541 eatery & exchange

The chalk board sign at the front counter of 541 Eatery and Exchange reads:

Eat drink and stay a while. Our delicious food is freshly made and affordably priced for all to enjoy. The proceeds from our eatery fund community programs for kids and our neighbourhood. Thanks for helping make Hamilton a better place!

This past June at 541 Barton Street a new cafe, eatery and exchange opened. It was a long time in the making. And I had been excitedly watching the progress of this project from about a year back when I first saw a video by Bottled Media about the inspirational concept and idea of the whole community operation.

541 Eatery and Exchange is a unique type of cafe that is invested in making a positive impact on its community. Located in the heart of Barton Village it is undoubtedly breathing some fresh air back into the neighbourhood.

Barton is often considered a strip of Hamilton where some of the city’s largest pockets of poverty exist. If you took a quick jaunt down Barton you might notice some abandoned buildings fitted in among the spattering of notable Hamilton fixtures such as the Trocadero Restaurant -open for 70 years, Karolina’s Polish Restaurant -just like the way your Polish grandma used to cook, Duartes Portuguese Supermarket and Deli, the Vagueira Bakery and Pastry Cafe, and Starpolskie’s Deli. Now when you’re down on Barton you’ll also see the fresh-faced, hip, and contemporary cafe at 541.

541 Barton interior

It has a glossy polished feel that is open, airy, and welcoming. I loved that they maintained many aspects of the original features of the building like the exposed brick walls, lofty high ceilings and numerous sunny large wooden framed windows.

When we walked in a family was sitting having some treats and playing one of the many board games housed on the shelves at 541. I spotted a small children’s play area at the front of the cafe and thought that it’d would be a great walking destination where I could feasibly bring Omi to stop in for a treat, and to escape from the summer heat. A place with a family friendly vibe is definitely something I pay attention to when on the hunt for new hangouts these days especially now that I have an active little toddler to contend with.

541 Barton drink menu

Besides good coffee, great food, and breezy atmosphere, one of the best things about 541 is how accessible it is to everyone (especially in their pricing). We ordered a lemonade, latte, coffee, banana bread and a scone all for under $10!

With those kind of prices I didn’t have a problem buying a handful of buttons from the button bank, which is just about the simplest and smartest charitable idea I’ve seen. The way it works is you can buy a button at a dollar a piece, which then in turn can be used to help out customers that may need a little extra coinage to buy a hearty and healthy meal or small bite to eat. 1 button=$1 and can be used as cash at 541. The button jar that customers could take from to pay for food was nearly full to the brim, which means everyone has the ability to afford and enjoy 541! So even if a $3 latte seems out of reach, you can use a button or two to get a coffee and a healthy home-cooked lunch or dinner.

541 Barton button bank 541 Barton cafe 541 Barton vision 541 Barton tables 541 barton

It makes me feel happy to see that you can have a place that is beautiful, stylish, and whole heartily committed to giving back and empowering its community. It is a place that believes that everyone deserves a nice place to hang out and good food to eat.

Congrats to 541 for breaking down many of the barriers that can come with elite cafes and coffee shops -so great to have a place like this in Hamilton!

*541 Eatery & Exchange, 541 Barton St. East, @541Barton, M-Sat 7-7, Sun 3-7

rhubarb

This is the second year that we have been able to harvest the rhubarb from our relatively young backyard rhubarb plant.

The stalks were hearty and we were able to take from it several bunches from late May until the end of June.

To keep up with this seemingly non-stop supply of rhubarb I needed to find an easy recipe to start using it up -and fast!

On Pinterest one day I came across this quick easy-to-make recipe from a food blog called Feed Me Phoebe.

rhubarb yogurt cake

Rhubarb Yogurt Cake (recipe from Feed Me Phoebe)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup plain full-fat yogurt, well-stirred
  • 1cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large pinch sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup rhubarb, chopped into ½-inch pieces

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly oil a 10-inch round spring-form cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl whisk the yogurt, sugar, salt, and almond extract until smooth. Pour the oil into the batter slowly, whisking until smooth. Add the eggs and whisk the batter again until smooth.
  3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a small bowl and fold it into the wet batter until just combined. Pour the batter into the cake pan and scatter the chopped rhubarb on top.
  4. Bake the cake for about 45 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean and the top springs back lightly when touched. Allow the cake to cool for 10 minutes, then lift it out with the parchment paper and allow it to cool on a wire rack.

We’ve made two rhubarb yogurt cakes so far this season and they never last in the house for longer than a day or two. We’re constantly sneaking in pieces pre-breakfast, throughout our numerous coffee and tea time breaks or whenever we happen to be just passing by the kitchen.

Rhubarb plantSince Steve is the keeper of our backyard garden, he did all the rhubarb stalk collecting. Especially since he’d read up on how you’re not supposed to just go in there and chop down the stalks with a knife or scissors like I would’ve done. Instead he gracefully twisted and snapped them off before passing over a large and heavy bunch to me.

Rhubarb stalks

rhubarb picking

Someone once told me not to pick fresh rhubarb after the end of June -increase in toxicity? So by my books I’ve about a day or two left to get in all my rhubarb chopping for the year. It freezes well so we’ll still have plenty throughout the summer if I have any sudden urges to make my mom’s rhubarb cake recipe (click here), which involves a simple cake batter, a package of strawberry jello, and mini marshmallows!

 

 

summer soba

Yesterday really felt like summer; hot, humid and even a few summer thunderstorms.

When it’s hot and sticky outside my default go to foods are cold summer traditional Japanese dishes.

So last night in all that heat and summer rain I made an impromptu cool Japanese meal of zaru soba with mentsuyu dipping sauce, thinly slice carrot tempura and chilled hiyayakko tofu; topped with thinly grated ginger, spring onions and a dash of soy-sauce.

As a side I chopped a couple slices of juicy cold and fresh orange, and sliced cucumber sticks with miso paste to accompany some inari sushi and of course two cold refreshing beers!

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the connaught

The Royal Connaught had its Gala (re-opening) Launch a few weeks back to showcase the extensive overhaul renovation and makeover of its beautiful polished shiny and new front lobby and to give a sneak peek into one of their completed model condo suite units.

It was a fancy affair; suits, dresses, and champagne at the door upon arrival. There were even oysters! Everything about the event was luxurious and glamorous. From the old fashioned Rolls Royce parked out front of the refurbished exterior of the Connaught, to the 1940′s styled and fashioned socialite ‘models’ that fancifully posed, mingled and wandered amidst the who’s who of Hamilton evening crowd.

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The scene was set with sparkly chandeliers that hung from the massive cathedral ceilings down to the ground floor lobby, overlooking an old time piano player that provided the soundtrack to accompany the evening of photo snapping, cocktail drinking and the consuming of many delicious edible bits and bites. The night exuded an atmosphere of classy elegance. Although for the most part a lifestyle typically out of my reach, I was happy to indulge in these special treats and I was equally impressed that for this launch they truly supported many local Hamilton businesses. They had catered hors d’oeuvres by Chef Matt Kershaw from one of my favourite restaurants in the city -Rapscallion, gourmet coffees from Red Hill Coffee Trade, Oyster Shucking by Two Black Sheep, and beers from new local brew house Nickel Brook. I even saw an old student of mine working at the door serving champagne, who I was pleased as punch to see being gainfully and locally employed!

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A revamp of an old building can sometimes go so wrong, but developers Spallacci and Valery got it all right mixing contemporary design with classic Art Deco influence. The design keeps in time with the historic nature of the building. Preserving a feel or connection to the Connaught’s past and history was something that could have been potentially lost with a renovation verses a restoration. But I was relieved and all round pretty impressed with how old and new fit together quite seamlessly.

Royal Connaught 2014 Windows copy

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The opening of the Connaught to the general public was two weekends ago. People lined up for two to three blocks to get a chance to take a look at the new Connaught and to get dibs on the first 120 units to go on sale. And really, I can’t blame them, I’d want a peek too. The place was boarded up and left to rot for the better part of a decade (see a previous post about it here). There’s a lot of history and memories in the Connaught, along with a new sense of optimism for the future and life this development will potentially breath into the downtown core.

Royal Connaught 2014 suite

With prices of condos suites starting in the mid two hundred thousands and the potential for nearly one thousand luxury units to be sold, it will definitely bring a pretty substantial new population to King Street and downtown. Not to mention the 13 000 square feet street level storefront retail potential that will open as part of the new Connaught along King and Catharine.

For more information about the Royal Connaught development see their website here.

*The Royal Connaught, 112 King St. East, @royalconnaught_

 

 

 

spring seedlings

Since the second summer we’ve been at our house we’ve had a backyard vegetable garden. It’s a small urban one because our yard is pretty teeny, but so far it has done the trick!

We’ve been able dabble with growing garlic, potatoes, beans, tomatoes, kale, lettuce, and some herbs.

backyard garden garlic scapes

weathering seedlings

We did a quite a bit from seed this year but with multiple work and home projects on the go we also needed to supplement with a few purchased seedlings that we acquired from the Mustard Seed Co-op’s Seed Sale from a few weeks back.

In fitting with the end of Ontario’s Local Food Week, The Co-op is having their big grand opening celebration this Saturday June 7 from 12-6pm with a whole slew of local producers/vendors, face painting, live music and kids activities.

Mustard Seed Coop spring seed sale

mustard seed spring seed sale strawberries

 *Mustard Seed Co-op, 460 York Blvd. 289.492.COOP, @mustardseedcoop

staxx

Admittedly I am no expert when it comes to fried chicken and waffles. However, I have tried the fried chicken and triple decker buttermilk waffle sandwich from the Dirty South food truck -oh my goodness! And I’ve now officially gone to Staxx Chicken & Waffle House twice to sample how they do their waffles and chicken.

When we moved to Hamilton, I remember having gone to a Korean restaurant that was where Staxx is now. The food was meh and it was dark and forgettable. Well, the interior of Staxx isn’t much to write home about but it’s clean, near my house and the first of its kind (as far as I knew) in Hamilton.

The first time I went to Staxx was just a few weeks after they’d opened. The tables were full, which is always a good sign, and the fried chicken that was coming out of the kitchen was looking crispy and mouth watering.

I went with a friend, and we knew that although they also serve burgers, pulled pork sandwiches and other edibles, we came for the chicken and waffles. So that is what we ordered.

I’m not sure about you, but I’ve always grown up thinking that waffles should be crispy on the outside yet still fluffy on the inside. This may strangely be based on my experience with the classic Eggo Waffle but I know that I’ve also had Belgian waffles that have been crisp too. So when the order came up and we noticed that the waffles were kinda floppy and still gooey on the inside, we sent back and a new order was promptly brought out (with unfortunately not much improvement). The fried chicken was great but we were a little disappointed with our realization that perhaps waffles aren’t always crispy?

I wasn’t willing to give up on the place on just the one visit, so with some other friends I decided to give it another try. With an order of chocolate milk all around to start we prepped ourselves for the fried chicken and waffles; this go was supreme! Waffles -crispy(er), and fried chicken delicious. I also learned (from observation of a pro) the perfect eating combo of a piece of fried chicken carefully accompanied by waffle, dipped in maple syrup and with a touch of hot sauce for a most deliciously perfect ratio of savoury, sweet and spicy. Our only complaint this time around was that the meals were served on round baking tins with high curved edges that make for difficult cutting and eating of perfect previously said combo of savoury, sweet and spicy morsels of chicken and waffle. We did make plans to come back again to try some of the other things on their menu like their hamburger with fried egg or deep fried onions, or their philly cheese steak and waffles.

Staxx chicken and waffles

chicken and waffles staxx

Before I can legitimately say that Staxx has the best (bricks and mortar) fried chicken in Hamilton, I’ve got to try Tavern on George’s take on it, which I recently read about on Chanry Thach‘s food blog The Hungry Gnome. A hidden gem that I’m dying to try! Check out Chanry‘s post about it here.

*Staxx Burger Chicken Waffle House, 236 King St. E, 289.396.4162, @staxxhamilton

 

birthday party

Early this spring Omi attended his very first kid birthday party.

It was one of the first warm days after the winter thaw, and we were all so keen on being outside and enjoying the non-nastiness of winter; perfect for the little ones to run around in the yard.

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Carrot cake birthday cake with that cream cheese icing -yes please! These were the best homemade birthday cakes ever! The birthday boy’s grandmother made them. She even made a stacked Momufuku malt-brownie cake topped with Whoppers (my hero)!!

 

the aberdeen tavern

This year for Mother’s Day we decided to try out brunch at the Aberdeen Tavern. I’d been to the tavern the week before to sample some evening snacks with friends and to check out the new place post its former incarnation as Seven Windows.

I’d never been to Seven Windows, but the atmosphere of the Aberdeen Tavern was just right: cozy, and warm meets contemporary-fresh yet rustic tavern.

We sampled some delicious wild mussels with crostini, fresh hot frites, and Maryland crab cakes, with mango and jalapeño relish -yum! Not to mention their menu sounded mouth watering; like their pan-fried organic halibut, risotto, with brown butter, or their giant meatballs charred & braised in tomato sauce with Quebec cheese curd, or their duck confit spring rolls with caramelized onions! I knew that it definitely wouldn’t be long until I’d have to make a return trip to sample a little more.

Well, I didn’t make it back for dinner (yet) but instead I was able to just barely squeeze in a reservation for Mother’s Day brunch.

We made it to the restaurant for the tail end of the brunch rush and enjoyed a slow, steady and relaxing meal with mimosas to start, coffee and an assorted pastry platter to follow, which consisted of banana bread, walnut scones, and a side of house made preserves and apple butter.

Aberdeen Tavern dine full

We kept eyeing the brunches coming out of the kitchen and had a tough time deciding just which delicious thing to order for our main course. I ordered the tostadas rancheros; poached egg, guacamole, sour cream, aged cheddar, salsa fresca, black bean, with home fries.

Aberdeen Tavern tostada rancheros

My sister and mom both ordered the short rib hash; braised short rib, poached egg, charred corn, pico de gallo, home fries, and aged cheddar. It comes in a mini-individual little cast iron skillet!

Aberdeen Tavern short rib hash

Aberdeen Tavern bar

I like how the tavern is so versatile. Weekend brunch, snacks and drinks, dinner or lunch, or just drinks. Did I mention they do fancy mixologist worthy cocktails like the Russian pony; triple citrus vodka, ginger beer, lime, and mint or the derby; bourbon, peach liqueur, lemonade, earl grey tea, and mint!?

Aberdeen Tavern dine Aberdeen Tavern bench

I can think of many a special occasions that I’d like to celebrate here, and many more Sunday brunches!

I highly recommend you make a reservation before going to avoid the disappointment of not getting a table.

*Aberdeen Tavern, 432 Aberdeen Ave., 905.523.7707, @AberdeenTavern

friends of the aviary + cootes paradise

Two weeks ago Omi learned how to say peacock. Well, he actually says it so it sounds something more like “peatock”. In any case, I took his new adaptive use of the word as motivation for an impromptu visit to Westdale’s Friends of the Aviary, which is home to a lovely male and female peacock.

The aviary had a small crowd of weekend family visitors that casually checked out the various hens, roosters, chicks, peacocks and other fowl in their large outdoor cages. It also has an indoor coop for a variety of parrots and other small feathered friends. You can pay a small donation to help support the volunteer run aviary and enjoy the garden grounds on your visit.

Westdale Aviary peacock

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Attached to the aviary grounds is the Churchill Park Community Gardens. For a small yearly fee you can till and sow your own garden. There were a lot of fairly large plots and even some espaliered fruit trees. I  know a few friends that have been successfully growing their bountiful cornucopia of vegetables there yearly and they love this little spot of land.

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Churchill Park Community Garden

Right by the gardens is the Ravine Road Trail entrance to Cootes Paradise. Although we were somewhat ill prepared for a proper hike, we figured we could handle a little four by four stroller trekking on the trails while taking in some of the changing spring forest landscapes.

Welcome to Cootes Paradise

Ravine Road Trail cootes

At first the trail was mostly brown and leaf covered with little sign of spring. But then as we got further into the forest and trail we started to see bright green patches of spring time growth. I don’t know what these large green leafs were. At first I thought maybe they were lilies but they seemed too big. The leaves were huge and looked almost like giant lettuce leaves or swiss chard.

cootes paradise spring

As we walked further along, the trail headed uphill towards a ridge that overlooked Cootes Paradise Marsh. As I looked across the tree line I could see little speckles of pink and red that dotted the tree branches. They were the little red and brown buds on the trees just before the fresh and new leaf greenery were to appear.

cootes paradise

This was from two weeks back, so I bet this weekend if you were to go, the forest would be lush with bright fluorescent green bursts of new leaves and forest foliage!

spring tree buds

I love that despite having lived in Hamilton for five years there are still plenty of places to discover and explore. With every season each of these places take on a different look and beauty that can be rediscovered again.

So looking forward to consistent warm days and the planting of our own backyard and community garden!

pittsburgh pittstop + on to DC

In mid-March, when winter was still kicking it big, we decided to go on a family road trip to Washington DC!

We had little to no expectations about the success of our travels (it being an 8 hour car drive to DC and having an active toddler that doesn’t normally like to sit still). We went for it anyway, opting for a overnight midway-stop in Pittsburgh.

I love Pittsburgh! But unfortunately for this particular visit, the exploring and wanderings were kept to a minimum. We were really only there to break our journey and to give Omi some romping time. Despite the short visit we did manage to fit in a quick early morning breakfast meet-up with some old friends before getting back into the car for the rest of the journey to DC.

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We’ve most definitely got a runner on our hands! This trip mostly consisted of chasing after Omi.

pittsburgh doors

Pittsburgh has some great doors, buildings, bars, diners, dives and just all round an amazing vibe. Wish we could’ve stayed longer.

We made it to DC unscathed and were rewarded with budding tulips, crocuses and warm spring weather. All the while we’d heard that Southern Ontario was being hit by a crazy mid-March blizzard!

The visit was a mix of relaxing and visiting with family, sharing good meals together and the occasional day trip out for some sightseeing.

Happy to be somewhere without snow, we stripped ourselves of winter coats and picked a warm grey spring day to check out DC proper.

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With coffees in hand we wandered the museum arcade making our way in and out of the various Smithsonians and stopping for an extended session of merry-go-round admiring and pebble throwing.

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All the museums in DC are free! So it was perfect for our noncommittal walk-throughs that were just long enough to keep a toddler entertained. Since it wasn’t tourist season the museums weren’t too busy, which allowed for quick entrance and hassle-free easy manoeuvring around on the inside. Just a week or two later and it would’ve been packed for DC’s infamous cherry blossom viewing.

To coincide with an escape from a spring rainfall we spent a longer time checking out the contemporary art collection at the Hirshhorn. Once the rain cleared I spent an even longer time outside with Omi admiring the circular architecture of the museum.

Midcentury modern architect Gordon Bunshaft, who designed one of my favourite art galleries -The Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, also designed the Hershhorn.

Hirshorn Museum

Travelling with a little one does have its challenges but overall I’m happy that we keep trying it out. So long as our expectations of what we do when travelling continue to adjust and evolve with Omi then I hope to continue to squeeze in as much exploring and as many mini-trips as we can!

 

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