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.

Showing Our Pride – Cookie Style! Flags, Rainbows & Drag Kings & Queens From All the Best Fine Foods

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Happy weekend, everyone!  It’s a crazy one with Pride going on, the first weekend celebrating the end of the school year and the official start to summer vacation, World Cup, and Canada Day weekend!  And if you’re one of the lucky ones who gets or is taking Monday off to make it a long weekend, you must be feeling elated!  Sorry for missing the last few days here though.  I’ve been under the weather and in a lot of pain and discomfort and honestly, I just need some serious TLC for both my mind and body because the stress of everything – finding work, losing sleep over finding work, and then getting sick – took its toll for the greater part of this past week and I’m really looking forward to mindlessly watching tv to calm everything down.  BUT!  I did manage to enjoy a bit of Pride Week/World Pride, foodie-style, before a bout of sickness took over so I’m so excited that I was able to squeeze that in because after getting an e-mail about these babies, I did NOT want to miss out: Pride maple gingerbread cookies from All the Best Fine Foods in the Church-Wellesley village!

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I subscribe to e-mails from All the Best Fine Foods, a gourmet food shop here in the city with two locations (one by Summerhill station and the other by Church & Wellesley; check out my first post on them HERE, featuring their chocolate fudge cupcakes!) and I received one last week with a whole bunch of summer news and goodies, including the news about Pride and the Church & Wellesley location selling special Pride-themed gingerbread cookies.  I saw it and freaked out because the little picture of them looked so darn adorable!  So amidst all the chaos of this week, I managed to make a trip down to grab a bunch of these beautiful cookies to celebrate Pride.  It is SO awesome seeing the community decked out in all its rainbow glory and even just walking through the neighbourhood and buying these cookies for the occasion felt special.  It was like being a tourist in my own city.

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I picked up five cookies ($1 each!) including a set of rainbow maple leafs, a rainbow Pride flag, a rainbow Canadian Pride flag, and a cutie-patootie drag king and queen, ha!  And to round out my purchase, I picked up a few Russian doll Pride keychains because I’m a total sucker for cute accessories and knick-knacks like that.  And you know what?  They taste AMAZING!  The cookies, not the keychains.  Some might dismiss decorated cookies as just that: cookies that are decorated but bland in taste and purely admired for their aesthetic.  Not these.  The maple gingerbread cookies are so soft and delicious and I love them.  The icing wasn’t hard (seriously, there are decorated cookies out there that have the capacity to chip a tooth!), the sweetness was perfect, and they screamed fun and cuteness.  I’ve already eaten four – three maple leaf ones and one of the flags.  My brother and I are totally gorging on the rest of them for the rest of the weekend.

However you’re celebrating this weekend, I hope everyone has a fun one.  Happy Pride and fingers crossed for a rain-free parade tomorrow!

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*****

All the Best Fine Foods is located at 493 on Church Street near Wellesley in the Church-Wellesley Village.  Their 2nd location is south of Summerhill station at 1101 Yonge Street in the Rosedale neighbourhood and area.

Timbits Love! Featuring the New Strawberry Glazed Cuties on The Ate by Ate Daily, Vol. 013

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DSCN2354IT’S TIMBIT TIME!  Has everyone tried the new strawberry and birthday cake sweets yet?!  I don’t know about all of you, but I looooove when Tim Hortons comes out with new Timbit flavours and I looooove when I stumble across flavours that I can’t get at every location, like the cherry ones (which I always see at the Dufferin Mall location along with a few other spots) and the Boston cream ones (which, sadly, I have no idea where to get now since I used to be able to get them at the Tim Hortons inside the Sears at Eaton Centre which is now, you know, no longer there).  So yes, I love me my Timbits and my new flavours and since we’re on the topic, my favourite is the sour cream glazed, my least favourite is the chocolate, and I’m dying for them to come out with some delicious coconut concoction!

Now I know the new limited time line of strawberry pastries and donuts is being promoted and offered pretty much everywhere this summer, but that certainly doesn’t stop me from feeling giddy over the the ‘new’ness of it.  I was so excited to try Tim Hortons’ new strawberry glazed Timbits that I staged a mini photoshoot with them and posed them in a bowl of strawberries that I had just happened to have in the fridge.  Seriously, the timing couldn’t be more impeccable.  They’re so darn cute!  And they taste so yummy.  I would have taken photos of the birthday cake ones too but everyone in the house ate them before I could do anything so I’ll have to go out and get me a 10-pack of them one of these days so that I can get proper photos.  They would look so stylish with my cupcake tablecloth background.

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All Hail the Breakfast Hash! Mushroom Gravy & Fried Eggs – Weekend Brunch at The Gladstone Hotel on Queen/”Queer” Street West

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I was going to save this post for early July but given how I just watched Michael Symon and Daphne Oz make mouthwatering breakfast hashes on The Chew earlier today and how I’m totally smitten with the street name change of Queen Street West to Queer Street West in honour of World Pride and Pride Week here in the city, I decided I would post these photos today instead.  So, to celebrate amazing breakfast hashes and “Queer” Street West (gosh, this is never going to get old), I present to you all weekend brunch at the Gladstone Hotel!  This is Ate by Ate’s 2nd post on weekend brunch at the Gladstone (check out the 1st one HERE) and I’m hoping that I’ll get to post many more in the future because I’ve enjoyed both my experiences here so much.

The Gladstone Hotel’s weekend brunch menu (served on Saturdays and Sundays from 8am-4pm in the Gladstone Cafe) changes every so often with new and different dishes which is why both of my posts are unique from each other.  It’s totally worth it to go back for repeat visits.  Even if the menu was the same, I would still come back (if I love a place, one visit is never enough) but for those of you who enjoy the spice of life and love new things and variety, this fits right into your wheelhouse.  The great thing about the weekend brunch menu is that while the dishes might be different from menu to menu, the selection and variety is just as great because you’ll always have those egg breakfasts, sweet dishes, and savoury plates to choose from.  The menus don’t necessarily favour one brunch category over another so you won’t ever feel like you’re stuck eating only one type of dish.

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The current weekend brunch menu features yummies like the Lumberjack (eggs, bacon, potato hash and a short stack of pancakes, $15), the Queen (and egg white and caramelized onion frittata with arugula, cheddar and multi-grain bread, $12),  the Sweetie (bread pudding French toast served with caramelized apples, maple caramel drizzle, and bacon, $10), the El Completo (fried or scrambled eggs with tomato, onion, lime and feta black beans with chorizo sausage and corn tortillas or toast, $12), and Jerk Chicken Tacos (3 spicy pulled jerk chicken tacos served with mango chutney and crunchy sweet rice and black eyed pea fritters, $13; my boyfriend ordered this one and I sampled some of those fritters with the mango chutney and oh my gosh they are to die for) among others.

I was hemming and hawing between the Sweetie and the Hash ($11), a dish featuring a red-skinned potato and onion hash smothered with vegetarian mushroom gravy and topped with a beautiful fried egg.  In other words, weekend brunch sexiness.  Two entirely different, contrasting dishes vying for my undying love and attention.  Ultimately my savoury craving won out because 1) I am a potato freak, 2) I am also a fried egg freak, and 3) I am a gravy freak.  I was drooling even before my plate came.  THAT is how you get my weekend brunch motor running and THAT is how we get our freak on!

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This dish is truly the epitome of comfort food, brunch style because the crispiness of the hash and the savouriness of the mushroom gravy just takes it to another level.  The hash, which was shaped into a giant potato patty-like pancake, was fantastic because it maintained its texture in spite of it being covered with gravy and the gravy itself was possibly the best gravy I have ever had in my life.  It was thick and so ridiculously flavourful and the actual mushrooms served with it kept the consistency from getting congealed or gummy with its juices and it kept the flavour coming in spades so everything just worked.  The egg and arugula brightened up the dish visually and offered the tastebuds something a little different to latch onto throughout the meal so that the savouriness of the hash and gravy wouldn’t get too heavy or overwhelming, with the egg being a blank canvas so to speak to absorb some of those flavours and the arugula contributing its signature peppery bitterness to break up the saltiness.

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What made this brunch even more fabulous was my drink: tea!  The Cafe offers a bunch of different loose leaf teas from Tealish including their Coconut Chai, Lemon Meringue, and Toasty Almond among other black, green and rooibos tea varieties.  For whatever reason, I didn’t order a tea during my first visit to the Gladstone nearly two years ago so I decided to order one this time.  I went with the Blueberry Lagoon since I hadn’t tried that one yet and oh my gosh, I almost jumped out of my seat when my tea came: a teapot accompanied by an adorable china tea cup!  Ohmygodohmygodohmygod.  I was not expecting that.  I was expecting just a regular cup with my loose leaf in a filter or something.  I was completely taken aback by the cuteness of it all and it made my tea-loving self so incredibly excited and happy!  And the Blueberry Lagoon tea was delicious to boot so that made me even more happy.  I was on cloud nine; a new Tealish favourite to add to my tea scrapbook!

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The Gladstone Hotel Cafe is such a nice and relaxing place to have weekend brunch (or any meal for that matter) and I love that each experience offers something new and exciting, at least for me.  I just might have to make another return visit before the end of the summer to try that Sweetie dish and to be delighted once again by another delicious meal.

*****

The Gladstone Hotel is located at 1214 Queen Street West (or Queer Street West during Pride Week!).

 

A Passion For Artistic Cuisine – Food Graffiti Art on Ossington Ave! The Ate by Ate Daily, Vol. 012

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DSCN2465Okay, so I’m going to preface this post by saying that nothing here is edible, but I HAD to show you all these photos I took yesterday during my morning out on the Ossington strip: AWESOME FOOD-THEMED GRAFFITI ART!!  I found this entire spread on Ossington just north of Foxley, I believe, and I went nuts with the camera.  Carrots!  Bananas!  Limes!  Chili peppers!  Considering what a food mecca the Ossington strip has become in the past few years (on my to-eat list: Fishbar!), the presence of the food graffiti art is rather appropriate!

For those of you who don’t know, I LOVE taking photos of graffiti art in the city.  Obviously I’m referring to the gorgeous stuff painted on the sides of buildings all over the city, not the vandalism form of it!  That I don’t support.  But the art?  Can’t get enough of it.  My boyfriend and I have been photographing these amazing works for over 5 years now and I’ve created quite a photo collection for myself, both on my computer and in a real photo album where I’ve chronicled a large portion of my shots.  I’ve even organized my photos by neighbourhood so I can remember where I took them and, up until yesterday, I didn’t even THINK to create a separate set of just food-related ones.  Duh, right?!  New project in the works!

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Being an artist myself, graffiti art ignites such a creative fire and passion in me and I really have my boyfriend to thank for fueling this passion in the beginning.  In addition to taking me to enjoy and photograph flowers on our first date, my boyfriend also took me to the side streets of both Queen West and Richmond to photograph all the graffiti art that was tucked away because he knew the art would make me so happy (quite the keeper, huh?).  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  So much colour, so much personality, so much talent.  I’ve actually seen graffiti artists up close and in person doing their thing with the spray cans a few times and it is so inspiring just to watch them.  It’s mesmerizing.  These are talented folks who are hired by building owners and/or the city to create these artistic masterpieces for everyone else to enjoy and to juice up the visual landscape of the city.  Seeing the focus and drive and artistic wittiness reflected in these works is a beautiful thing.

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