Best Sugaring-Off Spot Ever!

Quebec Sugaring Off

Primitive Wood-Curving showing an old fashioned Sugaring Off

I’ve done sugaring off many many times – and my absolute favorite place is Festin de Campagne & La Cidrerie du Petit Saint-Joseph.

First – an explanation for my non-Quebec Followers. Sugaring Off is a Spring Time ritual here in Quebec. The sap starts to run up and down (up during the day – down at night when it gets cold) in the Maple Trees. People with Maple Stands tap the trees (literally a tap goes into the tree – and when the sap goes up and down – it also flows out the tap either into a bucket (very old-fashioned) or into blue tubes that have a bit of suction in them), gather the sap, boil it down for days – and bingo – Maple Syrup.

Given that 75% or more of the world’s Maple Syrup is produced here in Quebec – you can imagine the vast numbers of trees, taps, and blue hose involved. It’s quite the sight. But that’s not Sugaring Off. As part of the taping, gathering, and boiling tradition – there’s an eating tradition – and that’s Sugaring Off.

Festin de Campagne – despite the fancy name – is one of the traditional cabins snuggled right in a Maple Stand. It’s used only for about a month a year – small, cozy, clearly built by the family, and lacking in any pretension. There’s no petting zoo, no buffet line, no polish. But there is an awesome group of performers – La Famille Laporte – who are completely irresistible – music that you absolutely must dance to. And the food – ah, it’s really about the food.

The meal starts with everyone sitting down on long family style tables – pre-laden with jars of homemade pickles, pickled beets, Coleslaw, and homemade Ketchup. There’s a quart jar of maple syrup per group of 6 – a bottle of fresh milk, and a jug of water. Quickly you get served your choice of vegetable or pea soup – my entire family opted for the pea soup – homemade (like everything else) – with pieces of lard floating among the peas. I added maple syrup – it was delicious.

Next comes the pate – maple syrup infused of course, with fresh bread.

Now the best part – the omelet, ham slices, baked beans, boiled potatoes and my personal – I wait all year to eat these – Grillades de lard or more familiarly called – Oreilles de crisse ( Deep fried pieces of pork jowls – amazingly delicious – and eaten with more maple syrup of course. A quick word about the omelet – I’ve had flat omelets, I’ve had puffy omelets, I’ve had omelets cooked by celebrated chefs, I’ve had omelets made at home – but this omelet is the best I’ve ever eaten. Maybe you can blame the maple syrup – but it’s the puffiest, softest, pillow of an omelet made from eggs you can imagine came from chickens running around on the farm next door.  I’m serious – this is one great omelet.

Did I tell you this is all ‘eat all you want’? I meant to mention that. Want 2nd, want thirds – no problems!

Dessert is a choice of Pudding Chômeur (it’s sweet), Apple Crumble (it’s sweet), or Pancakes (guess what – you add more maple syrup to them too!). You can have one of each if you’d like – or do like my Grand-daughter – just focus on the pancakes!

Then – there’s the Tire. And the dancing. I’m a fan of both – so first I dance to the wonderful music of ‘La Famille Laporte’ till my feet hurt, then I go outside where they are pouring hot maple syrup onto Snow. You stick a Popsicle stick in the rapidly cooling syrup, and twist to make your own lollipop. I had 4. I didn’t count how many my grand-daughters enjoyed – but I know they went down the line more than I did. These ‘lollipops’ are sweet, soft, crunchy, a little warm, a little cold – and completely irresistible.

Eventually you either ride the tractor drawn wagon back to your car – or walk. In our case – we walked slowly – making snow angels as we found our way back to our car – and eventually back to Montreal.

Interesting is trying La Festin de Campagne? You can reach them by phone at 450-623-0687, or try this link:!cabane-a-sucre

It’s no more than a 45 minute drive North West of Montreal – and for a place so ‘back-woods’, relatively easy to find. Be sure to say hello to Simard Paquette for me – she’s the hostess who makes up for her lack of height with a huge smile, and a warm welcome. Can’t miss her!

Yo Tohu – Stripped down Cirque – but so much fun!

I’m such a sap for the Circus – both old school (with animals) and new school (acrobats, jugglers, and the like). Which is why Pista del Tango was such a disappointment. How dare you ruin the Circus for me?

Thank goodness for Tohu. I always assume that everyone knows what I’m talking about when I say Tohu – but based on the lack of audience on Thursday (2/27/2013) night, I’m guessing that maybe I need to start off with a – how to find the Tohu.

Where/What is Tohu

Start by checking out their website – there’s both an English and a French version – you can get tickets, check the dates of different performances, and get a list of all the free stuff that happens there. I can personally recommend just about anything that they put on – I’ve never had a bad time – and frequently had a great time. This is NOT Cirque de Soleil, despite the physical closeness – those tall buildings to the right as you drive in are the Montreal headquarters of the Cirque de Soleil – and clearly there’s money and financing cross-overs. But Tohu is clearly independent – and rather feisty about that.

Festival Mondial Du Cirque De Demain

This is the third or fourth time I’ve seen these guys perform – and it is always a huge pleasure. Truly some of the best young (and not so young) performers from around the world come to Montreal as part of this group. There is no pretense at a story, or a theme, or even much of a set. Instead – this is a presentation by 9 different performing teams – each one of which has one at least one award – and in some cases – several awards. So we’re talking the best of the best at what they do. And what they can do is nothing short of astounding. We were 4 – and each of us had a different top act. My husband’s personal favorite was the Starbugs – 3 nutty guys – clowns with tremendous physical abilities. I just couldn’t stop laughing. One highlight – the fake ‘fight’ that started with the 2 guys in ‘contact’, and continued as they got further and further apart. What a hoot. My daughter loved the Chinese juggler/plate spinner who managed to take spinning objects to an entirely new level – and ended his act by pulling a ‘dragon’ out of his basket and spinning that! Another favorite was the Trapeze artist – who did things on a trapeze including several multiple spins high above the audience, unattached to the trapeze at all, that I’d never seen before.

Then there were the 2 male contortionists. I can’t find words to describe their act – except to say that sometimes they looked completely normal, and other times left me sitting with my mouth completely open in stunned surprise.

I particularly like the first act – a quick presentation by the students in the circus school. A teaser to encourage people to get tickets to their graduation performances in April – something I totally recommend that all my followers – and all their friends – do immediately. There are 2 different productions – they split the class in half, and each group gets their group of performances. I’ve done both – and never been sorry.

Finally – I wouldn’t do a fair review of this wonderful evening if I didn’t mention the guy (huge) and girl (tiny) team. The guy essentially tossed his partner around like she was putty – and she let him do it! Her grace was extraordinary, and his control when tossing her was so light and easy – you could easily fool yourself into thinking – I could do that. Word to the wise – Nope, you probably can’t.

Positive Stuff: Cafe at Tohu – little known but completely wonderful place to grab a grilled cheese sandwich, a bag of delicious popcorn, or even a Latté before a performance, Free stuff before the performance – in this case – a pile of circus toys that you could try out – including a tightrope to walk and plates to spin, and inexpensive parking – Just $5. Negative Stuff: Don’t count on the scenery and costumes to blow you away – that’s not the point, There’s not a bad seat in the house – but there are some side seats that are best avoided, and it ends late if there’s an intermission.

Go – Enjoy – Tell’m the Soup Lady sent ya.