The Final Sweet Morsels of Frosting and Cake Crumbs – Vegan Cupcakes at the Vegetarian Food Fair! Part III

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Have you ever dreamed of walking through a magical cupcake land with tubs of frosting floating around and cupcakes dancing around like heavenly visions of sugar plums?  No?  Okay, well I guess it’s just me then.  If you can believe it, those make-believe cupcake land dreams of mine came true on Saturday at the Vegetarian Food Fair at Harbourfront – sans the fairy wings and all though!  Welcome to the 3rd part of the Vegetarian Food Fair series of 2011, vegan cupcake-style!  Toronto may not be the vegetarian and vegan capital of the world, but I’m really fortunate to live around a city with options and with so many talented, enthusiastic business-owners and entrepreneurs who are constantly keeping things fresh, exciting, and innovative with their vegan creations.

I remember the first time I ate a vegan cupcake: October 2010 at the cafe that used to be in the Blue Banana gift shop in Kensington Market.  What can I say?  My memory is good when it comes to things with frosting!  The cupcakes from Blue Banana were actually ones from Dundas St. West’s very own OMG Baked Goodness and I remember how chocolatey and fudgy they were and how much I loved them.  The frosting was one of the most amazing things that had ever danced on my tastebuds and from that day on, I knew vegan sweets were in a league of their own.   

After going through all my photos from the fair Saturday night, I knew right off the bat that two posts were not going to be enough to showcase all the yumminess, and I knew that there was no chance of me squishing all my cupcake photos into my vegan desserts and sweets Part II post.  So here we are with an entire post dedicated to the vegan cupcakes at the food fest.  I cannot believe how many delicious, beautiful vegan cupcakes were here; I was going bat-apeing crazy!  The first thought that popped into my head as soon as I walked through the first aisle of booths was, “Are you kidding me?!  I can’t eat all this, my tummy’s not big enough!  This is so unfair!”  Cue foot stomping.  And the realization that I was only going to be able to eat one, at best.  Hence the ridiculous amount of photos; I needed some way of ingesting the awesomeness that lay before me.

We’re talking about rows and rows of s’mores cupcakes, mint chocolate, lavender chocolate (Sweets From the Earth), butterscotch pecan (Bloomers Bakery), pumpkin spice, red velvet, cookies and cream, chocolate coffee buttercream with mini donut (I KNOW.  Oh my god to the max), French toast (double oh my god) from Bunner’s Bake Shop, and many others, all from local businesses and bakeries.  I was wading through a cupcake dreamworld, a beautiful world I really didn’t want to leave!  Even though I knew there were great vegan bakeries in the city, I was introduced to businesses I didn’t even know existed.  I had no idea so many of them did cupcakes in that capacity, and it makes me so excited to know there are new flavours waiting for me to try out and new businesses for me to get to know.  The Vegetarian Food Fair was just phenomenal and I’m super happy I have these photos and great memories to look back on.  Because I’m going to need these to tide me over until next year 😉

*****

The Toronto Vegetarian Association (TVA) is located at 17 Baldwin St., 2nd floor (near the corner of Baldwin St. and McCaul St., south of Cecil St.).  To learn more about TVA’s mandate, events, news, and more, click here.  The Harbourfront Centre is located at 235 Queens Quay West.  For more info on their festivals, events, workshops, gallery shows, and more, click here.

Feel the Sugar Rush – Amazing Vegan Desserts and Sweets at Toronto’s Vegetarian Food Fair! Part II

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I don’t think I’ve ever been surrounded by so many delicious desserts and sweets in my life!  Cookies, squares, cakes, brownies, pies, donuts, tarts, sticky buns, muffins, and gorgeous frosted cupcakes all made their sweet appearances at the Vegetarian Food Fair at the Harbourfront Centre over the weekend.  So many different vegan bakeries, cupcakeries, catering businesses, and retailers in and around Toronto and Ontario took part in one of the most anticipated food events of the year and none of them missed a beat in providing all of us with fresh, amazing, and scrumptious goodies to satisfy that sweet tooth.  Many of the businesses are committed to providing fresh baked goods and desserts that are both cruelty-free and eco-friendly in their creation process and in their consumption (bring on the tupperware!), with an emphasis on accomodating different diets, intolerances, and allergies.  Think kosher, dairy-free, soy-free, gluten-free, and nut-free products made with love 😀

One of the things that I really appreciate about vegan businesses is how they make their ingredient lists publicly available, whether it’s through their websites, their packaging labels, or on their display cases, and if they don’t have these lists written down or typed out, they’re happy in answering any questions you have about the product and what goes into it.  I didn’t grow up eating vegan sweets, so I’ve been learning about vegan alternatives and substitutes over the past few years and have learned so much about what bakers and chefs use to make their products dairy-free, gluten-free, and all the rest.  These ingredients include everything from coconut oil and cream to sunflower oil, grapeseed oil, cocoa butter, flax seed, cane juice and raw cane sugar, arrowroot flour, agave nectar, and so many others.

I had so much fun going from booth to booth, purusing (and drooling over) all the sweet confections at the fair yesterday and it pained me to only choose one or two things to enjoy because I wanted everything!  There was frosted carrot, chocolate, and gingerbread cake, a mountain of cupcakes, butterscotch donuts, nanaimo bars, cookie cream sandwiches, fruit crisps, peppermint patties, pies, marshmallows, marshmallow pie, fruit, oat, and chocolate cookies, and sticky buns! 

I met some wonderful new people and reunited with some of my favourite bakeries and businesses in the city including Ashley and Kevin’s Bunner’s Bake Shop, Sweets From the Earth, Jen’s Apiecalypse Now vegan bakery, Kind Food in Burlington, Bloomers Bakery, and LPK’s Culinary Groove.  I found out about Bunner’s Bake Shop and Kind Food just before this year’s Veggielicious, the first time I drooled over LPK’s desserts was at the Bay-Adelaide farmers’ market (I know, I haven’t blogged about this market yet, foreshame!), and I met Apiecalype Now’s Jen via Twitter and visited her for the first time at the UofT farmers’ market at the St. George campus this past summer.  I feel really lucky to have been introduced to a lot of these businesses and to the wonderful people who run them; there is so much love, sincerity, and homegrown talent here.

I noshed on cookie samples from Kind Food, took a bite of my boyfriend’s chocolate chip creamie sandwich from Bunner’s, stuffed my face with a cupcake from Bunner’s, and grabbed an orange peppermint patty from Jen’s Apiecalypse Now (or as Jen’s label said, “orange-y pattie thing”) to enjoy for later.  I KNOW.  You’d think I would have drowned myself in all these desserts, but don’t forget, I was planning on going to Short & Sweet Cupcakes‘ cupcake party afterward so I needed to pace myself!  It was a foodie dream come true though and I couldn’t have asked for more!  Tomorrow’s final Part III post is dedicated to all the amazing vegan cupcakes at the fair (yes, there were that many!).  The sugar rush ain’t over just yet 😉

*****

The Toronto Vegetarian Association (TVA) is located at 17 Baldwin St., 2nd floor (near the corner of Baldwin St. and McCaul St., south of Cecil St.).  To learn more about TVA’s mandate, events, news, and more, click here.  The Harbourfront Centre is located at 235 Queens Quay West.  For more info on their festivals, events, workshops, gallery shows, and more, click here.

Eating Your Weight in Vegetarian & Vegan Goodness – The Vegetarian Food Fair at Harbourfront Centre! Part I

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Whether you circled, ‘x’ed, or highlighted the days on your calendar, this weekend is the weekend that vegetarians, vegans, and foodies have been looking forward to for months in advance: the Toronto Vegetarian Food Fair at Harbourfront Centre presented by the Toronto Vegetarian Association!  The food fair runs the entire weekend (festivities commenced yesterday) and will continue on through tomorrow until 7pm in the evening.  After all these years of missing out and not being able to go, I finally made it this time and I am SO happy I did! 

Like I posted on my Facebook and Twitter, I wish the food fair took place EVERY WEEK (or, you know, day) and I wish I could just live at the veggie food fair because it was that fabulous and fun.  The big area of faux grass at Harbourfront Centre is quite nice to sit on, lay on, and dance around on, so parking a sleeping bag here really wouldn’t be an issue.  The cool breeze coming in from the lake would keep me comfortable and there’s plenty of scenery and entertainment around the vicinity to keep me occupied while I’m not eating.  I knew I would enjoy the fest, I just didn’t know I would enjoy it THIS much.

So much, in fact, that I took 120 photos.  I don’t know whether to be embarrassed or amused; 120!  I’m nothing if not overzealous.  After deleting some of the oopsie shots, I still have a good 110 to work with and I have no idea how I’m going to fit everything into a few posts!  On the way home, I quickly decided that I would split the posts up into two parts: one for savoury food and the other for sweets.  After going through all the photos, I’m not even sure I could do that.  You all wouldn’t mind two veggie dessert posts, right? 😉  Anyway, I’m going to start with the savoury foods and work my way to the sweet stuff in the next few posts! 

Knowing how crazy it would be later on in the afternoon, I got up at the crack of dawn, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (or so I’d like to think.  I actually stumbled to smack my alarm clock shut) and got ready for a jam-packed, foodie day.  The food fair was slated to start at 12 noon, so I made my way down to Harbourfront Centre and arrived at 11:30am with plenty of time to spare.  If I was going to get photos (and avoid massive line-ups later), I needed to snap them early before I started getting flailing arms and cut-off heads in all my shots!  It was such a gorgeous day out and the atmosphere was bubbly with excitement and enjoyment as people took their seats at picnic tables and on the faux grass area to listen to live music on the main stage, as people grabbed free samples of food before food demos, and as people scooted from booth to booth with lots of delicious food in their hands.

I was picking up flyers, business cards, and promo materials left and right, trying samples, and scoping out a ton of options before settling down with a delicious lunch.  There was SO MUCH to see and try.  There were booths and booths of vegan desserts up the wazoo by many well-known and well-loved bakeries in and around the city selling everything from cookies, cupcakes, cream sandwiches, donuts, squares, pastries, fruit crisps, brownies, and more.  There was vegetarian and vegan Indian, Chinese, and Mexican food, fresh fruit and fruit smoothes, veggie barbeque, veggie turkey and Thanksgiving-esque meals, and plenty of retailers with snacks, take-home pantry and freezer foods, and handmade goods. 

I was trying roasted soybeans from The Bean Ladies and I fell in love with the Gotta Be Garlic ones and the Cracked Pepper and Lime ones.  Kind Food gave me cookie samples, Tofu Shirataki by House Foods  handed me sesame ginger tofu stir-fry, and I licked my sample of cinnamon raisin swirl peanut butter clean from Peanut Butter and Co.’s booth.  I walked away with a jar of The Bees Knee’s honey peanut butter and a tote bag so stinkin’ cute it makes me squeal.  What an amazing foodie marketplace it was today!  This fair didn’t just showcase Toronto’s vegetarian and vegan culture, but also great eats from Oakville, Burlington, Ottawa, and even New York!

And for lunch?  I stepped on up to the World Cafe.  Harbourfront Centre hosts a World Cafe every weekend during the summer (May 21st to October 10th this year), with ethnic and international cuisine catered by restaurants and eateries around the city.  The World Cafe is kind of like a food pavillion and outdoor patio lakeside deck at Harbourfront Centre, housed in a square building with vendors on all sides and tables and chairs for everyone to sit down and enjoy their food.  The name of the game was vegetarian and vegan on all fronts, and some of Toronto’s lovely veggie eateries were doing the honours in World Cafe today: King’s Cafe, Udupi Palace, Green Earth Vegetarian Cuisine, Nzyme Living Foods Bistro & Juice Bar, Govinda’s (a vegetarian and vegan buffet), and El Cilantro Catering.  And to my delight, prices for food were incredibly reasonable!  There were some great sharing plate options for $10, and lots of meals for $4-$5 and appetizers for $1-$2.

I wish my tummy was a bottomless pit that had no threat of getting sick or fat because I wanted to eat everything!  I was mega happy with what I noshed on though: tostadas from El Cilantro!  Three crispy corn tostadas with refried beans, lettuce, crumbled feta, sour cream, and lots of juicy pico de gallo salsa!  And to take home in my little tupperware container were some soy nuggets from King’s Cafe.  I inhaled these on the subway after I reluctantly left the fest.  I told myself that I would save them for dinner later on.  Then I rationalized with myself and allowed myself one bite.  I took a bite and all hell broke loose as I scarfed the whole thing down.  They were so good and you can better I’ll get these the time time I go to King’s Cafe.  I could eat these for the rest of my life and die happy.

Parts II and III to follow in the coming days!  Prepare that sweet tooth of yours because it’s going to be jaw-dropping awesome.

*****

The Toronto Vegetarian Association (TVA) is located at 17 Baldwin St., 2nd floor (near the corner of Baldwin St. and McCaul St., south of Cecil St.).  To learn more about TVA’s mandate, events, news, and more, click here.  The Harbourfront Centre is located at 235 Queens Quay West.  For more info on their festivals, events, workshops, gallery shows, and more, click here.

An Italian Vegetarian Feast at Mela Cafe! Fluffy, Crunchy Quinoa Salad & Vegan Coconut Lime Cream Tarts

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Even though these photos were taken a few months ago, these photos tell the story of a meal that was very memorable and pretty special.  I stumbled upon Mela Cafe in Yorkville last September and after raving on and on about it to my mum and brother, I finally took them with me this past May and it was a vegetarian Italian feast to remember!  They met Roberto and a few of the other girls, and my friend and fellow Mela lover, Jennie.  It was such a great meal full of amazing food and great company and I’m so glad my mum and brother were finally able to see (and taste!) what I loved so much. 

Since it was my mum and brother’s first time here, I wanted a mix of new dishes and old-time favourite so we ordered four dishes to share among the three of us: the vegetarian lasagna with layers of broccoli, cabbage, basil, and ricotta, covered in piping hot tomato sauce; the crunchy eggplant and basil panini sandwich; the to-die for ravioli made with fresh ricotta and parsley, bathing in their signature tomato sauce; and a plate of bright and crunchy quinoa salad!  I find that coming here with one or two others makes eating reeeeally fun because often times there are multiple things I want to try (and I can guarantee you that you’d feel the same way after coming here) and sharing a few dishes means everyone gets to try some of everything.  To me, the ideal dining situation is for two people to order three dishes. 

Ever since I had Mela’s watercress spring salad with its crunchy green beans, chickpeas, and fruity olive oil dressing, I’ve become somewhat obsessed with the desire to eat each and every single salad Roberto dishes up each time I go.  I know it’s a business and I know new menu items keep customers coming back, but I’m still amazed at how many different vegetarian and vegan dishes Mela Cafe doles out every day.  They started baking and serving delicious vegan desserts on a regular basis earlier in the year (remember the amazing mini vegan banana cream pies?), and during my past few visits, I’ve noticed new dishes such as stuffed portobellos and giant stuffed bell peppers with brown rice and vegetables. 

Obviously I’m not there every day (part of me wishes I was), but every time I do pay Mela a visit, there are always several dishes that are completely new to me and I find myself feeling like I’m on a perpetual hamster wheel, attempting to keep up.  I don’t mind at all though because it means there will always going to be something new to look forward to along with reliable everyday favourites.

The salad for that day was the quinoa salad dressed in their delicious olive oil with fluffy quinoa, crunchy cabbage, juicy tomatoes, green beans, shredded kale, and lots of parsley!  The salad was so crunchy and juicy from the chunks of cabbage and tomatoes and I can’t sing enough praises about the olive oil.  You will never want to eat a salad any other way after eating a salad from here.  Roberto always incorporates lots of vegtables, grains, and proteins with different textures and colours, really showing the breadth of vegetarian and vegan cooking.  His salads are the perfect example of how they can function as a main dish and how salads don’t have to fall into that awful “lettuce and tomato” stereotype and rut.

A fresh batch of homemade vegan coconut lime cream tarts ($4) finished the meal off.  These tarts were out of this world.  Even though my best friend and I loooove their mini vegan banana cream pies to death, these coconut lime tarts were wonderful too.  The cake was so moist and zingy and the coconut cream was light and airy with a generous sprinkling of toasted coconut on top.  The tarts had this amazing lightness to them with subtle hints of ginger flavour.  After you eat these creamy tarts, your mouth feels cool and fresh all over and its unlike any coconut dessert I’ve ever had.  They’re not too sweet in the least but you get that decadence from the whipped coconut cream and soft cake.  Roberto’s lovely lady vegan baker is responsible for Mela’s sweet eats and on any given day, you’ll see either tarts, pies, muffins, and other individual desserts.

I am craving Mela’s ravioli like nobody’s business right now and I’m really hoping I can make my way over to Yorkville sometime this week to get my fix!  With my love for their salads and my desire to try so many other dishes of theirs, I can’t even promise myself that I won’t waver and change my mind when I’m there.  I think it’s time for another visit 😉

*****

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.

Scrapbooking materials used: to be added!

A Picnic in the Park: High Park, Cherry Blossoms, and Bunner’s Bake Shop

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As you can tell, I had major fun chomping on and fitting my chocolate and vanilla cupcake from Bunner’s Bake Shop in my mouth yesterday! 😀  I was hell bent on seeing the cherry blossoms at High Park this year and I was so happy when I knew the weather was going to cooperate this week.  Finally we were getting beautiful sunshine and warm comfortable temperatures for more than one day at a time!  

Although food photography and scrapbooking are my main passions, I am very much in love with taking photos of flowers and gardens, as well as graffiti art around the city.  I have a huuuuge photo album stuffed full of pictures from Allan Gardens, Edwards Gardens, High Park, the summer garden outside the perimeter of the CN Tower, the old waterfall and flower gardens inside the Sheraton Centre on Queen West, the Sculpture Garden on King St. East, and a host of others.  I learned so much when I worked at a flower shop for three years during my undergrad and the beauty of plants and flowers is just remarkable.

Before yesterday, I had never been to High Park to see the cherry blossoms.  A gift from Japan to the citizens of Toronto (specifically from the Japanese ambassador to Canada in 1959*), the Japanese Sakura trees bloom once a year for only about a 2-week window.  They normally bloom around late April, but because of the cold spring we had been having, they weren’t in full bloom until this past weekend.  I was on the ball this year and promised myself I would see them in all their glory.  I know some might think, “eh, if you miss them this time, you can always see them the year after”.  Although that’s true, I am not one to take things for granted.  If I can seize an opportunity, I will.  And I wanted to see the cherry blossoms this year and I wanted to take advantage of the beautiful weather and have a sweet little picnic with my boyfriend.  And stuff my face with a cupcake and creamie cookie sandwich from Bunner’s.  Consider this post a prelude to tomorrow’s post with descriptions and LOTS of scrumptious, mouth-watering photos of Bunner’s vegan chocolate chip creamie sandwiches and cupcakes 😉  Enjoy the photos and if you’re in the city, I hope you get the chance to see the cherry blossoms while they’re still in bloom ❤

*****

Bunner’s is located in The Junction at 3054 Dundas Street West, 3 blocks from the intersection of Keele and Dundas West.  Bunner’s is just west of High Park Ave.  They are open from Monday to Saturday from 10am-7pm, and 12pm-5pm on Sundays.  High Park can be accessed from Bunner’s Bake Shop via High Park Ave. by walking south to Bloor St. West.

*source: cbcnews|Canada: High Park cherry blossoms have special significance 

All photos taken by me.

Bake Sale Alert: The Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale is in Toronto This Weekend!

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The Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale has made its way to Toronto, and I was at Toronto Vegetarian Association headquarters this afternoon to check out and pick up some yummy goodies!  Founded in 2009, the Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale is a 1-week event (April 23rd – May 1st, 2011) that provides the public with a chance to try some delicious sweet treats, gain knowledge about vegan baking and cooking, and to support local charities,organizations, and causes.  Groups, retailers, and organizations from around the world participate in this event by baking vegan treats (many of which are also either organic, raw, gluten, nut, and soy-free, or all of the above) and using the proceeds from the sale to support and further the cause of their choice. 

I’m so happy I got the chance to partake in this event this year!  The Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale made its way to Toronto this past week at the TVA headquarters Wednesday evening, and will be making its way to Bloor and Bathurst at Panacea Eco Shop tomorrow from 1-4pm.  If you’re interested in getting involved, I encourage you to go!  There’s plenty of yummy eats to snatch up and it’s for a great cause.  Panacea’s proceeds are specifically going to the Toronto Cat Rescue and I know for a fact that MANY of you are animal-lovers and are passionate about helping out animal shelters and rescue organizations, so I think it’s a great opportunity to get involved in the local community 😀

I had a great time reading up on baking ingredients while I was there and I had a veeeerry fun time picking out baked yummies to bring back home with me!  There was plenty to choose from: maple pecan sticky blondies, oatmeal cookies, raw chocolate cake, and the items I ended up choosing.  I chose some mini blueberry buckwheat muffins (for my mom), a banana chocolate chip muffin (for my brother), some chocolate minty melty cookies, and some DELICIOUS chocolate oatmeal white chocolate sandwich cookies (quite the mouthwatering mouthful…both verbally and literally, mmm!).  It’s been so fun learning about vegan baking and ingredient substitutes for things like butter and eggs.  I’m excited to try out some vegan baking of my own sometime.  Meanwhile, I’m having just as much fun eating vegan sweet goodies!

What makes the experience rewarding for me is knowing what makes vegan baked goods VEGAN.  It’s not enough just to SAY something is vegan the same way it’s not enough to claim something is “organic”.  It’s important to educate myself when I can and conversely, I think it’s equally important to make this information accessible and available.  Here’s a list of some of the ingredients used in these desserts that make them vegan: maple syrup, ground flaxseed, grapeseed oil, lemon juice, mint extract, and olive oil.  I’m super happy I got to go to the bake sale today.  After a miserable week of chillier temperatures and rain, it was beautiful and warm and sunny today and there was no way in hell I was going to pass up this opportunity.  So here’s me reporting back with my goodies, and I hope those of you who are interested get to go to Panacea tomorrow!  Happy weekend everyone!

*****

The Toronto Vegetarian Association is located at 17 Baldwin St. on the 2nd floor (just west of McCaul St.), literally next to Vegetarian Haven.  Panacea Eco Shop is located at 588 Bloor St. West (on the north side), just west of Markham St.  The nearest major intersection is Bloor St. West and Bathurst St.  Click on the links in my blog post for more information on the Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale, TVA, and Panacea.