May 21, 2013

If you've ever been to Niagara Falls on the Canadian side, you probably know the main strip is like Piccadilly Circus mixed with the vibe of creepy clowns and amusement park rides. When I was younger, I was somewhat traumatized by the The Fun House--not so fun as an anxious child--and especially the Butterfly Conservatory.

However, about 20 minutes away from Niagara Falls is Niagara-on-the-Lake, a beautiful town set right where the Niagara River meets Lake Ontario among wineries, scenic roads and quaint shops. For tourists and Ontarians, it's a relaxing destination to sip some wine, take a romantic stroll and stop to smell the flowers. 

Even better was the opportunity to hang out at a winery, taste some wine and eat food from gourmet food trucks! Food Truck Eats was the perfect summer kick-off with 20 food trucks and 20 different wines to sample at Peller Estates Winery. The event is in its second year and this year offered an afternoon event and an evening market. This year both events completely sold out with about 3,000 tickets sold. 

Peller Estates is one of the flagship wineries in the Niagara region and has been making their award-winning wines, including their famous icewine, for about 50 years. They also know how to throw one heck of a party. Included in each ticket was entry to the event, a souvenir glass and a complimentary glass of wine. I had my game face on:

Before the event they sent out a list of "Top Tips to Enjoy Food Truck Eats." They recommended to make a plan of the trucks you wanted to visit and to "not wear white." My partner in crime did not wear white, however, and spilt some red wine on his shirt in the first 10 minutes. The only thing about these events is trying to balance wine in one hand, food in the other and good conversation. My friend Steve also came along for the festivities. 

The first step was to get some wine, which is the best thing to mull over as you're waiting in line for food trucks. Peller Estates had many of their wines to sample, including their icewines and Late Harvest Vidal. I tried a glass of the Gewuztraminer, as I tend to go for light, refreshing wines.

Then we waited in line for our first food truck Gourmet Gringos for their tacos, ceviche and Huevos Rancheros. I got the Peruvian Tiradito, which was fresh seared marlin, jicama and in a jalapeno-lime mojo along with beer battered mahi mahi tacos with coleslaw and guacamole. There were also tacos with a variety of fillings, including chicken, chorizo and black beans. 

Whenever I tell people about food trucks and how popular they are now I think they are still a little hesitant about the idea. Someone I know said they probably wouldn't order seafood off a truck, but I think it's just the misconceptions about street food. This is definitely still gourmet food and beautifully prepared even if you do eat it while sitting on the ground. The seared tuna was refreshing and the salad underneath was tangy and crispy. It was the perfect cool appetizer to start the warm afternoon.

Then we ventured to Rome N' Chariot, an Italian food truck and tried their Holy Trinity of sliders with meatball, veal and eggplant with marinara sauce and parmesan cheese on slider buns. Again, a nice little sample of the different foods as opposed to gourging ourselves. 

There were so many trucks I wanted to try, but alas, so little time. The boys were looking forward to the "Dirty Southern Love" sandwich, a triple-decker made up of fried chicken, candied bacon and waffles topped with Louisiana butter sauce and Ranch dressing from Dirty South. Unfortunately, they were sold out of those before we got there.  

My favourite looking truck was Manual Labour Coffee with their 1969 Bailey Travel Trailer converted into a mobile espresso and coffee truck. My dream is to one day restore a vintage RV or camper van. Maybe I'll be in the food truck business one day...or at least take it on some adventures. 

The classics were also there from my days hunting down Toronto food trucks. Gorilla Cheese never disappoints and Feisty Jack was serving some classic British favourites, including Tikka Masala, Scotch Eggs and Fish and Chips. The line-ups weren't so bad if you had a glass of wine in hand. I have to praise the food trucks workers and cooks for being incredibly efficient and friendly, especially serving crowds of people on a hot afternoon. 

We stayed at the Moffat Inn in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is part of the Vintage Hotels group who also own the Prince of Wales Hotel. That doorway was actually the door to our room, which had two doors: one on the inside and one to the street. 

We then strolled through the nice shops on the main street and got some ice cream for dessert. There were so many neat goodies and treats in that shop. Don't let me into a speciality food shop, especially a tea and coffee shop. We ended up buying a bag of Niagara Icewine tea made from the frozen grapes that produce Ice wine although there is no alcohol in the tea. 

The next day we stopped at some wineries to check them out and then had to leave the wonderful paradise. This was part of my birthday present and it was a nice, relaxing weekend to kick off my birthday, the long weekend and the start of summer. 
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May 08, 2013

When I was in London, England for the summer a few years ago, I lived in Notting Hill right near Hyde Park. I took walks through the park all the time to unwind from work and exercise from eating too many fish and chips.

Hyde Park London

I really thought of the park as a kind of heaven on earth. At any given moment there were people hanging out, playing sports, rowing boats, riding horses, eating ice cream and soaking up the English sun. To say it was a magical place would also be fitting, as an elaborate production of Peter Pan was staged in the park at that time as well. The park is every bit of English elegance, charm and history all in one place. 

Hyde Park London

Nestled in Hyde Park is Kensington Palace, now the home of the Royal Couple Will and Kate. At the time you could stroll around the castle for free, as well as the gardens. I'm guessing the security might be a little stricter now. Next to the palace is The Orangery, probably the fanciest place to have a cup of tea in London. Let's just say, it was a little bit out of my price range. I can dream though.

Lucky for me, my favourite tea shop in London, Ontario--where I now live--The Tea Haus (in Covent Garden Market, also named after the "real" market in England) started up an Afternoon Tea at their store. It was Mike's Birthday last weekend, so instead of, you know, watching the hockey game and drinking beers, I took him for tea at the market on Sunday.

Afternoon Tea at the Tea Haus

The tea for two included unlimited tea served in fancy china and on a nicely set table along with a platter of goodies from Le Petit Paris, which is also located in the market. The tray included macarons, tarts, biscotti, sandwiches and much more. I assumed it would be all sweet treats, but it was nice to have a few savoury things thrown in there to balance everything out. There was a tuna, chicken and egg salad "tea sandwich."

Saturday morning was also the first farmer's Market of the season, so I picked up some rhubarb and lavender, as my dining room table vase has been neglected lately. According to the lavender farm owner, you can actually barbecue lavender. You put a few sprigs on the coals and the scent and flavour will infuse into whatever you're grilling. How cool is that?

This would be a nice treat for Mother's Day too. The only weird thing was that we were the only ones having the tea service at that time, so a few people walked by wondering why we had a nicely set table and fine china in the seating area of the market. A little girl walked by and asked if we were having a tea party. Why yes, we had a tea party. We're adults, after all.

As well as the tea treats, I also made a Strawberry "monkey bread" cake with a lemon glaze as a Birthday cake. The original recipe called for cream cheese icing, but I thought that would be too much, so I added a little glaze made from icing sugar, lemon juice and milk. I also added a few sprigs of lavender on top of the cake.

Strawberry Monkey Bread Cake

Monkey bread is a sticky, pull-apart, cake, similar to a coffee cake. Apparently it is also known as "monkey brains," "bubble loaf," and "sticky bread." You make a sweet dough bread and let it rise for about an hour. Then slice the dough into strips and brush brown sugar, butter and strawberries on each piece and layer the pieces into a stack. Then place the juicy stacks into a bundt pan and let it rise again for about an hour.

Bake the cake for about 30-40 minutes and let it cool before adding the glaze or icing. See the full recipe here. It wasn't quite a traditional coffee cake, but the slices ended up being huge and it pulls apart nicely if you don't want the effort of utensils or plates.

I also made a layered chickpea salad for a BBQ we went to on Saturday. You have to have a salad with burgers at a BBQ if only to add some greens to all that protein. I made a similar dish before as a layered dip with hummus, tzatziki, olives, tomatoes and feta cheese. For a salad, I layered chickpeas, chopped tomatoes, cucumber, green onions and feta cheese then made a dressing with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mustard and garlic and let the dressing soak into the salad. 

Normally, I would put the dressing on right as I was serving the salad, but I thought it would almost "marinade" the chickpeas. The worst thing about making chickpeas is having them taste too much like chickpeas. Am I right? It tasted exactly like a Greek salad. Plus it had all those chickpeas for extra fibre and anything layered in a glass bowl always looks extra fancy. Here's the original recipe.  

Layered Chickpea Salad

If you also love eating well, and bright colours, head on over to enter to win a Yonanas machine. It's a machine that makes frozen yoghurt with bananas and other fruits. All you do is freeze some bananas and add them to the machine with any flavour combinations you want and you have your own healthy soft-serve ice cream.

They also come in cool colours, such as Raspberry, Cranberry, Lime and Grape. Go to their Facebook page before May 9 at 10pm and let them know your favourite colour for a chance to win!
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