The scoop: Favourite holiday traditions

It’s almost the most wonderful time of the year. To spread the holiday spirit before Santa Claus comes to town, we asked some personalities from our community to share their favourite traditions and memories.

fisher “Christmas Eve is by far the biggest holiday tradition we have in the Fisher household. My parents have always invited friends who don’t have family in Toronto to come and celebrate with us. No one should be alone on Christmas. I’ve grown up celebrating one of the best holidays with these people, singing Christmas carols; they are my extended family. Three of our guests are over 90! I know that my three siblings and I will continue this tradition of opening our hearts and homes to those who are less fortunate than us.” — Sarah Fisher, actress, Degrassi: The Next Generation.
nealb “For years my wife and I hired a farmer from north of Toronto to bring a team of Belgian horses and a hay wagon into the city. Along with our three daughters we would invite neighbours to hop on and sing carols as we drove around Leaside. Afterwards we would warm up in our house with drinks and food (and, of course, Neal Brothers snacks) for a casual party. We did it for over six years — special memories!” — Peter Neal, co-founder, Neal Brothers.
elle “A tradition in my household since my daughter, Sophia, was old enough to walk and talk has been to have all her close friends gather in our home, blast the Christmas carols and have a healthy gingerbread decorating competition. The kids love the challenge and so does competitive mommy! All the cousins gather and judge the houses and then the winners get to put the star on our tree.” — Elle Daftarian, owner, Petite & Sweet and host of The Food Network’s SugarStars.
tingas “I love the holidays. I actually love gift giving so much so I like to make my own bows. Every year I break out the hot-glue gun and bring out my inner Martha Stewart, to create pretty and unique packaging.” – Angie Tingas, co-founder, Niki and Lola.
tromba “I have a tradition to do a bar hop in early December. It seems like most of the cocktail bars in Toronto have winter and Christmas cocktail features. They warm you up inside. For example, La Carnita is featuring a mulled wine cocktail (with tequila of course). It’s all about winter and holiday flavours. The level of happiness and cheer amongst the bartender and server communities is up a notch.” — Eric Brass, founder and co-CEO, Tequila Tromba.
scrim “When I was nine years old my best friend was named Lisa. She lived in a big old house down the street and loved Christmas trees so much that she smuggled a tiny pine bough into her room. I helped her decorate. Her mom came in and asked what it was. Lisa stammered, ‘It’s a Hanukkah bush! Please can I keep it?’ Her mom left the room, but not before I saw her smile.” — Richard Scrimger, author, The Nose From Jupiter, Ink Me and Viminy Crowe’s Comic Book.

Gift Guide: Made in Toronto

This holiday season give a little bit from closer to home. We’ve selected 10 gift ideas, all created in the city you love. There’s something for family, friends and those hard-to-impress people — like the beauty buff, the foodie, the art collector, the beer connoisseur — on your shopping list.

Cake Beauty

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Now available in stores across North America, including Kohl’s and Sephora, Toronto-based founder and owner Heather Reier started the Cake Beauty line in her kitchen in 2003. This holiday season the makers behind those bath and body products in delectable fragrances teamed up with fellow Canadian brand Nella Bella to offer the “It’s in the bag” gift set, which includes three velveteen hand creams in a metallic wristlet. Added bonus: the lotions smell delicious. $30. cakebeauty.com

Coach House

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In addition to offering a variety of sweet (dark chocolate and fleur de sel, cranberry) and savoury (cheddar and chipotle, gorgonzola and pistachio) shortbread cookies, Carl Stryg, owner and baker of Coach House Shortbread Company, is offering an assortment of gift baskets featuring artisan goods like Bobbette and Belle’s caramel corn and Henderson Farms Preserves jam and jellies. The shop also has a timely sugar plum shortbread, made from dried apricots, raisins, plums, almonds and spices. Ingredients are soaked for four months in rum before cinnamon, cardamom and caraway are added. $12.95–$189. http://shortbread.ca

Collective Arts Brewing
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Local grassroots craft beer company Collective Arts Brewing offers an artistic twist on beer. Bottles of their extra-pale ale Rhyme and Reason, available at LCBO stores, are adorned with labels featuring emerging and seasoned artists, musicians, poets, photographers and filmmakers, including Toronto-based bands Poor Young Things and The Strumbellas. $13.95 for a six-pack. collectiveartsbrewing.com

Kosoy and Bouchard
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Michelle Kosoy and Pierre Bouchard are the artists behind St. Clair Avenue West’s Kosoy and Bouchard design studio, which specializes in elegant, handmade clay and glass works of art for the home. Pieces include vases, bowls and trays in beautiful patterns, and sophisticated colours like celestial blue, antique pewter and ivory. $30–$160. kosoyandbouchard.com

Jennifer McGregor and Alanna Cavanagh
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After a three-year stint in Florence, Italy to study and paint, artist Jennifer McGregor chose Toronto as her home base. The midtown resident’s watercolour paintings are one of many local artists available at Forest Hill’s Art Interiors. The shop is currently running its annual Festival of Smalls exhibit, offering an array of one-of-a-kind works between $55 and $250. Another artist featured in the gallery is Toronto-based Alanna Cavanagh, who has made a name for herself as an illustrator and printmaker. Her pieces have been featured in many design magazines. Watercolour, $80 unframed, $185 framed. artinteriors.ca. An Empty Belly print unframed, $125. alannacavanagh.com

Live Beautiful
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Live Beautiful co-owners and best friends Laura Hart and Alison Nasmith offer handcrafted jewellery made with ethical, recycled and reclaimed materials sourced from small suppliers. Their classic collection includes staples such as the elegant Audrey studs made with sustainably sourced Herkimer diamonds, which can also be purchased as a set with a necklace and bracelet, and limited edition items like the Alex ring, which is made from a thick, double-rope chain. $25–$208. livebeautiful.co

Nadege Patisserie
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Nadège Nourian, a fourth-generation pastry chef from Lyon, France and founder of Summerhill’s Nadege Patisserie, is known for her delicious and skillfully crafted macarons. Available in flavours like salted caramel, Iranian pistachio and cappuccino, the patisserie now ships gift parcels from coast to coast, making these sweet treats a perfect gift to share with loved ones near and far. $26.50–$54 for 12–25 gift pack. nadege-patisserie.com

Nicole Tarasick Studio
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Nicole Tarasick’s fondness for Canadiana is apparent in her collection of pillows and tote bags, which stylishly depict screen-printed images of maps of Canada and Ontario, the Great Lakes, our nation’s wildlife (including bears and geese) and our airport code, YYZ. Tarasick’s work has been featured in many publications, including The Globe and Mail, Canadian Living and Chatelaine. $24–$95. nicoletarasick.com

Still Life Home
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Created by a costume designer, Still Life Home is a collection of decorative accent pillows in trendy prints and patterns that are handcrafted in Toronto. Tree ornaments and pillows from the collection are available this holiday season at midtown’s Wildbird and Freedom Clothing Collective. $17–$42. etsy.com/shop/StillLifeHome

Tuck Shop Trading Co.
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Summerhill resident Lyndsay Borschke’s Tuck Shop Trading Co. collection features cozy yet fashionable pieces, including luxe cashmere scarves. The Toronto-based company also has a subsidiary line called City of Neighbourhoods, featuring toques representing different neighbourhoods of Toronto so family and friends can show off their hometown pride in style. $35–$315. tuckshopco.com

DIY: Rudolph and Reindeer

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Dress up your favourite homemade cupcakes as Rudolph and his reindeer pals. The end result is cute, seasonal and, best of all, edible.

What you need:

12 cupcakes
2 boxes of Smarties
2 packages of M&M’S (or 1 bag of chocolate chips)
1 package of frosting
1 bag of chocolate or yogurt-covered pretzels
1 box of Mr. Christie’s Nilla vanilla-flavoured wafers
1 package of mints or mini marshmallows

Instructions:

1) Apply a thin layer of frosting to already cooled-off cupcakes. (No one will know if you opt for a box of cupcake or brownie mix instead of doing it from scratch.)

2) Place one Mr. Christie’s Nilla vanilla flavoured wafer* near the bottom middle edge of each cupcake.

3) It’s time for the antlers. Place two chocolate or yogurt-covered pretzels above each wafer, with the round edge facing downwards. Parts of the pretzels should extend off of the cupcakes.

4) Dip two mints or mini marshmallows in frosting and place in centre of each cupcake, above the wafers and on top of the pretzels. The frosting holds the reindeer’s eyes in place.

5) Sort M&M’S into matching colours. Using two blue or brown M&M’S per cupcake, cover one side in frosting and place matching M&M’S onto every mint or mini marshmallow. (Using two packages of M&M’S should ensure enough blue and brown chocolates are available. If not, incorporate any colours aside from red.) The M&M’S can also be substituted with chocolate chips.

5) Sort Smarties and select only the brown Smarties and one red candy for the reindeer’s noses. Dip Smarties into frosting on one side and place in centre of each wafer. The cupcake with the red nose is Rudolph.

6) Enjoy and serve to guests.

*Mr. Christie’s Nilla vanilla-flavoured wafers can be substituted with any small cookie of choice (shortbread, anyone?) but I find larger cookies take up too much space on the cupcakes.

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Biz Battle: Neither side chickening out in battle of the wings

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The first words Louis Nemes utters after being asked about the secret to his chicken wing recipe are: “If I tell you, then I’d have to kill you.”

As the owner of Bistro on Avenue and the founder of the St. Louis Bar and Grill chain, Nemes has established a loyal clientele over the last 30 years of business in North Toronto.

However, up the street on Avenue Road, at Haddington Avenue, a newer staple called Drums N Flats
has also garnered attention for its own unique blend of chicken wings. But what exactly sets
these local favourites apart?

In addition to letting customers decide between ordering all drumsticks, all the two, as well as choosing how smothered in sauce the wings come out, Drums N Flats owner Dan Ferracuti believes his chicken wings stand out from the competition because of another in-house specialty: double
dipped.

“As far as I know, we’re the only people anywhere doing it,” he says during a chat in a booth at the restaurant and bar, which is ringing in one year in the neighbourhood this month. “The wings are deep-fried, tossed in sauce, thrown on the grill, then tossed in a second sauce, so you get four layers of flavour to savour.”

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For Nemes, the magic all comes down to the sauce and seasoning. At his restaurant on Avenue Road
and Brookdale Avenue, in herbs and spices before being cooked in the deep fryer and served with the
restaurant’s own signature dipping sauce — a mixture of dill and garlic.

“People would come in and say, ‘Why would I go to Buffalo if I could get them here even better than
in Buffalo?’ so that gave me good encouragement,” Nemes says on a weekday morning before the restaurant opens for the day. “Even in Buffalo they don’t spice the wings; they just take the wings and cook it, but we actually marinate them, so they have some flavour to it.”

Despite word circulating on the street about the restaurant possibly closing to make way for a condo,
Nemes says he plans on staying onsite until he finds year, adding he’s been told by customers that closing isn’t an option and the business has to remain on Avenue Road to retain its namesake.

As for Ferracuti, he reveals the secret to his wing success is using fresh locally sourced Ontario
wings that are never frozen.

“You’ve got to start with a good product to finish with a good product,” he says.

As a point of interest, Ferracuti has determined there’s a 60:40 ratio of customers who prefer solely
drumsticks to wings.

Friendly competition aside, Ferracuti admits he’s eaten at the Bistro many times through the years,
and Nemes has also supported Drums N Flats by eating at the restaurant after it opened.

Drums N Flats Bistro on Avenue
Operating for: One year 30 years
Claim to fame: Owner Dan Ferracuti
also runs Safari Bar and Grill on Avenue Road since 1995.
Owner Louis Nemes founded St. Louis Bar and Grill in 1994.Pioneer of offering chicken wings in Toronto.
What makes the wings unique? Customers can select solely drumsticks or all wings. Offered in a double dipped option: wings are deep fried, covered in sauce, grilled, then sauced again. The chicken wings are seasoned and marinated before any sauces are added and are served with the restaurants own dill garlic dipping sauce.
Most popular flavour: Rajun’ Cajun BBQ Medium
Number of wing flavours: 12 plus four double dipped options Eight
Also known for: Live music on Friday nights, an assortment of other menu items including burgers and hand rolled pizza pies. Another popular menu item: the steam burger, as well as a Cheers like atmosphere. Mixture of a cocktail and family crowd.
Price point: $11.49 for a single order 1 pound $10.95 for a regular size wings and fries


This article was originally published in the September 2013 edition of the North Toronto Town Crier.

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Biz Battle: The scoop on the area’s longtime ice cream rivals

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Our local cold war

The Village Chill and Dutch Dreams are two of the oldest and most popular destinations for ice cream in the Forest Hill area. To satisfy our sweet tooth, the Town Crier set out to discover what sets these destinations apart from the competition.

Opened in 1985 by Theodoor Aben, Dutch Dreams has been a neighbourhood fixture at Bathurst Street and St. Clair Avenue West with its bounty of sweet treats and eclectic décor, which has even been the setting of a Spice Girls video.

Second generation owners Theo and Dina Aben (who met at the shop when Dina came in as a customer) now run the business, which boasts between 32 and 50 kinds of kosher ice cream. There is also red velvet cheesecake and a variety of homemade desserts.

Chatting in the back seating area inside the shop, Theo Aben recalls how his grandmother used to serve him ice cream in the same fashion.

“Our ice cream is all served with whip cream and fresh fruit, which is a Dutch signature in Holland,” says enthusiastically, with a smile. “My Dutch pancakes are extremely popular: people drive from all over to have them, and it’s my grandmother’s recipe.”

Having been part of the business since he was 12, Aben says he’s been able to serve three or four generations of customers.

Many couples, whose first date was at Dutch Dreams, have also taken engagement photos at the shop. He’s also witnessed several proposals.

Much like fashion, ice cream is trendy, with flavours frequently going in and out of style, Aben contends.

“Pina Colada was one of our best sellers and then, about 10 years ago, I don’t know what happened, but we couldn’t give it away to anybody — like, nobody wanted it,” he says, his eyes widening. “And then, all of a sudden, there was this surge of Pina Colada lovers that just showed up, like three years ago, and now I’m going through it like crazy.”

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Although The Village Chill has been part of the neighbourhood since 1988, manager John Kin’s parents have been running the Lonsdale Road and Spadina Road shop for the last year.

The family business is home to 25 flavours of ice cream, although the shop also stocks extra varieties, such as lime sorbet and bubble gum for those customers seeking the “less popular” dessert flavours.

While ice cream is a big draw for customers, Kin notes many people also come in for the fat-free, low-calorie frozen yogurt.

“You can choose any two flavours, then we blend real fruit, Oreos, Smarties — even coffee,” he says from behind the counter, stating that being friendly is also key to their success. “If people request it, we also do multiple flavours for the ice cream.

“A kid once asked for five flavours in a small, and we said, ‘Sure thing.’”

The ice cream parlour also features ice cream cakes, and sells Dippin’ Dots: small ice cream balls flash frozen with liquid nitrogen in flavours such as banana split, cookie dough and cotton candy.

Working alongside his brother James, Kin says having customers remember their names is a frequent highlight of the job, but he also recalls receiving a letter in the mail after a customer came in without any cash.

“We actually had somebody send us a cheque from the United States because they didn’t have any money,” he says, noting the shop doesn’t accept debit or credit cards. “It’s an amazing place; people are really nice.

“We just really like the neighbourhood.”

Dutch Dreams The Village Chill
Established: 1985 1988
Nearest intersection: Bathurst Street and St. Clair Avenue W. Lonsdale Road and Spadina Road
Kinds of ice cream: 32 to 50 kosher
flavours
25 to 28
Owner’s favourite ice cream Moose Droppings Bordeaux Cherry
Most popular flavour: French Vanilla Chocolate but Moose Droppings is a close second
The scoop: In true Dutch tradition, ice cream is served with fresh fruit and whipping cream. They make their own desserts including the waffle cones and Dutch pancakes made from a secret family formula. Also sell tubs of ice cream. Also serve smoothies, shakes, fat free low calorie probiotic frozen yogourt and Dippin’ Dots, an ice cream snack of little balls that have been flash frozen with liquid nitrogen.
Open year round? Yes, but with shorter hours in the winter No, open from April until it gets cold, usually around November


This article was originally published in the September 2013 edition of the Forest Hill Town Crier.

Ice Cream Battle