A Peaceful Quiet in Quebec’s Eastern Townships

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 further 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.

Bubble tea on the way to the Eastern Townships of quebec
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.

Visiting the Eastern Townships of Quebec

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.

homecooked curry in the Eastern Townships of Quebec
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.

Eastern Townships of Quebec
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 the Eastern Townships are intertwined with the memories of many weekends with friends and holidays with family. This place 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.
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.


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! (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.

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