Holiday Food and Drink Gift Guide 2016

It can be so easy for one to feel bombarded with unexpected obligations at the beginning of December. Sure, work schedules are dying down as people begin going on holiday breaks. But then you also remember that your aunts and uncles are going be calling you any day now, wondering when you can find time to visit. A surprisingly cumbersome task, considering you’re also in the throes of the busiest shopping time of the year. But even though it may be more difficult to find time to head back to your favourite restaurant or bar, there are still plenty of ways to find inspiration regarding new foods and drinks to try in the comfort of your own home. Plus, as this time of year can get unexpectedly stressful, it is important to remember that a night out with those closest to you is still needed. So here is a list of holiday gifts for the foodies you know and love, which they will no-doubt appreciate.

Image Credit: Amazon

The 24-Hour Wine Expert  by Jancis Robinson

We have all had those early dating experiences where you go with a special someone to a bar that you have carefully picked out, only to feel completely lost and out of your element when the time comes to choose a wine that will hopefully impress that person. With every confused look you make towards the wine list, your true ignorance begins to shine through that crumbling false confidence. Fortunately, British wine expert and journalist Jancis Robinson has done those helpless singletons a huge service by writing about all the essential knowledge one needs to have for an in-depth understanding on wine in this easy to read, compact book. From common tasting terms, to good food pairings, and even outlining the main differences between wines from different regions, this is a fantastic beginner’s guide for that person who wants to broaden their horizons from the cheap stuff they bought in college for $15 dollars, and develop a more masterful palette.

Image Credit: Amazon

Shake. Stir. Sip.: More than 50 Effortless Cocktails Made in Equal Parts  by Kara Newman

This is the perfect gift for that friend who’s an expert when it comes to hosting memorable soirées. And it also shows that just because you make something yourself, it doesn’t mean it can’t rival something you had at your favourite bar. Kara Newman is no slouch when it comes to her expertise on the subject either, as she contributes food and drink articles to publications like Wine Enthusiast and The Wall Street Journal. The cocktails inside are mixed with alcohols of equal parts, which means they are a breeze to measure out, especially for those larger get-togethers. If you plan on inviting your closest confidantes over for New Year’s, ditch that rum, coke, and plastic cup nonsense, and surprise them with something more adventurous.

Anything and Everything from Nadege Patisserie

Chocolates and sweets can be a pretty safe bet when it comes to wooing those extended family members you don’t see very often or the in-laws you’re desperately trying to impress even though you don’t know them very well. And when it comes to impressing people with sweets, you really can’t go wrong with the collection at the Nadege Patisserie. It offers the widest selection of macarons in Toronto, which can be purchased in different assorted boxes. And their selection of cakes are works of art. Their French Vanilla panna cotta, the Marie Antoinette, is particularly eye catching, so much so that you kind of won’t even want to eat it. For a more varied assortment of things to try, you can also go with one of their gift boxes, comprised of the different bon bons and chocolate tablets. Get something here for your significant other’s parents, and you will be ingratiated into the family in no time!

Image Credit: IMDB

The Trip

Lets be honest with ourselves: when you go to a nice restaurant with one of your closest friends, you can only wish the conversations you have are as effortlessly witty as the ones in The Trip, starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. The film is mostly improvised and centers around the two actors playing themselves as they visit different restaurants in the English countryside on behalf of a magazine. The more time they spend together, their petty rivalries and the begrudging affection they share begin to show through conversations that can only be had in the closest of friendships. Don’t have much time to see your friends over the holidays? Cuddle up at home and watch what is, I think, the funniest food porn you will ever see. This film, along with its’ equally funny sequel, The Trip to Italy, are available for purchase on iTunes either separately or as a bundle.

Image Credit: Kris Finnigan

Dinner at Brothers

Hypothetical situation: I meet a friend from out of town who wants me to show them some places around the city that I think are examples of the kinds of restaurants and bars that are representative of the city’s culinary scene. To be honest, I would probably end up taking them to Brothers, located at 1240 Bay Street. It encapsulates the laid-back unpretentious vibe that is characteristically common amongst the most popular and highly regarded establishments in Toronto — such as those owned by local food celebrity Jenn Agg (The Black Hoof, The Cocktail Bar, and Rhum Corner) or Grant van Gameron (owner of the widely popular Bar Raval, Bar Isabel, and the El Rey Mezcal Bar) — offers a rotating menu selection that feels entirely its own, with a uniqueness that can only be the result of tireless passion. The dishes are largely made from ingridients produced in Ontario and cooked with slight Italian and Greek touches. Want to show you know a thing or two about good places to eat in Toronto? Bring your loved one to this lesser-known establishment that is certainly deserving of attention.

Image Credit: Karolyn Ellacott

Surprise Date Night at Archive

As the beginning of December sets off that internal clock that makes you try to get your holiday shopping done as quickly as you possibly can, it can be easy to forget to make quality time for just you and your significant other. If you and your boo are big wine enthusiasts, surprise them with an intimate night out at Archive at 909 Dundas Street West. With more than 200 bottles of wine currently on their list, theirs is surely one of the longest and the most impressive you will be likely to find in the city. The minimalist, cozy atmosphere also makes for quite the low-key romantic setting. The chance to warm up with someone while escaping the stresses of the holidays is something that should not be taken for granted.

Image Credit: cheeseboutique.com

Gift Baskets from Cheese Boutique

If you’re coupled, it’s a very likely scenario that you will really want to make time for a date night at some point during the coming months, yet you will struggle to muster up the courage to brave the unrelenting cold weather. As such, make it a special night in by giving bae a gift basket from the Cheese Boutique, located at 45 Ripley Avenue. These baskets are specially made to the customer’s liking and budget, with the available cheeses from a wide variety of different countries — you can view their extensive selection here. A nice bottle of wine, exotic cheeses, watching Love Actually for the twentieth time in the comfiest sweatpants you own — the perfect night in to escape the winter blues.

Continue following our arts & culture coverage on Facebook, Twitter, and instagram.

Novellahoods: A tour of the Upper Beaches

After over three years of living in Toronto, I feel like I’m pretty savvy when it comes to getting around the heart of the city. But being a west-ender, I’ve never really had many opportunities to cross over to the far-eastern side of Toronto. This whole time, the DVP has seemed to me like the Great Wall of China. What the hell is on the other side? I imagined tumbleweeds. Or maybe factories, or subdivisions for as far as they eye could see. It was all very mysterious.

But last night I finally got the chance to explore the Great Unknown that lies beyond the Don Valley: the neighbourbood of the Upper Beaches. ~TRUMPET SOUNDS~

Streetcar Developments hosted the tour — they’re the guys who build snazzy living spaces all over the city, condominiums that promote a tight-knit community amongst residents and within their neighbourhoods. It’s a really nice company who does really nice work, and their most recent project, The Southwood, is going to continue that track record right in the heart of the Upper Beaches.

IMG_0381

Our tour began at the sales office for The Southwood, where some bubbly was poured and we were introduced to the concept for the condominium, which will be ready for occupancy in spring 2017. Chatting with one of the Streetcar reps, I found out that they’re building on the Upper Beaches turf because the neighbourhood is gaining a lot of momentum — especially amongst the city’s young professionals.

IMG_0392
RoFo? Is that u?

After downing my champagne and deciding to start saving up for one of The Southwood’s south-facing one-bedrooms (SO. PRETTY.), our tour led us out of the sales office and we headed east down Kingston Road, the main street where all the magic happens.

IMG_0400

Yellow House was our next stop, a charming little gallery-slash-framing studio owned and operated by an OCAD grad. Within seconds of talking to her I realized there’s a huge artistic presence in this pocket of the city, and gazing at the walls of her gallery I took in some pretty incredible work. I made a mental note to take my next artistic excursion out this way.

Up next was The Art of Cheese. This place really gave me a feel of how tight-knit the Upper Beaches community is. The owner, Bill Miller (a.k.a. “The Grand Fromage”) is a retiree who opened this tiny shop as his passion project, and he could talk for literally hours about the magic of cheese. After feeding us some beautiful San De Oro cheese and local red wine (I nearly died of happiness in this moment) he divulged all the secrets of his craft. Like, the mind-blowing fact that cheese is supposed to be eaten at room temperature — if it’s too cold, you’re only tasting 40% of its flavour. (WHAAAAT.)

IMG_0426
The Grand Fromage in his element

After being charmed by Bill and his cheese (and his fromage-shaped foam hat), we headed to our next stop: Collected Joy. This beautiful odds-and-ends boutique is owned by Sharon Smyl, a former marketing director who worked with Minto Group and Starbucks. She lives right around the corner from the shop, and most of the brands she carries are local.

IMG_0439

I adored Collected Joy. Sharon kept describing things as “exquisite” and I was just in awe of her style. Maybe I’ll get her to design my new condo at The Southwood. One day…

Second-last stop was at The Stone Pizza, where my fellow media people and I had an impromptu pizza photo shoot. The pies were, as Sharon would say, exquisite. Who would have thought to put apple slices on a pizza? And who would have thought it would taste SO GOOD?

IMG_0480

Finally, we found ourselves at The Beech Tree restaurant and bar. This cosy, beautifully decorated spot is like the “Cheers” of the Upper Beach. The owner, like a lot of the shop owners in the area, used to work at a desk crunching numbers all day and abandoned that job to pursue his passion. The Beech Tree blew me away — literally everything is made in-house. Not one ingredient enters the store in a bottle or package. The mayonnaise, the syrups, everything is handcrafted from scratch in their little kitchen. Swoon. Oh, and the gnocchi can attest to the quality. I was almost reduced to tears while eating this. In a very good way.

IMG_0490
(I couldn’t get a good photo of the gnocchi because it was dim and my photography skills are not on point)

On the walk to our ride home, we were pleasantly surprised by one final Upper Beaches experience. Farmacia Juice Bar‘s tiny cooler-on-wheels rolled up to the sidewalk and served up some scrumptious house-made juices, smoothies and freezies. As if I hadn’t fallen in love with the neighbourhood already, the owner told us that a few weeks prior, when their cart was stolen, the community banded together to find it and bring it back. It’s like the whole Upper Beaches ‘hood is #squadgoals.

So, my dear west-of-the-DVP-ers, here is my advice to you: if you’re getting bored of downtown and want to make a little escape from the city without going too far, go to the Upper Beaches. It’s not as swanky-snotty as the — er, Lower Beaches? — but it’s equally as beautiful and full of boutiques that will steal your heart. I’d live here. And maybe one day I will. I mean, who wouldn’t want to live in a charming small town that’s hidden in a huge city?

Novellahoods: Amanda’s Guide to Dundas and Ossington

This Novellahood is my hood. Ossington is a strip of pure hipster madness, which has its ups and downs (the pretentiousness is real, but so are interesting bar concepts and cool boutiques), but if there’s one thing you can count on here, it’s that you’ll never experience a dull moment in this corner of the city. Spend a day, spend a night, and have a blasty-blast with the help of my personal guide to Dundas and Ossington!

CAFFEINATE: Sam James Coffee Bar

As a connoisseur of mochas, I can attest that Sam James’ mocha is the absolute best in the whole wide city. The recipe (which I won’t disclose here) is so simple, but so genius. TRY IT. Hot or iced. Of course, everything else they make here is perfect, too, from the lattes to the conversation.

Sam James' iced mocha — image via @samjamescoffeebar on Instagram
Sam James’ iced mocha — image via @samjamescoffeebar on Instagram

EAT: The Lakeview

This diner has been here for so long I’m pretty sure it qualifies as a historic site. I love this place because it has that classic diner feel without being too gritty, the food is good and nicely priced, and they have MAD drink specials ($4 mimosas, all day, every day!). They’re also open 24 hours, so feel free to come here for a burger in the middle of a drunken night.

PLAY: Get Well

If any of my friends ever have a birthday, it is celebrated here. Why? Because Get Well is not only a bar, but it’s also an arcade and has an in-house North of Brooklyn Pizzeria. Most of the vintage arcade games are free to play, so you can challenge yourself to a game of Dig Dug with a drink in one hand and a slice of pepperoni pizza in the other.

Photo via whyilovetoronto.tumblr.com
Get Well — image via whyilovetoronto.tumblr.com

SHOP: Red Canoe

Being inside this Canadiana shop feels like chanting Oh Canada and drinking maple syrup while riding a moose that’s wearing a Mountie uniform. Check it out if you want to bring home some cool, all-Canadian stuff.

WATCH: Lower Ossington Theatre

‘Tis the season for play-watching, and this theatre has all your nostalgia planned out for the summer: buy your tickets to Rocket Man: The Music of Elton John, Always Abba, Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, Mary Poppins and other gems.

SHOP: Victoire Boutique

The shop window displays are always so cute, it’s nearly impossible not to step inside this tiny shop. They sell the perfect blend of girly-girl and hip, and the clothes never lack in both imagination and sophistication. Find your next wedding season dress here, or a punchy statement piece for your summer festival-going.

Victoire Boutique — image via victoireboutique.com
Victoire Boutique — image via victoireboutique.com

DRINK: Bellwoods Brewery

This is a Dundas and Ossington go-to. Even if you’re not a fan of beer, Bellwoods Brewery is always a good time. I personally love this place because on holidays, when the LCBO and Wine Rack are closed, Bellwoods is usually open, and my drinking plans are saved.

 

 

The Top 5 “On Our Radar” Stories

May was a whirlwind of a month for Toronto, especially over here at the Novella office, where we spent each day from the 1st to the 31st writing stories about some of our city’s best and brightest. Getting to know these individuals of leadership, creativity and entrepreneurship was an enlightening experience for us all, and we hope the readers felt the same as they read through each unique post.

Now that May has come and gone, we’re looking back at the top five “On Our Radar” posts. Check out the posts that you found most popular last month!

#1: Analogue Gallery Owner Lucia Graca — Photography (May 23)

Analogue Gallery has some of the coolest, most intimate photographs of some of the biggest cultural icons in the music industry. When you step foot into the gallery, it takes you back to the remarkable moments when your favourite musician was performing or rare moments captured offstage. The gallery includes works from some of the industry’s most noted photographers including Ethan Russell and Danny Clinch.”

Lucia Graca 5

#2: Sean Young from El Furniture Warehouse & Queen St. Warehouse — Food (May 22)

“People usually only line up for good stuff. And that’s exactly the case with El Furniture Warehouse and Queen St. Warehouse, both brand-new restaurants (the former appeared in the Annex last summer and the latter opened at Queen and John just months ago) that together have achieved the unthinkable: they’ve added something new to Toronto’s dining (and drinking) scene.”

Sean Young (left) with his partners DJ Skratch Bastid (Paul Murray) and Ian Ross
Sean Young (left) with his partners DJ Skratch Bastid (Paul Murray) and Ian Ross

#3: Blynk Style App — Fashion & Technology (May 12)

“The average personal stylist costs an individual, no less than, $100/hour. Blynk is your personal stylist at your fingertips. The style App enables every customer free fashion advice through a fun, simple interactive and addictive platform. Users swipe to like and dislike outfits, and it also learns your style, giving full outfit recommendations that you can instantly shop from. Blynk combines intelligent technology and compiled feedback from thousands of images through user interactions. Fashion is constantly changing with trends, and this unique App experience, adapts to these changes.”

11077851_10153133798982674_3578767080339311074_n

#4: Needs&Wants Fashion Designer Sean Brown — Fashion (May 20)

“Toronto’s own fashion designer, Sean Brown, is making his mark in the men’s fashion industry. Brown’s NEEDS&WANTS clothing and brand story are the perfect remedy to overcome the geographical disadvantages (of not being from New York, London, and Paris), while letting the other larger  fashion destinations know that there is serious talent coming from the city of Toronto.”

Sean Brown

#5: Sloane Tea’s Hoda Paripoush — Food (May 24)

You’ve probably heard of Sloane, or at least scrolled past a few breathtaking pictures of its products on Instagram. Loose leaf lovers all over the city have fallen hard for the brand, which beautifully packages its products in ornate tin containers, making it near impossible not to snap a few photos. And, of course, the teas inside are tasty enough to convert any coffee addict.

20120108-IMG_2552

 

And lest we forget the other cool Torontonians and local projects that were featured in On Our Radar: fashion designer Tessa Chorny; Jayscale, Appalledq & Visionelle; Photographers Without Borders; Ela by Ela Handbags; Sketch founder Phyllis Novak; Ten Thousand Coffees founder Dave Wilkin; Freeman; fashion photographer Mike Lewis; Chill Ice House; photographer Steve Carty; Sam James Coffee Bar; The Hand Recordings; artist Kleeshay; jewellery designer Alynne Lavigne; illustrator and fine artist Alanna Cavanagh; master builder Sam Mizrahi; the Jamcam app; temporary tattoo brand Inkbox; Mankind Grooming; PR guru Natasha Koifman; Coup de Tête hat makers; and Sofar Sounds Toronto.

We hope you enjoyed meeting these local luminaries through “On Our Radar.” Be sure to keep up with them this summer to find out what other groundbreaking projects they’re working on! And here’s to another month of uncovering all that our city has to offer in arts, entertainment, culinary and more.

 

 

On Our Radar: Sloane Tea’s Hoda Paripoush

We sipped some tea with the Toronto woman who’s turning everyone over to the steeped side

Stepping inside Delysees, I immediately find the person I’m looking for, despite the bubbling crowd that’s formed inside the small King West bakery. I’ve never met Hoda Paripoush, but I can tell that’s her over right there, chatting animatedly to a group of starry-eyed event goers, each of them sipping scrumptious tea from delicate china cups.

Persian Palace by Sloane Tea
Persian Palace by Sloane Tea

Paripoush is the woman of the hour. We’re all here to celebrate her adored Toronto-based tea brand Sloane Fine Tea Merchants, which is officially launching its macaron collection, over which the entire city — and beyond — is already losing its mind.

I eventually manage to steal Paripoush away to introduce myself, and the young entrepreneur immediately dives into the fun sort of chitchat one reserves for their best girlfriends. In a matter of minutes, I feel as though I’m simply out for tea with someone I’ve known for a long time.

“I’m a tea hustler,” she jokes, looking sweeter than one of her tea-infused macarons in a bright pink blazer. Tea has been in her heart for a very long time, and it shows: since its conception, Sloane’s been met with wild success — success that’s blossomed from Paripoush’s passion and genuineness, both of which she’s thoroughly steeped into the brand.

You’ve probably heard of Sloane, or at least scrolled past a few breathtaking pictures of its products on Instagram. Loose leaf lovers all over the city have fallen hard for the brand, which beautifully packages its products in ornate tin containers, making it near impossible not to snap a few photos. And, of course, the teas inside are tasty enough to convert any coffee addict.

A few weeks after the launch of Sloane’s macaron collection, Paripoush and I continue our chat over the phone, and she reveals her recipe for finding entrepreneurial success in Toronto. As it turns out, all it really boils down to is following your instincts.

20120108-IMG_2552
Hoda Paripoush, founder of Sloane Tea

“Tea is in my blood, so to speak. Because my Persian parents lived in India for over a decade, and given the ritual of tea is such an innate part of Persian culture, I was surrounded by it,” says Paripoush, who was born in India but moved with her family to Brockville, Ont. when she was three. “I actually ended up going to school for naturopathic medicine here in Canada. Eventually I realized that’s not what I wanted to do with my life — so I finally listened to my calling and pursued this dream.”

And we’re glad she did. Ever since Paripoush first sparked the idea of creating Sloane, she’s been traveling the world in pursuit of finding the ingredients and techniques to craft the perfect cup of tea. By blending her own vast tea-related knowledge with all the things she learned while jet-setting, Paripoush’s brand is both proudly local and very well-travelled.

When asked what she thinks about Toronto’s tea industry, Paripoush says she’s proud and excited about how far it’s come. More than just a fad, tea has been an increasingly prominent part of the city’s culinary and lifestyle scenes over the past decade or so, and Sloane plans on keeping that trend alive and well. Tea is a healthier alternative to coffee, a cosy little journey that gives good vibes only — and it’s what people want.

 

Sloane Tea recently launched its macaron collection
Sloane Tea recently launched its macaron collection

That’s another success secret that Paripoush reveals to me over the phone. Listening to the city’s demands and desires is key. She’s designed Sloane in such a way that it gives tea drinkers their perfect cup, but it also gives them another thing they want desperately: transparency between consumer and brand, which she says Toronto’s businesses are getting a lot better at.

“The space between company and consumer shouldn’t be so mysterious and confusing. There shouldn’t be much of a space at all,” says Paripoush. “Toronto has made great progress in this department, and although we have a ways to go — every city has — we have indeed come a long way.”

Maybe it’s the too-pretty-for-words packaging or the fact that the flavours have us constantly coming back for more, but it looks as though Paripoush practices what she preaches: she’s listened to Toronto’s tea addicts, and she’s not only given them what they want — she’s persuaded even the skeptics to hop on the tea bandwagon.