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10 ways to make holiday baking easier

Kristen Eppich | posted Thursday, Dec 18th, 2014

Holiday baking is wonderful. The nostalgia, the aroma, the sugar – it brings back memories and allows us to indulge in some of our favourite recipes. But who’s kidding who, the best thing about holiday baking is having it done – so we can enjoy the wares minus the mess and time.

Here are 10 quick tips to make your holiday baking a little friendlier, and relieve you of at least one sticky measuring spoon this season. Happy baking.

  1. Keep two sets of measuring spoons on hand. One for wet ingredients, one for dry.
  2. Measuring something sticky like molasses or honey? Lightly spray your measuring cup or spoon with cooking spray and it will slide right out.
  3. Eggs to cold? If your recipe calls for room temperature eggs, drop them (in their shell) into very warm water and let them sit for 5 minutes. Use immediately (do not return these to the fridge).
  4. Leave your butter out the night before. Defrosting butter in the microwave changes the composition of the butter and it won’t react the same way as naturally room temperature butter.
  5. Always bake on parchment paper. It saves cookies from sticking and time on clean-up.
  6. Making icebox cookies that need to be rolled and chilled? Cut the inner tube of a roll of paper towels in half lengthwise and rest the wrapped cylinders of dough inside. It will help them keep their round shape while the firm up in the fridge.
  7. If you want to shape cookies in advance, but bake off later in batches, freeze first on a tray. Once frozen, stack in an airtight container and keep frozen. Bake cookies from frozen.
  8. Buy disposable piping bags to make life easier for you and your kids when it comes to decorating sugar cookies. This allows you to have multiple colours on the go, and they can be rinsed out and reused.
  9. Use gel food colourings to tint icing. Gel colourings have less liquid so they don’t dilute your icing and they also have a more intense colour (so add sparingly).
  10. Know some basic substitutions such as these to save time running to and from the grocery store:
  • 1 cup cake flour = 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp all-purpose flour + 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • Rice flour, potato flour and cornstarch can all be used interchangeably.
  • Buttermilk can be made by adding 1 tbsp lemon juice to 1 cup milk. Let sit for a few minutes until it curdles, then proceed.
  • Spelt flour can replace all-purpose flour 1:1

The year’s top YouTube stars

Adrian Lee | posted Tuesday, Dec 16th, 2014

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Is this the year the Internet found its soul? Some of 2014’s most viral videos had an eye on issues—from a woman filming her catcall-filled walk around New York, to Emma Watson’s stirring speech about feminism at the UN. One, First Kiss, a short film where 20 strangers lock lips, was both artful and sweet. Then again, that catcall walk spawned a number of spoof spin-offs (“5 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Jets fan”). And some of the year’s other biggest hits involved a man getting kicked in the head by a train engineer while taking a selfie, and a “devil baby” prank video. Honourable mentions: The Tonight Show’s edit of clips from news anchor Brian Williams so that he performed Rapper’s Delight; and Too Many Cooks, an absurdist swell of genre films and sitcom tropes plucked from intentioned obscurity that propelled scores of think pieces. Here’s some of the best videos from the year that was:

Schadenfreude is a powerful, addictive thing, and this video of a selfie-taker being kicked in the head by the driver of a passing train proves it, with its 35-million views.

A newscaster takes advantage of a break to let loose and dance to the viral-on-its-own remix of a quote from the rapper T.I.—to the dismay of his co-anchor.

An argument between three toddlers over how to precisely describe how much it had rained ended up poking more than 11-million people right in the heart.

The Tonight Show edits NBC newsmen Brian Williams and Lester Holt to rap the Sugarhill Gang’s seminal song—with respects due to Sugarhill Gang’s real-life Big Bank Hank, who passed away this year.

This trailer for an otherwise forgettable horror flick loosed an animatronic ‘devil baby’ in the streets of New York, ratcheting up a stunning 48-million views. But while New Yorkers’ terror is amusing, the video’s popularity can perhaps be exclusively explained by the unimpressed passerby in the video’s middle portion.

The message of “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman” was powerful, but just as the enduring legacy of “S*** Girls Say” was its template for spin-offs of other niche categories, the video’s real success can be measured in the copycats it spawned. Some were equally stirring (“10 hours of walking in NYC as a woman in a hijab”); others were more jocular (“10 hours of walking in NYC as a Lamborghini”).

Good news: Emma Watson, refusing the typical dance that some female actresses feel the need to practice to avoid talking about feminism, made a speech to the United Nations that helped push it to the fore. Bad news: it earned her threats from men’s rights trolls on the controversial network 4chan.

It was never meant to live—it was intentionally consigned by absurdist cartoon purveyors Adult Swim to 4 a.m. infomercials—but we’re better off that someone loaded the catchy Too Many Cooks up to Youtube for the masses to relish. Ends up too many cooks don’t spoil the broth, after all.

Lauren Hill, a freshman player on Mount St. Joseph’s basketball team who was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour, lays in the game’s opening basket—to the roar of another school’s crowd.

More from the sports file: five days before Isaiah Austin was expected to be drafted in the first round of the NBA draft, his draft physicals found a genetic disease that would immediately end his career, before it could even begin. So on draft day, the league commissioner Adam Silver decided he needed to right that cosmic wrong.

Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe is a wizard after all—at rapping, at least.

Viral videos are sometimes all about luck. This pilot lost the camera he had attached to his plane and it plummets, somehow, landing intact and face-up—where it is greeted by a confused yet hungry pig.

On the other hand, virality can also require the extreme, delicate precision needed to hand-craft tiny burritos to feed to a hamster.Either way, this is adorable.

John Oliver’s takedown of net neutrality may not have received as many eyeballs as most of the clips on this list, but the fact that a video about deeply wonkish material got 7-million views—and inspired one legislator to actually deny the video’s claim that he was a dingo—means it well-earned its spot.

Chris Picco was set to have a child with his wife Ashley. But then Ashley died suddenly during childbirth, and his son, Lennon, had to bedelivered prematurely by C-section. Knowing that he would likely pass away too, Chris sang the Beatles’ mournful tune. Lennon died the next day.

Richard Dunn, trapped alone in the Las Vegas airport, filmed a creative music video for Celine Dion’s All By Myself—earning more than 16-million views and a plaudit from Celine herself.

All by myself from Richard Dunn on Vimeo.

With remarkably advanced moves, this plump baby from Korea captured more than 13-million hearts. (The one on the left gives a valiant effort, also.)

This artful short film of 20 strangers kissing ended up being an ad for a clothing line—but wasn’t a less cynical time when we simply believed in the pure spontaneity of 20 beautiful people making out?

Holiday teacher gifts: 10 fun ideas

Amy Valm | posted Thursday, Dec 11th, 2014

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Teacher Gifts

Click here to take a look at Today’s Parent’s suggestions!

Thousands say goodbye to Beliveau at Montreal funeral

The Canadian Press | posted Wednesday, Dec 10th, 2014

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A who’s who of the hockey and political worlds paid an emotional farewell on Wednesday to Montreal Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau, whose death last week unleashed a national outpouring of grief.

Dickie Moore remembered his longtime teammate as a “great man.”

“It is a tremendous honour to stand here for my teammate and friend Jean Beliveau,” said Moore, the first person to deliver an eulogy at the emotional funeral. “Everyone has said so many wonderful words about him, words like strength, dedication, devotion and elegance.

“I was lucky to have been with Jean for many glorious years with the Canadiens, lucky to share amazing moments together, lucky to have him as a friend.

“Would you rather be good or lucky? I was lucky. He was good,” he said to chuckles from the congregation.

Moore was followed to the podium at Mary Queen of the World Cathedral by Yvan Cournoyer, one of six pallbearers at the sombre event.

Cournoyer spoke about Beliveau, 83, in revered tones as his “captain” and described what he called almost a father-son relationship with the late icon.

“Oh captain, my captain, bon voyage,” Cournoyer said, his voice choking.

Other teammates who delivered eulogies were Serge Savard and Ken Dryden, who recalled being Beliveau’s roommate toward the end of the 1970-71 season as the goaltender was breaking into the league.

“He treated everyone with respect,” Dryden told the service. “He said the right things and in the right way, in French and in English, because that’s what he believed and that’s what he was.

“He made every occasion better. He made everyone who was there feel that their town, their organization, their province, their country, their event mattered. That they mattered.”

Canadiens owner Geoff Molson also addressed the service and spoke of Beliveau as an athlete, a friend, a champion and an example to follow.

“He was a special man, a Jean Beliveau like no other,” he said.

Beliveau’s casket was draped with the flag of the Canadiens, the team with which he won 10 Stanley Cups as a player and another seven as a team executive.

The other designated pallbearers were Savard and former Canadiens players Phil Goyette, Guy Lafleur, Robert Rousseau and Jean-Guy Talbot.

Those attending the funeral included Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Gov. Gen. David Johnston, former prime ministers Jean Chretien and Brian Mulroney, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and ex-Quebec premiers Jean Charest and Bernard Landry.

Former NHLers included Mario Lemieux and Luc Robitaille.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman also travelled to Montreal.

“He was just great to be around,” Bettman told reporters before the service. “And he’s going to be terribly missed.”

He was asked about suggestions that the Conn Smythe Trophy could eventually be named after Beliveau.

“We’ve been focused more on his passing and that loss and celebrating his life and I know at the appropriate time we’ll focus on what is a remembrance fitting for someone like Jean Beliveau,” Bettman said.

Harper described Beliveau as someone who transcended his sport.

“We’ve obviously lost a great citizen, somebody who was admired and respected by everybody everywhere in the country,” he said on his way into the service. “I certainly have admired Mr. Beliveau since I was a young boy.

“He was an individual who was great in his sport but ultimately even greater than his sport. He’s already part of the Hockey Hall of Fame and now he’s become part of the history of our country.”

A few hundred seats were reserved for fans on a first come, first served basis. Those who couldn’t get inside were able to watch the ceremony on giant screens nearby.

Montreal police, who have been wearing camouflage pants and red ballcaps in recent months to protest pension plan reforms, wore their regulation uniforms out of respect for Beliveau.

Beliveau entered the Hockey Hall of Fame the year after his retirement in 1971.

Thousands of people filed into the Bell Centre on Sunday and Monday to pay tribute to Beliveau and shake hands with his wife, Elise.

On Tuesday night, the Canadiens honoured him before their game against the Vancouver Canucks.

How to budget for the holidays

Bruce Sellery | posted Tuesday, Dec 9th, 2014

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Dear Bruce

I overspend at Christmas every single year. How much should I budget for the holidays?
— Julia Graham, Burnaby, B.C.

Dear Julia,

Every family’s holiday budget is different. What you want to spend over the holidays, and what you have in terms of disposable income and pre-existing debt, are unique to you. I’ve found that the amount of your holiday budget matters less than just sticking to it — simply being conscious of your spending makes an enormous difference. That said, create a budget that’s as inclusive as possible: gifts, of course, plus food and liquor if you’re entertaining, gas if you’ll be driving to visit far-flung family members, donations to charity, tickets to holiday shows and maybe even some money to pay for a new outfit if you absolutely need one for the big holiday party. Total it, then decide what you could add or subtract to get to a number you’re comfortable with. Plan ahead to ensure you’ll have that amount in your bank account when the bills arrive in the new year. If you know you’ll be carrying debt, figure out how you’re going to pay it off well before the next holiday season rolls around. And, unless you put yourself on your gift-giving list, watch out for the “one for you, one for me” pitfall, no matter how tempting the sale is.

Dear Bruce

I backed our van into a lamp post a few months back and had to put $8,000 on my credit card for repairs. What is the best plan to pay off the debt quickly and avoid high-cost interest charges?
— Vivienne West, Calgary

Dear Vivienne,

Sorry about your van — but good for you for getting on top of this after a few months, instead of a few years. I would start with a reality check: Create a chart that lists each lender, outstanding amount, interest rate, due date and minimum payment for all your debts, then total it (see chart below). Next, choose a payment approach. Mathematically, your best option is to pay off the highest-rate card first, and pay just the minimum on the others. But some people choose the “debt snowball” method, which is to pay off the card with the lowest balance first to give them a feeling of accomplishment. Next, you need to devise a plan for how you will cut spending and/or increase income to eliminate the debt. Be specific: Are you going to transfer the balance to a lower-rate line of credit, cut eating out for three months or work extra shifts on weekends? Will those things do the trick by the deadline you set? Write the plan down on paper, then share it with at least one other person to give yourself some accountability. Best of luck.

Calculate your total debt

 

Dear Bruce

I want to switch my current no-frills credit card to one that rewards me with each purchase, especially since the holiday-spending season is here. I plan to pay off my purchases entirely each month. Which rewards card offers the best value?

— Anna Fraser, Halifax

Dear Anna,

My five-year-old, Abby, loves the bunny stamp she gets at gymnastics — a nice little reward for a great class. If you pay off your credit card in full every month, you deserve a reward too. MoneySense magazine has a simple online credit-card selector tool to help you find the one that’s best for you. First, the tool will ask you a few questions, like whether you would rather have cash back on your purchases, retail rewards at a particular chain or travel points. Then it’ll ask how much you spend every month on things like groceries, restaurants, clothing and gas. Finally, from your answers, it will generate a list of cards for you to choose from (based on an exhaustive analysis of each rewards program). Before you make a selection, do a gut check. For example, if you don’t fly the airline or shop at the store associated with the card, take it off the list. You will then be left with a curated list of cards best suited to your lifestyle. But remember, rewards credit cards, like gymnastics, can be dangerous, so take the proper precautions to reduce your risk of getting hurt.

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