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It’s been a wild and crazy couple of weeks. Some of you who are friends on Facebook have seen a little of what’s been going on at Kitchen Inspirations but for those who are not, here is a quick recap and a timely post for the In My Kitchen series.

JT and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. My, how time flies. (BTW,I was a child bride). We had about 50 people to our home and as luck would have it, it was rainy and cold all day, just like our wedding day so our garden party moved indoors. My cousin Lucy was a godsend as she helped fill glasses, replenish trays and clear out dirty dishes. I felt like a guest at my own party. Here are a few pics.

Macarons

I baked 146 macarons, some for the party and some for gift bags. The best ones were on the bottom t, they were coffee shells with coffee buttercream with chocolate dipped tops and bottoms with score bits (truth be told, the tops cracked so instead of tossing them, I dipped them in chocolate and score bits! BEST ONES EVER!)

Gifts

We packaged 2 macarons to go for each couple.

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I hacked an H&M dress by cutting off the sleeves and I added very expensive French lace to make a GOGO dress with bells sleeves! I also changed the neckline.

Desserts

There were more tasty desserts.

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The food was cold and self-serve. I made pretzel buns

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There was a lot of cheese too.

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We had some fruit and veggies too.

We hardly had a crumb left, I felt like I didn’t have enough but JT thinks that it was just right. Do you generally feel better if you have too much food or just enough?

Last week, I was fortunate to have been recommended by a fellow food stylist for a television segment on our local City Line on City TV, a daily lifestyle talk show. I was cooking for Food Network, celebrity chef David Rocco. Because the segment was only 5 minutes long, I had to prepare the dish at various stages to allow the magic of TV to finish the dish in record time. Lifestyle talk shows are an interesting beast, so much prep for such short segments and what is even more surprising is the lack of space available for preparations on site. Fortunately, I had already done a segment on the Global Morning show so I was familiar with the limitations and extras that have to be done to make it a success, case in point, I had to bring props! That meant, shopping for props AND groceries. The recipe called for a cup of shelled sweets peas so I called on a group of friends and we sat and shelled peas the afternoon before. My call time was 9:15, I decided to get up early and make the dishes in the morning before I left so that they would be as fresh as possible. I made two batches of pasta, half cooked pancetta, fully cooked pancetta, chopped some shrimp and cooked some shrimp. I assembled the dish on set after the platter was chosen and garnished it close to shoot time. Even so, I still had to oil a few places as the lights dried it out. See the segment here.

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Chef David Rocco and me. He was absolutely delightful.

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Just prior to wheeling the kitchen on set, I still needed to ‘sauce’ the dish up a bit.

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The props, some I bought specifically for the show and some are mine from home or the cottage!

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The go live to tape in front of a live studio audience. The host is Tracy Moore

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Tracy reviewing her lines before taping.

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I found this clever idea in the latest LCBO magazine. My vases were a little smaller than the idea in the magazine so some of my tulips had to stick out at the top.

I found this clever idea in the latest LCBO magazine. My vases were a little smaller than the idea in the magazine so some of my tulips had to stick out at the top.

Recently, we hosted a dinner party for guests who were doing Weight Watchers and because I don’t like to sabotage anyone’s journey to a healthy weight I decided to make the entire meal WW friendly and that meant putting my thinking cap on.  Now I don’t know about you, but I adore guacamole, it’s so creamy, fresh and tangy and it really enhances a few dishes as a condiment but may also be used as a wonderful dip with fresh vegetables!

Now I know what many of you will say, “but wait, avocados are a good fat” and while that is very true, it’s all about balance and budget so if you can save a little here you can spend it there (perhaps on an extra glass of vino?), is all I’m saying!

Before I even searched on line, I had the idea of creating a mockamole from spinach. Why spinach? I chose spinach because #1 it’s a gorgeous green and you can purée it smooth uncooked and #2 it fits well into the WW point system.  Once I determined what my basic ingredients would be, I started to search “mockamole” on the net and found that the majority of them are made with green peas. Now green peas are quite healthy but when I did the nutritional calculation using peas, my 1 tablespoon mockamole resulted in 1 WW point whereas my spinach mockamole resulted in 0 points for 1 tablespoon. So that was it.

Guacamole is a simple yet flavourful combination of ingredients and other than subbing out the avocado, I kept it pretty true to form. I used 4 tablespoons of cooked puréed navy beans as my ‘creamy’ ingredient and it worked out great. I loved the bright green colour as well as the bright flavours in this recipe. JT said it was an excellent substitute for real guacamole! It’s quite garlic-y so if it’s date night, you may wish to tone it down a notch or make sure your partner has some too ;-)!

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May I interest you in a little dip?

Mockamole (Spinach ‘guacamole’)

Makes about 3/4 cup.

Ingredients:

  • 100 g fresh spinach (may be frozen)
  • 4 tbsp navy bean paste (see notes)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) lime juice
  • 1 tbsp cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tbsp green onion, finely chopped
  • Cilantro or parsley for garnish
  • Chopped tomatoes (optional)

Directions:

  1. If using frozen spinach, wring out well. If using fresh spinach, wash and dry well.
  2. Combine the spinach, navy bean paste, garlic, lime juice and cilantro in a small food processor and process until very smooth (I found my immersion blender did this beautifully). Fold in chopped tomatoes if you are adding them.
  3. Add chopped green onion and garnish with a sprig of cilantro. Serve with cucumber slices, celery sticks or cauliflower florets or use in a meal that requires guacamole as a condiment.
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Choose vegetables that hold onto the dip like a spoon!

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The cooked puréed beans give this dip its creamy texture.

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Who are you calling “dip”?

Per 1 tbsp serving

1 tbsp serving

Per 1 tbsp per serving.

1 tbsp serving.

Notes:

  • Navy bean purée: I usually make up a batch of plain navy beans for thickening soups, sauces and gravies and then freeze for later use. Cook navy beans in water without salt. Purée and press through a fine sieve. Allow to cool completely and put 1 tbsp portions into an ice cube tray (specifically for savoury things) and freeze. Once frozen, take each cube and put it into a larger ziplock bag and that way you have a creamy gluten-free thickening agent for future recipes.
  • If you add too much liquid to the puréed spinach mix, strain for a couple of hours in a coffee filter reserved for savoury things before serving.
  • To blanch spinach quickly, add spinach to a heat proof bowl with about 1/2 cup water and nuke for about 2-4 minutes until soft. Rince with cold water and wring out well.

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It’s time to do the Christmas decorating and traditionally I’ve finished my exterior before I even think of the interior! Since I can remember I’ve been making my own urns for the front, not because I’m cheap (OK, maybe a little) but because I like to have creative license and design my own! Over the last few years it has become increasingly popular to use birchbark branches to achieve height, but in my hood these branches cost $6.00 EACH! I have 2-3 in each of my four urns! That’s $60 before I’ve even added my evergreen boughs! So JT and I bring them back from the cottage! A little walk in the forest, about one hour of time is all it costs! And it’s fun (I’d like to add that we only take branches from property we own, never from other property). I have bobbles and pine cones from years past and some gorgeous red sparkly ribbon from last year (note to self, make the sparkly ribbon outside otherwise the sparkles will litter the house for years!). This year I bought eight bunches of various evergreen boughs at $5 each; so for about $40 and a little creative time outside, I have my four gorgeous urns ready for the holidays. Tell me, how do you decorate your home for the holidays?

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I think I’ll get one more year out of the red ribbon; I’ll buy another roll when they go on sale after Christmas! The pine cones will last a lot longer. The Bells were a dollar store find!

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We brought back new branches to add to the collection we had from last year!

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I like to start with the floppiest evergreens with the longest needles.

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I love to add cedar branches because they smell so good.

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I keep filling in the empty spots but for my final row I like to add something with berries; this year I was able to get little white berries. Boxwood is also lovely and it adds a totally different texture but this year my “guy” didn’t have it.

The finished product, with all the bells and whistles.

The finished product, with all the bells and whistles.

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The urns in the foreground are well lit with spot lights and the urns in the background have some lovely snowflake solar lights (from the dollar store!).

And with the house all dolled up for the season, I’m ready for a bite and these days that means soup so I’m constantly on the look out for new and innovative soups. I created this one for a dinner we were hosting for my nephew. Roasting really concentrates the sugars and makes this soup deliciously sweet and creamy. I’ve made it healthy so I haven’t added any cream, but you’re welcome to. Roasting the squash seeds adds a lovely texture to this soup. To take off the shells, simply squeeze the pointy end between your fingers (or mini pliers in my case) and off will one side pop! Simple like that.

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Creamy and slightly sweet. The crunchy roasted squash seeds really made the soup.

Acorn Squash Soup

Serves 4 smallish bowls

Ingredients:

  • 1 acorn squash, cut in half and seeded
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 head garlic, outer skin removed but leave individual skins intact
  • 4 tbsp EVOO
  • 1/2 Vidalia onion
  • Chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • pinch of nutmeg

Directions:

  1. Pre heat the oven to 350°F. On a cookie sheet, place each half of the squash cut side up with 1/2 tbsp butter in each side.
  2. Toss the onion with a spot of EVOO and add to the cookie sheet.
  3. Put the garlic head into a small ramekin and add 3 tbsp EVOO, season with sea salt and cover tightly with foil. Put this on the side of the cookie sheet with the squash and onion. Bake for 45-60 minutes until very tender.
  4. Once everything is very tender, scoop out the squash into a glass container, add the roasted garlic WITH the salted EVOO and the baked onion and the vanilla extract. Blend until smooth adding stock until you achieve the desired consistency (I prefer it slightly thicker). Set aside and reheat to serve.
  5. To make the squash seed garnish, clean off the seeds and let them dry on a clean cloth. Add to a lightly non0-stick sprayed cookie sheet and bake for 30-45 minutes until toasted.
  6. Allow to cool and using your fingers or mini pliers, take the pointy end of the seed and press the edges into each other allowing the sides or side to pop off. Remove the toasted seed from the shell and reserve.
  7. Reheat the soup, pour into bowls and serve with the seeds drizzled over top.

Additional ideas for garnish:

  • Sear a scallop in butter and serve on top with the butter drizzled over it.
  • Sear a shrimp with the hard tail removed (I hate having to dig out the tail with my fingers) with a little lemon juice drizzled over the top.
  • If you don’t have the seeds from the squash, use toasted sunflower seeds.
  • Make a crostini with squash seed pesto smear on top.
  • A nice dollop of crême fraiche or sour cream.
  • Balsamic or pomegranate syrup reduction drizzled on top.
  • Maple syrup drizzled on top.

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Thank you to everyone who voted, the pumpkin carving contest was a close call, Witchy Pumpkin took the lead by a mere 8 points. YAY! Witchy pumpkin was my creation and JT carved Scary Pumpkin! I ended up carving two more on the day of, these one’s tested my skill in Surface Carving, and my only casualty was jabbing the exacto-knife into my forefinger! I only noticed when I was dotting blood all over my iPhone! Silly me. I really enjoyed carving these pumpkins so next year I’m upping the ante!

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Hooter. The pattern wouldn’t stick to the pumpkin
so I had to eyeball it!

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Mumford

On Friday October 25, JT and I went to the Delicious Food Show at the Better Living Centre at the CNE in Toronto. This show is only two years old but it’s really taken hold of the foodies in the city! Tickets for this show are $20 which would be expensive for a show, but if you take into consideration that there are no additional costs for the presentations, I think it’s a pretty good deal.
We didn’t really plan our visit and were very pleasantly surprised that we arrived in time to see Martha Stewart doing a live demo of her Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake, a recipe from her new cookbook called Cakes! You could purchase the cookbook and have her sign it but frankly there were too many rules to review and I got bored and moved on. While walking away, we practically bumped into Food Network Canada’s hottie, of Chuck’s Day Off, Chuck Hughes! I also found out that my friend Claudia was assisting him all day, sorry I missed you.

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Martha Stewart and her assistant making a raspberry ripple cheese cake from her new Cakes cookbook. It’s her 81st cookbook.

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Although the auditorium wasn’t large, they had two enormous monitors so you could see close up what she was doing.

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Chuck Hughes is a Montréal Chef with two restaurants and a very cool show on Food Network Canada called Chuck’s Day off.

There were many wonderful exhibitors and although you could definitely buy food to eat, there were lots of free samples to be had. There were also cocktails and although in Ontario the LCBO makes it illegal to give away booze for free, Wine Country Ontario was giving free wine samples in the form of a tasting which was very nice.

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A show about deliciousness.

There are far too many exhibitors to talk about in a reasonable length blog post so I’ll highlight a few.

Ice Syrup was one of our first stops. Ice syrup is a delicious syrup made from ice wine grapes. Use it drizzled on sharp cheeses like very old cheddar or blue cheese, last night we drizzled it over a pesto, prosciutto and goats cheese pizza, it was delicious!
Kosliks Canadian Mustard Klosiks makes the most morish mustard you can imagine, it makes you want to eat it by the spoonfuls! They were also showcasing organic chocolate with mustard seeds which were rather interesting.

Stirling Creamery makes the most delicious French style butter. Although there is only 2% difference in the fat to regular butter, it makes the butter very creamy. We bought 225g for the show price of $4, I believe it’s normally $6!

Remember my very first giveaway? Kristy (Eat, Play, Love; our family food adventures) won some Just a Pinch salts. President Mario Di Giovanni was working the show and JT and I had a lovely chat with him. His passion for his product and company really showed through, it was inspiring. His rubs are family recipes that he diligently copied down while watching his mother cook. Just a Pinch and my very first giveaway.

By late afternoon we started feeling a bit peckish and coming across Green and Blacks Organic Chocolate was perfect. Their free samples were generous and very delicious! I was disappointed that they didn’t have bars to sell at the show as they are often $8-9 dollars for a 100g bar. We hung around that booth for a while.

My dear friend Chgo John (From the Bartolini Kitchens) wrote about sustainable fish in his last post so I was very pleased to come across this booth who website clearly defines what fish are properly farmed in a humane and sustainable way.
Ocean Wisei sustainable seafood

Last June I purchased a unique cutting board from a Québec artisan Planet Creations what’s unique about their cutting boards is that the are all end grain, which makes for beautiful designs but practically speaking they do not dull your knives! They are works of art and I was very happy to see them at this classy show.

And last but not least, Sprucewood Brands was the booth that the inspiration for my next post came from. Their savoury shortbread cookies are perfect for the upcoming holiday season.

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ChristmasDay

My Christmas baking list was altered somewhat because I just couldn’t get it all done with the small diversions I subjected myself to. This is what I had intended on baking:

Here is this 2012′s round up:

Plates ready to be delivered

Plates ready to be delivered. May I send you one too?

Here’s what actually went down:

Very festive little parcels

Very festive little parcels

Card with legend

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Christmas Wishes

Clipart from Microsoft Clip Art Gallery

I’ve never made fudge. There. I said it. I love fudge, but have never made it and when I saw Katherine’s (Rufus’ Food and Spirits Guide) recipe for his mother’s back of the bag fudge, I had to try it and with pure luck, I had everything in my pantry! The recipe came together very easily and the taste was wonderful, and great creamy texture (very much like ganache). Our tin of Sweetened Condensed milk was a slightly different weight than what the recipe called for so I had to adjust all the ingredients accordingly, plus I didn’t have butterscotch morsels so I used chocolate chips as the flavour. Kudos Katherine another great recipe to add to my Christmas baking collection!

Chocolate Peanut Fudge

Original recipe by Katherine at Rufus’ Food and Spirits Guide

Melt in your mouth, fudge-o-licious

Melt in your mouth, fudge-o-licious

Makes one 23 cm (9 inch) square pan, about  2 cm (0.8″) thick

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 20 g unsalted butter
  • 300 mL Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • dash salt
  • 300 g chocolate chips
  • 155 g marshmallows
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 100 g peanuts (unsalted, skin off)

Directions:

  1. Line your square pan with parchment paper (it’ll make it easier to lift it out of the pan to cut it).
  2. In a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, bring sugar, butter, sweetened condensed milk and salt to a boil, stirring constantly. Lower heat if it starts to brown too quickly.
  3. Remove from heat and add chocolate, marshmallows and vanilla; stir until smooth and marshmallows have entirely melted. Add peanuts and stir to combine.
  4. Pour into prepared pan and let set. Refrigerate once cool. The fudge should take a few hours to set.
  5. Cut into smallish square.
Delicious Chocolate Peanut Fudge

Delicious Chocolate Peanut Fudge

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Happy Halloween?

Happy Halloween everyone! Hurricane Sandy is sure putting a damper on things in the eastern seaboard, and even though we’re quite far from the ocean, we are getting deluged with rain and high winds. Not pretty at all. I particularly feel bad for the kiddies tonight who will likely have to brave the elements with winter coats over their carefully considered and crafted costumes. But I heard through my FB friends that Halloween has been postponed to Saturday in some US cities! What do you think about that?

Our building had their annual Halloween hall crawl, but I had to change my plans for the phantom of the opera costume for fear of melting my face off with the mask, so I went as Dracula instead. It turned out the Kim and I were one of the few who dressed up, talk about feeling rare, oh well. Free booze and food helped us get over that pretty quickly!

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20121031-043421.jpgKim was a gypsy whore

I’m sure you’ve heard by now, Sandy wreaked havoc in our neighbourhood and toppled a very large evergreen tree knocking out power including our house (although not every house has a blackout!). I just finished filling the freezer with left overs and sale meats, so this turn of events is not appreciated. I am hoping I won’t have to toss the lot. Fortunately when the tree fell over, it fell into the street and nothing was damaged other than the power lines. I already know of two people who’ve had car damage from fallen limbs (tree, not human).

No, it wasn’t the alien arrow that toppled the tree, it was a giant belch from Sandy.

Since JT has to work on Halloween night (he traded with a guy who has two young children) I decided not to doll the house up; instead I was going to go over to Kim’s (boss, neighbour, friend) with a bottle of vino and we’ll hand out candy together and get silly. But instead I’ll be cleaning out the fridge and freezer. And since I love this time of year so much, I thought I’d run around the hood and takes some pics of some of the decorated homes. Hope you enjoy them.

There goes the neighbourhood

I had no idea we had a graveyard for neighbours

John, you’d better avert your eyes, those are big mother spiders!

My friend’s daughter had a Halloween party last Sunday so I baked up a batch of the monster fingers which I found on Angie’s blog last year. This year I was able to fashion them a bit better and I had the great idea of dipping the cut ends into the jam to make them look even grosser! Thanks Angie, these will never get old on this side of the planet!

Would you like some coffee with your decomposing fingers?

Would you care for a finger cookie?


Word

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Merry Christmas to all my blogging friends!
I wish you all the best, health and happiness. Thanks for joining me on this ride!
With love,
Eva

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February 10, 2013: I have updated this post with additional instruction for the nokedli and a new photo.

It’s the eve of Halloween and we’re getting really excited about our fast approaching trip to Morocco. There are so many things still to do, like packing, for example!

Our House Decked out for Halloween

Pumpkin Lights in the Planters

Not withstanding, I promised a scary story, the final installment. So here it is… Sadly, my dear Dad was jaundiced from owning a home because the Russians had taken away his family home and he was afraid it would happen again, so we lived in a very nice newly built apartment in suburban Toronto. We had just visited Hungary the first time and both my brother and I were a little freaked out because we had seen museum after museum of archeological digs – mainly skulls (Hungary was the munitions centre of the Roman Empire and the country is littered with Roman Ruins). The skulls both fascinated us and freaked us out at the same time.
Upon our return to Canada we decided to share a room in our apartment, on his side the walls were decorated with Hot Wheels and on mine, Barbie wallpaper. Most nights were fine, but on occasion one of us would have a bad dream and crawl into Mom and Dad’s bed. On this night, it was my brother that ventured into Mom and Dad’s room for safety and my Dad came in and slept in my brother’s bed.
Waking up in the middle if the night is never fun when you’re little; everything is so dark and shadows seem alive! I should have felt safe because my Dad was in the room, but he was snoring away about 10 feet from me and unaware of the shadows. The head of my bed faced away from the window; we were on the second floor and plenty of street light poured in through the curtains — plenty to make evil shadows come alive, that is. I awoke with a start! There is a HUGE man in a cowboy hat standing at the foot of my bed; I see only the silhouette, there are no features, but he looks mean. I can’t speak, I can hardly breathe. I blink, oh my god, he’s still there. I blink even harder, damn, still there. I hide my head under the covers and count to ten. There is no man in the room and my Dad is right there not more than 10 feet from me. I know it’s in my head, but crap, it seems so real. I peak out one last time, and HE’S STILL THERE. Now, I really can’t breathe. I hide my head under the covers and I stay there; I imagine the lack of oxygen caused me to fall asleep, and when I woke up in the morning, with the sun pouring in, the shadow man was gone! Or the entire episode was a dream that seemed so real.

Year’s later, as an adult, I read about the Shadow People, and now wonder if it had been real!

Ready for the recipe? I have perfected this recipe over the years trying to make it healthier (Hungarians cook with a lot of lard and although it is flavourful, it is definitely not good for you).

Healthy Chicken Paprikas

Ingredients:

  • 4 x 100g skinless boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 roughly chopped medium sweet onion (I used vidalia)
  • 1 cup cubed celery root
  • 3 ripe red peppers
  • 2 tbsp Hungarian Sweet Papkria
  • 1-2 cups low sodium chicken stock
  • 1 cup + 4 tbsp non fat Greek Yogurt or Sour Cream
  • 1 tsp flour
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil

Directions:

  1. Roast the peppers in the oven until the skins are black. Set into a bowl with a plate covering it to allow the peppers to steam.
  2. Once peppers are cool enough to handle, peel the skins off.
  3. Purée the peppers using an immersion blender until smooth.
  4. In a large dutch oven, heat 1 tbsp oil and add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the Hungarian paprika, but be careful not to burn, this isn’t like Indian spices, paprika will burn quickly.
  5. To the onions, add the celery root and 1 cup chicken stock. Add the puréed roasted red peppers, and a little more chicken stock. Cook for 1/2 hour on medium heat, until the celery root is soft.
  6. Remove from the heat and purée until smooth. Pass through a fine seive.
  7. Before returning the sauce to the heat, add 1 tbsp oil to the dutch oven. Chop the chicken breasts into bite sized pieces and brown in the hot oil. Add the paprika sauce back into the pan with the chicken and cook for 1/2 hour on medium heat or until the chicken is cooked through. You can remove from the heat and freeze for future use, or use right away.
  8. Add 1 tsp flour to the yogurt and mix well (this will prevent the yogurt from separating when adding to the paprika sauce). Add the yogurt to the chicken paprikas and mix well.
  9. To serve, pour into a large decorative dish and drizzle with the remaining yogurt, garnish with flat leaf parsley.

Ingredients for the Nokedli (dumplings):

Hungarian Paprika and the Nokedli Szagato (dumpling tool)

General rule of thumb for this recipe is 1 cup flour and 1 egg per person. In my efforts to make this a healthier meal, I generally use 1 egg for the pot and 4 tbsp egg whites and 1/2 cup flour per person. The nokedli are lighter and not as yellow as using full eggs, but the flavour is still there. You make the nokedli by hand using a small cutting board and a knife and just cutting off small bits of the dough right into the boiling water (Hungarians call this Csipetke) or you can use a nokedli maker.

  • 2 cups flour (you can substitute whole wheat but it changes the texture a bit, so I would only recommend 1/4 cup ww and 1 3/4 white flour)
  • 1 egg
  • 12 tbsp egg whites
  • salt and pepper to taste
The dough should be loose enough to press through the Nokedli maker without much effort, but it should not be wet.

The dough should be loose enough to press through the Nokedli maker without much effort, but it should not be wet.

Directions:

  1. Beat egg and egg white until slightly frothy. Add salt and pepper.
  2. Mix in the flour until it form a soft dough (I usually do this in the food processor). Add little bits of water if necessary to make a loose pasta-like dough (don’t worry if it’s too thick, you can add bits of the hot water to it as you are pressing it through the nokedli press.
  3. In a large soup pot, boil water with salt.
  4. Once the water is on a hard boil, start making the nokedli. You can make the entire batch in this one pot, they won’t stick together if you stir them once in a while. When you are done they should all float to the top. Pour into a colander and rinse with cold water.
  5. Add the nokedli to a bowl and drizzle with oil so they don’t stick together.
  6. When ready to serve, heat 3 tbsp butter in a large dutch oven. Add nokedli and reheat, crisping up the edges a bit (we like them crisped).
  7. Serve family style in a large serving vessel.

Egéségedre! (to your health!)

 

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When it rains, it pours! We’re so busy at work (not complaining!) and I’ve just gotten a huge freelance project that needs to be completed before we leave for Morocco, AND we’re hosting two dinner parties on the weekend on Saturday and Sunday evening! Call me crazy but I actually get invigorated when things are so hectic!

Here are some pics from past Halloweens – we try to do different pumpkins every year. This one will be a challenge for me as I have a slight tear in my right rotator cuff and I’m right handed! But JT said he would eviscerate my pumpkin for me (gosh, that sounds so ghoulish!)

Our pumpkins from 2006

Our 2007 Pumpkins

Here is another scary story: Several years ago JTs elderly Aunt and Uncle had to move from their home of 65 years to a retirement home. They had three children a boy and two girls; sadly the boy, Norman who was very close to JT, unexpectedly died at 18 at home. Because the remaining children were unable to help clean up the house (renamed the “stinky house”) for resale, JT stepped up. It took several weeks and several dump bins to empty the house (read horders) and because JT refused any money for the work he put in, the Aunt generously told him he could have anything he wanted from the house. We fell in love with a couple of things (that were from JTs grandparents) including a small enamel lamp that we put into the guest room upstairs.
As I’ve mentioned before, our home is a craftsman style home that was built in 1928. The front door was original at that time; it had a retrofitted key operated dead bolt but it also had one of those weird locks that operates with a little button on the side that we NEVER used. Here is a photo of a similar lock (our’s was not that ornate), you would push the little button above the dead bolt and it would bolt out. I am illustrating this to show how difficult it is to push the little button in, one would have to intentionally do it!

You see how difficult it might be to push that little button in? We had all but forgotten about that feature on the door lock.

The day we brought the stuff home we were UNABLE to unlock the front door! Fortunately, I had hidden a key to the back door so we were able to gain access to the house only to discover that somehow, someone had pushed that little button in. Hmmm.
About a week later I awoke in the middle of the night and was unable to sleep, so instead of waking JT I went into the guest room to read; I tried turning on the little enamel light…nothing. I checked the bulb, it was there and it was screwed in well. I had to turn on the overhead light to find that the light had been unplugged! I hadn’t done it, nor JT! I got really creeped out and decided to go back to our bedroom and force myself to sleep. These two coincidences freeked me out a bit (yes, I believe in ghosts!) so the very next morning I stood in the guest room and said out loud: Norman, you’re freaking me out, please stop it.” and nothing weird has happened since. Thanks Norman.
For our first dinner guests this weekend, I needed to keep things simple, so we’re serving the Provençal fish soup that I made last week and froze, and JT has generously offered to make that delicious Moroccan beef recipe. Dessert is an old fashion apple crisp — I’ve taken a few pointers from Chicago John’s from the Bartolini Kitchens so this standard recipe has been modified with his experience. Thanks John.

Apple Crisp

Ingredients:

  • 3 Baking apples (we used Royal Gala), peeled and cut into small cubes
  • 3 Granny Smith Apples, peeled and cut into small cubes
  • splash of lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar (we are not sweet eaters, so you may wish to increase this)
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • pinch of salt
  • 1-2 tsp cognac for each serving (I made these up in ramekins)

Topping:

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup roughly ground walnuts (so they are about the size of the oats)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup room temperature butter
  • pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350°F.
  2. Mix both types of apple cubes with the lemon juice in a bowl.
  3. Mix the spices, sugar, flour and walnuts in another bowl.
  4. Toss the apples with the spice mix to coat well.
  5. Lightly butter 6 ramekins (I used 4oz).
  6. Evenly distribute the apple mixture in the 6 ramekins.
  7. Blend the topping mixture with the exception of the butter. Mix well.
  8. Cut the butter into the dry mixture until mixture forms soft clumps.
  9. Evenly press this mixture over the apples in the ramekins.
  10. Place the ramekins onto a cookie sheet and bake for 30-40 minutes or until the topping is golden and the apples are soft.
  11. Serve with your very best vanilla ice cream.

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In honour of the upcoming festive holiday season, I thought I would present some past photos and share a couple of scary stories. Oh, did you think I was going to blog about Christmas? Hmm!
Halloween is such a fun time of year. JT and I usually have a pumpkin carving contest, we decorate the exterior of the house, even have a scary music loop on the night we hand out candy to the neighbourhood kiddies.

Some years it’s been so lovely and warm that we sit on our Muskoka Chairs on our front porch, sipping martinis as the little ghouls and goblins muster up the courage to step up to the porch and beg for candy; other years, like last, it’s been bitterly cold so we sipped martinis inside in front of the fire, being jolted up every few minutes with the doorbell and screams of “trick or treat!” I have a feeling that this year will be colder than ever, and possibly even snow. When it is cold I feel bad for the kiddies to have to wear their winter coats over their carefully designed costumes, yup I’ve been there!

Some of you will know that I am usually not a scary or ugly costume person at Halloween; even as a child, I was always ‘a pretty lady!’ Mom would make up my face, put fake nails and lashes on, and I would dress up with heels and hats! I’ve always left the scary, weird costumes to my younger brother (Flap Jack’s dad). A couple of years ago we were invited to a Halloween party at one of the photographers we know through my work, they really put on a wonderful first class bash in their studio. I just knew a ‘pretty lady’ wouldn’t cut it, plus JT and I wanted to go as a team. After incredible amount of research we finally landed on Bonnie and Clyde. We rented the old movie with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway and decided right away that we would model our Bonnie and Clyde after the characters in that movie. We scoured the thrift stores for our costumes which we made from scratch (no packaged costumes for us). We put together a very convincing couple, down to the (fake) cigarettes they chain smoked. It was about a week before the party and I’m talking to my friend (boss) Kim about the party and just had to tell her what we had planned. She suggested we go as ‘dead’ Bonnie and Clyde just to get into the Halloween spirit. Hmmmm, dead doesn’t look pretty! But JT loved the idea, so we did it. Bullet holes, makeup, drippy blood. Yup, we were ‘dead’! Soooo cool! I loved it! I can’t believe I missed out on the gore all these years. No one even needed to ask who we were, everyone knew!

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Do you have a scary story you would like to share?

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OK, now the scary story:
At Univerisity I befriended the school photographer, Ken who was a few years older than I. A group of us hung out. Around our third year, Ken’s parents bought a cottage. Shortly after Ken and his bud Pete went up to the cottage for the weekend. Ken was also an artistic photographer, so he was always taking the artsy shots. Ken brought a silver manican up that weekend to photograph in the light of the moon. It was one of those solid manicans that couldn’t move or turn its head etc. He and Pete were in the forest, while Pete was throwing a white cloth up in the air above the silver manican, Ken was catching the cloth and the subject in a shot! All of a sudden, they both saw the manican turn its head! But it couldn’t! What? Did you see that? It happened a couple of times, enough that these two grown men decided they’d had enough! They bedded down in one if the guest rooms with bunk beds, but they couldn’t sleep. The thought of the manican turning its head kept coming up. For some reason, Ken decided they need to name this silver manican.
These are two very suburban boys, both of English decent; after much debate, they decided to name the silver manican Ghertie! A nice German name.
It wasn’t until about a week later, they were told the previous owner of the cottage was named Ghertie and she actually died that very night they were photographing the manican in the forest!!! This story still gives me the creeps!
I spotted this recipe on Angie’s Recipes blog and I knew I had to make it for Kim (friend, boss) who is throwing a Halloween party on Sunday for her 10 year old daughter. I won’t repeat the recipe, so click here for the link. I’m not sure if my altitude is different than Angie’s but I would add a bit more flour and bake at a slightly higher temperature next time.

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We live in a small area into Toronto called Bloor West Village. It is still considered part of the city, but it’s not down town! We are about a 10 minute drive to downtown, or 20 minute subway ride, or 30 minute bike ride…you get where I’m going with this — we are very much in the city of Toronto. But, for some reason, this little part of the city has remained a ‘little village’…it doesn’t feel like we’re in a major, international city.

We have a 1928 craftsman style brick home. It’s not large by North American standards, but it suites us perfectly. We absolutely LOVE this house. We don’t have a large lot, but it’s enough to have some nice landscaping, a back patio lounge and a wonderful little dining area. It’s a pie shaped lot, 59 feet (18 metres) across the front and 17 feet (5 metres) across the back. One would think a pie shaped lot would be difficult to landscape, but it does offer very interesting design opportunities. The 18 metre front sounded like a good idea at the time, but in hindsight, not so much! In Toronto, the side walk is our responsibility and shoveling it in the winter is NO FUN!

The landscaping project started in my head about 10 years ago (when we bought the house). We had dreamed of a large natural stone hedge holding back the earth on the north side where we’ve enlarged the driveway (cars in the 1920’s were not as wide as they are now!); we dreamed that the grass was all gone (grass does not grow on shady lots!) and that large natural stone would accent the front like you see in so many magazines. English ivy (yes, I do love my English ivy) would fill the land where grass once was, and a gorgeous hedge of pink hydrangeas would cascade over a stone wall on the south side. And, that there would be a new path and steps built from the front porch to the sidewalk (since everyone cuts across the lawn anyway).

10 years ago it was a dream, but today, reality! We came up with the plan and the guys at SMS landscaping did a great job, bringing our vision to reality; they even made a few suggestions that we loved! And I wasn’t expecting to get lighting into the budget! Woohoo!

We bought a beautiful Japanese Cherry tree for the front (see little tree on the left side) but we’ve decided to wait until the spring to ‘fill in’ the remainder. For the back, we wanted some beautiful moss to fill the space between the new stone path to the shed, but holy cow, it’s darn expensive. So, this weekend at the cottage, we collected some lovely moss, and transplanted it in the backyard ourselves! Hard work, but I bet it saved us over $400! A small pot was $20 at the garden store. Crazy! I’m hoping the crazy raccoons didn’t uproot it all last night!
Here are some photos. I am so happy with the overall look!

The new path to the sidewalk

The back shed and the new path (with cottage moss) The dining area was there already

The cocktail Lounge Area (JT and I designed and built this two years ago). JT built the sectional (I made the cushions)

The back yard from the cocktail lounge area

The hors d’oeuvres I am featuring is Escargot en Choux – one of our HD’s we had at the cottage this past weekend. It is a rendition of escargot en brioche (escargot, garlic butter, parsley in a very tasty little brioche). I make the cheese choux pastries that I freeze and have available for appetizers as needed. The rest is so easy: about 1 tsp of unsalted butter, garlic, parsley, grated cheese (like Parmesan or Gruyere), salt and of course, 1 escargot per choux. Rince the escargot, set aside to dry. Mash the butter with all of the ingredients, but the escargot, and divide evenly to the choux. Stuff one escargot and some butter mash into each choux, bake for 10 minutes around 325°F and enjoy!

It’s hard to believe they are disgusting little garden snails. But damn tasty!

Escargot en Choux


Our view this morning; some leaves have already begun changing colour!

The view this morning

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We finally bit-the-bullet and had new windows installed in our 1928 Craftsman-style home. We had intended on doing it with the Reno 4+ years ago, but then we reached our saturation point of spending; not exactly a budget, we just got sick and tired of spending money! Glad we waited though, because it seems that window prices have been reduced since then! We decided to do all the windows and the front door and what a difference it makes. Last night the humidity disappeared and the temperature dropped, so we immediately took advantage, turned off the A/C and opened ALL the windows. Most of the old windows were painted shut, so they wouldn’t even open, so our new found cross ventilation was very exciting! I am also very excited about being able to clean the windows inside and out (our old windows had storms painted on and the glass sandwiched inside the storm was filthy!) Woo hoo. Small things bring me pleasure.

Still not the tennis bracelet, but new windows will keep me happy for a while!

Diningroom Window

Front Door

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Christmas Tree

We bought the tree last Wednesday at Ikea ($20!) and had tasty meatballs for dinner. We decorated on Thursday. We’re ready for the season’s celebrations!

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Halloweeny

Halloween was a bit of a bust this year; we could barely give away our pack of 70 candies. Near the end we were just pouring them into the bags. The weather wasn’t great either (wind warnings and chilly) and to top it all off, we actually had a black out for about an hour and half. Part of the success-less-ness can be blamed on our street, 4 houses participating this year. Shame on you all.

Here are our 2009 pumpkins:

JTsPumpkin

EvasPumpkin

Click here for Halloween 2009 photos.

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Here are a few shots of our lovely tomato harvests…we are getting about 5-10 every couple of days. Although entirely home grown organically, I am rather disappointed in the lack luster taste, they are OK but not great.

Our Best Harvest so far

Our Best Harvest so far

My Craft. We had this old window which used to be a mirror in our house at The Upper Beach until it came to its untimely demise on the living room floor. I kept it knowing that one day I would like to use it in our garden (our decor now is not so much cottage as it was in the Upper Beach days).

My Craft

My Craft

The new deck needed a décor element to take your eye away from our neighbour’s ladder hanging on the side of his house, so I thought, what better way to use our ancient window?

I say “my craft” with some humor since I actually did very little of it. JT kindly prepped and painted this lovely ancient window frame, cut out the plywood board inserts and painted them too. All I did was the fun part: cut out and apply the tin, and then create a hanging mechanism for the tea light holders.

Close up of My Craft

Close up of My Craft

The distressed tin background is meant to reflect the candle light.I used little silver thumb tacks to ‘rivet’ the tin onto the plywood background. I am really pleased with the results. So that is “my craft”

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Weather July 1

Today is Canada Day, therefore everthing is closed (thank goodness we stocked up from The Depot, the LCBO and Metro!).  We got off to a great start and skirted the back of the deck. By 12:30ish we had the arbour up and capped. Lunch was a tasty wrap and a tower of tomatoes and buffalo mozarella….YUM.

Wraps with Tomato and Buffalo Mozerella Tower

Wraps with Tomato and Buffalo Mozerella Tower

Although the weather forecast called for rain, we didn’t get any! YIPEEEEEE. We worked like crazy to get the top box finished for the steps from the living room and by the end of the day, JT was skirting behind the BBQ and I was cleaning up.

The deck is done, but the steps to the patio still need to be done, and you know what that means…Trip #6 to The Depot tomorrow morning!

The Cocktail Lounge Arbour

The Cocktail Lounge Arbour

The Cocktail Lounge

The Cocktail Lounge

The Reclaimed Dining Area

The Reclaimed Dining Area

Cocktails with Hungarian Cheese Sticks (my Aunte Agi’s recipe) will be served promptly at 5:30 on the New, Mother of All Mothers, Cocktail Lounge (furniture is TBD, we will use this in the meantime). Shortly thereafter, dinner will be served de plein air (as they say) in the newly reclaimed dining area! Cheers!

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Weather June 30

The morning started out to be quite sunny. But clouds did manage to float in and we had a few minor showers, which didn’t stop us from working.

We got most of the uprights put up, ready for the lattice and we got the bottom box made for the steps from the sliding doors off the living room. The we broke for lunch.

Build Day 5 - the rain continues

Build Day 5 - the rain continues

During lunch, the skies opened up again and poured like there was no tomorrow. We decided to make our 5th trip to The Depot to pick up a few things. My bet was 4 JTs 5.

By the time we got home it was after 2pm and still raining, so we had to call it a day because tonight we are picking up our new Diesel Jetta and trading in the poor old buglette. Unfortunately, it is directly in cocktail hour. Cheers, anyway!

The New Diesel Jetta

The New Diesel Jetta

The New Diesel Jetta

The New Diesel Jetta

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Weather June 29

Paul and T are on vacation and they are in Hawaii. What the heck was I thinking that on MY vacation I would build a deck? There is not one muscle in my whole entire being that is not screeming and writhing with pain. Hawaii? Pain? Hawaii? Pain? Oh ma goh!

Today we got off to another good start: Trip #4 to The Depot. We ran out of screws (we have already used 300 and need another 300, or so!) and step stringers. Thank goodness for the drill with a screwdriver bit, otherwise I think I would have thrown myself onto a large sword by now!

We got on a roll and finished the decking by 1pm, at which time, we broke for lunch. During lunch loud, cracking thunder. I look up and the skies are black. We ran to get everthing in the garage, but just before I was able to grab the tray of food, the skies opened up and buckets of water poured down. Rain like no other. Then hail. It lasted about 10 minutes and then petered out to a light rain.

Sunny One Minute to Teaming Rain the Next

Sunny One Minute to Teaming Rain the Next

It rained pretty much the entire afternoon, but we managed to skirt the deck and get the stringers strung. Lowes sent the wrong deck boards for the steps so, guess what? Yep, another trip to The Depot!

Day 4 Deck Skirt

Day 4 Deck Skirt

We’re also trying to figure out the steps from the sliding doors; they will be very tricky because the gas line for the BBQ comes our directly where the first step up is. We’ll figure it out. Here is a rendering.

Concept for Steps from Sliding Doors

Concept for Steps from Sliding Doors

And it’s that time of the afternoon again, yes, it is cocktail hour. Cheers!

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Build Day 2 Weather

Build Day 2 Weather

We started off OK at 9ish, but very overcast. We made a rookie error which cost about an hour and $20 but really 5.5 hours because it started teaming rain! And, of course, Trip #3 to Home Depot.

Mother Nature Hates Us

Mother Nature Hates Us

Rain, rain and more rain. At around 2:30 the rain stopped and we immediately got back into it.

We did well, but time, energy and screws ran out (the wood kind, get your mind out of the gutter). Here is our progress today:

6:30pm Progress

6:30pm Progress

Weather permitting, we should be able to have cocktails on the new deck tomorrow! Cheers!

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I am just getting too old for this type of sillyness! OHHHH my aching back.

To say Build Day 2 got off to a slow start is an understatement. Not for a lack to trying. One challenge after another. I won’t bore you with them, but suffice to say that we made our 2nd run to The Depot by 10am. JT bets 5 by the end of the build, I’m hoping for far less, but we already have the list for the next one (dare I guess 4???)

Here we are at 1pm…see what I mean about slow start?

Build Day 1 at 1pm

Build Day 2 at 1pm

We got the old fence post cut (by hand), some more demo, I moved 9 cement blocks into position, blah blah blah blah blah!

But eventually and fortunately, we got on a bit of a roll, and by 5pm we had the base box accomplished (plus dug an extra post for support).

Build Day 1 at 5pm

Build Day 2 at 5pm

Hopefully Build Day 3 will be smoother. For some god forsaken reason, both JT and I have this inhumane urge to finish quickly, even though I have the entire week off. Cocktails anyone?

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We decided to get as much pre deck work done during the week as possible to allow for concentrated deck building during my time off.

Tuesday June 23 – Demo Day 1 (actually it was evening): Remove overgrown shrubs. Now THAT is manual labour. The root ball of one overgrown evergreen shrub was intensely embedded into the earth. On the plus side, we are quite fortunate that our soil is actually sand so digging isn’t that difficult!

Demo Day 1 - Remove Overgrown Shrubs

Demo Day 1 - Remove Overgrown Shrubs

Demo Day 1 - Shrub Removal

Demo Day 1 - Shrub Removal

JT did all of the demo himself during the day. It was horrible mainly because the deck was solidly built, but the temperature was absurd +30°C with high humidity. UGH!

Demo Day 1

Demo Day 2

Wednesday June 24 – Demo Day 2: I couldn’t believe what difference removing the pickets could make from looking out the living room doors — we could actually see our beautiful garden!

Demo'd

Demo'd

Jt brought the deck down in record time!

Demo Day 3

Demo Day 3

The space we gained was incredible!

Friday June 26 – Demo Day 4: JT spent removing debree so we would have space to work. That entire pile made its way to the driveway. All the new lumber which was delivered to our side yard on Thursday morning was moved into the garage to keep it safe and dry! Thanks JT, that was not the fun part!

The New Post

The New Post

Friday June 26 Evening – Build Day 1: Building a deck onto an old house does not come without its challenges. We designed the deck with a large ‘arbour’ covering our neighbour’s brick wall (see photo above). For this we planned to sink four 6″ x 6″ posts (trying to keep consistent with the existing arbour) — no-can-do! It would seem that 3 out of the four existing fence posts are directly, exactly, couldn’t be more exact space where we wanted our new posts. In cement. Did I happen to mention that the existing posts were cemented into the same exact location where we wanted our new posts! UGH! (I may be saying that and perhaps a few choice words over the next week!).

Back to the drawing board, literally! What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I had planned to use my brawn over the week, wanted to turn brain off….

We came up with a plan. We will retrofit the existing posts to make them ‘look’ like 6″ x 6″‘s – Obstacle 1 averted.

Unfortunately, post #2 was in the wrong place and fortunately, there was enough space to the right of it to dig a proper hole to sink another 4″ x 4″ so that we can have equal space for our lattice ‘arbour”.

And that is what we did Friday night. Of course, cockails thereafter!

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When we decided to add onto our kitchen, we knew we had to give up our lovely cocktail deck JT and I built about a year or two after we moved into our home. But we had bigger plans! A new, bigger, better cocktail lounge to replace a semi useless, puney little deck off the living room! The mother of all mother cocktail lounges!

We had planned to put on this new and improved deck during the reno, but because of timing and such, we were were not able to then. We decided it was time, so I am taking a week off to help my husband build a deck. Believe it or not, I love this type of manual labour, blue job or not! A few photos for a general time line:

Pre Cocktail Area 2001

Pre Cocktail Area 2001 at the time we purchased the home

Cocktail Area Before Reno

Cocktail Area Before Reno around 2002-3

Cocktail Area During Reno

Cocktail Area During Reno 2007

Old Cocktail Area after addition

Cocktail Area after the Reno 2008

Site of the Upcoming Mother of all Cocktail Lounges

Site of the Upcoming Mother of all Cocktail Lounges

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My Pantry Storage Dilemma

The kitchen is about 2 year’s old now (that is unbelievable) and I’ve been struggling with dry goods storage in my pantry and my baking drawers. I hate irregular packaging that make things look messy and unkept; I really like things squared and ordered.

This past weekend, I found the greatest glass jars in Dollarama (I know, China and all, but they have been the ONLY thing I’ve found that works, and guess how much they were?). I’ve labelled and organized them and now I am quite happy again.

Pantry

Pantry

Baking Drawer

Baking Drawer

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