Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Fruits of summer

I seem to be on a run here with my posts. I think it's because I pulled pictures of the camera, so now I can post things that I was thinking about earlier this week.

Today at lunch a colleague had some great cherry tomatoes - from her garden. Like many, I also planted the easiest veggie to grow in your own garden and I wrote about it a few weeks back. After eating them in salads and M gobbling them up raw I keep looking for new ways to prepare them, especially as I have a big lot of very large species.

So, the other night we made panini with the panini pan I gave my hubby for our anniversary (not a machine, I don't have room for that). The main ingredient were our tomatoes, our basil (pesto), parma ham, ciabatta bread and fresh mozzarella! You have to use fresh cheese, it will make all the difference.

Yummy! I wanted more. So simple and so good and everyone ate it. It totally reminded me of a panini place I went to in Paris, right around the corner from the university. They had many varieties, but my all time favourite was always the mozzarella, basil and prosciutto one. I wonder if that shop still exists?

Now I'm looking at our garden and see many more recipes to follow that include tomatoes - I'm sure I'll be trying fried green tomatoes at the end of the season. I'm not into pickled things, so the fried version will probably be the last version I'll try. So, here we go, a couple more weeks of tomatoes, once those are gone, fall will be here.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The multiplication of toys

I guess this would be another blog about kids, my kids to be precise. I've been wondering for quite some time now why the amount of toys in our house just seems to multiply. The more I sort them out and put them in bags for donations, the fuller our toy bins are, the more I find in their bedrooms, the living room, the kitchen and the play room.

Now, the play room and maybe their bedroom is where they should be, right? Well, as any parent knows, they wander. They wander and multiply and drain your wallet.
When we were first expecting kids I was hoping we'd stick with the beautiful wood toys. The ones that cost a lot of money, but that our kids would cherisch because they are special - no batteries, no plastic, no flashing lights and no noise. Our kids would love those toys and only those toys and anyone that stopped by our place would be amazed at the limited, but very tasteful display of toys in the playroom (just the playroom).

We did receive such toys, brought them to our house and you can see them in these pictures. They are beautiful and I'm only capturing a couple of them. Our kids do play with the cars, the puzzles, little wooden pull toys and that beautiful doll house and all of them look so pretty.

But then there's those other toys...the ones that invade your space. The ones you get begged for in every store, the ones that are plastic, make soooo much noise, have batteries, flashing lights and some PRINCESS theme. They are all over... they taunt your children, they look at you in their shelves and say: 'you won't be able to escape, he,he,he - I've got you now!'. They are the success of PlaySchool, Fisher Price, Matel, Disney and other such large brand names.

You see just a small collection here and lucky you, you don't hear them! But if I put the beautiful puzzle out and some tacky pink thing next to it, my daughter will take the pink thing. I'll put the nice wooden toy car out and my son will go for the ugly spiderman plastic thingy! And the more I sort out the more we get, through gifts, store torture at the cash line-up, freebies at restaurants and on and on.

I think most parents have the same issue. We all go in with the best intention and end up worn down and beat up by pink flashing plastic! I was hoping for the natural approach of a couple of toys, like they did in the olden days. But I have come to realize (I'm sure I knew this all along), if they had had a pink Barbie or a Lightning McQueen car in 1850, that child would have chosen that and not some cruddy wood thing.

So here I am in a house filled with toys (reminding me faintly of a large playroom I had way back when) with a daily task of gathering, collecting, sorting, discarding, donating and great hope that both my children will grow up to be avid readers and interested in other educational activities very soon. My delusional self will surely come to terms with all of this one day - most likely the day I'll miss all of the kids stuff because they've all grown up.

Friday, August 20, 2010

crafty, old and new...creating a girls bedroom

Like most parents when you're first expecting you run out and find things that you might like for your nursery. You might go for a full out theme, all girl, little boy, jungle, mid century modern minimalist, etc. The possibilities are endless and in my case I could not decide.

What I did know at that time was that I liked a combination of old and new things and I wanted to create a couple of things myself, something you might not get at a store, or if you do it's very expensive - too expensive. You also have this romantic idea in your head of being a 'crafty' creative mom.

The first nursery we created was light blues, beiges, a little pink and a little green. It worked for both girl and boy and we used it for both M and then our little boy. For that space I created letter plaques with different materials (paper, fabric, twigs, pins, stickers, paint chips) and letters that spelled her name. It was a fun project and allowed me to go beyond the standard wall letters or name canvases. When M moved from her nursery to her toddler room, this piece moved with her and fit perfectly with the now soft pink walls.

For that new room I also had my hubby build a display bookshelf, allowing her to see her books almost like an art display. It also fits some toys, let's her put away the books easily and I think it makes a beautiful feature in her room. I got the instructions from the Martha Stewart website and according to my hubby it's quite easy to make.

My next feature was this old beat up green chair I had found at a garage sale years ago. I love the shape and the chipped paint and I think it works great next to her bed in combination with a new IKEA lamp and a pillow my grandmother had made for my mother. What I like about this is the combination of old and new, the combination of colours green with the pink and red. It's a girly room for sure, but if you knew M that is what she is drawn to (I can't even count the tiaras, crowns, slippers, etc. she has!)

I did the same in the original nursery with a board and hooks that I had made from scrap wood, a bit of paint and hooks. It matched the original nursery design and now it matches her room with the added tin heart that I got for my birthday a few years back. I also hung it at a level so she can reach her towel or clothes hanging there.

And then there's this tent! Not really a design aspect of the room or a piece of furniture. But for M's third birthday I wanted to give her a play tent. So I looked online and was shocked by the $300 and up price tag for nice looking play tents. Wow! How hard can it be to make your own tent? They've been making tents for centuries, it can't be rocket science. So I decide to make one myself. I add to my task by making patchwork fabric with Ms old blankets, dress fabric, etc. That will make it even more special and the colour scheme will match her room perfectly.

Well...after hours at the sewing machine (different weights of fabric making it a challenge), measuring, cutting, figuring out angles, how to keep it standing up without fabric falling down, many a cursings, tearing apart fabric and starting again - it was done the night before her birthday! Wow - now I know why they charge that's freaking hard!!! and my husband got many a earfull, poor guy.

If you do try to make one yourself, try making it of full panels of fabric that don't stretch...that should make it much easier. Be patient and maybe consider if you are a good seamstress. Also, don't be disappointed if they don't play in it for hours...M likes it, but it can't beat a Cinderella Barbie doll :)

I like it though and despite many tries of giving up I am glad I finished it. I feel like I stuck it to the man...not quite sure which one...that ominous one that makes tents a challenge and monopolizes the tent industry.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Feeding family

It's been a while since we had a larger number of guests at our house. Christmas last year to be exact. At that time I fed everyone the classic turkey, our family recipe corn pudding, potatoes and other vegetables.

This week my family was in town. My mother, uncle and cousin visiting from abroad. So we had them over, as well as grandparents, sister and her boyfriend - totalling 11 people. Now, I did not have time to create an elaborate menu, especially as we had just come back from our vacation. I wanted to keep it easy but tasty.

So BBQ it was. Lemon Chicken Kebabs, Italian Sausages, Balsamic Zucchini and Asparagus, Mustard Seed Potato Salad and crunchy Romaine Lettuce with Vidalia Onion Dressing. I cooked the sausages on the grill as well as the vegetables and made the potato salad ahead of time so the dressing could soak into the hot potatoes (this was my favourite part of the meal). My grandmother brought the salad.

The food was gone in minutes! Everyone was like vultures...including my 18 month old D. D and my teenage cousin ate kebabs and sausages like crazy men - all the vegetables were eaten, the salad nearly finished all while most people had bread as well. That's the beauty of using your BBQ - you keep the cooking heat outside on a hot day and you manage to feed the proverbial army without a lot of mess.

Honestly, it took my longer to wash the dishes than cook the meal!

I'm glad we had company again, time passes so fast and we get so caught up in our day to day that we forget to sit, eat and have great conversations.


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

growing things

Living in a city I buy most of my things at the grocery store. And even if Ottawa is not a very urban city, but rather a spread out city with the core being former suburbia, it still means that most of us don't have a farm in our back yard. My first place here didn't even have a balcony, so I barely had herbs to grow, my second place had a postage stamp sized yard, which allowed for three terracotta pots of tomatoes and a little basil. Now, at this house I have a yard (not huge by North American standards or suburbia), but large enough for a kids play structure, 50 year old hostas, black eyed susans, hydrangea flowers, daisies and more.

Along the south west side of the garage I have a long flower bed, out of which I pulled all kinds of things earlier this spring because it was overgrowing and a mess. So I planted some tomatoes that a friends grew from seeds. I planted 6 of them, some beefsteak, large cherry, cherry, yellow tomato and late are growing and growing, some of them 6 feet tall! And the first little harvest was gobbled up by M...they were lovely, tasty, juicy and different tastes for the different types.

I also planted peppers, never done that before....again....crazy! They are still not ready to harvest, but I'll have so many I won't know what to do with them. M loves those as well (grilled or raw), but how many days can one eat red peppers ( I'll let you know).

I also have rosemary, sage, 50 year old oregano and again Basil, the staple that every window sill should have.

So, the grocery store might be easy ( and I would not have to water my plants every two days), but I have to tell you, it's a great feeling to eat the food you grew yourself. Maybe next year I'll try some lettuce, cucs and other things....

Now I'm hungry.


Monday, August 2, 2010

yes, it is worth it...

Yes it is! Our vacation started with a two day drive which was really hard on all of us, especially as M had a fever and throat infection. But we mastered that and arrived in Virginia Beach Saturday afternoon, just in time to get groceries and have a nice dinner.

Our days were spent at the beach, on our deck with the wading pool, the aquarium, zoo, water park and the board walk...lot's of things for all of us to do, even with little toddlers. Obviously the vacation was not relaxing by any means and the help received from family members was minimal (interesting how they all disappeared to golf or spend the day at the beach, not volunteering to babysit our children) But hey, I guess they were on vacation as well, right?

The truth is we did get a couple of hours to ourselves that we normally would not have had. During their naps, our family stayed at the house most of the time, allowing us to go to the beach or take a walk along the boardwalk or in the beautiful beach neighbourhood we were staying in. Most importantly though, we got to spend our anniversary out at dinner and they put them down to, a meal without children! What a treat! And a great meal it was...oysters, tuna steak, stuffed flounder and mojitos...

The weather was hot, hot, hot...the beach was beautiful and the waves were really high (so high M was scared to go too close to the water)...they would have been quite interesting to us if we would know how to surf. This way we just ventured out and were knocked around like, salt water at it's best when you get a good gulp of it!

Our anniversary dinner almost didn't happen as a storm came in in the afternoon including tornado warning, knocking out power for a couple of minutes. Once the first rain passed we went to Target for some shopping as well as the bookstore...well, wouldn't you know it...that storm was not done yet...lightning seen all over the skies, water coming down in sheets and thunder rolling like a jet plane (we were used to that noise as Virginia Beach is home to the US Airforce jet fighter something or another and those planes kept flying over the beach day in and out)

So anyway, we all run to the car and are soaked and then we drive home, normal pace at's just rain, right? Mhhh, that puddle looks pretty deep...mhhh, that one is even deeper...the closer we are getting to our house, the deeper the streets are under water. Now firetrucks are all over, cars are stuck, flooded with water, we manage to get by (not sure how) and pull into our drive way before everything looks like an island around us. Turns out we were at the worst of things...water everywhere missing our house by just meters.

By the time we want to go out for dinner we had to manoeuvre several streets over, creep through huge amounts of water without getting stuck, run through pouring rain and arrive at the restaurant just slightly drenched...but hey, we had babysitters and no one was going to stop us celebrating our 4th wedding anniversary, not even flash floods!

So, here we are, a week of beautiful beach, sand, ocean water, waves and yes, it was worth was worth the planning, anticipation, 2 day drive down and up with toddlers, stays at the hotel and many hours on the road...Yes, it was worth the change of scenery and a memorable vacation with my beautiful family. I hope for many more to come!