The Coop

I’ve been a tardy blogger recently as my time has been taken up with attempting to decipher the mysteries of internet marketing, work, a vacation (yay!) and tending to my garden. I’m going to stray from my usual topic of late, self-publishing, to focus on something that just plain makes me happy: my garden.

For years, in our small, city garden, we had serious issues with racoons having a pool party in the pond, taking a bite out of each tomato and generally trashing the place. Enough was enough, so my man built an enclosure for the vegetable patch. It’s basically a pergola covered in  chicken wire and it works like a charm! It’s also a handy place to keep our parrot safe and secure when the whole family is outside.

The plot is only about 7′ x 9′, but thanks to square-foot gardening, I can pack it all in and keep the critters out.

My boys chose the seeds this year – sunflowers, cantaloupe, watermelon, pumpkins, cucumbers, lettuce, green beans and carrots. I chose the seedlings – tomatoes, brussels sprouts, cauliflower and eggplant. (Actually, that was purchased by accident. Not sure anymore what I thought it was.)

Part of the reason we can fit so much into such a small space is that the vines like the pumpkin, cucumbers, cantaloup and watermelons can climb on the chicken wire. Mind you, it’s my first time growing pumpkins, so we’ll see what happens!

The accidental eggplant.

Finally! A sunflower that the squirrels can’t destroy and scatter around the garden to mock me. In case you’re thinking that looks like a painting behind the sunflower, you’re right. It’s from the set of a play I wrote and directed a few years back…

Pressure Cookers are the New Microwaves

I recently heard about a grade 6 science fair project where the junior scientist watered identical plant clippings; one with purified water and one with microwaved water.

While the experiment does not stand up to stringent scientific scrutiny (the junior scientist was only 11 years old at the time), it still manages to be downright alarming. Among the numerous reasons out there not to use a microwave, there is also some conjecture that microwaves alter the nutrients in food in such a way that the body doesn’t quite recognize it.

One word… Ew.

Right about now, you might be thinking, Oh, come on! Really?! In this day and age of running to keep up, I have to give up my microwave and actually cook lunch and dinner from scratch? Pffft.

Don’t panic. As you probably guessed from the title of this post, pressure cookers are the way to go. Seriously.

They’re as fast, if not faster than microwaves for cooking most foods, they’re waaaay easier to clean, and, unlike microwaves, they’re perfectly safe.

In fifteen minutes, start to finish, I can have the most succulent batch of chicken breasts you’ve ever tasted. Whole peeled potatoes? Five minutes to perfection. Pork tenderloin roulade with potatoes and mushroom medley? Thirty minutes.

They’re almost self-cleaning, what with all that high-pressure steam. If you make a stew or chili that gets crusted onto the sides, rinse it out well, put a cup of water in it and bring it up to pressure to steam clean the inside. Let it cool and wipe it out. Done and done.

Every time I talk to my mother about my pressure cooker, she tells me the story of her mother getting so badly burned by a pressure cooker that her father threw it into the backyard in a fit of drama that the children, apparently, never forgot. That event took place sometime between 1940 and 1950 as close as I can figure. They’ve come a long way since then and have at least 3 levels of built-in fail-safes. Just be careful not to reach across the pot right after you take off the lid and you’ll be fine.

Granted, you can’t make those quick frozen dinners in a pressure cooker, but my question is this: Why would you want to when you can have real food in the same amount of time?

Upcycling is the New Black

Upcycling is suddenly very trendy, but the only thing new about the practice is the term. It’s been around as long as there have been resourceful men and women trying to stretch the budget. All it is, really, is using materials scavenged from old or worn-out items and turning them into something new, wonderful and, above all, useful.

A few examples include memory quilts constructed from worn-out clothing, rugs crocheted using plastic bags or old bedding, or a new sweater made from the yarn of an old sweater. It’s cost-effective, good for the planet and very satisfying. And a patched pair of pants doesn’t have to scream “hobo”.

All it really takes are a few basic skills and the ability to see the worth in what we normally consider refuse. Our grandmothers had this ability, but we’re losing sight of it in a world of dirt-cheap off-the-rack clothing that only lasts a season before falling apart. Upcycling provides an opportunity to be stylish without being wasteful.

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This pencil skirt has the subtle but very stylish detail of small ruffle at the hem, which is surprisingly simple to add to a ready-made skirt. The ruffle can be pleated or gathered and made from any type of fabric, ribbon or lace that strikes your fancy. This look is achieved with doubled-over satin or wide gross-grain ribbon and would also look great in a contrasting colour.

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Maybe you don’t need a chartreuse cocktail dress, but this appliqued lace technique would look equally stunning on pants, a summer skirt, or even a T-shirt.

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This double ruffle in contrasting colours is visually stunning and can add a feminine detail to a tailored skirt.

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This tuck pleating swatch is such a perfect example of a designer detail, I had to include it. How pretty this would look at the hemline of a skirt or as vertical inserts on a shirt, or anywhere else your imagination takes you.

During my internet search for inspiration, I’ve also discovered the unexpected benefit of finding some great blogs that are creative, informative and entertaining. The above image was taken from Ancien-Nouveau, a blog about sewing and vintage patterns – right up my alley!