Friday, December 23, 2011

.gifts from the heart.

I love gifts. I love giving them, and I love receiving them. I love hunting them down around town, trying to find just the right sentiment for just the right person. I love making gifts specifically for a certain individual. I love wrapping them in reused gift wrap, or in shiny new gift bags. Gift giving is the sauce. So when people decry Christmas as an over-commercialized, materialistic, capitalist holiday, I feel slightly wounded.

Growing up, Christmas was never just about the gifts. Christmas was a magical, glowing heart in the middle of the dark, unyielding winter. There were cookies to bake, ornaments to make and hang, and seemingly unlimited Christmas specials to watch repeatedly. I know it's cliche to say so, but Christmas was a manifestation of magic for me. My mom had me convinced that Santa's elves were out and about, checking Mr. Claus' naughty'n'nice list one last time, and tinkling bells were evidence of the elves presence. Gifts were merely a cherry on top of my month-long magic sundae.

I never quite understand why those who deride the giving of gifts don't simply opt out, or change their own gift giving and getting habits. This year, I set a limit on the money I'd spend on gifts for each person, choosing tokens that were more of 'toppers' than anything else. Then, I baked three types of sweets and tucked them inside tins and placed each memento on top. Next year, I might not spend anything, or I might not bake anything. The point is that no one is twisting my arm to engage in gift giving. I choose to participate because I absolutely revel in the delight of the receivers, and in the winter months, we all need a bit of cheer.

A sour friend once snarled, "why only at Christmas? Why only once a year?". I view the holidays as such: I love cheesecake, and will usually pick it over any other dessert, but it's a special treat. If I ate it everyday, or even every week, it would cease to be satisfying. Instead of looking forward to a creamy treat, I would probably start gagging at the thought of one more serving. Christmas is a rich, delicious treat. I look forward all year to savoring every carol and light filled moment, just as I look forward to constructing the perfect Halloween costume, or planning the perfect vacation. Gift giving or receiving is only what you make of it.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

.first cocoa of winter.

There's nothing like a mug of hot cocoa on a cold, damp winter morning, in a not-so-well-insulated house. With the longest night of the year behind us, a long, chilly winter still lays ahead. I don't have time to wait for my house to heat up, or for spring to arrive, so I make large batches of "instant" cocoa and store it in a large tub. This recipe is quick and easy, and tastes better than any store bought variety. A cup of this sweet treat is sure to warm you to your toes faster than your furnace will!

Easy Instant Cocoa
5 cups powdered milk
3 cups sugar
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 cup cocoa
1/4 tsp salt

- Mix 4 tbsps mix with boiling water in a mug, stir, and revel in the deliciousness!

Sometimes I add cinnamon to the mix, or tiny marshmallows. Or, if you like a more fiery brew, like my friend Chris, try adding some dried chilies!

Monday, December 12, 2011

.The Holidays.

Full disclosure: I fucking love Christmas. Hence, this entire post will be dedicated to that most sparkly, rum soaked, turkey stuffed of holidays.

There are many reasons why I love Christmas. The most simple reason being that the time of year evokes warm and fuzzy childhood memories of a simpler time in my life, when the most pressing issues on my mind were whether or not Santa knew about that vase I broke

(but successfully hid), and if I should change out of my snow-suit into dryer apparel.
In recent years (oh, say, the last 10 or so), Christmas has taken on a much more "adult" appeal: mulled wine and spiced rum (more on the rum later...), baking your own choice of Christmas cookies, booze-soaked crafting session, and decorating your tree however you want. There's something magical, even as an adult, about running around and preparing for gatherings, however small or informal. I still peek out the window every morning hoping to see a snow-covered west-coast lawn.

My current, favourite holiday treat is decidedly hot-buttered rum. I've posted and professed my love for mulled wine, and the warm, grapey beverage still has a spot in my heart. However, with one of the coldest winters on record bearing down on us, I needed something with a little more "stank". The best thing about my current recipe, is that it can be made in advance and refrigerated, either in a mason jar, or, rolled into a log.

Bunny's Hot Buttered Rum
  • 1/2 cup softened butter
  • 2 cups demerara sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • pinch ground clove
  • pinch salt
  • Sailor Jerry's Rum
  • boiling water

Mix butter, sugar and spices together. I use my hands to get the job done. Pack mixture into sterilized mason jar, or roll into a log and wrap in wax paper and refrigerate.

Add about 2 tablespoons of the mixture and add 1 - 1 1/2 ounce rum to a mug, and top with boiling water.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

.scratching the consumer-bug itch.

It's Spring! (At least that's what I'm told...hail/snow suggests otherwise) Spring means cleaning! Spring is fresh! Spring is flowers! Spring is forgetting about how much money you blew (and still owe) at Christmas! Spring is interior design magazines tempting you with their vibrant and fresh colour palettes! Spring is Ikea notifying you of their new spring and summer products! Spring is...still a time of year where I find myself wishing for non-essential material goods that I cannot afford. However, if you're like me, you probably have a few cans of spray paint laying around, or chances are you know someone who does have a few cans.

Repainting old crap to make it seem new again is nothing new, but it can fill that desire to "start anew" with shitty consumer products marketed at home decor junkies like myself. Spray paint is cheap and as I previously mentioned, you probably have access to a few cans, and if you don't, a can will only set you back a few bucks. In addition to having a few cans of paint already in your possession, you probably have old yard furniture, end tables, or any other number of surfaces/decorative items collecting dust in your house/rusting in your shed. If you don't have anything to give a face lift, a quick spin around your neighborhood on garbage day (especially in spring) is sure to yield some forlorn piece of furniture begging to be re-purposed.

I found two old plant stands left behind by a previous tenant at the side of my house and two cans of lime green all-purpose rust-proof spray paint in my cupboard. If you wanted to do things "right", you could start by sanding away any rush and giving your item a quick wipe. I'm lazy, and chose to spray my stands without the benefit of a scrub. I'm using my stands in the garden, so they don't need to be perfect. I hauled the stands out into the driveway, gave them each one, quick coat and let them dry. 30 minutes later, I had two, "brand-new" plant stands for my yard and my consumer bug completely squashed.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

.Memories of Summer. Peachy Cupcakes.

Time and time again, I hear from people who live elsewhere in Canada, or have experienced winter in the more eastern climes of Canada, that here on the west coast, we don't really comprehend the concept of 'winter'. And time and time again, I beg to disagree. Our winters may not be white, or have wind chill factors of -45 C, but they are gray, dark, wet and long. I've met enough people who have come from eastern provinces to dwell in the west, who after 20-30 or so days of rain declare that they would trade places with anyone in a Toronto deep-freeze for a chance to escape the perpetual damp and drip that is a west coast winter.

With sunshine a distant memory, you need to find ways of coping until the rains of winter and spring give way to the vast lushness of a west coast summer, when fruit from the interior is cheap and plentiful. Frozen fruit is one way to remind yourself that the soggy weather will eventually give way to more pleasant weather, but while many people are hopping on the pie-wagon, I'd like to re-suggest the cupcake.

Over Christmas, I had the chance to purchase some amazing spice blends and extracts from a local spice artisan, Maison Cote. My greatest find, among many yummy spice blends, was their Peach Extract. Distilled from real peaches, their peach extract is like summer in a bottle. I whipped up a batch of simple and easy cupcakes using this extract, and topped them off with a light, lemon frosting. Simply put, these treats are pure summer, in cupcake form.

I based this recipe on the Joy of Baking's basic cupcake recipe, but tweaked it to make it peachy keen!

Simply Peachy Cupcakes
  • 1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup (130 grams) granulated white sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp pure peach extract
  • 1 1/2 cups (195 grams) all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) milk
Buttercream Frosting
  • 2 cups (230 grams) confectioners sugar (icing or powdered sugar), sifted
  • 1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp milk or light cream
  • orange food colouring
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.
  • With an electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract and lemon zest.
  • In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  • With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and milk, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  • Evenly fill the muffin cups with the batter and bake for about 18-20 minutes or until set and a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Once the cupcakes have completely cooled, frost with icing.
Buttercream Frosting
  • In an electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, cream the butter until smooth and well blended.
  • Add the vanilla extract. With the mixer on low speed, gradually beat in the sugar.
  • Add the milk and beat on high speed until frosting is light and fluffy (about 3-4 minutes).
  • Add a little more milk or sugar, if needed. Tint the frosting with desired food color