Sunday, May 24, 2015

Stone plants

The other week when we bought our annuals for the garden, I visited the Cactus portion of our favourite greenhouse, Belgian Nurseries, to see what they had in the way of Stone plants, aka Lithops. They are succulents native to southern Africa and are aptly named due to their stone-like appearance. They avoid being eaten in their native habitat by blending in with the surrounding rocks. I bought a couple a few years ago and have always meant to get more, as I love their appearance and the fact that you rarely have to water them.  Once a year, in the spring, the outer leaves dry up and give way to one or more new leaf pairs. Although they are supposed to flower, with small daisy-like blossoms, they don't get enough light in the window where I keep them.

The originals revealing new leaves

Christie Antique Show

Even though we would have liked nothing better than to sleep in yesterday morning, we got up early, were picked up by friends, and went down to the Christie Conservation area to attend the biannual Christie Antique show.  The others have been a few times, but it was my first visit.  There was a large line-up of cars on the road to get into the site, but it moved quickly, and we were parked and walking around with loads of other curious shoppers in no time at all.

A shopping we will go...
There are hundreds of dealers and a vast array of items to look at.  We don't always go to these events with specific purchases in mind, but rather, see if anything catches our eye.  Oh, and the people watching is fabulous!

A side of beef?
It's also interesting to see what's trendy in the world of collectors. The above cow with the cutout side is NOT what I would call trendy, but it did bring a smile to my face.  Can you just imagine bringing that home for your special someone?  Sheesh!

Sportsman's throne
There's a lot of folk art, which always intrigues me, and the above is a case-in-point. It had everything a sportsman could possibly desire - a snowshoe, fishing rods, antlers, all combined to make a very special Muskoka chair.  Again, sheesh!

Colourful cookware and people
Not everything there is so…special.  The cookware above was very retro, very colourful and made for a great photo-op with the surrounding people in their equally colourful jackets. It would look great in a kitchen that had lots of Fiestaware and le Creuset.

What you looking' at?
I loved the warm colours of the above sideboard and the assorted knick-knacks on its shelves.  I didn't notice the look I was getting from the lady beside it, until I uploaded it onto my computer. "Don't worry lady, I'm not going to bite!"

Hmm, where would this look good?
Although I didn't take a lot of pictures, I did find I was drawn to certain colours and certain themes.  The above would belong with the "Sheesh" theme. I just can't imagine where someone would put something like that, but I certainly appreciate its originality.

Orange bird

Orange truck

Orange vase
On a sunny but cool day, after a long, cold winter, the colour orange is one way of bringing some warmth into my life.  I think the next time I go, I'm going to decide on a theme before-hand and just take pictures related to that theme.  The only problem is that there are so many ideas to choose from. I did end up buying a few things, and got some good deals…

Turtle shell
I've always liked when people have decorations around their houses and gardens taken from nature - shells, antlers, bones etc., so when I saw the above turtle shell, I knew I had to have it.  Where it will go is another question altogether.

Retro pottery
The above is a vase from West Germany with a very '60s look.  Friend of ours collect these and have brought them to my attention.  There weren't a lot around that I could see, but this one was colourful and immediately caught my eye.  I didn't buy it immediately, deciding to let fate determine whether I got it or not.  So, when we were about to leave, I went back to the vendor, noticed it was still there and decided it was meant to be.

Riviera pottery
The bargain of the day was the above stack of Riviera plates, saucers and bowls, all for $35.  They are made by the same company that made Fiesta and Harlequin, but are hard to find. There war some chips on some of the pieces, but that is to be expected as the shape has made them very fragile.  Hence the difficulty in finding them.  The vendor took my e-mail as he said he had a couple of bowls and a platter at home that he would be willing to let me have for a good price. I like the scalloped rims and the bright cheery colours. They're perfect for serving food at parties or for putting under potted plants.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Current garden favourites

The spring flowers are rapidly disappearing, but there's a greenness in the garden that is full of promise.  We still have some flowering shrubs flaunting their colour - Azalea, Viburnum, and of course the Redbud graced us with it's frothy pink clusters, but now is the time to look at some of the subtleties and textures that necessitate a closer look.

Primula veris
We have many of these dazzlers throughout the front garden and they are gradually spreading. Their bright yellow flowers radiate out atop a rigid stem, and due to their relatively low height they look particularly good at the front of the garden beds.


Epimediums are hardy perennials that flower in the spring. The flowers are borne on delicate stems that rid cup above the bronze-colored leaves. Flowers are spider-like with four petals and come in a range of colours - we have four different kinds, three of which are shown above. The leaves become more reddish in the fall, making them a very attractive ground cover.


Euphorbia or spurge are heat- and drought-tolerant plants that often have rigid stems and somewhat bizarre floral structures.  Even when they are not in flower, they provide architectural interest. The lower image is a close-up of the flowers of the common Donkey Tail Spurge.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Spring has (finally) sprung!

Hardy Cyclamen
Above are the first bits of colour we saw this spring. They are corms as opposed to bulbs and pop up above the leaf litter early on. As well as the flash of much-needed colour at this time of year, they have interesting foliage, which resurfaces in the late fall.

Aptly named, because they are often up while there is still snow on the ground.  They don't last long, but are a sight for sore eyes, especially after a long, cold winter.

They always remind me of Easter, but I love how they open and close with the sun, and how they attract swarms of the first pollinators.

Scilla and friend
These always look much more dramatic when they are in groups and I particularly like them when they cover a lawn.  Blue is a rare colour, botanically, and it contrasts beautifully with the bright green leaves.

Heath and Cypress
We have a large patch of Heath in the front garden, and in amongst it is a small, shrub-like Cypress that provides a lot of interesting colour and texture contrast.  It also gets swarmed with bees, a sure sign of summer's approach.

A Buttercup-bright yellow flower, above an umbrella-like stem and leaves, which are brilliant compared the greys and browns of the leaf litter, through which they emerge.

Aka Christmas Rose, Winter Rose and Lenten Rose, however they are not roses at all, but rather, evergreen perennial shrubs. They take time to get going, but are worth the wait.

Unknown bulbs
We have two small clumps of these in the front garden, and although we don't know what they are called, they are an incredible mauve colour.

Not the big kind that flower later in the summer, these are short, early-blooming and don't last long.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Easter lunch

Yesterday, CC and I had some of his family over for an Easter lunch. As usual, he had on display some seasonal plants, many harbingers of what's to come in the garden.

Primulas from Terra Greenhouses - four different colours, in pots, arranged in a copper jelly pan, served as the centrepiece.

Forced Apple blossoms - pruned from Apple trees in the front boulevard.

Miniature Daffodils, potted, in cast iron urns, in front of a friend's painting.

Blue Hydrangeas
CC did the lion's share of the cooking and presentation, but I helped out a little too.  We had a Spanish Cava mixed with fresh-squeezed OJ, along with Crab dip and rice crackers and devilled eggs for starters.

Crab dip with rice crackers on Imari plate.

Devilled eggs in Limoges plate.
For the main meal, CC prepared roasted Asparagus, a savoury Aperitif cake with bacon, olives and sun-dried tomatoes, a Leek and pepper gratin, and I made a Salmon Wellington with a sour cream, parsley (couldn't find Dill, so I had to improvise), lemon, red onion and caper sauce.

Roasted Asparagus

Savoury Aperitif Cake

Leek and Pepper Gratin

Salmon Wellingtons

For dessert, CC made a sponge cake, lemon curd and blueberry sauce and I made rabbit sugar cookies. We also had some Lindt chocolate eggs up for grabs.

Brightly-coloured Lindt Easter eggs stand out amongst our Asian shelves

Origami rabbit holds more eggs

Sponge Cake and Bunny cookies

Sponge cake with Lemon curd and blueberry sauce

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sugar Cookies and Royal Icing

Easter is fast approaching and I found a festive idea for dessert in my latest issue of Saveur magazine.  It involves making a regular pie crust, but cutting the scraps into bunny-shaped cookies that are applied to the side of the crust afterwards. The filling, in this case, was lemon curd, so it had a very spring-like colour.

I got a free cooking magazine in the mail on Friday, put out by the French-Canadian Martha Stewart, Ricardo. It actually had some decent recipes and I really liked the layout. One section was about a cake bar with five different types of cake, undecorated, and a selection of toppings to make a DIY dessert.
One of the recipes was for a lemon Bundt cake, which I made, using a cast iron mould that  yielded six smaller cakes.  There was leftover batter, so I put that in a small Bundt pan and cooked them all together. It had a crispy exterior and a crumbly and lemony (very light) interior. I gave a bunch away to a friend who had recently brought dinner over.

Small Bundt cake sandwiched between two mini-cakes.
The cake was even better the next day, so I decided to make mini Lemon Bundt cakes for Easter dessert along with Royal Icing-decorated sugar bunny cookies (already bought the cookie cutter, so may as well use it).  Using Martha Stewart's recipe, I made a half-recipe of dough yesterday and left it in the fridge overnight.

Work station for sugar cookie preparation.
The dough rolled out well and the cookie cutter was easy to work with, so I soon had forty-odd copies rolled out and cut.

Ready for baking.
I didn't get all OCD on them this time around, as it was my first-ever attempt at making sugar cookies and wanted to play around with icing them.  I even bought a set of decorator tips and disposable pastry bags.

The source of bunny anti-matter methinks.
Fresh out of the oven.
They turned out remarkably well, but I realized that I cut out different thicknesses, so had to vary the cooking time from batch to batch. Even the pale brown ones looked good though, and I thought they would be covered in icing eventually anyway, so no worries.

Outlining and Flooding
I made the Royal Icing in my Mixmaster, following Ms. Stewart's directions, but I think the icing was a a bit too runny, so next time I'll cut back on the water.  Regardless, I got the hang of using a fine tip and drawing an outline just within the perimeter, and then flooding it with icing to fill the interior. I've seen some cool pictures on the web where people have used two different colours for this part, but I wanted to keep it simple.

Simple but effective
After getting tired of outlining and filling so many cookies, and realizing I wouldn't have enough icing to cover them all, I came up with an easy but effective decoration that was a winner. I went back to the filled cookies, once they had dried a bit, and did the same for them.

A couple of ideas for decorating.
Next time, I'm going to make the icing thicker, so I have more control with the tips, and will try some different effects and colours, but I was pleased with my amateurish first attempt, and at least they all taste good!