st. lawrence market, old town toronto and... food.

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I finally stopped in the St. Lawrence Market in the area of Old Town Toronto. It's been mentioned to me by a number of friends in Toronto. Apparently, the market is 205 years old. It's a beautiful, brick structure, a huge space with numerous food vendors. I loved the architecture of the area, too. It might be the most interesting and as well-preserved as I've seen in Toronto. It reminded me of San Francisco (and a little of Paris). It's also similar to Dumbo, Brooklyn. The market is situated on Front Street – which also happens to be near the water. Maybe next time I can make it past the street level and venture downstairs. I did get a chance to enjoy the famous pea meal bacon sandwich (YUM!). And I couldn't help but take photos of some of the food. Can you tell that I've been addicted to shooting everything up close? 

dog daze

There's not a day my dog isn't capable of improving (typically by inducing some laughter). Lexie's been photographed quite a bit but I don't have too many photos of me with my dog. She instinctively knew as soon as I got home that I was not feeling well today. She was being sweeter and more playful than usual. It needed to be documented. If you've ever lived with or cared for an animal, you will understand this type of sentimentality. 

And the one in the center of Lexie with her paw up, that's a rarely captured moment of her saying 'hi' (...yes, I taught her how to do that).


learning to speak maple

Balzac's Coffee Roasters

Revel Caffe's schneckens (criossant-like, maple pastry) YUM.

McCully's Hill Farm maple butter tartsright: maple sap fresh from the tree

Beautifully weathered old farm equipment
McCully's maple butter, maple mustards and pulled maple BBQ pork (SO GOOD.)

The maple forest

Our maple syrup educator at McCully's Hill Farm

Once they look you in the eye, it's tough to think of them as dinner

Simple Fish & Chips – my favourite was the sable fish (center piece)

Maple bacon and leek mussels (LOVE.)

Let Them Eat Cake's Maple Roasted Beet Soup with Sour Cream Swirl

Let Them Eat Cake's Maple Smoked Trout with Citrus Butter and Steamed Wild Rice with Maple Candied Walnuts

right: Maple Roasted Pear Tart with Maple Cream

I was invited to join a Toronto food bloggers' day trip to Stratford, Ontario for a maple syrup tour this past weekend. Not having grown up in Canada, it was a first maple syrup tour experience for me (apparently it's a yearly thing for many Canadian kids). It turned out to be a great (albeit freezing cold) day, I learned a great deal. And as expected, we ate very well. Our gracious host, Emily Chandler from the Stratford Tourism Alliance was so kind to plan our itinerary and take us around to local farms and restaurants. 

I had no idea maple syrup came out from trees very watery with a very mild flavour! It tasted just like sugary water, actually quite refreshing. Different grades of maple syrup are specific to the time of the year it's harvested (ie. lightest syrup in the spring and heaviest towards the fall). The sugar content of the sap determines the grade of syrup you end up with. So many interesting facts and figures I had never heard of before. We even had culinary demonstrations (and recipes) at Let Them Eat Cake for using maple syrup in cooking. Everything was SO good!

It was a great way to spend a Saturday and it's not too far outside of downtown Toronto. Stratford not only has quite a vibrant culinary scene, it also has a very well known theater community and festivals that happen every summer. Apparently, it's also Justin Bieber's hometown ;) it looks similar to parts of Vermont, actually. I met some great people (and even a few adorable animals). I even brought back some amazing maple cured bacon from McCulley's Farm and farm fresh eggs from Soiled Reputation. I'm looking forward to coming back for more great food this summer. Many thanks to Suresh, publisher of Spotlight Toronto for the invitation and Emily Chandler for organizing the trip! 

Here's a list of the places we hit and things we did and ate in Stratford: 
Balzac Coffee Roasters (cappuccino and croissant)
Revel Caffe (for delicious cappucinos and house-made schnecken pastries)
McCully's Hill Farm (an informative maple syrup tasting/tour and maple cured bacon from happy animals)
Simple Fish & Chips (delicious lunch, all Ocean Wise seafood and local veggies)
Perth Pork Farm (learned about heritage pork breeds from farmer Fred Martines)
Soiled Reputation (great story telling by farmer Anthony John and organic fresh eggs and greens)
Let Them Eat Cake (cooking demos for cooking and baking with maple syrup, more great food and a more syrup facts from Hoover's Maple Syrup)

I'm getting hungry again. More photos in my Flickr album.

tasting spring

A meal I shared this weekend (with great company) at Foxley's was a great reminder of spring and summer eating ahead. I literally enjoyed the big, fresh flavours so much that I forgot to photograph the rest of the meal following the amazing scallop ceviche above! Even I couldn't believe it. If this is any indication of what's in store for lighter, summer fare, then I am even more excited. 

oysters, mussels and knives

On Monday evening at Starfish Oyster Bed & Grill, owner, author (and oyster shucking world champion) Patrick McMurray, was unveiling his new oyster shucking knife. Above are just some of the luscious treats we enjoyed. I loved the vermouth and parsley mussels! I even learned a little bit about oysters and their shelf life from different parts of the world. For instance, oysters from colder climates (like Canada) travel better and consequently have a longer shelf-life because they do not react adversely to refrigeration. Whereas oysters from the Gulf of Mexico, for instance, pretty much die as soon as they feel cold temperatures. Therefore, they don't travel very well at all. Interesting, no? 

oysters galore

I'm not a raw oyster connoisseur by any stretch. But I have had very good experiences thus far. The most recent was at the 86'd (foodie night!) hosted by Ivy Knight at The Drake Hotel this past Monday night. It was a decadent evening of seemingly endless (and free!) raw oysters thanks to the Oyster Boy shucking competition. I didn't overdo it despite this fact. I savoured each and every one that I did have. I realized something for the first time on Monday: oysters go very well with vodka (and alcohol, in general). And that fresh hot sauce, delicious. The oyster's reputation for being an aphrodesiac must be based purely on the experience of the slippery texture, the flavours and manner in which you eat them (by pouring it into your mouth). ...They do possess an unusual beauty – but they're not the "prettiest" subject to photograph...


max's restaurant

One of my new foodie friends mentioned the recent opening of Max's restaurant outside of downtown Toronto a couple of weeks ago. I definitely remember the name from my early childhood in Manila. I knew they've been known for their fried chicken for as long as I can remember. It's been an institution since 1945. I knew I had to try it now that they had a Toronto location. It had been long enough since I had eaten it to forget how good it was. The conversation somehow lead into a plan for a field trip to try it out. I even asked my mom about this place. She told me that the reason the chicken at Max's is so good is due to the fact that those whole chickens are deep fried in – not vegetable oil or chicken fat – but pork fat. That's correct. Pork. Fat. 

So last night we feasted after an hour long wait. It was so busy that people waiting to be seated were asked to wait in their cars due to fire code violations! Foodies present (aside from me): @PanCanCooks, @foodie411, @ortdavid, @spotlightcity, @benchamel, & Alex (the only other Filipino in the group). There were at least four cameras out documenting every dish as it arrived. Our table could barely accommodate the number of dishes we ordered. 

I can't even begin to describe how delicious the chicken was – and it was fall-off-the-bone tender. The skin was not covered in batter but thin and crispy. Corny as it may sound, as soon as I tasted it, a rush came over me. This was a flavour I fondly remember from my childhood. It was amazing. It wasn't just me. As I recall, a few members of our party were rendered speechless after taking their first few bites. My apologies to the lovers of Korean Bon Chon chicken in New York, this chicken is just better. And I'm a fan of Bon Chon. In fact, the entire meal was really, really good – it exceeded my own expectations. The stand-outs for me were the chicken and the lechon (broiled pork belly). I also really liked the buko pandan dessert. Not pictured were lumpiang shanghai and sisig. I don't believe I have had a proper Filipino feast like this since my Purple Yam dinner in Brooklyn. And what a feast it was.  

Indulgent meal. Great company. I will be back for more. If there's a Max's in your city, GO.

Max's legendary fried (whole) chicken

Lechon: broiled pork belly (crispy and amazing)

Kare-kare: oxtail/beef peanut stew (w/ shrimp paste as a condiment)

Sinigang: tamarind-based pork stew/soup

Chicken adobo: a sauce and marinade of vinegar, garlic, bay leaves etc, then browned in oil, and simmered in the marinade

left: Halo-halo is shaved ice topped with purple yam ice cream, leche flan, toasted rice, sweet red bean, coconut, jack fruit and evaporated milk; right: Buko Pandan dessert is young coconut and pandan ice cream, strips of coconut, toasted rice, pandan gelatin, pandan tapioca balls and coconut milk (YUM!)

afternoon tea delights

I had the loveliest of lunches with a friend here in Toronto this week. It was at none other than Red Tea Box – a local gourmet tea purveyor, maker of specialty cakes and restaurant. It had been years and years since I've been there and was looking forward to coming back. We didn't stick to the original plan of having high tea (of which they had a choice of three types: traditional, Asian and Moroccan). There were just too many options. Their menu was larger than I expected. So this is what we ate:

Cucumber infused water
A pot (or two) of Lavender Earl Grey tea (amazing stuff)

The October Lunch Bento special:
- Spiced Braised Lamb with Coconut and Almonds on Garlic and Rosemary Scented Polenta (also really amazing)
- Creamy Spinach and Chickpea Fritters with Tahini and Pickled Apples & Beets
- Garlicky Rapini

- Dulce de Leche Espresso Cake
- Hot Chocolate Brownie slice with Caramel (I've forgotten the actual name)

I was truly impressed at how flavour-packed and artfully made everything was. The food has so many flavours were infused into every dish. And considering the amount of earl grey tea I've been drinking lately, I appreciated their lavender earl grey that much more. It was amazing. The back house area behind an adorable courtyard where we sat was also very cozy. It made for such a great afternoon for catching up and consuming a whole lot of delicious food.

One thing I will note about Red Tea Box is that you won't find a website for their business. Apparently the owner is averse to the whole idea (and apparently also averse to free press/promotion via blogs). It's pretty hard to believe these days. I suppose they've done quite well for themselves over the years without the need for online presence so who am I to judge? They don't even have an email address. Crazy, right?


inspiring a move : sam james coffee bar

Moving to a new city (not to mention country) involves not only the tedious process of re-establishing your staples, it also requires learning all new
neighbourhoods. Well this week, I found my new coffee joint. My go-to spot, if you will. Sam James Coffee Bar in the Bickford Park neighbourhood
of Toronto near the Annex (I believe) was supposed to have Toronto's best coffee. Of course, I had to find out for myself. With my sister Christine's apt
being very nearby, it was on my list.

It's owned and run by the highly-revered and award-winning barista, Sam James. He's this young, fresh-faced, tattoo-covered guy who was so passionate
and knowledgeable about coffee, he opened this little bar just over a year ago. I tried the cappuccino – apparently Sam James' favourite one to make –
and it literally blew me away. It might just be THE best and most delicious cappuccino I've EVER had. Perhaps on par with, if not better than Café Regular's
in Park Slope or Stumptown at Ace Hotel (my personal favourites in New York). It is perfection. The croissants are also quite amazing. They're apparently
made by a soon-to-open French restaurant across the street called ICI.  

Judging by the steady stream of people (often with lines going out the door), I'd say I'm not the only fan-turned-addict. Not only is the coffee unbelievably
good, the friendly Sam James staff already know me by name. Who doesn't love that? They even let me take a pastry home without paying when I was short
on cash the first time I came in. Everyone there is just so nice. This IS Canada, after all. All the rumours are true.

So the other question I have is this: would it be completely irrational of me to choose a neighbourhood to move into based on where I know I can get amazing
coffee? I'm inclined to think not. Being a newbie makes the little things that help acclimate you to a new place important. Great coffee is important! 

Don't you agree? 


montreal gastronomie

Here are just SOME of what we ate in Montreal. I consumed my share of cream, butter, sugar and bread for the
remainder of the year. How indulgent! How fun. So much more left to try... next time. 

Bacon, egg and swiss cheese crepe topped with maple syrup (very French-Canadian, I thought) at Quoi de Neuf? on Rue Notre-Dame 

These frites had to have been deep fried and lightly dusted with brown sugar. Perfectly savoury and sweet. Amazing. Quoi de Neuf?

Egg whites with spinach, chevre, salmon, mushroom and capers. Divine. Also at Quoi de Neuf?

Cupcakes we purchased a sleek gift box for the cast of People Power from Itsi Bitsi (they loved them!)

I didn't try these, but they definitely looked interesting.

This salad from Creperie Chez Suzette looked more like dessert but it was delicious (the yoghurt/strawberry dressing was
actually more savoury than sweet – contrary to how it looks)

Escargot with plenty butter and cheese, Creperie Chez Suzette

Creme de la Creme cafe where we spent at least four hours straight

Enjoyed glasses of this wonderful wine in Old Montreal following a leisurely afternoon exploring 

We had an amazing deal on Moules et Frites three different ways at L'Academie. My personal favourite sauce/broth
was: cognac, cream and green peppercorn. It was to-die-for!  

on being photographed : george pitts, an artist at work (part 2)

Having the opportunity of being photographed by a master like George Pitts is something I will remember for the rest of my life. Finally getting a chance to have a look at a few of his final selections is, to put it mildly, very exciting. So here are some of the results of the photo shoot in July. In case you missed my original post, these photos will be considered for publication in George Pitts' upcoming fine art book for Taschen. The subjects for the book will consist of provocative photographs of women 35 and over. I am intrigued by this project and deeply honoured to be asked to be a part it. I was, needless to say, thrilled to be shot by such an accomplished artist. 

Prior to the shoot, George Pitts did ask me whether I would need help with hair and makeup. Having reasonable faith in my own ability to handle this, I chose to do it all myself. I also didn't feel as comfortable working with someone who's work in this arena I wasn't familiar with. So I also wore all my own clothing and jewelry. I wanted to look timeless, elegant and definitely did NOT want to look as though I was in costume. 

The whole experience was incredibly liberating. I was beside myself that whole day. I learned new things about who I am through the experience. I definitely pushed my own boundaries and forced me to confront my own insecurities. Although I consider myself to be quite confident (generally speaking) there is NOTHING quite like being photographed without your clothes on. It was as empowering as it is humbling. As someone who is already hyper-aware of popular imagery, it is a challenge to view my own photos without the filter/bias of commercial photography in advertising. I had to also come to terms with the idea of being photographed in a more provocative manner. This is something that became all the more real after actually seeing the final photographs. Another interesting discovery I made is that although I typically am pretty attached to eyewear (which I have worn and identified with for years and years), my favourite photographs turned out to be the ones where I am NOT wearing them. I actually like the way my face looks without the glasses. A bit of a surprise for me. 

These photos have memorialized a time, age and place in my life here in New York that I can fondly look back on when I'm, say, 60. In many ways, this year has presented more challenges and changes than I have ever gone through. In many ways, it seems quite appropriate that this transitional period be recorded – on film, no less. Thank you to George Pitts for the amazing photographs, the incredible experience and dialogue. 

To see the rest (and more revealing...) photographs, you'll have to wait and see if they make it into the yet-to-be-named book. ;)



polaroids from a different time : louis mendes

I was in the city yesterday just to run a few errands. Along 6th Avenue and 18th Street, I spotted this man that looked like he literally
came from a different time. It was this camera he held in his hands – very old and very cool. I stopped to ask if I could take a photo of him
and he graciously agreed. Turns out, this gentleman – Louis Mendes – takes (real) Polaroids of people on the streets of NYC for a living.
This monstrous, beautiful camera is a Graphic Speed camera with a Polaroid back is from the 1940s. Mr. Mendes also looked the part
with his blocked hat and suit.

Then he insisted on taking a photo of me. I had to agree since he kindly agreed to be photographed himself. So here's my sweaty New York
errand day look! I couldn't have been more unprepared for a portrait. Eeek. But the entire experience was such a great New York moment.  
And wow, did I covet that camera. Find Louis Mendes outside of B&H, on the streets of the city and on Facebook.

on being photographed : george pitts, an artist at work

Last week I had the privilege of being the subject of one of the masters of American photography. George Pitts is not only a highly regarded figure in fine art and editorial photography, but also in the world of academia. Few artists have been able to achieve this level of success in all these realms. He started out as a painter and is also a writer. He has been Director of Photography for such publications such as: LIFE magazine and VIBE/SPIN. He is a fine art photographer for the New York Times, Taschen Books, etc. For the past three years, he has been Director of Photographic Practices at Parsons The New School here in New York. Currently, he is also consulting Director of Photography for Latina magazine. He is working on an art book for Taschen featuring provocative photographs of women 35 and older. He was interested in photographing me with the possibility of the photos being published in the book. Needless to say, I was thrilled at the chance to work with him.

I knew after our first meeting that I wanted to be photographed by George Pitts. We had such an interesting discussion about photography and sensuality. I felt that I was dealing with a very thoughtful, humble, intelligent creative and a true artist. I was comfortable around him which was really key for me. He also challenged me and was genuinely interested in my ideas, my biases and my general point of view as a female art director/designer who is conscious and critical of media's image of women. When I asked about the inspiration behind photographing women over 35, he told me that it started out as a personal project, born out of a genuine love for women. He found older women were not only more interesting, but also largely invisible in the media landscape. Unlike the French, there is clearly a glorification of youth in American culture (as with many others). Taschen was so interested in this work that they proposed the idea of a book. Partly because no one else has taken on the subject matter. The fact that he has photographed women from all walks of life (doctors, artists, mothers, writers, etc) for this book project made it even more interesting to me. I saw it as an homage to women and a once in a lifetime opportunity. 

I consider myself a feminist, one that believes in celebrating female sexuality. I think women are entitled to it and should feel confident in owning its power. I knew going into it that it would involve being photographed in the nude. It was something I was, perhaps, intellectually ready for, though it look me a while to fully feel emotionally ready. I took time to really consider my own limitations. But I felt confident that I would be in the hands of someone who had a critical eye and took this art very seriously. 

Last Friday was our scheduled shoot date. I came to a studio in Dumbo, Brooklyn – nervous and excited. I was looking forward to the experience and to continue the conversation with him. I had done a lot of thinking since our meeting and was as prepared as I could be. George Pitts used a Mamiya C330 medium format (2 1/4") film camera and used a combination of natural and circular strobe light called a "beauty dish" (I had never seen one before). He also had an old school Polaroid film camera to show me and test the lighting. He meticulously measured light before every shot. The conversation about the photos was a constant throughout the day. He took into consideration my ideas and my thoughts on style which I shared with him at an earlier date via email. He was a consummate professional. He was generous about sharing knowledge about fine art, teaching and publishing. He took notice of my awareness and attention to detail. He talked me through everything he was about to do — always conscious of my comfort level and personal preferences. Admittedly, my only hesitations were limited to personal insecurities about body image – which I knew were normal. During the shoot, we listened to everything from the soundtrack to my favourite film, In The Mood For Love by Wong Kar Wai to Grace Jones and Serge Gainsbourg. As a side note, he told me that the film In The Mood.. is also one of his favourite films and is required viewing for the class he teaches to both graduate and undergraduate fine art students, Picturing Sexuality. We discussed everything from film to art, culture, music, Michael Jackson, dance, ideas about eroticism (and the semantics around it), fashion, you name it. There was a healthy dose of laughter thrown in as well. Conversation was constant. Only interrupted during moments when he was actually taking photographs. I knew I wanted to look elegant. My design background, of course, informed my point of view and taste. He told me that he actually prefers photographing real women as opposed to professional models. 

There were things that I only realized about myself through the process of being photographed. There are things I'm only now able to articulate. My mind was—and still is—spinning from the experience. On some level, it was an out of body experience. Quite surreal. I will write more about it later when I share some of the photos from the shoot. There were many things that were unexpected that came out of working together that were interesting. The experience overall was an empowering one, personally. I am grateful for the opportunity. When we discussed the difference between the term "erotic photography" versus "pornography" he shared this: a model once told him that "erotic photography allows you to dream, whereas pornography erases the need to do so." It was a statement that stuck with him. In a recent interview I read, he mentions that he doesn't "believe the eroticized body only lies in the domain of porn... A central concern of mine is how to render contemporary sexuality creatively, with beauty, wit, depth, intensity and compassion; introducing newer paradigms in the process." This really struck me as well. It is a great learning experience to me to work with someone that is able to have critical dialogue about his work. 

Below is a selection of George Pitt's fine art and editorial photography.


visual acoustics : the modernism of julius shulman

I finally got to see the documentary film Visual Acoustics, The Modernism of Julius Shulman. Julius Shulman passed away last year
(July) after a lifetime of photographic work. He did become the most important architectural photographer in history. He had a huge role
in making modern architecture what it is today. This film was as inspiring and interesting as it was entertaining. If you haven't seen it, DO.  

His most iconic photograph: Pierre Koenig's Case Study House No. 22 

food truck drive-in fun

The NYC Food Film Festival event this past Saturday was the World's First Food Truck Drive-In. Thanks to two guest tickets via my friends at Whimsy + Spice, I was able to attend the "sold out" event. It was held in Dumbo, Brooklyn – literally under the Brooklyn Bridge. It was food truck and locavore foodist's heaven. I'm not certain why they limited entry to a free event. As a result, they had fewer than expected attendees. It was a great idea that all of NY should have been able to just walk in to. The food was wonderful and the weather cleared up to make a really lovely evening of outdoor summer film viewing. So much fun!

Here's some of the great food that we ate: 

Banh Mi style hotdog from Asia Dog
Squid Ink taco from Choncho's Tacos
Green Pirate juice from The Green Pirate Juice Truck
Crostini with Goat Cheese, Hazelnuts and Honey from Pizzamoto 
Apricot and Chamomile People's Pops courtesy of The Cooking Channel truck
Tangy Pork and Chicken Sliders from The Krave Korean BBQ Truck
Everything Cookie and Earle Grey Cookie Sandwiches by Whimsy + Spice

Check out the NYC Food Film Festival site for info on next year's events.


the city as inspiration

It must be that I'm inherently tropical that I enjoy summers in New York as much as I do. I am fairly comfortable in the heat. Although, I do have my limits (106° heat in Napa Valley three years ago was unbearable). The summer just brings everyone and their dog outside. I've been appreciating the city that much more through my iPhone camera as well as my Canon. I have an overwhelming urge to capture my point of view of the city, especially in warmer weather. During these lean times when travel isn't an option, why not appreciate what's immediately around you? I'm inspired to be creative when the city comes alive and there is so much to take in. Lots of ideas brewing in my head. These photos are the beginning of something. I wanted to share a little bit of it here. What do you think?  

All photos by Catherine Mangosing