St. Patrick’s Day Recipe Bundle

This bunch of recipes started as an idea where I wanted to do something drawing inspiration from my childhood in Ireland to my current life here in Toronto. It also helped that St. Patrick’s Day was impending so that provided a nice motivational kick. I’ve included three (or should it be four?) recipes here as frankly I couldn’t decide which to include for a single recipe post. However, I do think it works quite nicely to chart the influences on my passion for baking. I shall try to keep the background blurb short as I have to admit not being a fan of rambling anecdotes myself on recipe posts (“Seriously Janice- get to the recipe already! No one actually cares about your traumatic experience with bangs and how it rekindled your childhood love of popovers…)

In the meantime have a great St. Patrick’s Day. Eat (plenty); Drink (responsibly) and Be merry (it goes without saying).

Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhaoibhe!

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Traditional Plain Soda Bread w/ Blueberry, Rosemary & Juniper berry conserve

This is where I began. Well, I mean my love of baking. Soda bread was the first recipe that my mom showed me how to make in the kitchen. The bread is simplicity itself with  little or no baking skill required. The conserve recipe is my substitute for the sticky jam jars of childhood. If you asked me to sum up childhood memories of baking it would be of freshly cut warm plain soda bread, slathered in butter and jam. And now I pass it on to you to make your own memories.

Plain soda bread

Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 cups All purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk*

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Method

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F
  2. Line a tray with baking parchment and dust lightly with flour. Set aside until needed
  3. In a large bowl combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt. Whisk to combine and break down lumps. Make a well in the centre
  4. Pour in most of the buttermilk
  5. Using one hand stir the flour into the liquid from the outside of the bowl, turning the bowl as you do. Continue until the mixture comes together in a soft dough that is not too wet or sticky (you may need the remainder of the buttermilk here)
  6. Turn the dough out into a lightly floured surface and knead lightly for a few seconds. Don’t overknead here- you just want to do it enough so that it holds it shape. Don’t do it to the extent that you would with standard bread dough!
  7. Using your hands, lightly floured, pat the dough into a round shape about 2 inches thick. Transfer to the floured baking sheet
  8. With a knife (I use a bench scraper) score a cross into the top of the loaf, so that it goes almost all the way through the thickness and over the sides of the loaf
  9. Bake in the preheated oven for 15mins then reduce the heat to 400°F and continue baking for an additional 20mins until cooked. The baked loaf will be deep golden in color and sound hollow when the bottom of it is tapped
  10. Remove and cool on a wire rack
  11. This type of loaf will cool with a hard, crispy crust. If a softer crust is desired wrap a clean kitchen towel around the hot loaf and allow it to cool

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*If you don’t have buttermilk to hand you can make your own by combining 1 cup milk with 1 tablespoon squeezed lemon juice or distilled white vinegar in a jug. Stir to combine and leave to sit for 15 mins. After 15 mins the liquid will have thickened slightly and small curds can be seen. Use in the recipe as required. Any remaining milk can be stored in the fridge.

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Blueberry, rosemary & juniper berry conserve

Ingredients

  • 4 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoons dried juniper berries, lightly crushed
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • Sprig of fresh rosemary (6 inch length apx)

Method

  1. In large pot combine the blueberries, juniper berries, sugar, lemon juice and water
  2. Stir over a medium heat until the mixture becomes loose and the berries start releasing liquid
  3. When the berries have soften and you see more liquid add in the spring of rosemary, ensuring it is submerged in the liquid
  4. Continue over a medium, stirring occasionally, for 30mins until the fruit has broken down and slightly thickened
  5. Remove from heat, transfer the mixture to a bowl and allow to cool to room temperature and infuse
  6. When cool place in a sterilised jar. Serve with traditional soda bread

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Báirín Breac (Irish Barmbrack)

As a kid I hated dried fruit. Hated it with that primal fervour only a child can manifest when presented with something they don’t like. Not only was barmbrack out- also Christmas cake, fruit cookies and anything else harbouring any sign of a shrivelled morsel. Interesting then that as an adult I can have a hankering out of the blue for something with dried fruit. Perhaps making up for lost time? Whilst more traditional to see it at Halloween, barmbrack for me is synonymous with my roots in Motherland Hibernia. Here I’ve made some additions and substitutions- mead in addition to the traditional tea steeping fluid to give a little extra indulgence; Red Fife flour to add an extra layer of nuttiness to the loaf; and cranberries as, even after all these years, candied peel still abhors me. 

Makes 1 loaf

Ingredients

  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup sultanas
  • 1 cup cranberries
  • 1 1/2 cup black tea, freshly made
  • 1/4 cup mead
  • 3/4 cup dark muscovado sugar
  • 1 cup All Purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup Red Fife flour (or substitute wholewheat)
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon mixed spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 egg, beaten

To finish

  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water

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Method

  1. Put the raisins, sultanas and cranberries in a large heatproof bowl, pour over the tea and mead. Stir to combine ensuring all the fruit is wet. Leave to soak overnight, or minimum 6 hours, stirring occasionally 
  2. Heat the oven to 350°F and grease 4.5″ x 8.5″ loaf tin pan and line with baking parchment
  3. In a second bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, baking powder, spices and salt, making sure you break up any lumps in the sugar, then stir in the fruit mixture (including liquid), beaten egg and vanilla extract. Mix well to combine
  4. Tip the loaf mix into the tin, smooth the top and bake for 80 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean. (If the top looks to be going too dark or burning on top towards the end, cover loosely with foil)
  5. Take out of the oven, leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then turn out on to a baking rack
  6. Whilst the loaf is cooling make the sugar syrup.
  7. In a small saucepan combine the sugar and water. Heat the sugar and water over a high heat until the sugar has been dissolved. Bring to a boil and continue stirring over a high heat for 1 minute
  8. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before applying to the loaf
  9. When the loaf has been turned out on to the rack, liberally brush the top and sides with the cooled syrup
  10. Allow to cool fully to room temperature before slicing and serving
  11. Serve slathered in fresh butter and with a hot cup of tea for the quintessential Irish experience.
  12. Store the baked loaf wrapped in wax paper, or baking parchment, in an airtight container. The taste and texture of the remaining loaf will improve over time becoming more “fudge” like.img_3501

 

Irish Cream Nanaimo Bars

While the previous recipes had their roots firmly planted in childhood memories and influences, this is a blatant (and heady) nod to the influences of my current home. Numerous Canadian baked goods have won me over – butter tarts; beaver tails; Pouding Chomeur but the Nanaimo bar truly hits my sweet Achilles heel. And how do you make something that perfect better? Why by adding booze of course! More specifically Irish Cream. Take your pick of the ones available out there but my preference is for the stalwart that is Baileys. Not that I’ve made trays of liqueur riddled sweet bars in order to research. Of course not!

Makes 24

Ingredients

Bottom Layer

  • 1/2 cup of salted butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup of unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/4 cup of granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 1/4 cups of graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 cup of sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate, chopped finely
  • 1/2 cup walnut pieces, chopped and toasted

Middle Layer

  • 2 cups of icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup of butter, softened
  • 2 -3 tablespoons of Irish Cream liqueur, I use Baileys
  • 2 tablespoons of cornstarch

Top Layer

  • 3/4 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chips
  • 2 separate tablespoons of butter

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 9x9inch baking pan with parchment paper
  2. For the bottom layer, in a medium bowl, combined the sugar and melted butter. Stir until the sugar is nearly dissolved. Add in the graham crumbs, shredded coconut, cocoa, chopped chocolate and walnut pieces. Combine well. Add in the beaten egg and again mix well to combine
  3. Press the mixture into the lined baking pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, remove and set aside to cool (I usually cool mine in the fridge as i make the middle layer)
  4. Whilst the bottom layer is cooling prepare the middle layer
  5. In the bowl of a stand mixer (paddle attachment fitted) combine the icing sugar, softened butter, cornstarch and liqueur. Beat on slow until all ingredients are combined and then increase the speed to high for a few minutes until the mixture is whipped and fluffy. Spread the whipped mixture evenly over the cooled bottom layer. Place in the fridge to cool while you make the top layer
  6. Combine the semi-sweet chocolate chips and 1 tablespoon of butter in one heatproof bowl and the white chocolate chips and the other tablespoon of butter in another heatproof bowl. Melt both bowls of chocolate, one at a time, set over a pan of hot water. Spoon dollops of each melted chocolate over the cooled middle layer and using a knife spatula or spoon swirl together to evenly coat the top of the mixture
  7. Place in the fridge and chill for minimum 2 hours before slicing (4x 6) and serving.
  8. Keep the bars refrigerated for up to 3 days in a closed container, or frozen for up to 3 months


See you in the next cartoon…

 

First things first, in the words of one of my culinary idols, some parting advice…

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I’m still here! I just wanted to clear that up. I know it’s been quite some time since I lst posted anything here but I’ve been otherwise occupied with the other great occupation in my life- my family. To cut a long story short- we’re moving…to Canada! Toronto to be precise, in a couple of weeks.

Those of you that know me and have followed my social streams and blog will know that I have a bizarrely preternatural love for Canada. In case you missed it, or have arrived late to the party (hey! hello!..pull up a stool and grab a drink!) here’s my post about the catalytic visit to Toronto.

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So yes! After 14 years in the UK, 1 husband , two kids, an architectural career and a baking business later I’m off to the land of Mounties and Maple Syrup. It may be a while until I get to post something on here again but do keep watch on my Twitter, Instagram and Facebook pages for updates. In the meantime, I’d like to thank all of you for following me on this wonderfully fragrant, tasty and sometimes frenetic journey that has been Mr. Mom’s. Triumphs have lifted me, frustrations have tempered me and failures have winded me but they’ve all paved a long and winding road which now leads into the West. So long for now and see you in the next cartoon…

goodbye

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Don’t say, We have come now to the end,

White shores are calling,

You and I will meet again.

And all will turn

To silver glass.

A light on the water,

Grey ships pass

Into the West.

 

#Recipe Nanaimo Bars

Nanaimo Bars (2)
Nanaimo Bars

Last year my husband and I went to Canada for the first time. We spent a week in Toronto and I absolutely fell in love with the place. The food…the people….the food…you get the picture I’m sure? I won’t wax lyrical about it (if you want that you can read all about my Canuck adventures here). The food is something I definitely never run out of things to say about. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried poutine, and then there’s Nova Scotia Lobster! But the point of this post is to share my love of yet another Canadian foodstuff (albeit not a native of the East Coast) – the Nanaimo Bar. Yes, I’ll admit it does sound like a character from a Disney movie but believe me it’s worth getting used to the name.

It’s basically a layered fridge cake made up of a crumb base layer, a buttercream-style middle layer (traditionally custard flavoured), then topped with a chocolate layer. Yes- they are a rich as they sound. Trust me, no matter how much your eyes tell you, one will be enough (okay- maybe two!) Originating in the district of Nanaimo, British Columbia it’s so popular that it’s been declared a national treasure. And like all good national treasures there are many recipes and many takes on how to  make the bars- and they’re all the “proper” way. This is however is my way and how I like them best.

(As a note I prefer them kept in the fridge once they’re made as keeping them at room temperature causes the buttercream and chocolate layers to soften too much)

Ingredients

Base layer:

½ cup unsalted butter 

¼ cup sugar

5 tbsp. cocoa

1 egg beaten

1 ¼ cups graham wafer crumbs

½ cup chopped walnuts

1 cup coconut

For the filling:

½ cup unsalted butter

2 Tbsp. and 2 Tsp. cream

2 Tbsp. vanilla custard powder

2 cups icing sugar

For the topping:

4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate 

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

– Lined 9″ x 9″ tray (1 ½ inch high) or silicone baking tray

Nanaimo Bars (5)

Method

To make the base:

  • Melt the butter, sugar and cocoa in a small pan over a low heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Take off the heat.
  • In a separate bowl combine the crumbs, coconut and walnut pieces.
  • Add the beaten egg to chocolate mixture and mix well to combine and thicken. The mixture may appear to separate but continue whisking vigorously and it’ll come back together to a shiny, thick consistency. Pour chocolate mixture over the crumb mixture and mix well to combine.
  • Press mixture into the lined tin and level the surface. Chill for 30mins to 1 hour.

To make the filling:

  • Add the butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together in a stand mixer.
  • Cream well at a high-speed until fluffy and smooth
  • Spread this over the biscuit base and chill for at least 3 hours until set firm.

To make the topping:

  • Melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl over a pan of simmering water.
  • Allow to cool for a few mins then spread it over the filling.
  • Return to the fridge and leave until set (at least 1 hour).
  • Cut in to bars and serve.

Nanaimo Bars (3)

Maple syrup and more

So finally I’ve managed to snag some time to post here about my recent trip to Toronto. It’s only taken the best part of a month! Seriously- where did that go?!?!? Anyway before time moves on even quicker I CANNOT wait to tell you about the city of Toronto and what it has to offer. Most of what I say will indeed be food orientated but hey- why else would you be here?

We decided to take adavantage of a child-free week (thanks to family!) and jet off to the land of bacon and maple syrup, Apologies for the massive stereotyping there but they do make hella’ good bacon and no one, but no one, does maple syrup like the Canadians.

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Our first day there and I had a couple of hours to myself as my husbear was getting some business meetings out of the way. First on my checklist (and you’d better believe I had a checklist!) was St. Lawrence Food Market. If you’re a foodie and you’re in Toronto, you MUST go here. It’s the Mecca for mezze; the Valhalla for veal; the…you get what I’m saying? I arrived there not long after opening so there weren’t many people and it was fantastic to be able to meander the hall at a leisurely pace taking in a myriad of sounds and smells- meat being cut on the bone; cheeses; freshly baked breads; smoky tendrilled BBQs being fired up; ice being tumbled onto gleaming fish; freshly roasted coffee beans – this was seriously foodie heaven. Suffice to say I spent most of the free time I had here. In fact I had to take in a few laps of the hall as my first couple were spent in complete, child-like wonder at every new stall and culinary treasure trove I found.

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One delight I didn’t manage to partake of was a peameal bacon roll from Carousel Bakery. Consosting of lean back bacon rolled in cornmeal, or “peameal” and served in a soft roll, this apparently is a national insitute with near legendary reviews on the internet. It’s available served in a number of ways from additions of fried eggs and cheese to just good ol’ fashioned mustard. It’s the breakfast sandwich of choice for many discerning Torontonians.

2015-06-30 09.50.12-2And so on to my next Toronto “Bucket list” destination- “The Gabardine”. I cannot rave about this place enough! Sitauted in the finacial/ business district it’s a haven for suits and secretaries alike so I’d recommed going there slightly after what you would expect to be business lunch time. On our first visit we arrived at 1.30pm and not long after being seated the majority of diners left to go back to work. It seems the Torontonian lunch hour is a little ahead of the Britisih one. There were two things on our “must-try” list- the Mac and Cheese, and the Chicken Pot Pie. I’m not normally a pie type of guy (believe it or not!?!) but after seein this featured on TV I knew I needed this in my life! Rich, creamy and utterly, utterly comforting this was a chicken pie of dreams. Not at all scrimping on the filling of mosit chunks of meat and sublimely favoured herb sauce this needs to be perserved for the sake of humainty. If chicken soup heals, then this pie can raise the dead. The best way to eat it is to break off the surrounding pastry crust and dip in, scooping up rich sauce, whilst harpooning meaty galline nuggets. That way you get the flaky, buttery pastry with the creamy herb sauce and succulent chicken…now just STOP IT!

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The Gabardine: Chicken Pot Pie

My other half opted for the other dish synonimous with The Gabardine – their Mac and Cheese. Being of the more Umami persuassion than me, he opted for the pimped version with ham. Now, we were excpected diced bacon mixed into the cheese sauce, or maybe some lardons to add some extra flavoursome oomph. What arrived was…

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The Gabardine: Mac and Cheese (topped with smoked bacon)

Yup – ham topped Mac and Cheese. Topped with ham chunks the size of sugar cubes and then some! Rich, cheesy (sad to say not cheesy enough) sauce with a crispy hearb crumb and then topped with “man chinks” of smoked ham this was no “sissy side dish” . Now while I say the sauce wasn’t cheesy enough I do reckon this was just a one-off as on another visit we say other diners having the dish and there was plenty of “cheese pull” to be had.

Purely in the name of research, I opted for the pudding special that day. Peanutbutter Cream Pie. I’ll let the picture speak for itself.

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The Gabardine: Peanuttbutter Cream Pie

So you may gather I was particularly fond of this restaurant. You’d be right. So much so that we went back a second time for dinner. I opted to try the special of “Korean Fried Cauliflower”- and I was not diappointed. This indeed was a special dish.  Cauliflower was fried and transformed into crispy, sweetly spicy morsels with jam-like stickiness served with green leaves and creme fraiche. If you’re there and this is on the menu (or specials board) I whole-heartedly recommend ordering it. Now I normally errupt in Verruca Salt-esque pouting if I can’t see meat on my plate but so good a dish was this that in fact I happily scoffed the lot and ne’er a word of complaint was uttered! This was follwed by the pork chop, hominy and greens. And boy what a pork chop it was. Brined, moist and succulent- I was a happy man indeed. So happy was I, that I completely forgot what my husabnd had ordered for his meal!

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The Gabardine: Korean Fried Cauliflower (l); Pork Chop w/ hominy (top right); House Chocolate Brownie (bottom right)

And that was just one restaurant! The next on my “To Do List” was the fine establishment called “Rock Lobster”. Or rather one of the fine establishments of Rock Lobster.  Part of a trio of seafood resturant set up by Chef Matt Dean Pettit, we went the the Queen West venue. Situated in the Boho/ Alternaitve area of Toronto (think Camden-esque thrift fashion shops and tatoo parlours) it’s still within easy walking distance. In fact so eager were we (well, was I) to get there that we arrived to be one of the first that day for lunch service. Chef Matt has taken seafood and made it appealing- even for me! I digress a little by saying that prior to this we had sampled our first Canadian signature dish that is “Poutine”. Made up of fresh cut fries, topped with “squeaky” cheese curds, and then finished with gravy, this sounds like the stuff of late-night, taxi rank nightmares. In fact it’s quite tasty! Getting back on track it was with much eagerness, and I believe I errupted with a gurgling of, “Nommm!”, that I saw one fo the dishes on the menu was Lobster Poutine – hand-cut fries; cheese curds; Nova Scotia Lobster; lobster bisque gravy and chives. Yes Sir, I’ll take one of those! This along with the Jerk Shrimp Roll were the highlight for me. While the house Lobster Roll was good with creamy, succulent lobster chunks (none of this spreadable, mayo paste nonsense), it was the juicy shrimp and the wonderful punchy jerk spice seasoning that won me over. My only greivance being that they didn’t have my size available in their Rock Lobster T-shirts (Chef Matt, if you read this please feel free to send one over!). Again if you’re in Toronto make sure you make time for a visit to Rock Lobster and feel the Lobster Love.

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Rock Lobster: Lobster Roll (front); Lobster Poutine (l); Deep Fried Clams (r); Jerk Shrimp Roll (back)

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Rock Lobster: Lobster Poutine

Next on our foodie stop was the CN tower and it’s signature resturant 360. Very much a tourist “must do” the CN tower is none-the-less awe inspiring for it’s views of Toronto and surrounding areas. It was from here that we realised just how big the subrban sprawl fo Toronto really is- whilst getting unnaturally freaked out by the glass floor in the observation area. The first few steps onto it are fine, but it’s when you start getting a couple of feet from the solid floor plate that your feet seem to grind to a halt of their own accord!

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Whilst the food at the revolving 360 restuarant is good the main selling point of it are the views afforded from a loction at such a height. Prompt service, to the point of being a little too prompt, gave the venue an air of table-turning and client conveyor-belting. I guess it’s be expected in such a place with massive footfall. Admittedly this was a downside but overall the food was good and we enjoyed the visit here- particularly the aerial views of the neighbouring Hamptons Islands. I would recommend here for lunch, a good place to eat but not to linger too long.

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Dining at CN Tower 360 restaurant

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Speaking of awe ispiring views we decided to go uber-touristy and take a trip to Niagara Falls. Well if you’ve seen The Great Barrier Reef you may as well take in once of the other Wonders of The World, right? We opted for a bus journey that would take us into Niagara-on-the-Lake prior to dropping us at Niagara falls itslef, while stopping at a vineyard en route. All might sound very hectic but was paced really well and I’d throughly recommend it. The vineyeard stop allowed us to sample the Niagara speciality that is “Ice Wine”. Made from picking grapes harvested on the coldest night of the year, so cold in  fact the grapes freeze, this is a crisp, sweet dessert wine that is definately worth sampling. Niagara-on-the- Lake is one of those quaint Colonial towns here everything is apple pie and shiplap boared houses. Ambling along it’s wide, sun-drenched streets with horse drawn carts it was all too easy to forget the frentic pulse of everyday life. But alas the Falls beckoned!  Niagara Falls itself proved to be somewhat of an antithesis with Niagara-on-the-Lake. Gone were the quaint boutiques, open boulevards and porch festooned houses to be replaced with Hard Rock Cafe; traffic ensanred roads and josstling pavements. The Falls themelves are magnificant and the “Maid of the Mist” boat ride places you right in the middle of The Falls- so much so that the obligatory plastic poncho is required. Although you can be soaked to the skin from the spray it’s a worthwhile trip where you can appreciate just how small humankind can be in the face of Mother Nature.

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Ice Wine grapes

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Niagara-on-the-Lake

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I can hardly write aboout Toronto and not mention Church and Wellesley. Otherwise known as The Gay Village, this has beome a distict in it’s own right. This is where being LGBT has become life, work and leisure- not only were the people are gay, but also the crossings and ATMs! 13 years ago I went to Manchester for Mardi Gras weekend and feel in love with it. My visit here showed me I didn’t have to compartmentalise who I was; to leave being a gay man until the weekend at certain venues, or mind my Ps & Qs with who I was talking to. It was part of something that made up who I was, not defined me. In Manchester I saw people going about their eveyday lives, enjoying and celebrating their lives and loves. I realised I wouldn’t have to go without those things, both large and small, that sometimes can be taken for granted – public displays of affection; a significant other and a family, to nut name a few.  Walking through Church and Wellesley I sensed that same resoulte, steadfast sense of pride around me. Being LGBT wasn’t a taboo here-  it was a cause for celeration and pride. Celebrating everyday life. One sight still sitcks in my mind and at the time made me swell with emotion- an elderly couple of gents walking along arm in arm. Not looking to see if they were being noticed they were too engrossed in their own conversation. Who knows about what? It could have been anything from what to have for dinner, to resolving that morning’s argument, to what color to order the new couch in? The thing was they were having that conversation, arm in arm and not heeding the surrouding world. It was everyday life to them.

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Some of the sights of Church and Wellesley Village

And so that was our trip to Toronto and I loved it. It’s a place of great food, great culture, where the people are friendly and relaxed- free from the hectic pace of life so easily found in London. A place where rush-hour is just that – an hour! Would I go back? Absoluely! But maybe next time it’ll be winter- there’s a hankering to see the place snow covered and white, and feel the bitter chill while walking along Church Street. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off the bath in maple syrup!

In the meantime,

“Remember Mom’s the word- that’s Mr. Mom’s!”