Friday, December 18, 2009

Table Setting

Last weekend we hosted our church Christmas party. I wanted to do something pretty for the adults table, and it was all really simple. In general, I don't really like red for Christmas but I'm feeling a bit more traditional this year. I had a large piece of red and white gingham that I used as a tablecloth. A few white pointsettias from the grocery store worked for a centerpiece, and they were only $3 each! The plastic gold-colored pots were not working for me however, with a little bit of burlap tied with a piece of bakers twine, they looked really cute. White paper napkins with a subtle grey pattern worked well with the busy tablecloth, and cutlery, along with small-sized red party crackers finished off the table. I placed a blackberry IZZE at each setting for a bit more color (and yumminess).

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Worth 1000 Words

Is this Christmas excitement, or what?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Baby Quilt

This is my first completely finished quilt (that is, I have 2 others that I have started but not finished yet). This one is 100%, don't-have-to-do-another-thing-to-it-finished. I started it last Wednesday and was absolutely determined to have it done by the end of the weekend. This was my first experience with mitered corners, machine quilting, and binding a quilt. With all of my friends that are having babies, I thought baby quilts are nice, manageable projects that give me an outlet for my huge fabric obsession. This one is 39X39 inches finished size, which could work as a play quilt or in a crib. I backed it with fleece, which I think is nice for a baby.

Seriously, I'm shocked at myself for finishing it, as those of you who know may know that I am good at starting projects, and not so good at the finishing part. This weekend was good for finishing projects.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Papa Bears

My hubby makes gingerbread bears every year at this time. They are made with a gingerbread recipe that is a family secret. This is his second batch so far this year, making around 10 dozen so far. They will all be gone by Christmas. Derek always uses the same cookie cutter, which is a squished bear. I tried, early in our marriage to go out and buy him a fatter, cuter, cookie cutter but he insisted on using this one that his Grandpa, or "Papa" as they called him, had always used. Now Derek gets requests from all of our family for some.

Our house smells really delicious.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Party

We had an ugly sweater contest at our Christmas party yesterday. These are my friends. I'm a bit embarrassed.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Surprise Birthday Brunch

My Mother-in-law, Susan's birthday was at the beginning of November. My sister-in-law, Brenda, and I decided to plan a surprise birthday brunch for her. Most of the planning happened one night shortly after we got home from Australia while I was still jet-lagged. My mom graciously opened up her home for hosting as both my mom and mother-in-law live about an hour from where we live.

With a pink and yellow theme, we decorated with bunting (some made and some borrowed, thanks, Rhonda) and the infamous Martha Stewart-style poufs. On the table, I decorated with flowers in large Mason jars. I picked out some gerbera daisies, as these are Susan's favorite flower. Favors were small jars of homemade lemon curd (so tart and yummy), with labels that Derek helped me design and print.

For the menu, we went with eggs benedict. I made Julia Child's blender hollandaise recipe (pretty easy, actually) and had Brie cheese, back bacon, mushroom and asparagus for toppings. I also had a greens salad with beets and pecans, and a pink and yellow fruit salad. Pink punch, coffee and tea rounded out the beverages. It was a great time, and I think everyone had fun. There were 9 or 10 of us in total. For dessert we had some pineapple upside-down cake, which was a new recipe for me to try. Looking back, trying a new recipe for a party wasn't the best idea, but it turned out delicious (even with me forgetting the white sugar).

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Brand New Heather Bailey Fabric!

It's been a while since Heather Bailey has put out a new line of fabric and I'm totally excited about this one. Derek and I made a last minute trip to Minneapolis for business and, as we were driving to our second location, we drove right past Crafty Planet, and amazing fabric and yarn store in Minneapolis. It has a fantastic selection of fabrics from some of the really fun designers like Heather Bailey, Anna Maria Horner, Amy Butler and Joel Dewberry. They also have a great selection of home decor fabric. Even though they are in the US, we up north can still get in on the selection with their online store. On our way back after picking up Derek's work items, I stopped in to browse the fabrics. The first thing I saw when I walked in was this new fabric. Slightly more subdued than her last line, it still coordinates well with it. It has blues, yellows and greens with a bit of grey (love grey!) When I mentioned to the guy in the shop that I hadn't seen this one before he told me that it had just come in the day before! Isn't that cool? I think I'm going to make a small blanket out of it, and can't wait to get started!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies

I made cookies for a cookie swap coming up this Saturday. I am bringing 8 dozen cookies so it took a while to get them all baked. It's a new recipe that I haven't tried before but I found it on the Martha Stewart website, so I know it's tried and tested. Besides, when a recipe starts like this, how can it not turn out well.

Here's the recipe. I cut back the amount of chocolate by 25% and they were still really sweet.

Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies
Makes 2 dozen


7 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate
1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1/2 cup dark-brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup granulated sugar


Line two baking sheets with parchment. Chop chocolate into 1/4-inch chunks; set aside. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and cocoa.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and grated ginger until whitened, about 4 minutes. Add brown sugar; beat until combined. Add molasses; beat until combined.
In a small bowl, dissolve baking soda in 1 1/2 teaspoons boiling water. Beat half of flour mixture into butter mixture. Beat in baking-soda mixture, then remaining half of flour mixture. Mix in chocolate; turn out onto a piece of plastic wrap. Pat dough out to about 1 inch thick; seal with wrap; refrigerate until firm, 2 hours or more.
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Roll dough into 1 1/2- inch balls; place 2 inches apart on baking sheets. Refrigerate 20 minutes. Roll in granulated sugar. Bake until the surfaces crack slightly, 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Housewarming Gift-Monogram Mat

Both of my sisters and their husbands bought houses this summer and I wanted to make them something that was practical for their new homes that had a bit of style. I remember when we first moved into our house almost 2 years ago there were so many small things that we didn't realize we needed. I remember buying about 5 or 6 mats for all the doors we had (front, back, garage, etc.)

I picked up 2 coir mats. Since my sisters read this blog (I think) I won't say how much they were, but they're reasonably priced. I then decided what I wanted to put on them to customize them.

I chose the first letter of each of their new last names, F and N. I measured the mat (18X36") and decided to make the letters 14 inches high, and chose a font for the letters. I think that it's nice to use an interesting font but I wouldn't recommend anything with too many curly parts on it. I had my husband cut out vinyl letters to use as stencils. It ended up that this wasn't the best plan as the vinyl is a bit fragile to remove from it's backing and we couldn't apply it as he usually would, as the vinyl didn't really stick to the mat. After doing it, I would recommend printing out your letters on cardstock and then using an exacto knife knife to cut out the letter and create a stencil. As the tips of the letters can shift as you apply paint, I would spray the cardstock with spray adhesive and then tape it down on the edges to secure it. I centered the stencils and then taped them down.

I looked on a few websites (including to check into the type of paint that would work best and it seemed as though Latex was recommended the most. I used a sponge brush to dab the dark grey paint onto the stencil. The paint doesn't absorb very evenly, so dabbing a lot was the name of the game. I removed the stencil carefully as soon as I was done painting.

How cute are these? I hope they like them as much as I do...I just might have to make one for our house.

Monday, December 7, 2009

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

The Christmas Trees are up!

Yes, it's bit much but I put up 2 this year. The one upstairs is 7 feet tall and really wide. We've had it for a while and it's decorated in blue/teal, white and brown. This was the first year that I didn't buy more decoration for it and I'm glad I didn''s pretty full.

The other one is in the basement. It's colorful. I used red and pink ribbon and had a bunch of brightly colored decorations to put on it. My wrapping matched the Christmas tree in the basement better, so that's where the gifts will rest until Christmas.

I've started my Christmas baking and Derek has turned out his first batch of Papa Bears (Gingerbread Bears) More to come on baking this week...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Last Australia Post-Blue Mountains

(the train station at Katoomba)

(the Blue Mountains are actually blue!)
So on our last full day in Australia we went North of sydney to Katoomba. Home to the Blue Mountains, this tourist area was worth the train ride. We were in a car with some very loud people so we didn't sleep too much on the way there. The Blue Mountains are blue because of the off-gassing from the gum trees that grow below them. There is also a rock formation that looks like three small mountains called the three sisters, which is pretty neat. We took a cable car ride between 2 lookout points which allowed us to get a really great view of the mountains.

(the Three Sisters)

(white birds (maybe cockatoos) that were flying in the canyon)
We paid for a bus ticket and took a bus from stop to stop, getting on and off to see various featured points. We went to a set of falls. The bus driver, before we got off told us to touch the water and report to him on the temperature and what the water felt like. I felt it and it was cold, soft and felt a bit oily. When we got back to the bus, he asked me (in front of the bus full of people) what it was like. He explained that the water was cold because it came from an underground spring, which regulated the temperature of the water (like geothermal works). The water is soft because as it rises to the surface and passes over several types of rocks as it falls down the springs, it softens the water. It's oily because it has kerosene in it (I forget why though)

(these are the beautiful waterfalls where I felt the water)

(the view from a hiking trail, where we got lost)
We went to a great little cafe called the Red Door Cafe. I had a rosemary, sweet potato and lamb pie. It was so Asutralian and so yummy. It had homemade chutney on the side, which reminds me of my Grandma Billing. Chutney seems so old fashioned, but delicious and under used.

(red door cafe)
At the end of the day we finished with a few cupcakes from Cupid Cupcakes. My favorite was the pound cake with passionfruit frosting. Mmmm...

(cupid cupcakes)

This one's for Uncle Allen

When we were in Australia we went into the Subway (Trains) a number of times. I took a picture of one of the cool vintage ads in the subway for my Uncle Allen. He collects old fashioned cars, so when I saw this I thought of him

This one's for you, Uncle Allen

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Nie Nie Today

I have posted about Stephanie of Nie Nie Dialogues before. She and her family were on the Today show this morning. It's interesting to see her "live" after reading for so long. Why is it that every time I hear her story, I am brought to tears?

Check it out here

Monday, November 23, 2009

Museum and a Park

We took a low key day (read:we slept in) and had a bit of a late start. After grabbing some bun from the Vietnamese restaurant, we took to train to the Australian Museum. I was impressed by the exhibits, it was a classic style of museum. We didn't have that long there as it closed early. It was pretty cool when we went to the dinosaur room, all of the fossils were from Drumheller, Alberta! The first room we went into was about skeletons, so neat. There were also exhibits about rocks and minerals and native animals of Australia.

To get to the museum, we crossed Hyde Park. It has the Anzac (vetrans) Memorial and a view of Sydney's tower (like the CN Tower in Toronto).

There was a crazy street performer who was on the top of a post on a bicycle, juggling a torch, a knife and an apple.We had a bit of time so we stopped to grab a bite at a cafe right at Sydney Harbour. I took more pics of the bridge (as I sat eating supper). We had some fish and chips and salads, finished with (what else) gelati-including pistachio gelati

In the evening we went to a performance of the Pirates of Penzance at the Sydney Opera House. It's a comedic opera in English. I kept pinching myself as I couldn't believe we were seeing an Opera at the Sydney Opera cool!!!

More of Sydney

I know this is a bit late in coming but I thought I'd share a few more things from the end of our trip (mainly for me to write them down before I forget)

We went to the Central Station a few times (on our way to our favorite Vietnamese restaurant). It's really neat. All of the trains stop into that station.

We checked out Paddy's Market, which was the BIGGEST farmer's market/flea market I have ever seen. There was everything from veggies and flowers to band t-shirts and lingerie (seriously, who buys lingerie at a flea market???) to knives and toys. There were tons and tons of knock offs. It was quite the experience. If we had a kitchen while we were there I could have bought so many of the yummy ingredients for sale.

We made a trip to Bondi Beach, which is well known for it's surf waves. The day we went to Bondi, it was unseasonably cold, so we didn't bother with surfing lessons, but went for ice cream (ok, so I just had some more of that yummy rhubarb ice cream).

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Back in Sydney

We are back in Sydney. We flew in at noon and Derek wasn't feeling well. We hung out at the hotel for the afternoon. I tried venturing out by myself, but couldnt' figure out how to know how much I had to pay for fares. You pay different amounts depending on where you want to go. In the evening, Derek and I went and figured out our train tickets. When we bought the tickets, we asked the guy in the ticket booth if he could recommend a place for us to eat that would be open at 7 or 8 at night. That's something I forgot to mention. Stores close early here. It seems as though businesses and restaurants are either open until 5:00 or 5:30 or they don't open until 6:00 or so and then are open quite late.

The guy recommended a noodle bar. After getting lost after we exited the train station, we finally found the place he had recommended. It was a very hip place. Located in Chinatown, the clientele ranged from cool, younger asian adults to a white businessman to an Asian grandma who sat across from Derek. There were 2 long tables with benches. We ordered at the counter (from a menu which we couldn't read)and then were brought yummy bowls of noodles and broth. Derek's was a pork broth with ramen noodles and I had a chicken broth with fried chicken and fat noodles in it. It was delicious and we were so hungry.

As were were walking (which we did a lot of when we got lost) I noticed that they had labelled the street at the curb (or kerb, as they spell it here) which way to look in order to avoid being hit by a car. That's something that my sister, Heather, had mentioned from when she was in Australia that you have to adjust to which way to check for on coming traffic before you cross the street. Derek and I have commented to each other a number of times how it feels like you may get hit from one side (the expected side in Canada) when the traffic is moving in the opposite direction.

We went through Central Station as well. It joins all of the train lines in Sydney. It's this cool, old train station and it's always bstling with activity and accents from around the world. Very cool.

Last Day in Cairns

Our last day was our hottest day. My hair is crazy as it is so humid here. We tried an Australian BBQ restaurant while we were here (I'm still looking for an Aussie Pie) and have enjoyed the range of types of food that Cairns Esplanade has to offer. We spent the day relaxing, checking out a local music store, and buying taffy and a few souvenirs to take home. We enjoyed one last evening on the esplanade, followed by a return to the crepe stand (they make the crepes in front of you, filled with fruit and whipped cream) and gelati (I have to admit I am a bit obsessed, but with flavors like kiwi fruit, mango, blood orange (like tangerine) and passionfruit, who could resist?)

We returned just as it was getting dark as Derek wanted to get some pictures of the bats. I have to confess, he took most of the pictures as they kind of freaked me out. It was crazy though, to see how they were basically sleeping when we got there and within 15 minutes or so, as it started to get dark, they started flying until the sky was filled with them. These pictures don't do it justice. The sky was totally filled and they were flying quite low, while screeching. It was quite a sight.

This last picture is at Derek's request. He has a funny, unexpected, and interesting fascination at creatures everywhere we travel. Geckos are of particular interest...ones that turn yellow to camouflage against the wall are extra interesting, hence the photo. There were lots of these little guys running around, particularly at night.