River Mermaid

River Mermaid | Sophster-Toaster Blog

I love living where I do in the Niagara Region of Canada. I’ve always loved being near water and I’m so happy to live so much closer to the great lakes than where I grew up. When I was a kid, I would see them every couple of weekends in the summer, now I could go see Lake Ontario whenever I want. I also love that I live two blocks and a short hike down a small ravine from a stretch of water that was originally a small creek, historically a shipping canal, and now a large river flowing into a small delta before meeting Lake Ontario.

This creek is one of my favourite places in the whole city to visit because it offers so many different types of water eco-systems. Like most of the waterways currently cutting through the city, it’s a remnant of the city’s industrial legacy, so the point where I always begin my explorations is an old, decayed and long forgotten lock from when the creek was dug out and transformed into a now-obsolete portion of the first Welland Canal in 1831 . The water here is deep, cold and thunderous with dangerous, quick moving rapids but if you walk a little further down, the water widens and slows into a calm looking river that nature has almost fully reclaimed from it’s significant nautical past. As a result of the river’s past life as a canal, the area is littered with small reservoirs and spillways for the operation of the canal that have now become little ponds, teeming with fish, frogs, ducks, geese, turtles and beavers. As you hike up the incline of the old railway, now converted to a walking path, you get a spectacular view of the delta wetlands that this river gracefully transitions into before flowing into Lake Ontario.

River Mermaid | Sophster-Toaster Blog

The whole hike takes about an hour from bottom to top and back again. Since it’s in the middle of the city, the path comes out into a light commercial area with a Starbucks about a block away. Pepper, the husband and I love walking the trail on sunny Saturday mornings and stopping in for a tea, coffee and puppuccino before heading back home.

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Sweater ModCloth
Shorts ModCloth
Socks McGregor Socks
Shoes Keds
Earrings street vendor in Panama
Necklace gift

Photos by me and Matt Harrison.

Birthday Cake Ice Cream

Homemade Birthday Cake Ice Cream | Sophster-Toaster Blog

My best friend and I recently had a disagreement about whether cake and ice cream were best or worst served together. I said I always dreaded cake and ice cream time at birthday parties when I was growing up because I hated having them on the same plate but was too shy to ask to have them one at a time. Something about cold, soggy cake and crumb-filled ice cream eaten with a fork just filled me with a sorrow I have yet to recover from. He said all of those things were amazing and the best part of childhood. We absolutely could not find common ground on the topic. With his birthday coming up this weekend, I decided to make him something special: birthday cake ice cream with the cake crumbs stirred right in.

Homemade Birthday Cake Ice Cream | Sophster-Toaster Blog Homemade Birthday Cake Ice Cream | Sophster-Toaster Blog Homemade Birthday Cake Ice Cream | Sophster-Toaster Blog Homemade Birthday Cake Ice Cream | Sophster-Toaster Blog Homemade Birthday Cake Ice Cream | Sophster-Toaster Blog

Ingredients

  • 1 box of rainbow chip cake mix
    • (+ 1 cup water)
    • (+ ½ cup vegetable oil)
    • (+ 2 eggs)
  • 1½ cups whole milk
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp vanilla paste or extract
  • 1 handful of rainbow sprinkles

Method

  1. Prepare and bake the rainbow chip cake in a 13×9 pan, according to package instructions.
  2. Meanwhile, bring the whole milk, sugar and salt to a simmer over medium-low heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved.
  3. Beat the egg yolks lightly in a bowl.
  4. Temper the eggs by slowly stirring a ½ cup of the warm milk mixture into them, beating constantly, then stirring this egg mixture into the milk mixture.
  5. Cook over low heat, stirring often, until this mixture starts to thicken and reaches a temperature of 175°F. You’ve made custard!
  6. Strain into a small, heat-safe bowl to catch any lumps of egg yolk that didn’t temper properly and chill in the fridge until cold.
  7. Once cold, stir in the heavy cream and vanilla and churn in an ice cream maker.
  8. While the ice cream is churning, crumble half of the cake into bite-sized chunks.
  9. Place the cake crumbs and fully churned ice cream into a large storage container with half of the sprinkles and fold everything together. Sprinkle remaining sprinkles on top, lightly press a sheet of cling wrap down onto the surface of the ice cream, place the lid on the container and freeze overnight.

Homemade Birthday Cake Ice Cream | Sophster-Toaster Blog Homemade Birthday Cake Ice Cream | Sophster-Toaster Blog

All photos by me.

T-shirt Weather

T-shirt Weather | Sophster-Toaster Blog

It finally feels like spring is here in Canada. There’s a still a bit of snow kicking around in the shadows, but it looks like we’ve seen the last of the under 5°C days. After a very long and drawn-out winter, it seems like we’re jumping right into late spring/early summer. It’s officially safe to put our boots and shovels away and pull out the sundresses and lawn chairs. It’s perfect timing, since my first t-shirts of the spring/summer season are just coming out and my first market of the season is this weekend!

I’m so excited about my first new screen print shirts of the year! I hooked up with an amazing North American made t-shirt brand for my nostalgic, double binding ringer tee and paired it with classic Cooper Black for a fun vintage vibe. I used a really neat UV ink that looks nearly invisible indoors but shows up the second you walk out into the sunshine! I had so much fun wearing this shirt around and seeing how the ink responded. I’m also planning to make a regular ink version in the same golden yellow colour for a lower price-point tee for anyone who likes the print so much, they want it to show all the time.

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T-shirt Sophster-Toaster
Jeans ModCloth
Socks ModCloth
Shoes Keds
Earrings Nicole Gagnon / Craft Arts Market
Sunglasses The Bay

All photos by me.

Come shop my tees in person, this weekend, at the Etsy: Made in Canada: Niagara Spring Market!

Zehrs Online Grocery Shopping Review

I was talking with a friend a couple of weeks ago about how much he hates the process of grocery shopping to the point he’s come to dread the tedious chore. I suggested trying Zehrs’ new online grocery shopping service, knowing very little about how it actually worked. He confided in me that not knowing what to expect from this new way of shopping would make him as uncomfortable as he is doing it the tried and true way. I said I would help him any way I could and we left it at that.

A few hours later, I had the idea to test the service out myself so I could let him know what the procedure was. A day after that, I realized he’s probably not alone in letting his introversion and social anxiety get the best of him when it comes to this sort of thing and that there may be others who are curious about this pre-self-serve-supermarket throwback style of how we do our weekly shop, so I had the idea to try it out and share my experience!

Placing the Order

The process starts out easily enough, you choose a 2 hour time slot for when you would like to pick up your order. You can choose any time, from 9 am – 7 pm, seven days a week, up to two weeks in advance. The pickup fee for 9-5, Monday – Friday is $3, while the fee for after 5 pm and weekends is $5, which seems entirely reasonable. (You can try it out for free for your first month by using coupon code FREEMONTH at checkout.) You can place an order up to two hours before pickup and you can alter your submitted order up to midnight the night before your pickup day. There is a $30 order minimum.

Next, you add items to your order by searching for them or browsing by section. If you are a PC Optimum member and swipe your card every time you shop, you can shop from a special section of your frequently purchased items to speed thing up. I imagine this feature will become even more useful the more you use the online ordering and build a database. It took me much longer to shop online than it does to shop in person but I got really bogged down in just how easy it was to shop the sales and compare prices, nutrition and ingredients of similar items, especially ones that aren’t displayed together in the store. It was so much easier to discover new products when shopping online vs in store. It was easy to say, “oh this looks good,” and add it to your cart with the click of a button, but it was also much easier to change your mind and ditch your impulse items at checkout – and not feel like the monsters who shove their mistaken ground beef in the magazine rack. When you are done shopping, you checkout, mark any items that you will not accept a substitution for if they become out of stock, provide your credit card information and have an option to tick a box if you would like to bring your own bags. I chose to have my groceries bagged before pickup and as far as I can tell, there was no charge for the bags.

After you place your order, you receive a confirmation email. On the morning of your order pickup date, you receive an order update email with pickup information, that looks like this:

It also includes a list of any items that were out of stock that day and had to be substituted. Here’s what my substitutes looked like:

Most of the items that were not substituted were because I asked that they not be. I guess they were out of jalapenos that morning and had no obvious substitute to work with. As you can see, my $0.49 name brand soups were substituted for an $0.89 off-brand soup, which I had an option to decline. I chose to keep them and they came in a separate, colour coded bag for easy subtraction.

Picking Up the Order

About a half hour before our pickup time slot, as we were running other errands, we received an inconvenient phone call detailing all the information that was included in the email and were asked if we would like to pay with the credit card used during online checkout. I assume this call was due to the newness of the program, both for the store and the customer, and hope it can be done without in the future.

When we arrived, we looked for the specially reserved online order pickup parking spots located near the entrance and took the last remaining one as the others were filled by people who were shopping regularly and are, I guess, not great at reading signs. We called the number provided, a general store employee answered and we were transferred to the correct department. A very cheerful woman on the other end of the line then asked us for the parking spot number we were in and told us to sit tight and she would be out with out order in five minutes. After a little more than five minutes, she appeared in a safety vest with our cart of groceries. My husband got out of the car to open the truck for her and help load in the groceries. She thanked him, handed him a bottle of water and a small bag of free snacks with a handwritten thank you note, and told him he could sit and relax in the car. She quickly and carefully placed the groceries in the trunk, closed the door, waved good bye to let us know she had finished, and we drove off. We completed a few more errands and went home to unpack out groceries. We noticed that they were very well packed, with cleaning products separated in their bags, cold things together, pantry items together, etc.

All in all, the whole experience was quite simple and pleasant. I could have done without the phone calls, but I’m sure it’s an improvement that can be made as the store figures things out. I would definitely continue to use this service for my larger, organized grocery shops. Even when the free trail ends, and we have to pay the pickup fee, I think we will still save money when it’s so much easier to shop the sales and compare prices using the online shopping system; the “sort price low – high” button was my best friend. Plus there is the cost of our time saved not trudging around a busy grocery store.