Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Item of the Week: Food gifts for Easter

The last time I posted about gift items it was Christmas time. Now, Easter is approaching and the beginning of the "holiday every month" season. Think about it: Easter, Victoria Day, Canada Day, Civic Holiday and Labour Day. We might miss out on June, but by that time summer is already in full relaxing mode. Holidays mean a time to send gifts and if you're like me then most of your gifts--and pretty much my whole life--revolve around food.

I also like fashion and accessories. And if those accessories happen to be food-related or even smell like food then I am definitely interested. Yes, they smell like food. These necklaces from Tiny Hands are shaped like adorable desserts and they also smell like the dessert they resemble. Amy Poehler recently wore the Butter and Maple Syrup Waffle necklace on an episode of Parks and Recreation and she's someone I would like to emulate.

Scented Raspberry French Macaron necklace, $28

Cotton candy has never been my favourite treat; however, stick it in mini mason jars in gourmet flavours and I might give it a go. The candy is also vegan, gluten-free and all natural and comes in flavours such as lychee, caramel and mango. These are no tacky carnival treats. I would definitely consider Fluffpop as a viable, stylish wedding favour option.

Fluffpop gourmet cotton candy
Fluffpop mini mason box of 6, $24

I like to toot the Canuck horn once in awhile and this needs to be shared far and wide across the nation. Fiasco Gelato sells artisan gelato in mason jars and is available for delivery and pick-up in Toronto, Victoria, Edmonton and Vancouver. All of the gelato is made from fresh, local ingredients and the flavours are insane. The Easter collection includes Mini Egg, Lavender Vanilla Bean, Carrot Cake and Cream Cheese and Strawberry Lemonade flavours. These would be eaten in two seconds at my next picnic or camping trip.

Fiasco Gelato easter collection
Fiasco Gelato Easter Collection 4-pack, $32

For something on the lighter and more practical side, there is oatmeal. This is no ordinary oatmeal though; this is MY oatmeal. lets you create a custom blend of oatmeal and then ships it to your door. You choose what kind of oats, flavours, fruits, nuts, seeds, sweeteners and whatever else you want. For less than $10 a month, you can also get oatmeal shipped monthly., starts at $2.99 a bag

Don't say that I never gave you anything. Easter is a time for feasting, decorating and enjoying a much-needed long weekend. Now excuse me while I go eat all of my food out of mason jars...

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Upside down Mini Egg marshmallow squares

Mini Egg marshmallow squares

The strange thing about change is that it makes you so much more aware of your surroundings. For the last few months, I have slogged to work in the snow through my neighbourhood with the weight of a thousand groans. Now that the weather is nicer, things seem a little different and everyone's spirits are a little higher. And now that the big move is coming up soon, I am starting to think about what I will be missing. Just like things start to bloom in spring, it seems like everything is starting to come together.

The Bag Lady Variety Cafe

On the weekend, the weather was beautiful and it seemed like the whole city had forgotten that it had been cooped up inside for the past few months. We went for brunch at one of my favourite places in London: The Bag Lady. It is an adorable cafe full of vintage trinkets, coffee shop charm and homey food. It was so nice to sit and look out of a sunny window with a cappuccino and watch the world go by. Even though this place has existed for as long as I have been here, it seemed like one of those "why don't I do this more often?" feelings. There are things I won't miss at all and some things I will always treasure. When you have been somewhere for so long, you tend to get stuck in the everyday sights and routines that become somewhat ordinary. 

The Bag Lady Variety Cafe, London Ontario

Another thing about spring is that there is so much more colour. You can actually start to appreciate things, like wearing shoes instead of boots, walking outside instead of driving and having that little bit of extra light in the evenings. That burst of colour also shows up in springtime food. Last year for Easter, I made Peeps kebabs by putting Peeps and pieces of fruit on sticks in various patterns, as well as Peeps pavlovas. This year, I massacred some Peeps by melting them down to make Rice Krispies squares. Many Peeps were harmed in the making of these squares. They are a touch sweeter than normal Rice Krispies squares and end up turning a nice, pastel pink colour. 

Marshmallow Peeps

Melted Peeps

Peeps Rice Krispies Squares
2 1/2 cups Peeps Marshmallow candies (approximately 2 packages)
2 1/2 cups white marshmallows
6 cups Rice Krispies cereal
1/4 cup butter

Lightly grease a 9x9 baking pan. Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the Peeps and melt until some chunks of colour still remain. Add the mini marshmallows. Take the mixture off of the heat and add the Rice Krispies cereal. Press the mixture down with a spatula or your hands and let them cool before cutting into squares. 

Peeps Rice Krispies squares

The other squares I made are a combination of two recipes (Easter Chocolate Oat Squares and Confetti Bars) that I found and lie exactly in the middle between the two when it comes to their "healthy" status. This recipe is also fun because you get to smash the mini eggs into tiny bits. Place the Mini Eggs into a Ziploc bag and smash them with a rolling pin or hammer. It's almost as fun as melting down the Peeps. Yes, for some reason I enjoyed that--it's the little things. The squares are sticky, gooey and soft, so you may have to form them slightly into squares with your hands. I call them "upside down" squares because once you cut and take them out of the pan they actually look better presented upside down. 

Upside down Mini Egg marshmallow squares
3/4 cup white granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup of Mini Eggs
2 cups marshmallows

Crushed Mini Eggs

Preheat the oven to 350F. In a stand mixer or bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until smooth. Add the egg and vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, combine the oats, flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and then fold in the smashed Mini Eggs and marshmallows. Place the mixture into a greased baking pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the marshmallow has been slightly browned. Let cool in the fridge for about an hour before cutting into squares. 

Mini Egg Marshmallow Squares

To change also means to "transform" or "become something else." Maybe changing my surroundings will also change me or maybe I will be more appreciative of the things I have to now start over. I know at least that I grow with each passing season whether I'm standing still or constantly moving. Sometimes it feels like all of a sudden that everything is flipped upside down.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Healthy two ingredient caramelized onion dip

There is a concept of karma that states that whatever energy a person puts out into the world, it will be returned to them three times (or three-fold). I like to think that good things happen in patterns. At least it always seems that there is a momentary lull and then things happen quickly in succession. In this instance, there are three major things happening in my life right now: getting married, planning an epic honeymoon "down under" and moving to a brand new city.  

In writing, the rule of threes is a way of making information easier to follow, funnier and more satisfying. Think "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" and the "Three Little Pigs." On Friday, we went to city hall to apply for our marriage license and had lunch at Rock Au Taco in London where I had three little, but mighty tacos: one was spicy with pork; the other was hearty with beans; and the last was full of fried fish and just right. 

Rock Au Taco London Ontario

Rock Au Tacos, London Ontario

There are also three reasons why I want to get and stay fit for the next little while: wedding (obviously), looking good on the beach on vacation and my 10-year high school reunion. I thought 10-year reunions were only cheesy things I saw in movies, but I got invited to one recently for my high school thanks to the magic of Facebook--the ever useful way to keep in touch with old friends. This was me 10 years ago right before the prom (pictured third from the left). 10 years ago my life was about having fun, trying to fit in and working hard. Now, life is still somewhat about those things and much more. 10 years later I don't have to worry about whether boys like me or not because I am marrying the absolute best one. 

So to eat healthy and stay in good shape before all of these fabulous things, I have banished snack foods and my favourite cracker chips and replaced them with fruits and vegetables. I also learned that it is also much easier to actually stick to eating them as snacks if they are already pre-cut and washed and sitting in a container ready for me to eat. You need some dip with all of those vegetables though and I learned this great, easy recipe from my Mother-in-law-to-be. When we went over there the other week, I thought I was eating all of my calories for the day by dipping. Little did I know that it was actually guilt-free greek yoghurt and caramelized onions. That's all it is. 

Caramelized onion dip
Caramelized onion dip
1/2 a tub of Greek yoghurt (200-250g)
1 onion
1 tbsp butter
1 dash of worcestershire sauce or balsamic vinegar

Slice the onions into longer pieces instead of chopping them. Add the butter to a pan on medium heat and add the onions. I also like to add a touch of sugar to start the caramelization process. Let the onions slowly cook for about 30 minutes and add a dash of worcestershire sauce or baslamic vinegar near the end.

caramelized onions

If you're wondering how to perfect caramelized onions. this tutorial nicely explains the process. The key is to use butter instead of olive oil and let them cook for a long time. This process is different than sauteeing them normally and the goal is to get them soft and a rich, brown colour. 

caramelized onions and greek yoghurt

Let the onions cool and add them to the greek yoghurt. Eat right away or let the dip set for a few hours or even a day to let the flavours and onions meld together. That cute little accessory for my mason jar is a Cuppow by the way. The lunchbox adapter makes it so easy and convenient to take snacks on the go, especially vegetables and dip. 

Remember the old school method of making onion dip by adding onion soup mix to sour cream? I sure do, and the old school way of eating it was also with Ruffles chips. I hope I eat a lot more vegetables than I did back then and have learned a lot more about eating and living. That was so 10 years ago. 

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

D.I.Y Wedding Seat Signs

D.I.Y wedding seat sign letters

My new wedding philosophy is as follows: the longer you are engaged, the more time you have to find things you like. This doesn't necessarily mean more time to plan. I have been thinking about our wedding for ages, but it feels like right now I am in a time crunch with a huge to-do list until May. 

J.Crew Bride Sailor Tee

I have been really good at sticking to the budget. When you start to learn more about weddings you realize the best places to buy certain things and for how much. My one splurge so far has been this J.Crew Bride sailor tee that doesn't apply to any other part of my life except this one and I don't really know what other times I will wear it. There are always a few indulgences; however, when you realize that you can make something yourself for a fraction of the cost than a guilty splurge, that is a good feeling. 

Anthropologie chair signs

Take these chair signs from Anthropologie for example. In a fantasy world, I would buy everything from BHLDN weddings. Then I realized that $48 for letters on a string is kind of expensive. And that is all they are: hanging letters tied to string. So I set about making my own fabric seat sign letters. I realized afterwards that using scrapbook paper might have been a little easier. I like the "cushiony" look of the fabric even if it was a little trickier to use.

Seat sign letter cut outs

You will need:
Kraft paper or cardboard
Letter templates
Fabric or scrapbook paper
Exacto knife, scissors
Tape, glue stick
One-hole punch
Twine or string

On your computer, make print outs of the letters (2 "M"s, 2 "R"s and 1 "S"). Pick the font you want to use and make them block letters, and then re-size them to fit the entire page. Glue the paper letters onto kraft paper. Cut out the individual letters. 

Seat sign letters

Lay the letters out onto the fabric and cut out enough fabric to cover about an inch surrounding the letter. Now is the tricky part: use the exacto knife to cut along the edges and inside the grooves. Then keep folding and taping over the edges of the fabric to the back of the letter until the edges are smooth.

Trim off any pieces of tape showing or imperfections. The letters will most likely be viewed from far away, so it is alright if they are a little "rustic" looking. Punch holes in the top of each letter with two holes at the top of the "M"s and "R"s. Thread twine through the holes and leave enough room on both sides of the twine to tie them to chairs or tables. The cat seemed quite interested in my decorative set up:

Wedding seat sign letters

Depending on how we have the head table set up at our reception, these may be on the back of the chairs or hanging on the front of the table. They are a nice little reminder of the guests of honour even though everyone will most likely already know where the bride and groom are sitting. I think little personal touches are what make a wedding day special. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

D.I.Y Chalkboard Frames

This is where I have been for the last few weeks (see picture below). The other day someone asked me--in order to make me feel less anxious about wedding planning--what was the worst possible thing I could imagine happening at the wedding? My answers ranged from "what if someone doesn't like something?" to "what if I trip on my dress?" "Really," she said. "Those are the worst possible things you can think of? Not the whole place burning down or a huge snowstorm in May?" Ok, maybe I don't have it too bad. 

Minted wedding invitations

I like some aspects of putting together a wedding, especially the fun projects. At this point they are still fun and not stressful and tedious. I am taking the term D.I.Y Bride to another level to save some money and add some personality to the wedding, like many brides. I like to refer to my theme now as that time "a thrift store and an Anthropologie store exploded." Chalkboards are one of those things I have wanted to make for a long time. 

D.I.Y chalkboard frames

I was inspired by a shopping trip a few months ago. I struck gold when I heard a vintage prop business was selling off its inventory and I had to check out what she had. The lovely lady still has an online shop, but seeing all of her stock in person was a dream come true. She had everything you could imagine for a vintage wedding, including jars, old books, frames, typewriters, crates, furniture and more. I picked up quite a few items for a great price and among those items were frames. She told me how easy it would be to use the frames to make chalkboards.

vintage props

Although I got some wooden frames from the sale, I made these chalkboards out of some silver frames I bought at Value Village for about $2 each. The chalkboard paint is the most expensive part of the project and can cost up to $25 depending on what brand or type you buy. I used white acrylic craft paint, but I would suggest actual hardware store primer. 

You will need:
Chalkboard paint or spray paint
Primer paint
Frames with the glass still in them

D.I.Y chalkboard frames

First, clean the frames and then the glass with an all-purpose cleaner. Take the glass out of the frames and start painting layers of primer on to the glass until it is completely smooth and covered. Alternatively, you could sand the glass to reduce the shine. Let the paint dry completely. 

If you are confined to a small crafting space, take the glass pieces outside and spray paint them with the chalkboard paint until they are completely black. Let dry for a few hours before you attempt to write on them. I love how these turned out and I am going to use these for menu boards and a guestbook sign. 

Chalkboard frames

I feel like I want to "chalkboard paint" everything now. There are also many options on Etsy and craft stores for creative chalkboards. I found this chalkboard carrier in the sale rack at Michael's craft store:

There is something about making things yourself or finding gems in a stack of old things that makes it so much more satisfying. I am sure I will make use of the chalkboards for other things besides wedding decorations. I have already made use of many of the crates I found at the vintage prop sale, including one as a make-shift cat bed. She seems to enjoy it:

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