Toronto Heatwave

Toronto Heatwave

Clustered on your tongue, in your mouth and on your skin are thousands of TRPV1 thermoreceptors. Their function is to kick into action at temperatures about 43C and above to initiate a pain response and trigger some protective measures to try to cool us down and dissipate the heat - things like producing sweat.

Now, by complete accident it turns out that a couple of non-heat-related enzymes also bond to these receptors - one of them being capsaicin, the active ingredient in chilli peppers. That's why we perceive spicy foods as "hot". They're not really. It's an illusion created by those TRPV1 receptors!

So why do human beings deliberately subject themselves to that pain response by eating spicy food and adding capsaicin-rich sauces to all foods? One theory floating around the scientific community is that prolonged exposure to capsaicin causes a desensitization of the TRPV1 receptors. ie., eat more spicy food and feel the actual heat a little bit less!

Given the successive heatwaves that have hit Toronto this summer - and global warming trends in general - maybe one response is to amp up your intake of hot sauce. Toronto produces some exceptional hot sauces and spicy condiments from a number of different traditions - including Okazu fermented sesame chilli and Mado's Dominican pepper sauce, both featured here on the blog in recent posts - but the flag-bearer for the recent explosion of heatwaves of flavour in this city has got to be No. 7 Mexican Hot Sauces.

Founded in the Junction Triangle in 2013 by the husband and wife team of Sandra and Carlos Flores, they offer a line of hot sauces ranging "from Mild to Wild" with no added preservatives, sodium or sugar. They are soy/dairy free, gluten-free, peanut-free, as well as vegan. Try the sweeter Pasilla (made with tequila!) or the smoky Chipotle or challenge yourself to the Habanero-Ghost Pepper blend (softened somewhat by the presence of cauliflower and carrot in the mix).

Remember, you may be preparing your body to handle the heatwaves still to come!

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Summer Refreshment at your fingertips, literally.

Augie's Ice Pops

We figure most of you know that we carry a couple of different (but equally great) lines of ice-pop moulds so you can make frozen treats at home. We know this because we are already on our second or even third order of the things. We keep selling out of them!

But for those muggy days when you're not at home but you need a quick hit of cool, we've got ready-made ice-pops in our freezer at the back of the store. And not just any ice pops. They're the best in the city and they're made right here in the Roncesvalles neighbourhood: Augie's.

Of course, there's no pleasure like a simple pleasure and Augie's ice pops certainly do the trick. But some of those flavour combinations (wild blueberry citrus, strawberry basil lemonade, Vietnamese coffee...) hint at a background working with some of the city's top chefs and a dedication to sourcing local ingredients from the farms where the flavours grow. Simplicity and sophistication in one delicious, refreshing treat, right at your fingertips and right down the street at the Mercantile.

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Let's Get Stainless Steel Serious

Onyx Stainless Steel Ice Cube Trays

OK, it's the height of summer. It's about time we had "the talk".

We have carried a variety of ice cube trays/makers/moulds in the past and continue to offer a few options including badass shapes and smart-and-supple silicone solutions. But let's be grown-ups about this for a minute:
Would James Bond's bartender make a martini using ice-cubes wrestled from a hive of silicone? No. She would not.

If you've been in the store a few times, very likely you've heard at least one of us wax eloquent about the Onyx stainless steel ice cube tray. And that's not just because it's a solid piece of machinery built for the task and built to last - this is practically a poem in stainless steel, an ode to another time, an evocation of half-forgotten memories and a trigger for the senses. It's like the aluminum ice cube trays you grew up with... only better.

First of all, it's the sound.
When you crank that handle up and the ice cracks, you practically expect to see the Rat Pack come running for their cocktails like Pavlov's dogs. If I was younger and smarter, I'd devote a whole ASMR-channel to this sound on YouTube. For a certain generation, it's the sound of mum and dad home from work and relaxing before dinner gets started.

Second, it's the shards.
This isn't prying and cajoling some uniform not-quite-cube from a silicone sleeve, this is a surgical operation that cracks a solid sheet of ice in one swift motion. There are bound to be shards. And believe me, you want shards. When they mingle with the cubes in your G&T or one slips through the strainer into your Manhattan, it creates the sensation of frostiness all on its own - like an iceberg calf in your drink.

But here's your pro tip on the matter of the Onyx Stainless Steel Ice Cube Tray - (because, if you're a grown up, you really really want this thing by now, don't you?):

Do not over-fill the tray with water when you're making them. Leave a little room for the ice to expand but not over the lip of each cell in the grid. Before you head to the freezer, lift the grid out and put it back just to make sure the cubes will all be evenly sized. And, once they are fully frozen, do NOT use brute force to crank that lever! Out of the freezer, turn the tray over and run the bottom under a cold tap for about three seconds - that ought to do it. When you pull that lever, the ice should crack without resistance. You'll get the perfect product and ensure your tray mechanism lasts a lifetime.

Keep a couple of plastic or silicone trays in the freezer that the kids can use for their Kool-Aid or whatever they're drinking these days. This is YOUR ice cube tray. Welcome to the world of grown-ups.

I'm glad we had this little chat.


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A Non-punny Headline Pertaining to Nut Products!

Sante nuts

Seriously, even Santé's website succumbs to the temptation in a couple of spots but we are going to boldly resist any mention of "showing off our nuts" or talking about a product we're "just nuts about"...... Ooops!

Anyway, the point is that nuts are a delicious and nutritious food that are great for snacking or using as an ingredient. These delights from a family owned and operated business in Santa Clara (they're across the street from the Intel Museum and a short drive Google's HQ... Google it!)  are great for either - from the sweet and spicy pecans to the candied walnuts to the cardamom-flavoured cashews (our particular favourite, in fact). 

They're so delicious you'll be tempted to just snack the whole bag but take a moment to visit the aforementioned website for some really great recipe ideas for how to incorporate these nuts as an accent to a variety of healthy dishes (we made the Roasted Cabbage Wedges with Pecan Crumbles and they were amazing!)

Signing off unpunnily until next week!

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A Bluming Fantastic Beverage

Blume latte mixes

Move over matcha, there's a new mix in town!

Recently arrived from Vancouver, in fact. And while our Canada Day post last week was Ontario-Quebec-centric, there IS a time difference so hopefully this still counts!

Blume is the brainchild of Vancouver pals Ella and Karen and we've already heard buzz in store from a customer just back from the wet coast. If you're looking for an alternative to caffeine in the morning but still crave the creaminess of a latte and want the boosting benefits of turmeric (we start every day with a turmeric-based Morning Mojo) then this is a great option. Or, add a tablespoon to your smoothies or baking or soups or just about anything.

From the basic recipe turmeric to the turbo-charged chilli-turmeric version to the beetroot latte with cinnamon, ginger and clove, each provides its own set of flavour and nutritional characteristics but all are vegan, caffeine-free, gluten-free and organic. Each bag is good for about 30 servings (though you may be tempted to use it in multiple applications for your first bag!)

Get your day off to a great start with Blume!

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Canada Day Edition: The Veteran and the Rookie

Joe Beef vs Heartbeat

Here on the eve of Canada Day, we wanted to remind everyone that, while we're not a store that's exclusively Canadian, we ARE a store that's dedicated to offering the best the world has to offer and that includes some incredible Canadian products. And what better way to talk about them here than with a hockey metaphor!

On the left side of this photo, three offerings from the veteran, Joe Beef - the Montreal institution that includes the Joe Beef and Liverpool House restaurants as well as a variety of take home sauces and rubs. A great example of Canadian pride is watching Joe Beef's founders, David McMillan and Fred Morin, take the late great Anthony Bourdain ice fishing with foie gras and the "finest wines known to man" and on a culinary trip as they ride by train from Montreal to Quebec City. The ketchup, BBQ Sauce and Reserve Jerk Sauce we're offering are great examples of their commitment to foregrounding bold flavours and great ingredients. The ketchup is a mix of tomato and red pepper with less sugar than you typically find in a grocery-store ketchup. The BBQ sauce AND the jerk sauce are both built around a base of Quebec prunes for a heady, jammy note in each.

If Joe Beef is the Mario Lemieux in this hockey metaphor (the once upstarts are now the establishment and they own the team!), Heartbeat Hot Sauces are not even the Sidney Crosby - more like the Connor McDavid! This is a young team from Thunder Bay Ontario with just two sauces in their line up: fresh jalapeño with fermented serrano peppers bring a bright heat to the table while the fermented red habanero is, curiously, both sweeter and hotter with a bit more depth of flavour. But their undeniable talent has already got them playing in the big leagues. They are featured in the number 2 spot in the line up on season six of Hot Ones - the YouTube show where celebrity guests try to keep it together while host Sean Evans interviews them and leads them through a series of hot sauces ending with the Last Dab - a sauce that comes in at around 2.4 million Scoville units!

Not only is it a very big deal to be featured on the show, Heartbeat is also featured at Heatonist, the hot sauce vendor in Chelsea Market NYC that's behind the Hot Ones show and their own line of hot sauces.

This Canada Day, celebrate this tasty Team Canada at YOUR barbeque!



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Sharpen Your Sense of Flavour

OCNI Flavours

OK, bear with me - this may be our most puzzling post yet. And it comes from a Montreal/France collaboration with an acronym meaning "Unidentified Food Object" (hence the amusing logo) and, like it's namesake, it's something strange and exciting and out of this world.

What you're looking at in the four test tubes above look like double-thick crayons. But instead of being made of wax and pigment, they're made of a careful formulation of agar-agar (the seaweed-based food product that acts as a solidifier) and flavour - in this case basil, soy and porcini mushroom, lemon and salt and hot pepper and garlic respectively. The unidentified object on the right is something perhaps more familiar: a pencil sharpener.

They come in a handy pack that converts neatly into a stand for your countertop:

Now, here's where it gets REALLY interesting:

When it comes to finishing a dish, you're probably used to sprinkling a little salt, grinding a little pepper, crushing a couple of chillies, grating a little parmesan, zesting a little lemon, squeezing a little lime, shaving some truffle.... Well, get ready to add a couple of new verbs to your culinary actions. You're going to really sharpen the accents to your dish by twisting the chosen flavour stick in the sharpener for that final flourish of finishing flavour.

OCNI flavour stick in action

Come into the store to check it out and ask for a demonstration. Then be prepared to welcome these friendly and flavourful aliens into your kitchen!

It's a new frontier in cooking and OCNI is inviting you to boldly go...!

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For the Kid in Dad (or just for the kids)

Assorted Ice Pop Molds

We admit it, we were caught off guard. 

Remember a few weeks ago when there was that heat wave in May? We had put out our stock of various ice pop molds just to remind people we had them, really, but within a week they were mostly gone. So we immediately placed an order for more and of course it turned cold again. Which is fine because there was a delay in the delivery. But as the official start of summer looms, we're glad to report that ice pop molds are back in stock in a variety of shapes and manufacturers.

Choose the Onyx stainless steel models for durability (and for a household where you don't need a lot of them!) or go with the fun shapes and different sizes from Tovolo. There are plenty of choices, now you just need to decide what flavours to make! For a guide to some great flavours and combinations - from kid favourites to healthy alternatives to boozy adults-only versions, check out these recipes.

And don't forget that Father's Day is this weekend. If you don't think he'd like popsicle molds, maybe something in the BBQ or hot sauce department? But don't limit yourself, the options are endless, as always, at the Mercantile.

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Rocking Like Roncy

Kinsip Sampling at Roncy Rocks

We all know that Roncy rocks, generally speaking. But tomorrow is the day when the street puts that sentiment into action (and music) with one of the city's best street festivals, drawing on both visiting talent (like the Conor Gains Band) and neighbourhood heroes (like Lindy Vopnfjord). For a complete rundown of participating musicians, artists and vendors, check out Roncy Rocks online.

Our part in the festivities is pretty low-key - we don't have a BBQ or anything. But we do have lots of treats and refreshments inside and we're anticipating at least SOME Father's Day shoppers who are thinking a week ahead. For those in that category we have some great ideas for bar, barbecue and lots more.

We do also have some wonderful new friends from Kinsip in Prince Edward County. We wrote about them in this space a few weeks ago and we're proud to offer their Whiskey Barrel Aged Maple Syrup and their awesome selection of aromatic bitters (either of which would make a great Father's Day gift, BTW!). Not sure? Kinsip will be set up in front of the store for Roncy Rocks offering samples of both the bitter and the sweet and we'll be offering $1 off any Kinsip product from 11-4 on Saturday.

No, YOU rock!

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Mado's in the Shados

Mado's Pepper Sauce

If you're a regular Mercantile customer, you probably know Mado's Pepper Sauce and it's likely you've heard one of us tell you it's beautiful Toronto origin story: for years Erin Dowse of the Old York Tavern on lower Niagara St. had been buying it by the bucket-load from a Dominican-Canadian named Elizabeth Madonis who made it in her bathtub in Ajax. As word spread and demand grew, Elizabeth had trouble keeping up with the orders so Erin bought the rights to the recipe and commercialized the operation. It has become a legendary condiment, made according to the original recipe with pumpkin, papaya, scotch bonnets and cider vinegar for the perfect balance of sweet and hot and tart and umami.

And we're not the only enthusiasts. People come from various parts of town knowing we're a source for this beloved and versatile local favourite. And those who love it love it a lot - never wanting to be down more than a bottle and a half in the pantry and fridge. We've been saying for ages that if Erin wanted to take Mado's global, it could easily hold its own with HP and Sriracha and the rest of them. 

While most producers struggle to get a minute with the big distributors and grocery chains, lately they've been knocking on Erin's door and Mado's is poised to get a whole new profile. Just remember, you knew Mado's when you could only get it here and a handful of other shops around town.

So in celebration of the success of Mado's so far and the success yet to come, here's a recipe for something we've been doing with it lately:

Mado's Glazed Chicken Thighs

6-10 boneless skinless chicken thighs
6 ounces Mado's Pepper Sauce, divided
1/2 cup yogurt
2 Tbsp honey or sugar
2 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 tsp kosher salt
flaked salt to finish

Mix the yogurt and half of the Mado's in a bowl and toss in the chicken thighs to coat. Marinate in the fridge for an hour or two - longer if you like.

In a small sauce pan, combine the rest of the Mado's with the honey or sugar, vinegar and salt and simmer until it reduces substantially. You're done when it starts to look like a thick glaze.

Take the thighs out of the marinade mixture and shake off any excess. Lay them on foil or Silpat in a baking sheet and paint with the glaze mixture.

Put the tray on the top shelf of the oven under a hot broiler (or on the hot part of the BBQ grill if you're outdoors) and cook for 5 minutes per side, until you see the sugar in the glaze start to bubble.

Top with a few flakes of Maldon salt and maybe some chopped parsley or coriander and serve with rice and veg or a crispy fruity salad and you are good to go.

You're welcome.

Long Live Mado's!

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Getting THIS part of your house in order

Mako Bar stuff

I have this friend who has this beautiful counter-mounted wine opener that is absolutely effortless and takes about 2 seconds to do its thing. It cost somewhere upwards of $300, as I recall. Now, this friend also had an extensive, climate-controlled wine cellar in the basement stocked with extraordinary vintages (though why you'd wait twenty years to open a bottle and then need it open in two seconds is beyond me!)

I rarely spend more than $20 on a bottle of wine but I do like to have a well-stocked bar for any taste and occasion to satisfy any guest. I don't need to spend a lot on my bar tools but I do need to have dependable quality, stylish design and the right tool for the job. 

Right now, we're offering an array of bar tools - from muddlers and Boston shakers to waiter's corkscrews, wine stoppers, mixing glasses and ice cube trays - by Mako, the same people who make the Wine Rabbit. They're available in convenient sets or as individual items at a great price and they look great too.

And, of course, once you've got your bar in order, you know where to come for tonics, mixes, flavour syrups, aromatic bitters, orgeat, rosewater, Amarena cherries, olives, glass rimmers, spices, cocktail onions.....

It's going to be a summer of entertaining. Be prepared!
You'll find the Mako selection facing you the moment you walk in the store.

It's going to be a summer of entertaining. Be prepared!
You'll find them facing you the moment you walk in the store.

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Thank you.

To those of you recently subscribed to our newsletter, welcome.
And to those of you veteran readers, this is a very rare Tuesday edition!

Typically, the newsletter arrives midmorning on a Thursday or Friday.
We hope that you find it informative and at least mildly entertaining.
There's no hard sell, no pestering, no avalanche of details. It's just a weekly occasion to talk about something in the store that's captured our interest and that we hope might capture yours - whether that's a new product we're carrying or something fun we've discovered to do with products you already know and love.
Occasionally, it's an opportunity to let you know about special sales or calendar events you might need reminding about, a recipe or two, interesting links to share or invitations to events like the one we held in store this past Thursday.

Speaking of which... THANK YOU to all of you who attended. It felt really special to have you in store after hours and to see so many customers, friends and neighbours sharing a drink and a snack. After a decade in the neighbourhood, it really seemed like it was about time we did that and it felt like a warm hug all evening.

Thanks again to our friends at Junction Craft Brewing for providing the beer and April Voth (yes, that April Voth!) for running the bar. Thanks to our stalwart suppliers Salt Gourmet, Neal Brothers and Mad Mexican for contributing edibles for the evening and as part of the prize gift basket.

Our other two prizes were generous gift certificates from our good friends at Pizzeria Defina and Imelda and I guess now is the time to announce the winners of those three prizes, selected at random from the entire list of newsletter subscribers:
[DRUM ROLL.....]
Alison gets the best pizza in the city (and more) at Defina;
Kim ups her fashion footwear game with Imelda; and
Nick gets a feast for the senses with a big basket of tasty treats as well as salt scrub and room and body spray from local heroes Really Great Goods.
By the time you read this they will all have been informed directly.

Thanks again to everyone who attended and sorry to those who couldn't make it on Thursday. We'll try not to make it 10 years before our next get together! And a special thanks to our friends and neighbours at Barque Smokehouse and Willem & Jools for the unexpected gifts and for reminding us of just how special this community is for all of us lucky enough to serve it.

Look for our regular newsletter coming Friday morning.

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