Feeling Chirpy

Chirps Cricket Chips

Believe it or not, this snack-based post is actually a continuation of our Earth Day initiatives (speaking of which, we are continuing our 5¢ rebate for bringing your own bag through to the end of May!).

OK, bear with me here - you might not like this idea at first but I urge you to read on:

Human beings are outnumbered on this planet by a ratio of 200,000,000:1 by insects. They account for almost 30 times the biomass of all the people on earth. They are an excellent, abundant and eminently renewable source of high quality protein. While many cultures routinely eat a variety of insects, Western cultures mostly don't. Heck, for the longest time most people wouldn't eat lobster because it was too insect-like!

A few years ago, I sampled some roasted-salted crickets that were part of an installation at Nuit Blanche. Once I got over the idea of putting insects in my mouth deliberately I found them to be delicious - delicate, nutty and easy to eat. But you still had to kind of get over the appearance of those familiar lawn creatures lying all toasty in the palm of your hand.

Chirps is a new product recently seen on "Shark Tank". They are a familiar-looking tortilla-shaped snack chip made with a mix of corn, beans, chia seeds, and of course cricket flour. We were reluctant to carry them at first but they are so delicious and so good for the planet at the same time that we thought our customers deserved to be the ones to decide for themselves. You might try a bag as a bit of a novelty or experiment but they might just become your go to snack!

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Two Earth Day Projects

Earth Day - April 22, 2017

As usual, the Christmas season was a busy time at the Mercantile. And with a little effort we could probably quote you some impressive statistics about the number of felt ornaments or chocolate Santas or Christmas tea blends sold. But with Earth Day coming up this weekend, one statistic really stood out for us: in the month of December alone, we went through 3000 plastic bags! And that's just one store in one neighbourhood in one city here on our one and only planet.

Remember a few years ago there was a tax on plastic bags? To be honest, nobody seemed to mind paying it because it wasn't very much and we got very few complaints about it. Plus, people really started to change their behaviour around how they prepared to go shopping so fewer and fewer people even had to pay the tax. But then the tax was reversed and it was amazing how quickly people stopped remembering to bring their own bags. So in honour of Earth Day this year, for the rest of the month if you bring your own shopping bags for your purchases - and mention that you read this in our newsletter or on our website or social media feeds - we'll give you a nickel - 5¢ cold hard cash! We also have some beautiful new mesh bags that might entice you to make the switch. If the program is a success we may just continue it and challenge our fellow local businesses to follow suit!

That's one thing we're doing to celebrate Earth Day. Here's the other:

Starting June 1st, we're teaming up with Clearwater Farms as a neighbourhood hub for their weekly food basket program. Clearwater is a flagship initiative of the Ontario Water Centre, an educational organization with charitable status. Clearwater’s food production supports the centre's educational mission to further place-based experiential learning through school and camp-based youth-focused programs, and through partnerships with community groups. Their vegetables are just beautiful - delicious, nutritious and grown using organic and regenerative practices that showcase the creative potential of sustainable agriculture. Sign up by May 1st and take advantage of their Early Bird 10% discount. You'll deal directly with them on the order and then come on in to the Mercantile to pick it up each week. For more info or to sign up for the program, visit

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Easter is Upon Us

Happy Easter from The Mercantile!

Well, it was inevitable.
Sean Rooney's remarkable balloon bunnies in our display windows have been shrinking before our eyes. Come to think of it, they seemed to diminish at almost the same pace as our stock of Easter goodies inside the shop!

But don't worry, there's still lots left - from super cute salt and pepper shakers, egg cups, platters and table charms to the usual suspects of chocolate bunnies and eggs, brightly coloured gummies, jellybeans, malted eggs and much more. Our very real Murray Farms eggs are collected from a variety of heritage hens on the farm near Stratford so they're already a variety of colours - no painting necessary! You'll find them in the fridge at the back of the store.

And, of course, it wouldn't be Easter without Egbert - Laura Slack's utterly extraordinary  handpainted (but entirely edible) sculpted chocolate chick (among her wider collection of Easter specialties).

Just don't wait too long.
We're open Thursday and Friday 10:30am-8:00pm and Saturday 10:30-7:00. But we're CLOSED Sunday and Monday. So let your hunt for the best in Easter treats start at the Mercantile today!

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Multiplying Bunnies

Sean Rooney's Balloon artistry

For all the clichés about rabbits multiplying, the fact is that - come Easter-time at the Mercantile - bunnies actually disappear pretty quickly. For example, our famed Yoga-Bunnies that we brought in a few weeks ago are all gone already! (we've requested more but they likely won't arrive in time for Easter).

Having said that, bunnies and chicks and all things Easter are multiplying on our shelves at the moment (though they won't last long either!). There are ceramic ones and chocolate ones, candy ones and felt ones, ornate ones and simple ones, edible ones and decorative ones - all of which we'll highlight next week as the rush really ramps up. But today we wanted to invite you to come by the store - even if you're not thinking Easter yet and even if you don't have time to actually come through the door - just to have a look at the display in our window.

The bunnies currently populating our windows are the creation of Balloon Maestro Sean Rooney. Sean is a guy we've known for many years and he is an artist like no other. A trailblazing innovator, he has developed techniques to make magic, music, fashion, sculpture, puppets, and sound effects using balloons as his sole visible (and acoustic) prop. 
He has been performing and sculpting for over twenty years, in thirty countries, in venues big and small. He has constructed massive balloon art installations of buildings and dinosaurs and motorcycles, he has created an orchestra's worth of working balloon instruments for famous musicians, he created an entire, sensuous balloon world for a video by Toronto electroclash superstar Peaches and made balloon creatures and more for Celine Dion's family Christmas party in Montreal! Follow the Balloon Maestro link above to see and learn more.

So if you haven't walked past the Mercantile lately, make sure you come out for a stroll in the nice weather this weekend. If you're not thinking about Easter yet, Sean's work will certainly impress you and possibly inspire you to think about the other bunnies that await in store.

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Putting It All Together

Togarishi Kale Chips

Some people come into the Mercantile for their favourite snacks and treats (sometimes they don't even make it our of the store before they're devoured!) and we share that enthusiasm. But one of our favourite things is when someone comes into the store with a vague look of panic asking for that elusive ingredient they need for something they're preparing at home. You have no idea how gratifying it is to be able to say "Yes, of course we have that!" to some of the most obscure requests. As avid home cooks ourselves, we're always thrilled to play some small part in your home culinary adventures.

To that end, we thought that instead of just touting a delicious product or two this week, we'd give you some specifics on how to make use of things.

First of all, we've written before here about the amazing Okazu condiment by Toronto's Abokichi. It's a versatile condiment with great depth of flavour and we even have a few little booklets from Abokichi to hand out if you come in and buy a jar but when we sampled some the other day and someone was asking us about applications for it we had a bit of a brainstorm and tried it out:
-Take a tablespoon of Okazu and a tablespoon of mayonnaise and stir those together;
-slather that on a crusty kaiser or soft Asian steamed bun:
-lay on a slab of braised pork belly;
-top with watercress, chow down.

OK, here's the other one - a simple, healthy snack using togarishi - a Japanese seasoning that consists of between 7 and 9 flavours, including chilies, sesame, orange peel, nori seaweed and ginger (you'll find it just past the salts near the coffee grinder):

1 bunch curly kale, washed and dried
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 teaspoon of togarashi with sea salt

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash the kale then gently pat it dry. Remove the tough stems from each leaf, then tear the leaves into large pieces (they will shrink when they bake).
-In a large bowl drizzle the olive oil onto the kale, using your hands to massage the oil into the leaves. Sprinkle the salted togarashi onto the kale — you may need to use your hands to evenly distribute the spice.
-Lay out the leaves on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper or a silpat. Bake for 16 minutes, turning after 8 minutes. Leaves should be crips and curled at the edges.



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Spring Cleaning

A New Look for the Mercantile

According to the calendar, it is officially spring! And sure, everyone is starting to think about freshening things up a bit as we ponder more sunshine and warmer weather on the way. For those of you so inclined we've got some top quality cleaning products from Mrs. Meyers and Ecover - along with EuroScrubbies, kitchen towels and the unbeatable Jude's Miracle Cloth.

But you may have noticed in the last little while we've been freshening up our own look too. We've streamlined our window and door decals and we have a brand new logo that we hope captures the spirit of what it is you love about The Mercantile.

Now, we're not a big corporation so we won't call it a "re-branding" per se - we'll continue to offer the same great products, friendly service and fresh ideas we've always been known for - but it does mean you'll see things like cards and labels and bags change gradually over the next little while.  For now, we wanted to celebrate our 18 years in business while Canada celebrates it's 150th and face the future with a fresh new look. Hope you like it!

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YOUR March Break

SaltWest Naturals bath salts

So they call it "March Break". And sure, the kids get a week off school. But if you're the one taking them away, you're the one chauffeuring them around to activities, you're the one making the extra meals, you're the one with more kids in the house for longer for a whole week, what the heck kind of break is that for YOU?

These aromatic bath salts from SaltWest Naturals - sustainably hand harvested on the west coast of Vancouver Island - are your March break in a pouch. Put 1/4 cup in a hot bath and soak in the relaxation and regeneration. Close your eyes and you are in the rainforest or on the beach at Tofino... And until someone breaks down that bathroom door, that time, that refuge, that feeling is all yours.

Honeysuckle, Lavender, Eucalyptus and Salish Salt & Seaweed.
Find them on your right up the stairs at the back of the store.

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Magic Words

Sprucewood Bacon Cheddar

Bacon. Cheddar.

Indeed they are magic words, especially when they appear together. 
Even more magic, of course, is the taste. And our friends at the Sprucewood Handmade Cookie Co. have made a little bit of magic with this addition to their already stellar flavour line-up. 

Admittedly, they cost $1 more than the other cookies in the line but let me remind you again.... BACON!

You will find these decadent and delightfully savoury shortbreads on the shelf to your right just inside the door of the store. Now let me tell you the most likely outcome when you find them there:
You will buy a box and take it home planning to save them for an upcoming dinner party where you will serve them as part of an appetizer plate with some charcuterie; you will open the box just to try one; you will eat 12 over the next 20 minutes; you will come back to the store to buy another box. Consider that fair warning.

Bacon. Cheddar. Shortbread.
Magic indeed.

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Gotta Terra Cotta

Terra Cotta Dip

We always manage to get great little bowls and tableware items in that seem to really catch on around here. It's not hard to imagine neighbours visiting one another and finding the same stuff in each other's cupboards!

These are the latest items we're sure everyone's going to want first - beautiful glazed terra cotta pieces with a variety of functions: from egg cups to nested measuring bowls to open top jars to spouted jugs - each with that signature unglazed terra cotta bottom that give things a part-upscale part-pueblo feel. These are definitely hand wash items but they're so beautiful you're going to want to use them daily - never mind the dishwasher.

And just so you know, we did check (several times, in fact) and the spouted jugs perfectly hold a bottle of wine - for when you want to have a kind of rustic gathering. A few hunks of cheese, some bread, a jug of wine.... and thou, to borrow a phrase.

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Family Time

Hot Choc Set

In case you've forgotten, this coming Monday is a civic holiday. It's Islander Day (in PEI) and it's Riel Day (in Manitoba). But in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario it's Family Day (not sure what the rest of the country is doing!) In fact, we're not sure what we'll be doing yet but it won't be in the store.
So that's the first thing: we'll be closed Monday with a day to follow our fancy.

We had been all geared up for a skate on Grenadier Pond but it seems likely that will be off limits with the warm weather moving in. Still, skating or no skating, what we were really looking forward to was just being with the people we love - related or not - and sharing some unencumbered time capped with some fresh hot chocolate with mini-marshmallows in it. And that we can still do!

Sometimes the simple pleasures are the best ones to share. And our selections of hot chocolate (and our marshmallows!) make them easier to share with everyone. Dandies Marshmallows are made with all natural ingredients, contain no high fructose corn syrup or gelatin (they're 100% vegan!), and are the first ever marshmallow to be Non-GMO Project Verified. AND they're kosher! Camino Hot Chocolate powders are gluten-free, GMO-free and soy lecithin-free, Kosher, QAI certified organic and Fairtrade certified by Fairtrade Canada because, hey - the people who produce these products have families too.

Put them together in one of our great new enamel mugs and you have coziness in a cup.

Stock up in store this weekend, have a great holiday Monday and we'll see you again as usual on Tuesday!

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Think Outside the Box (of chocolates)

Mercantile Love Window

Now let's be clear: Valentine's Day is kind of like riding a bike with training wheels: if you're confident in your expressions of affection you don't wait for one particular day or limit yourself to certain kinds of tokens of that affection. But we forgive Valentine's Day it's amateur status because it's really very sweet. And the gifts we give are generally quite simple (and also often very sweet!) And yes, we have a great range of products purpose built for the day - from cheap and cheerful bags of cinnamon hearts and those message candies the kids all seem to really love to more sophisticated choices like the Laura Slack chocolate valentine boxes with dulce-de-leche skulls included or the heart-shaped shortbreads from Mary MacLeod's or the heart-shaped raviolis from Queen's Pasta (find those in the freezer) and a great selection of cards (note the "Hay Girl" Ryan Gosling card in the photo).

But let's think outside the box of chocolates for a moment. Here's a romantic accent you can apply any time of year on any occasion:

As you enter the store, to your left you'll find our cabinet of cocktail accoutrements - including a fine selection of aromatic bitters. Look for the cardamom bitters (we carry a couple but we find the Scrappy's is best for this application). Instead of buying an expensive champagne, get yourself a decent bottle of very affordable prosecco.  Prosecco is fermented in stainless steel tanks rather than wooden barrels so it's mostly about the brightness and the effervescence rather than the complex flavours. Put a few drops of the cardamom bitters in your glass of prosecco and you instantly add a kind of creamy, woody, exotic note to a very simple celebratory beverage. And if we sell out of the cardamom, there are lots of options to choose from perhaps the chocolate bitters would kill two lovebirds with one stone (so to speak)!

One of our regular customers from the neighbourhood is Matt See who comes in to stock up on various bitters - including the cardamom - that he makes great use of in his brilliant Chinatown restaurant, People's Eatery. Not a bad spot for a romantic night out, come to think of it, but at the very least you'll find inspiration on his cocktail list for delicious and inventive ways to use bitters on Valentine's or any other day.

Cheers to love. May we all have more of it!

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World Flavour City

Abokichi Okazu

One of the things that marks a great city or a great neighbourhood is the availability of flavours and products and specialties from around the world. Of course, Toronto is blessed with a large and diverse population that creates a demand for an astonishing variety of foods that not only cater to specific cultural communities and food traditions but that transcend those communities and get adopted and adapted in new ways by a general population known for its curiosity and adventurous palate.

But Toronto goes one step further. People with roots in multiple cultures have found the imported products lacking and stepped into the market with their own takes on those food traditions. We've got countless such products in store at the Mercantile and have featured many of them in these posts - including Mado's Pepper Sauce, El Tounsi Harissa, No. 7 Hot Sauces, Mad Mexican salsas, dips and chips, Jaswant's Kitchen spice blends and many more. We're very pleased to introduce a new such local/global item to our shelves from a producer on Dupont St. called Abokichi. Abokichi means "Fortunate Avocado," a coinage from abokado, the familiar South American fruit which has found a place in cuisines all over the world, and kichi which means fortunate in Japanese, to express the blessing of the diversity of different cultures in the world and in our city.

There are a number of other fresh products available at the Abokichi HQ on Dupont but we're just carrying her small line of Okazu. Okazu is a miso-based spiced oil condiment and Abokichi makes three varieties: a milder but headier curry version, a reasonably spicy chili version and a very spicy chili version. Try them on rice or meat or seafood or vegetables or pizza or burgers or omelettes or even popcorn. You get the idea, this is a versatile world of flavour that will find a regular home in your kitchen and all over your menu.

Find it more or less mid point on the south-wall shelves to your right as you enter the store.


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