My Favourite Things 2012

Out with the old & in with the new?  Yes but before that, move over Oprah it my turn to announce my favourite things for 2012!  Now this list below isn’t exactly what every person desires, hopes for or even wants BUT I think I wouldn’t be alone in saying that many Mommies around the world would think my list is well… pretty good.

Some are old-time favourite and some are new discoveries that I think are just fabulous.   Whatever tickles your fancy these things could bring joy to your life just as it has with mine :)

Here are my picks for 2012, in random order.

sale1.  After Christmas Sales.  You heard it from me folks. Once the Viennese puts down their Gluwein and move forward into the New Year you will have to fight the crowds to scoop up Christmas decorations at a special discount of not 10% off but 11%!  Truly amazing eh?!

2.  Motivation to keep my house clean.  Is it wrong to hope that he will appear after I clean the toilets… every time?

3. Gangnam Style.  Everything!

facebooksomeecards4.  Someecards humour.  For times when you wanna say it but don’t.  Post it instead :)

5.  Letting Daddy take over for a day.. or two.

6.  Taking a night off from motherhood to catch up with the girls.

7.  Nuff said.  Lifesaver.  Long live vodka.

50 shades of grey8.  50 Shades Bandwagon!  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my latest reading material.

earplugs9.  Earplugs.  Any kind.  For the sake of a good night sleep next to the husband “who never snores” and the children who dare to wake from a nightmare.  “Sorry honey I swear I never heard little Bobby cry…”  Works like a charm.

Pinterest home2
10.  Pinterest.  Even though I always turn to Pinterest for ideas I must also thank Pinterest for pointing out to my husband that an organized household can be achieved.  This website has killed my “it can’t be done” card.
photoshop-4

11.  Finally, a special thank you to PicMonkey.com for helping me reverse the signs of age, stress and depleted energy and even giving me a little boost or nip and tuck here and there…  Now all my Facebook friends will know my little best kept secret…. that I am not a wrinkle free big boobed goddess.  Damn it.

Photo credits 1 2 3 5 6 7 8

Gingerbread Cookies

Christmas isn’t complete without Gingerbread Cookies.  This tradition of baking, what I consider the best Christmas treat started years ago in my mom’s kitchen.  Every year my mom and I would whip up and bake traditional British treats like Minced Meat Pies (never understood them – never liked them) and Shortbread Cookies as well as Canadian favourites such as Nanaimo Bars, Chocolate Coconut Balls, Sugar Cookies and finally, Gingerbread Cookies.

I have since carried on the baking tradition with my kids, although not the variety that you see above.  We have narrowed down the best of the best and Gingerbread in our house always tops the charts.  This recipe from William Sonoma has been successful with my family so I urge you to give it a try :)

Gingerbread cookies

Ingredients:

  • 5 cups all-purpose flour (780 g)
  • 1tsp. baking soda
  • 1 Tbs. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter (250 g) at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar (105 g)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar (125 g)
  • 1 cup unsulfured molasses (345 g)
  • 1 egg
  • Decorating sugars and pastes as desired

Directions:

Have all the ingredients at room temperature. Over a sheet of parchment paper, sift together the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter on medium-high speed until fluffy and pale yellow, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the brown and granulated sugars and beat for 1 minute. Reduce the speed to low and add the molasses, beating until well combined, about 1 minute. Add the egg and beat until combined, about 30 seconds.Add the flour mixture in 4 additions, beating in each addition before adding more. Beat just until combined, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Using floured hands, form the dough into a smooth mound and divide into 4 equal portions. Shape each into a disk and wrap separately with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.Preheat an oven to 400ºF. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.Remove 1 dough disk at a time from the refrigerator and let stand for 10 minutes. Place the dough between 2 sheets of parchment or waxed paper and roll out to a thickness of 1/4 to 3/8 inch. This thickness is important to ensure the baked cookies will fit together.Dip the cutters into flour just before using and cut out the shapes (see tips below). Using an offset spatula, carefully transfer the cutouts to the prepared baking sheets, putting similar-size pieces on the same pan: snowman bases and reindeer legs on one; sleigh sides, treetops and tree bases on another; and snowman bodies, reindeer bodies and sleigh ends on another. The sides of each notch need to be parallel so the notch will fit into the interlocking piece after baking; if the sides have stretched apart, gently push them towards each other so they are parallel.

Repeat with the remaining dough. Gather up the scraps, reroll them and cut out additional cookies. For best results, do not reroll scraps more than once. Refrigerate the cookies until firm, about 20 minutes.

Bake the cookies until lightly browned on the bottom, 4 to 5 minutes for snowman bases and reindeer legs; 6 to 7 minutes for snowman bodies, reindeer bodies and sleigh ends; and 8 to 9 minutes for sleigh sides, treetops and tree bases.

Transfer the baking sheets to wire racks and let the cookies cool for 5 minutes. If the dough has spread into the notches during baking, use a paring knife to gently trim off the excess cookie while still warm so the cookies will interlock when assembled. Let the cookies cool completely on the baking sheets, then decorate as desired and assemble. Makes 4 or 5 of each type of cookie.

This recipe is from William Sonoma

Hide your Kids. Krampus is coming to town!

Ok so I’ve lived in Austria now for almost two years and yet there is one tradition that I feel is still rather disturbing to me or perhaps more to my kids.  You see I grew up in a country where Santa always knew if you were behaving… “He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake”…  My parents would remind of Santa’s watching every once in a while if my behaviour ever got out of line and that’s all I needed to stand up straight and say my “please” & “thank you’s”.

Here however, I guess the kids are hard core.  Santa or Saint Nicholas as they refer to him is way too soft, too forgiving and just well, a push over for any child really.  Nah here in Austria they need some scary ass monster to get their kids to straighten up their shit and behave properly.

Krampus is this frightful beast who visits those children who have not behaved during the year.  He marks his presence using the sounds of chains rattling outside your front door on the eve of December 5th. Children who hear these chains know that Krampus is close and normally this is their que to run & hide in complete terror. Now I am a mother who is always first in line to watch any child’s reaction to surprises but not at this event!  My husband experienced this as a child and remembers how frightened he was. Although he never saw Krampus, the rattled chains noise (which was done as a favour from a neighbour) was enough to scare him into good behaviour.  And all that was needed as a reminder was the name “Krampus” spoken out load. Trying to imagine this scary night through the eyes of a child…

I’ll leave you with some lasting impressions that most Austrian children tend to remember come each Christmas season.

“Dieter!  Sit up straight I said or shall I call my friend Krampus again?” <child shits himself>

Parenting in Austria is definitely more entertaining :)

Krampus blog

Photo Credit: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

The Quest to Bake a Chocolate Chip Cookie in Austria

As soon as the winter chill sets in my thoughts go straight to baking chocolate chip cookies.  Combine that with drinking a tall glass of cold milk in the aroma filled kitchen as soon as they come out of the oven and I’m in cookie land heaven!  To me, this is always a quick fix to overcome any homesickness that might be lingering too.

Achieving North American bliss in Austria however, is a different story.  What I considered “baking 101″ has turned into a science of “WTF is going on?” – it’s ONLY chocolate chip cookies!  Why I ask… why?

So lets start with the ingredients.  Typical ingredients that you would find in a North American pantry like vanilla extract, brown sugar (the molasses kind) and chocolate chips do not exist in Austria. You won’t even find fondant or corn syrup either, unless you visit a specially store that imports & charges triple for everything.  Instead, you will have to settle for brown sugar cane, vanilla sugar and cut up chocolate chunks & hope for the best.  Trust me it doesn’t work.  I now allocate 5kg of luggage weight just to bring back these precious ingredients from my annual trips home to Canada.  I even bring back baking soda as the “Backpulver” here seems to loose its potency a couple of days after opening.   Now that I am fully stocked you’d think that it’s just a matter of whipping, mixing and baking right?  Nope.

Photos from “Freesytle Farm’s” blog was enough to entice me to give it one more go.

Freestylefarm.ca swears that their recipe will produce a perfect balance of crispy & chewy, which is exactly what I have been looking for. However, after seeing and tasting my results I think the more appropriate name for the recipe would be  “The Best Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies unless you live outside North America”.

The difference must be the dairy & flour.  The happy chickens here produce a much richer coloured yellow yolk.  Could that affect the recipe?  I use “Universal” flour, which is considered an all-purpose flour here in Austria.  Are the gluten levels different?  Could the lower protein component influence the outcome?  And the butter, well the butter is my biggest suspect for deflating my cookies (ego too).  Butter whipped at room temperature separates when mixed with egg (at room temperature).  It even separates when whipped with sugar (I gave up on butter icing LONG ago).  It’s gotta be the butter.   Damn you Austrian cows!

….. 1 week later…. & after some research on European flour

Ta-Dah!

So without completely boring you with the details it turns out that the selection of European flour is HUGE. I had been using the wrong flour all along.  Here is a great blog that explains it all “A Vegetarian in Germany

Now I always like to add a twist to anything that I bake and I’ve tweaked the William Sonoma recipe to make it my own.  Since chocolate chips are almost non-existant here I used Milka as a substitute, and not just any plain ‘ol chocolate.  This is a chocolate with Daim pieces & conflakes treat!  Cut this into smaller chunks and add it in addition to your chocolate chunks and your cookie will turn out wicked good!

If you want to try something different I invite you to give my recipe a go.  I suggest to all my European readers to keep the measurements in grams, forget the “cups”.  Ingredients weigh different here than to North America.

Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (Type 700 Glatt for Austria. Type 550 Glatt for Germany. 220g)
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (125g)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar (125g)
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar (105g)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of chopped hazelnuts (125g)
  • 1/2 cup chopped up milk or dark chocolate (70g)
  • 1 bag of chopped up Milka Diam Snax (145g)

Directions:

Preheat an oven to 350°F (180C).
In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, using a handheld mixer on medium-high speed, beat together the butter and the granulated and brown sugars until the mixture is light in texture, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, beating just until smooth and stopping to scrape down the bowl as needed. With a spoon, stir in the chopped chocolate and chopped hazelnuts, distributing them evenly throughout the dough. Cover and refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours or up to 6 hours.

Position racks in the center and upper third of the oven. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop rounded tablespoonfuls of the chilled dough onto the baking sheets, spacing them about 1 inch apart.

Bake cookies on the middle rack until the cookies are lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool for 3 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to wire racks to cool slightly before serving. Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

photo credit:  First two photos are from http://www.freestylefarms.ca

A little bit of heaven from South America

If there is one thing that I remember vividly from my travels to South American it was my experience at La Rábida Ranch.  This family owned ranch, located in the Uruguayan countryside provided a fulfilled day of hay rides, horseback riding, sheep shearing, cow milking and cow skin “skiing”.  Some of the visitors participated and some cheered on the side lines. For me, it was humbling to see the entire family involved in what felt like a perfectly orchestrated performance.  Upon arrival guests were invited to choose their mode of transportation for the grand tour of the farm & beach.   The older generation piled into the antique cars while the more adventurous hopped on the hay wagons and the farmers children rode along side those who were brave enough to venture on horseback.

Upon our return we were served a typical Uruguayan lunch of barbequed lamb, chicken, pork, and beef.  If you don’t know by now South American is known for its excellent tasting meat so our taste buds were not disappointed!  However, being a sweet tooth person, my lasting impression was from the cookies that they served on the beach half way through our  hay ride/horse ride tour.

The Argentinean style Alfajores cookies, consists of two round shortbread like cookies with a dulce de leche filling.  If you love caramel then you’ll love dulce de leche.  It literally means “candy of milk” and when slathered in between two perfectly baked cookies they are the most delicious cookies in the world!  I have tried my best at replicating this delightful sweet treat and below’s recipe now helps me relive my South American Experience over and over.

Now if I can only find some handsome Uruguayan cowboys on horseback to deliver me these cookies once in a while…

INGREDIENTS  (Recipe from www.saveur.com)

1 2/3 cups cornstarch
1 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
2/3 cup sugar
10 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1 tbsp. cognac or brandy
1/2 tsp. lemon zest
4 egg yolks
Dulce de Leche, for filling cookies

INSTRUCTIONS

Heat oven to 350°. In a bowl, sift together cornstarch, flour, and baking powder; set aside. In a mixer fitted with a paddle, beat together sugar and butter until fluffy. Add cognac and zest; beat. Add yolks one at a time; beat. Add dry ingredients; mix. Transfer dough to a floured surface, knead briefly; divide into 3 pieces. Working with 1 dough piece at a time, roll dough to 1/4″ thickness. Using a 2 1/2″ round cookie cutter, cut out cookies; transfer to parchment paper—lined baking sheets, spaced 1″ apart. Reroll scraps and repeat. Bake until golden, 12–15 minutes. Let cool. Flip half the cookies over; top each with 1 heaping tsp. dulce de leche. Top with remaining cookies.

Yields 20 cookies

Photo credit: 1st photo:  La Rábida homepage

What’s on your bucket list?

At some point in your life you will come across someone who has written a “bucket list”, that checklist to complete before you turn 30, 50 or before you “kick the bucket”. Normally, this list is created at the same time mortality starts playing on the brain. Everyone always starts out feeling the same way, invincible teens, “plenty of time” 20’s, then like a fly swatter to the face it hits you.  Whack.  You wake up one morning look in the mirror and say to your reflection “who the eff is that staring at me?”. You may have discovered a few more grey hairs (100 or so in my case), a new wrinkle or two or perhaps experienced back pain when you sneezed. Little annoyances like these somehow crept in overnight and caught you by surprise. This morning discovery happened to me in my 35th year. I was a mother to two beautiful children, a wife to a workaholic and a woman whose life was once occupied with a career, sports and a very active social life that had evolved into a stagnant routine of cleaning, cooking and chauffeuring. It wasn’t until when life changing events started happening at rocket speed that I put my heels down and said “enough is enough”.  After 5 household moves (3 of them International) since 2008, a cancer scare (thankfully benign) and starting a new career after 8 years of full-time motherhood, life was accelerating way beyond my comfort zone and I’ve done my best to slow things down!  Live in the moment.

Enter my bucket list or shall I call it a “basket” list.

It will be less than 6 months till I hit my 40th year on this planet (shocker I know, considering that I’ve brainwashed my kids into telling everyone that I am 31) and since I am the type who is always ready to plan the next adventure, I decided that in order to successfully map out my future bucket list I first need to look back and acknowledge my achievements so far. The basket list below show my significant moments, accomplishments, and experiences that have happened in my life so far. I won’t highlight the obvious (college, career, marriage, kids… ok may be kids) rather the little blips on my life’s radar that have left permanent impressions in my soul, conscious awakenings that have reminded me just how precious life really is; moments to which has helped me develop into the person who I am today.

  • Born with an instant play mate – my twin
  • At age six caught a catfish. I was so proud!
  • Candy apples at the Bolton Fall Fair every September
  • Ran the 100m dash in 14 seconds flat at age 10. Placed 1st in Peel Region.
  • Partied at Speirsfest
  • Made the perfect dipped cone when I worked at DQ
  • Lost clumps of hair after too much perming
  • Sold a $25,000 Instant Win scratch ticket when I worked as a cashier at I.D.A Pharmacy
  • Jumped off the roof of a two-story house into the backyard pool (now that I’m a mom… stupid idea!!)
  • The Lavender Booth at the Royal Winter Fair every November
  • Left home at 23 to sail around the world
  • Was in London the day Princess Diana was killed (very sad moment)
  • Got to celebrate the Millennium New Year twice by sailing over the international date line
  • Danced on stage with Sha Na Na
  • Scuba Dived the Great Barrier Reef
  • Crawled in the Cu Chi Tunnels
  • Had two quick and easy (thank you epidural) births
  • Made a fool of myself in front of a famous person
  • Held a tarantula
  • Stood on Maho Beach under a 747 landing in St. Maarten
  • 2008: house burglarized, dog was poisoned, hurricane Omar
  • Searched for nesting Hawksbill sea turtles on a Caribbean beach in the middle of the night
  • Broke my wrist from a simple fall
  • Ate unpasteurized soft cheese rolled in fresh lavender and LOVED it
  • Horseback rode in many countries
  • Visited a concentration camp
  • Waltzed in the Hofburg Palace at the Officer’s Ball
  • Started a blog
  • Was chosen as a finalist in a Russell James photography competition
  • Congratulated my daughter on a perfect school report card
  • Climbed Austrian Mountain Schröcken… ok so it wasn’t Everest but it was bloody high!
  • Nearly saw my husband get hit by a car
  • Met a dear friend in Rome for 24 hours
  • Went on a blind “friend date”

When was the last time you took time to review your life achievements or reflect on great memories? So often people focus on setting future goals without first taking a look back and acknowledge what they have done in the past. Although I may not physically have a “bucket list” written as of yet, I do make an effort every day to work on meeting my next goal, whether it is to learn a new language (helps living in Austria) or to taste a new ice cream flavour. AND most importantly, I try to approach each new experience with a sense of humour.

“A day without laughter is a day wasted”. Charlie Chaplin

Stay tuned… my bucket list just may appear in the near future :)

Photo credits: 1 2


Playmobil what isn’t to love?

If you were born less than 37 years ago chances are you owned a Playmobil toy.  These miniature size plastic movable toys are as popular today as they were when they first hit stores worldwide in 1975.  What started out as the basic themes of construction sites and knights have multiplied into any theme imaginable.  I bought this farm set for my children for Christmas and of course it was well received.  After dumping out the teeny tiny pieces we quickly built our set and the playing has never stopped.

The attention to detail is what I find so fascinating, which helps me understand the price tag that comes along with such a great activity.  From this particular set nothing was forgotten, heat lamps for the mama pig & her piglets, labeled battery for the wire fence, even the cow poop was included (my kids found that quite amusing).  Not sure if this farm set sold in North America would also include the solar panels on the rooftops, just like you would see here in Europe.  So environmentally friendly :)

The big question however, still remains.  How long will it take before one of these pieces falls victim to the vacuum cleaner?


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