Peaceful Green Space, Chutneys, & Seasonal, Fruity Baked Goods – The North York Farmers’ Market, Part II

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Beautiful green space, some of the most amazing perogies in the city, and row upon row of juicy fruits and vegetables in every colour of the rainbow – this is the summer market at Mel Lastman Square!  This market was truly one of my all-time favourites last summer, one that I would have visited every single week if I had the time and opportunity. 

I LOVE how accessible this market is.  Right off the North York Centre subway station on Yonge St., it’s walking distance from both Sheppard and Finch (which works great for me since all I have to do is hop on a Viva bus from my neck of the woods in Markham!), there’s ample space to enjoy the food you end up buying should you choose to stuff your face right then and there, and – this is a shopaholic and foodie in my gushing – there is SO many eats to explore in the area including Korean grocery and dining spots, tea and dessert cafes, noodle houses, and more.  The market is situated in a bustling, busy part of town and yet it affords all market goers with plenty of peace and quiet on park grounds, which I can’t get enough of.

The fabulous potato and cheese perogies that I love so dearly from Taste of Russia were back for another market season, as well as some of the baked goods and hot food vendors.  I was delighted to find out that BreadSong Collective was vendoring (I know this is technically not a word, but it works in this context so humour me!) at North York this summer and did they ever bring their A-game!  Using Monforte Dairy cheese, fiddlehead galette pastries were made along with little cake loaves and large creme fraiche galettes made with Ontario strawberries. 

There were beautiful peppers, zucchinis, strawberries, root vegetables, and these drop dead gorgeous baby eggplants that were a lighter shade of purple streaked with white, like sunbursts and fireworks. Waymac Mushroom Farm (who are also vendors at other local Ontario markets in Peterborough and Port Perry) was on hand with beautiful oyster, shittake, and portobello mushrooms and, one of my new favourites, Joy of Harvest!  Calvin and Sonya run this fab condiment business, specifically selling their products at farmers’ markets.  Products range from chutneys (the mango one is delicious!) to hot sauces, curry sauce, jerk seasoning, and exotic fruit jellies and jams including guava and pineapple ginger!  Let’s just say my pantry yearns for all of these.

I love the variety the North York Centre market affords because it’s one of those markets that you can feasibly do all your grocery shopping at!  There’s bread, meats, fruits, vegetables, cheeses, pantry items, and hot food and regardless of whether or not you would actually go through with buying an entire week’s worth of groceries here, it’s just nice to know you could if you wanted to.  My picks are definitely the black bean and kale empanadas by BreadSong, the perogies by Taste of Russia, a sauce, jelly, or chutney by Joy of Harvest, and any of the baby vegetables like the baby eggplants and baby zucchini.  If you make it out to the market, stay around for the whole morning; it’ll be worth it.    

*****

The North York farmers’ market by the North York Civic Centre at Mel Lastman Square is located at 5100 Yonge St. just across the street from the North York Centre subway station off Hillcrest Ave.  The farmers’ market is located on the west side of Yonge St. and runs every Thursday from 8am-2:30pm from May 31st to October 25th.  

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Fiddlehead Galettes, Root Vegetables, & Lush Purple Eggplants – The North York Farmers’ Market, Part I

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Fiddlehead galettes with Monforte cheese by Breadsong Collective!

A bevy of lettuces and colourful root vegetables

The beautiful Mel Lastman Square grounds

Gorgeous cherries! Perfect for juicy baked goods and pastries

Stunning purple and white streaked baby eggplants

Mushrooms and funghi of all kinds! Check out those yellow ones

*****

The North York farmers’ market by the North York Civic Centre at Mel Lastman Square is located at 5100 Yonge St. just across the street from the North York Centre subway station off Hillcrest Ave.  The farmers’ market is located on the west side of Yonge St. and runs every Thursday from 8am-2:30pm from May 31st to October 25th.

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. 

*****

* 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.

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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Weekly Feature: The Grad Lounge – Rosemary Chicken on Mashed Potatoes, Bring on the Gravy!

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Call me easily amused, but I get excited whenever I see mashed potatoes.  Like I wrote in my post a week and a half ago on my beloved spuds, they’re so versatile and I love them with gravy, sour cream, green onions, chives, cheese, mixed veggies, peas, etc. etc.  Not only do they taste delightful, but how many foods out there don’t require you to really chew?  For me it’s great because according to my mum, who has apparently watched and observed my eating habits at the dinner table, I chew my food an average of 22 times before I swallow.  It’s no wonder I eat so slow most of the time.  And it’s no wonder my jaws are kind of sore by the end of my meal.  Oh well.

I refer to this Grad Lounge dish as rosemary chicken stew on potato mash.  Shredded rosemary seasoned chicken served with mushrooms, cooking onions, shallots, and mushroom gravy on top of a big pillow of soft mashed potatoes and a side salad of mixed greens.  It’s like the ultimate meal for softies! 😀  You know, the kind of meal that’s good for when you need something soft and mushier.  The gravy is really flavourful from the mushrooms and chicken and another one of those nice winter comfort meals.  Not to mention the pairing of chicken with mushrooms is a classic (don’t pretend like you don’t snicker when you hear people non-Chinese people saying “moo-goo-guy-pan”!). 

The Grad Lounge does two variations on this dish and they’re both a part of the rotating daily specials menu.  This one is the shredded meat version and the other is 2-piece rosemary chicken thigh dish.  Given the weather we’ve been having as of late (read: wet sleet and wet snow and freezing rain, oh my!) a nice plate of steaming hot chicken and potatoes does the job.

*****

The Grad Lounge is located at 166 South Ross at the York University Keele campus.  They offer a number of daily specials in addition to their permanent menu, and provide numerous vegetarian and vegan options.

Taste, Feel, Listen, Smell, See – Engaging All 5 Senses at Sen5es With Mushroom Linguine & A Citrus Tart

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Was I ever ecstatic when Groupon offered a $25 deal for $50 worth of food at Sen5es restaurant and bakery!  This deal was offered months ago and I pounced on it as soon as I saw it and waited for the right time to use it.  I’ve been to Sen5es once with my lovely friend Sally and I loooved the food and atmosphere there when I went over a year ago.  Sen5es, located on the ground floor of the SoHo Metropolitan Hotel at Wellington and Blue Jays Way, is posh and the kind of place I reserve for special occasions.  As much as I love the lushness of it (and the food), there is just no justifying going there more than once a year on my kind of budget (read: grad student).  When Groupon offered the deal though, there was no way I could pass it up without regretting it later. 

I feel so, so lucky to be able to explore the city, eat different things, and manage my own money when it comes to treats and eats.  My money isn’t unlimited though, and I need to choose my wants with careful thought; I can’t have everything I want when I want it.  So when it comes to luxurious things at a deal, I don’t turn the other cheek.  I thought, “it’s a place I really like, I can take my sweetie out with me and enjoy a nice meal we wouldn’t normally go for, and it’s at half the cost!  Duh, Debra!”  Twas not a difficult decision to make in the least.

Sen5es offers bakery breakfasts, lunch, and dinner, as well as weekend brunch.  I have yet to try the brunch (I want to though), and have done lunch the one time I’ve been.  To be honest, I’m very satisfied with the lunch menu options and I think I would always enjoy the lunch aspect of it the most just because I like being out and about during the day.  Every place has its own kind of feel, its own atmosphere.  Sen5es, as its name alludes to, has a fresh, luxurious simplicity to it that engages all your senses.  Sitting on my cushiony velvet seat with the warm sunlight streaming in through the side windows through light curtains, I admired the pretty calla lily in front on my table and the clean and bright spaciousness around me.  I already knew before coming that I would order a lunch main and a dessert from the bakery.  Think tarts, cakes, and mousses in chocolate, raspberry, lemon, vanilla, mango, and other delightful flavours.  I was bouncing in my seat even before I got the menu.  I was super excited to see a new lunch menu when I went this time around and I eagerly perused the yummy lunch options before me, thinking, “Ooo, new stuff!  Oh crap, this is going to take me forever to decide!”

And sometimes there’s that perfect thing on the menu just for you that calls out and says, “pick me and eat me!”  My mouth is watering just thinking back because it’s like they knew I was coming and slapped that dish on the menu so I wouldn’t miss it: creamy linguine pasta with grilled asparagus, shaved parmesan cheese, cherry and grape tomatoes, and portobello, oyster, and shittake mushrooms.  OH.MY.GOD.  x a million!!  Okay, I have to calm down *breathes*  Okay, I’m good.  I love linguine like it’s going out of style.  It’s my ultimate favourite type of pasta and I could eat it every day in so many different ways.  I love it with pesto, cream sauce, seafood, anything.  And served with two of my favourite vegetables, asparagus and mushrooms, grilled and charred?  AND THREE KINDS OF THEM?!  And I don’t need to reiterate how dearly I adore cheese.  This dish and I were meant to be.

It was delicious.  I had a heaping helping of linguine that was perfectly creamy in its sauce, and I can’t even tell you enough how amazing all the ingredients complemented and balanced each other.  The parmesan complemented the creaminess of the linguine and gave it that nice bit of cheesy saltiness, the tomatoes offered a bit of juicy sweetness, and the mushrooms were ginormous and so full of meaty flavour and were perfectly grilled.  Not only did the mushrooms taste so good, they were also perfectly charred.  I was literally smelling every bite as I was eating, the smokiness wafting in my little nose.  The charred taste, texture, and smell blended together and it was just all sorts of yummy as I “mmm”ed my way through my dish.

After stuffing myself happy, I skipped over to the bakery part of the restaurant with my sweetie, and we both chose a dessert: chocolate for him, citrus for me!  I chose a delicious citrus tart made with lemon poppyseed biscotti as the outer tart shell, and plenty of creamy, fruity lemon filling and powdered sugar with a giant slice of candied orange to top it off.  This dessert was fantastic and so light and fresh and fruity.  I attemped to eat the tart with a fork and after a few bites I said, “forget this” and using the fork for assistance, lifted the tart up with my hands and took big lemony orange bites of powdered sugar, lemon filling, and biscotti.   There was so much texture and flavour going on with the soft fruit filling, and the crunch from the cookie biscotti and candied orange.  Sour, sweet, punchy, and tart.  It was delightful.  And yes, that the’s tart you see in my blog header 😀

I loved my food, I loved the atmosphere, and our waitress was a sweetheart.  Sen5es may be a part of the lap of luxury I may never be able to enjoy on a regular basis, but I’m so grateful I got to take advantage of a fantastic deal and put it to use on a beautiful sunny day out (albeit a bit cold, but hey, you can’t have everything) with a boy I love very much.  I can’t tell you when I’m going back, but I can’t wait for the next time I do and if we’re all lucky, maybe Groupon will humour us and offer another great deal.  Until then, I’ll be drooling over pictures.  YUM.

*****

Sen5es is located at the SoHo Metropolitan Hotel at 318 and 328 Wellington Street, at the northwest corner of Wellington and Blue Jays Way.  The bakery and lunch area are separated from the dinner and lounge area, but are both accessible on the ground floor.  Sen5es is a lovely place, but do note that it is a higher end eatery, so expect to pay around $20-$25 for lunch, and anywhere from $25-$50 for dinner.  A bar menu is also available with lesser expensive dishes, and desserts from the bakery are available a la carte for around $7. 

How Do You Like Your Eggs? I Like Mine Over Easy…at Over Easy!

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In a very cute scene, Richard Gere asks Julia Roberts how she likes her eggs in Runaway Bride.  He presses her to really think about this.  It’s the moment when she finally lets her guard down and reveals a part of yourself even unbeknowst to herself.  Who knew eggs could create such a bubble of debate and conversation?!  But it’s the truth: everyone loves their eggs a different way and it’s a big no-no when they’re not made the way you like them.  I’m talking nose wrinkling, scoffing, and tsking.  Some like them best scrambled.  Others, like my boyfriend, prefer them boiled.  My mum and best friend refuse to eat their eggs sans ketchup.  And me?  Over easy with lots of fresh black pepper! 😀 

Okay, truth be told I don’t have pictures of eggs for this post, but rest assured there will be plenty of future egg posts from Over Easy because this sunny, cheerful breakfast eatery is amazing!  With 2 locations in downtown Toronto, this homey establishment, with framed pictures of fresh fruit on the walls, kitschy kitchen decor and figurines lining the ledges, red-and-yellow plaid booths, and sunny yellow and cornflower blue walls, serves up breakfast proportions worthy of an evening meal.

The menu selection is vast and for lack of a better word, ginormous!  It makes the breakfast food lover in me prance around with delight.  It also drives the indecisive part of me insane.  Oh well.  Divided into categories, breakfast options include omelettes, eggs benedict, pancakes, waffles, French toast, fruit and granola, and a plethora of fun and classic egg dishes: 3-eggs breakfasts with the bacon or sausage works, eggs in a hole, huevos rancheros, steak and eggs, corn beef hash, and everything in between. 

This diner is not for the faint of heart.  You do not step in here if you are looking for a “snack”.  You saddle up and prepare yourself for a MEAL.  Just ask my honey, Richard.  I told him that he would most likely have to take a portion of his meal to go.  He had ordered chocolate chip pancakes and he was presented with a plate of 4, count ’em FOUR, pancakes.  He stubbornly insisted that he could eat them all.  I told him he was nuts.  Oh, he ate them all.  And proceeded to moan and groan for the rest of the day.  Oh, boys, sigh.  Proportions are incredibly generous and prices range, on average, from $5.50-$13 for most dishes, with the majority of mains coming in at around $8-$10 without a drink.

With eyes roaming up and down the menu, the veggie lover in me squealed when they landed on the Vegetarian Skillet: sautéed red bell peppers, asparagus, zucchini, sliced button mushrooms, and diced potatoes, covered in melted ooey gooey aged cheddar cheese, with juicy sliced Roma tomatoes on the side.  This was vegetable heaven.  The savouriness from the mushrooms and melted cheese tones down the slight bitterness of asparagus, the juiciness of the tomatoes breaks up the starchier quality of the potatoes, and this baby just delivers an amazingly flavourful meal that makes you want to eat vegetables all the live long day – or week!  And seriously, when you get that forkful of cheesy potato goodness, it’s reminiscent of poutine *happy sigh*  A meal chock full of hearty, delicious vegetables and melted cheese – what more could you ask for? 😀

*****

Over Easy serves 2 locations in downtown Toronto (and yes, I have been to both!):

  1.  208 Bloor St. West (west of Avenue Rd. and east of St. George St. and Bedford Ave., across the street from the ROM, Royal Ontario Museum)
  2. 56 Yonge St. (north of Wellington St. and south of King St., on the west side of Yonge)

The Yonge location is open from 7am-3pm and the Bloor location is open from 7am-4pm.