Buying guide: The truth about thread count
Is there anything better than sliding into a bed laden with good quality sheets? At the end of the day, I can't wait to stretch out under my fresh, soft covers and nestle my face into a good cotton-covered pillow. We spend a third of our lives in bed so quality sheets are key, but how do you get quality for your money? There's no doubt that most consumers believe the higher the thread count, the better the quality, but this isn't entirely true. With the help and expertise of Joanna Goodman, owner of Au Lit Fine Linens, we expose the truth about thread count and what it takes to find quality bed sheets.
What is thread count, really?
Simply put, thread count is the number of threads woven into one square inch of fabric. This number is based on the threads woven horizontally ("weft") and vertically ("warp"). Extra threads can also be woven into the weft threads to increase the thread count. These added threads are called "picks" and are added in the overall count, which is how some sheets end up having thread counts in the thousands. This is why the idea that high counts equal better quality isn't really accurate. Consider this: Joanna says most weavers will say the maximum number of threads that can be woven into one square inch of fabric is 500 to 600. Though the number is arguable and, according to Joanna, "depends on the mill you deal with," it gives you an idea of where the line is between single-ply, unpicked weaves and ones that add threads here and there to bump up the count.
What to look for when buying sheets
Joanna lists three things to look for on the label: if it's Egyptian cotton, where it's woven and, lastly, the thread count. While thread count is a bit misunderstood, the buzz around Egyptian cotton is true. "The very best cotton in the world is grown in Egypt. So Egyptian cotton will be of a better quality," Joanna says. She also recommends pima cotton, which is grown in America, "though not quite as exceptional as Egyptian." When it comes to weaving, however, she swears by the Italians as being the "master weavers of the world" due to their "long tradition of weaving" and use of the best Egyptian cotton. Be sure the label says 100% or pure Egyptian cotton though, otherwise it may only contain a small percentage of the good stuff. As for the thread count, look for a minimum of 200. From there, it's all about preference!
What to avoid when buying sheets
Joanna's one key piece of advice is to watch out for extremely low priced, high thread count sheet sets. A complete sheet set with a high thread count for $100 or less is probably not the dream bargain you think it is. As Joanna believes, "you always get what you pay for." The price tag for bed linens will vary depending on the sheet size and what items you're buying, such as a duvet cover, sheet sets, or pillowcases. "A superior quality 200 thread count queen set (including flat, fitted, two pillowcases), made of Egyptian cotton and woven in Europe, could retail reasonably for about $150-$250," says Joanna.
What do you prefer?
After going through the quality checklist, go with what feels best for you. If you're looking for a durable linen, Joanna recommends any percale from thread count 200 to 800. Percale is any cotton woven with a 200 thread count or higher and will be more durable than a cotton satin of the same thread count. It's also less likely to pill than cotton satin because it has a denser weave. Love the feel of a cotton button down shirt? Joanna advises a crisp, dense 200 thread count percale. Prefer a silkier sheet? Go for a 300 to 600 cotton satin. If you want lighter sheets, Joanna says, a 400 thread count sheet can be soft and light, while an 800 percale would be soft and dense. The higher the thread count, the more likely multiple-ply thread is used or picks are added, making the fabric denser and heavier.
Now you know that quality is not just about the number, so don't let numbers rule your bed! Remember what to look for on the label and be wary of too-low prices for supposedly high quality items. Beyond that, go with what you prefer. Get a good feel of the sheets before buying. Whether you're unzipping the packaging or lying down on a display bed, make sure the fabric feels good against your skin and soon you'll be having sweet dreams!
Find out how to keep your new linens crisp and clean with our tips to whiter-than-white sheets.
Food bloggers’ favourite holiday recipes
When it comes to Christmas dinner, it’s usually pretty standard – turkey, stuffing, potatoes. Maybe you switch up the main protein to a succulent holiday ham or tender roast beef, but we all know the main events (or dishes, if you will) are covered. To help spice things up this holiday season, we asked six food bloggers to share their favourite holiday recipes and they did not disappoint. Complete your menu with these savoury side dishes and oh so sweet desserts to inject festive flavour into your holiday meal this season.
Tender roasted cauliflowerin an aged white cheddar sauce that is baked until golden brown and bubbling with a crispy panko breadcrumb topping. Ingredients 1 large head cauliflower, cut into florets 2 tablespoons oil salt and pepper to taste 3 tablespoons butter 3 tablespoons flour (rice flour for gluten-free) 1-1/2 cups milk 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg Optional salt and pepper to taste 1 cup aged white cheddar cheese, shredded 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs (gluten free for gluten free) Directions 1 Toss the cauliflower florets in the oil along with the salt and pepper and arrange them in a single layer on a large baking sheet. 2 Roast the cauliflower in a preheated 400F oven until lightly golden brown, about 20-30 minutes. 3 Bechamel sauce: Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, mix in the flour and let cook until it just starts to brown a little. 4 Mix in the milk, nutmeg, salt and pepper and cheese and heat until the cheese melts and the sauce thickens. 5 Mix cauliflower into the bechamel sauce, pour into a baking dish and top with the bread crumbs. 6 Bake in a preheated 350F oven until it is bubbling on the sides and golden brown on top, about 15-20 minutes. Servings: Makes 4-8 servings Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 45 minutes Total Time: 55 minutes Kevin Lynch came to realize that his meals were boring and that he had been eating the same few dishes over and over again for years. It was time for a change! He now spends his free time searching for, creating and trying tasty new recipes in his closet-sized kitchen.
This dish is the ultimate reminder of the food I grew up eating in France. When baked, tomatoesbecome incredibly sweet. These are filled with breadcrumbs and herbs that complement the juicy tomato flesh. Ingredients 3 large plump tomatoes, halved 3 garlic cloves, crushed and finely diced 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley Salt and freshly ground pepper Extra virgin olive oil Directions 1 Preheat your oven to 375F. 2 Lay out the tomatoes seed side up, in a large oven-proof baking dish. 3 Scoop out some of the seeds to make more room for the breadcrumbs. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. 4 In a small bowl, mix together the breadcrumbs, garlic and parsley. 5 Using a small spoon, fill the tomatoes with the breadcrumbs mixture. 6 Drizzle with some olive oil and bake for 30 minutes or until the tomatoes are softened and the breadcrumbs are golden brown. Serve immediately. Serves: 2-4. Jennifer Bartoli is a Toronto-based writer, photographer and recipe developer who grew up in Paris, France. Her longstanding passion for food took her to New York City, where she studied at the French Culinary Institute. For delicious recipes and more, check out Jennifer’s blog, Chocolate Shavings.
This lovely tart combines several of my favorite things: tart crust, frangipane, and fruit. When I first started baking, one of my goals was to master French tarts. It was this desire that led me to attend pastry school and conquer my fear of tart crust. I made this tart to celebrate my graduation from pastry school. The shortcrust in this recipe is everything I dream of for crust: buttery, tender, and crumbly. It's a perfect container for the frangipane, a heavenly almond-scented pastry cream. Almost any fruit would work on top of this tart, but for the fall season I love the subtle sweetness of pears. Every time I make this tart, I'm reminded of why I got into pastry. Ingredients Pate Sablee 1-1/2 cups flour 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt 9 tablespoon butter, very cold, cut into small pieces 1 egg yolk Poached Pears 3 ripe medium pears (I used Anjou) – you only need 2 pears but I suggest having an extra one just in case you mess up a pear 3 cups water 1 cup sugar 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1 cinnamon stick 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/8 teaspoon salt Frangipane 6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature 2/3 cup sugar 3/4 cup ground blanched almonds 2 teaspoons flour 1 teaspoon cornstarch 1 large egg 1 egg white 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 2 teaspoons almond extract Directions For the pears 1 Combine the water, sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon stick, vanilla, and salt in a saucepan large enough to hold all the pears and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. 2 Meanwhile, cut the pears in half, remove the seed core and fibrous cores at either end, then peel the pears. 3 Add the pear halves to the simmering syrup and reduce heat to low. Cover, and let pears poach for about 10 minutes, turning them halfway. The pears will become slightly translucent, very tender, and easily pierced with a knife or skewer. Let the pears cool in the liquid until room temperature before using. Or, you can store them in their liquid in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. For the tart shell 1 Put the flour, confectioner’s sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. 2 Add the pieces of cold butter and pulse until the butter is cut into pea-sized pieces. 3 Add the egg yolk and combine in several pulses until the dough starts to turn from dry to clumpy. Do not let the dough form one giant ball or it will be be overworked – just keep checking after every pulse and when the dough pieces looks like they will stick when you press them together, stop. 4 Butter a 9-inch tart tin with removable bottom. 5 Turn the dough out into the tin and press into the bottom and up the sides with your fingers. You probably will not need all the dough – save the extra for patching the shell after you bake it. Do not press the dough too hard or it will become tough – just enough for it to form to the tin. 6 Freeze the tart shell for at least 30 minutes. When you are ready to bake it, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. To partially bake the tart shell, take a piece of foil and butter the shiny side, then press the buttered side tightly to the shell. You do not need pie weights. 7 Place the tart shell on a baking sheet and bake for about 25 minutes, until the shell is dry and lightly colored. If any places have cracked, repair with the extra dough. 8 Let cool on a rack until room temperature. For the frangipane 1 Combine the butter and sugar in the food processor and combine until smooth. 2 Add the ground almonds and blend together. 3 Add the flour and cornstarch, and then the egg and egg white. 4 Process the mixture until it is very smooth. Add in the vanilla and almond extracts just to blend. 5 The frangipane can be used immediately or you can store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. If it becomes too firm in the fridge, let it sit at room temperature for a while to soften before using. To finish the tart 1 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 2 Spread the frangipane evenly into the cooled tart shell (It should be liquid enough to smooth out on its own so you don’t need to work to much on it). 3 Take the poached pears out of their liquid and drain them on paper towels. You don’t want too much excess liquid or they will make the frangipane soggy. 4 Cut each pear half crosswise into 3/8 in thick slices. Do not separate the pear half yet. Slide a spatula or other flat utensil underneath the pear so you can transfer the entire half onto the tart. 5 Press on the pear to fan the slices toward the top narrow end of the pear. Slide the pear half onto the frangipane carefully – you can move the pear after you place it, but not much. 6 Repeat with three other pear halves until there are four halves on the tart, evenly spaced. Place the tart on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for about 45-50 minutes, until the frangipane is puffed, golden brown, and firm to the touch. 7 Cool the tart on a wire rack. Before serving, you can brush the pears with some warmed apple jelly to glaze, or dust confectioner’s sugar over the tart. Makes one 9-inch tart. (Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours.) Anita Chu, also known as pastrygirl, is the creator of Dessert First, an award-winning blog dedicated to all things sweet. Anita is also the author of sweet cookbooks, Field Guide to Cookies and Field Guide to Candy.
These cookies are a new holiday favourite of mine. They combine the fresh cranberries, the perfect tart (and pretty!) bite with the comforting familiarity of brown butter and chocolate. They are great for a cookie exchange, holiday parties and as a treat for Santa. I will definitely be making this cookie for the holidays for years to come. Ingredients 4 ounces (1/2 cup / 1 stick) unsalted butter softened 1-7/8 ounces (1/4 cup) granulated sugar 5 1/2 ounces (2/3 cup) packed light brown sugar 1 extra-large egg at room temperature 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 7 ounces (1-1/2 cups) all-purpose flour 1/2 teaspoons baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt 4 ounces (1 cup) dark chocolate chunks 3 ounces (3/4 cup) fresh cranberries, washed and dried Directions 1 Brown the butter: Heat butter in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly, when butter turns to an amber/light brown colour, remove from heat immediately (You should be able to smell the deeper more caramel flavour of the butter) 2 Pour browned butter immediately into a small bowl and set aside to cool. 3 Once butter has cooled, place in the large bowl of an electric mixer with sugars; beat on high speed until well combined. 4 Add egg and vanilla, mix on medium speed until well mixed. 5 In a separate medium-sized bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt; slowly add to wet ingredients with mixer on low speed; do not over mix. 6 Slowly stir in chocolate chunks and cranberries. 7 Chill dough for 24 hours for best results (minimum of 2 hours) before baking. 8 When ready to bake, pre-heat oven to 325 degrees; line baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside?. 9 Scoop cookie dough with large (4 tablespoons) cookie dough scoop on to prepared baking sheets (note it is normal for cookie dough to be very hard, you can let it rest at room temperature for a few minutes prior to scooping). 10 Bake cookies until firm: 17-19 minutes or until edges are golden brown and cranberries have popped. 11 Allow to cool before serving. Makes 15 large cookies. Lauren Lilling is the owner and baker behind Keep It Sweet Desserts, an online bakery specializing in delectable cookies and special event catering. It has been noted for its exceptional desserts by The TODAY Show, Fox and Friends, Star Magazine, and more.
When I was a little girl, one of my favorite holiday treats was eggnog. Mom would pour a tiny amount into little glasses for us to savour. Now I can make it from scratch without all the funky ingredients in most store-bought varieties. My husband says I can make it year-round. Ingredients 12 large eggs 1-½ cup pure maple syrup (or granulated dugar) ½ teaspoons salt 2 quarts (8 cups) whole milk 2 tablespoons vanilla extract 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg + more for garnish 2 cups heavy whipping cream + more for garnish Directions 1 In a heavy 4 quart saucepan, with the heat off, whisk the eggs, maple syrup, and salt until well blended. Gradually stir in half of the milk. 2 Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon, about 25 minutes. (Mixture should be about 170 – 175 degrees F). Do not boil. 3 Pour custard into a large bowl. Stir in vanilla extract, 1 teaspoon of ground nutmeg and the remaining milk. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, about 3 hours. 4 Just before serving, in a medium bowl, beat whipping cream until soft peaks form. With wire whisk, gently fold whipped cream into custard mixture. 5 Serve with extra whipped cream on top and a sprinkle of freshly grated nutmeg. Tip: Store in the refrigerator up to 3 days. Erica is a wife and new-mom-in-training with a desire to cook delicious food for her husband Reuben (AKA. Love of her life). She loves to experiment and adapt recipes to be a tad healthier and shares her culinary successes on her blog, Buttered Side Up.
Ingredients 4 medium-sized yams, skin removed 2 heads garlic 2 tbsp fresh thyme Sea salt and pepper to taste ¼ cup olive oil Directions 1Preheat oven to 425 degrees. 2 Cut the top off of each head of garlic. Place in a large ramekin and drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil. 3 Cover dish with foil. Pierce yams several times with a knife. Place yams on baking tray and roast for one hour. 4 After 15-20 minutes, turn heat down to 400 degrees and add the garlic for the remaining amount of time. 5 Remove from oven and let cool slightly. Add yams, garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper to a food processor. 6 Add ¼ cup olive oil or butter. Process until smooth, or consistency you desire. 7 You can prepare this dish ahead of time and reheat it in the oven just before serving. Koko Brill blogs from Koko's Kitchen where she loves to prepare healthy food. She is currently starting a company called Koko Raw selling raw granola and fresh pressed juices. She enjoys travelling, music, fashion and fitness.
Seasonal fall home decor ideas
Pumpkins are a staple of fall decorating, but not everyone embraces the onset of orange. Opt instead for white varieties like Baby Boo and Casper to pepper along the table and around the fireplace.
Cinnamon and cider... over and over. It’s a favourite flavour of autumn (second only to pumpkin pie), so keep your best recipe on hand and serve it in simple Mason jar mugs updated for the season with a strip of burlap secured by a piece of yarn.
Natural elements like wood accessories and wool in a simple unadorned arrangement are reflective of fall.
This DIY rough-edged table runner is a great white tabletop accessory and is easy to make with a simple bolt of burlap and scissors. After measuring and marking the desired width of fabric at one end, make a small snip at each mark and hand-tear lengthwise in one strong, swift motion. Make sure the final length is four to six inches longer than your table on each end. Add texture by fraying the edges by hand.
Dispersed in odd number groupings throughout your space, decorating with candles are a surefire way (pun intended!) to add warmth in aesthetic, in mood and, of course, in temperature.
Pears, pomegranates, persimmons and pumpkin decorations: Let fall’s fruitful bounty take centre stage in your seasonal decor.
Although fall lends itself to a natural look, you can still set an elegant tabletop. When paired with sparkly elements like glass and silver, rustic pieces like a burlap table runner, pure linen napkins, organic-shaped dishware and braided wicker napkin rings come together as a glamorous farmhouse-inspired tablescape.
The palette here may be pale, but the texture is vibrant. From the choppy rough-hewn wood to the intricately carved lamp base, the chunky woven wicker baskets to the fluffy hydrangeas and pompom mums, the layering and balance of materials mimic the diversity of nature.
A new take on a traditional wreath, this one uses hundreds of dried leaves – punctuated with a few fresh green ones – for a tissue paper-like effect and is laid down, rather than hung, for a casual vignette.
A glowing fire may be fall’s version of summer’s open windows, but don’t forget autumn’s answer to fresh-cut flowers: bunches of dried wheat and branches of berries gathered on a nature walk for an unfussy fall floral arrangement.
Cooler nights call for having warm wraps within easy reach, so stack favourite beautiful blankets in different patterns (but in the same palette) as a useful decorative accent. Cozying up to enjoy those last fleeting moments on the porch will always be just an arm’s length away.
The family room has the feel of a Maine family cottage, with its tongue-and-groove walls and ceiling and chiselled fieldstone fireplace. Slipcovered furnishings in soft yellow, cranberry and sage continue the main-floor colour scheme.
A basket makes the perfect vessel for a potted tree in this kitchen.
Trends come and go, but these four stylish accent pieces are here to stay.
This tropical beauty is coveted for its wide, glossy leaves and towering height. If you can’t find the real thing (or discover it’s too fussy), try a good-quality imitation. Artifical Fejka tree, IKEA, $15.
Towering above the mantel, this tree in a burlap “bucket” is a fresh, organic counterpoint to a contemporary hand-painted wall mural.
A basket makes the perfect vessel for a potted tree in the California-modern kitchen of Style at Home design editor Stacy Begg.
In a handsome den, a fig adds a sculptural note to an empty corner.
Whimsical and eye-catching, the juju hat, a type of African headdress, has become a contemporary decorating staple. The piece’s round bull’s eye shape makes it a natural focal point over fireplaces, beds and sofas. Plus, it injects a note of softness to hard-edged modern rooms. Feather headdress in White 30", Snob, $500.
A canary yellow headdress is a can’t-be-missed feature in an otherwise neutral dining room.
When matched with the beautiful bedding, this hot pink juju hat offers a decorative one-two punch of boldness.
White feathers keep the mood calm in a home office nook, adding texture without the distraction of colour.
Soft underfoot and graphic in impact, Berber-style rugs can be made from nylon, synthetic fibres or wool. But it’s the natural creamy tone and black zigzag or diamond design that really set these rugs apart, making them a perfect fit for spaces both contemporary and traditional. Wool Souk rug 8" x 10", West Elm, $1,139.
Preppy splashes of green and pink liven up the neutral rug in this youthful living room.
A feminine bedroom gets graphic impact from the black lines of the rug and the Hollywood Regency-style ribbon trim on the valance.
Distinctly Italian in flavour, this living room vignette shines with just three colours: cream, black and honey brown.
The versatile Moroccan-style leather pouffe – a more sophisticated version of the beanbag chair – comes in almost any colour imaginable, with metallic versions on offer as well. Pouffes can present as playful or polished – it’s all about the context. For a dash of global flair, this piece can’t be beat. Moroccan leather pouffe in Pink, The Cross Decor & Design, $395.
A white pouffe with reverse stitching goes upscale as a spot to put on shoes or makeup in this dreamy dressing room.
In this stylish nursery, a pink pouffe provides a chic footrest for a nursing mother.
There’s no need to worry about little ones running into sharp edges – pouffes are super soft and toddler-safe.