Saturday, December 3, 2011

still loving the tin pails

A special order for a cherished customer, pails of cute loot for a little party.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

manly gift triumph

Portland General Store

There are certain people that drive me crazy when it comes to gift giving. Like Mr. H. Are dudes just generally more difficult to buy for than women? I certainly think so. Throw blankets, pottery, intriguingly scented soy candles, Etsy jewellery...entire categories are not even on the list of possibilities. Mr H. is a Major Clotheshorse. He is Felix Unger fussy when it comes to labels, fit and provenance. He has a tailor named Luigi to whom he brings a bottle of Grappa at Christmas. Mr. H has never willingly wielded a tool. Or a chef's knife. Or a camera. The lady categories are out. The usual manly gift categories are out. He doesn't really want anything. So it is up to me at every gift giving occasion to Surprise Him. It drives me crazy. Every year.

I am feeling, understandably, a little chuffed to have sorted out his gift before December 24th. No flop sweat. Here's what I came up with: a gorgeous loden green alpaca tie from Alicia Adams:

Alicia Adams Ties

And a sampler of bespoke colognes made with recipes from the 1920s. I chose Professor, for this irresistible description: "– Reminding of tweed jackets, leather, and cherry pipe tobacco. Starts off rich and dark, and eventually melds with your skin and wears like vintage wool. A perfect fall scent." I know I can't wait to smell it.

Vintage Cigar Box of Goodies by Portland General Store.

I am bookmarking this site, Schoolhouse Electric, for future gifts. Love this desk lamp:

Friday, November 25, 2011

White Christmas

I don't have a mantle, but if I did I'd like it to look like this. If you have a minute to take an inspiration break, Dottie Angel's well organized photo stream is worth a peek.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

the cure for fall is winter

Despite the calendar and the best efforts of the retail-industrial complex I have not felt the slightest interest in things Christmas - until today. There is nothing like a good old Canadian north wind gusting 50 kilometres an hour to shake the last of the leaves from the trees and give me a reason to wear my new fur-trimmed mittens (rabbit fur. is that awful?). Thanks to the wind making the now-naked branches of the trees shiver and my cozy if impolitic handwarmers, it is on. A little Liberace Christmas music on the iPod, a cup of London Fog at my side and I am (mostly) ready to say toodle-loo to autumn.

And so I spent the afternoon working on this festive red graphic for the shop's main page and putting together a holiday-themed newsletter, which will go out tonight. Do you subscribe to the newsletter? If not, you are missing out on a tricky 15% off code. Tricky because in the newsletter it says it's only on personalized stationery, but in fact it is on everything in the shop. The database I use is kind of a blunt instrument when it comes to promotional codes and it's either discount each product individually (in which case my hands would need supportive braces and not fur-trimmed mittens) or discount the whole shebang. I'm going for the whole shebang. So if everything sells out and my shelves are empty by November 22nd you will find me in the Cayman Islands. Because one day of winter is about all I can stand.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

my chemical romance

I got my driver's license in 1987, behind the wheel of my mother's flesh-toned Pontiac Phoenix. Lame ride aside, I was so enthralled with my new-found freedom that I volunteered to do any and every household errand no matter how short the distance or tedious the task. When my mother finally let me drive to the grocery store unaccompanied I was ecstatic.

I struck off for the local Food City and, as per driving school code, I began to apply the brakes three telephone poles ahead of any stop sign or signal light. As you might imagine, the flow of traffic began to slowly coagulate behind me and within minutes I was at the head of a kilometre-long traffic jam on Keele Street. I have never before or since been so glad to pull into a parking lot. But this inaugural drive was memorable for another reason: it was on this day that I discovered the cleaning products aisle. Up until this point my experience with cleaning products was limited to Pine Sol for floors, Windex for glass, Endust for polishing and Ajax for everything else. My mother was a price conscious creature of habit when it came to shopping and she stuck with what she knew. The medley of those four smells utterly defines my early childhood memories of home. I don't know why the cleaning aisle was so enticing that day. But the array of products was revelatory. I ignored most of the grocery list and filled the cart with the stuff we really needed: Brasso to polish the living room lamps, 409 spray for the bathroom (no more Ajax grit underfoot!), Drano to finally deal with that slow drain, and an expensive bottle of orange oil for the wood. Having spent a good portion of the weekly budget on non-food items, my mother was peeved. But I was hooked.

Am I alone in my fascination? I am all ears when a cleaning product commercial airs. I am that person at the CNE peppering the microfibre mop demonstrator with questions. I own a Steam Shark. I have colour-coded toothbrushes for the bathroom (grout) and kitchen (behind the oven knobs). When we make a trip to Target all I ask is for 15 minutes of alone time so that I might browse the cleaning aisle in peace. At home I clean with wild abandon. I spray and spritz and fill the air with chlorine-scented vapour. I have Talked Dirty With The Clean Of Queen. I watch You Tube videos on how to clean baseboards. I polish and wipe, disinfect and deodorize even as my lungs ache and eyes water. Sure I've tried "green" cleaning products. I do like some Method products (they make a good toilet bowl cleaner and the almond-scented wood polish is dreamy) but I've never met an eco counter-top spray or bathroom cleaner that was up to the task.

Is this all sounding impossibly housewife-y and perhaps just a little obsessive? I feel like it might be. Last week I stood in the laundry aisle comparison smelling Downy Sage and Jasmine Thrill and my standby, Fleecy, and I felt...bad. My nose hurt. Nothing smelled fresh or lovely, just obnoxiously synthetic. But unscented laundry detergent? Ugh. What's the point? Just the same, I found myself at the library checking out books on natural house cleaning. It's time I end this chemical romance.

I spent some time on the weekend testing different home-made cleaning products. As improbable as it sounds, I scrubbed the tub with half a lemon dipped in borax. Fishing lemon seeds out of the drain, I wondered if it was worth it. But it smelled wonderful and, more importantly, it did a pretty good job even if it felt strangely wasteful using a lemon for a non-food purpose. What happens when the price of citrus doubles over winter?

The basics of vinegar, baking soda and borax now mastered, I am hankering for more advanced cleaning recipes. Preferably something that incorporates essential oils. I miss aromatic cleaning. But not the sinus-clearing chemical kind. I can't say that I won't occasionally blast the grout with Scrubbing Bubbles, but for now I'm on the straight and narrow.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Holiday Card Display Ideas

Our little bungalow does not have a mantel so I've never had a logical place to display Christmas or birthday cards. I usually string them along a temporary "clothesline" that spans the dining room window. It works especially well for flat photo cards that don't readily stand on their own. But this year I feel like trying something new. I came across some crackerjack non-mantel ideas:

Glass cannister from Better Homes & Gardens. I like this idea a lot. So tidy and compact.

A variation on the clothesline - check out the decorated clothespins - with gorgeous fresh garland.

Miniature clothes pins glued to an embroidery hoop by Martha. Folksy.

This dowel and ribbon idea from Country Living sounds a bit dubious to me: will a glue gun really hold the dowels in place? Will bulldog clips work? Will the whole thing be relentlessly wonky and tilted? I don't know the answers, but I like the way this looks. And I'm all for decorating the back of the front door.

At first blush, a silly notion that barely qualifies as an idea. But dropping cards into a basket (or on a lovely tray?) as they're received is appealingly simple. My kids enjoy looking at our cards and this way they're in easy reach for everyone to leaf through. Maybe this one?

So pretty! A found branch, a simple vessel. I love that candy cane card too. This won't hold a volume of cards, but a few prized cards would be lovely. Detailed instructions, if you need, over here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Gone Fishing

Taking a couple of weeks off with the family. Getting reacquainted with my camera, barefeet, seashells and no set bedtime. All great - though the last one may need some revisiting.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Ribbons & Stuff

A few posts ago I mentioned I was working on some new party favour packaging ideas. Here is a peek at a board I put together and photographed this morning. I plan to have the new products updated in the shop while I am, ahem, on holiday for the next couple of weeks.

These cellophane cones really are fun to work with. Just about anything you put inside looks all glam and gifty. I threw together a hot chocolate mix (layers of chocolate powder, mini marshmallows and chocolate Chipits) so the snowflake pattern on the packaging would be more visible. But the chocolate dusted the marshmallows and I can't decide if it's appealing or shabby. I think if I were to attempt this for gift-giving, I would bag the hot cocoa mix separately and place that inside the cone.

More holiday/holiday posts to come!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Owl Cupcakes

In my humble and openly anti-fondant opinion, decorated cupcakes look terrific but no one actually eats them. Adults may try to be polite and chew through a gummy layer of icing but kids will openly scrape all that hard work right off to get at the tasty bits below. Who could blame? Buttercream is the only way to go. Home-made buttercream. I shudder at the thought of store-bought icing. But look carefully at these owl cupcakes, courtesy of food blog Caramel Potatoes, and you will see something no kid (or adult) will object to: Oreo cookie tops. What a splendid idea.

I suppose, in a pinch, you could buy pre-iced cupcakes and just decorate the tops. But I find grocery store-bought cakes taste lousy too. I was liberated years ago from the rigours of baking from scratch by a chef friend who told me that there is no shame in using a box mix, so it's been Duncan Hines ever since. It's one bowl and an egg while the house fills with good baking smells and I get to wear an apron for an hour. Win-Win.

Monday, October 17, 2011

40th Birthday

Mr. H finally did the decent thing and joined me in turning forty. We threw him a little party over the weekend. While I was mostly focused on planning the food and finding the lid to the martini shaker, I wanted the house to look party-ish without resorting to mylar banners declaring 40 the new 20, or Over The Hill. A quick Google search yielded a perfect idea: a photo collage:

I arranged the photos on large sheets of kraft paper, taping them into place on the back. The panels were hung as a backdrop to the food table. I left a jar of coloured chalk nearby and the kids loved writing birthday messages around the pictures. Balloons felt too young for a fellow entering his middle years, so I made a dozen tissue poofs in red and orange. They look best hung in clusters, so they were hung in groups of three throughout the living and dining rooms. Normally eight sheets of tissue per poof is sufficient, but the dollar store tissue was really thin (as you can see from the anemic poof on the left) so I ended up using 12 sheets each.

I used those non-marking 3M hooks to string some fishing line in the window and clipped more photos. I had so many great pictures left over so I randomly tucked them into mirrors and frames around the house.

A pillar candle, jumbo pine cone and white gourds made a simple centrepiece:

The red and orange scheme was inspired by this vase of branches with red berries. Even with ten kids under ten running around, no one picked the berries! I'm always too busy fixing a drink, replenishing snacks or finding a Band-Aid to take pictures during the party. And I find parties feel better than they look once they get going, so a blog-worthy shot isn't always possible. Since I was doing all the cooking, I went with food I could make ahead so I could enjoy myself too: pulled pork, home-made mac 'n cheese, corn on the cob with chipotle-chili butter and slaw with apples and raisins. But the real draw was the dessert table: cheesecake, pie, lemon squares, chocolate chip cookies, coffee cake and on the main stage a do-it-yourself ice cream sundae bar. Small bowls filled with mini marshmallows, M&Ms, crushed peanuts, hot fudge and caramel sauce and whipped cream were set out along with the ice cream. It's a ten-kilometre run day today.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Personalized placemats for the family

The new placemats are proving to be a hit with more than just kids. This is a customer's order for her whole family. I don't know what has me more tickled, the mommy and daddy placemats or that dad is clearly the cook in the house. Cute!

DIY Watercolour Party

I love when a kid's party feels right rather than just looks beautiful. When the age and interests of the birthday girl or boy have been taken into account, when the right amount of detail has been put forward...without crossing the line into Party Mama territory.

I came across this lovely fête and was smitten with the simplicity of the decorations and theme. How perfect for a four-year old to twirl around the living room with some friends?

How great are these ribbons wands? It looks to me like like the dowel has been drilled and the ribbon looped through that, but for a no-drill DIY option that needs only a 12" dowel (found at Canadian Tire for a dollar), a screw-eye hook and four feet of ribbon check out the tutorial from the Ribbon Wand Shop.

There are two things I love about these streamers: first, the unconventional way they're hung in simple rows across the room looks fantastic and modern; second, they've been ever so slightly coloured using a shallow bath of food colouring (and plenty of drying time). I wonder if you could also get this effect by brushing the rolled end with watercolour paint?

A pitch-perfect party favour, watercolour palettes, ends the festivities:

Party details and more pictures over at Tip Junkie.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

In praise of clichés

Say what you will about stylish food I prefer my fare tasty and, ideally, simple to prepare. There is something to be said for leaving the guanciale ravioli to the experts at Enoteca Sociale. With my preference for the tried and true, no one at my table is surprised to find this gorgeous soup in their bowl come fall. 

Mr. H gave me a beautiful Aspinal recipe book for Christmas a few years ago. It is a lot of pressure to create a document that may very well outlive me if my daughter takes an interest in the food of her childhood. But every now and then I deem a recipe worthy of the book's handmade pages and I carefully, neatly, and always with a black roller pen, make an entry. This soup was the first one. I can't lay claim to the recipe - it's from Cinda  Chavich - but I have made it so often over the years that I feel kind of proprietary about it just the same. The photo does not do the soup justice - and may well earn the scorn of food bloggers - but it was lunch and I was hungry and did not want to let my steaming bowl of soup cool while I worried about styling the photo. Do not let the humble snapshot dissuade you from making it. I promise it will be the best darn squash soup you've ever tasted. And the quickest to make too.

3 lbs squash peeled and cubed (butternut, acorn or buttercup)
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion (I like to use Vidallia) finely chopped
1 medium Yukon Gold potato peeled and cubed
6 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup Jack Daniels
1 bay leaf + 4 sprigs fresh thyme (do not use dried)
1 Tbsp maple syrup (has to be real maple syrup or omit)
salt and white pepper
1/4 sour cream or whipping cream if serving at the holidays. I also use condensed milk on occasion.

1. In a soup pot melt the butter with the olive oil over medium heat and cook the onion, covered, until softened and transparent, about 5 to 8 minutes.

2. Stir in the squash, potato, stock, whiskey, herbs and syrup and bring to a boil over high heat.

3. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered until the squash is softened, 30 to 45 minutes depending on the size of the squash pieces. So cube them smallish if you're in a hurry. After 30 or so minutes pick out the thyme and bay leaf and discard.

4. Use an immersion blender or a blender and purée until very smooth. You don't want chunks.

5. Return the soup to a simmer and cook for another 10 minutes. Season to taste with white pepper and salt (though I usually find the soup stock adds enough salt). Whisk in the sour cream, whipping cream or condensed milk, or spoon a dollop onto each serving. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Painting with Klutz

A Klutz shipment arrived yesterday and my kids could not wait to dive into the Face Painting kit. Neither could I, actually, because I could use some practice before I have to bring a pair of zombies to life on Halloween. My experience with face paint has not been positive. In much the same way that CityLine in the '90s made faux-finished wall treatments look great and do-able but the results at home were hideously amateurish, my face painting efforts typically end in a smudged mess that look nothing like the picture. I blame the face paint. Anything I've tried has been either greasy pencils or waxy palettes with stiff nylon bristles, neither of which produce satisfying results.

 In addition to an impressive one million kits sold, which makes it the best-selling face paint kit in the universe, the Klutz kit also boasts Wolfe Brothers paint. Do you know who the Wolfe Brothers are? I didn't either so I looked them up and discovered that they are bona fide theatrical make-up and F/X artists whose products are created by artists for other artists. Hard to argue with credentials like that. I decided to give it a try. Which brings us back to this morning and a mini experiment over breakfast:

The difference in texture was immediate from the first swirl of the brush. It was creamy but blendable and dried to a powdery finish in two minutes. No greasy smears, no uneven waxy coverage. Well. Knock me over with a feather. It's the best darn face paint I've ever used. At lunch my five-year old insisted on trying it out for himself on the back of my hand:

See? So easy even a five-year old can do it. By dinner we were experts:

Klutz Face Painting Kits are available now in the shop.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Gourd-geous (but simple) fall porch fix-up

I can do this! We are lucky to live in a house with a porch. It's a modest structure that would barely qualify as a porch by country house standards, but it's a favourite family spot to read sheltered from the weather and hang out while observing the goings-on of our little street. As an important part of our family life it deserves better treatment than the usual scattering of toys, newspapers and a half-dead Aster from Loblaws. Why did you die little plant? Did I not water you? Place you in the sunshine? I love design as much as the next Dwell reader, but a gardener I am not. My sister, who is, is embarrassed for me. I have offered to pay her (in BBQ and hair advice, but still) to help me but I think she prefers to feel superior when I walk the thoughtfully landscaped gardens and seasonally decorated porch of her house by the lake. "It's simple," she tells me with a wrinkled brow, unable to grasp why I continue to live with an out of control Arctic willow and two misshapen lilac bushes. My lacklustre porch remains a source of discontent. But this, this I can do! I am sure of it. I even have Kale. Perched on a stair in the plastic pot it came in...but now I know what to do with it. This fall gourds 'n kale planter idea is courtesy of a very pretty (Canadian!) blog aptly named A Pretty Life In The Suburbs. This project has the advantage of looking effortless and, I hope, is actually effortless in the making. I am on the case. Project Porch is on. Dare I promise to post a picture when all is said and done?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Halloween Cards Giveaway

Canadian Parents is running a giveaway of my Halloween cards and stickers. To enter just leave a comment on their site and tell them what your kids are going to be for Halloween. Easy! Here's the contest link. Enter up to October 9th. I hope one of my customers wins!

Three Things to do with a Tortilla | Marlene's Meal Makeovers

Three Things to do with a Tortilla | Marlene's Meal Makeovers

If you haven't yet met Marlene MacPherson, you really should. She's a Canadian (Ontario) mom, food lover and entrepreneur who embarked on a second career all the while living through a first, and now sadly a second, cancer diagnosis. Marlene has terrific family-friendly food ideas - I always check out the Cook Once/Produce Twice recipes - that are healthful, simple but tasty. Great ideas with a dollop of courage and a pinch of inspiration. Pumpkin mini loaves anyone?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

to the bat mobile

I'm not quite ready to deck the halls with bats and ghouls, but when I am you can bet I'm making this bat mobile. Bristol board bats are a Halloween staple of mine. I use this Martha Stewart template. I keep them from year to year (some are going on five years old now, so we make a few fresh ones every year) and we stick them to the living room window where they are spookily backlit by the inside lights, and put them on mirrors. I'm feeling this mobile, perhaps embellished with an outline of silver glitter, over the dining room table. We used to have a light there. Now there's a hole. Long story. A bat mobile would be an improvement, albeit a temporary one.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Missing: Blog Header | Reward For Safe Return

I dunno where it went. I logged in and was prompted by Blogger to try the new "dynamic" view. And I did. And I liked. It made this somewhat anemic blog look full and healthy. I LOVE the ability to shuffle the deck, so to speak, with a click. Try Mosaic or Snapshot. Cool, right? But I can't find my header. If I can't sort a technological misstep in three clicks or less I tend to abandon the problem with a sigh. I hope that, like Bo Peep, if I leave it alone it will come home. But I'm not optimistic. The search shall continue... In other news I did a little photo-shoot today:
Some new party packaging is on the way. I love pink parties. As the mother of a freckly tomboy I can say that.With longing.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Halloween stuff

What? Isn't it October yet?

I know I'm not living in the moment at the moment. Trying to wrap up holiday planning/ordering before we hit the beach for our annual family vacation - which could not be more inconveniently timed. But you've got to respect tradition, and we've been holidaying in November long before there was kids' school schedules or Christmas orders to consider. So throwing caution (and homework and sales) to the wind we are off for a couple of weeks at the end of October.

The problem with all this pre-planning is that I am living three weeks ahead of the rest of the world. Last week I caused panic among the soccer parents when I moved Thanksgiving up by a week. And today I discarded a winning roll-up-the-rim thingy because I thought the expiration date - October 2nd - had passed.

Slow down missy.

It's not even October and I am already moving past Halloween. So putting on the reins for a minute, the Halloween shop is open for business. New this year is a cute collection of personalized Halloween cards, including these family cards:

You might think a clear bag isn't so exciting, but there are hundreds of ways to fill and decorate these food-safe bags. You can buy the bags on their own and do your own thing, but we've come up with a cute personalized option:

Canadian Parents is running a giveaway contest featuring my Halloween cards. You'll have to visit their site the week of October 3rd to enter. Will post the link when I get it.

Happy Halloweening!


Monday, September 26, 2011

Hot Air Balloon Costume

This costume has it all: originality, charm and a very high do-able factor. Thanks to Rook No. 17 for the instructions.

Hot Air Balloon Costume DIY Instructions

Yarn- off white, 'bumpy' yarn
Old dress with straps that you don't mind cutting up. Works best with straps that adjust.(Like overalls)
4 Brown paper lunch bags
Knit hat
Kids scuba mask

1) I found a 36" balloon at First Impressions Party Supplies in Monterey. (I was told this type of balloon is typically used for car lots when they want to advertise a big sale..)
Note from the Rookery: our favorite online source for specialty and big ol' knock-your-socks off balloons is "Balloon Lovers Corner".

2) I bought a basket at Michael's craft store (half off!) and cut a hole in the bottom to fit around my daughter's hips.

3) I took an old dress with straps, and hot glued the bottom of the dress to the bottom of the basket. This way, my daughter could 'wear' the basket and it would stay upright.

4) I tied yarn to the basket and fastened it to the knot at the base of the balloon to make it seem as if the rope was holding up the basket.

5) To make stripes on the balloon, I used colored ribbon & carefully double taped them from top to bottom.

6) For sandbags, I crumbled and stuffed four brown paper lunch bags each with a plastic grocery bag (so it would be light) and hung them off the four corners of the basket.

7) To give my daughter an 'aviator' look, I dressed her in a jean jacket to hide the strapped dress, added a scarf and fastened a kiddie scuba mask (that I painted black) to a knit hat.

So there you go!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Life is better with photoshop

Flagrantly ignoring the apples we bought at the farmer's market Saturday, and also forgetting the dozen Cortlands bought on Friday's grocery run, we found ourselves at Albion Farms late this afternoon, inexplicably picking apples. A lot of them. It's not easy to quash the enthusiasm of city kids who encounter food growing in its natural habitat only during bi-annual trips to the local pick-your-own farm.

With more fruit than could possibly fit into the refrigerator's fresh bin, I piled apples high on a tray and plunked it in the centre of the table, hoping to spur healthful snacking while also offering something nice to look at. And then I took a picture. For no reason other than it's been a good long while since I've appreciated a non-human moment through my camera lens.

Here they are: apples au natural.

But doesn't this look much better? I fiddled around with adjustment layers > levels and added another layer to play with contrast. The higher contrast and intense colours add mood and drama to my humble photo.

This photo was my attempt to create an over-processed '70s look in the hipstamatic-style I've been admiring lately. This had many more steps but still only took about five minutes. The full tutorial is available at Photoshop Elements User.

Happy Sunday.