Back to my Québécoise Roots!…Quebec City Edition

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While the first half of our trip was all about seeing everyone and socializing, the second half ended up being our main tourist time. Here is a special post on the two days we spent in Quebec city.

Just being in “La Belle Province” with my husband was pretty wonderful but visiting Québec City, one of the oldest -and prettiest- cities in North America, was a step above. We started our journey in the early morning with a mandatory breakfast stop at Tim Hortons. They had this new special…maple syrup English muffin sandwich. Of course, we could not resist. We also ordered a dozen of Timbits…originally planning on taking them for the road but we simply could not wait. So off we went, with our bellies full of coffee and sweet goodness.

IMG_2762Our first stop was île d’Orléans, an island composed of six small villages, all filled with wonderful artisans. As we crossed the bridge, I played Le Tour de l’Île for him. I absolutely love visiting the island. I was so giddy to finally show Jeff the place I had spent so much time trying to describe to him. Our first stop was the shore. No matter how many time I go stand there, it never gets old. Always so beautiful, even on cloudy days.

DSC_0310Our second stop, the most exciting of them all, was the Chocolaterie. Can we just move in here? They are especially well known for their soft-serve ice cream, dipped in a thick layer of Belgium chocolate. Needless to say, I was in heaven.

I might have looked like a mess but I was certainly in heaven!

I might have looked like a mess but I was certainly in heaven!

We spent all morning and part of the afternoon driving around the island and stopping along the way to explore and take pictures. I especially enjoyed the view from the observation tower.

DSC_0379Once we left the island, we had planned to go directly to Old Québec but as I pointed out the Montmorency Falls to Jeff, he suggested we go check them out. I hadn’t been there in years, so why not? The Falls ended up being quite an adventure as Jeff realized how deep is fear of height was but we still really enjoyed our time there.

DSC_0435After spending a couple of hours at the falls, we finally ended to Old Québec. We checked into our hotel and then walked around for a bit. We were pretty exhausted so we grabbed some dinner and decided to keep most of the exploring for the next day.

Our first evening in Old Quebec

Our first evening in Old Quebec

So the next morning, we were ready to explore! We walked A LOT. We found a wonderful little restaurant for lunch, Le Chic Shack. Jeff had a chicken sandwich with truffle and Parmesan fries while I devoured a wild mushroom ragout poutine. I desperately want to try to make it. It might not have been the wisest lunch before spending the day walking but it was absolutely delicious.

Jeff's chicken sandwich with truffle and Parmesan fries

Jeff’s chicken sandwich with truffle and Parmesan fries

My delicious wild mushroom ragout poutine. Looked like a mess but tasted heavenly.

My delicious wild mushroom ragout poutine. Looked like a mess but tasted heavenly.

We spent the afternoon walking through the busy streets of Place Royale, one of the oldest French settlements in North America. I quickly found a little store that sold “tire sur neige” (maple taffy on snow)…and of course I couldn’t help myself. We also saw a lot of cool art, including the Campbell soup and pigeons sculptures.

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Tire sur neige (maple taffy)

DSC_0474Later on, Jeff suggested walking by the riverfront, on the Promenade des Gouverneurs, all the way to Plains of Abraham Battlefield Park. Once we got there, we were able to walk on the city walls, all the way to our hotel!

On the Promenade des Gouverneurs

On the Promenade des Gouverneurs

DSC_0548After two days of being full-on tourists in a city big enough to offer English translations everywhere (it honestly gave me a break from constant translation for the hubby), it was almost a shock to go back to my small hometown. But this will be another post, folks! :)

Back to my Québécoise Roots! ….Part 1

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A month ago, Jeff and I spent 10 days in Quebec. I had not been home in four years and Jeff had never been. I was beyond excited to see everyone but also to finally show my husband the unique province where I grew up. His French immersion was sometimes funny, sometimes exhausting, but I certainly give him props for trying and being social despite the language barrier. For weeks, I’ve been looking for the best way to present our trip on my blog. There’s a lot to talk about! So here is the first half of the trip…

Thursday, July 24:

We landed in Montreal and my best friend Catherine picked us up. Half-way home, we decided to stop at a rest area for the traditional “first poutine meal of the trip”. It also happened to be Jeff’s first real poutine (meaning not one made in the US with make-shift ingredients). Once we arrived in my hometown, Grand-Mère, we spent most of the day at my parents’ house and also visited my grandpa (who offered Jeff a glass of rum, mid-afternoon). Later in the evening, Catherine came back for a cozy bonfire with my parents.

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Poutine as I land: a tradition!

Laughter by the bonfire. So good to be home!

Laughter by the bonfire. So good to be home!

Friday, July 25:

We spent most of the day preparing for the next day BBQ. My mom and I made cupcakes. My grandpa came to visit because he was just so excited to see us. Jeff and I ran a few errands including his first visit to Canadian Tire. I was very excited about dinner; we were going to my favorite Chinese restaurant since childhood Café Hong-Kong. The wonton soup was just as wonderful as I had remembered and so were the egg rolls. Oh, the simple pleasures in life. Later that night, my awesome friends of over 15 years planned this great night down memory lane. Silly costumes and nostalgic photos were on the agenda. No pictures to show (I don’t think the ladies would approve ;)) but lots of wonderful memories in mind.

Our visit (and coffee needs) meant my mom had to find her 30 year-old coffee machine!

Our visit (and coffee needs) meant my mom had to find her 30 year-old coffee machine!

Checking out the local beer selection...

Checking out the local beer selection…

The wonton soup at Café Hong-Kong. A taste of childhood.

The wonton soup at Café Hong-Kong. A taste of childhood.

Saturday, July 26:

Saturday was the best day of our trip in my opinion. Jeff and I made a fairly last minute decision (as usual) to renew our vows during the trip since we have been married for five years and never had a chance to celebrate with my friends and family from Quebec. Since I always plan a big BBQ when I go home, I figured it would be a great occasion to do it. Now to understand what we did, it might help to explain how Jeff and I got married. So here’s the short version: Jeff and I decided to get married on two-week notice. The ceremony took place at the courthouse and only our parents joined us. Afterward, we went back to our house to celebrate with all of our friends, potluck-style. Needless to say, we’re not very traditional. When we decided to renew our vows, we followed a similar pattern: we did the ceremony by the river with my parents, grandpa and brother. My best friend, Catherine, was our “officiant”. After the ceremony, we went back to my parents’ house for a BBQ/potluck. It was simple and perfect. Some of my friends even volunteered to decorate and I was blown away by the result.

The ceremony, full of giggles

The ceremony, full of giggles

The whole gang

The whole gang

The beautiful decorations set up by my friends

The beautiful decorations set up by my friends

More decorations

More decorations

My friends also had the idea to have two disposable cameras for people to use at the party. This was my favorite photo.

My friends also had the idea to have two disposable cameras for people to use at the party. This was my favorite photo.

The lights looked beautiful in the evening!

The lights looked beautiful in the evening!

The best friends a girl could ask for.

The best friends a girl could ask for.

Sunday, July 27:

The next day was mostly time to recover but we did enjoy an amazing brunch at my cousin Charlie’s restaurant Bistro Le P’tit Canot. I got their “Pilois” (local) breakfast…it was too much food but couldn’t help myself as I wanted to try everything. The homemade cretons (pork spread) are always a favorite of mine. Yum!

Bistro Le P'tit Canot

Bistro Le P’tit Canot

Monday, July 28:

We played tourists in my hometown! We started early at Café Morgane for coffee and pastries. Then we headed to Cité de l’Énergie to learn about hydro-electricity and to go up the tower! I can’t even count how many times I have been to that place but going with Jeff and seeing it from a completely new perspective was really cool. Of course, learning made me hungry so we stopped by Bravo Restaurant on the way home for a pizza-poutine combo.

Café Morgane

Café Morgane

On top of the tower at Cité de l'Énergie

On top of the tower at Cité de l’Énergie

Pizza-poutine combo

Pizza-poutine combo

So there you have it, the first half of our trip. In my next post, I will focus on our tourist trip to Quebec city! :)

Settling in to our new life…and cooking again!

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For the last few weeks, very little cooking has happened. First off, we sold our dinner table, then I had to pack our kitchen. I also had my list of restaurants to go to before leaving Charlottesville. Meals were either out or ridiculously simple (i.e. salad mix with a couple of toppings). Once we moved, the new apartment was still a mess for the first few days. Not an easy place to cook!

But I did make the kitchen unpacking and organization a priority. Adjusting to a new kitchen is weird. The new one is much nicer than our old one but the cabinets are so different that I have to reconsider how everything is organized. Some of it is better, some of it still bothers me. I guess I’ll just have to re-adjust it all as I go. One thing I did was to add painter’s tape labels on our cabinets to remember where everything is.

IMG_2021 IMG_2019The other odd thing about moving is that we didn’t get to bring much of what used to be in our fridge. Actually, I did try to take a fair amount of it but it was so hot on our moving day that we lost most of it. Starting off with an empty fridge feels so weird to me. Where do I start? What do I buy first? On my first day after unpacking the kitchen, I went to my two main and closest grocery options now: Publix and Target. I didn’t want to buy too much at once but I did get ground turkey, spring mix, a small variety of fruits and veggies, as well as a few other random items.

I was so excited to make meatballs again! Always an easy meal and I love it every time. I didn’t follow a recipe this time and, instead, improvised with the few ingredients I had on hand. I made a lot more meatballs than I expected which ended up being great as it covered three different meals this past week:

Turkey meatballs on a bed of spring mix, with a sesame ginger vinaigrette.

Turkey meatballs on a bed of spring mix, with a sesame ginger vinaigrette.

Meatballs and southwest frozen veggies on flour tortilla with Ortega taco sauce

Meatballs and southwest frozen veggies on flour tortilla with Ortega taco sauce

Meatballs with a side salad (spring mix and frozen veggies leftovers), drizzle of Ortega taco sauce

Meatballs with a side salad (spring mix and frozen veggies leftovers), drizzle of Ortega taco sauce

You know when magazines show you 3 or 4 items of clothing and explain how you can turn it into a ton of outfits? That’s how I felt this week. What else can I do with the meatballs, frozen veggies and spring mix?

Next week, I might be a little bit more ambitious. We’re finally getting furniture so I will hopefully feel a bit more comfortable in our new home. That’s when the good cooking will happen…I hope! :)

Goodbye Virginia!

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I can’t believe my last post was in April. Craziness! Time just flew by in the last few months. I have been packing, socializing with the friends I know I will miss dearly, and eating at all my favorite local spots. We finally made in to Atlanta this past Sunday but before I start exploring my new home, I want to give Charlottesville one last homage. In the form of a list of places I’ve eaten in the last few months. Because I love food a lot. :)

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Bang! has the best drinks in town (and delicious food as well!). Of course I had to get one more Pink Flamingo before we left! :)

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We have enjoyed so many decadent meals at Mas. We loved their food and their sangria. I will certainly miss their charcuterie plate and carne asada!

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I tried my first oysters at Blue Light Grill. With Kim’s guidance, I tried raw, steamed and fried oysters. Glad I tried it… it wasn’t as bad as the last picture suggests. ;)

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I’ve been wanting to try out The Flat: Takeaway Crêperie since I moved to Charlottesville. Their odd schedule made it almost impossible. So very happy I was able to try them out with Holly! I had the “Temptation of Adam” savory crêpe and it was heavenly.

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Jeff and I had to stop by Trinity Irish Pub, on the Corner, as it used to be a Macado’s, where Jeff worked during his college years. A quick drink down memory lane. :)

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Paradox Pastry is where sweet dreams are baked to perfection. From their brown sugar pie to their “Better than DMB” brownies, everyone finds something they love there. And not to mention how awesome it is to sit and watch the “sugaristas” (what they called themselves) work their magic!

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A sweet treat at Paradox Pastry with Verena and Denise after our last day of preschool!

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We had a fun night out with our friends John and Michelle. We had dinner at Zocalo followed by drinks and dessert at C&O. How I love the rustic look of C&O!

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My all-time favorite. The place I will absolutely miss the most: The Local. Walking distance from our house, it was our go-to restaurants, whether we were meeting with friends or wanting a quick drink with appetizers. Their crispy shrimp will forever be at the top of my favorite food list.

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Although this isn’t a restaurant, I did go cherry picking for the first time! It was a lot of fun to pick them but even better to have a bucket full of freshly picked cherries to eat once I got back home!

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Another place I had not been to until a few weeks ago. Jeff took his dad and I to Mellow Mushroom. The pizza was delicious and although we figured out it was a chain (there is one in Atlanta!), it still felt like a local staple.

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For our dear friend Vari’s birthday, we went to Veritas Winery. With a glass of wine, we enjoyed a fabulous picnic…until a storm hit the area. I will certainly miss all the gorgeous wineries Virginia has to offer!

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Every Friday, Market Street Wine offers a free wine tasting. When the weather was nice (i.e. not too hot), Jeff and I loved going there. As our friend Josh was visiting, we decided to go one last time.

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Marco & Luca: The best dumplings in town. I also love their cold sesame noodles. All together, a cheap and satisfying lunch.

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As if the dumplings weren’t enough, Vari, Denise and I followed our lunch by ice cream cones at Chaps. And, of course, I also love their 50’s diner atmosphere!

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For years, Jeff told me I needed to go to Little John’s Deli. It somehow didn’t happen until Wednesday before we left as I went with Kim. I had their Mo-Jo chicken sandwich and it was fabulous.

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A few hours after our lunch at Little John’s, Kim and I headed over to Sweethaus for some cupcakes. My sweet tooth enticed me to get the “Everything” cupcake, a deliciously rich treat.

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On my last day before Jeff came back, I had lunch at Belmont BBQ with Verena. Their Slop Bucket should gross me out but it is actually very delicious.A staple of the Belmont neighborhood.

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Having Belmont BBQ for lunch followed by Bodo’s Bagels for dinner wasn’t my best move but it didn’t make it any less delicious. Sesame bagel with chicken salad. So good!

Other places I went to but didn’t take pictures of include:

  • Mi Canton: where I had the best Pupusa and tamal
  • Mel’s Café: where a fried chicken sandwich means fried chicken with a side of bread. (but oh so tasty fried chicken!)
  • Lime Leaf: The first Thai restaurant I went to. Their sweet and sour chicken remains my favorite.
  • Now & Zen: By far, the best sushi in town!

So, there you have it. My last foodie memories in Charlottesville. It is now time to turn the page on nine wonderful years to start a new journey in Atlanta. I’m excited to see what this big city has to offer.

My last 9 years in Virginia. So many wonderful memories!

My last 9 years in Virginia. So many wonderful memories!

 

 

Let the Countdown Begin…

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Has it seriously been over a month since my last post? Geez Louise! So much catching up to do.

I need to start by explaining our new life situation as it is the cause of my absence lately but also the inspiration for many posts to come. In February, I mentioned my husband’s new job, involving a lot of traveling. Well, so much traveling that we will move from Virginia to Georgia this summer! This new move is both exciting and terrifying. I am excited to discover a new city and to embark in this new adventure. I am sad to leave my friends and a workplace I love so much. I know I will miss a lot of things about Charlottesville but I also feel like it will be nice to try out something new. And, to be frank, I have only ever moved twice in my life: First from my parents’ house to my host family’s house when I became an Au Pair, and then to Jeff’s house. This will my first time doing actual packing. And this will be quite the packing experience. We will go from a 4-story townhouse to a one-bedroom apartment. This means I need to get rid of most things we own. So my last few weeks have been filled with writing and dealing with Craigslist posts, making donation piles, etc. On top of that, I also have my job and all its end-of-year activities! I love my job and it is honestly what’s keeping me (mostly) sane through all of this.

So where do I start? I guess I should show you what my meals have looked like lately. To be honest, most meals have involved throwing vegetables and some protein in a large pan and throwing the whole thing on pasta. Often my favorite kind of meal and also the easiest. My goal lately has been to use up what we have in the pantry (hence the large quantity of pasta dishes) and in the freezer (sweet peas, shrimp…), while mixing it up with fresh ingredients as well. Here are some examples:

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Shrimp, broccoli, mushroom, onions and tomatoes. Served on fresh Mona Lisa Pasta (a local Italian restaurant) egg linguini. My first time buying really fresh pasta and it will be difficult to go back to anything else from now on.

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Simple but tasty: Bell peppers, white mushrooms, onions and Aidells Portobello & Swiss Chicken sausage.

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One of my favorite ideas so far: Sweet peas and mushrooms, added to a simple Béchamel (white sauce) with Parmesan and prosciutto. Served on angel hair pasta.

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One of my many “what’s left in the fridge” dinners: Asparagus, kale, bell peppers, cauliflower and onions. Served on Soba noodles

As I know that we will soon leave Charlottesville, the town where I have spend the past 8 years, I feel the need to say goodbye to some of my favorite restaurants. For some, it is all about their food, for others, it is about the many memories related to the place. I keep talking about listing them but the official list does not yet exist. I might regret this once I run out of time. But here are a couple of places I visited one last time before the move:

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South Street Brewery: This is where I met most of my American friends when I was an Au Pair. Many friendships grew during our weekly meetings and, come to think of it, I might not have met Jeff if it wasn’t for that (I met Jeff through friends I met there). That is also where I celebrated my 21st birthday!

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Zazu’s Curry Chicken Wrap: One of the first things “out of the ordinary” I ordered when I moved to Charlottesville. Although I have tried many other flavors since, I wanted to end with the original. And it was just as good as I remembered.

Well, I guess you’re a little bit more up-to-date now. Time for me to go make my “before I leave” restaurant list. :)

TCP: Russian Snack for the Winter Olympics

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Whenever I choose a recipe for our cooking projects, I like to link it to our theme. The Winter Olympics were tricky at first. My first thought was “healthy athlete food”, followed by Russian food. Unfortunately, most traditional Russian recipes I found were either not very healthy (or I should say, too heavy) or not easily made/cooked in a classroom with limited time and equipment. I finally came across a Russian carrot salad (apparently also very popular in the South).

The project was very simple: the children mixed the dressing ingredients and we then added it to the carrot and raisin mixture. Nothing too complicated. And, of course, a lot of tasting was involved. Because we couldn’t add carrots and raisins without making sure we liked them! :)

Russian Carrot-Raisin Salad:

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups of shredded carrots
  • 1 cup of raisins
  • 1/4 cup of plain Greek yogurt
  • 3 tablespoons of milk
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar

What’s Next?

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, milk and sugar.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the carrots and raisins. Add the yogurt mixture and mix well.
  3. Refrigerate for 30-60 minutes before serving.

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This week was more about the experience: we told the children we were traveling to Russia to make our snack. We showed them on a map where America was and how far our plane would go to get to the Olympic village. As we had practiced our Olympic sports all week (during circle time, we pretended to ice-skate, ski, play hockey, etc), we told them we were finally ready to participate in the Olympics, but like any great athletes, we needed to eat well to be ready to compete! Our toddlers, who recently started responding much more to pretend play, really seemed to enjoy the full experience. Most of them went through a full plate of carrot salad! It was definitely nice to have them enjoy such a common vegetable in a different form.IMG_7937 - Version 2

TCP: Strawberry Chocolate Muffins

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I apologize for being so behind on posting our toddler cooking projects! With snow days and hubby travels, I lost track of a lot of things. This week’s recipe is actually what we made the week before Valentine’s day. Since we alternate cooking days between Thursdays and Fridays each week, I wanted this group to make a special Valentine snack as well, even though we were a week early. It turned out to be a good thing because Valentine’s Day was a snow day so we didn’t get a chance to make anything else anyway.

We had chocolate chips left from the holidays (thanks to a generous mom from our group!) so I figured it would be a great time to use them. I found a healthier strawberry-chocolate muffin recipe to try to off-set the fact that we would use chocolate chips.

With each recipe, I try to find a few special tasks for the children. Sometimes, it may be to crack eggs or chop something. For this muffin recipe, I gave each child a plastic knife and a strawberry and asked them to chop it. I told them we would add them to the muffin mixture. It started out great! We were so impressed to see how focus they all worked, trying so hard to dice their strawberries. Unfortunately for the baking, most of them couldn’t resist and ate their strawberries as soon as they were done chopping them. Out of twelve toddlers, only two waited and gave us their chopped strawberries. Thankfully, we had extra and, as soon as we noticed their habit, we quickly chopped extra ones for the recipe.

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Using one of our child-safe knives, a generous donation from a class parent.

Another interesting aspect of making a healthier muffin recipe was using applesauce instead of butter. We had extra individual serving sizes of applesauce from past snack time and the children really loved seeing their favorite snack thrown into the recipe. And surprisingly enough (not!), the children were very happy to sample the chocolate chips before adding them to the recipe!

The children happily devoured their muffins after circle time. Another successful cooking project in the toddler class. :)

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Needless to say, it was a love-filled week in the toddler class!