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Searching for Authentic Poutine in Montreal

Searching for authentic poutine in Montreal

Last Thursday, as my friends and I chatted excitedly about our girls’ weekend in Montreal, our discussion turned to food, specifically what and where we were looking forward to dining. On Judy’s list was a recommendation from a work colleague that she should not miss poutine.

Poutine, pronounced put-in, a local favorite, was created in rural Quebec in the 1950s. Once only available in the province, it has made its way across Canada and to as far away as the UK.

I doubt I’d had poutine and when Judy explained that it was fries covered with cubed cheese curds and gravy, I knew for sure that I hadn’t – I would have remembered cheese curd. We had our first opportunity to try poutine at lunch on Friday.

As the waiter approached, Judy’s eyes locked on and followed the dish until he placed it on the table. Right away, her face changed from excited anticipation to disappointment. This poutine didn’t have the cheese curds her colleague had mentioned.

“This isn’t authentic,” she grumbled but she didn’t let that stop her. She dug in immediately and pronounced her first taste “good.”

“Have some,” she urged. I looked on skeptically. I would have preferred fries with gravy, which I used to love when I was at university, or even plain fries, but fries with cheese curd just didn’t appeal to me.

I searched the plate for a few fries that hadn’t been touched by either cheese or gravy. They were fine. But even though this poutine didn’t have cheese curds, I wondered whether I had let my dislike for them keep me from enjoying a good dish.

Poutine
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Ingredients
  1. 4 lb. russet potatoes, skin-on, washed and dried
  2. 4 tbsp. unsalted butter
  3. ¼ cup flour
  4. 1 shallot, minced
  5. 1 clove garlic, minced
  6. 4 cups beef stock
  7. 2 tbsp. ketchup
  8. 1 tbsp. cider vinegar
  9. 1 tbsp. whole green peppercorns
  10. ½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  11. Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  12. Canola oil, for frying
  13. 2 cups cheddar cheese curds
Instructions
  1. Cut potatoes into lengths of about ¼" x ¼" x 4". Place in a large bowl, cover with cold water, and refrigerate for about 2 hours.
  2. Meanwhile, heat butter in a 2-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Add flour, and cook, stirring, until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add shallot and garlic, and cook, until soft, about 2 minutes. Add stock, ketchup, vinegar, peppercorns, Worcestershire, and salt and pepper, and bring to a boil; cook, stirring, until thickened, about 6 minutes. Remove from heat, and keep gravy warm.
  3. Pour oil to a depth of 3" in a 6-qt. Dutch oven, and heat over medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer reads 325°. Drain potatoes, and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Working in small batches, add potatoes and fry, tossing occasionally, until tender and slightly crisp, about 4 minutes.
  4. Drain on paper towels, and let cool for 20 minutes. Increase temperature to medium-high, and heat oil until it reads 375°. Working in small batches, return potatoes to oil, and fry, tossing occasionally, until crisp and golden brown, about 2 minutes. Transfer fries to paper towels to drain briefly, and then divide among serving bowls. Pour gravy over each serving of fries, and top with cheese curds; serve immediately.
InsideJourneys http://insidejourneys.com/
We spent the next day looking for poutine and each time we saw it on a menu, Judy would ask if it had cheese curds. She refused to have it without the curd. It’s not authentic, she’d say. She agreed finally, that poutine with melted cheese could probably be just as good as that with cheese curd but we had no basis for comparison. She also decided that next time someone recommended a local favorite, that she’d ask where to find it.

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Costa Rica, Pura Vida

Postcards from Costa Rica

The one thing everyone says about Costa Rica is how lush it is. And despite having near drought conditions (it was the rainy season but there was little rain and we heard of water lock-offs), much of the landscape in the northwest still looked green.

Postcards from Costa Rica

Costa Rica from Above

Postcards from Costa Rica

Costa Rica from above

Postcards from Costa Rica

Costa Rica from above

I had traveled to Playa Potrero, Costa Rica in Central America to celebrate a milestone birthday of one of my close friends. It was a welcome break for me. I didn’t bring my laptop – the first time I’d traveled without it in more than 5 years – so I could disconnect totally from the everyday details that filled up the spaces in my life and reconnect with longtime friends.

We played trivia games, read, walked the beach, slept, ate, drank copious amounts of wine and one day the women in the group – all five of us – headed to the nearby town of Tamarindo for a day at Coco Beauty Spa, and lunch. (I chose Coco’s natural volcanic mud wrap – Costa Rica has more than 100 active volcanoes – and relaxed for almost an hour in warm mud. Everyone said I looked relaxed and glowing after. )

Zip lining Costa Rica

Post Cards from Costa Rica

Ready to go zip lining

Did you go zip lining?

It’s the one question everyone’s asked since I returned. I nod as I smile. Seems zip lining is the thing to do in Costa Rica so I was glad to have my début there. Joan, one of the other ladies in our group, and I were the only ones who decided to leave the comfort of the villa for some outside activity.

The Congo Trail Canopy Tour with a total of eleven lines and two hanging bridges caught our attention. The longest line was about 900 feet, the shortest about 400 feet. While it was fun flying through the air, I would have preferred to see the beautiful trees up close.

To avoid losing our cameras, we left them at the company’s office. They took one photo of each of us as we approached the second line (I have proof that I actually zip lined!).

Postcards from Costa Rica

Capucin monkey

As we waited for our guide, we watched several capucin monkeys as they swung from tree to tree. They moved quickly but this one came close enough as if he wanted to see who we were and what we were doing. Isn’t that the cutest face you’ve seen?

Postcards from Costa Rica

“We take care of our natural resources.”

Signs like these remind us how zealously Costa Ricans guard their natural treasures. We were warned not to take anything, not even shells from the beach, when we were leaving the country. 

The dark brown sand, soft and compact under our feet and the warm, inviting waters of the Atlantic called to us from just beyond the gate of the villa. My friend said he saw whales in the distance. I kept an eye out, hoping I’d see one but didn’t.  Most afternoons, we’d stroll the length of the beach, oblivious to the broiling rays of the sun.

Postcards from Costa Rica

Playa Potrero

Each evening, we gathered on the back patio, cameras in hand, and waited for the sun to paint the sky with dazzling purples, oranges, blues and yellows.

Postcards from Costa Rica

Sunset, Playa Potrero

Postcards from Costa Rica

Golden sunset, Playa Potrero

Postcards from Costa Rica

Sunset near Playa Potrero

All too soon, our week of pura vida (real living) came to an end and it was back to long days, busy schedules and long commutes. Every so often, I’ll pull out my phone, look at my photos and smile. Pura vida!

Linking up this week with Travel Photo Thursday, that Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox organizes.

Seafood Dishes From the Road

Three Meals from the Road

Like a lot of people, I look forward to the foods of the cities I travel to as much as the sights and activities. I am passionate about food and because of that, there are places I’d return to just so I can satisfy my craving for the food.

On the other hand, there are some places I doubt I’ll visit because I have no interest in the food.

During my recent trip to Costa Rica, I tasted foods similar to what I’d have in Jamaica – but with a twist. One morning, for example, I chose gallo pinto, the desayuno típico of Costa Rica. Gallo pinto is rice and beans, fried plantains and scrambled eggs. I swapped the scrambled eggs for sausages and left out the cheese. I was almost finished eating when I remembered that I hadn’t taken a photo.

In Jamaica, we usually leave rice and beans for dinner. About 10 years ago, it was reserved for Sundays and special occasions like Easter and Christmas.

Since we were staying near the coast, we had fish or seafood almost every day. One evening for dinner at a restaurant, I had grilled snapper accompanied by risotto.

Three Meals from the Road

Avocado & Shrimp Salad

Three Meals from the Road

Grilled Snapper with Risotto

Near the end of my week-long visit, I took a day trip to Granada, Nicaragua where lunch was sea bass with rice and salad. I can still remember the sharp taste of the lime on the fish.

Three Meals from the Road

Rice and Sea Bass

Have a foodie post you’d like to share? Join the #FoodieTuesday linkup and add it here  -

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Ghost Hunting at Rose Hall Great House

Ghost Hunting at Rose Hall Great House

One slow Friday evening in 2012, I decided to make the 15-minute drive to Rose Hall Great House for their night tour. I was excited.

Years earlier, I’d done the day tour of this great house that’s reputed to be haunted by the ghost of one of its former owners but I had no idea what to expect on the night tour. Would I see a ghost (or duppy) as we call them here in Jamaica?

My pulse quickened as we pulled through the security gate and I saw the great house sprouting out of the hill. I hurried to the ticket window but was crushed when the attendant said they were closed for a wedding reception.

Who’d want to celebrate a joyous beginning in a place rumored to be, and advertised, as haunted? I asked myself as I walked away, aching with disappointment. I didn’t realize until then how much I had been looking forward to the tour.

Disappointment still fresh in my mind, this time I called before heading out. Good thing too because I found out that I could get a $4 discount off the regular US$20 admission price by booking online.

As my friend and I passed through Rose Hall’s manned gate – day or night, it’s quite an impressive view – I stopped and took this photo of the imposing great house whose blacked out windows and muted lights give it a spooky air.

Ghost Hunting at Rose Hall

Entrance to Rose Hall Great House

But I was skeptical. Can this old house, with its claim to a violent past, release some of its restless spirits on command? How does a property satisfy visitors who’re looking to be scared witless?

Our group, about seven, met our tour guide at Annie’s Treasures, the gift shop on the property and started the short walk along a torch-lit path to the back of the house. Except for a few lights here and there, the grounds are pitch black.

As we got closer, someone screamed.

“A woman! A wo-wo-woman in the window!”

I looked in the direction she pointed but didn’t see anything. Could it have been Annie? We weren’t sure.

Ghost Hunting at Rose Hall Great House

Approaching Rose Hall

In advertising and marketing, it’s the hook – that story or idea that draws one in or sets one product apart from the rest. In the case of Rose Hall Great House, the story of Annie Palmer, the so-called White Witch of Rose Hall, has become so entwined with the facts, so wildly successful, it’s getting to be difficult to separate fact from fiction.

One story is that Annie Patterson, an English woman, came to Jamaica at 18 in search of a husband. Following the death from yellow fever of her parents in Haiti, Annie’s nanny, a voodoo priestess cared for the girl and taught her the tricks of her trade. By the time of her arrival on the island, she was a voodoo expert.

In another story, Annie was French. (The family being French probably quieted those who wondered what a British family was doing living in Haiti, a French-speaking country.)

Ghost Hunting at Rose Hall

at Rose Hall

Whatever. This much is indisputable: Annie married John Rose Palmer, grandnephew and heir to John Palmer’s 6,500-acre estate and 2,000 slaves.

The estate, which had passed from John Palmer’s wife, Rosa, included Rose Hall Great House, a Georgian mansion, which was built in 1750 by Rosa’s second husband, George Ash. A calendar house, it originally had 365 windows, 52 doors and 12 bedrooms.

Entering Rose Hall’s Dungeon

We entered the house from the dungeon, or Annee’s Pub (that isn’t a typo), and Rose Hall’s photographer asked each of us to pose for a photo on the back steps of the great house. (There were “No Photography” signs posted all around the property. I don’t remember them being there when I took the day tour years ago.) We could buy the photo, if we liked, for $10 at the end of the tour.

Ghost Hunting at Rose Hall

The entrance to the Pub

Fortified sufficiently by Witches Brew, a rum and fruit juice concoction I bought in the Pub, our tour guide began describing Annie’s 11-year reign of terror at Rose Hall. According to our guide, whose name I have totally forgotten, Annie would banish disobedient slaves to be tortured and murdered in the dungeon.

Hearing that, I expected to see a few vengeful spirits – but none appeared. Disappointed, we moved from the dungeon, and as we did, I noticed a figure dressed in white. It was a slave woman – or a contemporary woman dressed like a slave – her bonneted head lowered, she whistled as her bare feet shuffled against the wooden floor.

Our guide explained that slaves were required to whistle as they served so they couldn’t eat or spit into the master’s food.

Ghost Hunting at Rose Hall

Annee’s

At one point, as she showed us a passage now blocked off, that led to the sea – it’s how they believe Takoo, the slave who ended Annie’s life, entered Rose Hall – a male slave bolted out, slamming the door loudly behind him. It was so absolutely unexpected I almost jumped out of my skin.

If the stories of Annie’s brutality are to be believed, it begs the question: what would motivate a young woman to perpetrate such unspeakable acts of cruelty? Even given the times when savagery on slave plantations was an everyday occurrence, the story of Annie’s acts are shocking and revolting.

According to the legend, Annie was a firm and sadistic owner who killed John Rose Palmer, her first husband after he beat her with his riding whip. Palmer had discovered her dalliance with one of his slaves. The unfortunate man didn’t see the light of the following day. Annie supposedly killed him with a potion.

She went on to marry and dispatch two more husbands – no names mentioned and no reasons given — in different rooms at Rose Hall. A similar fate befell several slave lovers, who it is said she grew tired of quickly, as well as slaves who didn’t bend to her will. According to our guide, she would order the slaves to dispose of her kills only to murder them herself.

Ghost Hunting at Rose Hall

Inside the Pub

The slaves were so fearful of Annie’s power, they named her the White Witch. One, however, was immune to her. As the story goes, sometime in 1831, Takoo, her lover, found his way into the house under the cover of darkness and strangled Annie in retaliation for the killing of his beloved granddaughter. Takoo was himself killed by an overseer, who was another of Annie’s lovers.

Still fearful of the White Witch even after her death, the slaves burned her possessions, including her photos and buried her in the deepest hole they could dig.

I’ve always heard there were no photos of Annie but during the night tour we were shown a group portrait that included a woman our guide said could be the White Witch. (I did the day tour so long ago, I can’t remember if they showed us this particular photo of Annie – or the woman they believe could be her – or is that another story made up to feed the legend?).

Annie, she explained, was known to dress in red, the same color one of the women was wearing. We were told to walk pass the portrait and watch as the woman in the photo seem to follow us with her eyes.

We saw other ‘apparitions’ – a woman dressed in red sitting casually in an armchair in one of the bedrooms, and a slave man in the dining room – but they weren’t nearly as unnerving as the canned sounds or, I’m sure, a real ghost, or duppy, would have been.

Life at Rose Hall After the Palmers 

After the Palmers, Rose Hall Great House passed to three different owners. One, the Hendersons, were so terrified when their maid fell from Annie’s balcony and broke her neck that they abandoned the house and relocated to Kingston.

Rose Hall was empty for years and was falling apart when John and Michelle Rollins, from Delaware, purchased it in 1965. They spent $2.5 million restoring it with silk wallpaper, chandeliers, mahogany paneling and floors, as well as European antiques.

Rose Hall estate is a mix of properties, which includes three championship golf courses, residential and commercial real estate, and another great house, Cinnamon Hill, which Johnny Cash owned.

Ghost Hunting at Rose Hall Great House

Tomb said to be Annie’s, Rose Hall

Annie Palmer has been immortalized in H.G. Wells’ The White Witch of Rose Hall, which was published in 1928. Some say that it’s the story of this fictional Annie Palmer that has wrapped Rose Hall in intrigue.

As we walked the ink black night towards Annie’s grave, we heard the unmistakable sounds of chains. In Jamaican folklore, a particular duppy called a rolling calf wears a chain around its body and makes a clanging sound when it walks. I didn’t believe it was a rolling calf but I really didn’t want to find out.

Do you believe the Annie Palmer story is true?

Would you visit a place that’s haunted?