My comforting banana bread

It is madly snowing in Vancouver today. It is unusual that it snows in the city, only the mountains receive favourable dumps at this time of year. It has not stopped all night and all morning and I guess my son and I will be layering up to enjoy some snow fun making snowballs and snow angels later this afternoon. Right now I am craving comfort, snuggling up on the sofa with a warm slice of banana bread and a cup of tea while I watch the beautiful snowflakes fall.

Snow day in Vancouver Dec '12

My favourite banana bread is one that has a generous quantity of banana in it, soft without crumbling (but not wet), and a nice crust on the outside. There are literally hundred’s of banana recipes out there, and there is always an ingredient or two I don’t like in each recipe so I’ve created by own. When the cold is just too much you can give it a summery feel with coconut and berries.

It was a baking morning today. As much as it is beautiful to look out at all the snow-capped rooftops and trees, it is not at all inviting to step outside and my son was starting to get restless for some activity so he helped me. He had lots of measuring to do with all the dry ingredients and mixing all the wet ones in the well. This kept him happily busy for about half an hour, which is fabulous when you are a parent running out of things to do indoors… however as a precaution you need to know there will be lots of mess!

Mess in the kitchen

photomess

He was particularly delighted to see the final product and give it the first taste test.

Banana Bread (Serves 10)

Ingredients 

oil or butter, to grease and non-stick baking paper

1 1/3 (200g) cups plain flour

1 cup (150g) wholewheat flour

1.5 tsp baking powder

1/3 cup (75g) caster sugar/berry sugar

1/3 cup (75g) brown sugar

1/4 cup (20g) shredded coconut

1 tsp cinnamon

3 eggs lightly whisked

3 large ripe mashed bananas

2/3 cup (160ml) organic virgin coconut oil (melted on low heat)

1.5 tsp of vanilla extract

1/3 cup (75gm) raspberries (frozen and broken up a little so not whole)

Method

1. Preheat oven to 300 F or 150 C. Grease a 7cm-deep 100mm x 200mm (base measurement) loaf pan with oil or melted butter. Line the base and sides with non-stick baking paper.

2. Sift the combined flours and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar, coconut and cinnamon and mix through so ingredients are evenly distributed.

3. Make a well in the centre. Add the eggs, banana, oil and vanilla and again mix well. Fold through the frozen raspberries.

4. Pour into the prepared pan. Smooth the surface. Bake for 1 hour and increase temperature to 355 F / 180 C for a further 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.  Set aside in the pan for 15 minutes to cool before lifting out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Note: It is quite a dense mixture so I like to bake it slower and longer to deliver a great result. 

Other combinations I have tried are gluten-free four, banana, blackberries and chocolate and also banana, raspberries and date. They all seem to taste good to me.

Enjoy!

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Wining and Dining in the Okanagan Valley

Ok… over to my again husband to recount our recent trip.

This trip to the spiritual home of BC wines was highly anticipated on many fronts. Firstly we relished the opportunity to learn more about the wines we were savouring in Vancouver, secondly we hoped to discover a few more fine examples of Okanagan golden goodness and lastly we longed for a good

Oliver Road 18

The vista from Road 18 vineyard in Oliver

old fashion road trip. I think Canadians and Aussies definitely share a common enthusiasm for long, meandering drives to wonderful destinations. Our countries are decorated with natural beauty but in both cases it can take a mighty long time to get there. You can lament this situation or just strap yourself into a trusty vehicle, turn up the stereo and enjoy the ride. Equally, what better way to see a new country than from the vantage of a road trip and what better time of the year to do it in, than Fall.

The Okanagan Wine Country is about 5-6 hours north east of Vancouver and the Zielinski’s opted for a timeless classic in the form of a Volkswagen Westfalia. This van rolled off the production line in 1986, so it was a vintage VW but had been lovingly maintained all those years so was still highly reliable (we hoped…)  It came with it’s own fridge, cooktop, double bed and a top speed, on the downhill, of 110km/h. Having this chariot chug us down the highway added a deft touch of romanticism to our trip.

Our steed, the Westfalia

The 26 year old Volkswagen Westfalia, sure wasn’t the fastest way to get somewhere but definitely the most fun

Naramata DSC_1174

This is the heart of some of the best vineyards to visit

The drive up was beautiful and even swept us pass Hope, BC the setting for the legendary Sylvester Stallone film “Rambo, First Blood”. We took a pre-planned pit stop at a roadside fruit and veg store to feed one of our touring party’s growing  addiction for pumpkin and gourds. These were critical components to the upcoming Halloween festival. We spied a slinking wolf on the way up and arrived in Naramata in the early evening.

 

Here we met the lovely and gregarious Renee who ran a delightfully unique B&B – Robinson Bed and Beach. Her links to the area were indisputable as her grandfather was one of the first to settle in the area and built the Heritage Inn. The B&B had a moose head proudly on display that apparently fed Renee’s relatives for two years during one particular lean period. It’s difficult to describe the B&B in words other than to say eclectic would be high on the list. It was perfectly placed on the shores of Lake Skaha, so the sunrises were breathtaking. The view was enhanced further by the jumping into the outdoor Jacuzzi with a coffee or wine depending on the time of day.

Now, back to the main purpose of our trip – wine tasting. Obviously everyone was looking forward to this, especially our hosts who were itching to introduce us to some fine wineries. The only tragedy we struck was my wife learning 3 days before we left that she was 5 weeks pregnant with our second child. Devastation at not wanting to drink wine due to the incessant nausea countered by joy of knowing we were growing a second child would describe her mental state. So I took it graciously upon myself to taste and drink for the two of us. Almost all of us thought this was very selfless of me.

All 3 days of our Okanagan visit involved a very similar routine. We set out mid morning after a quick Jacuzzi by the Lake, carefully keeping an eye out for the legendary Okopogo.

Lake DSC_1190

Never tire of this view of Lake Skaha from our B&B

We would then hit a few wineries before lunch and before our kids self destructed. Then we would visit a few more vineyards in the afternoon (mainly G and I) whilst the ladies would corral the kids back to the B&B for some entertainment. Perhaps the greatest challenge during the weekend was entertaining the 3 kids whilst we tasted.  My memory of all the wines we tasted and vineyards we visited is limited but my general impressions were that the region is truly breathtaking. It rivals and tops many of the wine areas I have been lucky to visit so far. I would rank it above the Hunter Valley, Clare Valley, Napa and it would be on par with the Dordogne, France. Whilst in terms of its wines this region is an infant in comparison since most vineyards are 20 years or less old.

The Okanagan

Quite simply … Okanagan Gold

There were definitely many standouts however, they are probably a little over priced and I was a little frustrated by the tasting fees which appeared almost mandatory at every place, even the small vineyards. I know this is standard practice in the States but it doesn’t sit very well with me as tasting the product is part of doing business. Anyhow this aspect didn’t detract greatly from our experience. We even visited a wonderful cheese farm, a vineyard, Elephant Island, that made wines from plums, raspberries, blackberries, apples and peaches. This probably harks from the time that the Okanagan was overrun with plenty of orchards. Some 15 years ago there was a shift from orchards to vineyards as everyone eyed the potential for more money from selling bottles of wines rather than boxes of apples. I am sure glad they did as the region is spectacular.

OK, so what wines stood out I hear you plead. Definite highlights included the Burrowing Owl in Oliver, Quail’s Gate in Kelowna and in Narramatta I loved La Frenz, Red Rooster, Wan Westen and Poplar Grove. The most epic and Napa like vineyard was undoubtedly Mission Hill in Kelowna. This is a monument to largeness. Epic! Mammoth! Gargantuan! All these descriptors aptly provide a snapshot to this place.

Mission Hill1DSC_1284

Understated? The entry into Mission Hill

It is framed with massive marble and stone arches, roman-like pillars and amphitheatres which funnily enough provided the kids with so much fun as they rolled down them a million times. This was where our trip concluded. We sadly filed back into the Westfalia and braced ourselves for the long car trip home. We three were happier for the amazing landscapes, food, wine and friends we enjoyed for Thanksgiving 2012.

Thanksgiving Colour

Happy Thanksgiving 2012

Good Places To Eat

1. The Bench Market – known for their delectable Eggs Bennie

2. The Patio @ Lake Breeze Winery – relaxed atmosphere couple with a great food and a spectacular view

3. Burrowing Owl – For a beautiful dining experience where the matching wines are as great as the dishes

Thai-style pumpkin soup with cilantro/coriander pesto

Halloween is approaching, and we Aussies are newcomers to the traditions and parties that take place here in Vancouver on October 31. We just don’t celebrate it in a big way like it is in Canada and the US so it’s sure to be an eye opener.  The stores are in preparation stocking the shelves with decorative ornaments, costumes and loads and loads of candy! What I’ve never seen back home is all of these treats are manufactured and packaged into  a special Halloween size (mini snack size)…it’s full-on, seriously on another level!

Supermarkets are exploding with pumpkins, everywhere you turn there are bulbous orange objects of all shapes and sizes staring at you in the face.

I look forward to dressing up, I look forward to seeing my son ‘trick or treat’ and most of all participating in making or baking some Halloween goodies.

But one thing I do have experience with is eating pumpkin. I am used to cooking it in roast dinners; ‘Roast lamb with pumpkin and potato with gravy’ is a Sunday favourite back home and in wintertime many weeks may include pumpkin in risotto, soups, curries and stir-fries. Perhaps one of the most popular dishes that presents pumpkin a good light in the  fall here in Canada is pumpkin pie around Thanksgiving which I haven’t mastered yet!

It’s loaded with anti-oxidants; vitamins A, C and E as well as B complex group vitamins. What’s more is that the seeds which you can roast are an excellent source of fibre and minerals like iron, selenium and zinc. It’s a fairly sustainable food too with the flesh, seeds and sometimes skin all being used and eaten in recipes.

So for now, here is a warming recipe which was published in the July, 2005 issue of delicious. magazine (Aust. edition) adapted ever so slightly to my taste.

Thai-style pumpkin soup with coriander pesto

Ingredients

2 bunches of cilantro/coriander, roots trimmed (a few leaves reserved for garnish)

1/4 cup of walnuts

Zest and juice of one lemon

2 garlic cloves

1/3 cup (80ml) olive oil

1 onion chopped

2 teaspoons grated ginger

1 teaspoon cumin

1 Tablespoon Thai red curry paste

1 kg of butternut pumpkin (is best otherwise standard pumpkin), peeled and cut into small cubes

2 cups of vegetable stock (500 ml) vegetable stock

400 ml canned light coconut milk

Optional: Thinly sliced red onion and red chilli, to garnish.

Note: I used ground baked pumpkin seeds prepared while soup was cooking.

Method

1. To make the coriander pesto, process coriander, lemon zest, lemon juice and garlic in food processor. Slowly add 3 tablespoons of the oil to give a sauce consistency adding a little warm water if necessary. Add walnuts and process again and then season.

2. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Add onion and cumin stirring for 1 minute. Add ginger and red curry paste and stir for one minute. Add pumpkin and stock, bring to the boil, then simmer over a low heat for 15 minutes until pumpkin is cooked. Cool slightly and then blend until smooth.  Return to the pan, add the coconut milk and season and warm through.

3. To serve, place in soup bowls and swirl in a spoonful of pesto. Garnish with the ground roasted pumpkin seeds, reserved cilantro/coriander leaves and drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil.

Note: For a party, and a bit of a retro look you could serve soup in the pumpkin as shown.

Enjoy!

Special Coq au vin

Today is my anniversary and we love to celebrate over a special dinner at a restaurant. My husband suggested French and I suggested (or strongly persuaded), Japanese.

Therefore, a new Japanese restaurant that opened recently in the hip area of Yaletown became the winning choice. I did however want to make my husband a french dish which he loves; Coq au vin…so both of us would be truly happy on our anniversary weekend.

Coq au vin, (in French translates to “rooster with wine”) is as rustic as it gets. There are many variations of the recipe since it was documented in the early 20th century. Obviously, the most important ingredients are the ‘Capon’ (rooster meat) or chicken and the wine. You can use red or white wine, I chose red!

It is always essential to use top quality produce and for this dish I bought a local BC organic farm chicken and a beautiful red wine from the Okanagan valley, BC.

What’s special about this Coq au vin you may ask? Well, it’s made with love of course…and the aromatics of the dish are so seductive and ambrosial.

So here it is, the recipe I prefer to cook. It also freezes especially well too.

Coq au vin with buttery mash (Serves 4)

Ingredients

2 Tablespoons plain flour

10 chicken drumsticks (free-range organic)

4 Tablespoons olive oil

6 naturally smoked middle rindless bacon rashers (as much fat removed off side and ends as possible), cut into 4cm pieces.

10 eschalots (pearl onions), peeled

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1 1/4 cups of red wine (I used an Okanagan Cabernet Sauvignon)

1 3/4 cups chicken stock

8 sprigs fresh thyme and more for garnish

3 dried bay leaves

500g button mushrooms

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

1/4 cup brandy

Buttery mash

2kg brushed potatoes, peeled and quartered to the same size

50gm butter

4 Tablespoons extra virgin cold pressed olive oil

Salt to season

1/4 – 1/2 cup of milk if you like a more creamy texture

Method

1) Place the flour in a plastic bag. Season with salt and pepper. Add the chicken and shake until lightly coated.

2) Heat two tablespoons of the olive oil in a deep heavy pot over a medium heat. In batches cook the chicken, turning for five minutes or until a golden brown colour. Transfer to a plate.

3) Add the eschalots, bacon and garlic to the pot and cook, tossing, for five minutes or so until the eschalots are a golden colour. Add the wine, stock, thyme and bay leaves and bring to the boil. Add the chicken and reduce heat to low. Simmer, covered for 35 minutes or until tender.

4) Transfer chicken to a plate. Add mushrooms and tomato paste to the remaining stock mixture. Increase the heat to a medium-high and simmer uncovered, for 15 minutes or until sauce thickens. Season with salt and pepper and add brandy. Return chicken to the pan and stir to combine on a low heat for five to ten minutes.

5) Meanwhile, to make the mash, add potato to cold water in a saucepan and bring to boil cooking for approximately 25 minutes or until tender. Drain. Add the butter to the pan and return the potatoes to the pan and use a potato masher until smooth. Add the oil and milk while mashing and season with salt and pepper.

6) Arrange coq au vin on plate with mash and some extra thyme to serve. Voila!

Special Coq au vin – http://www.greenskis.wordpress.com

and Enjoy!

Sugo – simple tomato pasta sauce

A few things I will never forget after spending a reasonable amount of time in Italy, ‘with Italians’ in a past life are the foundations of a good pasta ‘sauce'(or sugo in Italian). What I learnt was mostly from watching, given my degree of language skill was only basic.

The formula for an excellent sauce?

> Always shop for the locally sourced produce or grow your own (especially tomatoes)! One of the first memorable food markets I was introduced to in Rome many years ago was ‘Campo de’ Fiori’; literally meaning ‘Field of Flowers’ has historically been one of the longest running fresh vegetable and fish markets since 1869.

> A good Italian sauce is simplistic not complicated, always using few ingredients to enhance the flavours in each dish. Have you ever seen an Italian eating a pizza that resembles a cake? No, of course not…they enjoy a pizza with a few ingredients without dominating the base for example; tomato, buffalo mozzarella and basil and its fabulous!

This authentic pasta sauce is as simple as it gets and it will be hard not to inhale it once ready! I have included a suggestion for children to make it more fun. The name ‘bird’s nest’ has been adopted from a friend who makes this for her children sometimes and I am doing the same for them tomorrow when they all come over for lunch. Please see bottom for guide on putting bird’s nests together. It freezes well too if you want to make the most of all the tomatoes out there right now.

Italians are quite finicky about pairing their sauce with the perfect pasta so to speak…but hey, I’m not Italian so I will break the rules occasionally to suit my family’s tastes.

Generally the rule of thumb is to match a heavy, chunky sauce with a short or chunky pasta like penne, rigatoni, fusilli or even gnocchi and with light, thin sauces, complement by using the longer clingy pastas like linguine, spaghetti, fettuccine etc.

Simple tomato pasta sauce with linguine

Ingredients

1.5kg or 3.5 pounds of very ripe tomatoes

1 teaspoon minced garlic (I love a little more, so I used 1.5 teaspoons)

1.5 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves

1 Tablespoon olive oil for cooking

1 Tablespoon olive oil extra virgin cold pressed for drizzling at end

Handful of fresh basil leaves

Fresh linguine pasta

Method

1. Score a cross with a knife on the bottom of each tomato. Prepare a pot of boiling water and also chilled/iced water. Place each tomato into the pot of boiling water for a minute, and remove placing them into the iced water immediately. Once they have cooled a little, peel the skin off the tomatoes which should be easy. If they are not, you may need to pop them into the boiling water for a minute longer.

2. Quarter or halve the tomatoes; depending on whether you have bought a round or Roma variety and remove seeds with hands over a sieve and bowl so you are not losing any juice. Push as much juice from the pulp and seeds through the sieve as possible and set aside. Chop half the quantity of tomatoes up finely. Place the other half in a food processor with the oregano.

3. Using a heavy bottom pot, heat olive oil over a medium heat. Add garlic to pot. It will only need a minute or two; do not brown or burn. Add tomatoes, salt and boil for 5-10 minutes. Simmer for 45 minutes or a bit longer until it reaches the desired consistency you like.

4. Prepare fresh linguine which should only take three minutes to cook in boiling water. Drain and arrange in dishes. Spoon in the ‘sugo’ with a few torn basil leaves on top, drizzle the extra virgin cold pressed olive oil and enjoy!

Sugo

Tomato pasta sauce

Additions:- If you would like a more intense flavour, a little pecorino cheese grated on top is delicious. If you love the basil flavour, process some basil leaves, parsley and extra virgin cold pressed olive oil together and drizzle on top.

Note: For bird’s nests, twirl and arrange the linguine in a nest like shape. Spoon some hot sauce into the nest and place some baby bocconcini balls on top. That way they will melt a little on the sauce and still resemble white eggs in a nest!

Children's bird's nest pasta

Children’s bird’s nest pasta

Summer berry bakewell cake

I have never been in berry heaven as I am here in Vancouver. Of course, we have berries available in Australia, but they barely stand up to the sweet juicy flavour and large size that we are enjoying here. The price of berries back home are also double or even triple what they cost here too which is a real eye opener.

I would almost ration them out at home on our breakfast cereal or as a snack and fresh raspberries were certainly a big treat for special occasions as they were at the top of the list for most expensive.

Here in our fridge right now there are abundant bowls of blueberries, raspberries filling our shelves and I faced with the tough decision of whether to bake, create or freeze? When a couple of kilograms of berries cost $10, we just can’t eat them fast enough!

I have been busy in the kitchen trying out recipes that have been inspired from some classics. The first I have baked is a British favourite with not much too it but berries, almonds, eggs, flour and sugar. I have adapted the recipe slightly from a BBC Food recipe I found for a Raspberry bakewell cake.

Any berries would work, Taeberries, blackberries, mulberries etc. If you like more of a moist gooey type cake, then the time specified in the method will achieve this result. If you like your cake a little more fluffy and light, then you need to bake at a slightly higher temperature at the beginning for 15 minutes (approx 200 C / 400 F) and substitute 50gm almond meal for 50gm more self raising flour.

You can easily replace the butter with coconut oil and flour with an alternative like a gluten-free flour for specific dietary options.

Berry bakewell cake

Ingredients

100gm ground almonds/almond meal

140gm butter, softened

140gm caster sugar / berry sugar

180gm self-raising flour

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

250gm raspberries and blueberries (can use fresh or frozen)

2 Tablespoons flaked almonds

AS AN ALTERNATIVE DECORATION TO SPRINKLING FLAKED ALMONDS ON TOP…

Amaretto icing

140gm icing sugar

1 Tablespoon Amaretto

2-3 Tablespoons water

Roasted coconut flakes

Method

1. Heat oven to 180C / 355F and grease and line a deep 20cm loose bottomed cake tin.

2. In a food processor, add the ground almonds, butter, sugar, flour, eggs and vanilla extract until well combined.

3. Spread half the mix over the cake tin and smooth over the top with a spatula or your fingers. Scatter the blueberries and raspberries over, then dollop the remaining cake mixture on top and roughly spread till covered.

4. Either scatter with almonds and bake for 55 minutes until golden. Cool for 30 mins in the tin and then remove from the tin and dust with icing sugar.

OR

5. Bake first for 50mins to an hour and follow icing directions below…

Amaretto icing

1. Mix the two tablespoons of water and Amaretto with the icing sugar until combined. Keep adding water until the icing is thick but not too runny. Drizzle over the top of the cake and scatter roasted coconut flakes over the top.

It’s lovely served with vanilla ice-cream or coconut sorbet. Enjoy!

Ten terrific things with tomatoes…

I must admit that I have not been in the kitchen at all much since on holidays, understandable yes, but on returning home after a few weeks break I have fallen a little out of the habit and have been relying more on easy, quick, convenience foods. This does not mean ‘fast-foods’ as I despise chain food groups and try to avoid them at all costs. For me, instead of preparing from scratch, its pre-made organic pasta sauces, pre-cooked chickens and salads etc.

What I did notice on returning from our vacation, is our tomato plant exploded with the fabulous month of sun we have been enjoying! You cannot beat freshly grown or locally picked tomatoes as they are bursting with flavour and you do notice the difference between ones that have travelled further or from large-scale farms.  Our small cherry variety are super sweet and world’s away in flavour from even some of the organic ones I have been buying. The sweetest part? Watching my son’s excitement as he spots the newly ripened ones on the vine in our garden and jumps to pick them!

It is a medley of tomatoes out there at the moment; their blazing colour of reds, purples, oranges and yellows in all different sizes and shapes was alluring enough to get me back into the spirit of cooking! You can never feel guilty about eating too many tomatoes as they are full of antioxidants including Lycopene which have been linked to heart and bone health. The top three vitamins are C, A and K in that order, help keep blood sugar levels in check and perhaps provide some anti-cancer benefits (at the top of the list is prostate cancer for men’s heath). In addition, they will give you glowing skin, hair, eyes and good teeth!

A colleague of my husband’s wanted to know what to do with all these tomatoes, so I thought I’d start by inspiring some of my favourite recipes which I will slowly post unless anyone wants them urgently!

There are literally thousands of ways to use tomatoes, and I figure why mess with them when they taste so good?

So here’s to keeping it simple with my top 10 all-time tomato recipes…I will post any on request right away.

1. Simple but superb tomato, oregano, basil pasta sauce.

2. Tomato, buffalo mozzarella and basil salad

3. Tomato and garlic bruschetta

4. Tomato, egg and pancetta/bacon pizza

5. Mixed tomato and mint salad

6. Tomato Tarte Tatin

7. Tomato and goat’s cheese tartlets

8. Tomato rice pockets

9. Tomato relish

10. Mussels with tomato, chorizo, white wine broth and frites or crusty baguette

Destination: Toronto, Ontario

In just under three hours we drove from Grand Bend to Toronto and I have to say Google maps was spot on with the timing. We had chosen to drive back on the Civic holiday and almost everyone who we spoke with from Toronto said we were in for a long journey back; at least 4-5 hours so I guess we were lucky.

We were meeting a longtime friend in Toronto and her boys for a week in the controversially named neighbourhood of “The beaches” or “The Beach” east side of the city where she grew up and still resides. It was mid-afternoon and she greeted us in her usual style over a cool, crisp glass of white wine. I believe it was a gewürztraminer  and the first time I tasted a gewurz was four years ago with her in the Niagara on the lake area vineyards.

I finally introduced my son to her sons and it was a wonderful feeling to see them unite. The boys were still on holidays so it worked out perfectly. We enjoyed some beach fun,  another beautiful freshwater lake beach. Pictured is a lifeguard from Woodbine Beach on Lake Ontario.

My friend’s local cafe ‘Lazy Daisy’s’ www.lazydaisyscafe.ca located at 1515 Gerrard Street, Toronto, Ontario, became our local favourite over the course of the week. Each morning we ordered a delicious coffee which is a challenge to find anywhere in Canada, but they do exist! This homely place which has been described in reviews as ‘farmhouse chic’ reminiscent of her childhood days on her family’s farm. The menu provides a large selection of healthy options using fresh local produce and sweet treats that tasted more wholesome than naughty too.  We loved the blueberry cornmeal muffin, cooked beautifully and the right size for the three of us to share a couple of bites with our coffee. We must have worked our way through a good proportion of the sandwich menu with favourites like the Coronation Chicken, Veggie Patch wrap and Farmer’s Club with mouth-watering Egli’s smoked bacon and garlic aioli which would please most I suspect.

The owner has catered to kids with books, a train table, comfy seats and colouring in sheets with a wall of fame for the youngsters (if they are worthy) to put their finished art up on.

As my world revolves around delicious food much of the time, a trip to St Lawrence food markets –www.stlawrencemarket.com was in order. It is somewhat an escape from the hustle and bustle of downtown Toronto with like-minded people gazing at the endless treasure trove…a foodie’s heaven.

The number of food markets I have visited on my travels has really clocked up over the years. I would have to say that this one was serendipitous.

There were so many specialty ingredients and produce items you could source in the realms of this grand building. The selection of smoked meats, cheeses from around the world, seafood, wines, produce, ice-wines, truffled products, rainbow coloured pasta, tomahawk steaks from Alberta, baked goods galore was mind-blowing. It hardly does it justice, but I guarantee it is a must do, must see for yourself experience! After wearing ourselves out in the market, my friend took us to a restaurant she knew well from trips with her parents as a child. An institution which has been running for over a quarter of a century; Paddington’s Pump – St Lawrence Market, 93 Front Street E, Toronto sure packs a punch with its ‘Oink on a Kaiser’. It is the most bacon I have ever seen on a bun!

Ok, so moving on…I must note that the days have passed where I used to spend hours shopping in gorgeous boutiques and finishing with a good wine while taking great pleasure in my purchases. I am lucky these days if I can enjoy one or two stores at a time with a little boy in tow, but a girl can fantasize right?

A streetcar ride up Queen Street and I had to ask my girlfriend what area we were in at some point; she said ‘Queen West’, only one of Toronto’s coolest neighbourhoods and shopping districts. I so wanted to jump off right there and then and while away the hours with all my favourite things; fashion, art-design, patisserie and wine.

Before I could think about it a moment longer we were somewhere else, however this is moving to the top of my list next time I visit Toronto.

An area we spent time in together was a good compromise as I was able to step into some unique stores where there was something for everyone in Roncesvalles Village which is an area located east of High Park and north of Lake Ontario. Toronto is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world and this part of the city is better known as the Polish community’s centre. We were funnily enough heading to lunch at Cafe Polonez – 195 Roncesvalles Ave, Toronto.

Superb! Between us, we ordered:-

Traditional Beetroot soup with dumplings (Barszcz czerwony z uszkami), which is Borscht consommé with a choice of mushroom or meat dumplings.

Pierogies (rozne nadzienia), homemade boiled dumplings served with side of sour cream and fried onions & pork; we chose the sauerkraut and mushroom, minced pork, cheddar and potato ones.

Polish Schnitzel (kotlet schabowy), plain cutlet served with potatoes and a bouquet of salads.

If I had the stomach the size of four people, I would’ve also ordered the cabbage rolls (golabki), polish sausage (kielbasa z frykami) and Goulash (gulasz wieprzowy) too!

How does the Polish proverb go? “A good appetite needs no sauce”.

My friend and her boys are so fortunate they have a wide selection of top quality Polish food on their doorstep and this is the advantage of living in a city steeped with multiple cultures and heritage.

We girls had to have a night out together to catch up. My friend booked tickets to see The Temper Trap in concert who were touring in Toronto coincidentally when we were there. They are an Australian band and had global success after releasing ‘Sweet Disposition’ which played at my wedding so it’s pretty special. The concert venue was the ‘Kool Haus’ in the Guvernment Entertainment Complex – 132 Queens Quay East, Toronto. It was a really cool space and relaxed enough for us to enjoy our vodkas and catch up over some music from home.

Dinner beforehand was a few minutes away from the venue at Against the Grain Urban Tavern – 25 Dockside Drive. When I spotted the Hendrick’s Gin that put a smile on my face and we tried the barman’s cocktail with a rosemary infused sugar syrup in it which took it to a new level for me! We ordered the fish ceviche soft tacos which were amazingly good. We were seated right on the harbour front which gave me a taste for more seafood so we both chose the Urban lobster roll with a cold glass of Niagara riesling.

I am not sure if I am saving the best till last, because the entire week was special seeing my girlfriend and her boys. However, when we were offered a date night; that is my husband and I, we jumped at the chance and booked a restaurant she recommended from a choice of a few. Given I am reading the 100 Mile Diet at present, I wanted to dine at a restaurant that focuses on locally sourced produce and more importantly we were enthusiastic to try Caribou, Elk or something that may be a rarer find on the West Coast. We dined at Globe Bistro – www.globebistro.com 124 Danforth Avenue, Toronto. To our delight, we were fortunate to enjoy the taste of Elk (a first for us) along with a duck dish, a selection of freshly shucked Malpeque (Prince Edward Island) oysters and a host of freshly picked ingredients from Ontario’s best farms on each plate. The restaurant had soft lighting with elegant chic furnishings as well as a friendly and discreet waiter who seemed to only appear with a smile whenever we needed anything leaving us to immerse ourselves in the ambient vibe.

I know my pattern of storytelling often skews towards food, but all in all the week was about seeing a very dear friend and her family at home in Toronto, meeting friends and family members.  It was a memorable time and I will miss them…until next trip of course!

“Flatiron Building” – Historic landmark of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Destination: Guelph and Grand Bend, Ontario

I am not sure where to start. This has been the longest period between writing about our adventures and I have wanted to log in for over a week now to record it.

So I will go back to the beginning of our vacation which took off in early August flying to Toronto, Ontario. Immediately we arranged our hire car pick up and drove to Guelph, a university city in Southwestern Ontario, Canada.  It was just under an hour’s drive from Toronto Pearson International Airport. Although it was a brief stay overnight to break up our journey to Grand Bend which is approximately three hours away, we found it to be a charming town. There are many heritage buildings and distinctive limestone architecture is evident all over particularly in the downtown area of the city.

Guelph is steeped in history. With a nickname of ‘The Royal City’, according to Wikipedia; [the name Guelph comes from the Italian Guelfo and the Bavarian-Germanic Welf. It is a reference to King George IV, monarch at the time of its founding (who family was a family from the House of Hanover, a younger branch of the House of Welf) and a tongue in cheek reference to the then ascendant population in neighbouring Berlin (Kitchener). (Guelphs being the name given the northern Italian factions who opposed the reign of the Holy Roman Empire].

Guelph is the home to one of Canada’s largest breweries; Sleeman Breweries Ltd. Its headquarters were founded here in 1834. This fact is particularly important as my husband is working his way around the country trying and buying the best of what’s on offer in that department.

We booked into a bed & breakfast called the Norfolk Guest House located at 102 Eramosa Road, Guelph. It is a little pricey at the upmarket end of where B&B’s sit, however we wanted to assure maximum rest and comfort after a long flight and drive. With a glorious plush bed, double Jacuzzi tub and elegant furnishings in a large grand room we were aptly satisfied. On arrival we were greeted to a generous charcuterie and cheese plate with a bottle of red (which was pre-ordered) and we were happy. As a final unwind before hopping into bed, we enjoyed a luxury bath overflowing with bubbles, jets and soft hues of colour from lights under water. Our son found this thoroughly entertaining!

Breakfast was served in an ornate room with high ceilings and decorative fixtures. We were happy with our orders of eggs, french toast and fruit which was lovely. The only disappointment for us was the lack of warmth and hospitality from the host. My preference for bed & breakfast establishments over large chain hotels is always first and foremost for the personal service you expect. The extra touch of a friendly more intimate stay where you are introduced on a first name basis, learn more about where you are staying and the history of the location ensures a pleasant experience overall. Sadly, this was not the case but oddly enough I couldn’t flaw anything else.

Before leaving the town, we visited the Guelph Farmers’ Market located at 2 Gordon Street (corner of Gordon Street and Waterloo Avenue).  The markets are on Saturdays 7:00am to 12:00 noon (Year Round) and Wednesdays 3:00pm to 7:00pm (June 20th to October 31st only).

At 9am it was a hive of activity with locals out in full force and with over fifty vendors, these markets were plentiful; no fear in produce being scarce two hours after opening! Summer fruits were a delight, especially the peaches, watermelon and blueberries. There was a huge variety of vegetables, dairy, meat and specialty foods – we were in heaven.

By 11am it was an extremely hot 31 degrees celsius, so unfortunately we could not indulge in perishables for our long trip and there it was, we departed salivating like Pavlov’s dog.

Guelph appears to have a full calendar of events taking place and we arrived on 4 August which surprisingly was Guelph’s Annual John Galt Day (in celebration of the founder of Guelph). This was held at the City Hall & John Galt Park. While we were enjoying the sounds of the music and entertainment kicking off, we wandered over to the Cornerstone Restaurant/Cafe at 1 Wyndham Street North, Guelph.

Although we stopped in for coffee only, it has a laid back pub-like feel and serves vegetarian food. Breakfast sounded good with options like cornmeal waffles with blueberry compote and I’ve heard the African Bean Stew and the Corner Club sandwich are a reasonably good pick for lunch too. Our coffee was just how I like it, hot and not too strong.  It did the job and picked me up for a good part of the journey to Grand Bend.

We were meeting friends and their family at Grand Bend and staying with them in a cottage. Grand Bend is located on Lake Huron, one of the five Great Lakes in North America. Lake Huron has a surface area of 23,000 square miles making it the third largest fresh-water lake on Earth.

A Torontonian friend who now resides in Vancouver told us before we left that it was a ‘party town’. I laughed as I thought it couldn’t possibly be when I knew we were visiting friends with their children and families staying in a quaint holiday cottage to have some peaceful beach time. On arrival it did appear that way; quiet, relaxed and beach around the corner which was by no means packed on any occasions we were there. However, I understood what he meant when we took a drive on our way out one afternoon on Main Street and witnessed for myself that this lazy beach town which is populated with a few thousand inhabitants most of the year round, actually increases to approximately 100,000 in the summertime. Whoa was it busy!

We enjoyed a dinner out at the Growlin Gator Bar & Grill – 86 Main Street, Grand Bend, Ontario, Canada. With a pumping vibe so close to the main beach, we were lucky to get a good table in the courtyard. With an extensive cocktail and martini list and kid’s menu, which I thought was a good combination – everybody was happy.

Service was friendly, food came quickly and although taste wise it was average, kid’s were happy and that is the most important aspect of going out with multiple families!

The beach was the closest reminder of home with soft white/yellow fine sand, and had familiar bushy green foliage surrounding it and similar outlook to the bay where I would  spend my summer holidays growing up on the south coast of NSW. The water was even warmer than any water we’d experienced in Vancouver.

I had to keep reminding myself that it was a lake not an ocean so each time I would enter, it was a little odd to taste fresh, clear water as opposed to saltwater which I expected.

As a final stop, we visited the Grand Bend Pinery Antique Flea market – 10163 Lakeshore Road, Grand Bend. It is open May through November and was full to the brim with stalls of food, poutine, bric-a-brac, new homewares, toys, antiques and more. Entertainment was very impressive too in the beer garden area. You need to allow at least a couple of hours as these markets are huge.

We had a restful beach holiday with relaxed fun company as you would expect. To finish I think the pictures speak for themselves and although it’s clearly not a hidden secret, I recommend this place to anyone visiting the glorious Lake Huron and seeking out a beach holiday in the Ontario province.

Interlude…

What’s on right now? I’m on holidays spending time in a cottage in Lake Bend, Ontario, friends in Toronto and a cabin in the mountains of BC.

Where I’m sitting…in the quiet of the forest in a cabin by a lake.

What I’m eating…french toast with natural smoked bacon, berries and maple syrup.

What I’m thinking…

I am thankful for the good things in my life right now and love my family very much.

I am sending courage and strength to one particular person today.

Canadians are generally very warm, gracious and friendly people.

I am appreciative of any comments and thoughts people have offered on my posts.

I wish I had more time to do more of things I love.

That sunsets can be spectacular all over the world.

What’s inspires me right now…the simple life in the mountains, the tranquility, beauty and peace.

What I’m reading at the moment…The 100-mile diet, a year of local eating by Alisa Smith & J.B. MacKinnon.

What I enjoyed yesterday…inviting close friends up to the cabin and cooking a local feast of wild salmon, organic chicken, quinoa salad, zucchini and lemon soup and baked potatoes for us all.