Sunday, October 31, 2010

Books and Miscellanea at the Do-tique 5

I hope everyone is enjoying a lovely Halloween evening...The weather and the fall colours here today were just perfect. 

I've been a bit absent from the blogosphere lately thanks to some crazy stuff going on over the past week and most of my "doing" has taken place in front of the computer instead of with paintbrush in hand.

I did manage to bake some more bread and some more granola last week and start on the final touches of our basement make-over. This afternoon featured a trip to IKEA for cozy fall/winter bedding for the master bedroom, which I'm excited to put together tomorrow.

So for this Sunday night, I leave you with an update on the books and miscellanea here at The Do-tique:

Image Credit: Kitty Kelley

I was delighted to finally come across a copy of the newest biography on Oprah at the public library instead of having to read it in snippets at the local bookstore. As much as it might seem that an unauthorized biography of America's "Queen of Talk" would be low-brow reading, I couldn't resist wanting to read more about a woman who has been on TV daily for almost the entirety of my own lifetime. Ms. Kelley's writing is that of an "investigative journalist" and I feel that she seeks to be somewhat sensationalistic in places and gives us an almost tabloid like "tell-all" story. In one place it is mentioned that Oprah was so good at the smutty shows she used to do in the 80's and 90's because there really wasn't much that hadn't happened in her life, so it was easy for her to relate personally to her guests and their wacky situations. 

My readings in university took a turn into documents about well-known mediaeval figures written by their peers. We would read what the individual had written to his audiences and about himself and then read two or three accounts written about that same person by his friends and his adversaries and at the end, try to devise an idea of what was behind what was motivating each person to paint such a different picture of the same individual. Ms. Kelley accuses Oprah of sometimes painting an embellished image of herself - she shows her childhood and adolescence as worse than it may have been and her current public image as much warmer and friendlier than those who work with her might think. Ms. Kelley's picture certainly highlights all of the most sensationalistic moment's in Oprah's life. My guess (and Ms. Kelley's guess in the intro) is that her friends and her "official biographer" would choose to reflect longer on Oprah's good works and astoundingly generous and talented personality. I imagine that the truth is somewhere in  between.

The biography talks a fair bit about Oprah's aspirations as an actress and both her successful and less-glowing appearances in movies over the years. The interesting part is that it seems that Oprah's greatest role is the one that she has played in the process of acting out her own life. The biography almost reads as a very dramatic movie script and I understand that it may indeed be turned into a movie one day.

Overall, it is satisfying my curiosity about this very important media icon and makes me wonder if we will ever have an answer to why Oprah's staying power seems to have surpassed that of most of her daytime television competitors and her own icons of popular culture like Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley. As did Oprah, these stars also suffered a litany of childhood traumas, experienced overwhelming, godlike status through fame and fortune, had the power to block out those who were not willing to accept the untruths they wanted to hear about themselves, but unlike Oprah (so far), they ended up succumbing to their own self-destructive behavior. Maybe an addiction to pecan pies and fried chicken isn't quite as deadly as prescription drugs?...

A decent and thankfully brief review appeared at the time of publication in the Globe and Mail.

DIY Rating: 6
Interesting but fluffy reading on a woman 
who has truly captured the "zeitgeist" of female
American media consumers for two generations.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Apple Bliss

Photo Credit: Filia Artis

Back in elementary school, my friends and I made up a secret language so that we could sit behind the teacher's desk during free time and talk privately. The one word that I remember best was "a-pop-pop-lop-e" which meant "apple". 

Needless to say, apple also is usually another word for "autumn" around here. We've already been through a bushel of Macintosh apples, which is an early crop, and I was able to pick up another bushel of Ida Reds, which are usually the last ones to be ready in a season. It seems this year that the entire season is about two weeks earlier than usual thanks to a warm spring and hot summer.

Photo Credit: Filia Artis

So, "what's in the oven," you ask? Apple crumble, naturally! It's about the easiest dessert known to mankind. You can learn all my secrets on my recipe page. The great thing is that with this one, if you don't have an ingredient, just substitute something else, it will taste good - guaranteed! There will be a gluten-dairy-free version there as well.

Photo Credit: Filia Artis

Baby and I stopped off at Ostrander's during our tour of the County on Monday to buy the apples. I love their sign and I love their apples. There is an option to pick your own or pick up a basket of ready-picked. You can find them on County Rd. 8 just outside of Waupoos.

DIY Rating: 10

The drive to the apple orchard features beautiful views 
of autumn leaves turning, pumpkin farms, rolling hills and the lake. 

The apples are also excellent and the Ida Reds 
will keep for some time in a cool place.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Barley Days of Autumn

Cottage on the Bay of Quinte - Manly MacDonald 
Image Credit: Gallery Gevik

No trip to Prince Edward County is complete without a few tasty treat stops...

After antique hunting in and around Belleville, our crew headed over to the Barley Days Brewery between Bloomfield and Picton to pick up some beer.

Photo Credit: Filia Artis

Baby was a most skillful taster and was made "Official Brew Mascot" for the day.

Photo Credit: Filia Artis

The beers are made in small batches and custom brewed by their Brewmeister, Alex. (He was there, but moving around so quickly, we didn't get a chance to snap his picture!) The summer beer that we tried and enjoyed this year was the Loyalist Lager and the new one that I brought home was called the County IPA.

An interesting thing about the brewery is that some of the beer labels feature artwork by Canadian Artist Manly MacDonald 1889-1971 (shown above and at top of post). MacDonald was a contemporary of the Group of Seven. Anyone who is familiar with those painters will recognize the loose resemblance of the MacDonald's impressionistic style with their work. What is unique is that he painted such pastoral and soft landscapes in contrast to several of the Group of Seven artists whose works show the more rugged landscapes of northern Ontario. You can see some of MacDonald's artwork on the beer labels below:

The amazing thing about MacDonald's art is that he really captured beautifully what the county actually looks like! When one gazes out the window of the brewery, the agricultural scene with the rolling grain fields and the lake just beyond are just like in the paintings! 

A short biography about MacDonald can be found here.

Barley Days Brewery
13730 Loyalist Parkway ( Highway 33 )
Picton, Ontario

DIY Rating: 10

Well, are you surprised I would rate this so highly?? 
It's beer, and good beer at that, and all you have to do is show up and enjoy a few samples!

I could DIY that daily for sure!

Notes from the County

The beautiful October weather yesterday lent itself wonderfully to a drive out to Belleville to visit Funk & Gruven A-Z antiques and to have a chance to meet Mike, the shop owner.

There are different levels of antiques out there. The first kind are the "finds". These are usually items that no one would ever normally bring into their home. It just so happens that the finder discovers one of these marvelous pieces hidden under a pile of other stuff and can envision how it would look after some "renovation". Typically, "finds" come cheap, but cost dearly in terms of work input to make them great showpieces.

The second kind of antiques are what I like to call "founds" meaning that they are pieces that are ready to be installed and enjoyed without much, if any, work. Funk & Gruven seems to specialize more in "founds" than "finds" as most of their stock was made up of beautiful pieces that seems pretty much ready to be loved. They were on target in terms of having classic items that are certainly in-vogue at the moment.

Here are a few pieces I would have gladly taken home with me:

Wheat Sheaf Table

Detail of Carving on Oak Desk

China Cupboard from Ireland

Oak Headboard

Loved this mirror

All photos: Filia Artis

Funk & Gruven A-Z
52 Bridge Street East
Belleville, Ontario

DIY Rating: 10 

Worth a visit in person or check out 
their wares though their online catalogue.

Most items were ready to go, so no need for a 
major "fixing up" project if you're not a DIY'er.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Antiquing we will go...

Photo Credit: American Collector Magazine

Today, I will be leaving all the projects and recipes behind to head out on an antiquing adventure with long-time friend, fellow blogger and creative master-mind, Jane Speed of Carte Blanche Creative in Toronto.


We'll be scoping out Funk & Gruven Antiques in Belleville (among other antique shops), trying out lunch on the beach and hunting down some apples and local cheeses.

Be sure to check out Jane and her team's blog at Carte Blanche Creative Blog and if you're looking for a creative group that is simply awesome, these are the people!

PS, This is an unsolicited rave about their excellence!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Books and Miscellanea at the Do-tique 4

On the stereo...

I recently re-organized our fairly small CD collection here at The Do-tique and rediscovered Peter Gabriel's Up album (2002). I had forgotten how much I like this recording. Most of us know Gabriel from his days as a member of the prog rock band, Genesis and what I remember best are the more popular hits of the 1980's.

This record deals a lot with overcoming personal demons, death and re-birth and there are some lyrics that I think are particularly good. The music itself is extremely complex and can even be described as "haunting" in some places.

In the song Darkness, Gabriel explores the experience of facing his own fears and the demons deep within himself that represent the darker parts of his personality. The music suitably creates an atmosphere of terror and then relief:

when I allow it to be 
there's no control over me 
I have my fears 
but they do not have me 

walking through the undergrowth, to the house in the woods 
the deeper I go, the darker it gets 
I peer through the window 
knock at the door 
and the monster I was 
so afraid of 
lies curled up on the floor 
is curled up on the floor just like a baby boy 

I cry until I laugh

Another song on the album is I Grieve. I always like music that tries to take us through that incomprehensible feeling of shock that we experience in the initial moments and days following a death or a loss. Gabriel captures this well:

It was only one hour ago 
It was all so different then 
There's nothing yet has really sunk in 
Looks like it always did 
This flesh and bone 
It's just the way that you were tied in 
Now there's no-one home...

The news that truly shocks is the empty empty page 
While the final rattle rocks it's empty empty cage 
And I can't handle this 

The song ends with a fairly upbeat tempo and the sentiment that humans only live for short moments in time. Life carries on and we are more than the things we surround ourselves with in this life time.

Finally, there is Signal to Noise which is really an incredible song both musically and lyrically. For me, it speaks of the modern world and the existential crisis that comes from so many empty voices bombarding us daily. Deep inside, there is still a truth, but we have to "wipe out the noise" to hear it:

Man I'm losing sound and sight
Of all those who can tell me wrong from right
When all things beautiful and bright
Sink in the night
Yet there's still something in my heart
That can find a way
To make a start
So turn up the signal
Wipe out the noise

Interestingly, we are introduced to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's tremendous vocals in this song. Ali Khan was a well known musician from Pakistan, primarily a singer of Qawwali, the devotional music of the Sufis (a mystical tradition within Islam). He passed away in 1997, before Up was released. Prior recordings were sampled into the final version of Signal to Noise.

This is an earlier version of the song and the video is from some years before the Up album was released, but it shows Gabriel and Ali Khan performing together.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Pumpkin Paradise

A view of the Eureka Pumpkin Festival. October 1947
Photo Credit: Life

Have you been to the grocery store this week? Did you notice that all the baking supplies were  discounted? Now that Thanksgiving is over, there seems to be a sale on anything related to that holiday. 

Photo Credit: Filia Artis

One thing that was massively on sale (besides turkey, which I also happened to pick up) was canned pumpkin puree. I've thought about making it myself from scratch in the past, but it always sounds like a lot more work than necessary. 

Photo Credit: Filia Artis

I was inspired by Trina at A Country Farmhouse to try baking some pumpkin spice loaf. It has the welcome effect of making your home smell like heaven! If you are trying to sell your place, be sure to bake some right before an open house...

The recipe was pretty easy to make. It was really the same as any basic loaf. I doubled the recipe and the loaves came out very tasty and are highly recommended by Hubby who insisted that he would like to have eaten an entire loaf by himself in one sitting!

Photo Credit: Filia Artis

Since there was a bit of pumpkin left over, I decided to try making some pumpkin spice granola with cranberries - especially useful since we ran out of breakfast cereal yesterday morning. As I learned about a year ago, making your own granola and muesli is extremely easy and affordable - especially in comparison to buying boxed cereal. It is also about three hundred times tastier! The recipe I found at Two Peas and Their Pod turned out excellently. I substituted in some fresh cranberries that I'd also bought at the post-Thanksgiving grocery sale and they came out nice. I am storing my granola in the fridge just because of the fresh berries.

So here is the pumpkin loaf recipe at Epicurious and the cereal recipe at Two Peas and Their Pod. Both are also linked in on my recipe page.

PS. The granola calls for "Pumpkin Spice Mix" - if you google it, you can easily make your own PSM without having to buy an extra ingredient - it's really just cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger.

DIY Rating: 

10 for the granola which was a totally no-sweat recipe.

8 for the pumpkin bread which was easy, but created a full sink of dishes to make. 
The bonus is that it was super delicious and way, way better 
than the shipped in version available at Starbucks for a small fortune per slice!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Thanksgiving Day the Easy Way

Turkey dinner from scratch...
Photo Credit: Corbis

Usually, Thanksgiving for me is a big day of cooking. In the past, we've either had guests at our home or visited my mom's house near Toronto. 

In the case of the former, I spend about two weeks planning, shopping, pre-cleaning the house, doing food prep, cooking, serving and then cleaning up afterward. I truly enjoy making up the dinner and having my family and friends over, but I will admit that it is an exhausting process and takes a fair amount of skill to get right. Last year, I fell asleep on the couch for about two hours after the dinner was over and missed out on a lot of the visiting - I was also nine months pregnant.

When it comes to visiting family, we have a four hour drive (each way) through Toronto traffic. (Which can be ridiculously bad on a long weekend!)

So...This year, we decided to focus on the two things that matter most about this holiday: giving thanks for all the blessings in our lives and enjoying some down time as a family at home. We were sorry to miss out on seeing our extended family, but we did just complete three trips in the past two months for family related occasions, so it seemed that we'd done our share of traveling. 

Instead of spending the day in the kitchen or on the highway, we slept in,

Photo Credit: Filia Artis

went for a lovely walk in the woods along the waterfront,

Photo Credit: Filia Artis

and enjoyed a traditional turkey dinner at Aunt Lucy's, a restaurant close by to us here in Kingston. The place has been around since 1947 and is truly an institution. The dinner was terrific and the total cost, even with some wine, was far less than I would have spent on groceries for something similar at home. The final plus sides were that we could come home to a clean house and just relax afterward - no dishes to do or silverware to put away - and some one else will be in charge of picking up after Baby's somewhat messy attempt at joining us for dinner (always leave a bigger tip when dining out with little ones!).

Photo Credit: Filia Artis

The gardens on the restaurant property
Photo Credit: Filia Artis

Another option, in case you are feeling the burn-out of cooking up the whole meal yourself this year, is to order in a turkey dinner.

Aqua Terra by Clarke, which we would rate as THE TOP restaurant here in Kingston, was offering a full turkey dinner for six to eight people for about $199. It included a whole turkey, fully cooked, all the trimmings and dessert - all you needed to do was book the time that you wanted it ready for and pick it up. At about $25/person, this is a very reasonable option!

Since there were only two of us this year, we decided going out would be better than catering in. However, in future I will be looking for this sort of deal! Perhaps there is something similar in your area...

Photo Credit: Filia Artis

However you choose to celebrate, I wish all my readers a wonderful Thanksgiving and many good blessings in the coming year.

DIY Ratings: 
5 for doing all the work yourself and 
10 for considering a restaurant or caterer

There are other options besides spending the holiday as a kitchen wench! 

Having Thanksgiving dinner made by someone else leaves
you able to simply dress up nice, enjoy your family time 
and your meal and never lift a finger!

You can still be a kitchen god or goddess the rest of the year...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Painting the Town Blue

My movie pick for tonight...

Just a quick post tonight before I retire to an overly dramatic and strange foreign film and a cup of tea for the evening...

I just painted our old milk cubby by the back door a blue-green colour that we had left over from a piece of furniture we did last year.

It left me pondering two things...

1. Should I have painted with melamine right onto latex without priming?

2. Should I be painting after 8pm seeing as I managed to make a fairly good mess out of an otherwise clean and freshly painted area?

We'll know in the morning, I guess.

DIY Rating: 0

Next time, I'll read instructions before painting 
and will never pick up a brush after 6pm again!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Shampooing the Shag

I must admit that carpeting is probably my least favorite flooring. Having grown up with both green shag carpeting and later, orange shag carpeting, I think I developed an aversion at a young age. The main problem for me is with maintenance and unless the guy in the photo above is on his way to your home, that means both vacuuming and the periodic steam cleaning. 

On a side note, why do all the Google searches for "man vacuuming" come back with these strange fantasy images of men in boxer shorts vacuuming while their woman sits and reads? Is this seriously supposed to be a turn-on?

Photo credits: Corbis Images

So, when we bought our house last year, one of the first things to go was the cream colored carpeting on the stairs that had turned to brown and developed a serious labrador retriever odour. Luckily, there was beautiful oak underneath, which we had sanded and re-varnished. That left us with the basement area, which was also carpeted and which also suffered from a fair bit of staining and smelling.

Photo credit: Filia Artis

Yep, I know, pretty ugly! 
You can see some of the staining even in this poor photo!

Our hope was that a good cleaning would allow us to salvage what was down there. (Unfortunately, that was not the case!) After debating between a DIY steam cleaning and a professional job, here is how we made the decision to go with a pro:

DIY Steam Cleaning

For this, you will need to rent one of those carpet cleaning machines that they sometimes have at grocery stores. We looked into the Home Depot, which has them available for rental as well.

The cost for rental was $30 for a 24hr day or $21 for 4 hours. In addition to this, you need to factor in the carpet shampoo that you will need and that will be based on the size of your room and the condition of the carpet. The bottles run between $9 and $18. We figured for our room that we'd need to spend at least $18. Finally, you may need to buy a chemical that will help with pre-treating any stains that you might have. 

The steps involved:
  • Remove furniture
  • Vacuum room
  • Price out and pick up machine
  • Purchase shampoo and chemicals
  • Pre-treat stains
  • Use carpet cleaning machine
  • Possibly go over again with machine
  • Let dry and return machine to store

We figured that this would be a full-day project for us and that the equipment cost would work out to a total of approximately $60. The risk here is that it is possible to use the incorrect methods on your carpet and to end up with too much water in the carpeting and the under-pad. If it takes longer than 12 hours to dry, you've got too much water.

Here is a good tip sheet in case you decide to go the DIY route.

Hiring a Pro Carpet Cleaner

The Pro's who did it for us

The key here is to shop around a learn as much as you can about their processes and equipment and then to decide which method works best for you. My preference was to hire a company that did not sub-contract out the service to another provider. For example, Sears simply hires someone of their choosing to come to your home and you are not actually choosing who does the work or how they do it.

I also wanted to go with a company that used steam instead of water in hopes that there would be less chance of water damage.

Since our carpeting was in what I would call very rough shape, I requested that a representative from the company I was considering come to my home to evaluate the situation and to let me know what kind of improvement would be reasonable. 

The cost to hire a company that came with a steam cleaning truck was about $100 for a 330 sq. foot area. They pre-treated stains and went over the job more than once to get the best results possible. ie. They were not done in 15 minutes - I've heard about crews that come in, speed over the job once and then are gone. It all dried in a pretty reasonable amount of time and no damage was caused. I was able to get less expensive quotes in the $75 range from other companies.

The final evaluation

Time-wise, the pro's saved me at least $80 (4hrs x $20/hr) in personal time because I didn't have to drive anywhere to get equipment or read any instructions, etc. In terms of cost, they were about $40 more expensive than attempting a DIY, but I had the peace of mind that they were going to do it correctly and not mess up my carpet any further - or at least I'd have someone else to hold responsible if things had gone terribly wrong!

Our reasoning here was that replacing the carpeting would cost about $1,500 - $3,000, so $100 to try to salvage it even if we did have to resort to ripping it out later was only a small fraction of that replacement cost, so it was worth a try. Sadly, the cleaning really wasn't enough and the areas that were unsalvageable just looked worse next to the areas that actually came out clean. I will admit that I felt the representative may have given us higher expectations than he should have. He would have lost this particular job by telling us we were damaged beyond what a cleaning would fix, but I would have hired him to come in and clean the new carpet in a year's time and probably remained a regular customer.

DIY Rating: 2

It's not that this is a very complicated job, 
but for a small bit more, you can save a lot of hassle
 by hiring a pro and spend the rest of the day 
working on your "outdoor carpet" - the lawn!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Books and Miscellanea at the Do-tique 3

On the screen...

On the small screen, I have been watching both Gossip Girl and Mad Men online. I just heard this afternoon that the next season of The Tudors is also available and will be tucking into some royal drama a little later tonight...

From the stereo...

Hubby has acquired three CDs in honour of his birthday and we have them on rotation. Baby's favourite is the Muddy Waters one.

Off of the bookshelf...

I'm also starting into my next book club book, but not entirely sure it is a particularly good book. Since I'm a true keener, I will read to the end, no matter what, but I'm dubious as to whether this one is a winner. My question is whether the sections told from the first person perspective of the pet tortoise are perhaps taking the concept of representing the "voice of the other" in literature a bit far?

Finally, Hubby has been permitted the loan of Planet Narnia. You can read an excellent review on All Manner of Thing. Dr. Ward was so kind as to comment personally on this post, so be sure to check out the comment section as well. As a mediaevalist myself and a long time lover of the Narnia Chronicles, I have some interest in the book's argument that Lewis constructed the Narnia series out of imagery associated with seven heavens of the mediaeval cosmos. Dr. Ward's website is at: Planet Narnia for more info about the book. 

I'm pleased to share the warning that came printed on the bookmark included with this copy from Dr. Burrell:

For him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not, this book from its owner, let it change into a serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him be struck with palsy, and all his members be blasted. Let him languish in pain crying aloud for mercy, and let there be no surcease to his agony till he sing in dissolution. Let bookworms gnaw his entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not, and when at last he goeth to his final punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him for ever.

I have to say, that probably didn't come from a do-it-yourself bookmark kit at Michael's!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Blueberry Bliss

Just a short post tonight to wrap up a nice Saturday. 

Try these blueberry muffins. The recipe is from Williams-Sonoma, but I promise, they are about as easy as making blueberry pancakes and came out amazingly delicious! Certain children, and adults, were unable to resist them!

You can find the recipe here.

DIY Rating: 10
Easy to make and easy to eat!

PS. My "muffin tops" look a bit lopsided because I used the convection bake setting on my oven. I would recommend baking them on a normal bake setting so this doesn't happen to you! 

Friday, October 1, 2010

Shepherd's Pie

Shepherd's Pie under construction  Photo: Filia Artis

As I mentioned yesterday, there has been a bit of a cooking frenzy here. I thought I would share at least one of the recipes I made - Shepherd's Pie. Originally, this came out of some website years ago, but today, it has become a dish that I make out of my head and have tweaked things over the years quite a bit.

The key here is to multitask and try to prep and cook the components roughly at the same time, otherwise, this recipe can take a while to make. The mess is substantial, but each step is really easy and you end up with about eight servings at the end, so worth the effort!

You have to somewhat judge how many potatoes and carrots to use based on the size of your casserole dishes. Leftovers can always be eaten or just frozen for another dinner, so I always try to aim on the side of a bit extra.

My final tip is to make this in those foil pans you can get at the dollar store so that they are easy to store and there is no clean-up at the end. We find they are reusable and otherwise, can be recycled.

Macedonian shepherds enjoying lunch circa 1962 

DIY Rating: 8

Tasty and suitably easy for the uninitiated cook. 

I simply warn you that the clean-up afterward involves a 
few more pots and pans than I enjoy washing, 
so make this as a double batch and freeze at least one pie!