Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Animal Knits Bible

Knitting for the grandkids is one thing. Knitting for your pet turtle is quite another. But if you've got a special animal in your life and a talent for knitting, then this book by Sally Muir and Joanna Osborne is an ideal guide to pampering your pet with yarn. Pet Projects, The Animal Knits Bible is a creative collection of knitting projects for animals - all kinds of animals, from dogs and cats to bunnies, hampsters, horses, birds, turtles, even fish! (There are instructions in the book on knitting a lily pad that floats on top of the fish tank!)

Coats, collars, caps, covers, cushions, scarves, tents and animal toys are all included in the 33 ingenius patterns contained in the book. There are also helpful templates and detailed, illustrated instructions at the back of the book to help you achieve the desired patterns and master some of the more complex techniques.

Best of all are the photos by Diana Miller. Warmly lit and beautifully styled, the photographs are timeless in their presentation. And the animals look utterly adorable, as you can see below.

The book is just $12 at Amazon. It's part of my collection!

How could anyone resist a cover like this?

The photos by Diana Miller are as gorgeous as the animals they portray.

These knitted balaklavas are designed to muffle loud noises, such as fireworks.

An Elizabethan collar.

His and Her sweaters.

A hampster den.

A bird-cage cover.

A tortoise tent.

A horse blanket.

Helpful templates at the back of the book simplify the projects, such as this one for a pattern on a cat cushion.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Funky Pet Portraits

In art school, I had the opportunity to meet some extraordinary new people. I also had the rare opportunity of experiencing my art training with my best friend at my side, Katie Sonnichsen, who has been a neighbour and friend since my early adolesence.

Today, Katie is actually a firefighter, working in Markham, a region just outside of Toronto, which is quite a change from the artistic path she has pursued her entire life, including having worked at some of the best illustration and animation studios in Toronto.

But it seems you can't take the art out of the artist! Between fighting fires, Katie has found time to set up a small and very successful artistic venture painting "funky" portraits of her clients' pets. She has been profiled in various newspapers and television shows and the testimonials from her clients are always glowing. Her website, funkypetportraits.com, showcases numerous examples of her excellent pet portraits, which range in price from $50 to $300, depending on the size of canvas that is chosen by the client. Below are some examples of Katie's work. To contact Katie, visit her site.

The 'funk' element of Katie's pet portraits can be found in her use of vivid, vibrant background colours and the names of the pets written on the canvas.
Katie has an amazing talent for creating realistic elements in her work, from the shine on the fur to the sparkle in the eyes.
No pet is off limits: cats, dogs and rabbits too! She's also done hampsters and mice. She has yet to do a reptile or fish.
Here is Katie, being funky!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Good Things for Pets

I've decided to name this week "Pet Week." I have no idea why, since I have no pets of any kind. I have, however, been extremely drawn to animals of late, especially big, rambunctious dogs, and thought I'd devote a week to pet themes. The first "chapter" is a compilation of adorable pet crafts from Martha Stewart Living over the years. See the gallery below.

I always had a pet growing up. There was Oliver and Stanley: two cats we adopted from a shelter when I was about 7 years old. There was Gracie, a third cat who joined the team. When I was older, we got Bailey - a big chocolate Lab - and adopted Reggie, a dozy Basette Hound, as a companion for him. I also had, rather shockingly, a pet piranha for three years. His name was Fred and he had a large, octogonal tank right beside my bed. He was a big fish and ate a profuse amount of goldfish, which were sold as "feeder fish" at the local pet store. (Creepy, I know. It was a phase.)
I'm sure that when I live in a less cramped and urban space, a big dog will join our family. Animals add fun, companionship and activity to daily life. You can find all the instructions for these projects, and more, at the Pets section of marthastewart.com.

Personalize your pet's collar with creative name tags. Always make sure to include your home phone number in case your pet decides to run away from home!

Why should babies get all the attention? Announce the newest addition to your family with a handmade card.

Take a pointalist's approach to labeling. Use transfer paper, a creative font and a fine-tipped paint applicator to "dot" the name of your pet onto the bowl to achieve a vintage, enamel look.Many vacationers take their dogs with them on their travels. To ensure your pooch's safety, create a temporary tag for his collar that includes the dates you are in town and the phone number and address where you are staying. I would also include the dog's name.Evening is the most popular time for dog walking. Make sure you and your companion are seen in the dusk by neatly applying stitching reflective fabric to your dog's collar and leash.

Martha's French Bulldogs, Sharkey (foreground) and Francesca look totally chic in their little coats. The coats are lightly padded for extra warmth and are water resistant for drizzly days. Get the how-to at marthastewart.com.

Give your cats exercise and fun with these handmade feather toys. Made of wool felt, they're simple to create. Adding a small bell will add to their allure.

Martha's Himalayans love the tree-trunk post she created for them at Bedford. They can climb, scratch,play or rest on the trunk, giving them a natural element to explore while adding a rustic note to the interior.

This little pug looks quite at home on his mattress, which is simply made with dishtowels sewn over a foam insert.

Martha's Peony Perfume

Is Martha developing a peony perfume? On Wednesday's show Aerin Lauder, granddaughter of the great Estee Lauder, will reveal her company's latest perfume called Jasmine White Moss and will demonstrate how the perfume is made. She will also join Martha on a tour of her peony garden and show Martha how essential oils can be extracted from heavily-scented flowers, like peonies, to make perfume. In an interview in 2008 for Bedford Magazine, conducted by designer Joseph Abboud, Martha revealed that she has had several professional perfumers to her gardens at Bedford to help develop a signature Martha Stewart scent for sale in retail stores, but that nothing has yet come of the venture. I am guessing that it is only a matter of time before we hear about a Martha Stewart perfume on the market, and Wednesday's show - the Fragrance Show - may be the big announcement, so stay tuned! (Martha's personal favourite perfume for many years, by the way, has been Fracas by Robert Piguet of Paris.)

Martha's enormous peony garden at Bedford contains more than 300 plants. The fragrance must be intoxicating! The Summer House can be seen in the background.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dinner at Home Review

When I arrived home from work yesterday, I was delighted to see an advanced copy of "Martha Stewart's Dinner at Home" cookbook sitting on the coffee table with a press release attached. It was my advanced copy, courtesy of MSLO. (Thank you to Brooke!)

As I looked through the book, I realized just how excellent Martha Stewart cookbooks truly are. Not only do the recipes stress quality ingredients and emphasize careful planning, they are also so easy to read and to follow. Many recipes in other books, I find, tend to omit certain steps, or do not anticipate a reader's preparatory methods, leaving room for confusion. Martha's recipes, which have a long, evolutionary history, have reached a kind of zenith; they are nearly perfect in how they are conveyed to the reader. No step is left out. From the tools you'll need to the preparation involved, even advice on where to find certain ingredients, the recipes in a Martha Stewart cookbook aim to make the process as easy as possible, even if the recipe is challenging and involved.

Accompanying the recipes, of course, are dozens of full-colour photographs, beautiful in their styling and presentation. Most of the photographs are exclusive to the book, but there are some that have been previously published in Martha Stewart Living magazine. Photographs, to me, are essential to a good cookbook. Even masterworks, such as books by Julia Child, seem lacking to me since they do not have colour photography to demonstrate how the dish should look with suggestions on presentation. Martha, being the aesthete that she is, never leaves out the photographic component in her books, which I'm thankful for.

This book, Dinner at Home, offers 52 complete menus (starter, main course, side, dessert) compiled by Martha Stewart for quick and delicious meals at home, with dozens of original recipes. In her introduction, Martha stresses the importance of cooking at home in a way that is healthy but also time-effective. None of the menus take longer than an hour to prepare, given some planning and preparation.

The book is organized by season, allowing for the use of seasonal produce and ingredients in cooking. Martha introduces each section with a summary of the season's flavours and produce. Helpful hints for preparation and informative facts about the produce being used in the recipes are present in nearly every dish, allowing the cook to understand what she is cooking and why it lends itself so well to the recipe at hand. (I find this element so refreshing in a cookbook!)

I am personally drawn to the winter section. Maybe it's the increase in the chill in the air at night and the gradual change of leaf colour in the trees on my street, but I am developing quite an appetite again for those hearty, deep flavours of fall and winter. My favourite menu, thus far, is in the winter section on page 203: Creamy Oyster Soup, Crispy Ham and Cheese Sandwiches, Celery Root and Walnut Salad and Pear and Dried Cherry Baked Custard Pie. Yum!! Can't wait to try it. I'm also in love with the sound of Martha's Dark Chocolate Pudding, which uses brown sugar and cinnamon in the recipe. Mmm...

The book will be in book stores on October 13th. Naturally, all of you have to get it.
I can't wait to try the chocolate pudding recipe!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Clip-Art for Fright Night

In the October issue of Martha Stewart Living, I was struck by the number of clip-art craft projects and delighted by the vast array of template downloads available at marthastewart.com. I've highlighted some of my favourites below. You can download templates and imagery for each of the craft projects below, as well as the instructions, by visiting the following links at Martha Stewart's Halloween Central, where you'll find hundreds of ideas for a festive night, including pumpkin-carving techniques, costume ideas and all kinds of decorations:

I love these paper lanterns with the snake and toad imagery. The imagery itelf is intriguing and can be used for all kinds of crafts not shown in the magazine. I intend to use them in scrapbooking and card-making projects.

A clever way to invite friends to an All-Hallows-Eve soiree! Download the invitations at the links above.

Jelly beans take on an air of slimy, amphibian eyeballs when packaged in a small box labeled as "Eyes of Newt." Pair green jellybeans with yellow, orange or black jelly beans and place them in a small wooden box (available at craft stores) which you can paint an eerie shade of green or black for your guests to take home. You can print as many of the labels as you like to make as many little packages as you like. Simply cut them out and glue them to the lids of the boxes.

Another variation on the paper lantern. See the magazine or the website for all the how-tos!
Hoo-Hoo's coming to your party? Ensure a gruesome guest list by sending out these creepy invites with mobile wings. The template is shown below.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Martha and Alexis in Body + Soul

Martha Stewart takes the cover of the October issue of Body + Soul for the first time ever. But she's not alone. Daugher Alexis joins Martha on the cover for a feature interview with the pair about how they stay healthy, fit and active. Look for it on newsstands now!

Martha at Ralph Rucci

Last Friday Martha attended the Ralph Rucci fashion show for the designer's Spring 2010 Collection. Martha has been a great admirer of his clothes and consistently wears his gowns, jackets and suits to formal outings. Here she is in the front row, of course, blowing some kisses to Ralph after the show.

Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia produced a documentary on Ralph called "A Designer and His House." It is narrated by Martha and was directed by David Boatman. The documentary follows Ralph through the creation of his Spring 2008 ready-to-wear collection and his Fall 2008 couture collection. It airs on the Sundance Channel.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Everyday Obsession Continues

My love affair with the new and improved Everyday Food magazine continues. It's strange how these subtle design improvements have deepened my appreciation for this little digest magazine, which is packed with big-magazine goodness!

To be perfectly honest, I wasn't terribly impressed with Everyday Food when it first came out, although I still have the first five issues safely tucked away for posterity. It wasn't the recipes, which I find to be among the simplest and tastiest on the newsstand market and which I often make, it was the presentation, perhaps. I've never been attracted to small publications. They tend to remind me of my grandmother's crossword-puzzle books or those little advertising flyers one gets in the mailbox, stuffing up the little space with what amounts to a waste of paper - and cheap paper at that.

Everyday Food, though, has continued to blossom and grow, especially under the new editor, Anna Last and art director Alberto Capolino. The pages are bursting now with mouthwatering photographs, which gives me the impression that the recipes taste better than ever, giving me more incentive to try them, which I'm sure is the point. Anyway, I'm a digest convert!

The October issue arrived at my door recently and it's a feast of comfort foods, served hot and cold (mostly hot) with all kinds of tasty treats to welcome the cooler weather. Have a look!
The cover says it all: Comfort Food! Everything from mac & cheese to meatloaf, grilled cheese, soups and stews, cookies and pies. Let's be honest: it's a match made in heaven. Explore fun ways to combine these deadly delights!
Blood-red punch and sinful bacon-wrapped bites will give grown-up guests a reason to celebrate Halloween.
Mushrooms: they're in season and they're so delicious in soups and pastas, sprinkled on salads or grilled with steak.

Utterly creamy, utterly fattening, it's mac & cheese and beyond!