….No, but for real this time

Oopsies. I guess I let it slip again. I’ll get the hang of this whole “regular posting” thing soon, I promise!

A new year and a new me! That’s what I say to myself every December 29-31 of a year. And then January 1 rolls around, and I head to McDonald’s to soothe my (hungover) soul and immediately berate myself for my delicious and yet exceedingly sub-par choice in food for the first day of the new me.

No longer!

One thing that I know is that true change is a long process. I have been reading a lot of blogs and posts surrounding lifestyle changes and how to accomplish things that you have set out to do, and one thing that stuck out to me was the idea that it isn’t motivation that allows you to make changes (it is fleeting and once your motivation is gone, your changes go with it), but instead it is all about dedication and discipline.

That is what I hope to base 2015 around. I want to find a way to make myself more disciplined and dedicated to my goals, while at the same time balancing a fun and exciting life. For example, I find joy in cooking and baking and strongly believe that eating delicious foods is one of life’s most pure and delightful experiences. I refuse to buy into the notion that I can’t accomplish my fitness and health goals without giving up these things. What I hope to accomplish, with those two fancy “d” words, is understanding how to work these passions into a healthy lifestyle and reach my goals while maintaining that all important balance.

In the same way, I hope to push myself to work on the book I started so many years ago, become better at this whole blogging thing, learn how to use my fun new DSLR camera (Merry Christmas to me! Love, me…and the amazing sale at Walmart) and keep having fun.

I feel a little trite writing all of this down, especially after declaring “No longer!” to my concept of a new year and a new me. To be honest, I’m not even sure if the whole post will make sense to anyone who may read this; I’m pretty sure it’s just a lot of words to describe conflicting ideals that I have somehow made into one overarching, non-sensical goal.

I suppose the conclusion that I have come to is that this change will not happen overnight. For the first time, I am not setting specific “resolutions” that I can check off on December 31, 2015 at 11:59 p.m. Instead, I have examined what I want to accomplish in my the next little while (not specifically in the next 12 months) and how I can begin accomplishing it. I’m going to work at it all slowly and my only hope is that on December 31, 2015 at 11:59 p.m., I can look at the past 12 months and recognize positive changes that I have made and be able to say “I am truly happy with my progress.”

So here is to 2015…onwards, upwards and no regrets! Because let’s be real…that New Year’s Day McDonald’s was delicious and necessary to my existence after the celebration that ended 2014 and it also wasn’t anything that a few extra trips to the gym can’t help. It may not be discipline, but at least it’s dedication…and a start.

I’m back!

Well, colour me not surprised that I seem to have let blogging slip by the wayside. The past ten months have seen many changes in my life and sadly as the blog was pretty new, this was one of the first things to go.

After months of searching since my return from England, I finally got a job in my chosen field! The job has had a steep learning curve and I feel as though I am finally getting my feet solidly under me. This has allowed me to get back in to some of the things I love the most – cooking, baking and crafting.

With Thanksgiving coming up, I stepped my game up and decided to try my hand at a variety of DIY crafts and decor for our big family dinner. I am very pleased to say that yesterday’s event was not only delicious (thanks, Mom) but also beautiful with the small touches I was able to add to the table and our door (thanks, Pinterest).

I will be posting about all of these crafts over the next few weeks and will also be posting about some of the other things I baked and created over the past year. I have a brand new little nephew so expect some baby related posts, and also look forward to my exploration into creating my very own recipes.

I am so happy to be back in the blogging world again and will try my very hardest not to let it slip again 🙂

Upping my Cupcake Game

For our second family Christmas get together, I was in charge of the whole menu. I made from-scratch lasagne that was quick and delicious and a Caesar salad to die for (a full pound of bacon for bacon bits means you can’t really go wrong).

The main event for me – as always – was dessert. I love finding new ways to delight my family and friends and I find baking to be a massive creative outlet. I took a Wilton cake decorating class a few years ago and shortly thereafter, I made my sister’s wedding cake! It was basic but I was still proud and she and her husband were thrilled with the result.

Image

The cake was a white chocolate sponge with white chocolate buttercream – delicious! I also learned a very important lesson that day – even if it is 30+ degrees outside, putting a fondant covered cake in the fridge will cause it to sweat and cause more damage than if you leave it out!

I enjoy decorating cakes, but I have always found cupcakes to be difficult to be creative with. When I found this tutorial online, I knew I had to try to make a cupcake wreath and I am so pleased with how it came out!

Image

I used the Hummingbird Bakery’s red velvet cupcake recipe found here after reading a lot of positive reviews and I iced them with the Wilton Buttercream that I have come to know, love and perfect over time (with children around, cream cheese icing wasn’t necessarily going to be a winner and so I decided to go classic).

A few notes on the cupcake recipe…

  • I doubled the recipe and it made 24 perfect cupcakes. I only needed 22 for the wreath (14 on the outside and 8 on the inside) so the other two were great as testers so I knew what I was serving my guests. The number needed will vary with the size of plate used, but I thought my numbers worked out well for looks, icing ease and taste testers.
  • I used gel red food colouring (1/2 tsp. as recommended by my favourite lady in her recipe: Martha). As the recipe would have asked for 4 tbsp. of liquid food colouring, I substituted a bit more fat and liquid in my cupcakes – 1 tbsp of butter and 3 tbsp of water. I thought this would be more than enough and I was even worried about them being too moist (is that even a thing?!) However…
  • The cupcakes turned out very dry in comparison to the recipes I usually bake with. I have had Hummingbird cupcakes before – they were a great treat after a hard week in London – and I don’t recall them being overly dry. Sometimes dryness is an attribute of a certain recipe, but I have trouble believing this was the case here. More likely, I didn’t substitute appropriately and so I would recommend using the liquid colouring to be sure to achieve results true to the recipe or stay tuned here for a new solution to the red velvet mystery.
  • Dryness aside, they were delicious and so, so fluffy. It is clear the recipe itself is a winner once you can get the balance right.
  • The buttercream was a great addition! I was very doubtful that it would taste quite right (and, to be honest, a little resentful that I didn’t get to make one of my favourite icings!) and I was proven wrong. The delicate chocolate flavour was well complimented by the rich and smooth icing and it definitely helped with the dryness of the cake itself.

Overall – a decent foray into the elusive red velvet for now. While I am still on the hunt for a perfect, staple recipe, I have found a great decoration technique that I will use time and time again! And after a successful presentation of cupcakes, I am dreaming up cupcake decoration ideas for the Superbowl…I will post my results when complete!

Jewelry and Body Scrub: The first of many Christmas posts

For Christmas this year, I decided to “DIY” as many presents as I could. With very little money to put towards gifts, I thought this would be a good way to give nice and thoughtful gifts without breaking the bank.

Now that the holiday season is complete, I am happy to say that all gifts were well received and people were shocked at the quality of gifts I was able to create. To be honest – so was I. I had no idea it would be so easy to make some of these things and the effort that I put into them made me feel great about the inexpensive gifts I was giving.

One of the first things I did was make a couple of small gifts for my girlfriends. After perusing Pinterest, I decided on homemade jewelry and gingerbread body scrub. The scrub was simple enough to make and ended up looking great with some felt and a homemade label! I used this tutorial and mine turned out as follows.

IMG_1684

The jewelry was a bit more complicated. With a wonderful sale on at Michael’s, I ventured up to find many of my crafting supplies necessary for the holiday. I was able to find great deals on chains, lobster claw clasps and a huge amount of faux pearls perfect for the Bird’s Nest necklace tutorial I had seen online.

I had never made jewelry before but worked with wire and beading a lot as a child, which helped. I used a thicker gauge wire than I was used to (24 gauge) and it was difficult to twist as I liked. As a result, the necklaces were all very unique – some were more tightly wound and some were looser. This presented  nice effect and I was able to choose which style each of my girlfriends would like best. I found it very difficult to use a pre-made wire circle (used as the other end of the lobster claw) to create a necklace loop, so stuck with manipulating the wire as I found it laid a little bit more straight.

Here are mine:

IMG_1685

IMG_1686

I was thrilled with how they turned out and all of my girlfriends loved both gifts. In total, I was able to spend less than $5 for each gift in total and it was very worth the time! I’ve already had requests from people who have seen them and I have been happy to oblige in making them. Maybe I should start charging…

The Beginning

In the past two years, I have had quite the adventure. After completing a two-year teaching contract at my alma matter, I decided to move abroad to Europe while I had the opportunity; my family and friends were all healthy and happy and I had no obligations to live up to. These two things rarely coincide and I knew I had to take the chance while I had it. As a British citizen, I packed up and moved abroad without a job waiting for me in London. This was a complete departure from the way I had planned my life up to that point and I can safely say it was the best thing I ever did. I visited Hong Kong and worked there for three weeks through my old teaching job, enjoyed the 2012 Olympics in the city while looking for a job (probably not as seriously as I should) and had the opportunity to host many friends and family who came to visit. I finally found a position last fall and attacked it with vigour, while taking full advantage of the very cheap European flights at my fingertips. I spent the next 8 months travelling, working and loving my life. Eventually, it became evident to me for a variety of reasons that it was time to move home. I quit my job, took all the money I had left and backpacked Europe for six weeks prior to moving back home with my parents. I have since been looking for a job to kickstart my career but became bored quickly, having very little money and without an avalanche of jobs to apply for, hence my need for a creative outlet.

I have never been one to do something without knowing in advance that it would likely turn out well. I have a half completed book (ok….so maybe an eighth of a completed book), I have tried to learn the guitar no less than four times and there are more diet and exercise plans that had been abandoned than I can count. If I don’t get a good result immediately, I tend to abandon my newest self-improvement plan which I had likely been thinking about for weeks. Heck, it took me over a week to hunker down to write this first post after creating the blog.

About two months ago, I stumbled across this quote on Pinterest and combined with my recent lifestyle, it encouraged me to at least try to change for the better in the creative areas of my life.

Image

And this time, I didn’t want to learn something new or force myself into a specific hobby or activity. It has become my goal to try my best at whatever piques my interest at the time. This has manifested itself in many ways in the past few months: cooking, baking, crafting and even writing a little bit again. People in my life have jokingly begun to call me the next Martha Stewart and combined with my penchant for planning events, I have loved my most recent nickname and basked in the fact that my little improvements are paying off and making the people in my life happier. It is my goal to become more well-rounded in my creative life, more accepting of failure and more willing to adventure into the unknown.

This blog has come as the result of some sewing meltdowns, failed DIY attempts and collapsing tortes. I thought it would be fun to document my failures and successes in order to give me something to work at. This is the only constant that I have planned for my mini self-improvement experiment and we will see how it goes! I also hope that anyone who stumbles on this will find comfort in the fact that they are not alone in the fact that sometimes, their Pinterest projects have sometimes not gone to plan as much as they hoped and we can share little hacks to make projects work – or even make them better.

Maybe I am destined to write this blog and have a few adventures with very little improvement or fanfare, but who knows? Maybe one day, I’ll be Martha.