Changing It Up

This past Thursday night, 250 lucky people trekked through the snow to attend Foodshare’s Recipe For Change fundraising event. I say lucky because the event sold out and many people found themselves on a waiting list, but also because some of Toronto’s top chefs were on hand with delicious treats for guests to enjoy.

The event raised funds for the Field to Table Schools program which brings food literacy back to students from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 12.

Held in Foodshare’s warehouse at their Croatia Street offices (the same space where the weekly Good Food Boxes get packed), the room was simply but elegantly decorated, with plenty of seats (no, really, there’s usually never enough seats or tables at these things – I always threaten to come wearing a toolbelt to hold my camera, notebook, wineglass and cutlery) and plenty of good stuff to eat. Our only minor complaint was the lighting, which, while it made the room look fantastic, was not so photo-friendly. As such, I don’t have photos of everything that was offered (the full menu is available on the Foodshare website), but hopefully these will inspire readers to support both Foodshare and the great work they do as well as the many chefs and restaurants who donated their time and product to this event.

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It’s Harvest Season

It’s been a weird summer, especially for farmers, but those fruits and vegetables keep on coming regardless. This being the peak of the season, there’s no better time to enjoy a meal prepared from locally-sourced ingredients.

The Gladstone Hotel continues its Harvest Wednesdays series until mid-October with a variety of prix fixe dinners and tasting events featuring produce from Chick-A-Biddy Acres CSA Farm, as well as many other local producers of meat, cheese, produce, grain, honey, wine and beer.

If you haven’t made it out to a Harvest Wednesdays event yet, it’s not too late – the prix fixe dinners continue on August 26th, September 2nd, 16th, 23rd and 30th, and October 14th. These four-course dinners are $35 plus tax and gratuity and wine pairings are also available.

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Missing You

Harvest Wednesdays at the Gladstone Hotel started a couple of weeks ago. They did the first tasting event (similar to a cocktail party where all the growers and partners were present so guests could meet the people who grew their food) and the first prix fixe dinner ran this past week.

Normally during the tasting event and during each of the two seatings for the prix fixe dinners, Gladstone Hotel president and owner Christina Zeidler stands up and says a few words about how Harvest Wednesdays came about, how the partnership between the CSA farm and the hotel works every week to get the food from field to table, and about the general principles they try to follow.

Christina was away last week and I was incredibly honoured to be asked to take her place and do the presentation for the two prix fixe dinner seatings. As TasteTO is a media partner for the event, is was a logical choice, but they still could have gone with a Gladstone staff member. There’s an ongoing joke that because Greg and I are there so often and that we know so many people on the staff, and because we’ve been involved with Harvest Wednesdays for a few years now, that we are considered honorary staff members.

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The Flavours of Summer Are Set to Shine at Harvest Wednesdays

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It has spawned countless copycats, and has earned Chef Marc Breton a local food hero award from the Toronto Food Policy Council. It brings together farmers and local food producers with the people who eat their food. It has created friendships and communities, and has taught urbanites how easy (and delicious) it is to eat with the seasons.

Harvest Wednesdays is back for its fourth year, offering up dishes made from locally grown produce, as well as locally-produced meats, cheeses, wines, beer and more.

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The Charms of the Farm – Why a CSA is the Best Way to Enjoy the Harvest

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It’s almost April, and everywhere you turn people are planning their gardens – mapping out plots, ordering seeds. It’s enough to make a yardless city gal a little bit jealous, and I know I’m not the only one experiencing garden envy.

For those of us who can’t grow our own food (or who have ambitious plans in April that never seem to include weeding in the 30°C temperatures of August), the next best thing is to find our very own farmer who will do it for us – weeding included.

Spring is also when farmers start planning their upcoming growing season and is the perfect time for customers looking to get involved with a Community Shared Agriculture(CSA) programme to find a farmer to work with.

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Harvest Wednesdays – Have You Been Yet?

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The last week of August is always bittersweet. The smell of fall is in the air, the kids are getting ready to go back to school and Ontario produce is at its peak, with the abundance of the season available in farmers markets across the province.

For anyone who finds themselves at the Gladstone Hotel on a Wednesday night, the abundance of the season is also to be had in the ballroom café where Chef Marc Breton and his staff continue to serve up a seasonal 4-course prix fixe dinner featuring the best locally grown products that Ontario has to offer.

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Harvest Wednesday Dinner – July 23rd, 2008

I never manage to take decent photos of the food at the Harvest Wednesdays tasting nights, but at the actual prix fixe dinners, where the food isn’t rushing past with a hundred hands grabbing at it, the photos are a little easier to snap.

As a recap, Harvest Wednesdays is a weekly event at the Gladstone Hotel throughout the summer where Chef Marc Breton creates a four course dinner based on products from CSA farm Chick-A-Biddy Acres as well as a number of other local suppliers. The fun part is that he often doesn’t know until the day before as to what ingredients and in what quantities he’ll be working with, so the project keeps the kitchen staff on their toes.

We went last week with some friends, and here’s what we had…

Red Fife biscuits, Raisin-Walnut Bun, Epi, and Rosemary Foccacia with herb butter rosettes – didn’t get a photo of these, but they were great; I’m really digging the red fife flour that’s coming available.

Amuse Bouche (above)
Broccoli and Black River cheddar-filled ravioli with basil and toasted walnut pesto.

We all loved this, and wished there was more!

Garden Antipasto
Marinated white and orange carrots, red and candy striped beets, cauliflower and fingerling potatoes tossed with cold pressed canola oil, mixed tender herbs, heirloom radishes and cracked black pepper.

A few complaints at our table that the vinaigrette on this was too strong, but the vegetables were a really nice combination, and were all crisp and bright and tasty.

Honey-Lavender Fresh Ham Roast
Red Tamworth-Large Black Cross brined overnight, slow roasted and sliced thin

This was one of the pigs I met when I went to Chick-A-Biddy with the Gladstone staff, although Chef Marc said it wasn’t the mama pig pictured in the photos for my TasteTO post.

Broiled Leek and Tofu stuffed portobello mushroom
with a honey-sherry glaze

Our guests each had the vegetarian option, but I didn’t try this.

Mains were served with stir-fried three colour beans, shredded baby cabbage and a wedge of chickpea ‘Socca’. We all loved the socca, which was a chickpea flatbread that sort of resembled naan.

Raspberry Whip n Chill

Fresh raspberry jelly topped with raspberry streaked whipped cream served with fresh berries and a ChocoSol chocolate dipped Tuille.

Dessert was perfect – fresh, bright, not too sweet. My only complaint was that the tuiles must have been set out with the dessert early on because they had lost their sharp crispness, but I was overruled when everyone else at our table said they liked the cookie chewy.

Greg and I also had the wine pairing for the meal, although it was a bit much for me in terms of alcohol, particularly because we headed down the street to a pub for another drink afterwards.

We’ll be attending the remaining three tasting events and at least two or three more weekly dinners before the Harvest Wednesday series ends in late October. If you’re in Toronto, the tasting events are $15, and the 4-course dinners are $35 – a great deal all around.

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Back to the Farm with Harvest Wednesdays

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Pulling up the driveway into Chick-A-Biddy Acres, I almost want to break into a rendition of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm”, for Sherry Patterson has created something that seems almost too good to be true. I am tagging along (“embedded” in journalism-lingo) with some of the kitchen and catering staff from the Gladstone Hotel as they join Patterson and her three employees for a day of weeding and a tour of the 75 acre community supported agriculture (CSA) farm.

From the second we arrive, I am enchanted, opening the car door to find half a dozen of Patterson’s colourful laying hens rushing toward me with curiosity. We’re not here to play with chickens, however, and Patterson quickly directs us to a nearby field where we’re put to work weeding rows of peas.

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The Brewer’s Plate – Delicious Local Food – Plus Beer!

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What does local food look like in April? When the larders are getting bare and the first bright shoots of asparagus and lettuce are still just a twinkle in the farmer’s eye? Would it even be possible to put on an event and feed 300+ people on local food at this time of the year?

Turns out it’s not just possible, but really quite fabulous. The result was a delicious evening of not just local food but local beer, as the first annual Brewer’s Plate event paired some of Toronto’s top chefs with local craft breweries to come up with a dish that paired with and incorporated the selected beers.

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Farm to Home

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After the long hard winter we’re just now starting to see the back of, there were times when I almost believed that it wouldn’t end – that it would be perpetual winter forever. Fortunately Mother Nature takes care of things, and just like it has for every other year since the beginning of time, spring has arrived. Which turns the heads of farmers and gardeners to one thought – planting.

 

Since many of us city-dwellers don’t have access to a yard in which to grow our own vegetables, we rely on area farmers to keep us well-stocked with nature’s bounty. And as we become more in tune with the philosophy of eating locally and supporting local growers and producers, we city-dwellers need a quick and easy way to do that. While farmer’s markets are always a delight to visit, many people just don’t have the time, or else don’t have any way to haul their swag home.

Recently more and more smaller local farms have been setting up Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) programs in which customers can buy a share of the farm’s output for the year. Depending on the farm, customers can either pick up their weekly box of goodies at the farm, or else the farmer will make deliveries to a pre-set drop-off point a couple of times a week. But how are we city-folk who want to join a CSA supposed to find one? Drive around in the country, stopping at every farm we see?

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Sunday Brunch – The Gladstone Hotel

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The Gladstone Hotel Ballroom Cafe
1214 Queen Street West
416-531-4635
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $35

Okay, so to be straight up honest, it’s not actually Sunday when we visit to do this review. It’s the morning of January 1st, and the oldest continually operating hotel is Toronto is serving up brunch – not to weary travellers as it did so many years ago, but to hungover locals and hipsters looking for something hearty and filling to ease them into the new year.

The high windows of the south-facing ballroom cafe normally have warm sunlight streaming through them, but today it’s a grey view of wet snow. The servers are bright-eyed and smiling, however, and water and coffee arrive at our table quickly.

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Taking a Walk on the Green Carpet

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Normally, the north building of St. Lawrence Market is the focus of local food only on Saturday mornings as farmers and food producers fill tables with all things edible and Torontonians descend upon the place in search of tasty treats. This past Tuesday evening, the market building was a bastion of local food again as a number of chefs and wineries offered samples of their wares as part of An Evening of Local Cuisine, one of the many events put on by The Green Carpet Series.

Attendees had the opportunity to wander the space sampling food from local restaurants that had been paired with wines from Ontario wineries. Participating chefs and restaurants included Chef Ben Heaton from Globe Bistro, Chef Marc Breton from the Gladstone Hotel, Chef Nathan Isberg from Coca, and Chef Anthony Rose from the Drake Hotel. Participating wineries were Henry of Pelham, Frogpond Farm, Flatrock Cellars and Vineland Estates Winery.

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The Final Harvest Feast

Autumn is undoubtedly my favourite season. It smells fantastic, the air is crisp, you sweat a whole lot less, and in terms of food, there is such a huge variety on offer. It also means the end of the harvest season, though, and I get how some people can find it a bit sad. Things are dying off, the summer is done, and it will be many long months before we can bite into a freshly picked strawberry or tomato again.

Which is why I was so excited to receive the email about one last Harvest Wednesday event at the Gladstone Hotel. Scheduling conflicts made this one a Harvest Monday, but that didn’t matter – the opportunity to sit with friends and enjoy one final meal from the CSA and Chef Breton’s kitchen was worth potentially missing Heroes (we didn’t).

Throughout the summer we enjoyed the rotating events of Harvest Wednesdays, from the cocktail-style finger food nights, to the grand buffets to the family-style passed dishes, with the bright summer sun streaming through the south-west facing windows. This final dinner definitely reminded us it was fall, for it was dark when we arrived and even darker when we left. My photos of the various dishes turned out to dark to use, even with some Photo-Shop tweaking, and I must admit that I forgot to photograph the hot dishes completely. I was too busy eating. Instead, here’s the menu with commentary.

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Harvest Wednesday Dinner

We attended our last of three Harvest Wednesdays this past week. The schedule rotated through Tasting Nights at $12 each, which were cocktail-party style, Buffet Dinner at $38 each, which was pre-set seating and a huge buffet table, and the Harvest Dinner, the most expensive at $48 each – a family style dinner where you sit with strangers, and pass large platters of food.

The event continues every Wednesday at the nearby Gladstone Hotel until September 19th, which is the finale of a 7-course meal for $110 with proceeds of that night going to FoodShare a local organization that sells weekly boxes of produce to low income people.

The premise of Harvest Wednesdays is that the hotel works with a CSA, and Chef Marc Breton pulls together a menu with only a day’s notice. He has an idea of what he’ll be getting based on seasonality and talking to the farmer, but it’s only when the boxes of produce arrive on Tuesday that he can really put together the menu for that week’s event.

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