Last year I participated in the Goodreads reading challenge, setting a goal of 25 books. I ended up reading 31 books and decided to take the challenge again this year. I kept the goal the same (25 books) as I didn't want to pressure myself to do something fun. Early in the year it was clear I had to up the goal to 30, as I was on a steady course to surpass 25 books again. And I didn't stop at 30. As of today I have read 41 books this year! Holy jumping!! In the past two years I've read 72 books, and that makes me feel really happy. I also read some really great books, and that makes me feel even happier!

To check out the 41 books I read in 2014, click on over to Goodreads to check out my list. 

The following is the Top 6 books/series I read this year, in no particular order.



The Dark Tower by Stephen King
I read the first four in this eight book series this year and I am hooked. I love Roland and his ka-tet and I can often be heard quoting the sayings of the Gunslinger around the house. I absolutely love it, and am happy there are still four more books for me to read.



The Parker Novels by Richard Stark
I realized last year that I like the genre Hardboiled. I started with Elmore Leonard and then our friend James told us about the Parker novels. He was so excited about them that I had to look them up. This year I read the first two in the series, and then books 19 and 20 (there are 24 novels in total). I am hooked. They are fun and fast.





The Princess Bride by William Goldman
I have seen the movie about a zillion times and decided to pick up the book. I read it so fast, even though I knew what was coming. I loved it as much as I love the movie. Which is a lot.





The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
I love J.K. Rowling and she has never given me a reason not to. Each book is better than the last, and this latest mystery under the Robert Galbraith pseudonym was so much fun to read. Cormoran Strike is a well written dude that I love reading about.



The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I never picked up this book before this year and somehow avoided all spoilers on what it was about. When I got to the finish it blew my mind, hitting every note I love in good drama. I loved it and totally get why people are still talking about it.




The Circle by Dave Eggers
This was a recommendation from my friend Tasha (who famously recommended to me one of favourite series: The Dresden Files). This is one of the last books I read in 2014 and I couldn't put it down. It was so fast paced and fun to read. It was a near-future dystopia where privacy was viewed as a bad thing and there were many horrifying ideas on how to make everything "open". It was really scary and really fun to read.
Posted by Jen B On Wednesday, December 31, 2014 6 comments
Between pre-Christmas sales and Christmas gifts, we currently have about 500 bags of tea in the house. Green, Earl Grey, Orange Pekoe, and herbal tea.


*Not pictured: about 100 or so tea bags that are stored in opaque jars.


Posted by Jen B On Tuesday, December 30, 2014 4 comments
I've been sick with a Christmas cold and it's been a great excuse to sit on the couch and play Lego Marvel Superheroes non-stop.

We recently borrowed a friend's Xbox 360, and I went out and bought this game for that system (it was only $20). They stopped making Lego games for the Wii (which is the console I have) so it's been two long years since I last played a new Lego game.

We'll have to give the Xbox back at some point, but I'm sure it will be long after I've completed this game 100% (I'm already at 46.6%).

These Lego games are my absolute favourite, and this one in particular is reminding me of my forgotten love of X-Men. I've only seen the first three movies, but apparently there are four more, so I'm going to catch up with the X-Men over the next little while too.

Posted by Jen B On Monday, December 29, 2014 3 comments
There were two results from the cookie decorating party with my niece and nephew. The first, was family fun time that produced 25 awesomely decorated cookies.  The second, was that I got super sick with a cold (courtesy of my niece, who has only figured out not to sneeze or cough directly on other people 3 out of every 5 times).

I sent all the cookies home with the kids, so I might have to make some more before the new year. They look like a lot of fun to eat!

Aunt Jenny's cookies:

Earl's cookies:
Liz's cookies:
All the cookies:

Posted by Jen B On Friday, December 26, 2014 4 comments

Posted by Jen B On Thursday, December 25, 2014 6 comments
When we were kids, the Christmas Eve tradition at our house was to have appetizers for supper. Mom would bake some Triscuits in the toaster oven that were topped with cheese and sliced green olives. So good! We'd also have a selection of chips and dips and various other snacks. I'm not sure if we ever had mini crescent dogs in those days, but as an adult, they've been added to the Christmas Eve menu.

Mini crescent dogs are really easy to make and especially easy to eat. When they are mini, three of them is equal to one hot dog. So if you don't count how many you are eating (pro tip: never count how many you are eating), you may end up having more hot dogs than you normally would in one sitting. Which is kinda the best.

Ingredients (to make 24 mini crescent dogs):
1 can Pillsbury Crescents
8 hot dogs
cheese

Method:

1. Cut your hot dogs into three equal pieces. Cut cheese into small slices, about the same size as each third of a hot dog.


2. Slice each hot dog piece about half way through and stuff with cheese.


3. Open your can of Crescent Rolls and separate into triangles.


4. Cut each triangle into three, starting from the top point of the triangle.


5. Adjust your mini triangles, so you have a nice sized edge for rolling up hot dogs.


6. Roll up your hot dogs. This recipes is very forgiving, so don't worry how they roll up.


7. Place on a parchment paper lined baking tray and bake at 375°F for 12-15 minutes.


Enjoy!!!

Posted by Jen B On Wednesday, December 24, 2014 8 comments
My niece and nephew are spending the day at Grandma's (Mom's) house today, so I'm heading over with some goodies to have some Christmas fun with the kids.

Yesterday I baked some gingerbread cookies, and today we're having a cookie decorating party. My favourite part of being an Aunt is filling the kids full of treats and then returning to comfort of my own home, free of the consequences. The kids always think I'm the best...not so sure how the parents/grandparents feel. Haha!

For decorating the cookies, I got Christmas sprinkles, candy cane pieces, gum drops, smarties, milk chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, and rainbow sprinkles. Oh and three colours of frosting.


The cookies I'm taking over are Christmas trees and candy canes (made with homemade cookie cutters, of course!). I also picked up a few pre-made gingerbread men for us to decorate too. Can't wait!

Posted by Jen B On Tuesday, December 23, 2014 7 comments
I treated myself to a new mug to help me get into the festive spirit. I love snowmen because they are always smiling, and this guy helps me start my day with a festive smile.

Posted by Jen B On Monday, December 22, 2014 6 comments
Well it looks like it's been Rainbow week here on the blog, so I couldn't let today pass without another rainbow post. Good thing I had some photos handy of a rainbow cake I made in November for my birthday. This is a simplified rainbow cake, using only one cake mix, four layers, and one batch of Marshmallow Buttercream. For the decoration I used a 1A Wilton tip to make the top and bottom border. The "Happy Birthday" is a plastic cake topper that was originally on a Dairy Queen cake.



Posted by Jen B On Friday, December 19, 2014 7 comments
This week I've been focused on the fun rainbow themed party my friends threw for their daughter last weekend. As you know I got to make the cake and the cupcakes, but there were lots of other fun snacks and treats that fit the rainbow theme.

Rainbow Fruit Tray


Rainbow Veggie Tray

Assorted Rainbow Treats

Rainbow Cupcakes on display

The works!

Decorations

Rainbow Stuffed Animals!
Not pictured: the hosts also fed us a meal of tri-colour (rainbow) pasta with fresh grated cheeses and flavoured olive oils and a rainbow salad that had purple cabbage, green spinach, and yellow corn. Very nice!

Posted by Jen B On Thursday, December 18, 2014 4 comments
I needed a number "3" cookie cutter for the rainbow cake I decorated from yesterday's post. As my entire collection of cookie cutters (as posted about here) is new (and does not contain any numbers), I decided to make my own cookie cutter using aluminum foil as I've done here and here.

I originally learned how to make the cookie cutters from this blog tutorial.

Meterials Used:
• Aluminum foil
• Printed design for cookie cutter (could also be drawn)
• Measuring tape

I needed a "3" so I printed a nice looking one that was the size I wanted.  This "3" was 4" tall and 2.75" wide.

I measured the length of the design (using a sewing tape measure) so I would know how much aluminum foil I would need. The "3" I chose measured about 17.5" long.


I took out a piece of aluminum foil that measured 35"; twice as long as my design, as the first thing you do is fold the aluminum foil in half length wise.

35 inches long
Folded in half lengthwise - now 17.5 inches long

Next, it is folded in half height-wise about 5 times, until it is about 1/2" thick.


Next, trace your long strip of folded tin foil around your cookie cutter design.


Where the ends meet up, join them together. I used a small amount of glue to fasten them.

And there you have it! You're very own homemade cookie cutter!


The finished cookie cutter was a little bigger than my printout, but that actually suited me just fine. The finished measurement was 4.75" tall by 2.75" wide.

I love making the homemade cookie cutters, because they allow me to get a very specific, large sized cookie cutter, for just the cost of aluminum foil (this one has about eleven cents worth of foil in it). They are also recyclable if there is no need to use it again. All around, pretty great. And this one helped me decorate an awesome cake!



Posted by Jen B On Wednesday, December 17, 2014 4 comments
Our friend's daughter turned three over the weekend and I got to make the cake. The party theme was rainbow, so I was very excited to contribute the rainbow cake (and cupcakes - see yesterday's post).

Last year for my birthday, I made an elaborate rainbow cake that used two cake mixes, was six layers tall, and used almost three cans of icing. It was completely over the top! My friend Amanda commented "How will you ever top this? All other cakes will pale in comparison."

Elaborate cake!
I wanted to do something a little more manageable this time around, so I made a four layer rainbow cake, using only red, yellow, green, and blue and needing only one cake mix. It also only required one batch of icing, for which I used my all-time favourite, Marshmallow Buttercream

I sometimes get nervous when I'm cake decorating for other people, as I mostly just wing decorating and hope it works out. My friend Betony had some great decorating ideas that were well within my range of abilities, so I didn't have to stress too much. The inspiration for this cake decoration came from this blog that was linked to on Pinterest. All I had to do was make a sprinkle number '3' for the top and sprinkle up the sides. 

4 layer rainbow cake - pre-decoration
Decorated!
How fricken' adorable is this cake? I love the use of sprinkles. It is so festive! At first the sprinkles didn't want to adhere to the sides of the cake, so I wore a food prep glove and forced fistfuls of sprinkles to stick to the sides. I had a pan under the cake to catch any falling sprinkles, which worked great for reusing them and keeping them off the floor.

Now that is a lot of sprinkles!
For the sprinkle '3', I placed a homemade cookie cutter on the top of the cake and filled it with sprinkles. I pressed the sprinkles down gently to adhere them to the frosting and then carefully removed the cookie cutter.
Homemade Cookie Cutter '3'
Sprinkle '3'
This cake was very fun to make and decorate and everyone at the party enjoyed it. Win!

Posted by Jen B On Tuesday, December 16, 2014 4 comments

Our friend's daughter turned three over the weekend and she had a rainbow themed birthday party. Because my friend knows I love making rainbow baked goods, I got tapped to make the cake and some cupcakes. I was pretty excited about it and decided to make some fun cupcake toppers (I got to use my glue gun!). I'd never made them or used them before, but now I'm totally in love with them, and am obsessed with all wonderful things I am going to top my cupcakes with. Seriously, any excuse to use my glue gun!

I have a lot of scrapbooking supplies, so this craft was pretty easy to create.

First I punched some 1 1/2" stars using card stock in rainbow colours (red, yellow, green, blue). Then I punched some 1 1/4" stars in white card stock. I free hand wrote the number 3 (the birthday girl's age), in coordinating colours on the white stars.


Next I used a glue stick to stick all the numbered stars to the colourful stars.

Using regular toothpicks, I used my glue gun (so fun!) to adhere the stars to the toothpicks.


These were simple and fun to make and were a festive addition to the cupcakes.




Posted by Jen B On Monday, December 15, 2014 4 comments
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