The Container Cafe – Two Perspectives

Since the fall there has been a big bright blue addition to the park.  This is the new Container Cafe offering food and groceries to park users and community residents.  I was interested to find out how the Container Cafe came to fruition and the players involved.  I got in touch with Nicolas Gallant and Gurbeen Bhasin.


■ – Thanks for doing this interview… can you describe your what organization you belong to?

Nicholas Gallant –  I work for the Office of City Councillor Ana Bailão which represents the interests and initiatives of Ward 18 residents at Toronto City Hall.

Gurbeen Bhasin –  I’ve been the executive director of Aangen since 2000.  Aangen is a grassroots, not for-profit, and we pride ourselves on self-sustainability and integrity. We work with local and ethical farmers to provide the community and local businesses with fresh farm goods; with the net proceeds we are able to help families in need locally and globally.  I have been committed to growing this organization in a very organic and sustainable manner.

■ – At what point did you or your organization get involved in the Shipping Container Cafe?

NG  The Councillor’s Office was involved from the very beginning. Working with the Friends of McCormick Park (FOMP) we identified the need for food in the park through FOMP’s master plan process, worked together with FOMP and the McCormick Arena to investigate the possibility of opening a cafe window to the park from the side of the arena building, and then the Councillor and Kevin Lee from Scadding Court Community Centre brought the idea to use the shipping container cafe model to the park.

GB – The news about the shipping container city pilot project was announced at our Spring Fundraising Dinner in April by Ana Bailao. At first, we didn’t know what this project would entail. We could not have imagined that after a series of meetings and community collaborations that Aangen would have its own café and market to run by September.

■ – What were the steps involved for your organization in bringing the cafe to fruition?

NG   We first worked with FoMP and the community to identify local needs, and then found the Scadding Court Market 707/Business Out of the Box model.  Next we invited the Scading Court staff to present to FoMP. At the same time, we inquired with Parks, Forestry & Recreation Business Services on possibility of implementation and seeked out potential operators from the community.  Aangen Community Centre and Working Women Community Centre both expressed interest.  Once we knew what we needed, we were able to allocate funding from parkland dedication reserve funds for the container.

GB  There were many steps Aangen had to take before the launch of the café on September 27, 2014. Aangen, FOMP, Scadding Court representatives and Ana Bailao’s office had multiple meetings to ensure everything and everyone was on task. We needed to get a solid team together and at the same time we wanted to ensure we were giving employment to those who would benefit from it and otherwise had difficulties finding jobs.

NG   Before the festival, we worked with Parks Technical Services staff to coordinate delivery and installation of the unit and we helped support the festival and launch event.

GB  Creating the menu turned out to be much more daunting than we anticipated but we needed to ensure the menu aligned with Aangen values and would best serve the community. A big hurdle we faced was applying for organizational insurance as the project was so unique we encountered much unprecedented legality. The day before our launch, at the eleventh hour, our insurance was approved.

NG   Since the launch, the City has been acting on post-implementation requests for improvements to the unit and addressing operator, community, City concerns and requests as they arise.  We are currently working to ensure successful implementation and the follow-up necessary for ongoing success.

■ – Dufferin Grove and MacGregor park also serve food. How does this pilot project differ from what those parks are doing?

NG   The Container Cafe drew inspiration from the successes at Dufferin Grove, MacGregor and other Ward 18 parks where nutritious and affordable food was provided in the park. In these examples, we saw that food serves to further animate our neighbourhood public spaces and wanted to replicate this, while looking at models that could be self-sustaining.

In both cases, a similar amount of initial capital investment was necessary to provide kitchen equipment. At Dufferin Grove, this initiative was funded by the City of Toronto Food and Hunger Action Project Grant and the G.H. Wood Foundation Grant. At McCormick Park, the Councillor allocated parkland dedication reserve (Section 42) funds to purchase the container for the City and outfit it with the necessary kitchen equipment.

On the operations side, Dufferin Grove and MacGregor Park serve food prepared by City of Toronto Recreation Staff. At the McCormick Park Shipping Container Cafe, a local charitable organization (Aangen) is preparing and serving the food. Aangen pays a nominal rent fee to the City. Aangen sustains its own operation through sales of prepared food and market products, fundraising.

GB  In some ways we are like Dufferin and McGregor Park as we serve food in a park. However, we do not have city employees and it is up to Aangen to ensure the sustainability of the café. Our menu items were carefully chosen not solely based on convenience but also on nutrition. We have committed to using as many organic and fair trade options as possible and we only use biodegradable products to ensure the integrity of working in a beautiful and natural setting.

■ – What has your experience with the cafe been since the cafe has moved into the park?

NG  Very positive. The Councillor’s Office has continued to support the project post-implementation, both from City Hall and as customers who love the cafe, the organization. the park and community.

GB  The café has been a lot of fun to operate and also a learning curve as Aangen has never undertaken such a project. In so many ways we are building a hub for community engagement. We are not only a café but also a farmers market as we carry spelt bread, honey, free-range farm eggs, maple syrup and more. Recently we have found a way to integrate our programs and campaigns into the café; the community can drop off used winter items for the local shelters we support or sign a petition and be a unified voice to bring about change to an international issue. We are learning of the needs the community has and every day we are working towards making this project work for everyone.

■ – It seems like that the cafe is planning to stay open all year round despite the cold and dark days of winter. That seems like a difficult challenge. How will you face it?

NG   We have been facing it by preparing the cafe for cold weather, ensuring there are windows to allow the service counter to remain open, while providing protection from the elements. We have also worked with the Community Centre to investigate the possibility of serving some meals inside on very cold days and at times when nobody is in the park.

GB  The community centre, the arena and the park will always have activity and we are going to work with community members to promote the café. With the help of FOMP we are hoping that there will be an outdoor rink this year that will attract many more people even in the colder months.

■ – How long will the pilot last and what would be the next steps if it’s successful?

NG   The pilot is ongoing with no fixed end date. The City will evaluate the project close to the time of contract renewal (September, 2015) . If it proves successful, the idea is to expand the model of shipping container cafes to other parks where community organization, local context and park amenities would lend well to such an initiative. City Councillors from other Wards (32 and 43, to name a couple) have expressed interest.

GB  We hope for this pilot to last a very long time and that it will become an exemplary model for many more park cafés throughout the city. It would be great to have other not-for-profits or grass roots organizations running their own containers and integrate the kind of work they do in combination with healthy and nutritious food for the entire community.

■ – I love the idea of having healthy, reasonably priced food in the park and I wish the cafe great success. Any other thoughts?

NG  It’s important that the cafe serve the community the sort of food/drinks they desire at an affordable price-point and the operators need ongoing constructive feedback as they fine-tune their offerings. It is also important that the community support this innovative local project first and foremost by purchasing the coffee, prepared foods and market products, secondly by spreading the word – informing and encouraging neighbours to participate in the endeavour.

Root Soups

Since the days are getting colder soup seems like a really good idea.  Here are a number of different soups made from root vegetables.  These soups are all dead easy to make.  I love soups and chile, because you can’t really overcook them!  All of these soups follow the same simple steps; they all start with an onion and garlic base, then add stock and roots, boil, simmer until soft, blend. Serve and garnish.  Eat and feel warm…


Southwest Sweet Potato Soup

southwestsweetpotatosoup

Sometimes I feel as though sweet potato, squash, and carrot soups all look and taste the same — something like baby food. I wanted to try a something new and I found a number of recipes online for a “Southwest Sweet Potato Soup”.  A soup flavoured with the same spices you might put in your chile.  I made some guacamole to go with this soup, because I don’t need much excuse to put guacamole on anything.  The recipe I found from Michael Smith called for rolled up and baked tortilla as a garnish, but I decided to add some more crunch instead and topped it with some tortilla chips.

Ingredients
1 tablespooon of butter (I used Ghee or clarified butter)
2 large onions, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, sliced
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1/2 red pepper
1 teaspoon of dry or fresh oregano (if you’ve got some)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon of smoked paprika
a sprinkle or two sea salt
1/2 cup sour cream or yogurt
some tortilla chips
4 – 6 sprigs fresh cilantro, for garnish  1 Avocado and 1/2 lime for guacamole

How-To
Heat pot with medium heat.  Throw in oil, onions, garlic and red pepper.  Cook, stirring until soft.  Add spices. Pour in chicken stock, add chopped sweet potatoes and bring to a boil.  Turn down to a simmer and cook until sweet potatoes are soft.  Puree in batches in a blender or with immersion blender.  Ladle into bowls and top with guacamole, yogurt, chips and a few sprigs of cilantro. Enjoy!

 


Caldo Verde

caldoverde

Living within Little Portugal, there is no way I couldn’t include Caldo Verde or “Portuguese Greens” soup in this list.  Caldo Verde is one of Portugal’s signature dishes. It’s very simple and very delicious.  There is also very little variety in recipes I found for this soup, so you don’t need to worry about getting fancy.  The same recipe from my Joy of Cooking, can be found all over the internet.  I’ve made a vegetarian version of this soup with white beans before, or you can throw a can of beans into this meat version too for extra protein.  I find beans always go well with sausages.  If you go veggie, add some smoked paprika with your onions and garlic if you’ve got some to give it a nice smoky flavour.  The kale in this soup tastes delicious with the sausage and potatoes and adds a whack of vitamins to your meal.  It’s a very hearty soup and with some crusty bread from the Brazilian Bakery, this is a great lunch or light supper.

Ingredients
2 onions, diced
4 cloves of garlic, diced
4 cups of chicken broth or vegetable broth, 4 cups of water
4 potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 ½ teaspoons of salt
½ teaspoon of pepper
1 chorizo sausage, sliced
4 cups of kale, stems removed, thinly sliced

How-To
In a large pot on medium heat, cook onions and garlic until soft.  Add stock, water, potatoes, salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer for 20 minutes.  While the potatoes are getting soft, slice your chorizo and cook with a little oil in a frying pan.  Rinse kale and remove thick stems and slice it up nice and thin.  Once the potatoes are soft, blend half of the soup and throw in your sausages.  You can dump a cup of the blended soup back into the frying pan and scrape the browned bits of sausage and return to the soup for added flavour.  I like to add the kale and simmer 5 minutes before serving as you get a nice bright green colour in your bowl.

 


Carrot Ginger Apple Soup

carrotgingersoup

My daughter is served soup at her school on Tuesdays for lunch and her favourite is Carrot Ginger.  Here is a version that includes an apple for an extra bit of sweetness.  The spice of the ginger (really just a hint – it’s not too spicy at all) balances the sweetness of the carrots and apple.

Ingredients
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil + more for garnish
1 small onion, diced (1 cup diced onion)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp fresh grated ginger
1 large apple
1.5 pounds carrots, peeled and chopped (~5 cups)
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
salt, freshly ground black pepper, to taste

How-To
In a medium sized pot, cook onions, ginger and garlic until soft.  Add chopped apple, carrots and stock.  Cook until soft.  Blend.  Serve up with some yogurt and chopped dill or parsley for a little bit of colour.

 

 

American Roots

As the end of November approaches Dylan (my husband) and I prepare for our traditional American Thanksgiving dinner party.  At this party, we move our kids out for 24hrs and spend the day hauling most of our furniture up to the second floor so we can seat the close to 40 adults in our small Brockton Village house.  How did this crazy tradition begin?  Here’s a recap of our many years of hosting American Thanksgivings.

2001

2001 – Foodie Newbie
Concord Ave. Apartment, 15 guests

In 2001, Dylan and I were just friends and roommates.  He was an amazing cook and I was not at all an adventurous eater or much of an eater in general.  But I learned to love food while living with Dylan. I used to tell him I was allergic to things because I was too embarrassed to tell him that I’d never tried olives, calamari, lamb or anything spicy!  We lived in a small upper level apartment on Concord St. just north of Bloor in an apartment I adored.  Dylan liked it too but he always complained about the tiny kitchen and how useless it was. I thought the kitchen was fine. It had a toaster and a frying pan and a fridge. What else did we need?  He was always complaining that we couldn’t host a dinner party. It had never occurred to me that you could even host a party where dinner was involved.

We had amazing neighbours living below us and one of our best friends and her two roommates living right next door. One day in October, we discussed the idea of having Thanksgiving together, but as it turned out we all had other places we had to be for the holiday since this was back when we went “home” for Thanksgiving. However, we were convinced that our Thanksgiving dinner idea was going to be a big hit, so we decided to push our dinner forward a month and make it an American Thanksgiving Dinner (since Dylan has American roots). We used our collective tiny kitchens to pull the meal off and invited a handful of friends we considered to be part of our family. We were of the belief that sharing food is an expression of love (even in my case if was a peanut butter sandwich) and we were all eager to spread the love.

This is how it all began. That first year, we had about 15 guests. Our menu consisted of turkey, potatoes and some salads. We made everything and guests brought wine and desserts. The meal itself was traditional and very simple but delicious all the same and we felt like we achieved culinary greatness. The tradition was born!  It seemed that every year afterward was in a different location because this was back in the day when we moved every year; a thought that exhausts me to no end today. But that’s what young people do, right?

2002

2002 – Growing Closer and Growing a Palate
Ontario St. Warehouse – 25 Guests

The following year we lived in a big warehouse space on Ontario St. in the east end.  Dylan and I were now a couple having moved beyond just being friends. My palate was evolving every day and under his tutelage now knew what good food really was. Hosting was something we were both getting fairly adept at; we were a great team and I could now see that having parties where good food was served was very satisfying. We had learned from the previous year that we could not afford to buy all the food, so this time we asked guests to bring a side dish and we made turkey, ham, and mashed potatoes. Of course we all had plenty of wine.

Guests brought sweet potato dishes and beautiful salads which we served on paper plates on laps. How fancy!  This party was unique in that we all left at some point to go drinking and dancing at a bar down the street, the Dominion Hotel.  But the party was not over!  When we were done at the Dominion, we went back to the warehouse loft to devour leftovers and continue to drink and dance until we passed out. Our initial group of 25 guests dwindled to only about 8 by the end of the night. There were many memorable moments from this night but the most vivid is our ham. It was a spiral cut ham from Saint Lawrence Market, steamed for 2 hrs in a coca cola brine and then roasted for another hour in the oven with a mustard, brown sugar, and bourbon glaze that was to die for. We chased that ham for many years.

2003

2003 – Married with a Sit Down Affair
Still in the East End, 25 – 30 Guests

Still in the east end but in a much smaller boutique loft we rented tables and made our third annual American Thanksgiving a sit down event. Mostly because the place was SO small that the only way to fit all the guests was to keep them seated. Clearly we had to go out dancing after this meal, well because, there was nowhere to move after we finished eating! This year I’m not so clear (too much wine?) on where we went or who all made it back for some leftovers and dancing.

Mostly what I remember from this meal is that we ate leftovers and soup for the entire month of December. We had spent all of our money in on a ham, a turkey and potatoes and booze. Our first December as a married couple was a lean month in a lot of ways, but it was completely worth it. Our friends were becoming incredible cooks and this meal went up a few notches with some very adventurous salads and sides.

2004

2004 – 2008 – The Lost Years (or the Baby Tunnel)
Tiny Apartment in Parkdale, 2 Guests (or maybe 2 and 2 halfs?)

By November the following year we were back in the West end in a tiny but beautiful apartment in Parkdale.  We sadly realized that we’d have to put our tradition on hold for the time being. We had a newborn this Thanksgiving and pregnant again the following year. So putting our dinner on hold we sat on our plans and dreamed big while we enjoyed American Thanksgiving dinners for two.

2009

2009 – Setting the Stage
A house in Brockton, 2 and 2 little ones

We bought our house in October 2009 and knew it would someday be perfect for our feasts but not yet. Some walls had to come down before it would be open enough. The house we bought in the Brockton Triangle was divided into two apartments as it was a rooming house and it had many walls and doors. The kitchen on the main floor was tiny, dark and enclosed.  That year we tore down a wall on the main floor to make one big room that would be suitable for a Thanksgiving feast even though we had a small horrible kitchen (again).

2010

2010 – Pregnant (Again) but Back in the Game
Brockton, 25-30 Guests

The following year I was pregnant (again) but we were game to get our event back up and running. We had a new rule – no kids. We didn’t have to have this rule before because no one we knew had kids, but in three short years our little community of friends had tripled. We also became very organized about our meal plan. In our Evite everyone could list the dish they were bringing for all to see, so the meal became very balanced, but I think it also it inspired people to up the ante. If you saw someone was bringing their famous scalloped potatoes, then you were inclined to bust out your family’s traditional beet salad.  More and more, the dishes our friends and family brought were special, unique, and made with enormous amounts of love and pride. This was no ordinary pot luck. Food sharing and gratitude had truly made its way into our Thanksgiving.

Now our meal was a formal sit down dinner that started at 7pm. We rented tables, chairs, place settings and everything!  We turned our entire main floor into a beautiful dining room. We made TWO turkeys, plus ham and garlic mashed potatoes. Dylan started to get very fancy with his birds as well; this year we had a brined turkey, a bourbon turkey and a ham that we hoped would be as delicious as our warehouse ham had been years earlier. The night was a huge success!  We ate a lot and drank a lot but we also worked A LOT!  We served, cleaned, served, cleaned, drank, drank, ate (I think) and cleaned. I was pregnant and sober and exhausted by the end of the night. It was very successful; however neither of us could actually remember the evening because we had been working so hard.

After that year, one of our amazing friends decided that everyone missed out on being with US at Thanksgiving so he suggested hiring a server and offered to put himself in charge of collecting from friends that night. Everyone was happy to contribute to this in order to have me and Dylan relaxed and enjoying the night. This was an incredible gift and my gratitude continued to grow as we realize how truly blessed we are to have such wonderful friends and to see how important this event had become to them.

2011

2011 – 2012 – Relaxed and Happy
Brockton, 32 Guests

The next year we completely found our groove. We had servers! – – Dawn and her teenage son who have been with us ever since. This proved to be the cherry on top!  We had 32 people to our sit down dinner but Dawn and Chris kept food warm and moving and packed up leftovers and got dishes stacked and put outside in crates. They got desserts warmed and served and when we were done eating they took tables down and folded chairs and moved everything out onto the front porch for us. For the first time ever, Dylan and I sat down and ate the entire meal with our friends. When the floor was cleared a dance party was in order and that’s how the night went from there. The next morning Dylan and I stayed in bed and listened to the rental truck come and take all of our stuff away from our front porch. Gone were the days of stumbling downstairs after only a few hours of sleep to fold tables and scrape plates and lug chairs out at 9am! Bliss!!

2013

2013 to Present – The Party and the After Party
Renovated House in Brockton, Maxed out at 36

The party continues to grow, but last year at 36 guests, we realized we’ve hit our max even after the renovation of our beautiful dream kitchen. Memories of terrible kitchens behind us, we are all about the future now. Those who are on the list and have been for years mixed with our new friends, who made it in under the wire before we reached capacity, are now the people who contribute to this event. What is emerging from the kitchens of our friends are divine dishes of harvest lasagnes, kale salads, stuffing and gourmet desserts. And finally last year we made a ham that was as good if not better than our market ham from years ago. The food is truly to die for and the party goes on and on into the night. Now we have what’s known as the after party, which includes people who don’t come to the sit-down meal but come after 1:00 am for the leftovers and the dancing. This is a tradition we knew had legs and we were so excited to have come to fruition. Our adults only, food and drink extravaganza for one night only. American Thanksgiving.

thanksgiving

On How We’ve Grown

It has become a very special night for us and everyone is grateful to have a beautiful evening of incredible conversation and laughter with friends both new and old. The food is enjoyed and deeply appreciated. We have come a long way and have learned a lot about hosting and I personally have learned a lot about food. Our love for each other and this particular tradition grows each year. I am truly thankful.

Root Vegetable Poetry

For this issue on Roots, I really wanted to do some printmaking paired with poetry.   I ended up doing some old school “potato prints” with my children, simply by cutting these vegetables in half, painting them and stamping them down.  I’m really happy with the minimalistic, almost abstract quality of the prints.  For the poems, I was inspired by Douglas Florian, who’s animal poetry is some of my children’s favourites.  I’ve been reading Omnibeasts (pictured below) since my first daughter was 1, and now she can recite some of the poems by heart.  Florian’s clever rhymes and paintings hold the interest of children and parents alike.  See more of his work at douglasflorian.com

Product Details

 


 

beet

 

 

THE BEET

For flavour, you can’t beat a beet,
But if you cut it in half, you can make it bleed.

 

 

 

carrot

THE CARROT

Care for a carrot?
Of course!
I’ll take it for the first in a super soup.
Maybe with melted butter as a side in a second.
Or for dessert I can make
it into a delicious carrot cake.
Oh heck, give me a raw one and I just might
Give in and give it a great big bite!

 

 

 

 

 

 

sweetpotato

SWEET POTATO

They say it’s one of the healthiest foods
It really packs a whack of goods
Full of Vitamin A and Vitamin C
And extremely low in calories.
It’s characteristics are so fine,
And to your body it’s very kind,
But the biggest reason I like it to eat
Is that this chubby lump is very sweet.

 

 

 

 

ginger

GINGER

You sure make me feel less queasy
and your superb taste is so easy
Your flavour is so versatile
hanging on my tongue for quite a while
Put me in your favourite curry
or blend me up in a soupy slurry
Ginger’s flavour never fails
Especially when drinking Ginger Ale.

 

 

 

parsnip

PARSNIP

Spicy, slicey, dicey, dip
A bulbous top with a skinny tip
A special flavour in a soup
Or roasted, shaved, a unique root
What I’m talking about here, I’ll let it slip
Let me introduce you to the lovely parsnip.

 

 

 

 

 

radish

RADISH

It’s never sadish or badish.
It makes me gladish; it’s radish.

 

 

 

 

potato

POTATO

Oh Pota- to, potato oh
How much I love you so
You make me turn a smile
With all your different styles
Mashed, roasted, scalloped, baked
So many ways, so many takes
But for my favourite delicious sin
I first peel off your velvet skin,
Then scrape out those little eyes
and turn you into french fries.