#WeekendCoffeeShare – Sugar Shack, Taxes

Welcome dear friends, to another epsisode of Weekend Coffee Share or If we were having coffee… hosted by the lovely Emily over at Nerd in the Brain.  To join in on the fun, just click on the box above which will bring you to her site and the linkup!

If we were having coffee, cappuccino, lattè, tea or whatever your heart desires (we are quite accommodating over here at Casa Rogerson/MacIsaac) I would say, please do come in, make yourself comfortable and let’s get our chat on!

I would tell you my week started with a nice visit from Tonia who managed to get a weekend away from basic training (she started week 1o this week!)  Kudos to this woman who joined the military at age 50 and is whupping a lot of 20-somethings’ butts!!  Thank goodness for Facebook and me seeing her post Saturday night that she was waiting for one of her friends at the Starbucks – a whole two minutes from my house!  I, of course, messaged her and made arrangements to pick her up the next morning.  It was wonderful hearing about all her exploits of running with a bazillion pounds on her back and being considered one of the Bad Asses of Training!

I would tell you that following my coffee with Tonia, my friend Martin picked me up so we could join a bunch of his friends to partake in a fabulous Quebec tradition called the Sugar Shack or rather, Cabane à sucre, en français.  Yes, I know they do something sorta similar in Vermont and such but over here, it is a feast.  Not for the lettuce crowd is all I can say…   Over here, you get to sample the down-to-earth true Québécois fare.  Stick-to-your-gut eats made for the working man (and woman, of course!)  This is a traditional spring-time affair.  It’s time to celebrate when the sap from our sugar maples is flowing and maple syrup becomes the nectar of the gods (at least to us!)

The feast is basically the same, no matter which Shack you go to.  It is a very traditional meal.  Of course there are places like Le Pied de Cochon that are out-of-this-world-crazy and zero anything to do with tradition.  The waiting list is ridiculous to get in, and yes, one day I will try it!  But even there, the seating is always the same.  Long tables that you share with other groups or families.  Rustic decor – if there are no wooden seats, bare beams, wood walls… hightail it outta there!  It’s not authentic!  You do not want some place that is all shiny and white and pristine.  Oh, and expect mud.  Lots of mud outside.  These place are always set deep in the woods to be close to their trees and definitely do not include asphalt.

That said, there is nothing like having the standards.  We went to the Érablière Charbonneu, listed in the top five.   Do click on the link.  I stupidly didn’t take any pictures of the food.  D’oh!

They all start off with pickled beets and pickles (either sweet or salty) and coleslaw, cretons (a fatty, delicious pork spread) with hot bread, followed by delicious pea soup.  Then comes the smorgasbord of stuff:  fluffy plain omelette, ham (regular and/or smoked), sausages cooked in maple syrup, bacon, “oreilles de crisse” (deep-fried pork jowels), bacon, baked beans, meat pie, ragoût de boulettes (pork meatballs in brown gravy), roasted potatoes.  And all served with the Cabane’s own maple syrup – poured liberally over whatever one likes.  All very, ahem, “light” and “low-calorie” fare. NOT!  This is obviously a once-per-year treat… or in my case, it had been over ten years since my last visit.

Now, that said, the BEST part – the reason Sugar Shacks came into existence, in the first place, was to boil down the sugar water until it becomes syrup.  Boil it down further and it becomes super thick… pour it onto snow and it hardens and becomes taffy.  Oh man… slurp!  Most Cabanes will have their taffy station set up outside with a roof to protect the pourers from the elements.  In this case, the taffy was in a separate little shack complete with fireplace.  Lucky for the employees!  I took a photo of my stick but didn’t realise it was totally out of focus… Must be a result of the overeating that you always promise yourself you will NOT do but cannot help yourself…

Monday’s coffee with Andrea turned into breakfast as neither one of us had eaten.  That was a nice treat!  We have determined that we are due for a girls’ get outta town something like a spa or a visit to Quebec City just for the day or whatever.  That will definitely be something we’ll be planning.

Tuesday I had to go visit the accountant.  Thank goodness for Raffi, my accountant.  For years I used to do my own taxes.  Then Mick started his company and things got too complicated for moi.  So, thanks to Armen (Mick’s business partner), he was introduced to Raffi.  And since he was doing Mick’s taxes, it was nothing to add mine.  Now the company is finally closed though there are still a few issues to iron out.   It is so long and complicated to close a company after death and I’m still getting invoices to pay taxes and stuff for Mick.  More than two years later!  Hopefully this is the last year to deal with this…

Wednesday and Thursday I worked at the golf club.  The banquets themselves went really well but I swear, I feel like a part-time mover sometimes!  We had to reorganise the room on Wednesday evening for Thursday’s event and then on Thursday, after the event, we had to move all the tables and chairs to line against the walls in the restaurant and all onto the dance floor in the banquet room.  Somehow I found the energy to make not one but two chicken thigh meals – oops… forgot to take pictures to torment you with 😉  Needless to say, I deserved a nice, hot bath by Wednesday evening…  A massage would have been nice but, alas…

Yesterday I managed to do all my laundry and vacuum the upper floor… the rest of the day, I must admit I pretty much faffed:  read Friday Fictioneer submissions and comments to my own story, chatted on-line with friends, watched some boob tube… and then… oy!  Besides, it was eldest’s 19th birthday party and he was expecting friends.  Why the hell should I bother cleaning the floor BEFORE they come in?  I escaped the house and caught the 10:10 viewing of Beauty and the Beast.  Needless to say, I have a variety of tunes totally stuck in my head since…   I figured if I caught the later showing, the party would have moved on to another venue by the time I got home.

Wrong.

It was in full swing at 12:30 a.m. And.  I came home to THIS.

Needless to say, I am not pleased.  I admit I may have snarled at him, grabbed myself a beer and gone up to my room, slamming the door (yes, I know, totally childish, but I figured it was better than taking a swing at him… 😉 ) to watch an episode of something on Netflix on my iPad…

After the quiet returned to my house, I’d say about 2:45 am or so, I also turned off my light and was asleep by 3-ish.  Up and at ’em today as I had an appointment to have my hair dyed and cut.  This short hair business is more work than when it’s long!!  Not bothering to share a photo.  First because, it’s basically the same thing, maybe a tad shorter than last time and second, because the picture I took, looks like shite!

I shan’t be playing with you next week as I shall be toasting my buns in the sun in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic!  I’ll tell all a ya’all about it the following week!  Now, they said my passport would be delivered by Monday…. I am leaving on Wednesday….

Omigosh!  I have just realised it is April 1st!  Somehow I have to find a way to write as I’m participating in Camp Na No!  Oh Lordy…

I think I’ve kept you more than long enough, eh?  Time to turn the keyboard over to you!  Do tell me, how have you been?

Have a marvellous week and we’ll see ya soon!

Lotsa love,

Dale

xo

 

Can’t Hurt To Look – Friday Fictioneers

The day is grey and Zeke will have to wait for his walk.  I’m still not convinced the weatherman is telling the truth and no rain shall fall…  Until I am convinced, I much prefer to write my interpretation of this photo below, supplied by Jean L. Hays (please, only use her photo for this exercise and none other and give credit where it is due) and offering so many possibilities, than to take my chances.  I sincerely hope you don’t mind that I again went the dialogue route.

Rochelle Wisoff-Fields is the leader of this group, and a fabulous one at that, and should you be interested, click on her name for the rules and regs. and, if you just want to read other variations on this theme, click on the blue frog! 

jean-l-hays

Copyright © Jean L. Hays

Word count:  100

Genre:  Fiction

Can’t Hurt To Look

They drove along the famous Route 66, a comfortable silence between them.  They spotted it at the same time.

“Oh damn,” she thought, here we go again!”

“Oh look!  Maybe they have something interesting!” he exclaimed, pulling over.

Resigned, she followed him.

“Babe, there isn’t even one single Coca Cola item outside.  What makes you think there will be anything interesting within?  I should think if they had anything of worth, it would be displayed.”

With a grin, he led her inside.  “Sometimes you just have to do a little digging to find that special something.

“I found you, didn’t I?”

 

Cook in Tuscany – To the Farm! Then Hunt For Truffles!

Apologies for the delay… Major problemos with my computer and I just couldn’t upload photos!  What’s the point of tormenting you with my trip if I can’t supply the photos, eh? 😀

Darn, with each new day came new adventures but also brought us closer to the end.  This day was a fun one, for sure!  We were off to Podere il Casale, a 100% organic, self-sufficient working farm where sheep and goats were raised to make the famous Pecorino cheese.  As well, the outdoor wood-burning stove was ideal for bread making.  Aww shucks.  We were going to learn all about cheese and how to make Tuscan bread and foccacia. How sad.  Broke my heart, really. 😀

The owners of the farm, a lovely couple named Sandra and Ulisse (originally from Switzerland) were wonderful hosts.  Ulisse is a self-taught cheese master and Sandra does hostess duties.

Allora, first things first.  As bread and foccacia need time to rise, first thing to do was to get the breads started.  Piero, our bread teacher was so very sweet and charming. Most of us were put on foccacia duty while four were put on Tuscan bread duty.  Mixing and kneading and resting – interesting note:  as salt was once so expensive it was used as currency, the Tuscans did not salt their bread.  They’ve kept up the practice.

While the dough was doing its magic, Sandra took us on a tour of the farm, introducing us to all the animals and showing us her impressive garden, then showing us where the cheese is made and stored to age.  The farm is fully functional and many young people were on hand doing their stages, learning all the inner-workings.

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We then hung out with the Cheese Doctor, Ulisse.  It was amazing to watch the cheese come to life before our eyes.  There is an obvious joy to his doing his craft.  To think he is self-taught and is now one of the top pecorino cheese guys in all of Tuscany!

Time to bake our foccacias! Piero showed us how to roll out our dough, prick it all over with a fork, pour olive oil over it and smooth it all over, sprinkle with fresh rosemary and salt… except Piero filled the salt bowl with sugar!  We couldn’t figure out why it was so sweet… That situation got rectified soon after amidst lots of laughter

So, of course, now that we have opened out appetites, it was time for lunch!  This ended up being a vegetarian meal, ending with a sampling of some 15 different cheeses!  Is there anything better than dining al fresco?

As if the day wasn’t already fabulous, we were off to truffle hunt with PierPaolo (not sure how he spells his name) and his interpretor, the lovely, Geraldine. When not giving a tour, PierPaolo takes all four dogs out with him but since he had all of us to worry about, he only brought two!  It was the funniest thing to see these dogs get all excited and not want to give up their truffles!

After such an exciting day, it was back “home” at La Costa for pizza and salads and frankly, I think we’d had quite a bit of excitement for the day!

 

Cook in Tuscany – Pici, Canneto & Montepulciano

Now that the first cooking day was under our belt, we were ready for more.  Back to Enoteca (wine shop) La Botta Piena for cooking lessons with Elena & Simone, Sandra and Kathleen & Giovanni (Elena & Simone’s son) for 9:30.  Met the gang first for breakfast and across the street we went.

They set up the dining room tables as a long work station.  We each had our bowl of flower and container of water with oil.  Same method as egg pasta but without the egg.  Once upon a time, Tuscans were quite poor and would never dream of wasting an egg on pasta so they learned to make do.  The fun part with pici is you don’t use a rolling pin to flatten it and then cut it into strips, you take chunks and roll it on a board or between your hands like we once did with Play-Doh when we were kids.

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While our dough was resting, we prepared Chianina steaks – huge T-bones that are cooked on the bone.  Literally. Standing up on the flat part of the bone!  We also made a bread stick crust to go with a savoury ricotta cheesecake, roasted some veggies, made Tuscan tomato-bread soup and a lovely peach crostada – this time with a crust topping.  Awww… and we had to eat all this?  Poor, poor us!

Before eating this, however, back to rolling the pici!  Music was turned up and everyone started dancing around…

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We sat outside while the gang did the final plating then sat down to our feast!

Happily stuffed, we stumbled back to La Costa to do whatever we wanted until we had to meet at the van for 3:30.  We were off to Canneto winery, a very small operation – they do their bottling on a truck! We were invited to taste all their different wines.  Quite enjoyable and a lovely place to visit.  As with most wineries, they compliment their business with the creation of olive oils so there are olive groves planted next to the grape vines.

A short stop at the Santuario della Madonna di San Biagio, a Renaissance Greek cross central plan church that, for reasons unknown, remains unfinished.  Only one of the bell towers was completed, the other, left with just the base.

Off the the town centre of Montepulciano to run around and discover at will until 7:30 pm for dinner at La Grotta restaurant.   Venetia, Rosemarie, Donna and I ended up at Cantucci Cantina, tasting more wines! (I know, it just so sucks to be us…) Somehow, Venetia and I ended up wandering off, cameras clicking away, realising we had pretty much the same eye and stopping at the same things!  Goes to show…

 

At La Grotta, we were treated to another fabulous meal.  One table…ahem… was a “tad” loud… Janet, Donna, Terri, Sandy, Linda, Conrad, Cindi, Frank and MaryEllen…. not saying you were out of control but you know that couple that should never have been placed in the same room with us? They were NOT pleased!  We, at the quiet table: Paula, Nancy, George (surprisingly 😉 ), Ventia, Rosemarie, Alison and moi, were quite taken aback when poor Paula went outside to take a breath of fresh air and was told by said couple – who had attempted to get peace and quiet despite all being wet from the afternoon rain – that we were rude and should leave! Luckily Paula did not go all Long-Island on them as it was suggested she do! I’m not saying we were jealous of all the ruckus going on at YOUR table but…

The “Rowdy Ones”

We started off with a fabulous eggplant & zucchini terrine topped with crispy pancetta, then a Pecorino cheese soufflé, papardelle with duck sauce, beef stew with braised spinach and finally, a plate of three desserts: mascarpone w/coffee gelato, chocolate cake with orange sauce and Sambuca parfait.  Of course, me the “Scarpetta” cleared off all my plates… Of course, the appropriate wines accompanied each service.

You’d think I’d sleep like a baby after all that…

 

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!

 

Cook in Tuscany – Il Primo Giorno

Hello my friends!  Since I cannot will not bombard you with a slew of pictures all at once, and a TLDR text, I shall pretend I am blogging daily from Tuscany.  Sounds good? Great!

I left the lovely Milena’s B&B by taxi to get to the Chiusi-Chianciano Terme to meet with the van that would bring us to La Costa in Montefollonico.  I was sitting inside the station and noticed a white van.  No markings.  Hmmm… just as I picked up my stuff, deciding to wait outside, a man walked in holding a sign “Cook in Tuscany”.  Well, now!  I followed him and settled into the van.  Wow… first to arrive? Okay then.

Next thing I know, George pops his head in and says:  “You must be Dale.  Follow me, a bunch of Canadians are all sitting at the bar across the street!”  I gladly followed him and was introduced to friends Terri and Janet, from Vancouver; and friends Donna and Sandy, also from British Columbia.  Ordered my first Aperol Spritz (funny enough, it is a cocktail gaining in popularity at the golf club too!) and were soon joined by Alison from Louisiana.  Along came mother and daughter Rosemarie and Venetia, from Ontario.  We hopped into the van and car and off to La Costa in Montefollonico where my real adventure begins!  Turns out we would be seven Canadians and seven Americans in our group of 14.

I cannot lie.  I was brought to my room where I was welcomed by a bouquet and apron and bag of goodies.  I dropped my suitcase, opened up the door leading to my balcony and started to cry!  It was a mixture of “oh-my-God-I’m-finally-here” and “wow-I’m-here-all-by-myself” and “Mick-should-be-here”.  I was NOT expecting that at all!

Once I unpacked my stuff, I set off to explore my home for the next week.  A few of us ended up on one of the terraces and decided to order a bottle of Pinot Grigio with some antipasto and get acquainted before freshening up for our welcome cocktail.

We were served Prosecco and deliciously simple tomato bruschetta at 6:30 pm and sat around in an informal circle (how does that happen anyway?)  Linda and George Meyers, owners of Cook in Tuscany asked us to introduce ourselves and share our how we came to be at Cook in Tuscany (CiT).  Here we met Frank (whose wife, Mary Ellen was bed-bound with a stomach something) and Cindi & Conrad, both couples from Orlando, Florida, as well as long-time friends Paula and Nancy from New York and Santa Fe.  The “how’s” of getting to this particular cooking vacation were most interesting.  Cindi and Mary Ellen gave the trips to their husbands for Christmas… Uh huh… husband’s gift!  Donna had heard about CiT on Facebook and asked her friend, Sandy, if she felt like joining her – she did!  Forty years ago, when they were young mothers raising their kids, Paula and Nancy vowed that one day they would do something special just for them!  Friends, Terri and Janet, just decided it would be fun to do something together.  Venetia wanted to celebrate a certain special birthday with her mum and was going to organise this super trip in England (birthplace of Rosemarie) and so saved for two years for said trip.  When came time to book it, it was no longer available!  She had found this cooking trip in a magazine and suggested it be the middle part of their trip.  Alison’s son had just moved out of the house and she finally felt it was time to do something for herself.  As for me?  Well, everyone who knows me, knows this has been a dream for a very, VERY long time!

Linda then brought us for a walk around the inner walls of Montefollonico (population about 100 or so), showing us the castle that was built to defend against neighbouring Montepulciano (kinda funny that both are built high up on a hill and can see the enemy coming for miles…)  Quite a lovely little town, built in the 13th century.

Time for our first dinner together!  Fair warning… may cause hunger!

I could tell that this was going to be a fabulous week shared with a wonderful group of people.  Please note, those not yet pictured, will be so soon!  Off to bed with hopes of a good sleep.

Just Before Cook in Tuscany

Well. So much for that!

I was positive I would be blogging daily, keeping you all up to speed on the happenings of the moment.  Didn’t take into account the 13th century walls being too thick for adequate WiFi!  As my Facebook friends told me:  “Don’t stress, enjoy each moment and tell us about it later!”

Guess what? Now is later 🙂  I have an hour to kill at the Firenze airport so…

*** Note:  it has taken me days to write this!***

The plane ride from Zurich to Florence was a mere hour and we still got a snack and a piece of chocolate.  No complaints here…

Got my bag, found a taxi and 22€ later, was at the Firenze Treno Terme where I got a ticket to the Chiusi-Chianciano Terme.  Having no access to WiFi and not being able to find the document Linda from Cook in Tuscany sent us, I had to rely on my memory for the ‘how-to’.  Well, somehow, I chose an open ticket with the milk-run operation instead of the direct one.  Ugh.  Almost two hours later….

I was so late, my hostess from l’Albero di Gameli called my cell to find out where I was.  No way I was answering that one!  I didn’t bother getting a plan for my phone since all the places I’m staying at have WiFi so I can reach and be reached.   Anyhow… A 10€ taxi ride later, I arrived in Chiusi.

The very beautiful Milena Mazzella greeted me by telling me that, had she known what time I was arriving, she would have picked me up… dang. 2nd time I could have saved a buck!

She showed me my room and made me a sandwich with a glass of wine which I had on their little balcony.  Her partner, Marco, then came out and kept me company, soon joined by Milena and her youngest, Iliana.  She then got the classic Tuscan duo of contucci (cookies) and vin santo (sweet wine).  Dip, bite, drink… yum!

My room was beautiful with my own private bathroom.  Truly a gorgeous place to stay.  Kinda wished I had a few more days with them.  Ah well, la prossima volta!

As if their welcome wasn’t enough, Milena and Marco like to to give a gift of jewellery made by Marco.  All the rings were too small or too big and they insisted I choose this lovely pair of earrings.  So very generous of them.  Milena and I have become fast friends and I know that if ever I want to come back, there is a place for me!

Lovely gift!

Lovely gift!

Tomorrow… I tell you about Cook in Tuscany!

Ciao!