Wednesday, June 29, 2011

soap opera

Inspired by an article in Martha Stewart Living, I decided to whip up a quick batch of soap this morning.  Martha's basil soap used an herb puree but I decided whole sprigs from my basil bonsai from Sweet Valley Herbs would look lovely suspended in soap.  And because this was going in the kitchen, I also added some lemon zest. 

Melt.  Start with a plain unscented glycerine soap base which is available at craft stores.  (I actually think I will experiment with some other soap bases as well - how great would strawberry swirled in goat's milk be?) chop the glycerine and melt it over a double boiler. You can also use the microwave but when melting anything I always feel like I have more control using the boiler. Be sure to stir occasionally using a rubber spatula.

Prep.  While the soap base is melting, prepare your herbs and zest your lemon.  If you're making a berry soup, puree them a blender or food processor.  The suggested ratio is one teaspoon of herbs or puree to every cup of glycerine but you may want to experiment based on the colour or texture you want.

Mix.  Once the glycerine is completely melted, remove it from the double boiler and add the herbs or puree.  The glycerine cools quickly so you'll want to get it into the mold as soon as you can. 

Mold. Pour the mixture into a mold that's been sprayed with cooking oil.  You can buy soap molds but really there are lots of great options around the house - plastic containers, even rinsed, empty milk cartons - depending on the size and shape of the soaps you want.  The main thing is to choose a mold that's got some give or can be cut away for unmolding

One of the advantages of the purees is that they distribute evenly through the base.  With zest and whole herbs, you may have to accept that they will settle how they will.  In the case of this soap the basil settled at the surface and the zest at the bottom which actually kind of works as each side of the soap is different.  I'd resist the urge to try to stir the herbs and zest through the base too much.  If you stir after the base has started to firm up you can end up introducing imperfections and cloudiness.

Once you've poured the soap into the mold spray the surface with rubbing alcohol to get rid of bubbles.  Let the soap set for about half and hour on the counter and then move it to the freezer for an hour or two.

Release.  Once the soap has hardened, release it from the mold.  You can trim the edges with a paring knife and then cut the bars into the desired size.  I go four smallish bars from this soap.

Enjoy. Pretty and practical - this lightly-scented soap looks lovely by the kitchen sink.

Store. With one bar by the sink, I wrapped the remaining three in parchment paper.  The soaps should be good to use for three to four months.  And why keep it to yourself?  These would be great as part of a hostess gift or tossed into a house-warming basket. 

This project is so simple, I can't believe I never tried it before! Thinking of what else is in my herb garden - lemon balm, lavender, apple mint -has me in quite a lather!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

hi, stakes!

A couple of weekends ago I hit a Fredericton Crafters market at Charlotte Street Art Centre.  One of my favourite vendors was Isabelle Pineau from An Oddity or Two.  Isabelle creates quirky and whimsical jewellry and curios.  And as these cute plant stakes prove, she has a cheeky sense of humour.  You can check out a small selection of her offerings on her etsy shop or keep up with her adventures on her blog

Monday, June 27, 2011

local love

Jennifer's strawberry-rhubarb cordial made from local strawberries and rhubarb from her backyard (and garnished with Sweet Valley basil!)
If you read this blog regularly, you know I'm ever-so-slightly obsessed with our local farm market. But as much as I love it, sometimes even I forget how much our local food options have improved in the past few years.  My friend Lori and I used to have regular market dates before she moved to Australia and we hit the market together for the first time in 18 months this weekend.   As I acquainted her with my favourite new finds, I realized just how many great new vendors have been added to the market stalwarts.  What really struck me is how many young couples and families have started growing and selling great local food!  And of course it's coming on the best time of the year for local produce.  The arrival of the first flats of local strawberries was the cause of great rejoicing in this corner for sure!

Local food took centre stage for Sunday supper with simple, easy and delicious summer cooking.  What local foods do you most look forward to?

Lemon-pepper Nashwaak Noodles tossed with sauteed local garlic scapes and le forban (black pepper goatcheese) from au fond des bois fromagerie

vanilla panna cotta on coulis of local strawberries garnished with basil from my windowsill

find a peony, pick it up...

People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.  ~Iris Murdoch
This year I've had a fondness for begonias and a little floral crush on Sweet William but my very favourite flower remains the peony.  Oddly for one of the showiest flowers in the garden, in the language of flowers the peony stands for bashfulness due in part to the legend that mischievous nymphs hide in the petals.   When I bought my house it was March and I only had blurry summer photos from the realtor to go on but I thought I spotted a peony bush in bloom.   All I could do was wait.  I was rewarded shortly later that spring when the reddish sprouts pushed their way through the earth.    I still wait all spring for the all-too-brief window when  bushes are in bloom so I can pick one fragrant blossom to bring indoors.

Friday, June 24, 2011

something always happens

As an art history grad, I can make an academic argument on the merits of almost any school of art but deciding what work I bring home to my space is a much more instinctive and emotional process.   I have a particular fondness for pieces that elevate the every day as subjects. Add in a playfulness with colour, technique and media along with a dash of dreamlike nostalgia and I will be hooked.  So it's no wonder that it was love at first sight when I first saw the work of Stephen Williams a few years ago at Ingrid Muellers Art + Concepts.

Big Band

I am not alone.  He's the kind of painter who seems to inspire a sort of breathless devotion. On the eve of his latest show, I was chatting with a friend who was excitedly telling me about her latest purchase.  There's something about his energy and lightness that makes you want to surround yourself with his pieces.

Atlantic Puffins
Winner of the 2001 Fred Ross Prize for emerging artist and in 2009 winner of a province wide competition for emerging artists, Stephen is still remarkably young.  He's also remarkably self-assured about his work, in who he is and what he thinks his art should be: "Personally I have always refrained from complicated themes."  Which may, in fact, be one of the gutsiest statements one can make in the art world.

Rockwell's Greyhound

Hampton Courthous

The Burns Backyard
His latest show Something Always Happens shows an artist who continues to mature and develop while staying true to the elements that make his work instantly recognizable.

A Day at the Beach

"This body of paintings and drawings completed within the past five months reflects my place in life.  Many of those portrayed are either relatives or otherwise significant in my day to day activities, while some (strangers from found imagery) simply appeal to my mood.  I try to keep my materials simple, which reinforces the sense of ease and enjoyment I get from creating these pieces."   Stephen Williams

Country Fair
At a time where personalities often dwarf actual art and a desire to shock has become commonplace, a nice young man promoting a 'sense of ease and enjoyment' in art may be the freshest thing out there.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

coming attractions

When I first moved to Fredericton 15 years ago, the eatery and bar options were limited in the downtown.  It's definitely turned around in recent years but it's still a cause for celebration in my mind to see new places opening up.  I'm especially looking forward to a few of the new establishments coming soon at the bottom of Regent Street: corked wine bar (across the street from the Blue Door), Park's Noodle & Sushi (the old M&T Deli spot on Regent & Queen) and Arom Chinese (the former Mei's location).  Anchored on the King and Regent Corner by the Blue Door and with the recent addition of a tasty, cheap lunch spot with the Midsea, the Queen-King block of Regent is undergoing a little renaissance.  Can't wait to try out the new spots!

Monday, June 20, 2011

hays falls

About a week ago my friend Jennifer - a relative newcomer to New Brunswick - suggested we take advantage of the pleasant weather to get out for some hikes outside the city.  I did a little online research and decided that our first trip would be Hays Falls on the Maliseet Trail just below Woodstock.  Somehow I'd lived 15 years in Fredericton without ever having heard of the falls.

The weather was touch and go much of the weekend but Sunday afternoon it had cleared enough to head upriver.  We took the more scenic route up Route 102 - the river valley was lush from the wet weather and while we hit a few showers on the hour drive to the trail, it had cleared by the time we arrived.

The rain had left the woods cool and kept the bugs to a minimum.  It's about 2 km from the mouth of the trail to the falls and a fairly easy, albeit wet and mucky, trek. 

The final descent to the base of the falls was the trickiest with wet rocks and mud and an excited little dog pulling on his lead.  But it was well worth it.  The veil falls plunge 20 metres (60 feet) over the bed rock - and with the sun streaming into the gorge it was a truly beautiful site.

J at the bottom left of the falls gives a sense of size
With an hour drive each way and a relatively short hike to the falls, this is a perfect Sunday afternoon trip from Fredericton. 

Can't wait for our next adventure!  What are some of your favourite trails and treasures in our backyard?

rugged doxies pose for pics

Friday, June 17, 2011

comings and goings

A reunion 18 months in the making.
 Two days before Christmas 2009 Lori and Leon left for Australia.   Yesterday they returned to Canada.  And while I was so unbelievably lucky to visit with them last year, it's been a long 18 months!  Since just after Christmas 2010 we've had June 16th circled on the calendar and I was so lucky to be able to be at the airport with her family for their homecoming.  And as you can see below, this is not the only big arrival for them this year!  Eleven has always been Lori's magic number and 2011 is set to live up to that promise!

welcome back to Canada, Mr. Quick!

LOTS of new changes on the way - Mama Joan and the mama-to-be

A welcome home card from Hunter James

 From the airport and welcoming back dear friends, it was a mad dash to the Delta to send another friend off in style.  My pal and former colleague Marie is leaving us for Toronto.  And while we will miss our petite ami avec le grand rire - oh that laugh! - she's off on an amazing new chapter in her life!  (Maybe she'll even finally take up the cello... )
our little curly-haired spitfire
the delta patio offers one of the great views in the city for a great celebration
you just knew there would be speeches!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

sutton place

Sutton Foster and the legendary Joel Grey in Anything Goes.

I'm days late on this but how adorable is (now two-time) Tony-winner Sutton Foster?

And here's a peek of her in her winning role as nightclub evangelist and wonderfully-named Reno Sweeney in the revival of Mr. Cole Porter's Anything Goes. She looks plucked straight from a 1930s screwball comedy - lovely and amazing. 

In other news, 1930s cruise-wear?  Yes, please!

Monday, June 13, 2011

make some dough

As you may know I love my basil bonsai from Sweet Valley Herbs.  The one thing about the plant is that you have to keep using it in order to maintain it's lovely globe shape.  So last week I threw some of the basil leaves  - along with some Sweet Valley rosemary - into a batch of bread for my friend who had just moved into a new home.  We ate this soft, flavourful bread with thick hummus under a canopy of grape leaves on a sunny night - simple and lovely. So I knew I had to make some for myself this week!

Regular basil is notoriously easy to bruise in chopping so one thing I love about the basil bonsai is that there's minimal handling of the the leaves.  Just run your fingers down the stalk and you get a wonderfully fragrant pile of tiny leaves which look great scattered through the bread.    You can turn pretty much any dough into an herb bread by adding roughly a teaspoon of herbs per cup of flour.  I used a recipe for baguette which is a little saltier than your standard white to bring out the flavour of the herbs.  And if you don't want to make the time commitment to bread baking in June, herbs are also great in biscuits and scones.

Fresh from the oven yesterday, this basil-rosemary bread was the perfect foundation to a delicious Sunday supper:  topped with avocado, smoked salmon and chives and paired with ricotta-scrambled eggs.  Yum.

bug free!

Possibly the only thing more annoying than swatting at bugs is drenching yourself with chemical repellents.  The mosquitoes are out in full force this year and I couldn't wait to get to the market this weekend to pick up some of Sanctuary Botanicals' Bug Free.  With essential oils of cedarwood, citronella, clove, bay and sunflower this light spray leaves you smelling spicy sweet and herb-y and it really works! 

(One note of warning: pregnant women should not use the spray.  If you're expecting, there are certain essential oils you should avoid. A good starting point for educating yourself can be found here)

And if you are wondering how to keep your furry friend from being pestered by bugs this is a great recipe I found a few years ago.  I like to keep a spray bottle in the fridge for Henry during the summer.
  • 1 big lemon with a thick rind
  • 1 tablespoon of crushed rosemary leaves
  • 1 quart of boiling water
  • 1 large spray bottle
  1. Slice your lemon paper thin and place the slices in a bowl.
  2. Add the crushed rosemary leaves to the lemon slices.
  3. Pour the boiling water over the lemon and rosemary and give a light stir.
  4. Let this mixture steep overnight. 
  5. Strain and put the liquid into a large spray bottle and keep in the refrigerator
  6. Before applying, shake well to mix the ingredients. 
Now we are set for concerts in the park, movies under the stars and beautiful nature hikes!