Confessions of a Pour Over Addict

That’s it. I’m converted. No longer am I chained to that drop of dairy or some milk alternative like almond or coconut milk. I have graduated. I feel grown up like I just ordered an aged single malt whiskey neat. I can now drink my coffee black. I have discovered the pour over. The catch is I only like it at one place…Quantum Coffee.

Perhaps I should say rediscovered. I have tried the manual pour over method before. It involves a barista freshly grinding coffee beans, using a cone brewer with filter, and then custom brewing a single cup by pouring hot water over the beans and letting it slowly drip into the cup beneath it drawing out the coffee’s best qualities.

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Full of floral notes, my Rwanda pour over is ready

The source of my addiction, however, is the Poursteady – the automated pour over machine used at Quantum and the first one to be purchased in Canada. Created by NASA Engineers in Brooklyn it is precision motor-controlled and beautifully designed with a sleek metal finish. The Poursteady can make up to 5 custom pour overs simultaneously. Watching it in full force is like witnessing an original choreographed dance being perfectly executed time and time again.

And it is perfection. Each time I drink a pour over from the 3 beans on offer it is smoothness, distinct flavour and reliability in a cup. I’ve never been disappointed. There is a small chance for manual error when the barista uses a pre-programmed app to use the correct setting. At Quantum, each of the 3 bean profiles has a different programmed setting that uses a different volume of water and spout movement. The friendly and knowledgeable barista Emmy tells me the water temperature is the same. I attentively watch the machine in action. I take a sip from each flavour profile and taste the nuances like one does with a flight in a wine tasting session. I am hooked.

Much like the Modbar elevated my daily coffee experience (see the post A Modular Experience), so has the Poursteady though the pour over sets me back more than an Americano costing between $3.5 – $5. My favourite, the Rwanda, is $4.52 including tax and uses a counter clockwise pouring pattern. My Nespresso at home feels abandoned.

IMG_3933There is nothing I dislike about Quantum so far from the buttery and flaky savoury scones and the other beverages I’ve tried, to the lighting evoking energy contained in a quantum field and the event space in the back with extra seating. But I’m going for the Poursteady, even if I have to wait a bit longer.

Our neighbourhood’s newest cafe is in the beautifully restored and renovated heritage building at 460 King St W at the north-west corner of Spadina. Whether you try the pour over or not, Quantum is worth a visit. The former blue painted brick backpacker’s hostel now has a stylish black and white Tudor-inspired exterior and serves the community rather than the tourists.

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St. Andrew’s Playground Improvements – City of Toronto Public Information Meeting

We’re lucky to have a few parks in close proximity to us. Among the smallest of them is St. Andrew’s Playground, which is very popular with dog owners for its fenced off-leash area and with the office lunch time crowd during the warmer seasons.

The City of Toronto is improving the St. Andrew’s Playground. Staff are hosting a public information meeting to:

  • Present site context and history;
  • Confirm current park uses; and
  • Highlight project next steps.

Date: Tuesday, January 26, 2016 Time: 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.
Location: Rotunda, Metro Hall, Main Floor, 55 John St.

Notice

 

 

Reinventing the Advent Calendar

WgermanIt will be December tomorrow. Ah yes, the last month of the calendar year, the month of holiday decorating, shopping and cheer. What better way to count down to the holidays (and time off work) than the Advent calendar. You can get yourself a classic one, but who wants to be limited to chocolate when there are increasingly more creative options each year.

Now, I confess, I did pop into SOMA Chocolatemaker to see if they did an Advent Calendar this year. I had the same disappointed and baffled look on my face as last year. Why doesn’t Soma get on this?! It would be hugely popular and delicious. Toronto’s very own SOMA won the gold prize at the International Chocolate Awards this year for its Porcelana bar. My colleagues and I have been wishing for a SOMA Advent Calendar for years. I left the King West shop with a lack of holiday cheer.

Last year those colleagues and I bought a large communal Advent for our bay. There is only so much cheap chocolate one can consume, so we opened the tiny paper doors in rotation and got in on the cheer. This year we found German-made chocolate Advent Calendars at HomeSense for $4.99 each. The entire calendar is the size of a standard chocolate bar and each square has been painted with a number and holiday motif with edible paint. The back card pops out to prop up as a desk calendar and we’ll be sweetly counting down together with our individual bars.

The great thing about reinventing the Advent calendar is that they are not all made of chocolate or even edible. Here is a KWN round up of the best unique Advents out there:

Drinkable

  1. David’s Tea – 24 drawers with mini tins of best sellers and holiday themed tea ($40). davidstea.com
  2. The English Tea Shop – a pyramid bag of organic teas or infusions hidden in 24 miniature boxes ($20). At select Marshalls or Homesense stores – marshallscanada.ca or homesense.ca

DavidsEnglish

Edible

  1. Squish Candies – 24 colourful artisanal gummies with flavours such as mulled wine and coffee bean ($29). squishcandies.com
  2. Starbucks – 25 tin ornaments with sweet treats inside ($44.95). starbucks.ca

SquirtStarbucks

For the Kids – Human or Furry

  1. Lego – 24 days of lego building fun in a variety of themes ($39.95). chapters.indigo.ca or walmart.ca
  2. Play-Doh – 24 doors unveiling can packs and tools ($21.99). toysrus.ca
  3. Nutrience – this calendar for dogs is filled with grain-free treats such as freeze dried liver ($12.99). petsmart.ca

LegoPlayDohScreen Shot 2015-11-30 at 8.44.29 PM

Beauty

  1. Lush – Countdown with the 12 Days of Christmas box filled with limited edition and best selling handmade lotions and potions ($99.95). lush.ca
  2. The Body Shop – 24 Happy Days of miniature skincare, makeup and fragrance products to sample as you read an inspirational message that comes with each day’s surprise ($99). thebodyshop.ca
  3. L’Occitane En Provence – 24 miniatures of their best selling skincare to pamper you before the holiday rush ($49). ca.loccitane.com
  4. Ciaté London – the Mini Mani Month is a treat for your nails with polishes and glitter in a rainbow of colours ($71). sephora.com

lusshBody Shoploccitaneciatee

Luxury

  1. Charlotte Tilbury – The Book of Makeup Magic is exactly that…magic. Products like her legendary Magic Cream raved by celebrities and make-up artists alike can be yours to discover this holiday season ($250). charlottetilbury.com or Holt Renfrew Bloor Street
  2. Villeroy & Bosh – count down the days in elegance with treats of your choice in fine porcelain boxes ($357). thebay.com

charlotteV&B

Create Your Own

  1. Canadian tire – white and silver paper box drawers to fill with whatever you wish for a DIY approach ($20). canadiantire.ca
  2. Pottery Barn Kids – the tree-shaped Telluride calendar has 24 embroidered felt pockets to customize with messages or gifts ($69). potterybarnkkids.ca

Can Tirepottery

And last, but not least…Traditional Chocolate

  1. Laura Secord – chocolate bites from the beloved Canadian company ($9.99). laurasecord.ca
  2. Purdys – the Winter Village set is beautifully packaged and holds foil-wrapped milk and salted caramel minis ($25). purdys.com

lauraPurdys

Happy Holidays from the KWN!

KWN is back, slowly but surely!

Dear Readers,

Sorry for the long pause in posts on the KWN blog. It has been taking a long time for me to recover from an injury and try to get my life back. A lot has happened in the neighbourhood since my last post, but I hope to get everyone up to speed and post some new material in the coming weeks.

The King West Neighbour

A Game Changer

Have you heard of The Well? Well, you should.

The Well is a new master planned mixed-use community coming to the heart of downtown Toronto just south of King Street West. The 7.5 acre development is to border Wellington, Spadina and Front Streets. As “a place to live, shop, work and play well” the new community will benefit our well-established neighbourhood.

This project has three components that excites me as a neighbour.

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RETAIL

Firstly, retail. The developer trio (Diamond Corp, Allied REIT and RioCan) claim that it will “elevate the shopping scene” in Toronto. I certainly hope so. I think retail is significantly lacking in our neighbourhood. Coffee shops and restaurants we have in abundance. In fact, a bit too much that the City of Toronto started to limit the number of new restaurant/bars/clubs in our district in favour of more retail. Perhaps that’s why we see Indochino now. But the City canned that idea quickly and we have more and more new eateries coming our way living up to the entertainment part of our district’s nickname, but not the fashion part (stay tuned for my Rumour Has It post).

A few more food markets in and around the neighbourhood wouldn’t hurt. Lead retail developer Rio-Can stated that there would be a high-end grocery store at grade at the main Front/Spadina office tower. A high-end grocery store…perhaps Whole Foods, McEwan’s or Pusateri’s? I wholeheartedly welcome a Whole Foods Market to the neighbourhood. Fingers crossed.

What I would really like to see, however, is the kind of unique boutiques along West Queen West – recently voted as the 2nd coolest neighbourhood in the world by Vogue. Proceeding west from Spadina throughout the development are to be an array of shops lining the mid-blocked pedestrian lanes.

the well pedestrian retail

PUBLIC SPACE

Secondly, public space. This plan seems to be making use of the characteristic lane ways (currently forgotten, abused or underused), improving connectivity and increasing public space. The Well’s site has a rendering of bridge balustrades that reminds me of Butler’s Wharf and the Borough of Southwark in London. The lane ways will be reclaimed, shelter pedestrians from the elements by vaulted glass canopies and made more interesting with artwork. I have faith in this aspect of the project because Claude Cormier & Associes is the landscape architect. Cormier is one of Canada’s best and though a Montreal-based firm has made a positive mark on the public spaces in this city through projects such as Sugar Beach. With this project he will join 2 of our neighbourhood’s precious parks according to the original plan, which has Clarence Square and Victoria Square connected with greenery along Wellington Street. The team is also strong with Hariri Pontarini Architects (architects for the overall site) whose office is in the neighbourhood near King and Portland.

the well site plan

the well google earth

RESIDENTIAL OPTIONS

Thirdly, residential options. “A vibrant community is well-mixed.” They are absolutely right. Just as mixed-use is an essential component in vibrant urban development, so is co-existence of different lifestyles. The development is marketed as having residences suitable to all ages, from single to retired, and for growing families. The demographic of the neighbourhood has undoubtedly changed during the last decade and has become much younger with the average household size of between 1 – 2.

the well canopy

Currently this area is home to small offices, the old Globe & Mail headquarters (moving east to The Globe & Mail Centre designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects), a small number of restaurants and parking lots. If the plan for this development is executed thoughtfully it will be a game changer for the community making it more vibrant and varied (not to mention what that will do to the value of our property).

The larger issue is how it will impact the vehicular traffic in the area. The 504 streetcar is the busiest in Toronto and not getting any faster. The massive Mirvish-Gehry towers seem to be going ahead without some of the infrastructure we need to sustain it. I certainly don’t want to witness the madening traffic gridlock our neighbours in Liberty Village have throughout the work week. I think Friday and Saturday nights are enough for the heart of King Street West already. Then again this has been the key issue for our city for a long time. No matter how many new buildings we put up to densify the core, without a superior and extensive public transit system, Toronto will never truly be a world class city.

The 3,000 square foot sales and marketing centre for The Well will open in June 2015 and will be located at 460 King Street West at the north-west corner of Spadina in the old Global Village Backpackers hostel that Allied REIT acquired for $15 million last year.

What do you think of The Well?

In a Nutshell: A Lost Opportunity

Is Shopper’s the new Starbucks?

I’m starting to think so. Even before Loblaw purchased Shopper’s Drug Mart the company had started rebranding and implementing an aggressive expansion plan much to the chagrin of Rexall, their direct competitor. Rexall tried a counter attack by proclaiming they were a drug store first and foremost. No superficial cosmetics and convenience store milk cartons for them. That didn’t work very well. Shopper’s had OTC drugs and a pharmacy, but also offered customers a one-stop shopping experience with a beauty boutique, late hours and bonus Optimum points. Moreover, through new real estate acquisition Shopper’s was marking its territory in and around Toronto like an alpha-male and strategically taking advantage of newer condo-centric neighbourhoods. Now it’s coming to the heart of our neighbourhood… again.

 

There are 3 Shopper’s Drug Marts along King Street West already. When Dollarama opened on King West many residents were outraged and thought it cheapened the neighbourhood. I also didn’t see the point when there was a long-standing outpost to spend your loonies and twonies nearby at Adelaide and Spadina. Similarly, I don’t see the point in opening a Shopper’s at King and Brant when there is one a short 2 blocks away at King and Peter. With this one literally at my doorstep, I can dash out in my pyjamas if I wanted to rather than walking east (338 King St. W), west (761 and 901 King St. W), or north to the 4 along Queen St. West. But I don’t want it.

In mid-2013 Loblaw announced that that space was going to be the location of Nutshell, its new whole foods and healthy lifestyle retail store. It was to be a “convenience-based fresh food led drugstore model” and target customers of Whole Foods Market and the like. The Press Release continued: “Nutshell live life well will offer healthy food and living ideas and feature a strong core grocery offering with integrated natural options, a broad vitamin and supplement assortment, professional in-store health and wellness services, a pharmacy that balances traditional services…with prevention and support, and health and beauty products, with a focus on natural skin care.” A year later the plan was no more.



A Brief Timeline of Events:

  • Pilot project Nutshell announced mid-2013
  • 9,000 SF space laid out and opening planned for Fall 2013
  • Loblaw Cos. Ltd. and Shopper’s Drug Mart reach an agreement for $12.4 billion takeover – July 2013
  • Loblaw cancels Nutshell store plan. Eventually its Facebook page Nutshellonking shuts down – January / February 2014
  • 500 King Street West storefront windows concealed during this time
  • Shopper’s Drug Mart acquisition by Loblaw complete – March 2014
  • Shopper’s announces that it will have a larger food selection, including fresh vegetables. President’s Choice items noticeably appear in the stores – early 2015
  • Shopper’s Drug Mart sign at 500 King Street West revealed – March 2015


What bugs me is the lost opportunity here. It may be a less risky and practical business decision on the part of Loblaw, but what about innovation? Nutshell was a compelling concept and, as a pilot project, exciting for the neighbourhood. The trend for healthy living is still on the upswing. Furthermore, there is no Whole Foods Market in sight. The only one downtown is nestled between Avenue Road and Hazelton Lanes in posh Yorkville. A few years ago I heard rumours that there might be a Whole Foods opening near Bathurst and Front, but in 2017. While Whole Foods is in expansion mode in Canada, at this point some of the locations are still just rumours. Whole Food’s sister-store Fresh and Wild at King and Spadina is a little shop of pricey organic foods, but without the lifestyle and pharmacy aspect of Nutshell or Canadian ownership. And look at how successful Joe Fresh has become when Loblaw took that giant step towards the fashion market.

I have nothing against Loblaw or Shopper’s. In fact, I’m a regular customer. I shop at the Loblaws at Queen and Portland and get my prescriptions and personal toiletries from the Shopper’s at King and Peter about 90 percent of the time. I have a points card for both of them. Now these two successful Canadian brands are under one umbrella. Applause applause.

As a resident, however, it pains me to see Shopper’s signage above the door already. Each time I pass 500 King Street West I think what a wasted opportunity not only of a great concept but also of an historic gem of a building in our neighbourhood. The industrial character of our neighbourhood is well-known and these are among the oldest industrial structures in the city. This structure spanning Brant Street to almost Spadina Street is the former Gurney Stove Foundry (now home to multiple tenants and owned by Allied REIT since 2003). When the Gurney brothers expanded their Hamilton-based stove making business to Toronto in 1883 they set up business along King Street West. The buildings that remain from the original complex showcase an exterior of red and yellow brick and an interior of original oak floors and massive wooden beams of old-growth Canadian pine. The heritage building is really beautiful and it would have been nice to see something more unique go inside its walls and perhaps more sympathetic to the character of the building and to the upmarket aspect of our neighbourhood.

Is this Shopper’s going to be different? Will the team behind the urban-cool atmosphere of the newest downtown Loblaws stores reinterpret this Shopper’s with Pharmacy written across the wall in graffiti? I certainly hope not. Or is it going to be like Starbucks, the same look and offerings stalking me at every half city block?

Concussion in the City

human_brain-comp

“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about Humpty Dumpty this past week. I heard my nephew singing it and it was stuck in my head as all catchy nursery rhymes do. My affinity with Humpty was the great fall. In my case the wall was replaced by snowboarding and the team of horses and men were my doctor and family.

I didn’t even realize I had a concussion. I know I fell and hit my head. But I got up, stayed calm and carried on. A few more runs later I realized how sloppy I was riding and thought I must be really tired and should call it a day. I have had far worse tumbles in my beginner snowboarding days. In fact, I expected the body aches and pains and experienced the swollen and bruised legs that made me look as if I had been battered. All part of learning such a sport I guess. But I wasn’t a beginner anymore. One bad tumble during an otherwise great day and I hit my head. I was under the false and dated impression that one had to be knocked unconscious and have a slew of symptoms to be classified as a concussion. Boy, I was wrong!

The next day I left work halfway through the day with tremendous pain from looking at the computer and was encouraged by a colleague to check in with my doctor. I thought it was just a headache that would go away with some ibuprofen, but as it got worse I thought I should double check. After a thorough examination my doctor confirmed the injury and prescribed “complete brain rest.” What the heck is that I thought? I can’t shut my brain off – it’s such a vital component in one’s ability to live and function! But as the most complex organ of the body I had to take this seriously. I had not thought it was serious thus far. No computer, no text, no reading and no TV. By avoiding these, amongst other activities such as driving and sports, I had to give my body’s main computer a chance to reboot.

Whisked away from my King West abode to my parents house in the quieter north east part of the GTA, I could do nothing all week except sleep, talk and pet the family dog. The recovery process for any injury is not easy or fun, but, as I’ve discovered, a brain injury presents many different challenges. This was a new level of boredom.

I couldn’t even resume those forbidden activities if I tried. My head was splitting and I couldn’t concentrate on anything without feeling worse. It was a medically prescribed technology and electronics detox. I have no trouble unplugging from these modern conveniences when I go on vacation, but all of sudden I kept on thinking of shows on Netflix, the book I had to read for a course, piled up deadlines at work, friends whose texts I couldn’t return, podcasts and the undesired hiatus of posts on this blog! I tried to communicate with my contacts with the voice memo function on my iPhone.

A week later I was back downtown for follow ups. My place became a mess. My family brought me food. I couldn’t return to regular activities, but I was back in the city and could feel its energy. The sun was shining and I needed fresh air. I took a 5 minute walk to the nearest Shoppers Drug Mart and felt incredibly dizzy. The crowds, the bustling street, the ambulance, the streetcars, the noise and the lights in the shop all compounded in my brain. I left as soon as I got there and had to sleep for the rest of the day to recuperate.

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The city is not the best place to be when recovering from a traumatic brain injury. For an urbanite like me, it’s far worse not to be able to engage in what the city has to offer, especially on a vibrant street like King West with restaurants and entertainment at my doorstep. Of course, I was far more concerned about my brain than my robust social life, but recovering from my post-concussion symptoms and giving my brain time to heal itself in the city was a test of patience. I couldn’t walk to my yoga studio or do any inversions, so I created my own little sanctuary of healing within my piece of real estate in the sky and meditated each day. Even now I am only able to go to the slow, meditative restorative or yin yoga classes.

As a society we often focus on the physical and superficial (what’s on the surface). We value multitasking. We forgot that wellness is a triumvirate of physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Without one or the other there is an imbalance. This concussion forced me to slow down, to detach from habitual activities on gadgets that overload my brain, to stop multitasking, to silence my trooper mentality and surrender to my new limitations, to reflect and to remember the important things in life that I value like my health and the thoughtful gestures of others.

Now I know why Humpty Dumpty has been depicted as an anthropomorphic egg. It is quite similar to my powerful yet fragile brain – a gelatinous-like substance cushioned by a bit of fluid from the shell of the skull. Poor Humpty, however; I am grateful that my fall was not worse and that I am able to be put together again. Recovery is a long, slow, painful process that brings anxiety and frustration, but I am sure I will eventually be able to engage in all the city has to offer once more.

Share your story: Have you experienced a concussion in the city?

Community Townhall Notice

King Street West spans Toronto’s financial district and entertainment district featuring the Tiff Bell Lightbox, Roy Thompson Hall, Princess of Wales Theatre, to name a few. MP for Trinity-Spadina, Adam Vaughan, and MP for Toronto-Centre, Chrystia Freeland, are hosting a community forum on the future of arts, culture and the CBC next Thursday, March 12, 2015. Must register to attend.

When: Thursday, March 12 between 7:00-9:00 PM
Where:
AGO, Jackman Hall, 317 Dundas Street West, Toronto M5T 1G4

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Community Townhall Notice

MP Adam Vaughan will be discussing his work and progress as the new Trinity-Spadina Member of Parliament. This would be of interest to Ward 20 residents, which includes King Street West residents between University Street and Bathurst Street. For more information visit the posting on Adam’s official site.

When: Wednesday, March 4 between 6:30-8:30 PM
Where: St. Andrew’s Church, 73 Simcoe St, Toronto, M5J 1W9

A Modular Experience

There is no shortage of great coffee spots in the King West neighbourhood. If you frequent Bar Buca, Jimmy’s, Colette, Thor, Soma and Forno Cultura, you’ll know what I’m talking about. As much as I like to vary the venues for my outings I keep finding myself back at Portland Variety.

Replacing the now defunct KiWe restaurant, Portland Variety took up prime real estate along King West at the south west corner of Portland last year. Once I walked through their newly opened doors there I saw it for the first time with my own eyes. It was love at first sight. It was their Modbar.

Mod what? Modern? The 60s youth subculture in Britain that focused on music and fashion? Neither of those make sense in the context of a dark caffeinated beverage. So let’s try Modular. As in a modular espresso brewing system making urban cafes around the world that much sleeker and stylish.

IMG_1357 Before you think me crazy for falling in love with a machine note that I am deeply appreciative of good design, which for me is the attention to aesthetics without compromising function. You have to experience it to believe in it as the baristas working the system and the coffee connoisseurs do.

And what’s not to love? Firstly, instead of a honking piece of machinery I’m presented with sleek stainless steel taps flush with the counter top. From exotic hardwood lever handles for the steam, espresso and drip coffee taps to polished chrome and tantalizing accessories, it’s so darn elegant. The system’s technology is equally beautiful in design. It programmable, has a touchscreen and a power saving feature that finally addresses new methods of sustainability in cafe culture. Truthfully, to give true justice to the system one needs to study the manual.

Secondly, I can actually see what the barista is doing. I have an opportunity to notice that the barista is taking his or her time creating my espresso-based beverage of choice and topping it with a milky design during the final pour. All that machinery blocking my view and hindering a better customer experience is hidden underneath the countertop. If you think the mysterious allure of the barista lacks due to this expose, think again. This customizable system gives the barista tremendous control for enough wizardry that you’ll both see and taste.

Of course, with so many $4 gourmet coffee experiences in the city and the industry’s Third Wave of Coffee craze, so what? For me, breaking down the barrier between customer and barista gave for a mutually engaging and informative experience. That’s what I call value add. IMG_1372 Portland Variety is one of only two places in Toronto to have the Modbar and the only one in the west end – at 587 King Street West to be precise.