27 January 2010

Not just another brick in the wall...

Click to enlarge

I spotted this chimney while out walking in my neighbourhood. Attached to a fairly nondescript house, the gorgeous detail immediately caught my eye. Wouldn't it be nice if every building had something like this to make it stand out? Unfortunately rumour has it this house is eventually going to be torn down to make way for a road. Chances of the chimney being saved are pretty much nil. Once again something beautiful and unique is sacrificed in the name of "progress."

Photos by Domicile.

19 January 2010

Veggies, fresh from the urban farm...

Photo by Mike Pochwat, taken from the Parkview Neighbourhood Garden website.

Gardeners everywhere (okay, everywhere with a cold winter) tend to get antsy around this time of year. We long to play in the dirt and grow something fabulous. A lot of us get a temporary fix by fussing with houseplants or poring over seed catalogues. I'm lucky enough to have another outlet: the Parkview Neighbourhood Garden (henceforth PNG).

Born of the fiendishly clever idea that cities can (and should) produce locally grown organic food, the PNG sprang to life last year on donated land in Willowdale (Toronto). The harvest (everything from corn to Swiss Chard to tomatoes and herbs) is sold out front or given to needy members of the community. Meanwhile, the beautiful garden is open to anyone who'd like to stroll along the paths, enjoy the sights, and maybe take some photos (as long as that's all that's taken, please).

My own visits to the garden led to chatting with one of the gardeners (a friendly and fantastic lady named Nancy), which in turn led me to finally attending one of their meetings. There are all sorts of exciting plans for 2010, including an expansion of the garden. There are also tons of volunteering opportunities (students needing hours for their Volunteer Credit take note). If you're interested in attending a meeting or volunteering, contact the PNG here. The next meeting is Monday 25 January, from 7 to 9 pm at the John McKenzie House.

Helping a worthy cause, supporting the community, and getting your gardening fix? Don't you love it when a plan comes together? :)

12 January 2010

Hot Muffins!

Have you ever been given a gift you just don't know how to react to? We probably all have a few times, but the gift that confounded me the most wasn't even mine.

I've already mentioned my appreciation for the absurd; I guess it only makes sense that I'd have friends with similar senses of humour. But whereas I find infomercials hilarious, they thought getting my SO a "Hot Mormon Muffins" Pinup calendar for his birthday was a stroke of brilliance. Well, a stroke of something, anyway. Not only does the calendar feature hot Mormon ladies (all moms, no less) in classic pinup poses and attire, but each month also offers a muffin recipe. Whoever came up with this concept (not the Church of Latter-Day Saints, that's for sure) either has serious issues or is a true genius. Maybe both. My friends justified getting my guy a girlie calendar by telling me they thought the recipes would be a great bonus gift for me. So what could I do but hang it in my kitchen and blog about the recipes each month?

January features Lisa, age 38 and a mother of four, as well as a recipe for (ahem) Lisa's Priesthood Praline muffins. Click photos to enlarge.

The batter. You can still see floury bits because over-mixing is not a muffin's friend.

Ready to go into the oven with praline topping in place:

Fresh out of the oven. Some aren't as high because I didn't distribute the batter as evenly as I could have, but they all rose nicely.

Cooling down:

My verdict: The use of pancake batter was unusual but it made for a super easy recipe and a tasty muffin (I'm slightly ashamed to admit they didn't last until the next day). This is probably one of the best banana muffins I've made.

Lisa's Priesthood Praline


1/2 cup sugar (I used half sugar and half Splenda)
1/4 cup cooking oil
1 1/2 cup pancake mix (I used Aunt Jemima Original)
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 slightly beaten egg


3 tsp brown sugar (I accidentally used tablespoons and I recommend you do the same--it made an irresistible caramelized topping)
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1 tbs sour cream

Combine topping ingredients and set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, stir together egg, sugar, oil, and bananas until blended. Add pancake mix and stir until moistened (don't over-mix!) Grease muffin pan and fill each cup 2/3 full with batter. Drop 1 tsp of the pecan mixture on top of each muffin.

Bake at 400F for 15 minutes. Muffins taste even better when fully cooled.

I was also pleased to see that a portion of the profits from the sale of the calender goes to breast cancer research. More info here.

All muffin photos by Domicile.

06 January 2010

It's info-tainment!

People can have all sorts of bad habits: smoking, biting their nails, believing Intelligent Design trumps Evolution. My bad habit? Infomercials. I love them. I'll even watch them repeatedly. I blame my wacky sense of humour--if it's over-the-top absurd I can't get enough, and infomercials are nothing if not absurd.

My favourites--big surprise--are the cooking infomercials (conversely, I despise the ones selling exercise equipment/diet regimes--their claims are unbelievable and they just make us all feel bad). Even if you'd never buy them, the products in the cooking infomercials are full of potential and the infomercials themselves are often--dare I say it?--fun and interesting.

I also like a lot of the cleaning infomercials, although I won't go out of my way to watch them. They're not as interesting as the cooking ones, but the 'potential' factor is still there. Really, who wouldn't dream of having a spotless house in half the time with no effort? And a lot of those products are actually pretty good. Hey, if someone gave me a Shark steamer I wouldn't complain.

Just a note: I'm neither advocating for or against any of the products I'm mentioning in this post. I just like the ads--use your own discretion on the products themselves.

One of the first infomercials I got into was Ronco's Showtime Rotisserie. Ron Popeil (inventor of the Pocket Fisherman!) is entertaining and a little freaky. You also have to give him props for convincingly making it seem like this thing is easy to use. My rating: 3.5 out of 5

Man, was I surprised when I discovered the FlavorWave Oven's new spokesperson was Mr. T! That alone makes this an awesome infomercial. It's also fun to watch food shrivel under the 10,000 watt light bulb inside this thing (it's an Easy Bake Oven for adults!) My rating: 4 out of 5

You have to respect a man who's out there still flogging merchandise in his 90s. I've seen the infomercial for Jack LaLanne's Power Juicer a few times now. The people in it display the sort of enthusiasm often seen in cult members. Mmm...nothing like the tasty goodness of rind juice! And don't forget--it's WHISPER QUIET! My rating: 3 out of 5.

The GT Express 101 infomercial is a little lacklustre. It is kind of fun to watch what's-her-name make chocolate cake with a candy bar filling in the bizarre-looking contraption, but next to Jack LaLanne, Mr. T, and Vince Shlomi, this infomercial's about as interesting as listening to Katie from season 5 of The Next Food Network Star go on about antioxidants and digestive health. I suggest they hire an 80s TV personality to spice things up. What's Alf up to these days? My rating: 2 out of 5.

I have to say, I'm fairly impressed with the Magic Bullet infomercials. Somebody actually put some thought into them and made them into stories rather than straight-out commercials. And "Mick" is charismatic enough to hold anyone's attention (not to mention his obnoxious "friends" and "family"), although "Mimi" is definitely on the bland side. If more infomercials were like this one I might not get quite so many pitying stares when I admit I actually like them. My rating: 4.5 out of 5.

And that brings us to my all-time favourite infomercial. Actually, it's not the infomercial itself so much as the pitchman: Vince Shlomi aka Vince Offer. I first discovered Vince on the ShamWow commercial and was instantly sucked in. I don't know what it is about this guy but he manages to be both hilarious and convincing at the same time. His magnum opus, however, is the Slap Chop. With such immortal lines as "Don't have a boring tuna; don't have a boring life" and "You're gonna love my nuts" Vince is the undisputed king of television salesmanship. My rating: 5 out of 5.

And for some extra wacky fun: The Slap Chop rap remix!