It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like…

I finally started to get into the Christmas spirit a little bit this weekend, probably because on Friday afternoon my yard looked like this:

And by Sunday it looked like this:

Many of my friends and family bemoaned the precipitation and freezing temperatures, but I always like a bit of snow before Christmas. A green Christmas just isn’t very Christmas-y to me. That being said, it’s supposed to go up to 9°C (48.2°F) on Tuesday, so it’s not like this is going to last.

It really put me in the mood for Christmas shopping, though. Unlike in the States, where the holiday buying season appears to officially start as soon as the clocks strike midnight the day after American Thanksgiving, we don’t really have a traditional time to begin. Some people shop all year ’round. Some companies put out their Christmas merchandise at the same time as they’re building their Halloween displays (which is a little early to me, but oh well). For me, all of the Halloween debris has to be cleared away and there has to be some snow on the ground for me to feel like shopping for gifts — although I have been known to pick things up six months in advance if the opportunity arises at a great price.

I went with my mother, Thing 1, and Thing 2 to a number of craft fairs on Saturday, but one of my perennial favourites was the one held at Cairine Wilson High School. It’s a huge fair; it packs full the big gym, the little gym, the hallways, and the cafeteria. Given the number of booths, I’m bound to find something that I know someone will like.

But even if I don’t find the perfect gift for someone, it’s a lot of fun to check out the wares of local craftspeople. This is one of the few times of year that a lot of these people make their work available to the public; many craftspeople work all year by themselves to make enough stock for one or two holiday shows.

After hitting a few craft fairs, we rushed home so that the kids could get changed into their uniforms and we could drive out to Epiphany Anglican Church where the Girl Guides’ Holiday Tea is held every year. Since I’d gone to all of the effort of baking brownies for the tea, I pretty much had to attend. It’s always a lovely time, with such cheerful little servers and so many delicious treats on which to nosh.

I may have kind of taken a picture of some of the sweets for our table after I’d already nabbed the chocolate ones. Just maybe. I think that the next to go was that shortbread on the bottom right, since I’m a sucker for those too.

First Bake of the Christmas Season

I wanted to spend today working on my last-minute costume, but the weather has started to change for the colder, and that meant that I had to make some changes to my house. The Weather Network is calling for rain, freezing rain, and snow over the weekend, so I had to be prepared. First, I had to put up the Christmas lights, since climbing on a ladder in the ice and snow is not a good idea.

Second, I had to clean the garage. I know it may not look like much, but it took me the rest of the day to get my garage this tidy. I really prefer to park under a roof in the winter; the car starts easier, it takes less time to get out the door because I don’t have brush/scrape off snow/ice, and it’s just generally better for the longevity of the vehicle. In warmer weather, however, my garage becomes my workshop-slash-storage-space, and it becomes cluttered and messy, and there’s no way you can get a car in there for about six months. So every fall I have to give it a good clean, and this year I’d let it get bad enough that it took me most of the day.

We still had to eat, of course, so I kept in the same mind-set as yesterday’s Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day — this having nothing to do with the fact that I still hadn’t gone to the grocery store, of course. I made grilled cheese for the family using yesterday’s Light Rye and Caraway Bread (page 75, Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter (2002)) and leftover cheese from the cheese-and-crackers tray from the Halloween party, which I think was mostly cheddar and Havarti, possibly Gouda. Sadly, there was just toast for me, since I have yet to find a non-dairy cheese that I actually like. Alongside the sandwiches I served cream of carrot soup that I had made up around Easter and frozen.

This weekend there is an annual fundraiser to send the area Pathfinders on an excursion, for which the younger girls (Sparks, Brownies and Guides) help out. The fundraiser is a holiday tea held at a local church. Parents supply beverages and baked goods, the Pathfinders organize and run the kitchen, the Guides serve the hot drinks, the Brownies serve cold drinks and treats, and the little Sparks just serve treats. The younger girls only work in one-hour shifts and are always given the chance to sit down and have tea and treats afterwards, so they love participating in this fundraiser. Plus, it makes them feel really grown up.

Thing 1 helped me choose and bake the treats we’ll be providing, which after a perusal of my cookbooks Thing 1 proclaimed had to be brownies-without-the-capital-B. She picked the recipe from Cookies: Recipes for Gifting & Sharing (Publications International Ltd., 2016), the classic brownies on page 35. Other than taking longer to bake than the directions specified, they went off without a hitch! Of course, I had to try one of the brownies before I packaged them to drop off tonight, and they’re rich and chocolatey soft, firm on the outside with a soft, moist (but not under-cooked) center. I am definitely pleased with this recipe, and not only because it’s so easy! My only qualm is that it has a bit of dairy inside, so maybe in the future I’ll be able to come up with a non-dairy version.

Sick Day

I was sick yesterday. It’s just a cold: body aches, chills, sinus pressure, and a headache. Nothing major, but pretty miserable. I’d planned on heading out to the Ottawa Antique and Vintage Market, but after taking Thing 1 out to shop for Christmas gifts at a school craft fair, I was beat. I curled up in bed, unable to quite feel warm, until dinner time.

Needless to say, I wasn’t up to cooking. My husband, an unenthusiastic cook at best, thought that I should have soup for dinner to help me feel better. He reheated some frozen shoyu broth I’d made a while back, to which he added ramen noodles, shrimp, soft-boiled eggs, enoki mushrooms, and a square of nori. It was exactly what the doctor ordered.

After dinner, and after the kids were put to wrangled into bed, he also made me a hot apple cider (non-alcoholic; I know in some places calling it “apple cider” presumes an alcohol content, but around that we call it “hard apple cider” to differentiate). He also looted me a few mini chocolate bars from the kids’ extra Halloween candy. I feel very loved. It’s nice to be taken care of every once and a while. Now, if only the cold would disappear as quickly as my hunger did.

Happy Halloween!

One of my absolute favourite things is people who go all-out to decorate for the holidays. Halloween is probably my favourite, but Christmas is another big one, especially because its decorative lights enliven the darkest days of the year. When it comes to Halloween, if you trick-or-treated as a child, to me you have filled an unwritten social contract if you keep your porch light on and hand out candy. If you carve a pumpkin or put up a few mass-market decorations, so much the better. But it’s those houses that go all-out that you remember long after you’re too old to ask for candy door-to-door. When I was a kid, our entire block did Halloween big time, which is probably why I’m still such a fan as an adult. My favourite was the neighbour who built three witches and a cauldron in his driveway, closely followed up by the people who dressed as dummies and jumped out at you, and the people who made spooky mazes on their lawns or in their garages.

Here are some of my nominations for “coolest house” this year (keeping in mind that I had to take these photos before Halloween itself, since I post so early in the morning, so some houses don’t have their decorations up/lighted):


This house had projections in the left window of ghosts and silhouettes, which is hard to catch on a long exposure for nighttime lighting, but it was still really cool.

I hope everyone has a safe and happy Halloween! May you bring home lots of your favourite candy, and may your feet and hands not get too cold. (It’s supposed to dip below freezing here, but in this climate we try to plan costumes that you can fit a snowsuit underneath.)

Spooky Glowing Skulls

I’m decorating for my Halloween party this coming weekend, and I dug out a bunch of crafts I’d done from previous years in the process. One of the ones I’m most fond of is the spooky glowing skulls that I made using Epbot’s tutorial. Epbot always has great (and inexpensive) Halloween crafts, along with detailed instructions and photographs. I really want to make some DIY skull sconces, but I doubt I’ll have time before the party. Maybe next year?

I think my biggest challenge to making these glowing skulls was finding the proper materials. Epbot is based in the States, and we just have a totally different range of dollar store craft supplies than they do down there. I couldn’t find a sturdy enough frame with a fancy border; there were lots of fake photo frames for Halloween, but they were such cheap plastic that they bent with the slightest pressure from the fabric. I ended up using IKEA RIBBA 8″x10″ frames.

With the matting and simple wooden frames, my glowing skulls didn’t really look all that much like the ones from the tutorial, but I think that they worked out okay. They actually go pretty well in my house because I use RIBBA frames all over the place for day-to-day picture framing anyway, so the skulls kind of fit in.

I enjoyed making the small skulls so much that I stepped up my game with a huge foam skull (I couldn’t find a translucent plastic one that size), fabric from the fabric store, and a freebie second-hand frame that I spray-painted black. The skull already had lights, but I didn’t like the colour or placement, so I ripped them out and started fresh with a brand new blue string. I think this is my favourite of all of the glowing skulls I made; it’s definitely the most striking. It kind of reminds me of the Evil Queen’s mirror crossed with the old Frighteners movie poster.

Preparing for Halloween

This coming Saturday I’ll be hosting my annual family Halloween party, and I am currently in full-on party-prep-panic mode. Half of the interior decorations aren’t even up, the house is in a desperate need of a cleaning, and I still have all kinds of food to make. However, I recently treated myself to a few new cookbooks, which happily arrived in the mail just in time to make some of the dishes for the party.

Those books are Purely Pumpkin by Allison Day (2016), and The Pumpkin Cookbook by Deedee Stovel (2017). I’ve been taking Purely Pumpkin out of the library on a regular basis ever since it was published, so I figured that it was high time that I actually go out and get my own copy. I’ll admit that The Pumpkin Cookbook was one of those, “people who liked this book also liked” kind of suggestions, and I thought that yes, I would probably like this one too. Even if I don’t use these books for party food, I know I’ll need them next week after Halloween when I’ll have a bunch of big Jack-o’-lanterns to turn into food before they rot.

I also took a few minutes out of my hectic day to make a few fairy skeletons. There’s a great tutorial for a Fairy Skeleton Candle over on Epbot, but when I tried to stick my fairy onto an artificial candle, it just wouldn’t stay. Serves me right for buying one of those fake candles that’s supposed to look real because it has real wax on the outside; in retrospect, I should have known that glue wouldn’t stick. I still like the skeleton fairies (I made three), though, and I’ve used them to help decorate my house. They were super-easy to make and my kids thought that they were great. Honestly, it took longer to source the tiny skeletons for a reasonable price (no way was I paying $5.00 apiece like they wanted at one shop — I got these ones at Dollarama, originally attached to a plastic chain) and to find faux butterfly wings (Dollar Tree) than it did to make the actual craft. Total cost for three fairy skeletons: $2.50 plus tax. Not bad!

Chichen & Roast Vegetables Curry for Family Guests

Last night I had family guests over for dinner. I find that my guests can be divided into two basic categories: formal and family. Formal visitors are generally people I don’t know very well and with whom I am still trying to make a good impression. When they visit, I stress that my house is not neat and tidy enough, that my decor is not fancy enough, that my food is not tasty enough, and that my children are too noisy (unless they bring their own children along, which mitigates this factor). I spend hours or days making everything as perfectly prepped as possible before they come over, and I still worry that it is not enough.

Family guests include actual family and friends that I’ve known for long enough that they might as well be family. They have seen me at my best and at my worst, and they know that for the most part I am somewhere in between these two extremes. They are the people that would I welcome into my home without advance notice; in fact, I welcome them to drop by any time. So while I may not have a three course meal prepped for them and my house will be cluttered with the day-to-day mess of living, we do end up seeing much more of each other. Formal visitors can transition into family guests over time. It’s part of the process of friendship to me.

Last night’s dinner was one for family guests. The people visiting me were my parents, with whom I have a very close relationship, and a friend of the family who is an honorary aunt. She’s in no way related to me by blood or marriage, but she’s actually closer to me than a number of my actual relatives. This woman has known me since the day I was born; actually, she posed as my mother’s sister in order to visit us in the maternity ward and actually met me before my grandparents did. She changed my diapers and rocked me to sleep when I was colicky as an infant. At six years old, I was literally the only child allowed at her wedding. The idea of being formal with her is kind of absurd.

The seven of us crowded around my kitchen table (which doesn’t seem small when it’s just the four of us, but I am quickly reminded of the true size of my dining area when we have guests). I served a hearty, healthy meal based predominantly on my Thai Coconut Curry recipe, but as usual I changed things up a bit. I didn’t have any bok choy, so that got left out. I traded shrimp for chopped chicken thighs, added chopped garlic, and I served it over rice instead of noodles. Most notably for the flavour, I didn’t use curry paste, I just sprinkled in mild curry powder to taste. My parents don’t have the taste for any spice whatsoever, so the mildest way to go was the best in this situation. So I guess it wasn’t really all that similar to the original recipe, but the technique I used was the same.

I served the curry with some bread machine Whole Wheat Bread (page 15, The Complete Guide to Bread Mahcine Baking, Better Homes and Gardens (1999)). We sat around the kitchen table, stuffed our faces, caught up with the things we’d done since we’d last met, and regaled each other with stories of days gone by. It was a lovely way to spend an evening.