Sunday, March 22, 2009

Road Trippin' To Toronto

I've been away, playing in veggie paradise up north! Have you been to Toronto? If not, please, please, please, hop in your car, on your bike, lace up your skates or book that plane tix, 'cause this is one veggie friendly city not to miss! I don't mean to be down on my own dear Boston but frankly, our veggie restaurant scene is no NYC or even close to Toronto so I always jump for joy when we're heading north. So the plan was drive from Boston (specifically Cambridge) to Buffalo, NY to pick up my sister who was flying east from San Diego to attend a massage therapy workshop (that's her line of work) in Toronto. We'd then continue together up to Toronto. So crack of dawn last Wednesday, we prepared to leave. And then, finally, at 7:45am we actually got on the road despite our good intentions! Now to go west, most people take I-90 which goes from Boston all the way to Buffalo. Way convenient, huh? Yup..except for the quirky traveler aka me and H. When we hit the exit for Rte. 128 which is just a few miles to 1-90, we saw nothing but cars at a standstill. Well, there is nothing we hate more than traffic jams! Okay, well, maybe a few things more but to continue: we decided to take the road least traveled. And that has made all the difference right?

Sorta. It also means that you get stuck behind logging trucks followed by tow trucks. And you get to drive through the mountains and famous hairpin turns. But hey, a heck of a lot more interesting than a flat toll road!

Around 11am, we stopped in the town of North Adams, MA which is very close to the NY/MA border. It was rainy but nothing was keeping up from our second breakfast!

We found a cute local coffee shop for our second breakfast, Cup and Saucer. That's camera-shy H .
I had a toasted bagel with peanut butter..not memorable except for the fact that it was diamond shaped!

Back on the road, we did several hours driving to Syracuse, NY where we stopped at the Strong Hearts Cafe for lunch. I realized the name was necessary because any vegan entering this establishment will feel a quickening of the heart when they enter! Amazing food..we were in heaven.

We didn't have much time so I randomly selected a few things from the menu that maybe normally I wouldn't eat together but since I rarely go to Syracuse (okay, this was actually my very first visit!), I needed to make the most of it. Mouth prepare for ecstasy! We started with the chipotle potato salad..yum...

I got a strawberry "milk" shake made with Temptation vegan ice cream..delicious...

We got a takeout mint chocolate cupcake for my sister..she kindly shared half with me later. Seriously, the best vegan cupcake, wait make that cupcake vegan or not, I've ever had! Good thing I don't live nearby or there would be "more" of me to love I told H.

I got a tofu rice bowl with a tangy sesame oil flavored dressing on greens. Loved it.

H ordered a chickpea salad sandwich. He loved it which is saying a lot. He's not vegetarian although he's pretty close (still hoping someday, Mihl!) and willing to try most things. His latte was made with soy and he thought it was decent. Unfortunately, he thinks the cow's milk he uses still tastes better but it got him thinking about alternatives.

We stayed at a b&b in "Cabbagetown" pretty much in downtown Toronto. Look at the fattie kittie. She was a sweetie!

The b&b has four rooms. Some b&bs we've stayed at in the past have individual tables for breakfast but this one has one long table that seats 10. Which means that guests and hosts sit together and share a leisurely breakfast. Everyone was wonderful and we enjoyed hanging out with Lorrie and Robert from Ottawa and Daryl and his partner from the UK each morning. I realized afterwards, I should have taken a picture of the yummy food our hosts, Nick and Ted prepared for us. But it's enough to say that when I asked about vegan food, they were more than willing. Breakfast was grainy porridges or banana-blueberry vegan pancakes. And lots of tea and conversation. It was my favorite part of the day!

Our first full day in Toronto, H and I wanted to hit the Thai Princess , a local Thai restaurant. My sister was happy to join us. This restaurant is unlike any Thai place in Boston (and we have A LOT of them as I'm sure you do too!). The vegan options are so tasty and yummy that H and I at different points in the year will stop and think about that mango dish from Toronto from past trips. We loved it so much. Seriously. Yes, we are a bit strange like that! Below is my hot and sour soup. Note the fresh peas and cilantro? I've never had hot and sour soup so full of veggies and yumminess. Even a spice whimp like me would gladly endure the spiciness to eat this!

Sister N had the vegan Tom Yum soup. She traveled to Thailand two years ago and actually took a cooking class there so she's on more intimate terms with Thai food than I am and she felt the food at the Thai Princess wasn't quite as spicy as you'd get in Thailand. But for a western city, it was excellent.

The previously mentioned mango tofu dish. I will attempt to recreate this soon. I cannot find anything like it here in Boston for whatever reason. Dreamy...

H's peanut tofu with veggies

N's basil tofu with veggies..this was my second favorite.

Have you heard about the annual seal hunt in Canada? On Saturday, at breakfast, our host Ted told me that he was attending a seal hunt protest at Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto. I didn't know that much about seal hunting in Canada or elsewhere but the little that I was informed, I knew it was very cruel. So downtown we went. People from all walks of life where there. I liked this woman especially:

Here's what I learned: Why are the baby seals killed? For their fur. Who is wearing the fur? For the most part it is imported overseas particularly to Japan. Japan has a big demand for the white baby seal pup fur for whatever reason but it is now dwindling. Animal rights activists are making a difference in spreading the word!

Interestingly enough, the eastern provinces who claim that the seal hunt is a part of their economic vitality originally were the poorest in Canada. They used that excuse to claim that the seal hunt was a must for their economy. They have in recent years begun producing oil and now are fast tracked to becoming the richest provinces in Canada. I'm not a big fan of oil money but if it allows these provinces to focus on more profitable and less cruel endeavors, I'm for it.

The Canadian government subsidizes the hunt for up to $7 million Canadian dollars yet it is a profit losing enterprise. Each "hunter" makes less than $1,000 off of the hunt and most of that money comes from the government subsidization.

I was surprised to hear that the US has had a seal hunt ban in place since 1973! I mean, we're usually like Canada's mean older brother so it was surprising to hear that for most of my lifetime this ridiculous practice has been banned. I was thrilled to hear Ted, my b&b host, discussing the protest with some of the other guests, one who unfortunately was for the hunt. Ted told me that the Canadian news coverage of the hunt has been minimal. Some Canadians believe the hunt no longer takes place whereas others believe that it is necessary for economic reasons for the eastern provinces. There has been somewhat of a media blackout on coverage but the international community is now putting pressure on Canada to stop the hunt. This is Ted posing with his new hat.

This was my very first animal rights rally ever believe it or not. I have a mixed reaction to these events. I think it is very important to show up and be counted. They need the numbers but emotionally, it is very difficult for me to hear about animal cruelty. There is a certain amount of shock element that is needed to get people to pay attention but for someone who loves animals as much as I do, it was very upsetting. I had tears in my eyes as I listened to what they do to these animals. I won't repeat it here..I'm sure my fellow vegan bloggers are as sensitive to animal cruelty as I am. We don't need to be shocked by the details but if you are interested you can find out how to help, please sign this petition. The Canadian government is considering for the very first time a bill that will end the hunt! Please let Canada know that you support this bill! This is me with my new friend, Sealy..

Speaking of animal friends, of course, the real attraction that Toronto holds for us is squirrels! Here's a black one. They are actually dark brown, not black. They are eastern greys just like my dear little Squirrelly but they have what is called a "black phase"..which is scientisty type talk for a black color variation gene not some moody or punk phase that a disillusioned young squirrel may experience! The second would be more interesting, don't you think?

While N was at her massage therapy training workshops on Saturday and Sunday, H and I wandered the city. I admit that we had good plans, museums, cultural stuff but none of that happened. We slept late, spent the morning chatting with our b&b hosts and fellow guests, got a late, late start, indulged in leisurely lunches, walked a whole lot, went into bookstores, got hot drinks at cute little cafes, and then shopped A LOT. Tee hee! I don't think I've felt that relaxed in a long time. One such lunch place we tried was Richtree Market Restaurant. Are you familar with these? Ten years ago I became aware of Mövenpick restaurants while traveling in Europe. They appeared at many rest stops along the highways in France, Switzerland and Germany. Mainly cafeteria style (although I saw some that weren't) they always seemed to offer much better quality food than our typical rest stop fast food here in the US. So in the late 90s when I heard "Marché" was opening in downtown Boston and that it was from the same chain as Mövenpick, I was excited. Unfortunately, it didn't last in Boston (not sure why..maybe just a poor location as downtown Boston is saturated with tons of good eating) but while in Canada I noticed Richtree with the same logo design, colors, etc. We had to go!

When we entered, they handed us each a plastic credit card of a sorts. We would get a tray, walk around the different stations and hand the card to the servers and they would add the price of the food onto our card. Tons of yummy bean salad type things...sorry for the lack of clarity in the was hard to get a shot without someone arm or legs getting in the way.

Stations like these set up all over. I remember the following stations: pasta, salad, wine/beer, sandwich, pizza, pasta, waffles, dessert, coffee bar, asian and there are probably many more I am forgetting!

Our conclusion: a bit pricey but tons of fun and the food was really good. We'd do it again. I got a Rösti dish..a swiss potato dish and a sampling from the salad bar. Finished up wit a soy mocha latte! But I think the best part was the presentation of the was nice to actually see the food before you ordered it and the indoor seating felt like a nice escape from the chilly Canadian weather.

Later that night, we were hoping to try Fressen, the local higher end vegan restaurant. After locating the address on, we walked down to the address. Hum, not there. Using my trusty Blackberry, I looked up the address. Ack! Happy Cow put Queen Street East but Fressen is located on Queen Street West. Let's just say an hour and a half later we arrived at the restaurant. The menu looked promising. We were hungry. There were empty tables. Sounds good right? Hum, no. It took a moment for the wait staff to acknowledge us. That's okay, we were understanding. When finally someone greeted us, the first question, "do you have a reservation?" Well, no, we hadn't thought of that. Confusion sets in. Why so many empty tables? They told us that they were filled for the evening. Again, my head had trouble reconciling the fact that there were several empty tables. "You can wait around and if one of the reservations doesn't show up in 20 minutes, you can have the table." At this point we decided to go elsewhere. It felt too exclusive, too unfriendly. Fressen, I hope you are doing a great business, I truly do. I love to support vegan businesses but one of my cardinal beliefs is that vegan food should never be presumptious or inaccessible. It was a very bad introduction for H to a high end vegan restaurant. This made me sad. However, not to despair, we found a much better option. We dragged our weary selves to Live, a local vegan partially raw restaurant. It was casual and super friendly. Our waitress was a sweetie and we immediately felt at home.

We loved their veggie themed decor!

We started with the avocado tempura..very good..a little unusual but very tasty.

My sister's kale salad..delicious..

Sis' raw tacos with cashew sour cream

H's raw veggie burger

My "roast" tempura with potatoes and veggies...

The vegan raw dessert case..are we in heaven?

The raw avocado chocolate was smooth, chocolately and so so good! I'm still thinking about it. We found out that Live has its own cookbook but an e-version only. It's a little pricey for an e-book but if the recipes in the cafe are indicative of how good the book is, I will buy it soon!

We're back at home in Boston now with a full belly and great memories. We can't wait to go back north sometime soon again. That's it for now..I'm off to catching up on my animal rights study group reading. As we say in Boston, I'm wicked behind!


Tara said...

Wow, it looks like you had a great trip! I loved all the photos, and now I've added Toronto onto my list of places I must travel. And how cute is that squirrel??? All that yummy vegan food *and* punk squirrels? It is too much!

VeganCowGirl said...

I am SO glad that you liked Toronto! Isn't LIVE amazing!!!??? It looks like they have changed some of their menu options since I moved to Brussels...I will be sure to stop by when I am home for holidays next month.

River said...

Delicious food overload!! You saved the chocolate pie for last to kind of finish us off. Sweet chocolate death! :D

First things first though, why do I always have to pee when we're stuck in a traffic jam?

Aww, fatty kitty! She takes up half of that big chair!

Congrats on your first animal rights rally! I love that picture of you and Sealy. Thanks for the link to the petition, I hadn't signed that one yet.

A squirrel going through a black punk phase would be way cooler than the scientific explanation. Especially if they went all emo.

BOO for Fressen being so uptight! I'm glad the rest of your trip was fun though. Bet your squirrels missed you! :)

Anonymous said...

The seal hunting is just so evil - Canada is one of my favourite countries, but I have never understood that evil streak...needs to be stopped right now!!
All those amazing restaurants & food options!!! You're making me miss Canada!

Mihl said...

You convinced me, I need to visit Toronto soon. Possibly not by bike, ha.
When I scrolled down there were some pictures that looked extremely familiar to me. We also have such a Marché in Dresden. I never ever thought that they even are in Canada.

Jeannie said...

What an awesome trip blog! Your first A/R event? Cool! Great veg/vegan restaurants? Also cool! Fatty kitty? Love her!

Like Mihl, you've convinced me that I need to visit Toronto at some point as well. ALL my urban travel is guided by proximity to good vegan restaurants.

For the Love of Guava said...

Oh my what a wonderful trip! So much good food and a little activism never hurts! Good to have you home lady!

Maggie said...

It's been awhile but I always loved the variety of restaurants in Toronto. Love the cupcake! Was it chocolate mint?

Ricki said...

Wow, this is the most amazing ode to Toronto! So glad that you enjoyed it. I have actually been to Fressen a few times, and I have to tell you, it actually IS worth it! They are now so popular that you can't even get in w/o a reservation. But they've got some amazing, amazing dishes and everything there is fantastic. You could also try Fresh on Bloor--one of my all-time favorite places (great hemp burger, unparalleled sweet potato fries w/ miso gravy!). I had to smile at your account as well, because my honey and I made the opposite trek--from Toronto to Boston--a few years ago, and I am always so thrilled to visit there! I guess any place other than "home" is always fun. :)
PS Once you've lived with those black squirrels for several years, they are no longer so cute. . .the ones in Queens Park are actually aggressive if you don't feed them!!