Monday, December 19, 2011

Ottawa Mission Christmas Dinner

This is the second year in a row that I've had the chance to donate cupcakes for the Ottawa Missions' Christmas Dinner.  It was through word of mouth that I learned about Cupcakes for Christmas.  These fantastic people have used Facebook and local bakers who all talk to each other to amass 3000 cupcakes for the annual Christmas dinner at the Mission.
My manager, Lindsay and I have been able to do this together both years.  This year, her cupcakes were Lactose-free, which is awesome as many people have lactose intolerance.  Lucky for me she has a vehicle, otherwise I have no idea how we'd transport dozens of cupcakes!

this is what four dozen cupcakes looks like!  thank goodness for Costco and the perfectly sized boxes that Lindsay picked up for me.

Next year, if we can find a way to not have to work ( hard to do in retail at Christmas!) we can also volunteer that day - I'd love to see all the different cupcakes that everyone has made.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Gingerbread House Party

It looks like this could become an annual event!  Last year, I had our wee friends Constance and Jonas over to decorate gingerbread houses before Christmas.  This year, we invited Jacob and his brother James to join them.
Thursday,  I cut and baked all the gingerbread.  Friday morning, I joined all the cookies together to give them time to dry for Saturday night.  You could join them early morning the day of, but I had to work, so I did them Friday.  As long as they get an eight hour day for the Royal icing to dry.

Two batches of Martha Stewart's gingerbread recipe and one batch of Royal icing were enough for five houses and a few cookies.  I cut out a tree and gingerbread man for each house.  Small tweak for next year?  I need to change the size of the roof so that it doesn't matter whether the house is put together long or wide.

With a selection of candy from the Bulk Barn, the kids were ready to go.  I learned a valuable lesson this year.  M&M's are expensive in bulk!  You get far more mileage out of jubejubes, jumbo gum drops and liquorice all sorts.  I also had some Christmas sprinkles which look great if you can handle most of them ending up on the floor!

Disposable plastic icing bags are a great help.  I cut the holes small enough that the icing doesn't leak out all over the table.  It still ends up everywhere by the end of the night though!

Melissa helps get more of the candy on the houses and less in the bellies!

Constance is a good big sister, helping Jonas with his house.  I think he gets too excited to focus.  Candy can have that effect on kids!

Jakes' awesome house - completely covered in candy!

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

New Camera!

Well, it is not a new camera, but is new to me.  It is also vastly superior to my camera, which took another hit with the Mister on his trip. I bought my Olympus in 2003, it's a 3.2mp!  It would still take great shots -  especially super macro - if the poor thing hadn't been knocked about more times than it could handle.
So now, I have the lovely Hollie's Sony Cyber-shot.  It has a completely different feel and with a different system, it will take some getting used to.

I took my new buddy with me on a walk down a path I've never explored.  Running past the entrance to the path, I've wondered about it many times and also figured I might be able to use it, to get a better look at the horses at the nearby Greenbelt Farm.  There was a light dusting of snow this morning that threatened to melt if I didn't get my butt out the door.

I did eventually find the horses.  It was tricky to get a decent shot as one couldn't get too close.  There was a stream running around the perimeter of the property and it was quite thick with bushes in most places.  I did manage to get one shot that I liked.

I like that you can catch a glimpse of the snow that was still trying to fall, despite the temperature hovering around the freezing mark.  This path was lovely and quiet, there was one other walker with a skittish dog, but they didn't last long and then I had the area all to myself.  In a big city, it's not easy to find a quiet spot without traffic or shopping.

Along the way I found an abandoned nest.  I saw others as well, but this one I brought home.  Of course now that it is thawing, it is coming loose.  Aren't these things usually tightly bound?  I will have to find a way to reinforce it without wrecking the look of it.  This one pictured below was higher in a tree and was perfectly cup-shaped.  One of these days, I'm sure to find another - just gotta keep trekking.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Recipe: Apple Cake

What a heavenly smell this cake makes in the kitchen!  Perfect for this time year when the apples are ripe for the picking. Ha!   This cake is super moist, spicy and made to be eaten with a cup of tea.  You could gussy it up with one of those fancy bundt pans and spiced whipped cream I suppose....or a caramel whiskey sauce - yum.  I have no idea whose this recipe is, it was clipped from the newspaper - my guess is the Chronicle Herald in Halifax.  The only changes I made are described after the recipe.

Apple Cake

4    medium apples, peeled, cored and sliced or chopped
2    cups sugar
2    large eggs, beaten
1    cup butter, melted
3    cups flour
2    tsp baking soda
2    tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp allspice
1    cup walnuts

glaze:  1/2 cup icing sugar
           1  cup apple cider.

Preheat oven to 350*F.  Lightly butter standard size bundt pan.  Place apples and sugar in a large mixing bowl and stir to coat.  Set aside for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Combine eggs and cooled butter; mix well.
In another bowl, mix flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and walnuts.  Add butter and egg mixture to flour mixture, then sugar and apples; stir well.  Pour batter in into prepared pan and smooth top.
Bake 45-50 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Let cake cool 10 minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack placed on waxed paper.
Place cider in small saucepan; boil until reduced by half.  Let cool 10 minutes; whisk in icing sugar: drizzle over warm cake.

I did things a bit differently this time.  I used two 8" square pans instead of a bundt.  I wanted one to put in the freezer for later.  The batter was just right for the two pans.  It still seemed to need at least 50 minutes to cook, as this is a super moist cake.  Because I wan't needing all that glaze, I just took 1/4 cup of icing sugar and thinned it with a tablespoon and a half of apple cider.  The flavour of the glaze in the original recipe is super yummy and worth making properly, I was just lazy and made a basic drizzle.

happy baking!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Wild Crabapple Jelly

I have never made jelly before.  Jams, yes with a package of Certo at the ready.  But, jelly from scratch?  it always seemed like it would be a tricky sort of alchemy that you work only if you've grown up with an old school Gramma who canned everything.  This site made it seem doable.
 I had seen the tree full of lovely red crabapples on my run during the week. It's a route I used to run in the winter and would never have seen the lone tree in the mix.  I decided that making jelly from a wild crabapple would be really cool.   I rode to site Saturday morning and realized that I was a couple of weeks too late.  Up close, most of the fruit had be partially devoured by hornets.  I went ahead and collected as many unblemished apples as I could

They are small like cherries and a lovely red.  I hoped this would bode well for the colour of the jelly.  I'd read some recipes where they had added food colour to give the jelly a deep red hue.  I was hoping this batch wouldn't need it.  Being small it took quite a few minutes to remove all the stems and blosssom ends and cut in half.  Thank fate they didn't need peeling!  I also thank Trev for giving me a hand.

It was a lovely afternoon to sit on the deck

All the fruit measured 8 cups when cut.  This is half of the amount used on the website I linked to above. MMs' instructions were clear and concise, but I was glad my amount wasn't an odd number.  She recommends half the amount of water to the amount of fruit.  So far so good.  8 cups fruit, 4 cups water. This was brought to a boil for 10 minutes before smooshing.

Once the fruit was boiled for 10 minutes, then mashed and cooked for another five,  it was put into a cheesecloth lined colander over a large bowl to let the juice extract itself.  You can supposedly buy a jelly strainer bag, but given how many people in the various stores I went to, looking for the cheesecloth - knew what cheesecloth was - I'm guessing that jelly making is a lost art here in South Ottawa.

The pulp is wonderfully red.  It took a couple of hours to drain.

Once the juice is drained and ready, MM recommends measuring it (making a note for future reference) and adding slightly less than that amount of sugar.  I had almost three cups, so I topped it up with a bit of water ( maybe 1/8 c) to make an even three.  I measured 3 cups sugar and then removed two spoonfuls. Once this mixture started to boil, it turned a gorgeous deep, clear red.  I was starting to get excited that this might work out after all!

Getting the temperature to 220*

I did a gel test as I was skimming off the foam and it really seemed like gelling was not going to be a problem.  Being nervous, this my first foray into jelly making, I did both the plate test and the spoon in the ice water test!  The stuff gelled like a dream!  The boiled jars were waiting in the oven at 225* and I had the lids boiling away and ready.  In the past when I've made jam according to the Certo instructions, I've never used a water bath.  I've had the canning pot for quite awhile, but have never used it!  So I popped the jars into the boiling water, waited for the boiling to commence again and set the timer for ten minutes

Make sure to start timing after the water has returned to a boil.

This morning, I popped open one of the jars and spread the jelly on hot, buttered toast.  It tasted just like Crabapple jelly should!  I got seven 250ml jars, just the right size for gifts.  Next year, I have to remember to go a week or so earlier and take Trev with me so we can get some of the fruit up high!

Like Jewels!

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Checking Out Ottawa -The Mer Bleue Trail

So with a borrowed car at our disposal, we decided to check out a trail that is close to home but still out of our range by bus: The Mer Bleue Trail.  This is a 3500 sq. hectare wetland/bog that is quite a unique part of the National Capital Commissions trail system.
Going in we realized that there was more than one entrance so I took a pic of the trail number for future reference

The trail really ranges at first from foresty trail and meadowland.  We walked for ages, wondering where the heck this boardwalk was that we'd read about....

is this the result of the Fisher Cats we were warned of?  Eewww

still in the foresty area, wondering if we were in the right place.... Trev found himself a stick, while I check out the flora and fauna

Eventually, after chasing big ass dragonflies, unnamed flying bugs and seeing the landscape change back and forth, from deciduous forest to northern seeming meadowlands, we finally came to what we were originally looking for: the boardwalk!

To be fair, coming from the Maritimes - well, Trev being a Maritimer - we were sceptical of anything not attached to an ocean, calling itself a boardwalk!  After 40 minutes of walking we started to wonder if the wee bridges we crossed over old creeks, were what was meant by 'boardwalk'.  We were pleasantly surprised.

There are lots of the NCC signs along the way so that you can grasp where you are.  Ecologically, it's a fabulous area, more indicative of a northern landscape than a valley and to see the traces of the ancient Ottawa River was quite humbling. The thing that most amazed me, was the fact that on the last holiday weekend before school started, there was no one to be seen!

and suddenly the marsh turned to a peat bog!

Apparently, there are very few plants that can survive in a peat bog given the acidity of the 'soil'.  Nonetheless, it was quite lovely and I loved that there was a wonderful calm, despite the fact that highways were not that far away...

Eventually we found our way back onto a trail.  We decided that to walk the road back to the car might be quicker than taking the forest path back the way we came.  Yes, we were WRONG!  the road back was probably equal in distance, and because we had NO idea where we were it seemed like forever to find our way back.  Long enough for me to be so starving, that I considered eating at McDonalds on the way home.  Now, that's drastic!  But, just before we got onto Ridge Road to look for the entrance to #53 trail, a friend decided to send us off with a farewell:

cutie!  I'm glad we had a chance to check out this corner of our world, it's amazing the natural wonders that are sitting on your doorstep.  You just have to never stop thinking like a tourist in order to find them! 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Going Grey is Scary

and I know it shouldn't be.  But, there it is.  We live in a world where eighteen is seen as the height of physical perfection.  I found my first few grey hairs at sixteen.  Dying it then was fun, especially during my art school years, White? sure.  Red? sure. Orange? absolutely.  Two-tone? why not.
Fast forward 20 years.
Now, living in a city where everything takes too much time and money, dying my hair every four weeks is tedious and expensive.  I was going to a terrific salon to ease my transition into grey.  The last eight months left me with gorgeous chestnut hair and clever lowlights and hightlights, but the treatments were $200 a pop every four weeks.  The resulting growth being a noticeable cool salt'n'pepper contrasting starkly with all the warm tones going on the rest of the way.  I knew this couldn't go on.

Back in 2006:

We had just moved back from Victoria and I was in the process of growing out my hair for the wedding.  I was dying it regularly every four weeks as the new growth was no longer just a 'strand or two'.

2009 - still dying it regularly and unable to give up the longer cut.

Here in Ottawa I began a journey of lightening and highlights in an attempt to let the grey grow in.  Unfortunately, the resulting effect - however lovely - never allowed the new growth to seamlessly integrate with the old.  $800 later, I decided to go on a dye diet.  No more!  I am too chicken to cut it so short that all the dyed hair would be gone, but I came pretty close.  I figure in October, I can have the rest of the dyed hair cut away and start allowing the 'real' hair to emerge.

a close-up of my roots!

I thought letting go of that image of myself as raven-haired would be easy to let go of after seeing pictures of so many fantastic women who have let their grey grow in.  An example here:  I think this is Eileen Fisher, but I may be wrong.  The interwebs are unreliable sometimes.

but man, I am so afraid of seeming 'old'.  And let's face it - at 20 years younger -  as cool as this woman seems, am I ready to look her age?????  The picture of myself with Chase in 2009 is still how I see myself.  If I get offered a seniors discount in the next year, that's it.  The hair salon is where I'll gladly drop my $200.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Recipe: Hoisin Turkey Lettuce Wraps

We had something like this at a restaurant in Halifax once and had to figure out how to make it when the restaurant changed hands and menus.  This scenario accounts for much of what comes out of our kitchen, especially when we've moved and lost a favourite meal.  It becomes a challenge to recreate those favourites.  

When the days get super hot, my favourite things to eat are usually cool and crunchy.  This dish satisfies the craving for something meaty (a prerequisite for husband), while still having all the different textures and cool tastes that a salad has.  
The added bonus is that you eat it with your hands and everyone can make their own as they like it, making it perfect for pot lucks.  This kind of dish lends itself to variations galore, depending on what you have in your kitchen and you can use any kind of ground meat or crumbled tofu for the filling.  At Loblaws, I found a Thai Basil plant for the deck and the herbs' flavour is perfect for this dish.  Makes great leftovers as well!

Garnished with Thai Basil

Hoisin Turkey Lettuce Wraps

1 pound ground turkey
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 each red and green pepper, diced
1 small tin of water chestnuts, drained and diced*
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
1 tbsp chili garlic sauce like Sambal Oelek

1 cup shredded carrot
1/2 cup shredded cabbage
1/4 pkg rice vermicelli noodles, softened
1/2 cup cucumber, slivered
bib, boston or romaine lettuce, washed and dried.
handful of mint and cilantro

 Saute onion in oil over medium heat until translucent.  Add garlic, stir a minute.  Add ground turkey and stir until cooked through.  Add peppers and water chestnut.  Add hoisin and chili garlic sauce.  If mixture seems dry, add more hoisin.  When peppers are cooked and mixture is hot and bubbly remove from heat and serve in a heatproof bowl with vegetables and noodles all in separate dishes with lettuce leaves separated.  Layer shredded vegetables, noodles and herbs in a lettuce leaf, top with pork and enjoy.  Great food for a hot night.

* If you don't have water chestnuts, celery or even chopped peanuts would give some crunch to the turkey mixture.  You can decrease the chili garlic sauce to one teaspoon if you like things less spicy.e

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Relay for Life Cupcakes

A good friend of mine, Melissa, has spent months organizing a team -  Running With Sissors - for this years' Relay for Life event in Nepean.  After much hard work, the team had a couple of last minute dropouts and I was asked to help out.  I felt that as I hadn't done any fundraising, I should contribute something other than just putting my feet on the track.  Well, what do folks planning an all-nighter need?  SUGAR!

The Canadian Cancer Society has turned the daffodil into an icon so I knew I wanted some daffodils involved.

gum paste daffodils

The cupcakes and buttercream icing were both lemon with lots of fresh zest for zing.   A few small yellow blossoms and some in complimentary blue to accent half the cupcakes.

I gather they were a hit as they disappeared in the blink of an eye!  The daffodils turned out so well, I can't wait to make some more and do a cake.  It would need some lemon curd in the filling I think.  

Sometimes, I like the inside flavours of a cake to be a mystery.  Other times, like here with the daffodils, I like the decorations to put the flavour in your mind before you taste.

Doesn't that look like it would taste of fresh lemons?

The event was a success.  So many people came and put hard work into raising money and awareness into the prevention and cure of Cancer.  We all have all been touched by this disease in one way or another.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if this indiscriminate disease could be eradicated?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Maritime Decor - The Homesick Edition

Victoria Day Weekend.  I hope everyone is enjoying the first long weekend of the summer.  I know summer doesn't officially start until end of June, but still - don't we all start behaving as though summer has started once May TwoFour arrives?

Even though I am not originally from the Maritimes and didn't live there long enough ( only 15 or so years) for locals to consider me a Maritimer, I do miss it something fierce right now.
So while my friends are planning excursions to Clam Harbour this summer, I am going to content myself with swimming at Mooneys Bay Park on the Rideau.  And fixing up the living room with a nautical beach vibe.

This is my mobile hanging from the mantel.  The wood and a couple of the shells are from the Eastern Passage, NS and the sea glass, bone and crab bit were found at Saxe Point Park in Esquimalt, BC.  The jute was dyed dark blue when I used it to tie up some pillowcases I was dying.  Here is a bit closer up:

Also included are Trevors' and my initials done on pine with the Nautical alphabet.  I saw some posters online that gave me the idea.

The large panel is Tango for Trevor and Tamara, the next two are Charlie and Mike for both of our last names.  I haven't quite finished the edges yet, but wanted to see how they would look.  I might do some bunting next, although I haven't decided yet.  I just know the mantel still needs something else:

When I figure out what it needs I'll take more pictures.  For now, I am scheming how to get back to Nova Scotia for a visit.  I not only want some driftwood and starfish, but some Brothers Pepperoni is sorely needed.  Ah for a day at the beach.................

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Recipe: Happy Easter!

Easter is a wonderful holiday.  Not only is it one of the remaining times of the year where everything is closed, but it heralds Spring.  Yes, Spring is technically already here, but it is never really warm until after Easter.
The food is also wonderful: ham, scalloped potatoes, eggs for brunch, chocolate and Carrot Cake!  I adore carrot cake.  I love that it can be a humble tea loaf or an extravagant tiered cake.
Even though we have no plans for the holiday in this new city, I decided it wouldn't be right without some carrot cake.  With Orange Cream Cheese frosting of course!  If I could eat the frosting all by itself, I yummy.

Lemon Zest would work just as well, however the Tangelos were on sale and
are wonderful to eat after the zest is removed.

Tea loaf for a Sunday afternoon.
Carrot Cake Loaf with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

3/4 cup               unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups          flour
1/2 cup               walnuts or pecans, toasted
1 1/4-1/2cups     grated carrots (about 2 medium carrots or 11/2 large)
1/2 cup               shredded coconut
2                         eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup               buttermilk
1 tsp                   vanilla
1 cup                  sugar
1 tsp                   baking powder
1/2 tsp                baking soda
1/2 tsp                salt
1 tsp                   cinnamon
1 tsp                   ginger

Preheat oven 325*  and grease a 9x5 loaf pan.  In a medium bowl, stir together carrots, eggs, buttermilk, vanilla, sugar and coconut until well combined.
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices.  Fold dry mixture into wet until combined.  Fold in melted butter and nuts.
Bake approximately 1 hour 15minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.  Cool in pan 15 to 20 minutes.  Turn out and cool completely before frosting.

Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 brick of cream cheese
1 cup sifted icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla
pinch salt
grated orange rind ( I chopped mine finely so it would be a speckle in the frosting)

Cream together butter and cream cheese until soft and no lumps remain.  Add vanilla, salt and zest.  Stir in icing sugar until combined.  If a stiffer frosting is desired, add another 1/4 cup of icing sugar.

Enjoy and Happy Easter!