Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Last week, I encountered two Linchpins. One at a Starbucks and the other at Computer Depot in Kingston.

What on earth is a "Linchpin," you ask? It is a term used by Seth Godin to describe a person who goes above and beyond just performing a job or task to create "art" by interacting or performing in a new and creative way that adds something human and irreplaceable to the work the person does.

Image Credit: NY Daily News

So, how is it that a barista at Starbucks was able to create "art"for me? It turns out that a man that I've seen working at another Starbucks has moved to a new downtown location and I recognized him. He's a fair bit older than most of the baristas that I've come across, not the usual university student type, and it's clear that he's happy to be there rather than grouchy about serving coffee when he could/should be in a more "senior level" position somewhere.

His name is Bruce and sitting there watching him out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that he knew the names of most of his customers and greeted them by name and actually remembered what all of their "regular" drinks were. Now, I used to work in the coffee business and I know that it takes a high level of caring about your job to create an atmosphere of welcoming guests into your shop rather than just processing through your 3,000th espresso shot of the week. It was great to watch him at work and he was friendly to me as well. 

Now what happened is that he actually made a mistake at the cash and nearly charged me almost triple for my cup of tea. The "art" part here is that he took the opportunity to make a personal connection over the mistake and made a quick decision to make the drink "on the house" because of the error. An act of generosity. Will I be going back to that shop? Absolutely! 

Contrast this to my experience last weekend where I went to claim my free birthday drink at another Starbucks. I asked twice whether they offered a free birthday drink with a registered card and was told that I could have anything on the drink menu. I was also ordering a few other things for Hubby who was in the car. When it came time to ring everything up, the girl turned to ask her manager whether it really was in fact their policy to offer a free birthday drink and the manager said only with a coupon that I should have gotten in the mail (but didn't receive, unfortunately).

It wasn't a big deal to pay for my drink, but I left feeling embarrassed in front of the other customers behind me and will probably avoid that location from now on. Should they have honored what the girl had said was their policy in the first place?

I think Starbucks is the new local for most of our communities. This book talks about their corporate philosophy and explains a lot of what you see in the stores: The Starbucks Experience

Onward to the computer situation...I've mentioned a few times that we're getting set up with a new TV here at The Do-tique. It has been a major ordeal and hassle to figure out exactly what cables I need to get my TV to show content from my MacBook. Five electronics stores later and I finally came across Trevor at Computer Depot here in Kingston. Can you create art in selling some basic cables to a confused non-tekkie? Absolutely! 

Trevor was calm. He seemed to have time to go through my questions and take a look at my laptop and try to figure out the most affordable solution for me with the best picture results. He didn't throw a lot of letters and number at me. He didn't bad-mouth the other guys. He took the time to grab a TV monitor in the store and actually test out the cables for me with my own laptop and didn't rush the sale or try to up-sell me. It was clear, it was easy, it was low-pressure. Somehow, he made a connection, which is key as a sales person. Chances are pretty good that I'm going to be going back there again or at least telling other people that it's a good place to get help.

At the other stores, I got a lot of fast talking. I got a lot of numbers and letters and products thrown at me with little or no explanation of how the whole system worked or what all the bits and pieces were for. I had sales guys arguing with each other in front of me about what the best solution would be. I had guys walk away to go ask someone else in the store without saying something like, "hang on a second while I go ask..." leaving me just standing there wondering what was going on. 

Both Bruce at Starbucks and Trevor at Computer Depot were able to create order out of chaos for me - first out of the chaos that was an incorrect price for my tea and second out of the chaos that is A/V equipment for me. 

Bruce is over at the new Starbucks on Princess at Sydenham.

Trevor is at Computer Depot on Gardiner's Road.

699 Gardiners Rd. 
Kingston, ON 
Canada K7M 3Y4 

DIY Rating: 2

When you can get people like Chris and Trevor on your side, 
why make your own coffee or figure out 
that computer problem on your own?

What can you do today that creates 
a similar experience for someone else?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Unblogging and DIY Dinner Party

Dear Readers, please forgive my longish absence after that last bomb-dropping style post on will writing! I didn't mean to be away for so long! Things have been busy with my new full-time job which is trying to land a new full-time job. Add in a few computer crashes timed right as posts were just about finished and a certain adorable toddler needed rescuing from daycare and you have my best excuse for why nothing has appeared here in a while.

I received a special request from my guests to share the recipes used for an impromtu dinner party that I hosted last night. 

In order to convince you that really anyone regardless of their skill in the kitchen can have dinner guests:

Over the Christmas holiday, I was invited to a dinner party that featured a menu that absolutely topped any easy DIY suggestion from every single magazine and website that I have ever read! What did these clever hosts serve? Pea soup a la Habitant (meaning "from a can"), baguette with a tray of cold meats and pie from the grocery store with home made whipped cream. Add in a touch of wonderful company and genuine lack of cooking skills and you have the easiest DIY dinner party every. I rate it 10!

If you are a small step more ambitious than that, you can try out my menu from last night, which worked out to be a low-stress quick dinner idea that seemed to impress my guests:

Tourtiere a la Alex Trebek
Oven French Fries
Steamed Broccoli

I have no idea whether this recipe actually originates with Alex Trebek, but I discovered it a few years ago and here it is with my adaptations:

1 pound ground pork
3/4 pound ground beef (or veal)
1 large onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon sage
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
salt and pepper
1/4 cup red wine, beef stock or water
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 Pastry for double-crust pie (9 inch)
(I use tenderflake frozen pie crusts)

In large pan, combine meat, onions, seasonings and wine; cook over low heat for 1 hour.

Drain fat. Stir in bread crumbs, and salt and pepper to taste. Let cool for about 45 minutes.

Defrost pastry according to instructions. Spoon in filling; cover with second pastry shell. Cut steam vents in top and seal edges. Bake in 350degrees F (180 degrees C) oven for 1 hour or until pastry is golden brown.

Serve with maple syrup

This works out to be a one-pot meal, with little labour and a longish inactive cook time and finally, an impressive home-baked/home-faked dish.

Unfortunately, no leftovers were available for a photo-opp today!

DIY Rating: 10 
This tourtiere is easier than it may look and comes out quite yummy! 

Stick to the "keep it simple" mantra and dinner 
entertaining can be a DIY for just about anyone.

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Serious Matter

Photo Source: Life

Today, I am going to take a look at a project that I hope all of my readers will think about undertaking, but that I hope in doing so, no one will choose the DIY approach! What I'm talking about here is making a will (specifically for Canadians).  Though I'm not a lawyer by profession, those who know me personally will be aware that I have what's probably an unusual interest in this sort of stuff.

What you should know is that only 30% of Canadians currently have an up-to-date legal will, but everyone over the age of majority should have one in place. Basically speaking, this is your chance to determine what happens to your family, assets and possessions rather than leaving it up to your Provincial Government to decide for you. (You may not like their estate plan!) All I'm saying is seriously question your reasons for choosing not to have a will in place.

A second point is that there are practically a million and one DIY will kits out there that offer a cheap and easy alternative to using a lawyer to draft your will. The problem is that a will can be a fairly technical document even for a simple estate and a lot can go wrong with a cheap kit. The reason to have a live person drafting this document for you is that they are aware of what can go wrong and can ask all the in-depth questions necessary to get the right fit for your family. You just can't get that for $29.95!

For us, guardianship and custody was probably the most difficult hurdle to address in the planning process. This morning, an article appeared in my inbox from another blog that I follow. The article was titled, EENY, MEENY, MINEY, MO, WHO WILL GET YOUR KIDS AFTER YOU GO…
It talks about some of the ins and outs of how the law (in Canada) handles minor children when both of their parents are deceased and I thought I'd share the information in case this is something that you are  also thinking about.

What you can do yourself is begin the process of getting organized to make a will. It took us about a year to get all the pieces in place and I don't think that's an unusual time frame. A good place to start getting basic information about the process is from your bank/financial institution. A lot of them have will planning kits available online. Another great resource is your church - I've seen the kits distributed by the Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto as well as by the Canadian Anglican and United Churches and they are  all top-notch and free.

Keep an eye open in May 2011 as that is a time of year when there are dozens of free public information sessions available nationally on making a will/leaving a legacy.

PS. This just in:

39%         Amount of Canadian millionaires who don't have an estate plan

22%        Amount of Canadian millionaires who haven't even thought about it

DIY Rating: 0 

Make this a priority, but be sure to hire an expert to help!

Google search: "dying intestate ontario" for a good 
summary on why this needs to be on your 2011 To-Do list.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Whole Wheat Flour - Reader Question

Photo Credit: Filia Artis

A good question from KvD, a regular reader here at The Do-tique about substituting whole wheat flour for all-purpose in my stew recipe

In this recipe, I used flour to thicken the sauce for the stew and to make the dumplings that went in. 

Corn starch would likely have worked equally well if not better as a sauce thickener here.

As for whole wheat flour, there are lots of recipes online that call for a percentage of whole wheat mixed with all-purpose flour to make whole wheat dumplings and that sounds like a route that I would recommend trying. 100% whole wheat would probably work, but they'd be pretty heavy tasting dumplings.

Often, when I want to sub-in whole wheat into a recipe, I limit myself to replacing about 1/3 - 1/2 of the white flour with whole wheat since things can get a bit too dense otherwise. For instance, I made whole wheat pizza dough last night, but only replaced about 1/3 of the white flour and that was about right to create something that still had the correct texture.

With regard to using whole wheat flour as a thickener in sauces and gravies, I wasn't able to find a great answer online, so if any of my readers have tried this, please let me know how it turned out. 

If I had to do this in a pinch, I would make sure to grind the flour in a coffee grinder or food processor and then sift out the larger bran particles with a sieve before proceeding to give myself the best chance of a sauce that is somewhat smooth. 

In reality, flour as a thickener for sauces is kind of a cheating method in the first place. So, if you're a more accomplished chef, you can adjust recipes to allow for sauces to reduce properly rather than artificially rushing that process with thickening agents. Another option would be to allow the cream in this recipe to do more of the work for you as a thickening agent.

I'm hoping that C.F. of Ma Vie Provencal may chime in since I know that she follows an allergen-free diet and will know all sorts of tricks for making things without flour.

Bon Appetit!

DIY Rating: I leave it up to you, dear reader, 
to assign a rating from your own experience! 

Does whole wheat flour work?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Books and Miscellanea at The Do-tique

Image Credit: Crosseyed_doll

This time, I am going to feature for you, dear reader, a few songs from Baby's current play list. Now most young children are probably listening to wholesome tunes by the likes of Raffi and The Wiggles (ok, I have no idea who the children's musicians are these days!). However, our little scalliwag seems to enjoy dancing around the house carrying an empty beer bottle while listening to Irish Pirate Ballads and Other Songs of the Sea.

Here are samples of some of the favorites:

(You may have to scroll down and hit "play" for the track, the artist's site won't let me embed the links!)

DIY Rating: 10

Really, is there anything more entertaining than 
watching a small person enjoying a few pirate tunes?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Snow Day

No real breakthroughs to report from here today on the DIY front. We decided to all stay in since about a foot of snow and high winds were forecast for our area. Everyone had a nap, everyone did some work, Hubby shoveled the driveway and Baby supervised. I got caught up on my blog reading.

In thinking about the ultimate Do-tique project, the dream of having a top designer come in and decorate one of my rooms for me is quite close to the top. That's exactly what happened to one of the regular blog readers over at Rambling Renovators. Check out the interview with Geeta where she discusses what it was like to have Sarah Richardson and Tommy re-do their dining room for the show Sarah 101 on HGTV.

I've always wondered how the costs are shared on one of those shows and what the behind the scenes experience is like. My guess has always been that what they show on TV as a fairly smooth design process with short time frames is in reality much more complex than it appears. I give kudos to Sarah Richardson for occasionally showing where things go wrong in the decorating process, but I suspect, like Martha Stewart, she is not fully showing the team of interns and assistants and specialty designer source catalogues that help her pull it all together. Geeta's interview gives us a bit more of an insider's look into the process and I want to thank her for sharing her insights with the RR readership.

Since this blog questions a prevailing DIY culture and the concept of Sarah 101 is that by learning the basic building blocks of design, anyone can create what she is putting together - especially since she relies heavily on out of the box solutions like IKEA. I wonder, if having seen the behind the scenes process, whether those people whose homes appeared on the show would agree that what Sarah creates is really something that anyone could do themselves?

In a slight shift of topics:  We're trying to get a renovation project I'm working with onto Mike Holmes' radar - or maybe someone like him. Can anyone comment on what it's like to be on one of these TV shows? Any tips on how to get on and how to negotiate what will happen? If you are someone or know someone who can help, let me know. This is truly an incredible project, but it's going to be a huge challenge to get the building from where it is now to where it needs to be. This particular place serves the poorest of the poor; it is a refuge to these people and it is falling apart.

DIY Rating: Undetermined

I wonder what Geeta would rate her experience as and whether you, 
dear reader, would ever agree to lending your home to a TV show or not?

I would consider doing it, but worry that by only decorating one room, 
that room would look out of place with the rest of my house.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Image Credit: Life

So far this winter, I have planned twice to make chicken pot pie. The first time around, I had all the ingredients ready to go, but realized early in the process that my chicken had spoiled (my own fault for leaving it a day too long in the fridge!). I ended up with a vegetarian strudel using the puff pastry that I'd defrosted and vegetables I was already preparing for the pie.

Second time around, I never got around to buying frozen pastry or having the energy to make some from scratch, so my next failed attempt became chicken stew with dumplings. I thought I'd share the recipe here as it turned out pretty delicious.

Image Credit: Filia Artis

The recipe is an adaptation from Canadian Living and the main reason for the adaptations was that I didn't have the right ingredients in the right amounts, so I had to do some improvisation. An accidental addition of much more cream than was called for also occurred, but the stew came out so creamy and delicious, I decided to keep that error in my version.

Overall, I liked the results. I repeat one of my favorite mantras that the secret to being a home chef is to know how and when substitutions and alterations can be made. Dare to experiment and see what happens!

My time start to finish on this one was 1 hr 15 mins, so a bit longer than I like to spend on a weeknight dinner, but we got two nights out of it, so if you average it out, pretty quick and easy. The preparation mess factor was about medium with all the chopping and ingredient preparation, but it was still a one pot meal, which is my favorite kind!

I'm dying to hear from anyone who makes this recipe or has made anything that has previously appeared on The Do-tique! Please let me know how things went and feel free to document your experience with at least one photo and I'd be pleased to feature you as a guest blogger. Now THAT's an invitation that should be impossible to resist!!!

DIY Rating: 8 definitely doable and easier than pot pie!

If you're not a chef by nature, save this one for 
the weekend when you can take your time.

Overall, quite simple and extremely tasty, but though the prep was all 
straightforward, it did create a moderate amount of mess to clean up.


2.5 cups  chicken stock 
(I used a boullion cube to make stock and ended up adding additional 2 cups of stock at end)
4 (0.6 kg) skinned chicken thighs with bone in
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut in cubes
1 potato, peeled and cubed
1 head broccoli cut into florets
1-2 tbsp butter
2 chopped celery stalks
1 chopped onion
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 cup flour
1 tsp dried parsley / 1 tbsp fresh parsley if preferred
2 tsp  baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp butter
1/2 cup milk, (approx)


In a large Dutch oven, bring chicken stock to boil. Add chicken; cover and simmer over medium-low heat until juices run clear when chicken is pierced, about 20-30 minutes. With slotted spoon, transfer to plate; let cool. Remove meat from bones; cut into bite-size chunks.

Add carrots, broccoli and potatoes to stock; cover and cook for 10 minutes. With slotted spoon, transfer vegetables to plate. Pour stock into large measuring cup; if necessary, add more chicken stock to make 2.5 cups.

In same pan, melt butter over medium-high heat; cook celery, onion and mushrooms, stirring often, until softened, about 8 minutes. Add flour, thyme, salt and pepper; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in reserved stock; bring to boil, stirring. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer, stirring often, for about 5 minutes or until thick enough to coat back of spoon. Return chicken and any accumulated juices to pan. Add carrot mixture and cream, stirring to combine.

Dumplings: In bowl, whisk together flour, parsley, baking powder and salt. Using pastry blender or 2 knives, cut in butter until in coarse crumbs. Using fork, stir in enough milk to make sticky spoonable dough. Alternately, you can mix the butter and dried ingredients in a food processor and add the milk that way also. Leaving space around each, drop by tablespoonfuls onto simmering stew; cover and cook, without lifting lid, for 15 minutes or until dumplings are no longer doughy underneath.

Takes about 1 hr 15 min and makes 4 servings.