July 31, 2013

canadian quirk #6: butter tarts

If Canada had a national dessert, the butter tart would be it. These handheld pastries have been baked in kitchens across the country for more than 100 years, with the earliest published recipe dating to 1900.

These sweet treats traditionally consist of a mini pie shell filled with a butter, egg, sugar and syrup mixture. Common variations include raisins, pecans and/or walnuts with some bakeries creating specialty butter tarts using coconut, chocolate, berries, or butterscotch.

In my short time here I've seen them offered in grocery stores, bakeries and even food trucks. I avoided trying them for many months because they look so plain and colorless, but after sampling the raisin butter tart at Carousel Bakery in St. Lawrence Market, I realized that their simplicity is part of their charm. These sticky-sweet hand pies are so primitive and unassuming that it's hard not to admire how they've managed to secure a spot in Canadian culinary history. Much like America's apple pie, butter tarts are an addictive throwback to simpler days gone by. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are that of an American expat living in Canada. These are merely observations and commentary based on my experiences living in both countries. 

Visit our ever-expanding list of Canadian quirks here.

canadian cooking: roasted Ontario vegetables

I'm on a mission to discover what Canadian cooking is.

Since moving to Ontario I've posted a handful of my personal recipes that I like to make for Bobby and myself. It's been fun and rewarding to photograph and put our favorites dishes on paper (er, on the computer screen) but it dawned on me yesterday that none of them have any connection to where we live. As a food lover, maybe I should be making an effort to cook traditional Canadian cuisine?

The problem is, I don't know what traditional Canadian food entails. And worse, Bobby doesn't either! Raised in Montreal, he offered up poutine and torteriere as popular Canadian dishes but as far as a hallmark style of cooking goes, he said it really depends what province you're in. I spent some time researching the topic and found more than one website that said almost verbatim what Bobby did - that Canadian cooking is best defined by regions and even then it isn't strongly identifiable the way other cuisines are (think: Italian, Chinese or Mexican food).

So now I'm on a mission to discover just what exactly constitutes Canadian cooking. I'm up to the challenge! By combing through local food blogs, such as Valerie Lugonja's A Canadian Foodie, I've deduced that the common denominators of Canadian cooking are the following: using fresh local ingredients and plenty of seasonal vegetables, and adding just a dash of French (read: butter, wine and herbs) to pretty much everything.

My first meal under my new banner was a medley of roasted summer vegetables, all locally grown in Ontario. They were the perfect complement to the baked chicken thighs and fresh corn on the cob I served with them. Nothing was fried, everything was all natural and all Canadian!

Roasted Vegetables
serves 4 as a side dish

2 medium red onions
1 zucchini
2 small potatoes
3 tomatoes
1 small fennel bulb
2 red peppers
3 cloves of garlic
dried herbs (sage, rosemary, thyme and oregano all work nicely)
4 tablespoons olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Quarter the onions and dice all the vegetables into pieces that are approximately the same size (no larger than 1/2 inch). 

2. Pile the vegetables into a baking dish. Pour the olive oil over the vegetables, then season with the herbs (about 1/2 a teaspoon of each is sufficient) and salt & pepper to taste. Mix thoroughly but gently (it's easiest to use your hands).
3. Put the dish in the oven and cook for 45 minutes. After the first 15-20 minutes, remove the dish from the oven and gently stir the vegetables with a wooden spoon so that the ones at the bottom come to the top. 
4. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Finish with a bit more salt and serve.

July 30, 2013

canadian quirk #5: the metric system

Oh, Metric System. There was a week in the 4th grade when I began to understand your inner workings. Then we were told that we don't use you in America and the entire class felt free to forget you even existed. I probably could have continued life in this Metric-free bubble if I hadn't moved to Canada.


President Ford tried in  '75 but it just wasn't happening. Stubborn Americans resisted converting to another system of measurement. The one they had seemed fine the way it was.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Metric System, it's not you. It's me. You're beautiful in your simplicity. The idea that units of measure are exponential by 10, rather than arbitrary numbers like the Imperial System, is completely practical. That 0 degrees is the point at which water turns to ice makes perfect sense - much more than 32.

And 100 centimeters in a meter, as opposed to 12 inches in a foot? Brilliant!

Unfortunately, I still rely on the miles-per-hour indicator on my speedometer. I use an app on my phone to convert Celsius into Fahrenheit. And I rely on the lady behind the seafood counter to tell me just how many pounds would 200 grams of that calamari be. (Thankfully, most Canadians have no idea how to do the conversion either; they rely on calculators and scales to do the math for them. This keeps me from feeling completely ignorant.)

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
It isn't so much that I don't understand you, Metric System. I've just been lazy. I love my acres, pounds, ounces, inches and square feet. They're second nature; things I don't have to think about because they're so ingrained in my education. I suppose knowing both Metric and Imperial would make me a special sort of bilingual. It'd certainly make grocery shopping, going to the post office, figuring out the temperature and driving a whole lot easier.

But as long as the thermostats in Canada inexplicably remain in Fahrenheit, and the royal baby's weight is publicly announced in pounds and ounces, I feel I'm validated to not fully learn you.

I'm sorry, Metric. It may be nearly 40 years after Ford's attempt to convert a nation, but this is one American girl that stubbornly loves her some square footage.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are that of an American expat living in Canada. Not every 'quirk' is relevant to every Canadian. These are merely observations and commentary based on my experiences living in both countries. 

Visit our ever-expanding list of Canadian quirks here.

July 29, 2013

canadian quirk #4: recycling

While some differences between Canada and America have taken some time to get used to, this is one that I welcome with open arms. Canada has an impressive recycling initiative that puts to shame what I've seen in the United States. Orlando, the last city I lived in, had no recycling program whatsoever; shameful for such a heavily populated place and a horrible burden to put on its citizens. Every time I threw a water bottle in the trash, a fairy lost its wings.

But Canada has afforded me the opportunity to make up for my ecological errors by conveniently creating trash bins that include slots for recyclables. Whether you're at Tim Horton's, the mall, or a city sidewalk, there's almost always the option to either throw away or recycle your trash. There's even a small hole specifically for cigarette butts on the trash bins in Toronto.

Photo: can-restaurantnews.com
Photo: spacing.ca
It's my understanding that the only parts of Canada without recycling programs are those in the tundra, such as Yukon and the Northwest Territories, and also New Brunswick. This is forgivable considering the combined population of those three regions is approximately 825,000 - significantly less than the population of America's smallest state, Rhode Island. (Side note: This gives you an idea of just how incredibly populated the U.S. is compared to Canada. Canada has 280 million fewer people than America despite it being larger in land mass. I believe this population gap is what 99% of the cultural differences between the two countries stems from.)

I do understand that because of Canada's relatively small population that large-scale recycling programs are more manageable than those in America. Nonetheless, it's an effort I appreciate and am very happy to be a part of. No more fairies need die on my account.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are that of an American expat living in Canada. These are merely observations and commentary based on my experiences living in both countries. 

Visit our ever-expanding list of Canadian quirks here.

local love: Kensington Market

Every major North American city has a neighborhood known for its Bohemian-chic vibe. In New York it's the West Village. In Chicago it's Wicker Park. San Francisco has its Mission District. And Toronto has Kensington.

Like the rest of these well-known Little Bohemias, Kensington is a district with a remarkably intimate, communal feel against the backdrop of a bustling metropolis. Colorful brick buildings, prayer flags and front lawn kitsch are hallmarks of this unique neighborhood where counterculture runs wild.

Within this neighborhood is the Kensington Market, a collection of shops and restaurants, where the diverse cultures of the community converge. What began in the early 20th century as a Jewish marketplace has developed over time to include strong Rastafarian, Latino and Buddhist influences.

Family-run businesses and open-air produce stands are prevalent as the citizens have managed to stonewall big box stores such as supermarket chains and price clubs. And on Pedestrian Sundays - the last Sunday of the summer months (May thru September) when the market's main roads are closed off to cars - many Kensingtonians take to the streets in front of their homes to sell their wares, be them vintage China or hand woven hemp backpacks.

It's a community effort to keep Kensington cozy for its citizens and welcoming for its fun-loving visitors.

Kensington lives within the borders of College Street, Spadina Avenue, Dundas West and Bathurst. Most of the Market's cafes and shops are located along Baldwin Street, Augusta Avenue, Nassau Street and Kensington Avenue. 

July 25, 2013

cooling down & a recipe: blueberry buttermilk pancakes

Maybe it's because the weather has cooled down to a gorgeous 65 degrees this week (at the end of July?? What's up, Mississauga weather?!) but this morning I had the overwhelming urge to cook something warm and luscious for breakfast.

Enter: blueberry buttermilk pancakes. 

My go-to breakfast these past few weeks has been an English muffin with a schmear of strawberry jam and a handful of grapes; so I felt I'd earned a little bit of early morning indulgence.

Poor Bobby has been fighting the flu for the past four days so I knew I was on my own with this short stack (which I'm totally not complaining about).

Odd as it was for a July morning, I wrapped a fleece blanket around my shoulders, kicked my feet up on the patio table and enjoyed some piping hot, perfectly sweet blueberry pancakes all by my lonesome in the crisp, morning air. If this is any indication of what autumn in Ontario will be like, I can't wait.

July 24, 2013

what i know

There are more days than not that I feel lost here. So much empty time on my hands, so many unfamiliar faces.

But every now and then I'll have a moment. Like when I see the toothless grin of the Asian security guard. I know he'll wave to my dog as I pass through the lobby and open the door for us, and in that moment I'll feel a sense of comfort. Maybe not home but something like it.

I know that when the mail room door is closed that means the mailman is inside filling our post boxes with take-out sushi menus, and in two hours time hundreds of them will have been tossed into the recycling bin in the corner.

I know that at 10 p.m. I can stand on my balcony and see into my neighbor's living room. I know he'll be watching Two and a Half Men, and I'll stand there and watch it from across the quiet courtyard for a few minutes, trying to imagine what's being said and if it's funny.

I know the girl at the deli counter downstairs has a harsh voice but a sweet smile and will round down the total for me if I'm short on change.

I know that on a windy day Maple will have a spring in her step on her morning walk. As soon as we re-enter the apartment she'll skid across the hallway runner and tumble onto the living room rug. I know this won't phase her or lessen her enthusiasm for the day ahead, and that will make me laugh.

I don't know much about this country I'm living in. I may not even be sure I made the right decision in coming here some days. But when I think about what I do know - all the everyday, familiar things that have become fixtures in my new life - I can exhale and let myself be at peace for a moment. I know I owe that to myself.

July 23, 2013

local love: toronto's distillery district

While the rest of Mississauga was busy consuming large quantities of pit barbecue at the rib festival directly across the street from our building, Bobby and I decided to quietly slip out of town and into the city.

We spent a lazy Sunday strolling the streets of Toronto's Distillery District, an industrial-chic neighborhood of heritage buildings surrounding the now-defunct Gooderham and Worts Distillery. Dozens upon dozens of cafes, boutiques and art galleries set up shop along the cobblestone streets. And, since the streets are pedestrian-only (there are parking lots/a garage along the perimeter of the precinct), there's an intimate, communal feel to the place.


It was Maple's first outing in the big city and she adapted very quickly to the large amounts of people. She enjoyed sitting at the patio table with us at Balzac's Coffee. And she certainly didn't mind being carried every now and again when the cobblestone was too much for her little paws.


We were blessed with 75-degree weather on this lovely July afternoon. Such a peaceful family outing that helped solidify our plan to move out of Mississauga and into Toronto next year.

July 22, 2013

southern comfort & canadian quirk #3: no biscuits but plenty of gravy

Photo: NPS.gov
I've always idealized the American South. When we first studied the Civil War in the 5th grade, I was struck by the daguerreotype photographs of sprawling cotton fields, sun-drenched tobacco plantations and entire families shucking corn and sipping iced tea on the front porch. The ugly parts of its Confederate history aside, the South is like a club I've secretly always wanted to be a part of. Being a Jewish girl from New York, this is not possible. Nevertheless, the romanticism of the region calls to me.

"More than any other part of America, the South stands apart. Thousands of Northerners and foreigners have migrated to it...but Southerners they will not become. For this is still a place where you must have either been born or have 'people' there, to feel it is your native ground. Natives will tell you this. They are proud to be Americans, but they are also proud to be Virginians, South Carolinians, Tennesseans, Mississippians and Texans. But they are conscious of another loyalty too, one that transcends the usual ties of national patriotism and state pride. It is a loyalty to a place where habits are strong and memories are long."
— Tim Jacobson, Heritage of the South

More and more I find myself missing the familiar Southern cooking that was omnipresent in my former American life, even in a pseudo-Southern state like Florida. Foods that were so available to me that I didn't dream they wouldn't be as popular in Canada; foods like buttermilk biscuits with honey, cornbread, fried catfish, grits, sweet tea and that love-to-hate Floridian delicacy, Key lime pie.

I'm hard-pressed to find these staples in Southern cuisine here in the Great White North. Cracker Barrels don't exist and, although there's an unusually large amount of KFCs in Mississauga, we all know that's a complete insult to Kentucky cooking.

The irony is that, while Canadians don't do biscuits, they love their gravy. And I don't just mean love. I mean they lurv gravy. It's poured over everything from French fries to chicken wings. If I make pork chops, roast beef or buy a cooked rotisserie chicken from the supermarket, you'd better believe I'm making a giant side of gravy to go with it. I thought this was optional, something on the side that's nice if we have it but understandable if we don't. I've sinced been educated by Bobby and now keep at least 4 extra packets in the pantry at all times. (Keep in mind, I'm not talking about true gravy made from drippings. This is brown gravy made from a mix. And sawmill gravy? That thick, white, sausage-infused sauce that's so popular in the South is nothing but a myth in Canada.) So, while I may be missing my biscuits, gravy is something that flows as freely as maple syrup in Canada. It's the condiment du jour for an entire nation.

And ribs. Much to my surprise, Canadians are crazy about ribs. Some of the most popular restaurant chains here are chicken & rib joints (see: Swiss Chalet and St-Hubert). Once summer officially begins, Ontario alone hosts more than 50 rib festivals, all part of a massive celebration called Ribfest. Throngs of adults and teenagers alike can be seen walking along busy streets within a 2-mile radius of any Ribfest carrying entire trays of pit barbecue.

In my world, summertime means kicking back with a cold glass of sweet tea and a plate of biscuits schmeared with blackberry jam. Alas, while I don't have these Southern comforts readily available to me, it helps a little to know that a good rack of baby rack ribs and bucket loads of gravy are literally just around the corner.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are that of an American expat living in Canada. Not every 'quirk' is relevant to every Canadian. These are merely observations and commentary based on my experiences living in 2 different countries. 

Visit our ever-expanding list of Canadian quirks here.

July 20, 2013

the waiting place & a recipe: triple berry bran muffins

Another day, another muffin recipe. 

I wonder if this newfound baking compulsion has anything to do with my growing impatience over my immigration status. I've been considered a "visitor" of Canada while I've been awaiting my application for permanent residency to be approved. I received word three weeks ago that the paperwork was finalized and a decision was made. 

But what's the decision?! Should I stay or should I go? Three weeks and many emails to my attorney later, I'm still waiting for the official welcome letter from Citizenship and Immigration Canada. The arrival of this letter means that I'll officially be allowed to work and make a living in Canada (as opposed to relying on selling old typewriters on Kijiji for income). 

And, perhaps more importantly, I'll finally be able to travel freely across the Canada/U.S. border, which means I can go back home and see all the people, eat all the foods and do all the things I've been missing for the last six months.

So, I wait. I feel like one of the people at The Waiting Place in Dr. Seuss' Oh! The Places You'll Go. You know, the ones standing in line for

train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.

Everyone is just waiting.

And since I'm not yet in the bright place where Boom Bands are playing, I wait. I bake. I spend my days practicing food photography, reading books on travel writing and daydreaming of a time in the (hopefully) near future when I can go home as often as my heart desires. 

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