Shallot Hill

Shallot Hill | Sophster-Toaster

My husband grew up on a (relatively) small vegetable farm his father named Shallot Hill. My father-in-law maintained the farm while commuting a couple hours a day to teach screen printing and other skills to prisoners. When the prison closed, he went full time with his passion, started the lengthy process to go organic – before it was trendy – and tried to grow the best versions of the most interesting things he could find. He grew purple carrots, blue potatoes, red basil, strangely shaped squashes, and many other things that, growing up in a small town, I had never heard of before… like shallots. He became a trusted source for beautiful and weird local produce at every fancy restaurant in town, but was best known for his incredible garlic.

Every time we visit the farm, we load up on everything that’s in season, but especially garlic and shallots. We must have overdone it at Christmas, because we found a big bag of what my husband expertly and matter-of-factly called “seed garlic” in the basement last weekend. We couldn’t let such beautiful garlic go to waste, so we planted it on the next warm and sunny day.

Shallot Hill | Sophster-Toaster Shallot Hill | Sophster-Toaster Shallot Hill | Sophster-Toaster Shallot Hill | Sophster-Toaster Shallot Hill | Sophster-Toaster

Top Gale’s Vintage Clothing Collection
Jeans Angry Rabbit
Glasses Warby Parker

Shallot Hill | Sophster-Toaster

Photos by me and Matt Harrison.

Dressing for the Weather

Dressing for the Weather | Sophster-Toaster

We had a stormy morning followed by a gusty and unusually warm afternoon last Sunday. I threw on a light dress and cardigan combo, with a pin that arrived just in time to wear nowhere, and like many of my neighbours, took this opportunity to sit out on the front porch. The fresh air and gentle sunshine felt as good to me as I’m sure it did the flowers coming up in my garden.

Dressing for the Weather | Sophster-Toaster Dressing for the Weather | Sophster-Toaster Dressing for the Weather | Sophster-Toaster Dressing for the Weather | Sophster-Toaster Dressing for the Weather | Sophster-Toaster Dressing for the Weather | Sophster-Toaster Dressing for the Weather | Sophster-Toaster Dressing for the Weather | Sophster-Toaster Dressing for the Weather | Sophster-Toaster

Sunglasses Warby Parker
Cardigan ModCloth
Pin Rapscallion

All photos by me.

Earl Grey + Wildflower Honey Macarons

Earl Grey + Wildflower Honey Macarons | Sophster-Toaster

While working on the photos for this recipe, my husband – who is working from home at the same desk as I am – said he was reading that this period in time could come to be known as The Great Pause. I think that perfectly describes how I felt while cooped up, gazing out the windows and working on this recipe over the past couple of days.

I wanted to make a new flavour inspired by the seasonal changes I could see and feel, despite being stuck inside, but was fairly limited by what ingredients I had on hand. I thought back to other recipes I’d done before and remembered one of the first flavours I had ever made: Earl Grey with honey buttercream. This time, I used one of my favourite Earl Grey blends (this organic one from David’s Tea) and some local spring wildflower honey I got from an urban beekeeper on my roller derby team.

Earl Grey + Wildflower Honey Macarons | Sophster-Toaster Earl Grey + Wildflower Honey Macarons | Sophster-Toaster Earl Grey + Wildflower Honey Macarons | Sophster-Toaster Earl Grey + Wildflower Honey Macarons | Sophster-Toaster Earl Grey + Wildflower Honey Macarons | Sophster-Toaster Earl Grey + Wildflower Honey Macarons | Sophster-Toaster Earl Grey + Wildflower Honey Macarons | Sophster-Toaster Earl Grey + Wildflower Honey Macarons | Sophster-Toaster


for the macaron shells

  • ¾ cup ground almonds (as finely ground as you can find)
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 2 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 3 tbsp + 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp ground earl grey tea leaves

for the filling

  • 7 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 1 tbsp wildflower honey

Earl Grey + Wildflower Honey 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 almond and icing sugar together, twice. Add ground tea leaves. 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. Fold your almond and icing sugar mixture into the meringue in two parts.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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 an 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 you can draw a line of bare pan without the liquid immediately covering it back up, 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 very 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 or over a double boiler for 10 seconds and try beating it again. Continue doing this until it comes together.
  6. Add the wildflower honey and beat in.

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!

All photos by me.


Greenery | Sophster-Toaster

I’ve been trying to find ways to stay calm, busy and positive at home this week. All the gardening that needs to be done indoors and out during this time of year has been a big help. We’ve got our crab apple tree trimmed and lots of pollinator-friendly wildflower seeds in so we’ll have lots of blooms to look forward to when we make it to the other side of this uncertain time.

We’re celebrating St. Patrick’s Day as normally as we can, but this year will be notably different. Instead of inviting friends and family over for a celebration of Irish-Canadian culture, it’s going to be just the two of us. We didn’t get Guinness and couldn’t get veggie stewing “beef” during what we knew would be our last trip out for a while, but the store had lots of lovely root vegetables, and I always keep a supply of barley and mushroom broth on hand, so we’ll be having a new kind of festive Irish stew. I’ve got the Irish flag up outside and we’ll be wearing green while working from home today, but this year we’ll be toasting to the safety of everyone in our community.

Greenery | Sophster-Toaster Greenery | Sophster-Toaster Greenery | Sophster-Toaster Greenery | Sophster-Toaster

Glasses Warby Parker

Greenery | Sophster-Toaster Greenery | Sophster-Toaster

All photos by me.