Thursday, May 20, 2010

Girls Night In for Cancer (pre-party prep!)

So tomorrow night, I'm hosting a Girls Night In to support the Canadian Cancer Society. This is a great cause - all the donations go to help fight cancers that specifically affect women: breast, uterine, cervical and ovarian.

This is a cause close to my heart. At 27 years old I had noticed a lump in one of my breasts during my monthly self-exam. My doctor sent me for ultrasounds and a mammogram (NOT fun!). They determined it was nothing to worry about, even though it was painful and had been getting bigger. The reaction was to 'keep an eye on it'.

The lump kept growing (and was very painful to the touch), and even became quite visible. Finally in 2005 I had what was by then a 5cm lump removed from one of my breasts. Make a circle with your first finger and thumb - that's how big it was. The surgery was the most painful thing I have ever endured (and I've been through a few horribly painful things). It was a week before I could even leave my bed. I would wake up weeping from the pain. The surgeon did a good job of removing the lump, but the surgery did leave a scar and an area of scar tissue that still aches from time to time.

Luckily for me, the lump turned out to be benign (if benign is what you call years of pain and an excruciating surgery) - at least, it was not cancerous. Phew. But it absolutely reinforced for me that self-exams are so important. I wish I'd insisted on removal when the lump was still small because I think it would have saved me a lot of pain. You know your own body best - follow your intuition and do those self-exams, ladies!

I've also had some experience with chemotherapy injections. Not fun at all. Anything that can help save women from going through the scare or reality of cancer and its treatment is important to me.


A few of my girlfriends are coming over for this - it's a dessert party, so I've spent some time today baking! Hooray :)

I made Lime Star cookies from my Martha Stewart Cookies cookbook - hers are flowers, but all I had was a star cookie cutter, so mine are stars. They're quite yummy. They took for-freakin'-ever to make, though. Chilling! Rolling! Cutting! Chilling! Re-rolling! Cutting! Every time I make cookies, I remind myself that they are a LOT of work - even drop cookies seem to take forever. It's not the mixing, it's the dropping or slicing or cookie-cuttering or rolling into little balls and squashing or forking or tossing in sugar....

I also made chocolate cupcakes from my Vegetarian Times cookbook - the cupcakes turned out wonderfully (and the recipe is already vegan; I'm going on 6 months now for eggless baking!), but the icing was a disaster. I followed the recipe, but it turned out like syrup. So I took a quarter of it, dumped a pile of icing sugar and a melted square of bakers chocolate in, and worked with that. Still not the lovely, fluffy cupcake icing that I was hoping for, but it just got too frustrating.

** Do you have an icing recipe that works for you? I am an icing failure. This isn't the first time my icing endeavours have ended up sloppy and useless. Hook me up, you icing masters! **

...And now I've got two jars of chocolate syrup in my fridge. Honestly, after taste-testing sweets all day I could go a week without chocolate.

Tomorrow I'm going to make some of Averie's Raw Vegan Peanut Butter Cups. I can't wait to see how these turn out.

And I might do chocolate covered strawberries, if I have time.

Please remind me next time I'm having a party, to go with tested and true recipes. Like the eggless chocolate bundt cake that turned out so well.

Other than that... I hope this party goes well. It's small but not everyone knows everyone, so there could be awkward moments. Plus I don't really have a plan per se. I do have some lovely door prizes, though! Everyone should go home with a little treat. I'm not telling what, as I know at least one of the girls reads my blog from time to time!

If anyone wants to donate to this great cause , you can actually donate online using a credit card at my event webpage. The money goes directly to the Canadian Cancer Society, and tax receipts are available for charitable donations over $25.

And you can also host your own Girls Night In if you want to support a great cause with your girls. You just sign up and they help you with party ideas, you can create your own event webpage, with email invitations, donation forms and so on. They suggest that attendees donate what they would normally spend on a night out. There is no timeline or season for it - you can do this at any time.

I am really proud to support the Canadian Cancer Society.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A contest you might be interested in...

This is a Sponsored Post written by me on behalf of Nestle Nescafe Dolce Gusto. All opinions are 100% mine.

Another one for my Canadian readers! has a contest on right now where you can enter to win a NESCAFE Dolce Gusto machine. The contest runs until June 20th and there are 10 up for grabs!


I don't know about you, but I don't begin a day without my morning latte. I have an old-school Krups espresso machine, though - the Nescafe Dolce Gusto does much more. It is a capsule machine with the Krups technology - that makes the perfect cup to order with much less fuss. You can get the capsules at grocery stores or online, whatever's easy for you!

Knowing that it's made by Krups ($179 at most retailers, like the Bay, Home Outfitters, Sears and kitchen stores; there is also a $159 T-Fal version at Walmart) makes a big difference to me. I've had my Krups machine for two and a half years and I still love it - still going strong after daily use all this time. So I can recommend Krups machines! I haven't tried the Nescafe Dolce Gusto yet myself, but hopefully they'll have a demo on next time I'm at one of the stores.

The one thing I'm not 100% behind with the capsule machines is that I think most of those capsules end up in landfills. I know some are recyclable - but you must empty the grounds out first (into your compost bin, ideally) - and I'm not sure people who are after the convenience of capsules will take that extra time. So hopefully if you are a lucky winner, you'll be the responsible one and compost and recycle! Right? Right!

Good luck!

Visit my sponsor: Win a NESCAFE Dolce Gusto machine!

Glorious garden colour in a box!

This one's for my fellow Canadians. Go to the Wave Petunias website and join the Wave Fan Club. Really. It may seem weird to become a fan of a flower, but you won't regret it.

For the second year in a row, I've been one of the lucky 'fans' to win a box of Wave Rave petunias and Serena Angelonia. Last year, they sent a box of purple and white & purple striped petunias, and white Angelonia. Sadly, the plants had been sitting in a hot FedEx truck all day by the time they got to me, and were really wilted. But they perked up after just a couple days (and a good watering) and were lovely in our front garden all summer long.

Today my box arrived from Wave in perfect condition - the plants are healthy and ready to be planted (just in time for the May 2-4, which is the big planting weekend here in Southern Ontario). The Angelonia even has blooms already (it also blooms all summer) - purple this year. The Wave Rave petunias this time are half purple and half the new Easy Wave Neon Rose, which will not be available in stores until Spring of next year, so I get to be ahead of the next garden trend!

If you want to get in on some beautiful summer colour for next year's garden, do go and sign up for the Fan Club. I have been really thrilled with the plants - they spread nicely, don't get rangy, and bloom all season - plus they're FREE! All you need to do if you win is a quick survey at the end of the summer to let Wave know how you liked the plants. Also - as if you need more incentive - new Fan Club members are entered to win a Flip Ultra camera!

This isn't a paid post or anything, btw - I was just so happy to get my big box of plants today! I wanted to share the opportunity with you.

In other news, stay tuned for an upcoming giveaway. Here's a hint - it's something delicious, Canadian and organic; and it comes from a company I'm happy to be working with again. Any guesses?

Monday, May 17, 2010

More progress, sewing, and a salad you must try.

I know it doesn't look like much progress, but we did spend the entire day yesterday (until 9 pm) working on this - AFTER a 15 minute 'Awesome Abs' workout, followed by an hour-long BodyFlow (Tai Chi, Pilates and yoga) in the morning! Wow. A lot of physical labour for one day! Thank goodness we started going to the gym in March - if I didn't have two months of thrice-a-week workouts under my belt, I'd be more than just a little achy today.

With the start of the cross pieces up, you can get a sense of how the finished pergolas will look. And a sense, in this image, of what we don't want to be looking at - the ugly chain link fence, the side of our neighbours' house, and the ugly pile of plastic that's been sitting there for a year and a half already (their only daughter is about 9 months old. It'll be a while yet.)

The 'hard' work is done on the pergolas; now it's repetitive drilling and placement of the remaining beams and cross-pieces. My husband's going to work on it tonight while I'm teaching - can't wait to see how far he gets!

Oh, and there's still the shed... another project for this spring. The makings are sitting in our garage.

We are still debating the vines to go up the block retaining wall and chain link fence. I've done a lot of research into vines and haven't come to any solid conclusions. I'd love something that keeps its leaves all winter, but euonymus in the vine variety is hard to come by around here. It has to be something hardy in zone 5b and preferably something not poisonous, not thorny, not a big bee attraction, and not top-heavy (a la wisteria, silver lace vine, etc). The standard Boston Ivy and Virginia Creeper aren't ideal in my mind. Too bare in winter (though they are showy in the fall). I'm not sure what we'll end up with.

You can also see, on the right, our teeny-tiny compact Stella cherry tree! (Those two green blobs sprouting out of the middle of the lawn!) We finally planted it. It's small for now but will grow to 15-20' in width and height, and bear up to 50 lbs of cherries a year - it'll take a while to get to that point but MAN, that's going to be AWESOME! The big benefit of this variety of cherry tree, besides the compact size, is that it's self-pollinating.

Other than that, not much is up. I've been sewing another bunny, but managed to jam my machine while working on the last bit of its dress. This is my new Husqvarna, that I got for Christmas. Argh! I'm the bane of sewing machines. Meanwhile, I've got an itch to do another baby quilt - just for fun. Got to get that machine working!

Oh, and if you're in the mood for some crafty/sewing giveaways, check out Sew, Mama, Sew for an enormous list of giveaways all over the blogosphere that are running now until the 20th. Fabric, handcrafted items, patterns, all sorts of goodies.

BTW, on the weekend we had friends over and made Toasted Panzanella - a big hit. This is one of our absolute favourite summer recipes. It's easy, good for making ahead, great for picnics or pot lucks, unusual but doesn't have 'weird' ingredients that will make picky eaters turn their noses up. It's the kind of dish that you can't stop eating, it's just that good. Highly recommended!