Tag Archives: winter holidays

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.

DIY Valentine’s Invasion

floating hearts via Apartment Therapy


Valentine’s Day is next week and if you are looking for some ideas to show your loved ones a little extra affection I’ve rounded up a few love-inspired DIY decor ideas. Valentine’s Day has acquired something of a bad rap for being tacky and too sweet, but hopefully you’ll find these projects are anything but. So spread the love and get out your craft supplies.

Fingerprint Art via Man Made DIY

This easy wall art DIY project makes a great gift that can be displayed year round. When making personalized art you do want to make sure it isn’t something the recipient will be too embarrassed to display in their home, and this idea definitely fits the bill (unless it’s your first date, in which case it might veer into creepy territory.)

Giant Valentine Poster DIY by Oh Happy Day!

Sometimes it takes a big gesture to let your special someone know you want to lock lips. Oh Happy Day has graciously offered a tutorial and free download so you can make an oversized poster for your valentine.

Glitter Letters by Make Life Lovely

It is my opinion that everything in life is made better with a little sprinkle of glitter. These sparkly xo’s are a cute idea for a gift or just a Valentine’s decoration. If you want an unexpected touch shake on a non-traditional colour instead of the typical red or pink.

Giant Geometric Wall Heart via Oleander and Palm

I love this Geometric wall heart made by Oleander and Palm. It looks both easy and chic, and you could customize this by using other colours or even by adding initials. I think this is one valentine I would consider leaving up permanently.

Paint Chip Heart Garland via Grace and Light Studios

You’d think with all the paint chip projects out there paint stores would start hiding these things under lock and key. Luckily they haven’t yet, and all this pretty garland takes is some thread, a heart punch or scissors, and a handful of paint chips of course. This would also make a good project for kids to help with.

Heart Balloon Surprise via Oh Happy Day!

Surprise your valentine with a cascade of hearts by borrowing this simple but impactful idea. I sourced out a couple of places (1,2) where you can find heart balloons if you want to give this a try.

Chocolate Hibiscus Truffles via Bake Noir

Of course there’s also the lazy man’s option of just hiding candy and chocolates around the house to be found over the course of the day. Although, when it comes to delicious chocolates why wait for Valentine’s Day?

Happy Friday Everyone!

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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Reindeer Games

Paper Mache Reindeer via curbly

On Dasher, on Dancer, on Prancer, on Vixen…

Reindeer have long been synonymous with the winter season, what with their annual escorting of Santa around the globe and all. As Santa gets ready to hitch up his team to the sleigh I thought we could look at some objects and projects inspired by this wintery beast (okay, I’ll admit that I’ve mixed some regular old deer in with the reindeer, but you won’t tell Santa Claus will you?)

DIY Cardboard Deer Kit from Mikkili

If you’re looking for activities to fill those long winter days waiting for Christmas to come you can make your own reindeer toy/sculpture with this eco-friendly kit. It’s made from sturdy printed cardboard, and the simple construction makes it easy for anyone to put together.

Reindeer Necklace by Nafsika

This little reindeer pendant is made out of sterling silver by etsy seller Nafsika. A perfect wintery bobble to complement a cozy sweater as you sit by the fire sipping hot cocoa.

Reindeer Bedlinen by nord

I am completely smitten with this junior’s bedding set by nord. It’s hard to find kid’s bedding that kids and design conscious parents will both like, but I think this black and white set will please everyone. I just love the expression on this deer’s face.

Deer Vase by Akamoyo

This porcelain deer vase by German-Japanese artist and designer Akamoyo is a gorgeous way to display blooms. Much more stylish and whimsical than a pair of antlers over the fireplace if you ask me.

Burlap Reindeer Pillow by The NestUK

Add an arctic touch to your sofa with this pretty reindeer pillow. The silhouette is hand printed on burlap, making this a fantastic rustic accessory that is easy to change up when the season is over.

Coffee Deer by Jenny Kim

I just discovered the Working Proof, which is a place to buy art while also being charitable. A portion of each print on their site goes to the artist’s chosen charity. A purchase of this print helps support Puppies behind bars; a program that teaches inmates to train puppies to be service dogs.

Reindeer Thumbprint Ornaments by Little Bit Funky

Looking for a last minute gift the kids can make this weekend? These easy reindeer ornaments by Little Bit Funky are a great way to create a keepsake that can hang on the tree every year. As a bonus, you may even have the needed supplies around the house already.

Happy Friday Everyone!


Posted in Culture, Design | Tagged

Christmas in Japan


Image by Flickr user Ari Helminen

On this side of the world, Christmas celebrates family and coming together to celebrate the end of the year and hope for the coming one. Just like other celebrations however, in different parts of the world Christmas might have a different cultural significance.

Image by Flickr user Foxafarian

Christmas has its origins in the Christian faith, so it might be celebrated differently in some some countries where Christianity might not be a prominent religion. Coming from a dominantly Catholic country, to me it always had a meaning that was connected to religion.

In Japan, where Christianity is not a dominant religion, Christmas is celebrated rather differently and has gained a meaning that is linked more to contemporary culture instead of spiritual traditions.

Image by Flickr user Tathei

Christmas eve in Japan is a holiday to be spent with loved ones – in a much more literal sense. It’s kind of like the equivalent of Christmas in July, but instead you could think of it as Valentine’s day in February.

Christmas eve is a night for lovers, romanticized by the festive holiday lights and displays. Couples are the focus of this holiday, and most christmas celebrations center around romantic love, making it the equivalent of what valentine’s day would be in places such as the US and Canada.

There are a couple of traditions that have been adapted in Japan during the holiday season with varied approaches. Exchanging gifts is also done as a sign of good will, but not everyone partakes, possibly because it is more traditional to give a gift of goodwill to people who have helped you during the year at New Year’s.

Image by Flickr user markls

Families also prepare a Christmas meal, but it’s far from what you would expect. In recent years the Christmas meal of choice for many Japanese in urban areas is Kentucky Fried Chicken. This started a few decades ago when Christmas wasn’t a widespread holiday (it still isn’t a national holiday today), and has since become tradition.

Image by Flickr user sleepytako

The meal is similar to what families in the US would do for thanksgiving – place an order in advance to avoid waiting in a line for a special portion of chicken, christmas cake, and other special goodies.

Image by flickr user niachan

And speaking of christmas cake – Japanese christmas cake isn’t the traditional fruitcake you would expect, either. It’s basically a soft sponge cake decorated with strawberries and cream icing, sometimes with a greeting or other holiday garnish. I personally enjoyed eating this kind of christmas cake – it was light sweet but not overly laden with fruit and spice.

Image by Flickr user jjarvjp

Wherever in the world you celebrate though, Christmas never fails to be the most festive time of year. However you decide to celebrate, may your days be merry and bright!


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