Friday, December 30, 2011

It's a wrap

2011 was my first full calendar year of blogging. My first diary, as my subhead states. I had a lot of fun with it and want to share a selection of posts to wrap up the year. No specific order here, not based on the most hits or comment popularity - just a collection of things I blogged about this year and that held some importance to me.

  1. Living with kids
  2. Who we miss the most
  3. A new Christmas Tradition for the family
  4. Simple changes
  5. Summer beaches
  6. Anniversary
  7. A fun party
  8. Some insights
  9. Efficient storage
  10. Trying new recipes
  11. My favourite DIY
  12. Big day
Those who follow along know that I don't blog about my day job in communications - but this year I took a small leap and got a new job - a new opportunity that is keeping me busy and provides some nice challenges. 

My sister and I also collaborated earlier this year and put together a couple of things for my small shop - because of house, home and work I'm not marketing it as of yet, but I truly enjoy putting together some of these party boxes for people.

While I'll be posting a couple resolutions for the upcoming year, I wanted to ensure that I looked back at all we did - the life we have is great, my family is healthy and happy and I couldn't ask for more. I hope you all had a good 2011 and feel pride in the things you accomplished. Have a great weekend and I'll see you in the New Year! Cheers!

Monday, December 26, 2011

One photo a week - 52/52

I'm done! The year is coming to a close and it seems it all passed in a blink of an eye.

I'll be closing the year with this photo of some holiday baking. I'll be back next week/year sharing some goals I have for 2012 - I wrote them down and am putting them out there for all of you to see! Maybe that will make me commit?

I also decided on a new photo challenge for the upcoming year and will be sharing that next week as well. Now I'm off to enjoy a couple of days with my family and will embrace 2012 with gusto and good cheer.


Recipe for Cranberry-Orange-Walnut Tea Cakes
(Martha Stewart 2011 Holiday Handbook)

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick)  unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pans
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • Finely grated zest of 1 orange, plus 2 tablespoons of fresh orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup fresh or frozen (thawed) cranberries
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped *
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter and flour 4 by 2 1/2 inch loaf pans or one large pan, tapping out excess flour.
  2. Combine cream, orange juice, and vanilla in small bowl. 
  3. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in another bowl.
  4. With electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter, orange zest and sugar until light and fluffy. Reduce speed to low and add eggs one at a time. 
  5. Beat in flour mixture in three additions, alternating with cream mixture and beginning and ending with flour. Gently fold in the cranberries and walnuts.
  6. Divide batter evenly among pans and smooth tops. Bake until golden and cake tester comes out clean - about 30 minutes for the small cakes or 55 minutes for the large one.
  7. Let cool for 15 minutes in pans, turn out cakes and let cool completely.

* Toast walnuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet in a 350 F degree oven, toss occasionally until lightly browned and fragrant - about 10 minutes.

Friday, December 23, 2011

One week without a vanity

Here is where we stand today in our bathroom makeover.

The old vanity was lugged into the garage and needed three guys to get it out! The radiator was removed and walls patched. The ceiling was painted and the walls needed 3 coats to cover the green. The walls probably need another coat before stripes are marked and painted with blue. See the bag over the toilet? That's how you paint if you don't plan on taking it out...

Because the original plumbing stuck out too far, hubby had to adjust it to fit. I'm glad he didn't burn the house down. Next steps are stripes on the walls and final assembly/installation of the vanity so we get our sink back - brushing our teeth in the kitchen is a little odd.

Little things such as caulking, trim paint, lighting, art, mirrors will follow once the vanity is back in. Hubby had three days off work to tackle the bathroom - I wonder if we'll get our sinks for Christmas?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cranberry Coins - Christmas Cookies III

After a huge success last year, I am back again with Cranberry Coins! If you like a shortbread type cookie with just enough buttery crumble and the sweet/tart taste of cranberries - this is yours for the baking.

They are incredibly easy to make, no mixer needed and they have a long shelf life - not that you won't have eaten them already, but if you were to send them by mail you wouldn't have to worry about them getting there stale. Enjoy!

Cranberry Coins (Makes about 4 dozen)
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) of unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cups of sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups of flour, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 cup of chopped dried cranberries

1. Beat butter, sugar and vanilla with wooden spoon until smooth. Add flour and salt, stir until combined. Stir in dried cranberries. Divide dough into quarters.

2. On parchment, shape each portion into a log about 1.5 inches thick. Wrap logs tightly in parchment or plastic. Chill 30 minutes or up to one day.

3. Preheat oven to 325 F. With a sharp knife, slice dough into 1/4 inch rounds. Rotate log to avoid flattening. Place rounds on parchment lined baking sheets about 1 inch apart.

4. Bake, rotating halfway through, until edges just begin to turn golden, 20 to 22 minutes. Let cool completely. Store in airtight container up to 2 weeks.

From Martha Stewart Holiday Cookies Magazine (2010)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Gift wrap

This is the fourth year that I'm using kraft paper to wrap my gifts. I like the understated look and options it gives me to be creative. This year I also got some silver kraft paper to mix and match. My wrapping is simple this time of the year because we need a lot done and they need to survive being piled on top of each other under the tree.

Since I chose my accent colour to be red this year I also used red ribbon - the ones I chose are understated almost as narrow as twine. I tied them in simple bows after adding a paper doily on each package. I used two sizes of doilies depending on the gift and played around by cutting some in half, centering others and having some offset to one side. Oddly shaped gifts are packed in lunch bags left over from my advent calendar project.

I'll be writing recipients names with simple script on the doilies, or if I have a few extra minutes I'll use my letter stamps.

Plain wrapping paper lends itself to a variety of options - you could choose wide fancy ribbon and have large bows, you could use silver or gold twine, you could add an ornament or some tree greenery, rustic gift tags or colourful stickers. Last year I had the kids draw on the kraft paper with silver paint pens - options are endless even on a low budget and not much time.

Linked to beach cottage good life wednesday

Monday, December 19, 2011

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies - Christmas Cookies II

Oh my, these chewy chocolate cookies are divine. Easy to make - just allow at least four hours for your dough to cool in the fridge. Whip these up and you'll be your kids best friend - and hubby too.

I found these over at Little Brown Pen - my favourite blog for Paris inspiration and it seems chocolate delights as well!

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies (makes between 3 and 4 dozen)

  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 
  • 2 cups white sugar 
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil 
  • 4 eggs 
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar 

In a medium bowl, mix together cocoa, white sugar, and vegetable oil. Beat in eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt; stir into the cocoa mixture. Cover dough, and chill for at least 4 hours. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Roll dough into one inch balls. 

Coat each ball in confectioners' sugar before placing onto prepared cookie sheets. Bake in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Let stand on the cookie sheet for a minute before transferring to wire racks to cool.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

One photo a week - 51/52

This week is all about ornaments, sparkly lights and getting ready for Christmas. Hope you are enjoying family time and togetherness without too much pressure to get things done.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Decor

Once we cut down our tree we took out our decorations. For the past six years my tree was silver, white and blue and I've collected quite a few ornaments in that colour scheme.This year I decided to change it up and exchanged blue for red.

Once I got my boxes out I realized that all my ornaments are jumbled together and I definitely didn't have them sorted by colour. So I grabbed an empty box and sorted through the ornaments handing white and silver non-breakable ones to my kids for hanging while I sorted out the blue ones. Then we unpacked some of the red ornaments we purchased this year and added them to the tree. While they were busy hanging yet another ornament on the same branch I would discretely move ornaments around for more even distribution.

Here a quick look at some of the ornaments, including a foam ball ornament made by M last year at daycare and my all time favourite angel teddy bear. Because of the colour switch my tree isn't as full as past years, but I think I still like it. I know that I'll always be drawn to icy blue and silvery white colours, but switching it up every once in a while is good, right?

These glittery houses are new additions this year. I captured them in afternoon sun which gave off some dramatic shadows, but at night they light up for a great holiday display. I also added a miniature evergreen tree which I think is one of my favourite things this year along with all the glitter.

Is your holiday decor multicoloured? Do you change themes every year or keep to your original one as part of your tradition? How many kid-made ornaments do you hang?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tree haul

We have decorated the tree and the rest of the house and I will share photos later this week. However, I wanted to share how fun it was to get the tree and cut it down. All of us really enjoyed it and I hope we can make a tradition of it.

We drove to a tree farm about 3km outside the city limits. Once there, we grabbed our saw, jumped on the hayride that took us down the road to the fields of trees. Everyone scattered into the fields and we looked for the perfect tree (in our case two as we were getting one for the grandparents as well).

Our kids loved checking out the small and large trees and we eventually settled on two we liked. Out came the saw and kiddos were hands-on in getting those trees down. Hubby dragged both trees to the road, the rest of the family in tow. The tractor picked all of us up and dropped us off at the main gathering area.

Trees were then shaken, baled and strung to the roof of our car. Afterwards we all had some hot chocolate, enjoyed the play area and soaked up some brilliant sunshine! I've never cut my own tree and thought this was a great activity for the family.

Do you have a real tree or is a tree stored in your storage area ready to go in minutes? Have you ever cut your own tree?

Linked to This or That Thursday

Monday, December 12, 2011

Krefli - Christmas Cookies I

This year I seem to be a little behind on the baking. I have a couple recipes bookmarked in my Martha Stewart cookie magazine, but have either lacked an essential ingredient or not had the energy to tackle the mess.

A couple of days ago M and I did buckle down and made our old Swiss traditional Krefli cookie. This cookie is very specific to a region in Switzerland, so it's not often made. It's a honey based recipe that makes simple but tasty cookies. You can cut them out in different thicknesses for a softer cookie or a crunchy one - your choice. As stated last year, I urge you to only make 1/2 the recipe - even half will make about eight dozen cookies!

Krefli (makes ~ 16 dozen)
  • 1 kg sugar
  • 1/2 kg of honey
  • 1/2 liter of milk
  • 250 of butter
  • 2.3 kg of flour

Mix all of the ingredients except the flour in a pot and melt ingredients at medium temperature (do not boil). Let it cool and add flour.

Roll out dough, cut cookies and bake at 200 C (ca. 400 F) for 8 - 10 minutes until edges turn golden. Don't over bake or the bottoms will burn.

I also melt the ingredients and add the flower the next day - it's less sticky to combine.
Use a lot of flour when rolling out the dough, it can get very sticky and make it hard to handle. You can also cool it in the fridge making it easier to cut. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

One photo a week - 50/52

Wow,  just two more photos to go. Amazing how time flies! We added to our Christmas decorations this week by putting up our outdoor lights, our window lights, getting the tree and some amaryllis. I chose pink this year - they are a candy cotton pink with darker pink stripes and are quite lovely. One is in our living room the other resides in our powder room. What I love about amaryllis is how long they last and the size they can get. It's great to force bulbs in the winter time when everything else is grey and dreary.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Planning a Bathroom Makeover

This is our bathroom today. It's our only full bathroom.The space is functional, it's bright and has all the features we need, but we've been wanting to update it for some time now. A past owner put in this huge vanity before selling the house, probably thinking that granite counter would make the bath stand out as up-to-date. This vanity is not my style - too ornate. Second, this vanity is so big that they had to re-hang the door to open out (doesn't that tell you that you bought something that's too big?) I also dislike our existing light fixture - I find it an odd choice for a bathroom.

The one thing I absolutely LOVE about our bathroom is the original terrazzo tile set in a windmill pattern. The tile is in perfect condition with only one small piece damaged when they put in a new tub. The colour is the typical speckle of a terrazzo with a glossier dark brown centre. In the 50s tiles were set directly into concrete, so they are solid as a rock. I want to maintain this original feature as long as we possibly can.

This is not a renovation, but rather a makeover - the tile around our tub is a white subway and still in great condition, the tub is quite new and works fine for a family with two kids. If we could start all over again I'm sure we'd come up with a more luxurious bathroom, but right now we don't have the funds or the time to do anything but a makeover.

The plan is as follows:
  • Scrape and paint ceiling and trim for a fresh clean look
  • Recaulk around tub for a fresh clean look
  • Take out radiator and repair wall. Adjust forced air duct under vanity.
  • Paint wall in a wide stripe of watery blue on white to get some pattern interest (see inspiration above)
  • Replace light fixture with Martha Stewart reeded glass fixture (in budget and looks better than in picture. If I wanted to spend more on a light I saw some great examples at Restoration Hardware or Pottery Barn.)
  • Replace vanity with IKEA one in white gloss. The drawers will be more functional, the glossy white will be fresh, we still have double sinks but the footprint is smaller and will fit better in the space.
  • Replace large mirror that has a big scratch with two square ones with dark wood frames. The  dark square of the frames will pick up the dark square in the tile. Having two mirrors will show more of the striped wall.
  • I also have some plans for the large closet that will be addressed later, including moving of the towel rack to make room for a large piece of art.
  • The shower curtain (see reflection in mirror) will stay as it's fun for a family bathroom.

Photo 1,2,3,4

We'll be tackling this project over the next couple of weeks. Our challenge is the noise level next to the kids bedrooms, we have limited time slots to work on this project. Fingers crossed that we can check this off our list for 2011!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

DIY Custom Wreath

My front door has four small square windows that are set in a rectangular fashion offset to the right. Hanging a round wreath on this door has looked less than perfect the last two years.

I saw a round 'snowball wreath' a couple months back on pinterest and thought it would be a perfect idea to adapt to a square wreath surrounding our windows perfectly.

First, I purchased three sizes of styrofoam craft balls. These can be found at the Dollarstore or Michaels. I also got a pack of glue dots to avoid messy drippy glue while wrapping the styrofoam. I got four types of wool at Michaels and a knitting store.

I spent two evenings in front of the TV wrapping the foam balls with wool using glue dots to keep the wool put. My first balls looked cone shaped until I got the hang of it and managed to get them circular. While I was doing that, hubby measured the window opening and cut a frame from leftover wood. He then painted it a dark colour to blend into the door. If you are planning on a round version of this you can just purchase a wreath shape at Michaels for a couple of dollars.

Next I searched through my ornaments and grabbed a couple cheap ones that matched the colour scheme of the wool balls. I warmed up the hot glue gun and arranged the wool balls one by one, adding the ornaments last for a bit of sparkle. Being round objects you need quite a bit of glue for everything to stay put. This took no more than an hour. The next day we attached the wreath to the door - perfect custom fit!

In hindsight I would replace the black wool with silver wool (which I had trouble finding) because the black blends into the door a little too much - but all in all I'm pretty happy with how this turned out - 3 evenings of my time and about $25 in supplies.

Linked to Beach Cottage Linky Party

Sunday, December 4, 2011

One photo a week - 49/52

A silvery gold bird, a small covered cake stand, some white feathers, red ornaments and cedar from our garden. All of this sitting with a candle on our old silver tray and we have our first bit of holiday decorating done. Next up are our outdoor lights and the floating shelf above the TV - all to follow in the next couple of days. Our tree will go up next weekend.

Linked to This or That Thursday

Friday, December 2, 2011

Visit in the neighborhood

I had a chance to visit Nat at Style-ING with Children with a guest post. She is working on a girls bedroom and the work we did for M's room ticks off some of the boxes she's looking for. It was great to stop by a local Ottawa blog - have a look and browse through her archives, you'll find lots of inspiration and will be impressed by their handy work (quite the tile talent!) Thanks Nat for having me!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Butternut Squash and Rutabaga Soup

The colder weather calls for soup. This time I made a simple butternut squash and rutabaga version. I find any root vegetable combined works quite well and I like how the sweet squash tones down the flavour of the turnip. I added pearl pasta for additional substance, making it a thick, non-drippy soup - easy to eat for my girl (D does not eat any veggies, so he was having bread and cheese).

Here a super fast, easy and healthy meal:

  • 1 butternut squash, cut in cubes
  • 2 rutabaga, cut in cubes
  • 1 onion, chopped small
  • 1 splash of olive oil
  • 1 generous splash of dry white wine
  • 1 liter of broth
  • Handfull of pearl or alphabet pasta
  • Tarragon
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 splash of cream (optional)

serves at least 6

  • Heat oil
  • Add onions and cook until soft but not crispy.
  • Add squash and rutabaga and stir until coated in oil and onions - let sit for a minute or two.
  • Add white wine, let it simmer off.
  • Add broth and tarragon and cover to simmer (about 20 - 25 minutes).
  • Towards the last 5 minutes, check if there's enough liquid - add pasta and cover to finish cooking.
  • Turn off heat and use wand blender to blend all the ingredients into a thick soup (the pasta is small enough that it will stay intact).
  • Season to taste, add a splash of cream if you wish and/or adjust liquid level to a consistency you like.
  • Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and some pepper.

This soup warms up really well, but will be even thicker the next day.