All Aboard! Fall Fruits & Vegetables & Lineups for Baked Goods & Pork at the Junction Market Train Platform!

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“Oh my goodness, what in the world are people lining up for??”

I stopped dead in my tracks and gaped incredulously at the crowd of people gathered before me on the sidewalk just up the street.  Was there a sidewalk sale?  No.  Were folks handing out free stuff?  Nope.  Did Hugh Jackman return to TO for post-TIFF shenanigans?  I wish.  No, the line of people spilling out onto the street curb was in fact lining up for bread.  And cinnamon rolls.  And pork.  And croissants.  And pork.  And tacos.

Did I mention pork?

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This was the scene before me as I walked into the Junction Market’s brand spankin’ new home on the Junction Train Platform, a hubbub of community activity near and dear to the Junction community’s heart.  And when I say hubbub, I mean HUBBUB.  I was shocked at the sheer volume of market goers milling around every inch of space on the market grounds.  The Train Platform is such a cool space.  There’s train station graffiti art on the brick wall to the west, a raised wooden platform stage and a roof awning over top.  The market vendors were set up in a square shape around the perimeter of the space with more vendors filling in a portion of the centre.  I was surprised I was able to get as many clean shots as I did.  I mean, I know I didn’t arrive right when the market started at 8am (I did due diligence and got there just before 10:30am – give me a break, I live in Markham and wanted the extra hour of sleep!) but my goodness I have never been to a market where I had to strategically figure out how to just get IN.  And I LOVED it.

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The Junction Market had great turnouts at their old location down the road in the Green P parking lot but this was the first market season at the Train Platform and you can tell that the market is just more…alive.  There’s a buzz in the air, the crowd is bigger, and there’s this feeling and sense of community, grassroots, and togetherness.  That we’re all there to pick up delicious food, support our farmers and food producers and to simply be surrounded by people who love market food.

It’s a wonderful feeling and I have missed this so much.  This past summer I really dropped the ball on making visits to the market and I feel like I missed out on so much.  Fall is here though and I am determined to make the most of the season and that means breathing in the beautiful bounty of fresh food all the markets have to offer.  The Junction Market has been one of my favourites since it’s beginnings in 2012.  It may not be the biggest, but by golly do I ever find fantastic stuff whenever I go.  I’ve picked up bunches upon bunches of kale, sprouts, pesto, chutney and baked goods and coming out here gives me the opportunity to explore the west end more which I love.

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This past Saturday, there were gorgeous bunches of swiss chard, adorable baskets of wild blueberries (they’re so tiny and cute!), pretty plump pears, huge bunches of kale (my go-to market veg!), scotch eggs, empanadas and more from Hogtown Charcuterie, house-cured peameal on a bun, jerk pork, and eleventy billion kinds of ribs from When the Pig Came Home Smokehouse and Larder (gotta love the name!), squash, tomatoes, beans and so much more.  I was so excited and focused on taking photos I backed up and crashed right into a parked bike which left unattractive dusty tire marks on my leggings which I furiously tried to rub off whilst balancing my camera.

Real smooth, Debra.  Real smooth.

Not bad for my first market visit of the 2013 fall season though!  I discovered some yummy new vendors (that peameal on a bun and kale salad will be MINE next time!  Oh, and maybe a scotch egg.  And maybe some tacos too), got to visit them at their new location, and happily walked away with new photos and the beautiful, newest issue of Edible Toronto magazine featuring Sosnicki Organic Farm, a Junction market vendor, on the cover!  This is just the beginning of a scrumptious fall season.

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The Junction Market takes place Saturdays from 9am-1pm (May 25 to November 9) at the Junction Train Platform at 2960 Dundas Street West by Pacific Ave.  You can follow them on Twitter @JunctionMarket!

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The Fall Harvest Series – It’s an Orange & Gold, Leafy Green Wonderland at the Junction Farmers Market! Part I

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A photo spotlight of my latest visit to the Junction farmers market and the official return of The Fall Harvest Series!  It’s October and I have some great stuff to share with you guys this week including a fall inspired weekend brunch meal, fall flavour cupcakes, a pumpkin edition of The Cupcake Connection, and hopefully lots of butternut squash and baking pumpkin baked goods!   Even though I won’t be able to repeat last year’s feat of stringing together 2 week’s worth of fall harvest posts in a row, I’m going to try my best to get in as many posts as possible, especially market ones since many of them will be packing up for the year sometime this month.  I’ve compiled a list of all the ones that are ending during the month of October as part of the October Food Calendar, so if there’s a market you adore or one you haven’t been to yet this year, make your visit soon before they’re gone!

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The Junction farmers’ market will be held every Saturday from 8:30am-12:30pm, June 2nd to October 13th.  The farmers’ market is located in the parking lot just off of Dundas Street West and Pacific Ave.  The market is brand new to Toronto and the Junction community, so spread the word, come out, and show your support!  For more info and a list of vendors, visit the official Junction market page HERE.

Sampling Cheese, Picking Up Dips & Cornbread, and Seeing Beautiful Food – Summer at Evergreen Brick Works

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Going to Evergreen Brick Works always feels like a special day trip right here in the city.  It’s like a little oasis, combining urban and grassroots with its nature trails, scenic gardens, and historic industrial heritage.  Evergreen Brick Works is a thriving hubbub of activity with so much more than just their Saturday morning farmers’ market to offer.  There are site tours, outdoor fitness activities, gardening and cooking workshops, programs and camps for children, film screenings, family pizza nights, tastings, beer and brewery gardens, a Sunday morning antique market, local food festivals, a lovely cafe and farm-to-table restaurant, a portion of the area dedicated to cycling and hiking with workshops and community events, expos and installations (they’re currently promoting their MOVE: Transportation Expo and let me tell you, it is fantastic!), and of course, the venue and host of some of the city’s most popular food events such as Toronto Underground Market and most recently, Lobster Love. 

My latest visit was my first since Earth Day in April and my first during the summer months in general!  I had never been to the Brick Works in the summer before so I was itching to visit the beautiful and gigantic outdoor market to pick up some delicious food, in addition to checking out the MOVE expo, eating at Cafe Belong (you knew a blog post on Cafe Belong would come eventually!), and walking around the grounds a little bit on a warm summer morning.  It was wonderful.  I was there bright and early, just before it got too hot and being there felt so nice and invigorating.  The farmers’ market was already crawling with a large crowd of people and it was so exciting to see the market in its summer form. 

I drooled over the fresh corn tortillas by Maizal, nibbled on one very delicious pork sausage and cheese roll that my boyfriend had bought (piggy in a cheese blanket!), sampled some amazing cheeses, and picked up some corn bread, two spreads and dips by Mad Mexican (a turtle black bean and jalapeno dip and a roasted tomatillo and avocado salsa!), and a beautiful and delicous fresh fruit tart with kiwi, candied oranges, and tiny bright red gooseberries!  Gooseberries aren’t something you see very often on baked goods and pastries and they were so sweet and cute dangling from their stem, all chubby-like in their cluster.  I wanted to share with you all some of my favourite photos from the market that morning and some of the things I loved the most including garlic scape pesto, gorgeous heirloom and yellow tomatoes, bright and colourful swiss chard stems, pints of blueberries and tomatillo peppers, “rainbow” green, yellow, and purple wax beans (these beans make for fabulous salads!), and lots of cheese!

I also love, love, LOVE that a whole section of the market is dedicated to prepared food.  It makes it so much to fun to eat and grocery shop at the same time!  On hand in the EBW market “food court” were LPK with their vegan baked goods, Chocosol, Mad Mexican chips, salsas, and dips along with Maizal corn tortillas, crepes, grilled cheese and scrambled egg sandwiches, cupcakes, salad plates, scones, waffles, and so much more.  One of these days I will do a market “food court” post and get a bunch of different things to show you all!  This visit was probably my most favourite out of all my trips and it was so much fun seeing Evergreen in all its summer glory.    

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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.  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.

The Long Awaited Opening Day – Ontario Strawberries, Swiss Chard, & the *NEW* Farmers’ Market in The Junction!

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Today really wasn’t the nicest of days.  It was a gazillion steps up from yesterday’s torrential downpour, but on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being god awful and 10 being gloriously beautiful, today ranked at around 4: cloudy, chilly, and windy.  I admit, the recent heat wave had me whimpering, but for the sake of The Junction farmers’ market opening day, I wanted it to be pretty!  But less than ideal weather aside, I stumbled out of bed at quarter to 6 in the morning (read: I live in Markham and no where near The Junction in the west) and made it out to The Junction’s FIRST EVER farmers’ market! 

I wanted to be one of the first on the scene to grab some photos and to see what the market had in store and surprisingly enough, the market was already crawling with eager morning birds ready to swoop in on all the fresh market food at 8:30 in the morning!  I really shouldn’t be that surprised though; the neighbourhood and community has been looking forward to this and rallying for this market for ages.  This market has been in the works since last year and I think it’s the perfect fit for the community and surrounding area.  The closest farmers’ markets are either out in Etobicoke or Royal York, so this new market truly caters to the growing, thriving Junction food community that’s developed over the years.

Given how this is the Junction farmers’ market first day, I don’t know if there will be additional vendors, farmers’, and producers present later on in the summer.  What I can tell you though is how committed everyone is to bringing local food to the tables of everyone in the community and how excited everyone at the market was!  It was early in the morning, the weather wasn’t the nicest, and yet market goers were just grabbing things left and right.  I started on the west end of the market, working my way to the other end, and by the time I went back to where I started, by de la terre baked goods and bakery, a third of what I originally saw was gone.  ONLY 20 MINUTES HAD ELAPSED!  Fruit galettes?  Gone.  Chocolate fudge brownies?  A chunk of those were missing.  Monkey buns?  People were buying them as I was taking photos.  Amazing. 

Monforte Dairy was there along with Evelyn’s Crackers, Ying Ying Soy Food (hurray for tofu!), North Gate Ogranics (rhubarb and white turnip photos), and Fresh City Farms among a number of other farmers’ and food producers.  In addition to fish and seafood, tofu, crackers and shortbread, and fresh meats and cheeses, there were lots of bright and beautiful fruits and vegetables on hand for the market’s first day today: organic Ontario strawberries, apples, beets, rhubarb, kale, swiss chard, butter lettuce, arugula, and even bright white Japanese Hakurei turnips!  I was so excited about how pretty everything looked I even accidentally dropped my camera in a basket of lettuce! 

Despite the wet lens, the gorgeous colours and textures make for great photos so I was really lucky to get some nice shots before everything was gone!  I read on my Twitter feed that someone came to the market later on in the morning and was greeted by apple and honey leftovers – and nothing else.  Not so great for latecomers but wonderful news for the market organizers and vendors!  My favourite part of the market, apart from the photographing and mmming over baked goods and ahhing over the gorgeous swiss chard?  An exchange between a market goer and a local farmer vendor where a woman asked, “are these apples from Ontario?” to which the farmer smiled and replied, “if anything from this market isn’t from Ontario, it shouldn’t be here.”  Hashtag WIN.      

The first day was fantastic and I can only see this market growing and flourishing with the support of the community and market lovers like us!  And think of it this way: even if you don’t live in the area, coming to the market early in the morning means you get to spend the rest of the day exploring the neighbourhood?  My suggestion?  Grab some tea or coffee afterward at Crema and head on over to Bunners Bake Shop when they open up shop at 10!  And if the day is nice, walk south to High Park and have a picnic!  Or indulge in some delicious ice cream at Delight during the summer.  Ah, market mornings.  The possibilities for great days ahead are endless.   

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The Junction farmers’ market will be held every Saturday from 8:30am-12:30pm, June 2nd to October 13th.  The farmers’ market is located in the parking lot just off of Dundas Street West and Pacific Ave.  The market is brand new to Toronto and the Junction community, so spread the word, come out, and show your support!  For more info and a list of vendors, visit the official Junction market page HERE.

Lentil Lovin’ – Photo Spotlight on Mela Cafe’s Vegan Lentil Pie With Swiss Chard, Cabbage, and Chickpeas

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Eating at my favourite vegetarian cafe never gets old, especially when I’m greeted by new vegetarian and vegan eats each and every time I go.  Thus far, I’ve featured the lasagna, ravioli, curry risotto, stuffed peppers, watercress salad with green beans and chickpeas, breaded eggplant panini sandwich, quinoa salad with cabbage, tomatoes, and parsley, cous cous salad with zucchini and kale, and the ultra special vegan banana cream pie and vegan coconut lime cream tart!  I have to admit, that’s a lot of food.  Those dishes could form an entire menu all on their own! 

Even though this post marks my 8th Mela Cafe post on the blog (and even though I’ve ate my weight in Italian vegetarian and vegan delights), I’ve barely scratched off a quarter of Mela’s Italian, comfort food menu.  For starters, I’ve never had any of Roberto’s soup.  For another, the vegan banana cream pie and coconut lime cream tart are the only desserts I’ve had and I know there is plenty of delicious vegan sugar just waiting to be unearthed for me.  Finally, there are always two or three new mains and/or salads listed on the chalkboard menu that I’ve never seen before, which just fuels my fire to try every dish even more!   

What’s on the menu this time around?  A huge portion of vegan lentil pie bathed in stewed plum tomatoes, chickpeas, shredded red cabbage, and chopped swiss chard!  Aside from the mouthwatering food and sweet company, one of the best things about Mela is its ability to make me stuff my face with specific vegetables I don’t even like!  Cauliflower and cabbage are two of my least favourite vegetables and it’s only been recently (re: Luscious Dips’ edible cabbage and veggie hummus bowls at the Lunchtime Office Markets) that I’ve started warming up to the purplish veggie.  While my mum and brother gorge on coleslaw, I usually opt for something else.  And between cauliflower and broccoli, there’s never a contest.  Cauliflower’s green cousin wins the coveted “I get to be eaten by Deb” title every time.  But lo and behold, I’m scarfing down a stuffed pepper with cauliflower in it and around it (in soup form) and a giant wedge of lentil pie literally dressed in shredded cabbage. 

And it was divine.  The textures were all over the place with the raw, crunchy vegetables on top, the smooth and savoury lentil mash in the middle, and the saucy vegetable purees at the bottom.  It was incredibly filling and hearty (I rolled out of the cafe afterward) and it was like eating extra special mashed potatoes, only they were even more special because they were mashed lentils!  The cabbage and vegetable puree sauce kept the lentil pie from being too starchy and the fresh raw vegetables and chickpeas lightened the entire dish.  It was beautiful to look at (how often do we eat purple food?!), beautiful to eat, and an absolute joy to eat in the company of a new friend I made on this particular day who just happened to order the same thing I did!  Who knew lentil pie could form a friendship? 

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Mela Café is located at 7 Yorkville Ave., north of Cumberland St. and just west of Yonge St.  All dishes are either vegetarian or vegan and prices range from $4-$8.50.  They are primarily a lunch cafe during the week, open until around 4:30pm-5pm from Monday to Friday, and with later closing hours on Saturday.  They are closed on Sunday.

Vibrant, Delicious Indian Flavour – Winterlicious at Amaya’s Bread Bar

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Simaltaneouly fresh and vibrant with a quiet, sophisticated ambience, Amaya’s Bread Bar is a beautiful Indian restaurant with delicious flavourful food, arranged and cooked with painstaking attention to detail and presentation, and gorgeous decor to boot.  Sections of walls are covered in brick and stone, lush cushioned seats surround dining tables carefully arranged with plates, napkins, and drinking glasses, and bold pops of orange and fuchsia contrast the pristine white of shiny floor tiles and long communal tables.  You walk in, take one look around and know you’re in for a special, memorable dining experience. 

I’ve been looking forward to Winterlicious for weeks now, months even, and I was really excited to go through the list of restaurants participating in the price fixe event to find something unique, something that would be worth the extra buck.  I wanted to be picky, not just with the price (as I was only looking at lunch menus in the $15 price point this time around) but also with the food being offered in the menus.  Amaya’s Bread Bar, located at 3305 Yonge St. north of Lawrence Ave, fit the bill with a wonderful menu comprised of familiar Indian comfort foods and sophisticated twists on other nibbles.

While my sweetie Richard ordered the malai chicken tikka to start off, I began my meal with a set of four swiss chard pakoras as appetizer: crispy, spicy battered vegetable fritters with chopped swiss chard (a leafy green vegetable with large ribbed leaves) and caraway seeds strewn throughout, and seasoned with green chillies and cumin.  Funny enough, I had only learned of swiss chard several weeks beforehand in my Food & Wine magazine and was delighted to try some in a vegetable fritter!  The batter was deliciously crispy, with a slight salty spiciness to it that made me want to devour a whole platter of them.  I mopped up the drizzle of sauce real good and lamented that I could not have another three plates.  The presentation was beautiful for both our appetizers, especially Richard’s which was served with a small, diced salad of carrots and beets.

After our dishes were cleared and our water glasses refilled, I eagerly anticipated my chosen main: one of my favourite Indian meat dishes (and one of the most common, to my knowledge), butter chicken, swimming in all its succulent and creamy, buttery tomato pureed glory.  Butter chicken was one of the first things I ate when I first tried Indian food almost 3 years ago and I instantly fell in love with it.  The smooth, creaminess of the sauce made me wiggle with happiness and the chicken is so good because it’s so soft and tender, without that awful disgusting rubbery texture that chicken has when it hasn’t been marinated or cooked well.  

I’ve had butter chicken at a few different places (Indian Flavour on campus and Samosa King Embassy restaurant in Scarborough most notably, both of which I will blog about in the near future) and although it’s a staple in Indian and Persian restaurants, each one has their own unique interpretation, with slight differences in heat (i.e. spiciness), smoothness in sauce, and texture of meat.  Amaya’s Bread Bar did not disappoint and I was greeted with an adorable pot of butter chicken in creamy sauce garnished with a sprig of cilantro.  Oh!  And our rice was brought to us in what I could only describe as a copper bucket.  It was beautiful and all sorts of awesome and the rice itself was delicious; light, airy, and fluffy.  I refer to my meal as the pot of butter chicken gold and my copper bucket pail of yummy rice.  It was just so cute and unique.

And no meal is complete without sweets, so to end off a fabulous dining experience I had myself the carrot toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream and was I ever delighted with this sweet morsel of dessert.  It was served in the most adorable vase-like bowl with the teeniest little spoon.  My vanilla bean dotted ice cream was scooped into a perfect sphere and placed on top of some super warm carrot, gingery mash.  The dessert took me by surprise and the phrase “big things come in small packages” totally applies here.  The carrot pudding had a very interesting texture.  It was not pudding in the same sense as custard, yet it wasn’t a crisp or a smooth whip like mashed potatoes.  It was freshly grated carrot bits mixed in a juicy, gingery liquid with a soft yet crunchy texture.  And the pairing of it with the vanilla ice cream was hot and cold, juicy and melty, smooth and crunchy.  Amazing.

I thoroughly enjoyed this Winterlicious meal and I’m so glad I came.  Although those who have very hearty appetites may look elsewhere with huuuge portions, the attention to detail here is obvious and the flavours here are fabulous.  You can truly taste the quality in the food and it is both wholesome and comforting, and trendy and different at the same time.  The service is great (I think I had my water glass refilled about 4 or 5 times!), the atmosphere is wonderfully peaceful and serene, and if you’re a photo nut like I am, it is a feast for the eyes and camera lens.  A Winterlicious meal well done indeed.

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Amaya’s Bread Bar is located at 3305 Yonge St. north of Lawrence Ave. E.  It is several blocks north of the Lawrence subway station off the Yonge-University-Spadina line, on the east side of Yonge where Glenforest Rd. begins.  Amaya’s Bread Bar is also the sister restaurant to Amaya the Indian Room.  Winterlicious in Toronto goes until February 10th (this Thursday), so feel free to share your recent Winterlicious experiences and musings in the comments section!