Maple Syrup: Not Just for Breakfast Anymore (When in Quebec)

Full disclosure: I never really liked maple syrup before I went to Quebec City. If I ate pancakes, waffles, or French toast at all – a rare occurrence as I’m a savory breakfast sort – I’d slather on a good fruit jam. You know, something with texture and a more complex flavor profile than just sweet.

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It All Began with Pie

My first meal in Old Quebec City, nonetheless, ended with a wedge of maple syrup pie – or tarte au sirop d’érable – thanks to my husband’s aching sweet tooth. Something of the consistency of the center of a pecan pie and oozing onto a sturdy homemade crust, it surprised me. In a good way. It started out sweet, but then the maple flavor said bonjour and mellowed that cloying flavor with something just tapped, forestral.

From Soup to…

That, I was to discover, is how maple syrup rolls. And that it behooves a gourmet snob to embrace its versatility. At La Buche Cuisine Québecoise, for instance, the soupe du jour was tomato and maple syrup. See what I mean? It’s omnipresent. Again my first reaction was “too sweet.” Then I licked the bowl clean.

Maple bacon at our favorite patisserie, Paillard. Sure, that makes sense. Maple jelly, maple butter, maple candy and cookies. Bien sur! Maple syrup in cocktails from maple whiskey to maple mojitos: Clever, but even with alcohol, I remained skeptical.

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A very rich poor man’s pudding

Stuck on Maple Syrup

The turning point came with dessert at La Buche, which specializes in local folk food such as poutine and meat pies. Named simply Pouding Chômeur, the poor man’s pudding sweetly enriched my appreciation for maple syrup’s agility and dimension. It slathers chunks of “stale cake’ with caramel-y maple sauce and a healthy drizzle of cream.

Maple-glazed carrots, maple vinaigrette, maple cola, maple beer, fruited maple yogurt…. Did I detect a hint of maple in my soupe a l’oignon? Bring on the sweetness. Bring on the flavor and dimension that grow and grow on you.

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Links to My Published Foodie Articles

A pupu platter of some of my tastiest work:

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Where to Find Pink Shrimp & Striped Mullet, WGCU.org

10 Amazing Chef’s Tables You Should Know About, USA TODAY 10Best.com

Naples Illustrated’s 2017 Dining Awards, Naples Illustrated

Best Naples’ Restaurants for Fresh-from-the-Sea Catches, USA TODAY 10Best.com

Nassau’s Best Restaurants, USA TODAY 10Best.com

Pink Gold Rush documentary, WGCU-TV

Pink Gold in Fort Myers Beach, VisitFlorida.com

Shea’s at Lansdowne Street brings a little Boston to Naples, Naples Daily News

Three60 Restaurant in Naples, USA TODAY 10Best.com

Iceland’s Crazy Culinary Traditions, USA TODAY 10Best.com

From Farm to Table in Southwest Florida, VisitFlorida.com

Filling Up on Sushi at ‘Tween Waters Inn, TweenWaters.com

6 Reasons to Visit Sonoma in 2016

 

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Tasting for free at Jacuzzi Family Vineyards.

Napa started it, of course, the wine revolution in the state of California. Like a typical big brother, it lords its tenure and viniculture muscle over little sister Sonoma. The two counties are both known for their beautiful wineries and rolling hills crawling with grape vines. Napa Valley may boast bigger and more well-known properties, but Sonoma Valley guards its own superlatives, which in many ways make it a more well-rounded destination. As spring’s warmth begins to coax out fresh green vineyard canopies, add these six Sonoma Valley benefits to your travel plans.

  1. Free wine tastings

Along Wine Road, you will find more than 400 wineries that welcome the public for tastings of their wares and a chance to purchase wines that are often unavailable or difficult to find elsewhere. At more than 60 of the wineries you can score free tastings: Some simply don’t charge; others are on the Visa Signature Perks plan, where if you show that particular credit card, you get complimentary tastings for two. Tastings usually run around $20 or more per person, so you can realize great savings if you plan ahead and get on the Visa Signature program, which also gets you discounts on purchases made at the qualifying wineries.

  1. The charming town of Sonoma

Smaller and more neighborly than the city of Napa, downtown Sonoma orderly comports itself around a square with a park at center and the historic city hall. Known as Sonoma Plaza, it ranks as the largest plaza in California. A state historic park takes up one block of Spain Street, which borders the plaza on one side. It encompasses a number of Spanish colonial sites including the circa-1823 Mission San Francisco Solano — the 21st and last mission built in Alta California. The historic El Dorado hotel with its highly hailed Kitchen restaurant overlooks the plaza. Or keep in the mission theme at elegant Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn a few blocks from the plaza. Its Santé restaurant absolutely shines at fine California cuisine. Or go for craft cocktails and modern munchies at Whiskey Bar & Grill downtown. Among the shops and galleries around the square, foodies should not miss the Sonoma Cheese Factory, so much more than its name implies.

  1. The equally charming town of Healdsburg

A shopper’s and diner’s delight, Healdsburg too centers around a town plaza. Wine tasting rooms, galleries, and fun gift and clothing shops surround the central park and the block to the north. Check out Studio Barndiva for local artworks and wine sipping. Circa 1902 Healdsburg Inn will put you up in style in the thick of all the charm and action.

  1. Madrona Manor

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Tableside ice cream at Madrona Manor

For inimitable historic lodging and over-the-top dining experience in the Healdsburg area, Madrona Manor revolves around a beautiful Victorian mansion built in 1881. The grounds overlook vineyards and hold gorgeous gardens of flowers, statuary, a lovely pool, citrus trees, and vegetables and herbs for the kitchen. Luxury accommodations live in the mansion, the Carriage House, the School House, and other cottages and vintage structures. The dining room too occupies the mansion for an elegant foray into molecular gastronomy that wows the taste buds course after course.

  1. Sonoma Raceway

Home to nationally televised NASCAR, Indy-car, and motorcycle races, the Sonoma Raceway is a little-known bonus to car enthusiasts visiting the area. Right at the southern threshold to wine country, it lets visitors tour around the scenic, hilly track for free when there are no racing events. Many days you can watch drivers enrolled in its Audi Sportscar Experience take to the track. Or suit up and try it yourself. Don’t miss the spit-and-shine garage housing McLarens and other luxe  cars. Then wash away the road dust with a short drive to Ram’s Gate, Viansa, and Jacuzzi wineries. (The latter offers free wine tastings to the general public.)

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  1. Beaches

Sonoma’s best edge over Napa Valley just might be what lies at the edge of its western shore – Pacific Ocean beaches. Rugged cliffs overlook golden sands and  migrating gray whales for more than 55 miles along the dramatic coastline. (In spring the whales are heading southbound from Alaska to Mexico, and volunteers are on hand at Bodega Head to help spot them and answer questions.) Other favorite beaches include Bowling Ball Beach, Goat Rock State Beach, and Salmon Creek Beach.

Charleston Foodie Fling

Tomato pie.

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Dixie Supply tomato pie

I had one singular foodie goal for our trip to Charleston, SC, for the holidays. On my last trip, more than two years ago, I’d successfully sated my shrimp ‘n’ grits cravings. I had eaten my fill of Lowcountry Boil and she crab soup. I had reveled in fine nouvelle Lowcountry cuisine at McCrady’s.All that feasting, alas, had left me with no spare appetite to fit in a wedge of tomato pie from Dixie Supply Bakery & Cafe, an off-the-eaten path legend of Charleston’s famed dining scene. And so I dragged my relatives into a convenience store strip where a few tables outside in the parking lot accounts for its best in atmosphere.

Inside, slaloming through other packed and packed-close tables, we made our way to the line at the counter, where we perused a menu of Carolina specialties and more mainstream sandwiches – everything from fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese (a.k.a. Southern caviar) to turkey and brie on a croissant.

My tomato pie would come with sweet potato cornbread, Read more of this post

Bahamas Fishing Adventure

The ‘Reluctant Angler’ hits Bahamian waters

“Most people go a lifetime without catching a fish like that,” Capt. Mike Russell told me aboard the Chubasca III.

It surprised me, the rush of pride I felt there afloat in the 6,000-foot deep waters outside of Nassau Harbour, mugging for the camera with the 20-

Me and my mahi

pound mahi-mahi I had just reeled in. A Facebook moment to be sure.I had, up to that same moment, considered the sport of fishing, to paraphrase Mark Twain’s golfing analogy, as a good boat ride spoiled. The next day, after pulling in four bonefish and a small Nassau grouper off the sand flats in the Bahamas’ Out Islands, I started to “get” the whole attraction. Read more of this post