My Birthday Weekend

Last weekend we decided to leave the city and head to a cabin in northeastern PA on Paupackan Lake. It was my birthday, I had been locked away at home since March, and Philly’s protests were leading to a lot of stress. Recently I’ve been worried about the interplay between the movement for Black Lives and the COVID-19 pandemic. I don’t want the uprising to stop and I am worried about everyone in the streets becoming infected with the virus.

A Victoria sponge.

Samer made a very classic Victoria sponge cake with homemade strawberry jam from Lebanon. We ate some for breakfast and then made our way out of the city. I wanted to try some road food on the way, so I remembered hearing about a famous hot dog place in Allentown. My friend Dennis told me to skip it and make our way over to Easton and try Jimmy’s Hot Dogs. It’s a cash-only place in a strip small, and I thought it was great. It’s pretty simple, you get a good hot dog on a bun with mustard and a full pickle spear. I skipped the onions. That’s the entire thing. If you like a good hot dog and are in Easton, PA, you should check it out. I had 2! The (very) big dude behind us in line ordered 9. Sam is sure that he ordered for a family. I’m skeptical.

On our way to the cabin at 111 West Shore Drive, I typed in the wrong address. I typed in something like 11 North Shore Drive. We pulled in to a driveway that did not look like the picturesque cabin that we saw on Airbnb. It was more of a bayou setting. Trailers very close to the water, lots of trucks, and at least 2 dudes with rat tails and or mullets. Pulling up, I was a little nervous about how a gay couple in a Mini Cooper was going to be received. We couldn’t get reception, and I was a bit of a nervous wreck. A toned-down, Joe Exotic stopped to ask us if we needed anything, but we said we were figuring it out. Moments later, a cop pulled up behind us. I was convinced these dudes had called the police on us. Samer assured me that the police in this area were not that efficient, but I wanted to bounce as soon as possible. All I kept thinking was that we stumbled onto a meth operation, and this small-town police is running a protection racket. Admittedly, my imagination probably got away from me.

Wrong Location -> Correct Location

We drove until we got cellular reception and then realized we were 20 minutes away from Paupackan Lake. We made our way over and were so happy when we arrived. I was not working that day, but my lead for the last few years retired that day, and I was one of the emcees for his Zoom retirement party. The cabin had terrible reception, so we drove up to the volunteer fire department parking lot where we could find LTE with 3 bars. We celebrated Dave and I made a few jokes. It was a tough week to do any joke writing, so I think it was my B-game. Certainly not my A-game. Also, being funny on Zoom is brutal. There is absolutely no feedback. I really feel for every comedian trying to make it work right now. That being said, all reports said he enjoyed it.

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Sunset on Paupackan Lake

Ok, back to my birthday weekend. On Friday night, we split a bottle of wine and watched the sunset from the dock. It was very peaceful and felt a million miles away from the chaos of the quarantine or the intensity of the anti-racist uprising happenings. We made cod, garlic scapes, and a tomato and mozzarella salad for dinner. It was so delicious. Falling asleep was delightfully comfortable and quiet. There were no explosions from fireworks, psy-ops, or ATMs blowing up. There were no lights from all of the city’s light pollution and my phone was on airplane mode in my bag.

On Saturday, Sam continued the birthday celebration by making me biscuits & gravy. This is my favorite dish from Ohio that does not exist in the east. I could pass on most Midwestern recipes, but this south to the midwest breakfast is so goddamn good. I love sausage gravy. How could you not, but the truth is, this best biscuits & gravy I’ve ever had was at the Portland, OR farmers market in 2009, and it was made with brown mushroom gravy. It was delicious. Sam decided to make a mushroom gravy. It was terrific and as good as  sausage gravy. While he cooked, I meditated on the dock and was lucky enough to see a bald eagle skimming the lake’s surface.

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The dock of our cabin.

We kayaked around the lake for about 2 hours after breakfast. There is a lot of marshland that you can skirt and see birds on Paupackan. On our way home, the wind picked up, and the paddle back was much more tiring than when we started. We spent the rest of the afternoon, napping and reading. Samer escaped to the hammock, and I really got into my book. I’m reading The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. I am not a fantasy genre lover, but I am enjoying it.

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A little dragonfly

For dinner, Samer made the best pork chop I’ve ever had. He made a sauce from red wine, apple butter, and apple cider vinegar. We paired it with a Cabernet Sauvignon and finished the birthday cake. It was a fantastic meal.

Waking up on Sunday meant that the weekend had already passed. Ugh, I loved the cabin. It’s difficult to describe how loved nature, the lack of connectivity, and the simplicity of everything. We decided to check out Lake Wallenpaupack before we left. That’s a vast and famous lake in the area.

We stopped by one marina and decided to check out the Lacawac Sanctuary on our way home, but on the drive, our tire went flat. We have drive-flat tires, so we limped to a gas station about 5 miles away only to discover our entire tire had completely blown out and was destroyed. We don’t know what happened. Maybe it was a little low, and the road’s curve hit it just right, but there was no saving it. I walked to the Advanced Auto Parts, where they told me the only tire guy open on a Sunday was M&J Tires. We drove another 8 miles on a flat and started getting nervous as we left the main road to see more Trump-Pence signs. If this guy didn’t have a tire, where in the hell were we stranded?

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We pulled up to the tire shop and were met by 2 monster trucks flanking the entrance. No one came to meet us. I surmised the one person not fidgeting with a tire may be the customer in front of me. I asked her who was in charge and she pointed me to a guy named Mike in the back of the shop. He was not much for chatting and told me he’d be with me in 5 minutes. To an outsider, this scene may be overwhelming, but my life in rural Ohio prepared me for this. A big shop, lots of tires inside, outside, outback, on their sides, in racks, etc. and a dude who is not good with small talk or business formalities. I’ve got this.

At this point, we realized our cell phones were not getting any signal. Our Mini Cooper has a weird tire size, and my guess was that neither foreign cars nor gay couples with at least one foreign-born member frequented the shop. When Mike asked me about the car, I was frank, “I don’t know, man. I just drive it.” I knew I was setting myself up to get ripped off, but I was 130 miles from home.

Mike is a totally nice guy. He replaced my tire in a few minutes and then only charged me $45 for a new tire. I tipped well, and we made our way home.

I had a wonderful birthday, and it was so great to take the weekend to leave town. We maintained social distancing, enjoyed some nature, and utterly unplugged. I loved it, I appreciated it, and want to go back very soon.

Closing our time in Quebec

I am combining our last 2 days into a single post. A lot of the town was closed, so we used this time to enjoy some peace and quiet and relax before returning to work.  On January 1 we slept in and enjoyed the morning.  We made our way down to the promenade by Château Frontenac and got inline for the toboggan.  Samer was in front and I held on to him.   Clearly, our sled was much heavier than the 2 families next to us and we were the first down the hill and we made it all the way to the end.  It’s very fun.

We had lunch at a place called Chez Boulay, Bistro boréal.  It was very good.   They were only serving the brunch menu, but I had a wonderful steak with a side of poutine.  This was the only poutine I ate on the trip and it was clearly an upscale version of it.    It was a lovely lunch. Afterward, we split a piece of galette des rois from the bakery called Paillard.   It’s a very good frangipane pastry.    Ours had a thin layer of strawberry jam that made it all the more delicious.

We didn’t really do anything else that day.  Sam did some book shopping at one of the few open stores and I took a nap. We had dinner at a bar called Laurentien Buvette Gourmande.   The food was good, but not particularly memorable.  I had a great beer from a brewery called Oshlag.  I really enjoyed it and would love to get my hands on another.  It was this evening that Samer found his new favorite youtube cook, La Petite Belle. She’s a funny youtube chef who teaches a lot of Quebecois recipes.   I don’t speak french and can follow along, so check it out.

On our final day, we spent the morning packing and then went for a coffee at Maelstrøm Saint-Roch. The bakeries were closed, so there was no bread to enjoy. I rather like that commitment to serving fresh bread and pastry.  We have it or we don’t, that’s what we serve.

We had lunch at a place called The Billig.   They serve very good ciders.  I had a great crepe and soup.     Samer did not care for his crepe but loved the french onion soup.  I thought the waiter was a nice guy and he recommended some great ciders. We meandered through the city one last time before it was time to go. We walked through the big city park called The Plains of Abraham and found the entrance to the boardwalk that ends at Chateau Frontenac.   We walked along that, said goodbye to the wonderful city of Quebec and made our way back to the apartment to grab our bags and fly home.

I loved this trip and I love Quebec.   I am noticing that with every birthday my appreciation of relaxation grows.  Quebec was this really nice place to explore something new, relax and not feel like I am missing something.  The people were nice, the food was good, and the city is beautiful.   I completely recommend visiting Quebec and I really want to visit during the warmer months.

December 31 in QBC

We had a quiet day on December 31, because we knew that we’d be up late for the new years’ festivities. It was wonderful to wake up to a fresh snowfall.   It made the city look lovely. It was picturesque.

We went to a bakery called Croquembouche near the house.   It is a very famous bakery in Quebec.   I think I ordered wrong.  I had something that looked like a cinnamon roll that was covered in caramel.   It was a bit too sweet for me.  I should have just ordered a croissant.  The caramel was a proper caramel (and not a frosting), so it was a bit tough to get through.   It was a lovely dessert that I did not want to eat at 9 am.

We made our way to Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec.  This is the province’s 3 building art museum.  We were probably not in the mood to enjoy the museum, so please accept my forthcoming criticism with a grain of salt.   We started in the Contemporary Art pavilion.   Very little in this building was of interest to me.  The top floor did have one gallery reserved for Inuit art, which I enjoyed very much.

The modern art building is in an old jail which is pretty cool.   Our guide from the day before told us that when he first arrived in Quebec many years ago it had been a hostel and he stayed in it.   There are still cells.  Each floor is given to 2 famous Quebecois artists.  Every gallery was specific to male artists. There was not a one featured female artist in this building. Come on Quebec.  Do better.   You do not have one female artist that you are proud of?   Yikes.   I did like the work of Jean Paul Lemieux.

We had an uninteresting bite to eat at the museum and made our way home to read and relax before dinner.  I am reading Howards End, because of just seeing The Inheritance.  I was happy to enjoy a beer on the couch while reading it.

We had dinner at Tanière³.   This is quite the experience.  This is a fine dining restaurant in a 400-year-old wine cellar (Can we call this buttigieging?) At times, it feels quite gimmicky, but somehow it all works together.    This was a 12-course meal, focused on the ingredients from the Quebec province.   I did not have very high expectations for the place.  I thought it was going to expensive and cliche.   It was indeed expensive, but the food lived up to it.  Some highlights indued: bison tartar, mussels & leeks, a wonderful oyster, & elk served 2 ways.

After dinner, we made out way to the parliament building.  It was snowing and there was a stage with a guy doing a bunch of cover music.   The french music was fun and people danced a lot to it.   American rock covers made me laugh.  Clearly, an American rock hit after 1985 has been unable to permeate the Quebec borders.   Listening to a man with a pretty heaving Quebecois accent singing Cotton Eye Joe to a crowd of a 1000 people in the snow was a delightfully unique experience.

The Quebecois have a unique love of circus feats. Cirque du Soleil was born in Quebec and we ascertained that our Airbnb apartment was owned by a Cirque du Soleil performer. During the New Years’ shows, the lead of the cover band took off his shirt, strapped his fighter jet shaped guitar to a stand and then did a single-handed handstand while using the other hand to play the theme from Top Gun. The stand raised him at least 20 feet above the stage and then smoke came out of the guitar simulated a takeoff. WILD. The crowd loved it.

When we got to midnight, there were enough fireworks to make it look like noon. We were completed surrounded by fireworks and the launchpads were fairly close to us. It was fantastic. After that, we walked up to the competing EDM festival. We stopped in for a few minutes. Another 1000 people were out for that festival and the 2 parties were only a few blocks from one another.

The entire night was filled with people of all ages.   There were kids running around both festivals.   Tourists mixing with locals and people enjoying their night.   Every time we slipped on the ice there was someone close by to lend a hand.    The people were really nice. We slipped and slid our way back to the house and fell asleep at a reasonable time for New Year’s Eve.

Follow up on pâté chinois

I was thinking about the pâté chinois I ate at la Buche on Saturday night.  It’s basically a KFC bowl, with better ingredients and no chicken.  The meal was not super impressive and the name got under my skin. Pâté chinois translates to Chinese paste. hmm? Nothing seems like it comes from Chinese cuisine. Why not just call it hachis parmentier or (heaven forbid) shepherd’s pie?

Either way, Patton Oswalt said it best, this is not the way an adult eats.

It’s snowing in Québec

I am home for the night and I thought I’d make a few notes about the last two days. Yesterday, we went on a tour with a local named Yves. (It’s pronounced Eves, you silly Philistine.) Yves is a semi-retired economist who now runs a community organization called Bien Vivre à Saint-Roch.  He was a great guide who taught us a lot about Quebec history and he ended the tour at the farmers’ market I wanted to visit the day before. He served us a nice lunch of local cheeses, bread, salad, cider, and Christmas cake.   It was really nice.

The market is called Grand Marché de Québec and it is nowhere near the place we walked to yesterday.  While we were there we tasted a lot of ciders, ice ciders, locals wines, and even a whiskey.  This left us a little tipsy and we ended up buying 7 or 8 bottles of local alcohol. Buying while drinking is never a good idea, but the liquor shelf back in Philadelphia will appreciate it.

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We ended Sunday with a very nice dinner at a place called Chez Rioux & Pettigrew. It was really good. I had a perfect piece of salmon, and Samer had a halibut appetizer that was delightful. I thought my fried bread pudding dessert was amazing and I want more of it while I am typing out the memory. So good.

Today, we went dog sledding at Mont Saint-Anne. We went with a company called Les Secrets Nordiques.  It’s a 2-hour excursion and it is really fun, though you are probably on the sleds for an hour.   We started out with me riding and Samer driving, and then we switched.   The guides didn’t tell us when we hit the halfway point, so I rode for about 2/3 of the trip and drove for about 1/3.  Our start was a little shaky.   Our dogs surged forward and then started fighting with another team of dogs.  One of our dogs broke free and started to run away!   It was kind of intense, but we pulled it together and hit the trails.

After the dog sledding, we went to a spa for lunch and relaxation. It was called Le Nordique spa Mont Ste-Anne and it was lovely. There are outdoor hot baths and saunas.   You do something hot (a bath, a sauna, or something) and then you are supposed to do something cold.   There is a freezing cold waterfall, a cold rain shower, and you can even jump in the frozen lake!  I barely touched the cold water stuff.  The air was freezing when I would leave the pool and that seemed sufficient to complete the hot and cold cycle. There was one old québécois lady who did jump in the frozen lake. I was impressed, but deep down I judged her for being insane. We went to relax in a yurt with a fireplace after a bit.

For dinner, we split a great charcuterie platter at a local brewery in Quebec called Noctem Artisans Brasseurs. The québécois know meats and cheeses and I love them for it.