Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cooking in the Laurentians


We have a house in Quebec. In the Laurentians. The long and short of it is, we fell in love one crispy clear day in winter wonderland. With the house, the village, the region. There is nothing logical about it. Simply a "yes" feeling that is lasting still (which is a good thing, considering the investment). The region keeps luring us back. It's natural splendor is vast and truly spectacular. Nearly three times the size of France, yet with a population of less than 6 per square kilometer (we still get stuck in traffic though). The Laurentians' clear lakes, white rivers, biking and hiking trails, golf courses, and (in winter) ski runs, cross country tracks, snow shoe trails, and dog sledge tracks, are an outdoors paradise. What sold it for me, however, is its manifest French gourmet connection. Gourmet products flown in from France are readily available, and then there is the Quebecois local products and gourmet approach to food.

In the summer at local markets, farmers from wide and beyond sell their wild berries, aromatic herbs, heirloom tomatoes, pure honey, maple syrup in so many forms and varieties, artisan cheeses, rustic breads, organic fruits and vegetables, hand-picked wild mushrooms. And meats, raised on the grasses and greens in the wilder parts of Quebec. Free-range or even wild. Beef, lamb, pork, all varieties of game, duck. And best of all: you can also buy it as sausages, confit, rillons, terrines, burgers. In the winter we indulge in the products of the Gibiers Canabec: venison, bison, wapiti (a large deer). The winter also is the time for oysters from Prince Edward Island. And I know that is not Quebec. But I enjoyed them in Quebec; Malpeques, Raspberry Points, North Points. We buy them by the box-full, and shuck and slurp them by the fire.

I am aware that my gastronomic reverie is a personal one. That the food picture painted can easily translate to so many other places in the world. I also see how I am salivating over wild boar in Quebec, whereas I was never tempted to approach the pickup truck at the market in Miri (Borneo, where I lived before moving to Dubai) for a hairy piece of fresh local wild boar. Fresh as in hunted only hours before. Wild boar is wild boar... not!

I love to cook. I love it even better when "home" in Tremblant. Maybe it is because I get to cook with a spectacular view of the mountains. Definitely because of the delicious quality of the products I find to work with. But mostly because I don't even have to try that hard. Last summer - at the suggestion of a local friend - I froze some of the fresh wild blueberries. When we returned in winter, they made for a fabulous blueberry sauce for my venison loin, topped with a little seared foie gras and brussels sprouts tossed with crispy wild boar bacon. So easy to cook... with the right ingredients!

I cannot wait for the summer. I look forward already, and now you know why. In the meantime, I will just have to content myself with the Dubai food scene... I know, how hard is that!?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

"French Women Don't Get Fat"

When I was a child, one of my mother's favorite mantras was that in China girls chewed their food about a hundred times before they swallowed it. Or maybe it was Japanese princesses. The point is, my mother did not appreciate us wolfing down our food. It may not have been a hundred times chewing, but I was a slow eater until well into my twenties. Until my life "sped up" and my meals during the day more often than not were "on the fly". Coffee and croissant walking to work or in the train, lunch a quick sandwich in between meetings (or worse: picking from a plastic container while staring at a computer screen), filling the hunger gaps with snacks, to end the day with a heavy meal too late in the evening to digest properly before sleeping.

I never saw the danger coming. Why worry about your eating habits when you're looking good, healthy and slim? Not aware of it at the time, but it would irreversibly change my physique. Eating faster, irregular meals, late dinners, and way too many snacks. And most of all, eating more, lots more. I was expanding my stomach. At the same time, as money allowed it I entered the ever-tempting world of gourmet food. Without self-restraint, the combination proved lethal. Long before it became clear to me, I had embarked on a fattening journey that would take me sizes I never thought I'd wear.

"French Women Don't Get Fat" by Mireille Guiliano inspired me to look back on how my eating habits changed. Pin-pointing where and how they changed, and started to affect my waistline. Realizing all these things I knew already, yet did not register doing. This is not a new book. In fact, it was first published over five years ago. I just happened upon it recently. Maybe the time was right for me.

Mireille Guiliano's well-written book is not a doctrine diet. It is not full of "cannot eats". On the contrary, she stresses the importance of enjoying your food. She encourages you to look at your eating habits, and where and how these could change to get you on a better eating track. No restrictive diet where you have to remember which day you can eat what, or what you cannot eat at all. It is probably why the book appealed to me. Any restrictive diet would just make me miserable. I do not want to be ordering a lasagna "without the pasta and the bechamel". Instead, the book is all about eating good quality food, but with moderation. In a nutshell, of course.

I don't think I will ever chew a hundred times before I swallow. I am however taking longer to eat less. And I am adopting other suggestions from the book. Such as 2 daily portions of yogurt. Do I really think this will bring me down a size or two over time? (Mireille also stresses not to expect too much within the first three months: this is after all a sustainable, long term change rather than a diet). We'll see in about six months.