It’s been a long time …

Monday, March 17, 2008

Who knew starting your own business would suck up so much time and energy!?

I sure didn’t.

But I’d like to get back into this blogging thing and try and write at least one entry a day. They may be short, but I think it’ll be a good exercise for me to also get back into the habit of writing – something that I do miss (and considering I studied it in school, I figured I should maybe do it outside of writing e.mails).

So I thought one way to get myself up and going again would be to write about a discovery I’ve made, big or small. That’s part of the reason for this blog, right? When you explore, you discover.

Today, I discovered my love of Hibiscus Organics in Kensington Market thanks to my friend Alexis who introduced it to me.

One word describes this place: Delicious!

It’s a small restaurant with a few places to sit and eat or take out. Today I had the salad and soup combo. The salad includes a wide range of bean, grain and veggie salads – all different tastes to wet the palette – and comes in a easy to transport container. The soup is a veggie medley which is perfect to warm the soul. Plus you get an organic rice cake with a tamarind-type (I’m guessing on this one) spread. And all for $7.50! It’s a steal!

They have delightful looking cookies such as pistachio and cranberry which are all vegan-ready. The staff is very friendly and the atmosphere is calm and inviting.

If you need a quick bite and you’re around the market, you must try Hibiscus Organics!

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Green Coffee, Great Time …

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Merchants of Green CoffeeYesterday was my dad’s birthday. My dad loves his coffee. Really loves his coffee. He can drink a coffee before bed and be fine. Always has. One of my favourite memories as a child is the sound of the milk being frothed for his cappuccino as I fell asleep. So today, as a surprise, my mom – who is never short on interesting ideas and fun adventures to go on – gathered a bunch of close friends and family at a rather fitting location – the home of the Merchants of Green Coffee.

We gathered for some snacks and nibblies and talked and caught up and wished my dad a happy birthday – and then it began … the history of coffee 101. Our host was a walking encyclopedia of information about the 2nd largest commodity industry in the world next to oil (over 400 billion cups of coffee are consumed every year). He began by giving us a very concise and fascinating look into the history of coffee. Its origins begin in Ethiopia where they have an entire ceremony built around coffee.

Ethiopia is the cradle of humanity and birthplace of the arabica coffee tree (coffea arabica). Green coffee beans are crushed by tribes people and mixed with animal fat as a food source for long expeditions.

You’d never think it, but coffee has an incredibly fascinating history! I would suggest you take a look at the Merchants website about the history of the drink – which is the second most consumed beverage after tap water (!). So there we were, all 20 of us sitting around tables with five mugs in front of us – one for water to clean our spoon, one for drinking water to cleanse the pallete, and three for various types of coffee that were going to taste. The main reason the Merchants exist is to promote and educate consumers about fair trade and organic coffee.

Our mantra is Fresh Coffee, Fair Trade, Green Business. Merchants of Green Coffee strives to be a sustainable company – a business that creates financial and social wealth without degrading the productive and aesthetic capacity of the environment for both present and future generations. Essentially, we look at the triple bottom line; equal treatment of the economic, social and environmental components of trade. We exist to re-acquaint coffee drinkers to the wonderful taste of fresh roasted coffee using beans brought to market under sustainable conditions.

The Merchants subscribe to a mantra for coffee that has three key points noted here: 3 Keys to great coffee

We were all fascinated by what our host had to say. He jumped back and forth through time, threw out facts left, right and centre, but it all made sense and came together in the end. For example, Mocha Java – which for most of us North Americans means a blend of coffee and hot chocolate (or something similar), is actually two different types of coffees from two different regions split 50/50. The Java beans are higher in acidity and less full of body while the beans from the port of Mocha (where the beans were shipped from) are less acidic and more full of body. The combination of these two beans makes for a nice even brew.

Here’s another fascinating fact: Indoensian Monsoon – grown in India (one of the larger producers of coffee beans) – is created by drying the beans (which when done by hand can take up to two weeks), then placed in a large house-like structure with a roof but no walls and left there for another two weeks while the monsoon winds and moisture blow their way into the beans creating a “musty” taste. This process was created as a result in the decline of beans being sold to Europe. You see, when India used to ship their beans to Europe in wooden ships, they were known as one of the best coffee beans in the world because of their taste – which developed whilst at sea in these wooden ships and containers. But then metal ships came along and new ways of transporting the beans and suddenly when the beans arrived in Europe, they no longer had that “musty” taste and were rejected by the Europeans as “not real coffee”. So the process of creating Indonesian Monsoon beans was created!

I’m not retelling the story very well, but trust me – it’s a fascinating story.

The best part of the experience is knowing that the Merchants are here promoting a sustainable way of growing, roasting and distributing a commodity that we all want … they are concerned about the consumer and want the consumers to know how coffee is prepared from the minute it’s picked from the tree to the first sip. Coffee beans, when roasted, are only good for up to 5 days – and then they go stale. And once they’re ground, they’re only good for about 3 days max. So pretty much the coffee that you get at Starbucks, Second Cup – you name it, is not fresh but stale. Not only that, but the environmental impact of growing and roasting these beans is devastating to some of our most precious forests such as the rainforest in Brazil. Here are some interesting facts about the coffee trade:

  • Every cup of coffee consumed destroys roughly three square centimeters of rainforest, making coffee the 2nd leading cause of rainforest destruction.
  • Coffee is the 2nd most heavily pesticide sprayed crop in the world.
  • Coffee is the number one cause of water contamination in most producing regions.
  • Supply chain inequities exploit millions of small subsistence farmers.
  • Small farmers produce the highest quality coffee.
  • Fresh coffee, consumed one to three days after roasting, is dramatically superior in taste to any other coffee.

Fair TradeThere was so much information to soak up over the two hour session – and not a dull moment to be sure. But if anything, I learned that we have to be more conciously aware of the coffee that is being served out there. Look for the Fair Trade sign and organic labels.

There are numerous certification organizations throughout the world. For fair trade, look for coffee certified by members of the Fairtrade Labeling Organization (FLO) such as TransFair Canada and TransFair USA. For organics, look for coffee certified by members of the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movemenbts (IFOAM) such as the Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA). For shade and biodiversity, look for coffee certified by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Centre (SMBC) and Rainforest Alliance. 

One last tidbit, when you buy your coffee – see if there is a “roasted on” date … if not, you can be sure that the beans in your hands have been sitting there far longer than the 5 day limit.

For more information – definitely check out their website: merchantsofgreencoffee.com. Their location may be a bit out of the way (it’s just north of Queen, west of Broadview – you can see it from the Don Valley), but it’s worth the trip for sure. They do have coffee classes that give you a more indepth look at the trade and bean that has become so imbedded in our culture, and they havea fantastic store set up for you to browse and sample various coffees. You can also become a member of the Merchants and recieve 30lbs of coffee over the year (delivered straight to your door) plus recieve a free roaster of your own! Be sure to check out the many stores around Toronto that offer Fair Trade and organic green coffee beans. There are tons of them out there.

Now if only I drank coffee…


Hungry? Grab a Sandwich Box!

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Sandwich Box logoOn my second day back at work this week, I took a walk down the street to Queen and John to one of my favourite places to grab a quick, healthy, and delicious lunch – Sandwich Box. After the first bite, I completely fell in love with this little unassuming eatery all over again.

If you haven’t tried Sandwich Box yet – you don’t know what you’re missing.

Located at 238 Queen Street West in that little food market across from the CHUM City building, Sandwich Box offers something for everyone. According to their website, their philosophy is: “…to offer healthy, fresh and quality food.” And they do deliver. The produce is always fresh, they have a great selection of cheeses to choose from, the chicken and salmon (I don’t eat red meat, so I can’t vouch for the entire meat selection) are always delicious, and the bread comes fresh daily from ACE Bakery … mmm mmm good!

The great thing about Sandwich box is that the food is prepared for you to your taste right there. For the base price, you can choose up to 5 selections to create your sandwich. The choices include a spread, a cheese, a vegetable, meat and of course, a bread. The sandwiches are expertly created, grilled slightly and placed in a non-descript white box which includes a lovely little side salad – all for the low price of $7.35 (I think … and that’s including tax!).

My favourite sandwich to create is as follows:

  • Multi-grain triangle bread
  • Basil-pesto spread
  • Grilled chicken
  • Roasted sweet red peppers
  • Bocconcini cheese

For those of you in a rush, they do have pre-made sandwiches to grab and go with. And for those who aren’t in the mood for a sandwich, they do have a wonderful salad bar with a wide variety of ingredients to choose from! Just a warning, you pay by the weight of the sandwich and it can be slightly deceiving if you don’t take into account the weight of all the toppings you’re placing in your order – as I discovered one day! You must also try their daily soups which are prepared fresh on the premises … the soup du jour can be found on their website, along with all the ingredients so you can pre-plan your sandwich for the day – or even week!

I had such a wonderful experience reacquainting myself with Sandwich Box on Wednesday that I went back on Thursday … and will continue to go back for the best sandwiches in Toronto!


Great wine, perfect atmosphere

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

I moved into Cabbagetown in April and immediately fell in love with the area. Being born in the Beach (or Beaches – I won’t digress as that’s a whole other post all together), I loved the small town feel of the community but the closeness of downtown. Cabbagetown is the best of both worlds – but almost feels like it’s a hidden gem in a way. Everyone seems to know about Cabbagetown but doesn’t seem to know it.

It was an adventure moving in and exploring the area.

Over the summer, another new tenant moved into the area and I dare say I’ve fallen in love. It’s not a person (I don’t want my partner to think I’m cheating), but rather a new wine bar at the corner of Winchester and Parliament, The Cobourg.

I didn’t notice it until I walked past one evening and noticed people sitting inside a dim lit room, candles glowing and glasses of wine on the antique tables. The chairs in front window were of a different era and seemed to hug the patron sitting in it. There was no signage inside or out – nothing to say what one was to expect upon entering.

I was intrigued.

It wasn’t until a few weeks later that friends and I decided that we must try out this new haunt, so on a rainy autumn evening we ventured to the unknown, unassuming, mysterious little secret that had quietly nestled itself into our neighbourhood. My first reaction was a calm one. This wine bar, as we soon discovered, was something of a time machine. It was a mix of the 1930’s and present day modern chic. The high ceilings gave it that olde Cabbagetown feel, the walls were adorned with massive paintings of ostrichs (hence the reason my friends and I still refer to it as the Ostrich – which is not the name, but should the owners decide to change it one day, I would vote for such a title), a beautiful wooden bar with high stools to perch oneself on and a massive mirror reflecting the life of the room back to itself hanging on the wall behind the bar. The music perfectly matched the room, Ella’s voice soothed your worries away, Nina and her soulful voice, Louis and that trumpet – all the greats, it was magic! The furniture all looked like it belonged in an old Victorian home, very comfortable, very stylish, and very eclectic. This was fast becoming a favourite in the neighbourhood … and we hadn’t even sampled the wine yet!

John, owner, actor and wine connoisseur, is very personable and loves describing the types of wines that are on his list. In fact, there are a few that one cannot buy at the LCBO, nor at any wine store, but come directly from the vineyards in the Niagara region. Wolf Ass is a fine example of a delicious red wine, not too heavy, very tasty and a perfect way to begin your evening of wine tasting. I’m no expert, but I do enjoy my wine and love a good red. The wine list is very reasonably priced and there are some delightful choices to choose from.

But almost better than the wine choices, and why else would one go to a wine bar, is the little-known fact that The Cobourg has the most delectable little cheese plate this side of Yonge Street (and probably west of Yonge as well!). Everytime I have been to The Cobourg, I have been delighted by various cheeses that I’ve never seen before with a side of fruit to enhance the experience and a selection of breads to spread them onto. The last time my friends and I were there, we were treated to a delicious cheddar with caramel injected into it, a sort of goat cheese with cranberries as well as two others that were equally as scrumptious, but I was unfamiliar with the type of cheese and therefore can’t give you an accurate description of them (it was about 2 weeks ago, so I hope you will forgive the lack of investigative reporting!). A good cheese is the perfect companion to any good wine. John is obviously aware of this and has done a wonderful job at providing the right samplings of cheeses.

The Cobourg has turned into a bit of a weekly tradition with a group of my Cabbagetown friends. It’s the perfect place to leave the real world behind and indulge your taste buds and engage in good conversation for a while … something I look forward to doing.