Dining Al Fresco – Mushroom Quesadillas, Grilled Cheese, Pies, & Sweets at the Soft Choice Office Market!

2 Comments

After nearly two months satiating the appetites of office workers and hungry, dedicted foodies, I finally made it out to the Toronto Lunchtime Office Market at the Soft Choice building in Liberty Village!  Yesterday was one of the most glorious, beautiful days so far this year and after missing out on so many great Soft Choice lunchtime markets since its launch back in April, I wasn’t about to pass up the golden opportunity to catch some sunshine and mouthwatering eats.  I had such a fun time snapping photos of the gorgeous outdoor courtyard behind the building where the food market was being held, eating fantastic food, and enjoying a hidden gem of a space for the very first time.  

I couldn’t believe how amazing this outdoor courtyard was.  I was floored.  I felt like I was walking into some secret paradise, separated from the rest of the world and surrounded by food!  The courtyard is beautiful and I’ll be the first to admit that I was completely taken aback by it.  We’re talking about Liberty Village here, an up and coming neighbourhood that continues to grow and thrive as a community, but still very much industrial.  The courtyard is lovely and peaceful, perfect for an outdoor lunch and party and just as perfect for some quiet reading in the shade.  All I could think of was, “boy, this place would look like something out of a fairy tale with some lit up lanterns and tea lights at night!”  Beautiful brick walls surround the space, making it very private and cozy and while much of the space is “open concept”, there are pockets here and there that make the space fun to weave in and out of – it is so much more than just a slab of concrete!

In attendance at the food market: Sara’s Nice Buns (fresh baked bread, buns, and sweet baked goods), The Nut Bakery (gluten-free nut cookies and granola bars), Cookie Martinez (sweets and fruity thirst quenchers), Yorktown Pie Company, Cheesewerks grilled cheese and artisan food shop, and finally, in association with ChocoSol, Gabriela’s Maizal fresh corn tortillas and quesadillas! 

First, let’s do a rundown of some of the baked goods on site.  Sara had her famous herb and onion fougasse on hand as well as her tasty cacao sourdough, white loaf, herb focaccia, and giant apple cinnamon buns; The Nut Bakery with tons of gluten-free samples and cookie jars filled with pecan walnut chocolate macaroons, dark chocolate nut chunk, almond almond, and chocolate pecan macadamia brownie cookies, among others; Cookie Martinez with giant chocolate an dulche de leche brownies and refreshing blended fruit juice made with passionfruit and local Ontario strawberries; and Yorktown Pies with a truckload of sweet and savoury pies including their collard greens and mushroom, chili beef, chicken, apple sour cream, and plenty of turnovers and flaky tarts.

Cheesewerks was firing up their grill with their special Charleston (brie cheese, caramelized onions, and apricot chutney on walnut raisin) and Beijing (asiago cheese, BBQ pork, hoisin sauce, and slivered green onions) grilled cheese varieties hot, buttered, and gooey right off the grill with a selection of cheeses and condiments on hand to purchase and take home.  Finally, Gabriela’s tortilla project gone full-blown quesadilla cafe (her new cafe, Maizal, is now open for business at 133 Jefferson Ave. in Liberty Village!) was bursting with fresh ground corn quesadillas stuffed with mushrooms, spicy guacamole, mashed black beans, shredded, stringy, mouthwatering and to-die-for Oaxaca cheese, and more.             

After picking up a coconut butter tart from Yorktown Pies and inhaling savouring one of Gabriela’s best-in-the-city, fresh ground corn mushroom quesadillas for lunch (and I mean FRESH – her and her team ground the corn in the morning!), I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend my lunch time.  I grabbed a copy of Maizal’s menu and I can’t wait to visit her quesadilla cafe and report back to you all with more goods.  It was so exciting for me to finally get to come to this office market (and of course, eat!) and soak in the atmosphere, great company, and beautiful space on such a picture-perfect day.

*****

The Office Markets currently serve 2 locations in Toronto: CSI Annex at 720 Bathurst Street (just south of Bloor Street) on Tuesdays from 11:30am-1:30pm, and Soft Choice IT Soultions at 173 Dufferin Street (south of King Street) in Liberty Village on Wednesdays from 11:30am-1:30pm.  The outdoor local food market is held behind the Soft Choice office in the beautiful outdoor courtyard with patio tables, chairs, and umbrellas.  Perfect for enjoying that lunch in the warm sunshine (or shade) and fresh air!

Advertisements

Nutty For Pesto, Sundried Tomato, & Burger Patties – A Photo Spotlight on Earth & City’s Raw, Vegan Nut Burgers!

2 Comments

Vegan nut burgers at the ING Direct Cafe...

No matter how healthy many of us eat, everyone has their junk food weakness whether it’s sweet or savoury.  Some feel weak in the knees in the face of pizza, some salivate at the mention of ice cream sundaes, and some will do anything to get their hands on a basket of fries.  I’ll be honest with you guys: I have a weakness for good old fashioned grilled cheeseburgers.  And turkey burgers.  With cheese, relish, pickles, mushrooms, peppers, and garlic mayo.  I don’t eat them often though.  The word “rarely” comes to mind, actually.  Twice a year, tops.  For me, as much as I enjoy it, these type of cravings are just cravings and they come and go. 

Aside from having a sweet tooth, I shy away from junk food as often as I can.  The last time I had a soda was over 10 years ago in high school (and I can’t remember the time before that), I despise fried chicken with a passion, and I try my best not to put myself in a situation where I have to resort to choosing something to eat from a fast food chain.  Like I said, I allow myself to have a cheeseburger type of day maybe twice a year but that’s about it.  I even carefully think about how to schedule my dessert and sweets eating throughout the day and/or week – what you see on the blog isn’t in real time most of the time!  This lack of burger eating on my part clearly explains why my Burger Book catgory has been 1) relatively devoid of burger bliss (if I may quote the latest A&W commercial), and 2) more focused on vegetarian and vegan burgers! 

Sundried tomato goodness at Wychwood Barns

Looking for a delicious raw, vegan lunch?

I am LOVING the versatility and deliciousness of vegetarian and vegan burgers in all its different forms: soy, grain, tofu, potato, you name it.  The veggie burgers I’ve had in the last year have all been delicious and they’ve all been so different.  There’s the juicy, breaded tofu burger from Kale and the potato-like mushroom onion burger from Fresh.  Another veggie burger to add to the mix?  Earth & City’s raw, vegan nut burgers!

I approach Earth & City’s food the same way I approach the menu at Fresh: try everything!  Or at the very least, something from every food category on the menu.  So far I’ve had the pleasure of having Earth & City’s spring roll wraps, vegan pizza, nori rolls, macaroons, tarts, raw and vegan brownies, and even a raw peanut butter date square.  I can now say with absolute conviction that their vegan nut burgers are my favourite of all favourites.  I cannot get over how much I love them!  My favourite foods from Earth & City then are as follows (in no particular order): nut burgers, nori rolls, and brownies. 

Their nut burgers ($6, tax inclusive) are amazing and to me, they’re more delicious than any meat burger could ever be!  The vegan nut burgers are giant round patties made of raw, almonds, sunflower seeds, honey dates, and flax seed that have been pulsed and pulverized, mixed with dried basil and oregano, organic olive oil and lemon juice, white balsamic vinegar and sea salt, and topped with either a sundried tomato or creamy pesto sauce, and sunflower sprouts with slices of local organic tomatoes at times.  The heavenly burgers sit on a giant collard green leaf  “lily pad bun” and are then munched on and inhaled by people like me.

I had one of their pesto nut burgers at a Lunchtime Office Market at the ING Direct Cafe and I could not stop thinking about it for days, even weeks, afterward.  I was most surprised by the texture – it was simaltaneously smooth and slightly crunchy!  The smoothness comes from how well the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated throughout the burger patty and the slight crunch comes from the ground up sunflower seeds and almonds.  It’s not crunchy like a potato chip.  It’s more like if you were to grab a handful of rolled oats and stuffed them in your mouth.  They’re smooth and flat so you’re not actually crunching on them persay, but you can feel that texture as you chew.  THAT’s what eating the nut burgers are like, only with a million times more flavour.  The ground almonds and sunflower seeds in the burger give it body and bite.  The burgers are SO incredibly soft and moist (the moistest burger I’ve ever had!) and the flavour is phenomenal.  It’s savoury without being salty, the pesto is creamy and heavenly, and the sunflower sprouts and collared green give it leafy crunch and a burst of garden freshness.

The vegan nut burger finally in my hands!

I love that my nut burger experience was so fantastic, but I’m in a really bad predicament now because all I want to do is go to every market that Earth & City are at so I can pick up another burger!  Just think, you’re getting a burger that’s rich in protein, calcium, and fibre, AND it’s delicious beyond comprehension.  I guess my obsession with these burgers isn’t the worst thing that could happen.  It leaves me naughty room in my diet and belly to gorge on their raw vegan brownies.

*****

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.

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

4 Comments

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.

*****

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!

6 Comments

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 😉

******

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.

The Market Is Here to Stay! Vegan Nori Rolls, Raw Pumpkin Tarts, Fresh Spring Roll Wraps and More at the CSI

Leave a comment

It’s official: the Lunchtime Office Markets at both Centre for Social Innovation locations are here to stay!  The office markets have been wildly successful with hungry workers and students, curious passerby, and dedicated market goers like yours truly!  What started out as a biweekly, fall market pilot project has now blossomed into a weekly extravaganza of fresh baked bread, organic and local produce, fresh farm cheeses, fair trade chocolate, and plenty of raw, vegan food lovingly made and sold by local businesses around the city and province.  I’ll be honest, I am absolutely ecstatic that the lunchtime markets are now a weekly occurrence –  twice a week no less!   

Back in October, I was hoping so much for the pilot to continue on well through the anticipated 4-week stint and for the market to become a weekly one as opposed to the biweekly one it started off as during its humble beginnings.  My wish was granted and my market-loving heart is so excited for the many future markets to come.  The market has plans to stay well into December but truthfully, I’m hoping for well into the new year 😉

Up until this point I had only purchased a few bits and bobs here and there including some bread from Nice Buns (I suggest you all try Sara’s cocoa sourdough and white bread buns) and St. Johns Bakery, as well as one of Earth & City‘s creamy coconut macaroons.  This time around though, I wanted a full out lunch and the spread didn’t disappoint!  I picked up a spring roll wrap, a vegan sushi/nori roll, and a pumpkin seasonal fruit tart, all from Earth & City‘s colourful and delicious selection of vegan food.  If you enjoy crunchy fruits and vegetables with a hint of sweetness, you need to try the spring roll wraps.  Made with apples, beets, carrots, red onions, walnuts, almonds, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, honey dates, sesame oil, and ginger, they’re all wrapped in rice paper and fresh, raw collard greens and they are so incredibly packed with nutrition and texture and sweet flavour because you get a mixture of fruit, vegetables, protein, fibre, and all that good stuff.  You get that sweet and spikey bite from the beets and plenty of crunch from the vegetables.

Now, you’re probably wondering how in the world I managed to eat this spring roll wrap without blowing up like a blowfish because there’s raw apple in it!  There isn’t too much in it so I managed to avoid a major allergic reaction.  I think the worst I got was a tiny red welt on my lip which went away fairly quickly, but no swollen tongue and mouth, no fire in my throat, and no excruitiating pain.  I know I was taking a chance eating something with raw apple in it, but I wanted to try one so bad I threw caution to the wind and figured I could always pick the apple out if the pieces were too big or if the amount was too much to handle.  Sigh.  The things I do for food.

The pumpkin tart was so incredibly smooth and creamy and it was great because it wasn’t overladen with spice.  It tasted fresh and natural, the way it’s supposed to.  The base of Earth & City’s seasonal fruit dessert tarts are made with a raw mixture of organic rolled oats and honey dates and filled with whatever fruit is seasonal and fresh.  For the fall months, Cassandra and Lisa have been filling them with apples, pears, and pumpkin and come winter, they’ll be using storage apples and peach preserves canned during the late summer in August.  The base is chewy as opposed to crumby, cakey, or flaky, similar to a granola and honey mixture, only naturally sweeter because of the honey dates.  I have to tell you, I actually prefer this type of base because for whatever reason, tart crusts and pie crusts don’t work with my tastebuds.  There’s always this bitter, dry aftertaste that I really don’t care for, so this oat and honey date tart base works for me!

And now, my personal favourite: the nori roll!  Earth & City’s vegan sushi is made with thin seaweed sheets rolled with cooked brown rice (one of the only food items of theirs that isn’t raw!) and stuffed with a variety of vegetables.  I LOVED the sushi so much, oh my goodness.  I had shittake mushrooms, red bell pepper, and sunflower sprouts and it was refreshing, juicy, and hearty because of the thick grains of brown rice.  Next time, I am getting myself an entire nori roll log!  Each nori roll is $2 and a nori roll log is $6 which translates into 4 rolls when cut.

The markets at both locations have done really remarkable things and by remarkable I mean getting people involved and getting people engaged in the food and the market itself.  When I go to these markets, I know it seems like all I’m there for is the food and the photos, but I’m also there to learn, to observe, and to listen.  Little do people know that while I’m snapping away and ogling all the yummies, I’m also listening to the conversations that go on between those who make the food and those who make the market possible by buying from these local businesses.  

There have been conversations about ingredients, about new and upcoming products, and about suggestions to make the market even more amazing than it already is.  It’s an awesome feeling being here in the hubbub of lunch hour when people are grabbing piping hot bowls of soup left and right, snatching up buns and loaves of bread, and taking the food they’ve bought and enjoying it for lunch.  You know a market means something to people when they bother to strike up these conversations in the first place because it means they’re invested and that they want to see the market continue and do well.  I can only see it getting stronger and I can’t wait to see what’s in store come December.     

*****

The Lunchtime Markets at the Centre for Social Innovation in the Annex and on Spadina take place on Tuesdays and Wednesdays respectively from 11:30am-1pm.  The Centre for Social Innovation (Annex) is located at 720 Bathurst Street, just south of Bloor Street West and Lennox.  They also have a location on Spadina at 215 Spadina Ave., 4th floor.