Sunday, April 26, 2015

That Time of Year Again

it's been a busy Birthday Week around here ! 

With everyone's busy schedules, my birthday this year has stretched from just one day to a whole week's worth of celebrating. Here is a brief recap:

On Wednesday the 22nd, I met with my very good friend A for a glass of wine. Which became wine and snacks. Which ended up being wine and snacks and dinner. We started at Boulevard in the Sutton Place Hotel for bubbles. Have I ever mentioned how much I love bubbles? From there we went to Cafe España for wine and charcuterie. They have a great Tempranillo by the glass (as any self respecting Spanish tapas bar should), and cure their own meats in house for salumi. We also has some crispy squid. Yum. Then is was over to a couple doors down and Central Bistro. More wine and bubbles and a squash risotto and chicken saltimbocca. Double yum.

Thursday the 23rd was my official birth day. I was scheduled to work, but it was a slow day, and so I was given the option to head home. But only after a surprise birhtday cake and a song from my friends at work. Once home, it was hot tea, a bubble bath with candles and then I spent some time with a good book curled up on the sofa.

Friday the 24th was another working day, with cocktails after work. And more bubbles.

Saturday, I celebrated with a Birthday Brunch with my family. We decided to do a whole bunch of nibbly things and appetizers and just do some serious grazing from the coffee table in the living room. Stuffed artichokes, baked cauliflower, pan fried crab cakes, brown sugar bacon wrapped potatoes, coconut shrimp....and this cake; which I made for dessert. The cake was two different layers; one chocolate rum, the other butter pecan. The frosting was dutch cocoa Bailey's and the cake was surrounded by wafer cookies with hazelnut creme. The top of the cake had Hagelslag, which is a Dutch food staple that I had growing up. Basically, it's chocolate sprinkles. But these were special chocolate sprinkles. I brought them back with me on my last trip to Amsterdam. Anyhow, just to be cheeky, I wrapped the cake in a pretty pink satin bow. I didn't get very good pictures of it, but here it is none the less. 




Sunday, April 26 was a Birthday Bubbles Brunch at Yew Restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel with a bunch of gal friends. It was a fun event in which friends from different parts of my life (past work, present work, models I've worked with) were able to come together not knowing each other and leave as friends. Oh, and these beautiful roses were a gift, as well as a tea mug that reads "Do what you love" (insert excited hand clapping), and a blank sketchbook (double excited hand clapping).

So, here I am at the end of a fun filled week to celebrate my birthday. There were many beautiful and appreciated gifts, but the best gifts; the ones that will last for years to come are the amazing cirlce of friends and family who helped me celebrate.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Cinnamon Hearts Chocolate Dipped Marshmallows

I've said it in the past and I'll say it again . . .I am not a fan of Valentine's Day. It's just not my thing.

However, this Hallmark occasion does give me an excuse to bake cute little treats and decorate them. And so, may I present you with...... Cinnamon Heart Chocolate Dipped Marshmallows!

I have been on a home-made marshmallow kick lately. I made Eggnog Marshmallows right after Christmas. They were amazing, and a great way to use up leftover eggnog. Then I had some limes and WAY too much coconut; which I turned into Lime Pie Toasted Coconut Marshmallows. They were super delicious, and went very quickly when I brought them into work on a slow Sunday shift.

I was going through my baking supplies cupboard (yes, I have a cupboard just for baking supplies), and I came across a small bag of leftover red cinnamon hearts. They were from last year, so I didn't really think they would be that great to eat. Then again, they are sugar, flavouring and food colour so I guess they can't really spoil or go bad. Anyhow, I started thinking about what I could make with old, hard, hot cinnamon flavoured candy while holding a couple in my hand.
Then I had a small brainstorm. What if I could dissolve them in water, and then use the flavoured red water as the liquid in a batch of marshmallows ??? Genius!

The recipe was part experiment, part science. So I guess technically it was a science experiment. Dissolve a solid in a liquid, then apply heat and add that hot liquid to more liquid infused with a gelling agent, then apply friction and incorporate air to turn it into a foam. Easy, right?

Making marshmallows at home is not terribly tricky, but it does require attention and timing. First, your liquid to gelatin ratios have to be correct. Too much gelatin and the marshmallows turn gummy and tough; too little and they don't firm up and you have a sort of marshmallow fluff. Second, you really need to whip that hot liquid with a stand mixer. Because it needs to spin for a good ten minutes. Give it the full ten minutes to ensure it triples in volume. And finally, be sure you have a couple of greased rubber spatulas and an off-set spatula close by. Warm marshmallow goo will stick to anything and everything if you don't apply a thin coat of either cooking spray or butter/margarine. I save the paper wrappers that blocks of butter or margarine come in and use those to grease pans, parchment paper and my utensils. I have bag of them in my fridge and just pull out a couple and have them on the counter by my work area to use as needed.

Oh, and you need a candy thermometer. Seriously, you do. The mixture can very quickly go from 235 to 240 to 250 if you're not watching closely . . and then you recipe is hooped. You want to reach 238 to 240 degree F. No higher.

Okay, on to the recipe:

Cinnamon Hearts Chocolate Dipped Marshmallows

Ingredients:

20-30 red cinnamon hearts
1/2 cup water
3 envelopes gelatin powder (I use Knox brand)
1/2 cup warm water
2 cups granulated white sugar
3 tbsp white corn syrup

8 oz good quality melting chocolate (dark, milk or white)
pink, red and white sprinkles or decorative trimmings (optional)

Place cinnamon hearts and 1/2 cup water in a small bowl. Give it a stir. The water should start to turn colour. Let this sit for about 30 minutes, stirring every so often. You want to dissolve the hearts into the water. Strain out and discard any lumps that don't dissolve.

Place 1/2 warm water into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Sprinkle the gelatin on top. Let this sit for about 30 minutes so the gelatin can bloom.

Lightly grease a 9x9 inch baking pan on the bottom and sides (here is where the wrappers from the butter or margarine come in handy) Cut two pieces of parchment paper 9 inches wide by 11 inches long. Fit these into the pan so that you basically have an overlapping cross with the long ends extending up and over all four sides of the pan. Press the parchment into the greased sides to hold it in place. Lightly grease the parchment.

Place the sugar, dissolved hearts liquid and the corn syrup in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook and stir until sugar dissolves. Clip that candy thermometer to side of the pan. Bring mixture to a simmer and cook without stirring until candy thermometer reads 240 degrees F. If needed, use a pastry brush dipped in water to brush down the sides of the pan to avoid crystallization.

Slowly pour the scalding hot syrup mixture into the bloomed gelatin mixture and whisk on low until combined. Increase speed to high and beat until thick and fluffy and mixture triples in volume. This will take about ten minutes, so be sure to give it the full amount of time. The outside of the bowl should be no longer hot and comfortable to touch.

Now you need to work quickly. Using a lightly buttered rubber spatula, scrape the mixture into the prepared pan. You are not going to be able to get absolutely everything out of the mixer bowl; it's just so sticky and it cools off too quickly once the main mass of marshmallow goo is removed. Using a buttered offset spatula, try and smooth out the top surface of the mixture, pressing it into the corners. You want to get it as even as possible to have uniform marshmallows, but trust me.....getting it completely even while not getting it to stick to everything else is nearly impossible. Set the pan aside and let it cool to room temperature; about 8 hours (or overnight).

In a heat-proof bowl, melt the chocolate. Lift the block of marshmallow out of the pan using the parchment paper. Using a serrated knife, slice the block into strips about one inch wide and then cut those into one inch pieces. You should end up with a kind of one inch rectangle; about the size of a regular store-bought marshmallow. I usually end up with 80-ish pieces (9 inches by 9 inches in the pan)

Dip each piece into the melted chocolate about half way. Gently stand each piece up on the non-dipped end on a baking sheet lined with a piece of parchment paper. If you dip the "uneven / top side", then the bottom or flatter end will stand up better. If it doesn't, just trim it with a sharp knife. Before the chocolate sets, sprinkle with decorating trimmings. I dip a few, then sprinkle; dip a few more, then sprinkle those. Carefully move the baking sheet into the refrigerator for 15 minutes to allow the chocolate to set. Here you can see my small army of finished marshmallows. So cute !


Marshmallows will keep in an airtight container for up to five days. These would be so sweet (pun intended) done up in little packages with pretty ribbon for Valentine's gifts for a child's classmates, co-workers or anyone that would appreciate home-made treats.



Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Banana Rum Muffins

Ever buy a bunch of bananas and have every intent on eating them, but then days go by and they seem to languish on your counter? I personally believe that's why banana bread recipes were invented....to use up the over ripe bananas. Because let's face it, the texture of super ripe, mushy bananas in your mouth is not the most appealing. Mashed up on toast? Sure. Pureed in a blender with milk and honey? Of course. But eating on their own while they squish through your fingers trying to hold onto them? No thanks.

This morning I made some Banana Rum Muffins. My mom can not have a lot of nuts (potassium rich foods are on her "in moderation list" for kidney disease), so I left out the toasted walnuts. You could use other nuts such as hazelnuts or pecans. Toasting them in the oven before chopping them up really brings out their flavour.

Banana Rum Nut Muffins

1 1/2 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 large bananas, mashed (be sure the bananas are really ripe)
3/4 cup white sugar
1 egg
2 tbsp dark rum (or 1 tbsp rum extract)
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup nuts (pecans, walnuts or hazelnuts), toasted and chopped

In a large bowl, combine the flour. baking powder, baking soda and salt. If you are going to use nuts in this recipe, add those in now and coat with dry ingredients. Form into a well and set aside.

In another bowl, stir together the mashed banana, sugar, egg, rum and melted butter. Pour the liquid mixture into the center of the dry ingredient well and mix until just combined and dry ingredients are moistened.

Fill muffin cups 3/4 full with batter. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes (12-15 minutes for mini muffins. Remove from oven when tops of muffins spring back when touched. Allow to cool in pan on wire cooling rack for 10 minutes before removing from pan.

We had some of these warm with hot earl grey tea before heading out to run errands. It was especially foggy here and we were not looking forward to having to go outside. So it was nice to linger for a moment and enjoy the warmth of the muffins and the tea, which gave us a little bit of a push to start our day.

Hope you enjoy!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Masquerade

Venetian masks are known world over for their elaborate designs and striking colour combinations. They are generally thought of as only being worn during Carnevale di Venezia (Carnival of Venice), but this wasn't always the case.

Originally, the masks were worn daily; and by doing so the wearer could hide his or her identity and status. A high born lady could wander the streets of the market, a common man could pass himself off as a successful merchant. The masks also allowed the wearer to act more freely without the constraints of their given social class and ignore the boundaries that would otherwise apply. This was especially true at a party, where the host would not have known whether the wearer was high born or not but could not risk offending invited guests, and so would have to have welcomed everyone wearing a mask. This is what makes the story of the Montagues sneaking into the Capulet masked ball without detection plausible (Romeo and Juliet).

However, given the possibility, the mask could be used for good as well as bad intent; one might sneak out from their manor house to speak with their lover in another part of town, opinions might be more openly voiced in conversation, or a knife might find its way into an enemy's back. Who was that masked man? Nobody knows.

Therefore, the daily use of masks was restricted - almost disappeared except for on rare occasion. Then, in 1162, a festival was held to commemorate a military victory. The festival became an annual tradition, and as it developed and became larger and more colourful each year, the Carnevale di Venezia was born. The masks became more and more elaborate and the balls, dances and parties lasted for days. That is, until 1797 when the King of Austria outlawed the Carnival and strictly forbid the wearing of masks.

Over the next 200 years, masks were usually only worn at private parties or at exhibitions as part of an artistic expression.  In 1980, a Carnival revival began in an effort to attract tourists to Venice.

There are three popular types of masks worn at Carnival. The first is the Bauta, which hides the whole face, but extends away from the lower part of the face so that the wearer can still eat. The extension also acts as a tunnel and alters the voice of the wearer, furthering the disguise. A Columbina is a half mask, which is often highly decorated with feathers and silk flowers, and is either held up to the face by a baton or tied around the head with a ribbon. Medico della Peste (the Plague Doctor) is the third type of mask, which got its ominous name from the Plague in Italy during the 17th century when it was worn as a precautionary measure against contracting the disease. It is easily recognized with its long beak and stark appearance without decoration.

Today, you can find masks pretty much everywhere you turn in Venice. Some are authentic and made in Venice. Most are not.

Tonight is the staff party for work, and the theme is Masquerade, which is a type of masked ball. Perhaps we will see if people do indeed act more freely behind the guise of a mask (there is no worry that some one with ill intent pulls a dagger out before running off into the darkness of the night). I'm sure it will be a lot of fun.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year - 2015

Today starts a brand new year! Although most of today will be spend in a state of doing nothing constructive or creative (i.e. lounging on the sofa in my pj's), I have given some thought to what I plan to accomplish in the coming year.

I have set my resolutions up as short term, mid term and year end goals. First, in the short term, I need to clean. I mean, really clean. And purge. I have too much stuff. I need to go through my storage and throw out all the old paint cans from ten years ago. I need to get rid of a lot of old stuff in there like light fixtures that don't work, old shower curtain rods ....useless stuff that once a while back I thought I would need again. Now it's ten years later and I've lived this long without them. They can go.

I need to securely wrap up and move any bolts of fabric that I am not working with into the newly created space in storage. I have too much fabric in my studio. I know, I know....there is no such thing as too much fabric. But it is not a very large studio and it is feeling very cluttered. Cluttered spaces are not productive spaces. So they will need to be relocated. Temporarily, not for ten years.

I have too many mannequins. I have six child and six adult mannequins. I can cut that number down, since I no longer do art shows where I need to display a whole bunch of dresses and such. Twelve mannequins takes up a lot of room. I will photograph them and put them up on craigslist, since they weren't cheap when I bought them and someone can definitely use them.

I will (finally) grout around my fireplace tiles. Doing this will mean I can then give all the tiling equipment and tools back to my parents. The extra grout and supplies can go away (though I will keep a small container of the grout powder for any touch ups I may need to do). This will give me an additional two feet of space along the back of the sofa, where I have been storing these tools and equipment for the past couple years.

I will recover my sectional and either sell it or keep it and sell the sofa. Yes, I have a full sofa plus a full sectional. I live on my own and can seat 12 people in my living room. It's going to be hard to determine which I want to give up, but I do need to choose one or the other. I just want the space back.

This means by April (mid-term goals), I will have my dining room area back. Which means I can host a Birthday Brunch. And diner parties. And Sangria Sundays. I also want to visit Cuba. Or Prague and Vienna. Cuba first, then Prague and Vienna.

I want to redo my kitchen. I would like new counters and will probably need a new refrigerator this year. The one I currently have has started making funny noises with increased frequency. This is not a good thing. I want to remove the dishwasher entirely. The only time I use it is .....never. It leaks, and so about two years ago I stopped using it. I have so few dishes I just do them by hand when I need to. Although, if I start hosting more people, I may reconsider this idea. But it would be nice to turn that area back into a cupboard for baking equipment. I'd keep the hose hook-up for if I ever sell my place and move.

And I need to renovate my main bathroom. Big time. Especially the shower.

So there you have it. I've committed my resolutions by writing them down and making them public.

Have you made any resolutions? Let me know big or small. Remember, start with small steps and build momentum for greater success. The biggest (apparent) reason people fail in keeping their resolutions is that they resolve too much too quickly.

Hope you are having a great start to your new year!


Monday, December 29, 2014

A Year of Pretty - December 29, 2014

Today's Pretty Post is this FANTASTIC pair of shoes. Well, one shoe really. But I'm sure it has a mate somewhere close by.

I may have posted this photo before. Doesn't matter, because I yearn for these shoes  . . . both the left and the right one. Together. As a pair. In my closet.

I'm sure that a good part of the appeal of this photo (which has no original source when I follow the link, just some ghost hosting site called fashionjot.com) is the lighting. The lighting is so important in this shot. Almost as important as the shoe. But not quite.

There is so much detail in this shoe. All those difficult swirls and scrolls to cut out, all the tiny little holes that border the edges. Of course, I would imagine that the shoe(s) were cut using a laser machine.

I really like the slim gold leather-strap-almost-cording that is threaded through the holes like a corset. As long as these cords look, I would imagine they wrap around the ankle a couple times before being tied in a leather bow at the back. Sexy.

Also check out that stiletto heel! Four and a half...five inches maybe. That is some serious damage for the poor man who gets his foot (or something else) caught on the wrong end of those. Never mind height adjustment. I'd go from 5'6" to 5'10 in those babies.

I wish I knew who the shoes were designed or made by. Please let me know if you can read the print inside, or if you just happen to know. Not that I would run out and buy them; they are probably at least two if not three of my pay checks. It's just nice to know these things.

Since metallics are in such style right now, these would be fantastic shoes for New Year's Eve. That is, until about 1am when you are leaving the restaurant or party and teetering down the street after too much champagne (Wait, what's too much champagne? There is never too much champagne!) and trying to hail a cab. Or maybe these would help you get a cab driver to stop.

I'd stop for these shoes. But only if there were two of them.

January 29, 2015 - update - and the shoe maker is . . .Christian Louboutin. Also available in Jet Black and Sterling Silver.