Waking to deceptively warm sunshine these past few mornings, many Ottawa natives asked if it is “shorts” or “mittens” weather. Indeed, I found myself keeping three jackets at the ready, my down-filled winter coat, my flannel lined leather jacket, and my windbreaker. Some days I wore all three, alternating as the mercury rose and fell from morning until night.
Today, I woke to snow and the forecast calls for possible flurries throughout the week.
It is no wonder Canadians discuss weather foremost. We see it all, hot and humid highs and frozen and frostbitten lows. We have the most diverse wardrobes, clothes to both celebrate and protect against the elements. You can spot a Canadian by the fact we grill food in any weather, snow, sleet, and hail. After a long winter, when the snow banks finally recede, we’re out in shorts and t-shirts. It’s 10°C (50°F). You won’t meet more weather-adept or weather-defying people!
And so, even while I have to dig out the winter gloves, I am thinking summer. I am thinking blueberries.
It may have something to do with a conversation my better half and I had with one of our caterers for our wedding. She will be preparing bites to tide guests over until the reception dinner. Pretty dishes with summer berries came up.
What is my favourite blueberry indulgence in the summertime? Blueberry tarts, of course. Preferably with a little custard or pastry cream (which is essentially a custard) and maybe some lemonade.
Here are two of my favourite blueberry tarts from the past summer:
When locals speak of Art-is-in and its founders, former pastry chef Kevin Mathieson and his wife Stephanie Monnin, bread is usually mentioned. In Ottawa, the artisan bread served at most restaurants comes from the kitchens of Art-is-in. In fact, one of the foods we miss most when we visit Toronto or Vancouver for any stretch of time is Art-is-in’s freshly baked bread. Yes, Toronto and Vancouver chefs bake great bread, but it’s not the same as Kevin’s.
Art-is-in has come a long way since its days, operating a popular popup bakery at the Ottawa Farmer’s Market, Mathieson and his talented bakers working like mad in a kitchen behind the Ottawa Bagel Shop in the West Wellington Village. These days, Art-is-in causes traffic mayhem in the parking lot of its permanent digs at 250 City Center Avenue (Bay 112-113). What was once the dominion of trucks, loading and unloading goods at the City Center’s warehouses, the parking lot now swarms with cars. There is often a line-up of people coming out of the unlikely storefront in the industrial building.
Besides bread, Art-Is-In has a team of cooks who serve up lunch on weekdays and brunch on weekends. Think corn or clam chowders ($5-something for 8 oz); amazing grilled cheese sandwiches with artisan cheese and fresh “as only a bakery can make it” bread; and tourtiere that warms the belly on a cold day. Mathieson recently started offering double fried fries with a newly installed fryolater. A week back, he was serving foie poutine, in the Au Pied de Cochon tradition.
This weekend, Mathieson broke out the big green egg, serving burgers again.
Owing to his pastry training, Mathieson makes killer blueberry tarts. Trust me, there is no sweeter, nor tastier, a blueberry than one eaten “in season”, especially wild varieties. “In season” blueberries are what Mathison’s tart showcased.
The glaze was sweet, but not cloyingly so. The pastry was rich and fatty. The pastry cream was light and luscious. The blueberries…well, they were sweet and glorious.
Bobbette & Belle
Last August, Jenn and I spent a week’s vacation in Toronto, staying with a friend. On the Saturday, fellow food blogger, Ottawa ex-pat, and now food truck operator, Bonita (@boneats) of Bon Eats took us for a tour of the culinary sites in the “Big Smoke.” In the trendy Leslieville neighbourhood, she took us to the “girliest” bakery she knows, Bobette & Belle (1121 Queen Street E.).
Founded by Allyson Meredith Bobbitt and Sarah Bell, both pastry chefs, the artisan patisserie opened in 2010, featuring cakes, cupcakes, cookies (including authentic French macarons), scones, and other delectables. Bell is a former executive pastry chef at Oliver & Bonacini’s Canoe restaurant. The duo started working together, selling custom wedding cakes and wedding favours. The popularity of their award-winning cakes eventually resulted in their opening a retail store.
The breathtaking wedding cake gallery along one wall explains both B&B’s success and its beginnings. B&B bakes some stunning tiered cakes.
White walls with inset shelves, accented by earth toned furniture, the space floods with sunshine from the large front window. Both elegant and rustic, B&B is distinctly feminine. Instead of creating a purely retail store, B&B features a sitting room with comfy sofa set. There are glass counters, showcasing B&B’s treats and communal tables to encourage “indulging”-in.
At B&B, Jenn indulged in a very elegant blueberry tart, one she refused to share. Again, rich crust, light pastry cream, and sweet blueberries.
Luckily, Bobbitt and Bell shared a recipe for spring fruit tarts with House and Home Magazine.
What spring or summer dessert are you most looking forward to?
Aside: Artisan is a very overused word these days, especially when it comes to bread. Baking bread in an in-house bakery does not necessarily make it “artisan” or “artisanal.” When looking at artisan bread, look for the three C’s; Colour that comes from using quality unbleached flour; crisp and/or crunchy Crust that comes from careful proofing and baking; extremely well developed Crumb (bread interior) that is characteristic of a well worked dough usually involving a starter (pre-ferment). Everything contributes to texture and flavour. (Paraphrased from freshjuice.ca.)
250 City Center Avenue (Bay 112-114, from Scott Road)
Bobbette & Belle
1121 Queen Street E., Toronto