I’m taking the Veganuary challenge

veganuary

Instead of making a bunch of resolutions for the new year that I may or may not keep, I’ve decided to simplify things. From January 1 – January 31, 2015, I’m taking the vegan pledge and participating in Veganuary. For those 31 days, I won’t be consuming any animal products in my diet.

Here’s my motivation:

1. Curiosity: What’s it like to live for a month like a vegan? What will I eat? How will it make me feel? Will I become more conscious of what I’m putting in my body? Is it something I could sustain?

2. The environment:

  • saving water
  • protecting nature, wildlife and natural habitats
  • reducing pollution
  • saving energy

3. Nutrition and well-being: Plant-based diets are receiving increased coverage in health and wellness studies and I’m eager to see how my body reacts.

4. It’s a new challenge: As someone who loves trying new ingredients and being innovative in the kitchen, a month of veganism presents a wealth of exciting recipes to explore. I’m looking forward to discovering some new food blogs and cookbooks during this process!

5. To try some of the best veg-friendly eating establishments that Toronto has to offer, and blog about it.

I’ve only got six weeks left of omnivorism, so here goes! Feel free to post any tips.

 

 

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There are other options: say no to Taco Bell

An up-close view Wilbur's vegetarian taco offerings: mushroom and grilled avocado

Torontonians who complain that you have to go south of the border for good Mexican food need to look in their own backyard. A decade ago, the city’s Mexican restaurant scene was lacking but some truly innovative taco joints have popped up in recent years.

My current west-end favourites include The Mad Mexican (three tacos for $10) and Playa Cabana Cantina (more expensive, but their tequila-based cocktails are to die for). I have yet to eat at Grand Electric, but it’s high on my list of places to try.

Last night, I visited King West’s newest taco restaurant, Wilbur Mexicana. This casual sit-down or take-out-friendly establishment had a constant lineup with good reason. Opened just one week ago, Wilbur serves up burritos, fajitas, quesadillas and of course, tacos for $3.75 each and served with fresh tortilla chips.

Wanting to sample as much as possible, we ordered all seven tacos to share. Varieties included Beef Bulgogi, Grilled Avocado with Pineapple Salsa and Beer-battered Baja Fish. With a self-serve homemade salsa bar and dozens of jarred hot sauce to sample, Wilbur allows customers to adjust their own spice level from mild to medium to “slap my a** and call me Sally.” I gravitated to the milder end of the spice spectrum but may work up my courage to try the ghost pepper salsa one day.

At Wilbur, the ambiance is lively, the food is brimming with flavour and the cans of Tecate are ice-cold. My only comment is that the food could have been a little hotter (and we really could have used wet naps), but I’d definitely go back to taste some more menu items and explore the salsa bar a little further.

How spicy do you like it? The choice is yours.
How spicy do you like it? The choice is yours.

Food blogs: my top picks of 2014

Chewy Chocolate Chunk Cookies from Sally's Baking Addiction
Chewy Chocolate Chunk Cookies from Sally’s Baking Addiction

I know it’s not December yet, but with the temperature dropping and the days getting shorter, I can’t help thinking about the end of 2014. For some reason, the passage of another year always has me wanting to make lists: best trips, top restaurant meals, happiest memories. Because I now author a food blog, I’m thinking about my fondest memories in the kitchen. Here are my three favourite food blogs of the year that gave me some wonderful culinary memories:

1. Sally’s Baking Addiction: As a die-hard baker, this blog fills my heart with joy. For sweet, buttery, chocolate-filled delights from the oven, I look no further than this inspiring site! My top pick are her Chewy Chocolate Chunk Cookies.

2. Budget Bytes: My friend Gillian introduced me to this student-friendly blog stock with easy-to-make, inexpensive and tasty recipes. This blog can help you enjoy healthy and hearty food at home when you’re short on dough. My favourite recipe is her Chunky Lentil and Vegetable Soup, great for a simple weeknight dinner or school lunch.

3. Minimalist Baker: Incredible food photography and creativity go into the beautiful, vegan dishes that Dana Shultz whips up. Check out her site too for food blogging tips and even a food photography course! Her Sweet Potato Pie Oats make an insanely satisfying cold weather breakfast.

Neighbourhood spotlight: Parkdale

Near Queen and Sorauren Ave. in Parkdale
Near Queen and Sorauren Ave. in Parkdale

I have to keep reminding myself of how lucky I am to live in a place like Toronto. The city boasts some of North America’s best cafes, restaurants and bars, and is home to innovative and world-renowned chefs. What sets Toronto apart though, are the unique and vibrant neighbourhoods. There are so many living, breathing food communities within our metropolis that have much to offer gastronomers.

Since moving to Toronto’s west side, I’ve become especially fond of Parkdale. Not only is it easy to get to, for me it’s an area of emotional significance with a fascinating history. It’s also a great place if you have an empty stomach.

In the 1970s, my parents bought their first house together on Pearson Ave. in Parkdale. At the time, they thought they were buying into an area that was just about to turn into an up-and-coming area. The truth is, the neighbourhood is still in the midst of gentrification 40 years later.

What makes the area dynamic is that it’s home to people from so many different backgrounds. While traditionally a working-class area, the the community has experienced an influx of new families, young professionals, immigrants and artists. It’s an area where old architecture meets modern design and where a men’s rooming house is across the street from a shop selling $3 artisan donuts.

Through my explorations on foot in this lively neighbourhood, I’ve discovered a ton of cool eateries for any occasion. Here are some of my top choices:

1. Glory Hole Doughnuts: If you haven’t yet been to this famed doughnut shop, go this weekend. Or go right now. Flavours including Spiced Apple Pie, PB & J and Lemon Pistachio do not disappoint.

2. Parts & Labour: Go for Sunday brunch with a friend and split the pancakes and the spicy tofu bowl.

3. West End Food Coop: Incredible produce and friendly staff, plus they sell jarred, fermented delights from the Alchemy Pickle Company.

Have a recommendation to add? Leave a comment!

Glory Hole's unforgettable PB & J doughnut
Glory Hole’s unforgettable PB & J doughnut

Some lovin’ from my oven

Hearty sweet potato scones (adapted from browneyedbaker)
Hearty sweet potato scones (adapted from Browneyedbaker)

Lately, I’ve been inspired by fall flavours. The colder weather and shorter days make me want to hunker down and eat warm, nourishing foods. I’ve seen beautiful autumnal gourds at the markets in my neighbourhood and have sampled the pumpkin-infused espresso drinks at my local coffee shops.

Wanting to get out of my breakfast rut, I’ve started baking scones. Slathered with butter and jam, they’re a perfect chilly morning meal or afternoon snack with tea.

I had some leftover sweet potato mash lying around, so I thought I’d work that into a baked good for a unique and healthy twist. After doing some research, I came across a recipe for Sweet Potato Scones with Maple Cream Glaze from Browneyedbaker. I adapted the recipe slightly, adding toasted pecans and golden raisins to the dough for extra texture. They are pretty addictive but have the goodness of sweet potato in them. They’re the epitome of October flavours!

Delicious Food Show 2014

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Some of the products I picked up at the DFS

As a PR student, I don’t have a ton of time available on weekends. However, last week was fairly stressful with assignments and midterms, so I decided that I needed a day for myself. I scored a ticket to Toronto’s Delicious Food Show and spent the better part of Saturday at the Direct Energy Centre sampling tasty new food products.

I happily received a free copy of the premiere issue of Ricardo magazine. Quebec chef and Food Network host Ricardo Larivée’s magazine is a popular French cooking resource, but until now, issues haven’t been available in English. I’m excited to try out some of the latest fall recipes for cookies, apple pie and an easy holiday dinner.

There were lots of great foodie discoveries I made at the show this past weekend:

AG Macarons for pastel-hued, light-as-a-feather French artisanal cookies

Lemon Lily for organic and all-natural loose leaf tea (I decided on Earl Grey Darjeeling and Coconut Ginger)

Spade & Spoon’s crafted Ontario preserves (they even make their own ketchup!)

Monkey Butter Peanut Butter (offering variety of flavours made in small batches with natural ingredients)

The Delicious Food Show was a smashing success and introduced me to some great local food products. I’m already thinking about using some of these items as stocking stuffers for the holidays. Thanks to the show’s organizers and the creative, hard-working exhibitors for their efforts!

AG Macarons are almost too pretty to eat!
AG Macarons are almost too pretty to eat!

FMTO’s Pick of the Week: Stasis Preserves

 

Nothing like an oozy grilled cheese!

Who doesn’t love a good grilled cheese sandwich?

Tasty and comforting, they’re an easy weeknight dinner with a green salad or soup. Over the years, I’ve made them with everything from brie to goat cheese and stuffed with the likes of roasted vegetables, guacamole and bacon. But my all-time favourite recipe of all is the classic: thick, white country-style bread and sharp orange cheddar. So simple, yet it hits the spot every time.

Recently, I’ve kicked my beloved sandwich up a notch with a new ingredient from a unique Toronto source.

This past winter, I discovered Stasis Preserves while walking around Roncesvalles Village. Frozen to the bone, I entered the small shop seeking some respite from the cold. To my delight, I found shelves stacked with local artisanal food products including preserves, crackers and baked goods. My first purchase was their Ontario Strawberry & Rhubarb Spread. I devoured it on croissants, toast and pancakes and I don’t think it lasted more than a few weeks in my fridge.

More recently, I bought their incredible  Ontario Caramelized Onion Spread. Sweet and silky, it’s my new go-to sandwich condiment and is especially heavenly on a grilled cheese. I’ve also spooned it on top of burger patties and used it as a simple glaze for chicken breasts.

If you’re looking to liven up your pantry with some fantastic, locally sourced ingredients, make sure to check out Stasis Preserves at 476 Roncesvalles Ave. They also sell products at a number of independent food shops in Toronto. Check out their website here and spread the love!

At $7.95/jar, it's worth every penny!
At $7.95, a jar is worth every penny

Pluck Teas: FMTO’s Pick of the Week!

I am always on the hunt for a new great tea, so I was really happy to discover Pluck Teas on Twitter a few weeks ago. Based in Toronto, the company uses natural ingredients in their teas and only purchases their tea from ETP (Ethical Tea Partnership) members. Even better, their teas are locally sourced. Using fruit from Muskoka and the Niagara region, lavender from Prince Edward County and grape skins from Southbrook Vineyards, their teas taste absolutely incredible!20141002_083708-1

It was really hard to decide what I wanted on my first order, but I ended up choosing their Kensington Blend, Smoky Maple, Vanilla Rose (with real rose petals!) and Just Peachy. All of them were fantastic and very unique. These teas have definitely given me some extra motivation to get up for school in the morning!

Interested in checking Pluck out for yourself? Visit their website here. They will deliver to your door for a reasonable price.

Next on my wish list? Their Amaretto Chocolate Infusion and White Niagara Icewine tea. Can’t wait to try them!

Food Truck Fest Ontario a Success

The infamous Sloth Burger
The infamous Sloth Burger
Burgatory
Burgatory’s food truck
Burgatory's menu
Burgatory’s menu

Last Sunday, Toronto hosted the first Food Truck Fest Ontario. Backed by CraveTO, the Ontario Place event boasted over 20 food trucks from across the province. Established favourites like Buster’s Sea Cove attended, along with newcomers.

When I arrived mid-afternoon, the lineup just to get in was long. Cheery volunteers chatted with the crowd as we passed through security. $10 granted entry to the grounds, where we had access to the food trucks, promotional booths (Excel and Indie88) as well as carnival-style games.

Scouring the site, I couldn’t decide where to start. Kai and Mooy, the Somalian-inspired food truck? Localista for fresh eats with GTA-sourced ingredients? Or Bacon Nation for the name alone?

I settled on lunch from Burgatory, a truck featuring gourmet burgers named after the seven deadly sins. I placed my order for The Sloth and bought a fresh lemonade while my burger cooked.

In six-and-a-half minutes, patty perfection was in my hands. Delicately seasoned, the beef was juicy and tender. Topped with tomato, lettuce, “sloth sauce”, creamy Velveeta cheese, and Hickory Sticks for crunch, it was flawless, and required a fork.

I rounded out my meal with pumpkin gelato, but was tempted by other trendy flavours like caramel fleur-de-sel and pomegranate cherry.

Though the event could have used more seating and entertainment, the festival was a great way to bring the province’s most influential food trucks together. In a city where most attempts at building a food truck community have floundered, this event was much needed.

On my way out, laziness overtook me and I sat on some rocks by the water for a while. I guess my Sloth Burger must have kicked in.