Saturday, December 31, 2011

worth a thousand

Sirocco & Skybar, on the 63rd floor of the Lebua at State Tower in
Bangkok, Thailand is the world's highest alfresco restaurant 


Happy NewYear!!!

May you be on top of the world for 2012!









Friday, December 30, 2011

last year



"...live this year as if it were your last"

I stumbled across a book with this title, and discovered that many people have blogged about their experience of doing this...live and document a year in their lives as if it were going to be their last.  I thought it was an interesting blog concept..slightly morbid, but interesting.  Then I realized that unknowingly, this is something I think myself, and many bloggers have been doing sub-conciously all along.




Now, I don't write as if this is my last year.  But I think as a writer (especially one who likes to touch on personal stories), we write and blog to document all these wonderful moments in our lives.  We do this to remember.  And honestly, to re-live it.  To observe and bring light to small (and not so small) moments.  Then embrace and learn the lessons from it.  Then share them with family and friends, old and new.





And as in life, we don't know how long we will continue, but if we do, we will live our lives with purpose and meaning. We share our observations and dreams, not for fame, but for inspiration.



So it's with this personal note, I wish all of you, a very Happy New Year.  To remember the past year of smiles and tears ...embrace and learn from them, and move forward to laugh and cry, in 2012.


Happy NewYear!!!



Wednesday, December 28, 2011

impeccably dressed




I remember when I was younger (waaayy younger!), going out for New Year's Eve was like going to the prom.  A bunch of friends from school would plan months in advance on where we'd go, then on New Year's Eve, go to the salon to get all primed and prepped, and go dancing out on the town.  What glorious and carefree we all were!

Funnily enough, no matter what the cold temperature was, I guess we were warm enough in spirit to wear our little fancy black dresses.  To brave the cold (and ice) in high heels, and dance.  Now as an adult, I shudder at the thought of going out in anything less than long johns, jeans, turtlenecks and heavy sweaters anytime between, oh, say December to March.  



It brings back memories when I watch teenaged daughters of our friends, who are now dressing up to go dancing out on the town. The phrases that our own parents used to say to us ("that dress is too short",  "you're NOT stepping out of this house in that") have all of a sudden been repeated, years later.  I can't help but smile, as I know that my husband and I will be saying the same thing when our daughter gets to the teenaged years (and a part of me isn't quite looking forward to that!).  For now, we will enjoy these young years, and hold on to the treasure that is our little girl, and be happy that the only dance outfit she's willing to wear right now, is pink.




Shallot Dressing
(recipe adapted from the Planet Organic book)
Yields 1 3/4 cups


A little goes a long way with this recipe, as it can be quite strong with the onion flavours (and I would only serve it to guests if you have a BIG bowl of mints on the table!).  It's amazing on spinach with mandarin oranges and sunflower seeds...the sweetness of the oranges balances the dressing (I didn't have spinach when I photographed this dressing, but it's just as nice on romaine).

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup Red onions, diced
  • 1/4 cup Shallots, diced
  • 2 tbsp.  Honey Dijon Mustard
  • 1/3 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 tsp. Honey
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Salt
  • 1/2 tsp. Dill, dried 
  • 1 cup Olive Oil


Preparation
  • In a food processor or blender, combine all ingredients except oil until smooth.
  • Slowly add in oil while continuing to blend until it's incorporated and thickened.  
  • Keep refrigerated until needed.

Dress up your salad!

{Attending these beautiful  parties...Debbiedoos Blogging and Blabbing}

Monday, December 26, 2011

in a box


During the craziness of the holidays, when someone asked me if I was looking forward to Christmas (of course, what a question!), I’d jokingly respond that I was looking forward to Boxing Day.

I was only half joking, as Boxing Day is my favourite part of the Christmas vacation.  Because to me, that day is the “vacation” part.

While many people I know brave the cold, long line-ups for some incredible liquidation deals, for me, I’m done with the crowds.  The waiting. I'd rather be underneath a warm blanket than freezing outside like cold peas.


Boxing Day to me is more like keeping me inside the box.  My house.  In my jammies, looking at the wrapping paper skewered all over the floor, kids (and husband) playing with their new toys, sitting together watching a DVD, eating popcorn and having hot cocoa.  No plans.  No dress up.  No lines.  Just hanging out, enjoying the accoutrements of the holidays, and just taking it easy.

So when it comes time to eat, we're always looking to eat whatever we have left (or use up those restaurant/take out gift cards we get at Christmas).  Here’s an easy and heart warming "use-the-left-over" dinner... almost as easy as a meal that comes in a box.





Easy Puff Pastry Turkey Pot Pie
Ingredients:
  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 1/3 cups peas and carrots
  • 2/3 cup diced cooked potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme, to taste
  • 2 cups diced turkey
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste
Preparation:
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
  • Cut the puff pastry into 8 equal-sized strips..
  • Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Pour in the milk and stir while cooking until the mixture is smooth. Add the thyme and continue to cook and stir until the mixture thickens. Stir in the cooked vegetables and the turkey. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until heated through, stirring frequently, 5 to 7 minutes.
  • Pour the chicken mixture into a 2-quart baking dish. Lay the pastry on top. Bake in the preheated oven until the crust is golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes.

Serve.






Friday, December 23, 2011

christmas future


Ironically, as a child who loved to write, I never wrote letters to Santa.  I did believe in him at one point, but at an early age, I figured out that he was not real, and figured, why would I leave perfectly good cookies and milk out for someone that wasn't real?

My kids somewhat believe in Santa. Well, at least my younger one does.  I think they believe in the idea that somehow a gift is left near their "Cookies for Santa" plate, tagged “from Santa”.


I made these plates at a local "Paint Your Own Pottery" store.
One for each child...a boy and girl, of course!


However, the kids didn’t do the full deal this year…lining up to see Santa to get their picture taken with him (he scares my daughter), and then write a letter to him (“if Santa knows if we’ve been good or not, then why do we need to write to him?”…this is my son’s logic).  I even missed booking the Santa train ride where you get hot chocolate and cookies when he stops by to visit you during the ride.

{Recipe for this Chocolate Chip Cookie found here}

As my children get older, we don’t participate as much with all the Santa activities that come around this time of the year.  Yes, I know it’s not the “reason for the season”, but for young children, part of the magic of Christmas is the magic part.  The “Santa twinkles his nose, comes down a chimney and leaves you a gift if you’ve been good” magic.

I don’t think doing all that stuff takes away from the “reason for the season” but in fact, enhances it.  As long as they understand what they’re celebrating, how they celebrate really is all about the spirit of why you do things.


While the children are still young and innocent, my hope for Christmas future (at least for the next few innocent years), we can continue to attend church service, listening to miracle of Jesus' birth and embrace the celebration of our savior, and then come home, where the kids will leave their cookies and milk for Santa, leave out carrots for the reindeer, and say thank you, for celebrating Jesus with us by bringing joy and love to children everywhere.







Wednesday, December 21, 2011

christmas present


Every year, our children’s school puts on a beautiful Christmas musical & pageant.  It always occurs the night of the last day of school before the holidays, and there is a matinee performance a few days earlier, for those who can’t make the final night.

Hours and hours of practice throughout the November and December months are put into this show.  Teachers and students alike take great pride with showcasing their hard work. 

{Clay Gift Ornament Tag instructions here}

Because I’m on the marketing committee at our school, I attended the full dress rehearsal this week to take some photos and video (I volunteered to edit the video of the performance to be put on the school website…yes, what have I gotten myself into???).

At rehearsal, all the kids were fidgety.  Many talked/pinched/squirmed through other performances, and in general, the energy was not quite there.  Maybe that’s what happens on a Monday morning after a weekend before Christmas (where I’m sure many of the kids were tired from attending Christmas parties…my kids included!).  I can see the tension and worry on the teacher’s faces…what’s going on with all these kids?  All that hard work…


But every year, without fail, when it’s time for these kids to shine, they are up, energetic and dressed to impress.  I guess they’ve “been there, done that”, and since they have done rehearsals for the Christmas pageant so many times, they instinctually know to package their energy until it really matters, then they let it rip, and give it all they’ve got!

It is with this giving spirit, that in return, these kids know their parents, grandparents and loved ones, will sit though off key notes and flubbed lines, put a smile on their faces, and give their gift of love and support. 

{Photo gift card holder in frames. Card holder instructions here}

And that’s the best present anyone could ask for.



{Attending these beautiful  parties...Privet and Holly}



Monday, December 19, 2011

christmas past


Growing up, our Christmas traditions were quite simple.   Christmas Eve meant going to a candlelight service at our church, and then a light supper at a local restaurant before going home.  The next morning, of course, we were all up early and ran down the stairs to open our gifts.  We’d spend the rest of the day eating wonderful meals cooked by my Mom, while my brother and I played with our new toys.  Dad looked on, helping with assembly.

One year, we decided to go to the Caribbean for Christmas.  Since we had few extended family members close by, we had the flexibility for the four of us to just pick up and enjoy the warm weather down south.

The beach and the hotel were decorated with Christmas lights.  All the traditional foods of turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce, along with Caribbean fare were available. Although as a child, it felt different, and even with all the Christmas paraphernalia around us,  I’m not sure if it really quite felt the same.  Because it was so warm, all the snowmen (made out of ice) had melted.  Although there’s really no place like home to enjoy the holidays, I have to admit, that Christmas in the Caribbean is still memorable to me today.  Maybe it was the fact that we broke tradition just once, to see what it was like, that made that year stick in our minds. 

Now as a parent, I think it is something that would be interesting to try at least once for my kids.  Good friends of ours have decided to get away from the snow and go to Florida over Christmas, and although we were unable to join them, I think it’s fabulous that they’re creating a vastly different memory for their family.  They may or may not have started a new tradition for themselves, but I think they were tired of following everyone else’s traditions, and wanted to try for once, something new for themselves.

That is what Christmas memories are all about.  Although we can create great comfort with following the same traditions year after year, sometimes it’s nice to change things up a little, and do something that may be out of our comfort zone, and create new and unique memorable moments.



Melted Snowman Sugar Cookies
(inspired from a photo on Pinterest)

Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup of butter, softened
  • 1 cups white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt


Preparation
  • In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until smooth.
  • Beat in the eggs, then add vanilla.
  • Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  • Cover, and chill dough for at least one hour (or overnight).
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
  • Roll out dough on floured surface 1/4 inch thick.
  • Cut into circles with any cookie cutter or create random shapes to mimic melted snowen.
  • Place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets or silpat.
  • Bake 6 to 8 minutes in preheated oven.
  • Cool completely.
While the cookies are cooling, make the icing.  

Icing Ingredients
  • 1 cup confectioners or powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp. Milk
  • 2 tsp. Corn Syrup (to make it appear shiny).
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • Chocolate powder (for brown colouring)
  • Red gel icing (pre-bought at the store, or use red food colouring to add to the icing)
  • Marshmallow (for the head)
Preparation
  • Mix the sugar, milk and corn syrup.  
  • Using the back of a spoon, smear the icing haphazardly to appear like the snowman is melting.
  • Slightly warm the marshmallows in the microwave for about 10 seconds, then add onto the icing to stick to the cookie.  Using your finger, lightly flatten the marshmallow so it appears like the snowman's melted head.
  • Take any remaining icing, add chocolate powder to make brown, then pipe on the eyes, arms etc.
  • Using the red gel icing, make the nose and buttons.

Enjoy.

{Attending these beautiful  parties...Privet and Holly}


Saturday, December 17, 2011

worth a thousand

Two story, Chanel-themed dressing room in Texas

Actually, this one is worth $35 Million!


Grand French Chateau on 90 acres




Friday, December 16, 2011

breaking bread


Sometimes spending a meal together as a family can be difficult, especially when schedules of both the children and adults collide.

It’s wonderful that with Christmas around the corner, most of the kids’ extracurricular activities have begun to wind down and pause (and I mean just pause, and ever so slightly), allowing us just a few more opportunities to “break bread” together as a family. 


I love all the foods that come with Christmas.  Just like Thanksgiving, I can never tire of turkey, stuffing, gravy, and all the Christmas treats!  The ginger bread cookies!  The candy canes!  The chocolate covered nuts or anything!  However, the only thing that our family doesn’t particularly enjoy is Christmas pudding.


I think the concept is interesting.  My kids love fruit, however, they’d probably prefer something that tasted more like “chunky monkey” sandwiches (banana and Nutella sandwiches), a sandwich inspired by the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor of the same name.  So, when I discovered this interesting Nutella Croissant Pudding found
here, I thought, how about making a different kind of pudding...not necessarily a Christmas pudding per se, but a bread pudding that all of us can enjoy.

Let’s just say, the kids loved it!  Although it's not your usual Christmas pudding, here’s a different kind of bread pudding that might just be a new tradition (Christmas or any other time of the year!) 



Nutella Croissant Pudding/Chunky Monkey pudding
(adapted from Inspired Taste’s recipe)

Ingredients:
  • 3 croissants (preferably 1-2 days old)
  • 3/4 cup Nutella
  • 1 banana, sliced
  • 2 eggs
  •  ½ cup heavy cream, ½ cup 2% milk
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  •  1/4  teaspoon salt
  •  ½ cup sugar 
  • 2 tbsp. cashews or any other kind of nut
  • Powdered sugar (for finishing touches)
Preparation
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

  • Slice each croissant in half lengthwise then slather one side with Nutella. 
  • Add sliced bananas. 
  • Make sandwiches and cut into 2-inch pieces.

  • Add sandwich pieces and sprinkle with nuts to a small baking dish or loaf pan.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, cream, almond extract, salt and sugar together to make a custard.
  • Pour the custard over the sandwich pieces then gently push down the bread to absorb the custard.
  • 
Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes then remove the foil and continue to bake uncovered for about 10 minutes until the bread pudding is golden brown and the liquid has been completely absorbed. 
  • Let cool and then sprinkle on powdered sugar to finish.

Serve warm...with ice cream (Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey, perhaps?)




{Attending these beautiful  parties...Centsational Girl}

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

comfort and joy



I was on a recent school field trip with my son, where we visited a beautiful local lake that was once inhabited by the Native people (Iroquoians to be specific).


It was a full day of walking around, observing the lake, learning about the trees and the way the Natives lived off the land.  It takes approximately 5 deer skins to outfit one child.  They didn’t have vitamin C from oranges to prevent them from getting scurvy, so they had rosehip tea instead.


I was amazed at all the ways they had to be resourceful.  Nothing was taken for granted, they all understood that it took a village to help each other, and they worked.  And worked hard.

The women worked on the farm.  They raised their children together and ran a full household.  The men hunted and protected their village.  They built from cedar trees around them.


Although they didn’t have the comforts of modern day living, I bet you they were happy.  Working together…as a village…as a family, is incredibly rewarding.  They cherished everything they had, because they hunted it or made it themselves.  And it’s all they had….nothing was left to waste. 


So this holiday season, I hope that I can be just as resourceful, using simple ingredients from my kitchen cupboard, to create things, while not as life dependent as rosehip tea, but something that is made by hand, to be cherished.

Homemade Clay Gift Tags

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups of baking soda (about 1 box)
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 1 ½  cups water
  • Sauce pan 
  • Spoon
  • Plastic wrap
  • Wax paper
  • Cookie cutters
  • Rubber stamps  (from the craft or dollar store) or toothpick
  • Straw

Preparation:
  • Mix all the ingredients in a saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring consistently, until it is too thick to stir with a spoon.
  • Cool for a few minutes, or until it's cool enough to touch. Place on the plastic wrap. (Clean/soak the pan immediately or you’ll have clay stuck on your pan!)
  • Roll out the dough so it’s the thickness you require. 
  • Using a cookie cutter or a knife, cut out your shapes.
  • Using a straw, cut a hole at the top of the ornament.
  • Using a toothpick (I like using the plastic ones which are easier to use), create your message if you want it handwritten, or use a rubber stamp.
  • Once you have molded it, it will take 1-2 days for the clay to dry. This clay can be painted with either Tempera or acrylic craft paints.


Joyfully, tag your gifts.




Monday, December 12, 2011

hot hot hot



One of the first movies my son ever watched in a theatre was “The Polar Express” (by Robert Zemeckis).  It was in 3D, and although I’m not a huge fan of 3D movies, this one in particular was really magical to see.  I think it was more interesting to watch our son’s reaction than the movie itself.  In particular, it was funny to see him stick his tongue out to try to catch the snowflakes during one of the opening scenes of the movie.

My personal favourite scene from “The Polar Express” movie has to be the one where all the waiters on the train come out with hot chocolate for the children, singing “hot-hot-hot-hot chocolate”.  Very musical theatre in style, it truly set the tone for the magic to come in the movie, and has become our household’s “must see” movie to watch every Christmas season.

Photograph courtesy of screened.com

As the temperature begins to descend, I hope amidst all the holiday craziness, we can all still feel some magic with the season, stay warm, or even feel “hot, hot, hot”!




Homemade Hot Chocolate
(serves approx. 4-6 people)

Adapted from Rachel Ray’s recipe…I’ve halved the sugar, as I found her recipe a little too sweet.

Ingredients
  • 4 cups milk
  • ½  cup water
  • ¼  cup sugar
  • ½ cup bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tbsp. butterscotch chips
  • 35% Whipping Cream, (available in cartons in dairy aisle-just take an electric whisk and whisk until soft peaks form)
  • 1 tbsp chocolate shavings (I like to use a vegetable peeler to "peel" a chocolate bar to make shavings.)


Preparation
  • Heat milk, water, sugar to a boil.
  • Remove from heat and stir in chocolate and butterscotch chips until they melt into milk. 
  • Pour into small mugs or cups and top with whipped cream swirls and toffee.


Sip slowly, and enjoy.






Friday, December 09, 2011

let it snow


As we approach Christmas, we start to prepare ourselves for winter weather.  Some parts of Canada already have snow, and lots of it, but according to The Weather Network , for where I live, we should brace ourselves and get our shovels ready for a lot of snow this winter.

I never used to like the snow, but I think I’ve slowly changed my tune. I like it during the holidays when the kids aren’t in school, so I don’t have to drive frantically in it.  (although as soon as school begins in the New Year, I would like the snow to disappear). 


I think now as a parent, I can appreciate the beauty of glistening, fresh, powdery snow.  When it falls lightly from the sky… and you stick your tongue out…pure childhood magic.


It’s that childhood magic that has helped me appreciate the snow more.  Making snowmen, igloos, snow angels.  Now don’t get me wrong, I still don’t like bundling all of us up with snowsuits, jackets, scarves and all the paraphernalia that goes with winter wardrobes.  



However, now that our kids have learned to ski, we now have a new family sport.  If it means we get more time to spend together, enjoying the outdoors…well...bring on the snow!


Easy Snowflake Wreath
This craft takes about 5 minutes to do, assuming you have a hot glue gun.  I saw this project here, and thought...I have those snowflake ornaments!  The snowflake ornaments are flat, and can be found at most craft or dollar stores.  I attached another snowflake with ribbon below the wreath, to fit my long windows.









Wednesday, December 07, 2011

something to hold on to



My husband likes to say I “over produce” everything.  I guess I am the type of person who, when tackling a project or a task, I give it my best…my all.

Although that sounds like a wonderful attribute, I have to admit, it can be at times, paralyzing.  With our data access at almost over capacity, my computer has been quite slow lately…largely due to the fact that I have over 9000 photographs on my computer.  And my computer is not even a year old!


According to Facebook, on average over 250 million photographs are uploaded each day.

I wonder if in this "Facebook era", do we take millions of pictures to
boast what we’ve done or seen.  Or do we do it to remember it?  It might be a little bit of both, but I’d like to hope that people photograph obsessively because we love to share.  For me, there are so many beautiful things that I see, things my children do, special “Kodak moments” that I want to capture, that I want to hold onto it forever. 


I think keeping these memories are a gift.  When I look at past photographs, I’m thankful that I've documented everything and have memories to share as a gift for others.


Quick and Easy Photo Gift Card holder

Print a sheet of paper with your message.
Take as many photographs of your loved ones holding the greeting sign.  Print the photograph.
Attach the gift card using tape, or cutting out around the hands, so the card fits into the slits.



Enjoy the gift of giving.