Sprinkle Pop Tie Dye

I’d love to say these cool, tie dye-patterned nails were an intentional thing, but like all delightful creations, they began in a very different place from which they wound up. I was going for another fluid art look, this time in a bouquet of spring pastels, so inspired by some springin’ sprinkles I recently purchased from Sprinkle Pop (more on the fab world of bespoke sprinkles next post.)

But I jumped the gun and didn’t let my little self-made nail decals dry thoroughly, so when I topped my finished mani with a requisite coat of Seche Vite, it smudged up into this still-pretty tie dye concoction that reminds me of Hypercolor shirts from the ’90s (a type of tie dye, I suppose, if watery pastels mixed with sweat is your bag. Yikes, the ’90s were a rough time, sartorially speaking!)

Feeling Fluid

The ingenuity of the nail polish world never ceases to amaze me. Just when you think you’ve seen every variation of a nail lacquer – truly, how different can those 50 mint green polishes be from one another?! – something new comes along, opening up a whole new world of nail art possibilities.

Shocker to no one who’s been following this sorry excuse for a nail blog over the past year, but there’s been a certifiable dearth of actual nail art embedded in the actual ones and zeros contained therein.  The long and the short of it is, I’ve had zero interest in fiddling with my nails.  And when I have, it’s been gardening season – and at that time of year, they are anything but tidy little finger canvasses! 

Then I ran across this trendy fluid art polish I purchased last year, Baroness X’s Nacre, and I decided to treat myself to a pretty new manicure.  We shall not speak of my first attempt, which I chalked up to a lack of practice over the last, oh, eight or nine months.  But my second attempt went swimmingly, and I’m so pleased with the results! 

Here’s how fluid art polishes work.  Containing a higher than usual percentage of oil, fluid art polishes interact with more traditional, water-based lacquers in exactly the way you would expect oil and water to combine – breaking apart into delicate lace, puddly little cells and swoopy streaks.  I created the manicure shown here by dabbing three polishes – hot pink, orchid purple and plain old white – out onto a small silicone mat, one on top of the other.  I immediately topped the tri-coloured polish pile with a generous blob of Nacre, before pinching the mat between my fingers, smooshing the four polishes together. 

You will not think that this will do a dang thing – and it didn’t work for me the first time I tried it – but when you pull the mat apart, you’ll see the polishes spread out and split up into lacy cells, right before your very eyes.  It was really so cool – effects polishes, when they behave, can produce the neatest looks.  And Nacre is a great choice for experimentation, as it doesn’t have the most colour presence beyond that lovely mother of pearl shimmer.

After creating six or seven of these little cellular strips (I was just doing my one hand) I let them dry for an hour or so.  Then when it came time to actually do my nails, I treated them exactly like nail decals, carefully cutting each delicate strip into a shape roughly the size of my nail bed, and then “sticking” it in place atop a single light layer of clear base coat.  I then cleaned up the raggedy bits by my cuticles with a detail brush dipped in acetone, before topping with Seche Vite, as always.  Et voila, a rather stunning and spring-y fluid art manicure, and a small, encouraging step back into the nail art world. 🙂

A Year in Review

No need to add to the chorus of “thank-your-lord-of-choice 2020 is over” exhalations of exasperation; this post is going to be about the good things that came into my life last year, the positive behaviours I somehow picked up, and the happy memories I made in the process.

Not to lay too much responsibility at the doorstep of our actual doorstep, but like most good things in our lives, they begin and end with our house.  We actually moved in just before Christmas 2019, so 2020 was all about finding our footing as new homeowners.  Mostly, we were unbelievably grateful – every single day, audibly, no doubt involving a number of colourful epithets – that we were not trying to pandemic-in-place in our old condominium.  Had this camel’s back not been broken by the proverbial straw some months earlier, I have no doubt that COVIDing-in-a-condo would have been the thing to finally do it.

Instead, we settled in, grateful – there’s that word again – for our little fortress against the unknown.  We couldn’t control what was happening outside our door, but we could tend our little kingdom, and its surrounding community, as best we could, and just try to stay safe.  At its very core, I think that’s all that’s been asked of us all along – just take care of yourself and your neighbours.  I’m not sure how that message got quite so twisted up.

Mask Up!

Okay, brief political interlude aside (NOT a positive thing in my life in 2020; against my better judgement, and very much to my mental detriment, I became a hardcore doomscroller) our house is rad, we love living here, and we had a great year as first time homeowners.

My lovely, gigantic kitchen gave me plenty of space to spread my culinary wings, whether it was countless Hello Fresh meals – an absolute treat and sanity-saver during the very earliest days of the pandemic – or from-the-garden rhubarb jam, or pumpkin spice cinnamon buns, or many, many, many dozens of scones – a friend’s daughter paid me the greatest culinary compliment I’ve ever received when she commented that they were topped with icing worthy of Santa’s cookies – or even both Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, a first for me.

Sweet Treats

And in the early summer we purchased a gas barbecue, one of those “When I have my own house one day!” items I’ve been dreaming about over the last 17 years of apartment life.  Oh, the delicious, smoky fun we had this summer!  Mostly a lot of vegetarian, carby things (penne in a smoked vodka tomato cream sauce, white pizza, and alfredo-thyme farfalle studded with smoky, blackened corn) because Mr. Finger Candy is a vegetarian and I love carbs, but it saw its fair share of bacon-wrapped tenderloins and smoked chicken as well.  The very best food discovery I made this year is that dry mesquite wood chips loaded into a tinder box and set beneath your grill will impart a smoky flavour to your food that is virtually indistinguishable from bacon.  Spread the word, vegetarians!

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (and Your BBQ’d Pizza)

Because our house has rather a lot of yard (and one super adorable shed) this is the year I discovered I *might* be a green-thumb in the making.  My grandfather, one of those “Let me graft this pineapple onto a cherry tree and see what happens” types, would be so proud!  It’s serious enough that for Christmas this year, my parents gifted me with seed-starters and hydroponic lights to hang above my workbench.  No joke, I am but 7,567 loose nails and a mock road signing proclaiming “Brain surgery while you wait” away from turning into my Poppy, and I’m completely delighted. 🙂  I took such great pleasure from gardening and yard work last year – nothing felt so good as taking a hot, sudsy shower after a long day of pruning, mulching, replanting, de-crittering and/or rock wall-building.

Shed Life

Not to say everything in the great outdoors has been going totally swimmingly.  In the spring I planted and replanted (and then replanted and planted again) a promising collection of berries, tomatoes and peppers, before just giving up and giving them over to the many, many rodents, birds and outright pests that populate our back yard.  The squirrels made off with my heirloom tulip bulbs, even after I “dressed” the front beds with about five pounds of powdered cayenne pepper.  My peonies kicked the bucket.  I forgot to tie up our cedars for the winter, necessitating a 4 am, first-snowfall-of-the-season jaunt to the backyard in my jammies and boots to strap them down.  And in the early fall, one of the squirrels I liked to alternately coddle with vast quantities of nuts AND bitch about mercilessly, expired on my front lawn.  I buried him in the garden whilst softly singing Jeff Buckley’s version of Hallelujah.  When the garbage collectors came by, I was slumped over my shovel sobbing like some sort of heroine out of a gothic novel.

In Bloom

Carrying out funereal rites for the rodents aside, both Mr. Finger Candy and I have derived great joy from the vast assortment of critters that swing by our backyard to partake of the endless nut buffet.  We don’t have cable TV any more, we just have a back window!  Friendly black squirrels, sassy grey squirrels, twitchy red squirrels, fearless chipmunks (Mr. Finger Candy claims they are my disciples and I am their queen), bossy blue jays, shouty crows, gentle doves, rambunctious raccoons (had to evict three of them from our shed in the summer), pudgy skunks, relentless woodpeckers, regal cardinals, flocking finches, and one adorable extortionist cat we nicknamed Mewington.

Little Rodentia

Speaking of cats – and the very best thing to happen to us in 2020 – having a home allowed us to once again open our doors (and hearts) to a couple of deserving feline friends.  Just before Christmas, when our souls were feeling a bit battered from the weight of everything, the opportunity to foster a bonded pair of rescue kitties floated across my Facebook news feed.  As I stared at the photos of their sweet, clearly frightened faces, I knew if I so much as showed the post to my husband, they’d be with us within the week.  So I sent him the link, and they were. 🙂  Fluffy, the big, floofy boy, and Beans, the tiny tabby girl, have been with us for about a month now, and we love them so much, some sort of medieval weaponry will most assuredly be needed in order to get us to part with them.  Seriously, I’ll cut you off at the knees and then feed the bits to the cats if you try to take them from us.  What can I say, my love is violent. 😉

Les Chats

The holidays were weird as heck this past year, with both Halloween and Christmas happening in the shadow of ever-tightening provincial lockdowns.  But in an odd sort of way, they were more enjoyable than in recent years past – probably something to do with that unknowable human quality of simply trying.  Trick-or-treating was heavily discouraged at Halloween, but we geared up just in case, laying out a socially distanced spread of bagged candy for the 20 or so kids who did stop by.

This is Halloween

At both Halloween and Christmas, we went heavy on the holiday decorations, turning our house first into a fog-shrouded, jaunty haunt, and then into a peppermint striped winter wonderland.  And guess who finally got her pink Christmas tree?!

Making Christmas

Making Pinkmas

And for both the spooking season and the holly jolly holidays, Mr. Finger Candy really got in touch with his inner Clark Griswold, adorning the exterior of our home with many hundreds of programmable twinkle lights.

Let There Be Light

When purchasing Christmas gifts this year – and indeed, this was the overriding ethos for nearly all of my purchases in 2020 – I really tried to keep it local.  And in doing so, I discovered (or re-discovered) some really terrific vendors and creators, like Heart & Home Soaps, which is owned by a woman I’ve known since elementary school, Doughbaby Doughnuts, which is *right* around the corner, and The Girl With the Most Cake, who supplied my wedding shower cake many marital moons ago.  And at the very height of the pandemic (the one way back in the spring, since we’re now up to multiple waves) my husband arranged to have some favourite photos of our late kitties Porky and Weegie transferred onto canvas by printers VistaPrint.  We also ordered in a lot of takeout from local restaurants, including Meatings BBQ, the Lone Star Cafe, Biagio’s and Karara Indian.  Having made only one Amazon purchase last year (unicorn pen calligraphy sets don’t grow on local trees!) we felt pretty great about how we chose to exercise our purchasing power in 2020.

Shop Local

Other things that felt pretty great in a year of decided un-greatness?  The three-hour, wee small hours of the morning message chat I had with my high school best friend.  We’re all old and shit, with kids and cats and ugh, responsibilities, but it felt like we were 18 again, falling asleep on the phone with each other as we planned our going-out outfits for that coming weekend. 🙂  I loved the socially distanced backyard visits I had with my other high school best friend in the summer and fall – nothing felt so much like the very essence of 2020 as sitting in the late summer twilight with Uber’d Starbucks lattes, catching up on our lives.  Zoom chats with even more high school friends were fun excuses to catch up, drink virtually and wear ALL of the makeup that I had not worn the rest of the year.  We also spent a bit of time getting to know our neighbours, including a lovely summer evening enjoying socially distanced drinks with the folks next door.  And while I didn’t do very much nail art this year – funny, for what is ostensibly a nail art blog – I did get my creative craft on in other ways, jumping back into the world of calligraphy and lettering, assembling a couple of miniature shadowbox lanterns for my parents, and making a felt wreath inspired by The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Getting Crafty With It

Without a doubt, there is much of last year (and some of this new year) I could have done without.  If ever there were a moment to Rip Van Winkle an entire year, no?  But it clearly wasn’t all a total loss, something I periodically need to remind myself of – there is enjoyment to be found in the awful, so long as you’re willing to acknowledge that it can exist.

Halloween Hangover

But in a good way, not in a “I ate too many mini Snickers and now I have to go off and hibernate for the next three weeks” kind of way. Although I did eat A LOT of mini chocolate bars this weekend, and given the time change, a nap sounds pretty good right about now…

In all weird actuality, we wound up having a very nice Halloween, COVID mandates notwithstanding.  Trick-or-treating wasn’t banned in my city outright, just discouraged – that should really be the City of Ottawa’s motto: “It’s Not Banned, Simply Discouraged!” – and so we stayed close to home, stocking up on what seemed like a reasonable amount of candy should any trick-or-treaters actually grace our Jack-o-Lantern-adorned doorstep.

And they did!  We had 22 kids and one highly amused delivery driver pop by, much to our delight.  We had a nice little socially distanced setup going, with pre-wrapped bags of candy laid out on the front steps, Haunted Mansion music blasting through the open windows, and a gentle, low-lying fog drifting through the garden, courtesy of Mr. Finger Candy’s intense new love of the fog machine (the phrase, “This might be the best thing we’ve ever bought!” was uttered more than once.)

We even threw together a couple of last minute costumes, transforming ourselves into a maid and butler of the Haunted Mansion.

And I went real big with my eye makeup look, simply because when else in 2020 have I had a time or place to wear six different shades of blue, green and purple eyeshadow?

In the days leading up to Halloween (okay, so for the entire month of October) we also put out a lot of Halloween decorations, really got in touch with our inner Clark Griswolds!

So it’s little wonder our house saw a bit of action, given that we were seemingly the only gig in (this) town.  I overheard a few kids that had already passed by grumble, “Oh man, I wish we could go to that house again” and I nearly chased them down the street with armfuls of Sour Patch Kids before I remembered that now – and always! – luring children to your house with candy is generally frowned upon.  There’s entire fairy tales written about it! 😉

Near-forays into Hansel and Gretel-dom aside, however, we had a really excellent Halloween.  And did you know it was our wedding anniversary?  Of course you did, I never shut up about it!  It was our 16th, and our first as homeowners.  It definitely wasn’t the usual kind of anniversary celebration we like to enjoy – that would involve a week-and-a-half-long trip to Disney – but given the circumstances of 2020, we’ll gladly take it.  Nothing wrong with throwing together a couple of very last minute costumes and spending the night crouched over a fog machine drinking Swedish Fish-o-ritas (actually, they were orange creamsicle margaritas – Screamsicles – with a chocolate salt rim from the Lone Star in Ottawa, and not only were they very festive, but they were also incredibly delicious.  Hmm, they might have been the reason we got that food delivery – tacos! – once the trick-or-treaters cleared out.)

All in all, I’m super pleased with how our first homebound Halloween went, and I’m hearing similar things from friends and family.  I think the general circumstances of this year – shitty ones, not to put too fine a point on it – have forced a lot of us to think outside the box on events like holidays, and in a lot of unique respects, we seem to be all the better for it.  Friends with kids have reported that they took part in local scavenger hunts, neighbourhood candy drives, costumed movie nights and other cautious, but no less creative, approaches to the Halloween season, and everyone seems to have had an unusually great time.  Going forward, I really hope the city takes note of the ways people are trying to responsibly and safely move forward with “living with” COVID, and maybe cuts us all a little slack.  Most of us are really trying.  Without a doubt, though, THIS is the Halloween these kids will always remember.  I know I certainly will.  Hope you had a good one, too, friends.

Go With the Flow

Marble Collage

I was recently the lucky recipient of these lovely Zoya polishes – pink Kristie, blue Maren, turquoise Harbor, and purple Jessica – thanks to the kind folks at Nail Polish Canada.  I swatched them all, of course – see my previous post for those details – but I also wanted to do a bit of nail art with my new, candy-coloured polishes.

Problem: I’m SO out of practice these days, both in terms of nail art ability and actual nail care, that a good mani for me is one in which my nails are not encrusted with a solid quarter-inch of gardening grit.  I figured at best I’d come up with something ultra easy, like a simple dotticure.

Instead I decided to shoot for the moon and do a water marble manicure, perhaps THE most difficult nail art technique, one that requires you to float polish on the surface of water.  Because that just sounds SUPER easy (spoiler alert: it’s usually not, and it’s always hella messy!)

Except….this time, with these polishes, it wasn’t.  Even after my extended absence from the nail art realm.  I think it’s because these four lacquers – rich cremes, all – are brand new, and at the peak of their polish power, having not picked up months’ and years’ worth of oil and grime.  All four are of a completely identical consistency as well, making it ultra easy to float the polish on the surface of water AND toothpick-out a swirled design.  TL;DR?  These Zoya polishes make water marbling EASY, even for the woefully out of practice.

Marble 5 - Fingers

Speaking of, I realize that without photos of the water marbling process, this must all sound like utter gibberish.  So might anyone be interested in a little tutorial?  Because I’d like to give this technique another try, see if I could come up with a slightly more consistent design finger-to-finger (much as I like the every-digit-for-itself approach.) 😉  Please do come back soon to see how I work out with that!

The Best of Days: A Gratitude Post

Halloween Collage

Show of hands if this pandemic has left you, too, feeling wildly imbalanced.  I know that over here in Sandraville, I have spent the past six months vacillating between frantic highs (back-busting stretches of gardening, mad cleaning, and a fun new obsession with keeping my lawn watered) and why-effin-bother lows (silly crying jags, disinterest in seemingly everything, and boredom that probably borders on clinical.)  Most days I get along just fine, going about my life like most of us are – cautiously, probably a bit timidly, but trying.  Sometimes showing up is 90 percent of the battle.

But the temptation to slide into pandemic pity has been, on occasion, overwhelmingly tempting.  I want to wallow, even when I know – especially when I know – that wallowing is unproductive, and just plain makes me feel bad.

So with the desire to banish those bad feelings for a little bit, Mr. Finger Candy and I recently sat down and talked about all of the things we were fortunate enough to experience pre-pandemic – our year and a half of indulgent Disney vacations chief among them – and how very, very lucky we were to have been given that time.  It was a wonderful lesson in a gratitude, and a timely reminder to count our many blessings.

It’s in that spirit that I now present to you THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE!  No, really, with zero disrespect to the many important dates and events in my life (high school and university graduations, first date with my husband, our wedding…) this day – October 31st, 2018 – ranks as the absolute best. 🙂

It starts with an obsession with twenty one pilots, Halloween and Disney vacations, as all good stories do.  We were – and still are – mad as Hatters for our favourite band, twenty one pilots.  We were also going to be celebrating our 14th wedding anniversary – yup, we were married on October 31st – with a trip to Disney World.  So when we found ourselves with Halloween tickets to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, an after hours event held at the Magic Kingdom, we decided to dress up like two different video versions of TOP’s enigmatic frontman and maestro, Tyler Joseph.

Twenty One Pilots Collage 2

At the time I proposed attending the party en costume, Mr. Finger Candy lamented that no one was going to know who we were.  “Husband of little faith!” I admonished.  “Okay, so not everyone is going to know who we are.  But the RIGHT people are going to know.”  Sure enough, we were in the park maybe 10 minutes before I began hearing delighted cries of, “Hey look, twenty one pilots!”  Rock star cosplay – it’s what’s for breakfast.

Twenty One Backpack Collage

Actually, what was for breakfast was this obscenely rich – TOO RICH – Poison Apple Cupcake, an $8 item from the Main Street Starbucks (“Home of the Half-Hour Lineup”) that was all Instagram and no taste.  It was a real one-and-done, as in take one bite and you’re done.  Cute, but way, WAY too much.  I generally prefer far less Red Food Dye No. 4 in my baked goods.

Poison Apple Cupcake Collage

We then skipped up Main Street to the hub, where we took the requisite photo in front of Cinderella Castle.

Tyler Two Pilots 12

Actually, we snapped photos all over the place.  When in Disney!

Tyler Two Pilots 9

We got stuck on It’s a Small World – you have no idea how small that world truly is when you’re creeping through it at .3 nautical miles an hour – and nearly missed our lunch reservations at Be Our Guest, the Beauty and the Beast themed restaurant in New Fantasyland.  As a reward for our stress, anxiety and patience (what are we going to do, bail out in the middle of Equatorial Africa and wade our way to the exit?) we were blessed with a total sweep of the It’s a Small World goodbye boards.  Ciao, Belle-a!

523

Speaking of, lunch at Be Our Guest – a first for us; we’re normally breakfast people at this amazing themed restaurant – was the very definition of scrum-diddily-yum.  My husband continues to rhapsodize about the vegetarian French onion soup two years on, and I think I once had a sexy dream about the beef dip. 😉

Be Our Guest Collage 2

This restaurant has special meaning for us.  It’s where we like to go for our most romantic and special meals – an anniversary breakfast, now an anniversary lunch, and one very lovely (and very late) Christmas Day dinner.  We normally like to grab a table in the West Wing, where thunder and lightning flash throughout the room and the Beast’s shredded portrait morphs from human to monster and back again, but for this meal we snuggled up for the first time in the library, where a gigantic music box of Belle and the Beast twirled gently in the center of the room, tinkling softly.

Be Our Guest Collage 2

Between our late lunch and the start of the party, we hit up some rides – nothing that would muss up our costumes too much (sorry, Space, Splash and Big Thunder Mountains.)  Instead we kicked back with multiple stately rides on the PeopleMover, a surprisingly zippy, magnet-powered Walt original.  Whilst in Tomorrowland, we also tried out our fun new identities as Tyler Two Space Pilots on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, a black-lit, neon-splattered shoot-the-target ride.  And we concluded our time in Tomorrowland with a showing of the Carousel of Progress, a moving, animatronic stage show depicting one American family’s relationship to innovation and progress across the last 100 years.  Sounds like a total snooze, but I assure you, it’s a delightful hoot.  Also, 22 minutes of seated air conditioning.

TOP Ride Collage

It was also in the Tomorrowland bathrooms where I bemusedly overheard a little girl and her mom discussing my costume, with the mom furiously trying to shush her daughter as she, in her best approximation of sotto voce, LOUDLY grilled her mother as to whether she, too, had seen the funny, dirty girl with the crud on her neck.  Heh.

Once the sun began to set, we picked up our party wristbands, grabbed a couple of sacks and hit up the innumerable trick-or-treat trails.  And we CLEANED UP, because we were SUPER INTO IT.  You can’t help but throw candy at the costumed adults shouting “Trick-or-Treat!” and excitedly swapping goodies as they hustle off to the next candy stop.  By the end of the evening we had amassed two bulging sacks of candy (PB Snickers, Mars, Skittles, M&Ms and enough Starburst to power an 11-year-old’s birthday party) – or about five pounds of miniature sized sweets that I had to declare and explain to an amused TSA agent on our journey back home.  No ragrets!

I Want Candy Collage

In between ducking down dimly lit treat trails (or very brightly lit treat trails, in the case of the ones set up inside an attraction) we hit up Pirates of the Caribbean, which featured live actors dotted throughout the ride.  I didn’t find that they really added a whole lot to the experience (you want scary, try getting stuck on Pirates for 45 minutes!) but Mr. Finger Candy always loves an excuse to “YEE-AAAARRRGGHH!” with impunity.  We also ambled back over to the Haunted Mansion in Liberty Square for the first of the evening’s three rides, which is 10 fewer rides than we took the Halloween previous, when we rode the Mansion 13 times in one day for our 13th wedding anniversary.

Haunted Mansion on Halloween

Back in Fantasyland, we met Pooh and the rest of the Hundred Acre Wood gang, likewise resplendent in their Halloween costumes.  I think Tigger was a big TOP fan, because he kept gesturing excitedly to his neck.

Tyler Two Pilots 11

In between riding rides, meeting cool characters, amassing a ridiculous amount of candy and fielding a ton of questions about our costumes, we nabbed an amazing spot in Frontierland for the 11 pm parade, and spent our wait time goofing around with one of the Disney PhotoPass photographers.

Halloween PhotoPass Collage

Mickey’s Boo to You Parade was so much fun!  Here, see for yourself in this video I made of the first Not So Scary we attended earlier in the season (though in this case I failed to record the very best part of the parade – literally dropped my phone – which my husband refers to as Jafar making f**k-eyes at his wife.  What can I say, the baddies like me.)

We closed out the night with the midnight showing of the Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular, a mildly raunchy stage show featuring the Sanderson Sisters, as well as a whole host of other Disney baddies, including Mr. Oogie Boogie Man, Cruella DeVil, Dr. Facilier, Hades and, once again, Jafar (boy, that guy gets around.)  My favourite part of the show were the lights and images that they projected onto Cinderella Castle.  Gorgeous.

Halloween Castle Collage

At that point it was about one o’clock in the morning, so with the tenderest of tootsies, arms laden with bulging sacks of candy, and completely jacked on high fructose corn syrup, we boarded a bus back to our resort…and then began the whole thing all over again five hours later!  We are nothing if not committed Disney travelers.

So what made this day the very best?  Well, not-so-simply because I was doing something so special, with the most beloved person in my life, on our most important day, dressed like my favourite musician, on my very favourite holiday, in the most magical place on earth.  And a Disney villain tried to make me his snake bride.  How could that not be the best day of my life? 😉  And one that I have very much enjoyed sharing with you.  Thanks for coming along on this gratitude-affirming look back on one of those days that makes life worth living.

Keeping it Small, Safe and Sudsy

Soap 1

Well, aren’t I just all over this hand washing thing!  Welcome to the new Finger Candy, friends – expanding my reach to the whole dang hand now!  Maybe even both of them, if you’re feeling so bold.

It’s funny, because growing up, I was not a big time hand-washer.  Cleanliness and hygiene were important, of course, but we weren’t a “wash up before supper” kind of family.  I grew up on a hobby farm, and probably the best you could have asked for is that I brushed my hands off on the seat of my pants after I yanked that carrot out of the ground (and before I shoved that carrot, completely unwashed, but sort of dusted off, into my mouth!  That one never failed to both delight and horrify my grandfather, the owner of the hobby farm.)

But before we purchased this single family home late last year, Mr. Finger Candy and I lived, for nearly 15 years, in a gigantic condominium apartment building with a seemingly infinitesimal number of high touch surfaces – elevator buttons, keypads, door handles, electronic fobs, counters, shelves and the like.  We were both also taking public transit to our jobs, which from a public health perspective is pretty well akin to just straight up licking your neighbour’s eyeballs.

So hand-washing really became a thing around our place.  I also liked the excuse of purchasing fun Bath and Body Works soaps.  Who doesn’t want their hands to smell like frosted donuts?

Then the pandemic struck and hand-washing became a life-saving necessity.  And suds, much like toilet paper and disinfectant wipes, became scarce.  For much of the spring there was no stock to be had at BBW, which is maybe not the negative I’m making it out to be – BBW soaps, particularly the foaming ones, can be harsh, and after a few weeks of manic hand-washing, our mitts were chapped and raw.

Soap 3

I have, throughout the entirety of this pandemic, attempted to purchase small and local as much as possible.  These are the community businesses that need – and quite frankly, deserve – our help and our purchasing power in these unprecedented times.  And it suddenly dawned on me that I knew of a local soap connection – Heart & Home Soaps, run by Jennifer Dlugokinski, a woman I’ve known since grade 6!  (P.S. Shout-out to your seventh grade birthday party, Jenn, when we listened to the Barenaked Ladies’ “If I Had a Million Dollars” about 25 times in a row!)

Heart & Home typically sells its wares out of the Carp Fair, which has been unfortunately shuttered since the beginning of the pandemic.  But Jenn is still selling her products on Heart and Home’s website, so I placed an order, nixed the shipping option – why pay for that which you can drive 25 minutes and pick up yourself? – and drove out to her place to pick up my suds.  She had packaged them all up and left them in her mailbox, and that was that.  Simple.

Soap 2

And you know what?  They are fantastic soaps, lush and rich and full of happy hand-making ingredients like seed butters, Vitamin E, and fruit and nut oils.  They’re pretty, too, swirled with vibrant colours and, in a few cases, shimmery mica.  They smell great, also, particularly Peppermint Rush, which is getting a major workout in my kitchen (nothing feels like it gets your filthy post-gardening hands properly clean like mint) and Satsuma & Mandarin.  I’m also pleased to note that two, three weeks on, our frequently-washed hands are soft and smooth.  Maybe a bit tight after washing – that’s just using soap, I fear – but nothing like the BBW soaps, which had actually stripped our hands.  This feels so much better!

Soap 4

All in all, I feel good about shopping small and local, supporting a friend and getting my mitts clean!  And if you’d like to check out Heart & Home’s products for yourself, please click here (or the link above) for some lovingly crafted soaps.

Enter the Hand Sanitizer

Wu 1

“I’d like to thank the Wu-Tang Clan for this hand sanitizer” – truly, words I NEVER thought I’d utter in this lifetime.

But here we are, in the midst of a raging global pandemic – another state I never really thought I’d find myself in – and the Wu has stepped up in a major way, teaming up with Canadian home and body care company Jusu to produce Jusu x 36 Chambers, an all natural, plant-based, vegan hand sanitizer, the proceeds of which benefit three local Ottawa charities, The Ottawa Mission Foundation, the Ottawa Food Bank, and the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.  It’s good – if not slightly out of left field – work that has brought together the collaborative talents of some of my city’s most creative and civic-minded souls, and I’m unbelievably impressed by the hustle.  Ottawa done us real proud with this one.

Wu 4

Apart from what I hear was a pretty fantastic show at the Ottawa Blues Fest some years ago, I’ve no clue what the Wu’s connection is to my (typically) pretty boring and bureaucratic city.  I guess there’s something (or someone) here that speaks to them (though I will never stop questioning what might be attractive in this city of endless suburbs and RioCan strip malls to a bunch of badass New York rappers with names like RZA, Ghostface Killah and Ol’ Dirty Bastard.)

Right, so the hand sanitizer itself – it’s awesome, and I wish I had purchased more than two bottles.  Isopropyl alcohol is, of course, the main medicinal ingredient, so it’s going to disinfect your mitts just as well as any of the other ohol-based products on the market.  But after that initial blast of ALCOHOL!!!, 36 Chambers (in the spicy citrus, Chilling Chilling scent) mellows out into a mild, utterly dee-licious blend of aloe, cinnamon, citrus, eucalyptus and rosemary that will have you surreptitiously sniffing your hands like Mary Katherine Gallagher on a major bender.  Best of all, 36 Chambers is a light and easily absorbable liquid that leaves your formerly chapped and irritated hands soft and residue-free (“Ooh, baby, I like it raw” – so sayeth ODB.)

Wu 5

That way you can pull on your new Wu-Tang x Ottawa tee without getting it all gunged up! 😉

Wu 2

If you’re interested in nabbing your own bottle of 36 Chambers, hit up Jusulife.ca – for every bottle sold, one is donated to a local homeless shelter, where I’ve no doubt these kind of products are in great demand and use.  Because every stinkin’ little bit of thoughtfulness and protection protects us all, and if the Wu is doing their part, well, then so can we.  Good job, Ottawa.

Wu 3

Is it Time to Eat Again?

4 Hello Fresh Collage

Hello friends!  With all the apologies in the world for being a bad, bad blogger, I’ll simply note that at this exact moment in pandemic time, I’m struggling.  Drowning in housework, pending renos, gardening and some re-re-discovered hobbies, I should be a veritable dynamo of productivity.  Instead, I find myself drifting about the house, half-assing the things I should be full-assing.  I’ll clean a bit.  I’ll take a nap.  Then I’ll go out in 30 degree weather for five hours and garden so hard, you’d think I’m stumping for it to become the next new Olympic sport.  There are no in-betweens now – it’s just go or no go.

Ah, but as always, I’m so incredibly fortunate that food is a comforting consistency in my life.  And thanks to the Hello Fresh meal kit deliveries that we have been receiving through much of the pandemic, it’s also been a tasty, fun and educational comfort – just the thing for these utterly weird times.  So let’s take a peek at what we enjoyed and how we fared during this most recent Hello Fresh experience, shall we?

Cheesy Squash-Stuffed Ravioli Bake with Caramelized Pear Salad

4 Squash Ravioli and Pear Salad 1

Hello Fresh LOVES them some butternut squash, particularly in roasted and ravioli form.  Fortunate, as I really love both of those things as well, particularly when they’re combined with an herby, cream cheese-based sauce and gooey melted cheese.  So delicious, but I maybe enjoyed the salad most of all.  Can’t go wrong with peppery arugula, candy sweet pears and crunchy pepitas.  It made a nice, light foil for the rich pasta.  I’m actually back so far on these Hello Fresh posts that this recipe has come around once again in the recipe rotation, and it was just as good the second time.

Veggie Chili with Tortilla Chips and Sour Cream

4 Veggie Chili 1

Here’s another recipe we’ve tried before.  Hello Fresh changes up their menu offerings fairly frequently, but highly rated recipes come back time and again, and this hearty chili is a favourite.  Actually, my favourite are the tortilla chips you serve alongside or on top of the chili (though what sillyhead got that one so mixed up?  Clearly the chili is just a delivery mechanism for the CHIPS!)  I also went rogue on this one, and thinking that the finished product – your basic bean and veggie chili – was looking a bit sparse, I added some sauteed Beyond Meat to the pot for the final five minutes of cooking time.  A solid offering, but without that bit of plant protein, not quite filling enough.

Grilled Halloumi Bun with Basil Aioli and Potato Wedges

4 Pesto and Halloumi Buns 1

What you see is what you get with this delicious recipe – pan-griddled, salty cheese on a toasted bun with pesto aioli and rosemary potato wedges.  I always think of this popular recipe as summer food (and very soon I will have a barbecue on which to grill that cheese; pretty excited about what that’s going to do to my Hello Fresh-ing.  Reason number 1,657,498 I’m glad we now live in a house as opposed to a condominium apartment – the ability to possess a barbecue.)

Homemade Vegetable-Packed Calzone with Spring Mix and Italian Vinaigrette

4 Veggie Calzone 1

This recipe’s a bit of an odd one for me, as I find it both tasty, and destructive (digestively, and to your kitchen!)  It’s all that flaky puff pastry (again, tasty, and remarkably easy to handle, but yikes, your life will be a mess of buttery flakes for DAYS after preparing this one.)  It also may be the leek and bell pepper filling, which goes into the oven raw – it would benefit remarkably from a quick sautee in a hot pan before you assemble the calzones, just to round off the static, slightly harsh flavour of the fresh veggies.  I see that this recipe is coming around again in a few weeks’ time, and they’ve changed the puff pastry over to a more traditional pizza dough.  Smart.  Hopefully they’ll follow suit soon with some changes to the filling.

Veggie Taco Bowl with Beyond Meat and Mexican-Style Red Rice

4 Veggie Taco Bowl 1

Fun discovery of the last few years (particularly when we’re down Disney way) – I friggin’ LOVE Mexican cuisine!  I mean, my love of margaritas is fairly well documented, but I also love red rice, jalapenos, fresh salsa, cilantro, limey crema and, hoo baby, salty, corny, crunchy tortilla chips.  So how fortuitous that this recipe – another one we’ve enjoyed maybe three times now – features all of those things, and a bit of delicious Beyond Meat to really boost that burrito bowl flavour as well.

Cheese-Stuffed Pasta in a Zucchini Tomato Sauce with Balsamic Onions and Parmesan

4 Pasta in Zucchini Tomato Sauce 1

It seems inevitable that when you’ve tried as many Hello Fresh dishes as we have (three per week, almost every week, since the beginning of the year) you’re going to run across a dud.  This recipe had potential – loved the sticky, balsamic-glazed onions they used here as a kind of garnish – but absolutely none of the flavours went together.  Honestly, the final result tasted like two different pasta dishes slammed together at the last moment, one a delightful mix of caramelized onions and nutty parmesan cheese, and the other a direct-from-the-can stuffed pasta courtesy of Monsieur Boyardee (not to slam the Chef; I actually really love Beefaroni, and I will mourn the loss of Rollercoasters with mini meatballs until my dying day.  I just don’t expect to find those flavours in my Hello Fresh entree.)  The balsamic onions would be great on a thin crust pizza, though.

Stuffed Roasted Portobello with Cheesy Chive Mash and Mixed Kale Salad

4 Roasted Portobello 1

Saving the best for last, this scrumptious dish is the vegetarian version of Sunday Supper – meaty, soy-glazed portobello mushrooms topped with cheesy, chive-flecked mashed potatoes and a rich, salty onion gravy.  Bit of crispy kale salad dressed in a zippy vinaigrette makes a fine, fresh accompaniment for all that flavour.  This is such a nicely balanced dish, hitting all those flavour and texture sweet spots.  Outstanding!  If I had the option to make this dish all of my recipes for the week, I would.  And then keel over, because there’s just too much mashed potato goodness here.

Well, now that I’m ravenous all anew, it’s time to go and see what’s on tap for this evening.  Something fun and yummy, probably – and once I know for sure, you’ll be the first to know. 🙂  Bon appetit, and hang in there, friends.

Good Food

3 Hello Fresh Collage

Still Hello Fresh-ing over here in Quarantine Land, we are.  And thank goodness, too, because preparing these meals – and then devouring them – is pretty well the most exciting thing in my life these days (save hacking down the overgrown foliage in my backyard, a newfound skill that has not yet revealed itself as either beneficial to the plants, or wildly destructive.)

We enjoyed these vegetarian entrees quite a few weeks back, just as COVID-19 kicked open the door to the world.  I remember sitting down to one of them, the Beyond BBQ ranch burger, and thinking to myself, “In disaster movies, everyone’s always hunkered around humanity’s last can of beans.  The world CAN’T be going to shit if I’m still here eating my bourgeoisie plant burgers, can it?”

Turns out it really can, plant protein be damned!  And no surprise here, but the remainder of that week’s entrees – dishes featuring parmesan-dusted croutons, mandolin’d zucchini slices and artfully-torn bocconcini – also failed to make a dent in the progression of the world’s going-down-the-toilet-ness.  It all felt very silly, and more than a little pretentious.

But dang if it wasn’t delicious – a far superior alternative to humanity’s last can of beans.  Also entertaining, and a necessary, welcome distraction from, at that time, the lunatic spiel of bad and badder news emanating from every part of the globe.

That’s food’s power, though, isn’t it?  Speaking as someone who has struggled to control her weight her entire life, a love of good (and bad) food CAN absolutely backfire on you.  But it’s such a comfort.  It’s warmth and love and fulfillment, and I feel so very fortunate – now, during the pandemic, but always – to be well fed, and to not have to worry too much about where my next meal is coming from, whether it’s a little pick-me-up from the kitchen, or a trendy plant protein burger from a meal kit delivery service.

And now let’s take a look at this latest roundup of Hello Fresh yumminess.

Coconut Dal with Spinach and Warm Naan Bread

3 Coconut Dal 1

Yup, okay, I’ll be the first to admit that lentils NEVER look particularly appetizing.  It’s just a fact of cooked lentils.  But cripes, are they weirdly delicious, particularly when simmered in garlicky, ginger-infused coconut milk, making this rich, filling Indian dish 100 percent tasty, and also 100 percent vegan.  I really loved the dusting of unsweetened coconut on top, too – such an unexpectedly fun little garnish.

BBQ Ranch Beyond Meat Burger with Crispy Shallots and Fries

3 BBQ Ranch Burger 2

Ah yes, the Beginning-of-the-End Burger.  Kidding, kidding!  But this was the Beyond Burger that had me contemplating my rather privileged position in the midst of this pandemic.  Socio-political considerations aside, it was delicious, the burger thickly layered with tangy BBQ sauce, crispy fried shallots and a tart, chive-y dressing (though I jettisoned my dill pickle slices; never been much for pickles on a burger, or indeed, pickles at all!)  There was a ton of the mayonnaise-based dressing left over, so I tossed a bit of it with the provided spring greens, and then used the rest as a dipping sauce for the oven fries, because what are fries without mayonnaise anyways?  Less yummy, that’s what.

3 BBQ Ranch Burger 4

Warm Mexican Bean Bowl with Tangy Guacamole

3 Warm Bean Bowl 1

A bowl-type dish served on a plate – what even IS this madness?!  Here we’ve got another trendy dish, the burrito bowl (again, the kind of thing about which my grandmother would have remarked, “Well, that’s a hell of a jollop.”)  Here we’ve got onions, red bell peppers and black beans sauteed in a Mexican seasoning blend, on a bed of cilantro rice, topped with sour cream and tart guacamole.  It was great!  Zero complaints with this new classic.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – just eat it (sorry, Nanny!) 🙂

Rigatoni in a Blush Tomato Sauce with Basil Oil and Torn Bocconcini

3 Rigatoni in Blush Sauce 1

This is my favourite Hello Fresh recipe.  Gosh, I love this incredible pasta dish!  This is one of Hello Fresh’s fussier recipes, involving boiling, sauteeing, blanching and broiling, but the results – plump pasta in a creamy tomato sauce, topped with bracingly bitter basil, broil-burst tomatoes and torn bocconcini cheese – are so worth it.  As always with Hello Fresh’s pasta recipes, I think there is an uneven ratio of pasta to sauce, so I always add an extra cup of pasta to the mix.  I also just want more surface area on which to drape that amazing sauce!  Here I used farfalle, because I always have those on hand.

Za’atar and Feta Tart with Spinach Salad and Sliced Almonds

3 Za'atar and Feta Tart 1

Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend made up of savoury herbs like marjoram, coriander, oregano and dried sumac, as well as lots of salt and, often, toasted sesame seeds.  It’s crunchy, salty and herby – the perfect thing to sprinkle atop a bed of zucchini, shallots and briny feta cheese in this puff pastry-based tart.  A fresh spinach salad, topped with toasted almonds, rounded out this nice, light meal.

Minestrone Tortellini Stew with Cheesy Croutons

3 Minestrone Tortellini 1

This stew-soup hybrid was yummy and, thanks to the tortellini, very, very filling, but nothing that rocked my world.  I did make one small amendment to the recipe, tossing the ciabatta bread cubes with a bit of garlic-infused oil, before sprinkling on the parmesan cheese and setting them in the oven.  I thought the entire recipe was better off for having added an additional layer of fresh flavour.  Besides, who’s going to say no to savoury little cubes of bread toasted in garlic and cheese?  Certainly not this person!

By and large, I find Hello Fresh’s entrees – at least the vegetarian ones that we have sampled – to be more hit than miss, and these two weeks were no exception.  I remain consistently impressed with their offerings, and I think they’ve done a great job so far in maintaining their well-functioning business model in unprecedented times.  To the next round of delicious, good food!