Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

" Wild Turkey," by John James Audubon, 1830

An ode to Christmas Dinner...

Dear Mr. Turkey,
At first you were quick
You tried to run away
You were happy being free range.
But then, the butcher caught you
And delivered you into my hands.
I introduced you to a new sort of range.
Three hours later, 
and I can barely move.
Little chance now
That I'll be fast enough to catch your friends!

With all the Christmas celebrations going on, I've been thinking this week about the opening scene in this cult classic, Die Feuerzangenbowle. It's Christmastime and the characters are sitting around a bowl of Feuerzangenbowle toasting their days together as schoolboys...I think it translates well even if you don't follow the dialogue at all!

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas from here under the Christmas tree at The Do-tique!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Solace on the Solstice

Alphonse Mucha, A Winter Tale (1917)

It is a bright, sunny day outside and not too cold, though wintry enough with a nice covering of snow. Hard to believe that today is the darkest day of the year. All the same, I have found something that has helped me to look forward celebrating today! I recently came across a beer from Montreal brewed specially for this occasion and since the sun will be "over the yardarm" earlier than usual today, I won't have to wait too much longer to enjoy...

Photo Credit: Filia Artis

My snowman is keeping a bottle of Solstice d'hiver by Dieu du Ciel! cold for me. 

The website explains: This noble winter beer is brown in colour with flaming red highlights. Its taste is delicately sweet and liquor-like with a hint of burnt caramel coming from the malt and a prolonged boiling time. It is a very bitter beer with aromas of hops and alcohol, and flavours reminiscent of red fruit brought by the English-type yeast we use to ferment it. The aftertaste is accentuated by the wonderful flavour of hops. Solstice d’Hiver is brewed only once a year, and is then aged for 4 to 5 months before being sold. This aging process is necessary to achieve an ideal equilibrium between the sharp bitterness and the other flavours in the beer. 

Hard to resist!

The good news? The days will start to get longer from here on forward! 

Happy Solstice!


Filia Artis

PS. The stereo is playing a mix CD entitled "Scotch on the Rocks" a friend once made for me. Full of Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Nick Cave and other "life is tough" singers. Perfect for a "dark" day!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Bread Goes Viral!

Are you friends with Sarah Richardson yet? We recently became Facebook buddies. Ok, well me and about oh 5,500 people! She has been baking some mysterious bread and uploading photos onto her profile. I say "mysterious" because her photos show the bread baking in covered casserole dishes. (For those who have never baked bread, this is highly unusual!)

Photo Credit: Sarah Richardson
Since today is going to be a bread and gingerbread making day - at least eventually...I was curious about Sarah's recipe. It turns out that she seems to be using a recipe that appeared in the New York Times recently.

It also turns out that I have another crafty friend, Corina, who just happened to email me the very same recipe last week. It is from Jim Lahey at the Sullivan Street Bakery. You can view the recipe on my recipe page.

Photo Credit: Sarah Richardson

The finished product from Sarah's kitchen looked awesome. I mean really, does anything she makes look bad?

If you are a novice baker and hesitant about the kneading part or want to try out something kind of experimental, this sounds like an interesting recipe. From my perspective, the prep mess required to make this is about the same as regular bread and the time requirement, though mostly taken up by waiting, is a pretty big commitment. 

The temptation is that having heard about the recipe now from two different places in a single week is to take this as a sign from above that perhaps THIS is the bread to make.

I wonder how many kitchens are whipping up a batch as I speak thanks to the ease of sharing the recipe via the internet? Imagine how wide the recipe has spread in just a short amount of time thanks to Facebook posts, online newspapers, email and blogs? Truly amazing!

If you give this one a go, be sure to email or write in with a pic and I'll post your very own handy work on The Do-tique!

DIY Rating: 

Give it a try and let me know!
I'd say probably a 6. No-knead sounds easy, 
but 20 hours of rising time vs. 2 for normal bread 
seems like a bit of a pain.

PS. Besides being a crafty lady, Corina runs a great blog on writing and teaching children. Check her out at MyLuckyPencil!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Winter Solstice

Winter Horse Riding

We are coming up to the darkest days of the year this week with the Winter Solstice occurring on December 21st (Tuesday). 

I was listening to some beautiful music on CBC radio this afternoon live from Háteigs Church, Reykjavík, Iceland. It is the perfect time of year to think about Iceland, since they are so close to the Arctic Circle and the contrast between the darkness of the days and the light of Christmas is so stark. (Yes, Canada is kind of an Arctic Circle sort of place too, but let's face it, most Canadians live pretty far from it, which is not the case for the Icelandic people!)

Music samples are at Amazon.

The feast day of the patron saint and only native saint of Iceland, St. Thorlakur Thornalli (1133-1193), is also celebrated this week on December 23. He happens to have lived during my favourite century, by the way. The traditional celebrations very much resemble my own plans for this week.

According to Wikipedia, St. Thorlak's Day (Þorláksmessa) is considered the last day of preparations before Christmas. Therefore, on St. Thorlak's Day, the house is cleaned and preparations for the Christmas meal are begun. Most people in Reykjavík go into town in the night to meet others and do the last shopping before Christmas. Fish was usually eaten on Þorláksmessa since December 23 was the last day of the Catholic Christmas fast.

Speaking of Christmas fasts and Advent, did you know that beer is traditionally a penitential drink especially appropriate for Advent and Lent? My favorite right now is the Great Lakes Brewery Winter Beer.

I guess it's time to get back to all that house cleaning, meal preparing, present wrapping and beer drinking and in the name of St. Thorlak, enjoy this last week of Advent!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Whaz' Up?

Photo Credit: SuperStock


1. When is the last time your kitchen looked this clean?
A. Yesterday, my cleaning lady came. It lasted an hour.

2. When is the last time you wore heels in your kitchen?
A. It hasn't happened yet.

And now, for a little update from The Do-tique...

We are all a bit in shock that Christmas is only a week away! The tree is up and has stayed up with almost no damage inflicted by Baby (yet!). Oh, I'm so glad that I have a girl and not a little boy! The Nativity scene is also displayed and we've sent all our Christmas cards and I even had time to build a little drinks bar to spread some festive sauce (uh, I mean Cheer!).

All Photos: Filia Artis

The cookie baking bonanza has also begun. And yes, I looked at the Martha Stewart Christmas book. I even brought it home from the library. However, Hubby has forbidden me from trying to make the victorian cottage out of gingerbread. 

Image Credit: Martha Stewart

A few years ago, I attempted just the dutch townhouse gingerbread cookies from this Martha cake. It was an eight hour process for one batch of cookies. (This cake gets a DIY Rating of 1! Don't go there unless you really, really like baking!)

Photo Credit and Recipe: Martha Stewart

There was once a blogger in Holland who was brave enough to make this cake herself. Check out Heleen's awesome work at Cookie Journey

If you're looking for a much more idiot-proof type of Christmas cookie, I can suggest these sugar cookies from Joy of Baking. I made them last night and they are very straightforward. My strategy is to do a few cookie dough batches in advance of Christmas and then freeze or refrigerate until closer to the date and save the rolling and baking for then.

Another easy recipe that has been suggested to me by Maureen in my craft group is this one for No-Fail Sugar N' Spice cookies. It is supposed to be resistant to damage from rolling and re-rolling and generally being over-handled by children.

Top tips for Christmas cookies - use unsalted butter and use lots of it! When the recipe says "cream" they mean it, so make sure your butter is nice and fluffy before proceeding to the next step. Handling the dough too much is what makes for tough cookies - tread lightly with your fingers! Finally, when in doubt, hit up the bakery! Nothing like home-faked if it means avoiding a pre-Christmas stress attack!

In other news...

The big DIY project of the month has been the job of exploring and researching the idea of starting my own business or at least a new way of doing business as an employee. I am inspired by all the other mother-bloggers out there who are raising children and running successful businesses. The main goal is to find a way of continuing my career that is somewhat compatible with family life. I don't believe there is really such a thing as a perfect "work-life balance," it will always be a game of tug and pull, but I do believe there can be a better way for women to make it function. Any tips or ideas or suggestions are welcome!

DIY Ratings:

O for wearing high heels to clean the house,

10 for setting up a festive holiday bar at home,

7 for easy cookies, but 10 for home faking if you hate home baking!

Readers can assign a DIY rating for me on the business idea...

Friday, December 10, 2010

Welcome to Canada!

Warning Note: Christmas Gift Spoilers!
If you are Hubby or on my card list, you may not want to read further...

1939 Map of Canada                             Image Credit: Etsy

Though I mentioned earlier that we are observing Advent and trying not to get too caught up in "Crazy Preparation for Christmas Commercial Season," I decided to get going on my Christmas shopping yesterday, which officially counts as a commercial Christmas preparation activity.

My shopping often begins with a trip to the mall. I rarely buy much at the mall, but it satisfies my curiosity and confirms my usual feeling that there is little there of interest to me. 

For the first time, I decided to try out online shopping this year. It is something that is pretty established in the US, but really hadn't fully taken root in Canada. Most of my favorite stores didn't ship to Canada and often the websites were cumbersome and the shipping costs unaffordable. Maybe you are one of those people who have an auntie or friend with a US shipping address who hordes your online purchases until your next visit???

This year, a new world has dawned and yes, the times have definitely changed! I would say that if you already have an idea of what you are looking for this year, online shopping is absolutely the way to go! This new world offers discounts, prices in Canadian dollars, free shipping and quick and easy to use websites. I'm so much happier at home in front of my tree than I would be slogging through a busy parking lot.

The other innovation in our fair country, which has brought us up to the US standard, is that most of the retailers will now allow you to return the items ordered online to their store locations, so there is no concern about having to pay for return shipping.

A big tip that I would give is to search online for coupon codes before hitting the checkout button. I was amazed to pick up a 25% and a 10% off code by searching the name of the store and "online coupon code 2010" on google!

My first online purchase of the year was the Christmas cards that I ordered from Tiny Prints. Free shipping and a $10 discount for personalized cards that I didn't have to drive anywhere to get. They arrived on time and I'm delighted with the outcome. The only downside is that 30 cards cost me about $50, so more than a boxed set on sale, but about right for something personalized and custom ordered.

Next, I tried out Sears which has free shipping right now and some sales. It went very smoothly and I found the exact sleigh for Baby that I wanted and that I was having trouble finding in the stores. I wish that The Bay would get with the online shopping program since they are so big into gift registries!

One of the newest retailers in the Canadian market is Gap, which also sells Old Navy and Banana Republic. They were offering free shipping on orders of $50 or more, the items I wanted were on sale, I picked up some further discount codes and they have in-store returns. 

Photo Credit: Getty

Next on the list, classic online retailers and Both had free shipping on orders over $25 and the pricing on the actual items was good on each site. An advantage is that they sell such a wide variety of items that you can cover almost all your books, music, toys, electronics and accessories in one place!

Prezies for Hubby...Done!

Image Credit: Kidscreen

All this multi-national commercial online retailing aside, I also love being able to go to the downtown shopping area and find specialty items that aren't available anywhere else. Since I like having stores in that part of town, I do my best to support them by shopping there as much as possible. We've picked up a few handmade wooden toys in the farmer's market and at the independent toy shop as well as some hand knitted items from another store. I also try to support the local butcher and baker by skipping those items at the supermarket and relying on their businesses.

Now, if only the Beer Store and the LCBO would get into online retail...Have you ever shopped at the liquor store before 10am on a weekday? I tried it today just to beat the Friday afternoon holiday crowds. It is a very, very strange experience! Apparently most of the customers were using their pockets rather than shopping bags to transport their goods home!

DIY Rating: 8 for Christmas shopping online

It has gotten a lot easier and more affordable in 
Canada compared to a year or two ago.

Mix up online shopping for generic items with some specialty shopping 
in your local neighborhood and avoid a major trip to the mall!

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Image Credit: Getty

In case you are still shopping for a tree skirt to complete your ultimate Christmas tannenbaum, I have spotted some nice looking ones at Zellers in the Alfred Sung Home collection and at The Bay. All Christmas decor is on sale at The Bay right now and both stores had some pretty decorations!

Happy hunting!

Filia Artis

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Do Not Attempt at Home

So just a quick note for today...

Hubby decided to get an early start this morning on the office closet which we're turning into a printing and filing station. I was proud of him and grateful since I've been hoping to get this project done for a while. At the same time, he used a power sander to smooth his plaster patch-up work without removing anything from the room or sealing the area off or putting down a drop cloth. Now, I've got at least a day's worth of dust to clean up from the living room, dining room and kitchen let alone the office, which is full of book shelves and paperwork.

Do you ever feel like home improvements are all about one step forward and one step backward all at the same time?

My good friend once reminded me, "They do this to say they love you."

DIY Rating: 0

If you're a handy hubby, always check with your wife before doing a messy job. 
She'll either tell you how to minimize the mess or if she approves 
your approach, you can tell her it was her idea to do it that way
and hope for the best!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Reader Question: Tree Skirt

Vintage Ornaments Advent Calendar

Dear Mistress of Home Decor,

I need advice. We need to buy a "tree skirt" for our Christmas tree. I've looked at the ones at Canadian Tire, and they are functional, but nearly as ugly as sin. Can you think of a store that might sell Christmas tree stands and skirts that have some aesthetic appeal?

I received the missive above from a loyal reader recently and thought that I would share the advice that I gave to him here. 

To address the easy part of the question first, we bought our tree stand about two years ago from Canadian Tire and were extremely satisfied with it. As one person commented online, "it should be called the Marriagesaver." Easy to use, easy to store because the legs come off and the tree didn't fall over. Just a bit pricey at $30+ since it's really just plastic.

The Omega Tree Stand
My first instinct here would be to head to HomeSense. Their merchandise tends to be a hodge-podge of styles, but usually there is at least something luxurious and traditional looking if you happen to be there on the right day. As I clarified for my reader, it is not the same as Home Outfitters but possibly the same as Home Goods (in the US) - not confusing in the least!

The Bay in Toronto at Yonge and Bloor always has a lovely Christmas section and might be a good place to try. I also saw some awesome red velvet skirts and other pretty decorations last night at Loblaws.

I was surprised to find that Restoration Hardware didn't have any on their website and that the selection at Pottery Barn is limited and very pricey!

And then there is my favorite Christmas decor theme-park, IKEA! I would suggest just doing a one-stop shop right there for your decorations! Sadly, of all the interesting decorations that IKEA sells, they did not seem to have a tree skirt on their website. I would offer this up as an idea - purchase a throw blanket and drape it around the bottom of your tree.
Felicia Throw - at $14.99, a good option for a DIY tree skirt!

Finally, you might head for a fabric store and create your own tree skirt. I know, I know, is this going to involve sewing?? The answer is not necessarily. The first option would be to take the fabric and cut it into the correct shape and try to use fabric glue or iron-on tape to close up the ends. The second option is just to creatively drape the fabric so that the ends are folded under and concealed. Since it's not a garment, it doesn't really matter if the ends are unfinished. Some nice red satin or velvet or even a piece of coarsely woven linen?

Fabric samples from Designer Fabrics

I once had a full-length, red satin bridesmaid's dress shortened to calf length and then used the cut off part as a tree skirt by just folding the cut end under and draping the rest around the base of the tree. For a tree skirt on the cheap, you can always try to see if there is a curtain or sheet or blanket or fabric remnant at your local thrift shop in a desirable color and see if you can use that to cover up the bottom of the tree.

I keep thinking that it's a bit early to set up a Christmas tree, but the live ones seem to be for sale all over town, so I'm wondering whether perhaps it IS time to get going on this? When do you set yours up?

DIY Rating: 7
I hope I have given my shopping-phobic readers a few options here 
both in terms of where to look and how to "Macgyver" something 
themselves using a little creativity!

This is a hard decision and the shopping part can be painful, 
but luckily, whatever you choose should last a number of years!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Miscellaneous Purse Panic

Image Credit: New York Times

I was struck by this image a number of months ago when I saw it in a magazine. It is an advertisement for Louis Vuitton showing Gorbachev in a limousine with one of their bags. I found the whole ad a bit odd at the time, but it is definitely thought-provoking advertising. Even at a superficial level, it is a novel idea to use a middle-aged man (let alone a public political figure) to sell designer handbags to women.

It came to mind this evening as I was thinking about my afternoon. I never thought it would come to this, but I had a moment of panic in Starbucks when I couldn't remember exactly where I'd place my purse. (Yes, my mother would have these panics when we were kids and it used to drive me nuts back then!) It was only momentary and the bag was right beside me, but if you ever have this feeling, you'll know it's a terrible one! I'm blaming it all on lack of sleep. 

Though I'm not a crazy designer purse collecting woman, it's amazing how much a part of life a simple leather bag can be. I'd lost mine once at a highway road stop and was pretty much useless for a week as I'd lost my house keys, wallet and phone. I think LV is playing on the importance of their bag by placing it almost as an indispensable companion to an important icon.

I realize this is a bit of a digressive post so I'll end with a music video to complete the wacky ride! I was thinking of "panic" and wanted to share this video which I've always loved and which I just happened to remember tonight for the first time in a while. It kind of cheered me up in a strange way...

Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Murder on the Dancefloor

DIY Rating: Numbers cannot express
the value of keeping your purse in sight at all times 
and of avoiding getting murdered at a dance contest!