Search For the Perfect Q-Ban – This Ain’t Easy – Take Two

This past week – and I mean FULL week of seven days, we have had weather to rival any Caribbean country – say, like… Cuba!  I’m talking a most disgusting average of 35°C (95°F) with that humidex factor making it feel like 45°C (115°F).  What’s a girl to do?  Continue on her search for that perfect Montreal version of the Cubano sandwich, of course.  Her partner in crime, Julie, ever the willing participant, agreed to meet me today, Friday, on my day off.  So what was today’s temp? 22°C (72°F) and it felt downright chilly!  Now for us Quebecers, who start wearing shorts when it hits 15-16°C (60°F), – sooner for some locos – this may seem silly.  But it has been hotter and muggier than the inside of Hades mouth so, this cool-down was quite the shocker.  And me, wearing a sundress…

Now I know Linds B. and Marc, over at Sorryless are done with the whole Cubano Sammy thing but they did encourage me to keep on it.  They apparently like when other peeps crash their party…

Right.

On my way to destination number two, I was struck by the sheer amount of garbage everywhere.  You see, here in Quebec, the official moving day is July 1st.  That means peeps are moving from one apartment to another and leaving shitloads of stuff behind.  I’m thinking garbage day in the area I was driving through still had not come…

Destination number two was suggested to me by a friend whose boyfriend just so happens to be Cuban.  He says other Cubans go there:  Café Cubano, still on the outskirts of Little Italy but now, on Beaubien East Street.  Traffic for Jules was horrendous, so I sat outside on a park bench in the sunshine (it was still warm, then).  Then I took a few pics in preparation.  Cute little brother and big sister skipped by.  I was amused as it seemed everyone who passed by sounded French from France.  Had me wondering what area I was in after all.  Very residential with little business like this one on the ground floor and apartments above.

Julie arrives and we pick a table.  Always a good sign when the other patrons speak the lingo.  We get the menus and I see that the Cuban Sandwich is NOT there.  And yet, when I Googled it, it was.  Hmmm…. I ask the waiter if they do do Cubanos and he says, get this:  “Not today”.  What?  “I am sorry, tomorrow you can have some.  Today we cook the pork and it takes hours. There are none today.”

Fuck.

Looked at Julie and said, “What to do now?  I am on a Cubano Sammy search.”  She agrees we need to find another place so here we are sitting in this restaurant, with our glasses of water we dare not touch, Googling for other restaurants in the vicinity.

We come upon La Bodeguita de Montréal on St. Laurent Street, a 7-minute drive away.  We decide to go with just my car – why look for two parking spots?  While I’m driving, Jules says.. “Hmmm.. their Facebook page says it’s closed.”  Dammit.  On the Google page, it says Fridays it is open from noon.  We keep going, not knowing who to trust.  We get there.  Door is locked.

Fuck.

More Googling, and by now, our stomachs are starting to auto-digest and we need us some grub.  We do NOT want to drive to downtown as that will take us a good 23-40 minutes.  Julie finds one on Park Avenue – but it’s a Mexican joint!  BUT the comments on whatever site she is looking at says you MUST try the Cuban Sandwich.

We need no further reason.  What a fabulous find!  Lemme tell you, Linds and Marc, if I decide to crash your taco party, Imma go back to this spot called Ta Chido on Park Avenue.

Colourful, joyful, smell of fresh bread cooking, kitschy as all get-out, we are charmed immediately.  Screw the Cubano, if we must.  By now it is quite cool and we choose to sit inside.  Then move to outside.  I did NOT know there exists some Mexican Heavy Metal… Thankfully it was playing pretty low (so wish I had Shazamed it 😉 )

I have to share some of the decor with you…

Okay, I’ve made you wait enough, haven’t I?  Let’s get to serious bidness.  As we were starving, we ordered a bowl of guacamole with the usual chips and chicháronnes. We stuck with water for today.

I explain to our waitress – sweetest gal ever – that I am on a Cubano mission and though I realise that this is a Mexican place, they do have what they call a Cubano… She says:  “Well that is what WE call it too.  But.. I am so sorry to tell you, we are out of jamón.”

Sigh.

Julie suggests we get two different sandwiches and share.  And frankly, that is a great idea.  So, Jules gets the “Tinga de pollo” – pulled chicken sautéed with onions and chipotle peppers, mayo, black bean spread, avocado, tomatoes, sour cream and feta cheese.

And I had the “Cubana” – breaded beef cutlet, pulled pork and ham (though there was none), mayo, cheese, black bean spread, avocado, tomatoes and caramelized onions.

Julie found the chicken needed some oomph and was glad to pour on the jalapeño sauce that was brought to the table.  I agree.

The “Cubano” had nary a Cubano element… but was very tasty for me.

We are 0 for 2 in the authentic Cubano search.

However.  After some discussion, and poor Julie still has no idea what a real Cubano is…I give it a solid 6/10.  Why so high when there were only two elements in the sammy?

That bread.  That bread was so bloody divine, I cared not one whit that it had never seen the inside of a press.  So good, in fact, that Imma go aaaaalllll the way there to buy some to make MY OWN Cubanos…  And for my celiac friends, they also make gluten free… though I would check out the facilities to make sure there is no cross-contamination.  I didn’t go look, to tell the truth.

The pulled pork was tasty, as was that piece of beef and caramelized onion.  Avocados are a favourite ingredient of mine and pretty much end up in all of my sandwiches.

The chicháronnes were light and crunchy and addictive.  the guacamole was delicious with just the right amount of smooth and chunk.

We felt we had made quite the discovery after all the shenanigans of finding a bloody place to eat.  Plus, Julie still wants to be my cohort for the next run.  Win-Win-Win.

As a result…

A little extra “blah-blah-blah” as our day was not done…

Traffic was gonna be crap for both of us, so we decided to go to the Marché Jean Talon to browse all the wonderful produce, get inspired for supper – right, like I was gonna eat supper – and maybe flirt with Frank from Birri Farms.  (What?  He’s gorgeous, Italian, single and such a flirt…)

On our way there, as we were approaching a stop light, I was pointing out a restaurant we had talked about when BANG!  I got hit from behind.  WTF?  Both of us were stunned.  I got out of the car and the guy behind got out of his apologising profusely.  First thing he asked was if were we hurt, then we checked our cars.  Mine had nothing, his, a cracked bumper.  I asked him if he wanted to fill out papers and he declined (I might add his car was a clunker).  Asked again if we were okay, apologised again and we were on our way.  We turned at the next street and pulled over to really check.  Nothing.  We both felt it in our necks – a light case of whiplash.  I know we are going to feel it tomorrow or the next day.

 

Joining in on the Search for the Perfect Q-ban Sandwich – Take One

Marco and Linds over at Sorryless have been on a quest to find the perfect Cubano sammy. ‘Course they are way out there in Pennsylvania – a good 8.5-hour drive for me – so there ain’t no way I can play with them direct-like, so I am crashing their party from way over here in the Great White North …

I mentioned my latest adventure plans to my friend Julie who was more than willing to keep me company. Now… we were supposed to do this weeks ago, but you know how that goes. Life gets in the way and all that. Neither here nor there. We finally made it.

Turns out, there are a lot more places making Cubanos than I ever expected. I even solicited my Latina friend, Naira to see if she had an opinion. Despite her boyfriend being Cuban, she had NEVER been… Sigh. She did suggest a place and we shall be trying that place next. I was wanting to be nice to Jules and pick a place ‘twixt us so I chose La Cecilia, just outside of Little Italy on Bélanger Street.

I parked a few blocks away on purpose. Figured I’d need to walk off the extra calories and this is a ‘hood I don’t really know. Turns out it is more Latino than Montreal’s official Quartier Latin What up wit’ dat? I heard more Spanish a-speaking here than I ever did in the Berri area… Our colourful character (see below) confirmed this to us… He said this ‘hood had more Latino-influenced establishments than they did. Apparently, Mtl Blog agrees.

Julie needed to leave by 2:30-3:00, latest, to drive her son to his grad (ball), so we didn’t have all that much time, but really? How long does it take to eat lunch? We met in front of the restaurant at around 12:45.

Such a tiny place! We liked that. The owner (we presume) spoke in an extremely heavily Spanish-accented French. I made the mistake of saying hello in Spanish and he let ‘er rip… Señor! No habla l’español (though I can understand if spoken s-l-o-w-l-y). Second good sign.

I explain to him that we are on a mission to discover wonderful Cubano sandwiches and probably would have taken some kind of appetizer but we were able to take a “combo” of sandwich with soup or salad or fries and a drink. We both opted for the salad. As for the drinks, Señor Chef/Owner suggested a “Maracuyá drink”, or, as they call it, in his native Dominican Republic (uh-oh, not so good sign), “Chinola” – turns out that this is the term for Passion Fruit blitzed with milk into a sorta milkshake if, you please.

Absolutely delicious!

This character came in. What a hoot and a half. Obviously an employee (could be family, who knows?) and said that it was all wrong… How can you have a Latin-inspired restaurant such as this and have no music? Up on a chair he went and turned on the music. Ahhh… now it was perfecto!

Talk about adding colour to the joint

Along comes our sammy and “salad”. Um. OK. I had explained to Julie what the components are supposed to be, which is why she jumped on the bandwagon to have one: pork, ham, cheese (I won’t get mad if it’s not Swiss, but it better have flavour), pickles and mustard on a pressed bun.

I’ll start with the salad. Cut up iceberg lettuce, a few slices of tomato “artistically” placed on top and a little container of bottled Italian dressing. I couldn’t even take a picture. I know, I know, I should have. Hang on… lemme see if I can replicate it… Ya. Never mind. I am positive you can picture it.

The Cubano. Yes. Bread was pressed and nice and crunchy. Pork was the equivalent of pulled pork – I’m not too bothered by it because it was so tasty. Found a small slice of ham in the second half of my sandwich. Cheese? Was there cheese? Pickles… Yoooo hoooo? Where are you? They must have been held hostage by the cheese… I think there might have been some caramelized onions, but that may be because of the pulled pork. There were a few little pieces of lettuce but not even enough to give it crunch… There was some mustard on the bread. Wasn’t there? Yes, there was. A very light coating.

My expectations were not sky-high high… but they were higher than what we got. While the sandwich was missing too many ingredients to qualify as an Autentico Cubano in my books, it was tasty. That Maracuyá (or Maraculla, as another patron spelt it for me) drink was the BOMB. Don’t even talk to me about the salad. Combo, my ass. Next time I’ll splurge on soup or fries… In case you did not bother clicking on the link to the restaurant, here is what they show their salad and sammy to look like…

Which goes to show that I did NOT look at the pics because… does that look like a Cubano to you? Does it? No, it does not. So… my bad for choosing the joint.

I will score it a 4/10. NOT for the Cubano, but for the drink, the friendly owners/employees and the fabulous company. Plus, Jules did say she would accompany me on my next Cubano hunt which will be sooner rather than later. (Jules is more generous than I… giving it a 6 – but then, she had nothing to compare it to.)

Me and my beautiful friend, Julie

B, I think you hexed me this morning when I told you the name of the joint we were going to…

Weekend Share – on a Monday, Again! – February 12, 2018

“Be thankful for everything that happens in your life; it’s all an experience.”
Roy T. Bennett

So, I am late posting my weekend share again.  Can’t blame me.  It’s the Olympics!  And François decided to stay over Sunday night which would have been my posting time.  Since he’s been working full-time, we only see each other on week-ends, I’m not going to “diss” him by locking myself up in my office 😉

This past week was one of appointments and lunches, starting with Monday.   For those who don’t know, my mother-in-law, whom I inherited after the death of her only son, has been placed in a home for seniors – against her will – because she is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia and is physically unsteady on her feet.  It is too dangerous to leave her alone in her 3rd storey apartment, not that she’s buying it at all.

You see, she was found unconscious in her apartment on June 28th; spent two months in the hospital where they tested her and came to the dementia conclusion and would not release her.  She was brought to court to have her rights taken away and ended up being given one chance to return home (which I wanted, if only for one week, to be in her things).  She lasted 5 days before she had to be brought back to the hospital, looking dehydrated and sporting a black eye; and, after a couple of weeks, when a bed opened, to the home.  Her case ended up in social worker’s hands and then the curator’s where it was discovered that she had actually done a living will,  naming me her mandatory.  Well, me and her friend, who has refused the job (thank goodness).  There is so much bureaucracy and paperwork and back and forth.  It’s been a major headache.  I had two months to empty her apartment – major hoarder – and collect all important papers and some clothes for her and whatnot.  The rest was donated or shipped to the garbage or recycling.  All I can say is, François is a saint for helping me out with this most disconcerting task.

Some of the paperwork I need to go through

Monday’s appointment was with Jean’s (mother-in-law) financial advisor who will be helping me sort through it all as soon as the mandate is homolgated.  Thank goodness he’s been dealing with her for 20 years and knows the ins and outs of her stuff!  And her personality, which is not easy.

I then met my sister, Lisa, for lunch at Sesame around 12:30 for a yummy spicy salmon poké bowl, in my case, and Tonkinese Beef Soup, for her.  We sat and chatted till 3 o’clock!  Was simply wonderful.  We were beyond overdue for some one-on-one time.

Come Tuesday, it was time to pick up my mother and bring her for her appointment with a neurologist.  She’s been having a burning feeling inside her leg for years… Conveniently, Mom’s appointment was at 11:45 and was over by 12:30 – yep… just in time for lunch!

As Lisa had had a “soupe-repas”(soup as a meal) yesterday, I had a hankering for one, so suggested we go Vietnemese this time and brought  Mom to Le Petit Tournesol Doré where we each had the grilled chicken lemongrass soup.  Soooo good!

Wednesday.  My official day sans appointments.  It snowed. All. Friggen. Day.  Did I feel like going out there?  Nope and Nope and Nope.

Besides.  I had given myself a mission.  Clean up my desk.  Somehow, I totally lost control and didn’t seem capable of getting it back…

Not saying I have accomplished my task. Yet.

Thursday was my meeting with the Maîre d’ of the Golf Club to find out whether or not I am returning this coming golf season. I have tentatively said yes.  But it is still months away.  There is an upcoming event next week that I’ll work and any other events that pop up… but we’ll see.

I then met my sister, Tracy, for lunch.  Somehow, we ended up at Sesame… hmmm… like, where I went on Monday!  LOL… I figured, no big whup, there are lots of options.  What do I have?  Same thing as Monday.  It was that good!

Come Friday, I set the PVR for the opening ceremonies of the PyeongChang Olympics, had my breakfast and decided that Zeke and I were due for a walk towards my favourite willow tree and, if we felt up to it, further to the next park.  We felt up to it.  But we definitely avoided coming back through the thicker snow and chose the streets.  The sky was not particularly beautiful (the sun was extremely anaemic) for pictures but I took some anyway and amused myself with PicMonkey.

On our walk back – remember, “we” decided to take the roads back 😉 – I noticed that quite a few houses had “Widow’s Walks”.  Considering we are far from the river, never mind the sea, I wondered what possessed the builders to add them to the tops of these houses.  It’s not like they looked accessible (I may be totally wrong) or even attractive.  But hey, that’s my own humble opinion.  Not one, not two but three houses!  And the third one a good way away from the other two.  I figured they influenced each other but the third?

The next thing I noticed is how weird this particular ‘hood is.  On one side of the street you have the house on the left and directly across you have the other.

I did my 10K steps though!  Got home, took a shower and then left to pick up my mother as she and I had appointments with our new doctor for 3 pm.  It is so annoying that geting a family doctor requires sitting on a waiting list or having friends with connections.  For the past 10 years, I have been going to a private clinic where it cost me up to $110 just to say “hello”.  I no longer work in a company offering benefits so I no longer have insurance.  It has been three years since I’ve gone for a full physical.

Anyhoo, I dunno… Met with the doctor, he asked me why I was there.  I said to get a physical because I don’t have a family doctor.  He said OK.  Asked me if my pressure was good.  I answered it was last time I had it checked.  He asked me when that was.  I said three years ago.  He asked if I used the machines in the pharmacy.  I said no.  He then asked me if there was anything in particular I needed attending.  I said I have trouble sleeping.  He said you want something?  I said yes, I’d like x.  He said how many and then wrote a script.  He then filled in a paper for me to go for general blood tests and – ugh – am I that old already? – a stool sample – when I made a face he said:  You prefer a camera?  I said no, thanks.  He said ok and if there were no issues, I’d not hear from him and showed me the door.

I left there thinking I need to make an appointment with my private clinic where he will weigh me (and give me shit for gaining a pound or ten), take my pressure, measure my waist, listen to my heart, etc.  You know, give me a physical…

Friday evening, François came by.  He surprised me with a lovely gift.  He was supposed to get a price for me because a friend works in a sports store but instead said that no, I could not pay him as they were a gift.  Call them a Christmas/Valentine’s Day/Whatever you want to call it, he said!  I am now the proud owner of my own snowshoes.  I had mentioned that I was considering buying myself a pair from Costco – not too expensive, perfect for a first-timer like me.  He said that is fine and dandy but to hold off.  He would get me a good price from a friend who works at a good sport store.  That was weeks ago.  After my last couple of walks with Zeke, I almost said to hell with it and was going to go buy them anyway!

After a lazy Saturday morning, we went to catch my niece, and goddaughter, Ariane, in her volleyball tournament.  Oh the memories!  I played in high school and college.  I so vividly remember the tournaments.  Game after game, time only for a light bite or if more time, trying not to overeat.   Only in my day, parents never came to watch!  There was a bus that picked us up from school and brought us to wherever it was and then back.  Now, parents have to drive their kids all over the place!  I didn’t think of bringing my camera and my phone is not the best for action shots so I took a very short video.  Ariane is the one in the red shoes in the black and gold team on the right.

Sadly, they lost that game.  Still, I managed to see her make some nice moves!

That night I made a potato/haddock casserole thingy.  A layer of sliced potatoes, layer of sliced onion, another layer of sliced potatoes… cook those for a bit; add the haddock on top and then a sorta tomato/spinach/garlic “salad” and bake for 12 minutes.   Definitely doing this one again!

And, finally!  Sunday!  François wanted to treat his mother to a Dalida impersonator named Joan Bluteau and invited me to join them.  It was at a lovely hotel called the Manoir Rouville-Campbell.  An intimate concert for about 100 people.  I knew they held wedding receptions at this place but I never knew they held mini-concerts.  She was quite good!

One of Dalida’s most famous songs was “Gigi l’Amoroso” of which I taped a little snippet…

At the end of the concert, Ms Bluteau generously allowed folks to take their picture with her.  Mme. Martin was thrilled… and so, I suspect, was her son!

Mme. Martin, “Dalida”, François

I’ve included a video of the real Dalida.  I could have used the Italian version of the song but Dalida did move to Paris and sang mostly in French – besides, to have a comparison 😉

We had not had lunch and it was nearly 5:00 pm so we decided to try out the restaurant in the hotel.  They had a restricted “Pub” menu which ended up being fabulous.

François had “only” a duck confit sandwich, his mother a fish and chips plate and I had the trio of tartares.  Included was a delicious cream of broccoli soup to start and a molten chocolate cake for dessert!

I apologize for going on and on like this.  Goodness!  If you are still with me, than I thank you!

A few of the 10,000 things that make me happy

16.  Fhameeda – for getting me into her clinic
17.  Finding the financial advisor who will help me with my mother-in-law’s stuff
18.  My sisters – I cherish when we have a chance to sit one-on-one
19.  New snowshoes – to share snow time with my sweetheart
20.  The music of Dalida – I thought I knew none of it and found out I knew a few!

 

 

 

Weekend Share – On a Monday! – February 5, 2018

“We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.”
John F. Kennedy

Good Monday to you.  I hope you all had as nice a week as I did.  Well most of it, anyway.  Yesterday was Super Bowl Sunday and normally, that means a whole lotta nothing to me.  Okay, always means a whole lotta nothing but I still watched it.  Yay Eagles!  Why?  Because the Patriots were favoured to win, so I took for the other team 😉

Monday was a mostly lazy day, I would say.  Doing paperwork and such but not too much – almost as bad as this cat

On Tuesday, Julie and I went to see “The Shape of Water”.   We were going to walk towards a Korean restaurant we enjoy but that would have meant getting cold.  And losing the time walking.  So we decided to go up to the fourth floor of the old Forum to eat crap instead.  By crap, I mean burgers and fries and beer 😉  Man that place is tired!  Still.  It gave us a chance to catch up and enjoy a good hour and a half before the movie.  Which we stupidly didn’t buy tickets for beforehand.  Why?  We still can’t figure out why we didn’t.  After waiting in two lines – first one to get to either the wicket with a human or the machine… was me.  We were surprised that the theatre was pretty full and were happy to get decent seats once one guy moved over.  We really enjoyed this sci-fi flick.  I didn’t think I would, frankly.  I was going to include the official trailer but frankly, now that I’ve seen the movie, I find the trailer gives too much.  Just go see it.  Everyone was fantastic.

On Thursday, just as I was about to close my drapes and hit the sack, I see THIS in my driveway!

Now I know it’s a random turn-around in my driveway but still… No way someone could do that on purpose!  😀

As we were sitting on my couch Saturday, François pointed to my painting by my friend Véronikah…

Hmmm… kinda funny. No?

Friday Zeke and I went for a walk to “my” river over at Parc des Brouages.  For some strange reason, I have been sleeping like shite lately, waking up really early – too early – and giving up on going back to bed, catching up on sleep, meanwhile hoping that by getting up early, I’ll fall asleep at night and stay asleep until morning.  Dreamer.  I’m nothing but a dreamer.

That said, and trying to look at the bright side.  I’ve been getting stuff done.  Sorta.  The good thing is we get to go out and get some frest air!  But first, before it disappears, Zeke next to my “hearts”!

And off we go, passing through the “des Iles Percées” park with its marescent trees.

And making our way to said park.  Perfect timing.  We walked along “my” river, snapped some pics, fell on my knees on the hard ice (ouch), and walked back just as the recess bells rang.  We made sure to be out before the school brats kids were released!

What’s this?  We are not alone… rabbit?

Two sides of “my” river

Hearts can be found anywhere you look…

Worth the banged up knee… Zeke actually came towards me when he heard my “ouch”.  I then sat back and listened to the relaxing sounds of the water.

Walking back towards home, we came upon these mega Christmas balls…

And a typically Canadian thing… toboggan next to the door!

Get home and I finally pick up the glove that has been on my snow removal stick, figuring that I shall finally chuck it as no one has claimed it.  Umm. It’s mine…

And with so much beautiful sunshine, despite the cold, the snow and ice have started to melt.  Houston, we have a problem.  The temporary fix did not last overly long!

Saturday, we were off to celebrate Dany’s birthday at La Porte Grecque. Of course I said I would make the cake!  What flavour?  Oh, chocolate-anything, was the response.  I said I knew exactly what I would make but just needed to know how many peeps we would be.  Final countdown, 15.  So, though my recipe says my 4-layer chocolate-banana cake in 8 1/2″ cake tin is for 14-16, I didn’t trust it… so I went with the 10″.

Birthday boy seemed to be quite happy…

How could I resist being the middle of these two handsome dudes, making a “sangweech” as Giselle called it!

Martin, Moi, Dany

The whole gang together to celebrate.  Just think.  All of us with arrows pointed at our heads?  Besides Dany, who arrived in the 3rd year of high school, we’ve known each other since 1976… 42 years this year!  (Well, actually, Julie and I went to kindergarten and grade 1 together!  Nuts!!

Standing: François M., Julie, Michael, Me, Marc, François A., Tania Sitting: Dany, Giselle, Sophie, Thierry, Caroline, Martin Kneeling: Jean-Luc, Sonia

Oh yeah… The hearts were still in my driveway come Friday afternoon when François showed up.  So, upon returning from the restaurant, his answer was this:

Which, if I haven’t put you to sleep yet, brings us to Sunday!  Do nothing day.  Well, sorta.  Giselle sent me us a message thanking us for celebrating her man’s birthday and also to tease us with the fact they were having left-over cake for breakfast.   In retaliation, I made chocolate-banana pancakes and served the left-over white chocolate whipped cream (icing) on top!  This caused another flurry of exchanges… tee hee…

After stuffing himself, François slaved away painting in the basement and I did the preps for that night’s supper.  The Super Bowl and chicken parmesan – not quite a usual paring but it worked for us!

And, just sayin’  I called the Eagles’ win… 😀

It’s now so late it is almost Tuesday!  Sheesh!!!  Have a fabulous week, my lovies…

A few of the 10,000 things that make me happy

11. Friends – and get-togethers
12. Cake – who doesn’t love cake?
13. Sense of humour – gets me out of a funk every time
14. Comfy couch – to cuddle next to a loved one
15. Movies – to escape into another world

 

 

 

Cook in Tuscany – Cantucci, Bagno Vignoni and Beautiful Pienza

Allora, what was in store for us on this day?  Allora is my new favourite expression, by the way!  We heard it from just about every Italian we dealt with!  It basically means “and so” or “then”.  For example:  Allora, next we take the eggplant and we…  Doesn’t it sound just so much better than “And now….” 😀

Allora, my friends, on this day we were staying “home” at La Costa to learn how to debone a chicken, stuff it with prosciutto and ground pork and tie it all into a neat little bundle.  We also learned how to make melanzane parmigiano (eggplant parmesan) and I can promise you folks, I am no longer making it the same way I have for years!  Matter of fact, just this week, I made it for mi famiglia!  Plus panna cotta and cantucci (or cantuccini) which is an almond cookie basically the same difference as biscotti, which can or not be double-baked (though that kind of goes against the origin of the name biscotti as it means twice baked).  Sorry, I got carried away there.  The important thing is these little babies are absolutely delicious, especially when dipped in vin santo! (see my welcome by Milena!)  Some pici rolling also took place. (We couldn’t possibly have a meal sans pasta, right?)

But first, we watch Terry debone that chicken.  Don’t you find he looks like a young Vincent Schiavelli?

Now it was Donna’s turn.  Love how her tongue sticks out when she’s concentrating… 😉

I will not torment you with finished product pictures… nah!  Just kidding!

We had some time to do whatever (attempt at blogging…yeah…uhhh…no) until 3:30 because we were off to the Roman baths, Bagno Vignoni, and then the beautiful town of Pienza.

On our way there we stopped off at “the most photographed house in the Val d’Orcia region of Tuscany”.  Why? Who knows? However, if any of you buy a “Tuscany” calendar, chances are this house is one of the monthly pictures. Well darn it, wouldn’t you know?  When I got home, I looked through my old calendars (though I was convinced I had chucked them all) and lo and behold, there it was! February 2010!

Lovely and all… but MY picture is so much more… mine! 😉 Plus! There was a wedding going on (pretend I am happy to have people marring my perfect photo…)

2016-09-07-10-18-28

Moving on, we made our way to the Roman baths of Bagno Vignoni. What a delight to dip our toes into the warm waters surrounded by such a view!

Back into the van and off to Pienza.  Finally had my first gelato of the trip a scoop each of Fig and port and blackberry.  They even had one that was spinach & kiwi.  Sounds gross, eh?  Well, it wasn’t!

We all walked around shopping and taking in the sights, then met up with everyone at the Restaurant La Bandita, where we had yet another fabulous meal.  So weird to be served by a Scot!  He told us that the previous Christmas, they held an all Scottish feast that we very well received by the locals!

Zucchini carpaccio, pesto linguine, chicken on a carrot purée and finished off with a semifreddo of white chocolate and salted caramel and a blueberry sorbet.  Mmmm

A funny thing happened on our way home… Angelo put on some disco music and we started dancing in our seats.  He then turned on the disco lights in the van!  Well… all hell broke loose.  There was dancing up and down the aisle and laughter galore.  Wonder how often that happens, eh Linda and George?  We must have been a special group…  And Linda went and posted MOI on the Facebook page!  Well now…

Did I mention Rosemarie, as well as her daughter Venetia are actors (actresses?)?  Venetia directed her mum in the play “Calendar Girls”.  Needless to say, this means that Rosemarie (who, for a reason I cannot explain, I kept calling Annemarie – her sister, by the way – for two days) is not exactly shy about letting it all hang out.  I apologise again, Rosemarie, as I am caught on tape!  As are you…

Laughing our heads off, we made our way back to La Costa where most of us continued to party.  Paulo was kind enough to get us a bottle of wine, which did not suffice so we “stole” one from one of the displays – can’t really call it stolen as we left a note with our names on it.  Thank you, Sandy, for picking up the tab on that one… gulp!

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Cook in Tuscany – Cortona – Yes! Cortona!

Talk about starting off with a bang!  We were going to Cortona!  Home of “Under the Tuscan Sun” – I used to joke with my family (sorta) that I was going to pull a Diane Lane and not come back…the movie version… (very different from the books – which were fabulous in a whole ‘nother way).

So, this was an early one!  We had to be ready to hop on the van with Angelo, our driver for the week, by 8:30!  Hey!  I thought we were on vacation here?  I have to set an alarm?!  All jokes aside, we gladly gathered for breakfast by 7:30-8:00.  I tell you, the Tuscans are not big on breakfast.  Some sweet cakes and pastries, a few hard-boiled eggs, Rusk crackers (I had forgotten how much I enjoyed them and have started buying them again!), some fruit, maybe some cold meats and cheese and coffee.  Paula’s cappuccinos were wonderful.

Oh. Em. Gee!  I was going to the place that probably started this dream of mine; or, if it didn’t start it, definitely fed it.

On our way to Cortona, we noticed the fields of sunflowers were pretty much done, heads drooping, petals non-existent.  We were pretty bummed when hark!  Someone let out a shout to look to the left.  Yes!  One last field of sunshiny faces looking towards the sun.  We begged Angelo to stop so we could get in there.

Cortona is built on quite the hill and Angelo was a total sweetheart to drive us up where vans are not supposed to go so we could all jump out as quick as can be to go meet up with Antonietta, our chef teacher for the day.  First order of business was to go shopping for the necessities – some pork tenderloin (cinque filette di maiale, per favore), tomatoes, canned barlotti beans, eggs, rosemary, etc.

We made our way back to Netta’s Kitchen, donned our aprons for the first time and set about making tagliatelle.  Once we had all held up our creations, it was on to stuffing the pork tenderloins with garlic, salt, pepper and rosemary.  These would be prepared in a pear and Chianti sauce and served with lemon rosemary potatoes, all chopped and prepared by us.  We also chopped tomatoes and red onions, splash of balsamic vinegar, glug of olive oil, salt & pepper and voilà! The makings of a tomato bruschetta topping.  Did the same with the beans for a second topping.  Oh!  And we made our own individual crostadas, filled with jam and decorated as we saw fit.  I call them rustic pies.  We all called them delicious!

Once everything we cooked, we settled down to eat our creations.

After all that work we were set free to roam the streets of Cortona.  What was to become a standard (unbeknownst to me until this trip) was walking through cobble-stoned streets, stepping into doorways to avoid being run over by their cute little cars – which I am sure would still hurt if rolled over my foot!

We then went to visit “Le Celle”, the last place St. Francis of Assisi lived and did his work.  His room was beyond spare and the gardens were just lovely.

We also visited the Santuario di Santa Margherita where the amazingly preserved Saint’s body lies in one piece (a miracle, considering other churches have bits and pieces of various saints for all to see!)

Back to La Costa for a snooze or rest and then off for dinner at La Botta Piena, almost across the street from home.  MaryEllen was finally well enough to join us – and a good thing too!  She is a hoot and a half!

Frank and MaryEllen

Frank and MaryEllen

There we were treated to a fabulous dinner by hosts Elena and Simone.  A dinner comprised of six courses!  Olive and ricotta mousse, onion flan (Oh, I have begged Linda to get the recipe from Elena – and I shall continue to harass her until I get it!) and veal carpaccio, chickpea soup with spelt and rosemary croutons, spaghetti all’amatriciana, chicken rolls stuffed with sausage and olives and pork with tuna sauce and finally a grape mascarpone charlotte.  Lawsy!  A total of four different wines were also served to go with each course.

If this was a sign of the rest of the trip, we were going to have to roll me out of there!

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Date night at Restaurant L’Ardoise Gourmande

Bummer! I’m behind on my challenge of posting once per day! I did not take into account that I was having guests over and that I would spend the ENTIRE DAY cooking and preparing…I truly thought I’d have a spare half-hour or so. Not!

So, here it is!

Hubby and I had a date night on Friday night. We like to take advantage of the various coupons like “Living Social”, “Tuango”, etc. I truly believe these coupons are opportunities for restaurants to advertise their existence and for people like me to discover new eateries, in this case, Restaurant Ardoise Gourmande (sorry, no English version), a lovely old house transformed into a restaurant, situated on a charming street in Old La Prairie. (Thank goodness for GPS or we never would have found it!) There was plenty of parking, which is always a worry in this type of neighbourhood.

We were seated at a table by the terrasse, not wanting to sit outside as it gets cool quickly at this time of year. Service was friendly and our waitress (I believe she was the co-owner) was lovely. The decor was nice and welcoming.

I do not know this place so I don’t know if it is normal to serve bottled Italian vinaigrette with their salads (I don’t truly believe the House Caesar was “house” at all) or if it was an emergency backup, so to speak. I do understand that many items can be bought pre-made and frozen (including the cute little balls of butter) and that it does save time and effort. (However, I do NOT expect to pay the same price as when it is not an in-house creation!) Hubby ordered a Melting brie and dried cranberry in filo pastry, He is still trying to find some brie! There may have been a tiny smidgen in one corner but he wasn’t sure. (The size of the pastry was a good 6″ by 3″…. Just sayin’ there was enough room….) As for me, I ordered a “Mushroom, wine crisp” which I will admit had some flavour to it but really an enhanced cream of mushroom soup in a cute little ramekin; something a home cook would get kudos for. Again, not so much in a restaurant.

Let us move on to the mains. Mister took the filet mignon and I had the marinated skirt steak. His was cooked and seasoned to perfection and mine was nice and tender and had good flavour. The size of the steak would have been perfect for a child; though in today’s “bigger and fatter world”, maybe it was just right! The baked potato was also perfectly cooked (but really small) and served with a generous amount of sour cream. As for the rest of the veg, they were cooked to death! The snow peas were grey and the baby carrots just shy of mush; there were little cuke slices with a nice type of spicy salsa on top and I can only imagine what Gordon Ramsey would say about the plating! It would have gotten a scathing review, I’m sure. It was amateurish, to say the least. I should have taken a picture.

It was a beautiful evening so the smokers passed by our table to go outside on the terrasse. Unfortunately, with each opening of the door, a new swarm of those tiny little bugs came in. By the time we were to order dessert, the owner/server suggested we go sit by the bar as it looked like a mini tornado above our heads! We took her up on it!

We sat beside the owner’s daughter and chatted with the remaining staff. It seemed to be a family affair, which I really love. I was served my “profiterole” which was not the usual three little balls of pastry, filled with ice cream and drizzled with chocolate – it was one mega one (obviously not made in house), flat, mushy and not very good. Hubby had the “Reine Élisabeth”, which tasted just like the one you can buy at Costco.

According to their website, this restaurant has only been in business since December 2012, not yet a full year, and I feel the owners just lack experience. They need to cut corners a little less and put more of their own personalities into their food. Better a smaller menu with items that are done to perfection than a large one where it’s hit or miss.