Category Archives: Travel and tourism

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My Arizona Adventure (Pt. V) – visiting Cave Creek & fab gemstone store

A little closer to Camp Joy Ranch, AJ took me to Cave Creek, another beautiful town with a distinct wild west atmosphere and lots of touristy stores and restaurants. The drive into the town was thru vast “forests” of saguaro cactus..I was half-expecting to see cattle rustlers or stage coaches along the way.20190409_122213Knowing that I wanted to purchase some genuine, quality turquoise and native American silver, AJ knew exactly where to take me: Rare Earth Gallery, a very special (and very large) store with just about every gemstone and earthly treasure from around the world.Mar400920190409_130847 20190409_132058 20190409_132226Out front of the store were several carved marble pieces, like this magnificent rearing horse….20190409_130252 20190409_130313…and AJ took an instant liking to this HUGE chunk of crystal (above).  They also had a wide selection of Tibetan salt lamps (below)20190409_132330And behind the cash registers were two beautiful back-lit artworks  (below) made with marble and precious and semi-precious gems mined in the surrounding Phoenix hills. You should see the outstanding amethysts and tourmalines that come from this region. 20190409_132353 20190409_132400I made a bee-line for the jewellery counters and found two stunning rings behind locked display case doors – please sir, may I try them on? Done…they fit perfectly…the rings are mine. One is a green-hued chunk of turquoise for my right hand and the larger one is made of blue turquoise and spiny oyster inlays, both silver. 20190420_162506 Mar4008Obviously a favourite shop of his, AJ purchased a couple more stones to add to his and Tom’s basket of stones in their front lobby (below) – very tactile home decor and each stone carries mystical powers to heal or energize.20190409_091157Once we stored our purchases into the car, we wandered across to where the “frontier town” was – today there were only a few tourists and it seemed a bit sad. We dropped in to the candlemaker (fragrances were a bit too strong for me to remain there), then a couple of the souvenir stores but I just couldn’t “get it up” to enjoy the silly crap on sale there. They had a great loo, tho. I wish I’d taken a few pics – lots of old photos of 30’s and 40’s Hollywood movie cowgirls as well as old rodeo ladies lined the walls so I was able to enjoy a tinkle under the gaze of those vintage wild west gals. 20190409_134936Next blog will cover my final full day in Arizona: we visit the incredible butterfly conservatory and reptile museum, and AJ and I enjoy our deelish “last supper” – more steak for me…LOL!IMG_7739

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MY ARIZONA ADVENTURE (Pt. IV) – Sedona, the “New Age” centre of America

Monday dawned bright and filled with birdsong, as usual at Camp Joy Ranch – today AJ was taking me to Sedona  where I was going to experience “new age” mysticism in the hippy-dippy heart of Arizona. Hurry, hurry, let’s get going – I was like a little kid off to see Santa!

First, we needed to fuel up at the local Starbucks – here their stores are all adobe-clad, and so clean and spacious.20190408_094154 20190408_092931AJ then pointed the car north and off we went on the 90 minute journey….after about 40 minutes, the terrain changed and we were climbing in altitude, passing some pretty bad-ass towns and roads (see below)20190408_111459I turned round to catch this amazing view of a far-off snow-capped peak – wow!20190408_113741Then suddenly…we had arrived!

First stop…AJ insisted I attempt to climb up Bell rock which is one of the 8 vortices (thought to be swirling centers of energy that are conducive to healing, meditation and self-exploration. These are places where the earth seems especially alive with energy) – are you kidding me? Oh well, let’s see how this vortex thing works, see what the universe is gonna fling at me. Perhaps a palpable body buzz, maybe a spiritual shift in my soul – who knows. So I stayed open to whatever would happen and we trekked on up the massive rock. I got a little way up then turned around…OMG! The view was spectacular…IMG_7610…we passed some of the legendary twisted juniper trees…20190408_125312…then I reached the point where I thought my lungs would explode – whew! Can’t…go…on…any…further. So here are a few pics taken during my vortex encounter:20190408_124636 IMG_7614AJ pointed out the vortex “power lines” flowing into me in this picture he took (above) but perhaps they may just be rays streaming down from the sun. Personally, I’m stickin’ with his theory.  More incredible views….20190408_125354 20190408_130239 20190408_131246(0) 20190408_130249Time for a cool drink and some lunch so AJ took me to his favourite vegetarian restaurant, Chocola Tree, where we enjoyed healthy organic treats. Lovely peaceful environment and a nice way to “come down” from the vortex thingy.IMG_7615

Now for some serious retail therapy: I promised myself I would buy a really good piece of turquoise so the ever-patient AJ escorted me into and out of numerous touristy souvenir stores until we came upon one particular fine jewellers and there I found several pieces that made their way back to Toronto with me. Who needs rent money when you can buy genuine native American silver and turquoise, right? Haa haa. IMG_7620We then drove a little further into the real town of Sedona (away from the tourist traps) to a mission-style arts & shopping village called Tlaquepaque. What a beautiful place with all sorts of luxury boutiques surrounded by hanging gardens, balconies, flowers and stunning architecture…20190408_162758 20190408_162147 20190408_162151 20190408_162606 20190408_162156By now, the sun was getting low so time to head home to Camp Joy Ranch and as we drove out of town I looked up and saw some amazing cloud formations that resembled UFOs following us…yikes!20190408_171502The theme from Close Encounters started playing my head…LOL.  Tomorrow, we’re off to Cave Creek, a modern “wild west” town (pretty close to our ranch) that had played host to thousands of bikers from across the country the weekend before. Wonder what we’ll find there….stay tuned.20190409_134936

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MY ARIZONA ADVENTURE (Pt. III) – a western ghost town & a cowboy shoot ’em up!

Just like in the movies, the real wild west has plenty of ghost towns and my hosts, AJ and Tom, took me to the Goldfields ghost town north of Phoenix.  It used to be a real working gold mine town back in the late 1800’s complete with mines, a saloon, general store, a prairie apothecary and bordello (a genuine whorehouse). We arrived in time to enjoy a train ride around the town, play in the shootin’ gallery and witness a noisy shoot-out with the local Sheriff and bad guys. So much fun and the views of the spectacular Superstitions rocks/mountains were breathtaking. 20190407_113004 20190407_124038 20190407_121441 IMG_7518I dropped in to the Siphon Draw Apothecary where lovely pharmacist/medicine woman Colleen (pictured below) created a beautiful refreshing & healing body spray for me using natural aloe and geranium oils.  www.siphondraw.com 20190407_132057AJ took some great pics of the saloon, the bordello and other buildings (below)…IMG_7529 IMG_7534 IMG_7563 IMG_7558…as I saved seats for the big showdown at the OK (for now) corral!

What a hoot! After this, we decided we needed to try our own hands at shootin’ so we headed to the shack out back and took up laser rifles…20190407_122435Didn’t feel much like the real thing but for 2 bucks, I ain’t complaining. Bang…bang bang. Gotcha, ya vermit!  AJ & Tom took a time-out at the big saloon and posed for me in front of the horses and the big mountains in the background.20190407_124152Next, we rode the choo choo train that circled the town, giving us a great view of all the buildings and mining activities.20190407_133136 20190407_135505

If you want to visit Goldfield ghost town for yourself and experience the excitement of the wild west, here’s all the info your need:  www.goldfieldghosttown.comIMG_7593Tomorrow…join me in Sedona (below) the new age capital of Arizona, where I experience a “vortex” and marvel at the rock formations and mesas, and the stunning beauty of the desert during the rare “super bloom”.20190408_121116

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My Arizona Adventure (Pt.II) – I visit Old Town & Western Heritage Museum

Saturday April 6th dawned bright and early for me…the sun streamed in my bedroom window (pictured below) by 6:30am and the birds were in full chorus! 20180406_165843Today was the day AJ was taking me shopping in Old Town, Scottsdale’s touristy section with all the souvenir shops and boutiques complete with wild west themed exteriors. Our first stop was the weekly farmers’ market – not your usual ramshackle clutch of stalls and tents, but a well laid out, clean and welcoming market with free samples, deelish healthy breakfast treats and tons of local produce. Everywhere you looked, there were flowers and happy smiling shoppers. 20180406_090834After indulging in a home-made quiche with honey drizzled over it (wow, so yummy) and downing cups of hot local coffee, we headed off to stroll the Old Town streets.  There’s a fabulous art gallery, home decor/accessories and artifacts called Bischoff’s Gallery that AJ wanted to show me so off we went, passing several stunning western sculptures…20180406_092133 20180406_092348 20180406_092455I found so many wonderful treasures inside Bischoff’s including this painted deerskin plus numerous kachina dolls20180406_094017 20180406_094026…and I picked up a couple of modestly priced carved wooden figurines – a coyote in full howl and a bunny rabbit, plus a string of tiny red glass chili peppers that are now hanging on my front door.  www.bischoffsgallery.com

More wanderings in and out of souvenir stores, picking up fridge magnets for friends as requested.20180406_092510 20180406_103518We came upon a stunning fountain with several galloping horses…20180406_110009It was getting just a wee bit hot so we ducked into the fab Berdena’s cafe where the staff prepared fresh squeezed orange juice for me and a tea for AJ. Friendly & welcoming staff made for a pleasant visit. www.berdenas.com20180406_111007 20180406_110704More schlepping around the streets before heading to the incredible Museum of the West where I was to find treasures from cowboy history, native American culture and some samples of the great western artist, Charles Russell.  I’ll let the photos do the talking…20180406_114636 20180406_115545 20180406_115615This next one is AJ’s favourite, as if you couldn’t tell!20180406_115641And these are two of mine….20180406_115655 20180406_115707They’re also heavy into pot…clay pots, that is…20180406_115738 20180406_115751 20180406_115811Lots of wild west memorabilia was on display…
20180406_120631 20180406_120656 20180406_12074820180406_121639 20180406_121730 20180406_121833 20180406_121928I was particularly drawn to the Charles Russell exhibition of his paintings and stories about the women in his life…20180406_120043 20180406_120027 20180406_115936And there were so many amazing bronzes of native Americans…just look at these regal warriors:20180406_120120 20180406_120152And of course I found my very own buffalo…Dances with Glenda!20180406_121022The museum has an outdoor courtyard filled with sculptures…20180406_121108 20180406_121147 …then back inside I discovered a tribute to John Wayne by his artist friend Harry Jackson near the gift shop:20180406_121409 20180406_121416The museum also had a “secret garden” of sculptures around back – look what I found there…20180406_123304 20180406_123441 20180406_123640Big thank you to Jeffrey in the gift store who pointed out some great western books to bring home as well as some cool cowboy fridge magnets (these ones are for me!). Learn more about Scottsdale’s Museum of the West by visiting their website: www.scottsdalemuseumwest.org

More Arizona Adventure stories coming from this lone ranger so stay tuned!20180406_133437

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MY ARIZONA ADVENTURE (Pt.I) – welcome to Camp Joy Ranch

It’s been 22 years since I took a vacation – working for one’s self means if you don’t work, you don’t make money so after all that nose-to-the-grindstone living, I finally accepted an invitation from old pal Anthony (AJ) Cavanagh with whom I worked at a local Toronto TV station back in 1999/2000, to visit him and his husband Tom on their ranch in Phoenix, AZ. If there is a heaven here on earth, Camp Joy Ranch must be it…or at least heaven-adjacent!

After coming in for the landing and seeing such a bleak landscape (below)…20190405_205210…I was surprised to learn that Arizona had recently experienced an unusual amount of rain and the desert was in “super bloom”  i.e. all the wildflowers and cacti were blossoming, bursting with colour and fragrance. After AJ picked me up it was pretty dark and as we drove thru the night about an hour or so out of the city, he explained that they have a law requiring street lights and commercial/retail lighting be turned off or down low in order to see the night sky. OMG…I have never seen such bright stars, the moon, all the constellations! But even more beautiful was the surroundings of Camp Joy Ranch when I woke up the next morning with the sun streaming through my bedroom window…20190407_07061220190406_10320520190406_10294420190406_102710The first thing I noticed, apart from the stunning vistas, was the sound of birds singing. Mourning doves coo’d, desert quails with their funny feathered top-knots warbled and the crows cawed high above as they rode the wind high above. I saw all sorts of birds including red cardinals, honeysuckers and humming birds (try taking a pic of them – impossible…LOL) as well as eagles and hawks, plus the bunnies came out to play every morning (below)20190409_091022After a great Aussie breakfast of toast & Vegemite, AJ saddled up the Prius and we headed out to Scottsdale for some serious shopping and touristy sight-seeing. I was so excited just like a little kid, knowing I was gonna be amazed and enthralled. My next blog post will show you what we saw so stay tuned.20190406_102808

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Celebrating the festive season in Port Hope (Part1)

This past weekend, I decided to join my friends in Port Hope to celebrate the Christmas season, so I booked my VIA Rail ticket and set off for my adventure on Friday afternoon. Before arriving in Cobourg (the main rail stop for area), the train whistled hello to Port Hope as we rode across the Ganaraska River over the big bridge. Woohoo!

On this Friday night, Port Hope merchants presented their annual Midnight Madness late night shopping, after the townsfolk strolled the streets during the candlelight walk to the main park for the Christmas lighting ceremony and opening of the nativity scene in the bandshell. I was thrilled when I was “adopted” by a lovely family and got to join them on the candlelight walk (thanks, Val from Pharmasave, for bringing me into the family).

20181123_190539 20181123_192017 20181123_192020Lots of fun rides and activities, including VIA Rail‘s mini train chugging around the streets, full of laughing kids and parents. What fun!20181123_192638And everybody loved the maple syrup pops made fresh, courtesy of the local Home Hardware store. Yummm!

I also took a ride on the wagon drawn by 2 big Shire horses thru the streets, then spent time injecting some cash into the local economy…yes, it was time to shop!!

As always, my first stop was at Queenie’s Bake Shop where owner Adam (that’s him on the TV screen) and his staff were running a toy drive and I was happy to donate a couple of treasures, too.  www.queenies-bake-shop.business.site/20181124_113140 20181123_162352Then off I went next door to the Kenneth Bell jewellery & fashion boutique for some retail therapy and shopping for pressies. Ken was kind enough to pick me up from the station and bring me into Port Hope that afternoon. We always share a laugh when I visit… www.kennethbell.com

20181123_172143 20181123_171608 20181123_171552After my credit card got a good workout at Ken’s, I then went to visit the elegant and friendly Bubbles & Gems where I picked up a couple of pressies for my sister Jenny in Australia…no photos of them ‘coz I think she actually reads my blog! https://bubblesandgems.com/  They have a lovely section of the store towards the back that is set aside for display and sales of local artisans’ work and I highly recommend you visiting and supporting the local craftspeople.20181125_132232 20181123_173731 20181123_173718As I made my way up Walton Street, I saw so many beautiful window displays including Holton Flowers (they ALWAYS have big beautiful floral displays in the windows)  www.holtonflowers.com/20181123_174618 20181123_174603Then across the street, I saw Furby House Books and loved their Dickensian style windows, and the travel agents next door with their festive globes…all decked out for the holidays.20181123_174829 20181123_174834 20181123_174844I was getting very hungry – it’s exhausting spending money!!! so I sought out Nookie’s Soul Kitchen & Bar, one of the town’s best restaurants offering gourmet meals. Friday is “surf’n’turf” special night. Yes, lobster & steak for $20 (see below) and it was DELICIOUS! Thanks to Tony the cute bartender for taking care of my needs….LOL!   www.nookiesph.com20181123_204114Burp! That was soooo good!

Finally it was time to go tuck myself in for the night so I walked past more delightful decorations, up the hill to my home for the weekend. I stayed at the Summerhill Manor B&B (more about that in Part 2 of the blog) 20181123_174857

20181123_185734So with a full tummy and heart full of joy, I slipped beneath the big fluffy comforter and slept well until I awoke to smell of fresh coffee brewing and bacon on the kitchen grill. Chef Ron of the Summerhill was up early getting my breakfast ready.  TO BE CONTINUED…..

For tourist info: www./visitporthope.ca/

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A Thai feast fit for a King….and I!

So apart from the bad grammar (s.b. “and me”) the headline here really does tell the story of Toronto’s small but mighty ISAAN DER Thai restaurant and its equally small but mighty queen of the kitchen, Chef Ko (pictured below).Chef Ko 2I was recently turned on to this snug and beautifully decorated dining establishment located in the heart of Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood by fellow foodies and owners of No. 7 Hot Sauce, Carlos and Sandra, who told me about the incredible food and lovely people who run Isaan Der. Chef Ko, along with her Canadian husband Donald, run the place like clockwork, juggling take-out and home delivery orders with quiet aplomb as they and their servers offer personal but discreet table-side service to their guests, many of whom are neighbours and regular/repeat diners.20171018_183950Attention to detail is key at Isaan Der – just look at these cute elephant hooks for coats or purses located behind every table for diners’ convenience.20170829_184227I recently spoke with Donald and Chef Ko about their journey from Thailand to Toronto and the fabulous food they serve to hungry fans Tuesdays thru Sundays.

Chef Ko, what first inspired you to become a professional chef?  Having had the opportunity to travel around Thailand as a journalist for Channel 7 news, I have discovered that it’s not all Pad Thai and Tom Yum Goong. There are lots of delicious dishes from every part of Thailand. 20170525_121454Did you study under any well-known chef or in a professional kitchen?  I studied at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, which is also a 5-star hotel in Bangkok, in their Professional Thai Chef program as well as at Kasesart University to learn about the origins of some of our well known dishes.

You specialize in traditional fine Thai cuisine at Isaan Der– how important is it that you use fresh, locally sourced ingredients for your menu?  We only use the freshest of ingredients for our food and every dish is made à la carte, meaning every dish you order is made specifically for you. We do NOT have anything pre-made so dishes might take a few minutes longer getting to your table….but the wait is worth it!sataysDonald, since opening Isaan Der in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood in March , how have you seen your customer base grow?  Since opening, we’ve seen tremendous growth; from 3 people in the kitchen to now more than 8 dealing with the volume which we handle with great care and efficiency. It’s our loyal customers with whom we have had table-side conversations, educating them on the many differences in Thai food. We are certainly no better than any other Thai restaurant, but we do know that we are ‘different’.IMG_20170321_030403_608received_159738710362409620170320_20050620170320_200409Donald, any exciting news about menu or service you’d like to share?  Here we grow!  We recently changed our menus adding several new items to replace those we have “retired” for now. We cater to everyone with dietary restrictions such as celiac, vegan, food allergies as well as likes/dislikes. We can do it all as our dishes are made for you…any way you like it!

We’ve seen a tremendous increase in our Doordash delivery as well as personal take-out with our online ordering. Thanks to our brand new ordering app (for both iPhone & android) we’re able to streamline the dining experience for those dining at home. Easy-peasy with a simple click, click and done! We no longer take phone orders so we’re able to focus on personal table-side service in the restaurant.  But if people have questions about our menu we are certainly available via phone queries. See below the special promotion for 1st time app orders:July 2017454

Isaan Der is definitely one of my favourite Toronto restaurants and I’m especially fond of their Shrimp Roll appetizer – I frequently construct a meal by combining 2 orders of those with a salad. I love the little noodle ribbons and bows tying them up (see below). The handcrafted chili dipping sauce is super deelish, too.20170829_180825You MUST try the Golden Bags and Spring Rolls (below)….
17155630_1495954417121699_3390928405222378590_n 20170525_110821And each Wednesday is “Wine Wednesday” with $3 off your glass of featured wine…..20171018_184058…followed by “Beer Thursdays” when your favourite brew is only $5!20171018_184024Located at 2961 Dundas West (a few blocks W of Keele) there’s lots of parking (on street and in the green P lot behind) and prompt bus transit (take the #40 from Dundas W subway stn). Check out their menu, hours of operation and directions here: www.isaander.comlogo

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SPRINGTIME IN YORKVILLE – come for a stroll with me thru the parks & gardens

Today is the one sunny day forecast for this week so I took a stroll thru my neighbourhood parkettes and gardens, snapping away at all the pretty flowers that have finally poked their heads above ground.20170503_112819Across the street from my building is the old Manufacturers Life Bldg, surrounded by beautifully manicured gardens that I frequently photograph. Thanks to the heavy rains yesterday, most of the tulips looked a bit beaten down but I found a few nice beds still in tact – below20170503_111733 20170503_111952 20170503_112034Then down the little side street you’ll find a charming parkette (pictured below) that’s usually populated (sadly) with homeless folk but today I had the place to myself…and the flowers.20170503_112236 20170503_112752 20170503_112805 20170503_112901 20170503_112913This poor little tulip looked so lonely – his mates obviously failed to sprout!20170503_113023_002Lots more flowers to enjoy in this tiny nature strip alongside Church Street north of Bloor, including these stunning Magnolia blossoms in the back garden of one of the neighbouring row houses.20170503_113115 20170503_113125 20170503_113052Lots more lovely flowers to capture along the side streets near Yonge & Bloor…20170503_113258 20170503_113411 20170503_113857I strolled down Hazelton Avenue in the heart of chi-chi Yorkville and found some lovely surprises in the cottage gardens….20170503_114651 20170503_114742…then back home via Yorkville Ave, dropping in to say hi to the firemen of Station 312.20170503_11570920170503_115728 20170503_115808Hope you enjoyed my little virtual tour of the lovely flowers and gardens near my home…now go get out there in the sunshine yourself!

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MEET LYNDON WIEBE, EXECUTIVE CHEF OF URBANSOURCE CATERING IN TORONTO

For the past few years, I’ve been blogging about and promoting the talented foodie folks who work at URBANSOURCE CATERING here in Toronto, and have come to admire their executive chef LYNDON WIEBE for not only his super deelish food but also for his outstanding photography snapped during his many adventures abroad. In fact, Lyndon had a solo photographic art show at the adjoining Urban Gallery a couple of years ago (see below).Invitation Image Masai Tribesman Tanzania DSC_1155 20150115_165421(0) 20150115_165433Lyndon’s pictures captured real life in-situ in some of the remotest outposts of humanity, and his engagement and relationships with the local people can clearly be seen in his images. Below, Lyndon poses modestly in front of one of my favourite pictures.20150115_172636I recently asked him about the transition from globe-trotting chef/photographer to executive chef at UrbanSource Catering and he kindly shared his thoughts here:

How long have you been executive chef at UrbanSource Catering?  In March of 2017, I will have been the Executive Chef at Urban Source for five years. With Urban Gallery next door, there are always receptions and corporate soirees to cater on a weekly basis.CAs a celebrity chef from the successful travel/food tv series (Chefs Run Wild, how did you adjust to being a little more “chained to the stove” working in a commercial/catering kitchen with staff to manage?  I think celebrity chef is a bit of a strong word, maybe minor television celebrity chef is more accurate…LOL I am by no means a Chuck Hughes or Anthony Bourdain, but it is flattering nonetheless. We were referred to as “Baby Bourdains” in an article on us in the National Post newspaper, which I thought was funny.CRW.71130027

Lyndon behind the camera, shooting a segment for Chefs Run Wild in S.E. Asia

Lyndon behind the camera, shooting a segment for Chefs Run Wild in S.E. Asia

I lived, traveled and worked overseas for over 7 years and have been working in kitchens since I was sixteen, so coming back to work in Urban’s kitchen was nothing new to me, as I have always been a hands-on chef. Don’t get me wrong, the whole television experience was exciting and exhilarating, but was also exhausting and, at times, filled with anxiety. Would I trade that experience for anything? Absolutely not!  It was incredible and showed me a different side of television which was cool, however, it was fleeting – for me cooking is not fleeting and will always be a big part of my life. So, after my nice seven month break when I moved to Toronto, I was more than happy to take over the reigns in a new kitchen with a new crew at Urban.

You’re also an accomplished photographer and artist – do you continue to undertake camera safaris or have you adapted your photography to include food and presentations?  Yes, I’m still an avid photographer and still go on photo safaris when the time and weather allows. I just got an iPhone and have started using it a lot more as portable camera to take shots on my ride to and from work or when I’m out and about in the city. It comes in handy and the quality of the images has definitely improved with the technology.  As for food photography, it’s not really my thing. I think I just got sick of everybody taking photos and showing the world what they were eating on Instagram every single day. There are tons of beautiful food photographs out there and it makes me want to eat every dish I see, but as a subject matter I prefer streetscapes, nature and people. My girlfriend only recently convinced me to set up an Instagram account (@LyndonWiebe), so I have been using that as a means to show my work. Call me old fashioned, I just fight new technology sometimes even though it is helpful, just for the sake of fighting it. Can’t teach an old dog new tricks etc, although it’s more like this old dog just doesn’t want to learn new tricks. On top of that, I have an online gallery to sell my works and have just recently been asked to join Vida at their request. Vida is a company that lets artists transform their artwork into their own fashion line. I upload my artwork and from there I can choose to put that design onto shirts, pillows, blankets, scarves and many other accessories and create my own fashion line – it’s quite a neat concept. I’m just in the beginning stages of that venture so it will take a while to get it off the ground.  My online portfolio is located here: https://www.direct2artist.com/artists/lyndonwiebe

20150115_165637 20150115_171715As Urban’s chef, you’re responsible for creative exciting menus each season for clients – what has been your most challenging catering project to date?  One of our biggest clients has a standing order for catered meals for their staff four to five days a week. The biggest challenge lies in keeping the menus fresh, creative and in budget without repeating menus if we can help it, or unless they ask for a specific menu again. Doing that for fifty weeks a year can be a challenge as you always have to be thinking about availability of ingredients depending on what season you are in. It is even more of a challenge when they ask for stuff that is not in season, but with imports these days we can get fruits and veggies of all varieties year round. But a strawberry in January in Toronto is not going to taste as good as an Ontario strawberry in the summertime. It’s being able to source an ingredient and make sure you can still deliver the flavours they expect.Peppercorn Beef Tenderloin Crostini with caramelized onionCF233520160531_18421720160531_184035As we move closer to Spring, what food items or dishes are on your radar as trend-setting and that will be added to the seasonal Urban Catering menus?  With Spring comes the shift away from tuber and root vegetable heavy dishes, which I am always excited about. We will start to see rhubarb, fiddle heads, peas, asparagus, radish, spring beets, and in June the strawberry and cherry season begins. We also see fresh cauliflower come June, so hopefully that will bring the price of it down as it is pretty expensive right now.  When it comes to fresh vegetables, I tend to let the foods speak for themselves. Peas and asparagus are given a quick blanch and tossed in a little butter and salt and pepper. Beets can be shaved with fresh radish and thrown in a kale and grain salad. Ramps and fiddle heads I love to put in a light and delicate quiche. Rhubarb can finely sliced and thrown in salads to give them an unexpected crunch and tartness or make a strawberry & rhubarb crumble which is always a favourite. Cauliflower is one of my favourite vegetables as it has so many applications. Tacos are still huge in the food scene so for vegetarians – we offer spicy cauliflower tacos in place of beef or chicken tacos. Also good for Korean fried cauliflower (which people can’t seem to get enough of) or Buffalo cauliflower “wings”. My favourite dish that I came up with is cauliflower laap, or larb depending where you come from. It’s an adaptation of the traditional pork or chicken dish found in Thailand and Laos. It’s a cooked crumbled meat dish that is served room temperature with fresh shallot, mint, cilantro, fish sauce, lime juice, bird’s eye chilies and toasted ground rice. The flavours are incredible.

During production of Chefs Run Wild, you cooked weird and wonderful ingredients from around the world – what’s your favourite international cuisine to cook and what’s the strangest ingredient you had to use on the show?   It’s hard to say what cuisine is my favourite to cook because in that region of South East Asia, their flavours and ideas are very similar and they all borrow off of each other and add their own twists. Anything from Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore are my favourite foods to cook and eat, even Laos has amazing food. It’s the balance of flavours that I learned from there when cooking that style of food that is the most important thing. Sweet, sour, spicy, salty and bitter are the five flavours you always have to consider when creating a perfectly balanced dish. If you have all of these flavours in your dish, you have created something special.IMG_3587In terms of weird ingredients, there are many. There is an area in Thailand known as the Issan Province on the border with Laos. It is very agriculturally poor. The land is not suitable for farming and they cannot grow a lot there so the people have lived off whatever the land provides them with. So they eat a lot of bugs and insects for protein wand they employ odd flavor combinations at times. Ant egg salad was a classic recipe we learned. The ant eggs themselves look like yogurt covered raisins, until you put one in your mouth and it pops like a giant pimple in your mouth – let me tell you, the pop is very unsettling…it was like eating a small eyeball! The experience makes me cringe, but for the people of Issan, it’s a normal everyday meal.  IMG_3466Another thing they used over there was pork blood. Now, congealed or cooked pork blood in cubes is quite common over there and you see it everywhere. It is actually quite delicious. But in Issan we made a dish called “pork waterfall”(that was the literal translation) and to top off this dish they had a squeeze bottle of raw pork blood diluted with vinegar which they just poured over top of the dish. Not going to lie, it was not very appetizing at all. We couldn’t even finish it, but we had had to try it, because you don’t know till you try.IMG_3524Any advice for people considering engaging a caterer for their special event, wedding or corporate soiree?  What do they need to consider – budget, type of food, venue, service, etc?  Wwhen you call a caterer, it’s important to have a vision of what you want and it’s also important to have a realistic and flexible budget in mind. I say realistic, because some clients call and want five courses of food with full waiter service, but only have $5 per person in their budget and are unprepared by the real costs of hosting a catering. I also recommend getting a few different quotes so you can compare what’s on offer. It’s no different than buying a car or a house.  Check the UrbanSource Catering website to see a selection of menus that appeal to every taste, every occasion and every budget. www.urbancatering.com

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AHOY, MATEY….AND HAPPY THANKSGIVING FROM TORONTO HARBOUR!

What a lovely way to spend Thanksgiving….cruising around Toronto’s stunning Lake Ontario harbour and islands, watching the planes come in and snapping away like a crazed tourist! I love taking quickee “stay-cations” or playing hookey mid-week and taking off for a calming boat cruise through the islands. Today is Thanksgiving Monday in Canada and everyone is busy roasting turkeys and shuffling between family homes with pumpkin pies and bottles of wine. Me? Well, I’m thankful to have access to simple pleasures like harbour boat cruises and the nice folks at Toronto Harbour Tours didn’t disappoint  www.harbourtourstoronto.ca20161010_132506Captain Dylan (pictured above) and Cruise Director Mike welcomed me aboard then cast off for a 1 hour tour – unlike Gilligan and his 3hr tour, there was little chance of getting shipwrecked. We cast off our boat, the Shipsands, and headed out into Lake Ontario, past all the condos and restaurants…..

What a beautiful city and waterfront we have. I sometimes forget the beauty that’s just minutes from my front door.20161010_12391920161010_123542 20161010_125024My sailing buddies were a fun bunch showing their out of town friends around the city.20161010_124201

20161010_13075920161010_131345As our boat was returning, we caught this scary plane landing…must have been Sully at the controls!

Whew, that was a close call. More picturesque photo opps….20161010_13211020161010_132012…then aloha and farewell to Capt. Dylan and Mike (who’s being dive-bombed here by a rogue seagull)20161010_132513The fun didn’t end there…I remembered there was an artisans’ market further along the harbourfront so I set forth to forage for food and oh boy…peameal bacon on a kaiser roll – my favourite!!20161010_135605And dessert courtesy of Carla’s Cookie Box! Yummmmm20161010_140814

So Happy Canadian Thanksgiving to all my blog readers…wishing you lots of turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pies…burp!