Friday, 19 August 2011

A Week of Boy Wall Art - Part 4: Paper Boat + Initial

Boat & Initial 4th Birthday Present

Another one of my cousins has a little boy who just turned 4.  His name starts with a J and I know they spend a lot of time up north at various cottages so I figured that boats would be a good image to use in a gift for him.

I kept the frame & background a simple white to make the colourful letter & boat the focus.  The boat is made from layers of coloured card stock with the sails & flag at the top all lifting outward slightly so the paper fans out and shows all the colours captured from the pattern on the 'J'.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Let's take a Cookie Break... Testing a Mrs. Fields Recipe

I've been on the hunt for the perfect chocolate chip cookie for at least a year.  Last week DH sent me this link to a video about the secrets behind the yummy-ness of Mrs. Fields cookies.  Apparently, the key is to use cold butter, refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes and bake them low and slow (300° for 20-22min).

I couldn't wait to try the recipe and made my first batch the night after I saw the video.   I must have put too much butter in (I almost always cut the block of butter according to the markings on the wrapper which isn't terribly exact!) because they spread way too much and although crispy around the edges, after eating two my jaw hurt because they were so chewy (not in the good way).

After thinking about my disappointing results I had to try it again.  This time I wanted to compare the difference between using the Mrs. Fields secrets and how I would normally bake cookies (room temp butter, batter left on the counter, 350° oven).  Truthfully, I wasn't convinced their way would be better but needed to know for sure.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

A Week of Boy Wall Art - Part 3: Winnie the Pooh

Winnie the Pooh Welcome Baby Gift

One of our employees, actually one of our favourite employees, had a baby boy named Isaiah a couple weeks ago.  Before the baby came, he had proudly shown me the nursery he and his girlfriend created with a Winnie the Pooh theme and I didn't remember seeing much on the walls.

Truth be told, I'm not a huge fan of character/cartoon themes but Winnie the Pooh, if it's done well, can be beautifully classic and that was my inspiration for their gift.

I love how this turned out!

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

A Week of Boy Wall Art - Part 2: Little Bees

Little Bees for Cole

My cousin and his wife had a beautiful baby boy, named Cole, and have decorated his room in dark wood and a bumble bee theme. This is what I made them for a baby shower gift.

Monday, 15 August 2011

A Week of Boy Wall Art - Part 1: Felt Transportation Wall Art

When I was putting together my little monkey's room I found it difficult to find anything that I wanted to put on the walls.  Boy wall art is very limited (in my opinion) so I designed my own to fit the theme & colour scheme.

Mason's Room

In the last while, I've been working on a number of projects for little boy birthdays, shower and 'welcome baby' gifts.  I love giving wall art as a gift because it can be individualized, it's versatile and (if it's done well) can be very thoughtful.  Plus, who doesn't want something beautiful for their walls!?

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Where have I been for a month?!

I can't believe how fast the last month has flown by.  We've been SO busy.  We've had three different birthdays in the last two weeks.  I've made a rehearsal dinner cake, wedding cake and birthday cake.  We sold an investment house we owned in the Beaches (Toronto) and oh.... I've gone back to work (more on that in a different post)!

I have pictures of two of the three cakes.  Here is the rehearsal dinner cake:

Click to view a larger picture

The birthday cake:

Click to view a larger picture

Monday, 20 June 2011

Pretty Initial Wall Art

I've been busy over the last week!  Between refinishing a table & chairs (which is becoming a chore rather than something fun because I keep running into snags...) and four different wall art projects I've barely had time to take pictures along the way let alone tell you about it :)

I promised myself that I would get some, hopefully all, of them posted over the next week.

Here's the first one, a pretty initial for Avery's room.

I was inspired by this - it's made with quarters and I LOVE it:
I thought about replicating it with the letter A for an 'art wall' that I'm working on in her room.  Unfortunately, lack of time got the upper hand and I resorted to creating something sparkly and simple instead.  I also thought the block letter might be a little too modern for her very pretty room that has a slightly vintage feel to it.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Adventures in Baking: Peach & Strawberry Shortcakes

For Mother's Day I asked for a subscription to a couple magazines.  DH is Australian and is kind of a 'go big or go home' kind of guy and he ended up getting me four, one of which is Fine Cooking.   It's an incredible magazine and I've been really impressed because it's very accessible (for non-cooking people like myself) but still focuses on more 'refined' recipes with fresh seasonal ingredients.

In this month's issue I found a recipe for Strawberry Shortcakes.  I don't know if I've actually ever had one before but it sounds so lovely and summery (and we have a family dinner tonight to which I'm bringing desert) so I thought I'd give it a try!

Friday, 10 June 2011

Conversations with a 2 Year Old: No Frills

Pulling into the grocery store parking lot.

2 Year Old: Mommy, what's name's this store?

Me:  No Frills

2 Year Old: No Mommy, YES FRILLS!!!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Father's Day Present: We {love} You

I've been trying to get this project done for 2 weeks now :s  Part of the delay was due to some experimentation...  I seem to be having some difficulty getting ideas out of my head and, in this case, onto canvas.  And the other part is that I've started a handful of other projects and am feeling a little scattered about what to do next.  Good thing I have a deadline (Father's Day) for this one!

Originally I wanted to do a series of kid-bit foot/hand prints shaped like hearts that could be framed for Daddy's office inspired  by a friend who did something similar as a craft with her kids for Valentine's Day.  Unfortunately, I wasn't overly impressed with my creations and felt that they'd look pretty silly - plus I know that DH is more inclined to like pictures of the kids rather than imprints of their bits.  So I moved onto the next option, try a tutorial I'd bookmarked a while ago that shows how to use tissue paper to create photo-printed canvases.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Conversations with a 2 Year Old: Superheroes

My daughter pushed her plate off her high chair tray tonight at dinner.  The loud crash made her a little upset and my little guy came flying over to the rescue with his box of action figures.

2 Year Old:  It's ok Avery, here's lots of toys.  This is a monster (pulls out Mr. Incredible)
Me:  Who is that?
2 Year Old:  Mistah Inkedubuh
Me:  That's right, but he's not a monster he's a superhero
2 Year Old:  He not a superhero, him not have a cape to fly in the air!  Superheroes have capes to fly in the air.

You can't beat that logic!

Lamb Wall Art

My lovely friend M recently announced that she and her husband are pregnant with their second child.

With an invitation to dinner last night, I wanted to bring something with me to celebrate this new addition to their family. For good reasons, they have an affinity for lambs and so I knew this would be my starting point.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Planning Mason's 3rd Birthday - Gathering my thoughts...

We (Mason & I) had a discussion about his birthday which is coming up in September - I know, it's over 3 months away but those months go quickly! - and when given a bunch of options decided he wanted a super hero party.  More specifically Superman , Spiderman & Batman :)

Last night I spent a little bit of time looking up ideas for cakes and invitations and there are some great ones out there!  Clearly I'm going to have to incorporate red, blue, yellow and black... no problem (ha!)

Here are a couple cakes & invitations that are fantastic (but I saved the best for last... ):


Friday, 27 May 2011

Baa Baa Black Sheep Toddler Backpack

I'm often inspired to create things when I can't find what I'm looking for in stores.  Last year I saw a little girl with a cute animal backpack and wanted something for my little guy.  When I couldn't find anything I liked I went to work creating my own.  At the time I was (and still am) in LOVE with felted wool and ended up creating about 10 different ones and gave a lot of them to family & friends as Christmas presents. 

My felted wool toddler backpacks
Everyone who's seen them has gone crazy over them but they're an insane amount of work - some of the faces alone take me 3-4 hours to do because they're all hand-sewn.  So I thought I'd test out an easier and faster craft felt version done entirely using the sewing machine.  I think it turned out pretty well!

My Baa Baa Black Sheep Toddler Backpack
(c) Jacs Of All Trades 2011

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Go Bananas for Guilt-free Ice Cream

I came across this post a little while ago that said you could create 'ice cream' from plain old frozen bananas.  I found the idea intriguing and bookmarked the site.

Last night my baby girl had a fever and I thought it might be a perfect time to test out whether bananas could be a delicious (healthy) cold treat.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Wall Graphics - 3 DIY Options

I love Facebook.  It has allowed me to reconnect with fabulous people who I've met throughout the years.   One of those people is an old friend of mine from high school who just moved into a new house with his family. He sent me a quick message yesterday asking if I had any ideas/tips for painting on a kids wall.

Here are the three easiest ways that I know of:

1) Using a projector to create a mural

You can use one of the old-school projectors that your teachers used to use.  Or if you have a projector at work, you can hook it up to your laptop at home and project straight onto the wall that way too (this also skips the 'creating a transparency' step).

This is the least expensive method (provided you don't go out and buy a projector!) and the primary benefit is that you have complete control over the creative because you can use any image that you like.  The drawback is that it can take a lot of time if your mural/images are detailed and if you aren't comfortable painting it may seem a little daunting.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Hand-painted Birthday Card (no artistic skills required)

We had a birthday party yesterday morning and the night before I realized I hadn't made the card! I'm not an artist, my drawing and painting skills are pretty rudimentary but I try not to let that get in my way when I'm doing things!  This is my quick and non-artistic way to create a hand-painted card for a little boy.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Kid-Bits Craft: Handprint Flower Bags

I was at my friend 'A's place right before Mother's Day, she always has amazing ideas and she did this really cute craft with the kids that completely inspired me.

I love the idea of having a piece of your little ones with you, but it's hard to find ways to do it that don't look silly on a grown-up! 

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Avery's 1st Birthday - Final Update!


I've missed posting so much over the last couple weeks!  Unfortunately, the work that has kept me away isn't done so it's likely my posts will continue to be sporadic for the next while.  However, while I had a little time tonight I thought I'd show you how things turned out.  I don't have many pictures and the ones I do have aren't great quality - but they'll do :)

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Last Minute Mother's Day Gifts

I've been living in bookkeeping hell for the last while (it turns out our bookkeeper last year was horribly incompetent) and then found out this morning that the situation is worse than we thought.  In any case, my limited amount of free time to post fun things and to get ready for Avery's party is going to become even more limited (yikes!) but one of my sisters is coming to stay with us for a week (isn't that incredible?!) to watch the kids so that I can work on the bookkeeping thing... somehow I'll have to find time to get the rest done too although I know the postings will take a back seat to everything else, so my apologies in advance.

Since Mother's Day is only a day away I realized that I need make something for my Mom!  I tried a kid craft tonight based on a great idea that one of my friends came up with using kids' hands.  However, it's still in the beginning stages and I won't know if it worked until tomorrow.... which will be too late for you to try it too.  With that in mind, here are a couple ideas that I'll likely choose from if mine doesn't work out!

Fresh Flowers
My mom loves flowers.  Rather than buying a bouquet and giving it to her straight from the store, I prefer to do a little rearranging and put it in a vase/container of my own.  It doesn't have to be a big bouquet, just a beautiful one.  (Ikea & Dollarama have pretty and inexpensive glass vases)

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Planning Avery's 1st Birthday: Part 4 - Party Favours (Girls)

We have 5 little girls (not including Avery) ranging from 3 years to 6 years coming to the party.  I wanted to have party favours that would be equally appealing for all the girls and I think I've found the right mix.

For Mason's 1st birthday I put together little loot bags that I thought were cute.  In retrospect they were like any other party favour - trinkety toys in a bag that were fun for a couple minutes but would likely get thrown out when the kids got home.

Since then, I've tried to put more thought into what I pick out. For example last year I made personalized shirts for each little person who came to Mason's 2nd party.  I don't know if they got worn (!) but there was at least more time and effort put into them as well as a higher chance that they would be used afterwards.

For this party, I tried to do the same thing - choose party favours that have a little more intrinsic value.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Cake Decorating 101 - Part 7: Advanced Decorating Techniques

Last but not least!  Here is another set of videos that demonstrate some great decorating techniques that I have yet to master, but when they're used properly they create spectacular results.

Intricate Piping & Lace Extensions

Friday, 29 April 2011

Cake Decorating 101 - Part 6: Intermediate Decorating Techniques

I've compiled an assortment of videos that demonstrate the next set of skills that you can use to make more professional looking cakes.  Truth be told, I haven't done most of these but I have seen them used (in person!) to create amazing results.

Simple Sugar Flowers

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Cake Decorating 101 - Part 5: Basic Decorating Techniques

It's a little hard to figure out where to begin with this one.  There are so many different ways to decorate a cake!  I've chosen things that I feel are both simple, especially if you're just beginning to learn this craft, but also effective so that even if these are the only techniques you learn, you will still be able to create beautiful cakes.

Cake Design

I would recommend that you start by looking at images online.  Use Google Images to search for cakes using key words, for example "girl 1st birthday cake", "retirement cake" etc.  Also, most cake designers have websites with galleries full of images.  These are also wonderful sources of ideas. 

As you look at the images, deconstruct the decorations and figure out if you have the skills to be able to create a specific type of design.  There's nothing worse than wanting to create a cake that looks a certain way and then not be able to do it because you don't have the ability!  I learned quickly that my piping skills are horribly lacking and because I make cakes on a by-need basis I also don't practice, which means I avoid designs that require piping.

Once you've looked through images, decide which design elements you want to incorporate and what look you want to give your cake.  Then do a quick sketch on paper to see if you are able to get the design you're thinking of out of your head.  It doesn't matter if you're not an artist, it's just helpful to see your concept on paper because you'll be able to evaluate it from a different perspective.

Once you've finalized your design, gather the tools you'll need and begin!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Adventures in Baking: One Bowl Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

One of my sisters stopped in for a visit yesterday afternoon and I always like to have something for people to nibble on when they come over.

I didn't have a lot of time so I fell back on one of my favourite quick and yummy recipes - Chocolate Chip Banana Bread.  No beater necessary, mix it all in one bowl and then pop it into the over for app. 55 min.  Perfect.

It's moist and delicious with a perfect balance of banana and chocolate.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Cake Decorating 101 - Part 4: Stacking Cakes

The biggest cake I've ever made was for my cousin's wedding last June.  Without the correct support it wouldn't have made it out of the house let alone through the car ride and delivery to the venue!

The cake I made for my cousin's wedding.

When you're making a cake with more than one level (tier) I would highly recommend that you use the correct support structure.  Otherwise, you run the risk of having cakes that get squished, stop being level, or topple when you move them.  Each cake should be on a separate cake board and every tier (other than the top) should be dowelled. 

Monday, 25 April 2011

Cake Decorating 101 - Part 3: Covering With Buttercream or Fondant

The buttercream vs. fondant debate.

Can you tell which of the cakes below are covered with fondant and which ones are covered only in buttercream before they were decorated?

The cakes on the left are covered in fondant and the cakes on the right are covered in buttercream.
How can you tell?  Fondant creates rounded edges and a perfectly flat surface.
There is often a lot of debate about what type of surface to use on the outside of a cake.   If you're interested, I found this wonderful discussion about the merits and drawbacks of each one.  In my opinion, especially as a novice decorator , I prefer fondant because it creates a cleaner finish, it tends to be more forgiving, and it holds up better in warm weather.  However, in the hands of someone who is skilled, a buttercream finish adds a level of depth to the design of a cake and gives it a completely different feel than those covered in fondant.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Cake Decorating 101 - Part 2: Level, Fill & Ice Your Cake

In some ways, this is one of the most important steps because you're creating the foundation for the shape of your cake and your fondant. 

Whenever I bake my cakes come out of the oven with a crown (the rounded part at the top).  I have always leveled my cakes by cutting off the crown straight across the top once it has cooled.  There are tools to do this, I have a cake leveler (see the picture below) or I've also seen people use a long serrated knife.  When I worked for one of Toronto's best cake decorators she used to use an actual level (the tool used in building houses etc.) once she cut the crowns off the cakes.  I haven't used a level yet, but then again people aren't paying me to make their cakes!

Friday, 22 April 2011

Cake Decorating 101 - Part 1: Basic Terminology, Tools & Recipes

Bobbette & Belle Cake
One of my favourite Toronto Designers

I am not a professional cake decorator by any stretch of the imagination, but I have decorated a couple of cakes in the last few years that have managed to turn out pretty well given my limited skills & experience.

I thought it would be helpful to have a set of posts that cover the essentials of cake decorating so that you have a quick reference for an outline of the process, recipes, and techniques.

To begin, here's a snapshot of the steps generally used to decorate a cake:
1) Make your filling & icing  
2) Bake your cake
3) Level, fill and mask your cake
4) Cover your cake with icing/fondant
5) Stack your cakes (if you're doing more than one tier)
6) Decorate

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Simple & Delicious Quiche Recipe

I've been meaning to do this post (and others) for days but I've been swamped with work since the weekend.  Ah well, c'est la vie!

Since we're going to have all sorts of eggs (from blowing them out for our Easter Eggs) and a nice long lazy weekend ahead of us, I thought I'd share a simple delicious quiche recipe I found last year.  It saves time by using an unbaked pie crust that you can find in the freezer section of the grocery store and I love that it's such a great base that you can replace the type of cheese with whatever you have on hand and then throw in whatever veggies/meat that you feel like!

Monday, 18 April 2011

Planning Avery's 1st Birthday: Part 3 - Invite Redesign & Monogrammed Napkins

Invite Update

After seeing the invites that I originally planned to use, DH told me didn't love them.  So I went back to the drawing board.  Just to be clear, if I'd decided to go ahead with the first ones, he would have accepted that.  But I really believe that being in a relationship includes respecting your partner's opinions and in this case, the party is being thrown by both of us for our daughter.  Plus, in the new design I was able incorporate my butterfly punch! 

The new (and final) invitations still incorporate all of the elements I wanted - polka dots, flowers & butterflies. They're still clean and simple although I think they have more of a traditional feel than what I was originally trying to create. 

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Beautiful Easter Eggs

I was speaking with my mother yesterday and she mentioned how much she was looking forward to the long weekend coming up.  Somehow, I'd forgotten Easter was just around the corner!

Over a month ago I picked up an Easter Egg Decorating Kit but yesterday when the kids were having their nap I wondered if there were some other options that might be eggs-traordinary (sorry... had to!).  I had no idea how many wonderful ideas I would find.  It turns out that you don't have to settle for one or two colour sloppily dyed eggs.

Starting with the basics, as you may know there are two options for your eggs:
1) Hardboiled - if you plan to eat the eggs afterwards.
2) Blown (where the contents of a raw egg are removed so you're working on the hollow shell) - this allows you to keep your eggs indefinitely provided that they're stored properly each year.

If you're like me and have a hard time boiling eggs without them cracking - check out this guide from  Or, if you'd like to try blowing them out, here's a video from that shows you how.

Egg Dyeing 101 ( - These instructions are based on using blown eggs

Protect your work area with paper towels or newspaper. Mix 1 teaspoon of vinegar and 20 drops of food coloring (use more to intensify color) in 1 cup of hot water in a heatproof bowl, cup, or jar deep enough to let you submerge an egg completely.
To create different tints of a color, vary dipping times: Submerge eggs for less than 5 minutes for light colors, and leave the egg in for 10 minutes or more for deeper shades. Using tongs makes handling the eggs easy.

To make a two-color egg, dye the whole egg first in a light color, let dry for 15 minutes, and then submerge half into a darker color (this idea works best for hard-boiled eggs).

**Notice the egg drying rack! It's made of foam board (found at most dollar stores) & straight pins**

Friday, 15 April 2011

Adventures in Baking: Low/er Fat Chocolate Chip Cookies

Low fat Oatmeal Chocolate Chip   &   Lower Fat Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have been ravenous for the last few days and craving chocolate chip cookies.  Since I`m not the type of person who just eats one (it`s likely that a batch is gone within 24 hours... yikes!), I thought it might be worth testing out some low/lower fat recipes.  I know, they`re still full of sugar but as least one of the two evils has been tamed with these!

The first batch I made is from my Joy of Cooking cookbook.  It's a low-fat oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe that I modified using a mashed banana instead of oil and fewer chocolate chips to make it even lower fat. 

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Conversations with a 2 Year Old: Love 'n Toots

Our little guy has been climbing into bed with us since I had to convert his crib to a toddler bed last month.  I know that if I want him to stay in bed all night I need to be firm about it... but the idea of getting up to put him back and then having him scream bloody murder just isn't worth it, at least for now.  Plus, if I'm really being honest - I secretly enjoy having him sleep beside me at night.

Yesterday morning gave me perfect examples of why I'm not terribly motivated to put him back in his own bed....

Around 6:30am in a sleepy haze I heard  "Mommy, I toot on you!!!"

I didn't respond.  I was still pretty asleep. 

Then 15 minutes (I think) later he snuggled up to me, rested his forehead on mine and put his little hand on my forearm then I heard him whisper "I love you sooooooo much".

My heart melted.  It was the first time he'd ever said that to me (un-coerced that is!).  I opened my eyes gave him a kiss and told him I loved him too.

Yep, putting him back to bed isn't happening anytime soon.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Stamp It.

The Lovely Miss 'M's Napkins

As we all know, I love personalizing anything and everything.  It feels indulgent and, if done properly, screams high end.  A wonderful friend of mine (we'll call her 'M') contacted me a month ago to discuss making stamped napkins for a bridal shower she was helping to put together.  I've used stamps in the past for making cards but haven't used them on napkins. 

Her vision was to have the bride's initials and the date of the shower on each napkin.  From my experience, there were 2 options.  Order one or make your own.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

My Healthy Creamsicle Smoothie

I bought a bike trailer on Craigslist a couple weeks ago so that my little ones and I can go on bike rides together.  We were out for an hour on Sunday and when we got home I was hungry, thirsty and craving something citrus-y.

Last night the craving was still there so after my workout I decided to see if I could re-create the deliciousness of a Creamsicle but without any of the guilt :)  I have to say I'm pretty happy with the result!  It's thick and orange-y and creamy.  YUM. 

Monday, 11 April 2011

Look Great Without Spending a Fortune (Spring/Summer 2011)

I don't profess to be the trendiest person in the world, but I do love beautiful clothes and try to look as put-together as I can.  For the last three and a half years I have either been pregnant or had baby weight on me that made it difficult to feel attractive and wear clothes that made me feel good.

I'm SO happy to be back (even minus a few pounds) to my pre-pregnancies weight (sorry, I have to plug my brother's personal training site because I wouldn't be in this shape without him!).  I finally feel like I can rejoin the world of women who wear nice clothes, but having two kids also means I have to be smart about how I spend money on myself. 

To start this journey I thought it was important to figure out some key trends for this year.  After a little bit of searching, I found this fantastic website - that summarized 2011 trends and gave great examples of how to wear them including pictures. (To save you some time, I pulled the most helpful info and pics from and included them below.) 

Next, I started to check out blogs like The Budget Babe.  I found this site especially helpful because she finds less expensive versions of clothes so you can see a high-low perspective.  What I also find really fun is how she takes pictures of celeb outfits and sources more affordable pieces to recreate the look.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Printing on Chocolate & Cookies?!

I was on Facebook for a couple minutes while the kiddies were having lunch and one of the ads caught my eye for The Designer Cookie Boutique & Bakeshop

I've seen photos printed onto cakes, but I've never seen graphics like these printed onto cookies and chocolate!  There are a number of ideas on their site that are wonderful.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Planning Avery's 1st Birthday - Part 2: Invitations

I've been gathering materials and tools to create the invites for over 2 weeks now.  I finally sat down last night to finalize the design and think I've found the one I'm going to use.

My goal was to incorporate the dot, flower, butterfly theme of her cake-to-be and keep the feel pretty but still slightly modern & graphic.  I think it ended up feeling more vintage than modern! 

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Adventures in Baking: The BEST Brownies EVER

As many great discoveries come about, I found the secret to the best brownies by mistake!  I doubled my brownie recipe and was trying to adjust the baking time.  Based on the old adage, if you don't succeed at first... well I tried, tried and tried again.  In the end I had the most wonderful crispy-on-the-outside-smushy-yummy-goodness-on-the-inside brownies. 

The secret: Triple baking them.  Seriously!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Conversations with a 2 year old: Grampa

My father passed away unexpectedly last November.  My little guy was only 26 months old when it happened.  Even though they had spent a limited amount of time together, the time they did spend certainly made an impression because he definitely remembers his Grampa.

Tonight we were reading a story before bedtime and there was a Grampa in the book who looked like my dad...

2 year old: Mommy Grampa awake!
Me: Yes, honey that Grampa is awake.
2 year old: My Grampa sleeping forever.
Me: Yes he is baby.  He loved you very much.

... big sigh

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

The Lost Art of the Hostess Gift

On Saturday one of my friends brought a hostess gift to our get-together.  I was so touched by her thoughtfulness that it made me start to think about how we ( I ) don't do things like that enough.  Small gestures that simply say 'thank you' for your time and your effort.  I especially like the idea of how much more special a gift like that becomes when it's made by the giver.

I took some time today to try to find a couple great handmade hostess gift ideas.  Here are the best ones (I think!).  When giving these types of gifts, I'm drawn to things that the recipient can use/consume or are useful in nature.   Each of the names are linked to a set of instructions that show you how to make them yourself.  I came up with a couple ideas of my own, but I'll save those for a future posting! 

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Sunday Morning Pancakes

Good morning!  Here's a quick & easy pancake recipe.  I used to make this all the time and forgot about it until one of my best friends reminded me about it!.  It's delicious with a mashed banana, blueberries or cut strawberries.

Sunday Morning Pancakes

1 1/4C buttermilk
(to make buttermilk add 1 1/2 tsp vinegar to milk)
1C flour
1tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda

Mix & cook.


Saturday, 2 April 2011

Easy Cheesecake Truffles

I stumbled upon this recipe 2 years ago, made it once and hadn't thought about it until the other day.  I'm hosting a get-together this evening for a group of my friends and wanted something sweet to balance the savoury nibblies.  These are easy, beautiful and delicious.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Easter Buckets

I love Easter.  Easter egg hunts, chocolate, a long weekend and hanging out with your family.  Does it get any better?! 

I was in a store last week and bought a little basket ($7) for my daughter and a Spiderman bucket ($7) for my son with the intention of using them for Easter morning. 

When I got home I experienced a smidgen of buyer's remorse, not because of the cost but because I was sure I could do it better myself!

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Conversations with a 2 year old: Please & Thank you

Setting: in the car on the way to AM daycare.

2 year old: Mommy, turn on my DVD!
Me: Please
2 year old: Turn on my DVD!
Me: Where are my please and thank yous!!!
2 year old: In my mouth
Me: Why aren't you saying them?
2 year old: My mouth is full
Me: Your mouth is full?!  With what?
2 year old turns and looks at me, sticks his tongue out as far as it will go then turns his head away.
Me (in my head): Fantastic...already a little smart @ss!

My Healthy Chocolate 'Milkshake'

I find it really hard to eat regularly and nutritiously most days.  There are always a million things that seem more important than food.  After I started working out again thanks to my brother's incredible online training site, I found I had to find a way to get something into my system, not just to get through the day but to make sure I had the energy to go down to our little home gym once the kids were in bed.

My solution is a twist on a smoothie that my sister-in-law told me about.  It's thick, rich and chocolately which feels indulgent even though it's really nutritious.  It's my go-to meal on the go because it's quick, filling and delicious.

My Healthy Chocolate 'Milkshake'

Basic Ingredients before adding the milk
1 frozen banana (peel over-ripe bananas and keep them in the freezer so they're ready to use)
1 individual serving vanilla yogurt (single serving = app. 1/3 C) - or 3 heaping tablespoons
1/2-1 tablespoon natural peanut butter*
1 heaping tablespoon cocoa
1 scoop protein powder (optional)
1/2 - 1C milk

The tablespoon I use for this is from my kitchen drawer, not a proper measuring spoon.  Feel free to adjust ingredient quantities to your taste.  I bought a pseudo magic bullet and use that to blend it until it's smooth.

Tonight I added frozen strawberries.  Yum!

*Note: Natural peanut butter is non-hydrogenated and contains nothing but peanuts and therefore much healthier for you.  PC at Loblaws & No Frills makes it and I believe that Kraft does too so you should be able to find it pretty easily.


- Jacs

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Planning Avery's 1st Birthday - Part 1: Cake Design

Avery's 1st birthday is coming up in May!  I've sent out the save the date email to our family and a handful of close friends.  Now it's time to decide what I want the cake to look like.  This will help guide my decisions for the invitations, centrepieces and other details.

I always start my cake design process by looking at pictures online.  Last night I typed "girl birthday cake" into Google images which had over 3 million results and then I did another search for "girl 1st birthday cake".  Aesthetically, I'm drawn to simple, pretty & sophisticated designs.  I'm not a huge fan of cutesy - this is slightly at odds with choosing a design for a baby since most people assume cutesy is the best way to go. 

As I scrolled through the images, I saved the ones that I liked best (there were 10-15) and then showed them to DH.  He vetoed a couple I thought were really pretty, but the one we decided on together is perfect - it's from

I love the slightly non-traditional colour scheme and the use of simple flowers and butterflies (notice that there are simple butterflies as well as more realistic ones as well) that have a graphic look to them.  Another element I love is the organic pile of flowers and butterflies on the top of the cake.

The next step is deciding the design for the invitations.  Stay tuned for Step 2 :)

- Jacs

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Personalized Chocolate Lollipops

Simple.  Beautiful.  Easy.  A perfect recipe!

What you'll need:
- Merckens chocolate wafers in whatever colours you like (any brand of chocolate molding wafers will work)*  You'll have to guesstimate how much of each colour you'll need based on what you're using it for.  I found that for my small letter mold, it was app. 2 wafers per letter and app.8 wafers per lollipop top.

- Chocolat molds*:
  1 - letters/alphabet
  2 - lollipol top (round, square, star, heart etc.)
- lollipop sticks*
- microwaveable bowls
- spoons
- butter knife
- space in the fridge for the molds to lie flat

* I found all of these at Bulk Barn.  Cake decorating stores, like McCall's have them as well.  The total cost for chocolate, 2 molds, and lollipop sticks $20.00 and I made app. 15 lollipops with an extra 10 letters.

NOTE - if you have never worked with chocolate before it's really important for you to know that absolutely NO water can get into the melted chocolate.  If water gets in, the chocolate will seize up and you will have to scrape it out and start over.

Step 1 - Preparing the mold for the tops
If you're using a lollipop mold, you can skip to Step 2

I found a Reese's Peanut Butter cup shaped mold that I thought would make great looking lollipop tops but it didn't have a spot for the sticks.  Not a problem!

When I got home, I made a straight cut down the side of each mold.  Then, I happened to find a metal tent stake from my son's UV tent that was the perfect diameter.  I then heated one end on the flame from my gas stove (matches or a lighter will work as well).  Once it was hot, I pressed it gently in to the middle of the side of the mold keeping it in line with the cut I made.  A couple of times I didn't heat the metal long enough and had to re-heat and press until it poked through.

Then, I notched out the plastic to create some support for my lollipop stick so it would stay in place when it was in the hole.

Step 2 - Place all the lollipop sticks in the empty molds.  Make sure non are touch the bottom of the mold.  If they are, the white of the stick will show through the chocolate.

Step 3 - Place the Merckens for the tops into a microwaveable bowl.  Start with 30 seconds and stir with a spoon.  Continue heating in 30 second increments stirring each time until the chocolate is a think liquid that pours easily off your spoon.  For larger amounts, it usually takes me three to four 30 second rounds in the microwave.

Step 4 - Carefully pour in the chocolate by the spoonful until each one is 80%-90% full.  Tap the tray evenly (holding it on both sides and lifting it straight up before releasing to drop it) on the counter to remove any air bubbles and to smooth out the surface of the chocolate.

Step 5 - Place flat in the refrigerator until it's set (approximately 20 min.) and then carefully remove the lollipops from the molds.

Step 6 - Melt the chocolate in the microwave for the letters using the same method in Step 3.

Step 7 - Carefully spoon in the chocolate into each letter.  Be careful not to overfill! If you have chocolate on the outsides of the letter molds, carefully wipe it off with a dry cloth, paper towel, or your finger.  Getting rid of any excess chocolate will keep the edges of the letters clean and prevents you from having to scrape it off later.

Step 8 - Tap the mold on the counter to remove the air bubbles.

Notice how uneven the surface is after I spooned in the chocolate

After I tap the mold, the chocolate smoothes out.
Step 9 - Place it flat in the refrigerator until the letters are set (approximately 10-15min)

Step 10 - Once the chocolate is set, remove it from the fridge and give it a little twist, the same way that you twist an ice cube tray to release the ice.  Be gentle - you're just trying to loosen it from the sides.

Step 11 - Flip the mold over and tap it gently on the counter.  Most of the chocolate will fall out when you tap the mold, however some may need a little coaxing.

Step 12 - Reheat a little bit of chocolate that was left over when you filled the lollipop top molds.  You will use this as the 'glue' for the letters.

Step 13 - With a butter knife (or anything else that gives you control over where you spread the chocolate) gently put chocolate on the back of one letter.  This is will act like glue.  Place the letter in the centre of a lollipop top.  Press it down gently. Continue with the rest of the letters & tops. 

Note - the chocolate letters will start to melt in your hands if you hold them for too long.  If your hands are very warm there is also a chance you will leave fingerprints on the lollipop tops.  To prevent either of these from happening, keep your workspace as cool as possible, handle the chocolate as little as possible.  If necessary, run your hands under cold water and quickly dry them before assembling the pieces.

For a yummy and pretty variation - include candy such as mini M&Ms and mini marshmallows in the lollipop tops!