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Labatt vs Craft Beer: When Goliath Tries to Wear David’s Clothes

22 Sep

 

One of my favourite places in the world - Bellwoods Brewery.

One of my favourite places in the world – Bellwoods Brewery.

Hey pals, I’m blogging from the Okanagan this week! Stay tuned as I do have a lovely post about Kelowna-based restaurant RaudZ in the works but for now, I just wanted to quickly share a reminder I received on the importance of knowing the origin of your food and drink.

It’s pretty much the understatement of the year if I say I like craft beer.   Craft beer is enjoyable because it iss made skillfully, driven by passion and community. When you care about your art, you sacrifice time and energy for the slightest details and in return, these small nuances get noticed and celebrated by the educated consumer.   Even if you’re new to beer tasting, or not a beer fan at all, you can still appreciate earnest effort and that is a-plenty in the craft beer industry.

So like anything good and pure, big corporations want to profit from it. And instead of perfecting a beer, they perfect spreadsheets and marketing budgets and then bully their way into an organically created community.

If you haven’t already, check out Ben’s post on Labatt’s expensive and intentionally misleading ad campaign for Shock Top, a beer which is commonly misidentified as a craft beer .

From Shock Top's website

From Shock Top’s website.

Hey, I’m not terribly ‘Shock Topped’ about this (PUN!) – these actions are in line with Big Corporation’s mandate to please shareholders. Okay, so if you’re not surprised they’re capable of that, then why all the hate Alice?  Corporations will be Corporations!  Yes, but there’s something different about imitating real passion and hard work.  I just can’t tolerate that. 

You can cram catchy slogans and expensive giveaways and celebrity endorsements down my throat.  I know what that is.  But when Goliath tries to disguise themsleves as an artist who poured sweat blood and tears into their work, then that’s an outright lie.  You can test my patience for irritating pop songs in your advertising campaign, but you cannot go ahead and skew with authenticity.

But we also have a far more powerful comeback – and that’s our purchasing power.  We can simply not buy Shock Top.

Trust your tastebuds and your common sense. Meet brewers, farmers, and the artisan behind your products.  Always be purposeful with your wallet.

That’s all I wanted to say. 

Love from the Okanagan Valley,

Alice

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Tennessy Willems: an unlikely haven for pizza lovers in Ottawa

16 Sep

On its face, Tennessy Willems sounds as much like a pizza joint as Toronto’s House of Chan sounds like a great steakhouse. I must admit that I judged this book by its cover and, still fresh off the boat (from Toronto), I had not yet overcome my Toronto food > Ottawa food complex. I mean, what bureaucrat worth his staunch commitment to mediocrity would really want top quality pizza? I was ultimately proven wrong, and thankfully so, since I’ve just moved back to the city of ill-fitting suits and soul-crushing winters. Tennessy Willems will henceforth be my go-to spot for pizza in Ottawa.

Once I sat down at the bar, I was faced with a menu replete with temptations of the insert-name-of-animal confit kind. I exercised remarkable self-control and ordered the margherita. After all, the truest test of any restaurant is its most basic dish, and a pizzeria with a middling margherita is like a brewpub with boring beer – utterly useless. The crust was arguably the star of the show – chewy in the classic Neapolitan tradition – and the sauce was loaded with fresh flavour and just the right amount of sweetness and heat. The latter was in perfect harmony with the copious amounts of aromatic basil leaves. The cheese was perfectly melted, but seemed pedestrian compared to the bursting flavour of the rest of the ingredients.

I must confess that I cheated by adding bacon, but this was after much pressure from my friend who was raving about it. I was not disappointed. The bacon was like meat candy in my mouth – huge chunks of well-cooked, lean, sweet-salty glory. This was not your store-bought, paper-thin, tasteless protein.

No great restaurant experience is complete without solid service. By that, I mean a snarky server who possesses equal parts sarcasm and skill. Sitting at the bar is the best idea at Tennessy Willems, because the bartender – and likely manager/owner – is the poster child for my vision of the perfect server. His sardonic running commentary about life in general was matched only by his cool, collected demeanour in the face of a busy dining room and glassware that seemed to want nothing more than to crash to the ground. His ridiculously hipster-practical glasses with built-in lights added a measure of quirkiness to the whole package.

I will certainly return to Tennessy Willems when I’m in need of a reminder that Ottawa does manage to keep concealed some true culinary gems. Tennessy Willems takes pizza (and sarcasm) seriously, and executes both largely without compromise.

3.59 brown thumbs up. I would give some sort of score for the service, but I haven’t bothered to dream up a rating scale for good service. Deal with it.

Real Canadian Craft Beer Festival – Niagara Falls

11 Apr

IMG_20140405_152259_hdrThe promise of Ontario’s best craft brews, food trucks and live music crammed into a convention centre space was almost all we needed to hear to head to Niagara for the weekend! When we arrived, it was apparent that we weren’t the only ones who felt that way. TONS of people showed up for the inaugural festival.

After waiting a bit in a quick moving line, we walked onto a huge floor space already filled with beer enthusiasts and well-known as well as smaller independent breweries. It was a bit overwhelming to move through the crowds in order to survey what was available because beer tends to be a social drink and people were milling about around the lines and different vendors. The music was a cool idea (even though the acoustics weren’t great) because what evokes summers at the cottage more than a crisp delicious beer and listening to a Blue Rodeo cover?IMG_20140405_151541_hdr

Drinks and food were purchased with $1 tokens. Samples generally cost 3 tokens each and food ranged from 4-10 tokens.

The food options included: Smoke’s Poutinerie, El Gastronomo Vagabundo, a vendor selling pulled pork sandwiches, as well as pizzas baked in a wood-fired pizza oven, and a truck from the Canadian Food and Wine Institute. We were disappointed to see a vendor offering generic “tube steaks.” The selection, to be honest, was all over the place probably to cater to all tastes. We would welcome more adventurous food pairings at future events! Our winner was El Gastronomo Vagabundo’s fried chicken cutter (no picture … because we shovelled it too quickly into our faces …) and we were intrigued by the options on the CFWI truck as well, which we would have tried if we had bottomless pits for stomachs.

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el gastronomo vagabundo!

At a show that advertises “craft beer,” we made sure to steer clear from mainstream and widely accessible beers. Our top three:

Brickworks Ciderhouse: Toronto will have its first craft cider this Summer! It’s an English style cider that has a sharp and crisp quality. We found it refreshing without any of the cloying sweetness in the bigger brands available at the LCBO. They currently operate out of North Toronto but they’re moving into Evergreen Brickworks. What we loved on top of the taste: a portion of their sales goes to supporting Evergreen Brickworks!

Dakota Pearl Ale (Ramblin’ Road Brewery Farm): A beer made from potatoes?  A beer made from potatoes! Whereas the Brickworks Cider seemed to channel cool urban sophistication, this beer, brewed at what claims to be Ontario’s only brewery farm, had rural charm. We were happy to find that this beer was not simply a gimmick and actually tasted great! We can’t wait to have this beer again, perhaps with some kettle chips Ramblin’ Road makes with the very same spuds! Potatoes go with potatoes, right?

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Hops n’ Robbers IPA (Double Trouble Brewery): We are suckers for a playful name and, having never heard of this brewery, we knew we had to give it a shot.  In recent years, it seems that brewing increasingly bitter IPAs has become something of a you-know-what measuring contest between breweries. This more modestly bitter beer was a refreshing change of pace. It was the kind of beer we could see ourselves enjoying while listening to a Jays game on the radio. (It should be noted such a beer will not be enjoyed AT a Jays game since the team has unfortunately decided to spurn Canada’s craft breweries in favour of the big money of the big breweries.)

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Honourable Mention: One brewery had brilliant idea for a food pairing: ale and oysters.  Sampling this duo reminded us of afternoons spent exploring ancient pubs in London, England. We’d love to see more of these adventurous pairings at next year’s show because it’s such a fun way to highlight the complex flavours in artisan grade beer. (Samuel Adams, for example, partnered with Rock Lobster to offer lobster at the Delicious Food Show!)

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The RCCBF is not about the beer you had at university dorm room parties. The beers are not meant to be funneled or “shotgunned,” ingested as quickly a possible, bypassing the taste buds. Rather, they are meant to be drank slowly and thoughtfully (perhaps enjoyed on a patio), savouring the complex flavours much like one would for a glass of wine. It is perhaps fitting, then, that this festival was held in the heart of Ontario’s wine country.

Despite some minor organizational kinks (line-ups that were split for some reason, the lack of ATMs in the space, and only one booth inside the convention space that sold tickets), the RCCBF was an exciting event that will no doubt develop into something really spectacular in coming years.

We want to thank RCCBF for providing our writers with passes to the event! We happily purchased food and drink tokens in order to try the tasty offerings. 

CONTEST – Yogurty’s & Captain America #HeroCup

28 Mar

Exciting news, readers! Yogurty’s loves Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier and they’re celebrating with yummy LIMITED EDITION flavours (Super Hero, S.H.I.E.L.D. Swirl, and Agent of Chocolate) available only until the end of April.

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I have a secret: I have a weakness for superhero movies AND frozen yogurt. Yogurty’s is being super sweet and offering our readers/ followers tickets to an ADVANCE SCREENING on Wednesday, April 2nd at SilverCity, Yonge-Eglinton (the film opens April 4th) of this spring’s hottest film. We have TWO pairs to give away! All you have to do:

  1. Follow @Yogurtys and @YYZGourmand
  2. Tell us which flavour you’d like to try and what super power it would give you. Me? The Super Hero would give me super strength!
  3. Use the hashtags: #HeroCup #AgentofFroyo in your tweet

The contest runs Friday, March 27th – Saturday, March 29th (5pm). You can enter once a day!

Good luck!!

FYI: Yougurt’s is gonna be all over the city Friday and Saturday sharing samples of these flavours. Make sure to check them out:

Friday March 28, 2014
11:30AM – 1:30PM York University
2:30PM – 3:45PM Bathurst & New Westminister
5:30PM – 8:30PM Liberty Village

Saturday March 29, 2014
12PM – Queen & Bathurst
5:30PM – 10PM CN Tower

Friday April 4, 2014
5PM – 8PM Rogers Centre (Blue Jays Home Opener)

2nd Annual iYellow Ice Fest: Nice Try

15 Feb

We Canadians are a hardy and resourceful lot.  We embrace the cold, ice and snow, and stubbornly do things no one else would do at temperatures low enough to freeze the hardest of liquors.  Things like golfing in the snow.  Admittedly, this is a rather daft bastardization of a pleasant summer stroll in the park, but it could be fun with the help of a little rye and a tail-happy golf cart.

When we first arrived at iYellow Wine Club’s second annual Ice Fest, held in Liberty Village, we thought it could actually turn out pretty well.  I applaud the organizers for being very Canadian in holding the event outdoors. However, we quickly realized that subzero wine tasting is extremely one dimensional – most wines just tasted like, well, wine.  Some of the weaker whites didn’t even make that cut.  Hints of cherry, leather or minerality gave way to overpowering notes of everything that had flash frozen in your glass.  Forget about sniffing the wine and inhaling a lovely, subtle oaky scent.  Every attempt to smell a sample just led to more nose hairs turning into icy stalactites.  Even a few stand heaters strategically placed beside the tasting booths would have gone a long way to solving these problems.

I was hoping that the food would provide some consolation, but sadly this was not the case.  Burrito Burrito, the Mexican fast food joint that was fenced into the event, did a decent job of pumping the crowd of people through at a decent clip.  However, they shouldn’t have been pumping what looked like glowing radioactive waste into their tacos and calling it “cheese”, when their clientele was made up of wine club members with allegedly refined palates.

I rarely leave food uneaten (because I am a glutton), but Burrito Burrito’s tacos were so inedible that abandoning them to stand outside in a polar vortex drinking frigid grape juice seemed like a much better option.  Disappointingly, the only other source of food was a chocolaterie serving up chocolate-covered strawberries, which simply did not satisfy the “hit the spot” requirement that goes hand-in-hand with an all-you-can-drink event.

I hope that future Ice Fests aren’t as icy as this one, because Torontonians should get a better understanding of some our province’s greatest wines.  They should also be able to choose from food options that are commensurate with the quality of those wines.  They should be able to taste the wines and savour the subtleties that the winemakers have painstakingly crafted, without having their samples and their palates blunted by blustery winds.  Clearly the iYellow Wine Club couldn’t control Mother Nature, but it could have done a better job of responding to her frigid fury.

2.37/5 brown thumbs down.

Toronto Tea Festival

3 Feb

Tea enthusiasts in the city have never had more choice than they do right now. The Toronto Tea Festival (Appel Salon, Toronto Reference Library) showcased an impressive display of vendors each offering their unique spin on blends or classic black, white and green teas. We were impressed with their use of the small space of the Appel Salon though it did feel congested at times.

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The fun of a festival like this is the talks and demonstrations. There’s only so much shopping one can do and it’s nice to get to take in some of the history and ritual that comes with tea-drinking. We’re bummed to have missed the Japanese tea ceremony. We did see the teacher walking around during the event in full traditional costume. We’re coming back next year just to see that!

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I can definitely see this event growing in the next few years and needing to move to a bigger venue (showcasing teas from around the world) though that probably depends on whether we will ever see a day when tea usurps coffee as the beverage of hardworking business people.

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It’s encouraging to see tea be the focus of such creativity and diversity. There was a bakery (Sugar Peony) that made tea flavoured macarons. Not especially unique, we know, but their take on flavours/ combinations was outstanding. Perhaps in addition to vendors of teas, the show would consider featuring more chefs and bakers who work with tea flavours in food next year. Up in Markham, for example, the Ten Ren chain infuses their entrees and desserts with tea flavours. There must be other restos doing something similar in TO. Also, what do hardcore tea-drinkers think of the Bubble Tea phenomenon? Quirky or bastardization? And, how have the Europeans changed tea-drinking? We really only saw the Asian approach to tea. What about beauty? We see a connection between the rise in popularity of tea as people strive to lead healthier lives. We think there’s tons of potential for this show. It’s an expanding market. We’re excited to see how this show will grow in the years to come.

 

 

REVIEW – Joyous Health, Eat & Live Well without Dieting by Joy McCarthy

12 Jan

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Thank you to Penguin Canada for making this review possible!

It’s another new year and we’re being bombarded with calls to try new diets, take new supplements, exercise more and be better versions of ourselves! One of the “food movements” (a certain nutritionist objected to my usage of the term “food trend”) still going strong in 2014 is gluten-free alternatives.* We have a treat for you, dear readers, in the form of Joy McCarthy’s new cookbook Joyous Health, Eat & Live Well without Dieting (Penguin Canada).

Joy is a Toronto based nutritionist. She’s Global TV’s resident holistic health expert. She runs a pretty successful blog and consultation service. I discovered her while I was recovering from my knee surgery. I liked all the little tips she had to help make one’s diet healthier. She turned me onto smoothies and kale in a big way. Her approach to food is: integrate lots of veggies! So while her book is heavy on gluten-free/ vegan options, she doesn’t eschew fatty fish and lean fowl from her recipes.

Recipes we’ve tried:

  • Metabolism-Booster Breakfast Smoothie (p.17): Great way to get your kale in the morning! The portion can easily be halved for one serving.
  • Anti-Bloat Stomach Calming Tea (p.43): A standard in my house for indigestion and upset stomachs.
  • Coconut Flour Banana Pancakes (p.148): Word of warning: the flour needed for this recipe was pretty expensive. These pancakes look great and smelled like the perfect comfort food. The texture was lacking (HoM says it was the gluten that was missing).
  • Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf w/ Coconut Icing (p. 268): I love lemon loaf and this wasn’t what I expected in terms of aroma or mouth feel. It’s a bit dense in texture. I imagine the coconut icing is supposed to add moisture and lightness. I would probably double the lemon juice for flavour next time. I’m not an expert baker but I wonder whether the recipe’s instructions were the best way to incorporate the wet and dry ingredients. It’s also not clear whether to hand-whisk/ beat the ingredients or to use a mixer.
  • Walker’s Spicy Brussels Sprouts (p.231): The coconut oil was distracting. I would make this again with a more neutral light oil.
  • Mashed Cauliflower w Goat Cheese (p.244): By far the best recipe we tried. Light, tangy and fluffy. We were surprised to see something so decadent in a book like this.
Walker's Spicy Brussels Sprouts

Walker’s Spicy Brussels Sprouts

Cauliflower Mash

Cauliflower Mash

Things we liked about the book:

  • This book is pleasing to the eye – it’s a walk into the spa/ yoga centre for the eyes
  • All the required ingredients are accessible at a glance in each recipe and putting everything together is pretty simple. It’s a lot of assembly, blending, food processing rather than cooking/ baking techniques
  • I liked that Joy included a mini anatomy lesson in an effort to explain why hydration, fibre, and good fats are so important in promoting robust digestion and overall well being.
  • Like all cookbooks, Joy is creating a plan for a change in lifestyle. She teaches you how to outfit your pantry and how to substitute unhealthy food choices with better ones. If HoM were to (he won’t) adopt this eating style, he’d look to this book.

Things you need to know

  • In recipes that ask for a blender, you’ll probably need a high-powered one (the much touted brand that starts with a “v” and costs a bajillion dollars) to get the best results.  
  • If you’re new to this type of food / way of cooking, you’ll probably need to fill your cupboard with seeds, grains, veggies, and oils. This could be expensive. There’s a recipe for Kobucha sangria, for example, that calls for a bottle of wine and 6 cups of Kombucha. That could get pricey per pitcher. Maybe integrate aspects of this way of cooking into you life slowly or locate the health food stores with the best prices. I have had a good experience at Essence of Life (Kensington Market). 

The #smugcouple isn’t ready to take on gluten-free or vegan eating full-time. We’re weak. But, Joy isn’t really militant about adopting this way of eating. We can get on board with a book that promotes taking the time to love yourself and life by eating fresh, homemade meals. Joyous Health promotes a, “positive mindset,” and “feeling and looking great,” NOT dieting. It could be a great way to start 2014.

*The gourmandes will be wading in on the question of food trends in 2014
** Note: I am a student by trade and in spirit so spoke to two medical professionals (1 RN and 1 MD) regarding gluten-free dieting. All refuted the “cure all” claims of this trend with research and data. There is a seeming correlation between “feeling great,” “weight loss” and the gluten-free diet because suddenly you have to be very careful about what you eat! They recommended getting tested for celiac disease before your shell out big bucks and adopt gluten-free as your life! 

The #smugcouple presents: the BEST of the One of a Kind Show (#OOAKX13)!!

4 Dec

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It’s the holidays and the best place to get all of your shopping done is the One of a Kind Show (Direct Energy Center, Nov. 28, 2013 – December 8, 2013). This year there are over 800 artists and vendors selling their wares. The great thing about this show is that you’re supporting small independent artists and the gifts you get from here will be unique! Fair reader, we’ve combed the aisles of the giant convention floor space and brought you our favourites from the show.

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  1. Unik Printshop (Sophie Joubaron), silkscreen, wood veneers: I stumbled upon Sophie’s work by accident. I was looking for X-mas gifts (created by CANADIAN artists) on Etsy. She works out of her studio in MTL and has done work for the Canadian Museum of Nature as well as La Musée des Beaux-Arts. She is as lovely in-person as she is in our correspondence. The images she silk-screens are a subtle nod to Canadiana that would fit well in any decor. Her work is striking in a simple and elegant way. Veneers sell for $12 – 30 and she makes gift cards from silk-screen tests, $4 each of 3 for $10. A great gift for new homeowners.
  2. The Windmill of Provence (Isabella), pottery: We saw this booth just as the show closed but Isabella’s friend, who was working on Sunday, stayed to help us find the perfect piece. HoM and I both stopped because we were struck by the hand-painted flowers that leapt off the cream pottery. Ceramics/ pottery are tricky. Often they have have a clunky “handmade” earthenware feeling. We loved the lightness of this work. So French Country. A great gift for mums and grandmamas … or girlfriends with “old lady” tastes!
  3. Jenna Rose, textiles: I have been obsessed with Jenna’s work since the Spring, 2013 #OOAKX13. I often find myself just going to and looking at her Etsy page. She silk-screens hand-drawn images onto organic cottons. Her work reminds me of the Kinfolk Table cookbook. This year she showcased new prints featuring bees. I want to live in a world where all of my textiles are made by Jenna Rose. A great gift for the understated fashion-conscious woman in your life.
  4. P1010544Vespertine, sustainable fashion: A new Toronto-based fashion line made from sustainable materials. How is this possible? Designer Melanie Ferrara (educated at Ryerson) explained that she buys bolt-ends – smaller pieces of fabric that bigger companies can’t and won’t use – and other eco-friendly fabrics to create her designs. She also makes all of her stuff in Canada! The thing I love most – she makes sizes for ALL women and promotes a healthy attitude towards beauty. A great philosophy as well as beautiful clothes. A great gift for YOURSELF!
  5. Wildhagen Hats: HoM is a lover of all things antiquated. He loves hats. He loves that Wildhagen stretches their hats using a vintage tool. He loves that their hats range from unique and whimsical creations to modern twists on classic styles. The staff on-site is also ultra-knowledgeable – they can tell you how wear a hat and what suits your face with a glance. HoM is committed to becoming a hat person and a hat from Wildhagen may be what it takes to get him started. A gift for the handsome man in your life!

Honourable Mentions:

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  1. Greg Voisin, pottery: Greg is based out of Hamilton, ON and creates his pottery in his home studio. His work was included in the #OOAKX13 gift guide. I really like the simplicity of these pieces, which indeed “warm my heart,” as their creator intended. Some of the designs are too obviously “hipster-chic” but if you avoid the ironic-moustaches, Greg’s work features some really elegantly hand-drawn animals and bicycles. I want one of everything in this collection and I want all of my friends to have a piece too! (Mugs, $25)
  2. Noelle Hamlyn, multi-media: Repurposing old books by turning them into notebooks is quite popular at the moment. We loved the work of this artist who repurposes (or “upcycles” as she terms it) old books in even more fun and inventive ways. She doesn’t simply reuse the old materials but instead employs them in a thoughtful manner, drawing on the stories the books originally told. See, for example, a children’s hand bag made from one of Beatrix Potter’s “Peter Rabbit” books.  Our favourite items were shadow boxes where Hamlyn created scenes with illustrations cut out of books and free-floating scraps of paper.

You may have noticed that food vendors are conspicuously absent from our list of favourite things.  Perhaps it was because we had just come from the Canadian Tasting Fair where our cups (or plates I suppose) runneth over with delectable edibles, but we were rather underwhelmed by the selection of food at #OOAKX13. There were a ton of options for gift-giving: shortbread, jams, spreads, and teas. We’d like to see some more adventurous food options rather than things you’d find in corporate gift baskets.

We hope this helps cross a few names off that list! Happy Holidays!!

Happy Holidays from YYZ!

Happy Holidays from the #smugcouple!

One of a Kind Show 2013
Direct Energy Centre, Exhibition Place (Parking on-site, $14)

Show Hours: Weekdays 10AM – 9PM; Saturdays 10AM – 9PM; Sundays 10AM – 6PM
Late night shopping
: Thurs, Dec 5, open until 11pm

 

The #smugcouple attends #VegTO

9 Sep

I am an omnivore. I eat meat and animal products. I eat lots of fruits and veggies. I wasn’t the natural candidate to attend the 29th Annual Vegetarian Food Festival hosted by the Toronto Vegetarian Association for YYZGourmand. But, this seemed like a #smugcouple outing because a) HoM and I love to hold hands while we visit Farmer’s Markets on the weekends b) we are obsessed with local, organic, and farm fresh produce (HoM partakes in a CSA in Waterloo) c) we’ve decided to integrate more veggies ( esp. leafy greens), seeds and grains into our daily diet. And, while all of these things are not directly related to vegetarian/vegan foods they all belong to an ethos that focuses on healthier living and a sustainable approach to food. And, I am determined to learn more about this food movement in my quest to lead a Goop-approved life!

Lessons:

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Chickpea stacks with Pickliz (Urban Acorn)

1) Local Food Movement – While the uniting theme of this event was vegetarian/ vegan food most vendors we visited and spoke to preached local, seasonal and sustainable ingredients. The Executive Chef, Daniel Holloway at Urban Acorn, for example, creates his menus (they cater events and host monthly supper clubs) with this approach.Rather than vegan/ vegetarian food, they offer “flexitarian” options, which focus on “sustainable healthy eating” but allow for “moderate” consumption of animal products. On Saturday, they created chickpea stacks with “Pickliz” ($4) which we could smell cooking on the grill as we talked to Marie (Events Manager). The chickpea patties were aromatic and hearty with just a bit of kick of hotness and complemented by the tangy sweetness of the Pickliz (slaw). I often complain that a vegetarian/ vegan diet would leave me cold and unsatisfied but this warmed my belly and filled me with strength to search for more deliciousness in the rain. Urban Acorn was the first and best food we tried all day. We can’t wait to attend a supper club or Soupalicious 2013 at Wychwood Barns.

HoM: To me, Urban Acorn displayed everything that is good about vegetarian cooking.  Rather than trying to fool people’s taste buds into thinking they were eating meat, they highlighted and celebrated the flavours of vegetables and legumes.  The chef at Urban Acorn showed that it is possible to create a dish that is downright delicious without “throwing some bacon on it”.  To me, throwing bacon on everything (donuts?!?) is a sign of laziness, rather than creativity.  True creativity is coaxing big flavours out of humble chickpeas and cabbage.

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Tori’s Bakeshop

2) Vegan/ gluten free baking does not have to be gross – HoM and I were once at the Distillery and had the worst gluten-free cupcake ever. It was flavourless and left a strange aftertaste. Yuck. In search of Tori’s Bakeshop (a natural and organic bakery that I read about on a Toronto Holistic Nutritionist’s blog), we found delicious cookies by New Moon Kitchen. Their products are found in health food stores all across Southern Ontario and offer cookies made with only a handful of real ingredients (no preservatives, trans-fats, or artificial flavours). The Ginger Snappers were so chewy and flavourful. I can’t believe that there were no animal products (butter or milk) with which to bind the cookies and that they only use sugar cane to sweeten their treats. Processed sugar is the devil! We tried their “Best Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies,” which were being sampled at this event, and were blown away by again the texture and flavour. Tori’s Bakeshop had a plethora of tasty treats from which to choose but we were charmed by their Blueberry Tart ($2). The pastry wasn’t flaky in the traditional sense but served as the vehicle for explosive blueberry flavour. It’s odd to say but with all the mass produced pie/ tart fillings out there, I have forgotten how real fruit tastes in baked treats. If you’re going to indulge your sweetness, you should do it the right way and choose healthier options made with real ingredients!!

HoM: One thing that annoys me with vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free cooking is that I have been told I need to “adjust my expectations.” I, however, believe that healthy food should taste good and I refuse to sacrifice quality.  I am happy to say that the baked goods we tried, especially New Moon Kitchen’s chocolate chip cookies, were not good vegan cookies, they were just good cookies full stop. We also bought some dog treats from The Brothers Boston.  My dog, Percy (yyzSirPercival) enjoyed them and attempted to get up on the counter for seconds, though he also likes to eat dirt from my planters so perhaps he does not have to most refined palate.

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Apple-sage & Chipotle “Sausage” Rolls (APieCalypse Now!)

3) Faux-meat? – It puzzles me that a so many vegetarian/ vegan food producers try to recreate the experience of meat for their adherents. The results vary. We tasted really yummy apple-sage sausage rolls from APieCalypse Now Vegan Bakery. I didn’t really mind the texture of the sausage because their filling was flavourful and the pastry was flaky. But, we also sampled tough chewy “artisan vegan grain meats” from Field Roast, which just reminded me of how much it didn’t taste or have the mouthfeel of a real hot dog.

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Jackfruit Taco (Hot Beans)

We also tried a Jackfruit Taco ($3.50) from Hot Beans, which sounds more awesome that it actually was in execution. The concept: unripe jackfruit simmered in a BBQ sauce served with salsa and a corn tortilla. The idea of jackfruit in place of meat was novel. It looked like pulled pork! Except, the flavour fruit itself was overwhelmed by the tangy BBQ sauce and salsa and it lacked a distinguishable texture.

4) Mainstream! – Vegetarian/ vegan/ organic/ local foods are no longer on the fringes of culture and TO eating. Judging by the number of people who came out to brave the wet weather, it was clear that there is a growing group of informed/ interested gourmands in the city who are demanding delicious and healthy food options. Hippies from our parents generation had kids and have gone mainstream with their message. So many of the vendors we met were already offering their products at a retailer near you, about to distribute their products more widely OR launching their own storefronts within the next year. Many vendors were happy to discuss/ educate us on their product and how it fits into healthier living. We tried Kombucha, a natural energy tonic, for the first time! The festival even offered free yoga classes (cancelled on Saturday due to rain) / talks by notable healthy-living gurus and even vegan/ vegetarian classes.

#smugcouple rating: This was the perfect event at which to share bites of food from a variety of vendors (portion control!). The Harbourfront Center is such an amazing event space in TO. If it wasn’t for the rain, there would have been live-music and yoga classes overlooking the lake! We *were*, however, disappointed at the lack of couples yoga classes offered to us … or matching hemp pants.

 

 

 

Introducing: MCyyz’s Brown Thumbs rating scale

19 Aug

As we all know, rating scales are intrinsically objective and a perfectly standardized way to evaluate virtually everything. Obviously, a source of intensely personal human pleasure with endless variations should be measured in this way.  In order to perpetuate this widely-used stupidity, I’ve decided to come up with my own rating scale to use in my restaurant reviews.

Alice gave me the idea of using brown thumbs as my rating scale icon (since I’m as brown as Belgian chocolate). A good friend of mine who’s an illustrator graciously accepted to draw them for me.  However, a far more sinister inspiration underpins the rating methodology. The French school grading scale. One would normally expect that a perfect score, while rare and infrequently awarded, is nevertheless attainable.  Not in France. A “perfect” score is around 16-17, and depends on such factors as how many glasses of Brouilly the professor had with dinner, or whether his wife withheld morning sex. A 12/20 is quite commendable, something that would trigger a nervous breakdown in a  North American student with any ambition.

Having been subjected to this systematic method of breaking down one’s sense of self-worth in increments of 1/20 for a large part of my life, I thought it fair to pay it forward.  My scale blends in my impression of the food as well as the ambience and service into one beautifully opaque score.  In keeping with the spirit of arbitrariness that often drives marking schemes, I’ve decided to scale my grades down to marks out of 5 and to be specific to the 2nd decimal point.

Enjoy!

Here at YYZ, we would all like to thank Carly Vanderlee who indulged the whims of MC and designed the thumbs in question, and did an absolutely amazing job!

We encourage you to check out her website (carlyvanderlee.comand follow her on twitter to check out how talented she is!

 

Brown Thumbs UP will be used when the restaurant receives a rating of 3/5 brown thumbs or higher.

Brown Thumbs UP will be used when the restaurant receives a rating of 3/5 brown thumbs or higher.

 

Brown Thumbs DOWN will be used when the restaurant receives a rating lower than 3/5 brown thumbs.

Brown Thumbs DOWN will be used when the restaurant receives a rating lower than 3/5 brown thumbs.

 

The Brown EFF YOU will be used if the service or ambience were bad in some way.

The Brown EFF YOU will be used if the service or ambience were bad in some way.