Sunday, August 14, 2016

BBQ dinners with friends



In Canada we wait through months and months of cold, snowy, rainy weather for those days that we can go outside and spark up a BBQ and hang out with our friends.  Some people can't wait for that summer weather and will go outside in Parkas just to grill their meats.

But the reason we can't wait for the limited great weather is to enjoy BBQ's with friends.  It really is what the perfect summer is all about.

I lived in a house most of my life and could have BBQ'd whenever I wanted to but I didn't BBQ much, and now that I am in an apartment I wish I could BBQ on nice days.


So It's always nice when I get to go to my friends house for a BBQ.   It's even better when you call up one of your friends to see what they are doing and they ask if you want to come over for a BBQ that day and you combine forces and cobble a dinner together.  That's what happened last weekend.  I sent my friend a text about 4:30pm to see what he was doing.  He was at his sisters but said he would be home around 7pm.  Then he texted back and asked if I wanted to come over for a BBQ.  I was itching to get out of the house so I said "heck ya" and he picked me up on his way home.  He said all he had was chicken and maybe a salad.  I said I could bring some of the veggies I got in my Fresh City Farms delivery that week.  I had a mini watermelon, a whole fennel, a bunch of Swiss Chard and some Green Beans,   I blanched the green beans and tossed them in a light garlic coconut oil vinaigrette.  That took all of under 10 minutes to do.  I trimmed the fennel and cut it up for grilling.  I left the Chard whole because I hadn't decided what to do with it.  And the watermelon was whole.


Once I got to my friends place the plan was to Char the Chard and the Fennel.  I never BBQ'd Swiss chard before but there are a lot of people that grill lettuce so why not.  I just washed it and trimmed the ends and we put a bit of olive oil and salt on it and placed it on the grill.  Once they were charred we took them off and I cut them into smaller pieces.  The smell was interesting.  It was kind of like Kale chips.  I read that you could blanche the Chard first but I didn't bother and it was interesting and crispy this way.  We also grilled the fennel in a metal tray with holes after just a drizzle of olive oil and salt on it.  

My friend insisted that I cut up the watermelon into tiny cubes so I worked on that.  It would have been great if we had limes and mint to make it into a refreshing watermelon salad.  Next time.

My friend put the chicken on skewers and grilled them to perfection.

Once everything was ready my friend Randy insisted that we make a fancy plate and he wanted to layer the chard and fennel.   In a bowl I added some more olive oil and salt and pepper and some cayenne and splash of vinegar and tossed it lightly for flavour.  

He took a bit of the Chard and placed it on the side of the plate and then put the fennel on top.  He said it needed more color and something red, so I went inside and grabbed a few grape tomatoes and we cut them in half and placed them on top and drizzled a bit more olive oil.
The green beans went on the side and then I used a Balsalmic glaze to fancy up the plate and the skewered chicken was placed on top of that.  


It was not only a beautiful plate but everything came together fantastic.  It was a total team effort between three of us and even for a last minute meal you would think we planned it.  We were all pretty impressed with ourselves.   My friend said "I like it when Linda comes over for dinner because she brings great food".   It helps when my friend has a nice BBQ set up and everyone pitches in to make it work.   I handle prep and my friend Adam does the grilling and Randy does the clean up.  What a combo.  And now we have a new thing to grill on the BBQ that is amazing.
And for dessert even though I thought we were just going to eat the mini watermelon my friend Adam comes out of the house with fancy toasted waffle ice cream sandwiches.  So much for our perfectly healthy meal.  It's all about balance I guess.


I am planning a BBQ at another friends condo for some blogger friends but it's a little more planned but I gave them the option to bring something to make it a bit more spontaneous and interesting.  So will see how it goes and I hope that we don't have any insane storms like we had yesterday.

Here's to summer BBQ's with friends.  They are the best thing ever!   Go forth and Grill Master!.

Street Food & Street People


I have lived in Toronto all of my life but I have been noticing a drastic change over the past 5 years in so many ways. I started working a temporary contract in April and in July the office moved to Yonge and Dundas.  Right smack in the Yonge and Crazy area or centre of the Universe in Toronto if you don't know. This area is such a contrast of humanity and life.  There are huge retailers and brands all around and not just in the Eaton Centre but up and down Yonge Street and there are always cultural events and brand activations and entertainment happening at Yonge and Dundas Square.  At the same time there are street people dotted every 10 feet or so just sitting on the ground asking for money from people passing by.  

The thing that I have noticed is that there is an increase of these "Street People" I call them street people because I can't assume that they are homeless because who knows what their story is.  But there are a lot more with varying degrees of impairment.  I would say that the majority are able bodied but there are some with visible signs of mental illness and a few with physical disabilities but I would say a lot of them seem to be physically ok.  They all have a story but some seem to me in my cynical brain to be fake stories.  Why do I say that?  Well because I know a guy who is on disability who is physically able but has as he calls it "undiagnosed" disability.  When pressed he said he had dizzy spells.  He is socially challenged or what I think may be a mild case of Asbergers but he spends his time volunteering but his brother is also on disability but doesn't really have a disability other than the fact that he is a substance abuser.  I was told that he collects his disability cheques and then spends it on drugs and alcohol and when the money runs out his band of buddies heads downtown to pan handle.  The guy I know lives with this guy and his pan handling buddies crash at their Etobicoke apartment regularly. I always wonder who are legitimately in need and who is just pulling a scam.  I have gotten to the point that there are so many people around town that you just walk by and don't pay attention anymore.


Last week there was an altercation on Dundas just west of Yonge with a guy in a suit with a knife or something and another guy who appeared to be a homeless person and the guy in the suit lunged at Police when they tried to resolve the problem.  I don't really know the whole story but the end result was that the guy in the suit was shot by Police and the street was closed off for investigation for half the day.


 A couple of weeks ago there was a fight in a known area where homeless people gather in the St. Lawrence Market area and one guy fell and hit his head and died.

In the past couple of weeks I have seen people in wheelchairs, a young girl, pregnant girls, guys with dogs, older people and a whole bunch of young people.

I don't understand why people would choose to sit on a scorching hot sidewalk in the middle of a heatwave and beg for money.  People have been camping out next to garbage cans on Dundas and on Yonge Street.  We have had 30 days over 30 degrees this month too, so it's been extremely HOT.  I have been precariously employed for the past 5 years but I would never consider doing this so I am not sure why so many think this is a solution.  I know that government assistance doesn't really work but there must be a better way to solve this problem.

At the same time as some of these guys are sleeping on the sidewalks I was given some of these treats for FREE while walking around the area.  I got Hummus, chip and the Gummies while walking by Ryerson.  I got Brookside bars at a brand activation at Yonge Dundas Square and a Matilda fan while walking down Yonge Street.  I also got a sample of ice cream from a New Ice cream place because they were late opening.  I got all of these free things within a couple of weeks.




     

 There really is no shortage of free food in Toronto if you are out and about.  Lot's of brands hand out samples around the city and at food events.  While I was getting these things all of the "street people" were sitting or sleeping on the sidewalks just a block away.

So what exactly is the problem?  They hold up signs that say they are Hungry.  Is that the problem?  Like I said there is plenty of "Street Food" in the city.  Mostly in the summer but there are lot's of times that brands do activations in high traffic areas year round.  I have told the story before where I tried to help a guy saying he needed money for food and tried to give him a $10 cafe gift card and he just blew me off and only kept it after another passerby told him to.

I really thing the problem is JOBS and HOUSING.  If you aren't a professional most jobs don't pay enough to support living in decent housing in the city.  If rent starts at $1000 a month for a bachelor apartment and you are working a minimum wage job you just have no money for anything else.

You are supposed to spend 25% of your wage on housing but I can tell you that 75% of my current wage is going to my housing and I am not living in a fancy house.  I live in a one bedroom apartment in an old building and not even in the central downtown area.  I have had to give up my car and haven't been able to do a lot of the things I used to be able to do.

It's getting tougher and tougher to get by living in a big city.  The second part is the Job situation.  In Toronto more full time jobs have been lost over the past year than it has in the past 30 years.  I haven't had a permanent job in years and most jobs that used to be permanent are now contract jobs so that employers don't have the extra cost of benefits.  You have no guarantees on steady employment anymore so it's really tough to be able to plan a budget or to be able to pay your bills consistently.

I saw these 2 guys in this tree covered laneway behind the Eaton Centre.  They were at least in a shaded area but this is no way to live.  It's bad for these people and it's bad for the City of Toronto.  In a city as developed as ours this problem seems to be getting bigger and bigger.  I do not want to see our city like the cities in the U.S. where there are huge homeless areas where there are high crime rates.

What can we do to solve this problem?  Some of these people just need to learn that they are in control of their life and this street living isn't the solution, while others need help with drug and alcohol addiction and others need help with affordable housing and others need a decent job.

If you see someone that clearly needs help you can call *311 and they can send someone out to assist them but for how long?   I called last winter when a guy was consistently sleeping on Richmond Street during sub zero temperatures.   He was gone for a few days but back again a week later.  For some this is their choice.  They prefer to be on the streets than in shelters.  I don't think shelters are the answer but I think a new version of affordable housing is.

I also don't think giving a guy a loonie on the street is going to solve his problems.
Actor Colin Farrell tried to help a guy and gave him money and it didn't stick but when he took him to an outdoor store and got him hooked up and then paid his rent for a year I think it finally helped the guy get back on his feet.  Short term is not the answer a long term solution is but how do we collectively make it happen?  Do our votes for politicians make the difference?  or is there another solution?

Some of the things other countries have done:

1. Small houses where homeless people can sleep, shower and eat for a small fee.
2. Fridges outside of restaurants where homeless people can get the unsold food from the restaurants.
3. Mobile trucks with showers that homeless people can use to take a shower
4. Dress for Success and other charities provide clothing for people that need the proper attire for interviews.
5.  There are a number of organizations that hand out backpacks with basic toiletries and things like socks.
6.  Second Harvest collects leftover foods from restaurants and has events to raise money for programs year round.
7.  The Stop/Food Share has kitchen training programs for people in need.
8.  Habitat for Humanity provides housing to people that put in volunteer sweat equity hours.
9.  If you are hungry you can volunteer at a food festival.  They will most likely feed you for your time.
10.  A library card will give you a place that is air conditioned and the use of a computer and you can get Linda.com online training for free.  There are also other job finding events at the library.

There are a lot of agencies around cities that provide some help but I think there needs to be a way for these people to find out about and get to these programs.

Everyone is a "SITUATION" away from being homeless these days so we need to find a way to make a change.


Thursday, August 11, 2016

Girls night out at Paese Restaurant


Blogger Girls Night Out
Location:    Paese Ristorante, located on 3827 Bathurst Street (just north of Wilson Avenue)
Date visited:  August 6, 2016
Instagram @paeseristorante

My blogger pal Natalie (http://www.cookingquidnunc.com/) and I were invited to go for dinner at Paese Restaurant in North York.  I live in North York so it was nice to go to a dinner pretty close to home.  We brought along fellow blogger Shuang (http://www.theteleporta.com/) and my friend who lives within walking distance of Paese.  Normally Natalie and I attend larger blogger media dinners with about a dozen other bloggers trying to get their photos and food in within a limited amount of time.  This time we had a great Girls Night Out and took our time and all ordered different things so that we could sample a lot from their menu.  

A nice touch was that they seated us near the window.  This is an important thing because the rest of the restaurant had lighting that wouldn't have been flattering for food photos.  We really wanted to get some great photos because the food was presented so beautifully.


We shared this amazing Seared Scallop dish with grapefruit segments and shaved fennel.   This really is a classic pairing that works together to elevate the whole dish.   We really loved this dish and my friends were amazed at how good the fennel was.  I wasn't because I have done this before and it really makes the fennel shine.  The Scallops were perfectly seared and tender and seasoned to perfection.

We also shared the Polenta Fries.  We could have easily eaten an order of these each.  They were better than fries with a whole lot more flavour and crispy on the outside and creamy inside.


As my main I chose the Veal Scallopini.  For some reason I thought this would be breaded but it was just pan seared and served with a lemon beurre blanc sauce and green beans, grilled fennel and a piece of charred corn.  The veal was like butter.  I hardly needed a knife to cut it.  The whole thing was skillfully put together.


For Dessert I chose the Cherry Chocolate Chip Cookie and Affogato.  I really wanted the cherry chocolate cookie.  It had some sea salt on top.  Some people like that but I don't think it needed the salt.  It wasn't overly sweet and with the espresso and vanilla ice cream it was just enough.

And there was a whole lot more.  Some of the other things we all ordered were from (l to r):
Braised Lamb and Green Beans,  Seared Salmon with tomato salsa and fennel,  Mojito's and wine, A dark and white chocolate terrina,  Goat cheese and leek ravioli, charred broccoli, Charred Octopus, Foccacia bread and white bean spread, Pomegranate gelato, strawberry cheesecake, Caramel pudding.  And in the mix is Natalie taking a photo of her dish while Shuang quenches her thirst.


We all really enjoyed our meal and the place was really nice.  We had our own little private section because most of the people were seated on the other side.  They didn't know what to make of us when we tried to take photos of the inside of the restaurant. I think they thought we were nuts so we stopped taking photos so we wouldn't get them in any of them.

PAESE is starting a contest for you to EAT. SHARE .WIN on Social Media that you can enter starting August 15 and it ends on September 1st, 2016.


SHARE a photo of your Favourite PAESE meal on INSTAGRAM using the Hashtag #PaeseXO and don't forget to follow @paeseristorante on Instagram to see what everyone is eating.

A winner will be chosen on September 1st to WIN a Dinner for TWO at PAESE Italian Ristorante

If you go to Paese for the first time make sure you tell them that you read about it on my Blog.  I am sure they will take really good care of you.

Get away from the crazy downtown lineups and parking tickets and eat in North York where you can enjoy a relaxing meal and hopefully get a spot in their parking lot for free.