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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Mitten Weather – A Photo Spotlight of Evergreen Brick Works Last Outdoor Farmers Market of the Year!

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There was a lot to celebrate today at Evergreen Brick Works: the first day of sun we’ve had in a week (for the first time in 7 days I didn’t need to open my umbrella, finally!), the last outdoor market of 2012 (they’ll be moving indoors starting next week on November 10th!) and Día de los Muertos, the “Day of the Dead” Mexican festival!  It was such a fun market today despite the chilly cold weather (my hands were totally freezing while taking these photos.  Note to self: remember to wear gloves as opposed to mittens so you can actually hold your camera without getting fingers frostbite!) and I bought and sampled some wonderful, delicious food including some big bunches of kale, bags of gorgeous spinach and salad greens, and samples of cured meats and cheeses, and some fresh and scrumptious dumplings!  Truly, out of all the times I’ve been to Evergreen, I think I had the most fun at this market and it makes me look forward to more, especially with the holidays around the corner.  This Evergreen Brick Works farmers’ market post is broken into two parts, with this one being the farmers’ market photo spotlight featuring some of my favourite shots from today, and tomorrow’s Part II post as the full-length account of all the food and Día de los Muertos festivities during my time there with lots more photos!

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

Garden Vegetables for a Garden Salad – Baby Zucchini Summer Salad

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Looking at these photos makes me feel all sorts of warm and fuzzy.  Going to a different farmers’ market every week has been so rewarding and it has truly given me a more genuine understanding of and appreciation for the concept of “farm-to-table”.  I see things differently now and I am so much more aware of my consumption patterns and how I eat and cook at home.  Over the years, our freezer has become more and more empty as we make more visits to the market and rely less and less on premade, prepackaged food.  We make a lot more of our food from scratch and our fruit and vegetable baskets and bins are happily overflowing with a bounty of freshness.  Just the other day, we finally got ourselves a little food processor and I am wiggling with happiness at the endless possibilities of food we can make.     

The markets have inspired me and they’ve also inspired the creative juices.  My mum and I have gotten into the habit of brainstorming ideas on how to incorporate whatever I bring home from the market into a meal for the family and it’s been a lot of fun.  I always go into every farmers’ market visit with an open mind.  No matter how big or small the market is, I make it a point to bring home something awesome, something we can use to make a great meal.  The baby eggplants I bought at the East York market were turned into roasted eggplant parmesan melts, the baby potatoes I bought at the Queens Quay market were used into a giant Canada Day picnic salad, and the baby zucchinis I bought last week were used to make this colurful summer salad!  We used romaine, arugula, radicchio, red leaf lettuce, and baby spinach along with grape tomatoes, and our zucchinis.  I loved the cute yellow ones so much and it was so satisfying making this salad because it got my brother to eat his vegetables – willingly 😀  As a boy who isn’t very fond of veggies, he did a complete 180 on us while he was eating this.  He was scarfing plates and plates of this and it made me feel so good when he said to me, between mouthfuls, “I like zucchini, this is good!”.  Score one for Deb 😉