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

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


Monday, November 18, 2013

A Christmas To-Do List in T.O.

Now that the Christmas spirit has officially taken over my mind, body & soul, expect 90% of all posts for the next month and a bit to be Christmas themed.
Today was the Santa Claus Parade.
This year, like every year since I was maybe 10, I missed it.
In my defence I've been working nights this weekend so I slept right through it but every year I tell myself that next year I'll go.
That got me thinking about all the wonderful things there are to do in this city that I tell myself I'll do next year and never seem to get around to doing.
If you're lucky enough to live in the Toronto area or are planning to come visit the city during the holidays, here are three things I want to do/see/recommend you also do/see this holiday season:
The Cavalcade of Lights
This free event includes the lighting of the city's Christmas tree (it's massive and my family and I pose for pictures with it on Christmas Eve every year), fireworks, musical performances, and skating on the rink.
The 47th Cavalcade of Lights will take place at Nathan Phillips Square on Saturday November 30th.
The Nutcracker

Every year when the ads go up on the bus shelters I tell myself that this will be the year I go to see this ballet. This year I actually plan to.
Maybe with my mom and sister... or just my mom, depending on who else is actually interested.
(I'll be expecting a message from my mom re: her RSVP to this event tomorrow)
The Nutcracker runs from December 14th to January 4th at The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.
Tickets run from $25 - $184
(sorry mom, we'll be sitting in the nosebleeds. We can spend the money we saved on tickets on wine)
The Toronto Christmas Market

I was planning a day to attend this last year when I realized I had missed it completely.
This free event in The Distillery District is a street market dedicated to the sights, sounds, and smells of Christmas. Hundreds of products are available for purchase from unique vendors or you could listen to the carolers and choirs, or just walk around and take in the sights.
The Christmas Market runs from November 29th to December 15th. Hours are Monday - Friday noon to 9 pm and Sat & Sun 10 am - 9 pm
What events, sights, or traditions are you looking forward to this holiday season?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Christmas Wish List. Cause Everyone Deserves a Selfish 'Want' Post.

It happened.

I was trying to avoid it for fear of diluting the season but it happened anyway, as I suspected it would.

I got bit by the Christmas bug.
All it took was one venture outside into the world of red Starbucks cups, Christmas lights and trimmed trees in store windows and the sounds of holiday music.

I've found my walks with the dog are even more pleasant with Mariah Carey singing into my earphones that all she wants for Christmas is me. 
All 3 versions (current favourite: this one)

I love Christmas, as you probably know.
Nowhere near as much as my cousin (who's already started his Christmas blogging here), but I am a big fan. 
John and I argue a little every year on when we'll get our tree. Since he doesn't believe in Christmas at any point in November, December 1st is my D-Day. Or C-Day maybe.
So of course I want our tree December 1st. Then we fuss over whether it'll dry out and die before the 25th if we get it to early blah blah blah. We usually get our tree the first or second week in December depending on our schedules. 
Interesting note: last year, we missed the infamous Ikea monkey Darwin by only an hour. If only we'd stalled and parked on the second story!

And further sidenote: wouldn't it be nice to have Toronto known worldwide for our fashionably clad monkeys instead of our foul-mouthed mayoral monkey?

But I digress.

Back to the important issue at hand: my Christmas wish list!
Having zero idea, really, as to what I would like to unwrap on Christmas morning, I started thinking about what kinds of things I need and/or want.

Here's what I've come up with so far:

Because the one I have is broken and I seriously distrust any reading it gives me.

Good shoes and I like the way they look.
One of the social workers has a pair and she looks really cool in hers so obviously I'll look just as snazzy in mine.

I need some form of cable box to accompany the TV I got for my birthday. A PVR would mean I could record ALL the shows and John would never fall asleep peacefully again. 

I have all of the other seasons but for some reason no store near me seems to carry this one.
Was it taboo? I don't recall.

And then on my "it's worth mentioning but is more likely a wild fantasy" list:

Worth mentioning because I once wildly asked for a puppy and guess what I got as an early Christmas present.
Hopefully she'll be so well trained by then (she understands come, sit, and lie down but not stay. Not even close yet) that she'll sit patiently under the tree for me with a big red bow on and then I can just kiss her smelly little face and remember the lesson I learned: if you want something bad enough just keep asking for it repeatedly and throw in the odd guilt trip.

I'm going to be a great parent some day.

P.S. What's on your wish list this year? (By this I mean what cool items have I forgotten to add to mine that I should add before everyone finishes shopping for me?)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Vacation: Atlantis in Nassau, Bahamas

Recently I was fortunate enough to be able to spend 4 days in the Bahamas with John, my sister and her boyfriend. 
It came right as I was starting to get over my cold and right when I needed a break from work and the ever worsening winter weather. 

We flew in to Nassau on the Thursday morning and quickly changed into bathing suits and hit the beach with some vacation beers.

We stayed at the Harbourside resorts for the first night before moving to the Coral Towers for the remaining two. 

Atlantis has several communities I suppose you could call them: Harbourside was where the insane multi-million dollar boats come to dock. We oohed and ahhed and wondered how the other half lived. Then I checked myself a realized how lucky I already was being able to afford to jet away to the surf and sand for a few days.

For dinner one night we hit up the highly recommended Fish Fry, a kind of plaza of restaurants over the bridge from Paradise Island on the main island.

The food was amazing and way better priced than the tourist stuff on Paradise Island. 
Plus the food was more traditional of the Bahamas and not the standard Western fare we found in Atlantis. 
I wanted chicken and fish (weird but true) and more local eats rather than Quiznos and Starbucks and Johnny Rockets.

I ordered the chicken with rice and peas, coleslaw and plantain.
Robin got lobster, Aaron got grouper, and John got red snapper.
I tried all three of their seafood options and can honestly say I would have ordered any of them had I gone back.
The red snapper was particularly delicious.

We spent most of our nights there wandering around the vast grounds, walking through the aquarium at night and taking in the views.

We were also lucky enough to get the 'Taste of Atlantis" package which included a free drink or food samples at many of the restaurants.
Continuing to surprise myself, I drank my margarita and really enjoyed it.
Note: In first year university I ruined tequila for myself and haven't been able to even smell it since.

Eating fish and drinking tequila. Big changes.
AND - I didn't get seasick on our catamaran trip!

We booked a 3 1/2 hour sail around the island, drinking up the sun (and rum punch) and snorkeling on a reef full of colourful fish.
This is where I got a bit seasick and had to return to the boat after about 30 mins of riding up and down the waves and getting mouthfuls of salt water.

That night we ventured to another string of restaurants under the bridge to get a highly recommended (by my sister and her boyfriend who had already been once) conch salad.
Had I known what conch looks like prior to this I probably would not have eaten it but I didn't, and I tried it, and it was better than I anticipated.
(I also had a mussel the night we went out to Cafe Matisse and spent most of our money on wine and Italian food.)

Basically I think seafood is slowly starting to catch on.

Behind the restaurant we saw where they were keeping the conch

so we asked if we could have a shell to bring home.
Our host kindly agreed and brought us two shells before we headed back (in the rain) to Atlantis.
We stayed up late talking and drinking proseco and when we began to pack up our stuff, Aaron commented how heavy our shells felt. 
Sure enough when we peaked in we discovered that our shells had only been cleaned superficially and the inhabitants were still very much alive inside of their shells.

Long story short, we didn't bring those shells home.
Being a collector of shells from most places I go, I was disappointed.
But the trip was so full of crazy adventures that in the end it didn't matter.

Things I don't have pictures of (yet): going down all of the fast and often very steep (the Leap of Faith is almost a complete vertical drop before you fly through the shark tank) water slides, spending hours floating down the not-so-lazy river (complete with rapids), and WALKING WITH REEF & NURSE SHARKS.

John has those pictures and video.
I'll share them as soon as I get them!

The Bahamas can be expensive but Atlantis is never boring. 
And it may be the place that finally convinced me that seafood ain't so bad.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Introducing Reese!

Christmas came early for me this year!
After months (years?) of not so subtlety hinting that I wanted a dog, John surprised me with the greatest gift ever.
We went to see our puppy one night about 2 weeks ago then made our final decision and brought her home on Friday November 1st!
So without further ado, I'd like to introduce you all to my little love bug and the newest member of our family.
She's a 5 month old German Wirehaired Pointer.
She is just the sweetest. We've been on a bunch of walks (still learning not to pull me into traffic) and I finally worked up the courage to let her play off leash at the park. She understands 'come' and never strays too far from me which calms my fears that she'll just take off.
She's almost completely housebroken, just a few accidents here and there.
And she's a real snuggle bug.
She loves being hugged and curling up against me for naps.
I'm in love!
Still learning to love her is our boy Murray, who hid under the couch for the first two days but now has somewhat begrudgingly accepted her presence.
He lets her get pretty close to him now without growling or hissing.