You know me: I’m an easy target when it comes to finding an excuse to bake for an occasion and what better occasion than Valentine’s Day? So I got out the trusty ol’ sugar cookie recipe care of Martha Stewart and dug out my heart shaped cookie cutter and got to work.
I whipped up some royal icing, also care of Martha Stewart,Â tinted it with a dash of pink gel to get a nice baby pink and got to work icing them.
I sampled a cookie–which I don’t normally do because I want to make sure there are enough for the kids to give out to all their classmates, but we had plenty. I was pleasantly surprised…it had a nice crispy outside and soft and moist inside. And the icing was sweet but it didn’t overwhelm the cookie. Now I remember why this is always my go to cookie recipe.
I have dreams of a palatial mudroom where I can consolidate the dog shower, laundry room, coat closet, boot and shoe racks, washer and dryer, drying rack….you get the point. I am fortunate that I already have many of these things in my lovely home, but a girl likes to dream. And the fact that I dream about storage space isn’t really that uncommon.I knew that I needed to come up with a small space solution for my kids’ coats, boots and bags when they began to drop these things the minute they walked in the front door and it felt as though I had to climb cialis through a tangled mess to get to the kitchen. It also didn’t look very neat and tidy, which are my middle names.
So once again I enlisted my handy and good looking husband’s help to transform an unused corner of the landing between the main floor and the basement into a mini mudroom for the kids’ jackets, backpacks, boots and other miscellaneous items that needed a home.
In terms of the aesthetic I wanted to achieve a modern rustic look that was simple, durable and overall functional. I gave my husband creative licence after we settled on the general idea. I really didn’t have the mental capacity to figure it all out–I just wanted to clutter to be organized. I got to pick the paint colour and Dave picked the lumber and the hardware.
I picked a durable high-gloss greenish-blue from Martha Stewart at Home Depot. I think it was called “Blue Fern.”
Dave got 2 x 6 lumber and made me a sawtooth bench along with a board covered in cast iron hooks for backpacks and he made a shelf with really cool antique-looking brackets and Â curled hooks for hats and coats. He found the hardware at The Door Store in the design district. It’s such a fun store I’m glad I didn’t go otherwise he never would have got me out of the store.
I also needed a boot tray and I wasn’t about to buy an ugly plastic one (heaven forbid!) and I became fixated on this very stylish metal boot tray from Crate and Barrel. The only problem was they were online only and cost about as much to ship to Canada as the boot tray itself. So I had it shipped to my in-laws on one of their southern vacations. It was a bit of circus (and a costly one at that) getting it back here but there it sits perfectly under the bench holding boots and shoes.
This project really did end up being the perfect marriage of function and form. I love the way my paint job came out and the scale of the pieces doesn’t overwhelm the space and make it difficult to move from the main floor to the basement and vice versa.Â
And of course it hides the every day stuff from the main entrance of the house. Now I’ve just got to get my kids to remember to hang everything up there instead of dropping it at the front door!Â
Inspired by my friend Alex over at NorthStory, I decided this year was the year for DIY valentines. Sure, I could have gone over to Dollarama and found some super hero themed package of valentines for a buck that came from some factory way over there but I decided NOT to choose the path of least resistance. This year, Valentine’s Day was going to be personal. So I rummaged through my craft cabinet and there among all the forgotten crafts purchased years ago when I was an eager and enthusiastic first time mom I found a bag full of foamies brimming with hearts in a rainbow of colours and sizes.
With the little spare time that I have (read: none) I decided to make my kids’ valentines for school and daycare. I know, I know, I know: THEY should make them. Not me. And they did help me–for about a nanosecond. So I enlisted my oh-so-willing husband to help cut the card stock (who are we kidding? I gave him my best puppy dog eyes and begged) and got creative with some glitter glue and colour play.
I draw the line at filling in the cards for the kids but it’s fun to *be* a kid again making the cards. Maybe I’m being too sentimental or ideal but I really believe teachers, parents and kids not only appreciate the homemade valentines but they remember them and the people who made them.
Until today the only canning I had done was making jam. As of today I can add pickling to my repertoire. On a whim I bought a batch of mini pickling cucumbers. I knew time was working against me so while the baby was napping this morning I got to work. Sterilizing, boiling, brining, cutting, pouring, processing and voila, pickles!!!!
I found the recipe on a fabulous site called Food In Jars, which was fairly simple to follow. The only deviation was the pickling spices. Rather than make my own I bought a pickling spice mix at the grocers–much easier and less time consuming. Oh yes, and I didn’t have cider vinegar so I went with straight white vinegar.
Now comes the hard part: waiting. The recipe says they can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to a year but it doesn’t say when I can dig into them….maybe 3 months? 3 weeks? 3 days? 3 minutes? I’m not sure I can wait!!!
I was perusing PinterestÂ just before hitting the sack when I came across this fancy dancy kitchen cheat sheet. Although it applies moreso to people living in the UK, as it from Everest, I thought those of you who are diehard cooks and bakers would appreciate it. It’s a fabulous retro-looking download that you can print off and put up on your fridge or at the very least keep in a drawer close by for when you need to convert weights to cups, etc. Enjoy!
When I opened the front door this morning I was hit by a wave of hot air not unlike that which escapes from the oven when I’m baking cookies, except this was the air outside. Everywhere. The air we breathe. The forecast called for temperatures in the mid-30’s with a Humidex in the mid-40’s. Ugh!
Even thought it was morning I was already thinking about what to make for dinner. The last thing I wanted to do was turn on the oven IN the house. And I certainly didn’t want to fire up the barbeque and stand in front of a flaming hot grill.Â
So I decided to make my version of a Nicoise salad. Nice and simple but hearty enough to fill the belly–and super easy.
First the fresh stuff: blanched green beans, sliced cucumbers, sliced tomatoes. and sliced red peppers.
Then the proteins and canned goods: a tin of tuna, a tin of chick peas, a tin of corn niblets, a tin of artichoke hearts and some sliced hard boiled eggs.
And finally I roasted some mini red potatoes, but I only used the toaster oven so my kitchen remained at a comfortable temperature.
I think a true Nicoise salad also includes anchovies but I can’t count a single person in my household who would eat those salty suckers so I didn’t even consider it.
The boys gushed over the meal (they love hard boiled eggs and canned corn) and not a single bead of sweat was required in the preparation of this meal so I think I’ll be making this again soon.
Next time I might throw in some golden beets and avocado–other favourites in our household. If you’ve made your own signature version of a Nicoise salad let me know what you put in it.
It’s that time of year again–the sacred few weeks when Ontario strawberries are in season. And that means it’s time to roll up my sleeves and make batches of sweet, yummy jam for everyone to enjoy–including the teachers. I always try and make the jam before the end of the school year so the boys can give jars of jam as gifts to their teachers.
If you have ever contemplated making jam but have been intimidated by the thought of it, don’t be. It’s the easiest thing ever. The only thing that might make you shy away is the steps involved–not many, but time consuming.
Before any jam making begins you must wash and sterilize your jars. It’s important to do this first otherwise your jam will start setting and you’ll be busy scrambling to get your jars ready.
First you have to wash and hull all the berries–probably the most time and labour intensive step in the process. You’ll also have a hard time resisting eating the berries as you wash them!
Crushing the berries is the next step. Up until this year I simply used a potato masher to do this. But I got a hand blender recently and used this to crush the berries–actually I turned them into a pulp which made for a very runny, smooth jam. If you prefer having chunks of berry in your jam, make sure not to crush them too much.
Next stir in the sugar. I like to use a product called Quick Set, which has some pectin in it already to help thicken the jam. If you want to know the berries-to-sugar ratio, it’s 1 kilo of sugar to 4 cups of *crushed* fruit but I just follow the directions on the bag.Â
Now it’s time to cook up the jam. Over medium heat in heavy pot let the mixture cook for 5 to 10 minutes. A foamy pink “scum” will form on the top of the jam and you need to skim this off with a spoon. The jam will come to a rolling boil and once that’s happened your jam is finished cooking.
Next get your jars out. Fill the jars almost to the top–leave a few centimeters for air to escape. I use snap lids on my jars. Once filled, I pop the jars in boiling water making sure the water covers the top of the jars completely and let the water boil away for about 10 minutes. This is called processing and it’s necessary so you can store the jars without refrigerating them. You’ll know this step worked when you hear the lids literally “snap” when they are suctioned down. You’re done!Â
Now you can enjoy your jam slathered on a piece of fresh bread or crackers. Believe me, once you taste the jam you’ll realize it was worth all the effort.
I have a weakness for rugelach (the ch is that hard, throaty sound that one perfects through one’s Jewish upbringing). Unfortunately indulging in these tasty treats only happens at special occasions, which includes dinner at my in-law’s and sadly at shivas. Why? Because these devilish but divine desserts are expensive! Yes, you have to pay by weight. And much like chips, you can’t eat just one.Â
Now I know why the bakery charges for rugelach by weight–because there are so many steps involved in the making of them! And one recipe only produces a dozen and a half of them. So that’s a huge investment of time for little return. I found a recipe in Evelyn Raab’s book, The Clueless Baker. My copy is well loved and well worn. I’m not sure it’s still in print but if you can find one I strongly recommend adding it to your repertoire of cook books. The dough is actually more of a pastry made with butter, cream cheese, flour and a bit of sugar. The whole recipe itself is easy, it’s just the time and steps required are labour intensive. Once the pastry is made I had to divide it into three portions, shape them into round discs and refrigerate them for at least an hour.
While that was happening I made a mixture of chocolate chips, cinnamon and sugar. The recipe also called for walnuts but I didn’t have any. I whizzed the mixture through the food processor. Then I rolled out the pastry dough and sprinkled the mixture on it.
The next step is to take a pizza cutter and cut the dough into about eight or ten wedges. This was followed by the final step, which was to roll each wedge from the wide end to the point into a crescent shape.Â
Baking the rugelach for about 20 minutes was the final step–actually eating them was the final step. They turned out so flakey and light and the perfect balance of chocolate and cinnamon. But was it worth the time and effort? According to reaction from my family it was. So I think I’ll be making these again.
I used to hate my living room. It’s the first room you see when you walk in the front door and for some reason I didn’t consider it inviting nor did I think it had a cohesive look or a focal point. No matter what I tried nothing seemed to work. So I went back to the drawing board. Without a fireplace in the room or something for the eye to land on I had to create a focal point on the one long wall the room had. The couch acted as the anchor and to create some symmetry I flanked it with two matching sideboards we inherited from my husband’s grandmother. These are substantial pieces of furniture and lend the kind of weight the room needed. Since the couch is relatively modern I updated the sideboards by getting them sprayed a warm chocolately-brown and for fun I replaced the hardware with pale blue milk glass pulls. Sticking with the symmetry theme we put two matching cream lamps on the sideboards. The cream really pops against the grey-brown wall colour, which matches the couch perfectly!
Now back to that focal point; I decided to create a gallery of art work above the couch and that would be the focal point. Some of the pieces came from family while others are inexpensive prints. I think using all black frames gives the gallery a cohesive look without looking too contrived. We added to the gallery as we acquired the pieces and the only thing that ties all of them together are the frames.
My favourite thing in the room is probably the carpet–a wool Sumak rug that I can only describe as a perfect marriage between traditional and contemporary. There are a multitude of colours in it–peach, aqua, taupe, burnt orange, forest green, cream….I picked fabric for the throw pillows based on the carpet and I had so much fun doing it!
My husband’s biggest coupe was finding the Huber bucket chair and ottoman (made in Canada!) on Kijiji–from two different sellers no less. The original fabric was *hallucious* so I had to hunt down a durable fabric that honoured the era of the chair without being too hokey. I must admit the cream and green fabric wasn’t my first choice, but my husband liked it and since he found the chair I figured he could choose the fabric. I’ve got to hand it to him, it looks great and works really well with the rest of the furniture in the room.Â
We spend more time in this room now than we ever did before and I’m really pleased with the results. It’s eclectic, cozy and full of Â family mementos. Now I love my living room.