Snowflakes, A Winter House, and Veggie Orange Chicken – Scrapbooking a Winter Menu at King’s Cafe

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It’s been one crazy, topsy-turvy winter this season, but one thing is for certain: we can’t resist that silent, magical feeling we feel when we watch snowflakes gently fall from the sky and the breathtaking, picturesque scenes of pure white snow on pine trees and rooftops.  We may not enjoy shovelling, and we may mumble and grumble about winter under our five layers of clothing, but we all know that feeling of serenity that comes along with the winter season.

This is why I’ve enjoyed scrapbooking winter and holiday layouts so much over the past few months.  I didn’t think I’d love it this much because in reality, I’m not much of a snow bunny, but when I put scissors to paper and stickers to cardstock, winter is one of the most beautiful and versatile themes to scrapbook.  I love using winter themed stickers and embellishments (snowflakes!  mittens!  snowmen!  hot chocolate!) and I love how I can simaltaneously play up the cool, icy colours of winter (whites, grays, and blues) and bright spring ones, such as greens and pinks, all at once.  And scrapbooking winter comfort food is so much fun because you get to focus on all the things that make you feel warm and cozy.  The hot chocolate one I made for The Hot Chocolate Series is one of my favourite layouts to date because I put so much creative energy into piecing together a colour scheme and building a winter story out of it.

You’re probably wondering why some of the photos on the scrapbook layout look so familiar, especially the one of me (hint: the photo is from a page on my main toolbar), and that’s because those photos were featured in December 2010 (yes, 2010!) during my first month of blogging in my first King’s Cafe post.  It’s taken a little over a year for me to get around to, but I finally made a scrapbook layout for it!  Let it be known that there is no rhyme or reason to the order and sequence of scrapbook layouts that I create and post here.  Sometimes I’ll create and post things a little more strategically, but really, it’s about the amount of time I have to devote to a particular layout, idea, or set of photos and this set has been waiting in the wings for months!

This layout was so much fun to make.  The layout was entirely devoted to and inspired by King’s Cafe’s seasonal winter menu.  King’s Cafe has a winter menu that they put out every year for the season and there are special menu items featured in it that are not available during the rest of the year.  For example, to my knowledge, the meal I had (the orange veggie chicken with asparagus, fruit, and green salad) is exclusive to the winter menu, along with the amazing lemongrass fried rice and many other dishes.  Scrapbooking these photos made me realize just how much more I wanted another meal at King’s Cafe – I’ve been craving their delicious food for months!

Look at the adorable winter house!

I wanted to use the bright colours from my meal and the colours I was wearing that day to guide the colour palette, and the adorable winter house pictured in the winter menu as a focal point.  I knew right off the bat that I wanted to use gray as a base and bright colours to complement the melancholy, wintry shade.  The main colour palette was a mix of gray, white, bubble gum pink, and bright sky blue with pops of green.  I used the orange from the food photos and a bit of brown to warm everything up.  I was so excited to make my own little King’s Cafe winter house out of paper and cardstock and I think it turned out pretty darn cute!  The most fun I had was actually making the windows.  The bright blue jumps off the page, I got to use my old-school brown metallic gel-pen, and windows are just fun.  They were always my favourite Lego pieces to play with!

You all know how much I adore seasonal menus (especially fall and winter ones), so we’ll see if I can around to scrapbooking more winter meals (and maybe a Hot Chocolate layout, Part II!) before the weather gets really balmy and spring is here!

*****

Scrapbooking materials used: gray, white, bubble gum pink, emerald green, powder blue, beige, chocolate brown, and cappuccino cardstock (Recollections); bright sky blue construction paper; Green Pinstripe patterned paper (Recollections Basics); holiday patterned paper (Me & My Big Ideas holiday paper mat pad); holiday striped cardstock (DCWV holiday cardstock mat pad); cream and gold foil “circus” alphabet stickers (Recollections); Christmas ornament adhesive embellishments (Recollections); “Winter” adhestive embellishment (K&Company); holographic snowflakes; scalloped edge decorative scissors (Provo Craft); deckle edge decorative scissors; circle paper punch (Marvy Uchida).

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Getting Warm and Cozy at the Indoor Farmers’ Markets – The Eglinton Market at North Toronto Community Centre

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I love visiting different community centres.  Growing up, I spent a lot of time at my local community centre, and bouncing between different ones around the city to ice skate and swim with my dad.  I spent 3 years swimming like a fishy full-time, winter after winter strapping on ice skates that were way too big for me because my dad bought me skates he thought I would “grow into” (which I obviously didn’t), and almost all my life popping in and out of community centre libraries with stacks of books I would stick my nose in for weeks on end. 

Community centres are so important not only in providing neighbourhoods with lifestyle, sports, and exercise programs, but they’re also vital in creating and maintaining our social relationships.  You meet people, you make friends, you get to know your own neighbourhood better, and you learn about events going on in the city you otherwise wouldn’t have known about.  At the very least, a community centre can function as a physical and mental refuge for some, a home away from home for parts of the day.

The Eglinton Farmers’ Market (in conjunction with Appletree Markets) moved indoors this past November, setting up camp on the main floor of the North Toronto Memorial Community Centre every other week from 3pm-7pm.  I finally got the chance to see the market in its indoor form since its winter move and I was really excited to see what January would bring.  Even though I think I arrived at the market before every single vendor was able to set up, I was still able to snap some photos and I even took away some fabulous new foodie reading material for myself! 

The market was in full-out winter mode, with barrels of cabbage, potatoes, leeks, onions, apples, pears, brussel sprouts, and beans ready for the picking.  I was so amused by the brussel sprouts – they looked like jolly green giant beanstalks with little green nubbies on them!  In its natural form, there they were with brussel sprouts literally still on the stalk!  Brussel sprouts have become one of my family’s favourite vegetables over the past two years and that’s because we don’t do the brussel sprout no-no: we don’t steam them!  For years, my mum hated brussel sprouts because she had an awful dining experience where the cooking method used didn’t do them justice and they ended up being reduced to mush.  Roasting (or in our case, a quick boil) does the trick and sprinkle some olive oil, garlic, sea salt, or cracked black pepper and you have yourself a tasty meal.

The winter markets are all about warmth and comfort and there was plenty of that at the little market.  There were homemade jars of soup, baskets with mounds of Italian beans perfect for making salads and warm soups (it was the first time I had ever seen Italian borlotti beans!), and plenty of fair trade coffee from Chocosol!  I picked up the most recent issue of Edible Toronto and The Golden Horseshoe from Chocosol where they were featured on the cover and in the magazine as the featured cover story, and the most recent issue of Post City magazine: North Toronto from the community centre.

I’m sad that the market is every other week as opposed to every single week, but I feel lucky enough that I have markets to go to and great community centres to visit and explore.  The winter is still young and I’m crossing my fingers I’ll finally be able to visit the market at Wychwood Barns and the 99 MRKT when it comes back later on this month!  No matter what, I’m making it a priority to visit whichever ones I can so I can get the goods on what’s good this winter at the market. 

*****

The Eglinton Appletree Markets are held indoors during the winter season at North Toronto Memorial Community Centre at 200 Eglinton Ave. West from 3pm-7pm.  From November 10th to May, the market is held indoors in the community centre every other Thursday from 3pm-7pm.  Check out the Appletree Market website here for specific dates and for more information.

For the Love of Hot Cocoa, Snowflakes, and Christmas Scrapbooking – The Wintry Hot Chocolate Series Layout

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I’m so excited to be posting this layout I’m almost jumping out of my skin!  I’ve been looking forward to scrapbooking Christmas and winter photos and layouts for ages and now that there’s actually some snow on the ground, my holiday scrapbooking mood has sky-rocketed straight through the roof!  This month has been a whirlwind with plans not panning out, my uncharacteristic unpreparedness, and Christmas coming and going faster than I had anticipated, so I really didn’t get into a scrapbooking groove until after Christmas.  I was chewing on ideas for over a month, but for whatever reason, part of me just wasn’t ready to dig into the paper and stickers.  I wanted to lose myself in it and enjoy every minute, not be distracted and moody over it. 

Even though I feel like I let precious time pass me by, I’m so much happier I scrapbooked when I did because it was SO MUCH FUN!  This is my Christmas-holiday-winter hot chocolate layout with photos of the hot chocolate I’ve featured in the Hot Chocolate Series: the nutella hot chocolate from Le Gourmand, the peppermint hot chocolate from Le Merceria, and the rich hot chocolate with blow-torched marshmallow from Bobbette & Belle.  I’ve been wanting to use a red, green, blue, and white colour scheme for some time now so I went to town with the ribbon and cardstock and paper and ended up with this!

There have been times where I’ve scrapbooked every day for a month or more and there have been other times where I’ve gone weeks without even touching my go-to scrapbook tin.  Every time I scrapbook though, it feels like no time has passed and I’m happiest when I get to surround myself with photos and memories and all my art supplies.  Out of all the themes I enjoy scrapbooking (birthdays, Valentine’s, art, and friendship among others), Christmas and winter are my absolute favourites. 

A new year means a time to reflect and a time to look forward and when I look back on my scrapbooking, I think back to when I started 8×8 scrapbooking full force over 3 years ago (prior to that I was actually doing 8.5 x 11!) and I’m reminded of the very first 8×8 scrapbook album I made which was a Christmas and winter one.  I’m reminded of how excited I was to find such a pretty album at the store (a gorgeous chocolate brown suede album with a magnetic flap that had the word “Memories” stitched across it), all the fun I had making those 20 pages, filling those plastic sleeves and making the album fat, and all the Christmas memories I got to look back on.  It was an amazing month of scrapbooking and it made me feel so free and so alive.  I’m hoping that 2012 will bring just as much happiness and inspiration. 

*****

Scrapbooking materials used: Periwinkle, powder blue, Christmas red, grass green, emerald green, and white cardstock (Recollections); Christmas patterned paper (Me & My Big Ideas Christmas mat paper pad); hot chocolate, cocoa, and peppermint adhesive embellishments (Jolee’s Boutique); blue ribbon with green polka dots; green satin ribbon; “Lollipop” alphabet stickers (Autumn Leaves, Creativity Inc.); brown alphabet stickers (K&Company); black alphabet stickers with white polka dots (atd); green foil leaves; duochrome and iridescent snowflakes; medium scallop circle paper punch (ek success); circle paper punch; corner rounder paper punch.

The Hot Chocolate Series – Peppermint Hot Chocolate and Christmas Magic Unleashed at La Merceria

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There may not be any snow on the ground just yet, but I am in full-out “I’m-so-happy-Christmas-is-coming-so-I’ll-just-pretend-like-it’s-winter-even-though-it’s-not” mode!  Everyone has a favourite holiday or occasion and mine is Christmas.  Some might think it’s crazy to get all up in arms about it so soon, but time goes by so quickly that I really cherish the time I get to enjoy all the Christmas window displays, music, seasonal sweets and treats, and decorations.  I feel like I wouldn’t get enough out of it if things were only around for two weeks or so. 

I look forward to the holidays over a month before actual Christmas day and I use the time to plan out my get-togethers, my gift-shopping trips, my crafting time, and of course, my holiday menu!  And by menu, I mean all the yummy things I want to stuff my face with over the course of the entire month.  There are seasonal yummies you just don’t get to enjoy at any other point in the year and I’ve made it my mission to hunt down some of the best hot chocolates this holiday season and winter.  I’m here now with round two of The Hot Chocolate series!

I was so excited when I found nutella hot chocolate at Le Gourmand and soon after a little birdie told me about a bunch of other special hot chocolates being served around the city, which quickly went on my “must-try lickety goodness” list.  The special peppermint hot chocolate at La Merceria was a total unexpected, delightful surprise though and my own giddiness over it took me by surprise.  I had no idea La Merceria had peppermint hot chocolate (or any hot chocolate for that matter) and my impromptu visit to them was completely random and unplanned.  It was a bit chilly, I had some time in the morning before my day started at Le Dolci, and I wanted to sit back and be alone with my thoughts with a drink and a nibble of some sort. 

My heart sped up as I saw Christmas decorations in their front window display and my Christmas-loving heart did happy cartwheels when I walked inside and saw the cafe decked out to the nines in Christmas accessories!  I quickly snatched one of the comfy, pillowy seats and looked up at the drinks menu.  My last two visits were made warm and cozy with tea, but this time I wanted something different.  My eyes roamed over the list of drinks and that’s when I saw it.  “Pep-per-mint hot chocolate….oh my god, peppermint hot chocolate!”

And after my mental exclaimation of joy, I realized what had just happened.  I had gotten excited over something peppermint.  Well, that was strange indeed.  I have never liked mint or peppermint, ever.  I have gone through life without the enjoyment of mint Aero chocolate bars, mini chocolate chip ice cream, and mint and peppermint everything.  Then somehow, things started changing.

A few Christmases ago, I picked up a box of white and dark chocolate bark with crushed peppermint candy cane on it just because and thoroughly enjoyed the entire box all to myself.  Last Christmas I took a whiff of Bath & Body Works’ mint chocolate scented candle – and loved it.  One of my favourite cupcakes at Short & Sweet has been the Mint Everest mint chocolate Oreo.  And then this past summer I relished in the fresh, citrus creaminess of one of Jen @ Apiecalypse Now‘s orange peppermint patties.  Even though I wasn’t madly in love with mint and peppermint, times definitely were a changin’, which would explain my uncharacteristic jubilance over something peppermint.

I looked at the menu item and knew I absolutely had to have it.  And I did.  And it was absolutely delicious and delightful and a hot chocolate ever person needs to slurp and savour.  The unique thing about the peppermint hot chocolate at La Merceria is that it’s actually made with tea!  Yes, tea!  I guess I wasn’t far from having tea after all!  In hindsight, it didn’t even dawn on me that I was drinking hot chocolate made from peppermint tea until I drank about half the cup and realized their was something bobbing up and down inside.  I poked at it and saw that it was a tea bag and thought it was adorable how they had made it the way they did.  The hot chocolate is made with peppemint tea, dark swiss chocolate, and steamed milk with a bit of foam and powdered chocolate on top. 

The chocolate and peppermint flavours were delicious together.  The dark chocolate flavour was velvety smooth with that hint of subtle naturalness bitterness from the dark chocolate.  I loved that subtly bitter, rich chocolate flavour and both the peppermint and dark chocolate managed to keep their own distinctive flavours separate and distinguishable in the hot chocolate drink while still making it taste sweet and delectable. 

They come in two sizes ($3 for small, $3.50 for large) and the hot chocolate comes with a beautiful and adorable cinnamon stick!  I was over the moon about this.  I dunked and twirled my cinnamon stick in my hot chocolate and was totally amoured.  Unfortunately for me, I forgot my hot chocolate cup with my beloved cinnamon stick in it at the studio after I left for the day and couldn’t save it before it hit the can.  Which means I’ll just have to go back to La Merceria for another one some time.  Aw, shucks.

*****

La Merceria is located at 506 Adelaide Street West by the northwest corner of Adelaide and Portland Street, east of Bathurst.  La Merceria is located beside Sadie’s Diner and Juice Bar.  Visit their website and blog here for updates, info, promos, events, pictures, and contact information and visit their Facebook page here.

The Hot Chocolate Series – Sipping a Silky Smooth Nutella Hot Chocolate on a Chilly Day at Le Gourmand Cafe

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Our annual Santa Claus Parade graced us with cute and colourful floats this weekend, Christmas music is playing on the radio stations, and my mum has already harassed asked my brother and I for a list of things we’d like this Christmas (does two things really constitute a list?).  Christmas is just a little over a month away and each passing day feels more and more like a winter wonderland, sans the snow – for now.  There’s a cold nip in the air, I’m decked out in my oh-so-fashionable scarf and mitten ensemble, and instead of visions sugar plums dancing in my head, I have soup and hot chocolate partying in my tummy. 

The hot chocolate series is here!  Like I mentioned on my first Bits & Bites post, the hot chocolate series is one of two holiday and winter series I’m starting on the blog and after talking to my fellow Le Dolci icing sugar queen, Miya, today, I might squeeze in some peppermint posts in between too since I know some of you are huge fans!  I’m so excited to share this post with you all today because it involves NUTELLA!  Yes, nutella!  In hot chocolate form!  The chillier weather sounds a little more appealing now, doesn’t it?  Okay, maybe that’s a stretch, but at least us throngs of nutella fans have another nutella yummy to enjoy in the city!  I’ve made it my mission to track down the best nutella food and drink items in and around the city and I’m very pleased that this does double duty for both the hot chocolate series and the future “5 Best” nutella post I’m working on. 

Hot chocolate has really taken on life of its own, going in a gourmet drink direction with all the different culinary interpretations: white chocolate hot chocolate, Mexican hot chocolate, chili hot chocolate, the list goes on!  And let’s not forget the childhood favourite, hot chocolate with marshmallows.  All it took was a chalkboard sign sitting on the sidewalk outside a cafe to entice me get the hot chocolate series in motion, a sign that I saw while riding the streetcar no less!  I saw the words “hot chocolate” as I passed by on the streetcar, along with a list underneath.  More than one kind?!  SOLD.  This visit to Le Gourmand, located by Spadina and Richmond, has been a long time coming.  Much like Fusaro’s Kitchen, I’ve passed by Le Gourmand countless times and just never went in.  Seeing that chalkboard sign was definitely the sign that I needed to finally see what yummy surprises this cafe had inside, and c’mon, the name of the cafe is me in a nutshell!  No, not glutton!  Gourmand as in a person who takes great pleasure in food and eating.  And that would be me!

Le Gourmand is a grocery cafe (similar to Fusaro’s in cafe layout and concept) that sells packaged truffles, cookies, chocolates, pastas, canned beans and tomatoes, jams and preserves, olives, olive oils, and balsamics among other pantry staples and sweets.  They serve a full breakfast, weekend brunch, and lunch menu chock full of sandwiches, salads, egg breakfasts, breakfast burritos, and more.  I came here for the first time for the hot chocolate, but I’m telling you, I’m coming back for breakfast and lunch one of these days because their menu of sandwiches and salads made my mouth water and I’m a sucker for breakfast/brunch food.

They have a full-length display of flaky croissants, pastries, and breakfast croissant sandwiches (including bacon, egg, and cheddar) that you can order by the cash while everything else is made to order.  Their coffee menu includes espressos, macchiatos, americanos, cafe lattes, cappuccinos, cafe mochas, chai lattes, and regular roast coffee.  I’m not a coffee drinker, so aside from the occasional latte, I always go for the teas instead and Le Gourmand has these yummy sounding iced drinks that I can’t wait to try!  I saw a raspberry-lemongrass ice tea and a mojito peppermint ice tea, both of which are on my mental “to-try” list.

As much as I would loooove to get into the breakfast and lunch menu, I’m going to save the food talk for next time and just entice you all with the drinks and nutella hot chocolate.  The cafe serves 5, count ’em, FIVE different types of hot chocolate!  They have a Belgian white hot chocolate, a French 32% caramel chocolate, a Dominican 64% bittersweet chocolate, an African 85% Grand  Cru, and finally, the Italian nutella hot chocolate.  I didn’t get the prices for a large, but small hot chocolates (which are really more like mediums, in my opinions) are $2.99, tax inclusive.

The photos honestly don’t do the hot chocolate justice.  The nutella hot chocolate is DELICIOUS.  Now I know what some of you must be thinking.  You’re thinking, “if you enjoy nutella, then it’s a no-brainer that you would enjoy this hot chocolate!”  Not necessarily.  Let it be known that some places use the name and branding of nutella to sell particular products that are not actually made with nutella.  I’m not kidding.  Some will use it as a guise to make you think you’re eating nutella when in reality it’s just chocolate.  Us foodies are not dumb and it’s insulting and disheartening that some would even think to do such a thing.  Those of us who love nutella know nutella when we taste and smell it.  And this hot chocolate is nutella through and through.  

It’s silky smooth, light and airy, and just slightly frothy on top.  It’s not a heavy hot chocolate in the sense that it’ll make you feel gross afterward, but when you drink it, it feels like you’re drinking something so decadent.  The rich cocoa flavour is what hits you first when you drink it and the very distinctive aroma and taste of the hazelnut that makes nutella what it is sits on your tastebuds after and the hot chocolate is so good it makes you want to go back for more.  Which is fine because we have the whole winter ahead of us to enjoy it. 

*****

Le Gourmand is located at 438 Richmond Street West at Spadina Ave.