Sunday, March 10, 2013

Cabane à Sucre/Sugar Shack

It is the beginning of March, which means it's time for all Quebec children to go to the sugar shack. No one who grew up in Quebec recommended that we do that, but we did anyway. The sugar shack is all about two things: maple syrup and heavy food. 

Maple sap runs up in the sugar maple trees between the end of February and March. There are two techniques of sap collection that we discovered.

The first is when one drills a hole in the trunk and installs a small pipe with a bucket. Once it is full of sap one needs to come to pick it up.  

Sap flow is very slow and it comes out of the trunk in single drops. 

Another system involves installing a sap pipeline system. Sap runs downhill through smaller plastic pipes which are connected to bigger pipes which lead the sap to a building with where it is stored and vaporized. 

A vaporizer is a huge open bath tub with a stove underneath.
The volume of the sap decreases up to 50 times. 

The steam from boiling sap forms interesting patterns in the sunlight.

A few of maple farms are limited to maple production. Some of them are very nice and friendly like this one.

But most of them are not about maple syrup only. The second part of the maple season experience which seems to be a nightmare of grown up Quebecois is the sugar shack meal.  I actually found it to be not as bad as I expected. 
Yes it is heavy, but it is a light diet compared to Quebec's national dish, poutine. And to my taste it is a lot better. Everything is supposed to be dipped into maple syrup. In the sugar shack we've been to (Érablière Charbonneau) they were pretty nice and they served the syrup separately. 

This is the least healthiest dish there. This deep-fried pork fat is called Christ's ears.

Another must-do attraction is snow candies. To make it over-evaporated maple syrup is placed on snow, so one can use a popsicle stick to roll a candy. This candy was actually not that bad.

You cannot miss if you want to know what a Quebec childhood looks like. And you can miss it in any other case. To my opinion, the meal itself is not worth trying, but the sap collection and syrup making is very interesting and a part of traditional life in the Eastern part of North America.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Weather Forecast

I created a short video from my office on the joys of winter in Montreal. Have a look here!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Roadside Stands - by Dmitry

In North America will little exceptions everything is build for drivers: all drive-through restaurants, motels and all those cool little places where you can not get without a car. This huge world of miles of highways is mostly occupied by chain restaurants, gas station and motels with almost no space for small local buisinesses and anything cozy. I am sorry to say that, but Canada is not that much different from the US in terms of highways. The names of the chains would be different. Somewhere the "Exit" signs will be replaced with "Sortie", but in general highways are the same everywhere.

To make a roadtrip special one can always take local roads (or ask his wife to do that). For the significant loss of time he will be well awarded with a better landscapes and a possibility to take pictures going less than 120 km/h. It is still hard to observe much of the local life even on a smaller roads.

One thing that makes a place special even when you only drive through it is roadside stands. Aside of being a way to get locally grown food those stands could be very interesting as a way to learn more about the place and people who put them up.  

For example, this stand we found in the Amish Country in Pennsylvania.
You can weight tomatoes and leave money. It seems that people trust each other there. 

This one just has a cool neon sign.

Actually, roadside stands in America make me think about ones I have seen back in Russia.  

In central Russia one can find a lot of locally grown vegetabels or wild berries and mushrooms.

You can see eggs on this stand. When they sell milk they usually put white paper in a jar taht looks like milk from a distance so they don't need to have a jar of milk exposed to sun for all day.

In Siberia they sell pine nuts. 

On Ile'd'Orleans in Quebec where they grow a lot of berries, they try to atract your attention with hand made signs.

But the most interesting roadside busines was found looking through old Quebec postcards. 

It seems that roadside ovens to bake bread used to be very popular in Gaspe (a north-eastern part of Quebec). These images look very warm to me. 

This one looks a little fake.

Only one thing about roadside stands is that they don't have them in the winter.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Winter in Montreal

It's been about 2 years since our first trip to Montreal for Mitya's interview. We came around this time of year, in the beginning of February, smack dab in the middle of winter. I remember walking around the streets, my eyes stinging from the wind blowing snow into them, and thinking, "Who says Montreal is nice? They obviously didn't come here in the winter!"

Our first winter in Montreal, though warmer than usual, was still the coldest winter I'd ever experienced. With temperatures ranging from -10C to -20C (below 0F), I quickly realized that all of my winter gear, while decent in New York, were of no use for a place covered in snow between December and March. I invested in a pair of Pajar boots, which have been worth every penny, and took to wearing two sweaters under my coat. I also realized that wearing mittens over my gloves helped a lot.

That being said, the hardest part about the winter isn't the cold, but the darkness. The sun usually sets around 4 pm in December and January, and it's dark by 5. It's quite depressing, but now we're starting to pull out of it!

Here's a video Mitya shot from Jean-Drapeau Parc when we first came here in February. It's the perfect anti-advertisement of Montreal!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Colors Elsewhere: Holidays in North America

Today, I thought I'd take you outside of Montreal for a bit and show you holiday celebrations in different parts of North America.

A few years ago, Mitya was lucky enough to be in Hawai'i during December.

What do Santa and Mrs. Claus do in Hawai'i on Christmas? Why, sit by the pool, of course!

A snowman family is out to surf for the holidays.

I love the palm trees in this Christmas tree picture. Classic tropical Christmas.

We were also in New Orleans two years ago, where all you needed to stay warm on New Year's Eve was a t-shirt and a light cardigan.

This is a house in the French Quarter:

I love the decorating touch on this holly tree in the Garden District.

Many of the houses in New Orleans have these wonderful floor to ceiling shutters - and they actually use them!

When we were in North Carolina for the holidays, it snowed, creating a beautiful effect over the outdoors Christmas lights.

We took these photos in my parents' neighborhood. We were driving around in my mom's car, and I turned off the lights whenever we stopped so that they wouldn't bother our neighbors. The next day, my mom got an email from our neighborhood mailing list saying that they had seen a "suspicious black car cruising around the neighborhood around 10 p.m." and that it was parked at one corner for five minutes with the lights turned off. My mom had to tell them that it was us!

New York is a great place to visit at Christmas (although if you actually live there, it's just additional stress).

Some nights they light up the Empire State Building in Christmas colors.

Mitya doesn't remember where he took this photo, but I'm almost certain that it was in Park Slope (my old neighborhood). The brownstones look very familiar.

Christmas ornaments on outdoor trees can be seen all throughout the city (and, in fact, in other urban areas outside of New York too!). This one was taken in Brooklyn Heights.

For a truly spectacular lights experience, I recommend going to Dyker Heights. It's easiest to get there if you have a car, but we took the R train down to Bay Ridge and then the bus over (unfortunately, I can't remember which bus, but this guide should tell you). There are also tour buses that go to the neighborhood.

Brilliant Christmas presents (no pun intended).

A choir of Angels.

This larger-than-life Santa is the main star attraction of the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights display.

But my favorite was this little deer wandering out on the lawn.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

When I was living in Brooklyn, our next door neighbors would have huge inflatable decorations outside their building for a month preceding every major holiday. So, at the end of the year, they'd have a huge inflatable green witch for October, a giant inflatable turkey for November, and an inflatable Santa for Christmas (although this was sometimes interchanged with a Snowman some years. I lived there for six years, so I saw quite a lot of these).

Our neighbors up north in Montreal haven't adopted Christmas inflatables, but there's no doubt that the city is lit up for the holidays. Let's take a look at some Quebecois traditions.

Some people deck out their iconic stairs in Christmas lights.

Our neighborhood balcony Santa has made a return this year, keeping on eye on who's being naughty or nice on Rue Ontario (and checking for impostors!).

The bûche de Noël, or Christmas log, is a Christmas tradition that comes from France. Traditionally, families would burn a log in their home from Christmas to New Year's Day or the day of Epiphany (January 6). This tradition comes from an even older pagan tradition where logs would be thrown in the ancient fire-festival during the winter solstice.

Here are a few more bûches de Noël. These are more suitable for the size of our family.

Walking around our neighborhood, you can see a few crèches de Noël. These are Nativity scenes that people leave on their lawns, and is another tradition from France.

Wishing you happy holidays, from our home to yours!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Subway performers

There are special labeled places for musicians in Montreal Subway.

Every morning I see musicians who play on Guy-Concordia station. They are usually very interesting. I've noticed that most of them I have seen only once or twice. My favorite musician is this old Asian man who plays on accordion. Very often he plays "Katyusha" a Soviet war-time song. We had to sing this song every day during a month of my military trainings in Russia. Even I hated being there that time, listening to it in Montreal subway now makes me feel good.

Today I've seen a small puppet show that attracted a lot of people. 

However, the most unusual musician I've seen so far in Montreal Subway was playing on his banjo sitting in a boat.