Tag Archives: gifts

Spice up Your Sweetheart’s Valentine’s Day

It’s Foodie Tuesday!

Valentine’s Day is on Thursday! I was in a store the other day and marveled at the holiday display, overflowing with giant teddy bears and sappy Hallmark cards.

Image: Hungry Happenings

While these cutesy gifts seem appropriate for a grade-school crush, this isn’t really the declaration of love I want to make to my beloved on Valentine’s Day.

cinnamon heartsImage: Not Entirely Arbitrary Review of Food

This year I wanted to make a treat that reflects the passion of the season, a little more Red Hots than Sweathearts if you will. Searching on the Interwebs, I came across a recipe for cinnamon heart bark which was a simple but rather disgusting sounding mix of melted white chocolate and cinnamon candies.

chocolate and spiceImage: Vosges Haut Chocolat

But it got me thinking. At Christmas, Midori gave me a selection of delectable spiced chocolate bars from Dolfin, including one dotted with pink peppercorns, and I’m completely addicted to Vosges’ Oaxaca Chocolate Bar, which blends guajillo and pasilla chilies with bittersweet chocolate. Why not make my own version of these spicy treats in bark form?

Image: Tracey Eckersley

I decided to make two versions. For the first, I simply melted half a pound of good-quality dark chocolate, poured it onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, and sprinkled a cup of chopped habanero-dusted almonds that I had on hand. The slightly sweet chocolate paired amazingly well with the smoky, spiced nuts but it is an in-your-face flavour!

Image: Tracey Eckersley

I thought that Valentine’s Day calls for something slightly more decadent and perhaps a little more subtle. For the second batch, I added a tablespoon each of cinnamon and ancho chili powder. Since these spices are often used in Mexican hot chocolate and mole, I figured they would pair well with bittersweet chocolate.

Image: Barina Craft on Tumblr

I would have loved to use pepitas (pumpkin seeds) since these are also popular in Mexican dishes but my store didn’t have any. So for crunch I picked up some macadamia nuts because what says luxury more than these buttery treats? I chopped up half a cup of nuts with half a cup of dried cherries to spread these over the melted chocolate.

Image: Tracey Eckersley

This one was a winner. The cinnamon adds a wonderful depth of flavour and balances out the sweetness of the nuts and the fruit, while the chili heat builds slowly on the tongue without overwhelming the palate. Hopefully this will warm my Valentine’s heart!

Image: Wallpaper Store

Recipe: Spicy Mexican Bark

8 oz. good-quality dark chocolate

1 Tbsp. cinnamon

1 Tbsp. ancho chili powder

½ cup macadamia nuts (or other nuts of your choice), chopped

½ cup dried cherries, chopped

Melt chocolate. I used a small crockpot but you can also do this on low heat in the microwave or in a double-boiler.

Add the spices and let sit for 20-30 minutes to allow the flavours to blend, without letting the chocolate to cool to the point of hardening.

Spread the chocolate on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Sprinkle the nuts and cherries over the chocolate and press lightly.

Chill in the refrigerator until firm, about 30 minutes, then break into pieces.

Stocking Stuffers and Last-Minute Gifts

For people who celebrate Christmas, there are two camps when it comes to shopping:  those who get it done early and spend Christmas Eve relaxing by the fire, smugly admiring their handiwork under the tree, and those who wait until the last minute and suffer through crowded stores and empty shelves before spending a sleepless night grappling with paper and bows.

Image:  La Flotte

Thankfully I am mostly in the former position this year but I still have a few bits and bobs to pick up, mostly stocking stuffers and last minute hostess gifts for the half dozen houses we will be visiting in the next few days.

Image: Curious Damsel

I am resisting the urge to be lazy and raid the grocery store for boxes of generic chocolates. Instead, I plan to visit and few local shops for little indulgences that our family and friends will enjoy through the holidays and beyond.

Image: Mikuni Wild Harvest

If your hosts are cooking for a crowd, you can grab some decadent jams or maple syrup to go with a jar of homemade pancake mix (don’t forget the instructions!) or a basket full of scones.

Image: Fork Knife Swoon

There is still time to make delectable delights in your own kitchen. My go-to recipe is a four-ingredient Peppermint Bark that can be put together in about an hour, including chilling time.

Image: Kitchen Confidante

I’m tempted to branch out this year and whip up some jars of fruit curd, which only takes a little more time and ingredients. Creamy Orange Cardamon Curd sounds divine and Cranberry provides a twist on this festive flavour.

Image: Dot and Lil

But since food never seems to be in short supply at the holidays, you might want to take another track. Little soaps will come in handy with a home full of houseguests.

Image:  Crazy Wonderful

Or, if you prefer something homemade, spray a couple coats of chalkboard paint on some spare tiles, tie them up with a piece of chalk and a pretty bow, and you have a set of unique and useful coasters.

Image: Floral Art via onewed

Everyone loves getting flowers but arriving with an arrangement that leaves your hosts scrambling for a vase isn’t best guest behaviour. Instead, pop by your local florist for a few succulents and plant them in a striking glass or bowl. Not only are they beautiful but they will last forever without much maintenance.

Image: Wish Studio

When time is tight, I sometimes cut corners on the wrapping but presentation really is everything. Check out Midori’s post from a few years ago for inspiration. And remember, your gifts don’t have to be large or expensive- your recipients will value the thought that went in to them. And no one will ever guess that they were put together on the fly.

Hopefully these ideas will allow you to get your last-minute gifts together with time to spare!

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Perfect Gifts for Foodies

It’s Foodie Tuesday!

If you partake in gift-giving this time of year, the clock is ticking! You have one week to get all your shopping wrapped up (pun totally intended). But if you have a foodie on your list, there are lots of great products out there that will have them grinning like a kid on Christmas.

Image: Terrain

I can’t imagine a cook who wouldn’t like this cute set close to the stove for a little last minute seasoning.

Image: zing anything

With the New Year comes resolutions; one of mine every year is to get healthy. Why not let your favourite foodie do it in style with a snazzy water bottle complete with a mesh-topped grinder that chops up fruit, vegetables, or herbs to infuse your beverage with great flavours but not the messy pulp?

Image: Uncommon Goods

Matching foods with the right wines can be a challenge for even serious chefs but with these tea towels at hand, your home cook will have no problem knowing which bottle to grab. As a special treat, pair this set with a bottle of red and white to get him or her started.

Image:  Eggshells Kitchen Co.

Everyone can use a practical gift like a cutting board but it doesn’t have to be boring. Joseph Joseph’s is so cute that you won’t want to hide it away in a drawer.

Image: Bar0der

Do you have a budding bartender on your list? Why not get them the Swiss Army knife of bar tools? This little beauty has every gadget necessary to craft the perfect tipple.

Image: Chef Sleeve

Like most foodies, I love cookbooks. But I frequently find myself using recipes from the Internet. It doesn’t take much imagination to think up a dozen ways that your iPad could be destroyed in the kitchen. Fortunately, Chef Sleeve has created disposable covers to keep screens clean and cutting boards with built-in stands to make reading recipes a little easier while preparing one’s mise en place.

Image: Nudo

The most obvious gift for foodies is, of course, food. But don’t settle for the standard gourmet fare- really wow them this year. Instead of picking up a bottle of olive oil you can adopt an olive tree from Nudo, who will send the recipient an adoption kit and three cans from the spring pressing of their very own tree!

Image: Williams Sonoma

Most of us can’t afford to take our loved ones truffle hunting in France or Italy but this oyster mushroom log will at least keep them in fungus without having to leave the comfort of their own kitchens and it is much cheaper than a plane ticket.

Image: visualingual on Etsy

A package of Seed Bombs would make an excellent stocking stuffer for an avid gardener or an apartment dweller; the little globes filled with seeds can be tossed outside or planted in a container to provide a yummy mix of salad greens year round.

Image: Homemade Gin Kit

Since cocktails have become the next cupcakes in the food world, give your gourmet the chance to blend botanicals to make their own gin. Simply add a bottle of vodka to the Homemade Gin Kit and 36 hours later your giftee can be mixing up his or her own cocktail creations.

No matter what gift you choose for your foodie friends, I hope you and yours have a yummy holiday season!

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Easy Polymer Clay Pendant Tutorial

pendant by MandyAll Photographs by Eric Cator

Polymer clay, also known by the brand names Sculpey and Fimo, is surprisingly easy to work with. Once you get used to working with polymer clay you can make anything from highly detailed miniatures to pretty beads, and it’s incredibly addictive. Here’s a little tutorial for making pendants for necklaces or ornaments for your tree. The process is so simple and quick, so these make fantastic last minute gifts.

Materials Needed:


buttons, stamps, bits of metal (anything that you think might make an interesting texture.)

rolling pin

Aluminum Foil

Old baking sheet

sharp knife or cookie cutters

wooden skewer

necklace chain, ribbon or string

plastic table cover

gloves (optional)

Step One: Set up your workspace

Polymer clay is made of synthetic materials which makes it easy to manipulate and gives it a smooth texture. It is not food safe though, so when choosing your tools it’s best to use items that won’t be used to serve or prepare food afterwards. Protect your work surface with plastic sheeting, and line your baking sheet with foil and set that aside.

Step Two: Knead Clay and Roll Dough

Take a lump of sculpey and using your hands massage it until it becomes flexible. Sculpey can be hard to squish but the heat from your hands will quickly soften it. Roll the softened dough to desired thickness. I did mine about a quarter inch thick. If you roll it too thin the finished piece can be fragile, too thick and it might be too heavy.

Step Three: Cut Out Shapes and Add Textures

Using a sharp knife or cookie cutters cut out pendant shapes. Using a spare scrap of clay try pressing your various texture objects into the clay to get a sense of the effect they will create. When you find something you are happy with use the object/stamp etc. to make patterns on your pendant.

Step Four: Poke Holes and Transfer to Baking Sheet

Using a wooden skewer poke holes in the tops of your pendants and carefully transfer them to your foil lined baking sheet.

Step Five: Bake

Follow the directions on the sculpey package for baking. I recommend keeping an eye on your creations while they are in the oven. Thin objects have a tendency to discolour if they get too hot. When they are finished baking remove from the oven and let cool completely.

Step Six: Paint and Decorate

Using paints, crystals, beads or anything else you like decorate your pendants. Mine are going to the tween girls on my gift list so I picked colours suitable for them. When the paint is dry thread the pendants on ribbons, chains or strings.

Voila, a collection of homemade gifts to package up and give.

Happy Friday Everyone!

Posted in Culture | Tagged , ,

Gifts that Go Further Vol 3

Image via Elle Decoration.  Monkey Biz gems available in Toronto through Eat my Words

Each year (I can’t believe this is the third!) I’ve compiled a gift guide of gifts and tributes that go further than standard gift fare can.  These are gifts go further by giving back, sometimes in the most extraordinary and unexpected ways.

Monkey Biz

Image via Cape Grace

MonkeyBiz is a wonderful non-profit, income-generating project for women in South Africa that has brought the country’s beaded arts to an international market.  These true works of art are handmade, come with a card signed by the artist and are one-of-a-kind.  They are absolutely stunning, charming, whimsical.  Not only are artists able to sustain their families on the income generated from their work, but any profits are reinvested into local community services.  Available in Toronto through Eat My Words and Snob.

Designed Good

Stitch the Stars via Designed Good

Make gift-giving a bit easier by browsing through Designed Good’s online catalogue of unique gifts that aren’t just designed well but designed for good.  Find gifts from fashion, prints, journals and jewelry as well as information on how the artist or entrepreneur is fulfilling Designed Good’s mandate of improving the world.   Becoming a member is free and only takes your email address.  My favourite item is this Stitch the Stars Calendar Kit.  Use glow in the dark thread to connect the dots to stitch together the constellations each month.  Simply stellar!

Plan International’s Because I am a Girl

Image via Plan Canada

The work this international charitable organization does always leaves me in awe. Dedicated to supporting social justice for children, I especially appreciate their Because I am a Girl program (click here in the US) which focuses on empowering girls from the community level on up. Choose gifts that include a Newborn Check-Up for $12 (in Canada this gift is matched for a $48 value) to a Scholarship for a young girl for $295 (matched to $1180), and you will be contributing to the transformation of lives and in turn communities.  Pick a gift through the Plan website and send an electronic or paper card to your special recipient with information on the tribute gift you chose in their honour.

Max the Shelter Dog

Max, the Shelter Dog by Nicole Rivera is a series of children’s books, also available in electronic form, that follows the life of a shelter pup named Max.  This sweet series encourages a child’s awareness and compassion for animals.  A great gift for little readers on your list.


Image via Figs

For the stylish men (or those you hope to transform), Figs ties, cashmere scarves and bowties are both a fashionable and ethical gift.  Their “Threads for Threads” initiative means that every purchase also gives a school uniform to a child in need of an education in the developing world. Check out their video that explains this mission:

Charitable Online Auctions

And finally, if you’re looking for larger ticket items, consider Bidding for Good, a charitable e-commerce company that connects fundraisers, cause-conscious shoppers, and socially responsible businesses (there’s also Ebay’s version, Ebay Giving Works).  Both feature popular items as well as a number of one-of-a-kind gifts such as antiques and unique experiences like one-on-one violin lessons with a symphony member.

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