Monforte Dairy, Cheddar & Black Pepper Scones, Local Food – The *NEW* Crème Fraîche Market Cafe in The Junction!

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Imagine products from almost all of your favourite farmers’ market vendors and producers under one roof.  Then, imagine this one roof being available to you 6 days a week.  Guess what?  You don’t have to imagine.  This is the real deal: introducing the new Crème Fraîche Market Cafe in The Junction!  Founded and run by “Monforte Dairy ladies” Constance Dykun and Rachel Silva, Crème Fraîche is a local food lover’s dream!  The cafe and local food shop located on Annette Street several blocks west of Runnymede Road in the west end takes everything wonderful and delicious about Toronto’s small food business and local food scene (and some non-Toronto), rolls it into one big ball of food happiness, and presents it all back in a sweet and sunny cafe outfitted in yellow and blue decor with baked goods, bread, cheeses, coffee drinks, ice cream, and so much more.  

At Crème Fraîche you’ll find bread and baked goods from Sara Lapell’s Nice Buns and St. John’s Bakery, sweets and baked goods from More Than Pies Baking Co. Ltd., Evelyn’s Crackers, Mapleton’s ice cream, chocolate and Mayan drinking chocolate from ChocoSol, jarred pickled vegetables, salsa, and preserves from From These Roots, sweets from DeFloured, and of course, LOTS of Monforte Dairy cheese and products!  They have a selection of prepared food and drink (iced teas, yogurt parfaits, and breakfast tarts for example), and they also have a sweet little breakfast, lunch, and midday snack menu that you can order from. 

Now, keep in mind that while Crème Fraîche is a market cafe, it’s a “stop-by-and-pick-up-goodies” type of shop, so their menu items are definitely grab and go fare.  Their menu includes items such as toast and cheese (fresh cheese and jam, $2), grilled cheese and tomato ($5.25), cacciatore and arugula “bun-wich” ($4), and grilled halloumi (fresh cheese with arugula, radish, and tomato salsa, $7.50) among others.  They also serve plenty of fair-trade, organic coffee (americanos, espressos, cappuccinos, and lattes), tea, and Organic Meadow soy and almond milk.

What I love about Crème Fraîche, aside from the great food I can pick up here, is what the shop itself represents.  It’s easy to think, “oh, well, if I want these market products, I can just go to the different farmers’ markets to get them” or “I can just go to the producer’s main shop and location in the city”, but what Crème Fraîche affords everyone in the surrounding neighbourhood and community is an alternative, a place where people can come in the mornings and afternoons to grab a cuppa, a chance to get to learn about some of the local food that’s available in the city and their makers, an opportunity to form new friendships and relationships with locals, and a sweet shop to grab some great eats.  

I may go all over town to visit all the markets I can, but not everyone has the ability or even the desire to do so.  A farmers’ market in one’s area only takes place once a week and they may not be available year-round; Crème Fraîche is open 6 days a week from Tuesday-Sunday from 8am-8pm.  Even though its location certainly caters to those in the west end and in The Junction area in particular, it’s the concept that I am completely in love with.  There should be a Crème Fraîche in EVERY neighbourhood.  This shop is wonderful and I LOVE that so many of my favourite producers and vendors such as More Than Pies Baking Co. Ltd. and St. John’s Bakery sell their products here.

During this first visit, I picked up a giant cheddar and black pepper scone from St. John’s Bakery ($3) to take home, sliced it in half, and slapped it on my little George Foreman grill (don’t laugh, this thing is all sorts of awesome!) to heat up.  OH.MY.GOD.  One of the best, most delicious scones EVER!  You all know love cheese and black pepper so this scone had my name written all over it.  I am telling you, put the scones on the grill and you will be “mmm”ing the entire time you’re eating it.  It was so fluffy and moist and buttery without actually having to put butter on it and I am so happy I bought it because from here on out I’ll be looking out for these cheddar black pepper scones!

I’ve totally fallen in love with this sweet shop and you can bet I’ll be coming back to check up on what eats are available and to try something off their food menu!  It’s a fabulous concept and I’m glad for the vendors, producers, and to those who eat and work here because they truly get to be a part of something special in the community.   

*****

Crème Fraîche Market Cafe is a cafe and local food shop located in the west end of Toronto in The Junction neighbourhod at 639 Annette Street.  The shop is just several blocks west of Runnymede Road and south of Dundas Street West.  They are open from Tuesday to Sunday (closed on Mondays), from 8am-8pm.  Visit their official website HERE.

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The Return of Asparagus, Rhubarb, and Outdoor Farmers’ Markets – Trinity Bellwoods’ First Market of 2012!

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You know you’re excited about an event when you circle the surrounding neighbourhood several times over because you’re too early (half an hour early) but know you can’t stray too far for fear that you’ll miss out on the good stuff when said event starts.  The event?  The return of the outdoor farmers’ market at Trinity Bellwoods Park at Dundas Street West and Shaw, on Tuesday from 3pm-7pm, the first of 2012.  I’m not crazy – just highly enthusiastic!  I’ve been waiting for the markets to either return or move outdoors for weeks and surprisingly enough, I wasn’t the only one!  A number of people were milling around the market as vendors were setting up and displaying their good eats for all to see and devour 15 minutes before the market was set to begin.  I was taken aback by this only because I thought I was the only one who showed up abnormally early to things.  But there I was amongst other market goers, foodies, cyclists, and mums and kids, ready to pounce on anything and everything.   

St. John’s Bakery was there as well as Monforte Dairy, Evelyn’s Crackers, Forbes Wild Foods, Woolerdale Farms, and to my delight, BreadSong Collective!  I discovered them during my last visit to Wychwood Barns when I picked up an amazing kale and black bean empanada to take home and I was overjoyed to find out that they would be at at Trinity Bellwoods.  We know what that means: picnic lunch in the park!  Along with the huge veggie empanadas, quinoa salad, and vegan cookies and brownies, they had some new goodies on Tuesday including some mini stuffed mushroom and onion buns, mini brioche loaves, and some sweet custard-like pastries. 

And of course, we can’t forget about the return of seasonal asparagus and fresh rhubarb!  Woolerdale Farms was on hand with both along with bags of lettuces, greens, and salad mixes, shallots, and beets.  I’m really interested in trying my hand at some rhubarb baked goods this season, so I’m hoping my family will oblige and humour me with this one.  I don’t think they’re all too keen on rhubarb, but fresh market produce is so hard to resist, especially ones that are so versatile in baked goods!

Hypothetically, if I could pick up whatever I wanted from the market without taking money into a consideration, I would have grabbed another empanada and a vegan alfajor from BreadSong Collective, some goat cheese from Monforte Dairy, a package of fudge cookies from St. John’s Bakery, and a bag of leafy lettuces and salad mix from Woolerdale Farms.  I was just getting warmed up though so I held off on purchases for the time being so I’d know for sure what I wanted to come back for the next time.  The season is young so I’m sure I’ll be filling up the tote bags with goodies to bring home in no time!

Coming back to the market at Trinity Bellwoods brought back such a great memories from 2011: chomping on giant vegan coconut oat cookies, bringing my mum and brother to a farmers’ market for the first time, buying my very first bunch of kale, and beginning my whirlwind market adventure last May.  Aside from Fresh Wednesdays at Nathan Phillips Square, the market at Trinity Bellwoods was my first in the city and it led to a hunger and thirst for more each and every single week.  I know this is going to be an amazing spring and summer season, so here’s to many more outdoor market adventures in the city in 2012!     

*****

The farmers’ market at Trinity Bellwoods Park is located at Dundas St. West and Shaw St. every Tuesday from 3pm-7pm.

The One That (Almost) Got Away – St. John’s Bakery, ChocoSol, & Baked Goods at the Last CBC Indoor Market

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Pretty sugar cookies & chocolate chip shortbread!

Have you ever found out about an event when it was too late or almost too late and it upset you so much because you knew it was an event you would have loved going to?  Hello, my name is Deb and I nearly missed out on an entire series of farmers’ markets this past winter and early spring!  (Cue chorus of voices: “Hi, Deb”).  That’s right.  Yours truly, the self-proclaimed event guru of TO, has let one slip by.  (Cue chours of audible gasps). 

There have been a handful of food events that have happened in the city that I missed out on because I had no idea they were happening, but basically missing out on an ENTIRE series of markets that was happening every month since November in the downtown core right under my nose?!  That is unacceptable!  And even though I made it to the very last market of the indoor season at the CBC broadcasting building  on Wellington this past week, I am fuming because I missed out on everything that happened prior to it!  And to add insult to injury, I found out that this was the indoor version of my beloved farmers’ market at David Pecaut Square outside Roy Thomson Hall.

My favourite part of the CBC building - green tiles!

When it dawned on me that the market had actually been indoors all this time since November, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to run into a secluded corner and scream at myself or stand there and cry.  I did neither.  I bought cacao cookies and scones to soothe my wounded ego instead.  I am so, so sorry for not finding out about this market sooner.  I feel like such a doofus, especially since it was located in such an accessible location – right in the downtown core, accessible by the underground PATH, and just a few blocks away from Union station.   

Simcoe Place Park, just outside

I actually found out about the CBC indoor market by accident.  I was exploring the underground PATH one day in March and as I was passing through the CBC building at surface level, I noticed a poster of calendar events taped to one of the poles.  I saw the words, “farmers’ market” for one of the dates in March and was thoroughly confused.  A market?  In the CBC building?!  SINCE WHEN?!  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it to the market in March, so I told myself I would make it to the one in April and that is how I ended up here.  Sigh.  If it’s any consolation, now that we know the market is in operation year-round we can go on a regular basis now!  And it also makes me feel slightly better knowing that I had only missed one market each month since November as opposed to a market each week.

Beautiful portobello mushrooms!

Just so everyone is on the same page, let me sum up: the farmers’ market that took/takes place at David Pecaut Square during the late spring, summer, and fall months moved/moves indoors into the CBC broadcasting building at Wellington and John Street from November to April.  The indoor markets, however, only take place ONCE A MONTH in November, December, January, Febraury, March, and April.  The market then moves back outdoors in May.  Because the Luminato arts festival takes place around David Pecaut Square and the theatre district though, the farmers’ market actually stays close to the CBC building – just outside at the Simcoe Place park and courtyard until Luminato finishes up.  I don’t have exact market dates for the month of May on me right now, but I’ll find out as soon as I can and report back!  All markets run from 8am-2pm though, so definitely accessible to the morning rush hour crowd and the lunch hour crowd!

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Edible Rainbow Veggie Hummus Bowls, Cheese, and Sustainble Fish – A Winter CSI Lunchtime Market

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One of the best things about winter farmers’ markets is its capacity to instantly cheer you up.  While the weather outside is dreadful, dreary, and depressing, everything at the market is alive with freshness, vibrant colour, and vitality.  Going to the market is such a healthy mood booster and it’s been so much fun integrating these visits into my life on a regular basis.  These visits rev up my inspiration, expand my knowledge of food, and make me that much more excited about writing and future blog posts.  Aside from my highly anticipated first trip to the Saturday morning market at Wychwood Barns earlier in the month, my farmers’ marketing has been pretty sparse since the new year and it’s only because of bad timing and lack of opportunity on my part.  I desparately wanted to go to another CSI Lunchtime market, so I made my way over recently to snap some new photos and to scope out the tasty goods!  My last visit to the CSI (Centre for Social Innovation) Lunchtime Market was actually before the Christmas holidays so this post-new year trip was long overdue!

To my delight, there were market vendors at the Spadina market that day that I had never seen before at CSI!  In addition to ChocoSol and Monforte Dairy, Luscious Dips and Toronto’s very own sustainable fish and seafood shop and educational space, Hooked, were there to bring fresh, organic, local, and sustainable food to the table.  THIS is what gets me excited!  Being introduced to new, local businesses and learning about growing food enterprises right here in our city makes me feel like the world is at my fingertips without ever having to leave town.      

What you see here is lunch, courtesy of Jesse’s Luscious Dips and Sara’s Nice Buns!  These are giant “bowls” of red cabbage leaves with cucumber and carrot slices, wedges of Sara’s famous homemade fougasse bread, and generous dollops of Jesse’s homemade vegetable and hummus dips.  Luscious Dips are bright, super colourful spreads and dips that are vegetarian and vegan, and perfect for pitas, chips, crostini, sandwiches, vegetables, crackers, and everything else you could possibly enjoy eating with dip!  I LOVE dips, spreads, and sauces (I mop up sour cream, tzatziki, hummus, and bean spreads like there’s no tomorrow!) so this is right up my alley!  Jesse has previously sold her homemade, vegetarian delights at Leslieville’s farmers’ market and I finally saw her at the CSI during this visit.

Luscious Dips come in reusable containers for $5 each and by golly is there ever a lot of dip in each container!  When I went to the new Maple Leaf Garden Loblaws last weekend with my family, my mum and I picked up a little container of butternut squash and caramelized onion dip along with an arugula pesto.  We only requested half a small container of each and that lasted us for days, so I can only imagine how far the Luscious Dips would go.  At the CSI market, Jesse had two flavours of dip on hand for sale: a bright, fuschia beet dip and a gorgeous sunny yellow, Indian-inspired garam masala spaghetti squash hummus.   

The beet dip was comprised of beets, navy beans, lemon juice, tahini, garlic, sunflower oil, cumin, cayenne, salt, and lemon zest, while the garam masala spaghetti squash hummus was made with roasted spaghetti squash, navy beans, lemon juice, sunflower oil, garlic, garam masala, tumeric, cayenne, and kosher salt.  There were samples of each with slices of cucumber and corn chips for dipping on a wooden serving platter and the whole set-up with the edible hummus bowls was just absolutely gorgeous.  It looked like a beautiful painting with the colours and smooth textures.  You could totally put Luscious Dips into little bowls and make a makeshift food artist’s palette at your next dinner party.  There’s an idea!

The whole premise behind the CSI Lunchtime markets is fresh, healthy, local convenience and that means offering food for lunch that can be enjoyed on the go or in the office setting and environment with no prepartion whatsoever – forget the office microwave!  Furthermore, staying true to the “innovative” aspect is the name of the game at the CSI.  When we think about our food, we can’t just think about it as an isolated entity.  We ultimately have to reflect on our environment, our cooking methods, and our health when we consider questions such as, “how can we minimize damage to the environment?  How can we increase the longevity of our lives in a positive way?  How do my decisions and overall lifestyle influence local foodsystems and vice versa?”  One of the ways businesses strive to be environmentally innovated is to offer products that produce less waste.  LUSH has been doing this for years with their solid shampoos and other products by using less or no packaging at all.  At Luscious Dips, enter the edible bowl!  No paper plates, no styrofoam boxes, not even a utensil!  Colourful, healthy finger food at its finest. 

Finally, I met Kristin of Toronto’s sustainable fish shop, Hooked, for the first time and being a seafood lover, this bodes well for me!  Hooked is a fish store located in Leslieville on Queen Street East that offers fresh, local, sustainble fish and seafood and exciting, educational classes and workshops.  In addition, their shop offers a teaching kitchen, experience, knowledgeable culinary staff that know their craft and are happy and willing to answer questions and explain cooking methods, cleaning methods, and other seafood related concerns and issues.  The shop not only sells fresh catch, but the shop also supplies a selection of cookware to handle the delicacy of fish and seafood.  Kristin, her husband, and the staff at Hooked are completely devoted to the Slow Food movement and believe that the food we eat needs to be handled with care and with the utmost respect, which means buying directly from producers, knowing and developing genuine relationships with the fisherman who catch the fish, knowing exactly when and where the fish were caught, and making sure quality control is maintained at all times. 

In a nutshell, the Slow Food movement is a grassroots movement concerned with moving away from the corporate, fast food model and counteracting the erosion of local, long-standing food tradtions by emphasizing traditional cooking methods, accessibility to fresh and healthy food, and food knowledge.  Hooked is committed to these values and I am so excited to visit their shop on Queen East sometime to learn more!  I’m really happy that I was able to come the CSI market again, especially since it won’t be around for much longer.  Rumour has it that next week will be the last of the bunch before the Lunchtime office markets make their way to ING Direct on Thursday, March 1st!     

   

 

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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-1:30pm.  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.

Changing the Food Landscape & Our Accessibility to Food – Earth & City, Nice Buns, & Lunchtime Markets at CSI, Part II

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Imagine a world where the accessibility of healthy food isn’t an issue, isn’t a barrier to living life to the fullest.  Imagine a world where you could explore all the foodscapes you want without worrying about how, and how much it would cost, to get to those destinations.  Imagine equal opportunities to food.  It’s hard to envision, isn’t it?  We all come from different socioeconomic backgrounds and situations that either allow or inhibit our pathways to food exploration, and I don’t just mean exploration by way of eating great food, I mean seeing it, hearing about it, learning about it, and being exposed to it.  Not only is it important to theorize and critique our city’s food channels, but it’s equally important to find ways of improving these networks and to approach it from different angles.  It means pinpointing a problem, a missing link, or an oversight, and then coming up with ways to promote change for the better.

The Lunctime Markets at the Centre for Social Innovation on Spadina and in the Annex have started something wonderful because accessibility and exposure are both at the heart of the conceptual and theoretical premise behind it.  The Centre for Social Innovation Food Constellation began piloting this mini market at both CSI locations in October, and the plan was to host markets on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 11:30am-1:30pm for at least a month to determine its level of success.  Success at what exactly, though?  Answer: bringing healthy, local food to office buildings and institutions around the city that may not have the access or connections to engage in food culture and simaltaneously widening the consumer base for local farmers and food producers around the city and province.

I’m fortunate enough to have Facebook and Twitter accounts that allow me to communicate and build relationships with businesses and other food institutions around the city in this fashion, but not everyone cares to be a part of those communities, and not everyone has the same access to technology, transportation, and infrastructure.  The whole point of the Lunctime Office Markets is to develop reciprocal relationships between producer and consumer that otherwise may not have been created, and to give people options.  These mini markets do so much.  They 1) offer delicious, healthy food to either eat right then and there or to take home, 2) present food options outside of  the large chain corporation model that isn’t always inclusive, 3) break up the monotony present in office buildings and institutions that lack food pathways, 4) strive to bring the public food sector closer to the private one, and 5) grant people with the opportunity to learn more about local food businesses, producers, and entrpreneurs.

Several particular local producers and businesses that have really shined at the CSI markets since they started back in October include are ChocoSol Traders, Earth & City, Monforte Dairy, and Nice Buns Toronto.  I was treated to another gorgeous spread of food, with everything from heirloom peppers and vegetables to cheese to lamb barley soup to cocoa sourdough buns!  Cassandra and Lisa’s Earth & City brings a mouthwatering buffet of mostly raw vegan food to every market they participate in and they change things up all the time so that there’s always new and different items to try.  Their food is fresh, organic, seasonal, and always vegan, and their menu reflects this with different vegetables and fruits used in different dishes depending on their seasonal peaks. 

There were mountains of spring roll wraps just like my last time, along with huuuge veggie tacos made with collard greens wrapped around sunflower sprouts, tomatoes, dried cumin and chili, fresh corn, some sea salt, lemon juice, and cilantro.  They had their famous flatbread sandwiches made from flax, sunflower seeds, and onions, and served open-faced with tomatoes, sunflower sprouts, raw almonds, basil and oregano, among other ingredients, as well as vegan sushi!  The platter of vegan sushi was beeeautiful (it looked like a gorgeous painting) and because I was so in awe with its prettiness, I forgot to take down the list of ingredients.  I’m working on it, so for the time being, admire the photos!      

Earth & City always brings an offering of sweets along with their savoury foods and this time, we were treated to their vanilla and chocolate coconut macaroons made with coconut flakes, organic coconut butter, organic raw agave and cacao powder from ChocoSol, vanillia extract, raw almond flour, and sea salt, their frosted brownies, and their choco-peanut butter thumbprints!  I took away a cocoa sour dough bun from Sara’s Nice Buns and one of Earth & City’s vanilla coconut macaroons to enjoy on the subway.  I ate it in two bites and it was crunchy and creamy and all sorts of delicious.  I bought the bun for my mum and she shared some with my brother and they both thoroughly enjoyed and were pleasantly surprised when I told them there was cocoa in it!  I love that the menus are always evolving and I love that all the ingredients are listed under each Earth & City dish and item.

I love this market with a passion and judging by the crowds, I’m not the only one.  The market has exceeded its 4-week pilot period and I’m hoping so much that the concept and program will continue to grow and spread throughout the city.  There’s so much wonderful food to enjoy and discover among good company and little by little, these initiatives will hopefully spur positive change when it comes to our access to healthy food.

*****

Source of information: The Skinny on Maplekeys Lunchtime Office Markets

The Lunctime 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.