How much can you fit into one weekend of travelling, even if you don’t leave your own sofa? Well, when heading to Eastern Canada the answer is simply not enough.

We didn’t have rolls but we had fresh bread and salad leaves from the polytunnel, so lobster sandwiches for lunch on a Friday meant our ‘holiday’ had begun.

Lobster rolls. Ubiquitous throughout Eastern Canada and a great way to get our trip started – none of the standard airport snack foods for us! We arrived in Montreal, Quebec and were immediately charmed by the French references in the architecture and the feel of the city. It was certainly a lot less manic in the travel videos that we watched than we might have been expecting from a great Canadian city. We enjoyed ‘walking’ around Old Montreal, full of elegant and very buildings but all our video guides kept on about poutine as the one thing we had to eat. Chips, with gravy and cheese. Well, I was going to have to steal myself for that and it wasn’t to be our first main meal.

With lots of references to the Creole influence on the cuisine I decided that Friday night’s supper was going to be Jambalaya. Right or wrong it was delicious, especially made with the new chorizo from Donaldson’s butchery in Kirkwall. It was Spicy.

A couple of days to cover the sort of area that we tackled is simply not enough and we had an extra clash of loyalties on this trip. We had bought a season ticket for the amazing Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow and knew that keeping up to date with over a fortnight of concerts was going to be hard going, even without a trip away. One of the early concerts, however, was full of Quèbècois music featuring Le Vent du Nord who have visited the Orkney Folk Festival and it was joyous to watch, believing we were there, whether that was Montreal or Glasgow – who knows?

My version of Poutine – it had to be done in the end!

Were we still in Montreal or had we moved on to Quebec when I made our Saturday lunchtime Poutine? I weakened in the end but was not getting the frier out so we had spiced wedges and I made a tangy BBQ sauce – probably quite wrong and maybe Bisto granules would have been better but that wasn’t going to happen – and some Wensleydale cheese crumbled over the top. I was hoping for the local Orcadian Grimbister curds with no luck, but the Yorkshire cheese worked well with the dish. I have to confess that, with a glass of beer, it was jolly good. Up close to that on offer at Poutine Parlours which were on every travel vloggers schedule I am not sure how it looks – but I reckon mine was pretty OK.

Some versions add all sorts of things to the basic chips, gravy and cheese….. Ours was straight up, tatties, sauce and cheese.

We didn’t get out of breath at all climbing up to the viewpoint at the top of the hill overlooking Montreal as we sat on our sofa and took in the view! The street art in the city was great and when we moved on to Quebec City we were further entranced by the architecture, the zest for life and the music and food. We discovered some new travel guides, the VagaBrothers, who were much more into their food than many of the other YouTubers that we have ‘met’, and so I think our on-screen eating was much better in Canada than in some of the other places that we have ‘visited’.

On the Saturday night we popped down to Toronto for an ice hockey game and decided we needed pie for sustenance for that. I had also discovered an excellent food blogging site (after planning most of the weekend’s menus) at oldcutkitchen.com and used Marci’s recipe for Butter Tarts, a Canadian favourite. I made them with maple syrup and they were sweet but good.

Our ice hockey tart was filled with minced beef and veg and the recipe that I found (not on Marci’s site) suggested a shortcrust lower crust and a flaky top – who would do that? Using bought pastry, I did it as the recipe said and of course, wished that I had made my own doughs. We both love a pie but don’t have them very often so I felt that I had cheated. I have to say that I enjoyed the butter tarts very much and still follow oldcutkitchen.com.

Do they eat broad beans in Canada? Not so very many countries do.

We really enjoyed the train journeys up the east coast exploring the Maritime scenery and traditions. We are discovering lots of similarities in the traditional and everyday dishes of people living in similar latitudes and landscapes. Tatties grow well and form the staple veg crop and food stuff. Prince Edward Isle has long been the biggest of Canada’s tattie growing regions but weather hammered the yield last year: hopefully they will do better in 2021. Fish and shellfish are abundant but so are game meats with one blogger actually trying seal, which in some places is considered a delicacy. I would try it fresh but the abundant rotting carcasses here on Orkney’s beaches which a certain young collie likes to roll in don’t sell the idea at all well.

Seafood chowder – it has to be done in a fishing community. Super tasty with a good stock made from the lobster shell – 5 mins fishing aromas in the kitchen for the perfect base for a soup.

The final treat of this trip was catching up with The Once, a folk trio from St John’s in Newfoundland. Hearing them talk about their home was like listening to Orcadian musicians talking about these islands. We saw them at The Orkney Folk Festival three years ago in St Ninian’s church in Deerness, a magical musical experience and it was lovely to watch some videos of them on line and to catch up with them, as it were.

I am a bit late writing this trip up. In the long dark days of January we seemed to watch so much TV with this trip and Celtic Connections. Once again though, as we moved back into our bedroom from the holiday/guest bedroom experience, I was struck by how food and music are the true international languages. Do we now have to add COVID to that list?

I had actually been to Toronto in 2000 shortly after my High Fibre and Onion cookbooks were published in Canada and the USA by Firefly Books. My notebooks are fascinating to look back at, with lots of accounts of cable TV shows and syndicated radio interviews, watching the Food Channel and meeting people. I really don’t know how many cookbooks I have sold world-wide as several were done for book packagers who, unfortunately, don’t tell you things like sales figures as you sell them the rights. That would be something I would now tell my younger self not to do! However, Onions was fairly recently out and I have a note that it had sold 15,000 copies by the time I visited.

From Toronto I went on to New York via a weekend at Niagara on the Lake where I dined at Hildebrand Vineries. I looked to buy some of their wines for our 2021 ‘weekend away’ – prices suggest that they have been very successful since I was really there!