Cabane a Sucre

In the early spring, when Canada begins to thaw, the Maple trees get drained in order to make Maple Syrup. This has not happened on time this year because of the longest-winter-ever we’re experiencing, which means no new syrup, but I read somewhere that Canada has emergency reserves of the stuff. I like to believe this is true. And now I also understand what kind of national emergency would require such a thing. Anyway, the point is that it’s a Quebecois tradition to go eat at a Cabane a Sucre, or Sugar Shack, to celebrate the fact that it’s gotten warm enough that the sap is no longer in solid form and can be tapped, harvested and turned into liquid gold.

The taps are drilled into the trees and have buckets that hang below them to catch the sap. These were empty, and yes, I checked.

Sucrerie du Terroir

Sucrerie du Terroir

So off we went, because when in Canada…consume Maple Syrup. The Sucrerie du Terroir is a log cabin about half an hour from Ottawa, in the countryside. There is a pretty walk around the grounds, which you can also do while riding in a sleigh pulled by the most gigantic horses I’ve ever seen.

Sucrerie du Terroir

Sucrerie du Terroir

The snow is deeper than it appears and it will not hold your weight. Instant regret.

IMG_0571

Inside you dine family-style at large wooden tables. In fact, this is clearly a family tradition and most of the other parties were family groups of 8 or more, which gives the place a great, cozy atmosphere. There’s traditional Quebecois music playing, the waiters are dressed in some kind of colonial garb, and you don’t even need to bother ordering – everyone gets the same thing and you can order more of any of it, it’s all unlimited. It’s also BYOB (the Pink Zinfandels and Rieslings we took worked well, their sweetness goes well with food covered in syrup).

Sucrerie du Terroir

Sucrerie du Terroir

I walked out of there feeling like it was Thanksgiving. First, split pea soup.

Split pea soup

Then, an egg soufle in a cast iron skillet, potatoes, maple ham, sausages, maple baked beans, and super crunchy bacon. And, the star of the show, Maple Syrup. I poured that ish all over everything and it was amazing.

Egg Soufle

Sucrerie du Terroir

Then there were pancakes and pastries with Maple butter cream for dessert. All in all, a diabetic’s nightmare. Oh, and then when you think you couldn’t possibly consume more maple… Maple taffy cooled on snow.

Maple taffy

Maple taffy

Maple Syrup

Ok, no joke this was a lot of Maple syrup and we consumed almost all of it. It turned out that the owner – who told us his story – bought the place because he read in the newspaper that it was closing down. He had fond memories of going there with his family and felt sad that it would close, so he bought it and now runs the place.

Coconut Curry Lentils

Getting to spring around here feels like a little game of two steps forward, one step back. This week we had the warmest day in the two months I’ve been here (38 degrees – watch out!) followed immediately by one of the largest snowfalls in the two months I’ve been here. As I see pictures go up on various social media sites from friends and family around the world, all of them excited about the first flowers, picnics, and cañas al sol, I can’t help but feel a little left out. Apparently this is the worst winter Canada has experienced in 20-some years. So, I’m just warning you, when it does arrive, I’m probably going to talk about it a lot (not that I don’t already talk about it a lot).

Cold weather requires warm food. Lentils are filling without being heavy so they are perfect for winter (or Canadian spring) when you need some serious food as fuel to stay warm out there. These coconut curry lentils are so savory and comforting, and a little sweet from the winter squash.

Coconut Curry LentilsStart by letting the lentils soak over night, or if you plan to cook at night, you can let them soak during the day while you’re at work. You don’t have to soak legumes, but they cook much faster if you do. Soak them at least 8 hours in the pot you’re going to cook them in, covered by 2 or 3 inches of water. Then drain the water and fill the pot with fresh water, again covered by a couple inches. Then cook for 20 -30 minutes at a very soft simmer, so they don’t break apart, until they are tender.  1 and 1/2 cups dry lentils equals about 4 cups cooked, which will give you minimum 4 servings. I did this in the morning while I was having breakfast and getting ready for work, then I just drained the water and let them cool all day, but you can certainly do this while you make the remainder of the recipe.

Next, prepare the squash. I used one whole acorn squash, but, due to their irregular shape, they are kind of a pain to peel. Butternut squash or any other winter squash you like will work too. Cut, scoop out the innards and peel, then cut it up into 1 inch cubes.

Acorn squash

Then, in a large pan, heat 1 & 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil and sauté 1/2 of a large onion and 1 clove of garlic, both finely chopped. Add 1 & 1/2 tablespoons of yellow curry powder, 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper.

Spices

Side note: I love these adorable little spice jars!

Once the onion is translucent, add the squash and cook for a few more minutes at a medium-low heat. Then add about 4 cups of fresh spinach. Give it a rough chop first so the pieces aren’t so big. That cooks down really fast, so once it does, add the cooked lentils, 1/2 cup of cashews, 1 whole can of coconut milk + a can-full of water.

Spinach and lentils

And that’s all there is to it. Let that simmer gently for about 20 minutes, or until the squash is tender and a lot of the liquid has evaporated. The consistency should be thick, not brothy. Top it all off with about 1/2 cup of fresh chopped cilantro. I adore cilantro, but if you don’t feel as strongly about it as I do, leave it out, or substitute basil! That would be equally amazing.

Coconut Curry LentilsIt’s ready to serve right away, but also stores nicely. And now I’ll shamelessly plug my mom’s amazing ceramics! She gave me this bowl last time I was home, said it was a “mistake” and that the glaze somehow slipped off, but I love it! It reminds me of waves. Everything tastes better out of a pretty bowl!

ceramic ocean bowl

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day everyone!! I heard Ottawa takes it seriously, so I’m going to get out there and have myself a green beer!

Coconut Curry Lentils – Recipe (Serves 4-6)

  • 1.5 cups dry lentils or 4 cups cooked lentils
  • 1/2 large onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1.5 tablespoons yellow curry
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 1 acorn squash (or other winter squash) peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 4 cups fresh spinach, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup cashews
  • 1 can coconut milk + 1 can full of water or broth
  • 1/2 cup cilantro or basil, chopped

One month Canadaversary

Today marks a special moment for Canada and me. It’s our one month anniversary. Right about now I really miss my boyfriend, my dog, and temperatures above freezing. But I’m not dwelling on it because I actually really like it here. I feel at home. Maybe it’s because everyone speaks English and even after four years in Spain it still feels so good to speak English. Like somehow I’m more me. There is also that trait particular to North Americans, that “please, thank you, and sorry” thing. It’s like, everyone is sooo nice! I heart Canada! Rainbows and puppies!

But then there’s the cold. And dayum is it cold! Before I left Spain there would be mornings when I’d take Rolo out at -4 (Celsius) and be convinced that I would die upon exiting the plane in Ottawa, it just felt so cold. And you all know I dislike the cold. I’m a California girl, before I moved to Spain I really thought scarves were just accessories. But now, and it still feels strange to say this, -4 is a beautiful, let’s-go-outside kind of day. Because I now know what -25 with a wind-chill of -32 feels like. That’s the kind of cold that knocks the wind out of you.

Is it strange that I have personified my coat and feel an emotional friendship towards it?

It’s a lot of paraphernalia everyday: snow boots, big-ass wool scarf, coat with an eskimo hood, gloves… and that’s just what you put on the outside of your body. But, you know what, I’ve come to realize it’s not that bad. Our bodies are way more resilient and able to change than we give them credit for. Not only that, our need for fresh air and contact with people is so strong that we WILL go outside. And once we go outside, we realize there are fun things to do out there in that cold. Canada is used to this and they make the best of it.

Though there are mornings that look like this:

Ottawa

There are also evenings that end like this:

OttawaAnd there are things to do! I mean what kind of Canadian capital would it be if it didn’t have the worlds longest outdoor skating rink? The 7.8 kilometer Rideau Canal – kinda have to buy your own skates for that!

Rideau Canal

Rideau Canal Skateway

Or what about an outdoor festival with an ice sculpting competition? Winterlude runs for a few weekends from the end of January through February.

Winterlude

Winterlude

There is also beautiful architecture. The Canadian Parliament Building.Ottawa Parliament BuildingAnd yummy treats!! (You knew it just HAD to be coming!)

OK, Maple Syrup. Amazing! But what about maple syrup taffy cooled on snow?

Maple Syrup Taffy

Maple Syrup TaffyAnd BeaverTails (copyright, trademark and patented, or whatever). Flat, fried dough with a choice of toppings like cinnamon sugar, chocolate, or **Maple Butter**. You know which one I got…

BeaverTails

BeavertailsThese are the most decadent, filling things ever, but they taste like heaven after a long day (like 1 or 2 hours, because let’s face it, that’s all you can handle you tourist!) out in the snow.

So there you have it. One month in Canada. Not bad, if I may say so myself. Now, if I can just get drunk enough to try Poutin…
Canada