Sweet Jesus: make the pilgrimage


Chocolate Peanut Butter Epipen and a menu of pimped out cones.

In July, I was asked to predict the next food trend. I blurted out ‘soft serve’, and now I wish I had money on it. Just two months later, soft serve and espresso bar “Sweet Jesus” opened in Toronto on John St., north of King West. Their opening coincided with the beginning of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, which is how I (and hordes of film-goers pouring out of the TIFF Bell Lightbox) ended up there.

It’s a good thing that TIFF fans are experts at lining up, because that is what you have to do most evenings at Sweet Jesus. The menu is deceptively simple: soft serve, espresso, churros and Mexican paletas (popsicles). But it is the soft serve which has the starring role. Four flavours are available for purists (chocolate, vanilla, raspberry lemonade and burnt marshmallow), but the pimped out cones are the big draw.
IMG_1232Sweet Jesus will dress up your cone six ways to Sunday – well, actually eleven ways. On this occasion, I opted for my favourite combination of flavours – chocolate and nut – which is frighteningly named, “Chocolate Peanut Butter Epipen”.


My new friends in the lineup, Evelyn and Caitlin, ordered the Lemon Coconut Cream Pie (left) and the Skor and Ritz Pie (right).

Had I known that our cones would all be identically beige, I would have ordered differently. We unanimously agreed that our cones were big enough to be shared, although I cannot promise that a bowl and spoon is an option. I notice Instagrammers posting recent photos of a drip catcher, which seems useful, but was not offered on the evening of my visit.

The little alcove on John Street which houses Sweet Jesus has recently welcomed the third incarnation of La Carnita and the second location of Union Juice, making this a very popular place to meet up en route to and from events in the festival district. There is a nice little square for hanging out, too.

My next prediction? Specialty churros and Mexican hot chocolate to help us make it through the colder weather around the corner.

Sweet Jesus

106 John St. Toronto M5H 1X9

Tuesday to Saturday: Espresso 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.   Soft serve 12 p.m. – 11 p.m.

Sunday and Monday: Espresso 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.   Soft serve 12 p.m. – 10 p.m.


Twitter and Instagram @sweetjesus4life

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Back to School: Food Photography Workshop

Back to school. I can’t believe I said that. If you are a teacher, like me, you can’t believe that fall is around the corner and that we will be back in class very soon. If you are visiting this site for the first time, you will notice that this blog has a focus on food and learning, often both at the same time. This is a repost of an article I wrote a couple of years ago. If your fall is CRAZY, remember that you need to take care of yourself, too. Plan to get out and learn something new this fall. Some of you may have an interest in taking a course on food photography.

The workshop described in this post is offered again on Saturday, October 3rd, 2015. Visit the link provided, for more information and to register.

[Repost from November 14, 2013]

This past weekend, I had an opportunity to learn from food photographer, Lauren Cheong, who led a workshop at GTA Photography, here in Toronto.

GTA Photography holds its classes in a beautiful, airy space near the St. Lawrence market. Our small group sat in comfy couches for an introductory theory lesson, covering the basics of lighting, composition and styling for food photography. We watched slides on a flat-screen monitor and felt comfortable to ask our questions, no matter how basic.

The workshop was on a Sunday afternoon, which permitted us to shoot in natural light. Overcast skies allowed just the right kind of light through the large windows of the studio: dispersed and not too bright. In short order, we were experimenting with what we had just learned, using props, fruits and dried pasta which were provided by Lauren.



This is shot from the side, using natural window light. The shadows in the first photo are a bit harsh, and could be softened by using a reflector opposite the window. If you can get highlights on berries or other dark objects, it creates depth. Dark objects are very hard to shoot.


Now have a look at how much softer the shadows appear when a reflector is used opposite the window, to reflect light back into the set.



Shallow depth of field is often used to ensure that only the “hero”, which is the best specimen, is in focus. The additional items in the set are there to create visual interest, and to keep us looking around the shot at the story being told.

A shallow depth of field can be created by zooming in on the subject, or by using a large aperture. In this particular shot, I should never have had the lime “butt” facing the camera (unattractive, wouldn’t you agree), but at least the hero lemon is in focus in the foreground. The shadows could be softened a bit better with a reflector, although I am happy with the highlights on the fruit.



Make sure your set tells a story that makes sense. For example, if you are photographing a cut grapefruit, you might include a knife and/or a spoon, but a fork would not make sense. If you lack props, Lauren reminded us that the props must not be the centre of attention when photographing food. She also gave us some local suggestions for renting props. This is one of the benefits of going to a workshop with an expert in your community.

If you have mastered the basics of manual settings on your DSLR, and have an interest in food photography for any purpose, I would highly recommend this workshop.



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Book review: A Month in Marrakesh

Book cover Month in Marrakesh

A Month in Marrakesh

Recipes from the heart of Morocco

By Andy Harris, 2011

With photos by David Loftus

Hardie Grant Books

305 pages, hardcover

ISBN 978-1-74270-412-8



David Loftus and Andy Simon Harris are the two good men behind the force that is Jamie Oliver. The former has taken photos for all but one of the Oliver’s internationally-bestselling cookbooks. The latter is editor of Jamie Magazine. Together, they are eager to share with us the food and culture that is their Marrakesh, a place they have known and enjoyed for many years.

Part travelogue, this food journal and cookbook immerses us in the daily experience of living in Marrakesh. On our journey with the author and photographer through the city, we are led to appreciate the social importance and practicality of cooking in wood ovens and charcoal pits, many of which are shared amongst neighbours for slow-cooking the traditional conical tagines of meat and vegetables while catching up on conversation. Loftus presents the beauty of belly dancing and colourful dyed fabric, while Harris is careful to provide explanatory text to accompany images of local workers in leather-tanning baths, risking their health in the production of the hides which will appear later in the local souks so popular with tourists.

The aromas of cumin, paprika and turmeric seem to float from the market photographs, providing motivation for the reader to recreate the Moroccan food experience at home. Harris provides a lexicon of ingredients at the end of the book, accompanied by Loftus’ helpful encyclopedic photographic illustrations. Some, such as harissa, can be simply produced from dried chilies, olive oil and garlic (recipe provided on p. 267), while other, formerly-exotic ingredients such as turmeric can now be procured at most larger grocery chains.

A good place to dive in to this book is the section on street food: the ingredients are fewer, the preparation time short, and the results mouth-watering enough to draw in pedestrian traffic. Street food would also be ideal for a 20-something birthday dinner; what other demographic is more accustomed to high-quality and novel food sur la pouce while enroute to a late night gathering with similarly inclined friends? For this particular celebration, Chicken Kebabs with Spicy Avocado Dip (p. 70) fit the bill: organic chicken breasts (on this occasion from local Ontario producer, Yorkshire Valley Farms), were cubed and marinated in turmeric, cumin, paprika and ginger, while the avocados were mashed with garlic, cilantro, cumin, lemon juice and chilies.

Red chillies harissa

Harissa is simple to make at home using dried chillies.

The skewered cubes were barbecued and served on Mediterranean flatbread smeared with the avocado dip and dressed with butter lettuce leaves. The result exceeded expectations, thanks to the clear and simple instructions and wonderful flavour and texture combinations. The warm bread and soft avocado and butter lettuce provided a subtle spotlight for the tender, juicy but substantially flavourful chicken. A tagine of potatoes, fennel and peas (p. 156) was served as a side dish and to nourish the vegetarians.

Where this book meets its mark is in its respect for the culture of Marrakesh, and its simple and honest delivery of Moroccan food in context. The photographs are stunning, as one would expect from David Loftus; however, the quality of paper does not always do justice to the beautiful colour reproduction. And if using an actual tagine in any of the recipes calling for one (we did), the reader is left to guess temperature and cooking times. It certainly sounds authentic enough to me, but it might lead one to produce disappointing and over-cooked peas (it did).

The verdict: anything that keeps my adult children coming home for the occasional dinner – even if only a pit-stop on the way to a club – is worthy of my attention. According to them, Chicken Kebabs with Avocado was the true Nirvana of the evening.

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Fusaro’s: Don’t overlook this tiny gem

The neighbourhood around Sherbourne and Richmond could hardly be called up-and-coming. It is more as if gentrification slowly crept its way up from the St. Lawrence market and stalled at this intersection. Travel a block east or a block north and you would be hard-pressed to find more than a convenience store with a microwave to warm up a frozen burrito. How is it, then, that I could have overlooked Fusaro’s, at 294 Richmond St. East? This culinary oasis is the second iteration of the popular Italian kitchen (the other location is at Queen and Spadina); and while it has been at this location since 2010, that is roughly the same length of time I have carted my knives and chef’s uniform past this intersection to the George Brown chef’s school, oblivious to its existence.

My first venture into Fusaro’s was limited by time. I had only 40 minutes before class, and quickly scanned the handwritten blackboard. I was immediately attracted by the arancini in pomodoro sauce, a dish I had learned about in my Italian cooking course. Although they have recently cropped up everywhere (Loblaw’s take-away counter, for example), arancini are the mark of a real homemade Italian restaurant, as they are made from leftover risotto, wrapped around a piece of mozzarella and then deep-fried.

The arancini at Fusaro’s are large – roughly the size of a softball. Tearing open the crisp shell of the rice ball is a delight; the scent of the yellow rice hints at turmeric, although the wait staff is blissfully ignorant as to what the magic yellow ingredient might be. Mozzarella oozes from the centre and spills into the rich tomato basil sauce in which the arancini has been presented. As the steam subsides and the dish cools, the consistency of the mozzarella changes from soft to al dente, adding excitement to the dish. The arancini are also available with beef ragú, but why would you bother, when for $7, you can have heaven on a plate? One caveat: the fourth arancino we ordered on a subsequent visit was missing the mozzarella from the centre. The helpful server brought a dish with shavings of parmesan to replace the missing ingredient, but it just wasn’t the same. And by the way, arancini are not on the printed menu. Those in the know will find them on the blackboard.

On a second visit, I brought a dinner partner, my 20-something son. I enquired about the gnocchi and learned that they are not made in-house. Instead, I ordered La Cosentina, a pasta dish comprised of penne, roasted peppers, spinach and a creamy tomato basil sauce with goat cheese. I came to dinner hungry, but this dish was substantial enough to make me glad I had not ordered a salad to start. The choice of ingredients was harmonious and held my interest. I chose a red wine, Nero D’Avola, to accompany my meal; I felt like I had been magically transported to someone’s home in Italy. My son ordered the Cotoletta of veal, which is served with sautéed vegetables and a side of linguine with pomodoro sauce. At $15, this is one of the most expensive menu items. The veal was tender, the vegetables – red pepper, yellow zucchini – sweet and well seasoned, and the linguini perfectly prepared.

Fusaros winelistThe wine list is short, which means that all wines are available either by the glass ($6) or by the bottle ($25). On this particular  night, there were three reds, two whites and one rosé on offer, all from Italy. In addition, a selection of Canadian and imported beers are available for $5.50 a bottle.

The motto on the blackboard, roughly translated, means “One never grows old at the table.” Despite the motto, those with weary bones will appreciate the main floor washrooms. According to its website, Fusaro’s prides itself on its Italian home cooking, and would like to become your dining room when you need a break from the kitchen. For me, it is exactly that: my go-to dinner spot just before a class at the George Brown chef school. Its hip vibe, intimate size and affordable pricing also make it a contender for a 20-something date night. Just remember to hitch the Richmond Street bus westward if you want to hang out with the cool kids.




Twitter and Instagram @fusaros

294 Richmond St. E., Toronto M5A 1P5


Open Monday – Friday 9 am – 9 pm

Saturday 10 am – 4 pm

Closed Sundays

Wheelchair accessible, with main floor bathroom

For those working in downtown Toronto, Fusaro’s can be found on rotation in the lunch delivery menu of Ubereats. Check ubereats.com for details.

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Invasive Ingredient: Removing the rusty crayfish from Ontario waters, one étouffée at a time

Like many Ontario children, I learned about crayfish at camp, overturning boulders in streams, and chasing the flipping tails as they disappeared into clouds of silt. In those days, Ontario was home to seven species of native crayfish, including the large, fastwater species, Cambarus robustus, the cryptic burrowing crayfish, Fallicambarus fodiens and the tiny Orconectes propinquus.

Little did we know that the impact we had on the crayfish population was nothing compared to the simultaneous and sinister arrival of the invading crayfish, Orconectes rusticus. This Ohio native was brought across the US border into Ontario by eager bass fishermen as bait, dumped overboard at the end of a day of fishing and left to successfully reproduce.


There is nothing better than spending a hot day with pants rolled up in a cool stream, net in hand, on the lookout for fast-moving decapods.

According to the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters’ website, invadingspecies.org, the success of this invasive species has much to do with its ability to both avoid the predation of fish and destroy the underwater vegetation which serves as habitat for fish spawning. To make matters worse, they reach a large size much more quickly than their native counterparts, enabling them to outmuscle natives for available rock shelters, says Dr. Premek Hamr, a crayfish biologist and expert on this invasive species. (Full disclosure: he also happens to be my partner.)

If they are good enough for bass, couldn’t rusty crayfish be good enough for human consumption, too?

In her article, “Appetite for Destruction” (Hemispheres magazine), Jodi Helmer describes the way chefs in the U.S. are using four introduced species in their menus. In particular, chef Bun Lai in New Haven, Connecticut is reported to be collecting the introduced Asian Shore Crab to use in a seafood stock and as a garnish in his sushi restaurant.

I asked Francine Macdonald, Senior Invasive Species Biologist at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, whether she thought that a similar initiative could work in Ontario. “Well I am not much of a foodie,” she laughs, “but certainly people have eaten the rusty crayfish.” I asked Macdonald whether she thought there could be any roadblocks to the use of rusty crayfish in restaurants, knowing that the regulations for possession of crayfish as baitfish had recently changed.

rusty 47

Nicknamed the rusty crayfish, Orconectes rusticus can be identified by the distinct rust-coloured spots on either side of its thorax. Photo credit: Premek Hamr

“The regulations allow for a fisherman to carry 36 live crayfish, but only on the water on which they have been caught,” she says. “It is illegal to transport them across land.” Thus it becomes important to cook crayfish as close as possible to the water’s edge, in order to avoid any misunderstanding regarding transportation of an invasive species across land.

The crayfish boil is a southern tradition that our family had long ago adopted in our efforts to single-handedly wipe out the rusty crayfish from the Ouse and Indian Rivers, in Peterborough County.

Low country boil

Low Country Boil. Photo credit: Tom Lecuyer

Joe Roman, a conservation biologist from the University of Vermont, has started a campaign called “Eat the Invaders” to bring attention to the delicious possibility of putting invasive species where your mouth is. Luckily for the residents of Sparkling Lake, Wisconsin, postdoc researcher Gretchen Hansen has been catching and cooking rusty crayfish there for over eight years. On eattheinvaders.org, she reports having reduced the density of that species to about 1% of original numbers. Her favourite recipes are Crayfish Étouffée and a Low Country Boil. Both are traditional recipes which can be found on foodnetwork.com. However, you can’t do much better than having your hand held as Ed the Crawfish Master walks you through your paces at cajuncrawfish.com

One of the differences between Ontario crayfish and their saltwater cousin, the lobster, is that crayfish need the addition of salt when you boil them, but they don’t need to be overpowered with spice, as do the muddier Louisiana crawfish.

Scandinavians celebrate the opening of the crayfishing season, Kräftskiva, with our family’s favourite way to season the mild and sweet flesh of the Ontario crayfish, kräftor med dill. The recipe, found on swedishfood.com, uses a simple broth of dill, beer, anise and salt. Chased with aquavit of course. Skål!


You don’t need to be Swedish to enjoy the traditional crayfish party, Kräftskiva, celebrated every August.

What you need

  • A valid fishing license and Outdoors Card (a conservation license will do). In Ontario, anyone under the age of 18 can fish as long as they are in the company of a licensed fisherman over 18.
  • Handheld dip net
  • Bucket
  • A portable propane burner that can support a one-gallon pot of water.
  • Salt
  • Dill
  • Observe your local laws if you are considering bringing beer or aquavit to your shore lunch

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Ice Cream, Unpacked

As long as temperatures hover above 25 degrees C in downtown Toronto, popular patios have one thing in common – ice cream. Its purveyors know that the pleasure each scoop brings is due only in part to the perfectly addictive combination of cream, sugar and egg; the greater pleasure comes from something even more elusive. Ice cream evokes a simpler time, and like our own childhood, its qualities can be sublime, but ephemeral.

White Mountain churn cropped

Photo credit: Stephen Sinclair

My first recollection of the hard work required to produce what Guelph University food scientist Doug Goff calls a “frozen foam” is of taking my turn at an ice-cream churn during summers at the cottage. And while our own White Mountain churn dates from the 1930s, that company’s feat of domestic engineering has remained relatively unchanged since the company began production in 1853.

The base custard recipe becomes a “foam” with the aid of two sets of interior paddles that rotate in opposite directions inside the metal chamber, while the outer bucket contains a brine of salt and ice capable of dropping to a chilly -18 degrees C. The watery brine makes contact with the entire exterior of the metal chamber, causing the custard to increase in volume, and to freeze. Therein lies the key to a soft, creamy frozen dessert: if the foam is not kept in motion, its crystals grow large and disappointingly crunchy. Keeping the paddles moving through the rapidly freezing mixture keeps the crystals tiny and undetectable on the palate.

For over three decades, Torontonians have heralded summer by lining up at the door of Greg’s Ice Cream on Bloor. According to Greg’s employee Katherine, the shop uses natural ingredients and traditional methods to churn their ice cream. On any sunny day or balmy evening, the faithful can be seen rescuing each drip of the most popular flavour, roasted marshmallow, afraid of losing what they have waited for after a long Canadian winter. Some of us take our ice cream home and put it in the freezer, only to discover that like childhood, its moment has passed – foam collapsed, crystals formed.

Gregs ice cream

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La Prisonnière

In the summer of 1974, I spent three months travelling through Europe in the back of our family car. I have few but vivid memories from that summer, largely due to the unfortunate coincidence of puberty and road sickness which forced me to look out the window in desperate search of a bathroom, a castle or better yet, a castle with a bathroom.

The highlights of the summer were visits to gregarious European family friends, who welcomed us into their homes and shared unique regional food and culture. In Valais, Switzerland, we visited the tiny village of Chermignon, which is exactly as its name implies, both cher and mignon.

Here, shepherds still climb the mountainside with their cows, and carry their raclette cheese, bread and Fendant wine in a knapsack. They prepare their raclette the traditional way: round cheese, cut side to the fire, melted and scraped (raclé) onto pickles and boiled potatoes. After one such day of mountain climbing with the local publican and racleur, we piled into the car and made our way through the valley, past pear trees heavy with glistening glass bottles. Did I imagine that?

Fast forward a few years, and a return visit confirms that Valais is, indeed, dotted with bottle trees. The canton of Valais is home to the renowned eau-de-vie, Poire William (or Williams); it is also produced traditionally in France, Germany and Italy.

In Valais, this regional specialty includes not only the eau-de-vie, but also the entire Williams (aka Bartlett) pear inside the bottle, which is a puzzling novelty. To achieve this, growers fasten a globular transparent bottle around the tiny developing pear, and pick it when it is ripe, trapping the pear inside the bottle. In some regions, Poire William goes also by the name “La prisonnière”, conjuring the image of the imprisoned pear inside the bottle. The remainder of the fruit on the tree is distilled to a schnapps-like 40 percent alcohol, and added to the bottle, allowing the pear to be preserved. The result is an apéritif that can be served cold, after dinner or to accompany dessert.

 Photo Credit: Hellomarkers! Via Flickr

Poire William and other parlour tricks, such as the ship in a bottle, fall under the umbrella category of “impossible bottles”. It is easy to imagine the imprisoned pear becoming fashionable in the late 19th century, alongside the taxidermy, butterfly collections and house ferns that were so fashionable in the Victorian era.

Here in Ontario, we grow lovely Bartletts. Add to that the fact that we are not able to purchase pears-in-glass at our local LCBO, and it is only a matter of time before someone spies a bottle tree on their summer roadtrip through Niagara. Missing are the castles and mountains, but at least you can count on modern conveniences.

Photo Credit: Barbara Rich via Flickr


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