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Archive for April, 2012

Update May 22, 2012

A colleague from my KPMG days and a loyal blog follower mentioned that you can book private tours with the Toronto Preservation Society for a mere $10 per person. And because they are private, you can customize them! Now that’s a deal if I’ve ever heard one!

The month of April kicked off Heritage Toronto‘s wonderful guided walks in the Big Smoke with historical tours to commemorate the Bicentennial Anniversary of the war of 1812 (just HAD to mention that for my American friends!). JT and I have enjoyed their informative tours over the years and this past Saturday we decided to enjoy yet another through Cabbagetown North (according to the New York Times, Cabbagetown has the largest concentration of Victorian homes in North America. See Footnote #1). The weather was a bit crisp with the occasional gust of chilly wind, but the sun was shining (for the most part. Read proper shoes and coat) and dressed appropriately, it was absolutely lovely.

We started out at the corner of Wellesley Street East and Parliament Street at a corner neighbourhood park; over fifty people had the same idea, but they were very well prepared and divided the group into five troupes, each lead by one of their wonderful and informative guides. We choose Christopher, and boy are we glad we did! Christopher lives in the hood in one of the cutest cottages, but I’ll get to that shortly.

The history of Cabbagetown began in the 1800s during the potato famine in Ireland when hundreds of Irish labourers immigrated to Toronto and set up homes in the North East part as it was quite a way outside the city and rather inexpensive. It became known as Cabbagetown because the immigrant Irish discovered that our growing season was much shorter than what they were used to and had to plant vegetables that would store well in the winter; potatoes were planted close to the house, then turnip and finally cabbages were planted directly by the sidewalk/road (their gardens were at the front of their homes, the backs were commerce). As Toronto’s economy grew, a variety of middle to upper middle-class moved into the area making Cabbagetown a wonderful mix of small cottages, Grand Victorian and Edwardian home (and the odd eye sore built in the 1970’s).

In 1851, during the Great Exhibition (Crystal Palace Exhibition) in London (now known as the World’s Fare) Prince Albert (husband of Queen Victoria) who had a keen interest in affordable housing for the poor held a contest for architects to create a particular housing style that was affordable, easy to build with a relatively small footprint that could be used throughout the Commonwealth. William Hooker won the contest with his plan for the Victorian Cottage (apparently seen throughout the Commonwealth, even today!) (Source #2). The cottages were basically four 3m x 3m rooms (10′ x 10′).

After decades of neglect and various degrees of derelict, the neighbourhood started coming alive with young families began buying up the lots and rennovating (some with more taste than others) and so in 1989 the Cabbagetown Preservation Association (CPA) was born to preserve the architectural integrity and historic character of the Cabbagetown neighbourhood in Toronto. To attain a building permit in this historical area, one must not only get the City to approve the plans, but by law, the Cabbagetown Preservation Association must also approve. The CPA takes this very seriously.

A lesson on skirting the law: This hideous house is an example where the owners received approval from the CPA to build their modern home, with the caveat that they were not permitted to remove the Victorian on the property. So they connivingly built around the Victorian on the outside, and then when they were finished they dismantled the Victorian inside the walls as the CPA has no jurisdiction over the inside of the house. Go figure.

So let’s get to the good stuff.

Our first stop was a grand Victorian built by Thomas Harris in the Queen Ann style. Thomas Harris owned a stone cutting firm and decorated his home with the splendor of his business as a kind of billboard. This used to be a rooming house and was recently painstakingly and with considerable expense renovated back to its glory as a single family home.

#314 Wellesley Street East, Home of Thomas Harris, stone cutter. Grand Queen Ann Style. (Source #1)

Even in those days there were builders buying up plots of land and speculating with residential properties. The row houses on Wellesley Cottage Lane are labourers’ cottages “built in 1886-1887 by William Hooker from the plans that won him the architectural award in 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition in London” (Source #1). What’s interesting about this street is that it is a private street (one of three in this area, if memory serves), not owned by the City of Toronto, but by the residents of that street. They are responsible for the maintenance and care from sewage backups to snow shoveling services in the winter (I had no idea we had private streets in Toronto, and I’ve lived here all my life).

The labourers’ cottages are in the middle, flanked by the stand alone supervisor cottages.

The cottages have all been significantly renovated, with enormous additions in the back.

This is Christopher’s house. It is 914 square metres (3,000 square feet). The CPA approved this design because you are unable to see its vastness from the front. It backs onto private lanes and backyards so it doesn’t change the overall look and feel of the neighbourhood.

This home used to be two homes, but the owners recently converted it to a single family home. The bay window is not original but was approved by the CPA because it maintained the look and feel of the hood.

Just another pretty face that was recently sold for over a million dollars. It doesn’t even have parking!

Examples of row housing with Christopher’s new addition at the end.

Examples of cooperation between neighbours to maintain the look and feel of the historical context on the street. There were actually four houses that refaced with cedar shakes (can you agree with four neighbours on your street? What if your house was attached to their’s?)

There’s my artsy fartsy side showing up again. Just look away, if it offends you!

Way cool old MG tucked away in a back alley.

Another example of row housing. Please take note of the fountain at the end of the street.

The neighbours built this fountain as a memorial to one of the past neighbours on the street. The land behind the fountain is a cemetery which is actually three metres (10 feet) above this road. The city rebuilt these retaining wall after Huricane Hazel passed through Toronto in 1954 and littered the bones of the cemetery inhabitants throughout these little roads. Talk about GROSS.

Owl House (because of the Owl motif on the side of the house) is situated behind modern built homes from the 1970’s. The modern builds are not offensive to the neighbourhood mainly because they cannot be seen from the Street. Owl House used to be three stories but fell derelict until the present owners scooped it up and lopped off the third floor (too many unwanted tennants – squirrels and racoons!)

Another example of how the new owners of this typical Victorian Cottage renovated but maintained the exceptional style of the neighbourhood. This home plus the two others that you can’t see belonged to the Lepper family for three generations. All three homes have extensive extensions on the back, that are unseen from the front of the house.They were sold in the 1980’s.

These cottages are interesting because a builder bought the land and was going to level them (this happened before the CPA). The neighbourhood stepped in and through much negotiation the builder agreed to remove the facade and preserve them, then build new homes in behind the facades and replace the facade to maintain the street harmony. Nicely done.

Photo Source: http://www.tobuilt.ca/php/tobuildings_more.php?search_fd3=8059
21 Winchester street (1858) was owned by Archdeacon Boddy of the Anglican parish of St. Peter’s. Archdeacon Boddy is important because he attended a conference in Chicago and discovered that most of their streets were paved and that the congregations didn’t mind going to Church on less pleasant days because their clothes stayed clean (remember, these are the horse and buggy days). So he came home and paved all the streets around his Church. His Church had the largest congregation of that time in Toronto.
I’d go if they served martini’s or white wine instead of grape juice ;-)!

I couldn’t end the tour without a picture of this road sign. There was no story behind it, but I’m sure at the time there was lots to be said. Now let’s find a pub and have a pint.

I do hope you enjoyed your tour of North Cabbagetown Toronto. I would encourage you to seek out your own Historical or Heritage Societies within your own cities. Often these tours are free, or simply what you can afford and they are always exceptional (no disgruntled students just hammering out the details in a monotone voice). The guides are often retired school teachers, professors or just people with a real passion for their neighbourhoods.

Now I must ask you, have you ever been on an historical tour of your own city? And if so, what did you enjoy most about it?
Source #1: Heritage Toronto Walks Cabbagetown North pamphlet.
Source #2: Christopher, our Heritage Toronto Walks guide.

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It’s a week night and even though we like to eat at 7:30-8 on weekends, it just doesn’t work for week nights when I need a couple of hours to blog, and such! I’m always looking for tasty and quick ways to serve fish and Kristy’s delightful Baked Cod Portuguese was a sure winner, but I didn’t have the fire roasted tomatoes, nor the time to make them, so I took her recipe as inspiration. This one is quite low calorie, no butter or olive oil.

Halibut with a Rustic Tomato Sauce

An incredibly filling meal

Makes 3 servings (100g each fish and 200g tomato sauce and greens)

Ingredients:

  • 300 g Halibut
  • 300 g cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 90 g vidalia onion and garlic (the ratio is entirely up to you, I had about 80g onion, 10g garlic)
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • salt to taste
  • non-stick cooking spray
  • 300 g mixed greens, including cucumber and green onions
  • 3 tbsp chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly spray a cookie sheet with non-stick cooking spray. Distribute the tomatoes, onion and garlic on the pan evenly. Salt.
  2. Bake for about 30 minutes. Pour the contents into your immersion blender jar and blend until smooth. Add the smoked paprika and blend again. Keep the oven on.
  3. Strain through a fine sieve, discard what is left in the sieve.
  4. In a cast iron pan, sear the fish skin side on high heat for about 4 minutes. Pour the rustic tomato sauce over the hot fish and bake in the hot oven for about 15 minutes (this depends entirely how thick your fish is).
  5. Meanwhile, create a fresh green salad (about 100 g each serving) with the mixed greens (we used spinach and baby arugula), cucumber and green onion.
  6. When the fish is cooked through, remove the skin and place 100 g onto each bed of greens. Add about one third of the sauce to each plate. Garnish with parsley.

The sauce was lovely, not too acidic (I didn’t add sugar because I am no carbing for three weeks!) but you certainly can to taste. And the garlic really added a wonderful nutty flavour of a baked clove. I will definitely make this sauce again, perhaps with chicken or left over turkey, but then I would add chili pepper flakes to heat it up.

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Happy Thursday everyone. By now I am sure you have read Barb (Profiteroles and Ponytails) had a Tapas dinner party on the weekend and we were kindly invited; we had such a variety of food and it was soooo good. I made Chgo John’s Cheese Bread again (how many times do I have to make this bread before EVERYONE sees that they MUST make it?) and some devil’s on horseback and the Chorizo with Tomatoes and Balsamic Vinegar. I had a few leftover red and yellow peppers and decided to add them to the recipe, so below is the updated recipe, with photos this time. It’s such an easy tapas to make, just add what you have on hand, and you can make it in advance, as I did and just reheat in the oven or you can do it all right away. I would suggest, however, not to make it in cast iron unless it has an enamel coating as the vinegar will remove any seasoning you have diligently worked so hard on. We just served the dish in these adorable cast pans.

The martini with more in it is mine.

Chorizo with Tomatoes and Balsamic Vinegar

Serves 4 if you’re having other tapas courses

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup 1/4″ sliced and halved chorizo sausage
  • 1/3 cup grape tomatoes, quartered
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion (I prefer Mayan sweet onions or vidalia)
  • 1 clove garlic finely chopped (I prefer to use my microplane)
  • 1/2 cup mixed sliced yellow and red peppers
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Heat olive oil in a small pan, add chorizo and caramelize each side.
  2. Add onions and garlic and sauté for a minute, add the peppers and sauté for another minute.
  3. Add balsamic and allow balsamic to reduce slightly 3-4 minutes (this will thicken the balsamic a bit)
  4. If you are making this in advance, I would add the tomatoes when you reheat so they maintain some shape. If you make this to eat now, add tomatoes and sauté for another minute.
  5. Serve immediately or reheat (adding the quartered grape tomatoes) with that gorgeous Cheese Bread I cannot stop making and bragging about.

I wish you had smell-a-vision like I do.

I feel like Grover in the "near".... "far" episode

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As you may have noticed, I am often swayed by the recipes of my blogging friends. And this time is no different, because I fell for Sawsan of Chef in Disguise’s Fteer falahi (Cheese and anise flat bread). I had feta at home and fresh basil, so I thought I would use them (plus JT is not a huge anise fan). I had a little extra pot of the Titanic Pâté for our Sunday dinner with nephew Brian and the flat bread went very well with it.

These flat breads are soft but firm enough to hold a heavier spread, like the Titanic Pâté. Cheers!

I made only half the recipe Sawsan made because we are not huge bread eaters, and it made a lot of dough, so I froze half as raw dough and will be using it in the future. I liked the over all texture, but I did make a mistake, I didn’t brush it with oil at every fold (trying to keep the calories down). It turned out a little harder and not as chewy as I had hoped, but the flavour was certainly there. When I make the frozen batch, I will be certain to use the oil that Sawsan’s recipe recommended. As well, Sawsan recommended that I leave my dough a little thicker so it’s chewier. I can see this recipe being used for many a dips in the near future. Thank you Sawsan, you have inspired me yet again.

Fteer

Makes 2 12″ flat bread squares

Ingredients:

  • 0.5 kg all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tablespoon yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (I left this as the full recipe, JT said my bread was not salty enough!)
  • water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups of sheeps milk feta cut into small 1 cm cubes
  • 1/4 cup of chiffonade of basil

Directions:

  1. In a 1/8 cup of warm water dissolve the yeast and sugar (make sure your yeast is alive!)
  2. Sift the flour and salt into your large stand mixer bowl, add the yeast/water mixture and start kneading adding water gradually till you get a soft sticky dough consistency (I added a little over 1 cup of water but the amount varies with the type of flour)
  3. Machine knead the dough for 5-7 minutes, allow to rest , covered in a warm place for half an hour (I kneaded 7 minutes).
  4. Preheat your oven to 270°C or the highest temperature it will go.
  5. Gently combine the vegetable oil and olive oil and keep it next to your working area.
  6. Wet your hands with a little oil and cut the dough into 4 balls , brush each ball in the oil mixture and allow to rest for another 10-15 minutes. (don’t skimp on the oil)
  7. Brush your working surface with a little oil, start with the first dough ball you cut and spread it into a circle roughly 25 cm or 10 inches in diameter. Sawsan has some great photos on how to fold the dough, please visit her post here.
  8. Spread your filling onto the pressed dough and begin folding, much like a croissant dough, folding the left third over the centre, then the right over the centre, then the bottom fold up one third and finally fold the top down one third. You should have a nice folded smallish square. Allow this one to rest while you start working on the next one.
  9. When you have finished all of the dough balls, go back to the first square and brush it with oil and spread it into a larger square using a rolling-pin or your hands. Then do the same with the rest.
  10. I like using my cast iron pizza pan for this type of bread and I always pre heat it. using a rolling pin, roll up the dough and carefully roll out to the heated pizza pan. Drizzle more oil on it.
  11. Bake on the middle rack of your oven. Sawsan cautions to watch it carefully as it will burn very quickly.

Thanks again, Sawsan, this one will have a repeat performance in our repertoire, it is indeed a very easy flat bread to make. Next time, I shall substitute some of the white flour for whole wheat, just because 😉

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Welcome to my new series, Out of the Recipe Box. As you may have guessed from the title, this series will explore new ingredients, sometimes scary and always out of the ‘recipe’ box! This of course means I will be experimenting with ingredients I have never used before — I’m hoping with the enormous volume of info on the net, it will be much less guess-work than it might have been 20 years ago! I’m hoping. My intention is to post once a month for this series. Hey, if you have a suggestion and I can source it, I may just make it!

My first inspiration: I was walking in our new grocery store at Maple Leaf Gardens (they have just an incredible variety of everything, in fact, it is where this new series came to me!) and I spotted a Banana Flower. What the heck is THAT? was my first thought. It is certainly exotic enough, but will I be able to find a recipe I would want to eat? After much research I have found a few recipes, instructional videos that I will share with you. I hope you enjoy this series — and as usual, I adore your feedback.

What is really strange about the choice of vegetable is that I had never heard of it previously and shortly after I decided it would premiere my Out of the Recipe box series, Lorraine at Not Quite Nigella posts a restaurant review and a photo of the banana flower salad! Go figure!

The banana flower salad. An interesting combination of Asian Flavours

After much searching, I decided on this recipe by Tara Shetty over at Indian Food Blog, but before you go out and get yourself a banana flower, beware that preparing the flower is quite a tedious process. It secretes a sticky gell, so you must wear gloves or constantly oil your hands because I have read it is virtually impossible to remove. I used this video to help me figure out how to properly prepare the banana flower. Would I make it again? I doubt it, but it was an interesting experiment!

The coconut and tamarind really added the sweetness that the recipe needed for my taste, otherwise it can be a bit bitter

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Years ago we were watching Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello and he and a friend had a pizza cook-off. I cannot recall who won, but I do know we came away with the best Onion Confit recipe EVER. I usually make up a couple of batches and freeze; they are perfect for a pizza base, sauce base, dip base, even on a salad with crumbled blue or goats cheese. And because I freeze small quantities, they defrost quite easily. Please click here for Chef Chiarello’s original recipe.

I posted my take on the original recipe here, but I never took a photo of it. Well, you’re in luck because I made some up on the weekend and I was smart enough (wink, wink) to remember to take a gorgeous daylight filled photo of it.

Incredibly sweet and tangy, these onions make an amazing topping to pizza, salads brioche...the possibilities are endless

For additional ideas on how to use these gorgeous sweet onions, please see:

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The dinner party was an enormous success, THANK YOU Angela, Gordon and the Stewards, Evan and David. It went off without a hitch (not that we could see anyway, and that is what counts!). The boys did an amazing job with serving and cleaning up the table. Conversation was lively and we all had a great time!

The food was great and we couldn’t stop from finishing everything on our plates. My contribution of three (for recipes click here, here and here) of the ten courses were also well received. The table was beautifully set with the hand made branded napkins, the branded chargers and Angela’s wedding china and Silverware. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I certainly felt like I was on an opulent vessel being served a Michelin Five-Star meal! And we didn’t sink, which was a real bonus.

We dined for 5 hours, enjoying every last morsel and libation. The party went on until one o’clock in the morning, at which time, we thanked our hosts and drove silently home, pondering the forthcoming events of that fateful evening one hundred years ago.

Here is a quick recap of the evening, and that is likely the last you’ll have to endure Titanic mania at least until next year (there is talk to have this event yearly! ;-))

A quick recap of the invitations.

It looks real, doesn’t it?

I blurred out the names for privacy reasons!

I suppose this was directed toward the Gentlemen, as the Ladies were likely not invited into the casino!

I created memento booklets for the event. It had our menu, the guest list and some titillating trivia about the grand vessel.

Here is the entire booklet: MomentoBooklet_BlogNew

The welcome flags of the Titanic First Class Passengers

Our charming and generous hosts

Our fastidious Stewards, Evan and David, who kept the dinner moving efficiently and gracefully

The setting: First Class Dining Room

Hand made Napkin by Angela

The Cast of ladies (from left to right): Denise, Éva, Renata, Angela and Ginger

The cast of gentlemen (from left to right): Eric, Gordon, Richard, Philip and John

The party was certainly a hit!

Please ask for permission if you wish to download any of these photos as not all of them belong to me!

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