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In Chicago, a reclaimed Swedish heritage for a new bakery

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CHICAGO—When Chicago’s Andersonville neighbourhood bid farewell to its beloved Swedish Bakery in February 2018, it was as if a princess cake-shaped hole had been left in the historically Scandinavian neighbourhood’s collective heart. The traditional Swedish neon green-domed cake had long been local legend.

When pastry chef Bobby Schaffer, who had previously led the pastry programs at Michelin-starred Grace in Chicago and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York, was searching for a space to open his new venture, he knew the neighbourhood was in need of a local bakery.

“I’d always known that it was one of my favourite neighbourhoods, having grown up here,” Schaffer said. “I really loved how it supported independent businesses and had this hometown charm to it.”

He also knew that he had Scandinavian heritage himself, the story of which had gone missing when his grandfather, whom Schaffer never met, supposedly changed the family name from Larson to Schaffer after the man he had worked for. He said that heritage “was never part of my upbringing. I didn’t know any cultural connection to that.”

And so he christened his bakery Lost Larson and set off with his sister Bree, who runs the front of the house, to Sweden where they visited three or four bakeries a day in search of inspiration for the recipes he would develop for hearty loaves of limpa, sweet, yeasty cardamom buns, and yes, even an homage to the Swedish princess cake.

I visited on a damp and dreary afternoon, and when I ducked out of the descending gray mist into the bright and tidy cafe, an aromatic cloud of sugar, cardamom, vanilla and bread immediately surrounded. Every gleaming white marble cafe table was filled with patrons chatting over small plates of enticing food and mugs of hot coffee — save for a single table in the corner. My husband and son slid onto a mint-hued banquette that spans half the length of the shop while I perched on a sleek, but comfortable, Danish modern chair. Not a single laptop was open. No one stared into a phone. No one was even shooting smartphone pictures of the otherwise Instagram-worthy pastry case. It was as if everyone had pledged to honour the spirit of “fika,” the Swedish coffee break.

Taking note, I left my phone in my bag as I helped my 4-year-old pull apart his flaky ham and cheese croissant. My husband and I shared two intriguing open-faced sandwiches: ‘nudja and gianduja with spreadable spicy sausage, chocolate hazelnut spread, creamy ricotta, pumpkin seeds and two poached eggs; and pickled herring with salty, preserved fish, a bright lingonberry jam and paper thin slices of radish and white onion.

So enamored was I with the limpa on which the herring sandwich was made that I took home an entire loaf. “Limpa” translates from Swedish simply into “loaf,” but usually refers to some sort of rye bread. Schaffer’s version is aromatic, baked with uplifting orange peel, fennel and anise. At $8 (U.S.) a loaf, it is a luxury item — and satisfying: I slathered thick slices with salted butter for three days thereafter. The miniature duchess cake (Schaffer’s take on the princess cake), however, with its tender vanilla sponge, jewel-toned raspberry gelée and a dreamy white chocolate marzipan mousse, disappeared posthaste.

Lost Larson, 5318 N. Clark St., Chicago; (773) 944-0587; a meal for two is about $20, not including coffee or tip.

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Travel & Escape

Dealing with baggage on your trip

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(NC)Nothing is more embarrassing than having to unpack your baggage at the airport. It’s common to overpack because you want to make sure you have everything you need for your trip – the right shoes, a jacket in case it’s cold, a bathing suit in case there’s a pool. But you must be mindful of the baggage restrictions. So, how can you be smart with your baggage when travelling?

The first thing to do is talk to your TICO-certified travel agent about the weight restrictions and number of bags you are allowed to take. Some airlines charge per bag, while others may offer one bag for free depending on weight.

You’ll also need to know if there are security requirements for carry-on and checked baggage. For example, there may be prohibited items such as gels and liquids. These limitations vary from airline to airline and depends on if your flight is international or domestic, so you’ll need to check the policy of the airline you’re travelling with.

Naturally, you want to avoid incurring baggage fees, so talk to your travel agent, or contact the airline directly. You can also visit their website to review the luggage policy.

Here are a few more tips to help you manage your baggage when travelling:

  • Clearly label all baggage with your name, home address, and contact information
  • Place an identification tag inside the baggage in case the outside tag is torn off
  • Lock bags with CATSA/ACTSA travel locks
  • Put a colourful ribbon or other identifying marks on your bags so they are easily recognizable
  • Carry valuables in your hand luggage; jewelry, money, medications, important documents, etc.

You can’t carry everything with you, so be smart when you pack. Take only necessary items and focus on your trip.

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Travel & Escape

What travellers need to know if a destination wedding is cancelled

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(NC) It’s two weeks before you’re scheduled to attend a destination wedding and then you get the call. The wedding has been called off.

Sure, you’re upset for the couple, but now you’re faced with plane tickets and hotel reservations. So, what can you do?

There’s no reason why you can’t go and enjoy the trip, but bear in mind you may face a price increase, especially if this was part of a group booking. Group bookings often include a minimum number of travellers to get the discounted price, as well as terms and conditions regarding changes or cancellations.

You could ask other travellers to come along to keep the group discount. But name changes often count as cancellations based on the terms of the vacation package and premium charges may apply. If you booked with a TICO-registered travel agency, website or tour company, it’s better to contact them and ask about options before making any decisions.

While it’s devastating for the couple who planned the destination wedding, the fact is that the cancellation affects all the confirmed guests. So, it’s important to know your options so you can salvage an unfortunate situation. Always book with a TICO-registered travel agency, website or tour operator so you can circle back and find out what they can do for you.

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Travel & Escape

Be safe not sorry when booking travel online

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(NC) With so many travel websites available these days, many people are choosing to book their vacations from the comfort of their own home. Many travel websites are easy to navigate, and offer great vacation packages, so it seems to make sense.

But before you hit “submit”, it’s important to know what you’re getting into. Here are a few tips that can make you more aware when booking travel online:

  • Look for the TICO registration number or logo. All Ontario travel agencies and websites must be registered with TICO, the provincial travel regulator that provides consumers with protections if they don’t receive travel services. The registration number or logo is usually found in the About Us or Contact sections of the website.
  • Know where your credit card payment is going. Some websites are only search engines or booking agents for other providers.
  • Review the terms and conditions, particularly those that relate to cancellation, changes to bookings and refunds. Know what the travel agent or tour operator’s responsibilities are.
  • Keep a paper copy of your transactions, correspondence and confirmations.
  • Double check which currency the prices are quoted in. You could be paying in Euros instead of Canadian dollars.
  • Keep in mind that tax amounts can vary in travel advertisements. Ontario travel agencies and websites can display their taxes in four different ways:
    • A total price
    • A base price plus total taxes, fees and additional charges
    • A base price with a detailed breakdown
    • All taxes, fees and additional charges.
  • Research your destination to find out if there are any travel advisories, which can be found on the Government of Canada website.
  • Check the online travel agency’s website for a live-chat feature, email address or toll-free number to talk to a travel agent. Travel agents are a great resource to answer any questions you may have to ensure you are making an informed travel purchase.

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