An event planner, whether for a party of 6 or 600 has to plan ahead, and in my case any chance of making things in advance is an opportunity to save time later. My Annual Mother’s Tea, held the first Sunday of May, is a tradition formed after my mother passed away and I was facing Mother’s Day without her. I invited a small group of friends who also lost their mothers to join together for an afternoon tea and share memories of them and from there a tradition was formed. As a way to make each year a little different, I wrote everyone’s name on a piece of paper and placed all of the names in a teapot. At the end of each tea (themed in honor of a mother) we pull a new name and honor that person’s mother the following year attempting to include memories, favorite flowers, special interests and/or careers including a menu filled with flavors that each mother would have loved.
At our most recent tea, my friend Kelly’s name was selected and in 2022 we will be honoring her mother Jane. Each year I’ve noted shared memories for future reference, and when I saw Kelly’s name I immediately thought of a memory she shared at one of our first gatherings about her mother saving marigold seeds.
Kelly shared with all of us that just a couple of weeks prior, she was planting marigolds in her vegetable garden, and a memory formed of her mother collecting the seeds from marigolds in her own garden. She confessed that as a child she didn’t understand why her Mom was planting the marigolds or collecting the seeds, but now here she was planting her own marigolds to protect her vegetable garden from insects and attract others that encourage pollination and healthy growth.
As she told the story, it reminded me of my own mother planting marigolds. She didn’t have a vegetable garden, but it seemed to be one of the few flowers that could stand the Southern California sun years ago. It also gave this party planner a great idea for a small memory favor to create for everyone at the table.
By mid-June, my own marigolds were beginning to struggle in the heat. As I pulled away the withered flowers from their plants, I realized this was an opportunity to dry the seeds and create the seed packets for next May’s tea that I had been thinking of.
I searched online for seed envelopes, but they were sold in large quantities when I wanted less than a dozen, and I wanted each to be pretty and femininely decorated to fit into my tea decor. So I then searched for free seed envelope templates. As I scrolled through the options I found this beautiful template by Glenda’s World. https://glenda-jsworld.blogspot.com/2013/09/seed-envelope-packets.html
I printed a sample and found that the size was a bit smaller than I wanted, so I then took a snipit of the image and pasted it to a blank page. This enabled me to expand the size to whatever I wanted. I printed the resized image. Once satisfied with the size, I decided I wanted the front to have a marigold rather than the date, etc. provided on the original. So I searched for free images of marigolds. I’m no graphic designer, but for years I’ve made what I want by printing, cutting and taping with matt scotch tape and then making a photocopy of the final image.
I cut out the center of the framed section on the template and then sized and fitted the marigold to fit inside. I then created and printed a bordered “Marigold Seeds” band, to cut and tape over the marigold image.
I found a pack of pearlized paper that I didn’t remember I had, and thought it would make a prettier envelop. After taping all of the edges down (above is before the taping), I smoothed it down carefully with a bone folder (a craft tool used for making crisp folds). I laid the prepared version above on my printer face down and then laid a white sheet of printer paper on top, finally printing a color copy on to the pearlized paper. The marigolds changed to a rose gold color and the green font looks gray (that I can’t explain), but all together it created a delicate image that was perfect! In fact as I was researching marigolds I found that there is a French variety of strawberry blonde marigolds that the image below looks very much like.
The printer ink has to be allowed at least 5 minutes to dry or the image can smudge. Once dried, I used the bone folder to carefully fold all of the edges of the template for a professional look. I originally tried using a little Elmer’s glue to adhere the back and bottom flaps, but you can see from the image above, it caused some puckering. So I used a glue stick instead. Due to the texture of the paper, I had to weigh the glued envelop down with a plate for about 5 to 10 minutes to allow the glue some time to dry and hold the flaps together.
When I first started experimenting with the original template, I printed several thinking I would glue the image of the marigold over the fonted information. But after some thought, I decided that wouldn’t look as professionally made. Rather than wasting the first set of templates, I formed each into envelopes and placed one behind each of the marigold seed filled envelopes that would allow my guests to use for their own seed collecting.
I then added a small pre-glued pearl at the bottom of each envelope and tied the two envelopes together with some sheer white ribbon I had in my supply of all occasion ribbon.
Each envelop was filled with marigold seeds and then sealed with small gold heart stickers I had in my stationary drawer. In fact, everything used to make the seed packets were in my craft or stationary stash. So they didn’t cost me a penny!
My friend Kelly’s memory of her mother, has been carefully created into a small gift from the heart that I hope she can be proud of at next year’s Annual Tea, where we will honor her mother in other ways yet to be discovered.
While I love baking and cooking from scratch, there are days when I’m just too pressed for time to perform all of the extra steps to produce a scratch recipe. I wanted to prepare breakfast biscuit sandwiches one morning for my handy man that was coming to fix a few things around the house, but again was short on time. I could have bought frozen pre-made biscuits or the pop open can version that are both tasty and successful, but I decided to challenge myself to elevate a simple $1.00 box of biscuit mix.
To speed up the morning process, I opened the box of mix and poured it into a medium bowl. I ground a teaspoon of fresh black pepper and chopped 2 teaspoons of fresh rosemary from my garden and added it to the bowl with the mix. I whisked everything together to get the lumps out of the mix and covered with plastic wrap until morning.
I made Coq Au Vin the evening before and had leftover chopped fried crispy bacon that I decided would add some additional flavor to the dough. I was curious to see how things would turn out with my “wing it” plan in the morning and pushed my mind for a plan B in case this didn’t work out, but decided to trust my instincts.
Bacon, Herb and Black Pepper Ham Biscuits
1 box of Jiffy Buttermilk Biscuit Mix
1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons finely chopped rosemary (or sage)
pinch teaspoon of kosher salt
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons chopped crispy cooked bacon
1 tablespoon flour (and more for dusting counter and rolling pin)
4 tablespoons butter (melted)
Thinly sliced ham or Canadian bacon
Preheat oven 450 degrees.
Pour the contents of the biscuit mix into a medium bowl. Add chopped herbs, black pepper and salt. (I prepared to this stage the night before and covered the bowl with plastic wrap until morning). Cook chopped bacon until crispy, drain on paper towels, cool, cover and set aside.
In the morning I pre-heated the oven, added the water to the mix with herbs, pepper and salt and then stirred in the bacon until the dry mix was moistened.
Sprinkle the surface of the counter with some flour and scrape the biscuit mixture on top of the floured surface. Place a small amount of flour in hand and rub on to the entire surface of the rolling pin. Pat the dough down slightly and dust the top of the mix with flour. (It’s very wet, so a little flour is needed to prevent sticking.) Roll out the dough and using a biscuit cutter dipped in flour cut out 4 biscuits. The scrapes can be pulled together, patted down again and cut to make a fifth biscuit.
(Optional: I brushed the tops with a little water (very little) and sprinkled with flaky salt.)
Per the box instructions bake 8 to 10 minutes. These biscuits do not rise very much and do not get golden in color, but after taking them out of the oven I brushed the tops with some melted butter that gave them a little needed moisture and color. If attempted again I may try brushing the tops with a little milk or cream (like scones call for) to add a little color to their tops. After they have cooled slightly, gently slice all in 1/2 with a serrated knife and then brush melted butter inside each half. (They need to be mostly cooled before trying to slice or they will crumble apart).
(Note: I baked a small scrap of the dough with the biscuits for test tasting – always a good idea to make sure something “made up” tastes good. It passed the test so on we go to the sandwich filling). I placed slices of ham in a non-stick skillet and fried until lightly browned. Spread fig (or another flavor) preserve on the insides of both halves of the biscuit. Stack the fried ham on the bottom half and top with the other.
To add a quick side of freshness, I sliced a few large strawberries, then mixed in a bowl with blackberries and blueberries, some agave, a pinch of salt and a couple of teaspoons of chiffonade mint leaves. Fresh sweet basil or Thai basil, would also be a tasty alternative to mint for an herbaceous lift to the fruit.
While they are not the buttery flakey version better achieved from scratch, for $1.00, free herbs from my garden, a little fried bacon, preserves and sliced ham from the fridge, my guest had absolutely no problem devouring two and boxing up another two for rewarming for the next day’s morning breakfast. When you’re short on time, grab a box of something from the grocery store shelf for a thrifty and tasty way to a quick fix.
Note: There are a variety of quick biscuit mixes to experiment with. If attempted again I would experiment with a different brand to see if I could achieve a fluffier biscuit with more of a rise.
It’s May and that means it’s time for my neighbor’s Annual Memorial Day Weekend Fajita party. A tradition started years ago in a different home and State, they carried on each year (with a skip of a year now and then for circumstances like COVID) inviting friends and some of their neighbors over for a late afternoon of margaritas, sangria, and fajitas. As hosts they supply the margaritas and fajitas, and those who attend make contributions to the party of appetizers, sides and dessert.
Over the years I’ve tried to bring something that doesn’t conflict with the hosts’ menu, but hopefully will compliment it. I’m always searching for ideas and inspiration for everything I do and prefer to create something different and a little unexpected. I’ve even created a designated Pinterest board for future inspiration or reference since ideas present themselves at different times of the year.
A few years ago, Mexican Street Corn became all the rage and my childhood born love for corn made me want to share this yummy treat with everyone.
Canned corn was a common side at nearly every dinner when I was growing up. I used to tease that my Mom made us all into starchy vegetable junkies. Corn was served next to rice, mashed potatoes and pasta, breaking all of the rules I had learned about creating a nutrient rich, balanced meal in home economics. One of the first times I invited my parents over for dinner as an adult, I set the table nicely and prepared a lovely well balanced and colorful meal of roast beef, mashed potatoes and bright green haricots verts with toasted almonds to give that fresh pop of green I was taught should be on every plate. My Mom would always “fix” as she called it, my Dad’s plate, with a serving of each item. When she set the plate on the table in front of him, he looked up at her and said, “Where’s the corn?” That’s how bad the corn situation was in my family. A couple of days later Mom called and said, “Your Dad just told me he really liked those green beans you made. How do you cook them?”
In her later years when we had grown out of our picky eating phases (which by the way was nothing compared to the chicken nugget, french fry obsessions of young children these days) Mom cooked what southerners call “smothered” corn that we all loved and that I try to recreate for my brother whenever I’m cooking family dinners. “Smothered” usually means cooked with chopped vegetables, like onion, red or green bell pepper and celery until the flavors blend into a delicious mouthwatering treat. It was hard to imagine that corn as we knew it (from the can with a little butter or margarine back in those days) could be made to taste so good.
The month of May is the perfect month for corn. Bins at the grocer and farm stands are filled with the just harvested fresh green husked cobs of yellow, white and multicolored sweet corn. Another great tip is that usually the week of Memorial Day, the cobs go on sale for 25 cents each, making it a thrifty item to serve at a party.
Mexican Street corn is a fun way to elevate the corn on the cob and is simple and delicious.
What you’ll need: (Remember that I’m all about using what you have)
Small to medium husked corn on the cob (the number depends on how many you are serving)
Olive or canola oil and brush
Crema Mexicana (Mexican sour cream); or sour cream or Mayonnaise (I used an olive oil based, but any kind will do – it’s mostly a sticking agent)
Chili powder, chili chipotle power, or lime chili powder
Limes (zest and juice will be used) 1 small per cob.
crumbled, cojita or queso cheese or freshly grated parmesan
fresh cilantro chopped
As a cooking show junkie, I’ve picked up a few really helpful tricks that come in handy (if I remember them). One trick is to create a natural organic handle, from the bundle of husk pulled away from the cob to hold the corn when eating. The other is an easy and fast way to remove the silky strands.
Cut the top end of the cob off. Then place the husked cob into the microwave for one minute. Carefully remove (may be hot)from the microwave. Gently pull a few of the longer outer pieces of husks (remove)to be used for wrapping around the husk bundle. Form the husk bundle by gently peeling back the green husks without disconnecting from the cob. The silk threads will come together and softly pull away to discard. Gently gather the husk bundle and pull husks away from the end of the corn cob. Take a piece of the reserved husk fold lengthwise into a band. Tie and knot the piece of husk around the bundle. This forms a natural handle for holding the cob to eat after grilling and seasoning with the street corn ingredients.
On to the grilling. Brush each cob with olive or canola oil. A wonderful smoky charred flavor is best created on an outdoor grill, but the same charring can be made indoors on a grill pan. The husks will slightly begin to dry from the heat of the grill so slightly spraying with a water mist and keeping off the fire is best. If the husks slightly whither, just push the tied band up to hold the bundle together.
Brush on a mixture of mayo and sour cream (whatever variation you’re using from the list), sprinkle with chili powder, zest a fresh lime (the green part only) and then squeeze lime juice over the toppings. Sprinkle with grated cheese. Garnish with freshly chopped cilantro.
The Mexican Street Corn was a hit the first time I made it. So much so that our hosts said they would make it the following year. Oddly the year that followed, for some reason the harvest was poor; the corn was dry and not tasty at all. When no corn was served, some of the regulars in attendance approached me asking “Where’s the corn? I was looking forward to the corn!”
This year I’m making a different version of Mexican Street corn, in form of a bite sized fritter or cake like the image below. Same ingredients with a little flour for binding before forming into cakes and gently frying until golden brown.
Looking for a popular full flavored side or small bite for your weekend get together? These in season fresh corn ideas are a real winner!
Here’s a easy summer dessert for those hot days of summer…..
Lemon Blueberry Whip
1 – 8 oz bar of light cream cheese (room temperature)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup of heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon of granulated sugar
the zest of one large lemon (or two small)
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup small chopped candied lemon (I used about 4 slices of a pack from Trader Joe’s)
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 tablespoon agave (or 1 teaspoon sugar)
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon grape seed (or canola oil)
Preheat oven 400 degrees.
Yields 6 servings.
Reserve six fresh blueberries for garnish. Toss remaining blueberries with agave, salt and grape seed oil and place in a single layer on a small baking sheet with sides. Roast for 15 minutes. Blueberries will become dark, shrink some and create juices on the tray. Remove and cool completely to room temperature.
Place room temperature cream cheese and 1/2 cup sugar in a blender and blend until loosened and creamy (about a minute). Add lemon zest and juice and pulse a few times to combine. Stop, scrape the sides. Add the candied lemon peel. Pulse about 4 times.
In another bowl using a hand mixer whip one cup of whipping cream until reached to soft peaks, add one tablespoon sugar and whip to stiff peaks. Gently fold in about 1/4th of the lemon cream cheese until combined and continue by adding another 1/4th of the lemon cream cheese at a time until all folded together with the whipped cream.
Spoon the completely cooled roasted blueberries in equal portions into the bottom of each serving dish (small ramekins – I used pot a creme pots). Top with the lemon cream and smooth top with an offset spatula or backside of a spoon. Top with a fresh blueberry and lemon zest (optional edible flowers – in the photo are French lilac and chamomile). Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
I woke up this morning to the rumbling of thunder that I could hear in the distance. Within minutes the rain was thumping on the roof until the wind kicked in and sent it thrashing against the windows. I felt guilty asking the Lord to clear the skies so my long planned afternoon tea could go on as scheduled, knowing there were so many more important things happening in the world that needed His attention. Instead I simply chanted in my head “I trust You and know everything will work out fine.” I started with cleaning up the house, the usual vacuum, mopping, and a little dusting before settling into the kitchen to begin prep for the final menu items of today’s Annual Remembering Mothers Tea.
Yesterday I decided to cross the lake and head to Trader Joe’s where I always seem to find exactly what I’m looking for. I was so excited to find French lilacs and selected a couple of bouquets. As I turned to place the flowers in my basket, on the opposite side I came face to face with an entire section of gladiolas! They were all tightly closed, so I searched for a bouquet that had a few flowers beginning to open, thrilled to at least have a bouquet that I could place in a vase and gift to Lydia after the tea.
My herb garden was abundant with violas and pansies that I had planted a little over a month ago. Lydia and another neighbor gave me roses and coreopsis. I carefully dried a variety of flowers and petals between paper towels in the microwave and I ordered an inexpensive letter stamping kit on Amazon. With all in place the cookie baking began and I employed Lydia’s help to decorate the cookies with flowers. Six dozen was quite a task, but together we managed to finish them all in a little over 3 hours, but over 2 separate days.
What you’ll need: Alphabet Stamp; dried flowers; cookie dough and sanding sugar. (There are a few different options of alphabet stamps on Amazon in various price points. They are very small and a little tricky to change the letter on the little rail tray, and don’t forget, the letters have to be installed backwards to stamp correctly.
Doing this part a day ahead will make the application time easier, but if done the same time as baking the cookies you may be in it for about half a day the first time.The first step is to cut clean, pesticide free, edible flowers with as little stem behind them as possible. Using the glass plate from the microwave, lay each bloom face down over two layers of paper towel. Once the sheet is full, carefully cover with two layers of paper towel and gently press down. Place a microwave safe dish that covers all of the flowers over the top.
Microwave in 30 second intervals for a total of 3 minutes. Let sit for about 5 minutes and remove the entire microwave plate, pressed flowers and press on top (be careful everything may be hot). The paper towels get slightly wet where the flowers were. The flowers aren’t actually dry until the paper comes out dry. Check after the 3 minute 30 second series. Each microwave is different and if not dried enough return and use a couple of additional 30 second turns. Gently remove the entire paper towel stack to a baking sheet and cover with another baking sheet leaving to further dry overnight for best results, but the flowers can still be used if not fully dried. I dried flat leaf parsley for the greenery. Oddly it was also very wet, but did not take as much time as the flowers, so be sure to check after about 2 minutes total in the microwave. Checking the result by pulling up a corner carefully and returning for more time if needed.
Remarkably, the flowers maintain their vibrant color even if their original color slightly changed.
With the flowers ready to go – on to the cookies.
Sugar Cookie with Lemon and Raspberry
Yields about 3 dozen cookies (used a 2 5/8th inch or 68 mm scalloped cutter)
1 cup of room temperature butter (2 sticks)
1 cup of granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I used Mexican Vanilla)
the zest of one large lemon (or two small) yellow part only
3 cups of all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons of freeze dried raspberries (crushed with fingers)
white sanding sugar
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth and creamy. Add egg, vanilla, lemon zest and crushed freeze dried raspberries and mix until well blended. Scrap down the sides of the bowl and mix again.
In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. With the mixer on low, slowly add flour mixture to the creamed ingredients. Once all flour mixture has been incorporated, put mixer on high and beat until the dough comes together and away from the sides.
Divide dough in half, form into a flat square and wrap each half into clear plastic wrap. Refrigerate for one hour. (If you refrigerate for long periods of time, the dough will be too firm, but you can let it sit out on the counter for about 10 to 15 minutes until is softens, but is still firm.
Open the plastic wrap and smooth out on the counter. Place the dough in the center. Cut another large piece of plastic wrap and lay on top. Roll out the dough to about 1/4th inch thickness (between the two sheets of plastic). This avoids drying out the dough with adding more flour and rolls out with less mess to clean up and after cutting out the cookies you can easily fold up the scraps with the plastic and re-roll.
Cut with desired cookie cutter and place each cookie on a parchment lined or silicon lined baking sheet. The cookies do not spread, but place about an inch apart. Place entire baking sheet in the freezer for 5 minutes. (I repeated and cut out all of the cookies with the remaining dough filling 3 baking sheets, each with a dozen cookies and placed all of the prepared sheets in the refrigerator or freezer).
Remove one prepared sheet after 5 minutes. Using a small bowl of water and a small paint brush, brush a small area on the cookie where you want to place flowers and arrange as desired, leaving space for word stamping if that is what you are going to do or it can be done with flowers only.
Once all of the cookies on the sheet are decorated with flowers, lightly sprinkle with white sanding sugar. (Important to sprinkle sugar prior to stamping word). If stamping with a name or word, now is the time to stamp. Gently press into the cookie. It actually works best if the cookie is a little more softened which is will be during the time it takes to decorate with flowers.
Return the cookie sheet to the freezer for 5 minutes (put your timer on) and take out the next sheet to decorate. After 5 minutes in the freezer, place decorated cookie tray into the pre-heated oven for 15 minutes. Take out of the oven and let cool for 10 minutes on the tray. Then move to a cooling rack until completely cooled. Repeat with the remaining cookies.
Packs of cookies used as place cards.
Other items shared in the previous posts to complete the menu are pictured below.
THE SANDWICH COURSE
The Scone Course
Mission Fig & Date Scones
Candied & Orange Marmalade
The Soup Course
Fresh Corn Coulis topped with shaved asparagus, fresh green peas, pea shoots, shaved fennel and corn kernels tossed in a white balsamic vinaigrette and edible flowers.
The Scone “To Go Boxes”
When I did a test bake a couple of weeks ago, the number of scones were so plentiful that I knew I would have enough to box and send home with the ladies. I purchased these white boxes at Michaels and lined the inside with floral tissue paper. Using mini sealed containers from the Dollar Tree, I filled each with the orange marmalade and candied orange that I garnished the top of those served with and glued some of the leftover dried flowers to the lids.
As the first of my guests arrived, there was still a slight drizzle falling, but shortly afterwards the sun began to peek from behind the clouds. As we toasted our mothers and shared more memories of them, the skies had cleared and the sun was shining brightly. I was filled with gratitude for our time together and that my friends would return safely home, free of storms.
My mother was not one to slave over the stove or bake a variety of goods when I was growing up. No homemade biscuits or cakes from scratch existed. In most cases she took the easy and economic route of canned and boxed options for meals and baked goods, convenience items created during her generation. However, later in her life when she retired, she took a cake decorating class and eventually became very adept at decorating cookies. My daughter’s baby and wedding showers had the most feminine, delicately iced antique baby carriage and wedding cake cookies that we all beamed over. I suppose it’s fair to say she had more time and patience to commit to honing these skills and spent hours making each exactly perfect and a work of art.
Beautifully presented tea treats excited her greatly and she couldn’t wait to see what the petite finger sandwiches and pastries would look like whenever we attended a tea service. The pleasures of the tea for both of us began with the anticipation of how pretty the presentation might be and what surprising new items we might find. While I want a pretty presentation at my own tea parties, everything must also taste good.
The Spring Soup Course
Each year I’ve started my tea with a small cup of Spring inspired soup. This year I found a recipe in Food & Wine Magazine for a Sweet Corn Coulis created by Commander’s Palace Chef, Meg Bickford. Chef’s version included grilled shrimp that I omitted from mine.
Other substitutions or variations in my version included lime zest and juice (in lieu of lemon juice); white balsamic vinegar (in lieu of champagne vinegar); crème fraîche (in lieu of sour cream) and Greek yogurt (in lieu of buttermilk). Basically use what you have that has similar flavors. The amounts needed are far too little to go out and buy a whole container of buttermilk when you can use yogurt if you have it in the fridge. Lastly I slightly blanched the shaved asparagus ribbons and tips after the peas (that I used frozen in lieu of fresh). Otherwise, I followed the recipe as written. The thinly sliced fresh vegetables gently tossed in a bright vinegar and grape seed oil, and then gently laid upon the sweet corn coulis, provided the perfect green brightness of Spring I was looking for. The link: https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/grilled-gulf-shrimp-with-sweet-corn-coulis
Crispy prosciutto egg salad with paprika lace and chive blossom
While I like to have some of the menu items reflect memories of the honored mother, I don’t want it to be overly obvious. I try to consciously make different menu items from year to year, but when there is an expressed favorite, then it should be there for the tradition of the day. Below are goat cheese “heart-beet” canapés as a fun wink to our Nurse Theme.
No cooking necessary for this bright and cheerful canapé. All that is needed is a can of sliced beets and small log of blueberry crusted goat cheese (Walmart) and edible flowers. Using two larger slices of beets, place a sliced disk of room temperature goat cheese between the two beets and line them up evenly. Using a small heart shaped biscuit or cookie cutter centered over the top beet cut through the layers and that’s all there is to it! Garnished with a tiny dab of goat cheese on top and an edible flower like these garden violas, this little ruby jewel is ready for serving.
A fan favorite and sandwich that just always has to be part of a tea is the cucumber sandwich. To create a little update of freshness, I chopped fresh mint, added a little white balsamic vinegar and tossed it into thinly sliced ribbons of Persian cucumbers.
Spread crème fraîche and a little mint thinly sliced mint on one side of two pieces of thin sliced bread (like Pepperidge Farm). Lay the thinly sliced cucumber ribbons over the crème fraîche of one slice and then place the second piece of bread, crème fraîche side down, on top. Place more thin slices of cucumber over the top of the sandwich. With a sharp knife, remove the crust from all sides. Now cut sandwich in half to create two rectangular shaped finger sandwiches. Top with a small mint leaf and chamomile (or other edible) flower for garnish.
Mint Cucumber Sandwiches
Smoked Gouda Pimento Cheese Finger Sandwich
Lydia said her Mother loved pimento cheese and had recently discovered a smoke gouda pimento cheese dip (from Sam’s Club) when visiting a friend that she really enjoyed. So I assigned this finger sandwich to her. I do not have a “test” version of her sandwich for this post, but you’ll be able to see it in “the tea day” post.
Smoky Gouda Pimento Cheese
The great thing about egg salad is that anyone can make it. Boil a few eggs, peel, smash into a crumble, add mayo, a little salt and pepper, some paprika and you’ve got egg salad. What I don’t like, is its lack of texture. So I thought I’d punch it up by crisping some prosciutto in the oven and then placing a little sheet this tasty bacon-like flavor on top of the egg salad for a little extra texture and crunch. To garnish I sifted sweet paprika over the lace edge of a paper doily to create a lacy background before I cut two small slits in the bread and wove in the stem of a chive with a blossom on top. Finally a couple of chive ends were added to create a little leaf for the flower.
Crispy Prosciutto Egg Salad with Sweet Paprika Lace and Chive Blossom
The Scone Course
I asked Lydia to think about what her mother’s favorite flavors, fruits, etc. and wanted to incorporate some of those into the into the menu. Only a few items came to mind, which included figs (recalling images of her mother eating Fig Newtons); cherry came to mind, lemon and pimento cheese. An odd combination, but I knew I could find a way to incorporate the flavors into the menu. The pimento cheese will be used in a finger sandwich.
For the scone, I found this fig and pear recipe in Teatime Magazine (the link to the recipe can be found below). I did not use pears in my version, but instead used chopped dates, and topped with orange marmalade and diced candied orange. I decided to a little larger heart cutter for these.
I haven’t created samples or test versions of all of the sweet course items, but I typically make something fruity, something with chocolate and something pastry. For now I’ve made a small wink to Lydia’s mother’s “cherry” flavor reference with these chocolate liqueur cups, filled with French black cherry preserves and a Griottines (brandied) French cherry on top.
Simple and quick, but a tasty small bite of chocolate cherry, each cup is filled with about a teaspoon of black cherry preserves (pump with small cherries) and then topped with one Griottine (brandied cherry) and a tiny edible viola flower.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into the preparations of my Mothers Tea menu items. Just two short weeks away! Be sure to come back to see how the party came together and the rest of our menu. So looking forward to our special day of remembering our Mothers and specifically honoring Lydia’s special Mom this year! Here’s to Mothers and Nurses everywhere!
With fingertips gently placed on the underside of the wrist, we can feel the gentle pulse of our heartbeat, the sound of life pulsing through the veins. Most often a slow easy rhythm, that can easily move to a fast racing beat when excited or exerted. It is this first joyful audio a young mother anxiously longs to hear, during the first ultrasound, that confirms her little embryo is indeed alive. Our heartbeat is a gift of life given to each one of us, by our mother. But one day, for some earlier and others later, the heartbeat that gave us ours stops, and they have gone home to the Lord. It is a void that I didn’t know what to do with, especially when Mother’s Day would come around each year and I no longer had my mother to share the day with.
Mom and I on beach in Bermuda.
I decided about four years ago, to reach out to some of my friends who had also lost their mothers, and suggested an idea of hosting an annual tea the weekend before Mother’s Day, to gather and spend an afternoon sharing memories of our mothers. The idea was well received with appreciation I never expected. And so a tradition was formed.
After the first tea, I wrote each name of the attendees on a piece of paper, folded and placed it inside of a teapot. I suggested that at the end of each tea, we would pull a name from the teapot and the following year the tea would be designed in honor of that person’s mother. This would not only make each year a little something new to look forward to, it would also help us to learn more about each individual mother.
The following year our tea was in honor of Katherine, a mother who was a Seamstress. From memories shared by my friend, she remembered picking blackberries with her Mom ( blackberry scones) and her sister remembered how she would cut flowers from their yard and then wrap them with wet paper towels and plastic wrap so they could bring the flowers to their teachers (fresh flowers on the table). Their memories helped spark similar or different memories of the rest of our group. Through our conversation, we learned our mothers had things in common and yet had never known each other. ( The Seamstress themed tea can be found in the Tea & Traditions category.)
With this year’s Mothers Tea only 30 days away, and my work days being very full, I would have to get to work quickly to create a special day like those we’ve shared in the past. The name we had pulled at the last tea was a friend who couldn’t make it to this year’s event, due to travel plans. (Ironically her mother’s theme was going to be related to travel). I selected a new name from the teapot and the winner was Lydia.
Shortly after selecting her name, I sent a list of thought points to help generate memories of her mother that we could gently infuse into the decor and menu. The list included different hobbies or interests, a favorite color, a favorite flower or flowers, food flavors and favorites that I may be able to use as inspiration for some of the tea sandwiches, pastries and scones. With these tidbits of information, I would then let my mind do its best to create a memorable table decor, menu and favors that hopefully somewhat represent her mother.
The first flower that came to mind for Lydia was the gladiola. She remembered her mother deconstructing and creating corsages with them. We’ve discussed some ideas for using gladiolas in the table decor (if they are available to purchase when we need them), but I first needed to create an invitation to send to the other ladies.
Lydia is a very talented artist, and I wanted her to apply her special artistic gift to creating the invitation. I handed her a box of blank cream notecards that were stored in the back of my desk drawer, and asked her to create gladiolas on the front of each notecard, explaining that I would then print and paste the invitation text inside afterwards. A day later, she delivered these six differently designed, beautifully drawn and colorful notecards. If we are unable to find fresh gladiolas for the tea, they have at least made an appearance on the invitation.
Now it was my turn. I had to create the invitation text honoring her mother and her years of service as a nurse. I requested a headshot photo of her mother and she brought me several to choose from, including a couple of her mother in her 1960’s nursing uniform and cap, but they were so dark that we chose the image below that was originally in sepia. I took a picture of it with my phone and edited to black and white, making the image clearer to see.
Using an old school method of cut, paste and tape, I found this pretty stethoscope with roses image online. I printed it, gently cut it out with small manicure scissors and after three or four edits of moving the text and photo, finally framed the top of the invitation and image of our honored mother.
After searching through my desk of supplies, I found a pearl monogram that I decided to pull the little pearls from and place in a few areas to add a delicate three dimensional touch. With a glue stick and very finely pointed culinary tweezer, I pulled and placed the little pearls along the top border and used a larger pearl for the center of the stethoscope.
Once completed and all tucked into envelopes, I placed a gold wax seal on each before mailing to the other ladies.
With the invitations in the mail, it’s time to brainstorm for the table decor, favors and menu. For our seamstress themed tea I decorated my padded jewelry mannequin with tissue flowers that also incorporated the tissue pieces of an old pattern and measuring tape ribbon. As I wrestled with ideas for our nurse themed table, I found myself returning to my little mannequin.
I searched for images of nurses in the 1960’s and sent one of the pictures to Lydia to ask her if it was the way her mother dressed. Her response was “exactly”. Once confirmed, I searched for a nurse cap, thinking of somehow decorating it and hanging it at an angle on the same mannequin form. I also ordered a symbolic nurse’s pin.
Rod of Asclepius Nursing
The rod of Asclepius (single snake around a staff, no wings attached) which is featured on the Star of Life, symbolizes healing. Again using a snake, the serpent sheds its skin and is a symbol of rebirth and fertility. The staff is a symbol of authority and represents the god of medicine.
When the cap and pin arrived I asked Lydia, (conveniently also my neighbor) to come over so I could share the idea I had for the table centerpiece. I demonstrated how I would set the cap on the mannequin and imagined trying to make a little white tissue paper nurse dress or decorate the body with white flowers. Lydia said her Mother wore a cape (that I recalled seeing in many of the images I found of the 1960’s nurse uniforms) and suggested she could make a little cape and dress for the mannequin form with some scraps of fabric. She also remembered she had the actual pins her mother wore.
Two days later, she delivered this adorable doll-like version of her mother’s 1960’s nursing uniform perfectly dressing my little mannequin form. We joked that from the back, the life-sized nursing cap look a lot like Sally Field’s flying nun (for those of you old enough to know of the television show from the late 1960’s). Her mother’s name tag was so small is looks like it was made for the small version model she created. It was simply hard to believe how cute it turned out. (Her mother would be so proud of her.)
As part of her memories, Lydia also shared that she thought she got her love for reading from her mother, who read stacks of Harlequin romance novels that she hid away. Lydia confessed with a giggle, sneaking books from her mother’s hiding place to read them. As a cute nod to this memory, I found several Harlequin romance novel covers on Pinterest. I decided to take snap shots of several “nurse” themed novels and create little book covers to place around the table.
When going through a list of things associated with nursing, I thought of gauze for wrapping wounds, bandaids, medications, syringes for giving shots, thermometers and so on, but very little could be translated into something pretty for the table. I didn’t want things to be too literal. I thought of making some kind of rosettes with the gauze or a ribbon with bandaids, all of which looked awful. Frustrated I pushed it all aside.
Finally, I had a bright idea! I had just thrown away a large plastic bottle emptied of my gummy vitamins. I pulled it from the trash washed it and sprayed it with some gold paint. I glued a pretty nurse’s cap image I printed from online that matched the inside of the invitation, outlined it with pearls to simulate a pill bottle label and then glittered the outside of the bottle. With a slightly smaller bottle I also spray painted I then covered the surface with brown glitter and another label, also outlined with little pearls.
Placed at the base of the mannequin form and hopeful to have fresh gladiolas on the day of the event, for now I staged this photo with a silk version. The only thing left to do is surround the center with some colorful fresh flowers and tiny bud must be added to the cape for a corsage.
For the seamstress themed tea, I made pin cushions with espresso cups (that looked like small teacups).
Lydia and I talked about making corsages (like her mother made) for each of the ladies (which still may happen if we can find gladiolas), but I wanted something that would fit in with our Nurse theme for this year’s favor. On the same evening I thought of the glitter pill bottles, I also thought of travel sized first aide kits. I searched for a cute version for a long time online, but they were either too large or too expensive and none had the feminine appearance I wanted.
Travel sized first aide kits for this year’s favors. Using bottle labels found at Michaels, I printed pink first aid crosses to glue to the center, placed a few little pearls (to match the invitation) and a small shear white bow for the perfect nurse themed favor.
I remembered my little travel sized kit that was tucked away in my suitcase. Its simple white case was perfect for dressing up with paper or clip art that I would have to figure out IF I could find the quantity I needed. Luckily for just a couple of dollars each, I found the quantity I needed at good ole’ Walmart (in the area with all of the travel sized toiletries are). I went to Michaels in search of some paper that I could create a cover with. While browsing around the store for inspiration, I found some Spring items marked down and bought a pack of bottle labels by Celebrate it.
Back home, ready to figure out my design, I pulled out the paper I had purchased and started trying to figure out what I would do, when the labels I bought caught my eye. I decided to open the package and discovered there were two labels that were the perfect size and looked similar to the art I used inside the invitations. I put one kit together and then immediately went online and ordered two more packs (there were only 2 of the size I needed in a pack) to ensure they were ready for pickup the following day so I could make all of the kits look the same. It’s when little things like this come unexpectedly together that I enjoy what I’m doing the most. One might say the spirit of Lydia’s mother is gently guiding our plans together in a beautifully un-orchestrated way.
Inside the package I was surprised to find small labels that fit perfectly into the center of the kit.
Until the day of the tea, my table is set and ready with only the fresh flowers missing. So for now I will move on to the menu once again trying to capture a little of Lydia’s mother in some of the items.
Our pulse, our heartbeat was given to each of us by a mother. We grew with the Lord’s blessing inside our mother’s womb, heartbeats at times in unison, until we were completely formed and expelled to become over the years who we are today. Follow along as we continue to put our hearts into the planning of this special day in honor of our mothers.
Note: Nurse’s Day is May 6th. Thank and honor the wonderful nurses in your lives this year.
We lost Mom 7 years ago today. She loved the blooming flowers and trees, and spent endless hours in the yard planting and trimming. When we lived in Southern California, she planted succulents everywhere, a place where flowerbeds were harder to maintain due to the droughts, water restrictions and heat. Knowing I was going to move into a newly constructed home with no trees, she took a piece of her Drake Elm and nursed it for months and then gave it to me to plant in my yard. Before the construction of my house was completed, she was diagnosed with a form of cancer, a cancer so aggressive the doctors could only offer treatment to extend her life for six months, of course shocking all of us. She did get to see me move into my house, but I didn’t find the courage to plant her little tree until about a year later when it had grown a little larger and stronger. I worried it wouldn’t make it, but like Mom it has proven to be determined and resilient. Seven years later, it’s the first tree to fill with leaves when there’s just the slightest hint that Spring is on the way, almost as if she’s sending a message that she is still there swaying in the breeze watching over me.
A tradition that takes place in mid-March each year that she also loved is the Feast of St. Joseph referred to as St. Joseph Altars. A line of people from the surrounding community wait patiently to be served a plate filled, usually with a variety of Italian dishes and fried fish. Often held in school cafeterias, long tables with chairs are arranged for sharing the feast, followed by a visit to view the many baked breads, cakes and cookies placed around an altar with a statue of St. Joseph. As you exit the building a table with a couple of parishioners are stationed with the “little coveted bags” containing a variety of little Italian cookies, a plain or sometimes gold painted dried Fava bean (said to make you prosperous if you carried it in the coin section of your wallet or in a pocket), a small piece of thin, sliced, stale bread that has been blessed by the priest (meant to place in your freezer for protection against hurricanes) and finally a St. Joseph’s prayer card.
Among the little Italian cookies, were her favorite, the fig cookies as she called them, with a little sweet glaze and festive colorful sprinkles. A group of Parish ladies worked weeks before the day to make large quantities of cookies, cakes and other food as part of “the feast”.
Today I made a batch of Italian fig cookies (Cucidati) for the first time in her memory. For some reason I imagined they would be more difficult than they were to make. I had convinced myself there was some special mystery to making them. The only thing they needed was time, and fortunately I found a recipe I had saved on Pinterest. I read through the recipe and instructions on Friday evening in order to take inventory of the ingredients and make sure I had everything I needed. The dough required refrigeration after being made from 3 hours to overnight. I had already taken some butter out of the fridge anticipating making some kind of cookies. So I quickly made the dough before going to bed and placed it in the refrigerator as instructed. (See recipe link below the photo of cookies).
I had to find some dried figs and buy a small pint of orange juice, but I had the other dried fruits in my pantry. Later in the afternoon I began to chop the dried fruits and place everything into a pot to stew as instructed and then set it aside to cool. I waited about a half hour to allow the fruits to completely cool and then took out the dough as per the recipe above, and let it sit for 15 minutes. I did not deviate from the recipe, but my only suggestion would be that once you place the line of filling in the center of the dough pieces, place the tray in the refrigerator for about 15 to 20 minutes to allow the dough to firm up again. This avoids tearing and having to patch where the dough doesn’t come together when pulling the sides up to overlap over the filling. I had to bake mine about 3 minutes longer (every oven is different) to achieve a little more of a golden cookie.
A traditional St. Joseph’s altar.
Once they were all cooled and the glaze was set, I divided them up and placed batches in sealed plastic containers to bring some to my brother, give some to a couple of friends and bring a batch to Dad. Dad can’t wait for me to bring his little container to eat! This was not only Mom’s favorite, it was a family favorite.
In addition to my Annual Mothers Tea (that had to be cancelled last year, but I’m in the process of planning for early May this year), I think I’ve found a way to remember Mom during the month we lost her that she would love, in addition to an annual celebration she enjoyed so much at her Parish Church. We miss you Mom, but have many memories of you!
With the arrival of Spring just a few days away, the first blades of fresh green grass sprouted up throughout the lawn; the azalea bushes are loaded with buds; the new foliage on the trees and bushes are swaying in the breeze and a dusting of pollen is sprinkled everywhere like powdered sugar on a beignet. My spring onions have beautiful buds so heavy that it looks like they’re bowing to the arrival of gods of Springtime.
Even my three year old Shamrock that just a couple of weeks ago had nothing but brown collapsed stems that I pulled away after the cold winter, had that magical sense of nature that knew it had to bloom with fresh green clover and a mix of white and lavender blooms just in time for St. Patrick’s Day this week. Knowing how quickly the days go from comfortable and breezy to hot and humid in the South, I employed the help of my handyman to help pull away the weeds, lay down some landscaping cloth and cover the front yard landscaping with fresh mulch.
Each time we schedule a weekend of projects around my house, I always greet him with something for breakfast. Yesterday I attended a little family crawfish boil and by day’s end I was out of time to think or plan much. I searched for inspiration wanting something quick, light and that I could make with ingredients I already had. I decided to make orange citrus popovers with roasted berries.
2 tablespoons of coconut sugar (or granulated sugar)
the zest of a medium sized orange
2 teaspoon of orange liqueur (Grand Marnier or 1 tsp of orange extract)
1 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste (or extract)
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
powdered sugar for dusting
1 cup of fresh blueberries
1/2 cup fresh blackberries (or raspberries)
2 tablespoons of agave or honey
2 tablespoons grape seed or canola oil
Making popovers requires a little pre-planning to ensure the eggs are at room temperature. I left them out overnight. The milk also needs to be at room temperature. Evaporated milk is in a can in the pantry, but if using an alternative, make sure it’s also at room temperature.
When ready to prepare the popovers, pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees (f). Place the popover pan (or muffin tin) on a lined baking sheet and place both in the oven. The popover pan should heated to the oven temperature.
Roasted berries: Place berries on a half sized baking sheet or oven proof stainless steel skillet. Toss with agave and oil and set aside.
Popovers: Crack and slightly scramble the eggs into a small bowl with the sugar. Zest the orange over the egg mixture, add the orange liqueur, vanilla bean paste, and salt. Gently mix. Pour the combination into a blender and briefly blend. Add the flour and blend until well combined. Scrape the sides down and make sure all of the flour has been incorporated into the wet ingredients.
Carefully remove the popover pan from the oven and spray each cup with butter spray or cooking spray (no flavor). Pour the batter into each cup about 3/4 up (not all the way to the top. ) Quickly place the pan back into the oven and bake 20 minutes or until puffed and golden.
Add the baking tray of berries to roast at the same time (check at 15 minutes to see if they are slightly collapsed and a blueberry syrup has formed on the tray. Remove from the oven and allow to cool while the popovers bake the remaining 5 minutes.
Orange segments: While the popovers are baking remove the peel with a knife from the orange and supreme the sections of the orange out with a sharp knife (called supreming) to serve alongside the roasted berries. https://thecookful.com/how-to-supreme-an-orange/
Turn the completely baked popovers over on to the baking tray. Using a tea towel or tongs to transfer the popover to a plate or large bowl. Spoon the roasted berries on the side, with orange segments and a sprig of mint or sweet basil. Sprinkle the popover with powdered sugar.
After a little Sunday morning tea and popovers it was time to head to the flower beds to weed, fill with some fresh soil and mulch. By mid-morning he front yard beds were dressed and ready for the coming Spring and Summer months ahead. One of the best ways to start a busy day is to take a little time to make something simple and elevate it with fresh flavors and a pretty presentation. These eggy, airy popovers did the trick this morning with a side of yummy roasted berries and citrus. Happy Sunday!
A week ago we experienced an incredible winter storm that set records throughout the deep south. As we shivered through temperatures as low as 18 degrees (an uncommon occurrence in our parts); none of us would have imagined that just a week later, we would have a warm, sunny but breezy, eighty degree Sunday afternoon, to gather on a friend’s back yard deck, and talk about our latest book club read, while enjoying a late lunch.
My friend and neighbor offered to host this month’s meeting, having a cozy outdoor space for our small group to gather. The characters of “The Fifth Avenue Story Society” took turns bringing take out food each time they met in the small back room of the historic library. One of those take out items was pizza, so my friend and her husband decided to make two homemade pizzas for our day. One deep dish Chicago style pizza and a margarita pizza, so I offered to help with a light salad and dessert.
For this outdoor gathering I found colorful large oval shaped paper plates with matching napkins at Tuesday Morning that were the right size and strong enough to hold the pizza. For the dessert I used clear plastic stemmed parfait cups from the Dollar Tree and disposable silver utensils.
No Recipe Salad
1 Napa Cabbage sliced into 1/2 rings; 3 white and 1 purple endive sliced into rings, 1 12 oz. package of frozen artichokes (cooked per package) -leaves pulled from the quarters -sprinkle with salt and pepper and squeeze 1/2 lemon over all; pull leaves individually and place in bowl with greens; 1 jar of sundried tomatoes in olive oil (drain & spread over greens; 3 cups of arugula; using the tomato jar, add 1/8 cup of white balsamic vinegar, to the tomato oil and 3 for 4 tbsps. olive oil and 1/2 lemon juice and 1/2 tsp. salt 1/4 tsp pepper shake and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Gently toss all ingredients in a large bowl – dot top with colorful edible flowers.
Pizza while delicious and comforting, is also heavy and I didn’t want a dessert with any type of pastry crust or cake. I wanted something light and knowing it would be a warm day, something cold. I found a no bake cheesecake recipe for inspiration, and used the filling part of the recipe, but the other layers were of my own creation.
Yields (8 )1 cup servings. Steps require to make one day ahead of serving.
1 cup of biscoff crumbs (created in small food processor or place in a zip lock bag and crush with a rolling pin)
6 to 8 biscoff biscuits
1/2 stick of butter melted and slightly cooled
zest of 1 of an orange (divided in half)
(1) 8 oz bar of light cream cheese (room temperature)
The bottom crust layer: Process 1 cup of biscoff biscuits in a food processor until crumbly. Add the zest of 1/2 an orange and 1/4 cup of melted butter and process until the ingredients pull together. Distribute equal amounts into the bottom of each dessert cup and press down with the end of a wooden spoon or muddler to form a crust. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
The second layer: Place cream cheese, 1 cup of diced strawberries, 1 teaspoon of Grand Marnier and 1/4 cup sugar into a blender and blend until well combined and smooth. Transfer to a bowl using a rubber spatula to scrape all of the mixture from the blender. Gently fold in one cup of fresh whipped cream. Fill cups with equal portions (I used a 2 tablespoon scoop to distribute to each cup over the biscoff crust.) Smooth top layer with the back side of a spoon. Gently tap the cup on the counter covered with a folded tea towel (to avoid breaking the cup) to remove air bubbles in the filling. Refrigerate overnight.
Berry topping: Preheat oven 400 degrees. Drizzle grape oil on to a small rimmed baking sheet. Add reserved 1/2 cup of diced fresh strawberries and 1/2 cup of fresh blueberries, and agave, pinch of salt and black pepper. Roast for 20 minutes. Cool to room temperature and then scoop roasted berries and all of the juices into a small jar or bowl and set aside.
Top layer crumble: Place 6 to 8 biscoff biscuits into a zip lock bag and seal. Gently crush with a rolling pin or wood spoon to create small pieces (not full crumbs), open the bag and add the reserved orange zest and chopped salted pistachios – seal bag and shake to mix ingredients.
To assemble: Just prior to serving, top the set cream cheese dessert cups with the roasted berries and their juices, then sprinkle each with the biscuit pistachio crumple. Top each with an edible viola (optional).
In this time of quarantines and hibernation, our sunny, breezy afternoon together was just the right dose of social gathering needed to add a little light to our week. As the trees and flowers begin to show the first signs of green buds and fresh blooms, the comfortable warmth of Spring is just around the corner and a great time to safely gather with a small group of friends on a beautiful day.
Whether the table is set for my wine club, book club, mothers tea, Friendsgiving or any of the many other entertaining dates I’ve planned, the one thing you can’t see in the party pictures is the music!
I usually begin experimenting a week or two prior to the scheduled event in search of the best music selection I can find, in search of background melodies that don’t overpower the conversation, but like a subtle soundtrack in a movie, creates the appropriate mood and ambiance for the gathering. Until recently I chose the Pandora App where the variety of options or countless for nearly every theme you can dream up. Simply search with the theme, such as Italian love songs, Mardi Gras music, French Cafe’ or the individual name of a favorite artist. As technology advances, so do the options. Amazon’s Alexa and Echo players or Google Play can provide musical options from Pandora, Spotify or their own musical programs with a simple verbal request.
In the recent year as I visited small shops in our area, the sound of classic French music, smooth Jazz or piano instrumentals caught my attention, and when I would ask what was playing I was informed over and over again that it was YouTube music. Videos created into various music themes that can be played up to 10 hours has become another favorite. I originally streamed the music from my TV, but Google or Alexa will play the music if requested also.
The point of entertaining (dinner party, wine party etc.) is to have shared discussions and conversations. So I choose music that isn’t distracting, but provides a soothing background for the evening at a soft audible level. Below are some suggestions/examples of options I’ve made part of my party planning.
For an Italian themed night: (Capri) Andrea Bocelli Radio, Italian Summer Radio, Italian Cooking Music Radio, or Italian Traditional Radio. Romantic Venice, Italian Restaurant Music
Holiday/Christmas Cocktail Party– Jazz Holiday Radio, Diana Krall (Holiday) Radio, Michael Buble (Holiday Radio), Nat King Cole (Holiday) Radio, Vince Guaraldi Trio (Holiday) Radio, Christmas Radio.
Derby Theme : Kentucky Derby Radio, Frank Sinatra Radio
Symphony of Whites (Wine): Classical Dinner Party Radio, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Radio, Antonio Vivaldi Radio, and many more.
French Bistro Theme– French Cafe’ Radio, Edith Piaf Radio, French Cooking Radio; Spotify : French Cafe’ Lounge Music, French Romantic Music, French Bistro Music, French Mornings-Emily in Paris Vibes, French Jazz Cafe’
Rio De Janeiro Carnival– Brazilian Radio, Tango Radio, Spanish Guitar
Romantic Valentine Theme- Classical Piano Love Songs, Country Love Songs Radio, Diana Krall Radio, Michael Buble Radio, Chris Botti Radio, Romantic instruments
Whatever your party, theme or no theme, while preparing the list of things to do, include a selection of soothing musical entertainment that is sure to enhance the enjoyment of your event.
It’s time to thank the kind hearts that have cared for not only my Dad, but the loved ones of many others at a local Sr. Living Residence. Those tumultuous days, weeks and months of 2020 pushed right into 2021 with a renewed vengeance. Suddenly the director, nurses, and care partners who had managed to keep the residence COVID free for the majority of 2020 with only a few cases, were challenged with the care of a dozen elderly residents who tested positive for COVID in early 2021. While we refrained from taking Dad out of the residence during the holidays, and he rarely left his room, somehow he was among those who tested positive.
We found ourselves feeling the same helpless emotions described by so many when faced with the inability to enter the building and care for our loved one. We had to totally trust and depend on the staff to nurse our Dad back to health. The director lovingly transported each resident one by one to the local hospital for antibody infusion appointments, and the staff stepped up to provide the care and attention that we, the families could not.
While the separation throughout the entire pandemic has been difficult, this was the most frustrating period yet. When Dad finally tested negative and was able to sit up and talk to us again, the relief was overwhelming.
I sent little gifts of appreciation for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but with Valentine’s Day just a week away I decided to bake heart shaped cookies, each individually hand decorated, to send to the entire staff and other residents. When I shared this idea with Dad he got very excited about the idea of riding around in his electric wheelchair (with some assistance) and handing out each cookie with a friendly “Happy Valentine’s Day” greeting.
Both of my parents loved to give, not only to their family, but even total strangers. If someone in line ahead of my Mom at the grocery store started pulling things off of the conveyer belt because they didn’t have enough money (especially if they had a child in the shopping cart) she would tell the cashier to add the items to her bill – was just one tremendous examples of her giving heart.
Their giving nature was instilled in both my brother and I as well, and while Dad is limited in what he can do, we do our best to provide opportunities for him to still enjoy giving.
I baked four batches of my sugar cookie dough on Friday evening and asked a neighbor- friend if she would mind helping me decorate them. I was challenged with baking, decorating and individually bagging 60 cookies and knew I would need help. I brought 25 of the baked cookies to her the following morning to decorate, while I ran my Saturday morning errands.
I was so surprised when I saw all of the cheerful, fun ways my friend (and her husband) had decorated the cookies. I was so focused on getting so many baked, that I hadn’t considered more than one or two ways to decorate them. I was especially drawn to and inspired by the heart flowers she had created.
When I had finished another round of baked and cooled cookies, I started decorating and had so much fun making designs I would not have thought of without their creative collage of inspiration.
I baked and decorated well past 9 p.m. and started again Sunday morning. I had completed decorating and bagging around 11 a.m. Sixty cookies ready for Daddy “Cupid” to deliver this Valentine’s Day. The joy it will bring him in the giving, and to those in the receiving was worth all of the time and effort and I’m so grateful for the help of my friends.
While Valentine’s Day is mostly associated with Sweethearts, romance and love, in these trying times where we’ve had to rely on others to lovingly care for our family members – Valentine’s Day for me is about those who have shown their “sweet” giving hearts; those who have done their best to fill in as a family member and demonstrate that no matter how difficult things get, human kindness far outweighs all the difficulties. Who has shown their “heart” to you lately? Find a way to show them yours.
On to my built in desk area….let’s get this weekend project started.
I know it wasn’t that bad to start, but I wanted to elevate the appearance of the area to fit in with the rest of my home. The problem is I wasn’t sure how. I usually have to concentrate for a long time on a space and eventually I’ll find something like a picture or fabric that puts the plan in motion.
My walls were freshly painted at the same time as the Master Bathroom makeover. I had an idea for a decorative shade to place over the window to defuse some of the heat of summer or colder temperatures of winter, but finding the right combination of materials like everything in design (on a budget) takes time.
It began with a piece of decorative crown moulding, that with the help of my handyman Tim was formed into a small valance to hang the shade from. Hidden from view I actually used thumb tacks to fasten the fabric to a wood slat affixed behind the moulding. The initial fabric (a curtain panel) did not provide the desired look and several months would pass before the right materials came along (that turned out to be right in front of me the entire time).
Tim painted the valance with the same medium shade Graceful Gray used on the base boards, window and door frames and left it in the garage to dry overnight. Later that evening I went to get something in the garage and went over to examine the painted moulding. It looked so plain and boring. The beautiful carving of the moulding was not at all accentuated.
In a bold move, I tried to think about what I had that I could use to fill in the carved areas and remembered this Metallic Lustre’ paste in my art box of paints and a small bottle of metallic gold model paint from the craft store. Equipped with a small piece of fabric torn from an old t-shift, I dipped it into the lustre’ paste and slowly rubbed it along the top edges of the carvings. When it would fill too much of the area, I would use another piece of the t-shirt to wipe the excess away, leaving more in some areas and less in others. It didn’t work as well on the top wider area, the carving wasn’t deep enough – so here I used a small, thin, pointed brush and the gold model paint to fill in all of the top area. Little by little it created a more interesting aged finish.
Once all of the parts were put together, the fabric wasn’t achieving the look I was hoping for. As I’ve said in the past, patience is required. I decided to let it sit there for a while and give myself time to look around at different materials that would create the casual elegant result I was hoping to achieve. The project was set aside, and more than a few months passed before I was able to redirect my focus on it again.
Recently, I visited a new home decor store in my area. While browsing through the various items there, I was drawn toward two framed prints in black, gray and white hues. While my home is composed of shades of cream, ivory, soft blues, grays and some mustard golds, I am drawn to soft black accents. I purchased one of the framed prints and the shop owner kindly offered to hold the second, allowing me time to figure out where I would use them before committing to the second.
After experimenting with different locations in the house, I decided that I could place one framed print on each side of the built in desk area. With that decision, I now had something to inspire the shade and desk accessories.
I turned my focus toward my breakfast room, inspired by a picture I cut from a decor magazine that I was throwing out. As purchases were made to replace the furnishings there, I posted two chairs and two benches that were being replaced on a Facebook market page to sell the items. The fabric on the benches (below) caught my eye. I’d always liked the fabric purchased to recover the benches and made a remark to my friend when she was at the house, that this same fabric had the sophisticated look I wanted to create the shade for the window by the desk. She agreed.
When the fabric arrived I was a little upset. As I removed the folded fabric from the packaging, it appeared to be a different version of what I had ordered. It was the same pattern, but different colors. Busy with work I set it aside, but every time I passed the folded stack of fabric, thoughts ran through my head of how I needed to figure out what I was going to do. I carried it over to the desk area and held it up to the window trying to convince myself this was better. Then I unfolded the fabric to discover that, it was in fact the fabric I had ordered- It had been folded inside out! While I had a good laugh, it was a great accidental discovery, because I immediately decided I would use the back side of the scraps to cover the buttons that create a nice contrast against the lighter fabric shade.
I spent several hours measuring, trimming, pinning and then ironing the side seams. I then put together a design completely held together with straight pins in order to hang it and look at it for a couple of days. One evening I took the trimmed away side scraps and using the reverse (back) side of the fabric, covered several large buttons to somehow incorporate into the design of the shade. I then slid a button on a straight pin in areas to decide where they should be placed. Black stitching was added to each side of the fabric. (See notations on the photos
During the Christmas season, I found a large wooden spool of black velvet polyester ribbon by Martha Stewart at HomeGoods. I had purchased it when the intention of wrapping Christmas gifts with it, but when I wanted something to outline the fabric I turned to the ribbon. (See note below each photo explaining how the shade and moulding valance were pulled together.)
My mother’s old sewing machine that I rarely used had stopped working, So I brought the fabric to an alterations shop and had the sides stitched with black thread and the opposite edges surged with an ivory thread. With finished edges I laid the fabric out on my dining room table, once again pinning the folds and then hand stitched all of the buttons on. The folded edges also needed some reinforcement due to the weight, so I also hand stitched those areas together.
I then replaced the light fixture in the room, selecting a black drum shade with a bronze interior. The granite counter top that came with the house also limited my color palette, but the colors I chose appear to blend right in.
I then brought the remaining fabric and my chair to an upholster to recover the seat cushion. Wall art hung, faux shade completed and also hung, chair recovered and light fixture installed, this weekend project was complete with a touch of sophistication. I had ordered it with a black piping around the bottom edge to match the outlined shade, and when I picked up the chair they advised me they decided to use only my fabric! At this point I wasn’t thrilled, but I went with it for a couple of days. I then decided to look for a black cord that I could glue along the edge with fabric glue. For $2.60, I think it was worth it. I feel like it looks more finished.
After until I found the lamps
I ordered two wall lamps for another project. When the lamps arrived they were much larger than I was expecting and were not going to fit into the project as I had hoped. I walked around the house in search of an alternate use. I returned to my desk area and examined the lamp that I originally used. I wasn’t completely satisfied with the lamp and have continued to search for something that provide that same cozy scholastic drama of lamp lights found in historical libraries. I thought of a gold lamp with a black shade with a better scale to fit the area, but nothing had caught my eye yet. I put one of the wall lamps together and held it up to the wall. I looked at it for a few days and added a light bulb, holding the illuminated light up to the wall during daylight hours as well as night. By the end of the week, I reached out to Tim to find out when he could come by to install one on each side of the window.
The project is now truly complete and serves as a great spot to write my future blog posts!
One of my favorite ways to decompress after a stressful week, is to stroll through antique and consignment shops in search of unique treasures. Sometimes I find an item I want to purchase and use when I entertain or add to my decor as an interesting conversation piece. More often, I just love to find unique and beautiful things and try to imagine how they touched the lives they passed through.
Perched upon an antique sideboard were these delicate, but elegant silver bunny salt and pepper shakers. As a practicing cook, I’ve learned that your food should be perfectly seasoned before serving, so salt and pepper shakers in my world are truly a thing of the past. It’s also actually considered an insult to the chef when you add salt to their carefully seasoned and prepared dish. Still I know people who will pick up the salt and pepper shaker adding both to their food before they have even tasted it. As I closely examined these I tried to think of an alternative use for them. I wondered if tapered candles would fit into the cabbages holding the glass shakers, but after circling the shop a few times contemplating, I decided to leave the sweet bunnies behind.
There’s something about this three dimensional Wedgewood – what to call it? It’s not a plate, I guess a plaque. It really is charming don’t you think? I imagine an English literature teacher placing it before his or her students and asking them to create a story from what they see in this little work of art, curious what all of the amazing versions would be. Do young people know about the old customs of courtship and proper behaviors of the past to incorporate in their stories? It would make an interesting creative writing assignment.
This beautifully cared for, small cedar chest brought back memories of my high school graduation. Does anyone remember when the local furniture stores gave these to girls when they graduated? This link gives a little history on the tradition that has since disappeared. I have no idea what happened to mine. https://www.causeafrockus.com/2018/07/lane-miniature-cedar-chests/
This crumb sweeper was a unique find and was something I decided would add charm to my dining room dinner parties. With all of the entertaining I do, passing it around to clear the table cloth before the dessert course would add a very Downton Abbey flair to the occasion – don’t you think? One of my friends recently told me that I entertain the way they did in the past which makes each event feel so special, so I suppose that’s why unique items like this appeal to me.
As a fan of Ina Garten, I’ve coveted her little silver bowl that she’s filled with everything from nuts to olives or a special dip. A vendor at a local shop that I frequent (Redoux), searches all year for antique pieces to fill each Christmas season with paper white bulbs (which by the way makes a lovely gift). She always seems to have something I’ve been looking for. This year I found two special items. A silver plated nut bowl similar to Ina’s without little handles and….
For years I’ve admired pictures of little pots de creme cup sets in Victoria magazine, but I had never actually seen a set. I especially liked the little cups with these rosebud tops that fit in with my signature “white” serving platters, bowls and dishes that I use for most of my entertaining. Finding these delicate beauties was like opening a gift I’ve always wanted and never thought I’d have. Stay tuned… chocolate pots de creme will be on my next ladies lunch menu – once the bulbs have finished blooming.
During a recent deep clean and reorganizing session of my closets, I found a white bag and pulled out a past find that I had forgotten about. Approximately 13 years ago, a friend and I had taken interest in the Opera and I found these beautiful mother of pearl beauties in an antique store. They have to be fairly old, because the stitching of the silk lining inside of the velvet bag that held the glasses had worn away. I found a pair exactly the same online, listed by an antique dealer. The description Lemaire Fabt Paris; 1900’s; Edwardian era; French opera glasses by Lemaire are crafted in brass and carefully inlaid with hand carved mother of pearl. There is a cute MOP button that finishes the piece. The mother of pearl has a lovely brown tinge to it and glows with a soft fire of purple blue pink and green when it hits the light. (They are listed for $550!) I think I paid $50 for mine.
Most stores with affordable finds are actually little antique malls, where different vendors rent a small space to display their items for sale. The Copper Rooster in Old Covington (LA) is one that I frequent. There is one vendor there that has a little something I end up purchasing almost every visit (for damage control reasons – I don’t visit that often). Below are some of the special finds that I’ve collected from one particular vender’s booth.
On another visit I found this ornate silver tray, that while not especially old has the old charm of silver from the past. I’ve used it frequently when entertaining so neither this tray or the one above are hidden away in some cabinet. They have both become very much part of my parties adding just the right amount and sparkle and old world charm.
A true hopeless romantic and love of all things French (as you can tell from the various items I’ve collected), one weekend visit brought me to a set of eight stemless champagne flutes with je t’aime (I love you in French) etched on the outside surface. I took a picture of the set and sent it to a friend of mine who oddly seems to buy exactly the same things I do. She loved them as much as I did, but didn’t want eight glasses. So I suggested I buy them and we split the set. If either of us had an anniversary party or other celebration of love that we wanted to use the glasses for, we could borrow the other four from each other. She quickly agreed.
As I carefully carried the glasses, two at a time to the register, I noticed among a jumble of items on a table nearby – a silver dish for serving caviar. I knew that my friend (“P”) had also told me that she loved caviar and that she and her husband would buy it for special occasions. The price was ridiculously low and I was so excited I had to buy it and surprise her.
Later in the year “P” sent me a picture of her table set with the two etched flute glasses filled with champagne and her caviar filled dish as she and her husband prepared to celebrate their wedding anniversary. I reached out to her for a picture of the caviar dish, and she sent me this picture of yet another celebration that included the dish I gifted her.
“P” also reminded me of another gift I had given her years ago, found in a combo antique-consignment shop outside of New Orleans. When you have a friend that has just about everything, it’s hard to think of a suitable gift year after year for birthdays or Christmas. Heck we have enough trouble year after year with spouses or other family members. In my imagination, I would love to find thoughtful, meaningful treasures for everyone in my life. If I can manage to get at least one special item over many years, I suppose that’s all that can be expected of oneself.
“P” and I are both drawn to the same things. We have a special connection in knowing what the other will love and appreciate. I think when you have that kind of connection with someone, it’s easier to find something now and then that’s special (like the caviar dish). “P” and her husband are espresso fans and when I saw these silver plated espresso cups, I thought of her.
We spent the day together one Friday a few years back on Magazine Street in New Orleans. We had lunch at a great little restaurant and tried Lillet Blanc for the first time (her sweet husband later bought us each a bottle). We strolled through several shops including a large antique mall that for the most part was stacked with so many items it was hard to find things to appreciate. “P” peered into a jewelry case filled with various items and came upon these silver teaspoons with “The Roosevelt New York” stamped on the back. “P” considered purchasing them, but then declined – but I wasn’t going to pass them up. I decided to buy four for the iced tea lovers who come to my parties and mothers tea.
I especially love when I purchase something that finds a little story attached to it years later. Most of the antique stores I frequented decades ago are now gone, but some hold a memory connected to an item I found there, much like the little corner in the Copper Rooster. Two purchases occurred at a little shop in Harahan, LA. One is this imperfect chest that houses my teacup collection (now used for my annual Remembering our Mothers Tea) and the other….
purchase was a set of four soup bowls and plates. After examining each cup and plate to check for any chips or cracks, I asked the shop keeper if she could discount the price. Shops are less willing to give a discount these days, but back then the norm was 10% if you asked and usually covered the tax.
Instead of responding to my question, she asked me one. “Do you mind if I ask, what will you do with those?” I explained to her that I love to entertain and I intended to use them. “Oh,” she said, “they were my mother’s and I just want to sell them to someone who will love them as much as she did.” With that I did receive the discount, but kind of felt bad about it.
Years later when I would host my first Mothers’ Tea (in remembrance of my and some of my friends’ mothers who have passed) I served a soup each year in those same bowls. As I shared the story of the little conversation that was attached to this purchase I hoped that their previous owner’s spirit was with us, feeling remembered and know that I have indeed loved her bowls as much as she did.
Note: The items collected or gifted over the years have past lives attached to them filled with memories. New life has been given to each item with my own story of how they became a part of my life, or someone I care about, and live on in my celebrations or decor. Small shops are in need of your patronage. Support a local antique or consignment shop near you and search with fresh eyes to discover your own special treasures that can become part of your own celebrations and memories.
The Copper Rooster
Lee Lane in Old Covington, LA
My favorite little spot inside.
A little of old, new, craft, reproductions, home decor and more.
For years I’ve imagined my breakfast room with a comfy banquette, but as with all things it took time to figure out the design I wanted and for several years I just hadn’t seen anything that inspired me. One weekend, I decided to sift through a stack of decor magazines with the intention of tearing out any pages of interest and tossing the rest, when I found the breakfast room design in the photo to the right. I realized I couldn’t stop looking at the picture, and knew that this was the inspiration I had been waiting for to update my breakfast room.
No, my room isn’t shaped exactly the same, and while I would love to have the beautiful hard wood floors shown in the inspiration photo, they’re not in my current budget – so my tile floors would remain. Also my windows reach almost to the base board, so I can’t create a permanent banquette that attaches to the wall (nor did I want to). I decided I wanted something free standing that would be easier to clean around and to rearrange the seating when necessary. Knowing how expensive something with tufting would be for a permanent version like the one in the photo, I knew I’d have to be patient while searching for something similar, but on a friendlier budget.
My patience paid off. I looked at these benches for weeks worried the color wouldn’t be right. Described as beige they are exactly the same creamy off-white of my dining room chairs and were exactly what I wanted. I ordered one to make sure it was right and then immediately ordered the second one the same day the first one arrived concerned their stock would eventually be depleted.
Two chairs that I purchased years ago at T. J. Maxx, that have been used for additional seating when a larger group had to sit around my dining room table, would now replace the dark gray chairs that were previously used. Without realizing until I had all of the chairs and benches together, both the benches and chairs have the same curved back design. (I’m always surprised when things like this happen naturally without my realizing it until after the items have been put together.
Meanwhile, I had to figure out how to soften the art on the walls. Deciding to repurpose the current botanical art I had previously put together with store bought frames and a book of botanical prints, I originally considered using a combination of cream and gray paint to achieve a distressed look to the black frames. Later I considered a mat gold might be better; but when I got to the craft store and searched for gold I found this champagne color that I decided was much prettier. It has a more subtle and softer finish than the gold.
This was truly a weekend project all on its own, because it took the entire weekend to search through the book for the best pages to replace the prior prints and then choose the best combinations of two. Meanwhile I sprayed two frames at a time with a couple of coats of paint. When they were all repainted, I selected the two prints that looked best together, for three sets of two frames. Once finished, the final decision was where to hang them.
As I said, a plan takes time and patience. As you can see not everything happens all at once. I found the inspiration picture early in the year before trying to put my own design into motion. Time passed from the Fourth of July, to Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving and now Christmas was here as is evident from the red ribbon hanging on the lantern light fixture.
The art had been updated and placed on the walls and …… I finally found a table online back in November, hopeful with an expected shipping date of December 8th that it would be here well before Christmas. I instead received an email just two days prior that it was on back order and that it now would not be shipped until December 18th. Coming from New Jersey, it’s expected arrival date was somewhere between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
At this stage, once again all I could do is wait. The room looked so plain that I added some much needed greenery. Live plants seem to thrive in this window and not only improve the air quality since I spend so much time in the house these days; but gave the room a much needed pop of color, warmth and contrast.
While I really love the soft slate blue roman shades in the inspiration picture I wasn’t willing to part with my woven wood shades and drapes. So the drapes were brought to the dry cleaner for some freshening up, I steamed them after they were re-hung and there they would stay.
I forgot to mention a Labor Day sale purchase. For at least six years a two toned chest in a pricy furniture and home decor catalog would catch my eye. I had torn out the page and pinned it to my bulletin board. When browsing through a local furniture store for a table (during a Fourth of July sale) I found a similar two toned chest that was on sale. I seriously looked it over, but knowing I was trying to focus on the table purchase, I passed on the chest.
Two months later, still searching for a table (Labor Day weekend), I went back to the store, having been told they get new things every day. As I passed the chest that was in the same spot, a tag hung from it and several other pieces throughout the store, with a “Manager’s Special Price” tag that was 50% less than the previous sale price and knowing the price of the version I originally spotted in a catalog, I knew this piece couldn’t go down much more in price. So I bought it!
Multiple ideas had tossed through my mind on what to do with this large bare wall in my kitchen for several years. The two tone chest captures the same style of the table I had ordered and beautifully displayed my collection of white serving platters, bowls and dishes.
I purchased LED tape lights that connect with just the right length cords and reached the distance between each shelf. My handyman Tim drilled holes in the back just big enough to feed the small connectors through, the wiring hidden behind the chest and taped down against the back side out of sight. The two toned wood compliments my cream painted walls and the dark wood cabinets of my kitchen in a way I never expected.
It’s also another really rewarding experience when you step back and look at the entire area and discover that other little things came together on their own, like the way that the backsplash tile is two toned like the furniture and also similar to the tufted pattern in the bench.
Finally two very kind delivery men arrived with the table and my breakfast room was complete before 2020 came to an end. Finishing a room after all of the searching and waiting feels like such an accomplishment when it’s finally complete.
My final item for this open living area is a new sofa. Something that is very hard to imagine in a room from a catalog or online site. Measurements will have to be taken and careful calculating to find the right style and fit. Once again, I’ll have to find something to inspire me and then start my search in the New Year. For now, this project is complete.
The New Orleans Roosevelt Hotel (formerly The Fairmont Hotel) hosts an annual event called Teddy Bear Tea during the holiday season. It’s a very elegant festive celebration with a traditional afternoon tea, and activities that include Santa visiting the tables around the room, and taking pictures with children; Christmas stories are read, there are an array of Christmas lights in the halls, a beautifully made enormous gingerbread house along with other activities and each child receives an annual teddy bear.
A friend of mine has taken one granddaughter to this event for several years, and as the number of granddaughters increased (now currently 6 in all) they’ve attended as group to the festive event. This year, as with all things 2020, my friend decided she wanted to try to recreate some of the sparkle and charm from the event closer to home and called me to help her brainstorm possible venues. Within less than 10 minutes I had given her enough ideas and inspiration to convince her she could host a Teddy Bear Tea in her home. And so the story begins…..
T’was the month of Christmas and throughout the world, gathering was discouraged, not even for little girls. An annual holiday tradition, shared with their Nana, would have to be rethought with some magic from Santa. A call was quickly made, to one of his elves and suddenly ideas were flowing in delves. Nana didn’t want fancy, stuffy or bore; she wanted pretty and playful activities galore.
The Elf scratched her head and wrinkled her nose, conjuring memories began to flow. Remembering a cookie decorated with little hands, icing, sprinkles and sugary sand. Little cupcakes topped with fairies, or mini cheesecakes filled with cherries. Mini sandwiches rolled like candy, or tiny Christmas Tree pizzas would be quit dandy.
Inspiration found on Pinterest
On to the pantry, the Elf searched through her cutters and found the large teddy bear that was used and worn more than others. These cookies were made since her own daughter was little, then decorated with icing, sprinkles and shared giggles.
With icing and sprinkles all in their places, the bears 🐻 would come alive with their wardrobe and faces. With small candy eyes and a large chocolate chip nose; or a variety of options from their heads to their toes.
While the tradition is a tea, only hot chocolate will do, and she’d just seen a version that was festive and new. Filled with mini marshmallows, and hot chocolate mix, these hot chocolate bombs would be just the right fix. All that is needed, is the perfect sized cup, to pour hot milk over then drink it right up!
When the weekend arrived, the elf decided to bake, knowing the difference her effort would make. Teddy bears ready and snowflakes for sweets – Nana could add to her basket of treats. Tightly wrapped and ready for the day, all Nana had to do was whisk them away.
Looking for ribbon, the Elf searched a box – that rattled and clattered as she opened it up. As she peered inside what she found made her glow, “I can make jingle bell necklaces with little red bows!” How special the day is going to be, the girls will surely be tickled with glee!
As the time grew nearer the ideas were still spinning, small pieces of wrapping paper had the Elf grinning. Carefully she began to trim right away, creating a bed where the bear cookie would lay. Repurpose, repurpose, repurpose I say, it’s so much better than throwing away!
The table set and the bears at the ready, the girls would be thrilled to meet their new Teddy! Nana read Christmas stories and they played fun games, then decorated their cookies giving each one a name. Filled with giggles, sugar and memories; their decorated cookies and brand new teddies, the day was such fun, yes a great success – now Nana was left to clean up the mess! But the day was lovely with it’s new rendition and I believe Nana has a new tradition.
As the girls returned home with their teddy bears in tow, dreaming of presents, Christmas trees and snow; relaxed and snuggled warm in their beds, joyful memories of their day with Nana would dance through their heads. With the young girls happy and dancing with cheer, we wish a Merry Christmas to all and Happy New Year!
Three more of my friends gathered with me on a Sunday, for an afternoon lunch. All of my gatherings require a little bit of a theme and then a menu. I decided on a White Christmas theme, attempting to make all of the food in shades of white. I wanted to serve a 2020 Beaujolais Nouveau – so I decided to call it a “White Christmas Lunch with a Splash of Red.”
Often I create a list of options for the menu, while also trying to create images in my head of what I might be able to use for the table decor. I chose to use white snow globes surrounded my mini snow globe ornaments (Martha Stewart that I found at Homegoods); artificial garland, a string of battery operated clear globe lights with etched snowflakes and when I was picking up the ingredients for the menu I found a bouquet of Star of Bethlehem flowers that I tucked into the garland. My table seats 8, but to practice safe distancing, I placed two at each end and two in the middle of each side of the table.
I placed a mini snow globe ornament into small cupcake holders with some crinkled paper and then slipped it into little cellophane bag that was set by each place setting as a favor for everyone to take home.
When everyone arrived, we toasted 2020 goodbye with is 2020 Beaujolais Nouveau that was very good and then sat at the table to say a blessing and enjoy the memo I had prepared.
The Menu: 4 servings
The dessert course had to be started a day ahead for the refrigeration process needed to set the various layers. What you’ll need.
1 quart of prepared eggnog ( I just purchase one from the dairy department)
1 envelop of unflavored gelatin
2 tbsps. water (separated)
1 jar of prepared caramel sauce
1 tablespoon liqueur or brandy, rum (optional)
To create the layers I made half of the eggnog panna cotta for the first layer. In a small bowl mix 1 1/8 tsp. of gelatin with 1 tablespoon of water. Place in the microwave for 15 seconds. This will liquify the gelatin (stir to mix and ensure well dissolved). Place one cup of eggnog into a microwave safe bowl and warm for 30 seconds. It just has to be slightly warm, don’t let it get hot. Using a fine strainer, pour the dissolved gelatin into the warmed eggnog and mix well. Pour equally in four glasses (I used this dessert coupes that were my mother’s). Place in the refrigerator for 3 hours or until set.
Using a good caramel sauce, place four to five teaspoons into small microwave safe bowl and warm 15 seconds. I mixed in a tablespoon of a French pear liqueur, but brandy or dark rum, or Frangelico liqueur are also options. Spoon even layers of the loosened caramel over the set eggnog layer. Refrigerate 3 hours.
Repeat the first step creating a 2nd eggnog layer. Refrigerate 3 hours or more until set.
I wanted to create a snowflake on the top, and years ago I saw a snowflake created on the top of of cocktail with a stencil and cinnamon. Unfortunately the I thought of this idea two days before. I searched online for a template, but it was too late to order. So I printed one and cut out the sections with a small pair of manicure scissors. Using a mixture of Chinese Five Spice and Nutmeg – I laid the stencil over the glass and sifted the spices over the pattern. It didn’t give me as clean of a snowflake as I’d hoped for but it was still pretty. I added white edible pearls to dress it up.
Mini Cheese Plate
On to the small cheese plate. While at Whole Foods, I browsed through the cheese case and noticed a sign the indicated all of the gouda cheeses were 50% off. A gouda with black truffles caught my eye and a small block of it would be only $3.00. So I bought it and a small log of honey goat cheese. Once home I allowed the goat cheese to come to room temperature while finely chopping some dried cranberries, pistachios and crystalized ginger. When the goat cheese had softened, I rolled and slightly pressed it into the ingredients, then wrapped it in clear plastic wrap and then refrigerated it over night so it would firm back up. When ready to serve slice in to 1/4 inch disks and place on small plates with the other cheese (cubed). The pack of endive I had purchased had both green and purple endive, so I used a few of the purple leaves to add color and a few green grapes. Everyone had small ramekin with garlic bread toasts to eat with the cheeses.
White Velvet Soup with Gremolata
The soup doesn’t have much of a story. Giada made it on of her shows several years ago and I’d made it once for a cocktail party served in tiny bowls. With my White Christmas theme, and unusual ingredients of parsnips and fennel , I knew it would be a light soup everyone would enjoy that’s delicious. Find her recipe in the link below.
I started layering this salad in a large bowl, but quickly realized it would be prettier to layer it on each individual plate. I put the list below in the exact order that I used to layer the veggies.
1 Napa Cabbage (sliced in ribbons and split into four – the first bottom layer)
1 or 2 green endive (cut the end off and separate leaves; I placed each under the cabbage about 4 per plate so the pretty edges of the leaves would be visible)
1 bunch of watercress ( cut the top leaves with a short stem remaining off and gently spread over the Napa Cabbage)
1 Fennel bulb (cut the top fronds off) split bulb in half and cut the core out; use a mandolin or very sharp knife make paper thin slices of fennel and scatter over the items above.
1 jar or can of artichoke hearts (drain and pull some of the individual leaves off and scatter over the salad. I used pieces from two for each plate)
Small bunch of green grapes ( slice two or three grapes into thin disks per plate and scatter over the salad).
1 small granny smith apple (Slice off two sides and julienne -tiny sticks. I then dip them quickly into a small bowl with water and lemon juice to prevent browning. Sprinkle over the salad.
Micro greens (optional -alfalfa sprouts are also an option – sprinkle over).
Grape seed oil (drizzle a very small stream over each salad (a fruity olive oil can be used also)
White balsamic vinegar (sprinkle a small stream over each salad)
1/4 cup of toasted pine nuts – sprinkled over each salad
a pinch of Maldon sea salt flakes over each (or kosher salt)
See below for warm crab dressing
For a delicate salad a light sprinkle of white balsamic vinegar and a drizzle of olive oil (or grape seed oil) is all you need. No heavy complicated dressings. The salad above could easily be served ending here, but to further elevate and top with a little white decadence I used this warm crabmeat dressing.
Chef Kevin Graham’s Hot Crabmeat Dressing
Chef Kevin Graham was at one time back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, the chef at the Windsor Court Grille Room in New Orleans. Everyone raved about the excellent food served at the hotel restaurant. He published a book of recipes created for the Grille Room that I purchased and I’ve made this dressing for special occasions several times over the years.
1/4 cup olive oil
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
(I added a teaspoon of honey)
pinch of cayenne pepper
salt to taste
Freshly ground white or black pepper
4 ounces of white crab meat
Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic, saute about 2 minutes or until tender. Whisk in mustard, vinegar, honey and cayenne. Season with salt and pepper. Fold in crabmeat and cook for a few seconds until heated through. Spoon over the stack salad greens.
I found an instrumental winter music station on YouTube with images of snow falling that I played in the background, I had put my Christmas tree in the dining room this year so while surrounded by the tree with all of it’s trimmings, twinkle lights, snow globes, and candles flickering, my friends and I enjoyed a quiet, relaxing afternoon lunch while visiting and catching up after this long year of separation. I can’t think of a better way to spend the afternoon. Whether your Christmas is white or tropical (like ours often are in the South), may it filled with the spirit of Christ, joyful hope for the new year and truly be bright! ❄️
As a young girl in a military family, we moved almost every year until I was in the 4th grade. We then lived for a few years each, in both northern and southern California before Dad finally retired from the service. Military families often live far away from family and miss out on the annual traditions or routines that usually form from being near them. We didn’t have Christmas Eve’s at Uncle so in so’s or alternated Christmas Day dinners at each of our grandparent’s houses. Christmas was usually just dinner for the four of us, Mom, Dad, my brother and I.
Having missed out on holiday traditions with other family members as a kid, it was important to me that my daughter have family traditions when she was growing up. I was inspired by my ex-husband’s large family, who routinely celebrated different holidays throughout the year their own unique way with a large family picnic for Easter and a Christmas Eve gathering every year that I made sure she attended.
In preparation for Christmas, three families that resided in homes all on the same street gathered in the late afternoon on Thanksgiving Day to pick a family member’s name from a bowl. On Christmas Eve there was a party at one of the three homes along with traditional food and a gift exchange. My food memory from those parties so many years later were Grammy’s shrimp balls, at the time made by a beloved Aunt nestled in a chrome insulated container that I couldn’t wait to see arrive and placed on the table.
Another tradition that took place for several years involved a group of family members that got together in early November and drove across Lake Pontchartrain to a Christmas tree farm. Each family would select their tree, pay for it and tag it. The Friday after Thanksgiving, everyone would make the journey back to the farm to cut the tree down, wrap it up and bring it home. The following Saturday night I would host a tree trimming party for friends and family. When I think back to the small townhouse living room I had back then and the number of people that would cram inside, I’m not sure how we did it, but everyone eagerly attended year after year.
These were the days long before computers, so with a few library books and a typewriter, I typed all of the lyrics to 36 Christmas carols. I cut out and taped some images and drew others to some of the pages. I then organized the pages so that after I made photocopies and folded them in half, they would form a little song book. The children would sit in front of their decorated tree and sing a few Christmas carols.
While I didn’t ask my guests to bring an ornament, I received some beautiful versions that have become treasured classics -handled with special care as they are hung on my tree all of these years later. Year after year, as I unpack them from their layers of bubble wrap or tissue, the memories of those parties come rushing back.
Whenever a party includes children it’s imperative to have an activity to keep them entertained, especially in a small home. Upstairs I had an open loft that didn’t have any specific purpose, but offered enough space to place two folding tables with chairs. For the first party I baked cookies formed into various Christmas themed shapes such as candy canes, bells, and trees. I then purchased a variety of sprinkles and colored sugars and cans of white frosting that I used food color to make green, red and yellow. The kids sat at the tables with their plastic knives and dipped into the cans of frosting to slather on their cookies and then sprinkle with various candy decorations having a ball! I would convince them to allow the cookies to dry, and then ask them to come downstairs to decorate the tree and sing Christmas carols. We then wrapped their cookies in cellophane bags for their journey home.
In the years that followed, I found a large Teddy Bear cookie cutter. I thought that something with a larger surface, maybe rolled out a little thicker, would be easier for the kids to handle. I could not have imagined not only how much they would love it at the time (as they left with bears loaded down with chocolate or vanilla icing and about a pound of various candies), but years later one of the mothers told me her daughter still remembers decorating those cookies and she’s now in her late 30’s.
Now I have grandchildren, but they live one State over and with jobs and school schedules I don’t see them as much as I would like. While they often come home for Christmas, it’s usually after the tree has been decorated, so starting with my first grandchild, I have baked those same Teddy Bear cookies and mailed them with tubes of icing and various sprinkles so she could decorate her cookies when she decorated the tree with my daughter and her husband. Now with three grandchildren, every year I’ve sent the cookies and the kids have followed the tradition of a night of cookie decorating. Last year I asked my granddaughter who was at the time just days from her 11th birthday, if I should keep making the Teddy Bear cookies and she immediately said “Yes! Nana, it’s a tradition!”
For the past two years, their little family has stopped by on the Saturday after Thanksgiving on their way home from visiting their grandparents in Alabama to decorate my tree. This year while Mom and Dad enjoyed a college football game, we played Christmas music and shared an evening of decorating my Christmas tree and then gathered around the table to decorate two new cookie shapes – a large Christmas Tree and the popular red truck with a Christmas Tree (that the boys decided to make blue.) Of course by the time we had finished the Christmas tree cookie, my littlest demanded it was time to eat his snowflake cookie. (I mean a little boy can only hold out for so long!)
Packed in those same cellophane bags, ready for the journey home, somehow all of these years later, I’ve managed to re-create a similar tradition with my grandchildren. Whether in their own home or here with me, I hope that like those other small children who once attended my tree trimming parties years ago, they will remember these moments as our “Christmas cookie tradition.”
Nana’s Cookie Recipe
2 sticks (1/2 cup each) of unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla paste (or) pure vanilla extract
1 tbsp pure almond extract (yes 1 tablespoon)
The zest of one naval orange (the entire orange – no white pith)
Sift together and set aside:
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp kosher salt
(for a chocolate dough add 1/3 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder)
Mixing bowl and mixer – add room temp butter and 1 cup of sugar and mix until creamy and smooth; add egg, extracts and zest. Mix until combined.
Add dry ingredients ½ cup at a time on low speed to avoid powder flying everywhere, and then mix on medium until the dough forms into a ball.
Split dough into two square disks and wrap in clear plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Note: if refrigerated longer (or overnight) dough will have to be taken out and sit for a while before attempting to roll out. It will be too stiff. For optimum results work dough 1 hr after chilling.
Clear a shelf as much as possible to fit a full cookie sheet into the refrigerator. (I usually try to move around items all to the same height that I can set the tray on top level).
Pre-heat oven 375 degrees.
Place one disk of dough between two pieces of plastic wrap (this prevents the dough from sticking to the counter and the rolling pin, with no flour dusting or mess to clean up) and roll out in one direction, turn clockwise and roll again to about ¼ inch thickness. A good trick is to put chop sticks on each side of the dough and roll the rolling pin over the chop sticks for thickness to be even. (If too thin when decorating the cookies will break and the edges could over bake).
Remove the top layer of plastic and dip the cookie cutter into flour before pressing into the dough to cut each shape for a clean cut and transfer cut cookies to a parchment paper or silicon sheet liked cookie sheet. Once the sheet is filled, pop it into the refrigerator for about 7 minutes. (This helps the cookie keep its shape without spreading – if too warm the dough will spread).
While the cookie sheet is rechilling. Pull together the dough scraps into a disk and roll between plastic wrap again. Same process as above and place on a second lined cookie sheet.
Place the first re-chilled sheet in the oven with timer on 15 minutes – chill the 2nd sheet for 7. When the time for the 2nd tray is up, the first tray is half way through its baking process, turn it around and add the 2nd tray. When the timer goes off for the first tray – remove and reset timer for 7 more minutes for the 2nd tray. Cookies should be slightly golden.
Let tray cool for 5 minutes and then transfer to a cookie rack to completely cool. Repeat with the 2nd tray when timer alerts.
Repeat with all of the remaining dough.
Cookies must be completely cooled before decorating.
Cookies can be stacked into an air tight container up to a week – if you want to decorate at a later date. Once decorated, they are still good for a week and stay pretty fresh if sealed in a good container.
Note: Recipe used for: Annual Teddy Bear cookies for tree trimming parties; various holidays for grandchildren’s classes, cookie decorating with grandchildren and gifts to neighbors; 2019- Teddy Bear dropped for Red truck with Christmas Tree.
Other flavor options tested:
• For those with nut allergies – omit almond extract and increase vanilla to 1 ½ tsp.
• Lemon or Lime zest in lieu of orange
• Shown above -Add 1/3 cup of cocoa powder to dry ingredients for a chocolate cookie (any more dries out the dough).
• Powdered dehydrated raspberry or strawberry (1/3 cup) to dry ingredients for a pink cookie – great for Valentine’s Day heart cookies.
Thanksgiving is only a few days away and there is still time to show gratitude to those who have helped us throughout this complicated year. My family has been very grateful to the group of kind and caring nurses, care partners and managers that have worked diligently to care for our Dad who is in an assisted living and memory care residence. The staff has followed guidelines all year to protect themselves and our loved one from the coronavirus.
I truly enjoy giving little gifts from the heart, but this year my full-time job has really consumed a lot of my time and energy (so grateful for my job); and slightly exhausted my usual thoughtfulness that seems to come in small bursts these days. I realized I hadn’t formed a plan as of yet, for the little gifts I wanted to give the staff – so when the weekend arrived I hit the stores in search of “a little something” to say thanks.
First I had to reach out to one of the managers to get a head count to prepare for. She told me there were 12 including herself (and I later found out this did’t include the 5 nurses that I later had to make another trip for). Make sure you ask questions to get all of the information you need. I certainty didn’t want to leave anyone out.
I was in Homegoods and found these Christmas Tree scented candles that really do smell like a fresh cut tree. The refreshing, familiar scent brought the feelings of Christmas straight to my heart. Now as you know if you’re a Homegoods shopper, the digging and searching began praying the entire time that I would find three boxes of four that could easily make into 12 individual gifts. I was so excited (and grateful) when I found the three boxes I needed.
I didn’t want the packaging to look too “Christmasy” and while I was in line browsing through what I affectionately call the “booby trap” area, I found two sets of six bags in a simple black and white pattern with elegant green velvet ribbons. The pattern looked familiar to me, and I left the line to go back to the wrapping paper area where I found the matching tags.
Back home, I pulled out some gray tissue paper from my stash, and repurposing the ribbon on the box of candles (I folded in half and cut and then folded the two pieces in half again and cut to form 4 pieces of ribbon); I tied the gray tissue paper over each of the votives and placed them inside of one of the bags.
I then wrote a small note, creating two columns and sizing so that when cut I could use a glue stick to attach the note on the back of each card and tuck it into the bags. It took a little time, but I then carefully placed all 12 into a cardboard box and sealed it shut and was off to the Sr. Living Residence.
When I arrived, the manager that had given me the number of her staff happened to be at the front desk. I waved her over to the door, and asked her if she could please assist my Dad to distribute the little gifts during the week. It makes him happy to give little gifts to others. So she said she’ll be back on Tuesday, and she’ll get him ready in his mobile chair and guide him around the building to say Thank you and give his gifts of gratitude.
A true gift is one that comes from the heart and lets someone know how much you appreciate them. Another is allowing a beautiful elderly gentlemen enjoy the thrill of giving.
A couple of weeks had passed since my last small lunch gathering, so it was time to invite two more friends over for a Sunday afternoon lunch. One of the ladies invited had other plans, but Pemmie and I took advantage of our time alone to catch up, something we haven’t had a chance to do for several months.
I’ve tried to make each luncheon a little unique with a slight adjustment to the table setting and menu. For this lunch I used the succulent adorned tiger pumpkins I made to create the fall table decor and I found some interesting purple hydrangeas that had been sprayed black for Halloween weekend that I mixed with some chartreuse chrysanthemums, peach alstroemeria and magnolia leaves for my crock vase.
My delicious French pear liqueur had it’s final after lunch sipping today and my friend had a contact in France to get a fresh bottle sent for future gatherings.
To create mini cheese boards I used small wooden plates to arrange a couple of slices of brie, manchego and blue cheese with grapes and berries over a small magnolia leaf. Some grocers or delis have a container in their cheese section filled with small pieces of cheese for sale that is just enough for 2 servings so that you don’t have to purchase a larger than needed block of cheese.
I love the sweet richness of pears, so once again I used them for my dessert. Years ago on an episode of Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten did a “Barefoot in Paris” season. I’ve made clafoutis a few times with dark cherries, but this version with pears shared by Chef Daniel Rose has become my all time favorite. The only difference in his version and mine, it that I add about a teaspoon of Chinese Five Spice to a half cup of powdered sugar to sprinkle on top for a little added spice. https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/clafoutis-aux-poires-3240468
Lunch included a re-appearance of my cafe’ purchased Autumn crunch salad with apple cider vinaigrette .
The cooler temps put me in the mood for homemade chili, but I didn’t want to serve chili for this ladies lunch. I found a soup recipe that included all of the flavors of chili and a smokey crunch created from chopped salted smoked almonds.
Note: I used French green lentils instead of red (because it’s what I had in the pantry. I used chicken stock, added red chili flakes and the zest of a lime. When warmed and ready to serve, added diced avocado to the center of the bowl. Serve the soup with a quarter of a lime to be squeezed over the bowl and stirred in when ready to eat. Pemmie commented that the lime brought a fresh pop to the warm spices.
While this is the third lunch, I still have a few more friends to invite over for their afternoon lunch. When time permits I hope to carefully plan a couple of Christmas themed luncheons for the remaining ladies. Stay tuned….