New Year, Old Me

I can’t make New Year’s resolutions. I won’t keep them. I know myself well enough that it just won’t happen. I, like all humans, am a creature of habit. And breaking old habits, or creating new ones is tough. So rather than set myself up for failure (or success for that matter), I’m simply going to document myself–habits, good or bad–as a bit of a social experiment.

I’m starting with breakfast. I have a new habit that started back in 2013 after our trip to Costa Rica where my girlfriend made smoothies for us every single morning. So I now make myself smoothies almost every morning for breakfast. I recently purchased a Vitamix, which is the self-proclaimed king of blenders, because I’m convinced the quality of my smoothies will improve (ha!), although the real reason I purchased it was because it can blend frozen chunks of fruit, which my previous blender could not.

Today’s blend, however, is a bit of a departure for me. That, my friends, is where I am a creature of habit: banana, pineapple, spinach, almond milk. Done. Today’s blend: apple, kale, ginger, pineapple, almond milk. It’s definitely not as easy going down, but I could get used to it. And I think my body could use the nutrients.

Accompanying this lovely smoothie is a homemade granola bar care of Angela Liddon’s cook book, Oh She Glows. It’s the highlight of my morning with crispy bites of peanut butter and sea salt-laced oats intermingling with chia seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and other good for you stuff. I’m trying really hard not to gobble it up.

This is not a breakfast of denial. I enjoy this and my tummy thanks me for it. But I think I will have to expand my morning meal horizon and try and get some eggs or meat in there once in a while to boost the protein quotient.

I’m open to suggestions too–any good protein-packed lactose-free meals you can suggest would be helpful!

Green smoothie and a glo bar
Green smoothie and a glo bar

 

New Theme, New Year (almost)

I decided to give this little pet project of mine a bit of a facelift with a new look. It’s cute, dontcha think? Very girly, which isn’t really me, but it’s easy on the eyes.

I don’t actually have much to tell you about right now so I thought I’d show off the planter at the front of my house. I’m proud to say that I’ve managed to use the same birch logs, some branches and the white berries in the arrangement for the last three or four years. I wish I could do the same with the evergreen boughs, but they just don’t last. Yes, very frugal of me.

New this year are the little battery operated LEDs, which I love, but seem to be rather unreliable. But you must agree, they really do complete the look, don’t they?

Winter evergreen planter arrangement with LED lights
Winter evergreen planter arrangement with LED lights

Happy Holidays to you all during this unseasonably warm winter evening!

The Annual Hanukkah Party

Tonight we had all of our friends from the neighbourhood over to celebrate the eighth night of Hanukkah with us. I think we’re on Year 5 of our annual Hanukkah Party. What started off as a one-time shindig to celebrate the Festival of Lights with all of our gentile friends has turned into a bit of a tradition. And from what I hear, the neighbours look forward to the invitation! 

Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a bit of a go big or go home approach to throwing a party so it should come as no surprise when I tell you I spend days preparing for the two or three hours of crazy that we host. It begins with copious amounts of baking, a Bar Mitzvah-worthy dessert-slash-candy table with a blue, white and silver theme and some delicious homemade latkes and hot corned beef sandwiches (full disclosure: this year I ordered the corned beef from Center Street Deli and it was well worth it).

I have a lot of fun baking and decorating the table and putting out a big spread for everyone. But man, I’m exhausted! So here are some of my photos of the dessert table, which seemed to garner most of the attention.

 

Hanukkah Sugar Cookies

Call me a glutton for punishment, but every year for the last–oh, I don’t know–four years, my husband and I have hosted a Hanukkah party for our closest neighbourhood friends. You see, we are the token Hebrews in the ‘hood, so most of our friends have never been to a Hanukkah party, let alone tasted a latke. So, we felt it would be a Mitzvah (aka: good deed) on our part if we threw a little shindig to enlighten our friends.

Well that little shindig turned into a big shindig and has become something of a tradition. It has also given me licence to go a bit meshugenah (crazy) with the event planning, decor and yes, a dessert table!

Today I’m giving you a preview of some of my *crazy* ideas. I made a big batch of sugar cookies a la Martha Stewart and decorated them with royal icing and some confectioners’ decorative sugar. You will notice a theme of blue, white and silver. 

I made the dough, chilled it, rolled it out, cut it into the shapes of dreidels, menorahs and stars of David before baking. Then I went to town on the icing. The icing was a piping consistency and I could have piped all the cookies and then flooded them, but I got lazy. So the icing is a little thicker (the kids will love me for it–not the parents) than usual and maybe not as pretty. But I’ll let you be the judge!

IMG_2993
Fresh baked star of David sugar cookies
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Star of David sugar cookies with royal icing, blue confectioner’s sugar and a silver dragee.
Dreidel sugar cookies with blue royal icing and white snowflakes
Dreidel sugar cookies with blue royal icing and white snowflakes

 

Wine and Cheese Party

It was my Dad’s 70th birthday this past week and to mark this amazing milestone my siblings and I planned a late afternoon wine and cheese party for him. 

The offerings were meant to reflect my father in the foods that we chose. We did this by visiting The Cheese Boutique. It was my first time there and I can’t believe that in all the years I’ve lived in this city I have never been there! Better late than never. This place was like a wet dream for foodies. The first thing I saw when I walked in was a wall of mustards, followed by a wall of balsamic vinegars and a wall of oils. It was like walking through a maze  of rooms, each dedicated to foodstuff. Jams. Teas and Coffees. Pastas and grains. A cold meat “locker.” Fruit and Veg. A cheese fridge–the ceilings were hanging with cheese and legs of prosciutto. And then the maze opens up to a room with a large cheese counter, the perimeter of which is surrounded by yet more culinary delights. The wall of chocolate. Pastry and breads. Oh! My! Heaven!

The Cheese Boutique
The Cheese Boutique
The Cheese Refrigerator
The Cheese Refrigerator

We got to sample some amazing cheeses and some charcuterie. These would be the centerpieces of our party. I started out by putting slabs of wood on the table that my brother-in-law had made. I decorated around these slabs with succulents and branches with berries and a few tea light candles to add some light. It was very Autumn-ish. Then came the food: cheese, meat, crackers, nuts, dried fruit, clementines, smoked fish, foie gras, fig jam, olives, gherkins, goat cheese, fresh figs, grapes. It was a veritable cornucopia of deliciousness. And it all got gobbled up! If you are looking for some inspiration, here are a few shots of the table.

 

Candles and plants interspersed with the food
Candles and plants interspersed with the food
Cheese and crackers
Cheese and crackers
Charcuterie
Charcuterie
The Whole Spread
The Whole Spread

 

 

 

Cookies! Cookies! Cookies!

So I went on a cookie making bender last night. And there was a legitimate reason. We are in the midst of a United Way fundraiser at the office, so I thought I’d do my part. We decided to encourage people to make a pledge or donation by enticing them with homemade baking when the munchies hit around 3 in the afternoon. It worked like a charm and here are the results!

I feel like this was my warm up act to the big baking contest next week…the meringues were incredibly popular so maybe I’ll try those again. What do you think???

Oh Ginger!

Okay, I’m finally getting back in the saddle and writing a post after a ridiculously long hiatus–and after I got my oven fixed. 

I love my range. It’s a Viking Professional. We had it installed when we renovated the house and I couldn’t bear to part with it, even if it has had to be repaired twice now. It’s kind of like a favourite blanket or pair of shoes. It’s comfortable and familiar and I can’t imagine any other range living up to it. It’s simple. No fancy knobs or bells or electronics. Straight up gas. But it was not baking evenly. I’d get a mixture of under done to slightly burnt depending on where the pan was located in the oven. It was a true range inside the range. Ha!

Now that Joe the Appliance Guy came and fixed the oven, my motivation to cook and bake has been reinvigorated.

Since it is the season for pumpkin and spice and all things hearty and warm, I copied my mom and baked a double batch of Evelyn Raab’s soft ginger cookies. My three-year-old could eat these for breakfast, lunch and dinner, which I sometimes let him do. They came out perfectly and have a nice sparkly sheen of sugar coating their little brown selves.

Evelyn Raab's Soft Ginger Cookies
Evelyn Raab’s Soft Ginger Cookies

Maybe it’s because these cookies are relatively unassuming and they have a healthy *look* to them, but you kind of feel like you’re eating something healthy, which is probably why it’s so easy to convince yourself to eat more (than one). Key ingredients to these tasty morsels is molasses and of course, powdered ginger. I can’t imagine adding anything to them, but let me know if you have experimented with ginger cookies and what combos work for you.

Here’s the recipe:

  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Mix butter and sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add the egg, water and molasses and continue mixing until smooth. In another bowl stir flour, ginger, baking soda and cinnamon together (I’m so lazy I actually skip this and mix it all together–but I digress). Add dry mixture to wet mixture and beat until everything is combined into a soft dough. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and put in the fridge while you tidy up and preheat oven to 350 F. Pour some sugar onto a plate–I used fine granulated sugar– Pull the dough out of the fridge and start rolling the dough into 1-1.5 inch little balls. Roll the dough balls in the sugar and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes. They will look soft and like they’re not finished but really they are. Let them cool for a couple of minutes and then move them to a plate. This recipe makes 4 dozen.

 

The Art of Pumpkin Carving

 

Tonight was family pumpkin carving night. This year we have a total of nine–count ’em–NINE pumpkins! Whew!
Mind you, two of those were carved up at a workshop at Lee Valley, my husband’s favourite store. It’s a wonder I let him go in there–he’s like a kid in a candy store.
This time, though, he was there with my dad, who had signed them up for a pumpkin carving workshop with the boys.
The cost of the workshop included a fantastic little set of serrated carving knives.
Take it from me: my world changed tonight after I used this little set. I will never, I repeat, NEVER, go back to carving pumpkins with a standard knife or those cheap-o sets that are sold at this time of the year.

carving set

In my last post I showcased some Halloween pumpkins that were my “Pinspiration” for my pumpkin. So I pretty much copied my favourite (the Tim Burton-esque one) by drawing the image freehand on a piece of paper. Then I sprayed the pumpkin with water, “glued” on the piece of paper, traced out the image with a fabric marker thingamabobby and then went to work with the best serrated knife EVER. Here’s how that whole process unfolded…

And here’s Jack, all lit up!

lantern

Other than having to pull all the guts out of the gourd, this year’s carving experience could actually be described as pleasant.
So to all my friends, have a safe, candy-filled Halloween and hopefully Environment Canada gets it wrong for Thursday night.

 

Halloween Pinspiration

I know, I know, I know. I have this fair-weather relationship with my blog. I haven’t been all that involved with it these days months. And I have no excuse other than Life. Yes, Life. So without further ado, I decided to do a quick post with some of my favourite Pins of Halloween decor.

The house is mostly decorated now, but I can’t photograph it very well because contrary to what some might think, I don’t know how to take a good exterior shot of the front of my house. It just ends up looking, well, bad. And definitely not Pin-worthy. Because we all know what makes the cut.

I dig Ghost pumpkins–those are the white pumpkins. And anything a little different from the predictable. Although I love simple, old-school Jack O’ Lanterns too. So I’m leaving you with a few pictures to give you some unattainable inspiration when carving up those ghoulish gourds in the next few days.


I call these Tim Burton style pumpkins


These are beautiful Ghost pumpkins.


And now I’ll just get out my handy, dandy drill!

This is my Pinspiration for now…what are your Halloween Pinspirations?

Polka Dot Party

I wish I had more energy to put into this post but the truth is I’m pooped. So I’m going to keep it short and sweet.

I made yet another birthday party for my middle child–having all three kids with birthdays in the first quarter of the year is both a blessing and a curse. By the time this birthday rolls around every year I always say to myself and whoever will listen, “this is the time I do one of these.” Bu then of course next year arrives and I start planning out the cake, the decorations, the loot bags, the entertainment, the meal….

This year I combined the family and friends parties to kill two birds with one stone however this makes for a rather large and unwieldy party. We had a company that brings exotic animals to the house to teach the kids about the animals; where they are from, what they eat, etc. This kept the kids occupied for one hour. That only left one more hour of the party to survive  feed the kids, do the birthday cake and usher them out the door.

My middle guy wanted a Smartie number cake just like his big brother so I baked a few vanilla cakes, got out the big serrated knife and got to carving. Then I slathered on some yummy creamy cheese icing and embarked on the painstakingly long task of doing a chevron patterned decoration on the cake with Smarties (or chocolate gems as they are referred to at the bulk food store).

Picking up on the Smarties I decided to go with a polka dot theme for the table settings found at none other than Dollarama.

And this was all completed by polka dot and chevron printed loot bags that I scored at Creative Bag (that place is dangerous–I could spend a lot of money there). I kept it simple for the loot: Kinder Eggs bought in large quantity from Costco and a $5 gift card to Indigo. I figured this was both easy and pleasing loot for both parent and child.

Here are a few snaps of the big day.

I made two 9# rounds and used a giant cookie cutter to cut out the centre to form the bottom of the number 6.
I made two 9# rounds and used a giant cookie cutter to cut out the centre to form the bottom of the number 6.
Here is the number 6 cake "in the raw" before applying icing.
Here is the number 6 cake “in the raw” before applying icing.

 

Here's the six cake with a thick coat of cream cheese icing.
Here’s the six cake with a thick coat of cream cheese icing.
And here is the coolest every chevron smartie six cake!
And here is the coolest every chevron smartie six cake!
A view of the polka dot plates I scored Dollarama
A view of the polka dot plates I scored Dollarama
And to cap it all off: polka dot and chevron loot bags!
And to cap it all off: polka dot and chevron loot bags!