Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Hopes & Dreams for 2014

The end of the year is always rife with resolutions and promises to be better at this, to stop doing that, to change this, to start doing that. 

And I usually participate, promising myself I'll start going to the gym more regularly, or eat better, or whatever I've decided will make me a better person.

This time around, while I'm not giving up making resolutions (that I inevitably quit caring about 2-3 months into the year), I've decided I'm going to call them goals, or my hopes & dreams for the upcoming year.

I figure this way the year will be about the process of achieving those goals as opposed to the actual achievement itself. 

So, here are my 10 Hopes & Dreams for 2014.

1. Run at least one of the following distances: 21 km (my 4th half-marathon), 30 km (Around The Bay or A Midsummer's Night Run), or 42 km (my first - and most likely last - full marathon)

2. Start a family. (temporarily) Gain 30 + lbs.

3. Put away $5000-10,000 into savings for a house.

4. Stop telling myself I need to get lean/put on muscle/workout to be healthy. Do it only to be happy. Walk long distances with the dog, swim in cold lakes, get lost on runs, ride my bike to work, hike/canoe/portage through nature.

5. Make a Happy List on the blog once a month and be thankful for all the wonderful things in my life. 

6. Learn how to speak French again. A patient at work speaks only Swahili and French. While my French is passable (barely), having her laugh, kindly, at my attempts to communicate with her have made me acutely aware of how badly I wish I was bilingual. 

7. Appreciate my friends & family more and make sure they know it.

8. Become more of an activist for HIV/AIDS. Attend more conferences, correct common misconceptions, become a better nurse. 

9. Knit more. Maybe learn to crochet.

10. Go on lots of dates. With John, friends, my parents, etc. 

What are your resolutions/goals/hopes/dreams/wishes for 2014?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Last Minute Christmas Printables (and ice storm 2013 pictures)

It's Christmas Eve!
Our beautiful city was pummelled by an ice storm over the weekend and many people are still without power (including my parents).
We've been lucky and haven't been without power & heat but my parent's have been wrapping themselves in blankets upon blankets to stay warm since Sunday morning. 
I finally convinced my mom to come over yesterday for a shower and dinner but I haven't been able to talk them into sleeping here yet. 
Hopefully tonight.

Freezing rain and high winds caused a lot of trees to snap and pull down power lines all across the city. Roads and walkways were turned into skating rinks seemingly overnight.

Driving home on Sunday morning we saw a lot of the damage first hand:

This is the dog park we frequent. John took the dog but wisely didn't stay long as the trees were making ominous creaking noises and the possibility of having large branches come crashing down was too great.

This was a common sight on the roads.

But despite the destruction and danger, the ice has actually been quite pretty. 
I snapped this picture of John last night on our walk back to the apartment.

As a result of the lack of power we're switching up our Christmas Eve tradition this year (also cause my dad is working) which, as a big fan of traditions, I find really sucks. But I'm sure tonight will still be as magical as every other year.

Christmas Eve is hands down my favourite day of the year. 

Hopefully everyone is finished their shopping.
If you're struggling for some last minute gifts you could whip up some bacon jam, knit mittens (that post to come), or bake a batch of Christmas cookies (with Bailey's icing on those snowflakes)

And if you're wrapping up your gifts, why not print out and use these adorable rustic gift tags? I've been using the gift tag templates found HERE or you could use the tags found  HERE

If you're throwing a party why not make some props for people to take photos with?
Simply save and print this image to size, cut out and attach to sticks.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Red Velvet Christmas Chip Cookies

The first step in getting better is admitting you have a problem.
I have a problem.
My diet as of late has been shameful.
Just absolutely shameful.

I wake up and the first thing I do after brushing my teeth is I throw on a bunch of layers and take the dog for a long walk in the park. 
Usually I grab something to stuff into my mouth as I'm heading out the door and this, unfortunately, is usually a cookie or 2 or 3 Quality Street chocolates. 

Then I get home and have another cookie or more chocolates and make myself a giant mug of coffee.
Then I'll think about having a real meal.
But you better believe there are plenty more holiday treats sprinkled in between.

I should probably slow down on the sugar.

Anyway, it was a sugar craving and need to get into the kitchen that got me making these cake based cookies.

They're soft and chewy (or can be crispy if you don't put them into an airtight container) and delicious.

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix 1 box of red velvet cake mix with 1 egg, 1/2 cup softened butter and 2 tbsp canola oil
  • Mix in 1 cup green & red mini m&ms.
  • Drop a tablespoon of dough on a greased cookie sheet and press flat. Bake for 10-12 minutes then let cool. 
  • Place cookies in an airtight container to maintain their softness.

And that's it!
Easy and delicious and festively coloured for the holidays.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Wreath Making

On Wednesday night we had some friends over for eggnog, wine & cheese, to watch Christmas Vacation, and to make Christmas wreaths. 

John got our supplies in the forest so they were fresh and (more importantly) free.

We took beautiful red dogwood branches and gently bent them into circles, tying areas together with twine to keep them together. Then we covered them with cedar boughs and pine cones. 

Dogwood branches are flexible and the small twigs can be wrapped around the bigger areas to make the wreath look cleaner. Having some of the twigs poking out makes the wreath look more rustic so we didn't bother worrying about tucking all of the twigs in.

To keep the branches together and to help the wreath hold it's shape, we tied pieces of twine around the wood at certain points. 
After securing our base together we stuck cedar branches in between the twigs.
They stayed put, there was no need to secure them in with twine.

Then to spice it up a bit we added pine cones to our wreaths. 
We tied fishing line around the bottom of the pine cones then tied the pine cones to the wreath. 
We hung ours on our door immediately.

You could add berries, ornaments, anything you wanted for a splash of colour. We may add more to our wreath but for now it smells and looks wonderful. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Knitting Projects

I recently (finally) finished a long knitting project:
This blanket.

I've made a blanket before but this was almost double the size of the first one and took me the better part of 6 months to finish. This was mostly because I'd start and stop and wasn't just consistently working on it. 

I finished it at work one night and then decided to get adventurous and try my hand at something more complicated than a straight garter stitch pattern.
In the same MSL issue with the bacon jam recipe, I also saw a knitting template for adorable mittens.
Following that template, I started on my first mitten.

I was using my big blanket needles so... I probably should have waited and used smaller needles or cast on less stitches than the pattern called for. 

It's the size of an oven mitt.
 I think once it's complete I'll use it as the dog's stocking. 

It was good practice to learn how to add stitches by "make 1 left" and drop stitches by knitting two together.

I will be trying this again with more appropriate needles.

If you're looking for a quick knitting project follow the template for these cute mittens here

Monday, December 9, 2013

Christmas Market & Mulled Wine

On Friday night John and I made our way down to the Distillery District to meet up with some friends to check out the popular Christmas Market. 
Having never gone before, my expectations were high from seeing pictures in years past. I was not disappointed.

When you get to the Distillery District the first thing you see is lights, lights, and more lights.
It's magical.
Unless you go during the day, then I can't promise the lights will be as magical. 

It's just beautiful. I spent the first few minutes just squealing.
We stopped first for some free scotch (John) and apple cider & rum (me, because they had temporarily run out of mulled wine) and warmed up by the fires they had going in their beer market (see the first picture).
Then we walked around to check out the tree, the carousel, and the ferris wheel. 

On our way to the wine sampling (where there's wine, we'll find it) we stopped to pose with the Gingerbread house. Then we sampled a selection of Ontario wines from Malivoire, Henry of Pelham, and a few others we've yet to visit.  

Then after a quick stop for a grilled cheese with bacon sandwich, we made our way back to the adult beverages for some mulled wine and more scotch.

My first time trying mulled wine was Friday afternoon when I made my own. 
I'm hooked. 
I used Martha Stewart's recipe and made a few changes based on what I had handy.

Follow the original Martha recipe here 
Or my slightly different version below
  1. Set a pot over high heat. Pour in one bottle of red wine.
  2. Add in the zest  and juice from 1 orange, 1 tbsp black peppercorns, 1 tbsp cloves, 1 cinnamon stick, and 1/2 cup brandy.
  3. In a tea bag, spoon in 1/2 tbsp nutmeg and 1/2 tbsp all spice. Bring up to a boil and add teabag to the mix. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for about 30 minutes. Turn off heat and let wine cool slightly.
  4. Pour wine through a strainer to remove the zest, peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, and teabag.

Then pour contents back into the original wine bottle.
Mulled wine is best served warm so if you don't drink it right away heat it up again before serving.
And if you're feeling crafty - make a fancy new label for your bottle.
I made this one for the bottle I brought to my brother in law's birthday dinner last night.

Most of the alcohol burns off during the process so if you want you can add a dash of brandy to the finished process for more of a kick.
If not, just enjoy the wonderful taste of Christmas Sangria! 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Winter Wonderland

This week I've had a lot of time off which has been wonderful.
It means long walks in the park with the pup every morning which has given me a greater appreciation of quiet mornings spent surrounded by nature.
Last week during the cold snap we had I was lucky enough to snap this picture on my phone of Reese enjoying the snow.
As cold as it was it was hard to be upset when it looked that beautiful outside.

I also put the finishing touches on John's Advent jar (minus one gift that I'll need to pick up still). It's been a trial in patience not eating any of his Lindt or Terry's chocolate orange chocolates.

 I used tickets I bought from the dollar store for the Bad Christmas Sweater fundraiser raffle two years ago. On them I stuck numbers from a bunch of sheets I had (I used a lot of the letters but thankfully had almost all of the numbers I needed left). Then I stapled them to the chocolates or taped them onto the gifts and left them for John to take.
I also had some time to bake up a batch of sugar cookies and a batch of gingerbread cookies. There's more dough in the freezer just waiting for the next time I want cookies.
The gingerbread batch turned out phenomenal - easily the best batch I've made. No cracks in the dough, perfect colour, and that lovely taste of molasses.
I used the Martha Stewart recipe from her Cookies book which can be found here.
Tonight John and I are hitting the Christmas Market in the Distillery District (and going to see the Nutcracker on the 28th!). Aside from missing the Cavalcade of Lights (I was working, maybe next year) I will have done everything on my Christmas To Do list.
And Saturday we're putting up the tree!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Bacon Jam: the ultimate stocking stuffer

As I was perusing this month's issue of Martha Stewart Living, I kept coming back to one page in particular because it looked too good to be true. 
It was a recipe for a homemade gift, a perfect stocking stuffer for carnivorous friends and family.
It was Bacon Jam. 

So yesterday I spent the afternoon in the kitchen, surrounded by the happy smells of frying bacon, onion and garlic, bubbling brandy, maple syrup and brown sugar.

If you're looking for something to wow your friends, make this for them. 

This recipe is based on the Martha Stewart Living recipe found here but with my own substitutions.

  1. Cut 2 500-gram packages of bacon into 1 inch pieces. Spread half of the bacon in a single layer in a large skillet and cook over medium heat until brown, about 20-25 minutes. Repeat with the remaining bacon, making sure to drain off as much fat as possible in the process. 
  2. Save 1 tbsp bacon fat in the skillet and add to that 1 large red onion, diced, and 4 cloves of garlic, also diced. Cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. 
  3. Stir in 1 tbsp paprika and 1 tbsp freshly grated ginger and cook for another minute. 
  4. Turn heat up to high. Add in 1 cup brandy, 3/4 cup maple syrup, 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1/2 cup red wine vinegar. Bring to a boil then add in bacon.
  5. Reduce heat to low and let simmer, stirring occasionally, until liquid reduces to a thick glaze. I added in 1/4 cup molasses and a bit of corn starch to get my liquid to thicken.

Warning: your kitchen and subsequently your home is going to smell like heaven at this point.

6. Once thickened, let it cool then transfer to a blender or food processor and puree to the consistency of a thick/chunky jam. 

7. Put jam into airtight containers or jars for gifting or saving and refrigerate for at least one hour. The jam should keep in the fridge for about a month. 

Make sure to sample some for yourself as well. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Easy Holiday Ornaments

As I patiently (kind of) wait for this weekend to hurry up and get here so we can get our tree and finish Christmas decorating the apartment, I've been keeping myself occupied with other holiday things.
I've made cookies, I've started putting up decorations, and I've been wrapping presents.
Inspired by my friend Emily (who invited me to do a nursing/first aid talk with her Brownie troupe last Wednesday which was SO much fun) who does a handmade ornament swap, I thought I'd try and make some of my own.
After a Pinterest browse I came across a cute idea using scrabble tiles.
My best friend's husband calls me Scrabble (long story involving me trying to use code to talk about him with my friend wen they first started dating) so I though this craft was particularly appropriate.
I googled where I could buy extra scrabble tiles but ultimately ended up buying a bag off of Ebay.
I'm sure many stores that sell games also sell additional tiles. You can also purchase them on Etsy (as well as purchasing only the tiles you need).
All you need for this craft is scrabble tiles, something to make the ornament hang on the tree like a hook or ribbon, and a glue gun.
I spent more time than I'd like to admit trying to arrange words and sentences into scrabble patterns (Silent Night worked pretty well with the night coming off of the N in silent) and racked my brain for holiday phrases.
On the docket for today: making bacon jam.
Apparently it's a real thing.
And it sounds gloooooorious.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Christmas Wish List Update

Selfish Update.
I've worked two CRAZY busy 12 hour shifts this weekend and I'm tired so I'm allowing myself to look at things I want during my down time.
Also, use this as a gift guide for that special someone in your life!
1. This reasonably priced bangle from Indigo:
2. This less reasonably priced purse ($148)
More updates to follow, most likely.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Molasses Spice Thumbprint Cookies

I made these cookies on the weekend and they were very well received.
I wanted to use some of the spicy balsamic jam that John had made a few weeks back and I felt like this recipe worked well to compliment the flavours in the jam.
To make your own you could mix some ground cloves into blueberry or blackberry jam.

(recipe for cookies courtesy of Martha Stewart)

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda      
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter      
  • 1/2 cup packed dark-brown sugar      
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger      
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour      
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder      
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger      
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon      
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves      
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg      
  • 1/2 cup unsulfured molasses      
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

  1. Chop chocolate into 1/4-inch chunks; set aside. In a small bowl, dissolve baking soda in 1 1/2 teaspoons boiling water; set aside.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter with brown sugar until combined. Add fresh ginger and mix until combined. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Slowly add to butter mixture, mixing until well combined.

  3. Add baking soda mixture and molasses; mix to combine. Stir in chocolate; Transfer to refrigerator. Refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours.

  4. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

  5. Using a 2-inch ice cream scoop, scoop dough onto baking sheet, 2 1/2 inches apart. Refrigerate 20 minutes. Roll dough balls in granulated sugar and return to baking sheets. Transfer to oven and bake until surfaces crack slightly, about 18 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

** For my version omit the granulated sugar for rolling and press thumbprints into the cookies prior to baking and immediately out of oven (be careful, obviously, those cookies will be warm). Then once cooled, dollop in your jam.


Friday, November 22, 2013

Holiday Prep: Glass Etching & Pinecones

This morning John took the pup with him to work which meant I got to sleep in and spend the day out running errands without a care as to needing to walk the dog.
I imagine this is what having kids is like only slightly less tiring.
Once I got up I headed out to Michael's to buy some craft supplies.
I went with the intention of buying paints to give some edge to the pinecones I had collected at the park.
I've abandoned the squash/gourd centerpiece on our too infrequently used dinner table and am moving to something more holiday/winter appropriate.
Obviously I never buy only what I went to get.
I walked out with supplies to etch glass, circular knitting kneedles, more yarn, wrapping paper and baker's twine.
I immediately got to work on the glass etching.

I bought:
  • Martha Stewart Crafts® Etch Cream, and
  • Martha Stewart Crafts® Adhesive Stencil
Working with gloves and in a well ventilated area, arrange the stencils as desired then paint the cream in a thick layer over top. Allow it to dry for 15 mins then wash off with water and remove the stencils.

You may not be able to see it too well but it's our name with a decorative little flourish at the bottom.
I'm going to try and do some more glass etching projects.
While I was waiting for the cream to dry I went to my craft box and pulled out mod podge and some glitter. After applying a coat of the glue onto the edges of the pinecone I dusted it with red glitter then allowed it to dry before shaking off the excess.  

I plan to gather a few more pinecones tomorrow and glitter coat a few more, one gold and maybe one silver.
Tomorrow (once I get home from work in the a.m. and take el poocho for a walk around the block - humming aloud to my christmas jams, natch) I plan on putting on my PJs with hot chocolate and curling up in bed with a christmas movie. After a short nap (I don't want to sleep too long in case I can't fall asleep tomorrow night) I plan on starting my christmas baking!
On the docket: Molasses spice cookies turned into thumbprints with the spicy balsamic grape jam that John made and/or apricot biscotti.
That post to come!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Christmas Craft: Advent Jar

As most of you are aware, Pinterest is the greatest thing ever to happen to the internet.
Need fashion or hair inspiration? Pinterest.
Need an inspirational quote or funny picture to get you through the day? Pinterest.
Need a craft idea? Pinterest.
When I work nights and it's quiet, the wee hours of the morning are often spent scrolling through hundreds of pictures on Pinterest.
On my recent Christmas kick I came across this cute idea and have decided to make one for John.
I'm planning to attach numbers to chocolates and candies in the jar.
Every 5 days (December 5th, 10th, 15th, 20th, and obviously the 25th) there will be a little present instead of chocolate. I've already picked up a bag of Lindt chocolates and a Tim Horton's gift card. I'm thinking some of the other presents can be things like new boxers and other items under $15.
I found a template for the numbers here (I might trim off the 'more days' part)
I'll keep you up to speed on how the jar goes.
I also fell in love with these DIY advent ideas:
Muffin Tin Advent Calendar
All you need is adhesive magnet sheets to cut to cover the holes. Plus candy to put in each spot.
Advent Calendar Wall Chart
(from thepaintedhive.net)

Full instructions plus free templates for this idea can be found at The Painted Hive website here!