Category Archives: Holiday

There is no word for Valentine in Dothraki…

I hope you all have a wonderful Valentine’s Day. Spend time with your sweetheart, eat lots of candy (as long as you save me some Gummy Hearts) and remember to tell the one you love, you love them.

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New Year, New Resolutions

It is finally that time of year. Time to set my goals for 2012 and then try to keep up with them until 2013. I am very excited about my 2012 goals, as the 2011 goals I set for myself were either met or exceeded. I had a lot of fun trying to meet the goals and I felt that I challenged myself continually throughout the year. This year, I have tried to choose a list of goals based on feedback from friends, family and my readers. I have also taken into account the amount of time each goal will take and the effort I will have to expend to complete it.

*drumroll*

My 2012 Goals 

Relationship goals:

Strengthen my personal relationships by spending more time with those I care about. 

This may not seem like that difficult of a goal, but you have to keep in mind that I only have one family member in California, relatively few friends because of the hours I work each week, and a very demanding job. I am hoping that by the end of 2012, I will have solidified my relationship to a certain significant other, made a few close friends, and have a small circle of acquaintances with whom I can have some fun.

Write more letters, thank you notes and emails.

This is one of those goals I always mean to make myself do. Ever since university, I have tried to write more thank you notes and letters, but I always seem to come up short. However, I have written a few emails this year and I plan to keep that up. My goal is to write an email (outside of work) each day. I would like to email my grandmother, mother, father, brothers and friends at least once a week. My family alone will be 6 days!

Take a real vacation with someone.

“Real vacation” does not include: going home to see family for a holiday, traveling for a family emergency, traveling for a work-related reason or medical conference. I will only consider it a vacation if I am traveling solely for relaxing and spending time with my travel companion.

Preferable Destinations: Seychelles,  Dominican Republic, Toronto, Spain, London, Belize

Personal Goals:

– Finish my novel

Just last year I started a novel (no I’m not going to post it on this blog 🙂 ). I wanted to take part in NaNoWriMo, but then I had to travel/get sick/deal with personal issues for most of November and was unable to write at all. I only got around to writing about 10, 000 out of 50,000 words. Will I finish my novel in 2012? Maybe not, but I will try to write for a bit each week.

Learn to sew

I have wanted to learn to sew for some time now. I always see these amazing dresses/skirts and when I ask where they got the dress I get the, “Oh, I made this!,” response. I need to buy a sewing machine and convert the “cats room” into a sewing room. I welcome suggestions on where to buy fabrics in LA/Hermosa, what sewing machine I need to buy and what the best way to learn is (online tutorials, sewing books, classes) .

Read 20 books in 2012

In 2011, I read 30 books. I thought about upping the ante to 40, but then I remembered I want to have a life outside of work. I have decided to keep the goal of reading a set number of books, but I want to read less. I would really like to read the Harry Potter series, but only if I can get them on my Nook.

Make a substantial blog post two (2) times a week or a small post three (3) times a week.

I am looking forward to blogging in the new year! I have some posts I am working on (mostly about my travels), but they are fairly time intensive. I will be posting more often, around 2-3 times a week and I would love suggestions! Anything that you would be interested in me blogging about, I am open to it! 

Goals to Continue

Take more cooking courses (Persian, Latin American, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Spanish)

I enjoyed this goal immensely. I was able to sign up for a few cooking courses and it was a blast! I would like to cook through a few classic cookbooks for each type of cuisine, while also supplementing my cooking with some outside classes.

Run 50 miles a week following Runners World MPW Target Goals or 2700 miles for the year. Try for 3000 miles if possible!

Even though this goal was difficult to keep up with in 2011 (due to work, travel or illness), I loved the way I felt after completing the required 50 miles a week. This year I am shooting for 3000 miles, but hitting 2700 or 2600 would be acceptable. If I can squeeze a few races or marathons in, I will definitely try!

Complete 1-2 detox plans over the course of 2012

This goal was actually a lot of fun for me. I scheduled both of my detoxes after holidays, in hopes that I could rid my system of the toxins I built up eating all that holiday fare. This year, I plan on trying to get in two (2) detoxes, but one (1) detox over the summer will work!

I am very pleased with my 2012 goals. I have already started a few of my goals and will keep everyone updated as I complete or struggle with each one.

Question(s): Have you decided to set goals for yourself in 2012? If so, what are they? Do you have suggestions to help me complete any of the above goals? Would you like to challenge me to complete another goal (I am up for some challenging!)?

Happy New Year!

And These Are a Few of My Favourite Things

A gift that I always like to give is a basket/box which has a collection of my favourite things. They are generally small things that I have stumbled across when shopping or messing around on the Internet. They change from year to year, so I thought this year might be a good time to share a list with my readers!

If you were to receive a box of my current favourite things of 2011, you would be getting:

Tulum Napkins – gorgeous Mayan patterned napkins that are bright and cheery
iomoi Loafers – adorable, comfortable and great for just around the house
Rishi Organic Chai – love chai so much and I drink at least a cup a day
Tumbler w/ Infuser – this has been fantastic at work, I think I bought everyone on my list (that drinks tea) one of these
Helveticards – great stocking stuffer and they are a modern take on a traditional object
Leaf Keepers – these make for a cute way to tie flowers together or to bundle small gift items
Kuhn Rikon Frosting Pen – this may be the most amazing decorating tool I have ever purchased, love it
Zum Bar Sea Salt –  love Zum Bars, but this one is my favourite
“Grown Up” Bento Stack – comes in very handy when you are on the go as much as I am
Moleskine Notebooks – have so many of these that I use, great product
A Perfect World Moisturizer – used this for years, will continue to use it for many more

Question(s): Are some of these your favourite things as well? What would you add to the list?

Sticky Situation

As you might have read, one of the gift ideas for this year was “Apple Cider Caramel.” I planned on wrapping them in adorable little gift boxes and labeling them using the Goddess Martha Stewart’s printable labels.

After dragging myself out of bed this morning, I reluctantly took a shower and began my day.  I made myself tartines for breakfast, ran a few miles, did a little yoga, prepared lunch and then went grocery shopping. I spent a while roaming Von’s aisles, then headed to Williams-Sonoma where I spent way too much time and money. When I got back my temporary roommate (my cousin), appeared excited to see how the caramel was going to turn out.

I got down to business setting out the ingredients in pre-measured ramekins and began by boiling the apple cider. Let me tell you something about reducing 2 cups of apple cider to 1/3 cup of apple cider, it takes forever. I was constantly checking the cider using a measuring cup and I realized I needed to buy a reduction pan.

I'm not sure why I took the photo this way...

The cider took almost 45 minutes to reduce all the way and part of the way through I transferred it from the copper lined saucepan to a glass one.

The other concoction you see in that photograph is the cinnamon, butter, heavy cream mixture. I had boiled it before I fired the cider so that way it could set. The entire house smelled amazing while I was cooking. The cinnamon + apple cider smell permeated every room and even when I went upstairs I could smell it. I made a note to myself that if I ever sell this house, I need to make this same caramel when potential buyers arrive.

Now, at this point in the post I should tell you that I mixed the reduced apple cider and the cream mixture, whisked well and started the sugar mixture. However, this is also the turning point for the entire process. Right as I began stirring the sugar, I was called into the hospital and I had to hand the reins over to my cousin. The conversation went something like:

Me: Hey, I need you to watch this sugar. Just pay attention to the thermometer and when it reads 315-320, you need to pour this pan into the sugar mixture. For no reason should you mix those two until the thermometer says “Hard Crack, 315-320.”

Cousin: Ok…

Me: But you will need to make sure that you stand away from it a little, because it might splatter. Then you will stir it and watch the thermometer again until it says 260.

Cousin: Ok…

Me: Can you watch this for me?  Is this ok?

Cousin: Yea, sure. Hard crack. Aren’t you making caramel..?

Me: Hard crack, 315-320. Then, 260 when they are mixed. Got it?

Cousin: Yup.

At this point I headed into work and was gone for about 30-35 min. When I returned I found the caramel poured into the parchment lined 8×8 pan. I was momentarily relieved, until I looked at it….

Ugghhhh

Firstly, the parchment paper had not been properly laid in the pan, even though I measured them. Secondly, it was way too light. The caramel had an apple cider reduction in it and the sugar was boiled to hard crack.

So I asked my cousin at what temperature she took the pan off the stove:

Me: Ummm….did the thermometer say ‘Hard Crack’ when you poured in the cream?

Cousin: Uhhh, no. It said soft ball and I knew that caramel is soft. I figured you just told me wrong.

I was, to say the very least, devastated. The preparation for this caramel had been so time intensive and now it was ruined. I was furious with my cousin, so I poured myself a glass of wine and I did the only thing I could do.

I started all over.

I melted the butter into the cream and cinnamon mixture, again. I reduced the cider, again. I then waited another 45 minutes for the cider to reduce enough to add the cream.

Yummy

When the cider reduced again, I started the process of boiling the sugar to a hard crack stage. This requires a lot of time and patience, so I read some of my book (love my Nook, by the way) and listened to Stimming.

The entire time I kept thinking, "This would suck if I dropped this or spilled this on myself..."

After the sugar reached 320, I poured the cider cream into the molten sugar. This produced Molten Cider and it smelled amazing. I do recommend that you do this at arm’s length, however, as it does splatter a bit. Make sure that you add a little at a time, as I don’t know what the outcome would have been if I would have dumped the entire pan in (not a good one, I will tell you that).

The reaction the sugar had when I poured in the cider cream was both awesome and terrifying!

After mixing the cider cream into the sugar, you will need to get the temperature back up to 260 degrees F. When you add the cream, your sugar temperature will drop pretty quickly. It did take longer than I assumed it would for the mixture to reach the 260 mark.

As soon as it reached 260, I turned the heat off and poured the molten mix into a properly parchmented 8×8 pan. I let both of the caramels sit for a while (hours) and went to wrap presents. When I returned, I laughed out loud at the incredible difference between the Failamel and the Caramel.

Can YOU tell which one is the wrong one?

The dark pan on the left is the correctly prepared candy. The light pan on the right is the monstrosity that results when you fail to take into account that your cousin can not cook to save her life. As you can see, I tasted the….whatever it is, in the bottom left corner. The mixture was gooey and slightly oily. I can’t, for the life of me, figure out what it resembles. I did scoop it out of the dish and save it though. I’m debating on using it to make some sort of apple pie filling or drizzling it over cookies/blondies.

I am refrigerating the proper caramel overnight. Tomorrow, after work maybe, I will slice them and wrap them individually. I plan on making another batch for my colleagues when it is closer to the holidays.

Lesson learned from this kitchen adventure: Never EVER let someone else take the reins of my recipes.

The recipe I used is from Make It Naked:

Apple Cider Caramels (recipe adapted from David Lebovitz and here)

Ingredients:

2 cups apple cider (I used spiced cider)
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 lb salted butter (1 stick)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1½ cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:

  1. Line an 8×8 baking dish with parchment paper.
  2. Boil the apple cider in a saucepan until it reduces to about 1/3 cup. This took about 30 minutes for me. Set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, add the cream, butter and cinnamon to a saucepan and heat on medium until butter is melted. Stir. Add the reduced cider to the cream mixture.
  4. In a saucepan (I used the one that the cider was in after wiping it out), combine the sugar, honey, water and salt. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Once dissolved, stir as little as possible. Cook until a candy thermometer reads 310-320 degrees. Tilt the pan to get an accurate reading.
  5. Slowly stir the cider mixture into the sugar mixture. Be careful and watch for splattering. Cook until the combined mixture reaches 260 degrees.
  6. Pour the caramel into the prepared dish. Let cool completely. And I mean completely.
  7. Lift the candy out of the pan using the parchment paper. Cut into squares. Serve at room temperature.

Gift Giving

I pride myself on my gift giving abilities. I am that person who stresses over each person on my list, not only when it comes to what I’m getting them, but also how I will give it. Over the years I have wrapped gifts in a lot of creative ways, but this year I fell in love with this:

I love the idea that you can use fairly simple paper to actually wrap the gift and it doesn’t need any kind of tag. I’m excited to personalize each person’s name with special paper and little extras.

In the past I have gone with sponge paint designs on wrapping paper for Christmas/Hanukkah, wrapping birthday gifts in newspaper from the day the person was born, hand drawing comics detailing how the couple met for wedding presents and even painted designs. Even though the wrapping paper is not the part of the present that everyone enjoys, I try to make it that way.

I absolutely love giving gifts and I find any excuse I can to buy them. First day of summer? Fall weather just starting? Going on a trip? I have given gifts to friends on all those occasions. I am also the person who buys cards throughout the year, for when I need to grab one for an event. I have a very organized box of greeting cards that has saved me more than once. I use to send out between 50-75 holiday cards each year, but with my schedule as of late it looks like I may only get to send out a few to my family.

Maybe I should just send eCards this year and be really lame.

As far as gifts go, I have yet to really start shopping. The only thing I know is that I am making “Apple Cider Caramels” for my co-workers. I plan on making boxes, à la Martha Stewart, and filling them with the caramels. I’m excited to do this and I plan on getting all the boxes done sometime after Thanksgiving. I will definitely take pictures of everything I decide to do, including all the wrapping!

**I apologize for not updating in a while. I was in Boston for a CELEST event and since my return to LA,  I have a wicked case of bronchitis.**