#SockittoChristmas Drop off Locations!

It’s the third annual Sock it to Christmas sock drive! We have five drop off bins in Ottawa this year. These are located as follows:

Royal LePage Team Realty, at 1335 Carling, Suite 200 (my office!)

Royal LePage Team Realty, 3101 Strandherd Drive, Barrhaven

Catherine McKenna’s constituency office, 107 Catherine Street (downtown)

St. James Anglican Church (Bank and Leitrim), and

Churchill Seniors Recreation Centre, Richmond Road (enter from Churchill).

I took this picture of the bin at my office on Sunday: it’s almost full now!

We can only accept new socks but we encourage donors to consider donating women’s and children’s socks as well as men’s socks. The men’s socks will go to the Ottawa Mission. Women’s and children’s socks will go to the Parkdale Food Centre Soup and Socks program.

If you drop off a donation at my office (200, 1335 Carling), your name will be entered in a draw for this fabulous gift basket, donated by Proof Strategies, and for a framed photograph by local photographer, Nancy Mooney (best known on Twitter as @NancyFromCanada!).

Last year we collected almost 2100 pairs of socks – so help us give the gift of warm this year and Sock it to Christmas!

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Christmas Dessert Recipes! #TriedandTrue

So, every year I have a Christmas tree decorating party for a small group of clients, colleagues and friends. My last post was about some of the appetizers and entrees I’ll be serving at this year’s. But after those are done, what about dessert?

I’ll have about 20 people coming, so I like to make quite a lot of cookies and squares. First of all, I think the Christmas buffet table should look like a dinner scene at Hogwarts in a Harry Potter movie, almost groaning with the weight of delicious things to eat.  Secondly, if there’s anything left over, which does happen, I can box it up in pretty Christmas boxes and tissue the next day and drop it off at the homes of those who couldn’t make it, or as client pop-by gifts.

The key, I’ve found, is variety — I always make decorated gingerbread and sugar cookies, but also classic squares. And because I’m busy, I’m happy to take shortcuts!

One of those shortcuts is that I buy oatmeal cookie mixes (the type where you only add water), then add nuts, chocolate chips and raisins or dried cranberries and bake them according to the directions on the package. You can see these mid-left in the platter below;they are failproof and fast. I can have these in the oven while I’m working on something else.

This year, I made sugar cookies and gingerbread, and decorated them, but since I have no patience when it comes to making Royal icing, I buy the pre-made icing in tubes from SuperStore. This is the type where you can screw on the tip you want to use, which makes things a lot easier!

Not shown are the polar bears and moose because my idiot dog managed to get at the platter and ate a whole dozen of them! They were so finicky to make (because of legs and ears that so often break off) that I decided to heck with it – I don’t have the patience to make them again this year. Next year! But here are the cutters I use – they’re pretty cute. I ordered them online from a company in the U.S. and they are great.

The shortbread cookies (shown below) are based on two recipes that were shared with me by a couple of Twitter pals, Jill Skinner and Bill Oates. The two recipes are very similar. Bill’s is as follows:

1 C butter

3/4 C icing sugar

1/2 tsp. Vanilla

1-1/2 C Flour

1/2 C Corn Starch

Roll out onto plastic wrap to 1/4″ thick and refrigerate for 30 mins. Bake at 300 for 20 mins.

And Jill’s receipe is as follow:

I went for a little more flour, as per Bill’s recipe, so that the dough was a bit stiffer, because I wanted to use a press to make the design. but I used a little less icing sugar (as per Jill’s).

Before baking, I used a press to put a snowflake design on each one. These are sold at HomeSense, Southgate Mall, for about $6 and make a great stocking stuffer! I bought a bunch of them and am giving them to clients as gifts. Now I wish I’d bought them all!

Just make sure the dough has been refrigerated before you use the press as if the dough is too soft,  the press will stick and tear the cookie.

I also made mini butter tarts from a fabulous recipe given to me by another Twitter pal, Mike Vlasic, who says it was his grandmother’s. This may be my favourite new dessert recipe. Foolproof and delicious!

I used Tenderflake mini-tart shells (they come in packages of 18) and because I didn’t have corn syrup on hand, I used maple syrup instead. You can put raisins or currants in; these ones have currants. These are delicious little bites — absolutely lovely!

Another super simple recipe is for white chocolate pistachio cranberry bark. You melt two bags of white chocolate over low heat, then add dried cranberries and shelled pistachios and spread it on wax paper, then pop it in the fridge. When it’s solid again, break it up into pieces. (Photo courtesy of the Brown Eyed Baker, who gives actual measurements in their recipe!)

The two squares I made both have Kraft mini-marshmallows in them: classic Rice Krispie squares, with the white mini-marshmallows, and butterscotch confetti squares, with the coloured ones. And yes, I dyed the classic Rice Krispie squares green, to be festive! Those are the Butterscotch Confetti squares below – these are a real sugar hit, so make sure to cut them into small squares.

The Butterscotch Confetti square recipe (picture above) comes from my friend and fellow boxer,  Heather,  who posted it on Facebook. (As you can see, I rely on social media  a lot for ideas when I’m baking!)

1 cup butterscotch chips
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup hard butter
8 ounces coloured mini marshmallows

Directions:
1 Heat the butterscotch chips, peanut butter, and butter.
2 Stir until smooth. Watch it; peanut butter burns quickly!
3 Cool a wee bit.
4 Stir in marshmallows.
5 Pat into a greased 8×8-inch pan and chill.
6 Cut into squares.

Yum

The Rice Krispie squares recipe is the same one on the box:  3 tbsp of butter, melted together with 4 cups of mini-marshmallows in a sauce pan on low heat; then stir in 6 cups of Rice Krispies.

The only difference is that I add one tsp of vanilla and a few drops of green food dye for colour. (I have tried using red dye but it just ends up pink). I also use an 8 x 8″ pan instead of a 9 x 13″ pan, so the squares are nice and dense and I press them down using a layer of wax paper and a meat tenderizer to push them down flat. (Useful tip: To clean the saucepan, just heat some water in it and all the sticky parts will release without scrubbing.) I’ll cut these into squares just before the party.

I’m making only *one* cake – the easiest and tastiest one I know of — a Fruit Cocktail cake. You mix, in one bowl, 2 c flour, 1 c sugar, 2 tsps baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt, 2 lightly beaten eggs and one 14 oz can of fruit cocktail plus liquid. You can bake this in a Bundt pan or a 9 x 13″ baking pan, greased. Bake for at least 45  minutes at 350C — I find it usually takes closer to an hour. It should be dark brown, and pull away from the edges.

bundt

I let this one cool before flipping it out of the pan. (Use a butter knife to loosen it around the edges first, but it should come out smoothly.)

bundt 2

Just before serving I will pour a caramel sauce over the top: also super easy. It’s brown sugar, butter, and cream, heated to just bubbling in a saucepan. Might add a little brandy or rum. Either way, it’s simple and delicious!

And finally, I’ll have a fruitcake (store bought) plus a cheese plate and crackers. My friend, Viola, who goes back over 40 years with me (we lived in the same residence at Mount A in the early 70s) is going to bring some assorted cheeses with her, and fresh grapes.

This should be great! I’ve asked my guests to bring an ornament for the tree and some socks to donate to the Sock it to Christmas! sock drive, plus whatever they want to drink. I’ll do the rest!

 

 

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Christmas Party recipes! #TriedAndTrue

I hold a Christmas tree decorating party every year: I invite colleagues and friends and clients. I supply the food; I ask that they bring whatever they would like to drink and an ornament for the tree. It’s a buffet style meal. I thought I’d share some of my recipes!

For appetizers, I take a sheet of puff pastry and score it into squares, put a dollop of fig jam on top, then a slice of proscuitto, sliced shallots, and a layer of smoked or plain gouda. Top with a sprig of thyme and bake as per the puff pastry instructions. Delicious! (Adapted from a Donna Hay recipe, photo credit Style at Home.)

I also make a red onion marmalade to top Brie or Camembert on sliced baguette. For the marmalade, slice red onion finely and saute with garlic in olive oil until carmelized. Add  Balsamic vinegar, maple syrup or honey, a dash of Worcestershire sauce,  and lime juice,  and cook down until it thickens. Put a teaspoon or so on a slice of cheese on baguette slices and broil until bubbling. This is similar to a recipe for onion jam from Diverse Dinners (see their pic below) except I broil the topped baguette slices.

For entrees, salmon is always a favourite. I marinate mine overnight in a mixture of gin, molasses, garlic cloves, brown sugar, soya sauce, and lots of salt. The gin is the secret – it adds that tang of juniper berries that works so well with salmon. I bake it in a 375F oven for about 15 minutes. Do *not* let the edges turn white – better to undercook than overcook it! (Photo credit: Well Plated by Erin).

Meatballs are easy and delicious too. last year, one of my guests said they were the best ones he’d ever had. I make mine out of ground beef and pork mixed with bread soaked in milk and bake them in the oven until just cooked. For a sauce, I use cream of mushroom soup thinned with milk and add soya sauce and Worcestershire sauce to taste and then add the meatballs and simmer on low until it’s time to serve. This is another big favourite! (Photo credit: Campbells Soup: Swedish Meatballs)

The easiest dish to make is also the one I get asked for the recipe the most. I mix cooked shrimp with sliced red onion and slices of avocado, dressed with lime juice. That’s it! Colourful, bright and healthy, and it only takes seconds.

For a vegetable side dish, one of my new favourites is a recipe I tried this weekend. Slice Brussels sprouts thinly, then sautee in butter. Add maple syrup and lemon juice cook until they caramelize, then top with fried proscuitto. I’m sure bacon or pancetta would work too! I couldn’t get enough of this one — it’s terrific. Re-heats well too.

Another dish I’ve made is one that is based on a salad I had in Picton. I have had to figure out the ingredients from that tasting but I think it’s pretty close. It’s a very pretty salad, because it’s made of orzo and beets, and the beets stain the orzo red.

So: cook beets and peel; cook orzo. Meanwhile, sautee red onions with carrots sliced very thin. When everything is done, mix it together; toss in a handful of sliced black olives and a lot of parmesan cheese (about 1/2 c for every 2 cups of orso/beets) drizzle with red wine vinegar. You can serve this cold, warm or hot: it’s lovely!

I’ll share some of my dessert items with you later this week!

 

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The Impact of Staging! Before and After shots

I sold a house this week where I had spent over a year with the sellers getting it ready: picking out lights for them and giving them paint colours and so on, and then staging it for the listing. It sold on the same day we had requested offers with multiple offers, so they’re pretty thrilled. They liked the staging so much they asked if I can leave it there for a few days so that they can show their friends how good it looks! I told them I’ll pick it up next week so they can enjoy it over the weekend.

I didn’t take many pictures — I had forgotten my camera so had to rely on my smartphone and a lot of the shots came out blurred and were useless but here are some before and afters. The first shot is the fireplace. That’s my fireplace screen, as they didn’t have one. The colour on the walls is Benjamin Moore Tapestry Beige.

Here’s the after. Just a few vases and a floral arrangement made a huge difference. I also moved the clock which had been in the centre of the mantle because the arrangement was not going to be symmetrical:

DSCN3789

 

Here’s the before of the dining room. (All furniture belongs to my clients.) I picked out the dining room light for them –they had had a huge oversized chandalier in this space and other non-matching track lights in the kitchen, a different lighting in the hallway- we replaced all the lighting to make it cohesive. This particular light came from Home Depot, and cost around $ 70.

Their lovely little display case was filled with china and figurines – we emptied it out and replaced the items with a few simple pieces. (Less is always more!)

I hung some artwork and put a vase of hydrangeas in the corner, along with my signature bowl of pears. Here are the after shot:

lorraine 7

 

I also added cushions to the living room furniture and replaced the lamps. That bowl of pears on the DR table and the vase with white roses in the LR is something I do in all my listings; if I don’t put the roses in the LR, I put them in the bathroom. I find they are a lovely grace note, and of course all the art is mine, as well as all the items on the sideboard.

Lorraine 5B

Lorraine 4A

In the master bedroom (and second bedroom, not shown), I bought new bedding for the home owners (they reimbursed me for the quilt, which they will keep; the large shams are mine), replaced the lights at the side of the bed and added art and vases. They painted the room, which had been a Wedgewood Blue, again with the Tapestry Beige and removed dated curtains. I think it looks lovely! (The owner says she really likes the lamps in the living room and the bedroom — they were all from HomeSense at about $ 70 each and I use them a lot.)

Lorraine 18

Then there was my all time favourite decor item: the giant clock (which I use regularly):

Lorraine 16

Finally, when I first saw the house the kitchen had no backspash, and I suggested they get a subway tile backsplash to pull things together. I suggested it be stacked instead of staggered, as that is more contemporary, and they agreed. (I also referred them to a tiler.)

Lorraine 11

Lorraine 12

So as you can see, a few tweaks like new lighting and tiles, and a good staging can work wonders! I don’t charge my clients to loan them my items; I simply ask they take good care of them for me as they need to be pristine and I move them from listing to listing throughout the year.

We always get great feedback on how nice the property looks and how well it shows, so I definitely think it’s worth the time and energy involved on everyone’s part and long before the Ottawa market got super-hot, my staged listings were selling with multiple offers.  The feedback I had on this listing was “shows pride of ownership,” and “shows beautifully!” among others. I tend to agree!

 

 

 

 

 

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What is the Beckwith Plume?

Until I got into real estate, I had never heard of the Beckwith Plume, and then I saw it mentioned in a listing. That got me doing a little research. What I found out came as a  surprise. I’ve lived in Ottawa since 1990 and I had never heard of it.

The Beckwith Plume is a 45 square kilometre area of contaminated groundwater running from Carleton Place to Black’s Corners.

Trichloroethylene (TCE), a volatile compound used in metal degreasing, was detected in private wells in Black’s Corners in March, 2000 after extensive testing was conducted for a development proposal. TCE is designated as a  “toxic substance” under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and is considered  carcinogenic. Vinyl chloride, another toxin linked to kidney and liver damage, and TCE degraded compounds were also detected in the water.

Over 250 households and businesses, as well as a public school fell within the contaminated area, which became known as the Beckwith Plume.  The chemicals  are believed to have leached into groundwater from  a former landfill site and a privately owned scrap yard on Tenth Line Road. This private dump had accepted waste from the Town of Carleton Place and Beckwith Township between 1966 and 1973. (In 1998, a private well had tested positive for TCE but that was wrongly assumed to be an isolated incident.)

Primarily due to jurisdictional issues over who would have to pay, it was several years before a concerted strategy was developed to ensure the affected residents had potable water. Individual water treatment systems were installed in homes within the area starting in 2008, but these were done voluntarily. Periodic monitoring is still required to determine to determine when the filters  in these systems need to be replaced and to confirm that water meets the  Ontario Safe Drinking Water Standard.

The Ontario government also conducts an annual groundwater sampling program of the plume boundary. Their most recent report ndicates,“The volatile organic compound plume condition is best described as steady state (not shrinking, not expanding). So, while some but not all homes have treatment systems, the contamination remains, not getting worse, but not getting better either.

Here’s a map of the Beckwith Plume area:

Contaminated groundwater is a latent defect that should be disclosed by the sellers, but I have found that disclosure is not always forthcoming. Sometimes the sellers don’t know, or haven’t informed their agent. I was surprised when I threw out a call on social media to discover that most people had never heard of the Beckwith Plume and had no idea what the term meant.

If you are thinking of buying a house within the Beckwith Plume area, make sure to find out if the sellers have installed the necessary treatment equipment and if those systems have been monitored regularly.  Tests for TCE are not part of standard well water testing, which was why it took so long to discover the Beckwith Plume. Do not in any circumstances buy a home in this area without first verifying the potability of the water. Be sure to get a well water inspection; this is not a condition to waive for sure. Buyer beware!

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SOLD FIRM!!!! Beautiful new listing – 1819 Lorraine Avenue!

I have just listed a four bedroom hi-ranch bungalow  in Guildwood Estates within the Canterbury School catchment area, close to Herongate Mall and CHEO. The address is 1819 Lorraine Avenue, MLS 1173155 and it is listed for $ 449,900.00 with offers to be presented on Wednesday at 7PM. The identical property in original condition with no garage, no fireplace, and an oil furnace sold for $ 465,500 just last week so this is great value!

The kitchen and the main bath have been recently and tastefully updated and the owners have kept the home extremely well maintained with new A/C, new interlock, and a number of  other updates (see me for details).  The open concept living and dining room has a gorgeous wood burning fireplace. Three bedrooms are on the main level, and one is in the lower level, which also has a huge rec room and a two piece bath.

Here are some pictures of this lovely home, and thanks to Eric Ritterath from my office for helping me to stage it!

 

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My favourite condo townhouses in Ottawa for under $ 400K

Right now, if you have a budget under $ 400K, it’s hard to find a freehold townhouse. But you can find a beautiful condo townhouse (often called a “row unit”)  in a beautifully managed complex for well under $ 400K. Generally, you will get a lot more bang for your buck in terms of space. Your lawyer can tell you if there are any red flags and what is included in the condo fees (this varies from complex to complex).

Some of my favourite condo townhouses are as follows (I’ve bought and sold in all of them):

Esterlawn Private, near Carlingwood. Great location, just off Fairlawn, steps to shopping. These three bedroom condo townhouses have single garages, small private back yards, and there is a child’s playground in the centre of the complex. Many have finished basements. The condo fees cover almost all  exterior maintenance. These units have jumped in price over the last year or two from well below $ 300K up to almost $ 400K and they get snapped up fast because of the location.

3205 Uplands Drive, Hunt Club. These are huge three bedroom units with big basements. They have single garages and most have decks that open off the second bedroom. Some of the units back onto protected greenspace and they all have private back yards. They are currently selling in the low $300K range. The condo corporation does not cover much in terms of exterior maintenance but has been taking on more responsibility in recent years, so be sure to check with your lawyer to see what’s in and what’s out.

Monterey Drive, Leslie Park.  This is NOT a condo townhouse complex (the units were converted to freehold some years back) but is located close to the Queensway Carleton Hospital, and IKEA, just south of Baseline Road. These are two to three bedroom units that are very spacious with large eat-in kitchens and patio doors to the private back yards. Sometimes they have surface parking right in front and sometimes it is off to the side. Occasionally a unit with two parking spots will pop up. They have large basements.  There is an association fee than ranges from around $ 100 to $ 150/month for snow removal, grass cutting and parking lot maintenance. These units  have rapidly increased in value — they used to sell in the mid-$ 200Ks a few years ago but are now selling for well over $ 300K . Even so, these are great value.

Nuggett Drive, Orleans. These are condo townhouses with extremely low condo fees in a nice quiet part of town close to shopping and parks. The condo corporation does not cover exterior maintenance. The units are quite large with fenced backyards and single garages. These can vary in terms of interior finishes, and some had foundation issues that the condo corporation has taken responsibility for addressing (although that responsibility is time-limited: contact your lawyer for details). They are selling in the mid to high $ 200K range right now.

Briston Private, Hunt Club, near Conroy Pit. These are not technically row units but stacked condo units. All the units on Briston Private are two levels but there are newer ones that have forced air furnaces/ natural gas heating and central air (as opposed to baseboard heating in the other units in this complex). They are much larger than the others and feel more like townhouses. Parking is out front and there is a ton of visitor parking. The condo corporation handles all exterior maintenance, right down to eavestroughs and front railings. All have separate family rooms with gas fireplaces as well as eat-in kitchens and living rooms. The lower units have access to a small unfenced but private yard where BBQs are allowed. The most recent sale was over $ 300K.

There are pros and cons to buying a condo vs. buying a freehold but these are complexes I always keep an eye out because they are such great value. Happy to answer your questions!

 

 

 

 

 

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