Sunday, July 31, 2011


This morning, Jeff and I were eager to try out a new brunch place that opened up on the corner of Gerrard and Logan. You have to understand that this is a pretty down market corner... Simon's Wok - an excellent, but slightly divey vegan Chinese restaurant is there, along with a beer store and about 8 empty storefronts. I'm not really sure why its such an icky corner - its right on the edge of Riverdale, which is a perfectly yuppy neighborhood.
In any case, Hammersmith's occupies the space formally inhabited by a $4-dollar all-day breakfast place that hadn't been renovated, or indeed, repaired or even painted (or possibly cleaned) since about 1950. We were hopeful about two things: that there would be a respectable brunch spot within walking distance of our house, and that the addition of a nice business would "elevate" he neighborhood a little, perhaps encouraging other nice businesses to locate themselves here.
The new space is quite nice. It's very clean, white, with a tile counter, pine tables and a tiny open kitchen. It seems to seat about 20-24 people.
I understand from the Toronto Life article about them that they are known for their scones. One afternoon next week, I'll pop in and have scones and tea and try them out.
The food was at once pretty good (more about that below) and rather disappointing. The problem with it was that I had no particular interest in eating what I ended up eating. Jeff, too. It was Sunday breakfast/brunch. Jeff and I both would have been happy with either of the following menu items. In fact, we were counting on them.
  • 2 eggs any style, with choice of bacon, sausage or peameal, coffee, juice, toast and home fries.
  • Eggs benedict
I realize this is not at all imaginative of us. But the thing is, neither of these items was on the menu.
I consider this a problem and so did every other patron in the restaurant. As I looked around, and frankly, eavesdropped, I heard every single table ask for bacon and eggs. Every table, like us, was told that the kitchen was set up in such a way that they could only do what was on the menu. I get that for a new restaurant, it might be hard to offer stuff off the menu. What I don't get is why the menu doesn't reflect what people actually want to eat for breakfast on a weekend morning. Arugula salad with a cheese I've never heard of doesn't cut it. Their was a smoked salmon thing with pickled beets etc that looked pretty good, actually - but I don't want it for breakfast.
We ended up ordering one steak and eggs, and one bacon omelette.
The omelette came with a side salad of baby greens in a light vinaigrette and two tiny pieces of toast (cross section of a baguette). Jeff pronounced the omelette fine, but he thought it was very meager on the promised bacon, and too plain; that it needed something else in it to take it to a more appropriate "next level". How about onion or garlic? Tomato?
The steak and eggs was a little uneven, but I would say over all it was quite good. The steak was superb. About an inch thick, and juicy and tender. A real steak - not one of those chopped steak numbers you usually get with steak and eggs. The eggs themselves were sunny side up and I didn't have any options about how they were prepared. I would have asked for over easy because I don't like the raw egg slime on the yolks of sunny side up eggs. Also, like Jeff, I received only two meager slices of baguette which were woefully inadequate for mopping up my yolks.
Although the steak was very good, the best part was the fried tomatoes and home fries. The home fries have quite a lot of bacon in them - and it tasted like a hand-smoked bacon rather than schneiders. They were also incredibly greasy. When I was eating them, I was thinking "I shouldn't be eating all this grease". But I didn't stop, because it was really, really, yummy. There was also quite a lot of caramelized onion in the home fries, which I also really liked. Great home fries.
The service was quite good as well. I thought our breakfast took a little longer than it needed to, given when we ordered at one-minute after opening, there was no-one else in the place. On the other hand, the kitchen is open and I watched the cook make it - so it's not like he was sitting out back having a smoke. It may have seemed long because I was hungry. Also, I didn't like being told no Bacon and Eggs. Still the servers were polite and quick, and were on the spot with coffee refills even once the place filled up.
So overall, Hammersmith's seems like a pretty good restaurant. It definitely has potential as an attractant for other respectable businesses in the area. I don't think they've figured out the what they should be serving on their menu for breakfast, but hopefully as every diner asks for bacon and eggs, they'll make some adjustments.
For now, I think our next breakfast out will be a short drive to Sammy's, or down on Queen East.

Hammersmith's on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

One Mania after another

I'm subject to what my sister Laura calls "manias". Although some may argue, I don't mean these kinds of manias:
1. Psychiatry A manifestation of bipolar disorder, characterized by profuse and rapidly changing ideas, exaggerated sexuality, gaiety, or irritability, and decreased sleep.
2. Violent abnormal behavior. See Synonyms at insanity.
It's this one, and it describes me perfectly:
1. An excessively intense enthusiasm, interest, or desire; a craze.
One interesting characteristic of these manias is that they come and go. What I call a "true" mania will last a year or more. And then it passes. Then I have another mania, or three, or five, and then the first mania returns. I have, in my life, had manias for my job, or for a person, for a TV show or a book. But my core manias have always been for making things.

I definitely move in and out of the cooking mania all the time. Except for thinking about hot weather recipes, I'm actually pretty much OUT of my cooking mania at the moment.

Quilt making manias are a problem because they typically don't last long enough to complete a whole quilt. My mom is convinced I never finish anything. What I actually do is simply put the quilt away until the mania returns.

For the last 9 months or so, I have been in the grip of an intense knitting mania. It started to fade about three weeks ago and is being replaced by a quilt making mania. Nevertheless, I forced myself to finish my latest project, and I finished it yesterday. Today, I plan to clean out my bag and pick up my harvest cathedral windows quilt. I'm also planning on working on a design for a new quilt (actually, I have two I'm thinking about). See how it goes?

But before I move on, I wanted to celebrate my knitting mania by sharing the fruits of my latest craze.

Here is an Aran shawl in a medium weight, inexpensive wool. I made this for myself. I find sweaters too hot, so a shawl works perfectly for me.

I found the cable work on this quite challenging because the celtic knot pattern has to be counted in every repetition.

Normally with cable work, you set the pattern in the first row, and just follow the knitting. This pattern was too big and complex to be able to do that. This took about 6 weeks. I started it right after Christmas and finished at the end of February.

Although I love knitting cables, I adore colour work. It's fortunate that Jeff adores sweaters in Fairisle and Norwegian pattern work - a partnership made in heaven - else I would knit sweaters that no-one would ever wear.

Here is a blue fair isle that I worked on during my Wednesday after school knitting club. This is from an Alice Starmore pattern and is a wool, alpaca and silk blend. I used hand-dyed yarns, which you can especially notice in the dark blue, to soften the design and give it some depth beyond the simple geometric.  The picture doesn't do the colours credit.

Here is some detail on the colour work. Although this pattern looks complex, it follows the fairisle rule that no row contains more than two colours. This sweater uses traditional fairisle construction: it was knitted in one piece. No sewing! This sweater knit up quite quickly.

Finally, here is a true Norwegian Ski Sweater. Every Olympics, the Dale of Norway wool company designs commemorative team sweaters for the Norwegian Olympic team (they also design sweaters for various international ski teams, including Canada). The sweaters are stunning, and use traditional Norwegian sweater construction.

I was on Ravelry one day and saw a picture of this sweater. Talk about a mania! It is the 1994 Dale Lillehammer Olympic sweater. Since 1994 is 16 years ago, it wasn't exactly easy to track down the pattern. But I persisted. The internet is a wonderful thing. It ends up that Dale will give you the pattern - but only as part of a kit made from their wool. After much searching, I found a vendor in California that would put the kit together for me and ship the whole deal to me here in Toronto. They are called Velona Needlecraft and their service was superb. I also talked to the guy at Romni Wool here in Toronto. I was able to fill him in on the whole process of how to get the Dale archival patterns and he promised that next time, he would get them for me. So even better.

Here are some details from the sweater. Each medallion is a figure from Norse mythology.

Odin is a principal member of the  Norse pantheon and is associated with war, battle, victory and death, but also wisdommagicpoetryprophecy, and the hunt. Odin has many sons, the most famous of whom is Thor.

 Freyja s a goddess associated with love, beauty, fertility, gold, seiðr, war, and death. Freyja is the owner of the necklace Brísingamen, rides a chariot driven by two cats, owns the boar Hildisvíni, possesses a cloak of falcon feathers.

 Huginn and MuninnIn Norse mythologyHuginn (from Old Norse "thought") and Muninn (Old Norse "memory"or "mind") are a pair of ravens that fly all over the world, and bring the god Odin information. 

I also love the neckband.

This is an extremely warm sweater - the kind you wear outside instead of a winter coat. I was thrilled to finish it last night. I made Jeff try it on, and given the temp was 26, he found it very hot, but liked it anyway.

And I'm completely over knitting for the present, although I do have a lingering desire to make gloves with beaded wrist bands, and to knit a lace wedding ring shawl. No doubt I'll come back to both these projects when quilt-making runs its course.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Cherry Tomato and Peach Salad

So continuing on my theme of things to eat when the temperatures are blazing...

My garden is happily producing mountains of cherry tomatoes. I had good success with them last year, so naturally, I planted even more this year. Yesterday at the farmer's market I was tempted by the first of the stone fruits - peaches and plums. Well, I was tempted by the plums, but Jeff said he likes peaches, so I bought both. I don't like peaches. Sort of. I have a psychological aversion to them... Long story, not so interesting. The upshot is that when I see them, I announce to everyone that I don't like peaches. I never select a peach deliberately. But if one finds it's way into my mouth, I find it delicious.

So then I was thinking about this tomato and peach salad I had out somewhere one time, and I decided to see what I could come up with.

But first, a note about the cheese. I used Pecorino Fresco - again! I love pecorino fresco and can't seem to stop eating it. It's a little like bufala mozzarella, but a little creamier and a little tangier, but it also has that "fresh cheese" taste. Anyway, some bufala mozzarella or even bocconcini would be terrific in this salad as well.


about 30 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 or 2 peaches, peeled and sliced
half a sweet onion, sliced very thin
3-4ounces pecorino fresco (or bufula mozzarella or bocconcini), diced
15 basil leaves, chiffonade
1/3 cup good olive oil (or less)
a few sprinkles of good balsamic

combine the cherry tomatoes, peaches, onion and cheese in a medium bowl. add the oil and toss gently to coat. Add the basil chiffonade and either leave on top as a garnish, or combine with other ingredients.

This salad can sit in the fridge a few hours or overnight, and sitting seems to improve it's flavor. Just before serving, sprinkle to taste with balsamic vinegar.

I was just thinking that this salad would be terrific with mango in place of the peach. And I love mangos!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Heatwave Dining

So I have two cooking problems this week:

  1. I'm trying to lose a few pounds, so nothing with too many calories
  2. Its WAY too hot to cook!

My solution? A delicious, tasty, chilled soup. I was introduced to chilled soups by Marc, although he tended to prefer the fruit ones. I prefer the more savoury ones.

This soup is terrific. It tastes good, and even better, you don't have to turn on your stove. There's a little chopping, but there's a few shortcuts as well - namely, the use of Mott's Clamato as a soup base and the purchase of a bag of President's Choice cooked shrimp. About the Clamato - I discovered today it now comes in three flavours: Extra Spicy, All Dressed (or something), and Original. I think any of them would be good for this soup, but I chose Original because Ilike to deal with the spicing myself. For shrimp, I picked 16/21's. They are a nice robust size, so they are nice and shrimpy when you bite into them. And they were on sale for $6.49 a pound!

And tomatoes. I recommend Roma tomatoes for anything where you want to seed the tomatoes raw. For this soup you don't take the skins off. Just quarter them lengthwise and scoop out the seeds before chopping.


4 cups Motts's Clamato.
1 or 2 one-pound bags PC cooked shrimp; they don't have to be entirely thawed, but they shouldn't be frozen solid.
2 avocados, peeled and chopped. The avos shouldn't be too soft. You don't want them crunchy, but you want them to keep their shape after they are chopped.
1 cucumbers, seeds removed, cubed
3 roma tomatoes, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
1 bunch of basil, chopped
Up to 1/4 cup of lemon juice (to taste)
Several good shakes of salt (you need less than you might think - the Clamato is already pretty salty.)
A few twists of the pepper mill.
Tabasco to taste


In a large bowl, combine combine everything except the lemon juice and tobasco.
Taste it. Add lemon juice and tobasco until it tastes really, really yummy!
Chill thoroughly in the fridge. Tastes best if you leave it over night.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

30 Day Challenge

So I admit, I'm perhaps a little bored. Or, not really bored, exactly, I just haven't settled into anything now that I'm off work for the summer. Now that I've had a rest, I have TONS of energy.... so what to do with it?
I was browsing through some TED Talks this morning and came across this one:

The upshot is that one can introduce a project or a change in one's life by taking on a 30 Day Challenge.
This seemed like just the right project for me. What I was looking for was a way to apply some structure to a couple things that I wanted to do. So, I've decided on three (yes, THREE) challenges:
  • NO WHITE FOOD for 30 days (no sugar, flour, rice or potatoes)
  • DO A WORKOUT every day for 30 days. This workout can be a walk of at least 5 km, or a standard gym visit, or a fitness class.
  • CREATE A PIECE OF VISUAL ART every days for 30 days.
So the eating and working out I know I need to do anyway, so in a way, they are just necessary, rather than "personal growth" challenges. I'm much more excited about the art.

Towards the end of school, I was helping Audrey, the art teacher, make some signs for Commencement and other events. We were using pastels, and I really, really enjoyed decorating and coloring the signs. Since then, I've really had the bug to do some drawing. So much so that I went out and bought a set each of chalk and oil pastels and some paper. And they have been sitting on the floor in my office in a bag ever since. So I'm determined to use them every day for the next 30 days!

Here is my first creation:

I decided to start with something really simple - a sky. Well, maybe not so simple, but a focus on a single thing. Once I did the sky, I decided it was ok, but would benefit from some foliage, then some colour. This is not the most original composition, but I figure I'm only going to get better! This was my first time with pastels doing anything but colouring between the lines. I have a couple projects now. First, I have to figure out how to draw details! And I need to do some research about necessary tools and supplies I will also need. And I need some gloves.

Enough drawing. next stop: gym.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


So it's July and I haven't posted a single thing about my vegetable garden! How quickly one comes to take things for granted.

I've made some changes since last summer: I added six more containers and three more tomato plants in bags.It's been a bit more challenging this year, although things seem to be much more on track than they were in May. May was fraught with rain and squirrels! The squirrels dug up every vat, seeds stuck to them and were randomly transferred - I have lettuce growing in my corn containers and peppers in with the radishes. I decided to just be calm about it as long as things are growing - which they seem to be, although I planted a few unfamiliar plants and since they've been moved, I can't tell whether they are weeds or just the okra. I hate that.

I am also experimenting with different soils. Potting soil seems to work the best (so far), with plain old garden dirt a close second. Since I'm in containers, I worry about "using up" the soil, but adding compost seems to effect the drainage too much. At least, the vats with lots of added compost don't seem to be doing as well.

My latest garden mania is to install a drip irrigation system. I did some research this morning and it looks like I can buy what I need for about $100, which is much less than what I expected. Drip systems use a lot less water, and I can put it on a timer, so I don't have to worry about watering when I'm away on holidays. Patrick usually does the watering for me when jeff and I are away, but he costs $100 per trip!

Although we got a bit of a late start because of the rain and cool weather in May and June, we are starting to be able to eat out of the garden. We had plenty of peas (see my entry on pea toast), as well as tons of lettuce and some radishes. We also have had a few carrots and tomatoes, but I think they are a week or more from being really ready. The cucumbers, zucchini, squash, beans and peppers are all going crazy as well, but nothing ready for eating yet.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

What am I supposed to do with all these cherries?

The subject of fresh produce is inexhaustible! And regularly leads me into trouble... the giant crate of cherries was only $6 at the farmers market - so I now have two! Jeff never says anything when I bring home more produce than two people can reasonably expect to consume in a year, but he has this one particular expression that allows me to read his mind. He nods, he smiles, but I can hear his thoughts....oh my god what are we going to do with all these cherries is she crazy can we fit them in the fridge no! She's leaving them on the floor I'm going to be stepping over them all week I'm telling her mom!

I promise they will become cherry pie filling sometime this week...

Meanwhile, they call to me.

We don't have any bread in the house since Jeff ate it all yesterday (see Pea Toast). I was thinking I wanted a poached egg for breakfast. Poached eggs require bread, preferably a sweetish bread. Sweet took me back to the cherries, and I decided to see whether you can make scones with fresh cherries in them.

Scones? Why scones? Why not muffins like a sensible person? Well, I admit I did consider muffins, but I generally find them too sweet. I know, it sounds like a bit of a contradiction, since I was specific wanting something sweet to put my eggs on. But not too sweet. What can I say? Life is built on these subtle distinctions.

Anyway, it turns out that you can make scones with fresh cherries in them. Although I may have overdone the cherries. Not untypical of me. I mean, if two cherries will make something taste pretty good, fifty cherries will make it amazing, right? Fifty cherries will also make it fall apart a little more easily than one might like. Who cares?

Cherry scones

1-1/2 cups whole Ontario Sweet Cherries (I bet you could make this recipe with cherry pie filling rather than fresh cherries. I'll sort that out after I make the pie filling)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup cold butter (or frozen butter)
3/4 cup cream (table cream works well. Milk is ok if it's all you have, but cream is better for scones)
1 tsp Vanilla

If you don't have a cherry/olive pitter, buy one. This is one of those little devices that you go on for years claiming you don't need. Then someone sticks one in your Christmas stocking and within 15 minutes you find you can't live without it. Seriously.

Pit cherries and cut them in half. If they are a little sour, sprinkle a tablespoon or more sugar on them and let them sit. In large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Grate the frozen butter into the flour mixture, and then rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips. Stir in the cherries. Make a well in centre of the flour mixture. Pour the cream and vanilla into the well and stir just until firm dough barely forms.

Turn out onto a floured surface. I used more flour here than I might normally for scones because the cherries were marvelously oozing juice all over the place. Knead three times. Divide in half; pat each half into 3/4-inch thick 6-inch (15 cm) circle. Cut each into 6 wedges.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place scones slightly apart on sheet. Bake on centre rack at 450°F (until golden, 10 to 12 minutes.

Serve with soft poached eggs, or just eat up with fresh butter and a dash of salt.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

And then, there is Pea Toast

Do you like peas? I don't, really. When I think of peas, I think of frozen green pellets that turn into brownish-green, grainy mush. Yuck.

But then there's pea season, which, sadly, is more or less over. We grew a decent number of peas in our garden, planted out of duty rather than love, because, of course, I didn't like peas.

Fresh peas out of the garden were a bit of an eyeopener, though. They aren't mushy, or grainy, or flavourless. They snap, they are sweet and tasty, they smell good, and they brighten up whatever you serve them with.

And you can use them to make pea toast, which is reason enough in itself.

So I've added peas to my list of beloved seasonal foods that are only worth eating for about two weeks per year - but well worth waiting for (along with strawberries, cherries, wild blueberries, sea asparagus, morels, garlic scapes, fiddleheads, soft shell crab, fruit cake).

But back to pea toast.

1 1/2 cups freshly shelled peas
1 scallion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon paprika
2 oz pecorino fresco (I used pecorino fresco because I happened to have it on hand - all summer I buy cheese at the farmers markets and one of the cheese sellers at the Wychwood Park market sells pecorino fresco, which I buy every week. But you could substitute any mild young cheese - make some ricotta, perhaps, or even a little cottage cheese might be good, maybe with some lemon peel and rosemary to lift it a bit, or you could use a couple spoonfuls of plain yogurt)
Generous shake of sea salt
Some kind of delicious flatbread (see below)

Cook the peas: before you start, get your ice bath ready. Blanch peas for about a minute in salty water, drain them, then immediately pop them into the ice water.

Make the dressing: whisk together everything except the peas. If it's too thick, add more olive oil. Taste it. Add salt, pepper, lemon or cinnamon as you see fit until it tastes really good.

Crush the peas a little: I used the back of a wooden spoon. Don't go crazy, just break most of them up a little - no mush!
Add about half the dressing and toss the peas to coat. Taste the thing, and add more dressing until you think you've optimized the experience. I added all the dressing except about a tablespoon full, which I then just ate with the aforementioned tablespoon, because it really was yummy. Put the bowl in the fridge while you decide what to do about the bread.
This is not pea toast in space! I have a black
 counter top. I love photographing food on
it because the food shows up on it. But it does
look a bit like a UFO.

You could eat this on pita wedges. In fact, it's exactly the sort of thing that people eat on pita wedges. But why? WHY? Pita wedges suck! Well, store bought ones do. If you are going to go with store-bought bread, I would suggest a ciabatta, or a lightly herbed bakery focaccia. But any bread with flavor and a gently chewy texture would do. Or you could make bread! Make a lightly herbed focaccia, some naan (easy and terrific - but go easy on the butter for this dish [like I ever went easy on the butter in anything]) or some Ciabatta (a bit harder, since ciabatta really prefers a mature sour dough starter).

Anyway, toast the bread lightly on one side, generously spoon on the pea mixture, and away you go!

Just as a side note, Jeff is always indulgent of my various cooking manias, as he appreciates benefiting from them. But despite his usual tolerance, I could tell he was unimpressed by the idea of "pea toast". In fact, I would say he was deeply skeptical! But now, having scarfed down half a loaf of focaccia, generously piled with pea topping, his only concern is that pea season is over, and he will have to wait until next year for his next fix of pea toast!  I'm with him. This exceeded expectations!