Tuesday, January 31, 2012

In defiance

I'm wearing this skirt and these shoes in defiance of a salesperson whose boutique I visited during my Christmas shopping. I went in wearing the same bottom half as in these pictures (I assure you, I had a top on too). I didn't find what I needed, and headed for the door. On my way out, the salesperson placed her hand on my arm and said 'Can I offer you a suggestion?' Curious, I said okay. She then pointed to my legs and asked me if I could see how my ankle-height booties, sheer tights and pencil skirt were 'chop chop' and did not create a nice line. She then tried to sell me tights in the same colour as my shoes. I've never worked in fashion retail, but I'm guessing commenting on a customer's CURRENT outfit is not in the training manual. And I think that I have long enough legs to pull it off. I know I'll never manage a waspish waist with curvy hips or gorgeous decolletage, but I play up my assets. As I left the store (without the suggested tights) I overheard her reassuring a women in a dress 3 sizes too small and 4 inches too short that she did indeed look great. I shook my head and vowed to never return.

Top – Chanel (also here)
Skirt – Mexx (also here and here)
Shoes – Old Navy
Bracelets – Gifted and Joe Fresh
Earrings – Witchery

I'm linking up with Spunky Chateau's Thursdays are for Thrifters Link Party - check it out!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Roasted beet salad with feta, bean sprouts and candied nuts

This beet salad came together out of the ingredients I found lurking in the bottom of my fridge drawers, but I really liked how the flavours turned out. Then again, I don't think you can ever go wrong with roasted vegetables. 

The deep reddish-purple of the beets provides a beautiful contrast against the other ingredients. This salad is easy to 'plate' for an impressive presentation. I chose a glossy black patterned serving dish, but a silver tray would be gorgeous as well.

To make salad, roast 3-4 beets by wrapping each individually in aluminum foil and baking at 375 for 45-60 minutes. Once the beets are cool enough to handle, slip off the skins by rubbing them with your thumbs. Wear gloves if you want avoid staining your hands, but making beets is always a messy process. Slice beets into half-rounds. 

Add a handful of crumbled feta, some bean sprouts and 1/4 cup of candied nuts. (My recipe for candied nuts can be found here - I used a mix of almonds and pecans for this one). 

Drizzle salad with a small amount of honey.

Add radicchio or arugula.
Add finely chopped orange rind.
Substitute bean sprouts for thinly sliced pear.
Substitute nuts for seeds, such as toasted pumpkin seeds.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Staying stylish at -30 C....

Leave it to N of A Fine Balance and I to choose the most bone-chillingly cold day of the year (-30C = -22F) for our first outdoor winter shots. The sun sets so early nowadays, it’s all but impossible to get natural light during the workweek. Luckily the sun was out that Saturday, its rays dancing on the snow blanketing the evergreens behind us. It literally and figuratively took my breath away :) I went for a slightly sporty look while N looked as elegant as ever.

The problem is that winter and fashion don’t always go hand-in-hand. Practicality always has a way of creeping into wardrobe decisions. 

Here are a few ways I try to up the style quotient in the cold:

- Spend the money for at least one good coat, socks, and footwear. I have four coats to get me through the season: this all-purpose weather-resistant puffer, a long wool coat that fits over a business suit, an elegant evening coat and a peacoat for errand-running in and out of heated shops. If you shop around and look for quality fabric and good workmanship, you don’t have to spend a lot. Two of mine were thrifted and one was clothes-swapped and re-buttoned. 

- These booties were trendy cheapies but my ski socks were enough to keep my feet toasty. For walking to work and back, I splurged on a pair of lace-up Blondo Snowtrails (similar ones here). 

- I stick to classic colours and styles for coats, which I keep for years, but have fun with the accessories.

- When it comes to hats, I look for wool fabric lined with fleece, which won’t itch. I make sure one hat is loose enough to wear over blowdried hair and keep its shape. For small heads like mine, try shopping the kids’ section. Earwarmers are good for warmer days.

- Bulk on top is unavoidable, so I balanced things out with textured knit tights on the bottom – layered over sheer tights for extra warmth.

What are YOUR tips for staying stylish in cold climes?

Coat - Coupé via Winners
Hat - Barts
Scarf - RW & Co. (GWP)
Gloves - AuClair via Winners
Booties - Sirens
Dress - H&M
Turtleneck - Jacob
Socks - ? 
Tights - Winners
Necklace - ? (Australia)
Purse - Danier Leather

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A bang-up job

This post is a) more of an exercise in vanity than usual; b) a thinly-veiled attempt to reclaim the glitz and glitter of the holidays with pictures taken weeks ago; or c) all of the above. I'm calling in a favour - just indulge me and let me show off my new...BANGS!

I took a leap of faith with my hairdresser because I wasn't sure bangs would work with my fine hair or my weird cowlick but I'm glad I did. I LOVE them. I find they change the whole look of an outfit and I can pin them back or style them to the side when I want to mix things up. 

Tell me - are YOU planning any changes for 2012?

I accessorized my bangs with this outfit for a holiday party in B's hometown. I layered different textures - a velvet blazer, shiny leggings and a metallic tunic to give the outfit dimension. The tunic was an Australia find - originally $90, patiently lusted after and eventually bought on sale for $15. Bronze is a nice alternative to gold or silver - less showy, and easier to pull off with fair winter skin. 

Check back in for my next post on staying stylish in the cold. N of A Fine Balance and I ventured outside on a gorgeous and sunny but bone-chillingly cold day to take some photos in winter wear.  I haven't had as much time as I hoped for blog-hopping lately but I will be round soon, promise!!


Leggings - Thrifted (Madonna) (also here)
Blazer - H&M (also here)
Tank - ? via Winners
Tunic - Sportsgirl
Shoes - Guess via Winners
Earrings - Zone
Bracelet - Le Chateau

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Lemon-cream spaghettini with shrimp and capers

This is an elegant dish for a date night in. The saltiness of the capers and plumpness of the shrimp go well with the richness of the cream.  

Heat 2 T butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 small finely chopped onion and 4 cloves finely chopped garlic. Cook, stirring often with a wooden spoon, until onion is translucent. Fill a separate pot with cold salted water. Bring to a boil and cook 1/2 package spaghettini according to directions (I used dry whole wheat). Drain pasta, reserving a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water.

Add 1 cup chicken stock, 1 cup white wine and reserved cooking liquid to the saucepan with the onions and bring to a boil, scraping cooked bits from the bottom of the pan. Reduce liquid by about one half. Reduce heat to a simmer, add 3 T heavy cream, and 1-2 T lemon juice, 1 T chopped lemon rind and salt and pepper and additional butter to taste. Stir in 1 1/2 cups cooked shrimp to heat through. Stir in 2 T capers. Pour over pasta and serve with a wedge of lemon.

Substitute angel hair pasta for spaghettini.
Substitute fish stock for chicken stock. 

Monday, January 09, 2012

8 recipes for holiday baking

I'm back :) To readers old and new, I look forward to popping by your blogs in the next little while to catch up and say hello.

I hope you enjoyed warm hearts, full bellies and plenty of good cheer over the holidays. Thank you so much for your messages of condolence on my last post. They brought us comfort. The holidays were a little bittersweet but we found moments of merriment, and yes, laughter. Experiences like this are a jarring reminder of just how precious life is, and what’s really important in life. There’s even a silver lining in that it helped me bond with B’s extended family as well as some of my own loved ones, whose support has been cherished. You know who you are.

So 2011 was a little bumpy but I think 2012 is going to bring good things. Some of our closest friends are getting married, B and my sister are due to graduate, and I’ve signed up for my first 10km race in the spring. I’ve got some exciting projects coming up at work, including a presentation that will help me meet my commitment to doing one thing per year that scares me. I’m not usually one for New Year’s resolutions. Let’s be honest, I usually start off the new year with a hangover and Advil, what does that say? And I find September - harking back to the start of the school year - better-suited to fresh beginnings, but this year felt a little different. One of my resolutions is to sort and organize my recipes. Hopefully I’ll dig up some fun ones to try and showcase on the blog. Did YOU make any resolutions this year?

I took advantage of my blogging break to send my camera for repair. I haven’t received it back yet but I have some unpublished posts I can use in the meantime. First up – Christmas baking. Ideally I would have posted these a few weeks ago but hopefully they’ll inspire you for next year!


 I followed this recipe for these chewy, intensely-flavoured cookies that are best washed down with a tall glass of milk. Instead of dusting the cookies with icing sugar right after baking, I used very finely crushed candy cane. I returned the cookies to the oven for an extra minute to melt the candy cane.
{Peppermint-dusted cocoa wafer cookies}

These pillow-soft cookies elevate basic shortbread to something special, thanks to the standout flavours of cream cheese, lemon zest and lemon juice. I got my recipe online years ago but haven't been able to relocate it for credit. Cream together 3/4 cup softened butter and 3 oz softened cream cheese until light and fluffy. Gradually add 1 cup icing sugar and beat hard. Stir in 1 tsp vanilla extract, 2 T lemon juice, and 1 1/2 T lemon zest. Gradually mix in 2 cups flour until well-blended. Roll dough into 1 inch balls on a surface lightly dusted with icing sugar, and place onto a greased baking sheet about 2 inches apart. (Handle the dough as little as possible). Make an indentation in the dough balls with a fork dipped in icing sugar. Bake at 300 degrees for 25 minutes, or until delicate brown underneath.

{Lemon - cream cheese cookies} 

An exciting addition to my usual Christmas baking repertoire was honeycomb, which tastes like the inside of a Crunchie bar. I was inspired by this recipe, but my version below contains more detailed instructions and an extra ingredient - vanilla bean. Unfortunately my honeycomb didn't aerate as much as the one shown in the link. I  followed the advice of some reviewers and reduced the amount of baking soda - probably by too much (I used 1 tsp in the doubled recipe). Also, I was using an ill-tempered stove burner, which turned off part-way through boiling. 

 Tip: Get everything ready beforehand as some steps must be done quickly.   
Stir 1 cup sugar, 8 T golden corn syrup and the seeds scraped from a vanilla bean together in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Place the pan on the stove over medium-high heat. Without stirring, bring the mixture to a boil and continue boiling until it registers 300°F on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat, sift in 1 1/2 tsp of baking soda and whisk. The mixture will foam up very quickly. Immediately pour the mixture onto a piece of baking parchment. Leave until hardened, then chop into pieces.

 {Vanilla bean honeycomb}

This recipe is labour- and time-intensive, but will be appreciated by those familiar with the process. I followed this recipe to make the candied orange and lemon peels. Once the peels were ready, I dipped them in white and milk chocolate chips, melted over a double boiler.
 {Chocolate-dipped candied orange and lemon rinds}

I followed this recipe for these soft and delicate cookies, pleasantly contrasted with a dollop of sticky fig jam. They would be great served with afternoon tea. Rather than spooning the jam onto the cookies, I piped it out of a small Ziploc bag with the corner snipped.
 {Mascarpone cookies with fig jam} 

These cookies, adapted from this recipe, are the most health-friendly of the lot, thanks to ingredients like rolled oats, applesauce, raisins and pecans. Cream 1/2 cup butter and 1 cup sugar. Add 1 cup unsweetened applesauce and mix well. In a separate bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups of sifted flour, 1/2 cup rolled oats, 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp ground cloves, 1/2 tsp nutmeg and 1/2 tsp salt. Gradually add dry ingredients to butter mixture and mix until smooth. Add 3/4 cup raisins and 3/4 cup chopped pecans and stir gently to combine. Drop spoonfuls of batter onto a greased baking sheet, spacing cookies approximately 2 inches apart. Bake at 375 degrees for approximately 12-15 minutes.
 {Rustic applesauce-spice cookies with raisins and nuts} 

The marshmallows give this chocolate fudge a smooth texture. Mix 1 2/3 cup sugar, 2/3 cup cream and 2 T butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Continue boiling for 5 minutes while continuing to stir. Remove from heat and add 1 ½ cups chocolate chips, 1 tsp vanilla, and 2 cups of marshmallows (large or small), stirring until smooth. Spread in an 8x8 pan and cool.
{Marshmallow fudge} 

This recipe is classic French Canadian and ideal for those with a serious sweet tooth. It comes courtesy of Chez Cora, a popular chain of breakfast restaurants in the region. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring 3 cups of brown sugar, 2/3 cup butter, and 150 mL heavy cream to a boil, stirring frequently. Boil, stirring, for 5 minutes. If necessary, wipe down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush. Remove from heat, stir in 1 cup icing sugar and whip until creamy. Pour into a greased 8x8 pan and chill.

 {No picture. Sorry!}