August 25, 2014

gallery wall

I believe that people re-discover themselves in their late 20s. One of those things you re-discover is hobbies. You need hobbies when you're older for something to do on the weekends, to talk about at parties and express yourself. I was one of those kids with a booked schedule of classes, sports and groups and I found later in life without the structure of school or living at home, those things started to drop by the wayside. In University, there wasn't that much time for hobbies, unless you counted drinking as a hobby. I know many people at the time considered it a sport. 

I have discovered new things in my 20s that I enjoy doing, such as writing, cooking, baking, yoga, gardening and D.I.Y projects. If the Internet is considered a hobby, I would be one of those people with an obsessive collection. I also like re-discovering things I did when I was younger, such as art, which is why I was so excited when I signed up for a local PaintNite event as a date night activity. We have a bit of a collection going on a gallery wall I put up in our house of prints and photos from places we've travelled (see photo above); however, there aren't any pictures that we have painted ourselves until now. 

Paint Nite

PaintNite is a painting event usually held at a pub or bar where participants have a few drinks, learn how to paint and work on a canvas masterpiece. You choose what night you would like to go based on that night's painting and everyone learns to paint the same design. I thought it was neat to see what other people were doing and how creative people were being based on the main painting. I hadn't painted anything for years. I thought it was a lot of fun to use those skills again and do something a little different on a weeknight, plus, it's relaxing to immerse yourself in something creative. 

An instructor takes you through each step of making the design and basic techniques. All of the supplies, paints and colours are there when you start and they guide you through everything in an almost "paint by numbers" fashion. I ended up with a painting I was proud of for a first effort. Currently PaintNites are only operating in 12 Canadian cities. Hopefully they will grow to many more because it's a cheap and fun way to learn how to paint or brush up on your skills. It's a great idea for a date night, girl's night out or something different to try instead of just drinking at the bar. Check out the PaintNite website


After recently coming back from a trip to Australia where we discovered the fastfood chain "Pie Face" and many amazing meat pies, I had a hankering for making one myself. In Australia, I had a legendary meat pie with mushy peas in it. This pie is kind of like a work of art with the decorative potato topping and a slight resemblance to apple pie. It's like one of those Top Chef challenges where they have to make an ingredient look and taste like something else. This recipe is also adapted from one by the queen of crafts, Martha Stewart. Her Braised Short Ribs, Stout and Potato Potpies inspired me to use potatoes as a decorative pie topping. 

Braised beef and potato pie

Braised Beef and Potato Pie

One 3-5 pound beef roast
2 medium potatoes, thinly sliced
2 carrots, chopped
1 onion or shallot, chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed and sliced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups beef broth
2-3 tbsp olive oil
Rosemary, thyme, paprika, salt and pepper
1 pre-made or frozen pie crust

braised beef


1. Season the roast with salt and pepper and then dip them in a bit of flour to coat. Heat oil in a dutch oven on high and brown the meat for about a minute per side. Transfer to a plate.
2. Reduce the heat in the dutch oven to medium. All the onions and garlic and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the carrots and mushrooms and cook for a few minutes. Then add the beef broth and place the meat back on top of the vegetables. Add the herbs and seasoning that you would like.

3. Bring to a simmer, cover and let cook for 2-2 1/2 hours on the stove. Near the end of the cooking time, add the flour to thicken the sauce and stir to avoid clumps. Then start to break apart the meat and mix everything together. You can add a little bit of water if you find the sauce doesn't have enough "gravy."

4. Pre-bake the pie crust in the oven for 15 minutes at 350F. Transfer the filling to the pie crust and smooth over. Arrange the sliced potatoes over the filling and drizzle with a bit of olive oil on top. Bake the pie in the oven for 45 minutes at 375F. 
braised beef and potato pie
When you think about it, cooking and art are similar. It takes a certain knack to make it look good, you have to be delicate and precise, and ingredients (or paints) go a long way. I think the process of turning a piece of meat into slow cooked gravy and then into a pie should be considered an art form. I'm not saying this is the best meat pie ever made. This is just me perfecting my own skills and creating something to express my own creativity. Food is a beautiful thing.
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August 15, 2014

Etsy Road Trip Canada

It is so cool when things on the internet merge into real life. I have been a fan of Etsy for so long and heard that this summer they were doing a cross-Canada road trip to bring their products to life. Yes, there is life outside of the internet and Etsy did a great job of making Etsy into a real-life experience with real people (part of what makes their brand so effective) rather than aimless internet shopping. It's like when you meet a celebrity in real life.

It was NOT in fact like the time my Mom took me to see Sailor Moon at my dentist's office. I wondered what Sailor Moon would actually look like in real life--and the logistics of meeting someone who is actually animated--and waited in line to see a lady dressed up in a homemade costume who was clearly not Sailor Moon. I don't know what I was actually expecting, but somehow I was disappointed. For a second there was some childhood hope that a promise would turn into something magical even though I knew it was impossible. All hope wasn't lost, as my Mom took me to the Baskin Robbins ice cream store located right next door to my dentist. And I thought, maybe Sailor Moon is cool to me when I can draw her and watch her on T.V; she doesn't need to be a real person. 

Etsy Road Trip Canada, Ottawa

The Etsy Road Trip was not disappointing in any way, even if the Ottawa stop was somewhat lacking in vendors. The experience itself was neat to see. They did it in the coolest way possible with a gorgeous airstream trailer, rad photo booth and extremely stylish people browsing for crafts. They also had local food trucks and a lot of swag. Seriously, though. I got a swag bag that had about 100 Etsy buttons in it. I don't know what to do with that many Etsy buttons. Maybe I could sell them on Etsy? The trip stopped in four cities over 10 days (Montreal, Kingston, Ottawa, Toronto) and I liked how it was an opportunity for other less Toronto-centric craft lovers to see what Etsy has to offer. I especially liked these knitted cactuses (pictured above) from Yeff Knits. If you haven't already, check out my page on Etsy for all of my favourite online finds. 

Etsy Road Trip Canada

That little outing inspired me to start some of my own crafty projects. My first was giving my cat's food station a bit of a makeover solely inspired by Pinterest and this tutorial from Beauty Lab. There are so many other priorities in our new place that "remodelling" something for the cat seems somewhat trivial; however, sometimes doing something small can make the bigger things seem less daunting. Like Pinterest so often does, it tends to lead you down into crazy, D.I.Y rabbit holes. Obviously my cat deserves to eat her meals in style even though all of her food comes out of cans.

Cat feeding station with IKEA tray

Her previous food mat was hard to clean and kind of gross, so I bought a new white tray from IKEA and treated her to a new water dish from PetSmart and the transformation was complete all for less than $20. But not before writing her name on the tray and drawing a paw mark with a Sharpie. Now all of the cat food mess is hopefully contained on the easy-to-wash tray that looks a little nicer than a crusty mat. I'm pretty sure she likes it and is thinking "Oh wow, thank you so much for making the place I eat so nice now." Or not...

D.I.Y cat feeding station makeover
That's alright. She's worth it. If owning a cat is like having kids, then I am set! All you have to do is put out some food for them twice a day, cuddle with them a bit and throw a ball around, right? Don't worry. I'm kidding. And in no way do I consider myself a pet "Mom" or "parent." She is my pet and I am her owner. I do nice things for her and she does nice things back...or pukes on the carpet and then hides under the bed.

You know what IS tricky for me? Making cookies. Most of the time the cookies either turn out like melted pancakes or like rock hard discs. I have experienced the dreaded "cakie" aftermath of a bad batch of cookies before and it is not a good feeling for your baking ego. So just like obsessively wanting to try every Pinterest project I see, raising kids or owning "fur babies," I found a little trick to make my life a little saner. The trick to these cookies is Jello instant lemon pudding mix. The mix adds a sweet and creamy lemon flavour to the cookies and ensures the cookie texture is chewy, soft and slightly crunchy like a good cookie.

Lemon, blueberry and almond cookies
These cookies were inspired by this recipe from Amy's Healthy BakingI to make something light, summery and colourful for dessert. You don't even need to have fresh lemons in your house to make lemon cookies with this recipe. I don't usually agree with recipes that solely use cake mixes as their base. I can agree with the way the pudding mix is used in this recipe to add more flavour and texture. There's nothing wrong with adding a little something, something to your recipes. I also swapped out the white chocolate chips from the original recipe and added fresh blueberries and sliced almonds instead. 

Lemon pudding cookies with almonds and blueberries

Lemon, Blueberry and Almond Cookies

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp lemon juice
4 tbsp butter, slightly melted
2 large eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
3/4 cups plus 2 tbsp sugar
1 box instant Jello lemon pudding mix
1 cup blueberries
1/2 cup slivered or sliced almonds


1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with greased parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. If you're using salted butter, then omit the salt in this step. In a separate bowl, whisk the butter, eggs and vanilla together. Add in the sugar and pudding mix (do not add the ingredients listed on the pudding mix) and the lemon juice. Fold in the blueberries and almonds. Mix together, but not too much to avoid a grey colour from the blueberries.
3. Chill the dough in the fridge for about 30 minutes.
4. Drop the dough into the baking sheets and press down slightly to flatten. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool for about 10 minutes.

Lemon pudding cookies
Cookies are so hit and miss for me, that it's glorious when they turn out as perfect as this. I loved the combination of the lemon flavour, fresh berries and crunch from the almonds. As long as you don't over mix the dough, they will turn out the wonderful, bright yellow colour like little orbs of summer sun. These are something you will see on the internet that will definitely live up to your expectations in real life, trust me on this one.

Have you done any neat craft projects lately? Or baked some delicious cookies? I would love some tips for baking the perfect cookie!
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August 07, 2014

Fall harvest wedding dessert table
Either the weather has been a little off lately--maybe I have the air conditioning turned up too high--or something in the air has been making it feel more like fall. Back to school advertisements still get to me too, even though I haven't been "back to school" in years. And like my Dad says every year, "the start of the CNE officially means that summer is over!" I wanted to take a look back at a dessert table I made for a friend's wedding last November. During the blistery, cold weeks of November, the sky opened up one Saturday with beaming, warm sunshine for their beautiful wedding day. The theme of the wedding was "fall harvest" and incorporated many elements we will start to see in a month or two as the seasons change.

Fall colours dessert table
My friend called me up before her wedding and asked if I could make the desserts. Of course I said yes, and asked about the things she wanted and pretended like I was a professional dessert table maker: "What is your inspiration?" "What are your favourite desserts?" "What are your wedding colours?" I was beyond excited and didn't realize at the time how much work was actually involved in making THAT many desserts. Like most things, I got overly excited and started shopping (and pretend shopping in my mind) for accessories, candies, platters and decorations. I wanted to give a gift to the couple without going overboard. Are there any dessert table designers out there? How do you manage to not go crazy with wish-list props and accessories? I purchased the mini buckets, baskets and mini burlap pumpkins from Target and the scented branches and napkins from Loblaws. 

Candy buffet for fall wedding
After shopping, it was time to start baking. The requirement was 100 cupcakes and then anything else I wanted to make. The couple said they liked Nanaimo bars, lemon desserts and chocolate. The colours were reds, golds, oranges, browns and anything fall-related with fall vegetables, leaves and books wrapped in vintage paper for their decorations. 

I decided on a final selection of chocolate and vanilla cupcakes, a small pumpkin cake, Nanaimo bars, lemon tarts, strawberry tarts and assorted candy. There was already a candy bar at the wedding, so the candy I brought was a little something extra. I also bought sprinkles in the shapes of fall leaves from Bulk Barn to decorate the cupcakes. Don't shame me, but the cupcake batter was from a mix although I made the buttercream icing from scratch like I normally do. A few days before, I made the icing and tart dough and then the cupcakes, cake and bars the day before. I'm not going to lie; it was a lot of baking. Once I had a rhythm going on the cupcakes and tarts, I got all of the batches done in no time. It was like an assembly line process: in the oven, out of the oven and into the box. 

Harvest themed wedding dessert table

The couple used a salt and pepper shaker as an adorable cake topper. There was a Little Red Riding Hood motif throughout the wedding because when they were first dating, they went to a Halloween party dressed as Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad wolf--in an extremely impressive hand sewn wolf costume. It's like a fairytale come true, albeit a somewhat dark fairytale...if you find the premise of a creepy wolf stalking a girl in the forest romantic. I'm kidding. I thought the idea was a cute way to incorporate their own story and it is always nice to see personal touches in weddings. 

Nanaimo bars

During the preparations, she asked me how on earth I would transport 100 cupcakes to the venue. "Don't worry about it," I said. "It will be fine." Here's where the process did in fact get a little stressful. When I finally sat down to think about how to transport all of these desserts to a city an hour away, I was stumped. Certainly all of the cupcakes would crush if iced beforehand, not to mention the cake. I came to the conclusion that it would be best to ice the cupcakes and cake at the venue, except we ended up leaving a little late to get there. And my wonderful husband informed me while driving there that the car may or may not overheat. I might have been freaking out a little bit. "What if I don't get everything set up in time and I ruin their desserts and they hate me and I completely failed?!" With an hour to go before the wedding, we rushed into the venue and started to set up. I put a garbage bag on over my dress and began franticly--but skillfully I think--icing all 100 cupcakes. (The pictures below are how I transported everything. I found out that roasting pans with lids made amazing cupcake carriers).

With icing dripping off of my hands, and shouting orders to my husband like "More sprinkles!" "Put those on the plate!" and "More icing!" we finished the table right as guests started to arrive. Thanks to him for almost causing and then helping to fix my crazy dessert situation. After all of that I was extremely proud of my creation and a lot of the guests gave me wonderful compliments. I think the Bride and Groom liked it too. Their smiles as they cut the cake showed me it was all worth it. 

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