Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The dessert exchange

Do you guys participate in Christmas dessert exchange parties?  This is somewhat of a new concept to me.  Until a few years ago I had not heard of the "dessert exchange" and I don't remember my mom participating in them when I was growing up.

First of all, just so everyone knows - I am not a skilled baker - unlike my best friend Ashley, who is the go-to-girl for cakes and cupcakes.  See some of her talented work here...

monkey cupcakes for her sister's baby shower

safari animal cupcakes for her nephew's birthday party

a birthday cake for the biggest Bruin's (or maybe just Chara) fan I know

So, even though I am not necessarily the best baker (nor am I really a fan of baking), for the past few years I have participated in the annual Shanonna Christmas Exchange.  Hosted by my friends Shanon and Donna of course.  It's always a blast, and the dessert exchange is really secondary to all of the Christmas celebrating that is going on.  Fine by me- maybe people won't realize that my contribution is less than desirable.  

This year we are baking for 22 people.  YES, 22!!!  It's crazy.  Thankfully, my mom took pity on me (I've had a few baking disasters in the past) and invited me to spend a Saturday afternoon with her where she would basically hold my hand and walk me through baking a million 132 sugar tarts.  I was so relieved.  

My mom is an excellent baker.  This is her recipe book.  I think it's about 30 years old. One day we'll have to go through it and make sure we can preserve all our favourite recipes.  

Here's the recipe we followed.  Half English, half French.  (Just like me!)  Hardly any instructions were written down, my mom seems to just know what to do in her head.  This always impresses me.

We started with the pastry shell. 

I combined  
  • 1 package Crisco
  • 5 cups flour
Using a butter knife, I "cut" the Crisco into the flour.  If you don't know what I'm talking about check out this video.  The person in the video is using a pretty fancy utensil, but I found the butter knife worked out fine.  Basically, you want the end product to be sort of crumbly.

Then I added 
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
into a measuring cup and beet it together.  Once it's mixed together well, fill the measuring cup with cold water until it reaches the 1 cup mark.

To roll out the pastry, I made a ball which was about the size of a grapefruit and placed it on the clean and "floured" surface.  I rolled out the pastry, trying to get it as thin as possible (you don't want really doughy tarts).  Then, using a drinking glass with flour around the rim, I cut out as many circles as I could.  This was pretty fun.

After cutting my circles I filled my ungreased mini-muffin tins with the pastry shells.  They don't need to be perfect, I think the imperfections give the tarts character. 

To make the sugar filling, I combined
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 drop vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon water
After mixing the filling together really well, I used a glass measuring cup with a spout to pour the mixture into my tart shells.  I filled them about 3/4 of the way.  This amount of sugar filling only fills about 8 tarts, you can choose to double/triple the recipe if you like. 

Then you pop them in the oven for about 18-20 minutes at 375 and wait for your little tarts to turn a nice, golden brown.  I freaked out a bit when I saw the filling puffing up as they baked - I thought they were going to explode.  But once they came out of the oven and cooled down the filling settled.

mmmm, just look at that gooey sugar filling.....melts in your mouth

I'm pretty impressed!  With my tarts and the fact that I took these picture with my phone.

I packaged them up in a large winter boot box with wax paper.  They are currently stored in my freezer until Saturday when will I create 22 individual packages that hopefully look something like this: 

Apparently the tarts can stay in the freezer for a few months a be a-ok as long as they are stored well.  And don't even think about the nutritional info for these tarts.  It's basically all crisco and sugar...enough said.

This recipe makes about 8 dozen mini tarts.  And you will need to make roughly 12 batches of the filling.

Hopefully the ladies enjoy them.  I'm really looking forward to the stash I will be coming home with.  Derek might be more excited.  

Anyone else participating in these crazy dessert exchanges?  Anyone have awesome recipes they want to share?

Until next time!                           

Sunday, November 27, 2011

La Tiffani II

Derek and I are currently living in a 480 square foot bachelor(ette) apartment close to downtown Ottawa.  We have lived here together for 1 and a half years.  Without having any walls dividing our space to create "rooms" I think we have fared pretty well.  Our relationship is still intact.  

We admit
  • the quarters are very tight,
  • we have to go to the bathroom to actually be in a different room
  • and sometimes my clothing smells like dinner if I leave my closet door open....

But!  I think it's been really great for our relationship.  We have learned to respect each other's space, share (the tv), and be conscious not to push each other's buttons.  It's no fun being angry or annoyed with someone who you can't get away from (especially in the winter time when it's not as enjoyable to be out on the balcony or sitting on a park bench...)

We never planned on staying in our little place for too long, so this past spring we began working with our real estate agent, Kim, who helped us find our perfect downtown condo.  For us, deciding on purchasing a centrally located condo was an easy decision.  We were both on the exact same page in terms of what we were looking for:
  • a new build so that we could put off the move for a little while (honestly, we love our little bachelor(ette) and aren't ready to leave just yet)
  • underground parking (ideally included with the price of the condo)
  • one bedroom
  • one bathroom
  • enough room for a dining and living area
  • a balcony
  • decent storage space
  • central location (no more than 5km from downtown, where we both work)
After visiting some move-in ready condos and a couple sales centres for new builds (other favourites being Central and SOHO Lisgar) we decided La Tiffani II, located in the Vanier/New Edinburgh area, was perfect for us.  

Here she is - The Bennett!  760 square feet....with WALLS!  We couldn't be more excited for our move-in date of July 2, 2012.  

Not only do we get a nice size living/dining room and bedroom, we also get a walk-in closet and a den!  Other luxury items we are really pumped about are the washer/dryer, dish washer and the island in the kitchen.

I have so many ideas and dreams for our future home that it gives me butterflies.  We've actually already selected all of the finishes for her (flooring, cabinets, hardware, appliances...) and I will definitely share our selections and how I (I mean we...) came to our final decisions.  

I also plan on sharing what we learned through buying our first house.  What helped...what we would do differently.  It was definitely a learning process and we were both really stressed out at times.  Truthfully, until we actually move in, there is still a lot to be done in terms of dealing with lawyers, mortgages and money.  

Mostly, it's been really exciting.  We love seeing the building grow right before our eyes (we currently live across the river from the building site).  

This picture was taken from the lobby of our current apartment.  La Tiffani II is the shorter building on the right.  It is going to be a replicate of the middle building, which is La Tiffani I.

More to come on why we selected The Bennett model and why we are so excited about the building itself and our soon to be neighbourhood.

Until next time...

Thursday, November 24, 2011

And it begins...

Hello!  And thank you for stumbling across my brand new blog.

I love reading blogs.  I think it’s because I am nosy and curious about other people's lives.  Especially when they are sharing about...
  • interior decorating
  • DIY projects (of any sort, but mostly involving interior decorating and weddings)
  • wedding planning
  • pregnancy and parenting
  • and anything along the lines of cute pets, delicious and easy recipe ideas, and sometimes health and fitness...
A couple of these topics are particularly relevant to my life since I recently got engaged (yippee!) and will be moving into a newly built condo with my fiancé summer 2012 (double yippee!!!).  Interior decorating and wedding planning have been taking over my mind...and I will admit – I do love it.

Some blogs I follow mention how they use their blog as a diary of sorts.  A way to journal their projects while sharing experiences and progress with friends and family.  Since I was young, I always kept a diary.  One of the most hilarious (and sometimes embarrassing) things to do is read old diary entries.  I find it so interesting and amusing to read what I was going through, what my interests were and how I imagined my future to be.  A good reason to start a blog, right?

I see that blogs can also be a great source of advice, feedback, information and even a way to make friends.  All things I am interested in – reason #2!

I am looking forward to journaling...I mean blogging...about getting ready for the big move from bachelor(ette) apartment to condo, wedding planning and anything else I’m excited about in between. 

I hope my blog will be entertaining and informative.  Something you will enjoy reading over a cup of coffee (or other favourite beverage of choice). 

Until next time...