People strolling through Liberty Village can often be seen stopping mid-stride, lifting their noses to the air and taking in huge whiffs of the spicy gingerbread smell that fills the air here. It’s not the smell of bread from the nearby Canada Bread factory but the sweet fragrance of gingerbread and sugar cookies from the Mad Batter Bakers on Jefferson Avenue.
Tucked away along a strip of restaurants, Leona Knaup and Mary Young’s bakery can turn out roughly 3000 fully decorated gingerbread and sugar cookies every day during the peak season. And with gingerbread as a specialty, peak season is now, in the last few weeks leading up to the Christmas holidays.
A couple months back I had great fun writing a piece on cupcakes in Toronto, comparing a variety of the pretty little cakes from different bakeries and shops across the city. The result of that taste test determined that the vanilla cupcake from Circles and Squares bakery topped our list, winning as both our favourite vanilla cupcake and our favourite overall.
It turns out that the bakery is just a few minutes from my house and when owner David Baxter invited me to stop by, I certainly wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity.
As I mentioned last week when discussing sandwiches, there are a number of food trends that have taken off south of the border that just never got a footing here. Cupcake bakeries or boutiques – shops dedicated solely to cupcakes – is one of those trends that seems to have passed us by.
It looked like Toronto might ride the waves of buttercream frosting when The Cupcake Shoppe opened a few years ago, but no real competition stepped up. Sure there were plenty of bakeries that started offering the tasty treats in addition to their regular selection of pastries, but none willing to deal exclusively in the little, sweetly decorated cakes.
Which leaves anyone jonesing for a cupcake fix with no choice but to run around searching for good ones. Because not all cupcakes are created equal.
The number one most intimidating aspect of cooking Indian food is the spicing. Although every Indian family creates their own masalas for certain dishes, these recipes are often closely-guarded secrets, and for folks who didn’t grow up blending and grinding their family’s special recipe for curry or garam masala or chai, getting the proportions just right can be overwhelming enough to make them want to toss the whole thing and head to Gerrard Street instead.
One woman was confident enough to share her masalas with the world, however, and through her cooking school and a family-run business selling her spices, Arvinda Chauhan’s name has become synonymous with Indian food.
First, an admission. I am not as well-travelled as I’d like to be. While I’ve been to most major cities in the US and Canada, I’ve never been across the big pond. Given my feelings about the environmental impact of travelling for pleasure, not to mention the fact that I just hate the process of travelling in general (waiting in airports, jammed onto a plane for hours next to someone with toxic perfume, etc) it is unlikely that I will end up seeing a lot of the world in my lifetime. Living in Toronto, that’s not really a big issue, as I’m lucky enough to be able to hop on a cross-town streetcar and be transported to Athens or Seoul or Bombay for the very reasonable cost of $2.75, but there are occasional things that even the wonders of globalization cannot bring to the most multicultural city in the world.
Things like buffalo mozzarella, that are consumed near where they’re made and generally are past their prime by the time they reach a destination on another continent. I always figured that until I was able to travel to Italy, I’d never get to enjoy the real stuff.
Oh, I’d eaten bocconcini, made locally from pasteurized cow’s milk and sold in tubs. Slightly softer than regular mozzarella, I found the stuff to be pretty bland and tasteless, although the various sizes of little cheese balls were fun to put in salad. I never really got the “silky” description though – most of the stuff I ended up with had the consistency and bounce of one of those hard little superballs you could get in gum machines as a kid. You’d whip them at the floor and they’d bounce forever off of every surface, until your Mom would come and yell at you lest the thing took out a piece of the Royal Doulton collection. Suffice to say that in the grand realm of cheese, bocconcini really wasn’t near the top of my list.
A few months back I read something in one of the newspaper food columns about how relatively easy it was to get organic produce at local supermarkets. The article specifically mentioned the No Frills in Dufferin Mall, and it left me scratching my head. See, I shop at that No Frills and I can’t really recall seeing a whole lot of organic produce there.
This provoked the desire to start exploring. Maybe there were hidden gems in my local shops that I wasn’t even aware of. So over the past few weeks, I’ve been wandering the supermarkets of the west end of downtown to see exactly what there was out there in terms of organics.
You’ll notice that I stuck to supermarkets and chain grocery stores, as this is where most people shop. My own grocery shopping excursions take me regularly to St. Lawrence and Kensington Markets, Whole Foods and Pusateri’s, as well as a variety of farmer’s markets, shops in ethnic neighbourhoods and small health food stores, in addition to frequenting the stores listed below.
In my travels for this article, I looked for specific items such as milk and soy milk, eggs, produce and prepared foods.
It’s been quiet in these parts, and the food has been unexciting. Too much stuff out of packages and too much stuff out of take-out containers. There’s two more weeks of this to go, and I swear, once we get moved and settled, I never want to see another frozen pizza again.
I mean, it’s not as if we’re moving far – a whole five blocks east. But it’s still easier to weed down your kitchen cupboards and buy new, rather than moving all your groceries, particularly perishables. So we’re trying to use up and clear out, which means no trips to Whole Foods, or the markets (Kensington and St. Lawrence), or swank and lovely Pusateri’s.
Instead, we eat the crap. Salads out of tubs, the ubiquitous frozen pizzas, store-bought frozen vegetarian lasagna, and many things from soy made to resemble parts of dead critters. The plan is to eat the crap for now, and once we’re in the new place, unpacked, and have had time to hit all the grocery places for fresh grub, to do a two-week detox to clear all the gunk out of our systems.