Before the birth of my son Matthew, I would begin and end my day with prayer. The content would vary a little from day to day, but without fail I always asked a question and I always asked for a sign. “Lord what do you want me to do?” “Lord, if it is your will, please give me a sign.”
Now that Matthew is fully realized, a true four year old boy full of snips and snails and barking puppy dog tails, fists and noise and unfettered joy, my prayer life has changed drastically. Motherhood is not for cowards. Motherhood with Matthew is a full contact sport that requires more strategical thinking than chess almost every waking minute of the day. Now with prayer I get to about “good morning”, then my feet hit the ground running. Lately I have tried to lock myself in the washroom for two minutes of peace but even that is a fail as little fists bang on the door asking “Mommy what are you doing? Why can’t I come in? I really, very miss my mom.” The dog insists on adding his two cents. When all I wanted was a little peace, suddenly there is a full fledged revolution. At bedtime I get two sentences into the Lord’s Prayer and I am sawing logs.
With the whites of my eyes showing, I submitted my vacation request to the head of human resources, Chris. Sub out “Here’s Johnny!”, sub in “Here’s my vacation request!” and you have the picture. Jack Nicholson would have been proud. With the children and dog safely stowed at my parents we boarded our train for 24 hours in Montreal.
I love the train, it is civilized. I don’t feel like I am being herded through endless lines to get through security and then into a cattle car. Lots of space, a soothing clickety clack down the track and it takes only moments for my mind to go numb and drift. Bliss. The vast expanse of barren, white, frozen tundra was hypnotic. Swirls of light snow sparkled, dancing in crisp pirouettes caught in the wake of our great steel beasts passing. Only the occasional tracks of rabbit or deer were evidence that anything lived or crossed these farm fields. Desolate. A frozen desert. “Lord, what do you want me to do?” “Lord, if it is your will, please give me a sign.”
Lifted out of my peaceful contemplation my husband, usually a man of very few words wanted to chat. We laughed together all the while brainstorming and discussing all manner of subjects. Two hours passed in no time at all. We had arrived in Montreal. Intuitively, he remarked “Now, there is a sign if I ever saw one.” I turned to see a giant billboard in red neon advertising Five Roses Flour.
We checked in to our hotel and then headed out to see the city. While the details of our foray to find Chocolat Chocolat aren’t really story material. I will sum up quickly. We got lost, our smart phone GPS failed, no busses for 45 minutes and when one did come by it was jam packed. It took 5 calls and three hours to get a cab to Marché Central, the wind was fierce and the temperature kept dropping. It was only after an urgent cry to the Lord that a cabby took pity on us. His first words to us were, “I just knew you two needed help.” We were thankful.
Despite our misfortunes our moods were still cheerful. Our cabbie explained shift change in the taxi world was happening and that with the storm the night before taxi’s were beyond busy. Like most cabbies he was a veritable font of information. From Morocco he was salt of the earth. Tripping down memory lane he and his stories wound their way through the Chabanel and Plateau districts before dropping us at our dinner destination.
At home we don’t watch a lot of television and as a rule we don’t watch food celebrities. That said, we both like badass Anthony Bourdain particularly the Montreal episode of the Layover. If you are Canadian, have a wicked sense of humour and can handle a little bit of cussing, do yourself a favour find it on-line and watch. We did, laughed until we cried, watched it a second time then reached for the phone to make reservations at Brasserie T.
Owned by James Beard award winning chef Normand Laprise, Brasserie T is the sister ship to the 5 star restaurant Toqué. I am not a fan of 5 star dining, too stuffy and way too quiet for my liking. Fine dining is exactly the type of place where my nerves would get the better of me and I would either spill my wine or start to giggle. No, I far prefer a brasserie (brew-pub for my friends who don’t speak French). It is the perfect place to watch the dichotomy of population groups get along. By that I mean, in a brasserie you will see sharply suited business men rubbing shoulders with people living la vie bohême, who rub shoulders with the lovers that are tête à tête throughout their meal. Sprinkle in some older folks who have seen it all and it is a successful microcosm of how I envision world peace could be. I love brasseries. To date there have been four meals of which I remember with absolute clarity. Two occured at Brasserie Lipp in Paris, one at Philinos in Montreal and the latest one at Brasserie T.
We arrived at roughly 18:00, we were lucky as there were only two tables left. I was channeling Mr. Bourdain as we were seated directly across from where he was seated with Normand Laprise and Martin Picard. There was an electrical current of excitement running through us as we ordered a bottle of wine and settled into our appetizers. A seafood chowder and the winning dish of the night for Chris. Smoky, sweet from the skate wing and creamy. A brilliant take on traditional chowder and wholly Canadian. I ordered the sea snails in garlic lemon butter which was served with the most delectable bread and baguette this side of the Atlantic. “Lord, what do you want me to do?” “Lord if it is your will, please give me a sign.”
For my main I had originally thought that I would order the cocquilles St. Jacques, because next to steak tartare it is my favourite dish. No one else in my household understands how beautiful this dish can be. Named after St. James the Greater, this dish is butter, cream, wine and scallops baked in a scallop shell. Instead, I took the advice of our server to order the salmon confit. Chris ordered the charcuterie plate as a main. The mouthfeel and seasoning of the salmon defy description other than damn good and the fennel was the perfect compliment to the fish. I can’t wait to have it again. My body had thawed and everytime Chris reached for our bottle to refill our glasses our waiter came charging across the bar to refill our glasses.
At this point in the evening the first wave of clientele that had arrived with us cleared out. We were alone with perhaps two or three other couples in a restaurant that seats about 55. Our server took his break and front of house took over looking after Chris and I. With raised eyebrows of appreciation he took our order for a delicious Quebec cheese course. Chris and I were cozy basking in the glow of wine, good food, company and candlelight. Candlelight makes everyone beautiful.
Desserts were ordered Paris Brest for Chris and chocolate mousse with verjus gelée for myself. Front of house guy gave me specific instructions to eat the mousse with the gelée. It was the most exciting taste pairing with chocolate I have had since Chef Hervé taught me his passionfruit ganache. It was exquisite. I really didn’t want to find the bottom of the vessel it was served in. Verjus is the pressed juice of unripe grapes, and is very acidic and sour, this chef weaves magic.
At 21:30 the Brasserie was full to the rafters with the second wave of diners and Chris and I nursed our digestif and coffee. With a new apron tucked under my arm we braced ourselved for the outdoors and headed out into the night.
Back at the Bonaventure our window overlooked the industrial landscape of the train yard. Winking in the distance was my sign…Farine Five Roses. I grinned.
The next morning we took our time in the business lounge of the hotel. Their petit viennoiserie were excellent. Rubbing shoulders with the Premier of Quebec and feeling crowded with all his security is not my idea of a fab time so we checked out and headed for the underground city to wait for our train.
“Lord if it is your will, please give me a sign.”
On the way home I shared my thoughts with Chris. We laughed with joy over the signs and surmised that getting turned around on the way to find Chocolat Chocolat was one as well. Knowing looks were exchanged when lunch was served with a delicious black olive roll.
Lost in personal reverie and thanksgiving no conversation was needed as we thundered our way back to Ottawa,our children and reality.
“Lord, thank you for your signs.”
24 hours in Montreal, done.