Travel

Happy Birthday, Johnny!

December 22nd, 2011

Birthdays in December are difficult. Sharing your special day with the holidays can mean less presents and less attention, so I am always careful to give John the best on his special day. With the baby on the way, this meant a surprise trip out of town.

I forgot the camera so this tale will be told via Instagram, with little to no consistency in filter use (sorry, but it’s my new toy…yup, late to the game).

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We started with a quick bite at Nadège, and then we popped by to see Georgia at her gallery. There’s a special piece straight from Japan she was holding for us to see.

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We hit the road, with John expressing worry over the direction we were heading (north on Keele, for starters). Destination: Cambridge. Soundtrack: our friend’s band Tearjerker.

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We stopped at the Cambridge Mill to grab lunch. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. We were sat in a dark tucked away spot in the lounge and then neglected, while happy diners lunched away in a bright, riverside room. We don’t usually walk out as we like to give the benefit of doubt (maybe they were super busy) but it was stressful and as such, we knew we wouldn’t enjoy eating a meal and then paying for it after. We took in the river view on the outside.

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We stopped by friend of the store Reid’s Chocolates, which was bustling with holiday shoppers. We said hello to owner Carrie and got our chocolate fix with mint chocolates and milk totoise (aka Turtles, but better). Carrie suggested we pop over to the Melville Cafe, which is located in the architecture school. This was definitely more our speed! We even ran into a Studio Junction intern while we were there. Pizza with a view of the river. $14 versus $60, with lovely service on the side.

Cambridge is a crazy little town, so typical of the state of Ontario towns. The approach from the highway is long and full of mini malls, garish signs, and big box stores and restaurants. It’s such a shame that this is what consumers want, because when you get to Galt (Cambridge), you are faced with a downtown that is full of beautiful old buildings. The area should be bustling with boutiques, cafes and restaurants, and yet, there is nothing really to note. It’s such a let down. We really hope that people start to demand better of their cities.

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A quick dizzying stop at Southworks Antique Market.

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Our ultimate destination: Langdon Hall.

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We stayed in the Cloister Rooms which were so luxurious: giant king sized feather bed, wood burning fire place, beautiful marble bathroom. We miss the fireplace at the cottage and can’t wait until our reno is done so we can have a fireplace all the time, so we promptly got this puppy going.

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Dinner was at 7 in the dining hall. They already knew it was John’s birthday and that I am pregnant, so I didn’t have to worry about anything. This is the first restaurant to feature a unique mocktail list, which was much appreciated.

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There are three dining options. A la carte, prix fixe and We Cook For You (using seasonal ingredients). We figured, why not do it up so we went for option 3!

Nine courses of surprise dishes. The first 5 or so were seafood based. The picture on the left is of a smoked white fish in veal/chicken/bone marrow jus which was phenomenal, as was the quail egg, brussel sprout and stuffed pheasant (on right).

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On the left was dessert #1, which they called “milk jam”. It was unlike anything we’ve ever had – foam, and then crushed ice, caramel, apple? and I don’t know what. And you can never have enough chocolate…

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Apparently you can never have too much dessert either…

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A cozy night!

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In the morning, we enjoyed breakfast in the restaurant and then a Nespresso and newspaper back at the room before reluctantly checking out. John’s breakfast on the right was the real winner – Lobster and Cider Nage with Poached Eggs, Baby Leeks, Double Smoked Bacon.

We can honestly say that Langdon Hall was the best hotel experience we’ve ever had. Everything was top notch, so much so that we are already anticipating another visit.

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Tomiyama Koichi Exhibition

October 5th, 2011

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On one of our last days in Japan we stopped at Toukyo Gallery, a famous gallery in Tokyo specifically for exhibiting Japanese handcrafts. The gallery is filled with original George Nakashima furniture, which was purchased by the owner of the gallery at a Nakashima exhibition in the 1980s. His collection is now priceless.

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Here at the gallery we got to meet Tomiyama Koichi in person, an artist that we have been working closely with to bring his works to our store. Koichi san has a wonderful collection of studio work which consist of beautiful handmade cutting boards, trays, spoons, and pendant lights. But he also spends a lot of time experimenting with different materials and lacquer finishes and continues to show one of a kind art pieces at galleries all over Japan.

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In this photo you can see the studio cutting boards on the top shelf, and then black lacquer dishes, and at the very bottom a completely unique idea. finishing slabs of slate with traditional white lacquer-ware, Koichi-san mentions he doesn’t think this has been experimented with before.

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The front of the store has a beautiful long George Nakashima bench, with a collection of ceramics.

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George Nakashima dining table.

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A set of wood nesting bowls in different lacquerware finishes: black, white, and red.

Each colour is made from a tree sap mixed with a different powder metal.

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A hand tooled tray we’re looking at stocking in the store very soon.

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One of the few hand turned bowls in the exhibition.

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A new material Tomiyama Koichi has been exploring is hammered steel. He made this small metal table for the exhibiton, and on top is his collection of new coffee scoops (which are now on our online store). The wooden trays are used to bring grounded coffee to the filter for easy pouring.

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Of course while we were at the exhibition a couple pieces caught our eye, and we couldn’t help picking them up. One of our favorite ideas was this tomato tin, it was re-purposed to be used as a storage container. The bottom and top were replaced with wood and finished with Japanese urishi. The fit is perfect, and it will look beautiful in our kitchen.

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A set of some of our collection so far.

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The other piece we got was this butter knife. It is actually made from old discarded stainless steel butter knifes. The original long blade is cut down and made more functional, the original handle is hammered down and finished with Japanese urushi.

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You can see a little bit of the old flower pattern in the handle.

Please visit our online store, or the physical store to see our collection of Tomiyama Koichi!

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Day trip to Kyoto

September 26th, 2011

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We stayed the night in Kanazawa, and the next day we caught a 3 hour train to Kyoto. We checked in to the Kyoto Hayatt Regency, one of the most beautiful hotels we’ve ever stayed at. It was designed by Takashi Sugimoto and it’s stunning lobby is filled with back lit pattered mill paneling. The Japanese restaurant in the basement is furnished with George Nakashima style shaker furniture and the food is spectacular, you just want to sit at the bar and watch the sushi chef work away sipping some Japanese whiskey.

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We decided to hit the back streets during our day in Kyoto, but we underestimated how hot it would be in September. It was unbelievably hot, and we didn’t really have a grasp on how far all of the places we wanted to visit were from each other.

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I always see beautiful cars in Japan, I’ve always admired these old Fiats.

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One of the shops I really wanted to visit was only a couple blocks away from our hotel. It’s a mom and pop shop that carries an amazing collection of hand hammered kitchenware.

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Most of the pieces are hand hammered aluminum, but you can find lots of beautiful copper and brass products as well.

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A fantastic collection of brass ladles, it’s a shame because I don’t think you can actually sell brass kitchen products in Canada anymore.

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The cane wrapped handles paired with the copper was just beautiful.

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I guess every country has their own version of the crazy pigeon lady.

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We spent most of the day walking the back streets of Kyoto and passed so many beautiful courtyards.

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A cute little French cafe, we’d love to stop in but we’re on a mission!

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The must see place for us was the Sfera gallery, which was designed by one of our favorite architect firms Claesson Koivisto Rune.

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The facade is made of die cut metal cladding with repetitive organic patterns. The building itself is on another level, there is a gallery space, a store, and a bar / cafe in the basement. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take any photos inside so you’ll have to check out CKR’s website for some images of the interior.

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We headed downstairs to the cafe and had some much needed ice coffee.

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The cafe backs onto an alley and we had the whole building to ourselves so we took our time and enjoyed the nice breeze.

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We were allowed to take some photos of the basement, so here you go.

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We needed to have some food so we headed out to Efish, a cafe that was recommended to us by a reader.

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There was a beautiful view of the river and they had a special pineapple beer on offer that I really enjoyed. We just has some sandwiches which were nothing really special, the big feature here was the nice vibe and the view.

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Just next door was a legitimate char cedar temple, it really put our charred cedar store facade to shame. It had the texture of reptile skin and the burns were through.

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We had some amazing luck during our trip because it turns out our friend Liza from Frederica was in Japan at the same time as us. There’s nothing better than visiting with friends when you’re in another country and we decided to meet at our hotel for a drink before heading out for dinner.

Liza snagged a reservation at a highly local recommended restaurant which promises a quiet meal on the river. The only problem was navigating through the winding back streets to actually find the restaurant. We were in very good hands because Liza used to live in Osaka and can speak Japanese fluently, she even has all of the gestures down pat, it’s amazing to watch her interact with locals.

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We entered a beautiful and narrow restaurant and walked through to a back patio.

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It was a beautiful evening, the temperature had cooled down, the sky was clear, and stars started dotted the skyline. The only problem was someone across the river murdering a saxophone.

This might have been his/her second time playing the saxophone, they were struggling through scales for hours and the peak effort was a failed attempt at Somewhere Over the Rainbow. The good thing was the sake was flowing and we all had a great sense of humor about it and just allowed the performer to entertain us.

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There were too many plates to photograph, I swear there was 15 courses, we lost count after 10, and we were full after 5. It was epic, but in the best way possible.

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Did you know you aren’t supposed to pour yourself sake? You’re supposed to serve others and let someone else serve you. I was wondering why Liza kept pushing sake on me!

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The most interesting dish of the night was this little river fish. Apparently the fish is too sensitive to be hook fished, so they use cormorants (a river bird) to catch the fish. It was grilled and had an interesting texture to it, almost grainy. We definitely won’t forget this meal, thanks again Liza!

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Day trip to Kanazawa

September 23rd, 2011

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We arrived in Japan on Monday the 12th, we were only going to be in the country for 5 days and we wanted to explore as many regions we could. The first thing we wanted to do, was hop on a train and visit the beautiful city of Kanazawa. We got up really early and caught the first train leaving, we only had coffee to hold us over on the 3 hour train ride.

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By the time we dropped off our bags at the hotel is was still pretty early in the morning and most of the restaurants near by were closed. We discovered a cool looking ramen place that was remarkably open, we shrugged and sat at the counter.

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We love these hand hammered pots, we see them all over. We have a bit more refined and artisan made version of these pots in our store for sale (while quantities last)

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The ramen turned out to be the perfect breakfast. The cook used a blow torch to char the pork a bit, and topped everything off with half a hard boiled egg. It was like having bacon and eggs! It would also be the best ramen we would have on the trip, so if you’re in Kanazawa keep an eye out for this place.

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In the afternoon we trekked out to the local market street, the off street that wasn’t full of chains where you can really start to appreciate the charm of the city.

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A cute shop called Gallerie Noyau, unfortunately it was closed.

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We did have some luck with this beautiful metal works shop, the owner had handcrafted jewelry, cutlery, and a collection of ceramics and glass.

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Kokon makes handmade leather shoes, I love seeing workshops with front retail spaces.

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Being in Kanazawa we had to visit the 21st Century museum by one of our favorite architect firms SANAA. The musuem has a circular glass facade so at points you can see right through the building to the other side. The exhibition rooms are box shaped rooms surrounding a central circular courtyard.

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SANAA also designed all of the furniture inside and outside, the outside acts as a park and gathering place for museum patrons.

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One of the most famous features of the Museum is this illusion pool, you may have seen a video of it before. Unfortunately the underside was closed when we were there.

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The famous Rabbit chairs which are used in many of SANAA’s buildings, they even have tiny scale models of the chairs they place in models of their buildings. There were tons of beautiful details inside the museum, but we weren’t allowed to photograph them for you. So just Google it!

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It would have been amazing to have another day in Kanazawa, the pacing was really laid back. We’ll be back!

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Helsinki: Day two – day trip to Porvoo!

June 17th, 2011

We woke up day two with a smile on our face, because we were going on a day trip out of town. We had already planned to have some breakfast at Cafe Bar No. 9 located on Uudenmaankatu. The only problem was we were way too early! Breakfast isn’t served during the week until 11:00! Thankfully there was a beautiful little cafe called Cafe Fleuriste just a few steps away.

The cafe is a brilliant concept, a flower shop and cafe in one! The inside felt like a real authentic Parisian cafe, and the coffee was fantastic.

How could you walk by this place without peeking in?

Well we killed some time and walked over to Cafe Bar No. 9 for some much needed breakfast.

A really good platter of food, I had just finished a coffee a few minutes before so I opted for fresh squeezed orange juice, always a good decision.

A cool art installation was happening down town.

After breakfast we met up with Milla and Hiro from Kauniste and Minka, Milla’s sister at our hotel. We piled in Minka’s car and headed for our day trip to Porvoo.

We were really excited to meet Milla and Hiro because we never had a face to put to the people we talk to through emails! Kauniste is a special brand for us because we were the first retailers in North America to carry their linens, and it’s always been our go to gift recommendation. I mean they’re $20 bucks and they’re hand screened!

We were in Porvoo to check out the local antique shops, and of course the beautiful old city. Milla told us that a lot of tourists forget that the city is real and people actually live in all of the homes. Many tourists end up peeking through windows and hanging out in resident’s backyards.

It is really easy to think that way, it feels like an open air museum. Plus the gaggle of teenagers on school trips add to the congestion in narrow alley ways.

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We really loved this painting.

A big collection of Finnish glass, the purple i-glass decanter (top left…can you see it?) was really tempting but it was still over 100 euros.

We tried our luck at the local Salvation Army type place. Minka and Milla found a book on foraging mushrooms. It was so interesting to hear how connected to nature a lot of Finns are, they told us that it is not uncommon for neighbors to lie about having mushroom patches to keep all of the mushrooms for themselves.

Mushroom season in an exciting time!

A vintage Wirkkala vase for 17 euros.

A quick stop to get some chocolates.

Lunch time, there is one really good place in Porvoo for lunch, I’m not sure what it is called but it was the perfect place to sit outside and have some lunch, and a pint.

The interior was warm and woodsy, there was a little salad and soup bar set up inside.

Juli had the quiche.

I had the roast beef with root vegetables. The Marimekko dishware was a nice touch–love this line.

This shop wasn’t open. What a tease! It looked like it had some of the best selection…

Peeking in the resident’s backyards, like a bad tourist.

We’re sad that we didn’t get a proper shot of Hiro and Milla! We thought we would at the end of the day but Hiro left us before the end and we missed our opportunity.

We love white plaster covered bricks, it reminds us of Alvar Aalto.

Afterwards we headed over for some tea and biscuits at Milla and Hiro’s studio.

In the studio each of the tea towels are hand screened and hung up to dry.

Milla, Minka, and Hiro: Thank you so much for spending the day with us, we had a wonderful time with you guys! Hopefully we’ll be able to return the favor if you ever come to Toronto!

After our visit we headed over for an early dinner at Ateljé Finne, the former studio of famous Finnish sculptor Gunnar Finne. There are those white plaster walls again.

The restaurant is really beautiful but we didn’t get any shots of the inside because we didn’t want to weird out any of the other diners.

Juli started with a salmon and sesame spring roll.

One of the most delicious things in the world – white asparagus soup, so good, so buttery.

For the mains Juli had the fish of the day, which was caught that morning.

I had the protein and starch dish, delicious.

We walked our dinner off and headed back to the hotel.

There’s a little more travel posting to do, but it may get spread out among other content. Thanks for traveling with us!

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Helsinki: Day one

June 13th, 2011

My thoughts about Helsinki writing this first day post is that Helsinki has everything going for it. It has a design district where everything is within walking distance from each other, it easily has the best coffee, and has the best food for the best prices in all of Scandinavia.

When we last visited we arrived near the beginning of mid summer, so we had to rush to see everything before things shut down for the holiday. This time we wanted to really sink our teeth into this city, and see as much as we could in our few short days.

We stayed at Hotel Anna, which is a small hotel in the middle of the design district (this is a return visit – comfortable, wifi, tv, great location, big rooms). We arrived, checked in, and immediately headed towards Ravintola Tori for some lunch.

Take note they also offer a great breakfast here during the week!

I think this was fried herring and root vegetables.

I had the ragu with eggplant and potatoes.

The interior is nice and bright with a good amount of seating.

The must see of Helsinki design is the Design Forum shop, which stocks everything from ceramics, to glassware, modern puuko knives, and always has an interesting exhibition going on.

Too bad we’re not allowed to take photos in here!

A window we always like walking by is the counter-part showroom to “ModernDesign.fi“, except this carries more of their rare furniture pieces. If you visit Helsinki you will walk down Annankatu and pass “Modern Design” and you will be curious enough to enter. It’s a store that has everything that you’re looking for, but at a very high premium.

I love the Wirkkala coffee tables, and the Aalto side table with rattan handle. I’ve never seen that piece before.

Another favorite spot is this underground Antique market, a couple of years ago it had an amazing assortment of cool things, including old Aalto exhibition posters and Finnish glass. This time around they looked more spare, I regret not grabbing some posters last time we were here.

They had a couple 1950s Spanish chairs that were just beautiful, it’s a piece that ages like wine.

A quick snack across the street at Cafe Succes.

They serve arguably Helsinki’s best Cinnamon buns on plywood trays, super tasty and the coffee is pretty good after all the bad cups we’ve been having!

We stumbled across a beautiful little Japanese gift shop called Common, they had an amazing collection of Japanese stationary and ceramics.

A bunch of cast iron pot by Timo Sarpaneva.

For dinner we went to Lupolo which was only a couple blocks from our hotel.

It’s a cosy local place which had some interesting vintage details, including a teak paneled ceiling. Plus the Kartio glasses are a nice touch.

Watermelon salad.

We followed with a melt in your mouth delicious scallop with a white asparagus puree.

Our main was a hamburger with potato wedges. The burger and lager really hit the spot for us. We really loved this place, and if you visit Helsinki, you will love it too!

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