Vegan Mofo 2015: La Vie Montrealaise!

Vegan MoFo 2015 has the cutest banner this year!

Vegan MoFo 2015 has the cutest banner this year!

It’s that time of year again! I am not officially registered, mostly because I spent the last two months helping my four siblings and mother move out of my nana’s house in Toronto, moving myself back into my newly renovated work kitchen, and camping in the woods for 10 days with a gazillion people. I will still post along with MoFo at my usual sporadic pace anyway, just with fewer readers to disappoint!

My theme this year is La Vie Montrealaise. Explore with me all the sweet things that make life in Montreal truly fascinating, beautiful, and heartily weird. I have lived here for 4 years now, and I have a hard time imagining living anywhere else ever again. Follow along with me this month and maybe you’ll see why I’m so smitten.

The verdant hidden terrace of Cafe Santropol captures the quintessential Montreal aesthetic. Combining tiny spaces and small, tightly packed tables with enough height and low light and detail to create intimacy. The perfect place for sipping iced tea and enjoying lunch with someone you want to (re-)connect with. Or some solo reading or journaling. Or maybe grabbing take-out on your way to Tam Tams at Park Mont Royal next door.

The verdant hidden terrace of Cafe Santropol captures the quintessential Montreal aesthetic. Combining tiny spaces and small, tightly packed tables with enough height and low light and detail to create intimacy. The perfect place for sipping iced tea and enjoying lunch with someone you want to (re-)connect with. Or some solo reading or journaling. Or maybe grabbing take-out on your way to Tam Tams at Park Mont Royal next door.

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Being an Anglo Vegan in Montreal

The absolutely delicious Lola Rosa vegan poutine. Sweet potato and Yukon gold fries with a rich black bean/mushroom gravy and Daiya, garnished with green onion.  This is the small, which is what I recommend you order if you're going to get the chocolate/avocado/coconut tart for dessert, as I always do.

The absolutely delicious Lola Rosa vegan poutine. Sweet potato and Yukon gold fries with a rich black bean/mushroom gravy and Daiya, garnished with green onion. This is the small, which is what I recommend you order if you’re going to get the chocolate/avocado/coconut tart for dessert, as I always do.

When I came to Montreal three years ago, I learned very quickly that food is culture, and I couldn’t presume that the way I had grown used to handling eating out as a vegan would be the same. I fell in love with the city before I knew much about the local food scene, or the veg scene. The way of life here is slower, smaller, and more relaxed than other cities. Picnicking is a favourite weekend pastime, and they have a special term for going out for drinks before a late supper at home throughout the week. Biking makes more sense than driving almost every time here, and public pianos are set out at subway stations for citizens to entertain each other during their daily commute- and they do! My life here is idyllic- I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be. But as a vegan, it took some work to adapt to the local food climate. While Montreal has a few excellent vegan and vegetarian establishments, by and large, omni restaurants- especially of the pricier variety- refuse to cater to vegans on principal. It’s just not the Quebec way, I’m told; ordering off-menu is an insult to the chef, vegetarianism itself is insulting to the lard-laden palate of the Quebecois. While some of this can be accounted for by the difficulty of catering to vegans on the spot (since lard and butter is in eevrything, even the beans), not all of my experience can be accounted for by this. It was shocking to me to experience being literally turned away at the door of restaurants, since the chef refused to simply omit cheese from a menu item. Since I am not a native speaker of Quebecois and am conscious of the threat of English imperialism in the Quebec nation, I am not sure how much of what I have experienced was a result of nationalist indignation- perhaps the experience of native quebeckers is different. One can never tell if the ire of the barista is the result of asking for soy milk or asking for soy milk in English, or both.

By comparison when I lived in Edmonton, while there were very few vegetarian establishments, I had enjoyed the American-style hospitality that larger omni restaurants offered, including reduced prices for cutting meat out of menu items, and vegan meat and cheese substitutes for almost any dish. While sometimes I encountered hapless waiters and chefs who would offer me fish or chicken broth when I specified ‘vegan’ (I even had a pizzeria inform me that none of their pizzas could be made vegan, since there was flour and oil in the crusts), everyone was happy- even relieved- when I explained what veganism entailed and offered suggestions for vegan fare off their menus. Managers and chefs would invite me to come back on a quiet afternoon to review the menu and ingredient lists with them to help make their establishments more accommodating to vegans. I couldn’t ask for a more accommodating, friendly dining experience.

In other ways, too, Edmonton values seemed more open and commensurate with vegan values. They have one of the best (if not the best) no-kill animal shelters in the world, and it’s entirely funded by the community operating in harmony out of the same building complex as the city animal control service. Meanwhile in Montreal, city animal services are entirely privatized, sometimes run by for-profit companies who have a horrific track record of killing first and answering questions later. Public outrage at lost family pets being killed by unqualified personnel without being scanned for microchips or giving owners an opportunity to retrieve them first has inspired some interest in improving the state of things. However, by and large, Quebec remains a very dismal place for animals.

As an outsider, of a sort (I had two bilingual grandparents, one of whom was Quebecois) I realize that my capacity as an advocate for veganism is reduced here. First, because of the linguistic barrier- my French is barely passable. Second, because in an environment where the francophone majority militantly protects a culture threatened by English (and by extension, anglophones themselves), any attempts to promote veganism are seen as yet another presumptuous and imperialistic attack on Quebecois values and culture by les Anglais. As such, I just avoid eating out except at expressly vegetarian-friendly establishments. However, there is some evidence that the situation here in Montreal is improving. A few of the newer eateries that have popped up in the Mile End area have veg options, and new veg establishments are opening up or expanding regularly. I have hope for this little city that I love, and hope for the millions of animals that are farmed for their fur, flesh, secretions, and entertainment value in Quebec.

With that heavy post, here are some of my ridiculously adorable (and available for adoption) foster kittens.

Puff, Norbert and Toothless

Puff, Norbert and Toothless

Veggie Pâté Sammiches

Veggie pate perfection! All it's missing is a pickle.

Veggie pate perfection! All it’s missing is a pickle.

I don’t think veggie pâté exists outside of Quebec, and even in Quebec it’s a bit of a culinary enigma. Across the internet you can find present and former Montrealers reminiscing and trying to recreate the staple food of the Quebecoise vegetarian, but no one seems to know the origin of this perfect vegan food in an otherwise very meat-centric culinary landscape. It’s presence in epiceries and menus throughout the province is ubiquitous, where it’s enjoyed by omnis and vegetarians alike as an appetizer with bread and pickles or in California-style sandwiches on seedy bread with tomatoes, sprouts, pickles, avocado and mayo. 

Veggie pâté was one of the first vegan things I noticed on my very first trip to the grocery store just after moving to Montreal from Edmonton, the only other place I had lived as a vegan. The shrink-wrapped plastic packages came in several varieties, nestled in a group beside the hummus and other spreads. I was delighted, as I had enjoyed pâté in my pre-vegan days and interpreted this as a sure sign that Montreal would be a very vegan-friendly place indeed. Sadly, I quickly learned that I was mistaken- but that is a topic for another post. 

My first impression upon trying veggie pâté was that it tasted like Thanksgiving. Specifically, it tastes like stuffing. Dense, creamy and somewhat crumbly, characteristic flecks of carrot stud the fine loaf, which is pressed and baked in bread pans before being sliced or scooped into rounds like ice cream. Traditionally made by finely grating carrot, celery, onion and potato, it’s often made in the food processor these days. Wheat flour and vegetable oil binds it together, and chopped sunflower seeds provide textural interest. Herbal notes of thyme, sage and rosemary pull together the flavour profile, sometimes with white wine, nutritional yeast and garlic. Variations, such as eggplant, sundried tomato and cranberry are common, but even these flavours are subtle additions to the overall toasted wheat and golden-baked mirepoix base.

There are several varieties available for purchase, and several recipes published by Quebecois bloggers and tv personalities, such as the ever-loveable Ricardo. I am working on my own, and will share it when it’s perfected. In the meantime, here’s a basic veggie pâté sandwich recipe. It served as lunch during camping at least twice. However, the overall experience was greatly diminished by the omission of a pickle, the standard pâté accompaniment. Putter’s is the best choice. It’s what they serve along the famous Montreal smoked meat at Schwartz’s, and alongside the veggie pâté at Aux Vivres, the institution most representative of the Montreal vegan community. You probably can’t find Putter’s outside of Quebec, in which case go for the sharpest, cloudiest fresh brine pickle you can find. 

 

Veggie Pâté Sammiches

2 slices of multigrain bread
1 tbsp Grapeseed Vegenaise (or vegan mayo of choice)
2 slices of tomato
1/4 sliced avocado
1 leaf romaine lettuce
1 small handful of sunflower or broccoli sprouts
1/4 sliced green onion
3-4 slices of veggie pâté, 1/4 inch thick
1 Putter’s Pickle, sliced in the sandwich or whole on the side
Herbamare and pepper, to taste

Assemble sandwich with mayo on both sides. Enjoy with a beer if you’re like me, or a kombucha, if you’re doing it Aux Vivres-style.

The quintessential veggie pate

The quintessential veggie pate

Taking in strays/Kimchi part 1

It’s been a whole week since I’ve written, and I feel pretty crappy about it. But I have the best excuses. Plus, I have several legitimately exciting food stories to share over the next few days, so that makes up for some of it, right? Well, you be the judge,

The first reason I was away last week is that we took in a stray kitten. If you’ve ever done this before, you know how those adorable fluffballs can just eat up any spare time you might have. This little one was part of a feral colony, but decided she wanted to adventure off on her own and consort with humans. She cried and cried outside my guy’s back door til we were finally able to trap her and get her spayed and dewormed and all those good things. She’d 4.5 months old and doesn’t know how to do anything other than snuggle and hide. But that’s ok. The rest will come with time.

World, meet Betty Boop (Boop for short, or sometimes Bloop, or McBlooperson)

World, meet Betty Boop (Boop for short, or sometimes Bloop, or McBlooperson)

The second reason I’ve been busy is that I have taken in a stray tourist from Japan! A friend of a friend’s lodging arrangements fell through just a couple of days before she was scheduled to fly to Montreal. Rather than cancel her trip, I gave her my room and am staying with my guy for the next couple of weeks. Needless to say, the sudden nature of this made things a bit hectic for a few days there- lots of scrubbing and packing and laundering happened. But now Tomoko is happily doing her thing out of my tiny little Plateau pad, and life is somewhat returned to normal.

In the midst of all this upheaval, I have managed to find some time for cooking, too. Mostly because if I didn’t, I’d go mad. Last Sunday, I had a fermenting/pickling day with a few lovely friends. We made kimchi and dill pickles. I won’t share all the deets until I get to taste the final product, but I’ll woo you with some pictures in the meantime.

Ladies at work

Ladies at work

It was actually a lot of fun, putting together all the little jars and stirring up big bowls of veggies with chili sauce for the kimchi. It would have been more fun had we made it through the day without one of us cutting herself and another squirting ginger juice in her eyes (that was me!) but, you know. The hostess graciously provided us with wine and baguette, which helped immensely.

Dividing the dill and garlic for the jars

The little countertop that could! Dividing the dill and garlic for the jars, grating turnip, carrots and ginger for the kimchi.

Pretty little jars all in a row, ready for their brine.

Pretty little jars all in a row, ready for their brine. Can’t forget the wine. Not for the pickles, for the pickle-makers.

I will report back with the finished results in a couple of weeks. I hope it will be delicious. I am sure it will be.

Comfort Food/The Terrible, No-Good, All-Around Bad Week.

This past week was especially trying… I worked long hours, even some 12-hour days without any breaks. I was working at the catering company with a small team to cater two big events, both of which had last-minute surprises (60 bonus people to cook for and a separate allergen-free menu with less than 24-hours notice). I was also working my regular job, cooking for the wonderful family I serve, but with bonus back-to-school schedule changes that didn’t work well with my catering duties.

Millions of perfect pepper triangles for millions of perfect appetizers.

Millions of perfect pepper triangles for millions of perfect appetizers.

That alone would have made the week a blur, leaving me dead-on-my-feet tired by the weekend. But in addition to work, I had a bunch of little shitty things happen- losing a cooking contract, the insoles of my shiny new vegan Doc’s coming out, cutting myself on three separate occasions, emergency work cancellations for the coming month.

All those little things are not devastating on their own, but they do add up, and when combined with immense physical stress from work it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But I am a strong, competent, capable woman and I can deal with a fair bit of stress quite well. It is useful when you work in a kitchen to thrive in a stressful environment. Kitchens are full of unexpected changes, danger, near-misses, and time-pressure. So towards the end of the week, I was in need of a little extra chocolate to keep me afloat and was very much so ready for Sunday-Funday. But alas, it was not to be. There was more.

The tipping point between coping and not-coping-at-all-actually was finding out about two close family members being really sick, one requiring a surgery, and the other requiring ongoing, difficult treatments for an indefinite period of time.

Suddenly I really wished that all I had to worry about was confined to the kitchen.

And that is how I found myself in a sunny, comfortable vegan cafe on Friday morning, staring into a bowl of hot chocolate, playing footsies under the table with my guy, and nibbling on a strange variety of delicious things. You can’t control the weather, but you can control what you have for breakfast.

It's a rare man who will wake up at 7 am just to drive you to work to make your day a little shinier. On Friday he took me out for breakfast before work to my favorite little vegan nook, Cafe Resonance. Kimchi, tempeh BLT, baked beans and brownies. Those brownies are the richest, chocolatiest bits of gluten-free goodness.... I'm melting just thinking of them.

It’s a rare man who will wake up at 7 am just to drive you to work to make your day a little shinier. On Friday he took me out for breakfast before work to my favorite little vegan nook, Cafe Resonance. Kimchi, tempeh BLT, baked beans and brownies. Those brownies are the richest, chocolatiest bits of gluten-free goodness…. I’m melting just thinking of them.

For many people, food is a source of comfort when things are looking down. It’s familiar, associated with fond memories and happier times, and it’s immediately pleasurable. But as a cook, food is also my favorite distraction. It is what I use to procrastinate, what I do when I am fuming over a vexing conflict, how I express my love toward others. It makes me feel good about myself when I cook something well, and it is a source of intellectual curiosity when good food is prepared for me. Food is more than just comfort for me, it’s an intrinsic part of what makes my life meaningful and worthwhile.

Thus on Friday night, when I was barely able to walk home on my smarting feet and so emotionally exhausted I couldn’t spare a smile for the beggars on Laurier, I made a little detour into the market and bought ridiculously expensive mushrooms, leeks, arugula, fragrant olive fougasse still warm from the oven, a bar of good chocolate, a bottle of prosecco and a nice, buttery-round wine. Once home I opened the bottle of bubbles, changed into one of my guy’s shirts, snipped some thyme, marjoram and tarragon from the window box and set to work.

There are no pictures of my little creation, because I was cooking for no one but myself. It was therapeutic, more for the process than the product. Leeks and garlic were cooked down in earth balance with a bit of freshly grated nutmeg, then shiitake, oyster and crimini mushrooms were roasted til golden. Everything was tossed together with a sizzle of wine, the herbs, arugula, a good dollop of dijon and a bit of lemon. Angel hair pasta and crushed red chilis were folded in just before serving with the still-warm, aromatic fougasse and cool glasses of wine.

We ate well and left the kitchen cleaning for the next day. I was asleep within moments of turning on Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. My guy set my glasses aside and tucked me in. I slept like the dead.

Sometimes, the little things are all you need.

Sometimes, the little things are all you need.

Aux Vivres/ Huevos Rancheros

Fuck yes sweet potatoes!

Fuck yes sweet potatoes!

We have a fantastic little vegan resto here in Montreal called Aux Vivres (meaning something like To Life!) that serves up the best brunch in town. Not that that’s saying much in this town of very few vegan restos, though there has been some improvement on that front lately. Aux Vivres is one of those health-food vegan type places, with a menu featuring mainly bowls and wraps, a whole lot of juice and some substantial mains. They have excellent cheesecake, don’t serve booze, and have a handy take-out counter so you can enjoy all of the above in the comfort of…. wherever the alcohol is.

I am super stoked that they recently added huevos rancheros to their list of delicious weekend offerings along with blueberry waffles, breakfast polenta, granola and a tofu scramble platter. The meal includes fresh tortillas, refritos, guac, vegan sour cream, pico de gallo, tofu scramble, grilled sweet potatoes and a side salad. It’s big and filling, perfect for Sundays in the park. Here I ordered a chipotle brownie to go with, cause chocolate is an important part of breakfast. I took this feast to go, along with some vegepate wraps for my friends and a bottle of bubbly. Much fun was had at Tamtams that day.

Picnic o'clock!

Picnic o’clock!

 

 

Waxing poetic about Autumn

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In Montreal, we have a flair for the dramatic.

I have mixed feelings about autumn right now. I love the season, as a season… but it’s creeping up on me much too fast, and I am just not ready for it. Summer started late, and these 5 °C nights foretell its summation. I crave a long, slow, hot afternoon with an icy drink and a book on the terrace. Or a midnight stroll down the hushed streets and alleys of the Plateau, scotch and clove cigarette in hand, tempting the cats and raccoons into impromptu petting-dates with bags of treats. Instead, I am huddled indoors sipping hot chocolate in my guy’s warmest socks and sweater, barring the blustering leaves and gray skies outside through the lace-covered patio door. Two weeks ago I spent days in nothing but bathing suit bottoms and hiking boots, soaking up the sun and holding it deep in my bones to keep me warm well into the night. This has all happened too quickly. Change is difficult, but that difficulty is a powerful source of energy. Or so I tell myself.

I hate autumn in the city. The cool days and clear nights stir up a deep longing for the crisp, biting sting of frost in the morning cut with steam from a mug of something bittersweet. I want to run away to the woods to bathe in smoke and fire, and hide in the lengthening shadows cast by increasingly bare trees. But instead I am stuck in the humdrum routine of life as a cook, waking early and going to bed late, living in an apron, creating ephemera. I have a vacation booked for the end of October that will take me to the woods…. I am counting the days.

Oh, the humanity.

Oh, the humanity.

I am torn. Pumpkins are right around the corner, but the baskets at the market are overflowing with aubergines and tomatoes and zucchinis now. At the catering company it’s all Jewish holiday food right now- heavy, well-cooked stuff. Warming and comforting. In the homes of families, I have been grilling and baking. Peaches baked til they’re dripping with their own syrup, charred on the outside and meltingly tender on the inside. Easy, kid-friendly week-night stirfries with peanut sauce. Thai eggplant curries with piercingly hot bird chilis tempered by lime and coconut. Tarte tatin and roasted red pepper polenta. Platters of grilled vegetables to pile on fresh-baked olive bread smeared liberally with lemony cilantro cashew cheese.

I have worked so much over the past ten days, I am dead-tired. Fall-asleep-in-my-tarts tired. I have so much to say, because I have been working too hard to speak. My mind has been left to its own devices for too long as I’ve stood over my cutting board aggravating my tendonitis one kilo of potatoes at a time. I want to share with you my thoughts on how to cook in large quantities, and what it’s like being a vegan woman in a male- and meat-dominated industry. I want to give you my recipe for vietnamese crepes. I will take time to write it all out, but first I will rest. I hope the change of the seasons is treating you well, or at least that it is too far off yet to worry about.