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The Great Canadian Cheese Festival

3 Jul

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A few weeks ago, I posted a reader’s offer for discounted tickets to the Great Canadian Cheese Festival.

Naturally I had to venture up to Picton, in Prince Edward County, to check it out myself; let’s put the delayed report down to an epic cheese and wine coma.

The festival calls itself the “biggest artisan and homestead cheese show in Canada”, and 36 cheesemakers turned up to show off their produce, all made with the milk of Canadian cows, goats, sheep and water buffalo, using no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives, and no modified milk ingredients.

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I was there on the first day of the weekend-long cheese-fest. There were so many samples being thrust politely in my direction, it was hard to know where to start, but the rich, creamy Maple Dale “aged” (Canadian for “mature”) cheddar was a big hit, as was the Dandelion wine jam by Henderson Farms, based on nearby Wolff Island.

Major Craig’s Inc put together a hearty charcuterie plate, and the four cheese wood fired pizza by the Flatbread Pizza company ensured that we didn’t go short of a square – or, rather, circular – meal.

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Prince Edward County is, of course, famous for its wineries, so there was plenty of booze to keep everyone merry. The Waupoos ice wine cider was the perfect cooler in the sticky end-of-Spring weather, but the Pinot Gris by solar-powered Redtail Vineyards, and the draught beers by Church-Key Bewery were also appreciated. Luckily, I had a designated driver.

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There were also cute goats:

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And a one-week old bull; the farmer raved about its breeding, I was mainly impressed by its eyelashes:

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After filling our chops with rich food, it would’ve been rude not to show off our expanded bellies at nearby Sandbanks Provincial Park, which boasts the world’s largest freshwater sandbar and dunes.

The park’s beautiful enough in the winter, but it’s even easier to admire its transparent water while wading knee-deep in the absurdly warm lake, or lounging on the rippled white sand.

Sandbanks Provincial Park

Sandbanks Provincial Park, courtesy of Kate Brown on Flickr

I’m slightly in love with Prince Edward County, so the cheese festival was the icing, or maybe the mascarpone, on the cake.

What’s weird is that, despite being just over two hours from Toronto, tons of city-dwellers have never been to Prince Edward County and, in some cases, seem unsure as to where it actually is. It’s a lovely corner of Ontario well worth a daytrip or weekend break not only for its beaches but also for its wineries, cycling, camping and – as I now appreciate – cheese.

Toronto’s Top Bike Trails

20 Jun
Best Toronto bike trails

View from Humber Bay Park

 

It’s Bike Month in Toronto, meaning the place is crawling with cycling evangelists waddling about with their padded bottoms, inciting everyone to get on two wheels.

Whatever their fashion crimes, the wild-haired ones are onto something: This compact, flat city’s ideal for cycling, aside from some inconveniently placed streetcar tracks and spatially challenged supertruck drivers.

As a signed up member of the tribe, with the oil stained calves to prove it, I recently decided to take part in one of the Bike Month events, a group ride around Ward 18.

This involved cycling around Little Portugal and nearby neighbourhoods, stopping off enroute to scoff delicious pasteis de Nata. Anything for the cause, cycling comrades. Photos from the ride have been posted here (spot the lanky cyclist in the fourth picture down).

My unwavering commitment to the right to wear impossibly tight lycra and feel a little superior truly knows no bounds.

So, to further demonstrate my unwavering solidarity, here’s an extra contribution to Bike Month:

My pick of Toronto’s cycle trails, in no particular order.

1. Don Valley-Sunnybrook Park-Edwards Gardens. 17km, 1 hour.

Look out for raccoons and rabbits on the Don Valley, and take some extra time to meander through Sunnybrook Park. Walk your bike round serene Edwards Gardens, admiring the rock gardens and meadow flowers.

Best bike trails Toronto

Don Valley bike trail

2. Waterfront Trail Westwards-Humber Bay Park. 12km, 45 mins.

Keep left when you get to Coronation Park and take the lakeside trail. Pause on Humber Bridge and drift round to Humber Bay Park, through the butterfly meadow and over to a peaceful rocky beach with a fabulous view of the city. Keep an eye out for tortoises!

Humber Bay tortoise bike Toronto

A tortoise I spotted at Humber Bay during a bike ride last Sunday

3. Humber Bay Park-up the river until your legs get tired. Up to 35 km, 2.5 hours.

Ride alongside the river, through a series of quiet parks. The occasional steep hill gets the glutes going. In late September/early October you can spot salmon jumping out of the river.

Best bike trails Toronto

Along the Humber River

4. Waterfront Trail Eastwards-Cherry Beach-Ashbridges Bay Park-Kew Beach. 11 km, 45 mins. Optional weekend detour: Tommy Thompson Park.

Take a detour past urban Sugar Beach, stop to watch kite-surfers at Cherry Beach, then weave around Ashbridges Bay Park harbour before dodging rollerbladers and kids on the path running along the sandy shores of Kew Beach.

Best bike trails Toronto

Cherry Beach

5. Don Valley-Evergreen Brickworks-Moore Park Ravine-Mount Pleasant Cemetary. 10km, one hour.

Gorgeous in the Fall, when the ravine and cemetery are carpeted with auburn-yellow leaves.

Best bike trails Toronto

Moore Park Ravine in Fall

6. ??????

This one’s my all-time favourite. It doesn’t seem to be as “on-the-map” as the others just yet, which works for me. Maybe I’ll reveal all in a future post. Possibly.

Note: Times and distances are approximate and are based on setting off from Union Station. They don’t take account of any detours, wildlife spotting or pausing for photos of the CN Tower in the distance (you can never have too many of those, after all).

Cheesy Reader Offer

31 May
Cheese 101

Cheese, courtesy of Steel Wool on Flickr

Based in or near Toronto? Stuck for weekend plans? Like cheese?

As a special (last minute) thank-you to my lovely readers, here’s a discount to Canada’s biggest cheese festival, taking place tomorrow and Sunday in Prince Edward County.

You can get 25 per cent off tickets for The Great Canadian Cheese Festival by entering the promotional code CF13NEW before starting your online ticket order here.

It’s only good for tickets purchased online in advance of the festival on June 1-2.

Let me know if you go and what you make of it!

Brain Stew

8 Feb

Torontoist, Toronto

This week I went to one of the culinary events put on as part of Winterlicious, Toronto’s annual attempt to pull people out of hibernation and into its plethora of restaurants, during the big freeze.

 Here’s my write-up for Torontoist.com:

Winterlicious Toronto

From Banuary to Ch(ocolate)anuary

12 Jan

Start the year as you mean to go on – isn’t that the saying?

In line with this maxim, my first week back in Toronto after Christmas in the UK involved a trip to chocolate “boutique and lounge” MoRoCo, in Yorkville, and the most decadent dessert ever:

S'mores Toronto MoRoCo

S’mores at MoRoCo in Yorkville

For the uninitiated, s’mores are a North American campfire tradition. They consist of melted chocolate and gooey marshmallow, sandwiched between two graham crackers (sweet, chewy biscuits) and leave you wanting “some more”, geddit?

Granted, a trip to the local chocolate boutique’s a non-conventional alternative to January’s gym slog, but no doubt fellow sweet-tooths would agree it’s the preferable option. Especially when said boutique serves Malbec by the (large) glass.

In any case, we’re into the third week of January by now – definitely the time to hang up the yoga mat, along with any pretence that you can exist solely on oily fish, quinoa and coconut water.

The MoRoCo Experience

MoRoCo takes its chocolate very seriously, as one might expect. Entering through the white-walled store, displaying bite-sized, pastel-hued truffles and macaroons inside glass cases, it feels like you’ve walked into a jewellers or a high-end spa.

The starched ambience relaxes as you move into the main lounge, with its velvet curtains, mastoid chandeliers and kitsch figurines.

MoRoCo Toronto chocolate

MoRoCo interior

The decor’s probably meant to create a “romantic” atmosphere but instead lends a certain gentleman’s club air to the place; I half expected an exotic dancer to jump out from under the table and perform a strip-tease.

The soundtrack was also a bit forced – has anyone got jiggy to Sting since the ’80s?

The Menu

Technically, you can eat a full dinner at MoRoCo, but seeing as the menu’s finale features giant vats of apple caramel cheesecake, red velvet crepe and chocolate fondue, you might want to skip the Caesar salad and baked polenta. Filling up on leaves would be kind of missing the point.

The tiramusu ($10), served with Italian lady fingers in a chocolate cup, was good, however I definitely lucked out with the molten, crunchy s’mores ($14).

Our server uttered the inevitable snark about us “obviously” not enjoying our desserts (the plates were virtually licked clean). She was only being friendly but, really, no-one wants to be reminded of their gluttony. Especially in January.

Still, MoRoCo wasn’t an awful place to test out my reverse New Year’s resolution. Forget Banuary, it’s all about Ch(ocolate)anuary. Any visitors to Toronto who are down with this might like to check out the following emporiums of sweet treats:

  • Soma, 32 Tank House Lane, Distillery District. There’s a chocolate LABORATORY. Also, the best hot chocolate in the city – be sure to ask for it with milk.
Soma Toronto Chocolate

Soma, Distillery District

  • Cafe 260, 260 Richmond Street East. Superb eavesdropping to be had thanks to the exuberant designers, architects and model bookers who frequent it. Adjoins an art gallery and serves white chocolate lattes, After Eight hot chocolates, muffins and cookies. Yum, slurp.
  • The Oxley, 121 Yorkville Avenue, Yorkville. Great British puds. The sticky toffee pudding was so good I could almost overlook the fact it was served with ice cream instead of clotted cream. Almost.
  • Tori’s bakeshop, 2188 Queen Street East, The Beaches. Cupcakes, cinnamon buns, croissants, muffins, tarts and pies. They’re vegan, organic and refined sugar free, therefore totally guilt-free?

These are just some of my favourite spots, but I’m still exploring! Let me know where you go for your Toronto sugar-fix.

Ugly town…but the bacon’s great

19 Dec

“Whoever’s in charge of promoting Canada abroad completely have their heads up their arses.” So says Anthony Bourdain, the American TV chef who’s visited Toronto for a show due to air in Canada next year, though you can watch it below:

He’s right, there’s a lot more to Canada than mounties, maple syrup and Celine Dion. Though, regarding Toronto, Bourdain seemed to take some winning over.

He starts off by slating the city’s architecture  (“It’s not a good looking town…these architectural fads of the 20th century…Mussolini would be perfectly at home with that one…Soviet chic…butt ugly “) but ends up raving about its foodie culture, furtive bar scene and eclectic neighbourhoods.

He mainly seems to have been won over by his peameal bacon bap at St Lawrence Market, which is understandable, though personally I’d have taken him to Rashers in Leslieville, which seems to be the only place in Toronto that sells proper British-style bacon butties.

Rashers bacon Toronto

Bacon butty from Rashers

Anyway, the video’s quite fun, if you can stomach Bourdain’s scatological turn of phrase; it’s hard to imagine Delia or Floyd referring on air to mushrooms that “give you a big stiffy”or roti that causes a “burning a-hole”.

It actually doesn’t do a bad job of showing the “real” Toronto as a city comprising lots of different, slightly hidden, areas. T Dot’s not – and doesn’t try to be – a New York, or London, with their distinctive, all-encompassing branding.

Instead of fixating on the lack of iconic sights or tourist spots, it features some of my favourite neighbourhoods, like Kensington Market, Mirvish Village, Toronto Islands and Little Italy. The full list of restaurants and bars in the show are listed here.

And yeah, my first impression of Toronto’s architecture tallied with Bourdain’s, but high rise cities – even concrete ones – are often spectacular at night, and during the day the skyline looks pretty awesome from the islands.

Toronto skyline beaches

Toronto skyline from the Islands

No need to whinge; Three stores in Toronto stocking British snacks

15 Sep

One of the reasons I started this blog was to create an antidote to the whinging, whining tone adopted by what seemed like the majority of Brits on ex-pat forums.

When moving over here first became a possibility, I wanted to find out everything I could about Toronto. I wanted to be inspired by all the fun, amazing stuff Canada had to offer and read some well considered reflections on how people’s lives had changed for the better – or worse – after moving from Britain.

All I got from the ex-pat brigade was a lot of moaning about how the chocolate in Canada tasted under par, and did you realise they don’t stock King Edward potatoes here? How are you meant to cook a Sunday roast??! Here’s a nice extract for you, taken from britishexpats.com

DefaultRe: What foods can I NOT get in Canada?


Canada is nothing like the UK…
go to any major food store and you wont get half the stuff that even corner shops in the UK have.
The food labling is rubbish, and misleading.
To get my standard weekly shop, I need to visit several stores plus some of the ethnic stores.
Tesco can put these guys to shame.
Get used to NOT having what you likeed in the UK, chances are its not available here.
But look on the bright side, everyuthing loaded with sugar and fat.
oh and it must be the law to have maple syrup with everything.
Good Value Baked beans in MAPLE SYRUP. FFS

FFS, look around you, stop complaining and learn to spell.

There does come a point in any ex-pat’s journey though – around the two month mark in my case – when you start craving some comfort food from home. Happily, there are loads of places that stock British imported goods. Here are a few of them:

1. Suckers, 450 Danforth Avenue

British chocolate in Canada

British chocolate at Suckers, Greektown

2. Mrs Bridges’ British Bakery, 1 Eglington Square, Scarborough

Has the cook from Upstairs Downstairs sprung up a franchise in eastern Toronto? Maybe there are two Mrs Bridges who decided to go into the bakery business together, or perhaps it’s run by a civil partnership couple who both decided to take the same surname.

Whatever. All you need to know is it sells Golden Shred marmalade, Robertson’s jams, Jacob’s crackers, Ambrosia creamed rice and canned treacle sponge puddings. Oh, and milk chocolate Hobnobs, which – along with two cans of Irn Bru, made a rather stunning first anniversary present for my husband. I’m a romantic devil.

3. Infinity pharmacy, 35 Lower Simcoe Street

British food in Toronto

Infinity pharmacy, downtown Toronto

Sorry about the picture, it was sunny. But they sell Walkers crisps, Penguin bars and – take note forum whiner – proper baked beans made with the British recipe, not the Canadian version with extra added sugar or (shudder) maple syrup. “Come and get some mate”? I think I will.

Is Lucozade, strictly speaking, Irish? Not sure, but I like the gratuitous leprechaun anyway.

Let me know if there are any other prime spots I’ve missed from this list.

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