Friday, December 16, 2011

'Tis the Season: Thinking Outside of the Gift Box!

Surprise the Foodie/Literary Detective/Ghost Buster in your life!
Tuck a Gift Certificate in a Gift Box!
2011 has been pure Shangri-La because throughout this year, I've had the honour and pleasure of conducting customized foodie walks as personal gifts for bridal showers, wedding anniversary and milestone birthdays.  Year 2011 ends on a high note when I wrap-up with the two final tours of Kensington Festive Foodie Roots Walks on Saturday December 17th and Friday December 30th... These final tours celebrate, embrace and share ALL the Festivals of Lights within multicultural Kensington marketplace and residential quarters. Both occasions will be extra special foodie tours, in part, thanks to the holiday food and drinks we don't get year round, but in part due to another reason.

On both occasions, I will have  a guest who will be the recipient of an amazing gift of Foodie "Flow" experience from their partner for their birthday gift and as a Christmas present. Discovering new foodie experience together on a guided food walk, while spending quality and quantity time sans cell phone distractions have often lead to an experience called "Flow".  Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process according to author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his amazing book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience!

Hiyam from Akram's Shoppe
 Baklavas made with love & served with heady Spiced Tea
after we taste an awesome platter of savoury treats 

Breaking bread always brings people together. In our case, tasting a variety of artisan Canadian cheeses and olive before yours truly recites, Ode to the Olive by late Canadian poet, Irving Layton. Flow experience might happen while we sample Jamaican Dark Rum Christmas Cake after yours truly recites An Ode to the Fruitcake (this is recited by local innkeeper Jon Tschannen at the annual Christmas cake toss event in Manitou Springs, Colorado)  seem to literally bond each guests along the walks. 

Feliz Navidad!
Lime Charlotte a.k.a Mexican Tiramisu at Agave & Aguacate
One of Culinary Historian/Guide, Shirley Lum's favourite desserts! 

There's still time to book spots or order a Gift Certificate and surprise that foodie in your life! It's simple. Give the office a quick call at (416) 923-6813 to give us a heads-up. Drop into our website A Taste of the World Walks Print and complete the Gift Certificate Order Form and mail it with your cheque. We will e-mail you right away the A Taste of the World Walks Gift Certificate to be printed and placed in an envelope. It's up to you to then decide whether to place it in a gift box, wrap it up and place it under a Christmas tree or give it with the Chanukkah goodies. 

If that foodie in your life  is too busy to partake in one of the food tours in 2011, they can always look forward to the popular annual behind-the-scenes Chinese New Year tours (January 14th, 15th, 21st, 22nd, 28th, 29th and February 4th, 2012 10:00AM - 1:30 PM)) and/or the annual 11-course Chinese New Year banquet on Saturday, January 21st, 2012 (6:00 - 7:30 PM) as we bid farewell to the Year of the Metal Rabbit and usher in the Year of the Water Dragon!  

Chinese New Year Tours & Banquet
We kick-off with Lucky Candies
Good luck for all in Year 2012!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Tis the Season: Share ALL the Festivals of Lights!

I love this time of the year as the spectacular sunsets take place earlier each day and the crisp morning air gets nippy due to dropping temperatures approaching the freezing point, and we're shrouded with coldness and darkness...

Some of my annual Festivals of Lights party decorations:
Hanukkah Menorah, Diwali oil lamp or Diyas,
Kwanzaa Mishumaa Saba & Santa Claus' hat with tea candle

Let there be light, I say!  Lets light up the night!  All of a sudden, there's a plethora of glowing candle lights and cavalcade of lights at homes and in public spaces. There's something magical about basking in the soft, warm glow of any form of illumination in the dead of winter, especially over the holidays in Toronto... the city of neighbourhoods.

Is it a coincidence that Toronto has so many Festivals of Lights to celebrate? At this time of the year, this city lives up to its ancient First Nation namesake, Toronto, The Meeting Place.  Lets say it's a wave of festival of lights... Diwali, a.k.a the Indian Festival of Lights (started on October 26th 2011 and ended 5 days later), kicked off the festival within Gerrard Street's Little India neighbourhood, in addition to other locations, running for five bright nights... Then the lights get passed on and we have Eid Mubarak (November 6th, 2011), Chanukkah (starts at sunset onTuesday December 20th, 2011 and ends at sunset on Wednesday December 28th), Winter Solstice (December 21st), Christmas (December 25th) and Kwanzaa (December 26th to New Year's Day). Want to celebrate, embrace and share them all?  Check out the popular annual Kensington Market Festival of Lights which is celebrated on the streets of Kensington Market during the Winter Solstice.  This awesome Street festival features a lantern parade, drums, costumes and more. Free. It starts from Oxford/Augusta Streets at 6:30PM. You might see me there with my with hubby celebrating and embracing it all! Have other plans that evening or you can't stand being in the cold for too long in the evening?

Holiday treats from Moon Bean Cafe:
Baked Samosa, Spinach Boreka & Chocolate Rugullachs
Year round, I conduct seasonal bounties foodie walks along the Kensington Foodie Roots Walks within the residential and marketplace of Kensington. Peeling back 200 years of immigrant food roots for 10 months begs for a change of scenery once we're into the month of December. Since there are several festivals involving lights, I figured that's a good enough reason to celebrate and embrace ALL of them: Diwali Festival, Eid, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Christmas, and Kwanzaa.  Did I mention that the most important part of all this celebration and embracing the different holidays is the food and drinks served during this special time of the year?

Decadent holiday sweets at Akram's Shoppe await us...
Over the last couple of years, I've consider myself honoured and lucky to be able to share the diverse holidays celebrated along the Kensington Festive Foodie Roots walks on December 10th, 17th and 30th (Note: special addition).  Part of the excitement is to inspire my walking tour guests to do the same by opening the doors to their minds and allowing them to embrace all the holidays and the diversity the experience brings. I'm excited about reciting an ode to the Fruitcake after tasting delicious Jamaican Black Rum Christmas Cake from Patty King (yes, I've had guests who swear that they are passionate Christmas Cake tossers only to become Christmas cake lovers and beg for more!). We might do a toast to the holidays with Ting! (the national drink of Jamaica) or with the refreshing Mexican apple cider or the specially brewed Syrian spiced tea at Akram's Shoppe. I'm always flattered when a guest e-mails after one of these special walks with a hearty thanks for planting the seeds of such a simple idea. I love it when folks share how they take it to the next level by putting their own personal stamp on the idea of sharing the diverse holidays, by picking the highlights from our fun foodie tours! Chocolate rugullachs or Cranberry/Walnut Vegan Loaf from Moon Bean CafĂ© anyone? Dark Chocolate Baklava from Akram's Shoppe anyone? Some Niagara Gold Cheese or Maple Cheddar with the Montreal-style St. Urbain bagel respectively from Cheese Magic and My Market Bakery anyone? Mexican Christmas treats like churros or buenuelos or tamales or Oaxaca cheese anyone? Chilean Christmas treats like pastel de choclo or alfajores anyone?  Endless holiday foodies possibilities...

BCE Place, Toronto, ON
By the way, here's food for thought. When it's December 21st - Winter Solstice is not just Winter Solstice! For the Chinese community, Winter Solstice is called Dong Zhi and it is traditionally celebrated with the decadent Eight-Treasure Rice Pudding equivalent to the English Christmas Pudding that could surpass what would have been served by the Denison, the founding family of the area given the name, Kensington. Meanwhile the Persian community celebrates Shab-e Yalda with outdoor bonfires and then head indoors to gather around the korsi (usually a low, square table covered with a cloth and laden with numerous symbolic and delicious dishes).

What's your favourite Festival of Light? What part of Toronto do you try to visit just for its lights?

Happy Diwali as you celebrated five-night of lights and sweets! 
Happy Winter Solstice as you celebrate the first day of winter! 
Happy Hanukkah while lighting up all eight candles! 
Happy Kwanzaa while lighting up all seven symbolic candles be they green, red & black!

Merry Christmas to one and all!  

 Have a happy but safe and relaxing holiday season and all the best for 2012!
Stay tuned on how I celebrate the New Year three times and three different ways!

Oh, if you still need a gift for a foodie in your life...
Treat them to  Kensington Festive Foodie Roots walks 
You still have time to book them on one of the tours scheduled on 
December 10th, 17th and 30th (Note: special addition not listed on website). 
Then give them special instructions to show up at the base of the red art pole with the Black Cat on the Yellow Chair (Spadina Avenue/St Andrew Street). 

Friday, December 2, 2011

What the Dickens! Food Blogging At the Best of Time: Clotilde Dusoulier in Toronto

Believe it or not, there are six degrees of separation between British author Charles Dickens,  Parisienne food blogger Clotilde Dusoulier, who's the 2011-2012 Joseph Hoare Gastronomic Writer-in-Residence, Culinary Historian Shirley Lum (yours truly) of A Taste of the World Walks,  Paris, the City of Light and Toronto, the Meeting Place. What the Dickens! 

Charles Dickens was quite a foodie in his time. Whether you read one of his numerous novels, personal letters or diaries you'll find many detailed mentions of food or fabulous meals. You may ask "what was his grist for literary mill?" Well try this: Dickens published the famous novel, A Tale of Two Cities after visiting Paris, the City of Light with his wife in 1855. In 1882, Macmillan & Co. posthumously published his unconventional handbook called Dickens' Dictionary of Paris, after he revisited Paris in 1865 with actress/mistress Ellen Ternan! 

Wondering about where Toronto, the Meeting Place fits in? It got a nod in his 1843 travel handbook, American Notes (which by the way, I had autographed by his great-great grandson, Gerald Charles Dickens and I'll read excerpts on the tours).  Yes, Saturday December 3rd marks the final In The Footsteps of Charles Dickens: Toronto 1842 walk in year 2011. If you've not had a chance to attend this incredible  Da Vinci Code-type Literary Detective walking tour yet, you're truly missing out on this  "librarians' dream come true" walking tour experience lead by your guide armed with old maps, diary excerpts from Dickens and even his wife's long-lost diary circa 1842 ! Can't make it this weekend? Mark it in your calendars: Saturday February 4th, 2012, we will be celebrating his 200th birthday, even though it actually takes place on Tuesday February 7th, 2012. More details to come of the celebrations to take place throughout 2012...

Still wondering about the connections between the Charles Dickens and Clotilde Dusoulier? Hold onto your hats... here it come...  Guess who also dropped into town? Clotilde Dusoulier! In case you haven't heard, she's the Writer-in-Residence from Paris, France. She pens the award-winning blog Chocolate and Zucchini and has published several books, one of them, Edible Adventures in Paris (which I'm sure would tickle Dickens' fancy).  Clotilde Dusoulier spoke at George Brown College in Toronto, Ontario on Thursday November 10th, 2011. What a fabulous turn-out! I've never seen so many faces I recognized who are  Women Culinary Network (WCN) members - Elizabeth Baird, Nettie Cronish, Mary Luz MejiaMarion Kane, Joanne Yolles, Preena Chauhan and new faces! All eager to hear what award-winning blogger, Clotilde Dusoulier has to say during her informative talk on the Art of Food Blogging. What would Charles Dickens' reaction been if he was there that night too?  Whenever I conduct one of my walks, you'll always hear one of my favourite wistful musings, "Imagine...  if we could use Dr. Who's Time Machine and bring Charles Dickens back to Toronto along the  In The Footsteps of Charles Dickens: Toronto 1842 walking tour!"   The prolific British writer who was dubbed by one walk attendee as the "Danielle Steeles  of the Victorian era" would have loved being a "fly-on-the-wall" during the fabulous Art of Food Blogging seminar. 

Thank you Eleanor Kane and James Morris, the Co-founders of Stratford Chefs School for developing the Joseph Hoare Gastronomic Writer-in-Residence  Program at Stratford, Ontario. Those of you who read Toronto Life magazine might recall its former food editor, the late Joseph Hoare, who was immensely supportive of young writers interested in food and gastronomy. To honour his lifelong passion for food and food writing, his family generously established the innovative position of writer-in-residence at Stratford Chefs School.  The individual who is graced with the title Writer-in-Residence is given these key roles - s/he leads workshops about food writing, conducts one-on-one consultations with students who are interested in food writing and presents readings of his/her work to both students and the public.  This dynamic program included national and international writers over the past years: 2007-2008 James Chatto; 2008-2009 Corby Kummer; 2009-2010 Michael Symons; 2010-2011 Ian Brown. 

The program's mission: To help people experience, enjoy and understand the gastronomy of our time so that a distinctive Canadian food culture may continue to develop. 

Here's a little highlight from that seminar that can be savoured... 

 10 Golden Rules in the Art of Food Blogging from Clotilde Dusoulier
1. Choose Focus 
2. Look at what others are doing
3. Set yourself apart
4. Be genuine
5. Focus on great content
6.  Keep learning
7. Give credit where credit is due
8. Connect
9. Keep at it 
10. Have fun! 

You can read the wonderful detailed recap of these rules by Mardi at the fabulous Food Bloggers of Canada.   If Dickens lived in this era, how many of these rules would apply to him?  I can just picture Dickens sitting there nodding his head while listening to Clotilde and making mental check marks as he goes through that list...  
By the way, did I mention that there was the reception afterwards, where food and drinks were served and attendees had a chance to mix and mingle?  Me think, Dickens would have been in seventh heaven watching as a fly on the wall and observing how we network, use our smart phones to tweet the event. He would fall off the wall laughing so hard as he watch how we wander to the two tables laden with six types of delicious hors d'oeuvres (half prepared by the Stratford Chef School students and half by George Brown College The Chefs' House) and start to take photographs with the very same cell phones before we start noshing ad sipping! He would probably leap over to the book signing table to chat with Clotilde about copyright and maybe pick her brain about modern day Paris! Which dishes do you think tickled the fancy of Clotilde Dusoulier and Charles Dickens?

Menu: 6 different types of hors d'oeuvres served 

3 types by students of the Stratford Chef School
- Smoked Albacore Tuna crispy wontons
- seared lamb loin, pickled eggplant
- Stratford Chef's School madeleine, sauce grenache

3 types made by GBC The Chefs' House 
- crispy fried mini scotch egg, mango chutney (right)
- foie gras custard in egg shell, creme fraiche, chervil (below)
- beef pot stickers, chili lime dipping sauce 

I look forward to reading Clotilde Dusoulier's blog about her foodies adventures while in Toronto, the Meeting Place! What distinctive Canadian food culture do you think will tickle her fancy?