Happy September! Starting the Month Off on a Sweet Note: Old Firehall Confectionery in Unionville, Part I

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Happy first day of September everyone!  I know summer is far from over, but I have to say, I am SO excited for the upcoming fall and harvest season!  I am in conniptions at the thought of fall tea and drinks, baking apple desserts (because of my allergies, I can’t eat apples raw anyway so it’s win-win here), scoping out the best places to buy canned pumpkin, and indulging in those awesome traditional foods and dishes I love so much for Thanksgiving.  You know, the turkey, the gravy, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, the whole North American bit.  I’m a total sucker for all of it, but I also know it’s not exactly the easiest foodie occasion for vegetarians and vegans to get around so I’m determined to find some delicious veggie Thanksgiving stuff for myself and my friends to enjoy in and around the city.  I actually started a bit of research on that last fall and I’m excited to see what options there are this time around. 

Oh!  And the farmers’ markets.  My camera is raring to go and I am so looking forward to snapping photos of squash and pumpkins and apples (thankfully it’s not lethal to touch or look!) and maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll be able to visit an apple orchard, just for fun.  September also marks a month filled with foodie events and festivals around the city and you can bet the whole city will be out for the Vegetarian Food Festival and Canada’s Baking and Sweets Show, among many others, later on this month.  I have so much planned for the blog for the upcoming fall season and I hope you all like what I have in store.

I want to start the month off on a sweet note, so let me ask you a question: if you could create your very own sweet tooth world, what would your ideal dessert haven consist of?  Would you have candies and chocolates?  Enough fudge to put you in a blissful sugar coma?  How about ice cream with a gazillion different types of cones and flavours and styles of regular ice cream and soft serve?  Or maybe your dessert universe would be filled with frosted cupcakes?  Oh, and of course we can’t forget the luxurious sweet nibbles such as macarons and truffles. 

Now that I have you daydreaming and drooling (and possibly wanting to run out the door to the nearest dessert-whatever), you can stop.  Because your dreams have come true.  What if I told you that this sugary utopia existed right under your nose (or at the very least in the GTA) and that EVERYTHING I just dangled in front of you exists under one roof?  Oh yes.  It’s a candy store, chocolatier, ice cream parlour, and cupcakery, and patisserie all in one amazing world of happiness.  Located in one of my favourite neighbourhoods and especially a favourite for me during the fall, I paid my first visit this summer and if I could, I would live here.  Assume your mouth in the position of jaw-dropping awe.  I present to you, Old Firehall Confectionery on Main Street Unionville in Markham:

Where are the macarons and cupcakes, you ask?  Oh, they’re there.  That’s what Part II and Part III are for 😉  Enjoy!

*****

Old Firehall Confectionery is located at 170 Main Street in the historic Main Street Unionville neighbourhood between Carlton Rd. and Hwy 7.  The dessert haven is located between Carlton Rd. and Fred Varley Drive.  Main Street is located just east of Kennedy Rd.

All I Need Is Cheese – Red Bean Ice Drinks With Whipped Cream and Cheesy Pasta Hong Style Dishes at The Phoenix

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Okay, so that statement isn’t entirely true.  I need more than cheese to complete my life.  But I do love cheese a whole lot!  And what better way to spread my love for cheese than to show you all some insanely delicious cheesy pasta HK style dishes from Phoenix restaurant!  Phoenix is my favourite Chinese diner to eat at and I’m really lucky that all of their locations are in and around Markham – one of the locations is actually just a 10 minute drive/bus ride away!  I can’t believe it’s already been so long since my first post on Phoenix way back during Ate by Ate’s first week on the internet.  That was the first week of December and here I am enjoying my last month to month and a half of summer and so much has changed since I started the blog.  For one thing, I graduated from grad school with my MA and am no longer a student and for another, I’ve never felt like I’ve learned as much as I have this past year and I have so much to take away with me.  And to think it’s all because I love food as much as I do!

I have always loved pasta, cheese, and numerous kinds of seafood and it’s one of the things I enjoy the most when I eat at HK style diners.  Of course I enjoy my rice dishes, but more often than not, I gravitate toward the spaghetti, the macaroni, the rotini, and any other type of pasta that happens to be on the menu.  Aside from the drinks, it’s one of the things I look forward to the most when I know I’m coming here!  I’ll probably sound like such a simpleton when I say this, but I get SO excited at the thought of spaghetti 😀  And because HK style diners like Phoenix have so many different spaghetti and pasta combinations, I get to pick and choose to my heart’s content!  They have everything from pasta with sausage, pineapple, mushrooms, sauteed veggies, and fish cutlets to dishes with sauces like tomato, black pepper, white cream, garlic, and mushroom.

It just so happens that these two delicious dishes I’m showing you today both have seafood and cheese: 1) a spaghetti dish with baby clams, cream sauce, a little bit of baked, melted cheese on top, and a giant puff pastry to go along with it! and 2) a HK style macaroni and cheese meal with incredibly soft macaroni covered in ooey gooey pull-apart cheese, served with crab meat, squid, and shrimp.  Not only do I adore how fast Phoenix dishes out their meals, but I’ve loved everything I’ve ever eaten here and these meals were no different.

The quality is bang on and they set themselves apart from others with such a large selection of menu items that have both HK and Chinese staples (chow mein, ho fun, tong mein) and unique, unexpected dishes (c’mon when have you EVER been to a place that served puff pastry with clam spaghetti?!).  Everyone has their own version and definition of comfort food, and this is definitely one of mine.  It warms, it satisfies, and it makes me feel wiggly happy all over.  Pasta and cheese – it doesn’t get any better than that!

I may have stuck with what I knew I loved when it came to the food, but I did the unexpected when it came to ordering my drink: I ordered red bean.  Let’s put this another way: DEB DOESN’T LIKE RED BEAN AND NEVER HAS.  So why in the world did I order it?!  Because after all these years of wrinkling my nose and puckering my mouth, I’ve given red bean another shot, the same way I’ve given chocolate mint a whirl and the same way I’ve done a complete 180 when it comes to bell peppers.  Growing up, I would always turn down the red bean dessert that came at the end of the Chinese restaurant dinner (tong sui), I wouldn’t touch the pineapple red bean buns with a ten-foot pole, and I would ignore the red bean drinks on the menu and pretend they weren’t there.  To say the least, I was not a fan.

But I’ve had a change of heart as of late (and by that I mean in the last few months) and it’s been growing on me.  There aren’t a lot of things I don’t like to eat (healthy things, of course!), so I make a conscious effort to give the things I used to dislike a shot and I realize that I rather enjoy them now.  And it feels great opening myself up to it all.  Thus, enter the red bean ice slush drink with the sweet whipped cream on top.  I liked ^_^ 

These photos, and the meals they capture, are special to me.  Not only do these photos depict two different meals that have two very specific things I love in common (seafood and cheese!), but they also tell the story of a girl simaltaneously branching out and staying in her comfort food zone.

*****

Prices for mains range from $6-$9 and many meals include your choice of drink, with an additional charge added for special drinks like slushes, floats, and ices.  Phoenix serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, along with a selection of appetizers, snacks, desserts, and tea time specials.  Phoenix’s 3 locations are in Markham and Thornhill:

  1. 1 Raymerville Drive, Markham.  Intersection of McCowan and Raymerville Drive south, located north of Hwy.7 and Bullock Drive, south of 16th Ave.
  2. 7155 Woodbine Ave., Markham.  Intersection of Steeles and Woodbine, just north of Steeles.  Off the 404 Steeles highway exit
  3. 8190 Bayview Ave., Thornhill.  North of John St, south of Langstaff Rd.

The Keys to My Heart: My Favourite Crunchy, Gooey Grilled Cheese Sandwich at T&T Bakery and Café!

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The day was sunny, the air was crisp, and I was happily skipping over to one of my favourite bakeries and cafés in town for lunch: T&T Bakery and Café on Main Street Markham.  I hadn’t been back since the holidays when I tried their adorable little turkey pies and I was dying to go back to enjoy a simple, breezy lunch with my boyfriend.  That and also because I desparately wanted a gingerbread cookie.  They have the best gingerbread cookies (not to mention the softest, yummiest shortbread cookies with sprinkles!) in the cutest seasonal shapes and frosted decorations, and I reeeally wanted to see what adorable spring and Easter themed goodies they had in the cookie baskets.  Nothing gets in the way of me and my cookies! 😀

T&T Bakery and Café is like a comforting hometown country kitchen with menu items written on boards, and bustling customers enjoying big plates of French toast and waffles for breakfast, picking up fresh-baked pies, tea biscuits, and scones, and sitting down for a relaxing lunchtime or midday meal.  The prices are fabulous (a great meal for $4-$8?  Count me in, babe!) and it’s a family business with a big heart and great people and I just LOVE coming here.  Like I mentioned in my very first post about T&T over the holidays, I’ve had amazing breakfasts here and I’m still able to vividly recall how yummy the scalloped potato homefries are and how thick and delicious the chocolate milkshakes are.  And on this day, I had the most delicious grilled cheese sandwich EVER, loaded and stuffed with veggies with plenty of hot kicks from the hot peppers!

Oh was this sandwich all sorts of awesome.  My grilled cheese sandwich was delightfully crunchy, cheesy, gooey, and flavourful and it was amazing in so many ways.  I knew I wanted veggies on my sandwich and when the nice girl asked me what I wanted on it (after I told her it was more than fine that it would cost an extra dollar from the regular grilled cheese), I simply replied, “everything!”  You have it, I’ll eat it!  My grilled cheese ended up with a mountain of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, pickles,and hot peppers and OH.MY.GOD. the sandwich kick-boxed my taste buds and I had a field day fitting this thing into my mouth with every bite.  Oh, and using up my entire pile of napkins. The sandwich was so crunchy and perfectly grilled I crunched bread crumbs onto myself after every bite.  My hands and mouth were a mess and I couldn’t have been happier!

Not only did I love the hot spicy kick from the hot peppers, but I loved how this sandwich was constructed.  The cheddar cheese was melted on both the top AND bottom so you had mouthfuls of melty, gooey cheese enveloping the vegetables and bread and hello, best moisture barrier ever!  Without the cheese on both sides, the veggies risk making the bread soggy, but no such situation here.  They are smart thinkers!  And a bad or less than stellar grilled cheese doesn’t retain its shape and ends up floppy.  Not sexy.  This sandwich stuck its tongue out to the not-so-great grilled cheeses around the world and held up to the very last bite.  YUM YUM YUM!

To celebrate this fab meal, I got myself that gingerbread cookie I wanted so badly.  I got the cute yellow tulip flower one 😀  And yes, part of me wants to run back and snatch up that bunny one too.

*****

The T&T Bakery and Café is located at 35 Main Street Markham at the intersection of Hwy 7 and Markham Rd., just north of Hwy.7.     

The Keys to My Heart: Spaghetti, Portuguese Chicken (Po Gok Gai), and Warm Mugs of Ovaltine at Goldsor

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I don’t think I’ve ever been to a Hong Style restaurant that I didn’t love.  The baked spaghetti and rice dishes, the crushed ice fruit drinks, the awesome tea time snack menus; every café offers something different and I have so much fun trying out new places.  I’ve been noshing at HK style eateries on a regular basis since I was 15 and thanks to family and friends, all over town!  First Markham Place, Metro Square, Finch & Leslie, Peachtree Plaza, the list goes on. 

Even though The Phoenix holds a ton of high school memories, my first memory of HK style food was actually from the age of 9.  It was a such a special day.  My aunt and uncle were taking me for a night on the town for Christmas to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and they had bought me a cute little dress for our outing, they were taking me out to dinner with them before the show, the whole nine yards.  I remember that fun night so clearly.  After the show, they took me for a late night nibble and we went to place called the Ritz Restaurant back in Scarborough, closer to where I lived at the time.  Sadly, the restaurant is no longer around, but I remember getting my first taste (literally!) of HK style food and loving it: baked spaghetti in cream sauce with shredded ham, cheese, and peas.  OH.MY.GOD.  I was hooked.

My dad is on his A-game when it comes to hunting down HK style cafés.  Him and his Chinese newspapers are best friends.  He snatches so many free newspapers at every Chinese place that offers them that my mum has just become exasperated and tells him to constantly stop bringing back “junk”.  Oh, the parentals, how funny they are, haha.  The newspapers turn into goldmines though when they advertise store and restaurant openings, promos, and great places to eat!  And that is how we found out about Goldsor, located in Richmond Hill and nested within the Times Square plaza on Hwy.7 and Leslie St.  A new HK style restaurant to try?  YAY!

Three of my favourite yummies EVER are spaghetti, Portuguese Chicken, and ovaltine!  And lucky for me, HK style is never without any of these three things.  I love pasta like peanut butter loves jelly and spaghetti makes me all wiggly with happiness.  Like I’ve said on numerous occasions, I always love trying new things and picking out more unique items off a menu that sets the place apart from others.  However, sometimes you just want to eat what you love most and that’s what I did when we went back in Novemer: I ordered spaghetti with Portuguese chicken and a warm mug of ovaltine.  Colour me a happy camper!

You must be wondering, “how the heck does Portuguese anything end up in Chinese eateries and cuisine?”  It’s okay, I wondered that myself.  Especially considering I’ve been having this type of chicken dish since I was little, thanks to mum’s cooking.  “Po Gok Gai” has been one of my long-time favourite comfort foods and I love that HK style places have taken it up and put their own unique spins on the dish.  In a nutshell, Portuguese influence infiltrated Chinese culture and cuisine in Macau as a European colony and many dishes are a fusion of the two cultures.* 

Now, in Chinese Portuguese style chicken dishes, two components are key: curry and coconut.  This is what makes it so amazingly DELICIOUS like you wouldn’t believe.  The sweetness of the coconut is subtle but it hits you in the sauce, mixed in with your rice, spaghetti, or whatever you’re eating it with.  Goldsor’s version has the normal vegetable components: chunks of potato, green bell pepper, and carrots.  It deviants in one special way though.  The chicken is crispy with a light breaded coating and together with the delicious sauce and soft potatoes and vegetables, it is so freakin’ satisfying.  It is such a savoury dish and it is the perfect combination of crispy and soft, and the sweetness of the coconut and savouriness of the chicken and curry rounds everything out.  If there was one way to cook a chicken for life, this would be mine.  Yummy, yummy, and more yummy 😀

I had a great experience at Goldsor my first time there and I’m so looing forward to going back!  The quality of the food was fantastic (my dad ordered a breaded fish dish that looked at though it came out of a gourmet kitchen) and the prices are very reasonable and in keeping with HK style cafés where meals are, on average, around $6-$11.  It’s got that hustle and bustle that I love with the clang clang of dishes and glasses and orders being brought to tables, and I am so glad I get to tuck away another great meal in my mental scrapbook.  HK style, spaghetti, and Portuguese chicken are keys to my heart ❤

*****

Goldsor Restaurant is located at  550 Highway 7 East, at the intersection of Hwy.7 and Leslie St.  It’s not located inside the Times Square mall, but rather within the complex of stores and restaurants behind Times Square in the central parking lot.  Goldsor faces south toward the back entrance of Times Square.

*source: Sunflower Food Galore

Valentine’s Series: The Keys to My Heart Part IV – Memories of High School & My Favourite Turkey Sandwiches

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Forget the pretentious gourmet stuff.  The BEST turkey sandwiches in the world (okay, fine, in my world) are made at one of the most fantastic bakeries in town located just across the street from my old high school: Raymerville Deli & Bakery located at 1 Raymerville Drive south, off of McCowan Rd. and north of Bullock Drive in Unionville, Markham.   This is truly one of the reasons why I’ve been so excited to share the Keys to My Heart series; to showcase the things I love the most in any category of food and to tell all the memorable stories attached to them.  I think I may keep this series around just for the heck of it because talking about my favourite things is fun and makes me happy! 😀  This bakery holds a lot of fun memories, especially from high school. 

I would buy my lunch once a week and about a third of the time I’d go to the bakery across the street.  I remember running over at lunch hour with a few friends in tow and lining up in the packed bakery for my coveted smoked turkey sandwich on crusty kaiser bun.  Watching the ladies slice my turkey meat, pack on the toppings, and wrap it in the signature white sandwich paper with deli sticker made my heart pump fast and till this day, it still does.  Everything about this sandwich is amazing.  The crusty kaiser is the best with its bread crumb dusty top and soft insides and no sandwich makes me happier than this one: fresh smoked turkey piled high with lots of shredded lettuce, tomato, mozzerella cheese, and mayo and mustard.  I might be all into trying new things and consistently expanding my food horizons (pft, like you couldn’t tell from the blog, right?  Ha!) but this is one thing that I’ve been eating the same way for 10 years and it tastes SO FREAKIN’ GOOD each and every single time.  This bakery has not lost its touch.

The bakery is family owned and run, and is stocked to the brim with Italian pastas, meats, and dry food pantry items.  Racks and racks of fresh baked bread are ripe for the picking (with a bread slicer that you can use if you would rather have it done in-store) and there is plenty of other good eats to nosh on too: pepperoni pizza slices the size of the moon; ginormous chocolate chip cookies which might as well be the moon because of the all chocolate chip craters; fresh baked apple and fruit pies; apple, cherry, and raspberry turnovers (my brother and mum’s favourite); pastry twists dusted with powdered sugar; and oodles of tarts, cookies, and strudels.

You can choose any bread or bun in the bakery and bring it up to the deli counter to have  your sandwich made, but I’m telling you, you MUST order  a sandwich on the kaiser, which they have a basket of up on the counter.  Why?  Because I said so.  Trust me!  Prices for kaiser sandwiches vary depending on the type of meat you want and whether ot not you order it with cheese (extra 50 cents), but most sandwiches are anywhere from $3.50 to $5.  Oh!  And no tax.  I KNOW.  What dimension are we in, right??  If it’s $4.50 for your sandwich, it’s $4.50.  Take a minute and wrap your head around that.  And imagine all the yummy baked goods you can buy for $10.  Mmmm.  It makes me wistful knowing I can’t walk across the street to the bakery anymore, but I look forward to any and all trips I make there.

*****

Raymerville Deli & Bakery is located within the strip plaza right at the intersection of McCowan Rd. and Ramerville Drive south, on the east side of McCowan (Carlton Rd. is on the west side of McCowan).  It’s about a 10 minute walk (or a 2 or 3 minute drive) from Markville Mall.  They usually have a day off during the week and I’m pretty sure that day is Monday, although your best bet is to visit them during the middle of the week or on the weekend.

Celebrating Chinese New Year, Part II: Shanghai Pork Dumplings and Green Tea Ice Cream Waffle Cake

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Pacific Mall and Market Village and I go waaaay back.  Even before I moved to Markham when I was 13 and still living in Scarborough, these two Chinese malls hold so many childhood memories for me.  Even though I don’t go as often as I used to, stepping inside feels like HOME.  The kind of feeling you get when you know you can find your way around even if you were blindfolded.  The kind of familiarity that leaves with you a deep sense of nostalgia. 

I used to buy Sailor Moon trading cards here as a kid.  In high school, I would buy packs and packs of cute Asian stationery to write letters to my friends.  My mum and I used to get custom made crystal bracelets from this wonderfully nice lady in Pacific, who would go out of her way to make me custom pieces because she said I was sweet.  My parents would order Chinese vegetarain trays for dinner.  My doctor used to be in Market Village and my brother’s orthodontist is still there, popular and successful as ever.  And if you want a real way-back-playback, I still have memories of the Chinese movie theater that used to be where the giant One’s Better Living now stands!  That’s what you call old school. 

Over the years, things have simalatanously changed and stayed the same.  Stores have come and gone, but that feeling of home still exists for me, welcoming me every time I go.  And one of my favourite parts of Pacific Mall is the Pacific Heritage Town on the 2nd floor, which is where I ate my good eats yesterday on Chinese New Year!

Not only do I love the food, I love the atmosphere.  I love stepping into this area of the mall and being welcomed with a waft of warm egg puff waffles, looking at cute Chinese coin purses, and enjoying the snacks that I love so much.  I asked myself yesterday, “it’s Chinese New Year today, what do I really want to eat?  What would I enjoy more than anything?”  I briefly considered getting a Japanese sushi bento box full of my most favourite spicy salmon maki rolls from Japanese Express (trust me, these rolls deserve a post of their own so sit tight for one in the near future!) but instead, I chose my absolute favourite Shanghai dim sum that gets me happy-squishy just at the mere thought of it: my beloved siu long bow, aka. Shanghai pork dumplings!! *cue extreme salivating* 

These little dumplings are my favourite Chinese comfort food and I can’t ever seem to get enough of them.  They are such a treat to me and they are so deliciously yummy with their warm, juicy soft pork and steamed dumpling envelope.  Among many other Chinese “siu sic” snacks and Shanghai dishes and dim sum from Shark’s Fin City (like the yummy green onion pancakes which are a favourite of both my mum and grandma!) , they come in sets of 4 priced at $3.50 and are freshly made right when you order.  You normally may have to wait about 10 minutes or so, but they are sooo worth it.  Other than TianJin Fine Food at the food court in First Markham Place, I don’t enjoy these mouth-watering dumplings anywhere else.  And do I ever enjoy them.  I douse them in red vinegar and wiggle and make “mmm” noises after every bite.  Oh my god I love them so much ❤

And for dessert?  Green tea ice cream waffle cake!! 😀  Purchased from the nearby candy shop and egg puff waffle vendor, there are over 10 flavours of ice cream to choose from (vanilla, cookie, pineapple, mango, among others) and I intend to eat my way through many of them.  They are wrapped in a warm, crispy egg waffle and sliced into wedges.  A dessert that is both warm and cold, and soft and crispy, it is absolutely delightful!

It was so much fun and it was just a wonderful feeling being there yesterday.  I may not shop there as much as I used to, but I look forward to each and every trip and leave with fond memories every time.  And I am so looking forward to tomorrow: celebrating with my grandparents!  I’m going to be getting up at the crack of dawn to bake them surprise cupcakes, and my parents and I will be running around like crazy chickens picking up food along the way to my grandparents in preparation of tomorrow night’s awesome new year feast.  I’ll see you all tomorrow for part III, happy celebrating!

*****

Pacific Mall and Market Village are located at 4300 Steeles Ave. East, right at the intersection of Kennedy Rd. and Steeles.  Pacific Heritage Town is on the upper level and houses a food court with traditional Chinese, Shanghai, and Japanese and sushi, as well as a bakery and plenty of bubble tea and Chinese snack vendors.  Food is also available on the upper level on the other side of the mall in an alternate food court.

Happy Chinese New Year! Part I: Celebrating the Day at Market Village & Pacific Mall

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Happy Chinese New Year everyone!! 😀  I spent the day at Market Village and Pacific Mall (two very popular Chinese retail destinations that have been a part of my childhood and adulthood for years, located just north of the Steeles Scarborough/Markham border on Kennedy Rd. and Steeles Ave.) and had a blast spending actual new year’s day enjoying the special festivities, booths, and FOOD!  I surrounded myself with booths and booths of colourful Chinese candies, containers full of sesame balls and lotus paste pastries, dumplings, and green tea waffle cake!  It’s not often I get to do this; in the past I was always in school on new year’s day if it fell on a weekday and there were only a few times to my recollection that I celebrated on the day of if it fell on a weekend and that’s when my family felt prepared enough to brave the crowds, ha!  This is part one of my three-part Chinese New Year celebration, so enjoy the photos and happy new year – sun leen fai lok! ❤

*****

Pacific Mall and Market Village are located at 4300 Steeles Ave. East, right at the intersection of Kennedy Rd. and Steeles.  They are open 365 days of the year and with the exception of eateries that serve breakfast, they typically open their stores closer to 11am and 12 noon (Market Village and Pacific Mall respectively), so keep that mind if you plan on shopping and eating there.