The Kind of School You Want to Go to – A Holiday Hashbrown Poutine Brunch at School Restaurant!

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I think everyone will agree that one of the best things about the holidays is/was getting a break from school.  These two beautiful, glorious weeks are like pure gold (unless of course you happen to have homework to do in which case the pure gold becomes more like a lump of coal.  Seriously, that’s just mean, but for the sake of keeping this happy, we’ll go for the homework-free holiday).  So what if I told you that there was a type of school that you’d actually want to attend during the holiday break?  One where you could educate yourself about delicious food and be surrounded by stacks of mouthwatering pancakes and French toast dripping in syrup, hot plates of eggs, bacon, and homefries with all the fixins’, and waffles outfitted with sweet and savoury accessories?  I probably wouldn’t need to twist your arm to haul your tooshie out of bed then, would I?  Because the only ‘school’ worth waking up to attend over the holidays just happens to be one of the city’s favourite breakfast/brunch spots, School Restaurant, located in Liberty Village!

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School Restaurant lives up to its name with their fun chalkboard diagrams (I could totally ace a test based on the anatomy of an ice cream sundae), their wall of clocks with all hands pointing to 3:30pm (quittin’ time!), bills slipped into little report card envelopes, and clipboard menus featuring fun menu items such as “teachers pet” basket of baked goodies, “headmaster omelette”, and “apple-a-day waffle”.  So not your average cafeteria garb.  If you love themed stuff, School is right up your alley.  And if you don’t care for it, you’ll love the food anyway, especially if you’re a breakfast and brunch fanatic like me!  I got the chance to eat from their special, limited time, “12 Days of Christmas” menu (which was available from December 13 – 24) last week and while I know you won’t find the same menu or exact items in their restaurant anymore, at least this gives you an idea of what the style is like and the type of food you can expect off of their regular menu.  And lucky for you guys, my item is actually available on the regular one!

What I love most about brunch places is their mix of sweet and savoury dishes.  While I usually err on the side of savoury, the sweet ones make me salivate just as much and I only wish I had found out about the special menu earlier, that way there might have been a chance of me squeezing in an extra trip.  But no matter, I enjoyed my incredibly delicious breakfast choice and I can still look forward to eating off their regular menu which boasts just as many scrumptious options: black ‘n’ blue flapjacks, $15 (pancake stack with black and blueberry sauce with brown sugar butter), krispy krunchy French toast, $15 (crunchy French toast coated in rice cereal with marmalade), roasted apple-a-day waffle ($15), cheddar-chive biscuits with honey butter ($7), and smoked salmon breakfast salad ($15).

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Their “12 Days of Christmas” limited edition menu featured lots of holiday cocktails and drinks such as mulled wine, bourbon eggnog, and winter rum punch as well as festive candy cane pancakes, eggnog waffles, gingerbread krispy krunch French toast, omelettes, buttermilk chicken and waffles, cheesy bacon French toast, and my dish: the joyeux noel hashbrown poutine!

Like I mentioned above, this is one of the dishes that is actually available on the regular weekend brunch menu as well so if you like what you see, you can enjoy this awesome deliciousness on Saturdays and Sundays too!  I LOVE LOVE LOVE the main components that make up this dish: hashbrowns/homefry potatoes, cheese/cheese curds, and a gorgeous sunny-side up egg.  These three things alone make me a happy camper so have them all together in one dish sitting atop a generous ladle of rosemary gravy (have I told you I freakin’ love gravy nobody’s business?!  Well, if I haven’t, now you know), with tons of yummy leeks, and a side of tomato jam makes it ultra fabulous.

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The potatoes were perfectly diced (not mushy or dry or undercooked) which made forking mouthfuls of potatoes, gravy, and gooey cheese super easy, the cheese was perfectly melted and stringy and delightful (I love me my cheese curds but it takes the fun out of eating them if they’re cold lumps, you know?), the egg was beautiful and runny, and – wait for it – the leeks were awesome.  I know.  You wouldn’t think the leeks would play such a starring role but they did.  They were sliced thick enough so that you could taste them and see them in the dish with no trouble but not so thick that they were awkward to eat.  I’ve had dishes in the past where the leeks just weren’t prominent enough and I love that they were prominent here.  In all honesty, it was such a nice surprise that the leeks weren’t treated like an afterthought and I thoroughly enjoyed them.  I could do without the tomato jam (it didn’t taste bad, tomato jam just isn’t my thing) but I understand why it’s there (a little acidity is needed to break up the flavours) and can appreciate its presence even if it’s not my cup of tea.

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This was my first time coming here and I’m really glad I had the chance to enjoy my food during the holidays as it definitely made the experience fun and festive.  Going to “school” is definitely that much more bearable when the assignments are this yummy and when a perfect attendance record is this easy to achieve.

*****

School Restaurant is located at 70 Fraser Ave. in Liberty Village, east of Dufferin St. and just south of King Street West off the King streetcar.  They are open 7 days a week for breakfast/weekend brunch and lunch from 9am-3pm.  You can follow them on Twitter @schoolresto.

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Making Christmas Memories at Bobbette & Belle’s Newest Location with Tea, Cookies, Alfajores & Macarons!

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I know Christmas comes and goes every year and I know it might not be the happiest occasion for some folks, but for me, it’s my favourite time of year.  I love Christmas even more than I love summer and that’s saying a lot because my birthday is during the summer and I love me my birthday celebrations.  I love Christmas so much and I look forward to the season and everything it brings each year and I always feel so happy when everything I love is happening within a span of a month (seeing friends, holiday menus, holiday displays, exchanging presents, and taking a ridiculous amount of photos of all of the aforementioned) and when it’s all over I always feel a little nostalgic and sad.  So I try my hardest to soak up every moment and to make as many fun memories as possible.

I made many of these wonderful memories yesterday when I spent one of the best days ever with my best friend for the holidays.  Part of the ultra fabulous day included an afternoon stop at Bobbette & Belle’s 2nd location in uptown Yonge-Lawrence village for hot drinks and sweets!

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Not only am I so in love with Christmas but I am absolutely smitten with Bobbette & Belle’s newest location.  I didn’t even KNOW they opened a 2nd location until late last week when I was just out and about in the area and happened to walk past it.  I was so stunned I nearly shouted, “WHAT!?” right out on the sidewalk.  Sigh.  This is what happens when I stop blogging and, for the most part, being tuned out of all my foodie outlets for nearly half a year.

I have no idea when Bobbette & Belle opened this new location but am I ever sure glad they did!  I love it even more than their original flagship on Queen Street East.  While the Queen East location is big and airy, the Yonge-Lawrence location has such a warm, comforting, communal feel to it.  The decor and aesthetic is very similar: gorgeous cake pedestals displayed on shelves, beautiful china dishes and tea plates hung stylishly on the wall, a chalkboard menu, wood floors, and platters and stands full of pastries and sweets (tarts, cupcakes, macarons, cakes, scones, cookies and so much more!) just waiting to be devoured.  The difference?  The cafe aspect and feel.  The Yonge-Lawrence one screams Parisian cafe to me with its small tables and seating section in the back and the beautiful cushioned booth seating right up in the front by the storefront window (which can seat 4 sets of 2) is prime real estate, baby.  It’s bright, it’s soothing, and with the cushiony seating and knitted pillows, it’s the perfect spot to spend time with someone over a delicious dessert and hot drink.

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I was so excited finding out about their new location that I took advantage of the timing and ordered something holiday-themed: a Christmas tree-shaped shortbread cookie (which is actually what I had the last time I was at Bobbette & Belle during Christmas, go figure!  Check out that blog post here) along with two delightful macarons in cassis and chocolate mint, an alfajores cookie, and a nice big hot steaming mug of Citron Calm tea from their selection of Sloane Fine Teas!  I am over the moon that they serve Sloane teas as their teas are delicious.

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Ugh, this was such a delicious afternoon treat!  I knew I loved their macarons and shortbread cookies and now I love their alfajores cookies.  A lot.  The cookie has such great texture (sturdy yet soft and moist) and the caramel was nice and thick and gooey without being mushy and the coconut it was rolled in gave it the perfect crunch.  LOVE.  And in addition to the Christmas-themed shortbread cookies, they had a chocolate candy cane peppermint cupcake on hand as well as some apple caramel pastries, apple cider, and several other holiday yummies.

Their new location is in an accessible part of town (walking distance from Lawrence subway station) and it’s in an area that I really enjoy being in as I love the Yonge-Lawrence and Yonge-Eglinton neighbourhoods.  I cannot wait to come back for scones and tea, or maybe a tart with a macaron, or a slice of cake, or just more alfajores cookies.  And a hundred plus more cups of tea.

*****

Bobbette & Belle is located at 3347 Yonge Street on the east side of Yonge at the corner of Snowdon Ave. (Fairlawn Ave. being the street on the west side of Yonge) in the Yonge-Lawrence Village neighbourhood.  Their hours are 9am-6:30pm from Monday-Friday and 9am-6pm on Saturdays and Sundays.  Their original flagship location is in Leslieville at 1121 Queen Street East.

Falling In Love With Coriander “Ping Gai” Chicken (and Lemon Coconut Cake!) at Queen Mother Cafe

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Chocolate is a wonderful thing for more reasons than one.  For starters, it makes a mean mousse.  And for another, it made me blog again (thanks, Hershey’s!).  I know that you all know that I’ve been away for nearly half a year.  6 months.  None of my breaks have ever lasted that long and truth be told, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to blog again until after the new year, if at all.  But here I am and it’s all thanks to chocolate for giving me the kick in the pants I really needed to come back.

I’ll write a little more about my being away closer to the end of the month, but for the time being I just want to enjoy this little window of Christmas magic that I’ve carved out for myself because really, these two weeks (this past week and the coming one) are arguably the best weeks in this entire year for me.  It’s been one of the very few glimpses of light in an otherwise dark and unhappy year, especially the latter half while I was away from here.  So I am soaking everything in even more than usual (I’m not kidding, I’ve been looking at all the photos I’ve taken multiple times a day to relive the happiness) and keeping these sweet memories close to me for as long as I can.

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So, onto some really yummy eats.  You know what I discovered about myself during my time away from blogging?  That I really don’t mind eating the same thing from the same place twice in a row.  Or even three times.  Or four.  Which is probably very surprising to many people because I’m always tooting my horn about how much I love working my way through a menu and trying new things and keeping things new and exciting.  Blah, blah, blah.  I changed my tune just a tiny bit in relation to certain places and foods.  You’ll understand EXACTLY what I mean when I get around to making my ginormous ramen noodle house post in the very near future (really, I think I’m going to shock the pants off some people with what I’ll be revealing) but for now, I thought I’d talk a little bit about one of my favourite restaurants in the city, Queen Mother Cafe on Queen Street West.

To refresh everyone’s memories, I wrote my foodie love letter about them almost a year ago here and have loved them ever since.  (Note: their menu does change every so often, so as a note, their quinoa meatloaf burger is no longer on it, unfortunately!  But their quinoa salad is still there.)  Their food, their cake, everything.  Especially their Ping Gai.  Their fan-freakin’-tastic Ping Gai.

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You need this in your life (so long as you are not vegetarian).  You have not tasted awesome chicken until you have tasted this dish.  It’s a big, beautiful piece of boneless chicken marinated in garlic, coriander, and peppercorns and grilled to absolute crispy perfection served with white rice and dressed mixed salad greens ($13.95).  And the lime and coriander dipping sauce that accompanies this luscious chicken?  Good enough to drink.

This dish is comfort, heartiness, freshness, and savouriness all in one.  It’s so filling but light at the same time in the sense that you don’t feel weighed down afterward.  It fills you from the inside out in that happy, warm and full feeling, and the flavours just have that pop that makes it different from anything else I’ve tried.  The chicken is tender and juicy and the grilled crispy skin with that great garlic spiced crust is just divine.  This dish is so good, so delicious, it makes you not want to eat anything else on the menu (except cake), not because the other menu items aren’t mouthwatering too, but because it’s just than damn good.  It is SO hard to resist.  I look at the menu and I feel like there is this ridiculous magnetic pull towards it, that I need to literally pull myself away from that choice to consciously make another one from the menu.

So in a nutshell, I am guilty of having this more than once.  And I can honestly say that I would die happy having only this from Queen Mother for the rest of my life.

Yup.

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Variety is the spice of life though, so I’ve also included in this post some photos of one of their daily specials (which obviously changes daily), their butternut squash agnolotti pasta, and photos of cake.  Because you can’t eat at Queen Mother without having cake.  It’s a sin if you don’t.  And you want to be good, right?

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Their butternut squash agnolotti pasta was a delicious dish of stuffed pasta (think ravioli but half moons instead of squares) bathed in a creamy tomato sauce with snow peas, arugula, and asparagus with a healthy sprinkling of yummy parmesan cheese on top.  And the cake in question was a heavenly slice of lemon coconut: layers of vanilla and lemon cake with cream cheese frosting and shredded coconut.  Hello, happiness.  I would have this cake again in a heartbeat because the consistency of the cream cheese frosting was perfect and the cake was soft and moist.  And it’s lemon coconut, duh!  Their cake selection changes all the time but rest assured that there is something for everyone: chocolate cake, fruit cake, nut cakes, cheesecakes, mousse cakes, layered cakes, pick a cake.

So, the next time you’re here, I hope you try the Ping Gai dish and enjoy it as much as I do.  With cake.  Because you know it’s a must.

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*****

Queen Mother Cafe is located at 208 Queen Street West in the downtown core just steps away from Osgoode subway station, situated between St. Patrick Street and Duncan Street.  They are opened 7 days a week, serving lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday (11:30 am to 1 am) and weekend brunch and dinner on Sundays (11:30 am to midnight 12 am).  You can visit their official website HERE to view their info and menu.

Holiday Chocolate Sweetness! Making Memories & Smiles at Hershey’s “Thank You” Pop-Up Store on Queen St. West! #HersheysThankYou

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Plush red carpet.  Sparkles.  Twinkling lights.  The star treatment.  Lights, camera…chocolate?!  OH YES.  Bars and bars of melt-in-your-mouth Hershey’s chocolate just waiting to be devoured.  Hot chocolate with jumbo marshmallows that resemble heavenly pillows of sweetness.  And Facebooking, tweeting, and Instagramming your little social media tooshie off like you’ve never Facebooked, tweeted, and Instagrammed before in your life.  The holidays just became THAT much sweeter my dear Torontoians!  This weekend only, from Saturday, December 20 through Sunday, December 21 from 11am-7pm, Hershey’s Canada is giving everyone a chance to say “thank you” this holiday by inviting everyone to their special Thank You pop-up shop at 473 Queen Street West, just west of Spadina Ave.

Here’s how it works: stop by the store with friends and family (or just your awesome self), ogle the sparkly Hershey’s tree, travel along the red carpet to receive a Hershey’s chocolate bar of your choice (Cookies ‘n’ Creme, Milk Chocolate, or Whole Almonds) from a Hershey’s ambassador to give to a friend, family member, or loved one you want to extend a thank you to this holiday season.  Choose a pretty Hershey’s tag to attach to said chocolate bar, grab a Sharpie marker from one of the cute little Christmas tins, and write a loving message on it.

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With ‘thank you’ chocolate bar in hand, make your way over to ‘center stage’ (it’s not really a stage, but you get what I mean!), get your picture taken by a Hershey’s ambassador in front of the sparkly silver Hershey’s “thank you” wall, and if you like, have it uploaded and posted on Facebook right then and there to share with all your fab friends.  Then, to cap off the memorable experience, grab a cup of Hershey’s hot chocolate with jumbo marshmallow, and a chocolate bar of your choice for yourself to take with you on the road as a thank you from Hershey’s for taking part in this special holiday event.  Leave the Hershey’s pop-up with a smile on your face and the warm and fuzzies in your heart!

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I received a special invitation to preview the pop-up this morning from the wonderful Ms. Hayley Findlay from Ketchum PR Canada so I have her to thank for this very special holiday experience which I shared with my dear friend, Sally.  And really, that’s what this Thank You pop-up is really about: creating a unique holiday memory with friends and family, enjoying a sweet moment, and carving that little bit of time out of the hustle and bustle of the season to experience something fun, memorable, and delicious.  Pete Vanslyke, Director of Marketing for Chocolate at Hershey Canada, gave a speech in the middle of the preview to thank us for coming and to explain the rationale for the pop-up.  Why have a Thank You pop-up?  And why the weekend right before Christmas, one of the busiest of the year?  The answer is simple: to make people happy with a one-of-a-kind holiday experience.  A pay-it-forward, so to speak.  Hershey’s is thanking us for being loyal consumers.  We’re thanking someone special with a bit of sweetness from the heart.

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The pop-up, to me, is really a way of tapping into a desire to capture, document, and share special experiences and moments with the people who matter most to us.  Hershey ambassadors were at the ready to snap a few polaroids to hang on their tree and tablets were capturing photo after photo as we made our way down the red carpet.  Let’s be real: many of us are guilty of snapping selfies and documenting the mundane moments of our lives and sharing them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  And many do so on their phones; forget the humble computer (I do my work on my laptop and still use my desktop to print – you can call me grandma, it’s perfectly fine).  You might even say that a touch of sentimentality has been lost in the process, what with page views, click-throughs, retweets, and likes overshadowing the heart and soul behind a photo that’s posted and shared.  But when it comes right down to it, that urge to document, to share, and to tell stories through images via photography is still very much alive and well.  It has merely evolved.  Hershey’s know this and has come up with this concept space to fuse a little modern technology with the simple act of memory-making.  And of course, chocolate.  LOTS of chocolate.

Happy holidays, everyone, enjoy the pop-up this weekend!  If you want to follow on social media, use the hashtag #HersheysThankYou and check out the Hershey’s Facebook page for photos and updates!

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The Hershey’s Thank You pop-up store is located at 473 Queen Street West in downtown Toronto, just west of Spadina Ave. for this weekend only.