Monthly Archives

April 2010


Smoking and societies

a bar car on the New Haven line in 1968

a bar car on the New Haven line in 1968

As I read the story on the International Herald Tribute yesterday about the probable end of the bar cars on the Metro-North Railroad line that connects Manhattan to the suburbs of Connecticut, I am amazed to see the contrast with how we approach smoking in public places today. I am so glad that our attitude changed. I cannot imagine what it must have been like in 1968 riding one of those trains.

Smoking Outside is Prohibited in Japan

smoking shed at narita airport

It is interesting to see the position of Japan towards smoking. Smoking in restaurants is allowed. Many restaurants have a “no smoking” zone, like we used to have. But in many restaurants, you can smoke at any tables. To smoke outside in most of Japan, you will need to find a designated area. Most of the time, they assign an outside spot far far away from the doors as the smoking area. The most drastic way that I saw was the outside smoking shed, not bigger than a container, that sits outside the Narita airport building in Tokyo. Ten to twelve people easily fit in those. I am glad to be a non-smoker.

Returning to the bar cars, the newspaper article written by Michael M. Grynbaum talked about the design of the bar cars over the years.

+ bar car photo: Barton Silverman for The New York Times


Nishiki Market in Kyoto

nishiki market seafood

nishiki market shop

This is a typical shopping street in Japan. What makes those special is that the street is covered. Therefore, you can shop even when it rains. In fact, that what we did a very rainy day in Kyoto last week. We went to the Nishiki market with more than one hundred shops all related to food.

The Nishiki market has been at the center at the Kyoto residents for a long, long time. It started several centuries ago with many stores that have been operated by the same families for generations.

nishiki food market in kyoto

Vendors use baskets, wood barrels, big bamboo bowls and trays to present their produce. You can recycle this idea when you set a buffet table. The key is repetition. So stick to one or two containers for the entire table.

nishiki market seafood

You find all types of shops from the ones that sells upscale food in nice packaging, sweets to the fishmonger and more exotic item like this quail egg inside an octopus head.

nishiki market exotic food

Do not worry, you find plenty of more accessible food. For lunch, you can buy ready-to-eat food from vendors like meat on skewers or grilled fish. You can also sit at a table in one of few Japanese restaurants. That is what we did. We ate at a delicious udon place.

ready to eat food - grilled fish at nishiki market in kyoto

And it is at the Nishiki market that I bought my personalized Aritsugu cooking knives.


Small Spaces can be Spacious

gary chang's hidden bathroom and his kitchen on movable partitions

architect gary chang\'s movable walls in his Hong Kong apartment

We are used to living in spacious rooms in North America. When I traveled to Japan, I noticed how lucky we are. But this does not mean that people who live in tiny condos have to give up on living well in their limited space. One architect who certainly demonstrated that you can accomplish a lot in a tiny apartment is Gary Chang.

gary chang\'s hidden bathroom and his kitchen on movable partitions

Gary lived in Hong Kong. He totally reinvented the 344-square-foot apartment where he grew up. His secret weapon for maximizing space is a clever system of sliding walls. Each movable partition reveals storage units, or the kitchen or a luxurious bathtub. Overall, he created 24 configurations for his small apartment.

architect gary chang designed his own hydraulic murphy bed

His creative design shows us that it pays to think outside the box. Watch this video for a tour of Gary Chang’s apartment.

+ floor plan on the New York Times – photography: Marcel Lam, see more photos


Mother’s Day Gift Ideas

silhouette family portraits and handmade soaps as mother's day gift ideas on etsy

silhouette family portraits and handmade soaps as mother\'s day gift ideas on etsy

Think about family portraits and little things that give her time for herself for this Mother’s Day. They might be the most original gift ideas but you are certain that it will please her. On those categories, I suggest:

terry bath scrubber and mitt for a mother\'s day gift ideas

+ Custom Personalized Family Silhouette Print that you will take the time to frame $22 USD by Nella Designs on etsy
+ Moroccan Mint Square-Glycerin and Goat’s Milk Soap $4 USD by KcSoapsNmore on etsy
+  Terry Bath Scrubber and Bath Mitt $15 USD and $9 at Pottery Barn


4 Simple Centerpiece Ideas for Mother’s Day

kitty grass centerpieces anne sage

kitty grass centerpieces anne sage

The first idea is inexpensive and clever. You dress up a kitty grass by adding one or two blooms in each pot. Switch the kitty grass into a container that fits your tabletop theme. Plan one arrangement per place setting.

simple mother\'s day centerpieces seen on better homes and gardens

You can also be creative in selecting the container towards your mom’s pastimes. Better Homes and Gardens had a few good ideas to propose. Here, orange-yellow ranunculus are gathered in a mortar. Or wrap a pair of garden gloves around the stems, and tie everything with twine. Then, add a gardening tool to dress it up.

flowers in medical bottles designed by Rountree

Finally, the vintage medical bottles refer, in a cute way, to the caretaker role of mother. These lovely arrangements were designed by Rountree for the Spring brunch of Sunday Suppers.

+ photo kitty grass bouquet: The City Sage
+ photos unusual containers: see more ideas at Better Homes and Gardens
+ photo flowers in medical bottles: Sunday Suppers


Ink & Iron’s Letterpress Cards | Etsy Finds

ink and iron letterpress cards on etsy

ink and iron letterpress cards on etsy

I came across the original work of Ink & Iron on Oh So Beautiful Paper. I like how her imagery adds a charming touch to the greeting cards. Ink & Iron is definitely a name to remember. For their custom made invitations, announcements, greeting cards, head to Pilot Press, their studio located in Davis, California.

+ happy face letterpress birthday card $4 USD at Ink & Iron on etsy
+ we’re a great match letterpress anniversary card $4 on etsy


The Aritsugu knives

Aritsugu cooking knives at the Nishiki market in kyoto, japan

Aritsugu cooking knives at the Nishiki market in kyoto, japan

My shopping list to Japan included the purchase of one cooking knife. I did not know which one I wanted until I learned that Aritsugu will carve your name on the blade of their cooking knives. I finally bought two knives: a typical Chef’s knife to slice and cut vegetables and another one with a strong blade fitted to cut bones. I needed a new knife to cut in pieces a whole chicken. Naturally, my bone knife works very well on fish.

Aritsugu has been making knives for over 400 years. You will find at least one Aritsugu knife in every restaurant. Except for their knives made of stainless steel and carbon steel, most of their knives have a carbon steel blades, which mean that they require more care than the typical Western knives. You need to make sure to dry them completely after every use to avoid rust. This is why you see chefs in restaurants passing the blade on a cloth after cutting.

The Aritsugu store is located at the Nishiki market in central Kyoto. I will share later photos of my trip to this awesome food market. Watch how the master staff sharpen my cooking knives.

See how they carve your name on the knife you buy. They ask you to write your name on a piece of paper and translate it in Japanese characters


Feeding the deers in Nara

deers at nara in japan

deers at nara in japan

One of most delightful experiences all travelers to Nara, Japan should try is to feed the protected deers. They are 1200 deers that live freely in Nara-koen and its surrounding areas. Nara-koen is a beautiful park on the east side of the city.

These deers enjoy the status of national treasures. They are friendly and you can pet them easily. Watch this video to see what the fuss is all about.


Farmers Market Baskets

bone china farmers market baskets at jason home and garden

bone china farmers market baskets at jason home and garden

These adorable fruit baskets would add a nice touch to any outdoor party this summer. The Farmers Market baskets are made of a sturdy bone china in a glossy finish. You can buy them online at Jayson Home & Garden or at the Chicago store.

+ Farmers Market baskets small $20, medium $32, large $38
+ Via Oh Joy!


How to Make the Open Kitchen an Enjoyable Inviting Space

open kitchen design

open kitchen design

I asked my friend Line Atallah if she would like to write a guest post about open kitchen living. Line lived with her husband and their two young boys. She recently made the switch to open kitchen and I wanted her to tell us how she made it works for her family. I am glad that she accepted my invitation.

A few month ago, I moved into a new house. Cooking being my biggest hobby, I was all excited about redesigning the kitchen.I was faced with the biggest dilemma, to go for an open kitchen or not.

After many weeks of thinking it over, I made up my mind. I was going for an open concept, no hesitation.
It has now been 3 months I am living the open kitchen concept, and I am loving it.

I love to cook. As a matter of fact, I cook almost everyday and it is my way of relaxing after a long day of work. The open kitchen concept allows me to be with my family, watching the kids while they’re doing their homework, chatting with my husband, and enjoying the view from the window in front of me. Also, it allows me to be with my guests when entertaining at home. I can join in the conversation, while doing what I have to do.

The kitchen was always the hub of our previous houses. By opening it up, it made it a more beautiful and inviting space to gather.

Here are a few tips I share with you today in order to make the open kitchen an enjoyable inviting space, avoiding the disadvantages.

1. Keep the same floor material as the rest of your house. This way the kitchen feel less like a kitchen, and more like an extension of the house.

2. If you’re thinking of building an island, try not to put the sink or cooktop on it. It gives you a nice big working space to plate your dishes, which is the most enjoyable, and cleanest thing to watch when entertaining.

3. Keep some walls or half walls bare, with no cabinets. It makes the kitchen feel breathy and less crowded

4. Opt for a counter-space wide fridge, the look is cleaner and slick, which makes the overall look less of a kitchen feel.

5. If you’re going for stainless steel appliances, and have kids, opt for the kind that doesn’t smudge. I picked the Fisher & Paykel fridge and oven, and it stays clean.

6. Pick a powerful hut that will eliminate smells fast and be sure to ask about the noise level. You don’t want to give your guests a headache! Even though many beautiful designs are out there, I personally picked a built-in hut as I wanted to have a minimalist look and as little clutter as possible.

7. Lighting is very important. Be sure to ask your contractor for dimmers, if you want to host an intimate seated dinner, the last thing you want is the focus on the kitchen mess. By adding dimmers, when you’re ready to sit at the table, you can dim the lights and even add some candles on your island to create a cozy mood.

8. When planning your kitchen’s cabinets, think of a place for your everyday appliances. The less appliances on your counter, the less mess and the easier it is to wipe the counters clean.

9. Pick the biggest and deepest size sink you can afford in the space you have available. I also recommend a sink with no separations. You will love hiding the dirty dishes in it when entertaining. It will keep your kitchen look spotless.

10. Last but not least shop for fun gadgets, like a nice soap dispenser, rag hook inside the lower sink cabinet, sponge holder inside the sink, etc…

I used IKEA to create a modern minimalist design for my cabinets by keeping my costs really low.


Blofield Inflatable Bathtub

Blofield inflatable bathtub

Blofield inflatable bathtub

Now, you will be able to take a stylish bath under the stars anywhere you want to. The same Dutch company that launched in 2008 inflatable sofas and chairs has recently added an inflatable bathtub. What I like the most of the Blofield inflatable bathtub are the accessories. You can affix a champagne bucket on the side and there is a wood rack for wine glasses.

With their lines, you can create at will a romantic lounge area in your bedroom or at a remote outdoor place. That could be a great for a wedding proposal.

+ Blofield
+ via NOTCOT