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!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

My Epiphany. My passion.

I've been searching for the longest time to figure out what I love to do.  

I have always loved to make and create things.  I have also always loved working with people.  I need things that don't take very long since having 2 kids means my time is limited but also things that are either yummy (like baking) and/or beautiful (sewing/crafts).

For the last few weekends one of my best friends has come over to learn how to make fondant decorations and then fill, mask, and then cover a cake with fondant in preparation for her daughter's 3rd birthday.  Then today, I spent the morning with another friend showing her how to make chocolate lollipops with initials to give as favours for her son's 5th birthday.  I have worked with chocolate a little in the past, but I've never made initial lollipops with chocolate before.  So I spent an hour last night doing a couple tests to find the best method.

I digress.... !  As I was saying, I love to create things (especially when there's an element of figuring out how to do it) and I love to share that knowledge (must be my teaching background).  So it makes sense for me to use this blog as a way to do just that - teach people how to DIY.  I know, there are lots of other craft blogs that have tutorials - but I'm certain I have ideas and solutions that other people will appreciate and find useful.  I'm so excited!

Let the fun begin!

- Jacs

Friday, 18 March 2011

Fabulous Kids' Parties (on a budget)

A friend recently asked for some advice/ideas for her son's 4th birthday.  When I was planning my son's 2nd birthday, I fell in love with this site: The Cake Blog it has amazing images and descriptions of real birthdays that parents have thrown for their kids.

I used it as my inspiration for his Transportation themed birthday.  I tried to stick to a blue & brown colour scheme and I made everything myself, to the chagrin of my DH because I was up until the wee hours of the morning almost every night for over week before the party.

Candy Bar, Favour & Cake Table
I made the invitations (unfortunately I don't have a pictures of one!) and used the design details from them to guide the rest of  my choices.  For example, in the picture of the cake below notice the pinking shears edge on the brown bands of the cake - they're also on the signs for the candy and the party favour tags.

The polka dot table cloths were a complete find! I was at my local grocery store a week before the party and stumbled upon bedsheets with the exact blue and brown colours I was using.  I think they were $5.00 each and no one would have ever guessed the price tag or their intended function!

When I was looking through the cakeblog site, I fell in love wtih the candy bar.  Which kid doesn't love candy and to be presented with an entire table full ... it's kid heaven!  As you can see, I chose candy specifically based on colour (yes, I'm ridiculous).  There was a TON of candy left over and I spent around $150 on candy alone which wasn't as budget-friendly as I'd hoped.  I think if I did another candy bar in the future, I'd put 1 to 2 inches of mini marshmallows in the bottom of each jar before putting the candy in.   

Plane, Train & Car Cake

I was pretty happy with the cake.  I'm still not fantastic at leveling the cakes before I fill, mask & cover with fondant.  This creates a few issues when they're stacked because you have to adjust the cakes after you stack each layer to adjust for the discrepancies.  But overall, it looked the way I wanted it to.  I had a couple big discussions with DH re. whether the cake should be more kid-like.  He thought my vision was too grown-up despite the clear kid theme.  His position was that I was making the cake for myself, rather for our son.  I think in some ways he was right.... but I wouldn't have changed a thing.

Homemade Oreos & S'Mores

I spent a week perfecting recipes for homemade oreos and s'mores.  They sound easy to replicate and the recipes looked straightforward, but even after 5-6 different tries they still weren't as perfect as I'd hoped!

We rented a riding train for the back yard.  It cost $89.00 for the day.  Who knew it would cost so little?! We picked it up Friday evening and returned it on Monday.

I made t-shirts for the kids with pictures of planes, trains & cars with their names.  I searched high and low for the right plain white shirt to use.  You'd be surprised how hard it is to find them.  I ended up getting them at Old Navy not only because they were the best ones I could find but I also got a discount code via email to receive 30% off a couple weeks before the party (what good timing!).    The shirts were done in exactly the same pattern for both the boys and girls but I used orange images for the girls and blue for the boys. They were given as party favours at the end.  That's my son wearing his shirt for the party!

The blue chairs were $2.00 each at Dollarama - I just love them because even though they're blue, it's a beautiful vibrant blue that can easily be used for either girls or boys.

My daughter's 1st birthday is coming up in the next couple months.  We'll likely have a family dinner.... but there's still the invites & the cake to plan!  So much fun :)

- Jacs

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Adventures in Baking: Carrot Cupcakes and Chocolate & Cream Cheese Cupcakes

As of Thursday evening I've baked 4 different cupcake recipes.  Two of them (plain chocolate and vanilla) get a thumbs down but the other two were great!  Here are the recipes with some pictures.

These carrot cupcakes are dense and moist with a rich flavour because of the brown sugar which carmelizes slightly on the top when they bake.  The icing is velvety smooth and the butter gives it a lot of depth.  Add the powdered sugar in 1/2 cup at a time and taste it frequently to get the consistency and sweetness that you enjoy best. 

Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing
Carrot Cupcakes
Ingredients:1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups finely shredded carrots
1/2 cup oil
2 large eggs
1/3 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1/2 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
1/2 cup butter (room temperature)
1 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2-2 cups powdered sugar
1. Mix dry cake ingredients.
2. Add carrots, oil and eggs.
3. Stir till all is wet.
4. Add nuts, (optional) then fill lined muffin tins almost to the top - these don't rise very much.
5. Bake at 325*F for app. 25 minutes.  Test them around 18 min and then add time in 2 minute increments until a toothpick comes out clean.
6. Cool.
7. Cream together cream cheese, butter, vanilla Add powdered sugar.
8. Spread over cooled cupcakes.
These chocolate and cream cheese cupcakes have a light spongy chocolate base with a cheesecake-like topping.  I didn't put any icing on them because they're delicious as is.  However if you wanted to have icing, a raspberry American Buttercream would be delicious!
Chocolate & Cream Cheese Cupcakes
Chocolate & Cream Cheese Cupcakes
Ingredients:1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup cocoa
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup sunflower or canola oil
3/4 cup water
2 teaspoon white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup soft cream cheese
1 large egg, lightly beaten
heaping 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1. Sift together the flour, cocoa and baking soda into a large bowl.
2. Stir 3/4 cup of the sugar into the flour
3. Add the oil, water, vinegar and vanilla extract.  Stir until well combined.
4. Place the rest of the sugar, cream cheese, and egg in a bowl and beat until well mixed.
5. Stir in chocolate chips.
6. Spoon the chocolate batter into a lined muffin pan.  Top each one with equal amounts of the cream cheese mixture.
7. Bake at 350*F for app. 25 minutes.  Test them around 20 min and then add time in 2 minute increments until the top springs back when you touch it.

- Jacs

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Conversations with a 2 year old: The Willy

2 year old:  Mommy, you have a willy?
Me: No sweetie, only you and Daddy have willies.
2 year old: Daddy have willy?
Me: Yes, Daddy has a willy.
2 year old: Mommy I get you willy.
Me: Ok
2 year old reaches into his imaginary pocket and holds out his hand: Here Mommy, willy for you.
Me, accepts the imaginary willy: Thank you sweetheart.
2 year old: No Mommy you put the willy on!  You take off your pants.
Me:  Not right now honey.  Let's go downstairs. (I start going down the stairs)
2 year behind me:  You take off your pants... and your socks....

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Mmmmmmm yummy pretty cupcakes!

One of my best friends is coming over on Saturday so that I can show her how to work with fondant so that she can make beautiful cupcakes.  Years ago I was really fortunate to work (in an administrative capacity) with one of Toronto's most talented cake decorators and by osmosis I learned some of the basic techniques for decorating cakes.

My first attempt at putting that knowledge to work was for my son's first birthday - at the time I was so afraid of putting too many decorations on it and making it look really amateur, that I didn't put enough on.  Nonetheless, for a first time I still don't think it was too bad!

My son's Saggy Baggy Elephant 1st Birthday cake

His 2nd birthday cake ended up being much better (in my opinion) and I've done 3 other cakes as well.  Each one is a learning experience and even though I love doing it, it ends up being pretty stressful at times.  It's the perfectionist in me that wants extraordinary results paired with a skill set that is far less advanced that what it needs to be to make the vision a reality!

Back to the cupcakes.  My friend sent me this image last night:

I'm so happy to see that what she has in mind is pretty straightforward and other than the mini-cutters, I have everything on hand. 

I guess I'll do the baking tomorrow. I have some buttercream in my freezer that I hope will still taste ok (it's a couple months old).  I'll thaw some tomorrow as well to test it out.

If everything turns out well - I'll post the recipes and how to make simple fondant decorations :)

- Jacs

Thump...pitter patter...

Yesterday afternoon during the only time (daylight time, that is) that I have to do grown up things like admin work for DH's business, pay bills, tidy the house or as I was doing yesterday, buying a new washer & dryer over the phone (don't ask!), I heard the most horrible noise.  Thump, pitter patter.  And before I had time to go see if my suspicions were right, I heard the "Mommy, I awake!" as my 2 1/2 year old son rounded the corner into our family room.  Big sigh.....  Crap......  He figured out how to climb out of his crib.  I knew it was going to happen at some point but I guess it's hard to be ready for it when it's not your decision!  Another big sigh.  Ok, time to find the nomadic allen key that I'll need to remove the front of his crib and convert it into a toddler bed. 

There's nothing like trying to get things done with a toddler.  Balancing their desire to 'help' with keeping them safe while actually completing the task and making sure they felt empowered and indepent with the role they played is a multitasking feat!  So anyhow, as we worked together on his bed I started to think about how he's going to fall out while he's sleeping .  How do we learn not to roll off the bed?  I have NO idea. 

So my first attempt at introducing the idea was to put him in his new big boy bed and physically show him how it happens.  I'm not sure if it was my method, he seemed to think I was trying to put him back to bed for his nap which made him a little agitated, or the fact that he's only 2 and it was too difficult a concept, but I think it did more harm than good as I found out later when I tried to put him to sleep for the night.   Hysterical, top of his lungs screaming teamed with repeated escapes from his bed... then Daddy came home and this new audience gave him even more fuel for his fire.  Yikes.  Luckily I'd seen a Super Nanny episode a month or two ago that dealt with a similar situation and thankfully it worked like a charm.  Phew.  I then got a huge duvet out of storage and put that down on the floor.... just in case.  Lucky thing I did because sure enough I found him sleeping awkwardly on top of the duvet a couple hours later.  Then at 3 am he was screaming again.  Clearly this was not working so I brought him to bed with me where he slept soundly until 6am.

Tonight, he's sleeping with one of those safety bedrail net things that stretches the length of his mattress.  We both feel much better.  But I still haven't figured out how he's going to learn not to fall out!  Oh well, we'll tackle that another day.

- Jacs

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Let's begin!

If someone had told me last year that I'd be writing my own blog right now, I'd have told you there's no way.  As I get older I realize just how true it is that you should never say never!

So why am I blogging?  There are lots of reasons... to share with other women the trials, tribulations and triumphs of life.  To say the things that so many people don't say outloud... but most importantly, to seek out the thing I want most right now - to figure out who I am now that I have two small children and what I'm good at to try to build a career for myself.

I have always been an achiever.  Valedictorian (in grade 8 mind you!), Honour Roll, University Awards recipient etc. etc.  I have always been very fortunate to be able to do well in anything I put my mind to.  But (and for me this is big) I've never been GREAT at anything.  You're probably rolling your eyes right now, thinking I'm ridiculous.  But it's true.  I pick things up quickly but never truly excel.  It's frustrating.  Especially since my SO is ridiculously talented when it comes to restauranteuring (is that a word?!). 

Equally frustrating is I have very poor follow-through unless there's a looming deadline.  So basically if I set-out to do something on my own and there's no one but me to keep me accountable, it's pretty much doomed from the get-go!  I guess that's why I gravitate to things that have quick results like sewing & baking in my day-to-day.

I want to use this blog to catalogue my projects, my challenges and my insights.  I don't know if anyone will be interested in this journey, but if you do join me I'd love to hear from you!

- Jacs