The Fall Harvest Series – Getting to the Root of Great Food With Weekend Brunch, Butternut Squash & Beets at Hotel Gelato

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I’ll never forget the moment I felt my mouth start to quiver, my breathing grow shallow, and my eyes tear up.  This could not be happening, I thought.  Not again.  My Veggielicious hopes crushed and my plans for Veggielicious bliss foiled right before my eyes on the last weekend of an event I had been looking forward to for over a year.  The timing couldn’t have been worse.  I was stunned and rendered speechless, sputtering my discontent in sighs of frustration.  I couldn’t believe my rotten luck.  Right then and there, I wanted to throw in the towel on blogging anything altogether.

Melodramatic?  Maybe a little.  Heartbreaking?  To a foodie like myself, positively absolutely.  But!  Let’s remind ourselves though that, like any great drama, there can still be excitement and joy amidst the angst and turmoil.  So get comfortable because this is a story of initial heartbreak gone right, silver linings, the bright side, and new doors opening after others close.  This is the story of the Veggielicious that never happened and, given the circumstances, just wasn’t meant to be.  This is a story of food at Hotel Gelato.

Let’s rewind to last weekend, the last weekend of Veggielicious 2012.  I was so excited I was almost skipping down the street.  After my plans for Veggielicious at E.L. Ruddy had fallen through the weekend prior, all cylinders were raring to go and my sights and tastebuds were set on Hotel Gelato and their Veggielicious menu: spinach and kale salad with chickpeas, sun-dried tomatoes and tahini dressing, quinoa and sweet potato chili, and lentil cakes made with red lentils and zucchini with a root vegetable salad.  I was salivating even before I walked in.  My heart was pumping a bazillion clicks a minute and I was beyond ecstatic.  And then, the world came crashing down around me when I was delivered the news: because of weekend brunch, Veggielicious was only going to be around from 3pm onward over the weekend.  On any other day it would have been available during the day, for lunch, what have you.  But for the weekend?  Not so much.

I wanted to cry.  Again.

On the way to Hotel Gelato…

The unthinkable had happened.  I had messed up both Veggielicious plans and there was nothing I could do about it.  I couldn’t come back for dinner because I had promised my mum I’d come home for a great meal she had in the works.  And I wasn’t going to pack up and leave.  I adored Hotel Gelato and the thought of up and leaving didn’t seem…right.  So I sat down in my seat, moped for all of a few minutes, and snapped out of it.  Okay, so Veggielicious was no longer within my grasp.  But by golly, there were shiny pumpkins on their mantle and I thought, come hell or high water I’m going to enjoy my weekend brunch here and make the best of it!

And I did.  With one of the most fabulous vegetarian fall salads EVER to grace my tastebuds!

Introducing Hotel Gelato’s fluffy fall-inspired quinoa salad ($13) with butternut squash, beets, arugula, roasted shallots, and toasted pine nuts, tossed in a fresh lemon basil dressing and topped with some crispy beet chips on top!  Talk about getting to the “root” of fabulous food!  Fall vegetables with a light as air, crisp and clean dressing with an equally light as air quinoa?  Perfection.  What a fantastic salad and brunch dish.  As part of Hotel Gelato’s permanent weekend brunch menu, it had such an air of lightness to it, like it was only meant to be enjoyed during a peaceful zen moment.  The quinoa was fluffy and the vegetables, which were mostly diced, were beautiful in colour, taste, and texture.  There was crunch from the nuts, juiciness from the squash and beets, air pockets from the quinoa, that great peppery, leafy bite from the delicious arugula, freshness from the dressing, and warmth, coziness, and savouriness from the roasted shallots.

Here’s a very important tidbit to know though about this dish: the online menu says sweet potato in the salad but when you’re dining in, the menu clearly says butternut squash and it is butternut squash that you will receive!  Just by looking at them, sweet potatoes and butternut squash look nearly identical in appearance, especially when the flesh is scooped out and diced.  But, based on taste and texture,  it’s obvious when you eat it which one is being used in the salad.  Sweet potatoes have a much higher content of starch whereas butternut squash is juicier.  I am definitely not complaining about the difference in dine-in and online menu though because butternut squash floats my boat so finally, some good vibes coming my way!

And this was by no means a piddly serving.  This was a ginormous dish!  The salad was served on a huuuge square serving dish with a salad gift that just kept on giving!  I brought home leftovers, shared them with my mum who’s an absolute fiend for beets, and she loved it so much she wishes we had 10 more plates of it!  THAT is how wonderful this brunch salad is.  The colours and flavours scream fall and comfort and it has to be one of the healthiest, most satisfying vegetarian and vegan brunch dishes.  For those who love cheese there’s an option of adding crumbled goat cheese for $3 and grilled chicken for $4 for the meaties.

I was so, so happy and relieved in the end.  A heart-sinking moment of dread turned into a memorable, delicious dish that I would come back for in a heartbeat.  Veggielicious or not, I got the chance to try a vegetarian and vegan dish I had never tried before and I got to eat some butternut squash which is so fitting for fall!  What seems meant to be sometimes isn’t and sometimes, the best things are right under your very nose.

*****

Hotel Gelato is located at 532 Eglinton Ave. West just west of Heddington Ave. between Avenue Rd. and Bathurst Street.  They serve breakfast and lunch every day from Monday to Friday with a weekend brunch menu on Saturdays and Sundays.  Their breakfast menu is available from 8am-11:30am and lunch all-day.

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The Long Awaited Opening Day – Ontario Strawberries, Swiss Chard, & the *NEW* Farmers’ Market in The Junction!

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Today really wasn’t the nicest of days.  It was a gazillion steps up from yesterday’s torrential downpour, but on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being god awful and 10 being gloriously beautiful, today ranked at around 4: cloudy, chilly, and windy.  I admit, the recent heat wave had me whimpering, but for the sake of The Junction farmers’ market opening day, I wanted it to be pretty!  But less than ideal weather aside, I stumbled out of bed at quarter to 6 in the morning (read: I live in Markham and no where near The Junction in the west) and made it out to The Junction’s FIRST EVER farmers’ market! 

I wanted to be one of the first on the scene to grab some photos and to see what the market had in store and surprisingly enough, the market was already crawling with eager morning birds ready to swoop in on all the fresh market food at 8:30 in the morning!  I really shouldn’t be that surprised though; the neighbourhood and community has been looking forward to this and rallying for this market for ages.  This market has been in the works since last year and I think it’s the perfect fit for the community and surrounding area.  The closest farmers’ markets are either out in Etobicoke or Royal York, so this new market truly caters to the growing, thriving Junction food community that’s developed over the years.

Given how this is the Junction farmers’ market first day, I don’t know if there will be additional vendors, farmers’, and producers present later on in the summer.  What I can tell you though is how committed everyone is to bringing local food to the tables of everyone in the community and how excited everyone at the market was!  It was early in the morning, the weather wasn’t the nicest, and yet market goers were just grabbing things left and right.  I started on the west end of the market, working my way to the other end, and by the time I went back to where I started, by de la terre baked goods and bakery, a third of what I originally saw was gone.  ONLY 20 MINUTES HAD ELAPSED!  Fruit galettes?  Gone.  Chocolate fudge brownies?  A chunk of those were missing.  Monkey buns?  People were buying them as I was taking photos.  Amazing. 

Monforte Dairy was there along with Evelyn’s Crackers, Ying Ying Soy Food (hurray for tofu!), North Gate Ogranics (rhubarb and white turnip photos), and Fresh City Farms among a number of other farmers’ and food producers.  In addition to fish and seafood, tofu, crackers and shortbread, and fresh meats and cheeses, there were lots of bright and beautiful fruits and vegetables on hand for the market’s first day today: organic Ontario strawberries, apples, beets, rhubarb, kale, swiss chard, butter lettuce, arugula, and even bright white Japanese Hakurei turnips!  I was so excited about how pretty everything looked I even accidentally dropped my camera in a basket of lettuce! 

Despite the wet lens, the gorgeous colours and textures make for great photos so I was really lucky to get some nice shots before everything was gone!  I read on my Twitter feed that someone came to the market later on in the morning and was greeted by apple and honey leftovers – and nothing else.  Not so great for latecomers but wonderful news for the market organizers and vendors!  My favourite part of the market, apart from the photographing and mmming over baked goods and ahhing over the gorgeous swiss chard?  An exchange between a market goer and a local farmer vendor where a woman asked, “are these apples from Ontario?” to which the farmer smiled and replied, “if anything from this market isn’t from Ontario, it shouldn’t be here.”  Hashtag WIN.      

The first day was fantastic and I can only see this market growing and flourishing with the support of the community and market lovers like us!  And think of it this way: even if you don’t live in the area, coming to the market early in the morning means you get to spend the rest of the day exploring the neighbourhood?  My suggestion?  Grab some tea or coffee afterward at Crema and head on over to Bunners Bake Shop when they open up shop at 10!  And if the day is nice, walk south to High Park and have a picnic!  Or indulge in some delicious ice cream at Delight during the summer.  Ah, market mornings.  The possibilities for great days ahead are endless.   

*****

The Junction farmers’ market will be held every Saturday from 8:30am-12:30pm, June 2nd to October 13th.  The farmers’ market is located in the parking lot just off of Dundas Street West and Pacific Ave.  The market is brand new to Toronto and the Junction community, so spread the word, come out, and show your support!  For more info and a list of vendors, visit the official Junction market page HERE.

There’s a Chill in the Air – The First September Farmers’ Market Visit and a Return to Trinity Bellwoods Park

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I woke up this morning to a chill in the air, put on a zippy sweater and hankerchief scarf, and prepared myself for a glorious day out in the city.  I was really excited for my first farmers’ market of September today and I’m looking forward to so many more this fall, especially since this is my first year visiting the markets on such a regular basis.  I can’t wait to see pumpkins, squash, gourds, cranberries, more apples, and everything else the fall harvest has to offer.  It was overcast for most of the day today but I welcomed the lack of summer heat and relished in the fresh coolness instead.  It felt so good today.  Crisp, clean, cool, breezy, and perfect for walking around town and strolling through a market in the park.  The last time I went to the market at Trinity Bellwoods was back in May, so I thought, “what better time to make a return visit than the first week of September?  A visit at the cusp of summer and fall means a lot of new things to see!”    

My feet were a little sore from my long walk akong Dundas West, but my spirits were high and I smiled when I saw the big, bustling crowd hovering in and around the market at Trinity Bellwoods.  Babies were playing on playmats on the grass, people were lugging around bulging bags of fresh vegetables, and everyone was in happy, carefree spirits.  It’s the best possible energy to be around and it’s engaging and infectious.  Things looked vastly different from my first visit back in the spring.  At the time, there was an abundance of asparagus, spinach, rhubarb, fruit and oatmeal cookies, and lots of bread and baked desserts.

The bread and baked desserts have stayed, but everything else has changed and it was so awesome seeing the vibrant fall colous at the market.  They were absolutely beautiful and so perfect for the start of fall with burnt oranges, bright reds, and golden yellows at every other table of goodies.  There were wooden baskets and barrels spilling out with tons of radishes, beets, parsnips, carrots, apples, corn, mini squashes, and pears and even though I knew summer wasn’t officially over, I could already hear the leaves and grass crunching under my feet and I could already feel the excitment and anticipation of carrying home bushels and baskets of fall goodies.  All of this would drive any foodie’s mind in circles with all the possible fall dishes these fruits and vegetables could be a part of including fall stews, soups, risottos, baked desserts, and many more. 

You all know I have a hard time leaving the market empty-handed so for the first time ever, I picked up a HUGE, leafy fresh bunch of kale and this baby is going in the pot for dinner sometime this week!  I’m so happy I was introduced to this vegetable last year.  I could munch on a whole plate of the stuff all by its lonesome with nothing on it and be a happy camper.  I may have walked away from the adorable teeny yellow tomatoes and homemade blueberry scones I saw today, but I walked away with a very beautiful vegetable and as an added bonus, it made it all the way home with me sans the squish.  I’d say the fall farmers’ market score card is off to a fantabulous start so far 😀

 

*****

 The farmers’ market at Trinity Bellwoods Park is located at Dundas St. West and Shaw St. every Tuesday from 3pm-7pm until October 25th.  The next time you’re there, be sure to also sign the petition to prevent the increase in farmers’ market user fees.  You can also access and sign the petition, and learn more, online here.