Quebec City – a diner’s delight!

Last week I spent four days in Quebec City. What a great place to visit! I count it as one of my favourite spots in all of Canada. For the many tourists who flock to the city (especially this year, the city’s 400th anniversary), its special charm is the area known as Old Quebec with its European-style architecture, narrow cobblestone streets, old brick buildings, boutiques, galleries, antique shops, and restaurants.

I stayed in the stylish Hotel 71 in Old Port and enjoyed casual dining at St. Alexandre Pub and Le Conchon Dingue, and a more formal meal at L’Echaude. The sugar pie at Le Cochon Dingue, a cheese burger at a small restaurant in the Petit Champlain district, and chocolate noisette gelato at a nearby confectionary, were favourite taste experiences.

Cheese burger and fries
Cheese burger and fries

Quebecers enjoy eating out and take their food seriously. There are plenty of restaurants, many offering table d’hote (you can choose a meal from a set menu at a fixed price). I found serving portions appropriate and my meals tastefully prepared and garnished. Since you “eat with your eyes” before actually tasting what’s set before you, a garnish definitely adds to the pleasure of a meal. The cheeseburger and fries platter I enjoyed at a small restaurant in the Petit Champlain area of lower Old Quebec (unfortunately I don’t recall the restaurant’s name) was garnished with a small salad made of long thin carrot strings, cucumber slices with the edges artistically notched, tomato slices, rings of onion, and strips of sweet pepper perched above a bed of lettuce. My late lunch looked appetizing, and since it was raining outside and I was inside and dry, seated at a table by the window watching the world scurry by, it tasted c’est délicieux!

Vegetable Orchestra brings new meaning to “playing with your food”

Dare I say I’ve now seen (or rather, heard!) everything? 

Likely not, but what you’ll see in this video would definitely rank high on my list of strange things people do with food. 

No two ways about it – the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra is a novel and inventive way to use vegetables. The orchestra consists of 11 musicians who fashion musical instruments like carrot flutes, leek violins, cucumberphones and celery bongos by dicing, slicing, carving and drilling veggies. You can find information and, yes, the orchestra’s performance schedule (I kid you not!!), on the group’s website.

I’m curious how the idea for this produce project came about. Who imagined trying to make music with vegetables was a possibility?  Someone whose disliked finding carrots on the dinner menu so intensely it lead to searching for an alternate use for them? Someone who thought eggplants hadn’t reached their full potential? Someone with an overabundance of zucchini, lettuce, pumpkin, and sweet peppers in their garden? A bunch of people with too much time on their hands???

I’m also curious how long each instrument lasts before it dries up or wears out. From the video it appears some of the produce take quite a beating during each performance. 

Believe it or not, the Vegetable Orchestra gives concerts and appropriately serves vegetable soup to concert-goers following each performance. And yes, they have produced a CD.

Take a look – and a listen – to the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra! (Be warned – about halfway through the video, you may be tempted to reach for the fly swatter.)


Spice things up with chocolates from Laura Secord

Laura Secord's new Spice Collection
Laura Secord’s new Spice Collection

Chocolate company Laura Secord has created a boxed Spice Collection designed to appeal to more than one’s sense of taste. The five pairs of chocolates are visually attractive, and will appeal to those with slightly adventurous palates. The flavours are pleasant….certainly not overpowering. A 120 g box is priced at $12.00.

These are the flavour combinations you’ll find in the collection:

* Mediterranean Rosemary & Apple (milk chocolate)
* Mexican Lime & Chili (dark chocolate)
* Persian Cardamom & Cinnamon (white chocolate)
* Chinese Ginger & Lychee (dark chocolate)
* Micronesian Lemon Grass & Coconut (milk chocolate)

My personal favourites are Lime & Chili and Ginger & Lychee.

Making edible snowflakes

It’s March Break in Ontario and students are out of school for the week.

If you’re running out of things to do with your brood during the Break, consider spending time with them in the kitchen making edible snowflakes!

The kids will enjoy cutting snowflake shapes out of soft tortillas, then broiling them (with an adult’s supervision), and dusting each faux snowflake with icing sugar. They’re crisp, slightly sweet, cinnamon-scented and flavoured, and just plain fun to eat!
And since there’s not much you can do about the mountains of real snow still on the ground outside, helping the edible stuff disappear inside may give everyone at least some satisfaction!

Tortilla Snowflakes

Small flour tortillas
Melted butter
Cinnamon sugar (3 tablespoons (45 mL) sugar and 1 teaspoon (5 mL) ground cinnamon)
Icing sugar

Preheat broiler.

Gently fold the tortilla in half without making a crease, then in half again. Hold the folds together without creasing the folds firmly into the tortilla. With kitchen scissors, cut out shapes and designs from the folded edges of the tortilla. Cut through all the layers, being careful not to tear the tortilla.

Open the tortilla and place it flat on a baking sheet. It should look like a snowflake. If more design is needed, carefully refold the tortilla and add more cuts. Repeat to make as many snowflakes as desired. (The number of snowflakes that can be broiled at one time will depend on the size of the snowflakes and the baking sheet.)

Using a pastry brush or an unused inexpensive artist’s paint brush, brush snowflakes with melted butter. Pick up a pinch of cinnamon sugar between your fingers and sprinkle over the snowflakes. Repeat with more cinnamon sugar until top of each snowflake is lightly covered.

Place the baking sheet with tortilla snowflakes under the broiler just until snowflakes begins to brown. Watch carefully; this only takes a minute or so. Wearing oven mitts, remove the baking sheet from the oven. Let snowflakes cool for a few minutes.

With a turner, remove snowflakes from the baking sheet to a wire rack. Let snowflakes rest for a few minutes to cool and firm. Sprinkle each with icing sugar.


* Cocoa Snowflakes: Stir 1 teaspoon (5 mL) cocoa powder into cinnamon sugar mixture. Continue with recipe as directed.

* Cheese Snowflakes: Sprinkle grated Mozzarella or Swiss cheese on the tortilla snowflake, being careful to keep cheese on the tortilla and not in the holes. Place snowflakes under broiler to brown and crisp a little, 1 to 2 minutes. Let cool and firm on a wire rack.

Recipe Source: Adapted from Cooking Art by MaryAnn F. Kohl and Jean Potter, Gryphon House, 1997

Chew Over These Birthday Cards!

Yesterday was Murray’s birthday. Although no longer the handsome young man I met 28 years ago, like fine wine or cheese, he has aged well and is now the handsome somewhat older man I am proud to call my husband! With him around, life is certainly never dull!

A few days ago, a cool birthday card came in the mail for him from my sister-in-law, brother and niece.

Inside the card: So on your birthday, Eat, Drink and BE MURRAY
(Created by DCI Studios)

The card elicited an extra smile from both of us since Murray is not a cat lover, although he does seem to have a special bond with Sam, the black Burmese-ish cat who lives next door and occasionally stays with us when his family is away.

Murray’s birthday was a low-key celebration, as our birthdays tend to be. Just him and me, out for supper as is our usual birthday tradition. He picked Charbries restaurant in Waterloo as his destination of choice. I reserved the table by the fish tank. Again, his choice.

“If our conversation becomes dull or we run out of things to talk about, we can always look at the fish,” he reasoned.

As it turned out, we were able to find something to talk about all the way from pre-dinner drinks through dessert! We also watched the marine life swimming in the wall tank beside us. It included tiny fish with flourescent blue stripes on their sides and a little shark that stayed motionless on the bottom of the tank nearly all through dinner. Our server told us she once saw the shark lying on his back with his mouth open and presumed the worst, but the next day he was swimming around again!

Dinner started with a four cheese soup for Murray and curried cauliflower soup for me. A Jonagold apple and cardamom sorbet cleansed our palates before the entrees were served – chicken in a wine sauce and roasted vegetables for him, and portabello-wrapped pork with chunky applesauce and roasted vegetables for me. We shared dessert – apple bread pudding with caramel sauce and whipped cream.

Yes, we managed to eat, drink and be “merry”… Murray’s honour!

Speaking of honour, I was also able to find an appropriate card for Murray.

Inside the card: Actually, I honored you more than once.
(Created by Carlton Cards)

Chocolate as Art

Anyone who’s read my February posts so far will likely have noticed they’ve all included chocolate in one fashion or another. Since chocolate is a passion of mine, I trust I’m excused for this narrow focus, especially during the chocolatey month of February. I promise to move on to other food topics very soon, just after I share a few more chocolate thoughts.

Last year, Carol Wiebe, an artist and dear friend, created two pieces of chocolate-themed art for me. The first, Chocolate Confessions, was a commissioned piece I asked her to create when she began making personalized mixed media collages.
Chocolate Confessions by Carol Wiebe, 2007

To create the piece, Carol asked me to give her a picture of myself, and to write out some thoughts about chocolate. One thing I wrote about was that I eat chocolate everyday. Using that idea, Carol designed a chocolate mandala sun with painted rays and my own words about chocolate radiating from it. (Although you can not see the fine details, my handwriting is sprinkled liberally throughout the art quilt.)

Carol also painted a cacao tree to reflect my interest not only in eating chocolate but studying the history of it.

What about that chocolate egg? Those of you who know I work for the Egg Farmers of Ontario probably figured out the significance of the egg pretty quickly.

On the back of Chocolate Confessions, Carol appropriately penned the following: “Both chocolate and confessions can assuage the soul.”

Ancient Appetites came as a wonderful Christmas surprise from Carol. This piece included other aspects of my love of all things chocolate (like Cocoa, my poodle), historical references to chocolate and cocoa, as well as a favourite recipe for Molten Chocolate Cakes (the underbaked baby cakes that spill chocolate lava when unmolded onto a dessert plate and broken into with a fork or spoon).

Ancient Appetites by Carol Wiebe, 2007

Showing these pieces here does not begin to do proper justice to their beautiful colours, textures and sparkle, or Carol’s fine workmanship, however believe me when I say both are beautifully crafted keepsakes I will treasure always.

Carol has written about both creations on her Silverspring Studio blog. Her reflections on these pieces can be found on her posts, Chocolate Confessions and A Surprise of Beautiful Work. On her blog, you can also read some of her thoughts about art and creating and the processes she uses to design and her create her art quilts. And, of course, you can see more of her art.