A Peaceful Quiet in Quebec’s Eastern Townships

Categories Canada, Home and Away

In building this life of travel, I’ve tried to keep my summers for North America, vaguely earmarking those months for work or speaking engagements in Canada and the United States. The reason is twofold: to take advantage of the delicious summer weather (as opposed to Montreal’s not-so-delicious winter season) and to fit in as much family time as possible.  It is rare – and fortunate! – to have weeks at a time to spend with my parents. As adults we rarely get that opportunity outside the chaos of holidays. I’ve found over the years that all of them (there are four) have become friends in addition to parental units; while we might see the world very differently, with a common respect and curiosity those differences just make for better conversation.

I was back at my mum’s for Mother’s day this year, the first time in a decade that I made it to Montreal in time to see her. What a treat. I noted in a prior post that I’m am working on a book about food around the world, and when my mother suggested I write it from her house, it was a great chance to brainstorm in a familiar place. Though they hadn’t seen me in over six months, they let me live in my hermit-computer-bubble as I scribbled furiously and typed up my notes. Breaks were for cooking and catching up over wine; I got to try out all the recipes I’ve been carting around in my head. My grandfather, turning 95 this year, came over to see if I was “alive and in one piece, even though you travel alone”, peering at me through his thick glasses to ask “surely you can learn about food IN Canada?” I miss him too, but my tastebuds take me farther afield. My best friend Nadia – we met on the first day of school when we were 16 – took time for our customary reunion bubble tea.

Then, back to writing for me.

Nadia and I with our reunion bubble tea in Le Faubourg, Montreal

Nadia and I with our reunion bubble tea in Le Faubourg, Montreal

My mum and I at a wedding in May

My mum and I at a wedding in May.

I’ve now moved south to my dad’s house in the Eastern Townships, tucked up next to the Vermont border. I’m am aiming to finish my draft (ahh!) before I leave for TBEX next week, with breaks here also involving cooking and wine. The house is one of the places I feel calmest in the world; my dad designed and built it when I was in Grade 5. Prior, we used to spend our weekends in a converted schoolhouse nearby, and like any 10 year old I dug my heels in at the change, at the idea that this new home would ruin the country weekends and would have no nostalgia of its own.

Coconut curry with pork, mint and cilantro and topped with cashews. Served with saffron rice.

It’s not a family visit if I don’t get to cook. Homemade coconut curry with pork, mint and cilantro and topped with cashews. Served with turmeric rice (we had no saffron).

I was wrong, of course – 10 year olds often are. The house, its front a calico gleam of field stone from the land that surrounds it, has a burrowing nostalgia all to itself, full of gnarled wood and big bright windows. It overlooks a valley, lush now but a tapestry of colours in the fall. No cell phones work here – it’s a dead zone – meaning that it was a terrific refuge during small breaks in lawyering. And at a kilometre from the dirt road of the valley below, it was an ideal tobogganing route, with my brother and I flying off the sides of the long, steep driveway (and into a ravine) more than once.

Fieldstone walls, patterns of silver and rust.

Field stone walls, patterns of silver and rust.

Growing up, the closest pizza place was in the United States, and we would pile in the car to pick up pizza and bring it back for dinner. As this was in the 1980s, we didn’t need our passports to cross the border; we’d state our intention to buy pizza when we entered the USA, and in returning to Canada, proudly hold the steaming boxes aloft when asked “anything to declare?”

Summer times were barbecue-filled, full of unimaginably bright days and glorious sunsets, and winters were so cold that the water pipes sometimes froze through completely. We’d bundle up, layer over layer, heading to our skiing lessons and later, my brother and I taught classes ourselves. The road, great for tobogganing, turned into a hazard in those precarious days when rain met wet snow; we’d leave the car at the bottom of the hill and pile onto an ATV, my dad ferrying us up to the top with our faces buried in the back of his jacket for warmth.

View from the house, Eastern Townships

View from the house, looking toward the valley below. Many childhood weekends were spent here, staring out at the trees.

The house itself is a peaceful place. Yes, there is electricity. Yes, there is a television (and my dad likes to yell at it, specifically when sports or political panels are on). But with musical instruments like the violin I used to play and classical guitars and a piano, it is just one of those spaces that forces you to breathe a little better. My shoulders slump when I drive up the road and see it waiting for me, as if I were holding my breath until it came into view.

Music for all! My dad & brother's classical guitars.

Music for all! My dad & brother’s classical guitars.

Of course it is just a place. But intertwined with the memories of many weekends with friends and holidays with family, it stands out, and it is great to be back. I’ll be having a birthday barbecue here in August, which I haven’t done since I was in my teens. 33 is the new 16, I guess – with the benefit of intervening years, lessons and beautiful sights from around the world.

I’m here for just a week, enough time to get to know the newest member of the family (Zack the cat, below) and catch up with my parents. Next, I’m heading next to TBEX in Colorado to talk about curation strategy and social media, and then traveling in the States for a few weeks – to Chicago (I’ve yet to visit!), Indianapolis to see my stepsister and then up to Portland, Oregon to give workshops at WDS about street food safety and social media strategy. From there, to New York to see the people I missed from my years in town and back to my dad’s for birthday funsies.

Meet Zack, the newest member of the family

Meet Zack, the newest member of the family. Side profile.

Zack

And the classic straight-on shot. My dad and stepmum adopted him from an animal shelter and he has more personality than the three of us combined.

These summers feel decadent despite the fact that they are filled with work. I sit at my computer for hours now that I’m writing the food book, so I’m certainly not whittling away time.  But as I’m surrounded by family and with a kitchen at my disposal to dispel the stress (cooking as catharsis is really the best kind for me), the decadence still comes through. Perhaps it’s less about decadence and more about that fortunate feeling I started with in this post; I find myself thanking my lucky stars that I’ve been able to build this life, one with family-filled summers and food and travel filled winters. In a million years, I never thought it would come together this way but it’s been wonderful to watch it unfold bit by bit.

My office for the week

My office for the week. Minus Zack, eating my mouse cord.

The following are a few more pictures from my time here thus far, hopefully allowing that peacefulness to come across. Everything here – from the freshness of the air to the colours of the grass – seems more intense than normal, saturated with whatever magic this valley holds.

More to come soon, but here is where I’ve been in the last few days.

-Jodi

L'Estrie, Quebec

Perfect afternoon light.

Sunset over the Eastern Townships

Sunset and trees.

Bright summer flowers.

Bright summer flowers.

Grainy, rain-heavy clouds.

Grainy, rain-heavy clouds.

Flowers after the rain

Flowers after the rain.

Raindrops on violet.

Raindrops on violet.

Green!

Green! (And my stepmum’s shoes)

Me and the birdfeeder.

Me and the birdfeeder.

Wood from the front deck.

Weathered wood from the front deck.

Sunset in the window

Fire in the sky, reflected in glass.

Sunset of champions in the Eastern Townships of Quebec

Sunset of champions.

Cottonball galaxy space clouds.

Cottonball galaxy space clouds.

36 comments to A Peaceful Quiet in Quebec’s Eastern Townships

  1. On June 7, 2012 at 4:45 pm gene in montreal said:

    For want of another word..Zen. You are a very lucky woman. And your appreciation and love displays this through your work. Quality.

  2. I am hoping for two things:
    1. that you’ll post a recipe for that curry!
    2. that we’ll be able quickly connect again at #WDS!

    • Hi Gillian! Hope we connect too – It’ll be hectic but I’m sure we will be able to sneak away for a bit. The recipe, well there really isn’t any? I just threw a bunch of stuff into a wok, whatever was around. Started with a sweet onion, and added a bit of olive oil, a few cloves of garlic, cumin, coriander, turmeric, smoked paprika, salt and pepper and cooked it until the onions were soft. Added eggplant, cooked a few minutes. Added a can of coconut milk and the pork, and re-spiced until I liked the flavour. Then a can of chickpeas and some water to thin the coconut out. Simmered for awhile until cooked, and then topped with fresh cilantro, fresh mint and some chopped cashews. PRESTO!

  3. On June 8, 2012 at 2:28 am John Harman said:

    One of my favourite things about about long term travelling is coming home afterwards :). And with a home base like those, I would certainly spend sometime at home every year.

  4. Looks great there. Don’t forget to smell…it looks like one of those places that just smells like heaven.

  5. Those photos are amazing, Jodi – and it’s amazing that people can go all over the world, and there’s still no place quite like home.

    Also, I may have to steal Zack.

  6. I want to eat the irises with the raindrops on. Also, I love the shot of the yard with the chairs and the birdfeeder (why does it look like there is a little light in the bird feeder? So odd!). I love all the textured close-ups, and I miss you!

    • Aw, Boo-tawn I miss you too! It was great to get so much time with you early in the year and I look forward to catching up in the fall. The irises were, in fact, hard not to eat – they do look delicious. Birdfeeder has no light, but is shaped somewhat like a lighthouse :)

  7. What a beautiful area of the country. With my limited high school French, I would love to visit Montreal and Quebec. Glad to see you got to spend time with your family. Hopefully, you got a lot of work done on the book. Look forward to catching up next week! :)

  8. You inspire me! Sounds like a great use of your time and a wonderful visit before more craziness.

  9. Those dishes look familiar ;)

    PS – come to LA on your way back from Portland!

  10. Your pictures are exquisite. I went to school not too far from your writing location at St. Michaels in Essex junction, VT. Beautiful country as your pictures so readily show.

    May I have Zack?

    Enjoy your posts. Will buy your book when completed.

    Be well!

    Joe

    • I’m happy the post brought back some memories. Essex Junction is quite close! Thank you for supporting the book (almost finished my first draft, yay!). I may hide Zack in my luggage when I leave.

  11. Beautiful photos! I *love* that you acknowledge that you built this life, along with this: “In a million years, I never thought it would come together this way but it’s been wonderful to watch it unfold bit by bit.” Powerful, potent combination: skill and unfolding..the gratitude and appreciation you share for all around you shines through your words and photos.

    What a wonderful reflection, thank you:)

  12. On June 10, 2012 at 12:00 pm Randy Johnson said:

    This:

    “gene in montreal said:
    For want of another word..Zen. You are a very lucky woman. And your appreciation and love displays this through your work. Quality.”

  13. Love your story of the pizza border run! Ah, the good ol’ days. Please come make me that pork curry sometime? :-)

  14. I like your “recipe”. We all do that from time to time, just grab what’s there and throw it together and hope for the best. Kind of like what life is like, too. Bubble tea, yum!

    Keep writing…

  15. What a magical place, Jodi. And how lovely that that you have it to come to unwind and ‘breathe’ a little every now and then. My childhood home is by the coast and I have a similar feeling of release when I go there after being away for a long time.
    PS That pork curry…I’m sure you invited me to dinner this week, right?? ;)

  16. Wow Jodi, you are an inspiration (and by the looks of it, a great cook!)

  17. You really do take some fabulous photos! Looking forward to the book too :)

  18. Gorgeous photos – especially the ones of the flowers – such vibrant colors and clarity. Pretty funny you used to cross over into a different country to get your pizza fix when you were younger! Hope the food book is going well – can’t wait to learn more about it!

  19. Jodi, the pizza smuggler!

    The views from your Dad’s place look fantastic – like the perfect place to get some work done, while taking breaks to enjoy the views and then feast! Your coconut pork curry looks mouthwatering!

  20. Jodi, I too am spending the summer “based at home” and feel similar sentiments to the ones you expressed here. Congratulations on your upcoming book and on taking time to stop and appreciate the beauty of home.

    It was so lovely to meet you this weekend at TBEX, I hope we cross paths again someday!

  21. Jodi, another wonderful post, thank you. Your pictures are beautiful! And your writing is even more lovely. You transported me to that magical place, and I felt your love and peace-filled start to summer. Have fun with Zack (and your family) and best wishes for the new book!

  22. What a beautiful piece to read after having seen all those gorgeous pictures you were posting on Instagram. Kind of like putting a name to a face but oh so much more :)

  23. There’s no place like home… and what a fantastic series of pictures!

  24. Love your pictures and your writing.

    Perhaps you could post a recipe from time to time as we await your book.

    Happy travels!

  25. Love those photos Jodi! It’s funny how we want to itch to get away from home when we’re younger but it becomes the most peaceful surrounding when we’re away from it as we grow older. I’ve never been to Chicago either. I’ve heard very good things about Big Star for tacos. Hopefully, they provide gluten free options! Happy summer.

  26. The Eastern Townships are beautiful. With the Laurentians, they are very popular places for Montreal people (like me) to escape the big city for a weekend. As you could see this is a perfect place to relax in a beautiful landscape.

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