Homemade paper and Mod Podge coasters

When Jen and Ian moved into their new home, they bought a beautiful dining room table.

It’s made of mango wood and was apparently imported from Vietnam. It also has two wings you can add in, making it a whopping eight plus feet long. Medieval feast parties? Totally do-able.

The one thing about buying a new table is that you want to be good to it. Care for it. Wipe it, dry it, love it. My mom and dad also bought a new table for our kitchen, after at least five years of searching for the one. As a result, my mom is hyper-attuned to what’s going on within a metre radius of that table whenever I visit. No glass may sit directly on said table, lest its cold content exude itself into a permanent, circular ridge in The Table. My laptop must sit atop a placemat before going on The Table. The Table must be wiped with a well-squeezed damp cloth, and then wiped carefully again with a dry one. These are the Sacraments of The Table.

But I digress.

Point is, I both understand and appreciate how beautiful and sacred new tables can be. It is, after all, the place where families and friends come together. Where they eat, play board games, and make crafts.

This is a roundabout way of saying that Jen and Ian needed coasters.

And so, in typical form, we set off to create our own.

The journey started with a trip to the local Home Hardware in search of some sort of cork board backing. Luckily, it was sold by the foot, and the clerks kindly sliced it up into smaller squares so I could cram it into the laptop pouch of my backpack.

Next, a trip to the craft store Michael’s found us in possession of some beautiful paper. Printed paper is such a weakness of mine, and had I been the type to have started scrap booking when I was in seventh grade, I would surely be broke today. Michael’s has an entire aisle dedicated to coloured paper, a collection that made me long for the creaky floors and Scotch tape price tag corners of The Papery in Ottawa. Jen, Ian, and I spent at least 20 minutes looking and deciding on our purchases, before coming away with what was a surprisingly cohesive set of colours. Highlights of pale pinks, blues, and greens, collaged with images of flowers, newspaper print, and birds (that’s right, we put a bird on it!).

I also bought some nature-inspired (some more literal than others) paper for the next time I decide to make an outdoorsy birthday card. I couldn’t help myself.

On Sunday night the three of us gathered around the dining room table (though it was covered with a $2 lined tablecloth), and traced, sliced, and Mod Podged the craft ingredients into something that resembled a coaster.

And voila! Glass guarding and crafty creativity.

YOU NEED:
– 1 foot (approximately) cork board backing, $4
– 1, 8 oz jar of Mod Podge (matte), $5 (we had a 50% off coupon!)
– Cheap paint brushes, $3
– Beautiful paper of choice (anywhere from free to $10, depending on what you want and in what variety)
– Fun friends

Unrelated, but cute: Norbert has now taken ownership over 2/3 of my bedroom.

Neighbourhood-hopping, Sudbury style

I met a few of my high school friends for drinks the other night. It was your typical collection of Sudbury twenty-somethings, half who had gone to Laurentian for university, the other half who, like me, had found themselves back in town accidentally, after swearing never to return. That’s what Sudbury is like, apparently. Like the Hotel California. Have I mentioned I’ve given in and am getting a 705 number again?

Anyways, one of these friends was lamenting over the fact that he’s now stuck back in Sudbury, a place he no longer considers his home after four years spent in Canada’s largest city. Full disclosure before I continue: I’m not exactly Suzie Sudbury myself. In fact, there are a whole handful of cities in which I’d rather be, namely Ottawa, the geographical love of my life. But I am not there, I am here. This is the point I tried to press with this one friend…that you might as well appreciate Sudbury for its positives, rather than dwell on the negatives. I don’t think I convinced him, but the beer made me more and more ambivalent, so I stopped.

The night tugged on a familiar thread with me, and I was reminded of my endless summer thoughts surrounding this former place of high school dwelling that has suddenly become my home again. Over the past five months, I’ve come to peace with my decision to move back to northern Ontario. It’s a peace secured around the idea that you can’t take the city too seriously, that you have to embrace the imperfections, shake your head and say, “oh that? Not again.” I’m not saying that you can’t try to change the city for the better – you certainly can, and there are several groups and individuals who are doing just that. Sudbury has a burgeoning art scene, and some food-related projects that have the potential to really take off. Beautiful hiking trails and stunning vistas are just a short drive away, and in the summer you can pretty much walk half a kilometre in any direction and encounter a lake.

Since one of my favourite features of cities are its neighbourhoods, I set out to visit an unexplored Sudbury one. Well-defined, personality-filled neighbourhoods are the exception rather than the norm here, and most inter-city regions are based solely around where the newest housing division has been built. Sudbury’s roads are not grid-based in any way (in fact, they’re quite the opposite, weaving around rocks and parallel to twisting train tracks), which also contributes to the blurring/difficulty in cordoning off neighbourhoods.

Perhaps the most notorious of these few true “neighbourhoods” is The Donovan – the network of streets flowing off Kathleen Avenue, nestled just north of the CBC newsroom downtown.

I’d only ever driven through The Donovan once, near dusk. It’s unusual to discover new parts of a city you’ve lived in for so long, and it seemed as though I was in a different town all together. If someone had blindfolded me and spun me around I likely would have ended up being hit by a train.

I didn’t know much about The Donovan, except that it is known as being the “rougher” area of town. I decided against venturing at night, and instead walked over on a crisp fall morning after buying too many cranberries at the downtown farmer’s market.

Some scenes from that walk:

After The Donovan, I wandered down a Rainbow Routes trail by Frood Road, taking numerous detours along the train tracks as though I were a soul-searching preteen in a 1980’s flick. I’ve been very drawn to the railway tracks since moving back to town (although that’s not saying much since they’re everywhere, slicing through the landscape and creating their own nature paths). I like to think that you’re not a true Sudbury resident until you know alternate routes around the tracks, should a train ever be obscuring your journey.

 

Shameless trespassing, self-timing

During my walk I took some artsy nature photos. They’re desktop background worthy, I think.

I was also very close to climbing this giant railroad bridge that crosses above Frood Road and Beatty Street. It has always reminded me of a logging corridor or the flat of some Lumberjack water ride.

Just as I was about to start climbing the steep embankment up towards the bridge, a train whistle rang out, and I chose to take that as a sign that I would probably die if I went any further. I wandered back downtown and snapped a few shots along the way.

And so, to conclude my mini-preach speech about the city:

Being in Sudbury is about splashing in the rain-filled potholes rather than grumbling at them. It’s about watching slag being poured from a vantage spot in your brother’s bedroom, pointing at the Big Nickel from your back deck, and seeing the smokestack just about everywhere else.

Being in Sudbury is not about laughing at the city, it’s about laughing with it.

PS: sometimes I think my best feature is my inability to obey “no trespassing” signs – is that bad?

Boston cream doughnuts (yes, really)

These doughnuts were not made by normal Hilary. No, rather, they were made by that possessed-with-patience Hilary that somehow sees spending hours making miniature doughnuts as a natural continuation of her post-workday Wednesday. Before you get all excited about making these, you must know that homemade doughnuts are truly a labour of love (a grade above the insanity it takes to make homemade perogies, even). At least six hours from start to finish, folks. Not all preparation time, I should say, but a rising time with the yeast dough that makes you feel as though you are watching Father Time play a game of bocce ball before engaging in a chess marathon. You have been warned.

Confession: these doughnuts involve a partial sneaky snarkiness. They are a tiny expression of distaste over my parents’ decision to go to Boston (one of my top three near-future dream trip destinations) this week and leaving me behind. Over the past two years, I have hypothetically planned enough Boston adventures of my own to be extremely jealous. In the meantime, I brought Boston home. Eat your heart out, beautiful city.

(I am quite positive my parents will be taking a picture of Boston cream pie for me, and perhaps I’ll paste that photo right here once they return)

AN ADVENTURE IN DEEP-FRYING
For those who don’t know, I played in a recreational baseball league this summer. This is only relevant because the story that follows took place at our final post-baseball game party at our coach Nat’s house. Remember Nat? She’s the one that’s starting Sudbury’s first gourmet food truck and has therefore propelled herself to the top of my Ultimate Cool Person list.

Anyways, this party was not your traditional beer-drinking and barbeque. Yes, the evening did involve both these things (perhaps a tad too much of one), but it also involved another aspect: deep fried food…items like risotto balls that Nat had hand-shaped into careful spheres and tossed in a panko bread crumb mixture to form an irresistible shell. The hot-oil treats didn’t stop there – soon we were deep frying two-bite brownies, strawberries, and cheese. It was gloriously indulgent and made us giggle.

Deep fried brownies, Nat frying the risotto balls

What I’m getting at here is that I’ve had the urge to do my own deep frying ever since attending this party. I know that is the most diabetic desire ever, but I can’t help myself! Something about dropping things in hot oil and watching as the bubbles shoot out the sides just really gets me.

So these doughnuts were deep fried.

A few notes on that: it is probably not best to try deep frying things for the first time when you’re home alone and it is 12:55 a.m. It is especially not good when the person doing said deep frying has an irrationally large fear of oil-inflicted fires, a sense of alarm caused by too many university roommate mishaps and childhood hours watching Smokey Bear commercials.

At one point a bit of oil slopped over the side of the pan, and I, pardon my French, almost shit myself. I ran for the fire extinguisher, and recited out loud everything I’ve ever been told about how you should never try and extinguish an oil fire with water. Good news. I made it through the process and am still alive to tell the tale.
Putting the dough in doughnuts (pre-frying)
Now (this was written Wednesday night) the kitchen smells like the back room of a fast food joint…the smell of deep fried dough lingering in the air with just the right amount of sleeziness to make me feel as though I’m operating a cheap, 24-hour motel. It reminds me of the time I was trained to work at a Beavertails shack on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa…the deep fryers burning and bubbling, emitting the scent of oil and overcooked dough into the small room. Luckily that job never came to fruition and my winter jacket quickly released the smell of deep fried everything.
With these doughnuts, the deep frying was just part of the fun. Next came the filling.
The original recipe asked that I use “a long, plain pastry tip to poke a hole through the midline of each doughnut.” I do not own a pastry tip, nevertheless a long one. Devoid of anything that even resembled a pastry tip or bag, I did what any classy, macgyvering girl would do – I used a wine corkscrew to poke holes in the doughnuts (yes, under all normal circumstances, a proper corkscrew would be the ladylike thing to use…unlike former encounters with wine opening, which have involved knives, screwdrivers and an attempt involving a brick wall and a running shoe).
Once all was said and done, these were delicious. My Ziploc bag pastry cream piping method ended up working perfectly and the glaze was great (I just polished the leftover chocolate off my whisk).
The final product is worth the effort, if you have the time. Turns out journalists love doughnuts, who would have thought?
Disregard the half eaten doughnut, please.
Oozing, in the best possible way

A random mix of goodbyes, memories, and chicken marinated in orange juice

Well, it’s finally here.

…Okay, it was here 12 days ago, but I’ve been busy…

September.

The idea of this month has been barrelling down the metaphorical Tunnel of Life behind me for a little while. I knew this month, in this year would be difficult. Now I find myself hesitantly reaching for the bottom corner of my calendar, slowly flipping the page from August to September, as though scared of what I’ll find on the other side.

The flip

I’m so consciously aware that I’m nowhere near Ottawa and nowhere near the people or places where I’ve found comfort for the past four years.

I wish I could properly articulate the way I feel right now. But it’s difficult, since it changes by the minute and mood. Most of the time I face some embattled sense of self, half of me willing my body and mind to go forward in an independent, blind flight, the other half pulling me back from the edge, coaxing me with the memories and thoughts of my university life.

The first weekend in September signified the unspoken close of a major part of my life.

Topping it off was the saying of a final Canadian farewell to one of my best friends, Ariel, who is off to pursue her master’s degree in London, England.

Like many of my best university friends, Ariel and I first met because we lived on the same floor in residence. She, room 504. Me, room 514. There were countless slipper-padded, sweatpant-wearing strolls between our two rooms. Plenty of trips dragging a toaster oven behind us like a puppy dog, in preparation for chicken nugget gorging.

A few scenes from our friendship, stolen from Facebook

I knew Ariel was going to be one of my best friends when she helped me carry my heavy Schwinn bicycle up a spiral staircase during one of the first weeks of September 2008. You know the stairs – those steep, more-architectural-than-practical ones that lead up to the Mackenzie King Bridge by the Rideau Centre. If I remember correctly, we almost died/dropped my bike over the rail as a result of laughing so hard.

I met Ariel in Toronto two weekends ago, and we had a wonderful time. We dined on crêpes, relaxed in parks, explored Kensington Market, indulged in afternoon Distillery beers, and avoided jumping on roadside mattresses in the Annex that may or may not have been infested with bed bugs.

A few snapshots from our day

Most my weekend visit was spent in Oshawa, where Ariel is staying at her aunt’s house before jetting off at the end of the month. Here I met her two cousins, six-year-old Zane and five-year-old Kian. Like many children, they were quick to love and the first name of adults were irrelevant, so long as you gave them piggy backs (I did) and allowed them to climb on you like a jungle gym (ouch).

Ariel and I also did a few of the things that have come to define our friendship. We harshly critiqued outfits on Project Runway. I held my breath and crossed my heart as she drove her grandpa’s 200-year-old (only a slight exaggeration) Volkswagen Jetta. We goofed off with water guns. I acted my real age (seven-and-a-half) and bounced about on the water bed as Ariel tried to get to sleep, giggling as I pretended we were at sea.

Ariel’s aunt also made a delicious meal one night – Moroccan chicken inspired by an old family recipe. It was unbelievable, and I promptly copied it at home to accompany this blog post.

Dinner, layer-by-layer

Oh right, and speaking of home…did I mention that I moved out of my high school house?! Big news, and a big change.

Ah yes, so change. It’s happening very quickly. I have no idea where I’ll be a month from now, and that simultaneously terrifies and thrills me. Minor existential life crisis aside, I think I’ll be okay.

But still, four years of university was a long time, and I don’t think you can say goodbye to that phase of life without crying a few tears.

I look forward to what comes next and am happy to know that I’m charging (or at least moving) forward with the same support system as before – friends and family (heck, even this blog in some way or another).

So while I’m sad to leave the past four years behind, it’s with great anticipation that I pursue the next few.

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Three-layer cookie jar brownies

These brownies were completely ridiculous.

When I saw a picture of these brownies online, I couldn’t resist making them myself. I do have a penchant for Oreo-stuffed desserts, after all. And come on… THREE LAYERS, GUYS.

Originally called “slutty brownies” by the Pinterest crowd, I decided against this name since I’m not a super huge fan of throwing the term “slut” around. The “cookie jar” name was inspired by my favourite Dairy Queen blizzard, a customized everything-Hilary-loves ice cream treat with cookie dough chunks, crumbled Oreo cookies and added brownie bits. It’s a treat.

But back to the brownies.

Yesterday’s newsroom bake sale gave me the perfect opportunity to make them. I feel like bake sales beg for over-the-top, sensationalized desserts. The more absurd the better. The inter-office bake sale was just another means to raise money for our Christmas party, an event for which I’m not even sure if I’ll still be around to attend. A few of us submitted a list of items we wanted to make and then people snagged each set of baked items ahead of time. I made these brownies and…wait for it…bacon chocolate chip cookies, a combination that I’ve been wanting to try for more than a year. I’ll post about those early next week.

A word of caution: heavy pre-10 a.m. sugar intake + Friday = not a productive morning. Factor that in with the head cold I’m currently recovering from and you’ve got a sugar buzzed, slightly congested half Asian on your hands. Beware. Also: not to be consumed with a mint chocolate cupcake and three ginger cookies. Or with those garlic-heavy perogies that a morning show guest brought in to celebrate the start of your city’s garlic festival. Yikes.

PS: someone asked me on Instagram how I got the three layers to stick together. This was something that concerned me, too, but they actually baked together extremely well. I think the icing of the Oreos had some sort of binding power over the two outer layers. As for getting these out of the 9×13 pan – I ran out of parchment paper, so I buttered/floured the hell out of the pan. They popped right out!

Oh yes, and have sneaky photo shoots at your desk before delivering the goods. This is key.

Oh hey, blurry Amy Dodge!

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