As local as possible: Fresh City Farms

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Earlier this season, a good friend of ours stumbled across a new food box program in our city: Fresh City Farms. After our time with Culinarium, which sadly closed its doors earlier this year, we were open to participating in another food share program.

What is attractive about Fresh City Farms that sets it apart from other programs was its door-to-door delivery, organic promise, and finally, the hyper-local focus of their food philosophy – as local as possible, in fact.

Perhaps organic and door-to-door is obvious, but why local?

1. It’s healthier. The produce we eat is in essence converted energy from the sun. I know this is an oversimplification of a far more complex series of systems; however, at the heart of it, food is energy. The sooner we eat that produce once it’s harvested, the greater the amount of energy we retain from it. The longer our food is in transit, storage, and processing after its harvested, the more energy is lost. It’s no wonder fresh fruit and vegetables from a farmer’s market always looks, smells, and tastes so much more flavourful than the same tired looking fruit and vegetables near the end of a week at a grocery store (or perhaps in a fridge at home for too long). You know the kind I’m talking about.

That said, there is nothing wrong with eating food that has been shipped in, it’s just that we’re not getting as much nutritional value from it. In some cases, it can’t be helped… there are certain things we simply can’t get where we are. At the same time, there is also so much variety locally to be explored and experimented with that it brings to question. Why not?

2. It’s more environmental. The transportation of import foods over long distances means high costs in energy and fuel for their transportation and storage. Eating more locally means a reduction in the need for those logistics and energy burn.

3. It supports local sustainability. By buying straight from local farms and gardens, more of our dollar goes to the families who grow the food. It doesn’t get split up along the way by a series of middle men. (In case it’s of interest, the Story of Stuff is worth checking out if you haven’t already in the past.)

So back to Fresh City Farms. Most of their produce is farmed in gardens right in the city and when necessary, in nearby farms. Only when the produce cannot be farmed here in Ontario does Fresh City Farms bring it in from the outside, and when they do, it’s clearly labeled. You can opt-out of certain produce, or add additional products to supplement your weekly food box. Food boxes come in small and large sizes that contain fruit or vegetable, or both, and can be delivered weekly or biweekly.

When you order, you can also send the foodbox to a pick-up point, or if you have three or more deliveries to the same address, you can create your own pick-up location. Pick-up locations get a few dollars off each food box. It may take a little communication and follow-up to get your box set-up, as they’re still quite new, small, and ironing out wrinkles. But once it’s set up, it’s worth it.

Our friends and we have been getting our food boxes like clockwork this season and it’s been great. If you haven’t yet, give them a try.

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Ryoji: Ramen is so hot right now

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UPDATE (November 23, 2013): I returned to Ryoji with some friends recently, and have posted an update on this original restaurant review.


In the last six months, Toronto has seen a surge of new ramen establishments open their doors. For me, it’s been a welcome occurrence since I adore noodle soups of all kinds with ramen being no exception. My hubby and I haven’t completed the full circuit and visited them all yet, but so far, Ryoji Ramen & Izakaya has taken its place as one of our favourite restaurants in the city… and has become a staple place we go to on a regular basis. The establishment itself is a part of the larger Japanese-based Okinawa business founded by Ryoji Kinjo in 1988. Toronto is the first to have a location outside of Japan.

So why do we love it so much. Three main reasons:

  1. The atmosphere is fantastic. Fun, eclectic, well-designed, and spacious. There is a dining nook to suit every preference – communal harvest table dining, smaller two or four tops, bar-side under a swath of colourful ryuku glass lights, or comfy lounge-style by a wall of lamps. What’s also great is that compared to many of its ramen counterparts, it’s relatively large and doesn’t require the same kind of lining-up and waiting that many of the other ones do. Not to say I wouldn’t wait in line, I would and do, but sometimes, I like being able to walk in and get seated relatively quickly.
  2. One word: Ai. Our favourite server… and so far, the only server we’ve ever had (by our request). We love her. She’s an absolute darling – attentive, helpful, knowledgeable, and sweet. She’s my favourite. I’ve told her so.
  3. The food. It’s Okinawa-style ramen and food and it’s delicious.

This last time we went, we ordered a couple of starters: takoyaki (a snack that wraps minced or diced octopus in deep fried wheat flour), the daily sashimi, and sea bass miso yaki (grilled sea bass).

The takoyaki is a no brainer for us. Topped with takoyaki sauce, Japanese mayo, seaweed, pickled daikon strips, and bonito shavings – the ball-shaped snacks are delicious. Careful when taking your first bite. They’re hot.

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The daily sashimi this time was salmon, tuna, and mackerel. It always comes with three dipping options: a soy mousse, cracked pepper and salt, and a sweet miso sauce. Combined with the fresh daikon and watercress, the bite-sized morsels of fish have incredible flavour. Continue reading

Dumpling House

The Dumpling House (Photo credits: Vivian Chan)

The Dumpling House is an unassuming little establishment on the main drag of Chinatown in Toronto on Spadina Avenue. In the restaurant-front window, there are always 3 or 4 men and women making the dumplings: one manning the stove, another mixing the different fillings, and another one or two kneading the dough and rolling out perfectly circular dumpling skins. It’s probably for this reason that from the first time I walked past The Dumpling House, I’ve wanted to go in. There’s nothing like seeing what you’re going to eat made fresh before your eyes… and I suppose it helps that I love dumplings.

Recently, my fiancé and I paid The Dumpling House a visit. I was immediately surprised by how clean and vibrant the interior was. The service was also fantastic. Within seconds, we were seated with menus and steaming tea before us. Being newbies with empty stomachs, we naively ordered two steaming hot bowls of hot and sour soup (as you may know, an old favorite of mine) as well as two plates of dumplings – one pan fried, and the other steamed. Being in an adventuresome mood, we opted for 3 different types of dumplings for each plate (pork and chive, lamb meat, seafood, minced beef, mushroom and vegetables, and I believe the shrimp & pork). Continue reading

Cool summer desserts for a hot, lazy Sunday afternoon

Photo credit: © Vivian Chan

(Originally posted on reKalibrate.com)

It’s the last day of the Canada Day long weekend. The weather’s been hot, humid, and beautifully sunny. It’s the perfect kind of weather that inspires cool, light desserts to go with that fruity beverage on a patio.

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Parts & Labour: Parkdale’s hottest new spot

Photo credit: © Vivian Chan

(Originally posted on reKalibrate.com)

Last night was the grand opening of Parkdale’s highly anticipated new restaurant, Parts & Labour. Just down the street from Cowbell, Mitzi’s Sister, and the ever delightful Local Kitchen. The restaurant was renovated from an old hardware store, and a lot of the decor keeps that legacy in mind. An entryway that is lined with old car windshields, bar stools that look like huge springs, lights reminiscent of old fire extinguishers, and bar shelving that is styled like those that would be found in a garage. I love that. And it’s something the owners have a knack for doing very well, as we’ve seen in the other hot spots they’ve created: The Social, Oddfellows, and who could forget their flagship industrial design studio, Castor Design.

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Never too late for roti

Ghandhi's butter chicken roti

Ghandhi’s butter chicken roti

No matter what kind of day I have had, nothing melts the tension and strain of the day away like a hot, saucy roti. Especially one made with love at Gandhi’s on Queen Street West in downtown Toronto.

If you haven’t yet, you should definitely try it. It’s like a hug wrapped in gorgeous Indian spices, sauces and a floury skin. And no matter what the occasion, there’s always room for a hug… Or at least a delicious roti.

GHANDHI’S, 554 Queen St W, Toronto, Canada, (416) 504-8155
(Originally posted in reKalibrate.com)