An autumnal arrangement on a budget

By now you’ve probably figured out that I rarely purchase my flowers from a florist. I am an avid proponent of the virtues of grocery store flowers, especially since my local grocery store has an amazing selection of blooms. Granted, the flowers you get at a florist are likely fresher and you may have a larger selection from which to choose, but I really think that most people would be surprised at what you can do with a $20 bouquet from Loblaws!

I created this autumnal arrangement for last weekend’s Thanksgiving dinner, which we shared with some very special family members. It was a particularly poignant moment for Erick and me because it was our first Thanksgiving in our home.

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This arrangement looks expensive and complicated to create, but it really is very simple and can be done affordably. To make it, I bought a $10 bouquet at the grocery store containing sunflowers, coxcomb, straw flowers, wheat stalks, an ornamental cabbage, and some stalks of a sorghum-like grain (not sure exactly what this is – anyone have an idea?). I added some dahlias, spirea greens, and sedum from my garden. If you were buying these flowers, you would probably be fine with another $10 bouquet. Alstromeria, lilies, or roses would be a good alternative to the dahlias, and any small-leaf greenery would look good. Sedum could easily be replaced with pink baby’s breath, heather, or wax flower.

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I just love that it was wrapped in brown paper – I felt like I was in a flower market in Covent Garden! Ow wouldn’t that be loverly?

(10 points to anyone who got that reference.)

Musical theatre references aside, I used my grandmother’s silver rose bowl for this arrangement, along with a block of Oasis (the green kind, not the band). You have to make sure your Oasis sticks up quite a bit from whatever vase or bowl you’re using, so that you can put filler in around the side. Otherwise, your filler won’t spill over the side – it’ll just stick up awkwardly.

I usually start with some filler/cascading stuff and then place a few of my focal (larger) flowers to get the general dimensions of the arrangement:

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When you put the “spiller” into your arrangement, you need to make sure that you insert it into the Oasis at an upward angle. The Oasis is tough stuff and your stem doesn’t need to be very long – it grips really well. (Oh and don’t forget to submerge your Oasis in water to  hydrate it before you start your arrangement!)

Once I’ve got the outline of my arrangement, I start to fill in the gaps, working in a circle, turning the arrangement so that I cover all angles with some kind of visual interest.

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Make sure to keep turning your arrangement as you work, and fill in any little gaps you see. Don’t be afraid of getting it “wrong”: this kind of arrangement is meant to be a bit more free-form. I usually try to keep a triangular shape, because the asymmetry is pleasing to the eye.

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I love love love the way the ornamental cabbage adds a touch of unconventionality to this arrangement!

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There you have it: an autumnal arrangement that only looks costly and complicated! Don’t be afraid to try arranging your own flowers for your next big family do – it’s so therapeutic. Plus the added bonus of people thinking you’re the next Martha Stewart (but without the orange jumpsuit). “How does she do it?!” ;-)

Living room progress!

It’s by no means finished, but at least we have progress!

And it’s only been three months!

Good Lord. I feel like Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada: “By all means, move at a glacial pace – you know how that thrills me.”
In the longest makeover known to man just a few short weeks we’ve gone from this:

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To this:

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To this:

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To this!!

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I made the curtains using the tutorial from one of my favourite bloggers, Kelly at View Along the Way. Her ideas are really spot-on, and this curtain tutorial was very approachable, particularly for someone with limited (but developing!) sewing skills. DSC01067 DSC01069 DSC01071

We’ve tried really valiantly to make it work with the sofa and armchair set, but their days in the living room are definitely numbered. The sad part is that they’re actually really solid and the upholstery (for all that it is ugly as sin) is in pretty good shape, but it’ll cost us so much to have them re-upholstered or professionally slipcovered that it is cheaper to just buy a new sofa! I’ve got my eye on the Tristan sofa from Leon’s:

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Yum.

We also still have a LONG to-do list for this space…

- Paint touch-ups

- Find a way to take out the creases from the rug (oops)

- Side tables?

- Find a way to hide the internet router

- Plant stand?

- Artwork?

- Cushion covers

- Hem curtains!

So it’s a work in progress but it is a fair sight better than the spinach green/off-colour yellow disaster of yesteryear. And we are slowly but surely re-painting all the trim in the house white (who paints the trim green??!), so that’s a step in the right direction.

In other news, my parents received an offer on their house! So that accounts for the radio silence in the last couple of days. They were here for Thanksgiving, and the negotiations took over our lives. But not so much that we weren’t able to enjoy a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner together on Saturday night. I cooked my first turkey, which turned out marvellously, and we had two friends-who-are-really-family over as well. It was wonderful to celebrate together and give thanks for all we’ve been blessed with this year.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Fall 2014 To-Do List

Also known as the Make-Work List. :-)

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Erick and I are still new to the whole homeownership game, and this is our first real fall in the house. (We moved last November, so we missed fall by a month – and if you live in Canada, you understand that November is so NOT fall.) Fall is my absolute favourite season: we’re treated to nature’s fireworks display of red, yellow, orange, and gold leaves; the air is crisp and clean; the produce is at its peak; and let’s face it – fall’s fashion is the best.

But with the change in season comes plenty of work to do around the house. Winter in Canada takes its toll on a home, so it’s super important that we get these things done before the cold arrives. Here’s our fall to-do list, in all its make-work glory:

- Finish painting the hallway and foyer

- Fix a small superficial crack in one of the exterior walls

- Garden maintenance x 1 000 000 (!)

- Clear space and plant two peony plants

- Clear space and plant three forsythia plants

- Clear space and plant lilac tree (can’t really be called a tree yet… lilac twig?)

- Plant some new bulbs for spring

- Trim cedar hedges ASAP

- Take photos of garden so that we can plan some changes for next year

- Wash windows (yikes!)

And if we accomplish all that, I’ll be VERY surprised.

By the way, I should tell you that the beautiful fall wreath featured in this post was made by my very talented mother, Linda!

Since it’s been radio silence on the living room makeover front, I’ll leave you with this sneak-peek of what’s coming your way next week.

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Clearly, there are still MANY things to do to this space before the big reveal next week. We still need to:

- Hang curtains (they’re already made!)

- Hem curtains

- Make cushion covers

- Art work? On no budget? Hm.

- Side tables would be nice

- Do something about that horrible brown baseboard heater!

I’m under no delusions that I will get through all of that AND work full-time this week, but I will do my best to have at least some of it accomplished by the next post!

Better stop drinking coffee and get moving.

Have a great week!

You had me at “Sassenach”

Oh Outlander. How I love thee.

Let it be known that I have loved Diana Gabaldon’s books for at least a decade – in other words, my fandom predates the Starz series – and I’ve been following JAMMF* and Claire’s adventures with the sort of fervour generally reserved for religious devotion and chocolate desserts.

So I had this great idea to combine my love of Outlander with one of my favourite holidays, St. Andrew’s Day! For those who aren’t as familiar with Scottish custom, St. Andrew’s Day is Scotland’s official holiday, named for their patron saint. Of course, this year’s celebration will be all the more poignant considering the recent political tumult. Regardless of which side of that particular debate you fall on, St. Andrew’s Day is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate All Things Scottish!

And All Things Scottish = All Things Outlander, in my mind.

My mom is a fantastic seamstress. Everything she touches turns to (cloth of) gold. So when she said she’d help me create a Claire-inspired costume, I leapt at the chance! Here’s the inspiration: (all images courtesy of Starz)

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The main elements I want to incorporate into my version of Claire’s look are the kitted capelet (I plan to wear mine well beyond the party), the full skirt (which I’m going to do in a dark navy and red tartan), and the lace-up navy bodice with three-quarter sleeves. The dark, curly hair may be somewhat harder to come by, as mine is blonde and VERY straight. I’ll have to see about that.

*JAMMF = James Alexander Malcom MacKenzie Fraser – if you don’t know who that is, you have been living under a rock. And not the time-transporting variety. 

In the meantime, I’m inspired to incorporate as much of Claire’s stunning 18th-century style into my own fall wardrobe as is humanly (and financially) possible. As Black Jack Randall would say, here’s a little something I whipped up. (Again, if you don’t know who that is then you need to grab the Scot by the kilt and read/watch the series!)

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First on my shopping list will be a knitted cowl and a knee-length tartan skirt. In case you want to grab any of these items for yourself, here’s the source list:

Tartan Skirt

Cowl

Jacket

Belt

Boots

Necklace

So until we meet again – whether it be 200 years or one week from now – slainte mhath! 

The tyranny of luxury laundry rooms

Luxury laundry rooms. I don’t get them.

This is a space where you wash dirty clothes. Dirty. Clothes. Also sheets and towels.

Luxury kitchens I get. If I had disposable income to burn I would totally go for one. Luxury bedrooms I get. You spend a lot of time in there and it should be a place of comfort, calm, and beauty. (Not that ours generally looks calm or beautiful what with the piles of unfolded laundry, but you get where I’m going here.) Even luxury bathrooms. If there’s a place to blow some cash it’s a high-end shower system that you’ll enjoy EVERY DAY.

But luxury laundry rooms I just don’t get.

“Surround yourself with beautiful fixtures to make mundane tasks more pleasurable!” “A beautiful laundry room makes doing a simple household chore more fun!” I call b-s. Nothing makes laundry fun. It is boring and annoying and necessary. It’s like washing the dishes. Maybe you don’t mind doing it, but your certainly don’t have fun doing it. What, do we kick back and watch the spin cycle go? Woo-hoo! Party on!

A certain blog which recently announced a month-long hiatus (whose name might or might not rhyme with “rung-mouse-dove”) recently spent over $4000 on their laundry room makeover. Granted they actually re-built the room from scratch, but seriously? $4000 is a lot of money, even for people who DIY-blog for a living. I mean, you can go to Europe for that kind of money.

Take this one for instance. This baby is from Interiors by Studio M. Check out those pricey light fixtures! And that beautiful white marble countertop! … wait… marble countertop in a laundry room?! My kitchen doesn’t even have marble countertops! And let’s not forget the crown moulding, wall-to-wall cabinetry, and subway tile backsplash.

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Or what about this one from Elle Decor? Check out that wall-paper! In a room where humidity is the name of the game! Did you see that beautiful faucet? Or the in-cabinet lighting? Points off for no crown moulding, though.8489d871e85c

And sure, I get wanting a sink in the laundry area: makes sense for hand washing. But I think we can all agree that this is just ridiculous:

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$869.00 for a SINK?! In which to wash bras and panties?! You have to be kidding me!

“But Sarah, you’re just bitter because you don’t have money to spend on one!”

Nope. Even were I lucky enough to have several hundred dollars to spend on a laundry room makeover, I still don’t think I’d invest it in a room that a) I spend so little time in and b) almost no-one else sees. Somehow it seems over-kill and even frivolous. And I love me some frivolity! Maybe I’ll feel differently some day when I’m doing load after load of dirty kids’ clothes. Or if I suddenly become a stickler about folding laundry just so. Probably not.

Or maybe I’m just feeling cheap.

Whatever. I do my laundry here:

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Despite the dubious yellow wall colour and exposed vent, somehow I manage to survive my 5 minutes in this space every week. And once the load is in, I can do this:

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Yup, those doors are definitely crooked. But at least fixing them won’t cost the same as a European vacation! So here is my rallying cry: embrace your un-prettified laundry room! It never asked to be gilded and then paraded around for all to see! Just say “no” to the tyranny of the luxury laundry rooms! It’s fine the way it is!

I mean, until you run out of DIY projects. And then by all means: fill your boots. ;-)

Banana bread for the bon vivant

We all have those recipes that instantly make us feel at home again: whether it’s mac ‘n cheese, meatloaf, chocolate chip cookies, or soup, they just say “comfort”. On Thursday night, after an emotionally-charged first day at a new school, I turned to my mother’s banana bread for a much-needed dose of comfort food. But a day of herding (proverbial) cats left me wanting something a little more adult, a little more elevated: I needed a Dessert.

[Don't get me wrong: there's nothing the matter with plain yummy banana bread. Simple is always good. But since the entire premise of F & K is to do-it-yourself with flourish, I thought that it would be fun to put a more gourmet spin on this simple (and delicious) recipe.]

I give you perfection on a plate: banana bread with salted-caramel sauce and toasted hazelnuts!

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My mom’s banana bread is one of those recipes to which only very special people are privy. I remember accepting it with awed reverence as she prepared me to go off to university. It is better than gold: use it well, fellow foodies.

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1/4 cup softened unsalted butter

1 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 lb soft bananas (about three large bananas)

1 1/2 cups sifted flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

cinnamon to taste (I use about 1 1/2 tsp)IMG_1037

nutmeg (I grate my own, so I use a healthy grating)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°.

2. Cream together the butter and sugar.

3. Add the eggs to the butter and sugar mixture and mix well.

4. Mash the bananas well and add them to the egg mixture.

5. In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients.

6. Add the dry ingredients to the banana mixture, a bit at a time.

7. Lightly butter a loaf pan. I line mine with parchment paper, but you can also flour it.

8. Pour in the batter.IMG_1040

9. Bake in the centre of the oven for about 60 minutes.

Now, to really make this a Dessert (with a capital ‘D’), you can add a salted caramel sauce, chopped toasted hazelnuts and vanilla ice cream.

Salted Caramel Sauce

Adapted from Style at Home – November 2013

1 cup granulated sugar

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1/2 cup of 35% whipping cream

1 tsp fleur de sel

1. Heat the granulated sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon until all the sugar is dissolved. (It will clump and harden before it dissolves – don’t panic!)

2. Once it dissolves, the sugar will begin to caramelize (darken). Don’t stir it once this starts! This should take about 45 seconds to 1 minute.

3. Quickly stir in the butter, cream, and fleur de sel. You may need to take the pan off the heat for this step.

4. Let the sauce simmer for about 1 minute.

5. Transfer the sauce to a heat-proof bowl and let it cool completely.

*This sauce can be made well in advance and refrigerated. When re-heating it, be sure to microwave on low for only about 5 seconds at a time. Stir frequently to prevent it burning.*

To finish off your dessert:

1. Toast your hazelnuts until golden

2. Rub them with a clean tea towel on a wooden cutting board to remove as much of the skins as possible.

3. Chop the hazelnuts.

4. Assemble the dessert: a piece of banana bread, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, a drizzle of caramel sauce, and a sprinkling of hazelnuts!

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I dare you not to fall in love at first bite!
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Tell me: what non-traditional spins have YOU put on your favourite childhood foods?

You say “daylia”, I say “dahlia”

But we all say “wow!” when the full, rich blooms open at this time of year!

It was my first year growing dahlias (my first year growing a garden, to be exact). I was spurred into this fledgling hobby by my Aunt Sheila and Uncle George, who are expert dahlia-growers. In fact, our family is so dahlia-dazzled that we have an event called the “Dahlia Dip”… More about that later, I promise! ;-)

My two “Blended Beauty” dahlias did really well, and I have faith that my other two plants! They’re just late-bloomers, is all.

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In other garden news…

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Those little pink blooms came back a bunch of times this summer. Not sure exactly what they are (help?) but they surprised me again and again! Go little pink flowers, Go!

Thinking ahead to next year’s garden, I’d like to get my hands on some of these:

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“Pam Howden” dahlia

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“Mary’s Jomanda” dahlia

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“Gloriosa” dahlia

I know what you’re thinking, though: “when is she going to tell me about the Dahlia Dip??!!’ Hang on to your pruning shears because the Dahlia Dip is a non-stop, action-packed, splash-inducing relay race! But why the “dahlia” part, you ask? The crux  of the race is that the swimmer must carry a dahlia in their mouth from one end of the pool to the other. That swimmer must then pass the dahlia to the next teammate without using their hands. Yes, you heard right.

My family makes its own fun!

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Photos by Madeleine Palmer

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And as you can see, we take the Dahlia Dip VERY seriously.