Down the rabbit hole: Alice in Wonderland’s 150th anniversary

Happy New Year!

The time has come,” the walrus said, “to talk of many things: Of shoes and ships – and sealing wax – of cabbages and kings”

This new year, among other things, marks the 150th Anniversary of the classic story Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – more commonly known as Alice in Wonderland.

Alice in Wonderland the mad hatters tea partyThe Mad Hatter’s tea party, from the colour illustrated Nursery Alice, 1890 (source: British Library)

English author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson – writing under the pseudonym, Lewis Carroll – wrote the story in 1865. It tells the tale of a girl named Alice who falls through a rabbit hole into a fantasy world populated by peculiar creatures. Full of philosophy and truisms, the absurdity of the plot and the strong underlying narrative plays with logic and is one of the best examples of the literary nonsense genre.

I knew who I was this morning, but I’ve changed a few times since then.”

Alice in wonderland www bl uk

Lewis Carroll, ’Alice’s Adventures Under Ground’ (source: British Library)

The anniversary will be marked in several ways by cultural institutions such as the British Library, which will loan the original handwritten illustrated manuscript for Alice in Wonderland to New York’s Morgan Library and Museum and the Rosenbach Museum of the Free Library of Philidelphia this year. The book, which bears its original title of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, was bought by an American dealer in 1928 and returned to Britain in 1948. Later on this year, the British Library will display the book as part of an exhibition marking the 150th anniversary since its 1865 publication.

In fact, there are nearly one hundred events in 10 countries, to mark the anniversary, including a few in Canada. Alice fans everywhere are being encouraged to create their own events, and list them on the official site.

louise-kirk-alice-in-wonderland-rabbit-placematThe White Rabbit by Louise Kirk (image courtesy of Avenida Home)

The fantastic characters created by Lewis Carroll have left a lasting impression and become enormously influential in popular culture and literature.

To mark the anniversary, artist Louise Kirk has created a series of designs that pay homage to Carroll’s characters – notably the King and Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and the White Rabbit.

Alice in wonderland image telegraph co ukLewis Carroll, ’Alice’s Adventures Under Ground’, 1865 (source: British Library)

Her designs have been translated in delightful homewares in the UK by Avenida Home, which has created an enticing collection of placemats, coaster and trays featuring characters and scenes from the book.

louise-kirk-alice-in-wonderland-queen-placematThe Queen of Hearts by Louise Kirk (image courtesy of Avenida Home)

The Mad Hatter by Louise Kirk (image courtesy of Avenida Home)
We have received our shipment of placemats, coasters and trays!
louise-kirk-alice-in-the-court-of-hearts-wooden-trayAlice in the Court of Hearts by Louise Kirk (image courtesy of Avenida Home)
Does this post conjure up any childhood memories for you?
Will you mark the 150th anniversary?
Let us know in the comments below, on Facebook, or on our Twitter or Instagram @galerieco!

Holiday entertaining: a beautifully simple table setting with flowers

For those of you who have followed the Chez CO blog since the beginning, or who are regular clients at Galerie CO, you have already been introduced to Caroline Boyce, the creator of Floralia. She has been supplying CO with beautiful bouquets of fresh, local flowers grown in the summer on her plot of land in the Eastern townships, and in the winter sourced from a fair trade supplier.

resized.IMG_2955This week, we asked Caroline to share some of her ideas for creating a beautiful holiday themed table setting. Her approach shows that by adding a few carefully selected elements, even a little bit of effort can make a big difference.

• Keep the table simple. You can use the same cutlery, plates and glasses that you use throughout the year.

resized.IMG_3485• A simple runner adds a lovely visual element without overwhelming the table setting, and is especially suited to a long rectangular table. Linen adds texture and works well with wood. A linen runner can be matched to linen napkins.

resized.IMG_3426• A colour theme helps tie the elements in the table setting together and to set a mood. Feel free to select colours outside the traditional red, green and gold. In this case the table is highlighted with orange, inspired by clementines, which are always available over the holidays and often appear in Christmas stockings. Orange works beautifully with silver, white wood and shades of grey and beige. It also complements, and is enhanced by, the warm glow of the candles.

resized.IMG_3352• Choose flowers that you love and can afford, mixing textures to create interest. In these bouquets, kangaroo paws and rosemary give the bouquets height. Volume comes from cabbages, tulips, spray roses and dates, which add an interesting visual element.

resized.IMG_3274• Select candles that are low and that don’t compete with, but that complement, the flower arrangements.

resized.IMG_3370• Add festive name tags as a final touch. Make your own by simply attaching small branches of evergreen (you can cut a few pieces from the Christmas tree) with a string and paper tag (available at any art or office supply store).

resized.IMG_3413There is still time to order your own centrepiece from Floralia, for delivery (within Montreal) in time for the holidays. Order Christmas bouquets here.

Or, learn how to create a holiday centrepiece at the next Floralia workshop: December 20, 7-9 pm. The theme flowers will include amarylis and seasonal evergreens,  combined with local freesia, lilies, paperwhites, citrus fruits, holly, mosses and berries. Under Caroline’s guidance you will create a beautiful centrepiece, which is yours to keep.  The workshop will be held at Galerie CO (5235 Blvd. St-Laurent, Montreal,  514 277-3131). You can sign up for the workshop here.

All the photographs in this post were taken by Melodie Hoareau, from Instant d’une vie, and made available to us courtesy of Caroline Boyce of Floralia.

 How do you decorate your table for festive occasions? Which flowers would you choose for a holiday centrepiece?

Let us know in the comments below, or on our Facebook page, on Instagram or Twitter @galerieco.

Holiday traditions: stockings

It’s December. Time to think about decorating the house, inside and out, for the holidays. One way to add an instant feel of festivity is to line the mantlepiece with stockings. But Christmas stockings aren’t mere decorations. First and foremost, they’re receptacles for holding gifts! That is, for children who have been nice rather than naughty.

stocking by mantlepiece 3A contemporary decorated hearth (Source: propertypal)

It is tradition among some, to hang stockings by the chimney on Christmas Eve to be filled by Santa Claus as he does his rounds delivering presents. The evolution of some of our Christmas traditions are a little murky and there are few written records to help.

One of the oldest reference to St. Nicolas goes as far back as the third century. The ancient town of Myra, located in what is now modern-day Turkey, is home to a shrine dedicated to Bishop Nicolas. Over several centuries, tales spread detailing the benevolence and generosity of Bishop Nicholas, and some content that this is where the idea of St. Nick as  a gift-giver began.

Another story holds that the notion of St. Nicolas, a magical night visitor who gave gifts to children, originated with a group of nuns in the Middle Ages. Children were encouraged to leave their shoes out, for gifts. However, St. Nicolas would only leave treats and toys for children who had been good. For children who had been naughty throughout the year, he left sticks, horse manure, sawdust or lumps of coal. Shoes eventually gave way to socks, which gave way to Christmas stockings.

Yet another legend maintains that Saint Nicolas learned about a poor man who worried that he couldn’t afford to pay a dowry for his three daughters. Saint Nicolas decided to help the man, and he took three bags of gold with him down the chimney of the man’s home. Once inside, he found the girls’ stockings hanging on the mantelpiece after washing, and he added the gold bags to the stockings. As the story spread, children began hanging their own stockings in the hopes of receiving gold, or at least gifts on Christmas Eve.

Nevertheless, it is clear that by the 1800s the idea of St. Nick going down the chimney to fill stockings left out by children was an established part of the Christmas landscape. Stockings feature large in on of my favourite Christmas classics, the poem Twas the night before Christmas, written in 1823. In the poem, St. Nick is portrayed as driving his reindeer from house to house on Christmas Eve to deliver presents and stuff the stockings.

Night before Christmas ctg publishingSource: CTG Publishing

For those of you who wish to try your luck with St Nick, we have a beautiful selection of stockings this year at Galerie CO.

 corita rose stocking blog

Luxurious velvet stocking hand-printed by the UK’s Corita Rose (Galerie CO)

christmas stocking wolf blog by nord’s wonderful oversized cotton stockings come wolf, moose and fawn motifs (Galerie CO)


Donna Wilson stocking

Knitted lambswool stocking by Donna Wilson are available in red and green (Galerie CO)

Aline Gilmore stockingAline Gilmore’s stockings made from cozy woolen blankets (Galerie CO)

You could also try and make your own stockings.

There are several resources on line that offer tutorials for how to make stockings using lots of natural or repurposed materials.

stockings burlap 5Elegant elf stockings made from repurposed burlap coffee sacks (Source: habitationBoheme)

Stockings on bannisterColourful and quirky home-made stockings hanging on a bannister (Source: house to home)

Stockings elfWhimsical elf Christmas stocking patterns available (Source: decorating your small space)

If you’re a little nostalgic, like me, and you love the 1823 poem, here it is again just in case you need a little inspiration to get to work on some unique and beautiful stockings to decorate your own home for the holidays.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tinny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

“Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! His dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”

Clement Moore (first published 23 December 1823)

Night before Christmas(Source:

What are your gift giving traditions?

How do you decorate for the holidays?

Tell us in the comments below, or on our Facebook page or on Instagram or Twitter @galerieco

Holiday traditions: the Advent calendar

As a child, the excitement associated with the lead up to Christmas was marked with familiar traditions that my family engaged in year after year and that heightened expectations for THE-BIG-DAY. The preparations started at the beginning of December with caroling parties, Christmas baking (and decorating), and putting up the tree. They continued right up to hanging stockings, leaving beer and cookies by the fireplace for Santa, and reading “T’was the Night Before Christmas” on December 24th.

Another tradition that I appreciated immensely and that marked the countdown to THE-BIG-DAY was the Advent calendar. Behind each of the little windows, numbered from 1 to 24, was a little treat – normally some cheap chocolate – but a treat nonetheless.

Despite all the marketing to children, as an adult I continue to love the tradition.

advent calendar ferm livingFerm Living’s ‘house’ Advent calendar (Source: Galerie CO)

So at CO we’ve started our own Advent celebration where we handout a little present from our over-sized by nord Advent calendar to the first person to spend $100, every day from December 1 to December 24. It’s a fun way to give back in the form of offering a token of appreciation to our clients and to revel in the smiles and good will that surround the holiday period.

wally 1-24 by nord’s “Wally” cotton Advent calendar (Source: Galerie CO)

The origin of the word “advent” is rooted in Christian traditions surrounding the Nativity. It comes from the Latin word “adventus”, which means “coming.” To mark the significance of this event each year, early Christians believed it necessary to prepare for, and extend, the celebrations during the Advent, the period leading up to the 25th of December.

The idea behind the modern Advent calendar, of creating a calendar to mark the days in the lead up to Christmas, originated in Germany. It’s thought that the first Advent calendar was made in the late 19th Century and comprised 24 tiny sweets stuck onto a cardboard frame. The child recipient of this, Gerhard Lang, never forgot the excitement he felt when he was given his calendar every year at the beginning of December.

As an adult, Lang ran a publishing house, Reichhold & Lang, and in 1908 he released the first printed Advent calendar based on his childhood experience. He also invented, in 1920, the perforated doors used on modern Advent calendars, to make little shuttered windows containing stories from the Nativity, for children to open every day before Christmas. Demand swiftly increased several companies began to produce the calendars. They didn’t take hold in North America until 1953, when Newsweek published a photo of President Eisenhower’s grandchildren grasping for an Advent calendar.

Ever since the 1950s Advent calendars have been mass-produced and many are no longer strictly religious but have become part of a more secular traditions around the holidays and typically involve colourful packaging and cheap chocolate.

We’ve been looking for some interesting and original interpretations that don’t involve plastic packaging and cheap chocolate and that do involve working together and fun times with friends and family over the holidays. Here are a few that we found:

Why not incorporate your holiday baking into your Advent with a cookie calendar made from delicious sugar cookies. You can find a great recipe here.

advent calendar cookies butterheartssugar blogspotCinnamon and brown sugar cookies (Source: Butterheartsugar)

Simple, rustic and brilliant. On the back of each luggage tag making up this Advent calendar is a Christmas activity or game to do with your family and friends, such as watch a Christmas film or make a Christmas cake.

advent-calendar-via-dandee-designs-via-advent-calendar-ideas-on-oaxacabornLuggage tags / activities Advent calendar (Source: Dandee Designs)

For those more into the idea of consuming words and knowledge than chocolate and treats, you might opt for wrapping up 24 books, and discovering one each day in the countdown to Christmas. A wonderful way to stay entertained over the holidays.

Wrapped books advent calendar (Source: Six Sisters Stuff)

For little presents, this Advent calendar made using Chinese take-away boxes does the trick nicely. Hang the boxes on a string using everyday clothes pegs. They can be placed on the tree, along the mantlepiece or across a display board as seen below.

Advent calenar pinsandribbons co uk Chinese take-away boxes Advent calendar (Source: Pins and Ribbons)

Any knitters out there? This rustic and very homemade Advent calendar involves a certain amount of skill and work to put together, but evokes memories of family trips to the toboggan hill or ice rink.

knitted advent calendar

(Source: CampKitschyKnits)

Finally, each “day” in the calendar below was created using the pigments from a different food source. On the back of each of each colour swatch is a recipe for a yummy holiday dish that corresponds to the pigment on the front of the swatch. Brilliant and creative.
advent calendar - food inspired - recipes on back -

(Source and link to recipes: )

Which is your favourite? What are your holiday traditions? How do you count down the days in the Advent?

Let us know in the comments below. Or leave us a message on Facebook or on Twitter @GalerieCO

Donna Wilson’s Aberdeenshire Tartan: Home Colours

It’s that time of year again…time to get out the wool and get cozy. We’ve just received an order from Scottish knitwear and textile designer Donna Wilson, including her whimsical fox scarf made from a newly created tartan pattern.

Earlier this year, Donna was asked to design an exclusive tartan for Aberdeenshire, Scotland, the area where she grew up. Her creation is fresh and  contemporary, yet grounded in the heritage and traditions of tartan as an iconic Scottish design.

DonaWilson_part379064Donna Wilson’s tartan fox available at Galerie CO (source: Donna Wilson)

When people think of the tartan, most think of the colourful pattern of the iconic cloth of the Scottish Highlands. It is a wool-woven cloth with a horizontal and vertical criss-cross design in multiple colours. Highland tartans are associated with specific clans, regions, districts and even families and institutions associated in some way with a Scottish heritage. In Canada, most provinces, territories and several counties and municipalities have an official tartan. So does the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Donna highland-dressA display of highland dress (source: Visit Scotland)

Originally, the word “tartan” described the way that the thread was woven to make the cloth: each thread passed over two threads then under two threads, and so on. The pattern is formed by woven bands of different coloured yarns crossing each other and forming intermediate shades. With six yarns this will produce a total of 21 different colours – the pure ones where the same colours cross each other and complementary half tones where each colour crosses another.

Donna tartan-loomA tartan loom in a Scottish mill (source: Visit Scotland)

The attributes of tartan are thus well-suited to the talents of a textile designer who understands design structure and can combine colours with artistic flair. Add to that someone who is fully aware of the important role that tartan plays as a quintessential and iconic symbol of Scotland, its national dress, and in the family histories of the Scottish people and their descendants around the world–and a perfect designer for tartan emerges.

So it make complete sense that Donna Wilson would be asked to design the exclusive tartan for her home county of Aberdeenshire.

Designing a tartan for Aberdeenshire is a huge honour, especially as a Scottish designer,” said Wilson. “Tartan is such an important part of our tradition and heritage, and we should never lose that. I hope to be able to make a difference to the manufacturers who will be weaving it and create something that will be a lasting symbol of Aberdeenshire.” (Uppercase Magazine)

The Aberdeenshire Council asked her to create a tartan fabric that celebrates the area’s craft heritage.

Donna 01291962Donna displaying the finished product (source: Donna Wilson blog, Twigs and Leaves)

Donna set about the task, first by collaborating with Aberdeenshire school children. She ran a series of workshops with local school children and asked them to identify colours that they felt best represented the area they lived in. She combined these suggestions with colours she drew directly from Aberdeenshire’s cultural heritage and natural surroundings to create the patterns in the material.

Donna Girl with PaintSome colourful submissions from the children of Aberdeenshire (source: Donna Wilson blog, Twigs and Leaves)

To be a true Aberdeenshire tartan, the design needed to have input from local people to find out what colours really represented the area and who better to do that than our young people? I loved working with them and I hope that being part of a process like this will inspire them to think about the possibilities of a career in the creative industries.” (Donna Wilson in The Scotland Herald)

You can see the process unfold here:

As a result of the workshops, the following seven colours were selected for the final design, a palette that reflected the natural beauty of the region:

Donna Aberdeenshire Tartan (2)Final colour choices to feature in the tartan (source: Donna Wilson blog, Twigs and Leaves)

Old Meldrum: A gold/copper inspired by the stills at the Glengarioch Distillery, and as one pupil pointed out—it’s also the colour of whisky!
Stonehaven: A pinky red seen in Aberdeenshire sunsets, and a colour often spotted at the infamous ‘Aunt Betty’s’ sweetshop in Stonehaven.
Aboyne: A frosty lichen green found in the Ladywood Forest.
Fraserburgh: A lilac/blue symbolizing the seas and skies around Fraserburgh.
Kintore: A forest green from all the woodlands around Kintore.
Harvest: A barley colour that reminded Donna of the farm where she grew up, and her favourite time of year.
Peterhead: A minty green from the seas and sea spray of Peterhead.

Donna aberdeen farmAn inspiration for “Harvest” (source: Donna Wilson blog, Twigs and Leaves)

The tartan is woven from 100 % lambs wool in a Scottish mill, which spins its own yarn directly from the fleeces and uses it to weave the textiles.

The tartan that emerged is a beautiful representation of the region. It is available to purchase by the metre from Donna Wilson. It’s also available in her whimsical fox-shaped scarf, which is available at Galerie CO.

Donna TartanDonna Wilson’s tartan design for Aberdeenshire (source: Donna Wilson)

What do you think of Donna’s new tartan? Leave us a comment below or let us know on Facebook or Twitter @GalerieCO

True green decor

Fall is here. In Montreal, it’s time to bring in the plants and batten down the hatches for another winter.

After a summer enjoyed in the great outdoors, once we seal up our homes for another winter, I wonder how many of us turn our thoughts to indoor air quality. In fact, indoor air pollutants can be significantly higher than outdoor air pollutants. Our homes and the stuff we have in them can contain a cocktail of hazardous substances such as formaldehyde (found in MDF, carpets, upholstery) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) off-gassed from carpets, upholstery, paints, insulation, plastics and countless other common products.

Green plants come in handy here. They absorb toxins, removing VOCs from the ambient air, and they actually improve air quality through photosynthesizing — that is, absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing energy rich oxygen.

An effort to capture these health benefits is propelling the movement in corporate headquarters, arts institutions, universities and public spaces to incorporate into their interior architecture permanent installations of plants — or living walls. Living walls are covered by plants, which do not root in the ground but in soil or mats suspended on the wall itself.

living wall 8(source:

In addition to being visually stunning and delivering physical benefits, living walls provide psychological health benefits by inserting nature into human (and often corporate) landscapes. succulent wall

A wall of succulents (source:

Most living walls require a significant investment, a relatively sophisticated infrastructure and considerable maintenance commitments that can be met in institutional settings. But there is no reason that the infrastructure can’t be transferred to people’s homes, as long as they have the means and ability to pay for and care for the undertaking. Take, for example, this fabulous creation by garden designer Daniel Bell who created a living wall that runs inside and outside a house in north London in the UK.

The indoor section of the wall(source: the Guardian)

This wall is made from two layers of capillary matting (made from recycled clothes) with a waterproof plastic backing. Slits were cut in the outer felt, plants were inserted, and the opening was then stapled to anchor the plant. This system allowed the designer to create different-sized pockets to suit different plants. The innovative design coupled with clever plant choices resulted in an absolutely spectacular living wall masterpiece.

living wall 7(source: the Guardian)

When I opened Galerie CO in 2008 I budgeted out installing a living wall in the boutique. At the time it represented too large an investment when there were so many other things that needed to be done.

Nevertheless, I was committed to the idea of showcasing greenery and inspiring our clients to ‘green’ their own homes. So I set out to find affordable alternatives; ways to install plants inside en masse and in unconventional and beautiful ways. Here are four of the solutions I sourced, that are displayed and sold at Galerie CO and would be easy to install in any home:

1.  Colourful and petite, Thelermont Hupton’s delightful ‘off the wall’ ceramic wall pots are ideal for small bursts of interior greenery in the kitchen, living room, home office or bathroom. With invisible fixtures these simple pots let your plants nestle on the wall creating discrete and artful interior ‘gardens’.


‘Off the wall’ pots (source: Thelermont Hupton)

2.  A larger option is available from Wooly pockets. Made from 100% recycled post-consumer PET plastic bottles, these planters hang on the wall.

news item woolly pockets

Wooly Pocket’s Wally 3 (source: Woolypocket)

They are easy to install, simple to use and modular, allowing you to create a custom-sized living wall to fit your space.

oliver heath comA gorgeous wall created using Wooly Pockets (source:

3.  If you don’t have the space or the inclination for a living wall, Boskke’s innovative sky planters allow you to suspend plants upside down from the ceiling. They are striking on their own, but really pack a surreal visual punch when the three different sizes are displayed at various heights with an array of different plants.


Assorted skyplanters and plants (source: Boskke)

Boskke provides some guidance on the types of plants that love to be raised upside down. In our experience, orchids do especially well in the skyplanters. In nature they grow clinging to tree branches, their roots firmly attached to the bark of a tree, which explains why they are so content upside down in the sky planters.

BOSKKE Sky Planter Recycled medium White Orchid(source: Boskke)

4.  L.A.’s Sheleterblack has created beautifully simple and contemporary wooden wall mountable planter frames. The Garden State boxes are available with contrast detail on half of the perimeter in black, neon pink and neon yellow. They are designed especially for succulents, which are secured through a wire mesh.

living wall shelterblackShelterblack’s Garden State box planter (source:

So, as the air cools in the evenings and the threat of frost approaches, when you bring in your patio plants think about creating your own, affordable, living wall on a smaller scale.

We’d love to see how you create green spaces inside you own home.

Send us your photos on twitter or instagram @GalerieCO or tag yourself as a #COclient to be featured.

Barbeques and burgers

Aaaaaah…the summer long weekends have started. In Quebec this week, we celebrated St. Jean Baptiste Day, and next week we’ll mark Canada’s birthday on July 1. Across the country people in holiday mode are getting together with family and friends to celebrate outside, often around a barbeque, which is a good thing. There’s something about being in the fresh air enjoying long days in the great outdoors that seems to make people hungry. And there’s something about eating al fresco that makes food taste better. At least that’s the hypothesis that I’ll be testing this long weekend.

Quebec And Canada FlagsOutdoor dining can be as simple as throwing a few veggies on the grill although for me, a summer barbeque has to involve meat or fish and nothing seems to please a crowd  like a good burger with all the toppings. I’m happy to make my own patties, and there are lots of recipes out there for excellent hamburgers to suit all tastes. But, I don’t have to make my own patties anymore. I have the good fortune to work next door to a team of people who know a lot more about meat than I do.

Galerie CO is located just steps away from Lawrence, a fine-dining institution in Montreal’s Mile End that serves up a stellar hamburger at lunchtime accompanied by thick hand-cut fries and homemade mayo that YOU DO NOT WANT TO MISS. But I digress. Just know that chef Marc Cohen presents straight forward wonderfully flavourful food using the best ingredients available.

Lawrence Burger

The classic Lawrence burger (Source:Lee-Anne Bigwood, Chez CO)

And, lucky for me, his raw burgers are available at Boucherie Lawrence, which is directly next door to Galerie CO.  Boucherie Lawrence — the butcher associated with the restaurant and owned by the same team — is a purveyor of fresh, humanely raised, high quality meat from small-scale independent farms in Quebec. It supplies the restaurant and the city with exceptional fodder for carnivores.  Their burgers start with great meat ground fresh daily and include a healthy ratio of fat and a nice coarse grind.

lawrence burger 1 tellementswellBurger patties for sale at Boucherie Lawrence in Montreal (Source:

That’s what I’ll be barbequing this long weekend while celebrating Canada Day. And I’ll be doing it in the great outdoors, which means a portable barbeque — charcoal not gas (a bag of charcoal can easily be chucked into the car). Yes, working with a charcoal grill requires some planning and patience, but the payoff is the smokey flavour that comes from the smouldering hot coals. The better the briquettes, the better the smoke; choose charcoal made from real pieces of wood, or mix charcoal with chunks of hardwood.

bbho011Holkham portable BBQ (Source: Garden Trading via

As with most things involving fire, according to the National Fire Protection Association in the U.S., there are a few basic rules to follow for safely handling a charcoal grill:

  • Propane and charcoal BBQ grills should only be used outdoors.
  • The grill should be placed well away from the home, deck railings and out from under eaves and overhanging branches.
  • Keep children and pets away from the grill area.
  • Keep your grill clean by removing grease or fat buildup from the grills and in trays below the grill.
  • Never leave your grill unattended.
  • There are several ways to get the charcoal ready to use. Charcoal chimney starters allow you to start the charcoal using newspaper as a fuel.
  • If you use a starter fluid, use only charcoal starter fluid. Never add charcoal fluid or any other flammable liquids to the fire.
  • Keep charcoal fluid out of the reach of children and away from heat sources.
  • There are also electric charcoal starters, which do not use fire. Be sure to use an extension cord for outdoor use.
  • When you are finished grilling, let the coals completely cool before disposing in a metal container. (

Use enough charcoal to cover the bottom of your grill and get the fire nice and hot. Once the fire is started, there will come a point where the briquettes form a grey ash and the fire is ready.  You can redistribute the briquettes, out of their pyramid formation, and place them where you need them for cooking.

blog charcoal-grill-636-main_FullCharcoal ready for cooking (Source:

Whether you buy your patties or make your own, keep them in the fridge or in a cooler until you’re ready to cook them.

When the charcoal is ready place the patties on a lightly oiled grill and find a cover, or close the lid. After 4-5 minutes flip the patties, provided they lift easily. Cover, or close the lid and grill for another 4-5 minutes. Flip them one more time and continue grilling until the juices from the burgers run clear and the patties feel solid.

Try not to turn the burgers more than once or twice. The more you handle meat while it is cooking, the dryer it will be. And avoid pressing or mashing the burgers into the grill, as this will also dry out the meat and can cause the burgers to fall apart.

blog burger 1(Source: agb-styles.blogspot)

One challenge with grilling on charcoal is that there will be variations in heat levels from one space on the grill to the next meaning that two burgers side-by-side may not cook at the same rate. However, there are some great tricks that can be employed to arrive at a perfectly cooked burger. Barbeque blogger Joshua Bousel offers the following two tips on Serious Eats:

He suggests setting up the grill so that the coals are piled on one side of the charcoal grate to provide a temporary safe haven for burgers engulfed in a flare-up and a spot where burgers can finish cooking without fear of burning, once the perfect sear has been achieved.  He stresses that it’s important to close the lid to give the meat the heat it needs to finish cooking.

A second trick he shares is to use a small heat-resistant bowl to cover individual burgers where the internal cooking needs to be speeded up, or when cheese needs to be melted.

Hamburgers(Source: Joshua Bousel)

Check before serving, the burgers should not be too pink in the middle. It’s important not to under-cook ground beef. Nothing should be rare. High quality, freshly ground beef can be cooked to medium-rare. Anything else should be medium-well or well done.

Once you’re finished with the grill, putting out the fire is as important as starting it. When you’re done cooking, using proper protection for your hand, carefully close any vents on the grill and secure the cover. Assume it will take at least 1 hour for your fire to go out and your grill to cool down. If your charcoal grill doesn’t have a cover, you’ll need to let your fire burn itself out, which could take an hour or two or more.

Have fun, be safe and enjoy the holidays.

– Sarah

We’d love to hear what you’re barbequing. Let us know in the comments below, on Facebook or on Twitter.

bbq-1Whitstable portable barbeque (Source: Garden Trading via