Tread Carefully!

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We moved into a split level house specifically to cater to the needs of tiny children and aging dogs. Grenadier, believe it or not, is now six years old! He’s still spry and sprightly but next year will mark the beginning of his senior life and he’s slowing down in little increments. I see him hesitating at the bottom of our 5-step jump between “upstairs” and “downstairs” and it makes me sad. Slippery hardwood is hard on old joints. Not to mention that in a few months I’m likely to be watching LongJohn make his first forays up and down that mountain of stairs.

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So I thought I’d make the stairs a little safer for all of us. You may remember that I put some adhesive grips on our deathtrap stairs in Elizabeth, but I didn’t do a very good job there. It’s amazing how home ownership will prompt you to make sure you do something right the first time.

At first, I thought I was going to be stuck buying black or gray adhesive grip tape and that I was going to have to get creative with how I laid it down so that it wouldn’t look like I’d just slapped safety tape on my stairs. I was going to have to MEASURE for crying out loud. Pah. Then I discovered that 3M makes CLEAR safety tape, so I picked up a roll of that. I also needed a rubber roller to properly apply this stuff, and 3M sells that too. Handily, my mother, who has done some printmaking in the past, had a stock of them so I nicked one from their basement for free.

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First things first: measure (or eyeball) and cut strips. Now that I didn’t have to worry about laying things down in fancy patterns, I cut one piece to fit the stairs (according to the package instructions), and then measured each subsequent piece to the first one.

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Then I had to sit there with LongJohn in the Jolly Jumper while I painstakingly rounded all the edges.

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Because one of the travelers in our house has four legs with small feet, I put a few extra strips in place to ensure that Gren could find grip no matter where he stepped.

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Next, I had to clean and de-grease the steps to ensure that the tape stuck. I used a Magic Eraser to gently abrade the finish of the stairs and make it more welcoming to the adhesive. The instructions recommend stripping the varnish off completely but there is no way I’m doing that!

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Then you just stick the stuff down! Peel off the edge, line it up, and away you go.

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Once it’s down, take the roller and go from the middle outwards, pressing quite hard (my hands were sore the next day).

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Done! You can see bubbles in mine because the floor isn’t perfectly smooth.

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It’s funny, you know – the tape shows up here quite clearly on my camera, but when you’re looking at it with the naked eye it’s barely visible at all. You can only see the bubbles on the top step when you come upstairs and the sun is shining brightly through the bathroom window. So it’s pretty much invisible. And everyone feels a lot safer!

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Chocolate-Covered Pretzel Peanut Toffee

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Happy New Year! I hope you all had a great holiday. Ours was pretty quiet, which was good because all three of us got sick, one after the other – always a great way to spend one’s vacation. We have this week left to try to get as many things crossed off our to-do list as possible. We’re not holding our breath that they’ll all get done, but we’ll do our best.

In the meantime, here’s a quick little toffee recipe to help you combat those mid-winter blahs. I doubled the recipe, which I would not recommend, because the toffee sets so quickly it’s hard to get both batches flattened out on the pans fast enough.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and put it aside for a bit.

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In a heavy saucepan, combine 1/2 cup butter, 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon corn syrup, and 2 tablespoons water.

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Attach a candy thermometer to the side and heat that over medium until it reads 300°F. Try to avoid stirring as much as possible, and if you do, don’t use a metal spoon – wood or silicone will prevent premature crystallization.

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Next to the pot, place a little container of 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and another of 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. You’ll need to have those handy at short notice later on.

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While you’re keeping an eye on the sugar, crush up about 1 1/2 cups pretzel twists.I also had some salted peanuts on hand so I crushed and dumped those in as well – probably about 3/4 cup salted peanuts.

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And gather up 1 cup chocolate chips. I mixed mine with some dark chocolate for flavour.

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When your sugar has caramelized and gotten to the hard crack stage (that’s 300°F), remove it from the heat and quickly stir in the baking soda and vanilla. Try to resist screaming as it fizzes up and gets all terrifying. I promise that will pass.

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EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

Toss in the pretzels and peanuts and stir the toffee quickly.

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Then tip it out onto your parchment sheet and flatten it down as much as you can before it starts to set.

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Sprinkle the chocolate evenly over the top of the toffee and let it stand for a few minutes while the chocolate melts.

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Then smooth out the melted chocolate with a spatula.

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Sprinkle the top of the chocolate with fleur de sel and let harden in the refrigerator for about an hour.

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Once it’s hardened, break it up into chunks and eat it all by yourself! share it with your friends and family.

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Apple-Citrus Cranberry Sauce

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Oh hey, do you have a recipe for cranberry sauce for this weekend yet? I’ve been resting on the laurels of my chipotle cranberry mix but this year I wanted something a bit different and now this is my new favourite. This one is easier, too, which makes life better around the holidays.

Start with 2 12oz packages fresh cranberries, 2 large apples, and 2 large oranges. If you’d like a bit of extra zip, replace the oranges with grapefruit and go from there.

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Wash the cranberries and set them aside to drain.

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Peel the apples and cut them into small pieces (whatever size you would like to find dropped across your turkey).

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Zest and juice the oranges into a medium saucepan.

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Tip in 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar and give it a good stir.

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Tip in the apples and cranberries and heat over medium, stirring often.

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The liquid will simmer up and the cranberries will make very satisfying soft pops as they break open.

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Once you’re happy with your ratio of broken cranberries, remove the sauce from the heat and allow it to chill.

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This makes about 2 quarts, so plenty of sauce for dealing with leftovers!

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Fakin’ It

I’ve been to some of those houses where the whole place gets decorated for the season. You know, the ones where the hand towels get replaced with ones that have snowflakes on them, the soaps and candles waft peppermint everywhere and you can’t avoid the reindeer cushions. If I’m describing your house, then what are you doing reading my crap blog? Go be awesome somewhere else.

I DO decorate for the holidays, but I don’t have the storage space or the money (or the inclination, really) to have separate household accents for each season.

But the other day I was staring at two paper snowflakes I had cut out for a project that didn’t end up happening. I had tossed them on the tray on our coffee table and they’d gotten tangled in the leaves of my jade plant terrarium. I was staring at them while I absent-mindedly picked part of a label off my water glass. The label piece had gotten stuck to the glass when I put an empty jar in the dishwasher.

EUREKA? Paper. Water. Glass. Adhesion.

So I wet the snowflakes and applied them directly to the glass itself, making myself a little snowy vase. It’s not a permanent thing. Once it’s dry you can nudge it off. But it sticks if you don’t disturb it. Tissue paper works even better.

I can see myself wetting tissue paper with LongJohn in future years and creating a winter snowscape on our front window …

Easy Chocolate Fudge Cake

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I made this (from Recipe Tin Eats) for Nana Nice’s birthday a couple weeks ago. Unfortunately I had the plague and couldn’t partake but I can assure you that it’s equally good the next day …

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Start by preheating your oven to 350°F and butter a 9″ springform pan. Line the bottom with parchment and butter that too. You can never have enough butter.

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In a smallish pot on the stove, combine 8.5 ounces dark chocolate with 1 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 2 sticks unsalted butter, and 1/2 cup milk. Stir on medium low until the butter and chocolate have melted. Don’t let it come to a simmer.

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Tip in into a bowl and whisk in 1/4 cup vegetable oil and 3/4 cup milk.

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Then mix in 2 eggs – WAIT, I ONLY HAVE ONE EGG!

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Not to worry. You can substitute an egg with 2 tablespoons flour, 1/2 teaspoon oil, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, and 2 tablespoons milk, cream, butter, or yogurt.

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Whisk in those “eggs.”

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In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together 1/2 cup cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 3/4 cups plain flour, and 2 tablespoons instant coffee.

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Sift the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and whisk until smooth.

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Pour the mixture into the cake pan and bake for 70 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out mostly clean (a little residue means your cake will be extra fudgey!).

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Remove the sides of the pan and let it cool completely on a rack.

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You can frost this with whatever you want but a nice ganache is never a bad thing. Heat 1 cup whipping cream on the stove until it’s about to start simmering, then pour it over 8 ounces dark chocolate of your choosing.

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Stir until smooth and all the chocolate has melted, and then leave it to cool until it spreads like peanut butter.

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Frost your cake, and have fun with whatever swirls and squiggles you’d like!

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I went a step further and added some dragees

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… and some sprinkles

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It was a birthday cake after all!

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Ten Dollar, Ten Minute Wreath

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As you may know, I like making wreaths. Most of ’em tend to be of the ephemeral type, not lasting more than a season so that I have justification in making new ones later on. Somehow though I have ended up with a few in storage … not that this will stop me from making yet another one. It’s officially December, so I think it’s time.

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The one for this year is inspired by the super 1980s brass trim on my front door, and by what I snagged from Value Village on Senior’s Day a while back. I found a totally plain grape wreath for $1.99, a bag of gold bead garland for $1.99, and a box of glass balls in gold and copper for $3.99.

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The only other thing I used for this was some fishing line I had on hand so I made the whole thing for less than ten bucks (including tax), and it only took me about ten minutes!

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First I had to untangle the giant bag of beaded garland. That may have taken longer than ten minutes …

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But then I wrapped a section around the wreath. Easy peasy. It didn’t go all the way but that was fine because I had a plan.

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Then I tied the balls on with fishing line.

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LongJohn helped. I can now do things by myself provided that I’m sitting three feet from him in his Jolly Jumper.

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That’s it!

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FLAT Ginger Molasses Cookies

This post has been sitting in my brain since Thanksgiving (the Canadian one, that is), so I figured for the American one I could accent your Black Friday with a chewy cookie.

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These cookies inspired by Gimme Some Oven came out way flatter than I normally like and tasted a little greasy. I still prefer my Starbucks knockoff cookies, but I’m always on the lookout for another recipe, and someday when I no longer have a tiny boy with a short attention span on my hands, I may come up with my own.

Start, as you do with most cookies, with your powdery bits. Whisk together 4 cups flour, 4 teaspoons baking soda, and 4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (put it together from here).

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Set that aside and cream together 1 1/2 cups salted softened butter, and 2 cups granulated sugar.

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Then pour yourself a lovely gob of 1/2 cup molasses.

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Tip that into the butter mix, together with 2 eggs, and beat that up until combined.

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Slowly add the flour mix and beat until well combined. Chill that dough for 30 minutes.

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Preheat your oven to 375°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll your dough into golf ball-sized balls and roll them in granulated sugar (with a dash of cinnamon mixed in). Plop them on the baking sheet and leave a lot of space as they flatten quite a bit.

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Bake those puppies for 8-10 minutes, until they start to crack, then let them cool on the sheet before removing them to a rack (or just eating them).

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See? They expand quite a bit. And eat all the other cookies.

Again, not my favourite adaptation but good nonetheless.

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