Renewing my interest in natural dyeing, I came across some techniques using lichens and mushrooms that look promising. For one thing, lichens don’t require mordanting the yarn first, eliminating a step in the process. And with patience and the right knowledge lichens can yield many interesting colors, from yellows to pinks and purples. Alissa Allen has written extensively on the subject.
Lichens grow very very slowly. It’s recommended not to harvest them in their growing state due to the risk of depopulating an entire area of this important ecological organism. But around here, it’s been very windy and rainy as the ground thaws, knocking down branches and old bark. Lichens on fallen limbs will eventually die and decompose so they are generally considered fair game.
So, this afternoon Leo-the-well-behaved dog and I headed out in the wind and cold for a gather. The snow has nearly melted but the ground is still somewhat frozen, good footing for lichen hunting. You can see all the branches on the ground.
We found trees and rocks covered with lichen, fallen bark, and a small grove of ground lichen.
I decided that the best fallen specimens were OK to keep. Since the ground lichen was abundant, I picked about 2% of it to keep as well and will wait several years before harvesting any more (this stuff spreads every year on the hill just behind our house so I’m not too concerned about over-harvesting).
Next, to sort and identify.
Identifying lichens is tricky for a novice like me. The internet is a great but also contradictory resource. For example, searching Google Images yields photos of at least three different types of lichens that are all labeled as “staghorn lichen”. Many lichens of different species look quite similar to the untrained eye. If you are good at this please chime in in the comments and help me out!
To my untrained eye I gathered 4 types of lichens today. From the upper left, clockwise, I think they are:
1. A large mass of Cladonia Rangiferina, known as caribou or reindeer lichen (also inaccurately referred to as reindeer “moss”). This one is the least well-documented as a dye source (though apparently it’s used medicinally in some cultures). So I’m unsure of the color potential but apparently it does contain acidic compounds, which are what you’re after in any lichen-derived dye. I’ll have to test some small samples and see if it will yield any color. I did find one site that hinted at oranges and browns perhaps.
2. A small quantity of (I hope!) staghorn lichen, Evernia Prunastri. This has the most promising dye potential, and is known for releasing a violet color if processed with ammonia. The fermentation period is ideally several months, so I’m looking forward to working with this over the summer.
3. In the lower right and center of the picture are a few specimens of what I believe to be common green shield lichen, Flavoparmelia Caperata, which (if that’s what it is) may not yield any dyestuff at all, or only a very faint color. Still worth investigating if only to know to avoid gathering it in future.
4. Finally, a mixed lot of what I think are one or more varieties of other shield lichens, possibly Parmelia Sulcata. While these don’t give a strong color they are supposed to yield a clear yellow (not tinged with green as is common with flower-derived yellows). The method for this one is simple – cook in warm water for a couple hours to extract the dye, then add your wool to the pot and simmer until the color uptakes.
So it’s time for more research and some testing to see what I can get once the weather warms up. For the time being I’ll be drying and storing these lichens for use in a few months.
A few days ago my friend and I went to WEBS, the mecca for knitters and weavers in these parts, to stock up on supplies for upcoming projects. Jennifer weaves and knits designer garments, and I have recently volunteered to knit a few things for family members, so taking advantage of the annual sale was a good opportunity.
While at the store I decided to purchase a little treat for myself – 100% lace-weight alpaca at a ridiculously low sale price. This isn’t the type of yarn I’d usually purchase, but the thought of a light, elegant shawl in super-soft yarn really appealed to me. Jennifer decided she wanted a new, easy-knitting project for herself, so she bought a set of 3 colors in the same yarn to make one also (her swatching experience is here).
I’ll admit something: I don’t often swatch before starting a project. I find that I can generally read a pattern, look at the yarn and needles it calls for, and know if I’m going to get the designer’s gauge or not. Even for something larger that has to fit, like a sweater, I’ll often just start with a sleeve and use that as my gauge swatch. For a hat I can get a good sense just knitting the brim. Or mitten cuffs – you get the idea.
But for this project (the Color Affection shawl by Veera Välimäki), even though I’ve made one before, I wanted to check my gauge because the yarn is so radically different than what I usually knit with, and I wanted to test the look of the colors in the stripes. I also discovered that I didn’t have the size needle the designer called for in the lace-weight version, and I wanted to check my fabric before diving in.
So, I did a little swatch.
From the bottom, we have:
#3 needles, yarn held single section. I don’t like this at all. There’s no consistent rhythm to the stitches. Looks like it was woven by one of those LSD test spiders.
#3, yarn held double section – dense, consistent, and smooshy and soft.
Then I went down to #2 needles, with yarn held single for some color/stripe testing. The fabric is more consistent than the #3 section but still has a Swiss Cheese texture. And, by the time I finished the swatch I wanted to throw it across the room. The thinness of the yarn and the #2 needles made this un-fun to knit (I think it’s the first time I’ve knit with a fine lace-weight yarn, which may not be my gig).
So clearly, the yarn-held-double-on-Size-3-needles option is the winner here. Of course that means ordering another skein of each color, but fortunately the sale is still going and the yarn is cheap. And it really is worthwhile to spend a little extra time and money rather than struggling with and despising a project that’s supposed to be a fun treat resulting in a lux garment.
Unfortunately some of the yarn I need is now on backorder so it will be a couple of weeks until I can get started on this project. I should be able to get a jump on some gift knitting in the meantime.
You found it – that perfect color work pattern. But the colors shown in the sample garment aren’t exactly your favorites, or the intended recipient likes orange but the original doesn’t have any orange in it. What to do?
There’s a lot of debate about color and design, not just in knitting but in all the visual arts, so there are any number of approaches that one can take. (I was recently inspired by Ysolda’s post on using color combinations found in nature!) However, not being a color expert, I have found the following two rules of thumb useful for substituting colors in a pattern: 1. Select yarns with a similar color relationship as in the pattern, and 2. Choose yarns with the same contrast as the original garment.
For example, a sweater I knitted over the winter is a modern Lopapeysa called Asymptote. I liked the colors of the original but wanted more blue.
If we look at a color wheel we can see that the original sweater pallet ranges from yellow-green, to green, to blue-green, which are all adjacent colors. If I want my sweater to have a similar feel, I need to make similar choices for a tone-on-tone effect. So, I decided to choose from the blue-green and blue color families, which are also congruent.
Next, and possibly even more important, is contrast (also referred to a color’s “tone” or “value”). The human eye has more rods, or light receptors, than cones, or color receptors. That means that when looking at colors together, we notice the contrast between the colors most.
So when choosing yarns, it’s the contrast, or black and white information, that will help us see the pattern. But seeing contrast in yarn can be difficult when you are accustomed to looking at the color of the yarn. The solution is to convert the colors to their black and white values, and the simplest way to do that is to take a picture.
In the sample sweater, you can see that there are several different shades. But it’s even easier to look at a black and white version of the same image. To convert the image, I used a photo editor to transform from color to greyscale. Some programs might have this feature under a “filter” setting, and some smartphones have a built-in black-and-white option.
In the black and white version you can focus on the contrast or values of the different colors. We can clearly see that the grey body of the sweater and the lightest green have a similar value, the mossy green is a shade darker, and the bottle green is the darkest shade. So to substitute, we need 4 colors with 3 different values.
To choose yarn, it would be easiest to shop in a store so we can evaluate the colors with our own eyes, in natural light. But Iceland is a bit far for me to travel just to pick out yarn. Instead, I can shop online and “take pictures” using the screen shot function on my computer, then convert the images to greyscale as I did before.
There are several online stores that sell the Icelandic yarn I want, but the one with the clearest images that I found was The Wool Sweaters. First, I put the light grey (#56) called for in the pattern in my basket. Then, I know I have to have a very light shade of blue, so I choose the Glacier Blue – the lightest shade they make. Since I’m sticking with blue and blue/green shades, I can use the original dark shade from the pattern, Bottle Green Heather, because it’s a dark teal and looks good with the Glacier.
Now to choose the medium blue for the “background” section of the yoke. At first, I’m thinking about a dusty blue to substitute for the dusty green of the Celery Green in the original. But they don’t really have a slate blue that compliments the Glacier color – some of the medium blues have a purple tone, and that doesn’t work with my color wheel choices of staying with blue and blue-green. So, sticking with the teal theme, I decided on Lagoon Heather, which is a medium shade similar to the Celery Green.
To see these together and evaluate, I go to my basket and take a screenshot of all the colors together. The hues look pretty good I think – complimentary in the tone-on-tone I was going for.
Next, convert the image to greyscale to evaluate the contrast. Will the pattern show with these choices?
Look at that! The light blue and light grey are about the same shade, with the Lagoon in a medium value and the Bottle Green a distinct darker value. The pattern will show nicely with this combination.
Finally, one last complication: I would prefer a darker shade of grey for the main part of the sweater. But how will that affect the pattern? Will it work?
Interesting. There’s a shift here – instead of the lightest shade being equivalent to the sweater body, now the medium shade of blue is equivalent. This means that the bands on the bottom of the sweater body and sleeves will pop out more (higher contrast between Glacier and the medium grey), while the background of the yoke and the main part of the sweater will blend together a bit more. Is that good or bad? It’s really up to the knitter. I’m comfortable having the yoke background and sweater body blend a bit, knowing that the main part of the design – the elongated asymptote pattern – will stand out.
One other note about knitting stranded colorwork: There is a dominance in this type of knitting that can greatly affect the way that different colors interact in a pattern. Others have written on this in more detail. Check out this post at Paper Tiger for a how-to and another great example from Beth BrownReinsel. I appreciate that the designer of the Asymptote sweater, Lars Rains, has taken this into account and designates which colors should be held dominant at each stage of the charts – it really makes a huge difference in the final outcome.
Speaking of which, here’s my finished sweater!
I’d call this a resounding success – the colors are much more to my taste and the pattern still stands out well.
One of the most interesting projects The Club decided to do this brew calendar is a SMaSH beer, with participants brewing the same recipe. One of the members developed the recipe and we are all charged with following it. The idea is that the differences will be with water and each brewer’s method — and to some extent the freshness of the hops used — and we will see just how different each beer will still taste when we convene on April 16 to compare.
There will be other slight differences; for example, I got a late start and decided I will keg my SMaSH and bring a few growlers. Others may be bottling their beers.
So far — we just racked to the secondary — this beer tastes and smells great. It is super light yellow and clear; however, I missed my target OG. I hope to learn from this experience: How does one determine the efficiency of their set up so that they better hit their targets? The short answer is maths, but my take-away is that I need to do some research on my mash efficiency.
If you are wondering about the name of this brew, it is because Sarah and I each got tattoos the morning before we brewed. My tattoo is an elaborate sleeve of hops, a flower, and two bees. Sarah’s is a bee that matches one of mine.
Surprisingly, this was the first time Sarah has joined to help with the brew day. She has always helped with racking, bottling, etc. I enjoyed her company and her assistance was greatly appreciated!
Ah, winter. Time for hearty, sustaining foods that get us through long dark days. Ironically, it’s the time that I turn to one of my favorite breakfasts, cold oatmeal. I’ve never been a fan of hot cereal – something about the warm, gluey texture just puts me off. But I discovered I do like oatmeal served cold, with plenty of fruit.
By adding yogurt, the slimy/gluey texture is transformed into a thicker, richer yogurt taste. Making this ahead of time takes just a couple of minutes while I’m preparing dinner or waiting for my evening tea to steep. And in the morning I can grab it quickly on the way to work.
Make the day ahead. Serves 1.
1/4 cup Scottish oatmeal (more finely ground than steel cut oats)
1/2 cup milk (dairy, soy, almond, coconut…)
1/3 cup yogurt*
1/2 apple, cut into chunks (or fresh fruit of your choice)
Handful of dried, sweetened cranberries (raisins, dried cherries, dried apricots, even dates would be nice)
Walnuts or almonds, roughly chopped (optional)
*I prefer a slightly sweetened yogurt such as Green Mountain Creamery maple or vanilla. Or use an unsweetened yogurt and sweetened milk, or add a little honey or maple syrup to taste.
The night before, cut up the apple and place in a portable container with the other ingredients except the nuts. Stir thoroughly to make sure the oats are moistened with the milk. Place in the refrigerator.
The next morning, throw in a handful of nuts if you like, stir again and enjoy!
I like brewing beer, for sure, but I love brewing beer with friends even more. Too many cooks may spoil a stew, but they add something when it comes to beer. When our dear English friend Chris Mear said he would be visiting and bringing his fiancé who makes wine with him, I suggested we have a brew day whilst they were here. I decided to brew something dark as I had promised Sarah, and settled on an interesting recipe I found on Brewer’s Friend by someone who goes by Jeremydgreat. I chose this recipe not just because I promised a dark winter beer for my wife, but also because I had cocoa nibs that had been in my supply kit for at least a year. Plus, if you haven’t already, check out the name of Chris’ website. When it came time to brew we had a rainy Autumn day on our hands, which was just perfect. Chris and Amelia were great helpers, and my only disappointment is that I wasn’t able to share the final product with them. The name of the beer is a reference to brewing with company, and stands for Company Cocoa Porter.
I am sure I made some slight modifications to this recipe but not enough to change it. I rounded the grains to quarters, and used half the amount of cocoa nibs as the recipe originally suggested, which the recipe’s author also did with future batches. Rounding up a bit meant I was right at the capacity of my mash tun and had to run off some of the wort immediately to add all the grains. This may be the last batch I brewed with a 5-gallon mash tun as I tire of doing that!
12lbs American – Pale 2-Row
1.75lbs American – Wheat
0.75lb American – Caramel / Crystal 90L
0.75lb American – Chocolate
0.75lb United Kingdom – Chocolate
0.75lb American – Carapils (Dextrine Malt)
0.5oz Nugget (60 mins)
0.25oz Cascade (30 mins)
0.25oz Tettnanger (5 mins)
4oz Cocoa Nibs (Secondary)
White Labs – English Ale Yeast WLP002
The strike was at approximately 156ºF with a 60-minute boil time. We sparged using the fly method and water at 170ºF for approximately 45 minutes. The beer spent 1 week in the primary, and 4 weeks in the secondary as I got busy. I then racked it to my keg system. I met most of the same targets that Jeremydgreat did, and the resulting brew was not too chocolatey and absolutely delicious!
It doesn’t usually occur to me to look back on the year and summarize, but as I was updating my Ravelry project list I started scrolling to see what I’d completed and how that compared with 2014. Given that this was a crazy year (UK travel for training; Rick’s broken foot, surgery, and recovery; starting the new business), I was surprised by the output I’d managed.
By the end of the year I will have completed 17 projects, comprising:
3 hats and 3 scarves (2 of each were sets)
2 baby blankets
2 baby sweaters
3 pairs of socks
1 set “doll” accessories
1 adult sweater (started 2013)
Not a bad haul, especially since the previous year saw 19 projects, most of which were small items. Clearly, knitting provides not just a creative outlet, but an avenue for stress relief and distraction during periods of intensity.
Another interesting comparison between 2014 and 2015 is my development in the craft of knitting itself. Last year there was a lot of experimentation going on. I developed 3 new patterns, tried a whole bunch of techniques for sock heels (some successful; some not). I tried my first set of mitered mittens; first sweater from a translated pattern; first (and possibly last) hat pattern from a drawing/cartoon. Many of these experiments turned out really well. A few projects I would go back and re-knit if I could, based on what I learned.
In 2015 there were a few new garment types (my first shawls!), but the sum looks mostly like comfort knitting: garter stitch or knit-purl patterns that were easy to power through in waiting rooms, in front of the TV with a glass of homebrew, or on planes and trains. Stripes were my new addiction, providing interest without a lot of complication. I also seem to have taken my knitting skill up a notch.
My gauge looks more even and there is no mismatched symmetry between sets of sleeves or socks. Having knit a couple of pairs of badly mismatched socks, this is an area I’ve been trying to improve. Marking beginnings and endings of sections (the start of the decrease section on a sleeve; the end of the heel on a sock) helps a lot and is something I need to continue to do, and not abandon cavalierly when I think I know better.
Have I mentioned that Mother has been spoiling us with homemade dinner? Ever since Rick broke his foot earlier this year, and now that we’ve also been starting a new business, making dinner once a week has been Nancy’s way of helping out – and it really is a huge help.
This week, she made slow-cooked pork butt, which became pulled pork sandwiches at first. But what to do with 7 pounds of leftover meat? A few ideas came to mind, one of which was tacos.
This recipe is a (possibly odd) fusion of flavors from traditional beef tacos and fish tacos, but it worked, so I’m writing it up here. Makes 6 tacos – serves 2-3.
1 pound cooked tender meat, shredded or pulled (pork, chicken, or a meat substitute)
1 medium red onion, sliced thin
2 tsp. Chili powder
12 small corn tortillas
1 cup Green or red cabbage, wilted
2 oz. Sour cream
Chipotle in adobo OR chipotle hot sauce
Salsa – your choice (I used canned peach salsa for some sweetness, but any style is fine)
Freshly chopped cilantro (optional)
Shred the cabbage and salt it generously. Let it stand for a couple of hours, then wash thoroughly in a bowl with cool water, to remove excess salt. Drain and spin in a salad spinner to remove excess water.
In a medium skillet, sauté the onion in olive oil until soft, then add the shredded cooked meat and a couple of dashes of chili powder (to taste). Cook on medium heat until the meat is warmed through. Turn off the burner but leave the pan on the stove to keep the meat warm until serving time.
Combine the sour cream with one chipotle pepper OR 2 Tablespoons hot sauce (or to taste). If using a pepper I recommend pureeing in a food processor for even heat throughout the sauce.
Thoroughly wash the cilantro to remove grit, then chop roughly.
Just before serving, layer the corn tortillas on a microwave safe plate between damp (not soggy) paper towels, and heat on high for 20-30 seconds to gently steam them.
Serve buffet style. Use a doubled layer of corn tortillas per taco for structure and top with the meat. Lay out the cabbage, chipotle sour cream, salsa, and cilantro, and let everyone assemble their tacos with the toppings they like best.
Some time ago, my mother took up spinning. She researched, practiced, took workshops, and tried to entangle me into her hobby too, by buying lovely hand-crafted spindles and eventually, my own spinning wheel. I tried spinning, off and on, for a couple of years, but it never really got hold of me, and eventually the wheel ended up in the back of the upstairs closet, along with a few bobbins of lumpily spun “beginner’s singles”.
Turns out, it wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy spinning, it’s that I had started with the wrong fiber (rough, slightly matted mill ends still coated with spinning oil) and, for me, the wrong wheel. Now, don’t get me wrong – the wheel I had was a top-of-the-line model and had many nice features. But it never felt right for me. Even as I’d practice and get more consistent at controlling my treadle speed and drafting technique, I always felt like I was fighting the wheel, teetering on the edge of calamity. It just wasn’t very enjoyable.
Then, my mother took a workshop with the esteemed and very experienced Maggie Casey (Maggie’s website), and got to try her new travel wheel, the Schacht Sidekick. Mom liked it so much, she decided to sell her old travel wheel and buy one. And then, one day at the Tunbridge World’s Fair, while we were demonstrating fiber crafts at the sheep barn, I asked the fateful question: “Hey Mom, can I try your new wheel?”
The effect was instant and powerful. Suddenly, I could spin easily, meditatively, calmly, and fairly consistently. Spinning was FUN! So, with mother’s generous approval, I sold my old wheel and bought a similar model, the Shacht Ladybug. It has made all the difference in my enjoyment of this new-to-me craft.
The main difference between the Schacht wheels and the Majacraft Little Gem that I started with, is that, because the Little Gem relies on a tiny drive wheel to turn the main wheel, you have to treadle very fast, even when using a larger ratio on the whorl. It was like trying to learn to ride a bike that wasn’t fitted properly, or that only had one high-speed gear. For me, the Schacht wheels just fit better, but it’s all a matter of personal experience. I tell friends and visitors at craft shows who are interested in spinning: the best thing to do is to try a lot of different wheels. The process is sort of like buying a car (spinning wheels are machines after all). You have to pick one that feels right, that’s comfortable to drive. It doesn’t have to be the most expensive or fancy model, it just has to work for you.
Anyway, I’m happy to report that after only a few hours on my new wheel, I was able to finish spinning singles that I’d started on my mom’s Sidekick, and then to successfully ply my first yarn. I must say that watching instructional videos by Judith MacKinzey and Maggie Casey was also tremendously helpful. Judith especially has a bit of a rambling style as an instructor, but the amount of information that she packs into those videos is well worth the price, and a repeat viewing (or four).
So, incorporating these two crafts (spinning and knitting) together, my first goal is to finish spinning this lovely blue roving (Potluck Roving – going out of production, unfortunately) and knit it into some kind of set (probably a hat and cowl, depending on yardage). Then, for the ambitious beginner, I plan to spin two bags of natural brown Shetland roving that I got from a friend a few years ago. The goal is to spin a similar weight to Shelter, which the pattern calls for (but, you know, soft) and knit this wonderful, semi-reversible (or styleable?) sweater by Veronik Avery. It’s going to take a while, but the journey should be fun.
Meanwhile, I was looking up tools for winding and storing handspun yarn (Judith says one should amass 40 bobbins so that you can spin lots of singles and then mix and match them up before plying, for a more even yarn). This is not financially possible for me, at $20-$40 per bobbin from the company that made my wheel, but then I found the Bobbins Up!, a plastic storage bobbin that attaches to an electric drill (of which we already own several) for winding [video review & demo]. It even has a whorl on one side, for use on a tensioned kate. Spinning may be one of the oldest crafts in the world, but modern technology rocks!
Until a year ago I couldn’t tell you the difference between a Chevrolet and a cassoulet, but after my last two visits to Trealy Farm in Wales I am all about the cassoulet. If you didn’t guess a cassoulet is very closely related to what Americans call casseroles, at least in name. The latter are usually baked in an oven, and in my limited experience the former are done on a stove top. Both are designed to be made in a single cooking dish, which makes them ideal for busy people.
This specific recipe is based on a dish I had at Trealy Farm in March 2015, and I modified it only a bit. A little web research indicates that there are many sausage and chickpea cassoulets out there, so please feel free to experiment. Personally I plan to add some mushrooms to my next one based on this recipe on Soup Club.
The recipe below took me all of 30 minutes from start to finish so it really is an ideal mid-week quick supper.
1 lb pork sausage links
15 ounce can of chickpeas
1 large yellow onion diced
3/4 cup whole milk or cream
Small bunch of kale, stalks removed and rough chopped
1 1/4 cup (uncooked) brown basmati rice
salt & pepper
2 Tbsp canola oil
I really do think the rice cooker is one of the most important pieces of equipment in a kitchen. It makes it nearly impossible to over or under cook rice, plus the the rice can be made ahead of time and the machine will keep it warm without allowing it to become sticky and or gluey. This is why this step in the recipe is first. I prefer brown rice for the added nutritional benefits, but any rice will do. However if you use brown rice it will take longer to cook, so plan accordingly. In our rice cooker, brown rice takes 2 hours. If you want to have this dish during the work week, consider programming your rice cooker to start before you get home so it is ready when you get home.
Select a large frying pan, and heat the oil in it. Fry the sausages in the oil until cooked through. One really can use any sausage they want, but a pork-based one will give up some of the oils needed to help make the creamy sauce. The first time I made this dish I chose an Italian style lamb and pork sausage from a local farm, Tamarack Vermont Sheep Farm.
Once cooked through, remove the sausages and add the diced onions to the hot pan. Sauté the onions and then add the chickpeas. Cut the sausages into chunks and then return them to the pan before adding the kale. Reduce the heat to low, and cover the dish to allow the kale to wilt.
At this point the rice is ready, and the dish can sit until you are ready to serve. When you are ready to serve, simply stir in the milk or cream to make the sauce. Ladle the cassoulet over a serving of rice in a bowl and enjoy.
Remember that this is a starting point for a very flexible dish. If you have a red pepper in the house, chop it up and add it. If you have mushrooms slice them up and add them!
As a gift to ourselves for our 12th anniversary we decided to spend a long weekend — coinciding with the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend — in Montreal. We go to Montreal on average about once a year, always trying to do new things. This trip we decided that other than staying at our favourite hotel, we would explore parts of the city we hadn’t seen before, and try new restaurants as well.
Knowing we couldn’t check in to our hotel until around noon, we tried to time our drive Thursday morning to arrive around lunch time. The drive up was quick, with almost no traffic, so we still arrived earlier than anticipated. We decided to drive directly to one of the places suggested by our friend Nick K for lunch, and then to check in. We parked the car, and walked the few blocks to the restaurant, Bouillon Bilk.
This place has one of the most stark decors I have ever seen. Nothing on the all-white walls. Tables dressed with white cloth and white napkins. The only colours in the place were the dark suits nearly every patron was wearing. The waitress was very nice, but she had a little difficulty translating certain things on the menu which we couldn’t figure out on our own. Unlike many places we have eaten before there was no menu in English. We appeared to have arrived at the end of the lunch rush, so despite a packed house when we arrived, the food came out quickly and the restaurant emptied slowly. Sarah had a lovely parsnip soup, and I had what I called a deconstructed Reuben sandwich without the thousand island dressing or Swiss cheese. The plate included a veal sausage, a pork link, and some smoked meat, with a delicious sauerkraut that was significantly less tangy than any I had previously. We shared a Big Ben Porter from Brasseurs du Monde. When we exited the restaurant it was raining and the wind had picked up significantly. We made our way to the car, and then to the hotel which was only a few blocks away.
We checked in to our room, unpacked quickly, and used the WiFi to plan our afternoon. We decided to go to the Musée McCord, which was about a mile down the road on Rue Sherbrooke. For some reason I had forgotten to bring any sort of coat, but luckily Sarah had remembered to bring the windbreaker/raincoat we share.
We arrived at the museum with about 2 hours to wander before they closed. There was a brief queue at the entrance, and we used that time to decide to pay to see the exhibition Music – Quebec: From Charlebois to Arcade Fire, which ended up being quite informative. We were given an audio tour kit with headphones, and made our way through the exhibit, which was set up so that one could listen to excerpts or full songs, as well as video. There was also plenty of information to be read. The exhibit was scheduled to close on Monday, which may have also explained the number of people.
Once we were done with the Music exhibit we took in two of the permanent collections the museum had to offer. First we viewed Montreal – Points of View, and then Wearing our Identity – The First Peoples Collection. The former showed a bit about how the landscape of the city had changed over the centuries, and the latter had some very interesting articles of clothing from the native people.
After the museum we made our way back to the hotel to regroup. The original plan had been to go to the Bontanical Gardens that evening; however, we decided to postpone that another day due to the weather. We did decide to keep our dinner reservation though, so after cleaning ourselves up a bit we started out for the restaurant.
The last few trips to Canada we had paid the outrageous fees that AT&T required to roam, but we checked before we left and our new provider Cricket Wireless said they didn’t offer roaming in Canada (despite being a subsidiary of AT&T and using their network), so we decided to download an app that had maps that didn’t require connectivity. Every once in a while we stop and check the map, only to find we had passed our turn. We eventually found the restaurant, and were only a few minutes late, so we were able to be seated.
I don’t recall now who suggested Maison Publique or if they had actually visited the restaurant, but based on the connection with Derek Dammann and Jaime Oliver we decided to give it a go. [Edit: Jason Merrill, the head chef at Worthy Burger and Worthy Kitchen suggested the place!] My first suggestion for anyone wishing to go to this place, is to study the menu on the website before you leave and have your order ready. Not because the kitchen is slow — it is tapas style, so dishes come out as they are ready — but because there are no menus, English or French.
The waiter, Felix, who is more of a maître d, greeted us and asked us for our drink orders. I asked if there was a menu and he pointed to the wall of hand-written items on the wall in the other room. While Sarah washed her hands I went to check out the menu and noticed it was in French, and it wasn’t easily decipherable. I felt bad for the two women sitting below the menu as group after group of people hovered over their table staring at the menu.
Thinking I might try a drink instead, I walked to the bar — the place has a neighbourhood English pub feel to it — only to notice the taps coming out of the wall were not labeled. Back at the table I informed Sarah of my dilemma, and she too attempted to decipher the menu. Still in the dark as to choices when she returned, she asked Felix to recommend a pale ale, and he suggested a local gypsy brewer, Ghost Farm, which he said was “nice and hoppy.” We decided to ask Felix for food suggestions as well, and eventually settled on the pork flank (belly) with lentils, and the venison chop, which was not on the menu, and a Caesar’s salad. All the dishes were excellent, but the venison was amazing. Rare, it melted in one’s mouth. We enjoyed our meal, and the warnings about the way the food and drink options are displayed is not intended as a criticism, but a heads-up to those who may wish to go there.
After our meal we spent some time chatting about beer and Vermont with Felix before starting our walk home. It had been a long day, and despite spending half of it in the car, when we made it back to the hotel we found out that we had walked nearly eight miles. Back at the hotel I did some Internet research to start planning the next day’s activities.
In the morning we had the continental breakfast the hotel provides, and then made our way to Old Montreal. Surprisingly to me the historic district was someplace we had not visited in all of our trips. In fact, I can’t say I was even aware of it until this past summer when I watched an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover, where he made fun of the people in period dress.
We were there before many of the shops had opened and the artists that set up shop in Place Jacques-Cartier. We wandered around for a bit, and spent some time chatting with one of the artists. Having only had a light breakfast of yogurt, fruit, and pan au chocolate, we were getting a bit hungry, and the plans were to try an old favourite, Le Réservoir. Before setting off we stopped off for a coffee to warm us up, only to find that the mocha latte Sarah had ordered tasted like Swiss Miss. To make it up to her, we stopped by one of the Juliette et Chocolats on the way to the brewpub, where Sarah enjoyed an amazing hot chocolate.
We have had difficulty in the past with timing our visits to Le Réservoir, so we checked their website before we left the hotel in the morning. The website indicated that they were open on Fridays from noon to 3 a.m. so we felt comfortable making the long walk. Naturally, we arrived and they were closed with nothing but a vague sign and a phone number on the door.
We opted to try a new place we had passed on the way named Burger Royal based on the menu and the number of people inside. We (I) have a tendency to over plan things, but are rarely disappointed when the plans change unexpectedly. I jokingly like to say the universe is looking out for us when such things happen. And this was no exception as we had a delicious lunch of burgers and mac-n-cheese. The only downside to this restaurant is the lack of a beer menu, but in hindsight I think it was probably for the better that I didn’t imbibe so early. Especially with the size of the burgers and sides. I think I would have needed a nap had I had a beer too.
After lunch we made our way around the corner to Rue Duluth to visit a few of our favourite shops. The first one, a nice little Tibetan shop was inexplicably closed with no indication whether they would be open the rest of the weekend, so we went to the little Waldorf shop named Le Grande Ourse: Jouets Pour la Vie. This shop, as have mentioned in previous travel journals for Montreal, is primarily a toy shop but also has a small collection of Quebecois yarns.
After Sarah selected a few skeins for a project, and we left to meetup with a friend who lives in Montreal. Our friend Jill was kind enough to agree to meet at a coffee shop, Café Névé, in The Plateau even though it wasn’t close to her. This is a tiny little unpretentious neighbourhood cafe that appears to be popular with the twenty-somethings. We arrived a few minutes early and it was packed with hipsters and their gadgets, but a table soon opened and we enjoyed our lattes while Jill grabbed a bite to eat.
After our catch-up we made our way back to the hotel to freshen up and grab the car for our evening adventure to the Montreal Botanical Gardens for the Gardens of Light exhibition. Having spent all day walking, and being realistic about our ability to hike all the way to the gardens and back, we decided a car trip was in order.
Many readers may recall that we have been to the botanical gardens on previous trips, and will point out that I mentioned earlier in this report that we were supposed to be trying new things, but there is so much to see and do at the Montreal Botanical Gardens that we always try to find time to visit.
We arrived at about 6.30 and had a hard time finding a place to park. Once we did there were queues at the parking kiosks. My only complaint about the Botanical Gardens is the parking price is outrageous at $12, so take the Metro if you can. There were also queues to purchase tickets. The place was packed with people and prams, and we wondered what we got into. However, despite the elbow-to-elbow crowds the exhibition of Chinese lanterns was well worth it. We meandered through the rocky paths with the rest of the visitors, and I snapped as many photos as I could. Each turn exposed some new amazing creature made of stretched material and illuminated from within. Other parts of the gardens were lit up, and some places even had trees illuminated from below with lights timed to music being broadcast from speakers in the trees.
Exhausted after another full day of walking (11 miles according to the pedometer!) we drove back to the hotel, parked the car. But we decided we weren’t so tired that a few beers weren’t in order, and headed out for a nightcap at one of our favourite brew pubs, Cheval Blanc. We consider the Cheval Blanc our “local” when we visit Montreal as it is literally 2 blocks from our hotel. As I’ve said in previous travel guide entries, the atmosphere is a cross between a 1950s diner and a Chinese Restaurant, but it works.
What didn’t work this visit was the lame DJ who took to the sound system shortly after we arrived. An older white guy with a scruffy beard and a bald head hidden under his purposely-askew baseball cap, he bobbed and weaved, and made faces. Whatever. As a radio DJ — and an older bald white guy with a scruffy beard — I too like to bounce while I play my music. What was embarrassingly bad was his proclivity for abruptly stopping songs shortly after they started. Just as we were having a laugh and enjoying a song from the the film Madagascar, he’d stop, mid-beat and start some other song. But we enjoyed our beers and bar snacks, as always. It wasn’t the DJ who chased us away, it was our long day.
We woke up refreshed Saturday morning, and had a some coffee and yogurt before walking up Boulevard Saint-Laurent to meet Nick, Jen, and I.A.K. for breakfast at their suggested spot, Läika. We had a nice stroll and arrived a few minutes early in case we needed to get on a list or something, only to find the place was open but mostly empty. When our friends arrived we grabbed a few chairs and piled them around the small, round table where we chatted and caught up while perusing the menu. I like to tell people that all the best places I have ever been to in Montreal were recommended by these lovely folks, and Läika was another winner. Sarah had crêpes and I had the eggs Benedict with prosciutto. Jen and I.A.K had to run to make I.A.K.’s yoga class, but Nick stayed and we chatted some more. After paying the checks we all walked together for a few blocks before saying our goodbyes.
We had decided before breakfast to explore more of Old Montreal. We made our way there, walking off breakfast by walking along Boulevard St Laurent. We made a brief stop for more coffee, and meandered our way to Place d’Armes square in front of Notre-Dame Basilica. The Place d’Armes was filled with tourists snapping photos and surrounded by horse-drawn carriages, the drivers of the latter calling out to anyone who even looked at their horses. We continued to people watch as we finished our coffees, and watched as a newly wed couple exited the Basilica. People gawked, took photos, and cheered.
We’d had no plans to enter the church, and confirmed that when we saw the length of the queue. Instead we walked down the eastern side street, and spied a shop that specialized in Tibetan and Buddhist arts and jewelry! This was fortuitous as my mother-in-law, Nancy, had specifically asked us to buy her some earrings. She had requested them from the shop on Duluth that was closed, so we were very happy to find this place.
We continue to window shop our way through Old Montreal, eventually making our way to our destination, Château Ramezay. The Château is a wonderful little museum with rooms full of displays and exhibits covering centuries of Montreal’s history. We wandered from room to room, and read every one of the plaques. My feet were killing me from all the walking we had done, but I was enthralled by the exhibits.
Most of the displays were permanent, but the last room had an exhibit on crime and punishment in Quebec. Fascinating and terrifying. We then went downstairs where actors would normally reenact the lives of the people who would have lived and worked in the house. After poking our heads into the gift shop, we took some time to take in the gardens in back. There was a small fee to tour the inside of the house, but the gardens are free, and looked like a great place to relax, read, or have lunch.
As I mentioned before, my feet were sore, and we were both a bit tired, so we made our way back to the hotel, to rest up and decide on our plans for the evening. On our way back we noticed at least two brew pubs of interest, and decided we would try at least one of them for our evening nightcap.
Back at the hotel, we lazed around on the bed. Sarah started knitting but soon gave in to the desire to nap. I continued to research places to eat. We eventually decided that the tapas place we passed on our way back from Maison Publique on Thursday was of interest. The website I had found was only in French, but with the help of Sarah — and Google Translate — we were able to figure out many of the dishes on the menu, and that they had a 5-dish special that was quite reasonable.
The restaurant’s name is Barraca, and in addition to being a tapas restaurant, they are also a “Rhumerie.” We arrived a bit early for the Saturday night dinner crowd. We took our time with the menu as we decided on the five dishes we would want.
The menus were a challenge to read, and not just because they were only in French. The restaurant is quite dark in an ambient way, but the menu design is what the main issue was. Lots of small, black lettering on a beige background. As it was, I needed to use the flashlight on my phone to read it. The waitress was helpful with the words we couldn’t decipher, and we eventually decided on our drinks and tapas choices. Sarah is more of a fan of liquor than I and chose the national drink of Brazil, the caipirinha. I opted for a glass of wine as a change.
As is often the case when I am hungry and go to a tapas place, my eyes were bigger than my stomach. I thought five dishes wouldn’t be enough, but they ended up being just right. And they were all perfectly prepared and delicious. We really enjoyed our visit to Tapeo a few years ago. The atmosphere was wonderful, the service was great. But for the money, and convenience — Barraca is much closer to our hotel than Tapeo — I think I would recommend Barraca to friends. Plus, Barraca feels more like one’s neighbourhood place. Cozy. Tapeo feels a bit posh. I felt under dressed when we went.
Sated, we left and wandered down Rue Mont Royal. The street was bustling with activity, and people were in good spirits. The buses running their routes flashed “Go Canadiens!” across their marquees, reminding all that hockey season was back. The weather was only slightly brisk, but we were warm from the meal and the drink. We decided to try out one of the brew pubs we had spied earlier, and made our way to Le Saint Bock based on its extensive beer selection, and specific brew suggestions from Scott Russell.
By this hour of a Saturday night, Montreal’s night life was in full swing. The streets were packed with groups of people looking for fun. Younger people spilled out onto the sidewalks in front of bars and clubs to smoke cigarettes. We made our way into Le Saint Bock, and saw a small line just inside the door. The music and the chatter was loud but someone greeted us right away. We gestured that we were two, and he peered around the crowded space. We expected a wait, but he waived us on. However, the space he had in mind would have required us to climb over a group of other people and would have had us stuck in a corner. We very quickly decided that perhaps Le Saint Bock would have to wait for another trip. We thanked the man, and left.
Luckily our other choice, L’Amere a Boire, was only a block away. We walked up the hill, and saw a crowd of people. We thought we were in for the same issue, but it ended up the outside crowd was at an establishment next door. L’Amere a Boire has a more modern decor, and is split up into a few levels. One enters at a level with lots of little tables, and nooks. The bar is down one level below that, and then a staircase rises up beyond the bar to another level. There were stairs going up from that level too, which we thought lead to a rooftop level, but we didn’t investigate. All of the seats were taken with the exception of a raised two-top right by the door.
Sarah held the seats while I investigated the beer menu. Luckily the local free wifi was available, and with a quick search I was able to translate the words I needed to make my decision. I chose an “LNH” — which stands for Lager Noire Houblonée — a delicious black lager that tastes similar to a dry, nutty stout for myself, and an American pale ale called “Fin De Siècle” (end of the century?) for Sarah. We also tried their house cask ale, “Amère à Boire” and their oatmeal stout named “Muesli.” We enjoyed the beers and the bar staff was very nice. We also liked the glassware so much, we inquired into purchasing one. When we learned they were only CAN$6 each we opted to buy two. Probably a good thing as they have become our favourite drinking glasses at home. Full of good beer and cheer we walked the few blocks back to the hotel, and called it a night.
I started this article mentioning that this trip we endeavored to try places and things in Montreal that we hadn’t before. For the most part we did, and oddly enough the times we tried to go to some of our old standbys — such as Le Reservoir or the Tibetan shop — our plans were foiled. But Sundays in Montreal, for us, are all about tradition. And today being our twelfth anniversary, we embraced the tradition.
We packed up our stuff and checked out of our hotel around 9 a.m. and made our way to our favourite intersection: Boulevard Saint-Laurent & Avenue Fairmount, in the Mile End neighbourhood of the city. Being early on a Sunday the streets were nearly empty when we parked the car.
Still early for the start of brunch at Lawrence, we walked across the street to Dépanneur AS. Over the years we have spent time in a many corner stores looking for our favourite Québécois brews, and Dépanneur AS is our go-to shop. This little store has a great selection of local and regional beers, including a wide selection of Dieu du Ciel! offerings. The dépanneur is run by a sweet little old lady, but she knows very little about beer, and speaks nearly no English. Thankfully another gentleman (her son?) is on hand to help answer any questions, and offer suggestions. We spent nearly 30 minutes combing through the selection before lugging boxes of beers to the car, and joining the small queue forming in front of Lawrence.
We have been to Lawrence three or four times by now, but only for brunch. We love the food, the service and the bright, light-filled dining area. Based on the quality of food, we plan to go for dinner next time. However, this time we were here for brunch, and we indulged ourselves in delicious beignes and coffee, sausage sandwiches, and a full English breakfast.
The beignes sparked a conversion between us and a young couple next to us. I saw the woman spying our sweets and asked if she wanted one. She thanked me and politely refused, but she was intrigued enough to ask the waitress to bring her a mixed order. Before we began speaking we had heard them switching seamlessly between French and English. They playfully teased one another in the queue and continued to laugh and poke fun of each other while they dined. After we spoke they were curious how we Americans ended up in this Mile End restaurant, and we told them the short version of our traditions and that we were celebrating our anniversary.
While at Maison Publique on Thursday, we were told by Felix that one of the co-brewers from Ghost Farm was involved with Lawrence, so we inquired. It ends up the main brewer was not there but his partner was, and he took the time to chat with us about beer in Quebec and Vermont.
We left Lawrence with smiles on our faces, but ready to make our way home. We had at least one more traditional stop, a small boulangerie called Guillaume. On our last few trips it had been a few doors down from Lawrence, but that store front was dark. While at the dépanneur we asked and were told it had moved a short distance down St-Laurent, so we walked. There was a short queue made up of people and dogs, and it moved quickly. While Sarah ordered various sweet and savory breads and treats, I made friends with an English bulldog and a one-eyed Jack Russell terrier.
Our quarry in hand, we made our way back to the car and began the tradition of negotiating our way our of Montreal. Something we — or more accurately I — have always had trouble doing. After a brief stop at a Petro-Canada in an attempt to find a SIM for an iPhone for a future trip, we set off.
To make a very long story short, we moved very slowly in city traffic, made one wrong turn while trying to get on the freeway. We thought we missed a turn off of 33 only to find out we had inadvertently taken a short cut. And we sat in traffic for over an hour at the border only to to be practically waived through once we saw a customs agent. We stopped at Vermont BBQ at our exit on I-89, and arrived home to a happy dog and a wonderful anniversary present from Sarah’s mother. Sarah, Nancy and I enjoyed our BBQ and talked about our incredible trip. We have already marked our calendar to visit again in June 2015 for Mondial de la bière.
This beer was brewed for our annual summer party. It was designed to be easy to brew, and at 4%, easy to drink over a long day.
5 lbs. Marris Otter (UK) 2-row malt
2.5 lbs Organic (CAN) 2-row malt
Ideally I would have preferred to use all of one malt rather than mixing the UK and the North American, but the guru was on holiday and so there wasn’t as much in stock — and I really needed to brew today in order to have the beer ready for the party on 16 August.
A low-temperature mash of 149° or so used to create a thin mash using 1.2 quarts per pound of grain (10.8 qts = 2.7 gallons) for 75 minutes maximum to ensure a light color.
Sparged with 15 quarts (3.37 gallons) of water based on 2 quarts per pound of grain.
Boil was 60 minute boil exactly to avoid darkening the beer. 1 oz. of Bramling Cross (all 7.8% AAU) hops were added at the beginning of the boil, 1 oz of Bramling Cross was added at 30 mins from completetion of the boil, 1 oz of Bramling Cross was added at 15 mins from end, and 1 oz of Bramling Cross was added as the pot was removed from the stove. I said it was an easy recipe, didn’t I?
I used the SO-5 dry yeast for a more neutral yeast profile. The beer was left in the primary for 1 week and then racked to a keg.
This Imperial IPA recipe is based on a clone found on www.brewtoad.com. I have dubbed it “Double Sunshine Daydream” because I would be dreaming to believe I could come close to Sean’s masterpiece. I didn’t change the Brew Toad recipe up too much, other than using Citra with different AAU than the author’s source, and a bit more of the Columbus at the start of the boil. I still am under the AAUs of the original, but I expect it to still be bitter and fragrant. I also chose to blend a U.S. 2-row pale malt with the Crisp pale malt I had success with in the American India Pale Ale recipe from 2013.
At ~8% ABV this is a nice, big, Imperial IPA. The OG was ~1.070.
6.0 lbs Crisp pale (mash)
3.5 lbs of Briess U.S. 2-row pale (mash)
2.5 lbs. Briess Vienna Malt (mash)
1.0 lb. Flaked Oats (mash)
1.0 lb. Corn Sugar – Dextrose (boil)
0.75 lb. Briess Carapils® Malt (mash)
0.38 lb. Weyermann® CARAMUNICH® I (mash)
Mashed in at ~150°F using 15.9 qts (~4 U.S. gallons) for 75 minutes maximum in an effort to achieve a lighter color. I sparged with 16 quarts (4 U.S. gallons) of water at ~165°F. The boil was 60 minutes exactly to avoid darkening the beer.
1 oz. Columbus (19.5 AAU) for full boil
1 oz. Citra (13.3 AAU) at 20 mins from end of boil
2 oz. Citra (13.3 AAU) at 5 mins from end of boil
3 oz. Citra (13.3 AAU) at removal from heat
2 oz. Citra (14.5 AAU) upon racking to secondary (dry hop)
The original recipe called for Wyeast 1056 (White Labs 001), but I decided to use the SO-5 dry yeast for a more neutral yeast profile.
The primary fermentation was 7 days. I allowed the beer to stay in a secondary for 2 weeks, and bottled at the end that time.
It’s March in Vermont, and as much as I’ve been trying to deny it I’m in the mood for warmer weather. I’ve also been dreaming of the amazing coconut raspberry cake I had last summer while on vacation (in Edinburgh) at The Kitchin, a Michelin-star-rated restaurant that served the best meal I’ve ever had. While the chef, Tom Kitchin, does publish recipes, he doesn’t publish his method for this particular item, so I’ve been scouring cookbooks and websites, trying to find something that resembled what I ate.
I really couldn’t find anything that reminded me of that awesome cake, until I came across an overly-complicated version on the Food Network. The coconut custard seemed right to me, but the frosting and filling looked too heavy, so I cut back the butter and used the custard as-is without adding more heavy cream. My trusty Cook’s Illustrated book had an interesting recipe, but it called for “cream of coconut,” an ingredient I couldn’t find at any of my local markets.
My own attempt here is adapted from the Cook’s Illustrated Coconut Layer Cake, Bobby Flay’s coconut cake with coconut filling, and my memory of Tom Kitchin’s delectable creation. It’s more formal than the Cook’s version, but less complicated than Flay’s, and I added back the raspberry element which was missing from both of those. The best part of making this is your house will smell like a tropical paradise!
Stand mixer, 2 9-inch cake pans, medium sauce pan
4 eggs, separated (see instructions)
1 14- oz can coconut milk, separated (see instructions)
3 T cornstarch
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup whole milk
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 t coconut extract
4 egg whites
2 whole eggs
1/4 cup coconut solids
1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/4 cups filtered water
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 t coconut extract
3 cups pastry or cake flour
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3/4 t salt
12 T (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces and softened
3/4 cup coconut custard
1 stick butter (softened)
4 T cream cheese (room temperature)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
Shredded sweetened coconut
First, the Custard
Open the can of coconut milk and spoon out two generous dollops of the coconut cream (approx. 1/4 cup) from the top into a medium mixing bowl (this will be for the cake). Empty the remaining contents of the can into a medium saucepan, add the milk and extracts, and heat to a simmer.
Separate 4 eggs, placing the yolks into an empty mixing bowl and the whites into the bowl with the reserved coconut cream; set the egg white mixture aside (for the cake).
Whisk the egg yolks together with the corn starch and sugar until lighter in color and smooth. When the milk mixture has simmered, remove it from the heat and pour a few tablespoons into the egg yolks, then quickly whisk to temper the eggs. Add the warm milk a little at a time and continue whisking until about half the milk has been added, then pour the egg mixture back into the sauce pan with the rest of the milk, whisk again and return the pan to the heat. Heat the custard until it just starts to bubble, whisking as you go. When it boils the heat will activate the corn starch and thicken the custard. Remove from heat and pour the custard into a mixing bowl, stir to cool somewhat and set aside. When the custard has reached room temperature place it in the refrigerator to cool completely.
Make the Cake
Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Spray the cake pans with cooking spray, and add a circle of parchment paper to the bottom of each.
To the egg white/coconut creme mixture (reserved from the custard process) add two whole eggs, the milk, and the extracts, and whisk together.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Beat on low speed and slowly add the butter, one piece at a time. Combine until the mixture looks like moist crumbs, about 1 minute. Pour in the egg/milk mixture and beat on low until combined, then turn off the mixer, scrape the sides and bottom, and resume mixing on medium speed until the batter is lighter and fluffy, about 1 minute more.
Distribute the batter evenly between the two cake pans, and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out mostly clean, rotating once during baking. Allow the cakes to rest in the pans on wire racks for 10 minutes, then flip the cakes out onto the racks, peel off the parchment paper, and allow to finish cooling completely, about 2 hours.
While the cakes and custard are cooling…
Make the Frosting
Using a hand mixer or stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the butter and cream cheese until very fluffy, about 5-7 minutes. Slowly add the powdered sugar a little at a time. Add 3/4 cup of the coconut custard and continue whipping until well-combined and fluffy. Chill in the refrigerator until you are ready to assemble the cake.
The Grand Assembly
Remove the frosting from the refrigerator and let sit 5 minutes. Slice the two cakes horizontally, creating 4 layers. Reserve one of the flat bottom layers for the top of the cake. Heat the raspberry jam in the microwave for a few seconds until warm, and stir to create a spreadable paste.
Place the first cake layer, cut side up, onto a serving plate. Spread this piece with a thin layer of jam, then dollop on 1/3 of the coconut custard and spread gently. Try not to mix the jam and custard layers; if the jam is too liquid you can pop the first jammed cake layer in the freezer for about 5 minutes to set up before applying the custard.
Place a cake layer on top and repeat: cake, jam (optional freeze), custard, until you get to the final cake layer. Finish the assembly by spreading the frosting over the top and all around the sides of the cake, and sprinkle on the shredded coconut. If you like a lot of shredded coconut you can press it on gently with your hand for a denser coating.
Put the whole cake back in the refrigerator and chill until time to serve.
Fish tacos just aren’t something we can find in Vermont, so I developed my own take on these. The cooking method is adapted from the Cook’s IllustratedCrunchy Oven-Fried Fish but the spice profile is decidedly more south-western. This is a great dish for two people to make together, one making the vegetables and the other preparing the fish. If cooking alone, make the vegetables and sauce first, then prepare the fish so that it’s not sitting around getting cold and soggy after coming out of the oven.
Yield: Serves 4
For the fish…
2 large fillets firm-fleshed white fish (such as Tilapia, Cod, even Catfish)
3 cups breadcrumbs (home-made from stale bread, or large Panko-style)
1/2 cup + 4 T. all-purpose flour
3 T. mayonnaise
1 small can chilies in adobo (used for both fish and sauce)
1 T. chili powder
2 t. Old Bay seasoning
For the tacos…
1/2 head cabbage
2 bell peppers
For the fish…
Preheat the oven to 350F. Set two wire cooling racks into a baking sheet to create a raised cooking platform for the fish.
Prepare the dipping assembly line before dealing with the fillets. Spread 1/2 cup of the flour in a shallow dish, pie plate, or platter with a lip on it. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, mayonnaise, chili powder, Old Bay seasoning, and 2 tablespoons of the adobo sauce from the can (or to taste). When combined, whisk in 4 tablespoons of the flour until smooth, then pour this mixture into a second shallow dish. In a third shallow dish, spread 2 cups of the breadcrumbs.
Next, rinse the fish with cold water and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Cut the fillets into taco-sized pieces about 1 inch by 2 inch rectangles (they won’t actually be rectangles since fish aren’t rectangular!).
Coat each piece of fish as follows: dredge in flour, then tap to shake off excess flour; place into egg/mayo mixture and coat; drop onto breadcrumbs, scoop breadcrumbs over the top and roll to coat, pressing lightly to pack the crumbs all around. Add more breadcrumbs to the dish as needed. (I find it easiest to use one hand for flour/egg steps and second hand for breadcrumb/wire rack steps.) Set each piece on the wire rack cooking platform as you go.
Bake the fish for 14 minutes.
Meanwhile, the person responsible for the filling will…
Core the cabbage and slice it into thin slivers. Similarly, sliver the bell peppers and onions. In a large skillet, heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat, and add the onions when the pan is hot. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then add the peppers and cabbage. Sprinkle with salt and cook for a few minutes more, until the cabbage is partially cooked but still a bit crunchy. Remove pan from heat and set aside.
In a small bowl, make the taco sauce by whisking together some sour cream and more of the adobo sauce, to taste (you can even mash or blend these with a little milk if you like it hot!).
Just before the fish is ready, microwave the corn tortillas for 30-45 seconds, and cover with a damp paper towel to keep them warm and flexible.
To serve, place 2-3 pieces of fish in a tortilla, drizzle some of the spicy sour cream, and top with the sautéed veggies.
The Gage Hill Crafts crew decided to take a mini vacation in Montréal last weekend. The primary purpose was to attend the annual beer festival, Mondial de la Bière, held each year, but as usual we found time to do lots of walking and eating. I said “as usual” but this time was different as it was the first time Nancy had been to Montréal. In fact, it was the first time she had left the country since she was a student living in Germany. She got her passport last year in anticipation of our trip to Scotland and Wales later this summer, so why not break it in with a quick jaunt to Canada? Parfait!
After making arrangements for our friend Ryen to take care of our menagerie, we set up out early Thursday morning. The weather for the drive was beautiful, and there was practically no traffic until we arrived in the city. Even so we arrived at our favorite hotel, Hotel Château de L’Argoat, a bit too early to check-in, but since one of the rooms was ready they let us park the car and we stowed the luggage in that room before heading out to explore.
We were all hungry, so lunch was on the agenda, but we weren’t sure where. Montréal, and specifically the Plateau area of the city, is packed with so many different restaurants, so picking can be a challenge. We decided to go in the direction of Le Réservoir even though we suspected they wouldn’t be open yet. Confirming that to be the case, we scoped out some places on St. Laurent Avenue — an area with which we are most familiar — and decided on Jano. Jano had been one of the places our friend Nick had suggested for dinner that night, and since we had opted for a different place, we decided to check it out anyway for lunch. The staff was very nice and helpful, but the menu was a bit heavy on shellfish, of which Sarah is allergic, so it limited our choices. I had the Sandwich au steak de porc Bifana, with frites. Sarah and Nancy split a simple, large, salad and a plate of gigantic sardines.
After lunch we still had a bit of time before Le Réservoir would open its doors, so we wandered down rue Deluth to check out some of the shops. We stopped in La Maison du Tibet, a cute little place with a sweet owner. We chatted with her for a bit and Nancy bought a small piece of jewelry. As we walked a little further down the street, we nearly turned around, but decided to go as far as St. Denis. A half a block later I caught a glimpse of yarn out of the corner of my eye and alerted my knitting companions. The store, La Grande Ourse, ended up not being so much a yarn store, but a children’s store. It has all sorts of little handmade toys made of fabric and wood. Nothing from the sweatshops here. We quickly struck up a conversation with the owner, a sweet, older woman. She asked us about our sheep, and about our plant-based natural dyes. We purchased a few small items — including a top for Nick & Jenn’s daughter — and exchanged business cards before departing. We promised the owner we would contact her when we had some samples we could send her.
By now it was definitely time for Le Réservoir, so we stopped in for a pint to cool off. I had their IPA, Sarah had a cream ale, and Nancy cooled of with an iced tea. Whilst sipping our beverages we received a text from Rich & Carol stating they had arrived at the hotel. We told them we would sip slowly and they eventually met up with us, so we had to have another round. We departed shortly after so we could check in to our room, and change for dinner. They planned to explore some more and meet us at the restaurant.
After freshening up in our rooms, we hopped in the car, and drove toward the Mile End neighborhood. The plan was to meet Nick and his daughter at the restaurant, Nouveau Palais. Unfortunately Jennifer was out of town and wouldn’t be joining us. Traffic was light, but parking in Little Jerusalem was tight. We eventually found a spot, and negotiated the large groups of children playing and riding their bikes on the sidewalk. We were still a few minutes early, and the first to arrive, but the staff showed us to our tables. The place is an old diner, so no pulling up tables to make one large enough for our group of seven. We did; however, have two tables across from one another. Since Rich does such an excellent job of reviewing restaurants, I will simply link to his review and say I agree with him. The dinner was delicious, the service was good, the atmosphere was a little odd. The old diner hasn’t seen an update in decades, and the brown panels, and stuffed animals weren’t all that appealing. But I still very much enjoyed myself, and would go back again.
We were all rather tired by now, and Nick’s daughter was approaching her bedtime, but there was still time to take a quick trip to Cheskie’s. I was full but enjoyed the awesome smells coming from this famous boulangerie. Each time the door opened the smell of chocolate wafted through the warm, dusk, summer air. Nick and his daughter went in for cookies, and Carol joined them for an evening snack. We all parted and we drove back to the hotel. As we were warned there wasn’t a space in the hotel lot behind the building, but after dropping off Sarah and Nancy I found a great spot right in front. The hotel’s evening manager met me at the door and assured me that I was fine there until 9 the next morning. We all planned to get up early for breakfast, so it wouldn’t be an issue.
We hooked up with Rich and Carol again, this time to go to Le Cheval Blanc, which I had heard of, but hadn’t realised was only a block away from the hotel. As Sarah said this place is the love child of a 1950s diner and a Chinese restaurant with the neon clocks and green faux marble laminate on the walls. As expected with Mondial de la Bière in full swing, the place was noisy and packed, but we were lucky to find a table. The beers were amazing, and in hindsight some of the best I would have all weekend. We only stayed for one round before heading back to the hotel to rest up for the beer festival the next day.
In the morning, as we got ready to meet Rich and Carol to go to a favourite breakfast spot of theirs, my back went out. I don’t know if it was the soft bed or some other reason, but it hadn’t gone out since we helped neighbours clean up after Tropical Storm Irene. Bad timing to say the least, but I was at least glad I had the forethought to bring my back brace. Sarah had to help me with my socks and shoes, but I gritted my teeth and off we went. We met in the lobby and all piled into Nancy’s car. I drove, dropped everyone off in front of the Le Restaurant L’Avenue, and searched for a spot to park. The spaces out front were out of the question due to street sweeping, so I had to drive around the neighborhood. As I got further from the restaurant I started to fear the long walk with my back aching, but luckily I was able to find a space only a block away, and found the others waiting in front. We were some of the first people there, but it because apparent that Rich and Carol were correct to suggest we get there early as the place filled within moments. Our waiter was very nice, and since the menu was exclusively in French, we all helped each other with translations. The place is famous for it’s oeufs Benedict, and I think Rich, Carol and I all selected some variation — mine with smoked salmon. Sarah had scrambled eggs, bacon and potatoes, and Nancy had an amazing dish of pancakes “Américaine” which included granola and Canadian maple syrup. We all enjoyed our meals, and after a trip to the freaky restrooms, we were on our way. Rich has uploaded his Offbeateats review for those of you looking for more detail.
Rich and Carol decided to explore on foot, and we made plans to meet them at the beer festival later. Sarah, Nancy, and I climbed back into the car, found a bank to get some cash, and headed back to the hotel just long enough to drop Nancy off and to check Google maps for an idea on how best to get to the Palais des congrès de Montréal where the beer festival was being held. Once we arrived at the bus station, something felt wrong and we spoke with a gentleman in the information booth. He confirmed that the information Google maps had given us was wrong, and that we really didn’t need to take a coach bus a travel a few blocks. He gave us instructions on how to grab the Metro to go the two stops, and we left. It ends up it would have been faster and possibly less walking to have done the entire trip on foot, but by now we were at the Berri-UQAM Metro station, so we boarded a train and got off at the stop adjacent to the Palais des congrès. A quick check of Find Friends, and a text from Carol, and we attempted to meet up with them. Again, we did more walking than should have been necessary and it appeared that all attempts to help my now seriously aching back would be for naught. But we found Rich and Carol, just as the ticket booth opened, and we were some of the first few people to enter Mondial de la Bière.
Being first has its advantages, but it was also quite overwhelming. We later decided that choosing which beer to spend one’s first and last tickets on is the most difficult. I won’t go into detail about the many delicious beers we sampled over the next few hours or so. You can follow me on Untappd if you are really interested. Suffice to say we had a great time, I didn’t have a single bad beer, and all the alcohol and walking really seemed to help my back loosen up. Sitting meant it stiffened up again, but the good beers and great company helped me forget. The venue was great. There was an indoor section in the convention hall as well as a garden area outside. The outside area had trees and park benches. It was nice to have options, but we ended up preferring the beers and the atmosphere of the indoor section; and no smokers inside.
When we left, we again parted ways with Rich and Carol as they went on to explore one part of town and us another. Sarah and I walked a great deal, most of it uphill, to return to the Plateau before making our way back to the hotel to rest for a few hours, and shower to wash off the sunscreen.
After brief naps, we reconvened in the lobby with Rich, Carol, and Nancy before walking along rue Orleans to Chinatown. Rich had been eager to try a noodle place called Nu-Do [Rich’s OffBeatEats review], where they make their noodles fresh and in front of you. We were not disappointed. We each got a noodle soup, some kimchi and some dumplings. When we arrived we were all mumbling about the heat wave and the lack of air conditioning, but by the time we finished our spicy meals we barely noticed as we sweated it off. Again we got there just in time as the place filled up quickly with eager diners. After paying our tab, we wandered off thinking we might search for ice cream, but by the time we reach Bld Sherbrooke we said goodnight to Nancy and pointed her in the direction of the hotel before deciding that brownie sundaes at Le Réservoir were in order.
We walked miles again, and my back was screaming at me, but it was worth it. Rich, Carol, and Sarah squatted on a table downstairs while I checked in vain to see if the rooftop had any openings. We ordered two brownie sundaes, made with a sauce that includes their in-house stout, and a round of beers. Being Friday night it was packed and loud as people enjoyed themselves on this hot summer evening. We stuck to one round, before calling it a night, walking the back streets to avoid the hustle and bustle of the crowds making their way out for the evening.
Once back at the hotel, we said goodnight to Rich and Carol and confirmed the time for the morning’s excursion. I quickly got ready for bed and collapsed onto the bed, giving my back a much-needed rest from a long day of standing and walking.
We rose early Saturday morning, packed and made our way down to the lobby to check out. We saw from the window that our car was behind 2 other vehicles and we wanted to give the staff plenty of time to free it so we could get to Lawrence before the line got too long. It ended up we arrived with plenty of time, so we parked and walked across the street to our new favourite dépanneur to buy beer. The staff was very helpful as we check the stock against our notes from the beer festival the day before. We packed up our haul and put it in the car, and then Nancy and I got in line at the restaurant while Rich, Carol, and Sarah walked to Fairmount Bagel around the corner to stock up for the trip home.
A member of the Lawrence staff took everyone in lines name and the number in their party and we were all allowed in en masse shortly after. We asked for coffees (cold brewed and lattes) and two orders of beignes — each order coming with a chocolate, lemon, and custard — while we drooled over the menus. I ended up getting the full English breakfast which came with bacon, a sausage, black pudding, bubble and squeak, eggs and toast, and everything (as always) was delicious! The staff at Lawrence is amazing as they attend to you as a group. Your water glass is never empty, your finished plates never stay long, your coffee cup is filled as soon as it is emptied. And despite always being busy you are never rushed. We savored our coffees after finishing our food, settled our tabs, and made our way to our next stop as we attempted to eat our way out of the city.
A stone’s throw from Lawrence is Boulangerie Guillaume, a cute little neighbourhood bakery with a large variety of savory and sweet baked goods. The front of the store is small, but on this warm morning the sliding doors were open allowing us to not only see the selection but smell it. We took turns going inside and came away with bags filled with treats to take home.
We had planned to go directly to the hotel on our way out to drop off Rich and Carol, but decided he just had to get some chocolate to complete the trip, so we stopped at La Vieille Europe, a gourmet shop catering to ex-patriots from Europe it seems. They have an amazing selection of cheeses, wines, chocolates, nuts, coffees, etc. Parking was at a premium, so I dropped everyone off and drove around the block until I found a spot in a 15-minute zone across the street. The place was packed, so it took a while for the group to emerge, but once they did we were on our way. We dropped off Rich and Carol at the hotel, and began to navigate our way out of the city.
Before we had phones with GPS and map apps this was nearly impossible, and Sarah and I recalled our first trip when it literally took us over an hour to find our way to the highways leading out. Apple Maps did a great job of keeping us on course (For those keeping track, Google Maps 0, Apple Maps 1) and we were on our way. There didn’t seem to be much weekend travel traffic, and we were out of the city in a matter of minutes it seemed. The trip home was uneventful. The lines at the border weren’t bad, and we were home in under 3 hours. What an amazing trip, even with my back going out. Sarah and I plan to return again in October for our wedding anniversary.
Welcome to our new venture, Gage Hill Crafts. Many of you already know us and know what we do: a little sheep farming, brewing great beer, selling yarn at fiber festivals, and sharing tales of our travels.
So why the name change from Terrapin Gardens? We’re making some changes at the farm, and wanted a name that was easier to remember (and pronounce, and spell) and that would reflect our new focus. We are reducing our flock size to concentrate on our retail business, and we will introduce new items as well, like knitting and brewing tools. The term “Craft” more fully encompass all of our interests: the crafts of farming, brewing, cooking, photographing, writing, knitting, and other creative and productive activities.
We hope you’ll visit us at the farm, or stop by one of the craft shows this summer and fall. We have new products for sale now and will be adding more throughout the year. We also want to hear from you about your practice of craft. What are you growing, building, brewing, creating? If you’ve used our yarns or wool in a recent project, please send us a photo so we can feature your work in the Customer Gallery.
We invite you to explore our new site, which includes our food and brewing recipes and travel journal. We’ll also post information on hand dyeing wool, one of several new crafts that we’re exploring.
This stout is my take on Scott Russell‘s clone recipe in his excellent book, North American Clone Brews. Not being a huge fan of Fuggles hops I opted for Styrian Golding, Kent Golding, and Bramling Cross.
Winter Bear Stout
5 gallons, all-grain
7lbs Pale Malt
8oz Roasted Barley
8oz Dark (90ºL) Crystal Malt
4oz Chocolate Malt
1oz Styrian Golding
1oz UK Kent Golding
1oz Bramling Cross
Crush grains. Heat 3 gallons of water to 165°F. Dough in grains and hold 90 minutes at 152°F. Heat 3.75 gallons water to 167°F. Begin runoff and sparge. Bring to a boil, add Styrian Golding. Boil 30 minutes and then add Kent Golding. Boil another 30 minutes and Bramling Cross. Chill to 80°F and take a hydrometer reading. Pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Pitch Irish ale yeast, seal and ferment at 65 – 68°F for 2 weeks. Rack to secondary, condition 3 to 4 weeks. I transferred this to a clean keg and pressurized to 15 PSI for about 5 days before tapping.
While trying to figure out how to use up some vegetables from our weekly CSA basket, we improvised the following, which was inspired by a time-tested eggplant Parmesan recipe and a cheese-less savory tart that mom makes.
1 large eggplant
1 bell pepper, diced
1 medium red onion, sliced thinly
8 medium tomatoes
1 cup ricotta cheese
3 slices stale bread
3 cloves garlic, grated or pressed
1/4 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. dried basil
salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 425F. Slice the eggplant thinly and salt well. Place in a colander to drain. Cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze out the seeds. Lay the tomato halves on a baking sheet or in a glass baking pan and drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with the oregano. Bake for 30 minutes or until the skins begin to brown and the juices caremalize. Place the tomatoes in a food processor, add the jalapeno and puree.
Rinse the eggplant slices to remove the salt and blot dry with paper towels. Arrange slices on baking sheets and brush lightly with olive oil. Bake for 30 minutes, flipping the slices once halfway through.
In a medium skillet, saute the onion and bell pepper in a teaspoon of olive oil over medium-high heat until tender.
Toast the stale bread. In a microwave-safe container, nuke the butter and the garlic for 30 seconds, or until the butter is melted. Brush the garlic butter onto the toast, then tear the bread into pieces. Spread these on a tray and bake them in the oven at 300F until they are dried. Remove, allow to cool a bit and then place in a paper or plastic bag and crush them into breadcrumbs.
In a small bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, basil, egg, and a quarter of a cup of the garlic breadcrumbs.
In a 9″ by 9″ baking pan, layer all of the ingredients as follows: One tablespoon of the tomato sauce spread around the bottom of the pan. One third of the eggplant slices, layered One third of the cheese mixture, dolloped around One quarter of the pepper and onion mixture, sprinkled on One quarter of the remaining tomato sauce, dolloped on Another third of the eggplant a third of the cheese mixture a quarter of the vegetable mixture one quarter of the sauce final third of the eggplant final third of the cheese one quarter of the veggies several dollops of sauce ultimate veggies breadcrumbs Bake covered at 350 for thirty minutes, then uncover and bake for 10 more minutes. Allow to cool for five minutes before slicing.
This recipe came about as a desire to create a nice “session” IPA for the new keg tap set up Nancy and Sarah got for me for my birthday. At 5.2% ABV this is a little more than a traditional session beer, but it will do. The target OG of about 1052 based on a mash of about 9 lbs.
7 lbs. Crisp Pale Ale
1 lb Light Crystal Malt
1 lb light wheat (for body, for creaminess)
A low-temperature mash of 149° or so used to create a thin mash using 1.2 quarts per pound of grain (10.8 qts = 2.7 gallons) for 75 minutes maximum to ensure a light color.
Sparged with 13.7 quarts (3.425 gallons) of water.
Boil was 60 minute boil exactly to avoid darkening the beer. 1 oz. of Galaxy hops were added at the beginning of the boil and
1 oz. of Citra hops were added in the last 10 minutes.
I used the SO-5 dry yeast for a more neutral yeast profile and I dry hopped with 1 oz. whole leaf of my own Chinook hops from the garden in the secondary.