Exploring the Aga Khan Museum

20171021_103948 (2) This blog post took more time than I would have expected. Part of my reticence in writing about this particular funventure was that our first attempt at visiting the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto ended with the boy and I involved in a rather serious multiple car accident that shut down the highway and sent people to the hospital. The boy had to undergo quite a few physio sessions in the months that followed, while our vehicle got its own special brand of surgery. It took some time and a bit of a nerve wracking first drive back to Toronto, but I was determined to pay a visit to this hidden cultural gem.

The Aga Khan Museum is situated in a rather unassuming area of Toronto just off the Don Valley Parkway. Sitting in the oozing Toronto traffic allows you to glimpse a modern geometric structure that doesn’t quite fit into the suburban landscape its been placed in. However, this is a perfect introduction to this museum.

It is a place that is meant to shake up your knowledge on a culture and religion that few of us know anything about. Displayed in a beautifully serene setting, belied by the exterior of the building, the permanent collection consists of paintings, objects, and architectural pieces from civilizations of the Muslim world. A particular emphasis is placed on the Arab Near East, Iran, and Hindustan, highlighting the distinctive character of each culture under the Muslim and Islamic umbrellas.

Both the permanent collection and temporary exhibitions are well thought out, highlighting important pieces that impart both knowledge and a cultural awakening. For a few hours, on a quiet Saturday morning, the boy and I were immersed in a beautiful foreign world that left us speechless until the end.

20171021_104516 (2)20171021_104528 (2)20171021_104550 (2)      20171021_104535 (2)20171021_104939 (2)20171021_105011 (2)20171021_105224 (2)20171021_104926 (2)      20171021_105412 (2)20171021_105524 (2)20171021_105730 (2)      20171021_110925 (2)20171021_110131 (2)20171021_115412 (2)20171021_105806 (2)20171021_110316 (2)      20171021_110326 (2)20171021_110148 (2)  20171021_110550 (2)      20171021_110342 (2)The manuscript painting on the right caught my attention in particular. It’s titled “The Cremation of Talkhand and the Grief of His Mother” and dates to the 17th century. What I found interesting when reading the display sign was that this scene depicts an event that is connected to the creation of the game of chess.

Apparently when the queen found out about the death of her son Talkhand at the hand of his brother, she was so distraught that she set the palace on fire and planned on dying by throwing herself on a pyre. Gav, the murdering brother, tried to stop her. and explain the tragic events of a battle that lead to the death of Talkhand by inventing the game of chess.

20171021_112233 (2)20171021_111018 (2)20171021_111920 (2)      20171021_112518 (2)20171021_111145 (2)20171021_114553_HDR (2)      20171021_114910 (2)20171021_114933_HDR (2)20171021_115155      20171021_115023 (2)Member's Lounge, Aga Khan Museum, TorontoMember's Lounge, Aga Khan Museum, TorontoMember's Lounge, Aga Khan Museum, TorontoThe boy and I were invited to take a sneak peak into the private Patron’s Lounge where members can relax and enjoy snacks and beverages while overlooking panoramic views of  Toronto. However, you don’t have to be a member to enjoy top quality dining service at the museum.

I speak from experience that the Diwan restaurant, under the direction of one of Toronto’s top chefs, Mark McEwan, is an unforgettable experience both for the food and the atmosphere. The decor, harking to the luxury of private Syrian homes of the early 19th century, sets the scene for an innovative meal inspired by the Middle East, North Africa, and the Indian subcontinent. We spent two hours over various starter plates and glasses of Moroccan tea while in a discussion with a pair of diners at the table next to us. What an experience!

20171021_115759 (2)Despite of inauspicious start to our first visit to the Aga Khan Museum, I was delighted that making the effort to explore this relatively new addition to Toronto’s cultural scene was worth it. With the warmest of invitations I encourage you to visit the museum if you have the chance.


Toronto Christmas Market 2015

Crowds at the Distillery District, TorontoSince the Toronto Christmas Market took up residence in the Distillery District six years ago, I have been making plans to drop in for a visit and scope out all the fun I’ve been hearing about from friends who live in the city. Based on traditional German and Austrian holiday street markets that have been around since the 1400s, the Toronto market is a beautiful and traditionally European way to celebrate the onset of Advent and the holiday season.

And even though a glance outside will remind you that it still doesn’t feel like winter is here, the boy and I took advantage of a warm, grey weekend afternoon to finally visit the festive event everyone is talking about.

The popularity of the market has grown exponentially with each of its successive years. In fact, the Disitllery District boasted over half a million visitors last year over its 21 day run. This year, to curb some of the crowds, an entrance fee of $5 during the weekend was instituted as a means of crowd control. However, the market is not-for-profit and the money is donated to a number of charities including the Daily Bread Food Bank and Plan Canada. Plus, visits on Tuesday to Friday remain free of charge.

Retail facades in the Distillery District, TorontoBrick pavement, Distillery District, TorontoThe Saucy Milliner, Distillery District, Toronto I felt like I was stepping back in time as we wandered among the crowds. Making our way down the pedestrian-only brick cobbled streets we admired the large brick buildings and retail spaces, cafes, and galleries. The District once housed the Gooderham & Worts Distillery, and now represents the largest and best preserved collection of Victorian Industrial Architecture in North America.

Pedestrians, Distillery District, TorontoDrinking garden, Distillery District, TorontoFood stall, Distillery District, TorontoCeramic gifts, Distillery District, TorontoAt the epi-centre of the festive set up stands the 50 foot tall tree, a wonder to behold, and decorate! More than 18,000 lights are sprinkled throughout the branches and act as a beacon to a stage that is set up next to it. Apparently, this year saw more than 320 performances presented to the visitors.

Christmas Tree, Distillery District, Toronto  Susan Harris Design, Distillery District, TorontoMistletoe sign, Distillery District, TorontoThe biggest draw of the Christmas market are the variety of gift and food vendors that line the streets of the district. We indulged in the sampling of traditional German fare like giant pretzels and hot sausages, and dipped into warm mulled wine, along with coffee from Balzac’s. But the little wooden stalls offer a treat for everyone’s taste, including free samples of vodka, amaretto and Mill Street beer (a local District microbrewery).

Cobblestones and Cappuccinos, Distillery District, TorontoHoliday decorations, Distillery District, TorontoMill St Brewery sign, Distillery District, TorontoChristmas lights, Distillery District, TorontoSt. Jacobs Maple Syrup stall, Distillery District, TorontoWagon wheel, Distillery District, TorontoWooden vendor stalls, Christmas Market, Distillery District, TorontoVendor stalls, Christmas Market, Distillery District, TorontoVendor stall, Christmas Market, Distillery District, TorontoWood wine stoppers, Christmas Market, Distillery District, TorontoWood spinners, Christmas Market, Distillery District, TorontoOld truck, Christmas Market, Distillery District, TorontoChristmas Market, Distillery District, TorontoChristmas trees for sale, Christmas Market, Distillery District, TorontoCeramic cup stall, Christmas Market, Distillery District, TorontoSnowman scultpure, Christmas Market, Distillery District, TorontoThe Toronto Christmas Market is exactly what you would expect of a European Christmas Market – in Canada! We truly celebrated the sights, sounds, and tastes of Christmas all in one afternoon. I’m thrilled with my first visit and will be sure to brave the crowds and make a evening trip next year. Although, the market has wrapped up for this season, I urge you to put this winter event on your must-do list for next year.

Cobblestones and Cappuccinos under the mistletoe, Christmas Market, Distillery District, TorontoI wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!


Nadege Patisserie, French Treats in the heart of Rosedale

Nadege - French patisseries in TorontoThank goodness that staying away from mouthwatering treats was not one of my intentions for 2015. It would have been an impossible feat as I crossed the threshold of Nadège Patisserie in Rosedale, Toronto’s chicest neighbourhood. Unlike it’s older sister on Queen Street West, and the first shop opened by fourth-generation confectioner Nadège Nourian, this location is presented like a jewel box boutique rather than a bakery and cafe.

Interior view of Nadege shop - Yonge St. Rosedale TorontoFront counter at Nadege Rosedale - Yonge St. TorontoWarm wood accents, exposed brick, and LED lighting serve to highlight the coziness of the space while providing a perfect backdrop to the colourful, mouthwatering treats. The shop feels high-end but not intimidating.

Interior view of Nadege on Yonge St. in Toronto Chocolate on shelves - Nadege Patisserie Yonge St. TorontoNadège, trained as a pastry chef in Lyon, France, oversees the preparation of the gorgeous baked goods, impressively delicate cakes, and multi-flavoured macarons which are delivered to the boutique daily from the Queen location. The Rosedale shop now serves as the epi-centre for their hand-made chocolate production. From artisanal truffles which pair unique flavours with complementary chocolate, to their famous “Chocolate Tablet”, a 26 letter exploration of unique ingredients and chocolate (J-Jasmine; M-Mint; P-Parmesan), the handmade sweets make for perfect gifts and treats. I’m slowly making my way through the alphabet!

Alphabet chocolate I to M  at Nadege - Yonge St. Rosedale TorontoAlphabet chocolate N to R - Nadege Patisserie Yonge St TorontoAlphabet chocolate T to X at Nadege - Rosedale Yonge St. TorontoBut the real reason I can’t avoid Nadège Patisserie during my Toronto visits are the confections perfectly lined up and displayed in the glass cases like precious jewels. Stepping up to the counter I’m transported to the gorgeous shops of Paris, where as much care is given to the taste of the treats as to their presentation.

Sweet cakes and treats from Nadege on Yonge St. in TorontoGlass display of sweet treats at Nadege Patisserie in TorontoFrench pastries in Toronto - Nadege Patisserie on Yonge St.Macarons at Nadege Rosedale in TorontoAll the attention to detail is not just for show. With the first bite, you’ll be on your way to a serious Nadège addiction! Although there are some staple products like flakey croissants and melt in your mouth Marie Antoinette cakes, many of the flavours change seasonally so there is always something new to try. For those who don’t have a chance to visit Toronto (or Paris!) on a regular basis, Nadège has an online boutique with delivery coast-to-coast. And trust me, you must give these fabulous french treats a try…they are worth every sinful bite!

An Italian Christmas with Massimo Bruno

Massimo Bruno Toronto studio kitchenThis past Sunday the boy and I had an opportunity to indulge in a Christmas feast in Toronto, Italian style. With promises of abundant food and a gregarious group of strangers (soon to be friends) squeezed in at a communal table, we were ready for a real European dining event!

Our host, Italian chef Massimo Bruno, had organized another of his popular, always sold-out Supper Club dinners. This one around the holiday theme, the fifth annual “Buon Natale” Christmas in Italy. The holiday dishes featured were many of his favourites, and the evening was dedicated to his Mama who would be celebrating Christmas back in Italy. The dinner was held at his cooking studio on King Street East where many of his Supper Clubs and cooking classes are held.

Massimo Bruno - Italian Chef in TorontoMassimo Bruno checking for his Supper Club guestsChristmas in the Massimo Bruno kitchen studioLike a great host, Massimo kept an eye out for his guests, welcoming each personally, and entertaining the rest of the room with great Italian humour, as we waited for everyone to arrive. Whether you were a Supper Club virgin or a frequent diner, you were made to feel right at home. And with a “bring your own wine” policy, the atmosphere was more than merry. Although, the boy and I didn’t bring any wine since we were driving back to London after dinner, more than a few of the guests offered to share their libations with us.

But of course, we were there for the amazing food. The warmth of the studio was only intensified by all the cooking in the open kitchen. Massimo, along with some help from his brother and friends Giovanna, and Enzo, prepared the feast in front of our eyes. And cooking for such a large group is no small task.

Enzo cooking in the kitchen studio at Massimo Bruno's Supper ClubSunday sauce at the Massimo Bruno Supper ClubAntipasti in the kitchen at Massimo Bruno Italian Supper ClubAnd we came ready for a feast!

Homemade focaccia
Calamari fritti (fried calamari)
Bresaola, Grana e Rucola (cured beef with arugola and parmigiano cheese)
Baccala’ frito (fried cod)
Burrata e pomodori (burrata with tomatoes and basil)
Lenticchie e Salsicce (sicilian lentils with barese sausage) 
Il Ragu della Domenica (Ziti pasta with big Sunday sauce)
Mafaldine ai Frutti di Mare (curly fettucine with seafood sauce)
Agnello al Forno (baked lamb with shallots and white wine)
Insalata (salad)
Flourless ricotta lemon cake

Massimo Bruno Italian Supper Club - Tomato focacciaMassimo Bruno Italian Supper Club - Bresaola and arugulaBurrata plates at Massimo Bruno's Supper ClubAs soon as the food hit the table, I didn’t know what to try first. The burrata’s cheesey exterior revealed a flowing cream centre that paired perfectly with the fried tomatoes. Thin slices of bresaola were coated in a thin layer olive oil and shavings of parmigiano. Homemade barese sausages swam in tiny lentils and were the perfect start on a cold evening. Small plates of these antipasti were placed along the table and everyone passed them around for second and third helpings.

Massimo Bruno Supper Club - Italian antipastiMassimo Bruno Italian Supper Club DinnerGuests at Massimo Bruno's Buon Natale Supper ClubAfter these “small” bites, I couldn’t believe there was more food to come. The variety was amazing and the chatter around the table grew in the casual family atmosphere. I felt like I was having dinner with all my extended family and cousins back home. Massimo floated around the room chatting, taking photos, and generally ensuring that no one went hungry.

Massimo Bruno Italian Supper Club - Shrimp pastaZiti with Sunday sauce at Massimo Bruno's Supper ClubWine and photos at Massimo Bruno's Italian Supper ClubFinally the dishes were cleared and the desserts and coffee passed around. I’m positive I wasn’t the only one thinking of unbuttoning my pants or looking around for couch for an after dinner nap. The best evidence for the quality of food and dining atmosphere is a doodle filled wall full of thanks and comments from past guests.

Thank you's at Massimo Bruno's kitchen studio in TorontoThe drive to Toronto was well rewarded with the best Italian food and atmosphere I’ve found outside of Italy. If you’d like to experience it yourself, head over to Massimo’s site and discover something unforgettable.

Buon Natale a Tutti!

Paper Perfect

Flowered Paper from The Paper Place in TorontoI was looking for creative inspiration this weekend. Something that would get my mind out of this grey slump. Something that made my eyes open in wonder and my mind spin. Something that made me smile. And I found it in spades! I stumbled upon The Paper Place, a beautiful little shop on Queen Street West in Toronto. They carry a rainbow of decorative and handmade Japanese paper, as well as a large selection of unique papers and products from around the world.

Paper display shelves at The Paper Place in TorontoPaper choices at The Paper Place on Queen St West in TorontoBeautiful craft paper at The Paper Place on Queen St West in TorontoDecorative tape at The Paper Place in Toronto The store is filled with ideas for handmade cards, wedding invitations, origami crafts, beautiful book binding supplies and gifts. The paper itself is stunning enough to be mounted and framed. In fact, I just had to have this fun bicycle print which I plan to transform into a Christmas gift for someone special.

Les Bicyclettes paper at The Paper Place in TorontoI guess paper is no longer just for wrapping gifts this Christmas season. At least not in my house!