It’s Time for Four O’Clock Tea! Chocolate Spice, Gingerbread, Almond Biscotti & Hunting for Tea Around the City!!

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Puddles splashed under my feet, the air was damp and cold enough to chill me to the bone, and my umbrella was one gust away from auditioning for Mary Poppins.  And yet there I was, adrenaline pumping, frolicking around town with the most excited, giddy feeling bubbling out of me.  Nope, it wasn’t because of cupcakes.  Or sushi.  And no, I didn’t find a chunk of change on the ground although that would have been pretty nice too.  No, I was bursting with delightful joy because I had just bought two boxes of tea.  TEA!!  I could shout it from the rooftops: I LOVE MY TEAAAA!

I have never been more ecstatic over a food and drink purchase in my life.  And as you all know, I get excited about many things so this is huge!  I know, I gush about cupcakes and macarons and vegetarian food and Italian and brunch and cookbooks and food accessories and all that good stuff.  But I never had to hunt for any of it.  This time I hunted.  I looked and I hunted and I was rewarded with treasure: a total of 3 boxes of amazing tea that I cannot wait to drown my tea mesh ball in!  Before you ask what the heck I’m even talking about, let me start from the beginning.

Over the past several years, I’ve been drinking loose leaf tea on a pretty regular basis.  As a child, I would drink tea at dim sum with my family, sure, but this was different.  This was me going out to buy loose leaf from David’s Tea, going out to grab a cup at a cute tea shop, and keeping up with new flavours and flavours I had already tried.  After starting my job at Kraft, the tea situation has only intensified.  I drink tea every morning at work now.  I don’t miss a beat.  I drink tea the same way java junkies inhale their coffee.  I stock up and actually have a cute purple paper bag from Steeped & Infused that I keep in the cupboard of my co-worker’s kitchen that is full of loose leaf tea baggies in all sorts of flavours so I’ll always have something to choose from in the mornings.  And said co-worker?  Bless her heart, she adores tea as much as I do (if not more) and shares her loot with me.

Basically, my tea obsession has just gotten ridiculous.  But I don’t care.  Because I love it and it makes me happy.

So, my dear co-worker, who goes through Union station every morning to get to work, was given tea samples by some nice folks during the morning rush hour not too long ago.  Knowing how much I loved having a cuppa every day, she asked for a few extras so she could surprise me.  These tea samples were none other than the ones from the fair trade, organic Four O’clock brand and tea collection!  I was completely taken aback.  Four O’clock teas?!  How did this get past my radar?!  The packaging looked completely unfamiliar and the name didn’t ring a bell.  For all I knew, I could have had a tea from them in the past without knowing it was actually from them.  Either way, I brewed a cup of chai from one of the samples and fell utterly head over heels in love.  OH.MY.GOD.  Tea is warm, cozy heaven in a cup.  I had to know what in the world this tea was all about.

So I did what any savvy, modern foodie would do: I Googled them.

And I was floored.  As part of the Trans-herbe company based in Quebec, Four O’Clock teas are sold all over the world and are available in shops and health food stores all across the country and province.  Their website has a section where you can search for shops that sell Four O’Clock tea (CLICK HERE) and oh my goodness is there EVER a ridiculous number of places that carry it in Toronto and York Region!  This is my holy grail tea guide, folks!  And the flavours!  Banana Cinnamon Spice!  Tiramisu!  Raspberry Cream!  There was no way I was going to let this slip by and fade into oblivion.  I was going to hunt these teas down if it was the last thing I did.

And that, my dear friends, is how and why I ended up splashing in puddles around town looking for Four O’Clock tea in the wet and cold god-awful weather (not during the Whole Foods trip though, that day was sunny!).  And I’m over-the-moon blissfully happy because I snagged 3, count ’em THREE boxes of tea!!  And two of them are from their brand spankin’ new winter tea collection!!  I don’t even care that I came home with the toes of my shoes completely soaked!  I picked up a box of Chocolate Spice from Whole Foods Market in Yorkville ($3.99 with a $0.50 off coupon at Whole Foods) and the other two special winter collection boxes ($3.99 each) at Essence of Life Organics health food store in Kensington MarketChocolate Spice, Gingerbread, and Almond Biscotti!!  CAN YOU TELL HOW EXCITED I AM?!  Hunting for this teas was and is so much fun.  Not only am I getting to know a new (to me) brand of tea, I’m also getting to know shops I’ve never been to and in the future, possibly even parts of town I’ve never even been around.  Sigh.  I’m so happy.

And I am not afraid to say this: free samples totally work.

Halloween Headquarters – Black Cats on Vanilla Cupcakes & Halloween Glamour at The Wedding Cake Shoppe

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Okay, so I’m a wee bit freaked out about the power zapping out so this will have to be short.  Sandy is currently howling outside my house (it sounds like ocean waves are crashing as I type.  Lovely.) and it’s time for bed!  I took these photos over the weekend and it would be a shame not to post them with Halloween just two days away though, so here is The Wedding Cake Shoppe decked out in black, bats, skulls, and Halloween cake and cupcake glamour!  If you can (or just plain willing to) brave the bad weather (er, anything for cupcakes for us crazy cupcake lovers, right?!), grab the special Halloween vanilla bean buttercream cupcake with the adorable black cat topper!  The Wedding Cake Shoppe is closed on Tuesdays though, so make the trip on Halloween on Wednesday if you want in on the treats!

*****

The Wedding Cake Shoppe is located at 859 College Street, just west of Ossington Ave.  They are open 6 days a week (closed on Tuesdays) and their weekday hours are from 11am-7pm, weekend hours from 11am-5pm.  You can check out their official website here, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Get ‘Em While They’re Hot – November Food Calendar & Events Sneak Peek!

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So, why the sneak peek of the November Food Calendar while it’s still a work in progress?  Let’s just say you’ll want to snatch up a ticket for some of these events sooner rather later!  Some of these events have a limited amount of tickets and since several of these take place during the first half of the month, posting these an extra few days in advance just might save you a little heartbreak!  Yes, I’m looking you, you burger/chocolate/wine lovers!  Read on for the goods!

Toronto Chocolate Festival 2012: Chocolicious, October 13-November 4.  Various times and locations; check the Chocolicious passport in the link below for all participating locations!  As part of the Toronto Chocolate Festival, Chocolicious offers everyone a rich, decadent taste of some of the finest chocolates, and chocolate pastries and desserts.  Various chocolatiers and patisseries around the city participate in this event by offering coupons, discounts, and special event promotions via the Chocolicious Passport, which chocolate lovers can download and present when they visit participating locations.  http://www.torontochocolatefestival.com/events/chocolicious

Toronto Chocolate Festival 2012: Chocolate High Tea, October 13-November 4 (Fridays and weekends only).  2:30pm-5pm.  37 King Street East at the King Edward Skyline Hotel.  $33-$55 +HST/person.  As part of the Toronto Chocolate Festival, the King Edward will be hosting this year’s chocolate high tea!  Indulge in a chocolate inspired afternoon tea menu with loose leaf teas, pastries, desserts, and savoury bites.  http://www.torontochocolatefestival.com/events/chocolate-high-tea

Winterlude at Steam Whistle Brewery, November 2.  6:30pm-11:30pm.  255 Bremner Blvd. at Steam Whistle Brewery.  $35/person; must be 19+ years of age to attend.  In support of the Ontario Track 3 Association for the Disabled, Winterlude at Steam Whsitle Brewery will gear you up for the upcoming winter season with carnival games and mechanical snowboard rides, music, silent auctions, and plenty of food and drink to keep you warm!  Brewery tours, finger foods, product booths, sample booths, and more!  http://www.track3.org/innerpage.aspx?x=EdU2leiPwBsW3kxLgxbig5SNEqO746zzeoaRAHIswb4hAlyASiznwwozOF09BP1i

The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, November 2-11.  9am-9pm Monday to Saturday, 9am-9pm Sunday November 4, 9am-6pm Sunday November 11; check schedules and listings on the fair’s website below for specific show times.  100 Princes’ Boulevard and Exhibition Place grounds.  For almost a century, the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair has dazzled visitors with its world class equestrian competitions and horse and agricultural shows, dining, shopping, and more.  The fair celebrates its 90th year this year with numerous culinary delights including the royal wine competition, wine tastings dinner, mixology competition, chef challenges involving some of Food Network Canada’s most beloved chefs and personalities, butter sculpting, and so much more!  See calendar listings below for more specific event details.  http://www.royalfair.org/

Día de los Muertos at Evergreen Brick Works, November 3.  8am-2pm.  550 Bayview Ave at Evergreen Brick Works Pavilions.  FREE; cost of food and drink on-site.  Come and celebrate Mexican and Latin American culture, history, and tradition at the Brick Works with art, crafts, music, and FOOD!  Eat to your heart’s content from a number of Mexican and Latin American vendors at the farmers’ market including ChocoSol, Pancho’s Bakery, Agave y Aguacate, Oxala, and others serving sweet and savoury baked goods, street food, and more!  And, for $6, take part in a special sweet and savoury tamales competition where you’ll taste and vote on the goods of 4 Toronto chef participants!  http://ebw.evergreen.ca/whats-on/special-events/dia-de-los-muertos

Ice, Wine & Dine, November 3.  4pm-10pm.  Street festival on Elm Street and around the Yonge-Dundas area.  FREE; cost of food and drink on-site as well as $5 sampler menus from participating restaurants.  As part of Toronto’s Downtown Yonge Winter Magic festival, Ice, Wine & Dine is back for another year!  Embrace the upcoming winter season with a cocktail street party in the heart of downtown Toronto!  Enjoy martinis and cocktails at the Ice Martini Lounge, seasonal wine tastings, and sampler menus from 12 different restaurants in the area.  Ignite the senses at this fun and fabulous winter wonderland culinary event!  http://www.wintermagic.ca/icewinedine

Nth Lounge & Emporium, November 3.  11am-9pm for general admission (10am for VIP entry which includes continental breakfast along with general admission amenities).  1214 Queen Street West at the Gladstone Hotel, 2nd floor lounge.  $25 for general admission, $30 for VIP entry; must be 19+ years of age to attend.  Mix luxury with shopping, pleasure, relaxation, wine, sweets, and cupcakes at this exclusive event at the Gladstone Hotel.  Nth Lounge & Emporium brings experiences such as shopping, art, spa, and food together under one roof with their events and product shows.  Enjoy complimentary wine and cupcake tastings as well as tea and a sweets bar.  http://www.nthlounge.com/tickets.html

Toronto International Luxury Chocolate Show, November 4.  11am-6pm.  60 Simcoe Street at Roy Thomson Hall.  $25/person (13+) at the door; $21/person (13+) on-line; $15/child ages 5-12 when accompanied by an adult (tickets only available at the door); FREE for children 4 and under accompanied by parent.  NOTE: strollers are not permitted on show grounds.  Immerse yourself in the luxurious, decadent world of chocolate as you taste and sample your way through hundreds of vendors and chocolatiers, engage in chocolate-making workshops and demos, learn about the history of chocolate and chocolate-making practices, purchase chocolates and chocolate products, and sip on wines at wine and chocolate tastings!  http://www.torontochocolateshow.com/index.html

Food 4 Thought – A Taste of India, November 9.  7pm-9pm.  631 Crawford Street at the Kadampa Meditation Centre Canada.  $20/person or $35 for two.  Enjoy a relaxing evening meditation session in the temple before sitting down to a special 3-course vegetarian meal prepared by volunteers, focused on building, feeding, and maintaining a healthy mind, body, and soul.  At this Food 4 Thought session, the flavours of India are showcased.  http://kadampa.ca/event/food-for-thought/

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Flavour Favourites – 5 Great Tofu & Tofu Scramble Vegetarian & Vegan Brunch Dishes!

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Source: photovisi

I’m so happy and excited!  I finally have enough posts to do a Flavour Favourites post for one of my favourite foods: TOFU!  And not just any post devoted to tofu, this is a special tofu and tofu scramble brunch edition post!  Even though I’ve been eating tofu almost all my life, it wasn’t until I started my crazy food exploration 4 years ago that I realized just how versatile it was as a vegetarian brunch main.  I was especially intrigued by tofu scramble and the more I saw it on vegetarian and vegan brunch menus, the more I wanted to try them all.  Tofu scramble with vegan cheddar, tofu scramble with spinach and diced onions, on crispy corn tortillas, with peppers and spices – I totally have a “gotta catch ’em all!” mentality towards it now and it’s been so much fun trying the dishes that I have and discovering new eateries and hot spots along the way.

Oh, and did you notice the snazzy photo collages?!  I love them, they’re so pretty if I do say so myself!  I didn’t actually create the backgrounds, I just picked the template and plugged the photos in.  But it was fun nevertheless!  I’ve been feeling so sad about my lack of scrapbooking that I felt compelled to do something colourful and creative with my photos.  It’s been tough.  Ever since I started working full-time M-F, scrapbooking just hasn’t happened and it certainly hasn’t been because of a lack of desire.  It’s purely a lack of time.  I hate even saying it because it makes me sound like a person who whines and complains about not having enough time, making excuses, and not doing anything to change it.

Source: Ate by Ate’s Facebook page

Believe me, I’ve made an effort.

I’ve bought new materials for projects on my to-do list, I developed some new photos for new layouts.  But with a M-F full-time schedule and weekends jam-packed with getting and preparing blog stories and content and fitting in time with my boyfriend, friends, and family, there has been virtually nothing left for quiet, undisturbed sit-down time with my paper and scissors.  I want to change this so much so here’s to hoping I find a way to do it because this was one of the major reasons why I started Ate by Ate in the first place.

Let’s get this tofu brunch show started!

  1. Vegan Rancheros at Sadie’s Diner (504 Adelaide Street West at Portland Street, just east of Bathurst) – Scrambled tofu on corn tortillas with salsa, refried beans, guacamole, and vegan cheese, $12, daily Welcome to Sadie’s Diner – Rockin’ Robin Huevos Rancheros, Part II || May 4, 2011
  2. Full Breakfast at Fresh (147 Spadina Ave. just south of Queen Street; 326 Bloor Street West just east of Spadina Ave; 894 Queen Street West at Crawford) – Scrambled tofu with grilled spinach, baked beans, grilled vegan sausage or tempeh bacon, toast, and homefries, $11, weekend brunch A Weekend Vegan Brunch of Tofu Scramble, Grilled Spinach, Home Fries, and Tempeh Bacon at Fresh || February 27, 2012
  3. Tex Mex Tortilla Scramble at Fresh (147 Spadina Ave. just south of Queen Street; 326 Bloor Street West just east of Spadina Ave; 894 Queen Street West at Crawford) – Crunchy corn tortillas, scrambled tofu, avocado, cilantro, tomato, lettuce, green onions, avocado chipotle sauce, spicy black beans, and brown basmati rice, $11, weekend brunch (mine served with an additional order ($2) of aged cheddar cheese!) A Rainforest Cabana Weekend Brunch – The Tex Mex Tortilla Scramble & The First Visit to Fresh Crawford || May 11, 2012
  4. Grilled Tofu on Vegan Chili at Niche Coffee & Tea Company (626 Queen Street West) – Grilled tofu steaks on homemade spicy vegan chili topped with tortilla crisps and a choice of homemade foccacia or cornbread, $10.50, daily (depending on the day, the meal can come with either tomato and arugula salad or guacamole cream) The Vegan Chili Series! First Up: Vegan Chili Brunch with Grilled Tofu Steaks at Niche Coffee & Tea on Queen West || September 28, 2011
  5. Tofu Scramble at Disgraceland (965 Bloor Street West between Delaware Ave. and Dovercourt Rd.) – Tofu scramble with sweet bell peppers, onions, garlic, cumin, chili, black beans, corn, and jalapenos with crunchy corn chips and a choice between hash browns (breakfast potatoes) or greens, $9 tax inclusive, weekend brunch Corn Chips, Breakfast Potatoes & Moroccan Flavour in a Tofu Scramble – Weekend Vegan Brunch at Disgraceland || September 7, 2012

AND, if you’re interested in trying tofu brunch dishes that I haven’t blogged about yet, here is my tofu goldmine “to-eat” list!

  • Tofu Scramble at Lady Marmalade (898 Queen Street East, just west of Logan Ave.) – Tofu scramble with shitake mushrooms, bok choy, spinach, and scallions in sesame soy dressing with your choice of either brown basmati rice or potatoes, toast, and salad, $11.50, daily all-day breakfast http://www.ladymarmalade.ca/
  • Sesame Tofu Scramble at Sage Cafe (166 McCaul Street at the corner of Elm) – Sesame tofu scramble on a bed of Thai-style rice noodles, $10, weekend brunch http://www.sagecafeandcatering.com/our-menus/weekend-brunch-menu
  • Tofu Omelette at Live Organic Food Bar (264 Dupont Street at Spadina Ave.) – Tofu omelette with tempeh, regular and sundried tomatoes, spinach, peppers, and olives with your choice of either potatoes or salad, $16, weekend brunch http://www.livefoodbar.com/brunch.html
  • Baked Polenta “Bolognese” at the Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen Street West, east of Dufferin St.) – Vegan polenta cake with roasted heirloom tomato, mushroom and tofu “bolognese” with lentils and broccoli, $9, Fall 2012 weekend brunch (over the summer, the Gladstone had a tofu quesadilla!) http://www.gladstonehotel.com/food/?doing_wp_cron=1351394130.0679988861083984375000

Scones & Strawberry Marshmallow Macarons – Afternoon Tea Treats on a Fall Morning at Yorkville Espresso Bar

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Ste. Anne’s coconut black tea at Yorkville Espresso Bar!

An espresso bar and cafe with amazing tea, delicious scones, and adorable macarons among other afternoon tea-style sweets and treats?  In the picturesque neighbourhood of Yorkville?  That’s a cafe after my own heart!  Yorkville Espresso Bar, located at 3 Yorkville Ave. just west of Yonge Street near the Toronto reference library and just steps away from the Cookbook Store and my beloved Italian-vegetarian Mela Cafe, is a new cafe that just opened up last year and after my very first visit, I think it’s a wonderful and splenderific addition to the neighbourhood.  Brunch, vegetarian, Mexican, ice cream, macarons, Italian, Middle-Eastern, pub classics, and now a new espresso bar and cafe – aside from Kensington Market, Yorkville is truly my ideal place to eat to my heart’s content.

The pretty Yorkville park nearby

I know, there are plenty of cafes in the area including Lettieri and Zaza, not to mention around the city in general, so what makes this space so great?  The thing about cafes is that they have to offer something different, something a little more unique in order to stand out from the others.  Because let’s face it, it’s not like we have to go very far to fetch an Americano, a cappuccino, or an espresso and while yes, every cafe will have their own way of making these drinks, it’s the atmosphere and the food goodies that accompany these drinks that will make us foodies feel compelled to come back for more.  Some cafes offer the comfort factor with plushy seats to relax in while you read, sip, munch, or type away on a laptop (or a tablet, sigh), others are great as meeting spots for friends, and then the are the ones that are fabulous purely for the food and drink.  THIS would be Yorkville Espresso Bar’s forte.

It’s a small space so you wouldn’t necessarily see large groups inhabiting it, but it is cozy enough for you to sit down with a friend and a coffee, tea, and light meal or snack.  And let me just say, Yorkville Espresso Bar is awesomesauce in the food and goodies department.  There is something here for everyone: the sweet tooth, the vegetarian, the gluten-intolerant, and the just plain hungry!  Often times I’ll shy away from certain spots, not because I think their drinks are bad persay, but because I want something a little more special than baked goods wrapped in saran wrap in a basket or baked goods that look as though they just got a shot of steroids and a bath in grease.  That could be the food snob in me tsking but really, it’s unappealing and I know I can’t be the only one who feels this way!

Yorkville Espresso Bar is great though because their selection of food and sweets changes on a pretty consistent basis (from what I gather on their Facebook page where they announce menu items for the day), they’re always coming up with new and unique yummies to showcase, they offer a number of gluten-free menu items (see below in the next few paragraphs for examples!), and you know everything is fresh and hot off the press because the adjoining kitchen studio that handles the baking, cooking, and catering for the espresso bar doles them out throughout the day.  They were already baking their 2nd round of scones at 10am on a Sunday morning because they sold out of their 1st round.   Can you believe it?!

Oh!  And I can’t forget about their tea!  I honking LOVE the tea.  They get their teas from Ste. Anne’s (Ste. Anne’s Extraordinary Teas), which is actually a spa located in several spots in Ontario (Grafton and Port Hope) and the whole concept behind the tea is driven by the relaxing spa experience.  I had their black tea coconut tea with my cinnamon scone and strawberry marshmallow macaron (I KNOW – MARSHMALLOW!) and I loved it to itty bitty pieces.

Their food menu is insane.  Let’s start with the savoury, gluten-free muffins first.  These are items that have graced their display case of goodies over the last few months:

  • sweet potato chocolate chip muffins
  • sweet potato and cranberry muffins
  • carrot and beetroot muffins
  • blueberry flaxseed muffins
  • gluten-free, vegan chocolate zucchini muffins!

Other savoury bites include jalapeno cornbread, brioche with dates, Parmesan, and thyme, 8-year old cheddar and chive scones, and bacon and thyme scones.  Okay, now the sweet stuff including cupcakes, gluten-free sweet muffins, sweet scones, chocolate and confectionery, and more:

  • mini chocolate cupcakes with mango and Nutella frosting and dried mango
  • mini chocolate cupcakes with mango buttercream frosting
  • mini chocolate cupcakes with mocha buttercream frosting
  • mini chocolate berry cheesecake cupcakes

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Witches Fingers & Bat Wings – Have a Delicious, Boo-Tastic Halloween with Toronto’s Halloween Food Events!

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Pumpkin-Spiced Whoopie Pies with Ginger Cream! This and more Halloween recipes on kraftcanada.com! Recipe tested by Kraft Kitchens Pat Moynihan-Morris and photographed by me.

Get those ghostly, ghastly costumes and Frankenstein-like appetites revved up because in exactly one week we’ll be celebrating the day of candy, treats, trick-or-treating, and all things scary, spooky, and boo-tastic!  Even though Halloween isn’t necessarily known for being food-centric the way Christmas or Thanksgiving is (yes, we like our chocolates and candies, but let’s face it: IT’S NOT A MEAL), the essence and theme of Halloween is the inspiration behind Kraft Canada’s Halloween Recipe Centre with sweet, savoury, and ghoulishly fun Halloween recipes (hey, I work here, I can’t talk Halloween without promoting this!) and Toronto’s many special Halloween food events such as Halloween cookie and cupcake decorating, a Devilicious restaurant event in one of the city’s most party-hearty neighbourhoods, Halloween-inspired menus, and a mish-mash of fall and Halloween all rolled into one.  If you love Halloween and food, you just might want to check out some of these events happening in the city:

Cupcakes!

Devilicious Ghoulinary Dining Tour in Church-Wellesley Village, October 24 – 31.  Church-Wellesley Village near the intersection of Church & Maitland Street at participating restaurant locations in the neighbourhood.  Prices vary depending on restaurant menus but many are price fixe and multiple course meals.  In conjunction with the annual Halloween Church-Wellesley block party on Halloween night, Devilicious celebrates the sinfully delicious restaurant menus and dishes at some of the neighbourhood’s most popular haunts.

Restaurants such as Cafe California, Sambucas, and O’Grady’s Tap & Grill on Church among various others are dishing out “Halloweek” menus that will leave you bloodthirsty for more!  Feast on fall favourites such as maple pumpkin cheesecake and curried butternut squash and sweet yam soup from Cafe California during the day and when the sun goes down and your hungry fangs come out?  Satiate the appetite with baked potato “dead skins”, deep fried pickle “witch fingers”, hell’s lasagna, and blood red velvet cheesecake from O’Grady’s!  http://www.churchwellesleyvillage.ca/stayandplay-detail.php?sub=16&id=23, http://www.toronto.com/article/748067–spooky-spots-to-eat-for-halloween

Halloween at Vagabondo, October 25-31.  32 Wellington Street.  3-course price fixe menu and Halloween drinks and bar promotions during Halloween week.  1/2 price appetizers on the 31st!  http://www.vagabondo.ca/main/halloween-vagabondo

Introduction to Cupcake Decorating: Halloween Edition at Le Dolci, October 26.  1pm-3pm.  1006 Dundas Street West.  $80 +HST/person.  Get the creative juices and sweet teeth going as you decorate a dozen delicious vanilla cupcakes to take home among like-minded icing sugar queens and kings!  Use fondant, buttercream frosting, and special cutters and professional tools to create flowers, animals, swirls, and whatever your heart desires!  Halloween is just around the corner so think pumpkins, witch hats, black cats, Halloween candy, and even costumes if you like!  http://www.ledolci.com/class-schedule/

Jubilee Queen Cruises Halloween Cruise & Finger Food Party, October 26 & 27.  7pm-12:30am (7pm boarding time, 8pm departure, 12am dock).  539 Queens Quay West.  $49.95/person.  Tour the dark and haunting waters of Toronto’s harbourfront with this ghoulishly fun Halloween cruise and food party!  Take to Jubilee’s “boneyard” and nosh on “salty bones” breadsticks, bat wings with swamp slime (chicken wings with avocado-lime chipotle sauce), gnarled witches fingers with bleeding heart dip (chicken tenders with blood orange sauce), devilish desserts, and so much more!http://www.jubileequeencruises.ca/toronto-halloween-cruise-event.htm,  http://www.jubileequeencruises.ca/halloween_finger_foods_menu.htm

Mummy Cookie Balls! Kraft Canada recipe. Tested by Kraft Kitchens Pat Moynihan-Morris, photographed by me.

1st Annual Foodies on Foot Haunted Halloween Ghost Tour and Finger Foodie Party, October 27.  6pm haunted ghost walk, 8pm spooktacular finger foodie party.  Ghost tour takes place in the Distillery District to the Hockey Hall of Fame.  Finger food party to take place at Foodies on Foot Studio at 75 Portland Street.  $65 membership, limited availability.  Call 416-826-1997 to check availability.  http://foodiesonfoot.ca/haunted-halloween-ghost-tour-and-cocktail-party/halloween-tour-and-finger-foodie-party/

Boo at the Barns at Wychwood Barns, October 27.  5pm-9pm.  76 Wychwood Ave. at Artscape Wychwood Barns just off of St. Clair Ave. West, east of Christie St. and west of Bathurst St.  FREE admission, food and drink tickets available for purchase on-site ($1 each or 12 for $10).  Games, pumpkins, costumes, dance, food, and more – it’s a Halloween celebration like no other!  Fill up more than just a trick-or-treat candy bag as you nosh on pizza, samosas, patties, popcorn, desserts, and other treats and roast your very own pumpkin seeds and s’mores in Wychwood’s oven!   http://www.wychwoodbarnscommunity.ca/articleDetail.aspx?a=347&n=90&s=0&email=&nskin=9

Halloween Cookies for Kids with Cookie Martinez at The Depanneur, October 27.  4pm-6pm.  1033 College Street.  $30 +HST/person.  For kids ages 6-9, celebrate the fun and ghoulish Halloween festivities with cookies at The Depanneur with Cookie Martinez!  Kids will learn baking basics such as rolling out and cutting out dough, baking and safety, and decorating adorable Halloween themed cookies that they can take home after the class.  http://www.facebook.com/events/472343126131528/

Introduction to Cupcake Decorating: Halloween Edition at Le Dolci, October 27.  10am-12pm noon.  1006 Dundas Street West.  $80 +HST/person.  Get the creative juices and sweet teeth going as you decorate a dozen delicious vanilla cupcakes to take home among like-minded icing sugar queens and kings!  Use fondant, buttercream frosting, and special cutters and professional tools to create flowers, animals, swirls, and whatever your heart desires!   Halloween is just around the corner so think pumpkins, witch hats, black cats, Halloween candy, and even costumes if you like!  http://www.ledolci.com/class-schedule/

Boo-tastic Trick-or-Treat at Casa Loma, October 27 & 28.  10am-11:15am on October 27, 11:30am-1pm on October 28.  1 Austin Terrace (near Spadina Ave. and Davenport Rd.).  $20 +HST for children 4 to 9 years old, $20.55 +HST for adults.  Children must be accompanied by an adult.  Prices include admission and tour of Casa Loma.  Pre-registration is required for the event.  To book, call 647-725-1826.  A fun and festive Halloween day for the little ones!  Kids will get the opportunity to decorate 12 mini cupcakes Halloween style with frosting and sprinkles and then go on a trick-or-treating tour through the 2nd floor of the spooky castle.  Dress them from head to toe in costume and have a boo-tastic time!  http://www.casaloma.org/events.index.gk#20340

Leslieville Farmers’ Market Harvest & Halloween Celebration, October 28.  9am-2pm.  Jonathan Ashbridge Park on Queen Street East and Woodward Ave., between Greenwood and Coxwell Ave.  It’s the last market of the season for Leslieville and they’re going out with a bang!  Enjoy pumpkin carving, kids costume parade, carnival games, and plenty of food!  Feast on the Wild Boar Roast and Falafel Feast at 12pm noon with pork sandwiches ($7) and falafel sandwiches ($6).  Bring your own plate event!

Potato Leek Soup with Grano Padano Cheese & a Smoked Salmon, Potato Rosti Brunch Dish at Caren’s Wine & Cheese Bar, Part II!

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All you need is cheese.

It’s more than just the name of a magazine to me – they’re words to live by!  I know cheese isn’t the healthiest of foods (yes, yes, sodium and fat content and all that jazz), but as a foodie and lifelong lover of cheese, I can’t imagine life without it.  I sample fresh Ontario cheeses from the farmers’ markets.  A burger just isn’t the same if a melty, gooey slice hasn’t been melted in it.  I’ve been known to eat cream cheese-and-nothing-else sandwiches.  And don’t even get me started on the extra shreds I sprinkle onto my tacos, enchiladas, burritos, omelettes, and pasta.  We don’t have enough space in this post for that novel!  So it makes complete and perfect sense why a wine and cheese bar would be my dining dream come true.  Sure, I may not drink wine but I make up for it in cheese consumption!  How Caren’s Wine & Cheese Bar on Cumberland Street in Yorkville alluded me for so long is beyond me.

Housed in a tall, beautiful Victorian style home bathed in shades of gray and charcoal with stone accents and warm pops of green and orange, Caren’s is quaint and sophisticated and yet completely accessible and I don’t just mean physically accessible by public transit!  I know many of the eateries and establishments in Yorkville (and the neighbourhood itself) may come across as upscale and out-of-reach to us average folk, but I’m telling you, appearances can be deceiving and I’ve certainly allowed my preconceived notions inform my decisions about places before I got the chance to know them in the past.  Behind the chic, polished exterior is warmth, comfort, and homeyness oozing with wonderful food and drink, a peaceful, inviting atmosphere, and one of the nicest places to dine in the city.  It’s romantic, it’s inviting, and it’s SO PERFECT for relaxing weekend brunch meals, intimate dinner evenings, and get-togethers and cocktail parties.

So, how did I find out about Caren’s?  While I would love to say that I “stumbled” on it during a beautiful walk through the neighbourhood, I can’t.  I owe this one to my sweet coworker, Pat.  While she and I were discussing yummies and fun things in Yorkville (I was raving about Mela and she was raving about stationery – great minds think alike!), she mentioned Caren’s and how she was cheese classmates with Tiffany MacIssac, Caren’s master of cheese.  Curious beyond belief, I looked up the Yorkville gem online and immediately fell in love.  Cheese!  Weekend brunch!  Yorkville!  That was certainly all the convincing I needed!  And what impeccable timing.  I wanted to take a stroll through Yorkville anyway so I made it my mission to go to Caren’s for weekend brunch this past weekend and the plan went out without a hitch (fter all my flub-ups, fall-throughs and disappointments as of late it was about time something went my way!).  Weekend brunch, 11:30 am sharp!

Caren’s menus focus on French cuisine with some Italian and European influences in conjunction with local, Canadian fare – after all, it is a wine and cheese bar!  Their extensive brunch menu incorporates a number of brunch classics (French toast, omelettes, pancakes, eggs benny and more) as well as plenty of savoury soups, salads, and sandwiches, and featured items that highlight their wonderful selection and offering of cheeses.  Brunch prices are $10 on the low-end and $20 on the highest end, with most menu items coming in between $12-$16.  Their menu offers 19 dishes with additional sides at extra charge including parsley home fries, apple wood smoked bacon, chorizo sausage, house cured gravlox, and more.

You can enjoy your meal in the comforts of their ground floor dining area and bar, their outdoor front patio, their intimate 2nd floor dining room, OR – wait for this – their ridiculously gorgeous back patio courtyard that might as well be a cabana oasis!  I was shocked out of my leggings when I stepped into their back courtyard to snap a few photos.  It is breathtaking.  Cushions, lanterns, soft glows, palms – THIS is where an amazing cocktail party takes place!  Caren’s will rent out their dining areas for private functions so this is definitely something to keep in mind for everyone!

I had myself my own little food party in the form of weekend brunch yesterday.  I’m not kidding.  I ordered a ridiculous amount of food and by the end, I was truly stuffed!  On Deb’s plate: Caren’s soup of the day ($12), creamy roasted potato and leek with tomatoes and Italian grano padano cheese (like I would have a meal here without any cheese – pish!) and their eggs pacific ($13), a dish of potato rosti, salmon, truffled eggs (insanely fluffy scrambled!), fruit and greens, and creme fraiche.  Their meal-size soup was monstrous!  I should have known better.  I was expecting a side bowl, maybe a medium-sized bowl.  Nope, meal-sized.  But I have no regrets.  Because it was mouthwateringly delicious.

Creamy, smooth, and velvety, I had freshly cracked black pepper sprinkled on, and the olive oil, tomatoes, and cheese made the soup so flavourful and savoury.  The texture was perfect and the tomatoes gave it that hint of freshness and juiciness.  It wasn’t heavy at all and the cheese?  I could eat it by the spoonful.  Similar to Parmigianno Reggiano, it was grated onto the soup and it gave the soup that extra hit of savouriness and meatiness to make it really feel like a meal-size soup.

And my eggs pacific.  OH.MY.GOD.  Smoked salmon lovers, you need this in your life.  I have NEVER had a meal that gave me so much thick, savoury, slices of smoked cured salmon in my life.  Half the time, meals will often fall short of the desirable amount.  But this?  Fit for two meals.  Slice after slice of amazing, scrumptious salmon filled my plate with a fluffy mountain of eggs, potato rosti rounds underneath, and a huuuuge dollop of red onion capered creme fraiche.  I’m telling you, the salmon and creme fraiche MAKES this dish.  If there was anything I’d change, I’d make the potato rosti a little thicker, but that’s about it.  It was truly delicious and the creme fraiche just brings everything together as you can use it for the potato rosti, the smoked salmon, and the eggs.  It breaks up the salty, cured flavour of the salmon and keeps it from becoming too overwhelming.  And the soup, a spontaneous choice in the beginning, proved to be a great complement to the meal!

Even though I never feel like I have enough time to enjoy everything I want to enjoy during my days out, I feel fulfilled that I got to try this wonderful dining spot out and you can bet that I’ll be back for more weekend brunch.

*****

Caren’s Wine & Cheese Bar is located at 158 Cumberland St. in Yorkville, just east of Avenue Rd.  They are open for lunch (11:30am-5pm from Monday to Friday), dinner (5pm-10pm Sunday to Tuesday and 5pm-11pm Wednesday to Saturday), and weekend brunch (11:30am-4pm Saturdays and Sundays).