Tag Archives: winter

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!

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

The mercury dipped drastically last week, forcing me into a full-on retreat indoors.

Image: Shelter

I used to love skiing, skating, and other winter sports but as I get older and my bones get a little creakier, I find myself hibernating in the colder months.

Image: The Drake Hotel via Facebook

But I am intrigued by the recent trend of creating outdoor rooms to be used in the coldest of months. The Drake Hotel in Toronto has transformed their rooftop bar into a camp, complete with a fire pit, tented seating areas, and very necessary heat lamps.

Image: Back of House (Morgans Hotel Group)

The Hudson Hotel in New York City has gone a slightly cozier route by adding an indoor/outdoor ski lodge-themed bar. While it has a glass roof to keep guests warmer, fake snow falls periodically each night to keep guests in a wintery vibe. I’m headed to the Big Apple in February and if it’s still freezing, this place is definitely on my to-do list.

Image: Mountain Living

But until then, there are lots of little touches to give a home a wintery mix. I love this birch bark bed frame and think it would look awesome any time of the year.

Image: Curated

Several designers have been inspired by winter activities. This bench, designed by Damien Bihr for Helium Concept, was part of a children’s line but would also work well  in a foyer.

Image: Inhabitat

Swiss-born designer Adrian Rovero takes this concept one step further, repurposing actual ski gondolas into incredible rocking chairs as part of a project by Mountain Climbers, a group dedicated to benefiting charities through the sale of sustainably-designed items.

Image: Red via HandMaid Liset

As much as I like the idea of bringing the outdoors in this time of year, I also enjoy the idea of warming up my décor. What could be better than a cable-knit cover for a chair or couch? I could see myself curled up for hours in this.

Image: The Cavender Diary

And what warm-blooded Canadian doesn’t associate the iconic Hudson Bay blanket in these frosty months? The striped motif goes especially well with the Mid-Century Modern furniture displayed above but many variations, including cushions for the commitment-phobe, are possible.

No matter how much you love (or hate) this winter weather, there are lots of options for embracing the season in home furnishings! 

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Alternative Christmas Trees

I love decorating for Christmas and the highlight for me is going out and picking the perfect tree to bring home and decorate with the ornaments that I have collected over the years. However, the environmentalist in me feels a little guilty killing an innocent tree to fill my house with its intoxicating scent for a mere four weeks.

Image: Bibitaro

And yet, I can’t quite bring myself to go the artificial route. I have considered a small, living potted tree but I don’t have anywhere to plant it when the holidays are over.

Image: Fleurfatale

But this is an excellent choice for people who have a backyard or who have larger indoor plants (Christmas cactus anyone?). Even a container with branches could make a cool sustainable version.

Image: AtelierboisdAme on Etsy

AtelierboisdAme plays on this idea by assembling driftwood into the shape of a traditional tree. I think this would look amazing draped with rustic ornaments.

Image: Makedo on Instructables

For the crafty types, Makedo on Instructables has an easy 10-step tutorial for a cardboard Christmas tree. If you have kids, you could keep them busy for hours decorating one with markers or decoupage. You could even make small holes in the cardboard and hang ornaments.

Image: Tattered Style

But why not use items you already have around the house? A plain old ladder looks spectacular decked out with lights and sparkly decorations.

Image: Allison Stanke on Pinterest

As a graduate student, I always have a large stack of books lying around, so I am sorely tempted to procrastinate at the end of term with this DIY project!

Image: Martha Stewart

One of the reasons that people shy away from a real tree is lack of floor space. Fortunately, several creative types have shared their 2-D solutions on the Internet.  With little more than a string of lights, one can have a merry little tree.

Image: Le Vestiaire de Jeanne via All Washi Tape

A few months ago, Mandy blogged about the wonderful possibilities of washi tape here on The Design Tree, so it’s no surprise that it has been incorporated in Christmas decorations. The huge variety of colours and patterns means that you could make a tree to match any décor.

Image: Wall Dressed Up

Snowflake decals also make a festive alternative that won’t damage the walls when they come down in the New Year.

Image: A Legg Up

I’m not much of an artist but if I was I would consider covering a wall with chalkboard paint (or butcher paper since I’m pretty non-committal in the paint department) and drawing the perfect tree.

Image: Ever After Blueprint

What about you? Do you prefer a traditional tree or would you consider going alternative this Christmas?

Simple DIY Winter Hostess Gifts

Valley and Co. Lifestyle DIY ornamentImage via Valley and Co. DIY Lifestyle

It’s always nice to bring a little thank you when a friend or acquaintance goes to the trouble of having guests over for a nice meal.  Here are some simple DIY hostess gift ideas, many of which you can make up now in bulk so that you always have something on hand to give.

Hot Chocolate

homemade gift of peppermint hot chocolateImages via My Recipes

Mix up some fancy cocoa packages to give away, including little extras like mini marshmallows, peppermint sticks, vanilla sugar and mini chocolate chips.  I’ve seen this packaged all sorts of interesting ways: layered in a mason jar like above; with each ingredient in little test tubes; in cellophane cones.

Hot chocolate on a stick, with homemade marshmallow!

Image via Make and Take

If you’re feeling a tad more adventurous, try this hot chocolate on a stick recipe from Make and Take.  This combines homemade marshmallows and chocolate blocks on popsicle sticks that are swirled and melted into warmed milk.  Mmmmmm….


vintage asian tea canistersImage via Bijou Kaleidoscope

A simple selection of individually wrapped teas together with a little jar of honey and other garnishes like lemons, cinnamon sticks, ginger root make a wonderful gift this time of year.  Bonus points if you package the tea in a vintage tea canister or other decorative box.

Scented Sugars

homemade vanilla sugarImage via Hip Hostess

trio of scented sugarsImage via Kitchen Samurai

Scented sugars make a wonderful gift and are perfect in a morning tea, bowl of porridge, or atop fresh fruit.  And they couldn’t be easier to make.  Pick up, or re-use some glass jars with tightly fitted lids, add granulated sugar and an aromatic such as halved vanilla pods, mint leaves, lemon and orange peels, or rose petals.  Let the jars of sugar sit in its closed jar for about one week and ta-dah: A uniquely sweet gift! How awesome too that this gift is shelf stable, beautiful to present and inexpensive to make.

Holiday Ornaments

Got kids or visiting grandkids looking for a fun sparkle mess of a craft, because this one is perfect.  Pick up some simple glass baubles (or a less breakable material like Styrofoam balls if little ones are involved) and create a masterpiece for your host’s tree.

DIY glittle baubleImage via Shelterness

Simply coat the bauble with a glue stick and dip/sprinkle with sparkles.  For a snowball look, coat in Epsom salts.  It’s really simple and fun if you’re a crafter.

snowball ornament made with epsom saltsImage via My Uncommon Slice of Suburbia

homemade glitter ornamentImage via Ideas Home Concept


knit washclothsImage via PurlBee

If knitting is your thing (it’s mine!), these charming washcloths by Whit’s Knits are made from a soft machine-wash cotton.  The “log cabin” design makes for a visually interesting colour blocked look that are sure to be soft yet durable.  For the full tutorial with loads of pics, just visit Purl Bee.

Hope you find time to relax and enjoy as the holiday season starts ramping up!

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