A Cuppa Tea, A Cuppa Love – An Afternoon Tea For Valentine’s at the Windsor Arms Hotel, Part I

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The love and romance surrounding Valentine’s isn’t over just yet here on Ate by Ate!  Besides cupcakes and cake pops and heart-shaped tins of M&Ms, there was also tea – and lots of it!  Surrounded by darling tea cups and teapots, plush seats, and the softest scones imaginable, I sat back and soaked in a sweet and romantic afternoon tea in the bright and lush royal purple tea room at the Windsor Arms Hotel in celebration of Valentine’s. 

As the years go by, I often reflect on all the special memories I’ve made during holidays and special occasions and undoubtedly, memories of Valentine’s past fit into this ever-growing mental scrapbook of mine.  Valentine’s past have been chock full of movies (which have become some of my favourite movies of all time), dessert dates, delicious dinners, cupcakes, sushi, visits to my favourite garden, Allan Gardens, and most recently, even a heart-shaped pizza!  I love doing different things for special occasions and having new things to look forward to on those particular days, so I thought, “why not do an afternoon tea for Valentine’s?  It would be perfect!”  Sweet petit fours, my boyfriend’s favourite scones, my love of tea, and delicious food in a fairytale-like atmosphere.  It doesn’t get any sweeter than that.

Given how much we had enjoyed our very first afternoon tea at Windsor Arms over a year ago, my heart was set on afternoon tea with my boyfriend as a little Valentine’s treat and I had a day plan in mind all ready to go.  I love making plans and planning “fun days”.  The joy I get from concocting these elaborate schemes stems from three things.  One, I’ve been conditioned to get the most out of my public transit spending.  If I’m going to be purchasing and using tickets and tokens to be out and about anyway, I’m going to make the most out of my day and that means cramming in as many activities and errands as possible.  Two, after being at the mercy of a topsy-turvy university schedule that didn’t leave me with a lot of time to myself for six and a half years, I relish the time I have to enjoy an entire day full of my favourite things and activities and in this case.  And last, because my boyfriend surprised me with a romantic day all planned out on our very first date, I’ve loved doing multiple things in a day, especially with him.  To have a specific day to look forward to like this, centred around tea and nibbles and making Valentine’s memories, is simply wonderful to me.   

The afternoon tea ended up being more wonderful than I had expected!  I loved my first experience, but this time was even better.  Not only did I fall crazy in love with my tea and food, but I also took a mini tour of the majestic hotel (paying a visit to the ladies’ room on the 2nd floor will make you awestruck on the way there and on the way back like that) and I also found out some new information about the dining at Windsor Arms previously unbeknowst to me (hint: vegan menus abound!) that make me so much more excited about visiting the hotel again!  With a new menu, different teas and nibbles, and a tea room full of happy tea sippers, the place was abuzz with love and friendship.  Here’s a sneak peek at my Valentine’s afternoon tea.     

*****

The Windsor Arms Hotel is located at 18 Saint Thomas Street, just south of Bloor St. W, between Bay St. and Avenue Rd.  From Monday to Wednesday tea is served in 4 sittings: 12:30, 1:00, 3:00, 3:30, and from Thursday to Sunday 5:30 and 6:00 as well.  Teas are available at a range of prices, from $18/person to $45/person, with different menus for each price point.  Visit the Windsor Arms Hotel website for prices and menus.

Say It With Chocolate – Celebrating Valentine’s Day With M&M Goodies and Heart-Shaped Tins!

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It’s the night of Valentine’s and as I am writing this, I am sitting on my couch wrapped in my fuzzy red blanket, quietly reminiscing about Valentine’s past and the fun and sweet Valentine’s memories I made today and over the past week.  Decked out in dangly heart earrings, heart printed socks, and my little red jacket, I spent the day with my other half where we enjoyed heart shaped veggie pizza, cookies and cream Hershey Kisses, and dvd episodes of Big Bang Theory.  A day of love and fun much like any other, but special, loving, and heartfelt nonetheless.  Valentine’s Day is quite the commercial occasion, yes, but it’s also a day to acknowledge and reflect on love in all its beautiful forms.  It’s a day to have fun and a day to remind all of us of all the people, pets, and things in our life that warm our hearts and bring us joy. 

In that vein, humour me while I rattle off some reasons why I love Valentine’s:

  1. everything is decked out in red, pink, and white (and the occasional purple)
  2. everything is printed with cute hearts
  3. Valentine’s restaurant menus are fun to look at (not so much fun to pay for, but fun in a creative and thematic way!)
  4. Valentine’s themed accessories and jewelry fit effortlessly into my wardrobe (I wear heart necklaces and earrings, and both my rainbow and hot pink-and-gray heart printed argyle socks all year round)
  5. Valentine’s themed stationery, kitchen, home decor, and baking accessories are too darling not to love
  6. the classic “I Choo-Choo-Choose You” Simpsons episode is one of the best things to ever grace cartoon television
  7. kiddie Valentine’s in general (don’t tell me you never gave your friends and classmates Lion King, Disney Princess, Looney Tunes, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Spiderman, Animanics, Winnie the Pooh, Hello Kitty, and/or Casper the Friendly Ghost valentine cards!)
  8. my best friend, who’s a kindergarten teacher, gets to celebrate Valentine’s with her little ones in kindergarten party fashion complete with crafts, edible goodies, and the quintessential paper baggy card exchange
  9. Valentine’s desserts.  Enough said.
  10. it is yet another occasion ridiculously devoted to chocolate!  Unless you are like my best friend and allergic, this works in your favour. 

And it is here that I will focus on Reason #10.  Everyone is a different type of Valentine’s candy person.  Some get giddy over the cheesy conversation hearts while others will enjoy the bright red spicy cinnamon hearts by the fistful.  Then there are the chocolate enthusiasts.  You know who you are.  The ones who will scarf down an entire box in one night, or the folks who show up at the shops first thing in the morning on February 15th, ready to roll with a shopping basket and a thirst (or rather, appetite) for chocolate on sale.  In those chocolicious moments, the whole world is right.  For some, there is no better way to express love than saying it with chocolate. 

I fall under the second category.  The culprits?  Cookies and cream Hershey Kisses and any and all M&Ms.  You are all aware of my love affair with M&Ms and the pride and joy that is my M&M tin collection!  Imagine my happy dance then when I found a brand new, heart-shaped M&Ms candy tin for Valentine’s Day!  With my favourite green girl M&M on it!  In my chocolate universe, it doesn’t get any better than that.  I know chocolate sales are ubiquitous the day after Valentine’s, but I’ve been through many heartbreaking situations in my life where I would hem and haw about an item, wistfully walk away for the time being, and come back to it only to find it gone.  It’s an awful habit of mine and given how dearly beloved these M&Ms tins are to me, there was no way I was about to take that chance again.  Especially considering they were only available at Pharma Plus drug stores!

In addition to the heart-shaped tin and the coconut M&Ms I love so much, I found myself mint dark chocolate ones too!  After paying a visit to Yonge Market a few weeks ago (where I found the coconut M&Ms at their least expensive last summer – only $0.99 a bag!) and finding out they didn’t have any of the coconut ones, I made my way back to Uncle John’s Candy Shack on Mount Pleasant Rd.  I picked up a baggy of coconut M&Ms and was absolutely ecstatic when I found out they had new mint dark chocolate ones! 

I’ve been so jealous of my American counterparts who have special flavours like strawberry and raspberry, so it felt so nice to find a new flavour I had never encountered before.  They’re $1.49/bag and although the price has gone up by $0.10 since last summer, it’s still less expensive than several other candy shops around the city who sell them for $1.59, $1.79, and even for $1.99!  I am dying to rip open all my M&M candy packages and devour all the goodness inside, but part of me really wants to save them to use for cookies.  Who knew Valentine’s could put me in such a chocolate predicament?  If I bake them in cookies, you will see them and hear about them.  If I eat them all, you’ll just see a very happy me.  Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone, from my heart to yours!

*****

Uncle John’s Candy Shack is located at 635 Mount Pleasant Rd. between Eglinton and Davisville Ave., just north of Manor Rd.

Mountains of Pink Frosting and Red Roses – Slow-Dancing With ‘Lady in Red’, and Valentine’s at Short & Sweet!

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Fluffy mountains of pink frosting, bright red rosettes, heart shaped sprinkles and decorations adorning every corner and surface, and the intoxicating smell of fresh baked cupcakes that smell and taste like sweet spun sugar.  It’s Valentine’s pandemonium at Short & Sweet Cupcakes!  Having sorely missed out on the holiday festivities back in December (I’m still recovering from the heartbreak), I’m back with a Valentine’s Day venegeance!  Short & Sweet has two very special Valentine’s Day promotions going on: the February Flavour of the Month, “Lady in Red” (cue Chris DeBurgh’s ’80s hit and the image of me slow-dancing with a giant cupcake) and the Valentine’s Day “Love Pack”! 

For those who want to pick up a quick Valentine’s cupcake on the go, the stunning strawberry Lady in Red ($2.90) is at your service!  If you want something a little more extravagent and a little more razzle-dazzle, the Love Pack, featuring 12 delicious Valentine’s cupcakes is ready and willing to sweep you and your loved one(s) off your feet.  The Love Pack ($40) includes 4 different flavours x 3 of each: 3 Lady in Red strawberry cupcakes, 3 chocolate, 3 vanilla, and 3 red velvet, all topped with Short & Sweet’s signature lickably sweet frosting and giant fondant heart toppers, sugar heart decorations, and sprinkles!  They’re also available to purchase as singles (with an extra $2 charge for the cupcakes with the great big heart fondant toppers) or in half dozen packs. 

One of the best things about Short & Sweet is their ever-changing storefront window display.  Aside from the delicious, groan-inducing cupcakes, their gorgeous and elaborate window display is one constant that has followed Short & Sweet from their old location on Old Orchard Grove into their new location 3 blocks north on Avenue Rd.  The window display reflects changes in season, special holidays and occasions, and new products such as their edible toppers, jumbo cupcakes (perfect for birthdays as a giant cupcake birthday cake!), and custom designed creations. 

My favourite displays since I started coming here have been the Easter display (Easter dishes out my favourite colour palette) and the current Valentine’s Day one.  The Valentine’s one is so gorgeous and the whole concept is a cross between “I’m enjoying cupcakes and champage in a romantic sudsy, bubble bath” (check out the mini pink frosted cupcakes sitting daintily in the champagne flute-like glassware with silver edible pearls!) and “I want to celebrate everything lovey-dovey in red, pink, and white with hearts and roses”.  The displays are always beautifully thought out and just mesmerizing to look at.

Now, a Short & Sweet post wouldn’t be a Short & Sweet post without a closer look at least one of the cupcakes.  We’re cozying up with the fabulous Lady in Red cupcake and I do mean fabulous!  Out of all the Flavour of the Month flavours I’ve tried, I loved the mint Oreo Mint Everest cupcake the most, but after devouring Lady in Red over the weekend, that Flavour of the Month favourite is now at a dead tie. 

Lady in Red is AMAZING.  It’s a strawberry cupcake with strawberry frosting and a cute little red candy heart on top.  I know, I know.  It’s “just” strawberry.  It’s not something exotic like durian.  But it’s the simplicity itself that knocks it out of the park.  Just like lemon, the strawberry flavour can take on a number of different nuances.  It can be tart, it can be juicy, it can taste more like strawberry ice cream, it can taste like strawberries and cream, it can be approached from so many angles.

If Flour Studio’s strawberry cupcake tastes like strawberry Pocky and cream, Short & Sweet’s Lady in Red is a mesh of strawberries, vanilla, jam, sweet sugar, and shortcake.  Even though the cake isn’t airy, the cake is very moist and full of flavour.  The vanilla cake base looks like a mosaic of golden cake, strawberries, and jam and the thick frosting has this delicious, bold, sweet strawberry flavour that isn’t tart in the least.  I like to think of it as a bolder, in-your-face version of strawberry shortcake. 

If it was up to me, I would have both the Mint Everest and the Lady in Red added to Short & Sweet’s permanent rotating menu because they are THAT amazing.  Lady in Red has shot right up into my Top 3 favourite Short & Sweet cupcakes and it’s such a shame that it’s only around for the month of February.  Maybe if I toot my horn loud and long enough, it might make an appearance on the permanment menu in the future, but for now, I can only look forward to the last two and a half weeks of the month and pine for the delicious strawberry cupcake after that.

      

*****

Short & Sweet Cupcakes is now located at 1945 Avenue Rd., south of Wilson Ave.  They are open from 11am-6pm Tuesday-Saturday and 11am-5pm on Sundays.  They are closed on Mondays.  If you take public transit like me, the easiest way to get here is to get off at Wilson subway station and take the 96 bus to Avenue Rd. and walk south.  You can also get here by getting off at York Mills subway station and taking the 165 Weston Rd. North bus to Wilson Ave. and Avenue Rd. and walking south, or taking the 61 Avenue Rd. North from Eglinton subway station.

Oh, the Weather Outside Was Frightful, But the Cake Pops Were Delightful… – Valentine’s Cake Pops at Le Dolci, Part II!

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“Oh the weather outside was frightful, but the cake pops were so delightful, and since we had hearts aglow, let it snow, let it snow, let is snow!”  Our city may have been blanketed in sheets of snow like a snow globe turned upside down yesterday, but with white, red, and pink chocolate wafers melting over broilers and little bowls and cups filled with Valentine’s sprinkles, baubles, and candy, the Le Dolci studio was brimming with warmth and love as we celebrated Valentine’s and all thinks pink, sparkly, sweet, and pretty – cake pop style!  I spent the blistery cold, snowy morning dipping vanilla and chocolate cake balls and hearts in melted chocolate, sprinkling them with enough sprinkles to turn them into leaning towers of cake pops, and eating melted chocolate and cake crumbs off my fingers!  My heart sped up with giddy excitement as I saw pale pink edible pearls, a mix of red, pink, and white heart sprinkles, sparkly red and pink suagr sprinkles, cinnamon hearts, and conversation hearts. 

I will take advantage of any and every opportunity to play with sprinkles.  ANY.  And that includes bundling up like a snowman and leaving the house at the crack of dawn wearing two pairs of pants, three sweaters, two scarves, two pairs of socks, boots, a knit hat, my thickest pair of mitts, a coat, and my winter sunglasses (no windburn for this girl!) in the frigid cold and blowing snow.  Only I really couldn’t tell you how cold it was because I was toasty in all my layers and ended up waddling around like the Michelin man and yanking off my second pair of fuzzy socks because I couldn’t feel my toes.  ANYTHING FOR SWEETS!

Just like the Christmas Cake Pops class, Lisa, our cake pop teacher extraordinaire, began the class by doing a cake pop construction demo.  Crumbling some fresh vanilla cake in a mixing bowl and adding two large tablespoons of buttercream frosting to it, Lisa demonstrated how to roll the cake mixture into balls, how to properly temper and melt chocolate and chocolate wafers, and how to securely attach lollipop sticks to cake balls to minimize “cake pop overboard” situations when dunking and dipping.

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Ate by Ate’s Bits & Bites, Vol. 004: Valentine’s Day 2012 Edition!

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Dish out the frilly pinks and reds and puffy hearts – it’s t-minus 7 days until Valentine’s Day!  I know everyone feels differently about this annual occasion, but I adore Valentine’s and not just because I’m in a relationship.  I have always loved Valentine’s ever since I was little and it’s something I look forward to every year.  I loved exchanging the little boxed Valentine’s cards with friends and classmates, I made some very memorable memories working three Valentine’s in a row at my old flower shop job, and when I was single, I would either stay home and scrapbook or do fun dates with my best friend or other friends whether they were part of a couple or not.  It’s also no secret among my friends that pink is one of my favourite colours (in high school, it was THE favourite colour), that I’m a sucker for seasonal, themed celebrations, and that I will take advantage of any excuse to indulge in extra cute stationery, scrapbook goodies, accessories (kitchen and fashion!), and themed desserts. 

I had one of the sweetest Valentine’s Days ever last year and I hope that I make memories this year that are just as heart-warming and special.  Over the next 7 days (and possibly even beyond) I’ll be posting a bunch of fun Valentine’s related posts in between some of the regular, non-Valentine’s posts, so here is Ate by Ate’s Bits & Bites: Valentine’s Edition from my heart to yours!

  • Valentine’s is exactly one week from today so for those of you who want to celebrate with some romantic plans and special meals over the upcoming weekend or on the actual day, head over to the DineTO’s Valentine’s webpage!  I found the link to the page through my Twitter about a week ago and I was floored.  They have gone through the task of compiling ALL the restaurants in and around the city that offer Valentine’s Day restaurant menus into ONE site!  It’s so convenient because you get to browse through a bunch of different menus from restaurants all over the city.  Some of the menus are so adorable.  Biagio Ristorante is offering heart-shaped ravioli while Cafe California has an entire love and romance themed menu complete with cute names for all their courses!  Some menus are downloadable through PDF, some can simply be viewed in a separate pop-up window, and others can only be obtained by giving the restaurant a ring.

 *****

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Sweetheart Sushi From The Sushi Shop & A Beautiful Valentine’s Memory

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Given the positive response, I take it you all loved looking at the Valentine’s sweets I posted yesterday!  I had just as much fun eating them and part of me wanted to gobble up as many Valentine’s treats as possible because everything is so sweetly decorated and tasty.  Today I’m sharing photos of my special Valentine’s sushi.  YES!  Valentine’s sushi!  I don’t think a dish could be any more perfect for me!  My boyfriend and I had plans to go to my favourite sushi place, The Sushi Shop, on Monday for a light sushi lunch and oh my goodness, I was over the moon when I walked in and saw the special promo poster for the “Sweetheart” maki!  I’m talking excited, heart fluttery, bug-eyed happiness.  It was just so perfect: maki rolls constructed to look like 2 halves of a whole heart.  Genius! ❤ 

They were incredibly delicious.  The sweetheart rolls were big and plump with a mish mash of spicy salmon woven into a smooth tempura crunch mixture with plenty of red fish roe.  The texture was fabulous because the smoothness of the salmon meshed with the crunchiness of the tempura crumbles and fish roe into spicy, flavourful mouthfuls of happiness.  It’s a wonderful, thought out combination that I really love and I think the way the salmon and tempura is mixed and the spiciness is what makes these rolls a hit.  As one of the sushi chefs said, “Kind of like love…you get a bit of everything!”  So true and so clever; the rolls had a little bit of everything rolled into one.  You have that fiery spiciness (passion), the crunch (stuff you have to work at), and the aesthetic sweetness of romance and love. 

My sweetie ordered the Boston Sumomaki rolls and an order of chicken spring maki and everything was so vibrant and colourful and fresh!  The Boston Sumomaki rolls remind me of a freshwater fish market with its large chunks of crab meat and shrimp with lettuce, matchstick cucumbers, light mayo, and plenty of red fish roe.  The spring maki are kind of like mini wraps with different types of meat, fish, and vegetables wrapped in rice paper.  The chicken spring maki that my boyfriend ordered has a mixture of lettuce, cucumber, chicken breast, red bell pepper, rice, and sesame. 

As for myself, to go with my sweetheart rolls, I ordered one of my favourites: the Akanasu, rolls of sundried tomato and cream cheese.  ABSOLUTE YUM.  Cream cheese is in my top 10 list of foodie things that make my heart go boom-boom, and combine that sushi and you have yourself a very happy Deb!  The cream cheese is plentiful and it’s deliciously creamy and tangy, and the sundried tomato has a hint of heat to it with that great taste of cured saltiness.  The flavour is VERY punchy and the cream cheese mellows out the strong sundried tomato flavour.  Forget bagels and cream cheese; cream cheese and sushi is where it’s at!

I want to switch things up a little right now and tell you all a story about why this past Valentine’s was so special and heart-warming for me.  I absolutely loved the food and goodies, but there’s more.  My boyfriend and I visit our favourite garden in the city several times a year.  It’s an indoor conservatory garden called Allan Gardens, and it’s so beautiful and breathtaking.  We go several times a year because the flowers and plants change seasonally and my boyfriend and I love taking pictures.  We go snap happy!  One of the things we love is taking photos of different gardens and parks around the city (as well as artistic graffiti) and Allan Gardens holds an extra place in our heart because it’s where Richard took me on our first date.  Aww.

We hadn’t been to Allan Gardens during the month of Febrary before, so I thought it’d be wonderful to go on Valentine’s Day.  Beautiful flowers, sprinkling water fountains, and quiet time with the boy?  Doesn’t get any sweeter than that.  The conservatory is split into 4 different areas, each with different plants and flowers and as I walked into the section with the ever-changing seasonal petals, I did what I always do: gasp and squeal at how beautiful everything was.  I was greeted with tulips, snapdragons, Easter lilies, and fragrant hyacinths and I skipped along identifying all the flowers I knew and learned about from all those years working in a flower shop, and I was just delighted.

As we were clicking away with our cameras and admiring all the prettiness, we saw an elderly couple and asked if they could help us take a picture.  The husband took our photo and the husband and wife, Bill and Mary, began talking to us about photography and flowers and gardens, and we stood there talking with them, sharing photos and sharing stories.  Mary smiled at us, looking at Richard and I knowingly, like she somehow knew just by looking at us, how much we loved each other.  It was Valentine’s and we were all there enjoying everything beautiful life had to offer, quietly, peacefully. 

Bill then took out a small photo album from his coat and showed us photos he had taken this past Christmas at Allan Gardens and I “awwed” at the sweet photos, lamenting that I had missed going this past year.  I had gone during Christmas 2 years ago, but not the past holiday and there were new and different things I had missed.  He then did the sweetest thing.  He took the photo out of the album sleeve, handed it to me and said, “here, this is for you”. 

I get teary-eyed just thinking about it because it was such a sweet gesture.  My heart felt so full and it still does.  All I could think was, “they get it”.  They understood.  They understood, within minutes of speaking to me, how important pictures were and are to me in my life, how much I loved documenting memories.  As we went on our way, Mary touched my hand and wished me, “happy valentine’s day”.  Strangers come in and out of your life at the drop of a hat.  But Bill and Mary came into mine as sweet and wonderful people, and this memory will stay with me forever.

*****

The Sushi Shop is located at the intersection of Yonge and Carlton St. (3 Carlton St.), with 2 other take-out locations serving the downtown core, one being in the GO train station concourse and the other near Maple Leaf Square at 25 York St (closed Saturday and Sunday).  According to Google map, there is also a location on Bloor St. E at 175 Bloor St.E (Saturday and Sunday closed as well).  For more info on their menu, promos, and shop, check out their official website here.

Happy-all-things-pink-and-sweet-Day!

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Happy Valentine’s, everyone!  It’s really important to me to write and post in my blog every day, so I wrote this as a draft this morning because I was unsure if a morning Happy Valentine’s post would be necessary: “In case I don’t get a chance to write or post pictures tonight (either because I can’t organize my photos in time or because I’m too full and can’t get up, I just want to wish everyone a very sweet Valentine’s today.  Oh, and I want shortbread cookies like nobody’s business.  Lots of cupcake love to everyone!”

Okay, so there’s no way I can whip up a cute scrapbook layout of today’s photos, much less get photos of the layout itself – that would be insane and I’m not THAT much of a superwoman!  So the scrapbook pages incorporating some of today’s photos will have to wait and as much as I hate making separate posts of food stuffs and the respective scrapbook pages, I HAVE to show you all a few pictures from today.  Today was SO much fun and I am so full.  Of food, yes, but also of love -from my boyfriend, my friends, family, and from sweet strangers who have become friends.  Today was a Valentine’s to remember in so many ways and I am so happy.  A much more thorough written post about the food and sweets tomorrow, but for now, here are a few teaser photos 😉  I hope everyone’s day was sweet and happy, as it should be every day of the year ❤

"The Sweetheart" - Two Halves of the Same Whole ❤

Special Valentine's packaging!

Best of both worlds - vanilla & chocolate!

The start to a wonderful meal ❤

Much more to come tomorrow.  Good night everyone! ❤