Category Archives: Food

Summer in the City

Spring has given way to summer with a sudden shock of heat and numerous street festivals. While Toronto’s Pride Festival has grown over the years, this year we’re hosting World Pride (June 20-29) and expect to entertain over a million people! Some years, the popular Taste of the Danforth (August 8-10) has drawn over a million! Personally, I can’t handle crowds this big (unless I’m onstage!), so I get more enjoyment from smaller festivals. While festivals shut down roads, they make pedestrians (like me!) very happy. They offer an excuse to wander about, camera in hand, enjoying the day. During June, I’ve hung out at three such festivals.

The Annex Festival on Bloor was a neighbourhood street festival held between Spadina and Bathurst on the afternoon of Sunday, June 8. While there were food and craft vendors, demonstrations, music and kids’ events, it seemed a bit lack lustre. The late-afternoon rain probably didn’t help. No idea what attendance numbers were, but it’s a relatively small neighbourhood event.

Kids playing in the bouncy castle; Annex Festival on Bloor

Kids playing in the bouncy castle; Annex Festival on Bloor

Superman kneads dough at the Annex Festival

Superman kneads dough at the Annex Festival







The Taste of Little Italy was held the weekend of June 13-15 along College. I wandered its length from Bathurst to Shaw and back again early Saturday afternoon. It was notably busier on the way back, but I suspect it’s craziest in the evening. While I haven’t found attendance numbers, I suspect that over the three days attendance is in the hundreds of thousands, but it’s spread out both geographically and temporally, so it doesn’t feel particularly crowded. Similar to the Annex Festival, Taste of Little Italy has food and craft vendors, music, and stuff for kids; it’s simply more plentiful and splendid. Numerous restaurants along the strip extend into the street with portable kitchens, so cooking smells pervade the air. Bands play at four different venues throughout each day and evening, with music ranging from traditional Italian to rock; sometimes traditional dancers add to the festivities. At each end of the festival, away from the crowds, kids’ rides and amusement activities are set up. Because this year’s festival coincided with the FIFA World Cup, event organizers also constructed an enormous video wall inside a large licensed beer tent, so fans could come down and watch Italy play. Team jerseys were in evidence and clearly this year’s festival attracted lots of soccer fans. The highlight of my day was relocating Dolce Gelato so I could enjoy two scoops, one of cioccolato and one of pistachio Siciliano, a taste sensation I discovered with my Dad when I was seven and we were living in Rome.

Traditional dancing at the Taste of Little Italy

Traditional dancing at the Taste of Little Italy

Little Paco--an Italian soccer fan

Little Paco–an Italian soccer fan







Steam on Queen was the afternoon of June 21 at the historic Campbell House on Queen at University. As well as attracting vendors and entertainers, what I love about this festival is that it also encourages grown-up dress-up in vintage or steampunk fashion. While some of the vendors are local, many travel from out of province to sell their wares. Some sell vintage or handmade clothing, others sell jewellery or other trinkets handmade from repurposed watch parts and found objects. The entertainment is somewhat esoteric, including acrobatic rope work, belly dancing and a theremin player. Inside Campbell House, was a display of the inventions of R. Phinius Bodine (aka Russell Zeid, an educator from the Ontario Science Centre). Also on display inside Campbell House were some props and rushes from a remake of the 1927 Fritz Lang silent film Metropolis (at least that was my understanding… I might be wrong).

A dashing steampunk gentleman

A dashing steampunk gentleman

Very glad that this steampunk insect is caged!

Very glad that this steampunk insect is caged!






Not sure what mischief I’ll get up to in July, but I’m on the look-out!

Dr Zeid  accosted by one of his own weapons (by me!)

Dr Zeid accosted by one of his own weapons (by me!)

© Catherine Jenkins 2014 all rights reserved

Fall 2008

When I was a kid, my Mum returned to her agricultural roots and got into natural foods. She went back to making jam and jelly, pickles and home canning. What that meant was that when the strawberries were ripe in the fields, some of us would go and pick them at a pick-your-own berry farm. Then some of us would help her make jam and freeze individual bags of berries for the winter. She’d make strawberry parfait for desert at Christmas dinner; nothing tastes quite as magical as a fresh strawberry when the snow is on the ground. Throughout the summer and fall, we’d take trips to the Peterborough Farmers’ Market to buy various kinds of produce that she’d store in the cold cellar in the basement, freeze, can or pickle.

I too have developed the habit of preserving the summer and fall bounty, putting food away when it’s in season so I don’t have to buy expensive imports in the winter. I’ve made jams and pickles. I’ve canned (which is to say bottled) peaches, plums and apricots. I’ve frozen blueberries, strawberries and cherries. And I’ve done other experiments, some of which weren’t successful. I feel like I’ve got it down to a science now. I know how to process things for the best results for my taste.

One of the things my mother taught me was to buy locally. That was part of the reason for going to the Farmer’s Market. These were Peterborough area farmers. By buying directly from them, we were supporting local farmers and the local economy. It also meant we were cutting out the middleman retailer and that meant saving money. You could buy produce that was fresher and for a lower price than you could in the supermarket. And although we weren’t thinking about it then, it also meant that the produce was only driven a few miles, minimizing pollution and the cost of transportation.

But things are different now and in the big city. If you time it right, at the peak of the growing season, usually you can find baskets of locally grown produce at the grocery store at a reasonable price. I don’t know what happened this year. When I went to buy strawberries, the first local crop I look for, I discovered that I could buy Californian, even Californian organic strawberries, at the grocery store for considerably less than I could buy locally grown. Keep in mind that gas prices are through the roof and there’s been a lot of talk about how the price of imported produce was going to skyrocket as a consequence of increasing transportation costs.

A new Farmers’ Market was established in my neighbourhood this summer. I thought, great! I’ll be able to get locally grown produce at a reasonable price. Wrong! Their prices, not just for strawberries, but for all produce, was double to triple that of the grocery stores! What gives? I sent e-mails to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Greenbelt Ontario and Farmers’ Markets Ontario to see if they had an explanation. All were very supportive of my efforts to buy locally, both for economic and environmental reasons. The rise in price, they pointed out, was due to the rise in fuel costs. This still doesn’t make sense to me. Surely the rise in fuel costs would effect US growers too; surely it costs more to ship produce 3500 kilometres than 50? Taxes and wages are higher here than in the US; but hasn’t that always been the case? Why would that cause a sudden sharp increase this year?

All espoused the virtues of buying local produce because it’s fresher and mentioned that consumers are willing to spend more for freshness. One actually noted that consumer demand at Farmers’ Markets is in some cases outstripping supply. Now we’re getting somewhere. The most telling response was from the representative of Farmers’ Markets Ontario, the people who sponsor this new local market. He stated that they “rely on freshness and the ‘market experience.'” Ah, now we have it. We’re not in small-town, rural Peterborough anymore; we’re in the big city where people have more money. We can charge a little extra because city folks are happy to pay for the experience, although a few booths in a downtown parking lot isn’t the market experience I remember. He stated that their farmers work really hard; I’m certainly not disputing that, but so do farmers everywhere. Farming, even with expensive gas-run machinery, means long hours and enormous physical demand. He also cited that some of their farmers drive 200 kilometres or more and this means their profits are very low. Wait a minute, 200 kilometres? I though I was buying local produce. While that’s closer than California, it’s also further than the 100-mile diet suggests (it’s about 125 miles).

I kept looking for a place where I could buy locally grown produce at reasonable prices. And I finally found it. I discovered a small family run green grocer several blocks away. Here, I can buy local produce at the kind of prices I think it should be and considerably less than either the grocery store chains or the new neighbourhood Farmers’ Market. How is this possible? I figure this small store is selling everything at its regular mark-up and they must be making a profit. They’ve been there for years, first as an Italian family run business, now as a Korean family run business. So what’s the difference? They’re not responding to the hype. It’s become fashionable and politically correct to buy local, to support local farmers, to buy products that haven’t done so much environmental damage through transportation. I figure big chain grocery stores and now the Farmers’ Markets are cashing in on this trend by increasing their profits. It’s the only reason I can see for the disparity in price.

Some of us have been buying locally and consciously for years. Now that it’s become fashionable, it’s harder to continue this practice. The only way a green revolution will work is if it’s affordable for everyone, not just the elite with deep enough pockets. So yes, buy local, buy green, but don’t do so blindly. Look for reasonable prices too. Support the small mom-and-pop green grocers. That’s the only way the chain stores and Farmers’ Markets will get the message that although we want to buy green and support local, it also has to be affordable.

© Catherine Jenkins 2008

Jan – Feb 05

A couple of years ago, I remember becoming quite aware of the erosion of the middle-class, how the populace was rapidly dividing into haves and have-nots with not much in between. As that’s where I’ve generally resided, it was quite startling to realize that, as an artist in a society where artists are undervalued, I was rapidly sinking into the class of have-nots. Although I continue to struggle with this, things have been improving and so perhaps I’ve become a little less conscious of this division.

What I’ve noticed more recently, is the erosion of the middle ground, how the populace is rapidly becoming polarized either on the extreme right or the extreme left with not much in between. The 2004 American election is a prime example; the country’s virtually split down the middle, with those on the extreme right bearing arms and those on the extreme left moving north to Canada.

I’ve also noticed an increasing number of vegetarian restaurants, organic foods on the shelves of grocery store chains and not only blue, but now green boxes on curbs, while at the same time hearing news about the ban on Canadian beef, the safety of genetically altered food products and the amount of waste North Americans create and percentage of energy we consume.

As I say, there seems to be a profound polarization, but mostly, I’ve felt really proud to be Canadian this past Christmas season. Canadians gave record amounts to charitable causes instead of subscribing to the typical consumerism that predominantly American businesses shove down our throats. And maybe it was just me avoiding the malls, but I even felt that stores had less Christmas paraphernalia for sale. Many Canadians also chucked their artificial Christmas trees in favour of the traditional live tree and some (like myself) bought potted trees, which hopefully will survive for many Christmases to come. My apartment building got on the bandwagon by installing new water-reduction toilets, shower heads and faucets, just in time for the holidays. I think my sense that I’m on the same wavelength as many other Canadians, has made me feel less marginalized in other ways.

But there’s always more we could do to make our lives more authentic, more conscious, throughout the year; things we can do on a daily basis to in some small way change the world and bring it closer to our personal ideal. For instance, simplifying our lives by simplifying our living environment, recycling or discarding unnecessary stuff. This is something I’m continually working toward, but I still have a way to go. And I’ve realized that when one has a plethora of interests, there’s a tendency to accumulate a plethora of stuff, however, I believe I can reduce quite a bit without losing my trademark clutteredness and I know I’ll feel a lot better for it.

Jeanette Winterson says, “What you eat is the most political thing you can do every day,” and she may be right. Buying locally grown food helps support your local economy. Buying organic helps support a healthier planet. Both enable you to eat fresher, healthier food you can feel good about. Personally, I find cooking, the act of preparing a meal, even if it’s just for myself, very uplifting, creative and calming. Although admittedly I wrestle with the cost issue (organic food in my neighborhood is usually three to four times the cost of mass produced pseudo-food I can buy at the chain grocery store), I keep reminding myself that the greater the demand, the more ready the supply will become and eventually costs should adjust somewhat. Also, you get what you pay for; do you want to consume cheap food if it’s laced with pesticides, raping the soil and keeping suppressed workers suppressed?

I try to buy environmentally friendly household products (i.e., toilet paper, cleansers, detergents, etc.) that aren’t animal tested. There seems to be enough of a market, that the cost of environmentally friendly products is often on par with commercial products from corporations I’d rather not support. Such products are often easier not only on the environment, but also on me and my cats. I recently read that one of the most revolutionary environmental statements one can make is to go back to using a cloth hanky. How many boxes of tissues do you go through in a year?

In my small home office, I generally print paper on both sides (an advantage of an ink jet over a laser printer) and use recycled paper and envelopes. When I’ve used my paper to maximum advantage, I shred it and put it out for further recycling. I wish offices of a more significant size would subscribe to such practices or at least make hefty donations to replanting trees. In some small way they should help make up for the tonnage of new, virgin forest products they go through every year.

With events in Asia at the end of 2004, enormous attention and aid have gone into that region. From reports coming back, at least some of the aid is getting to where it’s needed. It’s great to see the world pulling together in the wake of such a catastrophic natural event, even though there have been political rumblings of various sorts. Now I’m hearing reports that farmers want to return to farming, that fishermen want to return to the sea, but they still lack land, boats and housing. I hope that once the spotlight’s off, these people won’t be forgotten, that international relief efforts won’t cease once the primary crisis has passed. Aid will be required in this region for some time to come as survivors try to reclaim their lives. I hope you’ve made or will make whatever donation your finances allow to one of the many organizations supporting efforts in this region.

While natural disasters remind us that we aren’t really in control of everything, loss of habitat, usually caused by human ignorance, maliciousness or lack of caring, is the primary threat to many animal species. Again, if your finances allow, I urge you to find some way to support pro-animal causes. My personal choice for years has been the World Wildlife Fund ( internationally or in Canada). The presence of animals on the planet makes us more human, more conscious of our status as animals and more conscious of our need to take better care of the earth. At the moment and for quite some time to come, she’s the only planet we’ve got!

And I will continue to support the arts and artists through the various types of work I do and by buying books, attending performances, going to galleries, etc. Why? Because the arts are essential to a quality life, essential for interpreting the world, our emotions and thoughts. The arts are essential for communicating with other members of our species, for leaving something to future generations. Because without the arts, personally, I wouldn’t find life worth living.

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, prosperous 2005. I think this has the potential to be a truly great year.

July Aug 2004

Some time ago, I purchased tickets for my now annual jaunt to the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. After a difficult winter, I was really looking forward to the time out, the time away, then it was suddenly upon me! This week, I took a well-earned break and am feeling much better for it.

It started with a reasonably pleasant drive to NOTL. I have the use of my folks’ car this summer, so was able to listen to CHUM-FM Oldies all the way. Not necessarily my first choice, but fun nevertheless. I didn’t really begin to unwind until I spied my first winery sign, followed by several fruit stands. I knew I was getting close. I got into town with enough time to browse a few of the expensive shops. NOTL is priced for American retirees, still, it’s pleasant to look.

I indulged in dinner at The Shaw Village before the show. I was pleased to note that the rather affronting Leather Shop, which previously existed behind the statue of the ardent vegetarian GBS, had gone. That store has now given over to candles and spa paraphernalia, similar to the site’s original use. Apparently one Henry Pafford (I hope I’ve spelled that correctly. As usual, it was difficult to read my notes.) once established an apothecary and candle shop there. However, I was somewhat amazed that the Shaw Village Café and Wine Bar still serves a Shaw Burger, featuring “half a pound of lean ground beef.” Ah, well. I keep wondering how GBS would’ve reacted.

I sat inside, looking through open French doors, enjoying a Portobello Mushroom with melted Brie, red pepper and onion jam, accompanied by the recommended Kir Royale and really started to relax. I enjoyed the sky, the day, the old trees, the new flowers, jazz playing in the background. Most of the other patrons were old, the staff young; my demographic, almost unique in this atmosphere. I watched the waiter wire patio chairs and tables together so they couldn’t escape… I listened to old folks laughing… I caught an elderly man smiling at me over his wife’s shoulder as he popped the last strawberry into his mouth, while I accidentally slurped my water like a twelve-year-old.

For my main course, I had Mixed Limed Greens with a Chicken Breast, the flaked coconut an unexpected surprise and lovely additional flavour, accompanied by the recommended Riesling. Because I’d gone light on the entrée, I treated myself to a Chocolate Raspberry Tart with a Café au Lait for desert. Normally I eat pretty hand-to-mouth; NOTL is my annual treat, my chance to indulge guilt-free, but only because I choose to leave my guilt at home.

Of course I’m writing all this down as I’m doing it. I always fantasize that the wait staff thinks I’m a food critic when I write while dining. A little Monsieur Pamplemousse moment (a series of comic gastronomic mysteries by Michael Bond… excellent summer reading fare!).

Pleasantly satiated, I walked across the street for my first play, The Importance of Being Earnest. It was a wonderful production of this perfectly constructed comedy, with fast pacing, brilliant timing and a lot of laughs. Although a period piece, many of Wilde’s observations are so accurate, they’re timeless.

I wouldn’t have minded an herbal tea after the show, but not finding anyplace open, I settled for a short walk instead, then went back to the B&B for the best night’s sleep I’ve had in months. I slept later than usual, had a leisurely breakfast and chat with my hostess, Lynn, and then was on my way again.

I got to the theatre about 11 a.m. for an 11:30 start and just missed the last parking space, but was able to find another fairly close by. Everything’s close by in NOTL. My second feature was an event: the complete version of Man & Superman including the Don Juan in Hell sequence… about six hours of play, including two intermissions and a lunch break. Wonderful! Brilliant! Although not all the attendant audience would agree. It was clear from snatches of conversation during breaks, that a few felt put-upon at having to wade through such a long production. So why did they buy these tickets when Shaw is also producing the truncated version of Man & Superman without the play-within-a-play?

Shaw is brilliant! This play, billed by Shaw himself as “A Comedy and A Philosophy” is packed. Now I have to sit down and read it, because I know there were points and arguments I’d like to mull over. Shaw was a mature person and writer when he created this play and his observations of humanity are painfully accurate, yet he consistently writes in a manner that makes us laugh at ourselves. It’s taken me a while to understand how humour is the most disarming and sharpest tool for getting inside people’s heads and under their skins, for getting them to understand unpleasant or difficult things.

And while watching Man & Superman I kept wondering how audiences of the early nineteen-aughts would’ve reacted. I’m certain it must’ve caused quite a stir. Not only was this playwright audacious enough to contrive a six hour play, he also created intelligent female characters and placed members of the clergy in Hell! Simultaneously, I was amazed at how incredibly relevant much of its content still is. That kind of longevity is the mark of true creative genius.

After the play, I wound back to Toronto, feeling elated and relaxed, thought-provoked and creative! It was a wonderful and much-needed respite, an opportunity to think, to recharge and get my priorities back in order.

Since my return, I have not cleaned my apartment, sorted out my balcony, done any commercial work or worried about family matters. Instead, I’ve caught some plays at the Toronto Fringe Festival, gone to a BBQ with my Mum and Dad, read mystery novels, lain in the sun, eaten fruit, played with the cats, drunk cheap wine, relaxed and slept. For almost a whole week. And I honestly don’t remember the last time I did anything so indulgent. It’s certainly been well over a year. Now I’m feeling revved up and ready to get back to my own writing and all the usual stuff (see above), but relieved of much energy wasting stress and worry.

© Catherine Jenkins 2004


August 2003

As hoped, I have taken time off this summer to do some different things. Nothing major, just a day here or there.

On July 30, I joined half a million (or so) of my closest friends and went to see The Rolling Stones at the SARS Benefit in Toronto’s Downsview Park. I got tied up with work so missed the afternoon show, however, I made it in time for the evening acts, which were of more interest to me anyway.

There were an awful lot of people. I reckon the demographic was almost as broad as for the Pope when he was here, although there may not have been much overlap between the two crowds. I could see Mick Jagger, onstage some quarter of a mile away. I couldn’t make out his face or anything, but I could match the movement and clothing colour to what was on the screen and thereby confirm who I was seeing.

We are so Canadian (I mean that in a good way!). Security wasn’t anything like what we’d been threatened. The police turned a blind eye to the dope smokers and dealers. The crowd was well ordered and well behaved. We didn’t rush the stage when we were asked not to. It was possible to travel through the crowd along rivulets of moving people, easing their way around stationary spectators. Beyond doubt, it’s the biggest crowd I’ve ever been part of, so I was glad for its calmness. An interesting experience.

August 14 presented another interesting experience. An electrical power outage blackened most of Ontario and the northeastern US. Personally, I found it quite liberating. Everyone opened their windows, so the sounds of other humans were apparent in the night. The Native drummers down the street started up before sunset and continued until after dark. It felt like a celebration of the natural state overtaking our constructed one.

From my balcony, I watched pedestrians with flashlights walking home and cars trying to navigate the streets, somehow disoriented without overhead or traffic lights. The only illumination was from a few airline warning beacons on tall structures and the Bay Street towers with their own generators. I could see stars and the milky way like I’d never seen them in downtown Toronto. I wondered how different we looked from space at that moment.

I was pleased to discover how well equipped I was, having candles, a flashlight, and a battery-operated radio (although stations kept disappearing into silence). I was quite proud of myself when, craving a comforting cup of tea, I figured out how to boil water using my stainless steel fondue pot and its methyl alcohol burner.

Somehow, it all felt very World War II, but much more placid. There were no planes flying overhead. There were sirens however, lots of them. Shortly after dark, a huge orange-red moon, just past full, rose over the darkened buildings.

In my neighbourhood (probably on the same power grid as several hospitals) the power was reinstated at 10:30 that night, so it was only out for about six hours. At the first indication of light, a joyous hooting and hollering rose from the street, like when the home team wins the Stanley Cup or something. I have to admit I was a little disappointed. I was enjoying the adventure. Many people had time off work the following day, sort of like a snow day in August. It took a full week for the system to stabilize and run normally, but now, once again, planes are flying high though the buttermilk sky.

Arguably, this disruption was in part the doing of the nearness of Mars to Earth. I’ve been tracking the red planet’s progress from my balcony and it’s quite stunning to see it so large in the night sky. When it was closest (August 27), I was in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Last spring, verging on a state of exhaustion, I got tickets to see The Royal Family and Happy End, so I’d have something fun to look forward to in the summer, before things got too busy again in the fall. I enjoyed both shows enormously. It was my first visit to The Shaw Festival, but it certainly won’t be my last. Maybe next time I’ll actually take in something by GBS himself!

I also treated myself to dinner at the Peller Estates Winery, where I could sit outside overlooking the vineyards, watching swallows flit as the sun set. I had the Vegetable Pavé with Crème Brûllée for desert. It was the kind of dinner one admires before tasting, initially hesitant to disrupt its symmetry, then flavour overcoming the visual aesthetic, with chaos rapidly ensuing until the plate is clean. I also enjoyed a couple of glasses of Peller Estate’s Chardonnay, having intentionally left the car parked at my B&B. I figured the chances of being charged with reckless endangerment while walking were minimal. After dinner, I felt deeply satisfied, relaxed and happier than I had for quite some time.

Walking out into the night, I went in search of a clear view of Mars. Niagara-on-the-Lake is an old town, its streets lined with wonderfully huge trees, which unfortunately make it difficult to get an unobstructed view of the horizon. I finally found Mars by walking out onto the golf course. I figured it was safe; who plays golf at night? It was an odd feeling though, walking on a golf course in the dark, watchful for flags and variations in ground shading where the greens and sand traps lie. The Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club is North American’s oldest, having been established around 1875. It’s trees are enormous and majestic, but there’s open space between them. I finally had my meditation on the nearness of Mars with my back to a large and ancient oak, accompanied by the sounds of crickets and a stiff breeze.

Nearing the edge of the embankment to the Niagara River, I listened to the rhythmic thunder. This is serious and powerful water, not to be trifled with, and that always seems scarier at night. This water powers huge Hydro generators that still supply a high percentage of Ontario’s electricity. I could see a few clearly defined lights offshore and in the distance, the sickly orange glow of Toronto.

I stayed at a lovely B&B, The Doctor’s House, c. 1824. It’s right downtown, easy walking distance to the theatres and everything else. It’s a lovely old sprawling house with talkative pinewood floors. Two of my reasons for selecting this particular B&B were Bill and Fred, the friendly long-haired resident cats. I had a wonderful night’s sleep and a delightful breakfast in the company of the owner and a Rochester, NY couple.

I enjoyed a wander around Niagara-on-the-Lake in the morning. I’m not sure what George Bernard Shaw (a strict vegetarian) would’ve thought of his life-sized bronze likeness situated in the fountain in front of the Shaw Leather Village, leather and fur shop. No doubt he would’ve found exactly the right thing to say.

©Catherine Jenkins 2003