Small Business Gift Guide – Holiday 2020

It’s been a wild year for small businesses. We’ve had to deal with lock downs, cancellations, overhauls and so much uncertainty. Sometimes it feels like we are facing a new challenge every single day.

We’ve also received a huge amount of support from our networks and communities and found new ways of doing things that will have us ready to bounce back even better.

I want to say a personal THANK YOU to everyone who has helped out their local small business people this year – whether it be by making a purchase, recommending us, resharing us, sending us sweet thank you notes or just letting us vent – you kept us going through the most stressful year of our lives.

Please take a look at some of my favourite items from small businesses.

Bath & Body

Sarah’s Soaps

Sarah's Soaps | Small Business Gift Guide - Holiday 2020 | Sophster-Toaster

Peppermint + Fir Needle Bar Soap

7C Salts

7C Salts | Small Business Gift Guide - Holiday 2020 | Sophster-Toaster

I Am My Sunshine – Solar Plexus Chakra Bath Salts

Marley’s Monsters

Marley's Monsters | Small Business Gift Guide - Holiday 2020 | Sophster-Toaster

Mesh Laundry Bag & Facial Rounds Set

Candles

Wild Serenity

Wild Serenity | Small Business Gift Guide - Holiday 2020 | Sophster-Toaster

Fresh Christmas Tree Scented Wood Wick Soy Candle

Sophster-Toaster

Sophster-Toaster | Small Business Gift Guide - Holiday 2020

Homestead Scented Soy Candle

Accessories

Just a Little This That

Just a Little This That | Small Business Gift Guide - Holiday 2020 | Sophster-Toaster

Pretty in Pink Swarovski Crystal Stud Earrings Collection

Dawning Collective

Dawning Collective | Small Business Gift Guide - Holiday 2020 | Sophster-Toaster

Cozy Fox Necklace

Camp Collection

Camp Collection | Small Business Gift Guide - Holiday 2020 | Sophster-Toaster

Ear Loops Mask 6 Pack in 90’s Colours

Escaping the Ordinary

Escaping the Ordinary | Small Business Gift Guide - Holiday 2020 | Sophster-Toaster

Daisies Roller Skate Accessory

Clothing

Electric West

Electric West | Small Business Gift Guide - Holiday 2020 | Sophster-Toaster

No Thanks Tee

Rosehound

Rosehound | Small Business Gift Guide - Holiday 2020 | Sophster-Toaster

Beer Flower Sweatshirt

Home

Garden City Essentials

Garden City Essentials | Small Business Gift Guide - Holiday 2020 | Sophster-Toaster

Vintage Fruit Beeswax Wrap

Kuishi

Kuishi | Small Business Gift Guide - Holiday 2020 | Sophster-Toaster

Amber Glass Soap Dispenser

Miracle Eye

Miracle Eye | Small Business Gift Guide - Holiday 2020 | Sophster-Toaster

Marigold Woven Blanket

The Outcast Society

The Outcast Society | Small Business Gift Guide - Holiday 2020 | Sophster-Toaster

Cute Kitty Smash Fascism Pennant

DIY Kits

M by M Knitwear

M by M Knitwear | Small Business Gift Guide - Holiday 2020 | Sophster-Toaster

True North Toque Knitting Pattern

Salt + Mustard

Salt + Mustard | Small Business Gift Guide - Holiday 2020 | Sophster-Toaster

Mustard Making Kit

Christmas & Holiday Cards

Brittany Lane Art & Illustration

Brittany Lane Art & Illustration | Small Business Gift Guide - Holiday 2020 | Sophster-Toaster

Together in Spirit

Ostockley

Ostockley | Small Business Gift Guide - Holiday 2020 | Sophster-Toaster

Snowy Pooch

Gift Cards

Don’t forget about your local record shops, book stores and take out places!

All photos courtesy of retailers.

Spooktober

Spooktober | Sophster-Toaster

There is a nature area here, just off the busy highway and nestled neatly between the two larger cities, that the local schools use routinely for field trips. The children learn about nature, conservation and basic bushcrafting. As a result of these regular field trips, small areas of the forest become covered in these eerie, abandoned lean-tos. The effect of coming across them unexpectedly is startling, confusing and a little creepy. Every time I see them, I make a note to come back in October to take some spooky photos.

Spooktober | Sophster-Toaster

Thanks to the pandemic, this is the first time in many years that I haven’t had a busy fall full of markets or taken a short break to go up to the family cottage for Thanksgiving – actually giving me time to execute this plan. However, also thanks to the pandemic, the school children haven’t come out to the conservation area since last fall and only one small lean-to hadn’t been blown over into a scattered pile of branches.

I’ve been trying not to get bogged down by all the what-ifs when it comes to thinking about how different this year could have been and felt lucky that one structure had survived and that I was in the right place, at the right time to photograph it.

Spooktober | Sophster-Toaster Spooktober | Sophster-Toaster Spooktober | Sophster-Toaster Spooktober | Sophster-Toaster Spooktober | Sophster-ToasterSpooktober | Sophster-Toaster

Top Sophster-Toaster
Skirt Steady Clothing
Shoes Keds
Glasses Warby Parker

Spooktober | Sophster-Toaster

Photos by me and Matt Harrison.

Grapefruit & Hop Macarons

Grapefruit & Hop Macarons | Sophster-Toaster

I love how versatile macarons can be once you nail the technique of making them. They’re really just almonds, sugar, egg whites and air, so they can take on almost any flavour you can think of. This month, I paired bitter, grassy hops from our home brew vine with sweet and tangy grapefruit zest to make one complex cookie. The result is sweet and buttery but also has those sharp citrus, grassy and aromatic top notes of an amazing IPA. With one foot in summer and one foot in fall, it’s the perfect flavour for September.

Grapefruit & Hop Macarons | Sophster-Toaster Grapefruit & Hop Macarons | Sophster-Toaster Grapefruit & Hop Macarons | Sophster-ToasterGrapefruit & Hop Macarons | Sophster-Toaster Grapefruit & Hop Macarons | Sophster-Toaster

Ingredients

for the macaron shells

  • ¾ cup ground almonds (as finely ground as you can find)
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • zest of 1 whole grapefruit
  • 2 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 3 tbsp + 1 tsp sugar
  • creamy peach gel food colouring

for the filling

  • 7 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 7 tbsp milk
  • 10g hops, broken up with fingers
  • 2 egg yolks
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • sky blue + Kelly green gel food colouring

Method

for the macaron shells

  1. Prepare your parchment sheets by drawing 1″ circles, ½” apart across the entire sheet (or using silicon baking mats with the circles already printed on them) and placing them on a large flat surface suitable for drying your batter, like a dining table. You will need 2-3 half sheet pan size pieces.
  2. Sift ground almond and icing sugar together, twice. Add grapefruit zest. Set aside.
  3. In a large stainless steel mixing bowl, beat egg whites with an electric beater on medium-high speed until you have a foam with no liquid remaining.
  4. Slowly add the sugar while continuing to beat the egg whites. Beat on medium-high speed until the egg whites reach stiff peaks. You’ve made meringue!
  5. Add gel food colouring and beat in.
  6. Fold your almond, icing sugar and zest mixture into the meringue in two parts.
  7. Here’s the part that takes practice: it’s time for the macaronnage! With a spatula, spread the batter, with some force, against the side of the bowl. Then scoop it up by running the spatula along the side of the bowl again and try to flip it all over and sort-of lightly smack it back into the bottom of the bowl. Gather the batter up again and repeat 12-15 times. It takes some time to figure out the best way to do this, don’t be afraid to play around with it. When doing the macaronnage correctly, repeating more than 20 times can result in oily, blotchy macarons, but I’ve found that doing it incorrectly doesn’t count towards this limit. If you are doing it right, the batter will take on a noticeable and somewhat sudden change in consistency, this means you are about half-way to that limit. When finished, the batter should be thickened and drip slowly and smoothly from the spatula. You will have to pipe it onto your baking sheets/mats and it won’t work if the batter is too runny. This is the technique that defines macarons, this is what makes mastery of them impressive.
  8. For perfectly round macarons, use a large, 0.4″ plain tip with a pastry bag, or do it the lazy way and cut a corner off a zip top bag for mostly round macarons. Twist (or don’t yet cut) the bag at the tip and place it, tip side down, in a tall glass. Fill with your batter and twist, close or clip the other end to help keep the messy batter moving in the right direction. Pipe the batter into the centre of the circles on your sheets/mats and stop before reaching the edges as the batter will spread out a bit.
  9. Once finished piping, carefully pick the sheets/mats up and drop them back on to the table from a height of a couple of inches. The theory is that this helps the cookies keep their round shape and form the little bubbles around the bottom (the pied) when you put them in the oven.
  10. Leave the cookies on the table, uncovered, to dry – this could take 20-30 minutes on a dry day or a couple of hours on a humid day. You will know the macarons are dry when they look smooth, less glossy and are no longer sticky to the touch.
  11. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Place an oven rack in the centre of your oven. Place a sheet of macarons on two stacked sheet pans (this will stop the bottoms from getting too hot, resulting in cracked macarons) and bake for 15-18 minutes. Rotate the pan half way through baking. It can be hard to tell when the macaron are done. I pull them out when the kitchen smells sweet and the cookies look crisp, have just started to brown, and don’t look blotchy in the middle.
  12. As soon as the parchment sheet/baking mat is cool enough to handle, take it out of the pan with all the cookies on top and place it on a cooling rack. The macarons will be too sticky to remove from the sheet/mat now; once cooled, they should peel off easily. I usually wait a few minutes for the pans to cool a bit and for the oven to come back to a steady temperature before moving the next sheet to the pans and baking the next round.

for the buttercream

  1. Warm the butter in a double boiler or in the microwave until it is soft but not melted. Beat until creamy.
  2. In a small saucepan, bring milk to a boil. Remove from heat and add the hops. Cover and steep for 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, place the egg yolks in a small bowl and whisk lightly. Add the sugar and beat lightly until they are a pale yellow.
  4. Slowly pour the steeped milk mixture into the egg mixture, beating continuously.
  5. Strain this mixture back into the saucepan, pushing the hops with a spatula to squeeze all the liquid out. Discard the hops.
  6. Simmer over low heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture has thickened to a loose custard.
  7. Now pour the mixture into a clean bowl and beat lightly until it has thickened and cooled to about room temperature.
  8. Add the butter in three parts and beat until smooth with each addition. (If the buttercream bubbles and splits, keep beating until it becomes thick again.)

Once everything has cooled, place your buttercream in a piping (or zip-top) bag and pipe onto half of your shells. Then place another similarly sized shell on top and gently press them together. You’ve made macarons!

Grapefruit & Hop Macarons | Sophster-Toaster

All photos by me.

Staying Safe and Active

Staying Safe and Active | Sophster-Toaster

This wasn’t a typical summer, so I suppose I’m less sad that it’s ending this year. After being stuck at home in the city all summer without air conditioning, I’m looking forward to getting cozied up indoors during snuggle season.

Of course, I’m still worried about what the changing seasons will mean for life during a pandemic. As Canadians, we aren’t usually ones to shy away from the cold, but it’s so much easier to pop outside to exercise, relax or grab takeout when the weather is warm and welcoming. Staying active during the summer comes naturally when there are so many options. Then the days get shorter, the wind gets colder and the bikes, skates and bathing suits get put away and it can be hard to resist the urge to hibernate.

I’ve found that staying active and being outdoors during this extra stressful time has been vital for maintaining my mental health. Therefore, my goal for the coming season is to continue engaging in my favourite all-season outdoor activities like daily long walks with the dog, playing fetch in the yard and morning hikes on the weekend (before the crowds get there). Soon, the rewarding work of gardening will become the satisfying sweat of snow shovelling and long distance skating will have to become practising fancy footwork in the basement. Maybe the added limitations of this year will be inspiring and I’ll get to try something new, like snowshoeing, before coming home and cuddling up on the couch with some hot chocolate and a movie for a long winter night.

Staying Safe and Active | Sophster-Toaster Staying Safe and Active | Sophster-Toaster Staying Safe and Active | Sophster-Toaster Staying Safe and Active | Sophster-Toaster Staying Safe and Active | Sophster-Toaster Staying Safe and Active | Sophster-Toaster Staying Safe and Active | Sophster-Toaster

T-shirt Sophster-Toaster
Shorts Camp Collection
Glasses Warby Parker
Mask Camp Collection
Safety Gear Impala Rollerskates

All photos by Matt Harrison.