye in my jammies, and praying that it wouldn't be ANOTHER eight years before I saw them all together again. :-( Sniff.


Randi said...

I'll pass on that restaurant in Montreal, but it looks like you had fun. How far is Vermont from you? I was in NY( Buffalo) last weekend, wow, tax is expensive in NY. Did you get some Montreal bagels?

Joy Bugaloo said...

Yeah, Au Pied de Cochon is not for the faint (or diseased) of heart--or for those who keep kosher! Tee hee.

Vermont is an hour across the ferry from Plattsburgh, or an hour and a half from me, driving up and around and over the bridge.

I did not get the beloved Montreal bagels this last time, but I rarely miss a stop at St. Viateur when time allows--with Liberty cream cheese, of course! :-)

Joy Bugaloo said...

Correction to above post...Vermont is about half an hour from me, over the bridge from Rouses Point, NY to Alburg, VT (on the border of Noyan, QC, home of Fritz Kaiser, the most excellent cheesemaker). But Burlington is another hour from there....just FYI.

Just the Right Size said...


There you go again with the ice-cream recommendations! You had me at caramel! LOL.

Just the Right Size said...

Another question....are you in Scotia, near Albany? My hubby and I will be up near your area in two weeks to spend some time in the Finger Lakes for vacay.

Maybe we could meet for lunch? That would be nice!