I had a lunch date with Mom on Wednesday and we ended up at our usual place: Applebee's. It was really nice to catch up and eat some tasty restaurant food, something I do very rarely these days.

We started with the chicken bites and they were crispy and spicy and really easy to eat.

Mom had fish and onion rings for lunch and I had crunchy shrimp and fries.

It was a very deep fry kind of lunch, but it hit the spot!

Posted by Jen B On Friday, January 31, 2014 1 comment
I had some fun in the kitchen today making a pie (post to come next week) and I learned a few things I thought I would share with you.

1. When using a corded electric hand mixer to blend ingredients in a pot on the stove, be sure to keep cord away from the burner.

2. When baking a pie that is REALLY FULL of filling on a baking sheet, be sure to use a baking sheet that doesn't warp when heated. A warped baking sheet will cause filling to drip out and make your kitchen smell like burning sugar.

3. Always have fun, even if you burn the cord of your hand mixer or have a bunch of filling drip out of your pie.

Posted by Jen B On Thursday, January 30, 2014 4 comments
It's been so cold that I abandoned my desire to knit a balaclava, and went ahead and bought one at the Canadian Tire. Trying on a balaclava at a retail store is a little awkward, as every image I have in my head of people wearing them in a store is when they are about to rob the place. Luckily I didn't have to try the balaclava on very long to know I loved it - the hot pink won me over. Score! At the check out this hat rang up as "childs", so I guess it is confirmed that I have a small head because it fits perfectly.

The balaclava does what it's supposed to do too, as I was brave enough to test it on a cold day earlier this week. The uncovered space around my eyes still gets a little too cold for long walks, but at least I can go outside for little jaunts now.

The funny thing about getting your photo taken while wearing a ski mask? I'm still smiling as wide as ever. Can you tell?

Posted by Jen B On Wednesday, January 29, 2014 8 comments
I really love adding colour to my baking. The Wilton gel colours are so fun and easy to work with, over the past few years I have been colouring everything I can. I've made colourful cake for cake pops, sugar cookies, various icings, fudge, green bread, and my all time favourite colour experiment: rainbow cake. I really do find it a lot of fun.

This past weekend I transformed the rainbow cake idea into rainbow cupcakes. I used marshmallow buttercream for icing and I ended up with some pretty rainbows with clouds on top. I love these cupcakes (even the cupcake wrapper looked good).

Rainbow Cupcakes - Ingredients
1 box white cake mix; batter prepared as per package directions
Gel food colousrs: red (no taste), orange, yellow, green, blue, purple
6 bowls and 6 spoons
Patience while layering the cake batter

Step 1. Gather supplies: Prepared cake batter, food colours, bowls, and spoons.

Step 2. Separate the batter evenly between 6 bowls. Dye each bowl a colour of the rainbow.

Step 3. This is the tedious part and requires a bit of patience. Layer your colours into cupcake pan lined with baking cups. I sat at the table and did this and it took me about 45 minutes to make 21 cupcakes. So just be aware that this will take time.

Start at either end of the rainbow spectrum (I started with purple) and add colours in order (or reverse order) along the spectrum R-O-Y-G-B-V. For the first layer, I used a toothpick and spread the purple batter out evenly to ensure the bottom of the baking cup was completely covered.

Keep adding your colours, 1 teaspoonful at a time until each cupcake has six different colour layers in it. Don't worry about the colours spreading evenly across the batter below it, I found that gravity and the baking process evened them out for me.

Step 4. Remove from oven and cool on wire rack.

Marshmallow Buttercream - Ingredients
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
2 cups icing sugar
1 jar Marshmallow fluff

I previously blogged about Marshmallow Buttercream here. To prepare: cream butter. Blend in icing sugar in 1/2 cup intervals. Stir in 1 jar of Marshamallow fluff. Done. This icing is both easy and tasty.

I thought the marshmallow in the butttercream would add a cloud like feel to the top of the cupcake, so I prepared it and piped it on using a 1M tip.

Absolutely loved how these turned out. So pretty and fun to eat.

Posted by Jen B On Tuesday, January 28, 2014 8 comments
Well John has a new winter hat and it only took 3 years for him to get it. It's been extremely cold this winter, so this was a good time for me to complete it.

But you might be wondering why a simple hat pattern took three years to complete. Well, it didn't really - the knitting itself only took about 4 days of dedicated knitting. Unfortunately the motivation to knit it took a lot longer to pin down.

Here is the project as it was three years ago:

After completing the K2P2 ribbing, I got tired of making the hat. I also got distracted from knitting by my life and other projects, and it just sort of stayed on the needles until two weeks ago when I remembered that knitting is the best.

I spent an entire afternoon/evening knitting and knocked out a whole lot of stockinette rows.

I picked up the needles again last Thursday and then was able to do the decreasing rows and seam it on Friday. And done!!
The best part is that the hat actually fits him! I had made myself the same hat (but with a pom pom) and it was too small for him (I have a small head). I made his hat bigger by adding 20 extra stitches when I began the project. I'm a novice knitter, so I didn't really know if that would be enough or too little, but it sounded good. I also did some basic math to make sure the decreases would still work with the extra stitches, and I was pretty sure they would (they did!). Also, John has declined a pom pom for his hat.
Posted by Jen B On Monday, January 27, 2014 8 comments
There was a sale on sweet potatoes and I got a pile of them. The ones I didn't already enjoy, I put in this serving bowl and took this nice photo of them. I love love love sweet potatoes and don't think I could ever have too many in the house. Most of these will end up mashed as sides to meals, but I'm setting a few of them aside to finally try making sweet potato pie. I've looked at dozens of recipes over the past few days and I think I've narrowed down the one I want to try. Getting excited!

Though not as glamorous as some of my other #FoodPicFriday contributions, this photo still brings me a lot of joy to look at it.

Posted by Jen B On Friday, January 24, 2014 9 comments
A few years ago, my Grandma explained to me all about checking gauge before starting a knitting project. And despite this passed down knowledge about gauge, I never tried it. I just haven't attempted a project where the gauge really mattered to me.

It's freezing cold this winter and I want to knit myself a balaclava. I found a pattern at my skill level and set about to make it. The pattern suggested chunky yarn, so I picked up some chunky yarn. Turns out there are different sizes of chunky, and the pattern calls for "5" (bulky) and I got "6" (super bulky). I wasn't sure if the super bulky yarn would still work on the suggested needle size, so this was an opportunity for me to test the gauge.

First step was to knit a swatch. I didn't time it, but I think it took about an hour to knit. Spending an hour on something I'm going to rip out anyway seems tedious, but if it saves me making a whole project that I have to rip out (because it's too small or too big) it's totally worth it. I didn't cast off my swatch, as I will just pull out the knitting and re-use it for my actually project.

Next I watched this video about checking gauge.

Then I used the "Knit-Chek" tool I bought three years ago but never used. The pattern called for 4 stitches + 5 rows = 1 inch.

Here is how mine measured up:

So it looks like I met gauge, which means I could proceed with these needles and this yarn and my project should turn out the proper size.

The swatch was also helpful for me to get an idea of what the end project will look/feel like. And in this case, I think the yarn is too thick and the knitting is too tight for it to be a comfortable and breathable balaclava. I held the swatch over my nose and mouth, and I am able to breathe through it, but I think I would prefer a little more space between the stitches. So I am going to switch gears and use this yarn for slippers or slipper socks, as I think this yarn would be perfect for them. It feels really warm.

So my first try at testing gauge was a success. I got an idea of the finished project and that helped me decide whether to proceed or not. My balaclava project is on hold, but now I'm super excited to find a slipper pattern!

Posted by Jen B On Thursday, January 23, 2014 10 comments
It was a beautiful sunny day today, but unfortunately it felt like -28°C (-18°F). I couldn't stay out too long, but I needed to see the sun. A little sun on my cold face was better than none at all.

I don't have snow pants but I went ahead and made a snow angel. It was quite enjoyable, actually.

I also became a scientist for a few minutes and did the experiment to see what boiling water does when thrown into cold air. There is a great summary of people trying it out here and here. Apparently some people who try it burn themselves, so if you try it, don't burn yourself!

Here is my attempt at it this morning. It was only -20°C but it still seemed to work.

Posted by Jen B On Tuesday, January 21, 2014 7 comments
Around suppertime last night, I noticed there was leftover mac and cheese, but not enough for both of us.

John said: "You have it and I'll make something later."

We've been together long enough that I know full well that the 'something' he made later would be 1000x better than the mac and cheese. By that time, I would already be full of my supper and be extremely envious of whatever he spontaneously came up with.

I told him I wanted what he was having (I trusted it would be amazing), and we agreed the mac and cheese could become a side dish or a snack for later.

John asked: "Do we have chicken?" We did. Then the words "spicy chicken" came out of his mouth and he just does what he does, which is make something truly amazing out of nowhere. He doesn't use a recipe, he doesn't measure, and I am pretty sure he doesn't know what the final result will be until he is halfway through cooking it. He definitely has mad kitchen skills.

Which allow this to happen:

Spicy curry chicken
John also took the sweet potato I was going to steam, diced and spiced it, and we had curried sweet potatoes on the side, all served over basmati rice. Take that mac and cheese leftovers!

My spontaneous curry plate
The flavour combinations were all amazing and John said: "I just wanted to have something that tasted really good." We definitely did and I get to have the leftovers for lunch today. Mmmmm...

Posted by Jen B On Thursday, January 16, 2014 13 comments
Not sure what it's like at your place over the holidays, but here the house is constantly full of treats. I didn't even bake that much this year and it was still treat overload. We would just get through a tray of something and a new load of goodies would show up. It was amazing, but getting back on a schedule where I don't eat a baked good every 45 minutes is better for me, I think.

As there were too many goodies over the holidays, I waited until our recent gaming night to make some Christmas fudge. The main flavour is soft mint and boy did these go down smooth. The mint drowns out the sweet so it was really easy to eat a lot of this in a row. 

This recipe was adapted from white chocolate peppermint fudge recipes found at On Sugar Mountain and Alida's Kitchen.

3 cups white chocolate chips (2 - 226g bags)
1 can of sweetened condensed milk (300 ml)
1/4 cup butter, cut into chunks
4 candy canes, crushed (makes about 1/3 cup)
1.5 tsp peppermint extract
green and red food colouring

Method (in photos):

Crush candy canes and set aside.

Combine white chocolate chips, sweetened condensed milk, and butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir until all is melted together. Remove from heat and add mint extract.

Quickly pour 1/3 of the fudge into prepared 8x8 pan, and divide remaining between two bowls. Colour the fudge in the bowls green and red. 

Pour green fudge over the white fudge in prepared pan and spread to cover. Add red fudge over green fudge and spread out evenly.

Sprinkle with crushed candy canes and press gently to adhere them to the fudge.

Chill for 24 hours and then take a number of art shots of your fudge!

These would make a great gift in about 11 months. For now that are just so lovely to snack on.

Posted by Jen B On Tuesday, January 14, 2014 6 comments
So I forgot I loved knitting. But yesterday I remembered.

I want to knit myself a balaclava, but I thought I should make sure I still have knitting skills before I try out a new pattern. So I picked up the needles on a project I started THREE years ago. A winter hat for John. I guess he has just gone without all this time. It has been so long since I knit something that wasn't a dish cloth, that I actually had to look at my knitting book to make sure I was purling correctly. Thankfully I have retained my skills and knit pretty much all day yesterday.

I accompanied my day of knitting with bad fantasy movies. I started with the 2011 Conan the Barbarian (it was terrible), moved on to Krull, and ended with The Sword and the Sorcerer. None of them were the kind of movie you had to pay attention to, so I focused on knitting and had some fantastically terrible background noise.

I might actually complete John's winter hat this winter. I made some significant progress yesterday.

I also started knitting myself a 1st year Gryffindor scarf, because I've had the yarn for years and just never got around to making it. Now is the time!

Posted by Jen B On Monday, January 13, 2014 8 comments
We've been stuck in the house due to a massive snowstorm, so I made some cupcakes to help us get through it. Made 24 cherry chip cupcakes with vanilla icing on Monday, and on Tuesday night we still had 18. I didn't want to spend the whole week eating cupcakes, so I decided to make a few into spontaneous cake balls.

I simply crumbled up a few iced cupcakes and formed them into cake ball dough.

They rolled into eight balls. I tossed them in freezer for about half and hour.

Then I melted some dark chocolate chips I had open and dipped the balls.

And added some sprinkles I had kicking around.

Back the freezer they went to set and then nom nom nom nom.

So we're still going to spend the week eating cupcakes, but now there is a little variety in the indulgence.

Posted by Jen B On Wednesday, January 08, 2014 13 comments
I'm Canadian, so it is my birthright to comment/discuss at length/complain/ about the weather.

The Weather Network's outlook for today
I braved the outdoors again today to document the real life blizzard we are experiencing. I was out for less than 10 minutes, as it was too cold to be out much longer. The weather network puts the wind gusts at 69km/hr, and the air it was throwing at me felt like -25°C (that is really cold). My gloved fingers were very unhappy.

We keep our car under a car port, but it got snow covered anyway.

Giant snow pile from having the driveway cleared (with a tractor!)

Our road looking West.

Again, looking East.

Snow is starting to weigh down the trees.

Neighbour's (Grandma's) drifted doorway. It had already been dug out once this morning.

Even with my high boots I got covered in snow. It was up to my knees. I'm a tall girl, so up to my knees in big boots is a little over 2 feet. I wasn't even in the deepest part of the snow.

The old swing set is missing the bottom half.

Definitely snow covered. Time to get back inside.

Posted by Jen B On Tuesday, January 07, 2014 18 comments
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