Food

Family day is a time for love, nourishment, rice

steamed_rice

For me, family day is about spending time with loved ones and eating simple, delicious food. The staple in my parent’s household is sticky rice. In fact, did you know the Lao word for ‘rice’ is the same word for ‘food’?

Sticky rice or ‘glutinous’ rice takes patience but it’s easy to make. Simply visit your local Asian supermarket and grab a bag of sticky rice. For the best results, soak the rice overnight in water (or for a minimum of three hours). The next day, steam the rice for 15-20 minutes on either side. I like to use a bamboo basket, a pot, and a lid (to keep the steam inside the basket). Once the rice is done, I spread the sticky goodness onto a non-stick mat and use a wooden paddle to gently remove the excess steam.

When I moved out of the house my mom made sure to equip me with all the necessary instruments for making sticky rice. She made me a non-stick mat from turning the rice bag inside out and cutting it into a square. She also cut the bag into a circle and placed it in the bottom of another bamboo basket to keep the rice from sticking. This second basket is for storage, but rice doesn’t last long in my house!

For me, rice isn’t a side dish. It’s the main course. The best way to eat sticky rice is also the simplest way. I roll a portion of the rice into a ball, sprinkle it with salt, and enjoy. It’s simple and delicious. And it reminds me of my family and the time we spend together at the dinner table.

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My bamboo basket of sticky rice was featured on the Gastropost section of The National Post.

(Note: Remember sticky rice is different from your everyday white rice because it’s stickier, denser, and more filling. It also doesn’t keep as long since you can’t refrigerate it like other rice. It’s best eaten fresh. )

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Food

New year’s resolution: eat all the doughnuts

glory_hole_doughnuts

I’m staring out into the middle distance and dreaming of doughnuts. If only I would turn around and see what’s right behind me.

So it’s the new year. A fresh start. 2015! Inevitably, the new year sparks new year’s resolutions — some feasible and others not so possible. I would guess that most gyms will see a spike in their membership and then a gradual decline as people come down from their new year’s high. I’d like to make a resolution that I know I’ll stick to — one that doesn’t involve reducing my body fat and increasing my time on the treadmill. A resolution that will probably see a spike in my glucose levels and an upward trend in my happiness quotient.

I’m committed to my 2015 resolution: I’ve decided to eat more doughnuts in 2015. Perhaps not just doughnuts (let’s try to be inclusive) but all foods sweet, decadent, and prone to inducing the sugar highs. Yes, it’s a giant task, but I think with perseverance I can make this happen.

I’ve already started my monumental goal last year when I stopped by Glory Hole Doughnuts (on Queen St W and Lansdowne Ave) and revelled in their scrumptious selection of gourmet doughnuts.

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All the ingredients for a wonderful fall day: chai brûlée doughnut, almond tea, shades, and a good book.

I met up with my friend Meghan for our donut date. It was the fall and the sun was blindingly bright and the air was chilled. And pesky wasps were still buzzing around. I think they were attracted to the smell of freshly baked doughnuts because before I could order anything — one of those buggers stung me! Ah well, I was immediately comforted with my chai brûlée doughnut and my almond tea. Honestly, I would go back for the almond tea alone. It’s so lux and I have a deep love for tea. Meghan decided to order the vanilla sprinkle doughnut and red velvet tea. She seemed to enjoy those delectable treats.

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Tea and doughnuts, say ‘cheese’!

I would like to add that I’m not biased when it comes to doughnuts. I like them in all shapes and sizes, cream filled or not, cake based or yeast risen, gluten-free or vegan or organic, eaten indoors, outdoors, at restaurants or drive-ins whilst watching Alfred Hitchcock films on the big screen.

As I’ll submit into evidence: I had the pleasure of meeting up with a few friends at Through Being Cool Vegan Baking Co.

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Dense and delicious: vegan boston cream doughnut and pumpkin cream doughnut.

The name is a mouthful but so are the doughnuts. They’re giant and dense. Perhaps because of their vegan nature, but I thoroughly enjoyed them even though I had to eat them in two to three sittings. I decided to go with a boston cream doughnut and a pumpkin cream doughnut, and I never looked back. But what I will do is this: I’ll look forward to 2015 and all the glorious doughnuts I’ve committed myself to consuming. It’s a major feat: eating all the doughnuts in Toronto. But I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.

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Food

There’s no sincerer love than the love of ramen

ramen_Momofuku

There’s something about the first snowfall that makes me want to curl up with a bowl of comfort food, a warm cat, and a cup of gingerbread tea. I’ll even make the trek outdoors for a hearty meal with a friend. So when Kate asked me where we should go for our Thursday dinner date, my mind wandered for a bit before landing on ramen! Specifically, Momofuku Noodle Bar on University Ave and Queen St. W.

I made sure to bundle up. The only visible part of me were my eyes peeking out from under a toque and over three layers of a scarf. It was a cold cold night and I was glad we would be sitting down to warm bowls of ramen. I had never had real ramen — only the packaged kind my little brother used to make for me.

Of course, I went through the wrong entrance. I was in a gigantic room with people in suits, ties, and evening wear. I was going to text Kate and tell her I felt totally underdressed. Then I saw some people go through another entrance. I decided to follow them and was relieved to see younger folks in oversized sweaters and oversized glasses, which was the exact outfit I had on.

Momofuku_noodle_bar

Once we both arrived safe and sound, we decided to share the Momofuku Ramen and the Dan Dan Mian. Holy ramen, it was delicious! I also bought half a dozen cookies for the road, which were temptingly displayed in the Milk Bar on the second floor of the restaurant. I obviously had a corn cookie after the meal.

It was so nice to visit David Chang’s restaurant. I had watched him in the first season of The Mind of a Chef and then yesterday I was able to step into his world through his delicious dishes. The service was excellent. It was lovely to spend time with a friend over good food, a pint of cider, and beautiful furnishings.

I’d recommend putting on all your layers and braving the trek outdoors for a bowl of ramen.

There is no sincerer love than the love of food. – George Bernard Shaw

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Food

Enjoy a bowl of phở on a cool autumn day

One of the dishes that reminds me of home is the rice-noodle dish, phở. I remember my mom spending a whole day making the complex and flavourful broth from choice cuts of beef, marrow, and seasonings. The aroma of phở broth still takes me back to my childhood.

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I like to begin with tea and fresh rolls before a bowl of phở.

When I moved to Toronto, I was on a food mission: I wanted to find the best and most authentic bowl of phở in the city. When I sat down and ate my first bowl of phở at Phở Linh on College and Dufferin, I knew I had accomplished my phở mission.

I made sure to ask for their homemade noodles. It was well worth it. The noodles had substance but they were also melt in your mouth. The warm broth was magnificent especially on a cool autumn afternoon, and the beef was rare and tender. I topped the dish with bean sprouts, Thai basil, and a squeeze of lime; the dish already comes garnished with cilantro and green onions. I also added the smallest amount of Hoisin sauce because I like to maintain the purity of the broth; it’s already full of complex flavours so why mess up a good thing? The thing I love the most about phở is that it’s both comforting and refreshing.

If you happen to be in the College and Dufferin area, check out Phở Linh. It may just transport you back to your own childhood.

Note: Make sure you bring cash because they don’t take credit and they don’t have an ATM machine.

Phở Linh Restaurant
1156 College St
Toronto, ON M6H 1B5
(416) 516-3891

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Food

Ain’t no party like a pizza party

What's simple is best. Understated and delicious. The margherita D.O.P. pizza!

What’s simple is best. Understated and delicious. The margherita D.O.P. pizza!

Pizza, pizza, pizza. I’ll let you in on a little secret: I eat pizza at least once a week. My name is Nok and I’m addicted to pizza. It’s been one week since my last slice of ooey-gooey goodness. And I’m not picky: fast-food pizza, gourmet pizza, homemade pizza, I don’t discriminate.

So when a friend told me about a little pizza joint on Ossington that won third best pizza in the world, you know I had to get out my lactase pills and head over immediately.

The first pizza I ordered from Pizzeria Libretto was the duck confit pizza with bosc pear and mozzarella. I know, I like to get freaky with my toppings. But this non-traditional pizza was nothing short of traditionally-made culinary bliss. The pizza is baked for 90 seconds in a 900-degree wood-burning oven, which gives it their signature charred crust and blistered mozzarella.

I’ve tried half  of pizzas on the menu: duck confit, homemade sausage, grilled eggplant, Ontario prosciutto and arugula, cremini mushroom, and the margherita D.O.P. By far, the best pizza I’ve tried is the most traditional pizza on the menu. The margherita D.O.P. is beautifully topped with tomato, basil, and mozzarella. It’s understated and delicious. Sometimes the simplest meals are the best meals. But don’t let its simplicity fool you; it’s packed with flavour!

Behold! The cremini mushroom pizza. How did they know mushrooms are my favourite fungus?

Behold! The cremini mushroom pizza. How did they know mushrooms are my favourite fungus?

Note: If you’re heading to Pizzeria Libretto for an evening meal, you’ll probably have to wait a bit, anywhere from 15 minutes to half an hour. But it’s worth it. In the past, I went across the street to a bar called The Painted Lady and had a pint as I waited for a text summons. I’ve also had a drink at the restaurant next to them called Fishbar. If you go for lunch, the wait will be substantially less. I went for their lunch prixe fixe, which is available from Monday to Friday, and you’ll only have to shell out $15. The last time I was there, I ordered the caprese salad, the margherita D.O.P. (my favourite one!), and both the biscotti and gelato (because I’m a dessert-monster).

Let me know if you’ve gone to Pizzeria Libretto (and died from bliss). What was your favourite pizza? Also, what’s your favourite pizza place? What are your must-have toppings?

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Culture

Let’s make new memories at the park

I couldn't agree more!

I couldn’t agree more!

Summer is almost over and I’ve had some lovely memories. My summer days were filled with beach days, street festivals, good eats, and days at the park.

And believe me, Toronto has amazing parks. This summer alone, I’ve gone to Earlscourt Park, Wells Hill Park, Sir Winston Churchill Park, High Park, and Christie Pits Park.

When I was younger my parents would take me to Riverside Park in Cambridge, Ontario. When the weekend rolled around, my mom and dad would load the car with blankets, bathing suits, and ingredients for delicious meals. My little sister and my younger brother would sit in the backseat, and we’d try not to pester each other too much. Going to the park was a time to reconnect with friends and family, to share a meal together, to feed the birds, to splash away in the pool, and to share laughter and stories. The park was honestly a 20-minute drive from our little apartment, but it always felt like an adventure.

Now pan to present day and you’ll find me back at the park throwing around a frisbee and sharing a sunny afternoon with friends. My childhood days at the park are now sepia toned and have the hazy fade of summers long past, but now I’ve created new memories at the park.

Hitchcock's Rear Windown at Christie Pitts Film Festival

Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’ at Christie Pits Film Festival

I was overjoyed to hear about the film festival at Christie Pits Park, which featured some amazing movies. It was my first time watching a movie outdoors. I still haven’t been to a drive-in! We prepared by bringing blankets and a canteen of water but we forgot snacks! Not to worry. There was a Sugar Mamma’s food truck nearby and we indulged in some organic blueberry and maple syrup mini-donuts. During the last night of the festival, we sat on the hill with a sea of rapt movie-goers while Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window played onscreen. This was the fourth year of the film festival and I’m sure there’s many more to come. I’ll have to mark my calendar for next year’s festival so I can catch as many films as possible.

Shakespeare's 'As You Like It' in High Park

Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’ in High Park

And the summer wouldn’t be complete without Shakespeare in High Park. Before I moved here, I was already a fan of watching the Bard’s work in the place famous for their cherry blossoms in spring. Last year, I sat in the grassy amphitheatre watching The Taming of the Shrew and this year it was As You Like It. It’s a good idea to get there early because there are plenty of Shakespeare lovers making their way to High Park in the waning days of summer. Movies and plays in the park is never “too much of a good thing.”

Note: Christie Pits Film Festival and Shakespeare in High Park have free admission but donations are appreciated. 

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Food

You had me at ‘eggs benedict’

Waffle benny with poached eggs, hollandaise sauce, mini waffles, and caramelized bacon at Starving Artist, St. Clair West location.

I’ve never been huge on eating breakfast or brunch but that’s definitely changed since I moved to Toronto. Who knew this little meal between breakfast and lunch held such delicious promise?

One day I was myself — a person who was an advocate for lunch and a champion of dinner and a lover of dessert — then I became someone all-together different; I became a certified brunch enthusiast. Or should I say, an eggs-benedict junkie?

Check out Starving Artist for their mouth-watering take on eggs benedict, which features their often-imitated-but-never-duplicated potato waffles. Bon appétit, friends!

Waffle sandwich anyone? Chicken bacon club with roasted chicken, bacon, havarti, and cucumber sandwiched between two golden waffles.

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Culture

Surround yourself with inspiring people and good food

Summer-fresh strawberries from the Farmers' Market

Summer-fresh strawberries from the Farmers’ Market

I love food and I love spending time with people, especially if there’s food involved. And good conversation.

I’ve recently befriended George Elliott Clarke, Toronto’s Poet Laureate. I met him at the Art Gallery of Ontario at an exhibition called Portraits of Poets. It was in April for National Poetry Month. If anyone who knows me well will tell you: I have a passion for poetry. I would say “passion” is an understatement. Perhaps, “obsession” would be more fitting.

Fresh Wednesdays with George Elliott Clarke on a windy and sunny August afternoon

Fresh Wednesdays with George Elliott Clarke on a windy and sunny August afternoon

But back to Mr. Clarke. So I met him in April and I was blown away by his exuberance and his unparalleled love for the English language. He told me about an upcoming event hosted by the city of Toronto called Fresh Wednesdays at Nathan Phillips Square, which would be happening in August.

Of course, I went. Not only was I drawn to the poetry readings and spoken word performances, but Fresh Wednesdays is known for its Farmers’ Market fare, brimming with delicious foods and fresh produce. This was my idea of a dream afternoon! Food and Art: the best marriage if I ever heard of one.

So this is happiness, I thought, as I sat front and centre for the Beat Café, which showcased the brilliance of four other poets, songwriters, and spoken word artists. It was a windy and sunny day. I was grateful for the wind because my legs were baking in the heat of the afternoon sun. Also, my insides were already warmed from the performances happening on stage. Afterwards, I asked Mr. Clarke to sign my copy of his book of poetry Execution Poems. He also has a new book of poetry out called Traverse.

“We’re working on a future project together, aren’t we?” he asked me.

“I don’t think so, but I did ask you to have a look at my book of poetry. It’s my first book and it’s coming out next month,” I said to him.

“Congratulations,” he said. “It would be my pleasure.”

Or something along those lines. I was too busy being a fangirl to remember everything verbatim. What I should’ve said was, Yes, I hope we have many many future projects to come.

Here’s to dreaming.

Note: Both of these events (Portraits of Poets and the Beat Café) were free. It’s amazing how the best things don’t cost a dime. I’ll definitely be there on August 27 when they have the Farmer’s Market Free Sampling Tour. Once again, the operative word here is “free.” I am a poet and writer, if you’ll recall.

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Food

Share a quiet moment with a close friend and a cup of coffee

Stella's Lunch Box: I found this hidden gem near my apartment.

Stella’s Lunch Box: I found this hidden gem near my apartment.

When I first moved to Toronto, I was wide-eyed and breathless. Not much has changed, though. I still feel inundated with the brilliant sights and sounds around me. It’s why I came here. I wanted to see life up close, I wanted to drink in everything, I wanted to come up for air only when I had taken in as much as I could.

I love being surrounded by simple and beautiful things like a warm cup of tea, a rustic table, a vase of white tulips, or a thoughtfully arranged living space. That’s why I felt I had uncovered a gem when my friend invited me for coffee at a café near our apartments.

This little place is called Stella’s Lunch Box and it’s situated off St. Clair Ave West — just to the east of the Corso Italia neighbourhood — on Lauder Ave. It’s on a quiet little side street with a fruit market across the way, and it sits flush against DeSotos restaurant.

They serve simple and fresh sandwiches, but I would still describe it as a café. The smell of freshly baked croissants, which I had the pleasure of eating, and the aroma of coffee beans makes this place a haven for me.

I was lucky enough to visit the café when they had just made a fresh batch of croissants.

I was lucky enough to visit the café when they had just made a fresh batch of croissants.

Even as a self-identified introvert, I still enjoy hanging out one-on-one with a friend or in small gatherings with new acquaintances. It always amazes me when I see someone sitting solitarily in a café writing on a laptop or quietly reading a book by themselves. I find these acts to be my most intimate experiences and my most cherished; it would be difficult for me to do these things in public. But what I can do is share a quiet moment with a friend and a cup of coffee while we marvel at the world outside.

Stella’s Lunch Box
145 Lauder Ave
Toronto ON M6H 3E4

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Food

You can’t go wrong with fried goodness

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Bat sandwich with bacon, arugula, and fried green tomato on sourdough bread

Talk about comfort food. Mmmm, Stockyards. The Stockyards: Smokehouse and Larder was the first restaurant I went to as an official Torontonian.

My partner Geoff, myself, and our cat Kinglsey were exhausted from our day of moving and we needed a break from our cluttered apartment. A friend of ours, who frequents Toronto quite a bit, recommended we check out Stockyards. He told us they’re famous for their chicken and waffles, so of course, we had to give it a try!

We ended up ordering a mountainous plate of golden, perfectly fried, perfectly seasoned chicken atop fluffy Belgian waffles. And because we like to share, we also ordered The Classic burger. Wow. I knew the chicken and waffles would probably be amazing, but I was overjoyed at the first bite of the burger. It was juicy and nicely cooked. There’s nothing worse than an overdone burger.

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Chicken and waffles: comfort food at its best.

We’ve also tried their Saturday brunch menu and it does not disappoint. You can really tell the quality of a restaurant by the way they prepare their simplest menu items. I tried their biscuits with a side of jam and butter (which is accented with silvers of citrus), and Great Caesar’s Ghost! The softness of the warm biscuit with the melting butter and jam combination was heavenly. My body was a tingle!

I’ve also tried their Bat sandwich which has bacon, arugula, and a fried green tomato (top photo). I’ve never had fried green tomatoes before, and I realized I had been missing out this whole time! Try it with a homemade ice tea infused with ginger or black cherry soda (which is my go-to drink whenever I’m there, which I now realize, is a lot, a whole lot).

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Our first meal as Torontonians: We were too busy eating the food so I only had a chance to take a photo of this black cherry soda.

Word of advice: Make sure you check out their menu or call in advance; sometimes certain menu items are available during specific days and/or times.

If you’re going for brunch on a Saturday, I would recommend getting there before 10:30 am. Stockyards has a crowd of brunch loyalists. You could perhaps opt for take-out, but I love dining in, sitting by the front window and people-watching.

Also, the portions are sizeable so it’s nice to go with a friend if you need help finishing a plate. But let’s face it, left-over fried chicken at two in the morning is just sinfully good.

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