Saturday, May 15, 2010

Home may be where the heart is...but who says he can't have a vacation cottage?: Vecchio Frak

After a stressful day at work, serving strangers and refilling too many waters on the patio, I decided I needed a good hearty comfort-food meal. Growing up with an Italian background, in an Italian neighbourhood, comforting food doesn’t come to me in grilled cheese sandwiches or BBQ burgers, but in wood-oven thin crusted pizzas and fresh homemade pastas. You could understand why I felt the only suitable place to satisfy my cravings would be good ol' College St. After a traffic-less drive, a lucky parking spot and a wind-filled wander, we ended up at Vecchio Frak, where we were warmly greeted by a familiar-looking host. In true mia casa รจ tua casa fashion, we were welcome to seat ourselves at any spot we favoured. The restaurant was just the right amount of being European-chic--it didn't make me feel underdressed nor did it make me feel like I went through a time warp to the 80s. Unlike so many spots on College, the restaurant seemed to seat many without forcing you to rub elbows with other patrons. The interesting and lengthy drink list only triggered my indecisive tendencies, so I let the server (with the Italian accent--common among almost all the employees in this restaurant, and a weak spot for me) be my guide in beverage selection--and he read me all too well, sending me over a larger-than- life-sized version of my favourite cocktail: a pina colada. Antipastos definitely had us contemplating skipping entrees, but our decision not to was wise in the end. The perfectly flavoured bruschette miste was just soft enough (but not mushy) to keep the fresh toppings on the bread from becoming castaway victims to the plate. The tonno, olive e patate salad was not over dressed and the potatoes reminded me of the ones I used to cherish from the tavola calda at the Italian bakeries by my house. The Campolina pizza with mozzarella, truffle oil, mushrooms and eggplants was authentically rustic and thin--but not the thin that doesn’t go straight from dough to burnt. The truffle oil added that amazing flavour that only truffle oil can master and the eggplants were cooked just right, with the skin left on, but with not a hint of bitterness. The risotto alla pescatore was seasoned well and the rice was cooked perfectly al dente. Although the fish variety included much of the ocean, it seemed to be a little too al-dente itself. Our full stomachs forced us to pass on dessert. Instead we ended a pleasant evening with a Campari and soda and a Gaggia-made cappuccino. The simplicity of the experience made it ideal--friendly service, light and fresh fare in a favoured location. Added bonus? Discovering that the familiar host was a long-lost elementary school friend who just moved back to Canada after living in Italy for 8 years. Needless to say, my nostalgic cravings were more than thoroughly satisfied. A genuine offer to return by the staff will surely be accepted in the near future.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Get Lost

If my past blogs haven’t made it obvious enough, I’m the type of person who finds myself most completely when I am nowhere to be found. I like to lose myself in my surroundings, whether they be scenery, literature, magazines, a conversation, or a movie. You’ll often find me ignoring my less-interesting guests at work in favour of a juicy conversation (usually about travel) with some of our regulars. As a moody Cancer, it’s not too unpredictable that my source of distraction changes quickly and often. I find I think most clearly when my mind is fuelled with interesting topics and captivating visions. Today I’m dedicating my blog to my favourite way to pass the time--playing hide and seek (with secret hopes of never being found)

Here’s a sneak peak to this week’s top-secret hiding spots:

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton: who ever said whimsical could only be found in the Fantasy section at Chapters? I’m not quite through this one yet, as I’m indulging slowly to savour the imagination-provoking text about mystery, fairy tales and knowing your true self. The constant change of scenery and time period keep you on your toes and keep my easily-distracted mind entertained thoroughly. The book takes place in the early 1900s, the 1970s and some-what present day (2005) following three different characters travelling between England and Australia in hopes of self-discovery. As a reader, I anxiously read to discover with them, all the while trying to unravel the mysteries of their pasts that slowly reveal themselves throughout the text. A book that never quite gives you all the answers but is always provoking questions--need I say more?

Food & Wine-May 2010: Nothing like a good gourmet food magazine to make you hungry. But for anyone whose been tempted enough to look past the salivating cover knows there’s much more to magazines like this one than just luxurious and strenuous recipes. Two articles in particular struck my attention in this month’s issue:

Red Wine & Vegetables: Friends or Foes by Ray Isle profiles Californian vineyard owner and restaurateur Randall Grahm and his chef Charlie Parker and their tendency for (successful) odd wine pairings. Anyone who knows me, or has at least caught sight of me even once in a school cafeteria or work back-room knows I should be part-rabbit for how much I love fruits and veggies. Needless to say, I obviously took pleasure in reading how well his “spicy 2007 Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Syrah [one of my favourite varietals] matches beautifully with Parker’s warm-main course salad of young turnips with greens, black olives and hazelnuts”. The success is credited to the earthy properties of root veggies. How relieving it is to know I can have my cake and drink my red, too.

Soup Nazis have more than just a bubbly big-haired Elaine to worry about nowadays. In Where Chefs go to see the Future, Anya von Bremzen talks about international chef congresses that are putting the concept of “secret ingredients” in the past by showcasing master chef’s creating complex dishes right before your (and the media’s) eyes. This article brought in stark contrast for me just how accessible cooking techniques have become for us--from the internet to the Food Network, it seems anyone can become an insta-Cordon Bleu graduate. This is something I defintely have taken granted of (with my search bar). But at second thought it kind of saddens me--will showing too much to too many take the magic out of cooking, discredit the talent in the creators?

Don’t forget to check out a tribute to the Great North (that means us, of course) in the travel secton (A Superselective Guide to Canada’s Best Wine and Food). Planning a back-packing venture any time soon? Let the go list be your guide when it comes to dinner restaurant choices and perfect wine pairings: 100 Best New Food and Drink Experiences. Renovating? (or just planning your future dream kitchen as I often do), Ted Allen offers some expert tips for creating a space fit for a culinary king (or even the top chef master of your castle) in Ted Allen’s Renovation Challenge.

The Young Victoria -The beautiful backdrops of traditional English gardens and castles made this the perfect Sunday afternoon film for someone who plans to travel to London in the near future. The movie profiles the life of the legendary Queen Victoria and her successful reign despite a somewhat premature possession of the crown. An essential love story kept me glossy eyed and was made all the more delicious with some seriously wise casting choices. Her self-assured personality and determination for success made me thinking girl-power thoughts for the whole 105 minutes of the film, all the while making me re-think a second degree in English history.

Toronto Life- June 2010

This month’s feature article, 50 Reasons to Love Toronto Now, covers what we love most about our city--from educational reformers like Chris Spence, to restaurants dedicated solely to a comfort food fave, Grilled Cheese, offered up in ten tantalizing versions in Kensington Market. My favourite of the list was number 9, though--The Toronto Temperance Society. An ode to all the cliques, high-society and the no-boys/girls-allowed treehouse mentality, this members-only club located above Sidecar on College is a drinking club for the wealthy. For an annual fee just shy of $300 dollars, members sip on only-the-best cocktails while abiding by strange clubhouse rules (the most entertaining being a strict no-cosmo policy that, if broken results in immediate removal from the premises). Definitely tickles my Gossip Girl fancy.

Here’s what’s next on my list of indulgences:
Rumors by Anna Godbersen…Part 2 of The Luxe teen series
The Sweet Life in Paris by pastry chef David Lebovitz
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass the classic by Lewis Carroll (a must-read before London)
The House at Riverton by Kate Morton (Forgotten Garden)
The latest issue of FASHION that just arrived in my mail box today
And of course next month issues of my faves from the stands

Any suggestions??

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Al Gusto

Tucked away in a hiding spot so common to many Vaughan venues (that is, an industrial park), sits Al Gusto-- restaurant, pizzeria, gelateria, bakery, cafe, etc. This multi-purpose venue offers you everything you crave all in one spot with the added convenience of being open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (a notable difference when comparing it to most other neighbourhood bakeries that close no later than 8pm).

Nostalgic for Europe, as always, and anxious for a gelato experience to allow my taste buds to reminisce the way my mind does constantly, I made my first visit to Al Gusto with great friend Alessandra Nicole. I must say, when I first entered I was slightly disappointed. At first look, the large size and serene-ness of the place did not bring me back in time or evoke any sense of familiarity. But a closer examination proved me wrong. Not only does the pastry counter offer every traditional delicacy imaginable like canoli and mini tiramisu (were my eyes fooling me, or did I miss out on the cornetti?) but the gelato bar is fully stocked with both classic flavours like Nocciola, Amaretto, Fragola and Banane and the less common selections of Kinder and Fior di Latte. Not only iss the bar obviously accented with oak wood, but the shelves that line the mirrored walls are faced with bottles of spirits, wines and liqueurs and, of course, boxes of Baci chocolate.

The cozy clustered cafe tables in the front of the restaurant are home to a wide range of guests on this rainy Tuesday evening--a pair of girlfriends catching up, a large group of young parents and their children, several mid-older couples, and a group of young espresso-sparkling-water-drinking men. The typical crowd, familiar decor, predictable menu and delicious cappuccinos painted a beautiful picture of a night in Roma (with the added bonus of a young staff with, get this, authentic, straight from the home-land accents, working alongside their elderly parents).  I indulged in a banana-stracciatella mixture (my two ultimate faves) while Ale opted for a chocolaty mixture of banana and Bacio. Both were a pleasant serving size and both came with brightly coloured wafer rolls (to be enjoyed as a mixture of crunchy and creamy). Despite an educational conversation on the Canadian music industry with Ale (aspiring Canadian girl-group artist from Queen of Hearts, check them out at,  our cappuccino mugs and gelato cups were quickly emptied (and by emptied I mean licked clean).

Although, the experience did allow me a quick peek down memory lane, lingering patrons reminded me that, in harsh reality, we were not in Italy and gelatos-to-go in colourful coppas were not to be enjoyed on cobblestone streets that did not await us outside...ahh, some things just aren't replaceable.

Al Gusto is located at 8099 Weston Rd (between Highway 7 and Langstaff) with an additional entrance from Jevlan. In addition to its cafe brimming with sweet treats, Al Gusto is also a pizzeria, salumeria and full-service ristorante with a tavola calda and pane.

Monday, May 10, 2010

a picture can say a thousand words and create a thousand thoughts

i have too many dreams, i fear. i spend much too much of my time thinking and get easily discouraged when it comes to doing. i'm learning to find things that keep me motivated and keep my creativity animated. courtesy of m-sac, i have been using as my stimulant. i suggest you all spend an hour (or me) on this site whenever you need a good push out of reality into the wrong direction. here are a few of my faves from today:

Fresh to Death

Happy Monday All!

How was your weekend? I hope you spent a decent amount of time enjoying the wonderful weather brought to us c'est fin-de-semaine (that's an ode to you, M-Sac) which included  thunder and lightening that almost brought down my house, wind which threatened to throw me across the Atlantic (which I wouldn't have minded) and a nice healthy May dose of Sunday morning flurries. Ohhhh, Canada. Needless to say, my activities required indoor voices only.

I spent the weekend continuing on my journey of unearthing my domestic goddess. And if you got the chance to taste my carrot cake or baked brie you would not be sneering at my use of the term goddess, on the contrary my friend, on the contrary. Actually, the carrot cake was part of last weekend's festivities, but the excitement of it carried over to this week anyways. You see, my maman was overseas for the past 7 days visiting my dear M-Sac in L-Town so I decided to save her a chunk in the freezer as a welcome home present. Now, I am usually not one to verbally pat myself on the back, but this carrot cake definitely deserves it. The combination of crushed pineapple, grated carrots, chopped pecans, sugar, butter and a cream cheese icing (obviously) made for a 9x13" pan of heaven, courtesy of Canadian Living. Here's a shot of what's left, stowed away in my freezer, waiting patiently for our next binge day:

This weekend however, I crossed over to the savoury side of the palate. In addition to indulging in a Say Yes to the Dress and Four Weddings marathon, I spent Friday evening catching up with Mama and her European adventure while assisting her in the preparation of 40 cannelloni for my grandmother's 80th birthday party. This experience not only taught me how to cook an essential dish but also inspired my new goal for the week! (I tend to set both fitness and diet goals every week to keep myself entertained and motivated) I didn't realize it as we were working, but in retrospect there was definitely a common denominator responsible for the success and fame of these cannelloni. What was the LCD, you ask? One word: freshness. Aside from minor ingredients, everything in this dish was made with fresh supplies bought earlier in the afternoon: fresh ricotta from Quality Cheese, fresh noodles from the pasta store, freshly grated parmigiana reggiano cheese...mixed with tasty sauteed spinach, fresh tomato sauce and grated mozzarella...all of which adding up to a casserole sent straight from the Italian gods themselves (are there any of those btw?). Unfortunately, I do not have any photo documentation, but you'd be lying if you tried to tell me your mouth wasn't watering anyways. 

So, as I stated earlier, my new "thing" for the week is to try my best to eat only fresh foods. Minor exceptions will be made, for both convenience and budget. Things like frozen fish fillets are permitted, but canned tuna or salmon is not. Nothing in cans or bags are allowed, neither are things that require scorching in the microwave (cough there goes my popcorn addition cough). Yogurt is still allowed (hello, pro-biotics) and so are things like plain chocolate (i.e. from the 1kg bar of Diary Milk mama brought back). This goal stems from two sources:  1) from the fact that my stomach has not suffered, despite eating a dish not normally included in my diet and 2) from a summer time spent eating foreign (but always fresh), carby, starchy foods, huge portion sizes, not gaining an ounce and always feeling amazing...

And just as an added FYI, my fitness "thing" for the week is two cut my runs in half and add an extra swim session daily (basically, short run, two swims...this is just a needed break from running, just to switch it up, just so I don't stop loving it as much as I do)

I'll keep you posted and let you know how I'm feeling come Sunday!

P.S. Stay posted for my first Vaughan profile, should be up by the end of the week! Research begins Tuesday evening with a much-needed-and-awaited date with a long-lost-stew-loving-sister...

P.P.S-- a shout out is necessary--Happy 80th to my Mociute aka Mociuts aka the Queen aka coolest grandmother ever! xox

P.P.P.S Another shout is necessary--I just wanted to thank my lovely friend Justine for her amazing appetizer idea. It was quite the hit at the party this weekend and may have been one of the reasons why most of our supper dishes ended up packed up and taken home as the whole family's food supply for the week. Curious as to what this tasty treat was? Baked brie, topped with fig jam, wrapped in phyllo pastry:

It was actually my first time working with phyllo and proved to be not as difficult as I feared...

Butter that baby up reeeal good...

Before and after shots

800 gram wheel of brie already half done after a mere 15 minutes of being put out...

Follow my blog with bloglovin

Friday, May 7, 2010

100-Mile Challenge

So, here I am sitting in my computer room, blanket on, hood up...cold. I wish the weather was as nice as the reflection through the windows make it seem. I tried. I took my fluffy slippers and my book and sat on my front balcony...for 3 minutes. No sun was warming me through the chill. There was no hope for me, cold-thin-blooded old me.

My days have been pretty empty lately. I keep myself busy (not with work, mind you...) but empty in the sense of purposeless, obviously. Filled instead with baking and cleaning and reading (I'm currently lost in The Forgotten Garden...check it out) and playing my recently re-purchased Nintendo 64. (Don't lie, you know its the best system ever) I feel like I have all the desire in the world to start building my future, but when push comes to shove, my laziness wins and I'm stuck in front of my newest flea market film purchase, a new episode of one of my many reality-show addictions, or with my book in my hand and my mind in another world.

So as a tool of self-motivation, I have given myself a goal. Unlike most of my recent un-attempted goals, this one I am declaring out loud, in print, so I have no excuse to not fulfill it (since my pride would suffer too much of a blow). I've decided, as a loyal and life-time citizen of Vaughan, I have failed to give it the credit it truly deserves. My knowledge of our wonderful little community falls short when it comes to being in tune to local events, home-town talent, or even where to find the city's greatest slice of pizza. Vaughan is definitely a city in the GTA to be rivaled. Yet, even with so much at our fingertips we always reach further. Nights out locally are hardly given any credit, real celebrations are always saved for downtown venues. Why? Trust me, I am no one to talk. My daily visits to have made me quite a budding expert at the downtown scene...I am definitely one to book everyone of my birthdays somewhere south east of our border. But I think a lot of our lack of appreciation stems only from a lack of knowledge. There is much to love about our town. Much to do and much to be proud of. If there is one place that can disprove that big city lights are the only ones that could possibly shine on success, it is Vaughan. We should proudly claim our citizenship. We should be able to argue to the contrary when people diss suburbia. So, my goal is to help us citizen's of Vaughan do just that. I intend, in my blogs, to profile local hot stops, tasty restaurants, new and old hang outs, young talent, accomplished members of our city and bring them to the forefront, give them a little credit where credit is due.

So I am accepting any and all suggestions. What makes you proud to call this city your home? What do you miss most when you're away? What place gives you comfort when it is needed the most? Where do you go for a great night out, when you need mental relief but don't need a traffic jam or a lengthy subway ride? Where do you get your best morning espresso, buy you freshest and favorite loaf of bread, have your best workout? What contributes most to your routine, the one that is a part of your every-day, not just your week-ends, that makes it just a little less monotonous, a little more enjoyable?

Post your suggestions! Now is the time more than ever. Seriously, suburban lifestyle is hot. A sixth successful season of Desperate Housewives is testament to that. So is are all the Real Housewives. The Hills and The City wouldn't even exist if there was no Orange County and you'd be lying if you said you didn't find Jersey Shore even a little bit entertaining. Let's put Vaughan on the map. (or at least make googling local resto-reviews a bit easier and informative) Maybe you can even be the next Snookie...or Brody Jenner...