Carpentry 101

If you were to choose between Jess and I who is the best carpenter, Jess would win hands down. That’s because (before now) I have never taken on any sort of significant woodworking project, while Jess has built a kitchen table, a bed frame (or two), and a number of cute benches, including this one. But a couple months ago, I came across a photo of a mirror in one of Design*Sponge‘s Sneak Peaks (my favourite weekly feature) and I determined I had to make one for my own bedroom.

I consulted my brother, who is actually a carpenter, and he helped me draw up some plans, an adapted version that I would be able to construct in my city apartment with minimal tools. I found a $5 mirror at Salvation Army. I paid a little trip to my local Rona and bought some supplies. I convinced a friend to give up a morning of his spring break to be my assistant. And now I have a brand new mirror!

mirror I meant to take photos while we were building it, so you could easily make your own if you chose to, but I failed on that front. So here are a few detail shots so you can see the process.

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We first built a frame with four 1×6’s (that I had pre-cut to size at Rona), then used 4 pieces of thin door stop/trim to create a lip for the mirror to rest on. We slid the mirror in, then used two more pieces of door stop to hold the mirror in place. It was as simple as that! Who knew building a unique mirror/shelf could be so easy?

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Sunday Lunch

There’s something both simple and beautiful about sharing food with people we care about. This blog is full of examples of that, so let me add another.

I go to a wonderful little church, a church dedicated to loving others and to living out our faith everyday. We’re also a little church who loves to share food, so we eat a meal together each week.

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This Sunday, the food was so good I needed to get the recipes. Mistin brought this sweet potato soup, which went deliciously with Shirley’s olive bread. Here’s her recipe:

Olive and Herb Bread

3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 sachet instant yeast (8g)
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup sliced olives
1-2 tbsp rosemary or mixed herbs
2 cups lukewarm water

Method
Sift flour and salt together. Add olives and herbs and yeast.
Add sugar to water and mix into dry ingredients.
Spoon mixture into well-greased loaf tin. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place for 10-15 minutes.
Bake at 355°F for 45-50 minutes or until golden brown. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool.
Variation:
Substitute 1 cup of wholewheat flour with all purpose flour for lighter loaf.

We finished lunch off with some brownies that Michelle baked. They’re called “Oprah’s Fav Brownies,” so I suppose there is no way they wouldn’t be particularly tasty.

Ingredients:

1¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder
11 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped (I just used semi sweet chocolate chips)
1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup packed light brown sugar
5 eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the sides and bottom of a 9×13-inch glass or light-colored baking pan. Line the pan with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt, and cocoa powder together.
3. Put the chocolate, butter and instant espresso powder in a large bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth. Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water and add the sugars. Whisk until completely combined, then remove the bowl from the pan. The mixture should be room temperature.
4. Add 3 eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Add the remaining eggs and whisk until combined. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not overbeat the batter at this stage or your brownies will be cakey.
5. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture. Using a rubber spatula (not a whisk), fold the flour mixture into the chocolate until just a bit of the flour mixture is visible.
6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it. Let the brownies cool completely, then lift them out of the pan using the parchment paper. Cut into squares and serve.
7. Store at room temperature in an airtight container or wrap with plastic wrap for up to 3 days.

I’m looking forward to making all three of these sometime in the near future. Maybe you will too?

2013

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This was my first memory of 2013 – well, my first daylight, lucid memory of 2013. I can’t say enough how much I love snowy mountains and I was so fortunate to ring in the new year with a wonderful group of friends right in the middle of some of BC’s prettiest landscape.

I had hoped to make my way up to Burns Lake for New Years, to celebrate the start of 2013 with friends that I miss dearly, in a town I sometimes wonder why I chose to leave. But instead I spent the holiday with old and new friends in a cramped rustic cabin next to a mostly-frozen lake. I’d say it was at least as good a celebration as going to BL.

Of course, this is the time of year for reflections and resolutions. I don’t have a coherent list of goals to share, but I am looking forward to what this year will bring. Some hopes and dreams include new friendships, a community garden in my backyard, grad school, travel, more knitting and more blogging, to name a few.

Jess and I are reaching one year of living the (Northern) Simple Life and it’s been a fun journey so far. Stick with us in the new year!

Teaching Dad to Cook

I’ve spent the last week in small town Ontario with my family, celebrating Christmas, getting a little spoiled, and enjoying the fresh snowfall. But a definite highlight this past week has been cooking with my dad. Before I left Vancouver last week, my friends gifted me with Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen Cookbook and suddenly I knew what I had to do: teach Dad to cook with recipes from this most anticipated cookbook.

dutch babyOur adventure began with Gingerbread Dutch Babies. This photo does not begin to do justice to its tastiness. Jess was actually the one to introduce me to the deliciousness of Dutch Babies, back in our early days of friendship. The delicious mix of spices took this breakfast classic to a whole new level.

 

 

galetteThe next day we put our skills to use with a Roasted Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette for our extended family Christmas dinner. Even though there was no fontina cheese to be found in this little town and I had to improvise with a rather questionable mix of Monterey Jack and parmesan, it was a hit, with cousins scraping the crumbs off the serving dish.

 

 

blintzMy dad has a deep love for sweet potatoes, so our next recipe to tackle was Sweet Potato Blintzes. Neither of us had ever had blintzes before, but our family is no stranger to thin Dutch pancakes, and this was basically stuffing those with a sweet mix of yams and cottage cheese and topping it with fresh cranberry sauce and sour cream. Yum!

 

 

onion toastsOur final recipe to try was French Onion Toasts. Deb describes them as “portable soup” and I’d say this is an apt description. They were a tasty addition to the Christmas smorgasbord that accompanied our family viewing of Home Alone on VHS.

 

 

 

 

All in all, I’d say it was a delicious week of new recipes. And I’m only getting started with this fantastic cookbook. Plus, I’m pretty sure this is only the beginning of Dad’s kitchen domination.

 

Christmas Stockings

Two of my very best friends married each other in April and way back then I promised them handknit Christmas stockings as their wedding gift. Last week those stockings were finally complete and I had the absolute joy of giving them to Joel and Lauren. (My joy was complete when Joel literally jumped up and down in excitement.) He took some wonderful photos of the final product, so I thought I’d share a couple of them with you.

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Apple Cider Caramels

I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, but I don’t think I’ve ever made anything more crowd-pleasing. Actually, I’m going to toot Deb’s horn over at Smitten Kitchen for providing the recipe and my dear friend Lauren’s for insisting that we make them. But if you are looking for a special treat to bring to one of your many Christmas functions or a little gift for friends or colleagues, Apple Cider Caramels are the way to go!

Summer in the Fall

 

A couple weeks ago, my cousin called and said she and some of my other family had just booked a last-minute, all-inclusive trip to Cuba. “You should come!” Before I knew what was happening, my credit card had a much bigger balance and I’d convinced my mom to come along as well.

Of course, an impromptu trip to Cuba wouldn’t be complete without a hand-knit beach bag lined with a bright floral pattern, right? I set to work on my first sewing project since grade 8, and I have to say, I think Mrs. Erkelens would have been proud.

     

The trip was such a treat, though definitely not simple-living on any sort of level. I ate lots, drank lots, read lots, and played lots. It was such fun to get to see my mom so unexpectedly and also great to get to spend time with my aunt, my cousins and their cute kids. Coming back to rainy Vancouver was a bit of a shock after getting used to all that sun. But I’ve come back with renewed energy, perspective, and optimism. I hope you get a fall blessing that can do similar things for you (though I understand my tan in November is more than most can ask for)…