September 18, 2014

I have been binge watching a show on Netflix Canada called Ramsay's Best Restaurant. It was made a few years ago and picks the best restaurants in different cuisine categories and pits them against each other to find the best restaurant in Britain. I can't resist a good Gordon Ramsay show. That guy knows what makes good food and isn't afraid to tell people. One of the show's "Ramsy-isms" that I love the most is when he tells chefs not to worry about all the frou-frou and trendy tricks; good dishes are simply made from beautiful ingredients. I don't want to overly spew the benefits of buying local, but look at that corn! Ontario peaches were divine, the corn is to die for and I'm sure the apples will be just as good in a few weeks.

Sweet corn

On Saturday night we checked out Supply and Demand, which is a well-known, hip Raw Bar in Ottawa. They probably took some pointers from Gordon Ramsay because they know exactly how to feature beautiful ingredients. I heard about it when it was voted one of Canada's Best New Restaurants last year in enRoute Magazine. Frankly, oysters don't appeal to me, so I was glad they had so much more to offer. I guess that's like going to eat at Swiss Chalet when you don't like chicken. One of those things was a magical kale salad with caper vinaigrette, crotonose cheese and bacon. I even happened to be wearing my Kale sweatshirt from Suburban Riot.

Kale salad at Supply and Demand, Ottawa, Ontario

The salad was topped with a beautiful cloud of cheese, dressing and bacon and coated the kale nicely to remove its natural bitter taste--one of the reasons I rarely eat it raw at home. The other starter was Albacore tuna crudo with lemon, truffle oil and puffed quinoa. I found it a little too salty after having bread with butter mixed with duck fat and the kale salad to start. The redeeming factor was the squid ink rigatoni with tuna and proscuitto meatballs and the corn and lobster mushroom ravioli. Both dishes elevated pasta to a new level with interesting flavours and textures. Overall, it was a lovely meal and another good introduction to dining in Ottawa

Supply and Demand, Ottawa Ontario restaurant

I had to do something good with those gleaming husks of Ontario peaches and cream corn. This recipe was adapted from this Raw Sweet Corn and Cashew Chowder recipe from Food and Wine Magazine. In the original recipe, everything is put into a blender raw and eaten as a soup. Since I have experimented with cashew sauce before--what my husband lovingly calls "cashew slop"--I adapted the recipe a bit to cook all of the ingredients more with a traditional soup base. You could even add a "mirepoix" if you wanted.

Cashew Corn Chowder (Dairy-free, vegan, vegetarian)

2 stalks of fresh corn (or frozen kernels)
1 onion
3 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup stock (chicken, or vegetable for vegan)
3/4 cup whole cashews, unsalted
1 cup water
1/2 cup almond milk
Fresh thyme, oregano, salt and pepper to season


1. Soak the cashews in the water for 3-4 hours.
2. Remove the husks from the corn and boil in a pot of salted water for 15 minutes.
3. Add the cashews and soaking water to a blender and blend until smooth.

4. In a large pot on medium heat, add the olive oil, garlic and onion. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Slice the kernels off of the cobs and save a few for sprinkling on top of the soup for serving.
6. Add the corn and additional herbs and cook for a few minutes.
7. Add the stock, milk and cashew mixture and stir until everything is well combined.
8. In a blender or with an immersion blender, blend half of the soup in batches.
9. Garnish with additional corn kernels and cashews.

Dairy-free, vegetarian, vegan Cashew Corn Chowder

This soup makes you feel like you're eating a rich, heavy chowder. It's filling, slightly sweet from the corn and nice and creamy from the cashews. I only blended half of the soup because I still like the crunchiness from the corn in there. To re-heat, add a bit of water to the soup as the cashews tend to solidify when they sit. If you're wondering what to do with a dozen husks of corn, don't be afraid to make soup with it. Of course, the corn is wonderful to eat by itself too with some butter and a bit of salt...

Royal Winter Fair

On the subject of celebrating local food and agriculture, the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair takes place November 7-16 this year in Toronto, Ontario at Exhibition Place. The fair is in its 92nd year and is the largest indoor agricultural fair and equestrian competition in the world. Of course, animals are the focus of any visit--and always were when I visited as a child--with horse jumping, dog shows, sheep herding and petting farms. While the kids love seeing the animals, the grownups may enjoy the food and cooking demonstrations, competitions and exhibits. Master Chef Canada judge Micheal Bonacini will be there to judge the new Royal International Invitational Chef Competition.

I am giving away five pairs of tickets to this year's Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. Enter the giveaway below to be eligible to win ONE PAIR of tickets (a $40 value). 5 separate winners will be chosen. Please make sure you are able to attend on these dates in Toronto, Ontario. No purchase necessary. Open to Ontario residents only. a Rafflecopter giveaway
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September 02, 2014

Montreal, Quebec

The one thing I don't like about living in Ottawa now is that it's far away from Southwestern Ontario where I lived for the past 10 years and the Greater Toronto area (G.T.A) where I grew up. There is something nice about having so many places grouped together in such a short distance. I am excited to live in a brand, new part of Ontario and even more excited that I am now closer to places I haven't yet explored. Montreal is one of those places that I have been to briefly, but never got to know. When it looked like we wouldn't be making the Labour Day long weekend trek back to Southwestern Ontario to visit family and friends because of the weather, we decided to take a day trip to Montreal instead. The day started with a small hike (i.e, drive and then walk from the parking lot) up to Mount Royal to get a panoramic view of the city. 

Montreal Cat Cafe

In briefly researching things to do in Montreal over the long weekend, I came across an article promoting the Montreal opening of North America's first cat café. Did we go to Montreal just for the cat café or did it just happen to be opening that day? We will never know, but OH MY GOD, CAT CAFE! I was obviously excited. After a bit of walking around the city and lunch, we waited in line for about an hour with many other crazy cat people to be let into the new café. There was even a "cat café bouncer" who only let in a certain number of people at a time--obviously to not overwhelm the cats and the space. Yes, this is what I do with my Saturdays. 

Cat Cafe

The idea behind the Le Café des Chats Montreal cafe--located at 3435 Rue Saint Denis--is to be a new and original space for coffee lovers in the city and also promote the therapeutic benefits of spending time with cats. When cats are not shedding fur all over your carpet, hacking up hairballs or jumping on your face to ask for food, their presence is actually quite soothing to the average person. Plus themed cafés seem to be all the rage now too, including ones centred around board games, art and vintage knick knacks, cartoon characters and trendy foods.

Cat cafés have been popular in Asia for awhile now and more recently in Europe. The first cat café opened in Taiwan in 1998. The trend quickly caught on in Japan which is now home to almost 40 cat cafés. Many North American travellers seem to like the idea as well and there are now plans to open them in Toronto and Vancouver. I can see why the idea is so popular in urban settings. Coffee shops are already an oasis for the weary, caffeine-addicted, lonely urbanite and adding cute and cuddly cats into the mix is definitely a recipe for success. 

Cats, Cat Cafe Montreal

You have to be a social and attention seeking cat to want to work here. These also might be some of the most photographed cats in Canada at the moment. When I finally got inside, it was like a full-on cat photo shoot. The atmosphere will be busy for the next few weeks, so I don't foresee the cats getting any less attention; however, I suspect once it dies down a little that you will be able to sip on a coffee in a quiet room and the cats will likely approach you instead of you hunting them down with your iPhone. Enough talking. I'm sure you want see photos of all of the kitties! There are black ones, fluffy ones, coloured ones, long ones and sleepy ones--many, many sleepy ones. 

Cafe de Chats

Le Cafe de Chats, Montreal

Cat Cafe rules

The café doesn't charge a cover fee as far as I know. They also encourage you to use hand sanitizer before and after you enter and watch the door carefully so the cats don't run out. There are of course, rules to the whole thing to protect the welfare of the cats, which are as follows: 

1. Do not feed the cats
2. No flash photography
3. Don't sneak up on the cats and make loud noises
4. Let the cats sleep
5. Don't pull on the cat's tails or whiskers
6. No children under the age of 12 are allowed
7. Do not pick up the cats

Le Cafe de Chats, Montreal

Le Cafe de Chats, Montreal Quebec

The space itself is nice with big windows, a lot of seating and many cat trees, tubes, perches and toys, making one ponder if the space is built to be an oasis for the humans or the cats. The menu contained standard coffee shop fare with some cat-themed names, including "cat-puccinos" and "meow-cchiatos." On the opening day, they were handing out free iced coffee and dessert samples. The prime spot seemed to be the rocking chairs and lounging arm chairs by the front windows. In my experience, cats will gravitate naturally to any window and they all seemed to be congregated at that spot. It was also later in the day, so I understand why they were so tuckered out from the attention of the opening day. 

Cat Cafe Montreal

Playing with cats at Cat Cafe

Playing with cats at Cat Cafe Montreal

I love this shot of a group of people hovering over this gorgeous Maine Coon cat. All of the eight cats were adopted from the S.P.C.A and I assume live at the café. Having never been to a cat café, it is an interesting experience not only for the cats but for the people watching. Cat people are normally quite solitary people who confine their cat love to the comfort of their own homes. Bring them out in the open to a place with other people, and cats, and you have some interesting dynamics. Also, the fact that they are not your own cats, makes you feel a little bit of a betrayal at scratching the chins and petting the bellies of other cats. I joked to my husband when we got home that our cat was mad because she knew we were "out on the town seeing other cats." 

Le Cafe de Chats Cat Cafe Montreal Quebec

Cat Cafe Montreal

Like my cat, these cats also sleep a lot. The rule that you can't disturb the cats if they are sleeping is in place for a reason. But surely it can be broken a few times to take into the account that the average cat sleeps an average of 20 hours a day. The residents of Le Café des Chats also have a separate litter box room, feeding station and quiet room for when they are too tired of the spotlight. Every cat is special and different in their own little way and some like the attention more than others I presume.

Playing with cats at Le Cafe de Chats

North America's first cat cafe in Montreal

I would feel sorry for the poor soul who came to the café thinking it was merely a cat-themed name and walk in to discover many cats wandering around while they tried to order a coffee. The same goes for the allergy sufferers of the world; it might no be the best place for you. I know at my house I find cat hair in almost everything I try to eat and drink. In reading about other cat cafés in the world, I like the idea that cat cafés are a place for people who can't have cats at home because of their living situation. Or maybe they want more cats but can only have one. If dog lovers can have dog parks and meet other like-minded dog people, why can't cat people have a communal space too?

Le Cafe de Chats Cat Cafe Montreal

As well as a novelty idea, it's also a way for business owners to adopt cats who need forever homes and give them a life of leisure and all of the Internet attention they could want. I hope to visit Le Café de Chats next time I am in Montreal and see how the concept progresses. It is a beautiful city that has many European influences. Anthony Bourdain has called Montreal his favourite Canadian city and as my idol and a great orator of all things food, he is always right. 

Notre Dame Basilica Montreal Quebec

Any stop in Montreal is not complete without either a bagel or smoked meat sandwich experience. Schwartz's Deli is a Montreal institution on par with Katz's Deli in New York City. It's one of those places where you wait in a ridiculous line (although I would rather wait in line for a cat café) and get one of four sandwich options and shame on you if you ask for any kind of substitutions, non-standard sauce or anything else besides meat and mustard. 

Schwartz's Deli, Montreal

After all that cat play at the cattery, we wandered around Old Montreal for awhile and felt like some hearty Polish food from Stash Café. The smells of the hearty stews, keilbasa and cabbage rolls will entice you from the street and so will the amazing piano player who tinkers on the piano all night long with relaxing jazz standards played from memory. It's like if Rick's Café from Casablanca was set in Montreal instead of Morocco and served good and affordable Eastern European food.

Stash Cafe, Montreal

We started with perogies with cheese and potato filling and then the Bigos, a traditional polish "after hunt" stew with cabbage, mushrooms and roasted meats. I had the breaded filet de sole with salad and potatoes. I was eyeing those cabbage rolls though. It's a great, little place that is not too pretentious amongst the hip Old Town food scene. There are no cats there. You will have to go to Le Café de Chats for that and hopefully to the other Canadian affiliates that are apparently opening in other cities soon. I really wonder if the concept will stick around like it has in other places and what weird and wonderful café concept will be next. What do you think will be the next craze? 
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