Thrifty Hike

Thrifty Hike | Sophster-Toaster

They don’t make them like they used to. My husband and I discovered, a few years ago, that the best place to buy warm, well-made and affordable sweaters is at thrift stores. He’s been lucky enough to find some great vintage pieces from the 70’s and 80’s while I’m still kicking myself for leaving without a matching set of classic 80’s ski sweaters (because my arms were already full of other cute sweaters). We’ve found the luxuriously thick, double knit, wool blend, not-quite Cosby sweater my husband wore today, cashmere cardigans, and the not vintage but classic cable knit + pom pom wool blend sweater I’m wearing with my (also thrifted) flannel. We just can’t find sweaters warm and hearty enough to hike in single digit temperatures like this at the mall or online, and certainly not for $6-10 a pop!

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Sweater thrifted
Flannel thrifted
Jeans Modcloth
Boots old
Hat ModCloth

Thrifty Hike | Sophster-Toaster Thrifty Hike | Sophster-Toaster Thrifty Hike | Sophster-Toaster

All photos by me and Matt.

Absinthe Macarons

Absinthe Macarons | Sophster-Toaster

Everyone tastes absinthe a touch differently. I taste licorice, black cherry and freshly ground nutmeg in this absinthe from Dillon’s that I’m using today, while my husband describes flavours of anise and marzipan. Absinthe is fairly strong on its own. When preparing a glass of absinthe to drink, one dilutes it with cool water slowly poured over a sugar cube.  When used as a flavouring in baking, it acts more like an extract. Just like the water and sugar in the glass, the unique, bewitching flavours of the absinthe are tempered and diluted in the sweet buttercream. When paired with a classic almond and vanilla flavoured macaron shell, it creates a mysteriously timeless treat.

Absinthe Macarons | Sophster-ToasterAbsinthe Macarons | Sophster-Toaster Absinthe Macarons | Sophster-Toaster Absinthe Macarons | Sophster-Toaster Absinthe Macarons | Sophster-Toaster Absinthe Macarons | Sophster-Toaster Absinthe Macarons | Sophster-Toaster


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 tsp vanilla
  • black gel food colouring

for the buttercream filling

  • 7 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 2 tbsp absinthe
  • green food colouring

Absinthe Macarons | Sophster-Toaster


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. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. Add vanilla and gently beat in.
  6. Add food colouring and gently beat in. The batter will darken as you work it and the cookies will come out darker still, so don’t worry about getting a true black right now.
  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. 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 and beat until creamy.
  2. Break the egg into a large heat-resistant mixing bowl and beat lightly with a hand mixer. Set aside.
  3. 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!
  4. 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 thick, light in colour and the bowl is no longer hot.
  5. Add the butter to this mixture in two or three parts and beat on medium speed until fully incorporated and creamy. If the buttercream splits and continuing to beat doesn’t bring it back together, it has likely become too cold. Pop it in the warm oven for 30 seconds and try beating it again. Continue doing this until it comes together.
  6. Add the absinthe and beat until mixed in.
  7. Add food colouring

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.

Absinthe Macarons | Sophster-Toaster

All photos by me.

When Nothing Works

When Nothing Works | Sophster-Toaster

I’ve held very few jobs that weren’t creative in some way. I mostly worked cooking in restaurants in high school and college and was deemed “the creative one” and given tasks that required craftiness or creative problem solving in my volunteer and intern positions. Yet, I never realized, accepted or admitted that I was a creative person until I was well into adulthood.

Working a creative job, like the dressmaking I do now, can feel like the easiest thing in the world one day, and the hardest thing I’ve ever done the next. It can leave you feeling extremely fulfilled or completely drained. Unlike with a creative hobby, you can’t stop and set it aside when you aren’t feeling creative. You have to push through everyday and search for the tiniest spark of inspiration that will allow you to do the thing you love, even when you hate it. Some days the creatively flows so intensely, you can’t capture it all. Then suddenly, you get a block and you can’t create anything useful. You have lots of ideas, but none of them will work. You have to keep trying and trying until you break through. The day I took these pictures was one of those days.

When Nothing Works | Sophster-Toaster

It rained all morning as I drank my tea, ate breakfast, got dressed and planned some gloomy day photographs. Then, as soon as I stepped outside, the sun came out and spoiled my plans. Every time I adjusted my ideas, and the settings on my camera, the weather would change and I couldn’t get the images on the screen to match the ones I had in my head. I took a break, played with Pepper, paced around, looked at some photographs by artists I admire, and tried again. My on-the-spot ideas were coming a little easier, working a little better now, but I still felt like I hadn’t taken many good photos when I ran out.

I sat down at my computer to look over my pictures and was pleased to find a handful of workable images. I had fun editing them and experimenting with my style, only becoming frustrated with a few things I wish I could do better, and put them aside to publish today, about a week later.

I was shocked, today, when I pulled them up again, to see that they weren’t nearly as bad as I had remembered. The lighting that frustrated me then, now looked kind of neat. The forces I had to work against were now points of interest. Running out of ideas and inspiration pushed me to dig deeper and try new things outside of my usual style.

Sometimes the hardest things about working a creative job produce the most rewarding returns and bad days become good days.

When Nothing Works | Sophster-Toaster When Nothing Works | Sophster-Toaster When Nothing Works | Sophster-Toaster When Nothing Works | Sophster-Toaster When Nothing Works | Sophster-Toaster

Sweater Bluenotes
Top ModCloth
Skirt Le Bomb Shop
Tights Pretty Polly
Shoes ModCloth
Accessories old

All photos be me.

Fogged In

Fogged In | Sophster-Toaster

I came down with a bad cold while we were up at the cottage for Thanksgiving. I tried not to let it get me down. Luckily the cottage is a great place to rest and relax.

On one cloudy afternoon, feeling my worst, we decided we would make some tea and snacks and watch a movie snuggled up by the fire. We chose a mid-2000’s movie we had never seen before from the stack of entertaining-but-mediocre rainy day movies that seem to collect at cottages. We put some wood on the fire, surrounded ourselves with everything we would need, got cozy under some blankets with our backs to the lake and started the movie. When it finished, we got up and looked out the big windows behind us to see that we could no longer make out the treeline on the other side of the lake. We were completely fogged in.

After having already spent a few days with just one other person and a dog, alone on an island on a quiet lake, it was strange, but not unpleasant, to feel even more alone and isolated than we already did. It was a bit unnerving to not know how long the fog had been there or when it would recede.

Fogged In | Sophster-Toaster

Standing at the window, Pepper waking up and revving up from a quite couple of hours, I turned to my husband and said something like, “want to go look from the dock?” We bundled up, put Pepper on her long, bright orange leash to keep her safe and visible and headed out into the landscape that was now both foreign and familiar. By the time we got down to the dock, the fog had started to lift and we could again see the islands and coast that had been invisible to us just a little while earlier.

We wondered around the woods for a bit, took some pictures and went back into the warm cottage to make dinner and settle in for a stormy night.

Fogged In | Sophster-Toaster Fogged In | Sophster-Toaster Fogged In | Sophster-ToasterFogged In | Sophster-Toaster

Coat ModCloth
Sweater thrifted
Hat ModCloth
Pants ModCloth
Socks Walmart
Boots L.L.Bean
Gloves ModCloth

Fogged In | Sophster-Toaster Fogged In | Sophster-Toaster

Photos by me and Matt.