December 31, 2015

2015, You were BIG!

From top left:
Engagement Photos (April); Wedding Day (May 30 '15); Hawaiian Honeymoon (June) x 2; Purple locks (October); Wedding Day (May 30 '15) x 2; Hawaiian Honeymoon (June); Red locks (September)

Guys, it's December 31, 2015 - holy shit. I don't want to get too wordy but this past year has certainly been BIG and my instagram #2015bestnine sums it up quite well!

The beginning on the year was marked by a whole lot of wedding planning. Because I essentially pulled together the entire wedding (with small exceptions) in like four months. That's what procrastination does, folks! It was the best, worst, most daunting, most crazy and most rewarding time of my life. Seriously.

In the end, also totally worth it because our wedding day was awesome & we had a blast! After that we headed to 10 days in Hawaii and had the best honeymoon/trip ever! I totally recommend going to Hawaii to anyone - it's truly glorious and the pictures do not do it justice. I would go again - or move there - in a heartbeat!

And after that...getting back into a groove. Time with friends, family and each other doing things around the city and at home. And a lot of work time for me...I'll save that for another time. But I'm extra happy that I was lucky enough to start a new job just before year's end & I'm really looking forward to that!

I learned a lot this year - about myself, about those around me, about life, work, friendships, happiness and love. I learned...

  • about unconditional love
  • how important my family is to me
  • that hard work pays off
  • that I'm my own worst enemy, always
  • that I have to make my own happiness, no matter who else is in my life
  • that I want to travel like crazy!
  • how great it is to resurrect old friendships
  • which relationships are worth nurturing
  • which relationships to just stop trying with
  • that I don't "owe" anyone anything, and vice versa
  • to grab life by the horns
  • to stop overthinking everything (this is on-going learning, it'll take a while)
  • to let go of the past...

I'll be taking all of these learnings with me into 2016 as I make changes in my life and continue to improve myself. Can't wait!

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year & a glorious 2016!

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December 29, 2015

My 2015 Year in Books

As you can see, this year was a little bit of a #booknerd fail...

It's really cute that Goodreads thinks I can read 18 books in 4 days. I can maybe finish the one I'm nearly through...

The first half of the year I spent in full wedding planning mode, including making lists & responding to emails on my commute. Even though there were days here and there that I wasn't working on that, I found it hard to follow a book when I was only reading it once a week.

Then once the wedding was over, it took me a while to get back into a regular reading groove and I really only averaged one book a month. Horrible, I know.

I really haven't been able to just sit at home and read for years, I don't know why. I only read on my commute and maybe on vacation. I'll really have to change that because I now have a new commute which prevents me from reading entirely! That's one of my 2016 resolutions. Plus actually reviewing my books once I've read them...

But regardless of the quantity, I had excellent reading quality this year and I love the fun stats that Goodreads puts together!

Did you reach your Goodreads goal, if you have one? What was your "reading year" like?

Happy reading!

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December 27, 2015

Christmas Baking 2015

Every December I bake for Christmas, as many of you likely do, and I generally make a few things. This year I think that I outdid myself by making 6 different treats with a few old favourites, and a couple of new things thrown in.

Most of the recipes are pretty standard as I've just googled them, but I'll link out to specific ones if applicable.

Shortbread Bites
This is a standard shortbread recipe, no biggie. But when I first learned how difficult it was to work with refrigerated shortbread dough (read: I'm not patient enough to let it settle to the right temperature), I stopped trying to roll it out and just started forming it into small bites. It's the best! You get way more individual servings and they're so easy to just pop in your mouth! That might not be a good thing...

Chocolate Covered Pretzels
Duh. No explanation required. But I make these because they are my absolute fave! I generally dislike mixing salty & sweet but this combo is heaven! Make sure you use dark chocolate though, because milk chocolate just doesn't taste right. A few years ago, I even made these fancy drizzled ones.

Almond Shortbread with Jam
These are new to the repertoire. I wanted to replace the almond biscotti with something almond-y but not as complicated as real linzer cookies. So I found a twist on regular shortbread and sandwiched them with some homemade raspberry jam!

Sugar Cookie Swirls
I abandoned sugar cookies years ago because who the hell eats plain, undecorated sugar cookies? No one. And do I really want to deal with making and decorated with royal icing? Nope. Luckily I came across a great pin on Pinterest that lead me to this great twist [haha I'm so punny] on your good ol' sugar cookie. I also used her actual sugar cookie recipe to make sure I didn't mess anything up. I also doubled the recipe to make sure I had enough of each colour and then ended up with a million cookies. I don't know how many (I know, I should have counted) but there were a lot so feel free to go with a single dose.

Here are some outtakes from that activity...
We failed a bit on the roundness but also got some great marble ones from the leftover dough pieces!

Peppermint Bark
The peppermint bark is another staple and certainly a fan-favourite! I use small candy that I break up manually and I find that peppermint extract unnecessary bc the candy canes add enough flavour.
The most annoying part about this each year is figuring out the most efficient way to melt both chocolates. I usually a double boiler but that involves me watching the stove and having to use one (if not two) of my good bowls for chocolate when I could really be mixing dough in them. Pinterest to the rescue yet again with this awesome pin! Especially great because I haven't been using my Crockpot lately and it made it quite useful!

I used as many mason jars as I needed to fit all of my chocolate, filled the water just past half-way of the jars and set it to high. Here I had both chocolate wafers and broken up baking bar pieces, and both melted just wonderfully. Since I wasn't totally ready for the bark when they were melted, I just reduced my heat setting to "warm" to just maintain them. So easy! I also used this method for the pretzels and it was great.

Blitzen's Breton Brittle
I got this recipe from an old co-worker and it is definitely my personal favourite. I couldn't find the exact same recipe as mine which is fine because I actually make a few modification of my own anyway. You'll definitely get the same delicious result with this recipe and can try my variation below:

  • I don't have multiple layers of crackers. Once I've put in the whole ones, I break them up and try to cover up the holes as much as possible without creating a second layer.
  • I add the nuts before the chocolate.
  • I use sliced almonds because it's something I always have in my kitchen.
  • I use very little chocolate because I find that it's already very sweet. It's really up to you!
  • I bake for 2 minutes between each addition - butter/sugar mix, nuts and chocolate. The last bake can be longer as 2 minutes is often not enough for the chocolate to melt and be spreadable.

I know this seems like a lot and really overwhelming but it's not, I swear! All of this took one day but with help from hubby and a small nap. Plus watching a Christmas movie will dipping pretzels. My co-workers, family and friends all loved it (I really hardly eat any) so it's totally worth it.

Just remember - wax and parchment paper are your best friends! Happy baking!

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December 11, 2015

Wedding Files #3 - Guest List + Budget = Venue

The two things that will define your wedding planning are your budget and your guest list, which will lead to your biggest decision of all - the venue. Naturally, though not always the case, the longer your guest list, the bigger the budget you will need. You absolutely cannot seriously seek out a venue without knowing how many people you need it to accommodate. Nor can you evaluate an estimate without knowing how much money you have to work with.

Guest List
Start writing down  the names of everyone you want at your wedding. Get lists from both sets of parents too. Then break it down into 4 columns:
Must Attend || Nice to Have || Only if We Must || Probably Can't Make It

The 'Must-Attends' are obvious. The 'Nice to Haves' might be friends that you aren't crazy close with but would really enjoy to have at your wedding. The 'Only if We Musts' are usually family friends that you really don't have room for but your parents are mortified of offending. It really depends on who's funding this wedding so happy battling there! And unfortunately, there will always be some 'Probably Can't Make Its' from out of town but it's always great & courteous to extend an invite anyway. You might get a pleasant surprise :)

Once you comb through all columns and figure out the number of people you will definitely be inviting, reduce it by 20-30%. There will always be invite declines for various reasons, unless everyone you invite is immediate family. Keep both numbers - total & reduced - in mind when you're budgeting and scoping out venues.

You do not, I repeat, you DO NOT want to be wedding poor once this is all said and done. Near the beginning of our engagement, an already-engaged acquaintance asked us what we thought was a reasonable amount to take out as a loan to pay for a wedding. The correct answer is ZERO DOLLARS! No loans. No re-mortgaging. No spending all of your savings. It's a one-day party, people! Which is why I was totally OK with no wedding at all, but was over-ruled by my mother and then-fiance.

That being said, you want it to be amazing and unique. All of those things can be done within whatever budget you have. And parents will always help here and there, even if they can't pay for all of it. Be realistic with how much you have saved up, and can save between now and the wedding day. From all the budget 'tips' I read, we ended up loosely using the following breakdown:
  • 45-50% Reception
  • 10-12% Photography/Videography
  • 10-12% Entertainment/Music
  • 8-10% Attire (His & Hers)
  • 8-10% Flowers & Decor
  • 5-10% Misc [invites, gifts, transportation]
Anything remaining can go towards an emergency/surprises slush fund. Depending on how important certain things are to you, you can play with the numbers to balance them to your liking. So you may not be able to get that $10K dress from Kleinfeld's but I bet you can get a similar one elsewhere for a fraction of the cost!

Once you've got these factors down, you can start searching for a venue! There will be other venue-specific factors that will play into your choice but those will be unique to your needs, preferences and options.It's not a bad idea to look at reviews and pictures but looking at the real deal is your best bet.

One last tip - don't set your heart on a single date (unless there's a very special reason for it) and look at date ranges within a month or time period to maximize your choices.

Now go on, start your guest list & budget. You'll only change them like, 43 times between now and the wedding... ;)

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December 8, 2015

Wishlist 2015

I decided that exactly 17 days before Christmas was the optimal time to post my wishlist for this year. You're not totally panicked about what to get me last minute, but since December seems to have dropped in on us already, you're starting to seriously think about your Christmas shopping. Amiright?!

Well I have never had such a difficult time putting together a gift wishlist. Usually it's like, I WANT ALL THE THINGS. But I'm not really that surprised - I literally need nothing at all. I certainly have all of the important intangible things - hubby, kitty, home and health - and I don't even care how cheesy that sounds. Therefore, my list is mainly "fun-to-haves" because presents are just fun in general.

{images via one, two a, two b, two c, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine}

1. Pencil crayons are great, but I really want some Sharpies for my colouring book masterpieces. #adulting

2. Part of the reason that I've been looking forward to colder weather is more baths and my favourite way to take baths is with Lush bath bombs. It's so hard to narrow them down but I really like these ones.

3. I've wanted this IKEA serving set for ages and it's discontinued so brownie points if someone actually gets it for me!

4. One of the year's trends that I can totally get behind is plaid scarves like this one. Of course, I always see people wearing them and can never actually find ones I like in stores...

5. There's nothing more annoying than trying to cook from a recipe in a book or tablet and not having a proper place for it - hello, IKEA book holder!

6. I love puzzles and world maps so this seems like a perfect combo of the two! Like, how cool is this Ravensburger puzzle?!

7. A couple of years ago I got the Naked Basics palette. I absolutely hate it and I don't know if it's me, or the palette. Since then, I've experimented with my sister's endless palette collection and I totally think Naked3 is the one.

8. A black watch is really the only thing missing my from my jewellery box and this one is spectacular. I'm not a fan of bulky watches and this slim profile is so classy. Like me.

9. One of my favourite things to get for Christmas is new PJs and I absolutely heart this pair from Victoria's Secret!

Is there anything you're looking forward to getting under the tree this year?

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