Wednesday, November 30, 2011

stuff I'd like to get

I keep getting asked to provide some ideas of what I'd like for Christmas, so here are just a few things that I would be pretty darn happy to receive (in no particular order, of course):

{1} tiny budgie pendant (actually, this is in top position for a reason. I've been wanting a small signature necklace for a while now and this one is just too perfect for me); owl oven mitt (bizarre, I know, but I will never in a hundred years spend anything more than $5 on an oven mitt, so I'll never have a cute one I actually like, and I will continue to use the one I got at a thrift store that keeps burning me); rose quartz necklace or coral and turquoise earrings (anything from this jewelry designer, actually);

{2} Bridesmaids movie (I love Kristin Wiig and I've wanted to see this movie forever);  return address stamp (the calligraphy is so pretty. Where do they teach that?); pink and grey watchAphrodite USB charging station (we would both enjoy this, I think);

{3} 2012 arty tea towel calendar (I have a tiny tea towel collection already. I should show it to you); bitchface print (because I think I suffer from this affliction, too); oxo salad spinner (I've heard it's the best one and I hate my crappy cheap one that rips up all of my lettuce and barely dries any of the leaves); wreck this app (or book because I think it'd be a fun way to recharge some of my creativity or any app that's for money, actually, cuz that's another thing I will not buy for myself).

And since I just wiped out on my walk today (we're talking, like, legs out, straight back, and onto the back of my head. Thank goodness for touques or I'm sure I would have cracked my head open), I'd really love some cleats for my shoes (since no one seems to want to put any of the city's free sand on their sidewalks).

And as usual, please see my Pinterest account. Both DIY and Christmas boards have useful information.

Monday, November 28, 2011

little gift ideas

I've rounded up some of my favourite DIY advent calendars which you should probably get started on if you want to start counting down on the first of December. I've decided to do a twelve days of Christmas theme and I've come up with a more... interesting method of doling out daily surprises. I can't divulge it here though. Maybe next year!

{1 small mittens} I would also like to suggest socks. You could do iron-on numbers or cut numbers out of felt and quickly stitch or fabric glue them on. Pin to a string and you're done.

{2 hand painted pouches} I like how clean and crisp this looks. You don't even need a stencil if you've got a steady hand.

{3 advent boxes} This is a free printable (yay!). Download the numbers and glue or tape them on standard boxes (or any other package, actually). Super cute and super easy.

{4 decorative packages} Packages wrapped up in similar papers and tied to a hanger? Some people can do messy so well, can't they?

{5 advent pouches} Another free printable! Print these out onto iron-on paper, cut out the numbers and iron them on to homemade or purchased drawstring bags. I like the retro look of this one (and you'll have it for years).

{6 clothespin tree} I think this would look really cute propped up on a side table.

{bonus! paint chip boxes} I spent the last week making a ton of these (by a "ton" I mean, I made 13... and counting). They are really easy to knock out (once you get the template printed properly). They're too skinny to hold much as a gift (since they're designed for business cards), but you could slide in little notes that could give clues for gifts or suggestions for holiday things to do. (And they're 100% free.)

Not only have I not done the advent calendar thing, I've also never gotten small gifts in a stocking. Is that weird? Do most people do the stocking stuffer thing? I feel like I missed out on that cuz it seems like stocking stuffers and advent gifts are talked about everywhere. So I gathered some cute smaller presents that would probably do fairly well as stocking stuffers or advent gifts (I don't really know what the price protocol is on this stuff!).

{1 guy friendly} Tobias Funke key fob; cutesy swiss army knife; Zoidberg iPhone cover (and other Zoidberg loving things); classic telephone handset for cell phones (ever try to cradle a cell phone during a long call? it sucks).

{2 for those who craft or appreciate a good one} transform any pair of gloves into touch screen friendly gloves (I'm dying to make these for myself); cross-stitch iPhone case; pretty purse measuring tapes (I would love to get one of these. Having one in my purse would be so handy for measuring thrift store finds); macaron stamps.

{3 too cute for words!} cat or owl ceramic measuring cups; mini cat calendar; action bunny with shiny gold pants; cupcake calendar.

{4 make something delicious} make them yourself (they're not that hard. I like the recipe from Bravetart. She's got a nut-free recipe now, too) or order macarons online anywhere. If you're in Edmonton, do it the easy way and get gift packs at Duchess; lump of coal rice krispie treats; bacon jam; Lofthouse-style cookies (typically, I do not like store-bought cookies, but these are my one weakness. I've never made this recipe, but I will one day when my jeans are looser).

Annnnd, if you need more inspiration, I'll be continually pinning stuff to my Pinterest account throughout the season (or as usual. It's kind of addictive over there). You can check under DIY or Christmas for specific gift ideas or just follow my boards if you're also a pinner. I'm sure more and more ideas will keep turning up!

Friday, November 25, 2011

new christmas schedule

Lately, I'm really starting to feel crunched. I'm trying to get Christmas gifts together, decorate the house, get all of my Christmas baking done, plus all of my usual chores (the bathroom can't stay dirty forever and I would really like to go for my usual walk every day without feeling guilty about it -- or about not doing it), so obviously, something has to slide and that would be the blog.

I've decided to cut my posts back to one or two updates per week until Christmas is over. I think that would really ease my tension. 

Thanks for understanding!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

phoning it in: Christmas wreath

How we decided to decorate our porch for Christmas determined the wreath. And yes, we've already decorated and we've been lighting up the place for two weeks now. I have officially become one of those people I used to hate (although, not quite as bad as our neighbours whose house looks like a Santa sleigh runway).

Of the people on our block who have added lights (Santa headquarters included), everything looks rather... deconstructed during the day. The lights are strung up haphazardly all over the place with extension cords and timer plugs placed dead centre of their house. Thank goodness for the snow, in some respects, which hides the spiderweb of cords strung out on their lawns. During the day, the magic that is Christmas is completely lost and houses look like the insides of machines. So I wanted decorations that would look just as nice during the day as they do at night.

Since I couldn't find anything in pink (damn! Our house looks so good in pink!), I decided on classic red and green. Everyone does blue and white and twinkly icicles now, right? They're no longer unique and modern and out-of-the-box. With red and green, I could do a little take on holly and berries, using fake greenery and red lights. The branches would hide the cords of the lights and what bulbs are seen during the day would look like dark red berries leftover from fall. It was sort of on a whim (read: they were cheap) that I decided to add red bows as well. They were a surprisingly fortunate addition because I could use them to secure loose ends and cover tags and joining plugs. Any bows that were left, I tied to the bare branches of our tree. Bows on bare trees are super cute.

So with all this greenery and faux berries, I couldn't put up another wimpy wreath. And by 'wimpy' I mean skinny because (let's face it) most of my wreathes have been in that category. No, I wanted a big beefy leafy wreath with a proper hanger and berries and bows.

I really didn't get around to looking for one properly. I was honestly just going to buy it, premade. I was kind of exhausted with trying to come up with ways to do it myself, and by the time I fiddled around with everything, I figured I could have just bought it and been done with it. Besides, I have to make a bazillion decorations before December. I have enough to do for Christmas this year.

We decided it might be fun to do some cheesy Christmas cards, so we found ourselves at Value Village rifling around for Christmas sweaters and vests. That place is a treasure trove for Christmas decorations, just so you know. If you were to be looking. They had a lot of wreathes to choose from. After carrying around a $6.99 wreath that I thought would be okay (once I took all the old and damaged junk off of it), I discovered this gem.

The branches were squished down at the time, so I could see how it went unnoticed. I liked the blue-ish tinge (since our door is blue) and it was huge (the biggest in the store), and plain (no "fixing" required). And did I mention it was $3.99? It was perfect.

I found a few other things to possibly go on my wreath:

Plastic mistletoe looking garland ($1.99). Anything Christmas-y and plastic makes me think of my gram. As soon as I see that stuff, I think, "vintage!!" and feel the need to buy.

Sparkly golden apples ($1.99 along with some other decorations that are actually pretty nice, too) cuz I want some gold out there big time and apples, why not?

The rest was found at home in my (junky) craft supplies box:

Feathers leftover from my wrapped feather gel pens. I'm kinda squealing over the feathers. I really love this nontraditional addition! And they're just tucked in. No gluing or tying required!

Bright green ribbon tied into bows (where's red when you really need it, right?).

A bit of tucking, a bit of twisting, and this is what I came out with:

I'm really pleased with it. It adds just the right amount of oompf to the door and works really well with everything else (without being too matchy-matchy). The best part is that none of these additions are permanently attached so I can easily change them out to make the wreath look completely different. In fact, take the Christmas colours off, add some pinecones and snowflakes and bam! January, "wintery" wreath. Huzzah! Having a changeable wreath will definitely be both time and money saving in the long run!

Monday, November 21, 2011

easy christmas decorations

I thought I'd share some of my favourite DIY Christmas decor ideas that I've found so far. I really gravitated to most of these because they work so well for both Christmas and as general winter decorations. So you can put them up early or leave them up after Christmas and it won't look like you're going overboard in either direction.

{1 lace doily table runner} If you have a surplus of doilies (like I do) and even if you don't, this would be a really quick way to add a little winter to a room. It would definitely look cute out of season, but during the holidays, I think it looks like a little path of snowflakes.

{2 popsicle stick snowflakes} I already had these in mind for January, but they work for Christmas too. Instead of red, I'd paint them silver and gold and hang them from the curtain rods.

{3 urchin starburst sculptures} They may be called urchins, but they make me think of snowflakes (oh, recurring themes).

{4 painted pinecones} I'm not a big fan of the lime, pink, and electric blue colours, but pinecones (painted or not) in a clear vase are a super easy (and usually free) wintery decor item.

{5, 6, 7, & 8 wreathes} I don't know what it is with me and wreathes this year, but I'm kind of obsessed with them (I'm disgusted with myself, too). The rosemary wreath would be cute in a kitchen (if you had a spot) since it's made with fresh herbs. You could use any herb or a combination, and once it's tied on a form, it's going to dry so I don't see why you couldn't use it after the holidays are over (you paid your money for those herbs after all). The rest are examples of really simple wreathes that I just happen to really love. I don't think any of them would take more than an hour to finish and each one has an unexpected aspect about it that makes it a little more unique than a typical Christmas wreath (blue polka dots, bent branches without a form, and the deconstructed pinecone "wreath" which makes me think of bells).

{9 paper doily wall art} Another riff on the snowflake idea, these are simply cupcake liners and paper doilies thumbtacked to a wall to look like cascading flowers. You could cut the paper to look more snowflake-like, but I think if you used clear or white thumbtacks or even double-sided tape it would still give a wintery snow look without having to go through any extra trouble.

{10 paint chip garland} I know this is for easter eggs, but come on. There's got to be a Christmas tree hole punch in some craft store somewhere. Or just cut them out yourself. (Christmas trees aren't hard. They're just stacked triangles that get progressively larger.) I'd stay out of the candy colours and stick with deep greens, blues, and icy whites.

{11 origami tree} I love origami because it's so accessible. If you've got a piece of paper, you can make just about anything. If you made a tree in white or green, it could easily move into January and, in fact, it reminds me of my crocheted white tree that I (nerdily) dress up for Christmas and then leave naked for January (see it here). If you're nervous about origami, here's another example that's even easier.

{12 origami paper ball} I love these so much. They fit into winter because they look like large snowballs but they're so cool, I'd want to keep them out all year round.

Friday, November 18, 2011

friday fixations

{owl lover calendar} I spotted this calendar last year and (being the bird lover I am) swooned pretty hard over it. It's back again with more owl prints that you can pick and choose to make your own, customized calendar (for free!).

{thyme} I took a deep whiff of thyme the other day and thought, "I could smell this forever." Why has it taken me so long to get some? It's my new go-to for chicken.

{the branch bunch e-cards} These are just about the cutest most whimsical e-cards I've seen in a long time.

{free 3D letters} This font is great! Print it, cut it out, fold it, and you've got yourself some nifty 3D letters. There are so many possibilities you could use these for (birthdays come to mind), but I think I'm going to do something a little Christmas-y with it.

{kitten covers} Go see!

{rotisserizing} I love doing whole beef and pork roasts on the rotisserie now. They cook faster, the outside is crispy, and the flavour is amazing (I assume from the juices dripping all over). Now if only I could figure out how to get a chicken to stay on there, I'd probably never roast again. (Tying the legs and wings didn't work and the bird ended up flopping all over the place. Any suggestions?)

{posters at walmart} I finally got one of my pictures turned into a poster and I did it at Walmart! I've been wanting to hang one of my Greece pictures in our bedroom (this has been on my mind for way too long), so I thought I'd do a test run at the Mart. Things couldn't have been better. The picture looks amazing, it only took 45 minutes, and it only cost me $20 for a 20x30 print! Plus I didn't have to fiddle around with the clerks, telling them what to do and how to do it. All you have to do is use one of the photo kiosks. I could fiddle around with the sizes until I found the right one for the picture dimensions and I ordered it right there. Plus I didn't have to pay for it until I saw it, so I assume they'd redo it (or write it off) if you weren't happy. Wouldn't this be a great gift?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

black bean brownies with peanut butter chocolate chip "cookie dough"

I definitely don't make it a habit to trick Idle Husband into eating things he doesn't like (or says he doesn't like -- because there is a difference). Sometimes, I like to sneak that good stuff in. Spinach in chicken meatloaf, sweet potato "french fries", tomatoes and parsley in hamburgers, carrots in beef meatloaf. But I never lie about it. He knows it's there. He can see most of it. It's the fact that he can't taste it that's important.

And that's why this is my best food caper yet!

I never once mentioned that these brownies were made up almost entirely of black beans. Beans are one of his most hated food items.

We happily ate them for dessert for two weeks. And I happily discovered he was sneaking squares out at night, while I was asleep.

I didn't even have to disguise them with anything. I didn't put globs of icing on them. No whipped cream. No crumbled bacon. He himself didn't even add a blob of honey on top of each bite. They're just deliciously fudgey -- no. cakey! -- no. melt-in-your-mouth-y! They're just different in a really good way.

So except for the batch where I added a banana, I still haven't mentioned what makes up these brownies.

It was on the second batch where I thought I'd throw caution to the wind and test out a chocolate chip cookie dough dip that I'd had in my sights for a while. I thought it might work as a cute little topping. But like the black beans, chickpeas (another hated ingredient) were now going to substitute flour and butter.

The chocolate chip cookie dough experiment didn't go over as well with Idle Husband, but it went over well with me. I ate most of it with a spoon, straight out of the fridge.

Right now, I'm wishing I had another can of chickpeas just so I could have more in the fridge. It's so good. So. Good. It will frighten you how good it tastes. And how much like cookie chickpea becomes.

I think the only thing that kept Idle Husband from enjoying it was the name.

"But why eat cookie dough? Why not just bake it and eat cookies?"
"It's supposed to be like this. It's a cookie dough dip. It doesn't have eggs in it."

He couldn't get past it so that was the end of that conversation. I didn't want to tell him it was made from chickpeas and that I made it to go with the black bean brownies (and they go very well together) since I was still smug from successfully disguising beans and I wanted to sneak peas in, too.

It would have ruined it, you know? This surprise.

Oh yeah. Surprise!

{banana black bean brownies}
adapted from Amy Bites

1 (19 oz) can black beans, drained and thoroughly rinsed
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 pinch salt
2 eggs
1 ripe banana
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp instant coffee (optional)
nuts and chocolate chips as desired

Puree all of the ingredients (except nuts and chocolate chips) in a food processor, blender, or with an immersion blender (I used my immersion blender). Blend thoroughly until well combined and smooth (gotta get the bean chunks).

Pour batter into a well greased baking dish. I used two different sizes. One 5x6" and the other 11x7". The smaller the dish, the more cakey the outcome. We preferred the larger dish.

Top with nuts and chocolate chips if desired (or mix them in).

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until the top is dry and slightly cracked and the edges have pulled away from the sides of the dish. Toothpick test. Let cool; slice and enjoy. (Lasts exceptionally well covered at room temperature.)

{note} Please please also visit Amy Bites for the original version of this recipe which is just as good as the banana version. Idle Husband preferred the banana; I liked the original.

{peanut butter chocolate chip cookie dough}

1 1/2 cups chickpeas, drained and rinsed (almost a full 19 oz can -- I should have just used the whole damn thing)
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp baking soda
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 tblsp smooth peanut butter (I used Kraft Light)
2 tblsp (more or less) milk (I used almond)
2 1/2 tsp Splenda
chocolate chips

Puree the first 5 ingredients together in a food processor or with an immersion blender. Blend thoroughly until well combined and all of the chickpeas have been pureed (it would shatter the mystique if you found a little chickpea chunk in there). Add the milk a tablespoon at a time until you reach your desired consistency (mine was a little more like dough than dip; add more milk if you want to dip into it). Add the sugar one teaspoon at a time until you reach your desired sweetness.

Mix in however many chocolate chips you desire (chopped chocolate would be nice, too). Enjoy! (Store in the fridge in a covered container.)

{note} Please please also visit Chocolate Covered Katie for more ideas on variations of the dip and sweeteners to use (she's also got a whole lot more sugar-free and gluten-free desserts. I really love her for that).

Monday, November 14, 2011

christmas ornament ideas

If you're anything like me (i.e. you've got more people to mail gifts to than people to gift in person), you're already thinking like a mad person about Christmas stuff.

We received a handy little postal guide in the mail last week which really put everything into perspective for me. According to Canada Post, suggested mailing times for within Canada, to the USA and international begin as early as the week of November 22nd! For me, that means I really have to get my ass in gear if I want Christmas gifts to arrive on time. And I've been really bad about that in previous years. Like, really bad -- one year, our Christmas-themed gifts arrived just in time for Easter. No; I'm not joking.

To top it all off, I thought it would be fun to sign myself up for a crafted ornament swap. That means I also have to make at least 10 ornaments that I can send in a standard mailer to people in the US (and one overseas). The fun part about it is that, since it's a swap, I'll also be receiving little gifty ornaments in the mail right up to Christmas. How exciting! (I hope I got some good crafters!)

So I thought I'd share some of my favourite ornament ideas for this year (so far). These ideas are all completely do-it-yourself (or can be) which make them all the more special.

{1 chocolate candy} I really love this idea because it's pretty adaptable to any colour or type of ornament you want. You could use large balls or smaller ones and you could use just about anything for the frosting and sprinkles. You don't even have to do the frosting in a similar manner. There are chocolates with just a chocolate swirl on top (to indicate flavour). Yours might be as simple as painting the frosting brown to match the chocolate. I would also like to point out that these days, you can buy ornament balls in chocolate brown, so essentially, all you'd really have to do is the frosting part.

{2 wooden beads} Do I even have to explain how simple this idea is?! I found these as a product, but essentially, it's just one large wooden bead strung on a string with another smaller wooden bead on top. It's very simple but still has a really nice sophisticated look to it. Add as many beads as you want. Paint it however you like or don't. I think raw wood would look really pretty, too.

{3 & 4 paper stars and trees} Nothing's simpler than a paper craft plus you learn a little skill while you're at it. You could use scraps of wrapping paper or vintage wallpaper and don't forget about the pretty scrapbook and origami papers that are sold just about everywhere these days.

{5 glittered animals} I've seen this idea so many times. This is just one version of it. Personally, I would buy little screw eye hooks and screw them into the tops of each animal so I could easily add a ribbon to hang them. (These glitter animals are for placing, not hanging.) You could also skip the glitter and use spray paint instead. Naturally, you can use any animals you'd like, too. Michael's has a ton of exotic ones. I keep seeing water themes this year, so whales, dolphins, turtles, even alligators would be really interesting!

{6 & 7 stuffed animals and objects} These are another product and not a DIY but they translate to a craft so easily. I would either use iron-on transfers of images found through a google search or I'd draw something myself with iron-on crayons. I like the black and white nature theme of the ones above but anything would work. Plus you don't have to be a super sewer to make them, either. The forms themselves are simply cut around the picture, and not very detailed, either. I think it would be really cute if these were made using a child's Christmas drawings. Hello, extra grandparent points!

{8 felted balls} This might be a little time-consuming, but I still have dreams of making a felted ball garland one of these years. The instructions to make the balls themselves are here. The above is a picture from a Japanese magazine. The magazine wouldn't work properly for me (not like I could read it, anyway), but I got the gist of it. If you made the felted balls a little larger, the embroidery would really stand out. Again, you can go any which way with it. It all depends on imagination.

{9 & 10 caulking and paper ice cream cones} Obviously, I like the quirkiness of food ornaments (plus I like food. Duh). That being said, these two ice cream tutorials only need to be scaled up and down for them to work as Christmas ornaments. And who wouldn't want an ice cream cone nestled in their tree somewhere?

{11 & 12 felt and leather pinecones} These are both made using the same methods. It just depends on how fancy and in-depth you want to take it. The felt pinecone is definitely the easiest and most adaptable colour-wise, but the leather is more sophisticated and grown up. If I went with the leather version, I might think about finding a cheap leather purse at the thrift store to cut up for the project. The pinecone would be more supple, but it might be easier than trying to find leather pieces.

Finally, here are the ornaments I've made over the last few years: owlsgolden walnuts, and sailor's knot (and pompoms). I also made these fabric birds one year which I never documented for some odd reason. They're really easy, even for novice sewers (which I am) and pretty. 

Just think about how adaptable ornaments can be. They're a great gift for people you may not know very well (who doesn't use ornaments?), they're a great gift for people you do know well (they function as a keepsake where the receiver remembers you each year they put the ornament on their tree), and they also work really well as gift tags and wrapping decoration (and bonus gift). They're just one of those gifts you can't go wrong with (and yes, you can go wrong with candles -- I can't even tell you how many candles sit covered in dust somewhere in my house). I hope these ideas inspire you to make your own little ornaments this year!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

remembrance day poppy hack

I am a terrible Canadian. I mean I was a terrible Canadian. I've never worn a poppy before this year.

I know.

And it's not because I'm not remembering.

I am.

I have one excuse.

I hated the poppy pin. H-A-T-E-D. There were a few years I tried to wear one. But the poppy pin would stick in my face, pull the threads out of my scarves, get stuck on my mittens (when bringing my hand up to my face, of course), and it would always fall off within two days. I could usually catch its disappearance the first time but never the second.

So this is just a quick little DIY for you Canadians out there that have a similar problem. It's not hard. I just finally (finally) got around to hacking a poppy this year.

You start with your poppy and it's dumb pin. You can get one anywhere this time of year. ANYWHERE.

You're also going to need a safety pin. Something around the medium size. Not too big and not too small.

Remove the dumb pin and work the safety pin up from the backside of the poppy, through the black centre, and down to the other side.

That's how it should look from behind. The black centre pops up a little bit, but I like that. I think it gives the poppy a little more dimension.

Now pin it on your jacket and adjust the poppy to hide the pin.

I swear that poppy's not going anywhere. It won't stick in your face and it definitely won't destroy your silk scarf.

{note} one unintended side-effect to wearing a poppy is that every. single. salvation army/army/navy/young boy you encounter in every. single. store you go into is not going to solicit you to buy a poppy. Cuz you've got one on.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

roasted mushroom and garlic soup

I've been making soup every Friday night now. Each week I make a different flavour depending on what I've got leftover or an abundance of in the fridge.

We've had:

A sort of gazepacho-type soup (think chunky tomato, cucumber, baby potatoes with a spicy kick -- I had too many cucumbers and a handful of baby potatoes that weren't enough for a main side dish)
Plain ol' chicken noodle (that's the one I make the day I make stock to use up whatever pieces of cooked chicken come off the bones)
Onion soup with melted cheese (I bought another bag of onions thinking I needed them, but I didn't. Oh well! Caramelized onions for the win! -- with the older onions, natch)
Leftover stir-fry soup (This one was nerve wracking, but it turned out really delicious! I put everything we had left into it: baby corn, water chestnuts, beef slices, broccoli, cabbage, sauce)
Cream of tomato soup (I opened a can of tomatoes to add to ground beef and still had a lot leftover. I also cracked open a can of evaporated milk and had half left. Puree the tomatoes, add some tomato paste, garlic, evap. milk easy!)

And now roasted mushroom and garlic soup which was decided on because I just happened to be at Superstore on their "clean out the mushroom bin" day and got a large bag on clearance (but it definitely wasn't the largest bag there!). I love roasted mushrooms, so half of that bag went on top of some steaks on Monday and the other half, into this delicious soup. It's really astonishing how four cups of chicken stock can magically be transformed into different and unique soups every week, isn't it? I don't seem so crazy for making so much chicken stock now, do I?!

{roasted mushroom and garlic soup}

2-3 handfuls of whole mushrooms, washed and cut in half
1 whole garlic bulb with top sliced off to reveal the cloves
olive oil/salt/pepper/herbs
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup milk or cream, optional

In a roasting pan, add mushrooms and drizzle with olive oil, add salt and pepper and any other seasonings you'd like. (I believe I added some oregano as well.) Toss well to coat the mushrooms in oil. Add the garlic bulb, drizzle a little oil on that, and roast the whole lot at 350 degrees for about 20-30 minutes. Keep an eye on it to achieve your desired doneness.

Heat up your chicken stock, add the roasted mushrooms, carefully peel the garlic cloves (they're still hot!) and add as many or as little as you want (roasting garlic gives it a nuttier flavour and it's not as strong as raw garlic would be). Using an immersion blender or a conventional blender, carefully puree the mushrooms and garlic together with the stock. I don't need my soups to be completely smooth, chunks are usually okay, but I try to get as many as I can when it comes to mushrooms as it doesn't taste like proper mushroom soup if the mushrooms are left whole (trust me, I've tried). Simmer, taste, and add more seasonings if needed. Add a splash of milk or cream, if desired, and serve.

{note} I'm sorry for the lack of "recipes" around here. I've been more interested in winging it lately than following specific measurements. I'm basically giving you a rough idea of what I used in this soup. Measurements (aside from the stock) and time are approximations.

Monday, November 7, 2011

don't like it, paint it

I have been doing a lot of painting lately, so I thought I'd update you on the pieces.

Remember this thrift store find?

Well, here it is now! Sleek and black.

Aside from painting the bedroom and putting most things back, I haven't exactly decorated or done anything much in there so please excuse the boringness of this picture.

Having this type of headboard has been really nice. It did come with a footboard, but I opted not to use it. We're still using our regular metal bed frame and I've just pushed the whole bed up against the headboard. It doesn't jiggle or bump so I think that's good enough for me. I would suggest that queen beds were slightly smaller width-wise back when this headboard was made because our frame is about 3-4 inches wider than the legs on the headboard. Therefore, my idea of just screwing the headboard to the new metal frame didn't work.

I really love the storage and the ample top space for glasses and remotes and what not. Do you think it's too much to have bedside tables? I put our old ones back, but they're too short for my liking. I've got designs on buying IKEA's RAST drawers and painting them. Having them would mean more storage (we need so much storage!) and a taller surface. I'm not really keen on buying more IKEA furniture, but I've seen what lovely things other people have done with them plus they're real wood (and cheap too).

You probably don't remember this dresser. I bought it for $5 and repainted it to highlight the plaid-like wood detail. It really fit into our old house and the scheme over there, but once we moved, I almost immediately grew to hate how it looked. Plus those knobs. Oh man, what was I thinking with those stupid knobs?

Here it is now! We couldn't decide if the body should be black, so I thought I'd start with the drawers and decide after. I think that the white body gives it a more refreshing look since all of the furniture in the bedroom is black. This makes it look different but cohesive. 

I replaced the knobs with sleek silver handles that I picked up at a restoration store in Red Deer. They were a dollar each! I was also very nervous about them because I've never had to measure and drill new holes for handles before and I wanted to make sure they were all level and matching. 

Here's the trick to doing it: Make a template! I had the good fortune of having the pattern right on the drawers which meant I only had to make a template the size of the middle rectangle. I just measured a piece of paper to fit in that rectangle, figured out where the handle should go (a combo of eyeballing it and measuring), used some chalk to mark where the screws should hit, and poked holes in the paper to line up with the screw holes. Then I did a trial run where I lined my pattern up in the middle rectangle, marked the holes with chalk, set the handles on and stood back to double check that everything was even and lined up. Finally, I drilled the holes and screwed in the handles (that makes it sound super easy. Not quite. I kept buying the wrong size of screw for the handles. That part was a headache). I think it was well worth it. Not only do these handles look better, but they function better, too.

I got this dresser at IKEA a few years ago. I don't remember the name and I can't find it on their website. I guess I should have taken a before picture, but this used to be their standard dark brown colour. Painting it black helped to cover a really noticeable dent in the top drawer (I dropped a belt buckle on it and apparently that spells disaster for this type of furniture). 

You'll notice that I painted that little thrifted storage drawer yellow. I'm not 100% liking how it looks over there, and I don't like that other jewelry box (which I've always had but never used), either. I feel like I need something taller to sit on the top. I have a lot of stuff, but I don't seem to have enough decorative stuff!

The driftwood is something Idle Husband and I found on our trip to Abraham Lake. I kinda thought I might hang some of my most used necklaces off of it, but that's still in trial. I also wrapped that small portion (which was damaged a little) with yellow string, but I'm not sure I really like it (though I like that it matches the yellow ceramic drawers). What I am really loving is hanging driftwood up on walls. There's another one in the bathroom and I've stuck big branches and little twigs all over the place, in every corner. That's too much, right? That's borderline crazy.

Oh wait. You haven't seen crazy yet!

Mom gave me this corner shelving unit. It's been in her garage for almost 10 years (and this is after I cleaned it up. You should have seen the filth!).

So I painted it black (ignore the artwork in such a dumb arrangement. I used to have bookcases there so they made sense then. I'm contemplating paint colours now, so I haven't done anything else in this room as I'll be painting it soon anyway).

And then I filled it with birds. They were displaced when we moved the bookcases upstairs. That's a crazy amount of birds.

Finally, I painted this guy. My childhood horse. I've been wanting to do this for a while now because, uh... he was covered in toothpaste. I remember doing it, but I don't remember why. Maybe I wanted to clean him? Or Maybe I wanted to fill in the parts that used to be white? I don't know, but he's been like this for over 20 years. I've kept him this long because he's not just a horse, he's a horse bank! I probably shouldn't even be telling you, but he's filled with special coins. He's also very heavy.

It's surprising how easily 20 years of toothpaste comes off!

I spray painted him gold. That seemed like the right colour choice to me.

That's it for now. I'm all painted out for this week! But it's really amazing how a little bit of paint can spruce things up. It feels so fresh in here!

Friday, November 4, 2011

friday fixations

{new fall shows} I'm really enjoying some of the new shows this season, so I thought I'd share my current favourites:

{new girl} I'm extra loving this adorable comedy starring Zooey Deschanel (who doesn't love her, right?). And the best part? Idle Husband likes it, too! It's funny, quirky, and cutesy smart and I absolutely adore how nerdy Jess is. I feel like a lot of the things she says and does are what most girls' inner dialogues are really like (but most girls are usually too afraid or embarrassed to act or speak that way).

{pan am} This show is great if you love ogling amazing vintage looks and decor (and brushing up on history -- hello, past social studies teachers! I know nothing about anything that happened in the '60s and they were super interesting!). I also love Colette's french accent, the CIA intrigue, and Maggie's independent and crazy personality. I think things will be picking up pretty soon, but I don't think it's too late to start watching.

{happy endings} This isn't a new series, but I don't feel like as many people watched it as they should have during its first season. In fact, I was kind of surprised to see it back this year. It reminds me of Friends, but in the later years when things were quirkier, funnier, and weirder -- in a good way. None of that heavy drama junk weighing down fun scenarios.

{up all night} I HAD to watch this for Will Arnett (we love Arrested Development) and Christina Applegate (she's always been a favourite). I was so happy (and relieved) that it turned out to be a smart and witty comedy that also just happens to have a baby (baby-centric shows always make me nervous because they can so easily veer into being too baby-ish, i.e. all story lines revolve around baby). Oh and Maya Rudolph as a mock Oprah character is fantastic! She's just the right kind of crazy needed to add interest.

{wrigley's apple pie gum} I'm not a huge gum fan but man, is this delicious. It tastes exactly like an apple pie! It's definitely not a gum in my sense of the word, but when you're staying away from sugar and unhealthy treats, this is the perfect thing for when you feel like you're losing your will power. We also tried the strawberry shortcake and I'd say skip that one. It's good, but it tastes like artificial strawberry and nothing like cake. It definitely doesn't live up to the apple pie. They've also got it in mint chocolate chip, orange creme pop, and key lime pie. I'd love to try them, too.

{icy geometric shapes} I love how this geometric garland looks. Wouldn't they be great as individual tree ornaments, too?

{long johns} When did -5 start feeling like the ice age? I didn't think that was too bad when I ventured out today, but it didn't take long before I wished I had more on my legs than a thin covering of jean. Last year, I found some amazing microfibre long johns tucked in amongst Superstore's microfibre shirts for men, women, and children. I was only able to find 2 pairs of them in cream, but despite the poor colour choice, I wore them almost every day. (I would practically sob at the thought of taking them off.) Have a look in those cardboard displays the next time you're there. The long johns sell out really quickly for a reason.

{peeled grapefruit} I used to eat grapefruit the typical way, sliced in half with a grapefruit spoon, but then, unexplainably, I decided to peel one like an orange. I don't even like peeling oranges, but I quickly realized that peeling a grapefruit has such a big payoff. A large amount of the bitterness comes from the inner membrane and even getting a little taste of it can put you right off the whole fruit. Now I have a little grapefruit ritual. I peel the outer skin, pull the two halves apart, then peel the membrane off of each segment (it's not as time consuming as you'd think. The membrane separates from the fruit quite easily). I then put the peeled fruit into a bowl with cinnamon, vanilla, and a bit of sugar and eat it with a spoon. I don't think I'll ever eat a grapefruit by cutting it in half again.

{advent calendars} I'm thinking about creating one of these this year (something like this but maybe with old socks?). I've always had an odd fondness of them even though I grew up never "doing" the whole advent thing. I'm just debating whether I want to do the full month or focus only on the last 12 days before Christmas. I wonder if a full month would get exasperating after a while of coming up with fun treats and things to do. Twelve days of Christmas would highlight the season enough and would give me a direction for each day based on the song (for this year at least). Are you going to have a homemade one, buy a chocolate calendar, or not going to bother at all?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

leftover halloween candy cookies

This is not a new concept. I am not the first one to ever put Halloween candy into a cookie. But it's a good concept. It's fun. And it's a great way to get rid of any lingering candy from the big night. The best part is that you can use your own favourite cookie recipe. So you'll know how the recipe works (you're not going to be walking into unknown territories here) and you'll (of course) love the added ingredients (you picked them, right?).

I'll be completely honest, though. I made these purposely for Idle Husband's office as a pre-Halloween treat, so I bought (just enough) Halloween themed candies to go into them. I wanted to make something Halloween-y for his office, and when I really thought about it, I realized that making these would be a lot easier and faster than, say, making an equal number of sugar cookies that then have to be carefully decorated with iced Halloween images and putting Halloween candy into a standard cookie recipe is just as festive when you think about it. So while I do like the little decorated, fancy pants cookies and cakes and what not, what I like even more is quick and easy. (It's good when you finally realize how you roll in the kitchen, isn't it?)


I learned one important point through all of this. You must put candy corn into a cookie at least once in your lifetime.

I'm a huge candy corn fan, but I've never had them baked into something. What a mistake. Something wonderful happens. They're chewier? Tastier? I don't know what it is but it's delicious.

And did you know you can get them in blueberry booberry, too? NO?! Me neither! But there they are and they're really good. My only wish is that I could go back in time to chop up the candy corns and mix them into the cookies. I was a little nervous about how that would work out (plus not everyone likes candy corn), so I just pushed one on top of each cookie. Regrets...

I also included orange and black Smarties and Krackels (a crispy rice chocolate). I was going to add Oh Henry!s until I realized they have peanuts in them. If you're cool with peanuts (and the people you feed them to are cool with them), I bet big chunks of Oh Henry!s would have been really delicious. Ah dreams...and while I'm dreaming, can I be able to eat an infinite amount of cookies without any consequences? Thanks.

I used my usual whole wheat chocolate chip cookie recipe (minus the bacon! or plus it...I won't stop you) and chopped up the Krackels as if they were plain chocolate and mixed in the Smarties as normal. These are regular sized cookies so cooking them is a bit shorter. Around 6-8 minutes as opposed to the monster cookies. I prefer this recipe in monster size, but monster sized cookies aren't the best option for a crowd.

{handy tip} If you're using a cookie scooper and your dough keeps sticking, just dip the scoop into a bowl of water, shake the excess off, and continue scooping. You'll have to do this about every third scoop or so, but it's totally worth it. I love using a cookie scoop for the uniformity, but the dough always sticks and that's really irritating (plus it makes a handy device that should be making quick work of the job completely useless). I finally thought that since wetting my hands while shaping other sticky treats worked so well that maybe it would work with the scoop and it did!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

october recap

It was really hard scraping together a recap this month. I guess I'm not taking as many photos "just for fun" as I used to. I have to fix that.

Here are some instagram photos from October that you may not have seen:

tar bunny!

the white fox was part of a thrift store collection that was not for sale :(

once you paint one room, it makes you want to paint every room (aka be gone, beige!)

there was a huge fire on my street. I wish we had heard what caused it.

Finally, a little desktop calendar for you: