Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Andy Chu - Vision and Innovation

Photo by Ryan West
Looking for innovation? You don't have to go any further than CEO/Executive Producer Andy Chu of Arc2Intertainment. For almost a decade, this visionary has been putting his distinctive stamp on feature films, television, concerts, fashion shows and charity benefits, and he shows no signs of slowing any time soon.

Chu took his first step toward becoming a producer in his teens. While working at a restaurant he created a script, talked co-workers into being the actors and shot a short film to be shown at the company Christmas party. It was a hands-down success and became an annual tradition. A brief stint as a student at Vancouver Film School convinced him he was a rebel who needed to learn by doing. Several years working as a stunt double provided the desired on-set exposure to learn the industry from the inside out. By his early 20's, he had already landed his first paid job producing a promotional video for the Pacific National Exhibition.

Photo by Brandon Hart Photography
Arc2 was formed in 2003 as an umbrella company for several divisions and Chu tries to stay involved in all aspects. “I do a lot of the groundwork myself. I can't do everything, but I make the decisions. You have to keep on top of how things are going so you can catch problems early.” The company develops and produces multimedia projects that are technically innovative and visually inspiring. Arc2’s distinct divisions encompass a wide range of capabilities that range from multimedia development and television shows to full blown motion picture production. Right from the beginning the company offered cutting edge concepts such as live web broadcast of the Stripped Concert Series that could be watched on your home computer.

One favourite division is FMA Vancouver. “FMA is my passion. Fashion, music and art has always been a big part of my life. They are all ways we use to express ourselves.” Chu was at the original Fashion Rocks in 2003 and came home with the seed for his own version taking shape. There were initially many smaller offerings such as the Stripped Concert – combining live music with a fashion show – leading up to the first FMA Red Carpet Gala held at The Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts in 2004. Called Fashion Rocks Vancouver, it was an extremely complicated show to produce and execute, featuring ten bands and ten designers. Chu remembers, “When that first gala finished, I was sitting backstage underneath a rack of coats trying to figure out what just happened. Was it done?”

After the FMA Gala in 2008, Chu began work on the concept for an FMA television program. The process to get a new show picked up has changed over the years. No longer could you just pitch an idea to the networks; you needed a tentative schedule as well as a pilot. When casting hosts for this show he had specific things in mind. “I looked for people with great personalities, easy-going, good researchers, educated but with some street sense and experienced.” The show was picked up by KVOS, debuted in the fall of 2009 and is just gearing up to air its fourth season in the spring. Chu couldn't be happier. “FMA Entertainment Weekly has all the bells and whistles – celebrities and fast-paced interesting content. It is more that just another entertainment show. We focus on in-depth stories and introduce almost-famous talents and West Coast trends and lifestyles.”

Once the show was on track, it was time to revisit the FMA Gala. Chu felt the work to hold such a complicated event all on one night while sound, could be both overwhelming and limiting. For 2010, he decided to move to a five day format called the FMA Fashion Week Pop + Culture Festival. “[This] is a consumer-based concept showcasing the current season's fashions already in stores and as well as pop-up shops for the designers. People can buy what they see on the runway – they don't have to wait months! We also introduced local fashion retailers, restaurants and art galleries.” Music and fashion offerings hit the stage at at Studio 560 while VIP shopping, fine dining and art exhibitions could be found at select locations city-wide. Some of Vancouver's top professionals were honoured with FMA achievement awards in the areas of Fashion, Music, Art and Outstanding Contribution to Canada.

Chu feels the media industry is at a crossroads. Change is on the horizon, driven by an ever increasing audience who views television and movie content online. “Cable networks will not be going away any time soon. However, all the other options such as Satellite, online streaming, IPTV (internet protocal television) and VOD (video on demand) will take away a big piece of the market share from them.” The fashion industry is at the same crossroads and will need to find unique ways to respond to the immediacy demanded by today's tech-savvy consumers.

Andy Chu brings a wealth of experience to every venture and has made staying ahead of trends a trademark in his work. Always willing to mentor others, he offers the following advice for those looking to enter this industry, “Nothing comes easy and I don't believe in overnight success! Go with your passion, believe in yourself and embrace new technology.”

Knot Theory photo by Machua - in the photo Andy and
Jody Quine, Jihan Amer and Dominique Hanke of
 Hive Mind Millinery
For information on Arc2 and it's divisions go to http://www.arc2intertainment.com For information on FMA Entertainment Weekly go to http://www.fmaweekly.com/.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Kamikaze Holiday Baking Part Two - Something New

Here is my 3rd post on this holiday season's kamikaze baking session.  If you haven't read the first two they are Kamikaze Holiday Baking - My Story and Tips for the Brave at Heart which covers my decision to approach the holiday baking in this fashion and Something Old - Kamikaze Baking Part One which shares the recipes pulled from my past that offered tradition to the goodie gift plate.

What you have in this blog are the new recipes my daughter and I found to try.  Don't know if all will make it in the long run onto the Holiday recipe collection, but a few surely will.  I hope you enjoy all 3 postings.  The first also shows how we will be packing our goodies plates this year.

Orange Almond Biscotti

Image from Smitten Kitchen
I found this recipe at Smitten Kitchen, It is adapted from one in Bon Apetit, December 1999 - so new to me, but with traditional roots. For those who like lots of step by step images to follow, I have included the hyperlink to her website. This was my personal favourite from all our baking this season. I love Biscotti because it's not overly sweet and sugary. The smell of the orange rind is divine and these are bare bones - no icing drizzles on top or ends dipped in caramel. Pure and simple, it's perfect in my mind. The only change I made was to add 2 T of Cointreau instead of 1 as I love the flavour it imparts.

In looking through the comments, I noticed several raved about Alice Water's Biscotti recipe from her cookbook The Art of Simple Food. Here is one comment  - " May I also recommend Alice Water’s recipe in her new “The Art of Simple Food.” I use her recipe as a base and then tweak it to make chocolate chip and hazelnut biscotti or dried cranberry and walnut biscotti. Both are equally delicious!" I have put this high on my list of ones to try.  In a website search I found the recipe at A Wooden Nest.

3-1/4 C    Flour
1 T           Baking Powder
1/3 tsp      Salt
1-1/2 C    Sugar
10 T         Butter or Margarine (1-1/4 cubes/sticks), melted
3              Large Eggs
1 T          Vanilla Extract
2 T          Orange Liqueur (I used Cointreau - Grand Marnier would also be a great choice)
1 T          Very Fine Orange Zest
1  C         Toasted Almonds - I like slivered but you can used coarsely chopped whole ones
                   (note - toast in a 350 over on a piece of foil until lightly brown - just a few minutes)
1               Large Egg White

Position rack in centre of over and preheat to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into medium bowl. Mix sugar, melted butter, 3 eggs, vanilla extract, orange liqueur and zest in large bowl.  Add four mixture to egg mixture and stir with wooden spoon until well blended. Mix in almonds.  (NOTE - have give the original instructions above, but I do not sift unless it's to make something light like a cake. I start with mixing the baking powder and salt in with the sugar mixture items  Once well blended I add the flour and then the almonds. Most flour is pre-sifted nowadays so I skip that step unless I think it's super important.)

Divide the dough in half.  Using floured hands, shape each dough half into a 13-1/2" long and 2-1/2" wide log. Transfer both logs to the cooking sheet lined with parchment paper. Whisk the egg white until foamy and then brush over the top and sides of each dough log.  Bake until golden grown - about 30 minutes.  The logs will spread so make sure they are separated on the sheet. Transfer to wire rack and cool for about 25 minutes. Maintain oven temperature as they go back in a second time.

Image from Smitten Kitchen
Transfer logs to work surface and discard parchment paper.  Using serrated knife, cut logs on diagonal into 1/2" wide slices (can be straight across as well).  Arrange slices, cut side down, on same baking sheet.  Bake 12 minutes.  Turn biscotti over, bake until just beginning to colour, about 8 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool. These last about 1 week in an airtight container.  As this is my first year making, I am freezing some for the plates.  Hopefully they last longer in the freezer and don't become soft.

Lemon Pistachio Bites

Now for my daughter's favourite.  These were a bit of a journey. When we talked in terms of new recipes, I envisioned a variety of tastes.  It's always easy to find those with chocolate and lots of sugar, but you need variety to make holiday baking truly interesting.  There is orange in the recipe above so I did a search for lemon. These had a great taste.

Our only problem was with the instructions. We spent 2-3 hours searching for the pastry bag and large star tip to create the cookies the way the recipe said only to be stymied.  Even my 6'5" husband could hardly squeeze the dough out of the tip. The dough tasted great, so we quickly changed to rolling small balls and voila! They have a great taste and the finely chopped pistachio with their green tint give it a great holiday look. However, the original piped version is so much better looking!!! Still wish we could do the rosettes, but not worth the trouble.  If you want to try piping or want to see the original look of the cookie - you can go to Redbook for the instructions. They also give instructions there for using a mixer to create this recipe.

3/4 C      Unsalted butter (1-1/2 sticks/cubes)  note - we used regular margarine and they were fine
3/4 C      Powdered Sugar
1/4 tsp     Baking Powder
1             Pinch Salt
1             Large Egg Yolk
1 T         Finely Grated Lemon Zest (rind)
1 T         Fresh Lemon Juice
1/2 tsp    Vanilla Extract
1-1/2 C   Flour
Melted White Chocolate (3 baking squares or 3 oz. baking chips)
Chopped Unsalted Pistachios

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cream butter and sugar.  Add baking powder, salt, egg yolk, lemon zest, lemon juice and vanilla extract.  Mix until well combined. Add flour and gently work in until a dough is formed.  Form small balls using about a tablespoon of dough and place on ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake for 10-12 minutes, just until set.  Depending on your oven and the size of the cookies it could take less time. What you want is a very light golden brown bottom and the cookie set (a weird term but as you bake more you will understand).  First I lightly touch the top and then I lift one cookie to check the underside.  This is where you see if it is lightly brown.  Cool on baking sheet on wire rack for 5 minutes, remove cookies and cool on wire rack completely.

Melt white chocolate in double broiler or in heat proof bowl on tap of simmering pan of water until smooth.  Gently pick up a cookie, dip in the melted white chocolate and then in the finely chopped pistachios.  Let stand until chocolate sets and store in an airtight container.


Peppermint White chocolate Chip Cookies

Image from Food.com
What can I say about Peppermint White Chocolate Chip Cookies?  This was a journey and I never really made a final version.  The recipe is from Food.com. I had found an interesting package of Ghiradelli candies called Limited Edition Peppermint Bark Squares and wanted to use them.  I thought this recipe might work.  Instead of putting the white chocolate baking chips inside, I could press a small square of the bark on top after pulling them out of the oven. Well - the first batch burned. The temperature and cooking time didn't match up. Then on my second try I had a batch on the parchment paper slide off the sideless baking sheet and end upside down on the floor. Third try was the charm, BUT the candy canes really are chewy and I think having the chocolate inside the cookie is a better idea.  In the end, I loved this addition to the holiday mix - truly outside the box - but I will put the white chocolate chips in and just melt a little additional white chocolate to drizzle on top to make them look a little more festive.

1/2 C       Softened Butter
1/2 C       Sugar
1/4 C       Light Brown Sugar
1/2 tsp     Vanilla
1              Egg
1-1/2 C   Flour
1/4 tsp     Salt
1/2 tsp     Baking Soda
1 C          White Chocolate Baking Chips (about 1/2 of a 12 oz bag)
1/2 C       Mini Candy Canes, crushed (about 50)
                Note - place in a large Ziploc Freezer bag (more durable) and crush with rolling pin or hammer.
Optional -
2              Squares White Baking Chocolate ( or 2 more oz. baking chips) to drizzle on top of cookies

Cover cookie sheets with parchment paper. Cream butter and both sugars until light.  Stir in vanilla, eggs, salt, baking soda and candy canes until well mixed.  Add flour and combine until dough.  Add the white chocolate chips and stir until well mixed.  Drop by level tablespoonfuls onto baking sheets covered in parchment paper.  Bake at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes.  (Original recipe said 12, but mine burned.  I started check at 8 minutes and pulled them out as soon as I saw the bottom of the cookie I checked was lightly brown.  Cool on rack.  If you want to pretty them up, melt the extra white chocolate in double broiler or in heat proof bowl on top of simmering hot water and drizzle over the cookies in a zig-zag pattern.  When cool and chocolate (if used) is set.  Store in an airtight container.


Chocolate Orange Coconut Tarts

Necessity if the mother of invention.  I had some shredded coconut that needed to be used up and gave Danielle the job of finding a recipe to use it up.  She decided on some for of tart to give the look of the holiday plate a new twist.  I love the recipe she found - Chocolate Orange Coconut Tarts from Flavours Magazine - but it only used the coconut in the crust. We decided to simply the recipe by using frozen pre-formed mini tarts from the grocery store (18/box) and added coconut to the filling - only a half recipe which was about right. I think they're great.  I particularly love the addition of the marmalade which gives the tart an added flavour dimension.

2 pkgs.      Frozen Mini Tart Shells (18 per pkg.)
1/2 C         Heavy Cream
1/4 C         Orange Marmalade
1 C             Shredded Coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
6                1 oz Squares Semisweet Chocolate Baking Squares or 6 oz of the same in baking chips
2 T             Orange Liqueur (Grand Marnier or Cointreau are good choices)
Additional coconut for decoration.

Bake shells per directions on side of box.  Cool on rack. In saucepan on stove, bring cream and marmalade to a simmer and then turn off heat.  Add chocolate, liqueur and coconut. Stir until smooth.  Using a large spoon. fill each pasty shell to top.  Sprinkle a small amount of coconut on top to decorate.  Cool until filling is completely set and the store in an airtight container.


Espresso Chocolate Shortbread

I originally noticed a recipe for Espresso Chocolate Shortbread in Fine Cooking Magazine's "The Best of ....Appetizers" at the grocery store.  It wasn't bad, but it wasn't exceptional.  If you want to err on the side of caution, it would probably be fine, but for Danielle and I we wanted to offer a selection of interesting flavours that stood on their own.  An Internet search turned up this recipe on I don't know how many websites - amazing. I have to admit I personally struggled with it technically. Getting the dough out of the bag without it breaking apart is a true skill and I'm not sure I really love the look of the knife cut squares for a holiday plate.   With the chopped chocolate square which I preferred, it was a little hard to judge when they were lightly brown and mind ended up darker overall, not sure why yet. So I will probably be trying a few different techniques and shapes when I make it again, BUT it has a good strong espresso/chocolate flavour and seems to be one of the most tried and true recipes out there.  For a great step-by-step pictorial, I liked Amandeleine's blog.

1 T           Instant Espresso Powder
1 T           Boiling water
1 C           Butter or Margarine (2 sticks/cubes) softened
2/3 C        Powdered Sugar
1/2 tsp      Vanilla extract
2 C           Flour
4               Squares Bittersweet Baking Chocolate, finely chopped
(Note - You can substitute mini chips, but it really doesn't spread the flavour through the batter the same way.)

Dissolve the espresso in the boiling water, and set aside to cool to tepid. Cream butter and confectioners’ sugar until the mixture is very smooth. Add espresso/water and vanilla and mix until smooth. Gently combine flour into the mix just until incorporated, then old in the chopped chocolate. Transfer the soft, sticky dough to an Extra Large Ziploc Freezer bag. Put the bag on a flat surface, leaving the top open, and roll the dough into a 9 x 10 1/2 inch rectangle that’s 1/4 inch thick. As you roll, turn the bag occasionally and lift the plastic. When you get the right size and thickness, seal the bag, pressing out as much air as possible, and refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours, or for up to 2 days. (Again, this is what I am going to play with - I'll let you know if I come up with something better.)

Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Put the plastic bag on a cutting board and slit it open. Turn the firm dough out onto the board (discard the bag) and, using a ruler as a guide and a sharp knife, cut the dough into 1 1/2-inch squares. Transfer the squares to the baking sheets and carefully prick each one twice with a fork, gently pushing the tines through the cookies until they hit the sheet. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes (Too long for my oven, I would do 16 min. next time), rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back at the midway point. The short breads will be very pale–they shouldn’t take on much color. Transfer the cookies to a rack.  An option is to dust them with powdered sugar after baking, but to me that's messing with the taste.


Cranberry - Apple - Pecan Crumb Bars

How this recipe from the same Fine Cooking Appetizers magazine did work out great.  What drew me to it was the use of fresh cranberries as well as the fact read like something all my relatives would make.  Finding things that are more traditional is a perfect way to round out the holiday gift plate.  It did take a little longer and we both struggled to decide when it was done at each step of the way, but despite it all it turned out exactly the right way.  The original recipe had walnuts, but I had Pecans to use up and do fine walnuts (unless they are very fresh) have an odd after taste.  The substitution worked with a hitch.

Of you would like to view it on the official Fine Cooking website by clicking HERE.

For the crust and topping 
Cooking spray such as Pam
1 C          Pecans, lightly toasted (I actually didn't toast and they're still great)
1/2 C       Sugar 
2-1/2 C   Flour 
1/2 tsp.    Baking Powder 
1/2 tsp     Salt 
1 C          Butter or Margarine ( 2 sticks/cubes), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten 

For the filling
3 C        Fresh Cranberries (about 12 oz), rinsed and picked over 

1 C        Dried Apples, chopped
3/4 C     Sugar 
1/4 C     Pure Maple Syrup 
2 TB      Calvados (or other Apple Brandy - do not substitute Apple Liqueur)
1/8 tsp    Salt 

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Line a 9x13-inch baking pan with foil, leaving a 2-inch overhang on the ends. Spray the foil with cooking spray.

For crust and topping - in a food processor, finely grind 1/2 cup of the pecans with the sugar. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt and pulse to blend. Add the butter and pulse until it’s the size of small peas, 5 or 6 one-second pulses. Set aside 1 generous cup of this mixture. Add the egg to the mixture remaining in the food processor and pulse just until the dough begins to gather into large clumps. With your fingertips, press the dough evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. Prick the crust all over with a fork. Bake until the edges are light golden brown and the center looks dry, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool the crust on a rack.

For the filling - in a medium saucepan, combine 2 cups of the cranberries with the apples, sugar, maple syrup, brandy and salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved, the cranberries have popped open, and the mixture is thick and syrupy, 4 to 6 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the remaining 1 cup cranberries. Scrape the cranberry mixture onto the crust and spread evenly. Knead the reserved pecan mixture with your fingertips until it becomes clumpy. Coarsely chop the remaining 1/2-cup Pecans and add to the topping. Sprinkle over the cranberry layer, pressing the streusel between your fingers into small lumps as you sprinkle.

Bake until the topping is golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack until just warm, about 1 hour. Carefully lift the bars out of the pan using the foil overhang, peel back the edges of the foil, and cool completely on the rack. Cut into pieces.  They say 24 but for Xmas plates I always to 30 - 6 rows crosswise and 5 rows lengthwise.


In closing I want to mention on treat we made using a mix because it was one of Danielle's top picks - Almond Roca Buttercrunch Cookie Bar Mix by Brown & Haley.  We picked this up at Costco, so a real bargain, and the box contained enough for 2 recipes (9 x 13 pans).  In looking at the site it appears this might be a seasonal item.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Kamikaze Holiday Baking Part One - Something Old

Illustration by Red Passion
It's been a wild few days of kamikaze holiday baking. My back hurts, the house is a mess and I think I've inhaled an indecent amount of powdered sugar, but Danielle and I did it.  The freezer is full of treats.  I have a stack of small holiday plates and some holiday bags to hold them.  Now it's time to clean up the house, put up the tree and decorations. Then the fun really begins as Danielle and I get to enjoy handing them out.

Here are my Something Old recipes to honour past traditions.  I actually refuse to admit how long ago I acquired the oldest one, but suffice it to say it was way before I met Glen. There is something grounding about having a few recipes span the generations.  Enjoy and PLEASE do not be afraid to alter recipes to your own taste.  I do it all the time.  To those who are gluten free, I am sorry there isn't something here for you.  Maybe next year I will add a recipe or two in this area..

If you didn't read my first holiday baking post - Kamikaze Holiday Baking - My Story and Tips For the Brave at Heart - I would take a moment as it's full of tips if you intend to take the plunge and power bake.  It's all about preparation.


No Bake Haystacks

OH how I loved Haystacks as a kid!  They really are more candy than cookie. As an adult I enjoy treats a little less rich, but the nostalgia gets me every time I eat one.  I couldn't find my mother's recipe anywhere so had to search the internet.  The biggest problem is that every recipe has different proportions and of course people have played with the original by adding chocolate, marshmallows, chopped peanuts and more. After a couple of tries, the version below tastes just like my mum's - the traditional recipe way way back in the beginning. NOTE - be careful to by BUTTERSCOTCH CHIPS - not Peanut Butter Baking Chips. I made this mistake once at least!

1             Bag Butterscotch Baking Chips (about 11 oz or 300 grams)
1/4 cup    Smooth Peanut Butter
4 oz        Chow Mein Noodles (those crispy ones in the bag or can)
Small amount of tiny muli-coloured sprinkles (I like the festive look of rainbow rounds)
Wax paper

Place some newspaper topped by wax paper on your table.  Melt the butterscotch chips.  You can use either a double broiler or a heat proof bowl on top of a pan of simmering hot water.  When melted, stir in the peanut butter.  Place the Chow Mein Noodles in a large bowl.   Pour the butterscotch mixture over the noodles and gently, but quickly mix until all noodles are evenly covered. Drop by tablespoons onto wax paper (might need to re-shape a bit with your spoon) and top with a dash of sprinkles.  I do a row of drops drops, top those with sprinkles and then repeat.  If the haystack cools before you put the sprinkles on, they won't stick.  Once cool, store in an airtight container, preferably in the refrigerator or the freezer.
No Bake Peanut Butter Bars

I had to search for the recipe on this one as well as my mother's original was lost.  It's pretty much the same as when it first was invented with the exception of a bit of peanut butter to the chocolate topping.  In looking at the comments, one that continued to arise was that the bars were hard to cut - the chocolate was breaking and pulling off the base.  So I decided to add that bit of PB to the chocolate and also changed the way I cut them. First I lined the pan fully with aluminum foil to make it easy to remove them.  Then instead of putting the pan in the refrigerator for an hour to cool, I left it on the table until the chocolate was set.  Once set, the bars were cut with a sharp knife.  Next it went into the refrigerator for an hour.  The bars were easy to remove and the chocolate stayed perfect.  The only issue was peeling the foil off the bottom.

Base -
1 C        Butter
2 C        Graham Cracker Crumbs
2 C        Powdered Sugar
1 C        Peanut Butter

Topping -
1 Pkg      Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips (about 11 oz or 300 grams)
4 T          Peanut Butter (I have no idea why the recipe says 4 T as that is 1/4 Cup!)

Line a 9 x 13 pan with foil including up the sides.  In large bowl melt butter, then stir in graham cracker crumbs, powdered sugar and peanut butter.  Press evenly into the bottom of the ungreased pan.  In double broiler or in heat proof bowl over simmering water, melt the chocolate chips and then stir in the peanut butter until smooth.  Spread evenly over the base.  Let sit until chocolate is firm on table.  Cut with knife and then refrigerate for 1 hour.  Carefully remove from pan and place in an airtight container. Note - I might consider next time making the chocolate top layer just a bit thicker so balance the flavours.


Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies

I don't bake much so rarely come up with my own treats, but this one is mine. That said I am sure there are tons of recipes like it as I just used a standard chocolate chip cookie recipe and made a few changes. Something similar is probably on the back of the mint chip bag.  Chocolate chip cookies were the number one dessert at our house.  As my brothers and I grew we played around with the recipe making is softer or stiffer depending on our tastes at the time.  Here is my contribution to this genre.

3/4 C        White Sugar
3/4 C        Brown Sugar
1 C           Butter of Margarine (2 sticks), softened
1 tsp         Salt
1 tsp         Baking Powder
2               Large Eggs
1/2 C        Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1 tsp         Peppermint Extract (pure or artificial from grocery store baking section)
1-3/4 C    Flour
1 Pkg       Chocolate Mint Baking Chips (packages vary, but about 11 oz or 300 grams)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Cream together both sugars and softened butter until smooth.  Add salt, baking powder, eggs, cocoa powder and peppermint extract.  Mix until all ingredients are combined.  Stir in flour and when dough is formed, gently add the chocolate mint baking chips.  Drop by rounded tablespoons (my daughter prefers to roll them into balls) onto ungreased cookie sheets and bake for 9-11 minutes.  Cool on racks and store in air-tight container.
Viennese Crescents

After all these years I have absolutely no idea where I found this gem, but it's still one of my favourites.  I know the recipe looks wrong, but it really doesn't use any egg or baking powder/soda.  The vanilla sugar in the traditional recipe is made with a real vanilla bean and in the past this has worked well for me. But this season it didn't!  A bum bean? I have no idea. As they are very expensive, I was not amused.  So I went to Galloways and purchased vanilla powder which did the trick.  1 cup powdered sugar mixed with 1 tsp. vanilla powder and voila.  These are a bit messy as they are dredged in this sugar concoction, but wonderful all the same.

Cookies -
2 C         Flour
1 C         Butter or Margarine Softened
1 C         Finely Ground Almonds (I would purchase as they are never as fine home-made)
1/2 C      Powdered Sugar
1/8 tsp    Salt
1 tsp       Vanilla Extract
1/4 tsp    Almond Extract (baking section in grocery story)

Vanilla Sugar -
1 C       Powdered Sugar  (note original recipe is 2 cups sugar to 1 Vanilla bean but this made
                 way too much and I had tons left oveor)
1           Vanilla Bean or 1 tsp Vanilla Powder
Small mesh hand strainer

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.  Make the vanilla sugar in a large Ziploc bag.  Add the powdered sugar along with the either the vanilla bean (split, scrap seeds into bag and then cut pod into pieces and add to bag) or the vanilla powder (just add to the sugar and stir).  Mix well, seal and set aside.

To made dough, cream the butter, almonds and powdered sugar until smooth.  Add salt and both extracts and mix until well combined.  Add the flour and gently combine until dough is formed.  I usually seal this in Ziploc bag and let sit in the refrigerator until I am ready to bake - at least a half hour - but this is not a necessary step.  I think it is easier to work with after chilling.  The baking time will vary depending on whether you chill the dough or not.

Take small amount of dough and roll in hands to form a ball (no more than 1 inch, but I usually go a bit smaller).  Then roll into a log.  A 1 inch ball will make a 3" log.  I would guess I do about a 3/4" ball and a 2 to 2-1/2 inch log.  Curve slightly into an arch shape - like a smile - and place on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake for 10 - 12 minutes.  The timing depends on the size.  If you make them smaller, I check them at around 8 or 9 minutes.  You can't tell from the top.  What you need to do is gently lift one cookie and look at the underside which should be a light brown.

When they come out of the oven, place them on a sheet of aluminum foil and while hot, sift the vanilla sugar over them using the small mesh hand strainer.  Turn them over and dust the bottoms.  I actually repeat this a second time.  You should have a nice, thicker layer of sugar adhered to the hot cookies.  Cool on a rack and then place in an airtight container.

Thumbprint Sugarless Cookies with Jam

SIGH!  I had to change this one slightly.  This recipe is probably 30 years old.  It came out when people were first looking at non-commercial substitutes for sugar.  There was a fruit concentrate that looked like honey that was used in the original recipe.  I never could find that product so always substituted honey. It also was made with a very finely milled whole wheat pastry flour. I used to be able to get this at the grocery store, but not this year.  I did find one a Galloways labeled Whole Wheat Cake and Pastry Flour, but It was much coarser and darker than what I found in the past. When I mixed up the dough, it had a very mottled look that was off putting and the raw dough had a bitter flavour for some reason.  Don't know if it just wasn't milled fine enough or if the flour was old, but the taste wasn't great.  So back to the drawing board.  I used regular unbleached flour and honey and they turned out fine.  Here is the current reincarnation.

Dough -
1 C          Butter or Margarine
1/2 C       Honey, Agave syrup, or other comparable thick syrup'y sweetener
2              Large Eggs
1 tsp        Vanilla
1/2 tsp     Salt
3 C          Flour
1 T          Brandy, Optional - adds a really nice smell

Other -
Finely Chopped Walnuts - about 1-1/2 cups.
1-2          Egg whites beatern until frothy
1 small jar sugarless jam in your favourite flavour (raspberry is a nice colour for the holidays)
           (Note - I have found some brands of sugarless jam thicker than others.  When possible -
           try to find one that is not too runny.)

Combine first 5 ingredients (plus Brandy if you choose) and mix until well-combined (a bit tricky).  Gently combine the flour until dough is formed.  If you want to be more traditional, you can sift the flour and salt together before adding.  I always seal in a Ziploc bag with all air pressed out and chill for at least a 1/2 hour, but not really necessary.  Roll into 1 inch balls, dip slightly in egg white and then roll in finely chopped walnuts.  Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake in for 3-4 minutes.

Take tray out and place on top of stove or table.  Quickly press your thumb firmly into the centre of each cookie - creating a hole where the filling will go. You may need to alternate thumbs every few cookies as they are hot.  Return to over and back 5 minutes longer.   Keep an on eye on the cookies as all ovens vary.  The bottoms should be just slightly brown.  Place the cookies to cool on a rack.  Fill the centres with sugarless jam.  Store in airtight container.  If you are freezing these, be sure and freeze in a single layer and then you can layer them with a sheet of wax paper in between.


Check back in a few days for the Something New Recipes.  There are some interesting additions to our traditional holiday baking this year that add variety to the tastes as well a the look of the plates we will be creating.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Kamikaze Holiday Baking - Tips For the Brave at Heart

Kamikaze baking is not for the faint of heart.  It's down and dirty and messy and fun.  The house smells delicious but looks terrible.  Backs get sore, appetites get lost from inhaling powdered sugar and licking fingers - but if your time is limited it's the perfect option.  There are just a few things to go over in preparation, but first my story.........

AAAHHH - holiday baking.  My mum only did 2 or 3 recipes every season, but as a good woman raised in the mid-west, there were occasions all year when a homemade treat was in order. After leaving home at the age of 17, home baked goods became a real treat.  It was all I could do to make something to eat every night.  Who wanted to spend more time in the kitchen making dessert?

I picked up the torch when my kids were small.  Money was tight and time limited with 3 toddlers underfoot, so I started in October baking goodies and then freezing them in Tupperware containers. By mid-November I had a pretty impressive stash.  During the 5 weeks leading up to Xmas I would pull out one of each type of treat to create a gift plate that was wrapped in holiday cellophane and topped with a bow.  These proved great thank-you gifts for those we wanted to honour (such as special friends or my husband's boss) as well as hostess gifts for the parties we attended.

The only negative that arose was with my oldest son.  He was probably around grade 1 when I started and seemed to be upset and grumpy for weeks on end. First we thought he just naturally hated Christmas.  Then we finally realized having all the baking go in the freezer and disappear upset him. He felt left out. So he and I made a batch of sugar cookie, decorated them with sprinkles and put a few in his room - his own private stash of goodies that he had control over.  Problem solved.

Not my kids - but you get the idea!
As my life became busier, somehow the time slipped by too quickly with school, kids acitivities and, etc., and this tradition vanished only to reappear a few year later in a new format. My daughter really wanted to learn to bake. As my mother was up for 2 weeks every Christmas, I bought some cookie/bar recipe magazines, purchased the supplies and let this be bonding time for grandma and granddaughter. They would pick 2 or 3 recipes to try and we would all pig out on the final product. When the kids were young, one batch was always sugar cookies cut into holiday shapes.  Then there would be a family night with all the kids that included several colours of frosting and 3-4 kinds of sprinkles. It was a huge mess with icing, sticky fingerprints and sprinkles everywhere, but totally fun. When my mother passed away in 2009, our holiday time again changed.

Mikela Prevost Illustration
A few years ago my grown daughter picked up the torch, but mainly as way to give gifts to her friends during the holidays. As she was the only one baking in the house, we all considered ourselves fortunate she made extras for us. This year I felt it was time to get back on the horse.  My kids are now all adults and my daughter is talking of moving away in March.  How many holidays will we all be together - who knows? So it was time to heat up the oven and let the traditional baking season arise yet again in a new reincarnation - kamikaze baking.

Where I no longer run a magazine I personally have a lot more free time, but my daughter has a new job with a VERY busy schedule. As it was already the 2nd week of December, we decided to have a kamikaze baking session spread over a few days. She wanted to try all new things, I wanted to honour the past as well.  So I brought back 4 old recipes I used to make when she was very small as a nod to tradition and then we selected several new ones to try - a nod to creating traditions. The recipes will be split into 2 articles - the first called Something Old where I cover those I am bringing back and the second call Something New that will include those we tried for the first time.

1.  Have lots of pans - all with nonstick coating - so you don't have to constantly stop production to wash everything.  I would suggest two 9" x 13" inch non-stick baking pans and 4 regular size non-stick cookie sheets.  One recipe of bars will fill one pan and one recipe of cookies will usually take 2 cookie sheets.  You will also want several cooling racks.

2.  Same goes for bowls, measuring cups and utensils.  I have 3 mixing bowls, 2 heavy duty wooden spoons that take a lot of pressure, a set of measuring spoons, a set of individual measuring cups (1/4 C to 1 C) and then 2 extra multi-size measuring cups that have markings for 1/4 c to 2 C.  I am going to add a 4 C measure next year just for flour. I only have one scraper and spatula, but that seems to work for me.  I just don't want to have to wash measuring cups and bowls between each recipe. So having several is a blessing.

3. Other - aluminum foil, parchment paper and wax paper are good to have on hand.  I sometimes line pans with foil or parchment when making bars as I can get them out in one piece and put them on a cutting board to slice.  Lining a cookie sheet with parchment paper also keep it clean for the next batch.  The only worry is if your cookie sheet has no sides as the paper can slide off dumping the cookies on the floor.  Parchment is also good if you have any ingredients in the cookies such as crushed candy canes which can stick to the tray.

4.  Place the cooling racks on a layer of old newspapers so that you can just wrap up any crumbs and toss the wad away. Anything you can do to keep clean-up simpler when you're power baking is a good idea.

5.  I bake with margarine as you can buy large 3 LB boxes in the grocery store.  It contains 12 individually wrapped squares or sticks and each is equal to 1/2 cup. As most recipes use 1/2 C or 1 C (1 stick or 2 sticks) this saves you having to measure this ingredient and it's less messy.  They are usually on sale this time of year, too.  I picked up a couple boxes when they were buy one get one free!!  Set them out a few hours ahead of time on the counter to soften.

6.  Have lots of large Tupperware type containers ready.  I freeze it all and then just pull out of few of each when I need them.  I prefer the flat, wider ones.  When they're deep you have to layer too many types of cookies on top of each other.  My favourite is the one by Rubbermaid below.  It's larger that it looks - 1.5 Gallon capacity and 16.5" x 11.5" x 3.5".  At most you will have 2 or 3 layers depending on how high the cookies are.  This year I purchased a few more for a total of 5 and they are all full, plus some extra smaller versions I had lying around.

7.  Large Ziploc bags are also a great idea - the Freezer Bags are strongest.  I mix up at least 3 recipes one after the other, placing each when done in a Ziploc bag, squeezing the air out and then refrigerating.  They actually can be left overnight.  This worked great as I could get started while Danielle was on her way home from work. then when she arrived home, she could decide whether to start baking a batch that was ready or mix up a new on she wanted to try.

8. You will notice a difference between baking dough that has been refrigerated and dough that is room temperature.  First I would always refrigerate it if it says to in the instructions.  If it doesn't, then you need to be aware a few things.  When room temperature, the cookie dough will tend to spread out more while baking and take less time in the oven. If the dough has been chilled, it will tend to stay in a more compact, taller mound and take a little longer time to bake.

9.  Melting chocolate or baking chips (such as butterscotch, toffee or peanut butter) -  The safest way I have ever found is over water.  I know there are microwave recipes, but I find over hot water the safest and most reliable.  You can use a double broiler, but I jury rig one.  Take a small sauce pan, fill half way with water.  Place a heat proof bowl on top.  It's best if the bottom curves into the pan a bit.  Turn the burner on medium and let the water simmer while the chocolate slowly melts.  Stir occasionally to keep it melting evenly.  The pan is not dirty so just pour out the water and wipe dry.  The bowl can be popped in the dishwasher for easy clean-up.

10.  The recipes that smelled best this year were those with grated lemon or orange zest.  I have tried several ways to make zest, but for baking in particular I have come to appreciate the small mini-grater.  This is not the super small one for hard cheese, but the smallest one for regular cheese.  It gets just the outer rind which has the most flavour/colour and avoids the white flesh.  It also makes super fine zest which works better in cookies.  Because of this, it takes a lot of lemons and oranges to get enough rind, but it's worth it.  One tablespoon takes 2 decent size lemons or 1 large orange.  The grater below left is similar to the one I use.  The top half is the standard grater. The smaller bottom half is what I use.  Remember to wash your fruit first and cut off any printed branding on the rind.

11. Think SMALL for holiday baking.  Ignore what they say and go smaller as you want lots of one or two bite pieces.  This is particularly true of cutting up 9 x 13 pans of bars.  I cut them 6 crosswise and 5 lengthwise.  This gives you 30 small bites of bars.  When you have a plate of treats you don't need a large piece of any one kind.

12. When is a cookie done?  In my opinion when the underside is a light brown.  You don't want it too dark unless you prefer a crisper, dryer cookie.  Really light and you get a doughier cookie.  But a very light brown is right in the middle.  Trying to judge this from the top of the cookie is really difficult. Bars are also a little harder and when they are layered, you usually have to trust the recipe.

13. One interesting note - old cookie recipes used to have you bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Now all cookie recipes bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes.  Remember all ovens vary, so be sure to check at the earliest time until you get a feel for your own oven.

14.  To wrap them this year I bought 9 inch holiday paper plates and a package of 6 Cookie Tray Bags.  They are clear cellophane printed with holiday designs - mine have holly leaves.  They also have colour coordinated twist ties.  You set the plate in the bottom, add the cookies, twist the top closed and then if you like you can add a bow.  Both I found at the dollar store and were really inexpensive.

15.  Understand the measurement abbreviations!
 tsp - teaspoon
T - Tablespoon (sometimes TB)
C - Cup
pkg - Package
oz - ounce
lb - pound
g - gram
ml - milliliter

That's all I can think of now.  I'm sure a few more will come to mind.  Check back in a few days for my Something Old recipes.  And feel free to comment with some of your own favourites if you feel inclined.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Measure of a Man - J.J. Lee

Note - this article was published in November 2011.   The Measure of a Man: The Story of A Father, A Son and A Suit had only recently been released.  Widely praised, the book was nominated for several awards.  Since that time J.J. Lee has added the title of playwright to his resume.  I looked high and low for some images from his childhood or from his time as a journalist/commentator at CBC, but so far no luck.  In checking online sources, The Measure of a Man can be ordered from Chapters Indigo and Amazon.  I would also check with your local bookstore.

= = = = = =

Image by Peter Jensen Photography
 J.J. Lee connected to the fashion world when he was very young. He used to visit his father's closet to go through the amazing collection of suits found there. “At the root of it all was my love for my father. I would drag the suits down and actually sleep on them. Smelling them and wrapping myself in wool is a primordial image for me.” It would be years before fashion returned to have a significant place in his life, but those early memories were the seeds.

Although Lee was a typical teenager dressed in rugby pants and polo shirts, there was another side that loved to indulge in “...explosive moments of fashion. I had really interesting clothing from early on, but would get into it and out of it.” Wide pants legs were tapered and a pair of his sister's green jodhpurs appropriated. One Halloween he and his friends dressed as Miami Mice in white blazers, pastel shirts and mouse ears. He would peruse his sister's issues of ELLE magazine, especially those featuring Elle Macpherson, and even tailored his own grad suit.

Bill and Jack Wong of Modernize Tailors
This image from the site of
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward Photographer
While studying architecture at university, Lee began to write art criticism for several publications. He also joined CiTR UBC's student radio station – and was a part of the team covering the APEC riots in 1997. Their work won a national award. CBC came calling even before graduation and successfully lured him away. One early feature he created for them was on Modernize Tailors in ChinaTown. The history of this shop, founded in 1913, as well as the possibility of its closure, was the subject of a documentary the journalist produced titled, “Tailor Made: The Last Tailor Shop in China Town.”

Lee quickly discovered he felt at home in the shop and soon developed a strong relationship with one of the owners, Bill Wong. He became a loyal customer and enjoyed hanging around, socializing and occasionally helping out. “If you spend any time there, you realize how beautiful the feel of the shop is and how wonderful all the fabrics are. I felt really at home with Bill, the rhythm of the shop and the kind of life it had. I thought why can't this be me? Why can't clothing be my architecture?” After five years he was offered an apprenticeship, but it soon became obvious tailoring would not to be his future. It ended amicably and to this day he still pops in to soak in the atmosphere and have lunch with Bill.

Lee's stylish way of dressing, good journalistic skills and the time spent at Modernize Tailors took his journalism in a new direction. Already writing a style column for the Georgia Straight, the CBC offered him the position of fashion commentator. In a live studio format, he provides a survival guide for men and women. “I'm not really about what happens in Milan because there are lots of places you can find that. What I provide is a post-game analysis. How do you survive a hot trend in the context of the West Coast lifestyle? The experience of clothing is a desperate struggle to present yourself to the world. You're saying who am I today, how am I going to come across, what stand am I going to take and how do I manifest myself?”

Photograph by Handouts
All of Lee's experiences were distilled into an hour-long radio documentary combining the social history of suits, his apprenticeship at Modernize Tailors and memories of his father - a well-known, vibrant man who ran the legendary Kon Tiki night club in Montreal. His father was also plagued by alcoholism. The elder Lee suffered a long decline and his amazing suit collection would be reduced to one poor quality offering. In the program, the symbolism of Lee's journey to alter this last suit is used to tie together an examination of deep personal issues, his time spent as an apprentice and how this iconic men's garment has evolved over time. Interesting historical moments are covered such as when Hedi Slimane revolutionized the menswear over a decade ago. Editor Anita Chong of McClelland andStewart heard the CBC broadcast and tracked Lee down with an offer to turn it into a memoir. It took two years to bring this very personal book to publication.
 The Measure of a Man: The Story of aFather, A Son and A Suit hit bookshelves in September 2011.

Love this image from his website of his writing space.
J.J. Lee is now deep into promotion for his book as well as keeping up monthly columns for CBC and the Vancouver Sun. The Measure of a Man has been receiving top reviews and was recently nominated for the Governor's General Literary Award for Non-fiction. His advice for those wanting to enter the field of fashion journalism is to the point: “If you're not a good writer, you're not going to reach the higher echelon. Young writers also need to understand the importance of clothes to people. It shouldn't be treated like a side show or sport.”

For the future, Lee looks forward to again immersing himself in writing, but that will need to wait until the media frenzy for his current memoir has settled down. For more information on J.J. Lee or The Measure of a Man, please visit his website at www.jj-lee.com.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Backstage at VALT with Jacqueline Ryan

Thanks to guest writer Jacqueline Ryan for her great behind the scenes article on what it was like to be a part of VALT!


Monday, the morning after my two sensational nights modeling in the VALT fashion shows aptly themed Decadence and Delightmy facebook status read: “Surprising things you don't expect to hear yourself say: My eyelashes are still painted white, but there was no problem getting the glue stick off of my eyebrows." I love my life!

When the modeling casting call came from Vancouver Alternative FashionWeek (VALT),  I jumped in with both high heels! Magical things happen when you say yes, especially to my eternally innovative friends Aaron and Kat Morris of Morrismore ModelsNightshade Beauty and GrindDownVancouver MagazineThey are fearless risk takers in the world of performance art, the realm of modeling, alternative fashion photography, publishing, and are at the epicenter of what has become a push of several subcultures into the local mainstream consciousness. It was especially when I met the AMAZING organizers Kat Ferneyhough and Kat Kozak, that I knew I was going to be in for a truly unique experience!.

Photo by Kat Eye Imaging
Two weeks later, I found myself at The Ironworks Studio - an unassuming building on Alexander Street that encompasses what is so cool about Gastown. The industrial warehouse atmosphere oozes in rich history while enveloping you in a funky, well-loved space. During VALT, Ironworks (which was a movie set the day before) was bejeweled with art installations, a raised runway, stages for the bands and photographers, a backstage buzzing with a kaleidoscope of alternative models, a bevy of some of Vancouver’s best makeup and hair artists, photographers, writers, dressing assistants, rocking designers, and rack after glorious rack of unusual, pretty, elegant, sexy, sumptuously strange, and exotic fantasy costumery you can, and can’t even begin to imagine. The totality of it all fit the venue like a leather and lace opera length glove.

Shiverz Designs -
Photo by Kat Eye Imaging
It all started out with the makeup and hair. Friday’s theme of Decadence consisted of glittery lashes, eye framing crystals and sleek chignons - an elegant fit for the lush headpieces and elaborate designs making their debut on the runway - and first up for me was Shiverz Designs  Designer Siohban B. is vibrantly passionate, upbeat, and has a beaming smile you HAVE to love! Her exquisite fascinators are adorned with feathers, veils, giant flowers of gloriously rich colour, and more edgy pieces encrusted with spikes and crystals. They are sculptural works of art that were a joy to behold. Mine was a fountain of deep red and irridescent black feathers meticulously placed on a red and black base bordered with crystals, paired with a with a huge red glass teardrop amulet necklace with deep red roses adorning either side. J’adore! My matching red beaded drop earrings, well, they got to come home with me. A perfect little gift to remember the moment by!

For Arafel Designs, I stepped into the role of the Victorian Black Widow. I quite enjoyed my visit back in time in a floor-length black taffeta coat matched with an ample cascading bustle and a long, theatrical, red lace trimmed train that I removed (with the attitude of the-not-so-terribly-sad-that-I-had-lost-my-beloved) in front of the crowd. I was delighted when designer Leia layered on a top hat which was dramatically punctuated by a black face veil and long feather. To finish the look, black boots and satin gloves were added, and my transformation was complete.

Aafel Designs - image by CogitoErgoShoot//mel buenaventura
My second day at VALT was Sunday. That evening the theme of Delight took a more etherial tone with elfin-esque pale faces and glitter... It was a little girls’ and boys’ dress up heaven! Speaking of heaven, I have been not-so-secretly worshipping Nina (pronouncedNine-a) Pak for some time now - her masterful, magical photographs literally take my breath away, and her union with makeup artist Kat Morris is a creative dance that manifests compellingly beautiful works of art... So there I was on Sunday night, astonished and delighted at having my long hair meticulously crimped by the brilliant Pak herself, and feeling incredibly blessed to be sitting with her for an hour chatting about her work and vision. 

Kat was right next to us focusing her talents on one of the thirty or so models, and April Peters of  The House Gallery Boutique was dressing the fortunate few who lived the fantasy by wearing her rich leathers, Renaissance velvet gowns, lace cone face masks and Steampunk masterpieces... Just when I was thinking I must be dreaming, I heard from directly behind me, “Are you tucked?” This was the question Peters put to model Nathan McLean who spectacularly wore the bridal mini skirt in full drag for The House Gallery Boutique’s finale. I had to smile to myself.

Silverwolf girls wearing House Gallery - Photographer Patrick Parenteau.
The beautiful little Silverwolf girls were there, usually quietly reading the ‘How To Catch a Fairy’ books the Morris’s had given them, looking stunning in their matching hair and makeup. They also would grace the catwalk in addition to co-starring as Aaron’s onstage companions while he introduced, in full regalia, the show each evening. “I am Fancy!” he grinned under his white powdered wig as I helped him button his flouncy lace cuff the first night. He upstaged himself, however, by gluing goat horns to his forehead, donning furry pants and having superstar makeup artist Jenny Ruth obligingly paint hooves onto his feet for his Sunday evening as a faun: half man, half goat.

That night, Sydkney of SilentKay was adorable with her pink bob and homemade “jumper” dress covered in a little green scissors pattern with a bright red zipper up the back; a perfect little detail to echo her shiny red patent leather boots! My dress was an eye-popping green and white wisp of a thing that looked fun and mod - it was also a bit of a departure from her other equally pretty dresses and skirts that were made with softer, more demure fabrics like toille.

SilentKay (left) and Sans Scoucie (right) - Photo by Kat Eye Imaging
KatherineSoucie of Sans Soucie is as prolific as she is creative. Her unique pieces repurposed from factory nylon castoffs are fascinating. She had about 22 models walk for her and some of them had changes. I was surprised at her men’s line and what she is able to do with colour and texture on blazers, vests and button-down shirts. It was fabulous to see men wearing beautiful mixes of patterns and hues. I felt very Rock and Roll in my clingy pink patched together dress paired with a yellow neckpiece. Katherine was also kind enough to offer a gift of a beautiful soft leather change purse by Patina or a set of pretty earrings... Change purse for me!

Pixie- Photo by Kat Eye Imaging
The ultimate way to finish up a weekend like this was to slip on a pair of amply sized handmade fairy wings lovingly created by Julie Ramsay, better known as Pixi Doll  My pretty lovelies were transparent with an irridescent lustre. These creations are truly magical. The crowd went wild for them, some of which lit up with little lights and reflectors, others elaborately shimmering with feathers and branches, shaped lovingly into curls and points even Tinkerbell would envy.

One of the things I appreciated about the designers was that they just wanted us to express how their fashions made us feel when we were wearing them. Nothing contrived - just “go with it and own it!” Considering the collection of models’ personalities, there was no shortage of playfulness and attitude on the catwalk. How refreshing! Walking on the runway at VALT was easy because the room had a tangible warm vibe to it. The audience was so appreciative that after my first walk, any jangly nerves I may have had completely vanished. We could hear the bands rocking the house accompanied by uproarious applause as each act took their turn entertaining the delighted audience. We were also beautifully documented by Mel Buenaventura s camera lens as he photographed each model in his or her outfit in front of a funky grey garage door before we took to the stage!

Probably the most amusing aspect of the whole thing was the amount of time we spent crammed into the men’s backstage bathroom, which doubled for the waiting area while we assembled for our turn on the runway. Very glamourous! It was particularly challenging when the lights were blacked out so none of the guests could peer through the narrow wall we carefully slipped through. We avoided poking each other in the eyes with wings and antlers and feathers and took it all in stride. I’d like to offer an especially deep thank you to Kat Ferneyhough. She was laser-beam dialed in to all aspects of the show; her calm and lighthearted demeanor never wavered with us as she communicated on her radio as to what was happening in the front of the house, and directed us on and off the runway seamlessly - queuing us gently with a touch of her hand. She was truly a rock star!

In the cramped dressing room!
(Image from the Ironworks website)

What does one talk about behind-the-scenes? Oh, you know, the usual...I had a conversation with someone special who confided in me that she is in a relationship with a man she absolutely adores, who happens to be polyamorous; Pin Up Girls talked about where to get the best Elvis and Marilyn Monroe tattoos; a boy that one girl met at the fitting showed up just to give her a bottle of white wine, which she was 
kind enough to share with yours truly; I asked burlesque queen Diamond Minx, "Where exactly do you keep all of your costumes, anyway?" (The answer was, “One whole bedroom, at my parent’s house and yes, I have storage as well...”) Ah, a girl after my own heart. One absolutely beautiful girl told me about her struggles with Body Dysmorphic Disorder and how she wishes she could see herself like everyone else sees her, yet she was one of the most physically flawless models there... Not to worry, she and all the rest of us devoured the mountains of pizza provided for us with an abundance of lemon infused water to keep us hydrated and fed for the seven to ten hours we spent there every day.
Valt Directors Kat Ferneyhough and Kat Kozak
Image by Lucho Bersek

My daydreams still burst with flashes of elaborately black feathered Elizabethan neck pieces, Steampunk top hats and leather goggles bathed in gold studs, gorgeous boys and girls of all shapes and sizes, long, green, pointy elf shoes and wings and baby dragons, oversized oval hoop skirts, crinolines and bonnets, richly textured overcoats, sexy tattooed girls in black fishnets and chains, leather, corsets, and all things fashionably eclectic and surreal... It’s the kind of dream you wish you could stay in forever...

(Editor's Note - VALT would like to acknowledge the amazing official behind the scenes team recording this event - Photographers Kat Eye Imaging, Mel Buenaventura and Laurent Danis along with videographer Parya Pourkarimi.)