Winter realities in Montreal, Canada

This has been a pretty hard week for me.

You see, I’ve spent the last two or three years getting more acquainted with the environment and sustainable food sources, but I never really felt accountable to anyone but myself — and I was a pretty forgiving person, to myself at least. I tried to do the right thing, but if I strayed, who knew?

Since my first post on this site, I’ve been feeling even more accountable for the things I eat. This is not only because I’m writing about it for all eyes to see, but also because everything I buy or eat (and even things I see other people buy and eat) is making me think about the effects these things are having on me, the people around me, the farmers who grow it, and even the greedy corporation owners and directors who have no regard for anything but their own financial gain.

With these things weighing on my mind, and with a little nudge from an Ethicurean reader, I have contacted my CSA. For the last three years I have only participated in the summers, but I have asked if there is enough produce for me to take advantage of the remainder of the winter baskets. Until I get my answer (please say yes please say yes) I will have to do what I can…so…

m_carrotsbeets.jpgYesterday, my Very Special Ladyfriend and I donned our long johns (do Californians even know what long johns are?) and walked — in minus-20-degree weather — to the Jean-Talon Market. We got eggs, cheese, carrots, beets, tomatoes, and a few other odds and ends.

As for the eggs, they were from my regular egg vendor. I wanted to ask him some questions, but I chickened out. Maybe next time …

My Very Special Ladyfriend loves her cheeses hard and sharp. Her current favorite is a three-year-old Comte, which tastes fantastic but comes from France. I know that the Quebec cheese scene is improving each year, and since most Quebecois are originally from France, they must have figured out how to make some decent cheeses by now. With this train of thought freshly imprinted in my soul, I suggested to my Very Special Ladyfriend that we start buying Quebec cheeses. With the thought of sampling a new world of cheeses, my Lady happily complied.

m_valbert.jpgThe young Hamel cheesemonger serving us suggested a Quebec raw-milk cheese called Valbert Vieux. Produced by the Lehman family in Hebertville, Quebec, this is a firm, washed-rind cheese inspired by Swiss Jura, and is aged for six months. It has apparently won all sorts of awards in the last four years, so we decided to give it a try. The sample we tried in the store was pretty good, but we won’t have any hard evidence until we experience this cheese in our natural habitat — which would be sitting comfortably in our dining room sipping wine and listening to music. More to come on Quebec cheese as we sample the gamut over the following weeks

I normally enjoy broccoli, asparagus, green beans, tomatoes, and my other favorite vegetables all year round. No more. To be honest, even if I weren’t trying to eat locally, the produce from California looks pretty bad right now, so I would have probably have passed on it and stuck to canned vegetables. This trip we only looked at local produce and walked away with some lovely local carrots and beets that were probably harvested several weeks ago (I’d say October) but store rather well.

m_tomatoes.jpgI really miss tomatoes, and had pretty much given up on eating tomatoes in the winter several years ago. In the summer I grow several varieties of tomatoes on my balcony and in my community garden plot, and the taste and freshness cannot be beat. It had nothing to do with the environment — I just didn’t want to eat tomatoes that tasted like soggy cardboard. I noticed that there were tomatoes from Ontario — not too far away — that were grown in greenhouses, so I got three of them.

m_purplesmoothie.jpgThey are perfectly round and ripe but firm, which both impressed and frightened me at the same time. I will have to do some research into greenhouse tomatoes and more specifically the origins of these particular tomatoes to see what I’m actually eating, and who’s actually getting my hard-earned money. Should I buy organic tomatoes from Mexico or California or do I eat greenhouse tomatoes from Ontario? Or should I just stick to canned tomatoes in the winter? I hope to have some answers soon…

m_beepollensmoothie1.jpgFOLLOW-UP: As a note on last week’s trip to the market, we made smoothies with some of our bounty. These were made with leftover fruit-salad, organic Quebec yogurt, organic soymilk, bee pollen from the market, flax seed and some fresh mint leaves. It was good but a little funky, so we’ll have to work on our bee pollen proportions. The next day we had smoothies made with organic blueberries that we picked in August and froze. Delicious.

7 Responsesto “Winter realities in Montreal, Canada”

  1. Butter Bitch says:

    Welcome Nosher! I really enjoyed your post, and look forward to what you find out with the tomatoes--we're currently able to get greenhouse lettuce here in Seattle, and it seems like it would be better than non-greenhouse lettuce that's shipped in from California, but it would be nice to be sure.

  2. Corn Maven says:

    Hey Nosher,

    Well, I know what long johns are, and I live in California... now. Of course, I wore them often growing up -- when ice skating on Iowan ponds or snowmobiling with the neighborhood farm kids -- and then again when I went cross-country skiing when I lived in Minnesota in my 20s.

    However, I wore them often INDOORS during my first winter here in California. I learned pretty quickly that some houses are not adequately insulated here. The first house I lived in had leaks with cold air coming in and, I assume, with warm air going out.

  3. Libertate says:

    I wish I had a market nearby. It is amazing that although I live in a US state which is 75% agricultural (despite what everyone else trying to change it to), I yet to see an open air market. We have none. I have to drive to an other state to get anything... Of course, we do have some serious polution, and a couple of nuclear plants, so tomatoes grown here are ... not so good. We don't drink the water, or in general, eat anything grown here. Everything has to be shipped in :(. Might as well live on a deserted island.

  4. Ozymandia says:

    My husband and I have been making a more concerted efforted to buy local (we live in Southern Ontario), and for the winter that has meant restricting some of what we normally bought year round as well.

    While we do still pick up salads from our local supermarket (haven't asked them yet where the ingredients are from), we've been shopping for the most part at the farmer's market and trying to avoid the vendors who don't have prominent information about their local farms.

    It's really difficult at this time of year, but we're definitely improving our shopping habits.

  5. brad says:

    Nosher, I think you'll enjoy your exploration of Québec's cheeses! My personal favourities so far are Riopel, Douanier (with a delicious streak of blue in the middle), Oka, and an organic chèvre made on a small farm by a friend of ours, but there are lots of other great cheeses being produced here and the quality of some of these cheeses rivals anything you can get in France. In fact my girlfriend, who is from France, recently put together a plate of Québecois cheeses and brought it to a supper we were having with four French friends, and they were all mightily impressed. So far I can't say the same thing for Québec wines, but the ciders are quite good, especially those from Du Minot down in Hemmingford.

  6. kat says:

    Greetings from a fellow SOLE foodie in NYC! Just wanted to let you know that Peter Singer addresses the locally-grown-greenhouse-tomato vs. the shipped-from-far-away-sunny-climes variety in chapter 10 of The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter. Made me feel better about buying those yummy cherry tomatoes from Del Cabo, once in a while...

  7. Max from NJ says:

    Nosher,

    You might want to try eating with the Seasons. Don't look for tomatoes in the Winter at all - go with the Root Veggies that would normally be available to you in the colder months - carrots, turnips, potatoes, etc. Think about it - Nature gave vegetables their "times" for a reason. Forced tomatoes are never gonna be as good as Summer ripened ones.

    I am really looking forward to reports on the local cheeses. Also any tips you might have for growing - for a girl from NJ who hopes to move to the Montreal area and wants her own garden there!

    Thanks for your blog!