BOOK CLUB

Social Writes Bookclub – This Present Darkness, by Frank E. Peretti

The Book Selection:

It’s the beginning of a new year and a new decade. We are reminded daily by the media of the dark forces that lurk throughout our world, and often feel helpless in what we can do to make a difference. A couple of decades back, an old (as in long time) friend gave me this christian fiction novel that had a strong impact on me and opened my eyes to the negative forces that provoke us daily and how the power of prayer may strengthen heaven’s angels to conquer and defeat those negative forces.

While this is a work of fiction, you cannot walk away from this book without re-accessing thoughts and feelings that make you feel unworthy, not strong or good enough, excluded, along with a long list of many other negative emotions, without realizing these negative thoughts are being used to draw us away from our belief system – our faith in good and our trust in what God wants for us.

A brief description of the book found on the “Good Reads” website, states “Ashton is just a typical small town. But when a skeptical reporter and a prayerful, hardworking pastor begin to investigate mysterious events, they suddenly find themselves caught up in a hideous New Age plot to enslave the townspeople, and eventually the entire human race. The physical world meets the spiritual realm as the battle rages between forces of good and evil.

This Present Darkness is a gripping story that brings keen insight into spiritual warfare and the necessity of prayer.”

If you don’t believe in guardian angels now, you should be filled with hope for them after reading this dramatic thriller of a book. It is a work of fiction and creativity that is well worth the read. It was originally published in 1986 and was Mr. Peretti’s first book. As a story about spiritual warfare; he does not place judgment on the characters or determine consequences for those who act out when possessed by a dark spirit. This book offers very interesting “food for thought” that when I first read it in 1998 gave me insight to how our insecurities (if thought of as a dark manipulation) can prevent us from growing in our faith and relationship with God. As a result of my reading experience, I personally fought those insecurities and grew determined to grow stronger in my own faith.

It should be noted that the book was written long before the internet, mobile phones and social media. One of my friends noted that if this book were rewritten today, the demons would have even more resources by which to reek their havoc and do.

When I saw this white angel with large wings, she reminded me of the tall illuminated angels described in the book that watched over the small church with it’s prayerful pastor.

The Meeting:

When I have anyone come to my house, I always want to make whatever we are doing memorable, even if it is just a bookclub meeting. How often do you see your friends in a given year? I fear my answer would be far less frequent without planning events that give my collection of friends an opportunity to get together on a regular basis. Relationships of all kind take time and commitment. Therefore, it’s important to me to make the time we spend together meaningful, memorable and enjoyable.

With the holidays in full swing, I needed to pick a book for our upcoming January meeting. I had read several fairly good books throughout 2019, but none stood out as one I wanted to share with my club. For some reason, I recalled “This Present Darkness” and the affect it had on me when I originally read it. It lifted my spirit and enforced the importance of prayer that I’ve practiced ever since. This would be a new and different genre than what we have become accustomed to, and hoped my friends would gain their own unexpected insight from it, whatever it might be.

Having the book selection made, but still in the busyness of the holidays, I awaited inspiration to present itself and raised my usual creativity radar – hoping to hone in on something that would give me a direction for a table setting and refreshments for the meeting. I’ve fallen into a habit of trying to create a meeting around the book we’re reading when possible, which is sometimes challenging and not obvious – but I like the challenge. Without a specific plan in mind, one little thing can create the spark I need to build upon.

My first find occurred while browsing through a small antique store. A pair of tall glowing white angels with wings spread wide brought to mind the angels described as watching over the little town of Ashton and its preacher. There were two, but I decided to only purchase one and I placed it in the center of the table with a small church ornament.

On another day, I stopped at a local gift show to browsed through the after Christmas stock, (everything had been marked down 50% to 60%). As I searched through the baskets of ornaments, a large ornament, a pair of golden angel wings, caught my attention. I walked over for a closer look as two employees of the shop worked to remove ornaments from a Christmas tree display and place each into a basket on a large table. I decided the double winged ornament was too large and I only saw one, but it made me think again of our book club selection.

Then I noticed a single golden wing in another basket that I picked it up for closer examination. I stood nearby and kept count as each wing was moved from the tree and placed in the basket. The young lady arranging the ornaments in the basket noticed my interest and asked how many I needed. She searched through the tree to help me meet the count I needed, as I finally decided they would be a wonderful, post Christmas gift to give each of my members that would also (hopefully) help them remember the message of this book each year as they placed it on their Christmas tree.

At another store I came across the cocktail napkin that read “Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the floor in the morning the devil says ‘Oh crap, she up!” It made me laugh and I thought it was perfect to inject a little humor.

A glowing white angel watching over a small church.

As I reached the end of the book, I read how Tal handed Guilo the trumpet to sound their victory. It inspired me to search for this image of an angel blowing a trumpet (online) that I resized to fit exactly on the reverse side of the store tag that was tied with a gold cord to each golden angel wing. I used a glue stick to adhere each image and then used simple school glue to add large white pearl iridescent glitter as a boarder that for me, evoked the image of the bright light that streamed from the angels when they were glorified and strengthened by the remnants’ prayers.

I then tied a thin gold ribbon through the wire loop at the end of the wing and placed one at each place setting. I pulled out my Mom’s black and gold china to add the “darkness” to the table surrounded by golden halo chargers.

I decided I wanted small bags that the ornaments could be wrapped and carried away in, having in mind small bronze colored bags I’ve often seen at the Dollar Tree. With Christmas having just passed, both stores in my area looked like they had been wiped out of everything and only had lavender colored bags. I was disappointed and not sure what I would find or where, but continued my search.

I finally found a set of 8 whites bags with gold and pink foil dots and decided they would have to do. Since it wasn’t what I originally had it mind, I was a little disappointed. As I started glueing on the clip art of the trumpet blowing angels, I suddenly realized that the foil dots on the bags looked similar to the chunky glitter I had put on the tags I attached to the wings. HONESTLY, this happens all of the time! Oddly, things just come together. I truly do not consciously make things match this way – it just seems to happen.

The Menu

With the table now set, my thoughts moved on to refreshments. I decided this would be a great opportunity to toast in the New Year and New Decade with my gal pals, as well as the beginning of our 6th year of reading together. January is a month when we try to eat lighter and resolve to take better care of ourselves. I decided to make a light, healthy, but decadent stacked salad of farro with chopped toasted pecans, cajun boiled shrimp salad, asian cucumber salad, grape tomatoes, diced avocado, grated boiled egg topped with sunflower sprouts and an edible viola. Watercress drizzled with garlic olive oil and white balsamic vinegar framed the stack; the plate drizzled with a roasted tomato vinaigrette and chive oil.

The stacked salad bottom to top.
  • The bottom was farro prepared per the package and pecans toasted in the oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, cooled and chopped. 1/4 cup pressed into the bottom of a 3 1/2″ ring.
  • Next layer – Shrimp salad made with cajun spice boiled shrimp adapted from the recipe @ https://www.dinneratthezoo.com/shrimp-salad-recipe/
  • Next layer – Sesame cucumber salad that I added chopped red pepper to adapted from the recipe @ https://www.recipesinstant.com/2019/08/spiralized-sesame-cucumber-salad.html
  • Next – chopped grape or cherrie tomatoes sprinkled with a little kosher salt
  • Next – 1/2 of an avocado diced, tossed in a teaspoon of lemon juice and sprinkled with a pinch of kosher salt
  • Sprinkle the top with grated boiled egg, chopped chives, sunflower microgreens (or alfalfa sprouts, pea shoots) and an edible flower.

The plate was drizzled with a roasted tomato vinaigrette, watercress tossed in a drizzle of garlic infused extra version olive oil and white balsamic vinegar.

  • 1 cup of grape or cherry tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • koscher salt
  • 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar

Preheat over 400 degrees. Drizzle about 1 tbsp. of olive oil on a sheet pan. Slice tomatoes in half and lay in a single layer over olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and roast in the oven for 30 minutes. Tomatoes should deflate and create a brownish coating beneath the tomatoes. Remove from the oven and cool. Place roasted tomatoes in a small food processor or blender. Drizzle the second tablespoon of olive oil over the surface of the sheet pan with browned tomato juices and a tablespoon of white balsamic vinegar. Allow to sit for about 10 minutes and gently scrap the browned juices, oil and vinegar with a whisk – (as in deglazing a pot with fond- brown bits). Attempt to lift as much of the fond as possible as this equates to a lot of flavor. Pour the mixture into the food processor with the roasted tomatoes. Process until smooth. Add additional olive oil or vinegar as desired until the mixture resembles a slightly loose tomato paste. Pour vinaigrette into a squirt bottle to drizzle on the plate.

The Cocktail

A cocktail is required to make a toast, so next I was in search of a unique, ladylike cocktail when I found this recipe for a “Whispering Demon” and oddly, as I am writing this I realized the cocktail will be pink – more color coordination! As is my usual practice, I always try to do something a little different to a recipe to make it my own. After tasting it, the name warranted a little surprise of spice to reference the “demon”. I experimented by steeping pink peppercorns into my simple syrup and it added a gentle element of surprise that I was looking for.

A Hushed Whispering Demon

Servings: 1

Ingredients

1 oz. vodka
1 oz. pink peppercorn simple syrup
2 oz. Whispering Angel or other Rosé
2 oz. club soda

Directions: To make the simple syrup place 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water in a saucepan. Place pan on low heat (on the stove) until the sugar dissolves. Turn off the heat and add 3 tablespoons of pink peppercorns. Steep for 10 minutes. Strain the syrup into a jar for storage until ready to use, and let the sugary peppercorns rest in the strainer for about 10 minutes. Move the peppercorns to an airtight container – leave uncovered to dry and cover for later.

Place coupe glasses in the freezer. Combine cold rosé, simple syrup, vodka, and club soda in the chilled coupe glass. Delicately swirl the glass to mix contents, and top with a little cluster of sugar coated pink peppercorns for garnish.

The Dessert

This book about spiritual warfare filled with demons and angels, called for an angelic finale. I made a chocolate angel food cake, filled with a mascarpone, whipped cream, freeze dried strawberries, chocolate shavings and raspberries.

The recipe for the basic chocolate angel food cake was taken from http://www.eatingwell.com/recipe/267156/chocolate-covered-strawberry-angel-food-cake/?utm_source=pinterest.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=eatingwell_eatingwell_9180211&utm_content=diabetes_verticalimage_&utm_term=ValentinesDayRecipes_201901

Once baked and cooled the cake was cut in half. I dug a little canal in the bottom half buy pulling some of the cake away. The filling, chocolate shavings and fresh raspberries were added and the top replaced. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

  • 8 ounces mascarpone room temperature
  • 8 ounces heavy cream whipped
  • 1/4 cup chocolate shavings
  • 1/4 cup freeze dried strawberries (pulsed in food processor to a powder) optional
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Whip the mascarpone and set aside. Whip the heavy cream with sugar. Gently fold 1/4 cup of mascarpone into the whipped cream and continue 1/4 cup at a time until well combined. Gently fold in chocolate shavings and strawberry powder.

This type of cake is a little dry and needs a syrupy sauce and fresh fruit. Slice strawberries macerated overnight in 1/4 cup of Chambord, 2 tablespoons of sugar and (optional) a sachet of 1 tablespoon of pink peppercorns). Before serving remove the sachet and add 1/2 cup of fresh raspberries. Pour a couple of large spoonfuls of fruit and their juices over each slice of cake. Sprinkle with chocolate shavings and curls.

Our meeting concluded and everyone left with their angel wings safely wrapped in their little bags. Until we meet again – on to the next book.

Select the bookclub category on the front blog page for previous book selections and meeting ideas:

HOME

S I P (Social Interactions and Parties) One Year Anniversary

I can hardly believe, that just a year ago, I sat at my dining room table literally trembling with fear as I learned as much as I could online about how to design a blog and then pushed myself to take the first steps.

I wanted a place to share all of my “social interaction” ideas, while simply enjoying time with family and friends. Another year of great wines, food, books, friends, tea, home design updates and thoughtful gestures, all recorded in the 67 posts of 2019. Thank you to all of you who follow me and to all of those in my life that share in making these events fun and memorable. Your support encourages me more than you know and I’m so grateful for each and every one of you. Here’s a quick look at 2019’s memories.

It’s a new year and a new decade. Come along for the journey to see what happens in 2020.

WINE CLUB

Baby it's cold outside….Vini d'Italia Notte…..

Italian taqueria style invitation.

An evening of rich red Italian wines and food is never a bad thing. In fact it is exactly the kind of cozy candlelight evening and comfort foods needed on a cold winter’s night; and when paired with good friends, conversation and laughter is always a winning combination. For this cozy vini d’Italia (Italian wines) tasting, friends where asked to each bring a good Italian red and small bite.

The table setting – a small hole was punched in each place card to
insert a small leaf and berry from a tree in my yard that looks verify much like an olive
(see last photo below with bottles of wine.)

THE CHEESE COURSE

Baked Italian fontina, with garlic and herbs, served with toasted crusty bread and apple slices.
https://www.worldmarket.com/product/6-mini-cast-iron-skillet.do

Cold Friday evenings often remind me of those Friday night high school football games where I either sat shivering in the stands or jumped around on the field as a cheerleader. When the game was over, win or lose, a group of friends gathered at the local pizza parlor where the warm toasty pizza ovens and a crackling fireplace immediately embraced us upon opening the door and the chill of the night slowly eased away. As we settled into red vinyl booths, looking over the menus, those comforting aromas of pizza dough blistering in the oven while slowly melting delicious gooey cheese seduced our senses.

On this cold winter Saturday night, I wanted to create a similar environment for my guests with a delicious warming melted cheese course. I had recently watched a rerun of Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network and when I saw Ina re-create this restaurant version of melted Italian fontina cheese, seasoned with garlic and herbs I knew it was exactly what I was looking for. The small cast iron skillet with bubbling cheese beneath the broiler was just what I had in mind. I headed to the store in search of the small 6 inch cast iron skillets (that have since made many appearances at other parties). Each couple shared a skillet of the prepared herb fontina served with toasted crusty bread and apple slices for dipping and scooping.

THE ACTIVITY:

Two truths and a lie: This particular wine meeting was held in the first two years of our established group. Not all of the friends I invited knew one another. So I worked to create activities that would help us get to know one another, but also serve as entertainment and topics of conversation.

Along with the invitation, I asked each of my guests to write down two truths and a lie about themselves to bring to the party. Later in the evening, during the dessert course I asked each guest to read their list and the others were challenged to guess which was the lie. This activity resulted in informative truths for each of my guests to discover about each out and lots of laughter for the lies.

Another fun activity would be to create a trivial pursuit game about wines with the weekly “Wine Quiz” from Karen MacNeil’s “Winespeed” website.

You can subscribe @ https://winespeed.com/quiz/wine/

THE SMALL BITES:

As always my guests are asked to bring a small bite. this evening the offerings were Italian inspired and everything was delizioso!

DESSERT COURSE:

Trio of Italian desserts, tiramisu cookies, semifreddo
and Zabaglione with Amarena cherries 

https://www.marthastewart.com/313069/tiramisu-cookies

There were so many wonderful options for an Italian dessert that I decided to create a dessert sampler that would be shared by each couple. The trio included a tiramisu cookie, semifreddo and zabaglione with Amarena cherries. My guests enjoyed everything, but the stand out hit of the trio was the zabaglione with Amarena cherries.

Before there was Pinterest, I used to tear out the pages of cooking magazines with recipes I would like to use at some point and organize them in three ring binders. I had saved the zabaglione recipe from an issue of Food and Wine magazine years ago that I also found online and worked out perfectly. https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/vanilla-zabaglione-with-raspberries

The recipe used raspberries, but I had recently discovered Italian Amarena cherries (cherries in brandy) that are unbelievably delicious, and decided to use cherries in lieu of raspberries. It was the perfect choice, because my guests could not stop talking about how delicious the cherries were. I’ve since used them in cocktails and other desserts.

Amarena Fabbri Cherries typically come in a blue and white opaline jar that I purchased online (but they can also be found in specialty wine or food stores). The cherries were without a stem. Over time I found stemmed Amarena cherries for about $5 a jar at Trader Joes, and was advised they are stocked on a seasonal basis. Other options are Dark Morello Cherries (also purchased at Trader Joes), or Griottines from France. For this night – Italian Amarena was the appropriate choice.

The Amarena cherry (Italianamara) is a small bitter dark colored Italian cherry grown in Bologna and Modena, two cities of Italy. It is usually bottled in syrup and used as a decoration on rich chocolate desserts.
The Amarena is a variety of the Prunus cerasus developed by Gennaro Fabbri who was born in 1869 in Bologna, Italy. His wife, Rachele, took over an old general store in Portomaggiore, which was near to a wild black cherry orchard. She picked the cherries and then slowly cooked them and semi-candied them into copper pots. To thank his wife for the treat, he bought a ceramic jar from Riccardo Gatti, an artist from Faenza. The white and blue ceramic jar was then used to sell the syrup and started a small company.[1]
He started commercial production of cherry related products in 1905 under the Fabbri brand.[2] The Fabbri company is still family owned,[1] and produces a number of natural cherry pastries, syrups,[3] and beverages.

https://www.google.com/search?q=amarena+fabbri+cherries&source=univ&tbm=shop&tbo=u&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiZ3s24k9HiAhUGSK0KHTZBA4MQsxgILw&biw=1391&bih=609#spd=15092513403719375339
Scorecard created with a Word doc, backed with red gingham craft paper and a little clip art.
The wines of the evening and example of place cards.
The top two winners.
My guests were each received a bag of soft amaretti cookies as a favor.

The food was delicious and comforting, the wine rich and smooth and the company filled with good friends, lots of laughter and stimulating conversation. There’s no better way to make a cold winter’s night warmer.

New Year's Eve, SMALL TALK

As the New Year approaches -Resolve to be open to whatever comes into your life….tell the universe "Surprise me!"

What a ride this year has been!!! Here I am, (dressed for hiking -not a photo shoot) unexpectedly in the Swiss Alps – with the iPhone in hand that photographed the images of my more than 60 posts this year!

If you were to read the pages of my personal journal for 2019, you might think the entries you found there are a collection of fictional stories filled with faith, hope, love and optimism. My year was not fictional. My year was filled with surprising and remarkable moments shared with family and friends; new experiences and new beginnings I could never have imagined -served like colorful sprinkles throughout the year.

While my blog for the most part is about entertaining, my passions include decorating, cooking, reading, writing and traveling. What my followers may not know, is that my full-time day job is working as a mortgage loan underwriter. My role is stressful, requires a lot focus and concentration, knowledge of ever-changing guidelines, independent decision making and patience. While it is a rewarding field that enables many to realize the pride of home ownership, the majority of responsibility of what constitutes an approval, falls on the underwriter. Someone once said, an underwriter wears the combined hats of an accountant, an attorney and a psychologist all at once. So forty hours or more per week I’m required to work quickly, intensively focus and accurately.

The industry has had it’s ups and downs, and for most of my career I have been fortunate to simply coast through the rough spots without being part of cutbacks; but in November of 2018 I was part of a workforce reduction and found myself unemployed for the second time in a four year period. Yes, it hurt and yes I was a little worried about how long it would take to find another position, but financially prepared and with the help of current and previous work colleagues, my resume’ was being circulated and until the time was right I could only pray and trust that the Lord would take over the situation and use my resources to lead me to where He wanted me to be . During the wait rather than sulk, I tried to use the free time I was given to be productive in ways I usually lacked time for.

A passion is something you can do everyday for hours, forgetting to eat or noticing how much time has gone by. Writing and creating has always had that affect on me. As a young teenager I wanted to be a writer, spending hours alone in my bedroom writing poetry and short stories. As with most of us, life’s responsibilities forced me to abandon my passion for a “real job”. For years I’ve wanted to create, write and share what I’ve learned with others, and recently I realized that a blog would provide the perfect platform to do so. Both limited time and fear of how to create a blog were holding me back from this dream for a long time.

I have been hosting parties for several years, some in the distance past, while more recent efforts have helped me to gradually excel in my efforts with some surprising results. Creating a blog would provide an outlet to share my ideas and write my stories. In preparation, I had written articles to accompany my party pictures (that over time I’ve put more effort into) and saved them to eventually insert into posts of my “one day” blog.

My knowledge of technology is limited and I feared the unknown. I didn’t have a clue of how to begin such a venture. I reached out for help, but the time was never convenient. One morning I woke up and decided I had to face my fears and prove to myself I could accomplish this and doing it on my own would make it all the more rewarding.

With nothing but time to figure the process out and the internet as my teacher, I watched multiple YouTube videos of how to start a blog. The information was more about content than how to actually step by step design a blog site, but I finally found the courage to create a domain and my first blog webpage. A year later with over 60 published posts, it seems like an old routine that I’ve been practicing for decades and challenges me to continue to create content for my followers and joyful memories for those who share in the parties and events I plan.

While not perfect the first post was created.

I remember the feeling of pride and confidence when it finally materialized before my eyes. It took a couple of days – days I would not have had if I had not lost my job. I decided that the job loss was actually meant to give me time. Time to dedicate directly toward personal things in my life that I would usually not be able to, because of my limited time off from my job.

Grandchildren grow up too fast –
those younger years are so special.

Over the next five months my daughter, who lives in another State with her husband and my three grandchildren needed my help on two occasions while her husband had to go out of town for long periods of time for his job. I was free to visit just before Christmas for a week and be with both my daughter and youngest grandson for their birthdays. I then spent another the three weeks with them while her husband was away over the months I was unemployed. Having spent four weeks with them over a five month period in addition to they’re coming into town for a family wedding in March, I’ve enjoyed more time this year than I have in the past four years with my daughter’s family.

Over those months, other family members had brief health issues that I was able to step in and help them through, again time I would have fretted over due to limited paid time off while working. I also read several great books and I planned a lovely Seamstress themed Mother’s Tea and a fun Derby themed wine party for my friends.

While I was truly enjoying life (and a mini-retirement), the months were ticking away and finally in April I received a call to work as a contract employee for my previous employer. It wasn’t a full-time position, but a stepping stone that generated an income and a sign that business was improving. Two months later I was offered two full-time positions on the same day and started with my new employer in early July.

When I started my new job, I was so grateful to a past co-worker (the Lord using my resources from over 20 years ago) who recommended me for the position that’s benefits exceeded my expectations. It’s been a very hard acclimation, but only four months into the position, I’ve grown to feel like part of the current team.

As my contract resignation period came to an end, the week between positions contained a holiday – so I took that week off. I spent the week reorganizing and cleaning the house. During that process I found a blank poster board and had a stack of magazines to dispose of. As covered in my previous post “Creating a Vision Board”, I’ve kept a vision board for years and have done my best to imagine my life evolving into the pictures I had chosen. So much of those images have materialized at some point or another. I was drawn to look over the images on my current vision board – and focused in on the areas that have not yet manifested into my life.

My board is so filled with images, that I decided there were two areas that I very much wanted to manifest sooner rather than later, and that maybe I should create a new board focused solely on those two areas. One was to meet someone to share my life with and the other was to travel after having a decade long sabbatical from both.

It has always been my dream to go to Paris and search through culinary stores, flea markets and eat my way through all of the delicious cuisine while also soaking in the art, museums and culture. For various reasons, my last real vacation took place many years ago, but it was a beautiful tour of Rome, Florence and Venice. France and England were higher on my wish list, but I hoped to travel to many parts of Europe over time.

My updated -re-focused vision board 2019.

I briefly considered flying to Boston, the week I had off between jobs to see the Downton Abbey Exhibit, but it was the 4th of July week and I knew it would be pricey and crowded. But I did find an image of the Exhibit in one of my magazines that I glued to the board. As I flipped the pages of a travel magazine, I found individual black and white images of several European countries that I cut out and randomly glued to the board under the word “Travel”.

While making my benefits elections for my new job, I was advised to enter the date of Dec. 31, 2019 into the vacation calculator to determine what my accumulated time would be by the year’s end. I was then advised I needed to schedule the time off before the year ended. I discovered I had a little more than a week of time to use and a spontaneous idea was sparked!

A friend of mine was currently house sitting in England. She at some point was moving on to another sitting position at a house in Germany. I knew nothing about where or when, but I asked her if I could fly over and spend a week with her. Within days, I discovered another of our friends (from the wine club) was going to meet her and I scheduled a flight to arrive a day later than her arrival (based on the time I could get approved for time off.) The house was located in Southern Germany very near the borders of Switzerland and France. If you take a look at the images of countries I randomly glued to my new board, can you see any resemblance to what I just wrote -to the vision board above??? Seriously??? Front and center – Germany, Switzerland and France!

The lovely 300 hundred year old part time home we occupied during my visit in Germany.

I’m usually someone who plans months and weeks in advance, having a neatly prepared itinerary, and hours of research to create an informative understanding of where I’m going and what I’m going to do or see. With only an airline ticket and packed luggage in hand – spontaneity I’m not known for, a brave face and churning stomach, I boarded the plane for a 9 hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany.

Traveling to a foreign country with a language I didn’t understand, alone was terrifying, but the unexpected kindnesses I experienced along the way got me through. A couple was seated across from me at the airport in Atlanta (our connection flight to Frankfurt). A polite smile was exchanged, but it didn’t take long to realize they were German. When the boarding process began, we both stood in the same area to wait our turn and I noticed they had a shopping bag from California. To open a little dialog I asked them where in California they were coming from. We chatted for a while with their limited English and then boarded the plane. I had told them I was very nervous and this was my first time flying to Germany. They told me most of the people spoke English and I shouldn’t be concerned. Later on the plane I noticed they were seated in the middle section of the plane just a couple of rows back from me.

At the end of the flight, I made my way through immigration and found my bags. From there I asked for help to get to the train the would bring me to my final destination. I had boarded the shuttle bus that I was directed to that would bring me to the train station and within seconds the German couple jumped on to the bus just before it was about to leave. My hand rose to my heart when I saw them. I was so happy to see them because I needed help with the whole train situation.

They stayed with me to assist with buying my round trip ticket. Afterwards there was an hour before the train would arrive, so we visited over coffee and tea at a Starbucks in the station and then they helped me to the gate where I needed to board the train which was further up than their gate. My gratitude for this lovely couple is beyond anything I can express, but they were not the only kind people I fell into the care of. At every point of concern of how I would manage to get further, someone would materialize from out of nowhere and help me carry my bags up steps, or direct me to the right area to find what I was looking for or had to go to. We even had other travelers from other countries give us Swiss Francs to put into a parking meter when we only had Euros. Each experience restored my belief that people of the world can be amazingly kind.

Even now it still feels like this last minute- spontaneous trip was all a dream. In fact the entire year has been a bit of a dream, all started with the loss of a job and followed by so many joyful gifts. When something shocking or unexpected happens in your life, it will be scary, it will be stressful, and you may not know how you’re going to work things out. Give your fears to God; lean in and be open; try to see it as an opportunity to discover something new in your life; rely on your resources; reach out to people who know the hard worker you are, reignite a talent you’ve been suppressing for years, and trust that your new beginning was meant to lift you higher and give you more.

In this New Year -resolve to be open to whatever is coming with love and gratitude. Tell the universe “I trust you! Surprise me!” It’s incredible what amazing blessings can enter into your life when you invite them in. Usually the year feels like it passes more quickly year after year, but this year my life was so full, I accomplished so much that makes my heart happy, that it felt like more time has passed than what actually did. It felt like it’s been two years rather than one. Maybe when you fill your life with everything you love and open up to new unexpected experiences – life is simply fuller.

My intention when I started my blog was to share ideas that would bring people together. Resolve in this new year to be kinder, to practice random acts of kindness and thoughtfulness; resolve to regularly gather with family and friends, resolve to try new things and share what you learn with others, to open yourself to what’s coming instead of fearing it! Cheers to new beginnings! Wishing all of my followers a very Happy and Fulfilling New Year!!!

Jesus Calling: December 21

My plan for your life is unfolding before you. Sometimes the road you are traveling seems blocked or it opens up so painfully slowly that you must hold yourself back. Then, when time is right, the way before you suddenly clears — through no effort of your own. What you have longed for and worked for I present to you freely, as pure gift. You feel awed by the ease with which I operate in the world, and you glimpse My Power and My Glory.
     Do not fear your weakness, for it is the stage on which My Power and Glory perform most brilliantly. As you persevere along the path I have prepared for you, depending on My strength to sustain you, expect to see miracles — and you will. Miracles are not always visible to the naked eye, but those who live by faith can see them clearly. Living by faith, rather than sight, enables you to see My Glory. 

Psalm 63:2
English Standard Version
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
    beholding your power and glory.


2 Corinthians 5:7
English Standard Version
for we walk by faith, not by sight.

John 11:40
English Standard Version
Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?

CHRISTMAS

That's a Wrap … Last Minute Christmas Gift Ideas

Who says a gift card is boring? When I found this large 3 foot tall popcorn box filled with three kinds of popcorn I knew it would be the perfect prop for a movie gift card. Individual serving paper bags are attached and the gift card slipped inside, tied with a large bow and an old fashioned pop corn machine Christmas ornament. (As the stores continue to reduce the prices of Christmas ornaments and decorations consider picking up some that can be used to adorn your gifts this year and the next.)

An odd shaped gift still deserves to be pretty. Wrap your paper around its shape and extend the top about an inch higher above the packaging before folding over. Punch two side by side holes with a hole punch and thread the ribbon from the back and then fasten a looped bow in front. Add a pretty little dollar store ornament for a little fun and sparkle.

A cheerful little red feathered cardinal (2 per card at the dollar store) – “A Little Birdie told me you wanted this!”

Christmas can be a little melancholy for some. Here’s a way to cheer them up. An elegant gold box of chocolates tied with a cheerful red bow and pinned with a beautiful brooch. (Antique shops often have several designs in a glass case to choose from – or a new one may be available at a department store.) I wear my brooch on my sweater or coat and all day someone stops to tell me how pretty it is. What better way to lift someone’s spirits than to give them something that others will notice and compliment throughout their day?

Vanilla bean paste is quickly becoming a favorite of bakers. A gel like vanilla liquid filled with vanilla bean seeds amps up the flavor of baked goods without the high cost of vanilla beans.
Cardamon, Chinese Five Spice and Everything Bagel seasoning are some of my favorite spices.

For the person who loves to cook and or bake …. Spices are bought in large quantities and only a small amount (i.e. a teaspoon at a time) is used in each recipe. Years later the bottle can look like it has been hardly used. Replacing spices every year can be costly. Even someone who bakes and cooks as often as I do can discover a bottle that’s been in the pantry for far too long. As spices age they lose their freshness, fragrance and flavor. Baking ingredients like pure vanilla or almond extract or the ever growing popular jar of vanilla bean paste are pricey to restock. But there are spices in every price range for your budget. A fresh supply would be a great gift to cheffie. Cinnamon, paprika, white or black peppercorns, Sea or French gray salt are a few examples.

Another less costly idea is to purchase spices in packets. The spice in the jar can be emptied, retaining the bottle, washed and refilled with the fresh spice packet. Throw in a couple of unusual spices to experiment with like Zatar, Sumac, Cardamon, Chinese Five Spice or Ras El Hanout.

Not every cook has one of these – a garlic canister with little holes on the sides for air to flow through. I purchased this one a World Market Cost Plus. Some culinary stores have ceramic versions as well.

On to the love of travel. Is someone you know dreaming of a special bucket list vacation? Wrap a current guidebook and embellish the bow with a symbolic ornament might manifest that dream this year.

Place an order for a travel magazine subscription – wrap a current edition with the note inside and an interesting luggage tag as a gift card.

Dress up a plant for a friend or as a hostess gift. This orchid planter was purchased at Trader Joe’s. I also purchased a packet of green pine and evergreens and stuck them into and around the plants. I added a couple of pine cone shaped ornaments. While this version was fine, I wanted to do a little more. So I made a bow and tucked the small ornaments in its center.

Below: Giving a little piece of jewelry this year? While a velvet box is wonderful, consider presenting the item in a new unexpected way. This little bee pin is hiding along the branches. It may seem that only an orchid plant is the gift – until you zoom in. Earrings, bracelets or a delicate necklace could easily be hung from within an arrangement.

The reason for the season … a gift for yourself or someone you know who is going through a difficult time or simply wants to grow in faith… I’ve given so many copies of these books away that I’ve lost count. When someone is so broken that they can’t even find the strength to pray, Illuminata is filled with beautiful prayers for every kind of petition and Jesus Calling (that was a gift given to me several years ago) offers daily messages based on scripture that somehow seem to be exactly what you need to know to get through every day. The spine of mine is greatly worn from so many years of reading its pages.

When I’m at a loss for something to give that friend or family member, I will sometimes find something to give that involves spending time together. Below I purchased two of these knitting kits (one for me and one for my friend) with a card that explains my gift comes with time spent together. One year a friend and I decided to each buy a ticket to see the Beauty and the Beast musical as our gift. We went to dinner and the theater one evening together as our gifts to each other.

I bought one for you and one for me. I thought we could spend a few afternoons together knitting.

While these are only a short list of gift ideas, I hope they will inspire you to think about who you have to give a gift to and do what you can to make your gift meaningful. In our busyness, it’s easy to fall short no matter how hard we try. I struggle to find something for those I want to present with a gift, but have done so for so many years that my idea well is dry. In an ideal situation, we would start our list in January and each month look for something special for one person at a time. Unfortunately, we do well for some and not so well for others. I believe in attaching a gift receipt. We all work so hard for the money we earn, and I would rather someone return something that wasn’t the fabulous idea I thought it was and exchange it for something they would prefer. These ideas were meant to generate ideas for the last minute shopper or busy bee whose schedule is so packed with work, school and family or other roles, that they can’t spend hours in a mall.

May all your gifts come from the heart and your holiday be filled with blessed moments and memories. Blessings and happy wishes to all!

CHRISTMAS, HOLIDAY

Twelve Days of Christmas Cocktail Party

The house was ready for a party…tree branches from the neighbor’s trimmings on the chandelier.

Weekends during the month of December fly by so quickly packed with shopping and a variety holiday themed activities of every kind. While I love the festive beauty and nostalgic glow that Christmas decorations and music offer for entertaining, by the time December arrives I’m a little worn down from a year of hosting parties all year. I love holiday baking and cooking which both consume a lot of weekend time also. While the idea of hosting a Christmas party simmers in my mind each year, my energy level has fizzled to glowing embers and I just can’t get the fire started to put together another party.

My daughter, her husband and my grandchildren usually come home for Christmas week and my point of focus is on preparing for their arrival and reserving energy to dedicate to my grandchildren. As a full-time mortgage loan underwriter, my days are busy at work like most of you and weekends are precious time that must be wisely scheduled to accomplish everything that the holidays demand. One year however, my little family decided they would being staying home, so I decided to host a small cocktail party, but I needed it to be as stress free as possible.

Christmas parties can draw from many different themes, but short on time, I had to use what I had. As I dug through my boxes of Christmas treasures I found my Twelve Days of Christmas linen napkins I bought on clearance one year at Williams Sonoma. I pressed each on the ironing board and lined them across the table. They provided both a pop of Christmas colors and fun.

My neighbor had just purchased a fresh tree and trimmed some of the branches from it’s trunk. They were piled beside their trash can, so before they were picked up by the trash collectors I grabbed them and once again glanced around the house for a place to use them. The chandelier in the center of my living room caught my eye. I didn’t put up a Christmas tree this particular year since the kids weren’t coming home, so I needed to add a little spruce drama to the room. Using floral wire, I draped and tied the branches to the chandelier and then made a large bow that I attached to the bottom center.

Next for the refreshments. A cocktail party needs cocktails and a place to prepare and serve them. I surveyed my living area considering the best way to arrange the room for a cocktail party. I decided to have three stations around the room with drink options. A Moscow mule station with labeled bottles, ice, sparkling wine, garnishes and the recipe was created on top of my entertainment cabinet (above); a large punch bowl filled with eggnog set on top of a copper bowl filled with ice (a mixture of bottled eggnog from the liquor department combined with a jug of dairy department eggnog and a pint of rich vanilla ice cream swirled in) punch cups, a ladle and a couple of nutmeg pods with a small grater on the side to top off each cup were set up on my cocktail cart; and finally my mulled wine (a combination of red wine, brandy, grand mariner, ginger beer and mulling spices) simmered in a crock pot on the kitchen counter with a bowl of blood orange slices for garnish (below) for easy self serve access. Cocktail napkins were also provided at each location for a guest to hold around their glass.

Eggnog Station
Mulled Wine Station
Left to right: Mulled wine, Moscow Mule & Eggnog

I envisioned my guests walking around the room helping themselves to a drink and the food also placed in different areas around the room, allowing me to also enjoy the party and visit with my guests.

On the sofa table bacon wrapped pineapple and Chinese sweet chili sauce and
Fig balsamic goat cheese with cranberry pepper jelly in filo cups.

I cleared off every surface in the room and placed platters out to plan what I would serve and where I would place each item around the room. I chose items that could be made ahead and served at room temperature or in a warming vessel such as an electric fondue pot or crock pot.

On the breakfast table: White Velvet Soup and Bourbon Meatballs.
https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/white-velvet-soup-3157615?soc=itksocialsharedefault%7Cios%7Cp

On the breakfast table (above) a White Velvet Soup stayed warm with the help of a crock pot. A stack of small bowls and a tray arranged with the toppings and spoons were provided on the side; Bourbon meatballs to the right with small cocktail forks.

On the dining room table a spinach dip twisted bread tree , cheese plater and red velvet coconut buche noel.
https://www.tastynova.com/2018/10/christmas-tree-spinach-dip-breadsticks.html

On the dining room table, (above) a spinach dip twisted bread stick Christmas tree; (below) two trays with various cheeses, crackers, olives, pickled mushrooms, etc. and finally dessert – a red velvet roll cake with whipped cream cheese and coconut shavings to resemble a buche noel that I sliced later in the evening and served.

Red Velvet coconut buche noel.

With Christmas music in the background, this party required no formalities and allowed everyone to mingle and converse the night away while sipping and nibbling around the room. I hope these make ahead and self serve station ideas will inspire you if you’re considering hosting your own Christmas gathering this year and feel like you just don’t have the time. Store bought small bites and pastries would work just as easily with no cooking or baking required at all. Use what you have and just add a little sparkle to make a toast to the holidays!

CHRISTMAS, TRADITIONS & TEA

Our Christmas Cookie (Tradition)

Homemade cookies delivered to my neighbors last year.

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.

Both my daughter and granddaughter received a nutcracker ornament the first time I took them to see the Nutcracker Ballet. The boys, not as interested in the ballet, received their nutcrackers in their early years of tree decorating.

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.

While I haven’t hosted a tree trimming party for years, I do bake a variety of cookies to box and deliver to my neighbors.

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.”

HOLIDAY, THANKSGIVING

So Grateful for Your Support!

Happy Thanksgiving!

In the kitchen once again whipping up our Thanksgiving dinner!

This dining room table has been the gathering place where family and friends have gathered so often over the past five years for the holidays, book club meetings, wine club dinner parties, a mothers tea , a simple evening dinner and more! Here’s to another year of shared memories filled with conversation, laughter, food and wine. Today my family will gather around it once again, grateful for the many blessings in our lives while enjoying a traditional Thanksgiving dinner and then watching our favorite New Orleans Saints win yet another game this evening!

It’s been nearly a year since I started my blog and I can’t thank all of my followers enough for your support and kind words. While my parties are filled with a lot of themes and dressed up table settings, the true intention behind my blog is to encourage everyone to gather regularly with people who have wonderful loving hearts, faith in God and a positive thoughtfulness about life. Surrounding yourself with great people will add value to your life in the way God intended our lives to be. Here on my blog I’ve tried to share ideas that I welcome you to borrow and create your own version of to draw those that you love in your life closer.

While social media has made something like sharing ideas so much easier, it also has made us as a society reluctant to pick up the phone and actually call someone, have a true conversation, and share with one another. The sound of someone’s voice (and we are lucky enough with smart phones to also see their face) is so much more satisfying than a bland sometimes misunderstood text. (S I P) Social interactions are so important to our well being and parties are the way to get everyone to pause and join in a shared interest.

Each and every time I mention to someone I have a Wine Club and a Book Club their face lights up and they say “Oh Wow! I’ve always wanted to belong to a book club” or “That is such a fun idea, I wish I had something like that to go to!” My response is, why not form gatherings of your own with your friends? If you’re not into books, how about knitting, or game night? Not into wine, how about a potluck supper club, beer tasting party, or coffee tasting over Sunday brunch? I’ve been very fortunate to have a group of people in my life with shared interests, but chances are you and your friends also have “something” in shared interest that you could enjoy as a group. Remember, even if not everyone “likes” the same things, a good person will be open to learning or teaching something new.

Today’s gathering included a side of mashed potatoes with gravy, maple roasted sweet potatoes, green beans with dried cranberries and toasted almonds, corn casserole, Italian sausage and cornbread stuffing, and of course turkey.

Iced tea with rosemary simple syrup.

As I drove along a small road yesterday, I noticed an area covered with fallen leaves. Fall reached the deep south just before Thanksgiving this year producing these beautiful variegated beauties. I decided to stop and search through the piles along the side of the road finding several that I brought home to add to my table decor. While many have draped their homes with Christmas decorations weeks before Thanksgiving had even arrived, I choose to hold on to the beauty of Fall for one more day – my favorite season of the year.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone – God Bless you and yours always and thank you for following along!

FRIENDSGIVING, WINE CLUB

Alpine-Alsace Friendsgiving Wine Party Fondue..

My Alpine-Alsace Friendsgiving Wine Club party was planned for an afternoon with just the girls from the club. I wanted to share some of the experiences and memories that three of us who traveled together in mid-September had, with the rest of the ladies in our group. With a bottle of Crémant from the Alsace region of France, the re-created German salad from southern Germany and the cheese fondue from Mürren, Switzerland all I needed was a few added touches to bring this Alpine-Alsace themed party to life.

A few months ago, I invited a friend I hadn’t seen in quite a while to join my S I P Facebook page. As she praised me for my creative ideas and the special touches I added to my various parties, she remarked, “You even etched the wine glasses with numbers!” The thing is, they weren’t etched. Hmmm… why didn’t I think of that? Do you have any idea how much time it would have saved me to not have to write the numbers on all of the glasses for each party? What a great idea!

This party would not involve any judging of wines or require my guests to bring a small bite as we usually do; so as a little activity ,after we’ve finished our fondue lunch, I decided to have the ladies give me a hand with the task of etching our wine tasting glasses for our future meetings.

A couple of weekends prior, I spent an entire Sunday etching several sets of glasses until I found the best technique for taping, stenciling and etching, leaving the four last boxes for the ladies to etch. I was now prepared with what I felt was the best method that I could share with them for the best results.

As always, a party begins with an invitation. In this day of texting and emailing everything, I selected an image I found online with the rich colors of fall and some royal looking purple grapes that gave an added pop of cheerfulness to typical oranges, golds and browns of the Autumn season. I added a similar colored font for the invite information that I then took a picture of and cut and paste the image of the completed invite into an email about a month before the scheduled date that I sent to my invited guests.

FREE BLACK & WHITE CLIP ART FROM CRAVINGSOMECREATIVITY.COM
I colored in the leaves and berries with markers using some of the same colors as my invitation.

Over the weeks that followed I put the rest of my plan together little by little. The free clipart above was only available in a black and white sketch form. I printed the set and selected several markers (from my grandchildren’s box) similar to those in the art on my invite and did what the kids do – I colored in portions of the thankful cards. When finished I still found they were a little bland and decided to print sheets of the art from my invitation that I then cut slightly larger than the card and using a glue stick, attached the colorful background to frame the thankful card.

I then used a very small hole punch to make two side by side wholes at the top of the card. A rustic twine was tied around an aubergine colored napkin and then the ends where thread through the holes in the cards and tied into a bow. The prepared napkins were placed on top of the plate for each of my guests with a sprig of fresh rosemary and a fondue fork.

My hammered copper fondue pots, ordered from Switzerland, arrived with a set of fondue forks; but unlike the forks my mother bought back in the 1970’s, they do no have colored tips at the end of the handle. The colored tips of yellow, orange, dark blue, green, light blue and red help everyone identify which fork is theirs when they get mixed around in the pot, just as wine charms help guests keep track of which glass in the room is theirs. While the fork doesn’t usually sit in the pot for cheese a fondue, when oils are used to cook meats and vegetables, the forks remain in the pot for a while until the food is cooked and can become intertwined.

Not fully dressed table – but pulling the plan together.

Drawing from the images and experiences of my time in Europe, I found these little condiment bowls with red roosters that reminded me of France. I imagined them filled with pieces of hard cheese brought back from Switzerland my one of my traveling companions, cornichons, and caper berries like those we shared while there.

One of the red roosters of Eguisheim.

To create a cozy warm table setting, I used a neutral colored plaid throw placed over a cream tablecloth; copper bowls on each end of the table will be filled with bread cubes and roasted potatoes and carrots to be passed around and dipped into the hot buttery cheeses. Shimmering copper colored round place mats beneath gold rimmed china and my mother’s wood handled bronzeware utensils all brought together the comforting Alpine setting I was trying to achieve.

Fields we passed along the highways in France were filled with sunflowers. Fortunately sunflowers are also available in the floral sections of grocery stores and I mixed them with some rust and purple colored chrysanthemums. The shops of Eguisheim were also filled with large tin hearts painted in various colors, but the red and white stood out in my memory the most. Switzerland replaces hearts with cowbells. So the two cowbells I found at Hobby Lobby resemble a combination of the painted tin heart and cowbell as one for a fraction of the cost of those in Europe.

Practicing the flower placing.

When we entered our hotel room in Mürren there was a glass bottle like the one above filled with water ( and the name of the hotel etched on the outside) with a few tumbler glasses. I repurposed this French Lemonade bottle filling it with water for the table as a nod to another of our memories. The wood disk trivets add the Alpine feel of the beautiful black forest of Germany and the Alpines among the Alps of Switzerland. A recent rain storm left debris from the pine trees scattered on the streets and in parking lots. I gathered some of the branches with small pine cones to slip between the flowers for an added alpine touch.

🌲🐓🐄🌻Alpine- Alsace Wine Club Friendsgiving Fondue Table 🌻🐄🐓🌲

Delicious cheese wrapped in wax paper covered with colorful cows and their bells brought home from a little shop in Zurich by one of my traveling companions. The rind of the cheese in the forefront is crusted with wildflowers and herbs – beautiful and delicious. It was the lighter of the two cheeses in flavor as well.

Another memory was a jar of caper berries that one of my friends picked up in a shop that she served one evening with meats and cheeses in our little German cottage. I filled the Alsace red rooster condiment bowls (I have two) with the caper berries, cubed pieces of the cheeses, cornichons and cocktail onions.

I purchased a bottle of Crémant d’Alsace at Wolfberger winery that brought home to share with my friends. I picked up a second bottle from another region at my wine store back home and one of my friends brought a bottle of French Blue Rosé and all were served during the fondue and etching. We drank a few different Rosés while in France and the bottle of French Blue also had a little effervescence similar to the Crémants. This lovely little pear shaped bottle of liqueur, also from Eguisheim, was supposed to be served with dessert. But sometimes a busy hostess may forget some of her plan. The good news is that we still have a little memory to enjoy from our trip at another wine party.

One of my favorite finds was the German salad. This is a wonderful way to eat a lot of raw vegetables and enjoy a light salad. Left clockwise: shredded carrots, thinly sliced radishes, chopped sugar snap peas, red bell pepper, Persian cucumber and canned corn. Other options were diced pickled beets and smashed boiled and buttered potatoes all tucked beneath a pile of spring greens tossed in a light vinaigrette. For my version, I simply sprinkled the greens with white balsamic vinegar, garlic infused olive oil a sprinkle of kosher salt before tossing. To add a little color I dotted the greens with a few bright viola flowers in memory of the many, many beautiful flowers we saw hanging a window boxes.

A meat tray was also a favorite of my traveling friends, so of course there had to be one at our party. Crisped prosciutto on one end and fresh on the other, with other charcuterie sliced meats and small bowls of black cherry preserves and homemade fig preserves were served with whole wheat crackers.

Our cheese fondue at a family owned restaurant in the Swiss Alps was served with cubes of bread and boiled potatoes (for dipping). For my fondue dippers, I chose to roast baby red and golden creamer potatoes and carved baby rainbow carrots. Roasting adds more flavor and the carrots added fall color.

We lunched at a cafe’ in Eguisheim after our stroll through the quaint town where I tried escargot for the first time. One of my friends took on the job of searching for escargot we could serve at our party. These beauties were found at our local Fresh Market, filled and stuffed with garlic parsley butter that required only a few minutes in the oven before they were ready to serve. These were no where near as melt in your mouth tender as they were in France, but they gave my guests a chance to give them a try. (I also served Rösti cakes which is basically shredded hash brown potatoes formed into a round disk. This was a dish one of my traveling companions ate a couple times prepared in different ways on our trip.)

Escargot before baking…
Escargot after baking.

I didn’t know at the time, but the mirabelles I purchased in France and then made a yogurt bowl with the following morning, can’t be found in the U.S. I learned that according to Bon Appetit, they’re banned because true Mirabelles are grown only in Lorraine, France and import laws make them nearly impossible to procure in the United States. So I was happy to find this box of Quince & Mirabelle tea, the only nod available to this sweet plumy taste experience.

One culinary experience I missed while in France was the crepe. My plan was to make a fluffy chocolate mousse spiked with kirsch and amarena cherries for a crepe version of the black forest cake we had in Germany. My mousse was not very happy with the liqueur, and ended up being a very soft pudding – but I went with it, adding more cherries inside and on top. After eating so potatoes, bread and cheese, the dessert was light and not overly sweet.

The eating part now over we moved on to our planned activity I had set up at my breakfast table. I explained the process I had practiced for etching our wine glasses with numbers for our future tastings. It took a little while to get the method down and we had a couple of mishaps, but in the end everyone seemed to feel a sense of satisfaction as they peeled away the tape and stencil to reveal the elegant number they had each created. I can already imagine the pride on their faces at the next wine club party when their glasses are lined up before them.

I am so grateful for my group of friends. If it were not for their support and encouragement, we would not have enjoyed the past five years of wine club meetings filled with a variety of wines from around the world, great food and fun themes with lasting, shared , fond memories. Happy Friendsgiving my friends!

The hammered copper fondue pots are sold by Bed, Bath & Beyond and this link on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Swissmar-F66915-11-Piece-Fondue-Copper/dp/B00A2DSMBO/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_2?keywords=hammered+copper+fondue+pot&qid=1572048708&sr=8-2-fkmr0

TRAVEL JOURNAL

New England Tour – Salem, Portland and on to the Fall Foliage of the White Mountains

Past Itinerary Series

I had a roll of black & white film in my camera – it seemed appropriate for this haunted town.

Halloween is just around the corner, so how about a visit to the Salem Witch Museum? The quaint little seaport town known for the Salem witch trials is far too charming to imagine such awful acts and accusations took place there; but a visit to the Museum brought the historical experiences back to life. A multi-media sight and sound presentation explores the history of the trials with robotic human like characters acting out the events of the past.

Roger Conant

The drive around town allowed us to see, but not visit, the actual house of seven gables that Hawthorne’s famous novel was based on. Being early October, the light posts were festively decorated with bundles of cornstalks and wheat bound by autumnal colored ribbons. Beautiful purple, gold, umber, yellow and orange mums where positioned in clusters around many of the doorways of residences and median garden areas.

The thought of Hallows Eve night, with lights twinkling around all of the colorful fall harvest decorations while families of the town gather for festivals and walk house to house to trick or treat among the ghosts of this town’s past, made me smile at the excitement and wonder the children must feel.

On the road again we stopped in Portsmouth, New Hampshire where we lunched on New England clam chowder and oyster crackers before moving on further northeast to the coastal region of Maine. The exquisite rocky coastline was dotted with beautiful mansions and elaborate New England cottages perched at the edge of the majestic, very exposed and rustic shoreline. As the wave’s powerful thrust of foam crashed into the wall of rock, I felt both the grace of God’s creation and the fear of what turmoil those explosive waves could bring with a vengeful storm.

We passed the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport that extended to the end of the small peninsula of land heavily guarded. Near sundown, we stopped at the iconic Head Light Point lighthouse, that looked over the sometimes dangerous, but always illustrious ocean.

The following day the drive was long, but the benefit of not being behind the wheel is the freedom to soak in the all of the view from every angle. As we crossed the border from Maine into the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the true jewels of autumn were unveiled. Scattered along the highway and tucked among the mountain’s many hills and valleys like little pom-pms, the brilliant shades and textures of fall foliage were lined up in rows of trees for our enjoyment as far as the eye can see. For two full days I gazed in awe and wonder at the spectacular vibrant colors that with the sun’s help, sparkled like jewels in every direction. I wanted so much to capture the essence of this image and somehow detail in both words and photography the magnitude of its beauty. The drive to our resort hotel was long and allowed me a great deal of time to carefully examine and attempt to describe the multitude of shades of each color that nature had created for our pleasure.

As we maneuvered the single lane of the winding road that stretched toward the heights of the White Mountains, I was lost in the brilliant colors that hugged the landscape in every direction. I remember doing my best to focus on each and every color, attempting to identify each hue to that of another item that could be understood by someone who had not seen the foliage. The artist in me agonized over the challenge it would be to attempt to blend this multitude of shades with paint in so many ways, simply to attempt to record this kaleidoscope of colors on the canvas.

If you look really closely – you’ll see the people walking along the boulders to get a better idea of how large the boulders actually were.

I began with the shade of orange-tangerine, navel orange, blood orange, peach, rusty nail. I even found myself enlisting the names of colors I used in the Crayola boxes I had as a child, like burnt umber. I actually saw something that was burnt umber! There was one shade I simply couldn’t name. I shuffled images of various items through my mind in the same shade for nearly an hour before it finally came to me – cantaloupe- it was the color of a cantaloupe melon.

Many church steeples considered the most elegant icon of New England erected beyond the treetops in every direction. The photographer in me was deeply frustrated that I could not stop along the way to photograph all of the beautiful images along the way. Many of my photos were taken from inside the bus, through the window.

There were reds- fire engine red, little school house red, stop sign red, cranberry, maraschino and black cherry red, beet red, red hot lipstick red and then came the yellows, golden apple, banana peel, lemon, sweet corn, and harvest gold; some actually sparkled in the sunlight shining like gold. Then neatly strategically tucked in just the right places were the many shades of green, hung like a backdrop to accentuate the remarkable colors of nature representing the tranquil calm of the autumn season.

Then dotted along the way were the romantic covered bridges that gently arched over the babbling brooks, cluttered with large boulders and peppered with the elegant falling leaves from trees that framed a perfect picture. We stopped a few times along our long trek, once at one such covered bridge, and once at the spectacular Franconia Notch. I eagerly walked to the overpass where tourists were snapping photos of the gorgeous view, but the air was so cold and the wind so forceful that it took our breath away.

We quickly retreated into the cute country stores nearby where I couldn’t wait to purchase a cup of hot, steaming fresh apple cider. One sip and I knew this was both the flavor and aromatic essence of autumn that I had imagined when I dreamt of this charming area. I purchased little maple leaf shaped glass bottles of maple syrup to bring back to family.

In the distance as we traveled further toward the ski resort (used during the off season for tours), a snowstorm concentrated in one section of the mountains (an uncommon sight for a southerner). Just prior to sundown, we drove past the State House in the capital city of Vermont, Montpellier where the gold domed roof glowed in the final embers of sunlight.

Snow storm in the distance.

Just down the road we stopped at a nearby pizzeria where the small family that owned the restaurant dashed in every direction to collect orders and deliver them as quickly as possible. I don’t think they had ever experienced such a large crowd at one time. The air outside had grown quite cold and brisk and the cozy warmth of the ovens preparing our pizzas and calzones added a rosy glow to everyone’s cheeks. It reminded me of Friday nights after high school football games when we all gathered for the comforting warmth and foods of a local pizzeria.

Little did we know that the snowstorm we had seen in the distance earlier in the day had dumped several inches of snow back at our resort. Excitedly, we departed the bus knowing that this little glimpse of winter was an unexpected bonus for us. By morning the rooftops of all of the buildings and vehicles were dusted with a couple of inches of fresh snow. The warm sun would more than likely melt the remains of our brief encounter with winter, but it was a lovely touch just the same.

This tour would go on to the Shelburne Museum that offers a glimpse of American life in the 18th and 19th centuries; the Rock of Ages Granite Quarry that had an active 50 acre, 600 foot deep quarry at that time; the quaint backroads of Vermont lead us to Manchester to tour Hildene, the summer home of Robert Todd Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s eldest son, who was his only child that lived to full maturity; Stockbridge, Massachusetts – the charming town and home of Norman Rockwell. Rockwell’s museum displays an impressive collection of his nostalgic paintings and magazine covers. The rich colors of his paintings far surpass the images of the prints we have seen over the years and at the rear of the property is his iconix studio and famous easel. In the Berkshires area we visited The Clark Art Institute filled with an extensive collection of nineteenth century American and European paintings before heading to Cape Cod. We saw American Folk art, Grandma Moses’ school house and artwork and enjoyed traditional New England comfort food along the way. This tour was chalked full of an incredible array fo art, history and nature.

If you’ve always wanted to tour New England in the Fall you’ll definitely get a huge bang for your buck, there is so much to see and do. On a second tour a couple of years later, ventured through Concord where several well known authors resided and also has the sight of the Minute Man National Historical Park and the North Bridge. The sights and experiences are enumerable. It is best to start planning and reserving for your trip before the beginning of summer.

As the leaves upon the trees are fading and falling away with only the skeletal limbs of their trunks and branches remaining – grab a cup of steamy apple cider and make a toast to the nature’s more amazing and colorful annual spectacle – Fall.

BOOK CLUB

Where the Crawdads Sing… Bookclub Meeting

When one of our members read Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, she immediately knew it was the book she wanted our club to read. The only problem was that the waiting list at the library was extensive. A few of us bought the book and passed it on to another member over a period of four months until everyone had a chance to read this amazing work of art. Once the club meeting was scheduled, our group of eleven, reduced to only seven in attendance due to scheduling conflicts – but we still had a great meeting.

When a book lends us a theme, we often try to bring it into our meeting. Kya lives in an old shack of a house, with nothing but basics, and sometimes even less than that.

Nate befriends Kya with a variety of beautiful bird feathers that she adds to a collection of those she has also found herself. I ordered a pack of 25 natural bird feathers on Etsy to scatter on the table and tuck into the twine wrapped around our napkins along with a plume from a grass plant that made me think of marsh grasses.

Originally I just sprinkled the bird feathers on both sides of the table, but then I saw these wood disks that I wanted to use for my Gal Pal Alpine Friendsgiving in a couple of weeks and remembered that Nate left a bird feather on a tree stump. I placed the feathers on the wood disks to represent Nate’s gesture, that coaxed Kya toward trusting him.

The member who chose the book brought a textbook from the 60’s, her hurricane lanterns and shells …. Kya’s lessons with Nate, the lantern that she worked to buy oil for and the shells along the beach of the marshes.

The Menu:

Mini Chicken Pot Pies with puffed pastry lids. https://lovelylittlekitchen.com/chicken-pot-pie/ The filling can be made a day ahead and the puffed pastry added the day of. Brushed with egg wash around the sides of the ramekin and top of the dough, an Italian flat leaf parsley leaf on top.

Black eyed pea salad. https://thecafesucrefarine.com/easy-black-eyed-pea-salad/ Also can be made the day ahead. I used frozen peas that I cooked according to the package. They still had a little crunch to them afterwards rather than soggy from the can. I used a peach instead of mango that seemed more appropriate for a southerner, added agave instead of sugar and white balsamic vinegar.

Madeleine corn muffins. 1 box of Jiffy corn muffin mix, 1/3 cup of evaporated milk, 1 egg, 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes. Mix in a bowl until well combined. Cooking spray on madeleine pan, one full teaspoon of mixture into each mold. Bake 15 -20 minutes.

After a lively discussion about the various characters and events of the unique story, assisted at some points with questions from a book club kit found online, we collectively agreed that Ms. Owens’ book was quite a literary journey that we very much enjoyed.

This meeting would be the last of this our fifth year. We have read a total of 25 books together with a vast variety of tales and topics and look forward to the new adventures upon written pages we will experience during our sixth year in 2020.

TRAVEL JOURNAL

New England Tour… The Cape Cod – Kennedy Experience.

🍂🍁🍂Past Itinerary Series🍂🍁🍂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRAVEL JOURNAL

Falling for Fall – Nine Day tour of New England:

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

Boston, Massachusetts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GATHERINGS

Hosting a Friendsgiving Brunch

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

Bellini Cocktails, Sparkling Apple Cider.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRAVEL JOURNAL

The Spontaneous Traveler – Bonus Edition

The beautiful town of Eguisheim, France

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

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

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

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

Images from our hiking afternoon from Mürren to Grimmelwald.

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

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

I

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

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

TRAVEL JOURNAL

The Spontaneous Traveler-Auf Wiedersehen

My Final Day- Switzerland 🇨🇭

Saturday to Wednesday- 5 Amazing Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRAVEL JOURNAL

The Spontaneous Traveler -Switzerland 🇨🇭 continued…

What Can Happen in Less Than a Week

Day 1 & 2 Mürren

The first of two gondolas that transported us to Mürren.

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

An image of the gondola from our hotel window.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The beautiful clear water.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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