Kensington Market, Toronto

When asked about my favorite place in Toronto, I answered with a straight face & without a second thought , “Kensington Market!”. The thought that immediately followed this proclamation, was hardly nonchalant in character. It was one of surprise laced by curiosity. The answer, I had assumed, would be a tad different; Perhaps the speckless boardwalk paralleling the serene waters of Lake Ontario, maybe the hygge-ligt coffee shop that offers safe haven in the boisterous winter months, even possibly the grey-stoned castle, Casa Loma. Despite these choices,  I had chosen one of the most crowded, loudest markets on the fringes of Spadina Avenue as my favorite spot in the city.
Why? I write this as an answer to you and and to myself.

IMG_2894It was the early days of spring 2016 when the  husband and me first ambled along the streets of  Kensington Market. The said weekday morning was engulfed in grey and bereft of color. However, as we strolled along the narrow lanes for the next hour, all shades from the grey scale seemed to have evaporated into thin air. Walls flanking these alleys spoke their own arcane language, some in a mellow peach, some in an enchanting scarlet red, some in a fierce orange, others in a somber blue and most times in a jumbled jargon. Like a town submerged in colour, the color-wheel has been spun and every hue extracted, saturated & splashed in every nook. A wild, beautiful disarray, much like my watercolor palette.  I will confess, much of the art is indecipherable to me, mostly abstract but, that doesn’t mean the art doesn’t command attention & appreciation. This market has in its arsenal, a plethora of colors and a walk in these streets, in the midst of such rampant art was ostensibly all that gloomy morning demanded.
Blog.jpg

Kensington Market at its heart is a multicultural community with a littering of diverse shops. While an artist crafts modern, string jewelry on a little table plopped on the street , behind him, a front yard is ornate with traditional embroidered clothing from India; its entrance hosting a painting of our very own Elephant God. A little store houses Jamaican souvenirs, a quaint shop carries blocks of guava jelly from Brazil while another hosts a fragrant turmeric-coconut paste. I scoured the entire city for a Lebanese Pomegranate Molasses when all I had to do was spend a few seconds in one of the blessed stores here. Like all regulars, I too have a few that hold a special place in my heart.

First, the fromagerie. Oui! Blocks of artisanal cheese sit here in shared silence, some, works of art brimming with mystery. But more importantly, a far cry from my childhood’s concept of cheese: a little square block of Amul, hidden within the secure confines of a silver foil.( Unwrapped, grated and generously tucked into a sandwich. Always a pleasant, comforting sight in the lunch box). This on the other hand is akin to walking into a room full of unknown people. (Ironically, I’m mildly acquainted with creamy chunks of Goat Cheese, greasy melts of Mozzarella, soft spheres of bocconccini, salty shavings of parmesan, buttery cuts of brie). I am thoroughly buoyed by this find, but mostly overwhelmed, a tad intimidated. But the answer can be mindlessly simple, isn’t it? All I need is to foray into that unknown more often, ask more questions, haul back more loot, eat more cheese, eat lots of cheese. C’est Bon!
Blog1.jpg

And second, the book shop. Here, a sea of books are crammed and corralled in the an old hidden nook, almost clandestine. The nook itself, tiny, one that is discovered by curiosity alone & one, where night is same as day. The books, blanketed by dust and waiting to spill a million stories. The air more heavy with tumbling words than anything else.
A serendipitous tryst with ‘Vellichor'( meaning= the strange wistfulness of used bookshops).
IMG_3683

And thirdly, the vegetable and fruit market. Admittedly, the bounteous fresh produce flaunting water droplets shimmering from a recent spray, has a perpetual effect on my hunger. I hop around the serpentine store with a mind on overdrive and a mangle of recipes as I glean to possess the most vibrant of seasonal harvest. The five kinds of squashes showstopping in their fall themed hues and the table masked by the verdant leafy family only encouraging me to harness my greed and take more than what I need.
Blog2
Not that I don’t value a burgeoning diversity, although, it tends to become all the more special when it envelopes food. I do hope you’re hungry!
Few escape the charm that churros exude. Hardly a surprise. They unleash sweet, deep-fried, cinnamon-coated goodness. For the ones yearning a few more spoonfuls of sugar, the chocolate sauce and condensed milk do the needful.(I apologize for the lack of a picture. I’m so drawn by this sweet escape that it completely slips my mind.)

An organic curry and salad outlet with its sunshine soaked patio seats and an intent for simplicity allows us to guiltlessly give in to lazy summer weekends. A cardboard box carries in its enclosure: brown rice, a smattering of quinoa and ladles of chickpea-rajma curry. There is a certain comfort lent by stirring rice and its liquid accompaniment, then savoring a warm morsel, even under a blazing sun. I refrain from using my hands but only if I did, home would be a lot closer than I thought.
IMG_7242.jpg

If one favors steamed Indian modaks, the Japanese Mochi isn’t too different. They both generously lend similar textures and wholesome fillings. What does differ though is the bite of fresh summer fruits and a hint of sweet from the red bean paste in the mochi.  They parley into fun( to put it bluntly) summer foods, all the while heeding to that forever starved sweet tooth.
IMG_6792

We’re not ones to every deny a good gelato and while Kensington Market boasts of more than a handful of these summer essentials, a little something called a Mexican Paleta has rightfully taken its place in our lives. While essentially being fruit popsicles, their snazzy flavor profiles like Mango-chilli & Tamarind-chilli attract a strong temptation.
IMG_0305
Of course, waffles and popcorn and juice bars and peanut-butter-banana sandwiches and a motley crew of food can keep one company too.

Under the bonhomie summer sun, the warm air , ebullient colours and faces agleam with smiles, life appears a tad bit more cheerful. The poetic riot of colours, the hustle-bustle, the need to cleverly snake through berserk crowds, the high-pitched conversations: all oddly part of the joie de vivre moment. And you know where else that happens? The chaotic markets of Bangalore, the loud bazaars back home. Looks like I found my answer.

Reminiscing the holiday season – Toronto Christmas Market

We are moments away from the burgeon of spring and the blazing sun. The cold will soon be vanquished by bursting clusters of flowers dripping from balconies. The mellow, cloudy mornings and flurried side walks, snow peppered rooftops and tree branches sheathed in ice….the harbingers of winter will  depart for their temporary hiatus. Soon, sunshine will storm through diaphanous curtains and light will flood. It is a good, beautiful thing, I know. That doesn’t mean however that the gray skies aren’t…
It has dawned upon me that I have warily erased the memories of the magical Toronto Christmas Market and since I’m caught in a race against time, we now travel back to the holidays.
It was a calm winter morning, a few gentle flurries here and there, when the husband and me boarded bus 121 to visit the market. The temperatures had just begun to dip and it was a freezing -2 degrees C. The venue, Distillery District, with its usual rustic red bricked charm had undergone an obvious transformation. “Possibly into the North Pole”, I mused!
Winter may seem long but the holiday season tends to vanish in the blink of an eye. Amid quivering chills and bustling winds, they tend to be a much coveted warm hug. The ornamented ferns and conifers, the gleaming shades of crimson and emerald, the cinnamon and peppermint infused lattes and teas, the food, the festivities, the sugar & smiles. It’s best to give in to its thrall and captivity. Best to enjoy the dalliance. So we did!

A colossal Christmas tree stood in the centre of the square, bedecked with ribbons and shimmering festoons. Swarming visitors hogged a portion of the tree whilst they had their pictures taken for the quintessential Christmas photo. I wasn’t one to shy away. The tree, however large, was only a miniscule portion of the magic. The organizers had gone the whole nine yards in enthralling their visitors. Twinkling lights danced along red bricked walls & glimmering decorations hung from every corner while wafts of sweet apple cider, cinnamon & chocolate tickled the olfactory senses. Soaking in the boisterous, festive cheer was mandatory here. The air beckoned an escape, an escape to wonderland, to childhood even.

Little gingerbread houses lined the sidewalks, complete with white rooftops. They were really, makeshift shops that allowed visitors to indulge in food & drink & make merry. The husband & me had deliberately skipped breakfast and after a quick prayer to the calorie Gods, we devoured delicacies  like there was no tomorrow.
Grilled cheese was an essential, of course. Warm, melted cheddar spilling generously from sour dough bread deserves a heaven of it’s own. Hot chocolate was gulped following the cheesy expedition. Fortified by carbohydrates we marched into SOMA. Soma chocolatiers makes them as hot chocolate should be….warm but not hot, mildly sticky and recklessly loaded with dark chocolate. The sugar on the other hand is subtle, leaving one hankering for more. What they also do is go the extra mile and make it intense with the addition of spices like cinnamon and ginger. Almost bearing a mystical quality . As we huddled in a dark, cosy corner of the store and sipped our drinks, I realised, that everything was in fact, perfectly all right with the world! Hot chocolate tends to do that.
A man bundled in a fluffy jacket and two woollen scarves smiled at us as he watched his little mini doughnuts rise up the bubbling oil. It was a welcome. One we wouldn’t deny. Six doughnuts occupied a little cardboard box and they were deluged with a luscious, ruby red strawberry sauce. The cold sauce helped balance the heat from the doughnuts and rendered a tart sweetness. It was Toronto’s smashing answer to the -2degrees.Imaginably we scarfed them down in no time.

” We need souvenirs”, we thought as we ambled along the streets of the old distillery, now an outdoor mall for gourmet foods, couture clothing and art galleries. Little cookies dressed vibrantly in royal icing was an ideal take- home token that could soon be coupled & enjoyed with the afternoon tea session.
Distillery District houses an antique store and is studded with old typewriters, weathered albeit pretty cupcake pans , teacups stained with vintage rose patterns and more. It was a safe haven from the chiding weather outdoors & people gave in to the warmth & coziness as they rummaged through shelves & shelves of used homeware. Nestled among these ancient treasures are BOOKS.
Tattered pages and battered leather bindings but brimming with life and stories from the past. I wondered about the past owners of this antique book and if I may possibly stumble upon notes or letters hidden in the crevices. I gently parted book after book with my fingers, ensuring they were handled with care and picked up Joy Street by Frances Parkinson Keyes. As we boarded bus 121 to head back home, I was smiling ear to ear as a  little secret wish had materialized itself, that of adorning my bookshelf with an antique book. All in all, a magical day.

Do take a tour of this beautiful market through the husband’s pictures…

TorontoChristmasMarket1TorontoChristmasMarket2IMG_3127

The Mountains Are Calling…Canadian Rockies – 2

It’s time once again to dive into the world of the “Rockies”….the lofty mountains, their million mysteries, the stories they unravel and the lessons they teach.  Part -1 was a gateway into this world and I assure you, you’ll soon witness their beauty multiplying by a manifold.
A chance encounter was meeting an adventure enthusiast, Vince, on the flight to Calgary. Fully equipped with a heavy backpack & hiking necessities, he generously informed us about the spectacular journey we were about to embark upon, replete with worthwhile tips. As he patiently led us through his Instagram page, I quickly related to his avidity. The long & short of it: in a few moments, enriched with information, spellbound & raring to explore, a short four hour flight seemed like fourteen!
Magic unfurled before us & I hope to share some of that magic with you….Welcome!
Banff Day 3 191_2_3_tonemapped.jpg

 ICEFIELDS PARKWAY & JASPER

Icefields Parkway
Reverie occupied me for the most as we drove the 233 km stretch from Banff to Jasper aka the Icefields Parkway. Nature undeniably, has a way of inducing positive thoughts & casting aside daunting fears (or is it just me?). Petty anxieties effortlessly took a back seat as I completely surrendered to the beauty unveiling itself and a contrasting plethora of emotions overcame me….joy, awe & immense gratitude.
On either side of the road, mountains rose high, their pinnacles touching the sky, encapsulated by swirling, silvery mist & snow caps. Clad in the greenest of conifers, they signify endurance to me. Raindrops pelted at times but that only meant greener greens and more beauty to soak in. Spring ensued a burst of yellow flowers bordering these peaks while rivers gurgled and splayed below. Although hiking paths and camping sites are in plenty here, we were happy to drink in the treasure from afar. Since  every corner screams of nature’s wonder, the eyes caught themselves in a frenzy of confusion owing to not knowing where to look. Every glimpse is a beatific scenery, a flawless painting, a picture you want to keep for eternity.
A fair warning though….like the many things in life, there is a high chance you can take these impassible mammoths for granted. Hours of looking at them familiarized me far too much, only to realize three days later that it may be eons before I see them again….will feel like it at least!
Banff Day 3 188_89_90_tonemapped

(Picture on the Right: The Icefields Parkway seen from Big Bend)
Athabasca Glacier
The Athabasca Glacier, adorning proudly a portion of the Icefields Parkway,  is part of the Columbia Icefields, the largest Ice Field in the Rocky Mountains of North America. Posing as a challenge and a paradise for mountaineers & skiers, the Columbia Icefields have a deep history.
Athabasca forms one of the major glaciers fed by the Icefields and the husband & me decided to hike up a short distance. The last time I witnessed a massive expanse of snow was back in 2010 in Jersey while we thwarted a blizzard to say hello to Lady Liberty. Gusts of wind, a -2 degree temperature and not being adequately warmed by coats ensured I ignore the velvety fresh snow that blanketed the ground. What I remember vividly is the sprawling white that overtook the grey of the concrete & the green of the grass. The Athabasca Glacier provided a slightly similar experience…..although devoid of fresh snow, the expanse of pristine white ice and blustery winds brought back a surge of memories.
(More about activities offered here in my Travel Tips below)
Alarmingly, climate change is cause for the glacier to currently recede at the rate of 5 mts per year(16ft) and if this continues, there will be very little left in 100 years. A new forest will begin to flourish and a lake may begin to form too. Since 1885 the Athabasca has lost more than 60% of its volume. That’s over 350 million cubic mts of ice.  Within the next three generations, the Athabasca Glacier and the water it provides to communities across Western North America may almost disappear and this undoubtedly is cause for worry.
Banff Day 3 266_7_8_tonemapped
Banff Day 3 283

Sunwapta Falls & Lodge
The Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge materialized as a home for the next two days. Encircled by mountains & spotted with adorable rustic wooden cottages, this place is highly recommended if you ever plan a vacation to this side of Canada. It doesn’t hurt that the food is fabulous and the thunderous Sunwapta Falls is a stone’s throw way!
It comes as no surprise that early mornings bring out the best in mountains and lounging in the patio whilst sipping tea and a book in hand, I remember being ambushed by a surge of melancholy. Why you ask? A picture perfect scenario such as this only deserves glee and laughter. Well, my mind was apparently bent upon racing ahead and dreading the rapidly arriving goodbyes….


A 5 minute walk from the lodge (yes 5 minutes!) leads up to the falls and while the husband had a field day capturing this sparkling majesty, I basked in the glistening waters & morning sunshine. Hiking trails are plenty in the area and we succumbed to one. Not long though, just enough to burn off the hash browns we ravenously devoured for breakfast!
(By the way, this photograph was captured just before sunset)
Sunwapta 023

This concludes our journey to the magnificent Canadian Rockies. I’m going to skip the next part because it ain’t pretty….Bidding goodbye is unpleasant and while we have loads of pictures & memories to hold onto, my selfish heart yearns for more….

Thank you for reading and do take a peek at my Travel Tips:)

My “additional” two cents
-The drive along Icefields Parkway is about 3 hours (with no stops) and there are no food or snack shops. It’s advisable to squirrel away some light food which can either be purchased from Banff or Jasper Town depending on where you are.

-Athabasca Glacier activities – 1) A ride on the glassy surface of the glacier itself called the                                                                  Ice Explorer.
2) A walk along the cliff edged Glacier Skywalk
We didn’t choose to participate. However, they can be done if you have time to spare.

-Jasper Town is about an hour’s drive from the Sunwapta Rocky Mountain Lodge. You can choose to stay there too. There are plenty of hotels, restaurants and it’s a quaint, pretty little town to hang out, eat & walk around. Similar to Banff Town, every tiny street opens to mountains and is beyond beautiful.

– The weather here is unreliable owing to the high altitudes and it’s better to carry a warm jacket at all times. The rough terrain undoubtedly demands a good pair of hiking shoes.

-Ours was a 5 day trip. Here’s the itenary,
Day 1: Lake Moraine & Lake Loiuse
Day 2: Johnston Canyon & exploring Banff Town
Day 3: Breakfast & a short trip to Lake Moraine followed by a 4-5 hour drive (owing to tons of photo stops) to Sunwapta Falls
Day4: Exploring Jasper
Day 5: Return to Calgary and back to Toronto

{If you haven’t already, please do read Part-1 of our journey HERE .
Do check out more pictures by the husband at : Deepak Mohan Photography
And, for more information, tips & photographs, do stop by our friend Vince’s website : Adventure By Nature }

The Niagara – A song of ice & fire

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever”, said John Keats. I’m no expert in the literary arts but I can safely proclaim that the most cliched line from this famous poem, perfectly extols the Niagara Falls. One glimpse and it’s a revelation that something so mammoth & magnanimous is capable of exuding grace in equal measure. Having experienced the phenomenon from New York & Ontario, I can safely say that despite mesmerizing views from both countries, the experience remains constant, in other words,  extraordinary.USA or Canada, I didn’t flinch before thanking the creator for no beauty stands before nature. When Dan Brown describes the Hagia Sophia in Inferno, he says, “a physical space so imposing that that those who entered felt dwarfed, their ego erased, their physical being and cosmic importance shrinking to the size of a mere speck in the face of God….an atom in the hands of the Creator.” The cascading waters of the Niagara can put into effect a similar starking reality.  Continue reading “The Niagara – A song of ice & fire”

O Canada at Ottawa

The summer of 2015, saturated with a searing yet welcome heat, led us to explore the capital of Canada, among other places. Ottawa, which is about a 4 hour drive from Toronto, Ontario, was more than just a weekend getaway. Being month old Canadian residents, we were glad to be able to imbibe local history and what better place to do that than at the capital. We had ensured we had more than enough time to check off popular spots, stroll around the off beaten paths & scour the food scene at the Byward market. Continue reading “O Canada at Ottawa”

Thousand Islands, Gananoque

“Once you have travelled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over & over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.”
– Pat Conroy

June ’15. We had just moved into another continent , 9000 miles away from India,  hauling hefty suitcases & heaps of memories. Admittedly, we’ve done this a multitude of times : move to a new place, set up, stay, move. But the truth is, what is repetition in the face of new beginnings in new cities. And we’ve been able to gather snippets of culture & tradition from all the places we’ve called home. Continue reading “Thousand Islands, Gananoque”

Bruce Peninsula, Ontario

“Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.”
– William Wordsworth

Bruce Peninsula is a close drive from Toronto (around 3 hours) and a good one at that! Let me explain why….Flanked on either side of the road are acres of delicate yellow spring flowers basking in the sun, almost like a can of yellow paint was spilled onto earth, in long strips and then given life to form blooms. William Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’ is almost apt!
“I wandered lonely as a cloud, 
That floats on high o’er vales and hills, 
When all at once I saw a crowd,. 
A host of golden daffodils”

But of course, I’ve stated before, I come from the land of Bollywood where dancing around trees is a norm. I couldn’t help but give in to memories of SRK & Kajol romancing in yellow mustard fields in DDLJ! Take a look… Continue reading “Bruce Peninsula, Ontario”