Friday, December 24, 2010

a little goes a long long long long long way...

My father fell in love with Cajun cuisine during a business trip to New Orleans when I was about 10. Despite the sweat pouring from his forehead and the tears streaming down his cheeks, he enjoyed every bite of the spicy dishes he was treated to at the business luncheons and dinners. When he stepped off the flight home, his checked baggage was filled with Cajun spice mixes, which instantly converted me as well, despite the shedding of similar tears while eating.

Last night I attempted to recreate a Jambalaya dish for myself and my boyfriend. As I've witnessed the boyfriend eating Jalapeno peppers like candy, I decided this dish needed to be authentically spicy. So I added a quarter-cup of Rooster sauce - that amazing bright-red red pepper sauce you can find on the table or counter at most Asian restaurants.

The dish cooked well, and an enticing scent filled the whole apartment. I took a bite - and the same tears started pouring down my cheeks.

The boyfriend, who loved the dish, told me that a tablespoon would probably have made a dish sufficiently spicy for both of us.

My lesson: when cooking spicy dishes, being thrifty about the spice really does go a long way!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Wrappin' blues

I'm a fusser, and we fussers don't need much excuse to worry, or pay overmuch attention to, the smallest things. Hence wrapping a gift is almost as intense as choosing and buying the gift, for me anyways. How to make the gifts look beautiful without breaking the bank and denuding the shelves at Hallmark? Here are some of my favourites:

1. Raid the sewing basket. I do a lot of my own mending and sewing, so this is one of my first stops. Buttons, brightly coloured thread, ribbons, and fabric can all add pizzazz to a holiday gift.

2. Re-use bags. Paper shopping bags just need a few thoughtful touches to become beautiful gift bags. Tie on a brightly coloured bow, add some red or green tissue paper, or decorate the bag with holiday-themed stickers.

3. Ask the store to wrap it. Some people on your holiday gift list are probably loyal to certain brands of clothing, beauty products, etc. If these stores have a free wrapping feature this season, go for it! This way, the recipient gets the thrill of the gift twice: from the wrapping, and from what's inside.

4. Charity wrapping stations. This one is very special. Most malls this season will have volunteers staffing wrapping booths, with all donations to the wrapping service supporting an important charity. If you've made purchases at the mall, seek out this booth - the volunteers will do a great job, and you'll get beautifully wrapped gifts as well as the knowledge you've helped a great cause.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

please pass

My friend AB recently bought a house. It came with everything he wanted - a huge backyard, two-car garage, newly renovated kitchen, partly finished basement - but it also came with a lot of things he didn't want. Specifically: the people who sold him the house left a lot of their unwanted belongings behind for AB to manage.

When I first visited the house, a painting on one of the basement walls caught my eye. "You have good taste," I said, thinking that the soothing colours and delicate design of leaves would suit almost any decor. So I was shocked when AB responded by saying, "This ugly thing? I'm throwing it out. The previous owners left it behind."

Needless to say, a five-foot-wide painting is now hanging in my living room. I'm not sure I want to know how much the painting would have cost me to purchase, or to frame, and I hadn't really given any thought to what would hang on the walls of my new place - aside from some art that my parents were getting rid of.

The strange thing is that the cast-off pieces that make their way to me all seem to fit a particular colour scheme. My furniture, my paintings have come from many different sources, and most have come for free, but they all seem to fit harmoniously together.

I'm very proud of my decorating on a shoestring budget, it's worked out well so far. Hopefully, I'm proof positive that it is possible to make your place look amazing without breaking the bank. :)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

One person's treasure... now another person's treasure.

In need of a new futon mattress for my frame (I'm sleeping on the current one; I prefer it for my back), I hopped off a bus on my way home and stopped at Dream On | Futons on Osborne. The link takes you to one of 15 pages of available fabric, from which you can order customized covers, cushions, and more.

My new "Delta Beach" futon cover will be available very soon, but it's what Dream On does with excess fabric that caught my attention. "We used to just send it to the landfill," confided store employee Leslie, "but now we have a woman who sews [the remnants] into purses."

I'd been looking for a small zippered bag to carry my external hard drive - especially now in the cold weather, I don't want to drop something so expensive! I tested a few purses and found one just the right size. The price? $2.

Two dollars to keep beautiful fabric from entering a landfill? I'm sold.

You can get your own, one-of-a-kind fabric purse at Dream On, too.