13 April 2012

Mayo Clinic

I know it's a little late to be posting Easter egg photos (unless you celebrate Orthodox Easter) but for me Easter eggs mean egg salad, and this year that led to me making my own mayonnaise. Heady stuff, I know.

This was my second year experimenting with natural dyes. I got the best results with red cabbage (blue) and turmeric (yellow). I should have taken some of the blue eggs out sooner in order to get a more pastel shade but...hindsight. I had less success with onion skins (the short soak was supposed to make orange eggs but they ended up looking like regular brown eggs) and green tea. The tea eggs came out a slightly greenish brown shade, again too close to regular brown eggs. So I put them in the blue dye and ended up with a bizarre army green shade. Next year I'll try not to let Easter sneak up on me. And hopefully next year I'll also be able to find beets! The lack of red/pink eggs pains me.

Anyway, on to the mayonnaise. This is one of those things I've been wanting to make for years. I kept hearing how easy it was and how it blows commercial mayo out of the water. Since I finally had the opportunity I went for it.

The ingredients that initially go into the processor are an egg, an egg yolk, flour, sugar, lemon juice, water, and vinegar.
After it's all blended:

The recipe I used takes the step of gently cooking the egg mixture (I'm assuming as an anti-salmonella measure), but as it required constant stirring I couldn't take a photo. I ended up with a slightly thickened liquid, which I placed back in the (washed) processor, along with dry mustard powder, a pinch of cayenne and kosher salt.

After another quick blend:

As I started slowly adding the oil (a bit of olive and a lot of sunflower) I was still skeptical that this watery mixture was going to turn into mayonnaise. But somehow, when all the oil was added and I took off the lid, I found this:

Mayonnaise! Cooking is magic...

Egg and Herb Salad

4 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
4 tbs mayonnaise or sour cream
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp paprika
1 tbs chopped chives or green onion
1/2 tsp dried, crumbled dill weed (or 1/2 tbs fresh, chopped)

Combine all ingredients well and chill until ready to serve between slices of buttered bread.

Serves 2

(I made the egg salad with home-grown dill and onions, as well as the mayo, and served it on homemade bread. I feel so domestic! On another note, this has a shelf life of 3 to 4 days, while commercial mayo lasts forever. What the heck do they put in that stuff?)

04 April 2012

Paisley Renewed

I'm not normally a fan of paisley--it's just not a pattern I love. But this version by Mini Moderns
has won me over. Why? Take a closer look...

I love the concept and the attention to detail (the only way I could like it more would be if the little houses were Victorian style). If I wasn't pathologically opposed to wallpaper I think I would order this right now. I could see it as an accent wall or for a craft- or laundry-room. It could even be striking cut into large pieces and framed as art. The post where I originally found this suggested it for a small powder room. It comes in other colours too. Yay for creativity and whimsy!

25 February 2012

This Is My Home

This Is My Home from Mark on Vimeo.

Well, not really my home--but that of Anthony Pisano. I was interested in the home that looked like an antiques shop but what really intrigued me once I started watching was the spirit and outlook of Mr. Pisano. Come to think of it, he's not unlike Maude from Harold and Maude. Here is a person who truly embraces life and his fellow humans. As an introvert and a product of a generation that always lock their doors I can only envy Mr. Pisano's easy openness. But maybe I'll be able to take the headphones off one of these days and connect with a stranger or two. Not a bad idea for all of us to attempt. Thank you, Mr. Pisano--the world needs more of you.

15 February 2012

Review: The Amazing World of Orchids by Wilma & Brian Rittershausen

Confession time: I used to dislike orchids. I'm not sure why because they're absolutely beautiful plants. Of course now that I've developed a minor addiction to them I'm finding out how much work they are. They might not be particularly difficult to take care of, but they're labour intensive. Not to mention that there are so many different types and each one has different care requirements. If you're keen on growing your own orchids then I highly suggest picking up a book like The Amazing World of Orchids (or, really, anything by the Rittershausens, noted orchid authorities).

The Amazing World of Orchids definitely lives up to its title. I never realized how many stunning orchids there are, or how interesting these plants can be. The photographs are gorgeous and there's plenty of them--always a big plus in a gardening book. I'd go so far as to say it's worth getting just for the photos. But there's so much more to this book.

The Rittershausens consulted with the Kew World Monocot Checklist and the International Register of Orchid Hybrids to make sure all their information is accurate and up to date. Their thoroughness and attention to detail shows. While the book makes for dry reading at times it offers a wealth of information. From evolution and structure of the plants to families and specific hybrids to cultivation and care--whatever you might want to know is in here. Of course finding out so much about the plants proved to be a little daunting for me--I now have to wonder if I can really keep up with the care of multiple orchids. I did, however, discover how I should be caring for the one I do have (a Phalaenopsis), which led to me moving it to a much warmer spot in the house. It hasn't been there too long but so far so good. There might be a lot to know and do but once you have all the details--if you're not overwhelmed by what's involved--you can start raising orchids with confidence. And to quote the infinitely wise G.I. Joe, "Knowing is half the battle."

Even though I'm approaching this from the perspective of a novice, I think the book would still be useful to those more experienced with orchids. Besides all the pictures (and what plant-lover doesn't like to look at pictures of them?), the updated hybrid info and the plethora of information make this book worthwhile for even an orchid expert.

My only real criticism, and it's a fairly minor one, is that the print used for captions is tiny! I don't need glasses but I felt as though I needed to break out a magnifying glass to see what the captions said. Hopefully future editions will address this issue.

Other than that this is a great book on orchids, one that I would recommend to anyone interested in the subject, or even those who are merely curious. I don't know why I used to dislike these plants but I"m glad I got over it.

Quote: "One of the orchids which was once widespread across this ancient land mass was Vanilla, whose pods are used for flavouring."

The Amazing World of Orchids
by Wilma and Brian Rittershausen. Published by Quadrille in association with The Royal Horticultural Society.

27 January 2012

Keeping You Appraised

It's funny how subjective the value of a house is. The cartoon above shows some good examples and isn't too much of an exaggeration. Depending on which side you're on it can be pretty frustrating.

Having been through appraisals a few times (including one more today) I can completely relate to the image above. I don't know what it is but their valuations always seem to come in lower than what you know a buyer would pay if you were to sell. I don't know how they arrive at their valuations but I have the sneaking suspicion it involves out-of-date property tax assessments, consultations with real estate agents from other cities, and the casting of lots with dice and chicken bones. There's got to be a better way. One that's a bit less stressful for those of us being appraised would be nice too!

Home ownership: forcing people to jump through one hoop after another since at least 1945...

14 January 2012

Gone Wild

One thing I love about Toronto is all the green. This is a city of trees, parks and gardens as much as of concrete and steel. No surprise that we have plenty of wildlife as well. I like to think I've made my yard welcoming to the critters and they seem to agree, making themselves at home year round. Every so often we have some particularly fun encounters. The other day we watched as a hawk (or maybe a falcon--I suck at IDing birds) swooped into the tree overlooking the yard. He surveyed the place for awhile (not long enough to grab the camera, I'm sorry to say) before leaving again. As soon as he left and we went outside, all the little birds that hang out in the yard took off and flew to the hedges. Poor things must have been terrified seeing that bird of prey. But it was pretty cool for us.

Yesterday I was surprised to open the door to check for mail and found our snow-covered newspaper adorned with a set of birdie footprints. You can see them leading up to the paper on our doorstep:

And then on the paper itself. Somebody hopped right on up to the door (I guess they took the welcome mat to heart)! This is why we're afraid every time the cats wander near an open door. Even perfectly content house kitties can't be expected to resist the thrill of chasing birds (and squirrels) this bold...

Last week I also discovered what seems to be a den in the far corner of our backyard. It might look like a mess but it's definitely not a random pile of branches (especially since these are the only fallen branches in the yard). The pile encompasses a hollow tree stump too--could be quite a cozy little bed for someone:

I wasn't sure what kind of animal might live in this sort of nest but after seeing footprints leading to and from it I'm guessing a small raccoon has made this home. What do you think?

UPDATE: I just found out that raccoons have five toes so now I'm completely at a loss as to what kind of wildlife this might be. It's too large to be a squirrel. Ideas anyone?

Photos by Domicile (click to enlarge)

13 January 2012

Stitches that Bind

In my trays post I mentioned that I also brought home two framed needlepoints that my mom had told me she wanted me to have. So I thought I'd share :) But before we get to those I have to show you my prized possession (above and below)...

This is an embroidered piece that my mom made when she was about 11 or 12. When she went back to her childhood home (for the first time after 30-ish years!) in the late 80s she found it again and brought it back and had it framed. I loved it from the beginning: the colours, the design, the workmanship. How thrilled was I when she gave it to me when I moved into my first house! If there's ever a fire I'd grab my cats, my computer, and this. If I had to I'd leave the computer behind.

Swallows are common in Greece (at least around Sparta) and they nest under any overhangs they can find. My great aunt has them on her porch under the grapevine arbour. My dad had them inside his childhood home in the rafters (times were rough back then)! Everyone seems to like them, though--I've never heard anyone complain (I think they're considered good luck). I'm a big fan myself so I'm extra glad that they're the subject of this work.

My mom had what are called "blessed hands." She could look at a picture of a dress and recreate it (when she was sewing professionally most of her customers would bring her a photo instead of a pattern). Or if she had a swatch of a crochet design she could figure it out and turn it into a finished piece. I know she didn't have any kind of pattern when she made this needlepoint--and look at how fine the stitches are. If I had a tenth of her skills and talents I would feel blessed myself.

Speaking of the trays post, I forgot to mention another tray I found that day. This one has an embroidered piece framed inside it. My mom did the embroidery but I don't know who framed it or chose to put it in a tray (great idea, though). I could use it for more practical purposes but the back is on the fragile side so I decided to hang it in my kitchen instead.

Again, I marvel at the workmanship...

This next piece is one that was always hanging in our house ever since I can remember. I always liked it and I'm so glad my mom gave it to me. It's weird to see it in my house now, though. Takes me right back to childhood...

The frame isn't my usual style but I hung it over the piano (in the dining room) and it actually looks perfect. The wood blends nicely with all the other wood in the room; the colours work well; and the theme is most suitable. I tried to get a photo including the piano but despite taking about a thousand pictures I only ended up with a couple that looked remotely decent. The photography gods were not with me that day...

I'm really sorry for the glare but I wanted to show the picture and the stitches a little closer. Non-reflective glass, my ass. Anyway this style of embroidery is (I believe) called half-stitch (in Greek, which is how I know it, it's called kedima). You work it on a pre-printed pattern. That sounds dull but it's very soothing work and allows for plenty of creativity with the colours. I was taught it when I was 4 or 5 but that's for another post...

This last piece wasn't made by my mom but it was given to her as a gift (I wish I could remember by whom but if I ever knew I forgot a long time ago). It used to hang in our living room (over this exact couch, actually, which I also inherited). I'm not sure yet where to put it. There's an ideal spot in the foyer but it's awkward to reach as it's over the stairs so hanging it may prove to be a problem (that's also why painting the foyer is an issue).

For some reason Greeks really seem to love stitching these "olde" English/French countryside/village-type scenes. I even made one for my mom but it's in Greece now so it'll be a while before I can photograph it!

It seems like ages since I've worked on a half-stitch project. I've been doing some cross-stitch lately, as well as working on other crafts. As soon as I'm finished my current cross-stitch piece I'm breaking out one of my waiting kedima patterns (yes, I have a minor stockpile). There's something really comfortable--and comforting--about carrying on traditions.

Photos by Domicile (click to enlarge)

05 January 2012

How to Prevent the Zombie Plague

My head is pounding, my throat hurts, and I am super cranky. But let me go back a bit...

Yesterday was a busy day for me. I ran all over the city, walking, taking the subway, going to a hospital, a coffee shop, a restaurant, a couple of stores, and a mall. And everywhere I went everyone was coughing or sneezing. I was perfectly healthy yesterday. Now--see above.

I know people are busy and have important things that need to get done. Apparently taking a sick day would bring civilization to its knees or something. But before you decide to be "brave" and go into work or school or out to run errands even though you're sick think about some of the other people you're affecting:

  • You could be coming into contact with people who have lowered or suppressed immunity. People with serious illnesses, the very young, or the elderly. What is an inconvenient cold to you could easily become pneumonia in them with consequences that are a little more than inconvenient.
  • The person you give your cold to might be the caregiver for someone with suppressed immunity. Whether they accidentally pass on your germs to that person or end up having to avoid the person who relies on them until they're no longer contagious, their lives just got a whole lot more difficult.
  • You might end up giving your cold to a pregnant woman. I don't know too much about this subject but I'm pretty sure cold medications aren't allowed during pregnancy. The woman who was already dealing with plenty now has to go through the misery of a cold with little to no relief.
  • You might affect someone's health in a different way. For example, diabetics have a hard enough time keeping their blood sugars at a reasonable level in order to avoid the serious consequences that come with out-of-control sugars. There are a lot of things that can throw it out of whack, including stress and illness. You know what causes a diabetic stress? Getting sick and watching helplessly as their sugars go crazy. I know because I've been diabetic since I was eight years old.
  • In Toronto we have a downtown hospital district. The place is rife with medical staff and students, as well as researchers. I know they take every precaution to keep healthy (except maybe for quitting smoking--what's up with that, guys?) but it doesn't take much to catch someone's cold. And they don't have the option to just go into work anyway. Take a second to think about how many people that ends up affecting.
Even if any of these people manage to avoid getting sick directly they might end up picking it up from a spouse, roommate, or child. We all know that this is the time of year for nasty bugs--why add to it by leaving the house and forcing others to come into contact with you? (I've lost track of the number of times I've gotten together with someone who didn't bother to warn me and I don't find out until it's too late that they're sick. I'm sure you've been in the same situation. Be honest--don't you want to wring their necks? Or at least put on a heavy duty surgical mask?)

These are just some of the examples of how a cold can be much more detrimental than you may have thought. So please, the next time you're sick and contagious--stay home. The world won't come to an end, your job won't suddenly disappear, those errands can wait. Honest. In the meantime rest, drink juice, eat soup, watch soaps and read trashy tabloids. Sleep works wonders. It also doesn't hurt to take extra garlic, vitamin C, zinc and echinacea. Get better and show some consideration for your fellow humans.

Photo by freeimages.co.uk

03 January 2012

On a Silver Platter

I believe in an afterlife. I also believe my parents are there together and that they watch over me, including this past Christmas.

The SO and I were over at my sister's place on the 24th. It was a low-key day in light of losing our mom this past March, but we wanted to see each other for the holiday. She and I had been talking a couple of days beforehand about some of the boxes still sitting in her basement from our parents' move (in 1999 they sold their house and started splitting their time between my sister's place and Greece). My sister thought there were only bar glasses in the boxes and when I mentioned it to the SO he thought we could use them if my sister didn't want them (the fact that they're still in boxes after all this time is a pretty good sign that she doesn't). So while we were there on the 24th I decided I'd take home a couple of framed needlepoints my mom had told me she wanted me to have, as well as a box of the bar glasses.

My sister chose the particular box she did because my dad had written on it and she felt sentimental seeing his handwriting. When we checked to see what was inside we were completely surprised. Instead of bar ware the box was full of gorgeous trays and platters! Not having seen them in so long I'd assumed they were either in Greece or mixed in with my sister's stuff.

Since sis didn't need any more serving ware (there are benefits to getting married) she kindly let me have the entire box. Now, you have to understand how much I love this stuff. I inherited my mom's taste and over the years she's given me all kinds of household items (either new or her old pieces) and I cherish all of it (especially the old pieces). I thought I already had everything I'd be getting. So to find and receive all these lovely items out of nowhere... it definitely feels like my parents sent me a Christmas gift. I guess I'll have to entertain more often now so I can put everything to good use (or else just start making more things that can be served on platters)...

It was perfect timing to get the turkey platter, as the SO and I were making a turkey dinner on the 25th:

I've fallen in love with this piece--it's a silver Lazy Susan tray with a covered divided glass-and-silver dish that sits in the middle of it. I didn't have anything like this before and I can't wait to use it:

I also love this tray. I think it would be perfect for cupcakes!

From top left to right: silver footed tray; turkey platter; cut crystal platter; etched glass platter; silver and glass Lazy Susan; glass platter with beaded edging. There was also a smaller oval stoneware platter that had seen better days so I'm using that as the dish under one of my plants. The rope of beads is actually an oversized string of worry beads that my cousin picked up for me in Thessaloniki (I believe they're supposed to bring good fortune to the house). My mom also made the crushed velvet tablecloth for me after I saw a photo of a similar one in Betsey Johnson's house and thought it was the awesomest tablecloth ever (I'm still pretty damn fond of it). It's amazing how much of my mom is in this house, whether directly or otherwise. No matter what I know my parents will always be with me.

And a gratuitous shot of my Yule tree because I finally managed to get a nice photo of it :)

Photos by Domicile (click to enlarge)