Tag Archives: holidays

Green with Envy: Delicious and Authentic St. Patrick’s Day Recipes

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! If you grew up (as I did) in a family with an Irish heritage, this day probably conjures up memories of dry corned beef and soggy cabbage.  For those of you who are only Irish on St. Paddy’s, green beer probably comes to mind.

Man dressed like a leprechaun (Photo: Tracey Eckersley)

But neither tradition has much to do with the wonderful food found in Ireland today. The country is full of chefs and culinary experts at the forefront of the slow food movement, dedicated to making the most of local meat and dairy products and seasonal produce grown in the lush green countryside.

An Ireland view

(Photo: Fin Facts)

Nothing prepared me for the quality of the meals that I had on my trips to the Emerald Isle. Whether it was a simple lunch at a cheap n’ cheerful pub or a gourmet 5-course spread at an upscale hotel, the focus was on fresh, local ingredients.

Irish bread(Photo: Eat Boutique)

At almost every meal, I was served freshly baked brown bread. Always afraid of bread-making, I was awed by the national dedication to this daily task but several B&B owners assured me that the recipe was a simple one. While I never wheedled the secret from these home cooks, the delicious recipe from Eat Boutique is reminiscent of those dense, hearty loaves. Once you try it, you will never be able to imagine eating soup or stew without it.

Irish butter(Photo: igourmet.com)

This bread doesn’t keep well, so plan to enjoy it warm from the oven, slathered in butter. And if you can, splash out and use Irish butter. You really can taste the difference:  it is noticeably richer and creamier than the North American version. Brands like Kerrygold are sold at Whole Foods and through online gourmet stores.

Cookbook author Darina Allen(Photo: Kyle Books)

Darina Allen, Irish cookbook author and owner of the Ballymaloe Cookery School, is perhaps one of the greatest advocates of the Irish slow food movement. And while her classes are international in scope, she is best known for her traditional local recipes. One of my favourites is her Irish stew, a simple recipe that is full of flavour. It would be the perfect main for your St. Patrick’s Day feast.

Irish lamb stew(Photo: Financial Times)

I do think all holiday dinners should have a fun dessert. While not traditional, Epicurious’s Chocolate Guinness Goodness looks like a pint of the popular Irish stout and incorporates the beer into this rich chocolate mousse.

Stout and chocolate dessert(Photo: Epicurious)

So this St. Patrick’s Day give the green beer a miss and indulge in these wonderful and (mostly) authentic Irish recipes. It will make you wish that every day was St. Paddy’s Day!

Posted in Culture, Food | Tagged , ,

The Dragon Year

Image courtesy Reuters

2012 is underway, and in a couple of weeks it will be the Lunar new year. For some cultures that follow the Chinese Zodiac, or their own version of it, this year is an auspicious one because it belongs to one of the most highly regarded signs — the dragon.

The Chinese zodiac is regarded by other Asian cultures apart from the Chinese, most of which have strong influences and ties to China. Countries such as Korea, Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines all celebrate their own versions of the lunar new year.

Japanese new year’s cards. Image from the Japan Post.

Lunar new year is always a colorful celebration wherever you go, and is traditionally celebrated with several festivities that last about a week or so. In many Asian countries, it is almost as significant as the Gregorian new year, with the first day or first few days granted as  public holidays. Festivities during Lunar new year include festivals and street markets, exchanging red envelopes filled with money (for prosperity), and eating the traditional rice cake. Apart from the usual colorful events that take place, one thing I also enjoy is the lovely visual feast that embodies the culture and traditions of the holiday.

Chinese new year cakes for sale in the Philippines. Image from Maynila Daily Photo.

In the chinese zodiac, the dragon is considered to be one of the most powerful signs, perhaps because of its mythical nature. Many also believe that this year, 2012 is particularly lucky because besides it being the dragon’s year it is also a leap year! It only follows then that there have already been preparations around the world for grand celebrations of this year.

Although this paper sculpture was made last year for the celebration of the year of the Rabbit, i thought it was a fresh, contemporary take on the idea of chinese paper-cut dragons. Definitely a craft project to keep in mind for future new years!

Image from Modern Woman

In Singapore, the chef of the Fairmont Hotel’s Szechuan court prepared a “Golden Dragon” dish in celebration of the dragon year – composed of swordfish, abalone, lobster, and salmon, drizzled with a special sauce and sprinkled with gold dust. Definitely a  prosperous dish for a hopefully prosperous new year!

Image from superadrianme

Perhaps unsuprisingly the most impressive preparations for the dragon year are taking place in Beijing. On the 9th of January, workers tested a dragon made of 3, 000 lanterns in Yongdingmen Square Park to make sure the impressive installation lights up for the celebrations that will start on February 23.

Image from Hungeree.

To me, dragons have somehow always had an impressive aura to them, and are the perfect symbol for prosperity and positive energy. Hopefully 2012 will have plenty of favorable events for everyone! Happy New Year!

Last-Minute Holiday Gifts

Everyone I know seems so stressed this holiday season, complaining that none of the tasks that this time of year brings are done. I am more or less on top of it: cookies baked, cards mailed, presents (mostly) bought. But with a move planned just three days after Christmas, I am run ragged and I know that I must have forgotten something or someone on my list.

(Photo: Meadowbrook Farm)

Nothing is worse than having to scramble for a last-minute gift. So before you grab that bottle of wine from your shelf or think about re-gifting the box of chocolates you received last week, here is my present to you: simple recipes that take only a few ingredients and require minimal prep time but produce spectacular results.

(Photo: Savory Sweet Life)

Peppermint bark is a holiday favourite and you can make it in less time than it takes to drive to the mall to buy a tin. There are several recipes for this but the best one I have tried comes from my old friend Jennifer Hamilton at Sweetspot. I made a batch the other night and wrapped presents while the chocolate layers cooled.

(Photo: Little Birdie Secrets)

You could package it up in a dollar-store tin but I think the bark is so pretty that all it needs is a cellophane bag, some ribbon, and a gift tag like Little Birdie Secrets used for their equally simple Holiday Pretzel Kisses.  I also love the idea of molding the bark in cookie cutters, like they did at peas & crayons.

(Photo: peas & crayons)

(Photo: One Charming Party)

One of my other go-to recipes this time of year is Sweet and Spicy Nuts, which beats a tin of Planter’s any day. You can adjust the spices to your taste or based on what you have on hand.

Sweet and Spicy Nuts

2 cups pecans

1 tbsp. butter

3 tbsp. brown sugar

1 ½ tbsp. maple syrup

1 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 tsp. cinnamon

¼ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. nutmeg


Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Place the nuts on a foil-lined baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.

Melt the butter in a small dish in the microwave.

Mix together the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and add butter. Stir to mix.

Add the warm nuts and toss to coat.

Spread the nuts back on the baking sheet and bake for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Let cool and break apart any clusters.

(Photo: Martha Stewart)

A cupful of these nuts wrapped up in a simple paper cone, the instructions for which are available from Martha Stewart, makes the perfect hostess gift!

Everyday items can be upcycled into wonderful packaging for homemade gifts. Jen at A Thousand Words wrapped empty Pringles cans with leftover paper to create a festive container for Christmas cookies. So don’t panic. Take a few minutes to put together these simple sweet and savory treats and you will be all set for a last-minute gift.

(Photo: A Thousand Words)

And if it turns out you don’t need them, you will have something special to serve family and friends when they come over for the holidays. Or you will have a little treat for yourself for when you finally cross the last thing off your holiday to-do list.

Posted in Culture | Tagged , ,

Brown Paper Packages Tied Up with String

all photos by Eric Cator

Do you find yourself leaving all your gift wrapping for the last minute? We’re usually travelling over the holidays and it’s not unheard of for me to be frantically wrapping presents in the car on the way to visit family and friends. This year I’m going to get a head start to cut down on the chaos, and also because I love looking at nicely wrapped gifts under the tree. Who’s with me? Here are a few gift wrapping ideas that start with plain kraft paper. With a few adornments you can make gifts festive and fun.

vintage baubles

Use a couple vintage brooches or clip-on earrings as a sparkling present topper and bonus gift. All you need to do is pin them onto a ribbon, or two overlapping ribbons as I have done.  Alternately you could make a bow out of a vintage necklace or wrap it around the present in place of ribbon.

fingerprint snowmen and snowballs

Here’s a fun idea if you have kids who want to help out in the present wrapping department. Make snowmen out of white paint using your fingerprints (thumb for the bottom, pointer for the middle and pinkie for the head).  Use markers or pens to draw on hats, buttons, eyes, carrot noses and stick arms.  Tie some pompom trim around the gift to finish it off (you can find pompom trim at most craft or fabric stores).

weaving ribbons

Here’s a quick and easy technique that looks much more involved than it is. Cut six strips of ribbon or bias tape so they will go around your present vertically. Fix ribbons in place with tape at the bottom of your present. Cut another six ribbons so they will reach horizontally around the package and weave them through the verticl ribbons and tape them in place.

yarn and pompoms

For a fun and crafty looking present tie yarn around your wrapped package multiple times and affix a couple of over-sized pompoms on top. If you don’t know how to make pompoms don’t fret, it’s really easy and you can find a good tutorial here.

Do you have some gift wrapping in store for this weekend? I hope a few of these ideas will come in handy.

Happy Friday Everyone!

Posted in Culture, Design | Tagged , , ,

How To Make A Paper Leaves Wreath

It’s How-To Wednesday

The other day I was thinking our front door could really use a little holiday spirit, and it seemed like a perfect time to attempt making a wreath. I was having a hard time choosing from the millions of wreath ideas out there so I came up with my own. Bibliophiles and librarians everywhere, I do apologize.  That is a cut up book you’re looking at. I’m always a little torn when it comes to using books for crafting, but I love the look of type and I figured up-cycling an unwanted book into something my family will enjoy for years is a forgivable offense.  Feel free to use any kind of paper you like however. I think some textured Washi paper would also look phenomenal.


one metal coat hanger


paper or an old book

thread to match your paper


craft scissors (I used a set with a serrated edge)


Step 1: Using pliers or your hands to bend coat hanger into a circular shape. Use pliers or strong wire cutters to clip off the hook at the top of the hanger (I saved this step for the end). 

Step 2: Pour yourself a glass of eggnog (or something stronger), put on your favourite holiday movie and start cutting paper leaves using craft scissors. Don’t worry about making them all the same size, a little variation is perfectly okay.  You need tons to get a full looking wreath, so cut out way more than you think you’ll need.

Step 3: Using a needle and thread attach your leaves to the wire. My approach was to knot my thread to the wire, and then I attached one paper leaf at a time, wrapping the thread around the wire after each leaf. Attach leaves in alternating directions (see photo).

Step 4: After you’ve attached ten or so leaves, gently bunch the leaves together. Keep attaching leaves and bunching until you’ve reached the end of your circle.

Step 5: Gently fold leaves in the centre making them more three dimensional, and fan the leaves out until you’re happy with the fullness and shape.

Step 6: Tie a bow out of ribbon for the top of the wreath.

Step 7: All finished! Hang and enjoy.

This was absolutely a satisfying and cost effective project that can be modified in any number of ways. Feel free to experiment with materials or the process. If you need any help with your wreath feel free to comment below and I will try to help.

All images by Eric Cator