Warm Up to Winter: 10 essentials to keep the chill out

Daylight breaking on the first snowfall of the season

Daylight breaking on the first snowfall of the season

Yesterday morning I woke up to our first snowfall of the season  – just a dusting, but it’s undeniable that winter is on its way. I have a strong love-hate relationship with winter. There are so many things I look forward to at the start of each winter season – cozy knits, skating, log fires, the way the snow sparkles under the streetlights…the list goes on. By the middle of February, though, those warm fuzzy feelings have usually been replaced by sheer desperation for the sub-zero temperatures to come to an end. Luckily, as a Canadian, I’ve had my fair share of practice with snow and ice and I’m learning to make the most of the season. The right gear is all it takes to make the cold months not only bearable, but enjoyable. This is in no way an earth-shattering list – just eight basic essentials for embracing the winter season and bringing a little cheer to those blustery days and long, cold nights.

Cozy slippers

Sometimes it really is the simple things in life that make us happy. Like warm feet. Slippers for me are an absolute must, and there are so many styles out there to choose from that keeping your tootsies warm has never been easier. No grandpa slippers for me! These cable knit ones are especially cute.

Cozy Knit slippers. UGG. $155

Cozy Knit slippers. UGG. $155

A Dutch oven

Falling temperatures call for warm, hearty meals. I think a Dutch oven is a great addition to any kitchen arsenal and winter is the perfect time to invest in one. I don’t actually have one, but this Cuisinart enameled cast iron dish is on my wish list. Just think of all the delicious braises and stews I’d be able to whip up! I’ve even seen recipes for baking bread in them.

Cuisinart Round Covered Casserole Dish. Available at Canadian Tire. $59.99

Cuisinart Round Covered Casserole Dish. Available at Canadian Tire. $59.99

A huge knit cowl neck scarf

Everyone who knows me knows I love scarves. I can usually find a way to incorporate them into my wardrobe from about September to May. Come winter though, I ditch my lightweight printed scarves for an oversized infinity scarf. The bigger the better, I say. They’re super warm, chic, and you never have to worry about the ends dragging in the slush.

Wilfred Brume scarf. Aritzia. $85

Wilfred Brume scarf. Aritzia. $85

 Hot cocoa

Who doesn’t have memories of spending hours playing outside in the snow and coming in, with numb cheeks and a runny nose, to a steaming cup of hot cocoa? Hot chocolate just isn’t the same during any other season, so drink it up while you can! I’m sure there are plenty of high-quality, gourmet options out there but I’ll stick with the tried and true Carnation brand. Tastes like home.

Nestle Carnation Hot Chocolate.

Nestle Carnation Hot Chocolate.

Even better, spiked hot cocoa.

A huge mug to warm your hands

If you’re going to be having all of that hot cocoa (or coffee, tea, cider, hot toddies, whatever), you better have a big festive mug to drink it from. It just tastes better that way. I love the nordic look of this one. Don’t forget to leave room for marshmallows.

Red Sweater Latte Mug. David's Tea. $14.50

Red Sweater Latte Mug. David’s Tea. $14.50

 An entire library at your fingertips

Winter is a great opportunity to catch up on some reading, especially during the downtime after the holidays. I’ll admit it took me awhile to jump on the e-reader bandwagon. I really love the feel of a book in hand and turning actual pages. Plus, between work, smartphones, and watching TV,  I feel like I spend more than enough time each day staring at a screen. But I’ve had an e-reader for a couple years now and I really love it. There are so many benefits: (1) it’s small enough to throw in my purse and carry everywhere I go; (2) it can store hundreds of books without taking up any shelf space – this is key since I live in a small house with limited storage space; and (3) it connects to the internet so I can buy/borrow books instantly, 24/7, without even stepping outside. Bonus: I never lose my page anymore.

Kobo Glo. Available at Indigo. $129.99

Kobo Glo. Available at Indigo. $129.99

A wool blanket

Happiness is a warm blanket, Charlie Brown. Nothing beats snuggling up on the couch under a lovely wool throw. I just love this 100% alpaca throw from Crate & Barrel. It’s a bit pricey, but it looks like it would last for years and the colour is beautiful.  

Alpaca Plaid Throw. Crate and Barrel $224

Alpaca Plaid Throw. Crate and Barrel $224

Winter getaways

I’m not talking about hopping on a plane and heading for a tropical beach. If you live in the Great White North you can’t avoid winter, so get out there and enjoy it while it’s here! Snow and ice can actually be a lot of fun – skating, sledding, skiing, snowshoeing (okay, I’ve never tried snowshoeing but it sounds like a charming way to spend an afternoon). You’d be amazed at how much you can enjoy winter when you’re actually out there living it rather than dashing between buildings trying to escape it. So why not book a long weekend away from the city to take in some winter wonderland? Even if you don’t ski (which I don’t), I can pretty much guarantee you’ll enjoy the apres-ski socializing. There are tons of great winter festivals in Canada, like Carnaval in Quebec City, Winterlude in Ottawa, and the Niagara Icewine Festival. Why not give one a try this year? 

See? Doesn't that look magical?  Quartier Petit Champlain, Quebec City. Photo from the official Quebec City Tourism website.

See? Doesn’t that look magical?
Quartier Petit Champlain, Quebec City. Photo from the official Quebec City Tourism website.

Advertisements

Pretty please with a cherry on top? Black Forest Cake (or Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte)

Nothing says Happy Birthday like a cake made with love

Nothing says Happy Birthday like a cake made with love

I don’t even have to ask what kind of cake my husband wants for his birthday. The answer is always Black Forest cake. And who can blame him? Layers of chocolate cake, black cherries, and swirls of pillowy whipped cream? Yes, please! In the past I’ve opted for the store-bought variety but this year, with a little extra time on my hands and more baking experience under my belt, I decided to make my own. There are literally hundreds of recipes out there, but most seem to fall under two main camps: the traditional German style or a sweeter North American variation. Since my husband grew up in Central Europe, I knew he would appreciate the traditional variety so I set out to find a recipe that would result in a rich, but not overly sweet, dessert. Unfortunately, a lot of the traditional Black Forest cake recipes seem to require the same amount of time and energy as a multi-day Olympic event. I wasn’t ready for that kind of effort, but I still wanted to come as close as possible to the real deal. I used a basic chocolate cake recipe but followed two main rules that were common among all the recipes claiming to be for ‘authentic’ German Black Forest cake (or Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte): (1) Do NOT use cherry pie filling; and (2) It MUST contain Kirsch.

I sampled the Kirsch before I started baking and I have to be honest – it was awful. I gagged. I was actually scared I would ruin the cherries by soaking them in it. But since it’s not a Black Forest cake without it, I took a leap of faith and just went for it. Miraculously, some kind of liquor-cherry magic happened! The result was amazing. It gave the cherries a great flavour that was able to stand up well to the chocolate cake and the whipped cream made a perfect, light frosting. I decorated the cake with a sprinkle of dark chocolate shavings and a few more cherries on top.

Is this a true Black Forest cake that will please even the most discerning German grandmothers? Probably not. But it’s an easy and delicious take on the classic chocolate-cherry dessert. I’ll definitely be making this one again.

Ingredients

Chocolate Cake

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup cocoa powder
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs (at room temperature)
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water

Cherry Filling

  • 1½ cups canned sour cherries, drained (reserve ¼ cup cherry juice)
  • ¼ cup Kirsch

*If you can’t find Kirsch, or would rather not use alcohol, you can substitute additional cherry juice in its place.

Whipped Cream

  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • ¼ cup icing sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Here's everything you'll need

Here’s everything you’ll need

Preheat the oven to 350°F and position the oven racks in the lower and upper thirds. Lightly grease two 9-inch round baking pans and line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper.

Whisk together the sugars, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Add the eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla. Beat on medium speed of a mixer for 2 minutes. Add the boiling water and stir until the mixture is smooth. Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans and smooth the tops. Lightly tap the sides of each pan to remove any air bubbles.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean. Cool for at least 10 minutes, then remove the cakes from the pans and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cake is cooling, combine the cherries with the Kirsch and the reserved cherry juice. Save a few cherries for decorating.

To make the whipped cream, place the cream, icing sugar, and vanilla in a chilled bowl. Whip on medium speed until stiff peaks form. Refrigerate the whipped cream until needed.

To assemble the Black Forest cake, level the cakes and turn one over onto a serving plate. Remove the parchment paper. Using a slotted spoon, remove the cherries from the Kirsch mixture and place on the cake layer. Top with about ¾ cup whipped cream and spread over the cherries. Turn the second cake over onto the cream and cherries, cut side down. Peel off the parchment paper. Use the remaining whipped cream to frost the top and sides of the cake, reserving ½ cup for decorating. Garnish with chocolate shavings, piped whipped cream, and the remaining cherries. Serve immediately or refrigerate until needed.

Cherries soaking in Kirsch and cherry juice

Cherries soaking in Kirsch and cherry juice

Spread the cherries (and cream) between the cake layers

Spread the cherries (and cream) between the cake layers

Frost the entire cake with whipped cream and sprinkle with chocolate shavings

Frost the entire cake with whipped cream and sprinkle with chocolate shavings. Garnish with a few swirls of whipped cream and top each with a cherry.