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Halloween Pinspiration

I know, I know, I know. I have this fair-weather relationship with my blog. I haven’t been all that involved with it these days months. And I have no excuse other than Life. Yes, Life. So without further ado, I decided to do a quick post with some of my favourite Pins of Halloween decor.

The house is mostly decorated now, but I can’t photograph it very well because contrary to what some might think, I don’t know how to take a good exterior shot of the front of my house. It just ends up looking, well, bad. And definitely not Pin-worthy. Because we all know what makes the cut.

I dig Ghost pumpkins–those are the white pumpkins. And anything a little different from the predictable. Although I love simple, old-school Jack O’ Lanterns too. So I’m leaving you with a few pictures to give you some unattainable inspiration when carving up those ghoulish gourds in the next few days.


I call these Tim Burton style pumpkins


These are beautiful Ghost pumpkins.


And now I’ll just get out my handy, dandy drill!

This is my Pinspiration for now…what are your Halloween Pinspirations?

We Be Jammin’

It’s that time of year again–the sacred few weeks when Ontario strawberries are in season. And that means it’s time to roll up my sleeves and make batches of sweet, yummy jam for everyone to enjoy–including the teachers. I always try and make the jam before the end of the school year so the boys can give jars of jam as gifts to their teachers.

If you have ever contemplated making jam but have been intimidated by the thought of it, don’t be. It’s the easiest thing ever. The only thing that might make you shy away is the steps involved–not many, but time consuming.

Before any jam making begins you must wash and sterilize your jars. It’s important to do this first otherwise your jam will start setting and you’ll be busy scrambling to get your jars ready.

First you have to wash and hull all the berries–probably the most time and labour intensive step in the process. You’ll also have a hard time resisting eating the berries as you wash them!

Ontario strawberries

Crushing the berries is the next step. Up until this year I simply used a potato masher to do this. But I got a hand blender recently and used this to crush the berries–actually I turned them into a pulp which made for a very runny, smooth jam. If you prefer having chunks of berry in your jam, make sure not to crush them too much.

Crush the strawberries

Next stir in the sugar. I like to use a product called Quick Set, which has some pectin in it already to help thicken the jam. If you want to know the berries-to-sugar ratio, it’s 1 kilo of sugar to 4 cups of *crushed* fruit but I just follow the directions on the bag. 

Berries and sugar!

Now it’s time to cook up the jam. Over medium heat in heavy pot let the mixture cook for 5 to 10 minutes. A foamy pink “scum” will form on the top of the jam and you need to skim this off with a spoon. The jam will come to a rolling boil and once that’s happened your jam is finished cooking.

Next get your jars out. Fill the jars almost to the top–leave a few centimeters for air to escape. I use snap lids on my jars. Once filled, I pop the jars in boiling water making sure the water covers the top of the jars completely and let the water boil away for about 10 minutes. This is called processing and it’s necessary so you can store the jars without refrigerating them. You’ll know this step worked when you hear the lids literally “snap” when they are suctioned down. You’re done! 

Mmmm...jam!

Now you can enjoy your jam slathered on a piece of fresh bread or crackers. Believe me, once you taste the jam you’ll realize it was worth all the effort.

 

Eulogy For A Dog

I miss my dog. My husband and I took him to the vet’s and put him down last night. They put us in a softly lit room with two leather chairs and a black and white fleece blanket on the floor. There was a jar of liver treats on the table so I helped myself to a handful, which I fed to Duke. That was his name, Duke.

Just writing down his name brings tears to my eyes and a tightness to my throat.

If you had asked me six months ago if I would be so overcome with emotion at the demise of my dog, I would quickly have dismissed the idea. He was just a dog. But he was so much more than that.

I remember picking him out from the litter of ten puppies when he was just three weeks old.

The breeder single-handedly picked the puppies up by their backs, flipped them over to determine if they were male or female and then handed them to us to choose one.

I remember Duke nuzzling his black nose into my husband’s arms, a warm ball of fur, so calm. He was the one. He smelled like the fresh wood shavings used as a bed in his kennel. A mix of standard poodle and golden retriever, his breed would come to be known as the “golden doodle.”

With black marker in hand, the breeder “branded” our puppy with the letter ‘G’ on his pink belly. We would return in five weeks to take him home.

I didn’t grow up with dogs or any pets for that matter. My father had a thing about dogs that dated back to his childhood in Soviet-ruled Hungary. Dogs were used to intimidate, or guard. Not for companionship or play. But Duke would make a convert out of my dad.

Several years ago we lived with my parents while our house was being renovated.  When my father came home from work each day Duke was the first one to greet him at the door and my father would make him sit and then he would ask for a kiss, which Duke would obligingly give him with a big wet lick on his cheek.

That was the story for all of us—a friendly greeting at the door after a challenging day and all your troubles would vanish in a moment.

But it wasn’t all wags, licks and fetching.

There was the time Duke injured his Achilles tendon in a futile effort to catch a squirrel, which ended up costing us a pretty penny and a lot of consternation.

Or the time he devoured eight raw lamb chops right off the kitchen counter and we feared he would develop bloat.

Or the time he ran away and hid in the ravine after being scared off by a hot air balloon in the shape of a giant peanut.

I called Duke my perpetual two year-old. Just like a toddler, he demanded our attention; feeding, watering, walking, stooping and scooping, endless throwing of Frisbee or ball. And in return he gave us unconditional loyalty and love.

Early humans must have instinctively known about the fringe benefits of keeping a dog as a pet. In addition to their pack mentality, ability to catch small prey, and fend off intruders, dogs provide a companionship unmatched by any other animal.

Like a true domesticated canine, Duke knew his place in our pack, protecting and playing with us and our children in equal measure.

To non-dog people, the notion of a dog being a member of a family may seem ludicrous, even saccharine. Years ago even I may have been that person.

But I admit Duke had a profound effect on me and my family that I could not have predicted when we first brought him home eight and a half years ago.

Just like humans, dogs grow old or develop illnesses. In Duke’s case he got cancer. We could have exercised lifesaving measures, like chemotherapy, that just a few decades ago were only intended for humans. Instead we chose palliative care and spoiled him with table food, like my boeuf bourguignon and chicken pot pie.

On his last day I fed Duke three hot dogs. It was a sunny Spring afternoon. The kids were home from school and we were sitting in the backyard. Duke still insisted on fetching the ball even though he couldn’t see it only able to find it by smell and hobbled around the grass on three of four legs.

We decided to tell the kids it was time to say good-bye to Duke. Our three-year-old was more interested in digging in the sand, but our six-year-old had plenty of questions and plenty to say.

After much discussion he wrapped up the conversation with the matter-of-fact pronouncement that all life must come to an end.

Only a day after his death and friends are asking if we will get another dog. It’s too premature to say, but I feel with some certainty we will get another dog. I’m just not sure I’m ready to journey through the peaks and valleys of dog ownership again just yet.

In the meantime our son has planned a memorial service for Duke. We are burying his collar and tags under the dogwood tree in our backyard (how à propos) and singing a prayer.

That backyard feels a whole lot emptier without Duke in it, but it is full of great memories that we will carry with us.

Duke Sept 15, 2001- April 26, 2010

A blanket for my new nephew–or niece

In the next 12 hours I will find out whether I have a new niece or nephew who I fondly refer to as Jellybean. My brother and his wife are having their first child tomorrow. We know this because she is scheduled for a C-section, although not by choice. This wee babe has been breech for weeks now and although my dear sister-in-law did everything in her power to coax Jellybean to head south, this baby wouldn’t budge. This to me suggests my sweet niece or nephew will have an unwavering constitution, which I think is a good thing! In honour of Jellybean’s arrival I’ve made a little bundle blanket in, what I think are fairly gender neutral colours. Browns, yellows and blues. I love making these blankets because they aren’t particularly baby-ish and they are perfect for putting down on the carpet and letting the baby wriggle around or practice their tummy time. I’ve made them for many of my nephews and nieces and they make a very special gift. I’d love to make them and sell them, but at my hourly rate, they’d cost a mere $200! (if you put in an order, I won’t refuse!) So, Jellybean, this is my way of saying welcome to the world and welcome to our growing family.

Jellybean's bundle blanket


Let Them Eat Cake!

I just celebrated a birthday. A significant one to me. But this post is not about birthday cake. Well, not my birthday cake. I did get one (actually two), but I wasn’t responsible for the baking of either one of them. What I did get for my birthday, among other things, was a cake decorating class from my husband. In other words I signed myself up for a course called “Wedding Cakes and Pastries” offered by the Toronto District School Board. It’s once a week for 9 weeks and it started last night. The bonus is I’m taking it with my good friend, Karen, making it that much more fun. There were about a dozen of us sitting around the staff room table at the local high school. All I brought was myself and my apron (which says “Just Call Me Martha” on it) and we spent the next 2 hours learning about different kinds of cakes, icings and tools required from our lovely instructor, Margaret. She even demonstrated how to make her version of tiramisu–what I call a “no bake cake”–that would impress the pants off of any guest you have over for dinner. Her secret is making it look just like a cake instead of layering it in a dish using sweetened whipped cream like icing, which she made herself. Not unlike Martha Stewart’s recipe for sweetened whipped cream, it only requires three ingredients: whipping cream, icing sugar and vanilla.  She begins by dipping lady fingers into coffee and then dousing them in a liquer of your choice (she uses Kahlua).  Margaret then arranged the lady fingers side by each in a small rectangle. She put the sweetened whipped cream between two layers of cookies and then slathered the whole thing with another layer of the whipped cream. To make it pretty, she made rosettes out of the whipped cream using a piping bag, and then puts a coffee bean on each rosette. The finishing touch is a light dusting cocoa and cinnamon. We each got to sample it and it was light and delicious and not overly sweet. Now I’ve got a laundry list of cake decorating implements to acquire and a doozy of an assignment: my son’s 6th birthday cake in 2 weeks. I’ll keep you posted on how that one is coming along.

Sweetened Whipped Cream

1 cup of whipping cream (35%)

2 tablespoons icing sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions: with a hand mixer or standing mixer, beat the cream and sugar on high until it begins to stiffen. Then add the vanilla extract and keep beating until cream is stiff and forms peaks.

Margaret’s Tip: chill the bowl and beaters before whipping the cream. This will encourage the cream to stiffen.

Bagels and Cupcakes and Tracy Morgan, Oh My!

My day began by tucking into one of those dense and delicious H & H bagels we picked up yesterday. This was followed by a quick jaunt over to D’Agostino’s where I picked up a chicken and some sweet and mini Yukon Gold potatoes for Shabbas dinner. They also happened to have Valrhona baking chocolate on sale, so I picked up a couple of bars to take back home. This brand of chocolate is often sited by cooks/food personalities and the chocolate they swear by when baking. We’ll have to see just how true that sentiment is in future baking encounters. Meanwhile Dave got going and we immediately headed downtown to Ground Zero. It is, without question, a well-funded project. There really wasn’t much to see except many cranes in the air and lots of fencing around the area. So we headed across the street to Century 21 to do some damage. That department store is, as my sister warned me, overwhelming. We killed a good hour just wandering the maze of rooms in that building before hopping back on the subway to meet my cousin Jared for lunch. He took us to a very trendy-looking Vietnamese resto called Republic. My meal, essentialyl Pho with chicken and glass noodles, left a lot to be desired. But both Jared’s and Dave’s meals were great. But the best part of the meals were the drinks: Dave’s sweet iced coffee, Jared’s shockingly bright orange Thai Basil lemonade and my Coconut Pineapple concoction which was sweet beyond belief and so good. From there we hit Crumbs Bake Shop where Jared and I shared a couple of crazy cupcakes and we bought a half dozen more for dinner’s dessert. We parted ways with Jared and wandered through NYU campus to arrive in SoHo. Lots of shops and lots of people–I was astonished at the number of people just hanging out, on the streets, in the shops, in the parks….what do all these people do for a living and where do they all live??? By the way, Jared had mentioned celebrity spotting since his arrival here and ironically after lunch we had the good fortune of walking right past Tracy Morgan of 30 Rock. We both snickered like kids, giddy from our siting. Despite this brush with the stars, both of us were feeling a little bagged so I got Dave a pick-me-up at Dean & DeLuca and wandered a bit more before hopping back on the subway to get home to make dinner. We had a lovely Shabbas dinner with Dave’s aunt and uncle before heading back down to the theatre district to see a fabulous play with all-star cast called “God of Carnage.” It’s a must-see if you’re in Manhattan and planning on seeing a Broadway performance. We were laughing out loud. From the play we walked through Times Square which is the spectacle of spectacles in this town. The wattage alone used by the screens and billboards is enough to keep the Niagara Falls power generating station in business or at the very least cause an epileptic fit. We stopped by Rockefeller Plaza and walked all the way back to the apartment, where I am right now sitting in my pyjamas about to fall fast asleep. It was a fabulous day and I’m looking forward to another one tomorrow. G’night.

Destination: Manhattan

We’re in Manhattan for a mini vacation, just me and Dave. These opportunities to have what I call a “couples-only” or adult vacation are few and far between–scratch that–they NEVER happen. Or at least they haven’t happened since we decided to go forth and multiply. So here we are, staying with Dave’s aunt and uncle on the Upper East Side. We arrived after a rather turbulent and jolting commute in the air and on ground that left both of us feeling rather green. But after regaining our appetites we grabbed a quick bite to eat and then marched across Central Park to my number one destination: Zabar’s. Yes, I know, I’m in New York City and where do I want to go? A grocery store??? Yes, and I was in absolute heaven when I saw that Orange sign….off to Rectangle’s (Middle Eastern) for dinner. Stay tuned. More to come!

Sippin’ in Style

My husband never fails to continually surprise me, hence why I love him so much. And he did this the other morning when he asked me if we had any orange juice. An innocent enough question, but the answer was no. He then asked “do we have any fizzy bubelach?” to which I also answered no. For the uninitiated, fizzy bubelach, is a fictitious drink referred to by Adam Sandler’s character in the movie Zohan. You have to see it to appreciate the reference, but I digress. Dave clearly wanted something to drink so I said there was some lemonade in the freezer. I offered to make it, but Dave was on the job. I couldn’t quite figure out why he wanted lemonade until I saw him pull out our white ceramic pitcher and these two beautiful crystal glasses that belonged to my grandfather. All of a sudden the kids’ pink lemonade was transformed into this dainty summer bevy. I asked Dave what prompted the early morning indulgence and apparently he was inspired by a bit article in one of my design mags that he happened to be flipping through (I won’t tell you where–you can guess). Needless to say, it put a smile on my face and really, truly don’t you think it’s a great way to start the day? (hint: next time make it a mimosa)

Virgin Lemonade Cocktails
Virgin Lemonade Cocktails

Spring Bounty

Despite the below seasonal temperatures of late, the recent days of rain have given my garden that extra incentive to burst forth with blooms aplenty. Not only is my veggie patch beginning to show signs of life–the sage, thyme and chives are ripe for picking, and the radishes are coming up nicely–but the flower beds are filling in. It gives me such a sense of pride seeing all the vegetation growing so well…as if my hard work had anything to do with it (this is highly unlikely). There’s something novel about Spring gardens. Maybe it has to do with coming out of our winter slumber and hungering for the look and smell of greenery, but the work involved in maintaining a backyard garden is a welcomed task. The cutting of the grass, the pruning of the shrubs the weeding of the beds, the planting of the seeds. Gardening is one of those activities where you literally see the fruits of your labours. It isn’t for everyone–for one, you need to like getting dirt under your fingernails. You also have to be willing to let nature dictate what you can and can’t grow.  And you need to absorb every ounce of gardening knowledge that you can from the people you know. Although I was too young to recognize the value of that knowledge at the time, a lot of it came from my grandfather. I have fond memories of my grandfather puttering around in his backyard–I can picture him standing at the top of his backyard surveying the lay of the land, as if he were a king overlooking his kingdom with pride. He would walk me around the perimeter of the yard pointing out the various plants and flowers (“forsythia,” wigelia,” “begonia….”) as well as the vegetable patch up near the house that was teeming with mint right under the staircase and the wild raspberry forest that he tried so hard to tame from year to year. I’m proud to tell you I now have those very raspberry plants from his backyard growing in my backyard. I remember showing up at my grandparents’ house in the Spring and summer, and my grandmother was usually in the kitchen listening to the radio and preparing a meal. If it was late July she would say with glee “have some razzle dazzles(raspberries), I just picked them!” My grandfather was usually outside, garden hose in hand, watering his flower beds or vegetable patch. He did this very methodically and unhurried. His backyard truly was his escape. When my grandparents moved into their condominium, it was clear my grandfather would deeply miss his backyard. If memory serves me correctly, he even said so. But he tried to continue his love of gardening, transforming his small balcony every Spring into his little patch of gardening paradise.There are days I wish he could see my garden and it would be me giving him a tour of the beds, showing him what I was trying to nurture and grow. If nothing else, he left a very strong legacy of gardening within me. And now I get to share that legacy with my family….and all of you.

Columbine blossom
Columbine blossom
A bumble bee visits the rhododendron
A bumble bee visits the rhododendron
Mounds of sage and thyme
Mounds of sage and thyme
Chive blossoms
Chive blossoms
Radish seedlings
Radish seedlings

It’s Patty Time!

To usher in the barbequing season I got ambitious and decided to make my hamburgers from scratch rather than buy the frozen boxed kind from the grocery store. A box of eight costs roughly $1.12 per patty. I figure I can do it for less and they will taste just as good, if not better. So I bought 4 pounds of lean ground beef  for $17.23 and with all the ingredients, managed to squeeze out 16 patties. So that cost comes in at $1.07 per patty. Not bad. I think the two secret ingredients that make these hamburgers moist and tasty are the worcestershire sauce (shakey, shakey, wakey, wakey!) and the matzah meal–yes, matzah meal. For some reason it binds really well with the hamburger meat and eggs and doesn’t dry out the patty nor give it a strange bread-like flavour.

I have yet to throw them on the barbeque and do the REAL taste test with my kids. That comes later tonight. But in the meantime here’s the recipe:

4 lbs. lean ground beef

4 eggs

6 Tbsp. Lea & Perrin’s Worcestershire Sauce

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 Cup matzah meal (you can use bread crumbs if you like)

4 tsp. kosher salt

ground pepper (however much you like)