“Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile.”- W.C. Bryant

I am spending my day off studying, drinking coffee and cleaning up my gardens if the coffee gives me enough energy to do so. My flowers and herbs have all begun to go to seed and I have noticed pumpkins and fall mums inching their way onto the doorsteps and porches of neighbouring homes. The first day of fall is tomorrow and it is my very favourite season.


Last week my mother hosted a couple of her girlfriends for a “wreath making and wine drinking afternoon”. My mom is exceptionally crafty and after looking at what she created (while enjoying wine) I was inspired to make my own fall wreath. Fall wreaths can be a lot. I always scout them out at Home Sense and Michaels but can never find one that I like. Personally, I am into simple wreaths. Wreathes without giant bows, that are small and understated. My door is bright enough and easily crosses the “too much” line so I picked a small grapevine wreath, some eucalyptus and a sprig of white berries at Michaels (all half off). I also grabbed a bag of little acorns and pinecones from the dollar store (I should have bought a couple bags because they are really cute!). Using some wire cutters and my hot glue gun I simply arranged my decorations where I wanted them and glued them down. That was it. So simple and cost less than $15 dollars including the glue!
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If you have never whipped up your own wreath, they are exceptionally easy. Pick a wreath, grapevines are really easy to work with and super inexpensive. Pick up some flowers, berries, bells, sparkly springs or whatever you love that suits your season. Snip them, arrange them and glue them (hot glue gun works very well). That is it! You can add bows and ribbons, you can use sea shells from the beach, star fish, dried flowers and even pom-poms. Many of the decorations can be bought at the dollar store. It makes for an inexpensive project that anyone can do. One that is best enjoyed with a group of friends and a splash of wine.

-m

 

So many chives, so little thyme…(ha!)

Summer is here. She snuck in overnight; hidden until today by rain, wind and booming thunderstorms. The sun is shining and my gardens are teaming with mint, basil and chives; all ready to be muddled, minced and whisked into mojitos, salads, dressings and omelettes. My potted chives are back with a vengeance this year. They are full of blooms and for about a month now I have been snipping off stalks to add to my salads and eggs.

Fun chive facts:

  • Did you know the entire plant including the bulb and flowers are edible?
  • They generally grow back every year and are so hard to kill many refer to them as the “gate-way herb” for helping people find their green thumb!?
  • Don’t have a garden? Stick some in a pot and they will be just as happy on your balcony or in a sunny window!
  • Chives like full sun, they enjoy being well watered and the more you cut them back, the more they continue to grow.
  • They have a light onion flavour that adds a fabulous summery taste to anything from potato salads to homemade salad dressings.

Last week I was touring around Instagram (as I do) and was too busy admiring a pretty flower filled mason jar to realize that it was full of chive blossoms. Honey and Butter, a local company known for their beautiful cakes, inspired jellies (like lilac and champagne!), cookies and curd had filled a jar with white wine vinegar and chive blossoms to make an infused vinegar. It was brilliant and beautiful.

Taking a page out of their book, I filled up jars with my myriad of blossoms (which I de-bugged and rinsed thoroughly), a sprig or two of thyme and I promptly drowned it all in white wine vinegar. My plan is to let the jars infuse for a week or so (it gets more purple with each passing day!) and then strain them with a cheese cloth. I figure the final product will elevate my salad dressings, roasted veggies and anything that vinegar generally tastes good on! Small jars would make beautiful and thoughtful gifts for friends and the hosts of summer BBQ’s.

Happy infusing all!

Ps. I am officially finished of the first year of grad school and work is providing a little extra downtime- expect more posts!

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“Mail your packages early so the post office can lose them in time for Christmas.”- Johnny Carson

Trust me. I am not one of those people who starts Christmas just as the Halloween candy is just being discounted. I am a mid-December decorator, firmly believing that less is more and that Christmas music shouldn’t be blaring in malls country-wide until December 1st is upon us. That said, I have a tendancy to get most of my shopping done over the year, slowly picking away at it as inspiration (and sales!) comes my way.

In mid fall I try to get a little preserving done and that usually comes in the form of hot pepper jelly (find recipe here) . Every single year my stove top almost catches fire as I try my best to catch the boiling point of sugar just before it hits the “raging inferno” territory. Every single year I have delicious hand-made hostess gifts and neighbour gifts that almost cost me my stovetop. They are also a perfect stand-by for people who stop by your house unexpectedly with a gift for you (we have all been there). This year I decided to step away from the fussiness of jelly (sometimes it doesn’t set properly /sets your stove on fire) to try my hand at a holiday chutney. What inspired me were the enormous bags of cranberries that were on sale for less than two dollars after Thanksgiving and the fact that my love of a bargain left me with twelve pounds of cranberries taking up almost every square inch of freezer space.

Turns out chutney is far simpler to make than jelly, you can easily double the recipe as it relies soley on natural fruit pectins to thicken it and the flavour combinations are endless. Chutney makes an incredible addition to any charcuterie board, pairing well with a variety of cheeses and even standing up to heat when baked on a brie. Chutney is great served with pork and/or chicken and when it combines cranberries, fragrant spices and a touch of cognac, it pretty much sings out Christmas spirit.

Find the recipe below and happy holiday prepping everyone!

-M

Christmas Cranberry Chutney

Yields 12 1/2 cup mason jars

(adapted from American Heritage Cooking but some “artistic liberties” were taken)

You will need:

  • 3.5 cups of whole cranberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 3/4 cup of seedless raisins (you can omit if you hate them)
  • 1 and 1/3 cups of white, granulated sugar
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of cinnamon
  • 1.5 teaspoons of ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon of ground all-spice
  • 6 ounces of water
  • 3 teaspoons (you can omit, use less or use more!) Grand Marnier or cognac/brandy
  • 1/2 cup of finely sliced celery
  • 1/2 cup finely diced hello onion
  • 3/4 cup of diced apples (peeled and cored)

Method:

  • Combine cranberries, raisins, water, sugar and spices in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Once boiling reduce heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes or until berries really start to pop.
  • Add celery, apples, onion and liquor. Stir well and return to simmer, simmering for at least 15 minutes or until the celery, onion and apples have broken down. I personally chopped my apples roughly so they held a bit of their shape- your call.
  • If processing and canning, pour hot chutney into sterilized/still warm jars, apply lids and process in a hot water bath for at least ten minutes. Follow other processing rules you prefer, that is just how I do mine. Jars that have sealed (lids popped) properly can be stored in a cool dark place for a year or so. Ones that did’t seal properly will be good in the fridge for a few weeks.

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“There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”- C.S.Lewis

2015 has ended and I have a lot to be thankful for. I am thankful for friends that have grown to be family, new beginnings and evenings that lasted till the early morning. 2015 sent dozens of challenges my way beginning with a new job (unlike any job I have ever had before!) and ending with me taking control of my health and being better to my body.  2015 brought weddings and new babies to many of my close friends. I traveled, I made new acquaintances, I strengthened old bonds and was often reminded of how lucky I am to have such a strong, supportive (and sometimes loud) family. In 2015 I worked hard, that hard work usually paid off and I was reminded again and again of how much I have to be thankful for.

As for 2016; what are my wishes for myself?  I wish to continue to make my health a priority, I wish to read more, I hope to finish all of the projects that I begin and I want try my best at being a kinder person.

What are my wishes for you?  I hope you challenge yourselves, that you take opportunities when they turn up and that you don’t say “maybe” when you really want to say “no”. I hope you take the time to see the beauty in your surroundings and that you take the time to be good to someone other than yourself.

Now that the formalities are out of the way I wanted to share a little project that I was working on throughout the fall. For Christmas I refinished the cutest little hutch for my sister. I bought it off of a friend for $30 dollars and with a paint sample, some sand paper, a coat of varnish and a little elbow grease, it had a total transformation. I cleaned up the original hardware and I lined the drawers with a lovely piece of high end wrapping paper that I snagged at a paper shop for just $5. The entire project cost about $40, maybe $45 if you include the supplies I already had on hand.

Happy 2016!

-m

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“Life is a great big canvas, throw all the paint you can on it.”- Danny Kaye

Don’t get me wrong, I love my middle aged house, in my middle aged neighborhood, in the city that I adore. Win, win, win. I love at least 86% of what my house has to offer, which is a great statistic. It’s cozy, has a great yard and it is full of character. Sure, the kitchen is the size of a postage stamp and I am currently saving for all new windows but those are things I can change with time, money and patience. What I can’t change is the lack of storage that often comes with homes built 50+ years ago. It is an issue I grapple with on the daily. I have three closets, one of which is a “coat closet” that will fit three coats total (two if they are heavy winter ones). My hats, scarves and mitts live on a shelf that I can’t reach without a step stool, a ladder or a tall person’s assistance (I am gravitation-ally enhanced, standing a full five-foot-nothing with shoes on). I do find this just a little bit aggravating. Unfortunately I can’t easily change the footprint of my house to include better storage, nor can I go back in time (where is Doc and Marty McFly when I need them?) to convince the contractor that an extra closet and maybe a slightly bigger kitchen would be beneficial for potential re-sale value and the future owner’s mild case of OCD.

The answer to my “winter gear conundrum” came to me while I was cleaning out my bedroom closet (seriously, just a PSA, I think I may hoard clothing…I donated bags and bags!) and I noticed the little black dresser that I came to own after my sister moved to Fredericton for school. This dresser is solid wood, a little too big to be a nightstand but not quite big enough to be used for sweaters and it had been left by previous tenants in one of the old apartments my sister called home while she was in school. Knowing I would one day find a purpose for it, it was placed in my closet to be used to house bathing suits, tights and all other random apparel that didn’t quite have a place.

I took it down to my entry way and it just so happened to fit the small nook next to my stairs but to be honest, it looked like crap. It had previously been painted with a high gloss black paint that was too shiny and chipped. Really though, it was nothing a little paint couldn’t fix. I bought a sample sized paint at Home Depot for $2.97 and I found some satin finish Varathane deeply discounted because it had a dent in the can (bonus!). A quick sand, two coats of paint, another quick sand (with some fine grit paper to distress it a bit) and two coats of Varathane later, I now have the perfect place to store my mail and all of my winter gear where I can easily grab it (without the use of a chair or step stool….). Total cost $11.00 taxes in, total time to complete the job, 1hr without drying time! Another example of how paint can breathe new life into almost anything! Happy up-cycling and re-finishing all!

-m

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To Improve Is To Change..

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often”- Winston Churchill

Change can be hard. I recently transitioned to a new role at work and everyday I am faced with new experiences, challenges and expectations. It isn’t always easy to get into the swing of a new job when things are so vastly different to what you are used to and to what would be your comfort zone. The change has been good and I have learned a tremendous amount about myself and about my career path. I encourage everyone to mix it up every few years whether it is with a career change or even something as simple as a different hair cut or colour of paint on your walls. It often takes change to realise what you like, what you are good at and it usually takes change to continue life long learning.

I have lived in my house for over three years and the fireplace has been one of the only things I have been hesitant of changing. It is a focal point in my living room, it’s original to the house and consists of a white, pre mid-century style mantle with simple scroll work and boxy sides. It has bronze brushed black brick and it really is quite lovely.  A couple of years ago I elected to paint the inside turquoise as I felt the black that was originally there was a little black hole and didn’t allow me to showcase my little stove or my lanterns, it just kind of sucked everything into it’s darkness. Black to turquoise was a big change and I loved it! But for some reason painting the brick white, although it has been on my mind from the get-go, was too big of a change. I feared I would regret it and that it would take away from the character and charm that my little middle aged home naturally possessed.

Fast forward to last week. For some reason I got up the nerve to crack open the can of “wedding white” semi gloss paint I had painted the trim and mantel in originally. I grabbed a brush and just spontaneously “went for it”, mildly regretting it the second I started. Turns out, brick is a real b*tch to paint. The seams and creases were so deep I eventually had to revert to using a small paint brush to get into all the cracks and crevices. It took three times longer than I anticipated but boy did it ever look lovely when I stood back to inspect my handy work. The room magically seemed to open up and even appeared a little larger. Yay! I was however, faced with a predicament. My mirror was dark brown and stood out like a sore thumb. Not being emotionally attached to the mirror  (I have have had it since my very first apartment on my own), I bombed off to the shopping centre checking out my favourite haunts for a nautical, light coloured mirror to suit my needs and the room. I was in no luck. Everything was heavy and dark or far beyond the meagre budget I had set for myself. I did however pick up some great, brightly coloured throw pillows for half off, which turned out to be a great pick me up and room brightener. I also picked up two miniature lampshades to update the hideous sconces that frame the fireplace. When I got home the mirror was still irking me so I went to the basement and pulled out a small sample jar of paint that had been deeply discounted at a hardware store because it was, you guessed it, a mis-tint. It just so happened to be mint green and I very sloppily slapped it on the mirror. I didn’t hate it, I put it up lengthwise (why hadn’t I done this before?!) and turns out I had just what I was looking for all along and all it cost was a foam brush and one dollar. If that isn’t thrifty, I don’t know what is! I then decided to paint the interior of my front door with the rest of the green paint on a whim. Guess what? It is great! Change is a good thing my friends. See some poor before (it was so spontaneous I forgot to take pictures!) and some of the finished project below! Happy changing all!
-m

Before…sorry for the poor quality!
After!!
The brick was awful to paint…
Awful little sconce shades before..
Door before…well started!

I Believe in Pink…

” I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing a lot. I believe in being strong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is a new day and I believe in miracles.”- Audrey Hepburn

Pink. Every single person who knows me assumes my favourite colour in the whole, wide, world is pink. Why? Because the front door of my house would make Barbie envious. It is the pink that every little girl wishes she was allowed to paint her bedroom. It packs a punch and nearly blinded all of my neighbors when I painted it (it had always been traditional black). I have a confession, pink is not my favourite colour. I don’t really have one, I love mustard yellow, mint green and turquoise. I love black clothing, peach blush, white tulips and red shoes (…and red wine). The only time I opt for pink is when I am buying or applying lipstick. Nothing in my house is pink, it is all greys, blues and mints. I painted my door pink ’cause I wanted something modern on an otherwise traditional house. A pop of character.

The problem with painting your door pink (and really, it’s the only problem) is that you then have to decorate the exterior with complimenting colours. Traditional red and green Christmas wreaths clash, flower choices look best when they are pink and white. This year I opted for the first time to not buy hanging baskets. My front step is breezy and they just dry out so fast, it is almost impossible to keep up with their thirst. Instead I filled my flower pots with begonias, impatiens and dusty miller and I filled my window boxes with corn flowers and sweet peas. It looks lovely, but without the hanging baskets, a little something is missing.

As a rule I hate fake flowers. No offense to anyone, but they never look authentic and they are dust magnets. The only time fake flowers are acceptable is if and when you live in the Arctic tundra, or somewhere fresh flowers don’t grow and aren’t readily available (I swear, I am not opinionated). They are also OK in flower crowns because let’s face it, flower crowns are gloriously fun. Today I broke my rule. I bought a grapevine wreath for six dollars at a craft store and half a dozen bright pink silk (gah!) flowers to affix to it. I don’t know what possessed me. But with a little hot glue and some strategic placement of the fake (sigh…) flowers, I ended up with a pretty cute little focal point for my bright pink door. The wreath cost a total of eight dollars taxes in and you can find pictures of my adventure to the dark side of fake flowers below!
Happy crafting/beautifying !
ps. first time not using my iphone and using my fancy camera, hence the kitty at the end!
-m