Saturday, 13 July 2019

TJs Pizza & Curry in a Hurry: A Smart Move

"I didn't know your name was Tajinder!" I have known Goldie for over six years now and I had no idea.

"How did you get the name Goldie?" She held up her arms and laughed as she shook her many gold bracelets. Good answer, and perhaps it's as simple as that, but I prefer to think that someone long ago noticed her naturally bright and shiny personality and her new pet name stuck.

The question came up last Wednesday when my friend, Janis Ramsay, and I popped into Goldie's new food enterprise on Bell Farm Road. I want to say that Janis and I get together for these little restaurant outings quite often but I see that our last luncheon was in 2015! With so many cool places to eat in Barrie, we better pick up the pace.

We both wondered aloud at the name for the new venture, TJ's Pizza & Curry in a Hurry. I guessed that the letter T stood for Tiffins Curry in a Hurry, their previous and highly successful restaurant near Five Points in Barrie - but what about that J? Janis brilliantly assumed that the letters represent Tiffins Junior. We were both wrong.

Kay, Goldie's husband, business partner and the gifted master of spice and flavour, told us that TJ was yet another nickname for Tajinder, aka Goldie. Aha!

These folks know what they are doing. In early 2013, I was working for a short-lived food tourism outfit and as I reached out to the downtown eateries ahead of a planned restaurant tour, Goldie was the very first one to reply. In fact, I believe she got back to my mass emailing in fifteen minutes. Goldie has always been quick to jump on board with anything that would bring attention to their business with little or no cost - social media, handing out free food during Promenade Days, community cable television, inviting fledgling food bloggers in (me) and taking a chance of some unknown food tour thing (also me!)

For a decade, Goldie and Kay operated out of the smallest of spaces in an 1870's era building near the corner of Dunlop St. E. and Bayfield St. The dining room was cozy and adorable. The kitchen was so incredibly small that Kay actually avoided hiring any assistants of larger stature as they wouldn't be able to fit in there together!!

Over the years, Tiffins Curry in a Hurry developed a huge following of regulars. With the ever bubbly Goldie up front and Kay performing his culinary wizardry in the back, they were the ideal pair to grow this small Indian restaurant in a town that had only recently begun to sample a wider range of ethnic cuisines.

I was as surprised as anyone when I learned that they were going to be leaving their lovingly established downtown venue and migrating up to the wilds of north central Barrie ... aaaaaand they were going to be serving pizza. What?

With their tiny shop successful and operating at capacity, Goldie and Kay began to think of moving. Parking was not always convenient for their guests although the loyalists would somehow find a way to get their Tiffins food fix. Several times their front window was damaged. The signs for change were there.

When they learned that a long running pizza place was relocating from its spot at 20 Bell Farm Road, they jumped. So what to does an Indian restaurant do with a massive pre-existing pizza production set-up? I bet you can guess.

Curry and pizza is not as crazy as it sounds.  Welcome to the world of fusion cuisines. You're already doing it anyway. Had any fish tacos, perogy poutine, or chicken and waffles lately? Note also that Tiffins old location is now home to a pho and sub sandwich house. Exactly.

With Georgian College within walking distance, this new location will be a big hit with the many South Asian students and residents in the area. The faithful fans have also found their way up to Bell Farm Road as well and are loving the ample parking. The food and friendly service is just as it was on Dunlop St. E. No change there.

Chef Kay is still adjusting to having so much room to work. The counter tops are many and the storage space is limitless. After creating his flavourful masterpieces in box-like space with only pivoting room, this must seem like cooking in the middle of a ballroom.

A major difference is that this is a take-out business and not a restaurant with seating. (Goldie hinted that she won't miss washing dishes.) That didn't stop Janis and I from setting ourselves up in a small nook where customers usually wait for their orders.

We started with some lovely samosas. These yummies are common in India and vary greatly region to region. Guess what - samosas are a Middle Eastern food that was blended into the Indian diet during the spread of Islam a thousand years ago. Still think fusion cuisine is a new thing?

Janis hasn't been into Indian food for long but is an enthusiastic fan now! She enjoys that super popular creation of a dish, butter chicken. Almost exactly like the birth story of the chicken wing in Buffalo, (check it out some time), butter chicken was invented purely by accident in the mid 20th century by a chef desperate to make a meal out of leftover ingredients.

I tend to fall into food ruts. By that, I mean that when I find something really, really good on a menu, I order it every single time. Muskoka Benedict at the Dunlop Diner. Halibut dinner at Fancy's. The Prime black bean burger at Kenzinton  Burger Bar. Chana masala at Tiffins.

This time, I told Chef Kay to surprise me with something from their vegetarian menu. The vegetables, the protein, cashew sauce versus coconut sauce - it mattered little to me because I knew it was going to be fabulous. Goldie asked me if I still prefer a mild taste. Actually, I am experimenting with a little more heat these days but not to the level of their famously fiery phaal curry

The chef did not disappoint. Janis' butter chicken with naan bread and my creamy dreamy veggie delight with colourful basmati rice both disappeared. The food, the service and the company were unparalleled anywhere. The pizza end isn't fully up and running yet. I know of two girls who like to write, and eat, who will be back!

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Casa Mia in Barrie: Pasto Perfetto!

Driving home from visiting my mother, we passed Casa Mia on Dunlop St. W. and Ron suddenly remembered two things. He was hungry and that he'd had a gift card for Casa Mia sitting on his dresser since Christmas.

We returned as soon as we retrieved the gift card and went in not long after the restaurant opened at 4 o'clock. A table of four were the only other guests inside.

Mediterranean music complimented the old world decor of wood and plaster, tile, columns, frescoes and statuettes, while a pleasant and slightly garlicky aroma filled the air.  The hostess quickly seated us at a south facing window and very soon after, we were greeted by our server who must be one of the sweetest and most enthusiastic wait staff I have met anywhere.

Corinne, and I hope I have spelled your name correctly, is the brand ambassador every business dreams of. It was apparent that our good time was her number one objective, and not only because it was her job but because she genuinely believed in the fare she was serving, and truly wanted us to be happy.

Corrine was surprised to hear that we were first-timers. Casa Mia must have a lot of regular visitors! She explained all the specials and side options, then eagerly pointed out her own favourite dishes on the menu. She easily sold us on two of them, Greek Village Chicken and Linguine Pacifico. We are always on the hunt for a fantastic caesar salad and so ordered two of those to start, and a nice glass of white wine.

The salads were very nice. Light but tangy and flavourful, not like some of the watery bland affairs we have encountered elsewhere.

Two amazing platters soon followed. They were unlike any plates I have seen to date in Barrie - hearty, artful and uniquely presented.

Ron's Greek Village Chicken was described to us as a chicken parmigiana with the addition of  spinach. The sides of roasted potato and mixed veg sounded nice but not necessarily exciting. However, what he received was so much more than what was expected. At Casa Mia, they sauce and cheese all items on the plate, then bake it, which was a delicious surprise!

Mixed vegetables in most standard restaurants often means a small pile of unseasoned steamed broccoli, cauliflower and carrot. Healthy but boring. Casa's was all that and more, roasted, sauced and cheesed, and Ron was actually giddy to find a beet in his veg selection!

My plate was so beautifully presented! Large tiger shrimps and calamari pieces were swirled into a tall mound of saucy pasta and surrounded by a crown of mussels in the shell.

The tomato sauce in our dishes, house made I'm told, was just lovely. Smooth, light and not at all acidic. I am not a big red sauce fan normally but Casa Mia's sauce was a delight.

Naturally, we had no room left for dessert but we treated ourselves to the next best thing, something we had not sampled in years - a specialty coffee from the bar! Ron ordered a B52 coffee and kept it slightly simpler with a Bailey's coffee. Our drinks were decadent and just what we needed to top off a perfect meal!

Saturday, 5 January 2019

They Say You Can Never Trust a Skinny Chef

Happy New Year! I have been rather absent from my Curious Nibbler persona lately but not for any particular reason. Life just gets busy - work, volunteer roles, family etc. but I still love my adventures in food. In fact, you will see that I have moved myself into the 21st century with the purchase of a (once dreaded) cell phone and found that Instagram is a fantastic medium.

Something else is new though. I am working on a project, one that aims to shatter the meme that says "never trust a skinny chef." That project is me. 

One year ago tomorrow, for whatever inexplicable reason, I awoke feeling like I deserved better. Coincidentally or otherwise, January 6 is the date of Epiphany on the Christian calendar, the day that the three Wise Men encountered that special baby. An epiphany can also be defined as a moment of sudden revelation that changes you in some way.

I woke up that morning feeling unhealthy and depressed. My joints hurt, my clothes were strangling me, mirrors and scales were my enemies and I was sick of it. I deserved to be happy and healthy and I decided that I was going to do something about it.

I am a veteran of Weight Watchers (in 2 different countries), T.O.P.S. and Herbalife, all of them multiple times. Lost hundreds of pounds over several decades. I should be below my birth weight by now. I have realized that in every one of those fun (not) exercises in deprivation I was doing it for anyone but me - my family, my friends, society at large, or the sweet lady manning the scale who clapped when I lost a pound.

This time had to be different. For years, I had avoided any attempts at losing the excess weight mostly because I feared another failure.

So I made a plan. First, I picked a reasonable number as my target weight, a number I had been at before, something attainable and maintainable, and keeping in mind that I am not twenty years old and that I have given birth to five big beautiful babies in my life.

I gave myself a year to get to that number. I also told no one. This was my little secret. Sometimes, when you announce that you want to lose weight, well-meaning people like to remind you that perhaps you "shouldn't be eating that" and put extra guilt/pressure on you. I was possibly twenty pounds lighter or more before people began to ask if I was losing weight.

I decided to be kind and reasonable with myself. I would not do anything "nutty" or, in other words, no fad diets, weight loss groups or services, fasting, cleanses, pills, surgeries or meal plans. Just good and tasty food because I deserve that. If I want a few slices of pizza now and then, I will have them.

I hate gyms. I joined one once and only went a handful of times. What a waste of money. Gyms are just not for me and I know this so there is little point in me signing up at one. What do I like? Walking. I'm pretty good at it too - been doing it since I was ten months old, so I heard.

The beauty of walking is that almost all of us can do it. You need no special equipment, you can go any time you want and it costs nothing. Sometimes I add music, (another benefit to the once hated cell phone idea), and I am propelled along by some very cool 80s dance tracks! Other times, I leave the headphones at home and enjoy the sound of the birds or the wind in the trees.

You are wondering what I ate, right? I only ate food that I like. This is a key factor for anyone who wants to get healthy and lose any weight that is holding them back from living a full life - you will not succeed in the long term (or possibly short term) if you eat stuff that is "good for you" but tastes like crap.

Kale? Nope. Spring mix salads? Nope. I hate those things therefore I'm not going to eat them. You have to find foods that are good for you and that also taste good to you personally. They are out there.

Do you cook? You really need to put the effort in to learn how to prepare some really delicious meal items for yourself, again because you deserve this! I don't mean five star cheffy things, but simple yummy stuff that you can prep ahead and look forward to having when you come home tired and hungry. You might be surprised to learn that professional chefs are bad at this. Who wants to cook when they have cooked all day at work? Not meeeee.

I have been eating a mostly vegetarian diet for about six years now. That does not necessarily lead to an automatic healthy weight. It certainly didn't in my case. I know that I was not keeping track of my protein intake properly, and that carbohydrates were making up waaaaaay too much of my diet. I do much better with those things now.

Junk food was my crack cocaine. I ate a lot of chips, crackers and other salty/crunchy things. Every day. Those things were hard to give up but instead of thinking of their absence as a deprivation, I turned it around that they were an addiction that was killing me. I also turned to sunflower seeds and nuts instead, things that let me have my crunch and flavour treat but also add fiber and protein value to my diet.

I also gave up 90% of the bread that I ate. Carbs, carbs, carbs. Everybody talks about the evil of carbs but I don't know that they are terrible for everyone. I just know that I was eating far too much bread, and living on sandwiches to a great extent, so for me personally, walking away from bread made a big difference. Maybe once a week, I will have a veggie burger or pizza. Saying "never again" to a particular food item often leads to those old feelings of deprivation, craving and falling completely off the wagon.

So what do I really eat? Everybody has to find things that suit their personal taste, living situation, budget, medical status etc., so what I eat is not going to be what you eat. Breakfast for me can be fruit and cheese (my faves are grapes and smoked gouda), cereal and fruit (Fiber One with dried apricots), a high protein (30 g.) shake, or maybe a veggie omelette. Lunch could be a caesar salad with crab or shrimp, a homemade soup (butternut squash is my go-to), or one of my Indian style stews (crushed tomato, coconut milk, curry spices, assorted frozen veg and a soy based protein or chick peas).

I like to bake some fish ( Highliner Pan-Sear Selects are so good!) with veg drizzled in olive oil, create a filling lentil shepherd's pie or make an eggplant parmigiana for dinner. Nutritious and delicious things are a must. Why? Because (and keep telling yourself this) you deserve to be healthy and feel good, and also to enjoy your meals.

Above all, be good to yourself. Be patient and forgiving. Make small goals for yourself. Take small bites out of the apple, if you will forgive the food analogy, and look for losses of a pound here and there rather than looking at a big and overwhelming number. Aim for XXX pounds by Easter, for example, as a mini goal. Give yourself a tiny reward when you get there. New walking shoes, yoga pants or consider that FitBit you have been wanting.

I decided last year that I don't necessarily want to extend my life, but I want to live while I am alive, if that makes any sense. I want to dance with my daughter and hike with the boys, I want to wear the pretty clothes and give depression the boot, I want to have more energy to work and play, have more confidence, try new things and generally live well.

So (drum-roll please) I hit my goal ahead of schedule this past November 27th. To achieve my target, I lost the obscurely uneven sounding number of 57 pounds. I truly amazed myself. Never before I have I done something like this by myself and for myself.

What's next? Christmas put 3 pounds back on my frame but I'm not panicking (as I would have in the past) because I will soon rectify that. I am looking forward to the return of warm weather when I can really get walking again, without the fear of falling on my butt on an icy sidewalk. How I love my walks down to our beautiful  lake shore where I can soak away my cares in the cool waters of Kempenfelt Bay. I may even wear a two piece bathing suit this year. Wink.