My family came to Canada from Ireland in 1846, so we always celebrated St. Patrick’s Day when I was growing up. Now that I live away from them, I like to celebrate and share my culture with my friends. This year they’re all coming over for beer, good Irish whiskey, music, games, storytelling and some traditional, homemade Irish and Irish-American food. My husband has been brining a brisket all week to make corned beef (we’re going to try marinating some tempeh in a similar brine for me) and I’m making a springtime colcannon and fresh soda bread!
I’ve never made my own soda bread before, so I had to learn and experiment with a few different recipes this past week. I think the recipe I’m trying today, from Baking for Friends, is a real winner! I can’t wait to share it with the people I love tomorrow.
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All photos by me.
I think I’ve finally cracked the code on these tricky little cookies. These Kelly green macarons with Irish whiskey buttercream filling are some of the best I’ve ever made. Here’s the recipe I’ve developed that seems to work best for the type of ground almonds and eggs available near me, the humidity of where I live, and my conventional gas oven.
for the macarons
- 1 cup ground almonds (as finely ground as you can find)
- 1½ cups icing sugar
- 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 tsp high quality vanilla extract
- 1 tsp Kelly green gel food colouring
for the buttercream
- 7 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
- 3 tbsp water
- 3 tbsp sugar
- 1 egg, at room temperature
- 2 tbsp good Irish whiskey (The buttercream won’t taste like whiskey, but rather like the tasting notes of the whiskey, so a better whiskey will produce a better, richer, more interesting flavour in the buttercream.)
for the macarons
- 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.
- Sift ground almonds and icing sugar, together, twice. Set aside.
- In a large stainless steel mixing bowl, beat egg whites with a hand or stand mixer on high speed until you have a foam with no liquid remaining.
- Slowly add the sugar while continuing to beat the egg whites. Beat on high speed until the egg whites reach stiff peaks. You’ve made meringue!
- Add vanilla and gel colouring and beat in until colour is fully incorporated.
- Fold your almond and icing sugar mixture into the meringue in two parts.
- 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 15-20 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 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.
- 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.
- Once finished piping, carefully pick the sheets/mats up and drop them back on to the table from a high of a couple of inches. The theory is that this helps the cookies keep their round shape and form the little bubbles (the pied) when you put them in the oven.
- Leave the cookies on the table, uncovered, for 15-30 minutes to dry. This is a good time to preheat your oven to 350°F. You will know the macarons are dry when they look smooth and are no longer sticky to the touch.
- Place an oven rack in the centre of your oven. Place a sheet of macarons on two doubled up sheet pans (this will stop the bottoms from getting too hot, resulting in cracked macarons) and bake for about 15 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 and have just started to brown ever-so-slightly.
- 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
- Make sure the butter is soft enough for you to press your finger into. On a cold, winter day, this may mean cutting it into pieces and warming it up slightly in the microwave or oven – still warm from your macarons. Cream the butter in a medium sized bowl. Set aside.
- Break the egg into a large heat-resistant mixing bowl and beat lightly with a hand mixer. Set aside.
- Add water and sugar to a small saucepan and place over medium-low heat. Bring to a simmer and stir until thick and syrupy, about 7 minutes. You’ve made simple syrup!
- Slowly pour your simple syrup into the beaten egg while beating with a hand mixer on as high a speed as you can without flinging syrup everywhere, remember it is hot and sticky. Once all the syrup is in, beat the mixture on high speed, slowly reducing speed until it is white, thick, and the bowl is no longer hot.
- Add the butter to this mixture in two or three parts and beat on medium speed until fully incorporated and creamy. If you are like me, the buttercream will split now. If continuing to beat doesn’t bring it back together, it has likely become too cold. Pop it in the warm oven for a 30 seconds and try beating it again. Continue doing this until it comes together.
- Add the whiskey and beat until mixed in.
- Now pipe the buttercream between two cookies and enjoy your hard work!
All photos by me.
A cushion cover takes a lot of fabric but not a lot of tools, practice or patience. It takes less than half an hour to complete and doesn’t require much skill, so it’s a good introductory project for anyone just learning how to sew. With an envelope style cushion cover like this, there are no zippers, buttons or button holes to sew in, making it a nice, relaxing project with a nap-ready result.
Fits snugly on a 20 x 20 Ikea cushion.
- fabric scissors
- chalk pencil (or something for marking)
- long ruler
- pinking shears (or serger)
- point turner (or similarly shaped object)
- 1 yard or metre of a sturdy, woven fabric like twill or canvas for one pillow (1.5 yards for two). I will be using lightweight cotton twill from Spoonflower.
- With fabric running lengthwise and folded in half so selvage sides are together, use a ruler and chalk pencil to draw a straight line to trim up the cut end of your fabric.
- Measure 21¼” from your first cut and draw a straight line. Cut.
- Rotate the fabric so you are measuring from the one folded side. Measure 24″, draw a straight line and cut. (Save the cut away piece for your next quilt.) You should now have a long rectangle.
- Hem the two shorter sides of your lovely new rectangle by folding the edge over 3/8″, pressing with your iron, folding over again ½”, pressing again and sewing at the 3/8″ guideline on your sewing machine.
- Fold one of the hemmed short sides over by 6″ with wrong (printed) sides together.
- Fold the other side over to meet the folded edge. Press folds to hold them in place while you sew.
- Sew along entire open side with 5/8″ seam allowance. Finish the seams with pinking shears or a serger, if you have one. Trim the corners close to the stitching so they will turn out neatly.
- Turn your new cushion cover right side out. Using a point turner (or similarly shaped object) work the fabric into the right places for a nice, crisp corner. Press to remove any wrinkles.
Don’t forget to wash and line-dry fabric before starting to prevent your finished project from shrinking. Give it a quick ironing, on reverse side of print, for more accurate measuring and straighter cuts.
All photos by me.
Maybe it’s because I just turned 30, but I’ve been making a lot of changes lately. As the year, my age and the season have changed, I’ve been working hard to improve myself, my work and my art. I’ve made goals to be a better friend to the people I love, to distance myself from people whose choices and behaviours upset me, and to say yes to anything that could help me grow personally or professionally, even if it scares me. We’ve settled into the puppy routine and are slowing transitioning into a dog routine that’s taken a lot of hard work and sacrifice but has improved out lives in so many ways. I’ve committed to only spending my money on things I absolutely love and my personal style has become bolder, more deliberate and more expressive as a result.
I’ve been thinking about making another big change more and more over the past few weeks. I’ve been wanting to dye my hair a fun colour for a few years but have been to afraid to make such a drastic change to my physical appearance. I dyed it occasionally in high school and tried a lot of different colours, ranging from could-be natural to obviously fake, but stuck close to my natural colour and never really worried about finding it again in the end. I’ve been looking at some brightly coloured rainbow shades of semi-permanent hair dye recently, and although they sound reassuring and unintimidating, promising to fade out gracefully, there’s no way they are going to show up on my natural hair colour. I’m going to have to go light first.
I take very good care of my hair, washing it only twice/week and avoiding heat styling, so I’m not too worried about the damage going light is going to cause; I’m mostly afraid I’m going to miss the old me. My hair is almost exactly the same colour now as it was when I had my first hair cut (I know because my mom kept a lock of it for my baby book) and I’ve always loved it. I love being a fearless brunette in a sea of women who seem to think blond is better. It almost feels like I’ll be betraying myself if I go blond, or ginger, or pink, or peach, but this is one of those things that scares me, one of those things I’m being trying to say yes to.
I want my hair to be in the best health possible when I start, so I’m waiting until after my appointment for the spring chop in a few weeks. I know I’m being bad by dying my hair at home, but I always loved the creative control and ritual of doing it that way. I’m thinking I’m going to be brave and aim for a dark strawberry blond to start. Then after a couple of weeks of shocking friends with that – and once my hair has recovered a bit – I’m going to try Lime Crime’s Unicorn Hair in Strawberry Jam. I’m looking forward to trying a few of their magical colours and maybe hitting a natural ginger orange/red before going back to brunette. Let’s see if i’m brave enough to say good bye to my beloved chestnut and hello to dreamy new tones.
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Earrings street market in Panama
All photos be me.