Vegan Weekend

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to have a friend visit me from out of town (a vegan friend to give this post a little more context). Prior to her arrival, I had done much research on some of the various vegan restaurants in the city and was definitely up for a little culinary adventure. I decided that I would try and be vegan during her entire stay (a whole 3 days!!) and experience some new cuisine. Now for those of you that think it should be pretty easy for a vegetarian to turn vegan for 3 days – you are sadly mistaken. I have never had to think whether the pesto sauce on my bruschetta may be made with Parmesan cheese, or whether the bread served with dinner has an egg wash. I also LOVE dairy. While vegans may have substitutes for butter and cream, I am still a lover of cheese and yogurt and for that reason alone could never go vegan. However, this past weekend did open up my eyes to some pretty good vegan food and I wanted to share some of those experiences here (as you may never know when you will have a vegan out-of-town visitor).

Butler’s Pantry

Now while Butler’s Pantry is not a strictly vegan restaurant, it does have several vegan options on the menu. It is also one of my go-to places in the city when I am craving comfort food (my mouth is now salivating as I think of the veggie curry pie). What is great about the menu is that it actually calls out which items are vegan so that you don’t need to think whether the food has any sort of dairy or egg product in it (and you don’t need to ask your waiter a million questions about it either). Both my friend and I ordered the mixed vegetable bhaji as we were wanting a little more ‘spice’ in our meal. The portion sizes were quite substantial and we definitely needed to go for a walk after paying the bill to help digest the deliciousness. The restaurant is a great option for a group that has vegetarians or vegans in it, as it offers a little something for everyone (meat eaters too!)

The Hogtown Vegan

Finding places that serve vegan lunch and dinner options in the city is pretty easy to do. I did find it more difficult to locate vegan brunch places as most staples for brunch include meat and eggs. However, when doing my research, the Hogtown Vegan made it to the top of my list for a best-in-class vegan brunch restaurant (I will thank the food network and the show “you gotta eat here” for that recommendation). Brunch favourites such as french toast and omelets are featured on the menu, but the item that caught our attention was the ‘Unchicken and Waffles’. While I did not order the unchicken (as there were other tasty things to try), I did get a little taste and now need to return to order it for myself. Whoever thinks that vegan food is ‘healthy’ has obviously never been to the Hogtown Vegan. Deep fried goodness all ’round!

Sadie’s Diner

Sadie’s Diner is one of those local Toronto establishments that I have been meaning to check out for years (I walk by it every week when doing my routine run to Loblaws). I am ashamed to say it has taken me so long to check this place out, but now that I have, I will definitely need to frequent it more often. We came to Sadie’s for dinner (even though I have been told they have a fantastic brunch) and left with full and happy bellies. I ordered the veggie quesadilla and was most interested in trying the ‘vegan’ cheese that was baked inside (I’m not sure what this stuff was made of, but it kind of melted like actual cheese. It was fascinating!). The vegan sour cream it came with was also delicious and would be perfect for any of you lactose-intolerant people out there. I hate to repeat myself, but again, this was not the healthiest of meals we could have eaten that night. Vegan doesn’t mean healthy! (but it can definitely mean tasty!)

Fresh

I know Fresh is an obvious choice for a vegan restaurant in the city, but the food is so tasty that it warranted a visit for brunch! The truth is, our plan was to actually check out Disgraceland, but after hanging outside a dark and locked restaurant for 10 minutes, we learned that the restaurant recently changed its hours and we were there an hour before it opened. Seeing as though we had a Blue Jay game to catch at 1 pm, we could not wait around to see if the Disgraceland chef could really turn every menu item into a vegan masterpiece (as it claims on their menu)!

While the brunch menu at Fresh is a little on the small side, they do have all the typical breakfast staples including pancakes! My vegan friend was very excited to try these (although she was craving the french toast from Disgraceland). We ordered a pancake platter that came with some tofu scramble (I normally hate scrambled eggs, but would definitely order this tofu scramble again. It was super flavourful and had a great texture), as well an order of blueberry almond pancakes. All of the pancakes were extremely large and filling and most importantly, tasty! We definitely did not need to eat until dinner that day!

Vegetarian Haven

The last stop on our Toronto vegan adventure was Vegetarian Haven in Baldwin Village. The menu is mainly Asian-inspired and includes a variety of stir-fried dishes and wraps. We each ordered a different stir-fried creation and ended up going home with take-home containers due to the large size of our meals (Bonus – lunch for the next day. Thumbs up in my books!). Both our meals had great flavour to them and lots of colour (due to the assortment of fresh veggies that were used). We also ordered the seared dumplings in which our waitress informed us were the best veggie dumplings in the city. We were actually a little disappointed in them as we felt they were missing quite a bit of flavour (or maybe we were spoiled as we were served our main dishes before the dumplings and got a mouth full of rich flavour beforehand?). In any case, the food was delicious and nicely prepared. I would not hesitate returning (I just may not order the dumplings again).

So I am glad to report that I accepted and completed my three-day vegan challenge (and have the food baby to prove it!). I am pretty sure my friend enjoyed her vegan experience too (check out my lovely parting note left on my kitchen wall).chalkboard note

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My Day at the CBC

The last time I had visited the CBC was for a school trip for Grade 10 English class. Somehow our English teacher thought it would be a great idea to see media “up close” – which meant we got to sit in the studio audience for a filming of Jonovision (Can anyone even remember that show?). Anyway, I don’t really remember much about the building itself except for this great museum in which there was a TV where we could watch the theme songs to famous CBC shows over and over again. We ended up sitting in front of this TV for a good 20 minutes listening to the theme songs to Fraggle Rock and Degrassi Junior High repeatedly until we had them memorized. All-in-all, it was a great day!

So, when I learned that this weekend the CBC was hosting an open house called “The Canada Lives Here Experience“, I definitely wanted to return (and potentially find that TV again. Who doesn’t love a great 80’s theme song?). I didn’t know much about this so-called ‘experience’ except that 1) It was free (and who doesn’t love doing things for free?) and 2) I could dress up like Don Cherry (not sure why this resonated with me so much?).

Immediately when you enter the CBC atrium, there are plenty of things to see and do. Since we wanted to go on the 5 pm tour of the experience, we only had a little bit of time to check out some of the exhibits before heading up to the 10th floor (where the experience takes place). We knew we had to return to the atrium though as I definitely wanted my photo taken dressed up like Don Cherry (again, I am still not really sure why).

When we arrived to the 10th floor, we were all taken into this large, dark room where we got a full media introduction featuring famous CBC icons like Peter Mansbridge, Jian Ghomeshi and the Dragons from Dragon’s Den (We also learned that the large, dark room in which we were standing in was actually the space where they film Dragon’s Den – which felt cool for some weird reason). After our brief media introduction (and quiz – in which my friend and I failed miserably. Seriously, does anyone know the name of the actor who stars in the Republic of Doyle? Well one person did surprisingly enough), we were taken into the actual “experience”.

Throughout the experience we were taken through various ‘Halls’ (such as the ‘Hall of Information’ where we saw how a news story is put together, or the ‘Hall of Stars’ where we were immersed in Canadian pop culture…and had our photo taken on the red carpet).  Going through the exhibit, you went through all these tunnels and rooms and it was really quite the production. Everywhere you looked, there would be something interesting to watch or hear (they played some great Canadian music as you walked through the ‘Hall of Music’).

After our experience was over on the 10th floor, we headed back downstairs where we walked through the CBC Museum and got to see old friends like Mr. Dressup and the muppets from Sesame Park (I did not find the magical TV that played my 80’s theme songs though. I was slightly depressed for about 30 seconds).

Probably the highlight of my experience was the great time we had at the “Be a News Anchor” desk. We got to literally sit behind a news anchor desk and read off of a teleprompter. Luckily I brought my glasses with me so that I could actually read the copy on the screen. We were filmed behind the desk and broadcast on TV’s in the atrium. Unfortunately they did not actually record us, which was kind of sad as I would have loved to see our fantastic rendition of a news broadcast (complete with closing sign off poses and winks).

So if you are in Toronto this long weekend and looking for something to do – why not head over to the CBC? It’s free, you will be entertained and maybe even feel a little more cultured after all of it.

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Visitations at the Drake

UPFRONT DISCLOSURE: I am not a very active theatre-goer in the city (Wow, that felt really good to get that off my chest). Seriously, I may check out 1 theatrical performance per year. BUT when I heard about Visitations a couple of weeks ago, I knew this was something that I just had to see (check out the interactive trailer and you will see why I was so intrigued). Now unfortunately this post is going to have limited pictures (mainly because we were told that any photography would interfere with the paranormal activity we were about to experience), but I still think it is worth blogging about as it was a very unique experience I had in the city.

So I’m sure you are wondering (especially after I made a comment about paranormal activity), what on earth is Visitations? The best way for me to describe it would be an interactive, supernatural, theatrical experience (wow, that sounds like a mouthful I know!). It definitely isn’t your every day theatrical production where you sit in your chair and watch the actors do their thing (in fact you aren’t even at a theatre. Visitations takes place at the Drake Hotel and various locations surrounding it). You are very much a part of the adventure right from the moment you arrive.

As soon as we arrived at the Drake, we were promptly greeted and given an envelope with our name on it. We were told that we each had a unique tarot card inside and we were to call the number on the envelope. After we called the number (and got further instructions), we entered the dining room where we got to meet some interesting characters as well as the other 22 participants on this journey. We also noticed that we were starting to get phone calls from a mysterious phone number as well as some pretty cryptic text messages. Plus I was left a pretty creepy hand written napkin and didn’t even notice who left it for me. These actors are sneaky I tell ya!

After all the participants arrived, we were shown a presentation that introduced us to Lucy, her grandfather and the Sabbaticus (an ancient artifact Lucy found in her parents’ attic). We were then divided into 3 groups where we needed to solve clues to learn more about the Sabbaticus and help Lucy on her journey. Each group was given a different mission and a very different leader to follow. Our group ended up at the Beaconsfield, a random alley way, back at the Drake, and at Lucy’s very creepy apartment next door (where there was a very powerful fog machine and lots of black lights).

I don’t want to give away too much as you can still check out performances next week (I believe Tuesday is sold out, but tickets may still be available for the Monday night). I probably wouldn’t recommend this experience to everyone. You have to be a pretty adventurous theatre goer and can just go with the flow as not everything always makes sense. Your guides on the journey are super enthusiastic and into their characters – but really what you get out of the experience is based on how much you are willing to participate. Asking questions and discussing clues with other members of your group really makes this experience fun and unique (and literally ‘one-of-a-kind’). You never knew what was going to happen next and were a little confused by the end of it. Great fun for a Sunday night though!