Sunday, August 31, 2008

Yes, it's back-to-school time. And that means a plethora of lunches to make and pack for the little ones - or for yourself. The editors of some of Canada's largest newspapers share their tips on how to make your kids' luches a little different and fun - and all the more likely to be eaten!

For variety, use cookie cutters to cut sandwiches into different shapes. And remember: Tuna salad doesn't have to be on sliced white bread. Pack filling in a good-quality reusable plastic container and, in a separate container, send crackers. Or tortillas. Or pita.
-Susan Schwartz, Montreal Gazette

Forget sandwiches entirely some days. Instead, send leftover cold meat from last night's dinner. If it's chicken, cut it into strips and send shredded cheese, lettuce, salsa and chicken in separate containers - along with a couple of taco shells.
-Susan Schwartz, Montreal Gazette

Send fresh apple slices packed in a Thermos of lemonade. The lemonade will keep the apples from browning. Or chop up several kinds of fruit and send yogurt for dipping.
-Susan Schwartz, Montreal Gazette

For a remarkably nutritious and yummy lunch for one, wilt contents of a 10-ounce (284 g) bag of spinach, drain and saute briefly with a clove or two of chopped garlic. Remove from heat, mix with a beaten egg, shape into a thick patty and pan-fry quickly in a bit of olive oil, turning once. Slice patty into strips, then crosswise into cubes, and slip into a Thermos pre-heated with hot water.
-Susan Schwartz, Montreal Gazette

Save barbecued chicken and cut up the meat to pack in a sandwich bag; bread or a roll or bagel can be packed in the same bag. Baby-size carrots are usually popular; slip some small spears of red or green peppers or slices of celery with the carrots into a reclosable bag to encourage more vegetable eating. Cut food small. Even a small whole apple or pear tends to get thrown away, while that fruit, cut into segments and drizzled with lemon juice so it won't go brown, will be eaten. Include low-fat fruit-flavoured yogurt for dipping the fruit.
-Julian Armstrong, Montreal Gazette

After a week back at school, sandwiches are already beginning to get boring. So why not mix school lunches up a bit by reinventing your leftovers? Pasta left over from dinner can be delicious eaten cold. Cooked vegetables can be blended into a soup or added to some greens to make a salad. Your meat dish can be carved into cold cuts.
-Carolynne Burkholder, Nanaimo Daily News

Variety is key to make school lunches interesting. In winter, try sending the kids off to school with a wide-mouth Thermos bottle filled with chicken noodle soup, and maybe a little leftover chicken for extra substance. Pack it with some low-salt crackers. Use a croissant to make a sandwich. For young children, add visual interest to ordinary sandwiches made with one side white bread, the other side whole wheat, then cut out equal-size rings in the centre of each and switch the rounds. Be creative by tucking away "surprise" short jokes along with lunch.
-Ron Eade, Ottawa Citizen

Nutella banana rolls make a pleasant change from the old peanut butter sandwich. Spread a small tortilla with the tasty chocolate hazelnut spread called Nutella, wrap it around a banana, with its ends trimmed to fit. (Please note, Nutella does contain peanut oil, so it's not for allergic kids). This goes down well with celery and carrot sticks. To keep food cold, add a frozen juice box. It'll thaw by noon, and the sandwiches and carrot sticks will stay chilly.
-Judy Schultz, Edmonton Journal

If your kids are old enough, get them in on the lunch-making action. Create a "sandwich wheel" and stick it to the fridge so the main course is covered by someone new each day. Monday is cream cheese and jam, Tuesday is tuna, Wednesday is egg... you get the picture. My in-laws did this when their children were in school and I'm told it worked like a charm.
-Barbi Green,

A little prep work will go a long way when making school lunches. Cut up enough cheese and veggies to last the whole week, for example. Then you can quickly grab what you need each day. And order cold cuts for sandwiches by the slice, so you can easily calculate how much you'll need - avoiding excess or waste. And remember the importance of presentation. I use a zig-zag garnishing knife to cut carrot sticks, cucumbers and cheese. They're more fun to eat when they look pretty!
-Irene Seiberling, Regina Leader-Post

Read more on back to school:
© CanWest News Service 2007

Saturday, August 30, 2008

In case you didn't already realize, the Halloween craft supplies by Martha Stewart are lining the store shelves at Michael's as I write this. Martha Stewart Crafts really expanded their Halloween line this year with so much more to choose from. But they're going fast! The first two times I went to Michael's the shelves were practically bare, with only the price labels indicating what was once hanging on the hooks. It's a popular line, so you better go check it out soon before it's all gone. Below are some of my favourite things from the new Halloween line:
Decorative pom-poms in black and white.

Cute cupcake papers in various Halloween patterns.

Broomstick favour bags. Love these!

Gorgeous ribbons and interesting stickers!

Window clings in bat shapes. They also come in hanging ghost shapes.
I can't believe it's September already. The summer was but a sneeze! I guess that's why it's savoured all the more in these northeast zones where winter is expected to be fierce yet again this year, according to the Farmer's Almanac. (Expect higher than average snowfall.)

I used to rush through summer. I was never really a summer kid. My artistic sensibilities meant I spent a lot of time indoors drawing and dreaming up new worlds, creating landscapes with the blankets on my bed for my toy dinosaurs to roam. It was incidental that the sun was shining and the birds chirping. I really didn't care that much. As I age, though, I find myself more drawn to the summer season, the intensity of the light, the warmth of the sun and especially the amazing virtues of nature, which just jump out all over the place in the summer.

My parents have a place in rural Ontario - a cabin in the woods next to a calm, quiet lake that has the cleanest water you could imagine. All around it are tall trees and woodlands. It's a Canadian dream made real. We've been building most of it ourselves, under the guidance of my father, who has worked tirelessly to build this place, step by step by step. It's not finished yet. We have a bit more to do, but the process is enjoyable. (It makes a real difference when you build something yourself, when you can see and feel how it all comes together.)

Below are some summer photos I've taken at the cottage in the summer. Hopefully you'll feel as nostalgic for those long days, sweet scents and beautiful scenes as I do.

My mom's red clogs by the water.

A glorious sunset on the lake.

Everything is rustic here, which is so much a part of the atmosphere.

No electricity yet means lighting with candles, like this collection in a galvanized tub.

My dad putting some finishing touches on the porch.

Baseboard moldings, improvised and made by hand, are still rough and raw.

My Nana enjoys a crossword puzzle on the porch.

My mom enjoys a swim.

A mossy carpet on the boulders near the lakeside.

A morning cloak butterfly on my dad's hand.

An inviting vista. This is where we enter the lake to swim.

Sunlight through translucent leaves is a summer wonder.

A rain drop clings to life on the tip of a cedar branch. Still waters reflect the setting sun.

Birch bark, up close.

My dad surveys the cottage and assesses what still needs to be done.

All of the logs of the cottage had to be sanded by hand and then stained.

My parents' dog, Molly. Sweet as can be!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Next month, Westchester Community College’s Native Plant Center will present the first ever Acorn Award to Martha Stewart, for her dedication to gardening. If you want to check it out, perhaps even get a chance to meet Martha, the event is taking place at 7 p.m. on Sept. 27 at the Bedford Golf and Tennis Club. Tickets aren’t cheap though; individual tickets start at $350. The proceeds will go towards a charity.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

MARTHA TV UPDATE: The first episode of the show will go something like this... "Joined by over 100 guests, Martha will take viewers from one part of her modern-day farm to the next, interacting with her audience while she unveils vegetable gardens, green pastures and much more that are sure to inspire her legion of passionate and loyal fans." The show also announced that Emeril Lagasse will become a regular contributor to the show, and "Everyday Food" host Sarah Carey will join Stewart for weekly Cooking School segments. Those segments start Oct. 21, the same day the cookbook by the same name is released.

Last night I discovered a great group on dreamers into doers. Members of the website can join the group and share ideas about their dreams, as well as learn from others about how to make some of your own homespun dreams come to fruition. The section of the website features a selection of women, chosen by the editors, who have mini-pages of their own and full galleries of their ideas come to life.

The reason I find myself so drawn to this particular section of the site is because it demonstrates the very real metamorphosis of a dream unfolding into reality. In many cases, the realization of the dream can also lead to business opportunities. One can earn a living making a dream come true, day after day, for others to enjoy.

Below are two examples of two women whose ideas I particularly loved. They took their talents and turned them into enjoyable and lucrative careers, which I find very inspiring, especially in an economy that seems so anonymous, impersonal and corporate these days. These were just 'ordinary women' who recognized their talent and worked hard to perfect their craft, something that I believe we all have in us.

To read more or join the discussion, and share your dreams with others, go to Who knows, the editors may pick you as an example of a dreamer who became a doer!

BethAnn Goldberg: Studio Cake:

Designing cakes became a passion and hobby for BethAnn after she created a green caterpillar cake for her daughter's first birthday. "Cake is at the heart of our most cherished events -- it's a gesture of sharing and giving the best that we as hosts have to offer to our friends and family." Today, BethAnn tries to honor her passion and drive daily by learning the craft of beautiful cakes, understanding her customers, and creating her own opportunities for success. This summer greets the opening of Studio Cake, BethAnn's first shop specializing in wedding and specialty cakes that also doubles as a shared kitchen for a handful of women-owned start-up food businesses.
It's very hard to believe these are edible. They look more like sculptures. But I'm told they're quite delicious!

Tracy Garcia Kids' room designs:

"I have always had a passion for painting and decorating," says Tracy Garcia, who decided to become a stay-at-home mom in 2001 in order to raise her two boys. To escape from the daily chaos of changing diapers and chasing her toddlers around the home, Tracy turned to her hobby -- painting. "I would paint anything I could get my hands on," says Tracy, who first painted her sons' bedrooms, then started designing canvas paintings to give as personalized presents when the boys were invited to birthday parties. Pleased at how well her paintings were received, she painted several samples and took them to a local boutique to gauge their response. To her surprise, the store bought her entire inventory on the spot, and her company, Petite Suites ( was born. Today, Tracy paints wall murals for baby nurseries and custom paints wall decor for children's rooms; she even had the opportunity to paint celebrity nurseries for actresses Brooke Burke and Samantha Harris. What's next for the decor diva? "I'm in the process of designing a new line of paintings to be mass produced -- hopefully by September of next year!"
I'm particularly drawn to the room on the left. I love that old chest and the 'his' and 'her' cribs.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The editors of Martha Stewart Living will be releasing a comprehensive encyclopedia of crafts on March 31, 2009. Titled simply Martha Stewart's Encyclopedia of Crafts it is the latest Martha Stewart book to be announced from the publishers at Random House. Thanks to James for the information. Details below:

Martha Stewart's Encyclopedia of Crafts
By: Martha Stewart Living Editors
Category: Crafts & Hobbies
Format: Hardcover, 416 pages
On Sale: March 31, 2009
Price: $35.00
ISBN: 978-0-307-45057-9 (0-307-45057-0)

Beyond that, I'm not too sure what the content is. I'm assuming it's a how-to craft book with encyclopedic elements that describe the history of certain household crafts and their uses over time. Watch for Martha Stewart's Cooking School on book shelves October 21, which Martha has described as her best how-to cookbook yet!

PLUS: View a five minute preview of "Whatever Martha!" - the new show on Fine Living that is set to debut this fall starring Alexis Stewart and Jennifer Koppelman-Hutt - by visiting

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Reports have surfaced that Martha's 'beau' will be marrying 28 year-old Lisa Persdotter from Sweden, a buxom blonde who works for Investment Management in Göteborg. Billionaire Charles Simonyi, known for overseeing the original development of Microsoft Word and Excel, began 'dating' Martha in 2000 and is now marrying another woman half his age.

To be honest, I never really liked him. I know he's a genius and a space cadet, but I just don't like him. Their relationship was always very confusing to me. Sometimes Martha would say they were dating (even making some sexual suggestions about him on The View once), other times she'd say they were 'very good friends' and other times she seemed almost dismissive of him, not knowing where he was and not having heard from him in weeks, adding that she would never get married again. It was all a little too Bourgeoisie for me. "Friends with perks" may have been the best (albeit pedestrian) description of their relationship.

Lisa Persdotter, 28

I'm sure Martha is very pragmatic about it all. She's been through a divorce and knows all about the silly whims and idiotic trysts of men - especially aging, ego-driven billionaires who have to mask their insecurities by tying the knot with someone who could be their daughter. But I do hope she isn't hurt by this news. I'm hoping they can still remain friends and travel companions, but throwing a young wife into the mix may complicate things.

I've always wanted to see Martha get married to a true gentleman. She so deserves it. (Are there any of those left who aren't gay or already taken?)

Friday, August 22, 2008

It's never too early to start Christmas shopping, I say, so I decided to treat myself to an early Christmas gift. This little holiday kitchen linen set from the Martha Stewart Collection was found on eBay and I just had to have it. I'm glad I did! I love the colours and the retro-modern design.

The set came with two tea towels and a pot holder.

A nice detail is this linen strip in one corner of the towel for hanging it on a hook to dry.
A stitched Christmas tree on one corner of the pot holder is a very nice detail.

I've found that eBay is a great resource for discounted merchandise from the Martha Stewart Collection. I got my bedding from eBay, which you can see on my bed below. It's Martha's "Vintage Wallpaper" pattern from the Martha Stewart Collection.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Kmart said Wednesday it will introduce a line of bed and bath products by former "Charlie's Angels" actress Jaclyn Smith on Sept. 9 -- positioning Smith as one of several possible successors to Martha Stewart.

Kmart's parent company, Sears Holdings Corp., based in Hoffman Estates, is slated to terminate its Martha Stewart Everyday line in early 2010 because of failure to reach an agreement on a new contract.

Martha poses with fellow Kmart spokeswomen Jaclyn Smith, left, and Kathy Ireland, center, in 2000.

The Jaclyn Smith line, described as a "fresh, simple, modern look," is a natural extension of one of Kmart's first celebrity brands, the retailer said. Smith endorsed her apparel line at Kmart 23 years ago. Smith said in a statement that her home collection will offer "an easy way to make a great impression -- time after time, all at a sensible price."
Hmmmm....... I see.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and KB Home celebrated the one year anniversary of their KB Home Stapleton community yesterday. Martha attended the birthday celebration with Jeffrey Mezger, president and CEO of KB Home. Located just outside Denver, the community opened last year and is the only KB Home/Martha Stewart community in Colorado.

Approximately 100 contest winners, along with media and numerous local officials, attended the birthday party held at the community. Attendees enjoyed a luncheon and had the opportunity to participate in a cupcake-decorating contest judged by Martha, who selected the winner; Robert Davies used icing for a big M and her trademark line: "It's a good thing." Davies, who bought one of her homes at Stapleton, confessed it was his first attempt at decorating a cupcake. And when he told her he is a psychiatrist, she quipped that it's a long drive back to the airport, and maybe he should ride along. He and two other runners up were presented with gift baskets courtesy of Martha Stewart Living and KB Home.

Martha and Robert Davies, the winner of the cupcake contest.

“The one year anniversary of our Martha Stewart community at Stapleton is a significant milestone,” said Jeffrey Mezger, president and CEO of KB Home. “Innovative collaborations like our partnership with Martha Stewart continue to draw buyers to our communities and truly set our company apart in the marketplace by offering choices buyers can find only at KB Home.”

According to MetroStudies, the year to date sales at the KB Home Martha Stewart Stapleton community are 38 percent higher than the other 11 builders in the Stapleton master plan.

Martha poses with KB Home President and CEO Jeffrey Mezger in one of the model homes in Stapleton.

At KB Home Stapleton: Homes Created with Martha Stewart, homebuyers have their choice of five floor plans ranging in size from 1,593 to 2,084 square feet, all with 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths and 2-car garages. The exterior of the homes are inspired by Martha’s own residences, as are the interior design details such as wainscoting, picture-frame moldings, open shelving, beadboard and more. Visitors to the community can tour three model homes decorated by the Martha Stewart design team. Pricing on your very own Martha-inspired home begins in the mid $300,000s.

The largest of the Lily Pond Lane plans.

"I am thrilled that our KB Home Martha Stewart community in Stapleton is one of the best selling in Colorado,” said Martha. “These homes demonstrate the excellent design and value we know is important to our customers." Martha also told reporters that she will be supporting Obama this fall (by default, since she is a Democrat who was an adamant Hillary supporter) but that she will not be at the Democratic convention since she will be in Mexico filming a segment for her TV show. Martha also hinted that one of the main goals this year is to make the TV show an international hit.

Monday, August 18, 2008

...At least sometimes! A new contract between Martha Stewart Real Estate Management Company - owned by Martha - and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia will see Martha's salary raised by $2-million a year. Thanks to a promotion, she will be allowed to film her television shows at any of her homes. Martha’s homes include Bedford, Skylands and Lily Pond Lane. Here it is in legal language:

Pursuant to the Intangible Asset License Agreement, the Company will pay an annual fee of $2 million to the Licensor (Martha Stewart) over the 5-year term for the perpetual, exclusive right to use Ms. Stewart’s lifestyle intangible asset in connection with Company products and services and during the term of the agreement to access various real properties owned by Ms. Stewart.

The fee is more than double what MSLO was paying Martha in previous years for access to her properties for photo shoots and such, suggesting film crews may be making more frequent visits to her properties to film new segments for the show, or for other projects. Martha will also be reimbursed up to $100,000 a year for "approved expenses" associated with the process. Martha, of course, must hold up her end of the bargain: keeping the places up to snuff. All landscaping, maintenance and decorating expenses are Martha's responsibility. (Shouldn't be a problem...)

In other Martha news:

Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. on Monday named Vanessa Holden vice president and editor-in-chief of Martha Stewart Weddings. Holden, a magazine consultant, replaces Hilary Sterne who left the company earlier this summer. She will report to Eric Pike, executive vice president and creative director.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

With an estimated 12,000 species on the planet and a history that predates the Dinosaurs, ferns may just be the luckiest plants alive. Having survived over 360-million years of evolution, they are still among the most beautiful and resilient foliage plants. They are found in every continent, except Antarctica, and vary greatly in size - from the gigantic tree ferns of New Zealand (Cyatheales) to the tiniest of rock ferns (Polypodium virginianum) found in dryer, cooler climates like Northern Canada.

I like them outdoors as well as indoors. I distinctly remember asking for a Boston fern for my tenth birthday. I was inspired by the fern that belonged to my friend Ryan's mother, which hung on a large planter in her living room. It was enormous, filling an entire corner of the room with its numerous fronds. Much to Ryan's surprise, I would spend at least a few minutes with that fern, admiring it and asking his mom how she grew it. It was my uncle who stepped up to the plate and got me my fern for my tenth birthday. I had it for a few months, but it very quickly died. (Plants and ten-year-olds don't often mix.)

Since living on my own, however, I have always had a fern, and I probably always will. They're just the classic houseplant and I'm a sucker for their elegance.

At the family cottage all kinds of ferns grow in the woodlands. I'm an admirer of these wild, Ontario species, too - especially the maidenhair.

THE LIFE OF A FERN: The unusual spawning methods of ferns hint at their resilience. Fern fronds fan out from a root structure that germinates from spores shed by fertile adult plants. Tiny pods called sporangia form under the leaves, sometimes in clusters called sori. These pods contain the spores that will allow the fern to reproduce. The spores will fall to the soil below and, given sufficient levels of moisture, will form into something called a gametophyte – a fern’s embryonic stage. The gametophyte will then fertilize itself and develop into an adult plant.

One of the reasons ferns are so successful and occupy such diverse regions of the globe is their ability to reproduce in multiple ways. The gametophyte – or embryonic fern – does not necessarily need to fertilize itself to grow into a fully grown fern. A process called apogamy sometimes allows the gametophyte to grow in drier areas where a lack of moister prevents fertilization. Ferns can also spread from their root structures (rhizomes) or from the tips of any stems that happen to be touching moist and energy-rich soil.

My favourite Maidenhair fern, which grows at the entrance to our cottage laneway. Each stem carries several fronds, which branch out like little helicopter propellers.

Ferns are niche plants, meaning they grow only in particular habitats. Damp patches of mulched earth under filtered sunlight are the ideal growing conditions for ferns. The soil must be loamy and moist, protected from dehydrating factors like direct sunlight and wind. Ferns commonly grow near fresh water (creeks, riverbanks, lakeshores) or in highly humid areas, such as under a forest canopy where they are sheltered from dryness and too much light.

Of the 150 kinds of ferns that grow in Ontario, the most common ones surrounding our cottage include the Marginal Shield Fern (Dryopteris marginalis) which is a relatively large plant with silvery leaves and very pronounced sori on the undersides and the rock fern (Polypodium virginiadum) which is defined by its tiny fronds and cramped living quarters on the rippled shoulders of large rocks.
A beautiful Ostrich fern frond, down near the lake. They are the most common ferns around the cottage and easily propogate themselves.

As mentioned, my personal favorite is the maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum) which looks like a cluster of helicopter propellers or verdant fireworks emerging from shadowy spaces in the open forest. Oak ferns (Gymnocarpium dryopteris) are another unwavering staple of the forest floor, almost floating like parasols hung from tall stems above a mulch of fallen leaves and moss. Fiddlehead ferns or Ostrich ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) are perhaps the most common in Ontario gardens but are actually rarer in woodland locations. These ferns prefer more sun than others and their soil slightly less moist.

Since the growth around the cottage has very few flowering plants, I opt to arrange fern fronds instead, clipping a few stems to make a green statement. I'm always possessed by the spirit of Martha every time I arrange any sort of flower or greenery. If it's not good enough for a room in Lily Pond or Skylands, it's not good enough for our little cabin. In the photo above I used my Maidenhair and put a long Marginal Shield fern frond in as a sort of "feather in the cap" finale. If all you've got is ferns or greenery outdoors, beautiful arrangements are still a viable option.

Indoors, I also love the Boston fern. It can grow very large and they're relatively easy to care for. The three keys to remember when caring for ferns indoors are bright light, porous soil and even moisture. They do not like direct sunlight. They can tolerate a few hours of morning or afternoon sun, but that's about it. The rest of the time, they like bright, indirect light. They would be ideal in an East or West window. The soil should be a mixture of peat and soil with a layer of small stones or pottery shards at the bottom of the pot to ensure good drainage. The soil should always be evenly moist. Never let the soil dry up between waterings, but don't over-water it either. I usually water twice a week and mist the leaves. Feed sparingly every six months. If you're going to repot, it's best to do it in the fall. I plan to repot mine next month, as it's growing too big for its current container...lucky survivor that it is.

My Boston fern resides outdoors all summer in a semi-shady spot on the balcony. I love it when the breeze catches some of its foliage and it makes that whispery hiss. I just feel instantly relaxed.

In September I replanted the fern in a bigger pot and brought it indoors. The container was salvaged from a 1969 office building slated for demolition. Since my apartment building was built in the same era, I thought it brought a nifty retro-modern element - not to mention plenty of room for the fern to grow.