Sunday, September 15, 2019

a classic pumpkin loaf

A staple in the kitchen, once the words pumpkin and spice start popping up everywhere it seems, is a classic pumpkin loaf.

I have tried a few different recipes, but my go-to recipe is from Martha Stewart Living. It's not just that it turns out perfectly every time, or that it makes two perfect loaves (which seem to last just as long as one loaf), but that it's a pretty straightforward recipe that I know by heart, so it's just comfortably familiar.

Pumpkin Bread
from Martha Stewart Living

Preheat oven to 350. Butter two loaf pans.

Melt 1 1/2 sticks of unsalter butter (12 tbsp) and set aside
Set aside 1/2 c. of buttermilk and four eggs.

In a bowl, sift the following:
3 1/4 c. flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. allspice
3/4 tsp. kosher salt

In the bowl of stand mixer, mix the following to combine:
1 15 oz can of pure pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling. (*note - In Canada, our common tin of E. D. Smith's pure pumpkin is actually 796 mL, which means you only need a half can for this recipe.)
1 c. of dark brown sugar, packed
1 c. of white sugar

Add butter and the 4 eggs. Scrape down bowl and mix thoroughly.
Alternate dry ingredients with the 1/2 c. of buttermilk, finishing with the remainder of dry ingredients.

Mix just until combined. Scrape down bowl. Divide evenly between two pans. Smooth out tops and bake in middle of top rack for roughly an hour. The recipe calls for 70-80 minutes, but I start checking at 60 minutes. Insert a toothpick to check if loaves are done. Cool 10 minutes and then remove from pan to finish cooling.

The loaves get the perfect, muffin-like top, and are nice and moist. Another reason I love the recipe is because it's so versatile. A slice is perfect with a generous amount of butter, stored in your pocket for a nice walk or as a quick breakfast on the go, or to make it a little more special, some swirled cream cheese frosting and a sprinkle of toasted walnuts does the trick. Either way, it won't last long.

It's also the perfect after school snack with a cup of tea.

And if the smell of pumpkin bread baking isn't enough to send you searching for your pile of knitted sweaters and Hunter boots, seeing the garden take on it's fall hues will do the trick.

Monday, September 9, 2019

a fall project - front door planter

I wanted share one of a few quick little projects I have for some really simple, inexpensive fall decor.

The first is this planter basket that I have for our front door. I wanted something that felt like autumn, but wasn't overly pumpkin-ey just yet - transnational decor, if you will. 

Originally, I had seen Nora Murphy hang a similar kind of woven basket from her door, filled with gourds. I loved the look, so I started looking at thrift shops, trying to find a similar basket. I knew I could order one, but if I could find one to reuse first, I knew it would be so much cheaper. Sure enough, within a couple days I had found two. I think I paid $2 for this one.

I picked up a couple ornamental kale and cabbages.

I love the details on our front door, as well as the colour.

I removed the plants from the pots and loosened up the roots a bit.

Then I just planted them in the basket.

Now, these are outside, so when I water them, the water will just drain out of the basket. The root ball was quite elaborate and tight, so I'm not too worried about loosing soil. You could easily line it with some plastic and then plant them, but I would then add some packing peanuts or something for some drainage, so the roots aren't sitting in water.

This was a two minute project that cost me less than $10, and it looks great for September!

Sunday, September 8, 2019

an afternoon at the christie antique show

I don't know what it is about fall, but as soon as the weather starts to turn cooler, I get the itch to browse antique markets and sales.

I think in the spring, as summer is approaching, I find myself paring down my home, lighting things up. But as fall arrives, I find myself adding some layers and warmth to my home. I mean, this is what we do with our wardrobes, so it's only natural that our home goes through a similar sort of seasonal change.

Anyway, I love walking around a good show, and the Christie Antique and Vintage show is the best outdoor show in Canada. It spans over nearly ten acres, all spread out around the conservation area. Some of my favourite vendors, specializing in European antiques, always have beautiful booths and great collections.

This year, if I wanted to attend, I had to bring all four boys with me. I really had to think about it before committing, but in the end, I just didn't want to miss it. It's only one day, and it only happens once in the spring and once in the fall. I was able to bribe the boys with snacks and hurry through in less than two hours. And while I didn't maybe see as much as I could have without them, or take my time looking through things, I did see most of it!

This was a gorgeous blue cabinet, with all the right wear, as well as a few really pretty ironstone pitchers. He also had some beautiful bread boards and some old portraits.

(As we came up to them, Willen said to me "Oh look, more paintings of people we don't even know. You can put them with the other ones we have.")

This booth, Booth Eight, had a few antique pine pieces for great prices. Sadly they were sold.

I loved this little bowl. I liked the size of it.

I also really wanted these ginger jars.

And this blue platter was a great price, so it came home with me. The only thing I ended up bringing home.

If you're interested in attending, the next show is Saturday, May 23, 2020, from 8 am to 5 pm, rain or shine. Mark your calendars!

Thursday, September 5, 2019

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple frosting

September has arrived, and with it, all the classic autumn recipes. And with the arrival of cooler weather, I don't mind having the oven on.

The first truly fall recipe I wanted to make again were these Pumpkin Spiced Cupcakes with Maple Frosting from Barefoot Contessa. This time I made mini cupcakes for with tea after our first day of school, and they turned out perfectly. I just adjusted the baking time.

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Maple Frosting - Barefoot Contessa

The frosting recipe is amazing, and it made so much extra that I put half of it in the fridge to use another time. Also, I love how perfect cupcakes look with uniformly piped frosting, but sometimes, getting those swirls just right is so satisfying.

Now her recipe calls for a Health bar on top, and in Canada, we don't really have them. We have Skor bars, which I think are similar. I happened to have a container (or three) of English Toffee from when I went to Trader Joe's last week, and that worked perfectly!

This recipe is truly worthy of a signature "How easy was that?".

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

welcome september - back to school, back to routine

I love the freedom that comes with summer - the unplanned days and the spur of the moment trips, but after two months of little structure, something in me starts to feel unsettled. I start to find myself longing for more routine. To return again to the familiar comfort of a well-planned week and a steady, slow rhythm to my day.

This year our summer, while lovely, has been particularly unplanned, and to be honest, I noticed I was starting to feel a bit overwhelmed. I think Ryan picked up on it, and decided to take the boys out over the weekend for back to school haircuts and a matinee. That time was so important to me.

I put on the kettle, found a calm Autumn playlist, lit some candles and spread out all of my lists. I filled out my month's calendar, then the upcoming week in detail, with to-do lists. 
Then I made a grocery list and filled out my prayer journal for September.

I'm quite particular about the products that I use to keep myself organized. I like them to be simple and of good quality. It's important that the aesthetic appeals to me, as well, because I have them out on my desk, and in the case of the weekly tablet, displayed on my fridge for my family. (The one and only thing on my fridge, though on the side of it, where it's mainly out of sight!) I know a few of you will message looking for sources, so I'll link them at the end.

Maybe it's from having four babies, or maybe it's just that our life seems to get a lot busier as the boys get older, but I need all the help I can get to stay on top of it all - physically, in front of me, not on an app. I need to see it laid out before more. I enjoy seeing it laid out in front of me.

A mini Pumpkin Spice cupcake went perfectly with my cup of tea, too.
Cupcakes are also therapeutic.
(Don't worry, I'll post the recipe soon!)

- sources -
Notes Notebook in Navy - Target
Monthly Day Planner - Rifle Paper Co.
Grocery and Weekly Tablets - Everyday Occasions
Yearly Prayer Journal - Val Marie Paper (I pre-ordered it in French Blue for 2020!)

And also, because someone will ask, the napkins are the Washed Cotton Napkins in Chambray from Pottery Barn, and right now they're on sale for $11.99 for a set of 4 (reg $20).

Friday, August 30, 2019

an extra special canal days party

  Every first weekend of August, our town, located at the entrance to the Welland Canal (which connects Lake Erie to Lake Ontario), hosts Canal Days. Tall ships sail in, vendors line the promenade, the smell of funnel cake seems to fill the air and live bands in the park can be heard late into the evening. Then, on Sunday, they host a parade of boats all strung with twinkle lights in every colour, and end the evening with the most spectacular fireworks display we have ever seen. We joke that the first year we moved here, we thought someone surely had accidentally added a zero to the end of that year's budget. It's that good! Being at the corner, just one block from the promenade, our front yard has the perfect view. So we make the most of it and host a BBQ every year.

This year was extra special because Ryan happens to be turning forty. I decided to invite our friends, many of whom he's known since he was a teenager, and surprise him. Because there were so many people invited and I really wanted to just enjoy the evening, I skipped the BBQ and stuck to things people could just nibble on. I did one very large charcuterie and cheese board, as well as a dessert table. To make it fun, I set up a s'mores station, and later, had pails of snacks and little bags for during the fireworks show.

In lieu of gifts, people brought a favourite craft beer and threw it in the tubs to try throughout the evening. Ryan (and many of his friends) are quite into local craft breweries, so he loved this.

And because it was an extra special occasion, we hired a live band. This was my favourite part of the evening. It added so much to the ambiance and really, made the whole evening feel so special. You can pop over to my highlights on Instagram and see them, and the rest of the details. It was a lot of work, right up to the last moment, so honestly, I didn't get tons of photos, but that's okay. At least I managed to snap a few!


In order to make this more manageable for myself, I took the desserts I was going to make, and divided them up over the entire week. I would make one or two each day, prep them, and then freeze them. As the party wasn't until 8 in the evening, I had some time before to assemble everything. 

Things like chocolate pavement and meringues can be stored in airtight containers for days, and cake layers and macarons actually do really well frozen ahead of time. They develop more flavour. Buttercreams and fillings can also be made ahead of time and stored right in piping bags.

I also started setting aside all of the things that needed to be set up days ahead of time. We have a second kitchen in our home, which belongs to our attached apartment (which is open to our home now). It helps to have the extra fridge space, but it also is empty storage space and out of sight. So I just set everything in there, so come the day of, it just needed to be moved outside. I set up cups and drink stations, gathered candles and lanterns, had the snack and s'more stations ready to be filled - it made setting up so much less stressful.

I tried to keep the decor simple. We borrowed a large white market tent from my parents. It was really simple, but once we strung garden lights under it, and set up the buffet tables, it felt special. I used lots of candles and flowers cut from our gardens. We strung twinkle lights all over the yard, days ahead of time, and flower pots with votives inside, on stakes, placed throughout the gardens.

I found these large PeeGee Hydrangeas at our local garden center (BOGO 50% off). They're much larger than floral centerpieces and looked really pretty planted in old crocks with bamboo stakes.

I also cut Oakleaf Hydrangeas from the garden. They made the most full, lush centerpiece.

Then I arranged the desserts of a variety of white platters and antique glass cake plates on an old table I had. Here was the dessert menu. I've linked the ones that I have recipes for as many of you messaged asking for those.

(from left to right, below)
Carrot Cake Truffles with White Chocolate and Candied Ginger

(not shown)
Cream Puffs
Chocolate Pavement with Nuts

Now, just to add a little reality, because I'm not a professional chef, or a caterer, let me make a few comments on these desserts.

First, always include a few things you know will work. I used my foolproof chocolate cake recipe from Nine + Sixteen, and Jenny Steffens Hobick's Easy Creamy Lemon pie recipe. I've made both so many times over, I knew I could count on them.

Second, simple things, with a little effort, can look really beautiful, and therefore more special than they are. Meringues are super easy to make, but they look really pretty. And the basic chocolate cake looks really fancy when it's thin slices cut out with pretty piping.

Thirdly, thanks to the wonderful Ina, remember, not everything has to be homemade! It's okay! It's taken me a number of years to be okay with that. For example, the cream puffs were from Costco. Sure I could have made them, but when put in a pretty footed bowl next to the rest of the desserts, no one noticed. And sometimes, maybe it's not entirely store-bought, but it's re-purposed. Like the Carrot Cake truffles. I bought a good quality carrot cake that was iced, smashed it all up together, rolled it in balls, dipped them in melted white chocolate and then added some pretty details on top.

Fourthly, not everything turns out. I had Coconut Cream Tarts that were in little Macaroon tart shells on the menu, and do you know what, first the shells wouldn't come out in the slightest. Then, the coconut filling didn't set and was a runny mess. In the trash the went, and I moved on. Also, the macarons, while my best attempt yet, weren't perfect. But they looked pretty and tasted good! Also, the day of, I completely forgot to put out two of the desserts - the raspberry friands that sat waiting for their final dusting of powdered sugar, and the petit fours that I had stored in our other freezer and forgot about. Oh well. The kids enjoyed them with tea days after and no one missed them.

As for the savory side of things, I did what I was comfortable with. A large charcuterie board for people to pick at. Most of the items can be purchased in advance - the cheese, the sliced meats, the crackers and olives and nuts... All bought and ready to assemble just before guests arrive. And you know what, this is the easiest thing to do. It looks intimidating, maybe, but it's not. It's all in the placement. Have a good mix of meats and cheeses, line the board with Hydrangea or fig leaves (also, compliments of Ina), add some pretty fruits and crackers tucked between to fill holes, and call it done.

These have become so popular that companies have made it even easier to do. You can find packages of meats that have a few different varieties, and you can buy an entertaining pack of assorted crackers. The variety of things also makes it look visually appealing. For a board this size, I tend to stick to the following - a wheel of a double cream Brie, a huge wedge of Parmesan, a simple aged Cheddar, and a couple other simple choices like a Gouda or Stilton or something. And they don't have to be fine cheeses, just good ones. Most people are happy with these choices. They're all available at Costco, so you get so much more for your money. Had I have spent the same amount at a proper cheese shop, the board wouldn't have fed nearly as many people, nor looked anywhere close to this full. Add some sliced baguette, some different olives and some nuts and call it done! The only cheese I kept separate was the goat's cheese. I dressed up a simple log by drizzling honey over it and sprinkling it with crushed pistachios.

For drinks, I kept it simple. Water and Basil Lemonade, and then a couple bottles of wine for those who weren't trying the beers.

I love these antique tubs for holding drinks. They work so well, but they also look so much prettier than a giant cooler.

So, I've never tried attaching a video before, but as I was kind of lacking photos from the actual evening, I thought I would attempt to attach some videos I took throughout the night. Fingers-crossed they work! This one is the s'mores station.

This is the band, Laurel & Hulley.

And the third and grandest finale of the fireworks show.

Because I tried to keep the decor quite simple, it meant that cleanup was a lot easier.

And I enjoyed the gorgeous bouquets around the hours for the next while!

The next afternoon, as is tradition for us, we walked with the boys to see the tall ships and pick a treat to share. The boys wanted to try a giant funnel cake with Nutella and a footlong corn dog! So, so good.

It's always a highlight of our summer and we love living so close to it. It's an evening we all look forward to as a family, and hosting a party always makes it extra special. It's also especially nice to enjoy all the craziness without having to leave the comfort of our yard!