Valentine's Day

Friday 5: Toronto Treats

It’s that time of year again. Valentine’s Day! Love it or hate it, it’s a great excuse to eat decadent treats. Today’s Friday 5 is a list of places for sweet treats in Toronto. 

Chocolate and red velvet mini cupcakes from Bunner's 

Chocolate and red velvet mini cupcakes from Bunner's 


443 King Street West | 32 Tank House Lane

There are two locations in the city, but the one in the Distillery District is my favorite. It’s a romantic, historic part of Toronto full of boutiques and restaurants.

Soma has wonderful chocolates and treats for the everyday, but they are offering four layers of goodies in a beautiful stainless Tiffin Box for Valentine’s Day. According to their website the layers include: amaretti with kirsch & brandy soaked cherries, chocolate caramel sable, heart shaped ginger snaps, 5 berry pop (white chocolate bark with popcorns strawberries, cranberries, blueberries, cherries and raspberries), 10 truffles, and a Cosmic Heart (filled with hazelnut raspberry butter and surrounded by white chocolate covered pumpkin seeds). I don’t think I could say no to any of those things. Plus, the tiffin box looks so pretty and, besides, it's reusable!

The Chocolateria

361 Roncesvalles Avenue

S and I took a wonderful winter walk the other weekend just so we could try The Chocolateria for the first time. We picked up some chocolate covered Oreos, chocolate covered Twizzlers and chocolate covered quinoa cookies (gotta get those healthy whole grains in, right?). Everything was so delicious that we’re going to make it a little ritual to walk down every so often and refill our apartment with goodies. Next time with bags and bags of their famous chocolate covered potato chips! 

We have some leftover oreos and quinoa cookies. It's taking all of my willpower not to eat them all right now. I love this place!


653 Dupont Street

A tiny but pretty little shop tucked away from the hubbub of downtown. I’m very much in love with their sea salt dark chocolate bar. They also have a beautiful selection of truffles, tortes and cakes. Check out their chocolate champagne bottle for Valentine's Day


3054 Dundas Street West (The Junction) | 244 Augusta Avenue (Kensington Market)

A gluten-free, vegan bakery located in Kensington Market and the Junction. I had one of their muffins for breakfast Thursday morning and a mini chocolate and mini red velvet cupcake for a post-lunch/post-run snack. Yum! Those little cupcakes are fantastic! 

I’ve been searching for great vegan options in the city since I’ve cut out dairy. I generally only eat homemade treats now, but I’ve had a much harder time giving up chocolate (as evidenced above by my newfound love of The Chocolateria). I will definitely be making a trip back to Bunner’s for their cinnamon buns, full sized cupcakes and what looked like incredible chocolate filled chocolate “pophearts” (like a poptart/handpie). Check out their menu here!


99 Yorkville Avenue

A fun shop for pretty macarons and other treats. They aren't quite Pierre Hermé or Ladurée level macarons, but I always really enjoy them. You can check out their Valentine's and everyday offerings online here. I haven't had it myself, but my friends loves their drinking chocolate. 

Beyond the retail space, there's a cute restaurant for brunch, lunch, afternoon tea, or dinner. It would be a fun date night spot, but I think it leans more girly than romantic. I often go with my best friend when she’s in town for lunch and a big pot of tea. The walls are lined with pictures of celebrities and their handprints in chocolate, so it’s fun wander around and see who has stopped by. The meals are nice and portions are small enough that you generally have enough room for dessert, which is good because it's where they excel. They even had a dairy-free flourless chocolate cake that was to die for when I was there last. 

That's it for today. There are many more chocolate and treat shops to explore in this city. I've only touched on the tip of the iceberg. I will make sure to come back with a new list in the future! 

In the meantime, I hope you have a warm, lovely, and sweet Valentine's Day. I'm off to do some baking! 


History Love: Katherine and John of Gaunt

I like to do a little genealogical research whenever I have some spare time. It’s taken a few years to get a handle on my family tree. For the most part, it’s full of brick walls that I slowly pick away at. One line, however, is easy to trace. I find something new every time I work on it. The other week, I discovered that King Edward III is my 18th great grandfather and his son, John of Gaunt, is my 17th great grandfather. 

John of Gaunt? That name sounded familiar. Then I remembered a famous book I’ve been meaning to read, Katherine by Anya Seton. It’s a novel based on the love story of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt. Katherine, it turns out, is also my 17th great grandmother! So I knew I had to pickup the book at the library immediately. I started it over the weekend. I’m not very far in, but I’ll come back and do a review when I’m finished. 

I thought it would be fun to do a short post about Katherine and Gaunt today since Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. 

A lot of Katherine’s life before John of Gaunt seems a little hazy. She was born in Hainaut (now in Belgium) around 1350. Her father, Paon de Roet, was a herald and knight who had access to the court of King Edward III, which meant that his daughters likely grew up in court.* She married Sir Hugh Swynford. Together they had at least one son, Sir Thomas Swynford, one daughter, Blanche, and possibly a second daughter named Margaret. In November of 1371, Hugh Swynford, died fighting in Aquitaine. 

And John of Gaunt? He was born in 1340 in Ghent (hence, “of Gaunt”) to King Edward III and Philippa of Hainault. He married his third cousin, Blanche of Lancaster, in 1359, but she died 10 years later of the bubonic plague. In 1371, he married Infanta Constance of Castile, which gave him the grand idea that he could claim the kingship of Spain (spoiler: he set off to make his claim 1386 and failed). 

Now that you know some basics, on to the juicier stuff. Katherine, was governess to Gaunt and Blanche’s daughters, Phillipa and Elizabeth. It was during this time that Gaunt and Katherine likely began their relationship. 

In an excellent article about Katherine Swynford, “Missing from History,” (History Today, May 2002), Jeannette Lucraft writes about critics of Gaunt like Thomas Walsingham, a benedictine monk, using Gaunt’s blatant affair with Katherine to exemplify his immorality and attack his ability to be a good leader. Walsingham, for example, wrote:

[Gaunt] deserted his military duties and was seen riding around his estates with his abominable strumpet Katherine, once called Swynford, holding her bridle in public, not only in the presence of his wife, but even with his people watching on. He made himself abominable in the eyes of God.
— Lucraft, Jeannette. "Missing from history: Jeannette Lucraft recovers the identity and reputation of the remarkable Katherine Swynford." History Today 52.5 (2002): 11+. General OneFile. Web. 9 Feb. 2015.

A monk railing against adultery and moral failing doesn’t seem crazy or out of the ordinary, right? Of course not. 

Did the criticism change anything? Not really. Katherine and Gaunt’s relationship continued. Lucraft writes that there may have been a cooling off after the Peasent’s Revolt of 1381. There is evidence that Gaunt provided Katherine with a pay-off and drew up legal documents stating that  their children had no claim on the Lancastrian line. There’s also evidence, however, that they were still close and exchanging gifts after 1381. Maybe they were just keeping their relationship under wraps. 

In 1394, Gaunt’s second wife died. In 1396, he did something unprecedented. He married Katherine, his mistress of over 25 years. The Pope and King Richard II legitimized their children, who took the surname Beaufort. This would become a very powerful act later when the Tudors made their claim to the throne in the 1480s. Henry VII was the great grandson of Katherine and Gaunt’s eldest son, John Beaufort, and, therefore, a descendent of King Edward III. So, in some ways, you can thank Katherine and Gaunt for the Tudors. 

Beyond the romance and drama of it, I found how Katharine navigated her position fascinating. She was heralded as a “strumpet” by Walsingham when she was a mistress, but what happened after her marriage to Gaunt? Katherine took a new coat of arms and affiliated herself with Saint Katherine of Alexandria, a popular medieval saint that was often associated with royalty. In my favourite passage of Lucraft’s “Missing from History,” she underscores just how intelligent and savvy Katherine was:

These discoveries provide sharp contrast to the vitriolic animadversions of Walsingham et al. Katherine was clearly educated, excelling in court etiquette and the fineries of dancing, embroidery and courtly literature. But she was also pious and sensible, able to run a household and deemed suitable to control two young girls, while still in her teens or twenties herself. The records of Leicester show that she was approached for patronage, but she appears to have kept a low profile in political matters, with no public scandal to be found in the chronicles. Moreover, indirect evidence provides an idea of the way in which Katherine wished to be viewed by others. Despite not being of noble birth, she was able to assume the character and bearing to infiltrate the highest echelons of the nobility and the monarchy. Her ability to conduct herself at the highest level of society offers a significant model of fourteenth-century social mobility. Her example also suggests that women were able to have agency over the construction of their images and referred to female `role models’ to achieve this.
— Lucraft, Jeannette. "Missing from history: Jeannette Lucraft recovers the identity and reputation of the remarkable Katherine Swynford." History Today 52.5 (2002): 11+. General OneFile. Web. 9 Feb. 2015.

And just to wrap this up neatly, when Gaunt died in 1399, Katherine became dowager Duchess of Lancaster. She lived in Lincoln until her death in 1403.

It seems like something from a fairytale, doesn’t it? Perhaps it is a love story for the ages and they did live happily ever after. The historian inside me wants to investigate them both further, and the romantic in me can’t wait to get further into Anya Seton’s Katherine and report back!

*As a neat little side note, Katherine's sister, Phillipa married famed poet Geoffrey Chaucer. 

History Love: An Unlikely Valentine

Since it's Valentine's Day and our thoughts lightly turn to love and buying over-priced chocolate, I thought I'd do a post about one of my favorite couples in history, Napoleon and Josephine.

Two years ago, you could have mentioned them and I would have said, "Yeah, yeah, famous romance, meh, whatever." But then, last year, I read Sandra Gulland's The Josephine B Trilogy and I fell in love with their story. As soon as I started reading it, I could not put the 1200-page brick of a book down.

Gulland wrote them as epistolary novels, weaving together letters to Josephine (all but one of which were real, if edited, versions) and entries into her fictional diary spanning from her childhood to her death. The novels feel intimate and respectful of the past. It brings life to facts, events, and people. It feels as real as historical fiction can feel, without layers of gloss or fantasy. (As a side note for history geeks, she also has fantastic footnotes, maps, family trees, timelines, and a few other special surprises. Love!)

After becoming completely immersed in the story, it finally had me sobbing for the last 50 pages. And when I say sobbing, I mean it. Tissues in one hand, book in the other, ugly crying. I have never cried like that over a book. Gulland actually made me cry real tears relating to that short, funny looking, fiery, overly ambitious, power-hungry, cheating, passionate Napoleon guy. Magic!

So by now you might be saying, so what? They're books. It's fiction. And you'd be right. But the books are based on the reality of a fascinating, passionate, tumultuous, and ultimately tragic relationship. A relationship that was no Disney fairy-tale.

Josephine, originally from the island of Martinique, was widowed with two children, Hortense and Eugène, after a largely loveless marriage to a handsome jerk named Alexandre de Beauharnais. His life ended at the guillotine.

When she met Napoleone Bonaparte (the original spelling of his Corsican name) in 1795, he was six years her junior and kind of a weirdo with crazy ideas of invading Italy. He fell head over heels for her and basically changed her name to Josephine. Her real first name was Rose. Their marriage in 1796 originally was something of a marriage of convenience.

Over the years, he had affairs. There is evidence that she had some, too. He divorced her and remarried an Austrian princess, Marie-Louise, so he could have an heir. This was after Josephine went through many painful trips to specialists and "spas"  over a period of years to try to cure her infertility, which was probably brought about from severe stress when she was imprisoned during the Terror. And yet, an imperfect, but real, strong friendship and love developed between them.

So, I will leave you with some excerpts from a few of Napoleon's letters to Josephine in honor of Valentine's Day--may yours be full of love whether you are in a relationship or not, whether your love is like a glossy fairy-tale or not.

The first three excerpts were found at this excellent online exhibition PBS did on Napoleon. I definitely recommend going there and reading through it thing if you're interested Napoleon and/or his relationship with Josephine.

December 1795

I awake full of you. Your image and the memory of last night's intoxicating pleasures has left no rest to my senses.

Sweet incomparable Josephine, what a strange effect you have on my heart. Are you angry? Do I see you sad? Are you worried? My soul breaks with grief and there is no rest for your lover; but how much the more when I yield to this passion that rules me and drink a burning flame from you lips and your heart? Oh! This night has shown me that your portrait is not you!

You leave at midday; in three hours I shall see you.

Meanwhile, my sweet love, a thousand kisses; but do not give me any, for they set my blood on fire.


In November of 1796, Napoleon was away and hearing rumors of Josephine's infidelity. He wrote:

I don't love you anymore, on the contrary, I detest you. You are a vile, mean, beastly slut. You don't write to me at all; you don't love your husband; you know how happy your letters make him, and you don't write him six lines of nonsense. . .

Soon, I hope, I will be holding you in my arms; then I will cover you with a million hot kisses, burning like the equator.

Eventually, Napoleon needed to find an heir. This pressure and his increasingly open affairs sparked marital problems and jealousy between the two. He wrote to his brother Lucien "Josephine is decidedly old and as she cannot now have any children she is very melancholy about it and tiresome[. . .]the woman cries every time she has indigestion, because she says she believes she has been poisoned by those who want me to marry someone else. It is detestable." They divorced on January 10th in 1810.

Josephine wrote in her divorce statement:

The dissolution of my marriage will make no change in the feelings of my heart. The Emperor will always find in me his truest friend.

(From page 1106 of The Josephine B Trilogy. A picture of the letter/statement and French transcription are here.)

Napoleon and Josephine continued to write each other after the divorce, he wrote this a week after:

Trianon, January 17, 1810.

My Dear, D'Audenarde, whom I sent to see you this morning tells me that since you have been at Malmaison you have no longer any courage. Yet that place is full of our happy memories, which can and ought never to change, at least on my side.

I want badly to see you, but I must have some assurance that you are strong and not weak; I too am rather like you, and it makes me frightfully wretched.

Adieu, Josephine; good-night. If you doubted me, you would be very ungrateful.


(From a great archive of Napoleon's letters to Josephine found on

Josephine died on May 29, 1810 at her beloved Château de Malmaison, just outside of Paris. Her son, Eugène, wrote to Napoleon to break the news.

Sire, Emperor (Papa),

I am writing to you now with tears in my heart. Your beloved Josephine passed away suddenly. We still cannot comprehend that she is no longer with us. Our distress is made more bearable knowing that she lived a full life, a life full of  love. She loved us. She loved you--profoundly.

[He goes on to describe her illness over a period of days, a problem with her throat, and her subsequent death.]

She was placed in a double casket. Over twenty thousand people came all the way out to Malmaison to pay their last respects. Astonishing. Even the gate here at Saint-Leu is covered with bouquets and letters of sympathy. Really, Papa, it touches us deeply to see such an outpouring of love.

"Tell him I am waiting," Maman told Hortense a few days before her death. Fever talk, we thought at the time, but now it all seems so clear. Mimi, who was with her through that last feverish night, says her last words were of you.

Did she know how much we loved her? If Maman's death has taught me anything, Sire, it is that one must speak one's heart when one can. I love and honour you as my Emperor and commanding general, but above all as my father. Bon courage, as Corsicans say. May God be with you. I know her spirit will be.

Your faithful and devoted son, Eugène

(Found on page 1171 of The Josephine B. Trilogy)

Almost 11 years later, on May 5, 1821, Napoleon's last words were: "France, l'armée, tête d'armée, Josephine."

France, army, head of army, Josephine.