Foodie Fun


10
Jul 13

East of Main Cafe: Food with a heart and soul

Food production has such a ‘butterfly effect’ on the world; grow fruit and veg with pesticides and you affect the eco-system, grow them with the wrong kind and you affect the life of bees, which affects every one of us. Get those chemicals in the food chain and water supply and it can have a serious affect on health and fertility - a butterfly flaps its wings and half a world away, everything changes… 

I was thinking about how small things can have a huge effect as I listened to 12-year old Celestine Hilechi, singing her heart out for us at the Project Limelight event at the East of Main Cafe. She was fantastic, eyes lit up with pure joy, she radiated happiness and a dash of star quality and thanks to the Project Limelight programme, she’s learning how to express that and now has the confidence to sing – unaccompanied no less – to a room of strangers.

Project Limelight's songbird, the fantastic Celestine

Project Limelight’s songbird, the fantastic Celestine

To put this into a little context, I should explain a little; walking through parts of Vancouver’s Downtown East Side (DTES) always feels like a shock; there are serious homelessness and substance abuse and addiction issues, whole blocks are taken up with shopping cart-pushing addicts. I say again – after the beauty of the surrounding area, the pure gorgeousness of Vancouver as a city – the grinding poverty of the DTES is a nasty shock. It’s an area that needs help and needs support and there are businesses who are taking up the challenge.

Project Limelight is a charity founded by sisters Maureen Webb and Donalda Weaver, both born and raised in the DTES with successful careers in the film business (respectively as a casting director and owner and manager of a studio) who wanted to give back to their community. Project Limelight works with at-risk kids aged between 8-15 in the neighbourhood – children who typically wouldn’t get within shouting distance of creative theatre work – and pulls them into a hard-working, fiercely disciplined programme. Each session lasts for four months running three days a week. At the end of the four months the children perform an impressively professional full-length production which lets them show off the skills they’ve learned.

Project Limelight's Maureen Webb and Donalda Weaver with Chef Tina Fineza

Project Limelight’s Maureen Webb and Donalda Weaver with Chef Tina Fineza

I must admit – I was a theatre group kid – I loved the fun, the sense of community and the freedom of expression that it taught me. I made great friends and learned about the importance of showing up and doing your absolute best. But I was lucky – I had a stable family life, having that three-days-a-week rock of normality (plus a free healthy meals and snacks) must mean the world to some of those children. And you can imagine the immense effect that four months of positive attention can have – when this butterfly flaps its wings it changes the whole direction that a child’s life can go in.

They rehearse upstairs from the East of Main cafe where 100% of their profits go towards the Project Limelight Society. That’s reason alone to go there – but of course, because it’s Vancouver, food with a heart has a soul too. Talented Chef Tina Fineza has designed a  pan-Mediterranean tapas-style sharing plates menu, packed with fresh and spicy flavours, taking a delicious journey across the world wherever it touches the Med. Hop from a ras el hanout-spiced lamb tagine from Tunisia to an aromatic aubergine (eggplant) Greek moussaka to (my favourite) an Italian raw courgette fragrant with lemon with a faint crunch of pistachio.

Simple and just delicious

Simple and just delicious

It’s a perfect storm of good intentions resulting in great things; an excellent menu in a cute venue, where your money goes directly to helping out a brilliant cause, which then affects the lives of those around you. This butterfly’s wings are certainly flapping in the right direction. Go join in and flap yours too.

Find out more: 

East of Main cafe www.eastofmaincafe.com/

Address: 223 E Georgia St, Vancouver, BC V6A 2Z9

Phone:(604) 899-2777


9
Jul 13

Five Rules for Successfully Ordering Room Service

There's something rather stylish about curry accompanied by a starched tablecloth

There’s something rather stylish about curry accompanied by a starched tablecloth

Despite staying in dozens of hotels each year, I could count the times I’ve ordered room service on one hand – I’m usually whizzing around, trying to fit in as many restaurants, bars and sights in whatever city I’m visiting to spend too much time in my hotel room. That’s why I got excited when I stayed at the Four Seasons in Toronto as they invited me to check out their in-room dining programme. Really? After a long flight AND an early start I could just… relax?! Hold me back…

There’s a kind of glamour and old-world decadence to that heated cart covered in heavy, beautifully-ironed white linen trundling to your room. But I discovered that it takes a certain level of skill to successfully order from a room service menu – a skill that I, as a rookie, did not have.

Toronto is known as being a city of neighbourhoods and I thought it was a neat touch that the menu reflected this with a ‘Streets of Toronto’ section – butter chicken from Little India, a souvlaki sandwich inspired by Greektown  - I wanted to hop around town so picked the butter chicken, a maple-braised pork belly pad Thai, a starter of BC Dungeness crab popcorn and I couldn’t resist the Nanaimo Bar with Brown Butter ice cream too. When presented with ice cream as room service you order it, right? Just to see if it makes it to the room or melts on the cart.

Crunchy - and I really liked the salsa.

Crunchy – and I really liked the salsa.

About half an hour after ordering it all arrived and after taking a few photos I dived in. I eyed the ice cream with some trepidation – it looked good on its bed of ice – would it manage to not disappear into a puddle before I got to it? First up the popcorn crab; the breaded shell was still crunchy, the crab was tender  and the lemon-saffron aioli it came with just tangy enough. It was good, but not great – it was like ordering something fresh from a fryer and then leaving it for half an hour – which, to be fair – was pretty much what I had done, although, of course, the heated cabinet had kept it warm.

The noodles were prettiest so they were next; alas, they were kind of gummy. Like a teething baby, they had not travelled well. I nibbled on a few veggies before heading for the cashew and raisin-studded butter chicken, which – I can definitely say is THE thing to order. Heaven on a plate with just the right balance between that sweet, creamy buttery taste and the warm glow of spice and heat. The rice hadn’t dried up and the time in the heater hadn’t hurt the curry at all.

The ice cream was a little liquid around the edges by the time I dug in but oh! It didn’t matter at all. It was ridiculously good. I wished I’d had time during my stay to go and have some more. It was up there on the deliciousness stakes with my adventures with the Sunday Morning Ice Cream club…

So, my Five Rules for Successfully Ordering Room Service are…

* Think ‘what would be best as a take away’?

* Anything that can tolerate sitting in a warmer works – curries, soups etc.

* Anything that should be gobbled up fresh off the griddle or out of a wok does not.

* Anything that’s deep-fried probably won’t be at its best but will still be good if you’re craving stodge.

* If there is ice cream – order it anyway – even a little puddly it’s better than NOT ordering it. And slurping it up whilst dressed in a robe, flicking between channels, eating off a gorgeous crisp white tablecloth-draped table – unbeatable.

I stayed in Toronto as a guest of Toronto Tourism and the Four Seasons. However – as always – my views are 100% my own. 

 Find out more: 

Four Seasons, 60 Yorkville Ave  Toronto, ON M4W 0A4, Canada
Tel: +1 416-964-0411

Toronto Tourism

 

 


26
Jun 13

Beef Dip at Black and Blue

Beef dip… people kept mentioning it online and it caught my attention… we don’t have ‘beef dip’ back in the UK. In fact, I’ll confess, I had no clue what a beef dip was – my guess was it was a kind of meaty pâté – so I threw it out on Twitter and got back a range of equally baffled suggestions… @anniebennett wondered if it was “something you can actually eat…” the @Priorytavern ventured that it was “…some kind of rendered fat/bone marrow kinda thing” and naughty @Traveltechgirl reckoned that “it means something rude…”.

Is it a bird? Is it a train? Um, no - it's a beef sandwich with gravy...

Is it a bird? Is it a train? Um, no – it’s a beef sandwich with gravy…

We were all wrong. It’s actually a much-loved North American classic of shaved prime rib roast beef on a toasted baguette served (as they call it) “au jus” which means with a flour-less gravy made from the meat juices, stock and wine. I gave it a whirl at Vancouver’s temple to all things Meaty and Marvellous; Black and Blue.

I rather love this place – there’s a spiffy summertime roof terrace that you get to via a lift, I’m told it’s got one of Vancouver’s “best secret date tables” (and trust me – I intend to check that out) but most importantly, it’s got a drool-inducing chilled cabinet of some of the finest cuts of meat on display. I asked about the welfare of the beasts used and was pleased by the reply – I was about to tuck into beef from cows raised in the “lush seaside fields of Prince Edward Island” – free-range and fed on potatoes! Read more about the beef here...

Rare cuts of superb steak on display at Black & Blue

Rare cuts of superb steak on display at Black & Blue

So how was it? My verdict – the UK is seriously missing out – I adored it. You *dunk* your beef sandwich into the jus, the bread soaking up all that gorgeous gravy, the soft texture balanced perfectly by the crunch of french fries; salty and crisp on the outside, fluffy and almost buttery on the inside.

My only regret? They weren’t outsourcing their baking because I’ve honestly never had such a good authentically French-style baguette since I moved away from France. I’m so sad I can’t go out early in the morning, as I used to in Paris, and buy one fresh from the oven. Still – I can always go back and eat another – and each Wednesday Black and Blue have a Beef Dip lunch special – for just $10. Bargain!

 Need to know: 

Black & Blue: 1032 Alberni St, Vancouver, BC V6Z 2V6. Phone:(604) 637-0777


4
Jun 13

New Chinatown Night Market A Hit

I love the feeling of excitement at the night markets here in Canada. Last year when I first arrived I managed to catch one of the last nights of the huge Richmond Night Marketa smoky maze of exotic food, Kigurumi animal onesies and lashings of Hello Kitty phone covers. This weekend I went down to the official opening of the Vancouver Chinatown night market – a smaller but no less exciting night out.

Crowds at the Chinatown night market

Crowds at the Chinatown night market

I’d been told that the Chinatown market had lost a lot of its pep in previous years; no food vendors and really nothing special to visit, but this year was set to be different. Successful local restauranteur, Tannis Ling is heading up the team bringing the market to Chinatown and the word was that it would be every bit as good as her modern Chinese Bao Bei brasserie 

Market whizz - Tannis Ling

Market whizz – Tannis Ling

We arrived just before 9pm and it was packed. The Keefer block between Main and Columbia was roped off and heaving with people; the sizzle and tempting smell of fresh-fried food in the air and music playing as dancers performed on a small stage.  I adore how unashamedly interested in food people are in Vancouver. I beamed as I overheard so many cries of “What’s that? Where can I get it?” as people walked by, salivating at what everyone else was eating.

At the Columbia end, there’s a line-up food trucks – including my personal favourite Soho Road – along with dozens of street vendors whipping up everything from night market favourite, the potato tornado – which I plan to get to next time – bubble tea (am becoming addicted to honey green tea with coconut jelly), squid (bit meh, apparently) to chicken rice (perfect – I loved the chicken stock-cooked rice). Most popular food of the night? Wheelcakes: a doughy hob-cooked cake with a judicious dollop of filling – nutella, custard or peanut butter. We had to wait 25 minutes to get ours and when we did, we discovered that the best was a smoosh of the nutella and peanut together – warm, salty and sweet.

It's all about the wheelcakes

It’s all about the wheelcakes

Tannis wanted to create a market that showcased the culture of the area, old and new; movies screened on the wall are planned along with Mahjong and storytelling events. We ended the night in fits of laughter playing ping pong by moonlight. Yes, Richmond has its appeal, but I liked that this was on my doorstep and had a real community feel. Whatever the old market may have been like, the new one is well worth a visit; free to enter, there’s plenty to see and do and I’m already excited about the forthcoming ‘Dumpling weekend’ and the outdoor hip hop karaoke bouts…

Need to know:

Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday 6pm – 11pm till September 8th 2013.


15
May 13

Sunday Morning Ice Cream: flavours worth staying home for

I love Meyer lemons - they're a cross between lemons and mandarins and are wonderful in a G&T

I love Meyer lemons – they’re a cross between lemons and mandarins and are wonderful in a G&T

I hate to be a roaring cliche but sometimes when life hands you a giant sack of lemons, it makes sense to make a bucket of delicious lemonade. That’s what I tried to do in April. Flattened by an injury I had to stay at home for the whole month, lying on my back, my foot propped up high, icing it every couple of hours. Blee. So after a weekend having a good cry and feeling sorry for myself I decided that this was the perfect time to try the Sunday Morning Ice Cream service – after all – when else could I be certain I’d be home every Sunday morning to receive it?

My favourite: a base steeped in freshly popped, buttered popcorn layered with homemade salted butter caramel, pralined almonds and fleur de sel.

My favourite: a base steeped in freshly popped, buttered popcorn layered with homemade salted butter caramel, pralined almonds and fleur de sel.

It’s a great idea. You sign up to a month’s delivery. You have no idea what flavour you’ll get – only that it will have been home-made by gelato super-gal, Genevieve and that it will come – freshly-churned – to your door. Each Sunday morning you get an email with the flavour profile, appropriately, that first week it was Meyer Lemon and Buttermilk – lemons into lemon ice cream then.

Some say you shouldn't combine florals with coffee. Not I. And not the Sunday Morning Ice CreamCo.

Some say you shouldn’t combine florals with coffee. Not I. And not the Sunday Morning Ice Cream Co.

The pots are small – sorry – there’s no way I’d share and yes, for the first week there was a lingering snarky feeling of “Ouch, I just paid $40 for a small pot of heaven…” The next week that $40 faded into the ether and all was left was the best freaking ice cream I’d ever had. So for the next three weeks there was an overwhelmingly joyful feeling that a lovely lady was, for no reason, bringing me a treat each Sunday morning.

Hand-made ice-cream, home-made labels

Hand-made ice-cream, home-made labels

I tried to eke each pot out to make it last longer than Sunday. But that never happened. It was a bonus if it made it past Sunday lunch to be truthful. If you’ve no plans to leave the house each Sunday morning – sign up. For a gift, I’d say it’s one of the best you could get for someone living in Vancouver. Four mornings of the perfect treat, a whole month of something special.

Find them on Twitter

Tart rhubarb and sweet cream. I basically inhaled this :(

Tart rhubarb and sweet cream. I basically inhaled this…

 

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