WINE CLUB

How to Host A Hauntingly Elegant Wine Tasting Party….

In the South, the humid hot summer heat begins to dissipate slowly as Fall quietly eases in with its cool refreshing breezes and changing foliage, but not until well into late October or November. Still we hang our autumn leaved garlands and wreaths on our doors and thresholds, line the front walkways with purple, yellow and amber chrysanthemums and perfectly shaped pumpkins hoping to encourage the comforting temperatures of Fall to fully arrive. Autumn is my favorite time of year. A time when my passion for baking and cooking hearty soups and stews peaks, along with taking long walks as nature’s colors transform into the most beautiful shades of red, orange, and burgundy.

Several years ago I went on a Fall Pilgrimage in New England -from Boston, to Salem, Portland, Kennebunkport, through the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont, The Berkshires, Stockbridge and finally Cape Code to witness the most beautiful display of nature I’ve ever seen along with historical landmarks of our wonderful country. I enjoyed it so much, that I did it again a few years later. I still remember the quaint little town of Salem dressed for the coming of Halloween, with potted mums displayed everywhere you looked and our visit to the Salem Witch Museum.

Those memories of my Fall in New England and the haunting vibrations of witches and Halloween, inspired my Hauntingly Elegant Wine Club evening. I wanted it to be unique but not gimmicky, catchy with a touch of elegance.

THE INVITE:

IMAGES BORROWED FROM A BEAUTIFULLY CATERED HAUNTING EVENT –
POSTED ON MARTHA STEWART’S WEBSITE THAT INSPIRED MY VERSION OF A HAUNTINGLY ELEGANT PARTY.
https://www.marthastewart.com/1521546/host-halloween-dinner-party-hauntingly-beautiful

My invitation was emailed to my guests, but I created a printed version for the sake of creating a photo. Guests were asked to bring a red wine, with a haunting, spooky or spell bound label and a small bite; and black attire.

THE APERITIF:

The Aperitif: My signature cocktail “Bitter Broken Heart”

Thawed frozen black cherries soaked in kirsch, pureed and strained (discard cherry pulp); add the juice of half a lemon to cherry liquid. Fill 1/4th of each coupe glass with cherry juice; 3 dashes chocolate bitters and top off with Prosecco. Garnish with dried cherries soaked in kirsch over night and an Amarena cherry.

My guests sipped on their cocktail while another guest and I opened the bottles of wine, placed each in a numbered bag and poured the wines into the numbered glasses in preparation for the tasting.

About a month prior to this party, I had purchased red roses to place on the table for my book club meeting. For some reason, they were so pretty and remained only partially open. I watched as they slowly dried holding their bud form. I also had a vase of hydrangeas from a friend’s wedding that had dried in their contains. With a plastic cauldron, plastic skulls, green and Spanish moss (all from the dollar store), dry dead branches from the yard sprayed with gold paint and black grosgrain ribbon tied in knots on it’s smaller branches to look like bats, I created a spooky elegant floral arrangement for my sofa table. Black lanterns placed on each side contained battery candles and pieces of dried flowers, moss and black glittered branches.

From there I began to dry roses and other flowers from my garden to sprinkle along the table, add to my candelabra, and create other small arrangements around the house. I made spiders from champagne corks and black pipe cleaners, and placed Spanish moss and black crows in the chandeliers.

The local craft store had all of the Halloween decorations on sale and I purchased spider web netted tablecloths and scarves that draped over my lamp shades. More plastic dollar store skulls, black glittered twigs, moss and dried flowers were sprinkled along the center of each table. On this evening I had 14 members requiring two tables for seating. I used my black and gold rimmed china, brass candle holders with black tapered candles and gold-ware cutlery to add to the mystic and elegance.

THE CHEESE COURSE

Baked brie with black cherry, raspberry and black grapes simmered in red wine.
Served in mini cast iron pans.

THE SMALL BITES:

Warm Garden of Eden Autumnal Salad with Serpent Garlic Breadsticks

  • 1 cup of black rice
  • 1 cup of peeled and diced sweet potato or butternut squash
  • 1 quart of vegetable stock
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup cubed green apple
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon chili flavored oil (optional)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup toasted pecans & or pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • 2 to 3 cups of baby spinach or arugula
  • salt and pepper
  • Apple cider vinaigrette
  1. Cook rice in vegetable stock using amount of liquid according to the package instructions and allow to complete to room temperature when complete.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. On a small sheet pan – place the pecans and/or pepitas and toast in the oven for 10 minutes. This brings out the natural oils in the nuts to enhance their flavor and crunch. (A great alternative is candied or spice coated pecans – but they take more time involving egg whites, sugar and spices – you can find a recipe on Pinterest). Set toasted nuts aside in a small bowl.
  3. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Using 2 separate sheet pans – spray each tray well with cooking spray (I used olive oil spray) and place pans in the oven to pre-heat the tray.
  4. Place the diced squash (or sweet potato) in an appropriate sized bowl. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil (or) 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of chili oil to add a little heat, salt and pepper and toss to evenly coat. Carefully spread the vegetables in a single layer on one of the heated sheet trays and return to the oven. Roast for 30 minutes, turning the vegetables over half way through creating a little browning on the sides that are facing down on the tray.
  5. Use the same bowl to place the diced apples and toss in remaining 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper. Carefully spread on the second heated sheet tray in a single layer and roast in the oven 15 minutes (warmed through but with a little crunch still present) – when these come out the squash needs turning over.
  6. Meanwhile, in the bottom of a large salad bowl mix together the ingredients for the vinaigrette (recipe in the next box).
  7. Add the cooked black rice first, the roasted apples and vegetables next, then the arugula or spinach (or combination), pomegranate seeds, pecans and/or pepitas without tossing at this point. Layer with heaviest items in the bottom and lighter on top with vinaigrette at the very bottom of the bowl. When ready to serve gently toss all ingredients together to lightly coat with the vinaigrette. Note: To keep vegetables warm, you can leave them on the sheet tray in the oven at 200 degrees until ready to serve for about 20 minutes – more than that they may dry out too much.

Apple Cider Vinaigrette: In a mason jar with lid ( or simply add ingredients to the bottom of the salad bowl) place 1/3 c. Extra Virgin Olive or Avocado Oil; 1/4 cup Apple Cider; 1 tsp. Dijon mustard; 1 minced shallot (or garlic optional); 1 tbsp. honey or agave; 1/2 tsp. kosher salt; 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper. Either whisk in the bowl or shake vigorously in the jar to combine. Optional: Gently warm vinaigrette in a small saucepan and return to serving salad bowl. (This is for a lightly dressed salad. If you prefer more dressing -double the recipe and guests can always add more ).

Serpent Garlic Breadsticks: See my notes below.

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/491525746823276732/

When I saw these serpent breadsticks on Pinterest, I decided to make a warm Garden of Eden vegetable salad and breadsticks that used autumnal flavors. The salad combined black forbidden rice, roasted sweet potatoes (or butternut squash), pomegranate seeds, baby spinach and toasted pecans with a warm apple cider vinaigrette. My serpent breadsticks were flavored with garlic butter and black Hawaiian salt. For best results: The tongues were made with dried red chili peppers with a little “v” cut into the end with scissors. I had to make a little slot at the end of the head of each breadstick before baking , to get the pepper to hold in place. I quickly inserted the pepper tongue in place immediately after the breadstick came out of the oven while still soft. As they cooled the pepper held in place. I used black peppercorns for the eyes. [Baking the breadstick with the red pepper inserted causes it to burn, so it has to be added after the baking.] Below are images of the beautiful small bites brought by my guests.

THE DESSERT COURSE:

Fall immediately makes me think of campfires and S’mores. I found this great cake recipe adapted from Molly Yeh’s blog. I used leftover cake and filling to make a couple of cake balls I called truffles, and a mango syrup that I dotted along the sides of the plate to help cut the richness of the ganache. A lighter version would be to use a mousse in lieu of ganache and semi-sweet or milk chocolate instead of the bittersweet I used – but a true S’more calls for a rich chocolate. Several of my guests were celebrating birthdays over the previous and next couple of weeks, so we added candles and sang ‘Happy Birthday’. http://mynameisyeh.com/mynameisyeh/2017/4/smores-mini-cakes

THE WINE

The Winner!
  • La Catrina [Cabernet Sauvignon] 3 votes
  • The Walking DEAD [Bloody Red Blend] 2 votes
  • The Walking DEAD [Cabernet Sauvignon 2016] 2 votes
  • HOB NOB WICKED LIMITED EDITION [RED BLEND] 2 votes
  • Ministry of The Vinterior [Cabernet Sauvignon 2015] 1 vote
  • Vampire [Vampire Red -Winemaker’s Blend 2014]
  • Saved [Red Wine 2014]
One of my guest brought me with little ghostly air plant as a hostess gift.

This is a great time to pull out your slightly tarnished silver, save the colorful flower petals from your garden and let them dry, and search through dollar stores for moss, black pebbles and other items to add to your decor. While I live near the swamps and large trees filled with Spanish moss – I purchased moss to avoid bringing in unwanted insects and who knows what else into the house.

The winner’s trophy –The winner received this webbed bagged bottle
of Limited Edition Bartenura Semi-Sec.

Long before the idea of a Hauntingly Elegant Party came to mind, I found this bottle of Bartenura Semi-Sec (of all places at Walmart). The webbed bag was so elegant and interesting that I decided to buy a bottle and hold on to it for some occasion. One day while one of my friends was visiting, I was sharing some of my ideas for the party and suddenly remembered the bottle tucked away in my pantry. She pointed out that the bag looked like a spider web. Lightbulb moment – I had my trophy for the winner.

As the Fall months approach, if you’re looking for a fun way to celebrate the ghostly spirits of Halloween with a slightly Gothic twist , I hope you will be inspired to host your own hauntingly elegant evening. If you try any of my ideas or create your own – check out the posts on my Pinterest page and share yours.

DINNER PARTY, FALL, SIMPLY ELEVATED

Early Fall🍁🍂🍁Dinner (Keto-ish) Dessert Course

My previous post introduced an early Fall dinner shared with a few of my neighbors as we experiment with a Keto-ish diet. As we gathered over a glass of excellent wine, appreciating it all the more due to the exclusion requirements of the Keto diet, we shared how we were managing the change in food choices and the results, if any we were experiencing.

I personally have found that my sugar tooth has been drastically tamed and I’m not feeling the desire to graze and nibble on snacks all day. I feel full and seem to have more energy. My friends expressed some of the same changes in the way they were feeling, but we all agreed that on the weekends we needed at least a little break from some of the restrictions. So tonight we were enjoying a glass of wine, but I’ve done my best to prepare a Keto friendly dinner menu to prove that food can still feel special, decadent and satisfying.

We all agreed we missed our sweets and I was excited to share with them two, yes two Keto friendly desserts I had prepared. As a little bonus, before we made our way to the dinner table I gave them each a dark chocolate almond and it was devoured with great excitement and pleasure!

The sugar products needed for making desserts.

The ingredients needed for baking Keto desserts are pricey and the quantity is a fraction of what wheat flour and refined sugar products contain, which offers another reason to only have desserts occasionally. Years ago in the book “French Women Don’t Get Fat” I remember reading that the typical French woman has dessert only once a week. Much younger and thinner at the time I was appalled, it seemed like an enormous act of restraint and made me wonder how so many patisseries succeed in France. I have since come to better appreciate the once a week practice.

With the help of pinterest I found two recipes that peaked my interest. The first was this Chocolate Cream Pie. Having no experience with these sugar substitute ingredients I did not deviate from the recipe in the link as I sometimes do. My only personal touch was to add toasted sugar free coconut flakes for some added crunch to the top after pulling it from the freezer. This was a very easy recipe,with only 10 minutes of baking time (the pecan crust). The other layers were prepared in the mixer and went on top of the crust with no other baking required. Follow the recipe in the link below. I’ve shared a few notes on the photos from my own experience.

https://kaseytrenum.com/?s=keto+chocolate+pie

I placed a layer of coconut flakes on a small sheet tray and toasted in the oven 300 degrees for about 5 to 10 minutes while constantly checking and tossing the coconut until getting the desired browning. It can go from golden to burnt in no time. Don’t walk away! Leftovers are great to sprinkle on Greek yogurt, Keto chocolate mousses or mixed berries.

While the ingredients are expensive, very little was used of some like the chocolate bar that I sealed it up tightly for a future use.

There is nothing about this pie that looks or tastes “diet”. It was decadent and the substituted ingredients were not easily detectable. The recipe advises to place the completed pie into the freezer for at least an hour before serving. I didn’t take the pie out of the freezer until ready to serve and it was very difficult to cut. While it tasted and looked lovely everyone said they thought it would have been better (easier to eat) unfrozen.

For the second dessert I decided to bake a French Almond cake.

https://www.wholesomeyum.com/keto-french-almond-cake-recipe/

Again, I followed the recipe as provided in the link above. While it is very similar to the actual French almond cake, I had this beautiful blood orange sitting in my fruit basket and decided to add a little of its zest and juice to the batter. I also added a little to the glaze that is brushed over the cake while it’s still slightly warm. I used an 8 1/2 inch springform pan and the cake does not rise very high (similar to a one layer cake).

Just prior to serving dust the cooled cake with powdered monkfruit sugar.

Of the two desserts while both very good, my guests voted this one their favorite. The cake was moist and flavorful and the added orange flavor brightened and complimented the almond.

As dinner came to an end, I asked everyone if the menu of the night was in in any way less than or short of a normal dinner. They all replied no. I think if I had not already told them this was a Keto meal, they may never had realized it was. Point made, you can still host an elegant dinner party while following a Keto-ish diet. But we must have our weekend 🍷wine!!

DINNER PARTY, FALL, SIMPLY ELEVATED

Early🍁🍂🍁Fall Dinner with the Neighbors [Keto-ish Style]

The past couple of years have been filled with multiple reasons for high anxiety, complicated news and decisions, multiple hours of sitting at a desk working remotely and long periods of separation from family and friends. The limited activity and socializing created “the COVID 15” (pounds) that is a real thing for many; among the many are myself and some of my friends. Finally some of us have decided enough is enough, it’s time to attempt to make some changes with the hope of slowly deflating the additional areas added to mid-sections and thighs.

The Keto diet has gained popularity for some time and while I find it hard to embrace a diet plan that takes away and limits so many of my favorite foods, acknowledging where change is needed is the first step in working toward a goal.

I come from a long line of sweet tooth family members. As a little girl, my Dad taught me how to break about six Oreo cookies into a tall glass, then fill the glass whole milk and eat the entire thing with a spoon. Later it was Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies, Keebler Fudge cookies and more. Every meal included soft drinks (full of sugar) and ended with something sweet. While I limited soft drinks a long time ago, the sweet tooth tradition continued on and I thought it would be the most difficult habit to break.

For the past two weeks I have eliminated the honey in my tea, the daily piece or pieces of chocolate and a couple of cookies in the evening. I think the hardest thing for me to give up is my weekend Starbucks Chai, that I’ve decided I don’t have to give up, it will be my weekend reward. No bread ( so no turkey sandwiches) and no pasta, that usually shows up in one of those Lean Cuisine meals I stocked in the freezer for quick lunches.

Since having eliminated so much sugar and bread from my diet, oddly I find I’m not as hungry (and as a result not eating as much); I’ve lost my craving for sweets; and I have more energy in just the first two weeks. I also feel less achy.

I’ve hosted many dinner and wine parties over the years, and for each gathering I’ve searched for new and interesting foods and wines to share with my friends and family. This Keto diet created a new challenge when I invited a few of my neighbors over for dinner. I wanted to create a colorful, delicious meal and desserts that did not scream “Diet Food”, but still sachiated and pleased the palate and taste buds. Below I’m sharing the dinner portion of our meal and in second post I’ll share the desserts.

A wonderful bottle of pinot noir Diora La Petite Grace 2014 (Monterey) that has been sitting in my wine fridge for some time. A gift from a dear friend years ago, I’ve struggled multiple times to break away the heavy plastic seal that coated the top of the cork and neck of the bottle unsuccessfully, until this night. My guests and I thoroughly enjoyed the dark, rich and velvety aged wine down to the last drop and was the perfect way to start the evening.

🍁🍂🍁Menu 🍁🍂🍁

Grilled Rainbow Trout with butter sauce

Roasted Delicata Squash with Organic Girl SuperGreens, toasted pepitas, fried shallots and parmesan crisps.

French (Citrus) Almond Cake (Keto)

Frozen Chocolate Cream Pie (Keto)

I wanted to prove I could still create a delicious meal and still follow the Keto plan. Like me, my friends were missing dessert, so I really wanted to find dessert recipes that didn’t taste any less delicious than we would normally have. Honestly, buying the ingredients to make these desserts was very expensive. This diet plan is not for someone on a tight budget, but I’m hoping it will curb my appetite enough that the old urge to grab a slice of chocolate frosted cake or two on the weekends will dissipate.

The protein was six fillets of rainbow trout that I asked my neighbor to grill. They also created a garlic, lemon herb butter sauce that was gently poured over the fish just before serving.

For the side dish, I found inspiration from different Pinterest posts to create this delicata squash dish. Delicata is a delicious sweet squash that is easy to cut, clean and cook.

Also known as “sweet potato squash” for its brown sugar flavor, delicata tastes like a cross between fresh corn and pumpkin pie. Like all hard squash, delicata is high in beta-carotene and vitamin C, relatively low in calories and astonishingly versatile

Roasted Delicata Squash with Salad Greens

Yields 4 servings

  • 1 Delicata squash
  • Olive oil spray
  • kosher salt & pepper
  • red chili infused olive oil (optional)
  • 5 oz of Organic Girl Super Greens (or arugula, or mixed greens)
  • 1/4 cup toasted pepitas
  • 1 shallot thinly sliced and fried or a packaged thin pre-fried shallots
  • white balsamic vinegar
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 -1/4 piece of orange
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon of mayo
  • 4 tablespoons of plain yogurt
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper
  • Oven baked parm crisps
  • Preheat oven 450 degrees (f). Slice the delicata into 1/2 inch thick rings. Using a paring knife, cut away the pulp and seeds and discard. Spray a rimmed baking sheet pan with olive oil and then lay each of the squash rings in one layer on the tray. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle a small amount of red chili oil to add a delicate spiciness (optional). Bake for 15 minutes and then turn each ring over and bake for 15 additional minutes. The squash is served at room temperature.

Toast the pepitas in a shallow pan until slightly golden around the edges.

Whisk together in a small bowl the mayo, garlic powder, salt and juice of 1/4 wedge of orange. (I poured the mixture into a squeeze bottle to drizzle over the dish before serving, but the tines of a fork could achieve the same drizzle result.

Spread the greens on a medium platter. Careful not to over saturate, lightly sprinkle with white balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and squeeze the juice from 1/4 wedge of orange over the greens and toss. Lay the cooled squash rings over the bed of greens. Sprinkle with toasted pepitas and crispy onions. Add parmesan crisps (croutons) for additional crunch. Just before serving drizzle with orange yogurt sauce.

A small amount of any roasted autumn squash is not only delicious, but it’s also very filling. My guests really enjoyed this dish and it left just enough room for dessert. Yes I said dessert…

We had stayed away for desserts for some time and I searched for Keto desserts (two) that I decided might live up to the desserts we were used to and they did. Find those details in my next post.

LAGNIAPPE, SMALL TALK

Lavender Sensations

Photo by Baraa Jalahej on Pexels.com

Lavender is my favorite fragrance. So many things in my home are scented with lavender that one morning some time ago when my daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren were visiting for several days, I woke before everyone else and decided to ease out of the house to do some weeding in my front yard flower beds. When I returned inside, I found my daughter and grandchildren starting their morning routines of coffee and cereal. As I walked into the kitchen my daughter said, “There she is!” with a chuckle. I said good morning and asked what was so funny. She said, “The kids were looking all over the place for you. They said we can’t find Nana anywhere, but we can smell her!” I’ve learned that my grandchildren have come to associate the scent of lavender with their Nana.

Friends, an occasional delivery person, even trick or treating kids have said as I opened my front door, “Your house smells so good!” The secret for years was the Glade lavender and peach blossom plug-ins, that much to my dismay have been discontinued. Using another lavender scented plug-in is just not the same, but I’m still searching for a better alternative.

I’ve collected a variety of lavender sachets over the years, from Homegoods (to the left with embroidered lavender flowers); the dark purple sachet was a gift, and the sachets on the right were purchase in a long set of six sewn together from a gift shop.https://www.pharmaca.com/sonoma-lavender-lavender-drawer-liner-sachet-embroidered-silk?gclid=CjwKCAjw-sqKBhBjEiwAVaQ9a8ynA812-kG7DD7thd4VuI5IG3vPN-07KuO3Xg_sakzJCM74VpcAJhoCH9IQAvD_BwE

An avid reader, I especially love historical fiction novels set in France and have often read of how a character in the book ended up being invited to spend the night in some mysterious old manor. While settling into their guest quarters, they would find fresh linens folded on their bed. As they lifted the bed sheet or towel a small sachet of dried lavender buds would fall out, and the delicate fragrance would permeate their linens as they crawled into bed for the night.

The idea inspired me. My bed linens are (as you may have guessed) lavender ( in color) that I’ve paired with grays and taupes in my master bedroom. After each change of linens on my bed, I press (yes I starch and iron my pillow cases and flat sheets with – lavender scented starch when I can find it) and then fold the pieces to store away for the next change. As a result of the idea from my novels, I now slip sachets of dried lavender between each pillow case and folded sheet. Adding a couple of drops of lavender essential oil to the sachet brings the scent of the buds back to life after each change cycle.

Note: While you can purchase sachets already made (see link below the picture above), you can also purchase lavender buds online and small organza bags to fill and tie.

Customer Bath Tray from https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=shabby%20chic%20online%20sales%20in%20ga
Lavender bath bomb, bath oil, epsom salts and bubble bath.

Of all the lavender I surround myself with, bath time contains some of my favorites. Bath oils, bath bombs, bath salts, bubble bath and body wash all filled with the soothing fragrance. Lavender scented candles flicker around the room to also help calm a stressful day away.

Italian Bubble Bath and Sage Smudge Stick with Lavender

Hand wash, lotions and occasionally I may even dust a little lavender scented powder around my neck.

English lavender powder by Taylor of London, Italian lavender hand soap
and Laduree scented candle from France.

Lavender scented air freshener and linen sprays are a great way to scent the bedroom and linens just before lying in bed to read a good book. The fragrance is known for its calming and relaxing properties to help one fall into a deep sleep.

A couple of years ago a friend gave me a perfume roller bottle filled with lavender essential oil that she suggested I put on my temples, wrists and upper chest that also helps to calm and soothe the senses for a sound sleepful night. (Note: I do not have skin allergies so of course those with sensitive skin conditions should use caution before putting essential oil on the skin.) The link below is an example of bottles that I ordered and filled with essential oil.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B013SJWE2G/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o00_s01?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Linen spray and bottle with roller (see link provided above)
filled with lavender essential oil purchased at Homegoods.

When life is filled with stressful events, lavender has provided me the comforts to the relax and the benefits of self care. Over the years I’ve discovered more and more ways to enjoy the scent of lavender and hope to discover more. If you love the scent of lavender, hopefully you have discovered some new ways to enjoy it with the ideas I’ve shared. Be sure to share your own finds with me!

FALL, SIMPLY ELEVATED

Perfectly “Peared” (Simply Elevated)

Image result for pear season

In this edition of Simply Elevated I wanted to share a few delicious ways to perfectly pair and celebrate the pear….

Available from August through October, more than 95% of pears are grown in the U.S. come from western states like California, Washington and Oregon. Some of the most popular varieties are the juicy and sweet Bartlett (green), firm and crunchy Bosc (brown) and the sweet Anjou (green or red). Pears have a flavor that ranges from tangy to sweet to spicy, and a texture that can be crisp, buttery, or in between.

The bronze-colored Bosc pear has an elongated neck and sweet,
juicy flavor with hints of fall spices like cinnamon
and nutmeg and is my favorite for desserts.

As the pear season in the U.S. approaches here’s a few ways they can be used to create easy, warm and comforting, but very light desserts and cordial sips to share with family and friends.

The perfect pairing – French pear liqueur.

Just a few months prior to the original COVID shutdown, I went on an amazing trip to Europe in the Fall of 2019 with two friends and while in the Alsace region of France, we visited a shop in the charming medieval town of Eguisheim where we were offered a tasting of a delicious pear liqueur. I purchased a small bottle of the golden elixir shaped like an elegant pear. The pretty bottle remained on my cocktail cart for an entire year before I cracked the seal and decided it was time to share it with friends.

For several months, social distancing requirements put a stop to my large wine and book club gatherings, but we had learned to quarantine and practice safety measures that allowed me to feel comfortable enough to host a few small luncheons with groups of three or four friends. By September, I decided to invite my travel buddies to get together for a small afternoon gathering and reminisce about our time together in Europe just a year prior – especially during a time when travel was currently off limits, with no idea of when we would be able to travel again in the future.

I prepared a Swiss fondue and charcuterie boards similar to those we enjoyed in Mürren, We drank Crémant, the light effervescent wine we were introduced to in the same little French town, and then finished with mu French pear liqueur. As we slowly sipped the liqueur one friend said, “Why didn’t I buy some of this?” (I must note that she brought back the most amazing black truffle raclette cheese that I’ll never forget).

A few other luncheons followed this one, and each ended with a pear dessert and small sip of my pear cordial. As sips of the liqueur were taken, at each serving everyone was surprised at its complexity. I encouraged each person to focus on the experience as it made its way from the tip to the back of the tongue and then down the throat. It was fun to watch their surprised expressions. It’s warm and slightly fiery with a bouquet and flavors of complex vanilla and caramelised pears leaving a powerful shared memory to end each gathering.

Below are a few of the desserts I paired with the liqueur.

Poire Williams & apple cider poached pears.

Pears poached in apple cider and Poire Williams pear brandy, paired perfectly with small crystal liqueur glassfuls of my French Golden 8 elixir and the golden sauce poured over the tender pears.

https://www.marthastewart.com/341355/poached-pears

Poire Williams Pear Brandy used in making the desserts, does not taste anything like the liqueurs. It has a very strong alcohol essence and has none of the sweet smooth sweetness of the liqueur.
Pear anise clafoutis.

As Autumn arrived, this light custard like pancake spiked with Poire Williams (pear brandy) and infused with the zest of a lime, grated star anise and filled with half of a delicately sliced pear was yet another perfect pairing.

https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/clafoutis-aux-poires-3240468

Caramel eggnog panna cotta.

As the holidays drew near I created a wintery panna cotta inspired by a cocktail I found and clipped from a magazine in 2010 served at The Little Nell in Aspen, Colorado (image below) called the Snow White. Once again the pleasing experience of tasting the liqueur and enjoying how well it went with the panna cotta was undeniable. For my version of Ina Garten’s panna cotta in the link below, I created these Caramel Eggnog panna cottas. I used eggnog in place of heavy cream and the pear liqueur in place of the rum. I put the caramel layer in the center and created a snowflake with a stencil and sprinkling of Chinese five spice.

https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/vanilla-rum-panna-cotta-with-salted-caramel-5190866

My little glass pear bottle was near empty when I invited a friend for the next luncheon. For this meeting I recreated a favorite pear clafoutis that I had seen on Barefoot Contessa when Ina Garten did several episodes in Paris and met with Chef Daniel Rose. His unexpected additions of lime and grated anise make this the best clafoutis I’ve ever eaten.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

As I poured the last two small glasses of the liqueur, I expressed my disappointment that my lovely liqueur that my friends so enjoyed was now gone. I had searched for another bottle online and was excited to find it, but when I tried to order a bottle, I continued to get messages that the bottle could not be shipped to at least the Southern States that I tried to have the bottle shipped to.

“I have a friend whose daughter lives in Provence,” my friend said. “Let me see if maybe she can buy and ship it to us.” I was thrilled, and several weeks later the package arrived with a 750 mil pear shaped bottle of our beloved liqueur. So on to the next celebration!

French King Cake. Puffed pastry filled with almond paste and one cherry
(instead of a plastic baby), to celebrate a friend’s birthday.

A nearby bakery makes traditional French King Cakes during the Mardi Gras season. It’s created with freshly made puffed pastry filled with almond paste and sprinkled with sugar. For the past few years since the bakery opened I’ve wanted to purchase one, but learned it has to be ordered in advance, due to the limited amount made each day. I was in the area one weekend in January and noticed a larger number of cars parked outside than usual and watched as patrons exited with their boxed King Cakes. I decided to stop and placed an order for the following weekend, planning to share it with my neighbor friends. When I sent a message to let my friend know that we would have a cake to try the next weekend, she told me it was going to be her husband’s birthday. Good timing, I thought, we will celebrate his birthday with this special King Cake.

The following weekend I placed the cake on my table and pushed a few candles into its golden crispy crust. I opened my new bottle of pear liqueur and filled three small crystal etched liqueur glasses. Together we had a small birthday celebration with the cake and liqueur that they are both big fans of. The liqueur once again was a perfect pairing.

How do you oneup a lovely pear shaped decanter? I found this beautiful bottle with a blown glass (or verre souffle’) pear inside of a bottom, from France at a local antique shop.

As I strolled through a local liquor and wine store, this one lone bottle of French pear liqueur (a different brand) caught my eye. The fact that all but the one bottle was gone made me hopeful that it will be as good as the Golden 8. The bottle isn’t as pretty, but I’ve got that covered with my lovely verre souffle’ pear bottle for serving.

The pear season in the US is only a few weeks away, with another season of Fall just on the other side of it. If you’re looking for a light and flavorful dessert for a weekend dinner with family and friends or hosting an afternoon luncheon, consider celebrating with pears and a little sip of pear liqueur. Enchante’.

WINE CLUB

Syrah vs. Shiraz (The Battle)- A Return to Wine Club

The “Decades” Wine Club is back in session!

At the start of 2020, I originally put together a plan for my first wine party of the year -expecting it to take place on a cold winter’s night on February 29th – for a Leap year celebration. For the first time in five years, three couples had conflicts with the date and I decided to reschedule the evening. The first available weekend that could work with the majority was April 25th.

There was no way back then, that anyone could have predicted that one morning we would wake up and learn of a dangerous and sometimes deadly pandemic that gradually spread from country to country making its way through our world and would significantly change life as we previously knew it. The CDC recommended that the only way to suppress the spread of this virus was to adhere to government mandates or social distancing that required everyone for the most part remain home. So this party plan had to be set aside for a little more than a year.

As vaccinations became available and administered, over a period of several months, the mandates lifted and slowly we’re making our way back to a new form of normalcy with new appreciation for gathering with family and friends.

Our group of seven for this gathering was a little smaller than usual with some having travel plans causing three of our usual couples to be absent, but the evening was in no way short on the usual good conversation, good wine and delicious food. All vaccinated and with a little more elbow room at the table than usual, here’s how our Shiraz versus Syrah plan came together.

Above is an example of the emailed invitation, created as a Word document, with assigned wines of half Shiraz and half Syrah.

On to the theme…. the research and putting a plan together

Shiraz versus Syrah.  My research informed me that Shiraz and Syrah, are both wines made from the same grape. In Australia the grape is called Shiraz , and in France, the grape is called Syrah. While both Shiraz and Syrah are developed from the same grape, their differences are described below and I decided to use this information as a guide to create an exercise for my group that would test their abilities to identify which wine is a Syrah and which is a Shiraz. As the labels of each bottle selected were sent to me, I searched for the information on each to gather a collection of the described flavors and aromas.

https://mcwilliams.com.au/shiraz-v-syrah/ source of information below:

The Differences:

Syrah Flavours: The (slightly)leaner than the Australian style, yet more complex (spice, cherry, tar, smoke, cassis, plum, etc), earthy, lively (more acidity),softer tannins, and typically capable of short to long term bottle ageing.

Shiraz Flavours: Shiraz wines that are full bodied and encouraged to produce rich, ripe, and intense fruit flavours (plum, blackberry, cherry, etc), as well as hints of black spice. They can also have a higher alcohol content due to longer ripening on the vine before picking. These fruit driven wines are usually made in an easy drinking style and are good everyday wines but are able to age for many years.

The typical old-world Syrah is lighter and leaner than the intense Shiraz wines of Australia, which tend to be richer intensity, fruit forward and more full-bodied with tannin. The difference between the Canberra Syrah and Hilltops Shiraz exhibits this difference very clearly.

The Table Setting

My gal pals and I etched the wine glasses with numbers in late 2019 and this will be the first time we will be using them. I’m kind of excited about it! The table centerpiece is meant to add a little color and sparkle, but created low so that my guests can interact with a clear view of each other.

The Friday evening and day of the party (Saturday) are both extremely busy for me (the host), so setting the table a week in advance frees me of this task the weekend of the event. Faux olive vines, glass votive candles and battery twinkle lights provide a safe, but elegant ambiance to the table. Glasses evenly lined up, in numerical order, wiped free of fingerprints and then turned upside down until the day of the party is a way to set the table in advance and keep the glasses free of any dust or those pesky summer insects that can slip into an open door from time to time.

Scorecards that give hints of what differences might appear between the wines – to help my guests identify which is which.

At each place setting, scorecards with information about each wine (shiraz /syrah), a printed description of each guests’ wine and a pen are ready for a planned activity.

I ask everyone to send a picture of their wine label at least a week before the scheduled party, 1) to ensure no duplicates and 2) for time to research information and pairings for each wine. With the wine notes of bottles in hand, for this party I gathered examples of the flavors and aromas in the descriptions and made “wine notes” samplers. Portions could be set up early and then covered with plastic wrap, while fresh items like fruits or fresh herbs are added the day of the party.

The “wine note” plates were provided to assist in our activity. Each guest was asked to attempt to identify their bottle of wine and in addition to labeling which glass of wine they think is a Shiraz and which is a Shiraz. Blindfolds (used at a past meeting) proved to awaken the nose and palates when eliminating the sense of sight – were available, but not required.

https://www.afoodieworld.com/tersina/2018-06-07-rewriting-wine-101-syrah-or-shiraz-pinot-grigio-or-pinot-gris This website provides good information about the differences between syrah and shiraz and I clipped some info for the scorecard to help with efforts to identify the version of each wine tasted.

The Aperitif

As my guests arrive, everyone falls into a natural choreographed routine of handing off their wine bottles to me, placing their trays of food on the table and then visiting with the other guests. As I work to uncork the bottles, and then bag and number each (with the help of a couple of volunteers) I always prepare a tray of small glasses of some kind of aperitif for everyone to sip while I’m getting the bottles poured and the final touches are made to the table. For this meeting’s aperitif, I found Byrrh – served over ice with a splash of club soda and slice of orange peel. I prefer an aperitif that is wine based, so as not to disturb the palate before our actual wine tasting. There were lots of “ooo’s” and “ahs” coming from the living room as my guests began to sip and visit after such a long separation. I think it’s safe to say it was well received. I truly enjoy discovering and sharing new wine experiences of all kinds with my group.

Pronounced “beer,” this red wine–based aperitif is loaded with warming spices and relies on quinine for lightly bitter undertones. Think of it as a slightly spicier sweet vermouth and use it as such in a Negroni, or drink it straight with a large cube of ice.

The cold slightly sweet Byrrh with a touch of citrus peel
was lovely for the hot summer evening.

Byrrh is an aperitif amaro first produced in 1886 by Simon Violet and his brother Pallade. By 1935, Byrrh was the most sold aperitif in France, with sales of 35 million liters. In the late 1960’s, regulatory changes led to a shift in production towards Vin Doux Naturel, a type of fortified dessert wine, and away from aperitif drinks like Byrrh. This led to the family selling the label to Pernod-Ricard in 1977.

Byrrh is made from partially fermented Grenache and Carignane grapes that have a bit of alcohol added to them (called mistelle) that then has dry red wine added to it before being flavored with cinchona bark and other herbs and spices. The resulting aromatized wine is then aged in large, neutral oak barrels for three years before bottling. Byrrh is 34 proof. 

In 1999, Pernod-Ricard introduced Byrrh Rare Assemblage, which is aged for ten years in small oak barrels. 

Preparing the blind tasting

Years ago I purchased these metal disks and wrote numbers on each with a white felt tip pen. The bottles are opened and slipped into slender brown grocer wine bags, cut to size, but not until the bottles are received since they can be shaped differently and some are taller than others. Finally each receives a number wrapped with twine before being poured into the glasses with the same number at each place setting.

The Activity: Can you identify which wine is yours?

Each guest received a printed description of the aromas and flavors of the wine they brought, a score card and information to reference about the differences between Shiraz and Syrah. Once all of the wine is poured, we say a blessing together and then everyone is seated to start the evening’s activity.

Before any food is brought to the table, everyone sips each of the wines and takes notes – the activity has begun. For this tasting the response was unusual. None of the wines were getting very good responses, and it was funny to hear how a few claimed the same numbered glass was “their wine”. After about 15 minutes of sampling and noting, I delivered the small cheese course to the table along with spicy barbeque peanuts.

The Cheese Course…

Most of the cheese pairing recommendations I found for these wines were strong blue cheeses. I found a gouda black truffle cheese that several wine experts at our stores agreed would pair well with these wines (and boy did they!)A couple of chunks of blue cheese, blackberries and mission figs (the black fruits mentioned frequently in the wine notes) and freshly made blue cheese pecan crackers that are always a hit and come out perfectly every time were added to complete the course.

Tip: Pecan blue cheese crackers = after slicing each I used a flour dusted cookie stamp to create a little honeycomb surface. Note: Once the dough is mixed it requires 24 hours refrigeration – so plan ahead!

https://www.marthastewart.com/1072363/blue-cheese-pecan-icebox-crackers

The Wines

While the winning wine of the night wasn’t a unanimous vote,
the 2016 Boom Boom Syrah won with 3votes, 2018 Nobels Rives By Cave de Tain Syrah came in 2nd with 2 votes, 2019 Jip Jip Rocks Shiraz and 2016 Crozees Hermitage Les Jalets(Paul Jaboulet Aine) Syrah each received one vote. So the Syrahs came out in front.

The Menu

As hostess, I provide the cheese and dessert courses. Usually I help my group with some ideas for small bites based on my research about the wines we are featuring and their pairing recommendations. When there are enough participants we can usually create a balanced meal, or when I see that we are short of something I will make the addition myself. The group for this meeting was a little smaller, so I added a salad with blackberries that is fresh, light and had the blackberry notes of the wines. Sprinkled with my signature white balsamic vinegar, olive oil and for this salad a little agave. Light with a touch of sweetness.

The recommendations for these wines was a bit challenging. Everything I read suggested grilled, barbecue and spicy pairings. While the wines did not receive a lot of praise when sipping, once the food was added, the wines came to life and completely changed. It was our opinion that these wines were best when paired with the right food – and we had the right food. Some of wines brought out the spiciness of the food and the entire experience was very interesting. I seem to always forget to take a picture of all of the food, but you can see from the table below, not much was left behind. It was all delicious!

The Dessert Course…..

As I searched for information about Shiraz and Syrah wines, a past post kept coming up of an event where a variety of Lindt chocolate bars were paired with different wines. Among those pairings was this J. Lohr 2017 Syrah, paired with a dark chocolate chili bar.

I decided I wanted the dessert course to include this wine and chocolate pairing two ways. First in the original method of small sips of the wine paired with a square of the chocolate. Secondly I wanted both transformed into an actual dessert that still maintained their original flavors. I found a recipe for these fudgy, spicy dark chocolate cookies (filled with chunks of the dark chocolate chili bars) and a sorbet made with the rest of the bottle of wine.

The sorbet is very simple – and both pairings only required one bottle of the wine (8 servings). Make at least one day ahead.

TO MAKE THE SORBET: In a medium saucepan combine 1/2 cup of sugar and 6 ounces of water. Heat until the sugar is dissolved. Turn off the heat and add 10 ounces of the bottle of wine (the rest will be used for the small sipping glasses.) Stir the three ingredients together and then let it cool. Place in an ice cream maker and freeze to manufacturer’s instructions. I turned mine for about 30 minutes. It will not be solid, just icy (you can see the video of my instagram post). Pour all of the frozen wine into a loaf pan or other container and freeze overnight.

The spicy dark chocolate cookies were surprisingly good and even better with the wine. https://www.twopeasandtheirpod.com/dark-chocolate-chili-cookies/

Over the five years (now starting our sixth) that our club has been gathering, we have enjoyed discovering new wines sometimes with playful themes like a murder mystery, a derby themed party, a hauntingly elegant evening, a rio de janeiro carnival – as well as a variety of wonderful small bites and desserts. Tonight was a return to Wine Club with a surprisingly “spicy twist” that peppered our appetites and curiosity of what we have yet to discover.

MOTHERS TEA, SMALL TALK, TRADITIONS & TEA

A Marigold Memory….of Mother

An event planner, whether for a party of 6 or 600 has to plan ahead, and in my case any chance of making things in advance is an opportunity to save time later. My Annual Mother’s Tea, held the first Sunday of May, is a tradition formed after my mother passed away and I was facing Mother’s Day without her. I invited a small group of friends who also lost their mothers to join together for an afternoon tea and share memories of them and from there a tradition was formed. As a way to make each year a little different, I wrote everyone’s name on a piece of paper and placed all of the names in a teapot. At the end of each tea (themed in honor of a mother) we pull a new name and honor that person’s mother the following year attempting to include memories, favorite flowers, special interests and/or careers including a menu filled with flavors that each mother would have loved.

At our most recent tea, my friend Kelly’s name was selected and in 2022 we will be honoring her mother Jane. Each year I’ve noted shared memories for future reference, and when I saw Kelly’s name I immediately thought of a memory she shared at one of our first gatherings about her mother saving marigold seeds.

Kelly shared with all of us that just a couple of weeks prior, she was planting marigolds in her vegetable garden, and a memory formed of her mother collecting the seeds from marigolds in her own garden. She confessed that as a child she didn’t understand why her Mom was planting the marigolds or collecting the seeds, but now here she was planting her own marigolds to protect her vegetable garden from insects and attract others that encourage pollination and healthy growth.

As she told the story, it reminded me of my own mother planting marigolds. She didn’t have a vegetable garden, but it seemed to be one of the few flowers that could stand the Southern California sun years ago. It also gave this party planner a great idea for a small memory favor to create for everyone at the table.

By mid-June, my own marigolds were beginning to struggle in the heat. As I pulled away the withered flowers from their plants, I realized this was an opportunity to dry the seeds and create the seed packets for next May’s tea that I had been thinking of.

I searched online for seed envelopes, but they were sold in large quantities when I wanted less than a dozen, and I wanted each to be pretty and femininely decorated to fit into my tea decor. So I then searched for free seed envelope templates. As I scrolled through the options I found this beautiful template by Glenda’s World. https://glenda-jsworld.blogspot.com/2013/09/seed-envelope-packets.html

I printed a sample and found that the size was a bit smaller than I wanted, so I then took a snipit of the image and pasted it to a blank page. This enabled me to expand the size to whatever I wanted. I printed the resized image. Once satisfied with the size, I decided I wanted the front to have a marigold rather than the date, etc. provided on the original. So I searched for free images of marigolds. I’m no graphic designer, but for years I’ve made what I want by printing, cutting and taping with matt scotch tape and then making a photocopy of the final image.

I cut out the center of the framed section on the template and then sized and fitted the marigold to fit inside. I then created and printed a bordered “Marigold Seeds” band, to cut and tape over the marigold image.

I found a pack of pearlized paper that I didn’t remember I had, and thought it would make a prettier envelop. After taping all of the edges down (above is before the taping), I smoothed it down carefully with a bone folder (a craft tool used for making crisp folds). I laid the prepared version above on my printer face down and then laid a white sheet of printer paper on top, finally printing a color copy on to the pearlized paper. The marigolds changed to a rose gold color and the green font looks gray (that I can’t explain), but all together it created a delicate image that was perfect! In fact as I was researching marigolds I found that there is a French variety of strawberry blonde marigolds that the image below looks very much like.

The printer ink has to be allowed at least 5 minutes to dry or the image can smudge. Once dried, I used the bone folder to carefully fold all of the edges of the template for a professional look. I originally tried using a little Elmer’s glue to adhere the back and bottom flaps, but you can see from the image above, it caused some puckering. So I used a glue stick instead. Due to the texture of the paper, I had to weigh the glued envelop down with a plate for about 5 to 10 minutes to allow the glue some time to dry and hold the flaps together.

When I first started experimenting with the original template, I printed several thinking I would glue the image of the marigold over the fonted information. But after some thought, I decided that wouldn’t look as professionally made. Rather than wasting the first set of templates, I formed each into envelopes and placed one behind each of the marigold seed filled envelopes that would allow my guests to use for their own seed collecting.

I then added a small pre-glued pearl at the bottom of each envelope and tied the two envelopes together with some sheer white ribbon I had in my supply of all occasion ribbon.

I

Each envelop was filled with marigold seeds and then sealed with small gold heart stickers I had in my stationary drawer. In fact, everything used to make the seed packets were in my craft or stationary stash. So they didn’t cost me a penny!

My friend Kelly’s memory of her mother, has been carefully created into a small gift from the heart that I hope she can be proud of at next year’s Annual Tea, where we will honor her mother in other ways yet to be discovered.

SIMPLY ELEVATED

(Simply Elevated) Quick Morning Breakfast Sandwich

While I love baking and cooking from scratch, there are days when I’m just too pressed for time to perform all of the extra steps to produce a scratch recipe. I wanted to prepare breakfast biscuit sandwiches one morning for my handy man that was coming to fix a few things around the house, but again was short on time. I could have bought frozen pre-made biscuits or the pop open can version that are both tasty and successful, but I decided to challenge myself to elevate a simple $1.00 box of biscuit mix.

To speed up the morning process, I opened the box of mix and poured it into a medium bowl. I ground a teaspoon of fresh black pepper and chopped 2 teaspoons of fresh rosemary from my garden and added it to the bowl with the mix. I whisked everything together to get the lumps out of the mix and covered with plastic wrap until morning.

I made Coq Au Vin the evening before and had leftover chopped fried crispy bacon that I decided would add some additional flavor to the dough. I was curious to see how things would turn out with my “wing it” plan in the morning and pushed my mind for a plan B in case this didn’t work out, but decided to trust my instincts.

Bacon, Herb and Black Pepper Ham Biscuits

  • 1 box of Jiffy Buttermilk Biscuit Mix
  • 1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped rosemary (or sage)
  • pinch teaspoon of kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons chopped crispy cooked bacon
  • 1 tablespoon flour (and more for dusting counter and rolling pin)
  • 4 tablespoons butter (melted)
  • Thinly sliced ham or Canadian bacon
  • Fig preserves

Preheat oven 450 degrees.

Pour the contents of the biscuit mix into a medium bowl. Add chopped herbs, black pepper and salt. (I prepared to this stage the night before and covered the bowl with plastic wrap until morning). Cook chopped bacon until crispy, drain on paper towels, cool, cover and set aside.

In the morning I pre-heated the oven, added the water to the mix with herbs, pepper and salt and then stirred in the bacon until the dry mix was moistened.

Sprinkle the surface of the counter with some flour and scrape the biscuit mixture on top of the floured surface. Place a small amount of flour in hand and rub on to the entire surface of the rolling pin. Pat the dough down slightly and dust the top of the mix with flour. (It’s very wet, so a little flour is needed to prevent sticking.) Roll out the dough and using a biscuit cutter dipped in flour cut out 4 biscuits. The scrapes can be pulled together, patted down again and cut to make a fifth biscuit.

(Optional: I brushed the tops with a little water (very little) and sprinkled with flaky salt.)

Per the box instructions bake 8 to 10 minutes. These biscuits do not rise very much and do not get golden in color, but after taking them out of the oven I brushed the tops with some melted butter that gave them a little needed moisture and color. If attempted again I may try brushing the tops with a little milk or cream (like scones call for) to add a little color to their tops. After they have cooled slightly, gently slice all in 1/2 with a serrated knife and then brush melted butter inside each half. (They need to be mostly cooled before trying to slice or they will crumble apart).

(Note: I baked a small scrap of the dough with the biscuits for test tasting – always a good idea to make sure something “made up” tastes good. It passed the test so on we go to the sandwich filling). I placed slices of ham in a non-stick skillet and fried until lightly browned. Spread fig (or another flavor) preserve on the insides of both halves of the biscuit. Stack the fried ham on the bottom half and top with the other.

To add a quick side of freshness, I sliced a few large strawberries, then mixed in a bowl with blackberries and blueberries, some agave, a pinch of salt and a couple of teaspoons of chiffonade mint leaves. Fresh sweet basil or Thai basil, would also be a tasty alternative to mint for an herbaceous lift to the fruit.

While they are not the buttery flakey version better achieved from scratch, for $1.00, free herbs from my garden, a little fried bacon, preserves and sliced ham from the fridge, my guest had absolutely no problem devouring two and boxing up another two for rewarming for the next day’s morning breakfast. When you’re short on time, grab a box of something from the grocery store shelf for a thrifty and tasty way to a quick fix.

Note: There are a variety of quick biscuit mixes to experiment with. If attempted again I would experiment with a different brand to see if I could achieve a fluffier biscuit with more of a rise.

GATHERINGS, SIMPLY ELEVATED, SUMMER

Say Ole’ on Memorial Day With a Corny Small Bite

My Margarita on the Rocks – Floral Arrangement

It’s May and that means it’s time for my neighbor’s Annual Memorial Day Weekend Fajita party. A tradition started years ago in a different home and State, they carried on each year (with a skip of a year now and then for circumstances like COVID) inviting friends and some of their neighbors over for a late afternoon of margaritas, sangria, and fajitas. As hosts they supply the margaritas and fajitas, and those who attend make contributions to the party of appetizers, sides and dessert.

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

Over the years I’ve tried to bring something that doesn’t conflict with the hosts’ menu, but hopefully will compliment it. I’m always searching for ideas and inspiration for everything I do and prefer to create something different and a little unexpected. I’ve even created a designated Pinterest board for future inspiration or reference since ideas present themselves at different times of the year.

In the past I’ve contributed with dessert items like margarita cup cakes https://www.browneyedbaker.com/margarita-cupcakes-cinco-de-mayo/ , and margarita ice cream sandwiches http://myrecipes.com/recipe/margarita-ice-cream-sandwiches(opens in a new tab) In more recent years, I moved on to corn….

Fajita time!

A few years ago, Mexican Street Corn became all the rage and my childhood born love for corn made me want to share this yummy treat with everyone.

Canned corn was a common side at nearly every dinner when I was growing up. I used to tease that my Mom made us all into starchy vegetable junkies. Corn was served next to rice, mashed potatoes and pasta, breaking all of the rules I had learned about creating a nutrient rich, balanced meal in home economics. One of the first times I invited my parents over for dinner as an adult, I set the table nicely and prepared a lovely well balanced and colorful meal of roast beef, mashed potatoes and bright green haricots verts with toasted almonds to give that fresh pop of green I was taught should be on every plate. My Mom would always “fix” as she called it, my Dad’s plate, with a serving of each item. When she set the plate on the table in front of him, he looked up at her and said, “Where’s the corn?” That’s how bad the corn situation was in my family. A couple of days later Mom called and said, “Your Dad just told me he really liked those green beans you made. How do you cook them?”

Photo by mali maeder on Pexels.com

In her later years when we had grown out of our picky eating phases (which by the way was nothing compared to the chicken nugget, french fry obsessions of young children these days) Mom cooked what southerners call “smothered” corn that we all loved and that I try to recreate for my brother whenever I’m cooking family dinners. “Smothered” usually means cooked with chopped vegetables, like onion, red or green bell pepper and celery until the flavors blend into a delicious mouthwatering treat. It was hard to imagine that corn as we knew it (from the can with a little butter or margarine back in those days) could be made to taste so good.

The month of May is the perfect month for corn. Bins at the grocer and farm stands are filled with the just harvested fresh green husked cobs of yellow, white and multicolored sweet corn. Another great tip is that usually the week of Memorial Day, the cobs go on sale for 25 cents each, making it a thrifty item to serve at a party.

Mexican Street corn is a fun way to elevate the corn on the cob and is simple and delicious.

What you’ll need: (Remember that I’m all about using what you have)

  • Small to medium husked corn on the cob (the number depends on how many you are serving)
  • Olive or canola oil and brush
  • Crema Mexicana (Mexican sour cream); or sour cream or Mayonnaise (I used an olive oil based, but any kind will do – it’s mostly a sticking agent)
  • Chili powder, chili chipotle power, or lime chili powder
  • Limes (zest and juice will be used) 1 small per cob.
  • crumbled, cojita or queso cheese or freshly grated parmesan
  • fresh cilantro chopped

As a cooking show junkie, I’ve picked up a few really helpful tricks that come in handy (if I remember them). One trick is to create a natural organic handle, from the bundle of husk pulled away from the cob to hold the corn when eating. The other is an easy and fast way to remove the silky strands.

Cut the top end of the cob off. Then place the husked cob into the microwave for one minute. Carefully remove (may be hot)from the microwave. Gently pull a few of the longer outer pieces of husks (remove)to be used for wrapping around the husk bundle. Form the husk bundle by gently peeling back the green husks without disconnecting from the cob. The silk threads will come together and softly pull away to discard. Gently gather the husk bundle and pull husks away from the end of the corn cob. Take a piece of the reserved husk fold lengthwise into a band. Tie and knot the piece of husk around the bundle. This forms a natural handle for holding the cob to eat after grilling and seasoning with the street corn ingredients.

Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

On to the grilling. Brush each cob with olive or canola oil. A wonderful smoky charred flavor is best created on an outdoor grill, but the same charring can be made indoors on a grill pan. The husks will slightly begin to dry from the heat of the grill so slightly spraying with a water mist and keeping off the fire is best. If the husks slightly whither, just push the tied band up to hold the bundle together.

Brush on a mixture of mayo and sour cream (whatever variation you’re using from the list), sprinkle with chili powder, zest a fresh lime (the green part only) and then squeeze lime juice over the toppings. Sprinkle with grated cheese. Garnish with freshly chopped cilantro.

The Mexican Street Corn was a hit the first time I made it. So much so that our hosts said they would make it the following year. Oddly the year that followed, for some reason the harvest was poor; the corn was dry and not tasty at all. When no corn was served, some of the regulars in attendance approached me asking “Where’s the corn? I was looking forward to the corn!”

This year I’m making a different version of Mexican Street corn, in form of a bite sized fritter or cake like the image below. Same ingredients with a little flour for binding before forming into cakes and gently frying until golden brown.

https://www.thismomsmenu.com/street-corn-fritters/

Looking for a popular full flavored side or small bite for your weekend get together? These in season fresh corn ideas are a real winner!

Platter decorated with colorful flowers for a Mexican touch.
(This is what the fritters look like when they stay together.)
If some of the fritters don’t hold together, just fill a bowl. It’s still a delicious side!
MOTHERS TEA, SIMPLY ELEVATED, SPRING, SUMMER, TRADITIONS & TEA

Lemon Blueberry Whip (Simply Elevated)

When you’ve got lemons, make….

Photo by Ryan Baker on Pexels.com

Here’s a easy dessert for those hot days of summer…..

Lemon Blueberry Whip

  • 1 – 8 oz bar of light cream cheese (room temperature)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup of heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar
  • the zest of one large lemon (or two small)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup small chopped candied lemon (I used about 4 slices of a pack from Trader Joe’s)
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon agave (or 1 teaspoon sugar)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon grape seed (or canola oil)

Preheat oven 400 degrees.

Yields 6 servings.

Reserve six fresh blueberries for garnish. Toss remaining blueberries with agave, salt and grape seed oil and place in a single layer on a small baking sheet with sides. Roast for 15 minutes. Blueberries will become dark, shrink some and create juices on the tray. Remove and cool completely to room temperature.

Place room temperature cream cheese and 1/2 cup sugar in a blender and blend until loosened and creamy (about a minute). Add lemon zest and juice and pulse a few times to combine. Stop, scrape the sides. Add the candied lemon peel. Pulse about 4 times.

In another bowl using a hand mixer whip one cup of whipping cream until reached to soft peaks, add one tablespoon sugar and whip to stiff peaks. Gently fold in about 1/4th of the lemon cream cheese until combined and continue by adding another 1/4th of the lemon cream cheese at a time until all folded together with the whipped cream.

Spoon the completely cooled roasted blueberries in equal portions into the bottom of each serving dish (small ramekins – I used pot a creme pots). Top with the lemon cream and smooth top with an offset spatula or backside of a spoon. Top with a fresh blueberry and lemon zest (optional edible flowers – in the photo are French lilac and chamomile). Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.

Served at my annual Mothers Tea – May 2021.
MOTHERS TEA, TRADITIONS & TEA

Nurse Themed Mothers Tea

I woke up this morning to the rumbling of thunder that I could hear in the distance. Within minutes the rain was thumping on the roof until the wind kicked in and sent it thrashing against the windows. I felt guilty asking the Lord to clear the skies so my long planned afternoon tea could go on as scheduled, knowing there were so many more important things happening in the world that needed His attention. Instead I simply chanted in my head “I trust You and know everything will work out fine.” I started with cleaning up the house, the usual vacuum, mopping, and a little dusting before settling into the kitchen to begin prep for the final menu items of today’s Annual Remembering Mothers Tea.

Lydia created a doll sized version of her mother’s nursing uniform for the centerpiece, along with a silk gladiola sample of the corsages she made.
I made a miniature corsage to pin to the cape.

The table was set and ready for the day. Several weeks ago when I asked what flower Lydia associated with memories of her mother, she immediately responded “gladiolas” and she went on to explained how her Mother used to make corsages with them. I searched and inquired everywhere for gladiolas, but was told that they were not yet in season. Giving up on the possibility of finding fresh gladiola’s for the tea, I purchased a couple silk stems at the local craft store and passed them to Lydia so she could create at least one corsage for the table to share with our friends. Another flower that Lydia remembered were irises. Lydia has irises growing in her yard, so our back up plan was to decorate the table with irises. I purchased a bouquet of purple blue irises that we mixed with yellow and a rusty shade from Lydia’s yard.

Yesterday I decided to cross the lake and head to Trader Joe’s where I always seem to find exactly what I’m looking for. I was so excited to find French lilacs and selected a couple of bouquets. As I turned to place the flowers in my basket, on the opposite side I came face to face with an entire section of gladiolas! They were all tightly closed, so I searched for a bouquet that had a few flowers beginning to open, thrilled to at least have a bouquet that I could place in a vase and gift to Lydia after the tea.

The Sweet Course

These edible flower cookies created by Chef Marcela Valladolid caught my eye a couple of years ago on Instagram, and I knew at some point I would have an event where I could recreate them. When browsing through my inspiration saves, there they were. https://casamarcela.com/las-pinches-galletas-how-baking-cookies-helped-me-reconnect-to-my-inner-creative-d72/

My herb garden was abundant with violas and pansies that I had planted a little over a month ago. Lydia and another neighbor gave me roses and coreopsis. I carefully dried a variety of flowers and petals between paper towels in the microwave and I ordered an inexpensive letter stamping kit on Amazon. With all in place the cookie baking began and I employed Lydia’s help to decorate the cookies with flowers. Six dozen was quite a task, but together we managed to finish them all in a little over 3 hours, but over 2 separate days.

What you’ll need: Alphabet Stamp; dried flowers; cookie dough and sanding sugar. (There are a few different options of alphabet stamps on Amazon in various price points. They are very small and a little tricky to change the letter on the little rail tray, and don’t forget, the letters have to be installed backwards to stamp correctly.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00L17HWZ2/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o01_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Doing this part a day ahead will make the application time easier, but if done the same time as baking the cookies you may be in it for about half a day the first time.The first step is to cut clean, pesticide free, edible flowers with as little stem behind them as possible. Using the glass plate from the microwave, lay each bloom face down over two layers of paper towel. Once the sheet is full, carefully cover with two layers of paper towel and gently press down. Place a microwave safe dish that covers all of the flowers over the top.

Microwave in 30 second intervals for a total of 3 minutes. Let sit for about 5 minutes and remove the entire microwave plate, pressed flowers and press on top (be careful everything may be hot). The paper towels get slightly wet where the flowers were. The flowers aren’t actually dry until the paper comes out dry. Check after the 3 minute 30 second series. Each microwave is different and if not dried enough return and use a couple of additional 30 second turns. Gently remove the entire paper towel stack to a baking sheet and cover with another baking sheet leaving to further dry overnight for best results, but the flowers can still be used if not fully dried. I dried flat leaf parsley for the greenery. Oddly it was also very wet, but did not take as much time as the flowers, so be sure to check after about 2 minutes total in the microwave. Checking the result by pulling up a corner carefully and returning for more time if needed.

Remarkably, the flowers maintain their vibrant color even if their original color slightly changed.

With the flowers ready to go – on to the cookies.

Sugar Cookie with Lemon and Raspberry

Yields about 3 dozen cookies (used a 2 5/8th inch or 68 mm scalloped cutter)

  • 1 cup of room temperature butter (2 sticks)
  • 1 cup of granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I used Mexican Vanilla)
  • the zest of one large lemon (or two small) yellow part only
  • 3 cups of all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons of freeze dried raspberries (crushed with fingers)
  • white sanding sugar

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth and creamy. Add egg, vanilla, lemon zest and crushed freeze dried raspberries and mix until well blended. Scrap down the sides of the bowl and mix again.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. With the mixer on low, slowly add flour mixture to the creamed ingredients. Once all flour mixture has been incorporated, put mixer on high and beat until the dough comes together and away from the sides.

Divide dough in half, form into a flat square and wrap each half into clear plastic wrap. Refrigerate for one hour. (If you refrigerate for long periods of time, the dough will be too firm, but you can let it sit out on the counter for about 10 to 15 minutes until is softens, but is still firm.

Open the plastic wrap and smooth out on the counter. Place the dough in the center. Cut another large piece of plastic wrap and lay on top. Roll out the dough to about 1/4th inch thickness (between the two sheets of plastic). This avoids drying out the dough with adding more flour and rolls out with less mess to clean up and after cutting out the cookies you can easily fold up the scraps with the plastic and re-roll.

Cut with desired cookie cutter and place each cookie on a parchment lined or silicon lined baking sheet. The cookies do not spread, but place about an inch apart. Place entire baking sheet in the freezer for 5 minutes. (I repeated and cut out all of the cookies with the remaining dough filling 3 baking sheets, each with a dozen cookies and placed all of the prepared sheets in the refrigerator or freezer).

Remove one prepared sheet after 5 minutes. Using a small bowl of water and a small paint brush, brush a small area on the cookie where you want to place flowers and arrange as desired, leaving space for word stamping if that is what you are going to do or it can be done with flowers only.

Once all of the cookies on the sheet are decorated with flowers, lightly sprinkle with white sanding sugar. (Important to sprinkle sugar prior to stamping word). If stamping with a name or word, now is the time to stamp. Gently press into the cookie. It actually works best if the cookie is a little more softened which is will be during the time it takes to decorate with flowers.

Return the cookie sheet to the freezer for 5 minutes (put your timer on) and take out the next sheet to decorate. After 5 minutes in the freezer, place decorated cookie tray into the pre-heated oven for 15 minutes. Take out of the oven and let cool for 10 minutes on the tray. Then move to a cooling rack until completely cooled. Repeat with the remaining cookies.

All of our mother’s names.

Originally I was going to make the cookies with only Lydia’s mother’s name, but the more I thought about it, I thought that all of the mom’s should be imprinted on the cookies. I decided to make a dozen dried flower cookies for each of my guests, stamped with their mother’s name. I saved one each to serve with the sweet course, and then stacked 10 cookies into clear bags and selected one to slip into the side of the stack, facing out before tying up with a tulle bow. Each were used around the table as place cards. I just asked everyone to sit where they found their mother’s name on the cookies.

Other items shared in the previous posts to complete the menu are pictured below.

The sweet course trio.

THE SANDWICH COURSE

The Scone Course

Mission Fig & Date Scones

topped with

Candied Orange & Marmalade

The Soup Course

Fresh Corn Coulis topped with shaved asparagus, fresh green peas, pea shoots, shaved fennel and corn kernels tossed in a white balsamic vinaigrette and edible flowers.

The Scone “To Go Boxes”

When I did a test bake a couple of weeks ago, the number of scones were so plentiful that I knew I would have enough to box and send home with the ladies. I purchased these white boxes at Michaels and lined the inside with floral tissue paper. Using mini sealed containers from the Dollar Tree, I filled each with the orange marmalade and candied orange that I garnished the top of those served with and glued some of the leftover dried flowers to the lids.

Me and my Mom on the beach of Bermuda.

As the first of my guests arrived, there was still a slight drizzle falling, but shortly afterwards the sun began to peek from behind the clouds. As we toasted our mothers and shared more memories of them, the skies had cleared and the sun was shining brightly. I was filled with gratitude for our time together and that my friends would return safely home, free of storms.

A Balsamic Fig Cocktail, one of Lydia’s Mom’s favorite flavors. Torani Balsamic Fig syrup and Prosecco.
Until next year – when we will honor Kelly’s Mother!
MOTHERS TEA, TRADITIONS & TEA

The Heart of Planning (The Menu) of My Annual Mothers Tea

My mother was not one to slave over the stove or bake a variety of goods when I was growing up. No homemade biscuits or cakes from scratch existed. In most cases she took the easy and economic route of canned and boxed options for meals and baked goods, convenience items created during her generation. However, later in her life when she retired, she took a cake decorating class and eventually became very adept at decorating cookies. My daughter’s baby and wedding showers had the most feminine, delicately iced antique baby carriage and wedding cake cookies that we all beamed over. I suppose it’s fair to say she had more time and patience to commit to honing these skills and spent hours making each exactly perfect and a work of art.

Sweet Corn Coulis with Spring Vegetables

Beautifully presented tea treats excited her greatly and she couldn’t wait to see what the petite finger sandwiches and pastries would look like whenever we attended a tea service. The pleasures of the tea for both of us began with the anticipation of how pretty the presentation might be and what surprising new items we might find. While I want a pretty presentation at my own tea parties, everything must also taste good.

The Menu

Photo by monicore on Pexels.com

The Spring Soup Course

Each year I’ve started my tea with a small cup of Spring inspired soup. This year I found a recipe in Food & Wine Magazine for a Sweet Corn Coulis created by Commander’s Palace Chef, Meg Bickford. Chef’s version included grilled shrimp that I omitted from mine.

Other substitutions or variations in my version included lime zest and juice (in lieu of lemon juice); white balsamic vinegar (in lieu of champagne vinegar); crème fraîche (in lieu of sour cream) and Greek yogurt (in lieu of buttermilk). Basically use what you have that has similar flavors. The amounts needed are far too little to go out and buy a whole container of buttermilk when you can use yogurt if you have it in the fridge. Lastly I slightly blanched the shaved asparagus ribbons and tips after the peas (that I used frozen in lieu of fresh). Otherwise, I followed the recipe as written. The thinly sliced fresh vegetables gently tossed in a bright vinegar and grape seed oil, and then gently laid upon the sweet corn coulis, provided the perfect green brightness of Spring I was looking for. The link: https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/grilled-gulf-shrimp-with-sweet-corn-coulis

The Finger Sandwiches

  • Heart-beet canapés
  • Cucumber mint finger sandwiches
  • Smoked pimento cheese finger sandwiches (not pictured)
  • Crispy prosciutto egg salad with paprika lace and chive blossom

While I like to have some of the menu items reflect memories of the honored mother, I don’t want it to be overly obvious. I try to consciously make different menu items from year to year, but when there is an expressed favorite, then it should be there for the tradition of the day. Below are goat cheese “heart-beet” canapés as a fun wink to our Nurse Theme.

Heart-beet canapés.

No cooking necessary for this bright and cheerful canapé. All that is needed is a can of sliced beets and small log of blueberry crusted goat cheese (Walmart) and edible flowers. Using two larger slices of beets, place a sliced disk of room temperature goat cheese between the two beets and line them up evenly. Using a small heart shaped biscuit or cookie cutter centered over the top beet cut through the layers and that’s all there is to it! Garnished with a tiny dab of goat cheese on top and an edible flower like these garden violas, this little ruby jewel is ready for serving.

A fan favorite and sandwich that just always has to be part of a tea is the cucumber sandwich. To create a little update of freshness, I chopped fresh mint, added a little white balsamic vinegar and tossed it into thinly sliced ribbons of Persian cucumbers.

Spread crème fraîche and a little mint thinly sliced mint on one side of two pieces of thin sliced bread (like Pepperidge Farm). Lay the thinly sliced cucumber ribbons over the crème fraîche of one slice and then place the second piece of bread, crème fraîche side down, on top. Place more thin slices of cucumber over the top of the sandwich. With a sharp knife, remove the crust from all sides. Now cut sandwich in half to create two rectangular shaped finger sandwiches. Top with a small mint leaf and chamomile (or other edible) flower for garnish.

Mint Cucumber Sandwiches

Smoked Gouda Pimento Cheese Finger Sandwich

Lydia said her Mother loved pimento cheese and had recently discovered a smoke gouda pimento cheese dip (from Sam’s Club) when visiting a friend that she really enjoyed. So I assigned this finger sandwich to her. I do not have a “test” version of her sandwich for this post, but you’ll be able to see it in “the tea day” post.

Smoky Gouda Pimento Cheese

The great thing about egg salad is that anyone can make it. Boil a few eggs, peel, smash into a crumble, add mayo, a little salt and pepper, some paprika and you’ve got egg salad. What I don’t like, is its lack of texture. So I thought I’d punch it up by crisping some prosciutto in the oven and then placing a little sheet this tasty bacon-like flavor on top of the egg salad for a little extra texture and crunch. To garnish I sifted sweet paprika over the lace edge of a paper doily to create a lacy background before I cut two small slits in the bread and wove in the stem of a chive with a blossom on top. Finally a couple of chive ends were added to create a little leaf for the flower.

Crispy Prosciutto Egg Salad with Sweet Paprika Lace and Chive Blossom

The Scone Course

I asked Lydia to think about what her mother’s favorite flavors, fruits, etc. and wanted to incorporate some of those into the into the menu. Only a few items came to mind, which included figs (recalling images of her mother eating Fig Newtons); cherry came to mind, lemon and pimento cheese. An odd combination, but I knew I could find a way to incorporate the flavors into the menu. The pimento cheese will be used in a finger sandwich.

For the scone, I found this fig and pear recipe in Teatime Magazine (the link to the recipe can be found below). I did not use pears in my version, but instead used chopped dates, and topped with orange marmalade and diced candied orange. I decided to a little larger heart cutter for these.

https://www.teatimemagazine.com/pear-fig-scones/

Fig and date scones with orange marmalade and candied orange.

The Sweet or Pastry Course

I haven’t created samples or test versions of all of the sweet course items, but I typically make something fruity, something with chocolate and something pastry. For now I’ve made a small wink to Lydia’s mother’s “cherry” flavor reference with these chocolate liqueur cups, filled with French black cherry preserves and a Griottines (brandied) French cherry on top.

Griottines are cherries macerated in eau de vie or kirsch,
common to Fougerolles (Haute-Saône) in Franche-Comté,
eastern France. They can be eaten alone, or
used in a number of local dishes both savoury and sweet.

Simple and quick, but a tasty small bite of chocolate cherry, each cup is filled with about a teaspoon of black cherry preserves (pump with small cherries) and then topped with one Griottine (brandied cherry) and a tiny edible viola flower.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into the preparations of my Mothers Tea menu items. Just two short weeks away! Be sure to come back to see how the party came together and the rest of our menu. So looking forward to our special day of remembering our Mothers and specifically honoring Lydia’s special Mom this year! Here’s to Mothers and Nurses everywhere!

MOTHERS TEA, TRADITIONS & TEA

The Heart of Planning My Annual Mothers Tea (Nurse Themed)

Heat-beet canapés with blueberry goat cheese and edible flowers.

With fingertips gently placed on the underside of the wrist, we can feel the gentle pulse of our heartbeat, the sound of life pulsing through the veins. Most often a slow easy rhythm, that can easily move to a fast racing beat when excited or exerted. It is this first joyful audio a young mother anxiously longs to hear, during the first ultrasound, that confirms her little embryo is indeed alive. Our heartbeat is a gift of life given to each one of us, by our mother. But one day, for some earlier and others later, the heartbeat that gave us ours stops, and they have gone home to the Lord. It is a void that I didn’t know what to do with, especially when Mother’s Day would come around each year and I no longer had my mother to share the day with.

Mom and I on beach in Bermuda.

I decided about four years ago, to reach out to some of my friends who had also lost their mothers, and suggested an idea of hosting an annual tea the weekend before Mother’s Day, to gather and spend an afternoon sharing memories of our mothers. The idea was well received with appreciation I never expected. And so a tradition was formed.

After the first tea, I wrote each name of the attendees on a piece of paper, folded and placed it inside of a teapot. I suggested that at the end of each tea, we would pull a name from the teapot and the following year the tea would be designed in honor of that person’s mother. This would not only make each year a little something new to look forward to, it would also help us to learn more about each individual mother.

The following year our tea was in honor of Katherine, a mother who was a Seamstress. From memories shared by my friend, she remembered picking blackberries with her Mom ( blackberry scones) and her sister remembered how she would cut flowers from their yard and then wrap them with wet paper towels and plastic wrap so they could bring the flowers to their teachers (fresh flowers on the table). Their memories helped spark similar or different memories of the rest of our group. Through our conversation, we learned our mothers had things in common and yet had never known each other. ( The Seamstress themed tea can be found in the Tea & Traditions category.)

With this year’s Mothers Tea only 30 days away, and my work days being very full, I would have to get to work quickly to create a special day like those we’ve shared in the past. The name pulled at the last tea was a friend who couldn’t make it to this year’s event, due to travel plans. (Ironically her mother’s theme was going to be related to travel). I selected a new name from the teapot and the winner was Lydia.

Shortly after selecting her name, I sent a list of thought points to help generate memories of her mother that we could gently infuse into the decor and menu. The list included different hobbies or interests, a favorite color, a favorite flower or flowers, food flavors and other interests that I may be able to use as inspiration for some of the tea sandwiches, pastries and scones. With these tidbits of information, I would then let my mind do its best to create a memorable table decor, menu and favors that hopefully somewhat represent her mother.

Photo of Lydia and her Mom from a cruise.

The first flower that came to mind for Lydia was the gladiola. She remembered her mother deconstructing and creating corsages with them. We discussed some ideas for using gladiolas in the table decor (if they are available to purchase when we need them), but I first needed to create an invitation to send to the other ladies.

Lydia is a very talented artist, and I wanted her to apply her special artistic gift to creating the invitation. I handed her a box of blank cream notecards that were stored in the back of my desk drawer, and asked her to create gladiolas on the front of each notecard, explaining that I would then print and paste the invitation text inside afterwards. A day later, she delivered these six differently designed, beautifully drawn and colorful notecards. If we are unable to find fresh gladiolas for the tea, they have at least made an appearance on the invitation.

Lydia’s sketched and colored gladiolas.

Now it was my turn. I had to create the invitation text honoring her mother and her years of service as a nurse. I requested a headshot photo of her mother and she brought me several to choose from, including a couple of her mother in her 1960’s nursing uniform and cap, but they were so dark that we chose the image below that was originally in sepia. I took a picture of it with my phone and edited to black and white, making the image clearer to see.

Using an old school method of cut, paste and tape, I found this pretty stethoscope with roses image online. I printed it, gently cut it out with small manicure scissors and after three or four edits of moving the text and photo, finally framed the top of the invitation and image of our honored mother.

After searching through my desk of supplies, I found a pearl monogram that I decided to pull the little pearls from and place in a few areas to add a delicate three dimensional touch. With a glue stick and very finely pointed culinary tweezer, I pulled and placed the little pearls along the top border and used a larger pearl for the center of the stethoscope.

Once completed and all tucked into envelopes, I placed a gold wax seal on each before mailing to the other ladies.

The Table

With the invitations in the mail, it’s time to brainstorm for the table decor, favors and menu. For our seamstress themed tea I decorated my padded jewelry mannequin with tissue flowers that also incorporated the tissue pieces of an old pattern and measuring tape ribbon. As I wrestled with ideas for our nurse themed table, I found myself returning to my little mannequin.

Seamstress Themed Centerpiece

I searched for images of nurses in the 1960’s and sent one of the pictures to Lydia to ask her if it was the way her mother dressed. Her response was “exactly”. Once confirmed, I searched for a nurse cap, thinking of somehow decorating it and hanging it at an angle on the same mannequin form. I also ordered a symbolic nurse’s pin.

Rod of Asclepius Nursing

The rod of Asclepius (single snake around a staff, no wings attached) which is featured on the Star of Life, symbolizes healing. Again using a snake, the serpent sheds its skin and is a symbol of rebirth and fertility. The staff is a symbol of authority and represents the god of medicine.

When the cap and pin arrived I asked Lydia, (conveniently also my neighbor) to come over so I could share the idea I had for the table centerpiece. I demonstrated how I would set the cap on the mannequin and imagined trying to make a little white tissue paper nurse dress or decorate the body with white flowers. Lydia said her Mother wore a cape (that I recalled seeing in many of the images I found of the 1960’s nurse uniforms) and suggested she could make a little cape and dress for the mannequin form with some scraps of fabric. She also remembered she had the actual pins her mother wore.

Two days later, she delivered this adorable doll-like version of her mother’s 1960’s nursing uniform perfectly dressing my little mannequin form. We joked that from the back, the life-sized nursing cap looked a lot like Sally Field’s flying nun (for those of you old enough to know of the television show from the late 1960’s). Her mother’s name tag was so small is looks like it was made for the small version model she created. It was simply hard to believe how cute it turned out. (Her mother would be so proud of her.)

As part of her memories, Lydia also shared that she thought she got her love for reading from her mother, who read stacks of Harlequin romance novels that she hid away. Lydia confessed with a giggle, sneaking books from her mother’s hiding place to read them. As a cute nod to this memory, I found several Harlequin romance novel covers on Pinterest. I decided to take snap shots of several “nurse” themed novels and create little book covers to place around the table.

Nurse Themed Harlequin Romance Novels

When going through a list of things associated with nursing, I thought of gauze for wrapping wounds, bandaids, medications, syringes for giving shots, thermometers and so on, but very little could be translated into something pretty for the table. I didn’t want things to be too literal. I thought of making some kind of rosettes with the gauze or a ribbon with bandaids, all of which looked awful. Frustrated I pushed it all aside.

A gauze bow, with the nursing symbol pin and glittered pill bottles.

Finally, I had a bright idea! I had just thrown away a large plastic bottle emptied of my gummy vitamins. I pulled it from the trash washed it and sprayed it with some gold paint. I glued a pretty nurse’s cap image I printed from online that matched the inside of the invitation, outlined it with pearls to simulate a pill bottle label and then glittered the outside of the bottle. With a slightly smaller bottle I also spray painted I then covered the surface with brown glitter and another label, also outlined with little pearls.

Placed at the base of the mannequin form and hopeful to have fresh gladiolas on the day of the event, for now I staged this photo with a silk version. The only thing left to do is surround the center with some colorful fresh flowers and tiny bud must be added to the cape for a corsage.

The Favors

For the seamstress themed tea, I made pin cushions with espresso cups (that looked like small teacups).

Lydia and I talked about making corsages (like her mother made) for each of the ladies (which still may happen if we can find gladiolas), but I wanted something that would fit in with our Nurse theme for this year’s favor. On the same evening I thought of the glitter pill bottles, I also thought of travel sized first aide kits. I searched for a cute version for a long time online, but they were either too large or too expensive and none had the feminine appearance I wanted.

Travel sized first aide kits for this year’s favors. Using bottle labels found at Michaels, I printed pink first aid crosses to glue to the center, placed a few little pearls (to match the invitation) and a small shear white bow for the perfect nurse themed favor.

I remembered my little travel sized kit that was tucked away in my suitcase. Its simple white case was perfect for dressing up with paper or clip art that I would have to figure out IF I could find the quantity I needed. Luckily for just a couple of dollars each, I found the quantity I needed at good ole’ Walmart (in the area with all of the travel sized toiletries are). I went to Michaels in search of some paper that I could create a cover with. While browsing around the store for inspiration, I found some Spring items marked down and bought a pack of bottle labels by Celebrate it.

Back home, ready to figure out my design, I pulled out the paper I had purchased and started trying to figure out what I would do, when the labels I bought caught my eye. I decided to open the package and discovered there were two labels that were the perfect size and looked similar to the art I used inside the invitations. I put one kit together and then immediately went online and ordered two more packs (there were only 2 of the size I needed in a pack) to ensure they were ready for pickup the following day so I could make all of the kits look the same. It’s when little things like this come unexpectedly together that I enjoy what I’m doing the most. One might say the spirit of Lydia’s mother is gently guiding our plans together in a beautifully un-orchestrated way.

Inside the package I was surprised to find small labels that fit perfectly into the center of the kit.

Until the day of the tea, my table is set and ready with only the fresh flowers missing. So for now I will move on to the menu once again trying to capture a little of Lydia’s mother in some of the items.

Our pulse, our heartbeat was given to each of us by a mother.  We grew with the Lord’s blessing inside our mother’s womb, heartbeats at times in unison, until we were completely formed and expelled to become over the years who we are today. Follow along as we continue to put our hearts into the planning of this special day in honor of our mothers.

Note: Nurse’s Day is May 6th. Thank and honor the wonderful nurses in your lives this year.

TRADITIONS & TEA

The Little Things Remembered (About Mom)

The Drake Elm Mom started as a small 2 foot tree in a pot that she gave to me.

We lost Mom 7 years ago today. She loved the blooming flowers and trees, and spent endless hours in the yard planting and trimming. When we lived in Southern California, she planted succulents everywhere, a place where flowerbeds were harder to maintain due to the droughts, water restrictions and heat. Knowing I was going to move into a newly constructed home with no trees, she took a piece of her Drake Elm and nursed it for months and then gave it to me to plant in my yard. Before the construction of my house was completed, she was diagnosed with a form of cancer, a cancer so aggressive the doctors could only offer treatment to extend her life for six months, of course shocking all of us. She did get to see me move into my house, but I didn’t find the courage to plant her little tree until about a year later when it had grown a little larger and stronger. I worried it wouldn’t make it, but like Mom it has proven to be determined and resilient. Seven years later, it’s the first tree to fill with leaves when there’s just the slightest hint that Spring is on the way, almost as if she’s sending a message that she is still there swaying in the breeze watching over me.

A tradition that takes place in mid-March each year that she also loved is the Feast of St. Joseph referred to here is south Louisiana as St. Joseph Altars. At some churches or someone’s home, a line of people from the surrounding communities wait patiently to be served a plate filled, usually with a variety of Italian dishes and fried fish. Often held in school cafeterias, long tables with chairs are arranged for sharing the feast, followed by a visit to view the many baked breads, cakes and cookies placed around an altar with a statue of St. Joseph. As you exit the building a table with a couple of parishioners are stationed with the “little coveted bags” containing a variety of little Italian cookies, a plain or sometimes gold painted dried Fava bean (said to make you prosperous if you carried it in the coin section of your wallet or in a pocket), a small piece of thin, sliced, stale bread that has been blessed by the priest (meant to place in your freezer for protection against hurricanes) and finally a St. Joseph’s prayer card.

Among the little Italian cookies, were Mom’s favorite, the fig cookies as she called them, with a little sweet glaze and festive colorful sprinkles. A group of Parish ladies worked weeks before the day to make large quantities of cookies, cakes and other food as part of “the feast”.

A small branch from my tree, St. Joseph prayer cards, Fava beans and blessed bread.

Today I made a batch of Italian fig cookies (Cucidati) for the first time in her memory. For some reason I imagined they would be more difficult than they were to make. I had convinced myself there was some special mystery to making them. The only thing they needed was time, and fortunately I found a recipe I had saved on Pinterest. I read through the recipe and instructions on Friday evening in order to take inventory of the ingredients and make sure I had everything I needed. The dough required refrigeration after being made from 3 hours to overnight. I had already taken some butter out of the fridge anticipating making some kind of cookies. So I quickly made the dough before going to bed and placed it in the refrigerator as instructed. (See recipe link below the photo of cookies).

https://www.savingdessert.com/italian-fig-cookies-cucidati/

I had to find some dried figs and buy a small pint of orange juice, but I had the other dried fruits in my pantry. Later in the afternoon I began to chop the dried fruits and place everything into a pot to stew as instructed and then set it aside to cool. I waited about a half hour to allow the fruits to completely cool and then took out the dough as per the recipe above, and let it sit for 15 minutes. I did not deviate from the recipe, but my only suggestion would be that once you place the line of filling in the center of the dough pieces, place the tray in the refrigerator for about 15 to 20 minutes to allow the dough to firm up again. This avoids tearing and having to patch where the dough doesn’t come together when pulling the sides up to overlap over the filling. I had to bake mine about 3 minutes longer (every oven is different) to achieve a little more of a golden cookie.

A traditional St. Joseph’s altar.

O

Once they were all cooled and the glaze was set, I divided them up and placed batches in sealed plastic containers to bring some to my brother, give some to a couple of friends and bring a batch to Dad. Dad can’t wait for me to bring his little container to eat! This was not only Mom’s favorite, it was a family favorite.

In addition to my Annual Mothers Tea (that had to be cancelled last year, but I’m in the process of planning for early May this year), I think I’ve found a way to remember Mom during the month we lost her that she would love from this annual celebration she enjoyed so much at her Parish Church. We miss you Mom, but have many memories of you!

SIMPLY ELEVATED, SPRING

Springtime Sunday Morning Popovers

With the arrival of Spring just a few days away, the first blades of fresh green grass sprouted up throughout the lawn; the azalea bushes are loaded with buds; the new foliage on the trees and bushes are swaying in the breeze and a dusting of pollen is sprinkled everywhere like powdered sugar on a beignet. My spring onions have beautiful buds so heavy that it looks like they’re bowing to the arrival of gods of Springtime.

Even my three year old Shamrock that just a couple of weeks ago had nothing but brown collapsed stems that I pulled away after the cold winter, had that magical sense of nature that knew it had to bloom with fresh green clover and a mix of white and lavender blooms just in time for St. Patrick’s Day this week. Knowing how quickly the days go from comfortable and breezy to hot and humid in the South, I employed the help of my handyman to help pull away the weeds, lay down some landscaping cloth and cover the front yard landscaping with fresh mulch.

Each time we schedule a weekend of projects around my house, I always greet him with something for breakfast. Yesterday I attended a little family crawfish boil and by day’s end I was out of time to think or plan much. I searched for inspiration wanting something quick, light and that I could make with ingredients I already had. I decided to make orange citrus popovers with roasted berries.

Citrus Orange Popovers with Roasted Berries

Makes 6 popovers

  • 3 eggs (at room temperature)
  • 1 1/4 cups evaporated milk -or whole milk, almond milk (room temperature)
  • 2 tablespoons of coconut sugar (or granulated sugar)
  • the zest of a medium sized orange
  • 2 teaspoon of orange liqueur (Grand Marnier or 1 tsp of orange extract)
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste (or extract)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • powdered sugar for dusting
  • 1 cup of fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 cup fresh blackberries (or raspberries)
  • 2 tablespoons of agave or honey
  • 2 tablespoons grape seed or canola oil

Making popovers requires a little pre-planning to ensure the eggs are at room temperature. I left them out overnight. The milk also needs to be at room temperature. Evaporated milk is in a can in the pantry, but if using an alternative, make sure it’s also at room temperature.

When ready to prepare the popovers, pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees (f). Place the popover pan (or muffin tin) on a lined baking sheet and place both in the oven. The popover pan should heated to the oven temperature.

Roasted berries: Place berries on a half sized baking sheet or oven proof stainless steel skillet. Toss with agave and oil and set aside.

Popovers: Crack and slightly scramble the eggs into a small bowl with the sugar. Zest the orange over the egg mixture, add the orange liqueur, vanilla bean paste, and salt. Gently mix. Pour the combination into a blender and briefly blend. Add the flour and blend until well combined. Scrape the sides down and make sure all of the flour has been incorporated into the wet ingredients.

Carefully remove the popover pan from the oven and spray each cup with butter spray or cooking spray (no flavor). Pour the batter into each cup about 3/4 up (not all the way to the top. ) Quickly place the pan back into the oven and bake 20 minutes or until puffed and golden.

Add the baking tray of berries to roast at the same time (check at 15 minutes to see if they are slightly collapsed and a blueberry syrup has formed on the tray. Remove from the oven and allow to cool while the popovers bake the remaining 5 minutes.

Orange segments: While the popovers are baking remove the peel with a knife from the orange and supreme the sections of the orange out with a sharp knife (called supreming) to serve alongside the roasted berries. https://thecookful.com/how-to-supreme-an-orange/

Turn the completely baked popovers over on to the baking tray. Using a tea towel or tongs to transfer the popover to a plate or large bowl. Spoon the roasted berries on the side, with orange segments and a sprig of mint or sweet basil. Sprinkle the popover with powdered sugar.

Served with a pot of Celestial -True Blueberry tea.

After a little Sunday morning tea and popovers it was time to head to the flower beds to weed, fill with some fresh soil and mulch. By mid-morning the front yard beds were dressed and ready for the coming Spring and Summer months ahead. One of the best ways to start a busy day is to take a little time to make something simple and elevate it with fresh flavors and a pretty presentation. These eggy, airy popovers did the trick this morning with a side of yummy roasted berries and fresh citrus. Happy Sunday!

BOOK CLUB, GATHERINGS

Outdoor Book Club on a Sunny Afternoon

A week ago we experienced an incredible winter storm that set records throughout the deep south. As we shivered through temperatures as low as 18 degrees (an uncommon occurrence in our parts); none of us would have imagined that just a week later, we would have a warm, sunny but breezy, eighty degree Sunday afternoon, to gather on a friend’s back yard deck, and talk about our latest book club read, while enjoying a late lunch.

After several brittle cold days, the sight of daffodils and hyacinth in pastel pinks and lavenders
brought hope for the coming freshness of Spring.

My friend and neighbor offered to host this month’s meeting, having a cozy outdoor space for our small group to gather. The characters of “The Fifth Avenue Story Society” took turns bringing take out food each time they met in the small back room of the historic library. One of those take out items was pizza, so my friend and her husband decided to make two homemade pizzas for our day. One deep dish Chicago style pizza and a margarita pizza, so I offered to help with a light salad and dessert.

For this outdoor gathering I found colorful large oval shaped paper plates with matching napkins at Tuesday Morning that were the right size and strong enough to hold the pizza. For the dessert I used clear plastic stemmed parfait cups from the Dollar Tree and disposable silver utensils.

No Recipe Salad

1 Napa Cabbage sliced into 1/2 rings; 3 white and 1 purple endive sliced into rings, 1 12 oz. package of frozen artichokes (cooked per package) -leaves pulled from the quarters -sprinkle with salt and pepper and squeeze 1/2 lemon over all; pull leaves individually and place in bowl with greens; 1 jar of sundried tomatoes in olive oil (drain & spread over greens; 3 cups of arugula; using the tomato jar, add 1/8 cup of white balsamic vinegar, to the tomato oil and 3 for 4 tbsps. olive oil and 1/2 lemon juice and 1/2 tsp. salt 1/4 tsp pepper shake and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Gently toss all ingredients in a large bowl – dot top with colorful edible flowers.

Pizza while delicious and comforting, is also heavy and I didn’t want a dessert with any type of pastry crust or cake. I wanted something light and knowing it would be a warm day, something cold. I found a no bake cheesecake recipe for inspiration, and used the filling part of the recipe, but the other layers were of my own creation.

No bake cheesecake berry layered dessert.

Yields (8 )1 cup servings. Steps require to make one day ahead of serving.

  • 1 cup of biscoff crumbs (created in small food processor or place in a zip lock bag and crush with a rolling pin)
  • 6 to 8 biscoff biscuits
  • 1/2 stick of butter melted and slightly cooled
  • zest of 1 of an orange (divided in half)
  • (1) 8 oz bar of light cream cheese (room temperature)
  • 1 teaspoon Grand Marnier
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup of fresh whipped cream
  • 1 1/2 cups of diced fresh strawberries ( reserve 1/2 cup)
  • 1/2 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons agave nectar sweetner
  • 1 tablespoon grape oil
  • pinch of salt and 3-4 grinds from pepper mill
  • 1/4 cup chopped salted pistachios
  • edible flowers (optional)

The bottom crust layer: Process 1 cup of biscoff biscuits in a food processor until crumbly. Add the zest of 1/2 an orange and 1/4 cup of melted butter and process until the ingredients pull together. Distribute equal amounts into the bottom of each dessert cup and press down with the end of a wooden spoon or muddler to form a crust. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

The second layer: Place cream cheese, 1 cup of diced strawberries, 1 teaspoon of Grand Marnier and 1/4 cup sugar into a blender and blend until well combined and smooth. Transfer to a bowl using a rubber spatula to scrape all of the mixture from the blender. Gently fold in one cup of fresh whipped cream. Fill cups with equal portions (I used a 2 tablespoon scoop to distribute to each cup over the biscoff crust.) Smooth top layer with the back side of a spoon. Gently tap the cup on the counter covered with a folded tea towel (to avoid breaking the cup) to remove air bubbles in the filling. Refrigerate overnight.

Berry topping: Preheat oven 400 degrees. Drizzle grape oil on to a small rimmed baking sheet. Add reserved 1/2 cup of diced fresh strawberries and 1/2 cup of fresh blueberries, and agave, pinch of salt and black pepper. Roast for 20 minutes. Cool to room temperature and then scoop roasted berries and all of the juices into a small jar or bowl and set aside.

Top layer crumble: Place 6 to 8 biscoff biscuits into a zip lock bag and seal. Gently crush with a rolling pin or wood spoon to create small pieces (not full crumbs), open the bag and add the reserved orange zest and chopped salted pistachios – seal bag and shake to mix ingredients.

To assemble: Just prior to serving, top the set cream cheese dessert cups with the roasted berries and their juices, then sprinkle each with the biscuit pistachio crumple. Top each with an edible viola (optional).

In this time of quarantines and hibernation, our sunny, breezy afternoon together was just the right dose of social gathering needed to add a little light to our week. As the trees and flowers begin to show the first signs of green buds and fresh blooms, the comfortable warmth of Spring is just around the corner and a great time to safely gather with a small group of friends on a beautiful day.

GATHERINGS, HOLIDAY, LAGNIAPPE, SMALL TALK, WINE CLUB

Let the Music Play….

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

Whether the table is set for my wine club, book club, mothers tea, Friendsgiving or any of the many other entertaining dates I’ve planned, the one thing you can’t see in the party pictures is the music!

I usually begin experimenting a week or two prior to the scheduled event in search of the best music selection I can find, in search of background melodies that don’t overpower the conversation, but like a subtle soundtrack in a movie, creates the appropriate mood and ambiance for the gathering. Until recently I chose the Pandora App where the variety of options or countless for nearly every theme you can dream up. Simply search with the theme, such as Italian love songs, Mardi Gras music, French Cafe’ or the individual name of a favorite artist. As technology advances, so do the options. Amazon’s Alexa and Echo players or Google Play can provide musical options from Pandora, Spotify or their own musical programs with a simple verbal request.

In the recent year as I visited small shops in our area, the sound of classic French music, smooth Jazz or piano instrumentals caught my attention, and when I would ask what was playing I was informed over and over again that it was YouTube music. Videos created into various music themes that can be played up to 10 hours has become another favorite. I originally streamed the music from my TV, but Google or Alexa will play the music if requested also.

The point of entertaining (dinner party, wine party etc.) is to have shared discussions and conversations. So I choose music that isn’t distracting, but provides a soothing background for the evening at a soft audible level. Below are some suggestions/examples of options I’ve made part of my party planning.

Capri – Italian White Wines Night

For an Italian themed night: (Capri) Andrea Bocelli Radio, Italian Summer Radio, Italian Cooking Music Radio, or Italian Traditional Radio. Romantic Venice, Italian Restaurant Music

Christmas Cocktail Party

Holiday/Christmas Cocktail Party– Jazz Holiday Radio, Diana Krall (Holiday) Radio, Michael Buble (Holiday Radio), Nat King Cole (Holiday) Radio, Vince Guaraldi Trio (Holiday) Radio, Christmas Radio.

Derby Themed – Bourbon Barrel Aged Reds

Derby Theme : Kentucky Derby Radio, Frank Sinatra Radio

Symphony of Whites (Wines) – Austria, Germany

Symphony of Whites (Wine): Classical Dinner Party Radio, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Radio, Antonio Vivaldi Radio, and many more.

Holiday Dinner Party: Acoustical Guitar Christmas, Jingle Bells (Frank Sinatra (Holiday); Christmas Bells (Instrumental – Classical)

French Cafe’ themed small luncheons.

French Bistro Theme– French Cafe’ Radio, Edith Piaf Radio, French Cooking Radio; Spotify : French Cafe’ Lounge Music, French Romantic Music, French Bistro Music, French Mornings-Emily in Paris Vibes, French Jazz Cafe’

Rio De Janeiro Carnival– Brazilian Radio, Tango Radio, Spanish Guitar

Romantic Valentine Theme- Classical Piano Love Songs, Country Love Songs Radio, Diana Krall Radio, Michael Buble Radio, Chris Botti Radio, Romantic instruments

Mother’s Tea – I play a lovely song in honor of remembering our mothers just before starting to help focus our thoughts and hearts in the right place. “I Remember You” by Trisha Yearwood; “Supermarket Flowers” by Ed Sheeran.

Whatever your party, theme or no theme, while preparing the list of things to do, include a selection of soothing musical entertainment that is sure to enhance the enjoyment of your event.

HOLIDAY, SMALL TALK, VALENTINES DAY

Day of Hearts… Heart-filled Gestures

The Cupid Cook

It’s time to thank the kind hearts that have cared for not only my Dad, but the loved ones of many others at a local Sr. Living Residence. Those tumultuous days, weeks and months of 2020 pushed right into 2021 with a renewed vengeance. Suddenly the director, nurses, and care partners who had managed to keep the residence COVID free for the majority of 2020 with only a few cases, were challenged with the care of a dozen elderly residents who tested positive for COVID in early 2021. While we refrained from taking Dad out of the residence during the holidays, and he rarely left his room, somehow he was among those who tested positive.

We found ourselves feeling the same helpless emotions described by so many when faced with the inability to enter the building and care for our loved one. We had to totally trust and depend on the staff to nurse our Dad back to health. The director lovingly transported each resident one by one to the local hospital for antibody infusion appointments, and the staff stepped up to provide the care and attention that we, the families could not.

While the separation throughout the entire pandemic has been difficult, this was the most frustrating period yet. When Dad finally tested negative and was able to sit up and talk to us again, the relief was overwhelming.

Free clip art found online.

I sent little gifts of appreciation for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but with Valentine’s Day just a week away I decided to bake heart shaped cookies, each individually hand decorated, to send to the entire staff and other residents. When I shared this idea with Dad he got very excited about the idea of riding around in his electric wheelchair (with some assistance) and handing out each cookie with a friendly “Happy Valentine’s Day” greeting.

Both of my parents loved to give, not only to their family, but even total strangers. If someone in line ahead of my Mom at the grocery store started pulling things off of the conveyer belt because they didn’t have enough money (especially if they had a child in the shopping cart) she would tell the cashier to add the items to her bill – was just one tremendous examples of her giving heart.

Their giving nature was instilled in both my brother and I as well, and while Dad is limited in what he can do, we do our best to provide opportunities for him to still enjoy giving.

Cut with a paper cutter to make each look professional.
Using a hole punch, I punched hole in center of the heart to pull the ribbon through
for a Victorian vintage look.
Pretty floral paper use as a background in the bag for the cookie presentation.
Dollar store bags 20 count for $1.00

I baked four batches of my sugar cookie dough on Friday evening and asked a neighbor- friend if she would mind helping me decorate them. I was challenged with baking, decorating and individually bagging 60 cookies and knew I would need help. I brought 25 of the baked cookies to her the following morning to decorate, while I ran my Saturday morning errands.

I was so surprised when I saw all of the cheerful, fun ways my friend (and her husband) had decorated the cookies. I was so focused on getting so many baked, that I hadn’t considered more than one or two ways to decorate them. I was especially drawn to and inspired by the heart flowers she had created.

When I had finished another round of baked and cooled cookies, I started decorating and had so much fun making designs I would not have thought of without their creative collage of inspiration.

I baked and decorated well past 9 p.m. and started again Sunday morning. I had completed decorating and bagging around 11 a.m. Sixty cookies ready for Daddy “Cupid” to deliver this Valentine’s Day. The joy it will bring him in the giving, and to those in the receiving was worth all of the time and effort and I’m so grateful for the help of my friends.

60 cookies ready to go

While Valentine’s Day is mostly associated with Sweethearts, romance and love, in these trying times where we’ve had to rely on others to lovingly care for our family members – Valentine’s Day for me is about those who have shown their “sweet” giving hearts; those who have done their best to fill in as a family member and demonstrate that no matter how difficult things get, human kindness far outweighs all the difficulties. Who has shown their “heart” to you lately? Find a way to show them yours.

LAGNIAPPE

Weekend Project # 9 : Built in Desk Area Makeover

Before:

On to my built in desk area….let’s get this weekend project started.

I know it wasn’t that bad to start, but I wanted to elevate the appearance of the area to fit in with the rest of my home. The problem is I wasn’t sure how. I usually have to concentrate for a long time on a space and eventually I’ll find something like a picture or fabric that puts the plan in motion.

My walls were freshly painted at the same time as the Master Bathroom makeover. I had an idea for a decorative shade to place over the window to defuse some of the heat of summer or colder temperatures of winter, but finding the right combination of materials like everything in design (on a budget) takes time.

It began with a piece of decorative crown moulding, that with the help of my handyman Tim was formed into a small valance to hang the shade from. Hidden from view I actually used thumb tacks to fasten the fabric to a wood slat affixed behind the moulding. The initial fabric (a curtain panel) did not provide the desired look and several months would pass before the right materials came along (that turned out to be right in front of me the entire time).

Tim painted the valance with the same medium shade Graceful Gray used on the base boards, window and door frames and left it in the garage to dry overnight. Later that evening I went to get something in the garage and went over to examine the painted moulding. It looked so plain and boring. The beautiful carving of the moulding was not at all accentuated.

In a bold move, I tried to think about what I had that I could use to fill in the carved areas and remembered this Metallic Lustre’ paste in my art box of paints and a small bottle of metallic gold model paint from the craft store. Equipped with a small piece of fabric torn from an old t-shift, I dipped it into the lustre’ paste and slowly rubbed it along the top edges of the carvings. When it would fill too much of the area, I would use another piece of the t-shirt to wipe the excess away, leaving more in some areas and less in others. It didn’t work as well on the top wider area, the carving wasn’t deep enough – so here I used a small, thin, pointed brush and the gold model paint to fill in all of the top area. Little by little it created a more interesting aged finish.

Once all of the parts were put together, the fabric wasn’t achieving the look I was hoping for. As I’ve said in the past, patience is required. I decided to let it sit there for a while and give myself time to look around at different materials that would create the casual elegant result I was hoping to achieve. The project was set aside, and more than a few months passed before I was able to redirect my focus on it again.

Recently, I visited a new home decor store in my area. While browsing through the various items there, I was drawn toward two framed prints in black, gray and white hues. While my home is composed of shades of cream, ivory, soft blues, grays and some mustard golds, I am drawn to soft black accents. I purchased one of the framed prints and the shop owner kindly offered to hold the second, allowing me time to figure out where I would use them before committing to the second.

Daphne Home Butterfly

After experimenting with different locations in the house, I decided that I could place one framed print on each side of the built in desk area. With that decision, I now had something to inspire the shade and desk accessories.

I turned my focus toward my breakfast room, inspired by a picture I cut from a decor magazine that I was throwing out. As purchases were made to replace the furnishings there, I posted two chairs and two benches that were being replaced on a Facebook market page to sell the items. The fabric on the benches (below) caught my eye. I’d always liked the fabric purchased to recover the benches and made a remark to my friend when she was at the house, that this same fabric had the sophisticated look I wanted to create the shade for the window by the desk. She agreed.

The fabric on the benches that inspired by window shade for the desk area (this room now also made over).

The problem was that I would have to find new fabric. I originally purchased the fabric from Hobby Lobby about 5 years ago and they no longer carried it. So I started searching online and found it! https://www.onlinefabricstore.net/swavelle-mill-creek-galatia-iron-fabric-.htm. I ordered three yards, with the intension of saving a yard of the fabric to recover the desk chair seat. I also ordered a kit to make large covered buttons on Etsy. https://www.etsy.com/listing/229044822/25-cover-buttons-fabric-covered-buttons?ref=yr_purchases

When the fabric arrived I was a little upset. As I removed the folded fabric from the packaging, it appeared to be a different version of what I had ordered. It was the same pattern, but different colors. Busy with work I set it aside, but every time I passed the folded stack of fabric, thoughts ran through my head of how I needed to figure out what I was going to do. I carried it over to the desk area and held it up to the window trying to convince myself this was better. Then I unfolded the fabric to discover that, it was in fact the fabric I had ordered- It had been folded inside out! While I had a good laugh, it was a great accidental discovery, because I immediately decided I would use the back side of the scraps to cover the buttons that create a nice contrast against the lighter fabric shade.

I spent several hours measuring, trimming, pinning and then ironing the side seams. I then put together a design completely held together with straight pins in order to hang it and look at it for a couple of days. One evening I took the trimmed away side scraps and using the reverse (back) side of the fabric, covered several large buttons to somehow incorporate into the design of the shade. I then slid a button on a straight pin in areas to decide where they should be placed. Black stitching was added to each side of the fabric. (See notations on the photos

During the Christmas season, I found a large wooden spool of black velvet polyester ribbon by Martha Stewart at HomeGoods. I had purchased it when the intention of wrapping Christmas gifts with it, but when I wanted something to outline the fabric I turned to the ribbon. (See note below each photo explaining how the shade and moulding valance were pulled together.)

My mother’s old sewing machine that I rarely used had stopped working, So I brought the fabric to an alterations shop and had the sides stitched with black thread and the opposite edges surged with an ivory thread. With finished edges I laid the fabric out on my dining room table, once again pinning the folds and then hand stitched all of the buttons on. The folded edges also needed some reinforcement due to the weight, so I also hand stitched those areas together.

I then replaced the light fixture in the room, selecting a black drum shade with a bronze interior. The granite counter top that came with the house also limited my color palette, but the colors I chose appear to blend right in.

Black metal ceiling mounted light fixture with bronze interior.

I then brought the remaining fabric and my chair to an upholster to recover the seat cushion. Wall art hung, faux shade completed and also hung, chair recovered and light fixture installed, this weekend project was complete with a touch of sophistication. I had ordered it with a black piping around the bottom edge to match the outlined shade, and when I picked up the chair they advised me they decided to use only my fabric! At this point I wasn’t thrilled, but I went with it for a couple of days. I then decided to look for a black cord that I could glue along the edge with fabric glue. For $2.60, I think it was worth it. I feel like it looks more finished.

After until I found the lamps

I ordered two wall lamps for another project. When the lamps arrived they were much larger than I was expecting and were not going to fit into the project as I had hoped. I walked around the house in search of an alternate use. I returned to my desk area and examined the lamp that I originally used. I wasn’t completely satisfied with the lamp and have continued to search for something that provide that same cozy scholastic drama of lamp lights found in historical libraries. I thought of a gold lamp with a black shade with a better scale to fit the area, but nothing had caught my eye yet. I put one of the wall lamps together and held it up to the wall. I looked at it for a few days and added a light bulb, holding the illuminated light up to the wall during daylight hours as well as night. By the end of the week, I reached out to Tim to find out when he could come by to install one on each side of the window.

The project is now truly complete and serves as a great spot to write my future blog posts!

LAGNIAPPE, SMALL TALK

An Antique Store Stroll

Savoring the gift of time, past and present....

One of my favorite ways to decompress after a stressful week, is to stroll through antique and consignment shops in search of unique treasures. Sometimes I find an item I want to purchase and use when I entertain or add to my decor as an interesting conversation piece. More often, I just love to find unique and beautiful things and try to imagine how they touched the lives they passed through.

Silver bunny salt and pepper shakers.

Perched upon an antique sideboard were these delicate, but elegant silver bunny salt and pepper shakers. As a practicing cook, I’ve learned that your food should be perfectly seasoned before serving, so salt and pepper shakers in my world are truly a thing of the past. It’s also actually considered an insult to the chef when you add salt to their carefully seasoned and prepared dish. Still I know people who will pick up the salt and pepper shaker adding both to their food before they have even tasted it. As I closely examined these I tried to think of an alternative use for them. I wondered if tapered candles would fit into the cabbages holding the glass shakers, but after circling the shop a few times contemplating, I decided to leave the sweet bunnies behind.

Wedgewood – Beautiful . I pulled the price sticker off to take a picture, but some of it was left behind.

There’s something about this three dimensional Wedgewood – what to call it? It’s not a plate, I guess a plaque. It really is charming don’t you think? I imagine an English literature teacher placing it before his or her students and asking them to create a story from what they see in this little work of art, curious what all of the amazing versions would be. Do young people know about the old customs of courtship and proper behaviors of the past to incorporate in their stories? It would make an interesting creative writing assignment.

This beautifully cared for, small cedar chest brought back memories of my high school graduation. Does anyone remember when the local furniture stores gave these to girls when they graduated? This link gives a little history on the tradition that has since disappeared. I have no idea what happened to mine. https://www.causeafrockus.com/2018/07/lane-miniature-cedar-chests/

This crumb sweeper was a unique find and was something I decided would add charm to my dining room dinner parties. With all of the entertaining I do, passing it around to clear the table cloth before the dessert course would add a very Downton Abbey flair to the occasion – don’t you think? One of my friends recently told me that I entertain the way they did in the past which makes each event feel so special, so I suppose that’s why unique items like this appeal to me.

As a fan of Ina Garten, I’ve coveted her little silver bowl that she’s filled with everything from nuts to olives or a special dip. A vendor at a local shop that I frequent (Redoux), searches all year for antique pieces to fill each Christmas season with paper white bulbs (which by the way makes a lovely gift). She always seems to have something I’ve been looking for. This year I found two special items. A silver plated nut bowl similar to Ina’s without little handles and….

For years I’ve admired pictures of little pots de creme cup sets in Victoria magazine, but I had never actually seen a set. I especially liked the little cups with these rosebud tops that fit in with my signature “white” serving platters, bowls and dishes that I use for most of my entertaining. Finding these delicate beauties was like opening a gift I’ve always wanted and never thought I’d have. Stay tuned… chocolate pots de creme will be on my next ladies lunch menu – once the bulbs have finished blooming.

During a recent deep clean and reorganizing session of my closets, I found a white bag and pulled out a past find that I had forgotten about. Approximately 13 years ago, a friend and I had taken interest in the Opera and I found these beautiful mother of pearl beauties in an antique store. They have to be fairly old, because the stitching of the silk lining inside of the velvet bag that held the glasses had worn away. I found a pair exactly the same online, listed by an antique dealer. The description Lemaire Fabt Paris; 1900’s; Edwardian era; French opera glasses by Lemaire are crafted in brass and carefully inlaid with hand carved mother of pearl. There is a cute MOP button that finishes the piece. The mother of pearl has a lovely brown tinge to it and glows with a soft fire of purple blue pink and green when it hits the light.  (They are listed for $550!) I think I paid $50 for mine.

For the love of the Opera, found tucked away
in a case of Highland Road Antiques in Baton Rouge.

Most stores with affordable finds are actually little antique malls, where different vendors rent a small space to display their items for sale. The Copper Rooster in Old Covington (LA) is one that I frequent. There is one vendor there that has a little something I end up purchasing almost every visit (for damage control reasons – I don’t visit that often). Below are some of the special finds that I’ve collected from one particular vender’s booth.

The details of this delicate engraved silver platter with handles
is about the size of a dinner plate and has been used
at many of my gatherings in a number of ways.
The bottom has a small pedestal rather than lying flat, which is also unique.

On another visit I found this ornate silver tray, that while not especially old has the old charm of silver from the past. I’ve used it frequently when entertaining so neither this tray or the one above are hidden away in some cabinet. They have both become very much part of my parties adding just the right amount and sparkle and old world charm.

It wasn’t intentional, but this is starting to look like a set up for an elegant evening ahead!

A true hopeless romantic and love of all things French (as you can tell from the various items I’ve collected), one weekend visit brought me to a set of eight stemless champagne flutes with je t’aime (I love you in French) etched on the outside surface. I took a picture of the set and sent it to a friend of mine who oddly seems to buy exactly the same things I do. She loved them as much as I did, but didn’t want eight glasses. So I suggested I buy them and we split the set. If either of us had an anniversary party or other celebration of love that we wanted to use the glasses for, we could borrow the other four from each other. She quickly agreed.

As I carefully carried the glasses, two at a time to the register, I noticed among a jumble of items on a table nearby – a silver dish for serving caviar. I knew that my friend (“P”) had also told me that she loved caviar and that she and her husband would buy it for special occasions. The price was ridiculously low and I was so excited I had to buy it and surprise her.

Caviar dish and etched flutes.

Later in the year “P” sent me a picture of her table set with the two etched flute glasses filled with champagne and her caviar filled dish as she and her husband prepared to celebrate their wedding anniversary. I reached out to her for a picture of the caviar dish, and she sent me this picture of yet another celebration that included the dish I gifted her.

Etched with Je t’aime (I love you in French)

“P” also reminded me of another gift I had given her years ago, found in a combo antique-consignment shop outside of New Orleans. When you have a friend that has just about everything, it’s hard to think of a suitable gift year after year for birthdays or Christmas. Heck we have enough trouble year after year with spouses or other family members. In my imagination, I would love to find thoughtful, meaningful treasures for everyone in my life. If I can manage to get at least one special item over many years, I suppose that’s all that can be expected of oneself.

“P” and I are both drawn to the same things. We have a special connection in knowing what the other will love and appreciate. I think when you have that kind of connection with someone, it’s easier to find something now and then that’s special (like the caviar dish). “P” and her husband are espresso fans and when I saw these silver plated espresso cups, I thought of her.

A set of espresso cups – well cared for“P” has them looking brand new.

We spent the day together one Friday a few years back on Magazine Street in New Orleans. We had lunch at a great little restaurant and tried Lillet Blanc for the first time (her sweet husband later bought us each a bottle). We strolled through several shops including a large antique mall that for the most part was stacked with so many items it was hard to find things to appreciate. “P” peered into a jewelry case filled with various items and came upon these silver teaspoons with “The Roosevelt New York” stamped on the back. “P” considered purchasing them, but then declined – but I wasn’t going to pass them up. I decided to buy four for the iced tea lovers who come to my parties and mothers tea.

Being a book lover, I couldn’t pass up this special set of Collette stories (at Redoux Home -Market. I found this bronze book end (there was only 1) years ago and it just spoke to me as something special.

I especially love when I purchase something that finds a little story attached to it years later. Most of the antique stores I frequented decades ago are now gone, but some hold a memory connected to an item I found there, much like the little corner in the Copper Rooster. Two purchases occurred at a little shop in Harahan, LA. One is this imperfect chest that houses my teacup collection (now used for my annual Remembering our Mothers Tea) and the other….

See the story of how my tea cup collection began in the post https://socialinteractionsandparties.wordpress.com/2019/03/23/annual-tea-in-remembrance-of-mom-2018/

purchase was a set of four soup bowls and plates. After examining each cup and plate to check for any chips or cracks, I asked the shop keeper if she could discount the price. Shops are less willing to give a discount these days, but back then the norm was 10% if you asked and usually covered the tax.

One of a set of four – soup bowl with plate.

Instead of responding to my question, she asked me one. “Do you mind if I ask, what will you do with those?” I explained to her that I love to entertain and I intended to use them. “Oh,” she said, “they were my mother’s and I just want to sell them to someone who will love them as much as she did.” With that I did receive the discount, but kind of felt bad about it.

Years later when I would host my first Mothers’ Tea (in remembrance of my and some of my friends’ mothers who have passed) I served a soup each year in those same bowls. As I shared the story of the little conversation that was attached to this purchase I hoped that their previous owner’s spirit was with us, feeling remembered and know that I have indeed loved her bowls as much as she did.

Note: The items collected or gifted over the years have past lives attached to them filled with memories. New life has been given to each item with my own story of how they became a part of my life, or someone I care about, and live on in my celebrations or decor. Small shops are in need of your patronage. Support a local antique or consignment shop near you and search with fresh eyes to discover your own special treasures that can become part of your own celebrations and memories.

The Copper Rooster

Lee Lane in Old Covington, LA

My favorite little spot inside.

A little of old, new, craft, reproductions, home decor and more.

Mandeville, LA

LAGNIAPPE

A Year Long – Weekend(s) Project: Breakfast Room Makeover

A Christmas Present to myself in 2020….

My inspiration magazine photo.

For years I’ve imagined my breakfast room with a comfy banquette, but as with all things it took time to figure out the design I wanted and for several years I just hadn’t seen anything that inspired me. One weekend, I decided to sift through a stack of decor magazines with the intention of tearing out any pages of interest and tossing the rest, when I found the breakfast room design in the photo to the right. I realized I couldn’t stop looking at the picture, and knew that this was the inspiration I had been waiting for to update my breakfast room.

No, my room isn’t shaped exactly the same, and while I would love to have the beautiful hard wood floors shown in the inspiration photo, they’re not in my current budget – so my tile floors would remain. Also my windows reach almost to the base board, so I can’t create a permanent banquette that attaches to the wall (nor did I want to). I decided I wanted something free standing that would be easier to clean around and to rearrange the seating when necessary. Knowing how expensive something with tufting would be for a permanent version like the one in the photo, I knew I’d have to be patient while searching for something similar, but on a friendlier budget.

Tufted benches.

My patience paid off. I looked at these benches for weeks worried the color wouldn’t be right. Described as beige they are exactly the same creamy off-white of my dining room chairs and were exactly what I wanted. I ordered one to make sure it was right and then immediately ordered the second one the same day the first one arrived concerned their stock would eventually be depleted.

Two chairs that I purchased years ago at T. J. Maxx, that have been used for additional seating when a larger group had to sit around my dining room table, would now replace the dark gray chairs that were previously used. Without realizing until I had all of the chairs and benches together, both the benches and chairs have the same curved back design. (I’m always surprised when things like this happen naturally without my realizing it until after the items have been put together.

Meanwhile, I had to figure out how to soften the art on the walls. Deciding to repurpose the current botanical art I had previously put together with store bought frames and a book of botanical prints, I originally considered using a combination of cream and gray paint to achieve a distressed look to the black frames. Later I considered a mat gold might be better; but when I got to the craft store and searched for gold I found this champagne color that I decided was much prettier. It has a more subtle and softer finish than the gold.

This was truly a weekend project all on its own, because it took the entire weekend to search through the book for the best pages to replace the prior prints and then choose the best combinations of two. Meanwhile I sprayed two frames at a time with a couple of coats of paint. When they were all repainted, I selected the two prints that looked best together, for three sets of two frames. Once finished, the final decision was where to hang them.

The original frames were distressed black with red/orange botanicals.
Frames were sprayed with Krylon Colormaster “Champagne” and
images with shades of blue, lavenders and greens replaced the red versions.