Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Straight Talk About Slipcovers.

There was one aspect of grown-up reality that only hit me recently: slipcovers. C's wonderful parents gave us the most gorgeous set of couches last year and second only to the thought "Oh my goodness I'm an adult with nice furniture now!" was "Holy God, I need a slipcover."

These are seriously nice couches. Antiques, even. White. White antique couches. C and I are that lazy brand of couple who own a kitchen table but use it more for putting mail on than anything else - we eat at the coffee table, sitting on the couches. Very risky.

"They're purrrfect... I can shed all over this!"
Trouble finding a slipcover aside [good luck finding something that will work for antiques without paying an arm and a leg for custom fitted!], I spent the nearly $200 and ended up with two chocolate-brown generic stretchy slipcovers. Stretchy was necessary if I wanted them to look like they fit whatsoever.

Turns out? They're a tremendous amount of work. I am constantly re-tucking and lint-rolling, all to almost no avail. C wiggles and wriggles and scooches and slides and by the end of the day my couches look like the sofa version of the Paper Bag Princess [if that's a thing].

Even worse: polyester and spandex do not a happy home make. This fabric collects everything it touches. We have hardwood floors throughout our apartment, and heaven forbid I accidentally touch the bottom of the slipcover with the broom while I'm sweeping! Every speck of dirt and dust and dander that was stuck to my broom is now hopelessly clinging to my slipcover.

I invested in lint rollers. Dozens of them. Once a week I'd spend an hour or more lint-rolling these damn slipcovers. Rosie loved it - at the first sign of lint-rolling she'd come running and try her best to get in my way so I'd accidentally roll over her. This is not help with my cat-hair-all-over-the-slipcovers problem. Rosie aside, lint rolling was not working.

Enter the mightiest tool yet known in the fight against slipcover lint: the dampened hand.

I kid you not. Rosie helped, showing absolutely no remorse whatsoever.

I decided to maximize my productivity by washing a load of dishes while I cleaned the couches. Wash a few dishes, pat hands dry, rub down couches, repeat. I ran out of dishes even before I had finished with the loveseat, but I set up a little dampening station nearby and sallied forth!

None of the dust/fluff/hair sticks to your hand whatsoever and it completely solves my static problem that I have with the roller. I'm about to show you something truly horrifying; you may never look at your couch the same way again. This: from the loveseat. Yuck!

I know it's terribly mundane but I am so excited to finally have a solution for these stupid, necessary slipcovers. So excited that I'm still only halfway through, blogging this. I've got our loveseat all tidied up and it's on to the sofa next!

No longer are my couches unfit for dress pants! Rosie has already tried her funny business but I shall be discouraged no longer. Now that I've got this under wraps it'll be a quick tidy once a week, instead of two futile attempts a day!

Ah, domestic bliss!

Monday, March 11, 2013


Okay, okay, I know it's a big late in the game for New Year's Resolutions, but for some reason I always wait a bit before decided what I'd like to accomplish in the upcoming year. Keeps me from hastily making goals I'd never reach. Such as "go to the gym three times a week since you are paying for the membership anyway." Ain't nobody got time for that! Maybe my goal for the year should be self-discipline. Sigh.

Regardless, this year, with my twenty-fifth birthday looming over me like some kind of gravemarker [dramatic, I know, but I've been dreading the big two-five since I can remember. Picture seven-year old me, panicking about one day being twenty five.] I wanted to focus on self-improvement and enriching my life. Luckily for me, my wonderful friend Paul turned to me mid-way through January and said "Do you want to learn to speak German?"

Well! Sure, I said. Why not? I was floored when he turned his phone towards me and showed me the app he had been using to learn Portuguese for the past few weeks. "It's free," he said. Say no more, my friend. Say no more.

Duolingo is an incredibly innovative free program available on your iPhone or on their website. I've read articles that have said their method is better at teaching adults new languages from scratch than the Rosetta Stone program! ...but for free. Did I mention it's free? It just does not get better, folks. An independently conducted eight-week study found that 34 hours spent with Duolingo is the instructional equivalent of one full, eleven-week semester taught at university level. Check out their website here for all sorts of press, fun facts, and more.

To start, you pick your language. French, Spanish, Italian, German or Portuguese. If you already have a knowledge base in a language, you can immediately test out of as many lessons as you need.

Here's why they can offer this amazing learning tool for free: They use their users' brainpower and collective knowledge to provide translation services to the online world! At the end of each lesson, if you are able, there are real-world translations. DuoLingo asks a large number of users to translate real-world text from your learned language to your native language, and actually has you cross-check the work of other users in order to arrive at the most accurate translation possible. Sheer genius, says I.

I'm several lessons into German and I am finding it incredibly intuitive. Aside from the directed lessons, there's a practice area that notes how far along you are in your lessons and incorporated everything you've learned up to that point in a review. It feels like a game - you start each lesson with a certain number of hearts and for each incorrect answer you lose a heart. Bonus point are awarded for any hearts remaining at the end of the lesson.

Each of the lessons are divided into areas of language - there's basic & phrases, grammar, vocabulary, and more than I haven't even come close to unlocking. You complete the first half of each lesson in order to move on with the instruction, and when you've mastered enough to tackle some real-world translations you head back and complete the second half of the lessons!

You can have more than one language on the go, too, for those of you who have brains that can multitask like that. You probably read five books at the same time, too, don't you? I will never understand.

What I find most helpful about this particular teaching model is not only the repetition of vocabulary and verb conjugation, but the variety of methods you are required to understand it in. From my schooling in French, I can read and speak fairly well but my verbal understanding and writing is practically nonexistent. This platform requires you to read, write, speak, and listen, often all at once! Though I am still a beginner when it comes to German, my comprehension across all four mediums is level and that contributes a great deal to how quickly you can pick it up, I believe.

Sometimes the sentences and phrases they have you translate can be a bit goofy...

Check it out - if nothing else, it's something to keep your brain active and happy in your downtime! No more rubbish $1.99 games and time wasters. Find it available for download on their website, or on iTunes here.

Friday, March 8, 2013


In case you missed The Londoner's recent post, here's the latest and greatest in themed bars: ping pong.

London's Ping hit the scene with a splash late summer last year and I was surprised to find that Toronto had its very own ping pong bar! SPiN opened late in 2011 as the Toronto installment of SPiNGalactic - there's three other North American locations. [Their website boasts plans for SPiN on the Moon in 2022!]

The walls are adorned with a gorgeous array of artwork from local artists - all original and all available for purchase.

As if the atmosphere and ping pong wasn't enough, their menu completely blew me away. The group I was with ordered a small array of appetizers and sandwiches and I struggled with the urge to order way more than I could possibly ever eat.

The 5 Step Fries were amazing. Potato wedges gone hulk. They were thick, skin-on, crispy-on-the-outside-fluffy-on-the-inside deliciousness. So far from healthy and best eaten hot or warm - I splurged for the last wedge at the end of the night and ended up with all of the grease that had pooled in the bottom of the dish. Ick. Their take on a simple grilled cheese was refreshing! A sharp mix of Swiss, Monterey and Cheddar cheeses along with fresh tomato slices, crispy pork belly and sprouts. These were sliced for sharing, devoured, and a back-up tray was quickly ordered.

I love creative remakes of simple, basic dishes. SPiN's "Chips and Dip" was just that: warm deep-friend tortilla chips [no pretense of healthiness in this joint!] with three dips. One was a basic tzatzki, another was a sweet tomato salsa, and the last was [as far as I could tell] yam or sweet potato with caradamom. All delicious, but none of them held a candle to the dip that came along with the grilled cheese.

Looks like ketchup, tastes like heaven. I schmeared this sauce on everything. baked tortillas, potato wedges, grilled cheese... all got healthy dunks in this sinfully sweet sauce. A magic blend of tomato paste and honey that I can't for the life of me understand why it was so delicious. I would never have thought to combine the two but I suppose, in the end, that's what ketchup is! Tomato paste and sugar and vinegar, right? My not-so-seasoned tastebuds loved the sweet hit of honey in this sauce. I'll definitely be trying to make my own version of this sometime soon.

The veggie chips were a brilliant palate cleanser, and definitely helped me to mentally offset the obvious grease-factor in the wedges and chips. Long, thin slices of heirloom carrots and coloured beets were crisp and surprisingly flavourful. I too-often find that raw veggies in restaurants are bland and either dried out or way too watery. These were neither! This is the first time I've seen raw veggies presented in such a creative and eye-catching manner. It almost made the $8 price tag worth it.

We had a birthday in our little group, but forgot about it until the bitter end and had missed our dessert-ordering window! This happened instead. Cheese dip beats cake any day of the week, anyway.

I'll definitely be grabbing some girlfriends and heading back into the city for a proper night at SPiN! Just too much fun.

They book up fast, and are usually slammed on weekends and Thursday/Friday evenings, so make a reservation! 461 King Street West [don't be fooled by the enormous Firkin on King Street proudly proclaiming itself as 461. Sneak around the side of the building, through the little iron gateways and you'll see the glow of ping pong not too far down!] 416.599.7746

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Treehouse Point

Come holiday and birthday season, I usually fret and fuss over finding the perfect gift for C. The boy is so clever at coming up with thoughtful and unexpected gifts! It's become an unspoken competition. This past year, even though we were spending the holidays with our families in the States, I was determined to make up the ground I lost when he surprised me with a piano the Christmas previous. By October I was browsing Pinterest for ideas; by November I had it booked and paid for!

I knew that after ten days of being away from home and in a full, busy household, we'd both be looking forward to some alone time. Through Pinterest I had found some photos of truly amazing treehouses - I clicked through simply to see what it was all about and was shocked to find it was a small hotel just outside of where we would be visiting my family! I was on the phone booking our stay within seconds.

How can I possibly do justice to the beauty of this place? It was like stepping into a fairytale. I'll let the photos speak for themselves:

Treehouse Point is a collection of five incredibly unique treehouses available for rental year-round. We stayed in Nest - a teeny tiny treehouse accessible by stairs. Inside, there was the most astoundingly comfortable bed and two small chairs for a sitting area.

It was perfect. I was a bit worried about it being cold, but the small in-room heater worked like a charm and we actually had to turn it off a few times because we were overwarm! C and I were giddy with excitement. We dropped out bags and immediately hit the trails for a walk. It was wet out - it's the Pacific Northwest, what more can you expect? - but our walk was lovely. It's amazing how delicious evergreens smell in the rain. We found a small island accessible by plank and discovered dozens of carefully balanced stacks of rocks. Of course we couldn't resist making one of our own...

As you walk through the woods, you may stumble onto one of the two 'secret' treehouses designed to be used by anyone who comes across them: Bird Blind and Hermitage. Bird Blind is built higher than most of the other treehouses, and is entirely screened in. It offers a 360degree view of the river nearby and would be an amazing retreat in the summertime. Hermitage is nearby, and aptly named! The ladder is counterweighted, so once you're up there you can hoist it up and hide away for the day. There's a small desk and a big window overlooking the river. A writers sanctuary.

There's also a small safari tent if you'd prefer to rough it for the night - it's completely screened it and even has a front porch.

I've seen some truly spectacular weddings that took place here. If you're thinking of something a little off the beaten path and unique, I can't think of a better place! Check out Amanda & Liam's wedding on Green Wedding Shoes for ideas and inspiration.

Of course, if you're not the sleeping-high-up-in-a-tree type but still like the idea of being close to nature, there are a couple rooms available in the main lodge on site. It's a wonderfully cozy space that feels like home - the owner makes a fresh, local breakfast every morning for guests! We munched on warm blueberry scones and local granola with yoghurt and fresh fruit. Absolutely divine.

The price varies depending on which treehouse you choose and what time of year you are looking to stay, but in my opinion it is well worth the cost. Some of the larger ones like Upper Pond and Trillium sleep three of four comfortably, so would be perfect for a small getaway with your friends or maybe a bachelorette party!

C agrees: this Christmas, I nailed it!

Check out their website - I can't recommend this place highly enough! Treehouse Point 6922 Preston-Fall City Road SE Issaquah, WA

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Caramel Sin Brownies

Before we get started, a disclaimer: do not bake these sinfully delicious brownies unless you are attending or hosting a party. It is crucial that you are not alone with the entire pan at any point. The temptation may be too much.

That said, I could actually eat an entire tray of these bad boys. They're ooey and gooey and sticky and sweet. They will make you friends anywhere. I have had strangers hug me after a bite of these brownies. A powerful social tool not to be used lightly! So make a double batch.

They're dead simple and only require five ingredients - most of which I bet you already have hiding in your pantry somewhere. I found this recipe originally on ZestyCook and have made a few small changes to it over time.

One thing I've found with the brownie batter for this recipe is that it is crazy sticky! Try using a plastic stir spoon if you have one; there's a magic stirring speed and tenderness that lets you sneak by without making a sticky mess. It's a careful balance.

Caramel Sin Brownies
1 box chocolate cake mix
1 stick of butter, melted
1 1/3 cup evaporated milk
1 bag of caramel chew candies [at least 40 pieces]
Chocolate chips/other chocolate pieces

Combine your cake mix, melted butter and evaporated milk in your mixing bowl. For the mix, I generally use Devil's Food or anything with 'Fudge' in the name. But as long as it's chocolate, you're in the money! I use my KitchenAid for this because the batter has a harder time sticking to the stainless steel.

Once the mix, butter and evaporated milk are all combined, use your trusty plastic spoon or non-stick spatula to section the batter roughly into halves. Scoop one half of the batter into the bottom of a very lightly greased 9x13 pan. The stick of butter in the batter goes a long way in helping it to not stick, but I can't stand losing even the smallest amount of deliciousness to the inside of a pan.

I use the cheap disposable ones you find at the grocery - they come with a lid and I've actually had better luck with the brownies cooking evenly in these pans than in my glass Pyrex lasagna pan. Go figure. Gently prod the batter with your spoon until it's spread over the entire bottom of the pan. It will not be pretty. Try to not leave any holes, but there will absolutely be places where it is very thinly distributed. This is okay! Do not panic. Stop that, right now. It's fine.

Bake for about 12-15 minutes in a 350 degree oven. You'll know it's ready when it only sinks a little when you tap it with your finger. We don't want them cooked completely, because it has to go back in the oven in a few minutes and the last thing you want is dry brownie. Take it out of the oven and let it cool somewhere while you put the caramel goo together. It'll likely have risen in the oven, as well, and now it will drop significantly.

If you, like me, are unable to find caramel chews that are not individually wrapped, find a friend for this part. Unwrap at least forty of them and toss them into a pot. The more surface area, the better, so I use my big copper-bottomed pot.

Add 1/2 cup of evaporated milk and turn the heat on medium-low. Stir the caramels around while they melt slowly. Eventually it will all come together in a melted caramel masterpiece. At this point, feel free to use your discretion as to the rest of the evaporated milk. I prefer to stretch the caramel mixture a bit father, so I add probably about 2/3 of a cup to 1 cup of evaporated milk. I like a runnier consistency so that it covers the entire top of the brownie. Try it a few times and find how you like it best!

Turn the caramel down as low as possible and grab your chocolate chips. This time around I only had mini fudge cups, so that's what I used! I usually measure out about two cups, but this is also at your discretion. If you like extra goo in the middle of your brownies, use two cups. if you prefer a less-messy-more-put-together brownie, use one cup.  I found a dark chocolate Toblerone in the back of my baking supply cupboard and decided to be a bit naughty and throw it in the mix as well. I just chopped it all up and made sure not a single crumb got away!

Spread them evenly over the now-cooled brownie in your pan, and then quickly pour the caramel evenly over top of the them. Grab your trusty spoon or spatula once more and drop the rest of the batter on top of the caramel by the flattened spoonful. It's not a science and it will not be pretty. Trust me on this, the messier-looking, the better. Try not to shake or stir the caramel around - let it lie where it falls. Otherwise you'll mix up the chocolate underneath and we want them to stay layered.

Pop the pan back in your 350 degree oven and bake for 18-22 minutes. Keep an eye on the top layer of brownie and when it starts to do the classic 'brownie crackle' it should be done. Don't even try the toothpick trick - you'll hit a chocolate chip and think it isn't done when it really is. The beauty of cooking half the batter first is that if you prefer your brownies undercooked and gooey, you can undercook the second round and without sacrificing your structural integrity. This means you and I don't end up covered in caramel and chocolate after a few drinks with friends. This. Is. Key.

You can eat them fresh out of the oven if you'd like, but I find that the caramel reaches heretofore unknown levels of hellishly hot that the rest of the brownie does not. Give them an hour to cool. Trust me on this. They're infinitely easier to cut when they've cooled and they lose nothing in flavour.

Pour yourself a tall glass of milk and dig in!