Mexican Culinary Delights, Fresh Vegetables, & a Dumpling Bonanza – Día de los Muertos, “Day of the Dead” at Evergreen Brick Works!

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Yesterday was such a terrific day.  Despite the cold, I was out and about soaking in the crisp air, buying food to bring home, enjoying fall comfort food for lunch and at the farmers’ market, drinking tea, taking photos, and taking part in my very first Día de los Muertos, “Day of the Dead” Mexican festival at Evergreen Brick Works!  When I found out about the festival from their monthly calendar, I was so excited.  Mexican food and festivities in addition to the Saturday morning farmer’s market?!  What a goldmine.  And I’m so happy I went because I now have a much better understanding of the holiday’s cultural significance and the philosophy that grounds it.

In a nutshell, Día de los Muertos is a traditional Mexican holiday (also observed by many other cultures around the world) that brings family and friends together to honour those who have died with food and celebration.  While death is often perceived as something negative (understandably so!), Día de los Muertos is about memorializing the lives of those who have passed by praying and remembering them, visiting their graves, and creating settings (ofrendas and altars as they’re often referred to) with their favourite food and drink, spiritually connecting to those who have died and celebrating their life and honouring their memory during this ceremonious occasion.  Instead of fearing death and mortality, the day is about embracing the life cycle and setting aside some time to reflect.  We know all experiences are contextual, but generally speaking, this is the way in which Day of the Dead aims to shed positive light on an otherwise upsetting part of life.

There was a beautiful altar set up with a bright pink fuchsia tablecloth covered in a sea of corn, vegetables, and chocolate and surrounded by candles and Day of the Dead skeletons with chalkboard explaining the festival’s cultural significance.  Even though I didn’t stay long enough to see and taste the goods from the tamales competition, I did get to see ChocoSol’s cacao and coffee bike grinder (a bike that harnesses the energy from pedaling to grind raw cacao which is then used for coffee and Mexican drinking chocolate!), LPK Culinary’s Groove’s booth of vegan tarts, cakes, cookies and cupcakes decked out in “Day of the Dead” decor (check out the sugar skull tablecloth!), seeing vendors adorned with “Day of the Dead” skull makeup, and seeing the Mexican food get fired up in all its fresh tortilla, tostada, and churro glory among many other culinary delights!

And of course, we can’t forget about the farmers’ market.  Oh my goodness was it ever busy!  I actually had to line up for my kale!  I was sampling cheese and sausage, admiring the beautiful rainbow colours of swiss chard, and snatching up vegetables and baked goods to enjoy over the weekend.  I brought home so much great food: 2 giant bunches of beautiful kale (kale has pretty much become a farmers’ market staple for me – can’t leave one without any!), pea shoots, fresh radicchio and bitter salad greens, spinach, and lots of scones including cheddar and black pepper, and wild blueberry ones from St. John’s Bakery, and a white cheddar cranberry from Alli’s Bread.  They are fantastic off the grill and so yummy with a bit of butter or jam, or even plain.

The pea shoots, salad greens, and spinach were all from Grassroot Organics and they are so, so good.  They have these giant bins where you grab as much as you like and then you simply pay by weight.  It’s so easy to go crazy and spend more than you anticipated but I’m telling you, these vegetables are absolutely gorgeous and their freshness factor is just off the chart.  My family and I mixed all three together to make a big salad for lunch today and I would go back for more in a heartbeat.  I don’t have the name of the farmer and vendor who I bought my kale from but I promise I’ll get it the next time I’m there.  That I had for dinner tonight and my leftovers are happily waiting for me in the fridge ready to be eaten for lunch tomorrow!

One thing in particular that I have head-over-heels fallen in love with is My Little Dumplings, a local business that churns out amazingly delicious dumplings along with soups and other yummies using seasonal, local ingredients to create a fusion of global, ethnic flavours!  Owner and chef, Bashir Munye (pictured), was cooking up cauliflower soup with fresh garlic, chicken dumplings, and edamame falafel dumplings, all served with this delicious spicy dipping sauce (3 for $5 or 6 for $9).  Yes, edamame falafel.  Edamame beans ground into the texture of falafel and then fried crispy in dumplings.  With spicy sauce.  And utterly scrumptious.  OH.MY.GOD.  I should have had 6.  Heck, I should have had 20 and taken some home.  I have NEVER had anything like it before.  And I’ve had many dumplings in my time!

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE dumplings and I’m so happy Bashir has created this business devoted to them.  And what he says on his My Little Dumplings website is very true: “no matter what culinary culture you come from, there’s probably a dumpling in your background.  A folded littel morsel of comforting goodness.”  There’s chicken and dumplings.  Italian gnocchi.  Wontons.  The list goes on.  Different ingredients, different execution and interpretation, but all with a common characteristic: folded pockets of deliciousness and comfort.  And I will be so happy to come back for more!  And next time, I’m not just having three.  I’m having eleventy billion.  Or maybe 12.  Baby steps and all.

Oh, and did I mention that it wasn’t raining yesterday, finally?  It wasn’t raining.  It was one of the happiest days ever.

*****

Evergreen Brick Works is located at 550 Bayview Ave.  The farmers’ market takes place year-round every Saturday from 8am-1pm during the summer and fall months (May to November) and from 9am-1pm during the winter months (November to April).  If taking public transit, there is a free shuttle bus that operates 7 days a week beside Broadview subway station, as well as the 28A Davisville TTC bus that runs on Saturdays from 8am-3pm between Evergreen Brick Works and Davisville subway station.  Click here to learn more the site, their events and programs, and how to get here by bus, bike, car, or foot.

The Heart and Soul of Chinese Dim Sum – Shrimp & Pork Dumplings, Rice Rolls, and Family Gatherings

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It was dim sum weekend here at Ate by Ate headquarters and I’m so excited to share the yummies with all of you today!  Aside from some dumpling photos here and there, I’ve never done a full dim sum post on the blog.  The lack of steamers and Chinese brunch on Ate by Ate is inexcusable considering how much I love dim sum and how it’s been ingrained into my familial and cultural upbringing since childhood, so I thought it was about time I shared some of my favourite dim sum dishes and stories here.  

Dim sum is so special to me because it combines so many of my favourite things all into one big ball of happiness: great food, time spent with my grandparents, and a busy and bustling atmosphere.  I know dim sum might not seem like the most exciting or adventurous thing to those who go out for it often, but it’s a real treat for me and I look forward to dim sum get-togethers and meals each and every single time.  It doesn’t matter that I’ve had dim sum a hundred or even a thousand times over during the course of my life – it’s the feeling I have and the memories that are invoked that mean the most to me.

I love the feeling of walking into the Chinese restaurant that I grew up going to and having the manager and dim sum ladies ask me how I am and lament at how much time has passed since I was a little girl.  I love remembering the times when I would play up my big sister role and grab food for my baby brother and how I still mother him to this day by making sure he has enough to eat (he’s a boy with a bottomless pit of a stomach so I really don’t why I worry about this!).  I love seeing my relationship with my grandparents grow and change over time.  And I love those moments when its just me, my family, and food.  When all the cares in the world go away just for the morning.  When it’s just the six of us.  There’s nothing like it.

To me, dim sum is at its absolute best when it’s delivered via dim sum carts.  I know there are great places that do it the pencil and paper way, but hands down, dim sum struts its stuff from the carts when they make their rounds around the restaurant.  For those who have never experienced dim sum or dim sum in this fashion, this is how it works: Patrons are seated at a table and are asked what type of tea they wish to drink.  Two tea pots are then brought to the table, one with tea and one with hot water to dilute the tea as the meal progresses.  Dishes of food are placed on rolling carts.  Restaurant staff (who are traditionally women) push these carts in and around the aisles and perimeter of the restaurant.  At times they will call out the dishes that are being offered on the cart, but most of the time patrons will see for themselves what the dishes are and request them for their table.

There are two particular styles of dishes that are served.  There are the “small plates” and the meal-size dishes.  Small plates include dumplings (the infamous shrimp ha gow, and pork siu mai, and many others), rice rolls, steamed buns, sticky buns, spring rolls, beef balls, crispy fried taro mounds, and small dishes of things like chicken feet and squid.  Meal size dishes are things like bowls of rice (law mai fan), congee, noodles, and vegetables among others.  After requesting a dish off the cart (of which you can have as many as your table desires), the dim sum lady will make a note on your running paper bill.  Each and every table has one and it is there to keep track of what dishes each table has ordered and how many.  At the end of the meal, the running bill is tallied up to a grand total.

For families and larger groups, dim sum is – excuse my language – a freakin’ awesome deal price-wise.  Each dish size (small, medium, and large) will have a “flat” price that is assigned to all dishes within that size categorization.  For example, small dishes can be assigned to a $2 price point while medium dishes are assigend to, say, $2.50.  Prices will vary depending on day of the week (weekday mornings are slightly cheaper than weekends, which is expected) and the restaurant and part of town.  Many of the small plate dishes come with 3 or 4 of each item so you order for the table accordingly based on how many people there are, how many people anticipating eating that particular dish, and so on.  You can always order again if you decide you want more and you can always ask for a take-out box if you have leftovers.  To put the pricing into perspective, our 6-person table of adults had a total bill of $42, tax included.  And we were all stuffed as we always are after an amazing dim sum meal.

Dim sum is what I like to call, “Chinese style tapas”.  The term “tapas” is sometimes misused when it only refers to the size and portion of food and dishes, when it really incorporates both the concept of small-bites and socializing over food.  And boy is dim sum ever a socializing event!  It is not dim sum unless it is busy, busy, and more busy.  Think line-ups, dishes being delivered and devoured at an alarming speed, and a steady stream of loud chatter ping-ponging from every corner of the restaurant.  While weekday mornings might not always be as busy, noon hour is always a bustling time and weekends are absolute party events.  Most of all, the space in which dim sum is consumed is also the space in which generations merge and collide.  Dim sum is incredibly social in nature and the whole experience is bounded by the belief that food plays a central role in familial and social gatherings.

*****

Photos taken in Scarborough at Very Fair Chinese Restaurant, in Agincourt.  Very Fair Chinese Restaurant is located at 4002 Sheppard Ave. East in the lower level of the complex.

A Holiday Dumpling Workshop in the Kitchen – Shrimp, Crab Meat, Herbs, and Veggies For Homemade Wontons!

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It’s delicious homemade wonton dumpling time! 😀  Yes, that’s right, yours truly made homemade wonton dumplings from scratch yesterday and spent her the whole day in the kitchen preparing and mixing baking ingredients for cookies and cupcakes, and chopping up wonton filling ingredients in the morning.  I know these don’t exactly scream Christmas or even “holidays”, but my mum and I made these for ourselves and for my grandparents as a little homemade Christmas food love from our hearts to theirs. 
 
I’ll have you know that yesterday’s wonton making session was not my first.  I know I never really talk about my cooking adventures or kitchen escapades much aside from baking, but my childhood is full to bursting with kitchen and cooking experiences and memories and I have my grandma and my aunt to thank for that.  They instilled a love of home cooking in me and let me help them early on.  My first cookie baking experience was with my aunt in her Scarborough apartment at the age of 8 and my first wonton making adventure was with my mum and grandma in my grandparents’ kitchen when I was…some young age that I don’t recall at the moment.  But it was so much fun and it will always be one of my favourite memories.
 

Dinner in the making!

I’m so, so excited to share these wonderful dumplings with you guys because not only do they taste delicious, but they are SO much fun to make!  You can literally make a fun morning and afternoon out of it and boil your creations for dinner later on at night!  I think it would even make a fantastic party activity for a get-together.  With the tv on or some music playing it’s incredibly relaxing and soothing and just oodles of fun.  It’s honestly one of my favourite things to make, ever.  Well, that and making cake pops and cookies.  You get the idea.  Just like my Christmas cake pops from Le Dolci, this is somewhat of a photo tutorial, so feel free to follow along or you can just enjoy the photos and drool.  It’s up to you.

Okay, first things first: the wrappers!  Wonton and dumpling wrappers come in a number of sizes and shapes.  Most of the time you’ll find them in square shapes and circle shapes, but if you’re feeling ambitious and know or want to make your own wonton wrappers from scratch, you can also make circles with scalloped edges if you like.  The wrappers are basically a mixture of flour, water, and possibly some cornstarch, egg, and/or salt kneaded into an elastic dough and then rolled out into thin sheets and cut into squares or circles for wontons and dumplings.  There are plenty of recipes online, such as this one, if you want to make your own dough wrappers.

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