The Dark Days of December

The Dark Days of December | Sophster-Toaster

The December days can be short and dreary with long, dark winter nights in Canada. The sun starts to rise around 7:30 am but isn’t fully up over the houses and horizon until the morning routine is coming to an end. The sun sets before the day’s work is complete and Pepper and I are able to admire the Christmas lights on our after-work walks. Though it doesn’t rain much anymore, or snow quite yet,  this time of year, bright and sunny days are rare. It can be easy to feel as dismal as the weather as your world get colder and darker everyday. It takes a battle plan to stay positive in the weeks around the solstice. Here’s a list of some of the things I find really help me to stay happy in the face of gloom:

The Dark Days of December | Sophster-Toaster

  1. Stay active and keep a fitness routine. Resist the urge to hibernate every night.
  2. Get out and into nature during the daylight when you can. For me, that’s on the weekends.
  3. Embrace the dark! Put up Christmas lights and find some candles you love.
  4. Spend the long evenings cooking healthy comfort foods, set the table and enjoy dinner by candlelight.
  5. Load up on the seasonal fruit and vegetables that are best at this time of year, like clementines, pomegranate and Brussels’ sprouts.
  6. Go for a walk around the neighbourhood to look at the Christmas lights. Come home, turn up the heat, turn up the humidifier and get cozy in your pajamas with some eggnog or hot chocolate.
  7. Hibernate some days. Surround yourself with your favourite snacks, a cup of tea, fuzzy blankets, and watch your favourite movies.
  8. Save the alcohol for the holiday parties you’ll be attending every weekend and don’t drink much, or at all, on the other days. Stay well hydrated.
  9. Stick to a moisturizing skincare routine.
  10. Go to bed on time. Don’t let midnight sneak up on you when the evenings stretch on forever.
  11. Buy or knit yourself warm things to wear outside.
  12. Care for some houseplants to have something green and thriving in your immediate surroundings.
  13. Find ways to entertain yourself at night that don’t involve looking at a screen. Read, bake, practice a hobby or listen to music, instead.
  14. Stay social and connected to friends and family, even if you can’t be with them in person.
  15. Make goals for the new year and next season.

The Dark Days of December | Sophster-Toaster

Most of these tactics come down to just taking time to take care of yourself, physically, mentally, socially and emotionally, whatever that means for you, and staying connected to nature and trying to sync to it’s cyclical rhythms, even when they are resonating at low levels. This season doesn’t last forever.

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Pajamas ModCloth
Robe ModCloth

The Dark Days of December | Sophster-Toaster

All photos by me.

Peppermint Macarons

Peppermint Macarons | Sophster-Toaster

Flavoured with peppermint tea, these mint green, candy cane flavoured macarons are just the thing to get you (and your guests) into the holiday mood. Kept in an air tight container in the fridge, these cookies will keep for up to two weeks. Pull them out and let them come up to room temperature before serving.

Peppermint Macarons | Sophster-Toaster Peppermint Macarons | Sophster-Toaster Peppermint Macarons | Sophster-Toaster Peppermint Macarons | Sophster-Toaster Peppermint Macarons | Sophster-ToasterPeppermint Macarons | Sophster-Toaster

Ingredients

for the macaron shells

  • 1 cup ground almonds (as finely ground as you can find)
  • 1½ cup icing sugar
  • 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp peppermint tea leaves
  • Kelly green gel food colouring

for the buttercream filling

  • 7 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3½ tbsp milk
  • 2 tsp peppermint tea leaves
  • 2 egg yolks
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • Kelly green gel food colouring
  • crushed candy cane

Peppermint Macarons | Sophster-Toaster

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 almonds and icing sugar together, twice. Set aside.
  3. Mix the peppermint tea leaves into the almond and sugar mixture.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!
  6. Add a tiny bit of Kelly green gel food colouring and gently beat in.
  7. Fold your almond and icing sugar mixture into the meringue in two parts.
  8. 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 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. Leave the cookies on the table, uncovered, for 15-30 minutes to dry (or more on a humid day). 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.
  12. 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 about 15 minutes. Rotate the pan half way through baking. At this point, if you want to try to keep your cookies light in colour, place a second oven rack directly below the first and move your cookies down to it, then place a third sheet pan above the cookies on the higher rack to protect them from the heat above. 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.
  13. 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 and add the peppermint tea leaves. Cover and steep for 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, place the egg yolks in a small bowl and whisk lightly. Add the sugar and beat with a whisk until they are a pale yellow in colour.
  4. Slowly pour the steeped milk mixture into the egg mixture, whisking constantly.
  5. Strain this mixture back into the saucepan and discard the peppermint tea leaves.
  6. Simmer over low heat until the mixture has thickened.
  7. Now pour the mixture into a clean bowl and beat with a whisk until it has cooled and become thick and custard-like.
  8. Add the butter in three parts and whisk until smooth with each addition.
  9. Add a tiny bit of Kelly green gel food colouring and whisk through.
  10. Once everything has cooled, place your buttercream in a zip-top bag, snip the corner off  and pipe it onto half of your shells. Then place a similarly sized shell on top and gently press them together. Roll the finished macarons in crushed candy cane, if desired.

Peppermint Macarons | Sophster-Toaster

All photos by me.

Thinking Outside the Dress

Thinking Outside the Dress | Sophster-Toaster

We have the first of many holiday parties this week and both my husband and I are somewhat stumped as to what to wear. It’s a work party so we need to look professional, but he wants to wear something at least a little nicer than what he regularly wears to work. On the other hand, we can’t go too over the top and risk way overshooting the “business casual” dress code that has been requested. We’ve looked over all of our clothes, and even taken a little trip to the mall to search for something new that could be the missing piece of the puzzle, but we’ve turned up empty. I’m sure we’ll have an epiphany in time but until then, all this outfit work has left me feeling festive and inspired to think outside of the dress.

Thinking Outside the Dress | Sophster-Toaster Thinking Outside the Dress | Sophster-Toaster Thinking Outside the Dress | Sophster-Toaster Thinking Outside the Dress | Sophster-Toaster Thinking Outside the Dress | Sophster-Toaster Thinking Outside the Dress | Sophster-Toaster Thinking Outside the Dress | Sophster-Toaster Thinking Outside the Dress | Sophster-Toaster

Top H&M
Sweater H&M
Pants ModCloth
Socks Roots
Shoes ModCloth
Earrings old
Tie just a ribbon
Suspenders H&M

All photos by me.

My Dog Ate It

My Dog Ate It | Sophster-Toaster

Pepper has always been quite the little troublemaker. We were lucky enough to survive both of the puppy chewing phases without too much damage to our house or anything we love. We lost most of our cardboard coasters, a few water glasses that got in the way of her forbidden coaster love, and we need to repaint some trim and windowsills but we managed to through it without her destroying anything major. The one thing she did get, however, was a book I forgot to put away one day – and it broke my heart.

My Dog Ate It | Sophster-Toaster

It wasn’t a rare or vintage book, just a pretty, hardcover copy of Jane Austen’s Emma, but I was still upset by the lost. Pepper got a hold of it while I was working upstairs, roughed the covers up pretty badly, chewed all the pages and ripped some of them out. I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away and it was in no condition to be donated to anything other than an art project.

My Dog Ate It | Sophster-Toaster

I replaced the book when I saw it on sale and held onto the destroyed version with the hope that I could use it for something. The other day I finally found a project. I pulled some of the remaining pages out and taped them up in my work room to use as a backdrop for pictures. I’m really happy with how it turned out and so pleased that the book has lived on in another form.

My Dog Ate It | Sophster-Toaster My Dog Ate It | Sophster-Toaster My Dog Ate It | Sophster-Toaster My Dog Ate It | Sophster-Toaster My Dog Ate It | Sophster-Toaster My Dog Ate It | Sophster-Toaster

Jumper Mod Dolly
Sweater L.L.Bean
Nylons Target
Slippers White Noise Maker
Barrette old

All photos by me.