Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Butterfly Dreams

The province of Monteregie is nicknamed the "Garden of Quebec" for a very obvious reason.  The area is filled with lovely pastoral landscapes of vineyards, orchards and artisan farms. But an unexpected bit of bucolic wonder was the butterfly aviary tucked inside of Ferme Guyon farm and horticulture center.

A hundred species of butterflies float around in the specially created ecosystem and I tried to spot as many as I could. It was tricky, they fly away quickly and their wings blend in with plant leaves.

After a few tries, I discovered that it's best to sit still and let them fly near you.

Before I knew it, a toffee-colored butterfly was relaxing on my purse.

And then another came to rest on my bright blue pants leg. As visitors bustled around  furiously snapping pix, I grabbed the best images of all just by being still. I think there's a lesson in that somewhere...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Expanding Experiences With The Passport Party Project

Volunteering and giving back has always been an important part of my life. I've participated in several travel blogger charity events but I don't think I've experienced so much glee to give back as I did at The Passport Party Project.  The event is a global awareness initiative that gifts 10 passports to undeserved girls in 10 cities across the U.S. Travel blogger Tracey Friley of One Brown Girl gathers travel bloggers in every city to volunteer and guide girls into the expansive world of traveling.  So it was a given that when the event landed in my city of Chicago, I was totally there.

The party kicks off in the morning and we lined a table with supplies to create personal travel vision boards.

Of course, no party is complete in my book unless there is quality sugar involved.  These cupcakes represent a range of flavors and nations.

We provided encouragement for the girls with tales of our travels, a show & tell session and lots of silly  travel photo ops like the above pic.

This is my travel vision board, with a beautiful image of the Taj Mahal and India as the focus.

Jazmin won the travel vision board contest with a panorama of images showing South America, Europe and Asia. She won a bright yellow suitcase to start her travels in style.

The girls did an impressive job of designing exciting travel vision boards that displayed their destination dreams. It was so inspiring to watch them realize that the whole world is a possibility for them. Expedia sponsors the event and each girl was supplied with a passport photo, a passport form and a check to apply for their passport. I felt that I was given so much by just being around all of  the enthusiasm and hope for travel. Traveling broadens perspectives and exposes you to so many rich experiences. I was honored to be a part of the Passport Party Project. Helping to influence girls to open up their world views is a powerful task. We ended the party with an essential element for any global event- a conga line.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Monteregie Culture In A Bottle

Canada is famous for its sweet and smooth ice wine but in Monteregie, I discovered that there is also ice cider. And not the kind that is basically apple juice. Rolling up into La Face Cachee de la Pomme (The hidden side of the apple) cidrerie, I was greeted by apple orchards covered with rosy apples. Some varieties, like Fuji and Gala, stay on the trees until January, so that the cold and wind whip the insides into a concentrated taste. The frozen apples are picked when it's about 15 degrees below zero and the insides have been dehydrated and all that's left is nectar.

Aged ice cider is stored in these barrels, La Face Cachee is a pioneer in ice cider and produces 10 different varieties.

The founding president of La Face Cachee, Francois Pouliot, ditched his film video career where he worked with musicians like Celine Dion, to develop ground-breaking ice ciders. The ciders or apple ice wines as they are sometimes called, range from 8% -18% alcohol levels and must meet strict standards to qualify as ice ciders.

Inside the tasting room, this illustration shows the different flavors such as cheese, pear, apricot and cinnamon, that apple pairs well with

According to Francois, the best pairing for ice cider is firm cheese. We tasted a dizzying range of ice ciders and the sweet notes do offset firm cheese very well, particularly goat cheese and firm cheddar. La Face Cachee ciders have been featured everywhere from El Bulli to presidential receptions, they even makes an appearance in that quirky Quebec green sangria. Neige Premiere is the most popular and award-winning, created from a  sweetly acidic blend of Macintosh and Spartan apples. This was my favorite as well, it tasted like a lighter version of apple brandy.

When I asked him to explain the significance of ice ciders, Francois summed it up with this: "It's the best of our culture in a bottle."

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Quebecois Taste of Spain & England

Noted for its free-spirited blend of cultures, Canada is a country that I always enjoy visiting for that very reason. But I have to admit my surprise when I rolled into the village of Hemingford in the rural region of Monteregie, Quebec, to discover that a British pub was the most popular dining spot. Quebec is so very French that I didn't expect such an Anglophile outpost. Equipped with stocks of ale (listed in French of course) and legendary fish and chips, I thought Witsend  Resto Pub was a quaint anomaly in a haven of French culture.

Then I spotted this sign, above. I'm a big fan of sangria but never in all of my travels, have I ever heard of green sangria. The waitress shot me an incredulous look. Apparently, green sangria is the thing in Quebec and I was missing out.

What makes the sangria so quintessentially Quebecois is the little fact that it's made from apple ice wince harvested at an orchard just a few miles away. The taste was smooth and fruity with a little more kick than regular sangria.

Sipping the green sangria with the most perfect plate of fish and chips I've tasted outside of London, I chuckled at the quirky scenario. Spanish sangria and British fish and chips wasn't what I expected in  Francophone Quebec but  I really enjoyed the mix of culinary cultures. Have you ever discovered unexpected cultural mixes during your travels?