Smoked Salmon & Wild Nova Scotia Tuna Sandwiches – Hooked Inc. at the Toronto Office Markets

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Local seafood lovers rejoice!  Hooked Inc. has won the hearts of Leslieville residents and farmers’ market goers alike since its storefront opening on Queen Street East in 2011.  Hooked Inc. is a fish store that attacks food and knowledge with a passion, providing Torontonians with fresh, sustainable, local fish, shellfish, and seafood products in addition to cooking classes, educational workshops, and farmers’ market vending around the city.  I’m beyond excited about their spring workshop schedule and their expanded farmers’ market schedule come spring and summer.  I was in conniptions when I browsed their website and realized that there would be a market at Edwards Garden later on this year for me to go to!  Farmers’ markets, flowers and gardens, and (sea)food – it’s a dream come true. 

Their enterprise really inspires me because even though I love seafood (much more than red meat and poultry, actually), it’s a food group that I know very little about in terms of location, regional specifics, and sustainability and Hooked makes this knowledge accessible.  Their classes and workshops incorporate hands-on cooking techniques (shucking oysters, and learning about poaching, braising, and stewing fish) as well as food knowledge such as teaching workshops on how to select fish, proper preparation methods and tools to use, and more. 

Kristin shucked 20 oysters for a couple last week!

There’s so much to learn and I want to learn all there is to know about different types of fish and the bodies of water and provinces they come from.  That’s the beauty of Hooked – they are so in tune and knowledgable about their products, the fishing industry, and what it takes to maintain a sustainable economy of food that you feel comfortable asking them anything and everything to do with fish.  As part of the Slow Food/Slow Fish movement, they’re committed to building awareness of local food options, maintaining close, transparent relationships with both producers and consumers, and making information as accessible as possible. 

Their weekly appearances at the Lunchtime Office Markets have taken me on a whirlwind seafood tour and it’s so exciting seeing what different foods Kristin and her crew bring to the table every week.  Their table always provides a mix of fresh fish and seafood lunches to enjoy right then and there as well as vacuum sealed fish, jars of soup, containers of seafood salad, and so much more.  Kristin and her team take the opportunity at the markets to show off the versatility of seafood by turning fish into fast and convenient $5 lunches on the go, often utilizing products from other farmers’ market vendors such as Earth & City and Monforte Dairy. 

They do buck-a-shuck oysters (you can learn to shuck at one of their classes!), fish samples, seafood salad bread bite samples, fish chowder (which I inhaled during this market visit), smoked salmon sandwiches with soft cheese on dark bread, and mouthwatering chunks of fresh Nova Scotia wild tuna salad sandwiches with greens on Earth & City’s flatbread.  So far I’ve only had their fish chowder but I’m telling you, it was SO HARD not having something of theirs at every single market I’ve been to. 

And I know I’m not the only one who feels this way!  At the last market I attended, a couple was so distraught over all the amazing lunch options that they agreed to share one of eveything so that they could try everything they wanted!  They tore a page straight out of my book because I’m often faced with the same dilemma every time I come to these markets.  I wouldn’t want it any other way though; this is what makes food exploration so much fun.  I’m so looking forward to making my first Hooked shop visit in the near future and learning more about their business and about the seafood they so lovingly provide to the markets and our city.

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Hooked Inc. is located at 888 Queen Street East at the corner of Booth Ave., east of Logan in the Leslieville neighbourhood.  They are currently vending at the Toronto Office Markets on Wednesdays at CSI Spadina and Thursdays at the ING Direct Cafe.  Keep up to date with news, new markets, workshops and more by visiting their website here and following them on Twitter @hookedinc

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A Vegetable Garden Party on Sprouted Buckwheat Pizza – Photo Spotlight on Raw, Vegan Pizza by Earth & City!

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Oh, pizza, how we love thee.  You’re the center of attention at sleepovers and childhood school lunch parties, you’re the one thing most people with differing tastes can agree on ordering, and you rank pretty high on the list of ultimate comfort foods.  However, as delicious as you are, you can pose quite a few food problems for some people!  Sure, vegetarians can be ready and willing to consume infinite slices of veggie pizza full of roasted, grilled, and sauteed vegetables with melted cheesy goodness, but where does that leave the lactose intolerant and vegans?  So where does that leave us?  Earth & City‘s cheeseless, raw vegan pizza to the rescue! 

After sadly passing on it during my first farmers’ visit to Wychwood Barns, I was lucky enough to snatch a jolly big slice at the newest Lunchtime Office Market at the ING Direct Cafe earlier this month.  Cassandra and Lisa of Earth & City don’t make the pizzas for every single market they do (it’s a rotating menu item as opposed to a permanent fixture), so my timing felt extra special this time around!  I was so excited I literally threw my coat and bag on the table by the window and scampered back to Earth & City’s spot to claim my lunch before it disappeared.  Their vegan pizzas are perfect for those who face food allergies and intolerances left and right because they’re gluten and wheat free, dairy-free, and nut-free.  If you have a soy allergy, I’d be cautious just because Earth & City lists wheat-free tamari on their list of ingredients, but I’d ask just to make sure as it really depends on the amount and levels.   

Earth & City’s raw vegan pizza changes throughout the year based on seasonal ingredients and whatever vegetables are fresh, but the one thing that is always constant is the pizza base.  Made with sprouted buckwheat, soaked flax seed, and dried herbs, the crusts are dehydrated overnight* and they firm up into thin, sturdy crusts.  My big slice was covered with sweet sundried tomato sauce (think tomato paste in consistency), raw mushrooms and grape tomatoes, and a generous helping of bright green sunflower sprouts.  I know soy cheese and Daiya cheese are also both viable options to use in vegan pizza-making, but this pizza truly gives new meaning to veggie pizza – it’s like having a garden on your pizza pie!          

The flavours and methods are totally and completely different because for one, it’s a raw pizza and second, the flavours are much more of a mix of sweet and savoury.  The sweetness from the honey dates in the flatbread crust, as well as from the tomato sauce, hits you full force and it gives the rest of the raw vegetables more complexity in flavour.  It envelopes and anchors everything while allowing the freshness of the vegetables to shine.  The pizza is incredibly hearty and so full of nutrients and healthy things for the body including dietary fiber and antioxidants straight from the soaked flax seed and honey dates. 

This was truly the healthiest pizza I had ever seen and eaten and the abundance of mushrooms and sunflower sprouts made me so happy.  Vegan pizza is hard to come by so I’m really happy Earth & City makes it on a regular basis, even if it’s not for every single market that they do.  If you want to know which markets will have it, just pop them a message on their Facebook page or on their Twitter @earthandcity, and ask to be included on their weekly newsletter. 

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* source = Earth & City’s official website. 

Earth & City is a local raw and vegan food business operating at farmers’ markets across Toronto year-round.  They are currently at 3 markets, with more during the late spring and summer months.  You can find them at the Centre for Social Innovation (Bathurst location at 720 Bathurst Street south of Bloor) on Tuesdays from 11:30am-1:30pm, the ING Direct Cafe (at Yonge & Shuter street just north of Queen Street) on Thursdays from 11:30am-1:30pm, and at The Stop market at Wychwood Barns (76 Wychwood Ave. near St. Clair Ave. West and Christie Street) on Saturdays from 8am-1pm.

Green Tea Latte Mornings, Loose Leaf at ING Direct Cafe, and New Spring Collections – Tea Love News!

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I’m no coffee drinker, but I am one very enthusiastic tea and coffee shop drink junkie!  This post comes in the wake of recent tea drinking developments that have transpired over the past two weeks, developments that have me pretty excited.  For starters, I found out last week that one of my vegan friends loves tea just as much as I do and that my brother’s teas of choice are earl grey and chamomile.  I was shocked out of my pants.  My brother likes earl grey and soothing chamomile?!  I never in a million years thought my brother, who skims 6 feet tall, watches wrestling, and enjoys crashing cars in video games, would enjoy a tea with floral notes!  I always think of earl grey as the fancy pants stuff and just knowing he likes it makes me beam with pride like a proud mama.  My little man of a brother is all grown up and has fantastic taste in tea!  And my vegan friend who shares my adoration?  I cannot wait to haul her tooshie to L’Espresso Bar Mercurio for vegan lunch and loose leaf tea!

Second, call me a bandwagoner, but yours truly finally has a thermo mug for her tea!  In honour of International Women’s Day last week, the ING Direct Cafe was giving away free thermo mugs with a choice of coffee or tea, which I happily took advantage of during lunch hour at the Lunchtime Office Market.  Even though having a thermo mug will mean an extra item in my already bulging bag (I used to carry small purses, but I have turned into a “I carry my life around with me” type of girl years ago and never converted back), I’m excited to have one to tote around for tea whether I steep it from home or get it filled up at a tea shop.  The tea and drinks selection at the ING Direct Cafe is one of the greatest things ever because 1) the tea is so reasonably priced for loose leaf – just $2!  and 2) all proceeds go to the Canadian Red Cross. 

The tea love has also been spreading because spring has arrived at our doorstep!  I’ve been seeing new tea and coffee shop drink collections crop up left and right: Second Cup’s new vanilla and maple collections, the decadent chocolate tea line at Teaopia, and the bright and shiny new spring collection from David’s Tea.  I haven’t been able to snag anything new and delicious from the aforementioned collections just yet, but I did sniff through the spring collection at David’s Tea and enjoy a sample of their new Tea of the Month, Organic Gold Rush, and it is a winner!  It’s a deliciuous white dessert tea and one everyone should try.  It’s been some time since I last did a fun cupcake and tea post so I’m hoping I’ll be able to do a few this spring. 

These photos that I’ve posted are part of what I call the “green tea latte morning” set, taken at Starbucks on a chilly morning.  I know the fuzzy mittens are a little out of place at the moment, having taken into account our balmy spring weather forecast this week, but the mornings are still a bit cold!  I’m still feeling my way around coffee shop drinks, but I have to say that green tea lattes are my absolute favourite.  The bright, grass green hue is gorgeous and so spring-like and I love the rich, matcha taste.  I sprinkled a little bit of vanilla and nutmeg in my drink for fun and enjoyed my frothy drink with visions of green tea desserts dancing in my head.  In addition to the special Oreo series that I’m doing, I’m excited to get a green tea series off the ground and I think this latte is a nice way to start!  Here’s a tea toast to many more lovely cups of tea and tea drinks this season. 

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Photographs taken at Starbucks, located at 5954-5956 Highway 7 East, at the corner of Highway 7 and Main Street Markham.  A big thank you goes to my sweet Richard for taking the 1st and 5th photos.

Beet Hummus, Cabbage Veggie Bowls, and Fish Chowder For Lunch at the ING Direct Cafe Office Market

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I’ve talked about a lot of different food situations on the blog.  Situations and predicaments like food tunnel vision, constant cravings (cue K.D. Lang’s song here), and food snobbery among many others.  I have a new one to add to the hungry mix: food remorse, and not in the sense you’re probably thinking.  I’m talking about the feeling of remorse that washes over you when you pass up something delicious and it ends up haunting you in your dreams.  Well, maybe it’s not that extreme, but definitely enough remorse to have it occupy a good portion of your stomach and brain for days afterward.  It’s when you wish with all your heart that you had taken advantage of the opportunity right in front of you to eat whatever it was you wanted to eat but just didn’t.  I know we all go through those moments (who hasn’t walked by that bakery storefront or burger joint and wished they could stuff their face?), but it’s insult to injury when you mope about passing up something delicious, healthy, and affordable and reasonably priced.  This is the absolute worst and I know the feeling all too well.  

Thus, when I went to last week’s first Lunchtime Office Market at the ING Direct Cafe at Yonge & Shuter, I couldn’t help myself.  I grabbed an edible hummus and veggie bowl (after paying for it, of course!) and devoured it along with my other lunch time goodies.  After seeing these gorgeous, rainbow bright edible cabbage bowls made by Jesse of Luscious Dips at the CSI Lunchtime Market at Spadina my last time there, I couldn’t bear the thought of passing them up a second time.  So I didn’t. 

With a hungry tummy and a happy heart, I enjoyed a bright and fresh, hearty lunch at the ING Direct Cafe courtesy of Luscious Dips and local fish and seafood extraordinaire Hooked Inc.  There were plenty of food choices at the market and it was hard to narrow it down to just two things.  I knew I wanted something hearty to go along with my edible cabbage bowl ($4) and as soon as I saw the hot, steaming pot of fish chowder at Hooked’s station, I knew I had my lunch decided.  The fish chowder ($5) was a savoury, flavourful, spicy (but not too spicy) mix of celery, sweet potatoes, carrots, greens, and big, chunks of flaky fish and it was like winter cabin comfort food in a cup.  It was incredibly filling and satisfying and unlike anything I’d had before.  I really loved the broth and could totally see myself enjoying the chowder with some crusty bread or as filling in a fish taco.  I had been craving fish chowder for weeks prior to the market so it was like my food prayers were being answered!   

My lovely edible cabbage bowl full of bright veggies and vegan dip balanced out the heartiness of the soup and brightened up my palate.  My cabbage bowl was stuffed with cucumber slices, julienned red bell peppers, a big dollop of Luscious Dips’ vegan beet hummus dip, and a handful of delicious corn chips made by Mad Mexican, a business in the west end of Toronto specializing in wholesome, all-natural Mexican food products.  Jesse of Luscious Dips always has Mad Mexican’s fabulous corn chips on hand with her at the markets and depending on the market, you can pick up a bag of them at her table.  The edible cabbage hummus bowls are absolute genius.  It’s healthy and less wasteful save for a napkin that you may or may not end up using.  And it just looks beautiful.

Thanks to my lunch, I have become absolutely obsessed with Jesse’s dips!  They are amazing and I cannot stop thinking about grabbing containers of each and every single flavour she makes!  Knowing how much my mum loves beets, I purchased a container of the beet hummus ($5) to take home and embarrassingly enough, I’ve been chomping at the bit more than she has.  It is so delicious and so versatile.  You can use it as a dip for raw vegetables, for nachos, for tortillas, or as a sandwich spread.  This past weekend, I made myself a vegetarian sandwich using baby spinach, avocado, and mozzarella cheese and spread the beet hummus on my bread and oh my goodness it was absolute heaven.  So much so that I accidentally just typed the word “hummus” in place of heaven, realized my mistake and backspaced to fix it.  Oops.  I’m totally head over heels for the stuff and I am ecstatic to see what Jesse brings to the next market.  

I loved my lunch and I’m so excited to see what other menu items and fresh eats all the vendors will bring in the coming markets.  My sights are set on Earth & City’s nut burgers, more dips, Chocosol’s tortillas, and maybe a pie from Yorktown Pie Company.  The possibilities are looking delicious and endless.

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The Lunchtime Office Markets by Alimentary Initiatives take place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.  The markets are from 11:30am-1:30pm and the newest market is located at the ING Direct Cafe at 221 Yonge Street at the corner of Yonge & Shuter across the street from the Eaton Centre every Thursday.

Lunch Just Became A Whole Lot More Delicious Downtown – Lunchtime Office Markets at ING Direct Cafe!

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The dining selections for lunch in the downtown core just became a whole lot more mouthwatering: a new lunchtime market has made its way into the heart of downtown Toronto and they’re serving up hot and fresh, local food that’s ready to eat!  The Lunchtime Office Markets by Alimentary Initiatives are expanding beyond their Centre for Social Innovation roots and settling into the hustle and bustle of one of Toronto’s busiest neighbourhoods.  With Yonge-Dundas Square to the north, Eaton Centre to the west, Ryerson University to the east, and the financial district to the south, the newest market location has taken residence at the corner of Yonge and Shuter Street, right inside the new ING Direct Cafe.  The ING Direct Cafe is a special, multi-purpose retail space that functions as an innovative financial and banking space, a community space, and a kitchen space all in one.   

In a nutshell, ING Direct is a Canadian banking and financial institution whose mandate is to provide its clients with financial services and products that are innovative, low-cost, convenient, and in tune with current technologies.  The ING Direct Cafe is one of its newest innovations and its goal is to bring community groups and local businesses together, and to present residents in the area with an open-concept banking space to make financial decisions, to learn more about financial alternatives, and to contribute to local charities and causes through partnerships and cafe sales.  In addition, all cafes have free wi-fi and mobile devices that allow anyone and everyone to test out new products, and do online and mobile banking on the go.

The partnership between ING Direct and the Lunchtime Office Markets makes so much sense because they possess many of the same values and goals.  The Lunchtime Office Markets are expanding to accomodate the growing need for healthy, affordable food options in and around working environments.  Let’s face it: not everyone brings a lunch to work.  Call it personal preference, call it a lack of resources in the work environment (a lack of refridgerator, microwave, or food storage); either way, many purchase their lunch in and around their place of work.  Often, workers are either faced with unhealthy options, unaffordable options, a combination of both, or no options at all.  Thus, the premise behind the Lunchtime Office Market is to fill a void and to provide choices for those who otherwise may not have any. 

How do the office markets base their decision on where to locate?  Let’s be clear about one thing: a worthy working environment is not defined by the number of high-rolling business executives that exist in the area.  The office markets were a pilot project that began in October 2011 at both Centre for Social Innovation locations to gauge the level of interest and response to this new food and farmers’ market model.  Since, the market has taken on a life of its own and has started expanding.  

However, the goal has remained the same: to provide neighbourhoods and institutions with good, wholesome food.  The office markets want to target high-traffic areas, schools, office buildings, and many others that have a dispropriate percentage of people who may lack the resources or the time to get their hands on good food.  The newest location at Yonge & Shuter targets college and university students who need affordable, healthy options, retail workers in and around the area who want a fresh change from the food court selection, and office workers who need something quick and convenient (trying to nab an elevator from the 25th floor during the busy lunch hour could take 10 minutes in and of itself!).

This past Thursday, the market rolled out its first big appearance at its new location at 11:30am and it did not disappoint!  We had Sara’s fresh baked bread from Nice Buns; Earth & City’s savoury raw, vegan delights; vegan dips and organic edible hummus bowls from Luscious Dips; savoury pies and pastries from Yorkton Pies; seafood, samples, and oysters from Hooked; tortillas and raw chocolate from Chocosol; market fruits and vegetables from Fresh City Farms; and Augie’s gourmet soups and stews. 

I was ready to roll for lunch and with camera in hand, I captured many of the delicious eats available for lunch that day.  Augie’s table had jars and jars of premade soup and stew to go (great for reheating at home!) along with a lunch menu of roast parsnip, beet, and green apple soup, and a hearty Ontario pork and beef winter stew over sticky rice.  Fresh City Farms brought bright colour with their crates of oranges, apples, pears, onions, potatoes, kale, tomatoes, shallots, carrots, cranberries, and cauliflower, and Hooked brought the sea with them with a fabulous assortment of packaged seafood, samples, shucked oysters (a buck a shuck!), and a steaming pot of fresh seafood chowder.

Sara’s table was overflowing with her mouthwatering cocoa sourdough buns, herb n’ onion fougasse, fluffy white bread buns, apple walnut cinnamon buns, carrot cake slices with chocolate chips, and gluten-free focaccia, while Jesse had a vibrant display of her edible veggie hummus bowls and vegan hummus dips.  Finally, Eric’s Yorktown Pie Company had trays of the most adorable golden mini pies and pastries, and Cassandra and Lisa’s Earth & City had a beautiful, colourful array of their famous spring roll wraps, nut n’ seed burgers, and flatbread sandwiches and bundles.

What did I end up enjoying for lunch?  You’ll just have to sit tight and wait for those goods tomorrow 😉

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The Lunchtime Office Markets by Alimentary Initiatives take place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.  The markets are from 11:30am-1:30pm and the newest market is located at the ING Direct Cafe at 221 Yonge Street at the corner of Yonge & Shuter across the street from the Eaton Centre every Thursday.