Fleeing the Flea

My family is not religious. Most of us have been baptized in the Anglican church, but aside from weddings, baptisms and funerals, as a child growing up, I can’t ever remember getting up to go to church. In fact, when questioned about religion, I’ve often joked that our religion was the flea market, because that’s where you could find us on any given Sunday morning in the late 70s or early 80s.

As far back as I can remember Halifax had a Sunday flea market at The Forum, an aging sports arena in the north end of town. But especially in the summer, the flea market motherload was just outside of town, in Sackville.

Originally held during the summer months at the Sackville drive-in, vendors would pull in, park their cars and open their trunks to willing shoppers. There was a parking hierarchy, with regular vendors of new goods (yay, tube sox!) taking the best spots by the entrance, followed by farmers, antique dealers and then the non-regular vendors who were looking to unload crap from their attic or basement. The ground got worse the further back you went, transitioning from pavement to crushed gravel to something akin to boulders near the back, but in the summer, there would be vendors crammed in, sometimes two to a space, selling everything under the sun. Literally – few people used tents back in those days.


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The All Ontario All the Time Cooking School

Never let it be said that Toronto does not have its fair share of cooking classes. Any night of the week, the culinarily curious can bake, sauté, flambé or roast at courses that range from “watch and eat” style to professional certifications. But for anyone with an interest in local, sustainable cuisine, they should stop looking at options once they hit Culinarium’s Lovin’ Livin’ Local Cooking School.

For those not in the know, Culinarium (705 Mount Pleasant Road)  is a delightful little food shop where all the products are from Ontario. They carry everything from produce and meat to artisanal cheese, Ontario-grown peanuts, jams and preserves, herbal teas and more. Owner Kathleen Mackintosh has curated a wonderfully comprehensive selection of Ontario grown and produced goods and the shop even offers CSAs and meat share programs.

The space itself is designed to look like a country kitchen with shelves full of goodies and a food prep area in the back where small groups can get hands-on experience cooking up local food under the guidance of chefs and experts. With a little bit of rearranging, the shop transforms into space for a class of 8 to 12 people, or a tasting event for up to 16. Culinarium can also accommodate a private tasting – taking over the whole shop – for up to 24 people.


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Follow the Scent of Cookies to the Happiest Place on Earth


Mary Macleod’s Shortbread
639 Queen Street East

Some people say Disney is the happiest place on earth. I’d say those people are wrong. I have proof that the happiest place on earth is on Queen Street East, just past the Don River, where Mary Macleod and her small team of bakers make the very best shortbread ever.

Don’t believe me? Take James’ Beard’s word for it – on a visit to Toronto in the early 80s, the acclaimed chef declared Macleod’s shortbread the best he’s ever tasted.

Mcleod emigrated to Canada from Scotland in 1955 when she got married. She shares a story of meeting her mother-in-law for the first time; her reputation for being a great cook had preceded her, and her mother-in-law had asked that she bake an apple pie. Not used to the differences in North American flour compared to the softer, more delicate products used in Europe, Macleod’s pastry was a disaster, and she set about researching the different flours and how she could add other natural ingredients to manipulate the dough to work more like the European products she was used to.


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The Many Flavours of Riverside

Greg tells many great stories of the time he lived at Queen and Broadview in the late 80s, upstairs from one of the guys from  Skinny Puppy. Those stories almost always come back to the fact that there was a dearth of restaurants in the area back then, and save for but a few greasy spoons, you pretty much had to leave the neighbourhood to find a decent place to eat.

What a difference a couple of decades makes, with the recently-named Riverside District having become a magnet for young families, boutiques and galleries as well as hip restaurants, cafes and food shops. A stroll along Queen Street East from the Don River over to Carlaw offers up any number of great places to eat and shop for food. And let’s not forget the coffee.


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On the Shelf – May 24, 2009

Here’s a few new things we came across this month that are definitely worth sharing.

Margaret’s Artisan Bakery Crisps
We came across these at the Ontario Cheese Society tasting in late April. Better known for their Margaret’s Artisan Flatbreads, these organic flour crisps from MJ Fine Foods are made in Vaughn and come in a variety of flavours that pair wonderfully with cheese, pate or dips. I’ve been treating them like the British version of “crisps” and have been eating them like chips. Favourite flavours include rosemary pistachio, mango curry and cashew, caramel apricot almond and cranberry pumpkin seed. They retail for around $5 a box and are available at gourmet food shops.


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On the Shelf – April 26th

As someone with a love of food, I’m always poking around in shops looking for new things to taste and try. And to share. On the Shelf is a new (-ish – we did one back in December) monthly feature in which we share our great food finds for the month.

Alphanso Mangoes
If you’ve never eaten an Alphanso mango, you don’t know what you’re missing. Not to be confused with the Mexican Atulfo mango which can be found in grocery stores from late February onwards, Alphanso mangoes come from southern India and are available only from early April to mid May. In Toronto, they can usually only be found is various shops in Little India, so head on over to Gerrard Street East and stop by Toronto Cash and Carry(1405 Gerrard Street East) or Koohinoor Foods (1438 Gerrard Street East) to try some. Alphansos are generally available by the box only (either a half or whole dozen) and 12 of them will run somewhere around $24. At $2 a piece – and smaller than the Atulfo, this might seem like an exorbitant price until you taste them, and then all other mangoes will be dead to you. A combination of floral and spice, Alphanso mangoes are juicy, heady and fragrant. (I’ve recently found canned Alphanso mangoes at my local supermarket – will report on those next month.)


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Where Can I Find – Local Preserves

I got an email from some friends recently looking for locally-made jam. They were specifically looking for wee little jars to give out as favours at their upcoming wedding, but as I thought and thought and thought about it, I was having a hard time coming up with anything more than Greaves in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is where they got the idea for wee little jars in the first place.

When most of us think of jam we either head for our favourite supermarket brands or else to the pantry for a jar of homemade. After all, nothing compares to Grandma’s. But the area in between is a grey one. Jams, jellies and preserves that don’t fit into the homemade or supermarket versions often get lumped in with luxury consumables; the kind of thing you’d enjoy if someone gave you a gift basket of the stuff, but not something that you’d necessarily seek out for yourself.

Which is a shame, especially when we’re talking about products made from local fruit, since the abundance of berries and stone fruit available in Southern Ontario each summer is some of the best in the world.


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Where Can I Find – Cake and Candy-Making Supplies

Despite the fact that we here at TasteTO have officially declared the cupcake to be soooo over (enough already, please?), it seems that more and more people are becoming interested in cake decorating. Based on the number of emails we get from places looking for coverage for their cupcake or baking business, it’s an industry that is taking on a life of its own. But with many equipment supply places open to the trade only, finding the necessary equipment and ingredients can be difficult, especially if you’re a home baker.

Sure, tracking down basic baking pans, plain cupcake papers and some simple cookie cutters is easy enough, but once you get into the serious stuff, special molds, pre-made fondants, specialty pans and decorative items might be more of a challenge.

Here’s a list of GTA-based businesses where aspiring pastry chefs and candy-makers can find their gear and supplies.

629 Queen Street West
This rabbit’s warren of restaurant equipment has lots of stuff for pastry making, from piping bags and tips, cake stands, palate knives and cake pans. It’s all professional quality gear, though, so don’t be surprised to blow the dust off that cake stand and discover that it’s $70.

Placewares, St. Lawrence Market
92 Front Street East
Toronto, ON M5E 1C4
This is probably the easiest place to access in the downtown core, and they have everything from a huge wall of cookie cutters to piping bags, tips, cake pans and moulds, fondant sculpting tools, cupcake papers and (usually seasonal) decorations such as non-pareils and dragees. They also stock some colours of Wilton fondant.

Bulk Barn – Loblaws Leslie St. Market (and others)
17 Leslie Street
Cake pans, including novelty shapes; they also offer a pan rental service if you know you’re never going to use that teddy bear cake pan again. They also have cookie cutters, icing paste and gels, cake decorating supplies, candy molds and couverture wafers, plus wedding, birthday and seasonal supplies.

McCall’s School of Cake Decorating
3810 Bloor Street West
This is kind of the motherlode; pans, cutters utensils, gum paste, sprinkles, cake stands, moulds, food colouring, decorative paper products. They offer classes as well. Bonus – there’s online shopping if you can’t make it out there.

Katie’s Cakes
1531 O’Connor Drive
Offers courses in everything from basic cake decorating to working with gumpaste and fondant.

Foodstuffs Inc.
89 Main Street South, Georgetown
Technically out of the GTA but if you’re in the area, it’s a good source of baking pans, chocolate and candy-making supplies and cake-decorating equipment.

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Where Can I Find? – Alfajores

In recent weeks I’ve bemoaned the lack of authentic Mexican and Latin American foods here in Toronto, but for some reason, alfajores are pretty easy to find.

This traditional cookie of Argentina may have had origins in the Middle East, and now variations of it exist throughout Spain and Latin America. Basically, it’s made from two thin but soft cookies (sort of a cross between cake and shortbread) with a layer of dulce de leche or jam in between. Traditionally they are dusted with powdered sugar, but regional variations have cropped up. In Mexico they roll the outer edge in coconut; some places coat the cookie sandwich in “snow” (a blend of egg whites and sugar); and it’s also not unheard of for alfajores to be coated in either white or dark chocolate, although they should not be confused with the Wagon Wheel desserts school kids used to get in their lunch boxes.

To find them in Toronto, the best place to head is Kensington Market. There’s always big stacks of both the coconut and snow versions on the counter at Jumbo Empanadas (245 Augusta Avenue). Next door at Perola’s Supermarket (247 Augusta Avenue), there’s also alfajores at the counter and these make a great dessert after a couple of of tacos from the ladies at the back (weekends only).

Other places these cookies can be found include Aroma Espresso Bar (500 Bloor Street West); La Merceria (506 Adelaide Street West); Chachy’s Peruvian Restaurant (5429 Dundas Street West) and Johny Banana (181 Bathurst Street).

My personal favourites show up only twice a year, at Christmas and Easter. The Community Folk Art Council of Toronto hosts events at City Hall featuring either Christmas or Easter traditions from various countries around the world. Each country has a display of food and decorations and also offers some food items for sale; the lady at the booth from Chile makes the best alfajores I’ve ever had.

Finally, in cruising Google, I’ve come across a couple of queries where people are looking for a particular brand of alfajores from Argentina called Havana. I’ve never seen these available anywhere in Toronto, but Perola’s would be the first place I’d look.

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My Toronto Includes A Taste of Quebec


A Taste of Quebec
55 Mill Street, Building 36, 1st floor

In the federal political upheaval of the past weeks, the Tory government has made references to the separatist Bloc Quebecois that made it sound as if they believe everyone who ever defended Quebec’s unique heritage had cooties. And while the rest of Canada may not yet be progressive enough to believe in the idea of Quebec as a distinct culture, in terms of cuisine, Quebec is well ahead of any other Canadian region when it comes to developing and promoting local items: drawing on its unique history to promote its food culture; protecting its products such as ice cider and lamb with appellation controls; and embracing contemporary, globalized ingredients to create new products that still reflect the soul of the province.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in a visit to the newly-opened A Taste of Quebec in the distillery district, a shop dedicated to the wondrous array of foodstuffs from La Belle Province.


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Organics, Delivered

Recent chilly nights and the appearance of squash and pumpkins means that the end to farmers market season will soon be upon us. Within the next few weeks, farmers will be finished with this year’s harvest, and we’ll be left to fend for ourselves in the aisles of the supermarket, where Peruvian asparagus and spongy pink tomatoes cause much sadness.

But there are a few companies who have made a business out of sourcing local and organic produce throughout the year, and not only do they do all the legwork of tracking down clean healthy food – they’ll even deliver it!

Note that the information below is based on Internet and telephone research only. Wanigan is the only one of the companies listed that I’ve personally dealt with, and while I was always happy with their service, they don’t deliver to highrise buildings, so I can no longer use them.

For any readers interested in trying the places below, I’d suggest doing your research – they all have different policies on deliveries, payment, substitutions, etc., and while I’ve tried to cover as many obvious questions as possible, everyone has particular needs and circumstances that should be worked out individually.


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A Tour of St. Lawrence Market, Part 2


As noted in Part 1 of our tour of St. Lawrence Market on Monday, the south market has just about everything needed to fill a pantry. But the fruit and vegetable stands, bulk goods and bakeries tend to mostly fill the perimeter and basement of the space. For most visitors to the market the first thing they see when they enter the main space of the upper level is meat. And that’s where we’ll begin part 2 of our tour.


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A Tour of St. Lawrence Market, Part 1


Recently in a Market Basket column, we explored the north section of St. Lawrence Market which hosts the weekly farmers market. But there’s a whole array of tasty stuff in the south building where vendors are set up at permanent kiosks and shops.

Open Tuesdays to Saturdays, the south market building, located at 92 Front Street East at Jarvis, is like the high street in a small town, with a selection of butchers, bakers, cheesemongers, greengrocers and bulk and dried goods stores. Many vendors have been at St. Lawrence since the 70s and 80s, making them a longstanding tradition for shoppers here.


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Orgasmic Organics


Multiple Organics
1545 Dundas Street West


What are two well-educated young women to do when they find themselves with doctorates, but no where to use them? Why, open an organic food store of course!


Such was the case for Nupur Gogia and Carrianne Leung recently when they discovered that the only way to make use of their formal education was to leave Toronto, something neither of them wanted to do. Gogia was already part of an established family business, running the successful Raani Foods, and Leung wanted to stay close to her family in Toronto’s west end. With no retail background other than Gogia’s experience selling her famous samosas at St. Lawrence Market, the pair leased a storefront in the Dundas West and Dufferin area and opened Multiple Organics just over a month ago.


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Craving Some Valentine’s Chocolates


Craving Chocolates
119A Roncesvalles Avenue


Valentine’s Day is commonly thought of as the biggest holiday of the year for chocolate sales, but statistics show it actually ranks third or fourth after Easter, Halloween and Christmas. Due to shopping habits related to the day, however, Valentine’s generates more one-week candy sales than any other holiday. Apparently shoppers are better prepared for the other holidays (something about women doing the bulk of the shopping as opposed to men), and Valentine’s Day purchases are more last minute. Which is a shame, because it means an awful lot of people are getting big ugly boxes of sub-par candy, when a little planning could mean a better product.


Tucked away behind a flower shop on Roncesvalles Avenue is exactly the kind of place where people should be buying their Valentine’s chocolates.



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It’s All Good at the General Store



Good Catch General Store
1556 Queen Street West

The success of any retail business is based on its ability to respond to the surrounding community. Can you give the customer what they want? A business that sees itself as part of the community can take that relationship one step further, as it not only supplies the regional customer base with goods, but gives those customers a central place to meet, shop and be a part of things.


In the olden days, that would have been a local general store. In 2008, it’s also the general store, or at least that’s the case in Parkdale.



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Delight in the Junction



3040 Dundas Street West

I shed a little tear the day in 2003 when Citron closed down. The Queen Street restaurant was one of my favourites and I think of it fondly still. A couple of years later, a friend who happened to also be good friends with the folks who had owned the place showed up at my house for dinner bearing a box of chocolates. The gorgeous treats were the work of none other than former Citron pastry chef and co-owner Jennifer Rashleigh. She had created a business called Delight and was making beautiful chocolates and selling them wholesale.



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A Bag of Magic Beans

merchantspeaceMerchants of Green Coffee
2 Matilda Street

Coffee. Where would we be without it? It wakes us up, keeps us going and fuels social gatherings. But how many people actually think about where their coffee comes from? Or how fresh it is?

For people who grew up on (and possibly still drink) supermarket coffee, there’s a distinct possibility that they’ve never had a truly fresh cup. That becomes less likely every time a new ethical, fair trade roaster opens up a café in a busy neighbourhood, but there’s still a definite difference in terms of freshness.

A truly fresh coffee is one roasted to perfection, then ground and brewed immediately. Of course, to facilitate this process, it helps to have a source of green coffee beans.

I discovered Merchants of Green Coffee in 2002 and have never looked back. Roasting my own beans has completely changed how I both drink and think about coffee. (more…)

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Soma – Home to the True Chocoholic

Soma Chocolatemaker
Historic Distillery District,
55 Mill Street, Building 48, unit 102

It’s a sad fact that many people who deem themselves to be “chocoholics” have never tasted anything made from good quality chocolate. That’s not meant to sound snobby, but I make the statement to illustrate a point. There are “chocoholics” who get their fix by buying a bar at the corner store and then there are those of us who make special trips, across town or around the world, for the truly spectacular stuff. In terms of the folks who create the confections, you can’t beat the devotion of Cynthia Leung and David Castellan of Soma Chocolates who installed an 80-year old Catalan Melangeur (that’s a chocolate grinder to the rest of us) via forklift, and then built the walls of their shop around it.


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