Thursday, September 30, 2010

Washtub Woes and Acorn Collecting

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Yes, that's right, laundry... never ending laundry! I'm still finishing up from our trip and am starting to feel a lot like the woman above despite my snazzy high-tech machines in the basement! So far, no clear answer on how to avoid this task without spending an astronomical amount of money. 

So, to distract myself in between folding...

Kuchemaistrey, Nuremberg, 1485

Every year around this time, I begin a serious cooking and baking spree and hoard away dinners and snacks for November and December when life seems to be too busy for anything but a frozen dinner. This year, I'm also trying to make up some baby food for the months to come. 

So far, I've got apple sauce, pear sauce, sweet potato puree and beet puree put away for Baby. Chicken soup and hamburger patties are done and in the freezer and two shepherd's pies are under construction. I'm hoping to make a big pot of chili tomorrow as well as chicken pot pies and some pizza dough. Typically, I also put away some butternut squash soup, lasagna, a few loaves of bread and some muffins and cookie dough. Apple pie filling is another winner - you just throw it from frozen into a couple of frozen pie shells from the store, bake and wow your guests with an authentic "home-faked" creation!

We love having home-made food on a busy night when take-out would normally be the solution. However, I question whether trying to put this much stuff away is actually a sane move. Am I some kind of squirrel? The key here is to keep the recipes simple, to freeze them in tin foil pans so that you can just bake out of the freezer and then recycle the pans with no washing up and perhaps to limit the cooking to one thing a day (unlike my strategy of cooking 20 things at once!). Ziploc containers are my other magic tool to keep the freezer organized.

DIY Rating: 5

Great to have some food stored for the winter, but beware 
becoming a crazy person (like me) by trying to cook it all in a day!

We are not pioneers, there is no need to do it all ourselves!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

veni vidi vici!

Hazy Sunset en route to Long Island                      Photo Credit: Filia Artis

We're back from New York City and figure that we're starting to become experts at traveling with a baby - this trip made about 20,000 Km that Baby has travelled since she was born less than a year ago. Because we were mainly there for a family function, there was not a lot of time for sight seeing in the city. However, since I belong to a family of power-shoppers, no less than four pairs of shoes made the trip home with me along with a few outfits and a good bottle of scotch.

I took advantage of my CAA membership at Banana Republic where the discount is apparently 10% for card holders. Sadly, the folks at Nordstrom somewhat laughed at me when I asked if they too have that discount. It seems that "discount" and "Nordstrom" cannot be used in a single sentence. Oh well, even "retail" was less expensive than here.

Based on a Prada design, but made for wide feet!

A bit more of an evening look

From Banana Republic
From White and Black

As for the actual New York experience, we did make a trip down into Manhattan for a day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which really is a world-class gallery. One of our favorite sections was the early 20th century sculpture garden and I'm a sucker for all things mediaeval too!

"Fallen Gladiator"                                 Photo: Filia Artis

Late Mediaeval horsemen                                   Photo: Filia Artis

I think there is probably a DIY debate going on here at The Do-tique on the topic of whether we should have taken the train from Rockland County, or driven ourselves. We got down there in no time at all, but spent an hour and a half looking for parking as 5th Ave was closed for a race and our plan had been to park right under the museum. It came down to me getting out of the car and begging a cop to let us onto a closed street where I'd seen a couple of the runners heading back to their car to leave. It worked. The parking was free. It just all resulted in a fair amount of swearing to get to that point!

Sunday morning traffic                                                      Photo: Filia Artis

The best part was walking around on the Upper East Side and envisioning the characters from Gossip Girl coming around the corner. Every doorway there did have a doorman standing guard and I saw a lady whose dog was wearing a Hermes collar and leash! In other words, it was just like on TV.

"Blair Waldorf"

Finally, we managed to find a restaurant on 2nd Ave that was an awesome baby friendly location for dinner. (By the way, did everyone in Manhattan suddenly decide to have a baby? They were everywhere!)

Try Tony's di Napoli. It was so loud in there, that it didn't matter what kind of fuss your kid was making and there were at least a dozen other little ones in there to boot. They have a dedicated handicapped washroom on the main dining floor equipped with that holy grail of bathroom fixtures, a baby change table! The servers were very nice, the food was great and the price was fantastic.

My main recommendation would be to bring a small bike lock for your stroller. You have to leave them at the front of the restaurant and since ours has already been stolen once, I was more comfortable locking it to a rail there than leaving it free for the taking.

I may or may not have mentioned that we opted to drive down, which was about a 600 Km (375 mile) trip each way. I consider a major road trip a DIY project in and of itself. It was a long trip, but we were able to make some good stops both there and back. In the end, we didn't have to worry about baggage weight and the general airline hassles and we got home sooner than my mom and sister who actually flew!

All in all, a very enjoyable trip! Now back to some "doing" around here!

DIY Ratings: 

10 for enjoying the "New York Experience", especially the MET and dinner at Tony's

7 for the driving vs. flying there depending on where you're coming from

5 for the shopping. They have AMAZING stuff at pretty good prices, 
but the malls are very busy, so be prepared for it to be a major excursion!

4 for trying to park in Manhattan, even on a Sunday

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Biting into the Big Apple

Photo Credits: Filia Artis

Yep, that's right, we're heading out to New York City this weekend for a family function, so things will be a little quiet here at The Do-tique over the next few days. 

These are some (slightly unusual?) photos from our most recent trip in 2008.

A crazy car elevator parking lot - we don't have these in Toronto yet.

Waiting out a rainstorm with George W. at the NY Stock Exchange

The white building in the middle was my all-time favorite,
but has been closed to tourists now since 9/11.

Since in my family, the motto is "Live to Eat" and not eat to live, that day, we planned our trip around a theme of "walk and eat" trying out all the New York traditional foods. We started off with brunch in Brooklyn and moved on to what my cousins call "Dirty Water Dogs" - hot dogs from street vendors on Wall St. Then it was pizza and cannoli in Little Italy, spring rolls in Chinatown, ice cream near Central Park and Cajun food along the West River. Did we miss bagels? Probably not, but I don't remember! 

Hubby is a prairie boy, so the Big Apple was a bit big for him and we stuck to just walking around the city for his first visit. I'm not sure what our plan is this time, but we were both hoping to get inside a few galleries or sites this time. 

I LOVE Times Square, Hubby thought
it was a bit louder than Alberta

Lest I should end this without giving you the "how to," here is a great DIY Travel Agent tip...

One of the best websites out there for Canadians is Travelzoo. Unlike sites like Expedia or Travelocity, you don't actually book anything through this site. What it does is lists special prices and a discount code. You usually go right to the website for that hotel, airline, etc and when you book your travel either online or on the phone, you provide that code to get the Travelzoo price. It's fairly random in terms of what is going to be out there, but the deals are usually for specialty and boutique hotels that are trying to drum up business - so you get a great location, a deep discount and zero hassle - no need for an account and regular cancellation policies apply rather than the restrictive ones that come with other sites (ie. Priceline).

My strategy is to book a regular hotel and make sure that I can cancel up to the last minute. Then, I stay tuned to Travelzoo in case a better option comes up and make the switch over. That way I always know I have something, but can always upgrade. You can also subscribe to their weekly e-newsletter and get a list of the 20 best deals for that week. 

Overall, I've stayed at some amazing hotels at astounding prices and they also have a lot of deals with Broadway shows and other attractions too.

In the meanwhile, I'll leave you with this image, which perfectly resembles how we'll be sure to look after attending a rockin' family party on Long Island on Friday night. You can check out the rest of the cool images in The Book of Sleep.

Photo Credit: Square America

DIY Rating: 10

No one should go to their grave 
without visiting Manhattan at least once.

If you want to make it easy, be sure to try 
Travelzoo when you are booking your trip.
You can always nap later!

Plumbing Emergency

Lillian Baumbach, America's first female Master Plumber
Photo credit: Here

Today's post is courtesy of Craig over at All Manner of Thing and features his solution to a plumbing problem that we've also run into over here ourselves at The Do-tique:

It happened this way: My lovely wife, overtaken by one of her periodic cleaning frenzies, had washed the kitchen floor with a bucket and rag, and went to empty the dirty water into the toilet. When she did so, the toilet automatically flushed and — oops — the rag fell into the bowl and was flushed too.

Out of sight, then, but not out of mind. We realized that a rag bunched up in a sewage pipe was probably not a good thing. It might very well come back to bite us, ever so gently, on the behind. We thought of calling a plumber, but, after a moment’s reflection, decided that this was an excellent DIY project. Plumbers are expensive, after all. If we could snag the rag and pull it out or, failing that, push it further along (for this toilet was in the basement, quite close to the pipe that exits the house), we could probably manage to get rid of it. So we set to work.

The first thing we tried was a coat hanger. It did not work, mostly because the pipe that exits a toilet has a convoluted shape, and the coat hanger could not maneuver with enough agility. It was then that my ever resourceful wife, who was an engineer before she was a physician, had an idea. “We need a closet auger,” she said. A what? Before I knew it she had the car keys and her jacket and she was out the door, leaving me, alone, staring, with a certain poignancy, at the toilet bowl.

While I waited, I reflected on the peculiar name of this mysterious tool: closet auger. I thought that perhaps it was derived from ‘water closet auger’, which is what Her Majesty would be inclined to call a toilet-pipe-clearing instrument. In any case, our water closet auguries, I knew, were most inauspicious at that moment, and I hoped that the water closet auger would turn our fortunes.

My lovely wife returned. A closet auger, it turns out, is exactly wht it sounds like: a tool used by plumbers to clear toilet pipes of debris. It is a kind of wire snake with a crank on one end, like so:

We stuck that thing into the pipe and started cranking. It was unclear exactly how we would manage to snag and retrieve the rag, so we resolved to try pushing it out. And we did. Or, at least, we satisfied ourselves that the section of pipe on the near side of the big city pipe was clear. Case closed.

Following the format that Filia Artis uses at The Do-tique, I conclude thus:

DIY rating: 10

Forget about paying for a plumber.
Get your wife to buy a closet auger,
and then have a glass of whiskey.

It seems that Craig's blog should now perhaps deserve the title:
"All Manner of (Doing) Thing(s)". 
A Do-tique "Gold star" awarded to his wife!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

All the Trimmings

Remember this handsome handyman? This is Hubby working away on the new baseboard trim for the basement some weeks ago with his nifty rented mitre saw from Home Depot.

Now, I want you to brace yourself as I am about to show a "before" picture illustrating some pretty gruesome trim that we have guessed was installed and painted in the early 1990s. It is indeed teal green and I will remind my readers that this is an impossible color to paint over:

The original project here was to paint the living areas in the basement, which as with most reno projects, spawned many evil offspring projects. We decided that since the floor was carpeted and the trim was green and ugly, that we would pull it out entirely and replace it with some fresh trim. Thinking this would be both easy and inexpensive, we chose to do it ourselves.

After literally months of hard work, I am pleased to show off an "after" photo of the same space below:

Trim is painted "Chalk Grey" by C2, walls are "Gossamer" also by C2
and the new carpeting is Boone's Crossing in
"Picket Fence" from CarpetOne

As I mentioned, we thought putting in the new trim would be a job that we could complete in an afternoon, start to finish, and that did not end up being the case for us. As with a lot of DIY jobs, we didn't fully take into account the "learning curve" involved in doing a project that you have never done before. Below is an outline of what was involved in case you too are new to this type of work and are considering doing it in your own home. This was something that if your time and skill is limited, you might want to look into hiring help. 

  • Consult parents, handymen and the internet to "learn how" to do it yourself
  • Remove existing trim
  • Buy trim and tools: 2 trips to Rona - select samples, purchase MDF baseboard trim and transport home in small Mazda (you will also need a coping saw, hammer, level, square, nail sinker)
  • Paint trim (2 coats)
  • Attempt to complete installation using hand tools, abort mission
  • Research and rent compound mitre saw - 2 trips to Home Depot
  • Buy caulking, caulking gun, nails and wax filler
  • Do major cuts with power saw and minor touchups with coping saw
  • Level and nail in trim and then do touch ups to cover nails, joints and gaps

Material costs:

$120 trim
$  20 paint
$  50 tools and materials
$  36 saw rental               


30+ hours @ $20/hr = $600
($20/hr for our time is a pretty conservative rate! Yours might be worth more or less.)

Amount of trim completed:  96 linear feet

The Pro Said...

In comparison, my quote from a professional carpenter in the area who specialized in trim work came out to $2.10 ln/ft to supply and install, which would have put me more in the range of $200 - $250 for the job.

I know that there will be handier people than myself out there thinking that there is no way that this should have taken so much time, but we rate ourselves as "moderately" talented and as I mentioned, the big thing was lack of experience, especially in making the mitred cuts on the saw. Since we enjoy this kind of work, the time-in wasn't such a big deal, but in reality, it may have been unwise to waste so much time on this when we could have hired someone to do it for a fairly reasonable rate.

If you are going to try this for the first time, here are our words of learned wisdom:

  • The trim we purchased had quite a few grooves, though less than some styles we saw at the store. It was a mistake for beginners to tackle such a complex pattern. The cuts had to be more exact and it was harder to cover mistakes. Buy something that looks pretty plain if you are a newbie.

  • For a small job like this, rent a mitre saw. You will get the use of an excellent quality saw for about 1/3 the price of buying one of the low-end ones available. We should have known better than to try tackling this with a hand saw!

  • Buy at least two extra lengths of trim, but don't paint them. If you need them, they're there for you, and you can paint them and go, if you don't use them, you can return them. We ended up making enough mistakes that we had to use our extra pieces.

  • Get the right nails the first time! We bought finishing nails and then realized that there were special nails for this kind of work and had to go back for those. Ask at the store before buying.

  • We thought MDF was easier to work with than wood because it is less likely to split when you are nailing it into the wall. Since this was a basement, it worked out fine, but I probably wouldn't install it into the main part of my home though as it didn't seem as durable as wood in terms of holding up to wear and tear.

DIY Rating: 1

Seriously consider hiring this job out. 
A pro would have had it done in a matter of 2-4 hours. 
It was finicky work and took us beginner handyfolks a lot longer than planned.

If you can get help from an experienced family member or friend 
who can show you their technique and help you learn, do it. 
It would have made a big difference in our frustration level.

PS. Golden star of appreciation and congratulations to Hubby who put in so much effort and whose work, despite all these challenges, actually turned out looking great! A high place in Heaven is being reserved for him!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Letter from the Editor

Photo Credit: Siobhan Connally, Getty Images

It seems that there has been less doing around here at The Do-tique so I thought I would post a progress update in case you are thirsting for a bit of DIY entertainment.

We spent Thursday at IKEA in North York picking out accessories to transform our small entry landing into a functional storage space for coats, shoes, hats and miscellanea. The haul did indeed fit into our very small Mazda with little room for anything else. We'll begin work on assembling the area and I'll keep you posted on the final results.

The shoe organizer we picked up.
I used my handy trick of photographing the label so that
I'd have the aisle and bin #'s handy in the marketplace area.

Baby did a good job of inspecting the toy department.

I am also working on editing the manuscript for a friend's book - the deadline is fairly short. It is a trial experiment on whether or not a home business might work out for me in the future. Things are going well, but it has left me with  no time for any other projects around the house. I'm also unsure about the idea of trying to babysit and write at the same time.

Hubby's most recent batch of bread

One endeavor that Hubby has returned to around here is bread making. We've found that with decent bread priced at anywhere from $5 to $7.50 per loaf that it makes sense to bake our own bread at home as much as possible. We don't have a bread maker, but I do have a KitchenAid Stand Mixer which makes the kneading process very straightforward. 

Bread making is fairly time consuming and the only way to go about it is to pick a time period where you will be home for a few hours and can work on other projects while waiting for the bread to rise and bake. We often start our bread right before dinner and finish it up by bedtime. Total time in is about four hours, but most of that is waiting. If you can make several loaves at once, it's worthwhile and besides, who doesn't love the smell of fresh bread?

You can find the recipe for Light Rye Bread on my recipe page.

DIY Rating: 7 for making your own bread.

It's absolutely worth it if you enjoy baking and might even save you some money, 
but it can be time consuming and practice makes perfect. 
I'd encourage anyone to try it at least once.

Monday, September 13, 2010

"Be Fruitful and Multiply!"

"Baby Mamma Drama 2009"                                          Photo credit: I. Tanner

The title of this post is a loose translation from the Book of Genesis that you may have heard before. God is speaking to Adam and Eve and says: "Be fruitful and multiply..." (Genesis 1:28). 

For those out there, including myself, who believe in God, you could say that having children is the ultimate DIY assignment direct from Heaven. I guess you really could pay someone else to make a baby for you, but I think most people are still going the old-fashioned route and doing it themselves. 

For a somewhat humorous look at making a baby...
Ikea Baby

In case you happen to be wondering what happens after you have finally gone through the long months of "multiplying" and you have your bundle of joy at home, my friend, Munchie Mommy, has started a blog to share the insights of her son, Munchie. You will see, at least from her first few posts, that  Munchie is already well on his way with instructing adults on how things around the house work. I am sure that her daughter, Bear Bear, is not far behind. 

The photo at the top is of Munchie Mommy and me from last fall when we were both around eight months pregnant with our baby girls. Please check out her blog:

Out of the Mouths of Babes

DIY Rating: 10

Babies are the hardest project you could ever take on, but really, 
will your basement reno ever love you back in quite the same way?

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Eagle has Landed

This isn't even really news anymore, but in case you hadn't heard, the 2011 IKEA catalogue is out. To me, this is almost as good as Christmas and I need my annual hit. I even refer to the perusal of its glossy pages, filled with low-cost furnishings as "chick smack"! Hubby will tell you that I have once resorted to stealing a copy from a neighbor's mailbox when I noticed mine did not contain an issue - so guard yours carefully if you see me coming!

We will be making an excursion to the IKEA in North York this afternoon. One of the saddest parts of life in Kingston is that we are at least a two hour drive away from the nearest IKEA, so it has become a major trip.

Our poor Mazda with a 16ft ladder last summer.
We did cram in 2 adults + baby + small IKEA love seat in the spring! 

Do you have an IKEA ritual? Mine involves working through the showroom gathering ideas. I love the tiny pencils and the shopping lists and the paper measuring tapes when you enter. Before heading down to the Marketplace, I often stop in the restaurant for a snack and to review my shopping list - or photos of things I saw in the showroom. Then it's on to the "gather items", purge the excess items from the cart, go through the checkout and finish it all with a frozen yoghurt.

Do you have personal IKEA antiques that you just can't let go of? For me, it is the blue woven rug that I bought on my very first trip to IKEA in Stuttgart, Germany. I also have the Alvine Bi curtains that are no longer available and that seem to be a conversation piece in my home.

I think one of the reasons I can't get enough is that they seem to have an answer for every problem in the home and I'm a junkie for the DIY aspect of assembling the stuff. There is a certain thrill in deciphering those pictogram instructions that I swear confound every guy I know! The one key, I learned one Boxing Day while trying to assemble a china hutch, is to never drink-and-assemble. 

Finally, I leave you with a look at a forum for some extreme DIY'ers who not only purchase and assemble IKEA themselves, but also come up with creative ways to reconstruct and repurpose what they bring home.

IKEA Hacker

Here is a super cute play-kitchen recently posted by Emese Varga and Tamas Szakacs, Hungary, Budapest made entirely of repurposed IKEA items.

See more here

DIY Rating: 5  

The addictive nature of IKEA could make your home very full 
of wonderful Swedish things!

IKEA often involves more money and time both buying and
 setting up than the marketing would have you believe.

And, finally, remember to never drink and assemble - 
your marriage might not survive the results!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Books and Miscellanea at the Do-tique 2

On the screen...

Coco Chanel
Starring Shirley Maclaine

This made for tv movie has all the makings of the ultimate chic(k) flick. It's a rags to riches tale with a love story where "the prince" who comes to woo Chanel lives in a beautiful French country manor, has gorgeous Iberian horses to ride, presents jewellery as gifts and generally takes his lady around dressed nicely to fancy parties and polo matches with fine champagne. Naturally all goes awry for a while, but then ends well with Coco's success as a fashion designer.

It is all part of my plan to watch the three movies about Coco Chanel that I have heard about lately. Was there a Chanel fashion trend last year? All three were made between 2008-2009! The other two are:

Coco Before Chanel
Starring Audrey Tatou


Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky
Starring Anna Mouglalis

Off the Bookshelf...

Book Manuscript

I am beginning work on proof reading a manuscript for a book by one of my personal mentors. It is a project I am not at liberty to share details on, but it is a great honour to have been asked for input and I am enjoying reading through it. 

The Littles and their Friends
William T. Little

We were able to bring back this vintage read from Hubby's childhood during our recent trip to Alberta. Baby seems to be enjoying the awesome illustrated vignettes like "The Brook Tinies" who live in a cave near the brook and "The Trash Tinies" who use scraps from The Bigs to make their home.

John Henry Newman: A Biography (Oxford)
Ian Ker

The founder of Wendy's restaurants must have been thinking of this book when he founded the chain - it is a whopper! Weighing in at 700 some odd pages plus notes, only a dedicated nerd would try to worm though this book. I understand it is everything you ever wanted to know and more about the Oxford movement, Oratorians, and Newman's life and career.

Monday, September 6, 2010

DIY Wine Snob

Members of the Society of Dilettanti, by William Say 

(Image Courtesy of Shutterstock)

If you live anywhere between Toronto - Montreal - Ottawa or are in the mood for an overnight trip, you certainly need to check out the Prince Edward County Taste Trail.

Ontario is better known for the Niagara wine region, but Eastern Ontario is certainly in the running (if not surpassing!) for high quality local wines. We have been touring and sampling wines in this area for about 4 years now. Though I have developed a small list of favourites, there seem to be new wineries opening up each year and new wines being introduced by the existing wineries as well.

Business seems to be picking up over time, but the nice thing is that this area is still somewhat "undiscovered". If you are there on an off day, you are likely to have the whole place to yourself. Things are still pretty un-touristy in that there are no admission fees to visit and usually the tasting fees are minimal or waived with purchase.

The Grange of Prince Edward (2010)       Photo Credit: Filia Artis

So then, on to how to become your own wine snob...

If you are like me and know little about wines and tasting techniques, here are the steps:

  1. Ask the server to make a suggestion for you from their list. He or she will usually explain the grape growing and cellaring process and the taste you should expect.
  2. Pretend you are a wine drinker. Copy that wine swirling thing and then breathe deeply into the glass, inhaling the aroma. Take a small sip and slowly enjoy the flavors.
  3. Ask for a second glass of something similar if you like what you had or something totally different if you didn't.
  4. Repeat step (2)
  5. If you like what you've tried, buy a bottle. If not, tell the server why and allow them to make another suggestion or choose not to buy from that winery.

My list of favorites is growing, but there are certainly wines out there that I did not much care for. Since it is still a developing region, you get to experience a few good ones and a few "works in progress", so it is a good place to taste a number of different wines and buy the ones you like.

The other thing to know going into this is that you will see some of the grapes that you are used to, but since Eastern Ontario is a bit different in terms of climate from other major wine regions (France, California, Italy, South America, etc.), you will see a lot of names that are not as common. Growing conditions here are better for cold weather grapes like Riesling, Baco Noir, Pinot Noir, and Gamay Noir.

List of favourites

Sandbanks Estate Winery
Foch Reserve
Sandbanks Estate Winery
The Grange of Prince Edward Inc

2007 Trumpour’s Mill 
Estate Bottled Pinot Noir
  By Chadsey's Cairns
2007 Gamay Noir
Wapoos Estates Winery
Geisenheim Semi-Dry

The most excellently snobbish part in all of this is that you will have progressed beyond running to the store every time you have unexpected guests, as your cupboard will have a small stock and secondly, many of these wines are not available in stores, so you can remain smug in knowing you are serving a one of a kind wine that you personally chose during an "exclusive VIP tasting".

Did I mention that some of the higher end wines are still under $20 a bottle and that a lot of these are available through online ordering from the wineries?

Good websites to check out for more information:

DIY Rating: 8

It's a lot more time consuming than going to the local store, 
but the tasting is a lot of fun and you can act like a real-life wine connaisseur!