Introducing Benjamin

Benjamin Alexander
December 26, 2011 at 2339h 
7lb 8oz, 19.75in

We're healthy, happy and back at home now. Couldn't be more pleased with our Boxing Day baby.


Caramel Shortbread (with Chocolate Drizzle & Nuts)!

I'm always a little hesitant to make new recipes when I know company is coming but seem to find myself doing it all the time. Then, to add more stress to the scenario, I often modify the recipe as I go. Crazy right? I won't blame you if you decline my next dinner party invite. Nevertheless, I didn't have much baking done left for my guests so I figured it was time to supplement the dwindling stash.

Warning: These are definitely resolution makers. Trust me, there's nothing healthy about these uber-rich squares. But they're oh-so-delicious. Not bad for my first try.

Caramel Shortbread Squares (with modifications*, of course)


- 2/3 cup butter, softened
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (or more as needed)

- 1/2 cup butter
- 1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
- 2 Tbsp light corn syrup
- 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk

- 1 1/4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 1/4 cup half&half creme*
- 1 cup crushed nuts, divided (I used honey coated peanuts)*

1. Preheat oven to 350'F (175'C).
2. In a medium bowl, combine base ingredients to create a crumbly mixture. Press firmly into a 9x9 baking pan and bake for 20 minutes. Cool completely.
3. In a heavy bottom saucepan, combine caramel ingredients and slowly bring to a boil. Continue to boil for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and beat vigorously for about 3 minutes to thicken. Pour over shortbread crust and let cool until firm to the touch.
4. Sprinkle about half of the crushed nuts over caramel, pressing down gently.
5. Melt chocolate in medium saucepan, stirring constantly. Blend in half&half creme to create a smooth mixture. Pour into a piping bag (or plastic bag) and drizzle over the caramel.
6. Top with remaining crushed nuts and let cool in refrigerator until set (approx. 20 min).
7. Cut into squares and enjoy!

*Originally the recipe called for a smooth chocolate top but I wanted to add some texture so I added the half&half creme to thin out the chocolate for drizzling (opposed to spreading on a thick layer) and added the crushed nuts for a bit of a crunch/hint of saltiness. Fortunately for me (and our company) they turned out really well!


Seasonal Touches

The holidays are going to be pretty low key for us this year for fairly obvious reasons but I still wanted to add a few festive additions wherever I could. Most of my 'pretty' decorations are in storage back in Calgary and it didn't make much sense to purchase a whole new set for our one year in TO so I embraced simplicity and tried to be creative wherever possible.

Our Christmas tree was literally brought in from the balcony. I was a little concerned I would 'shock' it with the drastic temperature change but with frequent watering and a watchful eye it has been holding up pretty well. Fingers crossed it lasts.

We bought a string of twinkling lights for the balcony and another small set of indoor lights which I wrapped around the tree branches. I just love the warm glow they create and hope the neighbours don't find them too annoying.

I wasn't even planning on decorating the tree but then came across a really good promotion at the Bay -- an entire box of silver, pewter and bronze ornaments for $20. I hung some on the tree, used some as accents for gifts and distributed the rest in various glass vases around the condo.

Plenty of ornaments to go around. I especially like the different shapes and textures that add some depth and dimension to an otherwise basic arrangement.

Gift wrapping was kept to a minimum. I bought some kraft paper and scrounged up a few ribbons that I had previously purchased for other various occasions. Apart from a few runaway sparkles scattered on the floor I think it turned out pretty well.

I also added some copper wire lights to a bunch of branches we have clustered near another window. They're really versatile, flexible and can be wrapped around pretty much anything. I may leave these up for a while as they add a little extra sparkle when looking out at the city lights.

We've got a few other festive additions (creamy white poinsettia adorning our dining room table and some lovely Christmas cards we received in the mail) but unfortunately it was getting too dark to photograph them properly. Perhaps another day!

I just love the way a home feels during this time of year and didn't want to let the fact that we're only here for one year discourage me from decorating for the holidays. I know we're probably going to be very busy with other distractions soon but it's still nice to acknowledge the season and participate wherever possible. Plus, who knows if we'll ever get a chance to celebrate in a downtown condo again?


The Bump

A few weeks ago I had maternity photos taken to document the growing baby bump. I was lucky to track down Heather Bunt, a friend from university who was in the same design program as me at the UofA. She also moved to Toronto (although a few years ago now) and has been establishing her photography business ever since. Although she specializes predominantly in wedding coverage, we were lucky enough to have her come to our place, on her one-day-off I might add, and capture a few images for us.

We did a series of intimate indoor shots at home before heading up to our building's rooftop terrace to do a few more urban shots. I was incredibly windy up there but you'd never know it. Overall I was really pleased with the results. Here are a few of my favs from the outdoor series.

I've been feeling pretty good lately, apart from the expected aches and discomforts that accompany the last couple weeks of pregnancy. Dare I jinx it and say that the nausea is finally letting up too? Danny is on call this week so we're crossing our fingers that the little one stays put for a few more days but no matter what happens we're ready and excited!


Mmm... I Love Brunch

A few days ago we took the car into the dealership to get the winter tires put on. While we were waiting, we decided to peruse the surrounding neighbourhood and grab some brunch. There were so many different options and most places were full but we managed to get into a place called 'Lil Baci'.

The room was cozy and the food was so good. I ordered french toast on egg bread with fresh fruit compote and Danny had a hearty Italian meatball sandwich with an arugula salad. I nearly licked my plate clean.

Brunch is most definitely my favourite meal of the week!


December is Finally Here!


The Holiday Countdown can officially begin! And this year there is more than one countdown going on. So much squirming I can barely wait.

24 more days (hopefully less) peeps!


Soon to be Three!

Yup, we've got some exciting news to share.

Many people spent the majority of their day yesterday in the kitchen cooking, baking and preparing for American Thanksgiving. Although we Canadians celebrated our Thanksgiving in October, I have been doing some cooking of my own... for the last eight-months to be exact. We're expecting!

I totally thought I'd be the kind of person to take a weekly bump photo and do a write up documenting the progress of my pregnancy to post on the old blog but I've learned that I'm not necessarily in control of everything anymore (the first of many new mommy lessons, I'm sure). Truth of the matter? I've been so so sick. Like morning, noon and night sickness for nearly the entire duration of this pregnancy kind of sick. Needless to say, getting in front of a camera and doing a weekly write up just wasn't a priority for me... and that's okay too. I'm so grateful to have a healthy little person growing inside of me even if it means that I'm not always feeling my best.

But with exactly one month to go before our due date and significantly fewer days spent clinging to the edge of the couch, I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It is going to be an extra special holiday season this year and we're so incredibly excited!


Is Stationary Dead?

Rare are the days that I actually have to send something by 'snail mail' anymore. Now with email, phone calls, faxes, texts, Facebook messages, blogs, conference calls, e-forums, instant messages, iMessages, bbm messages, Skype, the options for communication are endless.

So when I was required to send a cheque 'the old fashioned way', I realized that I didn't have a single piece of correspondence paper to include with the mailing. I scoured the desk drawers but could only come up with random sheets of 80lb bond paper (ie. printer paper) and some looseleaf I would have to tear out of a notebook. Not acceptable.

During our regular weekend chore run, I dragged Danny through a few different stores in the mall, sure to find a little notepad or stationary set. No problem right? Wrong. Our search produced nothing (well, I did find a notepad with a stylized fork on it but that wasn't exactly what I had in mind).

So I've changed my search approach and decided to turn to the internet instead. I want something simple, classic and versatile. Maybe a flat notecard or simple folding card. I love the look of letterpress but don't know if I could settle on a singular design. Plus, my name will be changing in a few months so I don't want to necessarily commit to a large set of personalized or monogrammed pieces...yet. But I did find some interesting pieces to consider if not right now then at least for future reference.





Bringing Out the Baby Book

This past week we made a trip back out west for a few days. It was a great opportunity to meet up with family and friends that we hadn't seen in a few months. My parents were even gracious enough to make the 6-hour drive from my hometown to meet up with us and they brought my baby book along with them.

It was fun to go through old photos and 'remember' (or at least be told) what life was like when I was just a little tot. Here are a few of my favs...

I was pretty fortunate to have a professional photographer for a father and a mother who made sure those photos were safely preserved for future reference. Thanks parents!

Do you have a baby book? When is the last time you went through it?


Three Year Anniversary

Last week was our three year anniversary. Normally we try to mark the occasion by dressing up in our pretties and celebrating with a night on the town but this year was a little different.

This year there were long work hours, runny noses and a very early flight the next morning to contend with. So instead, we ran across the street in the rain to grab a pizza, lit a bunch of little candles I had picked up from the dollar store that afternoon, and ate a mini cake I baked ... from a box. Real classy, I know. Definitely not the romantic dinner for two I would normally expect but you know what? ... I enjoyed it just the same.

Because at the end of the day it's not about the dress or the food or the gifts exchanged, but the person I get to spend all the 'non-special' days with.

Happy Anniversary Babe!


That Time of Year Already?

Well, not exactly. I usually roll my eyes at the overload of sleigh bells and twinkling lights that appear even before the jack-o-lanterns have been extinguished. But it dawned on me that I should get a bit of my Christmas shopping done early this year. Danny and I are making a quick trip out West next week and unless I want the hassle and expense of shipping the majority of our gifts across the country this December, I should be a bit proactive and bring them along with us instead.

So, with less than a week before we depart, the (self-inflicted) crunch is officially on!

Fortunately the new Restoration Hardware Gifts catalogue arrived in the mail this week and has been giving me some ideas.

Cashmere Hand warmers. Who doesn't like toasty fingers in the winter months?

Jokes on You Prank Kit - magic ink, hand buzzer, snake in a can, dribble glass. 
I have a couple nephews who would put this to good use for sure.

Faux Fur Throw. I can see myself wrapping up in this at the cabin, hot cocoa in hand.
Iron Wine Caddy. Drinks all around.

I have a feeling we're going to be making an extra stop when out for our usual chore run this weekend. So when do you usually start your holiday shopping?

* All images sourced from RestorationHardware.com
** Not intended to be an endorsement.


The Art of the Roast

A few days ago, Danny and I attended a roasting class at a little boutique store called, The Healthy Butcher. They focus on locally grown/raised organic products and strive to serve their patrons like a good ole fashioned butcher shop would. We had signed up months ago (and nearly forgot about it) but if was a great way to spend a few hours on an otherwise rainy weekday evening.

Our instructor started cooking professionally at around age 15 and had accumulated over 25 years of experience in the food industry (although he sure didn't look like he was over 40).  We focussed on two main methods of cooking large cuts of meat - dry roasting and pot roasting (braising). With a variety of recipes on the agenda, we learned about which cuts of meat were most appropriate for each method and the techniques in which to prepare them.

Throughout the evening we prepared four distinct dishes:
(1) Herb Crusted Sirloin Tip Roast with Olive Oil Crushed Potatoes and Bordelaise Sauce
(2) Stuffed Pork Shoulder Roast with Dijon Braised Cabbage
(3) Crispy Herb-Roasted Chicken with Braising Greens
(4) Red Wine Braised Blade Roast with Celery Root Puree.

There was plenty to sample as the night went on and I was glad to add a few more meals to the repertoire. Hopefully I'll have a couple of them mastered by the time the holidays roll around.


A Pop of Colour for our Kitchen

Somebody has been not-so-subtly requesting that I post an entry on my blog about the recent addition to our kitchen table.



Niagara-on-the-Lake & Jackson-Triggs Estate

This past weekend some great friends of ours were in the city to run in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. They're currently residing in Phoenix, AZ so I'm sure the temperature difference was quite the shock to their system up here in chilly Ontario but they finished well nonetheless. I was more than happy to cheer from the sidelines.

But watching from the sidelines wasn't exactly conducive to a good catch-up so we decided to take a day and head down to Niagara-on-the-Lake and tour a Winery. I had never been to either before so was excited to try something new.

Niagara-on-the-Lake is a picturesque little town about thirty minutes drive from the well-known Niagara Falls and sits on the edge of Lake Ontario (hence the name). The relatively mild climate and rich soil makes the region an excellent place for fruit production and wineries. The town is also known for its luscious gardens, antique shops, art galleries, cafes and golf courses.

Window shopping with our friends.

First we started with a tour of the historic town centre. The fall colours were especially magnificent which only added to the beauty of the streets. After purchasing a variety of jams, spreads and spices (all locally grown and produced) we stopped for a delicious lunch. Lobster poutine, potato and leek soup, turkey/cranberry sandwiches and more...wish I would have taken photos.

Next we drove to the Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate to tour one of the many wineries in the region. I can't even begin to describe the wonderful aromas as we walked in the building.

We signed up for a tour where a guide took us through various aspects of the vineyards and wine production facility and cellar. It was pretty windy outside but were nicely shielded by the vines. True to form, I lingered around the back of the crowd and snapped a few photos.

I should note that we weren't permitted to walk through the actual production vineyards but rather a designated visitor's section. I guess there are too many curious pallets that tamper with the grapes making them unsuitable for wine production.

As someone who spends most of their time indoors amongst the steel and concrete of skyscrapers, I was more than happy to put up with a bit of wind if it meant the opportunity to view the expansive green vineyards and enjoy the sunny blue sky.

After touring the chemistry lab and cellar, guests were treated to a tasting session. I believe our guide served a Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, and an Ice wine. All three were well-recieved.

Our final stop was the shores of Lake Ontario. If you looked really hard you could make out the Toronto Skyline across the water (although not in this particular photo). It was a great ending to a fun day with friends. Perhaps our next visit will be poolside in sunny Phoenix?


Nothing Loved is Ever Lost

May your spirit soar in freedom
From the fears that gripped so tight
May you find the peace you searched for
As you wandered in the night

May your tortured mind be clear and calm
Your tender heart be warm
May you have no need for strength now
Never be another storm

May the music of the angels
Be the sweet sounds that you hear
As you rock in Heaven's cradle
Never shed another tear

I wear your memory proudly
My brother, my true friend
May my love for your reach the Heavens
Until we meet again.


Wishing a very Happy Birthday to my Big Brother who would have been 33 years old today. We love you and think of you every day.


A Scarf for All Occasions

There are certain aspects I really enjoy about autumn (soups! harvests! leaves!) but one of those things I especially love is scarf season. I'm not too crazy adventurous with my wardrobe -- I mostly stick to staple pieces and neutrals -- but I really do crave a pop of colour, an interesting texture, or just a few extra layers around my neck to stay warm with. You can use scarves to dress up or dress down an outfit, they can be worn in many different ways, and if you spill on yourself while drinking the new seasonal latte you can use your scarf to cover up the stain...not like I've ever done that though.

Here are a few scarves I'm loving as of late...