Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Gift Guide for Your Girlfriend

I don't know about you but I'm knee deep in Christmas organization mode. We have our schedule largely worked out and the shopping list is about 75% complete. We're heading to the outlet mall to shop for ME the rest of the gifts soon and then we'll be smooth sailing for the next 2 weeks (oh JC 2 weeks? ack...).

Here's last year's gift guide and 2011 and here are my ideas for this year:

1. Slippers - Minnetonka Cally Slippers. This puppies are warm and have a rubber sole so if she needs to hop outside to meet the UPS guy there's no worry. Also: pink.


2. Watch - because she's classy and always on time. Ok, at least she's classy. I like this one but Fossil also carries these great interchangeable watch faces + bands. You know, for that rare individual who changes her mind. Who me? No...


3. Jewelry - because, duh. I am an incredibly picky jewelry wearer. If it's anything beyond a basic or classic piece, I want input. When in doubt get a gift receipt. If it's in your budget, diamonds go with everything but if you're a normal person and would rather spend your money on snow tires these puppies should do just fine.


 4. Scarf - I put one on every year because I don't know any girl who has too many and there are always so many cute new patterns every winter. This one is a nice rich red - a a little bit Christmas, a little bit lumberjack.


5. Weekend bag for all those romantic trips you're taking her on this year. This one comes in a million colours but so does this one and it's a bit more wallet friendly (and comes in 'mountain goat').


6. Subscription to Audible - Does she have a long commute? Audiobooks will make it bearable. With a year's subscription she can get a new audiobook each month. Bonus free book with subscription.

7. Hot Water Bottle - Maybe this one is a bit odd but it's at the top of my list and maybe your GF sufferes the same frozen lizard toe affliction as I do. Maybe you're lucky and you scored one of the 10% of us who is a human pizza oven? Maybe we should just count our blessings? We follow a strict heating schedule in our house and it goes something like this: leave the heat off as much as possible. Reason? Money saving. Result? Cold bed at night. Solution! Hot water bottle in bed. It's a cheap way to get some extra heat without the inconvenience of a heated blanket or space heater (hello fire hazard). Also: maybe she'll stop jamming her fridgid lizard toes in the back of your knees. Also: probably not.

What are you shopping for this season? What's on the top of your list?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Food for Life

Have you ever been asked the rhetorical question "If you could eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?". I have been asked and also asked this questions many times. The most popular answers seem to be pizza, steak, hamburgers, or some kind of pasta. (My friends sure love their carbs and meat... who can blame them?). For so long my answer has been lasagna. Similar to pizza it covers all the important bases - crispy and gooey cheese, variety of meats, and salty goodness. My answer is typically welcomed with "Oh ya, good one" or "only if there's sausage meat in it" and really, uh duh.

BUT THEN

THEN...

I CHANGED MY MIND.

CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? I know, right.

My world is turned upsidedown. Apparently that isn't one word?

My world is turned up side down! Upside down!  Up sidedown!

My world has been turned on it's head. I have found a new lifelong lover that I could eat everyday until the end of time if necessary, and probably will despite it being unnecessary. But who's being dramatic, really?

MAC. AND. CHEESE.

I just can't deal. I want to eat it at every opportunity and have taken to ordering it from every menu put in front of my mac and cheese hungry face.

Some notes:

I think you get it. Go Google "Mac and Cheese" and you will find the answer to "What does Erica want to cook tonight?". 

With all this drama (Oh, you noticed?) I think it's time I start the pursuit of my favourite Mac and Cheese recipe and my favourite restaurant Mac and Cheese. I think it's safe to start with Martha, especially since so many others quote her recipe as their inspiration. I will find my favourite recipe, and determine my favourite add-ins (don't faint) and then I will return and I will tell you about my adventure. I will also go broke buying Gruyere, but maybe I will find a cheaper replacement that I love as much. Who can know! 

So, not that I'm biased, but what food would you want to eat for the rest of your life? Do you have a favourite Mac and Cheese recipe? I'm asking... for a friend...

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Welcome back, me

Hello!

How have you been?

Some things have happened over here.

For starters I had a pretty awful summer. I was out on a work trip for most of July that involved working many hours and losing touch with everything at home. Rob suffered his fourth and worst injury of the year, rendering him horizontal for several weeks.

Upon returning from the work trip we had that wedding thing to pull together.

Thankfully the summer ended with a beautiful, perfect, awesome, and amazing wedding day.

Things I want to tell you about include:

- Uh cello, the wedding.
- The honeymoon (I get why you all live in California)
- The half marathon
- The HOLIDAYS. It's November now so I can say that.

For now I leave you with this little gem that made it's way only the front of our Thank You cards. See y'all sooooooooon!



Friday, May 24, 2013

Summer

Well it's finally summer in these parts. I've had ice cream three days in a row and the A/C has been turned on to combat the heavy impending-thunderstorm humidity.

I wrote those first two lines 4 days ago and clearly I jinxed myself. It's zero-c (~30f) in these parts today. FML. Moving on...

In the past year I've really taken to the phrase "stop the glorification of busy" because I, in good company, am sick of hearing how busy you are and sick of telling people how busy I am. I get it, you get it, we are ALL DOING ALL OF THE THINGS. My general state tends to involve having a lot on the go and if it's not on my schedule then I probably don't want to do it. Instead of telling people how busy I am I try to tell them how HAPPY I am. In response to "How are you?" I've instead been trying to say things like: "Great, playing lots of Frisbee  lots of wedding events coming up, an exciting summer ahead for sure!". Responding with "Oh we're so busy!" was often accompanied with a crooked face like "woe is me and all my social engagements, it's so draining!" or carrying a sense of "oh my life is sooooo much more exciting than yours." because really, it's not. I made these choices and you've made yours, they shouldn't be compared. I was BUSY planting grass seed and pulling weeds last weekend so no, my life is not more exciting than anyone else's. That is nothing to brag about. You do your thing and be proud and I'll do mine, and then let's share how great those things were instead of putting on a dramatic showing of how we're drowning in our self-planned lives. Shut up, Erica.

You know what's not on my schedule these days? Blogging.

Things that are on my schedule?
Playing Frisbee.
Training for Fall half-marathon. (Now that I've told you I can't back down...)
Planning upcoming doom nuptials.

I suppose things have already quieted down in these parts this year but now I'm making it official by telling you not to expect much until... an undetermined date between September 20th and December 31st... maybe.

Yes we're planning a wedding and that involves a lot of fun things to share but they are largely the same as any wedding. I'll wear a dress, people will consume food and booze, there will be music. After the whole debacle is over I'd love to share some of our more personal touches - like the centerpieces my dad is making, and our ridiculous wedding cake - but not until we're on the other side.

I wish you a safe, and wonderful, and ice-cream filled, and HAPPY summer!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

DIY: Gallery Wall

...or a post with a lot of pictures about how I hung a lot of pictures.

In my never ending effort to make my house a home, we put up a small 'gallery wall' this weekend. By 'this weekend' I mean I've been collected pictures for months and finally went out and found frames.


Here's the process I went through:

1. Decide on pictures!
I was inspired by this post from Nothing But Bonfires - particularly the pictures lining the staircase and the personal montage to the couples relationship. I liked the mix of print and photograph, too. Another post that caught my eye was this one from Young House Love. Again with the hallway lined with photos, typically a space that you are just passing through, lined with a gallery of your life. Sounds easy enough! I had recently purchased two prints - Chicago and NYC skylines - both cities that Rob and I had visited together - and we'd just had an engagement photo session. Those would be the anchors. Oh look, here they are!

Ah yes, how could I forget when it was 10c in January... how young! how naive!

Obviously

 This print and the next one are from an online store called Bird Ave, who were wonderful.

I miss this place.

These were the 4 big ones, all 8"x10". I decided that everything else would be 5"x7" or 4"x6", largely because they are cheap to print at the instant photo kiosk and frames would be easy to find. The rest of the pictures:

Me & Rob on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Me & my fam after a long days work.

Me and all my cousins.

Me & Rob drinking wine.

Boomy and his best girlfriend, Ilse.

Me & Rob doing what we do best: watching hockey, drinking beer, being crazy. 

2. Frames! 
After I chose all my pictures it was time to find appropriate frames. I spent very little time on this. I had several frames on hand and the rest I purchased at Home Sense for as cheap as possible. I think the most expensive frames were the large ones at $12.99 a piece. I owned 6/10 frames so when it came time to purchase the other 4 I considered how many of each colour I had and tried to balance that. Worked out to 3 brown, 3 white, 4 black. The thinking was that it would look odd with just one white frame etc. 

3. Figuring out where to hang all this crap
I have ten pictures, of varying size, that need to go on the wall in some configuration. I figured this out using two techniques:
a. trace all the pictures onto paper and then hang the paper on the wall to see how the alignment looks
b. lay all the pictures out on the floor to see how all the frames work together (not all white frames in one corner etc). 
I settled on the lower part of the stairs because I liked that it made the pictures visible from the front door. I considered putting them towards the top of the stairs but then no one would every see them as guests rarely go upstairs. 

The final layout.

View from the front door, messy kitchen and all!

4. Hang the bitches
The paper layout on the wall did not accommodated for any calculated spacing, nor were they level. Our strategy for hanging the pictures was kind of rogue - hang the first one and eyeball everything from there. Lucky for us it worked. We have this picture hanging tool and it works like a charm. 

 We took each picture and held it over the trace paper to mark where to drill holes... repeat, repeat, repeat!

 Almost done!

 That dog needs to be at the centre of the action. 

 All done!

The whole process was easier than I thought. Figuring out the layout, framing everything and hanging probably took about 2 hours. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Friday Favourites ver. 28

This post was almost ready to go last Friday and then we had an ice storm on Thursday night. We woke up on Friday well past our alarm because our power had gone out. The lack of power lasted 9 hours and included many frantic trips to co-worker PK's house to get work done and pack home to bail the sump pump pit. Needless to say blogging wasn't on my radar!! Moving on...

1. IT'S FINALLY SPRING.
(besides the aforementioned ice storm)
I had to restrain myself every day from tweeting about how it's still winter. There were days when I thought for sure we were in a Groundhog Day sequence of winter-slush-winter-slush. Not funny.

BUT NOW! NOW! The birds! They sing! The rabbits! They shit in my backyard! The dog! He sheds! and eats the shit! Ah yes, Spring, she has sprung.

Compost Cookies from How Sweet Eats - crazy and delicious. Yes, those are sprinkles you see. 

2. We have basically decided on a honeymoon. We're going to ... everywhere! Sort of... we're going to drive down the West coast of the US. The plan is to drive from Seattle to LA. It's going to be a big crazy trip and I would LOVE if you could share any must-sees etc. More to come...

This dog has become insanely snuggly of late... after he wiggled out of the pile of sheets he came and leaned against me as I read my book in the doorway.  It's becoming a nightly ritual. 

3. The closer we get to the wedding the more obsessed I've become with "A Practical Wedding". It just makes sense. I love 90% of what's posted and the other 10% isn't so bad either. Specifically, THIS POST sang beautiful sweet angel baby voices to me. I sometimes feel like I'm being judged that my life is too simple or that I spend too much time at home. These things make me happy and you can't argue with happiness.

4. After making the same shitty recipe on 3 separate occasions I've added an action to my Pinterest boards - COMMENTS. Now I'm trying to comment on my pins once I've made them. I'm not deleting bad recipes because chances are I'll find it again, re-pin it, and be back at square one; just adding little review notes for next time. My 'What's For Dinner?' board is the most active these days.

5. Favourite food blog these days: Pinch of Yum. Her recipes are wonderful and she lives in the Philippines so you get a good dose of what her everyday life is like, too! Lovin' it.

 Can I just say what we're all thinking? Those spoons are ridiculous and adorable. 

6. Finally tried this fro-yo craze by going to Menchie's this week. The staff were super friendly! We tried most of the yogurt flavours and I wasn't in love with most of them. A few of them were extremely sweet but I settled on pistachio, chocolate, and mixed berry. The toppings were awesome, love the fresh fruit!

7. Now that the weather has turned for the better ("who can say I've been changed for the better... I have been channnnnnged for good" - name that song!!)... I've started running again. Specifically, Rob and I have been running together - it sure makes a difference to have company! A friend sent me this article the other way, what do you think?

8. Les Links:
Rob is gone for a whole week so it's up to me to keep the fort down here with minimal help from Boomer, wish me luck!

Monday, April 08, 2013

Wedding cake: a really long post about a really special cake

This past weekend I had the pleasure of making a wedding cake for our dear friends Cam & Caitlin. Their wedding was so beautiful and our whole group was fighting back tears during the ceremony. I well up just thinking about it! It was such a beautiful day. 

So that cake...

I've made several cupcakes in my lifetime. In fact, this past weekend I opened a box of 500 cupcake liners... the 3rd box of that size in less than a year. It's Monday morning so I'll do that math for you: that's 1000 cupcakes in 10 months. 100 cupcakes per month. More than 3 cupcakes per day. 20 pounds of butter for the icing alone. At least 80 eggs. 200 cups of icing sugar/25 kg/55 lbs.

This weekend marked the first time that I've prepared a cake for a wedding. Specifically I made 72 cupcakes (24 oreo, 24 red velvet, 24 raspberry-lemon) and one 4 layer, 6 inch cake. As it was my first time doing this there were a few lessons to be learned and so here comes a really thorough (read: wordy) detailing of the process. 

Wednesday (3 days before wedding): shop. 
I made my master grocery and supply list and picked up everything I needed so that I could get to baking right away on Thursday and Friday. 

Thursday (2 days before wedding): bake cakes. 
The cake was going to be two chocolate layers and two Italian cream layers. As the cake was small (only 6") I used half recipes for each type of cake, divided into two layers. I used these 6"x3" round cake pans from Wilton. They have straight sides and bake evenly. I used this chocolate cake recipe and this Italian Cream cake recipe (omitting the coconut). After both cakes were complete I wrapped them and placed them in the freezer. Baking these cakes took about 3 hours as I prepared and baked them separately (and did dishes in between). 

4 layers of cake... ready for freezer!

Friday (1 day before wedding): bake cupcakes. 
This was the part I was least worried about. I'd made these cupcakes countless times and wasn't expecting any issues (which I thankfully didn't have). The worst part was washing my mixer bowl too many times. I had a small hiccup when I realized I had forgotten to purchase the lemon and raspberries for the lemon-raspberry cupcakes... d'oh. Superstar Rob to the rescue! Total baking time was 5 hours for 72 cupcakes. I saved time by trying to streamline as much as possible... reusing dishes when appropriate and keeping all ingredients readily available. It was a regular assembly line in my kitchen. Can you tell I'm an engineer? All cupcakes were put in their boxes and into the fridge for the night. By 11pm I was done and ready for bed. 

Cupcake prep

4 dozen cupcakes complete (Oreo on top)

Final cupcakes complete. 

Saturday (wedding day!): decorate, transport, and set-up.
Decorate: This was the most stressful part and included the most 'firsts' for me. At the last minute I decided to change the icing I was using on the cake to an icing I'd never used before. After reading this article regarding the very technique I was going to use I changed my icing from standard butter-based 'American Buttercream' to a shortening based icing. I estimated that the cake would be sitting out from 4pm until 10pm and was concerned about the icing melting. The shortening based icing 'crusts' at room temperature and holds up better to heat and humidity. It also produces a much whiter icing compared to butter. I took the cakes out of the freezer, leveled them (easier to level when slightly stiff) and started on my icing. My plan was to crumb coat in white and then do the rose design with three rose layers in varying colours (dark purple, light purple, and white). 

The icing came together well and the piping was also really easy. The whole process of making the icing and piping the cake took 1.5 hours. I was done by 10:30am!

The cake! 

Transportation: Transporting cupcakes is NBD. they are all in boxes and travel well. Transporting that cake... not so simple. I MacGyver'd a shoe box into a cake box with one side open which I held in my lap in the back seat of the car. The worst part was making turns as I had to hold the cake plate still to avoid disaster. My fingers were seriously cramped after the 40 minute drive... but we made it! 

Set-up: upon arrival all the groomsmen lent a hand and we got the 6 cupcake boxes, 2 cake stands, and the cake down the (many flights of) stairs. I brought flat shoes to avoid tripping! I was happy to see that the cake table was not near a window so no threat of hot sun beating down. 

The whole set-up... including the precariously balanced cake... (I was so nervous it would get knocked down)

Post-cut (sorry for shitty phone pics)

Lessons & Tips:
- I kept the kitchen clean through the whole process and I'm so glad I did this. I find my work starts to get sloppy the messier my kitchen gets. 
- Planning out the days beforehand made a big difference - being prepared FTW!
- I could have made the cakes at any time during the week and frozen until Saturday. I wouldn't have frozen for longer than a week. 
- Seeing pictures of the cake I wish I'd make the icing a bit smoother. Add more milk next time!
- Transportation was the worst part. I'm not sure how to make it any easier... 

And that's it! For my first time doing this whole thing it went really smoothly and I'm happy with the results. I get to do it all over again in 5 weeks! 

Thanks Cam & Caitlin for letting me take part in your special day!!