Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Gone Fishing

Taking a couple of weeks off with the family. Getting reacquainted with my camera, barefeet, seashells and no set bedtime. All great - though the last one may need some revisiting.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Ribbons & Stuff

A few posts ago I mentioned I was working on some new party favour packaging ideas. Here is a peek at a board I put together and photographed this morning. I plan to have the new products updated in the shop while I am, ahem, on holiday for the next couple of weeks.

These cellophane cones really are fun to work with. Just about anything you put inside looks all glam and gifty. I threw together a hot chocolate mix (layers of chocolate powder, mini marshmallows and chocolate Chipits) so the snowflake pattern on the packaging would be more visible. But the chocolate dusted the marshmallows and I can't decide if it's appealing or shabby. I think if I were to attempt this for gift-giving, I would bag the hot cocoa mix separately and place that inside the cone.

More holiday/holiday posts to come!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Owl Cupcakes

In my humble and openly anti-fondant opinion, decorated cupcakes look terrific but no one actually eats them. Adults may try to be polite and chew through a gummy layer of icing but kids will openly scrape all that hard work right off to get at the tasty bits below. Who could blame? Buttercream is the only way to go. Home-made buttercream. I shudder at the thought of store-bought icing. But look carefully at these owl cupcakes, courtesy of food blog Caramel Potatoes, and you will see something no kid (or adult) will object to: Oreo cookie tops. What a splendid idea.

I suppose, in a pinch, you could buy pre-iced cupcakes and just decorate the tops. But I find grocery store-bought cakes taste lousy too. I was liberated years ago from the rigours of baking from scratch by a chef friend who told me that there is no shame in using a box mix, so it's been Duncan Hines ever since. It's one bowl and an egg while the house fills with good baking smells and I get to wear an apron for an hour. Win-Win.

Monday, October 17, 2011

40th Birthday

Mr. H finally did the decent thing and joined me in turning forty. We threw him a little party over the weekend. While I was mostly focused on planning the food and finding the lid to the martini shaker, I wanted the house to look party-ish without resorting to mylar banners declaring 40 the new 20, or Over The Hill. A quick Google search yielded a perfect idea: a photo collage:

I arranged the photos on large sheets of kraft paper, taping them into place on the back. The panels were hung as a backdrop to the food table. I left a jar of coloured chalk nearby and the kids loved writing birthday messages around the pictures. Balloons felt too young for a fellow entering his middle years, so I made a dozen tissue poofs in red and orange. They look best hung in clusters, so they were hung in groups of three throughout the living and dining rooms. Normally eight sheets of tissue per poof is sufficient, but the dollar store tissue was really thin (as you can see from the anemic poof on the left) so I ended up using 12 sheets each.

I used those non-marking 3M hooks to string some fishing line in the window and clipped more photos. I had so many great pictures left over so I randomly tucked them into mirrors and frames around the house.

A pillar candle, jumbo pine cone and white gourds made a simple centrepiece:

The red and orange scheme was inspired by this vase of branches with red berries. Even with ten kids under ten running around, no one picked the berries! I'm always too busy fixing a drink, replenishing snacks or finding a Band-Aid to take pictures during the party. And I find parties feel better than they look once they get going, so a blog-worthy shot isn't always possible. Since I was doing all the cooking, I went with food I could make ahead so I could enjoy myself too: pulled pork, home-made mac 'n cheese, corn on the cob with chipotle-chili butter and slaw with apples and raisins. But the real draw was the dessert table: cheesecake, pie, lemon squares, chocolate chip cookies, coffee cake and on the main stage a do-it-yourself ice cream sundae bar. Small bowls filled with mini marshmallows, M&Ms, crushed peanuts, hot fudge and caramel sauce and whipped cream were set out along with the ice cream. It's a ten-kilometre run day today.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Personalized placemats for the family

The new placemats are proving to be a hit with more than just kids. This is a customer's order for her whole family. I don't know what has me more tickled, the mommy and daddy placemats or that dad is clearly the cook in the house. Cute!

DIY Watercolour Party

I love when a kid's party feels right rather than just looks beautiful. When the age and interests of the birthday girl or boy have been taken into account, when the right amount of detail has been put forward...without crossing the line into Party Mama territory.

I came across this lovely fête and was smitten with the simplicity of the decorations and theme. How perfect for a four-year old to twirl around the living room with some friends?

How great are these ribbons wands? It looks to me like like the dowel has been drilled and the ribbon looped through that, but for a no-drill DIY option that needs only a 12" dowel (found at Canadian Tire for a dollar), a screw-eye hook and four feet of ribbon check out the tutorial from the Ribbon Wand Shop.

There are two things I love about these streamers: first, the unconventional way they're hung in simple rows across the room looks fantastic and modern; second, they've been ever so slightly coloured using a shallow bath of food colouring (and plenty of drying time). I wonder if you could also get this effect by brushing the rolled end with watercolour paint?

A pitch-perfect party favour, watercolour palettes, ends the festivities:

Party details and more pictures over at Tip Junkie.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

In praise of clichés

Say what you will about stylish food I prefer my fare tasty and, ideally, simple to prepare. There is something to be said for leaving the guanciale ravioli to the experts at Enoteca Sociale. With my preference for the tried and true, no one at my table is surprised to find this gorgeous soup in their bowl come fall. 

Mr. H gave me a beautiful Aspinal recipe book for Christmas a few years ago. It is a lot of pressure to create a document that may very well outlive me if my daughter takes an interest in the food of her childhood. But every now and then I deem a recipe worthy of the book's handmade pages and I carefully, neatly, and always with a black roller pen, make an entry. This soup was the first one. I can't lay claim to the recipe - it's from Cinda  Chavich - but I have made it so often over the years that I feel kind of proprietary about it just the same. The photo does not do the soup justice - and may well earn the scorn of food bloggers - but it was lunch and I was hungry and did not want to let my steaming bowl of soup cool while I worried about styling the photo. Do not let the humble snapshot dissuade you from making it. I promise it will be the best darn squash soup you've ever tasted. And the quickest to make too.

3 lbs squash peeled and cubed (butternut, acorn or buttercup)
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion (I like to use Vidallia) finely chopped
1 medium Yukon Gold potato peeled and cubed
6 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup Jack Daniels
1 bay leaf + 4 sprigs fresh thyme (do not use dried)
1 Tbsp maple syrup (has to be real maple syrup or omit)
salt and white pepper
1/4 sour cream or whipping cream if serving at the holidays. I also use condensed milk on occasion.

1. In a soup pot melt the butter with the olive oil over medium heat and cook the onion, covered, until softened and transparent, about 5 to 8 minutes.

2. Stir in the squash, potato, stock, whiskey, herbs and syrup and bring to a boil over high heat.

3. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered until the squash is softened, 30 to 45 minutes depending on the size of the squash pieces. So cube them smallish if you're in a hurry. After 30 or so minutes pick out the thyme and bay leaf and discard.

4. Use an immersion blender or a blender and purée until very smooth. You don't want chunks.

5. Return the soup to a simmer and cook for another 10 minutes. Season to taste with white pepper and salt (though I usually find the soup stock adds enough salt). Whisk in the sour cream, whipping cream or condensed milk, or spoon a dollop onto each serving. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Painting with Klutz

A Klutz shipment arrived yesterday and my kids could not wait to dive into the Face Painting kit. Neither could I, actually, because I could use some practice before I have to bring a pair of zombies to life on Halloween. My experience with face paint has not been positive. In much the same way that CityLine in the '90s made faux-finished wall treatments look great and do-able but the results at home were hideously amateurish, my face painting efforts typically end in a smudged mess that look nothing like the picture. I blame the face paint. Anything I've tried has been either greasy pencils or waxy palettes with stiff nylon bristles, neither of which produce satisfying results.

 In addition to an impressive one million kits sold, which makes it the best-selling face paint kit in the universe, the Klutz kit also boasts Wolfe Brothers paint. Do you know who the Wolfe Brothers are? I didn't either so I looked them up and discovered that they are bona fide theatrical make-up and F/X artists whose products are created by artists for other artists. Hard to argue with credentials like that. I decided to give it a try. Which brings us back to this morning and a mini experiment over breakfast:

The difference in texture was immediate from the first swirl of the brush. It was creamy but blendable and dried to a powdery finish in two minutes. No greasy smears, no uneven waxy coverage. Well. Knock me over with a feather. It's the best darn face paint I've ever used. At lunch my five-year old insisted on trying it out for himself on the back of my hand:

See? So easy even a five-year old can do it. By dinner we were experts:

Klutz Face Painting Kits are available now in the shop.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Gourd-geous (but simple) fall porch fix-up

I can do this! We are lucky to live in a house with a porch. It's a modest structure that would barely qualify as a porch by country house standards, but it's a favourite family spot to read sheltered from the weather and hang out while observing the goings-on of our little street. As an important part of our family life it deserves better treatment than the usual scattering of toys, newspapers and a half-dead Aster from Loblaws. Why did you die little plant? Did I not water you? Place you in the sunshine? I love design as much as the next Dwell reader, but a gardener I am not. My sister, who is, is embarrassed for me. I have offered to pay her (in BBQ and hair advice, but still) to help me but I think she prefers to feel superior when I walk the thoughtfully landscaped gardens and seasonally decorated porch of her house by the lake. "It's simple," she tells me with a wrinkled brow, unable to grasp why I continue to live with an out of control Arctic willow and two misshapen lilac bushes. My lacklustre porch remains a source of discontent. But this, this I can do! I am sure of it. I even have Kale. Perched on a stair in the plastic pot it came in...but now I know what to do with it. This fall gourds 'n kale planter idea is courtesy of a very pretty (Canadian!) blog aptly named A Pretty Life In The Suburbs. This project has the advantage of looking effortless and, I hope, is actually effortless in the making. I am on the case. Project Porch is on. Dare I promise to post a picture when all is said and done?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Halloween Cards Giveaway

Canadian Parents is running a giveaway of my Halloween cards and stickers. To enter just leave a comment on their site and tell them what your kids are going to be for Halloween. Easy! Here's the contest link. Enter up to October 9th. I hope one of my customers wins!

Three Things to do with a Tortilla | Marlene's Meal Makeovers

Three Things to do with a Tortilla | Marlene's Meal Makeovers

If you haven't yet met Marlene MacPherson, you really should. She's a Canadian (Ontario) mom, food lover and entrepreneur who embarked on a second career all the while living through a first, and now sadly a second, cancer diagnosis. Marlene has terrific family-friendly food ideas - I always check out the Cook Once/Produce Twice recipes - that are healthful, simple but tasty. Great ideas with a dollop of courage and a pinch of inspiration. Pumpkin mini loaves anyone?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

to the bat mobile

I'm not quite ready to deck the halls with bats and ghouls, but when I am you can bet I'm making this bat mobile. Bristol board bats are a Halloween staple of mine. I use this Martha Stewart template. I keep them from year to year (some are going on five years old now, so we make a few fresh ones every year) and we stick them to the living room window where they are spookily backlit by the inside lights, and put them on mirrors. I'm feeling this mobile, perhaps embellished with an outline of silver glitter, over the dining room table. We used to have a light there. Now there's a hole. Long story. A bat mobile would be an improvement, albeit a temporary one.