“Son of a Nutcracker!!”- Buddy The Elf

I know, I am terrible. I have been the worst kind of amature blogger (the kind that doesn’t blog often enough). Now that all of that is out if the way, I thought we could have a little catch up over coffee. I am drinking a giant one at the moment, so grab a cuppa and settle in (or just skim the pics haha, your call). Since I blogged last…

  1. I survived another semester of grad school while working full time. I am happy to report that I am half done and I haven’t died yet!
  2. My Christmas wish came true; we can land the new helicopters on the roof at both of the hospitals in the city. For those of you that don’t know (I don’t think I really talk shop on here), I am currently working as an air medical transport nurse. For the last 18 months we have not been able to land on the raised helipads in the city, adding close to 15 minutes to our often time sensitive transport calls in the maritimes. This is probably the highlight of the year because it is so much better for our patients!DSC_0087
  3. I am still obsessed with The Ordinary skin care products and have become equally as obsessed with dermaplaning my skin. This is when a trained professional/skin care guru uses a sharp surgical blade to exfoliate your skin and remove all of the fine “peach fuzz” from your face.  This not only helps your skin care regime absorb better but it also encourages cellular turn over/ regeneration. Dermaplaning can help with scaring/ hyper-pigmentation, not to mention it results in an incredibly smooth makeup application. You can have this procedure done every six weeks or so and NO, your hair won’t grow back darker or thicker (but if you have a significant mount of dark hair you may find the re-growth more noticeable) . Don’t believe me? Read this Refinery 29 article and do a little research before going under the blade.orig
  4. I am trying to start a new holiday tradition of having a few girls over to make holiday centrepieces. It is a super easy way to get some people together for an afternoon chat, some mulled wine or cider and then everyone gets to leave with something beautiful for their holiday table. Anyone can do it, even if they have zero crafty bones in their bodies and they are shockingly inexpensive. All you need is a little flower pot or water tight tin (I picked these up at Ikea and they were perfect), some flower oasis (the green sponge they sell at the dollar store), some seasonal branches (pine, holly, spruce, cedar, magnolia) and some sparkling picks or ornaments. Then you simply trim down some sprigs and branches and stick them into your oasis until you have a full centrepiece that just needs a little sparkle to make the table shine! Water them as necessary and they will last well into the new year! They make the perfect hostess gift!centercenterpeicecenterpiece
  5. I limited my Christmas baking this year. I am trying to cut back on refined sugar, plus there is always an abundance of sweets and treats both at work and at home over the holiday season. I made a single batch of whipped short bread for my grandmother this year and I accidentally added almond extract instead of vanilla (seriously, why is almond now in a brown bottle too?!). This turned into a very happy accident, as they tasted even more special with the sweet almond aroma. In the future I am going to continue to skip the vanilla and opt for almond everything! Find my simple, melt-in-your-mouth recipie hereblog 5DSC_0128blogblog 3
  6. As many of you know, I have ordered my glasses online for close to 10 years. I have tried many different companies but I seem to have the best luck and the best service with Clearly Contacts. They have a fantastic selection, have incredible sales and they stand behind their product. If you don’t like them, they will ship them back for free and give you your money back!! My new favourite line is called Main and Central and these glasses  are not only my all time fav, but the ones I keep getting compliments on!

Finally, I thought I would share the ultimate recipe for mulled wine. For those of you who have never had it, mulled wine is a hot beverage consisting of wine (usually red), spices, citrus, sugar and maybe a liquor. There are a million ways to make it and people have literally been enjoying it since the 1300’s. Charles Dickens was a big fan and many different cultures and countries have their own version that is a traditional beverage enjoyed in the winter and throughout the holiday season. It tastes like Christmas in a mug! I have tried many recipes but the one below is my favourite and it can be made in the slow cooker! Happy holidays!

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Spiced Mulled Wine (slow cooker style, you can easily double it!)

  • 1 750ml bottle of red wine (this doesn’t need to be expensive, just full bodied and not too sweet. It is the perfect way to use up gifted wine you otherwise wouldn’t enjoy or homemade wine).
  • 2 cups of apple cider (you can also use OJ, but trust me, spiced apple cider elevate this!).
  • 1/4 cup of honey
  • 1 orange, zested and juiced
  • 5 or 6 whole cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 4 cardamom pods (if you can find them, I didn’t have any).
  • 2 whole star anise
  • optional 1/4 cup of brandy

Add wine, cider, honey, orange zest, and orange juice to a good sized slow cooker. Stir to combine. Add the cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, and star anise. Cook on low until warm, 30 minutes to 1 hour, slow cooker dependant. Stir in the brandy and once fully hot, switch to keep warm and ladle into mugs or pretty tea cups. Garnish with orange slices and cinnamon sticks !

“Good to the last drop.”- Maxwell House Coffee, 1956

I have a confession to make. I was once a product whore. Yes, it is an ugly term but it is a term that describes me perfectly while I was in my early 20’s. I was consistently inconsistent, rarely finishing a product let alone buying it again. I was always in the search of the next best thing. There are pros and cons to this behaviour. If you are flexible, running out of your favourite coffee on a Sunday morning doesn’t ruin your day.  It may however, mean that your skin is less consistent and you aren’t guaranteed to enjoy your glass of red wine at the end of a hard day. Don’t get me wrong, I still try new things all of the time but over the years I have collected an arsenal of products that I buy again and again. I guess you could call them my ride or die products that I sometimes even stock-pile in advance as to not risk running out. Here are a few of them. Some are expensive, some are not but all of them are equally well loved.

The Ordinary’s Buffet Serum (find it here)

This is a multi-technology peptide serum full of heavy hitting vitamins and peptides that my skin just eats up. This only serum I have used to the very last drop. It is affordable and my skin has never looked better. I may or may not have two bottles stogged away in my linen closet (which is excessive as it took me more than six months to go through one).

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The Ordinary’s Natural Moisturizing Factors (find it here)

I have used dozens of moisturizers in the past at varying price points and this is the first one I have ever re-purchased more than once. It is thick, a little goes a long way but it isn’t heavy and it doesn’t clog my pores. It is 100% unscented and now comes in 100 ml bottles. Did I mention it is ridiculously affordable?!

Make Up Forever Water Blend Foundation (find it here)

This foundation is slightly on the more expensive side but it has lasted me over six months. It comes in 19 colours and is so light and dewy it is hard to tell there is anything on my face. I spent years wearing tinted moisturizers because I love the natural look and this gives me the perfect amount of build-able coverage while keeping my skin dewy and fresh. If you are looking for full coverage foundation, this is not the product for you, you may want to try thisthis or for an affordable full cover, this.

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MAC Modesty Cremesheen Lipstick (find it here)

I have been wearing this shade for years. I just finished off my 6th tube and for good reason, it is the perfect muted, everyday pink. It is super neutral, goes on smoothly and has just a hint of mauve which makes your teeth look extra white!

Rimmel Kate Moss Lipstick in 08 (find it here)

This colour looks great on EVERYONE. It is less than $7, super creamy and smells like old fashioned lipstick. I buy this for everyone and suggest it to anyone who wants to take lipstick for a spin but is overwhelmed or afraid of a bold lip. It is a little punchier than the MAC one above but still pretty neutral!

Nuknuuk Slippers from Costco (find them here)

I am just working in my third pair. I am extremely hard on footwear and these beautiful slippers last me two years before they need replacing. They are made of sheepskin and are lined with thick, cushiony sherpa. They are so luxe and come in at less than $30.

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Bed Head Urban Antidotes shampoo/conditioner/mask (find them here)

I have used Bed Head shampoo for close to ten years. It keeps my hair super shiny, residue free and manageable. I have tried many shampoo/conditioner combos from both the salon and drugs stores over the years and nothing compares to these products. Best of all, they smell AMAZING. You only need a small amount, a litre lasts me a year and you can always find it at Winners or on sale at salons. I only started using the mask in the last year as I am getting my hair cut a lot less frequently now that I have grown it out. This mask prevents and repairs the split ends that I get from using hot tools.

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Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay (find it here)

Don’t let the price or the packaging fool you, this mask is the bomb. I found it after watching Mindy Kaling using it on her instagram page. You mix it with apple cider vinegar, apply it to your face, let it dry and then it wash off. This mask leaves my skin so soft and the jar will likely last me ten years.

Saje Yoga Mat Spray (find it here)

This stuff is antibacterial, smells amazing and is useful for so much more than just your yoga mat. Sure, I spray this stuff on my yoga mat like you are supposed to, but I also spray it in my shoes and in my suitcase after travelling. It is seriously good.

FullSizeRender-3.jpgBath and Body Works Eucalyptus Mint Hand Soap (find it here)

This stuff smells crisp, fresh and clean. I stock up on it when it is on sale and people always comment on how much the love the smell of the soap in my bathroom. What can I say, I am a people pleaser.

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And because wine is the best here are three bottles of big, beautiful reds that I keep coming back to again and again!

Urceus, Primitivo

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Las Heramanas, Monastrell

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Dominio De Heredia,  Rioja

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“Espresso is the miracle of chemistry in a cup”- Andrea Illy

If you know anything about me, you know that I love coffee. It is the best part of my day (is that a little sad?), a great coffee shop is the first thing I look for when I travel and I do not discriminate when it comes to the type. Drip, press, espresso, pour-over, they are all a wonderful, aromatic experience to me.

In August I was gifted a Nespresso for my birthday and even though I wanted to test one out for ages, I had my reservations at first. I didn’t love that it uses pods that create unnecessary waste and I doubted that it would make that great of espresso. I kind of assumed it was along the lines of a Keurig (which really doesn’t make great coffee).

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Boy was I wrong. This little machine is the bee’s knees. The espresso is piping hot with a beautiful, rich crema on top. It is exceptionally flavourful and short of having a Nuova Simoelli machine and cute barista living in my kitchen next to it, the Nespresso can’t be beat. Americanos, lattes, macchiatos and cappuccinos, this little machine has my back and it only takes 25 seconds to heat up! Don’t even get me started on the frother. It makes perfectly frothed, hot milk in 60 seconds (all with just the push of a button)! Both the nespresso and frother have incredibly small footprints which is perfect for my tiny kitchen. The pods are fully recycled by Nespresso and you can get reusable pods for your own ground beans. This little miracle has quickly moved to the very top of my favourite things list and in my opinion, is totally worth every penny. You can find the one I am LOVING here.

Since we are talking coffee, my favourite beans of all time are roasted here in Halifax at Java Blend. I am obsessed with the Thirty Eight Espresso, it is amazing drip and even better by french press. Check them out next time you are in the city or order some here.

…and since we are still talking coffee we may as well discuss my favourite mugs. I am VERY picky. I always test drive mugs before I purchase them because there are few things worse than an uncomfortable mug (right up there with uncomfortable underwear). My very favourite mugs of all time are made on Prince Edward Island. They come from Village Pottery and are works of art. These mugs are so lovely that I tend to give them as wedding gifts. They are hand-made and come in so many shapes and glazes that there is something for everyone. Check out how beautiful they are below. You can find the Village Pottery on Instagram and on their website here.

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“If eating cake is wrong, I don’t want to be right.”- Lorelai Gilmore

It is hard to beat a really good cake. Whether you are celebrating a milestone such as a birthday or you are just having a no-good-very-bad-day,  a slice of really delicious cake has the ability to make your bad day a little less awful and can take a celebration and elevate it to a party. Cakes have been used in this manner for centuries and as the science behind baking improved as well as the availability of baking ingredients, they went from what was basically sweetened bread to the cakes we know today.  Initially used in religious ceremonies dating back to ancient Egypt, cakes really began to be prominent fixture at many celebrations over the past 300 years. Now a days, it seems we look for almost any excuse for a cake. Getting your braces off? Better pick up a cake! Your best friend’s divorce is finalized? Perfect opportunity to bake a cake! The dog finally peed outside consistently? A cake only makes sense!

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Anyway I am not here to discuss the history of cakes (although it is seemingly extensive), I am here to talk about how easy baking a cake can be. People are intimidated by cakes but honestly, it is easier than putting together Ikea furniture. You just have to have a decent recipe, you have to follow it correctly and it helps to use fresh, quality ingredients. If your baking powder is ancient, your cake may not rise. If your cocoa powder is old and of poor quality, your cake may not be quite as rich as you hoped. In all honesty, the hardest part of baking a cake is frosting it. Making the frosting is easy, but getting it on there and to look like you didn’t apply it with your hands while wearing old woollen mittens is the most difficult part. Luckily, rustic is in these days when it comes to baked goods and everyone loves a sheet cake with a thick layer of frosting slapped on haphazardly. It is hard to screw up something made with sugar, butter and eggs. Even if it looks like it was baked by a three year old while they were blindfolded, it will taste good and when it comes to cake, taste is ultimately what matters.

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I am going to share a basically fool proof chocolate cake recipe that uses the addition of sour cream and espresso powder to help create a moist and tender cake with an elevated degree of chocolatey goodness. I am also going to share a recipe for swiss meringue butter cream. Yes, it sounds a little scary and most definitely a little intimidating but if you have a hand mixer or stand mixer, you can’t screw it up. It’s light, not too sweet and this frosting holds its shape/height beautifully. Even when un-fridgerated for long periods of time, even in the summer. It is one of the best frostings I have ever made and I keep coming back to it again and again. It is the only frosting I truly trust for big events such as weddings! When you add espresso powder and good quality vanilla, you may have the best frosting in the world.

Happy baking all. Have faith in yourself, the science of baking and your oven. You will likely wish you baked a cake sooner and you may even start looking for excuses to bake one again and again.

-m

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Very Chocolatey, Chocolate Cake (adapted from Baking A Moment )

You will need:

  • 1.5 c white sugar
  • 1 c all purpose flour
  • 1/2 c of cake flour (or all purpose if you don’t have cake)
  • 1c unsweetened cocoa powder (Costco has some great high quality cocoa)
  • 2 Tbs of espresso powder
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1c softened butter, cut into cubes
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1c sour cream
  • 2 tsp vanilla

Preheat your oven to 325. Butter and flour three 8 inch cake pans (you can use a sheet pan likely, just adjust baking time accordingly) and line bottom with parchment paper.

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and mix with a whisk to incorporate them and to get rid of the lumps! Add butter and mix on low until butter and dry ingredients are the texture of damp sand. Add eggs one at a time and once they are fully incorporated add the sour cream and vanilla. Beat on med speed for 2 minutes and then divide batter between pans. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely, then frost or glaze as desired!

Swiss Meringue Butter Cream

The recipe I love best (and I have tried several) is adapted from Martha Stewart. Find it here. Tips….

  • Don’t get any yolks in the egg whites, they will never form stiff peaks if you do…
  • Use beaters- hand held or stand mixer. I think this would almost be impossible by hand unless you are a professional arm wrestler.
  • Make sure your butter is room temperature.
  • If it looks like it is curdling when you add the butter just keep going. It will come together I promise.
  • If you want to make it espresso flavoured, add 2 TBS of espresso powder (not instant coffee) when you add the vanilla. I always use this one when I bake.

“A pickle is just a cucumber with a little experience.”- Irena Chalmers

This week I was gifted a beautiful bag of fresh vegetables from B & D Nabuurs. It was teeming with green peppers, tomatoes, carrots, jalapeños and two of the biggest field cucumbers I have ever seen. The tomatoes are honestly some of the best I have ever had, I have had carrots everyday for breakfast and I plan on making a small batch of hot pepper jelly with the peppers. Veggies always taste so much better when they are fresh from the garden.

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Recently I was at a restaurant that served homemade refrigerator pickles with my meal. They were tangy and crisp and I thought of them instantly when I saw the giant cucumbers in the bag of veggies. After a little trial and error I think I have made the tastiest and easiest pickles I have ever had. I adapted the recipe from My Recipes but have made a few changes including adding a jalapeño for some heat, doubling the brine and changing the turmeric to cumin. You guys, they are seriously good! So good in fact that I have decided to keep the bottle I had planned on giving my sister for myself. There  was even a little brine left over which I poured over some thinly sliced carrots and added a little rosemary to. They are also incredible. I may never buy pickles again. So easy and so tasty! Find the recipe below!

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Thanks Benny and Dianne for the veggies!

-m


You will need:

  • 6 cups of thinly sliced pickling cucumbers (I used my mandolin to keep them super thin and uniform)
  • 2 cups of thinly sliced sweet white onion
  • 3 cups white vinegar
  • 1 cup of white sugar
  • 2 tsp of sea salt
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp celery seeds
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2-  1 tsp crushed chili peppers (depends on how much spice you like)
  • 1/2 tsp of peppercorns and/or 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
  • A generous pinch of ground cloves
  • A generous pinch of ground cinnamon
  • 1 jalapeno thinly sliced, seeds in (may omit if you don’t like a little heat)
  • Optional- a few slivers of carrots or peppers to add a little colour

In a heatproof glass dish, layer cucumber and onions (2 cups of cucumbers, 1 cup of onions and repeat). Combine the rest of the ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Cook for 1 minute and then pour over onions and cucumbers ensuring they are fully submerged. If you have any brine left, save to use in the future or pour over a jar of thinly sliced carrots or red onion (because pickled anything always makes lunch better!). Cover and let cool then refrigerate for up to four days. Divide into jars and keep in the fridge for up to a month (but I promise they won’t last that long!). So quick, so easy and so tasty!

So many chives, so little thyme…(ha!)

Summer is here. She snuck in overnight; hidden until today by rain, wind and booming thunderstorms. The sun is shining and my gardens are teaming with mint, basil and chives; all ready to be muddled, minced and whisked into mojitos, salads, dressings and omelettes. My potted chives are back with a vengeance this year. They are full of blooms and for about a month now I have been snipping off stalks to add to my salads and eggs.

Fun chive facts:

  • Did you know the entire plant including the bulb and flowers are edible?
  • They generally grow back every year and are so hard to kill many refer to them as the “gate-way herb” for helping people find their green thumb!?
  • Don’t have a garden? Stick some in a pot and they will be just as happy on your balcony or in a sunny window!
  • Chives like full sun, they enjoy being well watered and the more you cut them back, the more they continue to grow.
  • They have a light onion flavour that adds a fabulous summery taste to anything from potato salads to homemade salad dressings.

Last week I was touring around Instagram (as I do) and was too busy admiring a pretty flower filled mason jar to realize that it was full of chive blossoms. Honey and Butter, a local company known for their beautiful cakes, inspired jellies (like lilac and champagne!), cookies and curd had filled a jar with white wine vinegar and chive blossoms to make an infused vinegar. It was brilliant and beautiful.

Taking a page out of their book, I filled up jars with my myriad of blossoms (which I de-bugged and rinsed thoroughly), a sprig or two of thyme and I promptly drowned it all in white wine vinegar. My plan is to let the jars infuse for a week or so (it gets more purple with each passing day!) and then strain them with a cheese cloth. I figure the final product will elevate my salad dressings, roasted veggies and anything that vinegar generally tastes good on! Small jars would make beautiful and thoughtful gifts for friends and the hosts of summer BBQ’s.

Happy infusing all!

Ps. I am officially finished of the first year of grad school and work is providing a little extra downtime- expect more posts!

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“Bad weather always looks worse through a window.”- Unknown

Last week we had a snowstorm. When I say snowstorm, what I really mean to say is that we got close to 70 cm’s of fresh, white powder in less than 24 hours. That is enough snow to fully bury a car, to close schools, to stop busses and enough to form snow banks taller than a person.

Working as a nurse, I am considered an essential service worker. This means if I am scheduled to work I am expected to make it work. Hospitals don’t close, patients continue to need care. Many times I have found myself shovelling out at 5 am and travelling to work with a shovel in the backseat and a bag of traction sand. I always seem to make it.

Last week was a different story. I was not scheduled to work and happened to have company staying from out of town. We picked up essentials in advance, planned some meals, dug out the board games and my sister trudged through the thick of the storm to join us and have a sleep-over. It was the best snow day I have ever had and luckily we didn’t lose power.

It was so fun that I decided to produce a “Snowstorm Survival Guide for Grown-ups”. Adults only because there was a lot of liquor involved….

Snowstorm Survival Guide for Grown-ups

1: Prepare in advance.

Get groceries, plan meals, have candles and batteries incase the power goes out. Our shopping list included..

  • Breakfast foods- Bagels, eggs, avocado, cheese, coffee, cream and all the fixings to make spicy gin caesars (gin is superior to vodka in my opinion- try it for yourself!). Gin, Clamato, lemons, celery salt and seasonings.
  • Snacks- storm chips, water, pop and gatorade (you know, incase you get a hang over).
  • Supper- Pizza dough or the ingredients to make it (I get mine from a pizzeria up the road for $2 a ball- can’t beat it!) as well as toppings to dress it up (we used pesto, mozzarella, onions, shaved summer sausage and fresh basil).
  • Liquor store run – besides your gin, you may also want beer, baileys, prosecco and wine (like I said this is a grown-up snow day).
  • Make sure you have cat food. They will resent you if you don’t.
  • Also note: calories and grams of carbs do not count on storm days. Look it up, that is the truth.

2: Be comfy.

Lay out your comfiest sweats so you can roll out of bed and into them while the coffee is percolating. Place winter gear on radiators so they are warm. This will make going out to shovel- which you will have to do, a tiny bit easier. No need for makeup, bathing is optional.

3: Plan activities to pass the day.

Pull out board games, plan a special cocktail recipe, have a great play-list on hand and maybe a movie or two to fall back on.

Our day went like this…

We woke up, had coffee and delicious egg sandwiches with spicy avocado and havarti on bagels. We played a game of crib and then my sister arrived and we began to make (and drink) caesars- they were delicious and went perfectly with a couple of intense games of Settlers of Catan. 

 

Next we made French 75’s- Graeme brought the fixings, all we had to do was make some simple syrup (1:1 water and sugar brought to a boil with lemon zest on the stove until sugar has dissolved – then cool). These are delicious, simple and taste even better when garnished with sugared lemon zest and served in vintage champagne glasses- we are fancy like that.  We made the cocktail in bulk, served it with a ladle and kept it chilled on the front step.  Recipe is as follows…

  • 1 pint of gin
  • 1 bottle of prosecco or champagne
  • 200 mls of fresh lemon juice (6.6 ounces)
  • 120 mls of simple syrup (4 ounces)


 

After all of the caesars and French 75’s we had some snacks- aka storm chips, and the group began to shovel out the five foot drift that had formed in the driveway. My little car was utterly buried and in the end there were six foot banks towering over the sides of the driveway- with that much snow there becomes a point where there is nowhere left to throw what you are shovelling!

Next up was wine and pizza followed by a few games of Wizard and Sequence.  It was a wonderful day and it ended with everyone going to bed full, warm and just a little buzzed.


Hopefully this can inspire your next storm day and I hope you are able to have at least half as much fun as we did!

-m