Friday, 30 December 2011

Pitmedden Gardens

It's a murky grey day in Toronto today, so aside for doing some prep work on hors d'oeuvres for tomorrow's soiree, it's a good time to pull a chair up to the hearth and go back through photos from this year.  The travel highlight of the year was 3 weeks back in Scotland to visit my family in mid-summer.  They were having a particularly cool, wet summer, and so the gardens were not in absolutely peak condition, but coming from the furnace-like conditions of a Toronto summer, it was a wonder to me to see such lush, green abundance everywhere.  Nowhere was that more appreciated than on a trip to Pitmedden Gardens, on a particularly action packed castle-viewing day.  We had a nice, relaxed stroll through the beautiful parterres, and finished off with an absolutely delicious cup of tea on the terrace.  I was particularly  delighted by the French chateau-like towers at the corners of the huge protecting walls, the bee-skeps in little niches in the wall to protect the occupants from the elements, and an absolute abundance of espaliers.

The protecting walls around the parterres are covered in espaliers - apples and pears

The hedges looked beautiful, although the scars of a couple of harsh winters were evident

A system of large nylon nets provides near invisible, and highly effective, staking for all the herbaceous perennials

Bee skeps are housed in wall niches

magnificent parterres at Pitmedden

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Final Christmas Preparations

Got up early this morning and headed out to St. Lawrence Market to pick up the turkey and the last few bits and bobs for tomorrow.  It's a beautiful crisp winter morning, but we won't be having a white Christmas this year in Toronto.
View of Toronto this morning from the Mimico shoreline

Sunrise over Lake Ontario,  on Christmas Eve.  A view like this is one of the reasons to live in Mimico.

Even before 8am, the crowds had descended on St. Lawrence Market

Cheese anyone?

This little piggy went to market......

Plaid is in vogue this year

Downtown scene
The rest of the day will be filled with making cranberry sauce, croustades, a fish pie for dinner tonight, walnut soup, bacon rolls, savoury palmiers, mulled cider, sage and onion stuffing, cutting up some Hasselback potatoes (yum yum!) and making a last minute Christmas pud and some brandy butter.  Since Davey is allergic to grapes and wine, it will actually be calvados butter, but I'm sure the effect will be just the same.

I plan to listen to some very traditional Christmas music, and have the odd glass of sherry whilst all the chores get taken care of!  Here is a vidoe of one of my absolute favourite pieces of Christmas music:

Hope you have a wonderful holiday, in whatever way you celebrate it.  Peace & Joy!

Friday, 23 December 2011

Drunken paperwhites & repeat poinsettias

In the past, when I've grown paperwhites, I've had two main problems.  I can't predict how long they are going to take to bloom, so I either have them a week before I need them, or a fortnight after.  The other problem I always used to face is that they grow very quickly, and reach dizzying heights, only to crash and flop mid-bloom.
I've solved both problems this year, and have nice short, strong stems which are poised to bloom, right on cue on Christmas weekend.   To manage time to bloom, I was able to take advantage of the fact that my uninsulated mudroom is just above freezing this year due to our warmer than normal December, so I popped them out there for a few days to slow down their growth, which has meant they are bursting forth on the eve of Christmas eve.  I couldn't have planned it better if I had tried!  The problem of over extended floppy growth was easily resolved by giving them a nice hearty cocktail at regular intervals!  It turns out that watering them with a dilute alcoholic solution stunts their growth just enough to stop them flopping, but without putting too much stress on them to impede blooming.  See here for further details, and raise a glass of good cheer!

My other horticultural experiment for Christmas involved trying to get last year's poinsettias to rebloom.  I have to say, this was a case where neglect was actually a benefit.  One is supposed to rigidly apply a shortened cycle of light-dark, to stimulate winter light conditions, ahead of when that cycle might actually be in play.  This tricks the plant into thinking it has passed the dead of winter and it starts it's spring blooming cycle just in time for Christmas (and yes, I know they are coloured bracts).  I accomplished the task easily enough by locking the plants away in an armoire for about 6 weeks, without any light at all, or any water, during all of October and half of November, whilst I was out of the house due to the renovations.  When I finally remembered about them, they were a little sorry, but still alive, and some judicious watering, feeding and a return to natural daylight served them well.  I now have 2 reasonably well blooming plants in time for Christmas.  I have to say, whilst I'm excited to have made the plants rebloom, I think for the sake of $5, I'll buy nice, new, bushy and highly coloured plants next year, from the garden centre!!
PS - anyone who thinks poinsettias are passé and that I have bad taste needs to lighten up.  It's the time of year for excesses, and we should revel in them.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Comfort Food: Toad in the Hole aka Clafoutis aux Saucisses

Other than some overnight frosts, we've barely had a cold day so far this December.  Last Thursday, we had a high of 12 degrees, and other than a bitterly cold and windy day on Saturday, we are back up in the high single digits today.  This is, of course, not what my garden needs.  The japonica quince I planted a couple of years ago is quite confused and has been sending out pretty coral coloured flowers with abundance, only to have them nipped at by overnight frosts.  I hope there are some buds left for the spring!

None-the-less, it's perfect Christmas shopping weather, and I've taken the day off work to finish off that task.  Despite the rather unseasonably mild weather, for some reason, this weekend has served an abundance of hearty comfort food and toasty log fires.  There's been a gingery sweet potato soup with chunks of crusty bread, pork chops baked with sauerkraut, onions and bacon, and mounds of fluffy mashed potatoes.  Sticky pear and ginger parkin with custard, and the charmingly named British standard, Toad in the Hole.  I made a decidedly delicious version, with upmarket pretensions, following a Nigel Slater recipe, where the sausages are stripped of their skins, and re-wrapped in proscuitto.  I think it could be renamed quite fairly as Clafoutis aux Saucisses, but I might be getting carried away.  Nigel calls for strongly flavoured, herby sausages, which makes me think of lovely Cumberland sausages, but in Mimico at 5pm on a Friday, the best I could come up with were some mild Italian Sausages, so I boosted the flavour by chopping up fresh sage and rosemary, and rolling the naked sausages generously in that mix before applying the prosuitto.  The result, although not exactly calorie light, was quite delicious.  Accompanied by some onion gravy, made rich with Marsala, it was just the thing to stick to the ribs and keep out any draughts......even if we've been spared the big chill so far!
Toad in the Hole, also known as Clafoutis aux Saucisses, or Virtue in Danger

Friday, 16 December 2011

My Mimico bathroom reno: before and after

Admittedly it's been quite some time since my last post (just a shade more than quarter of a year!), but for 1 whole month of that, I was decamped at the other end of town whilst the singular bathroom in my 90 year old house was gutted and transformed (thanks to the kind hospitality of Mr. Davey, as well as other friends who let me use their showers on occasion).  It's been quite a process to get it finished, with a few mishaps along the way that have needed re-work to be done to fix them, but it is now finished and I am most pleased with it!  The old bathroom was very much past it's prime.  The original clawfoot tub was still there, and it was actually one of things I loved about the house when I came to view it as a prospective buyer, but 8 years, and only 2 or 3 baths later, I had to realize that the bolt-on shower ring was not the most practical option for my daily needs.  Add to that the cracks in the walls, the chipped sink, scraped and peeling vinyl flooring and the generally worn out appearance of the whole room, it was clearly time for a change.  There were the usual challenges of working on an older house, such as the fact that when the old ceiling vent fan was removed, daylight could be seen coming in through the roof, and the fact that the 90 year main water valve had worn through to the only the thickness of a piece of aluminium foil, which caused the shutdown of the project until the city could turn off the mains and replace it, or that a good chunk of the kitchen ceiling below the bathroom came crashing down and needed to be repaired, but I was relieved that there were no more major problems such as asbestos, or rotten joists to contend with.

Since the room is quite tiny, I went with very simple and classic fixtures and finishes, with more traditional styling.  Lots of polished nickle, white subway tile and basket weave marble flooring.  The accessories are all from Restoration Hardware, the toilet and sink are American Standard Town Square, and the shower & tap fixtures are Hexis by Canadian firm, Rubinet.  It feels like the height of luxury to have a shower under the lovely rainhead.  I picked up the classical bust at Of Things Past a couple of weekends ago, and it seems to fit in nicely.  I think the only thing that is still missing is a window covering, for which I have in mind a roman blind, but that will need to wait until the New Year - no time left before Christmas!

Here's a video of the transformation - the pain & inconvenience was more than worth it.