Category Archives: craft

Doggy Dreams of Christmas: Hip Pet Bed DIY and Easy Dog Biscuits Recipe


There are 101 reasons to begin the Christmas prep odyssey with a little pet project. Our ‘old soul’ doggie is giving us so much unconditional love every day, there’s almost no more need to stencil ‘’Relax, You’re Home’’ on the walls anymore. And yet, let’s be honest, most of the times we are so much smitten by the Christmas frenzy, we barely have time to buy our pet an (often rancid) commercial treat or a stupid stuffed reindeer antlers with sparks (that would never light up, but everyone would be too busy to notice).

And so the doggy dreams that one Christmas it would be different and there will be home-made cookies and a new comfy bed, and the antlers will fly into the garbage…

This year wouldn’t probably be any different for her if I wouldn’t have had a ‘déjà vu’ experience when shopping for a pet food at Target last weekend.  This moment has led to a new gorgeous pet bed light bulb DIY project and these succulent treats our doggie can’t get enough of. Both are super-fun to make alone or with kids.

It’s Saturday morning; I’m at the Target’s pet section screening the shelves for weight control IAMS food.  My peripheral vision suddenly spots a HUGE (70%) special on hot Boots & Barkley pet duvets of a very refreshing contemporary design (as opposed to kitsch, granny or poop-looking designs we usually find in pet sections – I always wonder what kind of people design the dog beds and covers): at least 5-6 varieties in small, medium, large and ex-large sizes. One of them has this rare whimsical Christmas-y print of doggie treats on it.

In a flash, I remember: a year ago I was passing by this duvet thinking: ’It’s a pity I just bought that dreary checkered pet bed in Costco (because of the BUDGET (always that word) – but this one looks so much more festive and elegant, not to mention the colors would be perfect fit for our lady doggie…’ Then, of course, the thought was swept away by hundreds of other thoughts until now that I saw this print again for almost free. I just can’t pass by it. I buy the extra-large pet bed cover along with leak-proof undercover, both, for less than $10. No matching pet beds are left in stock, and so I bring these covers home thinking that eventually I will find a bed to fit them on (What am I thinking? It’s an almost impossible mission).

Next morning I have the light bulb moment: I will recycle the old pillows instead of tossing them and will stuff the new covers with them!

I take a pair of scissors: cut a few old pillows, take the stuffing out (I’m talking about the polyester pillow form and/or micro beads, not duvet or cotton); fill the new waterproof undercover bag with them, zip and finish with my heart- throb quirky two-sided cover. Viola, no stitching, sweating or spending… Just RECYCLE, RECYCLE, RECYCLE and my new designer print pet bed is ready in 5 minutes.  Isn’t it awesome? Plus, you can control the thickness (making it really luxurious). 

All you need to make this cool, comfy and good looking pet bed are:

          two pet bed duvets (undercover and the top plush ‘n print) cover, both washable ($10);
          one to three old pillows polyester stuffing  in foam or pellets;
          pair of scissors

A power of three (speedy, recycled, on the budget) makes us hungry to start the day. The doggie crashes happily into her new nook. OH, she glows in this bed, dreaming about the obvious…  

We are off to make our Sunday brunch B&B (bacon and beans) holiday staple and declare the holidays begun.  While cooking bacon, another great pet idea comes by: use bacon drippings to make holiday pet biscuits (along with, naturally, some healthier ingredients including: rolled oats, peanut butter, flax seed oil for that shiny coat, etc.).  Later at night we improvise with baking ingredients and deliver these aromatic treats within an hour or so.  


We proudly take the first bite ourselves. Biscuits taste pretty good and crunchy, and can easily pass for the Medieval times luxurious treat. Which means laby’s gonna be happy. As a matter of fact, she is already here banging her giant tail off the wall in anticipation.

While I’m busy taking these pictures, she comes by quietly, pretending she is a ghost, grabs one biscuit from a side (hopefully unnoticed) and trots to the other side of the kitchen drooling like a rabid beast. Then her eyes close; her head stretches up to keep the drool; the crunch breaks the silence and the treat disappears in a split second. After, she retires peacefully next to her new alcove as if nothing happened.

Needless to say, that’s a NO-GO we usually don’t practice. We both know that despite her Mona Lisa smile and heavy tail wagging, she is doomed for the ‘Denver’s’ moment:

Followed, naturally, by a ‘doggie now deserves another one’ in about one hour.

And that’s it for today. The Target special is still on (and NO, they didn’t pay me to write this column) in Montreal area (and most probably the rest of Canada) if you liked this DIY idea. 

MAKE YOUR PET KIDS LITTLE HAPPIER THIS CHRISTMAS!
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OATS PEANUT BUTTER FLAX & BACON PET BISCUITS
Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour (plus more for rolling out)
1 cup rolled oats
1 1/3 cups of water
1/3 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp flax seed oil
½ cup bacon drippings at room temperature
½ tsp salt
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 350F. Mix flour and rolled oats in a big bowl. Pour one cup of water and mix well to blend. Add peanut butter, honey, flax seed oil and bacon drippings and mix well. Add the rest of the water gradually.  Spread ½ of flour on a rolling surface, work the dough adding more flour if necessary and roll it into ¼ inch thick sheet. Cut the desired cookie shapes with a cookie cutter.  Transfer cookies to the baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 45-50 minutes.  Let cool. Store biscuits in cookie jar or plastic container for up to 3 weeks.

Go Wild and Try Some Violets

Today is special: my best college friend happens to have her anniversary. We never collected violets together, but we did have some crazy-wild, beautiful times that I will never forget. Happy Birthday, dear Ira! Here’s to our friendship: make a dive back into the 90s with this good old school gem from our past. You’re probably too busy now to do anything with violets, but I hope one day you will return from wherever in the world you are now celebrating, and check your e-mail, and find this message, and will be set adrift on memory bliss like me today. And then, eventually, maybe you will even try some of my recipes. Cheers!
My other best friend from Toronto will have her birthday around Victoria’s Day and what can be more Victorian than violets on that day? Happy upcoming B-Day to you, my friend AB, I love you dearly and think about you very often! Another Cheers!  
Back to our food business. Blissfully, our (not chemically treated) lawn is currently invaded by wild violets this spring which I’ve been previously collecting for flower arrangements, but this year I put my hands on developing recipes with them. I always knew that wild violets are highly medicinal: anti-inflammatory, anti-cancerous, high in vitamin C and A, great to relief coughs and sore throats. Never before though I tried them on my palate, but following the Nordic cuisine focus on the native produce, and René Redzepi’s inspiration credo that ‘there’s no conflict between better meal and better world’ I decided to go foraging  and experiment with this new ingredient.  It took no time to figure out that freshly picked edible wild violets (please make sure you are dealing with wild violets, not the decorative ones) are mostly used to garnish dishes, but the vinegar based on them can be applied to an array of foods. I’ve made some research and here are the dishes I came up with using violets and/or violet vinegar:  Cucumber Almond Violet Cold Soup for a hot day; Green Pistachio Violet Salad for a light healthy lunch; Bacon Asparagus with Violet Vinegar Reduction Appetizer for a decadent treat and, finally, Violet Dressed Cupcakes for celebrations. I’ll begin with the violet infused vinegar.
Violet Infused Vinegar:
I used rice vinegar, but you can use any kind of basic vinegar as a base, depending what kind of result you’re looking for – delicate (based on a rice, apple cider or champagne vinegar) or more acidic (white, red or white wine vinegar). Collect violets from clean and pesticide-free areas, preferably where cats or dogs do not make their breaks. Fill the glass bottle/jar about half full of violets and pour vinegar of your choice over them to fill up. Use a non-metallic cork to close and let the vinegar sit for a week in a cool dark place. It will become between a pink and magenta color hues depending on the flowers-stems ratio and the hue of the violets. Strain the vinegar and store for a year or longer in a glass container. You can use only flowers for a darker color, or flowers with stems for a lighter one. Here are the steps:

Cucumber Almond Violet Cold Soup inspired by classic Spanish Cucumber Almond Gazpacho and a lovely Spanish girl (Hola, Ana!). When freshly picked, the violets faintly smell like a cucumber or a grape candy, so I had the idea to use them along with violet vinegar in a cold gazpacho-style soup with almonds, grapes and cucumbers. An absolute must try on a hot spring-summer day, with or without the violet garnish. Killer app: add some red grapes to the soup mix to enhance the color-coordinated violet look.

Green Pistachio Violet Salad inspired by Watercress Pistachio and Orange-Blossom Salad by Chef Yotam Otolenghi: 
I replaced the watercress with spring mix, skipped the herbs and swapped the lemon juice for the mix of the violet vinegar mixed with ½ teaspoon of rose water in otherwise similar dressing, and of course, added some fresh violets. Light, slightly flowery, pistachio crunchy and well-balanced dish to go with toasted bread or the next dish (bacon!).

Inspired by Pork Neck and Bulrushes with Violets and Malt by Chef Redzepi:

Most of us have experienced the power of pork and vinegar combination in cooking or marinating. Most of us also love bacon (and some are ready to kill for it). Inspired by Chef René Redzepi’s recipe of Pork Neck and Bulrushes with Violets and Malt from his cookbook NOMA, I cooked the bacon, made a reduction of bacon cooking juice (½ cup) with a mix of apple cider (1 tbsp), violet (1 tsp) and balsamic vinegar (1 tsp) and laced the mix of crisp bacon and crunchy steamed asparagus with it. To die for: 
Inspired by Poulet let au Vinaigre de Vin (Chicken With Wine Vinegar) by Chef Bocuse:
The low-acid violet flavoured vinegar suggested a take on a classic French country dish, which celebrity Chef Paul Bocuse is famous for. I baked it instead of pan frying and replaced tomatoes with scallions for a spring touch. And, of course, I garnished it with some fresh violets – stunner of a great tasty dish! 
Finally, edible violet flowers make glamorous dessert topping on the cakes, muffins, cupcakes, parfait, yogurt, sorbet, ice cream, salted caramel, you name it, as well as the violet essence that can give totally different taste. Check how to make candied violets to use in desserts here. 

I had a wonderful time experimenting with violets and I do hope you will try some of them or that some of them will be an inspiration to you.

Enjoy!
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CUCUMBER ALMOND VIOLET GAZPACHO
Yields: 2 servings
Ingredients:
200 g blanched almonds
200 g white bread, crust removed
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 cucumber
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp violet vinegar (optional)
1 tbsp olive oil
10 ice cubes
Salt & pepper
Garnish:
100 g white grapes
50 g blanched almonds
few slivered slices of cucumber
5 fresh violet flowers (optional)
Instructions:
Mix garlic, bread, almonds, cucumber, ice cubes, vinegar, salt and pepper in a food processor. Start adding olive oil gradually to reach the right consistency. Taste for the seasoning, ad a bit of extra salt. Put in a fridge for a few hours. Wash the grapes and cut them and almonds in half. Slice the cucumbers very thinly. Garnish the soup with grapes, almonds, strips of cucumber and fresh violets right before serving.
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CHICKEN IN APPLE CIDER AND VIOLET VINEGAR
Yields: 4-6 servings
Ingredients:
1.5 to 1.8 kg chicken parts (preferably free-range)
Coarse salt & freshly ground pepper, to rub the chicken
1 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp unsalted butter
6-8 cloves garlic, crushed
½ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup violet vinegar (or champagne, or rice vinegar)
1 bunch (6-8) scallions, chopped
¾ cup chicken stock
Small bunch of parsley, chopped
20 fresh violet flowers for garnish (optional)
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 400F. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper, rub salt and pepper in and set aside to air dry for at least 30 minutes. Pat dry chicken pieces with paper towels, rub with olive oil. Place (do not crowd) the chicken in a deep baking pan (2-3 inches) greased with 1 tablespoon of butter, skin side down and cook in the oven uncovered for 10-15 minutes. Turn once for another 10 minutes to brown the chicken on all sides.  Add garlic, return to the oven for 5-7 minutes. Gradually add vinegar mix and scallions and return to the oven uncovered for 10 minutes. Lower the oven to 350F, cover with aluminum foil and finish roasting in the oven for another 15-20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and to your taste. Remove the chicken and transfer to warmed platter. Collect the cooking juices, bring them to boil and simmer in a small saucepan to reduce by 1/3. Add remaining butter and adjust the seasoning adding salt, pepper and parsley. Pour over the chicken. Garnish with fresh violets (if available). Serve with roasted or steamed veggies of your choice, a green salad and crusty bread.

What’s Up Egg? It’s Easter Time(s)


It is trendy for the food blogs to mimic magazines’ practices. Fellow bloggers advance their recipes weeks before the holidays, forcing themselves (and their families) to enjoy festive food way before the holiday arrives. So they can finally relax and watch TV quietly during the actual holiday, satisfied that their readers have been informed. I still have to learn how to do that. In the meantime, I am placing this little web log about our past week-end activity, and retrieve into the process of the Easter eggs coloring.
Orthodox Easter celebration: Niko Pirosmani’s  art & old Russian poster of 1900s via Wikimedia

Officially, Easter has passed as a holiday, but what about Bulgarian, Cypriot, Greek, Ukrainian, Romanian, Russian, Serbian and other people of Eastern Orthodox faith? (I have a sudden flash of memory from ”The Curse of the Jade Scorpion”movie, when people are placed in a trance where the name Constantinopleis uttered.) Well, for people of the Orthodox faith or tradition, who will celebrate their Easter on May 5th this year, it ain’t over yet. (HA, I am not so late with my news, get it?)

Easter Eggs in art, old posters and postcards via Wikimedia Commons.
Coloring eggs is a custom going as far back as to the times of Mesopotamia, when the early Christians stained eggs red to represent the blood of Christ and rebirth. From the Greek Easter κόκκινα αυγά, to Russian krashenkas, to Ukrainian pysankas, to even Fabergé tsar imperial Easter eggs, there are so many traditions, decoration techniques, rituals and applications related to eggs during Easter times!
Tapping Eggs, F Sychkov, 1917

The following method of coloring eggs might not render you some state of the art Ukrainian ”Pysankas” (above), but I’m sure it will satisfy your Easter egg need big time. Dying eggs is easy, inexpensive and sooo entertaining – kids, adults, even grandparents love to do them! No need for decal or chemical food dyes. Simple, fast and very traditional. The most important part of it is to collect enough of dry onion peels, so you can prepare your own dye. Don’t worry, the eggs will not smell like onion. I usually collect the peels during the year (whenever I remember) in a brown paper bag. When ready, cover the peels with cold water, bring to boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Voilà, your dye is ready.

Once the dye is prepared, go ahead and boil the eggs in it for a nice marble tint. Or, go for an extra mile and craft original sunprint eggs with some botanicals. For that, you will need a bunch of little green leaves, flowers, petals, or, a handmade mini-decal from paper. Once your collection is ready, take some nylons, affix your selections to the egg, tie with knots on both sides carefully, submerge into the room temperature die, bring to boil and boil for a minute. Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes.
Rinse with plenty of cold water and release the eggs. Use as a decoration and/or a part of your Easter breakfast/lunch/dinner. We had them for brunch with some crêpes and smoked salmon:
And don’t forget to do some tapping to see whose egg is left unbroken:
RED EASTER EGGS
Ingredients:
12+ onion peels (the more the better)
12 white eggs
Instructions:
Pack the onion peel in the sauce pan and cover with water. Bring to boil and simmer for about 10 minutes to release the maximum of color. Put aside and let cool to the room temperature. In the meantime, prepare the eggs. Fix them in nylons with botanical decals, if applicable. Submerge the eggs into the dye carefully, making sure the onion dye covers the eggs. Bring to boil, then turn off the heat and wait for 10 to 15 minutes. Chill the eggs under cold running water, place in the bowl, remove the nylons and decals and let the eggs dry. Once the eggs are dry, feel free to slightly rub them with olive oil to give them a nice shine.
Easter Greetings, B. Kustodiev, 1912
Happy (Belated) Easter Everybody!

A Must-Have Folklore Accent Pillow

Aint she a beauty? I just could not pass on this one. The moment I saw this evocative and bold deer-esque accent pillow with its nature-inspired feel on sale at Indigo book store, I knew I had to buy it! So many things I can do around this pillow: the images went on and on…
Vibrant colors, unusual pattern, layers of funky texture – so different from those mass produced deco objects. I would say it can easily become an accent pillow that started it all ( in any re-decorating project). I love it so much that I have already built an imaginary room around it in my head while driving back home with it! Bingo: it quickly adds whimsy and charm to the space and takes the lead of all the other (less exuberant) pillow contenders in the seating area.
Whether its for your cottage, cabin, lodge or home, this is a perfect decorative pillow to bring life to your chair, sofa or bed. No to mention the instant feeling of the enchanted northwoods of Canada and its wildlife. Definitely a keeper! Oh, and, by the way, please do not associate this pillow with winter only. This is a perfect 4 seasons decor accent which can sit on your couch for spring, summer or fall for its theme and color palette universally pertain to all 4 seasons. Check this out:
Small space or large space, the size of this pillow is optimal for any scale (16” x 16”) and the pattern will add some magic to your space. The pillow case can be easily removed (there is a concealed zipper on aside) and machine washed. And did I tell you the pillow itself is filled with a quality feather down (not a fiberfill)? It is currently at 50% off at Indigo stores or on-line in Canada, so hurry before they run out of stock and good luck. Here is the link for this must-have Deer Accent Pillow from Indigo book store.