Thursday, October 4, 2012


Wow, it's been a while since we updated... like, a full year! Sorry about that! Things have been a bit crazy in our world, and we're still in the midst of getting settled... but the bottom line is that we've taken a leap of faith and decided to move from our flat in the core of downtown Toronto to a little cottage in the woods of rural Quebec. How awesome is that?

Though we've kept the "33 Leagues" aspect of our blog, we've changed the subtitle to "33 Leagues from Mont Royal", with a slightly different spin on things: though we're still locavore enthusiasts, we're aiming to focus on all things related to the region of Quebec we're now living in, from its history and early days to its local culture. We're actually 33 leagues (just over 100 miles) from Montreal (the oldest port in Canada), and we'll certainly be focusing a great deal on all of the amazing things available to us around here.

We've been observing the land to determine what to plant where for our permaculture garden next spring, and we'll be wildcrafting the wooded areas around our place for all manner of forest plants. Though we have a plethora of local herbs to cultivate and harvest (cohosh! yarrow! red clover! burdock! milk thistle! mullein!), we'll also be planting some other medicinal herbs of our own and are considering inoculating some fallen hardwood logs with oyster mushroom spores. *glee*

Leaving the city has been a dream of ours for quite some time, and though we're a bit nervous about taking such a leap, we're looking forward to the change of pace. The tips and tricks we've learned in the city will certainly be of use in the countryside, and with all the organic produce available locally, you can bet we'll be canning and preserving our little hearts out! We also have a bunch of projects on the go for the winter months:
  • learning how to make cheese
  • making mead/metheglin and cider
  • more sewing and knitting projects (those are likely just mine)
  • making more tinctures, salves, etc.

It's certainly the time of year for nesting and prepping for things to keep us busy during the colder half of the year, and you can be certain that we'll both keep busy and creative for months to come.

Living in the country allows for a far greater attunement to the subtle shifts in seasonal weather than in the city. Sure, when we lived in downtown Toronto we were able to enjoy the changing leaves and crisp breeze that autumn brings, but the little shifts that are visible each day here by the lake are really noticeable. Squirrels and chipmunks have been scurrying around rather frantically, their cheeks packed with seeds and nuts, and flocks of geese have been flying by in their classic V formation, honking all the while. We even saw a moose swim across the lake! Amazing. Evenings are getting chillier, and the wonderful scent of woodsmoke has been wafting over to us from people's hearths around the bay.

Needless to say, the food we've been eating has taken on a more autumnal note, with warm meals now becoming daily indulgences in place of the salads and sandwiches we enjoyed during the summer months.

In addition to immersing myself in the local dialect (which I seem to be picking up far more quickly than I'd expected), we've also been doing a fair bit of research on the area's history, culture, and of course, traditional food. Though I spent a great deal of my childhood living in Montreal, we didn't eat much in the way of French Canadian cuisine, as my parents chose to stick to the Northern Euro dishes they were familiar with. Nathaniel was fortunate enough to have spent a great deal of time with his French-Canadian grandmother, who spoiled him rotten with all manner of traditional foods. (Did I mention she's an amazing cook?)

Montreal is also a rather cosmopolitan city, and though there's plenty of Quebecois fare to be enjoyed around town, one can get anything from a falafel to a bowl of chana masala in the downtown core... not to mention a bagel slathered in cream cheese with capers and smoked salmon. Sigh. I wonder if there are any decent gluten-free bagels to be found in that city?

Enough about Montreal's multicultural snacks, then: we're out in the bush. Having passed the ruins of homesteads that must have been built 200 years ago (or more), I find myself wondering about the people who settled and cultivated this land. Who were they? What were their dreams like? What did they do to keep themselves occupied over the long winter months? Quebec really does have an intricate, gorgeous history, and I have nothing but admiration for the hardy folk who settled here and not only survived, but thrived, and sowed the seeds of a culture that has thrived and grown over the centuries.

Naturally, in contemplating the previous inhabitants of this land, I'm inclined to wonder about the foods they ate. I've had the opportunity to try out some fantastic local dishes as prepared by Nathaniel's parents, aunts, and grandmother, but there's so much more to delve into. I’ve always been a fan of the hearty soups and stews of the region such as the traditional Habitant-style pea soup and ragoût de boulettes, but I'm also learning about all kinds of dishes I'd never even heard of before. With the food restrictions in our family—Celiac disease and allergies for me, while N is a vegetarian—I’ll be tweaking and experimenting to make versions of regional fare that we can both enjoy, while trying to stay as true to their roots as possible. We’re fortunate enough to live just down the road from N’s parents, so I’ll be able to test these recipes out on the locals, so to speak: considering that N’s paternal line has been here since the early 1500s, I’d say that they’re fairly qualified as taste-testers.

Being huge proponents of locavore eating, Nathaniel and I are hoping to use locally-produced ingredients as often as possible, so in addition to buying produce, eggs, and dairy from local farmers, we’ll be harvesting some edibles from the wild spaces around us. Seeing as how the early settlers here would have incorporated many native foods into their diet, we hope to follow in their footsteps and try to do the same, being as self-sufficient as possible while treating our food sources with respect and appreciation. I'm looking forward to using ingredients like burdock, garlic mustard, and items used in First Nations cuisine like local wild rice, squash, and assorted berries.

While writing this, I've been delving into some great Quebecois recipes, and am compiling a list of those I'd like to try out first. Since we're edging into autumn and there are so many wonderful apple varieties around, I might try my hand at the wonder that is the apple dumpling. My mother-in-law and her mum (yay Nanny!) made them a few weekends ago and I just fell in love with them, so I'm going to try my own hand at making them as well. I think it goes without saying that theirs will come out on top, but I'm sure mine will be a tasty mess in their own rights! Gooey, sticky, gluten-free messy piles of deliciousness, damn it. I'm happy that items from the farms and orchards nearby are carried by the village grocery store (as well as on roadside stands!), so I'll likely pick up some sharp cheddar along with the apples I'll need the next time Sir N and I are out shopping to use in my dumpling experiment.

Stay tuned: a recipe and pictures of my apple mess will be forthcoming shortly.

Love and light.