shop local gift guide: guest edition, part 1

As I mentioned in my Shop Local Gift Guide post, I had asked some of my favourite (but not all) Toronto bloggers & business owners to pick out a gift from a local business. There are two votes for Xococava, which means I really have to try it! I love that these picks reflect the personality of each person so well, and I love how thoughtful these submissions are. 


(Images are linked to source, except where noted)


When Anabela emailed me about contributing to her local gift guide, I was absolutely thrilled!  As much as I love online shopping, there's something really satisfying about going into a store, making small talk with the staff & putting thought into a great gift -- even if is the the craziest time of year.

I bought an early Christmas gift for my husband & I. These cute penguin tea cups from Sanko (1)  are now a part of our bedtime tea drinking ritual. Too cute!

Choosing gifts for my husband is a favourite of mine. Since he recently parted ways with his beard (I hadn't seen his bare face since our early dating days), it would be nice to give him some manly smelling shaving/skin goods from the Portland General Store line (2) available at Jacob & Sebastian. A hop, skip & a jump down the street will take me to Type Books, where I'll pick up "In Cold Blood" by Truman Capote (4), for Brian's daily read on the commute to work.

For my niece, an aspiring pastry chef, I picked up a cookie press & icing set from Honest Ed's (3), and for my little nephew, a grey mini Fjallraven backpack from Lavish & Squalor (5).

Exchanging gifts is pretty fun but what I am looking forward to the most is being with my friends & family & eating yummy foods & drinking copious amounts of hot apple cider & whiskey!

(Mug image via Rizie)

A few years ago, I colluded with two local makers for my sweetie's gift.  It may seem impersonal, but I knew that he was making a new year's resolution to think about business more and I thought a handmade tool for him would be a nice, encouraging boost.

The business cards were letterpressed and duplexed by Nicholas Kennedy at The Trip Print Press and two wooden card holders were made by Mike Kennedy (no relation) of Two Toques Design.

My tip towards getting custom work done: the more honestly open and flexible you are, the happier your collaborating craftsperson will be and the more surprisingly awesome the finished product will be. But you have to honestly be open to tell them you are.

Tea! It is really hard to buy gifts for people who either have too much stuff or don't want anything. Over the holidays, though, I sometimes find myself in a position wherein I want to give a gift but also don't want to mindlessly buy something that won't be liked. For me, that often means buying consumables -- they don't add to a mass of possessions and, if you do some digging, you can usually find something that even a minimalist recipient will love. Last year, I was in such a position with my mother-in-common-law. She truly didn't want gifts but I knew she liked to drink tea so I decided to treat her to something nicer than she might usually buy for herself. I went to my personal favourite local tea shop, Tealish, with a list of flavours I knew she liked (through my network of spies, obviously). I ended up with a little assortment of my favourites and a new-to-me citrus and ginger green tea called Sunshine Reggae which was the biggest hit of the bunch. The staff is so knowledgeable and clever there that they lead me straight to the sunshine. I highly recommend the whole experience.

Ayalah Hutchins, illustrator

I'm all for giving practical gifts -- especially things that can be used up and even shared.

As a hostess gift for a holiday dinner party, or for a last-minute stocking stuffer, I would head to Xococava and pick up some Orangette. The shop is located next to sister restaurant Cava, and apparently during the holidays, the chocolatier is working around the clock to make enough Orangette to go around.

They also have plenty of other classic options as well as some more daring chocolate combinations (like bacon or earl grey tea leaves) sure to satisfy anyone (including the foodie) on your list.

Celine from Bonjour!

Cement pearl earrings!

Coming from a background in architecture, these are especially intriguing to me. I love concrete, and I love it when people make it wearable. When done well, it is very elegant, but rarely is it ever feminine. This is on my Christmas wish list. I would wear these everyday. They are made locally!

They can be purchased online, or at Nomad.


Readers of my blog will now I'm pretty standoffish when it comes to holiday spending and gift guides. For me, it's more the season of sharing than of giving. I'd much rather find merriment makers and spend easygoing time with friends than engage the ragged hunt for perfect gifts.

In that merriment-making vein, my neighbourhood boasts the best chocolate shop ever, Xococava. And this time of year, I seem to be popping in there every weekend. I'll hit the store for marshmallows, their delicious chocolate roulade, churros, salted caramels and, of course, xocolata as seasonal entertainment ramps up. And I completely love that this kind of gift is all too fleeting and Proustian in its sensuality.

I also love setting the stage for entertaining and will hit up the flower markets at Ave & Davenport to make all kinds of arrangements and garlands. I love seeing friends' reactions when they walk in and I've gone a little over the top on their account. Spending money on making an evening special and memorable is also the best feeling. I usually get some exotic (and ginormous) Amaryllis bulbs from Teatro Verde and lace Christmas stockings with a few sweet ornaments from L'Atelier.

When I'm on the hunt for a special gift, Linda Penwarden is my go-to source. I met Linda (pictured above) years ago when I wrote a story about her store and custom jewelry. In that process, I commissioned a necklace for myself. And the rest is history. I've been shopping from her ever since and love to give some of her pieces. I know a certain someone who is dying to own Linda's Sterling Hammered Bit Bracelet. I also find special gifts at Augustina. I especially love their stunning collection of scarves (Epice, Marika Charles, Matta, and more...). It can be hard to justify buying an expensive accessory for yourself, but it's a beautiful thing to give or receive.

I'm a hungry reader and have been known to take a stand and only give books as gifts certain years (to the chagrin of some friends!) D&E Lake is my all-time favourite source for rare, out-of-print, signed and first editions and (buyer be warned) Don always upsells me to a few new tomes for myself too. And if you're already down that way, you might as well nip over to the Distillery and grab something from Soma Chocolate and grab some sachets of their Mayan hot chocolate for all and sundry. Yes, I just began and ended with chocolate... says it all really.

(All images via retailers' sites, except Amaryllis [via Jane's Flickr] and D&E Lake [via Google Street View])

Thank you Rizie, Becky, Ayalah, Celine, and Jane!

REPLIES: shop local gift guide

t a n y a: Thanks, Tanya! Yeah, I'm usually not a big fan of music posters (I used to have so many of them, and if I got sick of the band, the posters started to bother me) but Doublenaut makes some really beautiful ones

Miss Crowland: Oooh! If you did, I hope you like it!

Lauren: Aw, thanks so much! You too! I'm so glad you like Summerland, Megan is so sweet.

Hello Lindello: Thanks, Kate! I'm sure if you contact Mjolk they can have it shipped to you. I think I might have to try it, too! It's supposed to be good for detox, and to be honest, sometimes my skin looks its best when I was it with soap. That's pretty cool about the Duluth Packs! Geoff said that when he went to Heidelberg people wore those kind of bags a lot, but not to be "cool," more because people like to do a lot of of hiking!

hellojen: Oh yay! I'm glad you got something out of it! There are so many animals to choose from, too.

Darcy: Thanks! Yeah, I really hope to take that class soon.

hila: Thanks, Hila! And that's so nice to hear. I know that it can be challenging to find things in some places, and I sympathize. It's starting to change here, but for a long time a lot of Toronto retailers were seriously stuck in the 1990s. It makes me so happy that some people are really trying! And if I'm going to encourage any sort of materialism at all, it will be local/handmade/independent, etc. I'm glad people like you get it.

classiq: Thank you!

Katie: Aarrghhh! I remember that happened to me once! A tiny little tear and my eye would not stop watering all day. It was so painful! Isn't that so weird?

miaou miaou: Thanks so much! I love the little Diana Mini -- I have barely used my regular Diana at all!

Aprile: Oh yeah, I'm sure you will! That's pretty exciting.

erica-knits: Me too -- it's my new favourite tea!

amy: Thanks, Amy! My work here is done! Haha. No, but seriously, that means a lot to me.

lady lyles: Haha, yeah, I just use the ones I have to make papers look pretty.

Pamela Myers: Well look at that! Who know tea and dye vats could be so photogenic?

Victoire: Yeah! If I lived in Ottawa your store would be at the top of my guide!


  1. Wow - so many amazing stores. I can't wait to explore some of these new-to-me destinations. And thank you so much for having me. I love being here!

  2. Aw, you guys are so lucky to have such great independent businesses in Toronto. Maybe I'll visit for next Christmas and do my shopping there! I especially love those cute owl mugs and the cover of that Truaman Capote - perfect! Specially blended tea is a such a great idea too.

  3. those cement pearl earrings slay me! if only i had holes in my ears.

  4. If only I lived closer to you..


  5. Becky has totally described the gift-giving dilemma I'm in right now: One of my besties told me that she doesn't want any clothes, makeup, knick-knacks, or books (my usual go-to) this year. Say WHAT?! After reading this guide I think I'll put together an indulgent foodie gift and make a charitable donation--thanks guys!

  6. Thanks Anabela for letting be a part of this! I had a good time putting it together & now seeing it on your blog makes me smile!

    If any of you have a chance to visit Cava, I highly recommend it! The service there is amazing! The food is wonderful!

  7. Thanks for inviting me to contribute to this Anabela - there are so many great local shops in Toronto!

  8. Greetings Anabela!
    I love Xococava! You should have a cup of hot chocolate (no milk) while placing your order. I secretly think it's even better than Soma's!

  9. Anabela, your blog constantly reminds me how amazing toronto is.
    thank you for including me