The Bitter and the Sweet

Kinsip Bitters and Maple Syrup

Were this good sized chunk of land not clinging to the north shore at Twelve O'Clock Point between Brighton and Trenton, Lake Ontario would have its very own Prince Edward Island. Instead, we have a Prince Edward County - a genuine sweet spot in the province with its very own microclimate to prove it. 

Famous poets, musicians and painters have been drawn to the area over many decades along with some extraordinary farmers, vintners and food artisans. It is the source of wonderful produce, fine cheeses, beers, wines, ciders and now a new distillery called Kinsip making gin, vodka, shochu, whisky, rye, rum, brandy and even a "County Cassis".

Of course, we are not licensed or equipped to carry any of these fine tipples but Kinsip does produce some delicious things we can carry:

Introducing Kinsip Bitters in Sour Cherry, Orange, Ginger, House Recipe, Lavender Lemon and Hibiscus Rosehip - great additions to the toolkit of any pro or amateur mixologist - and Kinsip whisky-barrel-aged Maple Syrup. It's got a really lovely, robust, smoky flavour that pairs as well with pancakes as it does with cocktails.

Find both in store to your left as you come in the store in the bitters and maple syrup sections respectively!

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Come Party with Us!

10 Years on Roncy

It's hard to believe.

Ten years ago we made the move from the bustle of College St. to homey Roncesvalles. And look what's happened since then!

In the midst of the success of this amazing neighbourhood, we're proud to have become your go-to source for everything from gourmet groceries to gorgeous gifts and products that represent the best of our city and the best from around the world. And we'd really like to celebrate this decade long relationship with you.

So maybe it's short notice but if you don't have any plans next Thursday evening... 
Please come by the shop from 7:00-9:00pm for some complimentary snacks and beverages - including beer from our friends at Junction Brewery and samples of some of our favourite products.

If you're already a subscriber to our weekly newsletter you are already entered in our prize draw. We've got three great gift baskets to give away including a generous gift certificate from our friends at Pizzeria Defina tasty treats. If you're not already on our list, sign up the soiree and you'll be eligible for the draw too!

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Me Time for Mom

Fenwick candles

Madonna and George Harrison both said it: we are living in a Material World. 
There are no shortages of opportunities to treat yourself, to make impulse purchases or to have the world delivered to your doorstep. There are even apps for sending gifts!

With Mother's Day next weekend, we know it's easy to continue that cycle with the usual cards and candies. And we DO have a great selection of those things (not to mention some special Mom's Day shortbreads from local institution, Mary MacLeod's!) But, really, the best way to show your appreciation for mom is to give her some time - some of your time and some time for herself. Make her that breakfast, bring her those shortbreads, draw her a bath (with Epsom salts from Roncy start-up Real Great Goods) and light one of these gorgeous scented candles from Toronto-based Fenwick.

We've got them in three scents: Lavender & Eucalyptus, Bergamot & Bay and Fir, Balsam & Cedar (for your outdoorsy mom!). Each hand-poured candle is made from organic coconut wax with pure essential oils and a cotton wick. They contain no harmful or synthetic ingredients - naturally deodorized wax, petroleum free, lead - free, non gmo, cruelty free. They come in a safe, heat-tempered glass jar with a white twist lid packaged with biodegradable tree - free labels and recyclable materials.

Each jar contains 18 hours of burn-time. That's 18 baths or naps or hours curled up with a book. And that's a lot of Me Time for your busy mom!

Find them on the main table with other Mother's Day ideas starting today!

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On Judging a Book by its cover

Yaal & ChocSoleil

We pride ourselves on having a great selection of chocolate from near and far at a variety of price points. Some tout the "raw" chocolate, some elaborate flavour combinations; some are local, some from exotic locations; some organic, some not - but all great quality stuff. So how do you choose?

Once you've decided on a milk or a dark or if you're looking for particular flavours or other qualities, you're really left with the packaging. The packaging always attempts to convey something of the product within - the no-nonsense cardboard of Galérie au Chocolat or the exquisite chiyogami paper wrappers of Laura Slack's bars - but ultimately it comes down to judging a book by its cover; both the design and the information included.

To tell you the truth, we hesitated about carrying these Yaal and ChocoSoleil products from a company (AOG Foods) founded by two Ecuadoran-Canadian brothers and their friend because we didn't like the packaging. We still don't understand the distinction between the product lines. The design is too busy and its graphics too dated-looking. But when we opened these "books" and got to know about the team's mission and the product inside we were sold - and we hope you will be too.

Ecuador has a long history of cacao cultivation and is a top exporter. Its varied geography offers many distinct regional terroir variations of the bean and its flavours and characteristics. AOG supports several small grower cooperatives and pays 20-50% above current market rates in order to support small communities using traditional farming methods and promote agricultural sustainability. They are Canada, US and EU certified organic, exceed fair trade and environmental standards and use purpose-built state of the art processing facilities and traceability procedures.

And then there's the chocolate.
Whether it's blended or single estate origin, you get a smooth, complex, rich flavour and mouthfeel - even the 80% Esmerelda doesn't have the kind of chalkiness you can get with cocoa percentages that high. And the inclusion on the perfectly portioned discs of exotic fruits or the thin layer of maca, quinoa, sesame, amaranth, turmeric, chia and cocoa nibs on the Super 7 bar - never overwhelms the chocolate. And it's all produced bean-to-bar, which means that AOG handles every step in the process: from sourcing to sorting, roasting, cracking, winnowing, grinding, conching, tempering, molding, packaging and getting the bar to us.

You can't really go wrong with any of the chocolate you can get at the Mercantile - whether it's Laura Slack or Chuao or Marou or Vosges or Galérie or Theo or Chocosol or Denman Island. And some will look better in your gift basket than others or appeal to different styles. But if you really want to wow the chocolate aficionados in your life once the wrapping is opened up, give these a try - you won't be disappointed.

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Ancient Wisdom, Modern Snacks

The guy in the image is Gaius Plinius Secundus, though you may know him better as Pliny the Elder, born in Verona around 23 or 24AD. He was an author, a lawyer, a philosopher, a naturalist and a military commander for the ancient Roman Empire. Basically, he was no dummy. And when he led a legion of Centurions off on another conquest he needed to make sure they were well nourished without the benefit of vacuum-sealed K-rations or foil-wrapped protein bars. He provided something simpler, tastier and more nutritious: lupini beans (lupinus albus, since we're doing latin translations today). And in so doing he was merely borrowing on the wisdom of the Egyptian Pharaohs of the 12th Dynasty 2000 years earlier.

Modern science can give us hard data to back up Pliny's thinking - like the graph above, which shows the number of grams of vegetable protein per 100 calories of lupini beans compared to everything from chia seeds to chick peas to soybeans. They've got 35% more fibre than oats, 2.6 times more minerals than coconut water and 80% fewer calories than almonds. But here's the real kicker... they're delicious!

Stop at a sidewalk café after a morning traipsing around Rome these days and  you'll find lightly pickled lupini beans a common accompaniment to a cold bottle of Moretti! But although these are a very common bar snack from Italy to Portugal and Egypt to Ecuador, they've never really caught on in North America. Until now.

BRAMI Snacks of New York is behind the latest effort to popularize this ancient snack and we are now offering three flavours (sea salt, garlic & herb and balsamic vinegar) in their colourful and convenient resealable packages. You can eat them the traditional way - popping the softer interior bean from the shell with your fingers or with your teeth - but these beans are so perfectly pickled that you can go ahead and eat the whole thing (unlike other commercially available lupini beans we've tried). 

We actually looked into making our own pickled lupini beans at home but it's at least a two week process so we're glad that BRAMI has made it easier to eat these things in more ways than one. And, honestly, we are craving these things daily. Great with a beer at the end of the day? Absolutely. But mid-afternoon at the computer and you feel you want to reach for a cookie? Lupini beans fill that gap perfectly. Take it from us... and Pliny.


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A Growing Concern

Clearwater Farms

Another sure sign of spring is the return of the weekly produce basket from Clearwater Farm near Georgina ON.

This is a little bit different for us as you enter into a direct share relationship with the farm. We function only as a depot for the program. Here's how it works:

Click the image above to go to the Clearwater Farms website and sign up for the weekly basket program. You'll have a few options to choose from including a range of basket sizes, a 24 or 32 week program and a couple of payment options. 

Then, starting next Wednesday (April 18th) Clearwater will deliver your bag of produce to The Mercantile and you come and pick it up. Each week you'll receive 9-12 items of organically grown, local produce, featuring a variety of vegetables, herbs, and fruits along with recipe suggestions so you can meal-plan accordingly.

We're participating again this year because we believe in what Clearwater Farm is trying to do: provide easy, convenient access to top quality organic, chemical-free, local produce; help build the relationship between we city dwellers and the farmers who feed us; and inspire the next generation of food growers for healthier people and a healthier planet through their not-for-profit educational programs. So it's important to emphasize a few things:

  • You don't pay us for the program;
  • You don't administer your profile or alter your preferences through us. All of your communications are directly with Clearwater Farm;
  • We don't store your weekly bag. Be sure to come and collect it on the pick up day. Unfortunately, we have no room in our meagre fridge space to store your bag if you miss the pick up. We can keep it in the office overnight if necessary but after a day or so it's not quite as fresh as it could be and much beyond that we may need to dispose of it.

For the most part, there were no issues last year so we're happy to be part of this program again this year - partly because it reminds of the work we need to do in our own tiny gardens!


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Spring Cleaning

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How Much Are Those Bunnies in the Window?

Canoodling Window Bunnies

As promised, here's your Good Friday Reminder!

That's right, it is officially Easter. Our window has the canoodling bunnies to prove it and our shelves are positively groaning with Easter treats:

Chocolates from Roger's and Saxon and Dufflet and Denman Island and, of course, the extraordinary creations of Toronto's own Laura Slack - including the meticulously rendered and handpainted (and entirely edible) chick named Egbert (available in both milk and dark varieties); but also organic jelly beans and malt eggs and Hershey eggs and marshmallow chicks and bunny treat bags and egg table charms and our famous ceramic Yoga Bunnies - who might arrive for Easter but stay in your home to offer leporine serenity year round.

It is all going fast. Remember, the idea is for YOU to hide the chocolate for kids to find. We don't want you to have to search under anything to find it in the store so you've got today and tomorrow to provision!

We're open tonight until 8, tomorrow 10:30am-&;00pm. We are CLOSED on Easter Sunday AND Easter Monday (we're no April Fools!)
Hop on in and Happy Easter!

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Egbert & The Yoga Bunnies...

Egbert & the Yoga Bunnies

You're right - that does sound like an awesome band name!

But, in fact, it's merely a suggestion of the wide variety of Easter items currently in stock at the Mercantile.

That's right. Easter! You'd forgotten somehow, hadn't you? It's actually Good Friday THIS COMING FRIDAY. It's easy to lose track with these movable feasts!

There's no way for us to forget in the shop since we're surrounded by some of the finest Easter treats available: chocolates from Roger's and Saxon and Denman Island and, of course, the extraordinary creations of Toronto's own Laura Slack - including the meticulously rendered and handpainted (and entirely edible) chick named Egbert, pictured here in glorious colour (and available in both milk and dark varieties); but also jelly beans and malt eggs and Hershey eggs and marshmallow chicks and bunny treat bags and egg table charms and our famous ceramic Yoga Bunnies, also pictured here - who might arrive for Easter but stay in your home to offer leporine serenity year round.

Once people do twig to Easter, they usually make quick work of our stock so don't leave it too late.
We are CLOSED on Easter Sunday AND Easter Monday, regular hours on Friday and Saturday. Hop on in!


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The Natural Easter Egg

Murray's Farm Eggs

Bunnies, chicks and eggs. They are EVERYWHERE right now with Easter around the corner. And, of course, they are ancient symbols of fertility and renewal that coincide with the equinox and the arrival - finally - of spring.

As always, we have an amazing selection of the chocolate iterations of these seasonal icons and we'll talk about those next week. But this week, we wanted to go all-natural.

We have been very proud for the last few years to be your neighbourhood source for what we consider to be the very best pastured eggs available. Murray Thunberg operates his farm near Cambridge Ontario and he raises his hens (and pigs, though we don't carry the pork!) the old fashioned way. In each box of Murray's Farm eggs you'll find a variety of shell colours (and different tones of yolk when you crack them open too). They are rich and flavourful and they are pretty enough to serve as pre-painted eggs but there's no artificial colour here; merely the reflection of the different heritage hen breeds occupying Murray's barn: Jersey Giants, Golden Buff Orpingtons; Silver Pencilled Rocks, Blue Copper Maran and others.

So we'll set you up for chocolate eggs and there are other places on Roncy where you can get decorating supplies and even elaborate Easter Egg stencils but if you want to have just naturally beautiful eggs in your fridge over Easter, head to our fridge at the back of the store and pick up a carton as soon as you can. Our regular customers usually clean us out but at this time of year the demand for Murray's gorgeous eggs is especially high and it's not hard to see why.

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Lá fhéile Pádraig sona duit

Guinness Chips (crisps)

As St. Patrick's Day approaches this weekend, you will not see pithy Irish proverbs or spangly green plastic leprechaun hats in the windows of the Mercantile. Are we not getting in the spirit of things? May I remind you that the proprietor of our store is one Shannon Doyle. We have nothing to prove. The Mercantile is a shamrock-free zone!

The feast celebrating the patron saint of Ireland goes back - officially speaking - to the early 17th century. And as Irish emigrants moved around the world, the holiday took on all kinds of local variations. Most people in Ireland would look at you funny for suggesting the "traditional" St. Paddy's fare of corned beef and cabbage because that is an Irish-AMERICAN invention. And green beer? Talk about amateur hour!

If you wanted to treat the day not as the stereotype-reinforcing frat-party it's become but rather with some nod to genuine Irish culture and tradition, we'd recommend a brief reading of Beckett, a dinner of lamb stew and colcannon and a shot or two of Writer's Tears Irish Whisky as you watch the 48th staging of the All-Ireland Senior Club Hurling Championship on a very obscure satellite sports channel. The only problem is, we have none of the ingredients for any of those things in our store. What we do have are Guinness and Guinness Toasted Cheddar flavoured potato chips from Burts Crisps - one bag for each half of the hurling match should see you through!

May the road rise... never mind.

Oh, and if you're reading this on Friday, Happy St. Urho's Day! Now there is a holiday with one incredible story behind it!

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P.I.Y. (preserve it yourself)

Kilner Jars

John Landis Mason first patented his hermetically sealable preserving jars in 1858. Could he ever have imagined the variations on his theme that would lead to  The Onion's hilarious take on how far they might extend their ubiquity? Likely not. But he most certainly lived to see his idea adopted in markets around the world (though he himself died in poverty in a New York tenement in 1902): the Kerr jars and famous blue Ball jars in the U.S., Bernardin jars in Canada (using metric volumes), the distinctive clip-seal Weck jars from Germany (which we carry at the Mercantile) and the hybrid Fowler's Vacola jars of Australia. Most of these companies have come up with variations to the glass or lids - some practical and some that have invited the derision of The Onion: devices to turn these simple jars into everything from travel mugs and cocktail shakers to toothbrush holders and patio lanterns. 

While the Kilner jar lost its 1842 Yorkshire roots long ago to a faceless corporation, we have to admit that their most recent variations to the utility of the Mason jar are actually genuinely useful and we're now offering two of them in store:

1. The Spiralizer
We love our stand-alone spiralizer and have added more carrot and zucchini to our diet as a direct result but it has two distinct flaws:

a) It's a uni-tasker. Until you actually need it - which is certainly not every day - it sits there taking up a considerable amount of precious shelf space. Frankly, we keep ours in a storage room rather than the kitchen where counter space is at a premium;
b) While the process of loading up the vegetables and cranking the handle to make courgetti or beet ribbons is fun, the design is....inelegant. The height of the output and the extension of the business end of the thing never seems to accommodate the right kind of vessel in which to collect the finished product. There is inevitably overspill and the messy business of transferring it into whatever bowl or pan your stuff is destined for.

The Kilner spiralizer attachment solves both of these issues simply and economically. The blade-lid and protection ring take up minimal space in the drawer and the crank mechanism is replaced by your own wrist! Just twist your carrot (so to speak) into the lid and perfectly spiral cut ribbons fall into the jar you're going to store them in or where you can work with them right away. No messy transfer!

2. The Fermenter
We make our own pickles in a giant crock. I admit I make more pickles than we want or need because I'm making use of the volume of the crock. And to make the crock work for fermenting I needed to custom cut a platter of silicone and sacrifice a few plates to weight the whole assembly down so gas can escape but mold can't grow. The Kilner Fermenter kit includes cut ceramic weights that fit perfectly into the Mason jar and the lid-bung-valve assembly moderates all of the gas exchange which is such an important part of the home fermenting process. With one simple attachment you've taken out all the guesswork and your pickles or sauerkraut or kimchi will already be in the jar you'll put in the fridge when the ferment is done - just replace the fermenter attachment with a regular lid.

These are truly useful tools. And if they're a success in the store, we'll consider bringing in the butter-churning attachment!

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