Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Toronto's St Lawrence Market Revisited

The Market's South building

No sooner had I landed back in Ottawa for my annual summer visit than I was on a train heading to Toronto to help dear friend Puddy celebrate her birthday.  It was a milestone birthday but I am pinky sworn not to mention which one.

With a few hours to spare before the big event, I popped on my flats and off I went to St Lawrence Market to see what I could see.  For me, it was a trip down memory lane.  I lived in Toronto in the early 80's and back then, every Saturday morning, rain or shine, I'd jump out of bed before sunrise, take the Yonge Street subway to King Street and walk the remaining 5 or so blocks to the market.  Saturday was my favourite day to visit the market because on Saturdays, it was alive with local, artisanal vendors.

The South building
The Market is large by North American standards and consists of two buildings, simply named, the North Building and South Building.  The South Building, the oldest of the two, is open every day but Sunday.  It's lively and dynamic and filled with about 120 vendors, some of whom are are resellers and some are local or Canadian producers like Anton Kozlik's Canadian Mustard.  It's a great place to go for lunch and munch and while you're perched on a stool you watch the action swirling around you.

A place to perch and eat
The current South Building was rebuilt in 1904 on the site of where the first one was built in 1803.  In 1971 it was slated for demolition but a group of concerned, passionate Torontonians saved it, thank goodness. The South Building's vendors are spread between two levels of fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses, fish, meat, baked goods, dry goods, an art gallery, demo kitchen, and on and on and on.  You can find everything you need to make pretty much any cuisine from anywhere in the world and I'm not the only one who thinks it's quite exceptional.  The Market was recently named one of the world's top 10 food markets in National Geographic's book, Food Journeys of a Lifetime.
Although the South Building has its merits, I'm a big fan of the smaller, more modest North Building.  On Saturdays, it's filed with local producers of cheese, meats, crafts, baked goods, and pretty much anything you can imagine that's produced locally.  Even when I'd shop there in the 1980's the crowds were thick, relentless and the vendors more often than not were sold out of whatever goodies they brought by 10AM.  On Sunday the North Building is also home to a fabulous flea market.

One of my favourite vendors from the Saturday North Building market was Stephanie Evanoff.  I'm heartened and somewhat surprised to see that 30 years later she's still in the market's Vendor Directory. Ms Evanoff produces excellent goat, sheep and cow's milk cheeses but most of all, I loved her soft and delicious one day old "Fresh Cheese."  The taste of them reminds me of fresh Italian ricotta but with a silkier texture.  The only thing I've ever found that comes close to it is Brousse de Brebis, a speciality cheese that I buy from an artisanal producer on Saturdays in the market in Menton, France.

Since I was at the St Lawrence Market on a weekday I can't share photos of the North Building with you but I hope to return to Toronto later in the summer and you can be sure that I'll post some North Building snaps.

If you're lucky enough to be in Toronto on a Saturday, I suggest you visit the North Building first to get your pick of locavore goodies and then take a spin around the South Building.  You may want to go bright and early before the relentless crowds arrive.  Both buildings open at 5AM.  Bring cash.  Lots of it.

The St. Lawrence Market
92- 95 Front St East
Toronto, Ontario, M5E 1C3
(416) 392-7120

An Aladdin's cave of kitchen tools

Kozlik's Canadian made mustard

The South building

Sunday, 24 June 2012

The New Manotick Farmers' Market

Robin Turner of Roots and Shoots Farm
When I heard the news on the foodie grape vine that a new Farmers' market was opening in Manotick, I couldn't have been happier.  The fact that the market would be held at the picturesque and historic Watson's Mill was even better.  It was also a great chance to get out of the city that had become a claustrophobic sauna over the past week.

A trip to Manotick was like a fresh breath of much needed air.

We can all thank Robin Turner of Roots and Shoots Farm who is the brains behind the resurrected farmers' market in Manotick and his vision for the new market is a focus on local producers.  Hat's off to Robin for taking the initiative and contributing to the prosperity of his local town.

The Farmers' Market isn't the only thing for foodies in Manotick.  Steps from the market is the beautiful, historic Watson's Mill, built in 1860.  You can wander through the mill, learn how flour was made in the olden days and maybe spot the ghost of Ann Crosby Currier who tragically died in the mill not long after it was built.  Entry to the mill is free so you'll have a pocket full of cash to spend on a bag of flour that is ground in the mill on century old mill stones. 

If you need ideas and recipes for all the goodies you bought in the market, steps away you can cool off in the Used Book Sale building and poke through their food and drink section.  The hard cover books are a few bucks each and all the money goes to fund Dickinson's Days.

After all that activity you may need lunch so I recommend a short walk down Mill Street to The Miller's Oven for their all day breakfast.  It's staffed by volunteers and all the proceeds go to local community groups.
We also met the very personable, Mr Rich McDonald, Manotick City Councillor who took some time out to talk about Manotick's history and future growth plans.  Like others in Manotick, he welcomed the new Farmers' Market with open arms. 
Coincidentally, our conversation took place while we stood in the shade directly in front of the ornate iron fence he graciously donated to circle Manotick's cenotaph. 

I'm looking forward to returning to the Manotick Farmer's Market, scooping up fresh local produce and seeing how the market evolves.  Based on what we saw today it has a very promising future.  Just like Manotick.

Mr Rich McDonald and his fence

Yippee!  A new market!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Za Za Za in the Glebe

A big, warm, welcome to Ion Aimers and his new restaurant, Za Za Za, Pizza with Pizazz  to the Glebe!

For the past few weeks, a big banner in the window at their new location declared, "An end to Bland Pizza!" With that bold declaration and its positioning between a Pizza Pizza and a Pizza Hut, I was intrigued.

This morning, minutes before opening its doors for the first time, two hospitable servers were stationed as sentries out front and after getting the scoop from them, I wandered in for a sneak peek. 
Kitchen Manager, Connor Mcquay

Once inside, the red velvet swag at the pass, the twinkling chandeliers, sculptures, and inviting armchairs sprinkled here and there immediately created a operatic atmosphere.  It reminded me my friend Marco's eccentric, art-filled Palazzo in Venice.  In true Italian style, linen napkins grace each of the place settings.  So civilized.
If you're dining alone you can sit at the counter facing the kitchen to watch the pizzaiolo in action.

In talking to Mr Aimers today, I learned that he relies on fresh, quality ingredients, dough made daily on site and creative combinations for his thin crust pizzas to bring him a steady clientèle. Important basics.

Tonight's opening night dinner is a fund raiser for the Ottawa Food Bank.  Kudos to Mr Aimers for his continued philanthropic efforts.  

My friends and are a going to pop in tonight to see if we can score a table.  Forks crossed!

One thing's for sure, if the reviews are anything like the ones his other Za Za Za restaurant at Beechwood has under its belt, it will be an enchanting and delicious evening.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Spring and Summer all Mixed Up

Tiny sweet peas, luscious strawberries, earthy carrots and beets, asparagus, basil and fresh spring greens.  There were so many goodies at the Ottawa's Farmers' Market in Brewer Park this morning I didn't know what to buy let alone decide what to make for lunch and dinner.  

The morning started out with warm sun, then became overcast, then it rained, then the sun broke through and then the temperature dropped as the wind whipped up. 

One thing for sure, the weather was as varied as some of the products the growers had in their stands.  Here it was, early June, and some of them had basil already.  Was it my imagination or were the sweet peas and strawberries are a bit early this year too?

The vendors straightened me out.  It wasn't my imagination.  Since last year some of them had added row covers, greenhouses and hoop houses to protect their crops and extend the short growing season.  These innovations coupled with an unusually mild winter meant that we would be able to enjoy fruits and veggies usually available in late June a week or two earlier.  How great is that?

I'm really looking forward to seeing what interesting new dishes come to mind now that the seasons are overlapping so much.

Now, can anyone do something about the weather?

Mollie the Wonder Dog

Pastel duck eggs

Saturday, 2 June 2012

A Bake Table, Some Crazy Squirrels and Hope

Safe from those Pesky Squirrels.  A Carrot Cake in a cage.
The birds were singing, the sun was shining and by 7 AM, the crowds were already thick and relentless. 

We couldn't have asked for better weather for the annual Great Glebe Garage Sale nor could the thousands of people who flooded to the Glebe to hunt for treasures.  Thank goodness all that browsing and bargaining was making everyone hungry for cookies and cakes!

I learned that the humans weren't the only ones craving baked goods.

Ottawa's Mayor Jim Watson with two of my cookies, "M" and "W."
After a week of preparation and planning, I spent all day Friday baking up a storm.  With the oven running non stop and my kitchen starting to feel like a sauna, I opened the windows to cool things down and the aroma of all those cookies and cakes apparently attracted some curious squirrels. By mid day, a small a mob of them had gathered in our garden.  I didn't think much of it until one of them launched itself at the window and stayed suspended there, it's little toe nails caught in the screen.  He was trying in vain to get to my racks of cooling cookies!

Unfortunately, that wasn't the last I saw of the pesky squirrels.  The next morning while I was setting up the bake table they were still lurking about and one of them ran into my house!  I spent the next 10 minutes trying to shoo the little bugger out with a towel!

The Mayor of Ottawa, Jim Watson stopped by and I offered him two alphabet sugar cookies, an "M" for Mayor and a "W" for Watson. His aide told me that the Mayor has a sweet tooth so I'm hoping he becomes a regular customer.

My niece, the fabulous Sophia helped me set up my bake table followed by my sister Patty and their helping hands really made a big difference.

I've been holding a bake sale for so many years now that I have regulars who stop by every year to say "hi" and buy cookies, cakes and jam. It's a great way to reconnect with my neighbours and get caught up with old friends.

One thing everyone likes to buy from me is a slice of carrot cake.  When you think about it it makes an ideal breakfast.  It's full of vegetables, (carrots) fruit, (raisins) dairy, (cream cheese) and protein (eggs).  It's logical, really.  This year I prepared 4 carrot cakes but I was sold out within an hour.  Next year I I'll have to make 5!

By 1 o'clock, the crowds started to thin out and I had only a few cookies left.  We folded down the bake table and retreated inside to count the loot.

This year's tally was $1,295, all of which is going to the Nepal Youth Foundation, a charity hubby and I have been supporting for many years now.  Their Indentured Daughters programme sends impoverished girls to school for a mere $100 per year and gives them a head start towards a better life.

How fabulous is it that for a mere $250 worth of ingredients, hungry bargain hunters and an oven, the lives of 12 young girls will be changed forever for the better.

I can hardly wait for next year's sale!

A dedicated bargain hunter

Marmalade, jam and jelly
Rice Krispie Treats on a stick

Lemon Baby Cakes