Sunday, 24 February 2013


I have a bit of an obsession with terrariums. There are so many styles, ranging from huge enclosed complex ecosystems that never need to be watered to small and whimsical in glass jars.

I'm really drawn to the small and whimsical made with succulents. The fact that I appear to be genetically defective in the gene that allows you to keep houseplants alive may or may not have something to do with this. Succulents seem to be almost indestructible, and very forgiving of neglect in the watering department.

Since I love them so much, I naturally assumed that the female members of my family would too and made some as Christmas presents this year. I also made one for myself to put on the window ledge behind my kitchen sink. They're really simple to put together.

I picked up some apothecary jars from HomeSense and some succulents from a local shop. They didn't have a very big selection, but they had a few different types to add some interest.

I also bought some rocks of different sizes. The larger ones I got at the dollar store, and the small black pebbles came from an aquarium supply store. I layered them in the jar, starting with the largest on the bottom and worked my way up through the progressively smaller stones.

I picked up some Hermit Crab Sand for a very fine layer just below the soil, and I also mixed it in with the soil to make it a little lighter for the succulents. Alternately, you can buy soil made for succulents and cacti.

It's been a couple of months since I put my terrarium together, and the plants are still alive! It was a fun and easy project, and a great way to spend a cold winter afternoon with my boy.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Awesome monster art

While cruising the internet last night I came across a fantastic idea for using ugly old painted landscapes of the type you can pick up at antique or thrift stores. Thyrza Segal takes old pictures and remakes them by painting monsters on them.

I love them! Now I want to hunt down some cheap landscapes to try my hand at it - I think some bright monsters would be adorable in the boys rooms. 

Saturday, 16 February 2013

The decadent birthday cake

Yesterday was Alan's birthday. Unlike Cal, he's a chocolate kind of guy - the more chocolate the better. This cake, the Campfire Cake, might be the best chocolate cake I've ever made. The recipe comes from Sweetapolita and can be found here. I'll give you fair warning - with a couple of pounds of butter in the cake and frosting, this recipe is not for the faint of heart. Or those with high cholesterol.

The cake itself is a rich, chocolatey base, with strong coffee added to the batter. This really adds to the depth of flavour. I baked the cake in two 9" pans, so there were four layers. The original recipe calls for three 8" pans to make six layers, but I only have one 8" round pan so it would have been very arduous to cook. I think I need to invest in a couple more 8" pans as the smaller, towering cakes really do look more impressive.

While the cake itself is very delicious, it's the frostings that really put this cake over the top. Inside, there are two layers of toasted marshmallow frosting; smooth and creamy vanilla, but with chewy bits of actual toasted marshmallow shell.

And the chocolate frosting - oh my. The recipe called for Belgian chocolate, but I had some Toblerone on hand, and decided to use it instead. The tiny bits of nougat were delicious in the light and fluffy icing.

There's only one word to describe it - decadent!

Friday, 15 February 2013

The salt cellar

I treated myself to a new salt cellar today. I like to have salt on hand for quick use while cooking, but my old salt cellar was nothing to write home about. Functional, but definitely something to keep hidden away behind closed cupboard doors.

So when I discovered this little gem, I jumped at it. It's silver plate, and it had the glass liner intact! I'm not sure that it was meant to hold salt; maybe sugar or mustard, or something else you would serve with a tiny spoon.

I had the perfect little spoon to use in my collection of silver that belonged to Alan's grandmothers. 

When I found it and saw that it was only $2.99, I felt just like the woman in the Ikea "Start the car!" commercial. This commercial makes me howl every time I see it.

It's a small thing, but one that I'm going to enjoy using every day.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Tasty valentine!

The boys, being boys, hate Valentine's Day. Or at least they hate being forced to fill out those little paper valentines that kids exchange in grade school. I decided I'd skip that torture this year.

But I felt like I should do something to mark the day. Every year the kids have parties in their classrooms, and we get a note home that snack donations are welcome. So I decided to kill two birds with one stone and roll the party treats and valentines into one.

I baked a batch of rolled sugar cookies on sticks for the kids to give out to their classmates. They're really easy to make - after you roll and cut the dough, just flip the cut shape upside down and insert the stick so it goes about half-way up the cookie. Then take a small scrap of dough and mould it over the stick so it's completely covered. Put the cookie right side up on the baking sheet and bake as normal.

Matthew didn't want to hand out hearts, but he did want to take cookies for his friends as they've been jealously eying the ones I've been packing in his lunch every day. We agreed on snowflakes. And as for Cal, he's been complaining that his friends have been making fun of him about the heart shaped cookies in his lunch so I figured he'd want snowflakes too, but he wanted hearts on a stick for his class. That kid is impossible to figure out.

I baked the cookies on Tuesday and then left them overnight. I've discovered that if you use royal icing on freshly-baked cookies the fat from the cookies can bleed through.

Four dozen cookies later, and I called it a day. I left the cookies out to dry overnight, and then packaged them individually in little cellophane bags for the kids to take to school.

I had more cookie dough than I had sticks, so I made a few extra hearts using the icing I had left over from the weekend. I may send them in to the teachers. Or I may scarf them down myself!

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

The upstairs bath - finishing touches

Finally! Privacy in the bathroom. In all these months that I've been using the upstairs bathroom, I've spent every morning crouched down so that nobody could see me through the bare window as I climbed into the shower.

The bottom sill is about 4' off the floor, and our only neighbour out the back is an old lady whose windows are at least 150 feet away so it wasn't too revealing. Still, I felt rather exposed when the lights were on and it was dark outside.

I picked up some fabric a couple of weeks ago at Designer Fabrics and finally got around to sewing a roman blind on the weekend. It was pretty simple to make. I just whipped up a rectangle (I lined mine with blind lining to help protect the fabric from sun damage) and then sewed on the little rings and threaded the cord through. I also used a threaded metal bar to weight the bottom of the blind so that it would hang well. The top is a piece of 1x3 that was cut the same width as the fabric. I stapled the top of the blind to it, and then screwed it right into the window frame.

How's that for detailed instructions?!? There are lots of tutorials online for making them, and they really aren't hard to do if you can run a sewing machine.

On to the after shots - the colour of the fabric is true in the pictures above. The ones taken in the bathroom are affected by the poor quality of the light in there. I really must learn how to adjust the white balance on my camera so that I can get better indoor/low light shots.

The blind is hanging a little wonky in the second shot as I forgot to pick up a cleat for the inside of the window frame, and currently have to tie it to the towel hook to keep it open.

I'm really happy with how it turned out. And since there was a long, narrow piece of fabric left after making the blind, I decided to dress up my ironing board with a new cover. I know it's hard to imagine why anyone would ever want to cover up this beauty.....

....but I think it's looking a little more sophisticated now.  

And to end, a gratuitous shot of my shadow. This one's for you, Aunt Marilyn!

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Lazy Sunday afternoon

It's still a winter wonderland - although tomorrow is threatening to be a winter nightmare. 6 °C and rainy. I'm dreading the slushy mess we'll face walking to school, especially since all the storm drains are covered by huge mounds of snow.

I had a lazy afternoon with my friend Lisa, a bottle of wine, and a batch of cookies. She's having an open house/new parent orientation this week for the summer camp that her son attended last year, and wanted to make some outdoor themed cookies. She baked them last night and brought them by today to decorate. They turned out pretty fantastic!

It's for Camp Pathfinder; their logo is a red canoe, so we made a bunch of those, and some trees, and then frogs and owls. The frogs were really cute,

but the owls were definitely my favourite!

Thank goodness all of those cookies walked out the door with Lisa. I've stuffed my face with too many cookies over the past couple of weeks.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Happiness is....

...your uptight mother allowing you free reign with the snowflake cookies she tired of decorating last night.

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