Tag Archives: Canada

St.Joseph’s Oratory

Sometimes, no matter how much you want to, you just can’t write and that’s what has been going on with me lately, largely because of the events in Paris last week. I had a pretty strong post coming along in my head, but after the attacks, it just seemed so trivial. I’m normally a very happy, positive, fun-loving person and I strive to reflect that here on my blog, so I suppose that’s why I got writers block. I just wasn’t feeling like myself, but I think I’ve started to work that out of my system. That and after a visit to St.Joseph’s Oratory on Monday, I knew that the Oratory was just what I needed to write about. I have always had a thing for churches and although I have visited many stunning churches in Europe, the United States and at home here in Canada, the Oratory is still my favorite. It may not be a jaw dropper in terms of its interior, but in my mind that only adds to its charm. Also, its impressive size and the number of steps there are from street level up to the Basilica on the top floor makes the competition look silly ”You’re flamboyant neo-gothic? Well, I have 283 steps up to my front porch, so there!”. And fear not, if stairs are not your thing, there’s a shuttle bus to replace the first 99 stairs. It gets you to the main entrance level and then there are escalators and elevators inside, or more staircases. They just want to make sure there’s something for everyone, you know?

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St. Joseph’s Oratory seen from street level in early Spring.

So, how did we end up with this beautiful shrine in Montreal? It all started with this fella, Brother André.

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This bronze statue of St. Brother André can be found beside what is left of the original Oratory.

He came to Montreal in 1870 to join the Catholic order of Holy Cross brothers, whose novitiate was housed in Notre-Dame-Du-Sacré-Coeur College (that’s a private high school, we call them colleges here in Québec), just across the street from where the Oratory is now.

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A partial view of Notre-Dame-Du-Sacré-Coeur college all decked out for Christmas. The school has existed on its present site since 1869.

The brothers almost didn’t keep Brother André past his novitiate because of his frail health, but the bishop of Montreal at the time, Mgr. Bourget, intervened on his behalf after being impressed by André’s piousness and his strong desire to remain with the order and he took his perpetual vows in 1874. Lucky for the Order that the Bishop intervened, because Brother André turned out to be more than just your average Brother! His health was delicate (he was born with an undiagnosed stomach ailment that stayed with him throughout his life and prevented him from eating normally) and he didn’t have the necesary education to teach like the other brothers, so he was made the porter of the school and its Jack-of-all-trades. His tasks included helping out in the infirmary and one day a rumor started going around that a seriously ill student had been inexplicably and suddenly cured after Brother André had sat with him and they had prayed to St. Joseph together. St.Joseph, that’s a statue of him in the picture below, is a Saint of the Catholic church who is known for curing the sick and infirm, among other things.

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The Statue of St-Joseph that stands in the Oratory’s Votive chapel. The chapel holds 10 000 votive lamps and this stand alone contains 3500. Each candle that is lit in the chapel represents the prayer of a pilgrim.

Now, St.Joseph is a pretty popular guy and yes, that’s the same Joseph as the one made famous for marrying the virgin Mary and raising Jesus, so when word started getting around that Brother André seemed to have some sort of a direct line to him, people started showing up at Notre-Dame College asking for him. When he was at his doorkeeper’s post that wasn’t too much of a problem, especially at first when there weren’t too many pilgrims (people who travel somewhere specifically for prayer), but French Canadians in the late 19th Century were a pretty pious lot and soon the parents of the boys living at the school began complaining to Brother André’s superiors about the pilgrims who were taking the liberty of wandering around the school in order to look for Brother André when he was not in his porter’s cell. The issue was that a lot of these people were suffering from, or had been in close contact with people who were suffering from infectious diseases which were very difficult to treat at the time, such as influenza, diphtheria, scarlet fever, polio and tuberculosis and there was legitimate fear of the boys who boarded at the school being contaminated by germs. The Holy Cross order and Brother André knew that turning Pilgrims away not an option, so the order eventually gave Brother André permission to build a small oratory in honor of St.Joseph on a piece of land they owned across the street from Notre-Dame College. And voilà! we have the beginning of what was one day to become the largest shrine in the world dedicated to St.Joseph!

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The 1904 (behind the steeple) and 1910 (from the steeple frontwards) sections of the original oratory.

Cute, isn’t it? There was a problem though, Brother André only had 200$, which us equivalent to about 5o00$ nowadays, with which to build his Oratory. He put every last penny he had saved giving 5 cent haircuts at the College over a 34 year period to get the chapel built and it was too small. The oratory opened its doors for the first time on October 19th of 1904 and by Winter the pilgrims were showing up to see Brother at Notre-Dame again because there was only room for 8 people at a time in the chapel and even if they could get inside the building, it was unheated. Brother André and a few of his most loyal friends began collecting donations and in under six years they were able to not only install a wood burning stove but also to enlarge the Oratory twice, first to seat 50 people and then 200. The building was still prone to chronic overcrowding however, so Brother André and his friends continued to raise funds and in 1914, work began on the Crypt-Church, which opened in 1917 and could seat 750 people. To this day, it is the busiest church on the site and the busiest Catholic church I know of anywhere in Canada. There are 7 to 8 masses a day said at the Oratory and all of them except for two on Sundays are said in the Crypt-Church.

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The choir section of the Crypt-Church seen during a concert. The Crypt-Church gets its name from the fact that the Basilica was originally planned to be built directly on top of it, so it has a low ceiling supported by flattened steel arches.

Brother André knew that the Crypt-Church wouldn’t be able to hold all the masses of Pilgrims flocking to the shrine to pray St-Joseph for long though, so in 1924 work began on the Basilica, a huge church that could originally, before seats were put in and crowd regulation laws were put into place, hold 10 000 pilgrims. The Basilica took 43 years to complete because, as with the rest of the enlargements to the original shrine, it was built with donations and it was first a victim of the Great Depression and then of shifting values. It was opened for its first service in 1955 and Brother André, who passed away in 1937 at the age of 91, never got to see it completed. The interior of the Basilica was completed in 1967 in a Medieval inspired Art Deco style.

Nowadays, the Basilica seats 1 750 pilgrims on a regular Sunday, or 1 870 when chairs are added in for special occasions. Mass is said in the Basilica on Sunday mornings at 11:00 A.M. with music provided by its impressive 5811 pipe, 78 stop Beckerath organ and its boys’ choir the Petits Chanteurs du Mont-Royal and again at 12:30 P.M. It is also used for major feast days such as Christmas, Easter and St-Joseph’s feast day on March 19th. Otherwise, seeing as regular weekday masses are attended by anywhere between 50 to 200 pilgrims at a time, the Crypt-Church is used.

All this talk of overflow may make the Oratory sound like a very busy place, it is actually very, very peaceful and there is a beautiful energy that surrounds it as soon as you set foot inside the grounds. I’m very, very fortunate to have such a beautiful place in my neighborhood and I have been to it many, many times when I was in need of comfort and peace. If ever you are in Montreal, I cannot encourage you strongly enough to visit the Oratory, even though it is a bit off the beaten tourist trail. It is quite easy to reach by public transit since two bus lines stop right in front of it (the 51 and 166) and a very major bus line stops just one corner away (the 165-435 line, the second number is the express number for rush hour). Don’t pass up a chance to visit this unique place, because believe me, you will be sorry! And yes, as with the rest of the city, it is beautiful year-round!

Now, a note about the photos in this post: you will have noticed that they are watermarked with my real name. The reason for this is that I have put some of my photos up for sale on a decorative print producer’s site that is local to Quebec photographers, but ships all over the world. When doing this, I was strongly encouraged to create a photography website, which I did. Please, feel free to visit it here and follow it! Having to watermark my photos twice was such a major hassle that I decided to bite the bullet and put my name on here. I refrained from doing this before because while I don’t care if my family knows that I have a photography blog, there are a very, very few members of my family who have been quite nasty to me on social media before, so nasty that I blocked them from my Facebook account. I don’t need that sort of grief on here when it comes to my writing and opinions. If it’s from some random reader I won’t ever have to meet face to face, I don’t care, but nastiness from family is a bitter pill to swallow, especially when you occasionally have to sit down at the same dinner table as them, hence the pseudonym. I’m keeping it on my Gravatar account and have a seperate Gravatar and e-mail address for the photography blog, so I should be good, but I just wanted to clarify the change with you folks!

 

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Fall beauties

Our Maple Tree is putting its Fall show on.
Our Maple Tree is putting its Fall show on.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, Fall finally got its foot in the door here in Montreal last week. The leaves started changing gradually in the first week of October, which is quite late for us. At the same date last year, they were past peak and almost all gone. Our lovely Maple was nothing but green until Friday and then all of sudden started turning, which is usually how it goes! We had such a lovely, perfectly balanced Summer here that aside form a bumper crop of massive, juicy apples all over Quebec, the Fall colors are stunning to say the least. Also, this is still going on with our organic Strawberry plant:

Our crazy strawberry plant is still giving us berries.
Our crazy strawberry plant is still giving us berries.

Is that nuts, or what? I ate that berry this morning and it was just as juicy and sweet as the ones this plant was giving us in June and July! Has anyone else ever had a strawberry plant grow berries right into October? I’ve never heard of it and there have been no fresh local berries at the grocery store for weeks now! We’re delighted about this of course and I’ve decided to let the plant spend the Winter out on our balcony and see if it comes back again in the Spring.

Along with the beauties of changing leaves and the pleasures of being able to put on nice, cozy sweaters and scarves comes a change in the outdoor decor of our home! My darling and I both love our Fall wreath which I purchased from Michael’s craft and hobby shop two years ago and while we’re always a bit sad to have to put away our shorts and sandals in September, it always puts a smile on our faces when I pull this wreath out of storage and hang it on our front door.

Our Fall wreath hanging on our front door.
Our Fall wreath hanging on our front door.

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All of our door ornaments come from Michael’s and I have to say that I have been nothing but pleased with the quality of their decorations. Only one of them has not resisted the elements, but I realized pretty quickly that it was never meant to be hung outside, so its demise was totally my fault. This Fall wreath however looks just as fresh as it did the first time I hung it on our door. If you have a Michael’s in your area, I strongly encourage you to go and check them out, their Fall and Halloween decorations are up to 60% off right now and That means that their Christmas stuff will be in as well if you like to buy your decorations early.

As for me, I’m going to keep admiring the beauties of Fall before I start getting serious about Christmas.

This little guy wouldn't look out of place on a Canadian flag!
This little guy wouldn’t look out-of-place on a Canadian flag!
The changing leaves of our Maple Tree.
The changing leaves of our Maple Tree.

Some of my Fall favorites in no particular order:

1- Pumpkin spice EVERYTHING

2- Homemade mulled apple cider, we use Williams Sonoma mulling spices.

3- Getting to wear scarves again! I’m a scarf fiend and have so many that I’m running out of places to store them properly.

4- The beautifully colored leaves and the crisp air.

5- Curling up in front the television under a blanket with my Darling in the evening.

Where to stay and what to do in PEI

Hello and welcome to my third and final post about our Prince Edward Island vacation! This time I’ll be addressing two other important points, what there is to do in PEI, since it can vary by season, as well as where to stay, since your options will also vary depending on when you visit the Island.

Most people visit Prince Edward Island between late Spring and early Fall and there is a reason for this: The weather. Winters in PEI can be very, very rough and getting around can be difficult. I’m not saying you should not visit PEI at this time of year because Winter on the Island can be absolutely gorgeous, but be warned that if there is a snow storm while you are there, you will not be able to get around until all the snow is cleared away and this can take a few days because the Island shuts down during storms and they wait until the snow has stopped falling before clearing it away.

Your options for where to stay on the Island from October to June will also be greatly diminished since the vast majority of the cottages for rent in PEI are not winterized and are closed up by their owners once it gets too chilly and remain closed until the clay roads they are often on are well set late into Spring. Believe me when I tell you that you do not want to get your car stuck in the muck that the clay roads of PEI turn into in the Spring or after some very heavy rain. Cottages are amazing places to stay in Prince Edward Island though, I’ve stayed in one during three out of my four vacations there and have never had a bad experience. The one my Darling and I rented during our two-week vacation in July was by far the best-equipped cottage I have ever stayed in and its location in the center of the Island was ideal. I have a few pictures of it below and you can find out more about it from its VRBO listing here.

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107T Old Blooming Point School House cottage

So, while I prefer to stay in cottages or apartments when I travel because I love the freedom of not having to worry about where I am going to find my next meal, especially in the morning, I know that a lot of people love to be pampered in hotels and resorts. I am not exactly a well of information when it comes to hotels in PEI and I can say with 100% certainty that there is nary a resort to be had, nor a private beach unless you rent a very, very expensive cottage, I can recommend the two hotels I have stayed in on the island in the past. The Super 8 hotel in Charlottetown is where I stayed during my four-day trip to the Island in May of 2012 and it is a great mid-range hotel with a pool and free breakfast in the morning delivered by Tim Horton’s. It doesn’t get much more Canadian than that! The location of the hotel is awesome, it is right across the causeway from Downtown Charlottetown and not even a five-minute drive from the Cow’s ice cream factory and a nice little strip mall with a great burger joint. The other hotel I can recommend is the Dundee Arms, a lovely hotel in a beautiful heritage building in old Charlottetown. My Darling and I stayed there for two nights during our July vacation and loved it, although the one downside to it is the exhaust outlet for the hotel’s kitchen which is quite loud and makes it difficult to sleep with the window open in about 80% of the rooms…sleeping is no issue with the windows closed however since the beds are very comfortable, or at least they are in the annex section of the hotel we stayed in. The food in the hotel restaurant is delicious as well and eating out on their terrace when the weather is nice is delightful.

Now, just in case anyone was going to ask about camping on Prince Edward Island, yes, it is an option. Campsites are plentiful for both RVs and tents, but do not forget your bug spray!!! Mosquitoes are a force to be reckoned with in PEI from June onward and not in a small way. They will not bother you during the day or on the beach whether it is night or day, but as soon as you are away from the beach in the evening, watch out! The reasons that mosquitoes are so prevalent in Prince Edward Island are the abundance of stagnant water in farmers’ fields and the equal abundance of evergreens, which mosquitoes adore. I enjoy camping as much as the next girl, but I would not attempt it in PEI. You have been warned.

As for what there is to do in Prince Edward Island, as with places to stay, you options will vary greatly depending on when you visit the Island. A lot of places turn into ghost towns as of October, but the island’s greatest selling point, its scenery, is beautiful year round.

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St.Peter’s Bay

One of my favorite times of year to visit the Island, however, is from mid-June to early July, when the lupines are in bloom. Lupines have long been my favorite wild flowers and my Darling got a kick out of me squealing with delight when we started coming across them in New Brunswick. As you can see from the picture below, most lupines are purple, but they can also be white or pink and sometimes even yellow.

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Lupines in bloom in front of a church near Souris.

The road between St.Peter’s and Souris is a wonderful place for lupine spotting and is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful on the Island and I make sure to drive it every time I am there.

Another of my favorite places to visit is in PEI is Victoria-by-the-Sea, a beautiful, quaint little town halfway between Charlottetown and Borden-Carleton. Its bay is a wonderful place to go for a dip or set off in a kayak, canoe or catamaran and it has some wonderful food and entertainment options. Its theater, shops and restaurants are open from mid-June to the first week of  September, but they begin closing for the Fall and Winter after that. You can visit the town’s website here for specific opening and closing dates.

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Catamarans waiting to be taken out for a sail in Victoria-by-the-Sea.

One feature of Victoria that I particularly love is its lighthouse, which you can see below. I have loved lighthouses ever since seeing my first one in Cape Cod when I was about twelve years old. My father loved them too and I remember how he made a point of our visiting all the lighthouses we could when we went on our family vacation to PEI in 1998. The Victoria lighthouse is owned and maintained by the villagers of Victoria and as you can see, they keep it in pristine condition.

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Victoria-by-the-Sea lighthouse

I encourage you to visit as many lighthouses as possible in PEI, but don’t limit yourselves to the easy to reach ones, because if you do, you will miss out on some magical places, like the Cape Tryon light. I will admit that the road to this lighthouse is not for the faint of heart. It is a deeply carved and narrow red clay road and if you car is low to the ground, you will have to park it on the side of the main road and walk to the light. This place is worth the trek though, especially in July when the fields of barley on either side of the road are a beautiful, fresh green bordered by wildflowers. The lighthouse itself is just what you would expect a light on a solitary, out-of-the-way cape to be, weather-beaten and showing its age, but it gives off an aura of steadfastness that I love.

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The road to Cape Tryon lighthouse

I know that I have been giving you quite a few warnings about the clay roads in Prince Edward Island, but really, they are not to be missed. You just have to be logical about how and when you use them. They are actually one of the best ways to get from one place to another quickly in many situations, since most of the main roads of the Island follow the coast. Sometimes it is downright silly to follow the main roads when you can get to where you’re going much more quickly by cutting across the Island by a side road. If this opportunity presents itself to you and it has not been pouring for two days straight and you’re not driving a fancy, low-riding sports car, take it. You will more than likely be delighted by some of the scenery you will come across, such as this:

One of PEI's many charming red clay roads
One of PEI’s many charming red clay roads

As you can see, the road is well driven and well maintained and it was raining pretty steadily when we were on it. Just about 30% of the roads in PEI are unpaved, so they’re pretty hard to avoid and as I said, you just have to be smart about how you use them. Don’t drive down them at 100 km an hour and keep off them if it has been pouring rain for more than 24 hours or if it is any earlier than about mid-may and if you think the road might be too deeply carved for your car, leave it on the side of the road and take a walk. If you do get stuck in the mud on a dirt road, don’t worry. Walk for help and don’t be shy about knocking at the door of a house you just drove by or flagging down the farmer who is mowing down his field of hay, they will be happy to help, they are used to tourists getting stuck in the muck. The bottom line is, the pros of using Prince Edward Island’s dirt roads and what they lead you to far outweigh the cons, such as beaches!

My Darling enjoying a walk along Greenwich Beach.
My Darling enjoying a walk along Greenwich Beach.

Prince Edward Island is famous for its beaches, with good reason. There are at least thirty beaches on the Island, if not more and many of them are not listed, such as beautiful Blooming Point beach where our cottage was. Some of the beaches are supervised, some are not, but each one is unique, so do not ever make the mistake of going to PEI and sticking to just one beach. My Darling and I went to the beach ten out of the fourteen days we were on vacation and visited nine different beaches. One of our favorites was Argyle Shore for its warm water, proliferation of hermit crabs and lack of jellyfish. It is very rocky though, so bring your beach shoes and don’t be surprised by the lack of sand! Now, getting back to those jellyfish! The jellyfish in the waters off PEI are essentially harmless. They do sting, but they are not poisonous and all that is needed to soothe a jellyfish sting is plaster of damp sand. Try and avoid them, naturally, but don’t let them stop you from getting in the water! For a partial list of the beaches in Prince Edward Island, click here.

Sunset on Blooming Point Beach

Now, because no visit to Prince Edward Island is complete without it, yes, you should visit Green Gables. I have been three out of four of the times I have been to the Island and I do not get tired of it. The house is open from May to October with possibilities to visit outside those months by appointment. For more details about the opening dates and times at which Green Gables is open, you can visit this page. Now, why is Green Gables worth the visit? Because it is more than just a house! You can also visit the old barn to learn about life on Prince Edward Island during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, walk two beautiful trails and visit the gift shop and the snack bar. Green Gables is a fun, vibrant place and naturally a great place to go if you have children. A word of advice though: if you see a bus of tourists arriving at the same time as you do, either hurry to visit the house before they make it there, or walk the trails while they go through. Green Gables may look like a good-sized house on the outside, but it is full of small rooms and narrow hallways that make it difficult to visit when there is a crowd around.

Green Gables
Green Gables

And last, but most definitely not least, go stargazing. Prince Edward Island is beyond a doubt the best place I know of to take in the stars. The Island is almost exclusively rural, so there are very, very few street lamps and houses are usually set very far apart so any light from them will not hinder your view of the night sky whether you stop out by a farmer’s field or, like us, step out into your back yard.

The Milky Way above our cottage.
The Milky Way above our cottage.

So that’s it for this trip! If you ever have any questions about the Island, please do not hesitate to ask them, I’ll be more than happy to answer as best as I can.

The most peaceful place on Earth

So, you’ve probably noticed that it’s been rather quiet around here for the past few weeks! That’s because my Darling and I were off on vacation in beautiful, peaceful, good-for-the-soul Prince Edward Island for two weeks! It was my fourth visit to the Island and my Darling’s first and I am pleased to announce that he fell in love with charming, gentle PEI. I was pretty sure he would, but I was so pleased when he started saying how much he loved the place on Day 1!

A beautiful sunset by the sea in Blooming Point.
A beautiful sunset by the sea in Blooming Point.

For any of you not familiar with Prince Edward Island, it is Canada’s smallest province. It is bordered by the Northumberland Strait on one side and the Gulf of St-Lawrence on the other. It is also cradled by land on three sides by  New Brunswick to the Southwest, to which it is connected by the Confederation Bridge, and Nova Scotia to the Southeast.

A view of St.Peters Bay
A view of St.Peters Bay

I first visited PEI as a girl with my family in July of 1998. My father and I both fell immediately in love with the Island and I was left with a hankering to go back, but didn’t manage to until May of 2012. My father unfortunately never made it back to Prince Edward Island, but I went back in June of 2013 for a week to avoid spending my Father’s Day without him in Montreal and then again this July. The Island always affects me in the same way: I am filled with peace as soon as I get there and I am always struck by its gentle beauty and the kindness of the people who live there. Everyone is so much more laid back than anywhere else I have ever been and the entire Island feels like one big, tight-knit family. I cry every single time I leave there.

Lupins in a ditch by a church between St.Peters and Souris
Lupins in a ditch by a church between St.Peters and Souris

The pictures in this post are from our recent vacation, so they give you a glimpse of the Island in the height of Summer, when it is a symphony of bright colors. In my next posts, I will be showing what the Island looks like in May and June as well as giving you little pointers about what to visit and the pros and cons of visiting the Island at different times in the Spring and Summer.

Beached catamarans in Victoria-By-The-Sea
Beached catamarans in Victoria-By-The-Sea

I can guarantee one thing though: The Island never disappoints, whether it is sunny or cloudy, warm or chilly, you will always be able to find beauty there, it is never far away.

Cape Tryon lighthouse
Cape Tryon lighthouse

You will also always leave there feeling relaxed, refreshed and oh, so happy and you will more than likely want to turn around and go back as soon as you get off the bridge or your plane has taken off. I, for one, never want to leave once I get there.

Enjoying a sunset on Blooming Point Beach
Enjoying a sunset on Blooming Point Beach

I’m back!

Well, hello there!

Sorry about the long dry spell between posts, but we were on vacation for a week at the beginning of the month (my last post actually went up the day before we left!) in Las Vegas and at the Grand Canyon and things have been nuts here since we got back! I just finally got through all of my vacation pictures and will write a separate post for them. The Grand Canyon was absolutely stunning and it would be a crime not to give it all the attention it deserves. As for Vegas, it was fun, but we are not gamblers (we spent all of 6$ in the casino at the last hotel we were in lol) so we had our fill of being in a heavy gambling environment by the time we left, but the shopping was great and the hotels there are seriously impressive in terms of size and amenities. It was also very easy to get some good food there and coming from me, that means a lot since I am a serious food and am known for not enjoying American food at all any place south of Massachusetts. I apologize to any Americans reading this, but I am not big on fried food at all and  there is also the fact that high fructose corn syrup makes me break out in itchy hives and you guys put a ton of the stuff in your food.

More about our vacation in another post though,  I’m here to update you on what I’ve been up to since we got home, which has been gardening and cooking!

I have also been keeping up with the growth of the buds on our maple tree and as I suspected, by the time we were back from our vacation two weeks ago, there were miniature leaves on the branches!

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Maple tree leaves first week of May
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Maple tree leaves first week of May

And this is what our lovely Sugar Maple looks like now, with its pretty much full-grown leaves, just one week later:

Maple tree leaves second week of may
Maple tree leaves the second week of may

This picture was taken from the same angle as the previous one, so you can see just what a difference a week can make, especially when a perfect combination of drop dead gorgeous weather and Spring showers are thrown into the mix.

The aforementioned perfect Spring weather also allowed me to get some gardening done! I am not an experienced gardener since our rambling old duplex is my first non-rental home. I have never before had any type of garden that I have had a free rein with, so I have been going at the gardening thing slow and steady. The first summer I was here I planted some lupine seeds that I brought home from a vacation to Prince Edward Island and courageously planted a lavender plant that I tried to keep in the house, but that Quinn kept eating. I squealed with excitement last Spring when the lavender survived the winter and the lupines grew. The lavender did wonderfully throughout the Summer, but a local cat began using the scraggly little cedar shrubs in our front garden as a urinal. The sturdiest lupines were unfortunately growing right in front of the shrubs and eventually lost their battle with the cat pee and I nearly cried. Before we left on vacation I yanked out the yucky, partially dead cedar shrubs (they liked the cat pee about as much as the lupines did, but had the advantage of being far less tiny, so were not completely dead) to make it clear to the cat that he would have to go and pee in someone else’s front garden and crossed my fingers hoping that the lupines would come back. Just like last year, the lavender woke up from its Winter hibernation and shortly thereafter, the lupines miraculously poked their way out of the ground. More gleeful hopping around ensued and my Darling gave me a goofy grin and shook his head at my enthusiasm.

Since I managed to keep my first plants alive for two seasons, I decided that it would be safe for me to spend some real money on more plants. I therefore headed out to Pépinière Jasmin, where my mother has been purchasing more of her gardening fare for years. It is also where the stunning St.Joseph’s Oratory buy their flowers, gardening tools and earth. I decided to plant all of my own flowers in my pots this year instead of buying the pépinière’s arrangements and I also bought a bleeding heart which I planted in our front garden where the cedars used to be. It was quite a job digging the hole for the bleeding heart and cutting through all the old cedar roots, but I did it on my own and was darn proud of myself for pulling it off! I did all of my shopping and planting last Thursday. There is no sign of last year’s offending feline as of yet.

One of my flower pots for the front of our house.
One of my flower pots for the front of our house.
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The bleeding heart in our front garden.
The flower pot for our front balcony.
The flower-pot for our front balcony.

I’ll post some more pictures of our flowers pots once they have grown in a bit, maybe in about a month.

Now, for my current favorites! As usual most of them are food related!

1- I tried my hand at making pickles the weekend we got back from vacation since they had some eight packs of Canadian greenhouse grown pickling cucumbers on sale at Provigo and Loblaws. I used this recipe from The Creekside Cook and they turned out pretty good, however I would suggest cutting the quantity of salt by a quarter to one half as my batch turned out a bit too salty. I poured some of the brine out and replaced it with water and the pickles tasted much better afterwards. They are still nice and crispy after a week in their jar.

2- I also decided to try making my own ice cream last Friday since my Darling owns an ice cream, sorbet and frozen yogurt machine and naturally brought it with him when we moved in together last year. I made a batch of this chocolate gelato as a surprise for him and oh, my goodness did we both ever gobble it up! We will never be buying ice cream at the grocery store again. You do not need to change a thing in this recipe, it is absolutely perfect. the only thing I will be doing any time I make it will be adding some cinnamon or cardamom to it for my own tasting pleasure.

3- Fortnum and Mason’s Chai tea made the traditional way with milk and one cube of raw cane sugar. You will never see Chai tea the same way again, I swear.

4-My LK Bennett Marlene Fitted Dress, which I splurged on in Las Vegas. We do not have LK Bennett stores, so I took the opportunity to shop at the one in Las Vegas and bought my first piece of their clothing. I am so, so glad I splurged. The dress fits my curves like a glove and I wore it for nearly twelve hours last Saturday to my future sister in law’s bridal shower and the ensuing drinks and dinner evening and still didn’t want to take it off. LK Bennett’s clothing is a bit on the pricey side, but they often have sales which are worth keeping an eye out for. Forget their shoes unless you have very narrow feet though. I can’t even fit my toes into most of their footwear.

5- This beautiful rendition of This is The Day the Lord Has Made by John Rutter. The most beautiful recording of it is by the choirs of Westminster Abbey and St. George’s Chapel from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding in 2011. It is totally worth a listen and a watch, I am often moved to tears and goosebumps by it This is the day John Rutter – YouTube.

There, I’m all caught up on the regular stuff! I’ll be back soon with my vacation post, including some favorites for anyone wanting to visit Vegas and the Grand Canyon!

The miracle of Spring!

Crocuses!
Crocuses!

I know, I know, I’ve done a ‘OMG, Spring is here!’ post before, but this time Spring really has Sprung! Because yes, in Canada anywhere East of British Columbia, the official first day of Spring is a farce. It always, always snows and gets cold later than mid-March except the odd year which is a fluke. I can remember very clearly standing outside at work at the end of March three years ago and it was 27 degrees and sunny and nary a flake of snow fell again until the following year. But that must have been the one year where we could have all sworn we had been transported to British Columbia because there had pretty much been no Winter at all!

This year, however, was very different from that. It was freezing cold, like -10 celsius and colder, and snowy from early December right until late February (minus a few brief reprieves). Then it ‘warmed up’ a bit until temperatures finally inched above freezing in early March before dipping down again for a bit and now finally we’re seeing temperatures above 10 degrees! That, naturally, means all sorts of wonderful things, like no more snow, birds singing at the tops of their voices and most of all, things are growing!!! The crocuses are  out, the tulips and daffodils are coming and if you take a good look at the picture of the Maple tree in front of our house, you will be able to see that the buds are starting to open! My current photo project is to take a picture of that tree once a week to show you its progress until the leaves are fully open 🙂

Spring is always so amazing to me, but especially so now that I have my own place and my own little garden. It isn’t much yet, but I’ve already planted some lavender and lupins in front. My little lupin seeds grew last year, even though they were rather timid little plants. I’m hoping they’ll come back this year and be a bit more confident. Time will tell!

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Buds on our Maple tree!

Good food (including ice cream!) and exercise!

Hello everyone, I hope you had a wonder Easter, for those who celebrate it! I had a family and food filled weekend and somewhat miraculously managed not to over eat! Thank goodness for self-control!

Things are back to normal after a nice four-day weekend I  have fallen back into my routine, which includes plenty of cooking and exercise! Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not an exercise nut, but I do enjoy my runs and am currently running eight kilometers in 48 minutes on slightly hilly circuits and in 51 minutes on my new, more steeply inclined Westmount circuit. I ran it for the second time today and am quite proud to announce that I shaved 11 seconds off my previous running time on it! I’m gonna have glutes of steel pretty soon! Right now, I’m doing my hill work run once a week and a lighter run once or twice a week depending on the weather and how I’m feeling.

A very important part of my feeling good enough to exercise is naturally to eat well, which is why I’m very happy that I enjoy cooking! We very, very rarely eat any processed food at our place. We keep two emergency pizzas in the freezer and two bags pierogies as well. I made pierogies myself once, but ended up losing it because of how damn long it took me to get it done, so never again unless I have an army of helpers including my Polish mother-in-law and two Polish friends! Aside from that though, I buy everything fresh and as local as possible and make as many things as possible from scratch. My challenge for yesterday was my second ever batch of Bigos, or Polish Hunter’s stew (can you tell my darling is Polish?). It is a delicious and hearty mix of sauerkraut, venison, lamb or pork, beef, bacon, polish sausage, cabbage, prunes, mushrooms and I threw some carrots in yesterday as well because I had some left in the fridge from last week that I didn’t want to lose. I had a lot of fun making it like the first time I tried it. Make sure you have a good chunk of time on your hands if you’re going to make this though, because it has to simmer for two to three hours (the longer the better) and the prep time is at least 45 minutes if you’re speedy. It took me two hours, but I am known for being a slow mover…except when I’m jogging! If you want to give making Bigos a try, which I strongly encourage you to do, as it makes a nice, big batch, ages beautifully, keeps in the fridge forever and freezes well, you can find the recipe I use here.

On another note, my Sweetheart also have absolutely no issue with treating ourselves every once in a while and while we can make our own ice cream and sorbet as well (my Darling came with an ice cream machine!), we love going out for ice cream every once in a while. We treated ourselves to our first visit of the season to an ice cream parlor last Thursday while out in the West Island (Pointe-Claire Village to be exact). We saw that the place was open and it was eight degrees and sunny (You know you’re a true Canadian when…), so in we went! We wanted to go out for another ice cream cone tonight because Darling had a rough day at the office and needed a pick-me-up. This time it was one degree, but still more than nice enough for a walk, so we got ready to go out. Then, it started to snow. Darling nearly backed down from the idea of going, but I gave him a nudge and he shrugged and off we went. We know there was a chance the parlor would have closed down for the night by the time we got there and sure enough, they just had. Oh well, off to Starbucks we went instead for a nice hot drink, because by then the wet snow was starting to seep through our clothes. Hey, at least we got our walk in and more hills for me!

If ever you are in Montreal and are looking for some nice places to go for ice cream, here are our favorites:

Kem CoBa ice cream parlor on Fairmount in the Mile End neighborhood on Montreal.
Kem CoBa ice cream parlor on Fairmount in the Mile End neighborhood on Montreal.

1- Kem CoBa This place, I kid you not, has the best ice cream in town and changes their flavors all the time. They make it on the spot with fresh and local ingredients. Give their salted butter ice cream a try, you will not be sorry. They’re open from late April or early May through to mid October and also have the great advantage of being right next to Fairmount Bagels, where some of the best bagels in Montreal are made.

2- Le Bilboquet The second best ice cream in town. Many of their locations close for the Winter, but their Westmount and Pointe-Claire Village locations stay open year-round.

3- Wild Willy’s, a Pointe-Claire Village staple open from March to October. It’s where we got our ice cream last weekend. It’s right by Lake St-Louis on the corner of Cartier and Lakeshore roads though, so be aware that it can get buggy in the Summer, mostly with what I refer to as lake bugs. I’m sorry, I don’t have their scientific name for you, but they’re harmless compared to mosquitoes, of which there are not very many because of the wind coming off the lake in the evening.

There are many other great places to get ice cream in Montreal, but these are our favorites and will keep us from ever setting foot in a Dairy Queen again.

Enjoy!