June 29, 2013

rainy day dog

Yesterday was Maple's first rainy day with us. I velcroed her new hoodie around her and we took a short walk in front of our building. She seemed a little sad. I guess, like Karen Carpenter, rainy days get her down. 

I enjoyed the walk. Rain seems to amplify colors in nature. Everything looks more lush after a storm. Maybe we'll just have to invest in a doggy umbrella for Maple for next time.

June 28, 2013

thursday night, date night

After six years together, date night for Bobby and me is less about getting dressed up and more about comfort. It's a night that I don't have to cook and we can have dinner sitting across from each other with no television and no dog. We can just sit back, have our food brought to us, and shoot the shit. It's something we have been making an effort to do once every couple of weeks because it's good to press pause on the day-to-day routine for even just a couple of hours on a Thursday evening.

Last night we went to East Side Mario's for dinner. It's a casual Italian restaurant in the same vein as Olive Garden. We both loved the food. Unlimited garlic loaves = true love.

After dinner we drove to Walmart for what was supposed to be a quick dog food run but turned into a lengthy stroll through the store for shower gel, M&M cookies, gum, a hooded sweatshirt for the dog, and other various items we didn't realize we couldn't live without. The superstore sucked us in.

It was a nice, quiet evening with my hunny. No frills, just the two of us taking a break and enjoying each others' company. 

I'm looking forward to our next date night. :)

June 27, 2013

wildflower walk

One of the things I've come to appreciate about Canada is its Great Outdoors. Of course the U.S. has its share of amber waves of grain (and let's not forget the fruited plains) but I was deprived of them in Florida. Orange groves and palm trees graced the landscape of Orlando, and although that may sound heavenly to some, the tropical vibe wasn't my cup of tea.

I want the hills that Julie Andrews twirled across in The Sound of Music (they were alive after all); the wide open spaces The Dixie Chicks sang about; somewhere that the corn is as high as an elephant's eye (don't tell me I'm the only Oklahoma! fan here).

Living in downtown Mississauga may not afford me the rolling vistas of my dreams but a simple walk to the post office still gives me plenty to smile about. I passed by a field of wildflowers yesterday and it was so pretty that I literally stopped to smell the flowers. There was a nice breeze that sent a perfume through the air and the maple trees that line the street cast glittery shadows on the sidewalk.

These are simple things that probably go unnoticed by a lot of lifelong residents, but for this Floridian transplant they were simply magical.

June 25, 2013

tuesday project: conditioning a butcher block

When I find myself seriously bored, which is often the case on random Tuesday afternoons, I like to get crafty. I'm a DIY person by nature - I make my own pasta sauce, handwrite thank you cards the old-fashioned way, and even had a brief stint making my own jewelry (most of which ended up on a card table at a yard sale [true story]).

So today, after the dog was walked and yet another Nancy Drew book was read, I decided to cure my boredom by conditioning the kitchen island. It was a quick project that only killed 30-minutes but, hey, it gave me something to write about which kills another half hour, so there ya go. :)

For anyone with untreated wood that food touches, such as a butcher block or cutting board, I recommend conditioning it so that the wood doesn't dry out/crack/warp with each wash. It's such a simple thing to do and will help preserve your wood surfaces for years if you condition it regularly.

I used: IKEA Behandla wood conditioner, $10 / a foam brush, 59 cents / an old rag, $1

I simply followed the instructions on the wood conditioner - sand the wood surface so it's completely smooth (you don't want splinters in your veggies) and apply a thin coat of condition with the foam brush. Allow to set for 15 minutes, then wipe off with a rag. Let the wood dry (this only takes 10-15 minutes more) and repeat 1-3 times until you get the finish you want. Super simple!

Just sand, coat and wipe off.

I only applied two coats and now have a rich, conditioned surface to prep food on. Off to start dinner!

June 21, 2013

ontario weather 101

If there's one thing I've learned about the seasons in Ontario it's that you can't trust the seasons in Ontario. They're unpredictable, unreliable and basically do whatever the hell they want.

In Floridian grade school we learned the following:

Winter is November, December and January.
Spring is February, March and April.
Summer is May, June, and July.
Autumn is August, September and October.

I'm not sure what they teach kids in Ontario about the seasons, but I do know enough not to trust today's Google Doodle heralding the first official day of summer.

I moved here in the middle of January and like clockwork it began snowing as soon as I stepped outside. Welcome to Canada! Now go buy a freaking coat.

I imagined it was only snowing so that Bobby and I could walk hand-in-hand down a glistening sidewalk. We requested a window seat at a local Thai restaurant and marveled at the white glitter blanketing the ground. It didn't occur to me that this may be the beginning of a four-month battle: me versus a never-ending winter.

Fast forward to April. I'm in our bedroom - nervous, skittish - wondering if it's a huge mistake to vacuum seal our winter coats for fear another unexpected bout of bitter cold. I've grown paranoid and mistrustful of the weatherman on my TV who tells me that it's safe to go outside without gloves. LIES!

Turns out, I was right to be skeptical. May rolled in with flowers blooming, geese returning and children daring to bare their heads without toques.

A perfect spring day in early May.
Then it hailed. Then it snowed on May 12th and I realized that, although my gloves would stay on a bit longer, all bets were off.

Following that freak flurry there were two straight weeks of rain and soul-crushing humidity. That was spring in Ontario.

And now, mid-June, the temperature dances along the 80/85 degree line, then drops to the mid 70s once the sun goes down. The locals call this summer.

Don't get me wrong, it's beautiful weather - warm enough midday to drink iced coffee and wear sandals while running errands, yet cool enough in evening to wear a light sweater while walking the dog. Last night Bobby and I took a stroll with Maple and the cool, breezy air was fragrant with the scent of freshly bloomed flowers. It was lovely and exactly how I imagined summer in Ontario would be.

But I'm no fool. I won't be the least bit surprised if it hails this afternoon. And I'd be okay if it did - I've got my rain boots at the ready and a backup winter coat hanging in the closet. I'm prepared for whatever the Ontario weather gods want to throw at me. Bring it on, summer.

June 16, 2013

local love: heirlooms artisan show @ vermeer's garden centre

Well, the big weekend has come and gone and it seems that Canada loves candles! Our craft show ended up being much more successful than I expected. I'm sure it's the pessimist in me saying this but sometimes it's good to keep expectations low so you're pleasantly surprised when things turn out well!

An antique toy register, aka our business card holder.

The venue was lovely. The event was held at Vermeer's Garden Centre in Welland, Ontario so there were trees and flowers all around. Some vendors even set up shop in the middle of a greenhouse. Children played near a fountain; stray cats sauntered in and out of tents; it was a unique atmosphere, made even better by the live ukulele music coming from the tent beside me.

The first day of the show was very busy for us. I attribute a lot of that to Bobby's natural talents as a salesman and the fact that a lot of our customers were, shall we say, seasoned ladies who couldn't resist his charms.

Our sample tins. A new idea we came up with that was a hit!

I brought some vintage goodies from home to fill in the gaps left from the first day, and quite a few people seemed more interested in them than the candles - I even got an offer for one of my books, but, alas, it was a title I couldn't part with.

We wouldn't be "Hound Dog Digs" without a few doggies in our display.

The second day was quieter than the first, but in the end we sold 65% of our total stock, which makes this our most successful show to date! The money we made will go a long way toward food bills and student loans. :)

I met so many amazing people, both customers and fellow vendors. I melted when a sweet lady from D.C. paid me in American cash - I haven't seen American money in 6 months, it almost brought tears to my eyes! Funny the mundane things that you miss when you're away from home.

I quickly made friends with the couple running the booth beside me, and so we found a lot to talk and laugh about over our 2 days together. I bought a cool t-shirt from them and some delicious loose leaf chai tea from Infusion Organic Tea (I'm drinking a cup as I type... mmm... ).

Wearable art.
Here are before & after shots of our booth. The first one was taken before anything sold the first day, and the latter photo was taken just after the last customer left.



Thank you to all who came to this event and supported us! We're now even more excited to take part in our next Ontario craft show!

June 10, 2013

craft show jitters

love attending craft shows. Peter Pan shirt collars made from vintage lace, wristlets screen-printed with ironic hipster phrases and owl-shaped organic soaps - what's not to love? It's all very whimsical and la-dee-dah. Cutesy joy.

1 / 2 / 3

Now as for selling at craft shows? Loathe it. Vomit. Je deteste. 

Of course any craft show that I've sold my candles at in the past, I've had to sign up for. So it can only be a subtle form of masochism that drives me to repeatedly put myself in these situations. I'm always hopeful at the beginning of a new craft show venture, then quickly spiral into a what-did-I-get-myself-into dark inner monologue that lasts right up until the moment the show begins.

This Friday and Saturday I hop on the emotional merry-go-round yet again. I applied for the Heirlooms Artisan Show about three months ago and, don't get me wrong, I'm so grateful and proud to have been accepted into my first juried show. In fact, I'd been eagerly counting down the days until June 14th... but now that the week is upon me I'm swimming in a sea of belly butterflies, engulfed by painful memories of last year's craft show season that failed to live up to my wild expectations. I had a few very solid, successful shows but also some major flops that bruised the ego.

So rather than over think my product, display or sales pitch this time around, my goal is to keep it simple. I've learned that staying up until 2 a.m. the night before obsessing over every little detail will get you nowhere except super bitchy the next morning when you're supposed to be perky, happy, super craft show joy joy.

I spent about 30 minutes tonight laying painter's tape on the kitchen floor, mapping out my tentative display and I'm happy with the simplicity of it.

The dog seemed mildly interested in my setup but quickly fell asleep about five minutes in. Should I be offended? Or maybe the excitement of it all tuckered her out. Yes, that must be it.

Off to make more candles.

June 5, 2013

budgeting our bellies & a recipe: presto pesto

Bobby and I like to eat. Whether we're feeling blue after a bad day or celebrating a milestone, we both find comfort in food. We love cooking with butter, fresh produce and good cuts of meat, which cost double in Canada what they do in the U.S. We're no stranger to the occasional (okay, more than occasional) $1 box of Kraft Dinner, but overall we probably spend more money than we should on groceries.

After reviewing our food receipts for the first quarter of the year and subsequently picking our jaws up off the floor, we agreed that we need to budget our bellies.

Therefore soup & sandwiches were on the menu. I was determined to make them as luxurious as possible so I assembled heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil leaves and mozzarella cheese on a French baguette  (all of which were on sale at Loblaws) and grilled them in a pan.

I swear by this when making sandwiches - Mario Batali panini press from Crate&Barrel.

But the sandwiches were dry and I couldn't bear the thought of running downstairs to the hasty market to spend money on pesto sauce (that stuff be expensive!) so I decided to make my own using what was in the cupboard. We didn't have pine nuts or parmesan cheese so I used almonds and some extra salt as substitutes. It turned out really good; I really couldn't tell the difference! And best of all, I didn't spend any extra $$$ to make it. Success!

June 4, 2013

the picture in the cookbook

There's a scene from one of my favorite television series (RIP Judging Amy) where a young girl tries to bake a cake. Disappointed by the sloppy results, she cries, "It doesn't look like the picture in the cookbook." 

Her mother tries to console her, "Oh honey, it never looks like the picture in the book."

It's a brilliant moment, clearly referencing more than just baked goods.

My kitchen.
I get it.

The picture in my book looked like this: degree from prestigious college, amazing New York apartment, fabulous life as an obscure but well-received writer. 

We won't dwell on what the very much altered reality is. It's different. Not what I had planned. Let's move on. 

It's never been my strong suit but I'm teaching myself how to focus on the positive. High blood pressure at 28 isn't fun, so I've decided to at least try to look at the glass as half full.

Cooking has helped with that. Because I'm not able to work on the books until the Immigration Powers That Be grant me a visa, I've had to find creative ways to stay busy each day. I spend hours Googling and reading up on domestic quandaries, such as how long and at what temperature to steep oolong tea for;  the difference between jam and preserves, and how to get blood out of a white towel. Now that we have a dog I take her for walks and snap photos of her while she sleeps. I shake out the rugs on the patio. I coordinate our shoe closet according to ROY G BIV. 

But cooking has helped more than anything else. I've always been fascinated by chefs on TV, how they can flick their wrists and send perfectly sauteed onions soaring through the air before catching them in a pan, all while keeping one eye on the bundt cake in the oven and shouting clever catch phrases. BAM! 

I admire the know-how, the lingo, the multi-tasking and the patience required to be a good cook. Mostly I love the predictability of it all - the crack of dry spaghetti being broken in half, the sizzle of boiling water as it spills from the pot to the element. These are things that can be counted on to always look and sound the same from meal to meal. Even if I'm trying a new recipe, there's a sense of security in these known truths, even in the mistakes. There will always be a microscopic piece of eggshell in the cake batter. And that's okay - once you learn what to expect in the kitchen, you can laugh off the mishaps much easier.

It doesn't come naturally all of the time (there have been days that I literally burst into tears because the breading on my chicken didn't turn out crispy enough) but I try to find little moments of Zen in the cooking process. Few things fill my heart with joy more than the 30 seconds after fresh garlic is added to a pan of melted butter. The sizzle, the smell - it's something that can't be described, but only experienced. 

I've set a personal goal for myself to try at least one new recipe a week while I wait for my immigration paperwork to be finalized, and become a better cook and, in essence, a more patient person. It could be another 3 or 4 months before I'm given the green light to work. I have no control over this. Life never looks like the picture in the book. So rather than let that get me down, I'm going to try my very best to - literally - make lemonade from lemons.

June 3, 2013


It's been a couple of weeks since I last posted, partially because I haven't felt motivated to write about anything in particular (I aimlessly began 4 or 5 posts last week only to leave them hanging mid-sentence). I've been feeling grey, much like the weather lately, and a little bit down to be honest.

The other reason I haven't written anything is because Bobby and I have been laying low, spending a lot of time at home, so there isn't anything terribly exciting to document. We've been spending more time cooking at home than dining out and lately it seems that we prefer strolling through our neighborhood to braving the downtown traffic to walk among crowded streets.

We've also been working on saving money for the future - a possible long weekend at a cottage in the woods, a boy's-only fishing trip for Bobby, unforeseen vet expenses for the little dog we recently adopted, and the usual monthly bills. So staying home to cook a pasta dinner together and watch Anthony Bourdain peruse Peru is beneficial on both a good-for-the-soul and an economical level.

Boring as all this saving and laying low may sound to some, I've enjoyed it. Each recipe we try makes us better cooks, and we get to use our fancy Martha Stewart pots & pans and new cast iron skillet so it's extra fun. And, truth be told, I rather like lazing on the couch under our Hudson Bay fleece, watching Judge Judy lay the smackdown on some deadbeat dad. Or reading a Lionel Shriver novel in bed while the dog sleeps on Bobby's pillow beside me. These are the memories that make a rental apartment feel like a home.

Perhaps when we have more exciting adventures outside of our little loft I'll be able to post more provocative photos, but for now all I have to share is a handful of snaps from inside our home.

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