Today, is about memories of bonfires, food and friends. Lately, I’ve been feeling what I call the Covid crunch. It’s that urge to bunker into the apartment and pull the curtains. The gloomy weather shared my momentary affair with misanthropy. The quiet in the apartment can be overwhelming sometimes. I miss mom at the oddest moments. Lately, it’s been acute. I miss the sounds of her rustling about, singing to herself. It has become difficult to shake off the sadness.
They are very good people
They are very good people, and people I love, and am obliged to, and shall have great pleasure in their friendship
Samuel Pepys, Tues, 9 March 1668/69
My friends fit the description above. Two of my closest friends won’t allow me to sink out of sight. Val & Chris made a promise to my mom, that they’d look after me and make sure I didn’t implode with grief. They’ve kept their promise Mom, and I’d like to tell them you’ve released them from it, but Thursday’s meal reminded me of how comforting their persistent presence is and how needed they will always be, as are all the friends who gathered.
A bonfire, food and friends
… a bonfire for joy of the day – Samuel Pepys. Tues, 29 May 1660
All settled in near the fire
Chris went above and beyond recently for those of us in their circle. He arranged a bonfire meal at Actinolite restaurant. If you’ve never been, call and book a bonfire meal -> http://www.actinoliterestaurant.com/. The Actinolite is not just about eating. It’s about creating an atmosphere that fosters laughter and conversation. Nothing makes a meal taste better. They had little bonfires stoked around the garden, warding off the October chill. Tables were set apart, but all within eye view so we could safely chat back and forth. I can’t think of a better way to spend the night.
While Val and Chris arranged our evening, it struck me how something that used to be so easy to do in the past felt like they were mobilizing an army. Coordinating calendars, talk to the restaurant, juggling distancing requirements, watching the weather. That was the nail biter – would Mother Nature cooperate and let us have our night out. As it turns out, yes, she did.
Chris managed to grab photos of each course before we fell on the plates. It wasn’t easy in the growing dark, but he soldiered on. Many thanks to him for the photos I used in this article. I was too absorbed in the cider and wine.
The folks at Actinolite created cottage country in the middle of Toronto. So worth crawling out of my cave to enjoy! When I opened the fence to their backyard, I felt like I was entering the Secret Garden. We were so relaxed; you could feel the stress wash away with the first sips of cider.
… and syder
and drink wine and syder – Samuel Pepys Wed, 31 Dec 1662
Friends were already there. I laughed when I realised, we were all so eager for a night together, many arrived early. Social distancing didn’t stop the smiles. Cider was offered first, with a healthy dose of bourbon to ward off the cool. I can’t remember the last time I sat in a garden with friends. The cider was a perfect start.
… an exceedingly good dinner
… an exceedingly good dinner and good discourse. – Samuel Pepys. Fri, 8 Feb 1666
Chef doing chef things
The chef cooked a large part of our meal over an open fire. It was fun watching him fuss over the grill.
… bread wiped upon each dish
of putting a bit of bread wiped upon each dish into the mouth of every man … – Samuel Pepys. Sun, 8 Sept 1667
Bread and wine
Oh the bread. I stopped listening to everyone when I bit into my slice. The bread. Oh the bread. That’s as far as my brain will process the information. If possible, I’d put an order in for dinner tonight. And tomorrow night. I should title this “Of bonfires, bread and friends” instead of “food and friends”.
… with a good soup
and dined very handsome, with a good soup – Samuel Pepys. Mon, 15 March 1668/69
Soup and fresh bread
There is an art to making soup. Getting the balance of flavours right but keeping it simple and hearty is an under-appreciated skill. I don’t eat a lot of soup because it often goes so wrong. One ingredient masked, something messing with the flavour dynamics. Not this soup, it was rich and full of clean flavours. Another bowl and more bread wouldn’t have gone amiss.
… nature of vegetables
… all the way having fine discourse of trees and the nature of vegetables. – Samuel Pepys. Thurs 5 Oct 1665
Actinolite does a smashing salad
Actinolite does salad justice. I wanted to arm wrestle for the mushrooms lurking beneath the greens. I felt so selfish in wanting to grab the plate and scamper off with it. I shared, don’t worry. Between mouthfuls, we drank more wine and avoided all thoughts of Covid and politics. Chit chat wound around art, books, food, and catching up with old friends.
… a very great meal
… a very great meal, and sent for a glass of wine, – Samuel Pepys. Fri, 24 Oct 1662
Slow roasted all afternoon to preserve the tenderness
How did they roast the food for hours but still have it come out so tender? The beef melted on my tastebuds. The root vegetables had that hardy, fall flavour that can only come with the freshest vegetables. I knew there would be no doggy bags after this meal. We’d even be licking our plates. Fun thing about Actinolite, they applaud that level of food appreciation and actively encourage it.
Perfect. Perfect. Perfect.
… a good dinner …
and there to dinner, a good dinner, and were merry – Samuel Pepys. Sun. 14 July 1667
There were more, but Chris didn’t have much time to grab a photo before we scarfed them down
Then dessert. Poor Chris. We ate most of the fresh, donuts before he had a chance to take a photo. After the meal, we lingered and talked, sipping wine, and enjoying the moment for as long as we could. The world slowed down for a while and everything was perfect.
Thank you to everyone at Actinolite, and friends who were there. But mostly Val and Chris. Mom would be so happy with the thought of that evening.
And so to bed
But we were friends again as we are always – Samuel Pepys. Wed, 24 Oct 1660
I spent a few days trying to figure out how a simple question sent me swirling down a baked beans rabbit hole of nonsense. Last week I sent off a quick question to Heinz, via their website, asking where their baked beans are manufactured. Recently the little red maple leaf and “Made in Canada” banner disappeared and nowhere on the label is an indicator as to origins. I like to know where my food is coming from so I whipped of a quick query. Here’s their first answer:
There is nothing more important to us than pleasing you, and every one of our consumers, with high-quality products.
This product is available nationally, and unfortunately, I currently do not have information as to what retail stores in your area might carry this item. I’m sorry to disappoint you, and we understand how important it is to our consumers to know where to locate our products; but please understand that the decision to carry certain products rests on the grocers who make their decisions based on their consumers’ preferences.
In the meantime, we can suggest that you try speaking with the grocery store manager. They may be able to let you know when you can expect to see the product on shelf.
Is it too much to ask that they actually read the question?
Baked beans canning is a security risk
I fired off a response asking them to answer the original question, where do they make the beans? Here’s their response:
Please be advised that our foreign plants follow strict policies and procedures that we have put in place for Canadian manufacturing plants to produce high quality products.
Any production within or outside of Canada, follows careful analysis and is based on sound business reasons. We are consolidating production to make better use of our plants, and keep our business viable and competitive.I apologize, but their exact location is proprietary information in order to ensure our consumers’ safety and security
Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you again soon!
Director, Consumer Relations
So, they are keeping me safe from … what? How is my security and safety compromised by knowing what country cans their beans? OMG BUYING BAKED BEANS IS A SECURITY ISSUE! WHO’LL THINK OF THE CHILDREN! What a bullshit answer.
This was the simplest of questions. Where do you make your baked beans? Instead of being honest, Heinz offered up corporate speak for “fuck you, you don’t have the right to know”. They learned the wrong lesson from the ketchup PR debacle over the last year. Instead of being up front, they’re hoping to avoid more controversy by playing hide the button with consumers – quietly move more manufacturing out of Canada and pretend they’re protecting the safety and security of Canadian consumers by hiding country of origin.
Nicely played Heinz. I was less than enamoured with you prior to this little bit of nonsense. Now guess what company has been removed from my shopping list.
Unboxing is usually the domain of tech and gaming sites or fashion, but I get a bit more pumped over food and espresso. Just ask my customers. I must be the only computer tech support around who is frequently asked to pick up a special cheese on my way to the customers or if I have a recipe for some cool veggie they’ve discovered. What can I say, I’m full-service computer support! I’m the type of person who gets excited about grocery stores – even when I’m on vacation I check out local groceries to see what people are buying. I’ve hit grocery stores all over the US, Canada, Hong Kong, Cuba, Germany, Paris, Netherlands, England, Spain … maybe I should contact GUSTO TV and ask them to sponsor a world tour of grocery stores. Ok, I just wandered into fantasy land.
My local Longo’s, a home-grown chain here in Toronto, often has new products to try or tastings set up. I’m an unabashed lover of the store and, although they aren’t aware of it, have had a long standing love affair with their produce department since my early years. They are super big on supporting local producers, which always tickles me. While looking around my eye spotted this:
Yes, a bright, shiny, colourful new, hot sauce. I love hot sauces. I mean LOVE hot sauces! OMG I LOVE HOT SAUCES. I’ve never had a ghost pepper sauce because, although I adore hot sauces, occasionally the appreciation isn’t reciprocal. Too much heat and well, acid reflux does backstrokes in my stomach. I couldn’t resist this one and threw caution to the wind, hoping the peaches would prevent a complete hot pepper mutiny. In case anyone was in the store watching, yes, I was that odd little person dancing near the freezers with the bottle of hot sauce at the Imperial Plaza store. I make no apologies.
I clutched my bottle, baguette and French brie and scurried home.
First thing I noted were the ingredients. There wasn’t a shopping list of artificial sweeteners and flavours – Freestone Niagara peaches, sugar, white wine vinegar, onions, ghost peppers and pectin. I’ve had some “hot” sauces and dips that are so sickly sweet and artifical, I swear my fillings were popping out. Or so hot, I couldn’t taste anything for hours after. I want to taste the ingredients, not be overwhelmed by fillers, so this ticked an important box for me.
The aroma is sweet (sorry, can’t really think of a better word, so it’ll be overworked today) with a hint of heat. If you look closely, you can see flecks and strands of red, which presumably are bits of the ghost peppers. Once the brie hit that perfect runny consistency I took my chances and gave the hot sauce a whirl. So, what’s it taste like?
Tasting it on it’s own leaves a tingly heat around the mouth that takes a second or two to dissipate. But otherwise, not too hot at all, especially considering the much feared ghost peppers. It leans more towards peachy sweet with a bit of a kick, rather than an in your the face hot and a sweet apology. After trying a few spoonfuls I figured the Peach & Ghost Pepper Sauce needed something to balance the flavours and that’s where something like cheese works so well. The sauce wedded beautifully with the salty, earthiness of the brie. It needs a little salt to tame the combination of heat ‘n sweet and pull the flavours together.
What’s the verdict? It’s not a mad, bad hot that will leave you gasping for help, which is good. I’m not fond of food that assaults my taste buds, I want something a bit more complex than heat for the sake of heat. If you chew on hot peppers as a snack, and demand sauces so hot they come with resuscitation instructions, Longo’s sauce will be disappointingly agreeable. The rest of us will enjoy the tingling after heat and the lush Ontario peaches. With the right food, the Ghost Pepper sauce won’t be too sweet, nor too hot. I suspect it will make a killer glaze for chicken wings and ribs. In the meantime, I’ve already plowed through half a bottle on both brie and an excellent veggie stir fry in need of a boost. This is a hot sauce for people wanting flavour, not masochistic displays of bravado. If you’re heat wimp (as one of my friends calls herself), I’d exercise a wee bit of caution, but don’t hesitate to try it. It might be a bit much at first, but pick the right accompaniments and you’ll really enjoy the sauce. Find a smooth, creamy cheese or something that will help domesticate the peppers a bit and enjoy. I would have liked a bit more heat, but still find the sauce enjoyable as it is. Perhaps Longo’s could make a second version with a touch more heat.
Where can you get it? Any Longo’s store in south west Ontario, or find a friend living near one and get them to send you a bottle. Otherwise, yea … sorry about the tease.
I wonder if Longo’s ever considered mixing in some grated ginger? Now that would push the sauce into divine status.
Ah yes … I love food. Pretty much all types. That’s one of the great things about living in Toronto, we don’t lack for choice. My neigbourhood now boasts a fine baklawa place that serves wonderful, delightfully delicate, honey soaked baklawa. So delicate, your eyes will roll into the back of your head and don’t get me started on their Turkish Delight.
The Baklawa Queen, which opened about 2 weeks ago, is less than a 5 min stroll from my doorstep. Not a lot of seating there, but they do a great take out. I love a good Turkish coffee, but don’t normally order it any longer. It’s one of those drinks that people tend to screw up on an epic level – it comes off weak, bitter with a wretched acidic backwash. This place has a fine touch when it comes to a proper Turkish coffee. It’s strong, smooth and zero nasty aftertaste. I think I could sit in the window all day sipping it.
But the Turkish Delight OMG … OMG … they make it themselves. I’m waiting for them to start selling it for take out, which should be in about 2 weeks. They said they’re bringing in a machine and baker to do it on site. Have you ever tried the Turkish delight that comes prepackaged? That sickly sweet, neon coloured, styrofoam textured stuff so common in stores? Throw out that idea because it has no resemblance to the fresh made delight sold here. Like I said O… M …. G! Coconut coated, nuts inside, not sweet but richly textured. If you eat it with a strong coffee the TD takes on a slightly sweeter taste.
They do more than just desserts, their lunch items (including soup and sandwiches) are filling. I had the manti – little pockets of beef that look like mini dumplings, served with a spicy tomato sauce and yogurt. Combined with a sweet backlawa for dessert and I’m a happy person. I’m going to work my way through their menu and I’ll let you know what becomes my go to favourite.
Try them out – 1404 Yonge St. Toronto. That’s just below St. Clair Ave on the west side of Yonge, across from the Fruit and Veg market. Easiest way to get there – get off the subway at the Pleasant Ave entrance and walk over to Yonge. Go south on Yonge until you hit Rosedale and cross to the west side. It’s about 1/2 block north from the crosswalk. If you walk past the hardware store, you’ve gone too far.