Where to Enjoy Maple Syrup in Ontario

It’s Maple Syrup Season! Like all good Canadians, I pour that stuff on everything: toast, coffee, marinades, shot glasses; or just squeeze that bottle straight down the gullet. I would argue that maple syrup is Canada’s national beverage, since we provide the world with 80 percent of its global supply. (70% of the world’s maple syrup comes from Quebec.)

Like me, maple trees store starch in their trunks. That starch converts to sugar. In late winter, early spring, the sugar rises in the sap. Holes are drilled into the trees to tap the sap. You can’t tap at night, because cold temperatures inhibit the flow. Watch what the great culinary legend, my mentor, Buddy, has to say about maple syrup:

Where to Buy Pure Local Maple Syrup and Enjoy Festivals and Sugar Shacks:

  • Where to Buy, Local Events, Recipes Across Ontario: ontariomaple.com/where-to-buy
  • Toronto Sugar Shack, March 9/10: sugarshackto.ca
  • St. Mary’s Maple Syrup Festival at McCully’s Hill Farm, Weekends in March: Learn how maple syrup is made! Take a horse drawn wagon ride through the sugar bush. Enjoy a delicious pancake breakfast. mccullys.ca/view.php?public/For_the_Kids/Maple_Syrup_Festival,_2019
  • Prince Edward County, “Maple in the County”, March 30/31: Celebrate the first harvest at participating sugar bushes. Enjoy pancake breakfasts, taffy on snow, S’mores, petting zoos, BBQ sausages, lumberjack show, artisan vendors, wineries and more. mapleinthecounty.ca
  • Maple Weekend, April 6/7, Local Sugar Houses: mapleweekend.ca
  • Huntsville, Muskoka Maple Festival, April 27:A full day of fun and activities, vendors and displays, live music, street performers and delicious food! Local restaurants, bakeries and cafés will be serving up unique maple inspired offerings. Discover pure maple syrup, maple beer, and unique maple inspired dishes from sweet to savoury. muskokamaple.ca/maple-festival

Next time you’re making a bowl of cereal for breakfast, slowly pour in some maple syrup while bobbing your head to this song:

Five Facts About Maple Syrup:

  1. It takes about 40 years for a maple tree to grow big enough to tap for maple sap
  2. It takes 50 litres of sap to make 1 litre of syrup
  3. Maple Syrup contains high amounts of manganese, riboflavin, magnesium and zinc, as well as 24 different anti-oxidants
  4. The colour of maple syrup darkens the later it is harvested. Golden maple syrup has a delicate taste. Amber coloured has a richer taste. Dark syrup is more robust. Very dark maple syrup has the strongest taste. Which one you choose has to do with personal preference and recipe.
  5. Ontario Maple syrup pairs beautifully with Ontario cheddar; Ontario whisky; mixed with soy sauce in a marinade; or as a healthier substitute to refined sugar.

Only in Canada…

One of the most expensive robberies in Canadian history was the Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist that occurred over several months between 2011 and 2012 in Saint-Louis-de-Blandford, Quebec. 10,000 barrels of maple syrup, equalling nearly 3,000 tons, and valued at $18.7 million were stolen. Seventeen men were busted in connection to the crime.

Living Well in La Belle Province

Lounging under the stars in the percolating effervescence of a huge, heated thermal pool, we are protected from the elements by walls of natural rocks and boulders at Spa Eastman. There is wind and frost in the air, and a few hardy snowflakes blow about in the rising steam. At the crest of the embankment, a massive bonfire warms us and sends woodsy fragrance our way. Magnificent. If only for this, it was worth the drive on the long and winding road that brought us here from Montreal.
Continue reading “Living Well in La Belle Province”

Winter Wonderland in Waterloo

Surviving winter is a calculation. Peel back the curtain, scratch the frost off the window, and peer out at the drab reality of two more months of this. The coffee percolates as I lean against the wall and press the remote engine starter to thaw my car. Contrast that with my buoyant son bouncing on his mini-trampoline and shooting Nerf arrows at my head. We’re four years old now, so winter means get out and play in the snow—right now.

“It’s 100km to Waterloo, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of fruit roll ups, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses.” (Cue The Blues Brothers.) Revving down the highway to meet the sun in bloom, shining back down on the snow on its rise, my son tells me he learned all about how to ski from watching Peppa Pig. Well, today we’re doing it for real.

Waterloo Region in Southern Ontario is a playground. First stop: Chicopee Tube Park. Warmly bundled up, we carry our tubes to the moving walkway up the hill. Did I say, “We?” I meant “I” carry mine while pulling my son’s along with him in it. Trepidation sets in at the top. We move straight to the edge. Reclined in our tubes, I grip onto his tube for dear life. Our attendant gently hurls us like a discus, and catapults us down the slope. Our screams float above as we barrel down a lane wide enough for us to spin. We eat snow as it flies up and slaps our faces. What a rush! Back for another round, there’s hardly any line up. My son has turned pro and is positioning himself for optimal speed in the middle lane. His cherubic face, like a connect-the-dots pad, is a wide smile between two rose coloured cheeks. “Again! Again!” He cheers. Fun and easy, we get our thrills without chills on this glorious winter morning.

Following lunch and a nap, we arrive at Chicopee Ski & Summer Resort. Everything is taken care of. It’s a smooth assembly line as we’re comfortably fitted into boots, helmets and skis. Although there are private and group lessons for all ages, I’m going to teach my son myself. This is something I’ve always dreamed about. And here we go!
For me, it’s an easy jaunt, easy to be safe and controlled. For him, we’ve just scaled Kilimanjaro. “Ooh, I’m a little scared.” He admits. I maneuver his skis into parallel position with mine on either side of him and, while crouched behind him and holding him in place, we start off down the mountain. With total trust in his daddy, he is screaming with exhilaration. “Can we do it again!” He pleads. Up and down, up and down, the joy in my son’s face and heart is matched only by the pain in my back. “Ok, your turn.” I tell him.

After the fear is gone, he can now try on his own. No poles required. We’re going to learn balance, and I’m right here with him. Waddling forward like a penguin, hopping like a bunny, I know my little Podborski will be a downhill demon in no time. This is wonderful. Skiing at Chicopee is so convenient, hassle free and gently priced. And, it’s such a fun place to learn, because all the elements are available in a neighbourly, familial atmosphere with young, friendly and attentive staff on hand to help us out and inspire fun and confidence in my son. That’s what it’s all about.

Chicopee Ski & Summer Resort, discoverchicopee.com

By the end of the day, he’s learned how to walk, how to turn, and how, like a slow moving bullet, to ski down hill. An incredible day that deserves a rich hot chocolate with marshmallows and whipped cream by the fire in the ski lodge. Cozy and warm, he falls asleep on my lap with a satisfied smile. Awesome father-son experience? Check! We’ll be revisiting Chicopee Ski & Summer Resort again, oh, probably tomorrow.

Chef Flynn Documentary Premieres in Toronto

Flynn McGarry began hosting his own supper club when he was 11 years old in his home, aided by his schoolmates. Fast forward. Now 19, he  has been a fascinating subject for the readers of the New York Times Magazine, Time and food blogs the world over. McGarry is the subject of Chef Flynn, the second feature doc from director Cameron Yates (The Canal Street Madam).

A Child Prodigy

We all love to film the rights of passage of our children: science experiments, soccer games, art projects until suddenly we realize that we documented hours and hours of our child’s life. But when mom, Meg McGarry, is a filmmaker and the hobby of her 5 year old hobby is cooking and creating small culinary masterpieces learned from TV cooking shows, the videos are a cut above. The child prodigy’s focus, tenacity and  amazingly sophisticated palate become clear. While filming him cooking in his bedroom and hosting dinner parties aided by a kitchen brigade of his classmates, what was she thinking? A passing phase? Mozart?

The Documentary

Enter Cameron Yates, a documentary film maker who sifted through this compendium of home movies and found a fascinating subject for his next film, Chef Flynn. Featuring over 18 years of personal archival footage as well as intimate vérité, this feature documentary portrait is not only the study of a rising star thrown into the media spotlight at an early age, but also a reflection of motherhood and what it means to give up one’s own identity in furtherance of a child’s passion.

Respected in NYC

At 15, accompanied by his mother, Flynn moved to New York to do stages in top restaurants – and yes, the seasoned chefs in the most important dining city in the world showed him respect.

As his expertise and imagination soars, so does his reputation, and his tasting dinners in family home in California became a “must try”, as guests came from far and wide. Newspapers, magazines  and bloggers wrote feature stories on this unusually talented young man. In the film, compiled of home movies and footage by Yates, we see the child grow up and the chef blossom. His focus is unwavering, and his personality does not become altered as his confidence in himself and his craft grows.

Of course, there are a few disappointments along the way, such is life, but by sheer talent and force of will, at age 19, his dreams have come to fruition.  Today he has his own restaurant, Gem, located in New York’s Lower East Side. Small, yes, but perfect. He serves a 12 to 15 course menu to two seatings of 12 guests Tuesday through Saturday.

Cameron Yates has captured this young man’s life in a brilliant and inspirational documentary film. Playing now. One-Week engagement begins January 25, at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema

Gulf Islands Adventure: Victoria

Only in Victoria, would there be a Feast Concierge. Karma Brophy leads us on a merry three hour tour of Oak Bay and its delightful gastronomy scene, one bite at a time. We taste delicious house-cured meats at Cory Pelan’s Whole Beast Artisan Salumeria and hear his philosophy of the local food security. What better to follow than a glass of Oak Bay’s British heritage at the Penny Farthing Pub and Vis-à-vis Wine Bar and listen to whimsical historical tales. Continue reading “Gulf Islands Adventure: Victoria”

Gulf Islands Adventure: Salt Spring Island

Driving into Salt Spring Island in the rain is like entering the pages of an old picture book. A rustic road leads to Hastings House Country House Hotel, in an 11th century Sussex style manor house overlooking the Ganges Harbour. We arrive in the misty rain at a small waterfront luxury country resort surrounded by fresh green foliage. We feel we have reached a lovely sanctuary. Continue reading “Gulf Islands Adventure: Salt Spring Island”

Gulf Islands Adventure: Tofino

From Tofino at Mile 1 of the Trans Canada Highway, to Saltspring Island and the manicured landscape of Victoria, it’s all “peace and love, man.” Continue reading “Gulf Islands Adventure: Tofino”

The Ballad of John and Yoko

In 1969, when John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged their infamous “Bed-In for Peace” at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, the staff refused to touch their clothes for dry-cleaning and shoes for polishing. Hippies! A houseman had to vacuum three to four times a day because John constantly threw flower petals into the air. Matters were not helped when they requested a cage for their white mouse. Continue reading “The Ballad of John and Yoko”

Ottawa: Capital Cool

Lazily drifting along a slow moving river with Owl Rafting as the sun sparkles off the ripples in our wake, we hear the distant rush of falls closer and closer until voom! We’ve got speed, and are paddling hard as we’re sucked down into the vortex of swelling rapids that flood and buckle our boat with exhilarating metre-high waves.

With only moments to catch our breath we, again, pick up velocity and are drenched within the natural spin cycle of the Ottawa River run. And this was the start of a family trip to our nation’s capital.
Continue reading “Ottawa: Capital Cool”

Savouring Outaouais

In the Outaouais region, we come upon the world’s grandest, most dramatic log cabin, standing like a beacon of hospitality in the rolling countryside. Fairmont Le Château Montebello, more than 80 years old, still invites us to enjoy a hot drink in front of a huge circular fireplace in the family-friendly grand room. If these walls could talk, they might tell us about the G7 meeting in 1981, the NATO meeting in 1984, The North American Leader’s Summit in 2006, as well as the countless guests who have enjoyed weekends of boating, golfing and snowshoeing. “We love to eat, we love wine,” says Alsatian Executive Chef Serge Jost, who presides over the care and feeding of guests. Herbs from the garden, fish from nearby lakes and local meats meet his challenging standards. The kitchen is all windows and the view often catches his attention. “What are you doing?” someone will ask, and he will answer, “I am looking at the sunset.” Capturing the moments at Montebello. Continue reading “Savouring Outaouais”