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…

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Embracing Winter…

Glass Half Empty
There were days when my whiny cantankerousness welcomed winter. Admittedly, I was a brat then. Unappreciative of Mother Nature’s simplistic attire. I coveted sunshine, my ignorant mind misconstruing rays for happiness. Floral bounties and barefoot walks along the beach became the sole harbingers of joy. I succumbed to an intense yearning for warmth, failing to accept uncertainty & more so, change. A change that is entailed by the necessity for balance. I was blinded by my own stubborn resolve. I visioned winter to be a scorned witch on a broomstick, armed with unbridled blustery winds in one hand and frigidity in the other, constantly battle ready. I wasn’t one to surrender, I fought hard, cursed and complained. If seasons had sounds then summer was synonymous with Mozart’s harmonious symphonies while winter screamed of dissonance screeching like a  rockstar’s broken electric guitar.

No more.

Glass Half Full
The blinds have snapped off and the mind is finally eager to embrace nature’s vivid transformation. Winter’s mellifluous songs are naturally muted if I snobbishly turn a deaf ear. I realize the solution is by far, simple. My only task remains to let myself go. Perhaps if I attempt to embrace the cold, maybe I could avoid huddling in torture. Perhaps if I extend one hand, She will too. Once the answers unveiled themselves, in other words, once the attitude changed, the rest was easy. My mind’s eye was finally ready to feel the season, Glass Half Full.
Emboldened by the faux fur parka, the breeze fortified by frost has become less intimidating. The somber, gloomy mornings have never posed a problem since they have a way of romanticizing the day. The natural, obvious beauty around helps too and Niagara on the Lake, a little town exhibits it immensely : Leafless trees move fearlessly with the gales, their skinny branches bent & curved like they’re in the midst of an intense ballet recital. They mingle with each other, like socialites reveling at a soiree . Whispering gossip also possibly discussing when the heavens will lace their elegant arms with flurries.
Velvety earth culminating after a fresh flurry offers a gentle cushioning for weary feet but the aspect of impish fun comes into play when there’s a generous snowfall and there are mountains of snow to carefully roll and fling at the husband!
Window sills and picket fences lined with green fern and crimson berries and wreaths in silver and gold make up for the lackluster as do brightly lit trees and reindeer topiaries and iridescent ornaments hanging from branches.
There are a couple of pictures below that our thickly gloved hands captured on the phone. (They’re from Niagara on the Lake, a little town that appears to have taken a leap off of Gilmore Girls, a television series based in a similar town called Stars Hollow. I’ll reserve another post to walk you through this quaint piece of calm.)
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Additionally I’m sharing also, a recipe, one of the many festive bakes I indulged in this past month. Food tends to add a sense of ease especially if it involves excessive amounts of sugar.
These are bite sized Mini Chocolate Cupcakes spruced with Peppermint, a flavor that categorizes as a staple in my opinion, in the holiday season. A grand crown of rich White Chocolate Frosting is assiduously placed. The frosting is a rendezvous between a scarlet red and white, much like the striped peppermint candy.
The mint gently masks the sugar. The chocolate counteracts the bout of freshness. They go hand in hand, entwined in sweet romance and to me, their clandestine affair, just came to light.
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Recipe for Mini Chocolate-Peppermint Cupcakes with White Chocolate Frosting ( Makes 12 Mini Cupcakes)
Ingredients for Eggless Cupcakes

1/2 cup All purpose flour
1/3 cup Brown Sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/3 tsp Baking Soda
1.5 tbsp cocoa powder
A pinch of salt
2 tbsp Canola Oil
1/3 tsp + 1/3 tbsp white vinegar
1-1.5 tsp Peppermint Extract.
1/3rd cup Milk
2 tbsp warm coffee decoction

Ingredients for White Chocolate Frosting (Adapted from Sally’s Bake Blog)
1/2 cup Unsalted Butter(Softened at Room temperature)
85 gms White Chocolate
1 cup Icing sugar
2 tbsp Heavy cream or milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
a pinch of salt

How to make the Cupcakes:
1.  Line your mini cupcake pan with liners and preheat oven to 350F.
2. In a large bowl, sift together dry ingredients: Self Raising Flour, Baking Soda, Baking Powder and Cocoa Powder.
3. To this , add Brown Sugar and give it a good mix.
4. Next, in go the wet ingredients: Canola Oil, Peppermint Extract, 1/3tbsp white vinegar.
5. In a cup mix milk and 1/3 tsp white vinegar to make buttermilk. Add the buttermilk to the cake mix in the large bowl and mix well to ensure there are no lumps.
6. Mix in the coffee decoction and fill cupcake liners till they are 2/3rds full.
7. Bake for  12-15 minutes.
8. They are done when a toothpick comes out clean.

How to make the Frosting:
1. Whisk together butter, milk/heavy cream, vanilla essence together in a large bowl using a hand mixer or a stand mixer, until soft and creamy.
2. Add icing sugar in parts and keep whisking.
3. In a separate bowl, add chopped white chocolate and microwave for 20 sec. Remove, stir and repeat. Twice should do but if not melted after stirring, repeat once more.
4. Add the tempered chocolate to the buttercream as you whisk.
5. Whisk for 3-4 minutes until nice and creamy.
6. Pipe onto completely cooled cupcakes.
7. I added the icing into a bag with Wilton 6B tip in and lined with crimson colored food coloring.
Happy New Year everyone!

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”

#peppermint dark hot chocolate & #peppermint white hot chocolate

” Charlie put the mug to his lips, and as the rich warm creamy chocolate ran through his throat into his empty tummy, his whole body from head to toe began to tingle with pleasure, and a feeling of intense happiness spread over him.”
– Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Continue reading “#peppermint dark hot chocolate & #peppermint white hot chocolate”

#Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting- Eggless

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Is it humanly possible to not love a red velvet cupcake with it’s smooth & rich cream cheese frosting? The husband and me don’t think so. When we first entered the land of abundance, USA in 2010, it was mid October and coming from a place like Bangalore in India, the crisp breeze of the fall almost felt like winter . I wasn’t well equipped either and was intently observing people on the streets trying to make some sense of the boots & jackets. I was cold and prefered staying snuggled in the comforts of my blanket rather than explore a new place which unlike me, my husband was eager to do.

Continue reading “#Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting- Eggless”