Toronto Food Extravaganza

As luck would have it, a vegan food festival was set to take place during our visit to Toronto, Canada. Officially called Toronto food and drink festival, the producers of the festival also have an annual festival in Chicago (USA), the fest is held at Fort York, downtown Toronto near the waterfront.

Because it was extremely hot during our visit, combined with the reviews from 2015 festival that indicated food was running low by late afternoon, we decided to go early in the day. It was steamy by the time we arrived in the late morning, but it still ended up being a good decision.

The fest was set up like a traditional festival with food, drinks, textiles, and make up for sale with bands playing and a DJ. They also had a something I haven’t seen before, but very necessary…that all festivals should have — hand washing stations near the porta potties.

We started making our way around the perimeter to take it all in, and then decided what we wanted to try.

We started with Two Bears cold brew bottled coffee. Normally, I’m not a huge fan of flavored coffee but we were there to try new things. Their maple pecan cold brew was a winner, and decently priced. I hope they find their way into some NYC shops soon. We also tried Well Juicery, cold press juices – they are very tasty and were a Pocky favorite. Another drink favorite of mine — Tonica Kombucha. They were out of my go to — green tea, so we tried mango and peach flavors. It’s my new favorite Kombucha.

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After hitting a few stands the rains came which started cooling down the temperature a bit but also made it hard to eat as the only tents were over the vendors. So we just waited out the rains in between munching on snacks.

Next we tried Bunners bake shop. They make sweets and savory items. We tried the pizza bun. It’s a funky little snack. It had the consistency of a cinnamon bun with pizza flavor. Tasted great but if you have food texture issues it might take a minute to reconcile the texture and flavor sensation.

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Vegan Nom is a vegan taco truck from Austin (Texas) that was on my list to try. They had long lines and a wait time of 30 minutes after the order was placed. We tried the mock-fish tacos. It’s a breaded protein in a corn tortilla, which worked for me but Pocky wasn’t bowled over by the dish – probably because he still eats fish.

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We also stopped by the other Austin (Texas) vegan favorite, Arlo’s, equally as long of a wait. This was Pocky’s favorite stop. He had the cheeseburger, which he said was fantastic. Unfortunately for me, it had mushrooms (allergic) in it, so I had to pass. Next time I’m in Austin stopping at their curbside kitchen (food truck) is a must.

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For me, Doug Mcnish was a standout and I wanted one of everything but decided on just the buffalo wings. He has a popular restaurant in Toronto and I was a little sad we weren’t going to make it there, until I realized he was cooking at the festival. The wings were fantastic! He was also selling swag and cookbooks. We picked up his first book. For those looking for inventive, well-executed vegan food, try his place The Public Kitchen in Toronto.

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As I made my way to Thiru’s Gourmet, the next downpour of rain started. I grabbed a box with three different curried veg and tofu dishes but the rain was coming down so hard we couldn’t eat. Instead, we made our way over to Sweets from the Earth to pick up desserts to go. (We ended up eating them later in the evening. Their lavender cupcakes are heavenly and the whoopie pie reminded me of being a kid. Amazing flavors.)

The plan was to make a run for it to the parking garage but halfway there our box of food was collapsing from the rain so we stood under an over pass and and quickly shoveled it in…It was really good and really entertaining for those watching.

 

 

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Vegan comfort food in Toronto, Canada

This post is overdue…but sometimes it is more important to be in the moment and enjoy life.

Toronto is one of my favorite spots to visit because it can go from busy and adventurous to relaxing in the span of about 10 minutes. There is a little something for everyone.

From restaurants to resorts, Ontario Canada offers options for people with a range of dietary needs. Honestly, it is far easier for me to find better quality food options outside of cosmopolitan areas in Canada than in the USA. But in once instance during this vacation, we planned ahead just in case.

A few years ago I visited Toronto and most of my restaurant hopping happened in the popular King Street and Kensington Market areas, but as with any bustling city restaurants come and go. Unfortunately a few favorites have gone, but during this visit, trying new things mostly led to positive results and exploration of a new charming neighborhood — Bloorcourt.

Let’s start with the food fail. We chose Sabai Sabai Thai on Church Street for its vegan menu. It’s a very popular place and we waited in line quite a while. Once seated, we ordered dishes and I requested that they take the mushrooms off a dish, because I am allergic. The server came back and explained that mushroom powder was in their spice mix for every dish. As an aside — it was super hot outside and we had been walking around for hours…(insert sigh and an eye roll). We got up and walked out, me with a pouty expression that quickly turned to laughter about the vegan who can’t eat a thing on the vegan menu…

So, we ended up at Golden Thai, also on Church Street, and they were able to make us lovely Thai food without any issues.

The next day we roamed around the once derelict Victorian industrial complex, now known as the Distillery, and we stopped in to shop at Soma chocolatemaker, Bergo Designs, Fluevog shoes and more. We took a chance and tried Mill St Brewery for lunch, as one can imagine pub food not always a good bet for vegans. However this place has a little something for everyone, including beer. Mmmn tater tots, pretzels with spicy mustard, Moroccan Falafel Salad, and a Southwest Veggie Burger. No, not all for me! They offer a wide variety of beer’s – Altbier and 100th Meridian, yes, please.

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Next we walked to St. Lawrence Market. Originally a wooden structure, this market dates to the early 1800s. A fire took out the original structure and the market was rebuilt using brick. This place is foodie heaven. For those who enjoy fish, meat, cheese etc. this is a great place to purchase food and there are a few super popular restaurant stalls as well. There are also venders selling bread, nut butters, oils, bulk foods, coffee, pastries, and fruits and veg. We decided to plan ahead for our trip to Niagara Falls, in case there weren’t vegan food options, and picked up fruit, olives and other fresh items that would survive a night in our hotel room and a trip to the falls. They actually do have food choices along the falls but I was happy to have a fresh snack on the drive back to Toronto.

One morning we stopped by Karine’s vegan breakfast. It’s a cool local spot in a food court. It’s a hidden gem (literally). If you aren’t a local it takes a minute to figure out where it is located. We chose amazing waffles and pancakes, with fruit and coffee. The food was dessert like and way too much for me to eat all of it, but I sure did try. Karine seemed to be feeding a morning rush of construction workers when we arrived. She is very sweet and the food was fantastic.

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On another night we stuffed ourselves at the: Hogtown Vegan on Bloor Street West. They are the kings of vegan comfort food in Toronto. We shared several large dishes —

mac n’ cheese, buffalo wings and chili cheese fries. I could eat that mac n’ cheese every day, but that wouldn’t be very figure friendly. Just because it’s vegan, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have calories…

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The final stand out was Bloomers, a vegan café on the same street at Hogtown. They serve breakfast and lunch – but they are known for their donuts, and this girl won’t miss the chance to nom nom an amazing vegan donut. We stopped on our way to the airport, basically as soon as they opened. The thing to know about Bloomers is that once you arrive you can relax with coffee or tea but you will need to wait about a half hour for the donuts to be ready. For the full brunch menu, you’ll wait an hour. The anticipation was palpable and watching them cool on the counter was torture. We chose strawberry and cinnamon options. Amazing – and on par with the Holy donut in Maine, USA. I wanted to take one or two for the road, but that just would have been gluttonous…

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Canada’s wondrous views

Toronto is one of my favorite cities and it’s a quick flight from New York. There is so much to do in Toronto, from outdoor adventures, sports, festivals, Evergreen Brick Works, and High Park, to a thriving arts and culture scene. The city has numerous breweries and is a foodie paradise with something for everyone. The city is broken up into districts with two Chinatowns, Koreatown, Little Italy, Cabbagetown, etc. Also, funky areas chock-full of food and shopping, such as King and Queen streets, Kensington Market, the Distillery, Yonge & Bloor, and West Bloor – a popular vegan culinary hub.

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The CN Tower is 1,815 feet high, has a glass floor, look out level, skypod, restaurants, and shopping. The views from the look out level are fantastic, but the skypod level is even better, and is the best spot for photos.

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Looking down through the glass floor is amazing but those with a fear of heights will have a hard time looking down or standing on the glass. I enjoy heights but even I naturally gravitated to the steel crosses in between the glass and had to remind myself that it was okay to stand on the glass.

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I wanted to do the edge walk, where an individual is attached to a harness and walks around the tower on a ledge 116 stories in the sky, but we were on a schedule… maybe next time.

 

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We decided to drive to Niagara Falls instead of purchasing a package tour and taking a bus or train. The drive between Toronto and the falls takes about an hour and a half and parking is only a short walk from the falls. Driving also allows for picking and choosing other activities along the border, such as visiting the gardens or a tower similar to the CN in Toronto. However, for those wanting to partake in the wine tours, either have a designated driver or opt for the package tour. There is a strip with casinos, an arcade, miniature golf, and typical fast food joints – it’s a smaller version of Las Vegas.

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Though we didn’t see as much as planned, our experience was fantastic. The main obstacle was that we were in Canada during a heat wave and after three days in the hot hot heat, another full day was too much for me. We walked around and took in the falls and then did the boat tour, which is absolutely worth the money. Wear something comfortable and have a change of clothing, if possible. We were drenched even with the plastic ponchos but considering how hot it was, the cold water was a relief.

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The view from the Canadian side of the falls is spectacular and worth the drive across the boarder.
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Even though boat tours are available from the American side of the falls, the view from Canada of the top of the falls on the American side shouldn’t be missed.

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Next we hopped into a pod (air conditioned) on the skywheel, which provided another gorgeous view of the American side of Niagara Falls and a much needed respite from the blazing heat before making the drive to Toronto.

Things to do in UAE on a tight schedule

I’ll start with an apology and an explanation. My goal is always to post as much as possible and in a timely manner. However, my final semester as a graduate student at NYU has been extremely challenging – from conducting field research and working abroad, to a full-time work schedule and writing my thesis at home immediately upon my return.

I was only in Dubai for a few days at the end of my research/work trip to Africa. Two of my cousins live in Dubai and I was really just went there to relax and catch up with family, but we did manage to make it to a few local attractions.

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On the first day we took the boat across the Dubai creek and went to the older area of the city where the gold and spice souks are located. I ended up buying spices and no gold. It’s definitely worth checking out – the gold is opulent and reasonably priced, unfortunately I’m not a yellow gold fan and I couldn’t find any white gold, my loss. Some of the stores carry pearls, which Dubai is known for – but I didn’t buy those either because we didn’t find any locally farmed. Make sure you aren’t starving if you go shopping in this area, we couldn’t find any restaurants, but there are a few juice bars. It’s a pretty quick trip across the water though, where plenty of restaurants line the waterfront.
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The Dubai Museum is housed in Al Fahidi Fort; it was built in 1787 and probably one of the oldest sites in the city. We walked around the fort and then went underground to see the recreations of lifestyle in the region and a video tour of Dubai’s growth.
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One day we ventured out to the Miracle Gardens, which are outside the city but worth the trek – just take a taxi, it’s not too expensive. The gardens are comprised of houses, animals, archways and more. They also have a nice patio where food and beverages are available for purchase.
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One of the things about Dubai and the places I visited in Africa that I enjoyed is that juice is really popular. So, I ordered a lot of yummy juices like melon and mango, lemonade with mint and other delightfully refreshing drinks.

Most places are a quick taxi ride away but for adventurous and/or thrifty types –try the clean and upscale metro.

We also ventured out to the massive Dubai Mall, which is a chic mall that goes on for miles. A few days later we also ended up at the Dubai Marina Pier 7 Mall, which is also nice. There is definitely a nightlife scene but I skipped it on this trip. For something a little more leisurely — take a seat and watch the Dubai fountain show to cap off an evening.IMG_1856

I love the food in Dubai and the common theme is large plates and lots of sharing…I went to several local gems including Zahr El Rouman, a Lebanese restaurant that had several vegetarian choices. We also went to Reem Al Bawadi, which has a great outdoor patio. They have a large menu that works for both veggies and carnivores — they even serve breakfast. My favorite restaurant was Abd el Wahab at Pier 7. The food was great and it was so relaxing to sit, chat with my cousins and take in the local lifestyle. Sit on the balcony and take in the fabulous view of the water, skyscrapers and boats.
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For my final day of relaxation we took a bus from Dubai to Abu Dhabi and it isn’t too long of a ride, it’s inexpensive and definitely worth it if you don’t have a car. If you want a good and easy day trip and aren’t up for the camel excursions – this is it. Just make sure you ask where the bus stops because not all of them make the same stops on the way back to Dubai. We were a little short on time, so once there we opted for the Hop on hop off bus tour. Though, we only went to a few of the stops and mainly used it as transportation to the Mosque – which is not close to the city center.

We went to Heritage Village, which was nice, made a brief stop at the mall on the water and headed to Sheikh Zayed’s Grand Mosque. AMAZING.IMG_1911

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It is stunning in person, almost indescribable, one of best architectural structures that I have ever seen, and worth visiting. Ladies – dress appropriately – I know its warm but you are choosing to visit a holy site and while it looks like a museum, it is a religious site. I was dressed appropriately but given a traditional robe (abaya) and headscarf (shayla) to wear, which was fine. The architecture is gorgeous; it was the whitest marble that I have ever seen.

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Floral mosaics lined the ground and walls, and glass chandeliers and windows enhanced the opulent interiors.
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The brightness of the sun on the marble was blinding. At times my eyes felt like they were on fire, I squinted as hard as I could and closed my eyes a few times while walking outside. For architecture fans – this should be on your list of places to visit.

Sisterly Adventures

Admittedly, once I am mid-semester in my graduate program, everything that isn’t graded or mandatory — moves lower and lower down the to-do list. To say that grad school is busy is an understatement. I also recently added an internship to my schedule, which means that anything resembling free time has evaporated.

Internships seem to be a western phenomenon. For those who do not know what that means — it is volunteering to acquire experience in the field you hope to have a career in. I am interning at an organization called GNWP; the organization focuses on programs that assist in the implementation of UNSC Resolutions to promote equality for women around the globe. So far, it has been an amazing experience. I started a few days before I had a weekend getaway planned with my sister, who lives fairly close to the Canadian border. We decided to explore the area over a gorgeous fall weekend.

We headed to sleepy little Clayton, New York – population 5,000 giver or take…

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They have a Halloween tradition called Pumpkin Chunkin where pumpkins are catapulted across the St. Lawrence River. We wandered around the local street market that had food, local wineries, hard alcohol, apple cider and crafts.

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After some quality pumpkin time, we took a ferry to Wolfe Island, Canada and a second one to our final destination — Kingston, Canada. It was a little chilly when we arrived and most people seemed to be relaxing in coffee houses, pubs and restaurants. We walked around for a while and decided to have lunch at a local pub, the Toucan. They have a great beer selection, so I went with that and a veggie burger. We continued exploring and found a great little shop with handmade organic soaps — 1000 Islands Soap Company. We drove over to Fort Henry but unfortunately it was the wrong season for taking a tour. Instead we went to Curry Original Kingston to grab food to take home. The restaurant has its own cookbook for sale.

Kingston Canada 1The next day, we got up early and drove to Thendara Union Station in Utica, NY to catch the Fall foliage train through the Adirondacks. It was a chilly but relaxing day on the train – it even snowed for part of our journey. We packed a picnic lunch and purchased wine on the train. We did manage to take some photos. It’s definitely a nice adventure, but a little sleepy. If you like trains and are interested in visiting the Adirondack’s, it’s worth it.

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And we had some quality sister pumpkin carving time.

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Moscow for the art, history and culture lover

Whenever I travel, I always attempt to visit a few museums or historical sites. However, this visit to Moscow focused on research, which meant I had to plan my cultural activities around an already packed schedule.

Here are a few of things that I missed out on – Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow Museum of Modern Art, Novodevichy Convent, State Darwin Museum, Muzeon and Park of Fallen Monuments, and Garage Center for Contemporary Culture. Another site that I desperately wanted to make it to was Gorky Park. The park is legendary, and has inspired many novels and movies. When I think of Gorky Park, I visualize John Le Carre’s tales of espionage with spies lurking on benches in the cold dark night. But in reality – it is a top tourist attraction located along the Moscow River, with teahouses, restaurants, evening events, sports, and many walking paths. And of course, it is a great alfresco dining spot.

On to the sites I actually visited…

The Armoury Chamber at the Kremlin was fascinating. It had fashion, house wares, and amazing extravagant carriages for adults and children; also, armor and weapons.
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The Central Armed Forces Museum is a tour through Russia’s military past. It has uniforms, banners, medals, weapons, tanks, planes, statues and Soviet era art propaganda posters. If you have time, make sure to stop at the café for a meal. The atmosphere is great – soviet era military – and the food is fantastic. It has plenty of vegetarian and vegan options for those so inclined.

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Tretyakov Gallery is a traditional gallery full of fabulous classical Russian art and worth checking out. Also, Sok, one of the best vegetarian restaurants in Moscow is opposite the museum.

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The Gulag History museum (prison camps) is tucked away in central Moscow and is fairly small but worth the visit to see a part of Russia’s history that is not often discussed.

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The Chambers of the Romanov Boyars was an interesting experience. It is a house, so it is a rather quick tour but if you are interested in history and want to see the Tsar’s first home, then this is for you. Be prepared to duck at the doorways, people were fairly vertically challenged in the XV-XVII centuries.

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Finally, a shopping tip for good measure. I’ll be honest; I bought a few souvenirs at Red Square. But the best bang for your buck is the Izmailovsky Market, where haggling is expected. I believe it is only open on the weekend and it’s a bit of a trek on the subway but worth it. Plan to be there a while – there is plenty of food to be had. Unfortunately, my group only allotted an hour and a half. We were a little grumpy when we realized that we were only about halfway into the market with fifteen minutes to meet the rest of our group outside the gates. The market is much more than tourist items, though you will find plenty of those stalls. Vendors are selling military items, medals, posters, art, music, antiques, jewelry and other Russian items. I’m not a huge shopper but I could have easily stayed for three hours.

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