TRAVEL JOURNAL

New England Tour… The Cape Cod – Kennedy Experience.

🍂🍁🍂Past Itinerary Series🍂🍁🍂

Earlier in the year, the Jacqueline Kennedy Clothing Exhibit was highlighted on one of the morning news programs. The exhibit was in New York and I wished I could have traveled there to see it. At the time it seemed like an impossible thought.

Our first scheduled stop on the second morning of our tour was the John F. Kennedy Library Museum. Just minutes before our arrival, the tour guide announced that our tour included admission to the museum, but as an added bonus if anyone was interested, the Jacqueline Kennedy Clothing Exhibit was on display at the museum for an additional charge. I couldn’t believe my luck. I of course bought a ticket straight away and only after seeing everything in the clothing exhibit did I venture over to the JFK Library Museum.

As I browsed through the exhibit, I remember thinking the dresses looked like they belonged to a larger woman than I had imagined; it was so exciting to see the beautiful iconic fashions worn during such a series of important events in our history. During most of the decade it represented, our family had a black and white television; so to see these garments in color was a bit shocking.

As a little girl I remember staring at black and white pictures of my mother dressed for her prom in the late 1950’s. Without asking her, I instead decided the color of her dress was red. Many years later at my grandmother’s house, she pulled a crumpled dress made of tulle, satin and sequins from a back closet that I immediately recognized as the dress in the photo. Much to my surprise it was emerald green. I was kind of disappointed. It just didn’t seem right – I had decided it should be red!

I found myself having the same experience as I browsed over the Kennedy garments. I’m sure back during that time the reporters described the color of her dresses, but I was just a little kid and didn’t care much at the time to listen, I’d rather imagine. Now as I discovered the truly bright yellows, blues, pinks and reds of her garments, I would gaze over at the black and white photos nearby with a newly informed eye (but it wasn’t the color I had envisioned.)

Ironically, the following year I took my daughter to Washington D.C. and without knowing again, we discovered a gallery where the exhibit was currently on display and this second time I shared the experience with my daughter, who only knew of Jacqueline Kennedy from her history books, but still wanted and enjoyed the opportunity to see the exhibit.

Later as we made full circle ,the tour ended in Cape Cod. There we visited St. Frances Xavier Church in Hyannis where the Kennedy family attended mass. Information from the website: “St. Francis Xavier Church, located on South Street in Hyannis, was the church Rose and Joe Kennedy chose to attend after buying their home in Hyannis Port in the 1920s. St. Francis Xavier became the summer parish for most of the Kennedy family. It was also the site of several important family events, so much so, that the locals often call it the “Kennedy Church.”

Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy regularly attended mass here, at the St. Francis Xavier Church. Cape Cod and the St. Francis Xavier Church were the Kennedy family’s catholic spiritual center. Until her death in 1995 Rose sat in the front row in the east wing of the church. When her first son, Joe Kennedy Jr., brother of JFK, died in WWII in 1944, the service was held here. The main altar of the church is now a memorial to Joseph Kennedy, Jr. President . John F. Kennedy attended Sunday Mass here with his family during the summer time. Church historians recall that the Kennedys would sit in the second row of pews while Secret Service Agents would bracket the president in the front and third rows. Senator Ted Kennedy’s youngest son Patrick was baptized here. It was here in 1986 that Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s daughter Maria married Arnold Schwarzenegger. The funeral mass for Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics, was held here in 2009.”

This place, like so many others along our tour, deserved pause. Everyone was racing around taking pictures and looking around the ordinary, but historical church established originally as St. Patrick’s in 1874, now St. Frances Xavier Parish as of 1903. The pew where the Kennedy family sat for each service was labeled. They like so many of us, at some point chose a pew to sit in and every week returned to the same spot as if it had been assigned or claimed as theirs. I chose a pew to sit in and surveyed the church surroundings that the Kennedys had gazed upon during their attended services over the years; I sat in the faith they felt and prayed in the place they prayed.

With all of the successes and financial privileges that the Kennedy family possessed, they also suffered a lot of loss and heartache. This small humble church was their choice to celebrate some of the new and loss lives of their loved ones very much as we would. In some small way, the spirit of history was once again palpable.

As we reached the shoreline of Cape Cod Bay, images of the Kennedys sailing across these choppy waters in their yacht came to mind. In groups we set out to find a lunch spot and most of us ordered lobster rolls. While it may seem like an old cliché, it can’t be found where I’m from and who in their right mind would say no to lobster?

Afterwards we boarded a boat that steered out into the deep waters of the bay in search of whales. It was a sunny, but bitterly cold and windy day – so most of us took shelter in the cabin of the boat until we reached our destination. As we moved further from the shore. the view of the town and Pilgrim Monument could be better appreciated.

The National monument to the Forefathers, formerly known as the Pilgrim Monument, commemorates the Mayflower Pilgrims opened in 1910.

Fortunately for all of us, there were several whales out that day. The problem was trying to photograph them. They so quickly leaped from the water’s surface into the air and just as quickly dipped back beneath the choppy waters, making it difficult to snap a successful photo. Afraid there wouldn’t be an abundance of whale activity to capture a picture of, I spent most of my time trying to figure out the timing of their rise and fall so I could capture an image before their large tails vanished back down below the deep blue water. After taking several shots, I realized this was an opportunity to just watch and enjoy the playful flips of these beautiful, massive creations of nature and resigned to just enjoying the opportunity to be so close to these amazing mysterious creatures. I was relieved when my film was later developed, that I was successful in capturing some of those impressive moments.

That evening we enjoyed a delicious buttery traditional lobster dinner at a dark cozy restaurant, with nautical touches and a fireplace blazing to tame the chilly air. The room was filled with the scent of baked apples and the warming spices of Fall – the atmosphere spilling over with New England style, traditions and romantic charm. While this isn’t the end of my itinerary memories of this trip, it was the last evening of my long awaited New England Fall tour. On to the leaves…..🍂🍁🍂

Note: The Jacqueline Kennedy Clothing Exhibit appears to be on permanent display at the JFK Library Museum. https://www.jfklibrary.org/visit-museum/exhibits/museum-artifacts/first-lady-jacqueline-kennedy-clothing

TRAVEL JOURNAL

Falling for Fall – Nine Day tour of New England:

**** My Past Itinerary Series****

Boston, Massachusetts

The temperatures in the South continue to blaze at record heat levels. Longing for my favorite time of year to arrive (Fall), I decided to visit a past itinerary that recalls the beauty of the season.

As a young girl, having grown up mostly on the west coast, I developed a fascination for the season that formed the Fall foliage of New England from images seen on television, in movies and the pages of magazines. In fact, to this date the Fall issues of food and decor magazines still remain my favorite of the year. Over the years I vowed to someday witness the spectacular display of nature. Having relocated from the west coast, to the deep south, I was still deprived of this glorious natural process that like clock work, recurs year after year.

When the opportunity finally presented itself with time and funds, I decided I would travel alone. I was determined not to allow the lack of a travel companion detour me from the experience I had longed to have for so many years. A tour, I decided, would provide safety and companionship when needed. It was quite therapeutic and in many ways, a private spiritual retreat in that there’s nothing like the quiet beauty of nature to calm and soothe the soul.

My tour was scheduled for the first week of October, which is , when Mother Nature agrees, the peak time for the changing foliage in New England. I flew to Boston less than a month after the 9/11 Twin Tower terrorist attack, my tour scheduled since June. While some worried that it wasn’t a safe time, I argued that I wasn’t going to live in fear AND that security had been escalated to a level never seen before. Our tour guide advised us along the way that many had cancelled with the various tour groups, and the traffic of tourist for the season was much lower (to our advantage).

Following breakfast at the hotel, our group boarded the tour bus that carefully navigated the streets of Boston, as the tour guide pointed out some of the many historical aspects of the city. “Boston was founded in 1630, making it one of the oldest cities in the U.S. The key role it played in the American Revolution is highlighted on the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile walking route of historic sites that tells the story of the nation’s founding,” she told us as we paused at a traffic light and she pointed to the medallion in the road.  We, however were confined to our tour bus. A walk along the trail would have to happen on a self-guided tour of the city.

Once we crossed through the city, it was obvious we nearing the Boston harbor where we stopped to visit the USS Constitution Museum that showcases Boston’s maritime history and the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel still afloat. We were allowed to walk around on our own and enjoy the display of historical items.

Afterwards we were transported by bus just a couple of miles away and to the pier where the Odyssey Dinner Cruise ships were docked. We excitedly boarded a small ship for a scheduled luncheon cruise around the Boston harbor. The cruise and culinary experience were both elegant and relaxing. It was a perfect way to start the first day, allowing everyone some time to just relax and unwind from the many methods used to travel to Boston the previous day. The Boston skyline was impressive and the water reflected an elegant emerald green as the sun warmed the slightly chilled breeze that was crisp, fresh and exhilarating. As the ship cruised back to the dock, whatever slumbered state we may have experienced beforehand had been lifted and we were ready to see more of the city.

Seeing the city from this perspective was an unexpected treat. One could better appreciate the beautiful architecture from this vantage point that would be impossible from the streets of Boston. While the city is filled with the ghosts of history that formed our country, from here we only see it’s modern expansion and progress.

Pictures were taken with an old school 35 mm camera back then-
our current HD versions would make this image so much clearer.

https://www.odysseycruises.com/boston/cruises/lunch-cruises

Back on the tour bus, our next stop delivered us before the statue of Paul Revere riding upon his horse in the foreground of the Old North Church. I remember thinking, all of that stuff in our history books in school is pretty cool in person. It’s funny how dull history seemed in school, but here is -tangible proof in full technicolor right before eyes. I couldn’t help but wish I had done more than simply memorize what I needed to know to pass a test. There is a feeling of past lives and history in every direction, that’s palpable.

In fact all of the New England States have this atmosphere of history I felt very connected to and proud of. So much happened along this group of States, so many risked their lives to come here for the promise of a better life and so many were lost in the process. As we walked the cobblestoned streets, the tour guide lead us to the actual home of Paul Revere where he resided with his very large family. He actually lived right here in this building! I felt a sense of excitement as if I were visiting the past of my ancestors.

As we turned the corner, and walked up the hill, a small cemetery came into view, cluttered with Quaker styled tombstones dated as far back as the 1600’s with engraved scull and cross bones or a skull with wings. It conjured images of men and women dressed in their Pilgrim fashions of long dark robes of fabric and wide belts adorned with large square pewter buckles.

As our afternoon of circling Boston came to an end, the bus delivered us to Faneuil Hall and Quincy Marketplace where cobblestoned walks were scattered with both merchant carts containing an assortment of crafts from throughout New England with modern stores in the buildings the framed the Marketplace. As we exited the bus, the sun was setting and there was an elevated chill in the air. Lively music echoed throughout the square played by a violinist with an amplifier as we browsed along the square for a comfortable eatery. We gathered at a replica of Cheers and had a cheerful relaxing dinner as we recalled the events of the day and learned more about each other. Back at the hotel , we prepared for our morning departure from Boston to Salem.

GATHERINGS

Hosting a Friendsgiving Brunch

My favorite season of the year is Fall. The brilliant hues of harvested apples, pears and squash; foliage changing from fresh greens to a kaleidoscope, golds, sharp tangerine, mellow melon, peach, apricot – warm caramel, luscious chocolate and aubergine all causing one’s imagination to wander to a warm crackling fire, wrapped in a cozy sweater, sipping steamy apple cider, hot chocolate or buttered rum. What could be more comforting and inviting?

Bellini Cocktails, Sparkling Apple Cider.

Several year’s ago I went on a quintessential Fall Pilgrimage Tour of New England. Having grown up mostly on the west coast of the U.S. I was always curious about the east coast, especially during the season of changing leaves. The experience was everything I had imagined and more, so much so that I went back a few years later. I loved it so much and would go every year if I could. Of course, I can’t go every year, but I can coax a little of those memories to life in some way each year in my home.

This year (2019), I’m planning a Wine Club Friendsgiving with just the girls to share some of the food and spirits experienced on my September trip to Germany, France and Switzerland. In order to keep that plan under the radar so that my gal pals can be surprised, I decided to share some imagines from a Friendsgiving brunch I hosted a few years ago.

For ten years I worked with a wonderful group of ladies at a bank that was eventually purchased by a large credit card company. After that purchase our division was gradually phased out and our group disbursed into various directions that included different employers and in some cases a complete change in careers. For many years since that break up, one friend in particular routinely scheduled monthly after work dinner meetings at various restaurants for our group to gather and stay in touch. Over time, it has grown more difficult to get the group together, each entering different phases of their lives including retirement.

I decided to host a Friendsgiving Brunch for the group and about eight attended. My menu consisted of Southern comfort food dishes and seasonal fruits. Above: Appetizer – mini crab cakes. https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ellie-krieger/crab-cakes-recipe-1945435 Below: A citrus salad of sliced blood and naval oranges, shaved coconut, chopped pistachios with a honey citrus vinaigrette. https://www.justataste.com/citrus-salad-honey-dressing-recipe/

Below: The main course -Cheesy jalapeño grits and grillades made with thinly pounded pork loin. https://www.chefjohnbesh.com/recipes-1/2016/2/15/slow-cooked-veal-grillades-and-jalapeo-cheese-grits

Below: Dessert -Pear brandy cream cheese stuffed bosch pears pouched in apple cider and honey, served with Amarena cherries and a cinnamon sugar palmier. https://www.marthastewart.com/341355/poached-pears

https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/cinnamon-elephant-ears-recipe-1923543

Below: Gift/Favor bags filled with homemade cranberry orange scones and small jars of preserves. https://www.marthastewart.com/317925/cranberry-orange-scones

This menu has fairly simple ingredients and preparation. The crab cakes can be formed and refrigerated over night to be cooked about an hour before everyone’s arrival and set in a low temperature oven until ready to serve. The grillades can be cooked a day ahead and re-warmed with the grits prepared early in the morning in a slow cooker and then set on low to keep warm with an occasional stir.

My first experience with poached pears was at a bed and breakfast in Calistoga, CA, as part of the breakfast menu. I remembered how much I enjoyed it, thinking it was a unique and delicious idea for breakfast. Theirs was poached in red wine (appropriate for the wine country). I chose a recipe using apple cider for my Fall themed brunch. I prepped and cooked the poached pears (without over cooking) leaving them in the pot until ready to serve. As I peeled and cored each pear, I filled it’s center with a mixture of softened cream cheese, spiked with a small amount of pear brandy and vanilla extract. The liquid can be re-warmed just prior to serving and poured over each pear set into a bowl or glass dessert dish with sides, or it is just a delicious at room temperature. A spoonful of amarena cherries was set along the side of the pear and its apple cider broth.

Amarena cherries can be found at some of the local gourmet stores, seasonally at Trader Joe’s or online. They’ve become a favorite of my wine club and can also be used for cocktails. Once you try them you’ll understand why. Other similar options are Dark Morello or French Griottines (cherries in kirsch brandy). Note: A jar of these make a great hostess gift!

https://www.worldmarket.com/category/food-and-drink/food/condiments-sauces.do?template=PLA&plfsku=571668&&mrkgcl=660&mrkgadid=3282585950&camp=ppc%3AGoogle%3APLA%2BMerkle_Shopping_PLA%7CConsumables%2BSavories_and_Baking&product_id=571668&adpos=1o1&creative=260704783163&device=c&matchtype=&network=g&gclid=Cj0KCQjwivbsBRDsARIsADyISJ941VKHe0zr8GMqw5SnWP8wAmdRx9uJg-VqM4h69RzFBjkvJHZNsmQaAqzuEALw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds

The favor/gift bags were prepared with ribbon the small jars of preserves wrapped in one of the friendsgiving napkins with twine a week in advance. The mini scones were baked fresh the morning of the brunch wrapped in wax paper (due to the butter content) and tucked into the bags to be distributed before everyone disbursed.

Finally the Bellini bar was set up about a half hour before everyone’s arrival, along with a freshly brewed pitcher of iced tea for those who do not drink alcohol. A bottle of iced down prosecco and sparkling apple cider (another non-alcohol option), a bottle of pureed peach nectar (Tuesday Morning) and Grand Mariner raspberry peach liqueur all set on my cocktail cart with glasses to the side for self serve.

Simple dishes and easy set up for a lovely way to gather and enjoy the company of friends and celebrate this glorious season that like clockwork, recurs year after year.

TRAVEL JOURNAL

The Spontaneous Traveler – Bonus Edition

The beautiful town of Eguisheim, France

The reaction to my “Spontaneous Traveler” posts was very encouraging! Two weeks after returning to “reality”, my co-traveling companion suggested we get together for dinner. She wanted to share the pictures she took with her digital camera (all of mine were taken with my iphone 6 plus) and share some delicious raclette truffle cheese and two other hard cheeses one a little salty and one with wildflowers, she brought home from her extended week in Switzerland with her husband. Here are the images she captured of some of the moments I mentioned previously, but didn’t have photos to share. Consider this is a bonus round….

Here I am, all suited up for my Swiss Alps adventure.

There were cow bells everywhere, but none matched this amazing collection displayed on the side of a homestead.

Left: My two-sister friends who shared and encouraged me through this wonderful experience. Right: Our lovable guide, friend and adventurer that welcomed us and chose the places we visited on this amazing holiday!

Images from our hiking afternoon from Mürren to Grimmelwald.

The Swiss boldly love two things that were everywhere, their flag and gnomes.

If you look closely at the sign above the awning (below) you’ll see the first of the honestly stores we visited. This is the hotel and pub as well, where just around the corner by the large tree, opens to the outdoor deck and pub where we enjoyed a drink, a bowl of soup and the view.

I

In my prior post, I referenced the parasailing, but didn’t have pictures. Above in the fair right quarter, you can see the tiny images of parasails (that look like birds) soaring high above the mountains and below some of their progression downward.

I’ve created a new category called Travel Journal where I hope to share future adventures with my readers and followers. Remember to follow along!

TRAVEL JOURNAL

The Spontaneous Traveler-Auf Wiedersehen

My Final Day- Switzerland 🇨🇭

Saturday to Wednesday- 5 Amazing Days

Anyone that says you have to spend at least two weeks or more in Europe to fully benefit from what it has to offer, in this very unique case, I have to disagree. I’m aware that this opportunity to stay with a friend who had searched and pre-visited some of the areas that she brought us to is rare, and that is why I consider it such an enormous blessing.

While some may be cautious about the sites that are for international house sitting, in this particular case my friend had the most amazing experiences with the friendliest homeowners in both Oxford, England and Nimburg, Germany. If you are retired for example, and you have the freedom to go to Europe or other places in the world for a month – this is a thrifty way to defray some of the (hotel) cost of travel and live like a local, rather than the absorbing cost of a hotel. We spent two nights in a hotel Mürren, but the rest of our nights were spent in the little cottage in Germany chosen by our friend for its close proximity to France and Switzerland.

As we descended from Mürren, we surveyed the beauty around us for the last time and walked across a small bridge to get a closer look at a nearby waterfall. I decided to climb down the boulders of the nearby creek to touch the cold rushing clear alpine water.

Overhead multiple parasailers soared from over the edge of the cliffs swaying from side to side, circling in the air until they finally glided down into an open grassy area near the gondola station. Finally it was time to get into the car and depart.

For my final day, our friend suggested visiting a castle or a Swiss chocolate factory, but knowing I had to prepare for my morning flight and the drive that we had ahead of us to return to the home in Germany, I asked if we could stop at the beautiful lake we saw on the drive toward Murren and just have a relaxing lunch.

As we said auf wiedersehen to the Swiss Alps, we were also about to say goodbye to one of our traveling companions who boarded a train in Interlaken, for Zurich where she would meet her husband for another week’s stay in Switzerland.

Lake Brienz is a lake just north of the Alps, in the canton of Berne in Switzerland. It has a length of about 14 kilometres, a width of 2.8 kilometres (8.5 miles) and a maximum depth of 260 metres. Its area is 29.8 square kilometres (18.5 miles), and the surface is 564 metres above the sea-level. (according to Wikipedia). It’s unique turquoise water is formed my the glacier mineral run off.

In search of a good spot to have lunch, now a party of two, we found our way to Iseltwald where with the help of some other travelers, we were gifted enough Swiss francs to feed the parking meter and then walked down the hill toward the lake (where my friend realized was the same place she and her husband had stopped a year ago on their honeymoon.) The tallest building in the distance is the Strandhotel, where we found a great table on the water to unwind and enjoy the view. We watched paddle boats sail across both ends of the large lake as we browsed the restaurant menu and a couple of beautiful swans elegantly gliding across its turquoise surface.

My friend chose a rösti formed into cups and filled with a creamy mushroom sauce and I chose the lake fish (also in a mushroom sauce). A while after ordering I noticed a young man with an apron, scooping something out of a tank that we passed on the way to our table. As we stretched to try to figure out what he was doing, we saw a fish flopping around in the hand net he was scooping into the tank. “He’s getting your fish from the tank!” my friend said. “Fresh lake fish!”. But I think we may have been dooped. According to what I’ve read the lake is poor in nutrients, and consequently fishing is not very important. Nevertheless, in 2001 10,000 kg fish were caught (according to Wikipedia).

Starting with the home we were staying in (Germany), to the cottages in the village of Mürren -full use of any land a small homestead has, is usually filled with a beautiful, colorful garden, with a mixture of flowers, herbs and vegetables. We saw gardens planted on sloping hillsides, flowers tucked into a variety of interesting containers, cracks and crevices; but of all the versions we saw this little garden was most beautiful and healthy I had seen. It is jam packed with hot house tomatoes in the back, a variety of beautiful lettuces, herbs, flowers, beans and other vegetables.

We saw so many beautiful vibrant colored flowers on this trip, but this variegated fuchsia and pink zinnia was so unique I wished we had seeds to bring home.

What a beautiful image to have in my memory for a long time to come. While I have much more of Europe and these countries to see in the future, I can mark a big fat check on my bucket list due to this wonderful, spontaneous, last minute vacation!

TRAVEL JOURNAL

The Spontaneous Traveler -Switzerland 🇨🇭 continued…

What Can Happen in Less Than a Week

Day 1 & 2 Mürren

The first of two gondolas that transported us to Mürren.

As the gondola ascended we took in the overhead view of the valley below, the small shadow of the gondola on the rocky cliffs offering a scale by which to measure how grand and large the walls of rock and forests all around us truly were. The cable car slightly swayed as it passed over connectors, but then smoothly eased into its port, where everyone exited and boarded a second car to Mürren, a traditional Walser mountain village in the Bernese Highlands of Switzerland, at an elevation of 1,638 metres (5,374 ft) above sea level that cannot be reached by public road, but it can also be reached by train.

An image of the gondola from our hotel window.

Words escape me- as we exited the cable car station the view was literally breathtaking. Your instinct is to take pictures, but the beauty is so vast that any attempt to capture its essence is futile.

When I was about 7 years old, my family lived in Tacoma, Washington and every day for a year I could see Mt. Rainer in the distance. It was especially beautiful when its peak was dusted with snow. Later when I was about 10 years old, we lived in Northern California. I remember taking a family trip where we drove through the mountains to Lake Tahoe. It was the first time I remember seeing snow. As I survey the horizon filled with snowcapped peaks, memories of those trips flooded back. I’ve always loved the sight of beautiful mountains.

With the exception of one or two small trucks with supplies, small snow plows, and trucks parked away in the fire station garage, this town is void of cars – which is interesting, because a hotel was being built at the far end of town where cement was being prepped and lifted by a small crane. We were often puzzled about how they got things like this done up so high, assuming equipment must be brought up by the train. One day during breakfast we witnessed a helicopter carrying a pallet of something higher up. Just as Venice, Italy has to manage life by waterways, these mountain regions have their own unique challenges for receiving supplies.

We strolled down the main road with our eyes darting in all directions, from the cute cozy Swiss Alpine architecture, to the historical landmarks in search of Hotel Regina where we would stay for two nights as the grandeur of the mountainous landscape towered above and all around us like unimaginable huge giants. While our friend who visited this place just a year ago squealed over and over again with how gorgeous it all was, I wanted to simply take it all in silently and thanked God over and over beneath my breath at this masterpiece He created and for this out of body experience I was feeling for this unexpected, unplanned remarkable vacation with two such loving and enthusiastic friends.

Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. There are spectacular views from Mürren across to the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains. It is nice to wander through Mürren at any time of day or night and take in the stunning picturesque landscape of nature.

After checking into the hotel, free of the weight of our back packs, we returned to the street that wound through the town and browsed over the menus restaurants posted in glass cases outside their doors and stopped into an occasional shop. In search of the traditional Swiss fondue for dinner, we decided to dine at Restaurant Stägerstübli. Here we met our friendly server Ruedi whose parents are the owners.

We relaxed over a lovely dinner comprised of cheese fondue with bread and boiled potatoes for dipping(notice the edelweiss on the sterno can); we enjoyed the German salad so much at the castle that we ordered one to share; I was in the mood for fish and ordered a delicate poached salmon that came with buttered boiled potatoes and spinach, and one of my friends ordered a plate with sausage (I think) and a large rösti (hash brown) pancake. Potatoes seem to be served with everything in this region.

Dinner at Stägerstübli https://www.staegerstuebli.ch/en Our server Ruedi recommended we try a traditional Swiss dessert called Marroni -Zyt mit Ditzler that looks like vermicelli pasta, but is a frozen hazelnut and cherry puree that comes in a tube and is pressed through a vermicelli gadget that forms the strings for the dessert. The dessert can be ordered with or without vanilla ice cream. We chose to add the ice cream and it needed it. The texture of dessert was odd and for one of my group off putting, but the ice cream helped. Oddly the two dark cherries surprised us when we bit in to find the pits still there. https://www.ditzler.ch/marroni-produkte/

Meals are long and leisurely in Europe and by the time we had finished ours we were ready to retire for the night in hopes of a good night’s sleep with plans in the morning for some hiking on one of many trails that wove through the beautiful alpine mountains.

The beautiful clear water.

There’s something quite magical about waking up in Mürren. The word “awesome” has become a very overused expression assigned to very mundane things, but this place truly deserves the word “awesome”. As we pushed the curtains aside the snow caped Eiger greeted us with what looked like a fresh layer of snow that appeared to reach further down the mountainside than the day of our arrival.

One by one we gathered for breakfast with the beauty of the Alps visible from every window in the room. Each morning the hotel provided a large table with various items to select for breakfast, such as bread, yogurts, fruit, cheese and sliced meats, muesli, oats, and pre-boiled eggs (that are always colored) or there was a pot that allowed guests to boil their own eggs. There was a fabulous coffee machine that made hot chocolate, a latte, a cappuccino, espresso, cafe au lait or hot water for tea.

From the window to the right I did my best to zoom in with my iphone camera to capture an image of the next level (by cable car) that many of the tourist were headed, where the Skyline rotating restaurant and James Bond experience can be had. ‘The interactive exhibition transports you to the world of James Bond: Get an intriguing glimpse behind the scenes of the movie shoot of «On Her Majesty‘s Secret Service» starring George Lazenby as Secret Agent 007.’ We did not go to the site, but can only imagine it as a fun experience for a serious Bond fan.

After breakfast one of our group wanted to go to a higher elevation to hike a longer trail, while the other two of us chose a shorter path that lead down the mountain from our current location. We enjoyed a lovely walk at a comfortable pace and along the way saw homesteads along the path, mountain goats, creeks and small waterfalls that we stopped to take pictures of now and then. The trail from Mürren to Grimmelwald is estimated to take 45 minutes, but we stopped a few times and sat on benches to just enjoy the view, so ours took about a little more than an hour.

Near the end of the trail is the Pension Grimmelwald that offers a cozy little pub with an outdoor patio that overlooks the valley below, but it’s hard to get away from the view in this area. It’s above, below and all around you. The pub did’t have a menu, but offered a soup du jour of vegetable leek puree soup available for purchase that hit the spot to nourish and warm us on the brisk cool day. We met two couples that were from the U.S. that also stopped to have a beer and soup before we got up to stroll through the small town where my friend bought some homemade sausage and cheese from an “Honest” store. There were a few along the path that offered items for purchase on the honor system. You simply paid the price marked on the item, into a designated box and took your items (in this case from a refrigerator).

After our stroll through the little town of Grimmelwald we walked the short distance to take the gondola back up to Mürren. A crowd of tourists shifted from the first gondola to the 2nd, and on the sidelines were 3 little girls about 6 years old, one with a bike. They wore reflective sashes around their necks and pushed theirselves on to the gondola with us. Our server Ruedi from the evening prior was also waiting with a friend to board the gondola. We asked him about the children (concerned) and he said they take the gondola to school and back home. In the winter they ride their snow sleds down the mountain. They’re taught to take care of themselves at a very young age.

We returned to the hotel to freshen up and then stepped back out into town to browse through the shops, each searching for a couple of items to bring home when our friend who took a different path rejoined us. For our final evening we were in search of raclette a special Swiss melting cheese served in a different way than fondue.

Wikipedia: Raclette/rəˈklɛt/ is a semi-hard cheese that is usually fashioned into a wheel of about 6 kg (13 lb). The Alpine cow milk based dairy product is most commonly used for melting, but is also consumed as a slice. Raclette is a Swiss dish, also very popular in Savoie (France), based on heating the cheese and scraping off (from French: racler) the melted part.

Also served with boiled potatoes and bread, we quickly ate the delicious gooy goodness (after our day of hiking the hunger pains were grand), along with some of the same items we had the previous night, now at Edelweiss Hotel Restaurant and toasted to our final night in the Swiss Alps. I think it’s safe to say… we all had a good night’s sleep after our day of hiking.

TRAVEL JOURNAL

The Spontaneous Traveler- Switzerland 🇨🇭

What Can Happen in Less Than a Week…

Day 3 – On the Road to Switzerland

While in Eguisheim I purchased a hand full of fresh mirabelles (a fruit I would be having for the first time) and figs. Most mornings at home, I make a yogurt bowl for breakfast with a combination of blueberries, strawberries, bananas or peaches with a sprinkle of cinnamon and granola. My European version included some homemade berry preserves, mirabelles, figs, muesli and mint from the garden. The mirabelles as described below, look like a cherry with a similar pit in its center, but tastes like a sweet plum, very good!

Mirabelle plum, also known as mirabelle prune or cherry plum (Prunus domestica subsp. syriaca), is a cultivar group of plum trees of the genus Prunus. It is believed that the plum was cultivated from a wild fruit grown in Anatolia.

Crossing the border of Germany into Switzerland.

The drive to Switzerland took a couple of hours and for a Monday morning the traffic was a little heavier than we experienced from the prior weekend. Just across the border, commuters feverishly rushed to work and appointments. For the first time the landscape was filled with modern, unique architecture of office buildings and shopping malls like any usual city.

Eventually we broke away from the rush of the city and sped by large fields of green with a hint of mountains that stretched across the horizon before us. In no time, the car began to automatically shift up and down with our ears occasionally gently popping, as we ascended along the mountain’s curves and valleys on a winding road. Suddenly all around us, rocky, bold, massive and majestic mountain walls surrounded us, with snow filled peaks tucked high above us.

As a young teenager I grew up in a valley in California where we were surrounded by mountains with nearby snow capped peaks, and as these alpine mounds closed around us it brought back a feeling of home from those days when mountains were part of my daily landscape. Having lived so many years in the flat landscape of Louisiana, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked out into the horizon and wished I could see those beautiful mountains in the distance.

Suddenly the winding, climbing road came to a stop, and a small line of cars sat idle. As we stretched to see around the line of cars trying to determine what was happening up ahead to cause the standstill, we heard the chiming cow bells of a small group of cattle being lead down a side road into a small pasture just a few feet away. I posted a brief video on instagram of their lovely chiming bells. By the time I had gotten out of the car to try to take pictures, the small herd was already in their field and the traffic was back in motion.

As we approached the small town of Lauterbrunnen, just a few miles from the end of the road where a gondola (or cable car) would transport us to Mürren, we decided to stop in the beautiful picturesque valley, to stretch our legs and take in the fresh mountain air. As we walked through town in search of a lunch spot, we paused at an ATM to get some Swiss Francs – the currency of Switzerland, but we later learned as we paid for lunch that this area of Switzerland is happy to accept our Euros dollar for dollar – making a few cents on each transaction since the Euro was .91 to the Swiss Franc .99 to the U.S. $1.

The Swiss Franc is colorful and cheerful. On the day of this post the conversion to the U.S. Dollar was .99 – so basically dollar for dollar the same.

We lunched at small cafe’ on individual pizzas on their front outdoor deck to soak in the warm sun and beautiful views of nature all around us. Multiple waterfalls, luscious green pastures, tall jetting alpine trees, mountain goats grazing and snow peaks jutting into the clouds… my mind was just swirling in awe and amazement.

I’d like to pause for a moment to say that not having traveled to Europe in over a decade, (with that one destination being a professionally guided tour of various parts of Italy) I was concerned about traveling through countries where French and German were the main languages without a formal tour guide. The people of Germany, France and Switzerland were helpful, friendly and “most” spoke English. On the train from and to the Frankfurt Airport, the most remarkable people crossed my path and appeared from nearly out of nowhere to offer me support and information that helped me along the journey.

As described in many traveling articles, French servers at restaurants weren’t very attentive or friendly, and the same was true of the server at our luncheon at the castle restaurant in Germany. In fact we found ourselves calling for them to simply order and later pay for the bill. Switzerland was an entirely different experience. Servers were personable, answered questions enthusiastically and offered informative narratives about the things we were eating, seeing or experiencing that differed in the Swiss culture.

Just when we thought nature could not be any more beautiful or surprising we turned the corner and were face to face with the magnificent snow peaked Swiss Alps. With the car parked, we each grabbed our back packed items and walked toward the first gondola that would lift us to a second gondola to Mürren.

TRAVEL JOURNAL

The Spontaneous Traveler : Germany

What Can Happen in Less Than a Week

Day 2 – Part 2 The Black Forest

The area is known for it’s great wood carvers. We stopped for a navigation
check on the side of the road and found this guy staring at us.

By the time we arrived it was late afternoon. I was in search of some Black Forest cake! I had found an authentic Black Forest cake recipe that I used for the dessert course for my Symphony of Whites wine party a few years ago that everyone was impressed with and I was eager to try the real thing in the actual Black Forest town.

We asked the shop keepers where we could get the specialty cake and was directed to Klaus Schäfer Bakery a few blocks down the road, but were warned that there were so many tourist earlier in the day, there may not be any left. As we made our way down the street in search of the bakery – it was clear that shops were close to closing, and when we finally found the bakery it was in fact closed. When I thought all hope was gone of tasting the specialty cake, we decided to stop into a cafe’ that had a large display case for desserts and coffee, but not much was left – but there it was! We spotted two slices of the cake and ordered both for the three of us to share. Clearly for me – it was all about the cake!

The day remained cloudy and gray with an occasional drizzle or light rain, but we pushed through and ducked quickly into various shops. Below is a painted sign from the side of a building and further below an actual photo of a woman wearing a bollenhut as defined by Wikipedia:

Bollenhut[needs IPA] is a formal headdress worn since c.1750 by Protestant women as part of their folk costume or Tracht in the three neighbouring Black Forest villages of GutachKirnbach and Hornberg-Reichenbach. With its woollen pompoms, the picturesque-looking red Bollenhut has become a symbol of the Black Forest as a whole, despite its very local origins. The red pom-poms and white brim of the Bollenhut also is said to have inspired the top layer of the Black Forest Cake.[1]

Photo from Wikipedia estimated from 1900.

A CREEK THAT RUNS THROUGH THE LITTLE TOWN.

In the distance is the Black Forest, that by the time we finished quickly browsing through the shops we drove past. Our friend and guide telling us about a beautiful waterfall that was a bit of a drive away and we were all getting a little tired at this point and decided to head back to the house.

Below: A photographer’s sign that I was so impressed with, very art deco. Our Black Forest Cake -you look very closely, the bottom layer is a very thin pie crust, followed by layers of a delicate cake, chocolate mousse with chunks of cherry, cake and whipped cream. As was our experience with the version I prepared years ago, the cake is light and not particularly sweet. I was very satisfied!

On to the clocks – Top left: My traveling companions making their way uphill in search of shops that were still open. Top right: The Black Forest in the background in a misty fog. Bottom Left: The clock below was on the exterior wall of the a shop of clocks of course. Its size in the photo is deceiving -it was as tall and wide as doorway of the building while the clock on the right side was approximately 12″ by 12″.

My travel friend is a great fan of Rick Steves and consulted his guide books to determine the best advised places we could visit in the areas closest to where we were staying. I saw a video on YouTube where he talks about a tourist trap along a lake in the Black Forest. This little town was not on a lake, and as you can see from the photos, had very few people walking around, at least by the time we arrived there. In truth, the only place where we encountered fairly large crowds of people was in Colmar, France.

The time had come to retire for the day and we headed home as the misty rain continued, but by morning would be clear and sunny. We needed to pack our backpacks with some bare necessities this evening – in the morning we were driving to Switzerland for two days and nights in the Swiss Alps of Mürren!

A modern photo on a calendar in one of the shops of a woman wearing a bollenhut.

TRAVEL JOURNAL

A Spontaneous Traveler

What Can Happen in Less Than a Week…

Day 2- Part 1 (Germany)

Our second day began with a foggy mist and low gray clouds that added to the mystic of visiting Burg Hohenzollern as our first of two stops in Germany. The luscious green pastures, hills and forestry with an occasional homestead or small village tucked in the middle were a sight to behold.

Below, with the help of Wikipedia is a brief history of Hohenzollern Castle:

Hohenzollern Castle: Burg Hohenzollern is the ancestral seat of the imperial House of Hohenzollern. The third of three hill top castles built on the site, it is located atop Mout Hohenzollern, above and south of  Hechingen, on the edge of the in Swabain Jura of central Baden – Wurttemberg, Germany. 

The first castle on the mountain was constructed in the early 11th century. Over the years the House of Hohenzollern split several times, but the castle remained in the Swabian branch, the dynastic seniors of the Franconian-Brandenburgian cadet branch. that later acquired its own imperial throne. This castle was completely destroyed in 1423 after a ten-month siege by the free imperial cities of Swabia.

The second castle, a larger and sturdier structure, was constructed from 1454 to 1461, which served as a refuge for the Catholic Swabian Hohenzollerns, including during the Thirty Years’ War. By the end of the 18th century it was thought to have lost its strategic importance and gradually fell into disrepair, leading to the demolition of several dilapidated buildings.

The third, and current, castle was built between 1846 and 1867 as a family memorial by Hohenzollern scion King Frederick William IV of Prussia. Architect Friedrich August Stüler based his design on English Gothic Revival architecture and the Châteaux of the Loire Valley.[1] No member of the Hohenzollern family was in permanent or regular residence when it was completed, and none of the three German Emperors of the late 19th and early 20th century German Empire ever occupied the castle; in 1945 it briefly became the home of the former Crown Prince Wilhelm of Germany, son of the last Hohenzollern monarch, Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Among the historical artifacts of Prussian history contained in the castle are the Crown of Wilhelm II, some of the personal effects of King Frederick the Great, and a letter from US President George Washington thanking Hohenzollern descendant Baron von Steuben for his service in the American Revolutionary War.[2]

We boarded a shuttle bus that expertly maneuvered the steep winding road, barely wide enough for the vehicle when suddenly an automobile would come speeding down from the opposite direction, each quickly adjusting to let the other pass by. We tried to imagine those who lived here centuries before with no paved road and the only means of transportation being a horse or two straining against the weight of a carriage and supplies or patrons that it held.

As we surveyed the grounds and made our way toward the entrance of the castle, it was hard not to consider how many souls were both born and died in this place. If these walls could talk… We crossed two small draw bridges followed by stoned paths where carriages of the past and now automobiles made their way up to the main areas of the castle.

While the castle is massively large, we only saw small portions of it and were not allowed to take pictures once inside, but its interior felt warm and comfortable and the areas we saw were meticulously maintained and cared for. One sitting room contained several photos of past ancestors as well as the current Prince and Princess of Prussia (better explained in the link below). We were told that they were in the castle somewhere on the day of our visit and that we may see their young children playing in the yard. The family actually resides in Berlin, but they were in town for a fund raiser held at the castle the previous evening.

https://www.burg-hohenzollern.com/Welcome.html

There are two chapels on the property. The one above was especially beautiful (more formal) with walls painted to look like flowing drapery with ropes and fringe. Below the view of the village from above through the clouds.

There is a cafe’ inside the walls of castle with a seasonal menu and a beer garden outside. Due to the rainy day, we chose to have a nice lunch in the cafe’. Below is spaetzle, with beef cheeks in red wine sauce, cheese spaetzle and a German salad. All were tasty, but I especially brought home the idea of the salad. Mixed baby greens tossed in a light vinaigrette on top, while tucked benefit are little surprises. This salad had a smashed boiled potato, finely julienned carrots, zucchini, and radishes. Something about those little pieces of vegetable in the bottom made the salad delicious and filling.

In order to walk through the castle, everyone was required to wear these funny large slippers over their shoes. To keep them on, required more of a skating motion as we moved through the rooms rather than normal steps.

We circled the exterior before leaving to take in the view below. Large bronzed statues of several Kings past were displayed along the outer walls and mountain goats grazed along the hillside.

Across from the cafe’ was an interesting and well stocked gift shop, where I purchased two items I was hoping to find somewhere along the trip. Thanks to the great eyes of my two friends one found a sterling silver crown charm to add to my travel bracelet and the other found a journal with an elegant cover made in Germany. I have kept journals for years and this one will conjure up the beautiful memories of this week of travel and time with friends.

Now on to our second half of the day… the Black Forest!

TRAVEL JOURNAL

The Spontaneous Traveler : Colmar, France

What Can Happen in Less Than One Week

Day 1 Part 2

Moving on to the second part of my day in France. Later in the afternoon we arrived in the medieval town of Colmar referred to as ” la petite Venise “(little Venice) due to the small waterways that resemble (but look nothing at all) Venice, Italy. The architecture was a combination of half timber homes and other notable historical landmarks, but lacked the quiet calm experienced earlier in Eguisheim.

As we arrived the clouds began to slowly darken and eventually the rain fell, but it didn’t stop us from exploring. The streets were much more crowded than those in Eguisheim and the surrounding neighborhoods on the outskirts were from a more modern era. Still the windows of many shops from chocolatiers, to patisseries, restaurants, gift shops and more lined the streets for plenty to do and see. As we reached the church, a wedding party had just come out and slipped into an antique car while guests walked in a group to a new by venue for the reception.

Colmar, France is also the birth place of the sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, who designed the Statue of Liberty. A museum of some of his works is on display, one of which is a beautiful statue of four women holding the world inside a small courtyard.

We paused at a local cafe’ for coffee or wine before ending the day and returning to out little cottage in Germany, our day in France had come to an end. On to day two….

TRAVEL JOURNAL

The Spontaneous Traveler

What Can Happen in less than one Week …

Day 1 – Part 1

With only a plane ticket and packed bags in the trunk of my car, I backed out of the driveway to head for the airport for my first vacation in over a decade. Once the car was parked, the shuttle bus pulled up nearby, waiting to gather my bags and help me get settled on board.

A Delta airline representative helped me through the new processes now automated, to scan my passport, check in my bag and collect my boarding pass. Once checked in and passing security checks, I retired to a seat at the gate and anxiously waited for my flight time that was two hours away.

An hour in flight, I was now making my way to the gate for my connection flight in Atlanta. When I reached the assigned gate, I surveyed the waiting area for open seats where I could rest from the weight of the carry on bags I was shifting from one shoulder to the other. A couple was seated across from me and within a short amount of time I overheard them speaking in German. In fact , many of those around me spoke German and it was then that it really sunk in – I really was going to Germany.

Less than two months ago, I started a new image board with a blank white poster board I found in my closet and images I cut from magazines I would later throw out. In one more week I would be starting a new full-time position after being unemployed for five months. As my eyes scanned over my original image board, I searched for the areas that had not yet materialized. One was to find a partner and the other was to get back to traveling. Randomly placed I found sketches of various countries I had yet to travel to and glued them to the board.

The updated vision board created one week before starting my new job.
Two months later – Germany, France and Switzerland.

Within a month of starting my position as a mortgage underwriter with my new employer, I was asked to enroll for my benefits and use the vacation calculator to determine how much time I would earn by December 31st. I would then need to schedule the days off prior to the end of the year. I learned that I had several days to use and was approved to use one and a half days over the Christmas holiday to spend with my daughter and her family, leaving a little more than a week that I would have to do something with.

A friend of mine had left a month earlier to house sit for a couple in England. The following month she would move on to Southern Germany to another house sitting assignment for yet another month. I decided to ask her if I could come and join her for a week. She welcomed me and also advised that another friend of ours was also flying over to spend a week. Once approved by my employer, I purchased my airline ticket scheduling my arrival within a day of our friend so that the three of us could enjoy the week together. We were all set for a fabulous girls trip!

On the first week of September the three of us gathered around a table set with dinner and wine, beneath home grown grapevines that draped from an overhead trellis in the small yard of a charming part timber 300 year old home in Germany. Our private travel guide and friend, described the places she had sought out and now planned to take us to over the week ahead as we toasted to this incredible adventure we were about to begin.

Dinner beneath an overhead trellis of home grown grapes.

Day 1: Within a 45 minute drive, we were crossing the border to the Alsace region of France where our friend brought us to the first of two charming towns we would visit. The quaint and charming medieval town of Eguisheim yanks at your heart strings at first sight. The part timber, pastel shaded homes lined the cobblestoned streets; window boxes overflowing with bright colorful flowers. The town is filled with roosters in the form of metal sculptures and weathervanes, elegant elaborate rot iron signs that hung above the door ways of stores and stork references (large nests can been seen at the top of church steeples and other rooftops) are seen in nearly every shop on tea and dish towels, Alsace pottery, t-shirts and more.

Pope Leo IX, born Bruno of Egisheim-Dagsburg, was Pope of the Catholic Church from 12 February 1049 to his death in 1054. He was a German aristocrat and a powerful ruler of central Italy while holding the papacy. He is regarded as a saint by the Catholic Church, his feast day celebrated on 19 April.

Note the large stork’s nest at the top.

The cobblestoned streets and half timbered architecture of the Mid-evil village bore the beauty that fairytales are made of. It was difficult to stop taking pictures, but as good as the pictures look – they simply don’t look at lovely as the real thing. According to Wikipedia: Eguisheim produces Alsace wine of high quality. In May 2013 it was voted the «Village préféré des Français» (Favorite French Village), an annual distinction that passes from town to town throughout France. A labeled path that circled the town guided us as we browsed through little shops, examined the various designs of old doors, shutters and hardware, and smiled at variety of flowers spilling over from every window before stopping to have a leisurely French lunch.

We stopped to browse in a small shop and were offered a taste of this delicious pear liqueur. I bought a small bottle to share with my wine club.

We decided to lunch at Restaurant A. Edel where I had escargot for the first time. At each meal throughout our trip, we each ordered something different to sample a variety of traditional foods from each area. For this lunch we ordered the Alsace Stew Pot that was delivered to nearly every table (stewed pork and sliced potatoes), escargot, a board of sliced meats and sausages, and steak and frites. The steak was disappointing, but everything else was delicious. We casually nibbled from the various plates while sipping on a crisp rose’ and soaking in the gentle sun cooled by the calm comfortable temps of Fall that had only just arrived in time for our visit.

Of course I had to grab a box of macrons in a local patisserie.
An example of the Alsace stew pot. Stores were filled with various sizes and designs.

Along with the beautiful architecture were the elaborate signs that hung above each door of various shops. I remember posting several of these on Pinterest – but now I was seeing some first hand.

The celebrated storks appeared everywhere.

Nestled at the entrance of the small mid-evil town is the very modern wine store and museum Wolfberger. Just outside it’s doors is an old wine press. Inside was an oval shaped modern bar setting where the attendant will pour a small tasting of as many wines as you would like to try. Crémant is a group of sparkling wines made with the same technique as Champagne, but from outside the Champagne region and there were several available to try. All three of us voted on the same bottle that I purchased to bring back to share with my wine club.

As we drove toward our next destination of the day (Colmar) we passed through long stretches of vineyards, fields of sunflowers and corn. Our friend pointed out that large crucifixes stood over fields and we noticed them over and over again over the next few days as we drove through all three countries of Germany, France and Switzerland. Each time we passed one someone would say “Jesus”.

While most would think this was enough for one day, it is not where are day ended. Less than a half hour away, we moved on to Colmar, France -that I’ll cover in my next post Day 1 – Part 2.

WINE CLUB

A Hauntingly Elegant Wine 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.

LAGNIAPPE

Weekend Project #8: Master Bath

The magazine photo that started it all.

A couple of years ago I was looking through magazines for decorating ideas. The photo above drew me in and I pinned it to my inspiration board until I had the time to focus on seeking out the paint colors and decorative pieces that would create a similar look. A year ago I began with the guest bathroom (see Weekend Project # 6 ). As I’ve mentioned before, these projects take patience and time. Here I am a full year later with my next project.

I was now ready to make some of the same changes to my Master Bathroom. I found the decorative carved woodwork to place above my garden tub window earlier in the year and purchased more of the same paint colors over the 4th of July weekend when the hardware stores were offering rebates. My timing couldn’t have been better, because my handyman advised he would be off for the month of August due to the heat, and would be available for the makeover.

Above is the plain looking garden tub window and the large contractor installed mirror before the make over. While I would have in truth preferred to replace the mirror with two framed mirrors and two overhead light fixtures, the cost for resurfacing the wall behind and the electrical work to change to two fixtures isn’t in the budget right now. It doesn’t mean I can’t do it sometime in the future. For now crown moulding was painted gray and framed the existing mirror. I’m still searching for a replacement light fixture. I don’t understand why they have to be so ugly!

The Water Closet.

My water closet window was framed last year, but it was only the start of the added touches that were made this year. It also bears the most similarity to that image I found long ago in the decor magazine. I lined the sides of the framed window with small hand made bird clay art made by a local artist. When I first moved into my house, I placed subtle bird touches around the house to represent my new nest. These small works of art were the first of that plan.

Tiny bird bath bowl filled with
dried lavender on the water closet sill.

As with the guest bathroom and hall, the walls are painted with a very soft gray (Silver Drop), while the moulding and door inserts are in a soft but medium gray (Graceful Gray). I don’t have the courage to paint the cabinets, but I think the contrast of dark with all of the light surroundings is acceptable.

The linens and rug in the shades of gray, lavender and purple add color to the otherwise neutrals of the room.

Looking back at the original inspiration photo, painting the side of the tub in the Graceful Gray is something I’m considering to possibly create a more custom look.

The garden tub window is of course the main centerpiece of the entire room. This window and the water closet window each (in addition to the guest bath window) have charcoal gray faux shades I hand stitched with fabric from two purchased curtain panels.

Bottles of bubble bath and lavender epsom salts.

This project took five full days, or in weekend terms two weekends (with one being a three day). This five day project included my built in desk area, but I haven’t figured out my shade for the window quite yet. When I do, I will once again share with you another weekend project.

WINE CLUB

Aperitivo Summer Italian Whites (Wine Club 2019)

THE INVITE

The blazing heat of summer arrived well before the actual official day of the season this year and has been nonstop. Basically no rain to speak of for several weeks now, the lawns are browning and plant life sagging. Lawn sprinklers are doing their best to supply some much needed nourishment, but by the following day – everything looks parched once again.

Outdoor entertaining in Southern Louisiana is simply uncomfortable. Between the intense heat and the buzzing and biting mosquitos, unless there is a screened in patio available, outdoor entertaining is limited to several weeks in the Spring months and again in the Fall . So our summertime wine party has to be held inside.

Longing for the comforts of a cool sea breeze, and the smell of fresh salty sea air, my inspiration is drawn from the colors, traditions and flavors of the Island of Capri and the Amalfi Coast of Italy as we sip and taste cold citrus and grassy white Italian wines.

For the invitation (that was emailed) I created a text box in Word using a blue font and border with a pale yellow page color. I inserted a lemon branch (free clip art) and created the boarder with an online picture of bougainvillea, lemons and votive candles that I printed out and then measured, cut with a paper cutter and glued to frame the invitation.

SETTING THE TABLE

The invitation, the score card, dollar store lemon salad plate.

My intention was to create a fresh, Amalfi Coast – Capri Island atmosphere. Images of bougainvillea bursting with vibrant fuchsia blossoms climbing the walls of villas, the fresh white linen fashions, cool variations of the ocean’s blue and green hues, nautical touches to represent the fishing and boating, as well as an abundance of lemons all highlighted with the romantic flicker of candlelight were all incorporated into my table decor.

I searched for an image of a lemon tree branch small enough to clip and place at the top of the wine score card (above), using the same image to make a small place card to slip into the sardine can pull-tabs. Finding one Ortiz sardinas can in my pantry that inspired the idea was used for this picture, but I ordered a lower cost version from World Market that were actually used for the party. While canned sardines actually come from Portugal they made a really cute place setting stand and favor. I have memories of eating them as a little girl with my grandpa, but I’ve never eaten them as an adult. Why does it seem so scary a thought now?

THE FLOWERS & LEMONS OF THE AMALFI COAST

The kaleidoscope of deep Mediterranean ocean blues and greens, the jutting rocky cliffs dotted with pastel vistas, salty fresh air breezes filled with the fragrance of fish and seafood and white capped waves splashing along the rocky shoreline are all hard to capture in a dining room, but we can imagine.

I bought this lovely climbing bougainvillea for $16 a couple of months prior to my party, with high hopes that it would yield a healthy quantity of blossoms for the planned date to clip and create a center garland for my table. Another option would be to bring the plant indoors for the evening. While the plant is strong and healthy, when the day of the party arrived, it was completely void of blossoms. I’m sure it will be overflowing with blossoms by next week- when I no longer need them! So as a substitute, I clipped crepe myrtle blossoms of the same color from the trees that we have an abundance of in the South.

Of course you can’t have an Amalfi coast themed party without lemons. I’ve always wanted a beautiful, healthy lemon tree in my backyard, but one given to me years ago died once I moved it from a pot to the ground. While lemon trees can be grown successfully in Southern Louisiana, the most successful citrus here that I know if is the sweet satsuma. The satsuma peels easily and is free of seeds with its harvest being closer to Fall. One of my wine club members has successfully grown a lemon tree in her back yard for years that yields huge Meyer lemons similar in size to those found on the Amalfi coast, but our party was just before the harvesting time so I couldn’t have fresh branches dotted with lemons for my decor.

Luckily, artificial, but very realistic in appearance, lemon tree branches can be purchased in many places. So for this party, that’s what I’ll be using.

THE DECOR & COLOR INSPIRATION

It was summer, but I struggled to find a tablecloth or table runner and napkins in the soft blues I wanted for the table. My usual resources ( Homegoods, TJ Maxx and Marshalls) were coming up short. I found blue and white striped napkins, but nothing for the table. Then I found a printed tablecloth that might work, but no napkins. The Friday after the 4th of July, I decided to browse around in World Market Cost Plus. Many of the summer items were marked down 40% to 50% and there was a 20% off coupon to add from my membership. Among those sale items I found this sardine plate with the perfect shades of ocean blues I had imagined and I knew I had found my color inspiration.

On a lower shelf, I found two cobalt blue glass lantern candle holders that added a bit of drama and height to the table. My luck continued and I found a table runner and solid napkins in a cool shade of blue similar to one of the sardines on the plate. Later I found a table cloth in the same shade of blue. Dollar Tree rope (found in the floral section) was cut and knotted to give a nautical touch around each napkin.

THE PLACE CARD

SMOKED SARDINES IN LEMON FLAVORED OLIVE OIL THE ACTUAL CANS USED.

THE WATER BOTTLES

Several years ago while browsing through my local TJ Maxx and Marshalls stores, I was drawn to these beautiful cobalt blue bottles of Ty Nant water. As with wine, tasting water from different parts of the world is interesting. I chilled and drank the water, but afterwards I just couldn’t part with the beautiful bottle. There’s something elegant about it. Over time, I collected and saved both the bottles and their screw on aluminum tops (all 12 of them) and for a period of time refilled each with filtered water. I would then place the empty bottle(s)in the dishwasher to clean and refill again. I thought this was an environmentally clever way to drink bottled water, but also a very attractive vessel. Something about drinking from a glass bottle rather than plastic or a metal version is much more appealing. For the wine party, I’ll be filling my cleaned bottles with sparkling Italian San Pellegrino water at each place setting for both an additional pop of color and the water my guests need to cleanse their palates.

THE APERITIF AND THE WINE

For the aperitif I try not to venture too far away from something with wine. I’m concerned about blowing out my guests taste buds with an alcohol or flavor too intense to afterwards enjoy the actual wine tasting. I found this cocktail “The Gentle Italian” again on Giada’s page made with Lillet, Aperol and Processo. It was light and citrusy. My guests sipped on their aperitif while I and another guest opened and labeled bottles and another poured their contents into numbered glasses.

While watching the PBS show Weekends with Yankee I saw an interview with the famous chef and good friend of Julia Child -Jacques Pepin. I learned of this beautiful book of his art created to record memories of food and fun with friends. I wish it had been available years ago when I first started my wine, book club and tea gatherings, but it was published in 2017. My friends made notes on the left and listed the food they brought for the gathering on the menu side. I chose a page that fit the theme of our wine meeting and everyone took turns making their entires while sipping their Aperitif.

While our party is about wine, it isn’t stuffy. We of course want it to be fun! So it was no surprise when one showed up with the fish bottled table wine, that wasn’t bad by the way. The bottles are lined up as they were numbered above.

THE CHEESE COURSE

I like to find new things in the culinary world for my guests and I to experience. Burrata is , kind of the “it” appetizer ingredient at the moment. It is pricey, but when I went in search of it at Whole Foods I happened to catch an Amazon Prime member discount day with 40% off. I purchased two balls of the cheese and decided it would just be a small bite sample for everyone. For an elevated way to serve it, I looked through a back issue of Wine Spectator Magazine that hasn’t failed me yet. There I found a Burrata Caprese recipe by the high respected chef Nancy Silverton. I prepared the plates about a half hour before everyone arrived and set each out on the table knowing I had to handle the wine as it arrived.

My twist on the recipe was to add fresh slices of heirloom tomato and chunks of parmesan to the plate. I couldn’t find the vine cherry tomatoes that the chef used, so I substituted the multi-colored grape and pear shaped tomatoes for a more colorful plate.

.https://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/recipes/a5605/mozza-caprese-recipe/ A small bowl of warm marinated olives was set on the side as a little antipasti touch. Everyone loved the cheese and the tomatoes.

THE SMALL BITES

THE DESSERT COURSE

For a hot summer’s night, I wanted to serve something traditionally Italian, but refreshing and light. Inspired by the series Giada in Italy-Capri, I decided to serve small bite sized biscotti and an espresso granita that she made on her show.

I used Giada’s limoncello biscotti recipe, but made my own twist by adding chopped candied lemon (from Trader Joes) to the dough and a quartered piece to the top of each cookie before baking. This added a little more color and identifies the flavor of the cookie. I also made pistachio biscotti found @ilarysbakery. The size of the star shaped pastry tip was not provided so my shape isn’t as impressive as her’s, but they had the great pistachio flavor.

Pistachio and Limoncello biscotti.

The granita prepared the day before and scooped into the cups earlier on the day of the party saves on serving time. My freezer drawer was cleared for storing the espresso cups and each were topped with whipped cream before serving. Per Giada’s recipe if desired you can pour your shot of limoncello into the granita. After first tasting the granita on its own many of us tried it with the limoncello and found it to be surprisingly good. I also decided to pick up some cannoli’s and placed one on each plate to share.

No surprise, an Italian themed evening ends with the digestif limoncello. Whether sipping it on its own or adding it to the granita all limoncellos are not the same. Some are very strong with a moonshine flavor or bitter and yet over the years may mellow out. Others have the perfect balance with just the right amount of everything like a cool glass of lemonade. While in Italy several years ago, I was told to store the bottle in the freezer.

While the score cards are there for making notes, they aren’t always serious as you can see. Some try to guess from the list of descriptions which bottle is which, others just note how the wine makes them feel or simply check their favorites.

Guests are provided with a list of the wines and whatever descriptions I could find on the internet to reference while tasting the wines.

The top two winning wines of the night and the trophy –
a blown glass vase made in Italy.

Another lovely evening where the conversation this time was buzzing about upcoming travel plans for myself and some of my guests from Italy to Germany, France and Switzerland. We can’t wait to get back together after our trips and share memories of our adventures.

LAGNIAPPE

Weekend Makeover #7: Breakfast Room

Most of us cannot buy all new furniture to revamp a room we’d like to update. Here’s some ideas of how to use unexpected hacks as well as update the items you may already have somewhere in your home like I did.

When I first moved into my house, my Uncle (and Godfather) presented me with a generous monetary gift to help me purchase something for my new home. I had decided before moving in that I wanted woven shades along the back windows in my living room and breakfast area. Yes they were pricey, but a friend recently considered putting the shades in her home and when we did a little research they had almost doubled in cost since my purchase. I was glad I decided to invest in them when I did. Including the linen shade for the back door (below).

The sun rises on this side of the house and during the months when the brutal summer temperatures averaging 90 degrees and more, the shades (that are lined but not black out) help to keep the heat at bay. I have to keep them completely closed until just a little after noon when the sun moves to the front of the house and I can draw them up and let the lovely natural light that I love in.

The black fold-out table was a very inexpensive find that I brought with me from my previous home. There I had a small dining area (a townhouse) and knowing I would eventually move, when I tossed out my chrome framed chairs with faux butcher block set from the 70’s, I decided to buy something simple and inexpensive, but functional – clearly not my dream dining room table.

I also purchased the two benches that originally had a dark black and white design fabric. I decided to recover them with an upholstery fabric I found at Hobby Lobby that resulted in a fresher, modern look. https://www.hobbylobby.com/Clearance/Clearance—Fabric-Sewing/Clearance—Home-Decor-Fabric-Trims/Iron-Galatia-Fabric/p/103873 Later I purchased two charcoal gray nailhead trimmed chairs from T. J. Maxx for more seating.

Several years ago, my brother (who also loves to decorate) gave me this rooster as a Christmas gift. When I received it, I had no idea what I would do with it. My previous space was already cramped with things. So I set him on top of my refrigerator and there he sat until I moved.

As I unpacked and searched for a place he could stand out, I looked toward my breakfast table. What’s more representative of a morning sunrise and breakfast than a rooter’s cock-a-doodle-do? My rooster became my inspiration for the decor of the room. A couple of golden rooster placemats added to the table for a pop of color. Later a good friend who is a talented artist painted a colorful rooster as a gift that hangs on my wall.

A large wall stood before me blank and the room was is much need of a pop of color. As I searched for art I cringed at the cost of prints and framing. Again, while in my previous home I found this book of Botanical prints on the bargain shelves at Barnes and Noble. As I searched through the pages, I realized the size of the prints and the many colorful options it held, could be framed. I purchased the book (originally priced at about $75.00 for $20. I spent a lot of time looking through its pages to find just the right selection of six images to frame.

I then searched for an inexpensive set of frames, carrying one of the cut out images with me to Walmart. There I found four frames slightly weathered finish, already containing an ivory mat that blended well with each print’s background. I luckily found two more online to complete the set of six. The arranged, framed prints added the exact amount of color I was looking for and filled in the wall nicely without the high price tag.

I later replaced the light fixture to this weathered open lantern for a French country touch.

With all of the entertaining I wanted to host in my new home, I had over the years purchased a variety of white platters, bowls, plates, cake pedestals and baking dishes of various sizes. I was in need of something to place in front of the window where I could keep plants, that also provided storage for some of my many serving dishes. I found the piece below that provides open shelving, two drawers where I store placemats and two fold out leaves that I can use for buffet serving when needed.

A lamp with a French, European style base, centered on the table, draws in the design from the rest of the open areas to complete the look. In the future a fresh coat of paint will brighten up the room just when it is needed.

Lamp purchased at T. J. Maxx

As always with a little patience, a plan, focus and ingenuity a room can be pulled together by transforming items you own, using hacks to get the look of upscale art and as little as setting aside $50 a paycheck for a few months. I didn’t paint my walls yet, but remember that a fresh coat of paint is verify inexpensive and can transform the light and interest in a room. Simply break down the stages. Recover chairs or benches or pillows one month; search for art and framing for wall art over the next month or two, save for the light fixtures for a couple of months, and then an accent table if desired. In no time – you can have a transformed room personally designed my you.

LAGNIAPPE

Weekend Project #6 – Guest Bath Makeover

Updated window with molding and hand made shade.

My guest bathroom has been patiently waiting for a makeover. Without a plan in mind for the past five years, I finally decided to direct my attention toward this project and form a plan that would elevate the appearance of my plain small bathroom. It began with an image of a bathroom window I found in a magazine of French homes (below) and with the image as reference and inspiration I began my search.

For several months I searched through antique and repurposed furniture shops for a decorative plaque similar to the piece at the top of the window in the inspiration photo. Everything I found was either the wrong size, extremely heavy or very expensive.

The magazine photo that inspired my window treatment.

Decorative shelves turned against the wall to create a decorative crown for the now framed window.

I take my Dad to his barber every six weeks or so, and while he’s getting his hair cut I browse through the antique shop next door. During one of these visits, I found two plaster shelves with a lot of detail that caught my eye. While they didn’t match the width of the window, I felt I could create a mini crown of some type, especially for the low price of $25 for both. They are a lovely cream color with light gray highlights.

Next I visited the hardware store to select the molding to frame the window and mirror. I chose a crown molding with a simple design along the inside edge, along with a light taupe gray paint [Behr: Sliver Drop] for the walls and a medium gray [Behr: Graceful Gray] for the trim and ceiling. The painting and woodwork was set into motion by my terrific handy man Tim.

The selected molding

For color accents and decor, I purchased a brushed brass curtain rod that suspends from the ceiling of the bathtub and two curtain panels composed of shades of gray, cream and olive (that also passes for a golden mustard shade). Alongside the selection of curtain panels was a display of tie backs of various designs. The charcoal gray taffeta ribbon pompoms looked like a fun playful accent I could apply in some way. I bought several planning to somehow trim the shade in addition to using the pompoms as the tie backs they were designed for.

To balance the color of the charcoal gray tie backs, I purchased two charcoal gray curtain panels made with a similar fabric. I then cut off the hem of the panels (that were the same width as the patterned panels) and hand sewed the band of color to the bottom of the patterned curtains. After carefully measuring the windows in both my guest and master bathrooms and then the remaining fabric from the charcoal panels, I realized I had enough to create a faux shade for both the guest bath, as well as the water closet and the garden tub window in the Master bath. That’s three shades for $20.

Custom drapes that hang from the ceiling are very costly. I found 108″ length curtain panels at Tuesday Morning that I selected for the color theme of my design and then trimmed the bottom with charcoal gray for a pop of contrast and to further extend the length of the curtain.

The drape hanging from the ceiling (shower liner on a second rod).
The painted walls and trim. The framed mirror and updated brushed brass
light fixture to match the curtain rod.
Before and after of guest bath window with framing, crown and shade with pompoms.

The original contractor placed a towel bar behind the toilet and I’ve never understood that location. So I had Tim remove it and patch the holes before painting. A marble shelf with brass brackets was added for decorative items (orchid, bubble bath bottles and candles). A new brushed brass towel bar was placed under the window, closer to the shower for guests to use when visiting. The towel bar and paper holders were also replaced with brushed brass pieces of the same design.

The towel bar on the wall behind the toilet was removed and replaced
with a marble shelf and brass brackets.

My helpful handyman painted the bathroom and the hallway, while I painted the molding and hand sewed the shades. When the painting was finished everything was hung and a brushed brass light fixture was installed above the mirror. When I stepped back to survey the finished room, I was pleased. It looks original and fits in with my other decor.

Below are the second and third faux shades I made from the two charcoal panels for the Master water closet and the garden tub window that has not yet been framed. The walls on this side of the house have also not yet been repainted, but are scheduled for a future weekend project.

The most difficult part of designing on a tight budget is being patient. A year later while browsing through my favorite store of antiques, home decor and repurposed items the decorative piece below caught my eye. I haven’t decided yet, if I want to put it over the garden tub window (above), or frame the window above a built in desk (below) that is visible from my kitchen and living areas. Looks like the subject of yet another “weekend project”.

Built in desk area where Blog posts are created.
Future weekend project.
LAGNIAPPE

Weekend Project – 4 & 5: Kitchen Backsplash & Lighting

I have three counter areas. The one above is beside my refrigerator
and typically used as a beverage station when entertaining.
The wall space here was large enough to insert two of the tin tiles.

The inspiration for my next “weekend projects” started when I found the tin tile shown below. I immediately wanted to incorporate the beautiful tile into my decor somehow. I circled the store with the tile in my hand for about a half hour when the idea of inserting it into a kitchen backsplash suddenly generated. The tiles were sold individually, but purchased by the store as a set of 4 with 4 different designs in each set. I bought the two tiles in stock with the same design and then went home to determine the spacing and how many more I would need. I realized I would need at least two more, and the shopkeeper graciously ordered more and called when they arrived.

The tin tile that inspired my kitchen backsplash design.
The LED track lighting was paired with a remote control f
or turning on and off.

The next task was to find the right tile and grout. I wanted something that was different from the traditional subway tiles, etc. that offered a unique, somewhat custom design while complimenting the rest of the open room’s decor.

The tile I had in mind was not available in the store, so I had to order it and have it shipped to my home. I started with ordering three or four different single tile sheets, holding them up to the wall and tacking with push pins both the tin tile and the sheet tile – attempting to imagine the final look and decide which would best suit the look I wanted. Afterwards, I was able to return the unwanted sheets of tile directly to the hardware store. Once decided I visited the hardware store to select the grout color, all pictured below.

It’s no surprise from my Blog, that I cook and entertain often. Under cabinet lighting was also a must. It has made a world of difference when working on my countertops. Not only does it brightly highlight my backsplash design, it also provides the much needed illumination for preparing mise en place, mixing batters in my stand up mixer, cooking on the stove, or simply making a sandwich.

I chose small, thin, delicate, electric LED track lighting from the hardware store. The space below my cabinet is very shallow and I needed something very thin to avoid visibility. I have a terrific handy man, that created the backsplash design and lighting I imagined over a period of a couple of weekends. Remote controls also sold online are used to operate the lighting above and beneath the cabinets since light switches were not available during construction and would be costly to install. I did however have the forethought to have electrical outlets installed above my cabinetry when it was being built. My handyman, simply drilled holes in the back corner of each of the cabinet shelves. He then threaded the cord upward toward the outlet, where the remote box was used to plug in the cord for easy operation. I have high ceilings and my cabinets do not reach the ceiling. It was my mother’s idea to purchase LED rope lighting to lay across the top of the cabinets and the remote controls are used to operate this top lighting as well as the under lighting.

Rope LED lighting laid on top of the cabinets to illuminate the area above.

I was happy with the end result that in my eyes has an Old World – European look that I had pictured in my mind. I hope this idea inspires you to find a new and original way to design your own backsplash to reflect a style and interesting result that pleases and represents you. It only takes a weekend!

WINE CLUB

Derby Wine Club – Bourbon Barrel Aged Reds -The party!

The Wine Club wreath for my entrance door (see Wine Club Wreath Themes Post) was also dressed up for the Derby theme , with a bow tie, a little hat,
gold horse and red silk roses.

IT’S PARTY TIME…. NOW —- WHAT TO WEAR?

A beautiful much more professional version of this fascinator was the inspiration for this homemade version. It began with a red, white and blue felt hat with headband. I couldn’t find the large blue and white gingham fabric used in the original, so I recovered the hat with white paper dollies (first layer) to hide the bright red, and then large blue and white checked gingham tissue paper left over from the grillin’ party. A silk hydrangea and white roses, white feathers (in the kid’s craft section a bag at the craft store) ; silver trim from the sewing section of Hobby Lobby, and a bag of plastic horses purchased online, sprayed silver (others in gold for the table decor) all used to create this little jewel.

Here’s a fascinator tip:

These fascinators are top heavy and keep moving around on your head. I hot glued ribbon from the top of the head band (centered) leaving equal amounts on each side to tie under the back of my hair. The edges were folded over to the backside of the headband and glued again. I made little single knots at the end for a finished look. This provided a more secure fit and balance on the head.

After all of the planning -our big derby day finally arrived. The ladies all entered one by one. each with their own hand made fascinators, while the guys (a little less enthusiastically) looked like dashing Southern gentlemen in their bow ties. One by one as they arrived, I quickly had each couple stand in front of the beautiful painting of racing horses (borrowed from my neighbor) for a photo.

My neighbor had this beautiful painting in her dining room and graciously
let me borrow it for the night. It was the perfect backdrop for photos!
All of the ladies made their fascinators –
I bought a pack of 6 bow ties (very nicely made by the way)

online for the guys for about $2 each.

At each meeting I create a little gift basket of some kind for the winner(s) whose wine received the most votes for the night. I’ve tried to create a way for everyone to get a chance to win over the years. For this wine party, I purchased a blue ribbon and added a little gold horse- on the number 1 (that was a surprise taped to my shipping invoice when I received the embossed brass race horses that from Etsy – used to create my gold rimmed aperitif glasses.) I also purchased a bag of wine charms (not the kind you put on stemware – these are just regular charms), and threaded a cork screw and bottle of wine on thin twine that easily wrapped behind the large button to create a Derby wine blue ribbon.

My aperitif (a rose sangria) was served by one of my guests, while two of us uncorked, bagged and poured the bottles of wine for our tasting. As the cheese course (pimento cheese soufflés ) baked in the oven, my guests gathered in the living room to watch the Belmont Stakes race unfold with the winning horse -Sr. Winston securing his victory.

I slightly altered the table decor from t he original plan (see “Derby Wine Party – The Plan” post), with black and white diamond patterned ribbon that resembles jockey silks and added a great touch to the black linen napkins. A small knotted tie of the same ribbon was added to the top of the score card to match.

MY CHEESE COURSE: This was my first run of this Pimento Cheese Soufflé (meaning no test bake) and it was delicious. The recipe says it yields 4-6 servings (depending on the size of your dish), but I made 12 individual ramekins from the ingredients of just the one recipe. I also brought one to my neighbor who let me borrow her painting and cut some of her Black Eyed Susans for the party.

Once everyone was finished tasting the wines, we voted to determine a winner before moving on to the food. The comments were that all of these wines were very rich and screaming for a luscious red meat or red sauce. We always vote on the wine prior to eating, so that the vote is purely based on the taste of the wine, unencumbered by other flavors added to the palate.

THE WINNER WITH 5 OUT OF 10 VOTES.
THE SIX LABELS OF THE EVENING IN THE ORDER OF VOTING.

Once the cheese course had been consumed, we moved on to the small bites that my guests and I provided. A week before the party I emailed “inspiration” from a Pinterest search of traditional Derby foods and everyone provided feedback on what they would bring to avoid duplications. As always, the food was beautiful and delicious.

A LITTLE CENTER PIECE DECOR FOR THE FOOD TABLE.
FROM BACK LEFT CLOCKWISE: BOURBON LAMB-PORK MEATBALLS, WITH GOAT CHEESE & CHIMICHURRI; BENEDICTINE SANDWICHES; CHICKEN & WAFFLES; CHEESE GRITS SOUFFLE’ AND BABY BROWNS.

THE GRAND FINALE -DESSERT COURSE. A trio of favorites from different races. The Derby Pie (chocolate pecan pie) from Kentucky; the Lady Baltimore Cake & Smith Island Cake (called Doberge in Louisiana) from the Preakness Stakes each a hit in their own way. While the actual Smith Island cake is 10 layers, I purchased a short Doberge cake at the bakery and cut it into rounds since I home baked the Derby pies and Lady Baltimore cake. One plate like the one below was served per couple.

Bellies full and heads maybe a little tipsy – I commented that one of my guests’ fascinator looked very 1920’s Art Deco, to which another guest replied, “Do I hear a Great Gatsby Theme coming to mind?” Hmmm – hang on to your hats, you never know…..

While not every meeting is as elaborate as this one, I do try to come up with one that has a little more costume and fun once per year. Last year it was our “Hauntingly Elegant” party near Halloween and the year prior it was our “Murder Mystery Nite”. [Blog posts for both are available in the Wine Club category]. For now we will toast this evening goodnight, and look forward to when we “meet” again!

WINE CLUB

A Symphony of Whites…..

Aperitif: White Port, Q Tonic and slice of orange.

THE APERITIF:

Port and Tonic makes 1 drink

4 ounces good-quality tonic water, such as Fevertree or Q Tonic
2 ounces white port
Orange slice, to garnish

Pack a highball glass with ice. Pour in the tonic, then the port. Stir lightly. Squeeze the orange slice a bit into the drink. Sip and enjoy!

I decided to do a little research about the wines of each country that we would be tasting, and found an article about a Portuguese aperitif made with white port and tonic water that I decided to greet my guests with.

THE INVITATION:

A watermark of a wine glass being filled with musical notes
to create my email invitation.

I searched the internet for free clip art and found the perfect wine glass with musical notes pouring in like wine. I inserted it as a watermark into my emailed invitation.

My wine club has been meeting at least three times a year for five years now. I feel it’s important to continue to create new experiences, so that everyone remains entertained. My group prefers red wines, but in the summer they have been open to tasting white wines. The theme for this wine party was termed “Symphony of Whites” an idea inspired by an old Victoria Magazine article with the same title. The symphony of whites article was composed of white garden flowers, but it sparked an idea for this white wine night, music and simple elegance. As always it began with the invitation, made from free clip of musical notes pouring into a wine glass that was used as a watermark for this invite.

THE TABLE DECOR & MUSIC

Playing on the “Symphony” I found a roll of music sheet wrapping paper that I used as a table runner down the center of the table. I like having a clean simple table due to all of the glassware and tight spacing. With assigned wines coming from parts of Germany and Austria where some of the best symphonies were composed or celebrated, I played symphony music on Pandora in the background. In fact, I play theme music for all of my parties on Pandora. For the Carnival Rio de Janeiro (see the past post) I played the Brazilian station, French music for the French wine night, and so on. Don’t forget the score cards. I used the same watermark from the invitation for the two column scorecard that is cut into two.

THE CHEESE COURSE:

For the cheese course I had a very large spread representing several of the countries; broiled feta with tomatoes and garlic roasted in Greek olive oil, stuffed grape leaves, various cheeses from the countries of our wines and a beer cheese fondue with baked pretzels. (See previous post on cheese courses). While I had a large spread, one of these would have been sufficient.

THE ACTIVITY CHALLENGE

When my wine club first met I would create little conversation games that encouraged everyone to share a little about themselves and offer topics of conversation that included and allowed everyone a chance to speak. With each new meeting plan, I tried to create fun exercises to make the evening interesting. For this party, once I had the list of wines in hand I looked up each on the internet. I found descriptions of the aromas of each and prepared slips of paper with the information. The description of each guests’ wine was set at their place at the table along with small plates containing items with some of the aromas described. The wines in the glasses were numbered, but it’s a blind tasting so no one knew which wine was theirs. The exercise was for each couple to use the description and fragrance items to try to identify which wine was theirs. [Two of the wines had pine scent – hence the sprigs of pine you see at the table.] White wines have a variety of interesting aromas and flavors that made this exercise fun.

This idea was formed after reading the “Cork Dork” by Bianca Bosker. She explained how sommeliers practice smelling various ingredients in order to master their scents. If you love wine I highly recommend this book. I’m happy to say that two of my guests identified their wines and those same two wines were also voted the top two of the night.

Aromas of ripe honeydew and nectarine with gingery note top. Vibrant, open-textured and crisply balanced, with pear, peach and rock melon fruit flavours.  Round, fleshy and smooth in texture with good clarity to its ripe melon and citrus flavors. Honeyed peach, pear tart, almond powder with a touch of orange bloom. Light yellow gold. – Australia

The scent is pure pine forest, cool and refreshing; the flavor is pure, fresh fruit—pears and cold green grapes—the pine notes floating over them as if carried on a breeze, A clean and refreshing zip of mint and eucalyptus explode from the glass. –Greece

Somehow, we completely forgot to take any pictures of the small bites for this party. It’s sometimes hard to host and also be photographer. Over time I’ve put sticky notes on the table to ensure either I or someone else takes a picture once everything arrives.

THE DESSERT COURSE:

Mini black forest cake dressed in a chocolate tuxedo cup & Viennese coffee with chocolate musical staff.

I had a lot of fun with the dessert course for this one. The most fun I’ve had since our Vino Italia night. I found chocolate tuxedo cups before I had the plan and stored them in the pantry for a future date. I used an “authentic” black forest cake recipe from Pinterest (which by the way is not as sweet as the usual American bakery version -and better for it). Bing cherries were in season, making the dessert the perfect choice. I deconstructed the cake into small chocolate tuxedo cups (perfect for the symphony) and a mini cake on the side for each couple to share. A Viennese coffee was also served with a chocolate music note I made with bittersweet chocolate a few days ahead.

Greece, South Africa, Germany, Portugal, Austria, Australia, Spain

When you want to experiment with different types of wine, it helps to make the evening interesting and entertaining. It also helps when the food is delicious! Try your own tasting with a night at the Symphony!

The top two wines and the two wines that were identified during the challenge.
TRADITIONS & TEA

The Story of Mom … and Dad

While browsing through bargain shelves at the book store one Saturday, I spotted a red covered journal with gold lettering on the front that read “Your Mother’s Story”. I have kept journals for decades including one where I specifically recorded all of my daughter’s “firsts”, various milestones, and funny little things she said and did as a child. As I flipped through the pages of this journal, I discovered that each page asked a specific question that a mother could answer about herself, her children’s father and their families for their children. Having loss my mother some years earlier at the age of 75, I’m more sensitive to the fact that we think we have time to get to these kind of questions, and yet – we really have no idea how little time we don’t.

I bought the journal and decided to use it in two ways. One to start making notes for my own daughter, knowing it would take a long time to fill its pages and secondly I would use some of the questions at my Mother’s Tea to help guests recall memories of their mothers. When I reached the page that asked, “How did my grandparents (my parents) meet?”, I thought I kind of knew, but didn’t have a crystal clear story. Whatever I thought I heard, had been told by my mother. I realized I had never heard the story from my Dad’s point of view. Dad has had dementia for some time now, and while his memory fails him on current events, he can usually remember almost anything from the past with shocking clarity.

One day while we were having lunch, I finally attempted to get his side of the story. I could see his mind drift back to the past, his eyes focused in the distance somewhere, he was back in the mid 1950’s. He loved to brag about all of the girls he used to date, and said that Mom as a teenager, operated a snowball stand in front of her house. (A common thing in the South during the 1950’s – and some still exist where zoning laws allow.) He went on to say that large groups of kids used to hang out around Mom’s snowball stand and the same crowd also met weekly at the dance halls. He said they moved around more in groups back then and Mom had a beaux. He was too busy running around with all of these other girls to really notice her, especially because she had a beau. Without much detail of how Mom and her beau ended things, he said eventually he noticed she was smart and a really good person that would be good for him and he started paying more attention to her, she was the kind of gal you got serious about. He has always given credit to Mom for “straightening him out” and says he would not have had the life he did without her at his side.

Engagement photo.

From my Mother’s version of the story, they had only dated for a couple of months when Dad proposed (photo above).

A simple wedding in 1956 that resulted in more than 57 years of love.

A small wedding followed and not long afterwards my Dad was deployed to Europe for several months with the U.S. Air Force, leaving my mother behind, separated by an ocean. In 1956 the only affordable correspondence was letter writing, and so they grew to know each other more through letters. Mom was of course miserable, because her parents wouldn’t let her go to the dance (which she loved) with her friends anymore because she was now married.

When Dad returned, his orders sent both he and Mom to Alabama. From there they moved nearly every year from State to State, had two children and in the last 8 or 9 years of his service we lived in Northern and Southern California where he would complete his 20 years of service and return to their hometown in Southern Louisiana in mid 1970 for the rest of their years. I can’t say that we were thrilled about trading in Southern California, for Southern Louisiana, but over time it has become home.

25th Wedding Anniversary
Knowing they did not have a formal wedding, I hosted a party at my home
and wanted them to have a traditional wedding cake
.

Their years together were not without conflict or challenges. Dad would be deployed for several months at a time on at least two occasions that I can remember, while Mom was living somewhere far away from her family and friends with two small children. He also deployed to Vietnam for a period of a year that would change him forever. When he returned from Vietnam his body had no injuries, but the mental and emotional scars of war have never left him. While stories of marriages falling apart were reported regularly for war veterans, my parents somehow made it through. We heard arguments and threats of leaving (mostly Mom). One minute she couldn’t stand another second with him and the next she couldn’t imagine her life without him. Any marriage that survives the number of years that theirs did would have to weather many storms, and for them it was just a matter of riding out the waves until they eventually subsided.

50th Wedding Anniversary

As their fiftieth anniversary approached I began to plan a surprise party for them. It was such a surprise that my Mom told me a week prior to the invitation date that she and Dad were going on a road trip. This caused me to have to tell her about the party. She was actually excited because she looked over the guest list and asked if she could invite some additional friends and family that I didn’t know.

The Friday before the party (scheduled Saturday night) I was up until midnight forming topiaries with white roses, green mums and limes for the cake table and cherry tomato with lemon leaf topiaries for the buffet. I worked hard to prepare a buffet menu with variety of food choices and thankfully we had enough food.

I made these topiaries with fresh white roses and limes. 
My first attempt at catering for a large crowd.  I spent hours the day before 
making topiaries with cherry tomatoes mint & lemon leaves and the floral versions on each side of the cake.
The engagement photo was printed on to labels
and adhered to small boxes of mints for favors in the lower right corner above.

My gift was the party and my brothers was a weekend get away.

As a party favor for our guests, I printed their engagement photo on small square labels and adhered each to little boxes of butter mints.

It was a somewhat dangerous rainy night and the route to my brother’s home was very dark. I was concerned about the turn out, but the number of guests that arrived continued to grow. Family and friends my parents had not seen in many years had come and they were more surprised about seeing all of them, than anything else. They were really happy that night and so pleased to have so many show up for them.

My parents loved to dance , after all it’s part of how they started their relationship and the night did not end until they danced to “their song”, sung by Elvis -“I Can’t Help Falling in Love.” To this day, even with Mom in heaven, I usually play a fifties station for Dad in the car when I’m taking him somewhere – and that song never fails to play as if Mom is letting him know she’s there and I can see him holding her in his arms while dancing in his eyes. It always brings a smile to his face.

When Mom unexpectedly became ill, and passed away they had been married 57 years. Her biggest worry was who would take care of my Dad. In her mind and heart, no one could take care of him like she would. The worst thing I’ve ever had to do, was to ask my heartbroken Dad to go tell my mother is was okay for her to go home to the Lord. He promised her he would let us take care of him to ease her heart and mind, and he has.

I remember during the planning of their anniversary party, I realized that only one person among everyone who was invited to attend had grandparents on both her father and mother’s side that had been married for 50 years. That person is my daughter. With about 30 guests present – with families of their own, it shows how low the statistics for a long marriage really is and confirms what a difficult achievement it is -to be admired.

Whether your parents were married for many years or not, it’s worth knowing the story of how they met. Ask them while you can. In fact, ask them all kinds of questions, it’s never too soon – but can very easily be too late. Their stories reveal in many ways -love endures.

WINE CLUB

A Summer Grillin’ Themed Wine Party

A 4th of July themed invite.

When the distinct aroma of fired up grills begin to permeate the neighborhood, you know summer has arrived. Our tastebuds begin to salivate over images of charred poultry, meats and vegetables. These amazing aromas and flavors inspired my grillin’ wine party in search of great wines to pair with the tasty offerings.

The Theme & The Invite:

The summer months open up multiple ways to create a theme, from Memorial Day to Independence Day or a simple summer day. As always once the theme is decided, we need an invitation. I’m very old school and love using old stationary, 3-dimensional stickers and a printer to create snail mail invites. My guests enjoy being invited with a written and mailed invite that they proudly display on their refrigerator or a bulletin board. In current times a simple text or email is sent as an invite without much creativity or energy to stir up interest. In my opinion a text is not taken as seriously as a true written invitation. I understand that it’s also a more affordable method and I’m all about low cost, but how about creating a nice invitation to email? Play with different fonts and colors, use a little free clip art and press send! Now we’re got everyone in the mood for a party!

My old school invite – stationary, 3-D sunflowers.

The Table Decor:

The term “Barbecue” evokes images of smoke rising from charcoal or gas grills under large oak trees at local parks; family and friends gathered around picnic tables with checkered tablecloths, nibbling on charred chicken, burgers, and corn. Grilling also makes me think of diners serving up grilled burgers and sandwiches in plastic baskets lined with paper. Combine all of this with the sunflower that turns to face the blazing sun with its bright and cheerful face and I have found the recipe for my table decor. I used the same stationary that came with note cards to hand write names for place cards and added a 3-D daisy.

Checkered table cloth and napkins; lunch baskets (all white purchased online)
lined with checkered tissue paper. The lunch baskets
were used to serve my grilled cheese course.
Place cards on dressed up stationary note cards printed with fern leaves.

The Cheese Course

Grilled brie, grilled walnut bread, roasted red grapes and salami.

If you have followed and read my past posts about planning my wine parties, you know that as the hostess, I usually provide an aperitif, the cheese course and the dessert. For this wine party I asked my guests to bring a variety of wines – rose’, white and red that would pair well with grilled foods. I served a Cote des roses -rose’ as the aperitif. For the cheese course I served grilled brie with oven roasted red grapes (licked with olive oil); salami and grilled fresh baked walnut bread. One basket was shared by each couple.

The winesthe Sin Zin was the winner.

The Small Bites:

Grilled corn, fresh red & yellow cherry tomatoes, black beans and basil
with a white balsamic vinaigrette.

Guests are asked to send notice of what their small bites will be. This serves two purposes, for one I can watch for duplications and secondly I make sure we have a fairly balanced menu. If I see something is lacking, I will take up the slack and add something to the table. In this case I made a grilled corn salad to add some veggies and freshness.

Below I also served grilled salmon with cantaloupe and grilled chicken with pineapple kabobs.

The Dessert

The dessert was also grilled – what’s better than grilled fresh summer peaches? I prefer the white peaches that were halved (and maybe a little over grilled), served with grilled sliced pound cake, mascarpone and a reduced balsamic drizzle – sprinkled with toasted granola and fresh basil.

The top 3 wines Red, Rose’ & White.

Summer is the best time to enjoy some deliciously grilled food paired with a variety of rose’, white and red wines regardless of what summertime theme you choose. This party would be even better outside if weather permits. So before those temps get to blazing – host your own grillin’ summer wine party! It’s really very simple!

TRADITIONS & TEA

Mothers Tea: Seamstress Theme – 2019 “The Day”

[The full planning of this tea can be found in “Traditions & Tea” section.]

The morning of my annual “Remembering Moms Tea” started gray and stormy, with thunder and lighting rumbling through the sky as I gathered ingredients and consulted the list of things to do for the final preparations and touches. The weatherman promised the skies would clear up around the scheduled time and while there was a slight drizzle at the start as my friends began to arrive, the rain had a left a cool freshness in the air, highlighted by the sun. We were a smaller group this year, some of our friends were out of town, but this intimate gathering shared wonderful memories.

When my guests were settled in their places at the table, with their framed photos of their Moms, I started our tea with what I’ve decided will be our theme song from this point forward. It so beautifully proclaims our purpose for gathering and summons the spirits of our mothers into our hearts. Earlier this year I saw a re-run of Trisha Yearwood’s cooking show, and at the end she sang a song that she wrote for her mother called “I Remember You.” I knew it would be the perfect song to set the tone for my tea. Trisha’s heartfelt lyrics emotionally charged the room and served as our prayer to start the tea. [Another great song that I’ve used at a previous tea is Ed Sheeran’s “Supermarket Flowers” written for his grandmother that he refers to as Mum.]

Gerber daisies were used to add a bright pop of color
and highlighted the orange spools of thread in the table runner.

Afterwards I served the soup course, sandwiches already on the table, while my friends visited and caught up with news since they had last met. Once everyone was served I had each pull out the envelope pattern I had sent with their invitation and asked them to share and tell us about the pictures they brought of items their mother’s had sewn.

While most of us struggled to find photos, two of us had pictures of dancing costumes and prom dresses. Another had photos of her and her sister in what looked like little red velvet dresses. One forgot her photos, but picked a dress from her wardrobe to wear that reminded her of the dresses she favored that her Mom had made for her. One’s Mother didn’t sew, but paid someone to sew clothes for her. Her mother however, did beautiful crocheted items and she brought a couple of items to share with us including a little infant dress. One friend brought and shared a beautifully made tweed two piece suit (jacket and skirt) with a lined jacket and covered buttons that looked like it was straight from the finest department store, that her mother had sewn in home economics in high school.

While we all shared that as young girls we longed to be able to buy our clothes from the coveted Sears & Roebuck catalogs or stores of our time, we realize now how we were simply too young to appreciate the hand crafted, one of a kind designs we were privileged to wear a young girls.

THE SOUP COURSE

The recipes for this soup made with Spring vegetables and the tea sandwiches below can be found on “Teatime Menu” in Traditions and Tea category.

Carrot & pea soup.

THE SANDWICH COURSE

  • BASIL BLT
  • OVEN ROASTED SALMON -CUCUMBER BITES
  • EGG SALAD WITH SWEET PAPRIKA
  • CRANBERRY PECAN CHICKEN

THE SCONE COURSE

I tried a few times to get some ideas from my friends, as to the types of flavors or foods their mother liked so I could attempt to incorporate a little of it into my menu. I didn’t get very much help, but ironically, it was as if their mother made herself present all on her own. A couple weeks prior to the tea I was talking with my friend who still couldn’t think of anything to help me and I mentioned I was thinking about making these blackberry scones. I asked if her mother had a favorite berry – her response “blackberries”! I laughed – “Well there you go”, said. She remembered that she and her sister used to go with their mother to pick blackberries. So these pretty scones that I found on Pinterest were the perfect choice.

THE PASTRY COURSE

The sweets and pastry course: 1) I also learned that my friend’s mother loved chocolate covered raisins. To elevate that treat I made chocolate truffles with milk, semi-sweet & bitter sweet chocolates mixed with a little Chambord & whipped cream; currants were used in lieu of raisins. The chocolate was formed into gold candy paper cups. The tops were dusted with cocoa powder and embellished with sugared violas. 2) Pastel button sugar cookies were a must for a sewing themed tea. They were flavored with vanilla bean paste, almond extract, lemon and lime zest. 3) To save myself a little work, I visited a local bakery and purchased the lemon cream tarts.

As my friend circled the table she noticed my Mom’s Battenburg lace table cloth. She paused and said, “Mom loved Battenburg. She even tried to make it.” (Another touch of her Mom without knowing.) When the table was cleared and the dishes washed, I told my friend I wanted her to have the flowers on the table. I searched for a glass jar or plastic container to place them in for her ride home, but she insisted on a few wet paper towels that she wrapped around the stems and grabbed a left over piece of foil from the counter to seal in the wet towels. “That was another of your mother’s gestures.” I told her. Her sister had told me the year before that she remembered her Mom cutting flowers from her flowerbed and wrapping them with wet paper towels and plastic wrap or foil so they could bring the flowers to their teachers. As I said, her Mom’s spirit was there.

As an exercise to help us remember our Mom’s, I had found this journal sometime in the past year at a book store, “Your Mother’s Story, Mom I want to know everything about you..” I purchased it for the purpose of filling responses its pages of questions for my own daughter over time, and as I read the questions I decided I could use a few to generate some interesting memories at my tea. I selected some of the questions and reproduced them on to slips of paper, that I then folded and placed inside one of my vintage sewing pattern envelopes I had made. I passed the envelope around for everyone to take a question and asked them answer the question in the way they thought their Mother would.

The questions varied from the craziest thing that happened with our Mom; the hardest conversation we ever had to have with our Mom; an unexpected turning point in our Mom’s life; advice or techniques that our Mom learned from her own Mom that she passed down to us and so on. We shared some funny stories, some difficult turns and some sweet stories as was our goal -we remembered our Moms.

Over our few years of meeting over tea and talking about our Moms, we’ve discovered our childhoods in many ways had a lot in common. Most of us had our clothes made by our Moms on their sewing machines, and most of us longed to buy clothes at Sears like the other kids. Most of us can remember our Moms cutting flowers and wrapping them in paper towels so we could bring them to our teachers, and oddly a few of them also loved chocolate covered raisins like the Mom we celebrated today. While we are purposely allocating time to spend remembering our Moms, we are also finding common ground among ourselves.

As my friends left to go their separate ways, I knew in all of our hearts that song was playing again in our mines, Mom – I remember you……

LAGNIAPPE

Weekend Project 2 & 3: Fireplace and Light Fixtures

I live in an area where local artists are plentiful and so is the inspiration.
While I don’t draw or paint regularly, some of the modern abstract art I’ve seen,
inspired me to create the panels on the wall in my dining area.

Whatever your personal aesthetic may be, it can be fun to inject your own personal signature style to your home. It’s seems like a simple concept, but I have met those who say they have no idea what their personal aesthetic or style is. If this is the case, I would suggest going to the local bookstore one afternoon. Grab several decor and home design magazines, buy a cup of coffee or tea and find a table and take your time to browse through the pages. When you a room design and/or a color draws you in, snap a picture of the page with your cell phone. When you find photos of vignettes or a decorated wall or bookshelf you like, take pictures again. If you find a picture (for example ) of a bedroom that you would love your bedroom to resemble, take that picture as a guide when shopping to find similar items. In order to stay focused, avoid getting overwhelmed, and on budget, you will feel a greater sense of accomplishment by starting with one section of (i.e. built in wall of book shelves) or one room at a time. The completed project will fuel and encourage you to move on to the next.

Use whatever skills you have to create your own window treatments, art and accessories. Also shop around, I’ve found something as simple as a small picture frame at a novelty gift shop with a price tag of $21, that I purchased (the exact frame) for $6.99 at Homegoods. Be patient and with time you can save a lot of money. When shopping, create a list of items you want from the inspiration photo – in addition to having the photo as reference. Shop for one item at a time. Sometimes I get overwhelmed by all of the clutter of items (distractions) in the store, causing me to lose focus of what I’m in search of. Decide on one item, such as a lamp, and focus your search to lamps only, for a day. If you just happen to come across another item on the list at the same time and it’s within your budget to purchase – I call that a bonus and get very excited when a plan is coming together all on its own.

My home is decorated with a mix of French/French Country with Modern and Traditional touches. The changes I’ve made have evolved over time and of course when budget permitted. My goal was to emulate a high-end look with a lower budget, that became my weekend projects over a span of five years. As an example, here is an easy, inexpensive method for adding a little “French essence” to a Fireplace and light fixtures in my open concept living area.

Scalloped millwork

THE FIREPLACE- WEEKEND PROJECT 2

My fireplace below was simply painted white by the contractor. I would love for it to be made of cut stone, but the cost for that style is astounding. While browsing through one of my favorite shops I found this beautiful carved scallop and scrolled piece of millwork. It conjures up the image of a feminine version of King Triton’s throne in the Little Mermaid. When I saw it I had no idea what I would do with it, but I just knew I couldn’t leave it behind.

Several months later, during the holidays, my brother who also has an eye for decor, noticed the piece where I had set it on top of a stack of books on my coffee table waiting for inspiration. He asked me what it was, and I explained I didn’t know what I was going to do with it, but I just thought it was so pretty that I had to get it. After a few minutes of looking around my room, he picked it up and walked over to my fireplace and held it up against the center of the mantel where it is placed below. Getting someone else’s perspective when your stumped can open your eyes to something you had failed to think of on your own. So if you find something you really love, but aren’t sure how to place in your design, put it where others can see it – they may help you find a creative way to place it within your own design. My flat screen tv is mounted above the mantel, so I have to keep the actual mantel shelf clean and clear of clutter, but for the holidays I do add a little decorative touch on the each end.

After measuring to locate the center, I hammered in a small nail long enough for the toothed hook on the back of the scalloped millwork to catch. Glueing would have made a permanent change and I decided against that. This addition on its own, did not complete the look I wanted to achieve. To match the metallic gold on the millwork, I purchased a small glass bottle of model paint at a hobby and craft store. With a small brush I carefully painted the small horizontal decorative area at the top of the mantel just above the scalloped shell, the circular scrolls on each side and the very lower parts as shown above to balance out the affect. The gold was too bright, so I mixed some light gray acrylic paint and using a piece of an old cotton t-shirt, I wiped the light gray paint over the gold areas (after the gold had completely dried.) This toned down the gold to match the millwork piece. Something so simple delivered a huge impact.

This of course is simply an idea to share – that I hope will inspire you to look at your mantel and see if there’s a way to apply your own personal style. My neighbor whose aesthetic is a combination of Cajun country cottage with industrial touches (not farmhouse she would add) installed white shiplap all the way up the wall above her mantel as a decorative touch. Transforming the actual wall around the mantel rather than changing the mantel is another option. The options are endless.

LIGHT FIXTURES -WEEKEND PROJECT 3

I visited my home many times during its construction. Each time trying to look closely at what I could do to personalize it in the future. If you’ve learned anything about me from my Blog – you know I’m a planner and I start my research far in advance.

Early on, the open vacant space above the sink and bar area of the kitchen bothered me. The area looked “naked” and in need of pendant lighting, but would also create a visual separation of the kitchen and the living room. In addition, the only lighting in kitchen were the recessed lights, that created too much light and use of energy for every day, and the living room lighting was limited to a large ceiling fan with a light fixture. The contractor would not install electrical outlets in the center flooring of the open living area for lamps, I had to strategically locate lamps around the walls of the room to create adequate lighting, knowing I would never use the light on the ceiling fan.

My sketched in image of the pendant lighting
and chandelier to be replaced.

I searched online for “French Country” lighting. As I found items or pictures of light fixtures, furniture, rugs or a room design similar to what I hoped to achieve, I saved each on Pinterest boards I created for each room in the house. When I found the three light, shaded pendant below, it was love at first sight. A great Pinterest feature that it not only stores your ideas in an organized manner, but they also email you when the price of an item drops. I waited several months until I was able to purchase the pendant on sale with free shipping.

Internet comparison searches also provide the prices of various suppliers. If you have the model number of the item or full name as it appears on your original search, the comparison search lists the various sites selling the item and their price. This was instrumental in finding the lowest price and free shipping. A few months after moving into my house, I ordered the pendant (even on sale was a splurge) and hired the contractor’s electrician to install the fixture. It looks exactly as I imagined it would and it is still my favorite of all the light fixtures throughout the house.

Three light pendant over kitchen bar/ sink. https://www.kathykuohome.com/Product/Detail/2428-Maison-French-Country-Antique-White-Light-Island-Chandelier
Matching light fixture in foyer.
https://www.quorumlightingexperts.com/lighting/14-509-709-0-245189/Quorum_Salento—Four-Light-Dual-Mount-2706-18-70.htm?source=rr

As time passed, I replaced each of the fixtures in my open living area, one at a time. My dining, living and breakfast rooms all share the same space as my open kitchen. It was important to have some cohesiveness and similarity with each replaced light fixture. I searched for the same brand name as my pendant and was excited to find an entire line of French country shaded light fixtures of the same style and finish. I replaced the pendant above the front door in the foyer and the hall light fixture that leads to the guest bedroom, bath and my office with the same shaded fixture above on the right. The foyer light hangs from a chain just as the previous pendant did, while the hall light was placed flush against the ceil