Tuesday, June 30, 2009

on the market 1

a continuing series on finds to be found in Montreal's markets...

bhajis fig. a: bajhis!

hot bhajis!

Devotees of Jean-Talon Market most likely already know this, but, after a lengthy hiatus La Dépense's delectable vegetable bhajis are back and, we're happy to report, better than ever. They're no longer sold out in front of the store--now you have head to the back of the store to get them--but they have a small, well-appointed kitchen that's dedicated entirely to the production of fresh bhajis, and they're just as good a deal as ever ($3 per order). And, never afraid to innovate, La Dépense has introduced their own currency to commemorate the return of the bhaji as well as to help facilitate their acquisition: Bhaji Bucks.

bahji bucks fig. b: bahjis!

How does the system work? It's as simple as 1-2-3: 1 ) You pay for your order/s at the front counter. 2) You get issued your very own Bhaji Buck/s. 3) You take your Bhaji Buck/s to the back of the store and hand it in to receive your order/s.

La Dépense, Aisle 4, Jean-Talon Market, 7070 rue Henri-Julien, (514) 273-1118, www.epicesdecru.com

fresh chèvre fig. c: fresh Quebec chèvre

fresh chèvre!

Just across the aisle from La Dépense, you can find a stand called Chèvrerie de Buckland that offers a selection of particularly fine goat's milk cheeses. Their own line includes le Maréchal, an excellent firm, Tomme-style cheese, but our current favorite is the funny-looking specimen you see above, an ultra-mild, ultra-creamy fresh chèvre from Ferme Cassis et Mélisse in Saint-Damien-de-Buckland* that goes particularly well with fresh Quebec strawberries.

Chèvrerie de Buckland, Jean-Talon Market, Kiosk 116, (418) 789-2760, mbruneau@globetrotter.net


* I've said it before and I'll say it again: roughly 50 years since the Quiet Revolution, living in Quebec continues to be an education in Catholicism (especially when it comes to the names of obscure Catholic saints).

Thursday, June 25, 2009


He might very well grill halibut, that's what.

I was leafing my way through David Tanis's A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes the other day once again, reading up on what he has to say about grilling, when I came across his recipe for Grilled Halibut With Indian Spices.

DT 2 fig. a: leafing through

I'd admired the recipe before, but this time it really clicked. I was in the mood to fire up the barbecue (once again), I was craving seafood, and, hell, I'm always in the mood for "Indian spices." Plus, I'd invited my Mom over for a barbecued meal, and I thought this one might keep her on her toes. Michelle had to work (again), but I asked her if she thought she might like a grilled halibut fillet when she came back home from work that night, and she said, "Uh, yeah, sure." Little did she know what was in store for her.

Grilled Halibut with Indian Spices

1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
3 cloves
1/2 tbsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp cayenne
4 halibut fillets, about 6-8 ounces each
salt and pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
15-20 cherry tomatoes, halved
yogurt sauce (recipe follows)
a small handful of mint leaves

Toast the cumin, coriander, fennel, and cloves in a dry cast-iron pan over medium heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a spice grinder or mortar and grind until fine. Put the ground spices in a small bowl, add the turmeric and cayenne, and mix until well blended.

Lay the halibut fillets on a baking sheet and season liberally with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle the spice mixture over the fish, and, using your hands, massage it in. Cover and refrigerate the fillets for up to several hours (although 2 hours worked just fine). Bring the fish to room temperature before cooking, about half an hour.

Prepare a fire in a charcoal barbecue. Grill the halibut over medium coals 3-4 minutes per side, until just opaque throughout.

Arrange the halibut on a large platter and surround with the cherry tomatoes. Sprinkle the tomatoes lightly with salt. Spoon a little yogurt sauce onto each portion and pass the rest at the table. Sliver the mint leaves with a sharp knife and scatter over the plate.

serves 4

Raita is a natural with these grilled halibut fillets. Tanis's raita is a little on the new-fangled side (e.g. olive oil), but don't knock it till you try it. The grated ginger is a particularly inspired touch.

David's Raita

1 1/2 cups whole-milk yogurt
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp finely grated ginger
1/2 serrano pepper, finely chopped
salt and pepper

Put the yogurt in a bowl. In a small frying pan, heat the olive oil over a medium flame. Add the mustard and cumin seeds. When the seeds begin to pop, add the garlic and let it sizzle briefly, making sure it doesn't brown, about 10 seconds or so.

Scrape the contents of the pan into the yogurt. Stir in the ginger and chile. Season the sauce with salt and pepper. The sauce will keep in the fridge for a day or two, but it tastes best freshly made, and once you've tasted it, you'll have a hard time keeping it around for a day or two.

DT fig. b: yellow medley

These recipes come from a menu Tanis calls "yellow hunger," and, as this name suggests, it's meant to be a composition in shades of yellow, with the halibut a vibrant yellow-orange. Sweet yellow tomatoes (cherry or not) haven't appeared on the scene here in Montreal yet (at least not local ones), so we recommend going the sweetest red cherry tomatoes you can find. Tanis accompanies his halibut with a gorgeous salad of shaved summer squashes and squash blossoms, but they too have not yet arrived. So I broke up the yellow theme a bit by grilling some fennel, and roasting some potatoes using the Zuni Cafe method (I did use Yukon golds as my potatoes, though). The medley of yellow idea is a nice one, but Tanis encourages his readers not to be slavish:
This is a book of recipes and menus, but I hope what it is, too, is a book about cooking by instinct--improvisational, the sort of cooking that doesn't need a recipe.

Free your mind and your food will follow, or something to that effect.

All I know is that halibut has rarely tasted this good and that the meal was a huge hit. You should have seen the look on Michelle's face when she sat down to the spread before her.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

smoke gets in my lens fig. a: smoke gets in my lens

Ever since May, when we finally made the switch back to charcoal grilling after years of working a gas bbq, I've been like a kid with a new toy. The toy in question, is just a classic 18.5" Weber One-Touch, but the charm has yet to wear off, and with Michelle working crazy hours, I've had a whole lot of time to carry out a lot of experiments in lump-coal burning, slow & low barbecuing.

I pity the birds that happened to build their nest just a few feet above our barbecue spot. They got seriously smoked out--over and over and over again. (At least, the smoke in question was fragrant applewood, hickory, and mesquite.) I kinda pity our neighbors, too. They weren't getting blasted with smoke the way those birds were, but the sweet, sweet smell of all that applewood-, hickory-, and mesquite-smoked meat must have been torture.

How much grilling are we talking about? Jerk pork, jerk chicken, jerk shrimp. Pulled pork, ribs, and smoked chicken. Steaks and kebabs of all sorts. Salmon steaks and halibut fillets. Fennel, eggplant, bell peppers, potatoes, mushrooms, and tomatoes.

One of the best of our recent grillfests was a night where we made a Cowboy Rib Eye recipe by Dallas chef Stephan Pyles that we'd found in Saveur (it wasn't difficult, the recipe was featured prominently on the front cover).

We followed Saveur's recipe closely, although we replaced the ground chipotle with ground Oaxacan (smoked) pasilla chile (because that's what we had on-hand), we started the entire process just a few hours before we started grilling instead of a day earlier, and we made it for two instead of four. We didn't change anything about Pyles' accompanying onion rings, though. We figured there was no sense with frying up half an onion's worth of onion rings, and that if there were any leftovers, we could refry them the next day.

texas-style steak fig. b: in the raw

Texas-Style Steak with Spicy Onion Rings

1/8 cup plus 1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
3/4 tbsp ground guajillo chile
3/4 tbsp ground pasilla chile
3/4 tbsp ground chipotle (or smoked pasilla chile)
3/4 tbsp sugar
2 x 16-oz bone-in rib-eye steaks
Canola oil, for frying
1 small yellow onion, cut crosswise
into 1/8"-thick rings
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/8 cup of the paprika, 1 tbsp of the salt, the guajillo, pasilla, and chipotle chiles, and the sugar. Put steaks on a parchment-lined baking sheet; rub with the chile mixture. Refrigerate steaks for several hours or overnight.

Make the onion rings: Pour oil into a 4-qt. saucepan to a depth of 2"; heat over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer reads 350°. Meanwhile, put the onions and milk into a bowl; let them soak for 20 minutes. In a large bowl, whisk together the remaining paprika and salt, flour, chili powder, cayenne, cumin, and pepper. Working in batches, remove the onions from the milk, shake off the excess, and toss them in seasoned flour. Fry the onions until crisp, about 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels; season with salt. Set aside and try not to devour them before the steaks are done.

Build a medium-hot fire with mesquite charcoal or lump charcoal + pre-soaked (minimum 1/2 hour) mesquite chips. Grill steaks, turning once, until medium rare, about 12 minutes. Serve with the onion rings.

Serves two hungry souls.

This makes an utterly stupendous steak, and the mesquite really brings out all its Tex-Mex/cowboy qualities. The onion rings are outstanding too. As much as I love a great beer-battered onion ring, these were way simpler and spicier, and just as satisfying.

Now, never wanting to waste a good charcoal fire, I had the idea the bright idea of cooking a rack of ribs while the steak was chilling in the fridge. We made an old standby of a recipe, but this was the very first time we'd cooked them on the grill from start to finish. It was also the first time we'd cooked them over mesquite. What took us so long? Who knows? These new, improved ribs were thoroughly mind-blowing. We had them as our "appetizer." Absurd, I know. We made a bunch of vegetables in addition to the onion rings, but, sadly, they've since disappeared into a smoky haze.

One last thing: the Texas-Style Steak rub makes for a great Texas-Style Barbecued Chicken rub too (as I found out about a week later).

"Texas-Style" Barbecued Chicken

1 whole chicken
Texas-style steak rub
2-4 garlic cloves
room-temperature beer
cider vinegar
crushed red chile flakes

Rinse and pat dry a whole chicken. Add a bit of olive oil, rub it all over with that chile-based rub, add a couple of unpeeled garlic cloves to the cavity, and let it sit, covered, in your refrigerator for at least a couple of hours and preferably an entire day or overnight. Take your bird out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature. Meanwhile, start your fire, setting your barbecue up for some indirect cooking (coals and/or mesquite wood to one side, water-filled drip pan to the other, vent overtop the drip pan). You want a medium fire for your chicken. You can also make your mop now, mixing equal parts warm beer and cider vinegar, and adding salt and crushed red chile peppers to taste. When the coals are ready, place the chicken (breast-side up) on the grill over the drip pan, and close the lid, keeping the barbecue fully vented. Smoke the chicken for 2 1/2 - 3 hours, without ever moving the bird if at all possible, just adding some coals/wood from time to time to keep the fire at a relatively consistent temperature. Resist the temptation to check the fire for the first hour. After an hour, check your fire every 30 minutes, taking the opportunity to mop the bird each time. The bird is done when a knife poked into a thigh produces juices that run clear. If you want to be more accurate, use a meat thermometer to check for doneness. But be patient--a medium-small chicken will take a good 2 1/2 hours. It's worth it, though. The first time you make it, you might have your doubts (in spite of your mopping, the skin will look leathery and dry), but this makes for one fantastically flavorful fowl (juicy too!), and any leftovers can be transformed into a chicken salad that is simply heavenly.

Note: again, I highly recommend the use of mesquite for this dish. Its mineral smoke marries particularly well with this rub.

Okay, people--get your grill on.


Monday, June 15, 2009

ChangesOne, rev. ed.

fig. a: wry smile

Why the wry smile?

First there was pastry school. Then there was Les Chèvres & Le Chou. Then there was Laloux. And now there's, well, Laloux.

There were also some important stages and a whole lot of silly blog business along the way, but for years now Michelle was always careful to correct people when they referred to her as a "pastry chef." "Pastry assistant," she'd tell them.

Until now, that is. You see, for about a month now, Michelle has actually been a full-fledged pastry chef. Her longtime chef and mentor, Patrice Demers, decided to pursue an opportunity across town, and suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, Michelle found herself promoted to head pastry chef. It's been a hectic few weeks, with her fair share of twelve-hour days, but Michelle's happy to report that things are going very well, indeed, her new desserts have been a hit, and an entirely new slate of desserts is just weeks away. Meanwhile, the savoury side of the kitchen also has a new chef: Eric "Cube" Gonzalez. And Pop!, Laloux's bar à vin has enlisted the formidable talents of James MacGuire as creative director. Talk about a Dream Team.

fig. b: rhubarb special

Michelle's menu:

far breton with candied walnuts and Armagnac ice cream

buttermilk panna cotta with rhubarb soup, rosemary flowers, ginger shortcakes, and rhubarb compote

orange spice cake with dark chocolate cremeux, caramelized hazelnuts, candied orange, and hazelnut mayonnaise

and, as of today,

pain de Gênes, kirsch-soaked cherries, chamomile cream, almond granita, and cherry sorbet

But, look out! Summer fruits are just beginning (hence her new cherry dessert), and Michelle's got big plans!!

As per usual, Laloux's desserts are available both at Laloux and at Pop!, the bar à vin next door.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Green Mountain Getaway 2

If Day 1 had been all about variety, Day 2 was much more focused: bread, bread, and more bread. All of it exceptional.

Return to Red Hen Baking Co.

The day before we'd mostly just taken a look around, found out the baking schedule, and made arrangements to come back. This time around, though, Michelle was all business. She ordered about four loaves, including their four-grain, three-seed Mad River loaf and their wonderfully sour pain au levain, because she wanted to conduct a small survey of Red Hen's line of breads.

red hen bread fig. a: Red Hen comes home to roost

As promising as our crusty, long-fermented Red Hen Baking Co. loaves looked,* our more immediate concern was coffee and breakfast, and the folks at Red Hen were happy to indulge us. And their selection of morning breads was so downright tantalizing that we didn't hold back: one croissant, one ham & cheese croissant, one lemon currant scone, and, it being just days before Easter, one hot cross bun. The croissant was quite simply a superior croissant, the kind of croissant that sets a bakery apart from 98% of the competition, the kind of croissant that secures a bakery's reputation. The ham & cheese croissant could have been just some kind of Americanized gimmick, but with that superior croissant pastry stuffed full of North Country Smokehouse ham and Boggy Meadow Baby Swiss, it was a work of art and a true Vermont original.

red hen scone fig. b: Red Hen scone

Not to be outdone was the utterly classic lemon currant scone. Michelle found it just a touch heavy on the lemon zest, and consequently a bit over-perfumed, but I was mightily impressed, and was all too happy to have more to myself.

red hen hot cross bun fig. c: Red Hen hot cross bun

The pièce de résistance, however, was Red Hen's hot cross bun. It seems a little perverse talking up a bakery's hot cross buns in June, when Lent is another nine months off, but at least this'll give you plenty of time to plan a visit. The bottom line: I'd spent years looking for the perfect hot cross bun. Little did I know that it had been waiting for me in Middlesex, VT all along. Crusty and perfectly baked, subtly spiced, sourdough-based, not too sweet, but also unafraid of adding a little bit of cruciform icing to the mix. One was simply not enough.

Another brief stroll

Loaded up on carbs, we headed down into the Mad River Valley to Waitsfield and its friendly tourist information center. When we asked about walks/hikes in the vicinity, the woman at the desk recommended the Mad River Greenway. The Waitsfield area is absolutely riddled with trails, of course, but it being the height of Mud Season at the time, she felt the Greenway was our best option. Who were we to argue? Especially when the fields looked like this,

mad river greenway 2 fig. d: shadows and tall trees

and the river looked like this.

mad river water fig. e: Mad River blue

The Greenway was friendly, too. One jogger passed us at one point, and as she did, she turned to us and said, "Hi. Or should I say, bon soir?" [sic], evidently because she'd seen the Quebec license plates on our car.

We just smiled and said, "Auf wiedersehen."

Hunger Mountain Coop

EF Co. fig. f: facing Hunger Mountain

After grabbing another coffee in Waitsfield, we made our way to Montpelier and its Hunger Mountain Coop. We were already big fans of a couple of other Vermont coops--Burlington's Onion River Coop and Middlebury's Natural Foods Coop--but we'd never been to the Hunger Mountain Coop, even though we'd visited Montpelier before. Turns out it's not that surprising that we'd missed it on previous visits--it's a little tucked away, and you kind of have to be looking for it. Which we were. You see, we'd gotten a hot bread tip from a trusted source--namely, that Hunger Mountain carried Bohemian Bread.

hunger mt. co-op fig. g: on the shelves @ Hunger Mt.

If you care about great bread and you're not familiar with Bohemian Bread, you should be. Robert Hunt and Annie Bakst's decision to say goodbye to the big city and start up an artisanal wood-fired brick oven bread operation in rural East Calais, VT is a story worthy of Helen & Scott Nearing or Mick & Alida Anderson. The fact that they make some of the finest loaves in Vermont makes the story all the better. Bohemian Bread is a small-batch operation so you have to know where to look. In addition to the Hunger Mountain Coop, you can also find them at Buffalo Mountain Coop in Hardwick, VT, Plainfield Coop in Plainfield, VT, and the East Calais Store on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, "usually after 1:00 PM." We highly recommend the effort. Bohemian's rosemary/lemon loaf was the single best bread we've tasted all year, and that's saying something, because Red Hen Baking Co. was no slouch.

Not that we limited ourselves to just getting Bohemian Bread at Hunger Mountain Coop. Vermont's coops always leave us feeling like kids in a candy store. They're so well-stocked with so many of our favorite things: cheese, beer, apples, bacon, cider, bread, flour, honey, raw milk...

Parker Pie Co.

From Montpelier, we drove deep into Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. Rumor had it that there was great pizza to be found in the Village of West Glover and we were hell-bent on finding it. I mean, we'd been eating bread all day--why stop now?

PPC 1 fig. h: exterior, Parker Pie Co.

The Parker Pie Co. is yet another totally emblematic Vermont small-business enterprise. Vermonters love their general stores. They love their pizza. And they also love their micro-brewery beers. This we know. The genius of the Parker Pie Co. is that it's a pizza parlor/micro-brewery beer specialist situated ever so informally in the back of a general store. The atmosphere is just as fantastic as you would imagine, the selection of beers is limited but top-notch, and the pizzas are honestly very, very good. They don't have a wood-fired oven, but they're making awfully good pizza pies in their commercial pizza oven. We seriously couldn't have been happier with our Vermont Smoke and Cure Sausage/mushroom/red onion number and our twin pints. And we took our sweet time to relax and soak in the ambiance before the drive home.

PPC 2 fig. i: interior, Parker Pie Co.

The hospitality was friendly too. Made us feel right at home.

parker pie pussycat fig. j: hospitality, Parker Pie-style

Talk about the perfect end to the perfect Green Mountain Getaway.

Red Hen Baking Co., 961B US Route 2, Middlesex, VT, (802) 223-5200, www.redhenbaking.com

Hunger Mountain Coop, 623 Stone Cutters Way, Montpelier, VT, (802) 223-8000, www.hungermountain.com

Bohemian Bread, East Calais, VT, www.bohemianbread.com

Parker Pie Company, 161 County Rd, West Glover, VT, (802) 525-3366, www.parkerpie.com

Many thanks to EB.


* Later that day we were able to confirm just how excellent they actually were. The verdict: very excellent!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Green Mountain Getaway 1

mad river greenwalk fig. a: Mad River Valley

We saw a lot of mountains (including some that still had snow on 'em), and we drove over and around quite a few more, but we didn't get around to climbing any, because our spring getaway to Vermont took place several weeks ago, right in the thick of what they call Mud Season in the Green Mountain region. So our only hike of the trip was actually just a six-mile walk along the greenway that cuts through the Mad River Valley, and most of our discoveries were made indoors.

Cold Hollow Cider Mill

cold hollow cider mill fig. b: SH CIDER HOT CIDER BAK

One could hardly call Cold Hollow Cider Mill a "discovery." A sign out in the parking lot indicated where tour buses should stop to unload their busloads of passengers. They also have a 1-800 number. But we'd never been, so it was new to us.

Cold Hollow Cider Mill is exactly that--a big, ole cider mill that allows you to waltz through the works and check out where they press their famous apple cider. They're also famous for cider-based products like their apple cider jelly. But the main reason we were there was for the doughnuts--the apple cider doughnuts Michelle and I are such big fans of, and that Cold Hollow Cider Mill is legendary for. They were good, damn good, but what really caught my eye was that beautiful Lady apple on the wall next to the coffee machine. I asked the guy behind the counter if I could take a picture of it and he just said, "Uh, yeah. Whatever." So I did.

Red Hen Baking Co. + Nutty Steph's

red hen + chocolate fig. c: CHOCOLATE BUNNIES HOT CROSS BUNS HERE

Red Hen Baking Co. sits in Middlesex, just a few miles away, and Michelle had heard that they were making some of Vermont's finest loaves of bread. We went twice. The first time was just to take a peek, check out the baking schedule, a have a nibble (a fantastic potato bread roll). The sign out front read "HOT CROSS BUNS," but it was late afternoon by that point and they were out, so we made plans to return early the next morning for pastries and a coffee.

chocolate fig. d: Chocolate giraffe

This being Vermont, Red Hen shares a space with a knitting shop and an artisanal chocolate-maker/granola-maker. We didn't get to meet her to verify, but the chocolate-maker/granola-maker goes by the name of Nutty Steph ("It doesn't get any nuttier than this!"). Frankly, we were a little scared of a concoction that consisted of a chocolate-covered banana coupled ever so suggestively with a chocolate-covered pineapple ring and that came complete with a suitably saucy name--"Tropical Intercourse," or "Jungle Love," or something--but we can vouch for Nutty Steph's exceptional chocolate bark, which kept me revved up and rarin' to go for the better part of the next 36 hours. The Nutty Steph's story started with real, honest-to-goodness, maple-sweetened Vermont-style granola, however, and granola remains the bread and butter of the operation. Like I said, this is Vermont, after all, and the fact that artisanal granola is a viable option here is one of the reasons we find ourselves so fascinated by the place.

Vermont Artisan Coffee & Tea Co.

coffee lab 1 fig. e: COFFEE LAB

On our way out to Red Hen/Nutty Steph's we passed a mysterious place that was situated down off US Route 2, in a warehouse-like building, but that had an intriguing sign out front: Coffee Lab. I turned to Michelle and said, "I bet you there are some seriously entrenched hippies in there roasting some far-out beans." I had a good feeling about the place, so we made a pledge to take a closer look on our way back.

Thank god we did.

45 minutes later we pulled into the parking lot in front of Coffee Lab. I was good and ready for some kind of transcendental coffee experience, but as we walked up towards the door I suddenly got the strange feeling that we had misread Coffee Lab. Maybe it wasn't the hippie roasting outfit we were both hoping for. Maybe it was just some oh-so hip design firm with a suitably caffeinated name, because all we could see on the inside was an office set-up, some computers, and a small group of people standing near the door having a discussion. It was almost 5:00 pm. Was it closing time at the design firm, or something? I was just about ready to head back to the car, but Michelle, who was apparently experiencing a rare instance of chutzpah, forged right ahead, through the door, into their circle, and, mustering her best Rita Hayworth, announced, "I'm afraid I interrupted something."*

Turns out the group consisted of a handful of Aussies who'd flown halfway around the world to seek the wisdom of one Mané Alves, founder of Vermont Artisan Coffee & Tea Co. and of the Coffee Lab that adjoins it. And why had these Aussies flown halfway around the world to seek Mr. Alves' wisdom? Well, it just so happens that Mr. Alves is a world-renowned expert on coffee, a man who not only travels the world sourcing his coffee, who not only runs a sophisticated roasting operation, but whose opinions on coffees, roasts, and blends is prized by firms large and small from around the world.

So, no, this wasn't a coffee shop, but it was a small-scale but major-league roasting operation, and Mr. Alves was a true gentleman. Though neither the Coffee Lab nor Vermont Artisan Coffee & Tea Co. is a retail operation, their doors are open to the public and locals do swing by to pick up their top-notch coffee. We ended up having a nice, long conversation with Mr. Alves about Vermont Artisan Coffee & Tea Co., its history, its sourcing, and its latest ventures, about Montreal (as a young man in the early 1970s, he'd been urged by relatives to relocate to Montreal and become a lawyer, where he was told the recent influx of Portuguese immigrants would mean unlimited business; he opted for Vermont instead) and its surprising lack of artisanal coffee operations (which he attributes to powerful regional coffee cartels operating just north of the border), we got a tour of the premises and got to check out their current line of beans firsthand, and, when we were done, we got Mr. Alves' advice on which of his coffees we should take home with us. After years of abiding by the corsé culte, in recent months we've becoming big fans of such medium roasts as Philz "Canopy of Heaven" and Kicking Horse's "Kootenay Crossing." Mr. Alves highly recommended his Ethiopian Yirgacheffe,

yirgacheffe coffee fig. f: yirgacheffe

and he was right on the money.

Hands down, our Coffee of the Year.

The Alchemist

alchemist 2 fig. f: tapheads

It seems hard to believe now, but the fun had just begun. Literally minutes after leaving Vermont Artisan Coffee & Tea Co., we were sitting at The Alchemist's, big, handsome bar, quaffing some of their handcrafted extreme beers. Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name and they're always glad you came. Other times you want to go where everybody knows your name, they're always glad you came, and they've got an exceptionally talented brewmaster who uses only the best imported malts and the hoppiest domestic hops and who knows his way around his seven barrels. That's when you go to a place like The Alchemist. And, let me tell you, this place is serious. Not only do you overhear guys having serious discussions about serious beers, but you also hear them having serious discussions about each other's limited-edition serious beer t-shirts. Seriously. Hell, even their Lightweight, a pilsener-style beer "made with the light beer drinker in mind" was a serious trip.

alchemist 2 fig. g: samplers sampled

Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to try their hand-pulled, cask-conditioned ale, because they only do one batch per week, and we'd shown up on Day 7 of the ale cycle, but we loved their assortment of British-inspired, Belgian-inspired, German-inspired, Hoppy, and "American Wild" beers, and their $4 pints and $1 samplers made enjoying them awfully easy.

Good-looking food, too. We didn't partake, however, because we had a dinner date.

A Brief Stroll

We still had a little time after quaffing and before dinner, so we took a stroll around Downtown Waterbury,

waterbury fig. h: W is for...

and imagined what it would be like to live in such an enlightened place.

Hen of the Wood

hen of the wood @ grist mill fig. i: mud season @ the grist mill

It was almost dark by the time we finally made it to Hen of the Wood, but the old grist mill which houses the restaurant had a promising glow to it.

Hen of the Wood was our star attraction, the single most important reason we'd come down to Vermont in the first place.

Michelle had been talking about Hen of the Wood even before Mark "The Minimalist" Bittman began gushing about how he's "sort of in love with the joint" last year, but afterwards the phrase "Hen of the Wood" became something of a mantra for her. It sounded like a little slice of heaven: a top-notch restaurant that places a pronounced emphasis on all things local, environmentally sound, and sustainable, that features a carefully chosen All-American wine list and an equally carefully chosen All-Vermont cheese list, and that is situated in an old stone mill, next to gushing rapids, in a sleepy Northern Vermont town. And with a menu that included such highlights as

Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, Grilled Vermont Bacon, Poached Egg, & Grilled Red Hen Bread

Smoked Cavendish Quail, Mustard Spaetzle, & Braised Greens


Winding Brook Farm Pork Loin, Local Fingerlings, Turnips, Valentine Radishes & Parsnips with House-made Red Wine Mustard

plus some truly wonderful service, Hen of the Wood lived up to all expectations. Put simply, we had such a good time at Hen of the Wood that we didn't really want to leave. When we finally managed to tear ourselves away, we spent the whole drive back to our motel through that crisp, starry Vermont night trying to figure out a way we could relocate to Waterbury.

Cold Hollow Cider Mill, 3600 Waterbury-Stowe Road, Waterbury Center, VT, 1-800-3-APPLES, www.coldhollow.com

Red Hen Baking Co., 961-B US Route 2, Middlesex, VT, (802) 223-5200, www.redhenbaking.com

Nutty Steph's, 961-C US Route 2, Middlesex, VT, (802) 229-2090, www.nuttystephs.com

Vermont Artisan Coffee & Tea Co., 80 Commercial Drive, Waterbury, VT, (802) 244-8338, toll-free 1 (866) 882-7876, www.vtartisan.com

The Alchemist, 23 South Main Street, Waterbury, VT, (802) 244-4120, www.AlchemistBeer.com

Hen of the Wood, 92 Stowe Street, Waterbury, VT, (802) 244-7300, www.henofthewood.com

* The line appears in Howard Hawks' Only Angels Have Wings (1939).

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Praise is due

super ape mini fig. a: total sell-out

Thanks to all of you who helped welcome back the Super Ape, and helped us sell out in just over 90 minutes (!). Thanks also to C & H, our lovely co-hosts, for their grace under pressure, and to CWI for providing us with some truly awesome desserts.

And heartfelt apologies to all of you who showed up after the food ran out. We promise: we'll make it up to you. Next time (and there will be a next time) we'll make twice as much.

If you want to know how to make your own batches of Jamaican jerk pork and Super Ape-Approved Ginger Beer, not to mention Rice & Peas and Hot Pepper Shrimp, you can find our original instructions here.

And if you want to know what all this Super Ape business is about, it's just our humble homage to the great Lee "Scratch" Perry, whose 1976 recording of "Roast Fish & Cornbread" provided my initiation into the mysteries of Jamaican cuisine.


Saturday, June 06, 2009

Return of Super Ape

return of super ape

He's back!

Five words: jerk pork B B Q

Return of Super Ape
an AEB + C&H joint
Sunday, June 7, 2009
12:00pm - 2:00pm
in the alley behind 5960 St-Urbain (btwn Van Horne & Bernard, and just a couple doors down from Backroom Records and Bake Shoppe)
Montreal, QC