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Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Sea Salt Caramel Chip Cookies

 Hello Friends! I hope you are all safe and well.  It took a second lockdown but I have finally capitulated and joined the baking frenzy that has gripped the world.  I had been craving the delicious balance between the salty and the sweet that is sea salt caramel.  What could be more marvelously comforting than sea salt caramel chip cookies?  There is a plethora of basic cookie recipes out there.  Most helpfully, there was even a recipe provided on the back of the sea salt caramel chip packet that I used.  However, I drew inspiration from a marthastewart.com cookie recipe with a couple of tweaks of my own.  Of course, you can use any flavour of chip that you prefer.

Sea Salt Caramel Chip Cookies


2 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 large eggs

2 cups sea salt caramel chips (or any other type of chip)

Optional: 2 tablespoons of maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Beat together the butter, white and light brown sugars and the flour then add the rest of the ingredients. I used an ice cream scoop to measure out portions at least 2 inches apart on parchment paper or on a silicone baking mat placed on a baking tin. You can also use 2 heaping tablespoons. For added depth of flavour, I also added 2 tablespooons of maple syrup.  The smokiness of the maple syrup deepens the flavour profile of the molasses present in the brown sugar.  Bake for about 10 minutes or until the edges darken slightly in colour and the center is soft and chewy.  Let cool on a baker's rack and then store in an airtight container.

I have also tried butterscotch chips in this recipe.  Afterwards, I sprinkled a pinch of pink sea salt of top to achieve that sea salt caramel flavour.  

I experimented with different sizes.  I found that by pressing down slightly on each portion, the cookie dough would spread out in the oven and attain an amusingly large circumference.

What could be better with these scrumptious cookies than a cup of tea or coffee?

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Thursday, 5 November 2020

October 2020 Monthly Favourites Mask Accessories Jouer Cosmetics Apple TV Long Way Up

 Hello Friends!  Can you believe we are marching towards Christmas in the most unusual year ever?  When Toronto went into its first lockdown way back in March, I just couldn't envision what the year's end would look like.  With the time change, the shorter, cooler days and a second lockdown, I feel like we have travelled back in time to March again.  

Now that we are months into the pandemic, one "fashion" trend that has emerged are masks and mask accessories.   Pictured above is reusable fabric mask printed with a star pattern.  I always have spare masks on hand whenever I go out and I store them in a pouch to keep them clean and hygienic.  I love the navy pouch above as it coordinates with the mask.  It is actually a pencil/pen pouch that I picked up from Chapters.

With masks mandatory in enclosed public spaces, there really isn't much need for makeup such as foundation, blush or contouring.  All the emphasis is on the eyes now.  I do still like a bit of concealer around my eyes so I was more than a bit concerned when I ran out of concealer and discovered that H & M had discontinued their makeup range.  Trying to find a new makeup product has been challenging to say the least these days when all the testers have been packed away and we can only "browse" with our eyes.  A lot of stores haven't adjusted their return policies to reflect the current situation so it is frustrating to take a chance on a product and then come home and realize it isn't suitable at all.  With fingers crossed, I settled on Jouer's concealer.  This is my first time trying out this line.  What initially drew me to this range is that they are cruelty free.  Jouer's Essential Concealer is high coverage and is supposed to have a soft matte finish.

I chose Wheat which turned out to be a fairly good match to my skin tone.  I have to admit that the jury is still out on this one.  It is definitely high coverage and a little bit goes a very long way.  However, it dries down in a blink of an eye which means there is basically no blending time whatsoever.  I recommend putting on moisturizer or some type of base first because, even though it is described as having a soft matte finish, I would say that the finish is very matte which may accentuate any wrinkles that you have in the undereye area.  It comes with a doe foot applicator which I like.  I am not sure if it is the jump from using an H & M product, which let's face it, is pretty easy on the wallet, but I experienced a huge sticker shock when I was searching for a replacement.  The average was around $40 for a name brand concealer at Sephora.  Maybe this is all part of the jump in prices for everything these days?  The price of $29.50 for Jouer's concealer sat a lot better with me, especially as there really isn't a lot of need for makeup these days.

Finally, but definitely not least, I have been doing a lot of binge-watching of late.  Currently, I love nothing better than to watch a travel documentary series.  After all, if you can't travel, watching a travel show is the next best thing.

via appleinsider.com

I look forward to Fridays as a new episode of Long Way Up gets uploaded to Apple TV on that day.  Long Way Up is a travel series starring Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman and follows their adventures on electric motorbikes from the southernmost tip of South America all the way up to Los Angeles.  It is the third installment in the Long Way series.  The first two were Long Way Round and Long Way Down which are also on Apple TV.  I highly recommend giving all the Long Way series a watch.  It is such a welcome break from the constant barrage of bad news from the media these days.  Travelling by motor bike, you are shown sights that are just breathtaking and which you would never see from an airplane.
If you have any good shows that you would like to recommend, please share in the comments!

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Tuesday, 27 October 2020

How to Choose the Right Paint Colour

 Hello Friends!  I hope you are safe and healthy wherever you are.  We are in deep in the Second Wave and modified Stage 2 Lockdown here.  Even though I knew the Second Wave was coming, I admit that I lost a bit of my mojo for awhile and decided to take a break from home projects..  Hands up if you are experiencing emotional fatigue.  Thankfully, I had done quite a fair amount of painting already before my mojo dissipated as I had just can't imagine spending all that time and effort right now picking out the perfect paint colour.  Here are my tips and suggestions for picking a paint colour that you will be happy to live with for years to come.

First of all, I always use Benjamin Moore paint.  I just have not found another brand that is its equal in terms of spreadability and coverage.  I have tried more affordable paints in the past but it wasn't worth it in the long run as I ended up spending more time and effort applying the paint and then needing more of it. I wanted to repaint a section of the front hallway that was opposite to a feature wall that was painted with North Sea which is a deep, midnight blue.  I needed a colour that would marry well with the rich tones of North Sea.

Obviously, as everyone does, I looked over an ever growing stack of paint chips. However, you don't want to stop there. I also used the Benjamin Moore website where you can see what the paint colour looks like in various rooms. You need to think about where the paint colour is going to be applied.  Is it a high touch, high contact area?  The hallway was a high touch area and was looking scruffy with lots of fingerprints and stains.  Would a washable finish be more suitable?  Benjamin Moore has announced the colours of the year for 2021.  The Colour Trends of 2021 Palette is a great jumping off point for inspiration.  How a paint colour reads on the wall can change not only with the ambiant light in that area but any colours that it is placed with.  There is no natural light in my hallway.  Any lighting is mainly from LED bulbs which gives off a cool toned light.  Incandescent bulbs tend to give off a warm toned light.  Initially I thought a pale grey would work with North Sea.

You would think this would be a straightforward process but nooooooooo.....! This is where the magic of colour sampler tins comes in.  Benjamin Moore offers colour samplers for around $11.  I went mad picking out paint samplers to try out on the wall beside the feature wall.  There are so many variations of pale grey with greys that have a blue, green, brown or pink undertone.  In the above photo, you can see different patches beside the feature wall. Would you believe that they are all variants of grey?  But no matter what shade of grey it was, when placed adjacent to the feature wall, it would pick up a blue tinge.  All of them were too pale to hold their own against North Sea.

Finally, after a great deal of hand wringing and staring at a section of wall that was beginning to look exactly how I was feeling (ie bonkers), I went back to a colour that I have used before, Hiking Trail.  The only way I can describe it is that is a warm milk chocolate.  It is the same colour that I have used in the kitchen and as a feature wall in the living room.  It has enough depth of colour to stand up to North Sea.  

I have a section of wall in the hallway that has a pair of watercolours hung on it so Hiking Trail makes a good backdrop to those paintings as well.  That is another consideration that you might want to bear in mind as well.  Do you have any artwork on the wall?  I liked the fact that I was using a colour that had been used in other areas of my home because I am a big believer in a sense of continuity in a home.  Paint colour is a great way to establish a sense of flow in a home especially if you have a small home like I do.

I think what really decided me on Hiking Trail was the fact that, when I stood at one end of my home, I was able to envision an enfilade of feature walls.  So that is another tip I have for you which is to stand at different vantage points in your home.  I don't think that I had ever stood at that point in my home, as depicted above, and really thought about what I was seeing.  That wall at the far end used to be a light sand colour, Manchester Tan, the same colour that you see on the left.  It didn't really make the artwork pop.  I love how there is a feature wall in the foreground and then a matching feature wall in the background.  I will say that I wasn't prepared for how much darker it felt in the hallway.  All the paint colours come with an LRV which is the Light Reflective Value. Manchester Tan, for example, has an LRV of 64.41 whereas Hiking Trail has an LRV of 24.78. So the LRV of a colour is another consideration to weigh up.   I love Hiking Trail in the front section of hallway adjacent to the feature wall painted with North Sea but, to be honest, the jury is still out about the section of hallway that you see in the background.  I am used to it now but one day I might switch it back to a colour with a higher LRV.

I hope you have found these suggestions useful.  Please chime in if you have any other tips.  


Friday, 2 October 2020

Doable Day Trips from Toronto and Fall Harvest Apple Picking at Chudleigh's Farm

 It's Fall Harvest Time in Ontario.  I drove out to Chudleigh's Farm yesterday as my favourite apple in the world, the glorious Honeycrisp, was ready for picking.  It's been a good 20 years since I've been to Chudleigh's and after months of sheltering in place, I was READY!

The drive there took approximately an hour and was incredibly straightforward as it simply involved getting on a couple of highways and then exiting onto Regional Road 25 in Milton.  Masks are required except when picking apples.  You have to purchase your tickets online and specify a date and timeslot as the farm is practicing social distancing.

There have been many changes since I was last there 2 decades ago.  Back then, there was just a big barn at the front with a few long wooden tables and an assortment of jellies, jams and pies.  Now there is a petting zoo with llamas, goats and a jersey cow.  There were even 2 beautiful golden labrador retrievers in a pen which worried me.  I have never seen dogs in a zoo before!  Shouldn't they be following their human family around the farm? Am I missing something here? Do they get taken home at night after the crowds have left?  I'd like to know your thoughts on that.

There's a children's play area, various booths selling snacks and a bandstand.  It is a huge tourist operation now and not just a simple PYO farm.  The day was perfect, sunny but not too hot.  The grounds are lovely and it was wonderful viewing the fall foliage.

It truly was magical to get out of the city and be able to walk around in the fresh country air.  Obviously none of us can travel right now so this was the perfect alternative.  The added bonus is that as you are outdoors the entire time, it is very easy to social distance.   I can't believe I waited 20 years!  Hopefully, I will be back again next harvest season.

Monday, 24 August 2020

The Weekly Roundup: Toronto's Best Gelato and Tablet Woes

 Hello Friends!  It's hard to believe that we are now in the middle of August.  I couldn't even picture August way back in March when Toronto went into lockdown.  The internet became my connection to the world.  Work (until I was laid off) was conducted online and I caught up with friends via Zoom.  My tablet provided entertainment, connection to the outside world and an escape. I used to take my trusty Samsung tablet with me everywhere...to the local coffeeshop, to work, I even took it with me on a trip to Australia.  Now it followed me from room to room.  It really was like a virtual extension of myself.  And then one day, the unthinkable happened.

I got up one morning after a late night spent on DIY renovations, picked up the tablet which slipped from my fingers and fell face down on a tiled floor. When I picked it up, my heart sank. I felt like I had lost a friend.  The spiderweb cracks in the screen really affect the touchscreen's responsiveness and minute shards come away when I touch it.  I do want to repair it one day if only for old times' sake.  If you have any tips on safeguarding personal information saved on a smart device before handing it over to a technician, please let me know.

We are in the middle of a heatwave here in the Big Smoke.  To my mind, it just isn't Summer, pandemic or not, without a trip to the best gelato store in the GTA, Hollywood Gelato.

This is how you do gelato during a pandemic:

This was one time I was thankful that I was wearing gloves as the gelato began to melt as soon as I stepped outside into the scorching, humid heat.  I got 3 flavours for $7.00.  Pineapple & Mango is at the top, Valrhona Chocolate in the middle and Hazelnut on the bottom.  The gelato from Hollywood Gelato hits that perfect combination of creamy smoothness and an intense, complex flavour profile without a hint of sickly sweetness.

How is your Summer progressing?

Thursday, 30 July 2020

Budget Friendly Dry Wall Repair How To

Hello Friends!  Now that I have done as much as I can do on my own with the kitchen makeover, I have decided to move on to the closet in the office.  I say "office" but it is really a bedroom that I have been using as an office.  I suppose that many of us have had to commandeer a space in our homes as an office space.  Unfortunately, the shelf in the closet wasn't really meant to hold heavy office supplies such as reams of copy paper and client files.  Over time, the brackets holding up the shelf had begun to tear away from the drywall.

The shelf itself, which was nothing more than a pressed melamine board, had also begun to bow in the middle.  I don't know why I left it so long.  I think I was a little intimidated at the thought of removing it.  It is the second time I have had it repaired and the contractor who installed the current shelf had assured me that it was never going to rip out of the wall.  Famous last words, right?
Funnily enough, taking everything down was a breeze!  The screws and anchors had torn so far out of the wall that it wasn't difficult at all to dismantle.  Unfortunately, when I took everything down, gaping holes were revealed.  The holes went right to the other side of the drywall.

Can you believe that I remembered that I had the very things in my toolkit to effect the necessary repairs?  Really, it was a bit like finding a spare can of paint in the exact right shade to paint out the blue stripe in my kitchen makeover which you can read about here.

Yes, there is such a thing as a wall bandage!  Basically, it is a self adhesive fiberglass mesh that you place over the hole which provides extra support.  First I filled the hole with as much drywall compound as I could.  Then I cut a generous sized square of the wall bandage and placed it over the hole.  

I used a putty knife to trowel on the drywall compound.  

If you can't find wall bandages then self-adhesive drywall joint tape is basically the same thing that comes in a roll instead of sheets. 

 I did find that the tape was much less sticky than the bandages so it didn't adhere to the wall as well.

Once the mesh has been completely covered by the drywall compound, sand it smooth.  Repairing dry wall is a much more cost effective option than tearing it down and installing a new sheet of drywall. Also, it is something that you can do yourself that doesn't really require any specialized skill set.   Now I can move on to the next phase which is planning drawers and shelves for the closet.  It is a bit of a conundrum because I want drawers and shelves to hold office supplies but which can be repurposed down the road to hold clothes.  Also there has to be some hanging space so that the closet can be used for hanging clothes later on if need be.  I don't want to do what I did last time which was to put up another shelf and pole.  I would love a closet that looked like it had custom built-ins in it similar to California Closets but that is not in the budget.  Speaking of budget, the cost of the repairs was a big fat donut as I had everything I needed on hand.  I can't wait to move on to the next phase. Stay tuned for that!

Monday, 20 July 2020

Budget Friendly Kitchen Makeover How To During Lockdown

Hello Friends!  I hope that, wherever you are, you are slowly emerging from lockdown.  The city that I live in is still in Stage 2.  Now that we are have been spending so much time at home, the comforts of home have never been more important.  Finally, I have the time to attend to those repairs that have been  pushed to the back burner for years.  Although I would love to gut everything and start fresh, my minuscule budget didn't allow for it.  Not only that, I had no idea how to manage social distancing with any contractors that I hired as I live in a condo and not a spacious home.  The kitchen cabinet doors were in dire need of repair but I had 15 (!!) cabinet doors and 4 drawer fronts to contend with, all of various sizes.  I checked budget friendly sites like Ikea to see if I could purchase new doors but I was unable to find anything that was even close to the sizes that I needed.  After much research, I turned to Amazon, who is fast becoming my new bestie, and ordered several rolls of matte white veneer.

I chose matte white because the kitchen doesn't have any source of natural light and I felt that white cabinet doors would help to bounce light around.  There are a variety of textures and colours available, such as a faux wood but the veneer is essentially a plastic contact paper so I figured that faux wood would look...well...glaringly faux.
The cabinet doors have to be clean of any grease or dirt.  Trust me when I say that even the tiniest speck of dirt will cause an air bubble to form around it. I was pleasantly surprised  to see that the rolls were made in Germany so I was assured of quality.  There are grid lines printed on the backing paper to help you cut straight lines.  Keep the backing paper on until you begin to apply it.  If you completely remove the backing paper before application, there is a greater likelihood of air bubbles forming.

I used a rolling ruler to help smooth down the veneer as I was applying it.  I pressed down firmly on the ruler while holding the veneer up and away from the ruler.  I found that the backing paper peeled away on its own simply from the forward motion of the ruler.  I used a utility knife to trim off the excess around the edges.  
You can reposition it a few times if you find that you have made a mistake but the more you manipulate it, the greater the chance of air bubbles forming.  I had a can of spray glue at the ready but I found that I didn't need it.  Any air bubbles can be gently massaged away.  Remember to pull it tightly around the edges as air bubbles tend to form along the edge.

Refinishing the cabinet doors actually went quickly once I became familiar with how to apply it.  The fact that the doors are flat without any moulding or protruding trim really helped.
The next thing I tackled in the kitchen was the blue bulkhead.  The blue stripe running along the top of the upper row of cabinets had always vaguely bothered me.  It had been painted blue a long time ago on the advice of a real estate agent but I just found that it had no relation to the other elements in the kitchen at all. During my lockdown decluttering efforts, I found a barely touched pint can of paint in a closet along with brand new rollers and brushes.  Finding that can of paint, in the same shade as the rest of the kitchen, was like finding gold.  No need to mask up and go to the hardware store with the sign on the door that said "5 minutes max."  I don't know about you but I am fairly certain that no one in the history of humankind has ever been able to choose a shade of paint and get it mixed up in under 5 minutes.  I had everything I needed to paint over that blue stripe without spending a dime!


I am so pleased with how it turned out.  The kitchen looks modern and refreshed and has a more cohesive look. The rolls were around $19 each and I needed 6 rolls.  Expensive for what is essentially contact paper but much cheaper than getting new custom doors.  I think that this is a good option if you are a tenant or if you are looking to refinish cabinetry on an extremely tight budget and have no prior experience or special DIY skills.  You don't need any special tools except a pair of scissors, a utility knife and a ruler or something similar.  Best of all, it was a project that kept me occupied and sane during these troubled times.

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