Friday, November 9, 2012

Harry Potter Party and Chocolate Frogs

It was nearly painful to not mention this beforehand, but last weekend I threw my sister a surprise Harry Potter party!
Well, the Harry Potter part was a surprise. The party was supposed to be but due to scheduling conflicts, we had to tell her.
In any event, it happened, and it was awesome!

My sister, my mom and I have read all the books and seen all the movies, repeatedly, and while I knew my sister hoped to one day throw a Harry Potter party for her kids, I knew it was mostly for her own sake! So when we decided to throw a party for her milestone birthday (I'm not telling what milestone!) I had a ready idea for a theme.

But, the catch, as with all slightly-obscure party themes, was going to be making sure that everyone felt included, even if they didn't necessarily get the reference.

So, it took a little bit of extra planning, but we put together a party theme which only Harry Potter fans would really get. A 'secret theme' party, if you will. That meant no direct references, no wands, no spells, etc.

The fun part was coming up with the obscure references! They had to be subtle, because while you can pass a lot off for a birthday party on November 3rd as simply being 'generic Halloween theme', a giant snitch would be a dead giveaway. Don't get me wrong, there was a snitch, but it was small, and hard to find, just as a snitch should be!

The Decorations:
A stuffed white owl on the mantle
A croaking stuffed toad on the bench seat
Black and Yellow streamers, napkins, etc (my sister did an online sorting and was put in Hufflepuff)
A golden snitch hidden among some house plants (I put paper wings on a ping pong ball using glue dots then spray painted it all gold)
A locket casually hanging off a shelf
We found a 'starry sky' vinyl wall covering which we hung on the ceiling of the sitting room (like the enchanted ceiling in the Great Hall)
A Goblet of Fire in the bathroom (a goblet with an LED tealight set in the bottom, with orange and red tissue paper 'flames' coming out of the top)
We also found brick-patterned decorative paper that we hung at the end of the hallway, set a trunk in front of it, along with an old corn broom with a cloak hanging off of it. For anyone who looked closely, they'd see that the broom actually had FireBolt written on the handle
I had also planned to make some giant spider legs to hang over the side of the fence, and some spider egg sacks to go along with that, but at the last minute I changed my mind since my niece isn't a huge fan of spiders.

For the kids:
A sword for my son to play with (try as I might, I could not find any with a ruby-embedded hilt!)
A 'diadem' favor for the little girls at the party
A ball toss game that looked suspiciously like a quidditch hoop... (a hula hoop taped onto a broom handle and then spray painted gold entirely)
My oldest boy was dressed in a red sweater with a gold stripe on it (Griffyndor)
My youngest boy was dressed in blue and bronze, as was I (Ravenclaw)
My niece was dressed in green (Slytherin)

The Menu:
Meat Pasties (really, just sausage rolls from M&Ms)
Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans (actually just Jelly Bellies - I didn't want my grandma to get a pepper flavored one!)
Sherbert Lemons (from a local British Candy Shoppe)
Licorice wands (black licorice)
Pumpkin Juice (Orange punch served out of a bowl set in a hollowed out pumpkin)
Butterbeer cupcakes
Chocolate Frogs

There were a few things that I wanted to do that didn't work out (either I ran out of time/energy, I couldn't find them in stores, etc):
I looked everywhere for a gold ring with a big black stone and couldn't find one!
I was going to make glowing orbs like the prophecies in the Ministry
I was going to get my cat-loving aunt to dress up in a pink dress-suit like Umbridge
I tried to get some treacle fudge and clotted creams but the candy store was between shipments from their British supplier

And, as with every good Harry Potter party, I had to have at least one invitation in the form of an acceptance letter to Hogwarts! I gave this to my sister when I arrived at her house before the party. It read:

Headmaster: Albus Dumbledore (Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorc., Chf. Warlock, Supreme Mugwump, International Confed. of Wizards)

Dear Mrs. C-----,

We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Diagon Alley is in a present state of disrepair, so we have made alternative arrangements for our students at this time. You will find many items that you need in the wizarding world throughout the course of the afternoon. (Do try the Sherbet Lemons – they’re delightful!)
Given the close proximity of many Muggles, we request that you adhere to the rules laid out in the International Statute of Secrecy. We have taken pains to ensure the Muggles will not notice anything amiss in the presentation of the wizarding world artifacts – to them it will appear as standard Muggle fun.
Term begins at 2:00. We await your owl no later than 1:00.
Yours sincerely,

Minerva McGonagall
Deputy Headmistress

I found a copy of the Hogwarts crest online that adorned the top of the page and tried to make the font and style match the letters in the movie as much as possible.
For the guests that guessed the theme, I had this written on little strips of paper:

Congratulations! You are part of the wizarding world! Spot as many Harry Potter references as you can – you’ll be surprised where you find them!
Oh, and don’t tell the Muggles! *
*in accordance with the International Statute of Secrecy

And now... the chocolate frogs!

They were the highlight of the party! Whether you are familiar with Harry Potter or not, you'll still enjoy a chocolate frog!
At first, I tried looking for a local supplier. Chocolate frogs have been popping up in gourmet chocolate shops all over so I didn't actually have a hard time finding some... but I did have a hard time with the fact that they were $2.50 a piece! For a gift for my sister, that would have been fine. But to have enough that everyone at the party could try one? Not so much. Instead, I looked online for a mold and found one, that after shipping cost around $5. Next, I bought two big bags of bulk chocolate - it wasn't super high-end, but better than your typical melting wafers or waxy chocolate chips. I bought a bag of semi-sweet and a bag of milk for a total of $11. My plan was to make the chocolate go as far as possible by filling the majority of the chocolates. I didn't worry about buying anything for the fillings - I figured I'd make it up as I went.

My next hurdle was the fact that I've never actually molded chocolates before! I'd never even attempted to temper chocolate! So I did some research and found a website that described a method of tempering which was little more than stirring some non-melted chocolate into some pre-melted chocolate. It's a little more detailed than that, but seemed a lot easier than the more drawn out method I've seen done. I put in some forethought to my process and decided to try some solid frogs first with a slightly higher ratio of milk to semi-sweet. I discovered very quickly that I need a new candy thermometer. It's hard to keep chocolate at a consistent temperature when you don't know what temperature it's at to begin with! I took pains to brush a thin layer of chocolate into each mold first so I could be sure that all the grooves were filled. Then I poured in more chocolate, brushed it around evenly and tapped the mold gently on the counter to try to get the air bubbles out. Once the molds were filled I set them in the fridge to quick-set my chocolate. After about two minutes I pulled the chocolate out while it was still soft, and I sprinkled pop rocks on top of each mold! I then let them set completely, popped them in the freezer quickly for a better release from the mold, and then turned them out on a plate. The pop rocks were on the bottom of the frogs of course and they looked fantastic! I was a little worried about my tempering process not working out so well, so I upped the ratio of semi-sweet to milk chocolate since semi-sweet has a slightly higher melting point.

For all of the filled chocolates, after I brushed in my first layer of chocolate I popped the molds in the freezer quickly before I filled them. For my liquidy fillings I then popped them back in the freezer just until the filling set before I sealed the bottoms with more chocolate. This worked really well!
What fillings did I use? Whatever I had in the house! The first couple I actually stuffed with gummi worms because my sister loves chocolate-covered gummis. Then I remembered a leftover jar of some Pampered Chef Chocolate Raspberry dessert sauce in the fridge. I did a tray of those and then started wondering what to do next... until I opened the freezer to grab out some molds and saw a bag of leftover red wine ganache in there! I made the ganache for some fancy desserts a few months back and put the remainder in the freezer to use when I had something it would go with. I softened it quickly with some warm water and filled another tray with that! I had enough chocolate for one more tray, and I remembered that I had some little individually-wrapped caramels in the cupboard that I've been meaning to use up. I heated them in the microwave with a good bit of whipping cream and then stirred them til they were smooth. I ended up with a nice, stringy caramel. Those were the first ones to go at the party. They were absolutely devoured.

I did get the comment that while they were wonderful, the frogs were quite rich, except for the solid pop rocks ones oddly. If I had been more sure of my tempering it would have been better to keep the higher milk chocolate ratio apparently. But honestly, who is going to really complain about a chocolate frog? They loved them!

Overall the Harry Potter Party was a success! It would be fun sometime to do one without needing the theme to be discrete, but this was a great challenge too!

And now I have another challenge before me... How to remake a soup I pulled from the freezer. It was a taco chicken soup, but it lost too much moisture in the freezer. I added a can of tomatoes, some chicken broth, black beans and corn, but I'm completely out of cumin or taco seasoning! Looks like I need to get creative!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

New Layout

Ever since I posted my Stocking Stuffer lists, I've been getting about 5x the daily hits on my blog. However, I've also noticed that even if a pin is attached originally to a specific post, the link just directs to the most recent post on the home page. Annoying, no?

I'm going to be tinkering with the template and layout a bit over the next while to see if some of the templates work with links properly, so I know it might look a bit *blah* from time to time, but hopefully soon I'll have a lasting design that will function properly!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Wonderful World of Quiche

I love quiche. Frankly, I don't know many who don't. Even my kids love quiche! This savory pie can be doctored to any flavor, so long as you like pie and eggs. And to tell the truth, I'm not crazy about eggs, but still, I love quiche.

I also love to make quiche. It can be made in a very particular fashion, using choice ingredients and adding things in a very specific order, or it can be thrown together with whatever you have in your fridge and still turn out light, fluffy and delicious.

When I worked at a cafe in high school, I learned the ultimate technique for making quiche. The owner insisted on quiche only being made by certain individuals who were well trained in the technique which was inspired by the quiche one might encounter in French cafes. For those of you who are curious, here's the 'ultimate technique':
Prep your dough from scratch - any savory pie crust will do (I love my aunt's recipe, but everyone has their family favorite!) For an extra treat, put grated cheese (gouda or cheddar) in the dough.
Roll out your dough to fit your deep pie plate. Make sure you leave some extra room around the edge for when the dough shrinks.
Prick the dough with a fork all around. Lay down a greased sheet of tin foil (greased side down) and put a few dried beans down.
Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 7 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare your filling. A nice, rich quiche will have about 8 eggs and 2 cups of light cream. If your recipe says differently, just go with it. It's actually quite hard to make a bad tasting quiche.
Beat the eggs, cream, 1/2 tsp paprika, cracked pepper, and any other spices/herbs you want. Once you think everything is well mixed, beat it a minute or two more.
As soon as the crust comes out of the oven, lift out the tin foil and beans, and pour in a bit of the egg mixture. It will leak through any holes and cook quickly, making a solid crust so the rest of the mixture doesn't have a chance to leak through.
Sprinkle a bit of grated cheese on the bottom of the crust and return to the oven for 3 minutes.
Chop up a variety of fillings: peppers, onions, tomatoes, zucchini, olives, ham, mushrooms, etc.
When the crust is back out of the oven, pour in half of the egg filling. Sprinkle your chopped ingredients evenly around the pie plate. Sprinkle remaining grated cheese on top. Add the remaining egg mixture.
Bake for 25 minutes - after 10 minutes check your crust to make sure it's not browning too much. If it's getting too dark, wrap tinfoil around the crust.
The quiche is done baking when you can put a knife in at the centre and it comes out clean.

Now, there are ways to make it fluffier (beat the yolks and whites separately and fold ingredients together) but I've always found this method to work fantastically.

But let's face it - not everyone keeps cream in their fridge all the time. And who really has time to whip up a pie crust for a weekday meal? And isn't there any way we can make this process easier??

Well, just last night I made a quiche, and the reason I opted for that supper option was because our cupboards were feeling a little bare, and if I eat pasta one more time this month I'm going to die. I did a quick inventory of what I did have: some eggs, some leftover phyllo dough that I needed to use soon, a couple types of cheese that were getting past their prime and a half used pepper.
Have you ever seen that classic James Bond scene where he goes to make food for his lady-friend-du-jour and her fridge is nearly empty? And in the next scene he's whipped up a delicious quiche from seemingly nothing? It can really happen like that.

I laid the phyllo out in my pie plate (forget cutting it into circles... I just made sure I alternated which side of the plate the long edge was sticking over). And instead of brushing phyllo with butter, I almost always use my kitchen oil spritzer that I fill with canola oil. Lay the sheet down, spray, next sheet... super easy. For the filling, I only had 7 eggs, and only 1% milk, but I did have sour cream! I cracked all the eggs, added 3 tbsp of sour cream and a splash of milk and whipped it well. I wanted to cut the sharpness of the sour cream a bit, so instead of paprika I used a chili powder blend to add some roundness. I skipped the blind baking step (you don't want to overcook your phyllo, and besides, nothing was going to leak through the 8 sheets of phyllo I used) and I added the grated cheese right in the egg mixture (half cheddar, half gouda), as well as a Bell Pepper and Herb spice blend that I had kicking around. I poured the egg mixture in and then added some chopped deli ham, tomato and red pepper. I baked it at 400 degrees for 5 minutes, pulled it out and put tin foil over the crust edges, and then baked it for another 20 - 25 minutes. I can't remember the last time my house smelled so full of savory goodness!

I don't have a picture, mostly because I planned on using leftovers for my photo op, but my boys ate everything! I reserved a third of the quiche for Matt, and the boys and I all ate equal parts of the rest! Nathaniel, my youngest, doesn't like eggs normally, but he ate as much as I did, and that's after he ate a bowl of diced cucumber and tomatoes! Not bad for a 17 month old! Gabriel, my oldest, can be quite picky about his meals, particularly if he finds them difficult or messy to eat. We put ketchup on his just to help it cool down quicker and I barely ate half of mine before he was asking for more! Definately no leftovers.

If you don't have phyllo, try bisquick, puff pastry, or a quick dough with minimal chilling time.
If you don't have cream, or sour cream, or even milk, try a can of evaporated milk. You can use softened cream cheese to add some richness, too.
Eggs are a protein, so if you don't have ham, bacon or other meat to add to it, no worries! And the only veggies you shouldn't put in quiche are cucumbers (too high of a water content). You can make pretty much everything else work (although some veggies you may have to cook in advance)

So don't reserve your quiche meals for days with lots of prep time and fancy company coming. In under 45 minutes I made a quiche, start to finish, and we were sitting down to eat a deliciously balanced meal!

Ah quiche... how I love thee.

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Stocking Stuffers for Women

A few days ago I posted my list of Stocking Stuffers for Men. I heard a lot of good feedback from some of my girlfriends who were stumped. But the other thing I heard a lot of was, "Now can you make one for women so I can give it to my husband??"

So, print it out, cross of anything that doesn't tickle your fancy, and leave it somewhere conspicuous!

Salted Caramels
Gourmet Chocolates
Packs of tea
Flavored Agave sticks for tea
Fine herbs/spices (cardamom, saffron, anise, kefir lime leaves)
Scented sugars
Gourmet hot chocolate packs
Rose water
Edible gold paper
Edible ink pens
High-end olive oil or balsamic vinegar
Exotic dried mushrooms
Yogurt covered dried fruit

Nail polish smudge perfector
Imported mulled soap (look at Winners for a unique and inexpensive selection)
Hair mask
Hand/Lip exfoliant
At-home Hot Stone Massage kit
Heated face mask
Scalp massage tool
Bath bombs/Milk soak
New set of Makeup Brushes
Fancy nail polish (caviar texture, matte finish, glitter)
Glass nail file
Really nice bubble bath
Perfume samples you really like the smell of

Ballpoint pens
Stationary set
Personalized Calling Cards
Personalized ‘signature’ stamp
Coconut scented hand sanitizer
Mini Lint roller for her purse
Running Wristband wallet
Reusable coffee sleeve
Wrist weights
Pocket Sudoku Book
Appointment book
Digital memo recorder (or $ for a similar app)

Low-rise lace socks (for wearing with dress shoes)
Boot socks (with a fancy cuff that shows over the top of the boot)
Sock slippers (roll up like socks, warm and grippy like slippers)
Leather gloves
Chunky cocktail ring
Warm Knit headband
Artisan/Handcrafted jewelry (think Etsy or craft shows)
Pandora Charms

In the Kitchen:
Vegetable scrub brush
Produce spray
Tart-shaper tool
Icing bags and tips
Café apron
Chalkboard labels w/ chalk pens for buffets
Sushi roll mat
Pretty cupcake wrappers
Ravioli/Cookie stamp
Unique tea ball
Cute egg cups
Barmops (you can never have too many plain white cloths/towels)
Fancy paper napkins
Handheld Microplane zester
Hand frother
Pinch bowl set
Amuse Bouche spoons
Verrine cups
Fun shaped cookie cutters
Mini Sushi Fridge Magnets
Julienne peeler
Long-handled iced tea spoons

For the home:
Mini tool kit
Linen spray
Candles (focus on yummy or relaxing scents, and natural soy/beeswax candles)
Paint swatches w/ commitment to paint that room she really wants redone
Mini terrarium
Starbucks Christmas Ornaments
Wall decals (favorite quote or imagery)
Seed packets
Stove-top house aromas
Floating wax beads w/ set of wicks
Classic Christmas Album (Carpenter’s Christmas, Amy Grant, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby)
Café-style table cloth

Gift cards:
Booster Juice/Jugo Juice
Steam bath
Appointment for housekeeper to use during a busy week
Hair appointment/Massage
To her favorite store for Boxing Day sales
Instrument Rental/Art Class

Quilting thread
Crochet hook/Knitting needles
Fabric Scissors
Glue pen
Rotary cutting tool
Scrapbook paper
Paper punches
Glue dots
Stamp set
Paint brushes
Fresh paints
Unique essential oils (outside of peppermint, lavender and eucalyptus)
Cricut cartridge

From her favorites:
Novel – get her a mug or piece of jewelry with a favorite quote from her favorite novel. Or, look for an early edition copy of a favorite classic
TV show – many shows in syndication have been made into trivia games (Scene It FRIENDS/Seinfeld), or if the show is still running, buy her new seasons
Song – Get the lyrics printed on pillows for the sofa, or sheet music for the song printed on a canvas
Movie – Get the soundtrack, or if you’re familiar with the movie, think of a significant item in the movie and seek out a copy (It’s a Wonderful Life? A bell. Breakfast at Tiffany’s? A stuffed cat named “Cat”. The Notebook? A notebook to write your memories in. Pride and Prejudice? Find some antique jewelry from the time period.)
Makeup – don’t get adventurous, but if you know of a specific cosmetic/perfume she loves, but doesn’t always indulge in, seek it out
Magazine – gift subscription, special issues, or look online for old issues
Hobby – find a new ‘tip book’ for her, new supplies or book her in for a class

A picture book of her favorite family photos
A playlist/CD of songs that were significant when you dated
A copy of the first movie you saw together
Get your wedding vows/anniversary date printed on a scarf or engraved on jewelry
Get a copy of her favorite handwritten recipe from a loved one printed on kitchen towels (
A second wedding band to complete her set, or a matching necklace
A handwritten letter explaining why you love her so much and how much she really means to you – be as specific as possible

No $ Homemade Coupons:
“Sleep All Night” – She gets to sleep all night without having to deal with kids that wake up
“Man-Made Supper” – Exempt from any expectation of having supper ready – the Man of the house will do it
“Car checkup” – tires filled, oil changed, car wash, deep interior cleaning, and detailing of dash
“Uninterrupted Bath time” – she can have a hot, relaxing bath with bubbles and candles and NO KIDS (you might want to make this one redeemable for multiple uses)
“A Clean Bathroom” – a guarantee that at least once this year, she won’t have to be the one to clean the bathroom, top to bottom (even behind the toilet and all the baseboards!)
“Her movie” – She gets to pick the movie, and you will watch it, without mocking it, and you won’t fall asleep!
“Relive the old days” – revisit popular or significant sites/restaurants/events from your first year or two together
“Foot rub” – 20 minute length
“Hobby day” – she gets to involve you in one of her hobbies, and you’ll try very hard to enjoy helping her with her project
“Shopping day” – a no-grumbling accompaniment, during which you’ll give your honest opinion and tell her at least 5 times that you think she’s beautiful
“Surprise date” – You agree on a day, and you do all the planning! 1 week min. notice for coupon redemption (which means you have 1 week to come up with something fantastic!)
“Dinner for 2, By 2” – You’ll prepare supper together for an at-home date night. You can work together, or each be responsible for different courses, but the point is to spend time together.
“Deal with the Mess” – You will deal with that mess that keeps looming over her head that she keeps putting off getting to because it’s so unpleasant/overwhelming

Any additions? Post it in the comments so others can see!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Stocking Stuffers for Men

Over the last few weeks I've been looking up as many stocking-stuffer lists as I can find on Pinterest. I love to be creative with stockings, particularly for my hubby, so I was looking for new ideas. Unfortunately, I was dismayed to find that out of these massive lists of "150 Stocking Stuffers for Men", only about 3 things stood out to me as a really good idea.

So what does one do? One makes one's own list!

I started with categories, added a few more categories, and threw in a couple more for good measure. But just because it says it's for the "Metro Man" doesn't mean it wouldn't be appreciated by a wide array of men. Most everything on this list would be loved by my husband.

So without further ado, I now present, "Mrs. VanderLeek's list of Stocking Stuffers for Men!"

Fancy mustard (Jim Beam Bacon Flavored Mustard)
Mini Booze Bottles
Booze Bottle chocolates
Jim Beam pancake syrup
Chocolate-dipped Bacon/Bacon Lollipops
Astronaut Ice Cream
Favorite discontinued candy (just because it’s not in North America doesn’t mean you can’t find it online!)
Favorite Childhood Candy (something his grandparents had every holiday perhaps? Dutch droppies, Cream Cheese mints, Old fashioned Suckers, Chocolate Letters…)
Hot Sauce
Fancy sardines
Wasabi Peas/Almonds
That snack you hate, but he loves (his favorite gross chips, Rollmops, olives, gerkins, etc)
Cheddar Bacon flavored Popcorn
Favorite seasoning salt, chili powder blend, pepper blend

Gift cards:
Bowling alley
Tim Hortons/Starbucks
Archery/Gun Range
Driving Range
Little Caesar Hot N Ready Pizza (so he can have pizza for lunch without feeling guilty for spending the $)

Fly set
Fishing lures
Fishing line
Fishing Multitool
Fish Bonker
Deer/Elk call
De-scenting spray
Hand warming packs
Energy bars/energy drink shots
CO2 cartridges
Finger Tab
String silencers
Arm guard
Upgraded sights
Fletch repair kit
Hand weights/barbells
Weight belt
Golf Tees
Golf balls
Golf glove
Crying towel
Water filter straws
Fire starter sticks
Survival Kits
Skeleton face scarf for open-face bike helmets
Team gear
Sport blooper/highlight DVD

Metro Man:
Custom Cufflinks (check out Etsy or some antique stores for some truly unique ones)
Wine Pairing handbook/Tasting journal
Nice scarf
Leather gloves
Bow tie
The Art of Manliness
Personalized calling cards
Money clip
Pull Razor Shaving Kit
Tie clip
Mustache comb

New adapter/charger (let’s face it, they get lost)
Car charger
FM transmitter/car adapter (plug in your iPhone and listen in the car)
Mouse or Keyboard for netbook or tablet
Memory card
Ear buds (also easily lost)
Panoramic lens for iPhone
Jumpdrive jewelry (in wristbands, rings, etc)

Favorite show? Buy the season on iTunes, so even if you don’t have cable, he can watch it as new episodes premier
Trains or models? Buy him paints, parts, or accessories for his set
Obscure Christmas CD/Special of favorite celebrity/performer. You’d be amazed what people have come out with (Trekkie? Get him the album William Shatner sings on. Star Wars? Seriously, there’s one of those, too. Metalicca has a pretty sweet Christmas special.)
Artsy guy? You can never have too many supplies. Brushes, paints, tools… they get used, and then you need more!
Musician? Guitar strings break, picks get lost, sticks get snapped, new piano standards are always welcome and writing to a composer/musician might actually get you a signed copy of music.
Hockey guy? Go to a hobby store and get him a signed, or game-used jersey card. Some can be quite pricey, but depending on the player, you can find some game-used jersey cards for a decent price
Learn a Language CDs + phrase book
No hobby of his own? Help him find one. Whatever he has an interest in, figure out how he can invest his time in it and help give him the tools: Music lessons, fly tying lessons, skate sharpening, wine tasting course, etc.
Magazine subscription for a hobby magazine

Pocket polysporin for work, hobbies
Aftershave or Cologne that you like (because really, you’re the one that needs to!)
Favorite toothpaste and new tooth brush
Bottle of super glue (what guy doesn’t need super glue?)
Personal nail clippers
Toilet readers
Pocket tinsnips
Mini flashlights
Private stash of pens, tape, whatever goes missing in the house frequently
Moleskine notebook
New Wallet
Rub A535 (some guys are sensitive to this – if so, just a normal massage oil/lotion)
Dashboard Dustcloth
Personalized Stationary

House and Home:
Ultimate BBQ Flipper – flipper, knife, bottle opener in one
Personalized Grill Brands
Aerating spouts for wine
Whisky Glacier Stones
Grilling Apron
Cedar grilling planks
Manly vase – wood grain, horn, etc
Candles (sounds weird, but find a scent he really likes and lots of guys would really love this)
Hand-carved figurines (if they can appreciate the technique)
Vintage Comic Book wall art
Espresso hand-press
Tim Horton's tree ornaments

For the parents:
Wookie the Chew prints by James Hance
Metallica Lullabye album
RESERVED travel mug, couch pillow, or other item that commonly gets ‘borrowed’
Portable Do Not Disturb sign
Ear plugs (I’m kind of kidding)

Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook
The Cookie Sutra (The Kama Sutra with gingerbread men - not too graphic)
Zombie Apocalypse Survival Kit
Nerf Gun/Lego/transformers/old ‘boy’ toys
Wood puzzles
Beard Toque
Guilty Pleasure – what is he ashamed of liking? Girly drinks? A Miley Cyrus CD? My Little Pony? It’ll be your little secret!
Indoor snowballs
Poker Chips
Gag T-Shirt (quote from favorite TV show, SNL sketch, Movie)
Juggling ball set

Big $:
Gift card for date night (dinner, movie, etc)
Tickets to an NHL game (unless this lockout keeps up!)
Beer/Cheese/Hot Sauce of the Month Membership
Small bottle of well-aged Scotch
Tickets for a scenic train ride
A really good carving/chef’s knife
Saxx underwear (I’ve heard good things)
Spa certificate (facial, massage, etc)
GoPro camera
Subminiature Camera
Solid Gold Coin

No $ Homemade Coupons:
Shovelling Side Walk
Beer/Slurpee/Coffee Run
Washing Dishes
Mowing Lawn
Watch his movie of choice
Listen to his music on a car ride
Massage (with no trades!)
Pick up dog poop/change litter box
Take out garbages
Start and brush off his car
Automatic ‘petty argument’ win
‘His’ night – leave to do whatever he wants, without worrying about kids (min. 24 hour notice!)
Date night of ‘man’ activities
Scalp massage
A cold drink and pre-dinner snack waiting when he gets home from work, every day for a week

Happy Christmas Shopping!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Tea Party

I'm sorry... I know it's been another long time since I posted, but it is quite hard to post regularly when the server won't let you on!!!

It's true. I tried to post 3 days ago about a little shindig I had, but to no avail.

In any event, I'm here now, so it will all be okay soon. ;)

So, on Wednesday night this week I had my much anticipated (by me at least) Tea Party! Now, this wasn't a typical afternoon tea with lanterns, sandwiches and fancy hats (although maybe it will be next time...) This tea party was a home party, like PartyLite, Pampered Chef, Stella and Dot, etc. It's a newer company based out of Stettler, AB, which has gone Nationwide using the home party model. They get all of the ingredients shipped to their warehouse in Stettler, and they mix the blends themselves! It's all loose-leaf tea, very fresh, and veeeerrry yummy!

The company is called Siplicious and I first heard about them at a trade show I popped into a few weeks back. I was lazy, so instead of looking up contact info and hunting down vendors for a fundraiser show I'm putting on, I just went to a similar show and took the cards for every vendor I wanted at my own fundraiser! Well, there was a girl selling loose leaf tea, which is quite popular in our house, and when I found out that they made Matt's favorite variety (Earl Grey Cream), I was sold. Matt and I had a taste test that night, and despite the fact that "I made it wrong" (seriously. He's a tea snob), it was very delicious. We bought 100 g of the Earl Grey Cream and we've nearly run out of it now. So I knew I had to book a show to get more tea. And Matt agreed.

My rep came and set up, and she brought everything: a kettle to boil, thermoses, pots, little sample cups, honey sticks, and a spice rack filled with tea samples to smell. I was already excited before the demo started, and I actually was quite arrogant in thinking that the demo wouldn't be too critical for my wishlist needs, so I had already made a list of things I wanted. But, there's a reason they do demos: you think you know about the product, but you really, really don't. PartyLite has special rules about proper candle burning so they stay safe and look pretty the whole time. Pampered Chef has tips and tricks to make your cooking better and easier. And Siplicious tells you why disliking a Starbucks Matcha Latte doesn't necessarily mean you dislike Matcha, explains how their hot chocolate is really quite good for you (all natural sweeteners and no dairy products so I can give it to my milk sensitive boy) and how they are coming out with flavored agave sticks to add to your tea!

Needless to say, my list grew after sitting in the room with the samples and hearing the demo.

The largest change of note was that I'm now going to be ordering some Green Tea Matcha powder. Really, I've never been a huge fan of it. I used to really enjoy the Starbucks Green Tea latte, but only when I added two pumps of melon syrup, and two pumps of raspberry syrup - neither of which are in regular rotation anymore. I couldn't embrace the 'grassy' flavor and gave up trying.
Now, if you remember, a few years back Green Tea was all the rage. The 'discovery' that it contained antioxidants was a huge bolster for sales, and everyone switched to green. Then it transpired that some nutritionists and sciency-types felt the need to inform the world that one cup of green tea a day hardly made a difference, except that it was decidedly better than black tea. In fact, experts were giving numbers anywhere from 3 - 7 cups a day of green tea before it was effective for weight loss, and lots of the time people were adding so much sugar that it was actually quite counter-productive even if they were consuming the 3 cup minimum.
Thanks for that science/history lesson, you say, but I promise it's relevant. Turns out, the reason Matcha is supposedly 'so good' for you is that since it's the entire tea leaf ground up and consumed, instead of merely steeped, you actually get up to 10 times the amount of antioxidants from one cup of Matcha tea as you do from a traditional cup of green tea. And since steeping is actually quite effective at extracting caffeine (80 - 90% of it is steeped out in the first 30-45 seconds), you don't get the same increase in caffeine. So while drinking at least three cups of tea in one day might seem daunting to some people, drinking one latte is much more cost effective, and easier on the bladder!
But, like I said, I've never been a huge fan of the Matcha at Starbucks or Second Cup, which has been my only exposure to it. So I assumed I didn't like Matcha. Well, my rep could relate. She didn't like the stuff at Starbucks much either. But she LOVED this stuff. And it turns out, there are smoother varieties. So I went ahead and order a tin of the Kenya White Rhino, which is apparently ideal for "blending into iced matcha lattes, matcha smoothies and green tea ice cream." You see, I did go through a time in my life when I drank 5 cups of green tea a day. I was working at a law firm, and had the leisure to sit and sip hot drinks all day. And actually, I noticed that I started losing weight when I hadn't changed my diet or exercise routine really. I miss that. But I'm going to give this higher-end matcha a try and see if I can't get the same results. And really, if I'm not crazy about the flavor, I'm sure I can make myself a syrup remniscent of melons and raspberries.
The best part? I got it for 50% off through my hosting rewards!

What else did I order? Their Monk's Blend (a black tea with a sweet hint of grenadine - sweet enough that I didn't need to add anything, which is weird for me), their Detox blend (a yummy smelling chamomille - which would normally be an oxymoron to me), their Red Raspberry Leaf tea (for later in this pregnancy), an assortment of Honey Sticks for stocking stuffers (assuming I can hide them from Matt until then), some of their Milk Hot Chocolate (which doesn't actually contain dairy, so Nathaniel can have it, and they are low in complex sugars which give the whole high/low sugar rush so it's much better for kids, and diabetics), and of course some more Earl Grey Cream. Oh, and a friend booked a party from me, so in a month I'm going to go to her party and order a few more varieties! Next up: Green Walnut, Sweet Peches, Creme de la Creme and Lemonberry Mist!

Well, this is already a long post, but I feel responsible to give you a full recap: I made Almond Espresso Bars (also called Coffee Crunch Cookies, from Bon Appetit - they have a smokey, addictive flavor), Earl Grey Cookies, and Chocolate Hazelnut Baklava. Matt brought me home a gigantic and gorgeous orchid the night before that stood proudly on my table, and Gabe was so excited that Mommy had a tea party, that he decided to have one of his own! So today, I invited our whole Mommy Play Date group over for a tea party for the little ones. There were 7 moms, and 12 kids, and that's after 2 regular families couldn't make it, and 2 other newbies had to cancel last minute! I'm just glad we've got play areas on each floor! We had kids downstairs, in the kitchen, in playpens, in Gabe's room... But everyone had fun!

And now, my house is surprisingly clean, given the chaos that ensued this week, and I'm looking forward to a fun weekend with my family, and in a few short days, plenty of yummy tea!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Onesie Cupcakes

Have you seen those adorable little pictures of onesies that are rolled up with socks and cloths to look like candies and cupcakes? I love them! I was floored the first time I even saw a diaper cake, so seeing the precious little cupcakes is just too much for me!
As I mentioned yesterday, I did go out and buy some white cotton onesies to use as gifts for some upcoming showers. While I have other plans for some of them, I did devote a certain number to making cupcakes and flower bouquets.

So I had onesies, and washcloths, and cute cupcake wrappers, and even an adorable little box that I could put them in... Now what?

Well, I went to pinterest to find a tutorial, and actually came across a lot of pictures of things that were labelled "cupcakes"... and I suppose they kind of looked like them... if you squinted... But eventually I found a picture of something I actually wanted to make, and it had instructions. So I followed them and... mine looked fat and bloated compared to their dainty little thing. In part, I blamed the fact that I was using a washcloth in the center instead of socks, so mind wouldn't wrap as tightly. But perhaps I needed a smaller onesie size? I don't know - it never said.

So I kept looking for another picture, that perhaps compensated for the larger size. It turns out the universal answer to that problem was to use coffee filters in place of cupcake wrappers. And while it works, and they look pretty, they certainly don't look dainty. They're ginormous! And not what I was going for.

So I found another picture, that just wrapped up the onesie to look like a giant peak of folded icing, without anything colorful in the center. But this one didn't have any instructions. So I had to guess at what the proper wrapping process might be. It took a couple tries, but I did finally get it.

And then I thought, "Well this is stupid. I'd better make a tutorial!"

Enter this post.

You need:
1 shortsleeved onesie
1 washcloth
Scotch tape

First things of note: I used a 6-12 month, shortsleeved onesie. If you used a smaller size, you could very possibly get away with stuffing these in cupcake wrappers. In which case, you would skip the step with the washcloth.

Start with the sleeper face down and fold the sides in so the sleeves barely overlap.

Then fold it in half.

Turn the onesie so the neck is facing you, and the creased edge is facing out. Fold the neck down so that it's no longer in line with the creased edge. This will create a cleaner look for the 'icing'.

Start rolling from the top, gently pushing the first roll higher so that each subsequent roll gets lower - this will make the tiered look of the icing.

Roll it all the way up and then hold it together with a piece of tape. For the best look, push the center down a little bit so it isn't too peaked.

Next, take your washcloth. Lay it face down and fold it in thirds.

Wrap the cloth, with the creased edge up, around the base of the onesie cupcake. Tape it shut. Lastly, garnish your cupcake! You can use a pompom as the 'cherry on top', paper hole punches as sprinkles, or anything else you can think of!

Wrap them up in a box with a transparent lid, or a real bakery box.
Mine, as you can see, still need to be garnished, but considering the shower I made them for isn't until the beginning on November, I think I've got a bit of time!

Good luck with your onesie cupcakes! Stay tuned for the bound-to-happen pics of washcloth candies and receiving blanket lollipops!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


I love those points in your life where you just sit down, look around, and get thrilled about the fact that you never have to do something again!

Last Friday I had my final fundraiser for the charity I was doing event planning for! I will continue helping them as events come up, but I'm no longer responsible for planning every aspect of them! YAY!

This past fundraiser I was responsible for decorations. I was roped down to using 'gold' (which turned out to be bronze) tablecloths, so I needed to ensure that my table centerpieces weren't just a fixed pallet of autumn colors. Which was a bit of an upset at first because I have two huge boxes of fall decor in my basement specifically for this annual fundraiser. Anyway, I reasoned that I could still use the fall colors, but they needed to have a bold punch of white. What was big, white, and seasonal? Spray painted pumpkins of course!

I picked up some from the store and painted them with a high gloss spray paint (on a cold day, so I had to build a make-shift paint booth in my front entry way and sit with my back against the screen door so that my paint wouldn't be too cold and my house wouldn't be fumigated). They looked fantastic! Classy and seasonal, with just a touch of whimsy! (Sorry, the only pics I have are before the pumpkins were painted!)

Of course, between here and the church we were having the event at the pumpkins rolled into eachother and some paint chipped off.... soooo I had to spray some paint into a cup and brush it on thickly so the brushstrokes wouldn't show through.

Anyway, everyone loved the centerpieces, especially the men, which I thought was odd. I think it was just the novelty of painting something they never thought of before... Oh, and I had a few other pieces aroung the room too which I thought were quite cute.

But now, it is finally done. I've got a bunch of white pumpkins that I will decorate in a variety of ways come Halloween, I've thrown out every now-meaningless email about tablecloths, invites, schedules and meetings, and I'm resting in a job well done.

And how did I celebrate my new found freedom? Well, today I unpacked my sewing machine and finally finished a couple of projects! Matt had asked me to make him a soft bow case for his recurve out of a pair of old camo pants he had. I had done up the basic case a number of weeks ago (constructed it, lined it with felt), but it still needed to be finished. So today I closed one end, made a drawstring closure on the other end and attached a handle to carry it with! Finally done! (and bow season ends in two weeks!) I also finished off the roaming stitch on those stupid light quilts I bought the material for 3 years ago! At the time it didn't matter that I didn't know how to quilt because the material was just too dang cute! But then once I attempted to put everything together and realized how horrific a task it was, my drive really started petering out. I finally cracked down on them a year ago.... and then I ran out of quilting thread! It took me this long to get new thread, wind my bobbins and finish the task. I still have to bind the edges (I've been looking for a satin trim I could use, but no luck so far), but that's what I consider the easy part (not to say I won't screw it up, I just won't cry after I screw it up)
I am looking at a couple of baby-themed projects right now too. The other day I was going through some old baby clothes and found a badly stained long-sleeved onesie that I couldn't bear to part with. The graphic on the front was pretty cute, but the steely-grey and red striped sleeves were awesome. So I ripped the sleeves off, chucked the middle, and started plotting. Today, those sleeves were turned into little baby leggings! I had to reconstruct them a bit, but the general shape was there. The length was only enough to make newborn leggings, but I'm cool with that! And lastly, I went to Winners a couple of days ago where I found some packs of white organic cotton onesies - you know, the ones that you grab and can feel by the weight and the softness that these are things you want to wrap yourself in, let alone your child? Well, turns out, I have four baby showers coming up in the next two months. But I didn't want to give people just plain white onesies - so I'm going to make little animal cutouts from some scrap material and sew them on the fronts! I had a habit of buying any reasonably cute material in the clearance bin for a while there, so I've got a load of funky prints just waiting to be made into birds, octopi, fish or turtles! What fun!

Anyway, that's all for another day, a day which I'm sure I'll have time in, because I'm done event planning!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

A few weeks ago, our blinds in our living room broke. I was saddened, but not surprised - they were old when we moved in here 4 years ago and our boys were never exactly gentle with them. Matt reminded me that we need new ones anyway - in every single room.
About a week or two after that, Matt pointed out to me that our nice high-thread count sheets that we had bought with wedding money were ripped - not near a seam either. I looked into fixing them but they are well beyong repair.
Our van currently has winter tires on it, which is convenient as the snow starts to fly, but less convenient when you think about the fact that they've been on since we got our van a few years ago, and we've driven them year-round. We need new tires.
Our cordless phones stopped recharging, too. Now, out of the 4 handsets, we only have two that work, and one is on its way out.
My kitchen canister lids are separating and falling apart to the point where they are no longer air tight (I haven't been able to keep brown sugar in them for some time). About a third of our plates are chipped, in no small part because of the fact that when I get overtired my hands stop working and I can't hold onto things.
We've been meaning to change the carpet in our upstairs since we moved in; it's original 1980's light blue, stained with 30 years of living.
Oh, and Matt's work van just rolled 400,000 km this summer.

Why does it seem like everything happens at once?

And why does everything have to cost money?

And where on earth are we supposed to get said money?

Funny thing is, it seems like every fall Matt and I are faced with a load of claims on our money: repairs, Christmas purchases, insurance payments, tax payments... And then once January rolls around and work slows down again, it seems like the money just disappears completely.
But the really funny thing is, every year, we make it through.

Now granted, some years things get pretty sketchy for a while. I still remember 'fondly' the year that we got a paycheque just large enough to cover our mortgage payment, and that was it. So bills got juggled, some automatic payments went onto a line of credit and we had a $50 gift card to Safeway that needed to last us all month. But you know what? It did last. And the reason the line of credit was available was because we had just paid it off with a generous gift from a family member at Christmas. And two paycheques later, we were again making normal amounts of money.

We always make it through.

Some of that can be attributed to smart money management. We don't take two weeks vacation every year; Matt doesn't get paid leave from work, so it costs us twice as much to go on one week's vacation as it costs most people, so instead of going into debt, we bust our butts every year and save enough money to go one the one week we can afford.
Some of it was planning. I regularly keep my cupboards and freezer stocked full. This is mostly because I shop warehouse sales and when things go on sale I scoop them up. Right now I've got pounds of ground meat, a frozen salmon, a few racks of ribs and some chicken breasts that I know I spent probably a third on from what regular price is. And because my freezer and pantry was stocked, we were able to live off of $50 of groceries for a month (and we didn't even get scurvy!)
Most of it, well, truly all of it, is because God takes care of us. And that's sadly something I haven't always trusted. It can be hard when you open a paycheque for a few hundred dollars and realize that it has to keep you afloat for two weeks; it can be hard to remember that if His eye is on the sparrow that He surely is watching over us. And when things get uncomfortable, it can be hard to remember just how much we have. Which is A LOT.

Truly, most people in the world don't have a car for their tires to wear out on, let alone the money to afford to travel to the mountains and neighbouring cities for the quick trips we've taken that have contributed to the wearing. Most people don't have phones, or nice retractable blinds, or a whole set of dishes or even sheets for their beds. Many people can't say for sure where their supper will come from the next night, let alone have the comfort of a month's worth of food sitting frozen in their basement. And that paycheque that we get every two weeks? It fluctuates, but Matt still has a job that allows me to stay at home with our boys.

The reality is, in the past year we've made some fun purchases. We've done a labour trade for a tent trailer. We've been gifted a piano. Our boys have received so many toys as gifts from friends and family, that we've had to donate garbage bags full of toys to ensure we don't drown in stuffed animals. We've been given so much that we can keep giving to our friends in need, and strangers in greater need.

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Pregnant Productivity

As you come to different seasons in your life, different accomplishments carry different weight. For example, in High School, you might very well feel that a worthy accomplishment is pulling an all-nighter getting your biology report done, and still getting to class on time in the morning. When you are a young, married couple without any kids, painting your entire house and cleaning out all of the cupboards might seem like a reasonable accomplishment, and when you have you first newborn, getting out of bed and showering is something that deserves applause some days.
Now that I am expecting our third child, my idea of being productive varies day-to-day. Sometimes I'm proud of myself for making supper on time, other days I'm proud of myself for not losing it because of my lack of sleep and over-abundance of hormones. Today, however, productivity actually looked like checking off items from my to-do list, and setting myself up for finishing a number of tasks this week. My secret to pregnant productivity? I enlisted my Mom's help!
We started the morning by visiting our local Farmer's Market. Sadly, that title is a misnomer, since their "Farmer's Market" license was revoked due to a lack of actual farmers, and they've been operating as a "public market" for the last few years where anyone can, and does, come and set up to sell whatever they want - including garage sale items. However, given that this was one of the last markets of the year (thanks to the early Thanksgiving), there was a higher percentage of BC Fruit stands and yummy, farm-fresh treats. We loaded up on yellow beans, berries, plums, macintosh apples, and even enjoyed some fresh squeezed lemonade while we browsed. Now, this was a much needed shopping trip since I have been relatively isolated this week thanks to a resurgence in my little one's health issues. He's been waking up about 8 - 10 times a night and not napping during the day because of breathing issues, so Mommy hasn't been sleeping much either - meaning I'm a mess. I haven't even made it to the grocery store this week. But now we have produce! YAY!
After the market we hopped over to Walmart to get some other shopping done. My household ran out of diaper genie refills, Tylenol, paper towel, toilet paper, diapers and wipes, all in one week. It was a BIG shopping trip. I also needed to get some craft supplies to finish up some projects (buttons for the knitted headbands I make, quilting thread for the quilts that I've been chipping away at for two years now, and dark thread for a soft bow case I'm making for my husband) and luckily I found it all at Walmart! $150 later, we were on our way out.
My mom treated us to lunch at Booster Juice (Strawberry Sunshine and BBQ Chicken Panini - YUM!) which we took back to her place so the boys could play once they were fed.
After the delicious lunch, my mom treated me to something else I hadn't had in a while... a nap! After averaging 5 hours of sleep a night (most of which I got after 7 a.m.), and not getting a nap all week thanks to the rugrat, I was burned out and could barely keep my eyes open. So my parents took the wee ones outside while I passed out on the couch for an hour and a half.
After supper we ran a couple quick errands and I picked up some stuff to give to my mom, and now, at 9:00 at night, I'm very pleased to say that I accomplished more in one day, thanks to my mom, than I did all the rest of the week.
I must admit, were I not pregnant, I might find today's accomplishments meager at best, but given my current state, I have to say I'm proud of all I got done.

And now I can be lazy tomorrow.

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Rewards Programs

As I mentioned in my last post, I am super excited to be going with my darling husband on a trip to the mountains come December! However, as fun and lavish as the trip plans might sounds, the reality is, this trip will be taken a few weeks before Christmas, when funds get really tight, right after a tax installment is due, and just after we have to pay our annual home insurance installment.

Money is going to be tight...

However, there's always a way around that! This time around, we've opted to not cut back on the fun, but rather to get creative in how we afford the fun!

Reward Programs.

I have always been a fan of rewards programs. I have a ridiculous number of rewards cards in my wallet, for everything ranging from pet stores, grocery stores, travel programs and department stores. It has never made sense to me why you would a) not have a membership card (which you get for free), that allows you to pay less when you shop at a store (even if you only shop there once a year!) and b) why you wouldn't cash in on a rewards program for some of the things you buy most, like gas and food.

Myself, I shop primarily for groceries and fuel at our local Co-op, which offers a cash-back rebate program for all members. Whatever I spend in the course of the year, at the end I get a percentage back. This membership program does not keep me, however, from keeping Safeway, Save-on and Sobeys membership cards in my wallet. And while you may think, "You can't expect to get many points if you only shop somewhere a couple times a year," you're right, I won't get many, but as is the case with Safeway and Save-on-Foods, club members get an additional discount, which adds up quickly, and at Sobeys, you can convert your club points into Aeroplan miles! And those babies are things that we collect alot of.

If your credit card is not linked to a rewards program, get a new card. My husband has a work card which is linked to our Aeroplan account. The best part is, he has to buy flooring for people from time-to-time, which is automatically paid off the card as soon as we charge it on, but we get the points for the $3000 purchase too. The product of which is, after having his credit card for only two years, we now have just about enough points for two, round-trip, long haul flights.

You can also collect Airmiles, which rack up just as fast for some people, but while I've had an Airmiles card for years, we've barely raised enough points to buy much of anything (I just don't shop in Airmiles places). I was pleasantly surprised, however, to find that you can use your Airmiles rewards to buy passes to the Banff Hot Springs! For 35 points per person, you can be bathing in the natural hot springs on a cold Decemeber day - and that's just what we're going to do!! It's been a long time since we went to the Hot Springs (it just doesn't work as well when you have little ones), so for no skin off our noses, or money out of our wallets, we will spend a chilly afternoon in the warm pools.

My credit card has its own rewards program, which I basically forgot about until today when I realized I had a considerable number of points. While perusing their catalogue I found that I could redeem my points for a Keg giftcard, and wouldn't you know it, but the Keg in Banff overlooks the parade route that we were hoping to catch a glimpse of during dinner! I've got enough points for a $100 gift card, which will buy us a nice meal, and maybe even enough points afterwards for a $25 Starbucks giftcard, which will always get used in our household.

Besides the freebies, we're also going to be bringing our SUTP coupon book to help us decide where to eat, and what to do while we're in the Rockies. You can get discounts on things like Gondola rides, tours, spas and shops and while I'm not sure that we'll do any of those, it's nice to know we can if we want - and pay a bit less!

Do you have Rewards cards? If so, check out your balance - you might be surprised! If not, ....WHY????!!!?

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fifth Anniversary

A year and a half ago, I was musing with my darling husband about our fifth anniversary. I said that I'd like to save up, spend a weekend in Banff, do the things that we never get to do with kids (visit certain stores, go to the Hot Springs, etc), and just have a trip to the mountains all by ourselves, for the first time since our honeymoon. Well, given my exciting news last post that I am expecting a baby at the end of March, on our first anniversary we will have a one-month-old baby. Not exactly the ideal age to have Mommy and Daddy jet off for the weekend. Mommy wouldn't handle it very well either.
However, Matt and I have formed a new plan. If you remember last time I was pregnant, Matt and I actually planned a trip to Calgary for the weekend where we had one last date weekend before the baby came. We called it a Babymoon. So, this time around, we are coupling our Babymoon with our fifth anniversary celebration.
That means, this December, Matt and I will be headed off to the mountains one fine Saturday morning while my beloved Mother will come over and take care of the kids here. And I've got to say, I'm really excited! I don't think I've ever been to the mountains in the winter!
The weekend we're hoping to go is actually the weekend of Banff's Christmas in the Mountains celebration where they'll have bonfires set up around town, ice sculptures, wagon rides, hot chocolate and popcorn, carolers, and anything else your seasonal heart desires! Matt and I plan on going in time to enjoy the festivities for a bit before we head over to the Hot Springs (money-saving tip: Airmiles can be used to purchase tickets for the Hot Springs! Just make sure you order them enough in advance so they have time to get to you before your trip!) After the hot springs, we'll head back into town where we'll have supper, and depending on whether we feel like it or not, we may get a restaurant that has a view of the main street so we can watch their Parade of Lights while we eat. Or, it might be safer to have a quieter meal one street over. Either way, the way the events are scheduled, Matt and I plan to be moving just ahead, or just behind of the crowd. (we'll go to the Hot Springs an hour before the Christmas celebration ends, and then we'll have supper just when the parade starts and everyone else is on the street)
That night we plan on staying at the Georgetown Inn in Canmore. This was the cute little inn that we stayed at on our wedding night, and even though it's on the main hotel stretch of town, it's strategically tucked behind trees and a huge wood pile, so you can't actually tell you're not in the country!
The next day we have a plan, and a plan to not use a plan. We'll take the day leisurely, doing whatever we feel like doing, and if we get bored I'll have a list of activities we can look into (like going to Canmore's Festival of Trees, or hitting up a cute Panini shop)

I'm so excited to spend this time with my man! I also can't wait to take pictures of the gorgeous mountains covered in snow!

Now I just have to wait two more months...

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


I've got a confession. I've been hiding something. Not a bad something, mind you, but hiding, nonetheless.

I'm pregnant!

Baby number 3 is due March 27th, which makes me about 12 weeks pregnant at this point!

Anyone want to draw any conclusions about my lack of posts in the last 12 weeks? Turns out, when I'm pregnant, I don't have the energy to be creative! However, hopefully the second trimester will treat me a bit better and I'll be able to tinker in some fun things!

The last few days I've really had no choice but to keep busy... Sunday we went for a fun fishing trip with my parents, at which point I got caught in the rain. Once we got home and dried off I had to crack down on some bookkeeping that I had to have done by today. I got in about 5 hours over the weekend, but something that I had anticipated taking me 30 minutes ended up taking me 3 hours, so it threw off my planning a bit. Monday I had to make up time, so I did 6 hours of bookkeeping, which isn't hard, but it sure is mind-numbing. Somewhere in between that we got our piano tuned and Nathaniel and I both had doctor appointments (the appointment time was 2 and I didn't get home until 4.) I worked until 11 last night on the books, and then helped my poor hubby clean the house (he got tired of not being able to reach the coffee maker in the morning so he made the kitchen spotless!), and then needed to get up again this morning to finish off the books. Oh, and then I have a meeting tomorrow that I needed to do some prep work for so I wrote out a more complete Sunday School lesson plan for the next few weeks.

The good news of all that busy-ness being that by 11:30 this morning, my house was clean, my bookkeeping was done, my Sunday School lesson was planned, and for the first time in a long while, I had a chunk of time that I didn't know how to fill!

I assure you, it didn't last long.

Do you remember a few months ago when I was knitting headbands? They were cute little things that I had seen on Pinterest that turned out to be a breeze to make, and I could easily fire one off while having a leisurely afternoon. Well, I made about 4 and a half of them before life got busy and I stopped have leisurely afternoons for a while. I took one on vacation back in June to finish, but I didn't write down the pattern and relied on memory. Turns out, my memory sucks. So I nearly finished the stupid thing, but that hardly counts when about half of it is done wrong. I tried unwinding it to the part where I still knew what I was doing, but apparently my stitch-catching skills also suck. Today I tried again, and finally gave up on finishing the half-done headband. So I unwound the whole thing and started clean. But it didn't matter, because I still got it done in the time it took me to watch a few Big Bang Theories. In between knitting (I can only sit still for so long), I learned to play another song out of my Grade 4 Royal Conservatory practice book (it's been so long since I played 'real' piano that I need to work my way back up), and I kept my house clean! YAY!

And now, it's 9:15 p.m., both of my boys are asleep, the supper dishes are done, I've finished my apple cider and my second Kraft Handi-Snack of the night (pregnancy craving), and I think I'm going to turn on another Big Bang and knit something else!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

P.S. For those of you who are skeptical about the speed in which you could knit one of those headbands, my first one took 3-4 hours, and I am, at best, moderately not-slow at knitting. I can finish one up in 2 hours now, when I'm not messing it up, so really, give it a try!

P.P.S I also reduce the width by about 40% now since many of the people I'm making them for request in narrower. I think the one in the picture is about 30% reduced.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Promises, Promises

The promises to which my title refers are the promises I made to try and post more regularly! Unfortunately, life got too full of baking and parties to have any time for posting!
This past week I held one of my Pampered Chef tasting parties! Each new season I get a new recipe book and I need to test the recipes to see which ones are actually doable in a short enough time to make them for a show, and which ones taste yummy enough to serve! Instead of incorporating them into our weekly meal plans, I've taken to hosting parties where I whip up 7 or 8 recipes, everyone comes and tries them, and I get the whole job done in one day!
This time around I made Mexican Fajita Bites (spicy chicken, herbs and cheese stacked on pepper wedges and baked like nachos), Tangy Gouda Gems (in phyllo cups with sweet pepper jelly), Savory Parmesan Thumbprints (with a roasted red pepper and apricot filling), Orange Blossom cupcakes (with cream cheese topping), Mini Cherry Cordial Cups, and a German Chocolate Lava Cake. The Fajita Bites were an unexpected sensation. I didn't think they'd be bad, I just didn't think they'd be that good! It was a bit tedious stacking the pepper wedges, so after the first round of those, I put the rest of the mix on top of tortilla chips and made Fajita Chicken Nachos. They were wonderful!
The gouda bites were great, but that didn't surprise me; warm melty gouda in phyllo cups topped with sweet pepper jelly? Perfect.
The Parmesan Bites were more popular than I thought they'd be, and I was given a license to play with the recipe more to add some herbs and depth to the flavors.
The Lava Cake was a guilty pleasure (not for me though, I don't do lava cakes).
The Cherry Cordial Cups were a bit of a marachino cherry overload, but still yummy.
And the Orange Blossom Cupcakes? I had to fight my natural urge to tweek the recipe as I went. It called for two small oranges, zest and juice. I thought for sure they wouldn't be tangy enough, but I'm glad I stayed my hand. They were declared beyond improvement - absolutely perfect.
The recipe were all from the Fall/Winter Pampered Chef Season's Best recipe book, except for the Tangy Gouda Gems, which were from the Cooking for Two or More recipe book.
On Wednesday I had a meeting, at which I served the leftover cupcakes, and then Thursday I had a birthday dinner at my parents' house, where Matt surprised me with the Persuasion metal cuff bracelet that I've been fawning over for a year!
My mom asked me to come over the next day to help her get some cleaning done since they had just come home from holidays this week, but when I got there I noticed very soon that something was up - especially when a houseful of people started singing happy birthday to me! My parents threw me a surprise 25th birthday party, complete with some of my favorite people and my favorite foods! It was a great evening, and there wasn't even any cleaning for me to do! And as a gift for me, my parents asked everyone to bring me a spice! I FINALLY HAVE SAFFRON! I'm so excited!! I never wanted to pay the $15 for a few tiny pieces of it myself, but for 3 years I've asked for it for Christmas, and no one was willing to get it for me! Now I have three bottles of it, a bottle of cardamom, and some vanilla beans too! YAY!
Today I hope to get around to making some muffins since it's such an ugly, windy day, but we'll have to see! Perhaps I'll get sidetracked with my new spices and make up a homemade chai tea?

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Red Velvet Cake

As I mentioned in my last post, Musings, yesterday I intended to make a Red Velvet Cake using beet powder instead of food coloring.
I had planned on doing this for a while, and a friend had given me a pack of beet powder that she happened upon, so I finally had the opportunity, and the occassion, to make the cake yesterday.

Food dye allergies are quite common, with sensitivity to red food dye being the most common. I know, and pity, some people who are not capable of eating jello, nibs, or red smarties because of their allergies, and I know that carries over for most Red Velvet Cakes. And let's face it, the more natural you get, the better it gets for you.

Enter beet powder.

I've used beets in baking before, much like how you would use grated carrot in a carrot cake. They of course add some color to whatever you're making, and a nice earthy flavor, but they aren't overwhelming by any means. Beet powder has a more mild flavor, essentially being roasted beets that are dried and ground up, but it still has the same coloring properties. The recipe I used was a simple google-and-choose-the-best-picture recipe. I did look at a couple other recipes, and some got pretty 'inventive' about their interpretation of what a red velvet cake really is. For those of you who are unaware, a red velvet cake traditionally is a buttermilk-based devil's food cake (which typically means lots of baking soda to get the red-chocolate color), and half a container of red food dye. Some of the recipes I saw were based off of a cream cheese sponge cake and had no chocolate, just beet powder. Not exactly the same thing...

There are some tricks to making sure beet powder will work. Apparently you need to be careful about the overall acidity of your batter, or the color will turn out purpley-brown instead of red. So baking soda is basically a no-go. Without soda as a leavening agent, the next best way to get a cake to rise is the volume mixing method. Essentially, you beat eggs to high volume and fold everything together to get it to rise. That's the method this recipe used. (Note: this link is to an online document, not a webpage per say)

Well, I set about making the cake and made one mistake right off the bat: I broke a yolk and some fell into my egg whites. That, my friends, is why you should use an egg separator instead of trying to be a hero. The result of that tiny little gaffe was that my eggs never hit the stiff peak stage that the recipe called for, and that affected the overall rise of my cake. Mine by no means looked like the picture on the link, however I can see how it could potentially get close.

If you've never looked into beet root powder before, you can buy some online from wholesalers, or check out this link on amazon for 1 pound for $13.95.

The taste of my finished cake was surprisingly normal! There's a very faint hint of the beet powder, but it goes nicely with the chocolate. The cake is a bit more eggy than a traditional devil's food, but that's not to say it's a bad thing. I only had a bit of cream cheese (silly me), so I help the cake together with the cream cheese frosting, and then I made a chocolate-coffee icing for the top. Yum!

One more note about the recipe: typically when you are making a cake, it's wise to not oil the sides of your pan so the cake rises better, however, because of the high egg content, and the fact that as big as your batter gets is basically as big as your cake will get, I'd recommend a very light layer of oil on the sides. It was a bit of a trick to get it out of the pans at the end.

Give it a try - you won't be disappointed!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Thursday, August 23, 2012


It's been FOREVER! I've been such a lazy bum!
Actually, what I've really been is a busy bum. It's been hard for me to fit in everything in the past month and that's lead to less time for me to do fun things like crafts, baking, or even planning to do crafts and baking.
But today, despite the fact that I have a load of cleaning and bookkeeping and furniture moving today, I'm taking a break. Why? Because it's my birthday!

It's an interesting birthday this year. Usually I'd have a birthday dinner with my parents, or at very least cake with Matt's family, but since my parents are away this week, and his parents are busy, we've got no real plans. In fact, my birthday dinner with my parents won't be for another week, and the cake date with his family hasn't even been set yet. So tonight we're kicking around the house, having time as our own small family, and moving a piano. But that's okay, because the piano's for me!

As I mentioned, my time has been so full of other duties that I haven't had time for pretties and parties, but now that I've slowed down for the day I'm thinking it would be fun to bake something. I hit up Pinterest for the first time in a while and I saw abunch of cute ideas for Hallowe'en (I know - forever away.) and now I want to make costumes. And I've still yet to finish my nightstands by modge podging sheet music on top (I'm trying to find the music still!) I'm sure I could fill my whole day up with doing useless pretty things! OH, and I've also got jewellery to make! I'd made up a whole bunch of those bird nest necklaces and I ended up selling a handful of them, and now I've ordered in some bronzed wire that will make a more rustic looking nest. Those ones I plan to sell for a bit more.

While I still don't know all that I plan to accomplish today (obviously), I think it would be fun if I posted some of the thoughts that are roaming through my head - they range from tips to musings, and hopefully you'll find them inspiring!

1. Have you ever tried shaving pumpkins instead of carving them? It involves shaving down the shell until light can shine through partially. You can do alot of neat things with shading, and more intricate designs because you don't have to worry as much about connecting lines and having pieces fall out. I like this Spiderman Pumpkin and this Volkswagon Pumpkin!
2. Incidentally, who says you need to use pumpkins? Pineapples, mandarin oranges and watermelons can all be used in creative ways! And pineapples and mandarin oranges are in season closer to winter, too!
3. I'm hoping to make a red velvet cake today, but instead of using red food coloring, I'm going to try making it with beet powder! It's a natural dye, I've got a bit on hand, and I'm going to see how the color holds up against the chocolate in a devil's food cake!
4. I think I need a custom seal. Like, a wax one. Apparently you can carve one out of a dowel and then drip some red wax on your envelope and stamp it in. Worth trying, no? Wouldn't it be cool to have your own formal seal?
5. I've still got some of that stone ground flour that I need to make a muffin recipe with. I've got an original recipe for Pumpkin, Apricot, Date muffins, but I'm wondering if I should make up a whole new one? Maybe an apple one?
6. Some of the crafts that I've seen lately (everything from halloween costumes and wedding decor to nail art and jewellery) require feathers. Here's a hint: before you go to Michaels or to a florist to shell out big money for a peacock or ostrich feather, try visiting a sporting store. Fly fishers use feathers in their fly tying and you can find a variety of colorful feathers for a very reasonable price at somewhere like Bass Pro Shop, Cabela's, or even Canadian Tire.
7. Looking for more cheap crafting supplies? Ebay. Especially things like beads and wire, you can find a variety of supplies for dirt cheap, and with free shipping. I made my Chan Luu imitation bracelet for about $5 (I paid about $10 for the supplies, but I have enough of everything to make a second triple-wrap bracelet). My bird nest necklace wire was $6 for A LOT (it'll probably work out to 10 cents per piece), and you can find some varieties of genuine semi-precious stones for wholesale pricing. Just watch the shipping - Lots of places from Hong Kong will do free shipping, but closer places can charge an arm and a leg.
8. I'm getting calling cards printed soon. I've been meaning to for a while, and now that I have some birthday money I might use a bit for that. I'm involved in a number of unrelated projects, businesses and volunteer efforts where I give out my information a lot. I've got recipe cards that I use as business cards for my Pampered Chef stuff, but it would be nice if I had one card, mostly with personal info on it, that I could write a note on the back of, about why that person was talking with me. They'd be handy!
9. I'm planning a surprise party for someone this year and I want to make it a theme party - but I've been toying with the idea of a secret theme, that only people who are familiar with the references will know it's actually a theme. What do you think? It'll be a very mixed group, so I'm having troubles thinking of one theme that would work across the board.
10. What do you buy a couple that are both mature and have lived on their own for over a decade? We're going to a wedding this winter for just such a couple and I think we're going to pool resources with a few other couples to buy them something big and fantastic - but what?
11. I'm a little torn about what to do with the rest of my birthday money. I've been meaning to get a few more Sophie Conran for Portmeirion pieces (I need new kitchen canisters and Matt likes the contrasting blue dinner set) but there's also this Metal cuff imprinted with text from Jane Austen's Persuasion, with the line, "You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope." in larger letters overtop. It's $40 + shipping from the UK, and I've wanted it since I saw it last year, but I've never really thought about ordering it until now. It's gorgeous! Who knows, maybe I'll get enough money for both?
12. I need to get me some Toms. You know about Toms, right? Most of the world does. They specialize in canvas shoes, and have branched out in their style quite a bit, but the big deal is that for every pair you buy, they donate one pair to kids in need. Awesome, hey? I'm getting mine from Adrenaline Clothing and Boardsports.

well, a dozen will have to be enough, because my battery is dying. I promise I'll try to post more! Until then, check out all the links I put in through this post!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Chan Luu Bracelet

What's a girl to do when the world is filled with pretty, expensive jewellery but she doesn't have a money tree in her backyard?

Make it.

I have never been one for making jewellery. Back at summer camps when all the girls would make bracelets from strands of string in their craft class, I was taking a class on starting fires. I was a tomboy in a lot of ways and my aversion to making dainty string bracelets was definitely one of those ways.
However, things have changed a fair bit in the years between. Don't get me wrong, I still like burning things, but I also have embraced the concept of looking good while lighting things on fire.

A couple years ago I was lamenting my lack of great jewellery. I had a few key pieces that I loved wearing, but I was getting into event planning, at which time my motto was, "A long as you look like you know what you're doing, people will believe you." My plan was to buy a skin-tight, hotter-than-heck red dress to wear to some fundraisers I was helping to put on, and to wear bold statement pieces to every meeting I attended ('power' jewellery, if you will). The issue was, I didn't have any bold statement pieces. I had some rustic looking necklaces that I had picked up from the west coast (my tastes still rest frequently in the more boy-ish look), I had some earrings from Italy that a friend brought home for me, and I had a few costume jewellery rings that I got as hand-me-downs from my Grandma when I was in middle school. None of those really scream, "Look at me! Look at me!"

Slowly I started adding to my collection through jewellery parties that friends have hosted; Stella and Dot and Lia Sophia now make up a fair chunk of my jewellery repertoire. I've learned that if I'm going to spend any money on jewellery, I might as well save my pennies and buy a couple pieces that I really love, rather than a few cheaper pieces that will wear out or cease to thrill me in a short time. But in all of my searching for some gorgeous pieces, I have come across some things that struck me as far too expensive considering I could very well make them myself.
If you saw my last post you'll know that I have been making bird nest necklaces from wire and beads. I got the wire from the Dollar Store for dirt cheap and I've been using spare beads leftover from other projects. I've seen these adorable little wire nests on Etsy for anywhere from $5 - $40 (and up, but those ones tend to have more expensive materials). How much did it cost to make them myself? I'd have to guess about 10 cents. And that's being generous. Oh, and my Dad thought they were cute so he took some into his work to sell for me and now I've had to make more because I'm going to run out. (I'm selling them for $5 to $8 each - not a bad profit margin).

But as I alluded to in my previous post, the big thing I've been excited about making is a Chan Luu inspired wrap bracelet. I've got ugly wrists and man-hands, which means that dainty little bracelets make me feel butch. But since I've discovered the world of wrap bracelets, I'm absolutely sold. I've bought two in the last month from Stella and Dot (their Luna and their Pyramid Double Wrap bracelets, neither of which I would recommend attempting to make yourself), but when I saw a picture of this gorgeous Chan Luu bracelet I knew instantly that this was something I wouldn't have to buy.
Now granted, I'm sure Chan Luu's have something of product differentiation - their materials are probably very high end, their method is probably flawless, their name is a lot catchier than mine... but I personally don't see that the difference in the end product is worth the $195 difference between how much it cost me to make one, and how much it would cost to buy one.

I ordered 4 strands of turquoise beads online, and 10 m of brown leather cord, for a total of about $9 (free shipping, too!). I made a triple wrap bracelet (instead of 5 loops) last night, which I did while Matt's dad was over for a visit, and the end result is that I only used, at most, a third of my beads and even less of my cord.

The bracelet?

Pretty nice, don't you think? It's a poor quality picture, but I must confess, I'm thrilled about the outcome. So, for about $3, and an evening of work, I've got myself a Chan Luu inspired triple wrap bracelet.

The technique was pretty simple, too. Anchor the leather cord on a button or large bead that will be used to fasten the bracelet (I used a nut - classy, hey?) The beads are actually held on with a separate string, or, in my case, fishing line. Lay the center of a very long strand of fishing line under the cord. Wrap each end around the cord and thread the ends through the bead (the ends of the line should go in opposite ends of the bead. Pull the line through until it is tight around the bead, push the bead to the top of the cord. Now, make sure the fishing line strands are on top of the cord. Wrap each strand around the cord until the line lays under the cord. Thread a bead again, with the ends of the line entering on opposite ends of the bead. Continue down for as long as you'd like it to be. Remember to make sure the line is on top of the cord after each bead, and that it's wrapped around and under the cord before each bead. To finish, I just knotted the fishing line after double wrapping the last bead, and then I tied three spaced out running knots on the cord - one at the base of the beads, one at the end of the length, and one in between the two. That's all!

I wonder what I should make next...

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)