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

Autumnal Musings…

Distraction seems to have got a hold of me & I’m compelled to blame the changing season this time. However, autumn and the glory of colors that entail aren’t just mere distractions. Soothing greens change to glimmering golds and although it doesn’t technically conform to the science of alchemy, they bear with them a promise of euphoria. 

Summer is long gone and with it the burst of sunshine pouring through our diaphanous curtains. I awoke to a grey, gloomy sky and though for some it qualifies a few extra sleep hours, the silvery silky sky and the the soft rain behoove me to indulge in a walk. I don my long gray coat over a thick grey sweater only to realize my sartorial preferences are blending perfectly with my surroundings. Save for the fall foliage, the sky, the facades of historic buildings & the modern skyscrapers with glistening window panes are swathed in shades of grey. Drizzles of rain nonchalantly knock against my umbrella as I circle & navigate around the pathways of Toronto. A crisp breeze and ripples of chills accompany me. Neighboring pedestrians carry sprouted umbrellas and walk briskly while I amble tardily, permitting the rain to soak me. For the moment, Audrey Hepburn croons to Henry Mancini’s ‘Moon River’ on my phone.

A dimly lit cafe beckons me to enter. Luckily I never leave home without a book. I’m soon sipping sweet, honeyed black tea, seated on a high chair, facing a massive glass window on which the rainy water drops have created bizarre patterns. Erin Morgenstern’s, ‘The Night Circus’ absorbs me, only for a bit though. Soon, I’m engrossed in the picture painted outside. Streams of cars buzz across the street. People are wordlessly rushing while a poor, homeless man displays a sign for want of spare change. His furry labrador is snuggled close silently watching the scene in black & white. A man in a turquoise jacket waits under the cafe awning hoping for the rain to stop pitter pattering. A bicycle is parked right out front and it’s saddle, a wet mess. The ground I imagine is gladly welcoming the rain after a parched three summer months. I click many mental pictures before exiting.

The hues of leaves appear darker in the rain, more vibrant, more pronounced. Most make their home on the tree as they gently sway in muffled whispers. The rest are drenched thoroughly but ornately studded over the concrete of the footpath….a beautiful disarray. I make a mental note to capture this in a water colour painting. These are after all, fleeting moments. Evanescent. Soon, barren tree branches will be laced by flurries of snow and the ground, a pristine white spectacle. The crimsons & golds will vanish in the blink of an eye because Mother Nature never falters. Autumn will valiantly bid goodbye and leave us wistfully waiting….

img_3206
img_0509img_0426

I will be back soon with Italian adventures. Until then, Ciao!

 

Black Creek Pioneer Village

History like many other subjects, fascinates, piques curiosity and thereby encourages learning. In my opinion, also the easiest means to achieve time travel. It’s almost silly to consider it redundant in the present times considering it renders a clear perspective into the challenging times of the days gone by, invoking a deep sense of gratitude & humility. I personally,  jump at any chance that demands turning back the tapes of time and reliving the glories of a labyrinthine past.”Living vicariously”, they say. I was constantly enwrapped in an unfathomable awe whether it was when I stepped into the colossal halls of the Mysore Palace (in South India) or as we strolled across rows and rows of crystal ware from Belgium in the Udaipur Palace in Rajasthan, leaching out questions like how they lived or how they cooked or how they dressed. Even the simplest of things like spotting an old brass utensil or an intricately painted Minakari ceiling can be riveting. Well preserved chunks of the past coupled with a figment of one’s imagination is capable of doing wonders.(Now that I think about it, that’s probably the only reason I watch Downton Abbey. The beaded “tea” length dresses, cloche hats & headbands were enough reason for me to tune in every week. ) Continue reading “Black Creek Pioneer Village”

CASA LOMA

Sir Henry Pellatt, a business visionary & philanthropist from Ontario, Canada, began the construction of a dream home, CASA LOMA (Spanish for Hill House),  in midtown Toronto in 1911. Years later, it would become a famous landmark with a ticket counter guarding the entrance and a grey stone monument that countless tourists would check off from a “must see” list.
Reeling back into history, the camelot built for 3.5 million dollars, took 3 years of labor and was ornamented with artwork from around the world. Tall ceilings, oak floorings,mahogany & walnut walls, glorious chandeliers, rooms painted with wedgewood blue, a wine cellar in the basement and a pre requisite for any castle: secret passages….they’re all there and more.  Continue reading “CASA LOMA”

Winter, Snow, & the New Year

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up so snug, you know with a white quilt, and perhaps it says, ‘Go to sleep darlings, till summer comes again’.”
– Lewis Caroll, Alice in Wonderland

This morning, the first day of the new year, I unwillingly opened my eyes from the comfort of sleep,  only to see that Mother Nature had decided to surprise us with a shower of delicate flurries. I was snuggled up in the warmth of my home as I stared at an enchanting scene outside my window. Continue reading “Winter, Snow, & the New Year”

THE AUTUMN COLLECTION ’15

“Autumn, the year’s last, loveliest smile.”
– Willim Cullen Byrant

Summer has come to an end with the disappearance of warm breeze and pretty clusters of flowers.October has begun with the crisp air and cold breeze. But it brings along with it, leaves painted with amber & auburn, crimson & rose, ochre & rust.
I will let the pictures to all the talking in this photo essay….The colours of the fall!…at Edward Gardens, Toronto. Continue reading “THE AUTUMN COLLECTION ’15”