Spring Has Sprung! Baby Potatoes, Empanadas, and Food, Food, Food at the Farmers’ Market at Wychwood Barns

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In just a few more weeks, the amazing market at Wychwood Barns will be heading outdoors during the May long weekend into what we all hope will be a happy summer market season for 2012.  I wanted to make one more indoor market visit though, so I took advantage of the pretty weather and made a day out of it, complete with brunch, window shopping, and LOTS of walking!  I walked from the Wychwood Barns neighbourhood on St. Clair West down to the Queen West and Trinity Bellwoods area, then proceeded to stroll along Ossington back up to Bloor and then to Dufferin.  It felt invigorating while I was doing it but I realized just how tired I was from all the fancy footwork when I nearly fell asleep on my laptop after I came home. 

It was so worth it though!  It never ceases to amaze me how I can make these trips to the farmers’ markets and come away just wanting everything.  I was waffling on whether or not it was smarter to go this week or to wait for the first outdoor market later on this month, but my craving for Earth & City’s raw, vegan nut burgers with pesto pushed me out the door at the crack of dawn.  So there you have it.

$8 for a dozen beautiful gerbera daisies!

My beloved baby potatoes, especially the blue ones!

You might be inclined to think that going to these farmers’ markets means seeing and eating the same things over and over again (especially when you make multiple visits during the same season), but that couldn’t be further from the truth.  I was actually surprised at all the new things I saw at this week’s market.  Sure, I saw ChocoSol, Earth & City, and Yorktown Pie Company there among other familiar vendors, but everything felt new and vibrant, like everyone was itching for the new season to take hold and couldn’t wait to dish out new and delicious items to try.  The place was absolutely buzzing (it was actually very difficult to take photos this time because of the sheer volume of people grabbing things in front of me and don’t even get me started on the line-ups and crowding!) and people were picking up goodies and beautiful spring daisies and flowers left and right.  It’s a buzz that you’d only get at an early morning farmers’ market.

Earth & City had containers of some brand new savoury dips and spreads (sweet walnut sauce and preserved basil pesto, $5 each), the Yorktown Pie Company had brand apple cheddar mini pies that looked amazing, Allis Fresh Baked busted out a basket of mac n’ cheese corn muffins (seriously, they need to stop tempting me with all these cheesy, savoury muffins!), and Primeridge Pure Dairy had some of the most delicious soft cheese I have ever had melt in my mouth! 

Peanut butter chocolate thumbprints!

Earth & City's dips and vegan burgers

If it wasn’t for the brand new package of cheese I had sitting in the fridge at home I would have been all around their cheese like mud on a pig.  They had a BLACK PEPPERCORN SOFT CHEESE.  I LOVE freshly cracked black pepper and peppercorns like nobody’s business.  Ask anybody who has eaten in my company, I put the stuff on almost everything.  The fresh cheese was creamy, melt-in-your-mouth, and hella peppery and spicy.  And SO GOOD.  I imagined this on a crusty wedge of French bread and baguette.  I imagined this on a bit of pasta.  Hell, I even imagined it on my raw, vegan nut burger but then I felt bad because that would have made it unvegan.  But you get the idea.

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Kitchen Accessories, Cooking Tools, and Kiddie Cooking – Clay, A Kitchen Boutique in the Wychwood Community

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I love to bake, I want to be a great cook someday (I really don’t have the experience under my belt to even call myself a cook, much less a good one!), I get giddy over kitchen accessories, food photography and scrapbooking are in my heart and in my blood, and even with all this, writing up this post has still taken me by surprise.  Aside from my first post on La Merceria, I’ve never written about kitchen accessory, tool, and gadget shops on the blog but it makes sense to do so.  Great food, creative cooking, and fun baking don’t just fall from the clouds; there are so many tools that we use to create our food, from humble dishes to gastronomic masterpieces.  Independent kitchen accessory stores are so great because they carry unique products that you may not be able to find in large chain stores, they provide the community around them with outlets to experiment, learn, and grow in the kitchen, and let’s face it, foodies foam at the mouth when it comes to gadgets that are cute and of great quality.

Nestled in the Wychwood Barns neighbourhood on St. Clair West, Clay is one such example of a kitchen boutique that simaltaneously caters to the novice, the experienced, and the hardcore foodie.  As the sister shop of Carlos Flores’ and his wife Sandra’s CocoaLatte, Clay is an extension of CocoaLatte’s kitchen with everything from panini presses to coffee mugs, grinders, and accessories.  Since its opening in December of 2010, Clay has provided the surrounding community with kitchen goodies for wine and cheese lovers, coffee addicts, avid bakers, burgeoning chefs, and even kiddie cooks in the making!

The inspiration behind Clay emerged from a desire from CocoaLatte’s customers, as well as from the surrounding neighbourhood, for a shop solely devoted to cooking and kitchen products.  I know it seems easy enough to say, “oh, well just purchase things from Wal-Mart or the department store or Ikea”, but we can’t forget that certain areas in the city don’t have practical access to these types of stores.  Even if they were easily accessible by public transit, which many people rely on to go about their day-to-day activities, it’s not fair to assume that everyone will go across town for the sake of obtaining a new mixing bowl.  Clay strives to create relationships with their clientele and to make everyone with any level of cooking experience feel comfortable and knowledgeable about the skill set and the products they purchase.

My favourite things about Clay are the bright colours and cute accessories!  I am absolutely in love with the bright primary coloured ice cream bowls, the traffic light coloured spatulas, ladles, and slotted spoons, and of course, the pretty patterned table linens!  If I had to choose my favourite items, it would have to be the squirrel walnut cracker (which my friend Wini would be gaga over!), the red, yellow, and green utensils, the ice cream bowls, the kiddie section, and the kitchen stationery and sticky notes set!  

The shop itself is divided into a number of different sections that cater to particular forms of cooking, baking, and drinking: wine glasses and accessories with cheese cutting boards; colourful and whimsical kitchen linens and napkins; roasting pans, skillets, kettles, and griddles; stoneware cups, bowls, butter dishes, and ramekins; coffee mugs, grinders, and tea boxes; glass bowls, cookie cases, mason jars, muffin and cupcake pans, cookie sheets, and measuring cups; larger appliances such as stand mixers, blenders, and panini presses; a wall of goodies including egg poachers, walnut crackers, juice reamers, ice molds and trays, spice racks, mortars and pestles, fruit and vegetable slicers, ice cream bowls, spatulas, ladles, slotted spoons, and wooden and bamboo utensils; cookbooks, food books, and cute stationery; spices and jarred relishes; and finally, a whole bright and cheery section of children’s cooking knicknacks!

The children’s section is so adorable!  There are beginner children’s cookbooks, little aprons, lunch bags, sandwich cutters in fun shapes, bamboo, silicone, and acrylic safety utensils, and bowls and plates with fun prints and patterns.  This section is really sentimental to me because one of my absolute favourite toys when I was little was my toy kitchen.  I played with my toy kitchen every day after coming home from kindergarten, pretending to pour juice from my little plastic pitcher (and sometimes pouring real juice, ha!), sticking things in the little plastic oven and fridge, and placing my beloved plastic pots and pans on the little stovetop.  Those tiny transparent coppery brown pots and pans were my pride and joy and I loved them all the more because they looked exactly like my mum’s real ones!  It’s so sweet to see such kid-friendly kitchen things because although some are hesitant to involve little ones in cooking activity for safety reasons, it can be a great learning and bonding experience as well as a creative outlet.

No matter how we feel towards cooking (some love it, some loathe it), feeding ourselves is an inevitable part of life and kitchen boutiques like Clay offer us an outlet to explore, learn, and grow in the world of food.  This may just be the 5-year-old in me talking, but I can’t wait to outfit my future kitchen.  For the time being, I’m happy to browse and daydream until then.

*****

Clay is located at 659 St. Clair West, just steps away from CocoaLatte and the St. Clair streetcar line in the Wychwood neighbourhood.  Clay will be marking their 1st anniversary this December on December 1, 2011!  To celebrate, a number of products are currently on sale for 20% off.  The shop is open daily at 10am.  You can view Clay and CocoaLatte’s Facebook page here and CocoaLatte’s website here.

Calling All Nutella Lovers: Chai Lattes, Vanilla Steamers & The Banana Nutella Waffle at CocoaLatte! Part II

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Oh Cocoa Latte, how I’ve fallen in love with you.  Let it be known that my Twitter account has opened up a whole new (cyber) world for me since I signed up several months ago.  Before I started my blog, I scoffed at the mere thought of having a Twitter.  “Why in the world would I sign up and just talk about crap?  Who in the world is going to care?”  I was proven wrong.  Sort of.  Although I still stand by my conviction that having a Twitter without a blog would have been silly for me, I’ve realized that this blog, in conjunction with my Twitter, has connected me to so many people and places I would have otherwise never known about. 

Cocoa Latte is one of them.  It just happened to pop up in my feed one day and being the curious kitten that I am, I looked up their website and almost immediately, I had a really good feeling about this beautiful café.  For one thing, Cocoa Latte is so pretty to look at.  Baby blue, white, and chocolate brown decor.  I was already mentally piecing together cardstock samples and potental scrapbook layouts before my first visit!  And for another, it’s a chameleon that does quadruple duty: peaceful brunch space, hopping lunch joint, hip coffee and tea café, and sweet gelato bar.  And even though I have yet to enjoy lunch or a gelato/ice cream/cake dessert, I gotta say, they lay the smackdown on breakfast and drinks REALLY good. 

Their drink menu has SO much variety, from coffee and iced coffee and tea drinks to frothy frappés to apple ciders, vanilla steamers, caramel lattes, London Fogs, and of course, its namesake, cocoa lattes.  Now, I’m no coffee connoisseur, but Cocoa Latte’s drink prices are very much in line with other indie coffee shops around the city.  Maybe around $0.50 less than average for certain drinks and $0.40 more for others, but I’m telling you, you get bang for you buck. 

Oh!  And they serve almond milk for their coffee drinks!  This makes me happy considering I fell in love with almond milk a few months ago after a few friends raved about yummy it is.  It’s a great -and necessary- alternative for those who are vegan, allergic to soy, and/or lactose intolerant.

I was absolutely gobsmacked when the nice girl who was serving us brought me my chai latte.  It was HUGE.  My glass looked like a beer mug.  And I ordered a small!  She placed it on the table and I stared at it with my mouth slightly gaping open.  Then after a few seconds of stunned silence, my mind starting sputtering: “wait…wha…why…huh??  I could have sworn I ordered a small!”  Make no mistake, my “small” chai latte might as well have been a whole teapot.  And I was thisclose to waving the nice girl over and telling her that she had made a mistake and brought me a large.  But how thrilling it was to realize that my ginormous chai latte was exactly what I had ordered and how thrilling it was to taste the hot, milky tea beverage that smelled and tasted so wonderfully of sweet cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom.

And now for the drool-inducing nutella you’ve all been waiting for.  I hope all you nutella lovers are here, reading and soaking up these next few photos because this breakfast meal was all sorts of lovely and for lack of other words, simply “mmmm”.  Like I mentioned in my teaser post yesterday, I am on the hunt for all amazing nutella food items in the city and I’m hoping that this is just the first out of many more delicious nutella eats.  Cocoa Latte makes a wonderful, amazing banana nutella waffle for breakfast.  How amazing?  Look below.

This waffle was delighfully crispy on the outside with an airy, fluffy inside (you can see from the photos that the waffle looks multi-layered even!) with warm, ooey gooey nutella slathered all over it in all its cocoa hazelnut glory and a mountain of freshly sliced bananas on top with a sprinkling of powdered sugar.  Oh, and more nutella drizzled all over.  If you want a sweet, satisfying breakfast that doesn’t leave you filling gross afterward, this is your gem.  You’d think that a waffle covered in nutella would induce a sickly case of sugar coma, but I’m being honest when I say that it doesn’t.  This dish, in appearance, looks really sweet but it’s really not.  Just a nice big, fresh waffle with everyone’s favourite cocoa spread and lots of banana.

This is the real deal.  It’s not someone passing off melted chocolate as nutella (I’m not kidding about this, I’ve had two accounts of a nutella cookie in the city not tasting like nutella at all but instead, like plain ol’ chocolate.  The nerve, right?), it’s not a dinky-sized waffle being passed off as a real meal, and it’s not something that’s soggy, limp, or greasy.  If you adore breakfast foods and if you can’t get enough of nutella, you absolutely must try this.

I am so looking forward to going back for another yummy meal sometime.  I am eyeing that vanilla steamer and I am eyeing their looong list of panini sandwiches (avocado…cheese…um, yes, I’m in!).  I’m so glad this lovely café popped up on my Twitter feed over a month ago.  It makes the scrapbooker in me giddy, they serve amazing drinks that still shock me to this day with their size (and probably make my bladder a bit nervous), and they gave me a tummyful of awesome nutella waffle.

*****

Café Cocoa Latte is located at 671 St. Clair West, just east of Christie St. and west of Wychwood Ave.  Their hours are 8am-5pm through Monday-Sunday.  The easiest way to get here is by taking the St. Clair streetcar westbound, or the 126 Christie bus going northbound from Christie subway station.

Scrapbooking materials: baby blue & chocolate brown cardstock (Recollections); black, baby blue, and white patterned scalloped paper (Colorbök); baby pink & white polka dotted patterned paper; baby blue & brown patterned paper (Choco-Mod Patterns by DCWV); adhesive pearls (Recollections); black & gray floral epoxy stickers (Black Tie by atd); pink & brown heart printed ribbon (Valentine by Michaels); black & white polka dotted alphabet stickers (atd); coffee embellishments (Pierre Belvédère); croissant stickers (Sticko, Martha Stewart crafts).

Calling All Nutella Lovers: Chai Lattes, Vanilla Steamers & The Banana Nutella Waffle at CocoaLatte! Part I

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Aside from those are who allergic to nuts and/or chocolate (or unfortunately to both like my best friend), I don’t know a darn person who doesn’t have somewhat of a love affair with Nutella.  And if you don’t love Nutella…well, I don’t know how successful it would be to forge a friendship, or to keep one at that.  Sigh, that’s how I roll.  I know how crazy people are about Nutella and the lengths some will go to eat the luscious, chocolatey, hazelnut cocoa spread and yes, this includes those who have allergies!  Pst, I’m looking at you, Quincy 😉 

Ever since I started this blog, I’ve honed in on several goals that I want to achieve in my lifetime, or at least for a good number of years: visit as many cupcakeries at possible (and consequently, taste as many different cupcakes as my sugar tummy will allow), find great vegetarian and vegan sandwiches, and hunt down as many delicious Nutella food items as I can.  I even have my own personal tip line going (aka. friends who nudge me in the right direction by suggesting things and places and then happily tell me to run along) which makes the taste tour even more fun!  “Go try the Nutella latte at Snakes n’ Lattes!”, “Ooo, there’s a Nutella cupcake at Dlish!”  What can I say?  My friends love me and genuinely care about my foodie adventures and the blog.  Either that, or they all want me to get fat.  Hmph.

If you loved that last photo, you will LOVE what I have in store for you all tomorrow.  You know I can’t post all my photos in my one post 😉  I adore Café Cocoa Latte on St. Clair West and I am super excited to dish about my first visit there and why I would go back again and again, so grab a napkin and prepare yourself for one hell of a Nutella breakfast feast tomorrow.  Enjoy the photos!

*****

Café Cocoa Latte is located at 671 St. Clair West, just east of Christie St. and west of Wychwood Ave.  The easiest way to get here is by taking the St. Clair streetcar westbound, or the 126 Christie bus going northbound from Christie subway station.